March 30, 2014. My age 59 and a half (9/30/54 is my date of birth). The age at which money deposited into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) can be withdrawn without incurring a 10 percent early-withdrawal penalty from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Not that I’m retiring. I am remembering though when this cancer-centric life of mine began.
I was diagnosed – in person – on February 27, 2009. Coincidentally around the time of the year when I contribute to my/our previous calendar year’s IRA. On that fateful February day, I was age 54 and nearly one half, approximately five years away from having penalty-free access to my own "qualified" money. Having just received a "13 months to two years" prognosis by my oncologist, decision-making on subjects A-Z and/or everything in between – from the sublime to the ridiculous – was challenging at best, and practically impossible at worst. Throw in a time consideration – such as the future – to factor into your planning, and topsy-turvy becomes turvy-topsy.
Now complicate the process further by introducing financial issues – past, present and future – along with the incredible uncertainty of a totally unexpected terminal diagnosis (stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer, NSCLC) and you have inaction, inattentiveness and insecurity overwhelming you at every step – and at every stagger, too; physically and emotionally.
As awkward and unfamiliar as this experience was at the time, I recall pondering the merit of investing money then that I would have limited access to until later, five years later in fact (without penalty that is). I mean, who knew/knows what expenses I might incur during my treatment? Fortunately I had health insurance, but considering co-pays, deductibles, "reasonable and customary"-type reimbursements leaving a balance to be borne by yours truly, alternative medicines/treatment options available (likely a total out-of-pocket cost), home health care, caregivers, loss of employment/income and miscellaneous expenses I was too clueless and uneducated to even contemplate and prepare for, and once again, you have potential trouble at every turn. Thinking positively and maintaining a good sense of humor can only keep so many wolves at bay. At some point – or certainly you think so, you are going to have to pay the piper, figuratively and most definitely, literally.
Still, I remember thinking even then, in the haze of this terrible diagnosis/set of unbelievable circumstances, that if I didn’t act/live as if I had a future, I likely wouldn’t have one. But five years seemed like an eternity, and given my prognosis, didn’t seem like time I should necessarily plan for. After all, my doctor had suggested that perhaps I "take that vacation I had always dreamed of."
Well, here I am, five years later, having invested every year in my/our IRA, still alive and extraordinarily lucky to be so. In truth, given the facts and feelings I was presented with in late February, 2009, I didn’t think I’d live to see this day. But I have. And even though I’m not retiring and not needing to withdraw any funds – prematurely or otherwise – from my IRA, March 30, 2014 is a date, to me, worth acknowledging. Having lived this long, I suppose it’s time to pick another date – in the future. If I don’t plan for it, I likely won’t get there.