One Disaster Away

Much of the content on this blog includes real world stories either of myself or the people around me. This particular story is such a painful one that I have been reluctant to share it, even though I know that it can help someone else that will find themselves in the same situation. As with all stories, I will begin at the beginning.

One of my coworkers was very suddenly diagnosed with stage 3 cancer of the lungs. He was actually a long-term temp working within the company so technically, he was not an employee of the company that I work for. His pain started as a back ache and got so severe that even though he had no health insurance, he was forced to go to the emergency room. He was admitted into the hospital and held until he received his diagnosis. At that time, the doctor assigned to his case began an aggressive treatment regime that was mean to cure the cancer.

The company that I work for is humongous, but the office that I work in is very small. If you’ve watched The Office, you’ve viewed live video feed of my office. I always say that we’re a hodgepodge of zany, a little crazy and very left of center people lumped into one place, but we are also a dysfunctional family at heart. This was proven when the office banded together to help care for this individual. We formed a support team and I was appointed the president of the team. Why? We knew that he lived just one disaster away from being homeless. He had already had a heart attack three years prior with no health insurance that financially wiped him out. When he was diagnosed with cancer he was just getting back on his feet, and cancer pulled not just the rug from under him, but the entire floor.

As we were his closest “family”, we worked with the social worker at the hospital to get as much help for him as possible including:

  • obtain emergency Medicaid
  • file for short-term disability through his employer
  • get home health care
  • have prepared food delivery service
  • obtain food stamp assistance
  • file for Social Security disability
  • obtain a free cell phone

In the meantime, we have paid his rent for the past few months and had planned on halting when Social Security Disability was scheduled to begin in six months after approval in November.  The kicker is that he just received a new notice from the Social Security office that he will not get disability because his short-term disability payments of $250 every two weeks plus $100 per month in food stamps are too high.  I don’t know who was doing the math, because he would have been homeless had we not banded together to help him. In case you have not heard, New York City’s rent is too damn high, so he can not afford to rent an entire apartment.

What he does rent is one single room at the cost of $115 per week.  The disability payments would have just covered his rent, leaving him with nothing else including no way to get to doctors appointments. We are in the process of appealing this decision since his short term disability is slated to end this month, leaving him with no income.  Of the past 6 months he has spent about 4 months in the hospital – and is currently there undergoing aggressive radiation therapy to treat cancerous areas discovered in other parts of his body.  Through it all he has remained very upbeat and optimistic about his recovery.  We, his family, are trying to prepare to pay for final costs if necessary.

I tell you this story not to make you sad or for sympathy.  I tell you this to be prepared for the unknown.  While I might not have a will, you should have one.  At 22 I was involved in a car accident that changed my outlook on just how long we might all live.  Since then I have carried short-term and supplemental short-term disability, long-term and supplemental long-term disability, life insurance that is at least 3 times my salary which is able to cover all of my current bills and at least an additional $50K which should hopefully cover any final costs.  I realized that all it takes is one disaster, perhaps  jogging and having a tree branch fall on you, to wipe you out financially and emotionally.

In this Great Recession when everyone is trying to make ends meet, don’t neglect to pay for some sort of insurance.  Life and disability insurance is always cheapest when obtained though your employer.  If you are self employed or a freelancer, try getting insurance through Freelancers Union where they negotiate better rates for their members.  If not, try calling the largest insurers such as Metlife and Hartford and begin with the smallest amounts that you can afford.  These companies sell both whole and term life insurance.  Remember, all it takes is one disaster, just one,  to leave you out in the cold.  Murphy’s law says that if it could happen, it will.

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8 thoughts on “One Disaster Away

  • It is a sad post but it makes you think about how and if you are prepared for anything unexpected that might happen. My employer offers life and disability and I do take advantage of it. Because you never know…

  • This both warmed my heart and made me feel so sympathetic.

    Thank you for the reminder and thank you for doing what you’re doing (you and your co-workers). As someone who has a history of cancer in her family… I know the pain someone goes through to battle the disease, and I have seen the pain and the effects of radiation & chemo.

  • Very true one disaster, one illness, one accident is all it takes to derail someone who doesn’t have an emergency fund. A large emergency fund.

    I am in that boat, and do my best to take care of myself but as they say, “you plan and god laughs”. However I am working on it and hope other people are too. Most of us can’t lower our expenses anymore, but we can improve our incomes. That is something most should be working on, don’t rely on the government or anyone else.

    However in the case of your friend/co-worker illness will impede on the income generating part. As one cant work when one is seriously ill, but he’s extremely lucky to have you and the rest of his co-worker buddies. Cheers to you for helping him.


  • Hi Sandy, that is so caring of you and your coworkers to help this poor, sick man. Being homeless with stage 3 cancer is almost certainly a death sentence. Good luck with disability. The system is designed to reject people a couple times even if they are later accepted. Perhaps the hospital social worker can help you with the process.

    My husband and I do have life insurance and a will, as well as some assets we could sell in an emergency. We will be debt free in a few months which definitely helps with financial flexibility.

  • Very thought-provoking post. I think a lot of people out there (and not just PF bloggers) can relate to this … if they’re not in total denial. I’m so glad that there are people like you & your coworkers out there to help this guy out. It makes me believe in people 🙂

  • I really like reading your true life stories. It is thru other people’s experience that we learn best. I hope your friend is doing well. My 6 year old daughter has Leukemia so I certainly understand how difficult it can be. However, I hope your friend also understands the power of the mind and nutrition when dealing with cancer. Godspeed.

    • Wil

      I am sorry to hear about your daughter. I know that when you create a circle or love and prayer it can have powerful effects. He is perhaps THE most upbeat person that I have ever met with the stage of cancer that he has. He is beyond positive and I will never be the one to break that positivity. I know that it can have extensive benefits in ones life. I wish your daughter a powerful healing.

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