In 2005, while I was undergoing a challenging job transition, my doctor uttered the nightmarish words some 250,000 women a year hear. They begin with “I’m sorry” and end with “you have breast cancer.”
Those words railroaded my job search, career plans and ultimately my family’s financial wellbeing. Overnight, my focus went from finding a new career to finding a way to stay alive, as I underwent the grueling process of two surgeries and six weeks of radiation therapy.
Like most Americans, our family had less than $1,000 savings in the bank. I had been through a financially devastating divorce in which my husband’s business dealings resulted in the loss of our home, his business, our cars and our marriage.
Now, without my income and saddled with a $1,200 monthly COBRA payment, our home soon went into foreclosure. Every 58 days, when Ford Credit would call about payment, I pulled out the cancer card asking them to please wait or day or two until I could make the payment, which they did, and I did.
That summer, while sitting in the dimly lit waiting rooms, littered with dog-eared copies of out-of-date People and US Weekly magazines, I met other working women like myself, in treatment to save their lives. They, too, had also lost their means of income and like me, were fearful that the cost of treatment, coupled with lost wages, would result in catastrophic financial losses from which it could take decades to recover.
During sleepless nights, tossing and turning and wondering what I was going to do, I recalled the words of a former boss, “Molly is going to do something really big one day. I am just not sure what it is.”
It was at about this time that I began to envision an organization that would help to mitigate the problem I and so many other women were experiencing. It’s a side effect of the cancer battle known as financial toxicity -- the emotional, mental and personally debilitating economic ruin brought on by the medical costs associated with treatment.
Before I knew it, I had a new calling in life, my Plan B; I was determined to make a new career out of making a difference. I was going to start an organization that would help these women and their families by paying 90 days of their household, non-medical bills. Enough to keep them afloat through a difficult time.
It’s amazing how this single vision catapulted me from a state of devastation and paralysis to one of productivity and an “I can do anything I set my mind to” spirit. The vision soon consumed my every moment as I recovered from my bout with cancer and grew stronger.
The irony is that during a time when I believed my greatest fears might be realized -- that I would lose everything and join the ranks of the homeless, all over a breast cancer diagnosis and lost job opportunity -- I became fearless, and this simple idea launched the organization I now run as founder and CEO of The Pink Fund.
Ten years in, we have proven we can sustain ourselves and grow our mission year after year. We have been vetted by multibillion dollar companies and received numerous awards and recognition for our patient-centric mission.
From it all, I learned how important it is to have a Plan B in life. Here are some ways I came up with my Plan B and I urge you all to consider this, even if our Plan A is still on track.
- Pay extra special attention to circumstances around you. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I went into shock. All I could focus on was my health and getting better. But eventually, as I progressed through treatment and sitting in waiting rooms became my routine, I started to pay attention to what was going on around me. This is how I discovered what a significant need there was for a service like the one The Pink Fund provides. A financial resource for families devastated by their cancer battle. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities in your new surroundings.
- Be fearless in the face of change. When your whole world is crumbling around you and Plan A has been rendered kaput, it’s difficult to be brave. You just want to crawl up into the fetal position and hide. But for all of us, a sea of change is going to happen at some point in life. The best and fastest way to move on from its effects is to adopt a fearless attitude and resolve to get through it. Fear, anxiety and indecision will cripple the forward progress of your Plan B. Do some inspirational reading on being fearless and surround yourself with positive, goal-driven people.
- Always maintain a clear vision. One of the clippings on the vision board I created as a tool to help me find my new calling was the big blue Ford logo of my creditor. Always front and center in mind, it wasn’t all that surprising that The Pink Fund ultimately ended up partnering with my former creditor, Ford, and is now part of its Warrior in Pink initiative. Talk about coming full circle! I’m a big believer in always having your eye on the prize, and a vision board was invaluable in this process.
- See all change as opportunity. The old adage about one door closing leading to another door opening is true -- but only if you’re looking to step through a door! A sudden crash of Plan A can leave you shell-shocked and in a state of disarray. I know it sure left me that way. The key to rebounding and starting your next journey is through accepting that the one door has shut, and then keeping a keen eye out for the next door to open.
Molly MacDonald is a breast cancer survivor and founder and CEO of The Pink Fund, a nonprofit that provides up to 90 days of non-medical financial aid to cover basic cost of living expenses such as health insurance, housing, transportation and utilities to financially strapped patients undergoing cancer treatment.
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