Katie Brown running the Boston Marathon

How Life Took Me By Surprise

Planning for your future may feel abstract because no one truly knows what will happen and when. We do our best to prepare or at least be aware of the expected and identify potential risks. But how well prepared are we for the unexpected? What happens when life throws you a curve ball?

In 2018, my family’s plan was put to the test in a very personal way. Many of my clients and friends know I enjoy living an active lifestyle. The majority of my Saturday mornings start with a 10+ mile run at 6 a.m. (sometimes 5 a.m.), with an amazing group of women who are just as crazy as I am. In May of 2017, one of my goals of qualifying for the Boston Marathon was achieved after completing the Run for the Red Pocono Marathon in 3 hours and 35 minutes. I was thrilled to qualify and promptly booked the trip for my family and I to head to Boston for the April, 2018 race. Registration in September confirmed my admittance. Everything was going according to plan…until October.

Less than a week after attending and supporting a breast cancer awareness event where I learned that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, I found a lump. I was not overly concerned. I knew most lumps were harmless. However, after a litany of tests, on October 27th, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma: Breast Cancer. The month prior, I celebrated my 38th birthday by cutting off 11 inches of my hair and donating it to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths, a non-profit that makes wigs for women and children battling cancer. I had no idea at the time that I would be one of those warriors.

Hearing the words of my diagnosis was surreal. It simply didn’t make sense. I live a healthy lifestyle. I’m young and I have virtually no family history of any cancers. But all of that didn’t matter.

Cancer suddenly was my new reality and it was out of my control.

I was inundated with doctors’ appointments and gathering as much intelligence as possible. Professionally, I prepared to be out of work for a few weeks after surgery which was scheduled days after Thanksgiving. On top of it all, I still had my pre-cancer busy life. The ever-present juggle of full-time work, full-time wife, and full-time mom to my 8 and 5 year-old children Caleb and Amelia. My husband, Deke, was incredibly supportive and did his best to put my mind at ease. We spent hours researching and discussing all the possible outcomes, treatments, surgical options, even communication. How and what were we going to tell Caleb and Amelia?

There were still a number of unknowns regarding my cancer. I knew I had an invasive form which meant it could spread easily. The cancer was caught early and my team of doctors at Lehigh Valley Health Network was optimistic. But I wouldn’t know the extent of treatment until after my surgery.

Although I knew I likely would not need it, it gave me great peace-of-mind to know that I had plenty of life insurance. My family’s financial life would not be disrupted if, heaven forbid, something went awry. On more than one occasion during those first few weeks, Deke and I reminded ourselves how fortunate we were to have quality health coverage, disability insurance, and life insurance in place. We shuffled things around to increase our emergency cash reserves, simply to make us feel more comfortable. We had proactively taken steps pre-cancer to ensure we had adequately addressed potential risks and had enough flexibility to adjust the pieces of the puzzle. Having a plan in place gave us the financial confidence we needed to allow us the freedom to focus on getting me healthy and maintaining a happy and normal life for our children.

At Morton Brown Family Wealth, there are a few themes that consistently run through the many financial planning conversations we have:

Potential risks can come in all shapes and sizes, both within and outside of our control.

We all have a level of control over how much money we spend and what we spend it on. That being said, it can be a challenge to find the right balance between our needs and wants. Paying insurance premiums is not nearly as exciting as traveling on an extravagant vacation. But without the safety net of insurance in place, we may be placing ourselves or our families at risk. My husband and I couldn’t control my cancer, but we could control how we utilized our resources to prepare for the unknown. We didn’t know if and when we would need to draw upon emergency reserves, but we consciously maintained accounts that could be accessed quickly and easily.

It is important to talk through the potential risks that could impact your family’s goals with your advisory team to ensure steps are taken to build in appropriate protections. These are not always easy conversations. It may force families or individuals to face their fears or imperfections (which we all have). A good financial advisor is a good listener. He or she will serve as a guide to help you navigate through the uncertainty and provide clarity so you can make good decisions.

It is our mission at Morton Brown Family Wealth to help clients build their confident futures so they are free to pursue their passions, vocations, and opportunities. If I can pass along the same peace-of-mind that I had, knowing my family will be okay, we will be successful in our mission.

After three surgeries to eradicate the cancer and restore my body back to “normal”, I was cancer free! Fortunately, the cancer had not spread far and was fully removed without the need for chemotherapy or radiation. One of the MANY things I am grateful for. Even though I had to take breaks from physical activity to allow my body time to heal, I often reminded my team of doctors that Boston was on the calendar. For me, it was a great motivator. I am proud to report that I was able to train and compete in Boston’s 122nd Marathon on April 16, 2018, less than six months after my diagnosis and finished in under four hours. This is an achievement I will never forget.

P.S. I am extraordinarily grateful for all of the support I have received over this past year. Many of you reading this have reached out with an open hand, a kind note, a shoulder to cry on, or a smile to lift my spirits. Thank you always.