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It’s been a year since my husband’s cancer diagnosis and surgeries to remove his tumor and lymph nodes. He has six weeks to go until he’ll be finished with his interferon treatments – a much smaller number than the 52 weeks he had to look forward to when his treatments began. He’ll be glad to have the drug and all of its side affects out of his system, but he’s hesitant to celebrate. Melanoma is a very aggressive cancer; and he knows he will have to live with it for the rest of his life.

We all realize life is full of uncertainty, but it feels like we’ve been living with more than a healthy dose of it over the last four years. This summer’s debt ceiling debate and the current concerns over Europe’s sovereign debt have done nothing to improve most people’s peace of mind. If you have the personality of an engineer or CPA like my husband and me, you may have an even more difficult time not knowing what comes next. So how do you cope?

  1. Know what you are dealing with. I believe one of the biggest hurdles for many people is refusing to face their fears. For example, if you are worried about your ability to retire, but you have no idea what you are actually spending on a monthly basis, it only adds to your anxiety. It’s an issue you may not want to deal with, but not addressing it means you might be spending yourself further into a hole that you can’t dig yourself out. Not facing the issues you are worried about only compounds the situation.
  2. Have a plan. I understand I’ve said this before, but having a plan is critical and helps keep panic at bay. If you know what you need to live on, and you have five years of living expenses stashed away in cash and short term bonds, the next time the market takes a dive it won’t take your stomach with it. You’ll be confident that you don’t need to rely on a market upturn for your future survival. If you are saving for a goal, know what you need to accomplish each year, so you can make adjustments if you need to, instead of abandoning hope.
  3. Recognize the uncertainty for what it is. There are basic truths in investing that cannot be avoided. If you refuse to take any risk, you will not receive as much reward. Look at CD rates these days. Your principal is guaranteed, but you earn virtually nothing. Stocks, on the other hand, pay us a much greater return over time in exchange for the erratic path they take toward those returns. If there was no day-to-day uncertainty in holding stocks there would be no long-term reward.

So how are we dealing with Gregg’s uncertainty? We have read almost everything there is to read about melanoma, the current treatments and research in progress. We know his odds, and we are doing everything we can to improve them. We also know that uncertainty can be a gift. When you don’t take your life for granted, you appreciate each day even more.

Jeannette A. Jones, CPA, CFP®