Dealing with a serious health diagnosis

Posted by: Joseph Kuo | December 27, 2019

Dealing with a serious health diagnosis
A few weeks ago, I got a call from Jim, a successful attorney. Jim has 3 beautiful kids and is busy with a growing practice. As the holidays roll around, he reflects on a year of record revenue and a new hire. All in all, things are looking pretty good for Jim and I thought this was a call for holiday cheers. However, the voice from the other end of the phone surprised me. It did not sound like the confident, optimistic Jim that I know at all. Jim told me that his physician referred him to see an oncologist yesterday. He has a 90% chance of having an aggressive form of prostate cancer; he will be dealing with a serious health diagnosis from now on.

Jim told me that he needed me to be his sounding board so he can think clearly and make important decisions that he cannot do it by himself. He has always appreciated the clarity he gains from our conversations.

Jim was relieved when he realized that we had already created a safety net for him and his family. The insurance policy coverage was sufficient, even if Jim can no longer function at all. Jim’s wife and kids will be financially secured and can go on enjoying their lives while caring for Jim. We decided to explore what other policies still make sense to obtain.

Estate planning

Jim realized a conversation around estate planning will be difficult for him and his family so he asked me to facilitate this discussion. While there is an existing estate plan we created a while back, with this new possible diagnosis, Jim wanted to make changes to his medical directives and focus on his future quality of life. To his family, he communicated what medical treatments he does and does not want as well as the quality of life he is willing to accept. By making his wishes known to his family, Jim helped relieved some of the uncertainties for his wife and kids. After the meeting, Jim jokingly said, “This is probably the best Christmas gift I’ve ever given to them”. I started to see the old Jim back.

After Jim felt comfortable that his family, which is what matters to him the most, is taken care of, Jim is ready to start looking at his business contingency plan. We have had conversations before about how he wants to “own” his business rather than continuing to “operate” IN the business. As a result, Jim had already taken some steps to automate and delegate operational duties to others in the firm. He wants to create a “sellable” firm valuable to someone else, when he is no longer involved in it. It’s important to realize that, even if Jim is ultimately diagnosed with cancer, he may still have many years ahead of him.

Bucket list

This takes us to Jim’s dreams and wishes. There are a few “bucket list” items that Jim always wanted to do but never had the time or resources. With the understanding that we will revisit Jim’s cash flow and investment strategy if he does have cancer, we brainstormed on how he might be able to realize some of these dreams. He won’t be able to do all of them at once, but he can start making concrete plans to reach them.

I can hear in Jim’s voice that he is returning to the confident and optimistic Jim that I know. I am really thankful that my training in Motivational Interviewing and Grief Recovery have helped me support Jim during this stressful time. My wife, Ju-Lu, who is a palliative specialist, has always told her clients that the best medicine against cancer, is their own minds. Seeing Jim’s renewed focus on life, I know he’s got this.