A sad reminder why insurance matters

Colon cancer survivor’s brush with death becomes financial nightmare highlighting why insurance advisors are in the business in the first place

A Halifax woman who was diagnosed with colon cancer but is now cancer-free is speaking out about the financial toll it can take on survivors should they not be financially prepared for the unexpected and at the same time reminding advisors why they do this job.

“It was a nightmare,” FitzGerald, a single mom at the time, told the Globe and Mail recently. “I had a car, a mortgage and a daughter in high school.”

Unable to work because of the aggressive chemotherapy treatments and with no health benefits due to the contract nature of her job, Fitzgerald was forced to go on welfare which included having to cash in all of her retirement savings (the rules in Nova Scotia at the time) and take a big tax hit as a result. 

“They made me cash in all of my RRSPs,” Fitzgerald told the Globe. “I had to bring my investment portfolio down to zero.”

Fitzgerald managed to beat stage-four colon cancer and is alive today to tell the story. Unfortunately, the financial hardship she went through left her financially devastated. 

A decade later, Fitzgerald lives off $1,450 a month in CPP and provincial retirement benefits which usually runs out half way through the month living on her line of credit for the second-half of the month.  

It didn’t have to be that way.

If an insurance advisor presented any number of options to her – critical illness, continuing personal disability insurance while working after age 65, life insurance with CSVs, and annuities – prior to diagnosis at age 56, the next decade would have turned out differently from a financial perspective. 

Lynne Fitzgerald was originally diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer in 2006 when she was 59. Not realizing those over 50 should be screened every couple of years, the former Dalhousie employee was told by doctors that the cancer had spread to her liver and she was going to die within a year. 

"As I had no symptoms whatsoever, why would I even imagine getting screened for colon cancer?” Fitzgerald told the CBC in 2006.