Scarier Than The Stock Market Ever Could Be

You might have noticed that I don’t mind getting personal on my blog. 

I’ve always used my real name, and if you ask me how much money I make or what my investments are worth, I’ll tell you.

And I don’t mind sharing what (for me) is far scarier than anything the stock market could dish out.  If you’re expecting me to write about money and you’d rather read a financially related post, then I’ll save you some time and suggest that you stop reading.

But if you want to hear what scares me far more than the stock market, I’ll be an open book.

When I build up enough courage to call my oncologist later today, I’ll be making an appointment for a MRI.  I live in Singapore, where I can literally make a MRI appointment (in many cases) for the very next day.  But that’s little comfort.

I’m nearing the second anniversary of my bone cancer surgery, where I had three partial ribs removed and some of my spine.  The stock market has never really frightened me much….but this does.

First, there’s the MRI itself.

I must have been buried alive in a former life because (until recently) I would try busting myself out of MRI tubes if I ever entered one without full anaesthesia.  Don’t let my friendly mug shot fool you.  I can make David Banner’s alter-ego look like a giant green Buddha.

After numerous scans over the past 22 months, I’ve improved somewhat.  I can tolerate the scan under massive sedation, if my wife massages my head on the other end of the tube.

But after an hour and a half of, what feels like, being crammed into a compartment of a roaring jet engine, the machine starts to heat up.  That’s when the gamma radiation starts to alter my body chemistry, and the creature starts to grow angry and outraged.  (Truthfully, I stole that last line from the old Incredible Hulk television series).

Truthfully, I get a full thoracic scan: half with a contrast dye and half without.  The contrast is basically a sugar dye.  It gets pumped into my bloodstream, and because cancer loves sugar, the dye lights up any “affected” areas for easier identification.  Of course, it gets attracted to scar tissue and swelling as well, so you can be given a virtual death sentence by a jumpy doctor if it gets misdiagnosed.  And yeah, that happened to me, in February 2010.  I was literally told to get my house in order.  But three months later, the misdiagnosis was fully confirmed.  And no, I didn’t break the doctor’s nose.

After tolerating the MRI tube, I have to wait a couple of days before seeing my oncologist for the report.  If you want to talk about fear, this is it.  Give me a pad of paper and a pencil, while waiting for the oncologist to walk through the door, and I’d scribble my own name as legibly as a three year old could.

Fortunately, my oncologist cuts to the chase quickly.  He walks through the door, shakes my hand and says right away, “Just so you know, you’re fine.”

The oncologist who starts talking about the weather and asking you about your latest holiday (instead of giving you the goods) deserves to be stuffed in a one-sided MRI for a week.

Fortunately, I don’t have to go through that.  But the five seconds it takes for him to give me the good news feels like a century.

But I have to admit, I like the guy’s style.  He jokes with me about patients who ask, “Am I going to die?”

His answer?

Of course you’re going to die.

If you were creeping around for 200 years, you’d scare the crap out of people.

Few people face their own mortality.  But doing so, I think, is a good thing.

I often hear about people who face a terminal illness before creating a bucket list of things to do before they meet Davy Jones.

But that kind of thing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Does it make sense to you?


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Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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14 Responses

  1. woodes34 says:

    I agree Andrew, there is nothing worse than the MRI. I still wake up breathing heavily and sweating at night from mt experiences in those things. (My cancer was testicular- I got of easily in comparison to you!)

    Will you present at EARCOS this year? I would be great to send friends to hear you speak!

    • Hey Woodes 34:

      I didn't know that you had cancer. How many years has it been?

      I would love to come to EARCOS, but apparently it's filled for non curricular topics. Perhaps you could make a suggestion to them?!

      • woodes34 says:

        I hope it's allright with you, but contacted Bill O. last week about you presenting and I got the same answer. I was hoping!

        My cancer was 14 years ago, just three months after I got married. (Not much of a wedding gift for my wife.!) Several surgeries later all is well.

  2. DIY Investor says:

    Great post on priorities. Some of us worry about things that are trivial whereas others shoulder exceptional burdens.

    I agree that waiting to create a bucket list doesn't make sense. You never know what tomorrow might bring.

    Good luck!!

  3. The Dividend Ninja says:

    Andrew, as someone who has worked in healthcare for over 12 years, I know it's a really awful expereince for people going through the MRI and surgery for that matter. Knock on wood, I have been through neither 😉 The hardest part of my job is seeing kids going through what you are – that part really chokes me up. Kids are meant to have fun not be in hospital. Funny how life works, health is more important than anything else, isn't it?

    Stay healthy my friend!

  4. Robber Baron says:

    Bucket Lists. Funny, we are told to save for a rainy day, save for our children, etc… then we either get too old/unhealthy to enjoy a fun-filled vacation, or feel guilty about it. Unless we are preparing to die, and even then, shouldn't we be leaving something for our children???

    I'm not quite ready for "Live for today…" but why can't people seem to tolerate a comfortable middle-ground?

  5. I commend you for facing your own mortality. I was just writing about how people tend to be unrealistically optimistic when it comes to how long they think they'll live. I like to err on the side of caution, and am working on the assumption I won't reach old age.

    I wish you the best with your health!

    • Thanks Mantra!

      I'm going to work on the assumption that I will reach old age. But if I don't, I can also look back and say that I've had a pretty good life. Putting things off for a person's old age, however, doesn't make a lot of sense to me. You are so right! You never know when we are going to expire!

  6. Excellent post and way to keep things in perspective Andrew. If you don't have your health, you don't have much. I hope you stay healthy and happy for many years to come.

    I applaud you for being so open and honest about yourself via this blog – encouraging folks to live life to the fullest, and avoid putting things off.

    People can learn much more than personal finance and investing from your site.

    Cheers 😉


  7. Thanks so much Mark.

    We learn from each other….which is awesome.

  8. Hi Andrew,

    I commend you for having the courage and strength to get through what you've had to over the past few years.

    You're a true fighter and we can all learn from you (personal finance to the side) and how you continue to forge ahead; I can't imagine what you went through when the doc told you the grim news in 2010.

    I've lost my uncle, aunt and grandfather to cancer and it's one horrible thing to have.

    I had to have an MRI done back in 2004 for my kidneys and the anxiety leading up prognosis is difficult to describe. I can't imagine what it's been like for you.

    I hope you stay healthy and live a long and enjoyable life.

    All the best,


  9. Great post on putting things in perspective, Andrew.

    I have to fly to South Korea this weekend for a week-long business trip, a prospect which doesn't appeal to me. But things could be worse.

    And, I hate MRIs too. Bloody machines.

  10. Woodes 34!

    Thanks for checking with EARCOS. I spoke to teachers at KL earlier this week, and they enjoyed it, so if we can lean a bit on EARCOS, perhaps they can have me there for the following year. What I have to say, I think, is very important for expats to hear.

    Anyway, as for your cancer, you're going to be my role model, if you don't mind! I look forward to telling people 14 years from now about the scare I had! Thank you!

  11. no one has more first hand experience helping expat investors

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