Friday, October 5th, 2018
Life changed dramatically for my wife and I when we were celebrating the engagement of close friends four years ago. Brooke had been experiencing some strange medical symptoms in recent months – incontinence and poor balance – that should not be troubling a 30-year-old woman. Still, we weren't prepared for what would come next.
As we were out on the dance floor, basking in the glow of the guests of honour, Brooke's left leg suddenly gave out and she tumbled to the floor.
Countless tests and consultations with specialists later, a stark diagnosis stared us in the face: Brooke had developed an extremely progressive version of Multiple Sclerosis. Five months later she would be forced to buy a cane after falling down our front steps and breaking her collarbone. She was only a few more months away from life in a wheelchair as the disease attacked her central nervous system, resulting in a progressive worsening of neurologic function.
Our situation was bleak, but after the tears dried, we found a way forward. With some careful financial planning — and more than a little luck — we were able to weather the storm.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my savvy wife actually had critical illness insurance – something I had constantly passed on. I was too young and naïve to worry about such things. But having watched her aunt and grandmother struggle for years with breast cancer, Brooke wanted to be prepared.
For only $8 a month, she was insured for a host of life-altering illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancers and, thankfully, Multiple Sclerosis. The lump-sum payout we received upon proof of her condition removed a huge chunk of stress and allowed us to focus on her health.
My wife researched every single bit of information she could find about her condition. She became her own advocate and soon knew as much or more than some of the specialists we visited. When none of the treatments we were prescribed slowed the disease, she kept searching.
A stranger on the street saw her walking with a cane and struck up a conversation. He told her about his own struggles with MS and an experimental new stem cell trial that was taking place in Ottawa. His condition wasn't severe enough to be accepted — but hers was.
She reached out and was accepted into the program. Because it was funded by the government, the treatment itself was covered.
Now all we had to do was take care of the rest of the costs and relocate to Ottawa for three months.
Airbnb became our new best friend. We used it to rent a small condo in Ottawa at a reasonable price.
We spent the next three months travelling back and forth between our condo and Ottawa General Hospital, overpaying for daily parking until we discovered you could get a monthly pass for half the price. Never having spent that much time at a hospital, it hadn't occurred to us. But the more you look, the more money you save.
Save every single receipt. Put aside a folder and hang on to everything. When tax time rolls around, depending on your total expenses, you may be able to claim some of them.
My wife's condition was so severe it counted as a disability. This allowed us to qualify for the disability tax credit for two years and boosted our return by a few thousand dollars. It also allowed us to get an accessible parking permit that saved us a lot of money parking elsewhere in the city (just make sure to read up on where the pass can be used, because it varies by province).
Almost two years after her stem cell transplant, Brooke's MS is a fading memory. Doctors achieved this by wiping out her immune system through 10 days of chemotherapy and then rebuilding it by giving her back her own young, healthy stem cells. Her body is no longer attacking itself.
She may never get back to where she was before the disease struck, but we're in far better shape than we could have imagined.
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