Waiting

Tomorrow is my mom’s post-op appointment when we find out the results of her lymph node biopsy. I am slightly anxious. I know cognitively that the risk of cancerous cells spreading to lymph nodes with DCIS is minimal. Assuming she has pure DCIS (meaning the cancer is entirely contained in the milk ducts), estimates of lymph node involvement range from 1-6%. While I should be placated by that statistic, I find myself even more apprehensive. The thought of my amazing mother being part of that unlucky minority and having to endure chemotherapy is heartbreaking.  Then again, just one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Some time ago, while searching Pubmed for the gazillionth time, I stumbled upon an interesting article comparing breast cancer outcomes in Middle Eastern immigrant women vs. non-Hispanic whites. Turns out that on average, Middle Eastern immigrant women are diagnosed with breast cancer later at a later stage and thus, are more likely to have non-localized disease upon diagnosis. Here’s the incredible part though: despite their more advanced disease, they are 11% less likely to die of breast cancer than white women. The author provided this rationale for the better outcomes witnessed in Middle Eastern (ME) women: “Family is the fundamental social unit in ME families (50–52). After cancer diagnosis, ME culture play a role as the patients’ caregivers. ME families often provide emotional and social support.”

 

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“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Up until this past year, I’d always felt lucky. No matter what horrible fate befell those around me, I’d prance through life, safely encased in my protective cocoon. My parents would cushion me from the realities of life, strangers would lend a helping hand when called upon, and ultimately, the universe would provide. I just had to show up, look pretty and collect my winnings. Life wasn’t that hard. Didn’t everyone have parents who’d purchase them a waterfront condo in their early 20’s? Didn’t everyone write the pharmacy school entrance exam on a lark and just get accepted? Couldn’t everyone earn 6-figures in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis and pick up some stock market bargains? No? Just me? Ok, so I was a complete asshole.

This past year changed all of that. My former employer, ex-boyfriend and even the universe had had enough of my shit. And rightfully so. I’d been calling it in at work and in my relationship. I’d become complacent and entitled. I needed a swift kick in the butt to remind me that everyone is replaceable. Luckily, termination payments from my former employer will shore up my finances and ensure that future employment is optional. And once my mom’s immediate health concerns had been addressed, I figured I’d embark on a quest to find love again. I was still moderately attractive and articulate, so first dates should be a cinch! Right? LMFAO No.

Think dating sucks in your 20’s? Try it in your 30’s. You’ll encounter more deplorables than at a Trump rally in Tennessee. Napoleonic complexes, single dads and Men’s Rights activists abound. Was it always this hard? Or was I just spoiled by the best human being in the world? Did his honesty, intellect and strength of character demonstrate what a real man can do? He could change tires and call when he said he would. He was there for his loved ones and kind to strangers.  He was funny and strong and honest and so freaking pretty. So let’s see if he still is… I think Maya Angelou would advise me to stand back and just observe for now.

Seeking True Love

SCORPIO (Oct. 24 – Nov. 22):You have no reason to be sad about what has gone out of your life because something even better is on its way to you now. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start doing the things that will make you happy. Your destiny is in your own hands.

So my moms surgery is done. She’s slowly making her way back to health. I’ve been taking her temperature and emptying her drains and administering her meds. We’ve been watching movies and having philosophical discussions and enjoying a hygge-filled home environment with fresh flowers and scented candles and endless oxytocin. Our house is filled with so much love and it’s times like these that make it blatantly obvious. My dad has been cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping. I’ve been getting up in the middle of the night to check on her. It’s not perfect but it’s a team effort and I’m so grateful for that. 

Which leads me to my second point: my dad loves my mom so much. Not in a gross, gushy, PDA-way. He’s present and loyal and committed and strong. He won’t cut and run at the first sign of trouble. He doesn’t look for short cuts or seek hedonic pleasures. He uprooted his life to immigrate to Canada for a better life for my sister and I.  He has loved & provided for my mom for 43 years (and counting). He is honest and loyal and his word is his honour. I hope that one day, I’ll have a husband who exhibits those same traits. 

Perspective

The second half of 2018 will go down as the toughest six months of my life. Fired and dumped, I figured things couldn’t get worse. But they did: my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, getting dumped and fired didn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore. Enter: perspective.

So cancer sucks obviously. But DCIS is not brain or pancreatic cancer. It’s treatable. And in my mom’s case, it was caught early. So get this: we were able to catch it early because as a newly unemployed pharmacist with ample free time, I found my moms discarded mammogram requisition, was able to read our GP’s illegible handwriting and insist that she get screened. Had I been stuck in my usual myopic work / sleep cycle, we may have been blissfully unaware of what was lurking until a much later stage.

So this Friday, my mom is having a mastectomy. I’m going to the hospital to hold her hand before she is taken to the operating room. And afterwards, I’ll be able to take care of her and empty her drains and manage her meds and provide emotional support. I feel so lucky to have this time. After spending nearly a decade providing care for other people’s parents, I’m so blessed to do the same for my own. I have an endless queue of movies and scented candles and ice packs for my mom’s recovery.

Here’s the strange part. In the midst of the most stressful time of my life, I have never been more content. Little things no longer bother me.  Weather, stock market gyrations, and relationship troubles are completely irrelevant when faced with the mortality of a loved one. I will never again waste precious minutes on things that don’t matter.

Notes on Early Retirement

It’s been a while since I’ve written and boy oh boy, has the past little while been a doozy.  For starters, my early retirement timeline was graciously expedited by my former employer.  So I can officially say that Wednesday August 15th, 2018 was my last day of employment.  You know how Alcoholic Anonymous members always give the exact date of sobriety?  This is my version of that.  So on Wednesday August 15th, 2018, I officially stopped trading time for money and commenced life as an early retiree.
This is what I’d wanted for so long.  The ability to wake up without an alarm clock.  To laze around all day, listening to audiobooks and sipping on chamomile tea. To take long walks at dusk, when the sky is an amalgam of oranges and pinks.  To book last-minute trips on a whim and fly out the following morning without seeking permission.  To escape superficial workplace conversations about the weather.  To read Russian literature to my heart’s content.  To take midday naps.  To never worry again if our pharmacy is going to hit our quarterly PFS numbers.
Based on the aforementioned, one might surmise that since Wednesday August 15th, 2018, I’ve been living my own avocado-fueled, millennial utopia.   But getting fired is tough regardless of how horrible your job is. Not to mention that Rob, (to whom I’d lovingly dedicated an entire blog post) dumped me just 3 days before said firing.  Thus, I’d been ensconced in a cacaphony of rejection from all sides.  In fact, on the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, I’d not only experienced #3 (relationship dissolution) and #8 (getting fired) but they’d happened in the same week.  All I needed was to be incarcerated to experience the complete FML trifecta.
But the truth is, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.  I could have spent decades collating my various investment accounts and running Monte Carlo simulations without actually pulling the trigger.  Because pulling the trigger is really, fucking hard.  So I’m glad someone else did it for me.  And here I am, pretty & smart & retired & entitled to severance.  I guess life isn’t so bad…

Love and spring are in the air

So I’ve found someone perfect.  A kindred spirit, of sorts.  You know how sometimes you meet someone, and you just know you’ll like them? That’s him.  He’s goodlooking and smart obviously.  But he’s also kind.  He has a loving nature that makes you want to open up to him.  And he treats every single person he meets with respect.  And he does the right thing, even when it’s easier not to.  He opens car doors and pays for more than his fair share.  He eschews gender norms.  He cooks for us and listens when I give him investment advice.  And he listens with such intent that he makes me feel like my opinions are valuable.  I love sharing from my realm of knowledge and gauging from his.  But more than anything else, it’s just easy.  That’s the best way to know that a relationship will work: it’ll just be easy.

The progression of our relationship has felt natural and fluid.  I’m not thinking about hitting relationship markers at a certain pace.  My weekends are pre-planned because I just want to spend time with him.  Our time together is amazing and our time apart is made sweeter simply by knowing that he exists.  We don’t fight or bicker.  We quip and banter but when something is done, it’s done.  There’s no residual resentment or hostility.  I’ve never been mad at him and I can’t fathom why I ever would be.  I’d always chalked up failed relationships and my spinster status to my own shortcomings.  But really, it had been them.  They just weren’t Rob.  It’s funny how all the defense mechanisms and false roadblocks fall away when you find the right person.

FIRE Update

Despite their initial bellyaching, my insurance is finally stepping in and paying up. And although I had to endure much stress and aggravation to get to this point, I am now pleased that all of my rentals have had complete overhauls this year. My bungalow is adorable and well appointed, with brand new windows, roof, furnace and AC. My condo has all new appliances, flooring, kitchen and bathroom… along with really pretty waterviews. And the townhouse… well, the townhouse is coming along. When the work is done, the townhouse have gotten all new floors, walls, paint, furnace and AC. Hopefully this’ll mean I won’t have any costly repairs for at least a few years.

This past summer also provided the opportunity for me to increase my gross monthly rents. The monthly rent on my condo was increased from a pitiful $1575 (long-term tenant with rent control who literally DIED in my condo) to a more reasonable $1800 (+$225). The rent for the townhouse was increased from $1450 to $1600 (+$150) with the change of tenants. And my bungalow tenants agreed to an increase from $1800 to $1900 (+$100) after a 2 year freeze. Given that my total mortgage debt is approximately $200k and locked in at a 2.54% for 4-5 years, my monthly mortgage payment is $900 with gross monthly rents of $5300. The only thing that irking me now is the $168 monthly Reliance payment I have to make on my bungalow’s HVAC system. <Note to self: use tax refund to pay off Reliance. (+$168)> With the Reliance payment gone, I’ll have increased my cashflow by nearly $650 per month or close to $8,000 per year! So even before the mortgages are paid off, I can likely expect monthly rental income of $3,500.

The beauty of building wealth is that once you get started on the right path, it becomes easier every single day. It’s almost like a wealth snowball. Each month, my rentals pay me $3,500, my employer kicks in $5,000 and my investments increase by $2,100. My employer contributes $475 to my retirement savings and $168 to my ESPP. My mortgage balances decrease by roughly $667 monthly, boosting my net worth further. Thus, even though I only “make” $5,000 from employment income, my net worth increases by nearly $12,000 per month. Mind you, this is strictly theoretical. I mean, the market could crash tomorrow and take half of my portfolio with it. Just have to forget about the numbers and keep trucking.