Because You Never Know

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I spent the last week in Washington D.C. at FinCon, a conference for those who create digital content in the personal finance space. After long days, late nights, too much noise, and traveling cross country, I planned to take a week off from posting on the blog.


Then I saw something that I felt every reader of this blog, no matter where you are on your journey, needs to read and consider.

At my first FinCon in 2017, I hit it off over a few many pints with a bloke named David, who with his wife Emily was writing the blog Plan, Invest, Escape (PIE). They were preparing to retire early to the mountains of New Hampshire to have more time to get outdoors, travel, and generally enjoy life with their two young boys.

I was part of a small mastermind group of couples with similar plans of early retirement with young children. We met monthly to discuss common dreams, goals and challenges. We invited David and Emily to join us.

One of the most valuable exercises the group did was “red teaming” one another’s early retirement plans. These two were detailed planners who had thought through everything we threw at them. 

But less than six months into their retirement the unthinkable happened. Emily recently shared publicly what I’ve known for some time. 

Her words are powerful, touching, and insightful. So with her permission, I am going to repost them here for you all to consider. . .

If you would like to send words of love and support to these amazing people during this challenging time, you can find them on Twitter or leave a comment below.

If you want to make a donation to support their fundraising efforts for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, you can do so by clicking here.

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[Contributing Editor Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris' writing has been featured in MarketWatch, Doughroller, Business Insider and RockStar Finance. He is also the primary author of the forthcoming book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at]

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  1. Emily and David says

    Thank you so much for sharing this Chris, and especially for linking to the fundraising x

  2. This post really spoke to me. I had brain surgery last year (thankfully, not a Glioblastoma) and it prompted me to make financial independence and early retirement a higher priority. I now will retire in a couple of years at 50. The future holds many surprises for you – some good and some not. I would encourage all readers to spend their time and money with this fact in mind. David and Emily, you are in my thoughts and prayers. P. S. Head for the Cure is hosting a fundraiser for brain tumor research on Detroit’s Belle Isle on Sunday, 9/22 to help raise money for this important cause.

  3. Robert D Eslick says

    You have to leave fear behind to chase your dream. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. I really needed to read this. Good luck with everything. Thanks for sharing.


  4. I just retired in June at age 60 (to get my pension) and I thank God every day for my health, which to me is the most important thing to pray for. Life is precious and things can change in an instant, as you have experienced. May God bless you and your family with strength and courage as you go through your treatments.

  5. I don’t have enough to retire yet, and I have a family to take care of, but this post really spoke to me. There are stuff I have been delaying which I will not delay anymore.

    Best of luck for the future Emily and David.

    • Betty Prioux says

      Emily, thank you for reminding us that plans are not guaranteed. Plans help us manifest the life we want. But some things are beyond planning, like David’s sudden tumor. I’m glad your plan got you where you wanted to be. Warm thoughts and prayers for strength to David, you, and your kids, as you navigate this unexpected unfolding territory. Thank you again for sharing what you’re learning, you help us all more than you know.
      Blessings to you all.

  6. Wow. What a powerful story. Thanks for sharing. This will give everyone something to think about.

  7. Thanks Chris – powerful story – we have friends dealing with Cancer as well – they had planned on a great traditional retirement, but now are consumed with much bigger priorities like David and Emily. Thankfully they have great insurance – even with that it’s a huge personal / family and financial impact. I wish them them best.

  8. Thanks for sharing, you have a powerful message. A lot of the retirement decisions we make are the “bird in the hand, two in the bush” sort. After 6 months of thinking and studying the options for when to take social security, I finally decided yesterday to go ahead and start collecting, instead of waiting til I’m 70. It means I’ll pick up an extra $250k in the short term, and the breakeven point is so far down the road that there are no guarantees I’ll ever reach it to have any regrets about taking it early. It’s amazing how making a decision can relieve a lot of stress. Yesterday afternoon after having submitted my application for SS benefits, I became so energized by getting rid of the burden of worrying about it.

    • Thank you for sharing your story.
      My father passed a few years ago in my arms due to that disease. I decided to retire early….. Yes I’ve had second thoughts: missing paychecks, interaction with coworkers, etc. But honestly, you only have one life and no guarantees that it will be a long one. I miss my Dad.

    • My father decided to file for SS when he was 64 and died suddenly of a heart attack before he got his first check. He worked since he was 20 and wasnt even able to get one check from it after working all those years. Theres a part of me that laughs when I hear people or articles saying how much more they’ll get if “they wait till 70” to collect. I’m leaning towards 62 to 65 or so when my time comes. I dont want to push the odds too much. Plus, give or take, you end up close to the same amount over time. Worrying over a few thousand $ either way will be the least of my worries at that age.

  9. David, Emily –

    My father passed from Glioblastoma 16 years ago so I’m familiar (at least a bit) with what you are going through. Words escape me, but if it’s any encouragement or help, I understand. At least a little.

  10. Thanks, Chris.

    Emily & David: I was able to review your blog a little bit on Sunday and found you appear to live extremely close (like maybe down to road close) to us and we even have frequented several of the same hikes. It sounds like you have great support, but if you need any additional support from the local level, let me know. My wife (local math teacher) makes great skillet lasagna and can tutor if the kids ever need help : ). We are not from the area originally either but settled her e about 2 years ago and still building a local community ourselves. Small world and I never expected anyone else from the early retirement community to be so close. Thinking of you.



  11. Thank you for sharing this and helping put things into perspective. My thoughts (and virtual hugs) go out to your family.

  12. I am really sorry to hear about such an unfortunate development for the PIE family. All I can wish is strength in this difficult and challenging time for your family.
    I’m myself waiting anxiously to hear from my mom who’s having a consultation with an urologist on Friday. Her MRI shows that she has a tumor. My childhood friend’s wife who’s in her early 40’s is going for an operation of breast cancer in week. No prior cancer history in the family.

    Emily encourages to FIRE ASAP but I must admit that their story had the opposite effect only….I’m now even more scared to FIRE. Now I wonder if I must earn and save more money so we have at least 50% cushion on top of what we have.
    This story perhaps could lend a practical suggestion to Chris to write/present a real life example of what getting sick so badly and unexpectedly might cost a FIRE’d family. This would enlighten aspiring FIRE people what cushion should one plan for if they wish to plan conservatively. I really wish I was able to read somewhere about the real dollar amounts such an awful situation might entail. I’ve read people mention that one incurs much more monetary damages beside paying premiums for health insurance, but nobody gives any examples with dollar amounts. FIRE community tends to gloss over the challenges and talk about them in general terms here and there.

    Based on the tone of Emily’s message I don’t think that she will feel offended if I use their family as an example. She mentioned that if you save with a great cushion you can expect to pay a full premium for a good health insurance once both parents FIRE. I come up with the below guesstimates… Can Chris or other knowledgeable correct them or shed more light?

    Based on reading forums, the premium for a family of four would very well be $30k/year and more.
    A plan will have a high deductible and an OOP maximum. If you’re struck with a bad disease, you can expect to pay $10-20k/year for that depending how long the treatments last or need to be repeated.
    Then plans exclude some procedures from benefits or allow a very limited numbers, so you end up paying retail or *your* negotiated prices for them. They can range in wild amounts as well.
    Some drugs might be not covered either – another unknown sum of money.
    Finally other related but unexpected expenses like gas for driving, staying at hotel, hiring help, etc. etc.
    Of course you cannot attach the price to the stress and worry along the way.

    Emily said that they were lucky to be retired to deal with their situation. She’s probably right that not retired people who are still working and saving and not at FIRE finish line wouldn’t evade a bad situation like losing wages, but also the job itself. FMLA lasts 12 weeks only and then that’s it. Short and then long disability varies employer to employer.

    • Chris Mamula says


      I normally try to respond to most if not all comments on the blog, but for this one I wanted to let Emily’s words stand for themselves for the most part. However, I felt the need to respond to this one.

      I think you missed a big piece when you say “Emily encourages to FIRE ASAP…”, but look closer and you’ll see that’s not at all what she says.

      What she says is, “Don’t think you can ‘healthy lifestyle’ yourself out of needing great medical insurance.” AND “When budgeting for early retirement be prepared to pay you full health insurance out-of-pocket max in any one year. Or maybe in every year.” AND “Our saving grace has been our conservative planning…” There are a lot of people in the FIRE crowd who IMHO are naive and think you can exercise and eat well and everything will just work out fine. I agree this shifts the odds in your favor, but sometimes for lack of a better way of saying it: Shit happens. Emily clearly acknowledges this, and for this reason she and David planned and prepared well.

      Only then does she say: “If and when you’re ready to pull the plug on work, or to make a major lifestyle change, JUST DO IT! Don’t wait.” I see this a lot as well, especially in this audience that is full of serious planners. It is not uncommon for people to get stuck in paralysis by analysis and thus hang on for years longer than necessary, just in case.

      In retirement planning, there are no easy answers. Even if Emily shared her exact numbers, they are her’s and David’s. It doesn’t give a lot of information as to what you may need. What if you get a diagnosis that has a better long-term prognosis, but you have these types of expenses for 10-20 years? What if the law changes and they take away protections for those with pre-existing conditions and your costs are multiples of theirs?

      Conversely, what if you plan for the worst and give up an extra decade of your life doing something you don’t love to save more, just in case? Maybe you plan to be able to pay the full sticker price for health insurance premiums, and the current law/subsidies remain in place and you way over save? Maybe in that time you’re missing out on things that you can’t go back and do.

      These are never easy decisions. As a writer, I can’t give the exact answers people are looking for. I can only share my thoughts, ideas, research, and stories of others like this one to get you to ask better questions and find the best solution for yourself.

      I hope that clarifies.


      • Thanks for responding, Chris.
        Nope, I didn’t miss what Emily said. It was clear…
        I fall into the 2nd bucket most likely…being/becoming super conservative and analysis by paralysis especially after reading such sad articles and at this high bull market. To give you an example, we have almost 40x our current expenses saved (ages and children’s ages the same as Emily’s and David’s family) . However, this is on paper and you know where the market is today (1st unknown). Changes in healthcare and its insurance laws (2nd unknown). This 40x multiple doesn’t exclude college expenses starting in 5 and 8 years (the hope is being able to cash flow is we can afford). But the largest/scariest unknown is getting sick and not procedures/drugs/help not being the covered benefits under the insurance. This is what creates the paralysis in me because I’m prone to worries by nature…. Like I say, you have to be either healthy or dead in the USA or otherwise you’ll leave your family helpless and penniless by the time you recuperate somewhat or die.

        • Chris Mamula says

          Your situation is one I witness frequently among readers of this blog and people I’ve met in real life such as those in our mastermind group. This is why my wife and I settled on a hybrid/non-traditional retirement.

          We focused on what we truly wanted: time with our daughter while she is young, freedom/time to pursue outdoor adventures while we have our health, freedom to change/adapt our plans over time, financial security and abundance. Traditional retirement would give us the first two, but restrict us with regards to the latter two.

          So we focused more on lifestyle design while saving towards financial independence and preparing to be able to retire if necessary. In doing so, my wife was able to find a location independent position and negotiate part-time hours and health care for our family. I was able to find opportunities to use my writing on this blog and with my soon to be released book to provide upside income potential while taking virtually no financial risk while also having location independence and gaining control of my time. I also continue to kick around doing very limited work in my original career, physical therapist, as I wrote about a few weeks ago to make a little more income and more importantly keep that door open should I need to return to work for the health insurance benefits.

          Is this perfect? NO! But then, nothing is. This arrangement gives us about 90% of what we were hoping for from retirement, while keeping 90% of what we valued when we were both working full-time.

          My goal in sharing my story and others is to get people to question the status quo of working or retired so they can design their best lives as soon as possible while incorporating appropriate risk management strategies. I appreciate your feedback.


  13. Alice e West says

    OH boy do I know this feeling. I lost my wonderful, loving, funny, extremely analytical to the point of me wanting to konk him on the head, husband of 30 years to acute myloid leukemia. We went to Vegas to celebrate my 50th birthday in January of 2013, I buried him October 1st of the same year.
    That was one of the big reasons why I am retiring early. There is absolutely no guarantees.

  14. So sorry to hear this news. You’re in good hands at Dana Farber.

  15. Thank you for sharing this terrible news and beautiful post from Mrs. PIE. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. PIE at a previous FINCON and got the chance to tell him how much I loved their blog. I am sending my very best to the PIE family as they travel this difficult path. Much love.

  16. ColoradoFIRE says

    Emily and David, you will be in my thoughts – sending you and your boys wishes of love, peace, and healing in whatever form that takes. Thank you for your honesty and thoughtfulness in sharing your story. Although this must be so difficult, it’s wonderful that you can devote your time to one another and your family without having to worry about working too. And Chris, thanks for this post. Really important reminders here.

  17. Emily and David, thank you for sharing your story with us. I was diagnosed with Oliodendroglioma Anaplastic two years ago. I had an “awake Craniotomy”, fun stuff. I was 54 and planning to retire at 57. Now we are unsure of what the future holds. Your strength and openness are uplifting. You are in our prayers.

  18. Stephanie Lee says

    Dear Emily and David,

    I read this post a week ago and have been thinking about it ever since. It really hit close to home for me, as two years ago my partner was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He’s 43 now and, while we don’t have a prognosis (his cancer is too rare for there to be reliable data) there just isn’t an amount of time that would feel like enough.

    I admire your talking about this publicly- it is hard to discuss terrible things. But so important for everyone to understand that any of us could draw that terrible lottery ticket. My partner has twice now turned down job offers due to their subpar insurance, and I am scared that when I’m ready to FIRE I won’t be able to because we’ll need my employer-provided insurance.

    I hope the FIRE community gets behind changing the U.S. healthcare system so we can live free. It’s a political issue, and this community generally shies away from political talk, but this one so massively impacts our financial lives, I don’t see how we can avoid it. I’m so scared that my husband’s health takes a turn for the worse and I’ll want to stop working to spend time with him and care for him (losing my employer health insurance), but I’ll have to choose between that and financial ruin. In such a wealthy country it’s crazy that we choose a system like we have now.

    Ok, that’s the end of my rant!

    Emily and David, I’m sending you love and wags from my clown of a dog!

    • Stephanie S. says

      We Stephanie’s need to stick together!

      Seriously, I cannot fathom how anyone plans to vote for a candidate whose party wants to take away what we have gained in terms of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and elimination of caps on lifetime benefits. Not to mention the reduction or elimination of emissions controls, which lead to illness.

      I hope your SO responds to treatment and goes into indefinite (as in forever) remission.

      Thinking good thoughts for both of you.

  19. Stephanie S. says

    I am not a regular here and had not heard about Emily & David’s blog, plans, etc.

    Regardless, I am so sorry to read about this very sad turn of events. I know about the winters in the Northeast, as I spent my childhood in that area of the country, though not in NH.

    While this is a very serious condition, younger people seem to do better and the fact that that there are treatments available, such as the clinical trial Emily mentioned, means that things may not be as bleak as the diagnosis would lead people to believe.

    Sending good thoughts to Emily and David and, of course, to their boys, as well.