Money Diary: A 31-Year-Old With Incurable Cancer On 32k


Welcome to Money Diaries, where we're tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We're asking a cross-section of women how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period – and we're tracking every last penny.

This week: "I was diagnosed with incurable stage four cancer last year and my only NHS-approved treatment option didn’t work. I’m on paid sick leave at the moment while I wait to find out whether I will be accepted onto a clinical trial for life-extending treatment. There’s a reasonable chance that I won’t make it to 2020. My finances took a huge hit when I was first diagnosed with cancer almost three years ago, and they’ve never really recovered. Right now I struggle to find a balance between splashing out on bucket list items and stress-relieving treats, and saving to make sure that I have enough money for when my sick leave runs out – or a miracle happens and I actually survive. Preserving my financial independence is also very important to me, although I know that someday I will have to rely on my husband more. Anyway, I'm feeling surprisingly well at the moment so I really want to make every day count!"

Industry: Publishing
Age: 31
Location: Home counties
Salary: £32,000
Paycheque amount: £1,860 plus approx. £570 in benefits
Number of housemates: One (my husband, D)

Monthly Expenses

Housing costs: £1,315 (I split this with D, so I pay £658)
Loan payments: £92 student loan
Utilities: £150 maybe? I pay £940 per month into our joint account to cover rent, bills and our groceries, and don't really notice what goes where.
Transportation: £40-60 for incidental trips but no more as I have a disabled person’s bus pass. We have a car but I’m not insured on it at the moment, so D covers the running costs by himself. My blue badge means that we get reduced/free parking in some places. I recently bought a disabled person’s railcard to get cheaper train fares, too.
Phone bill: £20
Savings? Varies – usually £200-£600 per month but it’s all for short-term use (i.e. when sick pay runs out).
Other: Netflix £7.99, gym membership £30, monthly direct debits to various charities £22, cleaner £42.

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Day One

6.20am: Woken up by D, who is leaving on a business trip for the week. As I’m up, I may as well do some shopping… Order a gift hamper for my grandad’s birthday (£32), then get some photos printed for D. I’m making him a keepsake album so that he’ll have something to treasure when I’m gone. £7.95

9.45am: Glorious sunny day! I need to nip out and post the last wedding announcement cards. We recently eloped (romantic and cost-efficient!) and decided to tell everyone by sending out nice cards. Regretting the card idea a bit after multiple trips to the post office. £9

12pm: Early lunch at home before heading out to a new art class – a free session for cancer patients that’s run by a local charity. I’m really grateful for this sort of stuff because being on sick leave is so isolating – it’s crazy how much you can miss everyday interactions when you aren’t working. I’m running late, so take the bus. Use my bus pass so it’s free.

5.30pm: Feeling inspired after art class and book myself a calligraphy workshop for next month. I might be starting new treatment soon so splurging makes me nervous (unpredictable side effects could mean I have to cancel at short notice), but it’s sunny and I’m in a good mood so I go for it anyway. £58

7.30pm: Catch up with a friend at a gig. Tickets were £10 each but I bought them weeks ago. It’s BYOB so I grab a couple of beers from the fridge to take with me. Cycle to the venue – first time riding my bike in months. Feeling pretty proud about this six-mile round trip!

Total: £106.95

Day Two

7.30am: Exhausted but need to get moving because I’m meeting a friend for a walk. She’s on maternity leave at the moment so I spend a lot of time with her and her baby. Make some porridge to see me through the morning.

10.30am: Take my friend to a local co-op café for coffee and cake after our walk. Sugar-free 'anti-cancer' diets aren’t for me – eat what makes you happy! I order a large cappuccino for her, a mocha for me and a pastry to share (£7.50). We go here a lot, and this time I finally decide to join the co-op. £5

1.45pm: Go home and make risotto using stuff from the cupboard. I ended a three-month stint of treatment a few weeks ago, and I spent so much time in and out of hospital that I relied on takeaways and WH Smith meal deals to see me through. It cost a fortune and was probably horrible for my health, so cooking at home with cheap, fresh veg feels like a luxury.

3.15pm: Spend almost an hour on the phone to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) trying to update my married name on their records. I’m so worried about inadvertently committing benefit fraud. I receive benefits called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) because I’m likely to die within the next six months. Of course, we never really know when we’re going to die…and I’m hoping to be around longer than that! Check emails while I’m waiting. Each month I do 12 hours of home-based volunteering for a local charity, and now seems like a good time to catch up on my to-do list.

4.15pm: Finally through to DWP! If I want to change my name, I need to confirm it in a letter. Wish they’d made that information available on the website so I didn’t have to spend ages on hold.

6.30pm: Dinner for one tonight. Start cooking – a new recipe, lentil and mango curry – but my heart isn’t in it. I have a headache and I’m anxious that it’s a brain tumour. I have a brain MRI and a full body CT every three months and I’m waiting for the results of my latest scans, so I’m on edge. There are no words to describe the stress of cancer. Grab myself a Diet Coke from the fridge because we all know that it is the cure for everything. D calls so I take a break and we catch up on our days. No cost for dinner as I had all the ingredients.

8.05pm: The curry is ready! Watch Netflix over dinner before having an early night.

Total: £12.50

Day Three

7.25am: Leftover coconut milk = tropical porridge! Eat in front of BBC Breakfast. I love Dan and Louise a bit more than is possibly acceptable? Sort out a new phone contract at the same time: I’m going from 8GB per month to 100GB for the same price and getting £60 cashback. Nothing to pay today though! Realise that I’ll need to print the details at some point – I keep a folder of all my important financial stuff so that it will be easier to sort out my estate once I’ve died.

9am: Yoga class. I buy class credits upfront, so today is already covered. Check how many credits I have left and spot that I have an unused 8-class pass that’s about to expire. I bought it a while ago but was too ill to practise. I’ll email the studio and beg for forgiveness (and an extension) later.

11.15am: Race home on the bus to see our neighbours before they go away for a few weeks. We’re really close and they’re my lifeline when D is abroad. I’m going to miss them! They empty the contents of their fridge and freezer on me. Free food is appreciated because I’ve just received an email from work to remind me that I only have 30 days of paid sick leave left. I thought I had more time! If I’m accepted on the trial, I won’t be able to work for at least three more months – and after that, who knows? Shit. I have income protection insurance that will pay out for up to five years once the paid sick leave ends – and I’m really privileged to be in this position – but the money is only enough to cover rent and bills. D and I need to have a serious talk about finances when he gets home.

1pm: Lunch (scrambled eggs, toast and salad) courtesy of my neighbours’ fridge.

5pm: Yoga pass extended! People are kind.

9pm: Have a dizzy spell in the middle of painting my nails. Trip and spill red nail polish all over the carpet. Argh! Call D in a panic, but he’s thousands of miles away and already asleep. Shit shit shit. Attempt to remove the stain, but realise quite quickly that I’m going to need a professional...

Total: NOTHING! But plenty of things I’m going to be paying for later.

Day Four

8.10am: Slept awfully last night but the cleaners have arrived, so… It’s technically D’s turn to pay them but he’s not here so I dig out the cash. Regret being home while they’re around because although they’re very friendly, they’re convinced that I’d beat cancer if I just found God. And they don't do stain removal. £42

11.30am: Decide to take a spontaneous trip to the beach! My oncologist has clinic today and I usually keep the day free in case I’m called in at short notice, but no call = time for me. It’s a two-hour journey and feels a bit extravagant for an afternoon, so I make sandwiches instead of buying something on the train. I’m basically your grandma. Return train fare costs £35.85.

2pm: Hire a bike! Cycle along the beach! Live my best life! £6

3.15pm: Treat myself to a 99, sadly not 99p (were they ever?). £2.30

5.30pm: My nurse calls to set up my first trial appointment for next week. I still need to get the final scan results, but this appointment means that I don't have any brain tumours! This is massive news. Text D immediately. We'll celebrate this weekend!

6pm: Festive gin on the train home. I'm so, so relieved! £4.30

8pm: Order takeaway because now our oven is playing up. I can’t even. But I have been craving chips all the way home anyway. £14.55

Total: £105

Day Five

9am: Lie-in! Check my phone and see that this week's PIP has arrived. Half goes into a spending pot, and the other half gets saved in my Marcus account. I'd love to blow the savings on a real bucket-list holiday, but I can't get travel insurance because my tumours aren't stable. I'm not going anywhere any time soon. Chances are the money’s going to end up paying my rent at some point.

10am: Make a chilli to use up some of the neighbours’ food before it goes bad. Split it into portions and stash it in the freezer for when D’s away again, I’m ill, and I can’t be bothered to cook. Order some supplies for art class while the chilli’s bubbling away. I use Amazon Smile so I can donate to charity at the same time. I’m not sure how much Amazon actually gives, but every penny counts, right? £8.95

12pm: Early lunch at a friend's house as he and his partner are working from home. They ask me not to bring anything and this time I actually listen, but I feel like a bad guest nonetheless. Surprisingly, we end up talking about money over lunch and I leave thinking how happy I am (for once) to have neither a mortgage nor a child right now.

3.45pm: Wander into town in the sun and end up in Gap buying underwear that I definitely don't need. £14.40

4.30pm: Meet another friend after she finishes work. I promise that my weeks are never normally as sociable as this one! Being on long-term sick leave is the loneliest experience I have ever had. If you know someone in the same position as me, give them a call. Please? Anyway – we eat obligatory sunny-day ice cream and go on a long walk through the park. I treat her to ice cream as she's had a tough week. £6.20

7pm: D is back! Very happy to see him. I bake salmon and we have an evening in front of the TV.

Total: £29.55

Day Six

9am: D can’t believe that I now have a 100GB SIM package (but I do, I really do!) and starts trawling the internet to try and find his own. We end up falling down a money-saving wormhole thanks to Money Saving Expert, and over breakfast we change broadband provider (saving £15 per month) and order a load of water-saving freebies from the water company.

10am: We’re going to the zoo! Once again the weather is way too beautiful to stay indoors. D pays for entry (£16 each) and I…pay for the toll bridge on the way there. 5p (seriously)

1pm: Lunch at the zoo is on D. He earns more than twice as much as me, so he tends to pay when we go out to eat. This was just a nice thing that happened when I was working full-time, but now that I’m on sick leave and have time for endless cups of coffee/takeaway/lunches out it is actually really helpful. Zoo food is crap. We basically eat school dinners, but for three times the price.

2pm: I don’t remember feeling this bloated at school, though? Bleurgh!

4pm: Stop in a picturesque village on the way home and pick up some pastries from a small bakery, mainly to try and remove the taste of Zoo Food. £3

5pm: Get home and check the post to discover a letter from the DWP – mysteriously addressed to my married name. I’m not quite sure how it got there, but at least that’s one thing off my to-do list.

7pm: Dinner at home because we’re still eating through the neighbours’ leftovers. Hang out here because I’m too tired to do anything else. I manage to convince D that we should both try the peelable face masks that I bought a couple of weeks ago (is this one of the reasons why I married him?). The rubbery stuff gets everywhere, but it’s so satisfying to peel off.

Total: £3.05

Day Seven

9am: Need a lot of coffee to get going this morning. Being bothered by some rib pain, possibly from the tumours in my lung. D takes a look but can't see any swelling or bruising. Really hope it's nothing! My cancer has been mercifully asymptomatic recently. Make a note to mention the pain to my oncologist at my next appointment.

11am: I was so wrapped up in scan results this week that I forgot that it was also my dad’s last day at work – he’s just retired. Oops. Go out to pick up a card. Get some micellar water and conditioner too as I’ve run out of both. Spy a discounted chicken on the way out…we'll have that for lunch. £15.52 in total.

1.45pm: So exhausted that D has to take over and finish getting lunch ready. I’m usually pretty sad about this as I love cooking so much, but currently too tired to care. Chicken is delicious though!

2.30pm: Fall asleep on the sofa. Not leaving the house today.

4.15pm: D wakes me up with tea and chocolate. Yes.

4.30pm: Attempt to be more productive and start exploring an online training course that could support my volunteering. It is really giving my brain a workout, but that feels good after so long out of the office. Sign up for a one-month trial of the site so I can access all the content – must remember to cancel.

6.15pm: Feel as if I’ve spent way too much time sitting down. Decide to bake some cookies to take to my next art class tomorrow. We’ve got plenty of ingredients in the cupboard, which is handy because I’m already in my pyjamas and I have absolutely no intention of leaving the house again today.

7.40pm: I made the cookies. We ate the cookies. Will probably buy some treats on the way to class tomorrow instead. Make dinner (mushroom, spinach and goat’s cheese gnocchi) but neither of us have much of an appetite anymore.

11pm: Sleeeeep.

Total: £15.52

The Breakdown

Food/Drink: £40.35
Entertainment: £66.95
Clothes/Beauty: £27.42
Travel: £41.90
Other: £95.95

Total: £272.57

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