My cancer diagnosis at 35 crippled me financially

Could you give me a little background about you, your life and career so far?

I studied Law at university but took a break after I graduated to go travelling. When I got back I wasn't ready to go back into studying for my LPC so I took an admin job in HR and ended up really enjoying the work. I've now worked in HR for over 12 years, working up from an Advisor through to Director level. When the opportunity to move to London and take a role with one of my favourite brands came up, I took it and haven't looked back.

I went from earning £17k a year in my first role, to earning over £100k in my most recent roles. I've always been pretty sensible with money; I'd always saved hard and joined a company that offered share options and was lucky to make enough money through the scheme to allow me to put down a deposit on a house - something I never thought I'd be able to do on my own.

What is the story you would like to share and why?

I want to share my story to raise awareness around having the right income protections and insurances in place for your financial situation.

What happened?

I was made redundant in 2022 along with most of the HR function, but I'd been exploring the idea of starting my own business at the time and decided to use the opportunity to take a part-time role and start to build up my side hustle. I took a part-time, fixed term position for a good salary but with very few corporate benefits.

Then in December 2022, when I was 35, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told treatment included surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and ongoing hormone treatment. I told my employer about my diagnosis and they offered me a generous settlement agreement to leave and to 'not have to think about work'. I accepted it. It was an incredibly difficult time and it seemed like a good option to take the money and not have to stress about work for a while.

In previous roles I'd always had good benefits - life insurance, critical illness insurance etc - but when I took the part time role, those benefits weren't offered, and for some reason I never sorted them out myself despite having a mortgage. A cancer diagnosis is incredibly challenging on its own, but to find myself without an income and without any insurance protections made it much much harder.

I was lucky enough to have the lump sum from my employer and a decent amount of savings to see me through the 12 months after my diagnosis. A year on though and I'm still in treatment, running out of money, and without a job to go back to. I'm having to navigate how to approach job interviews. I'm not in a position to work full time - treatment is exhausting and my priority now is my physical health - but finding part time roles is hard, and it's difficult to know when to raise the fact that I require flexibility because of my ongoing treatment, and the fear of discrimination.

How do you feel about the decision?

Looking back, I wish I hadn't left my job and had a role to go back into with an employer who knows me and would offer the flexibility I need.

Do you have any advice for those where you were?

I would encourage anyone to look at the insurances they have in place. I was 35 when I was diagnosed with cancer. I've always kept myself fit and healthy and have no family history, so was completely caught off guard by my diagnosis. When it mattered, I realised I didn't have the insurances in place that would have helped. They could've contributed to, or even paid off, my mortgage, or at least given me some financial breathing room.

I'm lucky that my partner has been incredibly supportive, but had I been on my own, I honestly think I would've been forced to sell my house due to having no way to pay the mortgage. It might sound silly not to have had insurance in place, but I've had this conversation with a lot of people since my diagnosis and there are plenty out there who don't have protection in place.

I think as we get older and start to have families it's something that we sort out, but if you're in your 20s or 30s without that level of responsibility, it can often be overlooked - particularly if you have always relied on benefits from an employer.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Check your boobs!


Income Protection can be a lifesaver if you can't work due to illness or injury. You can get it through insurance companies, and some employers offer it as a benefit too. It helps cover your bills and supports your family with a regular income.


Life Insurance is about making sure your loved ones are financially secure if you're not around. You can buy a policy from insurance providers, and sometimes employers include it in their benefits package. It provides a lump sum to help with expenses like the mortgage or daily living costs.

Things to consider:

  • Do you have it already? Does your employer offer any protection or insurance as a benefit?
  • Shop Around: Always compare Income Protection and Life Insurance policies to find the best fit and deal.
  • Customise Your Coverage: Tailor your policy to your salary needs and family's financial security.
  • Seek Advice: Consult a financial advisor for personalised guidance.
  • Review Regularly: Keep your insurance updated with life changes like marriage or having children.