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The Hicks Family’s Story

The Hicks Family’s Story

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The Hicks Family's Story

Travis Hicks, an interior architecture professor, and his wife, LouAnne, a part-time children’s music teacher, were raising their three young children in Greensboro, NC, when their eldest daughter, Lilli, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

Finances were the last thing on the minds of the Hicks family. Their primary concern was seeing Lilli safely to the other side of cancer. They assumed that their work-associated health insurance would cover a lot especially since Travis had cautiously checked the “cancer insurance” boxes. They didn’t worry at all until debt – everyday expenses and medical bills – started piling up.

Mounting Medical and Everyday Expenses

With their income cut due to their flexible work schedules and expenses increasing dramatically, the Hicks family lived paycheck to paycheck despite their middle-class partially dual income household. Travis and LouAnne completed financial assistance paperwork at their hospital but did not qualify: their income was too high, they had too much in retirement accounts, and had good insurance plans.

Yet, the debt kept mounting out of control. Medical expenses were between $10,000 and $12,000 per year for three years and still continue to be several thousand dollars a year for Lilli’s ongoing check-ups. The Hicks family pay for gas to go to and from the hospital, parking at the hospital lot, and meals during clinic visits. Their car broke down. Their refrigerator broke. Their washer and dryer broke. Lilli’s siblings needed braces. Then Lilli needed braces, too. If it wasn’t one expense, it was another.

“Just a month or so before Lilli was to return home from her bone marrow transplant, I decided to take out the basement carpet to get rid of any indoor contaminants,” said Travis. “I discovered asbestos tile and mastic hiding under the carpet. Taking that out involved professionals in hazmat suits, temporarily storing all of our stuff from the basement in a POD in the driveway, and buying all new flooring to replace the dangerous tile. That was a big, unexpected and unavoidable financial hit.”

Debt After Treatment

Lilli has finished treatment and, outwardly, it seems like the Hicks family is “back to normal.” This is far from the truth. Travis and LouAnne are still recovering from the debt they accrued over the past four years. They have consumer debt from credit cards to pay off while they try to stay current on bills for essential items.They have exhausted nearly all of their savings except for their retirement funds.

“It’s hard to ask folks for help when it appears to most people that we’re past all of our trouble. Lilli is healthy. We have jobs. We have insurance. In spite of all this, we will be paying off debts for years to come,” said Travis.

Financial Planning for Cancer Helped the Hicks Family

“Working with Family Reach was appealing to me because of its anonymity. We are separated by many miles from the person offering us financial planning assistance, and I felt like we could rely on some privacy. I’m not proud to admit how deep in debt we are, and I’d rather tell a perfect stranger about our situation than expose my family to pity or criticism close to home.”

Travis and LouAnne worked with Steve Csenge, a pro bono Certified Financial Planner, who tackled how they could pay down and prioritize the debt that had accrued over the past four years while also planning for the future.

“Steve helped us pull together all our income, assets, and debts, into a few spreadsheets that set the tone for a plan,” noted Travis. “He provided level-headed, objective feedback over the phone and gave me the confidence that we could do this. That we could, in fact, get out of all the debt that we incurred before, during, and after Lilli’s treatments. His confidence has helped us stick to the plan, no matter how slow and steady it feels otherwise. It helped to have an expert say that, with some discipline, we could work ourselves out of our hole and confirm that we could make it without going bankrupt.”

Published on July 24, 2019

“It’s hard to ask folks for help when it appears to most people that we’re past all of our trouble. Lilli is healthy. We have jobs. We have insurance. In spite of all this, we will be paying off debts for years to come.”
–Travis Hicks


  • Received objective, trust-worthy feedback, with no strings attached
  • Worked with a planner to compile income, assets, and debts into a comprehensive financial picture
  • Developed a strategy for getting out of debt and planning for the future