When the unexpected happened, the Knoll family's life turned upside-down. Here's their story of how life insurance provided some peace of mind.
'It made everything possible. It made not giving up possible.'
It’s not unusual for couples to put a lot of thought into purchasing the right life insurance policy — but that was not the case with Securian Financial customers Greg and Melissa Knoll.
They purchased their policy when their friend and snowmobile salesperson became a financial professional. At the time, they couldn’t have foreseen that a need for the policy would present itself in far too short a time.
“On the one hand, I think about how unlucky our family was,” said Melissa. “To lose a husband, a father, at such a young age. But then I think about the past eight years and realize instead how incredibly lucky we were. We had life insurance, which made our lives possible. Greg would be thrilled that our family has been able to live the life we planned.”
The start to a busy life
Greg and Melissa met as college students living in the same residence hall. Melissa’s mother had sent her to college well-stocked with provisions to last through months of studying — and when Melissa began sharing her stash with Greg, a true friendship formed.
“We didn’t begin dating right away,” Melissa explained. “I liked him, although I wouldn’t admit it to myself. Eventually, I needed a date for a sorority function and asked him to go, kind of as a favor. By the time the winter formal rolled around, it was more than friendship.”
Melissa and Greg got married after graduation. Greg had graduated with a degree in economics and taken a regular desk job, but his mild-mannered work life belied his true personality.
“Greg was just a ton of fun. He kept physically fit, lifted weights and loved the outdoors. He was into snowmobiling, ATVs, skiing, boating — life with him was full of adventure,” said Melissa.
It didn’t take long before Greg wanted to trade the desk job for a more fitting career and he became a SWAT team member with Minneapolis Police Department.
Next came the birth of two girls, Neva and Morgan. Between raising children, outdoor sports, full-time jobs and ambitious projects on the side, the Knolls’ lives were busy and full. Even when Greg began to experience acid reflux, he barely paused to address it.
Life’s unexpected detour
“Greg tried everything to treat his acid reflux, but it just got worse and worse,” Melissa recounted. “He went to the doctor, who performed tests and determined his gall bladder needed to come out. It was a relief to finally know what was wrong. It was around the holidays, so we waited a little while, knowing the surgery — once he had it — would take care of the problem.”
A few weeks later — after Greg’s gall bladder was removed — he still didn’t feel better. He headed back to the doctor for an endoscopy, a procedure that allows physicians to see inside the body through a camera scope.
“He came back to the waiting room after the procedure,” Melissa said. He was in a bit of a fog from anesthesia and said ‘I have cancer.’ It seemed ridiculous. I scoffed and said ‘no, you don’t have cancer,’ but then the doctor came out and confirmed it.”
A path to survival
Shaken and feeling lost, Greg and Melissa visited a surgeon to understand their options. With one look at the test results, the surgeon stated there was no hope, no good reason to continue fighting against the inevitable.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘no, we refuse to accept this,’ and made an appointment at a highly respected clinic,” said Melissa.
At the clinic, Greg underwent a battery of diagnostic tests. This time, the prognosis was different.
“The doctor came out and drew a diagram of the different paths Greg’s situation could take,” Melissa explained. “Only one of the paths led to survival. It involved radiation, chemotherapy and finally surgery, but whether Greg could move forward with each new step depended on him conquering the one before it. For months, we focused on nothing else but getting to that last step — surgery.”
At the time, the Knolls’ girls were eight and three years old, respectively. While Morgan was too young to understand what was happening, Neva had a lot of questions, as did their friends and family.
“I remember trying to explain the situation and being thunderstruck by the enormity of it,” said Melissa. You’re told to finish school, go to college, live a healthy lifestyle and everything will work out. No one ever tells you the whole course of your life can be destroyed in one day.”
While Melissa grappled with the emotional aspects of the situation, Greg fought hard with the physical. True to character, he was as tough in his illness as he was in health.
“When we went to each medical appointment, no matter how sick he was, Greg would stand and shake the doctor’s hand,” Melissa remembered. “The doctors were just amazed at his strength — and stubbornness.”
Following two grueling months of treatment, Greg was finally cleared for surgery.
In one day, surgeons removed his stomach, spleen, parts of his pancreas and intestines and more than 20 lymph nodes. When the surgeon reported to Melissa that the complex operation had been a success, a giant feeling of relief washed over her and the earth seemed to right itself. Her vision of what life could be returned.
Naturally, Greg’s recovery from such extreme surgery took time, but eventually he was able to return to work. As a family, the Knolls resumed the activities they loved and over the following year they traveled, played and strove to squeeze joy out of every day.
A new reality
Warning signs began cropping up again about a year after the surgery, when Greg started having trouble eating. It wasn’t too surprising, given the complexity of his surgery and the presence of so much internal scar tissue.
Four months later, his condition was significantly worse. One day, while Melissa was attending a work conference, Greg was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
The cancer had returned and, this time, there would be no diagram or path to survival. Greg was unconscious for three days before he passed away.
The next few months were a blur for Melissa as she tried to find footing in her new reality — a working, single mom with only one income and two young girls who loved their home, friends and extracurricular activities.
Finding some stability
Melissa found that one of the few things that offered stability was the life insurance she and Greg had first purchased years before, as a bit of an afterthought.
“I was terrified of everything,” she recalled. “Everything in life that wasn’t supposed to happen had happened! Without life insurance, we would have had to sell our house, move into my parents’ basement. The girls would have had to start over at a new school, make new friends. We would have lost everything.”
In addition to saving Melissa the burden of making drastic logistical changes, life insurance also gave her the time and freedom to focus on her family and help her girls through their grief. The memories they made during the extra year Greg’s surgery had given them were an unending source of comfort, and still are today.
“Greg gave us the most blessed gift I can ever imagine — he taught us how to live. Our girls are fearless and they follow their passions. We don’t take tomorrow for granted — we enjoy each other and every moment we have together,” said Melissa.
For Neva and Morgan, the world has remained a place of infinite possibilities. Both girls have pursued and excelled in dance. Neva finished high school and is now attending the same university where her parents met.
“Everyone took heroic measures to help our family have a future,” said Melissa, “the medical professionals and the insurance professionals — I really believe that. If our snowmobiling friend hadn’t invited us to see him that day, we wouldn’t have had the life we’ve lived over the past nine years. Neva wouldn’t be going to college. Morgan wouldn’t be in dance. When [our financial professional] sold us that policy, he handed us our future.”