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Did you retire before you had planned to as a result of cancer?

Many people in the workforce look forward to retiring one day, and most of us try to do our best to plan for retirement. But some of us encounter medical issues that might force us to consider an early, unplanned retirement. Did you make the decision to retire before you had planned to as a result of your breast cancer diagnosis? How did you come to the decision? Were you prepared? What have you ended up doing in your retirement? Share your story and we may include your voice in a new article on about facing an unplanned retirement due to breast cancer.

Thank you!



  • illimae
    illimae Member Posts: 5,516
    edited November 2019

    Absolutely. I had a 401k since I was 25 and the last 11 years have also included a retirement plan/pension from my employer. I was diagnosed stage IV de novo in 2016 but continued to work, brain mets were found in 2017 and I still worked until summer of 2018 when treatment related SE’s became challenging to manage while full time. At 43 I went on extended leave and plan to retire officially next month. Unfortunately, at 44 my only option is early retirement with a 26% penalty and a distribution over many years (retirement plans formula, not how long I may actually have left). This leaves me with enough to cover my portion of my husbands healthcare premium plus maybe $5/mo. Laughable but I’m grateful for the good insurance. I’ll rollover the 401k after I retire, so hubs will have it and I was able to get an accelerated death benefit payout for current needs.

  • meow13
    meow13 Member Posts: 1,363
    edited November 2019

    Yes, I kind of felt pushed out early at age 56. But I guess I am happy.

  • Albertan
    Albertan Member Posts: 3
    edited November 2019

    I too felt pushed out of my company. I had not planned to retire so soon. I had a single mastectomy and chemo. The chemo affected me, as it does many others, with "chemo-brain", and was diagnosed, after a full day of testing with cognitive impairment. The testing was done at the request of the insurance carrier. My company kept pressuring me to come back to work, in spite of the cognitive diagnosis. The insurance carrier seemed not to believe their contracted person who had done the testing and diagnosis.

    So I was pressured by my company to return to work, the insurance company did not believe their own testing and were refusing to support me any more, I had cognitive impairment. I felt completely unsupported by the organizations that were badgering me, so I retired. Not happy about the circumstances. Happy that I'm out of the rat race. Hope I've got enough money to see me through to the end of my life.

  • flowergal
    flowergal Member Posts: 73
    edited November 2019

    At age 69, (2018) I was still working part time but had gradually decreased my days down to just one per week . I had been thinking of quitting completely, but still enjoyed the work and the people I worked with. When I had the biopsy and before I had the result ( which was most likely cancer), I decided it was time to quit . Even though it was only one day a week, I was still locked into this and would sometimes be asked to do some extra days . I decided there were things I wanted to do while my husband and i were still able to enjoy . I told my employer that i would retire as on June 1st regardless of the outcome of the biopsy. The diagnosis was IDC and I had surgery and radiation. My employer understood my decision and gave me a nice retirement party and gift in June.

    Since then, I have been enjoying my gardening and as my husband says ,I am happiest when digging in the dirt! I also enjoy a daily long walk with our dog. We have taken an Alaskan cruise for our 50th anniversary and plan another this coming February.

    Financially, WE are doing ok and have some savings to rely on in our old age. Medically, I am on Medicare and a supplement which covers our medical expenses.

    I still get called by my office manager occasionally to help out and have gone in to work a few times since I left but it is up to me to say yes or no .

  • BlueGirlRedState
    BlueGirlRedState Member Posts: 900
    edited November 2019

    I did decide to retire early, at 58. I was minimally eligible, with years in. I knew I would not want to return following a bi-lateral. So I ran the numbers. It was going to be tight, but I think it will work out. Had a 401K like retirement through work, and savings. My last day at work was a sick day, getting round 4 of chemo. This was the second time for me with BC, and now I am going through a third time. So much for successful treatment. I think retiring early was the right decision for me, even though finances are a little tighter than I thought tney would be. I do not miss work, and really enjoy not having to plan trips/activities around work Did not anticipate having cancer for a third time, and the incurred costs.

    2009 ER+ left breast. 52 yrs. Lumpectomy, Sentinel node removal, negative. Radiation 6 weeks, tamoxifen 5 years. Dense lumpy left breast, normal right. Acupuncture offered at facility as part of integrative medicine. It really helped with anxiety/stress during radiation treatment.

    2016 ER+ left breast. Probably a new cancer, but unknown. 4 rounds TC Aug-Oct 2016, Bi-lateral (my choice) Nov 2016, no reconstruction. 2 sentinel nodes remove, negative. Cold Capping using Chemo Cold Caps (DIGNICAP not available). Anastrozole 1 mg starting May 2017. Joint issues noticed immediately. Stopped Anastrozole after 3-4 months due to joint stiffness in. After several months of no AIs, fingers were feeling better. Started tamoxifen March 2018

    7/19/2019 - swelling in R-arm, opposite side from where lymph nodes removed. Noticed 6/18/2019. Could have been swelling earlier but wearing long sleeves. Trip to urgent care. They did ultrasound, concerned that there might be a clot, there was not. Started seeing lymphatic therapist 7/2/2019.

    8/2019 CT, Breast/chest , neck/thyroid ultra sound

    9/2019 DR ordered biopsy, said it could be lymphoma, cancer, benign lymphatic. Biopsy R-axilla. Cancer. Genetic test showed no known markers (20+ looked for)

    9/29/2019 PET scan, no indication of spread. Arimidex and Ibrance prescribed to shrink tumor prior to surgery.

    10/2019 – Stopped Tamoxifen. Started Arimidex and Ibrance. Brand name Arimidex so far does not seem to have the SEs that generics did, but stiff/trigger finger on left middle finger returned.

  • Patty66
    Patty66 Member Posts: 45
    edited November 2019

    I had worked really hard for about 5 years to become independent from employers and get my graphic design business on its way when the news hit. I was very sad to let go of this dream but decided really fast that from hereon out my family and myself are worth spending all my time on. Fortunately, my husband’s income is sufficient to keep us afloat.We can continue to raise our 3 kids and take care of our elderly Moms.

    Altogether, I believe that my cancer was brought on by an overload of stress (several deaths in the immediate family and an overwhelming workload which I think had me already on a path of depression/burnout). It almost seems that I was brought back to my senses by this life-changing diagnosis.

  • vlnrph
    vlnrph Member Posts: 474
    edited November 2019

    After treatment for early stage disease, I went back to my part-time job for 18 months then quit at age 55. I had been retired for 12 years while our son was growing up then worked for a decade to cover my husband’s loss of employment and also private school tuition! My profession was a well paying one.

    The opportunity to do extensive volunteering and enjoy a small hobby income were mainstays of both time periods, until metastatic disease arrived. Fortunately, I had enough recent Social Security credits to qualify for disability. Putting in more than a few hours a week would jeopardize that. We travel as my health allows.

    With fatigue and anemia, frequent rest is required which means that I cannot keep up the pace of a busy location. Also, the ability to avoid crowds with their nasty viruses and other infectious organisms is probably to my advantage since I can run errands, go shopping, etc when stores are lightly populated.

  • ChaCha57
    ChaCha57 Member Posts: 6
    edited November 2019

    Yes. I, as many others have shared, felt pushed out of my job. My job description was changed making it physically impossible for me to manage while recovering from my cancer treatment of surgery, chemo, radiation, herceptin and hormonal therapy. Luckily I had been with my organization for 20 years and was within less than a year for eligible retirement so they had to let me retire intact if I covered my own medical through cobra for 11 months and 3 weeks. I worked PT closer to home for a couple of years and finally took early social security at 62. It will be tight but I’m thankful for my benefits to have covered me as well as they did and even though I didn’t plan on leaving my job I think it was for the best for my medical recovery. It takes a lot longer to recover than we are advised at the onset

  • moderators
    moderators Posts: 7,679
    edited November 2019

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings with us. Please continue to share. It's very helpful.

  • KatherineAriadne
    KatherineAriadne Member Posts: 2
    edited December 2019

    I am in the middle of making this decision right now. I was diagnosed with ILC on August 30, and it is stage IV with metastases to bone. I'm taking Arimidex and getting radiation therapy, then will probably start Ibrance after my radiation is complete. I am only 57 and I'm a physician, and had not planned to retire until at least age 65. Because of bone metastases, I do have a fair amount of pain (thought it was just "getting older" and "arthritis" prior to my diagnosis...I have a reasonably high pain threshold so I was able to go into some pretty good denial). I also have horrible fatigue, which was present before my radiation treatments. I do have a long-term disability plan so I could use that while I'm making my decision, but somehow I feel like it would be "giving up" to stop working. I'm afraid if I let this change my life drastically, I will be giving in to the disease and potentially shortening my life. Financially, I should be at least okay, but I don't know if I would be emotionally.

  • boogirl
    boogirl Member Posts: 24
    edited December 2019

    I'm also in the middle of considering this question - I had posted some of these thoughts on the Triple+ discussion. I'm back 120% at work, but do I enjoy it? After being back a couple of months they changed my role and I don't feel it's for the better - it seems like more work (esp travel) for less opportunity (I don’t have to “manage” anymore - like that’s good). While chemo and the intense part of treatment was difficult, I had more time with my husband - which we both enjoyed as he's older & already retired, and work from home which was less stressful than time in the office & on the road.

    We focus on not letting cancer "defeat" us, but there's no question it changes your perspective, and it makes you want to change other things in your life. But I'm still not sure on work - I'm fighting feeling "defeated" if I decide to retire. It feels like letting people down, especially women coming up behind me who like seeing a superwoman style return, and maybe also will gratify other people who didn't expect me back at all! Grrrr.... Is it too soon to know what I really want? Do I really just want different work not retirement?

    While I think about it, I'm working like a nutter on the road every week while still getting treatment (you can get herceptin SQ treatment in a lot of countries FYI), and it's certainly not a downshift - it's more travel than ever, and I can't say it's fun.

  • mavericksmom
    mavericksmom Member Posts: 1,047
    edited December 2019

    I wasn’t forced to retire but going on short term disability for four months due to my second primary breast cancer caused me to add at least one year before I can afford to retire. I wanted to retire in 2020 or 2021, but now need to push that to 2022. I will be 68.

    I feel drained from the whole recuperation, mastectomy with DIEP reconstruction and healing issues due to radiation burns from IDC in 2003. I had ILC this time, Dx2018.

  • marinochka
    marinochka Member Posts: 82
    edited December 2019

    Mavericksmo… may i ask you a question.

    If you are on short term disability, employer can not let you go during that time?

    we have a small department, only 4 people, and they would definitely need a person if i, for example, will be on disability.

    i am just trying to understand how it works.

    thank you

  • Lumpie
    Lumpie Member Posts: 1,553
    edited December 2019

    I have posted in other forums about being forced out of my job. I was deeply saddened by this course of events. I was very disappointed that my employer chose to be so callous. I was diagnosed in my 40's so was in no way financially prepared to retire. I had experienced layoffs in prior recessions and, ironically, had made a career change just a few years earlier in hopes of having more stable employment prospects.

    I am in the U.S. Many of us know that we have a number of challenges with our healthcare system. Some people do not realize how dramatically that arrangement can affect their employment prospects if they have high medical costs. If an employer is "fully insured," meaning buys insurance for all employees, our high medical costs may drive up the cost of coverage for the business. If we work for large employers, those employers often "self insure" meaning they do not buy insurance but actually pay our medical bills. Very few people realize this. It's an advantage for employers with a young, healthy workforce. But if you are costing your employer hundreds of thousands indefinitely... It doesn't make you the most attractive employee. Discrimination may be illegal but if I tell my employer I need accommodation for treatment, possibly time off for care, may not feel 100% at times ... and could you also pay these $300,000 in medical bills...annually....indefinitely? You see where this is going. I have read accounts of many people with high health care costs being forced out over these perverse incentives. I can't even entirely vilify the companies - it's just too crazy that our employers have anything to do with providing our healthcare. I certainly admire companies that are supportive and treat employees well. If you have not been so fortunate, I would encourage you to let your elected officials knows. Consider speaking up and being an advocate for eliminating these barriers to continuing to work. If we don't nothing will change.

  • windingshores
    windingshores Member Posts: 160
    edited December 2019

    I spent years taking care of a child with medical needs, then my elderly mother, and was going to try to work, but once I had cancer (double mastectomy(I never have. I am just so tired. Five years of Femara has a cumulative effect in my opinion.

    I am shocked that people were pushed out of their jobs, in this day and age. And never knew some companies pay medical expenses. Unbelievable and discriminatory.

  • Lumpie
    Lumpie Member Posts: 1,553
    edited December 2019

    Interesting article/current event on the topic:

    Supreme Court to look again at whether teachers at religious schools are 'ministerial'

    18 Dec 2019

    The Supreme Court will consider how much leeway religious organizations have in firing their employees in two cases from California filed by teachers who lost their jobs at Catholic schools.

    One teacher alleged age discrimination, and another, now deceased and represented by her husband, said she was fired after informing the school that she had *breast cancer.* {emphasis added}

  • SeattleSunshine
    SeattleSunshine Member Posts: 9
    edited February 2020

    This is a good thread. Speaks to my situation. I am self-employed as a psychotherapist. I had planned to work about two or three more years and retire at 70 or so. I no longer have disability insurance because I have social security and get healthcare insurance through my husband. Sounds good!

    But I don't think I will have the luxury of retiring on my terms. I find that I am experiencing much more fatigue than I could have guessed (I finished radiation a few months ago and started Arimidex last month). My mind is not as sharp as I would like (still feeling gobsmacked by the dx).

    Fortunately, I am not being pushed out like some have described. But I am beginning to see that circumstances may dictate what I do. I love my work; it is meaningful and satisfying. It makes me sad to have to prepare to give up my life's work because my poor body is busy dealing with cancer.

    I am sure I will adapt in time. But just now, I am giving myself permission to regret this loss. As we all know, cancer presents a fork in the road

  • minustwo
    minustwo Member Posts: 12,994
    edited February 2020

    Seattle - since you are self-employed, can you cut back & not give up your career entirely? What about working just 3 days a week? Or working just mornings?

    Eventually you will find your 'new normal' as we say here - but don't give up too soon since you do love your work and find fulfillment practicing.

  • LoriLee1967
    LoriLee1967 Member Posts: 3
    edited April 2021

    So glad I found this, quick question, need some input or opinions....I will be 55 next year and I am considering retiring with the rule of 55 withdrawing from my 401k, I am mainly doing this because I have worked as a dialysis nurse for 24 years and have to get up at 3am, I am a Stage 3 bc survivor since 2009 but my mother passed from returning cancer 13 years after her diagnosis and treatment, I am tired of getting up at 3am and 12 hour shifts and I am scared I will die and never enjoy my savings , is this selfish or stupid? I still have a 16 year old daughter but I plan to arrange for her education before I retire, and possibly work part time somewhere doing something totally different to offset the cost of having to purchase my own insurance. What do ya'll think?

  • moderators
    moderators Posts: 7,679
    edited April 2021

    Welcome LoriLee1967, Getting up at 3am must be absolutely exhausting! There is no "stupid" when it comes to picking a time to retire. It is so individual - based on your savings, lifestyle, family, priorities, stress of your job. Have you spoken with a financial advisor to see if it's workable for you? Sounds like an exciting option after 24 years of nursing.

  • LoriLee1967
    LoriLee1967 Member Posts: 3
    edited April 2021

    thank you for your response, I will definitely talk to a financial advisor before I decide for sure

  • ninetwelve
    ninetwelve Member Posts: 328
    edited April 2021

    worked with cancer for six years. Retired at 61 from a combination of cancer plus pandemic. Struggling with the financial side of paying for my own coverage, which isn't nearly as good as my former company's healthcare coverage, so in addition to paying $600 premium every month, this month I'll have an additional $600 bill for my recent MRI. Getting SSDI, and in two years I'll qualify for Medicaid, if I'm still alive.

    Unless the Biden administration lowers the age of eligibility. We can always hope.

  • cookie54
    cookie54 Member Posts: 615
    edited April 2021

    LoriLee your plan is absolutely not stupid or selfish! it sounds to me like you have a responsible plan for bowing out gracefully. I feel as though you did your time and when work becomes more of a chore it's time to change. I just turned 55 am I am dealing with a 2nd recurrence I am A CT technologist and always worked full-time however I just recently changed to part-time and I am happy with my decision. It was a difficult one to make being I carry the health insurance for my husband also and it's outrageously expensive! Also I don't get a mental break from cancer because I scan fellow cancer patients and somedays I'm just tired of it. I have decided I am worth it and I have no idea if this will return in a month or a year or hopefully never! So to me if you can financially swing it then go for it! You can always go back to full-time if need be. I do plan to retire earlier than later that's for sure. So I say do what makes you happy because you are worth it! Best wishes.

  • kbl
    kbl Member Posts: 2,637
    edited April 2021

    NineTwelve, I just saw this recently. They've been trying to get this passed for a few years. I will be eligible for Medicare in October, but I still hope this passes. It’s the Metastatic Breast Cancer Access to Care Act.

  • exbrnxgrl
    exbrnxgrl Member Posts: 4,641
    edited April 2021

    So interesting to read everyone’s stories and reasons for retiring or not. I belong to a strong union so being pushed out was never a possibility. Most of you know how much I love teaching so after 3 1/2 months of medical leave, I came back to work, happy as a clam. After I hit the 8 year post dx mark, I began to think about retirement because I’d been a very lucky stage IV patient but knew it likely won’t last forever. With that in mind and turning 65 in September I made the decision to retire at the end of this school year. I am terrified of being bored butI have my grandchildren to spoil and I plan on subbing as well. I’m sure I would have worked a few more years if it weren’t for mbc but working for 10 years with mbc got me to 65 so I’m good with that.

  • LoriLee1967
    LoriLee1967 Member Posts: 3
    edited May 2021

    thank you!!!

  • chaclarey
    chaclarey Member Posts: 62
    edited May 2021

    Had planned(LOL) to retire at 58 when partner was 65. Have a demanding fulfilling job I used to love. Breast cancer at 50, 18 months ago and I can’t seem to bounce back mentally or physically. I used to be very good at my job and now I’m struggling with focus, memory and chronic fatigue. I have decided to hold on and retire in 6 months . Healthcare insurance not tied to employment(Canada) and no medical bills so I am fortunate that way. My career was an important part of my identity and self worth and it’s sad to let it go.

  • edwards750
    edwards750 Member Posts: 1,568
    edited May 2021

    I was 60 when I was DX. I had a job working nights at Federal Express. My hours were 5-10 pm. It was a hike from my house but the pay was good and the benefits were too. I enjoyed what I did but prior to being DX I was having trouble concentrating, etc, I chalked it up to lack of enough sleep.

    Fast forwarding after I was DX I had a lumpectomy and 33 rounds of radiation. Radiation brought on fatigue halfway through the treatments. By then I decided I didn’t want to go back to work.

    When my treatments were done my husband I calculated how much we would lose/or not if I retired. With mileage, wear and tear on the car not to mention I was tired all the time we figured we could afford for me to retire.

    It has worked out for the best since now I babysit my twin grandsons several days a week every week because of my son’s working hours. He’s a single Dad. So sometimes it’s the prudent thing to do although I know you just don’t know what’s in your future.


  • Frap
    Frap Member Posts: 7
    edited May 2021

    Hi Ladies

    Thanks for shareing your life experiences as bits and pieces seem to resonate with my own journey and my heart goes out to each and everyone of you for all you're going through. I was dx in 2019 with MBC from the onset and still working trying to keep afloat as the stresses of job responsibilites increase, trying to keep up with the technology changes. Not to mention the endless hours at the computer that reck havoc on my joints from not getting up and moving around enough. I tend to put my job ahead of recommended lumpectomy surgery and appts for fear of my employer finding out my dx. We don't have sick leave so I have to juggle make up time for my appts. Fortunately I'm able to work at home but it seems the work is never ending with emails to respond into the night with little personal down time except on weekends. Emotionally it's just taking a tole.

    I've heard with MBC there's the possiblity of qualifiying for SSDI through the Compassion Allowance Program but I'd need to be out of work for a period of time. Has anyone gone through this process? I think a few of you mentioned being on short or LTD, but doesn't your Dr need to approve and for what purpose, emotional stress and fatigue? My Oncologist from the start said there's no reason I can't work so I'm not sure I'll receive any sympathy from her.

    Life is too short to live the last of our unknown years when we could be enjoying life and giving of ourselves to family and friends. Of course financially this could be a set back. So I'm hoping those who are on SSDI could share your processes. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

  • kbl
    kbl Member Posts: 2,637
    edited May 2021

    Frap, yes, you can get SSDI under compassionate allowance. Here is a site in here that you can look at. It’s true, you need to stop working for five months, but I’m not the one to talk about how short-term or long-term disability work because I didn’t have that. I was self employed.