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Survivors Should I stop working? Should I retire?

Should I retire?

Ms. Maureen Parkinson, Vocational Rehabilitation Counsellor, M.Ed. C.C.R.C, BC Cancer

Ms. Maureen Parkinson is the province-wide vocational rehabilitation counsellor at the BC Cancer Agency. She has also been vocational rehabilitation counsellor at a public rehabilitation hospital and vocational rehabilitation consultant to insurance companies and the court system. She has instructed and facilitated Service-Canada-funded programs on job searching and career exploration. Ms. Parkinson has a Masters in Counselling Psychology, is a Canadian Certified Rehabilitation Counsellor, and completed the Certified Return to Work Coordinator Program through the National Institute for Disability Management and Research. She has developed return-to-work and job-search seminars for cancer patients and created the guidebook “Cancer and Returning to Work: A Practical Guide for Cancer Patients” as well as on-line articles about returning to work and school. She also co-authored a paper commissioned by the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology, “Cancer and Work: A Canadian Perspective”.

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A diagnosis of cancer or cancer treatment may lead some people to consider not returning to work. Having to make such a decision can be especially true for those who find themselves disabled to the point that they are unable to work competitively, that working would cause extreme hardship to themselves or others, or that working would prevent them from taking good care of themselves. Other survivors, especially those close to retirement age, may be able to continue working but experience a change in priorities. As such, they would prefer to spend their time doing things more important to them than work, such as spending more time with family. They may be concerned about having a shortened life span and want to fulfill different goals.

Survivors may have other reasons to consider not returning to work. They may feel that, with changes in their work abilities, they can no longer handle the physical and emotional demands of their job. They may not want to go back to a job that has changed or one they dislike or may feel that their workplace is unsupportive. As well, some people with a palliative diagnosis and disabling conditions may believe that returning to work would be too hard on themselves and the workplace.

Whatever the reason for considering retirement, there is lots to think about.

1. Are your symptoms or side effects of cancer treatment likely to diminish with time?

Often when people are recovering from treatment, they find it hard to imagine returning to work. It is important to discuss with your doctor:

  • Whether recovery is expected
  • How long recovery will take
  • What can be done to improve your abilities
  • How you can go back to your job without feeling overwhelmed

Once your symptoms or side effects improve, you may feel different about retiring.

2. Can you change the parts of your job that you do not like or do more that you like?

If you are feeling unenthusiastic about returning to work, it might be worth exploring if you can do more of the things you like. If your job tasks cannot change, can you try a new career? Read our article, Career Exploration.

3. Would part time suit you?

If you want to spend less time working, could you:

  • Switch to part-time hours?
  • Job share with another employee?
  • Offer to train someone else and reduce your hours gradually?
  • Work as a consultant?

4. Will your change in priorities last?

For many people, a cancer diagnosis changes their priorities and reduces what they valued about their jobs. Priorities may continue to change at the beginning of treatment and immediately after. Although work may not feel as important as it once did, the longer you survive, the more likely it may become relevant again.

5. What do you want to do after retirement?

What things did you enjoy about your job that you would like to continue doing? You may miss socializing at work, having daily routines, intellectual stimulation, travelling for work, helping others and the status that came from your job. There may be ways you can maintain these enjoyable activities through volunteering, recreation, leisure travel or taking courses.

6. Can you afford to retire?

It is important to consider the financial implications of stopping work fully. It can be helpful to attend any retirement seminars in your community or at your workplace. You can also consult online guides to retirement planning. Find out whether you can continue to receive employee benefits (for example, extended health, dental, prescriptions). For some employee pensions, benefits continue with lower reimbursement rates. If you are on long-term disability, this benefit will likely stop when you reach age 65. However, you may be able to negotiate a payout if you retire early. It may be helpful to consult a financial planner who does not sell investments.

Online resources for retirement planning