To take early retirement or not?

Prepare for a little ramble. I am wondering how many of the people who post here have remained (or managed to remain) in employment. I am 57, with 8 years to go until I officially retire from my job as an academic. My PSA has been as high as 432, though I have no bone mets (the mets are apparently in my lungs) and am not in any physical discomfort. I am coming up to the end of 6 months on Zoladex (I get my latest result on Monday). Despite the brain fog that comes with the PCa hormonal treatment, I have continued to work (indeed, I have for my work in palaeontology been nominated for my university's Vice Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Research). However, I find the petty politics of my workplace a trial. I also feel guilty at time that I am not able to function as well as I used to. it does not help that the people with whom I work expect me to be able to perform as well as I did before diagnosis (13 years ago). I say to my wife that I would like a few decent years without such stress before shuffling off this mortal coil. On the other hand, the thought of taking early retirement worries me also. Without the routine of work, how will I cope? How will I feel if I give up the regular pay cheque? Has anybody else faced this dilemma? Were they able to make early retirement a positive experience? Do we, as a group, fight to remain in productive employment as long as possible, or do we find other avenues?

22 Replies

  • I worked for the first 8 of 10 years with APC. If work gives you a sense of purpose, That is a good thing. I was a commercial fisherman, I loved my job. I needed to be followed closer medically so I retired. I am enjoying retirement and the lack of pressure that a job gives. It helps that my wife is older and she retired at the same time.

  • Hello Brent.

    I think it's good that you are considering these aspects of life and survivorship earlier rather than later. Some people do decide to keep on doing things and working at things they love, for as long as possible. Having feelings of anticipatory/actual Fear or Loss for who we were, and what we did, and what we may someday not be able to do is also perfectly Normal.

    Depending on the country and academic institution where you live, you may have different options to consider. If you already have a retirement pension plan, you can consult with your institution's human resources department and/or the pension provider and explore your options in case of early medical retirement or disability. Similarly, you can research any possible options for medical leaves, or academic sabbaticals. You can explore what happens to your health insurance coverage(s) for yourself and any family members if/when you may leave your University position for medical or other reasons. All of that is strictly on the governmental, academic, institutional, purely economic side of things.

    How long ago and by what method were the "mets" to your lungs diagnosed? That medical reality and implications will have to be balanced with your other constraints and life values.

    I retired in the USA at age 52. By the time I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer at age 65, I did not regret having had that time to do other things, in a different day-to-day environment, despite a considerably lesser pension amount and a more downsized $ lifestyle.

    If your mind and heart remain very close to your life work and academic specialization, I have the feeling that there can be other ways that you will be able to "keep in touch" with those things, even if you may leave your academic position or no longer have a specialized research grant.

    Just some thoughts,


  • Hi Charles, and many thanks for your input. I checked with HR at the UWI, only to discover that they do not have a system of pensioned, early retirement for either health or disability. If the UWI decides that I can no longer work (usually after a year's sick leave), then they will retire me early with the lump sum that I have paid into the pension plan, plus three months of salary. If I decide to take early retirement, I get only the lump sum. I was most dismayed at this discovery.

    Regarding my specialisation, I am lucky; micropalaeontology is very low tech -- just a microscope and a couple of sieves and I am set. I can even make my own microscope slides if I need to -- I did that when living on Nevis (where?) and studying for my PhD, which I did as an external student. I am an associate editor of the Journal of Foraminiferal Research, and would keep that up as a way of staying involved, and would retain my membership of the Geological Society of London, which comes with a gratefully-received Athens account. As for material -- the ODP is one of my best friends!

    I shall ne pondering this hard while on leave over the next two months. Being away from work might give a little clarity. I am eligible for sabbatical leave in 2019, by the way.

  • Hi Brent, I'm grappling with the same decision. Part of me wants to keep working as it stimulates the mind and stops me focusing too much on PCa, but the other part thinks, why am I putting up with workplace stress when it is not good for my health and I don't have a certain future (who does). I am thinking of stepping down my commitments and giving away the 9 to 5. I am in a lucky position as I'm effectively self-employed and I have good insurance I can draw on, so the choice comes down to me. I wouldn't do too much until you've explored your work and insurance options, as suggested by ctarleton, as it would be the worst to find out you stopped working voluntarily, which leads to you being disqualified from an insurance claim. Cheers Paul.

  • I was the primary research chemist for my division of a very large chemical company with over 120 issued US patents to my name. That said, I no longer enjoyed work. I took early retirement in 2012 at 55 which cost me ~30% of my pension. I never regretted a single day my decision. I spent the next three and a half years doing things with my wife that we never had time for. Then I was first hit with a tumor on my spine which required surgery. Less than a year later I was diagnosed with advanced Ductal prostate cancer which effects less than 0.4% of all prostate cancer cases, and is very hard to treat (they do not know how to treat it). I am so thankful that I retired when I did. I had over three years that I was able to spend my time totally focused on my family before health started to become an issue. While it cost my a fair share of my pension and the prestige of my position, it was more than made up with not having to worry about the politics of work. Getting patents no longer is a driving force for me, in fact it now seems almost childish. Spending time with those I love is what keeps me going.

  • Hi Brent,

    As with Charles, I retired at 52 & am grateful that I did. But I was able to take an early retirement benefit. You should look into the rules for a Social Security Disability Benefit. I would think that lung mets would count for something.

    My fear at retirement was that I might exhaust my savings too quickly.

    A common fear is how to fill the day. Somehow, activities expand & I have never been bored. I had surgery at 56, which failed, & a major activity for 13 years has been keeping up with the PCa literature. Less easy if I had continued working.

    I think that work-related stress can affect the course of PCa. I could have decided to work until age 65, but I wonder if I would have had any retirement to enjoy. In spite of the cancer, retired life has been remarkably stress-free.


  • (Just to clarify. Brent is a University Professor in Trinidad, not covered by the Social Security system of the USA.)

  • Hi Brent,

    The effects of Lupron hit me pretty hard. I was a creampuff by the fifth year, and had to quit working. It was pretty hard to take, and took some time before I got SSDisability. It was a very trying time. Don't count on living off of that by any means, either. If it weren't for my wife's job, and insurance through her, I'd be on Medicare or caid, or both. This is not the life I had expected for myself at this juncture, but, it is what it is.


  • If you enjoy work and can be effective don't quit. However if your job stresses you out it won't help your battles with cancer. But being financially stressed is just as bad. I retired at 54 and although the stress is gone so is the excitement and friendships with colleagues which I still miss and dream about. Being active and exercising your mind is so important to vitality and health. If you can afford to retire be sure to replace work with activities that enrich you.


  • I retired 8 months ago fro a CIO position at the age of 62 but before I knew that my cancer was worsening. I started looking for post-career consulting gigs, but I abandoned that upon the cancer news. My life has plenty to keep me occupied and to be meaningful. I had intended to own a photography business, but that morphed into many photographic opportunities that are done pro bono. Like many yacht races. Like a benefit golf tourney for a cancer charity.

    I'm fortunate to have a good retirement and better, great health insurance. I can make life decisions somewhat independent of the cost.

    When I walked out the door the very last time, it seemed like a dreadful mistake - for that moment. The feeling lingered for a few days, and for a tiny bit even beyond. My position, my organization, and my colleagues therein defined me. But months led me to redefine myself. And the ugly politics of my job remain clear in my memory. I have no regrets.

    Retired CIO//Photographer and cancer warrior


  • Well B_W,

    If you like your work then's it's not work. And remember you wife married you for better or worse, but not for lunch...

    j-o-h-n Sunday 05/21/2017 12:47 PM EST

  • I was pushed out the door at age 62 from an engineering job I liked. The politics and age discrimination I didn't like one bit. I immediately hooked up, doing the same work, as a contractor. Four years later I was diagnosed with PC. I consider myself semi-retired as I continue on as a part-time contractor. I maintain social contacts and have an excuse to get out of the house. Things have worked out well for me so far. Good luck with your decision.

  • My husband retired at 55, a year ago, mostly because of the work stress -- not the work. We both are convinced that is why he is doing so well now! Finances are the biggest issue. Bummer at your university! I'm an academic so . . . depending on your overall prognosis, you might hold on until the sabbatical in 2019 (2019-20? or all of 2019?) It's a little bit of a wait but a full year of pay or half-pay could be a good deal given their retirement junk, and also a year for you to still be "at rank" and doing your thing, maybe setting yourself up in some other way. I'm in humanities, not science, so can't offer anything there, but it sounds like maybe you could be doing some work on your own. Consulting? More editing? Some work is good. My husband volunteers to do spays/neuters at the local animal shelter -- which he loves because he shows up, cuts and sews, and LEAVES! (no paperwork, no office nonsense).

    Overall, if you don't have one already, get in touch with a financial advisor. Ask around your friends and trusted colleagues if they have a recommendation. Someone who works "with" your university (as in -- is familiar with the university policies, etc. - not works *for* them) would be good. A financial advisor and an accountant can help you tremendously sort out your options. My guess is that you can at least roll-over your university retirement into another IRA/retirement option and avoid a massive tax impact? But that's for a financial advisor

    In the US, Advanced Prostate Cancer is an "automatic" disability -- it is still approved, but it is on a list of conditions that pretty much automatically qualify a person for disability. It's not enough to live on but it helps. The hitch is that you have to wait 5 months with no work to qualify. If you or your university has short-term disability, you can use this while you apply for social security disability and go through the waiting period. You are also able to do some minimal work while on Social Security and/or you can start/stop within some parameters.

    Our analysis for my husband was -- why have the stress. And now that he's been retired -- he wonders how he worked at all because there's always stuff to do!! :-)

  • Brent I am 73 and have been retired for 15 years. I had no choice about retirement. I got laid off after 9/11 when the company I worked for went into bankruptcy. I retired with no chance ever getting my old job back. My retirement consisted of mostly of company stock I had been buying for over 40 years. Those shares ended being worth about $1.50 a share. I was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer with bone mets in 2011. The only thing I suggest is you work as long as physically and mentally able. Pay off any bills you have and prepay your funeral.


  • P.S. He was also able to qualify with his retirement plans for early withdrawals for disability with no penalties. Again - a tax advisor would need to help with that.

  • I really am grateful for all these replies and for the varied experiences they relate. There is much for my wife and I to discuss, but at least I find that I am not entirely alone in my musings. Obviously, how one approaches the problem depends to some extent on the country in which one lives, and it does not help that I live in one in which the social security systems differ from the in the USA, as noted by ctarleton. But I shall look on that as a challenge, not a hindrance, as best I can. After all, I do live in the Caribbean!

    Once again, many thanks.

  • Brent

    I was diagnosed at age 46. I worked at my position as network administrator until age 62. I took an early retirement and have not regretted it. I have been retired for 9 years now. I appreciate every day. My wife and I don't get to many of the things we planned on at retirement but we have a good life. We have friends and each other.

  • I chose to retire "early" at 65. I could have continued to work full time in IT but chose not to. I have had bone mets for some years, not painful yet. I have a decent hobby, woodcarving and I sought out a part time job as a school bus driver. Financially, my wife and I are OK, not rich. Think through your options for part-time work, volunteering, developing a rewarding hobby.

  • I retired when I was 62. I knew something was wrong. The cancer was discovered when I was 64. So glad I retired early to spend time with my family.

  • I got my latest PSA result yesterday: 246, up from 143 three months earlier, despite Zoladex. I am being put on Zytiga. This is the push for me to consider retiring and putting an end to my adventure of working and researching in the Caribbean. No matter, I have wonderful experiences to look back on: I will, of course, carry my microscope and library with me wherever I go. (I just realized I quite naturally te "carry" instead of "take", which shows how naturalized I have become in the Caribbean these past 28 years.) Regarding retirement, then, it is no longer a case of me wondering how much longer can I work, but how soon can I cease.

  • I'm in a similar situation with work. I'm 59 and self-employed. I don't feel that I can retire at this point, but will probably never work full time again either. Still feel I need to make some income so I have some products I build at home and sell to help my wife who also has a home-based business. That way, I can work as I am able and take whatever time I need to deal with treatments, SEs, etc. The way I'm looking at work is the same as I look at my treatments now. In terms of meeting my financial needs, I can do X work to get X time out of that. Just keep adding extensions to my "financial life" just like we are doing for our physical life. We have already been cutting down our expenses for some time, paid off our house and got completely out of debt. So it's time now to work-to-live rather than live-to-work. I have a substantial life insurance policy so my wife should be O.K. after I move on to the next stage.

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