5 tips for thriving after an unexpected medical retirement

Some people work all of their adult lives anticipating the joys of retirement. Planned retirement can be very exciting.

But unplanned retirement — particularly due to a cancer diagnosis — can be overwhelming. My acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis forced me to take an early retirement from teaching seventh grade civics in 2013. But everything in life is an adjustment. This was just one more.

Although it took a little while for me to find my way, now I couldn’t be more content. Perseverance has allowed me to flourish. Here are five other things I’ve done that have helped me adjust.

Think positive

It’s important to acknowledge the down days, but don’t dwell on them. Try to look on the bright side and find something to smile about each day: practice your faith, give thanks, take a walk or do something for others. Even clean house to release pent-up energy. It will make you feel good!

I’m convinced that my attitude had a tremendous impact on my recovery from leukemia, as well as my adjustment to no longer working.

Get involved

Take up a hobby or volunteer for a cause close to your heart. Rekindle a passion or learn something new and seek out others with the same interests. Check with your local senior center for computer, art or exercise classes, as well as lectures.

I’ve learned how to make baskets, joined a book club and am eager to start taking dance lessons. I’ve always wanted to learn the fox trot, cha-cha, tap and other styles.

Be sociable

Nurture your friendships, both new and old. Call up your friends and make plans. The best old friends care about you and want you to be a part of their lives, just as you were before you had cancer. Reach out and let them know it’s OK to talk about your illness, and show them how you’re moving on.

After finishing my leukemia treatment, I relocated be closer to my children and grandchildren. That meant leaving my dearest and closet friends behind. But we make it a point to call and chat often, and I try to go home yearly to see everyone. I also introduced myself to my new neighbors by making them my favorite sour cream pound cake!

Seek employment

If you’re well enough to get a job, find something part-time that interests you. Work just enough to enjoy it, but not so much that you become frustrated or fatigued. You’ve been given an opportunity to do something different than a lifelong career and explore your curiosity. You’ll meet lots of people, share your skills and be surprised at how much fun you can have.

I haven’t gotten a part-time job just yet. I need to avoid excessive exposure to germs, so I’m enjoying the flexibility of being retired for now. But I’ve been taking classes at the local community college to learn how to start my own business. The classes are free, cover a wide range of topics and have been quite informative.

Find your happiness

Most importantly, let your family know that you love them. Let them help you, too, and return the favor in every way you can.

I followed my children to North Carolina, and now I get to play with my darling grandchildren as often as I wish — and that’s almost every day! I love cooking and baking for family dinners, too, and have recreated one of my favorite childhood pastimes for them: picnics. The children love the playground, and the adults love keeping up with them and visiting with each other. There’s nothing better than a three-generation game of tag!

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