How long have I got and should I still be working?

Hello there! I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer with heavy lymph node involvement and a single metasteses on my rib in August 09 . ( This came after having had a diagnosis of DCIS and mastectomy and reconstruction in 2002. ) Having completed chemo and radiotherapy I am now reluctantly returning to work on a phased return basis.
Alot of friends have said that I am mad to return to the same job as I have to drive a long way to it and it has a fair degree of responsibility that I no longer feel I want. I am in education. They have all asked me why I am not applying for ill health retirement.
But I am so far fit and well, apart from having joint stiffness and need to sleep more than usual.( I have found since returning to work I feel I have far less energy and cant walk for miles like I did on my good days on chemo.)
At the moment I am on zoladex and just about to start letrasol and having scans this month to see how successful treatment has been so far.
I am really struggling with trying to work out what to do about work and changing jobs and applying for ill health retirement as I am unclear as to how long I’ve got. I don’t want to waste my life but I do need an income!
So far when pushed my oncologist said anything between 2 and 10 years but 15 years is optimistic. On reading this forum today for the first time, I was delighted to read that there are so many positive stories that show me I can be optimistic about my prognosis.
How have other people in this situation sorted out their work?
Has anybody in this situation applied for ill health retirement and been successful in getting this?
It would be great to hear from you.
Thank you and enjoy the sunshine!

Hello Pops,
I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in the spine. My mobility has been affected and as I am/was a nurse, I decided to apply for ill health retirement. I am soon to be 57 and was going to retire at 60 anyway, so have just brought it forward by 3 years. I was only told the other day that my application was successful - it was a very long, drawn out bureaucratic process (what else with the public sector?!), but it means that I don’t have to worry about work anymore and that I can enjoy whatever time I have left. However, that is not a question that I will ask, as I don’t want to know the answer, but reading about some of the ladies here, it gives me great hope that I will be around for a long while yet and able to enjoy my garden.
I am also getting married next month!

Hi Pops

I haven’t applied for ill health retirement, but will follow your post with interest, as I may have to soon. I was diagnosed with multiple bone mets in April and one soft tissue tumour in my chest. I am currently like you on Letrazole and am due to start Zometa, but haven’t yet (being delayed as they decide whether to do a hip replacement or not!)

I am a teacher and am currently working full time and with reports etc this time of year I am really struggling- mentally more than physically, find it very difficult to concentrate and be motivated. I gave up management responsibility and have applied to go part time In September. I think part time could be ideal for me, although I am very scared financially as if we don’t get any benefits etc we will really struggle as I have always been the main breadwinner.

I have really found this site to be useful and as Isobel said
lots of people on here will give you hope that you might be around for a long time yet!

Anyway just really wanted to say hi! and hope that you get some answers re ill health retirement!

Take care Nicky

ps Hope your wedding goes OK Isobel

Hi there, I an currently applying fir I’ll health retirement from public sector and they have been very accommodating and it’s been very straight forward.

I have liver mets and prog not as good as yours but I do think that I would rather relax and enjoy life and my kiddies rather than go back to my stressful occupation.

Good luck in what you decide but don’t knock yourself out for an employer, better to look after you and maximize your time by chilling. What better excuse to be a lady if leisure xxxxxxxxxx

big step and I understand the dilemma as I went thru it just in
past couple of months xxxx

Hi All,

I have atttached a link to the publication “Breast Cancer and benefits” which I thought may be useful.

Very best wishes

BCC Facilitator

Hi all

Hope you don’t mine me joining this interesting thread. I returned to full time work in the public sector last September after a year off for treatments. Received a diagnosis on bone secs just days before returning but went ahead and coped with chemo whilst working. I do get tired but work sitting down so not so bad and I do enjoy the normality that it brings to my life.

I’m glad your prognosis is good pops – it is such an individual decision what we do with our working lives. How long we have got and not wanting to waste it but – bottom line is I want an income to be able to do what I choose. Good luck with your decision.

Isobel what exactly does taking ill health retirement entail and what financial income does it give? My problem is that I broke my service for 6 months when I took time off to nurse my terminally ill mother (kind caring council that they are – not). To be quite honest I want my pension to pay out at the end of the day to give my family something. I have always been the main bread winner and have children at uni etc. I really know so little about all the ins and outs of it and don’t want to go to personnel department to ask for advice as I feel it is my business and don’t trust their confidentiality. I will probably be on more chemo shortly and don’t know if I can work again through this one. Does anyone know how long they have to keep you on their books if you are off sick?

Isobel how lovely you are getting married next month – good luck with all the plans and have a wonderful day, what a lovely month to get married in I hope the sun shines for you both.

Nicky and everyone – have you got your DLA? I was allocated mine after excellent advice from the forum and it’s £125.00 a week. It will help when you go part time, is not means tested and everyone with secs is entitled and should apply.

Well done on your decision Signet – it is a biggie isn’t it and I’m glad you are doing what is right for you.

Take care all Anne x x

Hi, I was diagnosed with secondaries in upper left arm with some rib/spine lesions in June 2009. Chemo and rads (6 cycles taxotere)followed with Bondronat and Aromasin (biphosphonate and hormone) ongoing treatments. My onc resolutely will not give a time frame - has written to my GP that he has ‘fingers crossed’ that I stay as well as I can for as long as I can and said to me 'don’t spend all your money but make hay while the sun shines!! Not sure what I think about all that but feel OK at present.

Having returned to frontline teaching after my primary diag. and treatment in 2006-7 I decided that I would not try again having already reduced my level of responsibility. At 57, with 3 years to go till my planned retirement, I applied for ill-health retirement. Occupational Health etc were supportive and it was granted by TPA in April this year. We’re adjusting to much reduced income but DLA is a real help here and I know my levels of tiredness, joint pain,muddle headedness etc would not allow me to work as I should.

Of course it’s a personal choice/ decision and in these straitened times it’s hard to take the leap but I’m relishing some time to myself and my family and have rediscovered Sundays!!

Hope these thoughts help and all the very best to you.

Hi Pops,

It really is a personal decision and depends on how much your work means to you. If you feel you need to carry on solely for the income then consider whether ill health retirement is your only option. If you are over 55 does your employer allow you to take partial retirement ie. reduce your hours and have your income made up by your pension pot? You don’t say what age you are so forgive me if you are nowhere near retirement age. Unfortunately for me I’m 49 and missed the boat before the minimum age was raised to 55.

Instead, I’ve gone part time and just had to adjust to the loss of income even though I’m still the main breadwinner. It hurts a bit but not as much as spending all of my time working when all I really want to do is enjoy the time I have doing the things I planned for my retirement.

Good luck whatever you decide. Jan xx

I was diagnosed with secondaries in 2008 and sought early retirement last year. Teacher pensions were good to me. They back dated the decision, boosted my pension by working out how many years I could have workd and halved it so added 12 years and gave me a full pension with lump sum. I was reluctant to do it as did not want to lose my career BUT I have not looked back. I have the time and finances to enjoy life, keep fit and look after myself and family. I thought I would miss it but I don’t. I volunteer at my son’s school, am a Governor at another, I go to college for a textiles course, I cook a lot more healthy food, I go to te gym and go out and about. I fund raise a lot too…work off the agenda has meant it doesn’t matter how I feel each day… I realise I am lucky to have such financial back up but it is something worth considering.

Hi, I’ve been thinking about work issues a lot recently: I was diagnosed with bone mets just over a year ago and so far have been happy to carry on working as it has been a really good distraction, I feel OK and would like to keep having an income for now. However, we are now facing lots of redundancies at work because of the spending cuts (I work in the public sector). I know that I’m very unlikely to get another job now, so as far as I can see my choice is between voluntary redundancy (decision to be made by the end of this month), hanging on and hoping I don’t lose my job (unlikely because we will have to be interviewed for the remaining jobs, and I can’t imagine that they will ignore my health status even if they’re supposed to. Also likely to be a very stressful option and I’m concerned about the possible effect of that on my health), or trying to get ill health retirement. I’m not sure how the latter works - is it possible to get it on the grounds of having a terminal condition even if you are still feeling well? It seems so from what some people have said but the pension blurb on my organisation’s website talks about getting it if you are ‘permanently incapable of doing the job you were working in when you left’. Where have others found is the best place to get help with weighing up these sort of options? Do BCC or McMillan offer that sort of advice? I don’t really want to ask at work as not many people there are aware of my health situation.
Best wishes and thanks in advance for any advice.

Hi, I got retirement on ill health grounds from the public sector in June this year. I had ten years service and they gave me an enhancement of another 10 years (maximum they can do) and this has given me a reasonable pension and a lump sum. I was diagnosed with bone, lung and liver mets in October 2009. I had returned to work full time after my primary diagnosis and treatment in 2007.

Both my GP and my Onc completed various documents about my prognosis which was ‘may be less than 12 months’, and I came very close in December last year, but so far so good, I am still hanging on. I initially got in touch with the HR department and got information on the options available to me and then told my Manager my decision. Between my Manager and the HR department they sent the necessary documentation out. My Onc talked to me about it as well as she wanted to make sure that this was my decision and that I wasn’t being forced into it or anything. But she fully supported my decision that I wanted to spend however much time I had left doing things that I wanted to do and spending it with the people I love the most.

I have not regretted retiring and do many of the things that LottieLou does. I am back on chemo again now, last one only finished in March, so it has certainly turned out to be the best decision for me. I can concentrate on looking after myself so that I can endure the treatment (hopefully) and stick around as long as possible for my children and OH.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

Sue x

Thanks Sue; it’s useful to hear how it’s worked for you. I’m not sure I can face contacting our HR department (I’ve had trouble with them in the past when I took sick leave a few years ago because of another cancer, although I took as little as I could, and feel that if I decided not to go through with applying for retirement I would then have problems with them anyway). But I may see if our pensions team can provide some confidential advice. I don’t want to give up work yet at all really, but if I am likely to lose my job soon anyway this might be a better option if I can get it.

Thanks again for your help and all the best with your current treatment.

Hi, Do they not have a leaflet or a personnel manual that you can access to find out what you are entitled to. I was in the civil service and they have very clrearly defined rules about what you are entitled to. It is awful if you have some jobs worth in your HR department who is not sympathetic to your situation. It makes me very cross to hear that you feel unsupported by them, this disease and diagnosis is gard enough without having to deal with that sort of c…p! Have you got a mate who could make enquiries on your behalf?

Sue x

I was diagnosed in July 07, had chemo,mx and rads. Bone mets from the start. I tried to go back to work on a phased return in Aug 08, just doing 2 half days a week, catching up on training initially etc. It immediately felt wrong and I perseverd for 4 weeks before I’d had enough and was in a real state. Happened to have a checkup with surgeon at that time and was in bits. He said I’d tried to go back far too sonn and that he would write and tell them.

I was then signed off for 3 months initially as that was the most the gp would do but surgeon and onc said it would be longer and I may never be up to going back. After discussion with surgeon and onc (same lady as Sue), I applied for retirement on ill-health grounds with no idea of any amounts involved in any outcomes. HR thought I was unlikely to get anything but after 4 months of stress and hassle, the pension fund doctor immediately gave me full retirement so they added 20 yrs (what I still had left to work in theory) to my existing 19 yrs. I couldn’t believe it. That was Feb 09 and although it took a long time to adjust to - almost a year - it was the best thing I ever did. It was however a long drawn out process (and I needed to get union help at one point!) but I was fully supported by the surgeon and onc and was very important to me as I knew it meant I wasn’t faking it!!

I am loving making the most of my time and have had quite a few trips abroad this year and been able to spend more time with my parents, sister and OH which I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I don’t have kids. I was just 43 when I retired.

Good luck whatever you decide and I hope you all get the support you need.


I have worked part time for the same employer in banking since 2001. When I developed my first cancer in November 2003, I was on full pay for 6 months sick leave and then on half pay under their Long Term Disability scheme until I returned to work in September 2004. The same happened for the 2nd cancer in 2006-7. In February 2008 I was diagnosed with terminal brain mets, had full pay for the first 6 months of sick leave, and have been on half pay (less incapacity benefit) ever since. All of this is very standard for the company I work for, and they have been wonderful every step of the way. They have never asked me to return to work before I wanted, have always insisted on a slowly increasing return to work (on full pay) when I did want to return to work, and have been incredibly supportive all down the line, with my managers working hard to give me what I want.
For me, it is much better that I continue on Long Term Disability, rather than going for early retirement, and it has been easy for me to establish this as my managers have been able to discover exactly what the company rules are and what my options are.
I know that I have been very lucky, but I would hope that most large employers, including the public sector, would have clearly established procedures to deal with long term illness, and that any competent HR department should be able to tell you or your manager what they are. Of course, things don’t always work as they should!
I don’t know if this will be of any help to anyone, but this has been my experience.
Love & Season’s Greetings to you all, Lynn

Hi Tournesol,

I work for a large public sector organisation and from what you’ve said I’d guess we have the same pension provider. I found my Trade Union Attendance Management specialist was the best source of advice. They set out all the various options open to me and explained the advantages and disadvantages of each, what the financial implications were and all the processes. It’s getting more difficult to be accepted for early retirement as the spending cuts bite. I also suspect when the time comes for selection exercises (Jan/Feb) my attendance will be an issue even though it’s not supposed to be.

If you are not in the Union, and you don’t trust your HR team then the pension provider is a useful backup.

Best wishes Jan x