Should you retire early if you only have five years to live?

Every week I receive a handful of questions from Root of Good readers and I try to answer them all, even if it’s a brief response. Last week was no different.  The inquiry I received from “Eric” caught my eye immediately as I scanned through my emails.  Subject: “Scared”.  One word, vague, non-specific.  Hmmm – might be spam?

As it turns out it wasn’t spam at all.  I clicked to open and read further and was intrigued by the brevity of the question with what appeared to be a clear-cut easy answer on the surface but has a lot of layers that need to be peeled back to flesh out a complete response.

Here’s what Eric wrote:

“You’ll probably think I’m crazy but I’m 48 and have incurable cancer and even though I qualify for long term benefits income protection of 6 figures a year I am scared of retiring. I’m scared I’d decline and get depressed with no purpose.”

I provided a quick response to Eric with my thoughts on the issue and I asked if I could flesh out a more detailed response and post it on my blog.  He agreed and provided a bit more detail about his specific situation:

“My cancer is incurable, but not necessarily officially terminal (I think terminal definition is <1 year to live). Which leads to another issue. I don’t know if I have 2 years or 20 years left. It could well be either (although my survival duration is likely less than 10 years, statistically speaking. People who make 20 are rare). My cancer is Myeloma and is incredibly individual. The average survival is 5 years from diagnoses but some people beat the odds. I think, for my age group it’s 60% chance of 5 years survival and ~35% of 10 years.
“Continuing work as usual is not necessarily possible (I’m currently on leave as I had high dose chemo 4 months ago which takes 6 months recovery).  I’m an equities trader and I have to be in the office by 6 am and stay there for 11 hours. I’ll also be on maintenance chemo for life which will probably make me tired and not able to do those hours. So, physically and for my future health, returning to those hours is not necessarily possible. A different,  part time role at the bank is a possible solution I guess. But if I only have 5 years… I probably wouldn’t work at all and spend the next few years travelling.”
“On the basis I probably only have a finite number of “healthy” years ahead (I feel OK at the moment) it would seem like a no brainer to take the benefits and stop work. But as I’ve said, I’m scared that after 30 years of a very structured routine, I’ll fall apart when I don’t have one.”

To put Eric’s situation in perspective, the average 48 year old can expect to live to roughly age 80, thereby enjoying slightly more than three decades of life.  Eric, in contrast has only a one in three chance of making it 10 years.  That’s about the same life expectancy as an 85 year old.

The grains of time relentlessly draining to the bottom of life’s hourglass isn’t a problem unique to Eric, but he’s at a point where he has a whole lot less sand in the top half of the hourglass compared to most of us.  We all have a finite lifespan and must make plans to do all that we can while we are able to. The uniqueness in this case is that Eric faces a very compressed amount of time remaining, and the uncertainty of how many of those years will be “good” years.

As an aside, one lesson to take from Eric’s situation is to plan for the future and hope for the best, because life can be shortened for a myriad of reasons.  For those healthy during early stages of adulthood, focusing on early retirement and financial independence is a great way to better the odds of enjoying several decades of good quality of life (without the need to work) before health starts to decline.

One common criticism of the early retirement mindset is “What if you work hard, save and sacrifice then you don’t get to enjoy your early retirement for very long because of death or disability?”

To me the answer is obvious – better to retire in your 30’s or 40’s (while enjoying your wealth along the way) and have a great chance of making it to your 50’s or 60’s at least.  Odds are you’ll get in a good decade or two even if you find yourself in Eric’s shoes.  The alternative is truly daunting – follow the traditional path of working into your 60’s or later until you keel over at your desk (but you get to really live it up every weekend and during your three weeks of vacation each year!).

Ok, back to Eric’s dilemma.  He’s facing a much-contracted life span of five, maybe ten years. He’s financially set with a six figure income stream for life no matter what he does in terms of a job.  Working is optional from a strictly financial perspective but Eric is afraid that without work, he would “decline and get depressed with no purpose”.  What’s Eric to do?

Understand that today is the first day of the rest of your life

Eric, you will have many hundreds of days, possibly several thousand more days, but today is the first day of the rest of your life and you’ll never be able to re-live this day ever again.  The time to make a choice is now.

Once you acknowledge this, ask yourself “What do I want to for the rest of my life?”.  Figure out what you enjoy in life and what you want to focus on in the next year or two.  Make a list on a sheet of paper if that helps organize your thoughts.  Did working at your current job or in a similar role make the list of what you want to do?

Frame the work/don’t work decision in terms of the pros and cons of (a) continuing to work / maintain the status quo or (b) the major life change of quitting work. Weigh the pros and cons for each option and see which is a better choice to make your remaining years as fulfilling as possible.

If work is a key part of what you want to do and it provides meaning, then by all means take the steps that are necessary to return to work in whatever capacity you can. Retirement itself is a major life change to deal with in addition to the stresses of coping with a serious incurable illness.  Consider some lesser form of quitting work completely. Can you work part time? Work in a different role that offers a more reasonable forty hour per week job?  Is telecommuting or remote work an option?  Since it sounds like you’re already taking a medical leave of absence during the recovery period following chemotherapy, perhaps you could extend it and turn it into a sabbatical of sorts to figure out what you want to do longer term.  While taking a break from work, you can leave the door open to returning to work and push off the decision of leaving work completely.

If, after examining the work/don’t work pros and cons you determine work isn’t as necessary a part of your identity as you thought it was, then proceed with your separation from full time employment.  Call it early retirement or medical leave or whatever you want (go stealth wealth?).  Have a going away/retirement party if that suits you or get your closest work friends together for a smaller, more private event.  Then move on to “the rest of your life”.

The first six months of retirement are usually an adjustment period where you won’t be used to having ultimate freedom and control over your daily schedule.  Give it time.  If having a routine helps, then take your list of activities you want to focus on and program them out on a calendar (here’s my “weekly schedule” from a few years ago, though it’s changed as my youngest is now at school during the day).  Program your weekly schedule with:

  • fun or meaningful activities you enjoy doing
  • challenging activities (part time or freelance work in a new field, intellectual stuff like writing/coding, creative arts or crafts, volunteering, civic participation)
  • and physical activities (enjoying the outdoors, swimming, biking, canoeing)

In addition to a fulfilling daily or weekly schedule, start making plans to travel the world if that also interests you. Your health won’t be with you forever, so do what you can while you can.


Closing thoughts

Eric, you are ultimately responsible for following the most fulfilling path whether that means attempting to return to work in whatever capacity you can, or whether it means calling it quits and moving on to other equally, and hopefully more fulfilling activities.  For those of us that don’t plan on working forever, it’s a fork in the road we all face: finding meaning outside of our professional lives.  It’s easy to avoid the question of finding meaning in life by simply filling the hours with the routine of a job; more difficult is facing the fact that today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

If this is too much to think about on your own, then don’t rule out speaking with a therapist about your health issues and those bigger life questions about fulfillment and purpose.  Having an outside perspective to help frame these issues and work through them can be invaluable.

I’ll also warn you that I’m approaching this from the perspective of a 37 year old writing a blog promoting the virtues of early retirement and the joys of not working, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.  I’m biased in that I never felt like the civil engineering projects I worked on professionally gave my life adequate meaning or purpose, and it’s doubtful I would have done any of it if they weren’t giving me a paycheck every month. When I was suddenly let go from my job in 2013, there was only a brief sense of sadness or loss (like 30 minutes tops 🙂 ) and I quickly realized that my termination of employment was a blessing in disguise because it made a difficult decision to leave work much easier for me.

On that note, I think I’ve said enough.  Eric, I wish you wisdom in making the decision that is right for you and the strength to thrive for as long as you can on whatever path you choose whether it lasts two years or twenty.



Any advice for Eric?  What would you do in his position?


Update #1 on March 17. 2018.  Eric commented on this article and said:

I’ve read every comment and want to thank you all, and Justin, for the time taken to discuss my issue.

I just found out today my income protection benefits, as mentioned in the post, have been approved. So as we stand I am going to take a plunge and retire. I do have an option to return to the bank at some capacity in the future (maybe) however.

Good for Eric!


Update #2 on October 25, 2018.  Eric commented on this article again and said:

Update. It’s seven months later and guess what? I’m going back to work at the beginning of next year. Part time. Ultimately a life of leisure wasn’t for me and I miss the purpose and fulfillment of work. I’ve done a LOT of travelling this year and while it’s been fun – it gets boring after a while. Everyone is different but for me – giving up work and retiring at this age wasn’t for me.

Wow! At least Eric planned and saved and had the opportunity to give early retirement a try. It didn’t work out for him so he’s going back to part time work.


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  1. I’m a 26 year old squirrel like person so my opinion doesn’t mean much either…but ah oh I think “Eric” made his decision and feeling clear enough subconsciously when he came to ask you, the early retirement guru!

    There’s a blog diary that a dying woman wrote and it documented her last days struggling with cancer. Both Fin Sam and J$ wrote about it (am I allowed to post links here?) She found faith and happiness with family and the simple things. I don’t know much about equities trading but it’s probably wiser to close that chapter.

  2. I hope you try and find happiness :)! The money doesn’t matter anymore.

    Also, I see traders move into consulting or becoming a broker a lot, so I’m hopeful you could work more normal hours and still be able to have good health care and a good quality of living?

    Best wishes!

  3. I think Eric needs to remember that he can define retirement, and it doesn’t have to mean sitting at home! He could develop a routine of volunteer work, going back to school to learn something interesting, etc. So many possibilities!

    1. Oh, shut up. Do you know how many people come out of the woodwork, when you have something like cancer, to “prescribe” this or that thing as the One Solution? – essential oils, fad diets, prayer…It’s so ridiculous, and what’s worse, some people actually fall for it and skip getting real cancer treatment in favour of acupuncture or whatever. People die because of this behaviour. Stop it. If you’re not a doctor – and not *that* person’s doctor – you don’t get to prescribe them anything. Or give them completely unasked-for “advice”.

      (I may be overreacting, but in the course of my own cancer treatment I heard more than enough of this kind of comment to be sick of it. You may think you’re the only person giving this helpful “advice”. You’re not. Next time, remember that you’re going to be, like, the thousandth person we’ve heard saying something stupid.)

      1. Lynne, where exactly did I say this is the One Solution? You *are* overreacting and that is fine. What *IS* stupid is thinking that destroying the body’s immune system with chemotherapy and other poisons is “real cancer treatment” AND that people don’t die from what you call “real cancer treatment”.

        I fail to see how you connect low carb eating with acupuncture—they couldn’t be more different.

        I’ve known many, many people in my life that have received “real cancer treatment”, go into remission only for cancer to return. Why did cancer return? Because the underlying cause wasn’t addressed. I’ve also encountered many people who had no idea about the connection between diet and cancer who had their eyes opened very wide indeed and were grateful; so please don’t take the high ground just because you’ve had cancer treatment.

        1. Chris,

          As a licensed health professional specializing in both nutrition and treating cancer, I can tell you that yes, diet is key in preventing cancer, but once it has set in, it’s pretty much impossible to cure cancer through diet alone.

          Also, there are many other treatment options than just chemotherapy and they are all highly specific to the person and type of cancer they have.

          I suggest you take Lynne’s advice – while well-meaning, comments like yours may be doing more harm than good, or at least can be overwhelming.



        2. You sound just like the lemon juice crowd, who will also tell you chemotherapy isn’t real treatment.

          I believe that a healthy diet is important. As is evidence based medicine. And not piling on with unasked-for suggestions from the sidelines. There are SO many people who do this, and it’s inappropriate every time – unless such advice is requested. Which it wasn’t here.

          1. He asked a question. He gets to do that. People writing in to bloggers, advice columnists and inquiring in almost any public forum open themselves up to questions and some comments that wouldn’t necessarily be offered in other contexts. It’s up to the person to whom the question was addressed to determine whether he or she found it helpful. All of the rest is simply opinion. Ironically, it wasn’t solicited, either.

      2. I love your reply! I have Multiple Myeloma and I am so tired of having to defend my choice to only do what my Oncologist prescribes. Some people have gone so far as to criticize what I eat while I’m eating, or worse yet, buy me supplements or essential oils and try to make me use them right then (and I don’t want that stuff!). Again, THANK YOU!

  4. That’s a very powerful post, and reading about Eric really made me stop what I was doing. Eric, I truly wish you the very best with your decision.

    I think that Justin has provided a very good framework of advice, and rightly has added his comment about the grain of salt. The good news is there is no wrong decision, it is about doing what feels most right for you at this point in time. If later on, your priorities change, then you can make changes to your chosen course.

    I don’t feel equipped to give advice, but I would say this. Do your best to live without regrets. If there is a decision that you favor, but fear is preventing you from taking it, then try to take that decision anyway, you most likely will be pleased that you did.

    Good luck Eric.

  5. “follow the traditional path of working into your 60’s or later until you keel over at your desk”

    I’m also biased because I saw this first hand when one of my coworkers almost dropped dead at his desk. Had he been rushed to the hospital just 30 laters later, he would’ve been a goner. Which would’ve been a real shame because he’s such a great guy and works so hard.

    It’s easy to be scared to quit ( I was terrified when we retired almost 3 years ago, even though I could SEE the numbers working out) when you have been indoctrinated into thinking your work is your identity for decades. It isn’t as much about the money at that point as identity.

    I wish Eric the best with his decision. I can only give advice from my own experience, but what I found is I’ve never regretted quitting, and thinking back, if I kept working, there’s so much I would’ve missed out on. No regrets.

  6. I think Eric should go and travel or whatever brings him joy. Life is short and you have to grab the reins. Eric mentioned that he feels without the structure of work that he will spin out of control. He should make a new structure with enjoyment as the end goal. Make it his new job. Instead of making spreadsheets about equities trading make spreadsheets about fun travel goals. The fear of lack of structure may be an empty one.

  7. Not only is today the first day of the rest of your life, it’s also the youngest you’ll ever be for the rest of your life. You’ll never be better able to remake your vision of yourself and self-identity than now. You’ve already pointed out that you can’t go back to the same work schedule, so I think that is now your past. I wish you well in figuring out your future!

  8. I was trying to decide 2 years ago whether to retire at 35 or not. My wife has just gotten through thyroid cancer and beat it (knock on wood). Also one of our daughters is permanently disabled and we don’t know what her life span will be either. We owned about 25 rental properties at the time and I was pretty sure we could make it if we spent wisely. It ended up be an awesome thing, I missed fellow employees for a while and still stop now and then to say high but other than that I don’t miss a thing. Don’t let fear stand in your way, go for it. None of us know how long we’ll be on this earth. Take up a hobby, make pen pals, travel anywhere you want to and in the end you won’t be disappointed.

  9. Although I blog about and advocate for the early retirement lifestyle, I definitely think that it’s not for everyone.

    Ultimately you need to have some kind of purpose or something else that keeps you going. If a structured job does that for you then by all means I think that’s the right choice to make. If not, early retirement won’t be fulfilling and you may even find yourself unhappy.

  10. Brutal. Really puts everything into context. Find something to retire to, Eric, and I think your concern about not having structure will dissipate.

  11. It sounds like Eric appreciates that his job lends structure to his life. Reframing that would obviously take effort and introspection, but it might be incredibly fulfilling to move to more of a mentorship role. Sounds like pay isn’t as much of a concern as meaning and purpose… and I suspect sharing his knowledge and watching others bloom as a direct result would be about as meaningful as it gets.

    Best wishes!

  12. I cried as l read this post. It brought back memories of my sister and her fight with breast and lung cancer. She did not tell us about it for the longest time. Too many things to go into. She was a teacher and would drive herself to chemo and then back to school. By the time we found it, we had very little time with her and the doctors were shocked that she had family that could have supported her. Her passing spurred me on to live my life. I think she should have quit work (made little and had shitty benefit to boot) and enjoyed her last days with her kids. Stopping work might make you find another passion. The added cushion of not needing the money is comforting. I don’t think it would hasten your demise. Simple things can bring you joy as well. I will keep good thoughts and hope for a long life for you.

    1. That’s very sweet and heartfelt Kemkem, I think we all know an Eric, or actually we are all Eric because nobody is promised tomorrow. Maybe the lesson is we all should live like we only have a few weeks left.

  13. “there was only a brief sense of sadness or loss (like 30 minutes tops 🙂 ) ”
    Eric, are you really planning on keep working just because you don’t want to feel depressed? Don’t you wanna explore the world while you still can? C’mon man…get on a place and go find yourself in Tibet to start, what about that ?!!

  14. I really don’t understand why most americans are so attached to their jobs like Eric is. It seems like work is the only this there is !
    I wouldn’t doubt if on his last moments he will say: “I should have worked more ” WHY?! So you have more money to leave behind?

  15. Justin,

    I think your response was perfect: “…finding meaning outside of our professional lives.”

    It’s hard lesson to learn for anyone, or at least it was for me. For most, there is some transition when we get a little older and we step back in our thinking and understand that work is not everything, work is not me. I just happen to work.

    I used to define myself by my job. It’s easy to do and we get so much positive reinforcement for it. But we are not our jobs. We need to find who we are outside of the working world. The job never lasts, one way or another we will find ourselves alive in the world that is also not defined by work.

    So, whoever it is, Eric or anyone else, one needs to find places and ways to be without it being related to work. Yes, work brings us some social interaction and some money and some self-esteem, but work by its nature is limited.

    Go out and find places you enjoy, things that bring you joy, ways of helping others to be better, ways of being a positive influence. Ways of having connections with people that are not defined by commercial purposes. There are such things, there are places and ways to have interactions and connections and purposeful meanings in a non-working environment. Doing so, you will help yourself and others and the world.

  16. This is so deeply personal. It’s a beautiful reminder that we all need to figure out what fulfills us…and that for some of us, work is (part of) our purpose. I’m in education and I had a coworker who worked just about until she was placed in hospice. I can’t speak on her behalf, but I do think that it seemed right for her (from what I could tell). But I certainly also understand the notion to explore. The older I get, the more I realize that when I give into fear, I’m signing myself up for regret later on. Glad you shared this and wishing Eric the absolute best.

  17. I am a regular reader of the blog (enjoy it!) and I too have the rare(ish) blood cancer multiple myeloma. I’m 40 with two sons 6 and 8 and was diagnosed a bit under 3 years ago at age 37. It affects older people more commonly (avg age at diagnosis I think is ~70) so what’s more rare is not just that two readers have it, but that we’re both so much younger than the average!
    I was initially shocked and scared, and was concerned about supporting my family, and yes also how it would shake my plans for early retirement. Long story short, I completed all my treatment over 2 years ago (included 4 mths chemo and inpatient stem cell transplant) and am now doing great and not receiving any treatment. Maintenance treatment like Eric is receiving is more common, but I opted for nothing at the current time. Sometime down the road I’m sure I will get it. I’m just living my life, but waiting for the cancer to inevitably come back, which may be next month or in 10 years. I’m doing well, but who knows what the future holds, and I know everyone is affected differently and it can come back with a vengeance. I know of people who died shortly after diagnosis as well.
    I wish that I had planned better and was able to retire now (still owe ~130K on house/8hrs to paying off and retirement accounts are only ~400K), but I know with what I have done that my financial picture is better than it could be and I don’t want to stress about the past.
    I work from home as a software development manager and I have a very flexible schedule which allows me to walk both kids two and from school and volunteer for an hour or two each week in their classes. I’ve been able to continue working throughout my treatment and feel good about supporting my family. I’m ok with where I am, but I need to keep in the back of my mind that I do have terminal cancer and should really cherish every day, and not take things for granted. I feel like I have good odds of living 10 or 20 years, or even 30, and then there will likely be a cure, but I know that might just be optimism, so I shouldn’t count on it. I’m with my sons most of the time they’re not at school, so I’m at peace with working my job and not retiring super early. If everything goes well and I’m still feeling good in 10-12 years, I’m able to save some each year, and the stock market has at least a bit of gains, I will potentially retire then. If I have a bad relapse and am not able to work, obviously that would change my plans, but I feel good about having at least some savings built up, and if my house is paid off by then it would make it smoother.
    I want to prioritize experiences and travel with my sons and wife now, but I’m able to get some joy in the day-to-day. I coach my younger son’s soccer team, we go camping with a group in the summer a few times, and the volunteering at school is good. We’ve done a couple bigger trips and want to go to Europe next summer, but I don’t think it’s necessary to try to over plan and overspend just due to cancer, unless I think I’m dying right away. There are so many amazing places I want to go in the world before I die that I haven’t been, but realistically I know that many of them I won’t go to, there are just too many. So I need to prioritize and pick a few and make big plans to go there with the family in the next few years. And we’re working on that.

    1. Matt,
      This is probably not the place for this, but this is where I can contact you. How did you decide not to do any of the maintenance chemo? I am 44 and just did the high dose chemo. I have a 21 month old and this decision is looming. I am truly interested in your thoughts on this. Thanks.

      1. If I can interject. It’s personal for everyone but maybe depends on how treatable the cancer is. I didn’t have a good response to induction or follow up and even after the SCT my m spike is 16. So for me, maintenance is necessary. What does your consultant say?

        1. Eric,
          Thanks for your reply. My doctors all seem to think that yes, you absolutely do the maintenance. It seems more based study data than my situation. But I must add that while my MM was considered very early when diagnosed and my M spike has never been above .8, this all started with an extremely aggressive plasmacytoma that ate away most of the right side of my pelvis in a matter of months. I am still not walking on my own at this point because of all the damage. So while my numbers for MM seem to say not aggressive. The initial site says the opposite. Just another example of how different the same disease can be in people. Very frustrating for me.

          Good luck to you in your retirement decision. My husband is on the path for early retirement. And is fairly close. But my getting sick may have wrecked that, because of the uncertainty of what to do about health care.

  18. First, my best to Eric. I lost a friend a few years ago to Stage 4 breast cancer (it was stage 4 when discovered). She lived 7 years after diagnosis. She did return to work and I believe it was related to financial needs but also because she equated working to health (or health good enough to work) – a sign she was winning over cancer.

    In the end, she left work less than 6 months (maybe less than 3) before her death and I think she regretted that.

    I also worked with someone diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a huge complication due to a reaction to her chemo and came out the other side with good prognosis related to the cancer but requiring supplemental oxygen all of the time. She was put on our company’s long term disability. At one point (she being a very independent and productive person) talked to our boss about returning to work, perhaps even part time. His advice to her was to stay on her disability. He was concerned that if she returned, she would risk being part of any Reductions in Force in the future that would remove the LTD option she currently had.

    I have no idea if those kinds of things would impact your decisions, but worth mentioning, even if anecdotal.

    I’m sure there are other ventures/activities out there that don’t require you to return to work full time and/or create stress in your life.

  19. I’d cut bait only if there is something you want to do with the time. Replacing something work, with nothing is a loss. But if there is something you’d rather be doing, then go do it.

  20. Great article. Makes me rethink about my priorities. Thank you “Root of good” for your suggestion. Eric, please do your best to live life without regrets. There should be something that you enjoy and love doing. Just do them.

  21. Hi Eric,
    The one thing you didn’t say was that you loved your job too much to quit. To me, that would be the only reason to stay. If you want structure in your life, sit down and make a to do list for the next 3 years, i.e. I would like to travel to__________. I want to learn ____________. I want to spend time with ____________. I want to do funny things such as ___________. I want to contribute my time to _________ and _________. You will have all the structure you need.

    If you work because of the social contact at your employer and not really due to structure, then keep working on a part time basis and start pursuing social contacts thru shared interest groups such as photography, sports, books, music, travel, cooking etc. The more you explore outside of your employment, the easier it will be to transition to early retirement. Be sure to verify that you will continue to be eligible for that six figure income if you return to work. Once you prove you can return to work that option may no longer be available.

  22. Hi Eric, i may have a slightly different take to your situation. I also have Multiple Myeloma. Understand, as well meaning as people are, no one can understand your situation other than maybe someone else going through it. I say maybe because as you mentioned, this is a very personal disease. No two people will experience it the same. I retired 5 years ago after transitioning to MM from smoldering. For me it was not a good decision. I had looked forward to retirement for years, but the reality was much different. I had WAY to much time to dwell on my cancer. I found for me a happy medium worked best. I went back to work part time after 4 years and it has been a godsend for me. I get to get out of my head for a couple of hours and that’s huge. One of the difficulties of our cancer is that it is chronic. People have a hard time understanding that you really are sick, you look so good, or you have your hair so you must be all better etc. I’m sure you’ve heard it all. Anyway, all this to say, I have no answer for you except to trust yourself on this one. Only you know how much pain you have, only you know how much energy you have. Good luck on your journey, and trust yourself to make the right decision for you.

  23. Sorry to hear of your condition, but honestly, if I were in your shoes I wouldn’t even go back to clean out my desk. 😉
    I have decades worth of projects I’d like to do.
    With that kind of guaranteed income for the rest of your life, move somewhere with a low cost of living, and do whatever the heck you want to do for the remainder of your days.
    Here’s hoping you have many to enjoy.
    God bless,

  24. That’s a tough situation for sure. Personally, as someone who’s done the long-term traveling thing, I can attest to the fact that it can start feeling like work if you let it with all the planning (doubly so if you try blogging). I think I’d spend time as much time as possible with family/the people I love. I’ve found that recently, even my travel is more about visiting people than it is about seeing places (although my friends/family are spread out globally, so there is inevitably some sightseeing).

    Other than that, I’d push myself to take a chance. Anything I was afraid of before now basically has no long-term consequences. I don’t know this guy, but if he’s a driven person then maybe starting a project or angel investing or something would appeal. Or writing a book? Or hell, even just skydiving or something. Who knows, only him.

    I agree with Justin though: the only reason to stay at the bank is if it fulfills you. If not, find out what does. Best of luck.

  25. IMHO….it is very easy for us to say what we would or would not do if faced with the reality of mortality that Eric has been confronted with….I would hope that I would have the strength and vision to find the things I was passionate about…and then pursue those things for what ever time I had left. I will say that we live in an incredible time in medicine. My Dear Father was diagnosed with lung cancer and the outlook was for him to live 6 months….Due to new therapies and excellent care he lived for 3.5 years….There is a lot of bad press about drug companies BUT there are some pretty amazing things taking place. I wish Eric nothing but the best in his journey….

  26. It’s hard when you’re confronted with your own mortality. Eric probably should go talk to a good therapist. He needs to ask himself what he really wants from life. What if he has one year left? What if he has 1 month left? Would he spend it working?
    Life is short and he needs to do what he needs to do before it’s too late. Best wishes.

  27. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Ecclesiastes 9:5

    Facing death is inevitable for all of us. For you might be 5 years, for RoG might be another few decades.

    Give your life to Jesus and He will give you life eternal when He returns.

  28. If he has family it would be wise to spend the rest of his days with them with the payout from job. Plenty things to do that can keep a person busy. Nevertheless, it is his decision to make only no one elses.

  29. My Dad had myeloma back in the late 80’s. He was healthy as a horse & never been sick. He was 50 years old. My parents were in bad financial shape & he tried to work but got sick ver quickly. He lived only 6 months after diagnosis. I know medicine has advanced tremendously but no one knows the time factor. In 2013 my husband went to doctor for routine checkup. They did blood work & found out he had leukemia. He also worked long hours & wasn’t able to keep up. His leukemia is non curable & you just have to try to control it. He retired & we weren’t as prepared financially as we should have been because it was so unexpected. But, again one never knows what the future holds. He had to retire & was very upset about it at first. He’s worked since we was about 9 years old with a paper route etc. He had been retired a few months now absolutely loves it. His numbers improved once he stopped working. Any job has stress & his doctors say to avoid stress as much as possible. He does have other health issues since retirement & we aren’t able to do very much traveling anymore. It is personal choice but my advice would be to retire as soon as you can & do what you want to do while you are able to. You are so fortunate it is not a financial issue for you & you should be proud of yourself for that. There are so many things to do in retirement & you are able to bless others with your time.

  30. I’m sorry for what you are going through, but it is a chance to sit back and decide what makes your life tick. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to not know what you want. But you must face yourself and try to be honest.

  31. When I was on leave a few years ago for breast cancer treatment, I really wanted to go back to work as soon as I could, and I did end up returning sooner than I should have. I liked my job, but didn’t love it, so it wasn’t that. I think a lot of my drive was because…well, I got yanked out of my career and into long term illness mode without warning. I didn’t get to *choose* to stop work; it was forced on me as a side effect of treatment. Part of why I wanted so much to go back was to reclaim my choices and my power over my own life.

    The other part – and I was well aware of the irrationality of this at the time, but still felt this way – was that I strongly associated work with normality and feeling healthy, and I wanted so much to go back to my normal life. Of course, you can never go back, not really. You can only go forward.

    I have no idea how many years I have left (rare type of breast cancer; they can’t even give me survival statistics, which may be a blessing in disguise), but I’m going to FIRE as soon as I can and sail off into the sunset / do all the traveling I always wanted to do. Carpe diem and all that. But this time, leaving work will be *my* choice, and that makes a difference.

  32. I wish Eric nothing but the best and thank him for sparking this post. From the Monday morning quarterback position, I am not sure if I could retire. Not from a FI standpoint, but from a mental (too much time on my hands) standpoint to think about the health issues. I think I would defiantly cutback the numbers of hours I worked and start to focus more on things that I really like/love to do. This really makes you sit back and reevaluate life’s plan and what really matters.

  33. This article really captivated my attention. It is very sad and I believe that this young person should retire NOW. Tim McGraw’s song “Live like you are dying” comes to mind.
    LIVE NOW and live life to the fullest. You won’t regret missing a day of work when you’re breathing your last breadth. God Bless this young person…..
    Also, refer to my recent blog posting “the goal is FIRE” on a similar concern I have. My illness is nothing compared to cancer but it still thrusts me toward early retirement.

  34. I’m in a different but relate-able situation: I don’t expect to live much past most people’s normal retirement age. Neither my father nor his father made it out of their 60s, and on my mom’s side of the family men have massive heart attacks in their 50s that they don’t always live through. That’s why I’m retiring early: I don’t yet have a nailed-down plan for retirement, but damned if I’m going to miss out on it entirely.

    For Eric, it boils down to this: what does he want? Where does he derive happiness? For me, re-acclimating to trader work after a 6-month recovery from f***ing chemo is exhausting just to think about.

    Whenever I have a tough decision to make, I flip a coin. Not to make up my mind for me, but because for that moment when the coin is in the air, I realize which outcome I’ve been rooting for all along.

  35. Justin,

    Thanks so much for sharing this post.


    If you’re reading, you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers tonight.

    I am younger than you, but frequently consider my own mortality. We’re all going to face it one day. I love what Justin has written: Do what brings you the most meaning.

    For me, what would bring me the most meaning is spending time with my wife and kids, and helping others to the maximum extent I could, while still traveling a bit to see the world.

    I’d volunteer my time at a school, trying to help kids. I’d skydive. I’d embrace my family. I’d travel to Africa for a Safari. I’d spend time at my church and pray.

    I’d also be scared and sad. But I’d try to drive that energy into the best possible human I could be.

    When the end became apparently close, because I’m a religious person, I’d make my peace with God; pray for his forgiveness for whatever I didn’t accomplish that I was supposed to. I’d put my affairs in order. Hug my kids and wife as much as possible. And then, be outta this place in as little pain as possible.

    But that’s just me. Everyone has to make their own path. If that path is working for you – by all means work! Maybe work part time and do other things too.

    All the best to you!

      1. Justin,

        You really should give skydiving a try.
        There’s a reason they call it FREEfall! 😉

        P.S. Most of the planes I’ve jumped from were nowhere near “perfectly good”. LOL

        1. I don’t mind heights but I really hate the freefall feeling. Even a rapidly descending elevator is unpleasant to me. Roller coasters totally suck. Fortunately it’s saved me a ton of money on skydiving and somewhat deterred me from a former interest in obtaining a private pilot’s license (that and an airport design class in engineering school where we learned how deadly general aviation is vs. commercial flying 🙂 ).

          1. I’m a “face my fears” kind of person to a large extent, though I haven’t been willing to skydive. I think it stems from an indoor rock climbing accident where my belayer accidentally let the rope slip and dropped me 12 ft. to a sprained ankle (and fortunately nothing worse). I’m a heavy dude, so every time I think about doing a tandem jump I just think I’d be too big. The last time I considered it you had to be under 225lbs and I was 220lbs and I thought “That’s just too close to the limit for me.”

  36. This post caught my attention and my empathy. We just watched our own Eric (peripheral in our group of friends) be diagnosed with an incurable cancer and then die 14 months later. He and his wife created a FB group of support and then went forth and did the most amazing things with their time. Volunteering, raising awareness for causes important to them, dancing, playing music, starring in a musical, bringing people together for fun events and volunteering gigs. I felt like they lived, truly lived, in that year more than I have ever seen anyone embrace life, with all of the beauty and frustration and weirdness that it brings.

    I’d recommend reading another blogger for help on this particular topic, as RoG didn’t struggle too much with pulling the trigger. 🙂 Dr. Doom at Living a FI has a great and in-depth series called The Quit Series where he goes through all of his mental gymnastics to figure out why he can’t seem to retire even though he is financially able. It really gets to the root of what we want in life, what makes us happy, and what we want to do with our time.
    If you were going to read only one post, the one about how to build a vision of life without work is worth the time.

  37. Eric, I don’t know what you should do. I retired very early and it was a bit of a struggle and would have been more so had I not had a full family life and children to care for. That said, I enjoy it a lot now, but I don’t have the same health challenge.

    It is actually harder than you might think if you have prioritized work to make the transition so I wonder if part-time could be an option if you are well enough to return and worry about being over-focussed on illness?

    In any event, maybe go see a counsellor and talk it through. Wishing you the best.

  38. Yes you should stop working. As a health care worker (RN) I’ve seen too many people work and work waiting for the magical time they can retire then get sick and never get to that point. Can’t say I ever heard a patient tell me that they wished they had worked more and lived life on their own terms less.

  39. I’ve read every comment and want to thank you all, and Justin, for the time taken to discuss my issue.

    I just found out today my income protection benefits, as mentioned in the post, have been approved. So as we stand I am going to take a plunge and retire. I do have an option to return to the bank at some capacity in the future (maybe) however.

    1. Probably the right choice. And like many decisions in life, retiring isn’t irreversible as you could possibly go back to your old employer in some role, or find a new job elsewhere.

    2. Wishing you the very best, Eric. I am in a similar situation. Spouse was diagnosed with a rare cancer in his 30s. Prognosis is unknown given it is rare and there is a wide range of outcomes. We had already been working towards early retirement and by my approximation had accumulated enough years before the diagnosis (we’re risk adverse though and to be honest, it never seems like enough) so it was an easy decision to stop working.

      As in your situation though the door remains open to go back to work so I don’t view it as a final decision. Depending on health and happiness with early retirement it is very likely one or both of us with return to work, especially if it is within a few years while our professional relationships are still strong. But it is a great comfort to know it is not a financial requirement.

      Lots of great advice already mentioned above. One other thing that may also help is to reach out to online or local support groups for your particular type of cancer. Not only could it be immensely helpful in making treatment decisions, the social support may be invaluable. Cancer can be so lonely and I’ve found it is hard for friends to understand what you’re going through, especially when you are diagnosed at a young age. It’s also a great feeling to give back to others struggling in the same situation, even if it is just speaking to someone newly diagnosed to offer support and reassurance.

      Wishing you the best with your retirement and health!

  40. Eric,

    I am truly sorry for your diagnosis. I had a scary diagnosis last year and struggled with the same thoughts, concerns, and emotions as you (although early retirement was not an option for me). My takeaway was that everyone has different priorities. For some in your position, leaving work would be the right choice. For others, remaining at work would be the right choice. Finding out what’s right for you takes some deep soul searching, but that is your number one job right now. I wish you the best of luck, and hope that all your remaining days are filled with the joy that comes from having what you value and what you do in perfect harmony with each other.

  41. We retired at 61…I was glad when things became impossible at work for my husband and he was suddenly willing to retire…here’s the whole thing…if you died tomorrow, what would you regret not doing? For me it was i wanted to travel more…we bought a travel trailer and travel 4-5 mis a year…for my husband, he felt he hadn’t had enough time with the kids and grandkids…so we accept all invitations from them, try to get them to go travelling with us, etc… Funniest thing our son was extremely worried about what we would do in retirement…we made a list of 10 things haven’t done any of it…but our lives are so busy and full, I can’t even imagine going back to work…FOLLOW your heart.

  42. I don’t know the nature of Eric’s terminal illness, but, in general, people are living longer. I’ve known people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness only to live 10 or 20 more years. If I were Eric, I’d negotiate part-time employment or maybe a flexible schedule so I can spend more time with friends and family.

    The problem is many Americans care more about pets than having a real family. My wife is a registered nurse and I’ve heard too many stories of people dying without friends and family because they chose to have pets instead of kids. There’s nothing wrong with caring about pets, but there’s no substitute to real people comforting you in times you need it most.

  43. Eric,

    I send you my best thoughts and prayers from here.

    Mid 50’s, diagnosed in November. Not terminal now, but the “treatment” is not very appealing and would forever change my quality of life I have left.

    I read this post while taking a break from writing the email to my friends and clients telling them I am retiring. Funny thing is, never shed a tear over the diagnosis; but I can’t keep from crying every time I re-read the email that finalizes my current career. I keep saving it as a draft, can’t seem to press send.

    My wife’s last day of work is Friday and she’s thrilled…I’m scared shitless! For over 30 years I have been a “?????” and worked for myself. Now I am trying to figure out how to reinvent me. So much of my identity is wrapped up in what I do/did, it scares me more than anything medicine or insurance can throw at me.

    I can’t identify with all your going through but I do understand somewhat. My quest is to try and go make peace with the gods and the universe and hopefully find peace within myself. I hope that you can find that peaceful place within you.

    Thank you for posting your question. It has allowed me to honestly face some of those same questions in my mind for the first time.

    A fellow traveler in spirit.

  44. Life is such an unknown. Most live as if it is forever, which of course it is not.

    One of my favorite quotes is ” The answer to all great questions is: It Depends.”
    There is not one set answer to anything is the question is important. So everyone must decide for themselves whenever there are important things to consider. It is too easy for an outsider, like myself, to come to a decision for someone else (where really I am judging the circumstances, not deciding). Not any one of us knows the full circumstances of another person’s life, including Eric’s.

    It looks like Eric decided to leave his job. Given the physical and emotional and psychological stress his illness has imposed upon him, and the demands of his job, it sounds to me in my limited capacity to understand his situation, that he made the right decision. He of course can focus more on his recovery and his life without the commuting and pressure of work. So a challenge now is to be full engaged in whatever he does.

    Good luck, and may you be happy and free from suffering!

  45. Hi, Eric,

    Since you’ve made us aware that you have made the decision to retire, I’d like to note that you will have much time to SAVOR all that life has to offer… that first cup of coffee in the morning, watching the sunrise (or sunset ), more time to read, watch movies, search the Internet, enjoy more time with friend/family/ pets, travel, volunteer…

    Being able to slow down your pace & really savor life is a rich gift.. I wish you many such years ahead full of activities that fill your soul…

    My husband has leukemia with an “intermediate” risk factor so we cannot determine how aggressive his course will be.. He has just started aggressive treatment and we are just living and enjoying each day that we are given together..


  46. I was diagnosed with Smoldering Myeloma when I was 45 and had to watch and wait for five years until it morphed into Myeloma. I am now 57 and just coming out of remission after a stem cell transplant a little over six years ago. Treatments and outcomes are so variable with this disease so please make sure you are seeing a Myeloma specialist, not just a Hematologist. It took me a long time to come to terms with an incurable disease and felt like my life was over. I couldn’t make plans for anything in the future, partly because of so many tests, appts., fatigue and bone pain, but also because I didn’t think I would live too far in the future. If you are physically able, do whatever trulymakes you happy and brings joy to your life because this disease has many ups and down. Good luck to you.

  47. Update. It’s seven months later and guess what? I’m going back to work at the beginning of next year. Part time. Ultimately a life of leisure wasn’t for me and I miss the purpose and fulfilment of work. I’ve done a LOT of travelling this year and while it’s been fun – it gets boring after a while. Everyone is different but for me – giving up work and retiring at this age wasn’t for me.

    1. “Eric” – thanks for the update! Full time leisure isn’t for everyone.

      At least you had a solid block of time off to test things out and made a conscious decision to return to work on a part time basis. I’m curious if it’s in the same line of work and same employer? Or have you shifted to some other interests, like an “encore career”?

  48. Hi. Same job and bank but part time to start with. Three days a week but tbh knowing me I’ll be doing full time anyway. Working from home the other two. We’ll see.

    1. Eric, are you still following this thread? What is your take on all of this now? I know you had originally posted this 3 years ago, but your story is amazingly similar to mine. My name is also Eric. I am currently 48 years old and I currently have stage 4 cancer (bile duct cancer). It has a very poor survival rate. I’m super lucky to still be alive after being diagnosed in 2017. Very low odds that I will survive the next 5 years. I am also in a position where I financially am able to not work. However, I’ve been working full-time for a few reasons. #1, it makes me feel more normal. Work distracts me from thinking about my cancer. #2, it gives me purpose, something to focus on. #3, it provides really good corporate health insurance that enables me to get treated at the best teaching hospitals in the US. #4, it provides me additional income to grow my financial cushion for my family. #5, I actually enjoy the work. However, there are other things I would prefer doing other than work, such as golfing more and traveling the world. I’m also holding out hope that I will survive the next 10 years and someone will discover better treatment for my cancer. If I knew for sure I would die within the next 5 years, I would retire now and spend more time with my family. The challenge is that I really don’t know what the future looks like. But I am seriously debating retiring within the next 1-2 years. Would love to hear how your doing and if you have any recommendations. I’m also curious if you figured out a good solution for health insurance while not working. Can’t seem to find any plan that comes close to a corporate health insurance plan. Especially one that enables in-network access to the best hospitals (teaching hospitals). I hope you are still doing well!

      1. Hi
        Sorry to hear about your diagnoses. I did go back but didn’t last long. I got an infection that landed me in hospital and decided to not return. I think it was the best desicion. Im very happy now.

        You said that continuing to work means you retain healthcare benefit which I agree is important. Does your company also provide life long insurance so that if you had to stop working youd still get paid and retain the health insurance? DM me

        1. Hey guys, I can email you both with each of your email addresses if you want to get in touch offline without sharing your emails publicly on here. Just let me know and I’ll get you in touch.

        2. Wow, I’d be amazed that ANY company would offer that benefit anymore.
          It’s rare, outside of government jobs, to even have ANY form of retirement pension at all.

  49. I know this post is a couple of years old but I hope that Eric and the other myeloma sufferers are doing OK.

    I was diagnosed 7 years ago, had high dose chemo and a stem cell transplant (SCT) and have been on various maintenance chemo/immunotherapies ever since.

    I tried to go back to a stress free low-level job after the SCT but when my treatment was changed from once a month to two days a week, it was quite simply incompatible with 9-5 office work. I then tried to find a way of making money working online for myself – I have evaluated around 25 different business ideas in depth but I haven’t implemented any of them. Every time I get enthusiastic about something an inner voice starts asking me “what’s the point? you probably won’t live long enough to see it through.” That voice is very tough to ignore.

    Fortunately, spending so much time on the Internet led me to the FI movement (including RoG!) and I discovered that we were already financially independent and I didn’t need a job. This was a revelation. That really took the pressure off of myself, although I still don’t tell anyone that I am not going to work again to avoid social stigma. My wife has a high-paid job and wants to work another 3 years before calling it a day and (if I’m still around) we would like to retire in Europe where we were born. However, the treatment I’m having is not available over there yet and so I don’t know if we’ll be able to go back full time. Should I give up future quality of life for more quantity of life? I really don’t know the answer.

    I think that this inability to plan for the future with any certainty is the biggest psychological problem when you have an incurable/terminal disease. The way I have come to terms with it is to follow “standard” FI methodology – keep a cash buffer, max out 401k contributions, open a taxable investment account, invest in index funds and generate passive income streams. I know that the day I am not here, my family will be OK whatever happens, that is a big deal.

    Thanks RoG for this post which I think highlights a benefit of FI that is rarely talked about. Something similar to what happened to Eric can happen to anyone. Should it happen to you, being on the FI path will allow you to make choices that are in your best interests at a very tough time.

    1. Yes. FI is just a good way to live in general, in my opinion. It sets you up for a lot of flexibility when life throws you curveballs. The pandemic this past year highlighted that. It’s really nice to not need to worry about work, having to be around people to collect a paycheck, etc.

      I hope you do well with your treatments and make it back to Europe eventually!

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