When I turned 60 in February 2014, I thought, only 5 more years of work to go! I had had a great career and looked forward to working those last 5 years but was excited to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Then, on November 24, 2014, my career ended abruptly when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I could not work, and the company I was working for needed someone to do my job. My manager asked me to participate in a conference call to discuss my options with the head of human resources. On the day of the meeting, I was in the hospital getting my second round of chemo when I took the call.
I was told that, as I could not go back to work, the company would give me severance for one month in addition to any vacation time I had. They were going to activate the disability policy that I had opted for as part of the benefits I had from the company. I was told this policy would be in place until I turned 65.
I remember being disappointed and sad as I was not ready to retire, but I was too sick to worry about it at the time. Over time, I improved. The tumor was in remission, and I was gaining my strength back from aggressive chemotherapy. I was not able to work and was grateful for the disability that gave me the time to heal and not have to feel pressured to return to work. Over time, I continued to heal.
When I was ready to go back to work in 2016, I decided to focus on writing and education, which is what I was doing when I got sick. I wanted to do this independently as I did not want the stress/pressure of working for company. I started writing a blog. I called it Nurse Advocate. My goal was to use the experiences I had as a patient to help people (patients and caregivers) better navigate the complex healthcare system. I also wanted to help the healthcare team realize how hard it was to be a patient and teach them the important role they played in helping patients and caregivers when they are thrust into the complex world of healthcare. The medical issues are one part, but there is also dealing with insurance issues, loss of work and family stress as being sick impacts not only the patient but also the family. The blog is very successful and has won several awards. More importantly, readers respond and let me know what I am sharing is important. To view my blog, visit https://nursesadvocates.com/blog.
In addition to blogging, I also focused on educating and mentoring healthcare professionals to find their way to new careers and to move into independent practice. I continued active involvement in my professional associations, the Case Management Society of America on the local and national level as well as with the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy, the professional organization for those who specialize in heath/patient advocacy.
I think the biggest challenge of retiring early due to a serious illness was that I lost my purpose as I did not have time to reconcile things if I would have had those five years back.
At 67, I am slowly moving into retirement. I am receiving Social Security and Medicare, so independent practice fits well and allows me to balance my time with projects that are meaningful to me and taking time to do things that are important to me, such as visiting family and friends, exercising, traveling and staying active on social media, which give me purpose.
In closing, I am grateful to still be here and to be able to use the knowledge I gained from over 40 years as a clinical nurse, a case manager/advocate and a patient.
Anne Llewellyn, MS, BHSA, RN, CCM, CRRN, CMF, is a registered nurse with over 43 years of experience in critical care, risk management, case management, patient advocacy, healthcare publications and training and development. Anne has been a leader in case management and was the President of the Case Management Society of America 2003-4. She was awarded their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 for her service to the case management industry. She also served on the Patient Advocate Certification Board and was one of the professionals to develop and launch the first National Certification in Patient Advocacy. Anne is also a patient, a brain cancer survivor, who uses her expertise and knowledge to educate people about how to navigate the complex healthcare system and remind healthcare professionals about the importance of providing patient and family centered care. Today, Anne works as a nurse advocate to assist people on their healthcare journeys.