Five Things I've learnt about retirement and cancer by Denyse Whelan.

By Denyse Whelan   who was diagnosed with a rare cancer in her gums in 2017 after she retied in 2010

By Denyse Whelan
who was diagnosed with a rare cancer in her gums in 2017 after she retied in 2010

1. It’s not the picnic nor freedom once the days and weeks have turned into months. It is a realisation, not always pleasant, that if ‘work that identified you’ is no longer there, how can you say ‘who you are’.

2. It feels good to be done with answering to other people, but you learn again, the hard way maybe, that we all end up answering to others whether we are retired or working. It’s about staying connected too. I admit I was very lonely when I first retired.

3. That moving away from all you know when you retire - as we did - house, family, friends - meant a certain freedom (no mortgage) but was an unimaginable wrench to let go of what was no longer in my life. I cried a lot, I used art to salve my tears. I began to learn about my spiritual self. It was a very hard change to go through.

4. I have benefitted from this in ways I could not imagine at my saddest because I HAD to learn to be satisfied with what was and is. My initiatives in reading from authors such as Brene Brown, Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat Zinn, learning to meditate, finding a good psychologist, GP and having the support of my husband all helped.

5. I gained strength I thought had been lost when I retired because just over two years after retirement I was diagnosed with cancer. The reactions when I retired and learning how to change them over time had left their benefits within as I could steer myself more gently down the path of treatments and surgeries from the skills I learned in the worst years before cancer.


About Denyse Whelan
Denyse is an Australian woman whose career was in New South Wales public education, living and teaching in firstly remote and country areas, and settling in Sydney’s north west from 1978.  As a wife, mother of two and educator, Denyse thrived in her work and over the years, gained promotions to reach the role of principal. Her career was cut short in 2003 due to a health breakdown caused by work overload but with her true resourcefulness in recovery of over a year, Denyse returned to the classroom part-time and trained as a teacher of  English as a Second Language. In 2010 retirement beckoned and she left schools to concentrate on home life and help care for grandchildren as well as tutor pre-service education students at university. By early 2015 she and her husband retired away from Sydney. In May 2017 Denyse was diagnosed with a rare cancer in her upper gums and since has four surgeries including a major reconstruction in her mouth in July 2017. She is well, two years post the diagnosis, but will continue cancer checks for another three years at regular intervals. Denyse is connected to her interests and education groups via social media with a blog and is now an ambassador for Beyond Five – an Australian-based charity for Head and Neck Cancer Information and Awareness.