COVID-19 'Retired' Me, But Now I Can Reach For My Life Goals

With a terminal illness of metastatic breast cancer, I qualify for Social Security Disability as the COVID-19 pandemic has retired me, but that isn't stopping me from achieving my life goals.

The pandemic brought about many life changes for everyone. For me, it brought a very early retirement. I had been working full time pretty much my whole adult life and I continued to work full time even while living with metastatic breast cancer for the past six years until COVID-19 entered the world.

Work came to an abrupt halt and I seized the opportunity to apply for SSDI, Social Security Disability. I’ve always been a dedicated, hard-working person. Transitioning into a place of retirement at age 45 was never what I expected to happen, nor did I expect to be diagnosed with de novo metastatic breast cancer at age 38. But I took the plunge and made a phone call to Social Security.

The process on my end was fairly simple, I already had stacks of medical records to prove I indeed have metastatic breast cancer. The paperwork was filled out and I was told a decision would be made in as short as a week or within a few months. I received a call less than a week after applying to tell me I was approved for disability by Social Security’s compassionate allowance initiative. The compassionate allowance initiative helps reduce the waiting time to reach a disability determination for individuals with the most serious disabilities. Granted, there was still a 5-month waiting period before any disability payment was issued, nevertheless, I was on my way to “retirement.”

One day, shortly after being awarded SSDI, a member in my online support group had posted about the "America the Beautiful" pass. Turns out there are some other perks to being disabled that I was not aware of prior to my becoming disabled or, as I like to call it, retired. The program is called America the Beautiful; it provides persons with disabilities a pass covering entrance fees to the National Parks. Some of the National Parks charge $35 just to enter the park. We paid this fee over the summer when we took a trip to Zion, Utah, by the way, I do not recommend Utah in the middle of summer. It was unbearably hot and even hotter when those darn hot flashes materialize out of nowhere, thanks to my medically and surgically induced menopause. The scenery was amazing though, and now I can check Zion off my list of National Parks I have visited.

Speaking of checking off lists, I can’t stand the term “bucket list.” As a terminal optimist living with a terminal illness “bucket list” sounds so morbid to me. Let’s call them life goals instead.

In California, my home state, there are nine National Parks, more National Parks than in any other state. I am fortunate enough to live in a city where when I walk to the beach I can see the Channel Islands, one of the nine National Parks, and have also had the occasion to visit Anacapa Island. The Channel Islands are a string of islands off the Central Coast of California made up of five islands; Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara and San Miguel. Without a doubt living close by I can check off the Channel Islands. I have also been to Yosemite in my youth and would definitely like to go there again.

Next on my life goals list of National Parks will be Joshua Tree. I have been busy pinning points of interest to a Pinterest board for a while now. From what I see on the travel blogs Joshua Tree has some very quirky spots that look like an exciting weekend adventure. Unfortunately, the pandemic has closed a lot of the National Parks in California. I’m hoping in the spring we can make the drive and check off Joshua Tree National Park next.

As hard as this pandemic has been, the timing seemed right for me to slow down, stay safe and explore. COVID-19 was the push I needed to take time for myself and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us and tackle those life goals.