Retirement ... Ready? Set! … Wait, What???

July 1, 2024 at 5:00 p.m.
One year ago, while poised to begin her new life's adventure upon retirement, Wendy Pender learned she had cancer. Her journey toward healing has her reflecting on gratitude.
One year ago, while poised to begin her new life's adventure upon retirement, Wendy Pender learned she had cancer. Her journey toward healing has her reflecting on gratitude. Wendy Pender

Wendy Pender, who retired last year, was the longtime Older Adults Program Coordinator with King County Library System. Until her retirement, she also wrote the column, LIBRARY CORNER, for Northwest Prime Time. Her column had a special focus on providing helpful news, inspiration, and resources to our "age 50+" readers. I always marveled at Wendy's ability to present a wide variety of information in such an interesting, enjoyable, and positive manner. 

Just wait until you read her story of life since retirement. 

--Michelle Roedell, Editor, Northwest Prime Time

This time last year I had the world by the tail!

My husband, Roland, and I were retiring and thrilled to be visiting Costa Rica with an eye toward moving there. We’d given up our apartment in Issaquah, sold/given away most of what we owned, and packed the rest in our vehicles and motorcycle trailer in preparation for caravaning across the country. 

I had a bit of a nagging sore throat, but nothing too bad and understandable given all the changes and stress I was under. Certain it was a simple infection, I pressed my doctor for an antibiotic and forged ahead. 

Striving for “an honorable closure,” I enjoyed wrapping up my work life at the library, saying heartfelt goodbyes, orienting incoming staff, and making sure my pet projects were safely in the hands of others. 

The sweet spot on my last day was getting a grant to provide online arts instruction, author events and computer help for the coming two years. YAY!

About 36 hours before our departure, I received the shocking phone call: “You have tonsil cancer” said my Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. 

The sore throat had not responded to the antibiotic, and he’d done a biopsy. I wasn’t stressed by the words, as I had no idea where to put this information – who’s even heard of tonsil cancer? 

Knowing we were exploring moving in retirement, he said I could stay in Washington for treatment, or he’d help me find care elsewhere, if need be. 

Talk about a bump in the road!

I immediately sought the advice of my oldest friend, who is a cancer nurse. “Stay there!” she was unequivocal. “This is not the time to be changing anything.” 

Sure … but stay where? I was meeting the landlord to turn in our keys the next day.

Fortunately, our angel friend, Allyson, stepped in and immediately offered us housing “for the duration.” What a blessing! Since we’d literally given away even our bed, we gratefully accepted her offer and moved into her beautiful home about ten minutes away from the hospital, where I would go for daily radiation treatments in the fall.


Recognizing I was in danger of falling into a pit of self-pity, I immediately started a “gratitude spreadsheet.” on which I started tracking these blessings. Housing was huge! Having an expert cancer nurse friend – huge! Having health insurance – huge!

Along those same lines, my sister Betsy “just happens” (one of the code phrases for miracles, I believe) to have a college friend who is a dentist specializing in the treatment of head/neck cancer patients. (Radiation therapy to the head/neck has lifelong effects on your swallowing and neck muscles, teeth and jaw.) What are the chances? Dr. Calderbank generously called me with advice, mailed me products to help with mouth sores from radiation, even phoned my dentist to educate him about my needs. Another angel!

Before treatment began in late September, we spent the time awaiting appointments and scan results but also getting to enjoy the glorious summer in the Pacific Northwest (another blessing). We would typically be motorcycling elsewhere during the summer, but the motorcycle was packed with the rest of our belongings in the trailer, so we gratefully enjoyed many sunny afternoons at nearby Lake Sammamish State Park and our bonus days in Issaquah.

Once treatment began, I spent most afternoons cooling off from radiation treatment on Allyson’s porch under “The Healing Tree,” as we called it, while Roland busied himself with projects around her beautiful property. 

Wendy is holding the rigid, plastic mask they build to go over the face and upper chest to make sure the radiation hits the correct place each time. For six weeks, Wendy had daily 15-minute sessions, Monday through Friday. Wendy tells us: "On the day a person finishes treatment at Swedish, they get to ring the bell (pictured), and everyone comes out to celebrate with the whole treatment team."



Swedish Hospital provided art, music, pet and speech therapy, which were very helpful. The music therapist especially helped me tame my inner critic and find my new rhythm. Friends and family were incredibly supportive; I felt abundantly cared for.  Puzzles, ice cream, soup, books, flowers, cards … every day brought wonderful gifts of love and thoughtfulness.

When I concluded treatment and got through the first month of side effects (radiation builds up in your body, so the first weeks after treatment ends are actually worse than the weeks of treatment), I was finally healed enough to face travel. We left the truck and trailer in Washington and drove east, visiting friends and family along the way.

We arrived in time to spend Christmas with my sisters in Amish country, listening to the clip-clop of horse and buggies going by. Wonderfully destressing.

Focusing on gratitude has made the time pass more easily while I continue to heal. It’s a constant discipline – where am I putting my attention? Eating, swallowing and digestion are all significantly impacted by radiation to the head/neck, which continues to play a large role in my daily life as I adjust to these changes. Who am I if I cannot speak? 

At a low point when I wasn’t sure which direction I was headed (toward death or more life), I realized I was doing exactly what I intended if I knew I had limited time left. “If this is my last year on the planet, how do I want to spend it?” For me, the answer is to have more adventures and spend time with people I love.

Whenever I feel off-kilter, that’s what I remind myself.  Whether or not these are my last days, I am doing exactly as I intend – having adventures and being with people I love. I am reminded of the book, Five Regrets of the Dying, in which the author discovered one of the themes was “I wish I’d let myself be happier.” I use that a lot these days – although I fight depression and experience fear of the future (what if I lose my jaw? what if my voice becomes even more compromised?). 

I am fighting back with the ability to reframe each moment. 

It takes patience, practice, diligence, forgiveness. I focus on the good, for my own mental health and the well-being of the planet.

Since we all face challenges that require reframing, I wish you success in your own practices. May you be at peace as your life unfolds!

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Wendy offers these suggested reading companions: 

  • The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig, PhD
  • How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People – Their Secrets, Their Stories by Rick Foster & Greg Hicks
  • Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing by Bronnie Ware

Wendy Pender is a retired librarian, gerontologist and biker chick who writes about spirituality and aging from wherever the Harley happens to be parked.

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Editor's Note: I remember back to the many columns Wendy published in Northwest Prime Time, and also an article ABOUT Wendy that one of our interns wrote. Here is the link to the article, along with a wonderful photo of her with her mom:

Wendy Pender, Library Corner columnist, enjoying pie with her mother, pictured at age 101


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