Retirement after a stroke: Annette's story

After many years running her own holiday cottage business in Yorkshire, Annette Dancer had a stroke. She talks to Katherine Woods about how health issues forced her to retire.

Before having a stroke at 61, Annette Dancer ran her own holiday cottage business in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire.

“I did everything – taking bookings, administration, cleaning. I loved greeting guests and letting them into their cottage,” she explains.

Annette sitting in her garden

Being self-employed also gave Annette the flexibility to do other things, including gardening, painting and writing story books for her granddaughter, Hazel.

But a stroke in May 2014 left Annette with weakness, poor co-ordination and balance, constant fatigue and difficulty speaking. It also affected her memory, and all this meant she had to take a break from letting out her holiday cottage.

Before becoming self-employed, Annette worked as a disability employment adviser and for the charity Mencap. She had a small pension from those jobs, but without the holiday cottage income she struggled financially.

“I was desperately trying to come to terms with the stroke, and living on a reduced income was very difficult,” she explains.

“Thankfully I received my state pension a year later, which made a big difference.”

Coming to terms with what's happened

Two years after her stroke, when she had regained some of her strength and co-ordination, Annette went back to letting out her holiday cottage, but it proved harder than she’d expected.

The decision to retire was taken out of my hands

“Things like changing a bed were terribly difficult,” says Annette. She employed cleaners to help, but she couldn’t afford to run the business that way, and eventually had to sell the property and retire.

“The decision to retire was taken out of my hands,” says Annette. “As a single parent, I’ve always had to work and intended to carry on indefinitely.” 

Annette drawing in her front room

Annette applied for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefits, but her application wasn’t successful.

“When I was a disability employment adviser I attended benefits appeals, but the stroke robbed me of my confidence, and when it came to doing it for myself I just couldn’t face it,” she explains.

Annette then went to Citizens Advice, who helped her to appeal the decision and win.

“PIP meant I could afford to have equipment like handrails fitted, but it wasn’t just that – it gave me choices again, at a time when I felt life was running me, not the other way round.”

Finding a new purpose

In 2017, Annette started volunteering on a research project, developing an online speech therapy programme.

“A stroke can leave you feeling pretty useless, but somebody somewhere will find a use for you,” she says. 

Since then, she’s presented at conferences and written blogs to raise awareness of how stroke affects patients.

“Getting involved in research gave me a new purpose,” says Annette. “People are so appreciative of my involvement.” 

Now 66, Annette believes there were benefits to having a life-changing event. “I appreciate life so much more, and I appreciate what others do to help me.”

One thing Annette particularly enjoys is the change in pace, adding, “Having worked all my life, I still can’t believe that if I don’t want to get up early I don’t have to!”

 

More useful information