This article is from Barbara Wilson, the founder and director of Working with cancer, an organisation working with employers, employees and medical professionals in helping people affected by cancer, return to work. In this article, she provides some tips from her personal experience as well as her professional experience.
Returning to work after cancer wasn’t something I gave a great deal of time or thought to during my treatment for breast cancer in 2005. When I was first diagnosed, I kept telling myself and others that I’d be back at work if not in five days, then in just a few weeks. I rang my boss several times saying “I’m sure I’ll be back in the next week or two.”.
However, as my treatment plan changed and became more complicated after chemotherapy was advised, I realised that going back into the office might have to wait a bit. But I was always going to return, no matter what. It was just a matter of waiting a few more months. After all I had worked all my life and as far as I was concerned it was my life – there was simply no alternative. Interestingly, my colleagues thought otherwise and looked somewhat confused and almost put out that I was really coming back; after all, as one colleague happily told me, they had managed perfectly well without me and surely I wanted to spend more time with my family now, doing the many things I still wanted to do before… (awkward pause)? Except that I didn’t actually want any of that.
But my experience is not necessarily typical. For many people returning to work after a cancer diagnosis is something they dread because they hate their work or their boss or their work colleagues or all three. Or it’s just too demanding with hours of work or travel or other pressures that they can no longer endure.
It is also the case that most if not all of us find the experience of cancer life changing and, because of that, want to change our lives before it’s too late. We may well have used the time of active treatment to examine what our priorities are and realise that friends and family have been neglected or that our work is just boring. We might want more balance in our lives and/or need to find something that will give our lives more meaning.
So, we are often confronted by a disconcerting mixture of emotional and practical considerations often made worse by the trauma of cancer treatment and the impact of medication, and in the meantime our families and friends advising us to move on and just put it all behind us. Let’s ring the bell in the chemo ward and forget it ever happened!
Here are my top tips:
What it’s also important to remember is that most of us, including those with secondary and metastatic cancer are very employable. You can find satisfying and rewarding work with or after cancer, and in many cases, if that’s what you want, enjoy a brand-new career.
In 2005, after being diagnosed with breast cancer and based on her professional and personal experience, Barbara set up a group with the aim of helping those of working age affected by cancer to return successfully to work. The group was the first to develop guidelines on work and cancer for HR professionals, line managers, employees and carers and she subsequently chaired a major element of the NHS/Macmillan 5- year Cancer Survivorship strategy, leading a multidisciplinary team developing ‘work and cancer’ support tools for employees, employers, carers and health professionals. In 2014 after attending the School for Social Entrepreneurs, Barbara launched Working With Cancer® as a Social Enterprise providing coaching, training and consultancy services to employers, employees, colleagues affected by cancer, carers and health professionals.
Future Dreams hold a range of support groups, classes, workshops and events to help you and your carers during your breast cancer diagnosis. These are held both online and in person at the London-based Future Dreams House. To see what’s on offer and to book your place, see here.
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The information and content provided in all guest articles is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. It is important that all personalised care decisions should be made by your medical team. Please contact your medical team for advice on anything covered in this article and/or in relation to your personal situation. Please note that unless otherwise stated, Future Dreams has no affiliation to the guest author of this article and he/she/they have not been paid to write this article. There may be alternative options/products/information available which we encourage you to research when making decisions about treatment and support. The content of this article was created by Barbara Wilson and we accept no responsibility for the accuracy or otherwise of the contents of this article.
Sylvie and Danielle began Future Dreams with just £100 in 2008. They believed nobody should face breast cancer alone. Their legacy lives on in Future Dreams House. We couldn’t continue to fund support services for those touched by breast cancer, raise awareness of breast cancer and promote early diagnosis and advance research into secondary breast cancer without your help. Please consider partnering with us or making a donation.