Bal, Alice-May and Kaz share their experiences of going back to work after their breast cancer treatment.
Alice-May: I made my work more flexible
Follow Alice-May on Instagram @alicemaypurkiss
Alice-May decided to become a freelance writer after her treatment was completed, this allowed her to be flexible with her working approach and gradually build-up her client base as she continued to recover.
‘I registered as self-employed a few weeks after I finished my treatment for breast cancer, but I had a period of a month or so where I allowed myself the time and space to breathe and process what I had been through before easing back into things.
‘As I went self-employed, I didn't have a "phased return" as such, but I was able to start slowly and steadily building-up my client base at a pace I was comfortable with – so I guess it was my own phased return to work in a way.
‘I was incredibly anxious about going back to work which was why I made the decision not to return to full-time employment but to take control of my own workload. It meant I didn't need to answer to anyone and I could ease back into work at my own pace. That's not to say going freelance rather than going back to full-time work was easy, but I felt like I was in a lot more control than if I had had a "boss" to go back to.
‘I have found it particularly difficult because I was doing really well in my career before I got sick, but I hadn't really had the chance to establish myself as a professional, so I feel like I'm playing catch up to recover the time that cancer took from me.
‘I think the best advice I can give is go at your own pace if you can. Remember that you're the one who knows your experience and your body best so trust that you know what's best for you. Be honest with your employers about what you can feasibly manage and prepare yourself for the fact you might not be able to do as much as you hope straight away. You might be able to – which is great – but don't be too hard on yourself.
‘Getting back to work after breast cancer, especially at a young age, can feel quite overwhelming so kindness is key!’
Bal: I had no purpose in life
Follow Bal on Instagram @balnanray
Bal returned to work in financial services after taking 15 months off for her breast cancer treatment. She found that a six-month phased return to work and the support of her employer allowed her to gradually get back into working life.
‘I felt very lost and had no purpose in life, emotions were all over the place. My employers were and are still very supportive, having time off was never an issue.
‘I felt very strange when I went back into the office, I didn’t feel part of the team, even though my colleagues were very supportive. I kept thinking that I couldn’t keep up with the work, as my mind was filled with feelings of failure, not being able to do my job like I used to, being very slow to grasp basic tasks that I was really fast and accurate at before diagnosis, and over sensitive that my colleagues/bosses were treading carefully by not giving me complicated work.
‘Time is a great healer, take it slowly and try not to be superwoman! Take baby steps, one day at a time and remember to ask for help, it’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of self-care. Be selfish, learn to put yourself first and say no to demands that you know you cannot manage.
‘Listen to your body and rest if needed. Look after yourself as life is a one-time opportunity, so use it well.’
Kaz: I was desperate for a new routine after hospital treatment
Follow Kaz on Instagram @kazfoncette
Kaz struggled with anxiety when she returned to work after treatment. Her new-found work routine helped her move forward.
‘Going back to work after treatment was a big deal for me. I had so many questions and scenarios running through my mind, which kept triggering my anxiety. The main question at the front of my mind was, ‘Will I be able to cope?’
‘The moment eventually came when treatment all ended, and I only had the Herceptin left to complete. Although my body was still recovering from chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I felt a little lost. I felt like I had come to the end of a fixed-term contract, without having an exit interview for the closure I needed.
‘I decided to go back to work. Not only for my ever-drying pockets or my mental health, but also for a new routine that I was desperately hoping for.
‘I needed to get out of the ‘I'm a very sick person’ mode, and transition to the ‘I'm now cancer-free and must move on with my life’ mode. The easiest way was to grab onto a new routine... and fast.
‘I wanted to relearn what work, and a tiring day in the office, were like. I wanted to relearn what contact with healthy people, being on someone else's clock, and being an independent woman were like. I wanted to relearn what conversations that didn't involve ‘cancer chat’ were like.
‘I like waking up to something other than a hospital appointment, and I like feeling useful again. Useful in something that I’m good at.’
Find more tips on adapting to life after hospital-based treatment in BECCA, our free app.