Returning to work after cancer


Some of us choose to work right through our treatment for cancer, while others will find themselves on certified sick leave for a period of time. This may be of a few months duration, or a year or two, depending on the type of treatment received, stage of disease or emotional and psychological issues.  My treatment necessitated almost a year off work, and I have to admit that it was a welcome break from the routine and hum-drum existence of the daily working day. I relished the time off to pursue meditation and yoga classes, to read, to walk, to meet up with friends – all those things that work got in the way of!

I struggled with my decision to go back to my old job. My heart told me it was time for a change of career, to live a life more aligned with the lessons I had learned from cancer, but alas my bank statements told another story. The reality of meeting mortgage payments and other bills, took over from my wishful fantasties of living another life.  That is why I admire those who have the courage to ignore the bank statements and get out there and live a transformed life. I wrote a piece recently on Pasha Hogan, a breast cancer survivor who inspires me because she did just that, turning her back on her executive stressed life-style.

Many welcome a return to work as a return to normality, pay-checks, company, sense of identity and other factors. For me, I found it was tough going back to work. I struggled to fit in again, struggled to concentrate on tasks, hampered by my “chemo-brain” and unrelenting fatigue. I know that I am not alone in experiencing this. A study carried out by Loughborough University examines the role of depression in returning to work after a period of sickness absence across four types of chronic illnesses: depression and anxiety, back pain, heart disease and cancer.

The report shows that almost half (45%) of those with a physical condition experienced mild to moderate depression, but were more worried about telling their employer about their mental health issues than their cancer or heart disease. Despite the fact that depression impacted on their well-being and ability to function at work, most felt unable to tell their line managers about the difficulties they were facing.

The study found that for some, returning to work after a prolonged illness, may result in poor coping skills and interpersonal relations at work and its recommendations include putting in place a return to work rehabilitation programme, stress management programmes and a colleague – buddy system.

It is a detailed and comprehensive report and for those who are interested, it can be downloaded as a pdf from the Mental Health Foundation, UK.

Click here to download

So how about you? What was your experience of returning to work like? Or did you choose to take a different career path as a result of your cancer experience. I would love to hear your stories……