Getting back to work
Getting back to work is much harder than one might think after having several months off due to an illness. As my brain tumour was in the cognitive region of my brain, this made my transition a little bit more difficult again.
Having several months off work with cancer, what the body has been pushed through from surgery, radiotherapy and fatigue – it’s a very different world coming out the other side! Cancer changes your perspective on life. Given my diagnosis was not great, my upbringing and the support of the people around me in my life lead to a positive change, an ambitious outlook. See the page on Enhancing my outlook on life.
Specialists advise against going straight back to working part-time. This usually leads to going back prematurely and sets the patient back, taking more time off work and coming back again later on a slower and graduated return.
I spoke with my neurosurgeon Dr Karabatsou, my oncologist Dr Pinkham, my neuropsychologist Dr Bambrough and the work occupational therapist about going back to work and how I should go about it. During recovery, I was constantly trying to retrain my brain. Brain is not like a muscle where one exercise will help with other activities (i.e. exercise the bicep with bicep curls and you also get stronger trying to lift the grocery bags), the brain is the opposite. You must train your brain in all different aspects of cognition, associating colours with their related words (a green leaf with the colour green), practice Sudoku’s, learn how to very slowly read again let alone skim reading, basic mathematics calculations, how to plan getting from home to the city to then get to the airport and basic tasks around booking a flight and being on time. Reading, writing, short-term memory and calculations are the hardest to get back.
Speaking to the occupational therapist at work, we devised a plan for me to get back to work. As much as I wanted to change it, I was to stick to it! This would ensure I couldn’t come back prematurely and cause detriment to my recovery process.
I started with three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, allowing Tuesday and Thursday to be my rest days; and only working four hours a day in the first few weeks, later going to 5 then 6 hours a day. My bosses have been very supportive of me through my experience with cancer. When going back to work, they were very clear not to push myself to come back too quickly and to do what my body wanted to do, listen to my body!!
But I have also heard from other patients at the Christies Hospital that their employers were not as forgiving and were pressuring them back to work very early and in a full-time capacity. These patients DID go backwards and DID require more time off work to go recover and go through the process again! These cases of the workplace pressuring patients back to work highlighted to me how supportive my bosses have been and continue to be through such hard times in my life. A compassionate and personable employer will usually get more out of their employers in the long run with a better environment and attitude – and that’s how I feel about going back to work, comfortable and I actually look forward to work!!!
I am currently still in the process of going back to work, three days a week, and will update this page again in due course.