Summary of our weekly group discussion ~ 19th January 2017
COPING AT WORK FOLLOWING A BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSIS
Does a breast cancer diagnosis undermine us at work? Does it adversely impact our horizons or make us consider alternative career routes?
These were some of the questions we asked ourselves during this week's discussion - 'coping at work following a cancer diagnosis.'
Our lives are never the same once we have been diagnosed with breast cancer, but, if we haven't continued working during treatment, once we have finished our chemotherapy/radiotherapy/surgery, we slowly begin to face our lives as they once were, even though we are fundamentally changed.
One of the most difficult challenges that faces us is returning to work, and finding our new identity at work when we are, in all likelihood, still dealing with the challenge of ongoing side effects. Even when we want to return to work, our energy levels can be low, our confidence can be shattered. Even the most supportive colleagues can have unrealistic expectations that we are cured, or conversely, that we are not up to it anymore.
Many of us described having to try harder because life is now more difficult for us. Some of us wondered whether the 'new me' was capable of sustaining the same level of performance as we used to due to fatigue, chemo-brain and so forth. Some of us described managing stress differently - in some instances more effectively - some of us had reduced our hours (perhaps impacting on income and a loss of identity), or had made the decision to give up previous roles because our priorities or needs had changed so greatly, either relinquishing responsibilities, choosing not to work, or changing direction, perhaps by retraining or setting up businesses.
As a group, our jobs encompassed a vast spectrum of roles, including public and the private sector. A very few of our members described highly supportive managers and colleagues. For these individuals, it was clear that an actively supportive and understanding line-manager played a crucial role, alongside adjustments to their working day such as staggered start times or working from home. However, many more of us experienced difficulties and stress as a direct result of inadequate support, inflexibility and unrealistic expectations. A few of us had been left devastated by shocking discrimination, despite the existence of legislation intended to safeguard and protect us.
At best, we thought that it was difficult for employers and colleagues to understand what we’ve been through and to support us to reach our fullest potential. For some of us, support from occupational health had led to adjustments in our work and roles or we had used the Equalities legislation to obtain reasonable adjustments. Not everyone saw themselves as disabled, and saw this as an unwelcome and unwanted label, whereas others, particularly, but not solely those who had experienced significant losses in physical functioning, described having accessed practical support, without which they would not have been able to remain in employment.
Many of us described having careers which are a huge part of our lives and we continue to impact and engage in the work place. For those of us who want to remain in employment, what we have learned from our experience can make us more skilled, more insightful and our contribution even greater. We can make a huge difference - with support.