10 Ways of Thriving After Cancer

First and foremost, “surviving” cancer is amazing. After all, cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world! So, if you are a survivor, you are indeed worthy of praise. 

There are many types of cancers out there. One thing that they all have in common is that they are a result of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in a body. Early detection of cancerous growth results in a good prognosis as there is nearly no definitive cure for any form of cancer at its late stages.

Again, whether yours was at its late-stage or not and you survived, you are a winner! At this point, you should hold no reserve about cancer resurfacing and instead THRIVE. 

Now that you have survived cancer, the next step is reintegration back into society and doing the best you can to thrive while doing so. 

1. Battle your fear & anxiety head-on 

Long after getting cleared of cancer, survivors have to fight an emotional battle of fear and anxiety. No matter what the medical reports say about their health status, there is the seemingly never-ending fear of the cancer returning. 

This emotional turmoil is insurmountable and almost never avoidable unless you normally just have a strong will. You must quench this fear so that you can thrive.  A chat with your doctor is vital. Disclose whatever concerns you have about your health. Your doctor may even schedule frequent testing and care plans to make you feel better. 

2. Be devoted to your physical therapy sessions 

Cancer is usually for the long term. So, when the health providers eventually manage to get rid of all the cancerous growths, you may be left with a physical limitation like immobility. Such a physical limitation may make life less enjoyable, thus your doctor’s statutory recommendation for physiotherapy.

 Be dedicated to treatment sessions and work closely with the physical therapist as well as your loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for continued support as you heal.

3. Try a new hobby 

Don’t rush to get back to your old self before cancer. Try to enjoy the process more by finding new sports or leisure activities that fill your time. 

So, instead of getting mopey and worrying over cancer resurfacing, try knitting for a change, go golfing, try swimming! There is nothing too small or too big to try, and the main goal is to get you taken by any activity other than sitting down and getting paranoid. 

4. Consider returning to work

A defining part of getting reintegrated back into society after cancer is a career. If you were working before cancer, going back to work can help redefine your life. 

If you weren’t, try finding a new skill or going job-seeking. This gives you a sense of normalcy, but even better, it occupies your time! Remember, one of the most important ways to thrive after a battle with cancer is to not dwell on the past and simply enjoy the moment. 

5. Find intimacy with your loved ones 

There is nothing better than speaking to people who genuinely love you. Such emotional talks are sure to renew your confidence and help you build strong emotional support. If you are dating or married, it’ll help a great deal to bear your thoughts before your partner. Keeping it all inside won’t help and may even make you distant from them. 

6. If possible, start exercising

Numerous benefits accompany exercise. These range between boosting your physical endurance to giving your mental health a much-needed boost. 

Aside from that, nothing beats that sense of accomplishment that comes with completing an exercise session every day. Before starting an exercise regime, tell your doctor; and you may have him refer you to a physical therapist with knowledge of care for cancer survivors like you. 

If you are strong enough to exercise independently, start small with home workouts and build your way up to going for a walk at the park and then the gym. 

7. Make A List of Your Fears

This is on emotional terrain. Write down your deepest fears about life after cancer or what you think may prevent you from enjoying this new phase. This may include fear of the cancer returning, fears about your health overall, concerns of satisfying your partner in bed like you once did, fears of losing your job or doing poorly at it, and many more others. 

No matter how many they are, penning these fears down on paper can help you tackle them. After writing, you may even discover that some of these are so insignificant and shouldn’t be any trouble. Either way, you are tackling these problems head-on. 

8. Let go of the past 

This is an essential task if you want to thrive following a battle with cancer. Letting go of the past may be harder for people who have been fighting bouts of cancer over a significant number of years, but there is indeed nothing better than finding a new you. 

Cancer puts a dent in your mental health, so it may pose a challenge to let go of your history. If this is you, speaking to a counselor or even your doctor will be beneficial. 

9. Accept that there are going to be bad days 

It is a part of living to have good and bad days. As a cancer survivor, you can’t escape this, and you may even be more vulnerable, having battled one of the world’s deadliest diseases. As you strive to get back to normalcy, you have to realize that not every day will be good and that the process may be a lot harder than you expect. 

An optimistic attitude and never giving up are crucial to overcoming the dismay or depression that may set in when you’re not successful at something you try to do. You can also create a backup plan for such days e.g., take a walk with your partner, go to the cinema, etc. 

10. Share your experience with support groups 

There is nothing like working closely with people who have had similar experiences with you. Whether they are still battling cancer or not, speaking to others about your own experience surviving the disease will give them a ray of hope. It will equally do you a lot of good. 


Resource links: www.aicr.org, www.curetoday.com, www.inovanewsroom.org

Tips on Finding a New Job or Changing Career after Cancer Treatment

In this three-part series, I’ve been exploring different aspects of returning (or continuing) to work after a cancer diagnosis. So far I’ve tackled issues from preparing to return to work and handling your workload, to dealing with problems such as fatigue and concentration.  In the final part of this series, I’m turning my attention to finding a new job after cancer treatment has ended.

There are a number of reasons why you might be looking for a new job after cancer. Perhaps you crave a fresh start, somewhere where you’re not known as the co-worker with cancer.  Or perhaps you need more work flexibility – such as the option to work part-time –  but your current employer isn’t in a position to make the adjustments you need. Or maybe you want to change career, switching direction towards something more meaningful and fulfilling.

Whether you’re looking for a new job or considering a new career direction, this month’s article has plenty of practical advice to help you.

1. Get Clarity on Your Direction

A good place to start is by getting clear on your new goals, financial needs and current skills and abilities. Grab a pen and some paper and take some time thinking about your responses to the following questions.

  • What are my core skills and strengths? Am I using them to their fullest in my current (or previous) job? Which skills and interests from my previous jobs will transfer over to a new position or field?
  • What new insights or skills have I gained through cancer? Do I want to be able to use these in my job?
  • Have my career goals changed? Do I want to work in a similar job but with more work-life balance? Or do I want to try something new?
  • Do I have the required skills for a new career interest? Will I need to retrain? How will this impact me financially?
  • Do I have the stamina to take on something new? Do I need to consider the impact of any long term side-effects from treatment on my ability to work?

2. Update Your Resume

The next step is to get your resume in order.  If it’s been several years since you last applied for a job, you may need to take into account that resume writing has changed quite a bit in the past decade. For example, the chronologically based resume (listing job titles, companies and dates in chronological order), while still popular, is giving way to a more dynamic skills-based one.   This is good news if you want to work around a gap in your employment history.  For a skills-based resume, you will create a relevant summary of your skills, career accomplishments and career goals and position this directly below your name.  You should aim to provide an example of an area of accomplishment related to each specific skill.

Pro Tip: When it comes to including employment dates, don’t include months in the dates, only years. This helps narrow the work gaps.

3. Develop Your Network

Make a list of everyone you know who is currently working in your industry or the industry you’d like to be in. Take a strategic approach by setting achievable goals for the number of people you want to connect with every week. Reach out to them and tell them about your plans to find new work or change career direction. Ask them to keep you updated of any new job openings and leads. Hiring managers are more willing to consider you for an interview after a personal recommendation.

Pro Tip: When it comes to building your professional network there’s no better tool than LinkedIn. LinkedIn multiplies your existing personal and professional networks by making the connections of your connections available to you at the touch of a digital finger.

4. Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

Your LinkedIn profile is the cornerstone of your professional brand online. While you may already have a profile on the platform, is it optimized for a job search?   LinkedIn profile optimization simply means that your LinkedIn profile is fully updated to maximize your visibility on the platform. Everything you do on LinkedIn begins with your profile. Yet many professionals still treat their LinkedIn profile as little more than a place to park their resume and promptly forget about it.

You won’t be effective at LinkedIn networking if your profile doesn’t entice people to get to know you. Here are some quick tips to optimize your profile (for a step-by-step guide with more detailed information, click here).

  • Make your first visual impression count by displaying a high-quality professional photo.
  • Adding a background image directly behind your photo will help brand your profile. Think of it as your professional billboard.
  • Create a strong professional headline. This is a critical step because your professional headline is not just highly visible on LinkedIn, it’s also searchable by Google.
  • Nurture your LinkedIn relationships through regular engagement. This is not about making large numbers of contacts; rather, it’s about making meaningful connections.
  • Join industry relevant groups. Job openings are often posted by recruiters in industry groups. You will find groups by clicking on Interests > Groups from your profile or searching keywords to identify groups with interests similar to yours.
  • Become an active and engaged user. When you log into LinkedIn, notice each time who shows up in your home feed. Most likely you will see the same few people. These individuals are getting more visibility because they are more active. If you make the commitment to become more active in your network, you will increase your visibility
  • Be strategic about when you’re active on LinkedIn. As a general rule, LinkedIn users are most active right before and after work (7–8 am and 5– 6 pm), as well as during lunch time.

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to use social media to your advantage: if you know the hiring manager’s or recruiter’s name, add them on LinkedIn.

5. Mind Your Digital Footprint

Employers are increasingly carrying out social media checks on prospective employees. Anticipate this by googling yourself to see what turns up.  Here is where a professional profile on LinkedIn can be enormously helpful to present the best impression. Because of the way Google’s search algorithm works, an optimized LinkedIn profile will frequently show up in the first few places of a Google search for your name.

While LinkedIn is an asset, other forms of social media may harm your search for a new job. Sharing personal information about your treatment through a blog, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook is publicly searchable by potential employers.  Many of us turn to social media sites and blogs to keep our families and friends updated on our progress and to seek support during cancer treatment.  But when your focus returns to work, you may not want your employer or prospective employer to know of your cancer history.

Pro Tip: Take some proactive steps to protect your privacy online.  Set privacy settings on things like Facebook so that nothing can be seen by people who aren’t “friends” (including pages you are a fan of – an often forgotten detail). Delete what you can from your postings on Facebook and other media that talk about your cancer. Set up a Google Alert to monitor mentions for your name.

6. Handling the Job Interview

A job interview is stressful at the best of times, but when you’re anxious about handling the question of cancer, it’s doubly so. Sixty-one percent of cancer survivors looking for a job said they fear disclosing their cancer diagnosis will negatively affect their chances of getting hired.

Rehearsing what you plan on saying ahead of time greatly reduces any anxiety you may feel. The more prepared you are before the interview, the more relaxed and at ease you will appear during the interview. Draw up a list of potential questions and practice your answers.  Accentuate the positive. For now, put aside your worries about how to explain the gap in your resume and spend some time focusing on why you are the right person for the specific job that you are applying for. List at least ten great qualities and skills you have and ask friends and family to help you brainstorm more. Try to find a willing friend or family member who will role-play the interview with you.

Remember you don’t have to disclose your cancer history either on your application or during an interview. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from asking job applicants about a disability (this includes cancer) before offering them the job.  However, you may decide you want to be upfront about a work-related absence. If this is the case, you can deal with it by briefly explaining you had some time off work for a health (or family) related reason, but that’s behind you and you’re now looking forward to re-joining the workforce. Keep it simple, stick to one sentence or two and don’t be tempted to digress. Then switch the direction of the questioning back to your skills and qualifications for the job.

Pro Tip: Do your research before going into an interview. By showing off your knowledge of both the company and the industry, you are conveying to the interviewer that you are still up-to-date even if you have been absent from work for a period of time.

7. Considering a Career Change

Cancer changes your outlook on life.  Alongside an increased awareness of the preciousness of time, you may also have decreased tolerance for spending time on meaningless tasks. Many cancer survivors, my own self included, have felt a calling for more meaningful work after their treatment has ended.    I’d like to finish this back-to-work series by sharing the stories of three such people who have used their cancer experience as a way to help others and forged new careers in the process.

Jennifer Elliott was a pre-kindergarten to elementary school age music teacher before being diagnosed with bilateral synchronous breast cancer in 2014. Since her diagnosis, her focus has shifted to patient advocacy.  “My advocacy began when I realized that my access to industry trained people, thanks to where I live and who my friends are, was impacting my care in a positive way,” said Jennifer.   “That made me angry, because we should all have equal access to quality care.  I’m now applying to graduate degree programs in public policy because, as I’m advocating for breast cancer survivors I’ve learned that all the things I’m advocating for are impacted or dictated by policy and if I want to have the broadest impact I need some policy skills and training.”

Terri Coutee was focused on a life-long dream of completing a Master’s program in teacher leadership when she received news of her second breast cancer diagnosis. “The diagnosis was the catalyst to evaluate my professional career,” explained Terri.  “I had to focus on my treatment and major surgery over a period of seven months. This gave me time to re-evaluate, research, and refocus. I learned less than 25% of women and men were not being given their options for breast reconstruction after mastectomy. As a life-long educator, I realized I could educate those affected by breast cancer and learn from my experience. A blog about my successful breast reconstruction experience led to opening a non-profit Foundation to educate a global audience through social media, attending medical conferences, and making as many personal connections as I could to assist others through their own journey. The need is endless because we haven’t found a cure for breast cancer, yet. Until we do, I will continue to educate and provide resources for the very best medical care for others faced with mastectomy.”

At the age of 51, Chris Lewis wasn’t looking for a career change. “I was working for myself and was at the peak of my earning power,” he said. “Then a poor prognosis of incurable blood cancer and my life was turned upside down. I have since had many years of complex treatment meaning I could not return to employment of any description. As my survivorship moved from months to years I needed a purpose. My body was in bad shape but I still had a business mind.”

Unhappy at the poor resources and help for people living with cancer, Chris took to the Internet to voice his displeasure, leading to him running his own successful website Chris’s Cancer Community.  “This led to me becoming a global expert speaker and writer”, said Chris. “I am self-taught in social media and an award winning writer. As a patient advocate I speak at many high profile conferences. Cancer has taken a lot from me, but has shown me a new way of life I would never have experienced. The big bonus is the incredible people I get to meet and talk to daily. It seems even at my age I have found a new career!”

 

Returning To Work During or After Cancer Treatment: Part 2

This is the second part of a three-part series which deals with common concerns on returning to work after a cancer diagnosis.

In Part 1 of this series, I shared some tips with you on how to prepare for your re-entry into the workplace. In this article we will look at practical ways to handle issues such as fatigue and concentration, managing your workload, and dealing with stress.

Let’s start with some tips on coping with fatigue as it’s probably the biggest challenge you will face, regardless of whether you are working during treatment or returning to work after treatment has ended.

Coping With Cancer-Related Fatigue

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is increasingly recognized as one of the most common and distressing side effects of cancer and its treatments. It has been estimated that from one quarter to nearly all cancer patients experience CRF during and after treatment.  Although things generally improves after therapy is completed, some level of fatigue may persist for months, or even years, following treatment.

Commenting on the impact of CRF on her own work, Kate Bowles, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, says, “The main advice I give is that chemo related fatigue is real and lasting. And also that your priorities change, often in very empowering ways. I am very calm in my job, because I really know now that it’s just a job.”

A lot of cancer patients don’t report fatigue to their doctors because they think that nothing can be done for it. In fact, there are things that can be done to alleviate the debilitating effects of CRF.  If left untreated, fatigue may lead to depression and profoundly diminish your quality of life, so it’s important that you speak to your doctor if fatigue is an issue for you. Before you can address CRF specifically, your doctor needs to determine if there are any underlying medical issues which may be contributing to your fatigue.

Making some adjustments to your everyday routines can also help you cope with CRF.

Here are three ways to do this.

1. Make deposits in your ‘energy bank’

You may find it helpful to think of your energy reserves as your ‘energy bank’. Whenever you do an activity you make a withdrawal. And when you rest you make a deposit. It’s important to balance withdrawals with deposits. If you keep doing too much whenever you feel like you have energy, you’ll run out completely and not have any reserves left for the things that are important.

2. Plan your day

Planning is key when you have fatigue. Write a ‘To Do’ list each evening so you can prioritize the things you need to do at work the next day.

3. Do some regular light exercise

Try to get out in the fresh air for a walk at lunchtime.  Although exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re tired, if you don’t exercise, you’re more likely to experience fatigue.

I also recommend you download a free app called Untire, which contains a program that will help you track and improve your energy levels. The app uses theories and techniques from scientifically proven cognitive behavior therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, positive psychology and physical exercise interventions.

Time Management 

Managing your time at work is all about learning to work smarter, not harder.  It’s not about packing more tasks into your day, but about streamlining how you go about your work and prioritizing key tasks.

Here are seven tips to develop better time management skills.

1. Track your time and eliminate the non-essential

First things first. If you’re going to manage your time better, you need to figure out where you spend your time. Use a tool like RescueTime to track your activities for a week. This will help you determine how much you can realistically accomplish in a day, identify the time of day when you are most productive, and uncover daily timesucks, such as reading emails (unsubscribe from those e-mail lists you no longer need).  When we can clearly identify our daily time sinks and remove them, we become more focused and productive.

2. Do the most important thing first

Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” The point that Twain was making is that you should take care of your biggest and most-challenging tasks first thing in the morning.

Each day, identify the one or two tasks that are the most important to complete, and get started right away on them. If a task is too big to complete in one day, divide it into smaller tasks to be spread out over several days.  When you have accomplished a task, mark it off your list with a pen. This provides a psychological boost as it gives you visual confirmation that you are getting somewhere.

3. Batch related tasks

Batching refers to the process of using blocks of time for specific repetitive tasks. Different tasks demand different types of thinking, so save yourself time and mental energy by focusing on one type of task before moving on to the next.

4. Focus on one task at a time

Finding it hard to concentrate is a common effect of having had cancer. To combat this, focus on one task at a time instead of multi-tasking.  Research tells us it can take up to 30 minutes to return your attention to whatever you were doing before an interruption. Put your phone away, close your email applications and any unnecessary browser windows on your computer. Concentrate fully on the one task you need to complete.

5. Take regular breaks

Allow yourself down-time between tasks.  Break for lunch and take additional short breaks throughout the day. Maintain your energy reserves with nutritious snack breaks. Pack nuts, fresh fruits and veggies, hummus, or low-fat cheese to take to work with you.

6. Set time limits for tasks

Give yourself a certain time by which you will complete a task. For instance, reading and answering email can consume your whole day if you let it. Instead, set a limit of one hour a day for this task and stick to it. The easiest way to do this is to assign a solid block of time to this task rather than answering email on demand.

7. Let go of perfectionism

Stop trying to be perfect. When you’re a perfectionist, nothing will ever be good enough. That means you’ll stick with a task long past the deadline. You’ll say yes to too many things and take on too much in an effort to prove to yourself, and others, that nothing has changed since your cancer diagnosis.

Sometimes you need to realize that good enough is sufficient and when you reach that point, then simply stop. This is not an excuse to do a poor job, but it is intended to give you permission to do a good job and then leave it there. Don’t waste precious energy and time polishing and perfecting something past that point.

Managing Stress

It’s normal to feel some stress on returning to work, so it makes sense to plan ahead for how to deal with stressful situations. Here are some tips to help you.

1. Identify your body’s stress response

How we experience stress is individual to each of us. Learning to tune into what happens in your body when you perceive a stressful situation is the first step in understanding your own individual stress response. Does your jaw clench? Is your breath shallow? Are your muscles tense? When you become more aware of your physical response to stress, it will help regulate the tension when it does occur.

2. Slow down and pay attention to your breathing

When stress hits, everything speeds up. Our thoughts race, our heart pounds and our breathing increases. This can make it difficult to think rationally. Consciously slow down your breathing. When we are stressed we tend to breathe more shallowly.  When you feel stressed, practice taking some slow deep abdominal breaths.  Deep abdominal breathing slows the heart down, lowers blood pressure and helps us feel calmer.

3. Come back to your senses

One of the best ways to stop getting lost in your thoughts is to come to your senses and ground yourself in the present moment. A simple exercise is to notice five things around you. Practice this periodically throughout the day, especially at those times you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

  • Look around and notice five things that you can see;
  • Listen carefully and notice five things that you can hear;
  • Notice five things that you can feel in contact with your body (for example, your feet upon the floor, your back against the chair);
  • Finally, do all of the above simultaneously.

4. Take Some Exercise

Physical activity is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety – providing a natural outlet for your body when you are exposed to too much adrenaline.

Research has shown that there are many benefits to exercise. Not only does it help reduce the symptoms of fatigue, exercise encourages your body to release endorphins – often called ‘feel good hormones’. When released, endorphins can lift your mood and sense of well-being.

Go for a walk, head to the gym or find a lunch-time yoga class. Throughout the day take short breaks to stretch or do simple exercises at your desk.

Wrapping Up

Handling your re-entry to the workplace after a cancer diagnosis is all about organizing your time better, prioritizing your workload, establishing boundaries and becoming more comfortable with saying no to unreasonable demands.

Above all, it’s about making your health your top priority. Get adequate sleep, eat healthily, take some exercise and incorporate stress-management techniques into your daily routines.

I know from personal experience it isn’t always quite as straightforward as I have laid things out here. There will be many ups and downs. Deborah Bowman, a Professor of Medical Ethics, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, urges self-kindness and patience. “Don’t be afraid to say if it becomes unexpectedly (or expectedly!) difficult,” she says,  “be kind to yourself and allow others to be kind to you too. Accept it may be up and down rather than a straightforward trajectory. Celebrate your good moments and forgive yourself the harder moments.”


Next month in Part 3 of this Returning To Work series, we will take a look at the opportunities and challenges of finding a new job after cancer.  Until then, if you have any tips to share with readers about how you coped on returning to work, please share them in the comments below.

Self-Care During Illness: 
Tips for Cancer Survivors

Self-care is essential for all of us; it’s something that allows you to take a mental health break while also making sure your body is in good shape. After a period of stress or anxiety, you need a little time to heal and get yourself back to a good place. This is especially true for cancer survivors, who battle stress, physical pain, anxiety, depression, and worry every day. Cancer comes in many different forms and affects the body and mind in different ways, meaning no two people will handle it the same way. What works for you when it comes to coping may not work for someone else, and vice versa.

Fortunately, there are many different ways you can learn to cope with your feelings and take a time-out. From daily exercise to learning to listen to your body’s cues, self-care involves a variety of activities for you to choose from. You may choose to practice self-care alone or with a close friend; you can do it from the comfort of your own home or at the gym. Whatever makes you feel good in a healthy way is classified as self-care.

Keep reading for some great tips on how to practice self-care as a cancer survivor.

Take Your Medication as Directed

Most cancer survivors need medication to help with pain, nausea, and other symptoms that will make daily life a little easier. Some take several different medications every day, and it’s imperative to keep track of these and make sure you’re taking them correctly. You might use an app on your phone to help you remember what time you need to take specific pills, or invest in a sorter that will keep all your medicines measured out for each day.

If you feel that the dosage on a medication isn’t right, talk to your doctor immediately rather than attempting to change the dosage yourself or discontinuing use. Because many of these can be habit-forming, using them correctly is important not just in maintaining your health, but because opioids can be highly addictive and can cause many more issues than they treat if used incorrectly.

If you’re concerned about using prescription medication like opioids to treat your pain and nausea, it’s worth talking to your doctor about the option of CBD. It’s a natural, non-narcotic and non-hallucinogenic treatment that provides relief for many of cancer’s most troubling side effects, such as muscle pain, nausea and anxiety. As with any treatment, be sure to consult your physician before giving it a try.

Eat Well

Sometimes, medication or chemotherapy can interfere with appetite, making it extra important to make sure you’re eating well when you are hungry. Try to eat small snacks throughout the day made up of whole, unprocessed foods, and remember to stay hydrated. Talk to your doctor about the best foods for your body’s needs, and consider hitting up the farmers market for fresh produce as often as you can.

Make Your Needs a Priority

Many individuals who are faced with a battle against cancer find that they are so focused on the people around them that they rarely take time out for their own needs. You may be worried about how your family will pay for treatment or how your illness is affecting your children. While these are valid concerns, one of the best ways to help ease your mind is to take a little time for yourself. Go for a short hike, sit down with a good book, or lie in bed and listen to your favorite music. Learning how to slow down and reset your mind isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary.

Try Something New

As long as you have the energy for it, now is the perfect time to try something new. Finding something that is enjoyable and allows you to shake off worry or anxiety for a while is a great way to take care of yourself. Whether you want to learn a new language or travel to a place you’ve never been, don’t put it off. Just make sure your health won’t be affected negatively, and talk to your doctor before making any major plans.

Taking care of yourself can be a big job, so remember that there are only so many things you can do in a day. You might try yoga and meditation during this time to learn how to practice mindfulness and focus on the present; this can help you cope with stress in the moment so that you can turn your mind to more important things.

Returning To Work After Cancer Treatment. Part 1: Preparing the Ground

This month’s article is the first in a three-part series which deals with common concerns on returning to work after a cancer diagnosis and offers practical solutions for helping with your re-entry into the workplace.

A diagnosis of cancer is a profound disruption in our lives, leaving no area untouched. Cancer impacts our family life, our relationships, and our careers.  If you have been absent from work, the decision to return often brings with it mixed emotions.  While you may welcome a return to normality, a steady income, the company of work colleagues and a sense of identity, you may also be feeling apprehensive about how you will cope.

Particularly if you are used to identifying closely with your job, a prolonged absence from work can be difficult. Even if you continue working during treatment, you may also experience some difficulties. You may be wondering how you will cope with your workload.  Will your co-workers treat you differently? How will your boss react to you? Will your promotional opportunities be affected?

Although the majority of those who return (or continue) to work after cancer adapt well, some will encounter difficulties. In Part 1 of this series, we will take a look at some practical ways to prepare for your re-integration back into the workplace.

When Do You Know It Is Time To Return To Work?

There is no one-size fits all answer to the question of when it’s time to return to work. It will depend on the type of treatment you received, your financial situation, your physical and emotional state and other personal factors.

Only you know whether it would be better for your psychological health to be at home, away from any professional stresses, or at work, where distractions may take your mind off other things.  Chris Lewis, founder of Chris’s Cancer Community, believes that “work can be a fantastic therapy, when dealing with life’s challenges. We feel valued, and of course, can provide an income for our family.”

On the other hand, perhaps you see cancer as an opportunity to re-evaluate your career. You may find that your work priorities have changed, or you feel unable to keep up with the demands of your previous work pace. Perhaps you want a new job which will allow you more flexibility to pursue other goals or you may want to explore working in a field which is more personally fulfilling (we will look at this in more detail in Part 3).

Preparing the Ground

Doing some groundwork before you return to work should help make re-entry more manageable.  Plan in advance how you will respond to questions from co-workers, deal with your boss’s expectations, and handle your workload. Here are some tips to help you.

1. Making adjustments and accommodations to your work environment

Your employer has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your workplace and working practices. What is considered a ‘reasonable adjustment’ depends on factors such as the cost and practicality of making the adjustment, which is why it’s important to discuss things as soon as possible with your employer.    Some things to discuss include the possibility (at least temporarily) of a phased or gradual return to work, job-sharing, working from home or flexi –time.

A word of caution here. It is not unusual for part-time work to turn into a full time job. Set clear boundaries about what is achievable in the hours you have agreed to work.  If you are thinking about working from home, be aware that this can be quite isolating. Will you miss the camaraderie of the office?

Breast cancer blogger @lifeafterlola suggests that “A phased return is good, combining time back at work with work from home or a day off on, say, a Wednesday to break up the fatigue. The hardest thing to cope with,” she says,  is getting back up to pace with early mornings, late finishes and travel on top of work and social adjustment.” Julia, co-founder of breast cancer Twitter chat, #BCCWW offers a practical tip to reduce the stress of traveling to work.  “If it’s possible travel outside rush hour,” she advises.

Next, think about your physical environment at work. Revisit you work-station. Does it need to be redesigned or fitted with equipment such as back support or other devices to make you more comfortable?

The size of your company may affect how much accommodation to your needs you can expect to get. Larger organizations are in a better position to offer you more flexibility and support, but most employers will be understanding if you communicate your needs clearly with them. It may be helpful to have a letter from your doctor to document any accommodations required.

2. Getting up to speed with changes at work

Depending on how long you have been absent, you may find things have moved on since you were away from work. If this is the case, take some time to get up to speed with new systems and developments. This may include attending formal training sessions in advance of getting back to work, or having a colleague take some time to get you caught up again.  Julia explains how she struggled initially with her job which “involved reading lots of draft legislation, policy papers, etc.” and after speaking to her boss, did some refresher training to get up to speed again.

3. Updating your co-workers on your plans to return to work

Most of us have built up a carefully constructed professional persona and we work hard at protecting it by keeping a fairly strict line of demarcation between our personal and professional lives. It can be unsettling to find these lines have become blurred by your illness.

Not everyone knows the right thing to say or how best to offer support. Connecting with colleagues before you return to work can, in the words of Julia, “get a little of the first day nerves out of the way, especially  if you are feeling anxious about their reactions to your changed appearance.”

In general people will take their cue from you, so take the lead with colleagues. Talk them on the phone, send an email or arrange to meet for coffee or lunch. Reassure them that you are doing ok and that you still want to be a valued member of the team.  Decide in advance how much you are comfortable sharing.  If you are a naturally open person, then you can talk frankly with your work colleagues, letting them know what they can do to help you ease back into work. If you are more private, just tell everyone that you appreciate their asking, you are doing ok now and you are looking forward to getting back to normal.

4. Communicating with your manager

Most managers and bosses will support your transition back to work, but they may be unsure of how best to handle this. As Kate Bowles points out in this post: “The particular challenge of having oncology patients (which is what we still are) as staff under your management, as colleagues and as workplace friends, leaves everyone falling back on adhoc interpersonal skills.”

It can be difficult for managers and colleagues to know how to strike the right balance between giving you extra support and allowing you to carry on as normal.  As Julia points out “Your line manager isn’t a mind reader. Be honest about what you can/can’t do, offer solutions, about managing work and don’t just leave it to them.  It should be a two way process.”

For your part, you may have concerns about being perceived as a productive member of the team.  Open and honest communication is key here. Check in regularly with updates on how you are coping and to review your productivity.   If there are things that you are not ready to undertake initially, then be honest, and ask for help if you need it. Set clear boundaries that will allow you to say no to certain types of requests, such as staying late for non-essential projects.    “Learn to say I can’t ….YET,” advises Siobhan Freeney, founder of Being Dense, an organization which raises awareness of Breast Density and its associated links to breast cancer and screening.

A note on work discrimination. Legally, your cancer history can’t be used against you in the workplace. But it can be difficult to determine this, because discrimination can be subtle.   Know your rights. Look into whether you are protected by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or your state’s Fair Employment Law.

5. Book a counseling session

If you are worried about how you will cope on your return to work, consider booking some sessions with a counsellor or cognitive behavioral therapist to build up your confidence and coping skills.  Some employers have an employee assistance program in place which allows you to speak in confidence to a trained professional about your concerns. Ask if this is available in your company.

Learning some stress management techniques in advance of your return will also help you cope better (we’ll look at this in more detail in Part 2).

6. Stock your freezer

When we’re tired, we tend to gravitate towards processed food which depletes our energy reserves further. Siobhan suggests you “stock up handy home cooked freezer meals in advance of returning to work to avoid being tempted to skip dinner when over-tired.”

The key to managing the stress of working after a cancer diagnosis is to prepare as much in advance of your return to the work place. Be prepared to be flexible in your planning approach. Cancer recovery is an ongoing process. There will be many ups and downs.  You may have to deal with late side-effects of treatment or side-effects related to medication. Be ready to adjust your work practices if and when you need to.

Next month, I will share more tips and practical advice on handling your work load, managing your time and dealing with issues such as fatigue and concentration once you return to work. Until then, if you have any tips to share with readers about how you prepared your own return to work, please share them in the comments below.

Male Survivor Prostate/Bladder Cancer… A Diary Entry

Today I am a male survivor of bladder and prostate cancer – annual Oncology visit…still here, still healthy, PSA still less than 1%. Possibility for bladder cancer’s return are extremely minimal. That’s now six years in remission. Now thinking about removing the alien (aka port). To those either starting to deal with this inconvenience or have dealt with it…STAY POSITIVE!

Where it began…. The port was installed yesterday. No big deal, only discomfort came from injection site for the IV (I have crappy veins) and learning how not to sleep on my right side…could be worst. Day 1 of chemo was this morning not bad. I have an incredible oncologist, he’s upfront, informative and has a sense of humor!! The entire Cancer center staff is incredible. With their support, my great friends and especially my wife, the road (although, interesting) will be made a lot easier. Day 2 (consisting of three significant meds) will be interesting.

Completed my first round of chemo yesterday, only two rounds (8 treatments) remain. What have I learned; trust your doctors, do your research to be as informed as possible, surround yourself with positivity, support your body’s recovery by; eating, staying hydrated, and stay positive.

Last week’s sessions marked the halfway point for me, as well as reminded me how tough back to back treatments can be. The good news, my oncologist feels chemo is working and that’s all I need to know. My Christmas present…no treatment this week, well deserved!!

Having a positive, ‘I will survive this’ approach is the only one to take if living is your objective. Due to the aggressiveness of my ureteral carcinoma, bladder removal is being proposed as the best (next step) option. It’s the consensus of four doctors. This includes my oncologist who is someone that consistently emphasized a focus on my life’s quality and quantity above all else. As a result, we continue to have very frank and realistic conversations. Essentially, I trust him. It will be a significant change, however a good friend endured a similar situation more than six years ago. Her insight benefited me greatly during chemo and I’m certain, will continue prior to and after surgery. Stay positive and continued success to you.

A year ago, my life changed significantly…I was diagnosed with stage 3 bladder cancer. Later it was determined prostate cancer had also joined the party (need to limit those medical malady invites). The prior 12 months allowed me to experience (against my better judgement) life’s highs, lows and a great deal of uncertainty. But with support of friends, their prayers, a positive mindset, humor, access to an incredible medical staff, and an extremely supportive wife, I’ve continued to stay upright.  Manage to stay upright despite; 12 rounds of chemo (Cisplatin sucks), bladder removal/reconstruction, losing 30 pounds in 2.5 weeks’ post bladder surgery, an inability to taste food during the holidays (not to mention I couldn’t drink), a dreadful winter, multiple catheters and pills, lots of pills. Not that I think about it…. I didn’t have a good time.

This week my last three-month consult was completed. All the news received was the best I could hope for….no indication of cancer at this time. Now I am no longer a patient, but a patient/survivor who should share his experience with others. To all of you who posted to my diary…. THANK YOU!!  I can only hope to do the same for others!

Male Bladder Cancer Survivor…A Diary Entry

Real patient experiences shared privately at www.TreatmentDiaries.com.  Read more, share if you like or join in the conversation.  Making sure you feel less alone navigating a diagnosis is important.  Connecting you to those who can relate and provide support is what we do.

I was diagnosed with terminal systemic metastatic bladder cancer in 1991. I was given 3 to 9 months to live and sent home to get my “things” in order. The doctor recommended that I take a cruise! This was after bladder cancer was found in 1990, treated surgically twice, and I was told all was fine.

Fast forward to 2011.

I am working in Lebanon as a police trainer after serving 3 1/2 years training police in Iraq.

Since it has been a “few” years since my initial treatments, I have lost much of the details I once knew so very well. Since my cancer bout, I have lost my father and brother to cancer, among many friends and other family members. Only God knows who dies and who lives but I know what the doctors did to me that the others didn’t have the good fortune of having done to them and I credit that to my good health, cancer free status and living life large. It was excellent doctors, with excellent medications guided by Gods hand and the experimental High Dose chemotherapy that saved my life. It took me six months to fight the disease, but after that it was all downhill. I went back to work as a deputy sheriff and completed another 10 years for a 27-year retirement. I worked a couple little jobs before going to Iraq as an International Police Instructor and I have never slowed down.

I know that the decisions facing ever cancer warrior are daunting. I know that had I been given the option of removing my bladder, I don’t know what decision I would have made at the time. However, being fortunate enough to have hindsight, it would have been the best course of action for me. I wasn’t given that option and was told after having undergone surgery twice and a session of mild chemo each time, I was cancer free and sent on my way. We of course must believe our doctors and want to believe we are cancer free, but thinking back…. my bladder was completely full of cancer although “they said” it did not permeate the bladder wall. Obviously, it had or did, and circulated throughout my body. I had bladder cancer on my lung, behind my heart, inside my left femur as well as other places. In fact, that was how I learned that the cancer was systemic. When the cancer was flowing systemically, I felt no pain but when it permeated my femur and ate away about 4″ just above the knee, I had pain. I didn’t relate it to cancer in the beginning and my doctor fed me pain pills until I could no longer tolerate the pain. That’s when I learned that I was terminal and the rest is now history.

I hear lots of people saying to listen to their doctors, do what their doctors say, but I am the first to caution about putting too much faith in your doctors. Consider what they know, but it’s your life, not there’s and if it doesn’t make sense, then it’s your duty to research and engage in frank open and meaningful dialogue with your doctors. Life goes on and it is a minor inconvenience to give up your bladder compared to the alternative.

My prayers are with all of you fighting cancer. It is a nasty terrible disease but NEVER SURRENDER and hit it HARD. This is not a time to handle this disease delicately. I underwent three sessions of High Dose chemotherapy. It was difficult, and experimental, but it sure beats living for 3 to 9 months even if I had taken the cruise….and by the way…in early 2006 I took a 3-week cruise to Hawaii anyway!

From the Diary of a Bladder and Prostate Cancer Patient

This diary entry from our partner, Treatment Diaries, is from a man diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer in 2000.

Diary Entry:

A year ago, my life changed significantly…I was diagnosed with stage 3 bladder cancer. Later it was determined prostate cancer had also joined the party (need to limit those medical malady invites).   The prior 12 months allowed me to  experience (against my better judgement) life’s highs, lows and a great deal of uncertainty. But with support of friends, their prayers, a positive mindset, humor, access to an incredible medical staff, and an extremely supportive wife, I’ve continued to stay upright.  Manage to stay upright despite; 12 rounds of chemo (Cisplatin sucks), bladder removal/reconstruction, losing 30 pounds in 2.5 weeks post bladder surgery, an inability to taste food during the holidays (not to mention I couldn’t drink), a dreadful winter, multiple catheters and pills, lots of pills.   Now that I think about it….I didn’t have a good time.

This week my last three month consult was completed. All the news received was the best I could hope for….no indication of cancer at this time. Now I am no longer a patient, but a patient/survivor who should share his experience with others. To all of you who posted to my diary…..THANK YOU!!  I can only hope to do the same for others!