Despite it being seven years since I have been unable to work regularly, I still find it strange to be able to take trips away at short notice. This was the third one I have done recently and am beginning to enjoy life again. I don’t feel quite up to the long foreign trips just yet, but I am certainly enjoying that ‘freedom’ feeling. There are still many restrictions on my life but it seems that psychologically some of my old confidence is returning, I imagine, prompted by my slowly improving health.
We have spent a few days away with our grandchildren on the English south coast, and although it was both physically and emotionally draining, it was fabulously refreshing. My cancer work was taking a back seat despite some very important personal developments, but this time I didn’t feel guilty! I somehow felt empowered by telling people I couldn’t deal with anything for a few days. Of course people will wait if they want something, and it’s what my wife has been telling me for ages!
My recent trips away have enabled me to re evaluate my own worth in the work I currently do. I have narrowed my focus dramatically in terms of how I spend my time and I am feeling much better for it. I now have many high value projects to be involved with, and I have cut away much of the time wasting work that sapped my emotional energy too. It is starting to seem that after all this time I can see clearly the direction that I want my new life to take. Helping people affected by cancer is still my crusade but I can finally see a way of fulfilling my own requirements too, without a constant feeling of frustration.
So my subject this week is the importance of work in our lives. Personally I was consumed by mine. Being self employed and paid by results, I was forever chasing new business. I thrived in that harsh environment, and I felt a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I was successful. Possibly I let work dictate too much, but that is me really. My wife understands how motivated I am, and supported me throughout. When I was told that it would be at least a year before I could think about work again, I started to consider the positives. Time at home, reading the paper, listening to music and generally taking it easy. But whoever said “be careful what you wish for,” hit the nail on the head!
After a few weeks the novelty had worn off, and I was getting under my wife’s feet. As my treatment increased I became less able to do things and as time moved rapidly, my emotional well being started to change. My feeling of self worth disappeared, and I felt I was treading water in my own life. I had been given a second shot at life, but what was I going to do with it, being in such poor shape?
I was very quickly missing the routine of work. The interaction with others and achievements gained, seemed vital ingredients to my life. The earning potential and salary I felt was a true indicator of my worth, so as there was no money coming in, you can draw your own conclusions as to how I was feeling. When I finally understood that I would never be able to work regularly again,it felt almost as bad as when I received my original prognosis, absolutely life changing.
The financial issue is a massive one for all of us, but in this piece I want to concentrate on the psychological and emotional importance of work. Of course if you are physically unable to continue with your work that is one matter. But many people recover, and cannot reach the levels that they previously had. Physically or emotionally they are unable to continue in their old role, I see this case much more frequently now. Of course there are many understanding employers, who do their best, but I rarely see people returning to their original roles and working longer term after a cancer diagnosis.
My journey into the cancer world felt a natural path to take, and I took to it like a duck to water, and now it is as full time as I want it to be. It has become almost a career but without pay, so I’m not sure how clever that is though? But I have a purpose and value once again, so I feel a little better about things. I get enormous satisfaction from what I do and am also achieving things too, so apart from lack of salary my working life is finally improving.
There are times when I think of walking away from all my work, as I am always wondering if it maybe better for me personally to come away from the emotional involvement of cancer, for the benefit of my own health. But then I wonder what I would do to fill that void of work, and I’m not sure I have energy to start afresh. Having goals and achievements has been a massive part in my survival I feel, and much as I have given a lot to the cancer world, I also continue to receive positive things back too! I have asked my Consultant, and he says physically I should slow down but psychologically work is so important to me he couldn’t tell me to stop.
I have been lucky in several ways, and there are many people out there who are trying desperately to find a role that can suit their new situation, after treatment. We must try harder to find ways of helping people back to work after cancer, as survivorship is becoming such an important issue. How have you been affected regarding your work? Please feel free to share your experience.
Hello Chris, Thank you for your latest blog, you have certainly hit the nail on the head when you mention work, I retired from Social Services admin to 5 social workers for older people in 1999 (aged 60 years)have always had a busy life was married at the age of 20 years to Glyn who was given that he would not get to the age of 21years because he got T B in the navy, he only had one lung the other not too good. We had 29 years together very happy I might add, three sons who are all healthy and they have families of their own (and children). I had many years to grieve and talk with Glyn and when he died at the age of 56 years I stopped my crying and got on with life as he wanted me to do. While married to Glyn I did voluntary work for the WRVS and gave them many happy hours, also I was with Samaritans so as you can guess I had a busy and happy life. Four months after Glyn died I met my present husband Norman, we married in the September of the same year. I felt I had been given another chance, how lucky I felt, we have now been happy for 26 years. Lucky, lucky me. I hope I am making a bit of sense going on about my life pattern, I will come back to your blog about work life after cancer I was over the moon to be told in early May of this year I was free from cancer I thought here goes I will continue my work with Age Concern (I went into peoples home to fill in Attendance Allowance forms) but with it being three years out of doing that found there was no call for me. Never mind I thought I will find something to do Over the last few weeks I have filled in forms (on the internet) with Marie Curie and Macmillan to be of help to cancer suffers, I know that I can be of some help I am a good listener for a start. But it seems I am not wanted as the area I live in does not have anything for me. Oh well never mind I will wait and see as something always turns up. I must have something to do otherwise your mind gets ‘jumbled up’ I am going up to Derbyshire on Tuesday to see my brother and the rest of my family which will be good for me, so will talk to you again when I am home. Hope I have not gone on too much,all best wishes to your wife, who I think is the brave one like my husband as we just have to get on with things and they have only to watch and wait. Thank you for being on your page Georgine x
Hi Georgine. Thanks so much for giving me some background to your life. This site is a community one, and is for us all to share our experiences. It seems that you have led, and are leading a full life, and that cancer is only an interruption, good on you!
I also wanted to get back to doing something and in London we are lucky I guess with the opportunities that are available. It’s a real shame that you can’t find anything locally that suits you. If you would like to let me know the area that you live I will make some enquiries for you.
Many thanks for sharing Georgine, and I look forward to hearing from you on your return. Chris
Chris, this is beautifully written. And at least for me so spot on. Still have my job even got selected for a higher grade role after cancer treatment, go figure. But, I do know my energy levels are no longer the same, and I have several misfires from a memory perspective. Pushing hard to hold on, however, it is a struggle. ~D
Thanks Diane, your comments are much appreciated. You are doing well, and it certainly is a lot tougher than most people can realise. I would like to see us understanding these issues much more, as the prevalence of cancer and increasing survivorship means that this problem will be getting larger.
Of course there are two sides to every coin, and if you were an employer would you want an employee with an unreliable health record? Somehow we must find some answers and quickly.
My best to you in your own struggle, and thanks as always for sharing, Chris
Why I reacted to your post is because this statement comes naturally to my family!– and it hs served us well- both of my Daughters have battled cancer last 6 yrs and succeeded,although one needs scans every 3 mths to check dormant tumours.- my point is, their attitude like yours has been their greatest weapon. We are realistic but they grab life and ‘work’ it-never complaining,dealing with things as they come up and then- it’s back to work !!we have been blessed with miracles, and are grateful!!
Hi Hilary! Thank you so much for sharing your own family experiences, and I’m so pleased things are going well for both your daughters.
I find the focus of ‘work’ to be a great distraction from my health issues, and being busy has certainly helped me cope psychologically. I was determined to try and find as normal a life as I could, despite cancer, and although I have been unable to return to my previous work, I am grateful for what I have too! I wish you all well, Chris
What you are doing for cancer patients here is excellent.
I was diagnosed in 2012 and was given the all clear 2013 “YES”
Here in Merseyside we are blessed with wonderful Centres like Clatterbridge. I cant tell you how thankful I am to the staff there they are “Angels” I include the cleaners, as well, because they would bring me cakes and biscuits in at night when they finished their shifts 🙂
Relating to employers yes I agree. Something has to be done because more people will be getting and living with cancer. And, just like me people will want to work and not be on benefits, left to grow old.
I wish all you well.
Thanks so much for your comments, and I’m so pleased that you are enjoying the site. Great news on your own cancer, my friend!
I have heard many positive things about Clatterbridge, and I am always happy to tell others about it. That will be a good thing for people in your area to read.
Yes, the work thing is a massive issue, as my experience shows me that as a society, we have not yet got to grips with the issues of cancer and the work place.
I wish you well on your own journey, and look forward to welcoming you back to the blog soon. All the best, Chris
Hello Chris, Myself and husband are now back from Derbyshire tired but happy the traffic is very heavy but I don’t mind driving so it was not too bad. My brother who I was worried about (87 years and triple bypass three years ago)is in really good health now and has gone back to his watercolour painting He and his wife have no children, so there is only me to worry about them and they live so far away. Have had a think about what I want to do voluntary, as I have not heard anything from the people I did send to. In the next week or two am going to take myself up to the Cancer centre and see what I can do there ie sitting with people who are alone having their Kemo etc also St Kentigans Hospice, hopefully they will want me. My Postcode is LL18 5PN I am also willing to go into LL19 which is Prestatyn. I was listening to radio4 this morning and heard that people with cancer treatment are having problems with depression and found it rather worrying that this was not being addressed. I was lucky when I was having my treatment that in the very beginning was given a ‘Special named Nurse’ and was told any problem at all to just ring her. When in the middle of my therapy I got depressed rang the Nurse and went in, said to her I did not want to bother her could I talk for just 10 minutes, two hours later I emerged to find my worries had gone and thankfully did not have to ‘worry’ her again. Surely if all cancer centres did the same there would not be so much depression when having the treatment. It sounds to me that we in Glan Clwyd Cancer Unit North Wales and the Liverpool units are doing a great job so why is that it cannot be done in other areas? Thank you as always for your blogs etc. Georgine x
Hi Georgine, great to hear that all is well with your brother! Time away from your normal environment is always a good opportunity to think and plan, and your idea sounds brilliant. I would imagine that your personal experience would be incredibly useful for others, and we all feel so much better about ourselves, when we ‘give something back.’
My own experience has shown me that there are not enough support services in the community to help people affected by cancer. There are schemes around, and I hope you find one in your locality. Please let me know how you get on, as I have many contacts who I can enquire with, if you have no success with your own.
Thanks as always for sharing your experiences here, which will be invaluable to others. I look forward to hearing from you soon, Chris x