Whilst I knew my health was paramount, I couldn’t help but feel I had let my work colleagues down by suddenly disappearing off on sick leave for an infinite period of time (despite numerous assurances from colleagues that I didn’t need to worry). With the negligible symptoms appearing out of the blue I had no warning of what was to come so felt I had literally downed tools and left things hanging, I tied up a few loose ends to pass the time whilst awaiting a diagnosis. Thereafter work was the last thing I was capable of focusing on.
Whilst I got over the surgery, the option of working was a complete non-starter. Three months on from my surgery I was bang in the middle of my chemo, the side effects of which were getting more aggressive with each cycle. Some people do manage to work through their chemo, I certainly couldn’t have. Yes, some days in the three weekly cycle were better that others but work wasn’t viable for me – I needed to conserve the time I felt more human for household chores, spending quality time with family and seeing friends to keep my morale up.
Having never before needed a doctors’ note for ill health I was expecting the whole process to be a bit more clear-cut. Understandably with the individuality of a condition like I have this cannot be the case. I’d expected the GP to advise how long the each doctor’s note should last; instead I was asked how I was feeling and for my opinion on an appropriate timeframe in which we reviewed things again. Many a time I felt uncomfortable indulging in coffee dates with friends and doing exercise classes when I felt up to it – it felt wrong when I was deemed unfit to work but they were exactly what I needed to keep me positive and mentally sound.
I’m hugely grateful for how supportive my employer has been during my illness, I know fellow cancer patients who are at loggerheads with their respective employers about their readiness to return to work. I’ve maintained contact with my close colleagues throughout and have been able to have open and honest conversations about my readiness and desire to return.
As the reality of being unfit to work for an unspecified period of time dawned, the financial worries start to emerge. I was fortunate enough to have access to the Benefits and Welfare Advisor and my Macmillan nurse based at The Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre in Harrogate to point me in the direction of what entitlements may be available. Their experience in this area was invaluable as I had little energy to exert researching such matters and information available online was very detailed and invariably required a medical referral.
Not once have I felt at a loss what to do with myself during my time off work. The school drops and pick-ups have been invaluable in providing structure around the numerous appointments at a variety of locations. Attempts to regain my fitness by joining the gym have been rewarding, not only in terms of improvements to my fitness, but in overcoming some of my insecurities – exposing myself as someone undergoing cancer treatment with my hair loss obvious whilst in the gym. It’s felt an achievement to make my way through some of the tasks on my mental to do list that I never found the time to get round to – I’ve finally sorted through the many files of digital photos and made (some) sense of the pension-related correspondence I’d been stashing for the past few years. Alongside responding to enquiries as to how I was doing and keeping up with kids’ social lives, it has left little time for contemplation.