Going Back to Work - Dealing with People

Hi All

I’m due to go back to work starting on a phased return at the beginning of Jan. I’m looking forward to it but a bit concerned about how I will cope with the people. What will their attitude be towards me, will they assume I’ve had a breast removed (I haven’t), will they ask questions or will they ignore the BC subject altogether? I assume I will get all of the above attitudes from different individuals. I work in a large open plan office environment in a department of around 100, 95 of whom are men, which complicates things further - or maybe it doesn’t since they’re such simple creatures!

I would love to hear from others - what has your experience of returning to work been like for you?

Sarah x

Hi Sarah,
I too am interested in peoples experiences on returning to work, I’m hoping to return in the new year after my WLE and rads, I’m quite nervous about it as I only told a few people, but I know since I’ve been off the local gossipmonger has been at work! It came as a surprise though when a friend told me a work collegue had asked whether I’d had a boy or girl!,- didn’t think I looked that fat! LOL, so I’d better prepare myself for some ‘congratulations’

I took the opposite approach and told people quite plainly why I was going off sick, and what was likely to be done. This was with the intention of blocking any potential for speculation or gossip, and also because that’s what I’m like. One advantage working with mostly men is that they don’t tend to thrive on spiteful gossip, if they’ve got something to say they just say it.

Any views out there from those who have been through the return to work thing?

Sarah x


I went back to work on 1st Nov which was the same day I started rads. I’ve had chemo so there’s no chance of not telling everyone, I think it’s easier though. The first week everyone I saw was really pleased to see me and they did all ask how I was. I said the same thing to everyone. When they said how are you, I said I’m doing really well thanks. I too work with mostly men and to be honest that was enough for most of them. A couple came and asked me more detailed questions especially the ones whose wives had had BC. See you learning something new about the people you work wih all the time. But to be honest I’ve been back three weeks and it feels like I’ve never been away. Every now and again someone might ask about rads but that’s aout it.

I’ve really enjoyed going back to work and it’s nice to feel like i’m reclaiming my life too.

Take care


When I went back to work 7 years ago, everyone knew what was wrong with me because I told them (I could not bear to think of them talking behind my back) Once I was back, I was back,

  • you must be so glad it is all over (can’t explain to them that it is never all over)
  • Oh you poor thing, it must have been dreadful (yes it was, but you cannot begin to understand)
  • actually my Mum/cousin/brother’s wifes sister in laws great Aunt/ neightbour etc went though it, sailed through, its nothing realy is it (ha ha) or died after gruelling treatment (just what I wanted to hear)
  • You look great, realy well (don’t feel it)
  • Great new hair cut (didn’t actually have a choice)
    No one asked about actual missing breast ( had a great bra and silicone boob) and were not particularly interested in any details. I was back to work and that was that. Great to have you back, full stop.
    This time I am taking my time and not going back until the New Year.
    Good luck to you, the first day is the worst, then its OK.
    Maria X

Hi Sarah

Good Luck with your return to work! In my experience men don’t like talking about bodies and health! I was very honest and told people what I wanted them to know, then nobody had to ask me anything uncomfortable. It is times like this when you realise how many lovely caring people there are in the world, who hopefully will not make the sort of statements Maria had :o) although some will, but they will be well-meaning.

I was lucky my phased return was well managed and my colleagues were great - still are!

Take care


Hi Sarah

I was diagnosed end June 2010. Had lumpectomy & nodes removed beginning of July, recouperated for about 3 weeks went straight into my holiday abroad. Came back and went to work on a phased return, mornings only. Returned to work with my new short haircut (in prep for chemo). I had already told my friends and close work colleagues and said that I did not want it to be a secret. I wanted to be honest and didn’t want any speculation or gossip about me. Therefore, the word had got round and when I returned, tanned…new haircut…new make-up, people were shocked and said I looked great! The comments about my hair led me on to tell people that it was not through choice but in preparation for chemo and I explained that I will probably loose my hair shortly.

No soon as I was back to work after the first chemo, I was away again for nearly a month with a bad infection for which I was hospitalised. Again, people at work knew I had a set back and was in hospital.

I returned to work again in Oct, still for 4-5 hrs only. I usually take the chemo week off as I am quite unwell but have a brilliant 2 weeks before the next one.

Therefore, generally most people who I know at work, know about my diagnosis and treatment and come up and ask me how I’m doing and I speak openly and honestly. I personally don’t see what the problem is when people want to keep BC a secret. We are all different though!

It just worked for me to be open and honest…if people ask, I tell them! I work in a team of 3 men. True…men don’t really ask too much detail anyway.

Good luck

Maroulla X

I’ve worked on and off through my chemo & rads, and have always been open with colleagues about it, there are about 100 where I work, some don’t say a word but a lot have asked how I am and I have no problem talking about my treatment.
I had a short hair cut before chemo, then wore scarves over the summer, now I wear a wig to work until I have enough hair to go “au naturel”! So they’re used to seeing me looking different from usual, I felt self-conscious the first time I went in wearing a wig but my colleagues were so complimentary and now I don’t even think about it. Now it feels like I’ve never been away, as soon as I walk through the door I’m into work-mode and don’t think about myself unless someone asks how I am! You do get a bit sick of talking about yourself but eventually people see you doing your job in the normal way and leave you to get on with it.
Good luck when you go back, enjoy your remaining weeks off!

Thanks for all your replies. It sounds like being quite open about what has been going on works best, so I’m glad I took that approach before going off sick. I can imagine initially it will get a bit tedious always answering the same questions, but since they’re asked with good intentions that makes it OK.
Any more feedback would be welcome, it helps me prepare for work.

Sarah x

Hi Sarah,

I found men were the easier to deal with. Most simply asked how I was and said it was good to see me back. As Nicola said, most of them don’t like too much detail. Most people also commented on how well I looked, as if they’d expected me to look awful. On days when I did feel awful that was hard to deal with.

The biggest problem I have is that I feel people(quite reasonably)expect me to be the same person I was before. I was a workaholic and always, always met a deadline. Now I simply don’t have the energy or drive to work so hard and so I feel as though I often fall short of expectations. In reality it’s probably only me who notices and I’m putting the pressure on myself. My advice would be to give yourself a break and ease yourself in gently. People will soon forget and start treating you the same as they did before.

Jan xx

Hi - for Nicky65 - can you tell me about your phased return please? I am going back to work “sometime in January” and I have been asked to devise my own PR programme - I have no idea what to do!! I am interested in what worked for you as you say it was well managed. I am pretty certain I will get my own way with my boss and HR re what I want to do / how I want to go about it, so I am open to any advice you (or anyone else who has been through this process) can provide. I work for a big public sector organisation doing a stressful, one-off job that I love so I am keen to get it right as it could all go horribly wrong if I push it too soon.

(Just to say - My treatment was right Mx and reconstruction + left breast augmentation to match for DCIS - I have no chemo or rads to have and do not need tamoxifen as was ER/PR neg, so will not need any time off for any of that.)

Many thanks, StellaG xx

hi Sarah, I went back to work before chemo in 2004, and after a recurrence in 2008 went back after chemo #1. Most people knew why I’d been off both times (I work in a large workplace so not everyone did) and I found that most people including my managers were fine - very welcoming, the only questions were “how are you?” to which I usually said “getting there, I think”. I also had “Really great hair” said by some who did not know it was my wig but I usually said “Thank you, it is actually a wig”.Thought it better to do that in preparation for when I left it off.

The first timeI had bc they let me have a couple of days off after each chemo as “working at home” - the second time they wouldn’t and I had to go sick for a few days every 3 weeks, which annoyed me. One thing I would say is that you are protected by the Disability Discrimination Act which means that the workplace has to make “reasonable adjustments” for you, which can include a phased return, or coming in later to avoid the rush hour and crowded public transport. In my case I was given a parking space as I said i could not travel by public transport due to the infection risk during chemo and rads.

Best of luck


hi there,

i went back to work after 14months off. most people knew why i was off and if they didnt the word soon got around. my manager was great and when i was due to return i told her to tell the teams not to ask me any questions i.e are you better now, good job its out, and i didnt want pity, or sympathy as i knew i would break down. if anything the blokes were better than the ladies and didnt really ask too many questions either.

i learnt very quickly on when people would ask and i felt it was an invasion of my privacy to turn the questions around very qickly to them by saying yeah yeah im good and hows your hubby, kids, married life what ever.

Hi all,

So far I have to say my employers have been fantastic. As soon as I told them I had BC they said I could take days off at short notice (normally frowned upon) here and there to organise my life before I had surgery. I even took a day’s holiday to order a bathroom suite! After that I was put on long term sick leave on full pay until I’m ready to return, although of course that requires a doctor’s note and is to a max of 6 months. They also made it clear that when I return it will be phased, working a few hours per day at first and building up gradually to normal hours over a few weeks or even months if that’s what I need. My OH works at the same place and they’ve been flexible with him too, allowing him to work from home when I’ve needed him and delegating his overseas trips to other people.
So I’m lucky that my main worry is how people will react when I return - but probably worrying about nothing in reality. But that’s what BC does to you, turns you into a professional worrier if you weren’t already!

Sarah x

P.S. good tip from Sukes on how to deflect questions which are heading into an area you don’t want to go - thanks.

Hello everyone

I went back to work April 2010 after being off since September 2009 after mx. chemo and rads.
My work have been fantastic. I told everyone at work as I went back to work between diagnosis and operation (about 2 weeks). I told my manager who then told everyone when I was not there and informed them that I did not want to talk about it. Whilst I was off sick after the operation I used to periodically go in to see everyone. I kept everyone up to date, everyone was very kind. I have found that the more they know the more they are sympathetic and helpful to me.
There is no need to be embarrassed about having cancer and have made it clear that I don’t mind what questions people have about my cancer.

My return to work was smooth and very uneventful and all the easier because I had keep in touch with them all the time I was off, often going in to have lunch with them. It was lovely to keep up with all the office gossip made me feel still part of the team.


Marian - I’m only just beginning this bl**dy journey, but like you, I went into work between dx and mx, so all the people I work with knew exactly what was happening. I have exactly the same attitude - bc is nothing to be embarassed about, and I feel that the more up front I am, (so to speak), and the more open I am, the easier people will feel about asking sensible questions, or feeling that they don’t really need to ask at all (because they know I’ll tell them anyhow!).

I was hoping I’d only be off a couple of weeks (ha! mx and axillary clearance alone has left me battered!), but chemo is def and rads poss, so we’re looking at April time earliest… In the meantime, I’m constantly on the phone to the girls in the kitchen where I work, I’ve paid up my lottery money in advance, and have booked what I want to eat on the work christmas do… in other words, I’m still involved in all the fun stuff to do with work, just not the actual work…hehe.

Reading through the anxieties for others about returning to work, I am very glad that for me a different approach was more comfortable - I’m not saying it’s ‘right’, but I think it will make going back into work easier. It may well help, though, that it’s not exactly a white collar/high powered job where I’m expected to be superwoman, as I can imagine that would present it’s own hurdles. Which may well be way I traded in that type of job and went back to the kitchen…<grin></grin>

Sophie xx

I must admit that I have avoided going in to see people at work, so I haven’t seen any of them since mid-July, except one closer female colleague/friend. If I worked with a group of women it would probably seem more natural to pop in for a natter and a cup of coffee, but being mostly men they don’t work that way. Can’t say I’m in a particularly high powered job, but it involves quite a few client meetings and some travel around the UK from time to time. Think I’ll have to not do the travel for a while until both boobs are completely comfortable.
Sarah x

I too am very lucky with my employers but sadly because I work in a department with predominantly women, many gaed over 50 they are used to dealing with BC. another younger woman on my own team had it 2 years ago so I have seen how wonderfully our service treat people & having that reassurance means I am comfortable to go back & am popping in next Mon so after MX but before I start chemo just to catch up & still feel like I work there. I specifically askjed that everyone be told so I didn’t have any embarassing situations where somebody didn’t & felt uncomfortable (them not me!) I think if at all possible you have to go in head high & be up front - get it out of the way & then tsart talking about the weather or the kids or whatever. HArd when it has dominated every conversation for a year but I think helps you move forward - Life goes on & I want to be part of that “normal” life again once I am fully recovered.

Hi Ladies

Macmillan have some useful information covering talking to work colleagues about cancer diagnosis, I thought you might like to have a look?

Here’s he link:


Hope you find it a useful read.

Best wishes


when is the right time to return,

i work in an office, and its very stressful on my team.im only on ssp, and the managing director yesterday when i went in, asked when i was returning!! felt really under pressure. ive only had one fec
i also had took my hat so was sporting a shaven head, he said "is that to make the statement ive got cancer! " think he was joking but what a knob

i actually wanted to take 12 months out.