Returning to work

Hi Everyone

I finished my radiotherapy about 6 weeks ago. Initially I’d thought I would be back to work by now, but I still feel really tired and although I can function ok at the moment, when I don’t have that much planned for each day, and I can take as long as I need to get up, I’m pretty sure that I’m not ready to go back to work yet, even part time. I think I’m only really feeling the emotional impact of everything that’s happened to me now that my treatment is over. I’m signed off for another ten days, but I’d been intending to say to my doctor that I really feel I need another month or so off before I can think about going back. I saw my onc this week and he was asking me about work and he didn’t seem to think it was unreasonable or out of order when I said I felt I might need another month off before starting back.

I think the only reason I’m questioning this decision is that I’ve spoken to a couple of my colleagues this week, who have both said (without me asking for their opinion!) more or less that they think I should just bite the bullet and start working again. They are both nice people, who have been very supportive to me while I’ve been off sick, so I don’t think their comments were intended to upset me in anyway. But, I’m now feeling guilty that I’m contemplating being signed off for a bit longer before going back. What’s bothering me is that I now feel I have to almost make excuses for the fact that I feel I need a bit longer off work, and I’m worried about what people are thinking of me - mainly, do they think I’m malingering or skiving?

I suppose what I really wanted was some reassurance that I’m not completely unreasonable in feeling I need a bit longer off work (even if I have this extra month, I still won’t have been off a full year - and my chemo was a 28 week course, which accounts for the majority of that). Also, I wondered if anyone had any ideas of how to deal with comments like this, because I do find it quite upsetting when I feel I have to almost make excuses for the fact that I don’t feel ready to go back to work yet.

The thing that bugs me is that financially, I could really use the money, so surely if I was ready to go back, then I would have gone back!



I was diagnosed 13th Dec 2005, had surgery (mastectomy and full node clearance) 8 chemos, 25 rads and 18 herceptin, I went back to work roughly 6 weeks after the chemo finished and worked through the rads (had the last week of work) and easily worked through herceptin. Personally did find it tiring going back to work at first but very much enjoyed getting back into a cancer free environment and the office gossip. Each to their own but I needed to get back for my sanity as much as the money.


i got a few “you need to just get on with it” comments as well…from people who hadn’t been through what i have and frankly didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. a lot of people also said “Gosh, you look so well”…the subtext being: not what i think someone with cancer ought to look like…people meant to be helpful but i didn’t find these kind of comments particularly supportive. i’ve now been back at work since mid-April, i’m only doing one day a week and trying to regain my confidence after being off so long…so the “are you actually doing any work yet?” remarks are the ones i’m not finding helpful atm!..sometimes i feel like whipping my top off and showing people the scars and snapping “there! NOW tell me i’m being lazy/not pulling my weight/not working hard enough!” …but i just need to ignore the unhelpful comments. i know how much it costs me just to get up and go in on my working day and i’m not going to be railroaded into taking on more just to suit them…

Hi Patience
Your worries seem similar to ones that are constantly going through my mind - I am nearly finished chemo, but have surgery and rads to come. But my point is is that my body is telling me that I wont be ack to work as I had initially planned. As I am slowly realising this my family and bosses are kind of saying no s*** sherlock. They all appreciate it was a goal I set my self to walk back in straigt after the last rads or even 6 weeks later and carry on as if nothing had happened. They ever expected this of me. I doubt anybody at work or anybody I know will think, and I think the same of your colleagues who have commented will for 1 second think we are malingerers. just maybe a bit concerned about any changes we seem to be going through. I love my job and want to go back, the cancer free environment, the stimulation, the conversation, lunch in the canteen. But I doubt I could cope wth the work per se, for a long time. I have a great career and have missed it. But you have to be realistic (not pessimisstic) a return to work too soon could set you back so much. This also may not be soley related to BC. I went back to work too soon after my 1st baby and was so tired, refused to admit it and some things went pear shaped. It spoiled it for me and it took a long time to get back on track. This wasnt cos I missed him, it was because I was too tired and not used to the deadlines, responsibilites and routinres imposed by work.

I had lunch with my line manager this week and felt she might be u for bullying me back - but quite the opposite. I think one of the good things is that she has now moved dep, but still is my contact. But it means that now mebeing away doesnt impact on her deadlines etc. I would really suggest if you could work out to have a mentor / advisor that wasnt your direct boss, as with the best will in the world a direct boss will have their work responsibilities too. This is where you also maybe have to trust HR and occupational health. You boss and colleagues may nothave dealt with long term illness, but HR and OH have. They sould be a good un-biassed support.

Lastly I think your colleagues are telling you what hey think you want to hear, to motivate you. But, you need to take advice from others who have gone through the treatments and your ONC. I would get the certificate for another month and see how you feel in that month. I am hoping to do a few things for work but at home while my hair grows (aybe sep time) and I get over things just to see how my brain is.

Just a quick query - I havent needed a sick cert yet as am still on maternity leave. Ends August, do you need to go to GP for one or can the onc sign etc.

Take care

Hi there

I’m so sorry to hear how badly you have been treated after all you have been through.
I returned to work last October after finishing all my treatment. After a few months working full time I realized it was too much for me and asked my managers if I could reduce my hours. Their response was I am employed on a full time contract and I haven’t got cancer any more so basically I should just get on with it. I am shattered every weekend after working all week being out of the house from 8 am to 6 pm and although I love my job I would just like to do less of it. I’m not really sure if I have a case and whether I should speak to Unison to see if they could help.

Any one been in a similar situation?

Take care

Topaz x

hi,yes talk to unison and also occ health. do you know you come under the disability discrimination act now and the work place must make provisions to help you at work.

i went back to work after 9 months off work on a phased return last sep and i have only just got back to my 32 hours.
I have to say when talking to my friends and work mates, i was honest with them, yes they said i looked good and i would thank them for that comment and then let them know how tired i still got and how much rest i still needed after a little bit of house work.
2 of my friends who went through this took 18 months to get back and still only do part time.
you must look after yourself, if you go back to quick you will undo your recovery.
take care. listen to your body. i thought i was ready after 9 months and my god did i get tired to start with.

Hi Patience
I am returning to work on Monday on a phased return basis. This will work for four weeks and then I will return to full time. I was diagnosed last July and had a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction in August, so I will have been off for 11 months.
I did not work at all during treatment (chemotherapy and rads). I work in a school office and have contact with the children so I did not want to take any chances catching colds, flu etc. while having treatment and my oncologist agreed. I also didn’t feel that physically or emotionally that I could have coped with work although, the support I had from work colleagues was brilliant and we kept in contact frequently and I went to a couple of nights outs as well.
I finished rads on May 15 and was intending to go back in June but knew that I wasn’t ready and needed extra time which was no problem with my doctor.
I feel now that I am ready and am quite fortunate that I am returning during the school summer holidays (Scotland) so the children or teachers will not be in school and they won’t return until August which also takes some pressure off
Please do not let yourself feel pressured into returning before you feel well enough. I am sure your colleagues mean well, and would be upset if they thought they were offending you, but I don’t think anyone who has not had been through this realises just how physically and emotionally draining it is. Please take all the time you feel you need. It is you and your health that is important. I believe in letting your body and your mind tell you when the time is right.

Love and take care


Thank you wonder1

Like you everyone said I looked good when I returned to work after having 9 months off. My phased return lasted 6 weeks and then up to 32 hours and now 371/2 hours. I have an appointment with OH next week and hopefully they will be sympathetic. My employers have made me feel as though I am malingering. Why should we feel like that?


Hi Everyone, and thanks for all your helpful comments. I’ve thought about things a bit more since posting, and also spoke to my sister who commented that while physically I may be doing well, she thinks I’m struggling emotionally - and that makes sense to me. Its just very difficult to try to explain that to anyone who hasn’t been through it themselves - and also, if you look ok physically, people assume you’re fine mentally as well - at least with chemo, when I was chucking up every 3 weeks, it was obvious I wasn’t well enough to work (though I did end up doing a bit from home in my good weeks).

Jane, thanks for your suggestions re HR and OH - unfortunately I work in a fairly small office and there is no such thing! I think this is also partly why I’m not up to going back yet - I know my employers mean well, and they will fully intend to help me out, but after about 10 minutes they will all be too busy with their own workloads to remember that! Also this is holiday season and I’m quite likely to get embroiled in covering other peoples’ work if I go back while its still the school holidays - another month will take me past the worst of that and make a phased return more likely. And I think that I will need to be very firm with them about sticking to the phased return, but I will only be able to be firm enough if I’m feeling stronger emotionally. I’m pretty sure that if I went back next week, I wouldn’t be up to that, would end up taking on too much and would suffer myself. I have had a previous experience of trying to struggle on when unwell - a few years ago I was diagnosed with something that although perfectly treatable, it took a while to get the dose right, and for it to fully take effect - I tried to soldier on, and I think it took me a lot longer to get back to normality than it would have done if I’d taken a few weeks off/ worked half time for a while. I do remember thinking I would need to bear that in mind when it came to going back to work after this treatment, but I’d kind of lost sight of that.

You asked who deals with your sick note - mine have always been issued by my GP - I got one for the hospital to cover the days when I was in having my op, but had to hot foot it to the surgery the day after I got out, so that I was covered for that day, and thereafter. Don’t know if your onc could issue one as well, or not.

I think that generally, people are not great at dealing with cancer (I don’t think I was, before I was diagnosed). They want you to be well, and to get over things and back to “normal” as soon as possible, so that we can all forget that cancer exists. I don’t know about anyone else, but the way I see it, my life will never be the same again -it needn’t be any worse, and I’m pretty confident it can be better than before, as I think you learn a lot about priorities and so on, but it can’t just be swept under the carpet as if it never happened!

Thanks everyone

love, Patience

normal, after cancer your never normal again either physically or mantally and someone who hasnt been through this cannot under stand the effect that this has on us. you need to listen to your body and will know when your ready nevr mind what anyone says. ive been off work for 18 mnths now have had surgery chemo ,rads and am now on arimadex that leaves me tired out and achey. i was due to go back to work in august but have to have another bone scan as i have a few suspect places. so what do i do go back and then find out i have to have more treatments or stay off untill im sure . people i meet say i look great and yes on the outside i may well do so especially as my hair is a resonable length to leave off my bandanas ,but im so tired most days as i cant sleep at night. i think its up to the individual what they do but dont let anyone bully you into making the wrong decision . take care . lynn xx

everyone is different - I have read of people on this site continuing full time work on chemo and rads etc.

The main thing is to listen to your body - if it is telling you you are not ready for work then go to the GP and get a doctors paper - I don’t think work can really do anything as we are covered by the disability act. if you go back too early you could take even longer to get back into the swing of things and could mean more sick time off

I have been back at work since the middle of May (after surgery, chemo and rads, completed treatment 14 April) on the phased return to work basis. I’m up to about 30 hours pw now but I’m finding it very very tiring, I’m exhausted by Friday. I know I’m grumpy and tearful and I’m sure everyone is fed up with me. How long does it take to get back to some kind of normality!!!