Work/study and chemo

Hi everyone

I’m due to start chemo (FEC, I believe) at the beginning of May and wondered if you can help.

Did any of you manage to work or study during your chemo? I’m a mature student and everyone says I should stop my studies for a year - but I’ve no idea how I will feel during the chemo, and maybe giving up studying is not great for me psychologically, even if it will be physically quite hard to do both study and chemo.

Is muddle-headedness a side effect of chemo?!

Very grateful to anyone with any stories to share.

Best wishes to you all

Livia xx

Hi Livia

I certainly could not have sutdied or worked during chemo, but everyone is different. I am a barrister, mostly conducting jury trials. Chemo brain was a very significant side effect for me, for a long time afterwards too (I am approaching 4 years since dx), and that is quite apart from the physical side effects. I’d say give yourself a break, and do a bit of what you might regard as the extra reading for your subject if you feel like it.

Don’t know if you’re due to have rads too, but a lot more people manage to work during rads than chemo, although again, give yourself a break. I couldn’t as I had to be a flight away from home for my rads.

Good luck!


Hi Livia, sorry you have found yourself here but you will get lots of information and support from other ladies on this forum.
I am due to have No 4 (of 6) FEC tomorrow. The sessions are 3 weeks apart. Of the previous 3 cycles I have taken the first week off work but have managed to do a bit from home although I have to say I was certainly woolly-headed and found it difficult to concentrate. Cycles 1 and 2 I worked short hours the 2nd week and normal hours the 3rd week. This last cycle unfortunately I had a virus on my 2nd week and ended up in hospital but am now on my 3rd week and back at work. For me working is important and helps me have some normality in my life and it takes my mind off the bc, otherwise I would sit at home feeling sorry for myself. It is not the case for everyone though and you must do what is right for you.
Hope this helps
Clare x

Hi Livia,
As Kinden has said, we are all very different. I worked all through my chemo and rads - so was researching and writing a sermon every week. Actually, in the first half of my chemo, in treatment weeks it became two or three short reflections as physcially I was too ‘Fec-flopped’ to stand for 20 minutes plus my brain felt decidedly mushy. My lovely congregation got used to me referring to my ‘brain mush’ and were extremely generous in responding to my endeavours.

Prior to treamtent I was breezing through some PhD research, that sounds really arrogant, but I now realise it was true. At the time of diagnosis, I opted not to intercallate but to submit for an MPhil instead. This proved to be the right move for me. During chemo I could not have coped with that level of reading, thinking or writing, but I wrote up my thesis bewteen my surgery (I had chemo first) and my rads. I am pleased to say I passed with such minor corrections that they took me an hour to complete!

Now, I know I was very fortunate. My chemo side effects were minor (and I was a goody-goody and did EVERYTHING they told me). I am now fifteen months post chemo, and I would say that only now is my brain power returning, and it’s still not back to PhD level. My memory is not what it was and I have to work harder to achieve what I want.

What I would say is that during treatment when energy is in shorter supply than usual and it is really important to priortise how you ‘spend’ it. One concept we talk about quite a lot (or some of us do) on here is ‘spoon theory’ I think if your studies are part of your keeping sane/coping then they are worth spending spoons on, but you’d have to accept that other things will have to be left for now.

I hope all goes well for you, both in your deciding what to do, and in your treatment.

PS a word to the wise - if you carry on with your studies, make sure you tell the university/college NOW and get your GP to write a letter in support of extenuating circumstances. You might, for example, be granted extensions on assignments or extra time for exams or little breaks if they are really long.

Hi Livia
I am an academic, and worked throughout. I have another colleague who did the same. We both took a few days off each cycle, and took work home, but apart from scaling things down a bit carried on more or less as usual. I would have gone mad if I had not had work to take my mind off things! Most of the time I felt fine. I got tired a bit quicker than normal, but my employers were helpful and sympathetic.
I didn’t really detect any chemo brain - but then I can be quite scatty so it would be hard to tell!
After the treatment was over I arranged for a study sabbatical, which I really enjoyed.
all the best

Everyone is so different. I worked as a researcher but there was no way I could continue during chemo or rads. Muddle-headedness - yes definitely - but that was the least of my problems during treatment.

Someone suggested to me that the best way forward is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. I’d have discussions with my tutors but without fixing what you will do. That way if you are well enough to continue all well and good but, if not, you know what your strategy is for the following year and you’ll have that to hold on to.

The other thing to remember is that the tiredness etc can build up with each chemo and then with rads. So again, I’d suggest making sure you have flexible options.

I understand what you’re saying about the psychological side of things and that is very important. However, sometimes what is going on physically can take over. Don’t beat yourself if you can’t do everything you want to during treatment and you will get back to it all.

I do hope that your treatment goes well.
Elinda x

Hi Livia, I’m a Diversity and Management Trainer for the Police. Unfortunately, I suffered with sickness and chemo brain, however by the 3rd week of each 3 week chemo cycle, I felt quite human and went into work on reduced hours, generally 3 to 4 hours. Whilst I couldn’t hold a training session, I could do meaningful admin tasks to support my colleagues in their training sessions by doing their handouts and general prep. It wasn’t that I felt completely incapable, it was just the fact that in my head I knew what I needed to say but it wouldn’t come out of my mouth in a structured manner!!! But I had no problems compiling complex reports.

I think if you can just see how it goes and not put yourself under too much pressure, that would be the best option and as the very wise RevCat says let people know and then reasonable adjustments can be made for you. Best of luck, Simone xxx

Just an idea - maybe not giving up completely but consider changing to part-time course load?? something that allows you to stay involved - know normalcy of little work things helps to keep me sane!! - but gives you time to rest and recover as well??


Hi everyone

Thank you all so much for your replies - I wasn’t expecting you all to be quite so speedy :slight_smile:

Clare - you really summed up my big worry, that is, sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, and worrying myself silly over every pain or cough or sneeze.

RevCat - I worry that if i stop studying, taking time out starts at 12 months, then becomes 18 months and so on… and I can see the end of the course now, and wonder if it’s better to keep going to save my sanity. And I love what I do and think it’s worth a few spoons.

Elinda - I’ve got into a bit of a pickle as I’m being urged to make a decision, but I think it is unrealistic to make a decision at this stage.

Marina - unfortunately I can’t go part time, it’s “not allowed”. But I met a lecturer today (the only one so far who hasn’t told me what to do) who said that it would be possible to do some shuffling around of things to accommodate my chemo.

Hmm. Okay. Lots of different ideas here. I think my decision at the moment is to try to carry on until the chemo starts (the university is pressuring me to stop right now). If i manage to make it through my course whilst on chemo then great, if I can’t cope with it then I stop and resume studies in 12 months’ time. But it’s not realistic for me to make such an important decision before I have actually experienced chemo.

Thanks for your help everyone, you’ve really helped me put my thoughts on this into some sort of coherent order!


Hi Livia, sounds like a good decision to me. Like you I feared that intercallating(a year out) would mean I never went back becuase it would just stretch on, always another reason to delay, etc. I was lucky that I had the option of an exit qualification that meant my work was still worth while. Oart of me would like another crack at a PhD, part of me thinks my brain is now too slow.

All the very best and I really hope both that you achieve your goal and your treatment goes well.

Hi Livia

That sounds like a very good plan. It’s absolutely impossible to know how you’ll feel on chemo and through the rest of your treatment so I think you’re quite right in that trying to make a definite decision right now is the wrong thing.

It may also be worth thinking about what you might like to do if you’re not well enough to continue when you start chemo but want something to occupy your mind.
I took it as an opportunity to read the complete works of an author I liked. They were crime novels so nothing highbrow but it gave me pleasure and something to do and kept me sane.

take care, be gentle with yourself and I do hope your treatment goes well.
Elinda x

Best of luck Livia,

Like Simone when I got to week 3 in each cycle I felt well enough to do some work. However, I was warned against it as my job involved being in a crowded environment and I would have been vulnerable to infections (during the cold/cough/seasonal flu and swine flu season).

I did some academic study throughout chemo and radiotherapy (for a qualification connected with my job). It was big psychological boost for me to do this as it felt like at least part of my life was on a ‘normal’ footing.