Working whilst waiting for radiotherapy

Hi. This is my first time posting - I’m not sure who to speak to! I have had WLE and SLNB and am due to have 10 days of radiotherapy starting on 16th May. I’ve been off work since the surgery at the end of April and due to return next week. I really don’t know about going back to work in between now and the radiotherapy - the thought makes me feel really anxious as it’s a new job and I don’t know the people I work with very well. Physically I’m fine.
I’ve only met the oncologist once briefly and he said I won’t need to see him again and I forgot to speak to him about work. I don’t know if I can work whilst having radiotherapy (I work with young children) or who to speak to about asking for more time off or how will I know how much time
I need? I feel quite lost - the breast care nurses have handed me over to this new oncologist who I won’t be seeing again.
I just wondered if anyone has had a similar experience or any advice? I’m aware
I sound a bit clueless, but I have no experience of this kind of thing :see_no_evil:xx


It’s difficult to fully answer without knowing your exact role , how many hours you work and if you have been hired on a trial basis . Also if you are working for a small or larger organisation - if there’s an Occupational Health or HR dept. Many of us can feel physically recovered enough after to return to work but not yet ready psychologically .

The most important thing is to keep in communication - are they expecting you back next week ? Do they know that you need to have radiotherapy ? At one time I was in a junior management position and it was easier sometimes to know that someone was off sick rather than not very sure if they were coming back or wonder if they were going to be well enough to actually perform their role properly. If there’s an Occupational Health Dept . then you should ask to be referred . Having had cancer comes under disability and means that you are legally entitled to have reasonable adjustments . It may also be possible for you to have a phased return. Some people do go back to work and then take time off again for radiotherapy . It may be possible to work through it but logistically it can be difficult as your appointments may not all be at the same time of day and sometimes you have to wait when you get there .

As to afterwards some people get more side effects than others . Usually when they hear it’s cancer bosses are pretty understanding - when you’re new it piles on the anxiety / pressure as you want to show that you’re reliable but please make sure you put health first . Working with small children is exhausting but rewarding as well so I can understand you wanting to get back to it - from a psychological point of view I can see it might be helpful . Xx

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Hi @ab78

Welcome to the forum.

I worked in a primary school and found a lump last April and I haven’t been back since, signed off. I was too emotional to deal with the children and teaching in the beginning, I didn’t want the children hugging or poking at me after surgery either. Then chemotherapy made me immune suppressed so being in a school was not the best place. I had numerous appointments and changes to my plan until July so that would have meant a lot of time off, most of the appointments took 3/4 hours with travelling. They found another lump in the other boob after an MRI. Big spanner in the works! Had surgery in July and being HER2+ needed chemo with Herceptin (12 weekly Paclitaxel and 18 3 weekly cycles of Herceptin). Radiotherapy in January. Then Letrozole and soon to start Zolendronic infusions.

I found after the chemotherapy and radiotherapy my emotions were all over the place. Some people say it’s like coming off a rollercoaster finishing your main hospital treatment. I still have Herceptin with a nurse coming to my home. I am fatigued, hot flushes, sleep deprived and get flu like symptoms for a few days after the Herceptin. I now taken redundancy as I can’t see myself back teaching as my brain doesn’t function the same. I will review work once treatment finishes later this year.

I can understand you’re apprehension starting a new job with new people as it will be harder for them to understand your situation. You may not even want to share with them your situation and you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You are disable under the Equality Act 2010 so your workplace must make reasonable adjustments.

I think some people work through radiotherapy. I had 5 days on both boobs with a high dose. I did Weds, Thurs, Fri with weekend off and then Mon and Tues. By the Monday they said they could tell I was achy and sore and advised to take paracetamol for the following day. I struggled to hold my breath ( to move the heart out of the way). I was tired from chemo still and was warned the tiredness can kick in from radiotheraphy after two weeks. And it did. My husband drove me to first radiotherapy and the last two due to tiredness.

You have to do what is right for you. I’m sure your GP would sign you off if you wanted to be. I haven’t had any issues with being signed off during this time, at the end of the day we are dealing with breast cancer. Not just the physical side but the emotional side as well.

You could talk to the BCN nurses

  • Helpline: 0808 800 6000 (Mon-Fri 9am-4pm; Sat 9am-1pm). Speak to our trained helpline team. No questions are too big or too small.
  • Ask Our Nurses: You can message our nurses here on the forum, or confidentially. Whatever you prefer.

I hope you make the decision which is right for you.

Take care :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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Hi. Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. It sounds like you have had a really tough time.

I do feel that my head is all over the place, but because I’m lucky not to have needed chemo I feel a bit of a fraud, or that people will think that of me if I stay off work until after all of my treatment is finished.

I actually left my job as a teacher in December and started at a new nursery in January - then all this happened! they have been supportive but I don’t want them to start to get fed up with me, but also working with young children, whilst amazing is also really hard work and I just don’t know if I can be “on” all the time if you see what I mean!

Sorry to ramble on! Thank you for taking the time to read! X

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I totally get what you are saying. All settings with children are 100% and ‘on’ all the time.

Don’t think you’re a fraud because you didn’t have chemo, it’s all breast cancer and we all deal with it in our own ways.

I hope you find the right decision for you. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


There’s a thread on here about imposter syndrome which lots of us experience because we have avoided chemo or complications etc. At the end of the day although some of us have had to face greater challenges than others a diagnosis of cancer changes you , you can’t just snap back to how you were before . Your treatment isn’t even over yet so you really shouldn’t be feeling like a fraud . I’m glad I had my radiotherapy I’ve had no lasting complications from it but about 4 days after it finished I was hit with a wave of fatigue that lasted maybe 10 days and then eased over the next couple of weeks but for the next couple of months it would come back with less frequency and severity but was aggravated by the side effects of Anastrozole and a shoulder injury I picked up along the way. I did feel bad being off work and sometimes felt a fraud but I wasn’t fit enough to go. Perhaps you could just pop into work and have a cuppa and informal chat with your boss and talk it through with them ? Xx


Hi there @ab78. I’m a teacher. I was diagnosed last December. I worked up to surgery 1, then had 4 weeks off. I then had to have a 2nd surgery and had 4 weeks off again. I’m back at work now while I wait for either chemo or radio. I work to keep my mind busy. No right or wrong answers but for me I needed the distraction. Good luck x


Oh I’m pleased it’s not just me who has imposter syndrome!

I think one of my problems is this week I’ve been told there’s a high chance of my cancer coming back in the future. I also have a strong family history of breast cancer and I can’t get it out of my head that I will be going through all of this again at some point. I was also told the wait for radiotherapy after my planning appointment would be 1-2 weeks but it’s actually just over 3. It’s set me back and made me realise I’m not100% like I thought I was!

I’m the kind of person who simply doesn’t have time off work normally - I feel too guilty! But I think I know I wouldn’t be great going back in at the moment really. My new boss is lovely but it’s the feeling that I’m letting them down that’s bothering me. I think you’re right I just need to have an honest chat with her. Thank you for your advice! :blush:x


It will certainly keep you busy and be a good distraction to be back in school, you’re right! It’s not the kind of job where you have time to think about much else is it! I’m going to have a chat with my boss and my gp and decide where to go from there x


My advice is to email your Consultant’s secretary with your query …it is difficult to remember everything you need to ask when meeting your Consultant when you are dealing with lots of new information. When I met the first Consultant (have now met many medical professionals along the way) for the first and only time …I said I was happy to continue to work from home ( I felt fine) but she issued me with a Sicknote and said I was too ill to work …allot of changes for me to take in. I also had Radiotherapy. I was advised the medication side effects would affect my ability to work effectively 100% of the time. There will be Breast Care Nurses at your hospital …reach out to them and don’t feel you have to wait for them to contact you …they have been amazing for me when I had odd and random questions …hope this is helpful

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I work in a school & managed to continue working (my choice). I had 15 days of radiotherapy. They started me on a Tuesday so it wasnt 3 full weeks. No issues with working with young children whennon radio.
My radiotherapy department is open until the evening (after 7pm). Your appointment will be the same time everyday. I explained i was working & they were more than happy to give me a tea time appointment so i could head there straight after work. I found this helpful as, understandably, sometimes they were running behind so i wasnt worrying about being late back for work.
I was on radiotherapy & chemotherapy at same time. It was manageable but i did need my rest at the weekends as i was more tired.
Good luck

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Some lovely replies here. As always great support for each other.

For anyone interested BCN are running a forum users survey

Take care :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

@ab78 that’s what I did after 1st op and just talking to gp made me realise i was too anxious to go back. However after my 2nd op I went back faster. Don’t rush into it. For me, being occupied was the best medicine and I got my mobility back in my arm and shoulder easier. Good luck x

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No right or wrong answers!! I’m a teacher in an infant school… had 2 weeks off after surgery. Had a big gap between surgery and radiotherapy. Work have been very good . I worked through radiotherapy but I know that if I needed time off during or after it world have been ok. They say it’s more likely to affect you after the sessions

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I had to wait a while for my radiotherapy and had it at 12 weeks post op . I went back to work after 8 weeks . I think I was more anxious about talking about what I had been through with my colleagues and all the fuss and conversations . So once I was through the door and had seen most people I was so relieved to have a distraction and to try to get back to normal as possible . I did do a phased return . I didn’t work through my radiotherapy as my appointment times were at diffident times everyday . I hope it goes well for you .

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I went back yesterday , 5 weeks post lumpectomy. I work part time anyway. No pressure to work full hours . I work in a small business , it was good to see everyone , get the hogs and tears and today I will log on from home and work short days until my radiotherapy .
If I was a teacher , then I probably wouldn’t , I’ve worked in childcare and it’s full on :cry:

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There is no right or wrong answer or plan here

Some people cope really well with radiotherapy but you aren’t in charge of the appointments so it could be 730am or noon or even 6pm at night when you have your sessions so that can cause anxiety

Some people get really tired and need someone to drive them there and back, others cope and do it alone

Some people get anxious and worry about the actual process and procedure and the lights, noises, having to slap on moisturiser every single day before, during and after. Keeping skin clean, getting used to new boob shape, look ,size etc

You also need to be aware of your immune systems taking a hit not just during the treatment but for weeks after

I suggest you talk to your team or GP and get signed off as thats one less thing to deal with, worry about or get into a rollercoaster about and absolutely ask for occupational health referral before you return to work and tell them about your mental state, your emotions as well as the physical ones

Good luck, whoever is doing your radiotherapy will be lovely, talk to them at your pre treatment meeting about any worries befire, during and after. They really have seen and heard it all before and will listen x


@ab78 You mustn’t beat yourself up for not knowing what this extraordinary experience is going to do to you! No-one knows, till they go through it. You are absolutely not a fraud, and no-one on this forum would think that. I completely agree with what your other posters said: but would add radiotherapy could be pretty hard to try to work through. It is usually hard work enough even getting to the hospital and back, and you have to set a lot of time aside for waiting. I was once in Charing Cross radiotherapy department for 8 hours. Let alone the emotional side of things. BUT: bear in mind that you might also get very tired in the 6-8 weeks that follow radiotherapy. They tell you in the leaflets that the side effects last for 6 weeks, but when you actually get there, you realise that it will take much longer than that. I’m finding I need to sleep a lot: I never used to need daytime naps and find it very disconcerting. Also, if you have to take endocrine therapy afterwards that might affect you too. It might be an idea to talk to your doctor about getting a sick note set up in advance, in case you need one. You are disabled under the Equality Act 2010, so your workplace must make what are called ‘reasonable adjustments’, which means talking to them - in advance. It could mean, for instance, working a shorter day or them allowing you more breaks. Your workplace will almost certainly be helpful and appreciate it if you approach them with enough time to help them find cover for you: but if they refuse to make adjustments, you should gently point out to them that it is a legal requirement that they try to help you ease back into work. Cancer is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the 2010 Act. Wishing you the best of luck, and well done for venting. We all need support in this situation, with this horrible disease!


I am a School Business Manager and had my surgery on 13th February, had three weeks off, two weeks working from home and went back to school after Easter. I have an appointment with the oncologist on Monday to talk about starting 3 weeks radiotherapy. I’m glad I have a very supportive Headteacher who is happy for me to work when I can and rest when I need to.

Your breast nurse should stay with you until completion of all treatments and beyond. Ring and leave them a message and they will come back to you regarding your worries about work & treatment.
It maybe that going back will take your mind off the forthcoming radiotherapy and be good for you.
I was ok during the radiotherapy I had but very tired now 5 weeks later. So it may be that you need time off post treatment.
I wish you all the best for your treatment and post treatment recovery