What a mixed bag of returning to work we all seem to have had, it's so sad that some of us meet with some not so sensitive people.
The vast majority of mine have been really supportive with only the absolute minority not.
I ended up vomiting with anxiety just before I left home for my first day. I had decided not to wear a wig or hats and just to present myself as I was. Even now looking back I don't know how I did it, it wasn't just the skinhead hair I had just grown back it was that it symbolised the cancer and laid bare for all to see what I had been off with.
I had a couple of people (not from my team) say that haircut doesn't suit you but I enjoyed watching them squirm when I pointed out it was chemo regrowth and not a haircut and I thought it was looking very good; some of my team mates who had sucked in their breath in horror with what had been said, also jumped in saying they thought it looked great and how rude they thought they'd been and how lucky they should consider themselves that they were not in my position being met with comments like that. The comments hurt but at the same time, I was so touched at how my colleagues showed their support for me.
After that I managed to turn the focus from how short my hair was into how quick (over the weeks) it has been regrowing. My team have been genuinely excited at how it is changing as it grows, especially now it is growing curly - always straight as a die before. Its also at a point where as they've watched it growing and getting thicker they want to know what shampoo I'm using and some have even got some to try on their post menopausal hair due to it thinning.
As for fatigue that has floored me at times. I had a phased return over 4 weeks, which really helped and have had all my leave to book, my manager has been great letting me see how many days I can work before fatigue takes over and I put a leave day in. She and my colleagues have been really good at letting me say, I need tomorrow off and they have supported me to do so. They have now started to notice that I get a 'look' in my eye and make sure I drink a glass of water, even going and getting it for me as I still get easily dehydrated and lose focus if I'm busy and forget to drink.
I've still got several days leave to book before the end of March but we have agreed that if I say I'm getting 'chemo fatigue' or they notice the signs I have the next day off. I seem to be able to work a full 5 days one week but can only manage 3 or 4 the next but I am hoping come April I can work full weeks - then I'll think I've finally beat the fatigue - well a girls got to hope!
I feel so lucky that after a few initial bumps, I work with a fantastic team who support me so much - even when they sometimes forget what I've been through and the obstacles I still face, they soon rally when they remember. The fact that they sometimes forget makes me kind of happy in that I must be getting back to my pre bc self.
Sorry for the long post but wanted to update you all and hopefully it might help others.
Keep going ladies, we can't let this beat us - we've got so much more life left to live.
Thank god for the Disability Discrimination Act - when I was diagnosed with my primary cancer back in 2004 us ladies had no specific protection. When I told my boss about my diagnosis their first response was to want to sack me! Thankfully the union got involved and saved my job for me but I had to take 6 months off as my manager was concerned about their image having someone with no hair representing them! I worked in local government at the time as well where you might have expected better treatment. Anyway - eventually I did go back to work but for a different employer and I definitely agree it is important to pace yourself and take things easy. I was diagnosed with secondary BC in September last year so have recently had to tackle the whole work / cancer issue again. It’s different this time around as I am going to be on treatment for the rest of my life so have to get my head around working whilst juggling treatment side effects and lots of hospital appointments. But what I have found helpful is to be open with my work colleagues - I will literally talk to anyone who asks. The positive side of this is that if I am feeling tired or I need to change my schedule everyone knows why and people are therefore more understanding. My boss has been great and really supportive. I’m actually enjoying being back at work as it’s giving me something else to think about. If someone did ask me something I’m not comfortable with I’m just very frank and tell them. It is tough - I had 15 years of ‘normality’ where I was getting on with work life post diagnosis and in the early years you definitely have to listen to your body and rest when you need to. So I’m using the lessons I learnt first time around and taking things easy when I need to. Hope you are all managing ok being back at work xx
Thurnefi, thank you so much for picking up this thread! Everything you say chimes with me. Oh my is it hard at times!!!
I think the most hurtful thing I have dealt with was an email implying I no longer exist. Because I am no longer useful. Obviously this is an extreme example, And clearly the problem doesn't lie with me, but my oh my, did that email hurt.
We BC Ladies live in interesting times, for sure. X
Joemic - how did your return go? I hope things worked out for you better than you feared.
Wonky - I hope the long weekend does help. Pacing yourself - for work, for play, mentally and physically, I think - is very important.
I have been back at work for about four months now, and I am certain all my colleagues have completely forgotten I was ever off! Before I went back I asked my line manager to tell colleagues that I would be happy to speak about things outside of work, but, when at work, I didn't want to discuss anything about cancer. That helped, apart from when people that I knew, but weren't immediate team members, would ask me why I had been off... I have found a return surprisingly difficult, no one has been particularly insensitive (mostly!) but no one has been very supportive either. I think most people want to run for the hills and hope it never happens to them! It is interesting to hear about others' experiences of returning to work xx
Hi, I'm refreshing this thread. Alas!
But I hope this is helpful.
I have been back at work, for nearly 3 months now, though shortish weeks as had so much annual leave to use up (having been on sick leave for 5 months).
But, last week, what I now realise, is I pushed myself too much. I did a full week which included a scary hospital appointment day.
So by yesterday, I was for want of a better term, starting to unravel and by mid morning today I had to admit defeat and accept I over did it.
So, pacing yourself is so important. Particularly because colleagues are unlikely to realise or understand that you are struggling inside, if you are feeling under pressure professionally or feeling off colour physically. Or having bad thoughts in general about the impact of BC.
My salvation today, the reason I made the sensible decision of giving myself a long weekend, actually came from a male colleague I hardly know. He said that the impact of cancer on him, in context of resuming his professional life was very hard, because " people at work, who haven't been through it simply cannot begin to understand".
Firstly, well done for deciding to get back to work. One of the things I’ve learned from my breast cancer was I found my voice. I now speak up when I know I’m right and it’s going to be good for me.
I would communicate to them upfront either through texts or when you get back on that first day. That it’s ok to ask how you’re feeling but not ok to ask about the physical changes that’s happened. You see, some people are good at assumptions and tend to be insensitive just to satisfy their curiosity.
When I was diagnosed I said to my colleagues I didn’t want tea and sympathy. They were so understanding and treated me normally and with sensitivity..
lots of hugs
Thank you both for your replies👍🏻
Don't worry Wonky, i'd never physically thump somebody, now mentally that's a different matter😁.
I think it's all the built up anxieties from the past few months getting on top of me🙄, I suppose it had to happen at some point, I thought I was sailing through a bit too easy😔.
Anyway I think I'll see how it goes on Monday and just warn my manager that if insensitive comments occur, I'll go outside until I've got over it (telling her first of course), generally my manager is fab and very supportive, so are the majority of the team just one or two nasties but I suppose most environments have them.
Thank you and I'll take on board the advice you've given.
Hi Joemic, it's daunting going back to work. I think people mean well but often say or do things which we find insensitive. It's very difficult; if you issue a set of do's &don'ts that may seem a bit 'diva'. But say nothing and you risk exposing yourself to behaviour which will 'set you back'. I didn't have chemo, so I can't comment specifically on hair loss. But I have encountered a lot of 'interest' in my appearance. And it is hard to cope with at times. People do seem to have a fascination with what cancer does to us visually, but we have to remember they are subconsciously testing their selves, not testing us. It's a physiological minefield.
Without some context to where you work, what you do, and obviously you wouldn't want to share that, it's hard to know what to say. But possibly you confide your fears in one or two sensitive colleagues on the basis they will spread word you are uneasy. There is if course also the fact you are covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. You cannot be teased because of your illness. If someone has suggested people will try to touch your hair/head, or make inappropriate comments, your manager should step in, without question, but in a way you feel comfortable with. No one should have to endure bullying behaviour, even if it is passed off as 'banter' and certainly not someone who has endured cancer yet has made it to the point of returning to work. Well done for getting that far.
I can't begin to imagine going grey - I'm a brunette too, I spend too much time and money having my roots done. You are in a different space on this, but would you maybe feel better if you splashed out on a consultation with a posh hairdresser, someone you could 'name-drop' to these colleagues of yours? To put a positive spin on the situation and give you a bit of confidence...... top hairdresser in town is only person allowed to touch/discuss my hair.
You can't go around thumping people, but you can work on a plan of attack. I so hope you find a way through this issue and wish you success in your career. PM me if helps.
Hair is such an important part of our identity. It must be a shock for it to be growing back grey rather than brown. However, look at the tv ads and how hair colouring ranges now include every shade of grey for all ages.
I can’t advise you as I’m retired and I didn't give a toss about hair. I didn’t lose it all and it’s grown back as an incredibly thick bundle of white curls which I love to stroke and I encourage others to feel it. A lot will depend on your personality - I wore my 9yo neighbour’s lurid pink wig to an afternoon event. I loved the laughter it provoked. Yet I started wearing my wig when I heard a young man say ‘Oh, poor dear.’ I felt about 90!
It seems to me that you need to discuss your concerns with your line manager before going back. Your colleagues sound like a crowd of berks from the 1970s! But this obsession with hair is, in my opinion, people’s way of making light of something that really scares them - they can focus on hair as it’s safe for them. Unfortunately, it’s not for you. It’s an invasion of your personal space! So try to sort it out properly before you go back, if you don't have a pink wig.
Good luck. I hope you get some replies from people still working who can be more constructive x
Hello to everyone who has braved going to work.
Can I ask how you dealt with insensitive colleagues🤔.
Mine seem to be obsessed with looking at how much of my hair has regrown🙄 and I haven't even walked through the door yet.
Although I have a covering, I'm just not ready to show everyone what it looks like and if anyone goes to touch it I think I'll flip.
I know in the grand scheme of things I shouldn't give 2 hoots but have recently come to realise I really do.
My hair is growing back steely grey, not the brown it was before and it's taking me some getting used to and I just know someone is going to make a joke of it in their misguided attempt at humour but I just don't find it funny.
Apart from knocking them out🥊😁 what's the best way to react?