I’m in the second week of my phased return to work. The plan is to gradually build up the hours and days, until, hopefully, I am back to full time working in January. I am working for about 5 hours a day, which means I can miss rush hour travel too.
It is great to be back at work for a couple of reasons. Firstly, just being around my team and colleagues is energising and motivating, and it’s lovely to catch up on everyone’s news. Secondly, it will be great to feel a sense of achievement again. This may take some time as at the moment I feel about as useful as a chocolate teapot. I definitely still have chemobrain, but I’m hoping at some point I’ll return to being able to perform as I once did. I can see already I’m going to get frustrated when fatigue and chemobrain stop me doing what I want to. I do need to manage my energy levels. After my first four hour day, I came home and slept for two hours solid on the sofa, then managed another nine hours sleep that night. Which leads me on to….
This is my new pastime, it seems I need about nine hours a night. I used to be one of those annoying people that bounces out of bed at 6am full of beans and ready to go. Now it’s more like 8am and it’s a squinting, slow shuffle out of bed rather than anything bouncy.
It is odd, and frustrating, to have to plan my days based on what my energy levels will allow. Never before has that been a consideration. I had some great advice in terms of combating fatigue. If you feel like it’s going to be a good day, do 50% less than you think you can, and on a bad day, do 25% more. In that way, your energy levels and resilience gradually increase.
Before returning to work, I took a week’s holiday to my personal paradise, St Lucia. It’s been a year since I had a holiday, and I desperately needed a change of scene, and to be by the sea and in the sunshine.
I know that seems like a long way to go for someone with fatigue, but I’ve been there a number of times, so I knew exactly what to expect, which made the holiday stress free. Everyday I had a treatment, such as massage, and I practised yoga, meditation and some exercise classes. It was exactly what I needed. Plus wonderful, fresh, healthy food.
I also slept. A lot. Every night I was tucked up and asleep by 9pm. What a party animal I am these days! I’m not drinking alcohol now, so staying in the bar is a bit pointless, and I just couldn’t stay awake.
As I’ve just finished treatment, my skin is more sensitive than normal, so I was under strict instructions to keep covered up in the sun. Also, the area of skin treated with radiotherapy needs to be protected with SPF30 for the rest of my life. So, I stayed a very pale hue all week. Combined with my very short hair, and lack of eyelashes, I’ve never felt so unattractive on a beach holiday. On the plus side, it’s the first holiday I haven’t needed a waxing appointment for.
There was a crucial turning point in my recovery whilst I was on holiday. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but with the exception of the therapists who needed to know I’ve had breast cancer, I did not tell anyone I met that I’ve had cancer. In the past nine months I have met so many amazing people, such as doctors, nurses, charity workers, therapists, who have helped me through treatment. I’ve also been reunited with so many friends from years and decades gone by, which has been truly wonderful. But in every instance, these encounters have come about because I have cancer. I was in danger of being defined by my cancer. My experience of cancer is now a huge part of me, and is changing me in ways I am still understanding. But I’m still Alison. And on holiday, that’s who I was. Alison. Not “the woman who’s just finished her treatment for breast cancer”.
So, some big achievements with getting back to work and going on holiday. I’m half way through a fantastic course provided by Breast Cancer Care, Moving Forward. They are run all over the country, and are totally free of charge.
I also read this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is full of practical advice and exercises to complete which help you with managing issues such as grief, anger and depression.
My mood, overall, is much better than it was through treatment. But I know I need to actively manage my emotional wellbeing to ensure I rebuild my resilience. Part of this is acknowledging, and processing, all the dreadful emotions and experiences that a cancer diagnosis throws at you. It’s great to be positive, but not at the expense of being honest with how you feel. So, that’s what I’m working on now, and charities such as The Haven, Macmillan and Breast Cancer Care all really help with this.
If you want to know more about the aftermath, this is a great article:
After The Treatment Finishes by Dr Peter Harvey
Add Aspirin Trial
My oncologist asked me if I wanted to participate in a clinical trial, Add Aspirin. There is evidence that a regular dose of aspirin can delay, or stop, cancer from recurring, which this trial aims to test. It lasts five years, and I am very happy to do my bit for medical research. I also think you get a bit more attention from the medical profession if you participate in a trial, so it’s not all altruism on my part.
How can I help?
I really don’t know how I will be involved with the cancer community in the future, or how much I will want to be involved. But I do want to participate where I feel I can add some value. The Whittington Hospital holds an annual Cancer Care Conference for their patients. I’m delighted that I’ve been asked to be a guest speaker at the next one, in February 2018. Talking about cancer, and its treatment, is something I enjoy, so this is right up my street.
I’ve also applied to be involved in the Patient and Carers’ Network working with UCLH Cancer Collaborative. The objective of the network is to improve the patient experience, something I feel passionately about.
And still the gifts come! Thank you x
Writing this blog
I still feel like I have quite a bit to write about, so I’ll continue to write this blog on a pretty ad hoc basis. Please do let me know if it becomes boring and/or self indulgent.
The next big medical step will be my mammogram and MRI in January 2018, one year from diagnosis, which I will of course provide an update on.
Thought I’d share this card with you, sent to me by one of my great chums. We sometimes think happiness is all about the great big stuff in life, but often it’s the simplest pleasures.