New Normal - Life in the workplace after Cancer by Louise Blenkinsop

Living with cancer brings a whole new set of rules and regulations in your life – drink more water, give up smoking, eat more veg, exercise more frequently. And that’s not to mention the appointments. All the clinics where you are poked and prodded, and scanned and jabbed. The last minute appointments, the planning appointments, the just a quick chat with your doctor appointments that last three hours.

All of this means your world is upside down and inside out. So how can you juggle work too?

The simple answer is, you don’t. You have to take the time to look after yourself. You have to know that chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery is going to leave you wiped out. The treatments that make you better inevitably make you feel so unwell at some point. It might not be immediate or forever, but it definitely will happen.

You have to embrace your “new normal” and find a balance in your life that allows you to function as near to normality as possible and help you to manage the trauma your body will be going through. It is such a tough personal journey, you can really do with all the support you can get, including your workplace.

Back in January 2013 I was diagnosed with stage 3b Cervical Cancer, aged 30. I was a successful hospitality manager, enjoying a run of promotions. I worked incredibly hard to get where I was and loved the job I did. Cancer changed this for me. Following a grueling 5 ½ weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I found I could no longer face the physicalities of long days on my feet. Hotel life is so unforgiving, even brutal at times; and this was not the environment I needed to recover in. More to the point, my employers were not the most understanding – to them I looked well. I hadn’t lost any hair, and I still put my “face” on each day. They had no concept of the daily pain I was in, despite me visibly struggling at times. I was lucky to have a great team around me that helped me through the harder days. Before long though I had to call it a day. In July 2013 I received the all clear phone call, and that was the day I left hotel life.

Cancer didn’t disappear and leave me fit and well again, I have suffered with side effects from the treatment I received. These affect my day to day life in ways that people won’t always be aware of – it’s just not visible to others.

I was lucky enough to find fitness whilst recovering – it has now led me into the job I am in now. I work at the Core Fitness and Wellbeing Centre in Falmouth, in the health development team. I look after the contracts for our exercise rehabilitation facilities for people who are recovering from illness or injury. I am testament of how exercise works – it got me back on my feet. I am in the best place for my new lifestyle, my colleagues understand the difficulties I face – they understand the human body and the damage cancer treatment can have. They see it every day in the clients we have.

I still have to attend various hospital appointments regularly – and that is absolutely fine with my colleagues. I am never under any pressure to rearrange times or meetings. On the days I feel unwell (they are getting fewer!) there is no pressure for me to perform beyond my limits. In return, I work hard and make sure I keep myself healthy and happy. I have not had a day off sick in over 8 months now, which considering my difficulties is fantastic!

So, is there someone in your workplace currently going through their cancer journey? You might not be able to spot them, they are probably doing a fantastic job at hiding it! But, if there is someone that you know; treat them with kindness. Don’t make an already hard journey even worse – support them through their appointments, invest in their wellbeing with maybe fitness incentives, introduce a healthy eating program in your canteen, understand their daily battles. A little bit of understanding and kindness will go a long way in maintaining a happy and productive workplace.

Be kind.