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Taking the Leap Post-Treatment – World Cancer Day

Cancer patient.

Copywriter.

Champion of Cheer.

The three Cs of my career journey. 

So, to mark World Cancer Day, I wanted to share something a little different with our Planit family; something that is rarely talked about; something that I think everyone should know and learn from. 

CANCER AND YOUR EMPLOYEE

Every cancer diagnosis is different, and if I’ve learnt anything from two years of treatment, it’s that no two people will share the same experience and everyone progresses at their own pace.  

It took a year and a half after my treatment ended in 2020 before I considered taking the leap and getting back into work – I was terrified.

Before my diagnosis I had been in a different job, in a completely different industry. It was never destined to be a lifetime role and I was never happy in it – therefore, when I was first diagnosed, I had that very cliched movie moment of deciding life is too short to be unhappy in a job. 

So, with little experience, two years of unemployment and a fairly big health issue hanging over me, getting back to some normality was daunting – I had a lot to consider.

As an employer, there are several post-treatment side effects that you should bear in mind when supporting an employee as they return to work or take on a new role. These might include:

  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive impairment 
  • Compromised immune system
  • Mental health issues
  • Chronic or long-term pain
  • Muscle and joint weakness
  • Regular hospital attendance
  • Late effects from treatment.

For me, I’ve nailed seven of the eight! But what does this really look like for the patient and how can you make things easier as their employer?

A NEW NORMALITY

The thing is, treatment might have ended, but the effects of cancer go on – for most, it can be years; for others it’s a lifetime. 

FATIGUE & COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENTS

Fatigue is the most common side effect of treatment and, quite frankly, a real pain in the you-know-what! 

An overwhelming feeling of tiredness or weakness, fatigue can stop you in your tracks. For me, this feeling can kick in near the end of my working day, forcing me to take an extended break to relax, grab a cuppa and simply allow my body to rest before getting back to the job in hand. 

Fatigue can also be an irritant to those who suffer cognitive issues – aka ‘chemo brain’! 

Very much a real thing, chemo brain can cause difficulty with memory and impact concentration.This effect can be very challenging, causing frustration, embarrassment and low self-esteem. Imagine having a conversation with a colleague and forgetting mid-sentence what you are talking about or what word you wanted to say next – that is chemo brain. 

Therefore, be considerate to your employee and try to find ways that might help them manage better. 

HOSPITAL APPOINTMENTS 

Flexibility is also key when it comes to welcoming back an employee after cancer. Take the time to talk with them, establish a schedule that works for you both, and be willing to accept that sometimes that schedule may need to be tweaked. 

This is particularly important for hospital appointments – some may already be on set days making it easier to manage, but others can pop up last minute. And with everything your employee has been through, making these last minute appointments can be extremely important to their mental wellbeing, not just their physical health. 

WEAKENED IMMUNE SYSTEM

With the effects of COVID-19, this one has become more common for business owners to deal with. After treatment, your body is weakened – something to do with all those nasty chemo drugs they give you. Because of this, infection and illness are more common, and recovery times can be a lot longer. 

You might have a stubborn employee who thinks she can work through the sickness, but if you’re the type of employer that is reading this and is willing to fully support your employee, you’ll tell that stubborn gal to take the time they need – and it will mean the world to them to have that support. I might be speaking from experience on this one!

EMPLOYER, SUPPORTER, TEAM MATE.

From the very beginning of my Planit journey, Cecilia has been my cheerleader; giving me a chance despite a poor portfolio; letting me ease into the role and work part-time; understanding that I need to attend doctor appointments and hospital consultations; and knowing that some days are harder than others.  

Along with my team lead, Eoin and the rest of Team Planit, I’ve been able to grow and develop in the career I’d always hoped for, but never thought possible because of my history and all that it carries with it – a feeling that many cancer patients share.

I’m at a benefit with Team Planit as working remotely makes it a lot easier for me to take the time I need to manage my working life and personal life with ease. It gives me the chance to rest and recharge when I need to – allowing me to provide the best level of work for the team and our clients. With Planit Scotland, I’ve been fortunate and others deserve to have the same experience.

My key advice – whether you work remotely, in an office or as a customer facing business – is  try and provide your employee with a quiet space; somewhere they can be alone if they need it. Discuss flexible working hours, provide tools and resources to help manage tasks, and show them that they can come to you if they are struggling.

And if you’re finding it overwhelming or having difficulty knowing what support is needed and what your obligations are as an employer, there are many resources available online to help guide and advise you. 

Check out: 

As a member of the Young Lives Versus Cancer voice board, it is my hope to help young people and their families find their way through these next stages of their journey. Cancer doesn’t end when the treatment stops; it stays with you for life – but with the help, support and understanding of others, living with it can be made so much easier. 

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