The milestones in recovery after cancer treatment are often so subtle as to be imperceptible. Certainly after my stem cell transplant, whilst the first signs of recovery in white cell counts were within days, and for a few weeks I was making tangible progress in being able to do things, after a couple of months it started to become difficult to tell whether I was heading towards normal or not. It gets to the stage where you have to compare how you feel now with the way you felt a month ago or two months ago, which is really difficult because memory isn’t hugely reliable.
It sounds silly but my measure of progress lately has been whether I could get through a day without needing to go to bed in the afternoon. I’ve kept up with the gym sessions four days a week, doing a little more each time (very gradually increasing weights and reps), so now I am definitely working up a sweat! But I’ve tried to do what my body tells me I can do. And if it tells me I need to go to bed, I go to bed!
And then suddenly it happened. One day – 6th May – 150 days after my stem cell transplant – I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months, and then managed to get through a busy day (including a sweaty gym session) feeling completely normal and without stopping for a sleep in the afternoon. I finally started flaking out around 9:30pm, which, as someone said to me, is what happens to normal fit people. But to me it felt amazing!
I knew that it didn’t automatically mean that every day was going to be like that from then on, but at the same time I knew I’d turned the final corner.
And so since then I’ve tried to fight the afternoon tiredness and get through each day, and have only needed to give in and go to bed on two or three occasions.
I then started to put some feelers out to see if there is any work around for me. I was initially a little nervous, so I didn’t talk to recruitment consultants. Instead I focussed first on catching up with friends. Whilst I did update my CV and LinkedIn status, and I answered the phone to a couple of recruitment consultants (and I also started to dust off my list of contacts), I couldn’t bring myself to go out proactively to the recruitment community.
Silly really, I guess. It’s not that I had a problem with explaining to 50 different people – ranging from recruitment consultants I’ve worked with extensively as a candidate and client over the past 15 years to junior Resourcers and Researchers I’ve never spoken to before – that I’d been out of action for six months for cancer treatment. I just hadn’t got straight in my head how to convince them I was back to full strength and was now fit for work.
My nervousness probably stems from a story I’ve not written about before, going back to my recovery after my first lot of chemo in 2010. I was extra cautious in monitoring my recovery back then, with little niggles worrying me, and so I didn’t get the doctors to confirm I was fit for work until about seven months after being told I was in remission.
Within a couple of months (around April 2011) I landed an interview for a 6-month role as Interim Group Financial Controller for a company in London. By then I was definitely completely back to normal and fit for work. It was a great role, and since it was paying about 30-40% more than my previous best daily rate, I was willing to put up with a fairly gruelling daily commute. And, whilst I’m normally modest, I don’t mind saying that I completely nailed the first interview! A second interview with the Group Finance Director was arranged very quickly. I was the front runner.
After meeting the Group FD I got feedback via my recruitment consultant. Apparently it “would not have been fair” on me to put me in such a stressful job (the business was being sold), with a long commute, as my first assignment after cancer treatment. So they turned me down on the pretext (or so I felt) of being kind to me. I was disappointed and somewhat annoyed. Why not let me decide what I’m physically capable of?
It’s illegal, under the Disability Discrimination Act, to discriminate against someone in the workplace for having cancer. However, it’s not worth even thinking along those lines in the context of recruitment, especially for a short term role. It wouldn’t have got me a job, or won me any friends in the recruitment sector!
But what it did teach me is that finding a job can be extra difficult after cancer treatment, because of either perceived kindness or self-serving risk aversion.
Fast forward five years, and this time instead of being cautious after relatively mild treatment, I’m trying to get back into work as soon as possible after a treatment more intensive than I’ve ever experienced. So I would need to be extra convincing about my capability to work.
Fortunately, it didn’t get to the point of needing to put myself on the market. Ageas Insurance came to the rescue again, and I start a new six-month contract with them today on a completely different project. I’m sure, because they are always very kind about me, they would probably say that it’s the other way round – I’m coming to their rescue again! Well, what can I say? I am motivated to make sure that it turns out to be the win-win scenario we think it is at the moment. I really am looking forward to being back in work, and back with my friends at Ageas… six months, to the day, since I left to have my transplant.
So now the bell has sounded at the end of round three. Another round won. Is the fight over for good? Time will tell.
For now, I’m trying to close the door, mentally. I am a cancer survivor for a third time. And I want my story to give others hope and inspiration. That’s why I’ve written about it in this blog, and published the books. But to be honest, right at this moment, I’m bored of cancer. It’s overshadowed everything over the past year, and I want to get on with life. So I really hope and pray that I will never have to write a 71st chapter in this series.
I realise God may have other plans, and I genuinely pray, “Your will be done.” But whatever happens I trust that God, my heavenly Father, will be working good in it, as he has so far in my life.
And if anyone wants to ask me questions about my experience, if I can help in any way, please always feel free to use the Comments facility below, or email me from the Contact page.