PUBLISHED ON: 17 April 2019

Tracey shares what helped her returned to work after her secondary breast cancer diagnosis.

Tracey returned to work after her diagnosis

I had lost my identity

I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Following my treatment, I decided to retire after experiencing nerve damage in my hands and feet caused by chemotherapy.

Four years later, I started volunteering at Breast Cancer Care. I loved my job from the moment I joined the team. Being able to develop services for women and men affected by breast cancer was the best thing that I could have done after my diagnosis.

My husband commented that he felt that I was ‘back’. I had lost my identity after retiring from nursing and Breast Cancer Care helped me find it again.

A secondary diagnosis made me feel finished

In April of last year, I was told that I had secondary breast cancer. It felt like everything was finished for me.

Telling my parents, daughters, family and friends was dreadful. I was scared and unsure of any future I had. I was off sick to start my treatment to stabilise my disease. Just getting through each day was all that I could do.

I focused on returning to work. It seemed impossible at the time, but just planning it in my head meant that I was able to push the fears and anxieties away for a while.

I wanted to be back as part of a team, making a difference.

Returning to work was like climbing a mountain

Getting back to work was like climbing a mountain. It was slow, painful and frustrating, but it also brought a lot of joy and that was the best feeling.

Compromise has been necessary. I no longer have the health or stamina to work long hours, and have got support with commuting.

My managers have adapted to how much I can work and I feel we are gradually learning how I can be productive.

There are parts of my role that I am having to ‘let go’ because of my diagnosis. My physical abilities have changed and are likely to keep changing over the rest of my working life. The important thing is for me to keep communicating with my colleagues about how I am managing and seek help when necessary.

Tracey at work

The hard days are difficult no matter where I’m working

One thing I have learnt is that on the more difficult days it is not where I work that affects me. It would not matter if I was working for a bank, a supermarket or Breast Cancer Care. Those days are hard despite where I am or what I am doing.

It is usually fatigue that is my main problem and I am still learning how to get the best work-life balance. It’s hard when you are healthy but much harder when you are not.

My family times, hobbies and exercise are so important and I do still struggle to ensure I share out my energy between these aspects of my life and work.

Splitting my working days, so I have a recovery day in between, is helpful. Shorter days, working from home and pacing my work so I can give it my best for a couple of hours seems to be working well for me at the moment.

I’m lucky I’ve been able to return to work

I still have so much to offer and am lucky that I have been able to return to work. I really believe for me working will keep me enjoying life and living well for longer.

Working gives me a purpose and a belief that despite uncertainty about my future, I am still a member of society. I’m not only defined by my diagnosis but the life experience, skills and knowledge that I can share and put to good use.

It is also a part of my life where I can make decisions, giving me some control that for a lot of the time I don’t have with my regular scans, blood tests and clinical appointments.

It’s not always easy but it is worth all the effort that I and my colleagues put into making it work.

Find support on returning to work after breast cancer 

Breast cancer and employment