A few year’s ago, a friend and colleague told me she had cancer. We both enjoyed photography and as we talked Keri asked if I could record her treatment, a photo-diary of her experience.
As I accompanied Keri to some of her appointments with my camera I was shocked at my limited knowledge of this illness, its impact on people and the dramatic changes it forces us to face. Through the hospital staff I saw the very best of humanity, their care and compassion and humour.
I will always be grateful to Keri for allowing me to accompany her on this part of her life journey, for trusting me to photograph her treatment, and for all she taught me about the gift of life.
Keri has put the pictures into a VLOG below along with a blog she wrote for today, 4 February 2021 – World Cancer Day
Both hospitals involved in my care – Lincoln County Hospital and the Royal Marsden – adopted a holistic approach which involved ensuring primary care providers were fully up-to-speed with treatment summaries and holistic care plans. This enabled my Medical Officer and Occupational Health worker to assist me and my line manager with arrangements during each phase of treatment and with the transition back to full-time work when the time was right.
This is something which can often be an abrupt and isolating experience when previously doctors, nurses and support staff have been there with you every step of the way on the medical journey. This fact is often rarely appreciated by managers and colleagues when individuals reintegrate into the workplace.
A cancer diagnosis and treatment mean continually having to adapt to new circumstances, requiring considerable mental and physical capacity. Whether you are able to work during treatment can depend on several factors and each person’s situation is different. Not everyone with the same type of cancer will respond in the same way to treatment which means each individual journey will also be different.
The amount a person can work throughout their diagnosis, treatment and recovery will vary depending on a range of factors, e.g. energy levels, ability to concentrate and physical capabilities. These factors can often make returning to work stressful and a ‘one size fits all’ approach can exacerbate this. One of the things that can make things easier, however, is the support and flexibility of the chain of command and the organisation.
I moved to the Defence People Team part way through my cancer regimen but my experience in both workplaces was equally positive based, once again, on benefitting from a personalised approach. In conjunction with my line management, Medical Officer and Occupational Health, I was afforded the opportunity to work on a flexible basis where my treatment, appointments, side effects and capacity allowed.
Being able to work was important to me as it allowed me to focus attention on something other than my cancer diagnosis and treatment, and also that of my Mum who had been diagnosed with the same cancer just a few months earlier. It brought a sense of normality and gave structure and focus outside of the world of cancer.
How much we share in work is very much a personal decision, but I found that talking to my chain of command and colleagues helped us make changes to support me during my both treatment and recovery. While inevitably there were some unavoidable and reasonably long periods of sickness absence, there were other times where I could have workplace adjustments.
These included changes to my workplace – so facilitating working from home for periods when my immune system was low – along with reduced hours to assist with side-effects and recovery from treatment. Fatigue was a large factor during treatment and recovery, and I benefitted enormously from a specialist rehabilitation course at Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (formerly at Headley Court) to help with this in autumn 2017.
I fully believe that the personalised, holistic and flexible approach I received on my cancer pathway enabled me to adjust quickly to my new normal when I returned to the workplace and I would encourage all line managers and colleagues to seek advice and guidance if you are required to navigate this journey with any member of your team.
4 February 2021