Wow, has it really been a month?

So I’ve been trying to start going back to work. It’s harder than I thought it would be. That’s why I’ve disappeared from here for a bit, just concentrating on getting through the days. I didn’t realise it had been quite so long since my last post.

The first point to make is how lucky I am that my work is being so supportive. It sounds like a cliche but they feel like family, and they’ve been there for me when I’ve needed them. I could write a novel about how grateful I am.

People tried to prepare me for the struggles I would meet in trying to get back into life and work and I figured that wouldn’t apply to me. I mean hey, I was even working when I could during my months of chemo. Why would this be any worse? Oh wow, it’s worse.

Physically, it’s hard. I get tired (really tired) and some days I can’t even get out of bed, let alone out of the house, let alone do a day of work. But I managed four days last week, so I’m pretty happy with that. I don’t know why I’m so exhausted, I was bad from chemo but have been so much worse since surgery. It took me weeks post surgery to be able to get through the day without needing a nap. I’m better now, but definitely need to build back up to where I was a year ago.

At the moment it seems to go one of two ways – either I’m fine and can go to work and last quite well and be perky and useful, maybe even manage going out for dinner after work, or I can’t move or use my brain at all and even just talking to someone takes it out of me. There seems to be nothing in the middle. I’m learning what I’m capable of and what is pushing myself too hard. It’s so funny starting from scratch and having no idea what you can and can’t do. Everything I once knew has changed.

The other difficult thing is mentally coming back to work. I mean it’s hard to go back to work after a week off. Try being off for months after having had every part of you attacked. I’ve used my brain reading and writing over the past year but getting my mind back into work is hard. Chemo brain is a thing, and they say it can take a year to get anaesthetic out of your system. Having said that, I still remember everything that happened when I was there and have caught up on emails of things that happened in between.

But more than that, they have survived without me all this time, it’s been hard trying to work out how I fit back into it all. Am I still needed? And it feels so weird just trying to slot back into my old life as if nothing happened. I’ve been feeling pretty down over the last few weeks, just feeling so overwhelmed by it all and not knowing where I fit into my old life, or where it fits into me. But after the first couple of weeks of just focussing 100% on work and not being able to do anything else, I have started doing some socialising too, which has made all the difference. A Saturday night spent at the local pub with my housemates, a drink after work with colleagues. Getting back to work full time is my main priority, but I’ve realised I can’t do it at the expense of everything else, so now I’m trying to balance it with occasionally seeing friends. I even went to a friend’s gig the other night, and I just re-joined the gym and did my first (easy) workout in almost a year.

It will get easier, it will get better. But, as warned, this part is difficult. People say to me ‘wow! Everything’s finished, you’re all better now!’ I appreciate the thought and the sentiment, but that’s so far from the truth. But I’m doing well. I’m starting to feel a lot stronger. I’m struggling to get good sleep thanks to not being able to breathe through my nose, but hopefully the few hours I manage are enough to keep me going.

Everyone who checks in on me or asks when we can catch up gives me more strength, and every day I manage to feel more normal gets me one step closer to living my life properly again.

10 thoughts on “Wow, has it really been a month?

  1. Adrian Warnock

    Hi. Thanks for sharing so honestly and openly. As you know I’ve not even had treatment yet. But having been off work for months, and just hearing they’re hiring someone to cover me for the next twelve months, even if I suddenly felt completely well with no fatigue I can’t imagine going back. So once again I admire you Jen. Take it easy on yourself. Don’t rush it. And spend a bit of time thinking about what things you DONT want to go back to “normal” with. This experience will forever mark you. I’d like to wager that it will leave you a better person. So don’t go looking for the old Jen. She no longer exists and that’s not entirely a bad thing. I only met you once for a few minutes in the patients lounge. But you made an impact on me for sure. I’m sure you are making an impact everywhere you go (even when you just feel knackered!)

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. Indeed I thought of my conversation with you that day when I wrote this. You said to be wary of the time ‘post cancer’ and that it might prove to be more difficult that it would seem. I had heard this before many times but you telling me it really stuck in my mind, and you were not wrong. People talk about the idea of a ‘new normal’ post cancer and I hate it because I refuse to believe I will only be a part of what I was. But you have given this phrase a whole new meaning: ‘new normal’ doesn’t have to be a step backwards or an admittance that I am less of a person because of my cancer, it can be a positive step forward with re-thought priorities. I am desperate not to be defined by cancer, but there’s no reason why it can’t be something that effected me. It would be a terrible waste of a thing to have gone through if I can’t grow from it (I recently read ‘A Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl and this is very poignant in light of that – that suffering has meaning).
      Hope you are going well. Must feel weird having your position filled but as you say, probably for the best at least for now…

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  2. John Kirby

    I know how you feel Jen. Your start point is way behind mine, but I am also rebuilding my strength and energy.
    Always thinking of you. Xx

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  3. Jane Doherty

    Hi Jen,
    That’s a great effort. It is good you are managing to socialise a bit as well as working. Even a small operation on your body takes a long time to recover so you are doing amazingly well. I should get easier as time goes on. Keep doing what you are doing, I am proud of you and wish you well.

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    1. Thank you! I tend to push myself quite hard so finding a balance is an interesting challenge. But you’re right, it does get easier. As long as I don’t forget I’m still recovering!
      Your support has been so amazing, thank you. Much love xx

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  4. Jenny

    Congratulations!
    Sounds like you’re doing very well managing your recovery, and return to a ‘normal’ life. I hope things keep improving from here, although I realise that some of your ‘improvements’ will depend on further surgery.
    Well done! Love you.

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    1. Yeah it’s a really interesting time! Difficult. Up until now I’ve just kinda been swept along with it all but now I’m trying to forge my own path again. I am just SO lucky to have so much incredible support from literally everywhere. Love you so much xxx

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  5. I think you are amazing returning to work so quickly.
    I know we are all different. I know we all recover from major ops differently.
    I know I am older than you, a lot older, but I couldn’t dream of going back to work.

    Don’t do too much! Work is one thing, socialising another. Pace yourself. You might regret trying to do too much too soon.

    Remember that your welcome here for a mini holiday with me and the fluffy Tickles gang!

    Your fellow head and neck cancer warrior

    Ali xx

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    1. I guess I don’t really have a choice… I wouldn’t survive long without a salary so I kinda have to! Going back to work does help me achieve normalcy though so that’s good.
      But I definitely need reminders to not do too much. I am a nightmare at trying to do everything.
      I will definitely be coming for a visit sooner or later, I appreciate that so much! We’ll have to organise a time soon! xx

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