Secondary Breast Cancer

Thoughts about secondary cancer and working.

by nj

When I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer in August 2002, there was no doubt in my mind that I would carry on working as far as possible around the treatments. I discussed this with my GP, who knew that since both children were away at university, and I have a history of clinical depression, that it was vital for me to have a distraction. Fortunately, I suffered few symptoms from the neo-adjuvant chemo, the mastectomy and radiotherapy, and my colleagues were totally supportive. I had a good prognosis, I love my job, and life felt 'normal' again.

Then, just after I had celebrated five years of remission, I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in my lungs and most of the bones from my femurs upwards, after suffering severe pain for a few months. The first question I asked the oncologist was whether I would be able to go back to work! She seemed very surprised, but said it might be possible.

It took a couple of months to sort out pain control and a total hip replacement to get me walking again, but I went back to work on reduced hours 4 months after the diagnosis. I have gradually built up my hours and am now back to 'normal'. My Macmillan nurse was horrified and kept trying to persuade me that art therapy at the local day centre would be much more beneficial! I can envisage a time in the future when that might be the case, but at present work provides a reason to get up in the morning and a sense of fulfilment. I haven't made a commitment to myself or to my boss to stay there for any specific length of time, and when it becomes too much, as it inevitably will, I shall give in gracefully and obediently go to the art therapy (or not!).

If I had small children or the drugs I am currently on - Herceptin, Pamidronate and Arimidex - were causing unpleasant side effects, or if my husband had (as he contemplated) taken early retirement, I would not be at work, but at present it is the right thing for me, rather than moping about an empty house thinking about dying.