I recently took part in an online Facebook Live Q&A on behalf of Trekstock with Barbara Wilson, the founder of Working With Cancer. Work has always been a very important to me since my initial diagnosis, and over the past six years it has offered me a sense of purpose and an opportunity to focus on something outside of the relentless cycle of hospital appointments.
Since graduating from University, I have moved jobs a couple of times and was, until recently, in full time employment. I started working part time in July 2016 when I began receiving Pembrolizumab, which requires hospital visits every three weeks, rather than my previous cycle of once a month. Although it was devastating to reduce my hours as I felt as though I was letting go of control of my situation, I knew that it would be for my own benefit. I am pretty sure that nobody on their death bed has ever said that they wish they had worked harder during their lifetime. The work / life balance is much needed in order for me to cope with the treatment cycle and also to do things for myself. Asking the questions on behalf of the Trekstock Network reminded me of just how important this is for me.
I am certain that without the focus of work, I would not have had the determination to bounce back so quickly from operations and treatment. This has made the prospect of work even more meaningful than before. Over the years I have had various stints of time off work, the longest being when I was initially diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma in 2010. I left my first graduate job for a period of six months to recover from having both brain and lung tumours removed. I needed to be at home with family whilst I got better, but I yearned for a sense of normality, and looked forward to returning to a familiar routine, and having my independence reinstated. I had only been employed for a very short time before I had to take this time off, so I felt very short changed. As mentioned in my first post 11 Years, It was not the post graduate success story that I had set out for myself. Despite not having known the team for very long, returning to work made me feel as though I had never left, and they became some of my closest friends. I found the transition back a huge challenge on both a physical and mental level. Despite any distance that may have come between us over the years, we shared an experience which has sealed our bond of friendship forever.
Once again another six months of my life has been so easily swallowed up by hospital visits and cancer treatment. This is it. This is my life and my future. Most people get bored of their work routine, but for me it makes me happy to have a reason to get out of bed three mornings a week; a reason completely unrelated to my illness. I want to live as normal a life as possible. To be someone who goes to work just like the majority of the population my age is key. I like living in London and enjoy my routine, sometimes it can be a little boring, but it beats living at home with one of my parents and not working. I feel that if I had decided to stay at home long term after my operations six years ago, my attitude and outlook would be very different. Work is a huge factor in this. My job might not be rocket science compared to others, but it certainly keeps me sane. Why should my life be any different? It helps me to feel needed and as though I make some sort of difference. I know that when the time comes for me to give up work completely I will know that I am on a downhill slope.
Whilst recovering from my second bowel operation in May 2016, time seemed to go really slowly, and yet looking back, these last six months as a whole has seemed to pass me by with no clear definining moments other than those which revolve around illness. It sounds negative and depressing when written down, but If anything It has made me realise what really matters and what I most value. Most of the time I don’t feel depressed about it, just determined to put it all behind me as quickly as possible. I know that I can never fully move on, as I will never be cured of cancer, but I would like to try and finish one chapter and start another which I am hoping will not be as bad as the previous one.
Of course, starting a new chapter is dependent on what happens when I have my next PET CT scan which will be towards the end of January. I do know that I will keep working for as long as I am able, I am certain about that. I make it work because having a job is an amazing outlet for me, and makes me feel relatively normal.