The last time I was in the office was the Christmas party. I took annual leave as planned the day after. And five days after that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I haven’t been back to work since. And that’s a choice I’m wrestling with.
I realise I’m lucky that I get to make that choice – I’m fortunate that my employer is supporting me through my treatment. This isn’t the case for everyone – and for some, there’s no financial alternative but to keep on turning up at the office and battle through the side effects.
But there are also those that choose to keep working during treatment, because it gives them a sense of normality and routine. And I get that – I’ve blogged before about missing the routine of the mid-morning coffee run, and the banter with colleagues. I love my job as a journalist and enjoy the mental stimulation that producing and reporting on other people’s stories brings.
Victoria Derbyshire carried on presenting her TV show during chemotherapy, wearing a wig on screen. And 5Live newsreader Rachael Bland, who is currently blogging about her treatment, even did a Facebook Live from her chemotherapy session. I admire them for carrying on, and I’m also a little envious. The self-critical part of me (and it’s quite a big part) likes to beat myself up about it: Why are my side effects so all-consuming? Is it because I’m mentally weak? Would I cope better if I did carry on working? Am I being a bit pathetic about it all?
But the truth is, it’s pointless comparing yourself with other people going through chemotherapy, because everyone reacts differently to the various drug regimens, and everyone has different ways of coping with the rigours of the side effects. And for me, the first ten days after chemotherapy are so physically and mentally exhausting, that I want to spend the next ten days recovering – cooking and eating good food, spending fatigue-free time with my children and doing fun stuff like watching a film or reading a book without the brain fog. Basically, shoring myself up for the next onslaught of poison.
And no matter how much you enjoy your job, working always brings its own stresses and strains. I’m functioning, but only just. I don’t cry often, but tears are never far from the surface. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I end up sobbing into my keyboard when we cover a story about a murder/child abuse/cancer. When you’re ‘on the edge’ yourself, it becomes more difficult to maintain that journalistic detachment.
Who knows? – next week I might feel completely different and be so bored out of my mind that I can’t wait to get back to it. But right now, my decision to take a step back from work during treatment feels like the right one. For me, my health, and my family.