Scratching my bald head: This is not like maternity leave
By Emily Luscombe, Chief Client Officer
This is the 7th part of the content series and also appeared in PRWeek.
Eight months of treatment is done. I am, medically, cured. Actually, they don’t say “cure”; and the “all clear” isn’t done these days either. But I’m as clear as they can get me, and I can get on with life again.
If only it were that easy.
They don’t tell you at diagnosis that the body they’ll leave you with won’t be the one you had. For a start, it’ll hurt. Your brain will be mush. Daily medication wreaks havoc with your temperature. You can’t sleep. And somewhere, in the midst of all this, you have mislaid your confidence.
That, I was not expecting. Those months of joining weekly team meetings between chemo cycles, running training programmes in a head scarf; then, I felt I was winning.
But this is what they mean by a chronic condition. A gradual, yet persistent, wearing away of you, with no obvious end in sight. The treatment was a helpful preoccupation. Now it has finished, it leaves a more intimidating void.
I’ve signed up to a “Where Now?” course, run by a cancer charity. 15 of us meet on a Monday, to be advised on rebuilding our lives. The old me might have scorned this “counselling”; self-medication then was acing a pitch or brainstorming a campaign. But these days, I’ll give anything a try. Once again, cancer has opened my mind to something new.
In the first session we discuss values. How they change after a “life event” like cancer. Many who cited “career success” as a personal driver have replaced it with “self-care”. Family is at the top; the need for adventure or excitement, less important. We’ve had enough of that to last a lifetime.
For me, career is still up there. But the reality is less straightforward. A colleague emails, asking for help. A brief has come in; it’s right up my street. Can I point him to a proposal to draw from? I can’t bring myself to boot up the laptop. “Sorry, I’m not up to that”. Up to what? Opening a folder? Dear god, I’ve run an agency!
Well-meaning friends and colleagues reassure me. “It’s just like returning from maternity leave – it’ll come back quickly!”
Let’s get one thing clear: returning to the workplace after battling cancer is not like returning from maternity leave. Please don’t tell us that it is. Then, we had brought into the world a brand new person. We’d become a multi-tasking parent; a better version of ourselves – albeit exhausted.
I feel no sense of achievement at returning to work after cancer. I don’t fill my days with playdates, feeds and the success of teaching someone to roll over. I’m not even sure what I do with my days. But I still can’t fathom how I’m going to get up and catch the 7.33.
Time, says the Group counsellor. You need time. We feel outraged that this disease continues to steal this precious commodity from us. But she is right.
“We’re not going anywhere; come back when you’re ready” reassures my boss. Patience; another new skill I need to hone in my post-2022 world.