Life after cancer

This group is for cancer survivors and people who have finished treatment. It is a space to discuss things like the physical and emotional after effects of cancer, returning to work, or trying to move on with your life.

Leaving work

Posted by

hi all,

I've made the decision to resign from my job and I'm scared I shall end up regretting it.

I have stage 4 cancer and although I'm on active treatment, i have few ill effects so have been able to continue work throughout.  I want to work.  It's important for my sanity and I do sometimes enjoy my job but it can be demanding and fairly intense (It's ironic i suppose that I work in HR!) and so can also be very stressful which I can do without.  I decided that i should quit, take a couple of months out and then do something else less demanding, bit of temping, cleaning, whatever, i don't really care.  I just want to do some honest hard work that pays enough to pay the mortgage.  It will mean less money and some uncertainty, but I figured that when it comes to it, memories of a happy mum and wife will be more important than some life assurance money and stressed out mum memories.

I'm scared about losing the security of a regular income and not being able to replace it so I am looking for positive stories of how others have dealt with their life changing moves...

Thanks in advance! 

Posted by

Hello Elysian

You've made a brave and perfectly understandable decision given your circumstances. Cancer has a way of making us focus and reassess what's important to us, of making us think about what will benefit our wellbeing and, if we have children, our family's wellbeing too. 

I'm guessing you've looked into it all and feel that you can cope on your partner's salary, at least for a while until you find something else you'd like to do. You sound as though you have a good skill set that you could use either in another HR role, or that you could transfer into other areas, so how's the time to think about what you enjoy doing in your current role, what you'd like to take with you and what you would like to do in a new role. It sounds like you're willing to take almost anything to earn some money and yes, that's vitally important as the bills need to be paid, but after a while you may find that that on its own isn't sufficient to satisfy you.  Often money isn't the only reward - there's job satisfaction, friendships and so on that come as a welcome by product of work and it may be that once you feel more settled you'll find these in doing some voluntary work in addition to your paid work.

On the plus side, time with your husband and children, time with the wider family, enjoying life together and building precious. memories has got to be a big bonus to giving up a full time job. I was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 3 womb cancer in July 16 when I was just 56.  I enjoyed my job but it was stressful at times and as I went off sick lots of changes were being mooted. My husband and I had agreed that I'd take early retirement at 60 because if I waited till pensionable age (67 for me!) my husband would then be 73 and would have already been retired for a good few years. I had a year off sick for treatment. Each time I went into work to deliver a sick note there'd been changes. I felt the stress levels rising and could sense a tangible stressed atmosphere whenever I visited. Gradually everyone had moved on with their lives and I no longer felt part of the team, it was almost like I didn't belong there any more. I knew enough was enough when I almost had a panic attack at the thought of going back. My adult daughters were very pragmatic and just told me to quit and enjoy life. My husband, bless him, supported my decision. It probably wasn't the best decision in financial terms (vastly reduced my already tiny pension!) but it made a huge difference to my mental and emotional wellbeing. I have more time to spend with my daughters, to help elderly parents, to be involved at my local church. I'm currently exploring some voluntary work options and looking at some courses I'd like to do.

None of us can predict what will happen in the future. I know that the cancervi had could return within the first 2-3 years after treatment. I didn't want to be in a position where, if that happened, I had only work and stress to look back on. When it comes to our final moments will we say "I wish I'd spent more time at the office?" The cautious side of me says make sure you can pay the bills because mo eye worries cause stress but the other side of me says build memories that last. Life is for living so live it, and encourage your family to live it, to the full. x

Posted by

Hi Elysian,

I had stage 3, and got back to work a few months after treatment. The year following my return to work was challenging - I was still on chemo in the early days, learning to cope with a stoma, suffering fatigue and tiredness, trips to hospital appointments, and getting over several infections. By the end of the first year I finally gave in to a viral infection and had to take time off. I worked in the public sector, and things had changed so much from when I had first started. My diagnosis and recovery made me think that my job, whilst I enjoyed it, just wasn't what I wanted to do any more. I wanted to move to a job where I could make some kind of difference in people's lives. Working for the NHS in the admin side sounded my best option. But just before I went off sick with the viral infection the bosses called everyone to a meeting and put us on 3 months' notice - they were re-structuring, there was a job for everyone, but you had to apply for a job. I took the time over Christmas and New Year, and returned to notify my boss that I wasn't applying for a job, and took a voluntary redundancy package. I didn't know what the future held for me, but I knew that my future was now no longer in the public sector. 

I left knowing that I would now be going on a different path on the job front. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so took a leap of faith. I had strong support from my family, and that included financial support. I don't know how people survive on Jobseekers' Allowance, I really don't. I applied for lots of jobs, and took a lot of knock-backs. Finally I decided to set up my own business, but even that failed to take off. But... when all seemed lost, I inadvertently was offered a job! It's in the private sector, and whilst nothing is guaranteed really outside of the public sector, I love my job. I've been there for 3 and a half years, and have never looked back and regretted leaving the well-paid public sector job that I had. 

My advice to you would be to be prepared for the knock-backs, make sure that the financial side of things will work for you and go for it! You're right to do it. Absolutely. Good luck... but let us know how it works out for you!

Linda x

Posted by

Hello Elysian, I know you wanted some good news stories, to help support your decision, I hope you don’t mind a more measured response.

I had a look back at your latest activity and saw that you haven’t been very happy where you are and had already started looking for other job opportunities a bit nearer to home.

That can be a very sensible approach to find something else prior to giving up on what you have.

If you have analysed what you want and how you are going to get there that’s great, if you are running away from something you hate and don’t know what you want you might not be happy with what you are left with, and you might be just reacting out of depression especially as this cancer lark is not easy.

If you have analysed what you want you might find that going part time with the same employer or asking for a change of duties might get you what you want and keep some employment rights protection.

I often struggled with wanting to work and the guilt of not being a stay at home Mum when I was younger and had always worked with helping people, so when work got stressful always had a love hate struggle with work. I liked helping people but because of the nature of some jobs I felt I wasn’t  helping people but just implementing policy, but when I got really peed off I could usually apply and secure a change of job with the same employer, keeping a salary to pay the mortgage and the part time hours that I wanted, and using my skill set to keep satisfied. The crunch came for me leaving was when I felt worn out from a long commute, and found myself getting panic attacks and after a few family deaths my priorities changed. So I ignored the above sensible thoughts of finding something first and just left as for some illogical reason I did not want to take time of sick. I recuperated for two months then started some volunteering, my experience of finding office type volunteering was that it was as difficult as finding a paid job, with an interview process as many are inundated with offers of help and they expect a regular commitment and a good level of expertise. After a few months of volunteering I was offered a job with a local charity in a historical house and I loved the environment and enjoyed the great team environment you get from everyone pulling together. Working part time, I also volunteered one day a week for another charity where the environment did not suit and brought out many of my allergies and the work was very boring and was in my opinion not contributing much to helping so didn’t tick my boxes at all. 

All of these are pre cancer diagnosis, I gave up my work with the local charity when my mother was ill so that the charity could hire someone else, as I did not know how long I would need off and when I needed time off previously they used agency staff rather than hire someone permanently which proved expensive for them and I did not want that to happen again. I had thought about going back to work as I got more confident when treatment for my stage 4 cancer finished successfully but wanted to work on my fitness first. I find I’m very choosy about what I want now with regards to hours and experiences, and I’m not sure I will find what I want, and not 100% sure I know what I now want, and with a blip of a possible recurrence I’m not concentrating on finding paid work at the moment. I had an interview with my local charity employer a few weeks ago and I haven’t followed through with contacting them again and they have not got back to me. 

But I’m still here volunteering for Macmillan as a community champion, which makes me feel useful and can be done with hours to suit, and makes me feel that when if and when I’m ready for paid work I have something to put on my cv, and I hope I’m satisfying the need to help people. 

There’s a lot of help available in Macmillan booklets about work issues and help available on the support line, 0808 808 0000 Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm. 

I found that if I handed my notice in I could during the notice period change my mind.  If you have weighed everything up and made a course of action don’t look back, if you haven’t weighed up everything that’s where the doubt can creep in but you might be able to change your mind. I know you have said you don’t always feel confident in the decisions that you make, and that can happen when feeling depressed or anxious. A decision is only correct at the time you make it, so hindsight is useless in giving a value to how good the decision was. 

I hope you find the right answer for you, I hope you find your confidence and courage and feel happy in whatever decision you make, and the way you worked out what to do. 

I hope you found this useful and not unsupportive or muddling for you.

Best wishes 

Posted by

Hi Elysian

I'm going off on a bit of a tangent here- but in a positive way, I hope! My diagnosis of breast cancer was in February 2016 and I had to stop work for chemo because I was teaching in a college and the infection risk was too high. It was a massive blow for me - I've always put 100% into my work and was probably a workaholic. I do have a daughter but since she's grown I have put more and more effort into work. Well, I ended up off work for 2 years and I really hit rock bottom financially. Initially I had some sick pay, then I had to use my savings, then I lived on benefit. It upset me massively to lose all the money I had worked so hard for - to see it just dwindle away on food and bills was difficult - not being able to give my daughter the stability of knowing there was "mum bank" if she needed it upset me as well. She had enough to deal with knowing her mum had cancer let alone losing her sense of a safety net.

Anyway - I had a massive clear out of my things which I think is quite a common reaction to a cancer diagnosis and through that I began to read a little about minimalism. Don't worry, I'm not going to advocate going to live in a hut or anything! I knew that my priorities had changed - I didn't want to be constantly buying new clothes etc anyway but giving it a name and really having an underlying principle to it, helped me to apply that thinking to all areas of my life- and lets me live for less. I don't go without things, but my attitude has changed. I buy only what is necessary or will really bring me some pleasure and that way, I am able to work less.

I have more time now to shop at my local market, walk through the park, cook properly - and I am looking at going on a proper holiday for the first time in 10 years!

I think you are right - time spent as a family is important and if you can find a way to reduce your outgoings then you need less coming in. My own, personal feeling is that I'd rather work in a decently paid job for fewer hours than take a lower paid job - I know my shortcomings and I would be a perfectionist about any job I did and that is where a part of my work stress comes from - so I now take short term teaching contracts and give priority to the firms that pay the most. 

It's hard to leave a job, but sometimes it's the right thing to do. Just a thought - is it possible to take a sabbatical or extended leave? That might be a way of seeing how you feel about leaving - and some time to check out your opportunities. You could always call the helpline and discuss your rights - I know you are in HR, but I'm thinking in regards to benefits - if you are able to claim ESA - then you can do permitted work up to a certain threshold each week - that might suit you. I don't know how it works, but the helpline were very helpful to me.

Good luck whatever you decide to do!