Returning to work after 6 weeks of caring

This post was originally published on Linkedin in June 2019.

On the 24th of April I threw my out of office on whilst sitting in a stuffy hospital ward. On the 4th of June I finally switched it off again. I’ve been out of the office for almost 6 weeks and although I did check my inbox now and again, I’ve definitely not been at work for a while!

Surprise - it was cancer’s fault

Back in March I wrote about my husband’s cancer diagnosis and his treatment plan, we knew it was going to be a bit trying. His kick-ass consultant, Dr Dev, told us: “You’re going to feel as if I’ve thrown you under the bus, reversed over you, and left you there.” And he wasn’t wrong. (He’s dark humoured, pragmatic, and a fantastic Oncologist, we get along well!).

From April onwards Keith’s health took a nose-diving decline because treatment kills off healthy cells as well as the pesky cancerous ones, causing a myriad of side effects. He picked up one infection after another despite precautions. He had complications with a feeding tube which required an early morning ambulance. Radiotherapy sickness was next level. Then, on the 24th of April, he topped it all with a diagnosis of neutropenic sepsis which, for a while, seemed to be winning.

I’m a cope-er, I don’t get signed off.

On the 25th of April I was signed off and handed a sick line with no end date. The reason penned on my ‘line’ was ‘spousal illness’, but it was really the result of extreme stress, exhaustion caused by insomnia and a complete inability to function as a working adult. It’s odd to admit you can’t cope when you’re a resolute ‘cope-er’ and ‘do-er’ and a positive sort-of-work-a-holic, but because you really do like work!

I wasn’t off because I was incapacitated and laid up at home, I just wasn’t able to be at work. Instead, I was up at 7am every morning, in the car, parking up outside the Western General Hospital and not leaving again until 7pm at night. Supporting and monitoring my very sick husband and taking decisions with the medical team when he was unable to do so.

I’ve never been signed off sick before and I was a bit ashamed about it in truth. However, in hindsight I’d probably be sicker than Keith is now if I hadn’t been pushed into chatting to a doctor.

Cancer-Avengers Assemble

I didn’t technically admit that I wasn’t coping, which is neither boastful nor clever. I was stuck in the vortex of hospital-work-hospital-work-home-hospital and eventually gently encouraged to notice how challenging Keith’s treatment had become, and how unwell I now looked!

It was a senior member of Keith’s team who suggested that, in her experience, I shouldn’t be at work for a while and she was right. This suggestion followed an emergency team meeting where we summoned his Avengers, Keith quit treatment (temporarily), everything seemed dreadful, I’d just pulled out of a chunky pitch which would have hugely benefited the business, dropped the ball with an existing client, and very little was working well.

A rare hour at home with Bodhi, in-between hospital stays

Hello Summer

But we’ve now finished treatment, I’m back at work - hello! - and life in its new form has resumed. The positive outlook has returned and Keith is much better, albeit still not officially cured.

6 weeks is a long time, but it didn’t seem like much during the process. It’s taken me over a week to catch up with what exactly we’re doing, who with and what’s gone live without me, but neither Keith nor I would have made it to June had I not taken the time off.

To our lovely clients, in case you wondered - this is where I’ve been! And I can’t wait to catch up with you all over the Summer. To our lovely business friends and others in the industry, thanks for your support.

We’re acutely aware of the importance of compassionate sick leave in periods of exceptional personal challenge. The impact on individuals, the business, team members and clients is not small, but that’s a topic for a separate, probably lengthy post.

Shameless fundraising

I’m running 10K on 23rd June to raise money for CRUK - to make treatments better, faster, less brutal and a lot less emetic! Donate to this fantastic charity and support my run! or sign up and join us on Arthur's Seat. Love!

We raised £8,500 (inc Giftaid) for CRUK after a fantastic Race for Life! But I will never run around Arthur's Seat ever again...

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