Changing the conversation about work and cancer

Jeannie Ambrose

I was diagnosed with Secondary Breast Cancer in May 2019. I didn’t have a primary diagnosis, I went from thinking I was fit and healthy to finding out I had tumours in both breasts which had spread to my bones.  I currently have targeted therapy treatment which are drugs that I take every day and regular injections which are working well for me at the moment. My tumours have shrunk and are stable and I am enjoying life.  

The diagnosis was also a huge shock for my husband and two teenage children.  We all had to adjust. I want to keep moving forward with my life for them just as much as for me. Mentally this is such a lot to carry.  I’ve been having Indian head massages and reflexology sessions which have really helped me to relax. I love to be outdoors.  I love to ride my bike, go for a walk on the beach or in the forest or go for a paddle on my kayak.  When I’m outdoors I’m not thinking about cancer, I’m just enjoying the moment.  Being with friends and family, anything that makes me feel good I try and do as much as possible.  

I currently work as a Surveyor for Local Authority Building Control.  My role is to provide advice, technical support and complete site inspections for a wide range of construction projects.  I started as a trainee 2 years prior to my diagnosis.  I am working towards my chartered membership with the Chartered Institute of Building on their personal development programme. This has been a real challenge as when I was first diagnosed my enthusiasm and energy for the programme disappeared.  I continued to work but needed time to get my head around my diagnosis and what the future may have in store. Now I am more settled I am happy to be back on track and look forward to the satisfaction of achieving my membership.

While my current treatment continues to work, I have been feeling really well and the cancer itself hasn’t really changed my working practices.  I occasionally suffer from fatigue but have just learned to start and finish work a little earlier as it usually hits later in the day.   I am extremely fortunate that I work for East Cambs District Council.  Right from the start there was never any question that my position would change or the respect that I had from my colleagues. I have them to thank for treating me the same every day and keeping me enthusiastic about my job.  Our Director of Operations, Jo Brooks, is also living and working with metastatic cancer.  She is not only a friend but also a great source of support and inspiration.  The organisation understands that if you overlook secondary cancer patients then you will be missing out on a wide range of skills and experience.

Obviously the Covid19 pandemic put a spanner in the works for all of us but I have continued to work from home.  I followed the shielding advice and I’m really looking forward to getting back with the team again.

My top tip would be that although this diagnosis is life changing, remember you are still the person that you were, you still have the attributes that employers need and you can still be a valued part of any workforce.  If you want to you can continue to develop your skills and achieve great things. When I was first diagnosed I knew I wanted to carry on working but couldn’t help wondering how long will I be well for.  I’m now 2 years on and I don’t ask myself that question anymore.  Work has really helped my life feel normal. The hard fact is still there, it is life limiting but I choose not to focus on the prognosis, I’m more interested in concentrating on how to live a happy and fulfilling life.