Changing the conversation about work and cancer

Louise Boston

I was diagnosed with Primary Breast Cancer in 2010, following which I had a bi lateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and Herceptin. All was well then for the next 8 years until in 2018 as a result of a routine follow up I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. The breast cancer had spread to my lungs and my lymph glands. I was once again treated with chemotherapy and Herceptin which has continued for 18 months however my latest PET scan showed some growth and I will be moving onto Kadcyla in the next couple of weeks.

I got married in September 2019 to a lovely guy who hadn’t been around when I went through the first bout of cancer so this was all new to him. That said he’s been hugely supportive particularly during lockdown and travelling backwards and forwards for hospital visits. During Lockdown I’ve been lucky enough to continue working from home, taken up baking and discovered a new talent for gardening!

I am an Occupational Health Nurse by background and currently manage health strategy and wellbeing for a large utilities company. I’ve been a nurse since I was 17, initially working for the NHS but made the move early on into Occupational Health. I love the idea of working towards reducing health hazards at work, promoting health and doing all I can to encourage individuals to improve upon their own healthy behaviours.

Going in for treatment every three weeks and taking time away from work led to guilt about work piling up on colleagues, although this was as a result of pressures put on by myself and not my workplace. They have been great and hugely supportive.

They’ve supported me in allowing time off for hospital appointments, allowed me to rehabilitate after surgery in the most appropriate way making considered reasonable adjustments. They have allowed me to take things at my own pace. I have found being open, transparent and honest with them has really helped.

No question is a daft question, make notes before you see your oncologist – that way you won’t forget anything that you wanted to ask and that’s been bothering you. Be as open and honest as you can be with you employer. They can only help and support you if they understand your limitations. Lastly – its okay to not be okay. Don’t beat yourself up.

Don’t get too caught up in data – Tumour markers, blood results, tumour sizes, SUV activity etc, This can lead to undue worry and an increase in anxiety. Live your life for you don’t let cancer live it for you.