Changing the conversation about work and cancer


We are delighted with the feedback received from delegates about Barbara Wilson’s presentation on ‘Working with and After Lymphoma’, at the Lymphoma Action National Conference, held in Manchester on 12th May.

Barbara’s session received positive feedback with 95% of respondents rating it as either 4 or 5 out of a possible 5:

The following comments were made on her presentation:

  • Uplifting positive advice
  • Excellent and so informative
  • Very useful an excellent speaker
  • Excellent and very relevant and understanding the law
  • Really interesting and informative
  • Amazing! I wish I’d heard this 2-3 years ago
  • Thoroughly enjoyable talk, a very inspiring lady
  • Very useful – recommend all to know their right in the work place

A counsellor at Christies told me about an organisation called Working With Cancer. It all sounded too good to be true- I really needed some support and it seemed tailor made for someone in my position. Sarah rang me as arranged, and I very quickly felt that she was someone I could talk to and trust. I felt that she engaged with me as a whole person, listening to my story with calm understanding and empathy. I felt that she recognised my situation and helped me identify some urgent priorities. She gave me emotional support when I needed it, and helped me to think through issues in a way that enabled me to formulate practical plans and ‘next steps.’
Sarah helped me to begin to realise that a positive future was possible, and she supported me with the emotional rollercoasters and practical challenges that followed.
Sarah was always extremely professional and despite the clear boundaries regarding her role, I feel that we have developed a friendship. She has such a friendly and incredibly kind manner, and is keen to hear updates and chat about life in general- so I feel that I am always held in mind positively during the times between calls.
I have always found Sarah to be incredibly flexible about the support she has offered me. She has a keen sense of when I have needed emotional support, and has listened with patience and empathy to my distress. In addition she always found ways in the end to gently refocus on next steps and supported me to identify what I can do about a situation. She always offered options about the support she could offer- eg read a draft of a CV, practice an interview, or just a chat and pep talk, or meet up to discuss setting up a business- whatever it was, she was knowledgeable and encouraging, and would always accommodate and respect my choices.
When I look back, I am filled with emotion when I remember how Sarah has helped me immeasurably over several years- from recovery from illness, trauma and distress- to ultimately finding personal fulfilment and happiness, and successfully returning to work in a new career.
Sarah has been a phenomenal source of support to me throughout this time- and yet she always gave me the clear message that I was the one taking the positive steps forward with my life. This helped boost my confidence when I needed it the most.
It is really difficult to express how grateful I am to Sarah and the service that Working With Cancer provided. Thank you so much for everything!

Sarah Holden
September 2021


It’s been a real pleasure getting to know you.
Your compassion, ability to listen, assimilate and advise has been fantastic support for me over the last few months  – thank you.
I feel I’ve grown and have a new post cancer perspective.
Thanks for your comments and advice which is totally sound and I will adopt !
I’ve beaten cancer, survived chemo administration, bullying and gained a friend in you – marvellous !! Can only make me stronger.

With love and big respect
Frank Gillespie, MD, Ridgemount.

Barbara was one of the first people in the UK to see a need to help people of working age affected by cancer to return to work and to campaign for better support services. She has made and continues to make a valuable contribution to the services being made available to those with cancer as well as working carers. What Barbara brings to her work is a wealth of HR knowledge and expertise gained at the most senior level and a unique perspective based on her personal experience of cancer and returning to work.

Professor Sir Michael Richards (former Cancer Tsar and Chief Inspector of Hospitals)

Working With Cancer is an important initiative, one that now forms part of our overall health and wellbeing strategy. It integrates well and is complementary to our EAP and Occupational Health programmes. What Barbara brings to her work is a wealth of HR knowledge, expertise gained at the most senior level and a unique perspective based on her personal experience of cancer and returning to work.

Louise Hosking (Chief of Staff, Schroders)

My level of confidence would absolutely have stayed low had I not received Maggie Newton’s support and coaching – It was so comforting and refreshing to talk to someone who really understood the challenges of finding a new normal and blending back into the working environment again. It was fair, balanced, thorough and aligned to what I needed – I always felt comfortable to speak very openly and explore what I was feeling every time. It has helped me learn to breathe easier again, when cancer made everything seem so compressed and tight before. Maggie – from the bottom of my heart; thank you for all your help, kindness and support over the past months. You not only guided me through my phased return, you helped me to find my feet again emotionally and I’ll always be grateful for it. You’re great at what you do, and the way you use your experiences is both inspirational and enlightening.
Fay Field

Having the fantastic support and guidance from Sarah Dawson and “working with cancer” has given me the confidence to go back into learning and follow my dream career of hopefully becoming a social worker with a cancer organisation. At first I was extremely nervous about getting in contact with “working with cancer” but soon after speaking to Sarah on the phone I felt a real relief and she gave me the encouragement I needed. Sarah was very approachable and I felt like I could easily open up to her (laughs and tears) and she understood that I was an individual and the coaching was tailored for me. I was given homework to complete which included creating a CV which was very daunting to begin with as I had never done anything like this before but Sarah supported me along the way with her knowledge and experience teaching me points on how to make myself sound the very best I can be and I always have these to refer back to if I ever need them again. I would really look forward to our phone calls as Sarah widened our conversations and we were able to talk about general life as well as cancer and this was a huge help.

Since being in contact with Sarah she has given me the confidence to take the first steps in doing what I’m passionate about and I have finally applied for college after years of thinking about it and started volunteering with local charities to hopefully get my foot in the door. I know I wouldn’t have been as far on in doing all of this if it weren’t for her support and guidance so I can’t thank her enough and recommend anyone who is struggling through getting back into the workplace or following a dream career to get in touch!
Wendy Kay

Barbara was invaluable in providing guidance and support not only to the member of staff returning to work, but also for me as a manager. Being able to share concerns and seek advice around what is often a very difficult subject was critical to ensuring a successful outcome for everyone was achieved.

James Thorne, Executive Director – Membership, Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)

I would like to say thank you so much for your talk at the Way Forward Programme in Newcastle. It has given me new hope with my search to return to normalcy and life. I’m not sure if you remember meeting me before your presentation, but I told you about my struggles with job interviews and the questions asked, and also the feeling that employers saw my prior cancer diagnosis as something to best avoid.
Your talk has really relieved me of these worries and has armed me with assertiveness (not rudeness), if it ever was to arise again. The work you do changes lives like mine everyday and for that I am ever grateful.

J.O. Way Forward Programme, Teenage Cancer Trust

Like many I was so eager to “get back to normal” and a large part of that was to get back to work. So much so that instead of taking three months out, I took two. I’m lucky to have an amazing line manager who along with my cancer nurse ensured I built up my hours slowly; she also asked if I would like to meet with Barbara. It seemed to make sense to me; I had a wonderful medical team looking after my health, why not see what Barbara had to offer about work.

What I didn’t plan on was that going back to work wouldn’t equate with my idea of getting back to normal and due to the nature of the work it wasn’t an escape from Cancer at all. At times I felt overwhelmed and was shocked that the confident and positive personality that I had at work before my illness disappeared some days. Barbara not only guided me through these times, she often pre-empted them, normalised them and showed me how to progress.

For those sceptical of this kind of service, please do consider working with Barbara, she is not patronising nor is she “new age”, she is compassionate, honest and straightforward. I for one did not know what to expect at the start and I can honestly now say that I can’t thank her enough.

Debi Hughes, Supplier Relationship Manager

I just wanted to say thank you so much for your time, thoughts and general encouragement. I feel I’ve really benefited from your creative ideas (and another perspective) on all aspects of my situation. I’ve found the feedback emails and my ‘to do’ lists really helpful and have referred back to them. I’m also grateful that you widened our conversations to include cancer and other life-stuff. It does all form part of the picture and has been much appreciated.

On my return to work after cancer treatment I was asked… “would you be interested in meeting a lady who provides help for people who are returning to work after being treated for cancer?”

By nature I am a sceptical person, so my immediate reaction was that this wasn’t for me, but my wife persuaded me to give it a try, so I took the opportunity my employer gave me. I am so glad I did.

I found it helpful to be able to talk to somebody who had been through cancer themselves and who knew how it made you feel. My conversations with Barbara made me feel human again, it wasn’t just about being back in the office, but all aspects of life afterwards. The phrase that I’ll always remember Barbara saying, was simple but so true… “It’s ok to feel tired and different, it’s only to be expected.”

KS, Fund Accountant

The medical profession tend to help you through treatment but then ‘cast you adrift’ so having someone to talk to who really understood my situation was really helpful . I would not be at work today of it wasn’t for my coach. I just know I would have given up.

LW, Risk Analyst

Feedback from one organisation

We collect feedback  from individuals following their coaching sessions with us.

Read five case studies where coachees from one organisation were asked to reflect on their one to one coaching by members of WWC’s coaching team, and how it had supported them with their return to work.

Download the case studies here

With encouragement from my coach, Fiona, I feel equipped with a whole new skillset and have a fresh perspective on how to balance my work responsibilities and my wellbeing.  

My coaching sessions have helped release a lot of worry and given me a huge sense of positivity and enthusiasm for the future!  

I highly recommend 1-to-1 coaching with WWC to assist your transition back into work after time out for treatment.  

Alison H

Working with Cancer supported us through the start-up of our Thames Valley Police (TVP) Cancer Buddies Support Team.  They provided a tailored training package for our Buddies covering a wide range of subjects and considerations around cancer.  The pointers and advice around those initial conversations with colleagues were very helpful, helping our Buddies to feel comfortable having difficult conversations. The advice they provided also helped those having conversations with Carers of loved ones and how to support line managers. Through our learning, Working with Cancer worked to adapt training further to address any additional areas of concern and knowledge gaps.  Their Best Practice Guides have been useful to share as another resource to utilise.

TVP Cancer Buddy Support Team

The coaching I received from Maggie made a massive difference to me throughout my phased return to work. The meetings allowed me the freedom to express myself in a way that I didn’t feel confident to do elsewhere. I felt totally supported and at ease with Maggie and she helped me to find my way back to a new normal.

The sessions that I had with Maggie, I feel played a big part in my successful return to work and my confidence levels. So much so that I have applied for a new role that I would never have felt able to do before Cancer.


Returning to work post cancer treatment was never going to be easy, particularly as I had a number of reservations at that time. One of the best decisions I made was to choose Working with Cancer and I couldn’t have asked for a better coach than Louise. From the first day I’ve found Louise approachable, personable and able to openly discuss my concerns and feelings, including my future. At every turn Louise has been tremendous support, offering solutions, drawing on her own experiences and giving me the tools to make the transition back to work. I can’t thank Louise enough.


I was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2015, from which I had 2 years of hard treatment. The lasting impacts both mental and physical have been affecting to this day.

To tackle some of my mental issues I’ve tried many counselors however I have never felt I benefited from bringing up and reliving my past problems. That’s when I heard about Lainey the Working With Cancer career coach. I decided to try this service made available to me as all the others weren’t working.

This was the first time I really felt the services helped as instead of looking at my past I was focusing on the future. I find this was the best route for me as it was the most optimistic. Lainey Mitchell was a great listener and great at guiding the conversation. I always found myself feeling much better off after our calls due to her positive and forward-looking guidance. I would highly recommend this service as it’s helped me with my day to day challenges and big picture challenges!

Thanks for everything

Nic Vinogradov-Wouters

Coaching has been an amazing experience. I never realized my head was in such a spin until I spoke with Maggie and she helped me unwrap my thoughts and look at how my mind was working overtime when it didn’t need to. The strategies I used have been so beneficial to me and now I’m much more relaxed and confident with work and my personal life.

Accessing this service has changed my life and I’m truly appreciative for this opportunity and to work with Maggie who was just wonderful and I will miss our sessions.

Emma Thomson   

I would not be smiling now and would not feel as calm and as prepared as I do to deal with potential difficulties in the future. Coaching made me think of so many small things that were actually important but I had dismissed – such as will colleagues recognise me and what do I tell them. I only wish that everyone with cancer returning to work could have it. It made a MASSIVE difference to help me return as a confident strong woman instead of a scared, self-conscious cancer patient.

Liz O’Riordan, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, following the coaching support she received from Barbara Wilson, Working with Cancer

Barbara has been working with Macmillan in a number of capacities on our Work and Cancer campaign for several years – she was one of the first people to recognise the importance of returning to work after cancer which followed as a result of her own experience. Her knowledge and experience have proved invaluable in helping us develop information and training materials for employers, employees and carers. We wish her well in this venture which provides new in-depth support for those affected by cancer.

Ciaran Devane (former CEO Macmillan Cancer Support)

Barbara provided training to the HR team in how to manage employees affected by cancer and gave us a number of new insights into the challenges people face especially on returning to work after treatment. Because of her particular blend of professional and personal experience, Barbara understands not only the HR and business issues we must deal with in helping someone return to work, but also the physical and psychological impact of cancer on employees and this makes her advice particularly helpful. We think Barbara is providing a really useful and unique service for employers and employees affected by cancer.

Siobhan Cifelli (Chief HR Officer, Aon)

Barbara’s sessions offer excellent understanding and guidance to enable patients to return to work with success. They are hugely valued by our patients and by Living Well at LOC.

Dr. Michelle Kohn (former Director Living Well Programme, LOC – Leaders in Oncology Care)

I reached out to Working with Cancer (WWC) after landing myself a job rather more quickly than I expected! Being diagnosed at 20 [2016] and leaving university prematurely, I had never entered the world of full time employment but I knew there would be additional hurdles I’d have to navigate as a result. I initially heard about WWC at a Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT) event and referred myself to the service using the website and phone numbers. I was directed to Sarah as my ‘local’ contact.

Sarah always gave the impression that she wanted the best for me and that made me feel like I deserved that outcome too, she made sure I knew where I stood – on a legal government policy level – and offered me information that gave me the confidence to approach the right people at my new place of employment so I am now able to get the most out of work and they can get the most out of me. Without Sarah’s help I don’t think I would have been as able to have the conversations I have had with my employer; her guidance and support empowered me to stand up for myself. Thank you Sarah, I really appreciate our conversations and continued support.
Naomi [2019]

If I had not had coaching, I would not have had the opportunity to speak to someone who is both wise and kind and who has been through this experience themselves. I would not have been able properly to understand what to expect, and then plan appropriately, both during my lighter induction chemo, then through my time off work when I was recovering from the stem cell transplant. I would not have been able to discuss my personal strategy and receive extremely useful advice and guidance upon the best approaches to work during treatment and post my return. It has been extremely useful. Furthermore the coach herself was brilliant, friendly, kind, considerate, extremely knowledgeable, and inspired great trust. Thank you very much for everything.

I think everyone should have coaching! I would say that it has been absolutely invaluable. It was like having a supporter providing guidance from the sidelines and helped me to address issues that predated cancer but which I felt more urgently that I wanted to address after cancer. It has been incredibly helpful. I have learned so much about myself and it has helped me appreciate the silver linings of the experience of having cancer. I would like to encourage my employer to make better use of the Working with Cancer coaching to make sure that HR support to employees suffering with cancer is strong. Without coaching I would have no sense of what my rights are, and what I could and should be asking for in terms of support. I would have struggled to identify my goals and the aspects of a career that matter to me and what I want to get out of working. I would have lacked the confidence to negotiate a new role.
CF, Senior Risk Adviser

“Barbara helped me to prioritise, set goals that were realistic and learn not to run before I could walk. Occupational health were good, but their focus was practical, not psychological. Barbara helped contextualise it. It would have taken me much longer to find my feet without her. Some people might have gone under because they weren’t dealing with it”

This is an excerpt from an article published in People Management, October 2013.

Andre Sohatski, Secondary School Headteacher

Using this service was obviously helpful to my employee, significantly supporting her return to work, but it was also a great help to me as her line manager. Just knowing that we were giving that person the best possible help and experience, and that there was someone that I could get advice and information from without compromising the trust and confidentiality was so reassuring. Very useful during a difficult time, especially when I hadn’t been in this situation before.

Laura Holt, Senior Manager

I was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2013. I returned back to work at large asset management firm in the City after completing my treatment which involved 6 months of chemotherapy.

My initial thoughts after treatment were to ‘get back to normal’ which involved getting back to work as soon as possible in exactly the same manner as I had done before the diagnosis.

Quite soon I realised that returning to work after cancer required more thought and understanding about how best to set things up so that I could be as effective as possible whilst acknowledging the recovery required in returning to work after cancer.

Barbara was invaluable in helping me think through how best to structure my return to work in a way that allowed me to be my most effective self.

She was also instrumental in helping me set the right expectations of myself and my employer to ensure that my return to work was realistic and achievable.

I would highly recommend support from Barbara for anyone who is facing similar challenges

RF, Quantitative Analyst

I now realise that returning to work after cancer takes time and patience. In hindsight we all recognise that L returned to work too early.

PW, Line Manager, Risk Team

The support I have had has been excellent. It really helps to speak to someone who has had cancer too. Maggie has been kind and a very skilful coach. She has given me the opportunity to reflect and look at new options for the future. There are many opportunities, I’ve even thought about training as a coach! Thank you so much.