Emma, aged 41
“I was living a normal, if somewhat hectic, life as a working mother with two small children when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 37. A lower anterior resection swiftly followed, then the further blow that the cancer had reached Stage 3 and I would require chemotherapy. Following a course of oxaliplatin and 5FU, I have been in remission since May 2013.
Once I realised there might be life after cancer, returning to work was an important part of getting back to normal for me. The first challenge was the exhaustion. Putting even half a day’s work in, on top of family life, meant I needed to sleep for the other half of the day! Gradually this got better, and with a staged return to work I built up again to full time over a five-month period.
The second challenge was all the other side-effects. Peripheral neuropathy meant I couldn’t hold a normal pen; my ‘chemo brain’ meant I was often stuck for words or forgot dates – not helpful when you’re trying to remember which meetings you are supposed to be at, the names of the colleagues you’re meeting, and whose birthday parties the children are meant to be at this weekend.
I felt very frustrated that I was supposedly well, yet still not back to normal. My company was very helpful and provided things to help (special thick pens!). Meanwhile a team of specialists, including a neuro-psychologist to help re-train my brain, helped put me back together.
Three years post-chemo, and most of the challenges seem to have been conquered with a combination of being frank and open with work colleagues and doctors, making the most of what help my employer and my oncologist could offer, and a lot of patience and time. There are still follow-up tests, which are disruptive and worrying for everyone, particularly for the children as they get older and understand more, but we manage.”