back to work

How I Learned to Listen to the Voice that Matters Most

When are you back?

It’s a common question for cancer survivors and can refer to various aspects of one’s life. In my case the reference is “When are you back to work?” Good question.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 I checked each treatment off with glee. The more milestones I passed, the closer I was to getting “back to normal.” When my active treatment was complete I was left looking in the mirror at a person I didn’t recognize. I had no idea how I was going to rebuild what felt like scattered remains of my previous self. Thankfully, I had an amazing support system and found a community of like minded women through Rethink Breast Cancer. Step by step I started working on finding a new normal. However, getting back to work was by far the most difficult step to take.

back to work

While I love my job as an occupational therapist (OT), working takes an incredible amount of physical and mental energy, which I didn’t have an abundance of. In hindsight I pushed myself too hard. I returned to work four months post double mastectomy, chemo and radiation. Getting back to work was (in my mind) like “cancer graduation.” I was so eager to get “back to normal” that I did not respect where my mind and body were. I pushed myself too hard and it took many months before I started to adjust (which was by no means my old “normal”.)

In early 2019 I opted to have a preventative oopherectomy/hysterectomy due to being high risk for ovarian cancer. After active cancer treatment, hormone therapy and full fledged menopause at age 33, my mind and body were screaming at me to slow down. I was at the point where all I could do was work. There was no energy left for anything, or anyone, else. This time I stopped before I completely crashed and burned (yeah me! I’m learning!) and have taken a much needed and appreciated break away from work.

Fast forward to now and I am once again at the threshold of returning to work. I was scheduled to return in March, right when the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. As an OT working in the hospital, I was thrown into an anxious tail spin at the thought of going back amidst a pandemic. I had visions of the physical and mental gains I had steadily worked for, fly out the window. But I “should” go back. I’m “supposed” to go back. Right? It felt like I was on top of a steep cliff peering over the edge. Do I just jump and hope I land ok?

Something that cancer has been steadily teaching me is to respect myself. At one of the Stretch Heal Grow retreats, I was introduced to the concept of “the gift of the diagnosis.” One of the gifts of the diagnosis has been to cultivate self love. Self love will always be a work in progress. However, I am getting much better at honouring where my abilities currently lie vs. where I would like them to be. I am learning to listen more to my inner voice, rather than the voice of others. I am learning to give myself grace and compassion, rather than berating myself. In short, I am learning how to love and take care of myself in a way that I had never done before cancer.

As I stood at the edge of the cliff I couldn’t jump. My mental health had started to decline. After a conversation with my trusted physician my intuition was confirmed. It would be considered a risk to my mental and physical health to go back. So despite the voices telling me I “should” go back, I chose to listen to the voice that matters most. Mine.

To support my mental health during this pandemic I turn to a few tools:

1. Move my body.

When I am in a slump there is nothing that peps me up more than a walk with my dog or a silly dance in the kitchen with my boys – anything to counteract that nervous energy.

2. Put down the phone.

And the computer. And the iPad – put the screens down! When my anxiety is high, screen time makes it that much worse. The more I scroll, the higher my anxiety goes.

3. Have some self compassion.

As a mom I’m quick to give my kids extra love when they are having a hard day. I’ve learned it’s alright to give myself a little extra love on hard days too. (Insert self care here).

4. STOP.

Sometimes I just need to stop and take a deep breath. It’s funny how something so simple can have such a big impact.

Some say, “The greatest wealth is health.” So to honour my health, I stayed home and reminded myself that healing is not linear. After increaseing my focus on my mental health I am once again planning my return to work. And this time, it feels right. I’m ready. – Robyn Guenette

Are you heading back to work after cancer treatments? Click here for our five tips.

You may also be interested in

I Was Diagnosed with Breast Cancer At Nearly The Same Age My Mother Was
Cancer is Crap: Calzones
#YWBC: Heather
50 Carroll Street Toronto, Ontario Canada M4M 3G3
Phone: 416 220 0700
Registered Charity #: 892176116RR0001

Join Our Movement

Follow Us

Donate Now

You can make a positive impact in the lives of people impacted by breast cancer