Going Back to Work With Cancer

Jim Madden tells how going back to work helped him to get back to normal after being treated for Hodgkin's Disease.

'The first inkling I had that something was wrong was when I drank alcohol. Even a single glass of wine caused a slight pain in my shoulder. So I gave up, but two months later, with the first sip of wine, the pain returned and I decided to see my doctor.'

When he went to his GP, he was told that this sensation was quite normal in middle-aged asthmatics, so, reassured, he returned to his work as a college lecturer. But the pains continued so Jim went back to his GP who suggested a chest X-ray. Unfortunately, it was not until six weeks later that Jim finally went for his X-ray and was told by a worried-looking radiologist that he most probably had Hodgkin's Disease.

The radiologist didn't like to use the word 'cancer' because of its so-called connotations, yet Jim quickly realised it was cancer as the radiologist started to use words like 'chemotherapy' and 'radiotherapy'. However, the good news was that there was apparently a 70-80% chance of recovery. So Jim blithely rang his wife at work. Met with a stunned silence at the other end of the line, he started to wonder whether the radiologist's optimism was well founded.

Things then began to move very quickly. After an initial interview with two very grave looking consultants, who seemed to resemble 'friendly, but worried undertakers', Jim was rushed into one of the best hospitals for cancer treatment in London. A biopsy revealed the truth of the radiologist's diagnosis. Chemotherapy began, but with the added complication of a fine tube being implanted in his chest. This 'Hickman line' was to facilitate treatment and spare the veins.

The chemotherapy took place once a fortnight and was followed by several days of feeling sick when Jim was unable to work. But in between times he found he could teach, although at 'half-strength'. His employers were very understanding throughout. His pay was unaffected and he was not required to attend any meetings that were not vital. Work, in fact, helped him to cope with his illness. He felt that by resuming his normal activities, he was returning to the 'real world'. 'The visits to hospital were just a necessary interruption, rather like going to the dentist. You had to grin and bear it and then get back to work.'

That September, radiotherapy began and was to last for six weeks. Hair loss caused some loss of confidence, but when Jim decided to shave everything off and grow a beard, his trendy, arty appearance bolstered his self-confidence again. But the radiotherapy did leave him tired and listless and less ready to commute across London and to teach effectively. It was during this time that the support of colleagues was invaluable. Frequent phone calls and reassuring cards helped him feel that he was in touch with what was going on at work.

After a year of treatment and recovery, Jim was able to return to work, feeling pretty normal and, as each week went by and his confidence returned, he began to think of the future. Now, nine years later, he still returns to hospital for yearly check-ups and even pops in for a cup of coffee now and then to 'the most convenient cafe in London'. He remains very grateful for the excellent treatment and care he received.

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1 comment:

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