Two caveats before I begin: First, by work I mean paid employment. I believe that caregiving and household management and other unpaid responsibilities that most people have, if only for themselves and their pets, also count as work, but that's not the usual definition, so for now I'll go with the more limited one.
Second, my personal experience with returning to work was so bad--I was basically fired--I don't think it is very representative. But I'll describe what I recall of the original plan, anyway, for the sake of prompting discussion.
I was indeed supposed to return to work three years ago this month. My surgery had taken place in late February, and though I and everyone else was shocked by the information that my cancer was advanced, I still planned to work while I was undergoing chemotherapy. The plan was for me to return to work full-time, after a six-week medical leave to allow me to recover from surgery, and fit the chemo around my work schedule.
It did not turn out that way. Far from it.
I actually went to work for a long half-day about 4.5 weeks into my leave. An important, long-awaited meeting had been scheduled well before I had the diagnosis, and I didn't want to miss it or to ask people to set another day and time. As it happened, that day was a week after my first chemo treatment, which was a doozy, and the very day after I spent most of the night in the ER with my daughter, who had suspected appendicitis. I did not show up for work in the best shape, then, and perhaps that later counted against me. But I attended the meeting, which went well, and did some other things around the office before going home for another ten days or so.
But the next step didn't turn out as I had planned, either. Two days before I was supposed to show up for a day-long planning retreat, I developed neutropenic fever. A blood draw taken two weeks after the chemo infusion showed that my neutrophils had collapsed. The test indicated that I had a level of about 300. (If you haven't had the chance to make their acquaintance yet, a good neutrophil level is 1500, and a concerning level is 1000.) That was an urgent matter, and so I was immediately instructed to present myself for an injection of Neupogen, a drug to stimulate production of granulocytes, a type of white blood cell. I had two doses (as I recall) twenty-four hours apart, which produced the absolute worst pain I have ever experienced. As someone who gave birth twice without painkillers, I have a pretty high pain threshold. The Neupogen set a new standard, let me tell you.
Unfortunately, it didn't work. The neutrophil level dropped again, to about 100, and I started to run a high fever. The onco staff were so concerned that when I called to report the fever, they had me come to the clinic and get admitted to the hospital directly from there, I assume to minimize my exposure to any illnesses. Then they started broad-spectrum IV antibiotics immediately, and ran a zillion blood tests to rule out any infection.
I was forced to stay in the hospital for 48 hours, at least, or until something else developed, and that period didn't end until a few hours after that retreat. I called as soon as I could to give my regrets.
Turns out that I was one of the major topics of discussion at that meeting. My boss called me while I was at the hospital to make an "offer" regarding my planned return to work. That's a long, very unpleasant story, but the gist is that they didn't want me to come back. At all.
The whole thing required legal intervention. I was lucky; in the end, it was all right. But it was shocking and stressful to have to deal with unsympathetic employers. Sure, I could and did say that I was better off not working for them, yet it was still sudden and costly.
I'll stop here, since I've already put out how difficult my planned return-to-work became. I hope that you have more positive stories to share. As usual, anything else you want to discuss is OK too.
Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.