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Going back to work
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I am 51 years old, married, and mom to 12-year-old daughter. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2020, had surgery in January 21, and finish radiation in May 2021. Since then started on tamoxifen which will run for the next five years. Six months sickleave is upAnd I am going back to work as a university professor. I am so lucky to be able to teach from home for the upcoming year However I am scared that my continuing fatigue and mental fog are going to get in the way “getting back to normal”. I think my biggest fear is that how I’m feeling right now is going to be my new normal…

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585 Posts
Hi StaceyMac‍,

You have been through a lot and it is a big adjustment to transition from cancer treatments, tests, appointments, etc., to the workplace. I am glad to read you are finished with surgery and treatments, except for the Tamoxifen.

With regards to your comments about work and mental fog, there are online programs at Wellspring that may be helpful:

Returning To Work

Brain Fog

Wishing you the best as you continue to heal, recover and transition back to work.
499 Posts


YEAH! getting back to work is an exciting/scary proposition ;).
what do you teach? my sister(s) are teachers and I believe that all teachers are very special people-a real skillset that not everyone has.

I was dx'd with my breast cancer and treated, (2 surgeries & 16 radiation zap's & now daily Anastrozole), thru COVID and returned to my full time health care job last fall. I was a bit nervous. could I keep up, or would I be put out to pasture??!!

not gunna lie, the first few weeks were exhausting…..I had really embraced my time off and had structured my days in a very leisurely fashion; lots of me time and honestly I was pretty used to daily cocktail hour…ha ha ha.

when I got back to the clinic I felt like I had NEVER used some of the equipment before in my life…..ugh….steep relearning curve over the first little bit. what made me feel OK about it all, is a much younger colleague told me she had the same feelings when she returned from a maternity leave…..

with a family I am sure you haven't had the leisure time built in that I did--how do you feel physically? think you are up to it, that way??

can you arrange with the university to transition slowly…do a half load for the first semester??

@S2020 has given you some great resources-wellspring is FANTASTIC and now that COVID is a thing, everything is available virtually.

let us know how things move along, and congrats for getting thru this part of your cancer story. you have done some very hard things--going back to work will be just another chapter.


#cancerstory #backtowork #backtoschool #wellspring

10 Posts
StaceyMac‍ I have had two return to work experiences. The first time was an utterly disastrous trip down into what not to do. I returned too early and was too headstrong thinking that I could just pick up where I left off.

For my second return to work, I met with my HR rep and through my doctors we put together a graduated return over three months. I was assure that management would be patient and that I would not be overwhelmed with work. We would meet weekly to discuss my progress and discuss work details and issues.

Outside of work I hired a personal performance coach. I started meeting with my coach over the phone in advance of my return. We discussed my personal expectations regarding work and life in general. I discovered that I had a lot of fear of failure in my mind. After surgeries, Immunotherapy and radiation, my mind felt unresponsive and unorganized, not great office skills. I had to learn to accept that “I am good enough as I am”. I will keep striving to improve, but I stopped comparing my current self to my older self.

My second return was still a mental and physical challenge, but far less stressful. Just remember you are a work in progress.
Good luck to you Stacey
132 Posts
Hi StaceyMac

Our stories are very similar! I too was diagnosed in November, had surgery in January and finished radiation in June. I’ve just started Tamoxifen and am having a lot of hot flashes!!!

I too recently returned to work after being off for 6 months. For my first few weeks I worked half days, and then I’ve taken a vacation day or two each week with the goal of being back to full time by Sept. I tried to take the Wellspring course but it was full. I may look at what else they have as I think there is a back at work course. And I plan to explore the brain fog one too as I definitely feel I am not like I was before and I have a mentally demanding job.

I like being back at work but all my self care has gone out the window. I need to get back to that bc it was really good for me. I was exercising daily, going for a 30 min walk, meditating, stretching, and meeting with a support group. Now I’m struggling to fit those things in and I’m not even back to full time yet. Sigh.

Part of this is family responsibilities…I have a 9 year old and 13 year old and if I have free time now I spend it with them or doing things for them. I’m hoping when they go back to school I can build back in my self care routines. I really need them. I feel very blah and I think missing these activities is part of it.

Best of luck with your return!

132 Posts

oh and forgot to mention I’m also 51 🤣
1597 Posts

I did a gradual return to work after treatment - I was lucky to have long term disability in my university job. I phased my return over 3 months. It was tough there’s no denying. I needed my non-work days and I needed to go to bed early (usually about 9pm). I feel it took me a good six months to be back to full function and nine to fully recover. I found when I had a few intense days it took the wind out of me and I tended to need rest.
What really helped with the fatigue was exercise - daily…

The brain fog was a thing and it took the longest. I was nervous about taking on challenging projects and I noticed I struggled to remember things said at the beginning of a meeting by the time we got to the end. But these things did improve.

Hope this helps - let us know how you get on.

10 Posts
I am one month out from my recent facial resection and reconstruction surgery for recurrent malignant melanoma.

I’m back on LTD, which took longer than expected due to SunLife’s internal policies and procedures, but the cheque is now in the bank.

I’m waiting for my pathology report meeting with the doctors. Work is such a distant memory already.

The one important thing I learned from my second return to work was, be good to yourself, by being honest with your management about your needs. Don’t be afraid to say no, or I need help.

I know those of us with heady jobs will find that mental gymnastics are very difficult. Absorbing new information is like trying to pick up a block of warm butter with your bare hands. Basically it’s an ugly mess.

For me tight deadlines scared the hell out of me. Also owning a large project with many moving parts was an absolute - no can do.

On the self-care front, I would lean on solo activities like drawing or reading in short intervals. I don’t have young children so I can’t comment on how to manage that responsibility - full respect for anyone dealing with cancer while raising children during a pandemic, consider yourselves pioneers.

Take care all.
104 Posts

Hi @StaceyMac. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I wish you all the best on your your return to work. 🌸

After active treatment, I too definitely feel like this is a huge transition back to the “real world”. It feels like I’m climbing Mount Everest and that this is even harder than the cancer treatments!

I know that I have brain fog, though it’s improved after 5 months post radiation. I too worry and wonder if this is the “new me” and wonder if I have to tell my employer I have memory and processing issues. I know that going back to work would be beneficial to my mental health and wellbeing so about 2 weeks ago I started a new job at a dental office. Previously, I was an executive administrative assistant, so I thought, it’s a dental receptionist job, how hard could this be? Well, learning new dental software and the structure of dental treatments and dental codes for billing, and short forms of treatments on patient’s charts, all while booking appointments with the patient in front of me, and the phone ringing, and dentists leaving yellow sticky notes with codes to bill patients, and couriers coming in with cases from labs was so new to me and chaotic and didn’t all seem to sink into my memory after two weeks. I was used to composing correspondence and billing and supporting sales teams, making travel arrangements and updating financials in previous jobs, and now I’m struggling. It’s hard to believe that I did all that previously, when now I forget where I left my cell phone! Maybe this type of work was for a younger, pre cancer version of me.

Yesterday, after speaking to the Office Manager we both agreed that I was not the right fit for the position and the office accepted my resignation.

I’m 53 with all this previous administrative experience and I’m scared of choosing what my next job choice should be. It was difficult to grasp new office procedures in the chaotic dental office.

I guess my long message sums up that I know what you’re going through. The nice part about your return to work is that you were at the same position previously and are familiar with the processes and procedures of your position. I have every confidence that in time, you’ll once again feel comfortable in your role. Good luck and best wishes! Let us know how you’re getting along in the next few weeks!



I am sorry that position did not work out for you but I can confirm that having worked in a dental office for many years, it is a very busy environment and if you are not familiar with the terminology and such, can seem overwhelming, even without the chemo brain/brain fog. When I went back to work 2 weeks after my treatment, which was much too soon looking back, and not only could I not concentrate, I couldn't remember software commands and such. Be easy on yourself and the right fit will find you.

@StaceyMac - how are you doing with your back to work?


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