It is nearing the end of my sickness certificate, so I brace myself for going back to work. I practice walking to the train station and am in a right state the first time I make it to the entrance at the top of a small hill. I lean against a wall, completely out of breath, and realise this will take some time. I do this slowly a few times a week and eventually manage to get there without looking like I am about to have a heart attack. The time soon comes for me to contact human resources at work and I arrange a meeting. I have had near radio silence from work, apart from keeping in touch with a few friends there. I meet with human resources and they are keen on my return to work.
An appointment is made with the occupational health doctor to prepare the way back to work. He checks how I am feeling and makes me answer questions like: Do you feel depressed? Can you cope? I want to say “I’m going back to work after a year out, I don’t feel like skipping through the fucking tulips,” but just feed him normal answers. After going through the results, he says “You’re in surprisingly good shape, given what you’ve been through.” An odd fact came from the medical as I grew an inch in height during the cancer treatment.
And so, tentatively, I begin my first day back in a phased return to work. It is just over a year after my cancer diagnosis. At first, two days a week in the office and a day working from home, all on reduced hours. This soon builds up to working full-time hours – three days a week in the office and two at home.
As this process begins, the kids have another appointment with Mr Hogan. After checking Lucy and Jack’s ears, he turns to me.
“So, how are you?”
“I’m feeling better than I was. And I’ve gone back to work.”
“Okay, what are they starting you on? A meeting first and then build you up to half a day a week?”
“Umm, not quite.” I explain my work schedule.
“That’s far too much. I’m really surprised at your work’s occupational health. Your return should be at a less accelerated rate. Once you make it to half day a week, eventually a full day should be attempted and, very gradually, you could try two full days. It ought to take you weeks to build up to even a full day in the office. I’m not convinced they’ve got your best interests at heart here. You have been hit really hard and it should be a long process to get you back into work.”
“Well, that’s just not on the table for me.”
“You should be aware that most people do not go back to their jobs at all after cancer but,” he pauses for a moment, “your greatest asset is resilience.”