Finding a Routine During a Trying Time

The job is the same, as are the co-workers, but going back to work after breast cancer surgery is hardly business as usual for patients and their office mates.

"People were very upset, and I found that across the board. People have a big reaction when you tell them you have cancer," said talent agency executive Cara Stein, who worked throughout most of her 16 weeks of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation.

She said one of the difficult adjustments for her colleagues was how her appearance changed after the treatments.

"Once they got over that initial shock of seeing me bald, it sort of put us all at ease," she said. "It was kind of just out there. This is what's going on with me."

According to a study in the journal Cancer, from the American Cancer Society, 60 percent of all cancer patients, men and women, continue working during their cancer treatments. And of those who stop working, 73 percent are back on the job within a year.

Some have no choice if they want to keep their health insurance and income. For others, such as Wendy Skinner, the choice to work is also about self-esteem.

"The one thing I did not want to do was to be at home thinking about the situation that I was in," Skinner said. "I wanted to keep my mind alert. I wanted to keep myself active."

But working through the chemo can bring bouts of sudden fatigue.

"You don't have your full strength. You're under medication, this kind of thing. So, you feel a little bit vulnerable," said cancer patient Betty Scull.P>

But while there's no science to prove it, time and again, cancer patients report getting real benefits from just being around their fellow workers.

"Everyone was real sympathetic. They were very supportive. They jumped in. … When there was an emotional day, they were there to have my back," Skinner said. "It made this whole time period a lot quicker — a lot better."

"It definitely helped my recovery," Stein added. "I didn't feel like my life was disrupted or traumatized. I just kept moving forward. And I think that's the direction I always want to go in."

For a comprehensive listing of Medicine on the Cutting Edge reports with John McKenzie, click here.

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