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Returning to work after a loved one is diagnosed with a brain tumour

Our community provides some tips on going back to work after a loved one is diagnosed with a brain tumour.

"I organised an occupational health meeting to arrange my phased return"

"Our son Nathan had a large low grade astrocytoma in the cerebellum removed at the end of June last year. We arranged a phased return to school for him in September. He struggled with leaving home and I had friends to help me get him out of the house. He gradually built his time up, but I didn’t return to work until I knew he was okay. 

I teach and was able to get counselling through work and I also organised an occupational health meeting to arrange my phased return. The return was planned over a month but was extended as Nathan was struggling with fatigue.

We also had a lot of follow-up hospital appointments after this. I contacted my union and they said Nathan would be identified as a child with a disability, so I couldn’t be treated differently from others members of staff who were allowed time off for appointments because it would be discriminatory. I shared this information at one of my occupational health meetings and have never had a problem.”

Jo

“Plan how to deal with colleagues beforehand”

"My tips for going back to work as a carer are:

  1. Meet your manager off site, before you’re due back, to explain how you’re feeling and ask them to share that with colleagues before you arrive. My issue was I really didn’t want to be offered a hug, and then have to say ‘yes’ while cringing inside.
  2. If there’s workplace counselling on offer - ask for it.
  3. Get your pared-down version of events ready. Colleagues will rightly be interested in how ‘things are now’, and might want to ask more questions than you’re ready to answer. It was suggested to me to have a laminated page to give to people who really want the details. Consider it as health education; you don’t have to give personal details. I often give more general information about brain tumours, leaving out the personal stuff.
  4. Make sure you recognise colleagues who’ve been covering your work and say a massive thank you as soon as you can.
  5. If you can afford it, consider getting recipe box orders for the first few weeks. This saves time on meal planning and shopping. You’ll need time to catch up on caring issues that have bubbled up and picking up the work pace again takes effort.”

Mary

“I’m shadowing other staff members”

“I had four months off due to my daughter’s tumour. I work in a very fast-paced, stressful job and work weren't very supportive. They expected me to come straight back to doing my 13-hour shifts as I ‘wasn’t ill’.

I went to occupational health who put me on a phased return for a month, slowly increasing the length of my shifts and I’m also shadowing other staff members to build my confidence back up.”

Shelley

“I found it easier when others didn’t know the situation”

“I took seven months off while my son Leo had surgery and during the intensive phase of his chemotherapy. I was lucky to be on a three-days-per-week contract and have been able to swap days around his appointments.

I work across a few schools in an academy trust and found it easier in the schools that didn’t know the situation as I could just be in work mode.

Whereas in the schools where I knew a lot of the staff, although everyone was so lovely, I found it hard answering everyone’s questions about how Leo was, especially during the on-treatment weeks which were particularly tough.”

Helen

“I returned with reduced hours and flexibility”

“I went back to work about two months after Elsie’s diagnosis. My manager couldn’t have been more supportive. I returned with reduced hours and a change in duties, as well as flexibility to attend appointments and deal with emergencies"

Mike

“Feel confident to say no”

“I was very lucky that my work were so supportive when my son needed treatment a year after his diagnosis. I was allowed to work when he was well enough to be left with a childminder.

My tip is to feel confident to say ‘no’ to things. I literally did the bare minimum I needed to as my son was always my priority, and my work understood that.”

Jenna

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