“I wanted to be tired from working too hard instead of being tired from treatments.”
The day after I was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), I talked to my managers and Human Resources department and it was decided I would leave immediately to take time off before the transplant process started. I went on leave in the first week of July and decided to go back as soon as my doctor said it was okay, which was six months post-transplant.
I had the ability to communicate with my company as much or as little as I wanted to throughout the process just to stay connected. When I was ready to return we talked about a starting date that made sense for everyone.
“What will my co-workers think?”
I had concerns about everything from ‘would my memory be the same?’ to ‘would my co-workers recognize me with short hair?’ I worried about being able to work long hours and keep up the same pace as my co-workers. I worried about the time I had missed and how that would affect my career.
I wanted to avoid playing the victim and didn’t want sympathy for what I went through. I was just eager to return but I found that some people were “extra nice” to me. I think the biggest issue for me was internal – getting over my own fears of falling behind and needing to make up for what I had missed.
“Do I have to tell my co-workers about my transplant?”
Any information I shared about my health situation was on my own terms, to whomever I chose to tell. I was able to start at full pace, but everyone was aware of my situation and I knew that if it became too much I would let them know.
“I could have taken things a little slower”
In hindsight, I was overly eager to get back to work because I felt like I was missing out. I realize that I went right back into a fast-paced, high-strung corporate environment and maybe I could have taken things a little slower.
My advice is to take your time. It is an internal battle that you have to keep control of, if you are anything like me! I learned that it is okay to work your way back into it and that you are probably putting more pressure on yourself to get back to normal than your company will expect of you.
Most of all make sure you are ready mentally and physically to endure all that needs to be done in a day’s work. Try to maintain an efficient work/life balance because after what you went through, you deserve to be happy, healthy, and do what you love.
“My employer could no longer accommodate my needs”
I retired from my job before I was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). After my transplant, I started to consider returning to work. I started a new job with a new employer. I completely disclosed my medical history during my interview. I know that is not required, but I did. My new employer understood that I had many doctor appointments and would have to adjust my schedule to meet my needs.
“I can have a flexible schedule”
I was very much aware of my rights, but my new employer was not as aware. They were willing to explore; it was just all new to them. We agreed to a contracted status of working less than a full week. This allowed me to work and have my life outside work.
However, the longer I worked, the more time I needed to take off for transplant complications. Because there were no part-time employees at my company, it was difficult to keep up a part-time schedule, so I chose to leave this job and retire from my career.
“I listened to my body”
Embrace the possibility that post-transplant may be different from pre-transplant in that you become aware of your own body changes. For me, I could feel I was not as “quick.” I could not multi-task at a level I remembered functioning at prior. Even though I could not work as much as before, I knew I was contributing to the team.
“Working is not my whole life”
My experience has shown me that working is a good thing, but depending where you are in your life, it may or may not be a priority for you. In my case, I am 58 years young. Working too much was not good for me. I didn’t want work to be my whole life, so I chose to leave when my body told me it was time. I wanted to start a different life, one that involved helping others and having more meaning for me.
Understand your rights about going back to work and disclosing health information with these resources: