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Return to work

Posted by
28 Sep 2016

When is the right time to return to work after a stem cell transplant?

I had my stem cell transplant in February this year and I had in my mind that I would probably be ready to start back at work, part-time initially by some time in September. Well here we are at the end September and I am not ready. I had spoken to my employers earlier this summer and told them my plans to begin a return, part-time initially in September. As planned, they got in touch in August to begin making arrangements but I had to tell them I wasn't ready. They have been brilliant and have let me set the agenda at every stage so there has been no pressure at all from them. It's me putting the pressure on. Day to day I am mostly feeling quite well. My energy levels are good and I am starting to do a bit of exercise. I no longer flake out or need regular afternoon naps so surely I'm ready to go back to work, right?

And everyone keeps telling me how well I am looking too....

But what they can't see is the fact that I am still taking a barrel full of drugs every day to ward of the symptoms of mild GVHD that I am feeling. They don't realise I am still attending the outpatients clinic every three weeks and that my blood results show that my liver and kidneys are not quite functioning as effectively as they should. They aren't aware of the dizzy spells, stomach cramps and occasional bouts of diarrhoea I still experience from time to time. There's also the fact that I have had a very aggressive type of leukaemia. I've relapsed once before and it's proven to be resistant to chemotherapy so the fear of relapse is still hanging over me too. 


Despite all this I still felt the pressure to think about returning to work. Fortunately when I raised the subject with the doctors at clinic at my recent appointments they were pretty hesitant. One of them even expressed incredulity that I was raising it. That made me step back and take stock.  Why was I putting this ridiculous pressure on myself?  I rang my HR manager this week and told her what the doctors had said. I'm not sure what I expected from her, but she was fine and told me that she would wait to hear from me after my next outpatient appointment in three weeks time.  She was so lovely and kind that I burst into tears. I think that was the release of all the pressure I had been putting on myself. 


So when will be the right time? Will I know when I'm ready? I have no idea. I think all I can say at the moment is that I can't plan more than a few weeks ahead, and at the moment I know I am not ready. I'll just have to wait and see, and stop putting pressure on myself!


Eleanor Baggley

Hi Jane, thank you for sharing your thoughts about returning to work with us. I can imagine this is an issue that many in a similar situation worry about. It's so good to hear that your employers are so flexible and supportive - that must make a huge difference. You know your own body and I think it will tell you when it's ready to get back in to the swing of work. For now, take care of yourself and do let us know if we can do anything to support you. Best wishes, Eleanor 


Hi Jane

I was diagnosed with AML myself in October 2012. I was very lucky that my company was incredibly supportive and in no way pressured me to return until I felt ready to but I put pressure on myself.

I had a stem cell transplant in May 2013 and intended to go back to work in January 2014. When I mentioned this to my consultant he pretty much told me that I was being over ambitious.  I had relatively few complications following the transplant and felt like I ought to return as soon as possible. I'm so glad he made me rethink my intentions. I returned in April 2014 on a phased return that in the first week was just 3hrs a day for 2 days. I finally built that up to 4 days and stayed at that all through 2015 due to the need for regular venesection. I finally went back up to full time at the start of the this year and looking back I think this was for the best. I was terrified about returning and about being off for so long but for me it was the right thing to do.

I think we can only do what feels right to us as individuals when we listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. Trust yourself and make sure you're really ready and not going back out of guilt or fear.

I wish you all the best and hope that you feel stronger everyday. Kirsty