When to return to normal daily life is a question many medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) patients face after they have been diagnosed. In many cases, answering this question will depend on the patient’s stage of disease, side effects, and treatment plans if and when a return to work and, therefore, “normal” life is even possible.
I have said it before that in some ways I am grateful to have MTC compared to other cancers. Obviously, I wouldn’t have chosen this path for myself, but the fact that it is often slow-growing has given me a chance at life.
Sure, that life looks very different from what I had imagined while growing up, going through nursing school, or getting married. Yet, I do get to live right now. For how long this period in my life will last, no one really knows but for now, when people look at me, I live a normal life.
Normal. What does that even mean?
I think most people have a different definition of what a normal life should look like. It may include the job that they had dreamed of their entire life, or the house that they live in, the family and friends they have in their life. What it surely doesn’t include is living with a chronic, eventually terminal, diagnosis such as MTC.
Read more about medullary thyroid cancer
It took me a very long time to come to terms with the idea that my life will never be the way I had dreamed. Once those words, “you have cancer,” were spoken, there was no going back to the dream life. Life quickly changed and with time, a ‘new normal’ developed.
For me, one of the biggest shifts into a more structured life was returning to work after being off for 17 months. I understand that I was very lucky to have that much time off and to be paid through all of it. I am beyond grateful for that. This would not have been possible, however, if I didn’t have doctors in my corner fighting for me.
Doctors and other health care professionals filled out form after form and answered questions posed by my insurance, employer, and others. By doing so, these health care professionals gave me the chance to heal, both physically and emotionally. It allowed me to come to terms with this new normal as well as figure out changes that needed to be made to my work environment.
I have lost count of how many professionals I saw in that first year and who helped me navigate the health care system from the patient side. By the time I returned, I had both of my surgeries, as well as undergoing radiation treatments. I had found answers to my inability to fully use my right arm and had worked with physical therapists on ways to either regenerate and ‘fix’ it or learn new ways to work with this permanent injury.
It ended up being a permanent issue that I have learned to live with more or less. There are still some movements or tasks that are either hard or impossible for me. Working as a nurse, means that I had to get medical accommodation.
Again, I am very lucky that this was an easy accommodation for the area that I work in. I returned with a 10 kg weight restriction that has since increased to 15 kg but will most likely stay at this level for the rest of my life. My position is in a Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. This allows me to have patients who fall under this weight limit. My employer has been very helpful in accommodating me; however, it wouldn’t have been possible without health care professionals who worked with me, sending in their recommendations and reports.
For the health care providers who read this, I suggest the same be done for your patients. It is difficult to go back to work after a life-changing diagnosis. If it is at all in your power, help your patients out in filling out forms to help make their life easier.
If they need some sort of accommodation in order to do their job more effectively, help them find it. Assist your patients in accessing the necessary help they need. It might just seem like a lot of paperwork, but I promise you, for your patient, it means a smoother transition to a new normal.
Returning to work is daunting for many patients. They need your support to make the transition. Once life settles in, it makes dealing with a chronic cancer diagnosis and everything that comes with it, much easier. I would even say it makes it easier for health care professionals to work with patients when they are in a more stable situation.