This week, Lorna, a Registered Veterinary Nurse from Surrey, talks about how continuing to work during her breast cancer treatment helped her through cancer. Working during treatment isn’t possible for everyone, this is just an example of when it is.
In August 2017 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. One evening after a shower I noticed a dent in my lower breast which prompted me to see my GP. She referred me to the breast clinic where after a biopsy I was diagnosed with stage 2a ER+/HER2+ Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Breast Cancer. I was 37 years old. I remember the first thing I said to the specialist was “OK what do I need to do?“. She told me that I would need surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and Herceptin injections. My next question was “Can I still work?“
I have been Veterinary Nursing for nearly 20 years, qualifying 11 years ago. My job is my absolute passion so I immediately decided to try to work through as much of my treatment as I could. I also continued studying for a 2 year Advanced Certificate in Feline Behaviour that I had started before my diagnosis. I felt that continuing to study would keep my mind occupied.
I knew continuing to work and study would be a challenge as my job can be physically and mentally tiring, stressful and dirty with very long days. I had to make sure that I did not put myself in a position where I was vulnerable to infectious diseases from both my patients or their owners as my immune system would be compromised. I did take a few days off after each of the 6 cycles.
Due to my being the Head RVN at my practice I was able to concentrate on the admin side of things through out my chemotherapy when my immune system was at its lowest. I limited myself to using one phone only which I cleaned with antibacterial wipes before every use, I wore a hand sanitiser on a lanyard around my neck to remind myself to be as hygienic as possible and to be able to clean my hands quickly. I didn’t consult during the first 10 days on my chemo cycles and the vets and nurse I work with ensured that I was informed of any infectious cases in the practice so I could avoid them.
I wore travel sick bands on my wrist to help with deal with nausea and I wore animal related animal bandanas when I lost all my hair. If I needed to rest, I did. If I needed to sit down, I sat down. I kept my employers informed of all my treatment and how I was doing physically and mentally so they could make allowances for me should I have needed them.
Working and studying through treatment was very hard but I wanted to keep my mind off my treatment and it worked for me. I feel this definitely helped my mental health. I don’t tell my story to show off as I understand some people just cannot work through treatment but to say that if you want to continue to work, then maybe you can. I tried to remain positive throughout and I think this helped me massively both emotionally and physically. Just know your body and be kind to yourself. My treatment (apart from 10 years of Tamoxifen) finished in December 2018. I’m still an RVN working full time at the same clinic. My hair is growing back and my life is getting back to how I want it. I also completed my Advanced Certificate in Feline Behaviour with Distinction. Choosing to work through my treatment was absolutely the best choice for me.