When mentally ready to return to work?

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Question from Leah: Hi. Two months ago I had a mastectomy, and am currently taking tamoxifen. We do not anticipate any further treatment (radiation or chemotherapy) at this time. However, I am still off work, and do not feel mentally prepared to return to my high-stress, long hours, position. Physically, I could probably handle it. Is this normal? When should I expect to be able to return?
Answers - Ruth Oratz, M.D., F.A.C.P. Each woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer meets that need differently and has to learn how to incorporate not only the implications of the diagnosis physically, in this case hormonal therapy, but the emotional impact of how that affects our future. I don't think there is such a thing as a "normal" or "abnormal" response. Each individual will respond differently. But if you are feeling that it's taking longer than you would expect to be able to return to your normal activities, then you should address this in detail with your treating physician, and if necessary, seek additional guidance from other healthcare professionals, perhaps a psychologist or a social worker or a psychiatrist. Your doctor may help you understand what's going on, and cope better with the effects of the diagnosis and treatment. You may in fact have an anxiety or depression response to this news, and that's not abnormal in this situation. It would be helpful to make sure you don't need some additional treatment from other professionals. In addition to healthcare professionals, support from women who are going through the same process can be very helpful. You may find a support group in your local community, and there are a number of online support groups and other support organizations. So I'd encourage you to reach out to your doctors, as well as other members of the breast cancer community, and also turn to the people you're closest to — your family and friends — and hopefully you can work through this in a timely fashion and be able to return to your normal activities.
Barbara Hoffman You should be aware of any deadlines in your personnel policy about when you are able to return to work. Employers are not obligated to provide unlimited leave, so check the amount of leave you're entitled to. That amount is dependent on the terms of your employment.

Editor’s Note: Read online discussions about managing side effects and finding support in the Breastcancer.org discussion boards.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Working During Treatment featured Barbara Hoffman, J.D., Irene Card, and moderator Ruth Oratz, M.D., F.A.C.P. answering your questions about the legal, financial, physical, and emotional aspects of working during breast cancer treatment.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in September 2007.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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