How do you balance a freelance career with a cancer diagnosis? Let’s find out.

In late April I woke in the night with some pain in my chest. The next morning I felt a very definite lump: I went to the GP, got a referral to the breast unit, waited anxiously for a week, staggered home after a biopsy, waited anxiously for another week, went back to the hospital, reassuring myself that most lumps are not cancer, but being glad I was being cautious anyway.

It was a good thing I was so cautious: aged 37, I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m over the shock now, and have had various scans which so far don’t show any spread beyond the breast. This is very good news, and they’ve told me it’s treatable. But it is present in a lymph node, and I’m facing at least a year of treatments including chemo.

I’ve decided to be completely open with my clients about this – I’m a pretty open person anyway – and obviously this is going to affect my availability for work and timescales. They’ve all been amazing, sympathetic, flexible and happy to keep working with me. I’m determined to keep working because I enjoy it and it helps me retain some kind of normality. The money is obviously useful too, but I’m in the fortunate position that we could manage without it if needed.

My schedule is crazy this week: I’ve got three appointments at the hospital on three different days, plus a genetics meeting, and I might have to do even more tests soon. I’m hoping that things get into a more regular schedule once treatment begins. Being freelance has definitely been helpful in terms of flexibility, although I expect that any of my past employers would have been understanding too. My husband’s private sector employer is being very supportive, which also helps a lot, as he either needs to come with me to appointments or look after our daughter if she’s not at nursery that day.

Weirdly, as someone who has experienced mental health issues, I’m feeling pretty OK psychologically. I was actually more stressed in January when our boiler broke while we were in the process of selling our flat. It makes no logical sense, but never mind.

I’m still enjoying things day to day but definitely feeling some grief about what I thought my body and my life was, and might be in future. The prospect of all the treatment is definitely filling me with trepidation but I know I’m in good hands.

The initial pain in my chest only lasted about 24 hours. I could have easily ignored it. I definitely feel that my body was giving me a message, and I’m so glad I listened.

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