Having cancer as a freelancer requires epic organisational skills.

I like to think of myself as a pretty organised person. But here are some of the organisational challenges I’m currently facing.

Hospital appointments and visits

I’ve been to hospital five times in the last seven days. Three of these were planned: MRI-guided biopsy the other side of London; picc line insertion, and second chemo session. Two of these visits were not planned. I was reminded at the last minute that I needed a blood test before my chemo, something no-one had thought to remind me of when I was at the hospital the day before. Then I was worried about the skin around my picc line. I got it all sorted but this involved two long, sweaty bus trips across London on train strike days – one on the day after chemo. Oh, and my taxi to my actual chemo appointment never turned up. Thanks, Addison Lee. That was no fun either, having to rush for the bus yet again.

Managing childcare alongside all of the above

I need company for quite a lot of the appointments where they’re either doing something invasive or potentially imparting worrying/complicated information. If my husband comes with me and it’s not a nursery day, we need friends and family to help with childcare. They’ve been doing this wonderfully but it’s another layer of organisation.

And: guess what! Toddlers get ill too. My husband was meant to come to my first chemo with me, but our daughter had gastroentiritis. I’d lined up my dad’s wife to accompany me as a stand-in, and she came, and then the unit wouldn’t let her in because her name wasn’t on the list, but after I tearfully explained the situation they sorted it out.

Managing medication

Woozy after my first chemo, I was handed enormous brown bags of medication to take home. The schedule for the first cycle was something like this:

  1. 4 x pills once a day for first three days
  2. 1 x pill twice a day
  3. 1 x pill three times a day for first three days
  4. 1 x pill once a day
  5. Injections on days 3-10


Managing work

Then, somehow, I’m trying to fit in work alongside all of this. What’s my availability? When will I need another surprise hospital visit? Will I be feeling well enough to do a specific task in three weeks’ time?

I’m determined to work and I am getting things done. Aside from the money, it helps me maintain a bit of normality. My clients are being incredibly supportive and understanding, which makes a huge difference, but all the same my organisational skills are being tested to the max. I’ve also got a huge surge in motivation, though. I want to work. I’m still writing my screenplay in the evenings. I’ll get through this.

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.