A thought-provoking story about balancing a career and a life-threatening illness
3rd September 2017
Joan Didion writes in her critically acclaimed book, The Year of Magical Thinking, that, “life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it changes”. I won’t say that my life changed in the instant I was told I had breast cancer at 26 years old, nor would I say that it changed in the moments that followed directly, but it definitely changed. It was a slow and steady change as I morphed from someone at the height of her career to a cancer patient. I went from work meetings to surgical meetings and from socials with my peers to chemotherapy sessions in the blink of an eye.
After I finished my treatment, I didn’t want to go back to a full-time job. Truth be told, I couldn’t face it. So I made the decision to stick the 9-5, Monday to Friday routine to the man and step out on my own. I began freelancing as a copywriter and social media manager the month after I finished my radiotherapy – stepping in slowly – one toe, one project at a time.
Freelancing offered me a unique opportunity – one that I wouldn’t have been able to get if I’d returned to a full time, traditional job. It allowed me the opportunity to come to terms with the ten months that had followed the day I was diagnosed. It allowed me to take control of my life after I’d been unable to do so when I was being navigated through treatment pathways and moving from hospital pillar to hospital post. It meant I could figure out my work load as I figured out how to deal with the hangovers of fatigue, ongoing surgeries and realigning my life with that of a regular 27-year-old.
Being freelance comes with its own set of challenges.
Uncertainty is always difficult. You never really know if the work is going to dry up or if one of your biggest clients is going to decide they can’t afford to invest in their social media at the moment. Going from a vibrant and busy office in Central London with 95 other employees to working from the sofa in my one bedroomed flat in South East London was a bit of a culture shock. Figuring out tax and accounts has turned my brain to mush on more than one occasion.
But it comes with so many benefits too – often too many to count. If I have a hospital appointment (and I still have many), I don’t have to ask my boss if I can take the time off. I don’t feel guilty for needing to step away from my computer if I have health related things to take care of. If I find I’ve done too much and need to take a break, I can stay in bed if I need to. I’m taking more time than ever before to really look after myself with more yoga, more swimming, more time with my loved ones, time to process, time to heal and time to focus on the things that really matter.
So while my life didn’t change in an instant, it was definitely changed by my cancer diagnosis. It changed my outlook on work – if I didn’t have the work-to-live mentality before, I’ve certainly got it now. No longer do I spend over two hours a day commuting to a job I never really loved. I’m in control of my own destiny, when it comes to work at least.
And that’s why I chose freelancing over a traditional, full-time job.