Five years ago, my mind and body were in such bad condition that I wondered if I would ever be able to do anything again.
The physical part was easy to understand. My bone marrow transplant had been mostly successful, but my body was still resisting somewhat. A blood infection and kidney failure had put me in a coma. After being in the hospital for three and a half months, I had to learn how to walk again, starting — literally — with baby steps.
But what about the parts of my life that weren’t strictly physical?
Cancer had interrupted my career. I had finally gotten back on my feet, but I’d missed months of work at the newspaper where I was a reporter. They had let me go. The thought of starting over again was overwhelming.
During my hospitalization, I didn’t have the strength to write. I still have the notebook where I tried to write things down, and my script is a weak squiggle. A physical therapist gave me a ball to squeeze, and eventually my hand strength came back.
But even if you’re physically ready, it can be difficult to prepare yourself for getting back to work — especially after a treatment as taxing as a bone marrow transplant, which takes a chunk of time out of your life.
You may end up re-evaluating what you want to do. It’s a good time to ask yourself what you have to offer. If you are lucky enough to be financially stable, you might look more at volunteer work.
First, I freshened up my resume. I wanted to continue writing, but first I had to get some new clips — or samples. I scanned my mind and my contact list for people who could help me reboot my writing career. I contacted a writer and editor who had interviewed me about being a patient at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He gave me a piece to write for the cancer center’s magazine, Paths of Progress, and I was on my way.
My friend also connected me with a colleague who had left her job to become a freelance writer. She said that through reaching out to the contacts she had made over the years, she had gotten so much work that she couldn’t even keep up anymore.
At the time, I couldn’t see myself in that position. But one writing assignment followed the first, and then I got another and another. It is incredibly satisfying — and challenging — to be busy again.
You really can put your professional life back together — if you take it one step at a time.
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