In November 2010, Craig Azar (Database Analyst at Momentous), went to the Ottawa General Hospital, for what he assumed would be a brief visit, a quick fix for an inexplicable loss of strength. He wouldn’t leave until a month later, after several blood transfusions and a diagnosis of Leukemia. Now, a little more than a year later, Craig is back in the building full-time, and is sharing his story of returning to work after beating cancer.
In July 2011, just seven months after that first hospital visit, Craig was excited to discuss returning to work. “I had finished my chemotherapy in May, so by July, I was eager to jump right back in,” he says. “I wanted to get back to normal.”
With his doctor’s guidance, and with support from the company, Craig set up a gradual return to work plan, which set out a first week that involved workdays with consecutively increasing hours. Despite his unbelievably positive attitude, that return wasn’t a walk in the park.
“The first week wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be,” he admits. “Apart from the physical exhaustion from increased movement and interactions with people, the mental focus was the real challenge. After months of a slower, repetitive routine targeting one huge objective, the many pulls of everyday tasks were very distracting.”
This difficulty focusing is common among cancer survivors who have undergone chemotherapy. “Chemo brain,” as Craig calls it, typically involves memory lapses, shorter attention span, and slower thinking or processing. By extension, multi-tasking can pose problems.
Like recovery, Craig's ability to readapt to working again was a matter of time. “My focus saw a huge improvement between the first and second week back at work. I was able to use notes that I had made when I first started at Momentous, to relearn and review my job, the systems here – it all came back.”
Physical exhaustion took longer to overcome, but he did, even while doctors were adjusting his pill dosage. “Even now, I can occasionally feel crappy, and there are still adjustments being made to the nature of the pill – but I feel like myself again, and that feeling is amazing.”
When asked what he would share with anyone hearing his story, Craig doesn’t miss a beat: “Live for the moment. Don’t dwell on the past; don’t worry about what’s going to happen in the future. All we have are moments.”
That attitude applies to work as well: “I no longer worry about what happened last week at the office. It happened – now how do we move forward?” Workwise, he says his productivity is better as a result.
To others considering returning to work after an illness, Craig suggests, “Start slow, and plan ahead. If I hadn’t spent a month [between July and his return in August] preparing and restoring my knowledge and reading up on my field, I would have been swamped.” Also - avoid kickboxing! I learned the hard way that physical activity needs to be taken slowly as well.”
Though not quite ready to participate as a member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC)'s Team in Training in the Ottawa half marathon on May 27, 2012, Craig will be there to cheer on wife Kate, who will be running on his behalf. To sponsor Kate and support those battling blood cancers, please visit her page and DONATE: http://bit.ly/xAKVGf
Twenty years ago, the strain of Leukemia with which Craig was diagnosed would have been a death sentence. Now, he’s planning a cruise in the summer, a tattoo to commemorate his victorious battle, and a heavier role in volunteer work to raise awareness around the importance of donating blood.
Craig is back at work, and cherishes every day. “I’m so into living right now. It sounds corny, but I look forward to showing up at work every day, to returning home to my family, to doing housework, to the weekend – everything.”
Can you say you do the same? Craig says give it a try – you’ll be happy you did.