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Disability Narratives

After being diagnosed with breast cancer Milembe needed to take an extended period of time off work for treatment. Milembe found Occupational Health helpful in managing her sick-leave and return to work.

Portrait of Milembe© Disability Narratives


at the time of the interview – 2016

Milembe is married with two children. She works part-time as an HR assistant.

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - 2016

Milembe has worked at the university for 11 years. In 2011 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The time surrounding her diagnosis was quite stressful for a number of reasons. She was being managed by a temporary manager who was still learning the new role. In addition to this, Milembe was also studying part-time and caring for her two young children.

At first Milembe tried to return to work after her chemotherapy, she feared letting her team down. But this quickly proved to be very difficult as the side-effects of treatment meant she was vulnerable to infections and she would also feel fatigued. Milembe found it frustrating, as she was not sure what the expectation for working during serious illness and treatment were and often felt guilty about not being in work.

It's not my fault I'm ill, I don't have to hide it from anyone, it's okay. But that confidence, [only] came after a while.

After around three months of treatment Milembe was referred to Occupational Health. She found this very helpful as their recommendations helped ease her guilt about not being in work. However, when the referral first came through she was unsure what they would be able to do for her or what their role was. But at the meeting with occupational health it was explained that they would write to her manager with their recommendations. Milembe felt that this also helped her manager, as it gave them the information they needed to plan for her absence. As part of her return to work Milembe asked to reduce her hours to 80%. This was first trialled for three months, which caused Milembe some anxiety as she was unsure if this would be adopted permanently. Although Milembe had a phased return to work, she felt that the expectations of her work and workload were not suitably adjusted and this affected her recovery. However, over a period of six months she was able to work with her new manager and occupational health to get suitable adjustments to her workload. Milembe reflected that although this was a difficult time for her, it was a learning period for everyone and has resulted in a more respectful and understanding working environment in her team.

Biography at the time of the interview - 2016