Returning to work following oesophagectomy

I would be interested in knowing how long people had off work following oesophagectomy. I've just read advice from a physio stating that normally people were fit to return to work 8-12 weeks post-op. This surprised me as I returned to work doing 2 days per week a year after my surgery and even then found it very tiring. I did have complications following my surgery so maybe I've been slower to recover than others. Now 15 months post-op although I am generally feeling well my energy levels are not back to what they were. Would love to hear your comments to see if I'm alone in thinking this advice is rather optimistic.

16 Replies

  • I suppose it depends what sort of work, but 8 to 12 weeks seems much too soon to me.

    I was 72 when I had my op., and I had lots of serious complications afterwards, and it took me 18 months before I felt reasonably well, and I've never got back to how I was before, although I'm now 5 years post op. But I suppose it would be different for a young person.

  • There may be some younger fitter people who could return to work after 8-12 weeks in fact my surgeon told me one if his patients returned after 6 weeks; but I think they are very much the exception.

    I had a phased return after 5+ months which I thought was quite early. Realistically though I suppose it is down to the individual to determine if he or she feels ready.

  • Hi

    It took me 8 months after the surgery and five months after the end of chemo. I have a stressful job in the City and still find the commute difficult on the overcrowded trains. Also getting used to the continual changes in my anatomy, dumping, hypoglycemia etc. I still get very tired after a full day. My company wanted me to wait 12 months. I believe that is what MacMillan give as a benchmark.

  • There are some Employers Notes on the OPA website

    It will depend upon the kind of work involved - if you have to fit kitchens and lift heavy stuff after only a short break for a bite to eat, you probably would have problems long term doing that job because of your re-structured digestion. Your job would need to allow you to eat 'little and often' and to take your time doing it. You would also have to be careful if you were a professional driver and were liable to dumping syndrome and insulin spikes.

    Your stamina may well never return to what it was before the surgery, so long hours and commuting are going to be very tiring. For most people, this disease and surgery hits them at a time when they might have been slowing down / retiring anyway, but my impression is that recovery of stamina to the best level possible does take two or three years. It is easy to overdo it and have a setback, and this often happens when people treat it like most other illnesses where recovery is much quicker. One tends to suffer the day afterwards.

    So most people have to reduce their hours or make adjustments to their working life. Younger people can tend to gradually get back to where they were, but it does take much longer than we ever imagined. It does not seem possible to train yourself into quicker recovery by making extra efforts at physiotherapy like a footballer would who had broken his leg.

    I think you probably do need to take things in stages, and then think about the next step once you are confident at having consolidated things. The physiotherapist's advice does seem optimistic to me, but it all depends on what you mean by work, doesn't it!

    Having said all that, some people do achieve remarkable recoveries and can undertake very impressive athletic feats in cycling and so on, but you do need to be kind to your body and mind after all that they have been through.

  • I never returned to work! I had complications after surgery and worked in the school meals service for the local council. I couldn't do the lifting required and my energy levels were poor so was retired on I'll health grounds. Still have my bad days 8 years down the line but I'm here to tell the tail !!

  • Many of us would have had post-operative chemo which would start a few weeks after surgery and last for about 10 weeks - in this scenario I don't think the timelines mentioned are reasonable or representative. I had a phased return a couple of months after completing chemo starting with a day a week and building up to full time over about 3 months, but then I run my own business (home based) and had some flexibility.

  • Thank you all very much. I recently attended a patient focus group and was asked to read over the physio advise and make comments. Your replies will help my response. I do feel that patients being told 8-12 weeks could lead to them feeling inadequate when they were unable to fulfil this suggested timescale.


  • A return to work after 8-12 weeks post op would in my view be highly unusual and could even set back your recovery. A lot depends on a persons age and their occupation. I had my operation in February 2013 when I was 63 and although I was fit and healthy prior to my diagnosis and op I decided to retire from my job as a banker. I am now just over 2 years post op and whilst I can do most things within reason I still get tired and probably have an afternoon nap a couple of times a week. The type of op which we have had is major trauma surgery and as Alan has said one may never recover ones original stamina levels. You just have to adjust your lifestyle accordingly and you will find that each day you will get a little stronger. Staying positive is particularly important.

  • My surgeon told me before I had the op that I would not be feeling myself until one year to 15 months after the surgery and he was right it was about 15 months, I was 61 years old. I always feel better after I have had my vitamin B12 injection, lots more energy.

  • No, you're not alone, it took me 12 months to get to anything like "normal".

    Even now after 5 years I still get very tired afternoons.

    I was in my mid sixties, so I expect that made a difference.



  • I'm 57 now 4 - 1/2 years post op, I returned to work after 9 months in a phased return, 2 days 1st month, 3 days 2nd then full time 4 days on 4 off. I still have good days and bad days, very tired most of the time and still have to watch what I eat, I generally eat the same things every day at work as I know I won't be bothered by dumping, trial and error to start with but fine now as long as I stick to usual foods. My 1st day off work is lost due to re charging my batteries. Time and patience

  • Sounds like we all agree that the physio advice was very optomistic . I quite agree that it could lead to people feeling inadequate.

    I do wonder why these things are said ,my specialist nurse airly told me that a roofer who had had the op was back at work after 6 weeks .

  • I've found getting back to work a real struggle. Energy levels, time to eat, travel etc all take their toll. I'd recommend only going back when you're ready. It took me three years to get back in to the swing of things. As everyone says, it's based on the individual and your job.

    Don't push your self too hard, which is easier said than done.

  • I was 49 when diagnosed. I owned part of a company, and couldn't really afford time off as I was also the company accountant. I managed to work through the chemotherapy stage, even taking my computer to St James when I was having the drip part of the chemo. After the chemo I was supposed to have an operation to remove a small part of my oesophagus, and a small part of my stomach. Unfortunately there was a leak, and everything got infected. I needed a further two operations in May 2012 to remove both my remaining stomach and oesophagus. I was back working a little once I got home in June 2012, and this increased up to my fourth operation in November of that year. My last operation was to connect my bowels so that I could eat again, even if not in a completely normal way. Owning part of the company meant that I was able to move things round so that I was effectively sat next door to the toilet at work, and so I started back on a phased return in 2013. It was very difficult trying to work as I had previously, in fact it was impossible. Unfortunately, during my absence, issues had arisen which very soon saw the company in an untenable position. The business went into liquidation, and I lost the possibility of my toiletry requirements been fulfilled. I tried to find an alternative source of income, but no one that I spoke to at the Job Centre, or positions that I applied for considered my requirements as being possible. I went from being part owner and director of a nearly £2M company, to someone on Employment Support Allowance, very nearly losing my family's house. In the end, the thing that I've learned is that I'm alive. Best wishes to all.

  • Your health is your wealth. Such an illness makes one re-evaluate what is important. I wish you well.

  • Hi, I returned phased 2 days a weeks 7 weeks after surgery, but started post-op chemo 11 weeks after surgery, so had to stop working as that chemo was truly awful. Once I finished the 3 cycles of chemo I went back full time. It was tough but for me it was right. I was 60 and had been very fit prior to the illness.

    Initially eating was a big issue with early dumping and swungung blood sugar levels.

    I also developed an irrational fear of staying away -I travel a lot for work, regularly driving 8 hours plus meetings etc.

    I am single, so no distractions at home, so my work is very important to me. It worked for me but isn't right for everyone. We've all got to find our own path and what makes us happy.

    I found being back at work a welcome distraction, which enabled me to stop being a Cancer sufferer. I've likened it to childbirth, the whole treatment process was awful, but when it's finished you kind of forget it, put it away in a compartment in your mind.

    I am still in the recovery process two years on, eating ability is still developing, still get early dumping and still get anxious, but every day I celebrate still being here. What the medical team do is totally amazing.

    Good luck to you all, and may each if you find your own path, what's right for you is what's right.


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