One Survivor’s Story:
As both a cancer survivor and a journalist, putting together the Health@Work newsletter holds a special significance for me. And this current issue, focusing on survivors in the workplace, is especially relevant.
As an independent writer and editor, my workplace situation was somewhat different from other cancer patients who confront the dilemma of what (or whether) to tell the people they see every day, how to arrange their schedules, and so on. But whether working from home, as I do, or working in the “real world,” many of those dilemmas remain the same.
Truth be told, I had planned not to tell anyone outside of my family and close friends. Even my doctor said there was no reason to because I’d be able to adapt my schedule to my needs and nobody would ever need to know what I was doing with my time. Unfortunately, that all flew out the window (see Rebecca Nellis’s comment in our Best Practice Profile about cancer being a “fluid” experience). Diagnosis, testing, even surgery all went fine and there really was no reason to tell anyone. But all my best-laid plans came to an end with one chemo session. Severe, life-threatening complications landed me in the hospital – with no time to tell anyone – for two months, followed by additional surgeries, radiation therapy, and yet more surgery. In fact, it was up to my family and friends to search through my computer finding addresses and phone numbers to let my clients know what had happened.
More than a month later, when I finally was moved out of ICU and became somewhat more aware of what was going on, one of my first thoughts (besides giving thanks that I was still alive!) was what was going to happen to the career that I’d built up so carefully. Being a freelancer can be difficult under the best of circumstances, and these certainly were not the best of circumstances, by any stretch of the imagination. I had health insurance, but fears of not having any clients left, not having the wherewithal to look for a new job should my clients disappear, and having neither a trust fund nor a lottery windfall to fall back on was leaving me pretty stressed out – which was not helping my recovery.
Fortunately, my clients did not abandon me. While they had to use “fill-ins” to cover the bases while I was out, they all made it clear to me that as soon as I was ready, assignments would be forthcoming once again. And that they would also give me plenty of lead time so that I didn’t feel the pressure of turning an assignment around in the blink of an eye.
I’m not sure what I would have done if my experience hadn’t been so calamitous, and because everything happened so quickly, I had no time to explore any of the many options and support systems that are available to patients and survivors in the workplace. In the end, though, I’m glad that my colleagues and clients found out (and if it’s relevant, I don’t feel uncomfortable sharing the information with new clients now). I found out just how much my work was valued, and I think most people genuinely want to help if they can. Learning to give and receive is part of the cancer experience too, no matter which side you’re on.
Postscript – I’ve just celebrated my sixth anniversary as a survivor!