When Cancer Knocks You Down

by September 19, 2013
filed under Activism, Life


A woman writes about her struggles due to losing her job because of cancer treatment. As per her request, we have left her name anonymous.

I can’t sleep – I have too many feelings that have been keeping me awake at night over the last few weeks. I worry that having cancer could jeopardize my reputation or any new chance of getting work. (Haha! Who am I kidding, I talked about it with all my close friends in confidence, but it’s something that I would like to no longer be secretive about.) I like my online profiles to be positive, funny and a little political. I certainly don’t feel that way and I haven’t for too long.

I was laid off from my job when I went back to work in between my cancer treatments at the end of last month. This was particularly cutting to my identity and I felt betrayed by the head of my department. I had been on medical leave for a year with mutilating surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. I don’t need to go into detail about what those are, but they are incredibly painful and invasive and they screw with your head. But I had to submit to them. Forget consent. I felt powerlessness. I needed to get back to work just to have some dignity. And to have something to talk about other than stupid, boring cancer.

I can’t just go and get another job until I have finished my treatment plan. No one wants to hire a person with cancer! What am I supposed to say? Oh, I need a TON of time off work – paid please. I had been in contact with my benefits coordinator in HR, my insurance company and one of my supervisors the time when I went back to work on a 6 week gradual return. I needed to go back on disability for a bit when I started to get reconstructive surgeries. When I got back, I was informed that many of the processes in my department changed and that would affect my work. I was hired as a full time, permanent employee during a hiring freeze. That means my job was viewed as an essential position. I’m not crying about it yet, but I was laid off partially because I was on medical leave. It stinks of discrimination. Which, I never really experienced before until becoming disabled.

It’s so hard not to take work too personally – we all spend most of our days doing some kind of work, paid or not. I was out with friends last weekend and I ran into someone I went to uni with. I don’t know him at all but when he asked me what I did now, I lied. Well, I didn’t officially lie, but I didn’t say that I was unemployed or that I had cancer. What am I supposed to say to people? feel like a loser who sucks at life.

What I have learned is to remember that work and your insurance company are not your friend. The institution that you are committed and loyal to will never be loyal to you. It doesn’t actually care about your well-being or health.

I actually had to prove, and I have, that reconstructive surgery is a part of my cancer treatment plan. I actually had to listen to the insurance company tell me that fixing my mutilated body could be considered a choice. I don’t want to throw around the word ‘choice’ here, but all medical treatments are a choice, unless you are a child. Breast cancer can be devastating to your identity as a woman. No breasts, no fertility, no estrogen. I was very hurt by that conversation.

I’ve got about 9 months until my breast cancer treatment is over. And for the next 9 months I am going to be fighting with my old work and insurance company about being able to make a living. And no, I don’t qualify for EI or any social assistance. I know I am privileged – I can only imagine what cancer patients that aren’t have to go through. But receiving benefits isn’t talked about on the online community cancer boards! Can you believe that?

I am just so tired. Tired or fighting for my life and now tired of fighting for a living. I have no autonomy anymore. I have no power, and I don’t like what this is doing to me. I’m becoming more and more damaged.

I’ve been in a low place for a couple years now – it’s time to start getting out.

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