Still Good – Working After Cancer

working after cancer

Life is not the same as it was before cancer. It is much less certain than it was, but I enjoy my life so much more because I have felt in every cell in my body that life is fragile and fleeting. I watch leaves budding on the barren trees of winter, and I marvel at the persistence of life. When my daughter is having a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, I say, “Thank you, God, for letting me be here to see this.”

Before cancer, I was a workaholic. It’s an inherited trait from my father. I cared too much about trying to make things perfect and maintaining a certain standard that my last job nearly killed me. I was up at 5:00am, at work by 6:30am, and I’d work through breaks and lunch and at home. For days at a time, I wouldn’t drink anything during my workday but coffee, and because I wasn’t eating proper meals, I was eating way too many desk chocolates. Because of the caffeine, even when it was time to rest, I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep, and pretty soon thereafter came cancer.

Flash forward to my life where I am currently showing no evidence of disease and my daughter is getting ready to turn five and start kindergarten. Once she starts “big school” there will be no real reason for me to remain a stay-at-home mom, so I decided to dip my toe back into the employment pool.

I knew with great certainty that I didn’t want to go back to the same type of work that I was doing before–at least not right away. When I think back at my time at my last job, I feel pretty shell-shocked. Also, due to my newly reorganized priorities, I don’t want a job that comes with homework. I just want to hang my work hat up at the end of the day and enjoy my time with my family in the evenings.

Filling in job applications felt weird. Why did you leave your last job? Well…I…got…cancer… I wondered how many employers might stop reading right there, but I figured it was better to be honest. It usually is.

It was a huge relief when I started getting called in to do interviews, and strangely enough the cancer never came up in a single one. It made me wonder if they didn’t read my application all the way, or if it just didn’t matter…

In any case, I’m happy to report that I’m just a little broken, but still good. I’m employable. I can still make a difference in the lives of the people I work with, and I can still do great work without killing myself in the process.

#worklifebalance #wherethereislifethereishope

Have you tried working after cancer?  Tell us about your own experience!

Making A Career Change After Cancer

career change after cancer

Lately I’ve been having some concerns about where I’ve ended up career-wise post cancer. I’ve spent a few months spontaneously erupting into tears at random intervals and I’ve had a relatively good idea about why. It’s taken a while though, to get to the core of the problem.

Today I was catching up on ABC’s Chasing Life series about a 20-something, April who has cancer. During episode 15 one of the characters finishes an eight year cancer treatment that started when he was a teenager and comes out the other side as a young adult with no clue as to where he’s headed career-wise. I had a light bulb moment; although my experience with cancer was less than a year long, I can definitely relate. Cancer completely distracted me from my future!

For the last four years I’ve had a job that I enjoy sometimes, but love never. It’s a job that has caused me a fair amount of stress at different points and resulted in me getting sick time after time, suffering from tension headaches, and crying more often than I should. Want to know what job I do? I work with children! People say that it’s a very important and fulfilling job but I’m feeling neither important nor fulfilled as I spend day in and day out following the same routine with the same children with no real challenge or change. I used to be cut out for it; I used to say, “I just want to work with kids”. However the reality of the job has changed my opinion. Or maybe the job has just worn me down. Either way, I’m exhausted and ready to get out. The problem is I’m 27 with an undergrad psychology major…where can I go?

Ask any of my friends, family, or psychologists and they’ll verify that I have spent the last four years living with a paranoid sense that my time is limited. About a year and a half ago I was able to identify within myself that this was the major thing holding me back from starting post-graduate study, a task that would require time and sacrifice for at least three years. I wasn’t prepared to make that kind of commitment while I was so uncertain of how long I had left. I knew people who had finished their studies just to end up with an illness afterwards and I couldn’t’ stand the thought of spending what could potentially be my final years writing research papers and studying for exams. Unfortunately identifying this fear was not enough to combat it. I stayed exactly where I was because it was a ‘safe’ job that paid me enough money and gave me enough time to live, which is all I wanted to do.

So I have spent four years having great weekends, buying nice things and eating really well. Over the years I’ve fit in some mandatory partying, dating and drinking, all the while supressing the feeling that I wasn’t fulfilled. Now I’m in a new phase of life. I’ve met my future husband, moved in with him and started talking about the future. The conversations about having babies have brought to light one of my darkest fears: I’m going to end up a Mum without a career. This may not sound like a problem to some but it’s always been my primary objective to become a professional with an important and challenging career; one that will make my family proud.

To intensify my growing anxiety my partner recently managed to leave a job that he hated and score himself a very exciting new career that offers him limitless growth opportunities and a great salary! What a blessing that was. Unfortunately, now it feels like I have mentally shone a torch on my own failings and insecurities. These recent events have forced me to reach down inside and yank up the desires that I’ve been supressing all these years: to pursue a career and a future.

Therein lay the problems: Is it too late to go back to university? Is it too late to change jobs? Even if it’s not too late, will it be too hard? And only four years in remission, could I still relapse?

Although my only comparison at this rate is a character from a TV show, I do not doubt that there are thousands of young adult cancer patients and survivors going through similar thought processes. I know that my fears are normal – check. I know that I have the power to change my circumstances – check. I don’t need a psychologist to tell me that, but what now? Where do I go?

I’ve started applying for jobs. Lots and lots of jobs. And the rejection emails and deafening lack of phone ringing is not helping my already low self-worth and self-image. So now I’m tearing up for new reasons: Am I even good enough for anything else? Now I know I’m not alone in this thought.

So I will keep trying and I will have to find other aspects of my life that make me feel special and important: cancer advocacy and writing. At least with these mediums I can reach other people potentially in the same phase of life; searching for a career post cancer treatment. It’s important that we don’t feel alone in our struggles, no matter what they are.

So back to the job search I go. Feeling a little less alone.

Have you made a career change after cancer?  Let us know!