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!

Why I’ve Been Avoiding The TV Show Chasing Life

I have finally broken down and watched an episode of the television show Chasing Life.  I say “broken down” because I have whole-heartedly been avoiding the tv show up until now.

Why?  You might ask.

Because cancer is tough.  It is messy and sticky and awful.  I lost my mom just 2 months before receiving my own diagnosis and I do not remember much of that time in a positive light.  I remember feeling lonely, isolated, anxious, nauseous, and devastatingly sad.  I always shrink away from those who write or speak about all of the good that has come from their journey with cancer…in fact I usually inwardly smirk and think something very creative like, great for them, blah blah blah.  Now, I have discovered rebirth through my journey with cancer but that is another topic all together.  Back to watching Chasing Life…

I decided that it was time to get down from the soap box that was my journey with cancer and experience what so many in the world have been experiencing through the tv series.  I also decided that as a young adult cancer advocate, I better watch the damn show at least once!

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.  I will admit to having only watched one episode…at least I’m trying!…but the show actually demonstrated many of the situations that I’d experienced in a very honest light.  So, here are my two cents:

April, the cancer patient, has dark circles around her eyes during her treatments and hospital stay.  Goodness gracious is this real life.  Some of the stories in the media today (cough, falling stars, cough) show cancer patients looking bold and beautiful, as if nothing were happening.  This could not be further from the truth.  Some of those dark circles are still under my eyes…3.years.later.

The drama in the hospital was often true to what I’d experienced.  The drama outside the hospital though, with her friends and family, that isn’t part of the story that the patient sees.  April, stuck in the hospital, is lonely and scared…I don’t expect a television show to display only that though.  Which is kind of my point!  The cancer patient experiences the hard truth of cancer and isn’t able to escape into the love affairs of those around her.

In one scene, a friend talks to April about how uncomfortable he is around her.  The friend explains that he doesn’t know what to say and what not to say.  Man, oh man, do I wish it were that easy in real life….oh wait, it is…people just don’t often act that way!  If people in real life would actually communicate that openly and honestly when they were uncomfortable, having cancer as a young adult wouldn’t be quite as isolating.

In another scene, April’s younger sister is talking with April.  The younger sister says, “I don’t want to upset you.” to which April replies, “ummm. I have cancer.  I’m already upset.” with the unspoken statement that April does want to hear what her sister has to say.  Once again, if everyone actually communicated like this it would be wonderful.  I found people to constantly micromanage what information I was given about their own lives, often leaving me in the dark about something substantial that happened to them.  Talk to your friends about your life as long as you do so when the moment is right.  (not when they are crying about their own fears or so sick they are vomiting…just examples of not the right moment)

…and then, in the middle of episode 10, while April is having a break down in the chapel…I became a believer of the show, Chasing Life.  She expressed, in that singular monologue, everything painful about being a young adult cancer survivor.  It is lonely.  Everyone around you is still going on living while you are stuck.  The two characters talk about death.  How scary and pervasive it is once cancer has entered your life.  The weight of dealing with this new found appreciation of death, mortality, and suffering is massive as a young adult.

Overall, I found the show to be a mixture of reality and drama…though in a much more balanced ratio compared to other dramas about cancer I have come into contact with recently.  Still, I remain skeptical.  It would be great if people watched and learned about how to better deal with friends/family through cancer and other hard times.  Maybe my skepticism is just fueled by my own grieving process about the support that I did or did not receiving through my own trauma.  But now I ask you all…what do you think of the show Chasing Life?  I’d love to know your thoughts!

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