In recent weeks I have been asked several times, to talk about the issues of work and cancer, and during my presentations I have heard some very powerful personal stories about the practical issues involved. There was an extremely positive story, where a position was created especially for someone who could no longer do their previous work because of their illness, but all the rest have been terrible. Child care, financial and benefit issues, and a total lack of opportunity once cancer is declared as a disability have been all too common. The massive positive though is that as I have continually worked to publicise these issues I have been invited to share my experiences and collaborate with decision makers in the N.H.S who want to understand better how we can improve things for people living with cancer.
Work is so important to us all. It gives us financial independence and a feeling of wellbeing as our value in society is confirmed. We have an identity amongst our peers, and most of all we feel valued by our colleagues and people who may need the services we provide. Just imagine for a moment that illness had taken all that away. Having to complete any new application for work and tick the box to say you have a registered disability (cancer,) this apparently to stop employment discrimination! Funny I never heard from the one job agency I signed up with after I completed that form? Below is Lynne’s story which is very current, and describes exactly some of the issues I have mentioned above.
“As you know I came to Chris’s (Lewis) talk/presentation. I felt that his own personal story was powerful and inspiring however I personally didn’t know how that could help me with the issues I am having regarding work after cancer. He did touch on some things eg being entitled to a phased return to work, not being discriminated against due to cancer etc. But for me the problems are very different. I was working when diagnosed with cancer and had to stop working almost immediately, although my workplace were kind enough we eventually parted via medical redundancy. Ever since then I have struggled. The type of work I am experienced in and love is extremely physical and demanding on the body and as such I tried other avenues to return to work. I worked at a tourist attraction where I dealt with the public via the shop and admissions, I was expected to be on my feet all day, I asked for a chair/perch stool to help me cope within the fatigue and pain I suffered, they completely refused! I managed 6 months before I had to give in and leave, because I came home in tears every day due to the pain and chronic tiredness.
I then tried to use my expertise in equine teaching to work in a riding stables. I fully explained my current health status and was very upfront about my limitations etc. I was there 4 months. Instead of using my knowledge to teach clients, take rides and train new staff whilst allowing me to concentrate on lighter duties, they decided to set me up to fail. I was expected to bring in six horses at a time from more than a mile away, groom them, tack up and then lead out on foot up to 7 hour rides a day, plus mucking out between 6 and 8 stables, clearing out the standing stalls and feeding, watering and carrying heavy hay nets. I never once gave a lesson or used my experience formally. I was told after 4 months that they didn’t have enough work to continue my employment, whilst interviewing 16yr olds for full time posts. I haven’t worked since the end of October.
Sorry for the long explanation but my problem now is that I am effectively trapped by the current benefits system. Due to my continuing health problems I am only able to cope with working part time and therein lies the problem. I am currently receiving ESA, housing benefit and council tax support but if I try to get part time work I lose these benefits but you are no longer entitled to Working Tax credits for working between 16 and 30 hours so if you can only work part time you are financially crippled. I would have loved Chris to discuss whether he thinks that there are ways for people still struggling with ill health to get help to return to work part time. I’m aware that this probably means changes at Governmental levels, but shouldn’t that be what people fight for? I don’t want to be stuck on benefits, but I have to be realistic about what work I can now cope with. Also I desperately want to train and qualify as a Classical Equitation Teacher but I just don’t have the funds to do so, as this would enable me to work at my own pace doing a job I love, helping others to enjoy their lives to the full.
Sorry this has been a long and quite whinging email, but I feel very trapped, cancer wasn’t supposed to completely control my life, but it does at the moment.”
Working after cancer is a massive issue for us, and is something that we as a society must start dealing with now, as the realities are that the numbers are increasing. We must look at new and innovative ways, not continuing our age old ways of recruiting, and working harder to help people who have these issues. We all want to contribute and should not be sidelined by a system that seems to only be interested in people with perfect health.
It would be great if you could share your own experiences of working after cancer, to help us understand the full extent of this problem.
I am an official support partner of the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth. The only hotel in the UK specifically for people affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions.