Working with cancer?

The last few days have been really busy for me, as they included 2 days of treatment. My body seems to be struggling now, and the dialysis is taking longer, as my veins seem to resist the machine! However, the extra time that I spend at hospital, combined with the time I spend volunteering, have meant that I have met more people and had many more conversations.

One subject that was commonly mentioned was work. As regular readers, will be aware I am unable to work, due to my continuing illness, but I meet other people who are at very different places, in their lives. I would like to say that I have never yet met a cancer patient who doesn’t want to work. In fact quite the reverse! Everyone would be more than happy to work, if they were able.But the stress of work, can create such problems for most patients, unless they work for very understanding employers.

Firstly there is the financial issue. If you are having to undergo a long programme of treatment, there will inevitably be questions about how long you will get paid, and will you have a job to go back to when you finish your regime.It maybe the case then, that even when treatment is finished, you are not physically able to return to your job. Can you do a part time or job share? In a lot of cases these might not be options at all, but even so, there would still be a sacrifice to be made in terms of salary.

What happens if you are self employed? (Like me) As soon as I stopped working, I stopped earning. I could no longer afford to pay into my pension scheme either. So saving for any retirement is a problem. Whatever little benefit you might be entitled to, goes on one quick trip to the supermarket. So how do people cope financially?

If the issue is relatively short term, I guess you can make a few temporary arrangements until you are able to go back to work. But any long term health issues, become very difficult where work is concerned. One person I met, is having long term treatment like me. They are managing to work for two days a week, but earning barely enough to get by on.Due to the treatment, they are not strong enough to work any longer. They are not entitled to any benefits either.

Yes, of course, there are benefits available, but any that we maybe entitled to, might allow us to live, and certainly not much more. A lot of these have time restrictions, so are not really a solution for any long term illness.
The big problem here is that, with the anxiety of work and money, we are going to become stressed, which as we all know affects us all in different ways, and certainly does not help, whilst having very serious treatment.

Even when people have finished, their treatment, and gone onto 6 monthly checks, there is still the fallout, both psychologically, and emotionally, from what has happened. How can you even begin to quantify that? Generally I found that people need some time to reflect on what has happened to them, but due to work pressures, they are back in the work place as quick as they possibly can. I can understand this, as we are currently living in very difficult economic times, and no one wants to upset their employer!

What happens if you lose your job, and are unwell for a long time? How about applying for another job? We all know about equal opportunities etc, but having a large gap on your CV, that cancer has filled, will certainly not get you to the top of the selection pile, when trying to get even an interview! Are employers going to look sympathetically at this poor person who has a long term illness that could come back again? I don’t think so.

Things have certainly improved for long term illness patients over the years. Laws have been passed, and benefits amended. Also now, major charities are working with employers, to enable patients to have a decent transition back to the work place. Helping employers understand the needs of their employees, which is great. But what concerns me is that in a lot of cases, the fallout from cancer, can remain for years after you have the all clear from the hospital. These are problems that are hard to measure, but can create issues for people once they are back in the work place, and can possibly cause problems for others who are trying to get back into work.

People need to work, not just financially, but because we all need routine and purpose in our lives. This is a very important part of things getting back to normal. We all like to think that we are achieving something, and we enjoy being part of a team. Mad as this might seem, but sometimes work can be therapeutic! It can take our minds off some of the other issues, that we have going on. It is a big part of what shapes us as a person. If that is taken away, for what ever reason, stress starts taking over, and we know what happens then!

Are you having problems adjusting to work? Have you got an understanding employer? Are you struggling to find work?  It would be great to hear your experience of work.

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