How did cancer effect your career?

Image credit: Claudia Mulcahy

780,000 of us return to work after cancer treatment each year. What is/was your experience?

My first back to work experience was five months after I ended chemo. I gave a three-hour workshop. I knocked it out of the park for the first hour and gradually slid from there. I vividly remember watching the clock for the last 45 minutes. Countdown: fifteen minutes. Fourteen. Thirteen. . . Chin over the bar! “Thank you for attending. Good bye” —immediately shooing out attendees, racing to my car, and petal to the metal home where I dove onto the couch for a nap.

Two years since that workshop I’ve inched upward on the employment ladder. However, with each increase in hours, I feel I slide down two rungs. Rather than three hours workshops, I currently teach or present in one or two-hour sessions either not covering as much, or holding a second session. I still sit during some of the lecture, and still come home exhausted.

I have more than one job. None of them are consistent in hours or schedule. For me, this has been more helpful than not. I may teach a two-hour class for seven weeks (if enough students sign up) otherwise the class is canceled until the following semester, when it’s offered again. At best, I do this three nights per week, but usually it’s one or two.

Then there’s daytime employment. The morning after evening classes is grim. I did land a three-hour gig smack in the middle of the day. I began as a substitute teacher’s aide in special education, but seldom did more than three days a week, as I’d come home on day two coughing, and feeling sick. The immune system is lower after cancer. It just wears down faster, and repairs slower.

Recently, I came home from subbing and had an invitation to interview for a “permanent part time” position as a teacher’s aide. I decided to go. I was the last and sixteenth interview of the day. As I left, one of the panelists said, “Thank you for your energy.” I stopped in my tracks, stunned at what I heard. That’s a phrase I use. I knew I had the job and now wondered if I had what it took to work everyday, Monday through Friday, even if only for three hours a day. I did get the job. I do worry about my endurance, and health, and still feel pulls and minor pains from my final reconstruction surgery two months ago.

It looks like I’ll begin in a few weeks. With any of this, the paychecks haven’t been at pre-cancer levels, but if I focus on my progress and nothing else, I’m hopeful.


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