Sometimes I feel like I’ve never had breast cancer. When I’m working just doing my job or hanging out with friends. Other times, I am sent back to the past, back to the breast cancer reality, with a ton of bricks.
This week, while talking to a colleage at work, I started to realise that to some people at my workplace, I will always be ‘the breast cancer survivor’ not, the worker. It is a double edged sword in that I have been quite open in general about breast cancer in order to be myself and help others understand what it is like. But after reflecting on this conversation (by the way, it was very civil and not unkind), I was asked to reveal a range of details of my current health status and even how the breast cancer was found (through a routine mammogram, I said). I realised that just because I am working at job, doesn’t mean that I have a future there.
Sometimes I think it would be easier to work in a place where no one knows me. Going through breast cancer once is one thing but I assume that going through breast cancer twice and now working part time demonstrates to others that I am unreliable and undependable as I choose not to put career and work first. I feel that some people have a perception of me that is career limiting e.g. that I will be sick regularly and not put my energy in to the job. The truth is that I don’t know what the future will hold. However, I haven’t taken a full sick day off since December and have worked 100% while I’ve been at my job. But it is three days a week and not seen I guess as a real job.
I remember a very wise woman said to me once “breast cancer is the least interesting thing about me”. However, to some who don’t know better, perhaps breast cancer is the only thing they see when they see me. I try and see it from others’ eyes and I do understand that cancer has a certain stigma and it is mysterious…you can’t tell whether someone is well or ill just by looking at them. It leaves people feeling unsettled, fearful and uncertain sometimes. Maybe people think that life is so certain, and then they look at me and realise it is not.
The reality is that people who’ve had life threatening illnesses or other major events in life know that there are no guarantees. It is just a part of life that we live and die…and we all live with that ambiguity. Some of us just know this a little better.
A close family member passed away last week who was in his mid forties. Unfortunately for his loved ones, there was no warning and everyone is grieving with this huge shock. In some ways, cancer survivors are the lucky ones in that we live in full knowledge that we have finite lives. Most of us come to a peace with breast cancer and realise that life is short and live accordingly. We realise that work is really important but not the only thing in life. And so me working three days a week does not bother me. But I think it does bother others.
What are your experiences of perceptions at work post-breast cancer?
What are your tips for having a career during and after breast cancer?
What is going well for me:
- I feel like I have hit my stride at work and have been enjoying it a lot
- My hair has stopped falling out (probably linked to the first point)
- I am enjoying the structure of work days and having a focus outside of myself, plus being around nice people during the days
- I am still doing weekly acupuncture sessions and feeling better for that
- I am eating well and doing exercise daily
- I have learned a new mindfulness meditation technique which helps me feel more peaceful
- I am going on the Shocking Pink mindfulness retreat next weekend in Christchurch