Woman standing on desk at work holding a sign

Wearing Out Your Welcome

I’ve been lucky. At least, I’ve been operating under the illusion of luckiness. Living with metastatic breast cancer for almost the last six years, I’ve had to make no major life changes. One of those things that affect most patients, continuing to work or the ability to, has been patiently and slowly eroding. And I am pissed.

I make a difference everyday

I have been a hard worker since accepting my first job at age 15. I have had some great and not so great jobs in my life, but one thing I’ve worked so hard for and am so proud of is my current career. I’m not going to name names of companies or organizations- as I said, I am proud of my work. Every day I feel that I make a difference, for the better, in someone’s life. That is a huge responsibility! And for the last 18 years under the same umbrella, it is one I am often humbled and moved by. What greater gift in your working life can you give yourself than to serve others? I love what I do and am so fortunate to have made that my life’s work.

Obstacles in my way

So what do you do when suddenly you don’t have that minimal support you need to be able to continue? I understand how difficult it is to run a business and we all have a boss. After six years of making minimal accommodations to allow me to be a productive employee, suddenly I’m being met with obstacles, coming from executive management, that make it seem like they don’t care if I’m working there or not. Do they want me gone? Subjected to the struggles for money, healthcare, and quality of life that so many disabled people face? Or do they want to ignore the issue and just let me die at my desk?

The contradictions of capitalism

I can’t help but be lost in the irony of working for a company designed to help others but doesn’t seem like they care to help their own. This is not evident at all in my current supervisor and management team in any way - they continue to be amazing and one of the primary reasons I still love my job. But, they see me every day and see when I struggle; they actually care. I don’t regret it, for a minute, my 18 years there. I’ve done good. Truth is, I still love my job. I love waking up every day, going to work, helping others, and the normalcy of that action. I believe it contributes to my being able to thrive with this illness as I know how I am if I sat home being a cancer patient all day, I feel certain my decline to this illness would be swift.

Seeking help

If any of you find yourself in similar circumstances or feeling a similar way, there are resources to help. Seek out your community and state labor laws. Fight for your right to be able to do what you love. Your life doesn’t end as soon as you are diagnosed with metastatic. If you feel able, you can still do so many things in your life. I know a lot of people choose to stop working and that is absolutely your right. But for those of us that want to continue, we should be able to without feeling like we are being pushed out.

Tips for those wanting to continue working

There are a number of ways to research these. A lot depends on where you work - public or private sector. If you work for a private employer or company, look up your state labor board for information on labor laws pertaining to you. For the public sector, you should be able to access your employee rights and/or be able to contact the Human Resources department. If you work for a company that is unionized, start there; whatever you feel about unions, their primary job is to watch out for, protect, and fight for their employees. As much as you have to advocate for yourself in medical arenas, so too do you have to for your right to continue working.

Ask for accommodations

Ask questions that make people uncomfortable and above all research, research, research. It always helps to know the answers to those questions you will get when being put off. We are all human and deserve to be treated as such, especially by those execs that we’ve worked so hard to make look good. Ask for reasonable, practical accommodations if you need them...then show them why you are still an asset no matter what. If you can look at death in the eye every day, you are already a bada$$ who should have no problem speaking up for yourself and what’s right. (Whew! Now I feel like jumping on some tables holding a sign a la Norma Rae.)

I am not replaceable

And for those of you doing the pushing? Shame on you. Respect and appreciation for your workforce will reward you so much more than living with dirty deeds on your conscience. We may all be replaceable in our positions, that’s true. But we are not replaceable as human beings.

I...I am not replaceable.

How has advanced breast cancer impacted your career or ability to work?

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Saturday, September 12th, 2020, April Doyle passed away. We know that April’s advocacy efforts continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.

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