Working and Cancer

Rodney Warner
Rodney Warner

Working means a lot to us. Not only does it provide us an identity, an income to pay our bills and support our families, but for the fortunate, though decreasing number of people, health insurance. As important as is working is, living is even more important.

There are some state and federal laws that are on the books that should give you legal protections so you can keep your job, and depending on your circumstances, provide you with a medical leave. You’ll find resources on this Oncolink website page and more on this page on the Livestrong website.

I was treated for cancer and for side effects of treatment on and off from 2000 to 2005. I worked full time, on and off from the end of 2000 to early 2004 (I needed to take a year off for treatment), then worked part time after that. We got all kinds of help from both my co-workers and my wife’s co-workers. They really were a blessing. We got cooked meals, yard work done, co-workers donated vacation time so I could have more sick time. At one point I was given an envelope of cash given by my co-workers. Might your co-workers turn on you as well? That could happen too.

Add to this wonderful stew of pain, anger, fear, hope and exhaustion, maybe you’re a parent, going through a divorce, a single parent, own your own business, don’t have health insurance. Cancer finds you as you are.

If you’re the boss, whether you’re a freelancer or have employees, ask for help. Be humble. Cancer treatment is exhausting. Pace yourself. Even for those of us who are God’s gift to our business or industry, cancer and its treatment can kick your ass, so if you’ve been newly diagnosed prepare for a good ass kicking physically, emotionally and spiritually. Ideally, you’ll kick cancer’s ass at the same time and it’ll all work out.

At one point I was told I was terminally ill and to give up on treatment. I’ve lost good people to cancer, especially my brother who passed away at the ripe old age of 46. I’ve been in very dark places because of cancer. I know cancer kills good people and it nearly killed me. But if you can get through it, it can change who you are and how you look at everything, including work.

What you see as critical can become meaningless. What’s unimportant could become critical to your life. You may be driven by money and success. Why are money and success valuable? Because their supply is finite and getting them isn’t easy. Cancer treatment teaches you your time is finite and wasting it is costly too. If before cancer you spent a lot time making money, you may spend more time with family and friends making wonderful moments and memories instead.

On the other hand, before cancer entered your life you may have had a dream of doing something, working in a particular industry or opening a business, but for whatever reason that got sidetracked. After treatment, and with your limited time, you might dive into what line of work truly makes you happy. After treatment, some of us will be driven to work and make money so some of it can be donated to organizations that support cancer survivors or developing new treatments.

Mixing work and cancer treatment can be very difficult and for some, impossible. But if you can survive cancer and continue to work, you may find your outlook has changed. Hopefully it will result in you living life for the better.


Editor’s note: is a great resource for all things related to work and cancer. Whether you are newly diagnosed and wondering what to disclose, or looking to return to work after an absence due to treatment, Cancer and Careers can help.

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