Monday 18 October, 2021

Approaching Career Changes Because Of Cancer

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Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or are living life after treatment, cancer can affect your career in a variety of ways, or maybe not at all. We’re all different, from phase of life to cancer type, and because of this, we may put a lot of emphasis on our careers, none at all, or find ourselves somewhere in between. Regardless of where you’re at, work-wise or cancer-wise, here are a few ways to approach your career, the goals you have, or the changes you’re going through, when cancer is part of the picture.

What we’ll cover in this blog:
Tips on dealing with not being able to work during cancer treatment
If you can’t do what you did before, what can you do now? 
If you can’t go back to work after cancer treatment

Dealing with not being able to work during cancer treatment

First off, a significant worry during and after cancer is the financial impact. Before we hop into how to think about your career in broader strokes, make sure to figure out what compensation or insurance options you have – both during and after cancer treatment. Taking action on this and securing some level of financial security is hugely important in easing the mental health effects of cancer. 

Beyond the finances, here are a few tips on how to deal with not being able to work after being diagnosed with cancer, during cancer treatment, or in recovery, in a way that is kind and constructive for your mental health.

Focus on the present 

For many of us, we’re taught to believe that our worth is in direct proportion to the jobs we hold or careers we chase. However hard it is to unlearn this, it’s worth the effort, because it’s simply not true.

Instead of thinking about your career, how it will be affected, or how you will spend your time, try to focus on the here and now. You have a new challenge to get through now, and it’s more crucial.

Work on acceptance

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer, you may have to take a break from going to work, or will do so a bit later down the line if you go through cancer treatment. This abrupt change may be hard, especially if you genuinely enjoy your job, care about what you do, or are career-driven. In addition, doing something because you have to rather than because you choose to is seldom equally fulfilling. 

But life has its surprises, and sometimes it leads us to places we never would’ve dared explore. Try and work with acceptance around having to take a break from your work, and focus your thoughts on the present. 

Focus on what you can do now and how you can prepare for cancer treatment. Which routines do you want to implement to feel in control? How do you set structure that brings you a sense of accomplishment and joy? Remember that going through cancer is a lot of work, it’s just unpaid and not that 8-5 grind. So don’t think of yourself as “unproductive” or any other lie we tell ourselves. Instead, see it as a challenge you can face, and learn to accept it as the work that life sets out for us – taking care of our health, physically, mentally, and growing through the whirlwinds. 

Enjoy moments you weren’t able to enjoy when you went to work 

Make the most of sleeping in, taking extra time to cook a good meal, go for a lunch date with a friend, or any other freedom that you may not have had when you had to be at work at certain times! Relish in these moments.

Maybe having to take a break from your work is what you’ve been wishing for, just not in these circumstances. Try to separate the two – see your time off from work as a win, a blessing separate from cancer – and focus on this new challenge. It will, guaranteed, be a lot of work too, in a different way. 

If cancer means time away from work, use it to reflect and gain perspective

We often don’t spend enough time pausing and reflecting on what we experience, what we do, how we do things. It’s common that career changes because of cancer make you aware of what you truly value. Life becomes precious in a new way, and time feels limited. According to Cancer And Careers, mental health experts who work with people who survive cancer and cancer treatment tend to seek out more creative and meaningful work and leisure: 

If you’re currently going through cancer and not holding a job (or have lost it), taking some time away from your work or workplace can give you new perspectives. When we’re used to a specific routine, we sometimes become numb to the things we experience. When we’re forced (or actively decide) to change those routines, we’re given the opportunity to reflect on what we fill our lives with. If you have the energy, dare to contemplate, be curious (more here on how curiosity can help rebuild your identity during cancer), and sit with your thoughts.

What is it that you want to spend your time on? Do you want to reshuffle your priorities? If so, how does a job or career fit into that picture? Maybe you want to carve out more time to spend with family and friends – how can you make changes in your work life to support that? Or, maybe you feel that you want to take the leap, start that company that you never quite dared to start. Whatever living a meaningful life looks like to you, allow yourself to continue to dream and plan for the future. It may be exactly the motivation you need to push through another round of chemo or radiation.  

Maybe time away from work has shown you how much you enjoy your job and that you miss it. Similarly, use the motivation to be able to return to your job as a way to push you forward and through your cancer experience.

Remember that cancer isn’t the end of the story. It’s part of it. Let it shape, guide, change you – in difficulty, there is always hope. Train your mind to see the possibilities, in the present and for the future, and in so doing, improve your mental health and strengthen you all around. Read more here on how to improve your mental health when going through cancer.

This time, that you wouldn’t otherwise have, can be a way to carve your life – presently, and in the future – in more intentional ways. For many, this pause in career because of cancer is temporary – perhaps you’ll return to your job after completing cancer treatment. If so, here’s some insight into how to approach cancer at the workplace.

If you can’t do what you did before, what can you do now? 

With cancer comes loss, always, whether it be the loss of physical capabilities, opportunity, income, freedom, future plans, energy, whatever it is (more here on how to cope with a cancer diagnosis). If this means that you can’t work at the workplace or in the type of job you had before, remember that it’s okay to mourn our loss and simultaneously approach the future with a sense of possibility.

Try not to think of work as binary – to work or not to work. Instead, think of how to build a balanced lifestyle – filled with a sense of purpose, accomplishment, joy, and rest. Maybe you can’t go back to the job you had because of cancer or cancer treatment – but you can still dedicate your time that brings a sense of accomplishment in ways that are available to you. Again, be creative in your approach – the 21st century brings with it a huge shift in what it means to work. 8-5 is not the only option anymore. There’s contract work, part time work, remote work, or a mix of it all. What suits you, your energy levels, and helps bring a sense of balance and contentment to your life? Then, see how that plays out and how to make it financially viable for you. 

If you can’t go back to work after cancer treatment

If you can’t go back to work after cancer, make sure to figure out what compensation or insurance options you have. Again, knowing action is being taken on this and finding avenues to become financially secure is crucial in order to help you improve your mental health.

In addition, try and work on finding acceptance with not being able to work a paid job anymore. Remember that your identity is not tied to your job, just like your identity is not tied to your cancer diagnosis. You have a job, you have a cancer diagnosis. You are not them. You are whatever you decide to create for yourself.

What has brought you joy during this time? Sometimes when going through cancer, something as simple as enjoying a smoothie or going on a walk brings you joy. Or, maybe a nurse that takes a few extra minutes with you makes your day. These moments are small, but they actually can point you to something bigger – what it is that motivates you, how you like spending time, and the quirks that make you you. Enjoying the walks? Make sure to dedicate part of your time to that. Do you like cooking after getting your taste back after cancer treatment? Set yourself a challenge. Want to pick up a hobby that you haven’t done for a while or never dared to? Dare.

In the end, don’t beat yourself up about your career. Jobs are jobs, love ’em or hate ’em. Your mental and physical health is always the priority. Remember that some of the most important purposes and jobs in life are not paid and are not 8-5. Being a parent. Being a loved one. Caring for your community. Improving yours and others’ wellbeing so that we can better the world.

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