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Two caveats before I begin: First, by work I mean paid employment. I believe that caregiving and household management and other unpaid responsibilities that most people have, if only for themselves and their pets, also count as work, but that's not the usual definition, so for now I'll go with the more limited one.

Second, my personal experience with returning to work was so bad--I was basically fired--I don't think it is very representative. But I'll describe what I recall of the original plan, anyway, for the sake of prompting discussion.

I was indeed supposed to return to work three years ago this month. My surgery had taken place in late February, and though I and everyone else was shocked by the information that my cancer was advanced, I still planned to work while I was undergoing chemotherapy. The plan was for me to return to work full-time, after a six-week medical leave to allow me to recover from surgery, and fit the chemo around my work schedule.

It did not turn out that way. Far from it.

I actually went to work for a long half-day about 4.5 weeks into my leave. An important, long-awaited meeting had been scheduled well before I had the diagnosis, and I didn't want to miss it or to ask people to set another day and time. As it happened, that day was a week after my first chemo treatment, which was a doozy, and the very day after I spent most of the night in the ER with my daughter, who had suspected appendicitis. I did not show up for work in the best shape, then, and perhaps that later counted against me. But I attended the meeting, which went well, and did some other things around the office before going home for another ten days or so.

But the next step didn't turn out as I had planned, either. Two days before I was supposed to show up for a day-long planning retreat, I developed neutropenic fever. A blood draw taken two weeks after the chemo infusion showed that my neutrophils had collapsed. The test indicated that I had a level of about 300. (If you haven't had the chance to make their acquaintance yet, a good neutrophil level is 1500, and a concerning level is 1000.) That was an urgent matter, and so I was immediately instructed to present myself for an injection of Neupogen, a drug to stimulate production of granulocytes, a type of white blood cell. I had two doses (as I recall) twenty-four hours apart, which produced the absolute worst pain I have ever experienced. As someone who gave birth twice without painkillers, I have a pretty high pain threshold. The Neupogen set a new standard, let me tell you.

Unfortunately, it didn't work. The neutrophil level dropped again, to about 100, and I started to run a high fever. The onco staff were so concerned that when I called to report the fever, they had me come to the clinic and get admitted to the hospital directly from there, I assume to minimize my exposure to any illnesses. Then they started broad-spectrum IV antibiotics immediately, and ran a zillion blood tests to rule out any infection.

I was forced to stay in the hospital for 48 hours, at least, or until something else developed, and that period didn't end until a few hours after that retreat. I called as soon as I could to give my regrets.

Turns out that I was one of the major topics of discussion at that meeting. My boss called me while I was at the hospital to make an "offer" regarding my planned return to work. That's a long, very unpleasant story, but the gist is that they didn't want me to come back. At all.

The whole thing required legal intervention. I was lucky; in the end, it was all right. But it was shocking and stressful to have to deal with unsympathetic employers. Sure, I could and did say that I was better off not working for them, yet it was still sudden and costly.

I'll stop here, since I've already put out how difficult my planned return-to-work became. I hope that you have more positive stories to share. As usual, anything else you want to discuss is OK too.

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Poll

How was your return to (paid) work after your cancer treatment?

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| 13 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  I was lucky to qualify quickly for SSDI benefits, (14+ / 0-)

    due to a very thorough application, supportive documentation prepared by my oncologist's staff, and a serious, listed condition.
    In retrospect, it turned out well for me. But it was not my preference at the time, not by a long shot.
    How about for all of you?

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 05:11:24 PM PDT

  •  I had been a CNA for twelve years when I was (6+ / 0-)

    diagnosed with cancer in late 2001.I was also very burned
    out.When I went back to work in Sept 2002,I went back as
    a machine operator.Much easier-in fact I had fun!

    Conservatism is killing this country. Jayden

    by swampyankee on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 05:48:31 PM PDT

  •  Well, I am and was self-employed but as a (5+ / 0-)

    housecleaner I've had some of the same clients for 10 and 15 years. Almost all of them paid me whether I came to clean or not.

    I think I was off 4 to 6 weeks altogether. There were a few times when I couldn't drive that I had a friend drive me and he helped me clean and I split the pay with him.

    At that I went back to work way before my doctors said I could.

    I think I was boarding dogs within 2 weeks if not sooner. Easy dogs that are like family members.

    Oh, but I do remember having to go pick up these 2 dogs that are wildebeests. I love them and my dog thinks they are his brothers but they are wild.

    This was when I couldn't drive and I kept trying to warn my friend how hard it was to drive with these guys in the car. (The dogs are convinced that they should drive or at least sit in the drivers lap and they weigh 90lbs.)

    I remember it was a warm day in October, about 70 degrees and I put on one of those giant fluffy winter coats to give myself some protection. And it was a good thing that my left arm was my good arm so that from the passengers side I could fight the dogs off the driver. He is not a dog person and I don't think he'll ever forget that ride!

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature. If I had Bill Gates money, I'd buy Detroit.

    by ZenTrainer on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 05:54:13 PM PDT

  •  {{{peregrine kate}}} (6+ / 0-)

    I'm so sorry that you had such a painful experience with your job. What an absolute failure on their part to meet you halfway and grasp that serious things can develop at a moment's notice.

    If I'd been employed at the time of my treatment I would probably have had to quit about three weeks in. Even the "good days" could turn sour rapidly and I went from mildly queasy to passing out in a parking lot (not driving!) in two minutes.

    I'm not doing paid work now, but I try to keep up working with mixed media, collage, etc. and taking part in a yearly open studio. The subject of stamina has come up here before and it's still a big problem as well as some cognitive fuzz.

    •  Thanks, lunacat. (4+ / 0-)

      Yeah, they were pretty rotten. As I've mentioned here before, too, to add insult to injury I was working as a union organizer when I took ill.

      It's a truism that progressive employers are not very good employers. Certainly the case for me.

      I am glad you're able to continue to be productive. With your hand issues, that's another complication, no?

      Oh, the accumulating problems of approaching old age!

      I went out to lunch last week with one of my dearest friends, a woman I've known now for almost thirty years. I reminded her that way back when (sometime in our 40s) she said, wait till we're in our fifties--meaning we'd be home free. Ha! Now we're 56 & 58, and not home free yet. We spent a good long time talking about our ailments. Yikes!

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 06:22:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  After my 2nd nephrectomy (5+ / 0-)

    And that being a full one, I tried and went for a week- just too hard and tiring. Company policy is that anyone that misses 30 days needs to re-do training.

    Even mindless relearning was too much with dialysis and surgery complications. Was about 3 weeks after the surgery.

    They did look really nervous when I told them that ESRD was an ADA listed disease and the topic of accommodation came up- worked at a call center and was a supervisor.  

  •  Good evening, folks... (4+ / 0-)

    Wow - I am just amazed at you all, who you are, what you all have been through and at times continue to go through. Amazed and in awe, yep that it is what it is :)

    I'm only planning on taking a couple of days off, but my procedure/surgery is so minor in comparison to you all. I've been trying to get as many assignments that are due in the next few days done, so I can take off Wednesday (the day of) and Thursday.

    Supposedly the surgery will be just like when I had the biopsy, local fast acting numb it drug, then they do the removal of a layer. I will wait in the waiting room about 45 minutes for them to get the results to see if they have gotten all the cancer, if not they take another layer. Once they have gotten the cancer, then they stitch me up. Sounds simple, but .... yeah... but!

    I've been told that if one has to have skin cancer, basal cell is the one to have since it is slow growing.

    I'm glad you all are here for each other and for me.

  •  I am extraordinarily fortunate (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ZenTrainer, lunacat, peregrine kate

    In that my employer is and has been from the start completely supportive.  I have committed to returning to the classroom in August, but right now I am full of doubts.  What I find hardest is the uncertainty. Can I? Should I? I know I could not do it right now, but where will I be in five months?

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Vatexia on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:20:13 PM PDT

    •  I do hate uncertainty, so I know how you feel. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lunacat, peregrine kate

      I don't know what kind of cancer you have or what you teach but I bet you'll have a better idea closer to August.

      I really do believe I was a bit foggy for about a year. And I didn't do any treatment that would fog my mind. Just having cancer is foggy enough.

      Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature. If I had Bill Gates money, I'd buy Detroit.

      by ZenTrainer on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:58:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm glad you have a good employer. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ZenTrainer

      Makes such a big difference.
      Five months can make a big difference, too.
      The most important thing you can do for yourself in early healing is rest. Not only sleep, which is very important too, but rest. Just sitting comfortably, with your feet up, and taking it easy.
      There will be time to start gearing up later in the summer. I know that once school starts, it's full-tilt-boogie, and you'll need to ramp up before that. Still, for now, just rest.
      Thanks for stopping by. Feel free, any time.

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 10:09:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I hate to call it a night so early, folks, but (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vatexia, ZenTrainer, DarkHawk98, lunacat

    I am done in. Not only did I have a strenuous weekend away from home, running my younger daughter around, but today I had a scan and consult.

    Usually, I have a plan that works: an early scan, then a consult in the late afternoon. But today it did not go according to plan. The scan took FOREVER, at a satellite location, and I suspect they don't turn the results around as fast, either. I also had to get three pokes before the nurse found a good vein. :(

    So when I had the consult, the scan results weren't completely ready. Abdomen and pelvis are clear, however, and I assume the chest will be, too. CA-125 went down to 7.0, which is close to the lowest ever. All that is good news. But I am still tired out!

    I hope everyone has a calm and healthy week, and that evidence of returning spring cheers everyone. Hugggs to all.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:22:05 PM PDT

  •  I can remember having a hard time getting a (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badger, lunacat, peregrine kate

    straight answer from the docs. None of them seemed to understand what I do for a living. I would ask could a farmer go back to work? And they'd say "Sure, of course".

    Then I'd ask, can I play basketball and I'd get a big "NO!"

    I don't think they have a clue about farming, housecleaning or working with dogs. Basketball they know.

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature. If I had Bill Gates money, I'd buy Detroit.

    by ZenTrainer on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 09:01:41 PM PDT

  •  Yeah, About that work thing (4+ / 0-)

    THE master plan had been, 3 months of chemo, 6 weeks to recover from that, surgery to remove the diseased left upper lobe. then back to work 6 months after surgery......

    Yeah well, that did not happen.  I had a great boss who worked with me.  I set the tone early when while going through chemo I only missed a few days of work (except for the one week I took off to remarry my wife).  Our plan was to get me healthy enough to return to work and run my office just as I had been.  My boss was even there in the waiting room as I was wheeled out of recovery to my room.  60 days after surgery I KNEW I could not return, there was no way I was going to be able to lift and carry 40 lbs 2-4 hours per day as was occasionally required.  I no longer had enough good lung tissue to support that level of exertion.  So I took the boss to lunch and broke the news.  

    Now, exactly 12 months after that lunch, I find myself permanently disabled.  I will never work a paying job again.  But it's okay, I am alive and kicking and doing the best I can daily.  I will take the trade-off.  

    Life is not a problem to be solved but an adventure to be experienced.

    by DarkHawk98 on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 10:21:22 PM PDT

    •  Wow, sounds like a great boss. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ZenTrainer

      But yes, it must have been clear pretty quickly that you couldn't do that any more.
      I forget, you were doing something outside by that time, right? It's been a while since you had your Social Security job. But I remember you writing about the wonderful bird sightings you had while at work....
      I'm glad you are alive and kicking. Well worth the trade-off, indeed.
      Just curious, are you still in touch with any of your former colleagues? Big changes--work loss, illness, relocation. Lots of adjustment going on.

      Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 10:14:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Funny You Should Ask (0+ / 0-)

        I spoke with the fella who took my place just last week.  HE used to work for me and I advised my boss that he would be ideal, that he has many talents and skills that would enhance our agency if he was promoted.  He has been. and it sounds like its working out well for everyone.  I have to call the boss this month and see how she is doing. I know she has been through a lot herself since I left, more staff turn-over, some of it because of bad behavior.

        But that is the inherent nature of the agency personnel.  Most of the entry level staff used to be a young adult that we were training just a few years before.  Sometimes they exercise immature judgment and they get fired.  Then again, the deputy director of the agency used to be a Corps Member (that is what the job title is for the young adults we work with.

        Here is a link to the agency webpage if folks are curious.

         The Agency

        Life is not a problem to be solved but an adventure to be experienced.

        by DarkHawk98 on Thu Apr 10, 2014 at 10:35:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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