June 24, 2009

Pre-existing Conditions & Your Career Path

California Prisons

I’ve had to live with jobs that were way off my career path just to pay my health insurance.  Heidi Adams, executive director of Planet Cancer, is going to be asking President Obama about this very issue on ABC Primetime tonight live at 10 PM EST.  The program is called “Questions for the President: Prescription for America” (Must see young adult cancer TV.  Go Heidi Go!)

During cancer treatment I lived on disability.  Afterwords I needed a job with health insurance.  In my book Everything Changes, I wrote about my day job working for a non-profit organization that helped ex-offenders. “I sat in church basements with rapists and murderers (a remarkably respectful and nice bunch of guys) teaching résumé writing and feeding them the organization’s line that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. These men and I knew this was bullshit, that life’s circumstances don’t necessarily comply with will or effort.”

The job had ups and downs.  The downs: My employer’s insurance agent called me nonstop asking when my cancer would be gone so their healthcare rates would go down.  I worked 40 hours a week, the pay was lousy, and I had no reserve energy to write or choreograph.  For the first time in my life I was utterly non-creative.  So much for living your dreams after cancer, right?

The ups: I had health insurance.  And, the men I taught were pretty cool.  After going through cancer it was great to be surrounded by people who were also struggling to adjust to “normal” life.  They made me feel like less of a freak.  We were good company for each other.  Is it pathetic that ex-cons made me feel normal?  I don’t think so.  We were all just people trying to cope with change.

How has cancer and the need for health coverage impacted your work life?  What jobs have you taken that you would not have otherwise?  What were the ups and downs?  Are you job searching now or returning to work and how are you handling it?

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Comment(s)

  1. Becca B Says:
    June 24th, 2009 at 7:05 PM

    Oh where oh where to begin…The short of it is: I’ve all but given up on ever having any “career”, let alone pursuing something I love or living my dreams.
    Perhaps “back in the day” (more directly known as “before the reoccurance they’ve deemed inoperable”) I did have dreams. I doggedly pursued options for grants to go back to school, or to get started on my own. I had lofty aspirations of being a Video Editor. Without having actually gone to school or been trained in that field however, my chances were already slim. Add on to that the fact that I’d been put on hold for the past two years dealing with treatments, uncertainties, etc. Well, I had the blocks in my path building up preeeeetty quickly.
    Than a reoccurance hit, and my mindstate switched to “Alright, maybe it’ll take a bit longer…” but than that reoccurance went on…and on…and on…and now, with no end in sight, I just gave up.
    I work a parttime job in customer service for a nonprofit that I love, but that (as most nonprofits) doesn’t pay squat. They are flexible with me, and understanding, so I love them dearly for it. But it is not a career. I feel pretty much trapped there b/c not only do I not feel I have marketable skills, but I have the dreaded pre-existing condition that I can’t even hide from a potential new employer b/c every two weeks I have to be in a doctors office all day. And every other week I have to get my blood tests, and office visits. That doesn’t count for the random emergency blood transfusions that crop up (seeing as I’ve had about 8 or so in the past year alone). Oh, and if I didn’t have all that working against me, I have no colon. Which means spending a good half hour in the bathroom every day, but more than likely twice a day during a normal 8 hour shift. Oh yea, and that has to be on my schedule (or rather, my bowels schedule) not a scheduled break by a supervisor.
    I don’t even think about promotions or progressing in my life career-wise. In my world, it doesn’t exist like that, or work that way.
    I am not sure what would have to change in this world for that to not be my reality. So I try to just accept and be happy where I am and ignore that every peer in my life is moving up and on and forward while I stand still.


  2. Robin Says:
    June 24th, 2009 at 7:05 PM

    HAHA, I just posted about this yesterday because I had an interview today. I didn’t even think about needing the job for health care, so much as just needing it so I can get independently on my feet!

    Can’t wait to watch tonight’s program!


  3. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 1:25 AM

    What a lot you have going on Becca. I think the tangled mess of our long term illnesses require that we shift a lot of variables in our lives. Long-term goals need to become fulfilled through short-term experiences. What we wanted as careers sometimes need to become passionate and meaningful “hobbies”(oh, I hate that word). What we thought would be full-time work often needs to become part-time or vice versa because of energy levels and insurance requirements. I think there is a lot of loss in all of this. But once I looked this loss in the face, it got easier to move on and create new goals and activities for myself that made me happy. They were not what I originally planned for my life, but they are what makes me happy within the parameters of what I have got going on. Also, a lot of the very real fears you present around limitations in the work place are issues that would be so great for you to talk about with someone who understands employment law inside and out. In many cases it would be illegal for employers to not accommodate your needs. I realize that doesn’t stop them from doing so, but there might be some great ways you can protect yourself and lessen those barriers. Can you say Cancer Legal Resource Center? I swear they are not paying me to recommend them non-stop!


  4. JBBC Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 3:23 AM

    Hi Kairol – I posted on this last week too, so it is very interesting to read your piece and also the comments. I struggled with my decision to go back to my old job after my own cancer treatment. My heart told me it was time for a change of career, to live a life more aligned with the lessons I had learned from cancer, but alas my bank statements told another story. The reality of meeting mortgage payments and other bills, took over from my wishful fantasties of living another life. http://beyondbreastcancer.wordpress.com/2009/06/15/returning-to-work-after-cancer/


  5. marielle Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 6:00 PM

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this too. After cancer treatment (and grad school) I got a stressful job (one I went to grad school for). I feel like my priorities are different after the cancer experience, and now I feel like I want to go back to the old job I had before cancer – maybe because it’s comforting and I was used to it. I don’t know. I requested a transfer recently to a less stressful work site and I hope that my boss gives it to me – I think she will – I finally had the courage to tell her all that I had been through this past year, so she probably will transfer me. I’m so torn – I think what I need is a non stressful job right now that I can somewhat enjoy. Yes. That’s what I need. I’d like to work part time too, but I still have medical bills coming in that I need to pay for. It’s frustrating and depressing.


  6. Becca B Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    I know that employer’s cannot discriminate, but truly, I don’t want to be “the one”. Everyone begins to learn your issues…and as I said, I can’t really hide mine (trust me, I’ve tried…it really doesn’t work so well). Honestly, the way I see it, I am a LIABILITY to ANY company I may work for. I no longer have the ability to be an ASSET. So my desire and drive goes way way WAY down.
    And yes, I know all too well about shifting priorities, making one-time passions into new hobbies (and yes, i also hate that word. i have waaaay too many of them nowdays). I know about reframing, and about working within what you’re dealt. Its really all I can do. But that doesn’t mean it changes my view of the fact that I will just have to be happy with working a low paying parttime customer service job with no chance of moving “up” at all.


  7. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 7:56 PM

    I won’t argue with you for a second that this all sucks Becca. Nor do I debate that you are a liability to an employers. All of us with cancer are liabilities to our employers and some to much greater degrees than others. But I do argue that you no longer have the ability to be an asset to any company. I think you need some career counseling girl – from someone who deals specifically with people with disabilities. I’ve gotta get one on here to do a guest post. A dear abby of the work world woes! As an aside, I have long thought that it would be great if an organization were started that matched cancer patients with meaningful work as they are transitioning to different phases of their disease. Work that counts, that matters, that uses our skills, and can accommodate our health needs. Nice dream huh? Kinda like the Goodwill Industries for cancer patients.


  8. Ryan M. Says:
    June 28th, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    The first time I was diagnosed with cancer I was 21 and still covered by my parent’s insurance because I was in school. The second time I was diagnosed with (a different) cancer was at the age 25.

    In between these two I had graduated and started working for for the federal government. It was the best choice of employer I could have ever made, especially looking at it retrospectively. Amazing health benefits, disability coverage, and general being okay with being really sick factor.

    Of course the other side of this is that I’m pretty sure I can never leave federal employment. Anybody else would be crazy to hire me. I understand that you “can’t” discriminate based on health of a person, but the reality is that many smaller companies can’t ignore that aspect of a person like me. The safety blanket of a government job also means more to me than it does to 95% of the other employees, too.

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