Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why Aren't We Ready for Cancer Survivors?

After nearly 18 years of caring for people with cancer, I've seen some remarkable improvements in cancer treatment. Diseases once assumed to be life limiting are more chronic. Many more have had years of quality life added to otherwise dismal prognoses. Certainly, much work needs to be done for a whole host of cancers and in improving treatments. But to deny the progress that I've seen with my own eyes would be disingenuous.

You would think that society would be enthusiastic about all the cancer survivors out there. Unfortunately, society is completely unprepared.

It's so frustrating for me as a professional, I am sure even more frustrating for the people I try to help. There are two socially acceptable ways you go through cancer: 1) lose a brave battle, or 2) have a wake up call. Either of these simplistic narratives has the same predictability-- a beginning, a middle and an end.

What about the thousands, maybe millions in between? The people who got cancer, did their treatment and are disease free. BUT. Exactly-- disease free, but...

But neuropathy. Chemo-brain. Deconditioning. Limited endurance. Loss of senses like taste or smell. Feeling different. Looking different. Thinking different. All those colleagues who disappeared during the illness. The other ones who moved into your work space.

Whole rounds of doctor's appointments that can take up an entire afternoon, days, for months or even years after a cancer diagnosis. "I thought you were fine" is the most common retort. I'm sure the intention isn't to push uncomfortable buttons about fears of recurrence, but that's exactly what it does.

What about the employer who isn't willing to have an employee disappear for a week every 3-6 months for follow up appointments? That employee already ate up all their sick time.

They get fired. Sure, not for being a cancer patient, but for missing work. It's all legal.

Too much affected by cancer for full-time work. Over qualified for part-time work.

Lately the only safety net available to this growing population of cancer survivors is social security disability. Some of the lucky ones have employee long-term disability as well. But what a horrible predicament-- survive cancer, but now you have to amplify your general helplessness and hopelessness on a disability application because otherwise you'll get fired.

Society isn't ready for cancer survivors.

Society is losing its brave battle with cancer.

So frustrating.