Why I Continued to Work During Treatment

Not only did Garth decide it was best for him to work during treatment, but it helped him approach his job from a completely new viewpoint. Read on how he navigated this 'new normal' within the workplace.

Recently at my job, employee performance evaluations were distributed. The joy of condensing a year’s worth of work down to a rating from 1 to 5. I was rating myself on my old position with the company. During the year I was recovering from surgery and subsequently diagnosed with metastatic kidney cancer. I started adjuvant therapy and have been taking Votrient ever since. For all intents and purposes, I was a cancer patient each and every workday last year. The initial impact of the side effects was severe. I didn’t function well and it really affected my ability to work.

I looked over the employee evaluation form and wondered whether I met the expectations for each criteria, having Cancer:

1. Vomits in private (I only had that one incident in the common area!)

2. Arrives at work at the designated time (most days I can barely drag my butt out of bed when the alarm rings)

3. Works well in a team (except when I am at the doctor’s office, in the CT machine, in the MRI machine, talking to my oncologist on the phone, etc.)

4. Displays a positive attitude (I believe that I will win this battle, and my positive attitude spills out everywhere!)

In the end, I rated myself as if I were healthy, when in reality, I wasn’t. I took time off as I adjusted to the side effects of treatment. On the days I could actually make it out of bed I was still plagued with extreme fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea. We started to better manage the side effects. Despite my treatment, I chose to work most of the year. Why? I wanted to be normal. My ‘new normal’ included being productive at work. My ‘normal’ consisted of working with clients to staff their I.T. departments. My ‘normal’ wasn’t about being sick. Working gave me a reason to try and get out of bed each day. I needed to provide for my family. I have been the primary income provider for my family for the last 15 years, since my daughter was born. We couldn’t shift gears at a faster rate like the cancer did.

I wanted to secure both my company sponsored health insurance and supplemental life insurance. Cancer was impacting us in ways we had never anticipated. I needed a diversion from cancer. When working, I was able to approach my old ‘normal’ and feel more like myself. I wanted to feel productive. I am incredibly fortunate that my manager and team recognized the stress cancer put on my life. I sent countless emails with the subject, “Out of office – Dr” or “Out of office – MRI”. Each and every single time the reply was, “Do what you have to do!”. When I shot a quick update after a 4 am vomiting session to let them know I might be late, they replied, “Take care of yourself!” We even instituted a new rule at the office: If Garth throws up, he’s done for the day!

The question to ask yourself isn’t whether or not you should work, but rather, “What steps do I need to take to reach physical, mental, spiritual, and financial well-being?”

The truth is, we’re all adjusting to this ‘new normal’ in our lives. “Normal’ has been a rapidly moving target in my life for the last few years. Some days I lie to myself or my employer. I say I can handle it, when I am not entirely sure that I can. Many days I pray I can get through the work day without throwing up in front of someone.

I am positively looking forward to my next employee evaluation and to not using the word ‘vomit’ this time around!