Being diagnosed with cancer can be one of the most difficult situations any of us have to face. It can be a tremendous shock and cause us to be fearful of the future, affecting every aspect of our lives, including our ability to have or keep a job.
Our work often defines us, how often have you asked someone you have just met what they ‘do?’ We don’t mean what they do or enjoy doing in their spare time, we mean what do they ‘do’ to earn a living and keep food on the table. Some of us enjoy our work, others just see it as a means to an end; to make ends meet. For some people work is the centre of their lives and it does indeed define what they do and who they are; they would feel bereft, cut adrift without it. For others it is just something they have to do and would give up like a shot if they could.
A cancer diagnosis, the treatment and side effects can reduce our ability to work, this may be transitory or permanent. Some people have to change their pattern of work and others may not work for some time. Some people may use the time to reconsider what they want to do, change their career path or give up all together.
Certainly having cancer changes your perceptions and makes you realise what is really important in life. I have not worked since the end of November and was recently given the opportunity to apply for voluntary redundancy, which I have decided to take so yesterday was my last officially ’employed’ day and now I am without a job.
This decision led me to think about why we work, is it just about the money? Many of us aren’t lucky enough to love what we do so it’s not that either. I think its a combination of things, but clearly the remuneration we receive comes at, or near, the top of the list. Certainly we have to have our basic needs met: food, water, warmth, shelter , safety (Maslow) before we move on to meeting our psychological needs and we need to be paid to enable us to provide for these basic needs, however I think there are other motivations:
- Respect: we all want to be respected by other people, in this case our colleagues, clients etc.
- Challenge: we need to be challenged, to bring out the best in us
- Social interaction: work allows us to socialise with people who have similar lifestyles and career paths, who understand ‘where we are coming from’. It’s where we often build lasting friendships
- Satisfaction: in a job well done, although we are more likely to derive satisfaction if we do something we are good at doing
- Status: certain job roles give us a professional position or standing in society but all work avoids the opposite status (often negative) of being unemployed
- Appreciation: for others to realise our full worth
- Fulfilment: for the educationalists amongst us this may mean self-actualisation (Maslow), perhaps a combination of accomplishment and purpose in life
You may agree/disagree with these or be able to add some of your own, but for me I guess these were my major motivations.
So now I am without a job, how do I feel?
At the moment I don’t feel very different, but I know the first time someone asks me that ‘What do you do?’ question I will feel that somehow that I have lost status and respect and become ‘someone with cancer’, a ‘cancer sufferer’ a ‘cancer survivor’, ‘unemployed’ an ‘ex teacher’ or some other label which doesn’t really define who I am anymore.
I have made a conscious effort to keep up the social interactions, even though at times I have just wanted to shut myself away. I have managed to keep dancing some of the time which has provided satisfaction, fulfilment, respect, challenge, appreciation and social interaction so these things are not missing from my life altogether. However I am wary that once I start high dose Chemotherapy and have my stem cell transplant I will not be able to dance for quite a while and therefore these important motivations will be missing from my life. After all these motivations are not just why we work but surely why we live. Time will tell how I feel then.
Right now I know I made the right decision; it allows me to be positive, concentrate on getting through my treatment and hopefully into remission. It gives me thinking space where I am able to think of it as an opportunity to reconsider the direction I want to take in life rather than be pushed back into work, perhaps before I am ready and into a role I had become disillusioned with and that had destroyed my work/life balance.
What do you think?