Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Unemployment after chemotherapy

In May 2007, two weeks prior to my breast cancer diagnosis, I was laid off from my full time job. That is the last full time job I have worked. I was a rocket scientist and decided I could job hunt between surgeries and while going through chemo. I ended up returning to a part time job I had held before - lucky me, they had an opening.

Now it turns out I am not alone. New research (because we always need new research) shows that women who undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer are much more likely to become unemployed. (They didn't tell us about that little factoid when we were making treatment decisions.)

"Dr. Reshma Jagsi of the University of Michigan Health System and her colleagues studied 2,290 women in the Los Angeles and Detroit areas diagnosed with breast cancer between 2005 and 2007. They spoke with more than 1,500 of them four years later.

About 1,000 of the women were under 65 and interviewed both times, and of them, 76 percent had paid jobs before they were diagnosed.

The women who got chemo were less likely to still be working four years later, they reported in the journal Cancer. The researchers found that 38 percent of the women who got chemo were jobless four years later, versus 27 percent of the women who skipped chemo..."

"The findings don’t surprise breast cancer experts. “For the vast majority of patients, side effects are manageable and they can improve after, but some patients don’t feel fully functional for the long term,” said Dr. Jennifer Litton, a breast oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston."

In my case, I worked two part time jobs for a total of about 30 hours/week for a few years after chemo and radiation ended. Since my rheumatoid and fibromyalgia diagnoses I have cut back to one part time job for 15-18 hours/week. Sometimes that is even difficult.

Even with out RA and fibromyalgia, I am not sure I would be able to do my previous jobs again. As marketing director for a medium sized non profit, I was multi-tasking, putting out fires, and jumping through hoops as I hands on managed and over saw an on-and offline marketing plan. My brain is fried. I get tired. My chemobrain kicks in and I have no memory of what I did 10 minutes ago. I don't trust myself to do as much as I used to.

Now I do marketing for a small family owned business. When I took the job, we discussed the fact that it was clearly a step back for me career wise. I told them my life had changed in that I had gotten married and was looking for a job where I wasn't traveling, wasn't managing a bunch of people, and could go to work and go home. That has become even more real. 

Now I leave myself notes all over the place on what needs to be done because there is no way I could remember it all. I have flexibility to go to doctor appointments and for the days when I am too tired. I can manage my schedule around my health issues. And I don't have to worry that I might overextend myself because I can handle my little job.

This new research shows me that I am not alone and there are many other women out there who don't work or work in lesser jobs because of chemotherapy.

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