Making ‘work’ work for you

These past two weeks I’ve had a severe cold. Even though I was sick, I decided to go to back to work. But once there, I became irritated and angry. I know I shouldn’t have but there I was, having driven two hours in traffic to get to a meeting on time, and then the meeting turned out to be a waste of time. My colleagues thought so as well and decided to change the approach. But unlike them, I got a bit irritated.

Since I’m working for a government agency, much time is spent in meetings. But I have always tried to focus on results, even more so now that I am doing much better. I keep telling myself that I am not a bureaucrat and that I can really make a difference by making the projects that I work on run smoothly. And when that doesn’t happen, I sometimes get a little upset. Perhaps a bit foolish, but also due to my current health situation. I take medication which causes mood swings – something I have not told my co-workers because I find that very personal and I try to control it as much as possible. In addition to that, I’m also in menopause due to the cancer. Which besides the hot flashes also causes mood swings. And to top that all off, I had a bad cold and headache. Perhaps it would have been better to call in sick like normal people do….

This past week EenVandaag (a tv and news show) presented results of the study about employees with cancer. This study was done together with the NFK – the cancer organization for which I will do volunteer work on this topic.

The results showed that more than 25% of the people who responded lost their job within 2 years of getting cancer. What was interesting is that of the group with cancer, more than 85% were eager to go back to work despite being sick or still suffering the consequences. The study concluded that there is not enough support for (ex-)patients once they go back to work. It is a real shame that despite the intentions, apparently the gap between what is possible and desirable is too big to make it work. Also, cancer patients have a much higher unemployment rate (40% higher) than the rest of the population. It is really hard to find a job once you’ve had cancer.

The real challenge I think, is how to make your ‘work’ work for you. Speaking for myself, a lot has changed for me that makes it difficult or perhaps impossible to work the way I used to. And probably the way I used to work (lots of hours, lots of stress) isn’t good for me or anyone else. The most important difference for me is that I cannot deal with stress anymore. And I have to learn to slow down and not try to prove myself every day. I know I am not the only cancer patient with these issues. I am fortunate though that one of my colleagues understands exactly what I am going through.

At the end of May, the NFK has organized a training for the ambassador volunteers (like myself) to learn how to coach others in this proces. We will be trained to give workshops to employers, HR managers and doctors on how to communicate and work with employees with cancer.

Anyone interested in this topic (who speaks Dutch) is invited to attend the conference Grip op de werkvloer: werken met een chronische ziekte kan! Tuesday June 3 from 15.30-21:00 at Nyenrode, organized by KNMG and NFK.

My next post will be about my trip to the US. On Wednesday, I leave for the US to see my friends in DC and then go to the conference in Philadelpia. I will keep you posted.




7 Replies to “Making ‘work’ work for you”

  1. Hoi Sheila, ik kan me voorstellen dat het lastig is dat je zelf zoveel nieuwe inzichten hebt en het op de werkvloer op een andere manier werkt. Stressloos werken zou voor iedereen mooi zijn. Zinloze vergaderingen overslaan ook… toekomstmuziek? Ik hoop het.
    misschien goed om te weten dat ons inloophuis maandelijks gratis een spreekuur heeft over kanker en werk. Over voorkomen van conflicten, contact met collega’s, wat vertel je wel en wat niet, reintegratie etc. Een begeleidingstraject door een reintegratiecoach is meestal gratis voor de ‘patient’ omdat de baas of uwv de kosten voor zijn rekening neemt.
    Het inloophuis bij jou in de buurt kan dat vast ook bieden. Kijk anders op de website van Stap nu.  Zij komen het liefst in contact voor er een conflict is ontstaan. Zij weten waar een ex-patient tegenaan loopt. En het eerste gesprek is altijd gratis.

  2. Hi Sheila, I simply had to respond to your post with a couple of my experiences. I was kicked into menopause at 36 because of chemo. Couldn’t take estrogen/progesterone combo because my receptors were negative and at that time doctors thought any assistance for the hot flashes would bring the cancer back. Because it’s an abrupt chemo-caused inducement, I believe that the body’s response is much more severe than a natural onset. I was wet for 5 years because the flashes were so bad! HA! Wasn’t funny then, but I can chuckle now.

    To comment on your irritation… when I was going through chemo I had great difficulty with events that would waste my time. To give a very dangerous yet simple example… I wouldn’t stop at red lights when driving. I would slow down and look for oncoming traffic to ensure an accident didn’t occur, but I didn’t feel I had the time to wait through an entire red light if there wasn’t oncoming traffic. Life was precious and short and I didn’t want to waste time. I couldn’t help but feel that your irritation with a time-wasting meeting incurred the same response that I used to have when people wasted my time.

    Also, I’m not sure if you’ve experienced “chemo brain” yet. The medical professionals wouldn’t acknowledge my lack of cognition or ability to remember back then following chemo, but they do now with current patients.

    Hang in there, Sistah! Love you Laurie

    1. thanks so much Laurie! that’s exactly what I mean. I worry if I’m spending my time on the right things. got the chemo brain too, still having trouble remembering things if I don’t write them down.

  3. Wow, Sheila. Dit zijn dingen waar niemand het over heeft in de wandelgangen. Ik bewonder je openheid hierover waardoor ik weer tot andere inzichten kom. Dankjewel hiervoor en succes/plezier in de USA!

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