There’s lots to learn at Cancer School, but not from me.

I’ve previously written about Cancer School, by which I am referring to the various free classes available to cancer patients. There’s yoga for the cancerous, cooking for the cancerous, crafts for the cancerous, the list goes on. When I was first diagnosed, I attended several of these classes, but now that I’m too busy denying my cancer, I’ve stopped going.

Why would I want to hang out with cancerous people? I might catch something deadly. Just kidding. I highly endorse Cancer School. I met many great cancerous people there. And at no point did anyone have to kill the conversation by saying, “By the way, I have cancer.” Cancer was our common denominator.

Still, I was surprised to receive an email recently asking me to speak to the Return to Work group at Wellspring Calgary, our city’s fantastic Cancer-School hub. I participated in the RTW program soon after my leukemia diagnosis, so the group leaders thought I might have something useful to share.

As I tried to inform the leader who’d invited me, and the participants will soon learn, I have nothing useful to share to the RTW group. Had cancer school classes been graded, I’d have received an F. I signed up for this group questioning whether to resume working at all, and by the time it ended, I was even more confused.

My cancer diagnosis profoundly changed my perspective on working, even though I loved my profession. I questioned how much of my now-limited time and energy I wanted to devote to work. I also knew I’d have to give up much of the work I’d specialized in because I didn’t have the energy, concentration, or stamina for it.

My questioning whether I could sustain my work started when I first got sick, many years prior cancer diagnosis. I anticipated then that my career might be cut short. Once leukemia arrived, I’d saved enough funds to sustain myself if need be. I also had a generous partner who was more than willing to support me. What about the single parents, young and old people, and people without financial means? They get cancer too, and many don’t get to choose not to work.

Insurance claim form with red "REJECTED" stamp on itI also didn’t have disability insurance beyond the paltry amount the government was willing to pay me monthly. Why didn’t I invest in disability insurance before I got sick at age 36? I also neglected to consider the impact of leaving a job with full benefits after my polycythemia diagnosis. Need I advise you to ensure you have sufficient disability insurance before you need it, since you won’t be able to get any in the event that you become ill? Hopefully the RTW group’s members have the coverage I did not.

Maybe I’ll talk to the group about what it’s like to have one’s beloved career cut short, right when it was reaching its peak. Will I ever consider myself retired rather than not working? I’m not there yet, but I hope to be someday.

Hopefully no one will fall asleep or, even worse, walk out while I’m speaking. I don’t want another F on my academic record. After they hear me speak, will the leaders go so far as to invite me back? Stranger things have happened.


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