A bit of a rant coming here, so you may wish to avert your eyes.
I have a fairly senior corporate position. When I was diagnosed, I was concerned about whether I’d be able to keep my job. I liked the senior leaders of my company, and they liked me, but as many of us know, cancer tests everything. They allowed me to go fully remote. This was about six months before the pandemic. On “just” the cancer. Didn’t take a day of leave. I was grateful and happy then, but it almost makes me tear up now. And I’m not given to such things, having grown up in the US in the ‘70s.
Why? Because I now see, 3+ years later, how crucial this has been. Remote work enabled me to focus on my care, and continue to do my work at a high level—work that I truly enjoy, and which was at times a crucial distraction—as opposed to dragging myself into the office, exposing my then weakened immune system to (even pre-pandemic) pathogens, missing my kids, and expending vital bodily defense capital. I witnessed my dad doing that in the ‘90s, going through 5FU. It was terrible, and he was a much, much tougher guy.
As I said, I was grateful, so I tried to double down on my work. (Admittedly, during FOLFOX and a few other “adventures,” I was was really not doubling down, more like .5xdown, sometimes : ) Whenever the smoke cleared, I really did try to sprint. Then the pandemic happened, and we all know how that went. I have remained remote. So far so good. How good? My rad onc says: “Keep doing what you’re doing, your immune system is doing a great job.” I have changed my diet, maintained a relatively even keel (relatively, because I’m given to stressing out and cancer is a hurricane), exercised (running, walking, recently weightlifting), and spent three unexpectedly full and happy years with my teenage kids. None of this would’ve happened without the option of being remote. No chance. And that doesn’t even account for the possibility that COVID would’ve gotten me when my WBCs were crashing. On top of that, I’ve been able to knock it out of the park at work. Technology is a fabulous thing. I’ve gotten projects done that were pending for years, had many other successes. My team also stepped up to make it all seamless. It was truly a win-win.
So why a rant? Because I know how lucky I was for it to go this way. My experience has driven home the madness of not allowing folks with serious cancer diagnoses to continue to work in this way. And yet I know it is far from universal. I’ve seen some stories of similarly enlightened employers, but I know many people are nowhere near as lucky as I have been. I am very concerned that flexibility around remote work that was created by the pandemic may be evaporating as the rear guard army of “face timers” take over again. Of course, I understand that some jobs are just not amenable to fully remote performance. But even there, I think the goal for cancer care should be to allow for—or should I say “take advantage of”—the opportunity for as much remote work as possible, even to the extent of temporary or permanent role flexibility or change. I think there are many win-win opportunities out there when it comes to committed, engaged employees who are confronting cancer. Many that aren’t being explored now, I fear. We —well, mostly employers—just need the vision and open-mindedness to grab them. I know that happened in my case, and I’m endlessly grateful for it. Importantly, my employer also got a doubly engaged, grateful senior employee out of it. And much good, effective work, too. And yes, I didn’t take a vacation for the first year, and just a short one in the second, and I worked all days and at all hours, whatever it took. But at my pace and discretion. That was easy and relaxing, because I was fully remote. I truly hope that others get the understanding I did, and that we support and expand the remote work option for cancer patients in the future.
Just my 2 cents ; )
7/19: Rectal cancer: Staged IIIA, T2N1M0
approx 4.25 cm, low/mid rectum, mod. well diff.; lung micronodule
8/22 -10/14 4 rounds FOLFOX neoadjuvant, 3 w/Oxiplatin (side effects/reduced 70-75%)
neoadjuvant chemorad 11/19
4 rounds FOLFOX July-August 2020
ncCR 10/20; biopsies neg
TAE 11/20, tumor cells removed
Chest CT 3/30/21 small growth in 2 nodules (3 and 5mm)
VATS 12/8/21 sub-pleural met 7mm.
SBRT nodule 1/22
CT 3/22: Clear
Thoracic CT 5/19/22 Clear
6/20/22 TAE rectal polyp benign
CT/MRI 9/11 Clear