Assistant Director at
a Government Agency

“Employers shouldn’t feel, ‘she has cancer – she is going to die’.”

It’s quite easy for those like me who work with the government because, when we finish 2 years of sick leave, we have to come back to work. But, if we are unable to work, we can take more leave for half-pay. However, it’s the support that I received from my seniors, higher-ups and also my own manager that has really helped me to ease back into work again.

The advice I’d like to give to employers about how to treat their staff is that they have to accept that this disease, ABC, is not a disease that is infectious. People can still work. A lot of my friends who were at the same stage of cancer as me went back to work.

I have read the studies that have been done on returning to work. For stage 4 cancer, 10% of patients go back to work. I did not want to be grouped in the 90% who couldn’t or didn’t go back to work – I wanted to be in the 10% who can work, even though, of that 10%, only 1% can work as they used to before they were sick. I want to be in that 1%.

To me, employers shouldn’t feel, ‘she has cancer – she is going to die/pass away’, but they always talk like that. When I started coming back to work, they said to me, “I’m sorry but I’ve heard that patients with your stage of cancer will pass away.” I replied by saying, “Everyone has to die eventually, and I feel fortunate because god gave me cancer, and I thought I was going to die of cancer, but I’ve now bounced back!” So they were laughing at my response and said that I’ve definitely recovered as I’m joking about my cancer, and that my spirit is strong.

In my office, not many people have come back. Of the ABC patients, it’s only me who has come back. The others have either passed away or are still on sick leave.

My managers said that I don’t look sick because I still go to meetings and do all my other work. They said it would be easy if all our officers were like me.

So, the advice I would give is to say, “Don’t be prejudiced against the patient or look at or treat them differently. Patients can get emotional quickly. If people don’t give them work to do, they may worry that they are not thought capable. If they are told to work a bit less, they will feel different.”

I think that employers have to assess what level of contribution their sick employees can give. They shouldn’t expect them to work or perform as before; for example, if they used to be able to climb a building, they may still want to do so. But now they have to use what strength they have inside them as a patient.

I think that, with support and encouragement, and if their emotions are stable, then they can work again.