I started back to work on Thursday.
My first day back was like someone threw a bucket of cold water over my head. I had to dress like an adult for the first time in over a year (I’ve gotten waaay too attached to yoga pants). I even wore heels my first day. Of course, I practiced in them first. I wore them around the house Wednesday night so I wouldn’t a) roll an ankle or b) look like a newborn fawn.
And around noon on Thursday I realized I’ve gotten all too used to a mid-day nap.
You teacher-mom’s know what I’m talking about. You probably swear at the beginning of every summer you won’t get attached to naps and every fall you prove yourself wrong.
All that aside, I’m so happy with the place I’ve landed for a lot of reasons.
One of which: Job hunting sucks. Especially after cancer.
Dusting off my resume, updating LinkedIn, notifying contacts that I’m using them as references. Resumes sent into a void only to either get rejected or, worse, hear nothing at all.
Some days I wondered why the hell I went to college if job hunting was still so hard.
The hardest pill to swallow in this job hunt was the disability declaration.
In my life and job hunts before cancer, I didn’t even stutter over the question ‘Are you disabled?’ Before cancer I still lived in a black and white world and I confidently answered ‘no’ every time. My answer wasn’t something I had to qualify or even think about. Being a non-disabled person was something I didn’t even know I took for granted.
Job hunting after cancer changed that.
Each application I filled out asked me to self-identify if I was disabled. At first I said ‘no’, just like I’d always done. Then I read the form’s litmus test for disability.
The first time I encountered this form I felt insulted. Yes, I have a history of cancer, but since I don’t need two nipples to type I don’t think I need special accommodations to perform a job.
I know that’s a limited way of thinking, but the form made me furious. It was one more reminder that I couldn’t just leave cancer behind. It had to follow me around for the rest of my life. Goddammit, other people could be disabled. Not me.
Each time I filled out the form (thirty times to be exact – one for every job application) I was given the option to answer Yes, I have a disability, No, I do not have a disability, or I decline to answer which, let’s face it, is basically saying yes.
Sometimes I said ‘No’. Sometimes I checked the ‘I decline to answer’ box. Not once was I comfortable answering ‘Yes’.
Job hunting after cancer made me feel like I had a secret to hide and secrets do not make for a confident job seeker.
I constantly asked myself what are the repercussions if I admit that I had cancer. Did that make me a high risk employee? Would they reject me based on that? With every job application I felt like I’d be ‘found out’.
According to the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) employers aren’t supposed to discriminate, but I have a hard time hanging my faith on such a flimsy notion as ‘supposed to’.
So while I was neck deep in polite email rejections, I was somehow supposed to be confident in interviews while trying to hide a secret that might exclude me from employment while wrestling with the ever-present terror that the cancer could come back and, (bonus!) it might actually kill me next time.
It’s enough to turn you into this guy.
And then a beautiful thing happened. I was offered a job with a group of people I worked with a few years ago. This same group of people who, upon hearing I had cancer, banded together and made me a quilt, each square individually decorated and personalized by a friend.
I don’t feel like I have to hide from these people. These people know me as the person I was before cancer. They see a co-worker, a runner, a mom. To them, cancer is something that happened to me, but my story didn’t start with cancer.
I don’t know that I would have found this kind of luxury anywhere else. I feel stronger and more confident just being there. And let me tell you, confidence has been in short supply this year. Nothing will make you feel small and utterly powerless like a serious illness.
It feels good to be back at work. To be busy again, to be on a schedule again. It feels like things are slowly returning to normal.
With the new job I’m going to adjust my blogging schedule a bit. Posting twice a week on Mondays and Fridays isn’t going to work anymore. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up blogging (I like it too much), but I do have to roll with the change. My new self-imposed blogging schedule will be one post a week on Saturdays.
As always, thank you for reading!
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