Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Stigma Still Exists

A post I read from another blogger reminded me of an incident, and I’ve had a few, where I felt a slow bubbling anger rising inside. Yes, I’m a sensitive and kind person, but I get angry too.

One of the difficulties, and there are many, of having cancer young, is if you survive through the treatments and get to a place you feel well enough, you then need to find a way to work again. To build a career, or find that place in society where you can contribute, where you can thrive, as well as contribute.

I’m an honest person, so I was open about my diagnosis when applying for employment. Foolish? Yes. Down right stupid I suppose. I had great credentials and I was always liked, until I mentioned cancer. Employers want to know why there’s a gap, but they don’t want to know it’s from cancer.

One of the worst feelings I ever had was from an interview from a psychologist's office, no less. I figured with my medical background I would be great at booking appointments, and helping out in the office. When I was finished explaining how I was healthy now, the person would not even shake my hand. Instead, they backed away like they could catch “it” from me. I went home and cried. I learned to hide a part of myself that day. I filled in the gap on my resume with some other odd work I’d managed to do, and the person I worked for said they would supply my recommendation for a job well done. In effect, I felt I learned to lie that day. I haven’t really lied, but hid the gap; to me it’s always felt like lying.

Cancer was a hard thing to go through and I have to live with the thought of its return everyday. I feel angry I can’t be open about it. I feel angry to have to hide who I am, because whether I like it or not, cancer is a part of who I am, just like all those ambulance calls I’ve been on. One of the things I've learned is how we all squelch who we are inside at times, just to be acceptable, to conform, and to not rock the proverbial boat. I detest the fact we can’t just be who we are. So afraid of each other, so afraid to say the wrong thing, or make a mistake as you learn new things. People are held back by fear. Cripe, we can’t even reach out to one another down here. Even when there are no strings, no agendas, just being who we are, we have to be so careful. It saddens me. It won’t always be this way, but for now it down right stinks.


Patient Anonymous said...

Excellent post *wink*

I too had to lie when I returned to work. I had never been fired from a job in my life! I have a supreme work ethic! I had no idea how I would ever get a job with that hanging over my head, much less with the issues of the "mental illness" debacle!

I believe/d that these sorts of things are not to be brought up in an interview and at least in Canada they are actually forbidden by law to be even touched upon (at least the health issues, other personal things etc...) Why you left your previous job is another matter but luckily I had two very good references outside of the organization that fired me (complex structure) that knew what was going on who were willing to to bat for me. They were also very high up on the chain so they carried more weight than the people that actually did me in. I just came up with something else that was vague re: why I had in fact "left" and it was fine.

In terms of honesty outside of the professional, I have always been very forthcoming and have tried not to misrepresent myself. At times, this has gotten me into a lot of trouble as I don't think many other people are like this(?)

I think I am the antithesis of what you describe in your post. Or at least I have been for the majority of my life. Or maybe I certainly am now?

I try to tread carefully, however. Rocking the boat doesn't mean sinking it.

Chrysalis said...

I didn't lie P.A., but had to pad my resume. It "felt" lie lying to me. Remember they check everything, so it had to be true.

Your so right about the "being forthcoming" part of your comment. It's gotten me into a painful spot too, but I think it's ok now.

You probably gather your the blogger that was my muse for this post. When I left the message on your blog. I felt angry for you, and what you went through and for me. It's a shame there isn't more compassion and understanding in the world.

Patient Anonymous said...

Yes, I know it was me and I am very humbled and flattered.

You have done me a great honour.

And apologies, I misunderstood about the "lie" part. Okay, so I'm the liar!

Take care,

Chrysalis said...

Lol, you crack me up P.A. I'm so glad you're around to brighten my day.

Patient Anonymous said...

Hey, I do what I can?


M said...

That is very unfortunate. But I can see why you felt the need to 'pad' your resume. Employers screen out and reject prospective emploees for all kinds of (completely illegal)reasons...refusing to hire young newly married young women for fear that they will get pregnant & leave work...and yes, Patient Anonymous employers run scared from any mental illness diagnosis. And then, even if you are gainfully employed health insurance, or life insurance companies can deny you for all kinds of health related reasons...suspected diseases, mental health, etc. It is a shame that our society has become so hung up on money...that is what it all boils down to. Money.

Anyway, I am glad that you appear to be recovering and thriving. And I can tell you from personal experience, that our greatest Gifts are Buried beneath our Deepest Wounds.

~Be well. :)

Chrysalis said...

Thank you for commenting Meredith. What a saying, "our greatest gifts are buried beneath our deepest wounds", how true. Out of pain comes much compassion and a certain knowledge you can only get by truly having been through the fire.

Unknown said...

How completely absurd that people's reactions are grounded in superstitious horror rather than a modern acceptance of the fact that for some people, cancer has become more like a chronic illness and has similar impacts on the work history.

Regards - Shinga

Chrysalis said...

You wouldn't believe the stories I could tell Shinga. I've had some bad things said to me. People just don't get it.

ian-ink said...

hey CA'
thankyou for your lovely comment on my blog!

this post caught my eye - i think Fear is such a huge factor in stigma. I get slight jokes, off-handed comments, funny 'is-he-suddenly-going-to-bit-me' looks when ppl realise i have a diagnosed mental health condition...Sheesh!

But anyway, as a point of conversation... my Mum used to be a McMillan's Nurse! I grew up visiting her after school in the local hospices (i had a fairly weird childhood). I'm not sure the McMillan's are still running these days, they used to be a charity to conduct screening and care etc, but the NHS kind of 'took over' i think...?

i think early exposure can be a tricky, but over-all worthwhile. As i was young i didn't understand what i was seeing, just that these ppl were very ill, and it totally got rid of ones' fears and opinions when you can sit around and talk normally to ppl in diverse situations. It was a good experience for me growing up.

I hope you and your friends are okay,

take care

Chrysalis said...

Hi Ian,
What a pleasant surprise to see you visit. I just love your comments on Sisyphusledge, crack me up and oh so true.

You are right it would be tricky exposing a child to such. It's frightening to adults!

I'm sorry to you, that you've had to endure those things from others. It's painful and insensitive. Education has failed in getting people to understand the issues some face and to give them compassion and understanding instead of looks and comments.

I'm glad you've stopped by. I'll continue to look for your comments on Sisyphus,or here if you choose. I see a great sense of humor in there. :)

ian-ink said...

aww thats really sweet CA! :)
yeah i think humour is probably one of our defenses against life?? (altho' the funniest thing about me is my dress sense lol)


Chrysalis said...

Well Ian, what kind of a dress are you wearing?...:)

Couldn't resist.

Anonymous said...

Once you have something major in your life traumatic... you tend to be branded with it for the rest of your life. It is so very wrong for the world to do this but people have a tendacy to talk out of both sides of there mouth don't they. I wish that hiding was not such a major part of our lives.

Chrysalis said...

I so agree with you Wolfbaby. Thanks for swinging by. I appreciate the look see.