Monday, November 22, 2010

Her Employer Let Her Go After Cognitive Problems at Work

By Karen B.
Madison, WI
Guest Blogger

I am 59 years young.  I was diagnosed in July 2008 with stage 3A breast cancer.  I had a lumpectomy followed by a mastectomy because my margins were not clean, had chemo Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxol, followed by six weeks of radiation treatment.  I've been on the anti-hormonal drug Arimidex since May 2009.

I had all the physical side effects: nausea, extreme fatigue, neuropathy, joint aches and pains, etc. But I also had cognitive issues which really affected my work in an inside sales/customer service

position. The company came up with a point system and you were assigned or subtracted so many points for each incoming call varying on the length of the call, availability in call queue, if you generated a quote or a sale etc. etc. etc.  It was very demanding.  Sometimes I had ten computer screens open. 

At the height of my chemo I was having serious cognitive issues, stuttering, stammering could not think of the correct words, trouble focusing and concentrating and definite issues with multitasking.  I
decided to go through cognitive testing during all this to try and protect my job.  The results came back showing that I was "fine" except for my abilities to concentrate, focus and/or multi-task.  My employer agreed to reasonable accommodations and put me on "special projects" with marketing and HR for only six weeks and expected me to be 100% at the end of that time period.  All the while I was adjusting to Arimidex and was put on antidepressants so I would not have the major ups and downs, the roller coaster that is a wild, wild ride when your body is being stripped of estrogen. 

My boss just didn't get it.  She was on me on a daily basis treating me like a small child, "Karen you have to work faster, Karen did you understand? Karen we don't know just quite what to do with you, you are our first cancer survivor," etc.  They made my life MISERABLE.  My boss would ask me 'how long I thought it would take for me to get back to normal" and I would say I had no idea what to expect because I had never had cancer before that time.  At my year-end review they said my job performance was not as good as that of my normal, healthy co-workers and I was let go.

People say we are protected against discrimination but that's not true. Even now when I go on job interviews when they find out I am a cancer survivor I am dropped into the rejection pile! The only way you can get around discrimination is to hire an attorney and sue, not my style, so sad! 

And I still struggle with trying to understand why I do not qualify for some sort of government grant to go back to school and retrain for a position other than sales, which is a high stress multitasking nightmare.  I hate to say this but if I were a drug addict or an alcoholic there would be all sorts of assistance available! I am a very positive person, so I know in my heart I will be okay.

Thank goodness I have been working as a volunteer since March of this year for our local Susan G. Komen Affiliate.  Working with Komen in the local office on the Race For the Cure committee and community outreach programs has helped with my cognitive issues.  I have improved tremendously this past eight months, I no longer stutter or stammer.  I can think clearly, concentrate and focus but I STILL have issues with multitasking.

Sometimes I wonder if losing my job and having to not have another position after nine months makes it worth surviving the breast cancer!  I don't like it when I think that way, it scares me.  I pray every day that I will find another job in the near future!  In the meantime, I STILL struggle with chemo brain because I am on oral chemo and will be for the next four years!
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on Chemo Brain with you!

1 comment:

  1. Karen:

    What a great post. Thanks so much for sharing this, it feels very important. I was so lucky to have my cognitive abilities return, but it took a couple of years for the chemo to wear off. I also volunteered (at the Wellness Community in West LA), which was a perfect way to begin to recover my skills in a non-pressured environment.

    Please don't blame yourself for the ignorant behavior of your boss. She had no moral (and probably legal) right to treat you that way.

    None of us recovering from cancer can afford to do things we hate to do, or to put ourselves in toxic situations. So, good luck, take care of yourself, and try to find something to do that you love.