When one my patients wants to start working again, all the while following breast cancer treatments, she will rapidly realize that her work life will be considerably different from what she knew pre-disease. She’ll have to juggle between heavy medical treatments and showing up at the office: two worlds that don’t coexist for most of us will overlap for months if not longer.
A hospital social worker, financed by the Eureka foundation, will dedicate herself to coordinate key professionals and resources around the patient’s recovery journey – a journey that can sometimes be long and twisting.
Anne-Lise Lainé : Head of Social Services at the Paoli-Calmettes Institute.
My name is Gerard Gardet and I’m an employment counsellor. I never imagined I would have to endure such a tough adventure.
I was diagnosed with malignant non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma. This aggressive type of cancer immediately required a heavy treatment schedule at the onco-hematology department of the Paoli-Calmettes Institute. Even if I responded very well to the treatments, the disease has turned my personal and professional lives upside down. I went through different stages: lack of understanding, injustice and fear… I had to strengthen my willpower and search for support to overcome this trial.
Every patient lives through this ordeal in his or her own way. However, being able to talk about your sickness, your hopes and your fears is important. My initial reaction when I learned that I was sick was to protect my family and close friends from the facts – cancer is a scary word. I quickly realized that I hadn’t made the best choice: for example, my daughter, already in the throes of her early teens, was having additional trouble coping with the secret surrounding her father’s illness. I started talking - talking about ones illness is almost as important as getting treated – in fact I then spent most of my time comforting my loved ones.
Unfortunately, being sick doesn’t only affect one’s relationships. The administrative, professional and financial burden is huge. After exiting the first few months of treatment – a purely medical affair – comes the weight of juggling between different administrations, namely social security, the hospital, insurances, human resource departments – everything becomes complicated.
Even as our society increasingly goes digital, real-life collaboration remains an obstacle course for someone recovering from cancer. For months, I had to cope with the stringent and sometimes incoherent demands from social security as well as an inept human resources department. I had to quit working part-time whilst getting treated the rest of the time as it was too difficult administratively. This was unfortunate, because working part-time was the best way for me to get back in the game. I was recovering my lost self-confidence and reassuring my professional entourage that I was still capable of doing the job.
I had to solicit the IPC’s social services, financed by the Eureka Foundation, several times so they could mediate on my behalf in order for my paperwork to be processed.
Today, I’m back to working full time and I’m driven by the same energy I had before I fell sick. I cannot deny that I am a changed person. Even though I must bear the weight of a more complicated lifestyle, this doesn’t prevent me from waking up in the morning and making plans for the future.
Throughout my struggle against cancer, my strength came from those who supported me and who were by my side. I’m deeply thankful for all the loved ones and professionals who contributed to making my illness a thing of the past.
I am now in remission: what I’ve lived through is history, what I’ll experience in the future is a mystery and my life today is a gift.
Gerard Gardet : Employment Counsellor