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If I hadn't had cancer, I don't know if I would have chosen a career in social work. In fact, growing up I really wanted to be a doctor. But because I had some fun as an undergraduate in college and my GPA reflected it, I wasn't convinced that I could get into medical school with a B average. So I looked into pharmacy and a few other allied health professions...
...then I was diagnosed with leukemia and all my plans got scuttled like a damaged and sinking battleship.
When I was in remission and back in college classes, I knew medicine or any similar career wouldn't really work for me. So I focused on my true intent, helping other people. I recalled my experiences talking with social workers during and after my cancer treatment and how helpful they were in bolstering my coping skills and garnering resources to address my needs. I came to the conclusion that a graduate program in social work would fit the bill nicely.
As a clinical social worker for 11 years, I got to help lot of people, often in medical settings. At the beginning of my career, I worked with people with HIV and AIDS, undeterred by the death and dying that was a part of the illness before the introduction of antiviral medications in 1995. After all, I had almost died from cancer and had cancer treatment friends who had died. Those experiences taught me how important it was to just be there for someone else, especially when everyone else is scared, turning their backs on you and walking away.
I strove to always be professional and put the interests of my clients before my own. That said, I admit that I learned an awful lot about myself in the process of helping other people. Self-discovery is an inevitable part of using yourself as an instrument of change, support and coping. But to make sure my professional and personal didn't get all mixed up, I was deliberate and careful in choosing not to work professionally with cancer patients, because I wanted to gain some perspective and distance before working in an area so close to my own experiences.
It's ironic that just when I felt like my cancer experience was behind me and I could work in oncology social work, a trip-and-fall on top of my cancer treatment late and long term effects disabled me and took me back to square one.
I am grateful for the time I did get to spend on my social work career. Unfortunately, chronic pain, chronic fatigue and sleep disorders negatively impact my attention span, cognitive abilities and communication skills necessary to be a competent social worker. Simply put, I lack the capacity to engage in this profession at this time. Yet I do so miss it.
So it seems that I have come full circle, back to being an ill person interacting with other ill people once again. And I am happy for the opportunities to be there for my peers. Now I offer little, tiny bits of support to others through my participation in chronic illness communities online and through social media. I have found friends on blogs, Facebook and Twitter and through these interactions I honestly feel connected to other people again.
Always conscientious, I am careful not to present myself as a social worker, because I am not one now. I don't present myself as an expert either because I just don't possess the attention to detail and command of the facts that I think an expert should have. I am more accurately described as a patient blogger, patient expert and a chronic illness or cancer survivorship advocate today. I am really too tired, too fatigued and in too much pain to be able to be much more than that.
I think my new goal is to become a something of a mentor, supporter and the blogging equivalent of an advice columnist to other people living with chronic, invisible illnesses and long-term cancer survivors. Yup, that's the new me: I'm sharing, caring and baring my soul to help others live their best lives despite chronic illness. Sounds like a new tag line for my blog...