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Balancing Act: Cancer, Caregiving & Careers

Finding a balance amid the chaos of cancer.
PUBLISHED March 27, 2017
Kim is a nursing student who is hoping to find her place amongst the phenomenal oncology nurses and doctors who cared for her sister. She loves reading, volunteering and enjoying the outdoors of Colorado.
As a full time caregiver, I can attest to the challenges that I faced being away from the workforce during my sister's cancer journey. As well as to the immense struggle to return to work two long years later. I made a choice to step away from my job when my sister became ill. It is not a choice that many get to make, but it is one that I am very blessed to have been able to make. That being said, it made returning to work that much harder. Not just the explanation of a two year absence on my resume, but the emotional toll that it took on me was far greater than I had expected.

Many would ask at the age of 25, why I had not been employed. The simple response that my sister had been ill with cancer was often not enough. Because while I did and learned so much as a caregiver, none of those skills can be written on a resume. They are skills that I value as I begin my career as a nurse, but they are not the daily skills that many bosses are seeking from a potential new hire. Although sympathetic to my plight, I am certain that I lost out on many jobs because of my choice to step away from the workforce.

As for the emotional toll, having spent over two years bedside, it was difficult to not always be present. Because while I accepted a job working overnight so that I could be with her during the days, working nights left me exhausted. It allowed me to attend many appointments, but some were missed. It meant that things that I had done for her, things that were apart of my daily routine were suddenly not. Not just because I was now a full-time worker, but because my priorities shifted as my schedule was not always my own to make.

Daily routines became more challenging such as cooking, cleaning, taking her to doctors and my own care because of time management issues that I had not been prepared for. To me, I had not thought about how much things would need to change with me working 40 hour weeks again. Because before, it had come so easily to me. I had not stopped to calculate or equate for the added task of still being a caregiver, but also working.

I have since left my first job post-cancer and I now work three jobs, volunteer and go to school. While I was a caregiver for my sister throughout her journey, that is a role that I have recently relinquished in favor of returning to my role as her sister. It has been difficult to find balance in my life through all of this. I now know that there is not a right or wrong way to do things. Above all else, it is about adapting and adjusting to find what is most manageable and what works best for you.

While I stumble and struggle to maintain that balance, I also feel that it is worth it. While yes, we are caregivers, family members, friends or maybe even the ones sick from cancer — life is supposed to go on. Maybe not initially, maybe not one year later, but that is the goal. So when the time is right, I encourage everybody to explore and seek out normalcy despite an event that is anything but normal.
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