Why I Quit My Job After Finishing Cancer Treatments

I was working in finance for eight years when I was diagnosed with stage 3a Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). In all honesty, I felt complacent all those years but chose not to do anything about it, because working at the bank was safe. Being the first generation of hard-working immigrant parents, I was taught to be grateful for having a good job. I was comfy in my cushiony 8 to 4 life. As a woman of colour who was smart, hungry to learn and wanting growth, I was frustrated that due to office politics, I wasn’t excelling career-wise. I was the go-to person for assistance in my department because of my knowledge and communication skills. After many failed attempts to grow in the workplace, I finally had gotten promoted six months before I was diagnosed.

When you start in a new department you have stresses and expectations as you grow into the role. I thought I had left my previous department for something better. I was excited and prepared to work hard. I looked forward to starting fresh. I was open to embracing change and I was extremely patient with myself during this growth process. I was a true optimist and thought the grass was going to be greener. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I was unhappy, alone, and extremely stressed out from the demands of my new job. The lack of direction, training, guidance, mentorship and communication between my boss and my peers was the ultimate destruction and demise of my new career. There was nothing that could be done to fix the chaos of the department and their backwards logic of work processes. I looked around and everyone was overworked, unhappy and drained.

I only started opening up to the signs of the universe around the time I was diagnosed. Being diagnosed with breast cancer at 31 and enduring almost a year of surgery, recovery, chemo, radiation and now on 10 years of hormone therapy, really gave me lots of time to reflect on the person I was naturally evolving into. My new-found values and morals had got me to begin to think about the life I wanted to live when I was finally No Evidence of Disease (NED).

Cancer changes you.

For me it was a combination of processing the trauma, the change of perspective due to the trauma, and my personal life experiences during this time that shaped the new version of me.

return to work

I was rushed back into work by my insurance company that was covering my long-term leave. They only gave me three months from the time radiation ended to start my return-to-work program. For most women I know who also endured cancer and treatment, three months of recovery was not long enough to process EVERYTHING. As much as I expressed I wasn’t ready yet, they said it was set in stone and done. The case manager sent the papers to my radiation oncologist without letting me know and they were already signed by my oncologist giving the okay and the papers were returned to them. As much as I argued and fought with my insensitive case manager about my mental health and my post-cancer PTSD, the only advice she could give me was to, “Go watch some YouTube videos on meditation and download some free apps on your phone to help you cope.” Insane, I KNOW.

I was shocked. This was the most insensitive thing anyone has ever said to me and I’m a Sagittarius. I told her straight up over the phone that she lacked compassion. That she was extremely insensitive to my situation and lacked empathy for a young woman who had gone through cancer and was currently only now processing PTSD. Pissed off at her demeanour, I demanded a new case manager immediately. She was a terrible person who clearly lost the passion for her job and I did not want to work with her moving forward. 

The old Alanna would have just taken it and continued with a crappy case manager. The new Alanna wasn’t taking any shit from anyone and she was going to hear my two cents about how insensitive she was and how she lacked empathy for people.

Returning to Work

Even after advocating for myself, I was unfortunately still forced to return to work. Returning against my will made me really salty about going back. Who wouldn’t be? I felt like I was being forced back in shackles.

I was even signed up with the return-to-work program at Ellicsr to prepare and help me adjust better for the transition. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even take the program because I was rushed back before the program could begin. I wasn’t prepared to answer questions about why my hair was now super short and buzzed looking. Or how to handle insensitive jokes of how my coworkers thought I didn’t work here anymore because they honestly didn’t know I was battling cancer for a year. As much as I gave my previous boss my consent to tell our team about my situation when I left originally, it was clear he chose not to bring it up to the team.

return to work

It wasn’t long before I was dumped with loads more work again. I had meetings with my new boss telling her that I was struggling with the workload and that I needed less. She would give me a lighter load for a day and give it to someone else who was already swamped and drowning with work. I felt bad, but I needed to put my mental health first. But then the following day it was the same story and this repeated day after day for months.

It got to a point after I returned that every day I would wake up at 6 A.M. dread going into work. I already had issues with sleeping since being diagnosed. Falling asleep and staying asleep is still really difficult for me. My anxiety was so high about going in that I couldn’t fall asleep at night, often lying awake till 4 or 5 A.M. To cope, I started calling in sick to get the rest I needed. I remember asking myself, “Is this the life I was supposed to have now after a year spent fighting for my life? Did I really just endure all that, to sit in a cubicle making peanuts at the cost of my mental health?”

The universe was giving me so many signs that I was not paying attention to. I even tried going back to my old department but the timing wasn’t right. It’s like the universe was making it unbearable until I saw what I needed to see. That I was destined to do something more than sit behind a computer screen on Bay Street while hating my life.

I had open transparent conversations with my boss. I told her that I was unhappy since returning to work post-cancer and that I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to let her know that I was planning on leaving the department and if (when) I found something else that she was one of my reference points. She understood. I also said I was going to do as much as I could physically but could no longer go above and beyond, which was stressing me out. Again, she understood. In my mind, I kept toying with the idea of just getting up and leaving but I was too scared.

I had been back at work for four months when Christmas came, which meant bonus time. My work had always been generous about bonuses. But that’s when the final nail in the coffin arrived via a bonus cheque for less than $5.

Let me repeat that again. Under $5.

The Starbucks gift card I got for my boss was more than my bonus! I’m not one to complain ever about free money but this was just petty. I would have rather not get a bonus at all than this. That’s when I finally saw the biggest sign from the universe.

I needed to leave.

That was it.

return to work

As much as I was scared about leaving and having nothing lined up, being there was worse. The next day, I wrote up my very short resignation letter and gave my two weeks’ notice. I was out. Thankfully, I had saved a very hefty cheque I received for my private life insurance plan that was a protection cushion for me. I also saved a lot of my paychecks from short/long term leave during the year of treatment since I wasn’t going out, eating out much, shopping and or partying.

As much as a I was terrified as hell about leaving, I felt empowered to leave that toxic place. All I could think about on my last day of work was being Ron Livingstone in the movie Office Space where he tells everyone to f*ck themselves. I obviously didn’t do that!! But that movie sums up how I really felt in a nutshell. I left in good terms with the company. The only regret I have was not asking them to let me go (lesson learned).

As scared as I was, it felt good to leave. I was lucky that time was on my side to really give me the chance to think about my life purpose. Now I had a second chance at life to figure out what I wanted to do with this opportunity and I gave myself the chance to figure it out on my own time. – Alanna Gatchalian


Click here to read how a cancer diagnosis made this Rethinker rethink her career.

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