My Co-Worker Has Cancer. What A PIA He Is!
We spend most of our adult lives at work, eight hours or more a day, five days or more per week, year after year. We spend most of our waking hours with our co-workers, easily more than our spouse or significant other, or any member of the family. It is naturally assumed then, that no one would know you better, than your co-worker(s). If there was one person that you should be able to count on, it should be a co-worker. But what if it is not? What if it is exactly the opposite? What if it is worse than that, nearly your entire working environment?
When I was diagnosed with my Hodgkin’s Disease, I was devastated. To my knowledge, my employer had not really ever had to deal with cancer, on the personal level of an employee. If the owner of the company would be moved to tears upon my announcement, clearly those in my office (at the least) would respond in kind if not more so. Instead, for the first time in my life, I experienced the bizarre behavior of what I call “whataboutme syndrome.”
Instead of rallying around me in support, scuttle got around the company that I was getting special favors or treatment from upper management because of having cancer. THIS WAS NOT FAIR!!!! Really? I was the one diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease yet it was my co-workers who faced the bigger challenge of making sure they were going to be treated as if they were going to die.
The truth was, my employer did do something special for me. Actually it benefited the entire company. When Jeff found out about my cancer, and the limited and restrictive coverage that his employees had because of me, he made a phone call that night, and had the coverage increased, so that I could receive the best possible treatments available at the best facility.
Being a semi-private person (until I started this blog), not many people knew anything about my personal life. The response by my co-workers was not going to help that issue. So other than a “Get Well” card signed by everyone in the company, this is what I did to my fellow co-workers by getting cancer:
I Got Extra Days Off Paid From Work
Never happened. I had the same amount of time off as everyone else. I had arranged for my treatments to be done last of the day, which allowed me to break up my sick days into hours. It made it appear as I had 16 sick days instead of 10. I was out for an entire month for one of the diagnostic procedures, and was only paid for 8 of those days. But no one asked.
They’ll Never Reprimand Him When He Does Something Wrong
The operative word is “when”. I have a fairly strong work ethic, and really, all I cared about was being treated as if nothing was wrong with me.
I Have To Do All Of His Work Because He Is To Tired To Deal With It
I never asked anyone to do my work for me. And the lack of any reprimands also confirms that I got my work done, regardless of how I felt.
There are more examples, but you get the idea of just how much of a pain in the ass I was to everyone for having cancer.
This is not just an isolated environment either. In 2008, I saw this behavior taken to a whole new level, co-workers had gone beyond just being selfish, they hade become bullies.
Bullying is a repeast abuse of perceived power, repeatedly, and intended to harm. It can be physical, emotional, or social. It is destructive, stressful, and can be fatal if not dealt with. It used to be that bullies were only something that had to be dealt with in the school environment. But over time, the methods used to deal with these incident began to be accepted as a rite of passage, a phase “all” kids go through. There is one major problem with this thinking. Everyone becomes an adult, and unless the bullying behavior is dealt with as a child, how is that child going to be any different as an adult? A bully will grow up to be a bully. A victim of a bully, especially if repeated will grow up still accepting this dominating treatment, or even the opposite, pushing back on anything that goes against him as it is perceived as bullying. There is no such thing as choosing battles when it comes to this level. And it has a profound effect on adults that often, is not reversible. Relationships, careers, and friendships are many times destroyed because the person isolates himself by his own actions, or by others who want nothing to do with this type of personality.
Case In Point
I have come to realize that with my bullying history, repeated bullying, and usually by gangs of kids, never one on one (I should feel good knowing that they thought they had no chance against me that way), I do not take shit from anyone. I have been that way now for over 30 years. On one hand, it has been a blessing, because of the way I attack health issues, I will defeat them. But when it comes to human interaction, especially with my employer, it has come at a severe cost.
So I have never really been close with my co-workers, by design. Professionally, we can get the work done with each other. But personally, we rarely interact. I cannot trust most people and their intentions. This was made worse when I had my heart surgery in 2008. After realizing how close to death I came with this, it was the perfect timing that I had received a “get well” fruit basket from co-workers and management. I was truly touched. I wanted a starting point to turn things around for me personality wise, and this was going to be the moment to do it. Or so I thought.
During the next two weeks following the surgery, my wife had stayed home with me to take care of any needs I would have. In the mean time, two of our co-workers, who incidently happened to be the only two people who were even a slight bit close to us, had conspired against Wendy. To this day, we do not know what caused it. A huge rash of accusations and false treatments had put a target on Wendy’s back, and the bad thing was, everyone was believing it, instead of just discussing things with Wendy or I. Wendy’s career was now in jeopardy. She almost lost me, and now she had to deal with this shit.
The time had come for me to return to work. I have a very physical job, and my employer does not allow for easing back into the job. You either do it all, or do not come back. I was supposed to be out for six months recovering, by I had been warned that my job was jeopardized for an attendance policy as my FMLA had run out. Over 30 years of working, hardly missed any time ever, including my battle with cancer, but open heart surgery, I had to rush back from to save my job.
To help me back, with my lungs not being full capacity, and my legs not strong at all, I had obtained a “handicap” placard temporarily so that I could park closer and have to walk less in extreme weather conditions. That very first day I had heard of a complaint “why was I parking in a handicap spot if I was cleared to come back to work? What was still wrong with me? If I had to park there, I should be sent home because I am not well enough to come back.” That was it. Every day since, I have grown angrier and angrier as on a daily basis, I must protect my job, because morons have decided it is their right to determine if Wendy and I are allowed to earn a paycheck and support our family. These bullies have the power to set us up falsely, to have us put into the postitions of being reprimanded. After 15 years of basically a flawless behavior record, in the last 3 years, Wendy has been suspended 3 times, close to termination on one of those occasions. All with the influence of our co-workers.
You see, they see someone who just happens to be having a good day, health wise, and might just be smiling. So the person must be better. And when the person is out sick the next day because of a flare up, the person must be faking it. If you do not look the part, you are lying. If you have cancer, you must look frail, bald, and sick to really have cancer otherwise you are faking. Call out sick from work, do not get caught in a pharmacy shopping, while waiting for your prescription to be filled. You will be caught in the act. As time has gone on, I have had restrictions on some of my work activities, and by law, the American With Disabilities Act, it is required to accomodate me. My co-workers do not believe in this law and call it unfair. The fact that I miss up to two days per month just in doctor follow ups for my long term survivor issues is a major inconvenience to them. Though in fairness, I have never given them to accept the opportunity to live in my shoes for just one day.
The fact is, 99% of the people we work with, have never, ever been to our home or spent time with us personally. And that is something I take responsibility for. Of those 99%, 95% feel qualified to know if Wendy and I have real issues or not as they are surely in direct contact with our doctors. But they are all 100% responsible for starting the fires and feeding them fuel on situations none of them know anything about until they acheive their goal of having you fired.
My co-workers have been responsible for countless other co-workers that were targeted to be removed due to personality conflicts. I have been asked so many times, why would this happen? The only thing I can figure is Wendy and I are happy. We have a good family. I do not rely on going out to happy hours daily or sleeping with co-workers. I come to work and do my job and they would rather have someone else to join their club or, they simpy are tired of being reminded of the loser existence they live.