At age 32, I went from working on a busy cardiothoracic service as a surgical physician assistant to undergoing surgery for the removal of a benign brain tumor.
Due to significant swelling, I became paralyzed on my dominant side and became a resident of the stroke unit in rehab.
Initially, I believed that that my functioning would return, but eventually I realized that recovery was not guaranteed. Despite this, I remained optimistic about the future and started searching for employment opportunities as a PA.
But after getting advice from the clinical staff at the rehab center, I changed the focus of my employment search to accommodate my “new normal”.
My strategy for finding and maintaining employment was multifaceted:
Keeping an open mind. Even with advanced graduate degrees, I welcomed the opportunity to find any work available, regardless of the pay or title.
Remaining honest with prospective employers on my situation. Once I was able to interview, I remained honest about any limitations and found my employer to be accommodating as a result.
Doing what was right for me: I looked for opportunities that would be specific for my skill set as well as broad enough to accommodate individuals with disabilities. I also made time for therapy and rest.
Asking for help and asking often. I asked family and friends to read the drafts of my cover letter and resume as I initially had difficulty with comprehension. Since I couldn’t drive for a year following surgery, I was fortunate to have a family member who could transport me. For days I didn’t have a ride, I discovered that my state offers discounted transportation for disabled individuals.
Being optimistic. I recognize this can be difficult at times, but I truly believe my faith helped me progress in recovery. It gave me purpose, the strength to walk again, and the ability to believe I deserved a chance.
All things in moderation. As I returned to work with a new disability, I have learned that I need to be respectful of my body as it continues to heal and only take on that which I can handle.
With the help of my community, I was hired five months after surgery in an administrative role for a graduate level physician assistant program and was recently promoted. Two years later, I celebrate my recent return to clinical work as a Physician Assistant working with patients recovering from substance abuse. I continue to apply the steps above, and take success and recovery, “one day at a time”.
Aisha K. Khan, PA-C is the Director of Academic Affairs, Assistant Professor of Health Science for the University of Bridgeport Physician Assistant Institute and a clinical staff member at the Recovery Network of Programs. She is a blogger, brain tumor awareness advocate, and volunteer with the American Brain Tumor Association for their CommYOUnity network as well as for the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance. Twitter: Aisha1056 This guest column appears on "Diagnosis: Cancer" through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 850,000 patients and caregivers.
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