Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
In the past 3 years, I have filled and signed countless job applications, and in all of them, I would always find myself held between bounds, not knowing which option to tick when the question of disability arises. This reluctance arose after an interview with a private institution for a Pharmacist (intern) position back in 2019. The follow-up call clearly suggested that I wouldn’t be fit enough to handle the pressure and responsibilities that came with the job. And although the call ended with a more sympathetic comment and recommendation for another department within my expertise, I still felt robbed and hurt by the not-so-coated discriminative bias against my condition versus my abilities.
I have had cancer since I was 18 years old. By the time of my diagnosis, I had already started Pharmacy school, and I was ready to tackle the world’s most prominent problems. In other words, things were starting to look up for me. And suddenly, just as I was preparing to take-off, it all came crashing down on me. I received the formal diagnostic results in May 2016 confirming that I had malignant soft tissue sarcoma – A form of cancer that affects muscle tissues, nerves, blood vessels, and other soft tissues.
Fast forward, at the end of the same year of my diagnosis, I had an incision that left my left leg partially functional. And now, as a result, I live with constant nerve-wracking (literally) pains and depend on different aids such as an AFO, crutches, padding, etc., for walking and sitting support. (You can read more about my story here or browse through the archives for more related articles)
For this article, I wanted to share my experience as a disabled, black young woman (not that my race and gender has any significance in this context) in the public workplace. I recently got a new position as a Pharmacist (intern) in a hospital pharmacy where I have been receiving my treatments and follow-up consultations for the past seven years. Throughout the two years gap since I finished my undergraduate studies, I had been applying for jobs in the field of pharmacy with no luck. And so, when I finally landed the role, it was the most unbelievable and surreal news I’ve ever received in a while. I was over the moon, and I couldn’t wait to show my employers my skills and work etiquette.
However, all the excitement disappeared like smoke before I could even start the job. First of all, I was super nervous. And secondly, I was worried and concerned about what people would say regarding my physical and health condition. By people, I am referring not only to my employers and colleagues but also to my patients. Out of anxiety, I kept playing scenarios in my head and asking myself questions like… Will my colleagues see me the same way they see others within the department? Would the value I bring to the table be seen and recognised for what it is, or will it be weighed according to my distinctive abilities and disabilities? Will my patients be forthright to trust someone who seems to be struggling just as they are to give them medical/health advice?
Basically, by the time I started the job, I had already brutally tortured myself mentally. Little did I know that God had already made a way clear for me. I say this because it’s only been a few weeks since I started the job, but I have already received an optimum level of support. From the Pharmacy manager and my colleagues to my oncology doctors and nurses, they have all been so understanding, welcoming and primarily supporting me as much as they possibly can.
All this welcoming support has put me in a position where I am more effective at my job, and I do not feel like a liability. Being seen for who I am and not what I am going (went) through is liberating. So, I am thankful to be in a space where I can just be who I am and not feel small while at it.
All in all, I am grateful. And with that gratitude, I am reminded every day as I step into my work garments that I am highly blessed and favoured regardless of my ailments and inabilities. It’s a challenging journey, but it is also a rewarding one. And beyond it all, I choose to see the positives.