ChemoTreat: Stronger Apart

If you ever find yourself kicked off-centre and into the maelstrom of cancer care, one of the first things you’ll get will be a 3-ring binder full of useful information. Among other things, it will tell you about the drugs you’ll take, and the side effects you may or may not experience.

One common effect of chemotherapy, the binder tells me, is a reduction in neutrophils. As you are no doubt aware, a significant drop in neutrophils brings on neutropenia: white blood cells drop and your immune system gets lazy. Your body is so busy dealing with the chemo that it forgets to check against the invasion of other infections. I don’t know for certain, but this could be one of the reasons we regularly get a week off. I get one every three weeks. This week was it.

During a global pandemic, concerns about a compromised immune system double up the reasons for self-isolation. We are all living a short two metres away from the edge of the cliff. I gave myself three metres, just to be safe. Then Lynne bumped me up to four. The only place I can hide is inside my house, so that’s where I stay. I go out for a long walk every afternoon, except on treatment days.

Social distancing means that for the foreseeable future we are stronger apart. Other than myself, the only people I know of who can substantially benefit from the pandemic are the working poor. They are  trapped in unforgiving and unforgivable precarious employment. They can tap into emergency income replacement programs, but these are a here today, gone tomorrow social phenomenon.

These workers, or at least the non-essential ones, are learning from experience what it is like to be retired. They can, in the privacy of their own homes, stretch out on the couch with a good book. If the weather ever improves, they can try their hands at gardening. They can log onto the Library web site and sign up for on-line courses. They can take a walk around the block whenever they like. If they get bored, they can go for a nap. While they are stuck two metres away from where they want to be, they can do almost anything we senior citizens can.

One thing most of them won’t be able to do, not today and not when they’re old enough to retire, is cash a pension cheque. That’s because most of them will not have belonged to a union that could negotiate a retirement plan for them. Or even get them the wages and benefits to lift them out poverty and into relative security.

The income enhancement programs available now end when the pandemic ends. Precarious employment returns, unless something happens to keep it at bay. It’s up to the working poor themselves to make it happen. Now is the best time to do it, considering the amount of free time we all have.

I looked at a bunch of union websites, notably UNIFOR, Steelworkers, UFCW, and CUPE. They all have a link to a page where you can apply to join. If you can’t decide which union would suit you best, apply to them all and see where the dust settles. Most of the time, one’s as good as another. If their organizers can’t seize this moment, they should step aside and let someone else have a go.

Mark my words. If you don’t do something to lift yourself up now, the chance might not come again. During the pandemic, the government will give you some low-hanging fruit. A union will help you climb taller trees when the crisis abates.

They’re like chemotherapy for the economy.


  1. Well spoken. Listen to Lynne!

  2. Thoughtful, useful. Keep it up Al!

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