media release

New book on working with chronic illness

July 07, 2014

Valorie Crooks, 778.782.8917, 604.417.9007 (cell),
Carol Thorbes, 778.782.3035,


Given our society’s aging population, unpredictable economy and prevalence of chronic illnesses, a new book co-edited by Simon Fraser University health geographer Valorie Crooks provides timely insight into chronic illness and the workplace.

Working Bodies applies significant research in the field of disability studies to exploring how Canadians living with chronic illnesses navigate workplace environments.

Crooks, who describes herself as a health services researcher, Michelle Owen, an associate professor of sociology, University of Winnipeg, and Sharon-Dale Stone, a sociology professor, Lakehead University, are the co-editors of Working Bodies.

Published June 2014 by McGill-Queen’s University Press and available as an e-book, Working Bodies paints a disturbing picture of the challenges that an increasing number of Canadians with chronic illnesses face in a demanding and changing labour market.

The book’s research-based chapters, some prefaced by personal narratives written by chronically ill workers, meaningfully compare different populations of these workers’ relationships with their employers and their co-workers.

“I think that these personal narratives breathe life into the essays and offer an informal perspective on what it means to be a chronically ill Canadian worker,” says Crooks.

Chronic pain and fatigue are two common symptoms of chronic illnesses, which often last a lifetime. These symptoms can be progressive, reoccurring, exacerbated and go into remission, making it challenging for employers and co-workers to effectively help chronically ill workers.

“More Canadians are working while living with chronic illness because our aging population economically needs to keep working,” says Crooks. “Due to medical advances, more people are also living with diseases that used to be fatal, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer, as well as being diagnosed with and treated for chronic illnesses earlier. People with chronic illnesses often see employment as a meaningful, as well as necessary, aspect of their life.”

But most Canadians are unaware of how workplace environments challenge the chronically ill, says Crooks. In addition, Canada’s health care system is geared towards providing acute and traumatic care, and not meeting chronically ill workers’ ongoing health needs. Exacerbating society’s unpreparedness is the fact that chronic illness symptoms are often invisible and fluctuate.

“It becomes a challenge for people with chronic illnesses to maintain their jobs because their unpredictable symptoms’ fluctuation can cause periodic difficulties with keeping regular work hours or necessitate rest breaks,” Crooks says.


Previous research led by Valorie Crooks and funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant laid the groundwork for this book.

Crooks and her collaborators earlier examined the workplace experiences of academics with multiple sclerosis (MS). Studies show that when some chronically ill workers have greater occupational prestige they remain in the workplace longer than those who don’t.

“This made us wonder why this is the case and what role the workplace environment might play in helping chronically ill workers with advanced training remain in the workplace longer,” says Crooks. “That’s what led us to study chronically ill professors. We focused on MS because there are high rates of this chronic illness in Canada.”

For a list of contributors see:

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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