Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Kristen N. on December 4, 2009
I was Diagnosed with:
IIA Ductal Carcinoma
Date of Diagnosis:
June 27, 2008
Employment Status:
Type and Description of Treatments:
Bilateral Mastectomy with sentinel lymph node removal.
How do you feel today?

How do I feel today? Strong and Resilient are the words that immediately come to me. Tired and Raw are the words that sneak in when no one is looking. I have one final surgery left. Candidly, it's been a miraculous year full of ups and downs. My breast cancer is in remission and besides the on-going worry of recurrence; I am blessed to count myself among the bold and beautiful survivors of this unforgiving disease. I struggle daily to remain conscious of where I am in my journey, gentle with myself, and patient with those around me.

It's a daily occurrence that I am reminded of how very precious life is and how everything can change in a blink of an eye. Despite my overly zealous type A personality, I've come to embrace that well-known adage that the path I am on is not about the destination, but rather the experiences along the way, as each of those experiences inevitably changes the path.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

It's been a year and 3 months since my breasts and my cancer were taken from me. 442 days of redefining who I am, what it means to be a woman - a woman diagnosed with cancer, and how I will re-build the foundation of my life as a survivor. Looking back over the past 15 months, I never could have imagined my life would twist and turn down so many unknown paths. I lost a piece of my femininity, but claimed my life. I lost that childish illusion that this will last forever, but gained a deep appreciation for the beauty that lies in waiting, releasing control, and simply being. I lost my job and with it the most significant definition of who I was, but came to embrace that I am more than my resume or last position. Much more.

What is going well for you right now?

My strong connection with my husband, 2 daughters, and circle of friends.

What is not going well for you right now?

After losing my job because of my cancer, it's been challenging to maintain my self esteem and sense of self worth.

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

Not letting cancer define me and become me. It is a part of my life experience, but not who I am. I want to use my experience with cancer to strengthen my life, not cripple my life. Some days that is not an easy task.

When difficulties overwhelm you, where do you go for support?

My soul mate/husband, my family, and my friends.

How have your long-term goals or life goals changed since diagnosis?

They have essentially stayed the same, just the timeline has shortened a bit and I'm focused on having more fun along the way.

What is your work arrangement right now? What are your hours?

I am actively looking for my next great adventure!

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your work life?

I was fired 8 weeks after my double mastectomy while I was in the hospital for my reconstruction. Losing my dream job amidst such unbelievable circumstances made me very intent on surrounding myself with the "right" people in my next position.

What advice do you have for others trying to work through treatment?

It's important to plan your communication and your work strategy. It's hard to set expectations because you won't know what to expect or how you will respond to treatment. You will most likely need some time off. You will not always be at 100% or always on top of your game. But then again nobody ever is. Be gentle with yourself and ask for help when you need it.

Don't be ashamed or fearful. If you work for a good company run by good people, you have nothing to worry about and you will be supported. I was honest about my cancer from the beginning and wouldn't change anything about how I approached my diagnosis and treatment plan with my employer. They ended up not being supportive, but that was not my fault.

Know your rights, lean on the amazing resources at Cancer and Careers and document everything.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

I elected to not undergo chemo or radiation, so I had minimal side effects.

If "today's you" could give advice to "day-of-diagnosis you," what would you say?

Breath, scream, cry, run! Do whatever it is you need to do to release the angst that is flooding your body. Then spend time with people you love doing something that makes you feel alive... and if necessary have a martini or two!

In the weeks after your diagnosis, take time to be with yourself and get your head around your diagnosis. There is no rush to make a decision. A few days, a week, a month will most likely not change your prognosis. I waited 2 months to decide. If you need time to really feel confident in your treatment decision - take the time. So many people take the suggested treatment course from their doctor as the gospel and don't listen to their own inner voice. I almost did. We're taught to not ask questions or challenge a doctor, but there are so many opposing views and approaches. Listen to your inner voice, research your options, and then get a second opinion and a third if you still aren't sure. Don't rush your decision and remember it's YOUR decision - no one else's.

Remember, there is NOTHING you can't handle. You will define a new sense of "normal," and things will never be the same, but you will conquer this with grace and peace.