Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Laura O. on May 2, 2010
I was Diagnosed with:
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma - Stage 2a HER2 Positive
Date of Diagnosis:
January 12, 2010
Employment Status:
Not working; on medical leave
Type and Description of Treatments:
Had bilateral mastectomy (right side was prophylactic); axillary node dissection in left arm; had immediate reconstruction using tissue expanders then to silicone implants; undergoing chemo regimens of 4 cycles of Adriamycin/Cytoxan, then 12 weekly infusions of Taxol/Herceptin, then every 3 weeks of Herceptin for 13 cycles
How do you feel today?

Relatively fine with fatigue and aches and pains from mastectomy/reconstruction. I have my worst days for a solid week following my chemo, but for two weeks I gradually feel a bit better until my next chemo treatment. I always have an underlying level of anxiety and slight depression about my cancer and can't really think/focus on anything else except my family.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

Absolutely everything. Before I got cancer I was a hard working consultant in marketing/advertising working 50-60 hours per week, traveling, trying to raise two young children with husband; overworked, overstressed, not exercising or eating well. Now, we switched to all organics, eat lots of fruit/veggies, try to exercise several times/week by walking, and not working. The upside is that my husband and kids and I have had a chance to focus on our family and I've been able to fully focus on my surgery and treatments and just trying to get well. The downside is that I feel adrift and scared on a regular basis about my cancer and my fear of recurrence or the treatment not working underlies everything. But, on the other hand, there's just no way I can mentally, physically or emotionally work right now. For the first time in my life, I'm focusing on my health fully.

What is going well for you right now?

My treatments are OK even though they are really rough for me for a solid week and the side effects are cumulative. However, I have an excellent support system of friends, family and co-workers to help me through this time with food, rides to chemo and emotional support. Plus, I had long term disability through work and supplemental insurance I bought, so thank God we are not devastated financially through this. In many ways, I am very fortunately positioned to go through treatment and have myself and my family weather it well. The emotional aspect of the diagnosis has been the absolute most difficult part of this journey. The fear overwhelms me sometimes.

What is not going well for you right now?

The side effects on my GI system in the week following treatment is pretty horrific. I'm also suffering from a lot of insomnia, which doesn't seem to get better. I either wake in the middle of the night or can't get to sleep and find I have to take a Clonopin to get sleepy a lot of times and to "quiet my mind."

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

The emotional devastation is probably the toughest. The fear, uncertainty about the future, the lack of control over my future - all these things are the very toughest part. The next toughest I think has been going through chemo. It's definitely as hard as they said it was going to be.

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

My Mom, husband, sisters, brother, close friends, the internet discussion boards, and sometimes I take a Clonopin to just shut off the anxiety.

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

Yes. I NEVER want to go back to the woman I was before cancer - overworked, disconnected from myself and my family. I don't know how I will be able to return to my current career area without letting that happen again. That scares me.

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

I'm on full medical leave.

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

I try to stay in touch with people through email, but my heart, focus, and interest is not in it right now. Plus, there are days where I can't get out of bed enough to work.

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

I can't do it and I won't. But for others I realize there is not a choice. I can only say that a modified work schedule must be in order if you can do it and you have to work.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

See above. Similar answers.

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

I think my friend said it the best: "it takes a while to integrate cancer into your life". Day by day, hour by hour and sometimes minute by minute, I've slowly integrated the fact that I have cancer into my psyche and identity. Sometimes, I have fleeting moments where even though cancer is a part of my life, it is not ALL of my life, as it was so terrifyingly the days after my diagnosis. I think what I what I would tell my day of diagnosis self is that "eventually, cancer will assume a less constantly scary and overwhelming role in your life and just be part of your life on a daily basis. There will be moments, hours, days, weeks (I think, but I'm not there yet!) where it will not even enter your mind and life will feel close to what it felt like before you were diagnosed. Also, cancer requires a lot of patience - waiting for tests to happen, results to come back, treatments and healing to have to try to not get too far ahead of yourself at all times and follow the pace of what the cancer and treatment dictates.