Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Victoria M. on June 14, 2014
I was Diagnosed with:
Stage II A Breast Cancer (left breast)
Date of Diagnosis:
August 1, 2010
Employment Status:
Unemployed/Freelance Fashion/Feature Writer (Self-Employed)
Type and Description of Treatments:
I had a left breast mastectomy and lumpectomy where 10 lymph nodes were taken from under my left arm. I also had chemo and am now on the post cancer drugs, Arimidex and Fosamax. Since I also have lupus and had an ulcer, which I had surgery on, I've had more complications with treatment and healing. After three attempts at breast reconstruction my last one recently, in May 2014, has been successful.
How do you feel today?

I feel okay. I've had to start my life over again because I lost my job and had to move twice. I'm not doing well at all financially and am having a very difficult time searching for a job. I've had to deal with a lot of ageism (I'm 52 now) and ignorance about my illness so that's made me depressed and given me a lot of sleepless nights. Regardless of all of that I'm still happy to be alive and positive about the future.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

My whole life has changed. In some ways it's for the better, because I decided with my second chance at survival to walk away from a very abusive past of workplace bullying, drama and prejudice, and focus on being around more functioning environments and people. I've become unemployed which has made my life very hard and it's put me at the edge of homelessness and extreme poverty. I have never had so much trouble finding a job before or had so much against me until I got cancer and at times I feel hopeless and overwhelmed.

What is going well for you right now?

My writing is going well. I'm still not making as much money as I want to with it but I've learned how to write blogs, for the internet, and add significantly to my portfolio. I've also found my true personal style and am happy with the way I look when I coordinate my clothes before I go out. I also like where I'm living right now because I don't have the drama and abuse I had in the past.

What is not going well for you right now?

My job search is very difficult and I'm dealing with a lot of ignorance and prejudice about my age, my race (I'm African-American) and my illness. I don't feel I have the support I need right now and I feel very alone and afraid for my future.

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

Dealing with the pain and the discomfort from procedures, and finding a way to dress around scars, drains, bandages, etc., I also find it challenging to shop for clothes in stores where the sales people don't help when I need assistance carrying clothes to the fitting room, trying them on, putting them away or helping me coordinate my finds.

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

The negativity I've received from others I've known before I got cancer has overwhelmed me. I go to a therapist and the Cancer Support Community-Benjamin Center. I also call the American Cancer Support for support. My mother is also a big help as a caregiver.

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

I'd like to get a job in an office, library, retail store or school so that I can earn enough money to pay for my expenses and my health treatments. I'd also like to go back and get a Master's Degree soon and write my first book about women dressing with breast cancer.

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

I work on my articles and blogs at home, and set my own hours. I usually go out to interview subjects, visit stores or exhibits, etc., take photos and do research, so my hours vary. I work on different projects at the same time and I work on them according to my own deadlines. For my blogs and internet articles, I try to write one a month for each, and for book reviews, etc., I write those when I finish reading a book.

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

I have more scars and I've had to learn how to dress to compensate for that. I also don't have a job to go to regularly or friends like I used to. I do make new friends and contacts, but I still feel very alone and isolated.

What has helped you continue to work the most?

The challenge of having to deal with breast cancer and my drive to live my life regardless of the disease.

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

Find a support group at a cancer organization that has creative ways to deal with cancer, like art, writing, photography and dance. You should also find a hobby that helps put your mind in another place like reading, writing in a journal, knitting, etc.,

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

I have dealt with the side effects of fatigue and pain by "listening to my body" and stopping when I get too overwhelmed and debilitated.

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

You will get through this because you're stronger than you think.