Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Debra W. on June 13, 2012
I was Diagnosed with:
Stage 2B Breast Cancer
Date of Diagnosis:
June 8, 2010
Employment Status:
Full Time
Type and Description of Treatments:
I had surgeries followed by 7 months of chemotherapy and 7 weeks of radiation. I finished Chemo on January 30 and radiation the end of April.
How do you feel today?

I have a tremendous sense of relief that I have finished my course of treatment. Its been a year and perhaps because my diagnosis was on my birthday, my birthday this year was a time of reflection. My world has gotten brighter as the drugs have left my system, I had bad radiation burns, and those have healed. I hope to never sit in another green recliner or hear the swosh, swosh of the machine that delivers the chemo drugs. I guess I am proud of myself. Proud that I made it through and perhaps fearful that no matter what they tell me I still have cancer lurking somewhere.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

I told a friend on my birthday that I felt as if I made it through the treatment, but that in a real sense, the old precancer me had died.I don't look the same. My hair is dark and very curly now. My skin is different. My knees hurt. My energy level is different. I feel older. More my age. She told me to think of it as a rebirth. That helped.

What is going well for you right now?

My work is going well. I managed to work all the way thru my treatments. My employer was very
empathetic. He was flexible with my sick time. I took a total of 12 sick days, usually around surgeries or the day after Chemo. I feel that work helped me focus on something besides being ill.

What is not going well for you right now?

I need to take a drug for 5 years and then a different drug for another 5 years. The drug I need to take could cause blood clots and my knee problem(made much worse by the chemo) is preventing me from starting the drugs. That has me very worried. I feel like one thing after another is going wrong. I never had health problems of any kind before this.

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

Accepting it. That I didn't do anything wrong or deserve this somehow. That I could be so negatively effected by something so random.

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

My friends. My church. My church has supported me in a hundred different ways, from kind words, to meals, to sitting with me during chemo. They kept me from being alone.

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

I will work longer, because I am afraid to be without medical insurance. I will retire immediately if it comes back. I try hard to be positive and enjoy everything because it could all be taken away so easily.

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

I work full time. I manage a large store with 7 employees. I walk about 5 miles a day and we are very busy.
I manage pretty well. The fatigue only strikes me flat occasionally.

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

I am more understanding when others need time off. I am interrupted more myself with Doctors appointments and life just gets in the way of work sometimes. I was a little less than understanding about that in the past. It's a big change for me.

What has helped you continue to work the most?

The need to feel like I still had a life. That I was contributing to something. That I was needed somewhere. That I was more than my illness.

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

Do all you can to go to work. Even if you can't work the whole day. Getting ready for work will make you feel better. Go in, go home early if you have to. Take a nap in your car. Work puts structure in our lives and reminds us that we are more than cancer and work for most of us makes us feel useful.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

I am struggling to mash the side effects into what I want my life to be. I am too young to just accept the joint pain and sit down. I will do what I can to make my life what I wanted it to be before cancer. I know I have to be realistic about aging. But - I don't have to be controlled by cancer. I am more than my cancer diagnosis.

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

I would tell me that I'll do fine. That pain is funny. It's easier to live through it when it's happening than it is to think about in advance. So don't do too much thinking. One day at a time.