Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Barbara K. on August 13, 2009
I was Diagnosed with:
Ovarian cancer
Date of Diagnosis:
December 13, 2006
Employment Status:
Full time employee
Type and Description of Treatments:
In December 2006 I had a complete hysterectomy with debulking. I had a porta-cath inserted eight days later and began chemo with carboplatinum and Taxol the ninth day, went home on the tenth day. The chemo was six sessions every three weeks for about six hours each session. No side effects, other than being tired. In May, 2007, I had a second look surgery with no indication of cancer after 30 biopsies. Radiation took place for five weeks in August 2007, no side effects. In June 2008 I requested a PET scan as it was one year since the last surgery. The PET revealed a hot spot in a lymph node in the lower left abdomen. The physician advised a wait and see as the SUV was 3.4 and the lymph node was 1 cm. In August 2008, the second PET revealed a higher level SUV, 4.5 and the node remained at 1 cm. It was decided to have another, "second look surgery"; it revealed cancer of an encapsulated lymph node. This took place in late September 2008. Lab results showed no further cancer, however,the cells were resistant to all the therapies. Back in chemo on carboplatinum and Taxol, however, this time the white and red blood cells were not cooperating so it ended up being every four weeks. After four weeks the medical oncologist decided to change the chemo to cisplatinum and Gemzar, drugs which I was never exposed to, I had the last chemo in June 2009. No ill effects other than having to have two units of blood in late May 2009.
How do you feel today?

I feel great, I'm painting the kitchen, planting plants, moving furniture and generally doing everything I had in the past. Will return to work next week and schedule will be the same.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

I'm more conscious of time and goals which have yet to be accomplished.

The support from family, especially my husband, friends and co-workers was so exceptional, words cannot possibly describe how wonderful everyone was and is.

I am more tolerant of others and raise more hell, if that is possible. We are traveling and doing great things. Camping, rock climbing, white water rafting, zip-lining and traveling. We had planned on doing some of these things but decided to take advantage of the health status now while we both can enjoy ourselves.

I love my job, don't intend to retire for at least two to three years; perhaps die in the saddle!

What is going well for you right now?

Everything is great in all aspects of life, family, friends and job are all at optimum. I could not be happier. Every day is a new challenge and fun. Never give up, is my family motto.

What is not going well for you right now?

There is a disk in the lower lumbar region causing me pain in the left leg. I plan to see an orthopedic physician and get that taken care of.

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

Overcoming the fact that I'm no longer perfect; I have always been in excellent health and pride myself in that area. I feel exposed and somewhat of a failure, this disease is a weakness and I have never been weak.

I became overly sensitive to people asking me, "How are you doing, how do you feel?" This is a real problem for me, I have difficulty accepting hugs, kisses, etc. I am very aware people are being kind, but my personality is such that these gestures make me feel inferior and weak.

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

I am blessed with a great husband and friends, but the medical oncologist is outstanding. This doctor spends up to an hour with his patients just conversing with them and he makes things easier and clearly listens. He is a Dr. Welby type.

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

Yes. We watched the movie, "The Bucket List", laughed ourselves silly, cried at the end and decided to make a formal list. We have no time frame and don't prioritize the times, but we are accomplishing some of our desires. One day at a time.

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

My job is as an educational administrator, five days a week, from 7AM to 3 PM, sometimes later. I travel at least once a month to the state capitol and attend conferences and meetings. At times I present my papers at these conferences and teach teachers in the evenings.

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

I was in the classroom teaching special needs students. I applied for and got the new position just after completing the first round of chemo and the second surgery.

This job is easier, my office is not a classroom with high school students, parents and department issues to deal with. I deal with legal issues and programs within the school district, the pace is slower and less demanding, although, it is more consuming of my time off the clock.

What has helped you continue to work the most?

My husband has been there fore me every step of the way. He prepares food for all three meals, brings me snacks, got me a dog, Moose. The dog is a chocolate lab and he is just so wonderful, although huge, he's gentle, quiet and kind. Loves me for the biscuits I give him. He has become a therapy dog, goes to visit at schools, nursing homes and hospitals, makes me proud and thankful for him.

Friends and co-workers have supported me, come to my rescue with all kinds of goodies. One teacher would not allow any student in the class if they were sick, she would keep them with her so I wasn't exposed to any colds or flu.

My boss has been outstanding, jokes about the blond or red wigs and brings in flowers every once-in-a-while. Takes us all out to breakfast or lunch, makes things easy to cope with.

I have been truly blessed by many, many people.

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

Take one day at a time.

Please ask your doctors about the powerful drugs which have allowed me to never be nauseous. If you will lose your hair, get some friends to go with you PRIOR to the hair coming out (it comes out in clumps about three weeks after the first chemo) get a wig or two, have fun with it, color, style, length! Shave the head, don't keep the clumps or wear scarves, you look like you're ill that way. Use make-up, sometimes you get dark under the eyes, also you lose the eyelashes and eyebrows. They are the last to go, and after the last treatment the hair returns slowly.

When you are tired, stop, rest, go to bed earlier, but take care and eat healthy. I craved salt.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

The only side effect was being tired, so I rested, went to bed earlier and got up later. I planned my days carefully so my appointments didn't overwhelm me.

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

I diagnosed myself, when the doctor came into the ICU he told my husband, he advised him to keep repeating it to me. I would want to get the treatment started yesterday, so make sure you run the show with your physicians. They need to hear your needs and concerns. You are now in partnership with your physicians. Communicate with them, have them communicate with each other.