Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Margaret F. on August 20, 2008
I was Diagnosed with:
Date of Diagnosis:
August 5, 2002
Employment Status:
formed company that I am now President and Co-Founder of
Type and Description of Treatments:
1.) excision of the melanoma and sentinel node biopsy 2.) 5 week daily radiation treatment 3.) 5 week daily infusion of 16M IUs of Interfurom 4.) one year of 3x/week injections of 16 M IUs of Interferon
How do you feel today?

I feel terrific! Except for weight gain of about 20 pounds from where I was before cancer, I feel wonderful. The pounds will come off eventually, that I know. I started treatment about the same time I started menopause, so that was bothersome (was it the treatment giving the flashes, or was it the treatments??)and confusing. All symptoms are gone now and I am feeling fabulous!

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

Everything! I smile more, I take life less seriously, I take more time off from my job, I enjoy the little things in life that bring me joy. I know it is corny, but I actually do try to stop and smell the roses much more than I did before. I appreciate my loved ones. I go out of my way to contact newly diagnosed cancer patients I know or hear about. If you can stand another cliche, I also don't sweat the small stuff. And when I do not want to do something or go somewhere I state that and do not do it or "go there". I have little patience for people who are "the glass half empty" (cliche # 2500??!!). Do they have any idea how really awful life is for some people?? How can this beautiful universe be so bad to them that they only see doom and gloom? I say, stop watching the news late at night!

What is going well for you right now?

Pretty much everything.
I started a business as a result of my cancer diagnosis. 6 months after my shock, my youngest sister (41 at the time) was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer. We always wanted to start a company together with middle sister, so when Claire was given 6-12 months to live, we did. Our company is Spirited Sisters Inc. Our mission is to enhance the environment in which people are asked to heal and recover. Our first project is a line of recovery wear that we call the Original Healing Threads.
When we have enough profits we will start the Claire Foundation which will provide for women like Claire was, single Moms who have to quit work to undergo treatment and have no source of income save for unemployment and social security. With little or no funds Claire would have had to take her daughter Lilly (6 at time of diagnosis) to another rental property in a "less desirable" part of town, taken her away from her safety net of neighborhood and school, and have to deal with all that goes along with that. Claire and Lilly did not experience any of that because they had friends and family who sent them money when the cry went out. Claire knew many single moms through her support groups, yoga classes, guided imagery sessions, etc who did not have such support. We want to be that support. And we will be as soon as we are profitable. This economy does not help, but we have been selling our garments for 2.5 years now and are getting closer and closer to being profitable.

What is not going well for you right now?

Our sales are not going well so that could improve.
My sister Claire beat the timeline of 6-12 months and lasted 35. She passed January 31, 2006. Her daughter Lilly now lives with middle sister, Patty and is happy again. I get to see her more and she is a love, now 11.5 years old and growing like a weed!

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

I think the most challenging thing is to forget you have cancer. Even though I have been declared, "cancer free" I freak at any new bump or freckle that comes along. In I go to Dana Farber to my oncology dermatologist (who knew there was such a person?!) for a biopsy or for assurance that there is nothing wrong.
It is a bit of a challenge to stay away from the "bad" foods, concentrating on organic and natural and locally grown foods (a real challenge since here in the Northeast the season is very short and we are very far away from longer growing seasons!) I try to stay positive, which was very difficult while undergoing treatment. It is easier now since there are so many good things going on in my life (first grandchild, a girl, born in April; a daughter getting married to a wonderful man in September; a growing business; a 37 year wedding anniversary tomorrow, etc.)

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

It has been 6 long years since my initial diagnosis. For the majority of the time those years were filled with anxiety, depression, difficulties and heartbreak. Without going into detail, there were many days that I was overwhelmed. I have a series of support choices. In no particular order, one is prayer and meditation, another is exercise, another is the love and support of my family, and one is my "sister" friends. Women are the most helpful, beautiful creatures in the universe. I have a number of different "groups" of friends. Some are long-time college and early adult friends; others are through-business friends, others more recent new friends, and still others friends who started as the parents of our 2 children's friends. All I had to do was pick up a phone or write an e-mail and I would receive support, or get a joke, or hear some wise words, and sometimes receive a slap, with an admonishment to "get over it!!!!" when I was deep into the Pity Pool!

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

My long-term and life goals have become simpler in one respect, but more complex and immediate in another.
I want to live to see my granddaughter flourish and to welcome more; I want to see my daughter and her soon-to-be-husband reach their life and career goals, I get great pleasure watching them climb the career ladders they have chosen; I want to see my son and daughter-in-law as content with their lives as they are now; I want to grow old with my husband; I want to maintain the friends and family I have now and work on making more friends and watching the extended family flourish and grow. All are pretty simple and not unattainable.
Other goals I have are more immediate and will take much more effort to attain. I want to see my company grow, expand, and offer comfort to the many women and men who are in the throes of any illness, not just cancer. I want the company to flourish so I can start the Claire Foundation and be of help to the many single moms out there struggling with the realities of their and their children's situations.

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

I work everyday, Monday thru Friday, 10 - 6 pm. I have an office and warehouse outside the home, about a 15 minute ride from my house.
When I was diagnosed I was running my 25 year old interior design business. I went to that job everyday otherwise I thought I would be at home in a fetal position, sucking my thumb, thinking the Grim Reaper was right outside my bedroom! Though I was not as energetic by a long shot, I was there and I was engaged with what was happening. I believe working saved me. It showed me that yes, life does go on, with or without me. It showed me that I could think of other things besides Cancer and Death and Treatments! It afforded me the opportunity to let go of those 3 things and concentrate on other issues. Work is a great support system in and of itself! I highly encourage everyone to work at a job or career that they are passionate about!

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

I do not work the long, arduous hours I worked at my interior design business. I do not work weekends. I take more time off. I take off when it is a beautiful day, just because it is a beautiful day and I want to take advantage of it.
By the same token, I expect more of people who work for me, I am not as accepting of excuses or unreasonable reasons for things not being done in a timely fashion. I think my sense of time is different, that it should not be wasted, that you never know what is around the corner that will prevent you from having more time. Life is unpredictable and what is true today may not be true tomorrow, so DO what is in front of you today, do NOT put it off until tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come. Carpe diem!!!!!

What has helped you continue to work the most?

The support of my family and friends. The encouragement from them to keep going, as well as the encouragement to back off or take it easy when necessary.
I am also fortunate that I am working at something I love to do. I had a passion for the interior design business, but when life turned so far off course with mine and Claire's diagnosis, my passion turned and my life purpose changed. I could not help Claire live, but I can do something that will ultimately help women like her live with the assurance that the disruption of their children's lives will be minimal. In so doing, their lives will be less stressful and perhaps they will enjoy 35 months of loving their children instead of 6-12

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

Do not be afraid to ask for help! Ask it from family and friends and neighbors and organizations and government agencies, and insurance companies, and whoever comes your way! Educate yourself and then educate others around you as to what this disease is and what they can do to make you more comfortable. I have had the experience of being the elephant in the room! Everyone knows I have cancer, everyone knows I am undergoing treatment, but no one knows how to ask me about it. Well, open your mouth and educate them as to how you feel, what your treatment options are, what your immediate need is, what your side effects are the most horrendous, etc.. You will be educating them as well as letting them know that you are basically the same person they know and love, just that you are on a different journey temporarily that you had not planned on undertaking!
Ask questions yourself. Ask the medical professionals everything you can think of, and then read articles, watch videos, whatever to educate yourself and ask MORE questions. And always ask about alternative, palliative, complimentary treatments. They may tell you that there is "no empirical evidence" that they work, but I and many others will tell you that they DO work, not all on everybody, but some on everyone! My doctor was of the opinion that if it made you feel better, do it. But he and I have a dialog going at all times and I can ask him anything and he will answer. He is a research doc, working at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, working on a vaccine against melanoma. God love him.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

My biggest side affect was fatigue and thinning hair. My hair has always been thin and fine, but THIS was ridiculous! Of course my daughter graduated from college and my son got married that year so I looked like a dishrag, but you know, I didn't care because for a while there I didn't think I was going to be at either one! Looking back, I probably should have gotten a wig.
The fatigue was the worst. I fought that by sleeping 12 hours a day and still being tired when I woke up. I also exercised as best I could, walking and weight training did it for me. I still get fatigued and I fight it the same way, not by sleeping 12 hours, but by sleeping 8-9 hours/night. And I continue to walk for cardio and do weight training.

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

As my surgeon used to say, "do not worry until I tell you there is something to worry about". God love him, he was right! The anticipation of bad news is needless negative energy and a sleep-stealer! Some days he did have something for me to worry about, but we came up with a game plan and dealt with it as best we could.
I would also say to initially stay off the Internet. Or at least stay off those sites that will scare you to death with their statistics and possible side effects, etc.. The Internet is great for sites like this and for learning things from reputable, uplifting sites. There are so many more of those now than there were just a few short years ago.
And think positively, and pray a lot, not just for yourself but for all those people who help you and pray for you.