Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Suzanne C. on March 11, 2008
I was Diagnosed with:
Stage IV Colon cancer with metastis to the liver
Date of Diagnosis:
November 22, 2005
Employment Status:
I have recently retired.
Type and Description of Treatments:
As you will see, my cancer history and treatment have been quite complicated. My original diagnosis of colon cancer was June 2003. I had surgery to remove parts of the transverse colon and liver, and I was treated with the FOLFIRI regimen from September 2003 to March 2004. My cancer returned in November 2005, and I had eighteen cycles of FOLFIRI with the drug Avastin added. From September 2006 to August 2007, I was on Avastin alone, and after a CT Scan, my doctor put me on Xeloda and Avastin on August 30, 2007. Additionally, I had breast cancer, diagnosed in December 1999, and have been successfully treated and am currently on Arimidex.
How do you feel today?

I feel very good today and every day. I enjoy life, and my idea of "normal" may differ from that of other people, but that's okay. I am able to do whatever I need to do, and I tend to spend as much time as possible with friends and family. I am pleased to be able to add my thoughts to this collective diary, and hope that they are helpful to someone. I have found that every experience in life brings its own blessings.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

Since my diagnoses, I definitely have a different viewpoint on life. Obviously, receiving that kind of news has been a shock, and it makes you stop and think about what your priorities are. I decided to retire early so I could have less stress in my life. I am glad that I have had that option. I worked as an elementary school teacher, and found myself working during the regular hours as well as taking work home with me, and spending lots of time planning when I was on vacation. Don't believe that teaching is an easy job. Because of the kindness of my co-workers, I was able to take a considerable amount of time off, utilizing my own sick leave, as well as the generous donation of days from the teachers' sick bank.

What is going well for you right now?

There are many things that are going well for me. At this time, I really enjoy my life. I receive support from friends and family, but I am also able to provide support to them, which is important to me. I feel well and am able to tolerate whatever chemotherapy is prescribed. I have made some good friends at the Cancer Care Center, and the treatment I have received from my doctor, nurse practitioners, support staff, and especially the nurses has helped me physically and emotionally. My needs are simple, and I am able to survive financially, which seems to be quite different from the experiences of others who have added their words to the Cancer and Careers collective diary. (Thanks go to my parents and mother- and father-in-law for my college education, which made my career choice possible.)

What is not going well for you right now?

Right now I am experiencing hand and foot syndrome, which has discolored my hands and feet, but has also added neuropathy and some discomfort to both. Other than that, I really am doing well.

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

My diagnoses of breast cancer and colon cancer were very frightening, to say the least. I had to change my ideas about what I would be doing in my life and day-to-day. The experience of hearing the words "You have cancer" is not anything I would wish on anyone. Your mind shuts down at a certain point, when you just can't absorb any more.

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

I have two special sisters who have supported me so much. I can call them at any time (they live 3,000 miles away) and they will do anything they can for me. I have wonderful friends who keep me occupied with laughter, and help in other ways, such as transporting me for my medical treatments. I can also call them if I need emotional support. I have tried not to go into great detail with my sons and parents. I want our existence as a family to be as positive as possible. They realize that sometimes I need their help, and they are there for whatever I need.

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

Since I retired, some long-term goals have certainly changed. I never planned to retire early. I did enjoy my job, but by retiring I did what I felt was best for me. I saved for my retirement, but I thought that I would have more time to save (I wish I had started earlier.) On the positive side, I do plan to indulge myself in other little ways, like sleeping late some days, buying that outfit that I really want, going on a few trips, and just finding enjoyment in my days. I also am trying to be more organized about keeping track of the paperwork - so that I know where all the insurance policies are. I am trying to put my affairs in order.

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

I am retired, but when I returned to work after treatment, I had regular teaching hours. It was tiring at first, but gradually got better.

What has helped you continue to work the most?

I had co-workers who were very helpful to me. Their support has meant so much to me. Certain ones helped me to move my things from one classroom to another (a huge task) when that became necessary. Some friends at school helped me with lesson planning and materials preparation. I have also had supportive principals and vice-principals who were understanding of my needs and the requirements of the job.

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

For others trying to work through treatment, I advise you try to take things one step at a time. If you spend too much time worrying, you take the joy away. Many of the things we worry about don't happen anyway. Choose to be calm and accepting, but do everything you can to promote good health. Find some good friends to laugh with. For the day-to-day logistics, find a way to schedule your appointments to suit your life. Try not to focus on too many things at a time. I have found that keeping a diary has been very helpful to me. I write down events as well as feelings, and am able to look back at what I have written to see what was happening on any given date, and to measure how far I have come. I would recommend this to anyone, not just cancer patients.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

As to side effects, I do struggle with "chemo fog", and sometimes lose my train of thought in a conversation, as well as an appropriate word. I do forget things that people have told me, so I write things down on a calendar, or in my diary. I am experiencing neuropathy- tingling and mild-to-moderate pain in my hands and feet. Sometimes my hands have tiny cuts in the creases of the fingers. I have to keep lotion or cream on hands and feet all the time.

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

If I could go back to my day of diagnosis, knowing what I know today, I would tell myself to not be so confident about assuming I knew the way my life would go. Life throws everyone some curves, good and bad. I would like to think that I am in control of my life, but after cancer, I realize that's not true. I would also advise myself to find the little pleasures every day. One last comment - bring someone with me when I go to hear the test results, to listen and take notes and help me understand.