Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Diane T. on December 28, 2012
I was Diagnosed with:
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage II, Estrogen Positive
Date of Diagnosis:
August 30, 2010
Employment Status:
Unemployed. No Income. No Insurance. Last job (in 2009) let me go when I became ill. Had a discrimination case. Depressed and Frustrated with job prospects.
Type and Description of Treatments:
Had chemotherapy from September of 2010 until November of 2010 (Cytoxin and Taxotere). Had a mastectomy on left breast on December 30, 2010. Had an immediate expander (temporary implant) put in during the mastectomy. Had permanent implant and nipple reconstruction surgery on May 25, 2011. Had implant on right unaffected breast to provide symmetry. Areola tattoo done in October 2011. Taking Tamoxifen for at least five years. Breast surgeon would like to see me on an estrogen blocker for 10 years.
How do you feel today?

I don't feel good mentally. I am having a hard time dealing with the financial devastation that cancer left behind. I am having a hard time dealing with the grief and the loss I have encountered. I still have fears about the cancer returning.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

I know that life is short, and I know that cancer does not discriminate. It didn't matter that I tried to take care of myself. It didn't matter that breast cancer didn't run in my family or that I didn't carry the BRCA genes. It didn't matter that I was young (39) at the time of my diagnosis. It didn't matter that I had paid my dues with another chronic illness for years, and that I had finally reached a good spot in my working life - something else had to cut me down. It had made me angry and it had made me depressed. I was told I made it through treatment very well, and the reason for that would be that I had been doing alternative supplements on the side to keep my immune system as strong as humanly possible. Going through cancer treatment made me realize that we have a so much more to go in the humane treatment of cancer.

What is going well for you right now?

I had a spot that was recently found on my mammogram (in October 2012) that caused enough concern that it needed an immediate ultrasound. It ended up being a cyst. Of the few people in the medical field who have helped me, my cancer team of doctors seemed to care.

What is not going well for you right now?

Just about everything. Living in a negative environment at times and feeling trapped. The financial devastation and not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Not having any luck with finding work. Dealing with the grief after treatment - of the loss of my breast, the loss of sensation in my chest, the chose being made for me that I can never have children. Finding out who my real friends are and dealing with people being insensitive to what happened to me or abandoning me when I needed them most. Not being married and being afraid to date or meet someone new for fear of him not understanding.

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

The treatments were very challenging. Though I was told that I made it through it very well by my doctors, I felt that were very difficult. The chemo was difficult, the bone marrow shots were just as challenging, if not more so, then the chemo. My breasts were one part of my body that I liked. Losing my breast was extremely difficult. I was also very sensitive in the nipple area, and now I lost that sensation. Losing my hair was extremely difficult. I still have flashbacks about the way I lost my hair. It doesn't matter if it grows back. Gaining weight from my tumor being hormonal dependent and then the drugs. I felt ugly most of the time.

The financial devastation that cancer brings with it - that keeps me up many a night and I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Having to fight for things like Food Stamps and Charity Care and having cold people on the other end of the phone or in person give you grief and stress after fighting a beast like cancer, and not being able to catch your breath and get on your feet.

Having to deal with the terrible emotional pain of how some friends I cared about, and even some family - how they treated me or didn't stand by me when I needed it. Struggling with trying to find meaning of me being a survivor if I'm just here to struggle and be in pain.

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

I have a therapist that I have seen for over 10 years who knows me very well. I don't see her often, but my breast surgeon has been a comfort. I try to talk to my mother and sometimes that does not go as well as I would like. I have very few friends that I can count on. Facebook, believe it or not, was a support system for me when I got my diagnosis because I was alone when I got the call, and I had turned to the people on Facebook to be a prayer chain for the lump I had found in my breast to be benign. This began my anger towards God - or my faith - because I KNOW those people prayed for me. So, I turned to them when I got the diagnosis and throughout my treatment. I have not gotten with a support group that I am comfortable with yet. The one support group - the ladies were very nice, but they were older than me, and I am thinking of looking into going to a group for younger women.

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

My goals have not changed yet because I feel trapped in a life where I cannot make my dreams come true. Everything requires money. If you want to travel - that requires money.

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

I have no work, and have not worked since 2009. My last job, which I was at, full-time, for three and a half years, decided to fire me suddenly when I was going to go on short-term disability. Prior to that, I had been on Family Medical Leave, but I still worked for them - mostly part-time hours. That happened for 8 months before my "termination". I had been going to a doctor during that time that wasn't helping me. I was feeling sicker and sicker. I had dealt with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia for years prior, but when I had a relapse, it was usually mild and short-term and I would bonce back to my normal self. This time, I did not. I had felt the lump in my breast, but it changed size and was tender and sore. What I knew of cancer was that it was not supposed to hurt and it didn't change size. Even my gynecologist didn't seem concerned but ordered my baseline mammogram because I was approaching 40. Well, it was a cyst, but there was cancer as well.

I tried everything to keep my job from bringing work home, to working on holidays, to working on weekends and evenings. Everything. I then was going to go on short-term disability. They told me they would hire a girl from a temp agency and about three days later, I was fired for excessive absenteeism. There were a lot of things I was told that they reneged on. I filed a disability discrimination case against them through the EEOC. I got a small amount of money, which I am presently living on, that I was given so I would not sue them.

I went on Disability, then Unemployment, then Disability while on Unemployment, then Unemployment again until June 2012. Now - nothing.

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

That I have no work! That I got dumped into the worst economy that I have ever lived through and have had TWO interviews in a year and a half's time! That, despite the countless resumes I have sent, I either get no response or a rejection letter. That companies are hiring way below what people are worth. That I send my resume and cover letter to what I think is a legit job and it ends up being FAKE!


What has helped you continue to work the most?


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

I have NO advice. I am SEEKING advice from others, but very few seem to want to help.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

I am still more tired than I would like, but I'm working on that. I don't sleep as well as I would like, but I've never been a good sleeper. I'm also working on that. I have horrible hot flashes from the Tamoxifen, which have interfered with my sleep.

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

I have no advice for the day-of-diagnosis me. I did the best I could and I'm still doing the best I can. There is no manual to deal with cancer. You go through a wide range of emotions, and every person deals with those emotions in their own unique way.