Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Karen M. on January 30, 2009
I was Diagnosed with:
Stage II Breast Cancer
Date of Diagnosis:
November 28, 2007
Employment Status:
Full Time
Type and Description of Treatments:
Bilateral Mastectomy, followed by 6 courses of CAT (Cytoxin, Adrimyacin, and Taxatere) then 3 treatments of Herceptin until it damaged my heart, then Arimidex after a full hysterectomy due to risk of ovarian cancer.
How do you feel today?

Pretty good physically. I'm not in great shape, haven't been since I was a teenager. But I've survived all this with minimal impact to my life.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

I'm closer to my sister and family. They've helped me when ever possible during and after my surgeries. I'm worrying about work much less on a daily basis, but this economy makes that a little difficult. I'm also much less self conscious about my body! Hard to be when you haven't got the goods anymore!

What is going well for you right now?

I have a very strong marriage, daughter and family. Work is going well and I have wonderful support at the office from both my staff and my supervisors.

What is not going well for you right now?

My mind! Will the cancer come back after all I've done to prevent that? Will my heart recover from Herceptin? Will I keep my job? How will my future look?

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

The treatments and the looks from others. I didn't wear a wig or scarf when I lost my hair. I was called 'sir' frequently and got worse reactions from other cancer patients than any one else! I just couldn't stand to have anything on my head - it was too hot. And it was a bother.

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

My husband. I don't trust anyone else.

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

I don't know how to change them. I don't know what to expect.

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

I work 40 plus hours every week. I'm a full time manager of 4 engineers/designers. It's a demanding field for a woman. I'm the only woman manager in my office.

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

My office has been very supportive on the surface. I'm worried that it will all collapse in this economy.

What has helped you continue to work the most?

I love engineering and solving problems. We help the communities we work in by providing sewer, water, transportation, etc. And the people I work with are good role models and friends.

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

Work when you can.
Be clear up front with the fact that you don't know how the treatments will affect you.
Also with the fact that each is cumulative, i.e. your strength leaves you a little more with each one.
Don't hide this!

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

Stayed home until I was better. Except for the damaged heart. I can't do much about that except what the Cardiologist tells me I must do.

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

Tell people at work (HR, etc.) earlier. Do whatever it takes.