Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Geri M. on November 21, 2012
I was Diagnosed with:
Stage IV Follicular Lymphoma
Date of Diagnosis:
March 7, 2012
Employment Status:
getting ready to return to work F/T after 4 month medical leave of absence
Type and Description of Treatments:
6 rounds of Rituxan and Bendamustine infusion, once every 4 weeks
How do you feel today?

I have a good amount of energy today, and am feeling both grateful and at peace.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

I have had to examine my priorities, and am still learning to feel less guilty about putting my physical, mental and emotional needs first. I have learned to be more patient and not take myself so seriously! I've had time to nurture and deepen my relationship to Christ by "getting back to basics."

What is going well for you right now?

My recent scans indicate I am in complete remission--hooray! My husband, family and friends are all very supportive. My energy and motivation have significantly improved. I feel very well taken care of by the health care professionals on my team.

What is not going well for you right now?

I have some anxiety about what it will be like to return to work full time in a very stressful environment. I have had significant issues with "chemo brain" and although I am getting cognitive rehab, I have concerns about how my memory/attention/processing will be affected once the work pressure is on.

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

I am already a 16+ year breast cancer survivor, so I thought I would know how to "do" cancer treatment again, but this experience was very different. It has been very challenging to accept a stage IV diagnosis without being symptomatic (except in hindsight I now see how I had been sick for at least a year prior to diagnosis). It took a long time for me to emotionally connect with my diagnosis. I was never used to putting myself first, and it was hard feeling worried about how my husband was dealing with this while trying to take care of myself. When I wasn't feeling well, it was hard to see the things I liked about taking care of my home fall by the wayside.

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

I pray, find comfort in the scriptures, and talk things out with my husband and friends who have been touched by cancer. I am a member of Gilda's Club, and their support groups have been invaluable. My church family has been very committed to me, and I used to blog on to keep folks updated and get prayer support and encouragement.

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

I'm not sure if they've changed, but they're under re-evaluation. I do know that I have to be more careful about establishing good boundaries for myself so I can continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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

I will be returning to full time work, Monday-Friday, basically 9-5.

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

In the first months after my diagnosis, nothing changed at work, and that became an issue. I never looked or acted sick, so I think the expectation was to continue as if nothing was different.
I had started to notice a decrease in my ability to recall info, understand instructions, carry out tasks, and the fatigue grew worse. I felt overwhelmed, depressed and anxious, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to make it through the day. It wasn't until just before my 6th and final treatment that I allowed myself to take a LOA from work.

What has helped you continue to work the most?

During treatment, the support I received from my doctors and work colleagues helped the most.

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

Be sensitive to what you need, not what others think or expect you to need. Everyone's experience with cancer is so different. Listen to what your body is telling you, and if you need a break, take it, or if working energizes you, continue in that. You have to make those decisions about your health because no one else will do it for you.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

During treatment, I would have an allergic reaction to the infusion, and it was necessary to hospitalize me and keep me monitored on a telemetry unit. I made sure that I had my husband and friends support me as caregivers. That happened every month. I would allow myself to rest a couple of days after treatment. My appetite would wane and I ate what felt best. To improve my energy and boost my immune system my husband juiced and made vegetable and fruit smoothies on a regular basis. I also followed the advice of a naturopath, and took a varity of necessary supplements. I tried to get some sort of exercise in, even if it was taking short walks. Now I am in rehab 3x/week to address the cognitve deficits of chemo brain.

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

Have faith. Don't be afraid. God is still in control. Don't take yourself so seriously. You need to attend to your needs and what's best for you and your family, and not be so concerned with what other people think. Know that your needs are important, and taking care of yourself makes you a healthier wife, friend and co-worker.