Be the Boss Over Cancer

by Judy C. on May 14, 2011
I was Diagnosed with:
Stage 1 breast cancer and DCIS
Date of Diagnosis:
March 10, 2006
Employment Status:
Research Scientist
Type and Description of Treatments:
My type of breast cancer and description of treatment has been provided in previous posts.
How do you feel today?

I feel great today--very energetic and happy that spring has finally arrived to the north land.

Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?

A lot of things have stayed the same. I never felt my life was in danger so there were no great epiphanies of things I needed to do or change in my life. My father lost his eyesight when I was 12, and he died 18 yrs ago of terminal cancer...4 months after one of my brothers was critically injured in a head-on collision with a semi for which he is permanently disabled today. I've gone through enough family tragedies in the past to recognize the value of friends, family, and taking great vacations. I've always worked very hard, but I don't work weekends as much as I used to. I still try to maintain a healthy diet and exercise often. The tamoxifen has made me a bit more emotional and anxious so I'm looking forward to completing 5 yrs of it come early September.

I had an interesting conversation when I was sitting by a 1 yr breast cancer survivor at last Sunday's Survivor Program after the Race for the Cure. She told me that she felt guilty and unworthy to be with the other survivors because she didn't go through chemo and her cancer was caught early at Stage 0. I knew what she was talking about as some people may think you haven't suffered enough to count as a cancer survivor if you didn't go through chemo. However, she still went through the anguish of the diagnosis, the lumpectomy surgery, radiation treatments, and hormone treatment...the same as me. I told her that we did everything right with getting diagnosed early when we had the best options for treatment. We shouldn't feel guilty about being proactive about our health care. I hope that helped her out.

What is going well for you right now?

Work is going well for which I am receiving regional and national recognition for my work. On a personal note, I injured my shoulder a year ago, and it finally feels fully recovered. I can't wait to get out in my sea kayak to paddle around the area lakes and see the turtles sunning themselves on logs and other critters. I had some work done on my house recently and the new siding, etc. looks really nice so I'm happy with how that turned out. I'm also relieved that spring has finally arrived and my tulips are stunning this year! I've been reconnecting with several friends after a long, brutal winter, and that has been fun.

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure was last Sunday. The city I live in has one of the largest races in the world. There were 55,000 people at the 5K walk! I received special recognition from the local Komen organization this year. They just started up their Pink Honor Roll, and I was one of 64 people to join it for raising a total of $130,000 amongst all of us. The local Komen organization had a special dinner for us at the end of March which was 5 yrs to the day I had my lumpectomy surgery. We received special t-shirts to wear during this years Race for the Cure, and we were honored at the Survivor Program after the race. I've never been able to snag a seat at the Survivor Program before, so it was really nice to be able to sit in the 2nd row and drink it all in. This year, I raised $1,160 in a short period of time. I'm so thankful to my friends, family, co-workers, and even my GYN who contributed to my fundraising effort. I hate hitting people up for money, but I received so many generous donations. It made me feel really good that these funds would be used to help women obtain mammograms and treatment that might not otherwise be able to afford to do so.

What is not going well for you right now?

This recent winter was brutal--lots more snow and cold weather than normal so I felt rather isolated from friends during much of the winter. The snow piles were so high at the base of my driveway, I couldn't see oncoming traffic. It was always a bit like playing Russian roulette to inch out of the driveway and wonder what I might encounter. When I did have plans with friends, they'd sometimes get canceled because of the weather or people getting sick with colds. So, I'm slowly getting back in the swing of things, but I fear it is too easy for me to become a loner because I am so independent. It's always been hard for me to meet good men in this city (I'm always getting hit on by guys in bars, but that's not where I'm looking for a relationship). I've sworn off personal ads after having a couple of boyfriends who cheated on me with other women they were trolling the ads for. I appear younger than my age (lucky me), and I just need to get myself out to more events. I always do better with meeting men while I'm on vacation, so I need to tap into that vacation glow and good feelings during the rest of the year. One big problem with men is that being on tamoxifen has caused some changes south of the border that have made sex very painful. An estrogen cream would help me, but I can't have it because my breast cancer was fueled by estrogen. This has definitely made me more gun shy around guys, and I dread having to bring up the "I've had breast cancer" conversation with new men. I don't usually get lonely, but I've felt more of a longing to connect with a man at a very deep level. Still, if nothing works out, it's not the end of the world for me.

What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?

The most challenging thing is what a long haul breast cancer treatment can be, and feeling like I'm living in 6-month increments between check-up's and oncology visits. My family is all located out-of-state, and my friends are all very busy people with either kids and/or elderly parents to deal with so most of them are wrapped up in their own challenges. It's easier for me to talk with other survivor friends as they are more understanding of what I've been through.

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

I have a few good friends and my mom and one brother I could contact in a pinch, but mostly I'm self-reliant. I tend to provide more support for my friends than what I get in return.

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

They have stayed about the same. I'd still like to retire at 62 and stay active in the community and travel up a storm. It'd be a nice bonus to have a male companion to share these goals with, but it won't break me if I don't have one when I retire.

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

I work 40 hrs a week from 9 am to 5:30 pm M-F.

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

Work life is about the same, but there are more challenges due to budget cuts. I tend to do more volunteer stuff at work than I used to like coordinating our Adopt-A-Highway site for trash clean-ups. I was altruistic before my diagnosis and that has only strengthened since diagnosis.

What has helped you continue to work the most?

I'm very self motivated at work, and I have taken on work that I am excited about. Also, just being single is a great motivator. No one else is going to be helping me economically get through the day.

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

The tortoise and the hare story is a good analogy to follow. Just keep plugging away and making steady progress. If you try to do too much, you may burn yourself out.

How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?

I asked for and obtained physical therapy to break-up my scar tissue at my lumpectomy site after it got really hard and sore after completing radiation treatment. Being on tamoxifen caused precancerous changes in my uterus so I had to have a partial hysterectomy a few years ago. I try to get out walking every day for stress relief, and work out at the pool at least once a week and do pilates, and other exercise classes to keep the endorphins going and to stay fit. The painful sex has been the worst side effect; I'm hoping things might get better after I'm off tamoxifen in early Sept.

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

You will survive this experience. It may not be as smooth of a ride as you'd like to recovery, but you'll get there.