Marisa P. on April 28, 2016
I was Diagnosed with:
Stage 2b triple negative breast cancer
Freelance; trying to start my own business
Type and Description of Treatments:
I had 16 rounds of chemo (clinical trial with eribulin and cytoxan for 12 rounds; 4 rounds of adriamycin); bilateral mastectomy with sentinel lymph node removal; and 28 rounds of radiation.
How do you feel today?
I feel pretty good today. I feel pretty healthy and fit. I am scared, but hopeful. I am trying to figure out how to create a career that allows me more of a work / life balance than the job that I had before and during treatment.
Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your life?
I have more anxiety and fear than I used to have, and I went through a lot of physical changes because of treatment. But, on the positive side, I have been pursuing my dreams with more fervor and taking more risks since I got through treatment - I've traveled a ton, done a bunch of physical / outdoors stuff, and am working on getting a career that provides me with more work / life balance.
What is going well for you right now?
I've been able to take care of myself more physically over the past year. I make working out a priority and did my first triathlon last summer (and am doing my second one in July).
I've also traveled a ton, which was always a dream of mine (road trip in southern U.S.; white water kayaking trip in Pacific Northwest; went to Ireland, Iceland, Poland, Prague, Paris, Morocco, Spain, and Portugal with my sister; and visiting my sister in Hawaii currently) and tried a lot of new things (like white water kayaking).
I'm also freelancing and trying to start my own market research business. It is scary and overwhelming sometimes, but I am proud that I am taking the chance on myself. It also feels crazy to realize that I maybe don't have to work this full-time in-office position to pay my bills and that I could have a career that allows me more flexibility and freedom.
What is not going well for you right now?
I still live with the fear of recurrence everyday.
I am trying to figure out starting a business - it is a bit overwhelming at times.
What has been the most challenging thing about having cancer?
The physical effects of treatment were pretty difficult to go through. I was 28 when diagnosed and planning my wedding - it sucked to feel tired and worn out and be bald and have my breasts removed, especially in that context.
But, I think the worst part of it was / is the fear and anxiety. I fear having a recurrence and having my world turn upside down again. I fear dying young and leaving behind my friends, siblings, and husband; having my parents have to bury me. I worry that I won't get to have a family because something might happen to me.
When difficulties overwhelm you, where do you go for support?
I am part of different groups on Facebook for breast cancer survivors and young cancer survivors. Through these and some cancer organizations (Women Rock for the Cure; First Descents), I have friends who are cancer survivors to talk to.
I also talk to my husband, friends, and family. I did go to a counselor, who was also a cancer survivor, for a while as well.
How have your long-term goals or life goals changed since diagnosis?
My career goals have majorly changed. I worked full-time, office, market research positions before and during treatment. Having cancer made me realize how much I can't deal with being chained to a desk for most of my waking hours, how it's not worth it to work for toxic people, and how I need to be more actively pursuing my dreams. Now, my priority is building a career that will provide me with flexibility and freedom. Having that flexibility and freedom will allow me to do other things that are important to me in life: spending time with family and friends, traveling, taking care of myself physically / being physically active, and being outdoors (want to hike part of the Appalachian Trail among other things).
What is your work arrangement right now? What are your hours?
Right now, I am freelancing. Hours vary based on the project / project phase.
I am also trying to start my own business.
For years before my diagnosis, as well as the year I was in treatment and the 9 months after, I worked a "normal" office job, 8:30-5:30 Monday through Friday (with some late nights here and there). And commuted an hour each way.
Since the diagnosis, what has changed in your work life?
I got laid off 9 months after finishing treatment, but I'd already been planning to leave the company to take time off to travel. When I got laid off, I had quite the year - I did travel a lot, among many other things.
I am now 11 months out from getting laid off, and I have been looking to build a career that provides me with more flexibility and freedom. I don't want a full-time position. I also don't want a position that forces me to be in the office all the time. I am hoping to be able to do most of my work remotely. As such, I have been trying to start up my own market research company over the past few months, and also just started a remote freelance market research position about a month ago.
What has helped you continue to work the most?
During treatment, it wasn't easy! I had horrible bosses, and I didn't get much slack. I worked full-time hours through it all and had to go into work when I didn't feel well and had inappropriate comments made to me (suggesting I wear a wig to a presentation rather than a hat so that people "wouldn't wonder"; being told that my oncologist might want me to lose some weight; comments about what I ate; asking to have a staff meeting when I had chemo, etc.). The company was too small for FMLA, and we had no short term disability option.
I guess necessity helped me work through all that? I needed the health insurance and income. I guess it also kept my mind off of cancer-related fears a little bit.
Now, my motivation for working is trying to build a career that will allow me to live the life that I want to live.
What advice do you have for others trying to work through treatment?
You are strong; believe in yourself. And for most of us, treatment has an end date - you will get through it.
Try to be kind to yourself. There might be some days when you just need to call into work - try not to beat yourself up about it.
Try to let the bull**** roll off your back with any toxic bosses or coworkers.
How have you dealt with any side effects of treatment?
I had medications for certain side effects. I also saw a counselor to help with the emotional aspects, as well as groups of survivors that I connected with through cancer organizations and social media.
If "today's you" could give advice to "day-of-diagnosis you," what would you say?
Cancer is going to change you - it's going to give you anxiety and in some ways make you a more fearful and less carefree girl than you ever were. But, you are a badass - you will get through it. And you will build a better, pretty amazing life on the other side of it.