My cancer journey began before I was even aware of it. In the summer of 2006 I had been referred to a specialist to see what was going on as I had a lot of pregnancy type symptoms such as nausea, increased urination, weight gain and fatigue. After a simple physical exam, I was sent off with forms for emergency surgery to remove a large mass attached to my right ovary. I went back to work that afternoon and told my boss that I would be scheduled for surgery and off work to recover for about six weeks.
About three weeks after the specialist appointment, I was admitted to the hospital to remove the mass. That day could have changed the plans I had for the rest of my life. Well, that day did change everything. The mass was removed and sent off to be tested by a pathologist. I went home to recover and five weeks later was getting ready to return back to work. I was looking forward to beginning a leadership program that would propel me into bigger and better things at the organization. But that wasn’t going to happen.
I got a call to go in and speak with my specialist. I honestly don’t even remember exactly what happened after that. Everything moved so quickly. All I know is that I had an appointment at the Cancer Agency that week and my dreams went down the drain. I began chemotherapy two days later. My communication with work was through email. I couldn’t bring myself to see or speak to anyone. I had been torn to pieces.
I was off work for a year and a half. Chemotherapy literally kicked me down hard. I couldn’t remember the name of the simplest things such as a fork or chair, or people that I had worked with for years. (Chemo Brain) I recognized them, but my brain couldn’t put two and two together. How could I possibly go back to work like that? The anxiety kept me from making any big steps, but in April of 2008 I tried. It was time. My workplace was exceptionally helpful and my doctor had requested I return gradually. I had a few stops and starts, but eventually got back into the swing of things.
After I returned to work, I found a resource in the US called Cancer and Careers. Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of issues. My job was held for me when I was on leave. My story was kept quiet until I decided to tell people. I had time to recover. I had the huge benefit of receiving long term disability. Many people I have met and spoken with, have not been this fortunate.
Though it has taken a lot of time to get back to where I was B.C. (Before Cancer), I have had many opportunities handed to me at my place of work to keep me challenged. I worked for the O Zone in Richmond during the Olympics and in 2009 finally got into the leadership program I was supposed to attend at the time of my diagnosis. I had my six year clear appointment in September 2012, and in January of 2013 was handed an amazing opportunity to work on a large project linked with the Richmond Olympic Oval. It’s taken me six years of hard work and perseverance, but I finally feel that I am near the point where I would have been had this major life experience not occurred.
Cancer and Careers is the only U.S. organization solely dedicated to serving the growing population of people working during and after cancer treatment. Cancer and Careers empowers and educates people with cancer to thrive in their workplaces by providing expert advice, interactive tools and educational events on issues ranging from how to work during treatment to how to explain a gap in work history due to cancer treatment. Cancer and Careers’ websites in English and Spanish inform more than 250,000 visitors per year, providing essential tools and information for employees with cancer. Cancer and Careers trains more than 1,000 oncology health care professionals each year, and its services are used by 84 percent of the top cancer centers in the United States.
I became a young adult cancer survivor at the age of 29 in 2007. I strive to provide appropriate guidance to those looking for help to find the right path. Cancer can be so very tragic, and it takes love, patience and support to get through it. Community became very important to me as I learned to heal myself from the effects of treatment. Picking up tools such as meditation, resources, and peer counselling, gave me the drive to share with others. I believe in continually learning about myself through experience and acquiring new tools to help ease the stresses of life in a creative, compassionate way.