MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
MedicalResearch.com: Would you tell us a little about yourself, especially your life before/outside of your cancer diagnosis?
Response: My life before cancer was a struggle of a different sort. In 1997 I drove up the driveway to our lovely home with five children ages 4-13 safely strapped into the back of my gus guzzling suburban. As I approached the front of the house, I noticed a small paper, about the 4X10 inches tacked to our front door, and where we lived no one tacked notes to the front door and all service providers went around to the side.
Pulling it off I read that the house was to auctioned off in 30 days. That night I had a very unpleasant conversation with my husband during which I learned the deal he was pursuing, among other things, had not come to fruition and he was fronting it with our assets.
Within a monthI liquidated what I could, rented a house for cash and began the process of transitioning our lives from a life of luxury to living paycheck to paycheck.
Trying to find work, while navigating a nasty divorce and helping my children adjust was a huge challenge.
MedicalResearch.com: How did you find out about your cancer? Did you discover it yourself? How did your doctors/health care professionals advise and treat you?
Response: I was diagnosed at a time of job transition. I had quit a job with health benefits and a car to be part of a start-up operation in Detroit. I thought it would be smart to take the time off between jobs to get my teeth cleaned and have my annual physical and mammogram. Without a family history or a call back over the previous 14 years, I never considered the possibility I would be diagnosed with breast cancer.
I learned of my diagnoses on Friday April 1st while in a cab on my way to LaGuardia in NYC. I had flown into the city that morning to pitch my new company’s value proposition to Major League Baseball.
My cell phone rang, and my doctor who delivered my five children was calling to deliver some very different news. I had early stage breast cancer and needed to see a surgeon.
It was late on a Friday afternoon, so I had the entire weekend to wait and worry.
My early stage disease was DCIS. And while it would not take my life, it did take my livelihood while I underwent treatment, two surgeries and six weeks of daily radiation.
MedicalResearch.com: How did your family/co-workers react to your diagnosis?
Response: Telling my children was particularly difficult, as we had struggled financially for years. The kids were for a time on MI Child (for health insurance) and subsidized school lunches. But what was most alarming for them was the fact that over the previous seven years we had all experienced the loss of parents in our school and faith community to cancer. Their athletic director, school secretary, camp director, youth director, a mom and a dad of kids in their classes had been diagnosed and died.
We went to a funeral almost every year. And now it was me. My youngest son, who was 11 at the time, went straight to the most pressing question, which was, “Are you going to die?” I assured him that absolutely one day I would die, but that it was highly unlikely, breast cancer would take my life. His response was, “Well, can I go down the street and play?” My older son at 14 held in all his fears and at the end of my treatment when I was still alive, he fell apart and had to enter psychiatric care for a brief time. I know my children were very fearful, because in our divorce they lost their father and his entire family, so the thought of being left alone was terrifying. But they soldiered on and only years later expressed how that diagnosis and the summer of my treatment affected them.
As I had quit my job, I really had very few professional colleagues to inform, apart from the company I was about to join. I did tell them and we decided it was not the best time to move forward with our arrangement. That left me unemployed and unemployable for a time.
MedicalResearch.com: How have you adapted to ‘life with cancer’?
Response: For breast cancer survivors, that fear of recurrence always lingers in the back of our minds. I have met women who were NED, no evidence of disease for 20 years, and then the cancer pops back up and all of a sudden they are back in treatment.
I have found that I cannot participate in certain situations where these stories and fears surface as it causes me a great deal of anxiety. And of course the night before my annual mammogram and the week after, I am preoccupied and fearful.
My life after cancer today is all about helping other working women like myself financially survive treatment. I am pleased to say the little organization, The Pink Fund, I started out of my home has paid out more than $2 million in bill payments for 1974 cancer survivors in active treatment. I cannot believe I get to perform this work, every month signing my name to dozens of checks to make bill payments to their creditors for housing, transportation, utilities and insurance.
MedicalResearch.com: What tips do you have for others going through this journey?
Response: Unlike many other life events, going to college, getting married, starting a new job, having a baby, for which we plan, a cancer diagnosis is one that takes our breath away and sends us reeling in shock.
Knowing what I know now, that 1 in 3 women will receive a cancer diagnosis in her lifetime, or be affected with another health crisis, my advice is to be proactive and protect yourself with a disability and life insurance policy. Both of these can be very useful if one has to take time from work without pay for treatment.
Additionally, it is important to be aware of the possibility that you may carry a genetic predisposition, which means knowing your family history and perhaps getting genetic testing. However, once you have the results of that test, you may be presented with an entirely new set of decisions to make.
Know your own body, notice changes and make sure you have whatever annual diagnostic tests you may need. I suggest doing this the first of the year and getting it out of the way, but the truth is I do not follow my own advice and my annual mammogram this year is scheduled for June.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: Be sure to check out my organization, The Pink Fund, that provides 90 day non-medical cost-of-living expenses to breast cancer patients in active treatment for breast cancer, so they can focus on healing, raising their families, and returning to the workplace
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Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.