Work

Contributions from

These are the experiences, ideas and views of each individual person featured here. Your own situation may be different and these ideas may not work for you.

Craig
Diagnosed in 2013

Work

My colleagues

I told them as soon as I was diagnosed as I didn't want to hold anything back and let them wonder. I am still working full time and my coworkers have provided amazing support.

I made a conscious decision upfront to be very open with my journey. I'm a member of a large Rotary club here in downtown San Diego and they asked me to give the inspirational speech about a week after I was diagnosed.

I stood up in front of about 250 people and the support was just amazing. They gave me a standing ovation - the whole nine yards. It's been wonderful to have that kind of support, but I wouldn't have it if I hadn't been public with my journey.

Dann
Diagnosed in 2006

Work

I work full time. I'm in commercial real estate and one of the really fortunate things about that is that my schedule is as flexible as I need it to be. So I don't have to ask the boss to take time off. I do work remotely on a lot of things so it makes it very comfortable. I love what I'm doing so I have no interest in retiring.

Stopping working is a very hard transition for anyone, even if you're planning for it. One of the key things that I've learned about that is the importance of having a structure and routine in your day. Especially if you have a diagnosis of cancer, you don't want to spend your entire day thinking about cancer, you want to have other things to fill up and structure the day and feel meaningful.

Telling my co-workers

It was extremely difficult so the way that I found that worked best for me was to e-mail the people that are important to me and tell them about my diagnosis, and then by the time they responded, they had the time to collect themselves.

I didn't have to help them through their reaction to something that I was already struggling with. I learned from the first time how to handle it the second time around, so that when I sent out the word to everyone I told them, "I don't want any pity, what I want is your support."

And the responses I got back from people reflected that. They were saying, "Go get 'em Dann!" and those very positive kind of messages as opposed to, "I'm so sorry."

I don't know anyone who likes the pity messages, the "I'm so sorry." That really says that you're past tense. That you're no longer relevant, you're as good as gone. So I have made sure I frame my conversation with people so that they see the hope, because I see the hope and I want them helping me to continue to see the hope.

I usually don't find it overwhelming. I found what's really important is to show my vulnerability, and letting people see this is really hard but this is what I'm doing to make it work.

If you do have to quit work

Find other meaningful things to do. Cancer is an opportunity, it gives you a chance to find what is important to you, who are the people that are important to you and to make sure that you make the most of those opportunities.

Around the home

It's not very easy to give up sharing the load with your partner and feeling like you're the one receiving. It's important to be able to pull your weight and that's been one of the adjustments I've had to make. To learn how to accept and receive, rather than to always try and keep a balance on things.

Deena
Diagnosed in 2012

Work

I've worked throughout my adulthood in various professions, but now I'm retired. When I was first diagnosed, I was lucky to be able to work from home sometimes.

Diane
Diagnosed in 2013

Work

Not only as someone who's come through cancer, but also as someone who's retired, I have a little schedule of things I like to do. I like to paint, I love to read, and now I feel like I'm entitled to do those things. You have to give yourself license to replace a very active lifestyle with a more quiet lifestyle.

If someone asks me now what I did today, I say "Whatever I felt like." And it really does come down to that. You have to stop marching to someone else's drum and just march to your own drum. Fill the days doing things that are important to you.

Emily
NED (No evidence of disease) for two years

Work

I used to work in finance, but I'm now the spokesperson for the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation and I do patient advocacy work for them as well.

During my diagnosis and treatment, there were several people who changed our world and gave us critical advice and crucial help. If I can do that for somebody, then I want to be that person for them. I didn't really feel the need to go back to my prior position, but I did feel the need from the day I was diagnosed to help people out in my same situation. That was something I was very, very adamant about from the beginning.

I'm very selfish about my time and making sure that I'm organizing and prioritizing so that my health is paramount. Once I was about a year off from surgery Bonnie J. Addario called and asked if I would be their spokesperson – I felt like I was finally getting to the point where I could give back and begin working again, and accepted the position.

When I counsel patients entering treatment and beginning their lung cancer journey, I encourage them to focus on themselves. Be selfish - this is the time to focus on yourself and your treatment; you have to give it the best chance of working. Once you're done with treatment and cancer free, then you can focus on helping others. You don't have to ignore other patients, but right now you need to spend all your energy on your own treatment and your own health.

Sleep is so important. I would always be in favor of a patient taking care of themselves and taking time off work if they can.

George
Diagnosed in 2013

Work

George

The biggest change for me was not so much the cancer diagnosis but the fact I went into retirement before I planned to.

I was very focused on my work and I wasn't expecting to retire. Particularly for newly diagnosed patients, that's kind of the biggest change.

Recognize it's going to take some time. You're not immediately going to figure out what you're going to do. Recognize that you're going to live with cancer, you're not dying of cancer.

It was hardest for about the first six months. I kind of jostled about, reading books and watching TV. But there's only so much Dr Phil you can take!

Now that I've accommodated the new reality I do a lot more reading and I do a lot with digital photography.

The big thing about Linda working is I don't want my life to revolve around cancer. Having her sitting there and watching me just would reinforce that.

So for now, her continuing to work adds a bit of normalcy to what we're doing. It helps us deal psychologically with the impact of the disease.

Think about mentoring, think about volunteering, think about passing on your skills. For someone who's had a life of helping others, you don't want to give that up.

Linda

I love the books he's produced from the places that we've gone to.

I don't have the house to myself anymore! You're not used to having someone there all day long.

Make sure your affairs are in order. It's very comforting to know that if something happens, everything's laid out and ready to roll.

Janet
Diagnosed in 2011

Work

I have always been a writer. I wrote as a part of my engineering work, and I wrote for fun, but I just started getting short fiction and science articles published in the year or two before I was diagnosed.

I found it difficult to write while dealing with chemo and radiation - I couldn't think clearly or focus well. I had "chemo brain" and had trouble organizing my thoughts. It's a loss to not be able to perform as well as I'm used to doing. It took a while to find what I could do with my post-treatment brain.

I still have trouble with word finding and short-term memory (the nice thing about writing is, I can edit). However, once I started to feel better, my writing muse came back. Now my writing mostly relates to my lung cancer experience, advocacy, and translating science for other patients.

Having a purpose makes a difference. When I wasn't able to write, I spent a lot of time in the online lung cancer forums communicating with other lung cancer patients, sharing bits of my experience and encouraging other people. That was something that I could do that didn't require me to get out of the house when I wasn't feeling well during treatment.

Lydia
Diagnosed in 2008

Work

When I found out, some of my co-workers got scared and didn't want to talk to me anymore. Some were real compassionate - most of them were great.

Luckily, when I retired, I got to babysit my two granddaughters. I know that's why I'm still here today. I still help out with them.

Also, trying to help other people who were sick, trying to tell them what made me feel good.

When we'd do the chemos all the patients are in one room. I'd hear their stories, they'd hear my stories - that helped me out a lot.

Marc
Diagnosed in 2011

Work

Once I started getting into the heavy chemo, I couldn't do anything but just sleep. It affected me dramatically because I had worked for 42 years.

I got upset with myself and I played the old "why me" for a short period of time, but got over that with a lot of help from my wife.

To take up the extra time, I became an advocate for lung cancer and got very involved in learning, doing surveys, research and talking to people.

I've talked to people over the last year who were recently diagnosed. I've filled them in on what they have to look forward to, different questions to ask the oncologist, the radiologist and their team.

I tell them that they need to build the team and carry a book around with them, write down every question, and that there is no question too stupid to ask any doctor.

Richard
Diagnosed in 2004

Work

I worked for 20 years in a family business. I was diagnosed while I was still working and it was apparent to me quite early on I couldn't still work there. The stress of owning a business and the pressure was too terrifying for me.

But I was only 45, so I wasn't ready to give up on my working career. I went to work for a non-profit, doing fundraising, and the great thing about that there was no travel.

I'm now retired, but I do volunteer - one or two days a week, but only for three or four hours a day. It really suits my physical make-up a lot better.

Stephanie
Diagnosed in 2012

Work

I retired on disability. I was unable to keep up the pace of the job I had.

Just recently I felt well enough to work a little bit. I went and got my real estate license, trying to sell real estate. It's not a great market but I'm having a blast with the open houses. I guess you could say I'm self-employed.

I don't want to just sit around, I want to do a lot of things. When you are on disability you don't have the funds to do so. I couldn't get up and work every single day, at 8 AM to 5 PM, so some days I just don't feel good after treatment. With real estate, I've got my own schedule. I love it, that flexibility, I love working. I like being around people all the time, meeting new people.

You've got to do something flexible because you can't predict how you are going to feel from day to day.

I like the sense that I'm giving back. I'm not just sitting around, having idle brain time - that would probably not help my good attitude. I don't want to spend too much time on the internet or too much time to think.

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