Work Through Your Cancer
By Laura Yeager
At the time with my first bout of breast cancer, I was seeing a psychologist who advised me not to quit working if possible. She said that staying on the job would keep my mind off my troubles and would give me a focus other than my illness. I was working as a part-time writing teacher at a local university, going in three times a week in the morning.
I took her advice, and I’m glad I did. I worked the whole semester, missing only four classes. My friend, Leslie, filled in for me when I absolutely couldn’t show up.
That semester, I was getting chemotherapy on the weekends. Thank goodness the chemo didn’t make me sick. I just felt a little weak and tired. And then, my hair started to fall out. I remember one day in class, I said “You guys are making me pull my hair out!” And then, for comic effect, I pulled a huge clump of it out of my head. Some of the students laughed, and some found it distasteful. I had a rapport with that class, so the gesture didn’t cause me to lose too much credibility.
That same day, I was going to go to the beautician to have my head shaved. “Does anyone want to come with me?” I asked. “I’ll be at Great Clips on Portage at 4:00 if anyone wants to meet me there.”
Surprise, surprise, no one showed up.
I’ve always been a fan of humor to work through difficult situations. Of course, your office politics will determine have irreverent you can be.
Now, with this new bout of breast cancer, I’ve also worked through the rough spots of my illness. In this case, I’m teaching online Creative Writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York. My surgery to remove the angiosarcoma came right at the last two weeks of a six-week term. I had surgery on June 10, 2016, and the term ended June 28. While I was in the hospital for a two-night stay, I felt absolutely terrible. I texted my boss and told him there was no way I was going to be able to complete the class. He was flexible and told me he would get a replacement for me.
But a couple days later, I was feeling well enough that I knew I could finish the class.
So I got home from the hospital and went immediately to the computer, checking in with my students and reviewing their work.
I had told the students what was going on, so they knew I was in a bit of a vulnerable state. But they were so supportive. They sent me “good vibes,” prayers and well wishes. Staying on the job provided me with a wonderful support system that gave me encouragement, sympathy and strength.
Work was a God-send. For the last two weeks, I’ve been critiquing stories and essays and guiding a group of sixteen young writers in the ways of first drafts, beginnings, middles, conclusions, grammar and revisions, among other things. Working has truly kept my mind off my immense wound pain and overall weakness from the surgery.
Of course, working during this second occurrence of cancer was rather easy for me because I was working from home. I didn’t have to get dressed and go into an office and contend with an 8-hour day.
You may have to work outside of the home. This can and will be difficult, but I suggest that if there is any way possible that you can do it, do it.
Cancer makes us feel abnormal. It is dancing with the enemy.
Working makes us feel normal. It’s what we do.