Working through Chemo – A Survival Guide

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I still think it’s funny that I get strange looks when I tell people I’m working through chemo. Thing is, working through chemo is not unusual, crazy or impossible. It’s just not easy.

When my diagnosis came, stopping work was not the first thing that came to mind. After getting through the initial shock of having cancer, my first thoughts turned to my children, my family and keeping the status quo as much as possible.

Working Through Chemo | Sedruola Maruska

Reasons Why I Work

Nothing turns your world around as much as a major health diagnosis. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, because there are major life events that really rock your existence. What I’m saying is a major health crisis is right there among the top choices. Finding out you’re sick, when you not only thought you were fine, but you feel fine is blindsiding. You’re not ready. We weren’t ready.

I knew I wasn’t going in to work on the day I was diagnosed. Then the day after I had a bunch of scans so I had to take that day off too. However, it never occurred to me to just call in my short term disability and stop working. I was fine. Looking back, here are a few reasons why I chose to working through chemo over other options:

  • Structure – I have an eleven year old son and a six year old daughter. I want them to have normal days with normal worries and a structured schedule. To me, stopping work would make is seem that things were off kilter. Don’t misunderstand, my kids are well aware of what’s happening. I’ve talked to each of them separately and they both do worry that “mommy’s going to get sicker”. Even in the midst of keeping a stable structure they see my struggle and they worry. But how much more traumatic would it be if I didn’t do any of the things they’re used to me doing?
  • Financial Stability – When you wake up one day and have 40% of your income stripped without any prior notice you’re going to feel the burn. That’s what would’ve happened if I’d gone straight to STD. Working as much as I can gives us the opportunity to plan ahead emotionally and financially for the time when I will definitely need to be home to recover from surgery. Financially, we need time to strip the excess, tighten our spending and prep for some lean times.
  • Emotional Stability – If I stopped working as soon as I began chemo, I would be an emotional wreck. Working gives me structure and stability. Working gives me more to think about than my side-effects or the next chemo treatment. If I didn’t work I think I’d find a way to fill my days, but it might drive my family and me crazy in the end. Yes, I’m exhausted when I get home from work, but I’m thankful that I was able to feel and be useful for the day.
  • Distraction – Working distracts me from the fact that I am actively fighting and surviving cancer. It also distracts me from worrying about all that “may” happen after treatment and surgery. Staying at work keeps me grounded in the present so I’m not off making up multiple scenarios to induce fear into my current situation. When I’m working and taking care of the normal day-to-day activities and needs, I don’t have time to imagine the worst. Thankfully.

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Survival Guide

We’re all different and diagnosis along with decisions you make afterward will depend on your particular situation. I know there are protocols that do not allow you to work while on chemo because of the timing and aggressive nature of the treatment. Please make sure that all decisions are what’s best for you and your family.

However, if like me, you’re able and you’ve opted to keep working through chemo here are a few tips to help you survive the daily grind:

  1. Take life one day at a time. Assess each day individually and work accordingly. Do not take in a larger picture than that day.
  2. Notify all pertinent parties at work what’s going on with your health. It may not be comfortable and you may want to keep it completely to yourself, however, if there’s any chance that your company is willing to accommodate your needs, you owe it to yourself to find out. Don’t suffer in silence.
  3. If you have a “work from home” option, use it! Always assess your day (see #1) but I know there are days when I can’t get to the office, but I can pull up my laptop onto my bed and work. Always keep it as an option if it’s available to you.
  4. On the days when it’s just too much and you don’t feel you can work, take the day off. I know it’s a financial thing, but it’s also a “get healthy” thing. Your body is working hard when you’re going through treatments so any support you give is important. When your body says rest, please take time to rest, your body knows.
  5. Pack your snacks and lunches so you can support yourself nutritionally. I’m not going to give you any nutritional advice right now (I’m sure you’ve gotten your fair share already). If you’re working on improving your diet to help support your immune system, the easiest way is to pack your own food every day. I’m aware of the fatigue that comes with chemo and you may lack the energy to be fancy, but you don’t have to be fancy. My husband makes a huge salad each week that goes in the refrigerator so I usually just grab some pieces of fruit and maybe a bit of the salad for lunch. Believe me, I’m the last person to pile anything extra on your plate, but stocking your fridge with easy to grab foods is the best thing you can do.
  6. Protect your health while you’re in the workplace by making sure you have masks (if needed), tissue, lotion & sanitizer easily accessible. Like it or not people go to work sick all the time. While going through chemo your immune system isn’t ready to do major battle with even the most minor germs. If you’ve got sick co-workers don’t worry about wearing your mask at work. They shouldn’t be at work if they’re sick and you need to protect yourself. Wash your hands often and use both the sanitizer and lotion regularly (lotion, cause chemo dries out your hands something awful). Finally, avoid touching communal hard surfaces with your bare hands (handles, doors, tables, etc)Being a germ-phob at this time in your life is not only smart, but totally encouraged.
  7.  Gauge your energy level. Not everything needs to be done right away or even today. Make sure not to wear yourself out too much. Making sure you can get enough rest overnight to make it back in the morning is important. If you over exert yourself after a few days you’ll pay the price and it won’t be helpful to your or your job (see #1). Pace yourself and you should be able to keep working throughout chemo.
  8. Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated and your energy level up. Staying hydrated helps your body do the work it needs to do during the day. Plus, those ventilation systems are extra drying. Chemo dries out your skin so drink as much water as you can muster everyday (even when you’re not working).
  9. When in doubt . . . see #1

If you’ve got cancer Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips is a good book to have, hold and reference!

Your Turn

It’s your turn. What are some tips you’d like to share with your fellow sister warriors about working through chemo? This is my first experience with cancer and I know I may have missed a few tips. Share your best tip in the comments below. It’s about helping each other thrive and survive through our experiences with cancer.

9 Replies to “Working through Chemo – A Survival Guide”

  1. I didnt stop working and i was doing good but my meds didnt help me at all joint pain and brain fog didnt do me any good but with the change in meds i was able to over come the joint pain but it took me a while with the brain fog but i end without a job because i had many errors that i did and with that i am now unemploy working on moving forward

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you’re not unemployed. Yes, it can be a huge challenge to keep clear during chemo. I hope your health is better and that you are able to find work that makes you feel good!

  2. You are an inspiration to many. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family as you fight and conquer this.

  3. Tip:
    Stay positive and limit unnecessary chatter with what ifs and what nows and move forward with great expectation. Expect the best and listen to your body. Allow others to do for you and sit back and let the healing begin.

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