Skating on thin ice: How work can be a therapy for living with incurable cancer

  • Posted on February 3, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

Living with secondary, incurable breast cancer is a roller coaster of emotions. Most days I can pretend I’m ok and if you didn’t know me you wouldn’t even realize I am sick. 

For those living with stage 4 cancer, you feel like you are on a train that is going 100 miles per second, and you can’t pull the brake because someone else is driving the train. Your life becomes a blurred version of what it once was, and your tomorrow is substituted by just your today. Carefree moments become fewer and fewer but possibly more authentic, and fear becomes your new companion, lurking in the shadows ready to jump at you whenever you least expect it. 

This is how we feel…but our coin has two faces…one side of fear and uncertainty, and the other of hope and strength. 

Many people say to me “you are so strong,” well I guess I am just trying to survive and when your life is at stake you cannot but fight. A cancer diagnosis makes you muster the courage to truly surrender to what is happening, to let go and accept what it actually is (not what it should be, what you want it to be, or what it once was) with all its searing pain and discomfort to awaken to who you really are and not just be a “victim” of this horrible disease.

I had no preparation or guidelines to follow. One day I was working a regular day in the office, and the next day I didn’t know if I would ever be able to return to work. Over the last two years, I have learned so much about myself. I was forced to change my perspective on work, my priorities, and my goals for my future. I now look back and can see my forced change in perspective was for the best. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I immediately thought of all the ways my life would change. But to be honest some of the hardest parts of my diagnoses was that so many things remained unchanged. An incredibly wise and dear friend told me: “you can’t change things, but you can decide how to live them” so I knew that I had to learn how to prioritize things in my life and focus my energy on what was most important. 

I was “saved” by the possibility of going back to work.  Work kept my mind off things, allowing me to feel like a had a part of my life back.  After my diagnosis, I made myself only look forward and never look back at how things were. Most importantly, work gave me the opportunity to contribute to something, making me feel “normal” and useful again reminding me that I still had a life apart from cancer.

Juggling through calls, new projects, meetings, and coffee breaks with colleagues (before the pandemic) injected new energy in my life opened up the path towards “normality”. Knowing that my day is punctuated by responsibilities and tasks to complete helped me move past my condition and to re-gain my confidence and re-enforced my spirit dealing with issues.

What makes me smile is that before the diagnosis I was always so worried and anxious anytime I had a client meeting but now, I have the strength and lucidity to face professional challenges more fiercely and rationally, knowing that after all there are “bigger monsters” to face.

The love and support of colleagues made me feel I have a “safety net” to jump into if I fell.  Special mention goes to Avanade for its sensitivity for understanding my needs and always being there for me during and after my absence from work. 

From this harsh experience, I am still learning, but so far, I have realized that just like a skater skating on thin ice we are aware that the ground beneath our feet may break but we keep on going anyway because even if we fall, we will get up over and over again….and for the time being I will just keep on skatin.’

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