I haven’t technically worked since the day I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer which was June 7, 2011. Prior to diagnosis, I was an English teacher in Los Angeles, I taught Adult Education and was really loving my career and excelling at it. And because I was a workaholic, I also worked retail on weekends, at a once super chic retail spot in Santa Monica, Fred Segal. I worked 7 days a week, which was absolutely crazy. I was also working on completing my Masters in order to be a college professor. I really loved teaching adults and that was the next step for me. In hindsight, I don’t know what I was thinking taking on so much responsibility. I was actually on my way to teach my night class when I got the call that would forever change the course of my life. After receiving the news that the biopsy detected cancer, I called out of work immediately that evening. I returned a few nights later only to say goodbye to my students, introduce them to their long-term sub and encouraged them to complete the course even though I would not be there to finish the semester with them. It was really an emotional evening for myself and my students, a day I will never forget.
I had no idea that leaving that night would be the last time I would step foot on campus, let alone the last night I would work…. for years to come.
I thought for sure that I would finish treatment and be in remission within a certain amount of time. I thought I would be able to pick up the pieces and move on, looking at cancer in the rearview mirror relatively soon. I guess I had this perception that you either get cancer and die, or you get cancer and beat it. I was certain that I was going to do the latter and that I would return to work one day. But this hasn’t become my reality yet…just shy of 6 years later. I miss working. In particular, I miss teaching. I never thought I would say the words I miss working. I always hear people complaining about having to go to work (I’m sure I was complaining about work prior to my diagnosis too) and think to myself, how lucky you are that you get to go to work. What a change of perception. I think to gain this perception however, you have to experience something life altering, like a stage 4 “incurable” cancer diagnosis.
Fighting Cancer Has Become My Full-Time Job
I can’t work. My hands are totally tied. If I go back to work or accept a job, then I will lose my health coverage which my livelihood totally depends on. Our health system is so backwards, which is a whole other topic on it’s own…I digress. Nevertheless, I now have a full-time, unpaid, all consuming job that is the most important job that I will ever have, and I take this job very serious: fighting cancer, the fight of my life. I work around the clock to keep myself healthy and alive. Managing and living with cancer is no easy task…not to mention it’s expensive as hell! As someone living with metastatic breast cancer, the daily practices and concoctions/remedies I implement seem endless and are totally time consuming. I have incorporated sooooooo many different practices into my daily life, all of which I know have played in important role in keeping me alive and healthy. My daily routine switches up as my circumstances change, I alter my to-do’s to meet whatever my current needs are. I get lots of emails asking me what I do or what I have done to remain so healthy and active over the years. I am in the process of writing a thorough post covering all of this info and will publish it very soon. But in the meantime, here is a laundry list of what my daily job entails:
Medications: I am a full time pill-popper. I never thought this would be real life. I was once that annoying person that wouldn’t even take an advil. Oh the irony. I am currently on Ibrance, Arimidex and Lupron. (Fortunately I don’t have to be hooked up to an IV these days, like I have been in the past). Over the years I have also been on Herpcepin, Navelbine, Tomoxifin and Pertruzinab.
Integrative Medications: I believe in integrative/Eastern treatment just as much as I believe in conventional/Western treatment. The perfect marriage of both has been instrumental for me. I take a Chinese herbal tea 3 times a day prepared by my amazinggggg Chinese Herbal Dr, (who by the way has cured lots of cancer patients….Yes, I said cured! and I will be writing about him very soon), cannabis supplements, vape pen as needed (read about my journey with cannabis here) chaga mushroom tea (delicious recipe here) tons of vitamins, lots of fresh organic green juice, wheatgrass shots and plenty of alkaline water.
Diet: I was always pretty healthy but after cancer, I took it to another level. I prepare most of my meals or only eat out at places where I know healthy, fresh and organic food is served…and this is very expensive! But my thinking is, you can’t put a price tag on wellness. Food can be and should be your medicine! I try to eat an alkaline diet (read more here), and I rarely eat meat. Preparing good, healthy food can be time consuming but I believe putting your own good, healing energy into preparing your meals and knowing what you are consuming, is time very well spent.
Integrative Therapies: Ozone therapy, acupuncture, EFT tapping, reiki, reflexology, light/sound therapy, personal training, physical therapy for my arm (having most of my lymph nodes removed from my arm has caused a lot of trauma to my right side) and lymphatic massage/drainage are some of the therapies that I do regularly.
Dr Appointments: I am at my oncologist’s office every two weeks for blood tests. I have PET/CT scans every few months. When I had cancer in my lungs I was at the hospital every few days to get fluid drained from my lungs (thankfully this has resolved). Currently I am fighting a bone infection and am seeing an Infectious Disease Specialist. I had a week of intravenous antibiotics which had me at the hospital for 7 days straight. I am also seeing a physical therapist to regain jaw mobility twice a week due to the bone infection I am currently fighting. I am at the hospital wayyyy more than anyone would ever want to be.
Support: I attend a once a week meet up group for emotional and spiritual support. In addition, I spend a lot of time messaging women from my site to help navigate and assist them on their own journeys by sharing all of my own experiences with cancer. Currently I am looking to start my own metastatic support group at UCLA and I’m always happy to volunteer my time and am willing to help others in need….this to me is most fulfilling. Since I miss teaching so much, I believe I am now teaching an entirely different subject to a totally different audience. It’s very different, but just as rewarding as was my prior teaching career.
Managing Bills, Paperwork: Omg!! This in of itself is a full-time job. Talk about total frustration. I am constantly having to call Medicare or Medical and fight for coverage… and managing the bills and paperwork is total insanity. I have file cabinets in both my home and storage filled with stacks and piles of medical bills/statements, scan results, and test results that I have accumulated over the years. I am literally my own secretary.
Research: From day one, I was an avid researcher. I don’t suggest this for everyone, as jumping on the internet right after getting a cancer diagnosis can be super frightening. Based on what I was reading, it was safe to assume that it was the end for me. But I kept reading, and I kept researching. I wanted to know exactly what type of cancer I was dealing with, and I had to know about all of the medication I was about to take. What was it exactly and what was it supposed to do? I wasn’t comfortable not knowing. I also started to research all of the things that I could do on my end as well. How did all of these other people beat stage 4 cancer?. My mentality was, if they can beat it, it is possible, and I will too. Reading Radical Remission by Kelly A Turner was life changing for me. After reading this book, I knew that I could and that I would overcome the odds placed against me. She complies a ton of research in one book which is so helpful.
Writing/Pitching/Advocating: Choosing topics that are relevant and appealing to people on my site is super important to me and my goal is to be more consistent with my writing. I am also hell bent on trying to bring awareness to the fact that people are getting cancer younger and younger and that people are living and thriving with metastatic disease. A stage 4 diagnosis is not a death sentence. I do as much networking as I possibly can, I attend events, participate in cancer walks/runs and put myself in as many situations as possible where I could network and meet the right people to help me shine light on these important issues. I also do a lot of charity events in the month of October to raise funds and awareness for charities near and dear to me.
My friends aways tell me that I’m the busiest non-working person they know and I think it’s a pretty accurate statement. I have created a full time job for myself and am just as busy as the “normal working person.” I’m excited and passionate about life… I want to see and do and accomplish so much. I have set goals for myself and am willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive and healthy and live a life of meaning and purpose…This to me is the most important, most meaningful job that I have had or ever will have.
Stephanie you are a wonderful inspiration! I am recovering from tonsil cancer and understand how recovery is a full time job. I also miss working and am not strong enough to return to work yet. I figured I would be able to return to work when my chemo and radiation was finished, but that isn’t the way it is. I think there must be some purpose why cancer became part of my life, and maybe this a turning point of some kind, indicating I should be moving in a different direction with my life and job, although I don’t yet know what that is. I am at a standstill as well and would like to hear more from you. Thank you.
Thank you for the kind words. I too sometimes miss working as well but I am also a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, as cliche as that may sound. There is certainly a purpose and it’s ok to allow yourslef the time to figure out what that purpose is. Take your time to heal and listen…. the answers are all within. Love and healing to you.
What an amazing person you are! Thank you for your courage and warrior spirit. My wife was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015. This is so very helpful, and clearly, you are still a teacher with a very large classroom.
Thank you for the kind message! ..and what a compliment! Wishing you and your wife a short cancer journey and a long life of health and happiness together. 🙂 Thank you again.
Stephanie- I would love to hear about how you personally are care for? Do you want rely on someone or from the revenue from your blogging? I’m at a standstill in my life, it seems that I need to take the plunge and figure out how to make a living “not working” and to beat cancer, maybe for the second time.
I would love to hear more.