You never know when life will throw you a curve ball – or how you’ll live through it.
Last June I was thrown a major curve ball: I found out I had breast cancer.
Things went very fast.
I started chemo in July and for a while I had 15 medical appointments a week.
My last chemo session was in early December and, in January, my medical tests showed no active cancer in my body.
How to Keep Working When Thrown a Major Curve Ball
Overall, I got through everything fairly easily.
There were two things that made it possible: The ability to continue to work and changing aspects of my personal life.
It’s really interesting to look back at how those two things made my cancer experience an easy one.
Although I continued to work full-time, even taking on more responsibilities in my job as director of editorial at Social Media Examiner, I didn’t really need to change much, with regard to work.
I did, however, make several changes to my personal life. Those changes probably contributed the most to how I successfully managed both work and cancer treatment.
Here are the key elements that contributed to my recovery.
Strong Work Foundation
I’ve been with Social Media Examiner since we launched the site in October 2009.
I’m a key player in the company and in the early years was involved in most areas of the organization before my editorial tasks became full-time.
This means I really know what I’m doing and how things work. Those were important advantages for me.
The most critical elements that mattered a lot last year were flexible hours, an established editorial process, and a great team.
First of all, the number of medical appointments I had could only work with flexible hours.
Yes, in editorial I work to weekly deadlines, but there’s a good bit of flexibility around my hours as long as I get the work done.
I work from my home office (no commute time!) in Miami, while the company office is in San Diego.
The time difference worked in my favor. Even if I started work later in the morning or early afternoon, I could still make up my hours in the evening and work with my colleagues in California.
An Established Work Flow
This was probably the most important part of successfully working through my treatment.
I’ve been involved in creating our editorial process since Social Media Examiner started its website, and it’s a process that works well for what we do.
When we encountered issues, we addressed them and made the changes needed. This process was critical to getting good work done.
A Great Team
There are multiple reasons to be thankful for working with a great team, and in circumstances like these you learn to deeply appreciate them.
The right people on your team for the right tasks pays off.
Although I had a solid foundation at work, there were several personal life changes that had to be made.
Very early on in my cancer treatment I knew I couldn’t share my cancer news with everyone and still have the energy to get healthy.
Cancer creates a reaction in people. People care, but that comes with exhausting expectations and assumptions. They want you to update them constantly. They want to tell you about someone else they know who has had cancer treatment and spent lots of time sleeping or was so sick they couldn’t work.
Those kinds of stories leave unsaid assumptions.
I didn’t have time to manage my needs as well as theirs, so told very few people what I was going through – and only my husband and daughters knew exactly what I was going through.
Limited sharing was essential for me to maintain control of my brain space.
Limited Social Life
I focused on two things: Getting healthy again and working.
That meant my social life would be extremely limited while going through treatment.
I had to put anything outside of health or work on hold, including my recently launched International Stories podcast.
I went to all of my medical appointments. I took all of my medication on time. I listened to my body and chose my meals carefully. I kept my medical folder up-to-date for all of my doctors.
And I focused on doing my work for Social Media Examiner.
Of course, flexible hours are great, but when your schedule changes from one week to the next during a long period of time, it’s natural for the people you work with to wonder whether you’re really putting in your hours.
I simply decided that when I was not in medical appointments I would work whether it was a weekday or weekend.
Overall, I worked more than I would have under normal circumstances.
It may sound counterintuitive, but that schedule had a big benefit for me. Working in a job I enjoy helped me keep my “real” focus on healing and not dilute it with my own (or other people’s) worries or concerns.
Proactive About Healing
I was proactive about healing.
I have a stellar medical team and did everything I was asked to do to get better.
I’ve been told that I was “lucky” in that my experience of chemo was “mild.”
Maybe that was because I had a reasonably healthy lifestyle before this happened. Or maybe, as my oncologist told me in the beginning, today breast cancer treatment is fairly easy to go through because they know how to manage the side effects of treatment.
She gave me a list of things to do in the event of certain symptoms, and I used this list.
Of course, not having cancer as a constant topic of conversation helped, but I also decided to stay positive.
I limited my cancer research to reading two great books.
One was about what to expect, and the other was a recipe book with great information on nutrition for cancer patients.
I focused all of my attention on reaching mini-achievements and milestones one at a time – one chemo session after another.
In March, I went on a two-week vacation to Brazil. This was a turning point. Life is very slowly getting back to normal and I’m moving my work schedule back into a normal routine.
Have you worked through a major life challenge? Did you use some of these tactics to help get through it? Or did you do something different?