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Working with Cancer

Written by Joel Washok | Apr 27, 2011 1:49 PM

After you’re diagnosed with cancer, there can be a lot running through your mind: how did this happen, how far has it progressed, am I going to survive? You might also wonder, how am I going to continue working? Cancer is difficult as it is, but trying to work through treatment just adds to the difficulty, and that’s what Pat Siegrist realized during her bout with breast cancer.

Siegrist is an Administrative Assistant for the American Cancer Society and she works with cancer patients regularly. “At the time of my treatment and still today I work in the Patient Navigation Center, which works with all the cancer patients calling in from around the state.” Little did she know that she would be one of those patients.

Siegrist is married and has a child, and her priorities are with her family. Even after her diagnosis, she remained adamant about taking care of her daughter, who was seven years old at the time. She chose to work through her chemo treatments and was glad to have worked through them.

“At times it was extremely tiring,” she says, “but still rewarding to keep my life as normal as possible.” Her chemo treatments occurred every two weeks for six months, with her first three months being the most intense. Especially because Siegrist had undergone a gastric bypass just months earlier. “With my body still adjusting to the gastric bypass process, it was like a double whammy to the system,” she says.

She scheduled her treatments on Thursdays and was not permitted to work the following day. Siegrist recalls, “my worst down time would start Saturday afternoons and by Sunday I was flat on the couch for the entire day.”

“After my first couple of chemo treatments, the tiredness set in pretty harshly. At that point, I started working half days. I would come to work in the morning and work until lunchtime. Then I would go home and nap all afternoon until my daughter got off the bus at 4:00pm. Then most evenings I was in bed at the same time as my daughter which was 8:00pm,” Siegrist says.

Although it was difficult, the chemo shrunk the tumor to the point that it was almost non-existent. Her doctor said she could choose a simple lumpectomy, but Siegrist wanted to get a mastectomy and have her breast reconstructed.

But that surgery had to be postponed for almost a month. As a side effect of her chemo, Siegrist developed shingles. She developed a rash on her head that went down her face. “It’s very common for a chemo patient to get shingles because the immune system is at such a low point.”

“But that delay worked well for me,” Siegrist says. “It gave me time to gain my strength back. By the time my first surgery came, I was back to working almost full days again.” After her first surgery, her doctors made her stay away from work for three months to recover. “You take for granted being able to dress yourself and put your own socks on. Every little thing I began to do on my own was a huge victory. The day I put on my own shoes and tied them was groundbreaking for me.”

Cancer treatment is difficult, but with the help of her family and friends, Siegrist was able to continue the process. “My co-workers watched me like a hawk,” she recalls. “If we had meetings in the office and someone had a cold or was sick, I was banned from the meetings, for my own protection.” Her mother was also a great help, going with her to almost every chemo treatment, never leaving her alone through the process. “Truthfully, while I was going through everything with chemo, I never really thought of myself as a cancer patient. I knew I was fighting to save my life, but it never really struck me that I was a cancer patient.”

This entire process was difficult for her, but with the help of family and friends, she was able to go through it with minimal complications. “Working through my chemo and cancer was extremely tough, but it also was rewarding at the same time,” Siegrist says. “It showed me how tough you can be and the courage you really don’t know you have. It shows you the generosity of others and how much love everyone has.”

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