By Amy McMillin, as told to Kendall Morgan
When I found out I had lung cancer, I was working full time. That hasn’t changed. I am still working full time, and my family tries to stick with the same routine we had prior to my diagnosis, with some exceptions and adjustments, of course.
I have two kids. My oldest is away at college and my youngest can drive now, so I don’t have to do the morning school routine. This is a huge help since fatigue is one of the biggest side effects of my treatment. Thankfully, also, my mother-in-law lives close by. She is such a huge help to our family. She comes and deep cleans our home once a month and helps in any other way we may need.
It’s important to have a support system, both at home and at work. I am so fortunate to work from home and have a great work support system. When I was diagnosed, I went to my supervisor, and we discussed options that allow me some flexibility in my work schedule. I can rest at times when I am in pain or not feeling well. I find that a quick power nap at lunch can help me to get through the day.
I have set up my home office so that I can stay on top of deadlines and priorities. My memory is a bit of a struggle at times, and things take me longer than they used to. To stay on track, I use a large desktop calendar, to-do lists, and other organizational tools. These help me know where I left off the day before and what I need to do next. I’ve adapted.
One of the things that was brand new to me with the cancer diagnosis was medication management. The targeted medicine I take for my lung cancer type is very specific about when I need to take it. I have to take two pills twice a day. They also must be taken 12 hours apart. On top of that, you can’t eat for 2 hours before and 1 hour after taking the pills. It took some trial and error to land on a schedule that would work with our family’s schedule.
I find that taking it at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. allows me to have dinner with my family in the evenings at a time that works for everyone. Along with the targeted medication, I take another medicine now to help with digestive issues from radiation, and that has to be taken at specific times also.
Prior to my diagnosis, I went to see my primary care doctor once a year or on the rare occasion I had a bad cold. These days, it feels as though I am at a doctor all the time. I see my local doctor once a month at least for checkups related to the medications I take. They help me to manage my side effects and any other issues I might be having.
I also travel to [a specialty hospital] once every 3 months for scans. I get checkups with my oncology team and my cardiology team. I’ve had to learn to live with a long list of side effects, including fatigue, stomach issues, skin issues, sun sensitivity, bloating, and weight gain. Each of these side effects requires a different doctor to manage them. Managing all the medicines and all the doctor appointments on top of my usual work schedule and home life is probably one of the biggest challenges in terms of day-to-day life.
But even with all the side effects, medications, and doctor visits, I think it’s important for me mentally to maintain as much of a normal lifestyle as I possibly can. It’s good for me as well as my family. I’m still young and have so much to contribute to my family and friends. I want to keep moving and grooving as long as I can.
Some days it’s wonderful and some days it’s very hard, but I find that having a solid support system in all aspects is what’s most important. Trust your team of doctors. Lean on your friends and family to help you because they want to and you need it. Beyond that, just keep putting one foot in front of another. Keep fighting.