Early survivorship for me is very much intertwined with starting my life in the DC area. I expected to hit the ground running with my new job, in my new city, with my best friend by my side and my boyfriend hopefully joining at some point.
That’s not quite how it played out though. I started my new job and had to navigate whether to tell my new colleagues about my life over the last 10 months or not. Everyone always asks what you were doing before starting a new position, so do I tell them about cancer or do I skip over the diagnosis that changed my life forever and talk about Rwanda instead? I decided to talk about both because to me, hiding cancer was like hiding a piece of who I was. It was so deeply part of my story now that if I wanted to forge any real relationships, I felt I needed to be honest.
I disclosed my story when the opportunity arose in individual conversations and although it’s always a bit awkward, everyone handled it well when it came up. This was the start of building friendships with my colleagues, people with whom I am still friends with to this day even though I no longer work there or live in that area. They became part of my new support system and I certainly needed it while navigating this new job and survivorship.
I actually needed it more than I knew at the time because I left my entire support system in Florida, only to have 6 weeks living with my best friend because she unexpectedly got a job in Afghanistan (yay for her!). I was now going to be living alone in her apartment; well, not entirely alone because I was going to be caring for her sweet cat Tigger! I had some friends in the area but not many, so starting to build real relationships nearby was crucial.
Since I had just finished cancer treatment before moving, I also needed to find a new oncologist, which was surprisingly daunting. I got a few recommendations from friends of friends but nothing very specific so it felt more like a shot in the dark. I started off at a large, well-known and reputable facility in the area but after a few visits, I decided it was not right for me. I came from a smaller hospital network where everyone knew my name and treated me like an individual. At this new facility, I felt like just a number and like my time wasn’t valued when I would never be seen at my actual appointment time. A simple mammogram took all day because of the wait times. It just didn’t feel right for me so I was back to square one.
I’ll forever be grateful that my CEO at the time was similarly transparent and open with others. Just as I was starting the search again, he sent an email to all staff about his wife having had breast cancer 9 years prior and that every year they fundraise for and attend the Susan G Komen’s Race for the Cure. It happened to be early September and Breast Cancer Awareness month was coming up, so it all aligned.