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 still work full time, and my family tries to stick to the same routine we had before my diagnosis, with some exceptions and adjustments, of course.
I have two children. My oldest is in college and my youngest can drive now, so I don’t have to do the morning school routine. This is a huge help as fatigue is one of the biggest side effects of my treatment. Fortunately, also, my mother-in-law lives close by. She is a great help to our family. She comes and deep cleans our home once a month and helps in any other way we need.
It is important to have a support system, both at home and at work. I am so lucky to work from home and have a great support system at work. When I was diagnosed, I went to my supervisor and we discussed options that would allow me some flexibility in my work schedule. I can rest when I’m in pain or not feeling well. I find that a quick power nap at lunch can help me get through the day.
I set up my home office so I can keep track of deadlines and priorities. I sometimes struggle with memory and things take longer than before. To stay on track, I use a large desk calendar, to-do lists, and other organizational tools. They help me know where I left off the day before and what I need to do next. I adapted.
One of the things that was completely new to me with the cancer diagnosis was medication management. The targeted drug I take for my type of lung cancer is very specific when I need to take it. I have to take two pills twice a day. They must also be taken 12 hours apart. In addition, you cannot eat 2 hours before and 1 hour after taking the pill. It took some trial and error to come up with a schedule that fit our family’s schedule.
I find that taking it at 5am and 5pm allows me to have dinner with my family in the evening at a time that works for everyone. In addition to the targeted medications, I now take another medication to help with radiation-induced digestive problems, which also needs to be taken at specific times.
Before my diagnosis, I saw my primary care doctor once a year or had a bad cold on rare occasions. These days I feel like I’m at the doctor’s all the time. I see my local doctor at least once a month for a check-up regarding the medications I am taking. They help me deal with side effects and any other problems I might have.
I also travel to [a specialty hospital] once every 3 months for a scan. I go to appointments with my oncology and cardiology team. I had to learn to live with a long list of side effects, including fatigue, stomach problems, skin problems, sun sensitivity, bloating and weight gain. Each of these side effects requires a different doctor for treatment. Managing all the medications and all the doctor’s appointments with my normal work schedule and home life is probably one of the biggest challenges in everyday life.
But even with all the side effects, medications and doctor visits, I think it’s important for me mentally to maintain a normal lifestyle as much as possible. It is good for me and my family. I am still young and have so much to contribute to my family and friends. I want to move and move as much as I can.
Some days it’s wonderful and some days it’s very difficult, but I think the most important thing is to have a solid support system in all aspects. Trust your medical team. Rely on your friends and family to help you because they want it and you need it. Other than that, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep fighting.