Guest Post from Jean Campbell
A diagnosis of breast cancer was a show stopper for me. All the plans I had for life, the things I still wanted to accomplish, the future… all came into question.
The time I spent in treatment for breast cancer was like traveling in a parallel universe. I lived, worked, and tried to meet the usual demands of my personal life while coping with the fears, doubts and physical discomforts that accompany breast cancer treatment. The world seemed surreal. Everyone I knew was getting on with their everyday lives and I was in this holding pattern called treatment with no guarantees of the treatment outcomes or what the future might hold for me.
A few weeks after I completed treatment for my first cancer I joined friends for lunch. The conversation soon turned to early retirement plans among those who had government jobs. As I listened, I couldn’t help wondering if planning for retirement was something I had to concern myself about. I was still focusing on getting through the days from one post-treatment follow up appointment to the other. It was easier living in each day, not projecting; getting done whatever I needed and wanted to do was enough for me.
Short-term planning, such as how to get my strength back and fulfilling personal and business commitments made prior to my diagnosis were all I was able to manage in the weeks and months that followed treatment. Long term planning didn’t enter my mind; yet I knew I had to plan for the future. I began small. I started with goals that could be accomplished within six months (my time between doctor visits). My planning time expanded as the space between doctors visits grew farther apart. Six months of planning became a year.
During the 10 years between my cancers, the trick became balancing living in today with planning for the future. Not so easy when good health and years of being cancer-free made me more confident about planning. I began to plan like someone who had never had a life-threatening illness. When a second primary breast cancer was discovered, it was time for a refresher course in living in today, but still planning for the future.
After my first cancer, I gave myself permission to write for a living. I left a secure, full time job in nonprofit management and took a series of part time writing positions: trade paper reporter, grant writer, ghost writer. It was both scary and exhilarating. A few years later, when the chance came to “Pay it forward” as an in-hospital patient navigator for the American Cancer Society, I took it and kept writing for publication in magazines and online publications.
My second cancer was the impetus for my starting and growing www.noboobsaboutit.org, and for making a 20-year dream of creating an online life skills learning center for young children a reality (www.candostreet.com).
My post cancer treatment-driven ventures make me feel productive. They make each day one I look forward to and feel good about.
Breast cancer, for me, has been the great teacher of… Live it now! Make it happen now!
Jean Campbell is a two-time breast cancer survivor and founding director of the American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Program in NYC.
In 2010, Jean founded No Boobs About It (www.noboobsaboutit.org) to help women and men newly diagnosed with breast cancer to get through treatment and get on with life.