Fighter, Survivor, Runner – It Takes a Village
Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a monthly series that will tell the stories of DaVita’s 2018 We Are Well Award winners, in their own words. The We Are Well Award recognizes teammates who have worked to improve their physical, social and emotional health, often using DaVita-sponsored wellness programs.
Today is a special day. Today is October 22, 2017, and it marks my 18-month birthday of being a breast cancer survivor. On April 8, 2015, I received the worst news of my life: I had Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma which had spread to my lymph nodes. Before I knew it, I was on my breast cancer journey which included six rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries, 35 radiation treatments and 18 Herceptin infusions.
Before April 8, 2015, I was a newlywed, an accomplished marathon runner and had been a renal dietitian for 17 years. After that fateful day, I didn’t know how my life would change, but I knew one thing: cancer would not take my life, my health, my happiness or my job.
During the year of treatments, I endured the loss of my hair and nails, as well as my energy and endurance. My particular type of cancer was Her2Neu positive which meant that I could receive Herceptin for a year that would help to make me a survivor. Because of the effect of Herceptin on the heart, I was unable to get my heart rate above 140. For a runner on chemotherapy, this is not easy. So, I wore my heart rate monitor and began walking. I continued to go to Tuesday night running club track workouts and simply walked the track instead of running around it. Admittedly, this was difficult. This track had been the very place that I built up my speed to qualify for the Boston Marathon and to successfully run it in 2013 and 2014. I just wanted to run again and to “feel like myself” again.
However, there is limited research out there for people wishing to “run” through their cancer therapy. Mostly this is because not many cancer patients want or can run while receiving chemotherapy. My experience was different in that I needed to run. So, I continued to walk and then jog my way through treatment. The week after each chemotherapy session was typically the toughest. My husband and I called it “The Darkness”. It would last about 7 to 10 days and after that, I would diligently get myself outside to walk and jog. Everything was harder but I knew that it would pay off in the end if I just kept it up.
I had to take time off from running after my surgery. The mere act of running was simply impossible if you have a drain connected to your body. So, back to walking I went.
The next stop was radiation. I would receive 35 radiation treatments, five days a week. Since I never stopped working while on chemotherapy, I certainly wouldn’t stop while receiving radiation therapy. So, each day, I left work to receive my radiation and then returned to the dialysis center to finish my work. My patients deserved the renal dietitian they had for the past 17 years, and I was committed to providing just that (even if it meant that I was wearing “Lucy”, my wig). It is said that radiation therapy is tough because it zaps your energy, but I believe that my commitment to walking and jogging helped prevent me from feeling tired during those particular seven weeks.
The last phase was finishing the 18 Herceptin infusions which took place every three weeks for a year. Other than the heart rate limit, these infusions were “easy” compared to chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Eventually, April 22, 2016 arrived, and I received my last infusion and immediately had my port removed. I was officially done with treatment and was considered a survivor.
Since that day, I have run three marathons. Each marathon represents something different to me but at the same time, one essential reminder – I am a survivor. I could not have fought for my life without my village of support. We at DaVita are part of a village, and this experience proved to me how important the village is for us not only at work, but also at home. I have many villages in my life. My DaVita Village, my village of friends, my running village and my amazing family village. There is no better way to described it other than: It Takes A Village.
Every DaVita teammate has access to our Employee Assistance Program. This is a great resource that can help guide teammates to resources to help manage their stress, or provide additional professional help that may be needed. Click on the EAP icon to learn more about the resources and support that is available through DaVita’s EAP. Link to EAP flyer on the VillageWeb: https://intranet.davita.com/Depts/PeopleServices/VillageVitality/Documents/DaVita2017CignaEAPflyer.pdf#search=EAP
Developing and feeding your professional and personal growth is extremely important to your emotional wellbeing. To help support teammates in this area, there are various resources to support teammates along their journey.