In the Illinois Community

Looking to be “Normal” While Battling Cancer at Work

Presented by: Mary Tinnes 

  Cancer was prevalent in my family.  My mom lost her battle with breast cancer in 1994, when I was in my early thirties.  I had the honor of being one of her care givers, and unfortunately became very familiar with the ravages of cancer. Given my mom’s history, I had yearly mammograms and when I was diagnosed 16 years later I was shocked, my world stopped, so many things come to mind, my family, my health, my future. Everyone can imagine the fears, depression and rollercoaster of emotions that come with that diagnosis, but the story I want to share with you all is how I managed to put on a happy face and show up to work while fighting cancer. I struggled greatly when I was first diagnosed how to balance work and health.  I was an employee of Blue Cross and Blue Shield, working in ITG, and I was not comfortable sharing or revealing my diagnosis with anyone. When I look back now, that might have been a mistake, but it was very important to me at the time. Working close with leadership allowed me to lead as normal a life as possible. That’s a key desire in many cancer patients; just wanting things to go back to “normal”. 

  My biggest challenge in keeping my diagnosis personal and private was my hair.  My chemo treatments took place in the winter. I would come in to work and try and time it so that there was no one else in the restroom.  I would try to remove my hat as quickly as possible, adjust my wig, which was provided at no cost by the American Cancer Society. Now this might sound shallow, but with the desire to have things be as “normal” as possible, I wanted to still look like me, which is why I would take makeup tips provided by ACS, something that can be very helpful when you no longer have eyelashes or eyebrows.

Looking back on my experience, I think it would have been easier if I had confided in my team.  I still don’t understand my concern is with sharing. I spent too much time worried that someone might find out, where in reality they would have given me much needed support. They likely knew anyway as I’m sure that the wig was crooked more than once! 

Let me tell you something about that wig, I had to have my driver’s license renewed during chemo. Not many people have a good driver’s license picture, ironically, that picture is the best one I have ever had. The wig gave me the normalcy I needed, which gave me the strength to go through the treatment and now I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. I am now cancer free.  Now I run various marathons helping raise thousands of dollars for cancer research. I also became a Reach to Recovery volunteer for ACS, providing support to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and my daughter works for the ACS as a Health Systems Manager.

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