Real Women: 'I Kept Working While I Had Cancer'

Work doesn't stop when cancer treatments start. Here's how three real women balance their careers with their cancer treatments.

Emily Easter, 34, Breast Cancer

In the two years since Emily Easter first learned she had breast cancer, she’s undergone two courses of radiation, five rounds of chemotherapy and a mastectomy followed a week later by surgery to remove part of her liver after the cancer metastasized. Except for the six weeks she took to recover from the surgeries, she’s maintained a full-time work schedule.

“I can’t control the trajectory of my disease,” says Easter, who works for a small public relations company. “If it’s going to spread, it’s going to spread. But being able to work and live my life helps me cope. I want to be a valuable part of my company and luckily I can.” Easter credits her boss and coworkers with the opportunity to juggle her career with her cancer treatments. Easter’s boss offered to reduce her workload or give her time off. It was an offer Easter appreciated but has never taken advantage of, even as the cancer spread to her liver and spine. Some concessions were necessary, however. Because her job involved a lot of travel, she relied on coworkers to fill in for her on trips that coincided with her chemotherapy appointments.

“At work, everything is out in the open,” says Easter. “As soon as my treatments are scheduled I put them on my office-wide calendar. Then I don’t schedule calls or meeting for those times.” To make up for her time out of the office, Easter tries to work as efficiently as possible. Multitasking work with treatment appointments helps. “I’m constantly getting email on my phone and sometimes I’m reviewing reports and presentations from the chair (during chemotherapy),” says Easter. “And then if I have to, I’ll catch up on things over the weekend.”

Being very open with her boss, coworkers and clients makes managing cancer with a 9-to-5 job possible for Easter, who is currently undergoing her fifth round of chemotherapy. “In my situation, managing expectations is what helped me the most. My boss says she never has to worry what’s going on because I tell her. And I’ve told her if you ever notice that things are slacking, that this is not working out, then I want to know immediately. But that hasn’t happened.”

NEXT: Maggie Heim was upfront when her cancer returned

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