Talking to others about our health isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to cancer. However, many cancer survivors take comfort in sharing their stories and hearing the stories of others.
“Every cancer story is unique, just like every cancer is unique” says Elizabeth Creech, Digital Marketing Manager at SAS. But each of those unique stories can support and inform others.
Today for World Cancer Day, we have a handful of employees who wanted to share their stories.
Use data to drive treatments
Creech is a breast cancer survivor who found appreciation and comfort in the data related to her treatment plans.
“When you’re a cancer patient, there’s a lot of data being gathered: mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, biopsies, Oncotype tests, and more. It’s all data,” says Creech. “My oncologist was very analytical. He would look at the data and say, ‘based on this data, this is your path forward.’ But he also saw me as a person. Instead of being the sum of five data points, he still saw me as Bess, and used the data to determine, what’s the best medicine for keeping Bess alive.”
Every decision that was made during her treatment was very data driven, says Creech. “Which is comfortable to me, because that’s a language I speak.”
What advice does Creech offer for cancer patients? “Ask questions and try to have a treatment plan that’s custom for you. Understand there’s data behind who you are and what the doctors are trying to do. It was helpful for me to try to move the whole forward and participate in the solution.”
Bob Dixon, a Principal Software Developer at SAS, is a prostate cancer survivor. He is grateful for the support and stories he heard from other cancer survivors at work. “Many men reached out to me with specific information about their situations,” he says. “It would have been terribly isolating without the men at SAS who reached out to me. My doctor at the SAS health care center made the diagnostic exams and tests easily available and that’s how I discovered my cancer in the first place.”
Dixon admits that men don’t talk about prostate cancer the way women talk about breast cancer. “Many men are afraid and ashamed of their diagnoses. I have known men who delayed treatment because they were afraid to discuss and confront their situation, and their cancers metastasized as a result.” Don’t do that, says Dixon. “Many things in life may never be the same, but other blessings remain.”
Don’t miss your cancer screenings
An important message for all comes from Nancy Hewitt, a Communications Programs Manager at SAS and a breast cancer survivor. “My advice to everyone is to stay on top of your cancer screenings. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Most, like me, are healthy with no family history of cancer, and the diagnosis is completely unexpected.”
Catching cancer early through screenings improves your long-term prognosis, says Hewitt. “Breast cancer is well studied and tailored to your specific situation with typically great success. My long-term prognosis is excellent because mine was caught early, and I had an excellent care team and support.”
Hewitt also suggests learning as much as you can about your cancer subtype, so “you can then best advocate for yourself and ask educated questions,” she says. “Forming connections with others that have come before you, whether it’s through SAS or elsewhere, will help you learn from their experiences.”
Finally, Hewitt says, don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Let people know what help you need when you need it because everyone’s situation is unique. How one person reacts to treatment can be very different from how another reacts. People that want to support you can best do so if they know what you really need, and what you don’t.
Get your rest and support
Kelly LeSage, SAS Nutritionist, has felt amazing support from her friends and colleagues at work. “From the very beginning my benefits coordinator Alison McCormick was so helpful and kind in letting me know what forms I needed to fill out so that I could take the time I needed to rest and recover.”
Her co-workers at the SAS Health Care Center have been especially supportive. “They have supported me by picking up my slack for when I was too tired or sick to come in, and not making me feel bad about it,” says LeSage. “They brought me food many times, they even brought my daughter home from SAS daycare when I couldn’t! Everything has been focused on helping me to get better.”
LeSage, who is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer, offers the following advice to anyone with a new cancer diagnosis: “You need more rest than you think you do. Take the time.”
Hope for the future
When Claire-Juliette Beale, a SAS Product Marketing Manager, noticed unusual weight gain in her abdomen, her primary care doctor sent her immediately for a CT scan. “Based on the results, she recommended I see an expert at the UNC Medical Center oncology department. It was fortunate that I did. Diagnosed with an aggressive type of ovarian cancer, I was incredibly lucky to get surgery within days, and to be treated at UNC which has great specialty in that area.”
After treatment and surgeries, Beale says her chance of recurrence was 14 percent. Today, six years later, her chance of reoccurrence went down to just one percent. “Fourteen percent was already low for this type of cancer. And today at 1 percent, I’m not sure I’ll ever believe it.”
But Beale has strong hope for the future. “There is no doubt in my mind that partnership between SAS and UNC will continue to make a difference for all, eventually leaving cancer in the dust, particularly given the data and AI capabilities SAS brings to the table.”
Creech shares Beale’s optimism about the future, saying “What is going to be super cool is how the mRNA technology used for the COVID vaccines will translate into cancer research. I know it’s been around for a while but there feels like a sense of excitement and faster time to treatments in the community now.”
Are you a cancer survivor? Or someone who has been touched by cancer? Share your advice with us in the comments or on social media. Your story may be the inspiration that someone else needs.