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SoapBlog 1 - Survivor

SoapBlog 1 - Survivor
Kevin Reynolds

At this moment, I am a cancer survivor. I have been free of cancer (and both my kidneys) for a year and a half. I'm always happy to be able to say that, but also realistic in the knowledge that my status could change at any time. That's a truth that will keep you on your toes.

My story isn't much different from many others…cancer is rarely an anticipated outcome of a doctor's visit or medical test. When you're told, the words hang heavy in the air, your heart and soul constantly waiting for a "but…," or a "however…" followed by a "kidding" or "not you." That doesn't really happen. If they say it, they mean it. The dominoes then begin to fall.

Life…death…family…friends…hospitals…jobs…treatments…existence…pain...

The list is lengthy…it flies through your head like a hummingbird on crack. Fear grips you and you find it hard to breathe.  You grab the one you love and hug, or you look at one another in total disbelief. You cry. You cry a lot.

Then you begin to figure things out. You and the doctor develop a plan. You start looking at a calendar, figuring out how to make this new reality fit into your existing reality. Then comes the really uncomfortable part…telling people.

I never knew the right way to tell people I had cancer. You can tap dance around it for awhile, but eventually it will come out. When you say it straight out, it's like slapping people you care about with an icy cold bath…knees buckle, jaws drop, words fade into stutters. Suddenly you, the patient, have to become the comforter to the listener..."it's okay…I have a great doctor…we have an aggressive plan…I'm going to fight this," anything to ease the shock.

Some of the hardest conversations took place with my employer and co-workers at Cincinnati Public Radio. It was a scant two years after I joined the stations that I received my diagnosis. I was heartbroken…this is my dream job and I knew I would have to be gone for at least 6 months, maybe longer. How do I tell them? How do I tell my co-workers, knowing many of them will have to pick up my duties while I'm gone? Will I be treated differently? What about the events I was in the middle of planning? How easily replaceable am I?

That last question is one that hurts, because it transcends just the job. How replaceable am I as a husband, friend, parent, and employee? To maintain some sanity, you have to believe that your family will stand by you, support you, and care for you. But you feel incredibly vulnerable when it comes to your job.

I admit that I was glad at this point that I was not working in a cut-throat corporate setting. I've been working for non-profit organizations for over 20 years and one reason, among many, is because the work environment is more to my liking. I prefer working for a greater good and that usually involves working with others with my same sensibilities.

When I returned to work after receiving my cancer diagnosis, I was in a fog. But I knew that I had to tell people because, in time, it was gong to come out. I wanted to do it my way. I met with our general manager and my immediate boss to explain the situation. They deserved to know first and to help me determine the best course of action. At no point did either of them ask me anything about the job or my upcoming events. Not once. Every question was about me, what was going to happen, how my family was doing, and repeatedly wondering what they could do. I felt a significant weight lifting from me.

I then had to tell the other folks in my department. Having held it together when telling my bosses, I wasn't so lucky with my co-workers. I felt the sadness creeping up my throat and it was hard to get the words out. I tried to stay matter of fact, focused, almost keeping it as if I was talking about someone else. I'm not sure it worked, but I got it out. Words of encouragement, support, and concern flowed…including offers to learn what I was working on so they could fill in.

There are a million stressors when you are diagnosed with a chronic illness. Finances, insurance, telling your child, telling your parents, travel details, medicines, keeping up the house and the yard, trying to remain an active partner in your marriage…everything is magnified, everything is not as it was. But knowing that your employer has your back…is more concerned about you than about the job…that your co-workers will happily pick up the slack…removes about half of those stressors. I can't imagine going into my surgeries concerned about my future employment. I had to worry about my future existence, and Cincinnati Public Radio allowed me to do that.

During my time off, I received regular cards, emails, calls, and gifts from the people at the stations. As soon as I was able, I visited the office to say hello, see what was going on, clear out any mail, and to feel like I would be useful again. I was out seven months, but was allowed to come back part-time while I built up my stamina. I had long talks with my boss about my schedule now that I was on home hemo dialysis. I planned on doing treatments in the evening after work, but there would be some days I'd have to go in the morning. I would have monthly doctor, counseling and clinic appointments. There would be occasional screenings for any reoccurrence of the cancer. I promised that I would keep up with my responsibilities despite these disruptions, and during the last year and a half, I have checked with my boss to make sure how we were going worked for her. She has assured me that all is well. Again, more stressors relieved.

Surviving a chronic or critical illness requires so much more than just good medicine and good doctors. It's a mental, spiritual and physical journey that is never smooth…a true roller coaster of emotions. My ride was made much smoother with the never-ending support of my employer. I thank Rich Eiswerth, Chris Phelps and everyone at Cincinnati Public Radio for being such an integral part of my healing, and for allowing me to return to a job I truly love.

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