April 13th 2015

Victoria’s Interview – with corrections and amendments

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Questions for Webisodes

You, Cancer and the Workplace

The Big “C”

Cancer can be a devastating illness. It respects no one. A diagnosis of cancer often send its victims into a tail spin. Cancer survivors tell us that a cancer diagnosis feels like a sure death sentence. For many, though not all, cancer patients say the news of their diagnosis leaves them debilitated and they feel as though they have come face to face with their own mortality. A person diagnosed with cancer often feels helpless,confused and angry with an intense desire to hurry up and live life to the fullest. It is not uncommon for people who are diagnosed with cancer to create a “bucket list”. A sense of uncontrolled immediacy often comes over a person diagnosed with cancer. The phrase “Life is short” takes on a practical, purposeful and personal meaning to cancer victims and survivors. People who experience cancer come in all ages, sex, race, religious backgrounds, etc. The truth is that cancer affects a lot of people of working age, many of whom are in the labour force. Yet we know that a cancer patient’s attitude towards life and the illness can have a profound impact on the short, and sometimes long-term effects and outcome of the disease’s influence on the patient. Of course, this raises the question of

the workplace impact of cancer. WINN staff caught up with Victoria in Toronto recently and chatted with her about her cancer journey and its impact upon her work and her life. In this article WINN explores how one woman’s positive attitude towards the disease helped her get back to work and continue to excel in her art form. WINN interviewed Victoria, a dance teacher, dancer and choreographer who works in the Greater Toronto’s creative scene. In her early 60’s, Victoria has been dancing since she was seventeen years old.

Dancing is Victoria’s passion. She lives, breathes and exudes dance. She choreographs and she teaches dance both within the context of an educational institution as well as out in the community. Victoria’s passion for her craft is evident in the emotions that her choreography evokes among people in her varied audiences. “People feel a wide range of emotions when they experience my choreographic statements” says Victoria in a very unassuming yet firm way. “My passion for and involvement with dance has taken me across North America and Europe, and I have danced, choreographed, taught dance and led movement workshops far and wide”.

Regarding her brush with cancer, she describes how initially she felt stopped in her tracks by the diagnosis of a malignant mole. “I found that I had to take back my life and my power. After my surgery, I had to dig deep down within myself to find my inner strength”, she notes. Victoria now believes that she has rediscovered her own inner power. She is a YES girl now who looks for opportunities that connect with her passion and then just goes for it! “The new me is still unfolding!” What follows is the interview WINN staff had with Victoria.

Q. When did you learn that you had cancer?

A. It was sometime in the summer of 2006 — about 9 years ago that I learned of my

melanoma.

Q. How did you first learn that you had cancer?

A. There was a mole on my back, but I initially thought nothing of it because my family

has lots of moles. The mole had aggravated me for many years because of its location

on my back. At some point I went to the doctor to get it removed. Since the age of

seventeen, doctors had been looking at this mole, yet none of them had expressed

concern. However, I remember going to tanning beds in my 40’s and feeling an unusual

sensation in my back. I worked at a Music Theatre camp in the States one summer,

and a nurse there suggested that I have it looked at again because it was red. When I

returned to Canada I did get the mole examined again. My doctor said not to worry

about it but I could get it removed if it was irritating me. That doctor made a referral to

another doctor, who then performed a biopsy. We were joking as they removed the

mole, but everyone became strangely quiet as they took a good look at it. With the

biopsy it was determined that I was at stage three of the cancer. The doctor called me

into her office. They wanted to take out all of the lymph nodes in my right arm and a

large amount of tissue from my back. I went to an oncologist who said there would be

two operations. The first involved taking out one lymph node under my arm and a large

amount of tissue from my back. The second one would involve removing the rest of the

lymph nodes in my arm which could potentially cause me to lose the use of my right

arm. So that did not sit too well with me. The oncologist indicated that I would need to

be on drugs, some of which could alter my personality. By the end of that visit, I asked

the oncologist whether he would go on the drugs that would be prescribed for me.

When he answered no, my decision was immediately made. My decision felt even

better when I learned from the oncologist that the potential benefits of the drug did not

outweigh its side effects and that there was only a ten percent chance that the drug

would make me live longer.

Q. Other than your doctor, with whom did you first talk to about your cancer diagnosis?

A. I only told three close friends about it. I needed to figure out how I would approach it

myself. My mother also knew about the operation. She insisted it was not serious, and

advised me against having the second operation. Her intuitive feeling was that it was

not necessary.

Q. How young were you when you first received the diagnosis?

A. I was fifty-three when I received the diagnosis.

Q. How did you proceed?

A. I went to see an intuitive who did reiki healing. I went in thinking she was going to

tell me to get my affairs in order and bon voyage but instead she said that I should get

ready because I was about to become busier in my career and life than ever before! At

the very end, I mentioned my health issues. She said that it had been dealt with and to

forget about it and go on with my life. It was in that instant that I was no longer a

statistic.

I had allowed myself to reflect the fears of others. My spirits came back and reminded

me of who I am. I became someone who thought about living. I thought about the

opportunities that were coming to me. I became a YES I CAN person. Whatever was in

the way of me living my fullest life I was willing to let go. I remembered to think of life as

being a gift. I was prepared to let my destiny unfold and live in gratitude for every

moment.

Q. What treatment did you have?

A. I did not take the medication they were going to give me, knowing that the benefits

did not outweigh the side effects. What was the point of that? I continued to see a

dermatologist regularly for the next 5 years, and at the present time go once a year for a

checkup.

Q. What was the scariest part of the experience?

A. Talking to the doctors and assistants and then allowing myself to be turned into a

statistic. Now that is scary. To think that my life was being seen just as a statistic was

loopy!

Q. Was your cancer occupational?

A. No, it was not. As I said before, several people in my family have moles on their

skin. In my case one became malignant, possibly with the help of the use of tanning

beds.

Q. Were you employed at the time you learned you had cancer?

A. At the time of the events, I was employed by an educational institution at which I

taught dance.

Q. Initially what if any concerns did you have about how your cancer diagnosis might

affect your ability to do your job?

A. I had the operation to remove the lymph node and a section of my back in early

August. I showed up ready for work at a new school in September with a bandage on

my back. I did not allow it to stop me.

Q. How, if at all, has your experience with cancer changed you?

A. It is not so much the experience of cancer that has changed me, but the way I chose

to deal with it. There are so many lessons that I have learned. Honestly, I took my

power back in so many ways. I decided that I was not going to descend into a world in

which I was just another statistic. I decided that I was going to do the things I needed

and wanted to do and continue to pursue my passion and devote myself to my love of

dance.

The biggest illumination was – Take back your Power. Do what feels right for you. We

are all coming and going in this life, and it is always your own choice how to proceed

through the experiences life offers you. Stay true to your task. And do what makes

your heart sing.