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Andrea Brown

I will say this is kind of difficult for me to share, because anybody who knows me knows I’m a very private person. I’m now realizing that in order to help others, I need to be okay with my journey and pay it forward.

I’m a systems administrator in the facilities department. I’ve been working at Hopkins for 10 years. We have a small department within facilities that serves the IT functions of the work management system for the entire hospital.

Last year in March, I found a lump. I got a mammogram and I got a call back. You’re not supposed to get a call back. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was petrified. There was no family history of breast cancer. I remember telling myself, I have to go to work and I have to tell my supervisor. I have a daughter. I’m her primary care giver. So it’s a scary situation to be in.

I was also scared because I work at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. I don’t care where you are, you see the side effects of what cancer can do. I told my supervisor, Tom Lentz, about my diagnosis and he was the one who encouraged me to go to the Managing Cancer at Work program.

I went to the very first Managing Cancer meeting, which was the first of each month. While I was nervous, the way the meeting was run put me at ease. Marie Borsellino, the oncology nurse navigator, was so helpful. The disease makes you vulnerable. It exposes you. I remember just tearing up, telling my story, not knowing what to expect. But then the people who were around me were a mix of survivors — those who were going through it, through treatment. People just like me.

I made the choice not to go through the chemo. I didn’t have to do the radiation. I chose a double mastectomy. My biggest fear was not being able to do my job when I came back at the same capacity that I did before I left. There were side effects from the surgery alone. There are times where I’m in pain. One of the challenges is not being able to physically do some of the things that I was able to do prior to surgery. I need help to lift things now.  I used to be fairly independent, and that is a constant reminder that I need help from others.

If you go to work and you don’t have that support, it makes things so much more difficult. I have such a respect my supervisor. I thank him on several occasions. The support was helpful also with the two senior directors. They maintained my privacy, as I wanted. Sometimes they just sat with me. I remember one time I was in the conference room, and I just balled my eyes out. Everybody does not have the benefit of having someone who understands. And I think in the workplace it’s very important because this isn’t something you ask for — to all of a sudden get this life-threatening disease.

My daughter is 13 now. She surprised me because initially I kept everything from her. Now she’s helping with the laundry. She’s helping do things I couldn’t do.

I’m coming up on one year of survivorship. I remember the exact date of my diagnosis was April 14. It will be a year. I’m definitely going to do something to mark that day. Not only that day, but the day I actually had surgery, which was the May 18.

One of my friends sent me a quote: “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” I remember I kept looking at it. I get it. You have to live your life.

Hear, in Andrea's words, how she will celebrate her first year of survivorship.

Note: If you have been diagnosed with cancer or are a caregiver to someone diagnosed with cancer, and would like to  find out more about Managing Cancer at Work, visit managingcanceratwork.com (employee site PIN-6229, manager site PIN-6229) or call 410-955-6229.

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