From Cancer Registrar to Cancer Patient
When I graduated from Long Island University, I had earned my bachelor’s degree in Medical Records Administration and Management. Just as every other graduate with a degree, I was thinking I would be a director of HIM right out of the gate. Naturally, that did not happen. My actual first job was as a part-time unit secretary for the infusion/chemotherapy unit at a local hospital. It was seemingly rudimentary; we dealt with patients who were admitted for blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatments. My role included everything from scheduling appointments to maintaining patient records. What I didn’t know at the time was this position would be an incredible jumpstart into my forever career.
Weeks later, I received a call from one of my college professors encouraging me to apply for a cancer registry position at another hospital. I had previously heard the term “Cancer Registry” but knew little about the field or profession. The subject however was a personal one, as my uncle had just died a few years earlier due to Cancer. I was interested to learn more, and seek out new opportunities, so I went for the interview. Fortunately for me, the supervisor of Cancer Registry turned out to be a friend of mine from college who ended up giving me the job.
At the time, I assumed that my career here would be short. Maybe I would stay a year or so until my wedding and then move on. Again, my assumptions were wrong. Four years flew by while I grew from a young naïve graduate into the supervisor of that very department after passing my CTR exam (Certified Tumor Registrar Exam). I have since worked for various consulting companies, served as Director of the QA managers, and now focus on simply abstracting. I can honestly say I have loved every moment of my career.
My story took a new direction in July of 2011, while visiting my sister in Florida. I began to feel a small lump in my right arm pit. Initially, I did not think much of it. Perhaps I picked something up from the beach a few days earlier. My husband was not as certain and insisted I see a doctor once I was home.
It wasn’t long before I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 41. As a wife and mother of two young boys, it was possibly the scariest thing I could have imagined. My biopsy revealed it to be an infiltrating ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer in women today.
As the doctor was trying to explain to me what was happening all I could say to him was that I was a Cancer Registrar and I knew what he was telling me. From that moment on, I was no longer a cancer registrar reading information in a chart — I was now that newly diagnosed cancer patient. Less than a week later, I met with an oncologist, and soon had a port placed and began chemotherapy treatment.
That first day of chemotherapy felt like a bad dream. How can this be happening? I see this happening to other people every day, but now it was happening to me. As a cancer registrar, I thought I knew what was going on. I have seen the charts, read the papers, but I never could have put myself in the shoes of a cancer patient until now. Little to say, I cried like a baby that day.
Over the next 4 months I lost my hair and gained weight due to all the steroids that I needed to keep me from being nauseated and in pain. After chemotherapy I had a lumpectomy which was then followed with radiation. My complete cancer treatment did not end until June 2012 as I still had to have immunotherapy treatment due to the fact that I am HER2 positive.
It has been nine years since I heard those words “You have Cancer.” Each day has become a gift. I cherish everything and everyone because you never know what may come your way. But I am a stronger person for it. I learned a lot during this time in my life, but most importantly these four things.
- Do not take anything for granted.
- Always keep a positive mind set, laughter through tears is the best medicine, even for a cancer patient.
- Know your body. If you feel something is wrong voice it, scream if you have too.
- The work we do as Cancer Registrar’s does make a difference to those patients undergoing cancer treatment. I know that now more than ever.
For resources and guides to help you monitor your own health as it related to cancer, visit the American Cancer Society website here.
For more about Cancer Registry and why it is important, read our blog here.