by Cristy McCallister
Cancer as a blessing. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But I made a conscious choice to look at my cancer that way. With my family history, the question wasn’t whether I would get cancer; the question was when I would get it, and maybe what kind. I was betting on breast cancer, as that was the most prevalent type to run in my family. Besides, as the joke goes, women have two chances of getting it.
Instead, I was blessed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the summer of 2003. Yes, blessed is what I mean. Not only did I get a cancer that doctors talk about in cure rates rather than in percentages of remission, I received excellent care in diagnosis and treatment. More importantly, I discovered what wonderful people surround me.
My friends and co-workers donated more than 100 hours of their sick-leave time for me to use when mine ran out. They raised funds to help with my daily expenses. And they got together and made sure my 8-year-old daughter had a bountiful Christmas. Their actions touched me deeply, but I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been. After all, I work with some of the most generous and warm-hearted people you could imagine. We work for a very large and well-known HMO, with a kind of family feeling and caring that is almost unheard of in the corporate world.
What really surprised me was the response of my supervisors. They didn’t worry about my absences, covering them as the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and my union contract said they had to. But they worked around my needs in ways that no law by man nor union contract could ever demand. They allowed me to work a partial schedule as I wanted, or could, or needed to.
They replaced me as a full-time employee, despite the expense, and still allowed me the option of coming in and doing what I could, just to provide me with some income. My child support made it so I didn’t qualify for any state aid, and if I took a leave of absence before I absolutely had to, my medical insurance would run out and I would be responsible for paying a premium that I could never afford.
This also made it possible for me to focus on my life rather than on my cancer. I didn’t want to stay home and dwell on my cancer and care. Cancer wasn’t the center of my life, and the work arrangements my supervisors made allowed me to keep it in perspective. By their actions, they made me feel that I was a valuable, contributing member of the business. Without their support, I don’t believe I would have had as good an outcome.
My cancer revealed that I already had the greatest of blessings — the loving, generous people around me.