How to Live and Work With Cancer

After a cancer diagnosis, there are endless questions and moments of uncertainty. Worries about work, about family, about routine and mindset and privacy and…the list goes on and on. For many, all of these uncertainties can seem almost as daunting as the disease itself. It becomes more than just “how do I beat cancer?” but also “how do I live with cancer while I fight?”

In these moments, it’s best to look to survivors for ideas and stories. These insights can inspire those in the fight to live on their own terms and begin to prioritize what’s really important to them. Cátia Oliveira told her story to Magenta and gave some advice on work, life and balance.

Keep the routine
Some people get really depressed and try to isolate themselves, and what I tried to do is exactly the opposite. I tried to connect with old friends, with my family. I tried to make the most of the connections I could. I tried to keep the same routine. Just to do some gym, or just to go to some classes. Just to fill my time, basically. I tried to be as busy as I could. The more you keep your mind busy, the more you don’t relate to the disease, which is a good thing, I think. Life doesn’t stop, and you shouldn’t stop living. I was trying to be the same person in even the way I looked. I could never leave my flat without makeup, for example. I was just like, “That’s me. That’s who I am. I am not losing myself.” Even with less hair, or no hair — it doesn’t matter. I cut my hair before I did the chemo. That way, I felt like I was in control of everything, instead of the other way around.

Don’t be afraid to go back to work
I was in Lisbon, and I did stop working when I started chemo and radio, and then I got back to doing small jobs for Nike. I decided to come back to London again in October. I transferred all of my treatments to London, and in December, I said to my husband, “I want to go back to work, and I want to feel normal.” So that’s what I did. I sent my portfolios out in December, and I got hired by Huge.

Be transparent with your colleagues
I think when you go through this kind of thing, the first thing that you try to do is hide it from everyone you work with. For some reason, there is a stigma around cancer. You don’t want to share it. You don’t want to tell people you’ve been through this. So when I did start talking about this, I had a lot of people who came to me to say things like, “Cátia, can I tell you something? I had breast cancer ten years ago, and I never talked to anyone except members of my family, and I would like to talk about it now.” The more you talk, the more it’s like a release for you. I feel better when I talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more support you have. If you don’t talk about it, people don’t know that you are going through something. And this is across everything, not only having cancer. I think the more transparent you are the more benefits you get in your life.”

There are many ways to live with cancer while fighting it. For Cátia, it was about focusing on normalcy and remaining true to herself, rather than becoming a version of herself with a disease. Her story and those of endless other survivors are sources of inspiration to many as they begin to create a plan for how to continue to live during their battle.