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Gina Benedetti

Patients & Survivors Colon Cancer California
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Story: "I had my first colonoscopy, which diagnosed me with colon cancer, on a Monday. I immediately informed my principal and she told me to take care of myself and they would find a substitute for me when I was out with surgery. My final day of teaching for that year was Wednesday, two days after my initial diagnosis.

"I went into work to tie up loose ends and help my substitute. I didn't tell my students that I would be out for six weeks. It would've been too hard for me. My principal took care of that with a letter to the parents explaining the situation. Bless her heart. The following Wednesday, I had my surgery. I waited to hear from pathology whether I needed chemo. Ten very long days later my surgeon called and said that the cancer was found in 9/27 lymph nodes so I needed a port and to begin chemo."

"When I told my principal, she reassured me that my class was taken care of and the substitute could handle it for the remainder of the year. Because I was teaching first grade, I was fearful of the risk of infection if I continued to teach. I couldn't have disrupted the schedule and had a substitute come every other week for a few days if I was feeling well enough to teach when I wasn't receiving chemo. Now that I look back, there would've been no way I could've taught during treatment. The side effects were too much to handle just laying on my couch at home! I'm very thankful that my principal took control of the situation and my coworkers helped out.

"My coworkers donated their sick days so that I would be paid until the end of the school year. I'm glad I stepped back and was fortunate for the support of my boss and co-workers.

"School for the following year began as I was finishing up chemo. I decided to do a "job share" that year, which means you share your classroom with another teacher. You split up the days of the week and work part-time. My co-teacher worked full weeks when I had chemo. I had a very hard time with my memory, concentration, and organization. Even after completing treatment, this is a struggle.

"As I rejoined the workforce, I found that I didn't have the patience I had before. I often wondered if I should find another career. I became depressed and anxious. Being "thrown" back into a life I didn't know how to navigate anymore. I wasn't the same person, but everyone expected me to pick up where I left off. All the help, phone calls, and support dwindled rapidly once my treatment ended. That, along with working and caring for a toddler, was a lot to handle. I'm glad I worked part-time when I completed treatment so I could handle this transition into the "new normal," - which has been the hardest part of this cancer journey so far.

"After going part-time and evaluating what I needed, I decided it was best for me to continue teaching and go back to a full-time position. I needed to continue working in my passion and I missed the classroom. Now I teach 4th grade, and it's been a good thing for me. I have to write everything down and students constantly remind me of things. It has gotten easier as time goes on, but I am still struggling. I spend more time nurturing my students and really caring about their emotional needs, more so than before cancer. Cancer has made my heart bigger so I have a huge amount of empathy for my students.

"I cherish my job and my students more now than I did before cancer."

"Now I am very open and honest about my cancer with my students and their parents. My co-workers have continued to be supportive. I'm grateful for the team around me who encouraged me to step back from work when I needed it, and who helped me step back into work when I was ready."

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