Friday, July 8, 2011

Working as a Cancer Survivor -- Talk About Stress

Returning to work on a full time basis was tough, especially after my radiation treatments were done in the spring of 2001. I continued to deal with fatigue for quite some time. It also took time for my burns to heal, so I had to find creative ways to dress myself for work since I could not put on a bra. (It was still too painful.) 
I was working full time at the Disney Reservation Center  (or 407-W-DISNEY) in its Guest Service department. Fortunately, I had a terrific manager and I worked with a great team. My fellow cast members (Disney’s preferred term for employees) were the best. I continued working throughout my treatments, although I did take advantage of Family Medical Leave (a federal program) that allowed me to take a medical absence whenever necessary. I had good days and bad days as I slowly healed. There were certainly days when I could not get up early enough to get to the office by the 6:50 a.m. start time. My body just did not want to function in a normal way. If I did not get enough sleep on a particular night, then I had to take the next day off. Or, if I began working and my body simply shut down -- I had to call my brother, Gary, and ask him to pick me up. (They would find me napping in the quiet room.) Eventually, I also took advantage of shift bidding and took a later shift .. thus, I could sleep later and still get to work at a decent time. 
My role as a Guest Service rep was, at times, stressful. My job included dealing with callers from around the world who, for various reasons, needed “extra” help with their vacation planning or had issues with their vacation. Most callers were pleasant and I enjoyed talking with numerous people on a daily basis. In fact, it was usually fun. However, there were those moments when we did handle callers who were less than happy to be at the “happiest place on earth.” My fellow cast members and I dealt with irate guests on a daily basis -- fortunately, I was usually able to help my “less than happy guests” so that my calls ended on a good note. But, stress was all around me -- and it was a daily struggle for survival since stress is not good for cancer survivors. (Quite frankly, it’s not good for anyone.) 
I began to wonder if stress was a factor in my cancer. Did my job have anything to do with my getting breast cancer? I’m not a scientist and I’m not familiar with studies being done on stress and disease, but that thought did occur to me. And, it terrified me to even think that having a job could make me sick. In my ever positive way, I tried to think “happy thoughts.” I told myself that I was “getting better and stronger everyday in every way.” Despite my ups and downs -- both physically and mentally -- I kept moving forward.
Like many others, I needed to work. Having a job was essential for my family’s financial well being. Plus, I did enjoy working. I had friends at the office and I felt that it made me a more interesting individual. Being at Disney gave me plenty to talk about and let’s face it -- besides the paycheck and the basic benefits, Disney does offer many perks. As a reservation cast member, we got to stay at the new resorts before they opened to the public. Once opened, we received generous discounts on our stays at the resorts and of course, had our Main Gates passes that gave us entry to all the theme parks. There were plenty of discounts and offers provided to us as both cast members and DRC agents. Ask any WDW “employee” why they work for the company and they will probably say “Admission to the parks and all the other fantastic benefits.”  
So, although I was exhausted and even with all the stress-filled moments, I was prepared to remain a WDW cast member. My position in Guest Services was secure, even though I thought about moving to a different area of the company.  I had no idea, however, that my life was about to change in ways I could never imagine. 
Fast forward to the spring of 2002. 

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