By Toby Weber
As a senior administrative assistant in Gynecologic Oncology at MD Anderson, Constance Charles knows what cancer patients are going through. After all, she was one not so long ago.
The breast cancer survivor underwent a lumpectomy, right radical mastectomy and full breast reconstruction 10 years ago.
"I know things may look grim, like there's no hope and that you may be at the end of your rope. But keep the faith," she tells cancer patients. "You can really make it ... Look at me. Here I am."
Here's Constance advice for people just starting their cancer journeys:
- Read stories from cancer survivors. "I was so happy that my diagnosis came during Breast Cancer Awareness Month," Constance says. "There were all these stories about survival. My daughter and I read our materials and that encouraged us that this was something that we could definitely beat."
- Seek out with positive people and distance yourself from negative ones. A good attitude and good people can play a big a big role in pulling you through. Constance, a single mother, was laid off just a few months before her cancer diagnosis, but encouragement from others helped her make it to the other side of cancer treatment
- Rely on your faith and faith community. "Be spiritual, whatever your higher being is," Constance says. "Surround yourself with faith, family and friends."
- Listen to your health care team and follow their advice. While their list of do's and don'ts may be long, your health care team's guidance can help you live longer and better.
- Find the best care -- even after cancer treatment. Constance has relied on MD Anderson for her cancer survivorship care since becoming an employee here in 2006. Her treatments here have included regular post-cancer checkups, physical therapy for lymphedema caused by the removal of more than 30 lymph nodes during her mastectomy, botox injections in the scalp for migraines, a sleep apnea evaluation, and a second breast reconstruction following the rupture of one of her implants. "I saw the kind of care patients get here," she says. "I could see on the inside what was going on with patient care and how the doctors really care and the overall attitude of the institution."
- Be grateful for your life and work to help others. Since completing cancer treatment, Constance has made it her mission to help others. She's led a charity that raises money for sickle cell anemia research, organized food drives and participated in MD Anderson's annual Go Red Fashion show, a heart disease awareness event for employees.
"Being a cancer survivor is a way of life," Constance says. "I just thank God that I'm living and able to be a survivor."