Scales weigh a book representing the author's job, and a megaphone representing advocacy

Going Back to Work or Advocacy

I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer 4 years ago. For the first 3 years, I was on a rollercoaster and had no idea what would strike me. One year ago, my cancer kind of stabilized.

Should I go back to work?

Both my husband and I are university professors and in the same department. From time to time, our colleagues ask my husband how I feel. My husband would take out his cellphone to show them my pictures like attending IASLC/WCLC (a premier Lung Cancer conference for scientists, doctors, patients, and caregivers) and LunGevity’s ILCSC (a Lung Cancer survivorship conference), lung cancer support group monthly meeting and going to a Las Vegas trip. All these show that I am so far healthy and active. The following questions were then brought up by my colleagues: "when does she come back?" and "why doesn’t she come back to work?".

Why don’t I go back to work?

My husband also asked me the same question. I have kind of rejected his idea so far. I may be able to go back to work part-time, and I still have the ideas of my teaching and research I can work on. But the patient advocacy that I am taking up is extremely attractive to me. For one, if you don’t think I have enough to do and just want to kill the time, think again. Everyday, I have more than enough what I can do, like reading scientific papers about progress of lung cancer research, listening to podcasts or watching webinars for doctors’ lung cancer clinical research and their practice, getting on Twitter to know what doctors are exciting or upset about research, going to the Facebook of patients and caregivers to encourage each other and share information.

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If it’s not enough, I also get involved in the WeChat* of Chinese ROS1+ Lung Cancer Patient Group, pass and translate relevant medical information and encourage Chinese patients, organize the Canadian local lung cancer patient support group, and help the newly diagnosed lung cancer patients. I’m also currently working to set up the patient summit. I can say with honesty that I don’t have any days staying idle and getting bored. The most beautiful part of my current life is that I can do them according to my own pace; there are no deadlines and I can pick and choose anything I want to do.

Advocacy comes with its own challenges

Secondly, I’m so interested in advocacy work because it has its own challenges compared to my previous career. As engineering professors, we are trained to focus on “hard science” with less emphasis on “soft skills”. As a result, most professors, like myself -- smart men and women, are a group of nerds “dancing with the music OFF the beats and going back to write a paper about it”1. But doing advocacy, it’s important to make my cancer-related website popular, fundraise and unite patients and caregivers together, which all require extensive “soft skills”.

Meanwhile, my previous career has affected me deeply in my current activities. For example, I am very comfortable to read lung cancer-related research papers and to attend academic conferences. I am experienced in organizing conferences and have a team working with me on larger projects, which give me a tremendous advantage in this new advocacy adventure.

If I could live again, I would live totally different

When I was a kid, I often heard established people saying that “in my next life, I would still pursue the same career again.” I used to tell myself if I could live again, I would live a totally different life. How boring would it be to repeat life? I would love to become either a conductor because conductors have profound understanding of music and they make musicians work together to showcase the music; or a painter because painters have sharp eyes to view their models’ inner world; or a chef because chefs have distinguished pallet and, in a way, to bring up different culture. Sadly, I don’t have such a talent in this life.

I’m not going back to work for now

The cancer diagnosis opened my eyes and the new opportunity is presented to me. I truly love this advocacy experience. For time being, I’ll stick on this lung cancer advocate endeavor.

*WeChat is Chinese version of Messenger (FaceBook).

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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