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Working through a breast cancer diagnosis

Feel empowered while recuperating

Two years ago, Melody Sutton attended a staff meeting, and it saved her life.

“It’s true,” says Sutton. “At that meeting, a leader in my department shared a story about her personal battle with breast cancer. It was so impactful. I remember thinking, ‘I am turning 40, it’s time for a mammogram.’”

Sutton scheduled a routine exam with her physician, and soon after, had her first mammogram. There was no reason for concern, as she had no family history of breast cancer and no signs or symptoms of the disease. However, the results were not what she expected.

“Right away, they found a tumor,” says Sutton. “I was shocked, of course. From that moment on, it was full speed ahead.”

After surgery to remove the tumor, Sutton learned the devastating news that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. In the months that followed, she endured several rounds of intense chemotherapy and radiation, along with side effects like fatigue, hair loss and nausea. Sutton, the mother of 12-year-old twins, continued to work throughout, with the support of her family, friends, and her employer, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Breakthrough moments

According to her coworkers, Sutton wore her cancer treatment bravely, head held high.

One co-worker, Christopher White, remarks that he was inspired by Sutton's approach to her diagnosis. "When Melody enters a room, the energy intensifies. She has a way of motivating people, just by being herself. Sharing her cancer journey is just one more way that she’s been able to inspire others.”

Melody Sutton Wellmark team

He adds, "She takes great pride in guiding people to 'breakthrough moments' in their development. Cancer didn't change this. She was positive, fearless and determined."

“There is no doubt about it. A cancer diagnosis is a major setback,” says Sutton. “But my employer, my coworkers and leaders made the journey so much more doable. They allowed me to continue to stay engaged with my work while taking care of myself.”

Two years later, Sutton is technically cancer free. She does face 10 years of monthly injections and daily medications to deal with the aftereffects of her cancer treatment, and she continues to meet with her oncologist every three months.

Preventive care catches disease early

Sutton credits her employer with encouraging the type of preventive care that catches disease early, before it become more serious and difficult to treat.

According to Sutton, “Had my leader not shared her journey that day, I wouldn’t have thought about getting a mammogram. I would have put it off, maybe a few months, maybe a year. Hearing my leader’s story, it was personal. I felt a sense of urgency.”

"If I had not scheduled that appointment, my cancer would not have been diagnosed as early as it was,” adds Sutton.

Working during your breast cancer treatment

5 tips work through breast cancer
  1. Know your coverage inside and out

    Get all your personalized health plan information online by signing up for myWellmark® Opens New Window. You'll find all the tools and resources you need to make informed health decisions, from understanding your benefits to finding an in-network doctor. Wellmark provides transparency so you know exactly what services or medications are covered. Also, you can track which benefits you've used and keep tabs on claims and spending. There's even a way to estimate costs for upcoming procedures.

  2. Ask your employer about a flexible work schedule

    Talk to your employer about working remotely or scheduling around your treatment plan. “My job is difficult to do remotely,” says Sutton, whose primary is to provide training for company leaders. “My leaders arranged my schedule so that I never had to facilitate a meeting during a week I had chemotherapy. All my training could be done on the days where I felt more up to it. Also, I could work from home the day after chemotherapy, which was a huge plus.”

  3. Communicate with human resources or use your employee assistance program (EAP)

    Human resources can help you understand how to use your benefits effectively, including disability benefits, time off, health insurance and more. If your employer has an employee assistance program External Site use it to help with issues that affect you at work or home. "Right away, my leaders contacted human resources, and got them involved in a dialogue," says Sutton. "I always knew I had options as my illness progressed. It was reassuring and helped me focus on recovery, instead of worrying about all the ‘what-ifs.’”

  4. Take periodic breaks

    If you are able to do so, talk to your employer about the ability to take periodic breaks during the day for recovery. “At Wellmark, we have wellness rooms on every floor. Throughout the day, if I needed to rest or was not feeling well, I could use that room to rest and recuperate,” recalls Sutton. “There were days my coworkers would say ‘You’re looking tired, why don’t you take a break.’ I never felt ashamed or like I was slacking off when I used the wellness room."

  5. Get the support you need

    A network of support is vital to treatment and recovery. The American Cancer Society® has free support programs available External Site, including a program that matches newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients with a trained volunteer who has also gone through a similar diagnosis

    If you're a Wellmark member, you can also take advantage of BeWell 24/7SM. Call Eight, Four, Four, Eight, Four, Be Well to get fast answers to your health questions, plus help with exploring treatment options, finding local in-network providers and coordinating care for specialists. BeWell 24/7 can even connect you to a case management team member to help organize your care and provide you with resources for your specific condition. BeWell 24/7 is available at no cost to most Wellmark members.

For Sutton, the fact that the people she worked with were open and willing to talk about her cancer journey was a huge boost. Of course, it helped that her supervisor and her leader had been on their own personal journeys with breast cancer.

“They knew how to be supportive,” says Sutton. “I learned it was OK to talk about it, to be vulnerable and to have an honest conversation about what I was going through. It made a huge difference.”

Looking for more information about breast cancer? Check out these BlueSM articles:

What you need to know about breast cancer

Living through breast cancer

Breast cancer myths

Taking a stand against breast cancer