Working Through Cancer

This blog is part of a series of personal essays written by staff here at New Mexico PBS.

Mike & Sarah SnyderLike any job here at New Mexico PBS, my work in studio engineering can be affected by a variety of things outside my control. A sudden camera failure or video issue pops up and there goes your well-planned day. You adjust, adapt and muddle through because as the old adage says, the show must go on.

But what if you can’t adjust, adapt and muddle through? What if it won’t go away and it won’t leave you alone? What if it’s cancer?

Suddenly, your world at home and at work is upside down. And if it’s a rare cancer that has returned after a multi-year absence, like mine, the struggle is made worse because it’s hard to find the specific treatment that will work.

We were fortunate enough to find a promising clinical drug trial, but the treatment schedule would definitely affect my work. Besides the medical requirements, participating in the clinical trial would require travel to San Antonio, then Denver for labwork, tests, and receiving the actual drug. After the initial phase, monthly trips would still be required for CT scans and labwork. Because of safety regulations, everything had to be done at the trial site. Nothing could be done here.

New Mexico PBS was very accommodating, letting me adapt my work schedule to my treatment regimen. Co-workers donated their sick leave to me and set up fundraisers to help with travel expenses. While I quickly adapted to mixing work and medical appointments, the challenge was balancing one without compromising the other. To my surprise, I found I needed my time at work as much as I needed my time with my doctor and cancer treatments.

Wait a minute! What?! Work helps cancer?! As strange as it sounds, the answer is ‘yes’.

My cancer fight introduced me to a strange new world filled with x-rays, CT scans, prescriptions for trial drugs and endless hours in waiting rooms. The regimen was exhausting to the point I needed a cure for my cancer cure. Yes, I need to rest as a result of my treatments. But I also needed to be in a familiar environment where I didn’t feel like a medical experiment. I needed to be in a place where I was the expert, not the subject. I needed to work.

And so I did. Slowly at first because fatigue from my cancer treatments was definitely an issue. I’d arrive energetic and ready at 8am. By noon, I was exhausted. So it went at first. But as time went on, I lasted a little longer each day, eventually working full days, then full weeks as my body adjusted to the cancer treatments. Soon, my work and treatment schedules balanced out. My appointment trips were minor distractions, not major interruptions to my work schedule.

How did I make the transition from exhausted and barely able-to-work to just another employee? I did something that seemed hard at the time: I went to my managers and said I needed help. Everyone was instantly empathetic and supportive, not to mention accommodating of both my mobility limits and fatigue. If an important meeting took place in a part of the building where I couldn’t get my wheelchair, or I was simply too tired, the meeting was moved to my office or I was able to join via conference call.

How am I doing today? Very well, all things considered. When I started this round in my cancer battle, I was told I had less than five years left. Well, I’m at eight years and counting. Part of that has been luck and tenacity, along with a lot of prayers and good thoughts. Part of it has been an effective medicine and doctors who kept trying, even when other doctors said there was no hope. But a lot of it has been being surrounded by great people, at home and at work, who wouldn’t give up on me or let me give up.

An old cliche’ talks about looking for silver linings in the cloud of difficult times. While I wouldn’t wish a cancer diagnosis on anyone, if you have to face it, I hope it’s with a group of people who are as empathetic and supportive as my family and everyone here at New Mexico PBS.

We’re all dedicated to providing the best TV for your membership dollar. We’re also dedicated to each other. An old saying points out that there is no “I” in team. Well, maybe not. But there is an “I” in friend. And when members of your team are also your friends, it definitely makes a tough road easier. It also makes coming to work; especially when you really need it; a lot more fun and worthwhile.

Mike Snyder
Studio Engineering Manager
New Mexico PBS

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