Mary Sheskey MSW, LSW
For more than 40 years, my professional career had been as a graphic and package designer. I had provided services to corporations and companies across the country that depended on my talent to bring their products to market. As a business owner, I was used to being in control. But when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that changed. I experienced the devastating emotional, physical, psychological, financial and spiritual repercussions that come with a cancer diagnosis.
In April 2013, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, a fast-moving, invasive cancer that had to be addressed immediately. Although I had owned my own business for more than 30 years, high health care costs and pre-existing conditions meant I was not able to get insurance. Without insurance coverage, my doctor wouldn’t make an appointment.
I was devastated, but I knew I had to get medical care, so I found the Breast and Cervical Cancer Project through the State of Ohio, which is a type of Medicaid coverage based on income, and they sent me to OhioHealth, where I had surgery and chemotherapy.
During my first month after diagnosis, I had medical appointments every day. As I sat in waiting rooms filling out general information for the thousandth time, I felt like something, or rather, someone was missing from my treatment. Despite having a nurse navigator, radiologist, oncologist, surgeon, and chemo nurse, I felt alone and helpless. In this time when I needed support the most, I had no one who could help me put my life back together after it had changed so dramatically.
When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it becomes your whole focus. There are constant appointments and doctors and nurses calling to check in. But after treatment ends there’s nothing – no appointments, no one asking how you’re doing.
I knew I needed support and help at this pivotal point, and I knew I was not the only person who felt this way. Every woman I encountered during my treatment was potentially facing the same feeling: a void, a loss. Now what?
These feelings drove me to return to college, 40 years after receiving my bachelor’s degree. I saw that there was a need for someone else to be part of the health care team, such as a social worker, to help patients and caregivers understand how the cancer would impact all aspects of their lives. I wanted to be that person, so I pursued a master’s degree in social work. I was motivated to help ensure that no one else had to endure the same helplessness that I did during my treatment.
In July of 2018, I began volunteering with Cancer Support Community Central Ohio. I was impressed with the caring, community environment where I could provide support to others when they needed it most. Fortunately, a position opened, and I was hired in November. Now, as the Clinical Program Coordinator at Cancer Support Community, I have the opportunity to help survivors, caretakers and their families discover the benefits of our programs that can help them strengthen themselves in body, mind and spirit to help them fight the emotional and social effects of cancer.
More importantly to me, as a social worker, I get to be that missing part in someone else’s treatment that I felt I did not have during my own. Cancer Support Community has allowed me to fulfill my dream of working as a social worker with cancer survivors and caretakers to help them develop the tools that they need to get through their cancer journey. My passion is to help others, like myself, find the knowledge and strength to win back their lives. I want others to know that they may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have them.
At Cancer Support Community, we provide a community where people can support each other, grow and learn. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with our participants, and with each person I interact with, I am reminded of why I became a social worker.
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