When I awoke in the recovery room, my oncology surgeon told me things went well and that she had reassured my very large family contingent that I was okay. I immediately told her she had no idea how large my family really was; as an employee at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, my family includes many students, faculty, and staff. In fact, later that evening the on-duty nurse turned out to be an FM graduate who recognized me from campus. His calm presence and caring demeanor was reassuring during this traumatic time.
Working at FM is a big part of my life. Everyone — administration, faculty, staff, and students — connect through our shared investment in each other and our community.
The decision to continue to work while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation was an easy one. I knew that I would be supported in a way that would allow me to genuinely fulfill my obligations to the campus community without compromising my health.
Colleagues helped me persevere through every phase of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Personally, I struggled with my diagnosis and altered appearance; however, everyone greeted my wigs, fatigue, and fear, with acceptance and humor whenever possible.
Several co-workers and students had personally experienced cancer within their families and their stories of positive outcomes helped to maintain an optimistic mindset. More importantly, people relied upon my contributions and expected quality work, as always. Working every day helped me to forget about cancer and focus on helping others.
Close friends at FM often reminded me they were there and willing to help in any way. I was fortunate to have support at home, but relied heavily on my FM friends to accompany and drive me to chemotherapy and doctor visits. Having someone to distract you from the pain and anxiety of treatment was comforting and helped me forge ahead.
Since then, other FM employees have also dealt with cancer and the campus has graciously responded with home delivered meals, emotional support, and even home maintenance supplied by the FM basketball team.
Last spring, a student asked to interview me regarding my illness and wrote an article for our FM newspaper. It was then that I realized that persevering was more than a personal choice, it was a responsibility; students were watching and learning that people can overcome barriers and still reach their goals. Students need support in coping with life issues; they learn from watching others going through difficult situations.
This experience has highlighted the importance of community in dealing with serious medical issues, such as cancer. In response to this experience, the growing awareness of cancer related illness, and the need for encouraging compassionate caregivers to prepare for important roles in oncology care, the oncology scholarship was established in collaboration with student clubs. Those interested in donating to this scholarship can send their tax-deductible contribution to the oncology award through the FM Foundation, 2805 Route 67, Johnstown, NY, 12095.
Ellie Fosmire is academic success coordinator at FM.