When Linda Hutkin-Slade was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, she didn’t realize how it would change her life. At the time, her career was flourishing as a senior director and member of the executive management team for a large local nonprofit.
“My personal doctor was on vacation and I didn’t even know the doctor who called me. I received the call at work, and it felt awful to hear my name associated with cancer,” says Hutkin-Slade.
“I went home, called my husband and cried. I cried because I was afraid to die. I cried because I knew if I had chemo, I’d lose my hair. And I cried because I knew I had to let other people help me, and I wasn’t very good at that.”
Hutkin-Slade’s treatment included surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. When it was over, she beat her cancer, but the experience changed her.
“When you have to face your own mortality, something changes,” she says. “I had a deeper appreciation for my family, my friends and how I spent my time. These things were crystallized for me.”
It’s not uncommon for cancer to change a person; many people have difficulty returning to their former life. Often, new meaning or purpose may come through volunteerism, going back to school or, in Hutkin-Slade’s case, a career change.
“I liked my current job. I managed some 40 programs helping the community, but it could be stressful and I worked long hours. I spent more time with my co-workers than my own family,” she says. Hutkin-Slade also desired a direct connection with the people she was helping, something she’d always liked about social work.
More than a decade prior, Hutkin-Slade had worked at Sharp Memorial Hospital as a licensed clinical social worker helping organ transplant patients one-on-one. So when she heard about an oncology social worker position at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, she jumped at the chance and was hired.
“I came back to my roots and now have the privilege of working directly with cancer patients, connecting them to resources to help them through treatment and with ways to reduce their anxiety,” she says.
She finds her job at Sharp Grossmont rewarding, and enjoys facilitating and presenting a range of support groups including a monthly Lunch and Learn workshop exploring different cancer-related topics. Recently, she presented “Survivorship: Putting Your Life Back Together After Cancer,” something she personally relates to.
“Whether it’s finding new meaning in your life, worrying about your health, fear of your cancer returning, feelings of stress, anxiety, anger or feeling alone — it’s normal to feel all these things,” she says.
“Support groups help people work through their feelings. But they vary and not everyone’s comfortable in this type of setting. But the beauty of a support group is it’s a safe place. The people you’re talking to have gone through cancer, just like you. And that creates commonality and a sense of community to help someone find their new normal.”
For the news media: To talk with Linda Hutkin-Slade about life after cancer for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.