Saturday, January 12, 2019

My World After Cancer

The world looks different after cancer.

It's a bit hard to explain but I’ll try. First though, while I consider myself quite lucky since I didn't have to go through actual cancer treatment, I still feel that I faced something most of us fear - the potential loss of the dream we have of a long and healthy life.

I find myself feeling the need to justify the impact this experience had on me since my experience was pretty mild compared to what many people facing cancer go through. I am going to try and just speak for what this has been like for me, without comparing it to the experiences of others. It is difficult for me to talk about something being bad for me when others have it so much worse. I also feel that I need to honor the impact this experience had on me so I can own it and move forward.

Being off work for 7 weeks after my surgery was absolutely wonderful. I loved being home, having no deadlines or requirements, and basically just managing the day-to-day operations of my home. Once I gained my strength back I went on walks, cooked lots of meals, followed up on all of my doctor appointments, and most importantly, I met the boys at the bus stop every day.

I have always done the morning drop-off and while hectic, I love the extra time with the boys in the morning. Getting them off the bus though, with their big smiles and huge hugs and desperate need to talk over each other in an attempt to be the first to tell me about their day...that is the stuff of life. Seeing this part of their day was so wonderful. I was really, really sad when this ended.

The first couple of weeks back at work were really hard. The work I do is not hard, so I don't mean that the tasks were hard. Readjusting to life after an experience like cancer has been really, really hard.

As I struggled with the first few weeks back, I was desperate to figure out why I was so unhappy and what on earth I could do about it. At first I thought that the answer was I wanted to spend more time with the boys. That my life was meant to be defined by how well I raise these beautiful little people who are growing and changing before my eyes. I reached out to my boss and talked about reducing my hours. As I shared with her what I was struggling with, I realized it wasn't just the amount of time I was away from the boys that was bothering me but rather what I am doing when I am not with them.

I have been yearning for something more from my job for a while. As a counselor, I enjoy being with people and helping them grow. As a leader, I enjoy supervising a team and seeing professionals in my charge provide excellent services and grow in their careers. My current job does not allow for opportunities for either of these preferences.

I knew this when I took the job, and wanted the reprieve of this type of job after my last experience that while wonderful, left me feeling stretched thinner than any other job I've had. I also feel like that job I left challenged me more than any other and forced me to grow.

The world looks different after cancer. I am no longer willing to do a job that I don't enjoy. I am no longer willing to spend time away from my boys that is not spent doing exactly what I want to be doing. I am no longer scared of the uncomfortable conversations and conflicts that come up when managing a team. I am no longer unsure of my own strength and no longer afraid of what might happen if I try a new thing.

There’s a running joke in my house that I always start sentences with “I was listening to this podcast”… N even got me a t-shirt with this as my catch phrase.

I love learning new information, and I don’t enjoy reading. Mostly because reading forces me to sit down and I’m not great at that. I am great at taking walks though! Walking and listening to podcasts is how I usually spend my lunch hour.

I listened to two very influential podcasts in November and December that gave me the push to change the thing in my life I seemed to want to change. I started to include some specifics about those podcasts but it is super long and can totally be a post on its own. Stay tuned for that.

Since listening to these two podcasts and doing some pretty serious self-exploration and self-development, I applied for a job as a director, interviewed, easily found six references willing to support me, and was offered and accepted the position.

I showed up to both interviews as completely myself. I didn’t dress up, I didn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t just to get the job. I was me, take it or leave it, and the ED nearly hired me on the spot.

My sister came in town for the holidays, and she and I are both tattoo fans. I got this new tattoo, without really realizing the statement I was making until I was visiting with another survivor friend a few days after I got it. She said, “Doesn’t it feel like you don’t give a shit what people think after you go through cancer?” Man, if that is not true I don’t know what is. It’s like a badge of honor. Every time I look down at my wrist I am reminded that I am exactly who I am, and not only am I free to show up just as I am but I have a responsibility to do so.

The recruiter who worked with me for this job asked for six references. Six!! That’s a lot of people. As I thought back to my previous jobs it was actually pretty easy to think of people to ask. Each of them said they felt honored to speak on my behalf. I have such a strong and supportive tribe surrounding me. Here’s a fun fact I didn’t realize until I was writing the references down...all three of my personal references are women, and all three own their own businesses. I’m surrounded by some pretty amazing women!

I found a job that will allow me to supervise a team, to have direct contact with people who are dealing with an illness, and that will give me access to clinics within hospitals so I might share how to better treat and care for people who are sick. Plus its more money, which is a plus :)

This job is the culmination of the skills built throughout my career combined with my new knowledge of what it feels like to be diagnosed with a disease. I have spent the last 19 years supporting people with various disabilities with only my empathy to help me understand what it must be like. Because of cancer, I now understand disability more than I ever have before.

A survivor friend’s cancer has returned. Once a person finds and rids the body of cancer, a fear it will return always lingers. My heart is heavy for my friend. Not because I feel sorry for him, I certainly don't, his strength is something to be coveted. I simply feel angry that he has to go through this again. Isn't once enough!? His experience also brings up the fear that accompanies the reality that what I went through isn't necessarily the end. Therefore, I will waste no more time being unsatisfied with any aspect of my life. This is the beginning of whatever is next.

My world after cancer.

More beautiful,
more trust,
more courageous,
more open,
more vulnerable…

…and just beginning.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you have imagined.
~Henry David Thoreau