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Leap Year

2 Jan

2016 Here I go. Will this be the year I actually carry through with my blog. I don’t think I have a choice anymore. I am treated, therapy-ed, and monitored. Yet it is the beginning of the new age of the damaged me. The last couple of (5) years have been a seemingly never-ending stream traumatic incidents, every six-months whether I needed one or not. – to the point I decided I actually was being karmically bitch-slapped by an 8- armed goddess (h/t Bubble Boy) But my position on karma has also changed. What goes around, comes around is truly what I believed. But when horrible thing after horrible thing keeps happening, soon I felt that to be honest with myself, I had to admit that I was horrible person. It has always been pretty easy for me to go on the attack – on myself.

This last year I understood Allie Brosch, Hyperbole and a Half, more than ever. One panel in her excellent series on Depression sums up my feelings for the past 15 months –

Its not that I want to kill myself, I just wish I could become dead somehow.

I actually walked in lightning storms, close to banks of raging rivers, looked at passing trains with longing. I thought a lot about dying. I have my reasons, but finally I did make the decision – I chose life; I actually made the conscious decision to stay alive, including that I immediately quit thinking about dying all of the time. It was a turning point in my life. Now – 8 months later, I actively make sure my actions are supporting my decision to live, not subverting it. I have had a lot of help along the way, certain people and groups that supported me in my darkest days – not many and not friends or family, for the most part.

But I learned lessons, good lessons to learn at my age.

  • Never depend on anyone so much that you lose the ability to take care of yourself in the event you find yourself alone.
  • Anything can happen – things you don’t believe could happen in a million years, can happen – cancer, domestic violence, abandonment by friends and coworkers, divorce from the person you thought was your “rock” but became your destroyer –mentally, physically, psychologically; especially when it is you discover that he has a porn addiction.
  • NO ONE wants to talk about domestic violence or porn addiction – if it is brought up, you probably will never speak to that person again.
  • When both people involved in domestic violence work for the same federal agency, the attacker will be treated with more repect than the victim.
  • The division of friends in a break up can be very interesting No one likes a beaten woman – it really pisses people off for some reason to hear from a woman that her husband came home and beat her up for no reason. This includes coworkers, friends of the couple, family on either side of the couple, HR. and my supervisory chain. Two – maybe three people actually stood by me, everyone else melted away.
  • Being the victim of DV is worse to communicate to people than having cancer.

IMG_0262By the end of the year I started gaining some victories. And victories felt good. Taking my first solo vacation was the best thing I have done for myself in decades. I am getting closer to being a person I like again. But damn there is still a lot to get off my mind.




The Day All of the Evil Started..

4 Jun

Okay, that’s a little melodramatic but, with a nod to the late Stieg Larsson, that’s about the only way I think of June 7, 2012.  Coming up on the one year anniversary of The Day, I realized this may be a harder anniversary for me than the actual anniversary of my cancer diagnosis (July 26, 2012).  And because of the upcoming anxiety about the anniversary of The Day, I realized there is plenty of space for discussing all of the innumerable issues that go with having breast cancer while working. I know starting this blog that I want to blog about many issues, first and foremost about living with a breast cancer diagnosis, but also about current events, all with my very special (scary) take on things – that what Janesplaining is.

Let me set the stage first. The Dayversary reminds me that over this past year I have been focused largely on two things, my career and my breast cancer.  In the last 52 weeks I have been treated for breast cancer and I have battled for my career. Its hard not think the two are linked. I cannot even begin to explain how important my job and my career are to me. I did not get to my place in my agency by accident. I went back to college when my two kids were 1 and 2, both still in diapers. My husband was sinking slowly but surely into the alcoholism that would break us up eventually. I wanted to leave early on, but knew a single mom without an education and with 2 very young kids was a recipe for poverty. It took 7 years but I got a BS in Chemistry from the local state university extension (with a GPA of 3.7 – sorry, I’m just proud, still it was almost 20 years ago, get over it, Jane). I started working immediately after graduating and immediately rose through the ranks for the next 15 years, until taking this current job. I received promotions, exceptional annual appraisals and monetary awards, every single year for 17 years. I am not trying to be self-aggrandizing, this is important later. I raised the 2 kids by myself, no financial help from my husband, no communication at all for 6 years after our divorce.  Right now 19 years later I am really well-situated considering these humble-y beginnings, so the trials and tribulations of getting my degree were so worth it, difficult but worth it. But this  success I see now did not come easily, I did not have a path paved for me, so I am also VERY proud of my career – it is mine, it raised my kids, it provides for them still if needed, it provided insurance and savings opportunities and a retirement plan that will take care of me without having to rely on kids or either husband (ex- or perfect – I love you hon but things can happen), it is my independence.

Before June 7, actually before April 2012, my life was pretty much humming along. My job was very satisfying, yet very stressful at the same time.  I am a DC employee with a duty location in Denver, CO. In 2009 I was hired into a 4-year temporary promotion to provide management over an IT system being developed in our agency to be deployed throughout the entire workforce. I was actually offered the job based on my reputation, without interview, to “get this troubled project turned around”. I’m not an IT expert, I am a subject matter expert in the business process the IT system is automating, planning and environmental analysis. My presence in the Denver office was never appreciated, I was very much treated like a mole, or worse. I was also never  truly a part of the DC office, I spent a lot of time there and had a great relationship with them, but it was mostly a long-distance relationship and out-of-sight-out-of-mind applied to me for most of my time in the job. But I always felt I had the support of my supervisor. She defended me many times from  the slings and arrows slung and fired at me by the Denver office management team. I realized very soon after I started that working together to make the IT system successful was not the goal of the Denver supervisors; it was more important to them to continually try to discredit me in an attempt to relieve themselves of the blame for the letting the project go so far over budget and so far behind schedule. My supervisor always knew their complaints against me were unfounded.

In April 2012 my supportive supervisor announced she had taken a new job and was leaving the DC office.  I reported directly to her, as did two supervisory Branch Chiefs, a man and a woman (irony alert – I was mostly responsible for getting the male BC his position. I worked with him 10 years ago and was on the panel that hired him; I was his greatest defender on the panel).  Because I am not located in DC, I was not considered for a short-term detail into her position, the two BCs alternated that duty. One of them, my friend the man,  ultimately became the Division Chief and my new supervisor in May and things started going differently from the get-go.  He advised me that he was coming to Denver to discuss roles and responsibilities for the IT system I was the program manager for.  The meeting was scheduled at noon on June 7, 2012.

So the day all of the evil started became eventful first at the noon meeting. I was informed that responsibility of the system would be transferred to the group in Denver that had done so much to ruin both the system itself and my reputation – including bald-faced lying to my supervisor over the state of the system. Sometimes battles are left to fight another day and, as I sat at lunch with six people versus me, I decided that day was not the day to fight.

After lunch I went back to work, troubled and angry, but analyzing my position and trying to decide the best way to move forward given my new boss’s less-than-supportive attitude. I left work early that afternoon for a follow-up mammogram, 6 months after my annual the previous October that had shown some possible calcifications. I went in for the mammogram, the images were taken and I was waiting to hear from the technician whether additional images were necessary or if I was done. But noooo, the door opened immediately and the radiologist asked me to come in and look at the images – it appeared as though a lot of change had happened in 6 months and he more than suggested a biopsy was needed. The biopsy became, two and a marker relocation; the last biopsy indicated DCIS, and became and a lumpectomy that became two lumpectomies and a sentinel node biopsy (negative) and when invasive ductal and lobular carcinoma was found in pathology. Two lumpectomies became three and then all that was left was waiting. Waiting for the OncoType DX score that would tell me if I needed chemo or not. Finally on August 22 I found out that, even though the OncoType DX Recurrence Score was in the intermediate range, I would not need Chemo, just a shit load of radiation and 5 years of Tamoxifen.

But all of the evil started on June 7, 2012. I lost most of my bearings in one day. The two things I always counted on were my career and my health, suddenly neither one seemed certain anymore. From June 7 until Aug 22 I lived in world that seemed to hang between life and not life – 10 weeks of procedures and waiting and healing and anxiety on every front of my life. And the anniversary of the beginning of all of the evil is this week. At least I will have the year of hell behind me, mostly, for now. But damn things went bad in a hurry.

More to follow…


That was then, this now…

24 Mar

Now that I’ve gotten the hard part out of the way – the first post, and the details of my story –  it is time to talk about now, ten months after diagnosis.  I’ve already had two scary incidents, made scarier by being a breast cancer patient. The first was nagging hip pain that started about the same time I started radiation. A great example of the confusion cancer wreaks on all medical care. I went to my PCP first, she sent me to an orthopedist, who found nothing serious.  The pain persisted and I finally told my radiation oncologist, he ordered a PET scan immediately.  The PET scan was clear and I found a new orthopedic surgeon who finally diagnosed degenerative disc disease in the lower lumbar and upper sacral vertebrae. One cortisone epidural (and one more round of anesthesia, and one more period of nausea) and 6 weeks of physical therapy – I’m back to whatever normal is for a woman of my age and “experience”.

Then in February – my first post treatment check ups and mammogram. Once again – mammo, needle biopsy, lumpectomy – but on the right side (Shirley).  All of last year’s problems were on the left side (LaVerne). Lobular carcinoma in-situ (LCIS) and atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH) were all that was discovered this time – no changes in treatment, just another surgery, another round of nausea and a rebound effect from everything making me very tired again, but only for a few weeks this time.

So Now – I am learning that thing my husband calls our new normal. I am still convinced that I wiil address breast cancer again in my future – I don’t know why, I just believe it to the bottom of my bones. But I can’t worry about that every minute of every day, even though I do think about it at many points in time, every day. Having breast cancer makes me uncomfortable about my future, but I am safe and living, right now.

I am learning that I can remain involved in breast cancer support and advocacy, I can add my energy to the community without expending too much energy staying emotionally involved. At the start of my trip I felt like a social media vulture – stalking everyone I found that was involved in breast cancer online. It was very emotionally draining at the time, now it is more energizing for me.

There are many holes to fill in my story and many new stories to tell, things to explain, little odds and ends of interestingness to share.

Now my life is about coping with returning to work after treatment. I took time off to complete treatment and returned full time in January 2013. I took some more time off during the February BC scare and now I am back – I have no more excuses, or sick leave so I have to face it – I’m working again.  It is definitely a two-edged sword. I love being with most of my co-workers again, laughing, lunching, collaborating; but I still have cognitive problems that were not a problem a year ago. My attention span, ability to do critical analysis, and my writing ability all seem to have taken a hit.  But maybe its like muscles – my brain just needs to be worked out a bit to get back in shape. Let me know how that is working out for me.

My desire to work is also suffering but that has more to do with politics than medical impacts. My work just doesn’t seem to be as important as it used to be. There are many things in my old life that are not as much a priority anymore – workaholism is among the top. And is it my imagination or does my supervisor act as though his feelings are hurt because I got cancer and made his life harder? All I can do is keep it professional and meet my deadlines.

But what is important, what is my top priority is my husband and dog, my home life,  and my children’s happiness. And finding a little bliss every day – then finding a lot on the weekends.

More to follow…