Cancer Guilt

Recently I’ve been getting this awful feeling that people resent me because of my cancer. This feeling is especially hard to stomach because pre-cancer, I was very sure of myself and had infinite confidence. But now, I constantly feel guilty that I have cancer.

I feel like:

My employer/coworkers probably resent me for having cancer because they have to accommodate my treatment schedule and physical (and somewhat mental) incapacity to perform. Yet, they can’t just express their frustration or fire me because ‘mistreating’ a cancer patient isn’t kosher (EEOC lawsuit in the making!!).

My friends probably resent me because I selectively am a wet blanket. Most of the times I have a ton of energy/time/you-name-it, but when I don’t want to do something, I just blame it on the good ol’ cancer to bail on them.

My brother and his wife probably resent me for hogging my parents’ attention.

My parents probably resent me for not being the perfect daughter with that perfect job and perfect health to get me that perfect husband.

My boyfriend probably resents me for putting him through this hell. He’s miserable being with me but he can’t leave because he can’t be that cold-hearted asshole that dumps the cancer chick. While putting up with his sick/dying gf, he’d resent me for causing him to feel depressed, trapped, unmotivated and hopeless.

In reality, all those people probably (and hopefully) don’t hate me. Even if they do feel a tinge of resentment deep inside, it’s probably toward cancer and my misfortune, not toward me. But I hate the fact that I just feel so resented (and a lot of times resentful) for having cancer. The cancer’s really turned a confident young woman into a guilty, insecure mess.

The other day, my boyfriend accused me of putting up a façade and making people believe that my life is all peachy even after two years of battling cancer. I do think that I have a much more positive general outlook on this whole cancer thing, but maybe he is right. Maybe, I’m putting up a front, acting tough and happy because I just don’t want people to resent me for having cancer. It’s like make belief where if I pretend to be ok, maybe people will be tricked into forgetting all about my Cancer and love me again.

Idk. I was having such a good day but something triggered me to feel really upset tonight 😦  I hope I wake up tomorrow morning feeling loved and loving again.

 

 

 

 

Cancer in the workplace

Most cancer patients worry about the bigger things. Like contemplating death, searching for the true meaning of life, finding and doing what makes them truly happy. That is the natural reaction when anyone’s faced with something as daunting as cancer. But I, for some reason, couldn’t and still can’t seem to see the bigger picture (perhaps because I generally don’t think that death is imminent for me?)

Anyway, aside from the chemo side effects, my number one concern from the time of diagnosis has been the impact cancer will have on my career. I think I mentioned in my earlier post that at my initial diagnosis, my first question to the oncologist was, “so can I get on the flight in 5 days and go back to work? because I only have so many vacation days.”

I was especially worried about my career because 1) I am an anxious person when it comes to work (damn you, first born traits!); 2) I work in a highly competitive legal field where any setback could be detrimental to my career and; 3) at the time of diagnosis I only had 1 year of experience under my belt.

After a prolonged forced time off from work, when I was finally able to return to work and start fresh at a new firm, I wasn’t going to risk the new opportunity and a chance to jump start my career by telling the new firm about my cancer. Even though I went to the interview in between the 5th and 6th round of taxol/carboplatin, and started working 1 week after the 6th round of said chemo, thankfully nobody noticed that something was off with me (or at least nobody said anything).

But once I found out last week that I will need further treatments, it became inevitable that I disclose my situation so that when I have to take every other friday off for infusion, it wouldn’t be a surprise to the firm. Also, my hands were forced a little because as of today, the partner at my firm is in Barcelona on a 6 month sabbatical and I won’t have a chance to talk to him about this in person.

Yeah, I know that it’s technically illegal to fire someone for their medical conditions. But the firm can make up any excuses to let me go (“oh she had one too many typos in her legal memo” or “we decided that the firm doesn’t have enough to sustain a full time work load for her” blah blah) and I wouldn’t have the time/desire/stamina to fight them in court. As worried as I was, I felt angry that I would have to feel this way. Battling cancer is already awful, but now I have to feel like I’m a liability in professional settings?!?! Why should I be punished for something like having cancer? It’s been shown that job applicants who are cancer SURVIVORS are less likely to receive callbacks from employers compared to those who didn’t disclose their health history.

I personally experienced this before. I went in for an interview a few months ago and I thought I had nailed it. I was connecting with the interviewers and my answered were on point. At some point, I mentioned my history of cancer to demonstrate my ability to deal with crisis and stressful situations. The interviewers looked shocked at first but soon told me how impressed they are with my story and my bravery. Two, three weeks went by and they couldn’t even be bothered to send me a canned letter informing that I didn’t get the job (after I tried to follow up with them a several times!). It’s very possible that there was a more qualified applicant but I couldn’t help but wonder if the outcome would have been different had I not told them about cancer.

Going back to my current situation at the new firm, even though I was worried and nervous, upon encouragement from my friend NJ, I finally told the partner and a senior attorney that I have cancer and I am anticipating further treatments in the coming months. Fortunately, they were both very supportive of me and I am confident that I will be able to receive treatments and do the work I love at the same time, as long as my body permits.

My hope is that I can encourages other young cancer patients that it is possible to maintain a career and thrive. More importantly, I really hope that employers be encouraged to hire and be supportive of employees with cancer.

 

 

 

 

“Shedding Tears”

I recently came across Susan Guber’s column below on NY Times. I’ve read a couple of her other “Living with Cancer” columns and didn’t related, but this one definitely hit it home with me:
At times, I was so encased in the stoicism needed to endure cancer treatments that I could not feel much of anything unless someone else felt sorry for me.

Several years ago, debilitating infections threatened my life. Depleted by chemotherapy and a series of drains inserted into my body by interventional radiologists, I could barely creep from the hospital parking garage to post-surgical appointments. During the ordeal, I managed to put one foot in front of the other, but only by shutting down my emotions.

On one trip, when it turned out I had to be hospitalized, a nurse practitioner patted my arm. “You’ve really been through it,” she said. Summoned by her words of commiseration, tears coursed down my cheeks. Curiously, they were a relief. I needed her sympathy to experience my own sadness.

The oddity of my emotional dependency reminds me of the ending of a novella I have often taught: Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” After Ivan finally stops denying a mortal illness, he becomes so absorbed by his physical degeneration and pain that he feels encased inside a black bag.

When his son arrives at his deathbed and begins to cry, Ivan falls through the bottom of the black sack, catching “sight of the light.” A compassionate witness — another suffering his suffering — delivers Ivan from confinement. The dying man perceives the anguish of his survivor and this interpersonal witnessing — the son grieving for his father, the father for his son — ruptures pain’s carapace.

….

Although cancer patients are repeatedly enjoined to gird their loins and fight the disease or to invest in the powers of now or in positive thinking, many realize that welling up can be cathartic. Quite a few cancer memoirists describe staging a pity party: a private event at which they listen to the music or look at the pictures or read the poems that will lead them to cry over their losses. Such scenarios should not be dismissed as excuses for self-indulgence; sometimes we need to serve as our own sympathetic companions.

Weeping over cancer can provide an intermission from fighting it or, for that matter, raging at or fearing the disease. Call it wallowing, but I find myself tapping into sadness periodically, as if a deep reservoir of sorrow lies just below the seemingly calm surface of my existence.

This gulf of grief has everything to do with what my friend Andrew H. Miller calls the “unled lives” or “the counter-factual histories” that disease generates. Cancer makes me ask: How would my life have evolved if I hadn’t gotten the disease? Worse, it makes me worry: Why didn’t I or my doctor detect it earlier and wouldn’t I be better off if we had? And shouldn’t I have taken the advice of my gynecologist 20 years ago about having a hysterectomy?

The haunting person I might have become — the life I might have led — breeds regret until I wipe my eyes, turn off the record player and remind myself that I easily could have died several years ago during all those infections.

late night soapbox

My boyfriend of three years had the misfortune of spending two thirds of our relationship dealing with cancer along side me. He’s been supportive, encouraging, and wonderful…but like in any relationship, not every day has been all rainbows and rose petals.

Since there are a million, no scratch that, a billion and one spectacular things about him, it would take way too long to list them all. So I’m going to write about that one (or two) thing(s) I do not like about him as a cancer companion.

My biggest problem is that he does not believe that one’s life style and living habits can alter the course of cancer. Even though the fact that health eating habits, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and a happy mind can greatly help a cancer patient (and really, anybody) is not new, after reading David Servan-Schreiber’s Anticancer, I was even more convinced that there’s so much more I can do to help my body battle cancer. Of course, as someone whose best pals are glutton and sloth, my track record is nowhere close to what Dr. Servan-Schreiber advocates. Plus, for a while, I used to go around saying “fuck eating healthy and exercising” because I felt like I was wayyyy better at those two than most people on this earth, yet somehow I was the unlucky one who was struck with cancer. But I generally believe that reduced level of stress, accompanied with the right food and a good night’s sleep can really benefit me. So I try sometimes and that’s when I clash with the boyfriend.

Ever since I started working again, I had to get up fairly early every day for court appearances and meetings. When I get home, eat dinner, do a couple things, it’s 10pm. After an hour of hangout w/ the boyfriend, I’m ready to hit the sack so that I can repeat it all over again. The boyfriend, being a night owl, gets upset when I tell him I need to cut the hangout short. We haven’t been able to stay out to catch pokemon as late (I know, so dorky), we have to pause tv shows in the middle of an episode because I want to sleep, etc, etc. I definitely understand why he’s frustrated — Instead fun crazy nights with an energetic 28 year old girlfriend, he’s got in his hands a lame, tired cancer patient who constantly asks for backrubs. In my defense, my first priority is to beat this cancer once and for all. If I get to be lame for a few years so that I can have a healthy and happy few decades of my life, I will do that. And, if he decided to stick around, shouldn’t he be more supportive of my decisions to sleep early EVEN IF he doesn’t agree that it’d help with cancer? He’s always so ‘exhausted’ on the weekend that all he wants to do is nap. Then how is it so hard to understand that I, a cancer patient only a month out of chemo, want to go to bed by 11pm after a long day at work?!?!

Another issue I have is that he’s been telling me how my cancer has negatively affected his morale and ambition. Yes, finding out that your loved one has cancer sucks. Some would argue that it hurts more than being a cancer patient yourself. But I have been able to maintain a generally positive outlook on life and act accordingly. Look at me, after 2 years of battle, 12 rounds of chemo, 2 major surgeries, no hair and now no eye brows, I never gave up on myself or my career. I put on a wig and draw my brows on every morning to go to work where nobody knows about my cancer. The boyfriend, on the other hand, has been so discouraged by my cancer that he lost his sense of ambition (which I admired so much when we first started dating!). Trying feels so exhausting and cancer is a convenient excuse not to. It’s one thing for him to feel that way but he occasionally reminds me how my cancer has brought him down. Yesterday, we got into it a little in the car and he said “I hate it when you do that, telling me how to feel.” well, I’M NOT TELLING YOU HOW TO FEEL! OF COURSE THIS MAKES YOU SAD. BUT BE MY ROCK. BE MY ROCK SO THAT I CAN LOOK AT YOU ON MY BAD DAYS AND FEEL STRONG. BE MY ROCK SO THAT EVEN WHEN I FEEL LIKE GIVING UP I PUT A SMILE ON MY FACE AND PICK IT BACK UP!

Is this too much to ask? I don’t know. All I can say is that having cancer is awful but being with a cancer patient sounds pretty bad too and the boyfriend and I are in a bit of a rut 😦

Having a bit of a bad night but I promise he’s (mostly) wonderful and I do love him..

Another disappointment

On Monday, I got a call back from my oncologist regarding the PET/CT result. As you can tell from the title of this post, the results were not as I had hoped.

Before the 6 rounds of Taxol/Carbo regimen that ended about a month ago, December 2015 PET/CT showed activities in 2 para-aortic lymph nodes with SUV max of 3.1-3.6. Even though May 2015 CT scan showed that the two problematic lymph nodes didn’t decrease in size, I was really hoping that last week’s PET/CT would show that things are AT LEAST stable.

But turns out, that’s not in the plans for me yet. The radiologist’s report shows that the two lymph nodes are still similar in size but for one of them, the SUV uptake went from 3.6 to 8.2.

If you’re unfamiliar with what the SUV is, simple explanation is this: For PET/CT, a patient is injected with radioactive sugar. This sugar will make the cancerous parts ‘glow.’ The SUV (standardized uptake value) essentially measures how ‘brightly’ the cancer ‘glows.’ Typically anything above 2.5 is worrisome.

So yeah, 3.6 was no good news but an increase to 8.2 is really bad…

I was at work when my oncologist called me with the result. I felt mostly fine when I took the call because it wasn’t a total surprise after the May scan. So I finished up work, called my parents and drove home.

As soon as I got home, changed into my comfy clothes and sat on the bed, though, I bursted into tears to my own surprise. No matter how brave I act in front of my parents and doctor, I am terrified of this cancer. I abhor what it has done to my family, my career, my body, my future, my boyfriend, my everything. I hate that whenever I see a glimpse of hope, the evil cancer swoops in and pulls the rug from under my feet. This is the fourth time that I’m being knocked down and I am so sick of how cancer has been dictating my life for the past two years. TWO YEARS!

On tuesday and wednesday following the result, I would be at the court (remember? I still have to play lawyer) waiting for my client to be called, and be on the verge of breaking into tears. And the feeling would come and go throughout the day. I also felt really sad brushing my wig after work because I was getting ready to chuck this thing for eternity once my hair grew back. Now it looks like I won’t have hair for another…i don’t know…4 months at the shortest.

I don’t even know when and what to tell my new work. I finally love my job and cancer might jeopardize it.

Bottom line is that I’m pissed. and scared. and sad. But this will make blogging more interesting since cancer-related issues will persist in my personal and work life.

Judgment day is coming

Saturday (7/30) was my restaging PET/CT. Tomorrow – Monday – morning, I’ll be meeting with my oncologist to go over the scan and action plans going forward.

My body feels fine and I generally have a lot more energy than a year ago when I was trying to get back into working after the first 6 cycles of chemo. But I can’t shake the bad feeling. It doesn’t really help that my last scan a few months ago showed ‘stable’ cancer, which means that the cancer didn’t grow but it didn’t shrink either.

Even though I am nervous about not getting a clean scan back, I’ve been so awful to my body lately. or maybe that is why I am feeling nervous.
Friday, after work, I went to happy hour where I devoured greasy cheesy plate full of steak nacho and washed it down with margaritas. Then I stayed out till about 1am. Then Saturday, I had fast food for lunch then Korean bbq for dinner at 11pm. Today, to top it all, I stole a bunch of A’s fries, ate instant ramen noodle and three scoops of gelato. Oh and no exercise whatsoever. What was I thinking?!?!

Worrying isn’t going to do anything but as I lay in bed, 9.5 hrs before I get the final verdict, I don’t know if I’ll be able to fall asleep tonight…

Oh and another note, 2 hrs ago (Sunday night at 9pm), one of the attorneys at my firm sent a group text highlighting the change of law that can help a large portion of the firm’s clients. Then two other attorneys immediately responded and said that they were aware of the rule change and that they will be circulating a memo tomorrow. It’s cool that they feel so passionate about the issue and their jobs but it made me terrible! They say stress is the worst thing for cancer patients and with zealous coworkers like the ones I have, how could I relax on the weekend? Is not thinking about work even an option for lawyers? My friend J once told me that there are two types of lawyers – the miserable ones, and the VERY miserable ones. As I laughed at her joke, I couldn’t help but feel concerned about the impact my work will have on my physical and emotional well-being. I would love to know how many young attorneys are battling cancer (or have survived cancer) and how they handle work-related stress.

Who’s Complaining?

Now that I’ve established that this blog will mostly be my venting outlet, I thought it might be interesting to talk a little bit about who’s doing all the complaining:

I am 28 years old as of 2016. I graduated from law school in 2013 and started practicing law soon thereafter. In September 2014, during my first big vacation, I found out that I had cancer. Shocker. Immediately after the initial diagnosis, like within two days of it actually, I went under a surgery to remove tumor and to stage my cancer – stage III endometrioid adenocarcinoma. Yes, at age 26. WTF. So instead of returning to work as planned, I went through 6 rounds of chemo, 3 months of daily radiation. Battling cancer was definitely unpleasant but it was way less painful (physically) than expected (emotional drain is a whole another matter which I’ll address in coming posts). Thanks to my parents and boyfriend (“A”) , I got a clean scan in June 2015. With that, I attempted to return to my normal life. Unfortunately in December 2015, follow up PET/CT showed cancer in the two same stubborn little lymph nodes. I think I spent the week between Christmas 2015 and New Years 2016 mostly moping around.

Then began Chemo round 2. New drugs. New doctor. New year.

The day after America celebrated it’s 240th independence day, I celebrated the end of chemo.

A week after I was done with chemo, on July 11th, I hit the ground running, trying to catch up on life and work. Even though being back at work comes with its fair share of stress, I’ve been happy to be cancer-carefree for the past three weeks.

That’s my cancer journey on a nutshell. So there you have it – a bitchin’ 28 year old lawyer with cancer (:

Case of the Mondays – cramping foot and a limping lawyer

Last Monday, i had a really bad cramping on my left foot. No matter what I do, it would not go away. So all day, I dragged my left foot around in heels. what a glorious second week back at work!

I was mad because after spending hours and hours on cancer patient/survivor forums, and asking doctors and nurses a million questions, I had no idea that chemo would lower my magnesium counts, and that in turn would give me foot cramps in the middle of a work day.

The unfortunate foot cramp on Monday morning is not the only grievance I have to deal with as a cancer survivor returning to work after almost two years of treatments.

the truth is, people often think that once the treatments are over I (or any cancer patient/survivor) get to simply ‘pick it back up.’ And all of a sudden, no one seems to remember that three weeks ago, I was sitting in the infusion room. No one seems to remember that until a few days ago, i had to take neutrophenic cautions because I was dealing with the side effects of chemo. And no one seems to care that I still may have cancer and that I’m not yet in remission.

I never enjoyed talking about the agonies of having cancer but now that I’m back at work, it’s much more difficult to talk to anyone about the daily nuisance of being a cancer patient/survivor, presumably because after the “hooray! end of chem” party when the cancer patient is back to work, people are satisfied with the sense of closure on their part.

Anyway this is roughly why I am embarking on this blogging adventure. Yes, to openly tell the world, and more important, other cancer survivors who are struggling with getting back into the grind, that I had a bad day at work because my foot was cramping, or that I hate using the bathroom at work because chemo/radiation caused me to spend more time on a toilette than I want to, or that sometimes I hate that friends and family won’t baby me because I’m so “strong” and because I “kicked cancer’s butt.”