Today might be the hardest hit I’ve taken with this breast cancer crap. In mid-September, I woke up and my lower back hurt. I took it in stride, took two Motrin, and waited for it to pass. It stayed. I was pissed. But I’m used to lower back pain and I didn’t pay much attention to it. And then it got worse and worse. Remember the Swiffer pole I had to use for support? Criminy!
Well, as it turned out, the lesions in my lower back flared as a result of Tamoxifen. This actually means that there was a good tumor response. I guess it’s like some biological equivalent of blowing up a balloon: it gets bigger before all of the air eventually goes out and it gets smaller. The PET scan seems to have supported this hypothesis. But the pain is back in earnest. I’ve had one awful day.
And it’s not the pain. It’s what the pain is doing: it has made me miss so much time at my place of employment that I can no longer manage the important projects for which I am responsible. I cannot serve my constituents properly because I am not always in the office when they call or email me. I cannot support my colleagues because I am unable to lift anything over five pounds which, as an archivist, is not good. Because I cannot predict when or where this pain will flare, I don’t know my schedule.
I understand that not everyone can relate to this, but my career is very much tied up in my identity. Retiring never seemed real to me. I always told people that I would work into my seventies–and I wasn’t complaining about the economy. I am one of those people who forgets to take vacation days, gives up personal days and floating holidays, and carries over the maximum number of vacation days that I can. I stay close to home, I visit with my buds, I enjoy keeping a clean and pleasing home, and I work. And I love my work. I worked hard to achieve the amount of success that I have. Very hard.
I started college in my mid-twenties. I worked full time to get through college. I worked full time when I went to graduate school. And for years I always had no less than two or three jobs at one time. Indeed, when I moved to New York in 2004, I was making enough money to have only one job. For two years–maybe three–I didn’t know what to do with myself in the free hours I had each day. It wasn’t long before I had two jobs again. I was teaching: not because I had to, but because I wanted to. Because I love it.
This fucking cancer threatens what, for me, is an almost idyllic existence. I’m exhausted, I’m in pain, and because I can’t do what I love to do unencumbered, I feel like a complete and total failure. No one can depend on me. I can’t even depend on me. I have hired a housekeeper even. I love that my home is clean and spotless, but this used to be one of my activities. An activity that I really enjoyed.
I see my career negatively impacted like this and it’s worse, for me, than getting a diagnosis of breast cancer. For real. No hyperbole. I had no idea that my life would so negatively impacted so soon.
Cancer did not scare me as much as professional failure does.
This is what pure unadulterated fear looks like for me.
I want to run. But I can’t move.