Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Officially Unemployed...And That's Okay

I knew it was coming, but it was still a blow to my ego to get the notice from my (former) employer in the mail. As of last month, NYSE Governance Services could no longer hold my compliance counsel position, since I've been out on long-term disability for two years now.

My resumé is officially blank. This is probably the end of my career as a lawyer.

I knew I probably couldn't go back. Almost one-third of the time I don't have enough energy to leave the couch. I have entire conversations with Chris and I cannot recall one iota, not one smidge, of the words we exchanged. The only reason I got 5,216 steps logged yesterday is because I'd forget why I entered a room, and end up making something like thirty-five trips back-and-forth across our house in an effort to find something that was in my car parked in the garage all along.

I'd have no business being a lawyer right now. Not a good one, anyway. 

I used to write white papers on how the Citizens United decision might affect a corporation's political donation plan, or help executives determine whether they were effectively training their employees on ethics and compliance issues. (You can wake up and stop drooling on your desk, now.)

Most of the time, my brain does not function on that level any more.  I am out of practice, and it's okay.

It is okay.

It took me awhile to admit that I am finally okay with this new reality, this not having a career that I worked really, really hard to achieve. That I'm okay being a full-time mom and full-time patient and part-time advocate. (I'd be okay without the patient part, honestly.)

It is finally getting easier not to compare myself to my friends whose careers are gaining steam (because that's what typically happens in your mid-30s). I have brilliant, hardworking, ambitious friends in my close circle who're vice presidents of major companies, engineers, surgeons at some of the country's best hospitals, nurses who help bring babies into the world, scientists who help patients get access to medicines they can't afford, professors, and -- yes, stay-at-home-moms who've left their careers as lawyers, too.

I can be proud of them and admire them without thinking less of myself, and more importantly -- finally -- without feeling sorry for myself about one more thing cancer took from me. This is my life, and it is more than okay.

(Don't get me wrong, I still have moments when I feel emotional about the lack of accomplishments I make on a day-to-day basis, like the fact that there are laundry piles everywhere, or piles of old magazines I mean to sort through, or piles of disability paperwork that needs to be filed... Basically, my piles sometimes make me cry.

I am working on some overdue spring cleaning, metaphorically and realistically.)


When Quinn asked me the other day why he had to go to school, I hesitated. I wasn't sure what to say.   On average, he goes to school about three days a week. His preschool is community-oriented and play-based, so it's basically days spent painting and making play-dough and reading and building cities out of blocks. Most of the parents know each other, and many of us spend time together outside of school.

So I said, "Sometimes, it's so I can go to the doctor. Sometimes, I get some work done." I didn't tell him that sometimes I lie on the couch and surf the internet for cancer cures for a couple of hours at a time. "But if you don't want to go as much," I continued, "you don't have to yet. I'd love to spend more time with you."

And he responded, "No, I want to go. I want to be with my friends." And then my heart shattered, but also swelled a bit, because my little guy is growing up and his friends are important to him, too.

Plus, I love it that he loves school as much as I did when I was a kid.


  1. Boy, don't I know what it is like to keep walking from room to room trying to remember what it was I was going to do. When I have conversations with my family, I can't remember words. Sometimes, I will say a word and my children will look at me and tell me I used a word incorrectly or what I said made no sense. Luckily we all laugh, but really I just want to cry.
    One of my friends recently moved to Atlanta to start a new job. She bought a new house and a new car. Her life seems so exciting. She is moving on after her early stage cancer. My life is far less exciting. Cancer has made me prisoner. I can't "move on".
    But, I feel it is okay, too. I also am a full-time mom and a full-time patient. I also spend many many hours searching for hope on the internet. Things are not turning out like I planned. It is okay though because if I had to pick what I would want to do at the end of my life--I am doing it.

  2. I got laid off two weeks before my diagnosis. I tried job hunting between surgeries and chemo and shortly gave up. But I did find a part time job where I felt useful but didn't require great thought processes. However just getting out of the house and interacting with people for 10 hours a week was wonderful emotionally. So maybe you are not ready to be a lawyer again right now but maybe you can do something to feel connected - like being a room mother for your son's class at events.
    Cancer sucks but there is no reason it should suck all the fun out of your life. Hugs to you.

  3. You are describing the hard decision I am soon going to have to make soon. I have successfully hidden my metastatic diagnosis from colleagues for two years, but it is getting harder to do. I still get work done, but I have slowed down a lot. Most days, I can't get started much before noon even though I've been awake since 5 AM. It takes about 3 hours a day just to take care of my feet and I often walk with a limp.

    It's so so hard to let go of a life you once had before you are ready.

    I envy your relative peace with your decision. I hope to get there - or work until I die.

    Thank you for sharing your insight.

  4. I am on short term disability right now and am trying to figure out if I can go back. If I should go back. If I am ok with not being the type A marketing executive I worked my butt off to become. If it is ok to put all of those years of school to work relaxing at home and focusing on my health. I need to find that place that I can come to terms with it, maybe I am there. :) I think you do a great job, focus on you and your health, maybe soon I can say I was able to come to that place too!

  5. Although I am not stage 4 (as of now), I feel stuck in different areas of my life. For example, I have been at my job for 7 years and I don't want to work there forever -- want to try new things. I know I eventually will leave but it is taking me longer than I would expect because soon enough I have an MRI scheduled or an Onco appt. I also don't want to leave Sloan (they don't take all insurances). Another area where I feel stuck is my living situation. I don't want to live in NY anymore -- I want out! But I worry about switching medical care or not having a job right away. I guess cancer has taken some of my spontaneity away (something for me to write about).

    Like you, I forget things too. That one drives me crazy because I used to be a lot sharper. I guess we learn to adjust and accept changes we can't control.

    I know my comment may sound like one of those ("at least") comments most of us patients don't like to hear, but your current job is very rewarding. You have helped so many people with your experiences with cancer and continue to help. I know I sometimes wish I was doing something "bigger" in my life, a few of my friends are doing well too, but like you, I don't compare myself to them because our lives are completely different.

    At the end of the day, YOU is all that matters. Your health and well-being come first.

  6. Despite all that disability, you write very well, very lucidly. I lost my job due to breast cancer(stage 2). My employer hired someone else as soon as my one year contact expired. This happened despite my boss giving me (false) hopes during the course of the treatments that they would want me back..i have tried looking for jobs but have not been successful so far. I am so terrorised of rejections that i have stopped going to jobsites. Feels terrible but then i try to assure myself that having to look after my small kid is way better than any future job which i will eventually hate anyway. And shouldn't i avoid stresss as it contributes to cancer recurrence! What if that were to happen? Wouldn't i repent that i wasted my time on some useless occupation when i should have spent all that time with my kid! Well, I console myself daily or think of lots of if-then scenarios..it does not help. It also does not help that I have ballooned on tamoxifen and have started having memory issues. I have found myself fumbling for words when earlier I used to be so fluent in english(it is my 2nd language).

    In the meanwhile, I do enjoy looking after my kid and my son is super happy with me around him all the time. He still hates day care even though he goes there only two half days.

    Thank you for continuing to share your experiences. Please keep it up
    Good wishes from Netherlands

  7. I'm so sorry you lost your employment, and I'm glad you got to the point where you are OK with that. The truth is, our careers don't define who we are as human beings. Parenthood is far more important. Thank you for sharing your story.