it wasn’t supposed to end that way

I found out today that a colleague is not going to win the fight with cancer.  It just keeps coming back, each time more aggressive; Colleague just keeps pushing back with an amazingly positive attitude, each time more committed to moving forward.  It doesn’t matter.

I can’t shake the image of Colleague cleaning out the office today, fitting items into boxes and saying goodbye to those on the floor.  It’s a metaphor, isn’t it?

When you have cancer, you find yourself in a really crappy club.  Despite that, you have a bond with those who ended up in that club with you; you’re on the same team, so to speak, running the same race, hitting different marks but headed toward the same goal.  Hitting milestones of health doesn’t take away your membership: you’re still in the club.

I enjoyed my brief encounters with Colleague through the years: a very kind and quietly humorous person. We weren’t particularly close but we spoke a few times about how we handled the effects of our treatments – mine nowhere close to what Colleague has endured.  Colleague has fought so hard, stayed so optimistic, kept such an even keel.  It simply isn’t fair, not that anything about cancer is.

I really wanted Colleague to win this race.

I realize, selfishly, I really needed Colleague to win this race.

Because if one of us doesn’t make it, there’s a small part that wonders if any of us will.

charging forward

I will not claim that today was easy.  My brain has been on break far too long when it comes to actual thinking, evidently, so there was a bit of an adjustment as I settled in to tackle the tear-inducing list of tasks, requests, meetings and emails.

I’m happy to say, however, that I made some serious progress today, between editing materials for an upcoming conference, providing feedback on two different students’ theses, running to campus to meet with students for an hour, cleaning out my emails and planning tomorrow’s class.  It really doesn’t look like much when I type it out, unfortunately, but it definitely feels like it.  Even allowing for breakfast and dinner breaks, I was working pretty steadily all day – and I even turned down a dinner invitation to stay on track.

When I finally decide to do something, I can make headway; when I’m struggling to make myself work, forget it.  I can sit in front of the computer all day and accomplish as much as if I was sitting in the shower. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really that simple: me making up my mind to do something equals that something happening.  When the switch finally flips, I’m good; it’s just that the switch seems to be stuck in the off position much too frequently.

spring break: highs and lows

Ah, Mexico: warm, sunny, colorful – and far away from here.  The clear Caribbean water is beautiful; the silver jewelry is gorgeous; the pottery is lovely.  I swam; I shopped; I sat in the shade with a book and a daiquiri.  My friends and I got along well; we laughed and talked; we got temporary tattoos.  We even had a run-in with the police (when we had to pay a parking fine at the municipal station – I took pictures!).  As far as spring breaks go, it was quite a good one.

Which makes it even worse that I was ill by the time I stepped off the plane here.  I could feel it coming on but there wasn’t much I could do except swig the last of a friend’s bottle of Pepto and distract myself with the drive home from the airport.  The next few days were pretty awful: fever, chills, aches, headache, nausea.  I never threw up, however much I thought I might, and I could eat without too much consequence, if I could think of something I wanted, but I basically spent three days on the sofa wishing someone would club me over the head and put me out of my misery.

Today, I’m upright and almost back to normal.  I’ve started on the piles of laundry, put away my pretty purchases and started on the spring cleaning (you get a whole different perspective when you spend a lot of time on the floor, and I was supine in the living room, both bathrooms and the bedroom).  I’ve also tentatively started on the inbox, which is overflowing with things that require my immediate attention.  Well, get used to disappointment, people; my out-of-office message said I wouldn’t respond until tomorrow and, for once, I’m sticking to that.

4.5 hours

I have to be up in 4.5 hours.  I think it’s safe to say I will not be getting a lot of sleep tonight.  The end goal, however, is worth it, as I will be on a plane in 8.5 hours, headed to sunny southern climes.  It’s spring break, people, and I am actually taking a break this year, along with three of my colleagues/friends.

I told myself that I would celebrate when I reached my 5-year milestone.  I didn’t have anything specific in mind.  Buying myself a pretty piece of jewelry would likely have sufficed, given my love of such things, but the closer I got to the actual event, the more I wanted to do something.  So, I thought about a trip – somewhere, anywhere – that was focused purely on having a good time.  I told a friend; one thing lead to another; and voila, here we are, headed to sunshine.

I am so looking forward to this.  I may not be ready to go; I may be forgetting something in my suitcase; I may have enough work waiting on me to choke a giraffe.

But in 14 hours, I will be in a bathing suit, on a beach, with a book in one hand and a fruity drink in the other.  I cannot wait!

ugh…sniffle…ack

I have a cold.

So, I feel awful.  My head hurts; my eyes are glassy; my nose is red.  Even with medication, I’m sneezing and blowing my nose constantly.  I feel like I’m trying to breathe through molasses.  Even with makeup, I have no color – except for the bright red nose – so I look like a walking corpse.  I don’t feel much better.

Whine.

I suspect I can attribute my current awful state to tromping about DC in the snow with inadequate snow-related clothing, then sitting for three days in very cold rooms, in addition to a distinct lack of sleep the last two nights.  I did sleep last night, however: 11 hours.  That alone should tell you how awful I feel.  It wasn’t like I was waking up and refusing to get out of bed.  No, that was 11 hours of solid, uninterrupted, rock-like sleep.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much done today, between the distinct lack of energy and the inability to form a coherent thought.  I managed laundry, some emails, and comments on two students’ latest thesis efforts (thankfully, they were brief sections).  I did go to the gym, which probably wasn’t the smartest move, but I haven’t exercised in almost a week and eating-while-traveling plus sitting all day does nothing positive for my health.

I would say something suitably pathetic about how this is the perfect ending to my week away but that wouldn’t be true.  I had a pretty good week – even with my frustration and the exhausting work and the lack of company.  It may not have been easy but I do believe in the work (well, most of it) and I got to know a few people a bit better.  I appreciate being involved in something beyond my university that means something to me and many of my colleagues.  That’s worth a little discomfort in the long run.

I also had a realization, as to my status in work groups: I’m the person who says what everyone else is thinking but won’t say out loud.  I’m not politic – or patient or well-behaved or mature – enough to sit quietly and disinterestedly for long periods of time.  Sooner or later, I’m going to be the one with a funny aside or a snarky retort or a probing question or an abrupt response.  Luckily, I have the social skills to mitigate that element of myself (yes, it’s ironically absent in many situations) so people are usually willing to forgive me when we’re interacting afterward. Truly, I am a generally friendly, funny person.  If you’re willing to overlook my capacity for bluntness, eye-rolling and impatience, you’d really enjoy having me around!

and this is why I’ll never be important

I’m not sure I like people.  At least, that’s how I’m feeling after a day-long meeting.

I’ve been in my room for the last four hours, writing up minutes, reading emails and watching clips from Last Week Tonight, which gives me enough distance to realize that I’m not a good person in a meeting.  There’s lots of talking through information that is sitting in front of me; there’s a review of things I’m not that interested in knowing; there’s voting on issues that are somewhat important.  But there’s also the person who has to ask questions every single time we move to a new topic; there’s the person who offers insights that don’t make any sense; there’s the person who takes everything much too seriously.

I get impatient; I get annoyed; I get bored; I get frustrated.  All of that would be fine if I didn’t then show those responses. I do try to smother my natural awfulness, and I can usually manage for a few hours, but it’s hopeless in an all-day meeting.

Today was not my finest moment.  I had to chair a small group in the afternoon; we weren’t quite sure what we were supposed to be doing and we didn’t want to do it in the first place.  People were tired and snippy and uninvolved.  I was right there with them but I’m supposed to be in charge so I was trying to muster some leadership.  I did right the ship, eventually, and we managed to accomplish something; by the end, people seemed pretty pleased with the outcome and we moved back to the large group in relatively good spirits.

In sharing with the large group, however, I had to field a lot of questions, many of them coming from the same confusion we had over the project.  I tried humor, I tried repeating myself, I tried to let other people answer but I could hear the annoyance creeping into my voice.  By the time the leader of this weekend insinuated that we hadn’t done what we were supposed to do, I was suppressing my frustration quite poorly (you don’t give a group ill-defined parameters with no clear end goal and then muse that we haven’t completed the task).  The teacher voice came out; I could hear the steel in my response, and it was clearly directed at the person who asked the question.

Not professional.  Not nice.  Not a good idea.

And this is why I won’t move into administration or take on large-scale leadership roles or win popularity contents.  I don’t play well with others, especially those in leadership positions.  Oh, I do okay for a while but then I’m just over it.  I don’t feel like playing the game anymore, I guess – especially if I feel like I’m being insulted, directly or indirectly – so my natural unpleasantness comes roaring to the front.

My only saving grace is that I get shit done.  You may not like me when I’m finished but I can promise you that I’ll complete whatever task you put in front of me.

Why can’t I just sit there, smile and let it all wash over me?  I could use that character trait.

the last one

I took my last tamoxifen tonight.  Kind of a momentous event, I think.

It’s not like taking that little white pill every day for the last five years was that difficult but it was a daily reminder that I was yoked to something I didn’t want and didn’t deserve.  It’s not like I’m going to forget I had breast cancer now that I’m no longer on medication but I can point to a demarcation of then and now as I face forward.

I have plenty of scars, physical and emotional, from that time in my life.  Now, I don’t have the pill to go with them.