Friday, January 23, 2009

Change of Scenery

So I started a new job last week. All in all, it’s going pretty well other than the fact that my commute is now 40-45 minutes versus 15-20 minutes at my old job. It’s a little weird to enter into an environment where no one has any association of me to cancer. I am just a “normal” co-worker, wanting to do well, find someone to eat lunch with and learn how to connect to the printer. I almost feel dishonest keeping it to myself for now, because cancer has become such a big part of our lives and definitely influence my priorities. But there is something nice about feeling normal- just as Dan did when he played on the softball team and no one knew he had cancer. People just ask me how I am doing and questions about our wedding or where we live… normal conversation.

This is also a time where I wish I could pull out the old cancer handbook and turn to the chapter “When to Tell Your Boss Your Fiancé Has Cancer & You’d Like to Go to Treatments with Him.” At my old job, I had the benefit of an established track record by the time I met Dan and asked for a flexible schedule on his treatment days. However, after moving through 4 bosses in rapid succession, my luck eventually ran out.

My last position left me reporting into someone my own age who wasn’t really equipped to know how to manage the situation. I should clarify- I didn’t need much management, other than the peace of mind that when I was going to be out of the office on the afternoon of a treatment, I wouldn’t be expected to immediately respond to an email. My last “supervisor” just ignored the whole situation, and continued to send a million emails or requests and even tried to schedule meetings on occasion. As someone who always delivers at work, slept with her Blackberry & could pull 14 hour days, I knew I would do whatever was asked x10 (of course) though it left with me a lot of anxiety. On top of that, when Dan was in the hospital last spring for an un-related virus, I had all my work pulled from me the week I returned.

That gem of a response left me so fearful that I never told anyone when Dan’s cancer spread back in July. I didn’t want more work taken from me and I didn’t want to seem like I couldn’t contribute at the same levels as everyone else. So I spent the last 6 months there praying I could dodge a major incident at work that might conflict with a treatment day. It was mentally exhausting. And on my last day, I pretty much lost it when I was called in & given the news that I was being let go. Not because I was so upset that I lost my job, but because it was the end of a long & difficult situation. That, and it was also the day Dan’s hair started falling out and I had to go home and shave his head! Good timing, huh?

I didn’t (and don’t) expect to be treated differently at work because Dan had cancer. In fact, I needed to work to give my life structure and have a sense of accomplishment. I didn’t want to keep my job because someone felt sorry for me, but I also didn’t want to lose work because of the situation. I don’t know when I will let my current employer know what is going, though it probably won’t be long (especially since people are curious as to why we aren’t taking a honeymoon after the wedding, and someone asked if I was pregnant!). I can’t bear the thought of going to work and having to sit there while Dan is at Hopkins. After all, he never gets to take a break, so it feels unfair for me to take a treatment or two off.

I am not writing this to complain (ok, maybe a little), but rather to remind people that there is no way of knowing the right things to do if you find yourself faced with a family medical issue. If you do happen to know a colleague or a direct report dealing with a similar issue, I hope you’ll give them a break. I hope you’ll make every effort to let that person spend time with family. It makes a huge difference when people sit with us during chemo, and it is invaluable to me to be with Dan during treatment. I hope you’ll ask them how they are doing, and mean it. Some things are more important than meeting earnings, churning out another powerpoint deck or getting ahead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what, there are things more important than powerpoint?? hahaha.

i am sure it will be a difficult discussion to have, but i think at least your boss, who so far sounds like a good guy, will understand. my feeling (about my boss and those that work for and with me) is that you work to live, not the opposite. anyone can work around a schedule, and knowing the kind of employee you are (and person you are) they will not be at all adversely affected by you taking some personal time here and there. the best thing for them - the best way for you to be most effective - is to be able to do what you need in your regular life so that you can be 100% at work when you are there.

or just have them call me and i can beat them up.