Life hasn’t been put on hold while I undergo chemotherapy. I’m not really one to put life on hold, in general, and I haven’t felt the need to do so. I have been taking it easy when I need to, taking shorter days or entire days off, choosing not to commit to things because I don’t know how I’m going to be feeling when I get to the date in question, and that sort of thing.
And I’m still going to work. This seems to be catching people off guard — from family, to co-workers, to random other folks who hear about it. But It is honestly the best thing I can be doing right now, for my own sanity.
I have some good reasons:
- Work keeps my brain occupied. If I were to sit at home and spend my time relaxing, I would get bored. I don’t enjoy being bored. It’s really not for me. When I get bored, I get sad. When I get sad, I get apathetic. When I get apathetic, I have no energy to pull myself back out of being bored. And if it goes on too long I start to feel completely drained and depressed. It’s just a bad thing. Plus, right after chemo, I can’t even play video games to entertain myself — they trigger nausea. Nobody wants that.
- My workplace is interesting, fun, and understanding. You may remember that I just started this job at Affinity Bridge in July. I’ve only been there for four months now, and I’m still learning the ropes and figuring things out. I like the challenge. But I feel like if I take too much time off, I’ll forget things. Not that they would hold it against me — they’re among the most understanding, supportive, and fantastic bunch of people I’ve ever been able to call my team. If I need time to focus, or to go home early, or an unexpected coffee break, they get it. I fell asleep in a meeting one day last week when it descended rather deeply into programmer-talk. They may have made fun of me for it, but they certainly won’t hold it against me. And that is just what I need right now.
- I don’t feel that bad. Yes, I’m doing chemotherapy. Yes, there are some crappy side-effects that include dizziness, chemo-brain (aka forgetful absent-mindedness with a side of inability to type accurately or remember words), occasional narcolepsy, and a general low-level energy drain that slows me down a bit, among other things. But it’s really not unmanageable. I can still get things done and contribute in some sort of valuable way. I can be useful. I am not a fragile little snowflake who will melt if you breathe on me wrong. And that makes me happy.
- Keeping things somewhat normal while something entirely abnormal is happening to my body helps me stay grounded. The chemo and anti-nausea drug side-effects can be strange sometimes. If I have too much time to sit around just feeling things, and thinking about everything that’s going on, I could get lost in it. I’d prefer to be stable as much as possible right now, for my own sake and for my family. It’s good to have external things to think about.
So I go to work when I feel up to it (which is most of the time), or I work from home, or I take shorter days, or I nap when I need to. I’m in a bit of a haze sometimes, and I can feel my brain acting sluggish, but when I work through it I feel better. I want to keep my brain working, even when it doesn’t want to. I’ll use whatever memory tricks I need to, I’ll ask questions when I have to, and I will try not to be too apologetic for things that don’t matter that much, because I am not a rocket surgeon and no one will die if there’s a typo in my documentation.
When I’m in a low phase and immuno-compromised from the chemo, I may not go to work if people are sick, or if I’m worried about the commuter train. The family and I have have our flu shots, at least, but the kids and Adam all had colds in the last week and I had to do my best to avoid too much contact. It’s almost easier to avoid contact with people at work. They don’t drool on me. At least not so far.
Working has been good for me through this. I am lucky to have such a fantastic and understanding workplace, boss, and set of co-workers. I feel comfortably free to do what I need to do to take care of myself through this, while still feeling like I am a part of the team — still needed, still important, but with the freedom to step back when I need to. I don’t know if everyone else going through something similar has the same kind of support network around them when it comes to their workplace. I’m sad for them if they don’t, but I know that there are also resources out there through the Cancer Centre that can help for that, if needed. There’s a social worker on my cancer team who told me that specifically, so I guess it’s an issue for some. That is unfortunate.
I am lucky. My workplace is understanding. My co-workers are awesome. I feel support from them throughout this experience. I have it pretty good, for a cancer/chemotherapy patient. And my life feels nearly normal for enough of the time so that I can be a stable, functional member of society and my family.