Friday, June 20, 2014

Coming Out of the Cancer Closet

For many reasons, most importantly my health, I have decided to retire from my crazy, extremely full-time financial services career.  I have been in the financial services industry for 33 years, longer than most people I know.  My primary reason for leaving is that my health has not been that great since my September debulking surgery.  I was doing fine up until the time I went back to work in December.  For the past nearly six months, I have had many gastrointestinal issues including heartburn, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and 3 partial or full bowel obstructions.  I have also been much more fatigued since the surgery.  Prior to my surgery, my health problems were much less onerous.   I believe the reason for these post-surgical issues were:

1) The debulking surgery left me with a shorter small intestine. 

2) A very stressful job that required me to see clients and go to meetings that could last 6 hours. Travel only made things worse.

 In addition, I was having trouble eating frequent meals of soft foods or sometimes any foods at all due to fear of symptoms at work.  I thought I was fine and went back to eating a normal but not extremely healthy diet.  My job required me to dine and entertain clients and other business prospects. Sometimes I ate and drank at locations that I knew would not help my digestive symptoms.  Traveling to and from client meetings was also challenging as trains, planes and automobiles don’t always provide convenient food choices and bathrooms. 

My full bowel obstruction and emergency room experience in mid-April was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  After that, I believed that I needed to make some serious changes to my lifestyle, including paying very close attention to my diet, sleep, health issues and stress levels.  Deciding to retire meant I had to think about my financial situation as we would have less money coming in.  I would also need to figure out what to do with my free time, although I can definitely look forward to being less busy.  I would also have to figure out how to notify my employer and transition my clients.

Since my diagnosis in 2010, I had not told my employer I have cancer.  Even when I had my debulking surgery last September, I told my boss I was having a gastrointestinal surgery and that I would need monthly follow-up afterward.  He didn’t ask for any details and for those who did, I said I was having part of my small intestine removed to avoid having a bowel obstruction but did not give any other information. My rationale for not playing the “cancer card” was that the financial services industry is very competitive with an “eat what you kill” type work environment. I did not want to be perceived as sick, as that would probably cause some discrimination in the workplace. 

So, imagine my boss’s surprise last Monday when I said that I was leaving because of health issues and that I have a rare form of gastrointestinal cancer.  He was shocked and sympathetic and said that he would do everything possible to transition my clients and help me to avoid any stress with the transition.  I am working through a transition plan and will be available to help, working from home as necessary, for the foreseeable future but will not be going to work.  I spoke with some of my co-workers, who were also shocked that I could keep my cancer secret for so long but very supportive.  One of my co-workers said one of my clients cried when she heard I would be leaving for health reasons. 

I have been retired now for over a week and am enjoying myself immensely.  I am sleeping at least 8 hours a night which is something I had not done for regularly for a long time.  I am focusing on eating 4-5 small meals a day instead of rushing through meals and snacks at my desk or on the road.  I have been making home cooked meals. Yesterday, I made a big pot of chicken soup with wild rice and vegetables.  I have enough soup to eat it once a day for the rest of next week.  I’m already feeling better.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Chronic, Not Cured

Susan Gubar, a cancer patient and outstanding communicator, writes a column in The New York Times, called Living with Cancer.  This week’s column talks about patients who do not fall into the category of cured or terminal. Since most of us neuroendocrine patients fall into the “chronic” category, I thought this was an interesting article.  Some of Ms. Gubar’s thoughts as well as the link to the article follow.

“The word ‘chronic’ resides between the category of cured and the category of terminal. It refers to disease that is not spreading, malignancy that can be arrested but not eradicated.”
“But for some of us, there is a middle stage in this journey. Because of advances in cancer research and the efforts of dedicated oncologists, a large population today deals with disease kept in abeyance. The cancer has returned and has been controlled, but it will never go away completely. Like me, these people cope with cancer that is treatable for some unforeseeable amount of time. Chronic cancer means you will die from it — unless you are first hit by the proverbial bus — but not now, not necessarily soon.”

“Chronic disease may lack the drama of diagnosis and early treatment; even friends can get bored by mounting details. Its evolution does not conform to the feel-good stories of recovery that most of us want to read. But neither does it adhere to the frightfully degenerative plot of quickly advancing tumors.”