pincushion 08062020

Evolution of a pincushion

I’ve been stabbed roughly 400 times in the past eight years.

I know my assailants. I’m Facebook friends with many of them.

The circumstances have varied. Chemo shots, IV’s, bone marrow biopsies, PICC lines, ports, and endless blood draws. Needles don’t scare me but I sure as hell don’t like them much.

Four and a half years ago, I started on a different type of chemotherapy. There was a lot of poking – 42 cycles’ worth as of July 2, 2020, the day we said, “Enough is enough.”

It was my oncologist’s idea, along with a colleague he’s been consulting with at the Mayo Clinic. People with my type of cancer – multiple myeloma – can be on chemo for many, many years to sustain remission. I started my first chemo in May 2014, had my stem cell transplant in August 2015, and have been on maintenance chemo ever since. I finally hit remission in September 2016.

In the cancer world, treatment strategies are always changing. While the long term goal is to find a cure for cancer, the short term goal is to eradicate what you can without causing undue harm to the patient. I’m 54, and continuing years of chemo could hurt my body more than help it. So we’re giving me a chance to keep myself in remission without the drugs.

The relapse rate for multiple myeloma is almost 100 percent. Going off chemo feels a little bit like stepping off a cliff and hoping the air holds me up. That I got cancer to begin with is sort of proof that my body doesn’t fight that stuff off very well. Let’s hope it’s learned a few defensive moves through all of this.

Eight years ago cancer slapped me upside the head and said, “Hey, idiot, you need to wake up and pay attention.” The physical and mental changes I’ve made since then are directly related to cancer. I know me; without the actual threat of death, I wouldn’t have made them.

Weirdly, I miss going to the Helmsley Center on Thursdays for chemo and feeling like I’m ACTIVELY keeping cancer at bay. I miss the people, especially the staff, many of whom I now consider friends.

During my last few weeks of treatment, we talked about how we could still get together, do lunch or something when COVID-19 allows us to all sit at the same table. But I won’t let them have any utensils besides spoons on the off chance that if given a fork, they’d stab me with it. Old habits die hard.

Social distance sign

You’re looking good…from over there.

In 2018, 80 percent of American adults answering a LinkedIn survey said they started to worry about their upcoming work week on Sundays. Researchers called it “Sunday syndrome” and said the average time it hit was 3:58 p.m.

The LinkedIn survey concluded that it wasn’t so much that respondents were worried about things like having to get up earlier on weekdays or not being able to handle their workload. “Sunday syndrome” was occurring because Sundays were starting to feel more like work days.

So when COVID-19 became a full-blown pandemic and the resulting guidelines meant scores of us moved from going into work to working from home, did we still spend Sundays dreading Mondays?

I’ve always brought work home to get caught up or work out an issue I couldn’t solve in the interruptive din of an office or control room. But working FROM home on a long term basis took some getting used to.

No matter how well I planned, when I ventured into the closed office to pick things up, I always forgot to cart home that one thing I really needed.

I realized I print and process a LOT of paper, much more than my desktop printer could handle.

After two months of setting up and tearing down my work space on the kitchen table every day, I remembered that the metal table I use for an end table in the living room actually folds out into a desk.

And with 24 hour computer access to all the files and programs I needed, my work day could now include a weekend morning or a weekday afternoon or even the middle of the night if that’s when an idea hit me.

All of that flexibility meant I wasn’t getting “Sunday syndrome” any more. Because some weeks, I wasn’t sure what day I was on.

Many of us are back in the office now, either on a part-time or full-time basis. And working FROM work is taking some getting used to.

There are plexiglass screens on countertops people used to lean on.

Co-workers I’ve only seen in MS Teams meetings for months are now a socially acceptable distance away, and a good number of them are wearing masks.

And with real meetings to attend and an actual inbox for people to throw work in, my work week is returning to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

For all the normalcy a return to the office brings, there are other ways the post-pandemic work environment could be different. Working remotely has shown employees and supervisors that people can be more productive working flexible hours and managing their own workflow; that some tasks are not as crucial as we thought; that meeting electronically is a lot easier than meeting in person; and that half of that paper we shuffle should stay in the printer.

It’s good to know that in these uncertain times, we can now return to something trusted and familiar: spending our Sunday afternoons dreading Monday mornings.

Have you been working remotely during the pandemic?

Would you keep doing it if you could?

Sidewalk_art_032020

Hang in there, people. We’re gonna make it.

27 degrees and sunny at 2:45 p.m. My supervisor (me) at work (home this week) told me to take a walk.

I slid on my sneakers (carefully over my week-old broken toe), threw on a stocking cap and my pea coat, and headed northeast.

By the time I got to…

…the first corner, I welcomed the sun on my face.

…the alley, I smiled at the chatter of the neighbor boys as they pulled their little sister home in her wagon.

…the first stop sign, I greeted (from a socially acceptable distance) a man with a cane who was out getting some air, too.

…the halfway point of my route, I marveled at the pace I was keeping without limping.

…the 4th to the last intersection, I waved at a couple dropping off groceries on the front steps of a house.

…my friend Sandi’s house several blocks from ours, I laughed as I called and asked her to step outside so we could have a quick yell, with me on the sidewalk and her at the front door.

…the turn-off to my street, I realized that for 15 minutes I hadn’t thought about:

How to keep my 76-year-old dad who has diabetes and a heart condition, and lives 350 miles away in a county that now has four confirmed cases of COVID-19, healthy and at home.

The fact that nearly every day, my sister and I text to compare the growing number of coronavirus cases where she lives, my dad lives, and I live.

If I’ll be able to pass the pre-screening and temperature check at the hospital next week when it’s time to go for chemo.

Where I’m going to find toilet paper, flour, rice, hand soap, and cleaning supplies when the non-hoarded amounts we have at home are gone.

A quarter of an hour on a chilly, sun-filled afternoon was all I needed to feel like a regular human being again. Then I went in the house and got back to work because I’m finding out this work-from-home supervisor can be a bit of a clock-watching ballbuster.

What are YOU doing to feel human during this crazy and scary time?

Bible_01262020

When reading a book, you should always mark the good parts.

I’m not a slow reader. I can rip through a 500-page book in a day or two if the story’s good enough and I don’t have to work. So it’s somewhat surprising that it took me 1,027 days to read the greatest book ever written.

I started reading the Bible on January 1, 2017 (a reminder as to why: Paging Through the Good Book). I finished it on October 25, 2019. That’s a long stretch for a 1,552-page book, especially for a person who likes to read.

I stuck with my plan to read it every day, if only a few pages. Some days that’s all it was – a page or two. Some days more. I wasn’t worried about the pace or even my comprehension of what I was reading. I didn’t expect to understand everything in it, and I didn’t. What I was more interested in was how the experience would change me, if it would at all.

Like any book, the Bible has good parts and bad parts. Some of it is tedious and there’s a fair amount of repetition but other sections are uplifting and even educational. Reading it made me happy and thankful and motivated but also anxious and angry and sad. Good books do that.

Here’s what I realized when I was done:

I’m not a blind believer. For me, that goes for everything, not just religion. Belief doesn’t mean blind acceptance. It means looking at all sides of what you believe in and not being afraid to question or challenge it.

I have more faith-full friends than I realized. Once I started talking about how I was reading the Bible, other people started talking to me about religion and their beliefs. People who really know me know I’ll talk about anything to anyone but religion was an issue I never raised. I appreciate that it’s now something I can.

If I had it to do over, it would take me just as long. I’m glad I took my time. It gave me a chance to mull things over, come to some conclusions. There’s some tabs and highlights and underlines in my Bible that weren’t there before; I’m glad they are now.

I’ll never be one of those people who can straight up quote the Bible or explain what every verse means. I don’t want to be. What you get out of it should be up to you. I do have a favorite verse now, which is something I never expected to have. It’s Philippians 4:11-12.

Do you consider yourself a religious person? Why or why not?