The Big SCare

Yes, the “C” in the post title is capitalized for a reason.  Cancer.

It started off according to plan.  I scheduled my annual ob-gyn visit and fully expected to have the usual chat.  I made a couple of observations during my exam and my doctor prescribed me two relatively usual follow ups: a mammogram (my first), and a uterine ultrasound (also my first).  After the usual scheduling delays, I ventured into the Women’s Center at Sutter Hospital in San Mateo to complete my testing.

First up was the uterine ultrasound.  The first set of tests netted possible tumors/fibroids/lesions that had the potential to be harmful.  More testing was required, and I was sent away with a vague feeling of dis-ease (and disease, in fact) and another appointment to attend.  I completed my mammogram with little discomfort and fairly quickly, and found it to be a relatively harmless procedure.  Given all the negative experiences of family and friends, I was pleasantly surprised.

The second set of uterine tests was completed on the following week — an extended, internal ultrasound and biopsy/tissue testing.  While I was in the exam room, one of the nurses tracked me down…to let me know that I needed another mammogram and additional testing on my left breast because there might be “an anomaly.”  At that moment, I actually began to doubt my status as “healthy” and started to wonder if there was something systemic wrong.  One set of extra testing is concerning, but requiring additional tests for multiple organs seemed to indicate a systemic issue.  My heart began to race.

The second mammogram and ultrasound was also relatively painless, but raised serious concerns about a possible tumor in my left breast.  The doctor let me observe the mammogram and ultrasound images — there was a 10mm dense lump that clearly was different than the rest of my breast tissue, and had characteristics of a tumor.  The doctor advised a biopsy, and reassured me that she felt it was only 20% likelihood of cancer.

20% likelihood of cancer is still frightening.  I don’t bet because I have horrible, terrible luck in almost any game of chance.  Despite my otherwise robust health, there was a persistent voice in the back of my head warning that this was the beginning of a long journey.  What about all those hamburgers I ate — and those glasses of wine?  I certainly could have treated my body better over the past 41 years.  I tried to put the worry aside and focus on making a difference in my healthy living today — I recommitted to working out, eating better, reducing stress, and drinking less alcohol.  But still….I needed a biopsy, and now I had results to wait for.

I walked into my biopsy — over a week later — scared and tense.  The doctor did everything she could to reassure me — she explained the procedure, explained the “post procedure” instructions, and answered all of my questions.  The doctor asked me to look away as she made the incision — but I asked to look.  I simply needed to know what was going on at every step.  She kindly let me watch the procedure on the monitor (I got to see the biopsy needle go into the tumor, and the actual biopsy happening).  Watching gave me the small sense of control I needed in that moment.  Even more remarkable, she showed me my tissue sample on the slide — about 1 1/2 inches long, the tumor clearly delineated on the slide.  It didn’t look “evil” — the tissue wasn’t black or strangely colored, it didn’t smell, it didn’t ooze.  I was slightly reassured by the visual, but that 20% positive diagnosis statistic was still lurking in my brain.  I am not a lucky person.

And then the waiting…and the continued worrying….  While I waited for my results, I distracted myself as much as possible.  I read three books.  I entertained a friend that visited from Nashville.  I went to the gym 2-3 hours a day, leaning on endorphins to prop up my mood and the exercise to give me a feeling of health.

I got the call this afternoon from the doctor who performed my biopsy.  It’s a benign tumor.  I’ll need to track the growth of the tumor annually for the next several years, and we will remain careful to make sure it doesn’t grow too fast….but there’s no cancer.

And suddenly I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

 

I’m sharing my story because I think we need to openly discuss our problems — because we need to lean on one another for emotional support, treatment ideas, and experience sharing.  I want my friends to know that you can talk to me if you have a similar experience, or need a sounding board.  It’s been a really tough and stressful few weeks, and I’ve leaned very heavily on a couple of friends to support me.  You know who you are — and thank you.  Meanwhile, I wanted to share my experience, now that I have a resolution, in the hopes that it might help someone else.

 

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Setting Money on Fire

fireworks

 

She picked up the colorful package near the checkout aisle.  It had at least ten different types of fireworks inside the cellophane, each in its own brightly colored wrapping.  Some of the wrapping had writing on it – one of the packages said “snakes.”  She wondered how you could make snakes out of a firework.  Were they the poisonous ones?  Did you have to feed them and make them your pets after they were born from the flames?

She knew what sparklers were – mom had bought her some of those last summer.  She enjoyed running around with the fizzing stick as it spit off bright tongues of flame…but it didn’t last long enough, and it didn’t make a scary noise.  She wanted to see what the snakes looked like, and she wanted to know what the thing that looked like a rocket did when you set it off.  Mom wouldn’t want to buy this package of fireworks though…it would be a waste of money.  It would be almost like setting your money on fire, she supposed.  Except setting money on fire didn’t sound as exciting.

She knew that her dad would have bought them if he were around.  Dad wouldn’t have had the money to spend, but he would have found it anyway.  She thought that maybe this is what fathers were supposed to do – initiate their kids into the wonders of fireworks.  She suspected she could walk down the street tonight and she would see dozens of dads lighting fireworks with their kids.  Maybe she could watch, and see what the snake fireworks did.

With a sigh, she carefully put the fascinating package back on the shelf and went to find her mom.  She knew it would be time to head home soon.

Almost Time

I hit the pause button on writing for the past 10 months.  When I took on my new role at Microsoft, I knew I would need to fully commit to learning a new function, a new segment, and learning how to interact with a new set of business leaders.  I gave myself permission to fully focus on work and to avoid too much time dilution with creative pursuits, cycling, or social functions.  The successes I’ve achieved and the relationships built during this time are greater than I dared expect.

Now it’s time for re-balancing.  Time to get healthy, ride my bicycle, and endeavor to string words together in a pleasing fashion.  Perhaps time to celebrate with friends and co-workers.  Time to enjoy the summer, sit on the beach and read a book.  Time to visit family.  A new equilibrium where work is but one facet in my sparkling life.

I shared dinner with some friends last night, and one of them remarked that his career in the military  – over 20 years in the past – truly felt like a distant life.  The comment resonated with me — and I also resolved that it was time to make life less distant.

Here’s to a bright and varied second half of 2017!

I Don’t Mind

maui_rain

It’s raining on Maui and I don’t mind.  The skies are gray and low, and the humidity is almost oppressive as it surrounds me like a moist woolen blanket.  The birds sing quietly from their nests or covered branches, and the world waits for the rain to stop.

Long ago, I became a friend of storms.  I understand their nature and purpose, and I’ve broken through to the place where I no longer seek shelter to wait their passing.  I try a=to accept the storm, to welcome it and to thrive on its energy.

But today I wait, because I know that a Maui storm is brief and that the sun will awaken in this Paradise.  I’m grateful for the time I am here to enjoy it.  In the distance, I might even see a break in the clouds already.  I don’t mind if it waits awhile.

Peaceful Places

kapalua-beach

Places, like people, have personalities.  Maui has always been a peaceful place to me, a bastion of serenity.  I woke up early this morning to enjoy the sounds of the surf, the fleeting appearance of rainbows as rain patters across the horizon, and the occasional evidence of whale plumes.  The air is softly caressing my skin, and the birds chirp happily.

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of my stepfather’s death, a date that he shares with hundreds of 9/11 victims.  Today, our country mourns…but not for my stepfather.  That’s okay, because it makes my sorrow seem a little bit more normal, and my contemplation seem common.  Today is a day for mourning, and the serenity of Maui seems a fitting background.

Maui will take your sorrow and put it in context — that sadness and even death are part of the beautiful circle of life.  This wind on my face reminds me that the universe is beautiful and constant and that we’re connected to everything around us.  The surf sings that there’s a cyclicality to everything, a rhythm to the Universe.  The evidence of whales make me feel joy amidst the sadness.

It’s a good day and an appropriate place for mourning.

 

Bridges

wood-bridge-fog-rope-nature-2433

We build bridges to connect.

We construct transport mechanisms to propel us into the unknown

Not destroying them behind us, because bridges leave a sense of comfort

Always keeping our options open, in case the unknown is intolerable

Happy in the moment of the connection, the final step-off.  But nervous.

Our bridges go foggy with disuse, squeaky and warped where no feet have trod

Sometimes, we begin the journey across them…but the pall of failure dissuades

The people across the span have grown strange to us, the places no longer familiar

No matter how unpleasant our present, the trip across the bridge seems worse.

Perhaps the bridge should be destroyed.

We end up residing neither here nor there.

Feeling like a stranger in a strange land forever, wondering if we should build

New bridges to flee the sense of displacement.  New bridges to bridge the gaps.

We also know life should be more than building bridges, than crossing over them.

Everyone must discover a true home.

Digging Deep

digging-deeper

I’m a pretty decent person to take along during a crisis.  There are many scenarios when I am less confident in my skills, but crisis management isn’t my weakness.  I adore that moment when time expands and my focus narrows to only one thing — managing through the event and minimizing the wreckage.

Perhaps I enjoy the feeling of single mindedness when emergencies strike — all competing priorities fall by the wayside.  My focus improves, and the tiny voices in my head join together to solve the problem.

Perhaps I am an adrenaline addict.  I’ve certainly made peace with the idea that I’m an endorphin addict, which is a close association with adrenaline’s cousin.  I’ve encountered countless near-disasters while cycling, and I suspect rolling on the razor’s edge of harm is one reason for my cycling fascination.

Perhaps it’d that my native decisiveness and opinionated nature are usually assets when in crisis.  I enjoy digging deeper, thinking faster, making quick decisions while not being paralyzed by the situation.  In a crisis, I have permission to be authoritarian.

I’ve developed a new habit of staging an internally-focused crisis situation, to bring about that focus, adrenaline, and authoritarianism into my daily life.  It’s certainly made my days more interesting  and fast-paced.  It keeps me from being unfocused, or from feeling shiftless.

Recently, digging deeper has become a way of life.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

rabbithole

And then there are those moments that are truly surreal in my job search….

The job search matching challenge seems to be made more complex when involving recruiters.  Often, these executive recruiters are paid on contingency basis (they only get paid if I get hired) and they’re non-exclusive in their relationship with the hiring company.  So, they compete with other recruiters for “sourcing” candidates to particular roles.  However, it’s also important that they “own” the relationship with the candidate so that the hiring company can’t circumnavigate their relationship.

It’s like a double blind drug test – neither interviewer nor interviewee is permitted to know much about one another.  People speak in generalities — about the candidate’s background, about the hiring company, about the role.  Recruiters share the industry but not the company name, the general business concept but not the software brand, the compensation but not the team structure.  And thus begins an exercise in assembling the actual opportunity and evaluating how it fits my interests.

This week, I was contacted by four recruiters for what I believe are two discrete jobs.  However, it might be a single posting.  It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here.

Welcome to my life, viewed from outside the rabbit hole.  So far, the journey has been intriguing….

Blind Turn

blind_turn

Almost forty years on this planet have taught me many things, but the lesson that keeps getting hammered into my brain is that there are few certainties in life.  We often sprint full-out down the road in front of us, only to hit a blind turn.  Sometimes the blind turn falls behind us as we blithely keep running.  And sometimes the unexpected happens.

Yes, it’s certainly a measure of our character when that unexpected event occurs.  If we use our minds, our hearts, and our ethics we can often rescue the situation from disaster.  However, sometimes we have less control then we would like.  And sometimes we fall short of what we’re actually capable of achieving in the moment.

One abiding lesson I’ve learned from these moments is to be kind to yourself, if things don’t go the way you expected.  I also strive to be kind to others who might have had similar experiences of falling short.  We race pell-mell into these blind turns all the time — and almost always we navigate successfully. It’s truly a shame that our reputation is based on the times we didn’t navigate perfectly, rather than all the times we did the right thing.

Seeking Happy

be-happy-017

Life can’t always focus on lists and structure.  About three weeks into my job search process. I realized that I wasn’t having a damn bit of fun.  Every day, there was always another phone call to make, another resume to send, another website to hit…I was driving myself nuts with follow up and tasks.  While I do fundamentally believe that selling oneself is like selling a product — it’s all about the sales funnel — there’s more to life than turning yourself into a product.

I added “Find Happy” to my daily task list during week four.

The Find Happy task was an invitation to take structure out of my life, and was just as high in importance as the “Job Search” task.  I wasn’t programmatic about what Find Happy meant — some days it’s watching a Netflix episode and being a couch potato, other days it’s taking a bike ride.  However, it’s important Happy happens too.

Today, I plan to go sit on the beach and read a book.  There’s been a lot of job search activity this week, and I need my brain to unwind.  Pretty soon I’ll be tied up with a J-O-B and won’t be able to take afternoons at the beach…I want to enjoy them while I can.

Find Happy.  It’s important, too.