Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Keep Calm....

I have been struggling these past few weeks. I was supposed to go back to work in early December, but the c-diff infection made that impossible. Since then, I've been doing my best to get well. I've gained some weight, started feeling better, moving more.

Then, I had a little relapse of c-diff, which set me back. I caught it early, and I didn't get dangerously sick like last time, but I'm back on vancomycin. It's disappointing because once you have a relapse of C-Diff you are very likely to have another and another and another. But I'm trying to learn not to think about scary things that haven't happened yet.

Along with physical struggles have come the mental. I've labored with the tough decision of whether to return to work. As you all know, I enjoy my job and the people I work with, and I especially love being around high school-age kids. I have been very eager to go back, having been off much longer than expected. But, I'm physically not up to it yet.

And then I got a letter: time has run out. As of the 17th, I have to go back or take a year-long leave of absence, with no guarantee that I can return to the same job at the same school.

Realistically, I am not well enough to work full-time, but I've come a long, long way. Two months ago, I was unable to walk, or eat, was bloated, in danger of a colon rupture and just very, very sick. Now I can go to the store, run errands, cook meals, pick up the house. I'm slow, not swift like I used to be, but I'm functioning.

I'm not strong enough to work a full day right now: morning pain, fatigue, and stomach problems are an issue - but what if I can in two months?

It's hard to think about giving up a job when maybe soon I'll be back to normal, or closer to it. My improvement over the past two months has been gradual but definite. Where will I be in two more months?

Unfortunately, it's decision time. What is best for me? What is best for the school? It's a choice I knew would come, and I've been wrestling with for some time. I sadly concluded that based on this moment in time, I would have to go out on SSI disability and give up the job I find satisfying and enjoyable, and let them be free to hire somebody healthy and dependable. That is difficult mid-year but certainly not impossible. I was pretty sad at this idea but I have to think of the school.

Cancer was taking my life in ways I had not expected, earlier than I was ready. But that's what cancer does.

So, I was in my oncologist's office, and after my visit with the doctor, I discussed the disability paperwork with the secretary. I walked out into the front office, where I saw two kids from my school, a girl and a boy - the girl an office TA. I did a triple-take.

Why were kids in the oncologist's office? MY oncologist's office? MY kids? I about decided I was imagining things, when the girl said, "Hi Ann." I said hi back and we chatted for a while. (They were there to accompany a friend who was with a sick relative).

The male student had once come in to my office and picked up a paperweight. It's designed with the British WWII slogan, "Keep Calm and Carry On." This kid got into the routine of pointing at me and saying, every time he walked past my office, "Keep Calm!" and I would smile and and say back, "Carry on!" Silly, but the kind of conversation that makes it fun working with kids.

The coincidence of these kids, from my school, being in my cancer doctor's office at the very minute I'd decided to give up my job could not be ignored. I had been ambivalent, and this cleared things up for me.

I wanted to go back, and I needed to figure out how that could happen.

I came up with a plan.

First, I met with my substitute (a wonderful lady who has taken over for me and learned a hard job quickly) and explained to her that I wanted to try to come back, but could only work half days. A substitute is only allowed to work a certain number of hours per year, and she would not be able to stay full-time much longer either. To make sure the school would run smoothly, since she knew the job - would she stay mornings through June, and I would come in afternoons? She agreed. Details worked out, I took this idea to my Principal, who kindly agreed to this arrangement as well. I then contacted HR, not knowing the rules and expecting that might be the stopping point. But, they also agreed.

Whatever you might be hearing in the news about schools, all I have to say is none of it is my experience. It's truly a people business and everybody from upper administration on down does care about employees and especially about kids.

So, I'm going back February 17th (yes, that's a Friday). I am going back to work from 11:30 to 3:30. My hope is that being somewhere every day, at the same time, will help facilitate the rest of my recovery, and I'll soon be stronger and back to working full-time.

When you are home sick, you tend to fall into the habit of napping when you want, eating when you want, resting a lot. There is no structure. While that is assuredly good for you when you are critically ill, as I was, at some point - my theory is, at least - your recovery stops with rest alone. Getting out to work half days should help me get in a routine, used to getting up at the same time, going to bed at the same time, eating regularly, etc. It should, I hope, help me get physically stronger. Mentally, I know it'll be good for me to have something to think about aside my health and immediate family.

My assumption is my recovery will continue and down the road - a month, two months - I will be able to work full-time again. I've come so far, I should only get stronger.

And, if by summer, I am still not able to work a full day, if my body won't tolerate it, then I'll have given it a try. I can leave in the summer when they have time to hire somebody right for the job and I can help train her, and not leave during the chaos of a school year. But, my goal, now set, is to be back to work full-time before then.

My next goal is to get over this c-diff permanently, so I can get back on chemo.

So, thanks kids. Because of you, I'm going to Carry On.


  1. This plan makes good sense. Carry on!

  2. That sounds like a solid plan! I am so glad your employer worked with you. :)

  3. Going to back to work sounds like the thing to do. It will distract you from all of the medical stuff you've had to deal with. Keeping calm is the way to go and carrying on is what we all have to do.

  4. Ann, you are so right about schools being people places! I found that they are some of the best employers for people who have cancer. My principal was wonderful to me. But it was the kids who made coming back worth every rough moment! I am so glad you are able to get back to work! It is a good thing to get back into a routine. So, good luck & keep calm.....and ALWAYS carry on!

  5. I think its a great plan. I worked part time through treatment and it was a very good thing to go out and interact with people and think about other things than being 'sick'. You go girl!

  6. I am so happy that they worked with you so that you can work. *hugs*

  7. Incredible that those kids where at your oncologist at that very moment. Congratulations on your new plan. It warms my soul knowing your school has been so supportive. It's these positive stories that give me hope in humanity :) Fantastic news Ann!

  8. Yeah!!! Love Tracy

  9. Getting back to work will be good medicine for you! So glad you are feeling better!! Jen

  10. You go girl! Best wishes in with this plan! Hugs!

  11. Ann, you really are an inspiration! What you said is so true: "Your recovery stops with rest alone." At some point, we all have to get back on the horse.

    Your taking the steps back into the workaday life you love really is the best medicine. So glad they were amiable. Godspeed!

  12. I LOVE this, Ann! A little creativity, a spark of imagination and you made it happen. That's great. Keep Calm & Carry On. Those kids in that docs office-serendipitous.... my favorite word.....


  13. Ann, you are making the right decision. Continue to get stronger. I am always thinking of you. Annabelle

  14. God has a perfect plan for you and you are needed, so it's time to carry on and get back to normal. So happy for you!

  15. I am happy for you for your decision. Just a thought if you need it down the road...I went on disability for Stage IV and started volunteering the next month and LOVE it. I'm sure the school would love to have you one way or the other, and if you are having a bad day or week, or lots of appointments, you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Keep up the great blog!

  16. Ann, It was so nice to read your update. The universe works in amazing ways...that was no accident that those kids were there. Love this new plan. Good luck getting "back on the horse" I hope you get stronger every day and this Cdiff is well behind you.

  17. Love this story! And so glad it all worked out and you can go back part time.

    My sister struggled with c-diff......something her infectious disease doc recommended was yogurt, she would have it several times a day, she thinks it helped speed recovery.....might be worth trying.

    Carry on!

  18. Sounds like you are doing what's best for you and that's a good thing. Good luck, but don't push yourself too hard.

  19. Good luck with your plan. It is a good example of working through the pros and cons of going back to work and then discussing this with an employer to see if it is possible.

    I have been in a similar situation, and while I can't physically be in my work place, I can work half time remotely; my employer has encouraged this and so I work away at home, on my computer, knowing that I can still make a contribution and feeling that I still have some control over this part of my life.

  20. Thank you all! Cindy, yogurt is the main part of my diet, so I have that covered. :) I'm addicted to Fage, so good. Denys, it's great your employer can be so flexible. Do you find it hard to create structure at home?

    1. Structuring work time is the big challenge when working at home - it is, as you note, very easy to slip into habits that impact on the "work day". Fortunately, my job is fairly self managing so I have learned how to manage how I work in a number of settings. It is important to plan ahead the time that you will work and keep to that Schedule. I plan my week's work so that hospital and other appointments don't overlap with my "working times", I schedule appointments for people who want to come and meet with me within these times - even though that might not always suit the people concerned - and I only deal with work emails and phone calls within my working time. Even so, it still takes a lot of personal discipline. While it is possible to work efficiently from home, it does result in reduced contact with people. This is possibly the biggest downside and a good reason, I think, to work in a regular workplace if that is at all possible.

  21. I love this! Keep Calm and Carry On! terrific!

  22. I'm so glad to hear that your job is being so wonderful. I often hear of people with serious illnesses being forced out of the work place but, like you, that has not been my experience. I work with a small staff for a dialysis unit and I know it's hard to give me chunks of time off because it means everyone else working extra hours so the patients don't suffer. My staff has been amazing at not only doing this but donating tons of their own PTO time to me so I don't have to worry about losing my job or insurance. Some even donate from units I don't work at, people I've never met. There are so many people out there that really do care when it comes down to it. Good luck on your return to work, this may be just what you need to give your recovery a good kick too. I always feel like I recover faster once I'm back to work around friends, patients and chaos.

  23. What great news! Way to cook up a plan, Ann. I'll be thinking of you on your first Friday back. Hooray!!!

  24. wishing you wellness & strength for Friday & beyond. Go Get 'em! Thank you for your Blog.

    Keep On, You AND Your son are strong.

    Well wishes from an individual with an irradiated left boob...Chernobyl, as I like to call it lol.

    May you be well.


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