Sunday, August 2, 2009

I have; and have not

No no. I'm not waxing all Hamlet like. Well maybe just a little.

Today it is quiet enough and early enough to tap out a few words. Diane is with the new grandbabies. The dog has been walked. It's raining. A good day to write.

I just finished reading a blog post over on Daily Kos that triggered some thinking about what I have, and what I have not.

I've been meaning to Think Out Loud about this for awhile.

I have no job. Still. And have not had one since January 16th 2009 - a day also known as "Black Friday" - the day it was announced that about 500,000 Americans were "laid off" - "down-sized" - "made redundant" - or just plain "let go." There was little comfort on that day in being a part of such a crowd.

Being let go was - and is - a good thing. It gave me time. Time to visit both my brothers who live far away who have small children that I seldom get to see otherwise. Time to care for my father who, a short time later, became very sick, very suddenly and has remained so for a long time. It gave me time to reflect on my relationships - with my family, including - especially - my partner, Diane. And to enjoy her son and daughter-in-law and their brand new twin boys.

Being unemployed (and collecting unemployment) gave me time to reflect on what I was doing and how I got there and what should come next. I'm still reflecting on those things and no clear answers have emerged yet.

One thing did become clear. I needed to make a geographical change. For my partner, for my parents and ultimately, for me. So we find ourselves now, as of mid-June, in Charlottesville Virginia. But before I got here, I found out I had something else.

I have cancer.

Breast cancer to be precise. A very curable form of breast cancer.

I found out about a week and half before I was scheduled to move from Boston.

I was stunned. Shell-shocked. Then I was afraid. Of the cancer, yes of course! But mostly of the uncertainty. What kind of cancer was it? How and where would I get treated? Would I lose my hair? Be very sick from the treatments? How would it be paid for? Was my insurance sufficient to deal with what was to come? Would I die?

I do have insurance. It is a very expensive COBRA'd benefit made more affordable by a 9 month subsidy through the "stimulus package." It turned out however, that my insurance plan was not sufficient to cover me in Virginia - and I was moving in a week. But even that turned out okay.

I have amazing people in my life who rallied round. My doctors and friends made sure I got in to Dana Farber Cancer Institute and was seen and treated by the best of the best, faster than I ever believed could be possible. Friends and former colleagues moved heaven and earth to ensure that my available health insurance plan was modified (even though I no longer work there!) to cover my follow-up care in both Boston and in Charlottesville.

And so here I found myself. Missing two tiny pieces of my anatomy ( a lymph node and small lump ) and suddenly - like Dorothy landing in Oz - in a new and colorful land. In the south. Virginia. In the Blue Ridge mountains.

I have a pathology report. The pathology report is almost entirely good. No signs at all of cancer in the lymph node. And the lump that was removed was very small, I detected it very, very early (and I should say, somewhat serendipitously. I have some good luck or a god watching over me or both) On the down side, I must return to Boston in two weeks time because the "margin" around the removed lump - the area of cancer free tissue - was just a tiny bit too small and they want to "re-excise" it to ensure a nice clear margin of cancer-free tissue. Annoying, but nothing to worry about. I'm told they will go right back in where they did before (no new scar, recycling the old).

Oh! That's something else I have. Two small, rather delicate scars - about 2.5" long each. One in my left armpit, and one - without arousing too many prurient images I hope - on the upper portion of my left breast. They are a little annoying, sensitive, itch a bit as they heal and the stitches dissolve. They are healing nicely thank you and will probably be nearly undetectable in time. Thank you Dr. Iglehart.

I have a couple of weeks of unemployment benefits left and perhaps some unknown number of weeks of extended benefits. I cannot tell about the extended benefits yet. I spent over three weeks dialing and navigating the labyrinthine telphone menus of the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). At the end of each attempt to call, I found I couldn't even get in a hold queue; the lines are simply so overloaded that the recording just tells you to call back on another day (not "later" - but "on Friday" or "on Tuesday"). I also can't tell when my claim should be switched to a claim through Virginia as I have similar problems getting through to Virginia. I finally got through to the Massachusetts Extended Benefits line this week. The caseworker - who was very nice and patient - told me that I have to wait until I actually exhaust my regular benefit and then call back to file my extended claim. And I will.

I have a very thick file of jobs that I've applied for and either heard nothing, or received polite rejections. It's a bigger file even than the one that I compiled in my third year of law school and shortly thereafter. I could have wallpapered my office with that one. This one will rival it substantially.

Recently however, I have developed some hope. At last I have an agency in Richmond - an hour and some down the road - who after an interview and exhaustive testing and conflict checking, is anxious to put me to work on temporary "document review" jobs. I even had an assignment, until the law firm decided they weren't ready to start their project. Still it is something.

That's okay. Since I don't have an assignment I can take advantage of an invitation to my cousin's beach home next week. She lives on Bald Head Island in North Carolina and decided that we - Diane and I and dog - could use a break before my next trip to Boston for the "re-excision." I have some kind and generous family members.

I am trying very hard not to dwell on what I have not. Not having a job or a piece of flesh is a fact, not a feeling. I can't change those. I have plenty of feelings around those facts and other events. But feelings are not facts. Feelings must simply be felt and let go. The love, the fear, the anger, the gratitude. Feel them all and move on.

There are other things that I want, or think that I need. I could just as easily list them here - those things I have not. But chasing a negative - what I have not - is not helpful. It is destructive. It is something to let go of and accept. And acceptance, plus gratitude for what I have, is what I will try to maintain, in this moment, precious moment, in time.