It feels odd to be writing about timing while living through cancer and COVID. While I do not believe that everything happens for a reason, I am a strong believer that things tend to work out. While I didn’t always recognize it at the time, a lot of things have timed themselves well for me this year. It is never a good time to have cancer, but having it during COVID hasn’t been the worst thing.
We were planning to vacation in Palm Springs in June to celebrate J’s 40th birthday. I was really looking forward to spending some time in the sun with family and friends. I had already given notice to my new job and was ready for a week relaxing by the pool. Due to the uncertainties in the early days of COVID, though, we cancelled the vacation in April. We didn’t want to wait until the last minute and risk not getting a refund if we were not able to go.
In hindsight, it was good that we had to cancel since I was diagnosed in May and started treatment in June. If we had not cancelled the vacation earlier, we probably would not have gotten all of our money back and the lack of a vacation would be even more of a bummer.
Plus, I’m in good company – most people didn’t take a vacation due to COVID. I am already the person who brings disinfectant wipes on an airplane. Even without my diagnosis I wouldn’t have taken a vacation this year, even though I could really use one.
People are more aware of their health than they were before COVID. Many people who were more lax in their hygiene are now better about washing their hands and staying home when they are sick. People, for the most part, wear masks when they are around others. While I was masking-up early in the pandemic, I didn’t realize that I would soon be immunocompromised.
With health in the forefront, people have been very considerate of my health since I’ve been diagnosed. I haven’t had any well intentioned but unexpected folks stop by my house insisting on a visit. Instead I get texts and waves. It’s lovely not having to turn people away because the pandemic has made them more aware of the risk of casual contact getting people sick. My white blood cell counts have been very good, but still way below that of a person without cancer. Nobody wants to be the person that gets me sick.
I started working from home just as WA was closing up for COVID. At the time, I thought how lucky the timing was – going from the germy library to working from home. The timing continues to have worked out for me with my diagnosis and treatments.
I work for a very thoughtful company, one that really prioritizes a balance between work and life, something not at the forefront with many tech jobs. Before I was officially diagnosed there were a lot of medical appointments. I didn’t have to formally ask for time off, worry about using up my sick time, or find coverage for when I was unavailable to work. Having come from customer service, this was a huge luxury. While I’m sure the library would have made it work, it would have been a constant source of stress and paperwork.
With the library cautiously reopening, I am so thankful that I have my new job. I loved my time working at the library, but I have never been sick more often than I was when I worked there. There are so many shared surfaces and things that cannot be disinfected. I helped so many sickly people who had to fax something to their doctor before an appointment or email their employer a note from their doctor.
When I disclosed my diagnosis at work, aside from assuring me that they offer health insurance, they gave me advanced notice (just a few days) that they planned on keeping me on after my trial period. That made navigating a new career, my diagnosis and living through a pandemic so much easier.
Now, I make my own schedule and take breaks when I want to. I don’t have to work 40 hours a week or push myself to meet arbitrary deadlines. I don’t even have to work at the same time as my coworkers, since they are all over the globe anyway. Work trusts that I will do my best and work when I can. I think they’d prefer me to push myself a little less than I do, but I really enjoy the challenges and learning that work provides. Today is actually the first day I’ve taken off for anything non-medical since starting there in March.
For the last few years I’ve felt like I was on the brink of big changes: I went back to school, planned on changing careers, challenged myself in ways I would have once thought out of my reach. With so many life changes happening all at once, I feel like there’s a clear line between then and now.
There was no gray area or doing anything halfway. February 2020 was normal and then everything began to change in March and April. Could I have done with a bit more of a gentle transition period? Sure, but having everything change over such a short period of time really made me prioritize what’s important and didn’t allow me time to sweat the small stuff.
I have also been reminded throughout this journey, that as much as I dread change, I can handle it. I’ve had people tell me how strong I am and I’ve always sort of questioned that. I just do what I have to do, but I guess that is a show of strength. I could mope or stop trying but that isn’t going to get me anywhere productive. And while I still fear the unknown, I have learned what tools work to help lessen my stress in times of uncertainties.
And speaking of uncertainties, on Wednesday I start my new treatment. Again, I haven’t done much research on the myriad of potential things that could go wrong. I will deal with them as they arise with the support of my medical team and all of you. It will be nice visiting the hospital every other week, rather than weekly. I worry about losing my eyebrows or gaining weight, but since there’s nothing I can do about those things I just try to acknowledge the worry and move on.
Besides continuing to be tired, I’ve had my first real side effect from my treatments – hypothyroidism. Thyroid issues are common with treatment and I already had a predisposition from an overactive thyroid several years ago. My medical team has been watching my thyroid numbers over the last few months and they have been all over the charts.
One of the possible side effects from the Pembro/Keytruda is irritation to the thyroid, causing it to release all of your stored hormone and then failing to make any more. That is probably why my thyroid numbers were up (hyper) before falling drastically (hypo). Today I met with an endocrinologist who explained all of this to me (remotely!) and tomorrow I will start taking a thyroid replacement. This is likely going to be a lifelong condition for me, but it sounds like it is even easier to treat than my hyperactive thyroid. They’ll continue checking on my thyroid as I continue treatment.
Other than that, I am going to enjoy my days off today and tomorrow. I’m planning some cleaning, practicing some self-care and just taking a moment to breathe and recenter myself before starting my new treatment.