Who am I?

I was signed off from work this week. I had hoped that I might be able to work through my chemotherapy. My employer had agreed disability leave for the treatments and then if I was ill I could take a few days off sick as and when I needed them. Sounded doable to me! Then I met with the oncologist. I asked about work and they said that if I worked in a small office with a few people and could get there without using public transport then that would be fine.  During chemo I will have next to no immune system. Picking up a bit of a sniffle could be life threatening so other folk en mass, especially children, are a no go zone.

Unfortunately, unless I am working from home, which I can only do occasionally, I work in a building with 2000 other people. It’s also a public building so anyone and everyone could pass through those doors carrying with them all sorts of nasties. Ok then. Sick leave it is. I have a couple of weeks holiday first so technically I am not sick yet, but I will be. It seems ludicrous to be able to say ‘I am ok at the moment but soon I will be off sick’.

It feels so completely alien to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have been off work sick before. I enjoy my work but I’m not a workaholic. Well OK, so maybe I have already answered 3 emails today even though I am technically not working but I’m not a workaholic. I did my back in in August and had a week off then, so there.

This is different though.

Once you add up the 18 weeks of chemo, 4-6 weeks of recovery before surgery, surgery and then recovery from that and then possibly radiotherapy, well; we’re looking at around 8 months.

8 months.

When I left the building this week, I cried. I stood in the lift, descended 12 floors and cried. I am not a sentimental person. I didn’t cry because I will miss my colleagues or because I will miss my work. I will miss both those things but that’s not why I cried. I cried because leaving work this week makes me different. I am not the same me anymore. My work is important to me and to a certain extent my work defines me. I am so lucky in that I am able to do a job that I believe in. I work in local government not because of the pension but because I believe in local government. I work with communities because I believe in local communities being able to influence and shape their environments and services.

How does a person who has defined them self by what they do for over a decade go home and take it easy for 8 months? They don’t. They get a new job. My new job is tackling my cancer.

This is a great way to look at it. I will plan and execute tasks. I will probably engage my entire family in some form of joint solution focused thinking exercise. We’ll use the white board and the flip chart. There will be diagrams and some kind of matrix. There might even be a spreadsheet. I feel better just thinking about it.

The downside might be, and here’s the crux to those tears, if my new job is tackling my cancer and I define myself by my job…well, there’s no getting away from it now is there? I am a person who is sick. It doesn’t sit well with me. There’s a whole host of stuff to unpack there. I’ll leave that for another time; I have a chemo project plan and critical path analysis to prepare.

One thought on “Who am I?

  1. As soon as I started reading this I knew where you were going with it and my immediate thought was for you to approach the treatment cycles as a project, and there you are saying exactly what I was going to say to you. Impressive and very candid. I have been doing exercises like this for over 30 years, but I tend to keep them in a boxfile and take them out to re-read when I think that time and the challenges that time throws at us hasn’t made an impact on me. I am always wrong, and sometimes the revelation of how much I have grown/learned/changed is much like your description of leaving your place of work. I wrote quite a few pages at the reunion, mainly about the whole surreal experience, and how I felt about it and the people, yourself included, that helped to contribute to it. It is always worth trying to get down those elusive and sometime nebulous thoughts that effect us, you might mot get it exactly right but reviewing what you have done might just get a glimpse of what you were trying for.
    When you come through your treatments, with all the ups and downs that are waiting along the way, you will be a much more confident and stronger person for it. There will be some changes that will still effect you for a time after your treatment, but you will have learnt much about not just yourself, but others who are on the same journey that you will meet on the way. I have experienced the cancer journey vicariously, and on too many occasions, some are still with us some sadly not.
    The thing to hold onto is that once you come out the other side having gained experience and confidence from having to succeed at this new project, imagine taking a more confident, more experienced Ashley back into work. A fierce prospect indeed and one not to lose sight of.


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