Category: Work

The Conundrum of Cancer: The Prologue

I wasn’t going to write about how this all started—it seemed irrelevant. Then I was asked about my symptoms by a friend because she was experiencing symptoms similar to mine. However, this prologue is about more than just the symptoms—it’s the entire experience with the medical field leading up to diagnosis. I don’t know if this will help any other women or not, but here is what I know to be true about my circumstances. If you don’t want to read all the way through, I’ll bullet point my specific symptoms and thoughts at the end.

In 2013, my heavy periods became increasingly heavier. Given my age (45), this seemed appropriate. My uterus was doing its job and preparing my body for menopause. No one thought otherwise. Sure, I had some abnormal paps, caused by HPV, but not the HPV that causes cervical cancer.

In 2015, my gynecologist at one facility wanted to do a colposcopy because of some abnormal cells were found. She was quick to say in her email that the cells were not cancer. She didn’t even suggest they were pre-cancerous. I scheduled, rescheduled around my menses, rescheduled around a medical emergency she had, tried to schedule again, but by then she left the organization. I gave up and knew I was changing medical insurance anyway, so I didn’t worry about it.

In late 2016, I started becoming increasingly fatigued, to the point that by February 2017, I was scheduling a doctor’s appointment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be seen for an annual checkup until April. So, in mid-February, I stopped by the doctor’s office to drop off my new patient paperwork and to see if I could be seen sooner—I was barely able to function. My primary care physician (PCP) wasn’t available, so I opted to see the nurse practitioner a few days later. When I described my symptoms, she thought it was likely my thyroid, and ordered a full panel. There were no concerns about my periods. A day later and two hours after I went to the lab for my blood work, I was called by a now slightly panicked nurse practitioner, who told me,“there really was something wrong with me,” and that my hematocrit and hemoglobin were too low. She sent me to the emergency room. From there, my blood was tested again, and I had a stool sample tested, as well as an abdominal sonogram and vaginal ultrasound. The only thing found was a thick lining of the uterus. I moved forward with my two-unit blood transfusion and it was recommended to have my endometrial lining biopsied. My pap in April came back negative, but my PCP wanted me to have a colposcopy, along with the other biopsy. I was referred to a gynecologist for both of the aforementioned procedures. However, this doctor’s main concern was my anemia and bleeding, so she recommended an endometrial ablation to stop or slow down my periods. She was less concerned with the biopsies.

From there, it took months to schedule the ablation. The surgery scheduler would call with one date, which inevitably didn’t work with my schedule or my cycle. I was told I’d be called back within three or four days with a new date, then I’d never get a call. So, I called a week or two later. And on and on. My PCP suggested I ask about the anesthesia and whether or not the procedure needed to be scheduled around my cycle. The periods weren’t an issue, but the anesthesia was and I was trying to schedule around work. And then I got tired of the phone tag and lack of responsiveness. I gave up for a while. And then the fires happened in October. By then, I was over having heavy periods and always needing to wear a pad. And then I lost two of my staff in early December.

Finally, on 27 February 2018, I went in for the ablation, and two days later I was diagnosed with cancer.

Here were my symptoms, prior to diagnosis:

  • Heavy periods for at least one to two days. Sometimes changing thick pads a couple times an hour, sometimes a little less often. The entire period would last around 8 days.
  • Cycles where I would go through about 20+ pads over the course of two to three days.
  • Spotting between periods over the last year or so.
  • Sloughed pieces of tissue that were not endometrial lining.
  • A few skipped periods.
  • A watery-bloody discharge between periods, starting November 2017 or so (this is a definite symptom of uterine cancer).
  • Anemia (to the point of needing a blood transfusion)
  • Over-production of estrogen (although I didn’t know this was happening or was a symptom)

Not one medical professional, over the course of five years, suggested I have my hormone levels checked or told me that abnormally heavy periods are caused by excess estrogen, and excess estrogen causes cancer. Now I know.

If you are exhibiting these symptoms as a perimenopausal woman, and you are ignored or are getting blow-back from your doctor, push for hormone tests and biopsies anyway. Bleeding after the onset of menopause is abnormal, so cancer is usually caught sooner. If your doctor isn’t concerned, make sure she/he is.

The reason I shared the entire story was to help other women understand how long it took to get my needs met, and that my symptoms, albeit not entirely ignored, didn’t concern enough doctors. If I had pushed harder and been seen sooner, I may have been in the pre-cancerous stage, or early cancer stage. Instead, I have had a radical hysterectomy, and will most likely be undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation, with treatment starting soon. My chance of recurrence without treatment is 25%. If any of this helps one woman under the age of 55 (or over, if need be) get diagnosed early, then all of this will have been worth it.

The Conundrum of Right Livelihood: Getting Out of the Rabbit Hole, Introduction

This series of posts stems from a chat I had with a friend about finding *right livelihood and the lack of self-help gurus who address the middle place, also known as limbo, or as I like to call it, the Professional Rabbit Hole. This is the place where I seem to have fallen, career-wise, and I’m not finding satisfactory help or reading  material on this issue. The goal of this series is to document my process from being employed in an unsatisfactory job (my current situation) to finding a job and employer I love and/or fruitful self-employment. My hopes: these writings will help me, and maybe others, who are feeling particularly stuck career-wise. Here is a little background on how I got here—maybe you can relate:

I have 30+ years of work and volunteer experience, a bachelor’s degree, a certificate from the Leadership for a Sustainable Future program, and have been self-employed. I’ve worked hard, long hours, skipped lunches, waived overtime, shown up sick, all of it. However, as an employee, I have found a lack of professional growth opportunities. I can’t get the experience I need to move beyond barely-above-entry-level, and management doesn’t support upward mobility. I also can’t get promoted. In my current job as a civil servant, I cannot work above my job class to get needed experience. However, I can be given plenty of assignments that are at least one or two steps below my classification, which keeps me stuck on the employment carousel. In the three years I’ve worked for local government, I’ve become jaded and frustrated with the entire system. Management is incompetent and nasty at times, and they make up the rules as they go. Meaningful leadership is generally lacking. The work itself is boring—as an administrative aide, I’m using skills I developed 20-30 years ago. The “foot in the door” is a myth—there is no where to go, and most departments either promote from within, have highly specific requirements for the job, and/or prefer to hire from the outside. Government, for me, has been a dead-end. The non-profit and academic sectors aren’t much better.

Given my work situation, I’m looking for other opportunities. However, searches at Idealist and Indeed lead me to dread and overwhelm. Jobs that look interesting are: 

  • Located in an expensive area to live without appropriate compensation;
  • Want three employees for the price of one; and/or
  • Are looking for experience that I don’t have because I can’t get it in my current position.

All other jobs pay $10+/hour less than what I’m making now, and are at an even lower level than I’m working currently. I also seem to either sort through hundreds of jobs, or have a list of three (is there any in between, anywhere?). Finding a job that’s a good fit looks grim. 

That’s my struggle of finding a job and employer I enjoy, while making enough money to survive. The other struggle is finding the right “help.” I’ve gone to JobLink, participated in workshops, talked with career counselors, taken the MBTI® and Strong Interest Inventory® tests. I took a couple of online classes in Project Management (but can’t get experience using what I’ve learned). Over the years, I’ve used a plethora of tools developed by a variety of self-help gurus. Many have helped me spiritually and creatively. A lot of them teach self-love as a way of moving forward and getting what you want out of life—but I already love myself. That’s not to say that they aren’t useful—they just don’t seem to address my particular situation. The help I find in this genre for careers is one of three categories:

  • Ground-zero for people who don’t know who they are or what they want;
  • Entrepreneurs who already have a business and want to grow it; or
  • Successful business owners who want to take their work international.

There doesn’t seem to be anything in between. I have yet to find the book, So, You’re Stuck in this Wonky Professional Place of Neither Here nor There, Are Educated and Skilled, Know Who You Are and What You Want, but Can’t Get From Point A to Point B to Point C—Here’s What to Do About It.

That’s where I am, in the middle—the rabbit hole—not so far down that I can’t see the light, but not out in the sun, either.

*I’m defining right livelihood as work I love that serves a higher good/bigger picture, effectively uses my skills and talents, provides a better-than-surviving wage, and where I am treated with respected. Right livelihood definitions may vary from person to person; and I reserve the right to tweak the definition for myself, as needed.