Lean In

I just got my first round of labs back after my parathyroid surgery in September and the results were very disappointing:  my calcium and PTH levels are exactly the same as they were the day before surgery.   It is not 100% certain at this early stage, but this likely means we didn’t get all the bad glands during surgery.  Merlin was only able to locate three parathyroid glands (most people have four, but people can have less than four or way more than four as well) during surgery and two of the glands looked healthy so only one was removed.  Does this mean there is still another bad gland hiding somewhere in my chest?  Time would tell but it looks like the writing is on the wall, at least in chalk.

I am not at all upset at Merlin – I think he was very thorough and careful.  He spent 3 1/2 hours exploring my neck and the top of my chest during the surgery.  He removed one hyperplastic gland. He biopsied all of the remaining glands and removed a bunch of lymph nodes and some residual thymus as well.  For all these reasons, I am very glad I had the surgery and I am glad Merlin was my surgeon.   I also knew there was a very high probability I would need another parathyroid surgery down the road, as the two tiny healthy glands that he did find and biopsy were likely going to eventually go rogue at some point too.  But I did hope for a few years between now and then with no parathyroid problems in the interim.

The really crappy thing is that I had decided today was the day I was going to try and start transitioning back to work.  Maybe just a few hours a week, but I wanted to try.  I certainly don’t feel well enough to work full-time at this stage.  I am not even sure how consistently I can work part-time.  But I feel well enough to at least try.  I loved my job and I miss work.  I miss my colleagues.  I miss feeling like a productive member of society.  I am not saying that is how people that aren’t working should feel, but that is how I feel.  Work was a huge part of my life and I liked it that way.  Getting back to work, for me, means getting back to normal.   I am not ready to let go of my career, not even close, despite the fact I have been off work for the last two years.

I had initially planned on going to work first thing in the morning.  That changed when I got the email with my labs.  I needed to process these results, which were clearly a setback.  I was doing pretty well for the first few hours this morning.   I was going to do a few things at home, go for a walk, and then try going to work in the afternoon.  I made my way onto the bike path behind our house and I wasn’t even a mile from home when I started sobbing.   The disappointment hit me hard.  Why can’t anything just go smoothly?  Just once?  I am sick of surgeries.  I am sick of problems.  And what did this mean for my ability to go back to work?  How can I go back to work, knowing it is probably temporary?  How many surgeries are still coming?  How many hours am I feasibly going to be able to work?  Will I ever be able to work like my old self again?  I just felt so overwhelmed and defeated.

I called a dear friend, my sister-in-law, to vent about this news as I walked and bawled.  She commiserated with me and then reminded me of a very important fact:  I AM getting better.  Twice now in the past two years, I have been so sick that I was bed bound because of two different sets of tumors.  Twice, surgery made me better.  I am nowhere close to 100% better.  I am still pretty weak, I tire easily, I am still carrying around an extra 50 pounds from tumor #1.  I am only at about 60% – but that is a hell of a lot better than the 5% I was at before.   A good cry and this reminder did make me feel better.

The other thing that made me feel a lot better was the words of wisdom from another very smart woman – Sheryl Sandberg.   One of the partners at my firm, another amazing woman who became partner at a crazy young age and manages to balance a young family and a demanding career with grace, recommended the book “Lean In” to me some time ago.  I decided to listen to the book on Audible while I walk as a way to pass the time.  After I finished my phone conversation, I decided to pick up where I had left off in the book at the end of my last walk.  As I sniffled my way along the bike path, listening to the book, I felt like Sheryl Sandberg was talking directly to me.  She was talking about one of the biggest mistakes she sees women make in their careers – women that are planning to have kids in the future often start scaling back the types of projects they take on and the role they play at work well before they get pregnant in anticipation of the fact that they will be taking time off to have a baby in the future.  Sandberg tells her readers that this period of time – the time when you are anticipating having to take time off in the future – is exactly the time to “lean in” and take on challenging projects.  Work while you can.  Take off time when you must.   Good advice for women planning families and good advice for me.

I walked home, washed the tear marks off my face, and started to get ready to go to work.

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