The last couple of months have been very difficult. The knowledge that my LTD benefits will run out at the end of April has been incredibly hard to deal with. Knowing that I have to sell my home (because the house payment is almost as much as my SS check every month), and not having a clue what I will actually do, was making my life miserable. My depression deepend, and my anxiety grew. My therapist tried to help me turn my thoughts around, but I could not get my head around what was happening.
I went (in 2 years) from working and making a great salary to a disabled person living on 60% of my salary, and now looking at trying to live on only SS. It’s not an easy journey by any means. Although I had to cut back on a lot of things on the 60%, I was still able to live comfortably. I got rid of unnecessary things like cable TV, extravagant gifts at holidays, charitable donations (I always considered these necessary because I always wanted to give back to the charities I felt a bond with), no more trips to the spa, and no gym membership.
What in the world was I going to do? I’ve never not owned my own home (well, at least in the last 30 years). As a single mom, I worked hard to make sure my son always had a good and stable home. He did everything–swimming, baseball, basketball, soccer, 4-H, whatever he wanted to do I found a way to make it happen. Over the years, I was given more and more responsibility at work, and with that came salary increases. I found myself in great demand in the healthcare IT industry. I began to be recruited to positions with every-increasing salaries, but I didn’t take advantage of those because I wanted my son to have his home to come back to while he was in college. I stayed in Florida until my son finished graduate school and took a job in Utah.
I then accepted a transfer to a hospital in Texas. After 6 years there, I had accomplished my goals and accepted a job with a large healthcare system in Austin. I had 6 months to turn around a problematic EHR implementation, which was challenging. But, I was able to win over the clinicians, get their concerns addressed, and this resulted in a very successful go-live.
After that, I took on the challenge of helping to open a new hospital with a fully functioning EHR. We had four analysts working with department heads to get everything prepared. I started in February, and we opened in June with everything ready to to go. I loved this new little hospital, and was so proud of the job we had done. I continued to work there and help improve the EHR for another year.
During that time I had surgery to repair a deviated septum. That surgery was a disaster. During the process to try to straighten the septum, my entire nose structure fell apart. A surgery that should have taken about an hour ended up taking over 5 hours as the surgeon rebuilt my nasal structure. Unfortunately, the surgery did nothing to improve my breathing. My recovery was longer than anticipated–I had constant nose bleeds, increased difficulty breathing, incredible pain, and inability to sleep comfortably. At the same time I started to experience extreme fatigue, and I began to miss work on a regular basis. Eventually, my boss talked to me about the need to be at work on time every day. I totally understood, but I was confused by my inability to shake off these issues. I had always been a very prompt and diligent employee. I once went 10 years without a sick day! I was very healthy. But I knew something was wrong. I offered to take night call until I could overcome the pain and fatigue. I did this for weeks, but I still was not making progress. (My nose is still numb, by the way…, and it’s very difficult for me to be outside because it turns red, and I still can’t breathe normally.)
By this time, my son and his family were living in Colorado, and they kept telling me I needed to move there. I went to visit for my grandson’s 2nd birthday, they told me they still thought I should be closer. I looked online and found a job in Denver, sent my resume and application and told them I would be available to interview until the next Tuesday. They called almost immediately and I had an interview that Friday. I went home to Texas and got a call that Wednesday to offer me the job. I accepted immediately. I thought maybe a change in climate and closeness with the kids would be a good thing for me health-wise. In just over 30 days, I was at my first day at my new job. At first, everything was great. I did feel better for a while, but soon the fatigue set in again. I asked to be able to work at home a couple of days a week to avoid the stress of the morning and evening commutes. My boss agreed to this, and it did seem to help. But, the fatigue continued to worsen. I didn’t understand what was happening.
Then, one Saturday morning, I noticed something unusual in my right breast. It seemed to have a depression near my armpit. I felt it and I knew immediately what it was. I didn’t sleep for two nights knowing I couldn’t see my doctor until Monday morning. I called as soon as they opened and got an appointment for that afternoon. From there, I went immediately to the breast care center at the local hospital. I had a mammogram, then an ultrasound, and my fears were confirmed. Although I had a normal mammogram just 6 months earlier, I now had stage 3 breast cancer. It was obvious from the look on the Radiologist’s face. I had a biopsy the following afternoon. The center arranged appointments with a surgeon and oncologist for the next day. I knew they felt some urgency to get this taken care of because of the fast growth. The preliminary biopsy results were positive for malignancy, and my surgery was scheduled for that Friday. They removed the lump and 8 lymph nodes.
At least now I knew why I was so fatigued, and never felt well. Cancer takes up a lot of energy to grow, and fatigue is a apparently a common symptom.
I wrote post a while back about my experience with treatment. I won’t bore anyone with repeating that, but if you want to read it, it’s located at Cancer and Near Death.
I had chemo first, then radiation. I tried to return to work during radiation therapy, but my oncologist and I soon realized that was just making things worse. I needed to reduce my stress, not make it worse! But I did return to work the week after my treatments ended. At first, I worked from home. Then, after a few weeks, my boss asked that I start coming into the office one day a week, then two, then work up to five.
At the time, I lived in a tri-level home, but I knew I needed to move because I kept falling on the stairs. I bought a 2-story home because the laundry was on the 2nd floor and I wouldn’t have to carry laundry baskets down to the basement. That didn’t work, either. I fell without the baskets! I then found a ranch style house, but it was over an hour away from the office. I asked to be able to work from home, and I was permitted to do that, but I still had to go to the office for meetings–luckily they were few and far between.
I worked for a total of 2-1/2 years after treatment, but my health just continued to deteriorate. I had a constant UTI from sitting all day. My ability to read, comprehend and act on new or changed regulations in the Federal Register was waning. I had trouble with memory, and everyone started to finish my sentences or help with words they thought I wanted to say. I developed essential tremors in my hands, and that affected my ability to use the mouse and type. My legs started to swell during the day. I had to be at my desk on the computer all day except for lunch breaks. My IBS worsened. I cried most days out of frustration because I didn’t feel I was doing my job as well as I should. One day, my boss called when I was in tears. She suggested I take a leave to see if getting away from the stress would allow my health issues improve. My doctor agreed.
The short-term disability turned into long-term disability. More about that in my post Too Old for Disability? And I found myself faced with how to deal with my new circumstances–more about that in Where to go from HERE?
Well, I have now decided where I will go from here. My house goes on the market next week. My old house in Texas will be ready for me to buy back at the end of the month. The kids are OK with this decision. My grandson is excited because there is lots of good fishing close to my home. And a friend of mine will be more than happy to take him fishing with him and his wife. So, he’s OK with the move.
It just seems like 2020 will be a better year! I have hope, and I have something to look forward to! More later…