Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why Keep Working?

No one has actually asked me this question, although perhaps folks have wondered to themselves, or asked each other. With my serious diagnosis of gallbladder cancer, stage IV, and now the new tumor and chemotherapy, why keep working? My good friend Bev was talking about my diagnosis with some friends of hers who are around "our age" (60 or pushing thereabouts), and they wondered why I wasn't traveling the world, or doing something similarly exotic. Instead, I had to get "exotic" cancer!

There are the children and their schooling, although they could learn anywhere. There are a variety of answers to this question, and I'm sure I'm not going to think of all of them today. But the question, and my answers, have been in my mind, and I want to share them. I think my reasons carry varied weight at different moments. And I want to be clear that if I am too sick to work, I will certainly stop. I'm not a martyr, and folks at my work have been wonderfully supportive of me through my health challenges over the last 8 months and 1 week.

Why keep working? In no particular order . . .

*** Financial reasons. My income is a significant source of income for our family, and, almost as important, my work is the place providing my health insurance, which is wonderfully comprehensive. I think about someone struggling with a diagnosis like mine, and having financial problems and no health insurance to pay for doctor visits, medical examinations, chemotherapy, tests, all of the things that have become part of my life in these months. I wouldn't choose voluntarily to put my family in that position if I could help it. If I have to stop working, we'll figure it out, but . . . money and health insurance are important.

***Because I can. As long as I'm well enough to work, why not? I love what I do, have worked hard to get good at it, and appreciate the relationships I form with students, colleagues, and the larger university community, and I also appreciate the opportunity for intellectual stimulation.

***Generative expression. This phrase comes from psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, who envisioned eight stages over the life cycle, and the 7th is "generativity versus stagnation." He saw this as the main stage of mature adulthood, where (as I remember) one has the opportunity to be productive, as by using the education gained in childhood and young adulthood to develop a profession or career, and be a useful member of society. I'm getting a little long-winded here (me?), but this is the word that keeps coming to me. I want to be useful, I want to be productive, I want to have the normalcy that comes from continuing to work. I have no illusions about being indispensable; I know that I'm not. But, I am useful, I do know a lot about how my job works, and I value the opportunity to continue to share that.

***Something to focus on besides my body. I don't want to be so obsessed with every twinge and tweak in my body that I go nutty. With work to think about, I am taken out of my self- focus, and given other things to think about. Yes, my health is important, and I am doing my best to balance all of this, but work is part of the balance for me. Take it away, and I may become too focused on bodily functions and processes! And yes, I like to think that I'll know when the time comes to leave work behind and focus more exclusively on intimate relationships and my spiritual self, and to leave work behind. I don't think that time is now (and I recognize that my body could have a different agenda). Expectancy, and hope, not expectations.

A postscript to all of this is that I had a good day today. By late afternoon, I commented to Patty that I'm feeling good (and almost afraid to say so, in that superstitious way we humans can have). I feel more myself, my energy has been strong, and I feel more like the person I was before I began chemo. And, I confess, I stayed home to work today instead of going to the city, but I don't think it's just about that. I seem to be managing the nausea I occasionally feel, I'm getting used to "pins and needles" (and they are slowly subsiding), and I'm taking care of mouth, hands and feet against possible side effects (more on that in another post).

Today was a good day. I celebrate that. Tomorrow I return to the city to teach my classes, and I celebrate that as well.

Thanks to all of you who have been posting and sending me hope, love, support, and all sorts of good things. I so value your sharing this journey with me. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Lynne - I have NEVER wondered why you are continuing to work. I would make exactly the same decision for exactly the same reasons, I think. Work is important for mental health and social identity and those are both part of wellness.
I'm really glad you had a good day. - Cathy

noone said...

I completely understand where you're coming from and your reasons all make perfect sense.

As you know, Mom and I are extremely focused on her cancer because it has been difficult to manage. She has continually said, the worst thing is not the cancer per se, it's feeling so tired, not able to do anything, or to get her mind off of it. So as long as you can work and keep your day-to-day the way it's always been -- especially since you love your work and the interactions with people -- that is something very valuable. You're so right.

I can't tell you how happy I am that your treatment hasn't compromised your life in this regard. It's hopeful and inspiring for me at least to see that you are doing so well!

Your students and co-workers are lucky to have you. Someone with so much to share, who so loves doing it, is a real gift.

Thanks for this post especially :) {Hug} You're doing great and I have no doubt you will keep it up!!

Anonymous said...

Lynne, Hello. My wife has stage IV GB cancer. We live in Columbia, SC. I am not totally up on your BLOG but interested in keeping up with you. I feel I know you. My wife just started back on a new chemo regiment (second session) and had hoped to begin Avastin (sp?) but there were complications that prevented it. Keep is good for you and us. Think positive thoughts. - Brian

glightfoot said...

Hi Lynn,

I've been a reader of your blog for a few months now. I found it through a link on

Going through the life-changing experience of an exotice cancer myself, I appreciate your viewpoint. I am currently working full-time as well -- mostly for the same reason as you. Thank you for being so articulate.