Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Flesh-Colored Walls

In between losing my job in early December and Christmas, I was diagnosed with Basal Cell Melanoma: skin c-word. I noticed an area on my arm that was pinkish and sometimes itchy for about a year, but was reassured by my general doctor on several occasions that we would "just keep an eye on it" for now. I don't know about you, but of all the things I'd like to "keep an eye on", cancer isn't really one of them. In fact, I didn't like to look at it at all and sometimes I would scratch before realizing what I was scratching—and get totally eeked out. I was motivated to get it checked, however, by the fact that I'd lost my job and could eventually no longer have insurance. It was time to make all those doctor appointments, whether I was ready or not.

I thought the "Skin Cancer & Dermatology of Columbus" I found online through my insurance provider list sounded like the right place. After all, that's a pretty serious name, surely they must be top-notch. I made an appointment and had a biopsy. They would call me with the results and we'd go from there. Sounds easy enough. A few days later they called. I recognized the number and hit "decline" on my phone. I had that deer-in-headlight feeling. Already overwhelmed with losing my job and anxiety about the holidays, I decided to put off anything more until after the holidays. I didn't return any calls until 2012.

One good thing about me is I am forgetful. Well, forgetful in terms of "I don't wanna think about it so I'm not gonna" and I didn't.

Fast forward to Monday, January 30, 2012.

Always appropriate
For anyone that doesn't know, and I don't know how you wouldn't know, I have the best work wife ever. She's not really my wife, she's my bestie from work, and now, well, just my bestie. She insisted that she take me to my surgery, sent reminder texts (not too many to throw me into panic mode), and probably worried a little more than she led on. I have a million blogs to share with you about her, but I'll save those for later.

We got lost on the way there which was fine because work wife's are prompt and she arrived early. One of the things I love about Amber is she's funny and our times together are spent mostly laughing and bantering funny stuff back and forth. Sometimes we don't even need words to get it—just a glance or a gesture is good for a laugh.

The outside appearance of the building was nice and very typical of a brick doctor's office building—but more counter-intuitive. The entrance was on the side and there were stairs going to a half-basement area that led to another door, which didn't look very inviting. We chose the "Road More Traveled" door, which happened to be the 2nd Floor. We took a seat in the early 90's decor waiting area. The waiting area was an interior designer's nightmare. As we made note of each item in the room, carefully studying the wall color (which we named "Flesh"), and realized none of it made any sense, our nerves probably got the best of us and we got the giggles. Bad design, miss-mash pieces of furniture, a what-used-to-be-white 3" thick looped rug (or "hot lava" to elderly people), and flesh walls. That wasn't so awful but when it was compiled with the magazine selection of "Cheerleader", "Audubon Society" and "Fortune" (so the doctor likes money, girls, and birds—who doesn't?), and the amount of DUST everywhere—it felt a bit Twilight Zonish. The wait was long enough for us to catch the Penguin Series on "Planet Earth". A baby penguin was rescued out of an ice hole about 2" in diameter even though it was about the size of a chicken. I'm still wondering about that one. 

The first thing I noticed in the procedure room was a regular, household scale on the floor. I wondered if they weighed people before and after to see how much weight they lost, or if it was for the standard weigh in for your chart. Either way, I wasn't stepping on it. Not because I was afraid of my weight, but because at one time that scale was white and now it was dirt colored and calibrated at +10lbs. We agreed it was from "Harts" department store, before they went out of business in 1988ish. The other items in the room were pretty standard: an illustrated poster (copyright 1979) of a cross-section hunk of skin I assumed—complete with photos of various skin c-words—all gross (mine wasn't that gross), a lab cabinet with instruments (we reassured each other they were sterile—"no, really, they are"), a wax-paper covered patient table, and flesh walls. Let's go back to the patient table. The base of it had a thick layer of dust that totally warranted writing "wash me", but Amber went with "Really?" and quickly snapped a picture as the doctor came in.

"Wash Me"
Dr. Chen came in and got down to business measuring, reading notes, injecting my arm with 4 syringes full of local anesthetic—which I felt notably disappointed that it was not "happy medicine".
Fortunately for us, the doctor was more amused by our nervous laughter than annoyed by it. He first drew an outline with a pretty purple marker. This was a relief to me since I believe in the "measure twice, cut once" rule. It was a nice design that looked like the Egyptian Eye of Horus.

"Eye of Horus" medium: flesh

Even though my pre-game Xanax kicked in, I was still a little nervous. I thought this would be a good time to discuss the office decor and offered ideas as he seemed receptive to doing some updating. The conversation went kind of like this:

"'s...a little dreary and blah in here, have you thought about painting—maybe sprucing up the place?" I bluntly asked because I say inappropriate things when I'm nervous.

"What, you don't like the color? It's flesh colored. Well, my flesh color, not yours" He said, obviously noting his Asian descent. Remember back to the eye contact-telepathy between Amber and I? It was one of those yes-we-noticed-but-are-pc-enough-to-not-mention-it observations that make you feel awkward. He continued to make jokes about where he went to medical school—Sally Struthers School of Medicine, Phoenix, etc. I asked him if his mom taught him how to sew. He said that he learned to sew on his book bags back in school. I had a visual of him sewing through thick canvassy material as he was sewing up my delicate skin. "Wow, that looks pretty good!" he said,  surprised at his sewing job. I wasn't sure if that comforted me or not.

Flesh walls
By the end of the surgery I had a job offer (yep, to paint and redecorate his office), a bunch of stitches, some restaurant recommendations for lunch, and no more c-word.

What have I learned?

• It's cool to wear sunscreen.

• If you're not sure of something on you body, ask your doctor. Ask two doctors. (side note: mine grew back even bigger since my biopsy a month ago—these can be fast little bastards so don't put it off)

• Amber is a trooper for her photo documentation (I didn't post the "oh gross! what is that?" pics) and turned something crappy into a really great day!

• Don't judge a doctor by his office. He actually did a great job and is a pretty cool dude.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Preface, sort of.

On December 7, 2011 (ironically, officially deemed "D Day") I was 1 of 550 that lost their jobs at one of the top educational publishing companies where I had worked for the last 9 years. Although there had been a fairly reliable rumor for about a month prior that there would be possible layoffs, I was still shocked.

I packed up my office, said my goodbyes, turned in my badge, (which was always good for a laugh—a photo of me in a suit with shoulder pads, really–REALLY bad hair, and now admittedly, a hangover) turned in my laptop and headed home. Funny, a million different emotions and thoughts all summed up into a single sentence.

The first few weeks I spent mostly being manic: cleaning my house, job searching, working on projects, making appointments, networking, THINKING, preparing and experiencing the holidays (single, because things weren't fun enough already), THINKING, getting diagnosed with skin cancer, hanging out with friends, and thinking some more. I felt so lost. After doing (just a little) thinking, my thoughts began to change from the past to the present and eventually to the future.

Since all bad things happened to me last year, I also had to lose my job during the winter. Bring on the Seasonal Affective Disorder. I've made very few decisions over the past 6 weeks, but one of them is that on the rare surprise of a sunny day I will make myself venture out and have fun so that the remaining yucky-cold-dreary days can be spent at home, which happens to be my favorite place.

Although a large part of me was upset and disappointed about losing my job, there was an even larger part that was a little bit excited. You see, I loved my job. I truly did. It was everything I needed it to be. I've made great friendships with many of my coworkers over the years so going to work was kind of like hanging out with your friends on a Friday night, minus the alcohol (mostly).

I always thought if I didn't have my job I would pursue my creative side and be a painter, or a writer, or a photographer. I've always had a passion for photography—and I still have my original Minolta X370 SLR camera I got for my fifteenth birthday. I discovered that I like to paint about a year ago after surprising myself with a dozen or so not-too-bad-if-I-say-so-myself paintings. I've always wanted to be a writer, but never thought it was the right time. My writing skills consist of emails, cover letters, facebook posts, texts, chats, (which are hilarious and should be published some day—anonymously, of course) and the occasional technical documentation that's been reviewed and approved by a dozen but read by none. Long story short, I've decided to take this time as an opportunity to explore my creative side and see what happens next.

Welcome to my world. I've decided a blog would be a great way to start writing—to fulfill my need to be creative by writing about my creations, accomplishments, and obsession de jour.

Next up: What's Next?

Severance packages naturally ease the pain of losing your job. In fact, when I was in the HR office and heard the words "I'm sorry, [X Company] is restructuring its operations and as a result certain positions are being eliminated. As a result of this action, your employment with [X Company] will terminate" I was a little (OK, a lot) overwhelmed and I felt my eyes swell with tears. My first thought was "wow! this is the first time I've cried in a long time" and I wanted to stop immediately. I could see the tiny HR lady talking, but I could not decipher her words until I heard the words "severance package" and "separation pay".

I was not eager to sign my severance package because surely they would realize they made a mistake and offer my job back to me. Yea, that didn't happen so I signed it and accepted the fact that I was now among the unemployed. Although I do love a pajama day probably more than most people, being unemployed isn't for me. I need structure, a schedule, someone to tell me what to do, projects to manage, office gossip, daily interaction with my work wife, a crappy cafe (at least the service was always good—not really), weekly pranks or crashing the art & design meeting for free donuts.

No longer having a job kind of makes you think about the future. Pretty much 24/7. What do I want to do? Where do I want to work? Do I want to continue my career in publishing? Do I want to live in Ohio anymore? Do I want to live in a tinyhouse ( Can I just sell sea shells by the sea shore? Who am I? OMG, I'm 43 and single and I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. What. How does that happen? Well, turns out it happens to a lot of people and after reading the internets (yes, all of them) I've discovered that I am not unique. Many people lose their job at my age. A lot of those people go on to pursue their passions in life and are successful in finding happiness. I don't know the answers to any of my questions, but I do know I've been given an opportunity to do some soul-searching. So that's what I'm going to do.

Google found my soul.
OK, I'm back. I Googled "where's my soul?" and even Google didn't have the answer. Whew! That's good news because when you make a commitment to "soul search", you suddenly become overwhelmed. I'm pretty sure I have a soul, but finding it and not knowing what that even means, sounds big.