Trying and Crying, an Igloo made of Tears: Employment after Cancer

I pounded my fists into the snow, packing down the bucket, an obsessive attempt at completing the igloo Julian had started. Being only 6, he gave up about two bricks into the process before returning to his sled.

Sliding the icy cylinder into place, soaking in the silence of winter, I let the first fiery tears eek out the corners of my eyes. Then, I couldn’t hold back, I found myself suddenly full on sobbing into the snow remembering what a stupid ass I had made of myself in that job interview. The sting of embarrassment was so deep that I silently prayed they would forget all about it and just do me the favor of never calling me back.

It was my first real interview for a full time job since the breast cancer diagnosis in 2014. As fate would have it, I had a stomach bug just 2 days before the interview, so when I arrived, there were tinges of fuzziness that certainly didn’t allow me to put my best self forward. The interviewees sat around me in a semi-circle reading from a list of questions, and all I could hear were pens scratching paper, my consciousness lifting about 3 feet above my head, right there in the corner, trying to find a way out. A hot flash came on, I wanted to tear at my clothing, crack the door, open a window. Does this flush look like embarrassment? Someone asked another question and that name I was searching for evaded me, the chemo brain had just punched that piece of memory out of reach.

Was all of this, even the opportunity, just a sympathetic gesture for the cancer survivor? Am I still viable as a contributing member of society? My heart and hands yearn to be busy, to contribute, to share my passion and my ideas. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t all that bad, but really truly that wasn’t my best self in the room that day.

Is it not enough that I sloughed through 5 months of treatment, that my breasts and ovaries were cut away from me, that there will be no more babies? I told my husband that I am tired of fighting, this fighting for my life and fighting for survival. He said then just stop fighting and start loving, start allowing. There is so much at stake though, so much risk. When we are talking about the nuts and bolts of survival, like the big small stuff of paying bills on time, keeping the vehicles in operating condition, making sure we have health insurance, that our kid is happy and well, it mounts to a pile of responsibility. That is on the table right now, not to even get into the looking over my shoulder at the ever uncertain future.

I remember the saying, “All is well, all is well, all manner of things shall be well,” and I’m really not so sure. I don’t see a lot of OK-ness reflected in the 24 hour news cycle, nothing seems OK at home or abroad. I look for it online on my social media feed but it’s too unsettling there. Where does this elusive feeling of OKness reside and how can I cloak myself in it?

Here is the best that I can muster, sitting here in the sun, the clickety clack of my fingers on the keys. I will not go hungry tonight. My adorable son will come home from school and snuggle up to me and touch my face. My husband will come home from work tired and hungry and we will enjoy each other’s company. This time was not guaranteed to me when that cancer diagnosis came to topple me down. My rock solid sister-girlfriends are a phone call away. Spring is coming soon. All is well, all is well, all manner of things…

Thinking of that interview, I choose to free myself from the shame of my stumble and fall. I had the strength and courage just to even put myself out there and try. Nothing is owed to me, not even my survival.

Underneath this melting snow, there is life, an endless cycle of renewal. It is easy to forget what is possible when all you see is dirty snow and mashed up yellow grass and mud, how from dirty, mucky places such beautiful, enriching and vibrant things grow.

All is well, all is well, all manner of things shall be well.






8 thoughts on “Trying and Crying, an Igloo made of Tears: Employment after Cancer”

  1. That is a beautiful igloo and you are a beautiful mom and sister and friend and lover. I love you so.
    These moments give us so much opportunity. Joey is right. Stop fighting and allow. We are so battle weary.

    I pray for your journey with ease. Downstream to more joy and ease.

    1. So battle weary… It felt like a fight for so long, but maybe I was really just being carried along.. it’s an unsettled feeling, like being tethered by an invisible cord of faith in a world ruled by contracts and guarantees. Loving you Rach!

  2. For the socially anxious like myself, being unemployed is almost the worst case scenario. It means living like a turtle without a shell, in a constant state of mortal fear and anxiety. Job interviews are usually less like opportunities for success and more like nightmare fuel and suppression-worthy memories. No matter how well-qualified you are, you seem to be unable to resist the juicy opportunity to visibly and audibly tremble, embarrass yourself in front of the people you’re supposed to massively win over with your charm and grace, and say exactly the wrong things.
    When I totally blow an interview, or even when I ace an interview beyond all reproach only to never receive so much as a phone call back, I am somewhat comforted by a story by Anthony Bourdain. During his time as a hot-shot up and coming chef in Manhattan, he sat down to an interview with the owner and manager of a fancy new steakhouse. He knew the answer to every question, and said everything they wanted to hear with nearly Texas Ranger-level swagger and confidence. They even got into salary negotiations in the first interview, and they agreed on the spot to a laughably large salary he threw out on a whim and never expected to get. Absolutely assured of his new position as a highfalutin’ Manhattan executive chef, Bourdain leaned in and strained to hear one final question from the owner over the sounds of the bustling kitchen: “What do you know about me?” Supremely confident in his abilities and experience, he wasn’t worried that he had never heard of the restaurant’s owner, and he chuckled and said frankly “Absolutely nothing.”
    Both the owner and the managers’ faces instantly turned sour, and they wrapped up the interview post-haste. Bourdain was baffled and devastated and knew instantly that he had spectacularly failed the interview. He said the customary “thank you” and went on his way. He didn’t realize until he was well down the street that the man had asked “What do you know about MEAT?” Bourdain knew literally everything about meat, how to butcher any animal, how to cut and prepare almost any recipe ever devised by man. He was so embarrassed that he didn’t look back, and he didn’t get the job.
    I suppose the lesson of this story is not to be discouraged by an interview because no matter how disastrous or discouraging a job interview may be, it can never negate your lifetime of skills and expertise. Dignity has the atomic weight of gold, and humiliation the atomic weight of hydrogen.

    1. Bryan, I absolutely loved reading your comment and please forgive the delayed response. You’re quite a gifted writer! That Bourdain interview… priceless.

      In retrospect, it was the biggest gift to have NOT gotten that job, to not have sold myself short, taking what looked like an easier path towards security and stability. I am enjoying the freedom and flexibility of being my own boss. I am awe struck with inspiration and admiration for my coaching clients, and I am reconnecting to the magic and potential that comes from being deeply rooted in gratitude. With that good sir, I thank you again for taking the time to reach out to me! Don’t sell yourself short… ever!

      1. A little dash of Anthony B goes a long way. Good to hear everything worked out for the best. I’m not the “everything happens for a reason” type. Sometimes life just pushes you down the stairs for no discernible reason and you’re left nursing your wounds and doing mental gymnastics to figure out what you’ve done to incur the wrath of the cosmos. However, there is another option: employ some judo blocks and evasions, and counter life’s attack with a flying roundhouse uppercut, Street Fighter 2-style. Just pummel that fool into submission and send him crying to his momma. It sounds as though you’ve used this very tactic. Melissa wins by knockout!

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