Since 2017 I have been the controller of a grain cooperative in Central IL. This week was the start of the busiest 3 weeks in my work year – and that is saying a lot since January is a month when more than a thousand 1099s have to be produced and sent to our patrons. This is the week our audit firm verifies our financials. Then, depending on the decision of our board, it could be a race to produce thousands of dividend and patronage checks; to pay a profit-sharing bonus to employees; to revolve allocated equity; to do the steps necessary to close the fiscal year in our accounting software and begin the new year; to produce a “pretty” version of the financials for the shareholders —— and all this in time for our annual shareholder meeting in mid-August. It was always a mentally and physically exhausting and highly stressful time for me, but this year is really taking its toll on me.
I think back to Wednesday, July 17, 2019 – right smack dab in the middle of audit week. I had found a lump in my breast a week earlier and was scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram that day. I remember explaining to my boss that I had to be gone for a little bit that afternoon and I told him it was an important medical appointment that could not be postponed. I am a department of one at the coop. I’m in charge of the finance and accounting, the IT, and the Human Resources. There is no one to “cover me” in my absence and no one to whom I can delegate. So I had my mammogram and headed back to work. In some ways it was probably good to be so busy with work to distract me from my worry.
Jump ahead to Wednesday, July 24, 2019. The diagnostic mammogram still did not show anything (see my posts about dense breasts if you haven’t already) but the lump could not be ignored so I had an ultrasound and biopsy scheduled that morning. At that point, my husband and I pretty much figured it was breast cancer. But the “little b” kind of breast cancer. The only breast cancer I had ever heard of at the point. The kind you treat and survive. Pink ribbon blah blah blah. I was told it would be a day before I would get results, so I only took the morning off at work. I had been experiencing some intense, occasional abdominal pain for a few days, but my doctor and I had laughed it off as stress – work and the cancer scare. Since I would be there anyway, they scheduled an abdominal ultrasound, too. It was either stress or my gallbladder. My husband and I laughed at the awful timing of gallbladder problems, cancer scare, and my busiest time at work. I told him I didn’t know how I would get everything done if I had to have my gall bladder removed right away. Honestly I thought the cancer would just be something I would tackle over the next year or so and move on.
Dave and I waited in my doctor’s waiting room for the word on my gallbladder. I saw the results of my blood tests come back in the hospital portal so I started searching on the internet to see what the numbers meant. It seemed pretty obvious that there was some kind of cancer in my system. I remember seeing that my calcium levels were high and thinking that was a good thing. (Actually a sign that the cancer had spread to my bones.) I remember seeing that my liver numbers were really bad and a google search told me I had the liver of an alcoholic. That didn’t make sense. Finally they called me back and I heard the nurse practitioner say, “This is never an easy thing to say.” I remember everything about that moment. I can picture it today in vivid detail. I remember grabbing Dave’s hand and feeling like I was falling into a large abyss. It was then that I learned that I had innumerable masses on my liver, that the breast tumor was most likely cancer that had already spread to my liver. I learned that breast cancer often spreads to the liver. They scheduled an abdominal CT for the next day and I ventured out on what can best be described as “the cancer tour,” where we broke the news to the kids and my mom. And then….. I went back to work. Yes. Remember that I am a department of one. No one covers me and I certainly had not planned to be out all day.
I told my coworkers about my day. We were brainstorming how to handle the next couple busy weeks if I had to be out of the office. One announced that she hoped she wouldn’t be expected to handle much of it because she was already too busy. (Can you feel the love?) I stayed in the office several hours that evening (by myself) catching up and working ahead on anything I could since I had another test the next day.
Thursday, July 25 I had the CT scan with results right away that showed the cancer was also in my spine and adrenal gland. I waited until evening to go to the office to work, so I didn’t have to be around anyone.
Over the course of the next couple weeks I met my oncologist at Barnes, had more tests and another biopsy and had my very first chemo treatment. I also managed to do ALL the things I needed to do before the annual stockholder meeting that was less than 4 weeks after my diagnosis. I am strong and determined and my own worst enemy.
As the pressure was building lately I made a huge decision. I am going to go on long term disability beginning in January and take some days off each week until then. MBC qualified me for SSDI upon diagnosis, but there is a 5 month waiting period for benefits to kick in. I have been too scared to think of going that long without income, especially with 2 in college. But I am no longer scared. Dave and I have weathered many storms together and we will weather this one, too. I need to make my health a priority and lower my stress levels. I need to spend more time with my family. I hope January isn’t too long to wait.