Saturday, May 3, 2014

Do Overs: Career, Cancer, Marriage

I thought about titling this post "Second Chances," but that would be silly, because my life has changed many, many, many times, not just two.

But this post is dedicated to anyone who feels in need of a second - or third, or tenth, or twentieth - chance.


Let me tell you something clearly, so that the tone of this doesn't imply the wrong idea: I have needed many do-overs in my life, and I've made a lot of mistakes, and I try to own those mistakes....but *I* am not a mistake, and my life's path isn't a mistake.

My undergraduate degree was in economics, which impressed my parents and made me believe that in my career I would have high earning power; it landed me a job at a major corporation that was in the height of its glory when I worked there, and it's true, I made a bunch of money when I was there.  Unfortunately, I ended up hating my corporate life, and I felt completely disconnected from my work, so I needed a do over.

I went back to school, this time getting a post-bac in English, and I loved every single second of it.  These were clearly "my people" and immersing myself in language, literature, and writing placed me in my element.  I'd fought to get good grades in my econ degree, and I'd fought just to keep going ("Should I skip class?" was a question I pondered several times a day), but in my post-bac I spent as much of my time as possible on school work, reading the extra materials, scheduling meetings with my profs, hanging out in the hallways debating literature with other students.  My grades came easily, and were better than I knew I was capable of: I graduated with a 3.96.  I went on to grad school, where I continued to love my field (this time, a Masters in Education), and continued to excel.

So, was my degree in economics, the struggle to complete it, and the job that I ended up hating a bad idea?  Was I a fool who made bad decisions?


When I returned to work during my divorce (more on that later), I knew I couldn't return to teaching because of the long hours (which would mean getting childcare before and after school, and then grading late into the evening).  It was those early "missteps" that helped me to land on my feet, to use skills I'd earned in my first career to get my life back together, to find a job with flexibility that paid enough to live on and survive that first hard year after separated.  Remembering all the skills I'd attained over the years, applying them to my work, and meeting success in that work, was glorious, and an awakening of sorts.

That undergraduate degree not only paid for the post bac and masters (thank you, stock options), but it gave me a whole lot of experiences that I apply in my current nonprofit job.  My corporate sales experience factored in strongly to my new organization's decision to hire me, just as much as my writing skills and my experiences working with diverse populations.  Without those early "missteps" there is no way I would have been qualified to do the work I am now engaged in....and this is work that I LOVE.  This is work that involves my heart, my mind, and big pieces of my soul.  It's challenging and interesting and, I believe, important.  It won't make me rich, and it won't resolve the ills of humanity, but it is a step in that direction, and it makes me happier than I can express.

This do over has been 25 years in the making, and those watching me probably wondered what the hell I was doing and when I was going to finally get it right.  No doubt I made a million missteps, screwed up in an infinite variety of ways, and I was a slow learner. 

But I can live with that, because along the way I had some fun, learned some lessons, and lived my life.  Here I am, alive and hopeful, and I can support myself and my daughter, and not only that but I love my new career.  I won't take the time to moan about my mistakes, because I'm too busy to look back.


And let's take a moment to talk about cancer, shall we?

I didn't want cancer.  Nobody in their right mind would want cancer, and anybody who has witnessed the chain of events that cancer brings into someone's life knows what I'm talking about.  It took me EIGHT YEARS to get my life back after cancer.  One year of chemo and radiation seemed like hell on earth, but the surgeries and drugs and major scares (leading to dozens of scary tests and scans and several additional surgeries) lasted eight years.  I'm about to celebrate nine years since my cancer diagnosis, and it's only been a year since my last surgery (a complicated biopsy last year; complicated because of its position so it couldn't be done as a needle aspiration).

And I will fully admit: if I could undo the cancer thing, I would.  I hate cancer.  It has killed my friends, threatened to kill me, tainted my daughter's childhood (because when I should have been focusing on having fun with her, I was focused on trying not to die instead).  It stole my breasts (which are replaced with unfeeling silicone blobs) and my nipples (which deserve their own mention, because not only do I no longer have those little protuberances, only flat little tattoos, I also don't have the sexual joy that they once contained).  It put me into menopause at 35, and stole my ovaries, uterus, cervix.  I have a lifelong fight with lymphedema, I'm covered in scars (48 inches last time I counted them up), and I have osteopenia.  My daughter is at higher risk because of our shared DNA, and when she's in her twenties she will have to make some very, very, very scary decisions unless we find a damn cure.

I hate cancer.  And I won't gloss over that, despite what I'm going to say.

But I got cancer, and there's nothing I can do about it, and it doesn't help me to focus on its hatefulness.

Cancer gave me a do over, too.

Cancer ignited something inside of me that had fallen asleep, lost its spark.  Cancer reminded me just how much I care about living my best life - it woke up my desire to LIVE and I don't just mean breathing (although, let's be clear, I like breathing an awful lot).  It taught me how strong I was, it ignited all of my other passions, it reminded me to get out and change the world and my life while I still had a chance.  It changed how I mother, how I eat, how I love, how I live.

My best friends hear me say "I love you" all the time, and I don't care if it's silly to say it so much.  I volunteer in my community all the time.  I run long distances, surprising myself with how far and fast I can go.  I took a risk and changed my whole career, knowing that I am strong and resilient enough to survive that risk, because cancer taught me about that strength and resiliency.  My daughter knows that when crap happens (and let's face it, crap happens) we can turn it into something beautiful (like helping to raise six figures for cancer research).

I hate cancer.  But I love the do over it gave me.


And divorce.  Oh, the bitterness of failed marriage, and all the dreams that rotted and mildewed as that marriage failed.

My Pollyanna self can't help but look for the silver lining, and I knew even in the worst moments of my marriage that I wouldn't undo the past if I could, because then I wouldn't have my beloved Katherine.  I knew that not only my DNA, but also Bryan's, swims in her veins, and that I wouldn't trade her for anything, and that no "perfect life" was imaginable without her.  I love my daughter, and I also like her.  She has her daddy's blue eyes (mine are hazel), and she has so many similarities with her cousins on his side, and nobody else could have made her with me.  I needed Bryan to have Katherine, and I decided immediately that she made it all worthwhile.

But over time, I've come to other realizations about my marriage, too, that have nothing to do with Katherine.

I think I needed to have my failed marriage.  I think I needed all of it: the hopefulness, the pain, the arguments, the lies, the ending.  I needed to experience my failed marriage in order to get my life back.

Writing this, I'm rereading those last words, startled by them, startled by their truth.  They contain deep truths that I'm just now, three years after asking for a divorce, able to face.

Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that it was my job to do all of the work in a relationship.  Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that I had to do everything, that I was not deserving of partnership.  I told my partner "Don't yell at me!" but there was a part of me that believed that I deserved to be yelled at somehow.

I believed that nobody would ever love me, and that I'd have to put up with lies to make him want to stay; I believed that he lied to me because I wasn't worthy of more.

Oh good grief.

The new me doesn't believe any of that.  The new me looks back and thinks, "Oh sweetie, you were a wreck!  You poor thing!"

Standing up to my bad marriage, demanding change, and then creating change by ending the marriage (despite my fear that I wouldn't be able to survive as a single working mom) was a do over I needed.  It taught me that not only could I survive, I could create something beautiful out of my life, start accomplishing dreams outside of my marriage that I couldn't manage within it.


Happily ever after usually implies Prince Charming, with the princess in a beautiful new dress and a great hairdo.  I haven't met Prince Charming, and even if I could afford a beautiful new dress and a trip to the salon to do my hair, I don't have any balls to attend.

But thanks to a series of do overs, I do have some happily ever after going on.

I believe that living life as my authentic self, giving the best of myself to the world, my daughter, and myself, and refusing to allow anyone to treat me poorly, and appreciating every breath that I take, is my happily ever after.

I don't have it figured out.  There are money issues, I'm tired a lot, I miss romance, I worry about lots of things (including how all of my do overs, especially divorce, impact Katherine).  I am imperfect, and I can only imagine how many do overs remain in my future, but I suspect I'm not done making mistakes, and only hope that I'll make smaller mistakes in the future, and that I'll still get the chance for additional do overs.

Thank goodness for do overs.


I love "This" by Darius Rucker.  As you contemplate the twists and turns on your life's path, maybe it will inspire you, too.  I hope that you feel lucky today, too, for every door that you had to close.  And if you're still nursing heartbreak over a career run amuck, divorce, illness.....just wonder what it would mean if it was leading you to something even better.  It can happen!  I hope it happens for you....and that you MAKE it happen for you.

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1 comment:

  1. WOW - I just stumbled upon your old blog and new blog today- and such a blessing to read your story! I am on the same path and your blog has really helped me - thank you from the bottom of my heart! blessing to you from one pollyanna to another :)