Act 3 - The Elephant in the Room

Act 3 - The Elephant in the Room
An elephant in a room. Pencil and marker on paper.

I have a game I like to play with my oncologist.

Can I?

Can I play golf? Yes, but you may not be as flexible as you used to be. (Thankfully, I managed to regain full range of motion in my port arm, and I don't have any weird twinges on impact.)

Can I paddleboard? Yes, just maybe don't do it right after the port flush.

Can I rock climb? Uh...I rather you didn't. Remember, I don't want you cutting yourself. You can't afford to get hurt.

Can I go participate in archaeology digs? No. You're immuno-compromised and I have a patient who just got a fungal infection in the brain from that sort of thing. No dirt, no dust, no molds. You need to work someplace clean.

I think he's onto my weird little game. Especially if he has to pull out the fungal-infection-in-the-brain story.

The other request I made during my September visit - Can I get my port removed?

Only if you absolutely have to. You have a type of cancer that will return, and we'll need that port for the next step. That port can stay in there for years.

If we remove it, we can't put it back. Scar tissue.

There's only one other place we can put the port, and that's on the other side.

Once you have used up both sides, we're going to have problems if you need the port a third time.

It appears that the port in my right shoulder is now a permanent part of my anatomy.

That may be a good thing - a constant reminder that I have to prioritize my health.

I'm someone who needs that reminder.

This whole journey still feels unreal and surreal.

The only restrictions the port puts on my activities are no backpacks or double-sided shoulder straps (so much for becoming a roller-coaster reviewer), no carrying things over my right shoulder, and covering the port in a waterproof bandage when I get out onto the paddleboard again.

Despite being cleared to work, my health has put some guardrails around the choices I "should" make around making a living during Act 3.

I say "should" because my current impulses are to find a job that allows me to wander around, get outside, dig in the dirt, see different environments, and get physical.

As I perused the job listings and assessment results that looked interesting - things like "Park Ranger" and "Archaeologist" and museum jobs and archivist jobs looked most interesting.

Playing with papers and objects. Exercising decades-dormant History muscles. Getting into new environments. Learning things that are more interesting than the latest vendor contract structures or application upgrade.

I figure the desk job will be there when I need it.

I want to get out of the house. I want to move around. I want to get away from screens - or, at least, right-size my relationship to them.

Being immuno-compromised due to my medication and the cancer means that I have to limit my exposure to crowds - especially indoors.

I've never been a fan of being around people for an extended period anyway, so this limitation plays into my natural impulses.

For someone who has made career decisions based on what would provide me the most options and marketability - having to accommodate limitations not entirely of my choosing and narrowing down my options based on those limitations is uncomfortable (at best).

In some respects, this time reminds me of high school, when the guidance counselor would ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

The last time I allowed myself to sit with that question was in undergrad when I had to change majors or risk failing out of college entirely.

This time, I have more experiences and different guardrails.

I also have the luxuries of time and some income.

I intend to enjoy this voyage of discovery as I create and build Act 3.

Earlier this year, as I started feeling more like myself, I began taking classes and workshops through A Fresh Chapter.

For cancer patients and their caregivers, this non-profit has put together some brilliant workshops that leverage important skills and recontextualize them into a cancer patient's context.

A Fresh Chapter's Storytelling for Impact workshop is one of the best introductions to storytelling I've encountered.

I was so impressed with their workshops; I joined their Ignite Experience.

Ignite is a 10-week personal growth program and support group that provides a safe space to explore and integrate the cancer journey.

I met some amazing people through this program. It is important to me to hear other people's stories. Our experiences are so different, and their stories provide me with some context around my own.

Ignite was also the best facilitated live online program I've participated in.

Mindfully designed exercises, solid classroom management, appropriate use of breakout rooms, chat, and conversations, great teamwork between the facilitators, and managing to maintain the learning objective while staying flexible enough to go with what is happening with the group. I've been doing live online programs for 20+ years and even have a graduate degree in it - so that's saying something.

The Ignite Experience gave me permission to begin exploring what I want Act 3 to look like. Much of what I am doing now is a result of what I discovered about myself during Ignite.

The Ignite program also serves as training for international volunteer opportunities. Though I'm not ready to get on an airplane yet (thanks COVID), and I'm still building stamina, I'm hoping to join them for an international volunteer opportunity one day.

Maybe that will be the next "Can I?" request for my oncologist...