Learning To Hold Two Jobs: Lawyer and Chronic Cancer Worrier
After I completed my course of chemotherapy – and recovered from the attendant metal mouth, sore veins throughout my hands and arms from the ports of entry of the chemo, and the ever-lurking sense of tossing my cookies – I had anticipated returning to my life as it existed pre-chemo and, ideally, prior to diagnosis. I desired to get on with my life, even if it was not all that exciting to begin with. (Having cancer added more excitement than I ever wished for so dull looked especially appealing.)
Things started out on a high note. In a fit of normalcy, I used a long weekend to clean out our garage. Clearly, my desire to have a normal life was trumping my sense of having quality of life. I also started whipping up dishes once again in our kitchen, something I generally enjoyed doing prior to the extended period when the only foods I could be in the same room with were applesauce pouches and the occasional Lorna Doone. Although the chemo brain seemed to be impacting my judgment when it came to activities, I chose to prove that I was “back.” It felt good to return to a life that was not focused solely on cancer.
The bloom quickly came off the rose, however. Shortly after vacuuming away the final colony of spiders and their progeny (and their future meals) from the garage, I began to be haunted by an overwhelming sense of anxiety. I could not explain what was driving it, but it was there at every turn. Each morning I would wake up around 4:00 a.m., a time when only people who own dairy farms or have newspaper routes should be awake, filled with thoughts of anxiety, and paranoia. I would hear the heat coursing through the ductwork of our house and be convinced that something was broken. I would detect, or so I thought, a clank or a kerplunk and be certain that the house was falling apart. My breathing would become more rapid, and I would fight to get it under control. But my ability to meditate required that I not already be hyperventilating, so my breathing-as-relaxation exercises did not do much to assuage my nerves. In fact, it just made matters worse as then I began to worry about why I was breathing so hard.
Once the more normal waking hours finally arrived, I was faced with the challenge of working. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a wholly unfounded sense of optimism about how I would feel post-chemo (and, I should note, optimism is not a sensation with which I have even the least bit of familiarity), I had taken on extra work that was very time-sensitive and for quite demanding clients, by which I mean Wall Street types. Whatever anxiety I had been experiencing before quadrupled in a flash of a non-disclosure agreement negotiation. I was a living ball of anxiety. In case it is not clear, that is not an ideal state.
After a couple of tortured months of this, during which my stomach went on strike thereby forcing me to invest heavily in Pepto Bismol, I determined that enough was more than enough. I disengaged from the investment bankers who were making me insane and attempted to return to my normal practice. Of course, as a lawyer (or any service businessperson for that matter), one is always at the beck and call of the client. Most of my clients, fortunately, are long-term ones with whom I have solid relationships. Nonetheless, while they may be more flexible, I was trained in a high-pressure Wall Street firm where one was expected to be available 24/7/365. If a client asks, I feel compelled to respond right away. This is clearly on me, but my enhanced anxiety did nary a thing to improve the situation.
Yet even returning to my less stressful line-up of reasonable clients has unfortunately done very little to ameliorate the situation. The real problem, I now realize, is that cancer can be a full-time job in and of itself. Between the fatigue, the other physical manifestations, the worry and the requisite naps (naps are actually the best part, but if I don’t get one then look out!), often there is not much time to deal with another job. The sheer exhaustion that I experience at the end of each day – by which I mean about 8:00 p.m. – can drastically limit the number of things that I can accomplish on any given day.
Some of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that I do not like my (mis)chosen profession. Talk about anxiety. Lawyers are the backstop for virtually everything that goes wrong. If I had a dime for every time a client tried to pin something on me such as “Why didn’t you tell me X?!?” when in fact I quite clearly did tell him X (and have the email to prove it) I would not need to be a lawyer any longer. Such a job is no salve for an overly anxious person.
At the end of the day, staring down one’s own mortality does alter the perspective of what is and what is not important. And while I have a wife, two sons, a dog, two cats and a furnace that may or may not be trying to tell me something, I am also quite conscious of the fact that my time – as is everyone’s – is limited. So until I win the Powerball – someone has to win it eventually (I think) – I will have to hold down two jobs: lawyer and chronic cancer worrier. If I could only make money doing the latter, I think I would prefer it.