Cover your Mouth!
As much as I enjoyed my time off from work during my mastectomy surgery, it was different after "hell week.” Hell week was exactly how it sounds. Fucking H E L L. Nausea, exhaustion, body aches and that fucking chemo rash. I felt like a monster. The sight I saw looking back at me made me even more nauseated. If it wasn't bad ju-ju I’d be bold enough to break every mirror in the house and the rear-view mirror too.
I was a monster who would hide inside for a week following chemo and then as if some spell had been lifted; the body aches, nausea and chemo rash would disappear like the antagonist in a Disney movie. I would rise up, renewed. The ugly mask that was chemo would suddenly disappear and the sun shines down on me as if the chemo rash was just a figment of my imagination; leaving behind faint scars to let me know that it wasn't. Finally feeling like my old self again. This feels glorious.
I have two weeks before ”Hell week” rears its ugly head again so I better enjoy every minute until the day comes. First things first, let's get the fuck outta here. It feels so good to leave my bed. MJ and I find something to do. Anything. Even if it was just walking around the Amish market or taking the hour drive to visit my mother in law. I felt free again. Free to go back to a normal life.
I never thought that I would EVER say this, but I'm ready to go back to work. I need human interaction. I need to feel like I can do more than ask MJ for help around the clock. I rely on him SO much.
Well, now I'm back baby! Ok, not back at 100% but I'm at eh, 75%? I'll take it! Thank ya lawd! I am finally strong enough to do basic things like laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, opening a can of ginger ale! So many small things I have to rely on MJ for.
But as soon as “Hell week” makes a run for it, so do I!
It's winter. With winter comes what? It’s lovely companion: COLDS. I have been told numerous times that I need to be very careful around people with colds because my immune system is not strong enough to fight back. Not enough white blood cells. Blah, blah.
My oncologist has given me the number to the emergency line literally every time I’ve seen her. I roll my eyes in my head and tell her ok. Ma’am if shit goes down I’m calling 9-1-1.
The Sunday after each hell week I make two loaves of Banana Bread to bring with me to work. Random. Although I love sweets, I only bake once, maybe twice per year. It makes me feel good to have the energy to do it. Being in the kitchen has always been kind of therapeutic for me. And if whatever you make tastes delicious you get tons of praise for it. The Leo in me is ALWAYS all about the praise. The mostly ridiculously grumpy guy at work loves my banana bread. Anything to get him off my back.
Each Monday back to work is both a little exciting and nerve-wracking. Some people are excited to see me and others don't mention one word. The latter is disappointing for sure but like anything else, its true eye-opening moments like these that allow you to grow an even thicker skin and realize what shelf to put people on. (The fucking BOTTOM! lol)
Seriously though, some of it just goes back to people not knowing what to say.
“Hey! How's your cancer?”
“Is your head bald, bald? Can I touch it?”
“How are your boobs? Still, have em?”
There are many potentially ridiculous questions people probably don't want to awkwardly ask, so they say nothing. I’m not that uptight though. I’d probably just laugh and answer the question.
There are folks who genuinely care and make it known. Some give hugs and ask how I’m feeling. Others just tilt their heads like puppies who can’t understand how or why I’m going through this. This is also known as, PITY. Lol And the rest do what I appreciate most which is to not aggravate me with dumb shit while I'm back.
At my desk, I have my “Hell Week on-the-go” Combat pack. It contains ginger tea, mini cans of ginger ale, Queasy Drops for nausea, mini bottles of Gatorade, and saltines. Run up, side effects! I’m basically Rambo with a turban.
The vibe in my office is different. I have a new boss. And he is the complete opposite from the old one. Not sure if it’s good or bad yet. I was out for 6 weeks for my mastectomy surgery almost as soon as he was on-boarded. He has this, I’m going to show you who’s boss, vibe. And I have a, Let me do my job. Please don’t come for me, vibe. We are playing nice and that I all that I can ask for right now. I don’t have the mental or physical capacity for added stress.
We all sit in the little cubes that leave all of us in plain view of one another. My colleague is relieved to see that I’m back. She quit prior to my diagnosis but was asked to come back and fill in while I was out. Silly, rabbit.
“You had to do ALL of that for how long??! No wonder you were always so frustrated”, she whispers frantically upon my return.
Ding, ding, ding. I give a big, begrudging smile and nod my head, Yes.
We have two new additions to the department. They are joining until my department’s new office is built down the hall. One of which is a gal who sits diagonally from me. We will call her Crystal because she has crystals decorating her desk to stay sane in this semi-chaotic environment. She rocks a head wrap, and crystals that are meant to bring good luck and a variety other good ju-ju. Her vibe is always pleasant but her expression always reads: “I am not here for IT.” She burns sage and palo santo at her desk throughout the day and keeps her headphones in for at least 6 of the 8 hours we are working. Please don’t kill my vibe, is definitely her mantra, because the guy sitting next to her is definitely killing it. SLOWLY.
Directly next to her, is the most annoying person. He does sales and he is THE WORST. Very corny, used car sales-y. His sales schtick is dried up, overly sales-y to the point of insincerity and just plain wack. I don’t think he could sell wine to a wine-o.
He still wears those solid colored dress shirts. Where are you going in that, sir? The 90’s wants their wardrobe back!
He talks loud. And he has a laugh that isn’t infectious in the least. It’s so annoying that I would literally rather hear nails on a chalkboard. Like, bring it down an octave bro.
And if he isn’t already annoying the shit out of me and everyone else around me, he’s sick and not in the least bit concerned about covering his mouth when he coughs or sneezes. He sits approximately 10 feet away from me. Let’s not forget that it’s cold and flu season. If I could walk around in a bee suit, wrapped in bubble wrap, inside of a bubble, with Lysol disinfectant spraying out the sides, it would be ideal. I am literally avoiding children and sick people like the plague. Not really sure why there are adults walking around not knowing that they should cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, but here we are with this clueless man-child. He is coughing and snotting all over every-damn-thing AND with a smile on his face.
All day, Crystal and I exchange glances. Those glances that black women give one another that express whatever emotion you’re feeling without ever having to utter a word.
Then there are times when we have to do a cryptic email exchange. Or maybe not so cryptic.
Email from me to Crystal -
Subject Line: Didn’t we just have this conversation last week?!?!?!?!?
Reply from Crystal:
LISTEN!!! Hacking. Into. The. Air. Like a damn fool! I can’t even open my mouth on this because it will end in shouting and a call to HR I swear. I’m SO tired of working with a man child.
This guy is a walking petri dish. And if there is one thing that I will not allow at this stage of my journey, is getting more sick and having anything or ANYONE delay my treatment.
I make a general request to everyone in my department to cover their mouths when coughing + sneezing or even better; stay home if they are actually sick because I cannot afford to get sick right now.
I’ve made my most sincere, heartfelt request and Mr. Killgas, is too ditzy to read between the lines. I'm looking at you, bro.
I let every quick sneeze and sly cough, slide for at least the first day or two. My boss even posts laminated signs about how to properly navigate cold + flu season without spreading germs.
Still, homeboy is recklessly coughing throughout the day without covering his mouth.
I sit at my desk infuriated. How many different ways can I ask?! How do I convey to him that I’m fighting.breast.CANCER?
Finally, I stand up and blurt out, ”Hiiiii everyone. Not sure if my lack of eyebrows and eyelashes, or this headwrap have ratted me out yet but, I am fighting breast cancer. I would appreciate it if you could cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing.”
Everyone gives a head nod.
Sits back down. Eats a saltine.