Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Narrow Escape Artist

Last summer, about three weeks after my wedding, I got offered a new job. (I say this as if it fell from the sky, but in reality, I applied, I interviewed, and then I got the offer; in other words, I chased this.) It was an amazing opportunity: a respected position at a prestigious university at a generous salary that would keep me in designer shoes for a long time to come. The only problem was the job was approximately 988 miles east of everything I knew and loved. Taking this job would mean leaving my beloved Chicago for a city where I knew only a few people and that I had only visited a handful of times. To complicate matters, they wanted me to start right away, and since G had just begun teaching, he wouldn't have been able to join me until the end of the semester. So I was staring down three months, alone, in a strange city, three weeks into my marriage.

But it was such an enticing opportunity, I agonized for weeks over whether to accept. I negotiated, I bargained, I wrangled more money from the offerer (more shoes!) and funds for relocation, I put a deposit on a furnished short-term rental. And then just when we thought we were ready to make the commitment -- put in notice at work, book a moving van, plan the going away party -- G and I balked. We started to crunch the numbers. It turned out that the big salary would not go as far on the I-95 corridor as it would in the simple ol' Midwest. And even though I'd be pulling in big(ger) bucks, G would have to look for a new gig of his own come January and there was no guarantee he would find something right away. After ten sleepless nights and purgatorial foggy days, we decided to stay put. I parlayed the offer into a sizable raise at my current job. And then I turned those other guys, with their ivy-covered walls, down and nearly collapsed of relief.

Right after this happened, the stock market tanked and took the economy with it. It turns out I got the last of any raises that would be offered at my company for a good long while. And then, in January, G scored an incredible new job with a salary that put that east-coast offer I had gotten to shame. So, moral of the story? I think we made the right choice.

This suspicion was recently confirmed--a thousand times over--when I learned that earlier this summer, the university, whose endowment had been ravaged by the tumbling market, had begun lay-offs across its campus. I knew that personnel cuts affected the department I had been invited to join particularly harshly, but I didn't know until last week -- when I was traveling for work and gossiping about the state of the industry with some media folks -- how pervasive the lay-offs had been: of the half-dozen folks who would have been my colleagues, only one remains employed. So guess who would have been a victim of that ax? Me. The job I was offered was eliminated. Not even the head of the department, who pursued me so doggedly, survived. When I heard the news, I marveled at how narrowly escaped disaster.

What does this have to do with boobs, you might ask. (To which I might answer, haven't I convinced you yet of my singular ability to connect seemingly unrelated events to my bosoms?) Well, I'll tell ya. The slim margin by which I averted potential unemployment (to say nothing of lost health insurance... I shudder to even think) reminds me a lot of the escape route I've been offered to cheat my genetic fate. If I had taken that job I would have lost it; if I hadn't taken that BRCA test, I could have been blindsided by breast cancer. When I turned down that job, I struggled for a long time to come to terms with my decision; I didn't have the benefit of hindsight to assure me I made the right choice. Because the thing is, I didn't know when I turned down the job it would go bad so quick. And this December, I don't know whether, when they cut into my flesh, they'll find perfectly healthy breast tissue or lumps and bumps that have already started to turn ugly. Chances are the pathology will come back clear and I'll never know what would have happened to my breasts if I had kept them.

But just as I did when it came to turning down that job last summer, when it comes to choosing a PBM I've weighed my options, made of lists of pros and cons, consulted with my husband and family, and reached a decision. And I'm trusting my gut here. On the job front, things worked out well for us: I make more money, G has a great new gig, and, most importantly, we are both gainfully employed in positions we like in a city we love even more. I can say almost for certain that almost none of that would be the case if we had made the move out east. I won't know what life would be like if I kept my breasts, but if this story represents anything larger -- or suggests I have a gift for getting out right before things go bad -- I want to turn down the offer of breast cancer just like I did that job. Because I don't want to be the victim of a lay off any more than I want to be stricken by disease. And I'm so glad I have a choice. Here's to hoping it's the right one.


  1. Hi Steph. Thanks for making contact with me on my blog. Of course, I had to read your entire blog from beginning to end this morning. Very well written and lots of food for thought.

    I admire your take charge attitude and your decision to control your life, where you can. I still have to consider the boob decision and meet with a breast specialist in early October.

    Thanks for pointing me in the direction of FORCE. I'm sure it'll be helpful.

    Your new BRCA friend,

  2. FABulous post as usual! I've been thinking alot about the "what ifs" and "thank goodnesses" in my own life lately, as I know you understand.

    Since I can't help but wonder if there's a genetic element to my BC despite being BRCA neg, it makes me wonder if there'd been a another genetic test for me to take if I would have...and would I encourage my daughter to do so. In a word -- yes. And truly that's in no small part to the way your blog has got me to think. You are both idealistic and pragmatic, a rare combo. You impart thought provoking info in a highly readable way...even super serious stuff is actually an enjoyable read...that's talent.

    Anyway, I just wanted to pop over and say hi, and thank you...for sharing your journey and your self so beautifully.

  3. Hi, found your blog through FORCE. It is great! Love the evil twin bit. Just was diagnosed with noninvasive dcis in July and went with a lumpectomy but now am trying to choose between rad/tam or pbm and all I can think is why the f#@* would I want to do any of them! Anyway, that blog really made me laugh:) Thanks

  4. Hi Steph,

    It's me from Women's Life Link (the BRCA misunderstanding). I wish I would have found your site before I wrote that post. You truly are an inspiration and a gutsy lady to go through what you did. I would like to offer you the opportunity to write a guest post on my site to help women understand the BRCA and anything else that you feel is important.

    I lost my mom to cancer (not breast) but I have a sense of concern for cancer victims and their families as well.