Breast Cancer and Me

My apologies for going silent for the past few months. It’s been an adventure of sorts.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 28, 2011. The tumor was in my left breast and was an invasive ductal carcinoma that was 3.5cm long, Estrogen, Progesterone and HER positive. Stage IIb. The only reason I even knew something wrong was that I had pain in my left breast. I went to the doctor who referred me to a radiologist. I was given a mammogram, an ultrasound and a very, very painful biopsy. After a very, very long weekend, I was told (by phone) that I had cancer. I was flummoxed and floored. This couldn’t be happening to me.

With a recommendation from Dr. Tammy Leopold, my primary care doctor, I then went to see an amazing breast surgeon, Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum-Smith, a beautiful firecracker of a woman who let me cry in her office. Through the tears, however, we were able to make a plan. I was presented with 3 options – a lumpectomy, a single mastectomy or double mastectomy. The deciding factor would be a test for the BRCA gene mutation, but this would delay any action by at least 2 weeks. After careful consideration that day, I opted for a double mastectomy. I joked that had wanted a breast reduction anyway and that it should be a matching pair, but honestly, I had a strong suspicion about how the test would turn out since Ashkenazic (Eastern European) Jews, of which I am one, have the highest risk of being a carrier. And as it turned out, I was right.

The surgery was scheduled for April 21, 2011. Dr. Rosenbaum-Smith performed the mastectomy and Dr. William Samson performed the reconstruction. I opted for simple implants, so tissue expanders were put in to create a capsule for the permanent implants to later be exchanged at a second surgery. I must say, Dr. Samson is a brilliant surgeon and I’m really pleased with the results so far.

Recovery was hard, but didn’t take too long – maybe a week or two and then I was back to work.

May 23, 2011 was my first day of chemo. I opted for the TCH regimen, however chemo is chemo and it sucked. Once every 3 weeks for 18 weeks. It was the longest 18 weeks of my life. And I lost all of my beautiful hair. And I continued to work full-time throughout the process.

The chemo beat the hell out of me. Luckily it finally ended on September 12, 2011. When I recovered from the ravages of chemo, I started radiation on October 12, 2011 under the guidance of Dr. Andrew Evans and went every day for 28 days straight.

And if going through radiation was bad enough, the company I was working for did massive layoffs and finally, shut down – sputtering and coughing the whole way. And, yes, I was the only HR person around to make sure everyone got paid (and remained to be even after the company was gone). There was no COBRA being offered, so there was no COBRA to administer, but that’s a whole other story. I did, however, ask that the company stay open through November 1 so that employees (myself included) had benefits for an additional month. And then I got let go.

I also had a bit of difficulty with the TSA. Some of you may have read about it as a number of news sources picked it up. It was a really stressful situation, but in the end, the Director of JFK Airport security and the TSA personally apologized to me. Go figure. At least some good came out of it. At least I hope so.

Needless to say, 2011 was a really crappy year.

Yet it got better in December. I got an amazing new job at as the Senior Director of HR. It’s an incredible company. And the worst of the treatment is behind me.

My second surgery is now scheduled for February 6 – two weeks away. 2 days after my Dad’s birthday and 1 day after my brother’s. The surgery is a combination exchange (expanders for permanent implants) and ovary/fallopian tube removal. As I stated above, I’m BRCA positive, specifically BRCA1+ which carries an 88% chance of breast cancer (duh) and 44% chance of ovarian cancer.

This time I’m not waiting around for the cancer to come to me.

Both are out-patient procedures, so I don’t expect that I’ll be down for long. But I’m still a little nervous about the anesthesia . I’m told that’s normal.

I guess in a way I was lucky that my tumor was HER+ because there are so many things to throw at it. So I still have Herceptin treatments through the end of May. It’s an infusion, like chemo, but it’s not chemo. And I also have a pill that I will have to swallow for the next 5 years. Even so, I’m more hopeful than I’ve ever been.

In other words, not done yet. But what have I learned so far?

  • I should have known about the BRCA test long before this. I want to spread the word as much as possible. Ashkenazic Jews, like myself, are at extremely high risk. And there are laws in place that help protect people from genetic discrimination should they test positive.
  • That breast cancer is the gift that keeps giving. Lymphedema in my left arm. No, not the yucky kind -just some slight swelling due to the removal of 7 auxiliary lymph nodes. Luckily I have the best Occupational Therapist in the world, Cynthia Shechter . She specializes in Breast Cancer/Lymphedema Rehab and has been an amazing friend to me through this whole process.
  • The only thing I wish chemo upon is cancer.
  • Radiation isn’t as scary as it sounds. It’s just incredibly inconvenient.
  • You know who your friends are when something like this happens.
  • I’ll never again have to wonder how I would look if I were bald.
  • Be careful what you wish for. It may come true.

Groupon Sues Ex-Employees

In a strange turn of events, Groupon takes itself out of the defendant’s chair and goes after two former employees who joined Google, claiming that they took protected information to their new jobs.

Michael Nolan, who worked for Groupon for two years, and Brian Hanna, who joined the Chicago-based company in January, each left last month to join Google Offers, according to a civil complaint filed yesterday in an Illinois court. Google, based in Mountain View, California, isn’t named in the suit.

“In their new positions with Google Offers and/or Google, Hanna and Nolan will provide the same or similar services as they provided at Groupon,” requiring them “to employ confidential and proprietary information that they learned while employed at Groupon,” according to the complaint.

This is definitely interesting since Google tried to buy Groupon not too long ago and goes into a much larger discussion about non-competes, particularly when an employee’s experience which allows them to move on their career violates an NDA/NC agreement. California has already made non-competes irrelevant and it makes sense.

There is a need for the non-disclosure aspect of the agreement, however the non-competition aspect can make it really difficult for a person to find work, as many companies require experience within the same field for similar positions, particularly when traditional companies are trying to catch up with newer companies in their offerings and technology.

This case is garnering a great deal of attention because Groupon and Google are both big dogs in this fight, but these are the kind of situations that set precedents.

Companies really need to look at their agreements to make sure that they are able to protect their trade secrets and retain their best employees. In the same breath they should also make sure that the agreement doesn’t hinder the future of these employees, particularly in these days of massive layoffs and RIF’s.

For once, California got it right.

Protest For Me

In the wake of Occupy Wall Street, up pops a handy service that allows employees to virtually join the protests without missing a day of work.

ProtestFor.Me connects supporters of Occupy Wall Street who are unable to physically participate in the protests with unemployed people looking to make a difference. So if you don’t live in an occupied city or you simply can’t leave your job to join the protest, this is your chance to sponsor a protestor to protest on your behalf.

Good news for employers. Probably makes police happy too.