Most of the people who read this blog know what I do for a living, or if they don't, I'm easily google-able (there are basically two people in the world with my name, and the other is my sister-in-law, so it makes it easy). That said I don't feel the need to go into specifics of where I work or what the job entails, but it's a huge part of my life so inevitably it's going to make it into my writing at some point. When I talk about "my kids" here, the kids to whom I refer are the kids with cancer served by my organization, and the other day we found out that the fifth of our kids had died within a two week span. That's unprecedented. In all my years in this job (20 in August!), I've never seen the likes of it. You hear of one kid every year or so, or often two, these things seem to occur in clusters. It's never not crushing. You never get used to it. You never should. FIVE is just next-level brutal though. Cancer is the thieving bitch of existence and childhood cancer is the reason I stopped believing in God.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a mom work whose child was recently diagnosed. His prognosis is not so great, and she was understandably having trouble dealing with her emotions, and over the course of the conversation she asked me, "How do you DO this every day?" "This" meaning interact with people in her situation day in and day out, dealing with kids from brand new to young adult in various stages of their treatment and all the surrounding hope and fear and heartache. I was taken aback, I mean, she's asking me about my mental well being when she's facing the reality that she will likely outlive her baby, her beloved son? I didn't have a good answer for her, other than that somebody needs to do it, and we're happy to be here for people who need us. As the years have gone by, though, I ask myself a similar question all the time, particularly at times like these. How much longer can I take this?
The truth is, I hardly ever have conversations with parents like that, out of self preservation. I work in an office, with a door that closes, and hardly ever have to venture out. There's a line of defense in the front lobby and I've been able to mostly comfortably rely on that barrier. In order to do this job, I have to steel myself and divorce myself from the nuts and bolts of the every day conditions, the reason I'm here. That's survival. It's not possible to do it totally, though, and in order to be a compassionate and empathetic person and do my best to serve everyone fairly and with the highest of care as I would want for my own family, it's essential that I periodically let emotionally messy parents crash through my boundaries. My answer to her was honest. I'm not saving lives by what I do, but what I do is part of a system that makes lives easier by fulfilling a need in a needy time for people. I feel very good about my profession, I'm proud to be associated with the organization, but one of these days all the bearing witness is going to irreversibly take its toll. I know it. Just as I know somebody has to do it, and it might as well be me. I can go home and leave it behind at 6 p.m. when everyone here is living their personal nightmare around the clock. That should give me some comfort. I help people in a hurtful world, that should give me some comfort. To hell with my comfort, though, my comfort doesn't matter. I want to give up this job, and at the same time I can't bear the thought. If you're a longtime reader, you know I have written this entry a hundred times, five hundred times, but I have to keep dusting it off and holding it up to the light for a new perspective when young people are suffering too much for any one person and leaving the world and their bereft families way too soon in packs of five. It reaffirms exactly why I need to be here, and it illuminates every reason I should get out.
If I win the lottery tonight, I'm going to endow the bejesus out of this place, help hire my replacement, and gallop off to wherever I can hide from cancer until it comes for me. Admittedly it's a shitty plan, but if anyone has insight to a better one I'm open to it.