October, Week 3
Back from my two-day hospital stay, I immediately sent my good friend Susan news of my cancer diagnosis. She had been my manager on a project we had worked in the International Center at McDonnell Douglas. Short on workspace for the five-month project, the center Directors assigned only one office and set up my desk there too. This resulted in the best possible mentoring. Watching Susan work at such a close range, I learned invaluable lessons in resourceful management. She unofficially became my mentor, although I’d signed with another manager for that role. Best of all, this daily contact formed a close and lasting friendship. Susan had left McDonnell Douglas and was now managing a project at another corporation. Concerned for me, she called me that night, wanting more details.
“When do you go in for the operation?” She asked.
She is asking me what time because she wants to come, I thought. Why on earth would she want to be there?
“I have to be at Barnes early, but Bob is taking me. You don’t have to come.”
“I’ll be there,” she insisted. “When and where?” Susan, true to her nature, would not be put off.
Sensing that she was becoming impatient with me, I gave her the time and directions to the surgery waiting room, which she accepted.
“You are going to need an advocate,” she explained.
I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. Was she commenting on Bob’s capacity to stand up for me? I didn’t think I needed an advocate; the flower essence balance had set me on a path where I could think through choices clearly. In my mind, I didn’t need any help beyond a ride to the hospital. What could either of them possibly do except sit and watch while they wheeled me away to the operating theatre?
The cow goddess Hathor teaches women to ask for help from others and to receive graciously offerings and gifts. As a mother goddess who nurtures the young, she at once represents the positive caretaker and stands to reprove the caretaker in her negative role: the archetypal superwoman who does it all. Anyone in my age group will remember the sixties and that national anthem of women’s liberation: “I am a woman, W! O! M! A! N!” I believed women could do it all then and still suffered from the myth. I had become a genuine workaholic.
When I received the diagnosis of cancer, I was working full-time in a challenging and responsible position as a computer system analyst. I had preserved contact with the local community colleges to keep my public speaking skills honed: I taught two three-hour classes, two nights a week: beginning and advanced system analysis. This involved teaching from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm every Tuesday and Thursday evening besides lecture preparation, exam administration, and homework review. I served on the St. Louis Community College District Committee for Data Processing. In addition, I was the accountant for Bob’s and my joint real estate ventures, three buildings with six rental units that produced extra income. Last, Bob and I were rehabbing a vintage 1920 gaslight era house in South St. Louis. We put in untold hours of work because we could not afford to hire contractors to bring it up to city codes. To top this mountain of work, I spent many weekends taking kinesiology classes, succeeding in nearly 200 hours of class time over several years. Even our recreation was stressful: backpacking and canoeing.
I knew this was excessive, but all except the bookkeeping were labors of love. I was so proud of my productivity that, when it overwhelmed me, I adopted a Daily Planner. This planner managed my daytime and night time jobs, preserved my personal relationships, and spliced in rehabbing and kinesiology. Armed with my black leather, zipped and heavy planner, I organized so efficiently that I could do it all, blinders on, face and foot forward. I lived by the daily to-do lists, which I carefully compiled at the beginning of each week, merging tasks from many projects.
Now, a problem faced me and threatened to bring down the whole house of cards I had built. I had just told a good friend who wanted to help that she wasn’t needed when I badly needed it. The word “support” had no place in my vocabulary. High on this addiction to adrenalin, I didn’t know how to ask for help. What’s more, I didn’t know I had any right to ask for help since I could do it myself. I internalized my parents’ motto: “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” I learned from their literal understanding of this homily to do it myself. Now, I had to learn another interpretation: if you want others to do it, don’t criticize how it’s done. I’d not only blindly followed their example but ignored the negative effects. The Goddess Hathor had much to teach me.
 To that end, read my book "Travel Wings: An Adventure" available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com for an account of the most stressful of our vacations. Many of my short stories also deal with levels of stress that shred the relationships of modern, working couples.
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