Category Archives: Women

10 Things I Didn’t Know about Having Cancer at Work

In an ode to Letterman, we will do these in reverse order…they are all about equal in my book, but we have to have a little dramatic license for the blog post…

2016-03-itn-contagious-cancer10) Some co-workers may think cancer is contagious.  At least based on the way they scurry by my office with just that quick glance and maybe a muttered “hello”, they behave like they think it is.  These are people who used to hang out regularly and shoot the breeze.  I get it. I remind them of their mortality and that may make some uncomfortable. God forbid we think we are mere mortals at work.  Just to be clear, I am being treated for cancer, I am not dying from it.  If I were, I’d be cliff diving on a tropical beach somewhere spending my children’s inheritance…not puttering away in my office doing mundane jobby-job stuff. You are safe to come in and have coffee with me, and you can even laugh in my office.  I do. All. The. Time.

9) Chemo’s Law (like Murphy’s Law but for people undergoing chemotherapy):  If you are going to be fatigued from a recent chemo treatment, there will be an afternoon meeting scheduled until 4:30 pm that  day.  And it will run long.

8) Steroids make a girl hungry! Just like Amy Schumer and her crazy idea to eat a screen-shot-2016-03-05-at-8-57-28-am-copy-500x375sandwich in ultra-thin Hollywood, I get hungry. And for the first few days with each chemo treatment, my docs add steroids to the mix for nausea and energy support. For me, a midlife low carber, this makes me crave carbs.

I can see people look quizzically when I
get a full lunch…wait, doesn’t she have cancer? Isn’t it supposed to make you nauseaus and throw up all the time? Haha, jokes on both of us – many women undergoing treatment actually gain wait during chemo due to the supportive meds keeping us from being tired or nauseous, or from eating the only foods that won’t hurt our already sore mouth/tongue (See #3).  Ah…life’s little ironies.

7) Don’t expect this much make up when I have hair again. Someone told me the other day that I was positively glowing. LOL. Uh, the chemo look suits me? Yep, I glow with the help of my Max Factor bronzer.  When you don’t have hair, you compensate (overcompensate, maybe) by trying to play up your other feminizing attributes before you head out the door to the office. It is a bit of a trick with chemo-caused pale dry skin, thinning eyebrows and eyelashes, and dark circles from insomnia…but apparently I am a great make up artist and managed to pull this one off earlier this week. Yeah, me!

It takes a lot of work to make this face look normal.  Once my hair grows back, I plan to resume my usual throw-it-together-quick look, and gain back 20 minutes of my morning.  I apologize in advance for those of you will see me then.

072709kravitzgladys6) Gossips gonna gossip.  Every workplace has them.  The gossip king or queen who
shares out your business almost before you know it’s your business.  I kept my institution’s gossip hound in check for almost three months…until my hair disappeared…then so did my choice to tell people on my own timeline – and Gossip Gertie was only too willing to help.  It’s like swiming against a riptide to keep a Gladys Kravitz in check.  What are you going to do? I chose to swim parallel to the shore rather than drown. I broke the story first via this blog. Take that, you ear-hustler!

5) OMG – quit scheduling appointments without checking with me first!  I have a pretty full schedule with lots of meetings and occasional travel.  I don’t have time for cancer. To top it off, my cancer center schedules appointments without checking to see if I am available or even in town. Really? Like I should be focusing on my treatments instead of work? Yes, I know the answer here. Et tu, Appointment Maker.  Et tu?

Easier said than done.

When you work hard to get where you are in your career (or to almost where you want to be), it is incredibly difficult to step back.  In competive work environments, to show weakness is to make room for others to move in on your hard-won territory.  That’s not really my situation, so much, but as a woman in a male-dominated field, I understand the thinking.  It goes against my work ethic to take time off – even when it’s needed. I have no solution here – only a recognition of the problem.

4) Chemo-nomnia is a thing. Mujer intentando dormirI have no idea how I can be so fatigued after chemo and
working all day, and yet suffer from insomnia at the same time.  All I want to do is lay down and sleep, yet I toss and turn all night once I get there.  Those dark circles are not reflective of my current state of health…just my current lack of solid sleep.

3) Other side effects.  Nausea? Nope. Fatigue? A little. Hair loss? For sure.  Those are the ones I knew about – the things you see in movies and read about.  But there’s all sorts of fun ones you learn about that you still have to figure out how to deal with while working, even if the big three aren’t giving you too much trouble.  Some of my side effects I got to learn about include:

  • Mouth sores – chemo wreaks havoc with the fast dividing cells in your mouth.  You can get canker sores, lose your tastebuds, develop oral thrush which causes your lymph nodes to swell, you get a sore throat and an annoying dry cough….none of these are very pleasant.  They can impact your work if you are supposed to run meetings, meet with clients, talk on the phone or basically do any kind of communication other than email.
  • Hand and Foot syndrome – this is basically when the chemo leaks out of your capillaries in your hands and sometimes feet. It usually attacks the palms and soles, but for me, it attacked the back of my hands. I had what I can only describe as “fire itch” like the worst hive/poison ivy/steam burn you can imagine, all at once, that lasted almost 10 days.  At first the docs thought it was an allergic reaction – so I was taking every antihistamine and using every topical ointment out there.  Nothing worked except ice packs.  I learned later, the fire itch was kind of like a chemical burn happening from the inside out on the backs of my hands.  It stopped almost as suddenly as it started – two days before my next infusion.  My hands are currently peeling like I had a sunburn. I joke that I am molting.  It is not pretty to look at and I keep my hands super lotioned up at work to avoid the gross out factor.

2) Hats, scarves, and a work wardrobe…oh, my. Once I was over the initial hairloss freakout, I realized I was in for at least 6-9 months of needing something to cover my noggin’. Baseball caps don’t cut it if you work in a professional office. Men have this a bit easier, I think.  Just like dress shoes, women need a variety of hats and scarves to go with a variety of work outfits.  And it takes a little while to learn how to tie those suckers.  Plus, I learned the hardway, I actually need a thing called a hat liner to wear under my scarves or they tend to slide right off my slippery-smooth skull.

Who knew?

(By the way, all head-related items necessary to ride out chemo at work can be found at  I think my UPS guy just automatically stops at my house and assumes he has a delivery for me now.)

1) Invest in companies who hold patents on chemo drugs.  Seriously.  (Which is my way of saying I am thrilled to the moon to have solid health care insurance and can’t imagine trying to figure out how to afford breast cancer without it). You 20 somethings who groan about being perfectly healthy and STILL having to pay for insurance…guess what? 20 somethings can get cancer too.  And go bankrupt from it.


One chemo infusion (of four that I will have) cost approximately $21,000.  That is not the doctor, nurses, infusion room or any other supply.  It is just the two 1/4 cups of liquid chemo gold in the IV bags.  There were at least eight other people receiving treatment with me during my last appointment.  And I live in a small town.  When you start doing the math nation or even statewide, it’s rather staggering.

I honestly had no idea.

People in the 21st century should never have to choose between a roof over their head, food on their table, or life and death medical treatment.  They just shouldn’t have to choose.

I’m lucky to work where I do, and to receive the health benefits that I do. I work hard to earn them, but it is still such a privilege to have them.

And that’s, perhaps, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from having cancer at work.



Filed under Cancer at work, Women

The Bald Truth


I have cancer.

Breast cancer, to be exact.

I guess I mean I had cancer.

Have.  Had.  I’m not exactly sure where the line between has and had falls when you’re in the middle of post-lumpectomy chemotherapy, but let’s just say, if there are any remaining microscopic cancer cells in my body, they are on the run from the chemo…as is my hair.

I’ve agonized a bit on whether to write publicly about this or not. I’d already asked my friends to keep the information off Facebook.  (I really don’t need 200 of my acquaintances (but not close friends) commenting on the state of my boobs…#cringeworthy).

At my institution, where I run evening college and elearning programs, I’ve kept things on the need-to-know basis up ’til now. I didn’t need much time off for my lumpectomy (2 days), and I’ve tolerated my first round of chemo well enough to only miss a sprinkling of days…so it wasn’t really a big “work” deal.

Yet, the educator in me  feels the obligation to share a bit, in hopes that others on the same journey find information and comfort. And the co-worker and colleague in me thinks this is the way to get the word out in one fell swoop – own the story rather than be part of a gossip train – and help people adjust to my altered appearance prior to that first “in person” shocked reaction. (Online is a bit easier than face-to-face explanations).

But cancer has a way of determining it’s own agenda and timetable for disclosure.  Well, not the cancer, really, but its treatment – chemotherapy.

For those of you who’ve never been through it or known someone close going through it, chemo has a predictable pattern…as it kills the fast dividing cancer cells, it also kills off the fast dividing healthy cells in your body leading to some of the more well known side effects of nausea, fatigue, and ultimately, hair loss. It happens almost like clockwork…around day 12 post chemo, the first few hairs start to fall. By day 13-14, you shed like a dog in spring.  Many, like me, choose to cut their hair down to a military buzz cut about this time.  Somehow it’s easier to see 1/4 inch of hair going down the drain each shower than 8 inch long strands and progressivley larger bald patches.  By day 17-20, the remainder falls out, or gets “Bic’d” off, since it becomes like a 1000 shards of prickly demons poking into dying follicles.

This week, the buzz cut and die off happened in rapid succession for me.  Hats and scarves became a part of my work wardrobe on Monday, and by Friday, the  college buzzed with the “So… you’re sick?” or semi-stares at the various hats, and those looks of sympathy.  Ironically, baldness is not a side effect of the cancer…it’s the cure.  Yet that one side effect of hairloss is when Joe Public identifies you as “cancer patient”.

It’s out there now.  Those I will see at quarterly meetings in April and May – yep, I’ll be the one wearing scarves or hats.   Probably through the summer, until my hair starts to regrow.

There are no guidebooks for being a cancer patient while at work.  Who do you tell? Who doesn’t need to know? How do you bring that kind of a subject up? “Hi, haven’t seen you since our last quarterly meeting in Seattle.  By the way, I have breast cancer.”  Let’s just say #awkward doesn’t begin to express it.  I chose to keep quiet until it became obvious.

And for people like me – high energy and full of snark and humor – the awkwardness doesn’t come from people knowing, it comes from how people react when they know because everyone, generally, has their own cancer history as baggage.

What do you say to a colleague who has cancer? First, a few things not to do…

1. Any variation of “I’ll pray for you”  – I keep religion out of my work environment on purpose. And unless you know the person is highly religious, this is very awkward.  What do I say back? Uh, thanks?  I do appreciate the sentiment – but I’m not super churchy in my day to day life and definitely not at work…again, it just feels awkward.

2.  Have you tried XYZ? It worked for my fill-in-the-relative.” I do appreciate that you’re trying to help, but I’m sticking with the plan my doctors and I’ve worked out.

3.  Looks of sympathy bordering on sadness.  Seriously, I need humor and positive vibes – upbeat, please.  You don’t get to be more worried, stressed, or emotionally freaked out than me about my cancer.  If I can handle it, suck it up buttercup, and match my mood.

4. You look good bald.”  Uh, no.  I’m not Charlize Theron or Demi Moore rocking a Hollywood buzz cut.  I may not be an ogre, but this is not my preferred hair choice. I may not be crying in my bathroom over the lost locks, but I’m definitely not reveling in it either.  It is what it is.  It’s okay to acknowledge it.  (I joke about being Kojak).  And I appreciate the sentiment behind the statement, but this is not a choice…it’s just a healing process.

 What can you say?

1.Any variation of “well, damn!”

2. Ask me questions about it, my treatment plan, etc.  I’m an educator, and quite happy to tell you that my cancer was found by mammogram only – couldn’t feel it by touch at all.  (Hint: get regular mammograms)!  My cancer and treatment are not state secrets (obviously), and I talk about it regularly with family and friends.  I just am not going to keep up a newsletter’s worth of sharing after every doctor’s appointment.  I don’t feel obligated to keep everyone that informed.

3. Talk about anything else besides my health. Seriously.  Good lord, people.  Have you read the news lately? There’s a lot more interesting things to talk about than my boobs or my bald head.

4. Dark humor.  Love me some snark and humorous conversation.  Several of my friends and I joke about who has worse “chemo brain”, them or me?  And, of course, we have the hashtag #cancerperks and #chemoperks (don’t have to shave my legs until August!  Woot!)  Don’t be afraid to joke around with me – I’m not fragile, and prefer not to be treated as though I am.

So, next time we meet up, and you see me sporting this look:


Or this:


Or if I get radical and go au natural…


Your job is to say, “Well, damn!” and possibly, “Did you actually tip the barber for that hairdo?”  And then we can get on with life.




Filed under Cancer at work, Women

Introducing Audrey Watters

Audrey Watters holding shark jaw

Last week at NWeLearn’s 10th Anniversary conference, I had the great opportunity and privilege of introducing one of my ed tech heroes, Audrey Watters.  It was not only a big deal for me that Audrey was won of our keynotes, but it represented a milestone and celebration of what this little conference has grown into and how it is leading the pack in some ways.

Seeinging the tide of STEM &  Ed Tech conferences filled with all-male panels of experts and all-male line ups of keynotes (noticeable to the extent it generated a meme of its own), I threw down the challenge via tweet:

The NWeLearn nation answered the challenge in a big way – Audrey as one keynote, and so many top lady thinkers presenting sessions that we suddenly found ourselves in the majority. You rocked it, NWeLearn!

Here’s Audrey’s introduction (co-authored with my buddies Alysonn Indrunas and Maria Erb):

Good morning.  Are you having a good time? Enjoying the sessions?

When we talk about who influences us in our careers, especially in EdTech, it’s easy to come up with a host of names, but for the women in the room, there is perhaps no stronger influence right now than Audrey Watters.  And that may be true for men, as well.

Audrey often gives voice to the things we cannot say in our daily work lives while she critiques institutions and philosophies around the intersection of education and technology. As someone who claims to be a serial dropout, we’d like to give her an honorary degree in Feminist Radness. And men, if you feel excluded, allow me to remind you that feminism is for everyone.

On that note, NWeLearn has achieved a milestone. This year we have 26 presentations by women, 18 by men, and 9 presentations with shared duties. Wow NWeLearn! Way to represent!

According to Audrey, “To “hack education” isn’t something that just technologists should do or care about. Nor only is this a concern for teachers, administrators, parents, or students. We all should consider the implications of technology on how we teach and learn, lest the future of ed-tech be just like the history of ed-tech: learners as pigeons.”

Learners everywhere have a true champion in Audrey, watching their backs and taking shots at corporate bullies in disguise. She is onto them.

In her spare time, she reads, rabble-rouses, and prepares for the zombie apocalypse “because you never know”…And if you want to buy her a beer, try to make it a Green Flash West Coast IPA.

Please join me in welcome Audrey Watters!

The other thing tha happened this year? The Tweeters came out in force – sharing thoughts and resources from both keynoters (Jesse Stommel took the keynote reigns on the second day). The hashtag #nwelearn lit up by attendees and those following along from beyond the conference.

You can read all the tweets by checking out the conference Storify feed.

I hope you’ll join us next year at NWeLearn 2016 – somewhere in Oregon!


Filed under Conference, Women

Shrink It & Pink It: Ask Like a Guy

Several days ago, Alyson Indrunas published a beautifully written and timely blog post that challenged me.  It not only made me think about the topic of grown up mean girls (and the way we suffer to respond – or not), but about the sisterhood of women in leadership, in general, and about writing our truth.

So I am taking a line “Shrink It & Pink It” from Alyson’s post, and claiming it for a cause.  That cause is the need for all of us ladies to share our experiences that challenge us, to open up the conversation, to be inclusive, to write more about it, to create a community of support. Shrink the problem and pink it up. Turn what was/is a demeaning marketing ploy into a call for action. I challenge others to take up the hashtag, find your voice, and blog/Tweet with it, too.

Let’s start something.

And now for my story…

Those who know me, generally don’t use words like “shy”, “timid”, or “lacking assertiveness” to describe me. For the most part, I’d agree.  I learned long ago to work through my nerves. I present a lot in my field, and I am pretty confident that I know my Edtech and eLearning stuff.

Yet a recent experience completing my year-end review made me question all that confidence – not from anything anyone said to me, but from my inability to express my own qualifications and what I wanted out of my career.

I’d completed the usual set of “rate yourself” prompts, and was working on the narrative summary that ends the review. I’d just written that I felt like many in my institution assumed I knew leader-type information I didn’t.  They assumed I was included in higher level meetings than I actually was…and this was hampering my ability to give the best advice and create the best strategies for my department and to provide the best service to other departments.

Then I got stuck.

I knew what I wanted to write – “I should be included in those higher level meetings” – but I just couldn’t bring myself to write it.

Me. Assertive-confident-know-what-I-am-doing-me.  I couldn’t bring myself to make such an outlandish suggestion.

(Feel free to insert your psychoanalysis here).

So, instead, I opened a chat window and proceeded to lament to a trusted male buddy of mine who works in a nearby department. I shared what I’d written so far for my evaluation summary.  The following is some of our exchange.  The italics are my post mortem as I write this now.

Me:  I think they need to bring me to the table…but they’d have to make me something that can respectably sit at the big boys’ table. (WTF – why is it a boy’s table?)  Can’t have a mere ‘coordinator’ at the big table, now can we? (Yes, he and I are #snark friends).

Him: Ha! Very true. So…will you say that? #elephantintheroom

Me: Not sure…I implied it rather heavily, didn’t I?

Him: Yeah, but I think when you are asked ‘How can I help?’ [as part of the evaluation process], it’s good to have something in writing.  Then your thoughts and comments are documented.  No one can come back to you and say, “We didn’t know” [you wanted that role]. It’s been vague too long.  It feels like the underlying goal is that this is a director position, but the more time that passes, your current situation becomes “institutionalized”.

Me: This is where I claim “Women suck at negotiating for themselves” in the workplace. (Or at least that’s my truth 😦 )

Him:  Ha! Want me to go for you? (How much of a chickenshit am I that I really wanted to reply “would you?”)

Me: I need a shot of testosterone!

Him: I can hear it now…”that position was ALWAYS a coordinator”

Me: Ugh. I need cajones.

Him: Go online…black market 🙂  (I did mention we were #snark buddies, right?)

Me: lol

Him: Give it some thought. Share if you want, and I’ll give you my thoughts.  Your first two sections are good, so don’t end there!!!!!!

Here I paused for a bit and tried to come up with a way to write what I wanted and just couldn’t get going.

Me: All right, you’re a guy…How do I tack that on to the end in guy speak?

Him: Ask.

(He makes this sound so obvious. So simple. So easy. My stomach tied up in knots just reading that one word.)

Him: Say, “I want_____ and here’s how to make it happen.”  Rationale and reason don’t play much of a role.

And yet that’s exactly what I did.  For 30 more minutes in our impromptu “coaching session”, I kept trying to rationalize, verbally hug, cajole, and softly tip toe my way into suggesting my employers might want to consider the idea of thinking about possibly looking into the fact that I am already doing twice the work my predecessor did for a lesser title and 2/3rds the pay.

A little backstory: To be fair, I’d leapt at this job when it came open.  I’d been languishing in adjunct purgatory with no chance at a tenure spot barring some unfortunate accident befalling someone in the English dept.  Everyone was youngish and healthy…chances were slim…(wait, that didn’t sound quite right).  Besides, the opportunity to run an eLearning department was what I’d been aiming for longterm anyway – I’d been working in the field, written a book, taught professional development in it – it was perfect. This was my opportunity to move into leadership!

The joke was on me when there was a suprise re-org  and the position was demoted just before my name was attached to the job.  So I was out of the adjunct pan and part time work, but I am now trapped in the exempt coordinator fire.

Him: Take the fluff out of that last line!

Me: But that’s my girly way of softening the blow [of the added cost of a promotion for me].

Him: Totally – take the girly out!

Me: I hope this doesn’t grow hair on my chest! #snark

A little more tweaking and I finally got there. Straight forward. No girly fluff. No pleading. No hyper-rationalizing. Perfectly reasoned and reasonable considering the history and circumstances. And yet I still cringed and closed my eyes when I finally clicked submit.

What will they think of me? Oh God! Too agressive? Too bossy? Too full of myself? Doubt! Panic!

It was so stupid to feel that way. And yet I did.


But, ironically, I would’ve coached any friend (male or female) to do exactly what my buddy coached me to do and not thought twice about it.   Yet I couldn’t coach myself down the same path. Assertive, confident me was a little old chicken.

Brawwwwwwwkkkk Brawwwwkkkkk!!

Pink Chicken

It’s no wonder women make $.77 on the dollar to men, when push comes to shove (or click), it’s very, very hard to click the button and just ask for what you want.

Like a guy.

No. Scratch that. Like a guy.

It’s hard to ask for what you want but not impossible.


The worst that can happen is they might say ‘no’.

So shrink the issue down to size and pink it with some support. Own your courage to ask for what you want…

Like a lady.

Like a woman.

Like a girl.

Like a chick.

Like however you see yourself.

But, by all means, click submit.

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Filed under Women