So today (in just about an hour), I finally get the scans that will tell me (next week) whether the cancer is contained or not. In many ways, this has been a wickedly hard week.
In the week since I’ve been diagnosed, I have been on 5 planes and in four cities in two countries. I have stood at the front of a room in hotels and office buildings and a university. I have taught about listening and experimenting and being compassionate with ourselves and others around failure. I have felt the delight of reaching people, making them laugh and think, and also the exhaustion of trying to keep it together while the cracks widen imperceptibly. (Because I’m also not eating or sleeping that much—funny that the basics can get so much harder when I’m afraid.)
All of this has made me think about the role of work in our lives. I have, on occasion, been accused of being a workaholic. And it’s true, I do work hard—lots of hours, lots of heart, lots of airplanes. But I’m less and less convinced I’m a “workaholic”—working out of some compulsion or anxiety. This past week, people were trying to help by letting me know I didn’t have to do the work that I was scheduled to do. And it was a big week—four delivery days on three totally different programs in three different cities is a lot for anyone I think.
I wondered if the thing I was doing was numbing myself by tumbling headlong into work all week. This is the workaholic idea, right, that we ignore the other areas of our lives as we numb ourselves compulsively with work.
My experience this week was different. I was not numb. I was totally present and alive. As I talked to the leaders I work with, I felt so grateful to be in their company, so honoured that they let me in on their fears and concerns, so moved as their relationships with one another deepened. I stepped out of myself and my concerns and into the web of fears and joys and loss and delights that make up our human experience. My reach was broad and deep—thinking about the future of different industries, the future of important relationships, the future careers of these leaders I so admire.
And today my focus will be narrow. I go from one test to the next, staying hungry and becoming radioactive. (Aidan has joked that if anyone is mean to him at school this week, he’ll threaten with a hug from his radioactive mom.) Today I’ll be alone with my thoughts and fears and the clanking of the miraculous machines that can see inside my body, can search for things that might kill me in the next few years. These machines are sort of the oracles of our time, and I am afraid—and hopeful—about what I’ll learn.