Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Family Medical Leave Act

So, in Monday's post, I said I was sad and angry at my colleagues for not supporting my idea to take sick leave for spring term. Well, it turns out that one person was too busy with something else to really hear what my request was and for the other, the person didn't quite realize how much the Herceptin treatments impact me - nor did that person really have a full understanding of all the side effects that I have. When I showed him how big the swollen lymph nodes under my arm are (if you cup your hand like you do when you're swimming - the volume of your cupped hand is what the size of the lymph nodes are), he visibly looked a little bit shocked and then said, "and that's all bad stuff?" and I said, "yes". I reiterated how exhausted I felt and how worried I was that I wouldn't be able to perform in front of the classroom on a regular basis - that one out of three weeks, I'd be exhausted - and I think he finally got it. I guess I talk about all my aches and pains and fatigue all the time so I tend to think everyone has the full picture. But on any given day, I might only talk about one or two things. I think this was the first time that my colleague knew about the whole picture - and then understood.

I also thought to ask our office of Women and Gender Equity about FMLA and the associate director looked at me (and congratulated me on the Phyllis Lee Award from January) and said, "You've been working full time through all of this? It's about time you applied for FMLA!" I responded that last year my tumor markers were good and I had good energy so I didn't see the need. However, this new treatment of Herceptin is really affecting my energy levels and I don't see how I can teach ten weeks, when every third week I'm suffering from fatigue. She said that I can file for FMLA, which allows me to take 12 full-time weeks off without getting fired, but I can also do a part-time FMLA and extend it to 24 weeks or whatever the case may be. And, I can use what sick leave I have to cover it.

So, we're filing for FMLA - that ball is rolling - and the department is thinking about their options with regard to the class. I don't mind helping with the class - I just can't take full responsibility for it.

Also, in other news, I heard from the American Cancer Society today - they work with local hotels and usually can offer me a room at no cost, so that's in the works. There's also the possibility of getting a "gas card" - a credit card to pay for gas.

Anyway, the pieces are falling into place . . . I'm just glad we had a month or so to work on things and am relieved that my department is willing to work with me on the leave ...

Lessons learned? That communication is very important. That I can't assume everyone knows everything. And, that there are always options.

Have a great evening - enjoy American Idol! BTW, my favorites last night were Crystal and Siobhan. Wow! I think Crystal sang Tracy Chapman's song better than Tracy Chapman!


Joanna said...

Hi Dee,

I wanted to leave some thoughts with respect to how Herceptin wipes you out. I have been on it for two years. The first time I had Herceptin (loading dose), I experienced the most intense pain I have ever experienced. It was unreal. Now I can go and have Herceptin like I did today and don't even feel it. (Today was the easiest it has ever been.) When there is active cancer, it is very painful and tiring because the cancer is dying. The purpose of my Herceptin treatment is to keep cancer away and hopefully, there is nothing there to kill. So, no side effects. You are doing a full out assault on cancer cells.

I hope this helps. I think the fatigue, etc. is a good sign for you. Those cancer cells are toast.

Dee said...

Wow, Joanna, I never heard it explained that way! I just thought the fatigue was my body trying to process the chemicals. But I also thought was that my swollen lymph nodes were still swollen because my body is trying to flush out the dead cancer cells.

But I like your experience, though. I like it. It's the thought I'm going to go to sleep by tonight. So, thank you thank you thank you!

Joanna said...


I am glad that this was helpful. I am a bit of a Herceptin veteran. It truly is a remarkable drug. I started my treatment at University of Colorado Hospital in April, 2008 and the doctor there is the one who told me about what the pain meant. I have a very good oncologist now, but in the past when I complained about the Herceptin side effects, she told me that the drug has very mild ones but this did not always match up with my experiences. And now, I just don't have many. When I had treatments last summer, I would just get exhausted and I would come home and sleep the rest of the afternoon. Then I would feel mildly sick for the next two days. Now, no fatigue. I ran errands for about five hours after treatment today. Isn't this weird? My new protocol is that I schedule Herceptin for early afternoon and then play tennis all morning before treatment. I don't know if this is the reason that my side effects have diminished, but what the heck. It's fun and I am not confident enough to schedule tennis after the infusion session. I take my laptop to the hospital where I have treatment and do a little blog entry while the pump is chugging away. I am running out of things to bog about during treatment because the whole experience is so non-eventful.

I hope you get to the point that your Herceptin treatment is equally non-eventful. Let me know if I can support you in any way. My doctor is planning on keeping me on Herceptin for as long as it is effective and as long as there is no cardio-toxicity. Hopefully, I will be on it for a really long time.


Cat, Jeremiah, Finn and baby limpet said...

Let me know if you need help with whatever classes they throw your way...I'm willing to do what I can.