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"Chemocation": A Comedian Talks Work & Cancer

I went to Fatburger immediately after finding out my testicular cancer diagnosis. Fatburger is one of my personal stages of grief, don’t hate. The first person I called was my mother (duh), then my best friend (double duh), and finally my boss.

Getting cancer sends a cascade of details into your life you never expected. The time commitment it requires makes it a second job. It’s the worst paying job you’ll ever have. In fact, you’re paying for it!

I’m a writer/comedian, which, loosely translated means “Man with a day job.” It’s that day job that offers the health insurance that, as of recently, I never used. A check up here, a weird itch there, maybe a trip to the dentist (maybe!), that’s pretty much the history of my insurance usage.

I returned to work shortly after recovering from the surgery. It was nice to get back to normal, though I found it hard being confronted with people’s reactions to my diagnosis. Before I got cancer, people would just say “Good morning,” and go on with their day. Now they ask, “You feeling okay? Sleep okay? Can I get you anything?” Fortunately, on the daily Starbucks run, this concern has turned into, “Nah, put your money away, I got this one.” Never let anyone tell you cancer doesn’t have perks.

Just as things got back to normal, my course of treatment became clearer. At least two cycles of chemotherapy? Five days a week, five to six hours a day? Chronic fatigue? Will someone still buy me Starbucks?

There I was, at the office, balancing a heavy workload in addition to handling a call from the sperm bank. My boss on one line, a nurse on the other, “You have to deposit the specimen within 30 minutes of ejaculation.”

“Okay, got it,” I respond.

“Do you think you can get this done by the end of the day?,” my boss asks.

“I once set a record amongst my buddies for how many times I could masturbate in one day, I think I can handle this.” Silence. Sorry boss.

Clearly I was overwhelmed. I came to the difficult decision that I needed to take a leave of absence (or a “Chemocation,” as I’ve come to call it). But how? What does this entail?

I told my company, who have been and continue to be amazing. Then I figured I’d apply for disability. I’m a New York resident, I assumed the payments would be decent considering the cost of living. At least enough to cover the basics, food, rent, etc. Then I came across the information: 50% of your wages up to $170 a week. Up to? $170? That’s a phone payment and a couple of tacos! I love tacos, but what am I supposed to do with that?!

I felt as if I was being punished for getting cancer. Backed into a financial corner, how was I going to pay for my life on $170 a week? I have some money saved up, but not enough to live on for up to three months (remember, comedian, hello). Why am I having to deal with money when I’m trying to stay alive? Is a Starbucks card at least part of the deal?

Balancing my work and cancer treatment wasn’t a possibility. It’s not the physical effects of chemotherapy that worried me (though this was a concern), but rather the emotional realities of having to admit to my boss that I can’t do the job. I’m the type of worker that responds immediately, that jumps in and gets things done as quickly as possible*. But I wouldn’t be able to do this with my new “job.”

* Dear Boss, please remember this sentence at the time of my next review. Thank you.

Because of New York State, I cashed out my vacation time (because taking a vacation after conquering cancer isn’t necessary, right NY?), and accepted the help of friends and family. I’m fortunate to have this support. Think of the millions of Americans that don’t have this support? Imagine if I didn’t have this day job, didn’t have this insurance, this support from family and friends? What does this person do? Makes you wonder how anybody could be against universal health care (had to throw that one in).

I turned to websites like Cancer and Careers, LIVESTRONG, the Sean Kimerling Foundation, among others for information. Everybody has an opinion about what you should do, how you should deal with your cancer diagnosis, what they thought of Debra Winger’s performance of a dying cancer patient in Terms of Endearment, etc., but in the end it’s only happening to you. So you take the time to educate yourself, find the resources that are relevant to you, and then make the best decisions for yourself based on your own circumstances (not Debra Winger’s... would somebody just give her the shot already??).

I’m at the beginning of this journey. I don’t know what will come next. But I’m doing everything that I feel is right. Well, most everything. This brings me to the most important piece of advice I can offer: read instructions, all instructions. If you don’t, you’ll find out on the day of your sperm bank visit that you were suppose to abstain for seven days prior. Read the instructions!

And I’ll take a venti unsweetened iced coffee with soy milk. Thanks!

H. Alan Scott is a writer, comedian and Fresca enthusiast based in New York City and Los Angeles. Follow him on huffingtonpost.com/h-alan-scott/ and on Twitter @HAlanScott and check out his website at halanscott.com
Posted By H. Alan Scott  At 11/7/2012 5:11:35 PM
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