HR knew about Chris’ cancer. I told them. Repeatedly, whenever I spoke with HR regarding my displacements. They knew that Chris was on my health insurance. They knew that I was working for my benefits and didn’t care about the paycheck. They knew.
But at the time of my displacement (I think March 2011), I went to the Union. The Union Rep. tried to intervene on my behalf. And he was unsuccessful. He tried again and again and was told there was nothing that could be done. As we all know, HR has “power” and can make exceptions when they want to. They didn’t seem to want to. Why? I have no clue.
All I was asking for was that I be placed in an Educational Assistant position rather than having to interview and be “hired” again. That was it. It really wasn’t that much. I checked the job postings this morning and there were several positions that were open (there were a total of 30 open positions, but only a few of them were in the classification I was previously working in). There have been positions all summer. So, I wasn’t asking for something that was impossible. I was asking for something that was reasonable. Especially, under the circumstances.
Over and over again I told HR and the Union Rep. that I was concerned about my health insurance. I was under the false impression that my insurance would run until the end of the school year, as I worked the entire school year. Apparently, in the letter that told me that I was RIF and that I would be placed on the recall list, there was one sentence telling me that my health insurance would expire on May 30th. The reasoning was that the last day that I worked for the district was in May (because of the school calendar).
Here’s the thing. I worked my “contracted” 176 days. If I had been at a school that had a different calendar, my 176 days would have ended in June and our health insurance wouldn’t have expired until June 30th. June 30th was the last day of the school year.
The Union rep. was as surprised as I was when we found out my health insurance expired.
In the meantime, through all of April and May, I applied for teaching positions within the district. I was not eligible to apply for “in-district only” positions because, while I was “in-district” I wasn’t working as a teacher. Of course, it makes no sense. A teacher on a “one-year only” contract was allowed to apply for teaching positions before I was. And remember I had been working in the district for 4 years.
Our health insurance was a high deductible insurance. We were required to pay for everything until we reached $8,000 out-of-pocket (the district would “subsidize” $3,000 of that over the course of an entire year). Once we reached the $8,000, everything was covered at 100%. We had reached the out-of-pocket fairly early on and really believed that we would have the month of June covered at 100%.
However, my insurance “expired” at the end of May. And we couldn’t do COBRA for one month and then sign up for insurance through Chris’ company. So, how should I put it, we were screwed. Chris’ insurance runs from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. Mine ran from July 1 to June 31. So, we would have to switch and have 7 months on Chris’ insurance before it started again.
If you’ll remember, Chris had radiation in June. Originally, we thought that the radiation would be covered at 100%. But because of the change in insurance, we had to reach our deductible and out-of-pocket. For a single family member, the out-of-pocket was $5,700. For the family, it was $9,700. And all of it “rolls over” in January and we have to start again. Even if I were to get a position within the district, we would have the same issue with the different coverage periods.
Following Orientation, I told KR and MF all of this. And that HR knew my situation. KR said several times that this never should have happened. She told me that I should speak with the new Director of HR. Apparently, he began working for the district in July. I asked her if she thought he was in, and she walked me to his office. He was in a meeting, but she told me that she would have him call me. She told me that, this should have never happened repeatedly.
She also told me that she would get my substitute “stuff” done as quickly as possible (and she did. Thanks KR!!!) and to let her know if I needed anything. She also told me that I was a “strong, beautiful woman.” She also told me that it was amazing that I was calm and able to talk about what had happened (and Chris’ cancer) and wasn’t a total mess.
And this is the point that I wanted to get to – people tell me that I’m strong because of how I am handling my life. But what other choice do I have? I can’t stay in bed with the covers pulled up around me, NO MATTER HOW MUCH I MIGHT WANT TO. What would that accomplish anyway?
I have to get up and face each day. I have to do what I can. I have to try to keep things going. I have had to let go of my anger and stop asking the question, “Why me/us?” I don’t have any other choice. I have two boys (remember they are 13 and almost 11) who are going through something that I can’t even imagine – the prospect of losing their dad. Chris is facing treatment after treatment and hoping (beyond hope) that they work and can keep the cancer at bay. There isn’t time for me to have regular pity parties. There is still laundry and dishes. The boys still need to do their homework and practice their instruments. The dogs need to be taken out. And while I may wish it were otherwise, life goes on.
If someone would have told me 10 years ago, I would be facing this – this being my life – I wouldn’t have believed them. I would not have thought that I would be able to deal with it all. I would have thought I would be a mess. That I would have a break-down.
But somehow, over the last several years I have managed to do things I thought I would never be able to do: I lived for a year in IL, while Chris was in CO and managed the boys, work, and the house being on the market. I dealt with a flood at our house less than one week before we were to move to CO – I had help, but I put in a tile floor (all by myself) and managed to get everything re-packed for the move. I worked full-time while completing my Master’s and managed to graduate with a 3.98 GPA. I have made new friends and adjusted to life in a new state, where I only knew 2 people (and Chris) prior to moving here. I also finished my Student Teaching after Chris was diagnosed.
People, like KR, say that I am strong because I have done all of these things. But, honestly, what other choices have I had?
This is why I find it hard to tell people about Chris’ cancer. Somehow, it becomes all about me. And it isn’t.
I had a friend who was upset about her dog dying. She was in tears and talking with me. And then it happened. She said that she shouldn’t be upset and crying to me. I had enough to deal with and her problems weren’t anything compared to mine. I told her it was NONSENSE. It isn’t all about me, all the time. Her dog dying was upsetting. She had every right to be upset. She had every right to talk with me about it. My problems don’t make anyone’s problems less. Yes, it is sometimes about me. But it can’t be about me all the time. Sometimes, like after her dog died, it had to be about her. It is as it should be. It is hard to be a friend if it is always all about you.
I told my friend that right at that moment, what she was going through was important. That it was upsetting to her and I was there to support her. That, as my friend, she had the right, to have it be all about her for a while. I told her that there would be days when it was all about me, but that day wasn’t one of them.
Much of the time, we are in stable and steady mode. Chris’ cancer isn’t growing. Now it isn’t shrinking either, but it isn’t growing. He goes to work every day (and I am VERY thankful) and while he doesn’t feel well and he is tired, life goes on. Yes, his cancer is always there, but there isn’t anything else that can be done. So we all go on.
We will, at some point, hit crisis mode. We expect that the cancer will start growing (like it did prior to Chris’ radiation treatments in June). We will deal with that when it happens. And we will need it to be all about us when that happens. But day-to-day is just that, day-to-day. Life goes on. We manage as we have been managing for almost 2 years.
I find it difficult to decide when to tell someone about Chris cancer for all of these reasons. I may be strong, but I haven’t had a choice. If we had stopped managing when Chris was diagnosed, where would we be now? It has been 2 years. We have to live and not wait for death. And that means that friends are going to need us. For fairly normal stuff – like dogs dying and cars breaking down and fights with spouses or families. And it doesn’t diminish the problem (the fact that Chris’ cancer is, well cancer).
But managing doesn’t make me strong. Managing makes me human. And I don’t see that I am special because of it. I am not an example of how someone should deal, because I am me and I am dealing the best that I can. No one can say how they would manage if it were them, because it isn’t them and honestly, you don’t know until you are there.
So, support me. Be there when I need you and offer your help (thanks KR, MF and my friends ET, KH and AG for all you do regularly). And let me be there for you, when it needs to be all about you. Let me be your friend and don’t make me into something I’m not. Because some days, I cry in the shower because it is all I can manage. Then I end the pity party and go on. Life is like that – you really don’t have any other choices.