If you're on this page, you're probably curious about my battle with cancer. First of all, thanks for your concern.
But don't worry about me. I'm doing fine. My prognosis is very good. I got weeks of PTO (for which I feel no guilt whatsoever) and I have insurance. Of course, insurance means almost nothing these days.
Nearly 50% of bankruptcies (in the US) result from medicals bills of people WITH health insurance.
If you want to do something to make me feel better, go to my donation page to help teach African girls to read and cough up a couple of bucks. They need help way more than I do.
Below is a timeline of events. The really gory details are at the very bottom of the page. I'll warn you before you get there.
I should also mention that my battle with cancer cannot hold a candle to my battle with my former employer, Ericsson. I have a HUGE axe to grind
against their nether regions.
Roughly June, 2010
I have this symptom. It's not painful or disfiguring, but I'm concerned. However, I can't see a doctor for two months. Why? Not because the doctor of my
choice doesn't have an opening. It's because I teach technical classes and I'm booked and committed for two solid months. I'm also travelling, so it's not like
I can get a sub for a day and go see the doc, either.
30 Aug 2010, Monday
The big day - I finally get to see a Doc. There was about three minutes of discussion, about 30 seconds of palpation after which he said, "Yeah, it's coming out. Almost certainly cancer."
Well, he was straight to the point.
I go back to the office, finish up a little paperwork and tell my manager (who is a generally good guy). After picking his jaw up off the floor, he politely suggested I take the rest of the day off and wished me a speedy recovery.
31 Aug 2010, Tuesday
I have surgery. I'm at home, pain is minor and I've got a little box filled with pain killers (which I avoided as much as I could tolerate).
The tests on the tissue will take about a week (and some CAT scans). These tests will determine if I have to go through:
- Radiation Therapy
- Both of the above
- None of the above.
01 Sep 2010, Wednesday
Annndddd... I got laid off today (one day after my cancer surgery) after 15 years with the same company. Or, at least I will get laid off as soon as I return from the 'care of the doctor.'
At this point I wish to grumble about some of the idiosyncrasies of the corporate world.
First of all, the call came from my manager. However, it was NOT my manager who made the decision to release me. It was made by his superiors, our director Ludivina Wheless and her boss Antonio Vanni. Yet, my manager was the one who had to make the telephone call to tell me. It just seems to me, that if a director or VP is making the decision to deprive a subordinate of their livelihood (and, more importantly, their health insurance just as they're starting cancer treatment), they should be the one to inform said subordinate. To force a subordinate to do so seems, well… craven.
Another point is about one of the great misnomers in the business world: 'Human Resources'. For any of you bright-eyed individuals entering the corporate world just now, a word in your ear. Do not trust these people! Do not tell them anything! They work for 'The Man' and their interest is in protecting HIM, not YOU! They only time they are interested in protecting YOU is when it avoids getting their ass sued in court. If you are subjected to criminal activity (eg sexual harassment), go find a lawyer or the police and DO NOT TELL HUMAN RESOURCES! They will only use your information to figure out a way to keep from getting sued!
I found out at a later date that our HR director, Bonnie Storer, after learning I had cancer, said that I was just trying to gain sympathy to keep my job and that this was strictly a business decision.
Let's see... Out of approximately thirty trainers:
- I'm the only one with a Masters degree and am a licensed engineer. None of them are licensed and I'm pretty sure that less than half have even a Bachelors.
- I have 'real life' experience as engineer, in the area that I train. The trainers with this kind of experience I could count on the fingers of one hand.
- I teach (at least) twice as many subjects as anyone else,
- I had more billable hours than anyone else. I was (literally) utilised at 101%. The average was 83%
- I know that other trainers with salaries that are 25% higher than mine.
A business decision? Seriously? What business school did Bonnie Storer, our HR rep go to? Or Antonio Vanni? Or Ludivina Wheless?
A final note on Ms Storer's comment: I never asked for anyone's sympathy. I told my manager that I had cancer and I might be out for a few weeks or a couple months and that was all I told anyone at Ericsson.
02 SEP 2010, Thursday
Doc's office called. I get a CT scan next Tuesday.
I'll also be going through radiation therapy at a date to be determined later.
07 SEP 2010, Tuesday
Got the CT scan today. Pretty painless, just an IV for contrast. They told me that the doc will call on the 8th or 9th with a prognosis. So... more of the waiting game.
What was really neat was that they gave me a CD with the scans. It took a while to figure out how to view it, but it is SO cool! I've got lateral and longitudinal slices of my body. I can make out all of the major stuff, like the bones, my heart and my liver (which is surprisingly large).
When I got the CT scan, I'm lying on a table and go through the "Playdough Fun Factory of Death" (show below). This thing makes some uber-scary noises. Seriously, it sounds sort of like the proton-packs from Ghostbusters.
10 SEP 2010, Friday
Well, it was the 10th before the doc's office finally called me. Great news - all indicators were negative on the CT scan. Of course, one is never fully 'cured' of cancer. I'll have some follow-up scans, I imagine, at the very least. I have an appointment with the Doc himself this Wednesday, the 15th, so I'll probably know more then.
15 SEP 2010
Had two appointments today. One with a doc. One with a lawyer.
First, the Doctor. He said that everything is negative (which is good). However, he also said that sometimes it spreads into (I think he said) abdominal nodes and the tests can't detect them. Thus, as a pre-emptive treatment, I will get three weeks of radiation treatment. I've never been through this before, but I can't imagine it's too bad. The alternative is waiting to see if the tumors develop and then going through chemo. I'll take the radiation, thanks.
Now, the lawyer. He said I have a very good case (I got laid off two days after telling my manager I had cancer) and I should pursue a civil suit. The risk is, if I begin proceedings, win or lose, I lose all severance benefits - which are pretty generous. Even the Doc said I should sue. Fortunately, I'll be on disability for a while, so there's no hurry in making up my mind. The adventure continues.
20 SEP 2010
Saw the oncologist today. She said that I'd begin radiation treatment in early October for three weeks.
28 SEP 2010
Went to the oncologist office again today for some preliminary work before radiation and I got five tattoos. They are all little dots (I wanted a bunny, but...). Two are on the very outside tip of my hip bones. The other three run along a line from a few inches below my sternum to just a few inches above my crotch. Apparently, it's important that they hit me with the radiation in the right place, so these are sort of 'calibration' marks.
I get a preliminary x-ray on the 5th and start treatment on the 6th for 15 consecutive (business) days.
30 SEP 2010
Today was not a good day. I call the pharmacy to renew a prescription and they call back saying my insurance card is no longer valid and could
I drop by with a recent copy. I shrug and say okay. It then occurs to me an hour or so later that I just picked up a 'script less than a month ago. I go to the insurance web site and the first bomb of the day gets dropped. My insurance was terminated on the 5th of September!
Now, just to refresh your memory, here's a little timeline:
30 Aug, I go to the Doc and he tells me I have cancer.
31 Aug, I have surgery.
01 Sep, I'm lying in bed when HR calls and tells me I will be terminated after I am released from the care of the doctor (which has not happened yet).
So, I'm toodling along in life and then I discover about the insurance disappearing and... Well, after a flurry of emails, text messages and voice mail, HR finally calls back and says "Call the insurer contact at this number". Basically, these are the people that are the liason between Ericsson and the health insurance company.
Which I do. The nice lady at the insurer contact says, "Yep, your health insurance was terminated on the 5th. Nothing I can do about that. Hands are tied."
Well, now I'm getting a bit frantic. More voice mails, text messages and emails are sent to HR. After several hours I call again and I finally get a hold of Bonnie Storer and she tells me "Yes, it was a mistake on our part. We're going to fix everything. Sorry, my phone is about to die." Click.
Yes, well, I'm not feeling too well myself at the moment. Which brings us to the second bit of bad news for the day - I discovered a lump or a growth where my organ was removed. Maybe it's just scar tissue but I'm definitely going to have the Doc scope it out.
The insurance issue got straightened out today. HR got in touch with the insurer and they got me reinstated. Apparently someone in Ericsson's HR 'accidentally' terminated my insurance on 05 Sep.
I can't say that I'm a big supporter of private insurance these days.
My wife works as a radiologist and she asked one of the oncologists for some free advice about my lump/growth. He said it was perfectly normal and probably just some fluid. This was a relief to hear, of course, but I'll still get my Docs (who are being handsomely paid) to scope things out.
Although not an event for this particular day, I have consulted with a few more lawyers about my layoff. Here are some questions I asked and the condensed versions of the answers from the lawyers.
Me: Can Ericsson lay off someone the day after they are diagnosed with cancer?
Lawyer: Absolutely. Texas is an "at will" state, meaning that employees are retained by their employers "at will" of the employer. They can release you because your nose is too big. The only time it's a crime is if you're in a protected group, which would mean that they released you specifically because of race, religion or sex, were over 40, etc. The burden of proof is on the employee - in other words, * you * would have to prove they fired you because of age, race, etc.
Me: What if I'm on FMLA leave?
Lawyer: Yep, perfectly legal. Heinous, yes, but don't confuse the law with morality.
Me: Even if I was the most productive employee in my group?
Lawyer: Pfft! Like that matters. You got canned because you were naive enough to believe that the employee survey was actually confidential.
However, nothing says I can't publicly humiliate Ericsson (after I get my severance, of course).
I had my annual with my GP (this is not the Doc that diagnosed the cancer - he's a specialist). She (my GP) was upset about the cancer but she was almost livid about the work and insurance situation. She also said my cholesterol is still too high, so I stay on lipitor.
I had my first radiation treatment. It wasn't quite as scary as the "Play-Dough Fun Factory of Death" but it was still a bit scary. A lot of time was spent getting me lined up "just so". I had a little nausea this afternoon, but it might have been that Anaheim pepper I had for lunch.
I had my second (of fifteen) treatments today. I get my dose just before 3 in the afternoon, I drive home and about thirty minutes later, I'm out like a light. I asked the nurse (apparently the doctor is too busy to talk with pesky patients) if I could get a 'script for anti-nausea medicine. I was basically told that I shouldn't be feeling any nausea for another week.
It's Monday, so I had the weekend to recover and was feeling pretty good. Today, same as Friday - I get home and go out for the count for a couple of hours. The wife and I have about a three mile walk every day - by the time we're finished, it's all I can do to collapse on the sofa and watch a movie. There is, as before, some low-level nausea throughout.
Today the oncologist actually talked to me. Not much, just a few words, back and forth. I gently remind her that I have some nausea and she again goes through the "this shouldn't happen for another week" thing, but finally writes the 'script.
I saw the specialist today (the Doc that made the diagonisis). Just a follow up. He said the lump that has appeared in place of the removed organ is just some blood vessels and they'll go away after a while. After the visit and a late lunch, I had treatment #5. Nothing unusual to report.
I got my last treatment today. Here's my experience for those of you that might have to go through it. The 'script for the nausea is worse than the nausea itself - at least for me, it was. I felt very groggy and disoriented. I used it about three times and never did it again. I found that having just a tiny bit of food helped ease the nausea some. Things that are simple to digest, like unprocessed meat (think chipped beef with no fat) are good. Also, the usual staples for a timid tummy - bouillon, rice, crackers.
I also had to get a lot more sleep than I usually do - a *lot* more. Think *more* than 12 hours a day. If, by any means, you can get out of your slave-wage job, do so. Minimize your driving, because you'll be cruising along thinking how great it's going and you'll get hit with the sleepies like a ton of sand. Not a good position to be in when you're in control of thousands of pounds of high velocity steel.
02 Nov 2010
I am officially released from Ericsson. This is my last day. I did a little math and I figured over the course of my career, I netted about 5 or 6 million dollars for the company. Not a bad body of work. Probably got swallowed up as a stock option for executive compensation in less than a week.
I file for unemployment insurance. This will be a substantial reduction in income, which I expect. I'll manage and I'm grateful it's there.
For the next few paragraphs, I'm going to rant about Uncle Lars ("Uncle Lars" is a nickname for Ericsson, much like "Uncle Joe" is a nickname for Joseph Stalin).
If you'd rather skip this, click here. It will take you to the end of the rant.
Now, a few things about the end of my career.
Just about the time I discover my 'symptom' (late June), my director, Ludivina Wheless (that's W-H-E-L-E-S-S) speaks to me for the first time in nearly 18 months in any meaningful way. She congratulates me on being the "most productive" worker for the year, thus far. In my ears, she's saying, "Thank you for donating vast quantities of your free time (that you could have spent with your daughter and wife) to Ericsson, Inc. so we can be more profitable, even though you won't share in that extra profit."
I hope she wasn't expecting me to thank her. This woman claims she has a PhD from Berkeley. If that's true, it doesn't speak well for UCB.
I know I've already mentioned these things, but bear with me...
As bad as things are, as much as I hate the travelling and my director (who won't let me put a picture of my daughter on my desk - not that I'm ever there to see it), I've just been told that I'm more productive than any of the other trainers (of which there are approximately thirty). I also know I am not the highest paid and that I teach more subjects than anyone else. So, I figure I'm *reasonably* secure in keeping my job, especially as the training department is making money hand over fist.
I also once believed that girls would love me for my stunning personality, so my appearance shouldn't matter.
As with anyone's lay off, no explanation is given. There is no trial, no hearing, no chance to explain yourself or plead one's case or suggest alternatives. To this day, I have never been told why I was laid off (apart from the party line of 'restructuring fiduciary paradigms words words words...'). I have lots of suspicions and ideas, but they are speculation only.
For example, it would be pure speculation on my part to say that our director axed me so she could claim credit to a valuable idea I've pitched for ages and I wouldn't be around to complain.
So, I get the chop...
Remember how Ericsson's HR "accidentally" terminated my health insurance (without telling me) right when I was just starting cancer treatments? Wait, there's more...
Because I was laid off (and not fired), Ericsson corporate policy gives me a pretty good severance.
For 15 years of service, severance is 23 weeks of pay. No golden parachute - closer to tin foil, really, but nothing to sneeze at.
I would point out that they are not doing this out of the goodness of their tiny, ice-cold hearts. At my hiring, when they were desperate for my services,
they dangled that particular carrot as part and parcel of my compensation, thus they are contractually compelled to pay me that money.
Their next "oopsie" is they tried to screw me out of half of that, claiming that I only worked for Uncle Lars for 9 years, instead of 15.
For their next little "oopsie" I need to give a little background for those of you outside the US:
Health insurance is *very* expensive in the US. If you don't have it and you need medical care, you can kiss all your assets
good-bye. And did I mention that
nearly 50% of bankruptcies (in the US) result from medicals bills of people WITH health insurance. Imagine what it's like *without* health insurance. Seriously, even if you're a millionaire - if you get something serious, you're now a hundred-aire.
And you can't just walk into the insurance company shop and say, "I'd like some insurance, please. Who should I make the check out to?" No, for some truly
mysterious reason, health insurance companies will only insure you if you *work* for someone, like Ericsson but NOT for someone like McDonald's or Wal-Mart.
I'll spare you my opinion of this system. It would involve lots of foul language.
So, when I lose my job, I lose my insurance. Well, it took, literally, an act of congress to allow me to continue my insurance - out of my own (unemployed) pocket, of course. Ericsson, as part of their severance package offers me one year of insurance. It's a fair chunk of money (it would literally take all of my unemployment check if I had to pay for it). But the money is not really the issue. It's the "privilege" of being allowed to *continue* to pay for insurance. Unless Uncle Lars sends me the paperwork (called COBRA), and I sign off on it, I am now uninsured and a broken bone away from poverty. I cannot retain my insurance at any price.
- Guess who "forgot" to send my COBRA paperwork, thus making me one doctor's bill away from insolvency?
- And, after I called them and reminded them, guess who sent it to an address I haven't lived at for six years?
- Then, guess who told me to wait beyond the deadline for filing the paperwork?
- And, then, guess who terminated my insurance *again* without bothering to tell me?
Yep, our good friend, Uncle Lars.
Now, I will say that, once I pointed this out to them, they got it sorted in a couple of days. In my ears, however, this is like being told,
"We're so sorry we poisoned your food. We'll pay for the antidote, so now everything's okay, right?"
One last thing: There are, literally, millions of people who get screwed like this by their companies every year. I am not the only one, and I can
guarantee others have it far, far worse. Right now, despite all this, I've got a lot to be thankful for.
Most importantly, I am in good health. As I write this in late March of 2011, I have just had a quarterly checkup and everything is negative
(which is good).
I am *certainly* in no danger of starving, I have a roof over my head and a "sugar momma" who makes enough to pay the bills.
My point being, I'm not writing this to win sympathy. I'm writing it to point out that corporate abuse of workers, professional
and lay alike, still exists in America. While there are good and ethical corporations (Ericsson was one, many years ago), their goal
is to make as much money in the short-term as possible. What is just and right does not get involved in their decisions.
End of Rant.
Okay, for the chronically curious among you, the details of my cancer are below. Some of it gets pretty personal in a "Too Much Information" kind of way. So, if you'd rather be spared the details, quit now.
Right - one last clue before the details...
Y'know, I never should have said that "I'd give my right nut if the New Orleans Saints would win the Superbowl."
Still wish to read more? Scroll down...
Fair warning provided.
Okay, I have seminoma. It's not nearly as serious as it sounds but it gets pretty personal. Use the link to have a look at the wikipedia article and then decide if you wish to continue.
Still here? Continue at your own peril.
That 'symptom' I mentioned at the top of the page was that my right testicle got really hard. I mean, it was like a stone. Well, not quite that hard. More like a rubber eraser. Certainly not soft and squishy like the left one.
The operation was a "right radical orchiectomy" which sounds more like a title for the clergy than anything else... It simply means that I had my right testicle removed along with all of the connecting 'tubes'.
I also have to put my last remaining jewel in this device when I get radiation treatment. Now, I realize that it's for protection, but anytime my junk is near an apparatus with stainless steel threads... I'm sorry, I just get a little nervous.
So, a lesson for you guys (or girls who *really* love their guys) - give "the lads" a gentle squeeze from time to time and get used to how they feel. Should be soft and squishy. If you feel something different
then don't waste any time. Get it scoped out ASAP. One of my closest friends from high school and college died from this. It wasn't pretty.
Well, if you went through all of that, I'd like to thank you for your concern (and commend you for curiosity).
You can email me at grim(at)otterstow(dot)com