COVID-19, Laid Off and Mental Health…OH My!

As many of you saw on Thursday, I was laid off from my job as a marketing project manager. I honestly did not see it coming and was completely blindsided. I found out later that a total of 300 people were laid off from the company due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their bottom line. As a survivor of the 2008 recession and breast cancer survivor, I know this will be an even tougher road due to so much uncertainty about our health.

I’m a realist and see the massive layoff numbers, especially now that I am part of that number. It’s not about being capable or skilled at this time. Many of us who are laid off are more than capable and skilled. That’s the issue. The competition will be much like the recession days; extremely fierce. Plus, many companies are implementing hiring freezes except for healthcare, technology and food industries.

I’ve been a mixed bag of emotions since Thursday – furious, scared, disbelief, anxious. I initially got more upset being told to be strong. I know people meant it in a loving and kind way and weren’t sure what to say. I’m sure I came across unintentionally a little snappy when responding to texts and messages. You see, I already AM strong. How much stronger do I need to be to survive in this world? I never set out to be a modern-day Hercules.

I’ve spent this entire weekend doing major self-care so I wouldn’t complete snap or fall into a serious depression. What’s hardest for me to deal with is feeling completely disrespected by my former manager and bigger boss. So, here’s what I’ve done to cope and change my mindset so I can focus on next steps come Monday morning.

  1. I needed to feel in control of my space, so I did OCD cleaning from top to bottom. I pushed through my chronic pain which has been sky high because I needed that control.
  2. I purged of all the logo’d work stuff (water bottles, bags, backpacks, notepads) which really made me feel good.
  3. I must’ve vacuumed five different times. Each time I shouted all the things I wanted to say out loud to my former manager and bigger boss but never could to their faces.
  4. As thoughts of them would enter my mind, I would quickly replace it with a positive thought of the amazing people I got to meet and hangout with for the past two years.
  5. I thought about how one of the regional vice presidents called me after I emailed him personally thank him for being such a great light and inspiration in the office. His beautiful words to me brought me to tears. He’s just a good man and a father figure in the office.
  6. I thought about all of YOU who reached out to me with posts, texts, emails, DMs and calls and thought how blessed I am to have people who care, even those who’ve never met me in-person.
  7. I thought about how I managed to push through chemo brain and be on point almost every day and make big decisions and lead conference calls and meetings.
  8. I read tons of inspirational quotes, prayed, read some self-help books on my bookshelf about transition and struggles.
  9. I’ve watched my favorite action movies and TV shows with a fierce female lead that I love so much. Those who know me well, know that Alias is my go-to series every single time. I just connect with Jennifer Garner’s character Sydney on so many levels. I even have an autographed script of the pilot, autographed picture of Jennifer Garner and the Alias books. Yeah, I’ve been obsessed from day one.
  10. I’ve spent time remembering the many, many trials I’ve already survived and still standing. I’m reminding myself that even when I want to give up, I must push forward because I have purpose in this life. Though I don’t know how my purpose will fully flourish, I’m trusting God’s plan.

All the above has helped me get to a decent place mentally and emotionally. I haven’t been able to verbally talk to many people this weekend. I knew I needed to work on my mindset so I wouldn’t go ballistic or cry uncontrollably. So again, I apologize for unintentionally sounding snappy in my texts or DMs.

Being laid off during this COVID-19 pandemic is downright shitty. I allowed myself to get angry and then release it. It’s so ironic that I literally am a Cancer (birthday July 3rd), so I crawled into my shell this weekend so I could emerge with a plan of action and focus come Monday. Again, I’m already a strong and resilient person and know I’ll get through this. It’s just a tough pill to swallow because I was hoping for a somewhat stable 2020 financially, professionally and physically since last year was a complete bust.

Here are the top quotes that have brought comfort to me. I may have some printed to look at often…can you guess which one (s)?

So like Dorothy’s “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” line, I cautiously step into Monday thinking of COVID-19, networking, revising my current resume, trying to get my breast cancer scans rescheduled for this week before I lose my company health insurance, waiting for my official work end date so I can file for unemployment, reviewing Medicaid and ACA and bills.  

On the bright side, I have time to write and submit to my huge list of publications that I have been aching to do. Most of all, I know that I am not alone in this struggle and calm enough to fully reach out to friends to lean on. I love y’all!

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Pretty in Pink

With so much uncertainty and emotions running high, I decided to focus this week’s blog post to a happy time from the past. That’s why I love my scrapbooks and photo albums. For all the painful and challenging times, I have just as many awesome memories captured for easy reference.

REWIND: Let me take you back to my senior year of high school in 1995. Anyone from Macon, GA and surrounding areas know all about the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that happens in March. It’s an international festival of friendship, plus the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. For me, it was always a favorite time of year because everything cherry blossom related is PINK, my favorite color.

Though I grew up watching pageants, I never thought I would actually be in one. My high school, Mount de Sales Academy, always had at least 1-2 seniors on the Cherry Blossom Court every year. I had never thought of entering the Cherry Blossom Pageant until a friend from another high school suggested it. Her name was Ann, and she was a 1994 Cherry Blossom Princess from Central High School. We were in a musical together back then during her reign. She thought I would be perfect for it.

Considering pink has been my favorite color since I was four years old, I thought it would be fun to enter the pageant and be immersed in everything pink, meet more new people and practice my interviewing skills for college.  For this pageant, the talent was giving a speech on a topic of your choice. I have always loved the stage, so thought it would be an absolute blast.

My friend Anne was so convinced I would get on the court that after she left for college, she had her mom reach out to give me her pink pageant gown, pink interview suit and pink poodle skirt. We happened to be the exact same height and size. I was a tiny little thing back in the day.

In the two weeks leading up to the pageant, my mother got very ill and nearly died. She got a staph infection and pneumonia and was hospitalized. I did not realize how serious all this was at the time. My youth group leaders and mother’s friends stepped in and made sure I had everything I needed, got to school and all to all the pageant rehearsals. This was the start of mother’s body notifying her something was seriously wrong.

As excited as I was on the day of the pageant, I was deeply sad because my mother wouldn’t be there. She had never missed a major performance of mine. I remember getting ready in the dressing room at the Grand Opera House in downtown Macon when one of the volunteers walked over with a message. My mother was there. She had signed herself out of the hospital against her doctor’s orders and had a nurse with her. The Cherry Blossom Committee had roped off a section in the back, so no one was seated near her. Once I knew my mother was in the audience, I felt even more confident and wanted to do my utmost best.

From the moment the pageant started, I was on fire! My smile had never been so big. When I was on stage during the opening dance number, I searched the audience and found where mother was sitting with a facemask and nurse by her side with her IV. Knowing she was so sick but determined not to miss my first time in a pageant meant the world to me. She was diagnosed with a blood cancer called essential thrombocythemia at that time. She didn’t tell me until the summer before my junior year of college.

Princess Megan-Claire (ME)

The Cherry Blossom Court consists of one queen and four princesses. So, when I made the top 10 and then ultimately the top five, and then crowned as one of the 1995 Cherry Blossom Princesses, I could not have been prouder of myself. I had always wanted to be a debutante like my mother. I felt like one that night and at the night of the Cherry Blossom Ball.

From left to right: Princess Joy, Princess Megan-Claire (ME), Queen Keisha, Princess Laura and Princess Jennifer
From left to right: Queen Keisha, Princess Joy, Princess Megan-Claire (ME), Princess Jennifer and Princess Laura

I got to do some amazing things while on the Court. I got to be part of ribbon cuttings, a motivational speaker to young girls, thrilling helicopter ride over the city, meet dignitaries from all over the world, and a judge for the Little Miss Cherry Blossom Pageant. The highlight of the entire experience aside from being on the Court was meeting the Band of the Welsh Guards of England. In fact, I kept in touch with one for a few months afterward. I still have the letter! They were super nice, flirty and hilarious. I was never popular with boys in high school, so it was nice to get some attention from some cuties but all in good fun.

From left to right: Princess Megan-Claire, Welsh Guard #1 and #2, Princess Jennifer
Princess Megan-Claire (ME) just hanging out with the Band of the Welsh Guards

My cherry blossom tiara is one of my most prized possession because of all the amazing and fun memories attached to it.  The entire experience was one of the highlights of my senior year in high school.

So, as we move into another week of uncertainty due to COVID-19, those still in treatment or newly diagnosed, make sure to take time and focus on some of the good things in your life, whether past or present.

Until nex time,

Warrior Megsie

“With a Little Help from My Friends” by Joe Cocker

I’m very open with my struggles of depression and sometimes anxiety. It’s been part of me since my early teens. Though there is a lot of darkness in me, there is also pure joy and sunlight.

I had somewhat stopped leaning on people due to constant disappointment of them not being able to hold me up during my time of need. When a strong person cracks or heaven forbid breaks, instead of being heard and allowed to cry, I’m always told to “buck up” and “be strong.” That’s enormous pressure to always remain in-tact.

In this digital age, the reach and support one can find is vast. Though I long for a local bestie to binge watch Downton Abbey (which I’m watching as I type this) and other fun shows or just hangout chatting, it struck me that I’ve been longing for the wrong thing. I keep focusing on friends in real life who can come over, but I see now I have made great female and male friends from all over the world thanks to social media.

From DMs, to supportive posts, to recorded messages from peeps in the UK, to sweet cards and unexpected gifts…how dare I say I’m lonely even for an instant!

So, as the musician and songwriter Joe Cocker sang With a Little Help from My Friends, that’s exactly why I’m able to write this with a genuine smile on my face. I thank those of you who always take time to connect with me on some level. It means more than you will ever know.

 Link to the song

Thought I would also take this opportunity to share memories of fun times from the high school days through mid-20’s. I always get excited to share pictures from my many, many photo albums and scrapbooks.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

Toughest Role Starring ME

My 4-year chemoversary was on February 26th. I confess I had many mixed emotions and flashbacks on that day. Anyone who has been reading my blog for some time and/or follows me on social media has seen numerous posts about the chemo curls and how I’ve hated them from day one. Looking in the mirror every single day and not recognizing myself has caused major trauma to my psyche.

Last year was the first year I was able to wear my hair straight without looking like a mushroom head. I was so excited to post the first pictures of my hair blown straight because I recognized my reflection for a brief moment. Though I know none of the comments were meant to be malicious, I confess I was deeply hurt when soooo many commented the straight hair was nice, but I looked cuter with the chemo curls. If I’m being honest, it felt like a slap in the face. Couldn’t they see these curls are a constant reminder of the most painful and horrific time of my life?

I had wanted and needed so desperately to connect with some part of me again. My hair has always been important to me. I come from a long line of women on my mother’s side with glorious hair inherited from my great-great-grandmother Ella. She was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. Anyone who knows me from when I was little saw how long my mother’s hair used to be. My hair had grown to my shoulder blades and super thick by the time I was 9 years old, but I cut it when I was 10 after seeing Anne of Green Gables. It was the scene when she had to cut her hair into a bob because she wanted to dye her red hair black like Diana Barry, but it turned green. I always had at least a chin length bob or longer.

No one has seen the tears when I realized my hair when worn straight isn’t thick like it used to be. The right side isn’t growing fast at all and looks odd. That’s why I started wearing it curly again. I’m waiting for that right side to catch up.

Here I am 4 years later, and the curls seem to be permanent. The only reason I can handle them at this moment is because I do have the option to blow it straight even with the wonky right side. I didn’t realize how much I needed to know I had options again.

Those 16 rounds of chemo I had to receive were the hardest and scariest 5 months of my entire life. I didn’t know I could feel such pain in my body. I had the motherload of side effects, aside from the hair loss trauma. I went back to my journal during that time and compiled a list of ALL side effects I experienced while on Adriamycin, Cytoxan and Taxol.

Dizziness.

Nosebleeds.

Chemo brain.

Severe anemia.

Rapid heartbeat.

Godawful nausea.

Loss of appetite.

Tongue would swell.

Bottom teeth ached.

Toenails turned black.

Loss of taste and smell.

My tongue turned black.

Terrible and painful constipation.

Bone pain from the neulasta shots.

Loss of control of bowel movements.

The palms of my hands and feet looked burned.

Hair growing back completely different and curly.

Fingernail beds lifted and ultimately fell off and so painful.

Weight gain from all the steroids infused before each chemo.

Lack of sleep from all the steroids infused before each chemo.

Dark circles under my eyes – still have them but not as panda like.

Physical weakness to the point I had to use a cane and could no longer drive.

Hair fell out everywhere – head, eyebrows, nose hair, lashes, legs, underarms and lady parts.

Mouth sores (those in chemo now, ask about Gel Clair and use it with the magic mouthwash).

Neuropathy in hands and feet – permanent nerve damage to my feet. Zero feeling from upper balls of my feet through my toes within the first 15 minutes of that very first Taxol chemo.

Ultimately chemo induced fibromyalgia that appeared a year after finishing treatment but not properly diagnosed until two years later.

So, when others think I should just move on or not focus on the negative, what they don’t comprehend is I have permanent damage ALL stemming from the chemo. As a former dancer and musical theatre actress in my younger days, to not feel my feet every single day is traumatic. The days of ballet, musical theatre, swing, salsa and tap days are over. I used to walk so gracefully. Now I have a hard time walking across a parking lot because the numbness can also move up my legs and I’ll fall over. That’s why I have a permanent handicap sign for my car. I feel like I’m 543 instead of 43 now.

No amount of gabapentin, acupuncture and any other “magical” treatment will work because my case is severe and permanent in my feet. The nerves are dead.

The nerves in my hands are still regenerating because they often sting and feel like tiny knives stabbing me. Even as I type this piece my left fingers are rather stabby and hurting. I had to learn how to button clothes and put on earrings, bracelets and necklaces again. I have multiple burns on my left arm from when I’ve lost all feeling in my right hand and dropped the iron. I have a new burn on the left side of my neck from losing feeling in my right hand when using the curling iron a few weeks ago.

My body is permanently changed from the chemo, from head to toe. This is one costume I’ve never desired to wear. From chronic pain to neuropathy to thin and wonky hair to burns, I continue to feel like an actress playing the greatest role of my life – ME.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie