Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lunch with a Side of Cancer

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

We sat down in the cafeteria at our world marketing headquarters, the closest IBM location to both of us. "Have you been growing your hair, too?" I asked, noticing that the hairstyle of my colleague/mentor/friend was a bit longer than I recalled.

"It's a wig," she answered, looking right into my eyes.

"Oh, God, I wasn't being coy. I had no idea. It's a really good wig. I couldn't tell. I'm sorry." All this exited my mouth because my friend is not the type to wear a wig for fashion. It could only mean that she had none of her own hair left, due to cancer. My heart raced.

"It's OK. I had cancer."

"What kind?"

"Lymphoma, but I'm cancer-free now."

"And I'll pray that you remain so."

"Me, too."

It was probably the best conversation we ever had, and it hit the spot, since I've been grinding like a bot for, at a minimum, all week so far, including last weekend: We talked about why we work and how we live, and how to kick self-destructive habits.

She asked, "How did your presentation go?"

I had explained that I'd be meeting her right after a web conference I was hosting about my work. "I really enjoyed doing it and I think they did, too, based on the lively text-chat and Q&A."

"So you're enjoying your work."

"You know, on a bad day, when I'm full of my ego, I am disappointed that my assignment [in India] didn't result instantly in a higher status position...but on a good day, like today, I think, I love to do the work I get to do -- I haven't been able to be this experimental, since I helped start up and build the GLBT Sales team."

"Well, good, because all the status doesn't mean anything unless you love what you do."

"I do...."

After 80 minutes together -- I didn't want to have merely a conventional hour together, not after learning that she had beaten cancer, but still -- I said, "I have to tell you what's going through my mind."


"I was supposed to show up to a meeting at 2 o'clock with a draft tip-sheet that we're creating for the Virtual Worlds workshop we're giving [at the upcoming Out & Equal Workplace Summit], which I meant to write last night, but I let myself not work on it because I had terrible menstrual cramps. I just felt too sick to work. But now, I feel bad, showing up empty-handed."

My friend suggested that I was being too hard on myself.

People always tell me that," I whined.

"You can change," she said.

"Ugh. How come, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I was able to, but not now? I can remember making a few awkward moves when I was that age, and saying aloud once or twice, 'Oh, I'm such a klutz.' Well, the third time or so, I said to myself, 'Don't ever say that aloud again, or you will be a klutz forever.' And I never did again, and I've been pretty graceful my whole life."


"Yeah, but I can't imagine doing it for this character defect."

"It's not a defect --"

"I'm reminded of [one of my young relatives], who handed me a drawing that the relative worked on, saying, 'It's really bad, and I know I can do so much better than this!' It made me so sad to hear my young relative sound just like me."

"Maybe you could model the behavior for [your relative]."

"That's a great idea."

"Have we talked about a concept called 'pattern interrupt?'"

"No, never."

"Well, there are some cities, where the police have an agreement with pizza places, where they can pick up a pizza on the way to a domestic dispute. The police officer shows up to the house, holding a pizza. Whoever answers the door is so surprised to see a police officer, holding a pizza, he or she is distracted from the dispute."

"That's really interesting. I love that idea.

"So maybe you could have a code-word to stop yourself, whenever you're being too hard on yourself, like, 'pizza,' or 'klutz.'"

I smiled hard.

Why does a colleague/mentor/friend need to have a brush with her mortality for me to pause and recall my own and her humanity -- KLUTZ!

Rather: Wasn't it great that the two of us gave ourselves the gift of a friendship reunion today, and that we had an I-Thou, Buber-esque time?

"Love," I think, needs to be my code-word.


Amanda B. said...

You rock Sarah!

Sarah Siegel said...

Thanks, Amanda. Takes one to know one.