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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Life Gave Me Some Lemons and I Made Delicious Lemonade

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve made lemons into lemonade?


Please share!


And now for the rules and other technical stuff:


LIFE GAVE ME SOME LEMONS
AND I MADE DELICIOUS LEMONADE

Rules:

* Copy and paste these rules to your blog post.
* Link back to person who tagged you.
* Write about an incident in your life you first thought was really bad, but ended up being a blessing.
* Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
* Let each person you tagged know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Today is the second in what is shaping up to be a week of meme posts. I tried to find really good memes that were interesting and thought-provoking, and I hope you agree that this one fits the bill.

As you may know from reading my blog, I had cancer when I was 22. 1988 was supposed to be the year that I was going to graduate from UCLA with my undergraduate Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology. Needless to say, instead of finishing the final classes needed for my major, planning for the future and making plans to stay in touch with college friends, I spent almost an entire school year in and out of the UCLA Medical Center. I literally disappeared from my classes and campus; I often wonder if any of my classmates noticed or wondered what happened to me. For a while, college and finishing my degree were the last things on my mind. I am fortunate that my cancer went into remission with treatment and I was able to return to college in January 1989.

Now I thought that the big issue I was going to deal with in the 1987-88 school year was what I was going to do once I graduated from college. I had started out pre-med and a biology major. I also started my college days transitioning from a sheltered all-girls Catholic high school to a co-ed college dormitory with parties on the weekends and alcohol for all. I'll admit I had my share of fun and spent some time enjoying the college experience. From the beginning, my grades weren't bad but they weren't the straight A's I so easily got in high school either.

By the end of my freshman year, I let some of my dorm neighbors convince me that anything less than straight A's wasn't going to get me into medical school, which is too bad because that isn't the hard and fast truth. I switched my major sophomore year to Kinesiology, which was also a pre-med track, just not so competitive and unfriendly. By the time I got to 1987 and my 5th year senior year, I was searching for alternatives to medical school because by then I had fully convinced myself I could not get into med school with a 3.0 GPA. I was beginning to explore dental and pharmacy school.

Then I had the "other side of the coin" experience as a cancer patient. By the time I was done with treatment, I didn't want to be a doctor nor did I think I had the physcial stamina for the all-nighters and insanely long 36 hour shifts. Plus I definitely wanted to have time to enjoy my life in addition to work. I still wanted to work in the medical field, but as an allied health professional, i.e. someone other than a doctor or nurse.

Two experiences pointed me in my final direction. The first occurred five months into my cancer treatment, in May 1988. A social worker came to visit me in the hospital and asked me a lot of questions. Turns out, she had information that I wish I had been given when I started treatment! Where was she when I was first admitted back in January? She told me about Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from Social Security, a disability program that I could qualify for that would give me a monthly income. When I was diagnosed, two of the things I had to give up were my apartment and part-time job. The doctors told my parents I had to move back home with them. Being short on cash and living at home were truly nightmares; I actually looked forward to my one month stays in the hospital where at least I had a room to myself. I applied right away, and although the process took several months, SSI enabled me to move into a shared apartment near campus and supported me when I was able to go back to college and finish my Bachelor's degree.

The second was a social worker who facilitated a support group for young adults with cancer. Her name was Karen and she lead our group of eight over several years of remissions and recurrences, new beginnings and deaths, losses and discoveries. I was the youngest person in the group and the only one affected by leukemia, but that didn't matter. Karen helped us see the similarities in our situations and the strength we had together even when, as individuals, we felt weak and vulnerable. The group experience was amazing, in part because Karen was so skilled at helping each one of us be open when we shared, supportive when we listened and connected when we sat together in a room once a week to talk about our lives and the cancer that threatened it.

So when I made it back to college, I knew I wanted to go on to graduate school in Social Work. I applied during my senior year, 1989-1990, and chose to attend the UCLA School of Social Welfare. Although not officially advertised, I was able to turn the two year full-time program into a three year part-time one to accommodate my lingering health issues and graduated with my MSW in 1993. I worked for many years in the field of HIV and AIDS, both in medical and nonprofit settings. In 1999, I passed the California State licensing exam (on the first attempt for both the written and oral exams) and became a licensed clinical social worker. I truly enjoyed being a clinical social worker and I am deeply saddened that my current chronic health problems prevent me from working in my chosen profession at this time.

Social work was a good fit for me, and if I had not had cancer and the experiences that went along with it, I may never have considered a career as a clinical social worker.

A career in social work is how I turned lemons into lemonade back in 1988. And I am still figuring out how to turn the lemons I was handed in 2004 into lemonade, so stay tuned...

Thanks again to the Being Frugal blog for another great meme idea. Here is a link back to her blog and her post on the same meme:

Read more: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade | beingfrugal.net


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