I Got the J&J Vaccine….And No, I’m Not Freaking Out….Well, Not Anymore.

On April 5, 2021, I confidently got my Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine.

BONUS: It was administered by a super cute fireman at a drive thru clinic set up in a local fairground parking-lot….and I love super cute firemen, and also efficient drive-thru’s.

I’ll admit, that when I pulled into the very long line of cars, all full of people waiting to be vaccinated, I got a little teary eyed. It seemed like a very big thing to be among so many people, all of us hoping that the vaccine would bring some peace of mind, a sigh of relief and the hope that we were starting to maybe, just maybe, see the light at the end of the Coronapocalypse tunnel.

After the shot was administered, I pulled my car around to the waiting area, where volunteers walked up and down the rows of cars asking through windows, “How are you feeling?” “Do you feel OK?” “Any unusual sensations?” While pantomiming a simple thumbs up or thumbs down signal, not moving on until they’d been acknowledged and responded to.

After having waited the necessary amount of time to ensure it was safe for us to travel on, we were directed out of the parking lot and on our way. The entire event took no more than twenty-minutes and during that time, I watched as dozens upon dozens of other cars made their way through the process and out of the fairground gates without issue.

Once it was my turn to wait out the requisite safety check, I debated whether or not to share the moment with social media.

I’d seen plenty of images people posted to their own accounts in recent weeks, proudly holding up their vaccination card with some clever quip attached. But I had given up my Facebook about a month prior and while I still love Instagram, I ultimately decided not to hop onto that particular bandwagon. Instead, I sent my picture to select friends and family proudly proclaiming, “One and Done!” or “Vaccinated AF.” Depending on my audience.

I felt good, mother-f’ing great, proud and grateful that I’d gotten the vaccine. Leading up to it, I hadn’t been particularly concerned about which once I’d get. I’d just decided to abide by the wisdom of Fauci and just get what I could get as soon as I was able to get it.

So, when I learned I would be getting the one dose version, I was pretty thrilled. Knowing I would be getting it over with in one jab, felt productive….and I do so love feeling productive.

The rest of the day, post vaccine, carried on normally for me. But, by evening, I was beginning to feel a little worn down. Overnight, I had terrible chills, followed by a fever that left me drenched by morning. Throughout most of the next day, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, but a full 24 hours or so after I’d been vaccinated, the side effects had worn off and I was back to normal.

Then, it happened. Less than a week after I’d gotten the vaccine, the FDA put a pause on further doses, due to a rare, but serious clotting condition that had been diagnosed in six women, all of whom had been given the J&J vaccine.

My first instinct was to panic, and to then wonder if I could somehow have the vaccine sucked out of my body. Is blood letting an actual thing?

After that, I began to frantically Google the signs and symptoms of blood clotting and then, with my heart pounding out of my chest and feeling like I might crawl out of my own skin, I did what I always do when I can feel an anxiety attack beginning to mount. I started to move.

Exercise of any kind, whether it be an actual workout, or the physical act of cleaning and doing laundry, has long been the way I work out the toxic energy that overtakes my brain. Moving, while cycling through what I know to be true and what I understand I can’t control, and then figuring out a plan for how to marry the two in a way that won’t sink me, has always, more often than not, calmed me down and brought me back to a place of reason.

As a cancer survivor, I have no reasonable/reliable frame of reference anymore for what is “normal.” When I was diagnosed, I was twenty-two weeks pregnant with my rainbow baby. Cancer didn’t run in my family and I hadn’t lived the kind of life, or knowingly been exposed to the types of things I assumed caused cancer. Truthfully, I knew very little about the disease or that it came in hundreds of different types. I hadn’t realized what an equal opportunist it was.

Simply, cancer was not and hadn’t ever been, on my personal radar. But, I got it anyway. Worse, the type of cancer I was diagnosed with is an extremely rare and sneaky type of lymphoma that doesn’t typically show signs of its invasion until the patient is in the later stages of the disease.

So the fact that it invaded like a ninja, showing no signs that it was there until it had grown to the size of a softball and had begun to wreak havoc, made it all the more terrifying. And I was actually lucky. The fact that I was pregnant at the time, exacerbated my symptoms which led to testing and an earlier than typical diagnosis. My doctors theorized that by the time I had been diagnosed, the cancer had actually been growing for approximately six months, entirely undetected and without a single significant sign pointing to trouble.

Ever since, it’s been hard for me not to assume that every headache isn’t a brain tumor, or that every little ache and pain isn’t a sure sign of bone cancer. Cough? Must be lung cancer. Freckle? Mela-fucking-noma. I certainly can’t speak for every cancer survivor out there, but every survivor I know is plagued with this same, long-term side effect I like to call, Post-Traumatic Hypochondriac Syndrome.

So yeah, when I heard that there was to be a pause in any further administration of the vaccine until additional research and data could be collected, I may or not, I’m too much of a lady to say, have shit my pants. As I panicked, I took a Magic Eraser to the interior of my washing machine, cleaned my basement (which by the way is not a “finished” basement).

Side note: I live in a house that is literally older than America. When we bought it, the basement floor was still a dirt floor….I’m pretty sure there were still pilgrim tracks in a few dark corners. We had a concrete floor poured, but it still gets dusty down there. One of my OCD, anxiety calming tasks is to clean it on the regular. Right now, you could eat directly off that floor if you were so inclined.

Anyway, as I went about these random chores, I focused on being reasonable and applying some perspective to the situation.

At the time, it was six women out of millions of doses administered. Nothing about these women, their past medical histories, their current medications, etc., was publicly known. I’m not suggesting they, as people, weren’t important, or that it should have been ignored. I just needed to be rational in my point of view if I wasn’t going to end up curled, in a fetal position, sniffing my favorite aromatherapy scent, Cal-Stat (the medical grade sanitizer my doctors office uses that for some strange reason has the same calming effect for me as chamomile has on normal people).

As I worked, both physically and emotionally, I reminded myself of these few things I knew to be true:

  1. I had been more likely to both get the very rare type of cancer I had, and more likely to die from it, then I am/was of developing any serious/life-threatening side effects of the J&J vaccine.
  2. I am currently more likely to develop serious/potentially long term, life threatening side effects from the treatment I had to cure said cancer, than I am of developing serious side effects of the vaccine.
  3. More likely to be struck by lightening
  4. Three times more likely to be killed by a shark
  5. Definitely more likely to die in a car accident

And look, I’m not poo-pooing anyone’s feelings or apprehension regarding the vaccine at this point. I totally get it. Medicine and science are so confusing. There’s so much we don’t know about diseases that have plagued humans for decades, but we managed to whip up a vaccine for a new virus in a matter of months and sure, I get how that might make people feel a little shy about rolling up their sleeve.

When I was diagnosed, I remember the doctor explaining to me that I could safely begin CHEMOTHERAPY while pregnant. Essentially, the cells that make up the chemo were too large to pass through the placenta. (This is a very diluted explanation that is being recalled here from a conversation I had in a hospital room after finding out I had cancer nearly ten years ago, so I’m sure I’ve missed a bit of the nuance).

Anyway, I asked one question which was, “Wait a second. You’re telling me that I can’t take an Advil, or eat a salami deli sandwich, but a mix of poison being administered by a nurse wearing what is basically a hazmat suit, is fine?”

Science is weird, yes, but it also saved my life and the life of my son. I am grateful for it and I trust it, even though I also know that it’s so very complicated and there are no guarantees and it isn’t perfect.

Several days after the vaccine, a friend asked me how I was feeling. I explained that I was nervous about the clotting condition, I had a large clot in my subclavian vein at the time of my cancer diagnosis, so I couldn’t help but wonder if it made me pre-disposed. But, I told her I knew what to watch out for, I’d talked to my emotional support animal (my oncologist) and I wasn’t going to make myself crazy(ier) over it.

“Yeah,” she said, “But, what about the rest of it?”

Me: Huh? What do you mean, the rest of it?

Her: Aren’t you afraid you’re now infertile?

Apparently there have been some conspiracy theories circulating that indicate the government is using the vaccine as a way of sterilizing the general public or something?

First of all, I’m in my 40’s, so if I’m now infertile, halle-freaking-lujah. Also, in case anyone is wondering, my period also came, right on time, just like she always has, ruining a week out of every month of my life until menopause.

So, while I can understand the vaccine apprehension to a point, I draw the line at all the internet doctors with degrees from Web MD and Google, who are spreading misinformation that could tip the scales from “maybe/probably going to get it” to “hard pass.”

Now, I have no business telling anyone what they should, or should not do or, how to feel. I’m not a doctor, a scientist, or a therapist and none of this is meant to serve as advice or a directive. It’s just a take on my own experience and if it helps, great!

Or, if you think I’m an idiot who’s been injected with some kind of top secret government agent that will allow “them” to track my every move, whatever, I’m not that interesting.

If THEY really want to follow me around to Target….and watch me curse my neighbor and shake my fist at the direction of his house because he keeps letting his guests park on a portion of my lawn….and watch me do battle with a my nemesis, Bernie Sanders, the squirrel who won’t stay out of my bird feeder….and listen to me bitch about the parking situation at school pick-up/drop-off with my mom friends, well, LOL, they are in for some serious suburban intrigue, but that’s about it.

So yeah, I still I felt good, mother-f’ing great, proud and grateful that I’ve been vaccinated.

No regrets.

Lay’d Off….

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I sure know where I’ve been.” ~White Snake

In November 2017, I was Lay’d off from my corporate job.  It was a moment I had been eagerly waiting for.  I know how that sounds, but allow me to explain.

Simply put, I was over it.

Over the grind, over the politics, over the mission statements and the core values and the pressure to “lean-in” and “have it all” and “explode through the glass ceiling” and blah, blah, blah.

I’d become disgruntled, dissatisfied, dis-enchanted, disengaged, dismayed….dis-everything.  And life is too short to be dis-everything.

It hadn’t always been that way though.  When I started my career, I had big goals for myself in corporate America and I sacrificed much of my twenties toward achieving them.

I regularly worked 80 hours a week and for the first five years of my career, I didn’t take a single vacation day, or sick day; time I wasn’t paid out for.  In other words, over a five year period, I worked an extra 15 weeks….for free.

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Of course, nobody made me do it, but I reasoned that corner offices and fancy titles don’t come cheap….and if I didn’t have both by the time I was in my thirties, well, life probably wasn’t worth living.

I had balls to bust and power suits to purchase and if it meant I had no social life, hobbies, or the time to eat more than twenty cups of coffee in the course of a day, so be it.  I’d have a life when I retired….assuming I didn’t stroke out first.

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But the universe had other plans for me and it would take a sucker punch to the gut before I realized it.

The lead up included meeting my husband, Clark Griswold, moving to a new state and taking a new job with Dunder Mifflin’s biggest competitor.

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Then Clark and I got married and I became a step-mom.

Right before our wedding, I took another new role at a Fortune 500 business captained by a female CEO ranked among the world’s most powerful women.

After a difficult upbringing, during which I’d been voted most likely to end up on an episode of Cops, I’d gotten a college degree (the first in my family), I was happily married with plans to add to our family and I was building a successful career.  What more could I want?

Then, in November, 2011, when I was twenty-two weeks pregnant with my son, I was diagnosed with stage 2, primary mediastinal large b-cell lymphoma.  A rare and sneaky form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Cancer.

Everything changed.

But it didn’t change all at once.  Instead, it was like a slow burn of all the things I’d thought were important to me.

Then, I picked up the pieces of what was left and started to put my life back together.

I realized that when it came to my career, I had been sprinting toward something I had wanted….because I thought it was what I was supposed to want.

So instead, I leaned into my health, my marriage, my faith, my family, my friends and motherhood.  I found that when I was doing all of the things that were supposed to leave me feeling trapped, unappreciated and uninspired, I didn’t.

I started saying no when I was supposed to be saying yes.  I made time for books and nature and exercise and other abandoned hobbies.  I was still.

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I stepped off the corporate ladder and watched my peers pass me by.  I knew it meant my career was dying, but I also knew that I would never come to regret it.

Because when I was diagnosed, and the possibility that my child and I would not survive the disease was discussed, I didn’t cry for the career goals I might never achieve.  I cried for the extended hours I spent in the office when I could have been at home having dinner with my family, or enjoying an uninterrupted vacation.

I cried for the books I hadn’t had a chance to read, hikes I never got a chance to take, places I never got a chance to see.

I cried for the baby I might never get a chance to meet and the little boy and the man he might never get a chance to become.

And I cried for all of the little things I had taken for granted; the millions of simple moments I’d let slip by, always believing there would be more.  That someday I would stop and smell the roses.  Someday, someday, someday….

It was in the midst of that grief, which was so raw and so painful I thought I might actually break into pieces, that I felt my son move for the first time.  It was a tiny flutter of life followed by a feeling of peace and calm that abruptly stopped my sobs.

I knew we would be OK.  And I knew that I would never be the same.

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Shortly after I completed my cancer treatment, I read an article about a book the New York Times had published called, “Picture Your Life After Cancer.”  

The book was a compilation of photos and stories submitted by cancer survivors in response to the question, “How is your life different after cancer?”  

A number of inspirational quotes and insights were used in the article, but one in particular resonated most with me:

“Scars may heal, blood counts may normalize, years may pass. But never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated.” – Allison A., Cairo, Egypt

So, very, true.

I don’t love every moment, but I try, every day, to say a prayer of gratitude for all of it.

I am keenly aware, always, of how fortunate I was to survive cancer and to come out the other side with a beautiful and healthy little boy.

I don’t have it all figured out though.  When the cloud lifted and there was nothing more to do than carry on, I knew only that I wanted my survival to matter.  That I wanted to do my best to live a life that felt good.  A life that, when it inevitably ends, I can look back on and say, “I made the most of this one wild and precious life.”  (nod to Mary Oliver)