How could she do that?

When Laura was able to return to work after the Avastin reduced her tumor, her colleagues welcomed her back and patiently supported her efforts to get back up to speed.  Within a few days, however, she came home quite upset.  She felt violated because a supervisor had gone into her office during her absence and taken books and files.  Work files had also been removed from her computer.  “How could she do that?”  Laura kept saying.  The message she got was that she didn’t matter any more, that she was as good as dead.  That was the deep message.  Being a lawyer, she also felt that her rights had been violated.  No one had spoken with her about this, explained it to her, given her the courtesy of asking if she had any problem with it.  Just purged what they wanted.  And that’s the way Laura felt.  Purged.

Laura dealt with things that upset her by talking about them, with many people. Laura talked to friends at work about what had happened to her books and files.  I think she even, finally, talked with the person involved.  After that, she did not let this incident trouble her.  That didn’t mean she forgot it.  Or that she just wasn’t facing bigger troubles.

Because this incident was not isolated, the full extent of Laura’s hurt cannot be appreciated without touching on how she felt about her work situation before her illness. She would come home upset and angry that her boss (the same one who later purged her files) had stolen credit for her work, in tears because another attorney had taken away the one client who gave her real professional autonomy, in terror because the latest incarnation of self-absorbed “I-work-for-the Governor!” had given her a public tongue-lashing.

“Another sort of bad thing at which we feel shame is, lacking a share in the honorable things shared by everyone else, or by all or nearly all who are like ourselves.” (R. 1384a10)  Aristotle captures Laura’s feeling about how her performance was not recognized at work.  She was not a member of the “in” group that controlled power and the allocation of recognition and other benefits (financial, professional, and personal).

In fact, she even blamed one incident for contributing to the onset of her cancer. A few weeks before her diagnosis she had been formally criticized for representing her clients too vigorously, by the same supervisor.  I know from having worked at a State agency in New Jersey that the Attorney General’s office has innate conflicts of interest when representing two departments with different agendas or priorities.  The head of my department used to complain vigorously when an attorney assigned to represent us seemed to be working for the other side.  Laura saw her agencies as her clients, not some amorphous, higher authority of the “State,” which in effect usually meant the interests of the Attorney General’s office. This incident and others were why we initially thought the first signs of aphasia might just be stress.  After diagnosis, she said, “They killed me.”  Too late, but I threw it back at them in her obituary with the line: “She was known for her unrelenting advocacy for getting her clients’ projects accomplished.”

How much of this stress arose from within Laura and how much from those she regarded as persecuting her will never be known.  A number of her colleagues did tell me that rallying around to help Laura, such as driving her to treatment in the city, had a good impact on how people treated each other in the office.  Regardless, for Laura, the pain was very real.  Not just mental anguish, but headaches, insomnia, and convulsions up and down her GI track.  For years, before GBM and before Decadron.

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