An Open Letter to ATG
Cancer. No, not the type that can ruin a company culture. But the real, life-changing, wear-a-ribbon cancer that often elicits averted glances and pity. That saps the strength and focus. That preempts life's plans and can leave the stricken feeling helpless, hopeless, and isolated.
I have stage 4 prostate cancer.
When initially diagnosed in August 2012, the cancer from my prostate had already spread to my ribs, sternum, hip, and shoulder. The disease's progression was beyond what surgery could benefit, so I started a hormone treatment designed to rid my body of testosterone, an accelerant in the formation of new cancer cells.
It's important to note that when diagnosed I had no symptoms typically associated with prostate cancer, and still don't today. I only discovered I had cancer because of a company-sponsored wellness check that included a blood panel. All of my test results were great, except my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) level was 97 np/ml. The normal range is 0-3.
I am the cautionary tale for regular check-ups.
Normally, prostate cancer is very slow moving and treatable if found in its earlier stages. Mine is a more aggressive form that can strike men as young as their late teens but is often found in men in their 40s and 50s.
Full time work and cancer treatment rarely intersect for long. The side effects of cancer treatment - even hormone therapy - leave the body tired and weak and the mind slow and fuzzy. Worse, this particular therapy introduces a whole new set of emotional baggage most men aren't used to toting.
My oncologist said that the hormone therapy - often called chemical castration - would put me into a menopausal state. I've been able to experience all the joys of menopause my wife went through a few years earlier but with a side of imminent mortality.
My mood swings ranged from tired and sad to exhausted and clinically depressed. I was losing body hair and muscle mass. I was an emotional dumpster fire wrapped in a smooth, leathery package.
The company I had worked at for 19 years, declared bankruptcy and disappeared in what seemed like the blink of an eye not long after my diagnosis. Gone were my health insurance, my life insurance, and my nest egg.
For weeks, I laid on my couch and took naps between career searching. I was doing some consulting work on the side for several companies, but work had lost its luster. I felt - and sometimes even hoped - that my story had been written.
To keep up appearances, I applied and interviewed for several jobs out of state but found it hard to muster the enthusiasm necessary to relocate. I wasn't sure I could handle being separated from my couch for an extended period.
Cue the music
Then I applied at ATG. I talked to Claude Sammoury, a former coworker, and as Claude is wont to do, he got me excited about the prospect of coming back to work. And, after weeks of pestering Holly Colbert with phone calls and emails and previous work examples, she finally relented and made me an external consultant, and later, a full-time employee for the Missoula Solutions Center.
Additional medications have allowed me to focus on work, keep my emotions in check, and usually get a good night's sleep. What's really done the trick though is coming to work each day and trying to contribute. The people at ATG - from CEO Michael Walsh, SVP Michael Eagan, and VP & GM Tom Stergios to my peers in the Missoula office and beyond - have been amazing and easily the most intelligent and motivated collection of people with which I've ever worked.
I still think about the cancer a lot and rarely miss an opportunity for some quality time with my couch but, whereas before when I imagined my future, I saw only darkness, I now see a little light as I continue my treatment.
At some point, the cancer will become resistant to the hormone injections and another path will need to be chosen, but until then I will bask in the opportunity to work at ATG.
This job, and you people, have healed my soul.
Jay Allen is the Director of Marketing at ATG and an avid sweater vest collector. He has been with ATG, for the most part, since October 2013. He has a wide range of creative skills, including writing, designing, and bragging.
He is at home in beautiful Missoula, MT, with his wife of 30+ years, Jackie, and his dog of 14+ dog years, Hercules. He says he's not coming out until he gets a pizza.