Monday, May 7, 2007

I can't serve in the foreign service

One of the cliched things that has happened to me since the cancer diagnosis is an evaluation of my career/lifepath. I currently work as a tutor for high school and college students and, while I really like it, it doesn't make me nearly enough money to have things like a house or a retirement plan.

I've considered lots of options, but recently I thought to myself "what do I *really* want to do with my life?" I realized that I want to feed starving people. Everytime I don't finish a meal or clean out my fridge I always think that there are people who are one meal away from starving to death and with what I've just thrown I could have saved a life. And I get frustrated that I live in a land of plenty where collective leftovers could feed an entire nation.

So, I looked into the World Food Program today (part of the UN). In order to work at the WFP you have to become a foreign service officer. Well, no problem, I've always been good at tests and I'm sure I could pass any background check. However, there is a medical background check as well. You have to be free of any chronic conditions that may not be treatable in the foreign lands in which you may be working. I'm sure cancer is on their list of chronic conditions.

So now I'm angry. I feel a bit like some sort of leper. (not that I have anything against lepers, I'm sure they're lovely people.)I'm frustrated that this random DNA mutation keeps me from getting a certain job. That seems unfair to me. What if I sign a waiver? I'm sure that I could come back to the US once a year and get my colonoscopy.

Grrr. Argh.

Oh well, another of life's dreams smashed. I guess I'll save the world some other way. Sigh.


Anonymous said...

I, too, wonder about the career-stopping realities of a cancer diagnosis. Just today I learned from my radiation oncologist that one relatively common side effect of rectal cancer and its treatment is small bowel obstruction(s). Now, after my lower anterior resection I HAD one of those small bowel obstructions, and it HURT LIKE HELL. I have a new respect for childbirth. But I am also now nervous about international work (I am an IT consultant) and whether or not I would be close enough to a hospital to survive another of those... Kinda limits the tourist-y travel opportunities as well.

But you can feed the poor (and do a darn good job of it) without being a foreign service officer! You just need to find a different outfit to work with. And there are plenty of poor, undernourished children (and adults) right here in the US of A.

I applaud your sense of altruism and desire to help.


tinarama said...

I actually started to post a comment earlier and then erased it, but then I read your post in April asking who's reading this and decided to go ahead and say hi.

So -- getting back to what I started to say before, I know it isn't the same as cancer, but I was diagnosed with diabetes two weeks ago and have been going through many similar emotions. Coming face to face with the reality of our eventual death, whether now or later, from cancer or heart disease or being hit by a bus or whatever ... it can really open up your perspective on everything.

I was happy to see you mention your meditation practice, and tonglen -- these have been such a great refuge for me over the last couple of weeks. Since you seem to be open to things like this, I wanted to turn you on to these free podcasts from Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City (I'm in northern California too). This one on life and death really made me feel stronger and more able to feel grateful for my life, messed up body and pain and fear and all -- I uploaded a copy of it that you can listen to here:

If you find this useful, archives are here: -- lots of good listening for those low-energy afternoons.

Thank you for writing about your experiences. I am sending good thoughts and lots of calm, healing energy your way.

Frodo said...

You can be hired directly by the UN without being in the US Foreign Service, and honestly I don't think you have to be in the Foreign Service to be hired by the WFP. UN jobs are very hard to get. But I wouldn't let a cancer diagnosis get in your way.