Returning to Work After My Diagnosis
Teaching has been a passion of mine since I earned my masters degree in sociology from the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) in 2013. Becoming a college professor gave me a sense of self-worth. I was proud of my accomplishments, especially since I obtained my degree so late in life.
That all changed in February 2019 when I had to halt my career and give my full attention to figuring out my illness. I came across a Pulmonary Fibrosis News column by the late Kim Fredrickson called “How to Decide to Stop Working,” which helped me weigh my options.
I was sad to let go of my career, but life has a way of working out. Three years later, I am managing my diagnosis of lymphocytic interstitial pneumonia, which causes pulmonary fibrosis, and have been inspired to return to teaching.
A new opportunity brings new challenges
I was fortunate to find a part-time position at UHCL that will provide any accommodations I may need for the upcoming fall semester. I’m excited about this new venture because I worked long and hard to obtain my degree. But at the same time, I’m anxious about how I’ll fare, given the ways I’ve changed since my diagnosis.
I’m no longer the confident go-getter my colleagues knew. I have this shyness, almost like a closed shell. I’m afraid to let people see my private struggles.
I was always the strong one others could lean on, and my family, friends, and students felt comfortable sharing their struggles with me. Now, I feel vulnerable and worry others will feel sorry for me. I can’t allow that.
When I left teaching, I looked healthy. No one knew why I had to suddenly depart. This will be the first time that I allow colleagues and students to enter my private world. I’m afraid that my illness will be a distraction. I don’t want to feel like an outsider.
I was diagnosed after the pandemic began, so I haven’t gone out much, and few people have seen me use oxygen. Once I’m around others again, I worry that I’ll be seen differently.
In reality, though, the main difference between then and now is that I have a new outlook on life. So much has changed over the past three years.
My illness gives me a fresh perspective
Before, I walked around as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I took many things, including my health, for granted. Now, I know I must take advantage of opportunities and rediscover my sense of purpose. My lungs may be faulty, but I’m still capable of being a great professor.
Returning to the classroom will be a struggle, but I’m preparing to stand up for myself during any health-related encounters and advocate for rare illnesses. I’ll remind myself every day that it’s OK not to be perfect. I can have moments of doubt, as long as I don’t fall into the self-doubt trap.
The day I reenter the classroom, I won’t be just any professor, I’ll be Professor Ann Reynoso, the person who battles a rare illness and fights every day to take a breath. The person who carries an oxygen tank, advocates for herself, and wants to be treated as normally as possible.
I want my students to see the strong and confident fighter in me. I want people to see beyond my nasal cannula and the roaring of my oxygen machine, and know that life and breath are being poured into my lungs. I want them to know that my struggle is real, but I’m still just like everyone else who is trying to survive in this world.
I’m excited to be teaching again, but this time, I’m giving it everything I’ve got. I’m done hiding from the world. I’ll throw excess caution and negativity to the wind so I can live the best life possible.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.