“Bring the real you.” is a Doximity value. At face value, one might interpret this as being their authentic self in the workplace. For me, this took on an entirely new meaning when I found myself in the fight of my life a mere 3 months after joining Doximity’s Data Analytics & Science team in 2018.
Navigating life’s challenges and commitments with a chronic illness is a job of its own. For my fellow invisible illness warriors, I know I am preaching to the choir and I see you. I was formally diagnosed with pan-ulcerative colitis in 2017. Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is a life-long, autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the large intestine and rectum, causing painful inflammation and ulcers. The disease commonly goes through periods of active disease, known as flare ups, as well as inactive periods, referred to as remission. There is no cure.
When I began my journey with pan-ulcerative colitis, I had read countless tales of individuals having to choose to prioritize their career at the expense of their health. Thankfully, when I joined Doximity, my condition was largely in remission and the reality of such a decision was but a distant thought in my mind. I naively felt like I had conquered my disease. That was until October 2018 when I underwent a routine, unrelated outpatient procedure that would unexpectedly throw my condition into a tail-spin.
Confusion around stopping my UC medications for the procedure coupled with adverse reactions to opioid pain medications caused my condition to flare up worse than it ever had before. I was preparing to catch an early flight to Lake Tahoe for one of our quarterly offsites when I found myself in the ER with unbearable pain. I was supposed to present on behalf of my product team and conduct a retrospective for the Data Analytics & Science team, and the entire plan fell apart. It may not seem like a big deal, but Doximity’s quarterly offsites play a key role at Doximity. They give everyone an opportunity to meet and bond with all of their colleagues in person, celebrate the previous quarter’s achievements together as well as get energized around the next quarter’s goals. To my surprise, when I returned to work shortly after everyone else returned from their offsite, I had not missed a beat. My incredible colleagues had everything covered. Unfortunately, this would not be the last time my illness would throw a wrench into a plan.
Just when it seemed like a new medication, supplement or dietary protocol was helping, my condition would begin to decline again. It was a harsh realization that something so serious was completely outside of my control. All the while, my manager’s confidence in me never seemed to change. He was there to support and never stopped giving me opportunities to continue to grow my career. As my day-to-day condition became less predictable, so did my productivity and my ability to keep consistent hours. I was hanging on by a thread.
By March 2019 my body was battling itself at a whole new level. The ER visits and sick days kept coming. I missed yet another offsite, but there was no time to worry about my career. This disease was slowly but surely killing me; and, by the end of May I was but a shell of my former self. To put it into perspective, getting dressed for work was too much at this point, let alone casual conversations with colleagues, walks with my dog, workouts to start my day or soccer games to get out with my friends. I would wake up and practically crawl to the couch with my laptop. When my workday was done, I would simply go to bed.
Thanks to an incredible team of clinicians, I was scheduled for permanent ileostomy surgery. However, the surgery had to be done immediately. For my health there was light at the end of the tunnel. For my career, this meant requesting a leave of absence with but a week’s notice. Yet again, my manager didn’t even blink before he said take as much time as I needed. Sure, I had to coordinate with HR, but there was nothing but support the entire time. Even when my leave of absence unexpectedly grew from 5 to 7 weeks due to multiple complications following the surgery, there was nothing but reassurance from my colleagues and manager. Amazingly, Doximity allowed me to use Discretionary Time Off (DTO) for the first 5 days. Then, short term disability paid leave benefits kicked in and covered the remaining 6 weeks at 60% salary. Had I needed it, the Family Medical Leave Act had me covered for up to a year of unpaid leave. If you don’t know who to talk to, your company’s Human Resources Department is a great place to start to make sure you understand your time off, short term leave and other options available to you that may help you through those more difficult days.
Fortunately by July 2019, I was back in action. People in the IBD community like to say “No Colon, Still Rollin’” and I sure felt like I was finally rolling again! I will never forget the feeling of returning to work and being treated as if I never left. Moreover, my growth opportunities were still there. I was not looked over in any way. As I celebrated my two year “stomaversary” in June of this year, it all feels as if it was a distant memory or a bad dream. If you are working with a chronic illness, I encourage you to find allies in your workplace that you can be open with and talk honestly about how you’re doing. It may be your manager, but it does not have to be. I still work through the daily challenges that come with living with a permanent ileostomy, but I do so in complete confidence that my manager, peers and, really, Doximity have my back.
Illustration by April Brust