Author Archives: Shelley Page

About Shelley Page

I'm a former journalist turned director at a large non-profit. I've lived my entire working life with a serious chronic illness and have learned, the hard way, how to work well. My blog shares my experiences and insights with those stumbling along a similar boulder-strewn path or who have friends or loved ones struggling with chronic illness.

Heart burn (Part 15)

While dying of prostate cancer, New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard wrote about “the therapeutic value of style.”

In Intoxicated By My Illness, he observed: “It seems to me that every seriously ill person needs to develop a style for his illness. I think that only by insisting on your style can you keep from falling out of love with yourself as the illness attempts to diminish or disfigure you.”

I’ve long envied literary men who write boldly about their various afflictions, fatal and otherwise, knowing that their ability to do their job is never in doubt and they relish the protection that their reputations afford them.

This is not the case for shift workers, dishwashers, desk jockeys that fill boxes with numbers for a modest salary, or almost anyone else. And not for girl reporters trying to figure out how to work sick.

I am currently reading Working Bodies: Chronic Illness in the Canadian Workplace (McGill-Queens University Press, 2014). It is dedicated to “all Canadians living with chronic illness who want to have meaningful employment and engagement in the workplace.”

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How not to tell your new colleagues you’ve got a chronic illness (Part 14)

When the pain came, I carried it on my shoulders as I waded through the polluted, dirty water of Lake Ontario. When I made it to my desk in the Toronto Star newsroom, I  wrote the final words on Vicki Keith conquest.

“Five down. None to go.”

I followed her in a boat across Erie, Huron and Superior, Ontario (twice), and almost Michigan, and that’s the best lede I could come up with. But at least it was brief.

My knuckles were swollen, my fingers bunched into fists. They looked like boxer’s hands. I punched gingerly at the keys, wincing. It was like repeatedly hitting a block of cement.

I did not go to emergency, as I had when I was in third-year university. I calmly called my rheumatologist at Mount Sinai and asked for an appointment. His office manager did not see the same urgency that I did, and so she booked me the next available appointment, several months from then. Continue reading

Playing with boys (Part 13)

When I joined the Star’s downtown general assignment pool, all the reporters’ desks had been shoved into rows as they renovated the newsroom.

It reminded me of a Grade 8 class at an all-boys school.

Loud-talking guys in wrinkled dress shirts, loosened ties, sitting jowl-to-cheek, ego-to-ego, as they pounded out their stories on 1970s computers, in late stages of decay.

I was seated, temporarily, beside a bulldog of two-way man (meaning he both wrote and took photographs), who immediately showed me the collection of girlie photos he’d amassed on the job. He’d somehow convinced numerous women to pose for photos with their shirts off, and kept a file in his desk, mixed in with pictures of his children (clothed).

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The mantra, the mental spellcheck and a call to the show (Part 12)

A suburban monster, he overpowered her from behind, dragging her into the backyard of her parents’ Scarborough home. There, he strangled her with an electrical cord, while viciously raping her for almost an hour.

He left her tied to a fence with her own belt like a dog.

The details in the press release were spare, stark. The victim was 19. I wasn’t much older.

I quickly typed up the brief and filed it to the senior cop reporter based at One Yonge, Toronto Star headquarters.

Reporters are observers. That is our blessing and our curse. We know we can’t help, but we’re uncertain what or how to feel, as though it were a professional liability.

Still, as I typed, I trembled, my mind dancing from the victim to the imagined rapist to the long hand hopping past six. Deadlines were very hard for me then, whether I was writing about a brutal sexual assault or a motion on garbage pick up at Scarborough city hall, which by then was my part-time beat in the Star’s east bureau.

My daily prednisone dose, at 5 mg (down from 80 mg), was finally below the replacement level for the cortisol the adrenal glands typically produce. And it was unclear if my adrenals, sitting atop the kidneys, had started producing cortisol again. The longer you are on prednisone, the higher the dose, the harder it is for the adrenals to bounce back. Continue reading

A serving of self-loathing, with a dollop of death wish—the rise of autoimmunity? (Part 10)

Before I knew I was the proud owner of an immune system that couldn’t tell self from invader, doctors pushed sedatives on me.

They hypothesized that my buffet of bodily dysfunctions — stabbing pain around my lungs, clawed hands, ruddy and hot joints — were provoked by overwork and exams, stress or anxiety. Something of my doing, or my response to something of my doing.

Then I found out I had an autoimmune disease. And if we’re going to get all psychological about it, it’s like having the mutant spawn of Hannibal Lecter, the self-cannibal of all illnesses. We sufferers allegedly have an acute case of self-loathing with a side order of death wish.

That’s a metaphoric sledgehammer with which to clobber the ever-increasing number of sufferers.

Why do I need this illness?

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The press was powerful and intoxicating (Part 9)

After the latest issue of Monty’s Mouth was distributed, our junior high school’s collective of burnouts, jocks and nerds would spend five minutes smelling the paper it was printed on, hoping for a high off the pungent smelling mix of isopropanol and methanol — the duplicating fluid used in the ditto machine. This was the era when cooking sprays like Pam were huffed out of plastic bags and kids hung out near the pump while their dad filled the gas tank.Working for

Working for Monty’s Mouth was like school-sanctioned substance abuse. Continue reading

The skirt, for a win (Part 8)

After jumping out of the Poison Dwarf’s car to escape his lust-dressed-up-as-apology — which I paraphrase here as “I behaved badly, it’s your fault, and I will make you pay” — I realized I better apply for jobs at other newspapers. Continue reading

Dressing like a lady and other lessons for a cub reporter (Part 7)

In journalism school, we learned how to shape a story into an inverted pyramid, ask open-ended questions and be fair-minded. What if we wanted to get a big important man to talk and we were female?

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