update: my boss won’t stop texting me — and I’m in a hospital bed

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and for the rest of the year I’ll be running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose boss wouldn’t stop texting her while she was in a hospital bed? Here’s the update.

First, I want to thank the commentariat for all the well wishes for my recovery and for those who shared their own stories of cancer/major illness. Reading your supportive comments got me through a difficult month. I’m six months out from surgery and just had a good scan and follow-up appointments. I’m seeing a therapist who specializes in patients who have/had cancer and have my first visit with the exercise oncology group next week. Things are looking good.

Before I get to the update itself, I also need to thank Alison who, on the day of and after my letter was posted, kindly and quickly dealt with my mental fog and opioid-induced paranoia. At my request, she made several edits to the piece (e.g. removing the word-for-word text messages I originally included) and removed my comments, which is why the comment section seems confusing. There were LOADS of identifying details in the post and in my comments, so I freaked out a little. She was great and reassured me as well as made every change I asked for.

Now, on to my update and to answer a few questions that commenters had. The flowers were purchased via a PO sent to an admin — not personally paid for by my team. More than a few descriptions of my boss were spot on: wants to be acknowledged for “kindness,” extrovert who is projecting her needs onto others, narcissist, has boundary issues, believes she is empathetic but shows it all wrong, and performative just to name a few. Several readers caught that I said these were just the texts my boss initiated, speculating that I’d been encouraging the communication. While, yes, I’d replied to her texts, I wasn’t the one to start any of the conversations. Grumpy Elder Millennial’s comment summarizes why I responded to them: “I’m guessing that OP is concerned about the interpersonal and career consequences of [ignoring them].” I also didn’t want my boss to have the phone numbers of any friends/family members (I’ll probably do this with a Google number next time), which is why she only had my number.

Now for what I did. I used Alison’s advice and some of the suggestions made in the comments to craft a reply that said I (1) was settling back in at home (I’m out of the hospital), (2)  was wiped out and focused on rest/recovery (I’m exhausted and healing), and (3) would get back in touch closer to my return date when I was feeling more up to it (I’m not at work so leave me alone). I also thanked the team again for the flowers and conveyed my appreciation for their concern. My coworker (we are a team of 3) reacted with a simple heart within minutes. Boss never reacted at all — no email, no text, no call, zero reaction. I hear nothing from her until I emailed several weeks later letting her know I would be able to come back half days a week before my return date, so all the advice worked. The relationship between the two of us is fine now. She’s back to her oversharing self but not hounding me like she was when I was on leave, which I can deal with now that 90% of my energy isn’t spent healing my body from a 10+ hour surgery with a surprise organ removal.

An unrelated, final thought for the readers who didn’t understand the difference between “Did they get all the cancer?” and “How did everything go?” Although people and cancers are all different, you should really never say that. Even if the surgeon or oncologist thinks they got it all, you really have no idea until you hit a 5-year (or more) mark — or when it comes back. There is literally no way to know if they “got it all” until years later. different pseudonym’s comment sums it up nicely: “There is a difference between cancer and ‘not feeling well,’ and when you speak as though they are the same you are being cruel.”

Thank you to everyone who engaged in the comments. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated it!

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Taking the long way round*

    Best wishes for your continued recovery, and well done on setting and sticking to your boundaries! You went through a lot at the same time!

  2. Mostly a lurker*

    I’m so glad you are recovering well, OP! And congratulations on your boundaries and sticking to your guns. I hope that things continue to improve for you. Thank you for updating us.

  3. JelloStapler*

    Not much to say but wishing you continued clear scans and solid recovery. Glad it worked out with the boss and you got the rest you needed after surgery.

  4. Temperance*

    OP, happy to hear that your recovery is moving along, and that you’re taking care of yourself mentally, too.

    Also, just wanted to say that Alison did an excellent job removing anything identifiable, in case you were worried about that.

  5. Pudding*

    I just want to point out the juxtaposition of this update, with another update from a LW today whose government agency went on a witch hunt to catch “leakers” because of her letter and the media attention it garnered. Asking Alison to remove identifying details from your letter is not paranoid, any more than using fake names and job titles is! Finding a story on the internet that you didn’t write, about part your life, and seeing strangers harshly criticize your choices, is a very strange experience and lots of people in power do not react well to it. I’m glad Alison helped you update your letter so you had less to worry about, at a time when you didn’t need worries.

    1. T*

      I think if LW says they were experiencing opioid-induced paranoia, we should probably believe them. I think they would know best. A decision can be based in a paranoia event regardless of whether or not it’s an objectively good decision, and experiencing paranoia can also make it very difficult to communicate even rational concerns in a clear and actionable way, so either way Alison should still be commended for assisting the LWer with her usual kindness and competence.

      1. Pudding*

        That’s fair! They sounded embarrassed about it though, and I don’t think there’s any need for embarrassment. It was a good call.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Blame them totally!! it’s not like anyone can prove the contrary!! With all that you’ve been through, you deserve to be very kind to yourself.
            Best wishes for continued healing!!

  6. learnedthehardway*

    I’m glad that you were able to get some peace and space to focus on healing. Many people REALLY don’t understand what a serious illness does to someone, unless they have been there.

    Also confirming your perspective on cancer – 3 years out, and I find out whether or not am considered “healed” in a couple of weeks. And even that is a “well, your risk of a recurrence is now below X%, but is not a guarantee that it won’t recur”. Regardless of whether I’m “healed” or not, I will continue to have annual scans (if all goes well). My family doctor managed to mildly freak me out last night by commenting that they can still see a “spot” on the scans. Had a moment of panic before remembering that it is probably scar tissue.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Best of luck to you at your appointment in a few weeks! I will hope for you that X is a comfortingly low percentage.

  7. AA Baby Boomer*

    I had to reread the original letter. It’s awful when you find yourself in the role of being supportative of your boss’s emotional needs. In this case she’s overdoing the act to appear interested.

  8. All Het Up About It*

    Glad to hear that you are recovering and back at work with no additional weirdness from your boss!

    I must of missed the “Did they get it all” the first time, because WOWZER. I guess people don’t realize that the only definitive answer to that question is No. And if the answer is No, the patient is dealing with a lot of emotions that they likely don’t want to share with anyone they work with. (Or go to church with, or in the PTA with, etc.) This question needs to go the way of asking people if they’re pregnant.

    Again – Best Wishes OP!!

    1. marvin*

      It’s also just such an invasive thing to ask! It’s the kind of thing that is clearly 100 percent the asker wanting to be reassured and not thinking about how the question will affect the other person. This letter writer showed a lot more grace than they should have needed to.

    2. LW*

      You likely didn’t miss it. :) That question was in the original version that included the word-for-word text messages sent. And yes and thank you to all the things in your comment.

    3. Boof*

      I’m just going to say plenty of people don’t understand medical biology or terminology well and that’s ok! A lot of people know it’s a good thing to get the whole tumor out (aka an r0 resection) and they’re right, even if all we can really know are things like “no evidence of disease” and “negative margins” and not “all cancer cells gone“.
      But yeah boss shouldn’t be asking any of that – “how are you doing” max

    4. londonedit*

      Yeah, I think a lot of people who haven’t directly (themselves or a close family member) experienced cancer have ideas about the whole thing that mainly come from TV/films – there’s this idea that you have a big ‘It’s in remission!!!’ moment or a ‘We managed to get it all – you’re cured!!!’. Whereas in reality it isn’t like that. My mum had breast cancer and after a full mastectomy yes, ‘all the cancer was gone’, because the bit of her body where the cancer was had been removed. After six chemo treatments, she was told there was an extremely small risk of the cancer returning immediately. After a year, that risk went down again. After five years, she was back to having no greater risk of cancer than any other healthy woman her age. But there were people in her friendship circles who wanted some kind of ‘Yes, I’m cured’ statement, or who kept asking if her cancer was ‘in remission’ (not really a concept that applies when they remove everything surgically – technically she was cancer free after the operation, but there was still belt-and-braces chemo to go) and who couldn’t understand that that’s not how cancer treatment works in real life.

      1. Ruth*

        I’m definitely one of the people who didn’t know this, and I’m glad I learned it here rather than by putting my foot in my mouth at some point in the future!

  9. Sunny days are better*

    Glad to hear that you are feeling better and that everything with your boss went fairly positively!

    1. The cat’s ass*

      Glad you are recovering well and I am in awe at the awesome job you did with your boundary-challenged boss in the midst of your health journey! Wishing you the best!

  10. Samwise*

    I’m so glad you are able to be back at work, with your boss somewhat under control, and send you good thoughts for continued healing.

    And thank you for your last point –many many thanks.

  11. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Glad to hear that things are looking better on the health front and that your boss stopped being a weirdo and just left you alone to heal. I hope the healing continues as quickly as possible.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Also, totally fair that you didn’t want your weird-boundary-having boss to have phone numbers for your family members. Makes perfect sense.

  12. Michelle Smith*

    I remember your letter very well. I did not realize you had cancer. I am so happy that you are doing better today than you were 6 months ago and that you were able to get your boss to back off with Alison’s advice. You seem like a genuinely good and empathetic person and I really appreciate your explanation of what is insensitive to say to someone recovering from cancer-related surgery or other treatment. That is something I will keep in mind for the future. Thanks for sharing this positive update with us!

    1. allathian*

      Oh yes, I heartily second everything in this post.

      Thanks for the update and I hope that you have many years of clear scans ahead of you, LW.

  13. Granger Chase*

    Thank you for updating us LW! I am so glad to hear you are recovering well, and I’m glad to hear you did not have to deal with your boss having a tantrum about not wanting to interact with her while recovering from a major surgery. I still can’t believe the absolute gall she had to ask you some of the questions she did. Wishing you many years of health & happiness <3

  14. Ellis Bell*

    It is heartening that someone this needy respected the boundary so well once it was stated. Sometimes when people are being this thoughtless and intrusive it feels like there’s no point stating the obvious and you’re only going to add awkwardness.

  15. Pants*

    Fellow cancer vet here. (We didn’t just “survive,” we fought.) People get weird when the cancer-word is uttered. It’s their thing, not yours. Water off a duck’s back. You’ve done all the things and now it’s up to your docs, who are far more qualified than anyone else. (“Oh, just keep a positive attitude!” “Have you tried essential oils?”) Five years seems like a long time but it will go faster than you think. I send you NED energy for the rest of forever. xox

  16. tsumommy*

    I’m so glad you’re doing well and that your boss situation is resolved.

    Thank you x 100 for saying about cancer: “Even if the surgeon or oncologist thinks they got it all, you really have no idea until you hit a 5-year (or more) mark — or when it comes back. There is literally no way to know if they “got it all” until years later.” I explained this so many times after my cancer and people still kept being all pollyanna, “You’re fine! You’re all better”, which DID NOT HELP ME. Even more irritatingly, on my 5-year mark, when I mentioned I was 5-year cancer free, these same people were like, “Ok?” JFC, it’s not that hard to be aware of this information, I know so many people with cancer.

    1. Pants*

      People put their heads deep in the sand with cancer. Everyone gets weird. I’m 10 years out but when people say “so you’re cured,” I cringe. I don’t think that “cure” and “cancer” are two words that really go together. You always feel that possibility looming over you once you’ve gone through it.

      1. Another Survivor*

        This is all so true. I have CML and have been in remission for almost ten years. What that means for me is “there are not enough cancer cells to count them”, not “they are gone”.

  17. Anon+for+This*

    I’m glad to hear that you are doing so much better and your recovery went more quickly than anticipated.

    It’s great that your boss backed off after you responded in a scripted manner.

    Wishing you only good news going forward.

  18. crazywintercanuk*

    OP be well. You handled this whole process with grace and forebearing. This is the reason I read, AAM…to process and respond to people who seemingly irrational decisions mean they colour inside and outside any lines I’ve drawn.

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