Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Ruby Soho's (Greyhound) Osteosarcoma Journey

In June 2021, our beloved (then six-year-old) greyhound was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. In May, my partner and I were on the road for a week and some friends kept Ruby for us. When we picked her up, she was limping a bit. We thought she hurt her leg while playing with our friends' greyhound, but the limp didn't go away and started to get worse. We took her to the vet and the vet thought she had a soft tissue injury. We were instructed to limit her exercise so the injury could heal. 

A couple weeks later, she was out in the front yard and took off running (she was probably energetic from not being able to exercise much). She stopped in the neighbor's yard and starting screaming and crying and my partner had to carry her inside. We called the vet and she said Ruby probably reinjured the leg, so we made an appointment to get it checked out. After taking more x-rays, the vet called and said she noticed slight changes between the previous x-ray and this one, but it was probably nothing to be concerned about. 

Ruby continued to limp and we had more follow-up x-rays done a couple weeks later. While my partner and I were out running errands, the vet called and said there were more changes to the bone and it was most likely osteosarcoma - bone cancer. Ruby is our first greyhound (we've had her for five years), but we had been part of the greyhound community long enough to know how common osteosarcoma is, and we hadn't heard many stories of positive outcomes. We were devastated.

The vet referred us to the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital (3.5 hours away). She said they were doing an osteosarcoma clinical trial there and that we could try to get Ruby accepted. She had to meet certain criteria, so we weren't sure if it would work out, but we wanted to give Ruby the best possible chance at quality of life and long-term survival. We were connected with the clinical trial team and they wanted Ruby to be on two different medications (a pain medication and an anti-inflammatory) for two weeks before they would evaluate her for the trial. Osteosarcoma is aggressive and spreads fast, so we needed to do all of this as quickly as possible. Our vet's office didn't have the medications on hand, so we had to wait for them to be ordered. When they came in, we were traveling for my partner's job and a friend picked up the meds for us and started giving them to Ruby. As soon as she started the meds, we called and made an appointment for her to be evaluated for the trial at the University of Illinois.

It ended up being about three weeks between when she started the meds and when we were able to get an appointment. We were very nervous because we weren't sure if she would even be accepted to the trial (for example, she needed to have a visible limp but still had to be putting weight on the limb, and sometimes she would put weight on it and sometimes she wouldn't). We took Ruby to her first appointment and she was fortunately accepted to the trial. The goal of the treatment was to spare the limb while stopping the growth and spread of cancer, and in past cases, the treatment had shown success. We left Ruby at the University of Illinois for a week so she could receive her first treatment; the staff there is amazing and called us every day with updates. When we went to pick Ruby up, we noticed she had lost weight while in the hospital because of the treatment and refusing to eat (she also had severe diarrhea as a side effect of the treatment), and it was a struggle to get her weight back up. We went to a local natural pet food store in town and got her some freeze-dried raw food and raw milk (mixed with a bit of kibble) and she was finally willing to eat. Medication (metronidazole) helped with the diarrhea. 

We took her back for a checkup and everything looked good. She was getting some of her energy back and seemed like she was in less pain, plus there were some days where she would run and/or not limp at all. Her next appointment was for treatment and, as usual, we got up early to take her (her appointments were typically at 8:30 a.m., so we would have to leave the house around 4:45 a.m.). Ruby was fine when we left the house, but when we stopped for a bathroom break right outside of Champaign, IL, she wouldn't put any weight on the leg. Her oncologist was obviously concerned and decided to do some x-rays before proceeding with treatment. 

Unfortunately, the x-rays showed that, at some point during our trip, Ruby fractured her leg at the tumor site. This disqualified her from the clinical trial and, because osteosarcoma erodes the bone, there was no chance of the limb ever healing. Our only option was to amputate and start chemotherapy. We were devastated all over again and had to leave Ruby at the hospital for surgery and recovery. It was awful to drive back home without her, and choosing amputation was one of the hardest decisions we've ever had to make. Even with amputation and chemotherapy, the "average survival time [for dogs with osteosarcoma is] just a little less than one year with 20% of dogs still enjoying a good quality of life two years after surgery" (Davies). We didn't want to take away Ruby's quality of life or make her remaining time be painful, but we also wanted to give her the best possible chance to beat the disease. Ruby's surgeon said that "dogs are born with three legs and a spare" and assured us that they do quite well with three legs, so we moved forward with the amputation.

We weren't sure what to expect when we went to pick Ruby up after her surgery and recovery. The most shocking part was probably the surgical scar; because they removed Ruby's front left shoulder and limb, the scar was quite long. In addition, much of her hair was shaved and she was purple all over. She also had seromas (areas where fluid has built up after surgery) which, along with the scar, made it difficult to use the harness the vet gave us to help her get around (it had a padded section that went under her chest and handles for us to hold as she walked alongside us). We were so nervous walking with her at first and we weren't sure how to get her in the car to go home, but she jumped right in all by herself. Ruby is a trooper.

The first two weeks of Ruby's recovery at home were rough. Here are the parts that stand out the most (and some advice if you are going through this with your greyhound):
  • Because Ruby was in the hospital and received lots of fluids, she had to potty A LOT right after we picked her up. Since they are supposed to rest and it's difficult to get them outside post-surgery, make sure they fully empty their bladders when outside. 
  • Ruby is unique in that she doesn't mind taking medicine; we were able to successfully give her all her meds with just a little peanut butter. 
  • We have hardwood floors at our house and Ruby had a difficult time with the slippery floors when she first came home. We took all the rugs in our house and arranged them so she always had a carpeted area to walk on. She did much better with the hardwood floors after a couple months. 
  • Ruby's surgeon told us to limit Ruby's activity for the first two weeks post-surgery. She was only supposed to get up for potty breaks and to get water. Because of this, we created what we called "Camp Grey" in our living room. We put down rugs and Ruby's favorite beds with lots of pillows and blankets and then blocked off the room so she could only move around in the living room. We also moved her water and food bowls in, although I would sit on her bed with her and feed her when it was lunch or dinner time. Someone was with Ruby at all times for the first two weeks of her recovery. 
  • Ruby experienced what we called "phantom limb pain." Sometimes she would start screaming out of nowhere (often in the middle of the night) and other times she would drink water or cough and start screaming. It was very sad to witness, but I think she was mostly surprised and just trying to get used to her new body. She would usually calm down after a quick cuddle or some pets. It's important to keep up with the pain medication regimen prescribed by the vet (Ruby took gabapentin for pain).
  • The medication prescribed to keep Ruby calm (trazodone) knocked her out. She was so tired from the meds that we couldn't get her up to go outside. We only gave her these meds for a couple days before stopping because we were struggling to get her up and outside for potty breaks.
  • Ruby enjoys a strict routine and wanted to stick to it even after coming home from the hospital. This meant she would only potty in certain areas - the very back of our large backyard or in the field across the street from our house. She refused to go potty anywhere else, so the potty routine was very difficult. We have some front steps leading up to our house and we had to pick her up to take her down the stairs. This took two people to accomplish - one to use the harness to hoist her and the other to actually pick her up. One of us would then walk with her using the harness as she found a place to potty. This would sometimes take 20-25 minutes and she was exhausted by the time we got back inside. Ruby is stubborn and we had to adhere to her routine because it was so difficult getting her in and out of the house; we weren't going to come back in unless she went potty, and that required us going to her favorite spots. 
  • Ruby was constantly trying to lick her surgical wound. The vet sent her home with a "reverse" cone (that went back toward her body rather than toward her head), but it was rubbing her incision and it was impossible for her to move around or lie down comfortably. I ended up going to Goodwill and buying a couple boy's small t-shirts for her to wear so that her wound was covered and protected and so she couldn't lick (I had to use a rubber band to hold up the back because the shirts were too big, and I had to make the necks smaller so they wouldn't slide down and expose her incision). Despite this, she did try to lick her incision through the shirt after about three weeks. We had to buy bitter spray to put on the shirt, but even that didn't always keep her from licking, so we had to keep a close eye on her. 
  • This might seem silly, but a friend at a greyhound organization reminded us over and over that Ruby was still the same Ruby and to treat her like nothing had changed. Another friend who is a physical therapist told us that the only way Ruby would get used to her new body was to try things for herself, fall, adjust, etc. We tried to let her experiment as much as we (safely) could so she could adapt to three-legged life as quickly as possible. 
Ruby Soho on her seventh birthday in August 2021! When she was first diagnosed, we weren't sure she was going to make it to her next birthday, so she was spoiled extra. She is about two weeks post-amputation here and is wearing one of the Goodwill t-shirts I bought for her.

Ruby's post-surgery plan was to receive four rounds of chemotherapy (one round once a month for four months). One week after the surgery, we took Ruby back to the University of Illinois for her first chemotherapy treatment. Dogs actually tolerate chemotherapy quite well, and after her first treatment, she just experienced a bit of fatigue and some diarrhea. Before her next chemo treatment (a month later), we took Ruby to our local vet for a CBC and everything came back normal, so we took her to the University of Illinois for chemo. Unfortunately, she had a UTI and couldn't receive chemo, so they sent her home with antibiotics and we went back a week later. She was able to receive the chemo then, but she was still battling the UTI. Before her next chemo a month later, we had our local vet do a CBC and check her urine and both came back normal, so we took Ruby to the University of Illinois for chemo. At that visit, they found that the UTI had returned (even after antibiotics), so she was not able to receive the treatment and we were sent home with more antibiotics. They gave her stronger antibiotics for a longer period of time, and that did knock out the infection, but the vet was trying to figure out why the infection kept returning. The vet eventually determined that the problem was with Ruby's incontinence issue (a problem she's had since we adopted her); she takes medication (DES) for this issue once a week, but the vet figured out that the small dosage wasn't enough, so we bumped her up to two times a week (and she stopped getting UTIs). Ruby was able to get her third round of chemo in October 2021, and we took her back for her final round right before Thanksgiving.

We took a trip to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary in October and, of course, brought Ruby with us. Here she is going on a walk at the University of Kentucky in an old harness that no longer fits very well (see below for information about the new harness we got for her).

At her appointment for the final round of chemo, the vet took scans of Ruby's chest to check for any signs of spread. We were very nervous for this appointment since we know how aggressive osteosarcoma is (and how quickly the disease can spread), but we were so relieved to hear that her scans came back clear. Her care team brought her out after her appointment and everyone was celebrating, plus she had an adorable orange bandana that said, "The Cancer Care Clinic at Illinois LOVES Me." (The last chemo treatment was the hardest for Ruby, and it took her a few days to bounce back from the fatigue she experienced). We met with the vet and she reminded us that even though Ruby is in remission now, the cancer could come back. They consider osteosarcoma to be a terminal illness, and the goal with amputation and chemo is to extend life as long as (comfortably) possible. If we had done nothing after Ruby's diagnosis, she probably wouldn't have made it past two months. With the treatments she had, the average extension of life is 8-12 months. However, we are hoping and praying hard that Ruby has beat this disease for good. We took her back for a follow-up right before Christmas and her scans were still clean. She goes back for another checkup and re-scan at the beginning of February. No matter what happens, we are just glad to have more time with our best girl. 

Ruby wearing her University of Illinois bandana right after her last chemo treatment where we found out her cancer is in remission!

Ruby (impatiently) waiting to see the vet at her most recent checkup at the University of Illinois (wearing her new, better-fitting harness).

Here are a few things we noticed in the weeks following Ruby's amputation and chemo (plus a few pointers if your greyhound had a front leg amputation due to osteosarcoma):
  • It took forever for Ruby's hair to grow back after she was shaved for surgery. We started wondering if it would ever come back, and it eventually did, but it took almost four full months to fill back in completely. 
  • Dogs really do adapt well to having only three legs. We were amazed by how quickly Ruby got back to her favorite activities. She digs huge holes (with only one front leg!), runs like a champ, and jumps and plays with her toys. She really doesn't have any trouble getting around, and she can still run very fast.
  • That being said, Ruby doesn't go on walks like she used to. First, her gait has changed and she does much better with a faster pace (or a trot, as we call it). When walking her on the leash, we have to hustle a bit to keep up with the pace that is comfortable for her (we've talked about getting a longer leash, as well). She also becomes tired more quickly with only three legs, so our walks are much shorter. The harness we got for her when we first adopted her doesn't work anymore (with the leg missing, it's too big and slides down over her head when she leans over). This is the harness we ended up getting for Ruby post-surgery; it stays in place and has a handle so we can help her on the stairs or on slippery surfaces. We love it so far.
  • As any greyhound owner knows, greyhounds need sweaters and coats for cold weather. We have a few lighter sweaters for Ruby and a winter coat, and none of them fit her very well anymore. With the shoulder and leg missing, she's much flatter on that side and all her sweaters and coats slide to the left and we are constantly adjusting them. If we order new ones, we will need to go down a size (I could also alter the sweaters we already have so they fit better, but I haven't tried that yet).
  • Ruby's appetite didn't really go back to normal. After she started the clinical trial, we tried several new things to get her to eat so her weight would go back up. After she gained a bit of weight, we couldn't go back to just kibble (with a bit of water/broth) because she refused to eat it. In addition, we were warned about having too many carbs in her diet since, as the vet told us, "cancer feeds on carbs." As a result, we switched Ruby to a mostly whole food diet. She eats a meal around noon and then again at 5:00 p.m. and we mix a little bit of kibble with some wet food. We use this kibble from Fromm (although we rotate the protein, so we alternate between pork, fish, and chicken) and we mix in this wet food from Open Farm (and we also rotate the protein between beef and chicken, although she definitely prefers the beef). We also add Ultra Oil to her lunch and put a little pumpkin puree in her dinner. With this diet, she is back to eating like she did pre-cancer (and we feel good about what we're feeding her). 
This osteosarcoma experience has been incredibly difficult. The most difficult part was making the decision to amputate, and I was so worried we were making the wrong choice. Ruby is now five months post-amputation and we are so glad we chose that route. First, we didn't realize how much pain she was in when she still had the leg with the tumor. After the surgery, it was clear she was finally pain-free and was able to get back to running and playing like she did before the cancer. Second, the amputation hasn't impacted her mobility like we thought it would. If you are going through this with your greyhound, just know how adaptable they are. As sad as you will be, and as difficult as the situation will be, you will make the choice you know is best for your dog. 

The other thing I want to mention is pet insurance. Without our pet insurance policy, this situation would have been even more taxing (and I'm not sure we would have been able to make the same treatment choices). We have a policy through Healthy Paws and they have been excellent. Because of Ruby's age, we pay around $60 a month for the policy, but we have a $250 deductible and the insurance plan covers 80% of care costs. Up to this point, Ruby's treatment has cost around $14,000, so we are incredibly grateful for the insurance.

If you have a greyhound (or any dog) that has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma and you have questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out through this site or through social media (see the Pages tab). It's a tough road, but you (and your dog) will get through this!

Ruby Soho has an Instagram page where we post frequent updates; if you want to stay up-to-date on her journey (or check out old posts), follow this link!

Friday, December 11, 2020

My Debt Repayment Journey


Recently, I posted on Facebook that I had made my last student loan payment and was debt free. I received several follow-up messages from friends asking about my process and, since enough people asked, I thought I would write about it here. 

For context: I'm in the humanities (specifically writing studies and women's and gender studies) and I was in college/grad school for ~12 years. Here's the break down of that:

  • Bachelor's degree (graduated 2011) - 4 years and 1 summer session
  • Master's degree (graduated 2013) - 2 years and 1 summer session
  • Graduate certificate (graduated 2017) - 2 years (completed during my doctoral program)
  • Doctorate (graduated 2019) - 4 years
I was extremely fortunate that my parents paid for my bachelor's degree (tuition and room and board and living expenses), so I had no debt from my undergrad (thanks, Mom and Dad!). When I was about to start my master's degree, I took out student loans to pay my tuition and to cover some living expenses (I worked various odd jobs during my master's program that barely paid for my rent and groceries - in the print center at Office Max, as a nanny, as a research assistant in the social work program at my university, as a counselor at a summer camp, etc.). 

Sidebar: Going into my master's program, I knew nothing about grad school or student loans and didn't realize it was not a good choice to go into debt for that degree. I learned later that many grad programs provide tuition assistance and a stipend, but my program didn't offer either. The benefits of a humanities degree do not often outweigh the costs, so looking back, I wish I would have found a funded master's program. I ended up owing about $20,000 in student loans for my master's. 

During the two years between my master's and doctorate, I worked as an adjunct instructor (if you don't know what that means, check out this article) and was only able to make small payments on my loan. I was lucky enough to be accepted to my doctoral program with an assistantship and a stipend, so most of my tuition was covered. However, I did have to pay some fees each semester, which added up to about $1,000 ($1,000 x 8 semesters = $8,000). In addition, my assistantship was also not enough to live on (it was about $600 every two weeks). Several colleagues took out loans to pay the extra fees and to live on, but with the loan from my master's degree hanging over my head, I couldn't justify going into more debt. I picked up other jobs and side hustles to pay the fees each semester and to make ends meet. I taught online courses for other schools, did photography sessions, and found childcare jobs through Care.com (in addition to my assistantship, which consisted of teaching, mentoring, website development, and/or shooting photography, depending on the semester). It was tough, but I completed my graduate certificate and doctorate without adding any more student loan debt. 

It's also worth noting that I got married right before the end of my master's program, so I had a partner with an income during my doctorate. However, he works in ministry and church salaries are notoriously low (not quite as low as my grad school stipend, but close). As a result, he worked side hustles, too (mostly at coffee shops or in retail). While we lived paycheck to paycheck and often went without, we were happy and tried our best to live within our means. 

While the loan from my master's was deferred during my doctoral program, the payments kicked in again right after graduating in 2019. I had just spent a year on the job market, traveling and going to conferences, and we were about to move so that I could begin my new job (for more on that, read here). The traveling and moving expenses added up and ended up on our credit card. My partner, Justin, had also experienced a workplace injury that year. While at one of his jobs, a 400 lb. sign fell and crushed his leg, resulting in lots of medical bills and time off work. His paycheck made up most of our income, but we didn't receive a paycheck from worker's comp for almost 8 weeks. It was stressful, and while we cut down where we could, most of our living expenses during that time ended up on the credit card. Also, worker's comp decided to appeal all of the medical procedures, claiming they weren't necessary (after doctors had recommended them and we agreed under the impression that worker's comp would pay). They won and we were stuck with thousands of dollars of medical debt.

We moved in July 2019 and I saw it as a fresh start. We were going to be a one-income family for awhile since Justin was starting a new venture with a college ministry that required him to raise his own salary and ministry budget (we moved in July and he didn't start receiving a paycheck until March), but I was committed to paying down the debt as quickly as possible. We were frugal and saved as much as we could. I budgeted a certain amount each week and the rest went toward debt repayment. We started with smaller debts, which included our car loan, medical debt, and the credit card we used to buy furniture after the move. Once those were paid off in about 3-4 months, I moved to our credit card and paid that off in about 6 months. Right after that (in June 2020), I took advantage of the CARES Act (which prevented federal student loans from accruing any interest) and started making aggressive payments on my student loans (I had one subsidized and one unsubsidized). My goal was to pay it off before interest kicked back in on December 31st (it has since been extended) and I met that goal. 

I am fortunate and grateful that my family hasn't been financially impacted by COVID-19. Since we were in quarantine for quite some time (and we honestly still don't get out and do much), we were able to save more than we had before and this gave us a boost in the funds we had available for debt repayment. I feel incredibly blessed that we were able to tackle this kind of debt repayment during a worldwide pandemic, and I know this approach isn't possible for everyone. The keys for us were living within our means, budgeting a weekly amount and not going over, picking up side hustles where we could (I'm still booking photography shoots if you are in the Evansville area!), and putting any bit of extra money toward debt repayment. 

A few other suggestions:
  • Delegate based on strengths. I'm the saver in my family and my partner is the spender; as a result, I handle most of our finances.
  • If you have to have a side hustle, try to make it something you enjoy. I had lots of cool jobs throughout my educational journey that I am thankful for (the job as the counselor at the summer camp for at-risk youth was the most rewarding).
  • Don't get too overwhelmed. Any repayment toward debt is progress, even if it's not much. (That said, make sure you are still considering your interest rates!). 
  • Cut costs where you can. I found those quick trips into the convenience store a few times a week for an iced tea really added up. 
  • School is hard, but if you can work, do it. I'm incredibly grateful now that I had so many job opportunities during my doctorate. (However, the fact that I had to work so many jobs during my doctorate is evidence that the higher education system is broken and grad students are not supported like they should be, but that's a rant for another day). 
  • It gets better. Just because your job/financial situation is not ideal now doesn't mean it will be that way forever. Save what you can, even if it's not much. 
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions that I didn't answer here, I'd be happy to follow up with you. You can send me a message on Facebook or reach out via the Contact tab on my website.

Stay safe, stay healthy, keep thriving (or surviving - we are still in a pandemic, after all). 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Evansville House

So much has changed since I posted on here last June! My family moved to Indiana from Ohio at the end of July and I began my dream job in August. It's hard to believe I've already been here for an entire semester. The spring semester started a couple weeks ago and I just spent a week recovering from the flu. Since I had a bit of down time, I thought I'd finally share a bit about our journey to Evansville and our new home (and many friends and family members have been asking to see photos of the new place!).

Justin and I have always wanted to live downtown; we love local businesses, the people, and being able to have so much within walking distance. This wasn't really an option for us in Toledo because everything was so expensive downtown. Last May, we came to Evansville (the third largest city in Indiana) to find a place to live. We had been looking for places online and had set up several appointments to see homes, but nothing was working out - someone else would get to the place before us, appointments would fall through, or the place would not be what we were looking for.

On our first day in town, we had a rough day and decided to take another look at some properties on Zillow. We stopped at a restaurant downtown and our waiter saw we had Zillow open on my laptop. He started telling us about how he had lived downtown for years and loved it and that we should look into it. We said we wanted to, but weren't finding any places that were a good fit for us. He gave us the contact information for a friend of his and said she had several properties downtown that we might be interested in. Justin texted her and she said she only had one property available, but that it was undergoing renovations and wouldn't be available until July (which is when we were moving). Without even knowing what the place looked like, we set up an appointment to see the property the next day.

The house felt like home as soon as we pulled up. It was right downtown, very close to so many awesome local businesses and restaurants, and was in a gorgeous historic neighborhood near the Ohio River. We toured the place and, while it was a mess because of the renovations, Justin and I knew it was the place for us. We moved in on July 28th and have been in love with our house and our neighborhood ever since. (And Ruby loves it, too!).

We're so happy here. We love our city, our neighborhood, our jobs. We've met so many new people and it's been great to feel settled after so many years of moving and being in grad school. So, I thought I'd share our new home with you!

We were lucky enough to participate in the Old Evansville Historic Association home tour back in December and around 400 people from the community toured our home (and six other homes in the downtown historic district). Through the home tour, we were able to learn more about our house. Some quick facts: The house is known locally as the Theodore Venemann House as it was built for Theodore and Britania Venemann in 1869 (crazy, right!?). Venemann was trained as an attorney but eventually took over his father's business (which was listed in the local directory as "Foreign Exchange, Steamship, and Railroad Agents"). The house is a simplified example of Italianate style.

As a side note: If you click on the photos, it enlarges them and you can scroll through them like a slideshow.

The entryway/front hallway and stairs leading up to the bedrooms/office.

We call this our Harry Potter bathroom because it's under the stairs. There's a toilet back there but you can't see it in the photos. 

The dining room. 

We don't have a garage, so the dining room is the only convenient place to store our bikes (we bike a lot living downtown).

The kitchen. 

We actually have four doors that lead in/out of the house, but we only use the front door - the other doors are either sealed or always locked. 

This bathroom is brand new and was part of the renovations this past summer. We love the clawfoot tub and exposed brick!

The living room.

Justin keeps his tools in this random closet. 

Now we're at the top of the stairs. This hallway leads to the master bedroom.

Our bedroom.

We sold our old bedroom furniture before we left Toledo and ordered new furniture from Wayfair (which included a king-sized bed)!

And we have a wonderful walk-in closet (and another smaller closet) in our room!

My home office/Justin's music room.

More exposed brick.

We technically have three bedrooms, but we use this one (just off the office) as a storage room.

The spare bedroom.

That's an antique postage box that I use as a nightstand (found it on Facebook marketplace!).

That antique Schwinn was once a Toledo police bike!

The hallway outside the spare bedroom.

This leads to the attic stairs.

The attic is...gross. So we don't go up there. (We did once and found lots of weird stuff, including an old rocking horse, some holiday decorations, and lots of paintings of nude women). 

The laundry room!

Our upstairs bathroom.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Year Four

This year has been chaotic, difficult, and exciting all at the same time. I just wrapped up a four-year PhD program in English with a specialization in rhetoric and writing (and a certificate in women's, gender, and sexuality studies) and I graduated on May 17th. It still feels surreal, but you can call me Dr. LaFollette!

For the first three years of my program, I was mentored by the faculty at my university about going on the academic job market. I knew when fourth-year came around, I would spend the year looking for, applying to, and interviewing for academic positions. However, I don't think I was prepared for quite how difficult the whole process would be, or how difficult the entire year would be as a whole. I began applying for positions in July 2018. At the beginning of August, I became ill (first with strep throat, then bronchitis, then several misdiagnosed upper respiratory infections followed by a whole list of weird and concerning symptoms) and spent the entire month of August barely able to function. (I wrote a post about this ordeal here). I finally received a mono diagnosis during the second week of the semester and subsequently had to take a leave of absence from school and teaching (I was teaching poetry for the first time in my career and had to pass the course off to another instructor).

I was on medical leave for six weeks and then transitioned back to school part-time for another two weeks. At the beginning of November, I was trying to get back to my regular activities, but I didn't really start feeling like myself again until several months later. In November, I spent five days in Cincinnati helping out with a new staff assessment for Impact Campus Ministries (the organization my husband works for). It was a wonderful (and exhausting) experience, and it definitely helped me feel like I could tackle school and work again after being on leave for almost two months.

I had some setbacks with my dissertation, so over winter break, I wrote and revised as much as I could so I could send the final version to my committee when the spring semester started. Once spring semester came around, I took on another job (I was already working as a program assistant at my university and teaching online for another university) as a part-time nanny 15-20 hours per week. We were also hiring a new faculty member at my university, so I was trying to attend the candidates' research and teaching presentations since I was also on the job market. And, on top of this, I was still applying to as many jobs as possible and trying to get my dissertation ready for defense. I submitted the "final" version of my dissertation (which ended up being almost 300 pages) in January and defended my dissertation on February 18th! My husband and parents were even able to attend; it was a great day all around.

By January, I had been applying to jobs for six months and hadn't had a request for a single interview. I was becoming anxious and discouraged, but many of my other colleagues were experiencing the same thing. The academic job market wasn't strong this past year, and there weren't as many positions available. I started thinking about what I would do if the year passed and I didn't get hired. Would we stay in Ohio? What would I do? The whole process was anxiety-inducing, and it didn't help that family and friends and acquaintances were always asking if I had had interviews, found a job, etc. I didn't know what to tell them because nothing was happening.

In February, I had a phone interview with Campus #1, and I didn't hear back from them after that initial interview. A week later, I had a Skype interview with Campus #2, a very small, private liberal arts college (for a tenure-track Assistant Professor position). The following week, they invited me for a campus visit/interview. While I was preparing for that campus visit, I had a Skype interview with Campus #3 (a small, private Catholic university) and was also later invited for a campus visit/interview (it was for a one- to two-year Visiting Lecturer position). I came back early from a conference in Pittsburgh and went to my campus interview at Campus #2 the following day. A week later, I went to my campus interview with Campus #3. I didn't get the job at Campus #2, and Campus #3 canceled their search after my interview.

In late March/early April, I had a Skype interview with Campus #4 (a mid-sized public university) for a tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor and Campus #5 (a small branch of a larger public university system) for a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position. Campus #4 followed-up and asked me to come for a campus interview, and then Campus #5 asked if I could come during the same dates that Campus #4 had booked me for. When I asked Campus #5 if I could come during a different time since I already had another interview scheduled, they said they were no longer interested.

After returning home from my interview with Campus #4, I had a phone interview with Campus #6 (a small, private Catholic university) for a non-tenure track Assistant Teaching Professor position and a Skype interview with Campus #7 (a very small, private liberal arts college) for a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position. I went for a campus visit/interview at Campus #6 and never heard back from Campus #7.

(As a side note, some of these terms/ranks might not make sense if you don't work in academia. Here's a Wikipedia article that defines some of these positions: Academic Ranks in the United States).

I tell you all this to give you an idea of how stressful the academic job market is. You invest so much time and effort into each application and interview (each takes hours of preparation as you tailor your cover letter, CV, and teaching and research materials to the job ad and research the school and the department before interviews).

If you don't know anything about academic interviews, let me tell you a bit about them. Universities will usually do initial interviews (via Skype or over the phone) with 10-20 job applicants, then they will narrow that pool down and invite 2-3 candidates for a campus visit/interview. The campus interviews can last between 2-3 days and involve meals with the search committee and meetings and presentations that last all day. I usually would have dinner with the search committee the night before my official interview and then the interview would start the next day between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning. Depending on the size of the school, job candidates meet with the the president, the provost, the dean, the department chair, the search committee, human resources, etc. In between those meetings, candidates are required to give presentations on their research and facilitate a teaching demonstration (all of my teaching demonstrations were in actual classes, meaning I took over for that instructor for that class session and taught their class while the search committee and other faculty members observed). Lunch is typically with students or other faculty members, and candidates usually have dinner with the search committee after the day-long interview is over before returning to their hotel.

The process is exhausting.

While I was traveling for interviews, I was also going to conferences, submitting applications, and continuing with my work responsibilities (I was still working as a program assistant and teaching online, but had dropped the job as a nanny). My husband had also been in a workplace accident in February and injured his leg. Worker's compensation was taking forever to come through, so we were without his income for almost eight weeks, which only added to the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty we were both already feeling. On top of this, our lease was up in May, and when we asked our landlord if we could extend it until July or August (when hopefully I would have a job and we would be planning to move), she initially said "no." We spent two or three weeks trying to figure out what we were going to do about our living situation. If I did get a job offer, we would need to move in July or August, so we would have to move out of our current place and into a new place for two months just to move again. If I didn't get a job, we had no plan and didn't even know where we would live. A friend offered to let us stay with her and we could put our stuff in storage, but luckily it didn't come to that and our lease was extended until July.

May came around and I still didn't have a job offer. I was trying to come up with a plan for what I was going to do if I didn't get a position, but most days, it was too much to think about. Getting a PhD was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I kept hoping I didn't go through the whole process to come out empty-handed.

On May 6th, after applying to almost 80 jobs and having many interviews and campus visits, I got a job offer from Campus #4, a dream school and a dream job. (And, the day after, I got a job offer from Campus #6, but knew the other job was the right position for me). I accepted the offer and signed my contract; we're moving (back) to Indiana on July 27th! I'm so excited about this position and can't wait to start in August. After the year we've had, I'm looking forward to getting settled in our new place in our new city.

I'm sharing these stories on my blog for a couple reasons. One, I don't think many people knew how rough this year was on us, and announcing my new job and the move on social media was exciting, but it didn't show any of the chaos of the months leading up to it. Transparency is important, especially when we only tend to share the good things on social media. Second, if you are on the academic job market this year or will be soon, you can do this! Surround yourself with good friends and family who support you. Be patient. Don't take rejections personally - there's so much that happens behind the scenes of a job search that you just don't know about.

God is good. Here's to new adventures!

My partner in crime. After five years in Ohio, we're moving back to Indiana!