breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Travesty

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The Senate released its version of the AHCA this morning.

Everyone in the US should be horrified. It does the same despicable things as the House version.

Tax cuts for the wealthy on the backs of of every other American.

On the backs of cancer patients.

On the backs of the disabled.

On the backs of the poor.

On the backs of the elderly.

On the backs of the chronically ill.

On the backs of children.

On the backs of those who need protection.

I have employer provided health insurance. I have had insurance my entire life. I went from my mom’s plan to my plan. For seventeen years, I’ve paid for my health insurance, for fifteen years the only times I needed it were pregnancies, but when I developed breast cancer, I knew my insurance could not drop me, could not refuse to cover treatments and surgeries, and it could not enforce an arbitrary financial cap or limit as insurance companies did prior to the ACA. Fun fact: My insurance had a million dollar lifetime cap prior to the ACA.

Chemo: $2000+ per round. I had eight rounds.

Herceptin: $400 per round. I had 11 single rounds.

Bilateral mastectomy with auxiliary lymph nodes dissection: $75k+

28 sessions of radiation: $111k

Reconstruction: 80k+

Tamoxifen: $8 a month for 16 months

Arimidex: $12 a month, just started, God willing, I will be on for 120 months

Now, some basic math.

Chemo-estimated total cost: $16k

Herceptin: $4400

Bilat Mx: $75k

Rads: $111k

Recon: $80k

Tamoxifen-estimated total cost: $128

Arimidex: (estimated for 10 years) $1440

Estimated total for treatment for Stage 2 ER+/HER2+ IDC BC: $208k+

Thanks to the ACA and my employer provided health insurance, I paid a little under 10k out of pocket…that was my maximum. I didn’t see a bill for anything above because I hit my out of pocket max from port surgeries, biopsies, MRIs, ultrasounds, mammograms, and pathologies. However, NONE of that takes into account the money I spent out of pocket on specialist copays, ovary removal day surgery, X-rays, scans, or the little things I’ve forgotten.

Republicans, the Senate, and the House, through these bills, make it clear they believe those who develop life threatening medical conditions are not deserving of consumer protections from the health care industry. EVERYONE, except, I guess the uber wealthy, was one medical emergency or medical catastrophe away from being financially wrecked prior to the ACA. What moral, ethical, or logical reason is there for us to return to that kind of system?

I posed that question to my senators. I’ve called Senators Cornyn’s and Cruz’s DC offices at least twice a week, if not more, since the House bill passed. I’m on a first name basis with one of Cruz’s DC staffers. I’ve faxed. I’ve emailed. I’ve cried on the phone with their staffers, asking them to explain to me why my life is worth less than someone who hasn’t become ill…yet.

Yet.

Do Republicans truly believe they will not develop illnesses or conditions?

I truly, 100% believed I would NEVER develop breast cancer. I knew the statistics, 1 in 8 women, but I TRULY believed I would NEVER be that one. My family has NO history of ANY female related cancers. Lung cancer? Yes. My grandfathers smoked like chimneys in a northern winter. Colon cancer? Yes. Get screenings, folks. Colonoscopies save lives. Melanoma? Yes, and a rare one at that -my grandmother died from metastasized OCULAR melanoma. Breast cancer? Nope…not until me.

I was arrogant. I was selfish. I was smug.

Karma decided to say hi to me at 37 years old.

If you truly believe I must have done something wrong to develop breast cancer, get off my blog. No one does anything wrong who develops cancer.

If you read this and decide to be smug like I once was, may the force be with you because the American Cancer Society says 1 in 2 Americans will develop cancer in their lifetime.

If you read this and support the GOP and the AHCA, I’d like for you to take a minute and read the letter I sent to Senator Cornyn, and I’d like for you to be sure you’re okay with your answer to my closing statement of my letter. No one will know your answer but yourself. Make sure you’re good with it. I’ve also included his canned reply.

 

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I think his reply answers my statement. To him and the GOP, breast cancer makes me less.

But, I am not less, and I will call his and Cruz’s offices…again and again.

I will continue sharing my story because I know there are thousands like me.

I’ve shared my story with Indivisible, with other senators, and with The New York Times.

Wisdom. Compassion. Courage.

The three moral qualities of humanity.

Where is yours?

 

 

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

In the quiet

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My mind is quieter tonight. I sit here, reclined in our bed while A sleeps, and though Dr. O was adamant about me getting more sleep, my mind works, processing today.

I remain no evidence of disease.

Another 20-week reprieve.

Monday night, one of my best friends texted me this reminder

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It struck me, the truth in her words, the truth in the privilege of the word “get.”

I’m alive.

What a privilege it is.

Summer appointments are hard because it was this time in 2015 when my gut began screaming at me that something was not right with the hard knot I could feel in my left breast. I ignored my gut until August when I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I wonder if I would have called Dr. B if I had not raised my left arm to towel dry my hair that fateful August evening and noticed, with horror, undeniable physical proof something was not right with my left breast. I called Dr. B the next morning. In that moment, my breast cancer roller coaster ride began.

Thanks to Dr. O, I get to be here, for now, and for now is enough. As one of my longtime mentors reminded me when I was first diagnosed, something each day has to be enough, even the smallest thing. That’s gratitude.

I know, come November, my mind is likely to do to me then what it’s done to me over the last three weeks, what I’ve allowed it to do to me. I understand I allow it. I’m not sure how to cope or overcome it. Maybe accepting it, my fear, is enough. I am scared breast cancer will be the end of my story. Appointments with my doctors might always bring up my fears. I have to accept that.

I felt silly at my appointment today. In one hand, I clutched a small, rough amethyst. In my other, I clutched a small chunk of clear quartz. It helped, though, having those in my hands. I rubbed my thumbs along side their edges, smooth and rough, something tangible to concentrate on, to use for stress and anxiety relief. My version of fidget cubes.

My bloodwork was completely, totally, boringly normal. No evidence of anything. No more anemia. No more borderline bad liver numbers. Just normal bloodwork for a 39 years old woman.

I have to go back in September for more bloodwork and scans. Dr. O switched me from tamoxifen to arimidex today. Bone density tests. Vitamin D levels. When I texted my friend with that update, she replied IMG_1823

 

 

 

Get to go.

Privilege.

Life.

I get to spend more time with A, S, and AJ, who buried his head in my neck and wrapped his arms around my shoulders when I told them I saw my cancer doctor for a check up and I’m no evidence of disease.

“I love you, Momma,” AJ whispered.

I kissed his forehead. I got to kiss his forehead.

I get to be with them.

Privilege.

Life.

As I fall asleep tonight, its with these thoughts. My mind processes. My heart grateful.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Superlative

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I don’t make friends easily. I’m not gregarious or outgoing. If I’m at a house party with people I don’t know well, or don’t really want to know well, I’m likely to be off playing with their dog or cat. If they don’t have a pet, I’m likely sitting off somewhere reading the book stashed in my purse or downloaded to my phone.

I don’t trust others easily. I’m suspicious by nature. I tend to look for the worst, to believe the worst. I’m doubtful. It makes me difficult. I recognize this flaw in me. I know it’s a flaw.

We all have flaws.

Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to know people who were willing to break through my shell, my true and dearest friends. They are a small but mighty (and sometimes motley) group.

Tonight, three of us met for dinner. It’s been hard for us to find a time that works, but my friends know I see Dr. O tomorrow for a 20-week check up, and despite having other things to do, the two of them made time for me tonight. As Ash said tonight, “You’d do the same thing for either of us.” Then, she made it clear, I will not go to my appointment tomorrow alone. She will come with me. I didn’t ask. I didn’t have to ask.

These two are my sisters, not of blood, but of love and choice. We are a small, but mighty group.

And, I don’t know what I would do without them. I treasure their friendship.

I treasure them.

family, kids, life, Uncategorized

4,730,400

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Nine years ago, A and I welcomed an 8 lbs, 7 ozs, 19 inches long, blue eyed, brown haired little boy into our family.

AJ was about as planned as a baby could be planned. Summer baby so I wouldn’t miss school. Scheduled c-section since he was breech. Birth exactly 8 weeks before teachers returned for the new school year. Planned.

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Of course, we know, “the best laid-plans of mice and men often go awry,” and while everything went as planned on June 18, 2008, after that was proof the best-laid plans can, and do, blow up in your face.

Since S had GERD, we were on high alert with AJ, and as his sister, and his father, and his grandmother, and his great-grandfather, AJ had reflux. We knew how to handle it. What we didn’t know how to handle was a baby who spit up everything. Every. Thing. All. The. Time.

He was a few weeks old when our pediatrician suspected there was more to AJ’s reflux than just typical spitty baby. Pyloric stenosis, he told us was his suspicion. Off to the hospital we went for an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed AJ was thisclose to PS, but the muscle thickening was just under the measurement threshold. So, we watched and measured. We used towels for burp rags. He slept in his swing for 2 hour stretches. Our pediatrician refered us to a specialist.

A pediatric gastrointestinal specialist saw AJ, put him on a formula available by prescription only, and sent us back to our pediatrician. The specialist suspected a protein intolerance. If he was right, the Neocate would help.

It took a few weeks, but, by the time the new school year began, AJ was better. He gained weight. He began to sleep better, sleep longer. By October, I remember thinking, “so this is what it’s like to have a baby that doesn’t spit up out of his mouth and nose.”

Baby AJ blew up all our plans for an easy summer baby. We were fools. When A and I think back to AJ’s babyhood, we laugh because man, we were such fools.

And, man, did those first 525,600 minutes go fast.

We survived his babyhood, his toddlerhood, and now, we watch with pride and trepidation as AJ ventures through childhood. He’s stubborn with a smart mouth. He’s kind and carries the weight of the world on his shoulders sometimes. He’s shy and silly. He loves his family, his cats, his Pokémon cards, and his Minecraft games.

 

It’s been 4,730,400 minutes with AJ in our lives. Almost five million minutes.

9 years measured in first words, first steps, first sentences. First day of preschool, of kindergarten, of first grade and second. Three seasons of soccer. Hundreds of Pokémon cards. Countless games of Go Fish and Connect 4. Innumerable questions, bad jokes, and silly puns. Museums and musicals and aquariums and zoos and parks. Miles walked holding my hand, or his dad’s, or his sister’s. Laughter and tears. Anger and happiness. Exasperation. Gratitude.

Four million, seven hundred thirty thousand, four hundred minutes.

Nine years.

Happy birthday.

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breast cancer, family, kids, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Honesty is the hardest policy

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If a part of becoming a happier person is being honest with myself by labeling negative emotions, then I have to address the elephant in my headspace.

I’m jealous…deeply, horribly, shamefully jealous, and that jealousy leads to me being angry. Together, they make a nasty stew in my head full of negative thoughts and what-ifs and why mes.

I’m jealous of people who don’t worry about cancer.

I’m jealous of people who are healthy.

I’m jealous of people who do not struggle to lose weight.

I’m jealous of friends who seem to have it so easy.

I’m jealous of ex-friends who keep making bad choice but come up smelling like roses.

I’m jealous of people who are happy.

If I’m being honest with myself, I have to acknowledge this part of me. It’s an ugly part. But more than anything, I have to change this part. Honesty is like forgiveness -you have to mean it. So, to put a more positive thought process into practice, I’m starting a 30 day self-care challenge, and I’m throwing away products I’ve been holding onto that I’m not going to use again.

Last year, a friend at work who used Beautycounter (no, I’m not a consultant, and no one asked me to provide this information) encouraged me to check it out, and I switched my foundation and powder to theirs. Sunscreen is where I always feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t because the EWG decries most sunscreens, and let’s be honest, I don’t want to give myself any more reasons to blame myself for cancer. To that end, I switched my sunscreen to the Beautycounter sunscreen lotion. It’s expensive, but it was so worth it last summer. I didn’t get a single sunburn, nor did my daughter. It smells a little like limes to us, it goes on easily, and it’s not greasy. I actually feel good about using it. I just ordered two more bottles (I know, I know, but we’re going to Florida in a few weeks, we have a community pool in our new neighborhood, and we have season passes to the local waterpark. We spend a LOT of time in the sun and water), and I literally feel relieved. I do so much that’s not good for me..junk food, Dr. Pepper, candy…that I have to do things for me that make me feel as though I’m doing something good for me. I can be more aware of my beauty products, and I am, now. Hence, Beautycounter…and Say Yes to Cucumbers…and Acure. I no longer use any beauty or skin products with parabens and such if I can avoid it. I feel good about what I’m putting on my skin, and as much as I love my Bath and Body Works stuff, I don’t feel good about using it anymore. So, today, I trashed or recycled everything I was keeping. Wasteful? Yes. None of it was new or unused, though. Some had less than a tablespoon of soap left. Part of the self-care challenge is purging what you don’t need. I didn’t need any of it.

Another part of the self-care challenge involves cooking. That’s not a big deal for me. I know how to cook. I like to cook. I’d fallen out of the habit, though, so we were eating a lot of drive thru (read: McDonalds and Cane’s). Besides not being the best for us, it’s a killer on our budget, so I’ve cooked every day this week. In fact, yesterday, A, when he came home to crock-pot pulled pork sandwiches, he told me he likes summers when I’m a stay-at-home wife. I laughed. He laughed. He knows as much as I love the idea of staying home, I wouldn’t do it long-term. I’m not the kind to put all my eggs in one basket. I need to help provide for our family. Beyond that, I love teaching and where I teach. As I told a friend this week, I’ll either retire or die a teacher. On Monday, I made homemade red pepper cream sauce (with peppers from our garden) and vegetable pasta with baked marinated chicken bites. On Tuesday, I made smothered pork cutlets, mashed potatoes, and spicy asparagus spears and quarters tomatoes (from our garden). On Wednesday, I dry rubbed some pork shoulder and threw it in the crock pot with sliced onions, sliced mushrooms, and some chicken stock, and then, I made black-eyed peas to go with it because I believe in the superstition that black eyed peas can bring good luck. Today, A had a second round interview for a job opportunity which would be an amazing challenge for him and an awesome opportunity for our family. I’m grateful he even made it to the second round of interviews, which takes me to another part of the self care challenge: Being grateful.

I have the app Calm. I’ve begun using it for the 7 days of Calm and the Best of Daily Calm. One of the Best of Daily Calm’s programs is a gratitude one. I did it today. I’m working on that whole changing my brain process from constant negative. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. As I’m staring my five month check up in the face, I just want to crawl in bed, pull the covers over my face, and cry for days. To be honest, I’ve done that, but it’s not going to solve anything, and A, as always, is right when he said I’m just allowing it to steal my joy. I’m not joyful, not by a long shot, but I am grateful today…and yesterday…and Tuesday, when I started this challenge.

Today, the Daily Calm was to think of people you’re grateful are in your life and to focus on the happiness those people bring into your life. That was easy. AJ, S, and A. My parents. A’s parents, sister, and brother. BFFs Ashley, Natalie, and Heather. Cancer recoverers Kristen and Diane. My teacher squad. The people who are my center, who I can call in the early morning, who I can rely on no matter what, no questions asked, no judgement given. I’m grateful for them.

Yesterday, the self-care challenge for gratitude was an event you’re grateful for happening. Maybe it’s wrong of me, but the first thing I thought was actually when I was hired for my current teaching job. I was so damn glad to go back into the classroom and to do what I know I’m meant to do. I liked instructional coaching and curriculum development, but my heart is with students and school communities. When my current campus said they were sending my packet to HR for hiring, I hung up my phone and cried. I was so happy. Then, I called my teacher squad, several of whom had encouraged me to seek a teaching position. As much as 2015-2016 sucked with cancer, it was a school year that truly changed me as a teacher. I told my Class of 2017 seniors on the last day I saw them prior to graduation, they changed me as a teacher. Their kindness, their work ethic, their concern for me and for each other changed me. I can count three senior classes in my 17 years who fundamentally changed me as a teacher: the Class of 2004, the Class of 2012, and the Class of 2017. I’ve taught some amazing kids in other senior classes who deeply affected my life (Class of 2008 and Class of 2011, I’m looking at you!), but these three classes changed me as a teacher. The Class of 2004 were my first students. I taught them as freshman and then as juniors. We learned high school together. I am proud to count many of them and their families among my friends. The Class of 2012 helped me remember why I became a teacher. I had them as freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Not going to lie…I was becoming a burned out teacher when I had them as sophomores. Their curiosity for learning and burning need to prove themselves made me dig deep as a teacher. Challenging them was a challenge for me, and as they challenged me, it made me find myself as a teacher again. Then, the Class of 2017 walked with me through cancer, and never once were they anything but kind, caring, and understanding. As far as I was concerned at school, cancer couldn’t affect me at school. Those kids were in my classroom for an excellent education, and I’m not the type of teacher to give busy work because I’m tired or not feeling well. We powered through together, and I couldn’t be prouder of my students. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities I’ve had as a teacher to impact my community.

On Tuesday, the challenge was to find one thing to be grateful for, and honestly, my first thought was A. He’s my rock, and I’m so damned proud of him and the work he does. I’m so proud of who he is, and I’m so grateful he’s stuck with me for 21 years. I know I’m not the girl he or his family envisioned him dating, much less marrying, yet he fell in love with me. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for him.

I hope this self-care challenge and the Calm Gratefulness Meditation helps. I really do. I’m actually, really trying to be good to myself. The little girl I was would beat up the woman I’ve become…the worried, negative, pessimistic, sad woman I am. That little girl took risks, embraced challenges, and tried to make others happy because she was happy. It’s my mom’s fault I’ve been thinking about myself as a kid. My mom found one of my old dance pictures…the last year I took tap classes. She brought it over to give to me, and after she left, I looked at that picture and thought about that last year of tap. I hated my tap teacher, but I loved tap. So, I tapped. I had a stupid rehearsal outfit (tights and leotard were pink with black tap shoes all over them). I didn’t care. I remember having to go up to my mom’s school, now the school I teach at, one night after tap class because she was working the concession stand at a basketball game. I had on that stupid outfit and my tap shoes. I remember some kid who was working the concession stand asking me if I wanted to borrow a spirit shirt. I remember staring at them and then tapping out of the concession stand, into the Student Council office. I was nine…maybe 10. That girl wouldn’t recognize the woman she became.

I have to work on that because I want my little girl to be proud of me. I don’t want S’s, or AJ’s, memories of me to be like my memories of my grandmother. She was negative and pessimistic. She was loving and caring. I want to be more, to be better than that.

So, I’m working on it.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Rule of Fear

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I broke down in tears yesterday right before I prepped dinner. I’m pretty good at hiding my tears, or I try to be. I don’t want to worry S or AJ or A. The thing is, though, I’ve been worrying A for weeks. He knows I’m worked up about my upcoming five month check up. He’s not unobservant. It’s his insight, his ability to see the trees and the forest, and his compassion that make him so good at his job and with relationships, which he has to be for his job, too. Building strong, productive relationships is a huge part of his job. It’s not something he takes lightly at work or at home.

He doesn’t tolerate me being down for long. He wants to fix it, to fix me, yet there is no fix.

When he realized I was crying, he followed me into our bedroom, sat down beside me, and asked, “When do you see Dr. O?”

“June 20th at 1:00.”

“So, nine days. You want to be miserable for nine days, there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s your choice. What I can tell you is what I’ve told you for years -when all you do is fret over the future, you steal the joy from now, and you’ll never get now back.”

He’s right. I know he’s right. I’m doing this to myself because I’m scared the cancer is going to come back, and I can’t do a damned thing about it. So, I’ve dug myself into a hole that’s dark, and I’m miserable.

Do I want to be like this for nine days? No. Absolutely not.

The truth is I’m afraid if I let go, I’m inviting the worst to happen. If I stop worrying, I feel like I’m opening myself up to my fears coming true.

A coworker posted an article on Facebook this weekend about the neuroscience of happiness. She’s an RN, and I swear, this article was meant for me to see. It states, “Here’s what brain research says will make you happy:

  • Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps.
  • Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.
  • Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of “best decision ever made on Earth.”
  • Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch.”

I stopped the gratitude journal I was told to keep by my cancer counselor. That was stupid of me.

When I was a teenager, every single weekday morning, I did a devotional before school began. I found these devotional guides, I can’t even remember what they’re called now, but every page or so was a story or prompt or Bible verse and guided questions. Each ended with a fill-in-the-blank prayer which focused on the lesson. I don’t want a Bible based devotional, though. As I’ve said before, my relationship with God and church is complicated at best. It’s just not as simple as it was when I was a kid. Too much baggage. Too much heartbreak. Too much disappointment.

I do want a meditation journal, though. Something similar to what I had as a teenager with guided lessons and specific targets. I remember how calming and soothing it was to start out each school day with it.

I bought the Sunrise Manifesto a few weeks ago. I haven’t started it, yet, but maybe I will this week. Every lesson begins with a gratitude question. Neuroscience says just searching for gratitude is enough to trigger the right brain response. I’ll give it a go. My current brain response sucks.

As for naming the negative feeling, it’s fear. I’m freaking afraid (not the f word I want to use, but my mom reads my blog and would yell at me, and yes, I’m 39 and still have a healthy fear of my mom).

I’m scared.

I’m terrified.

I once read to help yourself with your fears, look at yourself in the mirror and say the fears out loud. I’ve done that.

I. Have. Cancer.

It’s my reality. I. Have. Cancer. I’ll always have cancer, even if I live to my hundreds and die in my sleep like my great-grandmother who died in her sleep at 101. Remission doesn’t mean cured. It means dormant. Asleep. Undetectable.

I’m scared of the cancer returning, of not being around for S and AJ. I’m scared of the cancer returning, of not being able to work and ruining A’s financial stability. I’m scared of the cancer returning, of dying a slow, painful death.

I’m. Scared.

There. I labeled the negative emotion. Now, I have to decide how I want to spend the days leading to my five month check up. Day-by-day. As my mom tells me, one day at a time. That’s good enough.

S and AJ are full of hugs. It’s the first thing they do after waking up. They come find me and give good morning hugs. That’s good enough.

All of this is literally in my head. The choice are mine. I can let my fear of cancer rule me or I can rule my fear.

It’s ruling me right now. I can either say enough or remain miserable.

It’s so hard to be bigger than my fear, and truthfully?

I don’t know if I can.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

I need something

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I need something to do, something to take my mind off my upcoming 5-month check up, something to take my mind off cancer, something.

I’ve read two books in the last six days.

I’ve taken my kids swimming four times in the last five days.

I’ve seen two movies with my kids in the last seven days.

My kids have pretty much done everything possible to shove summer vacation into seven days.

My mind keeps whirling.

I haven’t slept well in weeks.

I can’t shake the ten pounds I’ve gained since the oophorectomy.

I overspent our budget. A lot.

Summer is not starting out the best…

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

You need to be a happier person

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Today is World Cancer Survivor’s Day. I don’t know if I was supposed to celebrate or punch a wall.

I did neither

Instead, I sobbed and yelled at God today.

I know I’m not worthy. I know I’m not the greatest person. I make mistakes. I’m prone to jealousy and melancholy. But. I try. I love with my whole heart. I hate the lack of compassion in the world. I’m scared of the hate in the world. I know I’m not worthy. I know you don’t particularly care about me. I’m tired of being told you love me, you gave me this burden to grow, to show others how to move this rock. I’m tired. I just want to see my babies grow up. I’ve watched 15 high school graduation as a teacher. I’ve sat in 2 as a relative. Will I sit in S’s? In AJ’s? I know I’m not worthy. I know you don’t like me. But, dammit, I’m not the worst person in the world. I’m not the worst person in my family. People say you only give us what makes us stronger, but that’s crap. If this was to make me stronger, what’s next? All this has done is make me weaker. I know I’m not worthy. I’m just me. I wish I were good enough.

A told me he wishes I’d find some happy. “If you keep being miserable for something that hasn’t happened, you’re wasting time you could be happy.”

I know that. I do. I know being miserable, on guard, wondering when the cancer will return to rot my life as it rots my body, does me no good. I know.

But, on this graduation weekend, on this World Cancer Survivor’s Day, I wonder how many more I’ll live to see, and I damn myself for having cancer in the first place because if I didn’t have it, I’d never wonder if I’ll see my babies grow up, and I’d never give more than a passing thought to cancer.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

A piece of my heart

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A piece of my heart beats outside my body. He wears size 5 youth shoes, a medium shirt, and size 8 pants. He loves Pokémon and Captain Underpants. He’s obsessed with Legos and Star Wars and Marvel movies. He has a quick grin, a smart mouth, and hair that would give a chia pet a run in the craziest hair ever contest. He has blue eyes and brown hair. He’s eight, almost nine, years old. He’s sweet and frustrating and funny and smart. He’s shy and brave. He’s quirky, a little nerdy, and so full of life. He loves running, swimming, playing outside, and acting silly.

It’s been a rough year for AJ, this year of 2nd grade. He’s learned some hard lessons this year about friendship, making good choices, and responsibility. I’ve watched him, this piece of my heart, be bruised as he learns life lessons. It’s taken all of my wherewithal to let him learn these lessons, not to be the helicopter parent, not to be the parent who fixes it instead of letting him learn, not to save him failure.

His 9th birthday looms, and he decided he wants to have a party where he invites his classmates. With it being a summer birthday, I know few are likely to come. And, I’ve done my all to prepare him for the fact that no one, or very few, may show up, and I’ve watched my precious boy gather his determination and find his bravery to go to school, to pass out those invitations, and to wait, to see if anyone texts or emails me that they will come. It’s agony for me. I want nothing more than for everyone to see AJ the way I see him -smart, funny, silly, and kind.

He is impatient, he doesn’t always follow the rules at school, and my fear, even though his teachers assure me it isn’t true, is that he is “that” kid -the kid no one wants to be friends with because he’s different, my super smart son. He goes to an academy for kids who are academically gifted, which AJ is. To me, AJ is the stereotypical gifted kid. He’s afraid of failure, a perfectionist, who is easily frustrated. He almost never gets angry, but he’s quick to impatience and prone to believe the worst in himself.

God help me, he’s me.

His sister makes friends easily, knows how to navigate the social landscape. She’s gregarious and outgoing. She’s sure of herself. She’s had almost three more years in this life to learn the lessons AJ is learning. I remember going through something similar with her when she was in 3rd grade. I know AJ will learn, and I hope he will become as gregarious and outgoing as his sister, but right now, he’s unsure. He tells me he’s not brave enough, but to me, he’s more than enough, and I want, so much, for others to see it too.

Parenting, allowing pieces of your heart, to walk outside your body, knowing you cannot hide them behind bone and muscle, veins and tendons, is agony and joy, heartbreak and elation.

Yesterday, after school, AJ ran to me, gave me a huge hug, buried his face in my neck, and pulled away long enough to say, “I passed the invitations out Momma. Thank you for letting me.” I kissed his forehead and gathered him tightly in my arms, savoring, knowing moments like these are fleeting, cancer or not. He’s eight, almost nine. He won’t be able to sit in my lap, bury his face in my neck, and be held tightly much longer. He won’t want to sit in my lap, bury his face in my beck, and he held tightly much longer. These moments are precious. He is precious.

I have a son.  A smart, silly, kind, smart little boy. Brave yet uncertain, learning lessons I wish were easier to learn, yet knowing these lessons have to be learned. I have a son. I love him with ferocity and wish I could protect him from everything, yet I know I can’t. I have a son. No matter what happens to me, this piece of my heart makes our lives better, richer. I have a son, a piece of my heart living outside my body, walking this Earth.

He and his sister, they are the best parts of me.

 

family, life, teaching, Uncategorized

It’s been a strange day

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The end of the school year is in sight. My school district has seven days left, counting today. Our seniors are almost done and are wrapping up their high school careers. Our underclassmen are finishing cumulative projects and preparing to advance to the next grade level. There are awards ceremonies, student recognition ceremonies, last concerts, graduation rehearsal, and final exams.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Top 10 luncheon where the school district invites the Top 10 seniors in class rank from each high school campus, their principals, their parents, and each senior selects an influential teacher to attend with them. I attended with an amazing young woman, 3rd in her class, who is one of the smartest, kindest students I’ve known in 17 years of teaching. Her senior class, the Class of 2017, is one of the most compassionate classes I’ve taught. Yesterday, I had the honor to present three of my seniors with scholarships at the senior awards ceremony. I will deeply miss this senior class, and graduation will be joyous and sad.

As the campus Teacher of the Year, I have the honor of sitting on the stage with the class sponsors, the principals, school board members, and the interim superintendent. Watching each of them walk the stage will be bittersweet -excitement as they move to the next stage of their lives, sadness knowing I will not see them walking the halls of our high school next year. They will join me as alumnus of this school when the school year ends and graduation commences.

Today started out as a normal, end of the year day. I woke up later than I wanted to, but it’s the end of the year, and I wasn’t going to be late…I just woke up later than I planned. Since I knew I didn’t have anything extra on my plate today at school, I threw on minimal makeup, a pair of black pants, a black and gray linen blend shirt, and a black cardigan. Appropriate attire for the end of the year, especially an end of the year which involves packing up my entire room.

Everything was totally normal until 8:15 am when our principal’s secretary came down to my classroom. She held a note for me with a message to call our district’s communication coordinator ASAP, which to me was strange because I knew I would see her tonight at the school board meeting. See, two weeks ago, all the campus Teachers of the Year were honored at a school board meeting. Then, the Friday after the board meeting, I was surprised by the interim superintendent and our communication’s director during my second period class -They came to announce that I had been named Secondary Teacher of the Year for my district. I’m still shocked by it. All the campus Teachers of the Year are invited to apply as our district Teacher of the Year, which I did with no expectation of being selected by the committee who then selects a district Teacher of the Year for elementary and another one for secondary. Tonight, the district Elementary Teacher of the Year and I will be presented to the school board.

I called our communications coordinator, who is lovely, engaging, and savvy, and when she answered, she wasted no time.

“Channel 8 wants to come interview you and do a story about you,” she told me.

Once I picked my jaw off the ground, I squeaked out, “But whyyyyyyyyyyyy?” I sounded much like the teenagers I teach.

She explained to me that last week when one of the local media outlets was at the district office for something, and she mentioned that one of the district Teachers of the Year (me) was campus Teacher of the Year at the same school she (me) graduated from, and the year she (me) graduated, her mom (my mom) was Teacher of the Year at that campus (because my mom made me go to the high school she taught at, and no, it was not an awful experience for me). On top of that, she (me) had two former students teaching in the district who are campus Teachers of the Year this year as well. This morning, the news outlet called our communications coordinator and told her they want to do a story about me and my mom sharing Teacher of the Year 20 years apart for the same campus because it’s a unique human interest story.

Long story short, the news outlet came to my campus this morning, filmed me teaching, talked to one of my students, interviewed me, and then went to the school my mom teaches at now and interviewed her. If everything goes to plan, it’s going to air tonight at 6 pm.

 

I honestly felt like the most inarticulate, silly, person ever as they interviewed me, and to be honest, I’m really worried about what they’re going to air. I don’t want to look stupid, and I’m afraid I came off as stupid.

So, I guess in a few hours, I’ll see what they put together. Hopefully, it’s better than I expect. The communications coordinator assures me that I did well and so did my mom, but still.

It’s just been a really, REALLY, strange day.