breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Surgery annoys me

I’d rather have a root canal than schedule my next surgery, but since the thought of going to the dentist is enough to reduce me to a pitiful mass of crying goo, I put on my adult hat and called today to schedule my next surgery…I chose a date during Spring Break. Why?

First, I can’t afford any days off without pay, and I’m dangerously close to being out of days again because cancer sucks…because the flu sucks…because I have kids and sometimes, they get sick, too. At the beginning of last school year, I had 24 days saved up, but cancer happened, I needed a bilateral mastectomy, and there went all my days and some I didn’t have. Thankfully, I have short term disability, and it made up for the days that were docked. This year, like all employees of my district, I received seven days of paid leave. Some people, like my mom, have so many days saved up, it’s mind boggling. Others, like me, manage to save up some and then have to use them all and start saving all over. My goal was to start out the 2017-2018 school year with 10 days (three from this year and seven for next). Thanks to the freaking flu, if neither myself nor my kids get sick for the rest of the year, I’ll start out next year with nine.

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From someecards…no infringement intended

Second, since I have no freaking idea what’s going to happen to my health protections, I know I need to have this surgery done ASAP. As the Washington Post detailed in its recent article “Cancer patients, survivors fear GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act,” I can’t afford to wait because the longer I wait, the scarier it could get. If lifetime and annual limits return, I’m dead. If the rules prohibiting insurers from dropping someone because they get sick and need to use their health insurance, which is why health insurance exists, contrary to those who think it exists to make them rich, I’m dead. If the pre-existing condition protection goes away, I’m dead. If my cancer returns, and the choice is bankrupting my family or dying, I’d like to live, but I’m not going to bankrupt my family. So. I’ll choose them over me every single time. That’s my reality. My husband is a good man who does not deserve to see everything we’ve worked so hard for together be destroyed because of cancer. My children don’t deserve to lose their stability because of cancer. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt if I were to die tomorrow, A would move heaven and Earth to protect, shelter, and comfort S and AJ. While they also deserve their mother, if cancer returns, if the Republicans get their way now that they’ve caught the car, if I lose my protections from predatory insurance practices, if I lose my protection from annual and lifetime limits, I choose my husband and children over me.

So, in two weeks, I’ll have my ovaries removed. What’s a couple of more body parts? Dr. O told me this surgery could be my last required one since chemo and Lupron surpresses ovarian function. Well, it’s been a year since the mastectomy. It’s been six months since the DIEP. In the timeline of breast cancer crap, with an ER+ cancer, it’s time for the ovaries to join my breasts as medical waste.

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

39

img_1549Today is my 39th birthday. Last year, I was less than three weeks from a bilateral mastectomy and reeling from the unexpected discovery of ER+ cancer in my lymph nodes. I wondered if I would live to see 39.

I’m 39 today.

It’s been one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. It’s been a really good day. Friends and family texted and called. A went all out and cooked a from scratch breakfast for dinner. The thought that went into the things people have done for me today has been incredible. A student brought me a bouquet of fuchsia carnations. At lunch, a bouquet of purple flowers, different types and shades, arrived at school sent by A. One of my precious coworkers left a glittery teal bag on my desk containing the biggest Snickers I’ve ever seen (and the sight of it made S and AJ’s night…they know I’ll share it). After school, my seniors brought in a poster that said “Happy birthday Mrs. V” in purple and blue. With it came an envelope containing heart shaped birthday cards from at least twenty of my seniors. I couldn’t read them. I knew it would make me cry. I thought I’d get through my workday without crying, but as I stood in the commons area at the front of my school doing after school duty, my interim principal made me cry.

Mr. H saw me and made a “come here” motion, and my first thought was, “Uhoh, what’d I do?” I’m wired to expect the worst, so when an administrator asks me to come see them, I’m convinced I’ve done something wrong. So, I walked away from the two teachers I was talking to and went to him. He congratulated me. I thought that was a really strange way of saying happy birthday, but heck, I survived another year, so maybe congratulations are in order! Still, I must have had a really confused look on my face. Then he said I needed to keep an eye on my email and to let him know if I needed any help, and as he kept talking, my face must have looked even more confused because he stopped and said, “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

Nope. I shook my head.

He sighed, laughed, and said, “Ms. G was supposed to talk to you. You’re our Teacher of the Year, and we’ve nominated you as the district secondary Teacher of the Year.”

Cue tears.

I’ve been a campus Teacher of the Year nominee five times, but I’ve never been Teacher of the Year. I hugged him, and then, I asked him to follow me back into the office where there are plaques for every Teacher of the Year the school has had since its opening. I pointed to the 1995-1996 Teacher of the Year and said, “That’s my mom.”

My name will go on the plaque two across from hers. Twenty-one years apart. Second generation of my family to teach at this school. Second generation English teacher at this school. Second generation Teacher of the Year at this school.

That’s some awesome continuity.

I told my parents tonight when they came over for dinner and cake. My parents are proud of me no matter what, but when I told them and both realized my name would go on the wall next to my mom’s, both had that look of stunned pride.

I love what I do so damned much. Teacher of the Year is an incredible honor. I’ll sit on the stage at graduation, and this graduating class is special to me. ┬áThese are the kids who got me through last year. They were understanding, flexible, and all around amazing as were their parents. Being able to sit up there and see each of them graduate, to see their pride and happiness and joy, will be a privilege…and require waterproof mascara.

I’m happy. I’m content. My cancer may come back. It may not. I think I’ve reached the point of acceptance. I’ve had 39 years on this mortal coil. I’ve had 21 years with A. I’ve taught for 17 years. I’ve been a mother to S for 11 years and to AJ for almost 9. No, I don’t want to leave them, but I can honestly say this: if the cancer comes back, if for some reason, I don’t see 40, I can say I’m happy with the life I’ve led. I really hope I see 40, though. I’m sure my friends and family will come up with something embarrassing and amazing to celebrate that Over-the-Hill day. Until then, if then, at least I can say that today, because of my family, friends, students, and coworkers, I’ve had one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Pedestals

Once upon a time, my sister told me I’m pretentious, and I put people on pedestals. She claimed when someone doesn’t meet my expectations of them, I knock them of that pedestal in my head and never let them back on it.

Back when my sister said that to me, it shook me, made me really question myself because that’s not how I saw myself. It took me longer than it should have for me to tell myself it was BS and move on with my life.

Tomorrow, I turn 39. I had 37 birthdays without the shadow of cancer. It’s been a little over a year and a half since I heard those four words, “You have breast cancer.” Those four words shattered my world, and as I’ve put my world back together, as I stare 39 in the face, I’ve come to some realizations.

I don’t put people on pedestals. I expect no more from people I know than I expect of myself. I expect a lot of myself. It’s just the way I’m wired. I find value and worth in working hard, honoring commitments, serving my community, and loving my family and small, but mighty, group of friends.

It’s okay that I like classical music, show tunes, musicals, and going to the symphony. It doesn’t make me pretentious. Music, like writing, like reading, comforts me. I remember, clearly, the first time I heard Mozart’s Kyrie. I was fourteen. It touched a part of my soul. I remember hearing Scheherazade, and with joy, understanding the rise and the fall of the music mirrored the stories in “A Thousand and One Nights.” I was sixteen. I remember sitting in a London theater watching Blood Brothers, and another night, in another London theater, watching Starlight Express. I was eighteen. I remember sitting at Fair Park watching the Beauty and the Beast (the musical). I was twenty or twenty-one. The Dallas winds have an upcoming concert, Video Games in Concert. If A doesn’t take me, I’ll take myself. Music has always been a part of me. Music, like reading, like writing, heals me. Time does not heal my wounds. Music. Stories. Those heal my wounds.

Perhaps those are the things I place on pedestals. I expect music and stories to do for me what time cannot -heal, comfort.

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

*knock, knock*

I’m still here. I would just make an excuse and say I’ve been busy, but truthfully, we’ve hit another series of cancerversaries that are hard, so I’ve kind of avoided my blog, which is crazy since writing is what helped me so much this time last year. So, let’s start with January 30, 2017.

I saw Dr. O for my first 20 week check up since finishing Herceptin in September. A went with me. Waiting for her was eerie. It was a long wait, just like it was last year when I saw her for the first time after my mastectomy (and that’s the appointment where we found out I had ER+ cancer, which was one year ago…TODAY). Thankfully, this appointment was not like that one. She came in and was VERY pleased with my blood work and exam. She noted the two huge areas of fat necrosis but felt nothing alarming. My blood work, for the first time since October 2015, was normal. My liver numbers that caused so much concern during treatment finally, finally are totally normal, and my red blood cells, my hemoglobin, and my hemocrit numbers were all finally normal. No more iron. Yay!

A asked her what my long term prognosis is, for real, knowing the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. Dr. O said she’s cautiously optimistic. I’ll take that. I asked her if she’s still recommending an oophorectomy…she is.

I’m so ambivalent about it. I’m on Lupron. I don’t want to have ANOTHER surgery (I’m whining…I know). She did say if I want to delay it until Spring Break or even summer break, that’s not a deal breaker to her. The little voice inside my scumbag brain, though, whispers to me that if I delay it and the cancer returns, it’ll be my fault for delaying the oophorectomy. I’m going to call my new OBGYN on Monday and set it up. Besides, since who knows what’s going to happen with my protections under the ACA, I may as well do it before it’s decided since I got cancer, I don’t deserve health insurance.

So, my 20 weeks check up went well. That’s a relief. I don’t see Dr. O again until June for my next 20 week check up. Hopefully, we continue 20 weeks check ups for a looooonnnngggggg time. She said she wouldn’t release me to 6 or 9 month check ups until I’ve been no evidence of disease for 3 years. I hope I make it to that mark.

A week after seeing Dr. O, and after having a flu shot in early January, I got slapped with the worst case of the flu I’ve ever had. ┬áBy the time I got to my GP, less than 2 days after I spiked a fever, not only did I have the flu, but my right lung showed signs of pneumonia on X-ray. My first question was “Are you sure it’s pneumonia and not a lung met?” My GP looked at me with pity and just said, “Yeah. I’m sure. It’s not your cancer. It’s your flu.” So, home I went with three prescriptions and orders to call if I worsened. Thankfully, the medicine did its job and knocked it out, but it’s taken me until really this weekend to truly feel better. I’m not coughing anymore. I hope I never have the flu that badly ever again.

Work has been a mix of amazing and awful since second semester started. My school has had 2 staff members die, one on campus just this last week, and 2 take medical retirement since this semester started. It’s been a rough month and a half.

I feel like that should be my tag line…”It’s been a rough month and a half.” It works for all occasions!

My birthday is this week on Wednesday. I’ll be 39. Last year, I wondered if I’d be alive, and healthy, when 39 rolled around, so a huge part of me is so grateful I’m still here, I can’t put it into words. I’ve had another year with A, S, and AJ, and the rest of our family.

That’s the icing on the cake and the best gift I can get.