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

Deleting and Clearing

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This afternoon, a coworker stopped in my room to ask me a question. I responded and went back to what I was working on, and as my coworker reached the door of my classroom, she stopped and said, “Don’t let the beginning of the year stress you out too much.”

I laughed, a short, sardonic laugh.

I’m not stressed out about school starting.

I’m stressed out because my dad had serious brain surgery two weeks ago to remove a benign brain tumor and needs intensive rehab for cognitive and physical impairments due to the tumor. He’s been in the rehab hospital part of Baylor Dallas for a week. He’ll be there for awhile. Then, he needs to be in a skilled nursing facility. Then…I don’t know. I really don’t. My mom and I are going day-by-day. There’s nothing else we can do.

I’m stressed out because this week has too damned many cancerversaries.

Yesterday, towards the end of the day, I sat at my computer to do some serious email purging. I’m an email hoarder at work. I had close to five thousand emails in my inbox…some read, many unread because they were ads from teaching companies or job postings or emails coworkers sent on top of text messages saying the same thing. Some I read on my iPad, but my desktop email program didn’t recognize those emails were read. As I began my deleting and organizing spree, I came across many emails from friends and coworkers dated days after my diagnosis. Each one was another smoldering reminder of the day almost two years ago that changed my life forever.

I left those emails in my inbox. Some of them are still too hard to read. “You’ll beat this. You’re strong. You got this.”

What if I don’t? Am I a weak loser, then?

I deleted or stored all but 42 emails. The best feeling was deleting an entire year’s worth of emails from several years ago (I’m a terrible email hoarder!) without looking at them. I knew there was nothing from that year I wanted or needed to keep, so I highlighted them all and hit delete. Truly, it felt satisfying, watch one year’s worth of emails disappear, a singularly unsatisfying year of emails. Deleting them felt as though I cleared away some regrets.

It was a great feeling.

This Sunday marks two years since I heard the words, “You have breast cancer.” I’m grateful I listened to my gut two years ago. It screamed at me to do two things: Go back into the classroom as a teacher and do it because it’s what you’re meant to do -you were put in this world to teach, and go see Dr. B because it’s not normal for your left nipple to invert only when you raise your arm -it could be related to that weird place you can feel. (Spoiler alert: It was. Sudden nipple inversion is a sign of breast cancer.)

I went back into a classroom two years ago this Friday, and I have no regrets. I’m happy. I’m fulfilled. I make a difference. I work with awesome people. I love what I do and where I do it.

I saw Dr. B for that weird place two years ago last Friday. Maybe that’s the day I found out I had cancer. I knew it, deep down. I just wanted to be wrong, for her to say it was nothing. I didn’t want her to look at me with deep concern and tell me that most lumps were nothing but she wanted me to get this one checked out as soon as possible.

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up early and go to another high school in my district to give several presentations to other high school English teachers. Tomorrow, I’ll come home for lunch and spend some time with my babies. Tomorrow, I’ll think about breast cancer at some point. I think about it, at some point, every single day. But, tomorrow, I’ll also be grateful -I’m alive to think about it, I’m alive to spend time with S and AJ, I’m alive to give presentations to my peers, I’m alive to delete emails.

I’m alive to help my mom with my dad.

For those thing, I am grateful. For right now, it’s enough.

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breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

It all began two years ago

 

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It just hit me…today is a cancerversary.

Two years ago today, I saw my OBGYN during my lunch break of PD week. It was a Tuesday. My appointment was at 11:30.

It was that Tuesday when I found out the lump in my left breast, the lump I’d ignored and worried about, was concerning and my doctor scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound for me. I sat in my car, numb, and sobbed for nearly an hour. I distinctly remember saying over and over “Please don’t let me have breast cancer. Please don’t let me become another statistic. Please don’t let me have breast cancer. Please let me live to see my children grow up. Please don’t let this be cancer. I’ll do anything.” Then, I called A and cried some more. Then, I took a deep breath, drove my car back to work, wiped my eyes, fixed my make up, put a fake smile on my face, and walked into my school for the afternoon in service session. I apologized for being a few minutes late, the new teacher no one knew.

I don’t remember a single thing from the rest of that afternoon or evening.

We all know how this turns out…pleas were not answered. I became a statistic…the 1 in 227 who develop breast cancer in their 30s.

I hate this roller coaster. I hate cancer. I hate it for making me believe I will not see my children become adults. I hate it for convincing me I will not grow old with A. I hate it for whispering to my scumbag brain that everything I put in my mouth is going to make the cancer come back. I hate it for making me believe I can do no right, that I am a pawn who can and will be sacrificed at any moment. I hate it for causing me to cringe when I look in the mirror. I hate it for making me belittle myself every single morning when I step on the scale and see my weight has creeped back up, and don’t you know weight gain makes cancer come back, especially to your bones (Yes, someone actually said this to me.)?

I hate you, cancer. I hate what you took from me, from my husband, from our children, from my parents, from my nephew, from my cousins, from my aunts, from my in-laws. You took me, the me I once was, from them, and more, you might just take me away from them.

I hate you for what you’ve done, for the fears and the tears.

Two years ago today, cancer changed who I am, fundamentally and forever.

And, cancer, I hate you for it. Loathe you. Despise you.

Screw you.

breast cancer, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Leading for a Legacy

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Today was the first official day back for teachers in my school district even though most of us have been back for some time.

My campus is still under fairly heavy construction. Some of the hallways and classroom are off limits. Thankfully, our students don’t start the 2017-2018 school year for another week and a half. By then, the construction in the classroom wings should be completed. *crosses fingers, throws salt over shoulder* The hallway my classroom is in is mostly finished, so I spent several hours yesterday and today arranging and rearranging.

We had a long, but really good, morning meeting with our new head principal. The principal who hired me took an offer to open a new campus within our district, and truthfully, I worried about who would replace her because my campus has a wonderful your family first, your health first “rule,” and the campus has a (mostly) positive culture. We really do care for everyone on our campus. I shouldn’t have worried, though. Our new principal is exactly what we need. He killed in our opening faculty meeting. I’m so excited about this school year and the goals he set for us and the campus.

Something he talked about in our opening meeting was the idea of legacy. What legacy do we leave at our campus? With our students? Their families? The community? What do we want our legacy to be as teachers?

I met with our new principal a couple of weeks ago just to introduce myself and to talk about the vision for our AP program since we are an AP Capstone campus, and as soon as I introduced myself and sat down, he leaned forward towards me and said, “I hear from everyone you are the real deal when it comes to teaching, like the real deal.” I laughed and thanked him, but when I left, I wondered, what does that mean?

Today, I got an idea of what he meant as he described what his idea of legacy is as educators, and I thought about the seventeen years I’ve spent in education and my legacy.

I’m proud to be a public school teacher. I’m a proud public school graduate. I’m a proud public state university graduate -I received my Bachelor of Arts in English and my Master of Educational Leadership from the same public state university. I received an excellent education through the public school system, and I believe I’ve provided thousands of students with an excellent year (or two) of reading and writing instruction through my English classes.

After the meeting, I went back to my classroom to finish going through a filing cabinet. In the first drawer were all the notes I’ve saved from students and their parents and my administrators. I stopped and read each of them. Some are fifteen and sixteen years old. Some are two months old.

As a teacher, the legacy I hope to leave behind is that of a teacher who challenged her students to do what they thought they couldn’t, a teacher who cared deeply about the students she encountered, a teacher who demanded her students respect themselves so they understood why it’s important to respect others, even when the last thing you want to do is be respectful, and of a teacher who helped her students realize they are writers, content creators, who write and create constantly living, little vignettes, of their lives with every sentence, paragraph, paper, text message, blog post, Tweet, Snap, photograph, and video.

But most importantly, I hope my legacy is of a teacher who tried every day to be the kind of teacher to my students that I want for my own children.

The teenagers who sit in my room are someone’s baby, someone’s whole world, just like my S and my AJ. Ultimately, S and AJ are my legacy to this world, but so are the students I teach. I want my legacy for my students to be that of “the real deal,” whatever that means to them.

I don’t know how long I have left on this Earth. I understand the limits of a human life. I’ve stared Death in the face. It came with the words, “You have breast cancer. Find an oncologist immediately.” Death stared back at me with the words, “It’s aggressive, but we can treat it.” I stared Death in the face with every drip of chemo, of Herceptin, of Perjeta into my veins, with every single hellish session of radiation, and in the recovery room after my bilateral mastectomy and after my oophorectomy.

Our nature is to fight death, to fear it, for death is the end if our physical existence on this mortal coil -but it is not our complete end. Our true end is dying without a legacy, whatever that legacy may be -memories, achievements, children, families, journals, pictures, stories.

My new head principal challenged all of us to lead our classrooms with legacy in mind.

Lead looking forward to a legacy. Live knowing you create a legacy.

That’s what lives forever, long after we return to dust.

That’s our forever existence.

 

 

breast cancer, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Passion and Profession

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I love my job. I make a difference with what I do, I give back to my community with what I do, and I do what I’m meant to do. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt I’m meant to be a teacher and teach at the school where I’m employed. Teaching is my passion, even when it sucks because the paperwork piled up, stacks of essays grew, students complained, and I’m out of coffee.

Four years ago today, I sat in my car, preparing for an interview for my first out-of-the-classroom job -an instructional facilitator position where I would work with teachers and students across the district. It was a fabulous opportunity.  I was excited.

I interviewed, they hired me, and I spent two years in that position. I liked what I did. I was good at what I did. I made some amazing friends doing what I did. I met awesome teachers doing what I did, but oh, how much I missed being a teacher. I modeled lessons sometimes, and on those days, it struck me how much I missed teaching day in and day out.

Deciding to go back into the classroom was easy. It’s a choice I do not regret, just like I do not regret working as a facilitator. It took leaving the classroom for me to realize the classroom was where I was meant to be. I always thought I’d teach for awhile and move into administration later, but I know now, four years to the day when I walked out of a classroom, I’m meant to stay in the classroom. I can do other things. I don’t want to do other things. I want to continue giving, facilitating, leading students. It’s my calling, my passion, and I’m very good at what I do.

I’m glad I walked out of the classroom four years ago because those experiences led me right back into it. I’m better for those experiences, those learning opportunities.

The 2017-2018 school year begins next week for me, and I’m ready for it, eager. I have no lesson plans done yet. My classroom is a wreck from the construction at my campus this summer. I’m in no way prepared for the school year, but I will be. It’ll be frustrating and time consuming, but that’s okay.

I’m ready to go back, to do things a little differently, to work hard, to be better. I hate giving up my long days with S and AJ, but truthfully, they’re ready to go back, too.

I want to go into this year celebrating the possibilities. Every new school year is a blank slate, a new chapter (cliches abound!), and I’m ready to start writing. I want to forget that August holds some rough anniversaries, some terrible memories. I want to remind myself Augusts are full of new beginnings, and the best thing I can do for myself is to celebrate the new school year, to look forward to it, to be eager for it because that’s one more way I can say to cancer, “Hey, screw you.”

So, 2017-2018, let’s get going. I’m ready for you.