breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Undecided

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Found on Pinterest and directed here. No infringement intended.

My phone rang at 2:20 this afternoon. The screen said Texas Oncology. Today is Tuesday. Today is the day Dr. O would call if something showed up on the scan.

I didn’t like seeing that caller ID on my phone. My heart raced, but I knew it could also be Dr. O’s nurse with referral or medication information. For a split second, I thought of sending the call to voicemail. But, I didn’t. I answered the phone as I walked out of my classroom.

The call was to update me about the referral (it’s in progress). After the nurse finished giving me the update, I told her my first thought was this call had something to do with the scan since today is Tuesday. She went quiet for a minute before saying, “Nope…scan looks good. Nothing on it. We’ll rescan in a year.”

I thanked her, ended the call, and bent over, hands to knees just to breathe for a minute or two. I might have stayed that way longer if not for a junior who saw me in the hall and asked me if I was ok. I plastered on my smile, told her everything was fine, and I went back to my classroom.

I posted my news on Twitter.

I planned my lessons for the next grading cycle.

I came home.

The kids came home.

S did homework.

AJ went to a friend’s house for a bit and then went to karate.

S and I window shopped for Halloween.

I picked up AJ.

We came home.

S drew and watched TV.

AJ showered.

The kids said their good nights.

The house grew quiet.

The daily routine of family life, of my life, a daily routine I cherish even when it makes me crazed, a daily routine I would not have without Dr. O and the American Cancer Society (Herceptin).

I have a choice, the same choice I’ve had for over two years: be ruled by my fear or rule my fear.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I know, at this moment, I’m profoundly grateful to be stable with no detectable amount of active cancer in my body. I know that could change at any time, or I may remain no evidence of disease for the rest of my life.

I’m not ready to commit to saying I’m done being afraid. I’ve had cancer. One of my nightmares came true. I’m not sure I’ll ever be done being afraid of it. What I can commit to is finding a better way to cope. I deserve that.

No grandiose promises, no unsustainable commitments.

I’ve had cancer.

But, for the moment, I don’t.

Now, I have to learn to cope.

After all, I’ve had cancer.

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breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

My Spoons Are Running Low

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I’ve never been good at saying no. I’ve never been good at asking for help. I’ve never been good at admitting I’m overwhelmed. I’ve never been good at putting my needs ahead of those I love.

But, I’m running out of spoons.

My dad is not doing as well as we hoped after having surgery almost six weeks ago. He has little to no movement on his left side. He’s wheelchair or bed bound at the rehab hospital. He does hours of physical therapy. He’s remarkably better than he was a few weeks ago, but he’s nowhere near how he was this time last year. I’m worried sick about how my mom will handle him at home in a house that is in no way wheelchair accessible.

My sister is back in the picture. I didn’t survive cancer to be scared of her anymore. I’ve vacillated between being livid and being bitter. Eventually, I’ll hit apathy again with this situation just as I have before.

My mom is one of the strongest women I know. The last five years have been nothing but battle after battle and burden after burden for her. The weight she carries everyday would crush me, squash me, pancake me. She wakes up every morning, settles the weight on her shoulders, and marches on. I’m worried sick about her.

My school year started out at 100 mph and hasn’t slowed. I like the fast pace. I like a sense of urgency. I like what I do. I like my classes. I like a new challenge everyday.

But, I’m running out of spoons.

Cancer took one of my colleagues on Monday, a teacher who’s taught at the school since I was a student there, a seemingly healthy, ate well, exercised, did all the right things, woman, a mother, a daughter. I froze up when the email came with the news of her death. I avoided Facebook all day.

The grim reality of cancer is death, and I’m running out of spoons and couldn’t face the reality of cancer on Monday.

I’m really running very low on spoons.

I see Dr. O in a week and a half for my next check up. I’ve gained some weight, I’m not sleeping, I’m falling back into old habits. It’s a self-defeating cycle, yet here I am. I’m in a constant state of low anxiety, and as my appointment day creeps closer, my anxiety builds. It spikes when someone asks me how A is enjoying his new job (a lot), when someone asks me how my dad is doing (it’s day by day), when someone asks me how I’m doing (we don’t have that kind of time). If Dr. O we’re to measure my spoon count, I’m not sure she’d find many.

My spoons are low, so are my spirit and energy. I’m tired, in all sense of the word. I need more spoons. They’re hard to recover, slow to come back.

I need my spoons.

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.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Straight to the Feels

I fell down the rabbit hole of cancer articles this afternoon -some feel good, some not-so-feel good. I started out reading an article from an invaluable resource I stumbled upon on Twitter months ago, I Had Cancer. From there, the rabbit hole deepened.

As I read the articles, the blog posts, the personal essays, they were like sucker punches. Straight to the feels.

This has been a rough day. I slept horribly.    My son had an argument with one of his friends and was really upset. My daughter sensed the tension in the house today and took refuge in her room. I’ve been a ticking time bomb of emotion since I fell down the rabbit hole this afternoon.

I still believe this is my fault. I did something wrong. I had a 1 in 220 chance of breast cancer at 37. I had a .4 chance. Yet, here I am. What did I do wrong? Nothing, everything. Cells are innumerable, and all it takes is a clump to go nuts. Some of my cells went nuts and grew a tumor. I have breast cancer thanks to those haywire cells. I couldn’t stop it. I know that, but it happened to me. My body betrayed me.

Betrayals linger and sting, burn and hurt.

August is coming, the 2 year anniversary of my diagnosis. Watching the calendar move closer to those days where I had appointments and tests and biopsies is traumatic. Knowing those days await is traumatic. A breast cancer diagnosis is traumatic. Treatment is traumatic -chemo, radiation, targeted therapies, and immune therapies if needed. Surgery is traumatic. Completing treatment is traumatic. Going for checkups is traumatic. Going for scans is traumatic. Cancer is an assault on the body, the mind, the soul. As I wrote last year, a diagnosis of breast cancer is something that never goes away, no matter the stage. It’s always there, and it’s always traumatic, and it’s more traumatic for some than others. It does not make a person weak, the person who struggles with the diagnosis every single day -a person like me, who searches for the way to make this wrong a right knowing intellectually I did nothing wrong, but the human need to make amends is there, strong sometimes, demanding to be felt.

I have not moved on from being asked why I thought I developed cancer, the unspoken blame. I have not moved on from being told I should be happy about getting new breasts, the insinuation if I were happier, cancer would be easier. Nothing about cancer, any cancer, is easy. I wish people internalized that.

The healthcare battle in Congress over these weeks and weeks has been traumatizing, fearing I could be facing lifetime and annual caps on my insurance, discrimination because of breast cancer. I cried when the three GOP senators voted no. I felt a moment of reprieve.

A moment of reprieve. That’s what I get with the shadow of cancer -moments of reprieve.

I vacillate from happiness to despair, joy to anger, shame to apathy. I liken cancer to a roller coaster, and like a roller coaster, the track is rarely just straight. As I coast towards these cancerversaries, the track twists and climbs, drops and frightens. I am frightened. I want so badly to be fearless, to be the person who’s been diagnosed with cancer and becomes better than they were, stronger than they were, happier than they were.

I wish I were, but I’m not. I still put on a mask most days -I’m ok. I’m fine. No, nothing’s wrong. Most fall for the mask. They’re happy to believe I’m ok. They don’t see the sadness, the fear in my eyes.

I’ve yelled at A today, picked fights with him. I’m moody, scared and sad. I’m struggling today. Everyday is a struggle. Some days are harder than others. Today is a harder day. I had nightmares last night, didn’t sleep well, and it would be easy to blame the nightmares and bad sleep on the way I feel right now; however, the truth is simple -today is just a harder day.

“As far as you know, you’re cancer free right now. Stop worrying about it. You’re so dramatic,” I’ve been told by well-meaning friend. Maybe I am dramatic, but I’m doing the best I can. I’ve had cancer, I’ve faced my mortality, and some days are better than others.

I never feel cancer free. I don’t really believe that’s a thing anymore. It’s always there, lurking. Cancer is my Grim Reaper. Death always lurks around us. We’re mortal. Cancer makes me feel it more acutely.

I’ve been told I have to wake up every day with the mindset to win. I hate that. Cancer isn’t win or lose. It just is. Why do we lose to cancer? I hate that saying. I hate that mindset. Isn’t living that battle? We don’t lose to death. My great-grandmother died at 101. No one said she lost to old age. One of my grandfathers died in his eighties after living for years with Alzheimer’s. No one said he lost to Alzheimer’s. So, why do cancer patients lose? That’s demoralizing. No one facing a life-threatening illness is a loser. We all succumb to something. Why is cancer associated with loss? Death is loss. It just is. It exists, we all face it, we all know we are not promised tomorrow, yet when tomorrow doesn’t happen for a person with cancer, society says that person lost. It’s infuriating.

While I hope with all my being I will not succumb to breast cancer, I know it’s a possibility, and if that possibility comes true, don’t ever say I lost to cancer.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

It’s a Mystery

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I’ve always liked that line from Shakespeare in Love, “I don’t know…it’s a mystery.”

Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Fennyman: How?
Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Henslowe could be describing life instead of “the theater business,” as he puts it.

That line, “I don’t know…it’s a mystery,” is one of A’s favorites as well. He believes things work out the way they’re supposed to, and in my moments of fear and frustration, he plays Henslowe to my Fennyman.

This morning was one of those his Henslowe to my Fennyman moments.

I leave with S and AJ tomorrow on our road trip vacation. I panicked this morning over it. Until this morning, it’s been months since I had a true, full on, panic attack, but this morning? Bam! Tears falling, teeth chattering, breath speeding. I felt like I had so much to do. I didn’t know where to start. I’m nervous about being on the road alone with the kids. I’m worried they’re going to be bored and hate the trip I’ve planned. It all just crept up on me. Out of nowhere.

I’m grateful A knows what to do, what to say. Never once did he say, “Calm down!” Instead, it was, “Take a deep breath. Now another one.” Never once did he say, “Stop it! You’re fine!” Instead, it was, “You’ve planned this trip out as much as you can. Would you like for me to go through and put in some other places to for you to stop along the way?” Never once did he say, “If you feel like you’ve got too much to do, just start somewhere.” Instead, it was, “You go to the store with S for snacks to keep in the car. I will take AJ and have your car cleaned. You and S go to the bookstore and get something for you to read on the beach or at stops and something for the kids to read in the car. I will look at what you’ve organized and double check everything is here.”

Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Fennyman: How?
Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

By 8:00 pm tonight, suitcases were packed, snacks were sorted, don’t-be-bored bag for the kids was stuffed, and all was loaded into the back of my car. We leave in 10 hours. I wish A could come with us, but I know he’s looking forward to starting his new job…and having time alone to decompress with the world conquerer computer game he plays and whatever show he’s binge-watching on Netflix.

One of the things I told A this morning, in the throes of running tears and chattering teeth, was that I’m afraid this is the last vacation I’ll ever take the kids on because of cancer. Thank you, scumbag brain, for that gloriously horrible thought. 

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Found on quickmeme…no infringement intended

 Instead of getting angry, A said, “First of all, no. You don’t get to fixate on something like that. Tell your brain to STFU. Second of all, let’s say, because you like to play what if, let’s say it is. What an amazing amount of memories you all are going to make driving and being silly, singing songs, and watching the scenery pass by, as you all carriage or trolley ride through New Orleans, play on the beach in Destin, and hike in the Smoky Mountains. You think those aren’t memories of a lifetime? Tell me that some of your best memories aren’t of the road trips you went on as a kid with your grandparents, and I’ll call you a liar. I know the stories. I’ve heard them from you. Your grandfather dying of lung cancer and your grandmother dying of melanoma didn’t do anything to those memories.”

Found on GIPHY, and since A is from NYC, a Yankee hitting a homerun seems apropos.

I’m still nervous, but A is right. Things work out. It’s a mystery. We’ll get up in 10 hours, and we’ll begin the first leg of our trip. It’s going to be fun, an adventure.

I hope.

 

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Time

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We know the saying, no one is promised tomorrow, and for those who survive a life threatening event, we know, deeply, truly know, the certainty of that saying. No one is promised tomorrow.

Knowing doesn’t stop planning and hoping, though.

When I was diagnosed, A and I made a promise to each other once we knew I would need the full cancer cocktail of chemo and surgery with the possibility of radiation and a full year of targeted therapy. We promised ourselves a vacation with our children once treatment and surgeries were done. We promised we would take them to the beach and let the sand, the water, the experience heal us…heal me. So, we planned it for mid-July, this July. Of course, the best laid plans have a tendency to blow up, and ours are no exception.

A starts a new job next week, the week of our vacation. He loves where he worked and the job he did, but his commute took an hour to an hour and a half, each way; his new job is less than thirty minutes from our house. His new job is one he’s excited for, and it is a great opportunity for him. He’s so passionate about his field and the impact it has. He’s excited to begin his new job even though his first day is the second day of our vacation. We knew, when he accepted the offer, it meant our vacation might be postponed. That’s fine. That’s life. But A, being A, wants us, me and the kids, to go. So, we’re going. Me, S, and AJ. It also means we can spend a little more time on our road trip to the beach.

My grandparents, my mother’s parents, owned an RV, and every summer, until my grandfather was too sick from lung cancer, he and my grandmother took me, my sister, and our two cousins on a road trip. I saw a lot of the southern and midwestern states thanks to them. Some of my most cherished memories of my grandfather, my Papa, come from those road trips -eating pie at 2 in the morning with him at a truck stop in Oklahoma while everyone else in the RV slept; staying at a campground in Missouri with a fishing pond and catching our dinner; pulling my first loose tooth after coming home from a long, looping trip.

We don’t own an RV. I’m not setting out to go wherever the open road leads, but I am going to take my children on a road trip and take them to see parts of the country they’ve never seen. I’ve added a stop in New Orleans for us. I’ve never been there, they’ve never been there, we have the time, so why not stop and sightsee, eat beignets, and ride the streetcars? From there, we head to Destin for a few days of beaching, snorkeling, and lazing. Then, there’s coming home.

One of my most favorite places is the Great Smoky Mountains. I think I’m going to take a Papa sized detour coming home and take S and AJ to spend a day or two in Gaitlinburg so they can see the majesty of the mountains.

When I was diagnosed, one of my biggest fears was that S and AJ would remember me only as sick, that cancer would taint and wreck their lives, and yes, my children have dealt with stuff kids shouldn’t deal with -worrying their mother is going to die -but it hasn’t wrecked them. We don’t allow my cancer to shadow over them, and ultimately, that’s why we’re taking this road trip, why A insisted I go with the kids. It’s a chance to make deep, lasting memories, to be free from the shadow of cancer, to rest.

To have the time to heal, even if it’s only a little bit.

It’s time, precious time together.

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.