breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

A collision with cancer

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I’ve damaged relationship with some friends lately, people I’ve known two…five…ten…seventeen years.

How?

Politics.

My politics are too aggressive. My viewpoint is too harsh. My animosity towards the healthcare situation is too strong. One friend told me she liked me better before cancer.

Me too. Sort of. Me too.

There’s a lot of WTH to process in that statement.

Before cancer, I kept my politics to myself or family and close friends. Long, long before cancer, my mother would leave a room if my father and I were watching the news together and Reagan, Bush, or Clinton, or Ann Richards or Bush Jr were on the news in some way -she didn’t like mediating our politics because I was a Republican and my father, a Democrat. Long before cancer, I realized I disagreed with much of the GOP platform, and I realized my politics were shifting moderate, democratic. Long before cancer, I minored in political science, found myself fascinated with constitutional law, toyed with the idea of law school. Before cancer, I voiced my opinions, but I did it quietly, in a roundabout way because I’m a people pleaser. I don’t enjoy when I upset or hurt people. Then…cancer.

When I was diagnosed, one of the only sighs of relief I took was knowing the ACA protected me from being dropped by my insurance company and prohibited annual and lifetime limits or caps. I knew my treatments and surgeries would be covered- I would not run afoul of an annual limit or test the reaches of a lifetime limit. Then…Trump, the GOP.

The AHCA, a bill so despicable, Congress exempted themselves from it and opened the door to annual and lifetime limits, even on employer provided insurance. Again.

When the House passed the AHCA, a friend with a lifelong autoimmune disease texted me that she felt nauseous, afraid of what might happen, especially since she’s in the throes of a flare right now. I called her instead of texting. We talked for nearly an hour, both of us terrified of what lies ahead for our health, our families, if this atrocious bill becomes law in any shape of the House form.

Another friend asked me why I’m really all that worried since, “your cancer is gone.” My head exploded. Then, I corrected her, told her I am no evidence of disease, and all that means is right now. When I see Dr. O on June 20th for my next 5 month check up, I’ll know my future five month fate. We live check up to check up, scan to scan, test to test, us cancer patients. I’ll either gain a five month reprieve or take part in another conversation regarding cancer I hoped I’d never have.

It’s funny, and by funny, I mean not funny at all, but when I was diagnosed, when I was quiet about my politics, when I soldiered on with a fake smile and an “I’m fine,” lie, I had all the support.

Then, I spoke up to my friends about the protections of the ACA. I used clinical evidence from the ASCO and from the annual SABC conference. I used personal evidence. I used nonpartisan evidence from CBO. I condemned those who voted for Trump for what millions of people with preexisting and life threatening conditions are now enduring, the fear of what happens next, as if having a medical (or mental or physical) condition isn’t enough worry and stress. I begged friends and family to understand from where my fear came.

My condemnation was too much, I guess. So now, I’m left to wonder is it me who is in the wrong. Do I regret the stance I’ve taken, the choices I’ve made?

A little, actually.

I’m a people pleaser. I hate causing drama -I’ll enjoy a bowl of popcorn as I watch it if it doesn’t involve me, though. I don’t want to be disliked. I’m choosy when it comes to friends, and I’m grateful for my small squad of framily because not a one if those friends I trust like family have been anything but loving and supportive. It’s the bigger circle that’s shrunk, and I am saddened by that because I am choosy and thought I chose well. But, then again, I’ve been blindsided and backstabbed more than once before. Maybe my judgement isn’t the best, but the reason why is the best: I believe the best in most people, especially those I know personally. I give second, third, fifth, twentieth chances.

I know the adage, you can’t please all the people all the time. I understand that. What I don’t understand is how you can support me through cancer, cancer treatment, and cancer surgeries but then be offended and disappear when I call out politics and political games when those directly affect my life and the lives of those I love. What would you do? Remain silent? Put on a fake smile and an “I’m ok” lie?

Been there. Done that. I did it to protect my friends and family because I figured no one really needed to hear how bad I felt from chemo, whatever reaction I was having to Perjeta, how tired and overwhelmed and terrified I was (and still am). My parents, my in laws, my husband all knew. They lived it with me. Sometimes, the last thing I wanted to do was talk about cancer and treatments and surgeries and prognosis. Besides, it was made pretty clear to me that people expected me to breeze through as though it was nothing because it’s breast cancer. It’s treatable. It’s easy.

WTH?

Now, I know the people who expected that of me were fools, but worse, so was I.  I allowed that expectation take hold in me. I couldn’t let anyone down. If I did, I was a disappointment, and that’s one thing I cannot abide, being a disappointment.

I’ve said and done some pretty stupid things. I’ve hurt people without meaning to do so. I am sorry for that.

I’m not sorry, though, that cancer made me more likely to speak up than remain silent. I have so much to lose if I remain silent. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but I won’t stop calling out those in power who are trying to undo eight years of healthcare progress. My life literally depends on it, and you know what?

Yours might too.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

15 years

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4:00 PM

May 18, 2002

I do.

15 years ago today, I married A…my high school sweetheart, my college sweetheart. My sweetheart, much to his chagrin (and others), sometimes. I fell in love with A when I was 18. I didn’t know what that kind of love was. I was a teenager. A high schooler.

I was stupid.

He loved me anyway.

We’ve been together for 21 years. There’s been drama (again, high schoolers are stupid sometimes, and we were no exception). There’s been graduations, jobs, miscarriages, births, cars, houses, surgeries.

There’s been cancer.

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last two weeks buried in a lying loop of depression. I’m going to die. The cancer will kill me. This is my fault. I deserved cancer. If I were a better person, this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if I were thinner, healthier. A deserves better than me. I’m better now…I started breaking the loop last week, and for now, I’m ok. I’m staving off check up anxiety and scanxiety. I see my radiation oncologist next week for my six month check up with him. I see Dr. O on June 20th.

The scans, the appointments, the test. They never end. I lurch from one to another to another. That’s the life of a cancer patient. Cross your fingers. Hope your scan is clean. Hope your numbers are good. Hope you hear “See you in six months,” and it actually be true.

I’m waiting on the day when it isn’t true…if my body developed cancer once, it can do it again, no matter what I do.

I’ve had a lot of unwelcome and unwanted advice from people on social media lately. Have you tried juicing? You should juice. It’ll help your body be less acidic. Acid causes cancer. Did you know acid causes cancer? 

I’m so sick of the food police. Do you really think I don’t know some of this, or do you assume I don’t care? Here’s the deal-I know this stuff, but I like donuts, and if my cancer comes back because of donuts, well…hell, it was probably going to come back anyway.

Tonight, as A and I celebrate 15 years of marriage, I’m not going to worry about food…or cancer. Not tonight. Cancer steals so much of my life, and I allow it. So…not tonight, cancer. Not tonight.

The 15th wedding anniversary is traditionally gifted with crystal. I spent too much time yesterday wracking my brain for ideas with crystal that weren’t cut crystal photo frames or things for an office desk. At 2:30 yesterday afternoon, it hit me -geodes, A likes geodes and polished stones. So, off I went to our local metaphysical store (yes, seriously).

I bought him an uncut geode for him to crack, to see the treasure inside. I bought clear quartz for all purpose healing; amethyst, my birthstone, for stress relief, anxiety relief, and protection; rose quartz to soothe and encourage love and harmony; citrine for healing, prosperity, abundance, and protection; black tourmaline for protection; carnelian for inspiration and perseverance; adventurine for true love, lasting relationships, and luck. I bought a set of crystals for him and a set for me. I don’t know that I believe in the metaphysical association with crystals, but I like the symbolism. After all, it’s our crystal anniversary. We could do with some healing, stress relief, protection, harmony, prosperity, perseverance, and luck.

True love and lasting relationships, though…there, we’re good. I’ve never loved anyone but him. He’s my better half, the missing piece to my soul. He’s my best friend.

He’s my lobster.

When I met A, I knew he was a good kid, but the man he became? That man is phenomenal. I really don’t deserve him. He chose me, and not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for his choice. I’m difficult on my best day. He laughs it off and tells me he’s the man he is because of me, that I brought him out of his shell, encouraged him to see things differently, helped him find joy.

Whether that’s true or not, I don’t care. I care about our fifteen years, two kids who are our hearts living outside our bodies, jobs we like, a home we love, three cats who exasperate us, family and friends who support us.

There have been plenty of times where A could have walked, and no one would have blamed him, but that’s not who he is. He sees things through. He makes things better.

He makes me better.

I may not live to see the “big” anniversaries, the silver, the gold. That’s not okay. Yet, I have the crystal with him, and that? That’s one thing cancer can’t take.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Confessions of a Cell Phone Hater

I hate my cell phone.

I hate when it rings. Whenever it rings, there’s usually news on the line I don’t particularly want…or a telemarketer…or an automated message from my daughter’s school. Seriously. My phone rarely rings for a good reason. I dread my FitBit vibrating because 9 times out of 10, it’s vibrating because my phone is about to ring or there’s a text. How did I find out I had breast cancer? My cell phone. How do my myriad of doctors contact me? My cell phone.

Today, my phone rang a little after 3:00 pm. I glanced down and saw my daughter’s school. I grimaced because when her school calls, she’s either in the clinic because she’s really sick or broken a bone (the broken bone thing has happened twice), or she’s forgotten to tell me she needs to stay late for choir practice. Today, it was choir practice. Not bad news per se, but it was definitely not news I wanted because I wanted to come home and rest. My left side incision is sore after standing and working all day today. Resting did not happen.

As I left work, my phone rang again. It was Dr. He’s office. I need to come in so he can check my incisions and clear me. The only time he can see me is right after school dismisses one day next week. My life seems to revolve around doctor’s appointments and Baylor Dallas.

I hate text messaging lately, too. Most of my texts are friends venting to me because I’m the group listener and shoulder, requests for me to do something, family members telling me something has happened, or alerts to pick up a prescription from CVS. Occasionally, it’s a friend or family member texting to say hi or ask how I’m doing (or my mother-in-law asking about my bolognese recipe). More often than not, though, it’s not my mother-in-law recipe comparing or someone checking in on me. I really do hate when my text message sound dings. I steel myself before I look because it’s so often not something I want to read that I’m programmed to expect bad news. How did I find out my mom had colon cancer? A text message (from her). How did I find out about my dad’s brain tumor? A text message.

Work is crazy right now for A. He left for work at 6:30 am this morning and walked in the door at 8:30 pm tonight. The rest of this week will be like that for him…including Saturday. He has a work event to attend. He texted me at 3:30 pm this afternoon with an update and it wasn’t the best. Things are stressful right now. I take his worries and concerns on me, hoping I can make things better. I can’t. It doesn’t stop me from trying.

I hate my cell phone, but I can’t get rid of it. I need S, AJ, A, my family, his family to be able to get in touch with me. I just wish it communicated more to me than news I usually don’t want.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Is it confidence or arrogance?

I’m mad at myself tonight. It’s a great way to end Spring Break.

As I took a bath, my thoughts turned to last year -I’d just returned to work and started radiation. I did everything the doctors told me to do. I endured 28 sessions of radiation and dealt with skin so burned it’s STILL tanned and stiff…sometimes uncomfortable.

I’m still doing most of what the doctors tell me to do, but tonight, I’m mad at what I’m not doing. Not losing weight. Still drinking Dr. Pepper. Not exercising. Still sleeping badly. These are things I control, but I’ve convinced myself a couple of Dr. Peppers won’t hurt, it’s okay if I haven’t lost more weight since I lost 30 lbs after I was diagnosed, I walk a lot at work (which is a lie), being a night owl isn’t a bad thing. I think I’m being arrogant. The farther away finishing chemo and the mastectomy get, the more arrogant I become. Or, I am becoming more confident?

I don’t know which it is for me…arrogance by believing the cancer might really be gone, or confidence because I’m still alive. I know I was arrogant before my diagnosis. I truly believed I would never develop breast cancer because my family had no history of it, and I believed even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t develop it for a long time because I’m young.

That was arrogance. Fate, karma, God, whatever decided to put on the hat and remind me who’s really in charge -not me.

So, is it arrogance or confidence now? I want to believe the cancer is gone, and I’m going to be like two of my friends who are dozen-plus years survivors of breast cancer. At the same time, I know Fate, karma, God, whatever could go, “JK,” the cancer comes back, and kills me in a matter of months. Still, isn’t it arrogance to think the cancer is gone, that it won’t come back? Isn’t that the same as believing I’d never develop breast cancer in the first place?

I feel like I’m being arrogant. So, I’m mad at myself.

And, to be honest, I’m mad at Fate, karma, God, whatever because this happened to me. Oh, I may have made peace with the fact it happened, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be angry about it, too, from time to time.

I’m stuck in cancer purgatory because I feel as though it’s arrogant to think it’s not going to come back, yet, I’m mad at myself because I’ve allowed part of myself to start believing it won’t come back because I’ve done all the things.

Plenty of people do everything the doctors say and more, but it comes back, meaner, nastier, harder. Plenty of people are humble and gracious as they deal with cancer and the aftermath. Then, there’s me, neither humble nor gracious.

Isn’t that arrogance, then? Shouldn’t smiting follow?

Purgatory…cancer purgatory. It’s not a pretty place, and neither is my head nor my heart tonight.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Why it’s absolutely okay to be selfish (sometimes)

I’ve barely moved from my bed since coming home from surgery on Monday. In fact, last night, I fell asleep at 8 pm, woke briefly at 9 am this morning when A told me he and the kids were leaving for the zoo, and woke for the day around 1:30 pm.

Lazy. Sloth. Selfish.

But, hey, I did get out of bed and cook dinner…a garlicky, creamy, bacon pasta carbonara.

Then, I went right back to bed.

The pain is less. The head cold, allergy, respiratory thing I’ve had for a week now is less. My scumbag brain is…well, still a scumbag, but I’m taking great pleasure in telling it to pick-a-four-letter-word off.

Dr. He called yesterday afternoon to check on me and to give me the pathology results of my ovaries and tubes. Everything came back normal. So, at this point, I’ve done everything I can physically do to give myself the best chance of keeping the cancer from returning with two exceptions: losing thirty more pounds and stopping my one or two Dr. Pepper a day habit I’ve recently picked back up.

I wish this wasn’t something for me, or anyone, really, to worry about, the shadow of cancer. Yet, it is. Forty thousand people (give or take) will die in 2017 from metastatic breast cancer. No one dies from breast cancer that stays in the breast. It’s when it spreads that breast cancer becomes terminal. That’s the shadow. 30% of cases detected early will progress to Stage 4…metastatic disease. No cure.

After seeing 45’s budget proposal today, the steep cuts to arts, science, public welfare, health, I wonder if we will ever truly see a cure, a treatment to stop cancer, to stop breast cancer. What will happen to the cancer moonshot? I look at my friends and family who voted for this mess with the words “I told you so” on the tip of my tongue, but it does no good to point out the harm in 45’s healthcare proposal or this budget. The second I post anything politically motivated, some of my friends and family stop reading…stop reading my Facebook, my a Twitter, my blog, this post. Then, they’re irritated with me.

It bothered me a lot…once upon a time, their irritation and disappointment. It still bothers me because they choose to stick their heads in the sand, to say, “oh, it’ll all be ok.” But, see, I’m selfish. I want to live. I want to advocate against things like the healthcare bill and the budget. I put my money where my mouth is and donate to the ACLU and to local non-profit hospitals. I call my senators and representatives. I’ll attend my first town hall this Saturday (hopefully I’ll get in since RSVP’ing doesn’t actually guarantee you a space). I’ve responded to surveys. Just like with my health where I’m doing just about everything I can to maybe see 40, to maybe see my daughter go to high school, to maybe see my son go to middle school, I’m doing what I can do to advocate for myself even though people I love completely disagree with me, talk about me behind my back, call me selfish.

It’s okay to be selfish. I’ve had five surgeries in less than one year, 28 hellish rounds of radiation, 6 rounds of chemo, 6 rounds of Perjeta, 18 rounds of Herceptin. I’ve lost my breasts, my ovaries, my Fallopian tubes, and at times, my dignity, my strength, my hope. I am scarred, and it’s ok. Those scars remind me what I’ve been through, what I’m still going through, and hopefully, that I’ll survive. Sometimes, the only way to make it through this walk with cancer is to be selfish of my time, my energy, my thoughts, my self.

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And, sometimes, that’s okay.

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Not as planned

I slept for about an hour Sunday night. I watched my clock lurch closer and closer to 5:15 am, Monday morning, when A and I would need to get up and dress. When I got home yesterday afternoon, I slept for hours. Consequently, I barely slept Monday night.

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From someecards…no infringement intended

I thought having my ovaries and tubes removed would be a cake walk compared to being sliced from hip bone to hip bone as I was over the summer for my DIEP reconstruction. I was wrong. I’m so sore, especially on my left side where Monday’s surgery placed a larger incision than that on my right. Also, since the incisions go through abdominal muscle, doing anything besides staying in bed hurts.

Sunday night, I posted a Dear Cancer on ihadcancer. In turn, ihadcancer posted my Dear Cancer on Twitter.

I am really tired of surgeries. I’m tired of cancer. I want this to be done, to be the last surgery, for the cancer to stay away.

To top off today, I shattered one of my back molars when I hit down on a chip at lunch. That moment turned into the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I’m absolutely terrified of dentists, so when it shattered, I cried. It doesn’t hurt at all. Still, it’s not something else I wanted to deal with right now. So, like Scarlett, I’m choosing to deal with it tomorrow…whenever that tomorrow might be. It won’t be this week, though, if I can avoid it.

I told A that I’m embarrassed by me. Chemo wrecked some of my teeth. This molar won’t be the last tooth to give me trouble. I have more scars now than I can count on two hands. Most of them are located from my neck to my waist. I have nerve damage from surgeries. I have chemo brain. My eyebrows came back thin and sparse. The one thing I actually like is how my hair came back…same color, but it’s thicker than before and a little less fine. I’m wearing it in a pixie cut that I really like. Otherwise, I feel a mess.

It feels like I’m at another fork in the road, a curve on the cancer coaster. I don’t know what waits ahead, what lurks. Once again, I have no control.

I don’t like feeling powerless. I thrive in routines. My mom will tell you I’m particular and don’t react to change well. She’s not wrong. I didn’t react well to change as a kid, and I don’t as an adult. I like the security of the known, and with cancer, there is no known…not really.

 

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

On second thought…

I’m not getting the 3D tattoos tomorrow. I decided to cancel the appointment and made another one with a tattoo artist who I saw on an NBC5 news story who does regular tattoos and specializes in realistic 3D areola tattoos. I looked up her work and was hugely impressed. It’s going to cost a lot more than my plastic surgeon’s office, but I’d rather have someone doing this whose life work is tattooing and has a master’s degree in medical illustration.

It’s been a nutty few days. My dad ended up in Baylor Dallas over the weekend. He collapsed at home and had a seizure. My mom rushed him to the hospital where they discovered a 4 cm tumor on the right side of his brain. The good news is it has all the markings of a benign tumor. The bad news is he has a brain tumor. After a fairly fraught few hours, my parents decided to take the watch and see route. He has to take anti-seizure medicine three times a day, can’t drive, and has to see the neurologist for frequent follow ups.

The last three days have been crazy to the point of me just going, “What the hell is next?”

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

More tattoos

Maybe.

My plastic surgeon has a tattoo artist on staff who does tattooing for his breast reconstruction patients, and my appointment is this coming Wednesday. Dr. L’s assistant set it up for me almost two months ago, and I completely, 100% forgot until yesterday when the tattoo artist called to ask me some questions about my scars.

Dr. L talked me into basic tattooing and nipple reconstruction when I saw him in January. I came home and brooded for awhile over it because he recommended nipple reconstruction as well as a fat transfer to suck out the fat necrosis and replace it with fat from my hips, and he recommended lifting the right foob to match the left.

At the time, my reaction was, “Yeah…ok…whatever.”

Then, I actually thought about everything, and man…I don’t want to do it. I don’t care about nipple reconstruction. I’m reconciled to the shape and location of the foobs. My scars have thinned and lightened. I don’t want more surgery on this. So, I talked to A, and by talked, I mean I was a crying mess of frustration, and his response was typical, amazing, A, “If you’re having these surgeries for yourself, do them. If you’re having them for me or because you think you have to, stop. You’re alive. That’s all I care about. I do not care what is or is not on your chest. You are, and always have been and will be, more than what you’ve lost.” Yes, he really is amazing. Yes, I know how insanely blessed I am to have him. He’s mine…until death we part.

So, when the tattoo artist called to talk to me about pigmentation in preparation for nipple reconstruction, I blurted out I don’t want that, and I want 3D tattoos and if that was a problem, I’d find somewhere to have it done because I’m not having more surgeries unless I have to do so. The artist just breezed on and said that was fine, she does 3D, and she’d update my record and for me to plan to be with her for awhile on Wednesday afternoon.

I’ve agonized over this for weeks. It felt good to make a decision based on my wants. Now, I just hope the tattoos look ok because I’ve gotten used to the circular scars. If they’re replaced with something that doesn’t look good, I’m going to flip my lid.

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.  These 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.