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

Sliding

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Found on Pinterest. No infringement intended.

I’m not sleeping again. Well, ok, that’s hyperbole. I sleep for three to four hours and that’s it. The insomnia battle started last week again. It was a stressful week for A at work, and I take everyone’s worries and burdens on my shoulders, so, last week, on top of recovering still from surgery, I fretted endlessly about A. He works so hard and is good at his job (I’m biased), but his work is hard. I couldn’t do what he does. Worrying for him triggered my insomnia. So. Here I am. Exhausted to my core, tired to my bones.

When I’m this tired, this physically and emotionally wiped out, it’s hard not to slide back into the dark places, those places where my brain tells me cancer will kill me sooner rather than later, that my children will grow up without me, that A will be a widower before he’s 40, that I’m unlucky and doomed. My brain reverts to its scumbag state, and it’s hard to claw away from that hole, that abyss. The slide is gradual, persistent, with few footholds to grab.

Work, friends, and family stop the sliding and give me footholds.

S spent part of her weekend with her best friend, and A had to work most of Saturday, so I spent time with AJ. We Pokémon-hunted at the park, I watched him play and run around, and I taught him how to make his daddy’s favorite cake frosting (dark chocolate ganache). We walked around, went to the lake, and relaxed. AJ is my goofy kid who exasperates me one second and has me laughing the next.

Work helps because I have amazing coworkers and teach at a school with a close-knit faculty and staff who watch for each other. My school has its struggles, but it truly is a great place to work. I spent some time today on the phone with a friend who is a superintendent in another district, and one of the things we talked about was my decision to leave my instructional coach position to return to the classroom and just how much I love being back in the classroom. We talked about the fact that teaching where I do makes a difference because it is a school with such a faculty who feels tied and bonded to each other. We rise and we fall together. Then, we talked about the importance of relationships from administration to faculty to students to parents to community (and the importance of a strong curriculum founded in instructional best practices, meaningful data usage from sound formative and summative assessments, discpline practices…once the two of us get going on education stuff, we go on tangents.). We had a great conversation complete with a joking “If you decide you want another job…” from him and me laughing a lot.

I’m holding on right now, staying out of the hole, and it’s hard. Exhaustion makes it so easy to see the worst in everything, to blame myself for things I have no control over (like cancer), and to believe the lies my scumbag brain whispers. It’s easier to slide, but I’ve never been a quitter…not really. As Shakespeare wrote in Caesar, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” I don’t know that I’m valiant, but I don’t want to die before I die, as Robach says in Better. Allowing myself to slide into the dark where I listen to my scumbag brain does me no good, nor does it do anything good for A, S, or AJ.

There’s a reason I chose a phoenix for my first tattoo -cancer became my first fire, making it through an entire year of treatment became my second fire, and enduring three major surgeries and two minor ones became my third. I’m still here. I rose from those, and I feel the fire licking at me right now. If it becomes more than I can take, that’s ok, too because fire forges steel. It teaches us to be strong, to bend, to remake ourselves.

I’ll rise. I’ll persist.

I have to until I can’t, and when I can’t, it isn’t because I lost. It’s because my time came. Try as we might, death is the equalizer. It comes for us all. Until then, though, fire can burn my feathers, exhaustion can be my slide.

But, I’ll still rise.

 

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, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Moments

My students are working through a unit over The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I didn’t want to do the unit…I love the book, but it’s about a young mother who dies from cervical cancer and how the cells from her tumor led to major advancements in medicine. The mother part and cancer part are a little too close to reality for me right now.

But, it’s a great book, I have a great unit on it, so I deal with my personal demons and move on. We read the prologue a couple of class periods ago. My students are hooked. They’re so interested in the story and the science.

Today, we talked about and analyzed the author’s style. In one of the texts we looked at, Skloot stated that there are moments which spark our creativity. We discussed where moments like that come from and how they affect us as writers. We talked about Instagram and filters and hashtags, about Twitter and audience and hashtags, about Snapchat and captions and emojis, about Tumblr and reblogs and tag names. We talked about how those are moments we choose to capture and tell the world about through communication.

Through writing.

My students don’t see themselves as writers even though they write so much. We talked about how their choices on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine, YouTube, and texts are moments where they make deliberate choices as writers to produce content for an audience. Something has to spark those moments.

I told them about the day A proposed to me. We were in San Antonio in the courtyard at the Alamo during Spring Break. We’d been in Austin and decided to go to San Antonio because I’d never been there even though I’ve lived in Texas my entire life. I was 22. So, we went to the Riverwalk then the Alamo. We sat on the side of a large planter in the courtyard. There were dozens of people around us. I’d turned my head to look at something, and when I turned back to say something to A, there he knelt with a ring box in his hand.

I burst out laughing. He rolled his eyes. I laughed harder. He glared at me, gave a long suffering sigh, and said, “Stop laughing!” I laughed harder. He rolled his eyes again and asked, “Will you marry me?” I said yes and laughed.

My students found my story (it’s true) funny and felt some sympathy for A. I asked them if the technology existed then that we have today and they were one of those dozens of people standing around who saw this, would they document it and how.

“Totally would’ve Instagrammed it, Mrs. V with #relationshipgoals.”

“Nah…Snapchat with the caption ‘This fool’ and some emojis.”

“Twitter, hashtags, and a picture.”

My point to them was moments we choose to document make us writers who make deliberate choices, and I asked my students to connect back to Skloot and the moment which made her want to learn more and write about Henrietta Lacks. She was 16 in a college biology class and her professor mentioned HeLa cells and not much was known about Lacks. My students connected it and commented curiosity drove Skloot.

Our discussion was really good. Then, my student dove into an analysis of Skloot’s writing. We discussed the use of dashes signaling shifts and the power of one sentence paragraphs and irony and juxtaposition. My students worked hard today. Hopefully, they work hard tonight reading and annotating an article so we can have a good discussion tomorrow.

As we worked today, I found myself thinking of myself…the moments that motivate me to write, to create, to share. Joy, fear, sorrow, pain, pride, success, failure, love, anger. I am so many of those tonight.

My radiation burns are really bad, and a new one formed in the skin crease of my armpit. It’s lovely and goes with the burn down my left side and under my left expander. I have new blisters today. I’ve been in a fair amount of pain all day, and I couldn’t hide it from my students as much as I would have liked. They stepped up and did somethings for me…pass out papers, pick things up from the floor (because bending over hurts horrifically)…just little things, but little things I didn’t ask them to do. Moments of pain drive me to write.

I read on Facebook about a classmate of mine who’s been battling breast cancer for six years. It’s spread. It scared me. I came home and cried on A’s shoulder. I’m so sorry for her…and so scared it could be me next. Moments of sorrow drive me to write.

My students worked really hard today, and I know it’s hard for them to do the type of analysis I want them to do. Today, they tried so hard and said they feel more confident. Teaching is a joy (most of the time) for me. Seeing my students understand difficult concepts or being willing to try knowing they might fail are some reason why I teach. Moments of pride and joy drive me to write.

A had jury duty today and when he was done, he brought me lunch knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to eat today. As I walked him back to the front of the building, he did something he rarely does…he put his hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes, and told me he’s proud of me for doing what I do everyday…for getting out of bed, going to work, dedicating my time and energy to him, our kids, my students and coworkers, my friends, the rest of our family all while feeling like crap, undergoing aggressive treatments, and being in pain, and if I thought for one second I was disappointing anyone, I needed to stop thinking that way. Then, he kissed the top of my head and left. Moments of love and happiness drive me to write.

I’m so angry this happened to me. I’m so fearful I’m entering my last year(s) on this Earth and like Lacks, I’m going to die young and leave behind young children and a man I love. I’m so weary because I can’t catch a break from treatments and side effects. I’m so tired.

All these moments add together to make my story.

Our discussion in class today ended with us reflecting on a claim Skloot makes: “what you imagine the unknown to be is never what it actually is.” A student commented the claim is paradoxical because how can we imagine what we don’t know…if we can imagine it, whatever it is can’t be unknown. I feel like Skloot’s claim is my life since my diagnosis, but I can’t really know what the unknown is because it’s unknown. I fear what may happen, but I don’t know what will happen.

All I can do is be aware of the moments, my moments, I need to capture, to remember. If my fear comes true, my words will be one if the few things I can leave behind for my family, my children, my friends. And moments are all around…happen everyday.

I just have to watch for…feel for the spark.

 

 

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Hollow

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I found the quote image on Pinterest. It needs to become my mantra.

I’m tired today. Last night was not a good night. I tried to go to bed early-ish. Friday night I’d told A I was annoyed and was going to go lay down for a few minutes. That was at 6:30 pm. I woke up at 6:00 am, Saturday morning. I was so confused. I woke up wearing my school spirit shirt, my jeans, and a pair of socks. For a minute, I thought it was Friday and I’d nodded off after getting dressed before waking up the kids for school. Fortunately for all of us, I realized it was Saturday and left everyone asleep.

So, Saturday night, I tried to go to bed early-ish, but I couldn’t settle. It’s my fault. I drank some coffee before bed because coffee finally tastes right again. I tried reading for awhile. I’m rereading the In Death series again and am on Reunion in Death. Usually, reading settles me, but it didn’t. So, I decided to spend some time on Pinterest. And, that was the worst idea I’ve had in weeks.

One of my suggested pins was a link to a blog post about everything you need to know before and after having a mastectomy. The blog post wasn’t bad. It was informative and had some items I hadn’t really thought about yet. It was my curiosity that was the worst. I wanted to see how the blogger was doing now since the post was from several years ago. And, turns out, her cancer came back four years after treatment and surgery. It’s everywhere now…brain, bones, spine, liver. And, some of the mets are HER2 positive and others aren’t.

I turned my iPad off and mentally cursed myself for my curiosity. I tried to sleep, and I drifted off. And, I woke up sobbing from a horrible nightmare. My husband sat with me for awhile as I cried. I told him about what I’d read and my nightmare. A did what he does. He comforted me and rubbed my back until I fell asleep.

I woke up this morning groggy. I feel hollow inside to an extent. After being annoyed on Friday, angry yesterday, upset last night, I’m just hollow now.

 

 

breast cancer, Uncategorized

Lessons from Better

Not long after my diagnosis, a family friend gave me Amy Robach’s book Better. I didn’t want to read it. I wasn’t ready to read about other women and their experience with breast cancer, but the day I received it was the day after a particularly horrible night. I had just done my third chemo treatment and was having a horrible reaction to one of the drugs. That night, I’d sat on the floor in my bathroom, sobbing, telling my husband I couldn’t do this anymore. It was too hard, and that night, it was too hard. The next day, I woke up, went to the mailbox, and found a package. Inside was Better and a note from my friend. I threw it in my car and left it there. I didn’t think I was ready.

I drove to work. When I got out of my car, I grabbed the book. I have early morning hall duty, so I thought I’d just glance through the book in between checking tutorial passes. Instead, I was sucked in because I didn’t know her story. I don’t watch the morning shows…they come on at 7 am. I have to be to work by then! So, I didn’t know Amy Robach, her story, or any of it.

I read Better over two days. I texted the friend who’d sent it to thank her. I wasn’t ready, but I needed to read Robach’s story. It helped me. And, a line stuck with me: “Don’t die before you die. We’re all terminal cases.”

I’m a pessmist. I see the worst. I believe the worst. The glasses isn’t just half empty…it’s completely empty. My diagnosis felt (and sometimes still does feel) like a death sentence. But, isn’t that life? We’re all terminal.

We choose how we live. For weeks after my diagnosis and appointments and tests and more appointments and starting chemo, in the back of my mind, I thought, this is my life from now until I die. For weeks, I didn’t live. I existed, and some days, I still just exist, but lately, since I read Better and learned more about Robach’s story, I’ve begun to live again. I don’t want to die, and I really don’t want to die before I die. That’s not how I want to be remembered if this journey goes south. So, slowly, I’m letting go of the pessimism. It’s hard. I’m scared to hope. My experience is that when I start to hope, the powers that be (fate, God, whatever) slap me down and remind me why I’m a pessimist. Yet, I don’t want to die before I die.

I don’t know how this journey will end. None of us do. We hope to live a long, healthy life, but the winds of fate can toss us where it wills. Mortality looms large for me. But, I’m not dead, and I don’t want to just exist. So, that leaves me with one option: live my life, whatever it is or how long (or short) it might be. I owe that to myself, but even more, I owe that to my children and my husband.

I’m not better. Not yet. Not by a long shot, but I am choosing my life over my existence. I think that’s one of the best lessons I can teach my children as we walk this journey. “Don’t die before you die.” Don’t just exist waiting for the next shoe to drop. Live…whatever that looks like. Live.