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.

family, life, teaching, Uncategorized

It’s been a strange day

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The end of the school year is in sight. My school district has seven days left, counting today. Our seniors are almost done and are wrapping up their high school careers. Our underclassmen are finishing cumulative projects and preparing to advance to the next grade level. There are awards ceremonies, student recognition ceremonies, last concerts, graduation rehearsal, and final exams.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Top 10 luncheon where the school district invites the Top 10 seniors in class rank from each high school campus, their principals, their parents, and each senior selects an influential teacher to attend with them. I attended with an amazing young woman, 3rd in her class, who is one of the smartest, kindest students I’ve known in 17 years of teaching. Her senior class, the Class of 2017, is one of the most compassionate classes I’ve taught. Yesterday, I had the honor to present three of my seniors with scholarships at the senior awards ceremony. I will deeply miss this senior class, and graduation will be joyous and sad.

As the campus Teacher of the Year, I have the honor of sitting on the stage with the class sponsors, the principals, school board members, and the interim superintendent. Watching each of them walk the stage will be bittersweet -excitement as they move to the next stage of their lives, sadness knowing I will not see them walking the halls of our high school next year. They will join me as alumnus of this school when the school year ends and graduation commences.

Today started out as a normal, end of the year day. I woke up later than I wanted to, but it’s the end of the year, and I wasn’t going to be late…I just woke up later than I planned. Since I knew I didn’t have anything extra on my plate today at school, I threw on minimal makeup, a pair of black pants, a black and gray linen blend shirt, and a black cardigan. Appropriate attire for the end of the year, especially an end of the year which involves packing up my entire room.

Everything was totally normal until 8:15 am when our principal’s secretary came down to my classroom. She held a note for me with a message to call our district’s communication coordinator ASAP, which to me was strange because I knew I would see her tonight at the school board meeting. See, two weeks ago, all the campus Teachers of the Year were honored at a school board meeting. Then, the Friday after the board meeting, I was surprised by the interim superintendent and our communication’s director during my second period class -They came to announce that I had been named Secondary Teacher of the Year for my district. I’m still shocked by it. All the campus Teachers of the Year are invited to apply as our district Teacher of the Year, which I did with no expectation of being selected by the committee who then selects a district Teacher of the Year for elementary and another one for secondary. Tonight, the district Elementary Teacher of the Year and I will be presented to the school board.

I called our communications coordinator, who is lovely, engaging, and savvy, and when she answered, she wasted no time.

“Channel 8 wants to come interview you and do a story about you,” she told me.

Once I picked my jaw off the ground, I squeaked out, “But whyyyyyyyyyyyy?” I sounded much like the teenagers I teach.

She explained to me that last week when one of the local media outlets was at the district office for something, and she mentioned that one of the district Teachers of the Year (me) was campus Teacher of the Year at the same school she (me) graduated from, and the year she (me) graduated, her mom (my mom) was Teacher of the Year at that campus (because my mom made me go to the high school she taught at, and no, it was not an awful experience for me). On top of that, she (me) had two former students teaching in the district who are campus Teachers of the Year this year as well. This morning, the news outlet called our communications coordinator and told her they want to do a story about me and my mom sharing Teacher of the Year 20 years apart for the same campus because it’s a unique human interest story.

Long story short, the news outlet came to my campus this morning, filmed me teaching, talked to one of my students, interviewed me, and then went to the school my mom teaches at now and interviewed her. If everything goes to plan, it’s going to air tonight at 6 pm.

 

I honestly felt like the most inarticulate, silly, person ever as they interviewed me, and to be honest, I’m really worried about what they’re going to air. I don’t want to look stupid, and I’m afraid I came off as stupid.

So, I guess in a few hours, I’ll see what they put together. Hopefully, it’s better than I expect. The communications coordinator assures me that I did well and so did my mom, but still.

It’s just been a really, REALLY, strange day.

 

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

A Friday Full of Failure

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An experimental third-person limited series of vignettes about my Friday.

Part 1 -The first failure

It’s 12:30 am, early Friday morning. L can’t sleep again. She lies in bed, reading on her iPad -a sci-fi book, part of a series that catches her imagination. She knows she needs sleep, but her brain will not shut down despite her attempts to relax. She knows she has to be at work in six or so hours. Fleetingly, she thinks about putting in for a substitute, but it’s Friday, and subs are a precious commodity on Fridays. She doesn’t feel right putting in for a sub. She’s not sick. Her kids are not sick. She just can’t sleep. Plenty of people struggle with insomnia and go to work exhausted. It won’t be the first time L’s gone to work after having slept less than six hours. It is what it is. People count on her.

L turns her attention back to the book she’s reading -to have something to focus on besides her fear of dying, fear of cancer, fear of fragility and mortality.

Sometime, in the wee hours of the morning, she drifts into dreams.

Part 2 -The second failure

It’s 6:01 am, Friday morning. The screeching noise from beside her pulls L from sleep. She hits her alarm clock. It takes effort not to burst into tears. The last time she saw the clock, it was 4 am. She thinks she slept some from 2:00 am to 4 am -a fitful sleep, but she thinks she rested a little. She’s not sure about 4 am-6 am. If she slept, it doesn’t feel like it. A tells her to get up. It’s Friday. S has choir practice every Friday morning, and her ride will be there soon. She wishes she had given in and put in for a sub. She knows she won’t be on her “A game” today. She knows she’ll be lucky to be on her “F game.” She goes to dress. As part of her morning routine, a part she knows does her no good, she steps on the scale. The number staring back at her makes her cry. In her head, she hears the words of Dr. O’s nurse practitioner, “We’ve had patients no evidence of disease for ten or more years who gain ten or fifteen pounds and their cancer comes back. You need to watch your weight.” She feels shame because she’s gained ten pounds. She feels fear because her brain tells her the cancer will return and when it does, it’ll be all her fault. She feels anger because her head is being such a scumbag right now. It’s been like that for days now.

She roughly wipes the tears away and jams the heels of her hands into her eyes. “You’re just exhausted,” L tells herself. Maybe she’ll rest this weekend. It’s a busy one, but maybe she can rest more. She steps off the scale and puts a smile on her face as A walks into the bathroom. The fake smile doesn’t fool him. He stands beside her. A critical gleam in his eyes doesn’t quite mask the concern reflecting deep from them. “You have got to sleep. You have got to stop staying up all hours. You need to take a shower at 9:30, be in bed by 10:00, and asleep by 10:30. You need to get your sleeping habits back on track. Part of being healthy means getting enough sleep.”

She stares at A. She wants to scream at him that she needed him to be sympathetic, to hug and hold her, to lend her some of his strength. She didn’t need his cool logic, but that’s what she got. She mumbles that she’s leaving to go to work. She gives hugs to S and AJ, takes her medicine -tamoxifen, Claritin, biotin, Flonase, and gets into her car, starts it, pathetically grateful for the classical music station when the radio comes on because it’s playing a piano piece by Mozart, soothing.

Part 3 -The third failure

For the first time in a long time, walking into work, a place she loves, feels heavy -a burden she doesn’t know if she can carry this morning. Most of her students, her juniors, will not be in class this morning -they’re out taking the APUSH exam. Her first class is Seminar, and they had their exam Thursday afternoon. She knows the seniors and sophomores who show up are going to be tired, ornery. They’ve had a long, disrupted week of AP and state testing.

She unlocks her door, turns on the lights, turns on her coffee maker. The bell rings; students trickle in. She turns on her computer and yawns. The warning bell rings. A few more students trickle in. She tells the students in her room that she’ll be right back as she grabs her coffee cup, it needs washing, and walks to the office.

In the office, L washes her coffee cup. It’s one of her favorites with a black cat that sits with a look in its face with the phrase “You’ve got to be kitten me.” It’s prophetic this morning, not that she knows that yet. She washes her cup, says hello to a substitute teacher she knows well, goes to the ice chest, and puts a few cubes in her coffee cup -she prefers her coffee warm instead of taste bud melting hot. One of the academic counselors comes in and comments, “I heard there was a lot of sleeping in the Seminar exam yesterday.”

L stares at the counselor. Her face flushes red. Her heart sinks. She says, “Oh?” and the counselor nods her head. L walks out of the office, angry, hurt, and runs into a Seminar student she knows and trusts. She asks the student, a junior, if she saw students sleeping. The girls nods. “I’m sorry, Mrs. V. I wasn’t one of them.”

Part 4 -the fourth failure

L fights tears as she walks back to her classroom. She sees her department chair and tells her what just happened and childishly says, “I just want to go home.” L’s department chair squeezes her shoulder.

Standing outside her classroom, L takes a few deep breaths. She knows she’s on the verge of tears. She’s an angry crier, an exhausted crier. She’s exhausted. She’s angry. It’s not professional to cry in front of students, she reminds herself and opens her classroom door. She makes it a few steps inside the room, but she stops. She looks at the very few faces in her room, and the anger bubbles out in quiet condemnation, “You slept? One of the counselors just told me there was a lot of sleeping. You slept?” Students avert their eyes. Some flush an embarrassed red. A few questioning glances dart back and forth, seeking silent answers from unspoken questions. Here and there someone nods, admissions of guilt.

Angry tears flood her eyes, and try as she might, she can’t stop them. “You didn’t try. The only thing I ask is that you try, and you didn’t try. Some of you didn’t even show up.” Tears from anger, from exhaustion roll down her cheek. She’s embarrassed. “We worked so hard,” she whispered. “You didn’t even try.”

She turns, grabs the door knob, and steps outside her room. She needs to compose herself. She knows better than to let something get to her like this. She’s just so tired and so worn out. She sits down, leans against the wall, covers her face with her hands. Her shoulders shake. A few more tears slip. A voice, “Hey, are you ok?” L says she’s fine. The teacher -choir director now- former student of hers once upon a time, sits down beside her. “Mrs. V, what happened?”

She says she’s just tired. It’s been a long, stressful week, and she’s upset knowing some students didn’t even try on the exam. Her former student, colleague now, sits beside her and just listens. Then, she goes inside the classroom while L goes to wash her face.

She sees her department chair and tell her that she just needs to go home to sleep. She can’t face the rest of the day. She’s too tired, too overwrought. Her department chair hugs her and tells her not to worry, she’ll get it worked out. “Go home and rest,” another colleague and friend tells her. “We’ve got this. I’m sorry for whatever is going on. Don’t give here a second thought,” another says. “I’m going to nag you to rest,” says the one who told her to go home and rest. L smiles at this, a watery, sad smile. She goes home.

Part 5 -the last failure on Friday

Exhaustion wins. Friends will cover her second period class. There’s a sub who can cover fourth. So, she goes home, and she sleeps. Finally.

But…

She fails on this Friday.

She fails herself. She fails her colleagues. She fails her students. She fails her administration.

She fails on this Friday.

She fails to be strong. She fails to be confident. She fails to be humble. She fails to be grateful.

She fails on this Friday.

She fails.

But, she will get up. Failing means trying. And all she asks of anyone, including herself, is that they try.

So, she’ll try again.

She’ll fail again.

And so the cycle goes.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Back to my Roots

My dad’s parents were farmers. Granny and Grandad were retired by the time I was old enough to really remember and know them. Grandad occasionally worked as a contract painter, which had been his day job before he retired, but at the root of them, they were farmers who owned a large plot of land and used the majority of it to grow their own vegetables and fruits, cultivated flowers for pleasure, raised chickens for eggs, and until he was too old to enjoy it, Grandad hunted for deer, quail, and the like.

One of my earliest memories is of Granny putting a plastic bowl in my lap and a bag of unsnapped beans between us as we sat on the large side porch that faced her flower garden. She began pulling beans out of the bag, snapping them, and dropping them into her own plastic bowl. I followed her lead. Later, she taught me to shell peas, to unzip the shell, to take my thumb and run it down the shell. I spent many Friday nights sitting in her living room watching Dallas with her as we shelled peas, snapped beans, harvesting what she and Grandad grew.

When I was big enough, six or seven years old, I helped them work their land. I tilled with my grandfather, planted with my grandmother, picked ripe fruit from the fruit trees and berry bushes. I learned to can, to make preserves, how to wrap meat so it could go into the deep freezer my grandmother kept in one of their out buildings. With indulgent exasperation, my grandfather often scolded me for pulling radishes, I didn’t like them, and beets, squishing them with one of his many tools was strangely satisfying. I ate carrots straight from the ground, tomatoes off the vine. I dug potatoes and plucked lettuce. I tended the gardens, the vegetables and flowers, with my grandmother. My grandparents loved the land.

It’s been years since I cultivated my own plot of soil, to grow vegetables, to nurture flowers. At our old house, my excuse was the backyard was too small. I wanted the land there was to be for my kids. At our new house, the backyard is huge and has a corner near the house that’s perfect for crops. The front yard is perfect for flowers.

I’m the grandchild of farmers. I know how to grow my own. I’m a teacher. I know how to foster learning. So, this morning, I planted two container gardens with AJ. I taught him to match soil lines on stems, to loosen up root balls, to give the flowers every chance to grow. I planted one container garden to model for him. He, with his tongue caught between his teeth and express of intense concentration, planted the other. One is sunny, yellow, white, and green. One is moody with flashes of bright.

Later this afternoon, I’ll guide S through planting the herbs I bought. We’ll plant the pepper plants and tomato plants. I’ll hang the strawberry plant and see if strawberries are as finicky as I remember. I’ll share with her, as I shared with AJ this morning, the legacy of their great-grandparents and great-great grandparents, of growing that runs through their blood, the need, sometimes, to tend to the land.

It’s not much, certainly not nearly what my grandparents grew. But, there is something deeply satisfying and soothing in planting, feeling the dark soil, giving the plant to the earth, trusting the earth to nurture and provide. I don’t feel I can trust many things since my life took such an unexpected turn with cancer, but I can trust the earth.

It’s never let me down.

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, 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.

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

*knock, knock*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

breast cancer, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Gratitude Day 2

It’s been a long…long day. I’ve been home about an hour (it’s 10:00 pm).

I want to keep my promise to myself and the cancer counselor to keep a gratitude journal everyday for a month. So. Here’s what I’m grateful for today:

1. I ran into a former assistant principal I once worked with, who’s now a principal, tonight at a HS basketball game (my school’s team played her school’s team). We talked for awhile about the school she’s principal of, and her love and passion for her school  shined. It was a great way to end a very long workday. I really enjoyed catching up with her.

2. I was late to work this morning. The morning was just chaotic. I fell back asleep after my alarm went off. AJ lost a form he had to have in order to ride the bus, and I had to frantically fill out another one, and of course, as soon as I finished filling out the other one, he found the lost one (it was in his closet because…why not?). My fifteen minute commute took thirty five minutes this morning. I texted a coworker that I was running late and would she unlock my door. When I got to work, my door was unlocked, my lights were on, my door was propped open. All I had to do was flip my computer on. My coworker made a crazy morning way less crazy.

3. I have a job I love. Even on the most stressful days, I know I’m doing what I’m meant to do where I’m meant to be. I’m happy, most of the time, at work. I have awesome coworkers, awesome students, and generally, an awesome time. There are days where I wonder why I’m doing what I do, but inevitably, I come back to the fact that I was born to do what I do. I’m lucky to have found my calling and am able to do what I’m meant to do at a place that lets me teach, try new things, and supports me.

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

Little and not so little things…

We put our house on the market 2 months ago. It sold in 48 hours. It was crazy. If all goes well, we will close on our current home next week. Our new home won’t be ready until November. It’s going to be an interesting two months.

Today is S’s birthday. She’s 11 today. During quiet moments today, I’ve wondered how many more of her birthdays I’ll live to see.

I took a few minutes of my conference period today to sit outside in a beautiful shaded area created by some of our students. A nice breeze blew, keeping it from feeling like an end-of-summer day in Texas. I stretched out on the bench and stared up at the branches of a large shade tree. I watched the branches move with the wind. I listened to the rustle of leaves, the chirps of birds, the bangs of construction, the chattering of students. It was peaceful. I’ve found one of the best things I can do for myself at work is to take my lunch outside if I can. I sit in the shade, eat, and enjoy the solitude. It gives me time to recharge, which I need.

I’m tired. It hasn’t even been two months since my surgery. 6-8 week recovery time. I was back at work after barely 3 weeks. Yes, it was my choice, and I don’t regret trying to live my life as though nothing is wrong with me (because maybe it’s not…I had cancer. I don’t know if I still have cancer.). What gets to me is I still get tired quicker than I want. I can sleep on my stomach, which helps, but I need more rest. Today, I’m running on fumes. I still have an area where the incision hasn’t healed. It’s smaller than it was, but it’s still there. It’s a small annoyance, but it’s an annoyance.

Next week is a really important week. I have a work event on Monday. We close on our current house on Wednesday.  Medically speaking, I see my plastic surgeon on Wednesday. I see Dr. O on Friday. I have what I hope and pray is my last Herceptin treatment on Friday. Then…I don’t know. I don’t know what’s next. How long do I freak out over every new ache or pain? How long do I worry I’m dying, the cancer is hiding and killing me? How long? Forever?

I overheard a couple in Target today. He told his wife he was getting up there in age and didn’t feel like he had a lot of time left. She laughed and told him he wasn’t that old and to stop.

I get how he feels. I’m not getting up there in age, but I do feel like I don’t have a lot of time left. How long do I let myself feel that way? After all, I’m the one who allows myself to feel this way. Stop doing this to yourself, people tell me. It’s not that easy. I wish it was. The thing is, until you’ve walked in these shoes, it’s hard to fathom it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Maybe with some rest will come some perspective. Maybe this year of treatments every three weeks is really going to end. Maybe I can say I had cancer and actually believe it.

A friend sent me a screenshot of a book she’s reading, and the line said something like “we have cancer…cancer doesn’t have us.” I feel like it has me, though. That’s something I have to work through, and something only I can do.

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

Expectations

My second to last Herceptin treatment is this Friday. I desperately want to believe that come September 16, I will be done with treatment for breast cancer. I want to believe it’s not going to come back, that I’m going to be cancer free for many years, that I’m going to see S and AJ grow up, that I’m going to live.

It’s hard.

A friend told me I have to change my mindset to that of expectations. I expect September 16 to be my last Herceptin treatment. I expect to be done with breast cancer treatment. I expect I’m going to be cancer free for years. I expect to see S and AJ grow up. I expect to live.

But, a small part of me, no, that’s a lie, a large part of me feels like saying “I expect…” is really tempting Fate. My friend, though, told me that instead of feeling that way, I have to feel confident in my expectations.

Isn’t that setting myself up for failure though? That’s how it feels…

Feeling like a failure is one part of being diagnosed with breast cancer that I can’t shake. I feel like a failure. I developed breast cancer at 37. While I know there’s no genetic explanation as far as my genetic testing goes, I still blame myself. I feel like there’s something I could have done differently, done better. But, as another friend reminds me, there are people who live the healthiest lives they can lead and develop cancer…then, there’s the opposite, the unhealthy, who never develop cancer. Still, I feel like I failed. I failed A. I failed S and AJ. I failed my parents, my family, my friends. I’m 38 with breast cancer. I’m 38 and wondering if I’ll live to see 40. I’m 38 and wondering how long I have to mother my kids. I’m 38.

I expected to have a long life. Now, I don’t. I didn’t think twice about eating or drinking something sugary. Now, I beat myself up over every candy bar or Dr. Pepper. I felt like I had all the time in the world. Now, I don’t. I didn’t think twice about staying up way late. Now, I beat myself up because I know being sleep deprived affects my health.

I never expected to have breast cancer. I was one of those arrogant women who thought, “That’ll never happen to me.” How stupid and egotistical of me. So, how is expecting my cancer treatment to end and the cancer to stay away not egotistical and arrogant?

This is what I grapple with right now as the anniversaries keep rolling by me.

I wore a pair of pants to work today that I haven’t worn since the second day of school last school year. Today’s the second day of this school year. Last school year, on the second day of school, I went to have a biopsy done. I was told it was 70% likely the tumor was going to be cancerous. I felt my whole life slip away from me last school year on the second day of school. And, even though today is not the same day, date wise, it still feels the same. I’ve had to tell six class periods of 30 or more students that I’m still in treatment for breast cancer. Many of the students in my classes are students I had last year in my honors class who are now in my AP class. They know. They were there for most of it, but not all of the kids are students I had last year. I believe students have to see their teachers as human beings, so I share my life, somewhat, with my students. I could hide I’m still in treatment, but what’s the point? This is my life…until September 16. Then, I expect to be done with treatment. I expect Dr. O to tell me I can say I’m in recovery from breast cancer, or I can finally say I had breast cancer.

But, in the back of my head, there’s a little voice that whispers, “Yeah, but with your luck, it’s just going to come back and kill you as soon as it can.” Thanks scumbag brain. You’re a peach for that.

What happens when my expectations don’t match my reality? What happens if I have all these expectations only to be crushed by the whims of Fate? What happens?

So, I whisper, “I expect September 16 to be my last treatment. I expect to be done with breast cancer treatment. I expect to be cancer free for years. I expect to see S and AJ grow up.” I whisper it because I’m afraid to say it too loud. I whisper it because it’s too hard to say it louder. I whisper it because it’s my deepest hopes, and I’m scared of having my hopes crushed.

I’ve spent a year having my hopes crushed and rebuilt to be crushed again and rebuilt. I expect this year to be different.

I hope this year is different.