breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Cancer Care and Politics #4

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My Recent Calls this afternoon

I was healthy until I wasn’t. I didn’t do anything wrong no matter what my scumbag brain tells me. Breast cancer isn’t my fault. I was healthy until I wasn’t.

Why do I have to call my senators and beg them not to vote for something that will allow my insurance company to increase my rates, impose lifetime and annual limits again, or decide I’m too expensive and drop me? Why do I have to call and beg my senators not to kill me?

I need someone to explain to me why the GOP is so heartless. Is it really just money? I’m not worth it because I’m solidly middle class? Because I wasn’t born into a wealthy family? Because I work to serve my community instead of making millions (as if…)? Why am I unworthy? Is it, as some senators have said in interviews, because people like me must have done something wrong to become sick? There but by the grace of God go you if you truly believe it. I was healthy until I wasn’t.

I can’t afford for lifetime and annual limits to return. If they do, my life is worth a whole lot less than security for A, S, and AJ. My children do not deserve to lose their mother, no child does, but more, if my children have to lose me, they do not also deserve to lose their home and financial security because my care would cost so much.

I know what it’s like to grow up with financial instability. My children will not have that experience. I know what it’s like to go through a bankruptcy as a child. My children will not have that experience. The stress, the fear. My children will not have that experience. I will forego treatment because their future means more to me, and let’s face it, if my cancer comes back, that’s the ballgame. I want to live, to see S and AJ become adults. I want to live.

But, I had cancer and have no idea what’s in front of me.

I was healthy on August 1, 2015. Yes, I suspected something wasn’t right, but suspicions can be wrong. I wish mine was. I was healthy until I had cancer on August 27, 2015.

I call my senators’ offices nearly everyday. I tell my story over and over. It falls deaf on my senators’ ears. Yesterday, I asked the young man who answered the phone at Senator Cruz’s why Senator Cruz seems to hate constituents like me. I’ve asked the same question of the young men who have answered the phone at Senator Cornyn’s office. I always get the answer that neither senator hates constituents like me but cannot respond to how else people like me are to view votes for bills that could become our death sentence.

I’m tired of begging Republicans not to vote for something that could become my death certificate. I’m tired of being viewed with both pity and derision by people who are healthy, by Republicans. I was healthy until I wasn’t.

Last night, A sat with me for an hour as I sobbed about how scared I am the cancer is back even though I feel no different than I did 12 weeks ago. I didn’t feel sick on August 26, 2015.

But, I was.

A sat with me, let me cry, offered no platitudes. He listened to me fear the cancer, confess how ugly I feel, relate my shame for gaining weight, and despair for my future. Once I talked myself out, A talked about his day, how much he enjoys his new job, and the minutiae of his day. He soothed. Then, he scolded.

I woke up steadier today. But, I’m still sad, so sad, that so many view my life as less, view me as less.

I hope those who support this deathcare movement, this abomination of a bill never feel the way I feel because of them -less, ashamed, terrified. I hope they never have to face a family member or friend whose life they’ve put in danger. I hope they find the compassion they’re missing. I hope the almighty dollar becomes less important to them. I hope they find their humanity and humility.

The arrogance of those who believe they will never be affected by this healthcare proposal astounds me. This will affect everyone in some way.

Once upon a time, I was arrogant about cancer, especially breast cancer. I truly believed I would never have it, but if I did, it would be when I was much older. I truly believed I wouldn’t fear the pink ribbon, Pinktober, and Pink Outs. I truly believed my life would never revolve around doctor’s appointments, blood works, X-rays, and surgeries. I was 37. I was healthy.

Then, I wasn’t.

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breast cancer, life, teaching, Uncategorized

Leading for a Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s our forever existence.

 

 

breast cancer, family, life, Uncategorized

Straight to the Feels

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

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

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

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

Betrayals linger and sting, burn and hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Hair of a discovery

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Yeah, I know…terrible pseudo pun for a title.

Yesterday, S had her annual dance recital. She’s been dancing since she was four, and until this year, she’s loved dancing. This year, something changed. It’s not that she hates it. It’s boring, according to her. She says it’s not fun anymore. I hate that for her because she’s a graceful, beautiful dancer. I don’t know if it’s her dance school or if it’s tween angst. Whatever it is, we have to figure it out because I’m not allowing her to quit. It’s a rule in our house -you do a school activity and an after school activity. She does theater and choir at school and dance after school one night a week. She also does art once a week, but for her, that’s not an activity -it’s her passion. She’d no sooner quit art than I’d quit teaching. It’s a dilemma. We’ll figure it out.

It’s the dance recital that brought about a bittersweet, embarrassing, maybe a little horrifying, hair discovery, though. S’s hair, her curly, never been straight in her life hair, had to be in a low bun for recital. It’s not our first dance recital hair and make up rodeo, though. We have a system, or more aptly, I have a plan of attack for her hair -wash it with conditioner, spray it with leave in conditioner, comb it with a wide tooth comb, pull it into a ponytail, grab part of a cut-up sock, roll her hair around the sock, anchor it with bobby pins, spray with hairspray, hope it stays.

It usually does.

Usually.

I haven’t needed the dance recital hair bag since we moved, and yesterday, about three hours before recital, it dawned on me that I had no clue where I put the bag. I looked in my travel bag. Nope. I looked in the baskets under my sink. Nope. I asked S if she knew where it was. Yeah right…Nope. I went back into my bathroom and pulled the make up train cases from underneath the sink. I opened the first one and came to a screeching stop in my hunt for S’s dance recital hair bag.

I found my own. My baggie. My quart sized freezer bag where, as my hair fell out from chemo and I found it, I quietly stored it. Collected it.

I kept my hair.

Gross. Why would you do that?

I needed to hang onto a bit of me. I needed some control because I had none from the moment cancer became my life.

I remember when my hair first began falling out. Nothing really prepares you for it to happen. The first chunk came out in October 2015 after school as I sat at my desk during tutorials. I absent mindedly brushed my hand through my hair and came away holding a chunk. One of my students saw it, saw me, and made it better by reminding me I could have any color of hair I wanted. I threw that chunk in the trash, convinced, for some asinine reason, I wouldn’t lose all my hair.

It came out in chunks after that, and if I could, I kept it, my hair. I stuffed it into that baggie. Some days, I sobbed over the hair in that bag. I hated my precancer hair. It was thin, unhealthy, fly away, damaged by products, dry. But, it was mine. When the day came when I finally had the courage to ask A to shave it off, he cut what was left off before shaving my head. He put that hair into the baggie, too.

I have no secrets from him, even when I think I do.

Yesterday, that baggie sucker-punched me. It reminded me of the one thing I feared as I underwent chemo -hair loss is one undeniable sign of a cancer patient, and dammit, I didn’t and don’t want to be known as just a cancer patient. I didn’t want the pitying stare we’re guilty of giving cancer patients, I didn’t want to see the relief in people’s eyes that it’s me with cancer and not them (and therefore by the grace of God go you because once upon a time, I did that as well), and I didn’t want the questions.

I wanted to be me. So, I saved part of me.

I zipped up the train case with the baggie still in it, and I slid it back into the cabinet. My fingers lingered on it for a moment. I lingered for a moment. Then, I rose, stared at myself in the mirror. I’m not that woman anymore, the one who squirreled away her hair. I’m harder, bitter. I’m kinder, grateful.

Then, I opened the side drawer of my bathroom counter and found S’s dance recital hair bag, yelled for her to put on a tank top, grab her comb, and get into my bathroom for hair and make up.

Life goes on.

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, life, Uncategorized

When good is never enough

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I hit my limit at 7:32 pm tonight. A and S sat in the living room watching Survivor. AJ kept coming in the master bedroom where I tried to relax, find my center after reading post after post on Twitter and Facebook celebrating the GOP has enough votes to pass AHCA. My anxiety spiked.

I fled.

I grabbed my car keys, shoved my feet into some flip flops, and I fled into the woods. That’s the great thing about my part of Dallas County -we still have wooded, forest like areas. I fled into one with well worn footpaths, where runners looking for solitude trot along, where rabbits stare suspiciously, where alone means alone. Alone with yourself, your thoughts, your fears.

Your truth.

I’m never enough. That’s my truth. As I walked the paths tonight, staying clear of jogging teenagers and happy dog walkers, that’s the thought which went through my mind -continuously.

Insidiously.

If I were a better teacher, my students wouldn’t still struggle with concepts we’ve worked on since September. If I were a better wife, A and I wouldn’t struggle with our budget because I spend too much. If I were a better mother, AJ wouldn’t get in so much trouble at school. If I were a healthier person, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten cancer. After all, healthy people lead good lives and don’t get sick.

Growing up, I never felt like I was good enough. Pretty enough. Smart enough.

Middle age, I still don’t feel like I’m good enough. Smart enough. Pretty doesn’t even factor in anymore. My self esteem is another thing cancer put paid. I like the way my hair grew back, but that’s it. My skin is dull, my face aged. I look like my dad’s mom minus the wrinkles. My body is scarred. The tattoos only hide so much, only make up for so much, only bolster so much.

In his Academy Awards speech for Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew  McConaughey said one of the things he needs everyday is someone to chase -his hero, himself in ten years. He said he knows he’ll never catch his hero, but it gives him something to chase. A dream. A what-might-be. A wish.

I think ahead, myself in ten years. 49 years old. Mother to a 21 year old and an 18 year old. Aunt of a 27 year old. 25 year wedding anniversary. 30 year high school reunion (not that I went to the 10 or 20). A dream. A wish.

My luck tends to suck.

I don’t see myself surviving to chase myself in ten years. Right now, I’m just existing again, and right now, I don’t care that I’m just existing.

My social currency is spent right now, my mind space crowded. I need quiet, time to regroup. Gather myself.

Find myself.

I’ll be ok. I always am. I just need some time to gather, to regroup, to let go the stress the end of the school year brings. Feeling never enough isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It gives you something to chase -yourself. You’ll never catch yourself unless you give up, and I might be many things, but I’m not a quitter, not when it matters. I’m not a hero, don’t want to be. That’s not the idea for me to chase.

I chase myself because I matter…even when I’m at my worst. I matter.

breast cancer, life, Uncategorized

Wrecked

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I had to work a student event yesterday with several friends and colleagues. One of my colleagues (and friend), as we stood off to the side talking, commented to me that she didn’t understand how I handle everything thrown at me with a smile and positivity. I told her, “Girl, please,” with a smile and a joking tone to my voice. She doesn’t know how negative I really am, and she doesn’t believe me when I tell her if you look up pessimist in the dictionary, there will be a picture of me.

At one point last year, I was told that I can only complain so much before I become like the boy who cried wolf. People become immune, even apathetic, when all you have are complaints. I’m a negative person by nature. I’m a pessimist. I’m not even a recovering pessimist. I’m a pessimist to the core. Last night, my brother-in-law told me he never really believed in the whole “power of positive thinking” thing until recently when he decided to look for the positives, and, as he put it, now, he notices nothing but positive energy around him and his home.

Must be nice.

I’m well aware that I’m the problem in my unhappy equation. Just because I’ve made peace with the fact I have cancer and will likely die from it at some point, doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I’ve just accepted my fate.

But, I’m not happy about it.

This morning, as I prepared to get up, get dressed, and head up to my school to work in my classroom (submitting AP Seminar work to Digital Portfolio is not fun…love the class, love seeing what my students have done…do not love the enormous extra grading load), A came in the room, sat on our bed, and asked, “What do we have to do to make it happy or relaxing or unstressful for you here at home?”

My answer was snarky, yet true: Get a DeLorean and take me back prior to cancer. I want my sense of health, well-being, and youthful immortality back. I hate who I’ve become because of cancer. I’ve tried liking her. I’ve tried understanding her. I’ve tried accepting her. I don’t like her. I don’t understand her. I don’t accept her.

She lives with the knowledge that cancer is her reality and will likely be the cause of death on her death certificate.

She lives with the knowledge that she will likely die before her children grow up, go off and make a mark in the world. She lives with the knowledge she will likely not be around to see her daughter off on her first date, to help her pick a prom dress, to see her high school graduation, to move her into college, to see her graduate college, to see her become a veterinarian, to help her pick a wedding dress, to see her make her dreams come true.

She lives with the knowledge she will likely not be around to see her son ask someone out on a first date, to help him learn to shave, to pick out his first real suit, to see him graduate high school, to move him into college, to see him graduate college, to see him become an engineer (or politician…or police officer…or cartoonist -he has many “what I want to be when I grow up” dreams), to cry when he proposes, to see him make his dreams come true.

I still struggle with the question “Why me?” I know the response is “Why any of us?” I know the answer is bad luck…bad genes…randomness. I play enough video games to know I suffer from bad RNG luck (Random Number Generator). Still, the part of me that rages against the fact I have cancer wants to know what I did that was so wrong, so bad. Some will say that means I haven’t made peace with the fact I have cancer. You’re wrong. I’ve made peace with it. I just don’t like it.

I struggle every single day, but I put forth the image that I have it together, that I’m fine, that life is grand. Life is grand, but I’m not. A quarter of cancer patients struggle with depression. Almost a quarter of cancer patients struggle with cancer-related post traumatic stress. Take someone like me who was already pessimistic before cancer and throw in cancer, cancer treatments, cancer surgeries, and continual doctor check ups, and those are the ingredients for an unhappy stew.

I’m unhappy.

How selfish of me to say it, to admit it. After all, I’m still alive. I’m done with required surgeries, for now.

Friends and family are tired of my “woe is me” and “I’m so unhappy” routine, but the thing is, I hide it 9 times out of 10 because I don’t want my friends and family to be unhappy with me. I want to fix it. I want to fix me.

I’ve been told by others to fix my mindset, to start thinking positively and my negative, pessimistic thinking is a conscious choice on my part. It is. I know that. But, I also know, deep down, I’m afraid.

I’m afraid if I let go of the negative and try to be positive, the cancer will come back.

So, I struggle. I want to be happy, but I’m afraid if I choose to be happy, the cancer will come back.

A tells me all the time the cancer will come back no matter what if that’s what’s meant to happen to me. My thought is that if I rage against it, maybe that’ll keep it away. How do you rage against the dying of the light when your light is more of a dusty, after the storm, gray?

Hearing the words “You have breast cancer” wrecked me. If it can happen to me, to my friends, it can and will happen to anyone, including me. Again.

I don’t want to be wrecked again.

breast cancer, family, kids, life, Uncategorized

Unacceptable

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Back in November, I posted on Facebook, and took it down because people’s feelings were hurt, that if you voted for Trump and Co, you were voting against my life. After today, I am done being nice to people who voted for this disaster of a president and Congress. You voted against my life. You, family member, who told me you thought a businessman would be a better president than any politician because government is just like business. You, family member, who told me that the GOP would never really try to repeal the ACA without a replacement that protected pre-existing conditions from predatory insurance practices. You, friend, who told me that the ACA is the worst thing ever and haven’t I noticed who people from other countries come to the US for medical care because they cannot get medical care in their “socialized medicine countries” (which is, for the most part, not true). You, friend, who told me not to worry because “you don’t use that Obamacare…you get insurance through your job,” yet failed to understand the protections baked into the ACA are the sole reason my insurance CANNOT DROP ME.

So. Congratulations. If this passes (https://www.vox.com/2017/4/25/15429982/gop-exemption-ahca-amendment), you have given my insurance company and the State of Texas permission to charge me more because I developed cancer, which, according to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 2, 50% of people, will develop in his or her lifetime. In case you cannot comprehend what that means, you chose to play and hope you do not win the cancer lottery. I don’t gamble, a holdover from my Southern Baptist upbringing, but even I know those are pretty craptastic odds.

If this passes, if and when my cancer comes back, you have given my insurance permission to drop me or charge me so much I can no longer afford it. That seems like compassionate conservatism.

Didn’t Plato say “the measure of a man is what he does with power?” Republican are pro life, until birth. After that, forget it. Republican lawmakers have gone on record THIS WEEK saying people should just get better jobs if they want health insurance and health care is not a human right. We are the ONLY industrialized country without a national health plan because “free market.” Healthcare should not be for-profit. Healthcare should not be a bargaining chip. Healthcare should not be up for discussion. Healthcare should be a right of every American, and do not let Paul Ryan fool you with the BS about giving people access by providing choice. I have access to a Tesla every time I go to NorthPark Mall. I do not have a Tesla because I have access. I can look at it. I can sit in the driver’s seat. I cannot buy it. I can’t afford it. Access to a doctor, to a hospital, to a clinic, to a nurse, to anything medical means NOTHING if you cannot pay for it in a for profit healthcare scheme.

Republicans like to use Christianity as a hammer. They claim to be the party of Jesus. They use the Bible as a sword, yet, they seem to forget Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount -“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Luke 6:31. Or, they forget, in Matthew, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” Matthew 25:40. Or, they just do not care. Whatever gets them the vote they want, right?

I may have a complicated relationship with my religion and the church, but I do remember, with clarity, the teachings regarding selflessness, service, compassion, caring. Where is your outrage about this? Or, is this how you show your true colors?

Do you smugly sit there and think, “Well, I’m not sick.” SO. DID. I. “Or I’m in good health?” SO. WAS. I. “My family has no history of breast cancer.” NEITHER. DOES. MINE. “I’m too young.” ME. TOO.

Here is the bottom line: I will likely die from breast cancer. As people enjoy pointing out to me, I eat badly, I drink soda, and I don’t exercise, so if I’m not willing to help myself, when my cancer comes back, it’ll be my fault. If and when it does come back, the GOP who gleefully make it increasingly more difficult for cancer patients to receive the care needed to survive will not care. I am expendable. I am just one in millions with pre-existing conditions, with a life threatening illness, with cancer.

If and when my cancer returns and if it is HER2 again, my best shot to survive is a drug combination that costs nearly $100k. I don’t have that kind of money, and while A would get three jobs and borrow money to help pay for it, I will NOT allow cancer to take away S and AJ’s home, their security, and I will not allow it, to allow me, to ruin A’s financial future. I’ll make the choice. I will refuse treatment. I will not allow my family to endure bankruptcy due to medical debt. MY medical debt. And, ultimately, if my cancer returns, when my cancer returns, I’ll succumb to it. Therefore, what’s the point of putting A, S, and AJ’s financial futures at stake?

Here’s my request, those family members, those friends who see no problem with this happening, who gripe about the protests, who refuse to call their representatives and senators and tell them bills like this are wrong, who believe the protesters are paid protester: If and when my cancer comes back, when I die from it because the GOP is determined to strip away the healthcare protections baked into the ACA which keep me alive because the insurance companies cannot drop me, cannot charge me more, and are required to cover any treatments or surgeries I need -enjoy explaining why you voted for these people to S and to AJ. Enjoy their questions. I don’t. Just this weekend, AJ asked me what would happen to me if the cancer comes back, and when I tried to tell him not to worry about that, S got mad and told me to stop not answering the question and to answer them. So, I told them. AJ cuddled close and said, “I don’t want that to happen, Mommy.” Me neither, baby. S asked me if she could get breast cancer. I told her anyone, man or woman, can develop any cancer. She cried and said, “I hate cancer, and I hate you have cancer.” Me too, baby.

Those are the questions, the conversations. You, family member, you friend, you will face S and AJ. You will face A.

 

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, life, Uncategorized

Rhythm

Wake up. Get dressed. Check that the kids have everything. Type work into Google Maps. Kiss and hug the kids. Thank the in-laws for ensuring the kids get on their buses. Get into the car. Start the car. Follow Google Maps’ advice. Listen to the classical music station. Yell at the occasional car. Take the exit to work. Pull into the parking lot. Park the car. Go inside. Unlock my classroom. Start the computer and projector.

Teach. Grade. Troubleshoot. Listen. Laugh. Walk. Tutor. Email.

Shut the computer and projector down. Lock my classroom. Go outside. Get into the car. Start the car. Type home into Google Maps. Pull out of the parking lot. Drive home. Park in the garage. Turn the car off. Go inside. Start dinner. Watch for the kids’ buses. Change clothes. Listen to the TV. Cook. Serve dinner. Watch TV or read. Take a shower. Go to bed. Try to sleep.

The rhythm of my life seems simple, boring to an extent, yet there is comfort in the monotony. When an entire year of your life revolved around cancer treatments every three weeks, surgeries every three to four months, daily radiation treatments, and the uncertainty, fear, and terror which accompanies the sentence, “It’s cancer,” monotony can be beautiful.

I enjoy the rhythm, the rhyme of my routine. It soothes and comforts. It reminds me that life doesn’t stop. I am, for now, able to do all these things. I may not be able to do so in the future.

Illness and death are such touchy, taboo topics. No one wants to be sick. No one wants to die. Yet, death is part of the human condition. We’re frail, mortal beings. It’s not for us to be eternal. Our memories, our creations, what we leave behind may stand the test of time, but our mortal selves? No. We return to the earth to become part of the circle of life.

Life is a monotonous rhythm. Birth. Growth. Death. So, the cycle goes. We create the rhythm of our lives, the soundtrack to which we live, but the inescapable fact is that death will come whether we’re ready or not, and truly, who is really ready? We all want that last moment with someone to last forever, to be eternal, but it cannot be. That is the paradox of time. The more we have, the more we want, so the less we have.

Too many people in my life lately have been touched by cancer. A friend’s beloved boss. A former coworker. I’m tired of this scourge, of the rhythm of cancer.

Diagnosis. Appointment. Scan. Appointment. Treatment. Appointment. Lab work. Treatment. Appointment. Lab work. Scan. Appointment. Ad nauseum.

The rhythm of cancer is a discordant line, clashing against the steady melody of life. Yet, we adapt and bring it into harmony for as long as we can as a way of control. We crave control because with cancer, life is not something we control. We are at the mercy of doctors and scans and treatments and surgeries. Controlling cancer is an illusion, but it is a necessary illusion; for without the mirage that we can control it, our lives would spiral, sink into quicksand, be lost to the chaos.

And, so, we learn to love, to welcome, monotony where, for a little while, all aspects of our lives hum the same note. It’s comfort. It’s life.