Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Month: August 2016

The New, New Normal, or How Life Was Before Chemo

This week I tried to understand the new, new normal, or how life was before chemo. For such a long time, chemo affected how my body functioned, either slowing down or completely stopping things like hair growth. Now that my body is rebounding, remembering what a fuller head of hair is like to style, or any number of pre-chemo norms, became necessary. It seems strange to have to force myself to remember and readjust to how life used to be before chemo, but thank goodness it is my current necessity. And, I still have hope that the peripheral neuropathy, which seems to almost disappear for a week or so, only to return a little more unpleasantly at some later point, will completely disappear.

Another adjustment to the new, new normal, or how life was before chemo, is starting up a new school year. Last year, the cancer detour interrupted getting back into the swing of the new school year. Because I had been so fatigued, I didn’t get the classroom fully set up and hadn’t thoroughly taught my customary classroom routines and procedures.

Thankfully, this year I had lots of hands to help me set up before school started and have had help from my new grade level peers to understand the new school culture and grade level expectations.  And, this year I have enjoyed the challenge of teaching  my new students the routines and procedures they need to know to be successful in school. However, since I moved to kindergarten this year, the process has been completely different.

Although this is my fifth year teaching kindergarteners, I forgot that I had always taught a multiage or combination class where there were older students who understood the words, “Line up” or “Raise your hand.” So, this is my first experience teaching a class full of nothing but kindergarteners. And, boy, are they adorable and sweet and truly interested in almost everything about life, except what I am supposed to teach them. They are interested in each other, in their new shoes, in making friends, in asking a question (which is really telling you something they are simply dying to say), in asking what the bumps on my feet are (prominent veins that I also have on my hands and for which I am thankful when I remember the many IVs and blood draws I have had), in being the line leader or the door helper, in telling you their nose has boogers (true story), and an infinite number of quotidian things to ponder.

More than once, I have heard the beginning of kindergarten likened to herding cats, but I think it might be more like herding gnats because they are simply all over the place, including sometimes in a swarm. The initial effort to teach students how to line up, walk around campus in a somewhat orderly fashion while looking forward and following the person ahead without bumping into, touching, or lagging far behind that person and keeping the noise to a minimum. This  might conjure up visions of silence for some, but with my exuberant young students means less than a sixth of them yelling or talking loudly as we move along.

Wednesday a flood of emotions, including a momentary feeling of utter failure overwhelmed me after a morning of constantly reminding, cajoling, and commending kindergarten students for sitting criss cross applesauce on the carpet with their hands in their laps for a short lesson before taking a singing break or moving to sit at desks for independent practice of a letter or a number we had learned. At snack recess, only two hours into our day, a dam of emotion broke. Then, after a reassuring conversation with a colleague, I pulled myself together, ate a banana, and went back to my darling kinder kids again when the bell rang. Oddly enough, my students and I were all in a better frame of mind. They settled and followed directions much more successfully and I was able to think of many routines they already had adapted to and the progress they were making toward internalizing the remaining routines and procedures introduced since the first day of school.

After receiving the uplifting pep talk and bracing hug offered by my colleague, she sent me a link to an article about what teaching kindergarten is like. The description of the world that is kindergarten was so spot on that I decided I had to share the link to the article. It humorously paints the picture that has become my everyday life. While sometimes it can be frustrating to work so arduously to gain the attention of the class for a well thought out lesson only to have some little thing sidetrack the flow, I envy the wonder at simple things in life that my students experience moment by moment. The world where politics, international relations, natural disasters, and tragedies claim center stage is irrelevant in my kinder world because the simple joy of learning to tie shoes or write one’s first name is much more momentous.

Thankfully, getting used to the new, new normal, or how life was before chemo, is something like being in kindergarten; It isn’t anything a hug or eating a healthy snack can’t fix.

 

Nearly Through My First Year of Cancer Anniversaries

Nearly through my first year of cancer anniversaries and thrilled to be moving on with life! For me, the most difficult dates fell on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday this year.  Saturday marked the day of my admittance to the hospital for blood transfusions and diagnostic testing, Sunday, the cancer diagnosis, and Monday surgery to remove the tumor.

As I look back, I am grateful for doctors who detected the cancer early, allowing for successful treatment with the goal of avoiding a recurrence. I am also thankful for family and friends who surrounded me during that time, and for all of you, the army of friends and family who loved, encouraged, grieved with, and faithfully prayed for me. I will always be thankful for your companionship on the cancer detour.

Going Back to Kindergarten

After being assigned to first grade for three years and a kindergarten/first grade combination the year before, I am excited to be back in kindergarten at a new school site. Although the learning curve is fairly steep as I attempt to assimilate into a new staff and ready everything for a grade level I haven’t taught in three years, I am glad for a new challenge and surroundings.

This week, I met with my new staff, parents, and my students. It was wonderfully exhilarating, but oh, so tiring! I forgot the amount of teaching about how school works goes into the early weeks of kindergarten. It is very important work that will pay enormous dividends throughout the school career. The time spent kindling the romance with the educational system for my students is a worthwhile investment. However, it is not without its challenges!

After my first day of teaching kindergarten for just five hours, I felt exactly as I did when I was an intern teacher: overwhelmed. The little I had accomplished with the class  discouraged me until I met with my grade level colleagues, looked at their faces, and realized they felt the same way I did. Their similar reactions comforted me and I remembered that showing these novice students how school works is an enormous task!

For my young charges, this may be  the first experience of not being the one special person in a group. Instead they find themselves among a host of individuals who are every bit as special. Making the discovery that they have to take turns, listen, and follow directions, raise hands to ask a question and walk in a line behind a leader drives home the concept that they are all equally valued and unique. No one is more important or esteemed. Consequently, the day was not without a few challenges and disappointments for a couple of students.

Nevertheless, we took the first few tiny steps on the journey of learning all of the skills necessary to get along in a class of twenty-something in an urban elementary school. As I learn to know each student and what motivates them, and they adjust to our schedule and being just one special person amidst twenty-two special people, I know we will be humming along smoothly before much longer.

Until then, I will focus on what we did well and build on those skills until my students become experts in the business of school.

The nice thing about my new teaching position being so challenging is that I do not have much time to reflect on the fact that I am nearly through my first year of cancer anniversaries–and for me, that is a good thing!

 

Back to Work for the New School Year

Back to Work for the New School Year

Living Strong, Living Well Trainers and Participants

Back to Work for the New School Year

I am back to work for the new school year as of yesterday. For the past couple of weeks and with loads of help from my family and friend, Julie, I have been preparing the classroom for my incoming kindergartners. With their help, I was able to get things settled in my classroom and brighten up the space with new bulletin boards and interesting materials. I am truly grateful.

Unbidden Reflections

Last year, I was in these back-to-school training sessions when I got the call from the doctor’s office confirming I was ill–although the exact cause was still unknown. The simple reality of being back in the same place and at the same time of the year brought a wave of unexpected emotion that I haven’t quite shaken yet. However, I am reminding myself I am healthy and getting that phone call was the best thing that could have happened because it resulted in the cancer being found in time to be successfully and fairly easily treated. I am enormously grateful!

These districtwide meetings mean I see people I haven’t seen in ages. Since I was back to work for such a short time at the end of the school year, even people I see regularly may not have seen me back at work. So, it was heartwarming to have people make a special effort to greet me and let me know they were happy to see me back and looking well. Honestly, I still struggle with how to respond when people ask me about my weight loss or other aspects of my appearance. One lovely colleague commented on my lighter weight and asked me what program I had followed. I quietly leaned over and told her I had had cancer. Her shocked, but compassionate response made me feel terrible for springing the news so baldly and without preamble. However, I have yet to find a mendacious or glib answer to substitute for direct questions. If any of you have suggestions, I would welcome some helpful ideas.

New Beginnings

Being at a new school and different grade level rounds out the season of new beginnings I am experiencing. I look forward to meeting new colleagues and my young students next week. I know the future holds challenges and joys, but I look forward to meeting them head on.

Gaining Closure

On Monday, I wrapped up summer school and Wednesday brought the end of the Living Strong, Living Well (LSLW) program. Both programs helped me grow in very different ways, but came to a bittersweet close.

Over the summer, I enjoyed the challenge of teaching English learners and will continue to implement strategies I used to teach these students. I had a sweet class and will miss them as well as the teachers I came to know through the program.

Similarly, Living Strong, Living Well signaled an end regularly scheduled exercise and ongoing interaction with a small core group of individuals whose constancy and kindness made going to the gym enjoyable and important. I will miss seeing and working out with them on a regular basis, but am pleased to have exchanged contact information so we do not lose touch.

The LSLW end of program testing showed the benefits of my regular exercise and weight training. I showed improvement in strength, endurance, and balance. My speed did not show improvement, but it was not an issue that had raised concern. I am happy to be in the best physical shape of my adult life. And, gym culture and etiquette is no longer a mystery to me. As my summer drew to a close and I was swamped with setting up a new classroom, finishing up summer school responsibilities, and maintaining household chores, I realized how much more energy I had this summer than last and how thankful I am to be able to soldier on without becoming ill or having to take naps every afternoon.

Now that the program has ended and I am back to work, I have to figure out how to maintain these positive habits so that I continue to benefit from good health and fitness, while improving my chances of avoiding a recurrence of cancer. Any suggestions for how to establish and maintain balance so that I can fit work, exercise, meal preparation, and household chores into my schedule? From where I sit right now, it seems almost unattainable. I gladly welcome your suggestions.

 

 

Pushing Through Cancer Anniversaries at Full Steam Ahead

Pushing Through Cancer Anniversaries at Full Steam Ahead

I feel like for the next couple of months I will be pushing through cancer anniversaries at full steam ahead. Today is the first anniversary of the doctor visit that began the domino effect that led to the discovery of the cancerous tumor I had.

One of the things I have attempted to do is to never claim the cancer as mine. I always try to refer to it as “the cancer,” not “my cancer,” as though it were a pet or some beloved entity. In fact, in her poem, “I Had Cancer; Cancer Never Had Me,” Emily Ransom shares some thoughts about beating cancer, including this inspiring thought. Calling it “the cancer” or saying, “I had cancer” may seem like irrelevant semantics, but the reality is that attitude and outlook seem to make a difference in overcoming the disease. So, the will to fight and to be actively resisting the effects of the disease become an important component of defeating cancer.

With that preface, I would like to quickly point out that I am not ruminating despondently on these dates. Instead, I am observing them with gratitude that I am still here. I am in excellent health. I am strong. I am enjoying life to the best of my ability. In fact, I strive to keep a positive attitude although I am not still battling cancer. All of my life, my dad has tried to teach me to be less quick to be frustrated over unimportant things that do not make much difference when considering the span of one’s lifetime. The goal of not letting things get to me is an everyday challenge. Life has become more enjoyable since I began to try to look at things from another perspective and not let unimportant happenstance ruin my day, hour, or moment. I still have to remind myself to assume best intentions of others, especially when I am hungry. I seem to have the greatest difficulty keeping a positive perspective then. So, I try to keep healthy snacks nearby in order to stave off the hungry monster.

Lately I have been burning the candle at both ends, but I am still going! With summer school winding down and the new school year looming ever closer, I have been investing time at both school sites in an attempt to finish and kick off both sessions successfully. Although it has been tiring, I have been enjoying teaching. My summer school class has been fun and rewarding and I am looking forward with anticipation to teaching kindergarten at a new school site in the new school year. It has been several years since I taught kinder and I am looking forward to the change. There are all kinds of new chapters to anticipate. I can’t wait to see how these stories turn out!

 

 

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