I hope that small acts like pebbles in the pond have greater impact than apparent at first glance.
At the beginning of the year, one of my small students brought pictures he had made for me. In loco parentis, I gratefully received his artwork and wondered what to do with it since I don’t have a refrigerator in my room. After several weeks of holding onto my treasures, I finally pinned them to the wall near my desk, where they would be easily seen by only me. When we had our run, hide, and defend drill a few weeks ago, he didn’t notice his artwork hanging on the wall. But, last week as he peeked around the fourth grade tall bookcase, he noticed his pictures on the wall and said, “You still have my picture.” I simply replied, “Of course.” And, we went on with our day.
I have heard it said that psychologists believe the only thing my young students will remember about me is how I made them feel. I hope that when he, and all of my students, think back on kindergarten that they will remember it was a place where they felt good and they knew their teacher cared about them.
I couldn’t help but think of where I am a year after beginning chemo, while also remembering the beginning of that chapter in my life. Over the weekend, the anniversary of the installation of my chemo port came and went and today is the six month anniversary of the end of chemo. But, yesterday I found myself a bit melancholy thinking about how one year ago I had my first chemo infusion. I remember I was scared, my port incision was still very tender, and the sensations I experienced during that infusion were unpleasant and unfamiliar. Similarly, my emotions were somewhat raw and I wrestled with the “Why did this happen to me?” and “Oh my goodness, I had cancer and I am having chemotherapy!”
Although I may still remember with sadness and disbelief that cancer and chemotherapy were once a part of my life, today I am thankful to be looking back at the cancer detour and hoping to never find myself on such a path again.
The anxiety of my upcoming CT scan sometimes looms large in my mind, but I try to remind myself that worrying won’t change the results and that a positive outlook is good for everyone concerned. Today, I rescheduled my scan from Friday, November 11 to Monday, November 7. I was fretting that the report wouldn’t be ready for the oncologist when I saw him the following week.
So, getting rid of that worry simply took a phone call. If only all of our problems could be rectified just that easily.
I feel a bit of a hypocrite worrying, especially since I read my students a book called, What Do You Do with a Problem? In the book, the author says that problems are beautiful and hold opportunities. If that is the case, then I can honestly say that cancer and chemotherapy were opportunities I could have lived without!
This time of the year I find myself unpacking a mixed bag of memories. My teaching schedule brings a much needed break right around my mother’s birthday. Last year, my mom, two of my sisters, and I made it a weekend based at my house and it was loads of fun.
In addition to celebrating our mom’s life, my sisters kindly helped me rearrange my living room furniture, haul my Christmas tree out of the basement, assemble it, and wind it with festive ribbon. (Kind Reader, please remember I lived in Ecuador for years and the custom is to begin decorating in October.)
Unique to last year was the additional preparations of my spare room and other shared areas of the house for my mom to spend most of every other week with me during the months I had chemo. It made for some truly mixed-up emotions during that span of time. On the one hand, it was lovely to be together with family. On the other hand, it was surreal to be preparing to be off of work for six months (turned out to be seven months) while having chemotherapy.
Happily, this past weekend I made the trip to my mom and dad’s to spend Mom’s birthday with her. Again, surrounded by family, I enjoyed celebrating Mom and thanked God for another year we shared. Without Mom’s help and support, I cannot imagine how I would have made it through chemotherapy! She took over all of my ongoing chores like grocery shopping, cooking, doing dishes and sometimes even dragged laundry down to the basement to be washed and dried before bringing it back up! Naturally, I was glad to be among the loved ones celebrating her special day. Being healthy was icing on the cake!
Naturally after traveling back home, yesterday I found myself again rearranging living room furniture and then heading down to the basement to unearth the box containing my seven-and-a-half foot tree. Then, I made multiple trips to carry up each of the four sections of tree and multiple storage containers filled with Christmas ornaments and décor. It amazes me how much time and energy is required to clean the basement grime off of the storage containers before I can stack them nearby for the monumental task of decorating the tree and decking the halls. A feeling of satisfaction and anticipation overcomes me as I look at the rearranged living room furniture and the assembled, although still unlit, tree. If nothing else, I have something to anticipate, a new goal, a task to complete, and that means another reason to live and to live well.
Although my memories are mixed, I am grateful. Having cancer was not my plan, but the cancer was successfully removed. I have scars that remind me each day of this reality. Having chemotherapy was not in my plan either, but chemotherapy successfully eradicated all traces of the disease (we think) and significantly reduced (according to relevant medical statistics) the chance of a recurrence of cancer.
Even as I am unpacking a mixed bag of memories of my own, I am grieved knowing that those I care about are facing their own cancer detour and struggling through the rigors of treatment. Others are facing the failure of treatment and with it the unflinching reality that without a miracle, the disease will continue to advance. When I think of the challenges faced by so many others, I pray, I grieve, and I feel small and self-centered for having mixed emotions when in reality I am doing so well. So, I’ll keep a mixed bag of memories and emotions that go with it and I will remember to pray for my friends and to be thankful for each new day.
The Road to Happiness Truly is Continually Under Construction
I agree with Linda Gray that the road to happiness truly is continually under construction. Although I have not read her similarly entitled memoir, I immediately identified with the sentiment. Over the course of the past twelve months of the cancer and chemo detour, I have gained a simpler perspective on happiness and joy.
When I was younger, I anticipated a different path than the one I have found myself taking. Among other things, I envisioned enjoying the joy and fulfillment of marriage and children. Over time, that dream gradually slipped away and the reality dawned that time had somehow marched to a faster tempo than I had realized. I had been busy with important, fulfilling pursuits that led me to places and situations that made my childhood dream less and less likely. But, they were worthwhile ways to spend my days, so I cannot say I would make different decisions should I have the impossible option of going back in time.
Then, there was cancer and for months the only pleasures were small ones. Happiness became the stuff of a moment, not a monumental event.
Even now, my focus remains on the small moments I enjoy during the day. To be happy, I try to focus on the present and the people and activities that bring me joy, even if it is simply smiling as I walk around campus to start the day on a positive note, greeting my students by name and shaking their hands as they enter the classroom, singing “Good Morning to You” to these young pupils, or watching as one who has struggled slowly begins to write his name without my help.
Maybe when I have more energy I will aspire to grander schemes of happiness, but for right now I will focus on the small moments that make up life and I have to concede that the road to happiness truly is continually under construction.