Recently while writing emails in Spanish, I found a humorous examples of what a big difference a little letter makes. For the three years I worked with a teaching partner in a two way bilingual immersion program, he and I would proofread one another’s’ writing. However, now that I am working in a new school, I do not have human editor available. I try to compensate for that loss, I compose my emails in Spanish and then use an online translation service to check my Spanish grammar and syntax before sending them off.
In a report to someone about an unfinished project, I wrote what I hoped was “I wanted to let you know” However, when I plugged the text in for translation, I found that instead I had written “I wanted to bury you.” Not exactly what I wanted to communicate. Just goes to show what a big difference a little letter makes.
Recently, I was invited to a free movie event in Pasadena and although it was a school night, I decided to attend. Sitting home or working late every day is a not the ideal way to meet people and to settle into a new area. So I hurried from work to the event, without stopping for dinner or even time to stop and buy popcorn before slipping into my seat before the movie began.
The charming and poignant film captured my attention staving off hunger pangs for the duration. However, on the way out the tantalizing smell of freshly popped buttery popcorn teased out my appetite and I found myself queueing up for an individual-sized portion without extra butter to go. Popping savory kernels into my mouth as I ambled along famed Colorado Boulevard toward my car, a small flying object with green and red lights flew down the street and landed on the sidewalk of a busy street corner diagonally from where I was crossing the street.
Although it was a school night, my puzzlement got the better of me and I loitered on the street corner watching to see if the craft would take to the air again or remain at rest on the wide cement walkway outside a local, upscale eatery. Munching contentedly from my vantage point under the glowing street light across the intersection, my mind flipped through its virtual Rolodex attempting to identify this curiosity. I simply found myself without any frame of reference for identifying this flying object, except for those colored lights. Could it be a drone I had heard so much buzz about? Did drones even have lights? What was it doing in this trendy section of Pasadena at this time of the evening. And, why had it come to rest on the sidewalk?
Still caught up in crunchy rumination, a 45-ish man in t-shirt and cargo shorts approached asking in an orator’s voice, “Did you see my helicopter?”
Pointing it out in its resting place just across the street, although it was a school night, I started across the street because he couldn’t see it across the street where I pointed to it resting on the sidewalk. Second-guessing my role as good Samaritan, I breathed a sigh of relief when my serendipitous companion suddenly spied his craft.
Accepting his thanks as I spun around and headed back toward the corner I recently had occupied, I continued on my way to the parking structure, munching my buttered snack and thankful I had made the effort to go out–although it was a school night.
December was incredibly busy. In addition to the frenetic energy of five- and six-year-olds as they anticipated the arrival of Santa, I had what must have been an all time high number of health related appointments. My teaching schedule led up to the Friday before Christmas and with eleven appointments for my health, little time for shopping or card writing remained. Needless to say, I accomplished little in preparation for the holiday, which passed quietly and simply.
However, some very exciting things happened during December and the early days of January. In December, I had follow-up tests to monitor my progress after chemo and had mixed results from the PET/CT scan. While there was no evidence of cancer (grand shout of jubilant relief), a growth noted on my original CT scan from 2015 showed enlargement. Consequently to avoid future problems, the oncologist referred me to another specialist for a biopsy to determine the nature of the growth.
Although the oncologist recommended I take a break, enjoy the holidays, and schedule the biopsy for February or March, the office staff from the specialist’s office called, worked me into the schedule for a consult, and then scheduled me for the complicated biopsy just two days later–all before the end of the year. I think it is the only time I have ever had a health care provider work me in before the new year in order to take advantage of my deductible already being met.
The growth turned out to be nothing worrisome. In fact, I was probably born with it, but for some reason it has gotten bigger.
Anticipating the preliminary findings of the biopsy would ultimately be confirmed and with my oncologist’s blessing, I met with the surgeon in preparation for the removal of my mediport.
With family far away and friends back to work after the holidays, I decided not to undergo general anesthesia, but instead to have my mediport removed using local anesthetic so I could drive myself to and from the hospital. As a non-emergency, outpatient procedure, mine was pushed back from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., then to 1:00, and finally to 3:00 p.m. All of the staff were very kind and apologetic about the time changes, but for me the exact time of day simply did not matter.
While in surgery, everything went smoothly. When the surgeon said the mediport was out of my chest, I cried–not from pain or discomfort, but from sheer happiness.
Before Christmas when my oncologist told me he had no reservations about having my mediport removed, I was over the moon–not because the mediport caused undue discomfort, but because it symbolized the pain and uncertainty of cancer and chemotherapy. Having my mediport out heralded my return health and traversing the final length of the cancer detour.
Although for the next four and a half years I will be monitored regularly to detect any sign of cancer, I am content knowing the expectation of trained medical experts is that in 2017 and beyond, I will continue to be looking at cancer in the rearview mirror.
This morning I had the last of my follow up scans and the unofficial word is that it looks good. Of course, the oncologist has the final say about what the scan means and how to proceed, but my Christmas present to myself is to see him on Friday to hear the (what I expect will be only) good news.
I cannot wait to hear it from the doctor himself and to say goodbye to my tiresome companion, the mediport, but until then I am content to know that everything is looking good!
Christmas looks quite a bit brighter tonight than it did when I woke up this morning.
After several years teaching first grade, I find myself a little out of touch with kindergarten celebrations.
To me, one of the most important aspects of teaching kindergarten is cultivating the wonder and excitement in learning. Years ago a first grade colleague spoke of “romancing them (first graders) into the system.” That notion stuck with me and has great meaning and motivation for me, which often causes a lot of stress in these days of data and standards driven instruction. It seems that often the data and standards have little to do with what the little people within the four walls of the classroom actually need and are ready to learn. To quote Sabrina, played by Julia Ormond, speaking to the character played by Harrison Ford, in the 1995 classic of the 1954 classic starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, “More isn’t better, Linus. Sometimes it’s just more.”
Having been out of a kindergarten classroom for several years, my cute meter had gotten slightly rusty. When my grade level colleagues were doing all kinds of cutesy things for various themes and days of note, I was teaching letters, writing (or wribbling, as Kelly Boswell calls it), and math.
So when we finished working our way through the alphabet just before Thanksgiving, I realized it was the perfect time for a standards based celebration that we could have in lieu of a party. It would be festive, but also commemorate this momentous undertaking of learning the letters and their sounds. As if I had planned it, we wrapped up the letters and were ready to celebrate on the minimum day before Thanksgiving break. Naturally, the obvious way of celebrating would be by making alphabet soup to celebrate our milestone on the road to literacy.
Parents generously contributed their time and ingredients to make our tasty treat. Students had fun with the alphabet activities, combining ingredients to make alphabet soup, and then eating our savory alphabet concoction. The excitement surrounding our milestone was heartwarming. We ran so late that we ended up having lunch in our room so that I didn’t have to try to have students lined up and out the door for lunch. Many of them had little appetite for a midday meal. In fact, one student boasted he had eaten three bowls of alphabet soup.
In the grand scheme of things, I don’t know how exciting this was for students or if they will remember it later in life. And hopefully, my cute meter will kick back in soon. But for now, I find myself much more willing to promote kindergarten celebrations that support and highlight learning than any other kind of celebration. We’ll see how this works out as we approach our next break!
With both my scan and appointment with the oncologist in the past, I find myself in the interlude between the scan and the all-clear. While the results of the scan showed no cancer, it did show an enlarged spleen, which the oncologist believes must be investigated. So, instead of saying goodbye to my faithful bosom friend, my mediport, we will continue to be inseparable until this is resolved.
I know there are worse things that could happen or that could have shown up on the scan, but I have let this little hiccup get me down. In fact, I have had little to say for a while now because first the scan and then the results have been weighing on mind. I would like to say that I believe all will be well, but I cannot dismiss health related concerns as readily as I did pre-cancer.
The reality is that what the oncologist is investigating is probably due to one of the drugs administered during my chemotherapy regimen: specifically, a medication to help my body produce platelets when the chemo was taking a heavy toll on my body. That is the best guess at this point, but only further testing can rule out something more troublesome.
While my head knows the medication probably accounts for the enlargement of the spleen, I cannot get my emotions to accept that rational probability. Nevertheless, I do believe that with God’s strength and the faithful prayers and encouragement of family and friends, I will be able to deal with whatever comes of further scans.
If a little CT scan brought up something so insignificant to follow up on, what will a PET/CT bring?
After being ill for so long, first with undetected cancer and then from chemotherapy treatments, I no longer really know what normal should be. As my first post-chemo CT approaches, I find myself a little less optimistic and more often considering the negative side of “what ifs.” While I feel well, I am very tired. However, I keep a very full, hectic schedule. Teaching kindergarten, while rewarding, is emotionally and physically exhausting. Although I have no reason to believe I am anything but tired yet healthy, still the smallest twinge can raise alarm, however short-lived.
Friends and acquaintances have shared that after their bouts of cancer they also experienced “scanxiety” and a hyper-vigilance bordering on paranoia when it comes to matters of health. Before being diagnosed with cancer, we had a sense of overall well-being that allowed us to dismiss minor aches and pains or physical complaints. We experienced an expectation of continued health that was disabled when we received our cancer diagnoses.
The good news is that this was parent teacher conference week at school. I had so little time I barely ate or slept. One day, I spent about 13 hours at work, which was more hours than I spent at home. This weekend, my sister is coming to visit and we are going shoe shopping, so that should help me keep from dwelling on Monday’s CT and how it will turn out.
Veteran’s Day weekend I will be trying to keep myself busy so that I don’t spend excessive time fretting about the results of the CT and waiting to get either an all clear or something else.
On the one hand I expect things to be fine. On the other hand, I didn’t realize anything was wrong with me when I had the deadly disease growing inside me. I have come to realize, to my chagrin, that hypervigilance or paranoia is the new normal.
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.