Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Category: Love (page 1 of 3)

What a Big Difference a Little Letter Makes

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.

 

Small Acts Like Pebbles in the Pond

Small Acts Like Pebbles in the Pond

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.

 

The Road to Happiness Truly is Continually Under Construction

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.

The Day Home Became My Own Address

The Day Home Became My Own Address

I thought of the day home became my own address as I was picking up some blackberries in the supermarket this week. The surprising price of this rare treat triggered a stroll down memory lane. When I was growing up, blackberries grew wild all around where we lived. We could go berry picking and eat our fill of blackberries for free.

Most often berry picking involved lots of thorn piercings before heading home with blackberry stained fingers and tongues, and at least a few berries in a bucket. The berries were inevitably plump and sweet. If they didn’t taste juicy and sweet enough in one picking spot, there were an abundance of other places to try. And, sampling was never a problem unless there was a much traveled dirt road near the patch we had decided to pick and the berries were dust-powdered.

Berry picking was usually a family outing and always meant something tasty when we were finished. Most often it was a The Day Home Became My Own Addressberry pie or cobbler, but there was usually the promise of some delicious jam at some point in the future, also. Although not always the most fun to be stabbed while standing in the blackberry briers, the rewards afterward were always sweet, much like the memories of my childhood home.

But, nearly seven years ago, the family home where I grew up in the country became a mere memory when my parents soldThe Day Home Became My Own Address it and moved “into town.” It was one of the hardest transitions I had ever faced. You see, that address had been my True North, my home address, for about 31 years. Although I had changed teaching positions and lived in Ecuador for years at a time, that address was where my stateside correspondence could always come to rest. When I came home from Ecuador or for a weekend visit from teaching, that address was the one place I could relax and be completely myself. The cares of the world fell away as I breathed the fresh country air while taking rambling walks in the woods, noted interesting fungi and other woodland treasures as I traversed the pine needle carpeted hills, examined scat to decide what creature had passed that way before me, or watched water skippers dance the glassy surface of the rippling creek as I explored its muddy banks.The Day Home Became My Own Address

In January of 2010, that address could no longer be home. Its loss was almost as painful to me as any person I had ever known. Those acres were the backdrop of a lifetime of precious memories, and the canvas into which my life tapestry had been stitched. And suddenly, it was no more. The fabric of my life seemed to stress and fray. Even though the new owners invited me back to visit, I never went because it would never again be my home. For me, there was no more home, just the new house where Dad and Mom lived. I always felt welcomed and loved there, as I still do, but the dear place where my memories were woven from childhood through adolescence and well into adulthood became nothing more than a memory, a Shangri La to be mourned and never again matched.

As with all things, the smarting pain has diminished over time, yet I fear I will always feel the loss of my beloved childhood home. But, home has found a new address. I am not sure exactly when it happened, but as I picked up the blackberries in the store, I realized that the day home became my own address had somehow come and gone without me taking note. Now, where I feel most myself is at my own address and not someone else’s. I do not have to drive a long distance or walk out through the trees into the quiet forest to hear myself think or reflect on life. Perhaps it is one of the rites of passage and I am simply a late bloomer. And maybe I will never really understand how it happened, but I am grateful to be well beyond the day home became my own address.

 

Falling in Love After Cancer

Falling in Love after cancer, or how I have fallen in love with life again. One of the rekindled loves in my life is teaching kindergarten. The past couple of weeks have brought an enormous learning curve. Who would have thought teaching five year olds could be such a challenge and joy? or so comical?

The first few weeks of kinder are grueling because almost all school behaviors are utterly unknown to these five year old people. Their well-developed sense of justice consumes an enormous amount of time with just listening to complaints about who said or did what unkind thing. However, now that we have a few weeks of experience with one another, I have begun to know them as individuals and that has made all the difference in the world in how we relate to one another. I know, amazingly, they sound just like big people!

I still marvel that a small piece of lint or tiny insect could utterly derail a lesson by capturing the attention of a third of the class in a matter of seconds, but I am also learning to use that short attention span to my advantage. It is amazing how an upset and inconsolable child can be readily redirected to examine a new project or something fun that might be more important than the current tragedy, (known to most of the rest of the world as a tempest in a teapot.)

Their joy in the simple everyday things never grows old. The excitement over a new pair of shoes or joy in learning to hold a pencil by pinching the pencil and resting it on the third finger. Today, the excitement of a student’s success with “pinch and rest” was only momentarily eclipsed by the sight of the pencil tip pointing away from the writing surface. A quick intervention and reteach righted the pencil and the student moved on to the task of learning to write his name. Since the first day of school, this student has told me he doesn’t know how to write his name. So, a couple of days ago, we began learning a letter that appeared in his name twice and he had already learned a third letter. That meant only two letters were unknown.

With great pride and enthusiasm, this student quickly learned the remaining two letters, wrote his name on a practice sheet, and proudly told me when he was done. Recognizing his excitement in the nice job he had done, I dashed off a note to the parents at the top of his name page explaining him learning the “pinch and rest” and then writing his name. Needless to say, it was an exciting moment. Heady stuff for the person teaching him to do it!

There are some little things about kindergarten that are equally satisfying. Even though most of my students are emerging literates, they love to draw a picture and write, (or wribble – scribble write) to communicate information or a story. Happily, not one of the students thinks she is unable to write. They are using the letter and sounds I have taught them to write unknown “words.” One student showed a string of letters on a page. As I reviewed the student’s writing with a fellow teacher, I noticed that all but one of the letters were letters I had taught in class. Again, I was ecstatic to see that my actions had direct, positive impact on my young student’s life. This could become addicting!

Whether teaching someone to hold a pencil and write a first name or watching the excitement on the face of someone who just learned the sounds we say can be represented by written symbols and communicated to others, it is gratifying to be part of such a miraculous process!

Falling in love after cancer is kind of like being a kindergartner all over again: it’s the seemingly small things that grab me!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Port Flush Triggered Unexpected Emotions

This week, a port flush triggered unexpected emotions. Until about three months ago, putting on Emla (lidocaine and prilocaine) cream over my mediport and then covering it with Glad Press’n Seal Wrap was standard routine for chemotherapy day. Every other Tuesday morning, I prepped my chest an hour before my chemo appointment. One day, I forgot. But, it taught me to never again forget. The Emla cream numbs the tissue over the mediport site, making it less uncomfortable for the patient when the nurse accesses  the port (inserts the needle connected to tubing into the port.) A syringe or longer length of tubing can then be attached to flush the port, draw blood, or administer IV medications, such as chemotherapy.

Although I no longer receive chemotherapy, my port remains with me until after I have my first clear CT scan. Currently, my CT scan is scheduled for mid-November, six months after being released back to everyday activity, so the port cannot be removed until some later date. While the port remains in place, it must periodically be flushed with Heparin to make sure that it is functioning properly.

So, on Monday, I had my first post chemo mediport flush. As I began going through the familiar motions of applying the Emla cream and Glad Press’n Seal Wrap, emotions began to wash over me and I felt unaccountably maudlin. Just the physical memory of that process invoked feelings I experienced during chemotherapy. In fact, it felt almost like I was going to chemo; the sense of dread and uncertainly all flooded back. Although those feelings lessened as time passed, the sadness remained for several days and fatigue along with it.

Having the port flush the same week I was preparing my comments for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life of Saratoga Luminaria Ceremony probably exacerbated my level of emotion. Combined with the sentiment of the port flush, the season of anniversaries, and reliving my cancer detour, I was feeling a little less sunny than usual for a couple of days. Thankfully, feelings are not reality and soon the truth of me being happy, healthy, active, and optimistic rebounded and life turned right side up again.

As I thought through my story and what I could share that would encourage others who have been touched by cancer, I realized once again that it is my faith in God, and the people I care about and who care about me that enable me to move past cancer with anticipation and excitement about the future.

Thank you for being among those who have encouraged and helped me to move forward expecting good things ahead!

First Anniversaries of the Cancer Detour and Thankful to Be Healthy

Anniversaries

As we head into July, I am mindful of the first anniversaries of the cancer detour and thankful to be healthy. In fact on July 5 last year, I first began to have notable symptoms of the undetected illness within. Although I had slept through the summer into July, it had not occurred to me that I might be ill. But when July dawned, it became more difficult to dismiss the symptoms I was experiencing. However, for about a month I had no suspicion of anything worse than the stress of traveling. Thankfully, a knowledgeable doctor connected the scattershot of dots I described and ordered the right blood work to begin the diagnostic process that revealed the tumor growing within. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Thankful

In fact, I am thankful for so many things. Every day as I maneuver my way through commute to traffic on the drive to summer school, I thank God for this job. Although I have to get up before 5:30 on these summer mornings, I am grateful to be working for such a great district and to be meeting different teachers, with varied experience and background, from whom I can learn. I am thankful for the students in my class who are eager to learn and easy to teach. During these few weeks, I am implementing teaching strategies I was trained in two years ago, but haven’t had the need to try out yet. Realizing that I can use these techniques successfully to impact student learning gives me another reason to be grateful.

Along with teaching summer school, I am thankful for the Living Strong, Living Well program. Up until now, I have not loved going to the gym. I always felt out of place because I didn’t know what to do and have a terrible time trying to follow the complicated choreography of some exercise classes. Although I may enjoy that kind of exercise, I often find myself zigging when the rest of the class is zagging. It makes for a highly stressful experience that counteracts the positive feelings generated by the endorphins released through the exercise. So, I am thankful for Ron and Trish, the YMCA trainers, who partner with Stanford to offer Living Strong, Living Well that are teaching me to use machines for cardio exercise and also for weightlifting. Their kindness and patience encourage me to do my best and to use the machines correctly, while not overdoing the weight. These trainers and the other participants in the program give me yet another reason to be thankful.

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