Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Tag: health (page 1 of 4)

Although It Was a School Night

Out and About Although It Was a School Night

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.

 

Looking at Cancer in the Rearview Mirror

Looking at Cancer in the Rearview Mirror

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-Looking at Cancer in the Rearview Mirrorup 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.

The Interlude Between the Scan and the All-Clear

The Interlude Between the Scan and the All-Clear

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 belieThe Interlude Between the Scan and the All-Clearves 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?

Hopefully, only peace of mind.

Hypervigilance or Paranoia Is the New Normal

Hypervigilance or Paranoia Is the New Normal

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.

A Year After Beginning Chemo

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!

Unpacking a Mixed Bag of Memories

Unpacking a Mixed Bag of Memories

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 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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