Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Tag: Life (page 1 of 6)

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.

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.

 

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 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.

Kindergarten Tragedy and Drama

In kindergarten tragedy and drama abound. When you are five, tragedy takes on a much different meaning than for most of the rest of the world. Yesterday afternoon, one of the tragedies faced by a young learner in my class was not being called on to share at exactly the moment the child wanted to share. The student was so upset I was shocked. Talk about wailing and gnashing of teeth! But, we were all just a little bit on edge after back to back days of emergency drills. My students performed pretty flawlessly for their first fire drill of the school year on Wednesday. For many of them, it was their first ever! They walked and remained quiet as we had practiced. I was impressed with how they followed directions during the exercise.

Yesterday, we had probably the scariest of all drills required in California public schools: run, hide, and defend. In this simulation, we practice what measures we would take in the event of an active shooter on campus. In some ways, students enjoy the exercise because we hunker down in the dark behind a fort that I singlehandedly improvise in the few moments between the beginning of the drill and when the administration comes to the door to check on my engineering skill, as well as the children’s ability to mute themselves and remain out of sight.

As with the fire drill, my students did a pretty amazing job, considering they are all of five or six years old and we were sitting in tight quarters on a tile floor for about 20 minutes. When students considered the purpose behind the simulation and the what would be at stake, a couple of them became afraid. But, I reassured them it was only a practice, although I was careful to not assure them they would never have to do this for real. Nevertheless, most of the students overcame their fear quickly and when the exercise was over, were immediately distracted by the novelty of inspecting fascinating things found on my desk, which they are never allowed to approach and for good reason–my desk is a catch-all shielded behind a fourth grader high bookcase. The students cannot easily see my unremarkable, metal teacher desk since it is surrounded by play kitchen furniture and the taller-than-them bookcase.

In addition to my lunch bag, travel mug, and school district issued laptop, anything that I can’t remember where it should be kept or that I have never seen before ends up on top of my desk until I can deal with it. Consequently, my desk is a virtual treasure trove of miscellany, including various magnetized objects. I imagine they are doing their best to figure out the tall person in the room and somehow to feel more comfortable with this newfound student-teacher relationship.

However, I cannot read their minds and I am not a psychologist, so it could just be that they are still learning about their environment through a hands-on approach similar to when they were crawling and would pop everything into their mouths. Literally and figuratively, I am simply the biggest thing in the school environment, which they are still trying figure out. I will probably never understand the mystery my students constantly strive to unravel because I do not remember experiencing this kind of mystique surrounding any of my teachers. But, throughout my teaching experience, I have come to expect the curious and sometimes uncomfortable scrutiny of these small ones and I try to remember not to laugh or startle them with my reactions to their questions or observations. Sometimes, without much success because kindergarten tragedy and drama abounds!

 

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.

 

Older posts

© 2017 Hijacked

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑