Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Tag: Whimsy (page 2 of 5)

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.

 

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!

 

 

The Beauty of Relay for Life

The Beauty of Relay for Life

Walking the Survivor’s Lap

The Beauty of Relay for Life

Last weekend, I learned something about the beauty of Relay for Life. Along with family members and good friends, I participated in this 24 hour event to raise funds for and promote community awareness of cancer. Through generous contributions by team members and friends, the team raised over $700 for the American Cancer Society (ACS). The fundraising continues through the end of August, so if you would like, you may still make a contribution to Team Chel’s effort to fight back against cancer.

Team Members

Although it was a hot time of the year for the event, I chose to take part in the Relay for Life of Saratoga to mark my transition back to health. San Jose and other neighboring communities hosted their Relays earlier than Saratoga, but I wanted to be energetic enough to walk laps and in the words of ACS, to fight back against cancer.

Most of my team came in from out-of-town. My family stayed in my home.  After receiving only limited guests during chemotherapy, having a full house was a blast! I was delighted to have my roommate from my freshman year in college join my team, helping to raise funds and driving a few hours with her family to walk in the Relay.

The Beauty of Relay for Life

Team Chel!

My team and I didn’t spend the night walking like other teams, but the busy schedule still made for a tiring day. I spent a few afternoon hours napping on the field under our team tent, but walked during cooler times of the day and participated in activities throughout the event.

As I walked laps, I chatted with my teammates as well as folks from other teams that I met while walking around the track. I sensed an immediate kinship born of our common experience with the disease, whether it was as a cancer warrior, survivor, caregiver, friend, family member, or colleague of one who suffered. Our diverse experiences left us with passion to see cancer research move forward toward finding an end to the human suffering caused by the disease.

Sharing an Overcomer’s Story

In a similar same way to the how I take issue with the term cancer journey, I am uncomfortable with the term cancer survivor. To me surviving is just barely squeaking by. However, I plan to do much more than survive. I aim to utterly overcome the disease! So, I prefer to think of myself as a cancer overcomer. I overcome cancer by living life with  joy in the present and great anticipation for the future. It’s something like after nearly landing on Boardwalk and Park Place with hotels on them, I instead received a get out of jail free card.

Beyond the release and relief from the fear and uncertainty of cancer, I live mindfully, making choices about so many

things that used to be automatic or even reactionary. Now, I realize I can change my perspective to live with greater hope and purpose, while letting the little things stay the little things in life. I am not saying I have this down perfectly now, but I find a lot fewer reasons to get irritated or upset about than I used to.

The Beauty of Relay for Life

Luminaria lighting the field during the ceremony

Sharing my story during the Luminaria Ceremony at Relay gave me a chance to reflect on my life and on how the detour has affected me. Here are a few tidbits from it:

For me, cancer has always had a face. It was a face I had only seen in photos; the face of the maternal grandmother I never knew. Grandmother Alice lost her fight against metastasized breast cancer before I was even born. Her cancer story, as told by my mother and other family members, was of a painful struggle in the days when cancer treatment was limited. It was also a story of the helplessness and hopelessness of family members as they daily watched her waste away, consumed by the pain and devastation of this dreadful disease. Back in those days, there was little treatment for breast cancer beyond radical surgery and certainly besides radiation treatments, no hope for someone with metastatic disease like my grandmother’s. So, our family was marred by this life taken too soon and too ruthlessly by cancer.

The Beauty of Relay for Life

Walking laps with my niece, Shiloh.

Because of my grandmother’s battle against this disease, fear of cancer became part of my family identity. At some level, I feared I would get breast cancer like she had. So, I dutifully had my screenings. Then, last year a growth of unknown nature was found in my mammogram and a biopsy was scheduled. I was in agony as I awaited the results and then again six months later, the outcome of the follow-up screenings.  However, thankfully both were negative for breast cancer.

Little did I suspect that just a couple of weeks after being cleared of breast cancer and before the age 50, I would be diagnosed with a completely different kind of cancer that was uncommon to my family.

Although I would never wish the trial of chemotherapy or radiation on anyone, I am profoundly grateful these treatments exist. Notwithstanding the persistent tingling of Chemo Induced Peripheral Neuropathy in my fingers and toes, I am thankful I received chemotherapy. I am infinitely grateful for organizations such as the American Cancer Society that have raised funds for cancer research, patient services, and community awareness. Unlike in my grandmother’s day, we benefit from decades of chemotherapy research and trials that have led to the successful treatment of various forms of cancer, giving me an optimistic prognosis for continued health.

The Beauty of Relay for Life

Voice of Hope

Because of ongoing research into cancer treatment supported by the American Cancer Society and other organizations, if I have a recurrence, then I will have an even better chance of survival than I would have today.

Better chances at anything in life seems a good thing, but for surviving, or overcoming, I especially like those odds!

 

 

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.

Summer School and Struggle to Set a Post Chemo Routine

Summer School and Struggle to Set a Post Chemo Routine has been the whole of my life in the past few days.

Summer School and Struggle for a Post Chemo Routine

This week summer school started and so began the struggle to re-establish a healthy routine with balanced time between work and the rest of my life. It has been a great challenge for me. So far, I have managed to spend an enormous amount of time at work and been consistent at the gym, but keeping up on household chores has been somewhat disastrous. Just to keep things interesting, I am having trouble getting to bed at a reasonable time and then having to roll out early the next morning because the school where I am teaching places me squarely in the middle of commute traffic. Consequently, it has seemed like the longest week! And actually, it is only the second full week I have worked since being released back to “normal” life.

But, I am enjoying teaching a new group of first grade or almost second grade students and working with a new staff. I consider this my time to work with training wheels on as I prepare to ride solo at another new school this fall. So far, things have been going well. Using training and experience from the past few years, I am having fun developing lessons with the needs of this unique group of students in mind. It has been a delightfully intriguing challenge that is yielding plentiful rewards. I am enjoying a deep joy and satisfaction in the job that I am doing and in the response of students to the lessons and activities I plan to engage them in learning.

Similarly, my students have settled into a happy routine and seem to be enjoying learning in my class. They have formed friendships with students from various schools, as this is a districtwide program and many of them had never met one another before. I am glad to see them happily engaged in learning and have once again remembered why I love teaching! I am hoping that this excitement and energy for teaching persists into the coming school year at my new school site and that I will be able to establish healthy boundaries for work that lead to a happy and healthy lifestyle that is conducive to good physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

Seeking Words of Wisdom

As I continue to struggle to find equilibrium in my life, I could use words of wisdom for what you have found or observed works.

Two Months Post Chemo and Still Surprised

Two Months Post Chemo and Still Surprised

Two months post chemo and still surprised by fatigue and things that trigger emotions.  Even though I have resumed normal activities and am going about life as usual. I have been keeping a pretty steady pace and for the most part have been fine. After going back to work, I had some challenges readjusting to being back in a world that looked the same, but had changed. But, I made it and was glad I had gone back for the end of the year.

Now with school out, I have been filling my days with travel, packing up my classroom to move schools, transporting things to the new school site or to be stored, reconnecting with friends, and exercise. I have been feeling good and enjoying this new phase of life. However, I quickly forget that just over two months ago, I was a chemo patient.

My fatigue doesn’t seem to grip me constantly, so I can keep a pretty full schedule for awhile. Then suddenly, I find myself unable to deal with the emotions that accompany the normal stresses in life and realize I am tired and in need of a nap or a long night of sleep. The good news is that it is exactly that simple, so why can’t I remember this simple fact?

Triggers

A cancer diagnosis comes with an element of fear that takes time to overcome. Occasionally, that fear pops up out of the blue, but more often I find that it is triggered by treatment related issues or circumstances. For example, this week I had to schedule follow up testing for the end of the year. Both of the procedures I had to put on the calendar were tests I had in the hospital when the cancer was diagnosed. Naturally, scheduling those tests triggered feelings similar to those I felt the first time I had them since they caused me to remember and relive, at least on some level, the emotions around my diagnosis. However,  if I had been more rested, I think I would have faced them more quickly and put them to rest without having to weather such a tempest in a teapot.

Anniversaries

And, the anniversaries are looming larger on my calendar. The anniversary of feeling sick, learning I was ill (on my birthday, no less!) yet not knowing the cause, then being told I had cancer one day and having surgery to remove the tumor the next. I anticipate a certain amount of emotion as these dates approach, but I know that they will pass and I will be fine. They are just dates.

Recurrence

Recently I had the chance to share with someone who asked me if I feared a recurrence that I do not expect the cancer to return. I am striving to live my life to the fullest, while doing everything I can to live a healthy, anti-cancer life. But, it could still come back. I couldn’t prevent cancer the first time, so I know I can’t prevent it from coming back, either. What I can do is make the most of my life. Do what is important and let go of the small, insignificant things that pop up that really do not matter, but can quickly steal my joy, time, and attention, if I let them. I am doing my best to not let them! It is easier said than done, but I am finding the effort worthwhile.

Why Am I Surprised?

While I do not know the answer to why I am surprised by fatigue and the impact fatigue has on my emotions, I do know I am planning to make rest a priority and to find ways to remind myself that it will take time, more than I realize, to regain my stamina for the everyday pace of life. Taking a nap or sleeping an unusual number of hours some nights is exactly what I need in order to keep up with my day in and out activities. Hopefully, this will begin to come naturally and I will not reach the point that I am stressed and emotional over insignificant things.

Any suggestions for other ways I can be mindful of pacing myself and getting enough rest?

Back to Work After Chemo

Back to Work After Chemo

Going back to work after chemo has turned out to be challenging in ways that I had not anticipated. Consequently, this week’s post will be comparatively short.

School

Returning to work was going to be hard physically, I thought. This first week back, I had a commitment every evening after work, so I anticipated being fatigued. Little did I know I was wholly unprepared to deal with the dissonance of reintegrating into teaching at my school, an entity I thought I knew intimately, but which has continued to develop and evolve while I was cocooned for chemo. While I was on leave from work, I thought about how the people at work were not part of the cancer detour, but I failed to realize that I wasn’t part of those months in their lives or the school community, either. I am back seeing familiar things and faces, but I expected everything to be the same and for me to fit right back in. However, since I didn’t live through events with the rest of the staff or experience the ongoing metamorphosis of the school, I have realized that I am out of sync.  Once familiar things have changed and catch me off guard. And, sometimes, my absence has been forgotten about by others and I find I don’t know what is going on for lack of information. For me, this has resulted in an emotional first few days back at work.

Although dealing with the machinery of the school has been a challenge, being back with my students for the last part of the year has been pure joy. The students have adjusted nicely to having me back and are happily requesting to sing songs throughout the day and play games during physical education that I taught them in the few short weeks I worked early in the school year. In spite of my absence, they have had a good year. For this, I am thankful. And, the opportunity to have closure with them is a blessing. In fact, next year I will be assigned to a different school in the same school district, so I am taking advantage of these last few days of school to say goodbye to staff and students alike. I have loved reconnecting with former students and been glad for the chance to tell them goodbye.

Living Strong, Living Well

Twice a week the Living Strong, Living Well program has given me an way to decompress and de-stress after work through physical exercise. And, while I notice my emotions lifting after exercising at the YMCA, I also know that aerobic exercise and strength training  correlate with a lower recurrence of cancer. So, I am pleased to have a dual benefit from my workouts and hope to be able to continue once the program ends.

Furthermore, I have found comfort in working with this group of survivors as we commiserate or laugh about side effects, while focusing on becoming stronger and healthier. Following orientation day, all participants seemed to be looking forward and no longer defined by the disease that gripped us. A sense of anticipation of better things ahead and an easy camaraderie has developed, both of which inspire me to do my best and be a cheerleader for other participants.

Life is Good

Although I have faced unexpected challenges going back to work after chemo, I am happy and grateful for the people, resources, and opportunities that continue to support me in my journey of life as a cancer survivor.  Life is good. Truly, it is good to be alive!

 

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor¹

On Tuesday, life took a major shift from cancer patient to cancer survivor when the oncologist cleared me back to regular, everyday life. With the exception of taking care to not put too much pressure on the mediport site, I can do just about anything I used to do. And, Monday, it is back to work. So, little by little, I am venturing out into the world and resuming some of those normal activities that were restricted until this week.

Grocery Shopping

Naturally, on the way home from the oncologist’s office, I stopped by the supermarket to pick up some fresh fruit that I could enjoy without have to peel to eat. Unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables were restricted from my diet until given the green light after chemo, so I was anxious to get some of my seasonal favorites. Surprisingly, instead of finding going into the grocery store exciting and freeing, I found it a little overwhelming because of the number of people in the store. I bought minimal fixings for salad and quickly exited the store. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed eating lettuce, raw carrots and unpeeled tomato.

However, the following day, I set out at a different time, in a less crowded location, and found delight in selecting berries, grapes, apricots and nectarines–none of which are going to be peeled. Meals have been fruit heavy since then, to the delight of my taste buds! Although I may continue to seek off times to shop, as much as possible, until I overcome my discomfort with the crowds, I am enjoying picking out fresh fruits and vegetables to reincorporate into my diet.

Living Strong, Living Well

This past Monday, I began the Living Strong, Living Well program at a nearby YMCA. The professor from Stanford University who facilitated the orientation session emphasized that the program’s focus was wellness, so we were not obligated to state what kind of cancer we had had or anything to do with our treatment or the disease. Instead, she asked us to share what we hoped to get out of the program and something we valued.

These instructions fit in perfectly with my goal in joining the program, which was to transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor, and to no longer be defined by the disease that gripped me, but by who I am as a person. It was incredibly freeing to introduce myself and to say what I wanted to gain through the program and what I valued. Not to have to tag on anything about the diagnosis, the emotional roller coaster that started after receiving a cancer diagnosis, or the agonizing months of treatment was a redefining moment and one more step in seeing myself as a someone who is healthy and thriving.

Back to School

In preparation for my return to school for the last eight days of instruction before summer break, I needed to touch base with the long-term substitute teacher who has been in charge of my class and my first grade teaching partner before Monday. It was bittersweet heading back to school yesterday to meet up with them, but the anxiety I felt before arriving, and the immediate coughing fit that overcame me upon my arrival, quickly disappeared as I was warmly greeted by colleagues and students.

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

Maybe someday my hair will grow long and thick like it was in 2009

I must confess I still find it difficult not to protest when people comment that I look good and that all the rest I had must be the reason. Because my work colleagues have not accompanied me on the cancer detour, and in fact have not even been told by me what illness I had, they do not know what caused my weight loss, that the reason my hair looks almost exactly the same as before is because what didn’t fall out quit growing, or that the months of chemotherapy could hardly be described as restful. While the inward battle of emotions rages, I try to maintain a benign countenance and politely respond to their well-intentioned comments. Admittedly, I am extremely over-sensitive, but, as with all other things, I hope this too will pass. And one day my hair might grow back long and thick!

As students rushed up to greet me with hugs, I fought the urge to pull back for fear of contracting some illness. For months I have dutifully avoided human contact to prevent infection, so I am still adjusting to the fact that my immune system can now battle disease and I no longer need to take such rigid precautions. I may have to continue to remind myself of this fact over the next few weeks, until it becomes an automatic reaction to enjoy the embrace of others without trying to pull back.

Meeting Up with Friends

While on chemo, I rarely went out for meals because of the risk of infection. If I ventured out, it would normally be to sparsely occupied places where I could maintain a safe space from other diners. Now that I am transitioning from cancer patient to cancer survivor, I can meet up with friends in public without having to estimate if I am far enough away from any diner who might be coughing or sneezing. While I do not find coughing or sneezing pleasant to be around, I am happy that I am able to meet up with friends over a meal  to reconnect after these months of virtual isolation during chemo.

Although meeting up with friends is a welcome change, my long-term dietary changes remain in place. So, I remain ever mindful of my menu selections in order to promote continued health. I am not finding the dietary shifts difficult or limiting, but instead find something of a rewarding challenge in selecting something appetizing that is also healthful.

More of Daily Life

As time goes on, driving longer distances, sitting on a crowded beach, and other normal activities will also mark the shift from cancer patient to cancer survivor. But for now I am satisfied to gradually resume quotidian normalcy.

Which of these daily activities do you think you would most enjoy resuming?

1 Hewitt M., et al., eds. From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition (National Academies Press, 2006).

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