Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Horizons

Yesterday, I was going through crates of curriculum books at school, continuing the gory work of sorting through dusty bins, trashing old files and packing up all of the materials worth keeping.  You see, I am retiring at the end of the week.

Me?  Retired at age 33?  I know, I roll my eyes and shake my head, too.  But the whole full-time teaching thing is just a bit too much on my body right now.  I haven't had much time or energy (read: any) to keep the blog updated over the past few months, as whatever I did have went towards work or family.  After much deliberation on the part of doctors, therapists, and me, the conclusion was to find work a bit less taxing.  I don't think I'm done with teaching forever, just perhaps this form.  And with my current physical condition.  I feel hopeful (often) that one day, my heart and lungs will recover fully and I will have the energy again to give to others.

That's the big news this week.  Tomorrow will be my last day at my job of the past (almost) ten years.  I will miss many things about it:
#1 the kids (the relationships, watching them grow and discover and gain confidence as they mature into big, sometimes-smelly tweens, seeing them develop strong relationships to each other, and feeling like members of their families),
#2 my co-workers (my always supportive school family),
#3 the feeling of knowing what I was doing, the routines, the familiarity of the task at hand...

While other things I won't miss quite as much.

Anyway.  The road ahead is a little foggy.  I know this is the right decision (my throat is killing me tonight after talking to parents all afternoon for report card conferences), but I'm not quite sure what's coming next.  And we all know how I handle uncertainty.  There have been times during the past few weeks that I have felt panicked, second guessing myself, my doctors, wondering if leaving with no particular plan ahead is the wisest decision to make.  We do have a child to feed here.

And then I remember what it felt like last year, realizing my blood cells were making decisions independent of me.  I have to have some say now.  A teeny, tiny bit.  I choose to put my health first, and hope beyond all hoping that everything else somehow magically falls into place.

Like I said, I was going through books yesterday.  I picked up a book I used often when my last name was still Dansky, called The Art of Teaching Writing, a writing teacher's bible of sorts, written by the goddess of all writing instruction, Lucy McCormick Calkins.  Calkins is a professor at Teacher's College, where I attended a week-long institute (on teaching writing) many years ago.  Flocks of teachers gather each summer to hear her wisdom, scribble down her ideas, and gain the insight of other talented writers and teachers.  There are always amazing authors there (Patricia Polacco, Joan Bauer, Pam Munoz Ryan have all made appearances), giving keynote speeches, and later signing autographs (my personal favorite:  James Howe, author of Bunnicula, signed my copy of Bunnicula Strikes Again with bunny ears).

Apparently (though I have absolutely no recollection of this), I got Lucy to sign my copy of Art of Teaching Writing.  When I opened the cover to make sure my name was inside, what I read was this:

Celebrate the new horizons that beckon you forward in your journey.

Couldn't have said it better myself.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

To Climb or Not to Climb?

It was a Sunday evening like any other.  I was finishing up lesson plans for the week ahead, checking my email for updates from my grade partners, when I received an email from Dr. Fisher, one of my radiation oncologists (who treated me a year ago this week).

Subject:  Mia and Kili

Eh?  What's that you say?  Me, Mia?  Kili?

Obv not my photo
I read on to find out that Radiating Hope, this incredible non-profit organization whose mission is to bring radiation equipment to developing countries, is teaming up with Above and Beyond Cancer to send cancer survivors on amazing experiences.  They took 20 survivors to the Everest Base Camp last year, and their upcoming trip is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in January.  They are looking for dynamic people with a story to tell - and he thought of me!  

Clearly, I'm flattered. One, that he remembered me.  Two, that I am a dynamic storyteller (imagine me blushing).  But then, hmm.  He wants me to climb the tallest free standing mountain in the world?  I can't even get up the stairs at work without my heart rate flying up to 160-170 bpm, and that's just to get to the second floor.   I wrote back to him, explaining that my physical condition may be a bit limiting for me here (HA!).  I mean, if this were a group trip to visit an ashram in India, I would jump right on board.  My personal Kili could be meditating for an hour straight... But actually climbing Kilimanjaro?  My first question to my mom was, "Do you think they have handicapped parking at the bottom of the mountain?"  Not quite my thing. 

Dr. Fisher writes back to explain that they are taking the "slow" way up the mountain, and I would be provided with my own porter (to shlep all my necessities) and a cook to ensure I'm nourished via food (if not with oxygen).  It's at this point that I begin to actually contemplate doing this.  And it's stressing me out going over this in my head again and again.  How can I pass up this opportunity?  Africa?  So flippin cool.  Bonding with people who understand what I've been through firsthand?  Priceless.

But all those pesky details are what really got to me.  Extreme altitudes?  Not great for someone with a breathing issue/sensitive airways.  Walking 5k, 8k, 12k for a week straight at said altitudes?  Probably less than ideal for someone whose heart races up to 120 while making breakfast.  I'm thinking there's a high probability I wouldn't survive this so-called slow walk.

After much deliberation (with my therapist and cardiologist), I concluded the stars are not aligned for me to tackle this adventure.  It was with relief that I wrote back to Dr. Fisher to tell him the disappointing news.  He was totally excellent about it though, mentioning some upcoming trips later on in 2012 that I might be in better shape to join.  I gave my mom the go-ahead to alert a fellow lymphoma survivor to the opportunity.  He applied in time and was accepted!!  I was thrilled to hear that he received the tickets and will be on his way in just over a month.

I'm busy just trying to regain a sense of normalcy, to pull myself off of the edge of pessimistic possibility on a daily basis.  I do hope, one day, to feel strong enough to take on a physical challenge (have I already mentioned how I really don't like to sweat?), just perhaps not one of that magnitude.

It is borderline ridiculous the places my cancer journey has taken us and I'm *trying to be* hopeful that by listening to my needs and searching out the next direction, my path will continue to reveal itself.  One day at a time, still livin scan to scan, mucking around down in the thick of things.


Friday, November 11, 2011

11 Blessings

Today is Veteran's Day.  A memorable day for multiple reasons.  First, of course, we remember and thank the many brave men and women who have risked and given their lives on our behalf.  Second, it is the anniversary of the day after Dan proposed to me seven years ago.  He got down on one knee in the principal's office at my school - the culminating moment of an elaborate scheme, carried out with the help of my co-workers and principal (timed so that we could enjoy the following day off together).  A very happy memory, indeed. 

And today, Judah is back at school (after almost a week of illness), Dan is at work, and I am at home, watching Glee with a cup of better belly tea and a sweet potato pastry.  The sun is shining, the absolutely gorgeous autumn leaves are wiggling around right outside the living room window, and it is warm and cozy on the couch.  I have so many things to be grateful for.  I have decided to revisit that whole gratitude list idea that I worked on in the spring to focus on the moment and the positive, instead of lingering on how I wish things were...

(these are in no particular order)

I am grateful for...
1.  a nearby H Mart and Paris Baguette Cafe, fully stocked with all of the yummy (and slightly healthy) treats a girl could want.
2. the gift of watching my 4 1/2 year old learn to read.
3. my very thoughtful husband, who works so hard to make me happy.
4.  TIVO.
5.  parents who are willing and able to help me (and babysit) in any way humanly possible.
6.  supportive friends - people who genuinely care about me.
7.  that meditation cushion upstairs calling my name.
8.  a driveway (not having to look for a parking spot on my block).
9. access to adequate health care for my family
10.  farm share - fresh, organic, green foods every week...
11. clean sheets on all beds.

What are you grateful for today?