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?


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Relaxi Taxi

1 Year End of Chemo anniversary.  Much hairier.  Much warmer.
I am about to embark on a new adventure.  Believe it or not, I have never ever taken a muscle relaxer before.  5:30 this morning I was woken up by a strange pain in my back, behind my left shoulder blade (aka scapula).  My first thought was that it was the same type of pain as I had last year after biopsy #2 angered the beastly tumor in my chest.  I had some wacky spasms that caused labor-like pains in my back and shoulder. 

Luckily, these pains were not quite that severe, but they were not pleasant. 

Fast forward a trip to the doctor's office and some tylenol later, turns out there's just a king-sized knot in my muscle.  Scrip faxed over to the pharmacy and I'm instructed to take one at bedtime.  Until then, nsaids (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs - advil, aleve, etc.) and heat, heat and more heat. 

I've been waiting patiently all afternoon for bedtime to arrive, so I can take my brand new relaxer and be on my merry way.  That's my story today. 

I am avoiding discussion of work until further notice.  Just know I am exhausted at the thought.  But tomorrow's another day and then, of course, comes Halloween, every teacher's nightmare.

Hopefully, someday soon, I will have enough mojo to write more in-depth about my survivor life. 


PS. Check in again soon for a full report on the Light the Night Walk.  Big success.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Working Girl

Apparently, my little cancer vacation* is over.

Tomorrow, begins the next phase.  As to which number this is, I have lost count.  September 30 was another milestone:  the 1 year anniversary of the end of chemo.  Certainly happy to be here, I am jumbled aplenty with other emotions on this eve of my first day of school/work.

There's guilt.  A healthy dose that has grown from feeling slightly responsible for getting sick - and putting on hold the lives of many people who love me, scarring my child permanently, losing a few years of my life to being ill and getting on the road to wellness - into self-blame for any and all of Judah's developmentally appropriate anxieties.  Yes, I would say there's guilt.

There's fear.  Change is scary.  Perchance for others it's exciting.  A thrill.  For me, not so much.  I like: routine, sameness, knowing what to expect, to do lists.  I do not like: surprises, unknown, uncertain future.  I am aware that life is chock full of unknowns, I just prefer to limit them to as few as humanly possible (Dan forbids palm readings).

There's nausea.  A better term is vomitous.  Similar feeling to right before going onstage to perform.  A mixture of nervousness, anxiety and excitement (although we are a tad light on the excitement, heavy on the anxiety).

I realize that once I get going, things will be fine and dandy.  It's like riding a bike.  I'm getting back in the saddle.  It's all for the best.

Happy New Year
Honestly, I walked through Whole Foods today as if I would never see the inside of a grocery store again.  Partly, I am saying goodbye to a calm, more relaxed version of my life.  HA!  The past 16 months have been laced with illness, muscular atrophy, weight loss, weight gain, care packages, many many meals made with love, television debuts (local and international), reconnections with old friends, tears, laughs, hugs, new babies, new friends, new doctors, port in, port out, free trips within and outside of the continental US, beach days, baldness, invisible sunburns, new kitchen, handmade quilts, magic mineral broth, a happy chair, homemade watermelon juice, acupuncture, meditation class, pills, allergic reactions, ER visits, youtube videos, books, neverending thinking-of-you cards**...

The list goes on and on and on...

And tomorrow, I suppose, so does my life.

*credit to Christian Fusco
**Laurie Myers, I'm lookin at you!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Small Stuff

Tonight I made dinner.  This does not seem like an amazing feat for most people.  I, however, know better.  I have decided (with some motherly and professional vehement encouragement) to applaud myself for small stuff.

When I say I made dinner, I mean I created a meal that was a) all hot at the same time, b) nutritional, and c) enjoyed/devoured by all diners.

pictorial representation of my own stack c/o crumbly cookie
5 eggs
small pat of ghee
2 tomatos
1 avocado
1 c whole wheat pancake mix
1/2 c org. canned pumpkin
3/4 c water
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp walnut oil
also, not my eggs (waaaaay too much pepper), they belong to shortbread
1/8 lb thinly sliced kosher salami
fresh basil
splash balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper


Prepare pumpkin pancakes using pancake mix, water, cinnamon and canned pumpkin.

As pancakes cook in walnut oil, dice tomatos and avocado.  Toss in a lovely bowl with evoo and a bit of balsamic, pinch of salt and pepper.
*If you have time and resources, go out back and snip some fresh basil.  Wash and dry leaves, then chop and add to the tomato salad.

Place pancakes in a covered casserole dish in a warm oven.

Using same pan, make scrambled eggs (with ghee).
Deposit cooked eggs into same casserole dish.

While pancakes and eggs stay warm in oven, lower flame and crisp slices of salami.
Pat salami dry (wipe off excess grease) and serve all foods hot and delicious alongside tomato and avocado salad.

Watch child clear his plate.

Sigh.  I savor moments of feeling like my former self - planning and preparing a successful dinner a primary example - as they still don't come as often as I'd like, or as frequently as I expected them by now.  I wish everyone could appreciate an uneventful day.  A day where no one is sick, everyone goes to work or school, cook, clean, menial jobs get crossed off of a To Do list... 

For seriousness, what I was most proud of at dinner was that everything came out hot at the same time.  Sha-blam.  Like I said, it's the little things. 

ps. I only dirtied one pan!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

World Lymphoma Awareness Day

Just call me Famous Amos.
I was thrilled to be introduced to a few great people at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society not too long ago.  I was even more excited when they asked me to write a guest post for their blog about Light the Night and what it means to me. 

I described the first connection that came to mind, which was Harry Potter.  If you're intrigued, feel free to visit the (edited) post here:  My LLS guest blog post

While there are chunks of my first draft that had to be edited in the interest of length, you get the gist (plus, if you've been with me since Day 1, you know my story anyway).  

Today was my first visit to an allergist.  Since I have been having these strange reactions (rash, scant itching, worsened shortness of breath, heart racing) to every single pill I take (including but not limited to: zantac, probiotics, vitamin B, ALA, prilosec...), I decided to take matters into my own hands and go right to a specialist.  As it turns out, I cannot have any allergy testing due to my heart condition and use of beta blocker.  However, after undergoing a very high-tech scratch test (the doctor scratched my arm with a broken tongue depressor), my skin revealed what I understand to be an overproduction of histamine.  The medical term is urticaria, also known as hives.  The treatment (for starters) is to take two low dose antihistamines for the next two weeks and then check in with the doc.

Meanwhile, I really am feeling good about the Light the Night walk coming up in October.  I'm a bit wary about returning to life as a working mom in a few weeks, but I think anything worth doing is going to be scary. 

Today being not only my mom's birthday, but also World Lymphoma Awareness Day (in the midst of a big cancer awareness month), I thought I would highlight some famous Lymphoma survivors (aside from myself).  Would you have guessed Mr. T??  Gene Wilder (the original Willy Wonka)?  Mario Lemieux and even Charles Lindbergh were all of the lymphoma variety.  Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) had it and Tracy Nelson (actress granddaughter of Ozzie and Harriet) beat it, too.  Blood Cancers are a bitch.
What dumb cell would want to mess with this?

I bet it was the chocolate river that got him through.

PGH represents.

Lymphoma before R-CHOP
You know, the guy next to Bill Gates.
This looks like a Law & Order episode, but it is from a much older mystery TV series called Father Dowling.
I am so honored to include some phenomenal new members of our Light the Night Team Mama Mia.  The very generous Casey Edwards, Betsy Madway, Julie Bahuriak, Marcy and Gary Garb, Gabe Pardo, Marla Scarola, The Pflegers, The Wanderers, Andy Love, Susan Burkhardt, and Jenny Lynn Keller have all joined the ranks.  I speak the truth when I say this is a group of givers.  I am proud to call them my friends (ok, I'm related to a few also).

Please do not be mistaken.  There is still time for YOU to join the team!  While there have recently been some huge breakthroughs in treatment, there is still so much work to be done.  One problem we were just discussing tonight at dinner is that in order for treatments to gain approval, there need to be patients willing to take risks on experimental medicine through clinical trials.  Often times, these new drugs or regimens are not covered by insurance and so patients are stuck with enormous bills (if the treatment works - if it doesn't, it's their families who must foot the bill).  LLS is one of the great organizations that is involved in both cutting edge research as well as patient support services (matching patients to appropriate clinical trials and even helping secure payment options in some cases).

What can you do?  Click on the link in the upper right corner of this blog to view my team page and give a tax deductible donation.  I promise you will feel good about contributing (no matter how small) to something meaningful.  And obviously, you are welcome to join us down by the art museum for the walk next month.  This year, I'll be the one with the hair.