(This is part 1 of a 5 part series. Part 2 is here.)
It’s a new year and I’m in the reflective mood. I’ve been wanting to write this piece (or what might turn into a series of pieces) but I have struggled as to how to start or what to say. In addition, I’ve had to come to terms to what’s been happening to me. I’ve been hesitant to share because I was afraid that people would look at me with pity, opportunities would dry up, and that I would disappear. What transpired was quite the opposite of that. It was such a pleasant, and unexpected surprise to be empowered and truly supported by my math colleagues.
I’m going to share my story with you just like I did with my personal family and friends. Let’s start with this image.
It all started over the summer where I went for my annual mammogram in July. I’ve been meticulous about getting checked since my mother had it 20 years ago and then my aunt had it 15 years ago. Needless to say, I’ve been preparing for this moment for quite some time. But no matter what, you are still not fully prepared for the news. Within 2 days of the mammogram, the doctors called me back in for an ultrasound. The radiologist informs me that there is something there. It’s about 15 mm in size. My next step would be to get a biopsy. Within a week and a half, I have my biopsy. And within days of the biopsy, my OB/GYN confirmed that it was cancer. That was my summer everyone. Happy Summer–you have cancer! Oh Joy! And all the waiting in between was excruciating. That was the most painful part…the waiting. During that time your mind is constantly thinking about the it. You can’t shut it off. And so before the doctors told me…I just resorted to the fact that I had it. I’d rather prepare myself for the worst case scenario rather than get blindsided.
My first worry was about my husband and my son. I knew they would be strong for me, but this is not a simple battle. My second worry was that the new school year (literally started within days of this diagnosis). I worried about my other commitments such as my speaking engagements at a few conferences. And of course, I worried about me. Would I be able to handle it? Would I be strong enough? Would I have to live with cancer? Or would cancer have to live with me?
In the next few weeks, I met with my oncologist who explained all the details of my tumor (stage 1). Because of the biological make up of the tumor, she informed me that I would have to have chemo. Chemotherapy was the part I was scared of the most (more on that later). My hope was to just have surgery and some radiation. My doctor knew that I have quite a long life in front of me and thought this regiment would be best for me. Then I met with my surgeon. She informed me of my options and I elected to have a lumpectomy. And then my surgery was performed within days of meeting her. Talk about trust! But this doctor came highly recommended and I had to go with it.
The most difficult part of the beginning of this journey was being at school. Here I was all excited for the start of a brand new year only to have something else distract me from being an amazing teacher. I made the decision (with support of my principal) to not tell my students only because I had to accept what was happening to me first. I knew I would tell them in time, but I had to wrap my head around it. I did want to tell my staff and was so happy that I did. The day before my first surgery, they all showed the support by wearing pink or t-shirts that said “Real Teachers Wear Pink.” The gesture was breathtaking.
It was difficult having to deal with getting 2 weeks of lesson plans ready in my classroom with less than 3 days notice. Here I am just getting back into school mode and I have to write out 2 weeks of lesson plans. And you have only 3 days to do it. No pressure!!!! If dealing with cancer didn’t stress me out, planning for the classroom certainly did.
What I’m calling the “Pink Selfie” movement started up. I had people from all walks of life sending me selfies in support before my surgery. I was lost for words as they kept pouring in. And I know you don’t know all these faces. But all these people mean something to me (and this is only a small representation of pics I got) They are about love. They are about family and friends. They are about support. They have my back unconditionally.
I admit that throughout this process I was fierce. I was determined to show a brave face, not only for my family, but for all those around me. Cancer wasn’t going to beat me. I got this….or so I thought I did. The gravity of the situation set in the night before. I found myself quiet and reflective. What was I going in for. Surgery is not to be taken light hearted. I remember vividly just breaking down in tears before I went to sleep. My husband just held me and I kept saying “Why me?” numerous times.
Nobody asks for this obstacle. But as I continue on this journey, I have learned how we face these adversities really speaks volumes about us as people.
Part 2 coming soon—Out of surgery, and telling the news to my students.
Until next time….