Saturday, January 19, 2013

A 100% Stinky Lesson

     I was blessed to be able to rejoin my students and colleagues at Honey Grove Middle and High School beginning January 2nd, as they returned from the Christmas holidays.  Not everyone has been thrilled to see me in the normal setting.  In a loving way, some have said,  "You know you probably have enough years to retire. I know I wouldn't be here!"------ "I know you're wearing a mask, but should you be here with all these germs?"------"Does your doctor know you are doing this?"  It has been hard to answer each of these questions. But a man called "STINK" summed my feelings.

     Chris and I live about 15 minutes from the school district, so many times I listen to one of the Dallas sports stations on my short drive in to work.  On my first week back I heard a valuable lesson on this station which strengthened my beliefs in returning to be with my students.  The hosts of the show were discussing the impact of a major knee surgery on the career of Robert Griffin III and they were joined by Mark Schlereth, who is lovingly called "Stink."  Schlereth played in the NFL for 12 seasons and has had 29 sports related surgeries, including 20 knee surgeries.  I would call him a specialist as a consumer of knee surgeries.

     Mark grew passionate in his discussion when the terms "100%" and a "player's return" were mentioned.  He told the story of happening upon a player from another sport in his surgeon's waiting room.  The other athlete was dejected and said he didn't know when he would be 100%.  "Stink" shared the reality, "100% of what?"  He said to the younger player, "You will NEVER be at the same place you were before surgery.  If you are missing the opportunity to play the game you love while waiting on the old 100%, you are missing a window of competing.  You now have a new 100%."

      Thank you, Mr. Mark Schlereth.  (You're too large for me to call you "Stink.")  In the world of cancer we call this the new normal.  While I will never let multiple myeloma define me, the side effects and scars of battle will take their tolls.  The only danger would be sitting on the sideline waiting on everything to be perfect or back the way it was.

     On Friday my new normal, or 100%, changed yet again.  Since Christmas Eve I have been dealing with an eye issue that we thought was a retinal bleed. We learned that my retina was torn, detached, and had actually rotated 360 degrees. I had surgery Friday afternoon (1-18-13) and today I had the patch removed. For the next week, I will sit in a posture facing the floor, to allow my retina to reattach properly. Complete restoration, or 20/20, isn't being discussed. They are hoping in a few weeks or months that I will be able to see the "big E" on the chart. That in itself will be a miracle. Chris and I had our time for tears and now it is time to move on. There is a very real possibility that next week I will be in meetings in a Post-vitrectomy chair, facing the floor while making educational decisions and leading a campus. Shouldn't I stay home, you ask? I could. And I might have to, but I will not miss out on windows of opportunity because I can't accept my new 100%.

Silly moments with Chris at school.
Beta Stands Up to Cancer

Silly moments with staff member, Elizabeth Shelton.
Jacob, our new State VP
Psalm 90:12 "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Damn Cancer!

     I have a lot of writing to do.  Since "Day Zero" I have been trying to survive.......literally!  Even though I have not been writing, I have been reading constantly.  I am an avid reader and with my medical challenges and frequent insomnia, reading has helped me keep my sanity.  Friends and family have shared certain books and told me I MUST read them.  Here are just a few of the books others have recommended:
              My Dad - Timeline by Michael Crichton
              My son, Ryan - The Road by Cormac McCarthy    
              One of my doctors, Jennifer Potter - Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
              My sister, Sharon - Love Does by Bob Goff
              ...........then books I found,
                       Killing Kennedy;the End of Camelot - by Bill O'Reilly            
                        The Racketeer by John Grisham
                        Your Church is Too Safe by Mark Buchanan
                        The Black Box by Michael Connelly
                        The Skeptical Student by Timothy Keller
and then it happened.................................
             A dear friend, Lynn Arthur sent me a book, Dancing with the Enemy by Meg Brown.

     This book is the personal journal of a cancer survivor.  When Lynn sent the book home, I moaned, a cancer book.  I read to escape cancer and the pain of surviving.  Come on, Lynn, you can do better than this.  You are a reader!  A book about cancer!  Chris said that some of Lynn's family played basketball with Meg, the author, and she was diagnosed with cancer and had a stem cell transplant.  Of course, I did the Christian thing and told Chris, "How thoughtful."  I wondered how many days I should keep the book before sending it back.

     That evening as fate would have it I couldn't sleep.  I got out of bed and went to the living room to read.  There was the book from Lynn.  Great idea, I would scan the first of the book and then go to the final pages to see how the story ended.  I know how cancer stories progress, the middle of the book is the same for all of us.  I just had to know how Meg finished.

     I was wrong.  I read the entire book.  I was captivated by this person's honesty.  She voiced prayers to God followed by what we in Texas call a "good ole cussing" of cancer, her situation, and the constant physical variables that assaulted her.  Meg described how it felt to go from a collegiate athlete to the struggles of walking to the restroom.  She wanted to finish a round of treatment, not to serve at the local homeless shelter, but to go drinking with her friends at a bachelorette party.  (She can't write that, we cancer patients have an image to keep.)  Meg wanted to live and she was honest.  Damn Cancer!

     I am not good at being honest with others about my journey.  I like to be positive, upbeat, and encouraging to others.  What do you say when someone says, "How are you?"  Let's see, honest answers might be:

  • My eyes are bloodshot because I burst blood vessels while puking for 1 hour & 30 minutes in a plastic bowl that a friend was kind enough to send supper in. Thanks for bowl, Angie.
  • The ulcers in my mouth are now in my butt; I have only had 2 popsicles for the last 2 days.  Burns going in and feels like fire going out.
  • Good news, I thought treatment was finished but just got orders for intrathecal chemo & 20 days of radiation. WOOOHOOO, more side effects.
  • Oh, I'm just a little tired. Fell asleep in recliner at 4:00 a.m. and then my alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.  Coffee, anyone?
  • I think I'm okay. The last I remember, my body was in spasms, heard them call some code for my room, and I was packed with ice & then they put something in my pic-line and ............I am okay, right?
  • I have no vision in my right eye.  Retinal hemorrhage, should be healed in 4 weeks. Oh, I'm sorry! I thought I was shaking your hand.
  • Yesterday I worked all day and only fell asleep twice at my desk, and no one drew a picture on my mask. Yep, good day!
  • Or maybe just...............DAMN CANCER!
     I was able to go back to work as high school principal on January 2nd.  The staff & students have been incredible.  Thanks for praying and for a few moments, thanks for letting me be honest.  I praise God for this new chapter in Chris' & my story.  Two more dear friends have been diagnosed with cancer and we will now have shared memories that I wish we never shared.  DAMN CANCER!