Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

More About Post-Cancer Recovery...Four Years Post, In Fact

Great thanks to alissa for sending me this article about surviving cancer emotionally in my last post.

In response to the article, I have to say that while I was in treatment I sought out every kind of help I could find: one-on-one counseling, art therapy, yoga for cancer patients, meditation, support groups etc. (I actually hated support groups. I met some interesting people, but so desparately wanted to talk but didn't want to steal the discussion that I preferred the less-socially-pressureful settings of one-on-one attention. Besides, cancer or no cancer, I see myself as an oddball. So I felt out of place.) I took very good care of myself.

And I think I still take pretty good care of myself.

But somehow, there was some kind of dramatic shift from being sick to healthy again... and it was jarring and painful. And I felt guilty for that (what else is new) and knew even less than usual about how to relate to people. I don't think I did it wrong or right in anyway, but I'm still wrestling with this journey of healing.

I suggested to U. how interesting it would be to make a documentary about young cancer survivors and what happens to them later. How many change their lives completely because of the cancer and become doctors, nurses and support group leaders because of it? How many act like it never happened? How many claim to have a newfound appreciation of the world?And how many of those become hypocrites and complain about stupid trivial things every day?

Finally, how many live with the same fear that I have?

I guess I've denied it for awhile, because I know my cancer is not supposed to come back, medically speaking. But I'm facing more and more and more the constant tension of waiting for a shoe to drop. It could be illness, an accident, anything. And it could happen to anyone I love. But I just keep waiting for it.

Today I was talking to the relative of a friend of mine in shul. I haven't seen this relative since I was pregnant, but she knows my history and walked over to me at kiddush to see ND. We talked about the fear. And I said for the first time, as though testing to see if I could actually be right, "I'm looking around now and noticing that most people don't seem to be facing crisis or tragedy. Most people seem to be living pretty healthy lives. Maybe we're really okay." Even as I write this, and even as I read the article I linked to above, I feel my eyes getting teary. Can I really ever live a life that isn't tinged by this worry? Do I want to? Does living that way mean I would take things for granted? Does it mean that I would miss actually being with and loving and experiencing the love for my baby?

There's another angle on all of this too. Forgive me for such a long post. But there's a change in my professional life too.

I started my career in 2000-2001 when I got a Master's in Education at Lewis and Clark College. I was extremely self-reflective, filling an entire journal and a half for education related thoughts. Everyone said I was self-reflective, my teachers, my mentor etc. I used to write through my ideas. I also wasn't very good at quite a few things in education, but I was starting to learn. I thought I would always be reflective, would always be invested in teaching and would enjoy creatively creating my classroom and curricula.

Keep in mind too that people say the first 3 years of teaching are the hardest. It's best to have them in the same school. After that teaching is supposed to make more sense.

Here's what happened instead:
2001-2002 First year teaching. First years are never easy. Neither was this.
2002-2003 Excited to start a year that wasn't a first, but had one of the most difficult classes anyone in the school had seen, including a child whose drug addict parents had a restraining order against them. Over a third of my class were already classified as having special needs, either emotional or academic. More were to be diagnosed that year.

But I didn't finish the year. Diagnosed with cancer in March and had to leave.

2003-2004 Returned, but only in January and only part-time. In retrospect I see I was angry and bitter at the world and, frankly, at my students. Not a good year.

2004-2005 Moved to Vancouver, B.C. Work visa problems prevented me from doing any teaching again until January and only then did I take over part-time as substitute in a room I never considered my own. Also still bitter about recent past. Another bad few months of teaching.

2005-2006 Moved to NJ, deeply jarred by such a drastic move and by culture shock. Difficulties with school administration and a personal loss made the year one of the hardest I've had professionally. Despite not having cancer, I was ill quite a lot as if my body was desparate for some time just to acclimate and as if screaming at me that I still needed to sort some things out.

2006-2007 Started the year off pregnant and cheerful, took a nice long maternity leave and now, suddenly, I'm starting to enjoy teaching again. Having my precious baby waiting for me at the end of each day makes up for some of the annoying administration issues, but my teaching itself is going well enough to give me confidence too.

That's right. For the first time, I'm just starting to really like teaching. I'm even considering starting a teaching blog and a website with some of the lessons I plan and design. If you count the years above, it looks like I've been teaching for 6 years. But really, I'm just starting. I've only had two full years of full-time teaching out of all of that. Next year will be my third year at my current job. That magic three.

Is it OK to blame cancer for all of this? Well, not all of it, but quite a lot. I didn't expect that.

So what's next? I have my hopes, goals and dreams, but your guess is as good as mine. I guess you'll just have to keep reading as the years - please G-d - go on.

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Anonymous alissa said...

So, wow. Lots there to absorb! I'm glad the article was appropriate, and it sounds like it helped you get some stuff out there, eh?!

Interesting to lay your years out like that. I think we don't really appreciate fully our experiences until we see them, in order, in black & white. Which is probably a good thing, because there are probably some cumulative experiences we shouldn't think about and definitely not dwell on.

But some are eye-opening, and help us accept some things, and move on past others, and feel proud of ourselves for still others.

I actually like the idea of the documentary. Would probably wind up being a great healing tool for so many! What did he say?

10:13 PM


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