Follow my unexpected cancer journey...the good, the bad, and the ugly!
Caution...long post ahead
I went back to work....bittersweet. I'm also using this as my excuse for not updating in way too long. As for medical updates, November will be my one year anniversary since my CAR-T therapy (crazy, I know). I will be having my 1 year post scan in January since my insurance starts over in a month and that just wouldn't be smart to do it now but to just wait a few more weeks. I have felt "great" in comparison to the last two years and really never thought feeling better again was going to be a reality. Nonetheless, my ninja t-cells are apparently working and hopefully continue to (fingers crossed).
So, going back to work....where oh where do I even start. When I wasn't able to work during my 2 years of treatments all I wanted to do was go back to teaching and be in my classroom and loving on my kids. In fact, that was one of the hardest parts as I always mentioned. Then it happened. I got a job, teaching my favorite grade, with a shorter commute etc...however, all the amazing hopes and dreams I had envisioned going back to work crumbled pretty quickly.
First, the best part would be my body has actually taking it pretty well physically. I don't get tired and can't breathe etc like before, the only downfall (but this is for any teacher) is all the fun germs and loveliness kinders share with you so I was sick for the first few weeks of school. Obviously, nothing I couldn't handle given everything else I'd been through. Setting up my room took a little bit longer just because I had to take a few more breaks than before, but other than that, my body held up. I wont say moving my entire classroom from my storage unit and into my classroom to then organize and put it all up was an easy feat by any means (and still is a work in progress) but it got done the best it could in the time I had (and thanks to some family that just love for me to put them to work).
Now, I did get a job in the grade I wanted etc...however, it's in a new district, which means a new school and new team. This has been a much harder transition than I ever thought. The differences in district policies, requirements, and in general how things are run and managed has been eye-opening and really blown me away (and not in a good way). It's hard starting over after cancer no matter what you do. It's hard starting over teaching after being out of the classroom for 2 years. It's hard starting over in a new district and with a new team. All these "hards" have been a struggle for me. I used to love teaching...that's all I ever wanted to do and (ego aside) was pretty good at it. Now, I don't get that feeling too often which makes the whole situation even harder and just plain sad and depressing. I'm lucky I dont/havent had to deal with any limitations as of yet with my body readjusting, but my emotional state has definitely been a roller coaster ride.
I feel like what I am about to mention is something I probably shouldn't knowing that in some shape or form it could be used against me later in my career path...but I also think it's important to share to give you just a little glimpse of what I've dealt with, how some people still never cease to amaze me, and how it just makes the whole situation even harder.
I had been working my behind off everyday allday, nights, and weekends preparing my classroom for meet the teacher night. Keep in mind, these parents haven't even seen me nor met me in person yet, however after finding out I was going to be their teacher multiple parents called my schools principal saying they didn't want their child in my class....because of cancer (which I am sure was said in a beat around the bush "nicer" terminology but that was the bottom line). All three people on our admin team called me in that morning to let me know so I was aware etc, which I was appreciative of, and also let me know that they supported me and that these requests were not going to be validated. Nonetheless, I saw it coming. The whole day while continuing to get my room and self ready for meet the teacher night I went through all the emotional stages: surprise, anger, sadness, speechlessness etc. These parents had looked me up online (like most do...teachers do the same things with students) and saw on my facebook one of my about me lines said "cancer fighter", as well as this cancer blog coming up. Now, I could completely understand if you actually met me first, I was peeling over dying and couldn't do my job and you didn't want me, but obviously this wasn't and isn't the case and I wouldn't have 1) interviewed to go back to work teaching if I didn't think I could do it and 2) be hired as a teacher if I wasn't qualified for the position or looked like I was dying. So, this basically just started the year off negatively and it's been really hard to adjust. I obviously just acted like my normal self at meet the teacher (not knowing who 'said' parents were) and did everything as I normally would.
Fast forward to curriculum night, the night where parents come to listen to you "present" what you will be doing that year, about yourself and your experience, and answer any questions they may have. I knew going into this I was just going to have to bite the bullet, address the elephant in the room and get it over with. So that's exactly what I did. I said I was made aware some parents were not wanting me as a teaching because of my cancer diagnosis, but assured them (as they could see looking at me) I was physically able to do my job and to the same level I have taught every other year. The rest was kind of a blur since I was nervous and sweating like crazy and you could hear crickets in the room, but I said what I felt needed to be brought up to hopefully 1) show those parents who called asking not to have me that I was aware and as they could now see in person and after meeting me I wasn't on my deathbed and 2) letting the other parents know who weren't the "callers" the situation. To be honest, I was already going to bring up the C word during this night before knowing about the calls, but I was initially bringing it up because parents will always think what they want about why I have a 2 year gap in my resume (no I didn't have a baby and no I didn't get fired) and to jokingly bring it up because I knew the first half of the school year there were zero chances of me having a good hair day because I had no clue what to do with the crazy new hair/mop on my head. It was meant to be a way to bring up the fact in a humorous way and move on along. So, I've still had some emotional issues with that whole situation from before school literally even started. I will add, I had a handful of parents come up to me afterward or write me telling me how sorry they were that that even happened and how embarrassed they were of some people's actions. They also brought up (which was and always will be my opinion) that knowing what all I've been through they wanted their kids to have me because it just shows you how much I love teaching, how I didnt give up, how I will always teach my kids that no one is perfect and all I cared about is if they did their best (this has been my Beacher teacher motto from the first year I've taught and if you ask any of my students they will tell you I say it all the time and they know it's ok to not be perfect...no one is, just do your best). I could never imagine even saying I didn't want a student in my class because they had cancer, or were autistic, or had any other physical or mention challenge or different than someone else (not to mention lose my job as someone would deserve thinking that way)...it's not like we wake up one day and say I hope I get cancer. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly no matter the situation because 9 times out of 10 that situation wasn't chosen by the person. And on another note, I can almost guarantee the "callers" have known at least one person with cancer in their lifetime...would they tell them to not go back to work....would they tell them no one is going to want to work with you/ have you as their educator/employee etc? I feel confident in saying NO, they wouldn't. Cancer or no cancer, you have to keep living your life. Ok off my soapbox for that topic.
Next is the struggle to build a new normal. When you have/get cancer you never get your life back...not a single part of it, literally. You have to build everything back from scratch, brick by brick and day by day. It's not easy. It's not joyful. It's not cheap. It's the hardest thing you'll ever have to do, even harder than the cancer itself. You feel like you're in a hole you will never be able to dig out of. But you keep going, what other choice do you have? I loved teaching at my old school and district. The entire staff was like family. I met (and still have) some of my best friends from working there. You wanted to go to work everyday, not only to see your kids and teach, but to be around a positive group of people that knew you inside and out, supported you, and were there for the good, the bad, and the ugly....because you did it together. We were one. We were a family. That's what I was looking for in finding a new job going back to teaching because I know how important of a piece that family and friend feeling truly is. You always hear about "teacher tribes", well it's true. This is why so many teachers are leaving education (obviously amongst many other issues) but if you don't love going to work everyday and have that connection of who you work with in teaching and support, you just won't survive. Teaching is hard enough, but not doing a part of a "school family" changes the entire puzzle....because being a family is literally the main piece. Am I saying I have horrible people on my new team? No, not at all. I have great people on my new team. The problem is, there are 9 of us. I learned very quickly it's very hard to be collaborative and cohesive with such a large team...I dare to say impossible on top of you're just not given the time.
I am also the only new person on the team, this makes it even harder. Everyone else knows what they typically do every year, how they do it, when they do it, what's expected etc. Now, on a side note, we have a tough group this year so everyone's plates are already full. I was just very overwhelmed going from, what I now know is a needle in a haystack, to planning every subject on my on and being every straw in the haystack. Thankfully, this is slowly getting better, but again, it's just incredibly hard with nine people.
Finally, being in a new district. AISD has literally blown me away with all the testing (specifically in kinder) that needs to be done and of course all by a deadline. To average it, the accumulation of all the testing I have to do one on one takes almost 2 hours a student...multiply that by 22. Who exactly is teaching those 22 while I am testing. What exactly are they supposed to be doing to keep their 5 year old attention for longer that a few minutes not to mention quite enough for the one I am testing. It.....is.....impossible. I literally had to put in for a sub tomorrow to be able to pull my kids all day to continue all the testing outside of my room one on one to HOPEFULLY even get close to being done by the deadline this Friday. This is only a deficit to my kids because they aren't getting the academic time they need, nor are we able to still get our routines and schedule down because I have to be with one every chance I get to do at least a few questions on one of their tests. I haven't even gotten a chance to start small groups or rotations yet.....ridiculous is an understatement and the only one getting the raw end of the deal are the students (aside from the teachers and all the data and paperwork they have to do). My students aren't getting what they need and deserve. My students aren't getting what I was hired to do, teach. My students aren't learning our daily class procedures and routines because it just isn't possible yet. My students are the one at the disadvantage....and isn't that the whole issue with education these days? I went to school for a million years to be over qualified to teach...let me teach. My kids aren't a number on a piece of paper from data accumulated from 4 tests. They are 5 year old kids who need structure and a chance to learn.
Basically, my big bubble of visions and dreams of how my life would be when I finally got to back to teaching was popped....and I dont think theres a chance of gluing the hole back together and reinflat. My advice to you, cherish your kids teachers, give them a break when they forget something, acknowledge all the hard word they do, know they think about your kids 24-7 and use their nights and weekends to go up to school to do more work just to try to catch up. Teachers truly do have the hardest and most underpaid job there is for everything they do. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go continue to spend my "weekend" working on my lesson plans and working on things for my classroom. That's a teachers "life".
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"You either get bitter or you get better. It's that simple. You either take what's been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you."