Not Letting Cancer Dictate My Life

White roses from my expository writing students, class of 2015. A sweet moment.
White roses from my expository writing students, class of 2015. A sweet moment at the end of the school year. 

Although I am not happy about this setback Cancer has served me, I’ve decided staying home is boring. I miss out on so much. While we are alive, isn’t it a good idea to live?

I’ve started substitute teaching again. What an absolute joy. Well, not quite. Some grades are easier than others. At this point in my life, I can pass on those students who add stress to my day. I don’t need it! Lately, thanks to all the time I spend doing algebra and geometry on the Khan Academy website, I’ve been able to help students in math. ME! OMG! ME! For the last two days I was subbing for 6th grade math and I knew all the material, so it was fantastic to help them. There is beauty in math: logic, rhythm, balance… It might have taken me half a century to realize that, but it’s not too late. Right?

Subbing is satisfying because I get to spend the day, or two, or three, or six months, with students of all stripes.  Some are excited about the future, some believe they have no future, some are extremely motivated, some are hopeless. All of them absolutely brighten up when you give them a chance to shine or if you give them some positive attention, especially the clowns. Praise goes a long way. And at the end of the day, you know what? Just like a mom-mom, I get to give the kids back.

It is easy to spot the stoners and the loners, and often they resist efforts to get them to engage. But those moments will never be forgotten. It may help them someday when they’re feeling worthless. Don’t we all have those moments as teenagers that we draw on for motivation? Something someone said that gets you out of bed today?

And now I have to start thinking about my year of immunotherapy that will begin soon. There will be days, I’ve been told, even weeks, when I won’t want to get out of bed. Thanks, Interferon.

On November 30th, I meet with my oncologist to discuss either the clinical trial I’ve been waiting to begin or proceeding with Interferon course of treatment that will help my body seek and destroy cancer cells in my body. Clinical trials are absolutely the way to go if you can. Think about drugs you have been administered for any of your maladies. Somebody volunteered to be tested with those drugs or procedures and the results determined who would benefit most. While I might miss my chance, since my window of opportunity closes December 6, I still would step up to help with testing.

What Cancer has taught me is that if something comes through, or something does not come through, it’s all OK. You can look at situations that might have felt tragic before but now just seem inconvenient. The hardest thing to overlook are the actions of assholes, and even then you just have to laugh at how ridiculous they are.

I’ve been feeling very contemplative and calm lately. There is a lot going on with my family, my van needs repairs, chores are endless, and there are all the things that come with having two teenager daughters.

I’m proceeding as though there is no cancer. For a while, I had cancer and I didn’t know it. Life was normal. I trained for triathlons, I didn’t get enough sleep, I was letting everything get to me, I craved personal peace. Then I found out I had cancer. It sent me spinning. I had tearful discussions about not getting to see my girls grow up and  realize their dreams with my husband. This was not part of my plan.

But as my surgical wounds healed, so did my spirit and so did my attitude. And it isn’t anything I did alone. The support from my family, my friends on Facebook, former grammar and high school classmates, has been tremendous. Greeting cards and gift cards and meal plans, and prayers and long-distance Reiki sessions — all of these reminded me each day of the value I still have in this world. I have to thank Cancer for that. I plan on spending the next year killing it, but I’m still pretty jazzed about how Cancer has shown me what a gift I have in life.

Someone remind me of that when I am drowning in depression, a side effect of Interferon. I’ll need you. I really will.



Poem #10: Pleasure, Sonnet, Apostrophe

Sophie shooting in Waimanalo at dawn.
Sophie shooting in Waimanalo at dawn.

Generational Shift
By Paula Bender

I count her fingers, I count her toes,
I smell her cheeks, I kiss her nose.
My heart swelled when we first met.
Becoming a mother took away my breath.
As my daughter grows and becomes her own person,
I must deny the urge to provide diversion.
For I wish to stall her growing independence,
Because I am desperately clinging to being a parent.
It isn’t fair to hold a child back from life.
It isn’t fair to prevent them from experiencing strife.
But is it fair that a mother’s love should be so frail?
That motherhood subsides and the need for her pales?
My hope is that when she is out on her own,
Our bond forges deeper, our love has grown.

Poem #10: Pleasure, Sonnet, Apostrophe. #writing201

Poem #9: Cold, Concrete Poem, Anaphora and Epistrophe

Escape to Costco’s Cold Locker
Paula Bender

Chilly Mainland mornings call for pots of evening chili.
Chilly Hawaii mornings aren’t that frequent but we like our chili.

Sticky nights often turn into days that are just as sticky.
Drops of sweat develop even as we towel off shower drops.

So much heat and humidity, we need our relief and so,
Go in the van and drive to Costco and into the cold locker we go.
“I could stay in here all day.” “So could I.”


Poetry #8 Philly Cheesesteak

Foot-long cheesesteak Italiano: steak, provolone, broccoli raab, roasted peppers and onions. Take the canoli. Leave the sandwich!
Foot-long cheesesteak Italiano: steak, provolone, broccoli raab, roasted peppers and onions. Take the canoli. Leave the sandwich!

Philly Cheesesteak
By Paula Bender

Ever since I left South Jersey
In the late ’70s,
My craving for a decent Philly cheesesteak
Has gone unsated.

Toasty hoagie roll,
Transparently thinly sliced ribeye,
Piled high with fried onions and peppers.
Wit? Widout?
To which one would say Whiz or
(Of course) provolone.

Your mouth really can’t go home again.
The memories of my little 12-year-old hands
Holding a hoagie roll overflowing with
Philly cheesesteak has never been repeated
By the so many try hards and copy cats
And food trucks and popups that
I’ve deigned to try.

Sometimes, you just have to recreate that
Memory and
Share the love and
Create a longing within someone
Besides yourself.

Poem #8 Flavor, Eulogy, Enumeration

Poetry #7: Neighborhood, Ballad, Assonance


The Cat’s Job
By Paula Bender

While several of our neighbors have dogs,
You must consider this and give pause,
That the pets in the ‘hood
That do the most good,
are the kitties with sharp killer claws.

If there were a problem with rats or mice,
Those dogs wouldn’t even think twice.
But a fine family cat, a self-respecting one at that —
Would consider such occupation a vice.

Kitty Girl, the last of three Bender kitty siblings, aka, Chief of Security.
Kitty Girl, the last of three Bender kitty siblings, aka, Chief of Security.

Our kitty isn’t the only one who thinks it fun,
To bring home the prey with which it wants to play.
I’ve heard my neighbor scream when she looked out her screen,
To see body parts in glorious disarray.

For it is sport to a cat to bring home big game.
To show up with a critter nearly dead and surely lame.
Once kitty’s announced a victim she’s pounced,
She tosses it up in the air with a jump
And watches it sail like a doomed lump.

We know what to do. We thank with profuse,
As she finally takes her first munch.
We leave kitty to enjoy her well-earned prize,
Knowing full well
That she’s saving us
The spleen
For our lunch.



Aloha From Hawaii Kai ~~ Paula Bender


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