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.



Aloha From Hawaii Kai ~~ Paula Bender


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