Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Day 6: One week since the biopsy

Yesterday, I told my kids. (I'm a high school English teacher, not a mother.)

Let me tell you this, if you have to face a crisis while being a teacher, you can't go wrong facing it with the class of 2009. These kids have been so good, better even then some of the faculty. Pictures of grace and support. It was so tough to tell them, but it's really nice to be able to stand in front of them knowing that there aren't any secrets and that they have my back in some way. I've gotten some wonderful emails from kids. Two girls are trying to get together a "bring Ms. C something every week this summer" chain. They've promised to email. Some have promised to pray for me. There's this weird unmeasurable level of nobility in a seventeen year old boy (for example) who comes to you after class to say, "You're a very strong woman. I'll be thinking of you and I know you'll be okay."

Just this week, the LEO published an article about these kids and their trip to New Orleans to help out with Habitat. And I was quoted, talking about my former New Orleans students, as saying that teenagers are much more brave and resilient than adults. And I mean it.

People have been crawling out of the woodwork with messages of support and promises of help. I've often felt very alone, especially after I moved here away from a tremendous support system in New Orleans. Middle school teachers I've barely ever talked to have made the trip to my classroom just to make sure that I "have a plan." A fellow teacher asked her church of 350 people to pray for me daily. A writer I've only met once or twice emailed me with a detailed account of her bilateral mastectomy and what I can expect from various treatments.

It's weird to be given so much attention.

To some extent, I've invited it without really meaning to. It was me who decided that I needed to be 100% honest with the kids. I was told that I could just say that I am "having surgery." But I opted for honesty for a number of reasons, not the least of which because I will return (God willing) in the fall altered in a fairly significant way. And the potential for chemo is there, so I may be losing my hair. It seemed a disservice to the kids to keep this to myself; I didn't want them to feel like I couldn't trust them with something this big. One of my kids emailed me and said that my honesty made them feel very "special." And that's a nice by-product.

I wanted too to avoid speculation. If I come back boob-less and bald, people will know and wonder why I didn't say anything. Even if I get to keep my locks, boob-less would be pretty obvious in my case. Kids can be weird about stuff like that.

Tonight Jas and I are going to a Louisville Bats game. We'd already planned to go today before we found out that May 13 is Livestrong Day at the park. You gotta love that. After we found out, Jas asked if I'd rather go on Thursday, but seriously if you're going to have cancer, you might as well join the club right away. And it's not like it's going to be a "reminder"-- I'm in this all the way every moment of every day.

Speaking of which, last night I was able to get some Xanax from my doctor and enjoyed the first good sleep in a long time. Yesterday I was wiped out both from lack of sleep and the emotional drain of telling the kids, and I don't know what I would have done if I had had to suffer another sleepless night.

That's the worst-- the sleeplessness. Lying awake, listening to your body. Every bit of indigestion and every weird twinge is suddenly a sign that the cancer has spread, that you're dying and there's nothing anyone will be able to do for you.

I talked to my grandmother last night. She was brief and measured and it was by far the hardest conversation I've had even though it lasted just 10 minutes or so. "You'll be fine," she kept saying, "because you HAVE to be fine, right?" Right, I said. Yes, of course. I have to be fine.

Today, I got a phone message from one of my uncles, one of my dad's four brothers. That message seriously f-ed me up. I think he may have called me once before, maybe twice, in my lifetime. I seem to remember a message left during either my divorce or my miscarriage. But this one was shattering-- the choke in his voice, the repetition of how much he's thinking of me. Out of all of my family, he's the one who has most overtly carried my dad's death with him; he's always been someone I thought might have been a totally different person had my dad not died. (Although we all would have been totally different people had my dad not died-- most decidedly me.) Something else to carry with me. The knowledge that this is an echo of my dad that reverberates for a lot of people.

I told my boss today that it's almost easier that this is hard on the people around me. Being strong for them gives me something to do.

Tomorrow is the big day with the plastic surgeon and the day I schedule my surgery. Even though my appointment is in the morning, I'm taking the day off.

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