the whipped cream conundrum

"would you like whipped cream with that? hell yeah!"


August 2015

Do Your Job


Three simple word … Do Your Job. It is the mantra of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.  Do Your Job.

We all have a job of some kind – in an office or on a field, in a home or on the road, some clock it in from 9-to-5, while for others it is literally 24-7.  Jobs can be filled with triumphs and challenges, tears and laughter.  Some of us like our jobs, others dread getting up in the morning to go to work.  Every once and a while, we all need a vacation from our jobs.

I love my “regular” job.  I get to work with teenagers at a critical time in their lives – they are figuring out who they want to be in the world.  I see kids find confidence doing the things they think they cannot do by challenging themselves and others…in other words, they are doing their job.

But for now, I am on a “sabbatical” from my job to work on another very important job – taking care of myself.  Like my students, I am faced with doing many things I think I cannot do – more radiation, another trip to the hospital stuck in traffic, more time spent at my family’s home than my own, and countless medical procedures that need no further discussion.  When I get weary and really want to give up, I tell myself, “I’m just doing my job.”

Jobs are filled with highs and lows.  For me, the bright spot is that my tumor has stabilized.  Prior to radiation, the tumor was growing at a rate of approximately .5mm per week. Stabilized is good…shrinking would be better, but this is what I have for now.  The low point came a few weeks ago when I was told my cancer spread again, requiring 5 more weeks of radiation, in addition to some other procedures.  For the 5th time in my life I was told I have cancer (no one should even have to hear it once).  Pity Party of One?  Right here…no bullshit, this was like a punch in the gut.  I seriously need a vacation from my job.

Here’s the thing…we all work to survive in some way or another and, for me, my job is to get healthy. If my survival means more radiation, bring it on.  All in a days work. I don’t have to like my job right now, but I have no choice; I have to do my job.

Cancer: The Experience

I recently read an article about a movement to replace the phrasing of cancer from “battling (or fighting) cancer” to “journey with cancer.” It is a very well written and researched essay, and I thought I would offer an insightful analysis about my “battle/journey” and where I would land in the debate.  A very intellectual response was to be forthcoming.

Then, as I was lying on the table receiving my 8th (out of 25) radiation treatment, it occurred to me, against the whirring of the machines, that neither word really captures what I am going through.  A battle suggests I will win or lose and, before I do, there’s a lot of ugliness along the way.  A journey evokes a more zen-like approach to defining my cancer, almost a feeling that I have to lean in to what’s going on; it is certainly a way of thinking that my Type A personality struggles with.

It occurred to me that instead of thinking of cancer as something that is cumulative, I need to think of each step through the process as its own individual “experience.”  For example, even though a repetitive event, each day in the radiation waiting room is a new experience – different people, even different candy in the dish (today there was chocolate; that was new!).  My visits to my doctor’s are always an experience – never know what they are going to say about my treatment plan this time!  I see an experience as something you accept at the time it is happening; it requires putting my fears and anxiety aside and taking each thing that is happening to me as it happens.  I find that much more emotionally manageable than believing there is some kind of end-point with ugliness in between and a result that could be positive or negative. It keeps my fears of the unknown at bay.

Cancer:  The Experience.  It kind of sounds like a Ken Burns PBS documentary, or perhaps an exhibit at a local science museum.  It’s all semantics, I know, but for me looking at this as an experience has made each step more tolerable.

I’ll Take Empathy in a Size 10

I love shoes – flats, sneakers, sandals, boots – really any kind.  Shoes are an important accessory which I use to define my style.  I try to have a pair of shoes for every occasion, including cancer!

Red power kicks are essential to kick cancer’s ass!

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoe’s of the person you are trying to connect with.  It’s the old adage that you cannot really understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

The other day, I had an unexpected moment of empathy.  I was having a really rough couple of days – adjusting to radiation, pain meds, and feeling depressed.  I just couldn’t keep it together. So, when I sat down with my radiation oncologist for my weekly check-up, I let it all out.  She’s fairly conservative, young and always put together.  I looked her in the eye and told her, “I just want to be like you.  I want to get dressed and go to work everyday and be myself.”  At that moment, I noticed something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in a doctor’s office – her eyes welled up and she was holding back tears.  At that moment, she was slipping on my sparkly Sperrys and seeing the world through my eyes. Of course, that pushed my empathy button – it would have been interesting to take a walk in her Tory Burch wedges.

If you are going to be empathetic, please be consistent.  As the recipient of empathy, I often find that people show empathy on their own terms – not every shoe is comfortable (I wish I could wear sassy heels!) and, therefore, many shy away from the discomfort by walking away in their own broken-in shoes.  It is easier to put on the comfy red sneak, but when things get challenging, it can be tough to try on the pointy-toed heel.  While cancer doesn’t excuse bad behavior, often times I can be more angry, moody and sensitive than I usually am (and I am usually a lot of all those things!).  I might piss you off, but it’s not about you.  It sucks, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t hold these things against me and withhold your empathy.  Try that uncomfortable shoe for a little while and you will understand.  Don’t be afraid.

P.S.  Of course, we live in America where you can actually buy empathy.  Artist Emily McDowell has created a line of empathy cards for the occasions when you’re not sure which shoe to choose.



Fighting Fatigue

It’s been a little quiet over here at the WCC.  Last week, the doctor increased my pain medicine which has both positive and negative effects. The change is easing my pain, but, at the same time, increasing my fatigue.

Fatigue isn’t simply being tired – for me, it’s a breakdown of my body and my mind.  Physically, I can’t move very quickly or do everyday tasks at a normal pace.   Despite my body’s need for exercise, I can’t walk very far.  I get tired just walking up and down the stairs.  Walking Sadie is a challenge (luckily with some help from my Mom and the family next door, along with some days at doggie day care, she’s getting exercise).

Mentally, I cannot always think with the clarity I am used to, nor can I process intellectual ideas very quickly.  My memory isn’t sharp. I get overwhelmed easily by even the tiniest of tasks.  Sometimes I struggle putting pen to paper, so to speak.  Sedentary activities like reading and watching movies put me to sleep after 5-10 minutes (even the trashy tv that doesn’t require me to think!).

I do have energy bursts from time to time and I capitalize on these moments – I’ll take Sadie for a walk, tackle some of the paperwork I need to complete, run some errands.  Basically, I try to do the things that make me feel like a functioning human.  I also fight through the fatigue – if people come by to visit, or I have dinner plans with friends, or the neighborhood kiddos come by to play with Sadie – I find the energy to be in the moment (I can nap later!).

I know this is a temporary state of being.  As the tumor shrinks (fingers crossed), the pain will subside and I won’t have a need for the pain killers.  In the meantime, my couch and my bed are there when I need them.

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