Thursday, April 20, 2017

CC19: April is Only the Beginning

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. Prior to being diagnosed, I had no idea that there was a specific month for a cancer that solely affects men. Testicular cancer is under-discussed. Perhaps it’s an issue of visibility, since testicles are usually concealed (unless you’re on some beaches in France).

I’ve been running ABSOT with the explicit goal of changing the attitudes and beliefs of society towards talking about men’s health. However, I’m just one person with a blog and still feel like society has a long way to go before testicular cancer is as acceptable to discuss as I’d like it to be.

I have hope though, especially when I look at another cancer that is generally thought of as gender-specific: breast cancer. It wasn’t easy for breast cancer activists to raise the level of awareness that the disease has today. As recently as the 1950s, the New York Times refused to print articles that contained the word “breasts.” In the 1970s, Shirley Temple Black and First Lady Betty Ford publicly announced their diagnoses, which helped bring widespread attention and acceptance to this cancer. Nowadays, dozens of female celebrities speak out about their personal battles, NFL teams wear pink to bring more attention to the disease, and many other companies and highly-visible corporations make a point to contribute to the discussion around breast cancer.

When it comes to testicular cancer, if you ask anyone to name a celebrity with a TC diagnosis, they will most likely respond with Lance Armstrong (who then went on to have some other personal troubles). Not the best “face” of the disease. However, recently, I’ve read stories of more and more athletes, celebrities, and even a YouTube personality who are sharing their testicular cancer battles. A step in the right direction.

I want to live in a world where we can freely talk about testicular self-exams. I want conversation to be open about all health issues, but I’m especially passionate about men’s health. Not talking about it can be a potentially life-threatening mistake.

I’ve already written about how men are hesitant to go to the doctor. I know I was. Even making a phone call to a medical professional seemed to be such an arduous task, although in all likelihood it saved my life.

One egg in my Easter basket
The other day I saw a friend whom I hadn’t seen since before my diagnosis. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked me how I was doing and said he was thinking a lot about how I had testicular cancer. He said that he didn’t even know what to look for. I took this as an opportunity to give him a quick rundown on how to do a self-check and recommended that he do them at least once a month.

Despite my willingness to discuss this on my blog, I still felt a little strange talking about it verbally with another guy. I wish I didn’t, but I also want to be honest about the limitations that surround having open conversations about testicular cancer. While we were talking about it, I don’t think the word ‘testicle’ or ‘ball’ or any of the other variations was used. I want to change this dialogue, both for myself and for everyone else. I want it to be deemed as okay and not weird to talk about testicles under medical circumstances. I know this starts with me. Confronting my own discomfort will help me start to have more honest conversations. But I know that I am only a small part of what needs to be a widespread change.

How can we as a society overcome the stigma that surrounds testicular cancer? Having months like April designated as “awareness months” is helpful, but awareness can’t be something that only happens for one month out of the year. I found a lump in October and was diagnosed in November. April is a long way off from those months. Discussions about self-checks need to happen more frequently.

There are fundraising runs and events, but I only know this because I’m looking for them as a testicular cancer survivor. I was aware because I had to be: testicular cancer was a part of my life, like it or not. But what about those men from 15-35 who are highly susceptible to testicular cancer? Like me, the average guy doesn’t know about the importance of regular self checks until it’s too late, and I know this is sad truth is because people don’t want to talk about their testicles. Testicular cancer is highly treatable, especially in its early stages, but that does no good if men simply aren’t aware of their own risk. We can’t let these conversations about testicular health, no matter how awkward they might be, get brushed aside because society feels uncomfortable discussing testicles.

My goal with ABSOT is and always will be to bring awareness to this disease and to discuss it openly with the hopes that it inspires others to do the same. I recently joined the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation Ambassadors program to help continue working towards this goal. I don’t have all the answers, but I know testicular cancer awareness and open discussions about men’s health is a mission that needs to be important to all people. Simply put, testicular cancer does affect everyone, not just men. It affects anyone who has a father, a brother, a husband, a son, or a male friend.

Here's my challenge to you: Share this blog (whether it's this post or the whole site) with two males that are important to you and encourage them to do the same. We need to get more information into the hands of the men that lives can be saved by having more frank discussions about this topic.

Will you help me get the ball rolling and shed some light where the sun don’t shine?

Monday, April 10, 2017

CC18: Two Months Later

It’s been a little over two months since I completed chemotherapy. Since then, I’ve had many physical and mental changes. My original plan was to write this in a “Where I was on the last day of chemo,” “Where I was one month after chemo,” and “Where I am today” format,” but I am struggling to remember back that far. One of my Twitter colleagues who also faced cancer told me that I would have difficulty looking back and remembering things. I now understand what she meant.

I'm able to run now, but it's
not necessarily easy
Even though I am having a hard time recalling anecdotes from two months ago, I feel like a lot of my cognitive function has returned. Sometimes I still struggle with speed of word retrieval, but the right word eventually comes to me. Occasionally, I forget what I was about to do or get highly distracted, but I chalk that up to me just being me rather than latent effects of chemo brain. I’m still finding writing down to-do lists on sticky notes or Google Keep is a really good way to make sure I get everything accomplished.

One of my biggest frustrations during chemo was not being able to focus long enough to read. Thankfully, this ability returned much quicker than I expected. I have now read eight books since the middle of February (technically three were audiobooks, but that still counts). I found “easing my way” back into reading was hugely helpful. I read two books that were in the 100-200 page region, then a 250 page book (which was about Iron Man so my inner manchild rejoiced), and now I’m working on a 450 page book. Taking baby steps to get back into it helped me feel successful and allowed me to practice focusing on books again.

Another issue that I dealt with immediately after chemo’s completion was feeling worried about my health. For now, I am feeling much less anxious about cancer than I was in the beginning of March. I know this will ebb and flow as I go through the first year of remission (and beyond). My next scan isn’t until June, and I wonder if my anxiety will spike again then. I have started going to counseling, but talking about cancer hasn’t been the focal point yet.

I got to travel to my undergrad college to present
My nausea during chemo was well-documented (warning: don’t read while eating rice). The unsettled feeling that I had even a month after chemo has more or less subsided now. After finishing chemo and no longer getting those sweet, sweet intravenous anti-nausea meds, I had to rely pretty much exclusively on my compazine (my main anti-nausea pills) to get me through the days. Eventually, I switched to mints and ginger drops to help calm my stomach. Dr. Maurer had also told me that some of my nauseous feelings might be tied to anxiety, and accepting that seemed to help me move past it. Now, I suck on a mint or two every so often as the need arises, but it’s not a regular occurrence anymore.

On the topic of pills, I completely have stopped taking my Ambien, which was a necessity during (and even after completing) treatment, as one of the side effects of the cocktail of medications I was on was sleeplessness. I tried to stop cold turkey (which is a really weird expression because I love cold turkey sandwiches) soon after finishing chemo, and that didn’t work. I guess going from the max dose to nothing isn’t a good plan. I tapered myself off of them by going to half doses for a few weeks and then every other day. Now, I can sleep soundly through the night. I have some difficulty falling asleep, but this has been a lifelong problem. However, it feels nice to get a good night’s rest naturally. No longer having Ambien-induced weird dreams is another plus, although I did have a really wild dream last night about being in a Transformers movie. Michael Bay, feel free to call me.

Along with sleeping better, I have far more energy now. During chemo, my mortal enemy was stairs. I would need to pause on the way up or down half the time. A weekend or two ago, I loaded an entire pickup truck of firewood all by myself (my dad would say he helped, but holding a chainsaw and doing nothing doesn’t constitute assistance in my opinion). I’m also jogging after school nearly every other day. I’m not quite able to run the 6 minute mile of high school Justin, but I’m making incremental progress (high school Justin was also about 50 pounds lighter).

I can also get through school days without feeling 100% drained by the afternoon. I’ve even traveled to different places in Virginia and Pennsylvania to present at different conferences, which was something that I would have never anticipated being able to do so soon after chemo.

My hair looks pretty good in pink, too.
Perhaps the most noticeable physical change is hair regrowth. About a month after chemo ended, I had approximately 10 strands of hair on my head and what I’d term a two-o’clock shadow of a beard. However, just as my hair started to fall out seemingly overnight, my beard regrew in all its glory almost the next day. (It was closer to a week realistically.) I’ve even had to trim my beard twice since the beginning of March.
My head hair didn’t get that memo quite as quickly, but now I have somewhere between a rich fuzz and my normal length of hair on my noggin. People ask me if I’ll keep it short or go back to my normal faux hawk style. I’ll probably go back to the faux hawk when I can, but until then, I don’t mind the short style.

It’s been a winding road to recovery. I would say I’m at 90% capacity for feeling back to normal. I know there will be some bad days here and there, both physically and mentally, but I’m enjoying the good days while they are here. In another few months, I’ll do another check in post to see how things have progressed. My left testicle hasn’t regrown yet, but I’m told “that doesn’t happen and to please stop asking.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

CC17: Thank You

Since the beginning of ABSOT, I’ve used Saturdays to let others share their feelings about my diagnosis. Today, it’s my turn to give thanks.

To Dr. Maurer, Nurse Jenn, and my healthcare team at HOAF -

Chemo is not a fun time. Period. However, you all made it as enjoyable as possible. Even on days that I wasn’t feeling great, especially when I was both the youngest and the most vomit-producing patient, each of you made me feel comfortable.

I liked getting to chat with you about my life and hearing about yours. Some of those conversations are not fit for publishing here, but they put a smile on my face. That’s perhaps the best part of being a patient with you all - I felt like you got to know me as a person first and a cancer patient second.

Being a cancer patient was still a huge part of our relationship. When I experienced a setback, of which there were many, you were there with advice and medicine to help me get over that hurdle. Ringing the bell at the end was a bittersweet feeling. I was glad to be done with the treatments, but I wouldn’t get to see you guys daily. However, I’ll be sure to stop in soon. Thank you for the best medical care and your friendship.

To my mom -

This is what happens when you take
selfies on my phone without permission
I’m not the world’s easiest son to deal with (though I am the world’s best son). I’ve always known how to push your buttons and drive you to the brink of insanity, but I know you are always there for me no matter what. When I told you that I might have cancer, your first words were, “What can I do to help?” Even though I live three states south, you were willing to come down to care for me for as long as I needed during surgery recovery and later chemo. Whether it was driving me for treatment, cleaning up my vomit, or doing my laundry, you did whatever I asked without complaining and with great compassion.

Words can’t express how appreciative I am of your visits down here, although I wish they were under different circumstances. You happen to be here this weekend, and it’s the first time we’ve seen each other since finishing chemo. As I type this on Thursday evening, I’m sure it’s a wonderful time. I’ve saved my laundry for you to do, if you’re in the mood (for old time’s sake).

Thank you for all you did for me. I really feel like we got to bond while I was out of commission and I’m glad we did. I will truly never be able to repay you for what you did for me. However, I promise when you get old and senile that I will put you in a slightly nicer home than I was planning on before going through cancer. I love you.

To Mallory -

Cancer was, and remains, one of your biggest fears. It’s touched your life in many terrible ways, and you have a right to fear it. Your view of cancer is probably what prompted me to take that initial lump more seriously than I may have if we were not together. Thank you for that awareness.

Despite you trying to do everything possible to prevent it, cancer was in our home. I know it must have terrified you, but your strength through it amazed me. You managed to care for me, our pets, the house, and yourself all at the same time (with help from my mom). I knew I could be vulnerable with you and you would be there for me as my rock.

It’s a cliche and sort of weird thing to say, but cancer strengthened our relationship. It helped show us what is important, and it’s not arguing over whose turn it is to do dishes (plot twist: it’s always yours). What matters is being there for each other all the time, no matter what. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I know that together we will do great things, and this experience has helped bring us closer as a couple. I love you.

To my other family and friends -

I know I am doing a disservice by not individually thanking each of you, but there are far too many people I need to thank to properly do it justice. From diagnosis to remission, I received a ton of support in various ways: texts, calls, emails, gifts, cards, food, and so much more. (And Dad, your endless ball-related puns always put a begrudging grin on my face, while Kyle's asking if I was ready for Mexican masked wrestling brought a confused smile to my face.) Each showing of care helped me tremendously in my healing process.

Oftentimes, a simple “How are you doing?” was the greatest gift you could give me (although Deadpool pajamas are pretty awesome too). Hearing that you were sharing my story and helping to spread awareness was an even better feeling, especially when Courtney told me she was making this year's "Strike Out Cancer" softball game dedicated to testicular cancer and me. You all helped me make my cancer bigger than just my own battle.

I had a great support team in all of you. Some of you have known me my whole life, some have been in my life for a few years, and some I have never met face-to-face. However, each of you played a vital role in my journey. Thank you for the kindness, care, and compassion you showed me in a tough time in life.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

TBT16: The Next 18 Days (Friends/Family Edition)

During the eighteen days of “down time,” I also had time to catch up with family and friends, amidst the final days of working and baseline medical procedures.

When I got home from my port pre-op appointment on Friday, November 11th, I realized that, in addition to being home alone, I was also on my own for lunch. It was liberating. Someone else had been making and serving my meals since the surgery, and this would be the first time I would fend for myself. I ended up heating up a bunch of leftovers, which was a small victory.

Other signs of normalcy appeared during these eighteen days. On Sunday, we went for our wedding cake testing. It was a nice change of pace - something light and cheery instead of more devastating news(Although, designing a wedding cake still is not my definition of fun.) However, I wasn’t able to forget about my diagnosis for long, as I was struck with a pain attack from my incision nearing the end of the consultation, causing us to need to leave. Mal needed some things from Target, but I needed to get home to ice my incision. I tried making plans for her to drop me off and then go, but she didn’t have time. We argued back and forth about how she could do both, but ultimately, we couldn’t make it work.

It really upset me to the point of tears (not that Mallory was to blame.) I’m usually extremely independent and can solve problems, but now, I was practically useless and at the mercy of my diagnosis and all it entailed. I wasn’t allowed to lift things at all, couldn’t bend over very much, and now, it seemed I couldn't even solve a minor problem. It wasn’t the actual event; it was the culmination of my feelings of frustration paired with the realization this would be my life for the next few months. It was a reminder that life still wasn’t really back to normal. One minute, we’re planning our wedding; the next, I’m doubled over in pain.

Despite setbacks like these, for the most part, life was appearing to be normal. John came to visit on Saturday, November 19th. It was nice to see my friend, even if my port and incision stopped us from doing much. We spent the time together playing Call of Duty, watching Deadpool, and competing on a practice Praxis (teacher licensure) exam, a tradition we have had since college. I know, we are super cool. On Sunday morning, I was not in too much pain or discomfort, so we ventured out for breakfast and Wal-Mart. It was only the second time (the first time being to see Dr. Strange) that I had left the house since this all began for something other than work or a doctor’s appointment. It was a seemingly normal activity, but again, reminders that I was still a cancer patient were still present, as I had to use one of the motorized carts in Wal-Mart to help with mobility. Nonetheless, it was a nice change of scenery.

The rest of my family arrived the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My parents had a new king mattress for us, and we had to get it upstairs. Under normal circumstances, I would be one of the powerhouses to get it up and over the railing, but I still wasn’t allowed to do strenuous exercise. As a teenager, I would do just about anything to get out of doing work, but now, I wanted nothing more than to help. It was yet another reminder of how things were changing in my life.

I was also beginning to feel tired throughout the day, especially in the evening. A side effect of cancer is general fatigue, even before chemo begins. This was the first “real” symptom of cancer I was feeling, beyond that first lump in my testicle. I regularly felt tired around dinnertime now, but on the first night my family was in town, I didn’t want to go to bed quite yet. My family has been an avid follower of Survivor, and they wanted to watch an episode. I made it about halfway through before I was too tired and had to go up to bed. Another surreal moment of “normalcy” that was skewed by cancer - watching TV as a family, only to be outlasted by my father (who normally falls asleep around 8 pm).

The next morning, I woke up and Thanksgiving was upon us. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I love food and there is no pressure of gift giving involved. Although I wanted to get chemo started as soon as possible, I was glad I could have this meal first.

The feast was glorious, with turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, stuffing, and piles of other delectable food. I stuffed myself fuller than normal, with the nagging reminder that food would soon be losing appeal to me echoing in my head. It was a different sort of Thanksgiving. Normally, we are with my grandparents and extended family in Allentown, PA, or Pittsburgh. However, once my port was put in, I was not supposed to travel due to the risk of infection.

Despite this mandate, I did get to join in for some of the extended family fun. On Thanksgiving Eve, my aunt and I set up a Google Hangout with my grandparents. She handed them the phone, saying, “Want to see a picture of Justin?”

I sat still, pretending to be a picture. After a few seconds, I sprang to life and said, “Hi Grandma!” They were tickled by it, and I got to talk to each member of my extended family. Despite my inability to be physically there, I was happy I was still able to be present in some way with them.

Up to this point in my journey, things had been moving very quickly. However, these 18 days were somewhat back to normal. I went to work (although I had to teach from a chair and used a cane). Friends visited (although it was a more tame visit than normal). I spent Thanksgiving with my family (although we weren’t with our extended family in Pennsylvania). It was surreal - on the outside, things appeared to be mostly normal. On the inside, I knew life was about to change in a drastic way.

To sum it up, it was 18 days of false normalcy.

On Thursdays, I am chronicling my journey from discovery to the beginning of chemotherapy. To read through my story up until this point, please click here

This is the last post in the series. To continue reading my story, check out the Chemo Chronicle posts, which detail my chemotherapy experience.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

CC16: The Cost of Cancer

$100,855.72

That’s nearly three years of my salary. Half of my mortgage. Roughly four new trucks. Approximately one-tenth of a wedding in 2017 (just kidding, but they are crazy expensive).

It’s also how much it has cost to defeat cancer over these past few months. That’s a crazy figure. Oftentimes, it’s said you can’t put a price on a human life. Essentially, now I can.

That figure doesn’t even take into account the gas money to and from the clinic, the fees from freezing my sperm, random food runs when the mood hit me, pharmacy prescriptions, and other miscellaneous comforts in the long journey that was chemo.

To be fair, all those prescriptions set me up with a
really cool medicine pyramid now. 
Luckily, I don’t have to pay the full amount out of pocket. I would literally have to take a loan out to do that. My bank account would barely put a dent in that, especially if I wanted to have electricity, running water, and food still. My insurance is covering the bulk of the bills and I am responsible for only a few thousand of that staggering figure.

However, I was not prepared to spend even hundreds, let alone thousands, of dollars on medical bills. (Before cancer, buying a house and planning a wedding were my financial goals for 2016-2017.) I have always been really good with money, saving, and budgeting. Even so, like most people, I didn’t have a line item for keeping cancer at bay. I am appreciative of the medical treatment I received, and I know it was a worthy cost.

However, all these bills pouring in, paired with the fact that I had to take thirteen unpaid workdays in February, causes me more undue stress. Part of me can’t get past the injustice of it. I didn’t do anything to cause myself to have cancer, yet I am still on the hook for thousands of dollars of medical bills.

I’m also not entirely sure what exactly I owe and to whom. My insurance company told me a set amount that would end my contributions to bills, but I received one bill from my initial surgery that was over this amount. When I called the insurance company to question them, they said that the claim had been improperly processed and I shouldn’t pay it. I keep getting bills for it, but I work through the business hours of the hospital and the insurance company and can’t call to figure out how much I owe. Becoming adept at bill paying and navigating automated phone menus is a skill I need to improve.

I hate asking for help and I never want it to feel like I am using ABSOT as a platform to solely benefit me in any monetary way. However, I am also a realist. I simply can’t afford to foot all of these medical bills by myself. There was a GoFundMe set up and both my former and current schools did fundraisers to help defray the costs and I am incredibly grateful for all of these contributions.

As I conclude this piece, I’m left wondering about those who do not have insurance. Would they be responsible for the full cost of treatment? That’s a wholly unnecessary burden on someone who doesn’t need it.

I am not a very political person, but I wonder what changes to the Affordable Care Act will bring to me (or other patients and survivors) if I ever need to change in insurance. Even though I am in remission now, I still need surveillance scans and follow up visits for the next year, which means more bills.

When talking with a friend in Australia, he said all bills are taken care of by the government. Wouldn’t that be a nice reality to have?

Although, I’m sure this comes at a price of having the risk of a dingo eating your baby.

A former student’s parent and the Parent-Teacher Organization of my old school district have also set up a new fundraiser, which you can participate if you are inclined. They are raffling off a 7 day/6 night stay for up to 6 people on the beautiful island of St. Thomas! (Please click on this flyer for further details.)

If you want to purchase raffle tickets, they are $25 each or 5 for $100. Email me at justin@aballsysenseoftumor.com for a PayPal invoice and we can work out further details.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

HBA15: Andi's Reaction

The staff at our school was called for an after school meeting the other Friday.  Anxiety was setting in as we checked each other for any facial clues to determine what this impromptu meeting was about.  After ten more minutes, a teacher started to tell us about “Justin” and immediately I thought he was killed in a car accident!  I am pretty sure by everyone’s expressions that many feared the same.  When she continued and informed us that he had CANCER, I personally kind of phased out.  My mind immediately went from “Good, he did not die in a car accident” to “this is only a slight step above”.

My experience with cancer is very fresh, as I lost my dad in August.  I saw first hand how quickly this dreaded word earns the fear it spreads when it is spoken.  At that moment, there was no fluffy optimism screaming that Justin is young and will beat the crap out of this!  Instead, my hearing got muffled, and visions of my dad overrode my thoughts.  My head was screaming that Justin is too young and that is far less acceptable than my father at 73 years old.  I am never known for my optimism, and the hands-on experience from this past summer did not help.  I “heard” that Justin had already come out of surgery that same day and was getting scans to see if it had spread.  I only thought of his new job, new house, and soon-to-be wife.

Disbelief was the first word of choice.  Fear of what news would come next was soon to follow.  Last, before leaving this meeting, was guilt over the lack of communication with my friend once this new school year had started.

Andi taught the third graders that I inevitably wound up with at my old school. We had a strong bond - that of masking emotions and ridiculing events we didn't like. I also threaten to kidnap her daughter on the regular.


Testicular cancer isn’t just affecting me; it’s affecting those closest to me. Every Saturday, one of my friends or family members will be sharing about their reactions to my diagnosis.  I hope these posts serve as a reminder to talk to the men in your life about performing regular self-checks and their health in general. Together, we can lessen the impact of testicular cancer. Check out Healthy But Aware posts here

Thursday, March 9, 2017

TBT15: The Next 18 Days (Medical/School Edition)

The span between my meeting with the oncologist and beginning chemo represented the longest period I would go without a major development (I hoped.) Within that time, I still had a lot to get accomplished: pre-op and placement surgery for my port, the chest CT scan, a lung function test, and a chemo orientation (which didn’t sound nearly as fun as college orientation.) Additionally, I would teach as many days as possible and would need to arrange medical leave and for a long term sub. On the surface, it seemed like it was going to be a pretty normal eighteen days.

On Friday, November 11th, Mallory had to work, so I was left home alone. I realized this was the first time I would be left alone for an entire day. Under normal circumstances, I enjoy my solitude and I was going to make the most of it...until I got a call to schedule my pre-op appointment for my port placement. The office was able to schedule me for the same day, so I drove myself there. At the office, there was an older woman who asked for a “hand sock” because her hands were cold. Little moments of humor like this made me smile. It was good to feel like life was back to normal, even as I sat in the waiting room of yet another doctor’s office.

Returning to the classroom also helped to restore a sense of normalcy and gave me an opportunity to be independent through teaching. I would be teaching Monday through Thursday and the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. On the Monday I returned, when I shared details of chemo, my students had about 45 minutes’ worth of questions. Some may say this was wasted time, but their inquiry was driving good discussion. I was able to dispel their misconceptions about cancer (no, it’s not spreadable). I was in pain from time to time during the school day from my incision, but it was manageable. I knew I was going to be cooped up in my house for a while, and it was empowering to do what I do best.

Probably the most memorable moment while teaching those few days was from "Charlie". He’s a student who works hard and mostly keeps to himself. "Charlie" took it upon himself to make me a care package. The attention to detail was amazing. He got me many Avengers toys to cheer me up, soap to stay germ free, a blanket to stay warm, and lemon drops. When I asked him about the lemon drops, he said, “When I was researching about chemo, it said sometimes it gives you a funny taste in your mouth. I was hoping the lemon drops would help with that.” The smallest gestures showed that the students were looking into my disease at home and that they truly cared.

Though most of the week continued as normal, on Friday, it became clear to me that this was a false sense of normalcy - a small break before the real battle began. That morning I had my port put in. (I explained the purpose of the port in CC01, which you can read here.) While I was put completely under for my first surgery, I was merely sedated for this one. I was actually talking to the doctor and nurses during the surgery. Aside from some slight discomfort, I didn’t feel any pain during the procedure. I was shocked, because they were threading a catheter into my veins. I would have assumed a degree of pain would have been associated with that. The sedation kept me nice and relaxed.

On Monday, November 21st, we had the chemo orientation with Nurse Practitioner Candace Sullivan. My mom went with Mallory and me to the orientation (she had come back and would be staying with us for the foreseeable future to help care for her little boy while he was sick). Chemo orientation was more similar to college orientation than I initially thought. We had my class chemo schedule explained, learned the rules and the side effects of binge drinking chemotherapy, got a tour of the campus chemo area, and met with the financial aid office accounts representative. Also, I got a free cup with the college oncology office logo on it!

After the orientation, I had another CT scan to establish more baselines. I arrived two hours early to drink the contrast dye, only to find out that there was no dye needed for a chest CT. Luckily, they were able to fit me in early, so I didn’t have to wait around all day.

When I left the appointment, I noticed I had a voicemail. My final baseline, a pulmonary function test, was scheduled for Tuesday at 11 am, which was to be my final day with my students. It was the only slot they had before chemo started, so I had to do it. I also knew my kids would be scared if I had told them I was there on Tuesday and then suddenly wasn’t, so I spoke with Brian and swung a half day of teaching.

In the morning of Tuesday, November 22nd, I had my pulmonary function test. One of the first things the respiratory therapist told me was that, “I would be sucking and blowing harder than I ever had before.” Essentially, the purpose of the PFT was to measure my lung capacity, power, and exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. A potential side effect of chemo is lung damage, so this would provide a baseline to compare to after the treatment was over. I had to breathe in a variety of ways. “In, in, in, now out! Slower, faster, harder! In, out!”

"Charlie's" card
After completing the test, it was onward to my last day of teaching for 2016. I wasn’t sure how the kids would respond, but I was ready for anything. I arrived to find the half-day sub was thrilled with their behavior. She had nothing but positive things to say, which was great to hear. We came together for one last class meeting. I showed them my port (through my shirt, don’t worry!) and fielded more questions. Various students and families had sent in care packages, which I greatly appreciated. After lunch, we did a Breakout EDU box and then had one last read aloud. Finally, it was time for dismissal.

I was anticipating lots of tears, but there were none. A common refrain was, “Have a nice Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and chemo!” Each student said they would miss me and many gave gentle hugs. I truly think that the lack of tears were due to the amount of open conversation we had been doing over the past week. Their empathy and insight were well beyond their years. Truly, experiencing this journey together as a classroom family would teach them much more than any set of state standards would.

The medical tests and school side of things were complete for these eighteen days. I was ready to tackle the next medical obstacle - beginning chemotherapy.

On Thursdays, I am chronicling my journey from discovery to the beginning of chemotherapy. To read through my story up until this point, please click here