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

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