Anchor Moments

Anchors offer security, safety, and control. They keep a boat from floating aimlessly and becoming lost. It’s like a bookmark is to books. Or glue holding a craft together. All these hold something in place.

An anchor chart supports learning in the classroom. It is meant to serve as a reference and move students towards success. In my teaching practice, I had some reading and writing anchor charts that would come out for specific units, whereas others might live in classroom year-round as a permanent anchor. I have been retired for five years now. I no longer have any of my large size anchor charts that I made. Here are some of a friend and former colleague. You can check out more of her work at The Interactive Teacher.

I’ve thought about anchors lately as I continue to go through treatment for metastatic breast cancer. No, I have not made one for cancer. I’m tempted. It would lend itself well to words, visuals, webs, and charts, but I don’t know what point it would serve. I see all of it in my mind; I don’t need an anchor chart.

This is a chart on conversation starters I used. It’s from the Lucy Calkins’ Reading Units of Study.

I could see an anchor chart on conversation stoppers. Here are some examples:

• I’m not going to _________. (discuss that with you, go out for dinner, jeopardize my health)

• Thank you for asking. I don’t feel like talking about it.

• That’s none of your business. Let’s talk about something else.

• I need to ___________ right now. (rest, sit down, catch my breath, nap, hydrate, eat, be alone)

• No. (Covers a wide range of responses.)

• Blank stare. (Also covers a wide range of responses.)

Perhaps a chart of potential treatments or trials I haven’t had yet and pertinent details could be useful. Very useful. The illusion of organization amongst my chaotic cancer life would be welcome. But I don’t want to stare at it 24/7.

Anchor moments were birthed from what I know about anchor charts. These anchor moments would serve as a reference to move me back to hope when I’m feeling depressed, disappointed, or frustrated about how I’m feeling or bad news. A person doesn’t need to have cancer or an illness to benefit from anchor moments. We all have favorite times we remember when we felt happy. In a nutshell, anchor moments equal favorite moments.

Here are a few of my anchor moments:

• Christmas morning as a child with my family

• Rare times when it was just Gram and me

• Bedtime songs that Dad would sing nightly

• Snuggling with my childhood dog

• Standing atop Arthur’s Seat the first time I climbed it and overlooking Edinburgh

• Memories from reading and writing workshop

• Walking in my favorite part of the arboretum no matter the season

• Waking up slowly in that time between sleep and awake feeling well rested

• Laying my head on my pillow at night and counting the day’s blessings

• Lots of Door County vacations with Mom

• Sitting in a lavender field

• Favorite photos of flowers like pink zinnia, champagne rose

• Feeling accomplished running a 5K and reaching my fundraising goal

• Sledding on a beautiful winter day as a 50 year old

• Sedona moments looking up at the red rocks or enjoying Oak Creek

• Making my sister laugh

• Special times with friends

• Enjoying ice cream or a super good chocolate chip cookie

• Time pondering life’s important questions like: What is the best dessert?

My anchor moments take me away, if only briefly. I need to live in the present. There are plenty horrid memories that creep into my now. I can allow myself to bring up happier times. Favorite times remind me of what helps me feel good. They connect me to somewhere safe, happy, and hopeful. Some moments are anchored to my time before cancer. Some are when I have cancer. Cancer is my reality, so I need to identify favorite moments that exist now, too.

Our memories are based on our experiences. I want to have as many fulfilling experiences as I can. These experiences don’t have to be monumental. Sometimes the smaller events carry a bigger meaning than huge ones. My list above goes on and on. I can bring up the anchor moment I need to fit wherever I find myself struggling.

This past weekend I spent time up north in a beautiful area called Door County. It’s located on Wisconsin’s penninsula where Green Bay and Lake Michigan surround it. Most of the towns along the water have marinas filled with speedboats, simple fishing boats, sailboats, and some small yacht vessels. Being on the water is big up there. Looking at the boats anchored on the water reminded me a lot about life. We dock when we need to come ashore. We drop anchor when we want to stop and savor the moment. We sail on when we are ready.

Sailboats anchored off the town Fish Creek.

I’d love to hear what you consider anchor moments.

Off Roading

When I went off roading in Sedona, I went for a rugged adventure. I wanted to experience something new I hadn’t done before. It was an opportunity to see things that I would be unable to see on my own. I had no idea that there would be a cancer connection.

Off roading and cancer were two things that were simply too far apart to be connected.

I didn’t think about cancer at all on my Pink Jeep Tour. Bouncing around as the jeep hit every bump and rock possible while taking in all the scenery was all I could manage. Distractions from metastatic breast cancer are rare for me. The connections between the two hit me after I returned home.

Off roading is quite a metaphor for cancer.

Both take you off the main road you found yourself on that was a smooth and comfortable ride.  Suddenly, the smooth paved road has disappeared. The navigation system doesn’t work. No signs mark the way to tell you where you are. It is unknown territory. To maneuver on this terrain takes skill. The big difference is off roading is fun and cancer is not.

Some refer to cancer as a bump in the road. This may be a fitting description for early stage cancer where treatment is successful and cancer doesn’t return. Metastatic cancer is an unpaved road made of mainly rocks that cause THOUSANDS of bumps. They appear as soon as the road changes from asphalt to dirt and rocks. One jolt is met with another, and then another, followed by countless more. They come rapidly like bullets out of a gun.

There was even a highlight of the tour that was called the staircase of no return where the jeep lurched and jerked down a slope made of rocks that resembled a staircase. Those of us with metastatic disease travel these bumps. We passed the point of no return when we were diagnosed.

The guide described the tour being like a roller coaster. A roller coaster fits my life, too. Up, down, upside down, lightning speed, and filled with twists and turns. Metastatic cancer is like a runaway rollercoaster in the mountains filled with precarious dangers like cliffs, avalanches, and a vicious wild animal or two. You can’t get off it. The topsy-turvy ride is over if you do.

He went on to share with the group how he was trained. It appeared like he was driving with no plan over the course of our 3-hour tour. However, part of his training was to make sure the tires hit exact markers to keep everyone safe. I’ve connected this to precision medicine and targeted treatments. His comments have also made me think about how my decisions matter. Like those tire tracks, I have to make sure I hit things at exactly the right angles at the right moment. And I have no control. I can’t control what my oncologist will say, or test results, or research. I’m trying to drive my own off-road vehicle without training. I’m self-taught and feel I have a certain level of expertise, but man, I wish I knew how to be a better driver on this bumpy road.

The tour was remarkable in the unparalleled beauty it revealed and what it taught me about life that has nothing to do with cancer. Maybe it does.

I was reminded what it felt like to feel free.

To celebrate life.

To continue to find meaning.

I rediscovered how important it is to know my worth. I am worth a lot. Confidence was gained every day I hiked. I began my vacation being unsure about my steps and gradually I found myself more decisive on where I placed my foot. I made very tiny leaps from one rock to another. Reminders to live in the moment and live fully are welcome.

I want to share one final thought on the agave plant. It has nothing to do with tequila. The agave has a life span of 20-25 years and it blooms only once in its life. It sprouts a tall stalk over 6 feet that resembles an asparagus stalk when it is near the end of its life. This can grow 3 to 8 inches a day when it gets ready to bloom. The blossoms are yellow and then they turn red. They bloom and the plant is said to be most beautiful at the end of its life. I find that deeply sad. The rest of our group seemed to find it oddly beautiful. I refuse to draw parallels to human life, to my life. It doesn’t make sense to me that something that has taken so long to shine only lasts a few days.

And yet I can’t help it. Since I look for meaning in things, I wonder what I am meant to know from the agave. A lot of goodness, joy, and success has come my way over the past couple of years. I’ve always been a late bloomer. Is this it?

No, I am not an agave plant. I’ve bloomed more than once.

Beauty blooms and thrives in inhospitable conditions. It can sprout up from cracks in rocks, tolerate insufferable heat, and grow without rain. I can relate. I stay alive even with cancer. I shall continue to bloom like a rare rose, a wildflower, or even a desert cactus.

The off roading adventure was beyond bumpy. It was also healing. I saw scenery I would have no other way of seeing. I discovered an uncrowded spot to watch the sunset that was easily accessible. It was healing by going and getting away from my life here. Sadly, the vortexes did not have the healing power I hoped. Maybe I’m a fool for hoping they would. Stranger things have happened. Inexplicable natural phenomenon rests solidly in that category. So many cancer things don’t make sense to me anyway.

I’ll take every bit of hope I can get on this bumpy road.

B Positive

B Positive is a CBS sit-com about a therapist who needs a kidney donor and is looking for a match. He can’t find one within his family to match his B-positive blood type. A woman he once knew offers him one of hers and is a match. The series gives a glimpse into the life of someone waiting for a transplant while still portraying someone living a normal and crazy life. The show brings visibility to hard things through humor.

Could a similar comedy work with metastatic breast cancer as the sometimes background/sometimes foreground subject matter? I’ve learned things about transplants that I didn’t know before I started watching B Positive. It’s been an educational tool like I imagine a breast cancer “comedy” being. Comedy isn’t the right word because there’s nothing funny about any cancer. I don’t know what the right words would be.

A serious comedy?

I know I’ve had my moments where I’ve come home from an oncology appointment with some doubt that it was me in the exam room. Once I asked an oncologist to look harder at one of my nipples. Honestly, who does that? A closer look was taken. All was fine. Another time I had an enlightening conversation about discomfort “down there,” my vagina, and vaginal dryness. I assured him I didn’t want him to check it out. He thought for a moment and shot back about how estrogen deprived I was. Suddenly, it all made perfect sense. We moved back to discussing the upper half of my body. I daresay these visits are comedy gold packed with meaningful content.

Uncomfortable humor is always hilarious to people not experiencing it.

What other meaningful content could be balanced with comedy? Here are a few ideas:

• Diagnosis

• Hope

• Fear

•  Pinkwashing

• October (We Are Aware) Awareness Month

• Identity

• Comments

• Clinical Trials

• Research

• Chemotherapy

• Hair

• Side Effects

• Battling, Fighting, Losing the Battle/Fight

• Scanxiety

• Life

• Success

• Family and Friend Issues

• Loss

• Day-to-Day Life

• Working and Treatment

• Relationships

• Positivity

• Early and Late Stage Perspectives

• Kale

Death of course would need to be addressed. I don’t think death is funny so I’m not including it in the list to balance with comedy.

I don’t know how any of this would work.

I don’t know if it could work.

Viewers could get a glimpse into MBC. Would it be hard? Yes. Would it be done correctly? I have no idea. It bothers me enough now when commercials for medication intended for thrivers are shown and no one is wearing a bandana or having any difficulty at all. Other characters on TV or in books don’t meet my expectations either. They either die such a painful death that another character is affected more, or they are portrayed as achieving goals that are pretty unreasonable.

What would this amazing show be called? Comments about breasts that are off the cuff or meant to be cute, funny, or sexy are instead incredibly offensive. Breasts and boobs should be removed from the title. Nor should the title be scary. It is a comedy even if it contains serious subject matter. One of my friends calls herself Meta Martha. A title like this would be short, sweet, and to the point. I’m already using it as a working title. Or perhaps just Mets. It could be mistaken as a sports show and pull in more male viewers.

B Positive is a title that carries two meanings. There is the reference to the main character Drew’s blood type of B+ that he needs to match for a successful kidney transplant. The other meaning is to be positive with whatever life throws at you. I’m on board with positivity (usually). Positivity is a feel good energy. Positive people attract like-minded individuals with similar energy. I feel better when I am positive. I am often described as positive. All good.

And yet, it takes more than “being positive” to “beat” metastatic breast cancer. Someone I hadn’t seen in years told me of someone she knew who had Stage IV cancer and now didn’t have it anymore. She was treated at Carbone as I am and had chosen western medicine to treat the cancer. Skeptical, I asked for her to share a bit more about this woman’s story. Positivity was the instant answer. Positivity cured her. It certainly could have helped, however, it isn’t measurable. It is better than negativity. I figured there was more to this story but didn’t ask. I changed the subject. Later, this friend also shared her daughter (whom I taught) cried when she heard I got sick years ago. She asked about my support network and offered help with meals, driving, or whatever. Both were unexpected comments that touched me. Empathy and kindness may need to replace the be positive slogan.

Hospitals promote programs and research while treating cancer. Reputable foundations and charities don’t get the exposure they deserve. News stories are often missing important information. Celebrity deaths bring temporary attention. Celebrity survivors don’t help much. They beat it after all. All of these combined haven’t brought information and a sense of urgency to people who aren’t affected personally. If you haven’t been personally affected, the cause isn’t as urgent.

TV shows have nationwide exposure and massive audiences.

Metastatic breast cancer needs that kind of exposure.

Maybe I need to write a pilot.

Martha, what do you think?

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

I was an honest person until diagnosed with cancer. It was my private business. Business that would become public when I needed to take off time from teaching. People would know when they’d see me going about life wearing a wrap on my head when bald. I chose to keep my Stage IV de novo diagnosis quiet for years as it was my choice. Only a few close friends knew, and my mother and sister, along with to whomever they may have blabbed. Why? I wanted to work and be assessed like everyone else. I didn’t want to appear limited. I didn’t need others taking up the slack for me. I certainly didn’t need pity, whispers, or in-my-face questions. One dear friend suggested I would have had even more support and seen more truly good people in my life if I shared from the start. She is probably right.

I chose to lie.

I’ve had lots of practice over the years. I lie easily and I’m a good liar. I’ve done it when I don’t want to talk about cancer and myself. Chances are I’ve lied to you at some point. If you’re nosey and intrusive, I’m not sorry. If you’re my friend, I am sorry. The truth is painful for me and I need to decide what I want to share about myself and when.

I can honestly tell you I will do it again.

I’ve held some medication back when hospitalized a few years ago because I knew they (nurses because of hospital rules) were going to take it away from me. I needed it. In the end, I didn’t take it and understood why it was important not to, but I did lie and even schemed to keep some of it. Truth be told, I believe they lied to me about being able to have access to it when I needed it. If it was to be denied, then I would be denied.

I haven’t been forthcoming (I lied) about the severity of side effects to my oncologists. This isn’t that uncommon. If a drug is working, having the dose reduced or switching to something else isn’t an option that I feel I can risk. I’ve learned where the line is of tolerable pain and too much pain and try not to use language that indicates the latter. Now, this isn’t particularly helpful because side effects need to be documented so patients are believed when they report them.

I am trying to reform.

This next tidbit has been a secret only a few have known until now. There were restrictions where patients were allowed to be when I spent time in the hospital a few months ago. Cancer patients had to stay in the cancer area, which was made even smaller due to the wing where patients were most compromised due to transfusions. To get my 30 minutes of walking in per day involved a lot of repetitive back and forth that rather annoyed me and made me feel stupid. I (somewhat) jokingly texted with a friend that I was thinking of hopping on the elevator I located and giving myself a wider territory. A conversational orderly told me the elevators could take me anywhere in the hospital when I asked. I thanked him. Perhaps I’d even escape, yet this was the coldest weekend in Wisconsin all winter. I wouldn’t get far. I opted against it because it really wasn’t in my best interest to put myself in unsterile areas.

Technically, these elevators were just outside where I was allowed to be.

However, the B6 stairwell was well within the oncology section of the hospital. I had walked by it probably a hundred times when it occurred to me this would be a perfect place to walk. I probably wouldn’t see anyone. It wasn’t a main stairwell. I could climb stairs up and down without holding onto the rail. At this point, I had been unhooked from the IV machine for a couple of hours each day and I was free. I’d keep my mask on because I wasn’t throwing all caution to the wind. So, I walked along the hospital corridor like I was minding my own business. I checked ahead of me and behind to make sure there were no personnel or any patients around.

Into the stairwell I darted.

It was wonderful. Up and down I went to my heart’s content. When I felt satisfied that I had done some good repetitive climbing, I instinctively stood inside the stairwell listening for noises like footsteps or voices. My behavior alarmed me only slightly with the realization I had some makings of a criminal inside me.

I’d do it again.

In fact, I did the next day.

Was this lying or cheating? I would argue I stayed within my area. By entering into the stairwell that was in my area, I was merely extending my designated space.

I also have some makings of a lawyer. I’d credit my years as a teacher where many a student impressed me and taught me how to break rules later in life. It was pretty easy get confessions and disprove their stories. They always left clues. I’m careful I cover my tracks.

Yes, cancer has turned me into a liar. As I mentioned, I’ve done it for self-preservation. The lies are part of the invisible wall I sometimes need around me to keep myself emotionally safe. I also learned other things over time. I’ve discovered that no one really cares what I do. No one is watching that closely. I could get away with an awful lot if I had a devious nature.

The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.

Ayn Rand

I operate from this quote often because I’m sick of things being ripped from me because of cancer. If I have a plan and can present myself well, permission is secondary. I can think of one example where I was told I couldn’t pursue a fundraiser I had planned. Not accepting this as the final answer, I tweaked the plan and reworded a few things so it could move forward.

Ayn Rand’s quote has given me courage to move like I know what I’m doing even when I don’t. (Living with cancer presents this opportunity often.) My college roommate came up for a visit a few years ago and we wanted to visit our former dorm. It was closed for summer and being used to host those staying for conferences. Why couldn’t we appear to be someone who belonged? We needed to walk in like we belonged there and knew where we were heading, while avoiding eye contact with anyone at the front desk. Doors and elevators were locked but we were able to talk our way in by pleading our case to an empathetic custodian.

And again, when it comes right down to it, no one cares what I do. I don’t draw attention. If I’m under the radar and get my way, I still get my way. If a lie has saved me from tears or a conversation I don’t want to have, so be it. To my credit, I haven’t told any huge whoppers.

I’m not under oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I’m not even on trial.

And that’s the truth.

So help me God.

More Vortex Lessons

The Airport Vortex is where the energy affected me the strongest on my recent trip to Sedona.

Everything started off as planned. I was thrilled that the hike sloped downward and the steps weren’t too difficult. I felt waves of gratitude that I wouldn’t have to climb up them. This was a loop route. Long, but a loop.

One of the rules established from day one of hiking was that breaks were good. We took breaks often to recover and press on. One of these breaks was at a spot overlooking Sedona and the rocks as far as the eye could see. I noticed it looked like people sat above us on a rock formation to our right. I wondered if that could be the vortex and strolled over to read some signage before the climb. I didn’t see anything about the vortex.

Whoosh!

I was hit by sudden dizziness. Out of the blue. It only lasted for a moment, yet it shook my confidence. Was this the energy effect again? Why did I seem to experience these unsettling feelings rather than the euphoric tingling and wellness others had described? Hmmph. Seemed typical for me. I sat down at the overlook and nonchalantly got out my Gatorade.

Karil was ready to move on. We’ve been friends since 4th grade. I was not quite recovered and had to tell her I felt momentarily dizzy. I wondered if it was energetic. We chatted a bit with other hikers and learned the summit to the vortex was where we thought it might be. I was sure I could make it.

Off we went.

It was a short, steep climb. Ropes were secured to the sides to define a safe route. They came in handy to hold as you climbed. The last twenty feet or so consisted of one of those one way fairly narrow ascents. I announced I was lying down when I got to the top.

And so I did.

There I stayed. Opening my heart to the energy. Recharging my soul.

I recited my affirmations and prayed. My heart rate lowered 25-30 points. It felt good. No big whoosh of energy. I felt perfectly healthy on the summit. Fully alive.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. We decided we were ready to head back to the car which meant we had to climb up those rock steps I earlier had been so erroneously grateful to not have to climb up. Two breaks were taken quickly. Because of me. On the second one, I desperately looked for someplace to sit. I felt nauseous. I was on the edge of spontaneously sobbing. Energy worked viciously through me. Out with the bad, in with the good.

Backtrack to earlier in the week. Karil had shared a decision she may make where she was worried how she might be affected by someone’s reaction.

Backtrack farther. My fitness coach has often asked me a simple question when things get too hard for me. She asks, “So what?” So what if I can’t run like I want? So what if I can’t lift as much as I have before? So what if I’m not exactly where I want to be? The question all comes down to the narrative I tell myself (I’ve failed. I’m not good enough. I’m a wimp.) versus what it really means (I’m dealing with effects from cancer treatments. It isn’t a defining event. I can do many other things.).

I gave Karil a “So what?” scenario for her situation earlier in the week. It stayed on her mind.

She chose this moment to throw the question back to me.

So what if I couldn’t make it back to the car?

I could go back down to the bottom of the trail where there were a couple of prized parking spots off the road. She’d finish the climb and pick me up on her way down the road.

Ugh. I wanted to make it up the trail. It’s what I planned to do. Goals are to be met. Nothing else is acceptable. I’m a wimp if I can’t do it. That’s the narrative that ran through my mind. What did it really mean? Nothing. Completing the path up was not mandatory. I had another choice.

I told her I would take her offer.

Down I went. In minutes I was sitting in the shade depleting all my fluids I brought with me. Hydrating was a major priority on this vacation. I couldn’t get enough to drink for the rest of the day.

Part of me still wanted to make it back to the car. As close to losing it as I was, I recognized this was a teaching opportunity where I could lead by example. The teacher in me continues to live. It was also an excellent opportunity for me to practice what I preach.

Obviously, I need to be more careful what I preach.

Some people apparently listen.

For about two hours after this, my left eye burned, and my left nostril couldn’t stop dripping. My left side just felt watery. I took two recovery naps that afternoon. And I kept hydrating. Then all was well again. It was a strange reaction that I can’t attribute to anything. Oddly, it was my right side that felt a pulling a few days earlier on the Boynton Canyon hike.

Lessons from the Airport Vortex affirmed the following:

  1. I’m not in as good as shape as I wanted, but I still showed up. I will always do my best to show up.
  2. Although I didn’t take a poll at the vortex, the chances are pretty darn good I was the only one climbing that day with active cancer. That isn’t a small feat. It takes determination, a strong stubborn disposition, and stupidity. Forget that last thing. I’m proud of what I accomplish.
  3. The narrative I tell myself and what is really true is a work in progress for me.
  4. Energy doesn’t have to be understood to have an effect.
  5. I am infinitesimally small compared to the vast grandeur around me, but I am connected to that grandeur. We all are.

Epic vacations don’t come along often. The location, the scenery, and the hiking made this vacation unlike any other I’ve taken. It may sound like it was a lot of physical exertion. I would call it an active vacation. Nature is where I feel happy. It was in the 90s most afternoons. We hiked early in the morning. It still got warm, but Arizona’s dry heat feels cooler than Wisconsin’s humidity. Experiencing all of this with metastatic breast cancer makes it all the more special for me. Life is good.