Oncologists and Hospitals

Almost two years have passed since my oncologist moved away and I moved to the main cancer center at the hospital to start seeing someone new. I’ve adjusted and can see the advantages of making this change.

Advantage #1

My new oncologist is now my oncologist. She is highly regarded in her field for her knowledge and expertise. She ticked off many boxes on my checklist. I found her hard to read at first. Honestly, I still do, but I feel I’m getting through more successfully and more often. I see where she has made an effort to get to know me. Personal connections make my health care better. We can work well together.

She’s saved my life once so far. I take some of the credit for suggesting there might be an issue with the port or a possible infection. She hopped onto both. More was unraveled before it was put back together. The blood infection could have been much worse. I am lucky and grateful to have her on my side. Someone saving your life is an enormous advantage. Hence, she is awesome in my book and I’ll always be grateful to her.

Advantage #2

I feel more at home now compared to my early visits. I should because I spend a lot of time there and it’s one of the only places I go. In many sad ways, it’s like a second home. It has taken time to feel this way. Navigating from one part of the hospital to another has gotten easier. Bigger places feel smaller when you know your way around and only frequent certain areas. I am more familiar with the ways of operating and the hoops that need to be jumped through to get what I need. It’s amazing how many people I run into that I know when different hats of patient, advocate, and occasional troublemaker overlap. I enjoy the rotating art featured on the walls of the main entrance. I have gotten to know a handful of nurses and that makes my visits easier as I don’t feel quite so alone. We talk about our lives. They have made me feel like a person.

Advantage #3

This setting has more access to the cold cap machines. UW Carbone has two. I wasn’t sure if my former clinic setting had a cold cap machine because I didn’t need one at that point. I’ve since learned they have one. The one time I was scheduled there to use it, it was broken. The staff was as kind as ever, but they didn’t realize it needed servicing until I arrived. I waited 90 minutes for one to be delivered four miles. I had a headache and felt sick before treatment even started. This new memory has tarnished my experiences there and I won’t return again. Sometimes smaller settings don’t get things if a larger setting is nearby. For example, there was a time when chemotherapy and other infusions were not made in house at the smaller location. These arrived throughout the day by courier. Having access to overlapping needs in one location is an advantage for patients.

Advantage #4

Pharmacists come talk to me while I’m getting treatment. It’s a perk to the COVID-19 life, but I like the more personalized service and opportunity to talk a bit more about side effects and get multiple questions answered. Delivery service is one less stop for me and that’s fantastic after I’ve spent hours there and I’m ready to go home. I even have an oncological pharmacist I can myChart with questions about medications and side effects. She has phoned me to talk in depth about a new medication I started for neuropathy.

Advantage #5

Bucky Badger visited the treatment area long before COVID-19 came to the country. That’s a definite perk to a treatment center at UW Hospital.

Advantage #6

It’s a few miles closer than the center on the other side of campus. I don’t have to deal with students ignoring traffic lights if I happen to be driving through as classes are switching.

A Handful of Disadvantages

There is always room for improvement. Scheduling can still be a frustration. There are some impersonal aspects where I don’t feel fully seen or heard. My days there are plenty hard. Something usually pops up that’s unexpected. Yet, I see shifts in some of my original perspectives from when I switched care settings. A part of me still would prefer how everything used to be, but that isn’t an option anymore. I work hard to make the best of things and know saying what I need and what works or doesn’t work is a part of my plan.

I read on social media that my oncologist has been named the Department of Medicines interim Division Chief for Hematology, Medical Oncology, and Palliative Medicine. I am not sure what that means for me. Is it an advantage or disadvantage? A trusted medical friend has told me many doctors do both clinical and administrative work. My oncologist already serves in numerous leadership roles. One reason my former oncologist recommended her for me was she was not as heavily involved in admin as another doctor high on my list. Will she still have time for me? I asked directly and she said she cut back in other areas to maintain her patient schedule. Another oncologist has now left and a new one hasn’t been hired yet. This means the remaining oncologists have to absorb her patient load which means there is less opportunity for me to see her.

As a teacher, we were “encouraged” (no choice given) to be involved with numerous committees in addition to teaching. Curriculum development, wellness planning, positive behavior interventions, and collaboration groups were just a few of these groups. Yes, they are important, but they also became a series of hoops to jump through to prove our worth as teachers when our year popped up during teacher evaluation cycles. I always thought that the actual teaching was meant to reflect our teaching strengths. Go figure. It was also a way to get more work out of us. At times this work definitely felt like it fell outside our job description. I wonder if this same kind of talent stretching goes on in medicine. Is my oncologist involved in these multiple areas because she is genuinely interested and an excellent fit for them? Or are there other reasons that pull away from patient care? Teachers, doctors, anyone in any profession can be stretched too thin. It is a disadvantage when that happens.

Nothing is perfect. My main concern always is how my care will be impacted. I am watching and always evaluating. I make an effort to look at situations objectively but can’t dismiss subjective circumstances. What affects me may affect someone else. It so often seems that I’m thrown off course when I finally get used to something. Change is constant. There was a time I rejected coming to the hospital for treatment. It was the last place I wanted to go. Now, it’s a home away from home.

Better Breathing and Your Nose

Breathing seems simple enough. I’ve been doing it my entire life and I haven’t stopped yet. It’s one of those innate behaviors we’re born with, thank goodness. And yet, I learned recently that I’ve probably been doing it all wrong.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor, was a recent book club read. I talked about this book a lot while I was reading it to people who had not. I got some strange looks. When you ask someone out of the blue if they’re a mouth breather, a strange look isn’t that strange. Usually, they’d be talking about headaches or poor sleep. Nose breathing could correct these behaviors.

I am a recovering mouth breather. Nose breathing is becoming more natural.

 James Nestor is more than a breathing enthusiast. He’s obsessed. I’d go as far as say perhaps a nut. He has put himself through periods of mouth breathing to see his health deteriorate and then restore his health through nose breathing. The man crawled through Parisian catacombs to examine how skulls of a thousand years ago differed from those of today. He has spoken with others who conducted disturbing breathing experiments on animals. His experiences go well beyond anyone’s norm. The book also contains fascinating anthropological glimpses of our human development as breathers.

The premise of the book is that nose breathing makes us healthier. Not only would we experience gains in lung capacity and athletic performance, but we’d see benefits in other health areas. Nose breathing can lessen headaches, asthma, halt snoring, improve sleep, and makes other internal organs healthier.

One experiment in the 1990s demonstrated the effectiveness of bikers breathing through their noses. Bikers were instructed to breath only through their mouths as pedal resistance was increased. The bikers struggled and panted as 200 watts of power was reached. When the same bikers repeated it and switched to nose breathing, their rate of breaths per minute decreased. One biker was able to cut his breaths per minute from 47 to 14 even though the intensity was increased. I find that amazing. I sure could benefit from cutting my exertion in half and being fitter by doing so.

Breath is jammed packed with good science that is written in an easy narrative style. If you’re reading this post, you may be more interested in some of the recommended exercises to encourage nose breathing. Below are some of the techniques James Nestor included in his book.

Mini Breathholds

• This practice encourages breathing less.

• Nestor claims it can stave off asthma and anxiety attacks.

• Over time, it is also supposed to happen more naturally when running or doing other physical activity.

• Breathe normally. Exhale and hold for 5 seconds. Breathe normally for two breaths (10 seconds). Repeat for 2 to 3 minutes / about 10 rounds.

Box Breathing

• Use for calm and focus.

• Inhale and count to 4. Hold four. Exhale 4. Hold 4. Repeat for 4-6 rounds.

• You can change the size of the box to 3, 5, or 6 as you’d like.

Sleep Tape

• Encourages better sleep with nose breathing and mouth taping.

• James Nestor suggests 3M Nexcare Durapore durable cloth tape.

• Use a postage stamp sized piece of tape. Nestor says to tape it like a Charlie Chaplin mustache moved down over your lips.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

• Use to improve lung function, lower heart rate, blood pressure, and sympathetic stress.

• Cover right nostril with thumb, inhale through left.

• Cover left side, exhale through right.

• Inhale through right, cover right side, exhale through left.

• Practice alternating for 5-10 cycles.

Nose Songs

• Breathe normally and hum.

• Humming for 5 minutes or more a day increases the nitric oxide in your nasal passages which eventually increases oxygenation.

Breathhold Walking

• This practice increases carbon dioxide in the body which increases circulation.

• It will also help you slow your breath when running, biking, etc.

• Breathe in. Exhale all the breath. Walk slowly counting your steps.

• Stop counting and return to gentle nose breathing while still walking. Breathe normally and repeat after a one/two minute break.

These are just a few of the breathing methods included in the appendix.

Not all is rosy in my breathing world. My personal data is skewed by a slightly faster heart rate caused by my Taxol chemo treatment. It’s definitely an uphill battle to consciously try to breathe slower and breathe less if/when I try to run because a faster heart rate makes me breathe harder. I switch to mouth breathing and I can’t maintain a rate that high. I don’t know if it’s medically possible to make strides in my breathing and running while being on this chemo. I wind up winded and frustrated. As a walker, I’m in my zone. As a runner, it’s a bummer. I’ll keep working on it because the idea of working less to achieve more excites me. I’m tired of working so hard and not ending where I want to be.

The perfect breath is apparently a 5.5 second inhale followed by a 5.5 exhale. I’m not perfect. Never have been and never will be. My breathing won’t be either, but it will be perfect enough for me as long as I keep doing it.

So, are you a mouth breather or a nose breather?

Lost in Vermont

My family took wonderful vacations together. Many spring breaks were spent at Disney World and on beaches. We enjoyed national parks in summer. I saw a lot of the country from the back seat of the family car. Long days, close quarters, and nothing but family from sea to shining sea. I loved those car rides.

One summer we went to Vermont. Dad had a meeting in Burlington. The rest of us always went along to the summer dairy conventions that were held in a different city every summer. There were activities planned while he was in meetings all day. When the convention was over, we loaded up the car and stopped somewhere along the way to extend the vacation.

Stowe was our next stop on the Vermont trip. Stowe is unbelievably scenic and quaint. It’s known for skiing. There is a tennis academy. The Von Trapp Family (the Sound of Music Von Trapps) settled in Stowe when they escaped Europe because the hills reminded them of Austria. They re-established themselves and built a family lodge that is now a luxury resort.

My sister was always the big shopper in the family. Into all the gift shops and boutiques we would traipse. One after the other, not skipping a one. Rarely was anything bought. Small souvenirs. I was into collecting teddy bear stuffed animals back in the day and had already purchased one in Burlington. I think this trip was where I got my taste for maple candies. I found shopping tiring and slow. She found it exhilarating. This hasn’t changed much. I’m done after about an hour of the touristy shops when we vacation together whereas she can go all day. I now drive separately and have more flexibility with present day trips together.

Back to shopping in Stowe. Like me, Dad didn’t have the shopping gene either. He was chief bench sitter. He’d scope out a bench along the main strip quickly and relax while the girls went shopping. Wise man, my dad. On this occasion, my mom and sister were taking forever in a store and I was done. I didn’t want to go in any more stores. I was at the age where I was exercising a little more independence. I announced I would go back and to the bench and hang out with my dad. Off I went.

He wasn’t there.

No problem. I hurried back to the last shop where I had left my mom and sister.

They weren’t there.

Bit of a problem. I darted into the next store thinking they’d be there, but they were not. I tried a couple more. I got a little more terrified in each shop I couldn’t find them. It’s tough to remain calm and think straight when you’re scared. Remember this point.

I was lost in Vermont and felt on my own and very alone.

I was scared but could figure it out. Instead of racing from store to store where they were not, I timidly started walking back to the last place where I saw them. My eyes combed the street for any sign of my family. I think I finally just stopped walking and stood out of the way on the sidewalk hoping to see one of them. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan, and eventually it worked.

I was lost for about five or ten minutes. Long unknowing minutes to me. I was safe again. My parents didn’t seem worried – at all – and that itself felt odd. We were out of state for Pete’s sake. A little comfort and concern was all I wanted. Why did my dad leave his post? Where had they all been? Didn’t anyone care about me? I can tell you that I stayed pretty close to the parental units for the rest of the trip. They needed to know where I was at all times.

Lessons Learned

It’s one of the first memories I have of feeling scared in real life. It was very different from a scary story or hiding when the wicked witch appeared in Oz. Being lost was real. Feeling alone and possibly left in a strange state didn’t fill my heart with the sound of music.

I was growing up. This brush with difficulty would be one of many as I worked through growing pains, learning as I went through each experience. I’m pretty aware of my surroundings. I notice landmarks, curves in the road, little things that stand out to me. I wonder if I started to see these things after this experience in case I ever got lost again and I needed to retrace my steps. Maybe I would have developed this skill set anyway. I don’t plan to find myself lost in the wilderness or really anywhere without my cell phone.

The whole thing could have been prevented if cell phones had been developed decades earlier.

I have learned to do a lot on my own. The little girl in Stowe grew up and traveled to European countries on her own. She lived in one for a year. She’s taken vacations by herself because it was preferable to not doing something she wanted that she knew she could get done. I know how to travel by myself. There’s some freedom to flying solo. It’s also great to have travel companions. I usually don’t and decided years ago I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

Cancer Connection

Cancer has left me in the familiar territory of feeling lost far too often. It’s still tough to remain calm and think straight when I’m scared. Daddy and Mommy can’t make it all better. Parents make things better – they just do. I’m not sure what specifically they would do for me if they were still living, but I know they would make a lot of the cancer crap more bearable. My mom was with me for my first year. Often, I would just lay my head in her lap and feel safe as she laid her hand on my shoulder. How I wish for my mother’s comfort. I’ve been missing my parents a lot. I lost mine rather early in the grand scheme of life.

With cancer, I feel on my own just like I did for those brief moments in Stowe. I flounder about and keep looking for something without much success. I can’t dart into every shop and hope to find what I need. I can’t just stand and wait to be found. Treatment choices need to be weighed carefully. I may need to seek out new trials or even other clinics. I can’t see confidently past the next few months. It’s a hard way to live. I feel out of control and on my own more than ever. Eventually, being lost leads somewhere. A person finds their way back to where they need to be. Maybe they even discover something pleasant along the way. That isn’t how metastatic cancer works. The lines on a map, directions to follow, and new destinations are unclear, scary, and I wind up someplace I don’t want to be where I can’t find my way.

Finding a way can be awfully hard.

Cancer and Exercise

The American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderately intense activity each week for adults. This is equal to a brisk walk of about 3 miles per hour. More vigorous activity where you raise your heartbeat and sweat for 75 minutes each week can be swapped for the 150 minutes. Spreading these minutes throughout the week is preferred over cramming them into one day or activity.

Exercise won’t prevent cancer, but it can lower risk. It’s shocking how many sources still falsely claim exercise prevents cancer.

With that being said, exercise can improve overall survival for those going through treatment and for those with metastatic cancer. I have heard this from my doctors, nurses, and so many articles I’ve read. Overall survival is still a murky, unspecified amount of time. I do believe exercise has been a factor in my survival with metastatic cancer.

Exercising while receiving treatment for cancer is encouraged, always with the caveat to do what you are able. Run it by your doctor (pun intended) if you’re starting something new. Walking, lifting weights, running, yoga, swimming, etc. all reap similar benefits of maintaining healthy weight, improving heart and lung fitness, increasing muscle strength and endurance, and managing stress. Boosting immune functioning, energy, and improving sleep are additional benefits of exercise. The benefits go on and on.

Maintaining a healthy weight is a problem for me. I’ve maintained my slightly above average weight for 2-3 years. I blame it on treatment drugs and steroids. Ice cream has always been in the background. It’s hard to blame something you love. Whether my weight is considered healthy or not, I’ve maintained it in addition to maintaining an exercise and movement schedule.

I exercise even on days when I feel poorly because I believe it can affect my overall survival. I don’t have a choice. Sometimes it even makes whatever is bothering me (mood, fatigue, aches) go away. I upgraded my Fitbit to a higher version and now need to contend with something called zone minutes rather than just total active minutes. These zone minutes are the equivalent of the 150 minutes of moderately intense activity. Whereas I had no trouble reaching my active minutes, it was a wakeup call that I needed to do more to meet cardio targets. Now I’m getting those minutes and more thanks to work with my weights and walking.

Personally, I have many reasons why I exercise.

• I know I’m healthier when I exercise.

• I can see myself making progress and getting stronger.

• Regular exercise, especially cardio, boosts my immune system. When I encounter bumps like an infection or minor procedures, I think I recover faster if I’m making an effort to care for my body. If this is only psychological, it still works for me (much in the same way I see dark chocolate as a health food).

• From a treatment perspective, exercise and moving helps me do better with treatment and side effects.

• Exercise also keeps me alive. Again, I think it makes a difference. Staying alive is a HUGE benefit to me.

I know it takes me longer to achieve physical goals and longer to recover once I have. I exercise so I have a chance at keeping up if I’m with others.

• Exercise relieves stress and provides more energy.

• Exercise makes me feel more like me.

• I exercise for me and I do it for those I love.

I mentioned above that exercise helps me deal with bumps in the road better. A case in point involves issues I’ve had with my port. I had zero pain and didn’t take one Tylenol after it was replaced. The next morning, I got up early to do weights before my treatment. I started literally with just the motions and used lighter weights before feeling comfortable to do my normal routine. The day after that, I walked my 5K route. My surgeon said he wouldn’t tell people to alter any of their activities, so I proceeded as normally as I could. Exercise is part of my normal routine.

Walking is my favorite way to exercise. I don’t need a power workout every day. A brisk walk of 3 miles an hour done a few times a week surpasses 150 minutes a week. Breaking it down to 30 minutes a day for five days a week is another way to get your minutes. Some of the nitty gritty behind the health benefits of walking include better heart and lung fitness, stronger bones and improved balance, and increased muscle strength and endurance. Walking can also help manage conditions like high blood pressure, joint and muscle stiffness, and diabetes. No fancy equipment is needed, and it can be done almost anywhere. Just be sure to avoid cars, wild animals, and cliffs and such.

Weights are my second favorite way to exercise. I love meeting goals and seeing myself improve. I hate backing off when I’ve needed to readjust my goals and do less when my body isn’t up to lifting. Then I lose ground and feel frustrated because I have to work three times harder to regain half of what I once was able to do. The satisfaction is just as sweet when I reach a new (or new again) benchmark. Presses, deadlifts, squats, swings, rows, and halos give me lots of variety and opportunity for a love hate type of workout. I like that strength training increases my bone density and reduces the risk of fractures. I don’t mind the increased muscle mass either. Perhaps this is because it’s such a minimal change in my situation. I’m not known for my abs of steel . . . yet. I’m not sure what I’m known for.

Swimming may be a great choice if you’re looking for something that takes stress off your body and joints. It has many of the same benefits as walking in terms of cardiovascular and pulmonary health, maintaining a healthy weight, and building muscle strength and stamina. Walking is easy on a person’s joints, but swimming is even easier on joints because the water removes a lot of impact stress on your body. I have never been a strong swimmer and have lost any minimal ability I had other than floating. I thought it would be an easy way to work all my muscles and stay fit and was almost ready to sign up for lessons. Building endurance and cardiovascular fitness might even be fun and not feel like work that involves sweat and exhaustion. Then Covid-19 hit and my thoughts of swimming sank like a steel anchor.

Biking is another one of my favorite ways to exercise because it involves fitness with enjoying bike trails. I joke that it’s something I can do while technically sitting down, but I’ve realized I’m fairly serious about it. Sitting down has its merits. Like swimming, it’s easier on the joints and is good for building muscles. I don’t get to bike as often as I’d like because of the effort involved attaching the bike rack to my car, loading and unloading my bike, and making sure I still have energy to do some quality biking.

Yoga looks easier because it has some of those sitting down poses, or even lying down poses, but it’s deceiving. I’ve made this comment before. Maybe this is because I find strength, balance, and flexibility at the same time incredibly challenging. Yoga pushes me. Holding poses forces me to slow down and not try to lift more or be faster. Sometimes just being in the moment is work enough and that is the magic of yoga. Working on flexibility is good practice for me. God knows my life needs physical and emotional flexibility.

Being physically fit can make living with cancer a little easier. I’ve found information on exercise is out there for those going through treatment and post recovery. Exercise is addressed as making short term treatment easier and post treatment recovery smoother. It is touted as reducing risk for everyone, not a guarantee. I had trouble finding much on how exercise helps those of us living with metastatic cancer. It figures. The Stage IV population is frequently left out of topics that includes other cancer stages. I’ve made the decision to extend the exercise recommendations to me and those with Stage IV. Dealing with ongoing cancer is as important as short term treatment and recovery. We all need to be included. Lessening side effects, extending overall survival, and feeling good are all important. For everyone.

Always.

For further reading: My friend and fellow blogger Gogs Gagnon has written about the importance of exercise as part of his post prostate cancer survivorship plan. You can read about his thoughts and perspective here.

Write What You Know

To write what you know is one of the biggest nuggets of writing advice that comes from authors. It doesn’t matter if the writer is published or unpublished, well-known or obscure, or a beginner or someone highly established. Writing what you know allows the writer to draw upon personal events where details can appear more naturally and make the writing feel more authentic. This advice applies to so much more than just events. We feel a wide spectrum of emotions ranging from euphoric to gut wrenching as we live through these events. Writers know emotions and must write those emotions. I believe this is why we get hooked with a story we feel has nothing to do with our lives. It isn’t the mob lifestyle or unspeakable events from Nazi Germany during WWII that pulls readers into a story. We identify with characters who feel what we feel.

As a teacher teaching second graders, this often meant I read lots of informative pieces on playing with pets, narratives of a summer trip where a flight was as exciting as the destination, and realistic fiction stories about camping, sports, or school. Most kids have fairly similar experiences coming from the same geographic area and being so young. The joy of writing, experiencing success, and becoming more independent writers were always wide-ranging goals in any piece. I wanted kids to write what they knew. Writing about what they didn’t know was a blank page.

It’s the same with me.

As a reader, I look to sources who are experts. Mitch Albom. Sue Monk Kidd. Brené Brown. I go back to favorite authors as well as whomever I’m reading at the moment to reread passages and examine what made them effective. I read like a writer. I love words and storytelling. Even when reading fiction, I understand authors research their topics to make stories credible and realistic. Many factors make writing come alive.

I ask myself, as a writer, what do I know?

Cancer

Unfortunately, I know too much.

My mother had uterine cancer that was successfully removed through surgery. It gave me an early example that disease would always be caught early and without much inconvenience. I recall a couple of years later telling friends she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that it was going to be harder but that she’d be okay. It was harder. Mom had a partial mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. I became an expert on her health and breast cancer knowledge. Information was power and I wanted to understand all of it. All was good for years. Golden years.

And then it wasn’t. She wasn’t.

Looking back, I’m not sure if she cared for all my pearls of wisdom that I’d learned. I likely was annoying. It’s very different when the shoe is on the other foot and you have been diagnosed rather than a family member. I want my information but have a bit of an inner attitude when someone who isn’t an authority drops false information at my feet.

My metastatic breast cancer diagnosis came about a month or two later on the heels of hers.

There is a lot I could write about from my experiences with cancer with my mom and from my own. I haven’t mined memories of it with my mom because of the pain. I don’t feel as much pain with my own. I’ve found it to be cathartic and a home to give voice to the pain and whatever other truths need speaking.

Others write from a very factual perspective of their experience. Expert background experience support their writing. They write from legal, medical, patient experience, and personal experience perspectives. Others share raw emotions and reactions to what’s happening in their lives through poems and deeply personal reflections. I tend to write about cancer from the lens of what happens to me and my thoughts about it. Factual information gets sprinkled here and there as it impacts my chosen subject or theme. We’re all invited to sit a while with these perspectives and stories of shared experiences.

Write what you know. I know cancer.

Feelings

Emotions were mentioned at the top of the piece. We all experience universal feelings. Fear. Despair. Loneliness. Humor. Love. Hope. Spirit. A small event of forgetting music at a piano recital can pack some huge emotions of not feeling supported, being humiliated, and hearing your parents lie to you about your achievement. It’s still a tough memory for me. This story can be more powerful than a story that retells a death in the family that is void of emotions. Emotions and feelings spill over in writing because the goal is for someone else to understand and connect with what was written. When I think of a common quality that’s at the core of favorite books, or dare I say even things I write, is the desire to be understood. We crave that as writers and readers.

Feelings are our emotional truths.

Stories of good times on Grandma’s farm help me preserve memories that I want to remember. Her home is a strong example of how emotions create the writing. I took a photo of her farm from out in the field one winter. My grandma, dad, and mom were all warm inside visiting after our Sunday meal. I wrote about how the people I loved were in the photo even though I couldn’t see them as part of an assignment in college. Later, I wrote a poem about it. Years later, this house is in disarray. Raccoons have taken over and hauntingly walk on keys of the damaged piano in the night. A cousin’s son and his wife moved onto the property into the more modern home across the drive when they married. They see the old house as dilapidated and scary (I do too) but more of my emotions are grounded in Sunday visits, time with Grandma, and playing with the farm cats. I sent my cousin’s son a copy of the poem so he could see the abandoned house as a home for a few brief moments.

Write what you know. I know my feelings.

Experiences

Small experiences can have big impacts. I remember winning a cake at a cake walk when I was about six and it was the first thing I ever won. It was a carrot cake with nuts. I was allergic and unable to eat it, but I had won something and felt special. Memories playing at the playground across the street fill many childhood memories. Camping in Girl Scouts. Family vacations. Being bullied. Never knowing if you really fit in. I remember holding my dad’s hand in the ICU and watching it shake trying to find mine after one of his heart surgeries. I have entertaining experiences throwing dinner parties, both fun and disastrous. News of a good scan. Not so good news. There are arguments and celebrations. Little events make a life. Although short, this brief list weaves together experiences with emotions. Most are waiting to be written.

Hope isn’t an experience as much as it is a belief. This belief has been a driving force in some of my experiences and many of my thoughts. Links are provided if you’d like to go back and read past posts. Hope is what I know.

Hope, Belief, and a Monthly Planner

Doom Dibbling or Hope Harvesting

Write what you know. I know my experiences.

Teaching

I know a few things about teaching after twenty-three years in the classroom. Best practices in curriculum and child development have come and gone. Co-workers and students have provided so many stories that you can’t make up. Classic one liners that still make me laugh. One year each child reminded me of a different breed of dog. I loved that class. One year there was a child who had some obvious unidentified emotional issues but who could work quite successfully under his desk. I loved that child as challenging as he was. Another year there was another child who inched her way closer and closer to the door and thought she was hiding. She was a character. I remember mistakes I’ve made like working with glitter as part of projects. I could write about lockdown drills. There is endless material. I can remember where I stood when I learned my dad had died. I know where I was when I got the call that my mom had taken a turn and the end was near. I can bring up the moment where a friend told me she was pregnant. The day I shared with my students I had cancer and couldn’t be with them is still fresh. So many nonteaching things happen within the walls of a school. The things we’d hear if those walls could talk.

I was happy teaching. At times I was frustrated. I felt successful, secure, and safe. Teaching was home.

Write what you know. I know teaching.

I’m not the only one who knows these things.

What do you know?