More Grief

Another friend with metastatic breast cancer has died. Liz and I followed one another on Twitter. I never met her; I never spoke to her. We had several exchanges online. I always read what she posted. Now there will be none of those things.

If you are superstitious, one superstition is bad things happen in groups of 3. Sure enough, this is the third death from the online community in the last couple of months who has died from metastatic cancer. Only one was expected. The other two were shocking. All were deeply saddening. There have been more, but I haven’t had an online relationship with them. Dying is a constant in the metastatic world.

Grief can be a lonely place.

Do I cut myself off from metastatic cancer havers so I don’t have to experience more grief? No, I would not like it one bit if that happened to me. I feel like it happens enough. Plus, I’m just not wired that way. I think very few of us are and these are our sociopaths who have little affect and no ability to feel compassion or empathy.

I’d describe the MBC community as fairly tight. There are a couple of women with MBC I know here at home. I bump into one from time to time and we have a chance to catch up with one another. I have heard of a few online cliques but haven’t experienced these myself. If a time comes when I do, I’m honestly not going to care because I am well beyond the parameters of middle school. I am liked for just being myself. I have found a core group of women who are equally as real.

The online MBC community is nothing short of amazing. Some educate and share their cancer knowledge. Others listen and offer support and empathy. They are role models. We can lean on one another. All are leaders in their own way. I consider these people friends. We can’t just put up walls when someone dies. This is a time to be vulnerable and open ourselves to others who are also grieving.

Please do not make these comments:

• At least she is not in pain. Do not use any “at least” comments. At the moment, there is no bright side.

• Heaven needed one more angel. Honestly, I’ll puke on anyone who says this to me.

• Someday, you’ll move forward. Today isn’t that day so keep your mouth shut.

• Everything happens for a reason. This isn’t comforting.

• Everyone dies. What is the point here?

Supportive comments for someone grieving:

• I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sorry this has happened. Both of these express sorrow.

• Sharing a memory brings a specific story of a lost loved one that the bereaved may not have heard.

• Offer the person space to talk.

• Ask if there’s anything they need.

• Sometimes actions are better than words. Hugs are their own language.

We are capable of feeling great grief and great love. All of us fall somewhere on the spectrum of grief and love. I feel deeply so I experience both of these intensely. I will experience grief in whatever fashion it presents itself. It’s the trade-off for experiencing moments of joy and love, laughter and smiles, happiness and delight. I have had enough grief for a while. Bring on a little happiness.

To all those grieving, you are not alone.

The Golden Plunger

The Golden Plunger was a coveted trophy at the school where I taught. Keep in mind as you read today that the world of teaching involves meetings on topics that you never dreamed would be needed. There are conversations only others involved in education can understand. Lots of talk and resulting rules about snow pants, snowballs, and what constitutes as throwing snow. Days spent testing students and then meeting to discuss what those assessments meant and how they would inform our teaching. Most often it struck me pretty quickly what was needed, but it was discussed at length so we could come to an agreement in 4 hours with what could have been decided in an hour. Common planning time each week was often dictated by administrators and true team time was delegated to lunch which always got used for work because teaching overflowed to those places and times that were supposed to be duty free.

There were meetings about bathrooms.

Messy bathrooms were discussed a lot. Kids weren’t showing responsibility and respect in how they acted in the bathrooms and in keeping them tidy. I kid you not. Water was splashed everywhere. Paper towels were on the floor rather than in the trash. They could be left in disgusting shape for numerous reasons. Some kids disappeared there many times during a day because despite the appearance and smell it apparently was preferred from being in the classroom.

What was to be done? How could we affect positive change and gets kids to care? I worked in a district that had adopted PBIS ideology. PBIS is short for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Trainings. Surveys. Data. Rubrics. More meetings. My school focused on behaviors of being respectful, responsible, safe, and being learners in a variety of settings around the school.

Including the bathroom. Yes, we discussed how being a learner applied to school bathrooms.

In case you’re wondering, the answer is to take care of business quickly so you can return to your classroom and your work. It could be work you’re trying to avoid by going to the bathroom multiple times during reading or math, but never mind discussing underlying causes. That could be saved for another riveting meeting.

The Golden Plunger was born from these important meetings and conversations. Someone somewhere conceived this tool for all of us to have at our disposal.

There were three main bathrooms in my school: The Bell Bathroom, The Eagle Bathroom, and The Elm Bathroom. Yes, they had names. This was perfectly normal in school culture. Classrooms were assigned a designated bathroom to use. Each week there was a competition on which bathroom could be kept the cleanest. The custodians kept notes and made the final decisions. The winning bathroom would receive The Golden Plunger Award.

There was an actual golden plunger. It was hung each week in a place of honor in the winning bathroom. Great suspense was built up during the morning announcements before the winning bathroom was shared.

ee1a877c6442617cd1fcf333574e7d09

Classrooms would erupt in cheers.

Spoiler alert: It was rigged.

The custodians made sure all the bathrooms received this prestigious award. Some got it more than others. I’ll go on record asserting some bathrooms got used more than others. For example, my class was assigned to use the bathroom that was also used by the entire school because it was closest to music, art, gym, and the lunchroom. It was going to be messier by default every week. Hence the rigging.

I let this go long ago, but the truth always comes out.

Some kids cared. Some thought it was lame. Yet, even the ones who thought it was lame would pump their fists like they had won the plunger championships when they won. The Golden Plunger was one of many ways that built school community.

What does this have to do with cancer?

Motivation.

I would love an award for my efforts as someone living with metastatic breast cancer.

Silent yahoos for decent lab numbers. Frequent flyer miles for racked up driving miles to be used in the germateria. I am not opposed to a sticker chart. Impromptu dance parties in exam rooms are a must whenever good news is given. It would be appreciated to be acknowledged for the small strides I make. Heck, plan an assembly.

I’ll do these things for myself privately (except the assembly). I am a firm believer in rewarding myself and celebrating good work through walks, books, shopping, and treats.

Believe it or not, I am intrinsically motivated. I also want that sense of community at oncology visits that accompanied the golden plunger in the school. It’s harder to remain motivated without a sense of community. I can do it but I want more. It still frustrates me that this is missing when I go to visits and treatments.

Motivation is a key component to success. Feeling like I make progress in my efforts makes me feel successful. Even small wins are still wins. I work to raise or lower lab numbers. I strive to remain active and exercise. I do not lose hope because hope gives me energy time and time again to push through when the going gets tough.

I am motivated to continue treatments and endure whatever side effects I need to because I believe that breast cancer research will make future treatments more targeted and therefore more successful. I am motivated to keep advocating for myself because I am well aware that I have the most interest in my outcome. I am motivated to keep speaking up and repeating myself because more people need to hear my words. Stage IV needs more. Research equals hope. I am motivated to dig my heels in and not budge when others tell me I’m not realistic or I’m being too ambitious. I am doing what I need to do.

I am motivated to keep pushing for positive change.

Motion comes down to a push or pull. A push or pull is how force was defined in science on an elementary grade level. A plunger clears blocked pipes using the forces of push or pull. I am golden and powerful, just like that golden plunger, motivated to keep pushing that my life flows in the right direction. By no means do I wish to be equated with a plunger, but I am a force, trying to clear my way and make a better path for others.

I have become pushy.

I will find a way to keep pushing. Always.