I was diagnosed with cancer on a Monday evening in May and went to work the next day as a third-grade teacher. I casually informed another teacher that I would not be able to attend the field trip with her the following day. I smiled at her as I nonchalantly stated that I had cancer and an appointment with a doctor. The look of horror on her face made me reach out and touch her arm. I don’t know the exact words I used to reassure her that I was fine; however, I truly believed that I had just a “little” cancer. I felt fine. I was still exercising, playing soccer, going out with my friends, and spending time with my family. There was one month left of the school year. I thought I could continue working, get treatment over the summer, and be back to teaching in the fall. Looking back now, I wonder if I was really that clueless or just in complete denial.
The next day I found myself in a doctor’s office talking about rectal cancer and surgery. I was angry, devastated, and afraid. I was out of my element, and I had no idea how to deal with a cancer diagnosis. I began seeing a therapist right away, and she still helps me navigate the world of cancer and survivorship today. I told her then that even if I didn’t survive cancer, I needed to learn something from it.
Cancer became my catalyst to learn and grow in a way that may not have occurred otherwise. It has been a painful process. I am still evolving, and I know that is part of the human experience. I’m working on acceptance and accepting what’s real. The reality is I really was sick. I couldn’t finish up the last month of that school year. I didn’t go back to work that fall. In fact, I was unable to teach for two years.
I felt so alone. I wanted to return to my life where I was busy teaching third graders and going to happy hours with my friends. Eventually, I was too sick to participate in any of the things I loved doing. I’m still trying to figure out who I am now. I feel different, and everything around me feels unfamiliar. What I do know is that I am a woman who decided to put herself first in order to survive.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had options. I was overwhelmed because no one would tell me which option to choose. I didn’t have a clear path to healing. I am so grateful for that now because I was forced to figure it out with the love and guidance from my higher power. I chose to work with an amazing team of doctors and enroll in a clinical study. Throughout the two years of treatment, scans, appointments, surgical procedures, and numerous setbacks, cancer became a full-time job.
And within this full-time job, I became a woman who learned to really love herself. I loved myself enough to face this trauma with the courage to heal. Since being diagnosed with rectal cancer, I have worked with an intuitive therapist, a healer, a holistic doctor, a physical therapist, an acupuncturist, a reiki practitioner, a chiropractor, and I’m a sucker for self-help books. I am part of a monthly women’s empowerment group. I do yoga and exercise, meditate, and I pray daily. With the encouragement of my doctors, I joined First Descents which is an adventure program for young adults impacted by cancer. I am learning to be kind to myself, and I’m still a work in progress.
I am back to work as a third-grade teacher, and it is a challenge physically, mentally, and emotionally. As difficult as it is, I’m doing the best I can. A friend, who also had cancer, described her current state of being as a broken vase. The pieces are glued back together, but her glue isn’t quite dry. I feel the exact same way. I was shattered by cancer, and my glue isn’t quite dry yet. I know those cracks will always exist, but I am working towards coming to terms with the trauma I endured. I know that right now I am fragile and vulnerable. I will continue to put myself first, and I will continue to love myself. My hope for the future is that I always will.