Happy Valentine’s Day! (She said sarcastically.)

December 28, 2013 - A run in Morro Bay

December 28, 2013 – Morro Bay

I had my first lumpectomy for breast cancer on Valentine’s Day, less than ten days after my initial diagnosis.

When I met with my surgeon, Dr. M., she showed me the x-ray of my tumor, and it was not what I expected. Instead of a round mass, which is what I always thought breast cancer would look like, I saw a streak of white, like a bolt of lightning, traveling through the lower part of my breast and up towards my nipple.

Even knowing exactly where the tumor was, I still couldn’t feel it. Without a doubt, that sucker would have been there growing for a long time if I hadn’t gotten a mammogram. (Some time later, my husband, Michael, and I went back to the Kaiser receptionist and thanked her for being so persistent about rescheduling the mammogram after my eye appointment.)

It might sound strange, but the occasion of my lumpectomy was a cheery one. My sister, Kris, was there with heart shaped balloons to celebrate the holiday. I tried to joke around with my stoic surgeon without success. I even had Michael take a picture of my boob, knowing it would never look the same. Despite the fact that I was “going under the knife” I was happy that we had caught the cancer and were going to get it out of me as fast as possible. I knew that I’d recover quickly and be back in the classroom in no time. My biggest was question was, “When can I start running again?”

Everything went smoothly. Dr. M. was happy with the surgery. I was bandaged up and sent home before you know it. And then, again, I started to wait for the pathology report. Beginning to wait—what a paradox. But I wasn’t worried. It never, ever crossed my mind that my surgery wouldn’t be a complete and total success, and that this little experience would just be an inconvenient blip on the radar of my life.

Until I got the call from the Dr. M.’s assistant. There were no clear margins. They would have to operate again. And this time, might I consider a mastectomy?

Whoa! A what? A mastectomy? Hold on just a second . . . Hadn’t Dr. M. felt confident? Didn’t we ALL feel confident that I was done with this whole cancer thing? How was I going to tell Michael, my sons, my sisters, my dad . . . I hadn’t been successful. It didn’t work. We were going to have to try again.

I decided to go for a second lumpectomy. Baby steps, was my thinking. Little by little. No use in taking off the whole breast when I could possibly get rid of this mother f@*ker with just a tad bit more scooping.

How fast could we do it?

In less than two weeks.

Good . . . let’s go! Let’s do this!


A New Kind of Journey – Living with Breast Cancer

trail1

I can hardly believe that it’s been exactly two years since I wrote an entry here. Just like two years ago, today is the first day of school, but for the first time in twenty-six years, I won’t be there to welcome a new class.

At the end of January last year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since then I’ve had two lumpectomies and a mastectomy of my left breast, and have undergone thirteen chemotherapy treatments. I missed most of the end of the last school year and won’t be back in the classroom until January 2015.

All my life I’ve been a writer. I’ve written poems, stories, songs, journal entries, blog posts, etc. My love for writing is one of the things that drew me into teaching. I’ve written my way through and out of many crises in my life—romance and heartbreak, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, anxiety and depression—but when it came to writing about my cancer, it felt too overwhelming.

Part of the reason was because I hadn’t written anything here for quite a while, and the thought of suddenly plunging in again by writing about having breast cancer seemed so overly dramatic that I put it off. My sister kept asking me, “Why aren’t you writing about this? Why aren’t you journaling?” Even though I wasn’t keeping a journal or blog in written form, I was constantly writing in my head . . . telling my story to myself over and over again as a way to make it real.

Because much of the time, the whole experience seems very unreal. There I was, at age 57, feeling terrific. I had started running two years ago and had been running every other day. I’d lost weight and felt healthy and strong. I had a great group of students in my classes. My own kids were doing pretty well. My marriage was going along happily . . .

But one day I went to Kaiser to have my eyes checked. My dad has macular degeneration; my sister has glaucoma. I’m always worried about my eyes, and I felt like I needed a new eyeglass prescription. I went to check in to my appointment, and the receptionist noticed that I was overdue for a mammogram. She suggested that I drop in for an x-ray after my eye exam.

I was not pleased. It was late. I had been teaching all day. I was tired and just wanted to get out of there and go home. But I reluctantly agreed.

During the eye exam, the doctor saw “something” and wanted to dilate my eyes, which meant my appointment would run longer and I’d miss the time for the mammogram. “Oh darn!!” I said to myself. “Looks like I won’t be getting my boobs squished today!”

I went to the perky receptionist to give her the unfortunate news, and she said, “No problem! We’ll just move your time back a little bit.” Drats!

The mammogram went fine. The x-ray technician was as sweet as can be, and the whole thing was over before I knew it. I didn’t give it a second thought. I was more concerned about my eyes, since my doctor had given me a referral to see somebody to check on that “something” that she’d seen.

Two days later, at the eye doctor’s, I was told that my eyes were fine, and that what the other doctor had seen was just a bit of calcification that had probably been there since I was very young. I was so relieved!

trail2

Then a few days later I got a call asking if I could come in to have some more breast x-rays taken. They said they just needed a closer look. I didn’t think too much about it; I figured I had just moved a little bit and the picture was blurry or something like that. I made an appointment for two days later. But on the morning of the appointment, I got another call, asking if I could come in an hour or so earlier because they might want to do a biopsy after retaking the x-ray. That’s when I started to get a little worried.

I called the school office and asked the manager if she could find someone to cover one of my classes so I could leave earlier, and another teacher graciously agreed to help me out.

Well, one thing lead to another, and before I knew it I was laying face down on a raised table with my left boob dangling through a hole while the technician did a stereotactic biopsy. It wasn’t pleasant, and I kept thinking, “I hope the men have a similar device to biopsy their junk!”

During the biopsy, a small metal clip was put in to mark the spot in case they needed to go back for surgery. Of course, I knew that wasn’t going to be necessary; they were going to find out that what they saw was nothing, just like with my eyes.

That was the first act of the incessant waiting game called “Waiting for Results.” A week later I got the call: I had malignant breast cancer.

I won’t go into everything that followed now. But I do think it’s time for me to start writing about this particular journey. There have been people who have shared their experiences with me in order to give me comfort and advice. And even though I would like to do that as well, my actual goal is somewhat more selfish. I need to write in order to make things real and in order to help me deal and recover and move on with life in a relatively ordinary fashion.

trail3

I will only be working half the school year while I finish chemo and possibly radiation treatments. I’m going to miss that first day of school as the students file into my classroom and we check each other out and we’re filled with hope for a fun and rewarding year. When I mentioned to a fellow teacher how weird it felt to not be having a “first day of school,” she said, “You’ll get that first day of school again; it will just be in January!” And so it will.

sig2


Summer’s End

Yesterday was my last official day of summer vacation. Today (and tomorrow) will be spent in greetings, meetings, and working to get my classroom ready for the first day of school on Wednesday. This will be my 27th year of teaching, and I cannot understand why I continue to get butterflies in my stomach contemplating that first morning when those seventh graders walk through the door.

I start the first day by asking for each student’s name and shaking every student’s hand as he or she walks through the door. Some of these kids will know me because I will have had their brother or sister in a previous year. Some will know me by reputation (good and bad). I know they will all be sizing me up and trying to figure out in the first few moments of class whether English will be fun, boring, interesting, or awful. It’s a lot of pressure!

And I’m checking them out too. Who looks at me when I introduce myself? Who laughs at my lame attempts at humor or rolls their eyes when I start reading The Teacher from the Black Lagoon? Who has paper and pencil that first day? Who slumps in his chair or turns sideways and stares out the window? There’s no escaping those first impressions!

I feel like I packed in a lot over my vacation. I did several mini getaways, from Tahoe, to Las Vegas, to San Diego, and Disneyland. I was able to almost finish uploading all my pictures from the Old Testament onto Christian Image Source. (I still have the Books of Proverbs and Psalms to go.) Ironically, I was unable to finish David Allen’s book on getting organized, but I did get a bit of yard work done and cleaned up my office/art room a little. But I have to say that my biggest accomplishment of all was publishing three Kindle ebooks on Amazon.

As some of you might know, I have been slowly and steadily working my way through uploading Civil War images on my U.S. History Images site. To organize the images in a cohesive way on both the Bible and U.S. History sites, I generally have to do research and reading in order to know which pictures fit together and how to label them appropriately. So I’ve been learning a lot about both topics as I’ve added pictures to the sites. I was really enjoying reading about the Civil War, and was learning a lot that I had never known before. So I got the idea to choose a single topic that I was interested in and make an ebook about it.

I decided to start with the Battle of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War. I began gathering chapters from history books, magazine articles, letters, speeches, poetry, war reports, all about Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, and and the events leading up to and following its bombardment. I soon discovered that I had way too much information to just fit into one book, so I split it up into three parts.

I started my project in November 2011. All of the information was in the public domain, and most of it was available online; however, much of it was not easily found or readable. In my spare time I researched, read, typed, edited, proofread, added pictures, wrote about the authors, designed the covers, and tried to learn everything I could about how to format a manuscript for Kindle. I had a friend of mine–an awesome (supposedly) retired history/English teacher–do another round of proofreading. And then I proofread again for good measure.

The first week in August my moment of truth had arrived. I don’t know why I was nervous about uploading and putting my books on Amazon, but I was. I guess I just didn’t want to publish anything that I wouldn’t be proud of. I am proud of the way the ebooks turned out. And if I think that the topic is fascinating, there must be a few others out there who feel the same way. Right?? So now, if anyone wants to acquire a deeper understanding of the people and events of that moment in history, they have a comprehensive compilation of material to read, all in one place, without having to dig around and find each piece individually. My next topic: The Battle of Shiloh.

Here are the links to the books on Amazon, in case you want to take a look.


The Battle of Fort Sumter and the Start of the Civil War-1860-'61 - Part I
Part I

The Battle of Fort Sumter and the Start of the Civil War-1860-'61 - Part II
Part II

The Battle of Fort Sumter and the Start of the Civil War-1860-'61 - Part III
Part III

If you want to read a little overview of the events that started the Civil War, check out my blog posts on my U.S. History Images Blog.


Happy Anniversary Golden Gate Bridge!

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 1

Waiting in Line for a Shuttle Bus at the Marin County Civic Center

Twenty-five years ago today, my two sisters–Kris and Kathy–and I woke up at the crack of dawn, bundled up, and caught a shuttle bus from the Marin County Civic Center to the outskirts of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. It was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Bridge, and for the celebration the Bridge was closed to traffic for two hours between 6 to 10 a.m. so that people could walk right down the middle of the span.

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 2

Looking Out the Window of the Bus as We Approach the Golden Gate Bridge

Over 300,000 people came out to celebrate and re-enact the Bridge’s opening ceremony of 1937. At that time, the 4,200 foot long suspension span of the Golden Gate Bridge was the longest span in the world. That distinction lasted until New York City’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge was opened on November 21, 1964.

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 3

Out of the Bus and Walking Towards the Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 4

Starting to Cross

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 5

My Beautiful Sisters

Everyone was in a sunny mood–so excited for the opportunity to walk down the middle of the Bridge; it felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I stopped to take a couple of pictures, right in the center of Hwy 101, realizing that I would probably never get the chance to get these two shots ever again.

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 9

Looking Up at the North Tower

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 10

The North Tower

We tried to walk across the entire length of the Bridge, but somewhere around the middle, the crush of people became so great that we were forced to turn around. People from San Francisco were trying to get to the Marin side; people from Marin were trying to get to the San Francisco side. And there we were, stuck in the middle. Kris always reminds me that technically we didn’t really walk across the bridge. Whatever, Kris! It was awesome just the same.

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 13

Heading Back to Marin

Apparently the Bridge’s natural convex shape actually flattened out under the weight of all those people. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Some people who saw it slowly straighten out, like a steel cat stretching, were alarmed, but not the people who know the bridge best. ‘There is no way to put enough people on that bridge to cause any structural failure,’ said Dan Mohn, the bridge’s chief engineer. ‘You’d have to stack them three high, and even that wouldn’t do it.’”

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 11

Kris & Kathy – 25 Years Ago

Still, there will not be a repeat this year of the Great Bridge Walk of 1987. Officials are too worried about the effects on the Bridge. If they did allow us to cross it again, you can sure that Kris, Kathy, and I would be there with bells on. Well, we can always hope they’ll change their minds for 2037!

Golden Gate Bridge Anniversary - 17

My Sisters and I Looking Windswept and Modelish

P.S. Thank you, Michael, for staying home with Christopher!


The Social Graces

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time that we women were given some clear rules to guide us so we can get our lives back under control. Obviously we don’t know what the heck we’re doing. Why else would so many politicians be interested in telling us what we should or shouldn’t do?

With that in mind, I would like to take a few moments to share some selected gems from Ruth Louise Sheldon’s book Social Silhouettes, published in 1907. Because, after all, social etiquette never really does go out of style.

The Social Graces - 1

1. A lady on meeting a gentleman bows first.
2. Well-bred women never ignore acquaintances in public.
3. A cold stare is a very unladylike way of refusing recognition to an acquaintance.
4. In street cars a lady does not stare at a certain man as if she expects him to rise and relinquish his seat to her.
5. It is a woman’s choice to decide whether she shall wear a hat or not in public dining-rooms, but it is customary to wear one.

The Social Graces - 2

6. At restaurants women do not dine alone.
7. Ladies when appearing on the street are inconspicuously dressed.
8. A husband has more right than his neighbors to see his wife neatly dressed.
9. A lady never accepts the shelter of an umbrella from a stranger.
10. Young ladies need not expect expressions of pleasure from men at the first meeting.

The Social Graces - 3

11. Women do not introduce themselves to men. Men do not do so to a woman unless she be their hostess.
12. At a cotillion ladies do not dance with strangers.
13. It is very bad form for a lady to withdraw a promise to dance with a certain gentleman.
14. A lady does not dance more than twice with the same man.
15. No young unmarried woman attends public balls without a chaperon.

The Social Graces - 4

16. A lady while dancing does not drop her partner’s left hand in order to hold up her skirt.
17. No woman returns the calls of masculine friends.
18. In formal society, young ladies with chaperons leave to their chaperons the matter of invitations to masculine friends.
19. A lady wears her hat, gloves, veil, and wrap, not stormcoat, into the room.
20. No wife accepts an invitation and sends regrets for her husband who may not be able to attend.

The Social Graces - 5

21. Avoid slang and coarse expressions.
22. Satirical expression show a bad disposition.
23. A good listener is harder to find than a good conversationalist.
24. One story well told is better than six that are hacked and hashed.
25. Cramming with literary information before going to a social affair is not recommended.

There you have it . . . not all, but certainly some choice words to live by. Live well and prosper, my friends. My work here is done . . . Happy Mother’s Day!