One of the most bittersweet and truly extraordinary aspects of life is our ability to experience a wide range of emotions in a very short amount of time. One minute you can be drowning in fear… the next, smiling cheek to cheek after receiving good news. Life is unexpected and we have very little control over what happens to us. This year I have learned to simply let go and embrace life as it is: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The more you try to control it, the more frustrating and utterly hopeless it seems. Over the last two weeks I have experienced a variety of important emotions: I have experienced the intense fear of beginning radiation and felt the relief that ensued when I realized that radiation isn´t as bad as I thought it would be… In addition, I received good news on the job front, began planning my wedding, and spent precious time laughing with girlfriends. In the past month I have hosted an engagement party, a bachelorette bash, and a farewell gathering for several good friends who will be leaving Chile this week. In short, I have been busy living my life.
On the cancer front, a week ago Monday I began the first of my 25 daily radiation sessions. Every day at 10:45 I report to the basement of Clinica Alemana where the radiotherapy office is located. The radio technician greets me at the door with a big “DANGER! RADIATION!” warning on it, shows me to a changing room, and instructs me to take off my shirt and put on a smock. Then I am led into a large padded room where the radiation machine is located. Two assistants place me on the reclining board where they remove the smock and position my arms above my head. Next they spend a few minutes positioning my body on the board so that my tattoo marks match up with the red lasers used to help orient my body with the machine. The first time there were three people touching me and moving me in a very gruff and business like manner. They kept picking me up and talking to each other as if I wasn´t there. I lifted my body up to assist them. They kept barking at me not to move- that they would move me. Of course, this being my first time in radiation, I was very nervous and no one had taken time to explain to me what was going to happen, what I would feel, and whether it would hurt, etc. So after they yelled at me for the third time I started crying and told them that I was scared and I didn´t know what was happening and I´m sorry that I didn´t know what to do. I also had a very bad cold and could barely speak because my throat was sore, so I was afraid that was going to interfere with the radiation. Luckily, after my meltdown they were a little nicer and told me that the machine was going to whirl around me for about three minutes and take pictures. After that they said the treatment would begin and would last about six minutes. They said there would be a lot of noise, but that I wouldn´t feel anything. This calmed me down quite a bit and I decided to close my eyes and try to relax.
After they had positioned me where they wanted, the attendants left the room and disappeared behind the window at the back of the room. The machine began whirring and rotating around my body like the moon orbiting the earth. Then the machine stopped and there was a sound like that of a microscope opening up its viewer. A small area lit up and a laser sound emanated from the machine. “Oh my god, I´m being radiated!” I thought. Then the machine changed positions and the laser sound commenced again. And so on and so forth for what seemed like an eternity, but was apparently only six minutes. Unfortunately there isn´t a whole lot to do in that room except lay there and try to think of anything but radiation. The first day I tried to sing songs in my head but the only one that I seemed to remember the words to was Mary Had a Little Lamb and that got old after about 2 minutes. The second time I counted how many times the laser went off: 14. The third time I counted the seconds that the lasers went off for: they range anywhere from 10-45 seconds. The fourth time I had a tickle in my throat and desperately tried to stop myself from coughing so that I wouldn´t move and accidently radiate something that wasn´t supposed to be radiated. Afterwards I told the technician, jokingly, that it would be a lot better if they played music. He must have taken me seriously because on Friday he greeted me at the door with a pair of speakers and told me he had brought them for me. I plugged my Iphone in, and it was SO much better with music. Afterwards the technician told me that he liked my music but preferred songs like “Hotel California”, which is apparently the most famous American song outside of the United States, because I have heard the same comment from tour guides in Turkey, China, and Vietnam. He then asked me if I was married and I said, not yet, but soon. He exclaimed with horror, “No! You can´t get married!”, and I was a bit taken aback. Although I was completely flattered that even with my deformities I can apparently still charm the male species, I did find it a bit ridiculous that the men who help position me on the machine were hitting on me. I´m pretty sure that´s not allowed, but definitely an ego boost at a time when I am feeling terribly self-conscious about my body. Sadly, though, this week I have had a much less-nice female radio technician. She reminds me of Mrs. Trunchbull and definitely did not bring speakers for me to listen to music. I hope the other guy comes back soon….
The other big news in the last few weeks is that I have been offered a position taking over for a middle school teacher who will be on maternity leave for most of next year. Two days ago I signed my contract and am delighted that I will be a full time international sub for the year. I am also going to resume coaching, although it will be the JV team since the varsity spots had already been filled. Although I really enjoy teaching high school and love the US History curriculum I created, I am very excited to work in the middle school. When I worked at Chadwick in Palos Verdes I taught eighth grade social studies for three years and really enjoyed both the curiosity of the students as well as the laid back atmosphere of the teachers. Middle School teachers always seem to have more fun and take themselves less seriously, so it should be a good time. Plus, most of my friends work in the middle school anyway, so I will have people to eat lunch with, etc. I also am excited about the 7th grade social studies curriculum, which is what I will be teaching. It is thematic in nature and allows for a lot more in-depth exploration of the ideas.
The job news was a huge relief because I can breath easier again knowing that my life has a purpose. I had been very depressed for the few weeks preceding radiation because I saw this huge void of nothingness stretching on into the future. All I could think about was waiting around with nothing to do until something bad happened. I thought my life would never be the same. But now I will be able to have a lot of my normal life back again. Of course, it´s never going to be exactly the same: my innocence has definitely been taken, but now I can focus on cherishing the good times rather than worrying about what may happen in the future. In light of the fabulous developments on the job front, Jon and I talked and decided to go ahead with our January wedding in Mexico. We had been putting off wedding planning until we were a little more certain about my health and the future. Of course, my health is never going to be a certainty, so we decided to just bite the bullet and make it happen. I´m really excited to finally take some time out and celebrate our relationship and the commitment that we have made to each other through these tough times. And so, in a few months time we will say our “I Dos” at a beautiful beach resort outside of Cancun surrounded by friends and family. I can´t wait!
Wedding bells are definitely in the air amongst our friends here in Chile. Three other friends are also getting married next year, so we have had plenty to celebrate. A month ago I helped plan an engagement party with Michelle and Carrie for Angela and Corbet, where we did a version of Tunisian Iron Chef with the party guests and later performed for the couple using original lyrics created just for them. The next weekend was Angela´s bachelorette party where close to twenty-five of us took over the top floor of a restaurant here in Santiago and ate, drank, laughed, and watched belly dancing. Afterwards a few of us headed out to Bellavista to dance until the wee hours of the morning. We found a really fun Brazilian club with a live band and enjoyed a capoiera show with half naked Brazilian men. Although a relatively tame night as bachelorette parties go, a good time was had by all!
Which leads me to my next thought… is there anything more fun than a bachelorette party?? A bunch of girls getting dressed up, boozed up, and hitting the town…. a bachelorette party is always such a celebration of life. Although it used to be a little more fun when I didn´t have to stuff my bra, fill in my eyebrows, worry about styling my wig, and find an outfit that hides the giant piece of tape with a blue x on it in the middle of my chest for radiation… Besides that, I had an amazing time at Meredith and Katie´s party the following weekend. Hosted by the Twobie ladies, this soiree included delicious cocktails, appetizers, feather boas, festive fascinators, jello shots, fun gifts, and party games. It reminded me of a wonderful weekend back in 2007 in Las Vegas with the best group of friends a girl could have. My bachelorette party was probably one of the most fun weekends I´ve ever had. Thirteen of us rented a house with a pool and spent two days full of costumes, games, and good times. I even met Mario Lopez who I have always had an inexplicable crush on. I mean who meets their favorite D-list celebrity at their bachelorette party??? So thanks again to my wonderful bridesmaids: Ali, Randi, Sarah, and Megan, for putting on such a fabulous bash. Even though the marriage sadly did not work out, I will never forget how special you all made me feel.
This leads me to the wonderful celebration that took place at our house last weekend for the Twobie farewell gathering. The Twobies are the fifteen international teachers and their families that arrived two years ago with us in Santiago. We have been like a little family here in Chile and have had many incredible memories over the last two years. Unfortunately three of us are moving back to the states next year so we had a final gathering to reminisce and say goodbye. It definitely won´t be the same without them! One of the greatest joys of international teaching is making new friends, and one of the hardest things is saying goodbye to them. The transition period is always a little rough on the old emotions. But such is life. Enj´oy the moments, laugh and love, grab a tissue, and experience it. That´s what lifes all about….
Me with Mario Lopez in Las Vegas
My amazing friends!!!
Bachelorettes: Meredith and Katie
Me and Shannon at the Bachelorette Party
My Twobie Family here in Chile
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Maybe El Trunchbull-o was ALSO upset you were getting married….
Sounds terrific, Eli! So happy the teaching gig came your way and of course your upcoming marriage! You have been strong and determined and have weathered an incredible storm. So glad positives are on their way! Your friend, Leslie
It never ceases to amaze me how through all this you have never given up and have tried to seize each precious moment that life gives us. Thank you for always putting so many important aspects of life that people take for granted in perspective. Also, don’t forget about the sacrifice I made so you could meet Mario!!! Haha