Time Marches On

      I have written a lot of fluffy pieces recently about weddings and honeymoons and family and travel, so I guess it´s about time for another entry about regular life. Because, just like everyone else, my ordinary life is filled with early mornings, working hours, and daily errands. And if you think about it, it´s those mundane tasks like hitting the snooze button on the alarm in the morning or walking the dog to the grocery store after school that take up the majority of our lives, so I guess they are worth talking about as well as the vacations, even if they are admittedly, less glamorous.

   Because our seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere, the school year at our international school in Chile begins in the middle of winter. So, after our three-week summer/winter break from school, Jon and I reluctantly boarded our airplane bound for snowy mountains, freezing cold buildings, and expensive heating bills. Upon touchdown in Chile we bundled back into our heavy coats, lit the fire in our living room, and headed back to work in July, a time I normally associate with swimming pools and heat. The change in seasons still throws me for a loop even though this is my fourth year in Chile. Since the weather is more like January weather I´ve grown accustomed to, it´s hard to believe the calendar says July.  

   At the end of last school year, I was hired as a full time sub in the middle and high school for the 2014-15 school year. There were no social studies positions available and so I had to negotiate my continued employment at the school, a topic I will hopefully be able to speak freely about some day in the future… However, ever since my life was interrupted by cancer two years ago, I´ve had to adjust my expectations about every day life and about what is normal, because those have fundamentally changed.

     Sometimes it is very challenging to deal with change and it can often be very humbling. Given my current lifestyle, you may have guessed that I seek new challenges, but I also have a difficult time with them. Often, the changes in my life are accompanied by a period of mild depression where I mope about and mourn the loss of the way things used to be. Granted, the cold and rainy, winter weather hasn´t helped cheer me up, but mopey could definitely be used to describe my mood of late.  Something I´ve thought a lot about during this gloomy time is that we are getting old. Perhaps, dare I say it, we´ve even entered adult hood…and on that note, I´ve decided that the thirties are a time of the most dramatic and intense change in most people´s lives.

    As an example, I am now 33. Most of my friends are married, or partnered up, or perhaps facing the future with no significant other in sight. Regardless, they are all making life decisions based on these facts, and therefore lives are changing.  Indeed, most of my friends have become parents or are in the process of becoming parents, and so that has been a big change for them. It´s hard to go from nights out, dancing with cocktails, to nights in dealing with temper tantrums and poopy diapers. But then again, there are plenty of other things old we can do now in our “old age” that we couldn´t do in our twenties: most notably, we can afford the fabulous lifestyle we now lead.  I certainly don´t think my challenges are worse or more difficult than the changes that others have gone through, or that now life is only full of negative things, but I do think that all of us are currently going through a time period where normal life is immensely different than it ussed to be. In that line of thinking, I do want to discuss the changes I´m going through, primarily to get them off my chest.  Forgive me, dear readers, but these blogs are saving me a pretty penny on therapy bills.

   One big change I have been grappling with lately is that I am no longer doing a job that I excel at (teaching high school history), and am instead just doing the best I can for the students that I am given an opportunity to work with. Right now, for example, I am covering a maternity leave until March for the math resource teacher in the middle school. I am relearning how to divide decimals and simplify radical numbers, two topics I never thought I would have to relearn. I am also gaining new skills like how to work with 6th graders for whom math does not come easily.   I guess, in that regard, the students and I are similar because math was never my favorite subject either. Although I was always good at memorizing equations and studying the required chapters for the next test, I´m not sure I ever really understood math. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for students the world over, the way math is taught has changed a LOT since when I was a student, so it has been an eye-opening experience that I´m sure will help make me a better teacher in the future.

     In addition to my work schedule, my life as a cancer survivor also contains a a full schedule of doctor´s appointments on top of my regular working hours. Right now, for example, it is 7:30 PM,  and I am at the clinic undergoing my five-hour antibody treatment (really a milder form of chemotherapy), which I will continue to do every three weeks from now until the end of my life. Sometimes the treatments don´t bother me, like today, because I have some free time to write and the weather outside doesn´t inspire me to to do anything besides stay inside and curl up in a blanket. Sometimes, however, I really don´t like the treatments at all. They remind me of a time when I was not well and life was scary and in turmoil. Sometimes, when I see all the bald patients, pale, hooked up to saline bags, and dozing off in their reclining chairs, I have a hard time staying positive about life. I know I continue to be SO lucky that my treatment is working and that, despite the odds, I am cancer free, but it is a constant reminder that my life is transient and fragile and can end at any time.  

   Recently I had my first pet scan since I was diagnosed back in 2012. Dr. Buhler recommended I have one just to make sure that everything was still going well. A pet scan, you may remember, is a full body scan that looks inside your entire body in order to spot cell growth and see if anything is irregular. The test itself is pretty nerve racking because they inject you with radiation before the exam and you have to lie silently in a dark room while the saline solution pushes the radiation throughout your body for an hour before you can have the exam taken. My exam was the last of the day so the nurses were in a huge hurry to get my done in time for their lunch break and so they rushed me through everything, and did not do a good job securing the needle in my arm.   For a week afterwards I had a huge, yellow and purple bruise on my right arm to remind me of the exam. And so I went, through the machine, with the nurse absent-mindedly dictating when I should breath and how I should lie still for 35 minutes and other such nonsense. And, of course, waiting for the results was equally nerve-wracking. I´m pretty good about putting bad things into a little box in my mind so I managed not to let the meeting with Dr. Buhler ruin my weekend, but as I strode down the hall with Jon the following week to Buhler´s office, my heart was beating so loud that you could have heard the drumming for miles away. We entered the office, and Buhler kind of stared at us for a few minutes with a stern look on his face. I could feel my heart and Jon´s heart simultaneously drop into the pit of our stomachs.  

     After about two minutes of unbearable silence, I practically shouted, “Well… the pet scan results? How am I doing, Doc???” To which he proceeded to spend more time staring at his computer screen looking at the results before he proclaimed that I was perfectly healthy, and still in remission, and doing great.   (I guess the silence was for dramatic effect?) Anyway, Dr. Buhler seemed shocked by the results since, as he shared, it is extremely rare for a young patient with such advanced cancer to still be cancer free a year and a half later. I asked him if he thought the new drug had been a factor in my recovery, and he smiled, shrugged, and said he had no idea. In fact, he said he didn´t even want to know, as long as it was working. I was a little upset by this as I wonder why doctors don´t look into the reasons for survival as much as they do the symptoms of the disease, but who am I to judge the medical profession so harshly? Regardless, Jon and I were elated and I was ready to celebrate, but I had to run off to Open House at the school and talk to a bunch of parents. Serious buzz kill!

    Surprisingly, although I should have continued to be extremely happy about my good health, this is when I started to become a little more depressed. “So, I´m healthy,” I thought. “Now what??!! Am I ready for yet another stage of life?” The questions and feelings came so unexpectedly and were very tricky to answer after two years of living like there was no tomorrow. I decided I needed to really rejoin real life and figure out what the point of it all is. I know all you parents out there would argue that children are a reason for living, and I guess I feel somewhat ready for that next stage.   But unfortunately, having children is going to be difficult for us as well.

     I recently had a conversation with my doctor in which he told me that I should not get pregnant, even though, technically I still could.   Pregnancy hormones, the doctor told me, would probably bring my hormone-based cancer back, and also interrupt my treatment schedule. If I were to try and extract my eggs for surrogacy, I would also need to be injected with hormones, which would likely result in the aforementioned scenario. All in all, it seems like it´s going to be one of those really challenging situations that will make me want to put my head down on the table and give up, just like many of my students when faced with math. And I don´t blame them!  Doing things that may lead to criticism is no fun. So, for now, I´ve reverted back to not thinking too much about the future, but instead going through the daily motions until the spring sun arrives and my path becomes clearer. Which should happen in two weeks when we get a week off of school to celebrate the Chilean national holiday. YAY!  But for now, I´d love to hear if others have any strategies about how to deal with the negative effects of change because I think I probably need some, and I don´t want to pay a professional to tell me what they are,

 

7 comments

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  1. Elaine

    It seems to me that you are already dealing with things admirably by articulating how you feel and figuring out the probable causes. Are you sure that change is really the issue here? Being in the same country for four years, teaching at the same school, albeit in a different role, living with the same lovely chap. Like us you have chosen an itinerant lifestyle and sometimes there is a watershed moment where you choose to stay longer in a place and your mindset has to change. So really all the other factors such as illness, work, and plans about family are complicated by the ex-pat mind set. “This place is great, I hope I don’t have to leave, but I wonder what it would be like to live in Sri Lanka”!

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  2. Sissy

    Sissy!!!! Firstly, I am so incredibly happy that you are 18 months in remission. 🙂 And don’t worry, I made sure to celebrate for you!
    I also definitely understand you when you talk about changes. Every time I turn I feel like someone I know is getting engaged, having a baby, getting married, moving away, getting new jobs, etc. Life can seem very stagnant when none of the above situations apply to you. That feeling happens to the best of us. I’m glad you have your blog as therapy. I love you!

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  3. Alain

    Eli! I’m not sure that I have any great thoughts, but I really appreciate your post and can relate. I just moved to Rome, and as excited as I am about the move, and and hard as I lobbied for this job, I still am struggling with the transition to a new job and a new country. Thanks for including us all in your thoughts!

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    • eliswift4

      Hi Alain,
      SO exciting that you moved to Rome!! Yes, definitely I understand that new country difficulty period. I know you will do great there! And if I’m in Europe I will most certainly look you up. Much love to you and Khaled.

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  4. Kate E

    Eli! I love reading your blog, and I’m so happy to hear the good remission news. Regarding your thoughts about change: I think I used to think that change was always exciting and positive, and now that we have a baby (hello, change!), it’s easy to almost romanticize the times when life felt more stable and even static. What’s interesting is that I’ve never really appreciated stability or a non-changing lifestyle. (I always felt hungry for change and wondered if I should feel more comfortable with stability.) So this is an interesting moment for me, too. I guess I don’t have much advice…just wanted to say that people around the world are thinking of you! And it’s funny how both change AND stability (sometimes even thought of as “stillness” or mindfulness) can be sought after. 🙂

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    • eliswift4

      Hey there, thanks so much for the words and advice. I feel like we are in that weird vortex where life is changing so much but becoming more stable. Next time I’m in LA I’d love to meet your cute little guy!

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