Everyone needs a hero. For some, it's Buddha; for others, it's Led Zeppelin; for me, it's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, affectionately known as Jackie-O. For as long as I can remember, when things became difficult, my mother would always tell me to think of Jackie-O and how she would handle the situation - with perfect grace. That is the purpose of this blog, to allow me to channel some of Jackie-O's intangible grace and dignity in meeting my latest challenge: surviving carcinoid cancer. - Marlena Johnston
Friday, May 3, 2013
April 27th was the 3-year anniversary of my Carcinoid Cancer diagnosis. If cancer can be described as a roller coaster ride, then these past couple years have had some crazy loop-to-loops, upside down turns, and gut-wrenching drops. There really isn't a lot that is stable anymore; it's just learning to breath during the times when the roller coaster slows down or is climbing.
This past summer I lost over 20 lbs in 6 weeks - and was down to 104 lbs (I'm 5'5). I couldn't walk; I was having palsy episodes; I was in excruciating pain all the time... my two best friends, Rob and Mike, took me into their home, and instead of enjoying their summer - they applied cold packs, created complicated pain medicine schedules, carried me to the car for ER trips, picked up my prescriptions in the middle of the night, and took turns staying by my side 24-hrs a day.
None of my doctors could explain why my body was shutting down.. the blood tests were almost indecipherable - anemia with high iron, blood counts and sizes in direct conflict with each other... my doctors ruled out all the immunity issues: Lupus, HIV, etc - finally, elevated 5-HIAA "increased their reasonable suspicion" that it was probably the cancer or after-effects of the cancer. Just as inexplicably as it came on, the process started reversing itself in November.
That's the thing about the neuroendocrine system - it affects EVERYTHING... and even when the doctors tell you it's not the cancer; if there really is no other explanation then you got to trust your gut. I'm back up to 118 lbs and eating again. My palsy is at a minimum and the pain is managed well without narcotics. So I'm in that breathing space right now... but weird symptoms and pain remind me that I'm still strapped into that roller coaster seat... locked in.
I'm grateful for all of the love, strength, prayers, and support that my friends, family, colleagues and the Carcinoid community have given me. I know this - even if I'm stuck on this roller coaster for a while longer, I've got amazing people in my life who have opted to take that ride with me, and others who are on the ground - waiving... cheering me on.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Today was the first day back from Spring Break. I started classes by innocently asking them to "spell the word grammar"; more than 1/2 of my students spelled it grammEr. I shook my head and told them to get warmed up for "grammar bootcamp" this week.
For fans of the great book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" - here are a couple of Monday giggles for you. Enjoy.
|We started out discussing the importance of commas using the above lesson; and interestingly nearly 100% of my high school students punctuated it like the "college males"|
|We then moved onto this funny, yet accurate example of word misuse...|
|And finished with attempted ardvark murder charges...|
Thursday, March 14, 2013
"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" - The wizard from The Wizard of Oz
I teach literature. More than that... I (at least try to) teach how and why we study literature.
I use the analogy of an onion with my kids, and explain that you only truly "feel" the onion when you peel back its layers ... when you reach its core - that's when your eyes water and you get that catch in your throat.
It's the same with literature... whether we are connecting Freud's theory of the id, ego and superego to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - or comparing the dream of a better life in 1920s America (Great Gatsby) to 1950s Apartheid South Africa (Master Harold and the Boys) ... I do my best to help unravel a deceptively simple package so that my students can see the true meaning of the work - and feel its full artistic potency.
It is about this time of year that I get students telling me, with HUGE smiles on their faces, that I've ruined their lives... today was no different. One junior came bouncing up to me in the hallways and said, "Ms. Johnston - I hate you, I just saw the movie Oz The Great and Powerful and found all this symbolism in it. I can't just watch a normal movie anymore - now I see everything! My boyfriend was really annoyed." (I told her to find a smarter boyfriend.)
Over the weekend, I received two big compliments from recent graduates about my teaching strategy ... sometimes as teachers we never know if our lessons carry beyond the walls of our classroom. Like the "mighty" wizard in Oz - who was just an ordinary, little man - we all need to be reminded from time to time that just because we are minor characters in most people's lives - that doesn't negate our impact in their life story. Thank you to all my students who truly give my life and work meaning.
|Instagram from one of my seniors who graduated 3 years ago|
|text from one of my seniors who graduated last year|
Saturday, March 2, 2013
We were worried: my doctor's, my family and my friends. My bones felt crushed in an invisible vice... it seemed hopeless until October, when I met my boyfriend Victor.
|Sloan CT - STABLE Feb 2013|
We are still realistic about future complications. That's the problem with rare illnesses - whether my ongoing health issues are related to Carcinoid or not, as Dr. Nash said during my last visit, doctors are very good at saving lives but not always so good about improving the quality of life with chronic conditions. Above all, hope is what will in the end make the fight worthwhile.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Traditionally, when my students come back from winter break, I take a brief hiatus from Shakespeare to discuss new year's resolutions.
When I ask my students, "who made new year's resolution for 2013?" - lots of hands go up. The class lists off some of the usual suspects, which I end up scribbling across the chalkboard... "lose weight, quit smoking, go to the gym etc"
Then, I boldly assert that "over 90% of new year's resolutions are doomed to fail - all because people don't know anything about etymology."
SIDE NOTE: Unfortunately, immediately after making this statement, one of my very smart and very quirky students became visibly concerned. I asked him what was wrong and he replied stone faced,"my resolution was to stay alive this year." Despite being in good health, he was dead serious (no pun intended). I reassured him that I was confident he would fall into the 10% success rate. My job is a lot of things, but it's never predictable.
After calming the fears of my one student, I explained the etymology of the word "resolution" - which comes from a Latin term resolutionem (nom. resolutio), roughly translating to "the process of reducing things into simpler forms."
Most people fail in changing their lives because they make things too complicated, or try to change too much. They don't respect the etymology of the term and therefore end up right where they started prior to the stroke of midnight on New Year Eve.
Someone very wise once gave me sound resolution advice, which I now pass along to my students: try to just change your life by one degree... after all, whether or not water boils or freezes is only separated by one small degree of temperature difference. If one degree can completely change the form of water - imagine what it can do for your life.
|Boiling point of water is 100°C or 212° F|
So what's my resolution? What's my one degree of change? To write a haiku every day. A simple 5-7-5 form just might be the reflective device I need to keep me moving in a healthy, creative direction. They don't need to be witty, or profound, or good - just an observation... a moment to look around at my life instead of run through it.
So here is my first one.
UPDATE: March 2
My resolution turned out to be a little more than one degree.....