Saturday, September 29, 2012

Back to School

"The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called the truth" - Dan Rather

One of my recently graduated seniors - passing along motivation for me as I return to work :)

I started teaching again - hesitantly. I get these pain spikes that are almost seizure like and crippling. It's hard to predict them, and my walking was still very weak when I first returned to work.

Luckily, the physical aspects of teaching (including standing for 40 min at a time) have really helped to reverse some of the atrophy in my quads, and some days, my walking is as fluid and seamless as a flowing stream. Other days, I'm shaky and clumsy ... there really isn't any rhyme or reason to it.

The first week of school, I told my students about my general health status. I basically said, "I want to stop the rumor mill before it starts, and as my students I'm going to share something with you that I believe you have a right to know. I have an illness that causes me pain sometimes, and I may start shaking in class. You may see me walking down the halls, and I may look like I'm really hurting. Do not worry or be afraid, I am fine. I am not dying - I'm not leaving you. I assure you, the pain is not as bad as it looks and my Carcinoid cancer is under control. If you want to talk more about this privately, I'm happy to do so."

I teach the honors English courses for juniors and seniors, and my kids are amazing; they totally get it and have adjusted accordingly. For example, sometimes my writing is too shaky because of the palsy like tremors in my hands, and a kid will take over at the chalkboard.  If I need to sit (which I can only do for a few minutes at a time because of my animated teaching style), they become eerily quiet so that I don't need to raise my voice beyond a normal speaking tone.

I was having great days the first couple weeks of school, and even better lessons... until I got a pain wave last week after 1st period. When these waves hit, it feels like my entire body is in a trash compactor and my bones are being broken. I had to be driven home by a friend, and then Mike and Rob drove my car to my apartment later that night.

I was embarrassed, and almost didn't want to return to school... I started questioning whether or not it was fair to my students to continue teaching given my illness; I felt guilty that the pain prevents me from preforming at my absolute best, and I am uncomfortable with the fact that there will be days I have to miss because of the unpredictability of my symptoms.

I returned to school two days later to find a beautiful card from my 3rd period, and had every kid rushing up to me to ask me if I was alright.  Many of the teachers (including the librarian) said that my students were really worried, and kept asking them if they knew anything about my condition ... one teacher even remarked, "I can't believe how attached they are, and how much they love you after only a couple of weeks!"
Card from my Current Juniors 2012
My kids' reactions, along with the overwhelming, genuine concern and compassion of my colleagues, made me realize that I had the support system to continue, and my students are better off with me (even if I'm not 100%) than without me.

As long as I can stand, talk, and breath - you can find me in room 126, discussing Beowulf, Ramayana or life choices... challenging kids to think about their identity, and pushing them to understand that they must create their own opportunities in life. Below are just a few pictures from the end of the summer / start of school... I am grateful that I am able to live my passion every single day.

Pictures: After my students graduate, I allow them to "follow me" on Instagram, and give some of them my number in case they need anything.

(Instagram Photo) One of my students (at Rutgers) showing me that she is writing in the journal I gave her for graduation

(Instagram Photo) College Send Off Lunch 2012: love these boys and their constant shenanigans (never in my class of course)

(top left - email from one of my students from last year who won the Gates Scholarship... love the subject line; top right - taking two of my recent grads out to lunch... these two are super special because I taught them both Jr and Sr year - and they're awesome of course; bottom - email from parent following last week's Back to School night -- I taught her daughter (North Eastern) as a senior 2 yrs ago ... this year I have her son.

It's texts like these that make me smile....

When I returned to my classroom after being sick for two days, I found a zebra sitting on this photo of a grad whom I still mentor on a weekly basis. My current students must have put it there! (Zebras = symbol for Carcinoid cancer).. on the right is a recent trip to Annamaria's home so I could visit with "momma"

This comment (on a recent Instgram photo my sister took of me) is from one of my students whom I had for Jr and Sr year... he and his best friend Kalyn recently told me, "we miss you like a child misses his mother" - such wonderful kids


  1. looks like you have inspired a great group of students! hope you're feeling better and back at teaching!

  2. Hi Marlena,
    I'm sorry to hear you're not doing better.
    Hop you get some clear answers soon!
    Also, with Hurricane Sandy approaching you hope you are prepared and in a safe environment.
    You are in my prayers.
    Annie Q.

  3. Sorry for the typo, meant to write "Hope you get some clear answers soon."
    Annie Q.

  4. Hi Marlena,
    You haven't posted anything for a month now.
    How are you? How is your health? Any new results?
    Have you been affected much by hurricane Sandy?
    You're in my thoughts and prayers.
    Annie Q.
    p.s. I have an octreotide scan Tuesday,Wednesday and Thursday. I have a new "pleonasm"exactly where the last tumor was. I'll let you know what happens.

  5. I just noticed my awful typo in my last comment I meant to write "neoplasm":)
    Hope you're having a good Monday.

  6. Dear Marlena,
    You haven't posted anything on your blog in a while.
    I hope everything is reasonably alright and that maybe you're feeling a little better and/or got some clearer answers about your health.
    Keep us posted if you can and feel like it.
    (from Toronto)

  7. Hi Annie! Thank you so much for your thoughtful concern ;) all is well ... Survived start of school and Sandy and ready to start blogging again ;))

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