A Tuesday Sobbing

When I don’t write, I sit alone with my thoughts – smashing fists at four in the morning keeps me awake with the crunching of knuckles. That’s where I was last night, staring at a white ceiling fan two hours from my alarm in the spare bedroom. Affectionately named “The Happy Room” by my son, it’s where I go to be alone. I curl up with the cats who come to find me and silently smirk about how I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with just two cats before I was married. But this morning I wasn’t smirking, I was sobbing.

This time last year, stress and uncertainty left only wisps of hair in a tangled bun atop my head. I broke entirely – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It was more than the weight of teaching post-pandemic, more than the weight of hitting five years from my cancer diagnosis, and more than the weight of parenting. It was all of it.

Since then, I resigned from teaching, worked from home, adopted our daughter, hit remission in March, then came back to teaching at a different school in August. Of all those crazy things, the only one I’ve not given enough emotional real estate is my remission date in March. I used to have big plans for my remission date. At one point, I wanted to get my original wedding dress hand-dyed teal and have a vacation in Colorado with close family and friends. When I actually hit remission, there was no pomp and circumstance. We were in the throes of adjusting to life with a newborn and functioning as a family of four. I thought that living would be enough, that being able to experience being the mother of a newborn without chemo would be enough reason to deny giving my remission date any emphasis, and that revitalizing my love for teaching and coming to terms with the things I cannot change would be enough.

For the first time, I spent the day teaching in a school building where I was never sick and dying. No one there has seen me bald, pale lipped, and crippled by illness. No one would ever know. But in the ways I tried to bulldoze through my remission and creeping grief of October 18th, dually my son’s birthday and my diagnosis date, they were not a way of healthily coping but rather a temporary salve crusting at the corners.

Six years ago, it was also a Tuesday. My mother braided a prayer into my hair as they prepared to take me to surgery, not knowing she would soon wash blood out of the the same braid. This morning, I loved on both our beautiful children before heading to work.

It seems, I guess, I’m not over it. Stage IV ovarian cancer, the trauma of losing organs with all the hopes of children who would look like me, and the juxtaposition of great joy on my son’s birthday and my own grief.

I’m getting there. God help me. Amen.


Returning After Respite

I knew five months ago in March as I reached my 5-year cancer remission date and felt something missing. I knew seven months ago in January as people began to call me by my first time instead of my last. I knew, most of all, eight months ago in December as my body trembled when the heavy door closed on a dark, empty classroom. I would want to go back to teaching.

After leaving due to mental health, writing a newspaper article, beginning a new job, surprise adopting our daughter, and grieving the career I built over a decade, how do I even bring the topic up to the people I love? If I go back to teaching, will I be the biggest hypocrite? Did I put my students and family through the last eight months of change for nothing? What was the purpose of it all?

I wrestled with these questions internally and in prayer for months, taking blows to the face and chest as if I deserved fistfuls of guilt and judgment.

When I finally gathered the courage to say it aloud, most people asked me the same questions: Are you healed enough? Are you sure? How do we make sure you don’t end up in that place again? What was the purpose of it all?

When I first became a teacher, twenty-two and bright-eyed, I gave my students my entire heart and the first fruits of my passion. Teaching, after all, is advertised as the heart rich, pay poor martyrdom only for those uniquely called to sacrifice. I loved most of it. I loved guiding students to create. I loved laughing so hard that we’d need a few minutes to recover from the mirth. However, it wasn’t until I stepped away that I realized I never reconsidered how much of my core I was giving away.

I didn’t reallocate my love or passion output when I got married. I didn’t move things aside when we had our son. I also didn’t move things aside when I had cancer and recovered. For years, I tried to function as if I were three people with an endless emotional capacity. In reality, my family ended up with an empty husk that crawled into bed at 3 PM, a version of myself that needed to heal in quiet places. I gave all of my first love and passion to my career instead of my family and never stopped to reevaluate my priorities. I realized parts of my heart hadn’t healed; the trauma of having stage IV cancer, the grief of losing two good friends to cancer, and trying to find a purpose for my life outside of teaching. I can’t say these things are solved, but I know I need to continue to work on them.

As my family had the hard talks about my desire to return to teaching, they really wanted to know if they’d lose me again. This is non-negotiable, so we have the safeguards of regular meetings with my therapist and building more of a community for where we live now. We also want to keep the things we created during the last eight months: Wednesday pizza nights and reading books together. I need to love my family first while also recognizing there is a song in my heart that sings out to teach teenagers.

I accepted a position as an English teacher at a different high school in the county. There are some things that cannot heal in the same place as trauma regardless of time or reason. Tomorrow, I will turn the knob to my new classroom, halting guilt and unforgiveness at the door, and leaving the mantle of the martyr in the past.

What was the purpose of it all?

The purpose was to rest and that reason alone is enough.

Examining the Roots

I miss it, but I also miss ME.

A year ago while doing yardwork, I asked Kevin to just run over the pink rose bush in the yard that was planted before we bought the house. When we moved in, I was happy to see it there and took pictures of the blooms, but after a while, the thorny branches became unruly and tangled. After getting scratched several times and inable to avoid the four-foot hazard, with the dogs taking some hits too, I grew tired of it and asked that he destroy it in the next mow. And he did.

Six months ago, I did the exact same thing with my love for teaching and students. After suffering emotionally to a medical breaking point, I mowed it over. My body trembled as my hand pressed against my classroom door as I locked it for the last time. I couldn’t understand in the thick of it, amongst the knots and coils, why it hurt so much to move within and equally as much to rip away.

Admittedly, a lot has happened in six-months that we couldn’t have seen coming. I started another job completely outside of education which has allowed me to work from home, and we adopted a beautiful little girl on Valentine’s Day. As I’ve healed through prayer, therapy, and introspection, a child-like knock began to rap against my heart. I know this sound – sweet and light – something I haven’t heard in years.

I noticed it when I walked outside to coax one of our beagles inside the house. Almost hidden among the tall grass was a single pink bud. I crouched down to see if it was a new plant from the scattered seeds or wreckage of last season’s mow, but my palm uncovered the original root. Grabbing a shovel, I uprooted the plant, pulling other weeds from its base, and brought it inside to be replanted to start anew.

I feel a lot like this bud.

In my life’s growth, I stopped pruning myself but continued to try to bloom. I allowed others to continue to clip and take every flower I could produce without managing the weeds and thorns – then suddenly, I was only a bushel of needles and pricked fingers.

I miss teaching, and I couldn’t remember that sweet joy and purpose until I leveled myself spiritually and emotionally by stepping away. Why did I want to do this in the first place? No one steps into teaching with a desire to be a martyr, society’s door mat, or a colleague’s pin cushion – but I think those are reasons we step away.

When I knew less, when I was hurt less…I’d like to remember that pure purpose and joy. I’d like to remember what I enjoy in my life – what gives me fire and spark in the world. That’s what I should’ve been bringing into the classroom, not extracting from it.

Can I forgive myself?

for making teaching an all encompassing purpose for living, for letting the talk and whispers of others enter my heart, for not putting boundaries on my time or emotional capacity, for reaching for more without cherishing what’s in my hands, for disappointing others because I was disappointed in myself, for stealing time from my family, for losing myself

When I can – when I can repent, recenter, and remember my spark, then I can let my fingertips push open a new classroom door.

Big Choices and Little Surprises

Let me just drop the big news first, from my last post in January – kind of like when you skip to the end of the book to find out if your favorite characters end up happy; WE ADOPTED A BABY GIRL! Nothing in our lives have been easy or less than dramatic. So, of course, Isabella (Izzy) entered our lives in true family fashion, giving us only 48 hours to prepare like her big bro Shiloh, and setting the skies ablaze with lights with her arrival.

I’m sitting here very much like when I finally sat down to write about what happened to me when I was diagnosed with cancer; swimming with the floating timelines and emotions of what happened while fighting exhaustion. I always know when I need to write because the ideas roll around my mind like an annoying marble, clinking incessantly against the edges until I finally make the time to pick it up. Prepare yourself, this is long!

Here we go!

The grief of leaving teaching, the hissing of a kettle put on too long, began to slowly dull, and I was settling into my new job. I was getting annoyed at myself because I kept trying to grasp for a bigger purpose in my job as a proposal manager, and I couldn’t find it. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate my new job and the freedoms and finances it brings, but there’s something numbing about leaving your dream job. Today, I laughed too hard at a TikTok about how people who leave toxic job situations don’t know how to function in a healthy work environment, with a boss they love, and people who are thriving – and that’s me! But, that’s for a different post. 🙂 Anyways, I was talking to my therapist, and we kept hitting the same place – what’s next? For the first time in my life, I didn’t know. I didn’t have any grand plans or something to strive toward since the whole focus of stepping away was to heal. I trusted God that stepping away from teaching was the right thing even though it broke me. I couldn’t have imagined the call on Feb 10th.

A call from a Richmond area code blinked on my phone, and I immediately sent it to voicemail. Kevin was picking up Shiloh from school, and I was finished with a meeting and eating lunch. I sat down at my desk to check more emails when a voicemail flashed, and the text preview was, “Hi Kristinna….we have a cold call. Call me back…”. I actually don’t remember the rest of it, but it was the adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services. A million thoughts raced past each other in my head, colliding with facts: we were approved as adoptive parents last June after the home study; many foster and adoption agencies blocked us because I had cancer because they believed I would die; is this why God extracted me from the high school classroom from students I loved so much?

The next day, Kevin and I found ourselves laughing and losing track of time with our new family member, Arcade (chosen pseudonym of birth mom) on Zoom. There was so much about them I loved, that if we weren’t chosen as the adoptive parents for the baby girl born a few days ago, that I still wanted to be part of their life anyways. Maybe it’s the teacher in me or just how I’m made as a person, but I genuinely, and still do, want to be there for them as they navigate life. Kevin and I both found ourselves saying, “We can be your cousins!” It was so natural – and we all decided on the formal name of Isabella for Izzy. The crazy thing about open adoptions is that the birth mom also gets to choose their family – this is what we love.

We were told Arcade needed the weekend – of course! So, that night I wanted to clean Izzy’s room out in faith. Both Isabella and Arcade felt like our family already, so I wanted to act on that feeling. After Shiloh was in the bed, Kevin and I prayed for the best outcome for birth mom and Isabella – even if it wasn’t us. We also had to sit down and talk about the nitty-gritty; money for the remaining adoption fee, if we were chosen. Before choosing BCS, we did A LOT of research to make sure the agency was ethical and transparent with their finances – so we felt comfortable with the fees – but comfort doesn’t make moolah go POOF into existence. I prayed while cleaning and felt God giving me assurance that we found our family, or rather they found us, but then I contested the Lord and was like, “Then give me money God! It’s going to have to fall from the sky!” Such is my relationship with God; He knows I’m stubborn, hardheaded, and need to be nudged a million times.

Kevin and I went downstairs to sit on the couch to talk about the money, and my phone pinged again. A family member messaged me and said they were going to gift us money for Isabella’s adoption fees. I called them and burst into tears because it was the exact amount we needed to not be drowning – to make it even kind of possible. I never told them how much we desperately needed. After getting off the phone and telling Kevin through tears, one of our longtime friends also said they were praying for us and wanted to gift us finances toward her adoption. I’m not a person who likes to ask or accept help. Honestly, I’d rather work half to death and do it myself, but as a good friend told me over the phone the next day – it was my own pride. We slept peacefully knowing that people had our backs, and no matter what, we had birth mom’s back.

The call came the next afternoon on Saturday. I was sitting on the stairs, and when we got the news, more tears flowed. If you know me, I’m NOT a crier – but sometimes the water hose gets turned on without my permission. We had a mad dash of calling everyone and getting the house ready in 48 hours for Izzy to come home. Our family, friends, and neighbors catapulted things to our home – and I kid you not – Izzy has clothes until she’s 3. Everyone joked that it was our second 48-hour dash for things since Shiloh also came unexpectedly since I had cancer, so we were pros! By Sunday night, her crib was up and we had the basics and then some.

The two-hour trip to the agency flew, and we gorged on Five Guys in the car because we didn’t know if we’d be hungry later from the nerves. Our social worker called the day before and asked us if we wanted to wait to bring Isabella home because the revocation period wasn’t over – the period in which the birth parents can choose to parent – and we said that even if birth mom chose differently, that at least we would be able to love her for a while. We knew this going down, but we weren’t nervous at all. I think it’s because we weren’t fearful or insecure – we didn’t let our potential hurt poison a good thing. After signing all the documents, the social worker asked us if we wanted to meet the baby, and without skipping a beat, I said, “No.” She looked at us like we had lost our minds. I said, “I want to spend time with Arcade first. We loved her first, and it’s so rude to b-line for the baby.” We genuinely loved birth mom first. We didn’t know Izzy yet, but we knew and loved Arcade, and we got to spend time laughing and bonding with our new cousin.

The actual placement was so special, and there are things I want to keep close to our hearts only – to tell Isabella the story one day for the first time, together.

Isabella came home on February 14th – Valentine’s Day.

Open adoption scares people, and we know this. In today’s super mixed world, it’s still not something that is common. There are tons of poorly written Lifetime movies about open adoptions gone wrong, and many people don’t have healthy examples within their close family; we are the first in our families as well. But I think for us, the biggest emotion we have is love for both Arcade and Izzy. They’re not separate entities or situations. We fell in love with Arcade as a person and considered them family first. We love Isabella with our whole hearts as our daughter – and anyone who contests that is going to have to deal with me – and things I may say or do for which I may need to ask forgiveness for later. haha. Joking, not joking.

If I never quit my job as a teacher and trusted God even though it thoroughly broke me, my heart could not have been healed by both Arcade and Izzy. I wouldn’t be at a different company working from home to receive her. I wouldn’t have cashed out 10 years of teaching retirement to help finance some of her fees. We wouldn’t be here.

I don’t have any crazy life lessons because I’m just trying to wing it on no sleep and milk spit up on my shirt – but I do know that you have to LOVE first. You MUST.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”: 2 Timothy 1:7

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”: 1 John 4:18


I’ve tried for over a month to think about a quippy way of beginning this post – I was thinking of a “new job, new me” – but that’s not right. It took slipping into an emotional chasm this week to figure out that I’m still the same person to my core. My core is just tangled.

A bunch of people have reached out and asked what I’m doing now, after leaving teaching high school, and if it was the right choice. I’m trying to type this as eloquently as I can, but the reality and feelings are like the first drops of blood to bubble up after you’ve scraped yourself on concrete: simultaneously surprising and expected.

I began my new job as a junior proposal manager with a company that has been part of my family, and whose CEO and co-workers I’ve known for over a decade – through college, marriage, cancer, and every thing big between. In many ways, it felt like walking through your cousin’s house. There are familiar faces and voices, and in that way, I’m immensely blessed; but, this post isn’t over.

On the first night of my new job, I cried full-chested. I’m still not sure if it was relief from the unsustainable workload of being a teacher for almost ten years or if it was the grief of leaving my dream job. Sometimes gratefulness and grief tangle themselves within people, and I’ve found myself pulling on each knot, examining it, and trying to figure out if I want to pull it loose or if it has a purpose…if I have a purpose anymore.

I went from loving, caring, advocating, and fighting for over 100 students each year for ten years to….not. What do I do with that time and emotional real estate?

I know for this period in life, for my family and myself, that I made the best decision, but I fell into the fallacy of thinking that now that I’m not called a teacher that I’m somehow, suddenly a copper cog in the machine.

I’m not. I have a deep passion for teens and helping them navigate life. I enjoy writing the gritty things. I will stand in the muck and mire with people, facing the torrents with them to remind them that poverty, injustice, and life can’t take away what we’re not willing to give up.

I’m not sure what form my deep passions will take since my day job has always been my passion and now it’s not – but I’m willing to find out.

Today, I rolled my pink teaching chair in from the freezing garage, which sat static since I stepped out of the classroom with my name on it, into the office, pushing away a chair that’s supposed to be good for people who work at a desk. Is it stupid that I suddenly felt like I regained a part of myself? My own small paradise, to remind me I’m not lost, I just stepped on another path and have not yet built up the calluses.

I Quit Teaching – Oh Captain! My Captain!

“Oh Captain! My Captain!”

It’s the title and repeated line of Walt Whitman’s poem. It’s also a pivotal scene in many English teachers’ favorite film collection about teaching with passion and gusto.

I always imagined myself as a female Mr. Keating, albeit a bi-racial small Asian version with tattoos and a gold butterfly nose ring. As an imperfect teacher and human, I’ve crafted stories and weaved history together on-demand for classrooms of 30+, stayed nights until 10 P.M. to run concessions stands with butter stained paper popcorn bags, and sat in hallways with students to cry with them over their frustration with school, their confrontation with death in the midst of COVID and guns going off in classrooms, and their deep grief of loved ones, sometimes their own children, passing into eternity.

At the end of the film, Mr. Keating, played by the immortal Robin Williams, leaves the school. He makes it abundantly clear that it’s not the students, that they didn’t do anything wrong, that they are loved and brilliant, but rather it is the system that saw students and teachers as numbers – necessary martyrs for society.

The best example we can set for our students, loved ones, and society is our lives. I have a deep urgency to SHOW the students how to take care of their mental health – something in this COVID-era that everyone is screaming and the government is throwing money toward but no one is SHOWING them. Words without action is complaining. I cannot continue to have several panic attacks when I park in the school lot, on the way to unnecessary meetings, and after the last student has gone home – vomitting in the school trash cans and trying to calm myself so I can drive home to my family – a shell of the vibrancy I used to exude.

Mere weeks after I finished intensive chemotherapy for stage IV ovarian cancer five years ago, I went back into the classroom bald and still sick – popping my wrists back into place during lessons on British literature because my body was not yet healed. I was forced to go back because of an absent paycheck due to illness and the bureaucracy that prevented me from using any of my over 100 hours of sick leave, but I was incredibly moved by my students, their genuine empathy, and our laughs in the classroom which helped me heal more than any medication cocktail. In all of the infinite futures which could’ve come from the moment I stepped into the classroom 9 1/2 years ago, the students have always been the effervescent source of purpose. They still are!

It’s with immense grief that I resigned from teaching effective this month. I have five more days in my classroom: two even days and three odd days. I’ve dry heaved with students about my departure and made sure to let them know, through our tears staining our masks, that I love them all dearly and with whatever influence I have left – I MUST show them with my life how to take care of themselves. I’m still here – I will be transitioning from a teacher to a community member who has a deep passion for teenagers. I hope that after mental health treatment – including more intensive therapy and healing – that one day I can step back into the classroom.

People will speak to you in the manner in which you allow them to – and this includes their silence. School systems – your silence speaks tremendous volumes – and you may no longer speak to me like this.

For every teacher stepping out of our heart work, I leave you with this:

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

– Walt Whitman

Taking my own Advice: Psychiatrists and Stepping Back

Scooting across the road in a time machine, every minute floated in infinite space. We borrowed the 2003 Acura from Kevin’s mom while our car was in the shop. Something about the thin carpet and the nostalgic musk reminded me of a carefree time in my life. I drove down the road on my way back from lunch with friends on a day off from work, from the chaos of being a pandemic teacher. We’re always told to write and say people-first – so technically people would want to say a teacher instructing during COVID-19, but reality is much different from what we all used to do.

As a cancer patient and survivor, I thought I already knew how to deal with trauma. I was convinced that a potential death sentence which wrecked my body, my family, and my finances was the most stressful thing I could endure and everything else was easy. I thought I had all the necessary skills and coping mechanisms to handle every future problem in strides.

Then yesterday, I found myself on the other side of a screen, in our dining room, completing the one hour intake processing for a psychiatrist. In many ways, I felt ashamed to be seeking help. Everyone has an opinion about getting help, but they are also not the ones going through your day or willing to bear every anxiety attack with you. They began with increased heartrate when I rode into the school parking lot, only stress vomiting on the weekends when people would ask me about work, then I hit my breaking point.

Last week, I sat in my classroom trailer during my planning period and the silence and reality of teaching during this time wound its spindly fingers around my neck and clenched. The bile began to roil up, pooling in my back of my throat, and all sounds became static in my ears like when the tv antennae are dislodged and no longer receiving signal. I went home and balled up in my bed unable to sleep.

I’m NOT okay.

The only things grounding me in teaching are my students. That’s it. Period. The laughs we share daily: watching my journalism class celebrate publishing their paper with a horrible out of tune Taylor Swift karaoke session, sharing mismatched mugs of cheap coffee with my creative writing class, and the hilarity of my English 11 classes.

I’ve been working on my doctorate for the last year researching psychosocial distress and how to cope with anxiety. It’s time to take my own advice. I’ll be on a leave of absence from Hopkins to just try to be okay again, to try to do things I enjoy and get my joy back. I hate it because I don’t want to feel like I’m not accomplished or not working hard or slacking. I’m not that person.

In my head, I know this stage of my life doesn’t define my entire life. I know I need additional support, and there is no shame in seeking help. Then why do I feel ashamed?

Emerging from Hibernation

When I heard it, I kept thinking that it wasn’t true and also: “THIS is the reason why I have trust issues!”

Here it goes — bears do not sleep the entire time for hibernation. They don’t. According to the Alaska Dept for Fish and Game, which was the result of my immediate Google search after having my childhood shattered, “Hibernation for bears simply means they don’t need to eat or drink, and rarely urinate or defecate (or not at all).” Not only was I shocked at the information, but I was also stunned by how apt the information was to how I’d been using it.

My last post was in September on this blog. I know I’ve gone through seasons where I’ve been busy or paralyzed by emotions – especially when cancer events are at their peak – but I’m not sure I’ve gone quite that long without posting. I don’t know that I can blame COVID more than the need emotionally and physically hibernate.

Starting my doctorate and reading research on mortality was hard, but so was teaching online while dually full-time parenting at home. I know myself. When I feel like I’m going to mentally or emotionally crash, I curl up to weather it then reemerge. My closest friend will tell you this and love me in spite of these odd survival habits. That’s why I was stunned and almost vindicated by how hibernation for bears doesn’t mean they’re entirely inactive but rather are conserving energy for survival.

In November right before my final projects were due for my doctorate, right before the end of the first semester of teaching high school online, and the week of Thanksgiving, I was hit by a drunk driver while sitting at a red light. As a hibernating bear, yes I’m sticking with this metaphor, it was like my den was flooded during hibernation. I was disoriented, had to push things back academically, and was in the position AGAIN where someone had to take care of me as I healed my way back to physical independence.

The chemo memories came back where concerned eyes glued themselves onto my limbs – shifting at my every movement.

I’ve healed and am finally, now in March, pulling myself out of the setbacks of the accident. Like most of us, I’ve gained the COVID 19-pounds and feel more sluggish than I’d like – but at the end of a long day, the out of sync snores from husband and the toddler we haven’t been able to kick out of our bed is more enticing than an elliptical. I go back into the high school classroom, masked and all, on Tuesday.

I’m not very profound, so I don’t have any crumbs of wisdom for how to get through to tomorrow, out of this hibernation — the dull droning of Covid life – other than the hope and faith that tomorrow will be better.

Reading about Myself

It was 2 AM, and I hit a mental wall. I’m normally a night owl, piecing together everything I need with the moths and sleeping dogs at my feet – but it wasn’t exhaustion which made my hands freeze and my eyes fixate on anything but the computer screen – it was the reflection I kept seeing of myself.

You ever have that moment when you get out of the shower and you almost do advanced acrobatic to avoid a glimpse of yourself in the foggy mirror? This was me. The further I get into researching why women who are receiving treatment or post-treatment for gynecologic cancers – the more I encounter some of my own pain which I haven’t yet resolved.

Some of the article titles contained the following:

  • Depression and Anxiety for survivors
  • Suicide attempt predictors among gynecologic survivors
  • Loss of sexual identity due to hysterectomy related to gynecologic cancer treatment
  • Loss of self confidence

The list goes on and becomes more grim.

The hardest part about pursing my doctorate at Hopkins isn’t the academic rigor – I can do that – it’s continuing to look at the pieces of our stories as women who were diagnosed with below the belt cancers and not wanting to smash all the pieces to the floor and give up.

Everyday I ponder whether or not I should continue. No one would blame me if I quit – I have a lot on my plate. My classmates are doing research on faculty of color turnover rates at universities and research on students with special needs.

I’m doing research on my mortality.

No one would blame me if I quit – if I quit trying to find the answers and concrete stepping stones for why gyn onc patients need writing therapy.

I felt incredibly alone – until at almost 3AM – I came across an article that I needed for the paper and one of the contributing authors was my first oncologist – Dr. Stephanie Wethington.

Maybe I can do this – and maybe I can’t. I don’t have answers today and that’s alright.

No Evidence of Disease…Financially

There are few things in life that give me as much joy as either a fresh cup of coffee burning down my throat or calculating how much money I saved on a sale or by doing it myself. We just moved into our first home – more on that in next post – and I am sitting at the kitchen island admiring the imperfect perfection of the subway tiles I just installed on the walls. I can hear the imaginary clink of gold coins racking up by how much we saved by doing it instead of hiring someone – though my hands are still splotched with white paint and grout.

Though I love a good deal and can’t help but brag about it, most people are squeamish about money – especially losing it. Some people have a strict policy of not talking numbers about salaries or purchases and most sensitively about medical bills.

Cancer treatment and post treatment life is physically, emotionally, and financially draining. Bills rack up and no matter how poorly or well you feel – the bank account reflects the cancer journey sometimes more than your body.

Can I be really transparent? This is something I haven’t shared with most people and just last week shared with my mom. After chemotherapy and our crisis mode was deactivated, our little family of three struggled financially. During treatment, I went unpaid for six months and the impact rippled through our finances until August 13th of this year – over three years after my last chemotherapy infusion. To feel some type of normal, we took out a personal loan – and though it helped lesson of the wallet gouging during and post treatment bills, the payments stared at me every month – pointing its bony finger at me with shame.

I am no financial guru. I have no get-out-of-debt five step plan. I only know how to work hard, so I did. I pursued more education and in addition to working full-time as a high school teacher, I began teaching as an adjunct English professor at the local community college at nights. We sacrificed a lot – family weddings overseas to night cuddles with Shiloh. One semester I extended myself too far and took naps in the college parking lot between teaching classes with an eye mask.

I know it was no one’s fault I had cancer. No one gave it to me, and I didn’t do anything that could cause it like smoke – but I felt a deep guilt about the impact it had on our money. My body healed and parts of my heart too, but the monthly bill to pay down the loan was another physical reminder that cancer happened. To be honest, some days I want to pretend it never did.

Just like my last infusion, I remember every detail of when I paid the final balance off the loan at the Wells Fargo bank counter two weeks ago. It was anticlimactic, and I kept saying to the tellers working through my covid mask that it was such a big deal.

In a way, I paid off the guilt that wasn’t really mine. A loan for money is borrowing what isn’t yours for a time then returning it with interest. I didn’t borrow only money, but I also feel like I borrowed shame and guilt over what my body put us through – then I gave it back with interest.