Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Variety Package of Tears, Kids and Lessons From Leeches

25 September 2008

In my world right now, tears and cancer go hand in hand. Sometimes the tears lasts only a which it may literally only be 'a' tear. There are shower at the Y tears, meditation tears, reiki induced tears (these are cleansing and brought on by connection and looking deep within, as well as my reiki friend), tears in the middle of the night, wig shopping tears, hat shopping tears, tears from thoughtful cards, tears brought on by the right words at the right time, tears from a thoughtful gift from a friend, tears from a thoughtful card or gift from a student, tears brought on through a shared journey with someone else going through cancer, tears at the dr, tears for fears, tears of frustration, tears of "Why?, tears of joy, tears of thankfulness, tears of love
All of these tears are good for me, whether they are sad or happy. They help me with acceptance and connection to others.

There have been situations when I have been shocked at how strength can wade through the thick mud of tears and I can breathe through them. I told my students about my cancer last Thursday. I was honest, open,showed them my port and was able to get through it with only one mini-moment of catching a tear that began to well (as my teammate quietly slipped his handkerchief into my hand...thank you, Gordon). They asked great questions, honest questions, and were wonderful through it all. They had a few tears, but mostly what I felt was a lot of love. One student came to me later that day and looked me in the eye and said, "Ms. Sommers. So. It's official. You're losing your hair." He asked it twice and my reply was, "Yes I will, but I'll still be the same person inside." I guess it was his way of accepting it and after my answer, he just said, "Ok." and went on to his usual 7th grade antics. I chuckled and shook my head in a situation that might normally bring on a tear or two. He came to me yesterday and said, "Maybe I'll shave my head." Another chuckle and shake of the head.

Another student was very upset that others were focusing so much on 'the hair thing'. His sister has an immune deficiency disease and doesn't have any hair. He told me that despite his sister's hair loss, he is so glad she is still around and he loves her very much. I let him know how he had a wonderful perspective of the whole thing and he would be SUCH a great help to me as well as to the rest of the class for his insights. (He informed me yesterday that he is moving, dangit!)

Incredible thoughtfulness in all forms lands in my lap every day. Teachers I don't know very well, parents who don't know me but volunteer to come clean my bathroom or come make me laugh, coworkers who have battled or are battling this as well, students who approach me with incredible words...they are sometimes uncomfortable, but always encouraged because I don't want secrets or unanswered questions. One of my teammates came to school on Monday with his head shaved. His wife reluctantly said 'ok' (thanks, Kelly) and he was so funny as he lifted his chin, raised his bald head, puffed out his chest and acted like he will be listened to more by his students (who listen to him anyway partially due to 1st quarter lunch detentions). Combine that with his sweet giggle and "Oh, geez" and he makes me smile a LOT! Another person I work with (who needs to remain anonymous) came to a meeting one day with burned copies of the movie Crazy, Sexy, Cancer and the Sex in the City episodes where Samantha has cancer. Thoughtfulness hits me in so many ways! And then there is my student teacher John who has been wonderful about covering classes while I am come in late and leave early for Dr. appointments. I am so appreciative of that! I also can't say enough about the "humanness" of my principal and assistant principals. Their understanding, support, and willingness to help is overwhelming!

When I was an 18 year old river guide at Dear Old Camp Icaghowan, I had 10 girls paddling down the Namekogan River in Wisconsin. Rules were pretty 'lax'. Jumping off bridges and cliffs were activities throughout the day. I would hear rapids coming up and say, "Hey guys, we better put our lifejackets back on." Small trees were downed and HUGE bonfires lit our campsites through the night. Bears were chased. One of the rules I did really stick to was shoes were ALWAYS on your feet (except when one of the kids had REALLY nasty blisters and we made a flip flop for her out of maxi pads and duct tape). I went down to the water one day to wash my feet. It was slow moving and all I wanted to do was take off those wet shoes I was forcing us all to wear. No kids were around, so I did just that. It felt so good to wiggle my toes in the mud. I got out of the water and 'SURPRISE!' My feet were FILLED with leeches. Of course it reminded me of the scene in the movie African Queen but I had to completely supress my first impulse which was to scream at the top of my lungs for my campers to come down to the river and 'GET THESE NASTY SUCKERS OFF ME!' I knew they would freak if I did. From the depths of my gut, I summoned the calmness to gently call up to them, "Hey you guys, could someone bring me the salt shaker?" Of course they came running down to see what was going on, proceeded to freak out (because that is often 12 year old girl group mentality), and handed me the salt shaker. I knew I had to be calm and spoke through their screeches, "It's ok. No big deal. Look...they come right off." And they did.

This experience really taught me a lot about leading and group mentality. When I'm at school, my students give me strength. When I tell students from previous years, the last thing I want to do is cry....oh, I may have a tear or two but that's ok. I explain things to them and answer questions. I focus on the cancer being out of my body and the chemo and radiation are precautions so it doesn't return. It is big ugly pothole between now and when my hair grows back. It scares the hell out of me. The strength and the deep breaths that I take in order to explain things to them are really good for me (kind of like the leeches.)

There it is. A plethora of tears, kids and crazy camp stories.
Thanks again for strength, support and love.

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