All posts by kristamariep

I always struggle to find the right words to describe myself. So rather than try, I'll list some words and you can piece together whatever description best suits me after reading my blog. Thirty two Dedicated Golden Retriever Mom High School History Teacher Loves Art History and Russian History Fascinated by psychology Lover of Books Springsteen fan Fashionista Believes in retail therapy and Emily Post Netflix subscriber Stubborn Cancer patient Hodgkins Lymphoma Fighter Strong Emotional Social Sarcastic Snarky

Coward

“We know the dirty secret: You don’t battle cancer. You don’t fight it. If cancer wants you, it walks into your room at night and just takes you. It doesn’t give a damn how tough you are. The only way you survive is through a mix of science, early detection, health insurance and luck. Courage has nothing to do with it.”

Josh Friedman :It’s O.K. to be a coward about cancer, Time Magazine August 7, 2017

I read this article article several months ago and dog eared it, then ripped from the spine, and more recently scribbled notes on it. I needed to mull it over, process what Josh Friedman, the screenwriter, was actually saying. He is a self proclaimed coward, one who felt utterly betrayed by his body. And to me that makes perfect sense. I too am a coward who felt betrayed by her own body. I was afraid that death would come from me like a scene out of the Deathly Hallows in Harry Potter. (We just watched all seven movies these past few weekends, hence the reference.) It had come for so many before me without any consideration for the incredible human it may have captured. At no point did I wrap my wrists and put on pink boxing gloves and think I will strike back hard and death will retreat. That’s just not a thing. People tell me all of the time how brave I am or how strong, but in all sincerity I got lucky. I say that with certainty because one of the strongest and bravest people I had ever known didn’t make it. And for that I agree with Josh Friedman ” Because when we glorify strength without showing empathy for weakness, we end up with a toxic version of heroism, one that links bravery to goodness and cowardice to getting what you deserve.” No one deserves cancer and the people who don’t survive it are no less brave than those who do.

The ‘battlefield’ of cancer is difficult to navigate. There is no right way to deal for the patient, their loved ones, caregivers, friends, colleagues, etc. and yet it feels like their should be. Like maybe someone needs to write a What to expect when your expecting cancer handbook. One that outlines how each party should respond. What to do or not to do. What to say or not to say. I don’t have those answers. Even in the aftermath, I have absolutely no idea. What I know is that it’s never over. Cancer will forever be part of the life you have. And it may manifest as scanxiety at yearly appointments, ptsd, depression, brain fog, physical disabilities, etc. Or may be a shift in thinking, a new zeal for life. Regardless of the good or bad, it exists. The fear of dying doesn’t just one day disappear. If anything you make peace with it and pray that you have the ‘invisible cloak’ that keeps death from finding you for a very long time.

I think it’s important to say out loud that it’s okay to be a coward about cancer. It’s okay to full fledge panic when you hear those words applied to you. It’s okay that the experience sticks with you. No one else has to understand it. You hope others empathize, but sometimes it’s inconceivable unless it’s happening to you. I think the true test of courage is in your resiliency. Can you face crushing disappointment time and again and still find a way to keep pushing forward? Were you able to be thankful for the life you had even when the future seemed improbable? Those aren’t easy things and I commend anyone whether they have ever had a life threatening illness or not who is able to do that.

I guess I needed to mull over this article to acknowledge that no part of this experience has been without cost. And no part has been without fear. And even so, every single time I hear the lyrics:

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song

I want to shout them at the top of my lungs. (Maybe I would have said sing if I wasn’t tone deaf, but I can’t really be sure about that.) But I think it’s important to note that I am no braver or stronger than anyone else. I did what I had to do and thankfully it has worked thus far. I had my nine month scan, with minimal scanxiety attached, and had no evidence of disease or lymphoma progression. I got my first set of vaccines and was cleared to return to work with the understanding that I had to remain vigilant about keeping a distance from sick people and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. More on how I accomplish that in the future. I know that I am grateful for my resiliency but I am equally grateful for having an opportunity to grow emotionally and spiritually as a result. I can ask for help, something I struggled with in the past. I can tell people no, because I no longer need to please. I can relax. I can love fiercely. I can be a better friend.

So it’s okay to be a coward, it’s okay to fight, it’s okay to be numb, it’s okay to feel too much. It’s up to you. Cancer doesn’t decide.

Advertisements

A Quick and Easy Guide to Happiness

In my quest to be Hallmark Happy in 2018, I’ve been taking mental notes and literal snapshots of suggested ‘happiness tricks’ to try out. So we are fourteen days in and here is what I have discovered thus far: happiness is a choice and by making that choice you are choosing to do things that you believe will make you happy. And that may look different to everyone. I cut out this quick and easy guide from Time magazine and thought why not…

IMG_2027Write a thank you note. No problem. I write thank you notes all of the time. Possibly because Emily Post has sanctioned it as proper etiquette or because I have an affinity for stationary and all things pretty paper or because I like this old fashioned form of communications. Regardless of the why, it really does make me happy to thank others for their kindness and generosity. Real Simple recently said that the thank you note was obsolete and that maybe so, but I think it’s unfortunate. So maybe you shouldn’t expect to receive one in the near future but at the very least considering writing one because it could make you just a little bit happier.

Snap a Smart Phone Photo. Don’t mind if I do. I am by nature a documenter of life. I know that it’s important to be present and in the moment instead of behind the camera, but as someone who has feared having a finite number of moments it has been increasingly more important to me to document them. A very close friend once said to me that she wished she had more videos, more photos of her loved one because they’re all that she has left of them now. Plus why wouldn’t you want to capture all those great moments in life. Just this weekend I snapped photos of every smile I could at our cake tasting, family gathering, dog playing. Do it and print them. Surround yourself with happy moments of your life. Sometimes the little things really are the big things. I recently read an article written by a 27 year old who didn’t get the chance to beat her cancer and her words definitely resonated; appreciate the life you have!

Drop (almost) everything. Easy doing at this current juncture. I would have sworn to you nine months ago that I was completely incapable of this. I was anxious getting a facial for the ten minutes when she told me to relax, because I felt like their were other things I should be doing. But not anymore. I appreciate the down time, the opportunity to just be. Maybe that means spending an afternoon unexpectedly napping, take the dog for a walk, watching a movie you may have already watched; just taking some time to unwind. I’m mastering it now and worry about how to get back into the swing of my harried work schedule.

Get some sun. So years ago when all of the self help guides suggested getting out in nature I scoffed and now I know that I shouldn’t have. I should have wanted to go out chasing butterflies in the yard and letting the sun shine on my face, soaking up all the Vitamin D I could get. I may have arrived late to the party, but I definitely got there. Now most days I jump at the chance to get outside and take a walk, photograph the landscape and the wildlife. It’s peaceful and helps me feel grounded. I can’t wait to hit the hiking trails in the spring and am still considering some winter activities.

Jot down what you are grateful for. I love the concept of a gratitude journal or even just writing down a positive note from the day like the Happiness Project suggests. It really does help you reflect on the good things rather than the less than perfect things we tend to dwell on. I stopped journaling when I got sick a few years ago, maybe because I just let myself be too busy or I was bogged down in what I couldn’t control, but I missed it. And since getting back into it, I find it meaningful. I want to look back someday at the year I was engaged and remember singing Champagne Supernova in the car on repeat.

Think about doing someone a favor. I have always enjoyed doing things for others. I pay attention and surprise them with that gift they mentioned once upon a time or drop a note in the mail when I’m randomly thinking of someone. It makes me happy to make others happy. I have been finding little ways to show people in my life that I care and I’ve been doing more of it since the New Year. I read an article about a couple who committed to doing 365 days of acts of kindness and the impact it had on their lives. They claimed 2017 was their best year ever as a result, they did so many unexpected things and met so many unexpected people. They were living their best lives and became even more incredible humans. We are living in a world that seems to lack empathy and compassion, so why not be part of a bigger movement that showers strangers with kindness. I’m hoping to find ways to demonstrate kindness that exist outside of my network.

Do a mini meditation. This one was a little more difficult for me. Meditation is an interesting concept but it’s pretty much foreign to me. I had to put some additional thought and energy into this practice. I started by using the meditation setting on my fitbit and would use it when I was in the car waiting for someone. Then I added the headspace app on my phone and would occasionally add that. The quiet was nice but I’m not sure that I feel as though it made me happier. I did however decide to be mindful about the practice and built it in to my morning stretching and sun salutation routine. Verdict is still out for me on this one.

Buy tickets to events. I’m all about experiences. I think about my annual summer vacation with one of my closest friends, we have experiences. We go to the movies, 5 Wit escape rooms, and so more. Those are the things I remember. Same with one of my oldest friends, we made a resolution years ago to do new things and it took us to great places, even to Philadelphia to run the MFA steps like Rocky. In thinking we definitely need to bring that resolution back. I haven’t had the opportunity to buy any tickets primarily because I’m still not suppose to frequent public spaces for several more months, but once I can I’ll be sure to add this to my list.

These were just a few suggestions, but I’m glad I tried them. I choose to be happy and have been consciously making that choice since my cancer diagnosis. Life is what you make of it, better or worse. You choose.

 

 

Hallmark Happy

As 2018 kicks off, I’ve been thinking about what I hope the coming year will bring. There is always so much hope and promise in the new year. It’s a new beginning, a fresh start and I think people need that or at least I do. And I know that you can begin a new every single morning that you are blessed enough to wake up to, but for me that just gives me way too many chances – 365 to be exact. I need a hard and fast start date. So for me, January 1st has always been it.

A friend recently asked me if I had any resolutions and normally I have a list a mile long, but this year I don’t have any.  Resolutions are a firm decision to do or not to do and this year, I want nothing more than to be Hallmark happy. I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous, like maybe I’ve had one too many sips of eggnog while watching Christmas movies at the end of the season. But really take a moment and think about it. The Hallmark Channel sells us joy in the form of romanticized feel good movies, that yes are targeted a female audience; but still, who doesn’t want joy? We spend a considerable amount of time in our lives working without play, worrying, stressed, tired, far too busy, watching and reading dramatic “joyless” stories. Doesn’t it make sense to want to be Hallmark happy? I spent the last week of 2017 into 2018 predominantly watching Hallmark, spending time with friends and family, and being grateful for my beautifully messy life and I felt completely at ease and at peace with myself. I feel like that’s something we so rarely say because there is always something we should be running off to do. But what if we could balance it all just a little better? So I didn’t make a resolution to do a set number of things, instead I resolve to be Hallmark happy and that starts with gratitude, reflection, and love in all forms.

In my opinion, the world needs more Hallmark! Would it really be so bad if people conscientiously practiced self care and mindfulness; if they were genuinely grateful for what they had, even if it isn’t everything they wanted; if they showed compassion and empathy to all, even strangers? Just a thought as I go into 2018 with a light heart and a new year full of hope, possibility, and the prospect of creating my own Hallmark Happy. Happy New Year!

26166739_10213096312381325_3303391847493875801_n

Addicted!

FullSizeRender

In 2007, Springsteen recorded Radio Nowhere about his frustrations regarding music in the digital age and I completely understand why. We live in a world where we are inundated by media on every social network that exists, every morning and evening television program; and still there is something missing. “This is radio nowhere, is there anybody alive out there?” For me that something missing is how we interpret what we see, read, forward, retweet, #hashtag, share, etc. I am guilty of getting information via facebook when my eyes are barely open at 5 am and zero caffeine has entered my system. I read and am generally appalled but mostly I’m skeptical. Is what I’m reading real or the infamous “fake news” Trump is always yammering about. He’s not wrong in that sense there is such a thing as fake news, it generally isn’t what he wants us to believe is fake, but it does exist here in America and around the globe. Leaders across free nations are taking it very seriously, as they should. And the reason why is because people have always taken what they read as truth without further consideration and often pass it along almost automatically.  Because it is in print is must be real. However, what is real is not always true or accurate, nor is it without personal bias. I admit to you I’m drawn toward liberal based news, partly because I find it more accessible to the reader. The difference is that I am aware of my biases and am aware of the fact that I am addicted to print.

Once I’m done browsing facebook for who knows what (to potentially see the next terrifying insect or reptile to emerge in the Down Under), I move on to Flipboard a news app suggested to me by the author David Sedaris when I met him some years ago when he was promoting Squirrel Meets Chipmunk, then I skim the Skimm which offers up some highlights of the day.  I also get what’s of interest in BBC news thanks to Josh’s am texts. In terms of television news, I just can’t stomach any of it really regardless of the network. Josh and I prefer to get our television news in comical snipets like SNL and John Oliver, completely bias and hyperbolic and still I love every minute of it. And while it may be those things, it can still be poignant. Take the “Welcome to Hell” skit addressing the ongoing sexual harassment allegations, it was an anthem to accompany #MeToo. I think I just tend to appreciate the ‘in your face’ appeal, if it’s out there in the world; let’s open up a dialogue about it.

That’s it for me in the digital realm of news, what I really love is print magazine subscriptions. I am full fledged addict. And it has gotten so much worse over the last eight months of my medically related house arrest. I actually spent the better part of the last two days reading and reading my magazine subscriptions which include Nat Geo (the normal one and the History one), TIME, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, Real Simple, Prevention, Martha Stewart Weddings, Shape, and InStyle. It’s insane. I need to find a magazine addict support group. I clip articles that I can use for school, topics I want to blog about, fitness routines I want to try. I make lists of what books I want to read, movies and tv shows that might be interesting to me, and potential music downloads. These all move to my planner so I can streamline where to find all these tidbits of knowledge. And there you have it, the proof of my addiction piled high with post it notes covering what I may use it for. And for those of you concerned about the environment, this may not be a huge help but I then use what is left of the magazines after I tear out the articles I want for projects for my students. So at least they do not go to waste.

Are there others out there who do this? That need a printervention? Just wondering. And if you were wondering this is partially how I occupy my vast amounts of free time at the moment.

 

 

Something to Say..

I always have something to say or at least that’s what my fiancee said to me this morning before he left for the office. His actual words were ” I need to stop off at the hardware store after work” and when I asked why, he replied “to pick up some bolts to shut that trap of yours”. I thought that was pretty clever. But all joking aside, he was telling the truth. My parents would certainly be in agreement. And they would be right, I generally always have something to say about everything. Now that you know that, I’ve decided to keep my blog going and instead of it primarily being pretty witty and…cancerous, it will be pretty witty and whatever else I may fancy at the time. Don’t misunderstand, I’ll still update on my cancerous situation and I am writing a book about my experience, thanks to all of your encouragement but I’m realizing more and more that it’s only a piece of my story.  I’d like to think I have more to say.

Since my transplant, I have become a morning hiker, an afternoon couch potato, and an evening contemplator. All of which I imagine sound riveting and contradictory, I’m sure. I started walking daily a few months ago in hopes of rebuilding strength lost from the last four years of chemical cocktails, radiation waves, and intruder cells. I started off walking around the block, which I was excited about because a year ago I would have needed Jax to pull me the three quarters of a mile. (Now I only use him to drag me up hills.) It didn’t take long for a mile to turn into two and even three on most days. I’ve convinced my dad to join me and Josh on weekends. It turns out I enjoy it and am having a great time exploring. Except just one side note, make sure you have the right gear to explore. Like make sure your pup has a fluorescent pinnie or bandanna so nearby hunters won’t think he’s a deer. Bundle up when it drops below 30, but not so much that you limit your range of motion. (Reasons why the Pillsbury dough boy probably wasn’t training for a marathon.) So in my afternoon couch potato mode I was able to consumer report review what to wear and landed on cold gear and a tri-climate jacket. Making those purchases means serious business. Yay for new hobbies and investing in me.

That brings me to my other crazy lately. I am all about setting and achieving goals and planning. I have so many planners to prove it; one for teaching, one for my wedding, one for life. And I love it, possibly because I love paper and stickers and highlighters and binder clips. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m an office supply junkie who likes personalized pretty stationary. Clearly things that matter to all adults. Isn’t it adult to have stationary with your name on it. I also spend my mornings updating a to do list that I push through in the am so I can couch potato in the afternoon. My couch time is all over the place. I have watched series after series since my hospital stay to just watch (Girls), to stop living under a rock (The Sopranos and Game of Thrones), for the sake of nostalgia (Party of Five). It’s been interesting and somewhat thought provoking. There is a lot of really great tv and just as much mediocre tv and some downright bad tv.  But for now, I get to enjoy my couch potato time and plan to Hallmark Christmas movie every chance I get. It used to be a snow day treat, so I fully intend to take advantage.

And my evening contemplations are lists of all things I want to do, intend to do, hope to do and do. Most of the time we race to get through the day and don’t reflect on what we actually did. I laugh because we so often say sorry to people when we don’t get in touch and explain it away by saying “life got in the way.” I think we should apologize to ourselves for thinking life got in the way instead of being present or making plans to enjoy it even more. So that’s what I have to say today!

Hesitant

I think I have been waiting for something profound to write about or say and I keep coming up empty handed, so to speak. I feel like after all of this, I should have some sage advice to offer, to myself mostly, or at the very least have a wise phrase that others may jot down in their journals – because everyone does that, right? But nope, I have not a thing. However, I did come across a quote, that I quickly jotted in my journal, that resonated with me ; “The things that is really hard and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself”.

And I have come to realize that just being, for the majority of people, is work. In the words of one of my former students, “the struggle is real”. I’m six months out from my transplant. No gvh or signs of a struggle between my cells and my donor cells. And I just received the official word on my latest test results – 100% chimerism (meaning my immune system continues to be 100% of my donors) and 99% T-Cells (which are responsible for fighting off rogue cells, like Reed Sternberg cells that earmark Hodgkins). So those results are awesome, as were my 28% increase in lung function since March. I’m relieved to say the least, and have to admit that I was hesitant leading up to these six month benchmarks. I was hesitant to believe that they would be well…good. I interpreted every itch as the dreaded Hodgkin’s itch (by the way intense itching is not normal and is often the first sign of an underlying problem), and every abnormal sensation an angry lymph node waiting to implode my new sense of well being. And I’m not an anxious person, thank god. I can’t even imagine how many times a day I would need to utilize the deep breathing app on my Fitbit if I were. And still I’m hesitant to believe that transplant might have been the answer. I’m left with 70% doubt, since 30% success is what the data shows. And I am fully aware that no statistic has ever been accurate in my case, but the numbers play tricks with my mind. I guess no different than Calculus, I had serious doubts of passing that too. Most of the time I can look past the hesitation, but it creeps up in the oddest ways. So I have to work on it even though it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything, that’s for sure.

I’m full steam ahead planning for our wedding two years from now. And admittedly, prior to transplant, I dreamt about marrying Josh but was never quite sure we’d get there. It’s hard to future plan, when you are confronted with the possibility death. I know Tim McGraw makes it sound almost exciting in his song – “I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying”, but it isn’t and all I can say to that is F-you Tim McGraw. Now don’t get me wrong, this experience has changed my perspective and my life in a positive way, but still… Anyhow, future planning is in full swing. I already committed to a photographer, a caterer and a dj. So much for my commitment phobic nature that apparently disappeared after my lengthly relationship with Josh, Dr. Z, and Hodge. I’m having fun with the wedding planning and getting back into shape for it. I like to call it sweating for the wedding, Josh does not – especially when I make him get up early on the weekends to hit up the bike trail. But he humors me anyway. I’m more or less committed to treating my new stem cells better than my last ones, so as a result I have developed an intense relationship with Blaze (my fitbit). We count our steps, flights of stairs, and punches thrown (boxing dvd) all while enjoying Fabletics, Jax walks, and the outdoors. I genuinely feel great!! And I can’t be more thankful for it. So I guess my words of wisdom, that I won’t hesitate to tell you are “always be grateful, thankful and know that you are blessed”. And for more gems like this keep reading (National Novel Writing Month is November and I just might be working on something big). And in the meantime, I’ll keep doing the hard work of becoming myself.

22553008_10212518064445488_2277125673465734717_o

 

In my first day of school clothes…

F. Scott Fitzgerald said “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall” and I couldn’t agree with him more. I have always loved September. The excitement of going back to school, new school clothes, notebooks, pens and pencils and especially my shiny new planner. My planners have completely evolved over the years from academic planners in high school and college only needed to record due dates for major assignments to my teacher planner that basically contains notes from my career in the form of handouts, sketchnotes, to do lists, records, etc. I look forward to the day my cell phone planner tracker says that my package will arrive. And I’m even more excited when I see my amazing mail carrier deliver the pretty Erin Condren box, you can’t miss it. There is nothing better than opening it to find inspiring messages and stickers before you get to your shiny new personalized planner. Yes, I am aware that I carry a dork torch and I’m proud. There are others of my tribe, my colleagues, that know exactly what I’m talking about. I received my planner at the beginning of July so I could begin making it my own for the 2017-2018 school year. And here I am on the first day of school already making plans and lists and taking notes.

Except for one thing, I can’t go to school! So here I sit in my first day of school clothes getting ready to go in for bloodwork instead of collaborating with my team. This is actually my second missed first day, I missed school two years ago when I was prepping for my auto transplant that never happened. This time I missed my first day because of the allo transplant that did. Not only will I miss the first day, but I’ll miss the whole first semester and it is terrifying. I keep thinking about my awesome substitute and what she may need, what my students will think, if my classroom will survive the chaos of learning. I know in my heart that all will be fine, but I like being there. What I really should say is this. Hi I’m a control freak! Something you think I would have let go of considering I’m rarely in control of my life thanks to Hodge. But alas, old habits die hard.

Not being there is a learning curve for me. I’m still working just from home. I’m developing an online class for my AP students and helping with the planning for my other classes. I’m working on curriculum development and partaking in personal professional development. So at least if I can’t be there I’m still part of the process. Thus, I did some school clothes shopping and I get ready for my day as if I were going to work. The awkward videos I’m making of myself doing mini lectures and explaining assignments makes it a necessity. In many ways I’m excited for this new experience and the new start that comes with the fall and +134 days after my bone marrow transplant.

21167796_10212153026799775_1312296514763207265_o