Thursday, June 21, 2018

Archers Got the Power and Other Things




During these dark days when it seems as though reason and civility and kindness have completely disappeared from the planet, I have been heartened at the empathy expressed by many former Archers. Just like any "family," we don't always agree all of the time...and yet, even those with whom I disagree generally express their opinions respectfully.
What I loved about South Side was that we were a big, dysfunctional family. There were times when people made me crazy, and I wanted to smack them, but if anyone said anything about South Side or the people therein, I was ready "to go all South Side" on them. Such is the nature of families. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned. We do not have to agree with others to care about their well being.
All of this reminds me of some favorite lines:

Within the circularity of it all,
the cosmic riddle of life and death and life again,
Each swan is always a swan with all its beauty and grace.
No frog would induce a jay to live its way.
Perhaps, therein lies the secret to peaceful coexistence.
-Author Unknown


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Cancer Schmantzer: The Next Chapter

I wrote my first blog one year ago today. For those who have not committed this ground breaking, earth-shaking blogpost to memory, here are the first two paragraphs:

      There is a cancer in the body politic. Our lawmakers seem more intent on playing to the voters they choose rather than on serving all of their constituents. We have grown to expect that the Super Majorities will be more concerned with consolidating and maintaining power and control than with with governance. At this point, I see very little chance for a cure of this cancer.

     There is also a cancer in the body of Phyllis Bush. On Friday, April 7th, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Even though what lies before me feels like a kick in the teeth, I have chosen to be annoyed rather than bummed; in fact, this diagnosis has allowed me to give new meaning to the word pissment. I usually share my middle school mean girl thoughts and potty mouth only with my friends; however, when I was in recovery after my surgery and my doctor gave me the word, all I could think to say was the F word.

Cancer Schmantzer! Here is where I am today. I had my 3 month PET scan exactly a month ago, and the results showed that the chemo has held my cancer at bay--or at least until my next PET scan this summer.

While I am still the same person that I was when I started this unplanned adventure, I have learned a lot during the past year and a half. Despite the fact that there is still a cancer in the body politic, most of those who populate my world are good and kind and thoughtful. People (both friends and those I hardly know) have said and written lovely things. I have been blown away by the unexpected gestures of thoughtfulness that have been shown to me.

While carpe diem (seize the day) is a common theme throughout literature, rather than teaching that theme, I am trying to live it. Last July we took my grandsons to see a Cubs’ game, and as they went down close to the field to watch the teams warm up and as they walked away from me, I remember thinking that that might be the last time I would ever go to a Cubs’ game with them, and I was filled with sadness. However, now that I have a reprieve (at least for awhile), I realize that tomorrow is promised to no one. I plan to make the most of whatever time I have left on this planet. If I want to do something, I will find a way to do it. If I want to go somewhere, I will find a way to make that happen. If someone or something makes me crazy, I know that I can choose to walk away.

I often become impatient with people who whine and complain and do nothing to change their situation. However, I have lived the past 74 (nearly 75) years on my own terms, and I will continue to do so. I will continue to speak and write about issues that are of concern to me. I will continue to canvass for candidates in whom I believe. I will continue to open my home and my heart to those I love and care about.

In the words of Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.”
...and that is my plan. I will continue to show up.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

On PET Scans and Other Things

Last Monday I had a three month follow up exam with my oncologist to get the results of my PET scan; the purpose of the scan is to find out whether the chemo treatments had worked. My stomach had been in knots since I had the scan the Thursday before, and I am happy to report that my doc said that everything looks good. My first reaction was “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes,” to which I replied, “I love you.”

Before I left Parkview, I stopped by the infusion lab to tell some of the oncology nurses the good news. While I was glad to let them know, I was aware that there are a lot of patients in that infusion area who were not going to be getting good news any time soon, so I made a point of keeping my happiness restrained.

While some people think that cancer, especially Stage 4, is a death sentence, in many cases, cancer is considered to be a chronic disease. Whether or not it is chronic, a person with cancer is never out of the woods. The good news is that I now have a reprieve. I will go back for a check up in June and another PET scan later this summer, but for now, all is good.

Right now I am flooded by emotions that I am still trying to process. I dodged the bullet this time. No chemo--at least for now. I am hoping that my next PET scan will be positive as well, but I also am realistic enough to know that cancer can rear its ugly head any time it damn well wants to.

I thought that I would have been doing happy dances all week, but oddly enough, I haven't been. While I never made a plan to use stoicism as a strategy, my m.o. has been simply to put one foot in front of the other, to deal with whatever happened when it happened, and to try to not get ahead of myself by anticipating outcomes. Apparently, having the sword of Damocles hanging over my head for all of that time must have taken its toll because I have been exhausted all week. Last week’s drama with Max Quigley, the firefighters, EMS, and my Women of Grace speech did not help quash my exhaustion level.  (https://qbg1.blogspot.com/2018/03/my-women-of-grace-speech.html)

So, what have I learned from my odyssey through cancer world?

The first thing that comes to mind is patience. I am not by nature a patient person, and cancer doesn’t give a care whether you are a Type A person or obsessive-compulsive or anal-retentive. Stuff is just going to happen when it happens, and I have gotten pretty good at learning how to hurry up and wait.

Another thing that I have learned is that the folks who work in oncology are incredibly smart and incredibly kind.

As a person who always has liked to get things done yesterday and who likes to do most things myself, I have found that as I have needed help, my friends and family have stepped up to the plate and have been incredibly supportive and caring. Having a friend and caregiver like Donna Roof has been a gift that I can never repay, especially since she puts up with me when I am not being very put-up-withable. I am also grateful for all of the former students who have shown up in my life. Whether they sent flowers or brought dinner or sent lovely cards and notes, I am extremely grateful.

Sadly, I no longer have an excuse to use the handicapped carts at the grocery store because I had a lot of fun zipping around Kroger. However, I may find it necessary to break a rule or two and zip around the grocery store for old time’s sake.  Who’s going to know? Better yet, who’s going to stop me?


Of all of the life lessons that I have learned is that I have been given a second chance. If there are places to go or things to do that are on my radar, then I will do them.

If there are people or things that I don’t want to deal with, then I won’t. Life is too short to deal with unnecessary and irrelevant stuff.

If there are things that need to be said to the people that I love, I will say them.

For those of you who have been following my cancer-schmantzer odyssey for the past year, I really appreciate all of your kind words and support. Thank you!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

My Women of Grace Speech

Good afternoon!
To some of you I am a retired South Side HS English teacher.
To some of you I am a friend.

To some of you I am public school advocate and a member of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education and of the Network for Public Education.
Some of you know me as a middle school mean girl.

                               To my grandsons, I am a LEGENDARY SLAM GRAM!



Some of you know me as the person who writes about my experiences in dealing with my odyssey through cancer world in my blog, and that is probably why I was invited to speak today.

However, what exactly is a woman of grace and why was I chosen to tell my story? To me, being a woman of grace means being a person with inner strength.
As I look around this room, there are so many accomplished people, so many women of grace.

When I asked Diana what she wanted me to say today, she simply said, Tell us your story. So let’s start at the very beginning.



I have always wanted to start a story with that, but never mind.
I have no idea whether I was born on a dark and stormy night, but I was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, a small town in northwest Iowa which was a town much like Pleasantville.


The difference between my family and those from Pleasantville was that all four of my grandparents were from Syria/Lebanon. While I loved growing up in an idyllic, perfect world, mostly made of Nordic looking folks, it was clear from the very beginning that I was not Nordic.


I was the baby of the family.  For some reason, everyone in the family always told me that I was smart, so I believed them. I loved school, and I loved my teachers—and I learned how to please them. I learned also to get attention by making people laugh and by making people feel at ease.  All in all, my childhood was pretty good. Even though our family was not very demonstrative, I always knew that I was loved. No matter what activity I was in, I always knew that I could look out into the audience and see my mom grinning from ear to ear
She taught me that showing up is a way of showing love.

By the time I had graduated from high school, I really wanted to go to the University of Iowa. However, since my brother and sister had both gone to our community college during their freshman year, my parents thought it was only fair that I do the same.  Being fair in that case was probably one of the worst parenting decisions ever because I spent that entire year making all of us miserable. However, after that horrid year, I came to one of the most important realizations of my life. I vowed that feeling sorry for myself was something that I would never do again.  It was counter-productive and waste of time, and even now, I rarely choose to wallow in my own misery.



That was an important milestone in my life because I realized that I had choices about how I would deal with life’s speed-bumps.

During the summer that I was a camp counselor at Camp Foster at Lake Okoboji in northern Iowa, I realized that I really enjoyed working with kids, and that was yet another milestone in my life because it was there that I realized that I might be actually enjoy being a teacher. I always knew that I wanted to make a difference.

When I first began teaching, I saw myself as Holden Caulfield, catching kids before they fall over the edge.


Among the things I have learned as a teacher are that it is important to know your subject, know and respect your kids, to be fair, to admit when you are wrong, and to have a sense of humor.

One of the really cool things about teaching English is that all of the answers to the universe are found in literature. Just for the heck of it, here are two of the favorite quotes:




I taught school for 32 years, and I have learned as much as I have taught. Years ago when I retired, I thought that I would lead a life filled reading books, walking my dogs, and eating whenever I felt the need rather than when the clock told me it was time…and thus it was until 2011 when the education reformers began their odious plans for reforming our schools.

I was only vaguely interested until I went to a town hall meeting in Columbia City and listened to a senator who had recently been appointed to the Senate Education Committee With her was spokesperson for Superintendent Tony Bennett and the Department of Education. As I listened to the nonsense and half truths coming from the mouth of the DOE person for two hours, I was incensed, and I had my first Norma Rae moment.  I stood up and cut loose on the young man from the DOE.

I had never planned to be an activist, but I was so annoyed at the disrespect he was showing teachers that I felt that I needed to speak up, and as my friends can tell you, I have not shut up since.

In 2011, I went with friends to the Save Our Schools march in DC because I could feel in my bones that something was radically wrong, and I needed to see for myself if I was just paranoid or if something was happening. When we got to DC, it was apparent that I wasn’t the only person who felt that way.

When we returned to Fort Wayne, we invited a few of our friends for a cookout to talk about the March and to brainstorm where we would go next….and so began our grassroots group, Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education.  When we started in 2011, our main goal was to change the dynamics in Indiana by getting Tony Bennett voted out, and we thought we would be finished when he was defeated. Little did we know that we would still be fighting for kids still today.


From our work here in Indiana, I was asked to be a founding member of NPE, working with people like Diane Ravitch, whom I have admired from afar for many years has been gratifying.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     


Fast forward to the fall of 2016 when I started feeling as though something was not quite right with me.  There was nothing painful, but what I felt was similar  to when you know something is wrong with your car, and you go take it into the repair shop and say, "I heard this noise."

Well, after gazillions of tests, after being poked and prodded and x-rayed and scanned and sliced and diced, I finally had a laparoscopic hysterectomy, and my first surgeon told me that I had ovarian cancer.

When I first realized that I had cancer, lots of folks told me to get a second opinion, and while I generally think 2nd opinions are a good idea, I couldn’t have gotten better care anywhere than what I have gotten at Parkview Oncology. Because many people who I know were concerned about my health and because I was beginning to feel like a cross between Chatty Cathy and the Ancient Mariner, telling my tale over and over and over again, I decided to write a blog about my adventures in cancer land.

After my surgery, I was referred to Dr. Podzielinski, who looked at my surgical report and told me that what I had wasn’t actually ovarian cancer, but was a signet cell carcinoma.

After one endoscopy and 3 colonoscopies and an absolute and visceral fear of anything that resembled Gatorade or Miralax, my docs still could not determine the origin of my cancer. After all of this, Dr. Ipod called me on a Sunday morning to talk. She was concerned that the 3 tumor boards had met to discuss my case, and they still couldn’t figure out the origin. So, I asked her what she would do if I were her mother, and she said that she would like to open me up and take a look around. So, she did.

While my surgeons were amazing, my recovery was slow and uncomfortable. After 6 weeks, I began my chemotherapy with Dr. Rob Manges, who just happened to be one of my former students. He had recently returned to Fort Wayne and had asked Dr. Ipod if he could work on my case. On that note, I want to give a shout out to Dr. Manges and my oncology team. They were all smart and caring and funny.

Here are a few factoids that you probably don’t know if you haven’t been on a cancer schmantzer odyssey. First come the side effects:


                                                     
1. The list of side effects of chemotherapy is almost as long as the unabridged Oxford dictionary. While I thought I would lose my hair, that didn’t happen, but after my surgery, I found that I had become lactose intolerant.

2. While I was still getting oxalaplatin infusions, I became very    sensitive to cold. When the temp got below 65 degrees, I had to bundle up like Nanook of the North when I went outside. I couldn't drink anything cold--which made me long for a Slurpee.     
 
3. My vision went to hell in a handbasket, and reading is still a strain for me. Additionally, my fingers and my feet are still numb from neuropathy.

     
       Other observations:


Cancer doesn’t care who you are, and it doesn’t change who you are either. If you were a nice person before, you will still be a nice person. If you were a jerk, you will still be a jerk.

Interestingly enough, people tell me they are in such awe of me because I have kept my sense of humor while I have been fighting my battle with cancer.

News flash: You don’t fight cancer. You learn to live with it….and that is what I am trying to do.


All of this reminds of what happened while we were in Key West in January, celebrating the end of my chemo.  On our last day there, we were sitting on the steps near the Customs House art museum. I was enjoying the morning sun while Donna was looking at her iPhone, in our quest to find the perfect Key Lime pie.  As I was sitting there,  a couple walked by and within a nanosecond after they had passed by, the street light in front of us unceremoniously fell a couple of feet behind them and a few feet in front of us—it was so loud and so scary that we nearly levitated.

As my son said when I told him, Lights out, cancer schmantzer.

If that pole had landed on us, we could have been dead, and he could have owned Key West.   

                                     


                                          The point of all of this is that life is random.



What cancer changes is your outlook, and I REFUSE TO BE DEFINED BY CANCER.

I had a PET scan yesterday to determine whether or not my treatment has been effective, and since I have no control over the outcome of this, I will just put one foot in front of the other and deal with whatever comes with as much grace and dignity as I can,

I do not know how my story will end, but I do know that I am not ready to bust out the dirges or to hang out the crepe yet because I have too much to do—as do we all.




1. I have two grandkids that I need to see grow up.

2. I need to continue my mission to get legislators to listen and to make the world a better place….so I will keep writing letters, I will keep going to the State House to testify, and I will continue to be a rat terrier who will not give up and who will not go away.









People have asked me if I have a bucket list; the answer is this. My whole life has been one long bucket list of things that need to be done.

Yes, life is random, but we do have choices, and I choose to live my life as I have always tried to do—with a sense of purpose, and I would urge you to do the same.

1. If there is an issue that you think is important, speak out about it.Whether you write a letter to the editor or you talk with your legislators, don’t just sit there and whine, do something. At the very least, get informed and vote.

2. Write a letter to someone you love--to your mom or dad, your grandfather or your grandmother, your grandson or your granddaughter asking them how they are and telling them who you are.

3. Take a kid to a baseball game or the zoo or to Zesto.

4. Adopt a rescue dog or cat.

5. Never lose your sense of humor or your sense of wonder.


As a recovering English teacher, I usually have a quote for every occasion and an occasion for every quote—because literature is life.  As I said before, I do not know how my story will end, but I am reasonably sure that I will not go gently into that good night.

In closing, I would like to end with some lines from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.


Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.





If you can open this Facebook link, here is my speech.
https://www.facebook.com/AnneKDuff/videos/10213889729611102/



















Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Chemo Count-DONE

While I am extremely passionate about things that are important to me, I am rarely emotional. Consequently, I have been relatively stoic since my cancer schmantzer odyssey began.  My LAST chemo treatment was on Monday, and most people would have projected that I would have been bouncing off the walls with happiness.  However, that was not the case. A week and a half ago I was going to run some errands when I got into a fender bender a few hundred feet away from my driveway.  While I wasn’t hurt in the accident and I have no cuts or bruises, my seat belt pulled tight and did its job. However, my car certainly was hurt, so the insurance company decided that fixing it would not be worth it. Even though it was just a car, we had had a long history of 19 years together, and I felt like crying every time I looked at Yellow Bird’s crushed right fender.  Yes, I name my cars.

Practically, it wasn’t hard getting into Yellow Bird;  I simply opened the door and dropped my rear end in the seat, but the older we have both gotten, the more difficult it was to get out of the car in a seemly manner.  However, now I will be forced to buy a more age appropriate car, but one that still has some feistiness. I am sad to lose my sweet, little car.


Moving right along, I had a scary balance issue a few nights later. I didn’t feel dizzy, but my body felt totally out of control where I felt like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.  Thankfully, my head wasn’t spinning, but I grabbed for my bed, for the dresser, for the wall, for the bathroom sink to try to retain my balance, and then I propped myself up on my bed the rest of the night wondering what had just happened. 


The next morning I contacted my doctor’s office, and we concluded that more than likely, this episode was caused by one of the more potent chemo drugs, so we decided to discontinue that for my last treatment.  All of a sudden, it made sense that every time I have an appointment, one of the first questions that  the nurses ask is if I had fallen since the last visit.  

I usually chalk up these side effects as yet another in the long list of ingredients in the crap sandwich that life has dealt me this year.  However, when life puts issues on my menu that I do not understand,  getting information and facts help me put things in perspective.  Thankfully, my oncology team always shoots straight with me.

Yesterday was my LAST chemo treatment.  I have to admit that I felt a sense of trepidation and anxiety as we got closer to the hospital. I have been doing my chemo countdown since July, and now all of a sudden, I started to worry that my doc was going to give me news that I didn't want to hear.  However, after he had looked at my lab work and answered all of my questions, he told me that he plans to treat my case as a chronic condition (rather than a death sentence).  He told me that I would need to make an appointment in March for a PETscan, and we would go from there.  GREAT NEWS!

Through all of this, I have learned that the people who work in oncology are a special breed of human beings.  They are strong and competent and kind, and even though I know that their jobs are stressful, they always made it a point to treat me as a person, not just another case. Yesterday as I encountered each of the nurses who has cared for me, they gave me high fives and hugged me.   Even though I am glad to be finished with this chapter of my life, I will miss these kind and caring people.

As I was getting ready to leave, the nurse who had administered my final chemo handed me a note from the care team and a cake from all of them.   Although my nurse navigator was unable to be there yesterday, she made sure to leave me a note and gift to let me know that she was thinking of me.

While I am still slightly choked up from the events of this past week, these caring gestures are the best Christmas presents ever.

On that note, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Happy 2018, and all good wishes to all of you who have followed my crazy journey.










Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ornery! Who, me?

Yesterday two of my favorite oncology nurses called me ornery. I would prefer thinking of myself as a fun loving smart ass. While I feigned that I had hurt feelings, I rather enjoyed being called ornery.  I have a long history of orneriness of which I am quite proud.
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I was busy checking out Christmas presents when no one was looking.

These brief exchanges with the nurses made me think of The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, where these two good people suggested that rather than asking how can we be happy, we should think of  how can we spread compassion and love...and that works for me.  According to them, there are eight pillars to happiness: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance which all come through the mind. Forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity come from the heart.

What they said about joyfulness struck a chord within me.  Since I first got my cancer schmantzer diagnosis, many people have expected me to be sad and depressed and decrepit, but that is not how I roll. When people ask me how I am,  I usually say that I am fine, and I ask how they are. I prefer to make other people smile and to look forward to my making some smarty pants quips rather than going off on a sad sack riff.

Of course, all is not lollipops and unicorns in cancer schmantzer land. Usually, the day after chemo is not a walk in the park, but I see no point in wallowing in being miserable over things which I have no control. My health care team is kind, and they see me as a person rather than as a diagnosis.  They have addressed all of the questions that I have had. Then I figure that it is my job to put one foot in front of the other and deal with whatever lies before me. I try not to anticipate consequences until I have enough information to know how to deal with what lies before me.  Right now what lies before me is one more treatment....and my hope is that my care team will tell me that I am good to go.

Of course, if I had my druthers, I would not have chosen this diagnosis or any of life's other hardships, but there are many things for which to be grateful in this odyssey.

Despite the constant hammering by the purveyors of dissent and discord about how we should dislike people who are not like us, I have found that most people have the same hopes and desires for their lives. However, many people would rather dwell on what is wrong rather than trying to figure out how to make things right.

My anger and angst are usually not directed at my health situation but rather at the injustice that I see being done to others. Perhaps being ornery isn’t so bad when I can turn it towards helping others and towards fixing situations that keep us away from working towards the common good.

I have a long history of being an ornery smart ass. Until I finish my quixotic mission to right all of the wrongs that lie before me, I am not about to hang out the crepe and quit any time soon.

Test driving the handicapped carts at the grocery store


Saturday, November 18, 2017

On Minions, Team Work, and Other Things




I usually start writing my blog while I am getting
Grocery shopping with my sister
chemo (my magical joy juice), and I have little else to do. These past few weeks have been mostly good, and yet my level of activity has been extremely exhausting, so that is why this blog is a day late and a dollar short.  On the plus side, we have had quite a few out of town guests visiting us recently.

Because one of the guests was in disbelief that my NEIFPE (Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education) friends call themselves my minions, we had a Minion party so that she and her husband could see that all of this is done in good fun, and usually, I am the butt of all of their jokes and silliness.

Having said that, my minions  have been a major source of strength both before and since cancer schmantzer has become the recent focus of my life. These good people have all stepped up to the plate to take over most of the responsibilities that I have usually assumed, which has resulted in the continuity and seamlessness of our work of supporting and fighting to save public schools. Through their care and concern, they have shown the true meaning of teamwork.

While many people think that teamwork is simply a matter of working together, I see it differently. Whether it is in the classroom or in any social situation, true teamwork is often an act of love as shown in these words from William Wordsworth in Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey:
...the best portion of a good [person’s] life; His [Her] little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love...”


In other words, these are people who don’t need to get credit for what they do, but rather what they do is a matter of working together for our sense of community, for the common good, and for what we all think is important, and one of our primary goals is to bring back the joy of learning to children which seems to have been snatched away from them.

My NEIFPE friends and I don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our work seriously....and despite the fact that pushing back against the likes of Betsy DeVos and her ilk (and our Indiana legislature) feels like a Sisyphean task, we keep doing it because it is our calling.

We all face personal challenges, and while the challenge that I am currently facing is a health issue, that doesn’t make mine any more significant than those who are facing other life changing issues. While I cannot change or fix their challenges, my hope is that as we face our own difficulties, that we  deal with what lies before us with dignity, grace, kindness, and love (and a sense of humor), and we all might come out better on the other side.