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.


  1. Wow!! Thank you so much for your thoughts and for sharing your journey. I love your attitude and pray you will go on for a long time to come!

  2. This is so wonderful. Thanks for being an inspiration.