End of a Career

Roosevelt Island, DC

It’s been over a month since I last posted.  I haven’t felt like it – not sure why.  I guess when I’m having a bad day, I’m too depressed.  And when I’m having a good day, I forget.  I’ve even had moments when I think this is all a mistake.  Maye it was someone else’s brain scan?  When I read about other people experiencing that sense of forgetting/denial, I couldn’t believe it.  Well, I’m here to tell you, it happens!

School

After 38 years, I no longer go to school every morning.  On April 14th, I told my students that the following week would be my last.  We gathered all the eighth graders together at once.  I said this was my last chance to give them advice, so I was going to take advantage of the opportunity!  I told them: 1) if they can find a career that is both enjoyable and meaningful, as I had, they will be very fortunate people indeed. 2) Stay in community and make connections.  And if they find themselves part of a supportive family, they should consider themselves super lucky.  3) Be good.  Do good.  To yourself, and then others.  They will feel happiest when being kind.  4) Enjoy your life while you are living it.  You never know when it will all come to an end.  And all of this will be easier if you can always feel…5) Gratitude.  Be thankful for what you have, rather than focusing on what you don’t have. 

I expressed gratitude for their kindness towards me.  And then I was open about my situation and my road to acceptance.  “I believe that our bodies our borrowed from the dust of stars.  Everything that is made of matter is all made of the same stuff.  I believe that what continues of us is the love in the people with whom we have made a connection.  None of us knows the length of our lifespan, but we make the best of every day that we are given…What do I need from you? What I told you in February – to continue to be the good people that you are.”

Friday, April 22, Earth Day, was my last day.  It was an incredibly sweet day, and a perfectly horrible day.  Lots of people sent kind texts.  Others came to see me.  I tried to conduct somewhat normal classes, but the kids were weird.  My boss observed the last ten minutes of a class.  My students had a special event for me at lunch which included a cake decorated with elements, a blanket with all their photos, and each student made a hand-made card.  Individual students sought me out for their own special goodbyes.  Graciously accepting loving kindness is not yet in my skill set, so I wasn’t my best.  Poor kids!  Some colleagues held an event for me after school.  I appreciated it all, but it was a long day.

Brain Update

The MRI on April 20th showed that the radiation shrank the tumor by a third.  I knew that “Teddy” had cooperated and shrunk some because I have been feeling so much better.  A big halo of inflammation is gone as well, although the steroids might have done that.  The tumor is no longer pushing into the ventricle, so the danger of hydrocephalus has lessened significantly. 

This week I met with a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital who specializes in brain metastases.  I really like him, especially since he gave me his email address!  I feel cared for again.  His resident conducted a bunch of tests on me.  I passed some (I remembered the words he gave me; can I be president now?) and failed others (some eye/hand coordination tests and some involving walking).  He encouraged me to travel and to just take some steroids when I change elevation significantly.  He reiterated that the big tumor is no longer an immediate danger but did say that the smaller spot did not change at all.  And that brings us to the real danger going forward – more spots.  I will get an MRI every 2-3 months and if/when more spots appear, we will talk about systemic treatments.  There are three available.  All are relatively new.  We won’t start any now because they are toxic, and once started, we probably won’t stop. 

Like I said to my students – one day at a time.  Such a cliché, but so true. 

Travel

I spent the last two weekends with friends in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Virginia, and yesterday with another friend on Roosevelt Island.  I was supposed to go to Israel next week, but National Geographic cancelled the trip due to the recent incidents of terrorism.  Instead, I will spend a week with friends on the coast of North Carolina.  I’m looking forward to it!  And then another MRI, and I hope to begin my big road trip the second week of June. Until next time – happy Spring/Summer!


11 thoughts on “End of a Career

  1. You are fortunate to have so many admirers and supporters at thi9s point in your journey. I know from our short time togrther that youn deserve the many signs of respect and admiration. Your beautiful message to your present students is a priceless message about life. All of your students past and presengt are better people for knowing you. agood luck on your summwr trips – don’t forget Winchester.

    Jim and Elaine.

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  2. Your strength and wisdom will stay with your students. I absorb what you share of your experiences and use those perspectives to help frame the events in my own life. I believe you are never too old to learn from others.

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  3. I can only say “right on” to Stan’s comments! What you told your students is a priceless message that I, for one, need to really hear and follow! Your life lessons with always stick with me! I will work on positivity and learning what there is to like about Texas!! You are one of the most inspiring people I personally know! May you walk in the sunshine and enjoy your road trip! Sunshine…..mmm, the Irish Blessing Song!

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  4. Debbie,
    Your post is so inspiring!
    Your message is so real and so true.

    I am so glad to hear that “Teddy” has shrunk and that you are enjoying friends and time in nature.

    I send you so much love from my heart. ❤️
    Terri

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  5. Dear Debbie, There are times in life when we are lucky enough to have someone say somrthing that is totally true, honest and heartfelt. Your students and fellow faculty members got to experience a special time on April 14th with you. Your advice to your students to be kind, be good and do good for others will be a part of their lives, a quiet voice that they will remember and think about from time to time through out their lives. It might make the difference for them between happiness and misery. You will have an impact for so many years to come. I can imagine that they will tell their own children “When I was in 8th grade my science teacher was dying and she was honest with us. She told us what she felt, what she feared, what she believed in and that she hoped we would do good in the world and be good people and help others.” Sending so much love, courage and admiration to you Debbie!

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  6. Debbie, your words are so true: “I believe that what continues of us is the love in the people with whom we have made a connection.”

    Exactly.

    Enjoy your week on the beach. 😘

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  7. Wow! 38 years is a long time and I’m sorry I missed seeing you at school that day. Your words of encouragement to your students will surely last a lifetime, and I thank you for the reminder in #5 (Gratitude) . . . Be thankful for what you have, rather than focusing on what you don’t have. Thanks, Debbie, and I’m so happy to hear that Teddy is hopefully shrinking into oblivion. Wishing you great fun travelling and enjoying nature over the summer!

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  8. Debbie,
    I was in the room when you spoke with your 8th grade students. It was a privilege. I won’t forget that moment ever. You are right, we do not know how many days we are given. I am the mother of a child who lived only 3 and a half months. His every day was filled with love, smiles and tender care. Though for some reason, his time was short, valued and beautiful. Your words hit home with me. Gratitude for you.
    I have long admired your work and your sense of humor along with many other characteristics.
    Thank you- take care and remember, I am in the neighborhood!
    Love,
    Ellen

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  9. Debbie,
    I believe that the plaque you saw in your Icelandic guest house was there not by accident, but by design–put there either by providence or by Islandic elves who instinctively sensed Teddy’s presence…

    “IT’S NOT ABOUT WAITING FOR THE STORM TO PASS…
    IT’S ABOUT LEARNING TO DANCE IN THE RAIN.”

    If anyone knows how to “dance in the rain,” it is you. When faced with back-to-back crises that would bring most of us to our knees, you repeatedly turn your back on despair, keep your face to the sun, and seek out joy wherever you go. Your posts inspire and move me in too many ways to describe. They are raw and authentic and suffused with the gutsy heart and soul of the Debbie we all know and admire. Each post leaves me adrift with worry, and also laughing, crying, rejoicing, praying, and sitting silently in awe of you.

    Admiration, gratitude, hope, and love are powerful totems, and you are embraced by all of these… so keep on “dancing,” my friend! You’ve got this.

    I love you,
    Jane

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