• Plant Teacher
  • The Angry Armpit

    I walked into the cancer center yesterday with a mild determination of, “let’s do this.” Really it was more of, “let’s just get this shit done today because I really have somewhere better to be.” I sat down in the waiting room and reveled in the quiet. It was the first quiet moment I’d had since rolling out of bed at 5:45. When the tech called me back I said, “you know what today is?”

    Her reply was, “it’s Friday!”

    Yes. However the day was so much better than just being Friday. It was Last Bolus Day. The bolus is this brass chainmail looking thing they put over the area of treatment that increases the amount of radiation to the skin and the tissue right underneath it. The result is… not pleasant. I have had 24 rounds of radiation with this thing on my chest and it has cooked my skin to a fine (or not so fine) crisp.

    When I last wrote I mentioned that my skin was starting to turn pink, but that things weren’t that bad. Since then the situation has dramatically changed. Shortly after that point my skin started to get raised and quite itchy. After consulting with the doctor we discovered that I was allergic to the calendula cream they gave me. It was causing hives.

    Solved that problem.

    As the days progressed the skin continued to get angrier and angrier. The pain is odd. It isn’t like the bone pain from chemo or the post surgical pain from the mastectomy. Imagine a toothache, a sliver in your foot and an itch that is impossible to scratch happening all at the same time and you can’t do anything about them. It is the type of pain or sensation rather that causes your brain to function at the speed of when you have to pee really bad.

    In other words, I have no attention to detail at the moment. That is bad for the teacher who was organizing the Winter Plant Sale. Not only was yesterday Friday and Last Bolus Day, it was Plant Sale Day.

    Hundreds of people came through my classroom and greenhouses. I had to manage all of my students all at once, maintain composure, remember to go to radiation on time and remember to eat lunch. The fact that all of that happened and we made money is nothing short of a miracle.

    I sucked it up. I smiled and joked with students. I chatted with parents and staff. I did my best to have fun. All the while my armpit looked like this.

    I got home and took my shirt off to reveal that the white/black looking area had opened up and was starting to peel. It was that moment that I’d had it. I know I only have 4 more treatments to go. The last treatments with no bolus will help my skin. However, in the past 9 1/2 months I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, had my boobs cut off, been pumped full of chemicals and had 1/2 of my chest burned to a crisp. There is only so much a body can take.

    I’d like to think I can celebrate the milestone of being finished with active treatment on Thursday. It will be a momentous day. Then I’ll start passive treatment. 5 years of aromatase inhibitor drugs. I need to have my right expander re-inflated. I need reconstruction on my whole chest that will involve a 10 hour surgery, 5 days in the hospital and 8 weeks of recovery. I’ll need revision surgeries. I have more of this. Thursday is not the end. I’ve still a long road ahead.

    and my GD armpit hurts.

  • Plant Teacher
  • The Love of Growing Plants

    Here you go with a (mostly) non-cancer story.

    Yesterday was my last day of work for 7 weeks.  I’ll be taking 6 weeks of leave + Spring break.  I tried to regularly remind students that when they came back from the break I wouldn’t be there.  I had a few walk into class and say they were sad because it was my last day.  Many came up to me after each class and gave me a hug.  I hadn’t planned in-depth lessons on account of being the Friday before the break so it was a nice relaxing day.

    For the last two weeks we’ve been focused on getting the last of the tomatoes potted up, plants cleaned up and things taken care of.  It has been a whirlwind of plants and soil.  Every day I walk into the greenhouses and marvel at the work these young individual are doing.

    It is incredible.  See those hanging baskets?  They did that!  They are making observations.  They are asking questions.  They are growing things.

    I get excited to see the work that they are doing.  I went through the greenhouses the other day and did a rough count of how many tomatoes and pepper plants they’d grown.  The estimate is around 1040.  We have about 200 hanging baskets scattered throughout the greenhouses.  We’ve grown things from seed, cutting and plugs.  They take photos of the plants and post them on social media.  Not because I tell them to, but because they think they’re cool.

    The students have been prepping for one monster of a plant sale.

    One crappy thing about this leave is that right smack in the middle of it is the sale.  That means I won’t be there for the sale.  To top things off, the long-term sub also cannot be there for the sale.  It means that my assistant and the sub for the sub will have to run the show.  Oh wait… nope.  That means these incredible students have to run the show.

    You know what?  They’ll kick ass.

    Thursday I sent out an email to parents asking if anyone would be available to be an extra set of hands on the day of the sale.  It couldn’t hurt to have a few people there to make sure students are where they are supposed to be.  In response I received emails from parents offering support,  but also telling me what an impact I’d had in their student’s life.  

    I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.  As a girl I would listen to my grandfather talk about his students and I listen to the pride he had in them.  I saw the graduates come visit him for coffee after he’d retired.  I see on social media the praise they have for him where he’d made a major impact on them when they were young.  I wanted that too.  I wanted to be the person who inspired young people to grow plants or develop a love of nature.  What I didn’t understand was that I could have an impact beyond that.

    Yesterday was my last day.  As a last hurrah we released 50,000 ladybugs in the greenhouses to do their work over the break.  Most everyone loves ladybug day.  They all had to pull out their phones to video and take photos.  There are probably a million photos of me all over social media with ladybugs crawling everywhere.  There was laughter, giggles and the occasional yelp.  It was wonderful.

    When all was said and done I made my way back to the classroom to find all kinds of students hanging out.  They were there to give hugs and say goodbye.  Students from this year and last.  

    I am so incredibly proud of these young people and all they’ve accomplished.  I am happy that I am able to give them a space where they can work with their hands and forget about all of the other stuff going on in life.  I will continue to advocate for them and cheer them on.

    It’s all going to be great.