I’ve interpreted the “Real” of Real Homeschool as a need to be completely honest—not waxing on about my child’s giftedness and not hiding the bad days from view. Today, we’re going to get as real as possible…we’re talking about when the Titanic hit the iceberg…we’re talking about homeschooling with cancer.
I can still remember the opening day of Six Flags five years ago…I had taken my Schnickelfritz to the park to celebrate the new season. As we boarded the roller coaster and the lap bar came down I felt such a pain in my abdomen that I saw stars. Two weeks later I was having an ultrasound and the technicians were whispering that they couldn’t even find the edge of this unnamed “thing” in their scan. I had an ovarian tumor nearly six inches in diameter.
This led to more tests—CAT scans and blood work; finding a specialist, hospital visits, etc. Obviously the tumor had to come out, but I was very surprised to learn there was no way to determine if it was malignant or benign until it was removed. I went into surgery not knowing if they would only remove one ovary or do a complete hysterectomy. The tumor had to be extracted intact so that any possible cancer cells wouldn't have the opportunity to spread to other areas in my abdomen. That required a vertical incision from my navel down. In post-op recovery the doctor said my tumor actually fell into a borderline category so they ended up removing everything and we wouldn't know until my follow-up if I would need radiation or chemo. We were wrapping up our homeschool year (the roller coaster ride was the beginning of April, my hysterectomy was May 22nd), but we had a two months of uncertainty and then weeks of recovery.
We didn't stop school. Schnickelfritz needed the routine and normalcy and I needed something to keep my mind occupied so it didn't wander down that dark "what if" path. I was racing down the road to "what would I look like with no hair" and "would our son have to go to public school if I die?" In a way I was fortunate that my husband had already dealt with thyroid cancer as a teenager. He helped me focus on just the next step and when we reached it, we'd take the next one together.
After surgery I spent most of the day in bed so school was often just read-alouds and snuggling (as long as Schnickelfritz didn't jostle me). Do you remember me sharing yesterday Dr. Wile’s comment that homeschoolers are generally so far ahead in the education game that they can afford to take a step back or slow down. I felt no guilt about only reading books and putting aside math, spelling, etc. I was spending quality time with my son.
Two weeks later, when I had 77 staples removed, we got the good news. I would not need chemo or radiation. I still go to the doctor twice a year for blood work to make sure the cancer marker enzyme is still low, but we're approaching five years with no recurrence. So now that I'm on the other side of the mountain looking back, here's the advice I'd like to share.
Prepare as much as possible.
I realize that by its very nature a crisis is usually unexpected. Still you may have some warning. I had a month before my surgery could be scheduled so I used that time to prepare freezer meals and finish the schoolwork that would be harder for us to do from my bed. Our schoolroom is normally in the basement, but I made sure to move the books we'd still be using up to the same level as the bedroom. Years ago when I was pregnant I was diagnosed with Placenta Previa and knew I might be on bedrest for the last trimester. Again, I used the time I had beforehand to fill the freezer, decorate the nursery, and lay in baby supplies that I wouldn't be able to shop for at the last minute.
Let's face it. We all know a crisis will arise at some point. Have you followed Dave Ramsey's advice and built up your $1000 emergency fund? If your children are old enough, have you taught them the skills they need to run the house if you're laid up in bed?
Share your needs
How many times have you lied to your friends? Let me rephrase that...how many times when you run into a friend and they ask "How are you doing?" do you respond with "Fine!" even when you're not? We tend to hide our frailty and failings from others. I had plans and backup plans for help during my recovery. My mother was going to come from Indiana and stay with us but her own health issues prevented it. My step-mother was going to commute several days but she caught a terrible cold and didn't want me to start coughing or sneezing in my condition (coughing REALLY hurt). Even my aunt, the closest of all, was too busy taking care of my grandmother who had broken her hip the week before. I had no choice but to turn to my local homeschool co-op and let them know my needs. They were such a blessing. Some brought meals. Others took my son for the day so I could rest. One family let him swim in their pool, another family let him join their birthday party at the St. Louis Zoo. They even went the extra mile to pick him up and bring him home because I wasn't cleared to drive.
The fall before my surgery, our pastor led a series based on
8 Don't, enemy, crow over me. I'm down, but I'm not out. I'm sitting in the dark right now, but God is my light. 9 I can take God's punishing rage. I deserve it - I sinned. But it's not forever. He's on my side and is going to get me out of this. He'll turn on the lights and show me his ways. I'll see the whole picture and how right he is. 10 And my enemy will see it, too, and be discredited - yes, disgraced! This enemy who kept taunting, "So where is this God of yours?" I'm going to see it with these, my own eyes - my enemy disgraced, trash in the gutter. 11 Oh, that will be a day! A day for rebuilding your city, a day for stretching your arms, spreading your wings!
I heard a voice in my head saying “Your enemy has a name—it’s cancer.” I was sitting in the dark, waiting for a tumor that may be malignant to be removed. I could see how some would ask “where is God” or “why did God let this happen to you?” But when I read God is my light and someday that enemy would be trash in the gutter I took it as God’s promise that I would make it through. After that, anytime I felt myself feeling afraid I would read and reread that passage and pray.
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