Being Brave

Cortney and I often tell the kids, “being brave doesn’t mean that you aren’t scared; it means you do the thing you have to do anyway.”

I often tell my students, “being brave doesn’t mean doing stupid stuff for glory; it means doing the right thing even if you are afraid.”

Doing what you have to do. Doing the right thing. Even if you are scared or don’t want to.

Everyone lately seems to be telling me that I am brave. I keep denying it. No, no. Not me. I’m just doing a scary thing because I have to. It’s the right thing to do. I want to be around for my kids for a very, very long time. I don’t really have a choice.

I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve been dealt: cancerous crap in my breast and lymph nodes–all gone now, of course, but I don’t want that junk back.

I’m just doing what I have to do because the doctors told me to, you see.

Nothing brave to see here.

But then I heard myself, again, telling one of the boys that they are braver than they think. That just doing the necessary thing is brave. Being afraid, but doing it anyway.

Chemotherapy is necessary. I am definitely afraid. But I am going to do it anyway.

So I guess I am being brave.

Although just like my kids tell me, this is not what I thought bravery would feel like.

10 days until chemo starts.

The End & The Beginning

I hit “post” on all my grades by noon today, thus closing the book on the 2017-18 school year. My 15th year of teaching is in the history books–all in the same district. I taught 11 years of high school and now 4 years of middle school.

And in case you can’t tell by that photo, it was over 90 degrees in my classroom this morning. So sweaty.

Usually I work like crazy so I can get out with the kids and go have lunch/drinks with colleagues. This year I didn’t do that. I did finish up my grades really quickly, but I decided to use my afternoon to organize and straighten my classroom library–something I usually come in and do the week…or a couple months…after school gets out.

This summer is going to be different. I don’t know that I will ever really feel like coming in to do all that lifting and work, so I did it today.

Usually I’m all, “WOO OOO OOO SUMMER!”

Not today. I walked out of my classroom today with a heavy sigh. Yes, I was ready for the school year to be over. I mean, we have been in school since August 20! But closing my classroom door for the last time means it’s time to turn and face the next adventure: chemotherapy.

Honestly? I’m finding today rather tough. I don’t want to move past today, but I don’t want the school year going any longer either.

I feel like I could crawl into bed and sleep for days, but I also don’t want to because when I wake up, I’ll have to face the music.

Some days are tougher than others in this waiting game for it all to start. I worry a lot about the pain, the sickness, and the inability to function. And I think about my hair a lot.

I told a few teachers yesterday that 90% of the time I feel pretty good about everything. Well, not “good,” but at peace. Today is part of the 10%. I’m not in fully meltdown and cry mode, but I feel crabby and lacking in the joy department.

I’m thankful that the school year is over though, because it means I can slow down a bit.

Treatment

On May  15 I got my pathology report back.

My cancer is in remission because they believe they got it all out. However, one of the three lymph nodes they took out to biopsy had a bit of cancer in it. This means I will need chemotherapy in addition to radiation to make sure the cancer does not come back.

As I said in my last post, we have been processing this news and it’s been causing some anxiety for me. This past week  Cortney and I met with my surgeon and oncologist to discuss what my treatment will look like.  The recommended plan is 16 rounds of chemo followed by radiation. Because my oncologist is extremely thorough, she told me about all the testing I could do to predict if the cancer would come back, but ultimately it is her recommendation (and that of the tumor board they took my case to), that no matter what the testing said, because I was so young, they all thought chemo and radiation were my best bets for it not relapsing.

I trust my doctors.

This means I am looking at getting a port surgically put into my chest on June 8. The first four rounds of chemotherapy will be a dense dose and be the “worst” as far as making me feel like garbage. They will start on June 13 and be every other week through the end of July.

Starting August 8 I will have weekly chemo sessions of a non-dense dose that are supposed to ravage me much less than the first four.

I’ve had lots of questions about losing my hair. working, continuing my PhD program, and what people can do to help. I’m going to try to answer some of those here.

Hairy Stuff

I’m going to lose my hair.

I’ve had a TON of people suggest something called cold capping that basically freezes your scalp during treatments and can save up to 80% of your hair. After consulting with various docs and nurses who have witnessed it, people who have tried it, and trusted cancer websites, we have decided that it won’t be worth the cost or extra trouble for absolutely no guarantee.

Serendipitously, after Cortney and I decided this, two separate people affirmed my decision in powerful ways. One was a very close friend whose mother had gone through the process when he was a teenager, and the other was the wife of one of Cortney’s business partners who just went through it all.

Both mentioned it being a ton of work that I wouldn’t want to deal with plus extra time at the treatment center, but they also–without knowing each other–said to me that my bald head is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. That this is part of my journey and it is my badge of survival. It is powerful.

That struck a deep chord with me, and basically affirmed our decision.

My hair is something I love. My salon visits have become my steady form of self-care since I began therapy 8 years ago for depression and anxiety. My daughter loves my hair. My sons are afraid of me looking different.

But in the end, it really is just hair. It will grow back.

Teaching and Treatment

I am absolutely going to be back to school for the 2018-19 school year. However because I will need weekly chemo treatments, I will be taking every Wednesday off for the first marking period (at least). This means I will miss the first day of school which happens to fall on Wednesday, August 22. My principal could not have been more supportive. He told me we would try to get the same sub every Wednesday so the students had some consistency. He even came up with the brilliant idea for me to create a video to show my students the first day of school explaining everything and then having them write to me.

I work with the best staff in the world as well. Because my co-teacher and I are the best team in the world, she has been invaluable this year as I was out for surgery. My fellow 8th grade teachers have all been supportive and kind and helpful. The staff sent me an awesome basket after my surgery for Mother’s Day that included snacks for the whole family. I am eternally grateful for the love I am surrounded by at work, and I am so thankful I can stay a part of the team.

PhD Program

After consulting with Cortney, my doctors, a friend who went through cancer treatment while getting her PhD, my grad school director, a trusted professor who is like a mentor to me, and a friend in the program, I have decided to go ahead and still take a class this fall. There is an elective available that is a hybrid class (online and meeting only 4 times) which seems like it was dropped in my lap for just this reason. All of the required courses are on campus (which is an hour commute one-way), so the fact that this one is not only a hybrid, but meets closer to where I live is almost too perfect to pass up.

I was also reminded of how lucky I am to have such a compassionate and understanding grad program. They want me to be successful in my program. And honestly, I can’t not at least try. I don’t want to put it off and look back and think, “I could have done it.”

I have to at least try.

Part of doing my PhD is that I want to have the option to change my career to university-level teaching. But another part is to show my own children that we can do hard things, and it doesn’t matter when we do them in life. We can look at a challenge–even an ENORMOUS one–and tackle it.

Ways to Help

This one is hard for me to answer. For one, I have a hard time accepting help for myself. Secondly, I really don’t know yet. I can go on what people (docs and other survivors) have told me, but my journey will be individual and I honestly don’t know yet what we will need.

Cortney is going to try to be at as many of my chemo treatments as possible. June and July will be rough from what is predicted. We are going to try to get a little more organized with food that people want to bring. For one, my kids are picky and weird. Secondly, I like to prepare meals for my family and will be able to do so sometimes, but not always. When we have a better idea of when the meals would be most needed, we will put something together.

I have more books than I can possibly read, I have Netflix and Amazon Prime, I have someone who cleans for us every other week. Cortney enjoys getting groceries. We have grandparents and daycare and (hopefully) playdates for the kids for when I am feeling unwell and can’t parent so well.

There is just so much “wait and see” about how I feel and what we need. It’s stressful for me because I really want to plan everything out and have things set, but that is not possible with this.

So the most you can do right now is continue praying for us–all of us. It’s affecting all of us in different ways depending on the day. Sometimes Cortney and I feel like we are in a good place with all of it, but the boys are falling apart. Other times the boys almost forget about it, but I am having a meltdown about how this can’t be my life.

As it approaches, we just want to feel strong and ready. We want to feel like we are making the right choices for our kids and each other.

Chemo starts on June 13 and will be done in October.

Four months.

Forty

I have tried to write this at least a dozen different ways, but nothing sounds right.

What I have to say is this: Today I am 40.

As my dad says, “it’s better than the alternative,” and I guess he is pretty right. I would rather be 40 than dead.

I don’t feel 40…or at least, I don’t feel like what I thought 40 would feel like. Which is dumb, because how did I know what 40 would feel like?

My mom is who I compare myself to the most (she would tell you I shouldn’t do that, but it is what it is)

She had a 15, 12, and 7 year old when she was 40.

I have an 8, 6, and 3 year old.

She was going back to college to get her BA while working full time, momming full time, and wife-ing full time.

I am going back to college to get my PhD while working full time, momming full time, and wife-ing full time.

She kept the house so clean you could eat off every surface, but she would yell at you if you ate anywhere but the kitchen. And she would find your crumbs.

My house is barely picked up. We have a cleaning lady every other week, and I am sure she thinks we are part bovine. I think my mom probably cringes coming over, but she will never admit it because she loves me too much (but I have found my stove top scrubbed after she has been there watching the kids).

I don’t ever remember my mom caring about her age. She always shrugged if off if we tried to tease her about getting older.

I’m trying to be like that too.

I don’t really care.

Not really.

But a little I do.

A little bit of me gets panicky at getting older…being that much closer to not being.

But I have an anxiety disorder and my mom does not.

My mom has always made me feel less anxious.

Even now that I am forty.

I am going to have a very good decade.

Forty is going to be great.

I will just keep telling myself that.

Forty.

 

The Memory Tree

I wonder a lot about life after death. In fact, sometimes because of my OCD, I get obsessed and can’t stop thinking about it.

Anxiety disorders are fun.

Anyway, I have done more thinking about not being alive than the average person. It usually starts with the fear of “not being” because I can’t prepare for it. Lack of control or knowing what to expect is a giant anxiety trigger for me.

I know as a Christian, I am supposed to “rest in the salvation of Jesus” knowing that I will have eternal life if I follow him.

But as someone who is not just anxious, but also has a severe case of doubt, that is a hard one for me. I want to believe that when we die, our conscious souls dwell together and we “see” our loved ones again forever. Sounds great.

However I lay awake at night often trying to imagine not being. I think about how there was a time before me, and there will be a time after me. But since I don’t remember “where” I “was” before I was born, I get a bit freaked out about where I will “go” when I am gone. Or will I just be gone?

People often say they know there is life after death because they can “feel” their lost loved ones. I don’t know if this is true or hopeful thinking. There are times when I feel something, and it makes me think of those I’ve loved who have passed on. Is that them? Or is it just a memory of them? Is the memory actually them? I don’t know.

Since having kids, my fears of death and what happens have deepened since I worry about leaving my kids without a mother. I worry they will forget me, and that if I am just “gone,” there will be no way for them to feel my love once I am gone.

As my children get older, however, I’ve started to have a different view. I’ve often referred to Eddie and Charlie as “old souls.” They are such different personalities, but both have a way of thinking that is downright profound. If you follow my #SluitersReadHarryPotter hashtag on Facebook, you already know this. But something they said last week made me pause and wonder about the age of their souls and the depth of their wisdom.

Thursdays I pick the boys up from the after school program around 4:15pm; last week was no different. As we were getting in to the car, Eddie nodded toward the corn field that lies adjacent to their school property on the parking lot side, “Oh. There’s that construction truck.”

There was a parked van in my way of seeing what he had referred to, so I said, “what? construction? where?”

“Over there. They took the big tree down. I miss it. It held my memories.”

I looked at him quizzically as I buckled Charlie in. “What tree are you talking about?”

“The one that was in the middle of that field,” he said indicating again with his head.

Now that I was getting into the driver’s seat, I could see the large yellow back hoe in the middle of the field where I assumed they were extracting a stump. “There was a tree there?”

“Yeah. It was big and old and held my memories. Charlie, you probably don’t remember it because it was taken down at the beginning of the year.”

“No,” Charlie says, “I remember it. It was there at the start of this year. I remember it in that field before they cut it down. You are right, Eddie. It did hold my Kindergarten memories too.”

“Yeah,” sighed Eddie, “and now it’s gone.”

“Wait a minute. That tree held your memories? What does that mean?” I asked.

“Mom. Trees hold memories,” Charlie told me completely annoyed that I didn’t know what they were talking about.

“Yeah, you know. Like in the leaves or something. I don’t really know how it works,” Eddie tried to explain. “I feel like mine are in the leaves. But maybe not because those fall off each year, but the tree keeps the memories. You know, like the tree in our front yard. That has my whole life’s memories.”

“Yup,” Charlie added, “I think the memories are in the branches. But maybe that’s not right either, because I have more memories than how many branches our tree has. But they are in it. It holds them.”

“But you guys, your school memories aren’t gone just because that tree is gone,” I explained.

“Hm. Maybe,” Eddie shrugged.

And that was it. Neither kid talked any further on it. They went on to talking about other, more kid-related things.”

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that conversation, and how they both sounded so serious and wise and sure of themselves–not like little kids being goofy and making stuff up, but like elders who tell you about the way the world moves and works.

If there was anything in this world that gave me an indication about life after this world, it is my two boys. The wisdom that comes from them  feels like they pulled it from generations back. That they are somehow connected to those generations in ways that I am not. That certain things aren’t just “new” to them the way they should be for an 8-year old or a 5-year old. I’m not sure how to explain it.

Whatever it is, it brings me comfort. And so does their assertion that trees hold our memories. Perhaps this is why I cried when my dad cut trees out of our yard and/or woods when I was little. Or maybe it’s why I feel so connected to the tree that we planted in our front yard. In fact, no one in the family wants to leave that tree behind when we move some day. Maybe it’s because it holds all the Sluiter Family memories.

March Reading Madness

If I believed in coincidences (which I don’t), I would think it was a giant one that I was born the same month that would come be known as Reading Month.

That said, this March will mark my 40th time around the sun.

I know. I double-checked. It’s true.

I have a lot of unclear thoughts about the big FOUR OH, but maybe that is another post for another time.

This one is about books. And how much I love books. And how much I love sharing books.

Did I ever tell you why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place? Because I wanted to read books and talk about books.

Books are my reason.

You can imagine then my heartbreak when, after asking students to write about their favorite books that have been read aloud to them, I read over and over, “no one ever read to me at home” or “The only books I remember anyone reading to me were at school.”

It’s probably not hard then to understand why those same kids are the ones who struggle to find joy in reading to themselves.

Helping kids–my own as well as my students–find joy in reading is my mountain. It’s my thing. It’s become my reason.

(By the way, if you want to read about me and Eddie reading books that I totally never read as a kid–including Harry Potter–you can hop over to Dr. Steven Bickmore’s YA Wednesday blog)

Anyway, I have spent every last cent of my “extra” income (writing for The Educator’s Room) on new books this year. I also added around 60 titles that I brought home with me from the NCTE & ALAN conferences in St. Louis. I am not kidding when I tell you that almost every single book I’ve brought into my classroom has been snatched up this year. It’s a wonderful problem to have. Each year I do the Reading Workshop model in my class, the more voracious the readers get.

I have even developed quite the reputation for knowing and/or having all the best books and authors.

Anyway, I haven’t asked for many donations this year, but I’m about to. And it’s a big one.

In honor and celebration of March being my fortieth birthday AND it being reading month…

I want to add 40 books to my library!

I am totally going to buy some myself, but I know forty books is totally out of my price range. So I need help.

Will you help?

I have an Amazon Wish List for my Classroom Library. There are many that are less than $10 on there (yay, paperbacks!). There are new releases, replacement books for those that have been loved literally to death in my library, and old favorites that I would love to introduce to my students.

So, I want to give my birthday to my students. Won’t you please help gift them with 40 books before I turn 40?

Growing Pains

The two big changes of 2018 have taken place and our family is stretching to find our new routine.

First, Cortney’s company has officially moved to their new building. It’s super exciting because it means they are growing and changing, and I am just super proud of the commitment and work he has put into this.

The drive to new building, though, is a significantly longer commute than to his old building. The old building is located a mile from Alice’s daycare, and two miles from the boys’ school. It’s also only 3 miles from our house. All of my people and my home were all in the same spot. I was the one who was over thirty miles away.

Now, Cortney has almost as long of a commute as I have. This means they need to be out the door more on time in the morning, and he and Alice get home 10-15 minutes later in the evening. It also means that I am now on daycare pick up duty on Thursdays since Cortney needs to bust home to leave again for league night bowling.

The other big change is that, while not officially accepted yet, I have started grad school. I’m taking one class (while waiting on whether or not I’ll be accepted to the program) this semester. Some of you may have seen my posts on social media referring to the class I’m taking on Teaching Climate Change. So far it’s a tremendously informative class (albeit terrifying and causing me some anxiety if I am honest. Some of you may have seen my social media posts about the catastrophe our Earth is facing that our politicians are ignoring), and the extra benefit is that it’s dual focus is pedagogy and methodology of including climate change in an English classroom. I’m excited to develop lesson plans.

My class is on Tuesday nights and my commute is about an hour one-way. This all means that I hug my kids at 6:45am on Tuesday and don’t seen them for twenty-four hours. That part is tough, but so is the pile of reading–somehow after ten years of being away from it, I seem to have forgotten (or maybe blocked out?) how much reading is involved in grad classes.

I actually love the reading, but it takes time.

Eddie was not a fan of doing his math homework. He wanted to get back to his book. I can relate.

This means we are trying out a new normal around here. We are doing our homework together. I am doing more homework after they are in bed. I also do homework after school at my desk in my classroom. So far, it’s working.

That’s not to say we aren’t having a few growing pains.

The boys don’t love that we pick up Alice on Thursdays now. They like to go directly home and picking up their little sister feels like a bother. Similarly they also don’t love that I don’t pick them up at all on Tuesdays anymore since I just go to class from school.

We have had to sacrifice Eddie going to his Cub Scout Pack Nights since they always fall on the same Tuesday that Cortney has an executive consistory meeting at church. It means the kids get to hang out with their grandpa and grandma, but it also means bedtime is late those nights, mom’s not home to tuck them in, and everyone gets a little case of the crabbies.

Having grad class means I’ll be in class on both Charlie’s and my birthdays since they fall on Tuesdays this year.

We knew there would be sacrifices that weren’t super fun, but we also know it’s worth it.

Cortney growing his business is his dream.

Getting my PhD is my dream.

Modeling what it means to have a dream or goal and working hard for it is exactly what we want our kids to grow up around.

In fact, I am positive that it is because I grew up in a home with a hardworking dad and goal-oriented mom that I am as determined and passionate about all this as I am.

My only hope is that our kids don’t look back at this time in their life –the one when dad sat and read contracts and mom was stuck at her computer or pouring over a book–as one of being ignored, but one when they learned what passion and hard work look like, and that they decide to go for what they want most in life too.

The Joy of Sharing

Whew.

I made it!

Thirty solid days of pushing the little green “publish” button over there.

It wasn’t easy. There were many nights I did not want to get out my Chromebook. I wanted to curl up on the couch and stare at the TV until bedtime. I didn’t want to use my brain at all.

But I did it anyway.

Cortney mentioned the other night that even though he knew I wasn’t super enthused every night to write, he enjoyed reading a little something from me each day.

That made me happy.

But I am Ok with giving myself a break after tonight too.

Well, there will be a Netflix post coming your way soon, but I have other things I really need to be writing–PhD application stuff and stuff I promised for people, and stuff for The Educator’s Room.

Plus the holidays are upon us and we have a million things to do and places to be.

But I’ll be back. I have re-found the joy of sharing what is in my head.

Book Love, Author Love

I met some authors. It was cool. I’m exhausted.

Brendan Kiely

 

Shaka Senghor

 

Julie Murphy

 

Chris Crutcher

 

Matt de la Pena

Lynn Weingarten & Amy Reed (2nd and 3rd from left)

And so many more.

I’m tired.

One more big day.

Beautiful Nerd

NCTE is great for a million reasons, but one of the things I love best is getting books signed by some of my favorite authors.

Sometimes this is totally chill. I stand in line with the rest of all the fangirls and boys with my post-it that has my name on it so they can sign it TO KATIE. I get my turn to meet the author, I tell them I enjoy their work and thank them, and everything is great.

Other times I make a complete ass of myself.

Let me set the scene: I love Young Adult Literature. I REALLY love YA Lit written by and about people of color A) because it’s a window for me into not just a life I don’t know enough about, but for a glimpse into the cultures of many of my students’ lives. And B) because it is a mirror for the majority of my students.

When I met Jason Reynolds, I could not tell him enough what important work he was doing for kids like my students.

Back to today. Nic Stone–a brand new author on the YA scene who is going to be a HUGE–was signing her book Dear Martin in the exhibit hall. I hopped in line 20 minutes before the signing started and was still probably the 40th person in line.

I had it all planned out how I was going to thank her for being a voice for my students, for the important work she is doing, for her story-telling and her words.

I was going to tell her how this would be my copy, and that I fully planned to purchase the book for my students.

I had plans to be normal.

And then it was my turn, and I got close to her and all my words fell out of my head and I burst out with: you are so beautiful!

Look at my dopey smile next to her loveliness. And this picture doesn’t even do her justice! But it definitely shows my fangirl, dope-face nerdiness loud and clear.

She was gracious and wonderful and she signed my book and I said thank you. As I walked away I looked down at my book to see her signature and this is what she had written:

 I mean.

Nic Stone told me that I’m beautiful.

I’m pretty much good for the rest of the weekend.

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