Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Cancer Journey ~ Reedley Beach

Last week, Jack and I took a drive through the country to Reedley Beach, along the Kings River in Reedley. The water was still running. Years of drought had transformed the river into a glorified mud puddle for the past five years.  But with the rains last year, the river was a proper waterway, hence the trip to Reedley Beach.

It was quiet along the river. There were few of us about: a young couple canoodling at a picnic table, two men eating sandwiches, a couple walking their dogs, and a boy looking for a good fishing spot. Once in a while a car drove through the parking lot. No one paid us any attention. Suddenly I was aware of my bandana. I realized that I was wearing “colors.” I remembered how I knew that.

My first two years teaching the Tiny Rascals gang and the Bulldog gang were at each other hammer and tongs. There were constant fights—in the lunchroom, in the bathrooms, in the classrooms, in the hallways. I hated breaking up fights, having to do it three times, which is three too many. I preferred to prevent them in the first place. Like Mad-Eye Moody, I practiced “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” I watched for hand signs and flashes of color, always aware that either one could trigger a brawl.

I also knew when one of my students was going to get “jumped” into a gang over the weekend. He or she was nervous, distracted, and about as uninterested in the Pythagorean theorem as anyone could be. They usually caused a disruption in class. I don’t blame them; they knew what was coming. On one such occasion, the principal and I met with the father of a young man to warn him what his son was about to do. He did not believe us, and called me a smart-ass. On Monday, his son came to class beaten and bloodied; they always did.

So as I was wearing my bandana, I thought to myself, “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” I scanned the park at Reedley Beach for any sign of trouble. I kept the car in sight. There was no actual danger at Reedley Beach that day; but isn’t it interesting that some habits of mind remain so firmly fixed?

Over a year ago, I encountered a young woman who was one of my students my first year teaching. She was one of those who came to school beaten and wounded from a gang initiation. At one time, I also broke up a fight between her and another girl. She remembered me. She told me that I was the nicest teacher she ever had and thanked me for being so patient with her. She also told me that she has teenage daughters of her own whom she constantly admonishes to be nice to their teachers. She tells her daughters all the time that teachers care about their students. 

It was nice to hear that. I thought about that last week while I was at Reedley Beach wearing my bandana. I thought that when it comes to being nice, one should always practice “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!”

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Cancer Journey ~ Second Chemo Session

I'm going into this session with a lot less hair. Fourteen days after the first session, my hair started falling out by the handfuls. I decided to help the little birds with their nests and scattered it on the ground. After a while I realized there was enough for either a hundred little birds or one big monster bird so I left it.

All that hair on the ground reminded me of a song from "Country Bears Jamboree" at Disneyland. Here is my version of the song:
Hair on the saddle. Hair all around.
And a great big puddle on the ground.

I am wearing bandanas on my head now, mostly to keep it warm. I think I have a nicely shaped head. (If only there were a phrenologist handy, but I think they went somewhere warm at the turn of the century.) The bandanas are just like the head-coverings I used to wear in the commune. They were all the rage. In fact, there is a picture of me in my high school year book with Doug Myers when we were voted most talented (for singing). We are sitting on the hood of a bus in our blue jeans, tee shirts, and me with a bandana on my head.

That was an interesting day that day. Doug's girlfriend from Fruita was visiting him in Durango for the weekend. On Sunday, he was going to drive her back, a four-hour, 180 mile drive through the mountains (including Red Mountain Pass.) He asked me if I would like to go with him to keep him company; since my grandparents lived in Fruita, I said yes. He spent the night at his girlfriend's parents and I stayed with my grandparents. We left for Durango Monday morning.

It's such a great drive from Fruita to Durango. After leaving the flatlands of Grand Junction, Moab, Delta, and Montrose, you begin the climb to Ouray and the mountains. There you continue to Silverton and then home to Durango. One time some friends and I were driving back from Silverton to Durango at night in a snow storm. There was a lovely full moon so naturally we drove part of the way over the pass with the headlights off; we did things like that sometimes.

This time, however, there was no full moon to distract us. Doug and I had choir class in the afternoon. Forget the morning classes; we had solos in one of the pieces for an upcoming performance. If we missed dress rehearsal, Mr. Evans would be furious. We pulled up at the school a few minutes before class and sang our solos without a hitch. Before school dismissed for the day, a photographer for the yearbook said he needed to get our pictures. Doug and I found an obliging school bus on which to pose–me with my bandana.

I have fond memories of wearing a bandana on my head. Of course, the other times, I had hair to go with it. I am hoping that this time will find its way to a pleasant memory–of how I beat cancer.

Here is my happy picture for the day.
Durango, Colorado

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Cancer Journey ~ The Challenge

This is what the morning shower produced.

I think I will challenge Clark the cat to a hairball contest.
Who is Clark? Clark is a cat. He does calculus.

Clark used to be the name of my son's cat–except it really wasn't. For some reason, I got the idea fixed in my brain that the name of his cat was Clark. (I still can't remember the actual name of his cat.)

Since I liked the name, I decided to create a literary character named Clark that was a cat. Now it so happened that at the time I was thinking of Clark, I was also thinking of calculus. Five years ago, I taught Advanced Placement Calculus at Roosevelt High School. Of all the many things I am curious about, I was curious to see if I still could solve calculus problems.

So I downloaded the Free-Response Problems for the 2015 and 2016 Advanced Placement Calculus Exams. I started working the problems and found that I could still solve calculus problems. Huzzah! Like any normal person, I wanted to do something with these problems and their solutions, so I decided to make them into a story. I did that all the time when I was teaching–tell stories about the problems. The numbers, the symbols, the operations, the properties, the theorems, and the postulates were so real to me that is was not difficult to bring them to life. In doing the same with the calculus problems, I turned them over to Clark. I am pleased to report that he rose to the challenge and performed beautifully. That's the kind of guy–or cat, rather–he is.

Now about that hairball...

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Cancer Journey ~ Fatal Associations

Day Ten after Chemo: I still have my hair.

With all this time to wait...and wait...and wait, I still have not done anything new with the second book of Rhino. There is a reason for this. I do not want my beloved book to be associated with this particular period in my life. I have a tendency to connect things in sometimes unprofitable ways, and the memory lingers.  I call it the "Flowery Fart Effect."

Years ago, when my brother got married, he had a limited income so the wedding was done on a small budget. The family all chipped in to help; my mother and aunts did the catering and decorating, and my sister and I did the flowers. My future sister-in-law had a friend who worked in the floral section of the local supermarket. She arranged us to make the bouquets, corsages, and boutonnieres under the direction of her friend. The day before the wedding, the four of us met in the back of the store where the flowers were kept and went to work.

Unfortunately, my sister-in-law's friend was very pregnant and uncomfortable standing on her feet. Once in a while she passed gas. In that small room, there was no escaping the smell. It forever linked the smell of hothouse flowers with the smell of a fart. To this day, whenever I enter or even pass by a flower shop, I smell a fart. I don't want a similar unpleasant association with Rhino.

Oh, I can still write a few stories about Rhino–"between the lines" stories–but not the real story of Rhino. That is just going to have to wait. I hope those who loved the first book don't mind waiting a while for the second one. It's my way of guaranteeing it won't be a stinker.

Here is another cheery painting that I like.
This is my soul somewhere inside trying to find my laugh.

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Cancer Journey ~ First Chemo Session

I had my first chemotherapy infusion September 28, 2017. I'm not too thrilled with the results. I realize that it is part of the fight against lymphoma to send gruesome chemicals into my system to attack the even more gruesome cancer cells in my body, but that does not make the experience any more palatable.

"Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war!" My body is now a battleground. I feel like the cancer cells are mindless zombies that kill the very host upon which they depend for life. Stupid cancer cells! World War C is now raging! I hope something good survives.

So to make myself feel better, I'm going to include a favorite painting. This is how I remember my spirit. At one time I was very happy. Lord willing, I will be so again.