Friday, December 31, 2010


New Year's Eve! As a teacher, for me the new year begins in August when a new school year begins. It's nice that NYE will always be our wedding anniversary from now on. If it wasn't, we'd stay home and do nothing. Now we have to go out! We're going to Colby Jack's for dinner with my sister-in-law, Chris, and her daughter, Sarah. We are taking champagne with us and I am even going to have a glass or two. It's my week off chemo and my oncology nurse gave me permission. :)

I signed up for the Yoga Journal's 21 Day Yoga Challenge. Last summer I signed up for the Chopra Center's 21 Day Meditation Challenge. It was very helpful in the hospital and afterward, but I didn't make it all 21 days. So, starting next Monday I plan to go back to the beginning of the the Chopra Challenge and add the Yoga Challenge to it. Casey is going to join me, and we are going to start a daily meditation/yoga routine. I feel it is my best defense against cancer, and it will be so good for us!

Of course, I will still be practicing with Cathy and Jean. I had the luxury of two days in a row this week, and it was heaven. I will have another two days in a row Saturday and Sunday, and then Monday we start the Challenge. I may not be able to do all of the yoga, every day, but I will do what I can.

I also need to stop eating sugar. Although the authorities don't agree on the effects of sugar on cancer, I know it's not good for me and I need to stop. I've been eating cookies, ice cream, cheesecake (YUM! Thanks, Amelia) etc every day I don't feel nauseous for the past month or two. Casey and I both need to scale that back.

So...New Year's resolutions involve meditation, yoga, no processed sugar. These are all weapons in my arsenal against cancer!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Silent Killer

I belong to an Ovarian Cancer List Serve, where women with ovarian and fallopian tube cancer communicate about their experiences, ask questions, discuss clinical trials and new treatments etc. Some days it is inspirational and there are several long term survivors writing that day. Some days it's all about who has lost their battle and it's not so inspirational. Today there was a link to an article about a four year old girl who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Four years old. That shocked me to the core of my being. I had a student who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 7th grade and I thought that was appalling. There's a girl on the List Serve who is 18 and her ovarian cancer did not respond to any treatment. She is under Hospice care.

When you read up on gynecological cancer, you will be told it is rare, and that of all women who are diagnosed with this type of cancer, only 1% have fallopian tube cancer. You will read that it is so rare that your gynecologist may never have seen a case of it. This is not true, in my experience. Including myself, I know of six women who have been diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer (FTC). One of them is Krissy, who lives ten miles away from us and ended up in at French hospital, sharing a room with me while we did the same chemo. There's a whole group on the Crazy, Sexy, Cancer web site called Women Without a Uterus. Bonnie and I made friends through that site, and she also has FTC. It's a relatively new technology that allows them to trace the cancer back to its origin, so many women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer probably actually had FTC. The treatment is the same, so it doesn't really matter. It is not rare, and very young girls are being diagnosed and even dying of it.

They call ovarian cancer the "silent killer" because it is so difficult to diagnose. One may or may not experience any symptoms. My symptoms could have been caused by many different things, but I'm lucky I had some so my cancer was detected before it was too late. How many doctors would suspect gynecological cancer in a four year old or a thirteen year old? There is no definitive test. The CA125 can give a false positive for many reasons, and it isn't used as a diagnostic tool. A CT scan can show if you have a mass, but only a PET scan shows cancer. I didn't have a PET scan until long after my diagnosis.

Women and moms, if you or your daughters have any kind of abdominal pain, bladder pain, ovary pain, etc...ask for a CT/PET scan if the doctor can't diagnose it. Ask for a CA125 blood test. Pay for them if your insurance won't. This disease is a killer and early detection is key, as always.

Something is wrong with the world when a four year old has ovarian cancer.



Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Memory Loss

I don't know if it's from the chemo or from being 50, but I have discovered one form of memory loss that's valuable. I can re-read books because I have no recollection of them. Yesterday I read a book titled Kiss (If you wonder why my book titles are written incorrectly, it's because I can't figure out how to format) that Sydney gave me. I knew, from the first page, I had read it before. It didn't matter because I had no idea what was going to happen. I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time, and again I read it in one day. I'm pretty sure I read it just a few months ago, but that is hazy too. I figure this gives me twice as any books to read!

One thing I know for sure is that I am much happier when I am involved in a good book. Lately I keep starting a book and putting it down because it doesn't capture my interest. I'm a firm believer in only reading books that captivate me, but I have been abandoning a larger number than usual. When that happens, a really good book can jump start my interest in reading in general and get me going again. Sometimes I'm just not ready for a book. Often I will abandon a novel only to rediscover it later and love it. I'm grateful that Pat Conroy has jump started my reading again. I tend to feel dissatisfied when I'm not reading something. It's an essential part of who I am, and I feel incomplete when I'm not involved in a book. Finishing a good book is very satisfying, but bittersweet because it feels like saying goodbye to a friend. I find I have to start another one soon, or I feel a bit sad.

I love my week off chemo. Yesterday I did all the laundry, made lunch and cooked dinner, took a walk and cleaned the kitchen. Oh, and I read a book! When I am able to complete these household tasks it makes me happy because it takes some of the burden off of Casey. It also feels good to be useful again after lying in bed getting waited on for four days. Cathy is coming over for yoga this morning, Jean is coming Thursday morning, I'm going to the studio for a class on New Year's Day (first studio class since September), and Jean will be here again Sunday. Four yoga classes this week! My New Year's resolution is to practice daily, with or without one of my teachers, and to meditate daily. These are the things that will make me strong and ensure the monster stays gone for good.

Namaste, Jill

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Perfect Gift

I had an awesome day yesterday, thanks to Randy and Dona. They came to visit me and brought me two of my favorite things - See's candy and Pat Conroy's new book, My Reading Life. Pat Conroy is one of the greatest living American writers, in my opinion. I even loved My Losing Season, which is about basketball. Only Pat Conroy could write a book about basketball that I would love. I read his new book in one sitting yesterday, which is another favorite thing to do. There's nothing better than a book that's so good you don't want to put it down. It did what great books should do - immersed me in a different world and made me want to be a better person. When he wrote about his high school English teacher it made me want to be a better teacher. When he discussed great novels and writers it made me want to be a better reader and have a better memory! It made me want to get any book he discussed that I haven't read yet and read it immediately. In short, it inspired me. I felt inspired, and it felt good to spend the day with the TV off. I had also been hoping someone would give me some See's candy, so that was also much appreciated by both Casey and me. So, big thanks to Randy and Dona. It's wonderful to have friends who know you so well they give you the perfect gift.

When you think of someone who is battling cancer, happiness isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Happy is exactly how I feel all the time. Happy and grateful. I'm a bit bored sometimes, but I am a person who enjoys a quiet day at home. I miss my students and colleagues terribly, but not getting up every morning at 5:30 is pretty good. All of the people who love me reaching out to me makes me feel happy. Yoga with Cathy and Jean makes me extremely happy. Being married to Casey, and having him here every day, makes me deliriously happy.

So, when you think of me, know that I am doing well, feeling strong and happy. Remember to ask not only that my cancer is gone, ask that it is gone for good. This type of cancer has a nasty habit of recurring, but mine is gone for good. Obliterated, Vanquished, disintegrated.

Namaste, Jill

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Dreams

I had a very sleepy Christmas this year. The steroids hyped me up more than usual, and the crash was harder. I slept all day Christmas Eve. I got up on Christmas long enough to open presents and take a very short walk around the block with Casey and the dogs before I was asleep all day again. It was kind of nice, actually - much better than being awake and nauseous!!

I dreamed quite a bit, and many of my dreams took place on Dolbeer st, the house where I grew up in Eureka. I really miss that house. It was originally owned by Lloyd Bridges Sr, as in Jeff and Beau's grandfather. It's a very unique, beautiful house surrounded by redwood trees and rhododendrons. In my dreams I got to see my dad, my mom, and my cat Duder, and my dogs Molly Jones and Margy. When I dream of those who have died I feel like they came to visit me. When I think of Christmas, I think of Dolbeer st house. As a child I loved to crawl under the tree at night and curl up behind it. I loved looking at the lights and the ornaments. Our parents made Christmas special, and it has really never been the same since my parents sold the house and moved away from Eureka.

Casey and I are going to spend a week in a rental house on the Smith river in Del Norte County in August. Before we go to the house on August 6th, Casey and I will be in Eureka for a few days. I'm so excited to show him how beautiful Northern California is. It has been much too long since I've been up there. I can't wait to walk in the redwoods and swim in the river!!

I guess Christmas made me nostalgic and homesick. It's our first Christmas without mom. I'm glad she's with dad and I feel them both near me, but Christmas is just not the same without your family.

Namaste, Jill

Friday, December 24, 2010

Feeling nauseous for Christmas

Nothing like Christmas Eve and a little nausea. I know it's inevitable, but every time I hope my body will have adjusted and I will feel fine. No such luck. I wasn't even able to keep my breakfast down today. I'm just hanging out in my bed with Ben, watching Whip It, Drew Barrymore's roller derby movie. It's nice to have a dog to keep me company.

The doctor's office is closed today, so no CA125 results until Monday. I have been visualizing a 9. My FTC sister in Boston, Bonnie, just got a 9 and I want us to match! I'm so happy you are doing so well, Bonnie.

I'll be feeling better by Monday, but for now I'm going back to vegging in my bed. Everyone have a wonderful Christmas. Take a minute to appreciate your good health.

Namste, Jill

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chemo Round 4

My nurse made one small change in my routine yesterday because she was busy with two patients at once and was being efficient. Instead of putting the steroids into my port with a syringe, she hung a bag from the pole and it dripped in for 20 minutes. It was a game changer. The steroids are never pleasant. I get strange feelings in my body, I can taste it and smell's pretty intense. After the chemo dripped in for 30 minutes I was on my way.

The aftermath of the steroids last night was not fun. I could taste and smell them all night. I drank an entire pitcher of mint tea, which had me up throughout the night, but it helped with the taste and the smell and I was very thirsty. I'm supposed to drink like crazy to flush my system. I should drink plain water, but I find if I put the herbal mint tea in there it tastes batter and I drink twice as much.

As you can probably imagine, the steroids make me very hungry. Sydney and I had been to Trader Joe's, so we had lots of good, fresh food in the house. I had sushi (No raw fish though, not allowed when doing chemo), shrimp spring rolls, an apple, cheese and saltines, a salad, Casey's salad, and countless cookies. Oh, and the last of the Ben and Jerry's. At least most of it was good for me!!

The steroids also make it difficult to sleep. The ativan (anti-nausea) took the edge off but I was still buzzing. I came up with a business plan for our large piece of prperty that included a yoga/dance studio, a recording studio, a cottage. Casey liked the cottage idea but rolled his eyes at the rest. I had fun thinking about it, though! I also worked on writing a book in my head. It was a crazy night!

All in all, last night I just felt plain weird. My skin felt wrong. I feel great this morning, but I tend to start getting very nauseous Thursday evening. I'm sure the Neulasta shot I'm getting this morning adds to it. I'll be down until Monday, but then I'll have 10 days of feeling good before round five begins. The nurse said my hemoglobin is low and that I may need to go to the hospital for a blood transfusion soon. I had three at birth, I forget how many during battle one, a few at Sequoia...I guess all of my own blood has been gone for a long time! It's not as bad as it sounds. Blessings to people like Bob Canepa who gives blood and platelets for people like me. Love you, Bob.

Just returned from getting my shot, going to lunch with Casey and walking around "Tuesday Morning." My sweet husband went along with all of it. I actually did my hair, put on make-up, wore a dress and high heeled felt great. We went to La Palapa for lunch. It's a Mexican restaurant in the Marigold Center and it's excellent. They have Chicken Mole and it is yummy! I don't know of another place on the Central Coast to get Mole sauce. (Pronounced mo-lay, not like the rodent).It makes me happy!

When we got home my friend Sharon came by with homemade pumpkin bread and we had a quick visit. Chrissy is on her way to bring me a present and after our visit I will Probably crawl into my bed. I can feel the steroids beginning to release their grip. Soon I will be nauseous and snuggling in bed until probably Monday morning. Merry Christmas, everyone!



Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chemo Day

I had a great time with Sydney. This is the first time she has been here that I have been out of bed. She's usually here on the weekends when I tend to be sick. We had grand adventures - we went to the grocery store twice and she took me to have my blood drawn before chemo. Doesn't sound like much of an adventure, but we haven't left the house together before this. We made cookies together and ate too much sugar. She got to participate in my yoga session with Jean, too. Now she is on her way home to get ready to travel. She's going to her sister Ande's on Christmas and they are taking Ande's kids, Justine and PJ, to Florida. They're off to put it some pool time and I wish I could go, too!!

So, chemo this afternoon, neulasta shot tomorrow, bed through Monday. Next week, I have the week off chemo. I'm happy I'll be well on our first anniversary, and happy that my big brother and sister-in-law are coming to celebrate with us. We are actually going to go out to dinner!! It's the little things, you know.

It's still raining, Maria's cleaning the house, and I'm holed up in Casey's office with the dogs. It smells like a big, wet dog in here. Bella has decided she likes to run around in the yard in the rain and come in dripping.

I may not feel up to writing for a few days, so Merry Christmas everyone!

Namaste, Jill

Monday, December 20, 2010

All You Need is Love...

The love and support I have received and continue to receive amazes me. Yesterday Terri, one of my fabulous AVID students, dropped off two presents. One is a beautiful rose plant, for me and for Casey for taking such good care of me. That one is from Terri. The other was in a beautifully wrapped package, and it contained notes, cards and drawings from my AVID class. I sat and read them and cried happy tears. One of my best decisions was to become a teacher. The kids give me so much love, and I love them in return like crazy. Being a teacher has caused my heart to expand to encompass the many kids I've taught and loved over the years. Next year will be my 20th year at the junior high, so that's a lot of kids! It's very difficult for me to be away from them, to spend just enough time with them to get attached and then have to leave was hard. I also received a present from Becca, my awesome yogaflirt teacher. She brought me Christmas cookies. She not only baked me cookies, she went to the Wellness Kitchen in Templeton and got two recipes for healthy cookies. They are delicious!!

Last week I discovered that there is a six month cap on donated sick leave. The teachers have been generously donating so that I have still been receiving my full paycheck. This is the second year they have done this for me, and it has been an enormous help to us. Starting in April, my sub's pay comes out of my paycheck. The teachers mobilized as soon as they heard this. Together with Chris Molina, who is married to Sue, the other 8th grade English teacher, they are planning a fundraiser for me. They tell me it will be a "Jill style party" with live music, dinner, kind of party for sure! I am humbled by this gesture and so glad to be a part of the AJHS family.

Cathy and the yogaflirt women are also planning a fundraiser for me. It will involve stilletto twister!! yogaflirt has done so much for me. It brought me into a community of fabulous women who have become my friends. It also gave me a great deal of physical strength. I can already sit up in bed like a normal person, which would amaze you if you saw my incision! My abs were strong going into this. The lessons that go along with the classes added to my spiritual strength as well.

One of the gifts I have received from my cancer is that I realize how many people care about me. As I've said before, that knowledge gives me strength and keeps me positive. It's difficult to feel sorry for yourself when so many people are reaching out. I am beyond sick of being in bed and feeling bad, but the outpouring of love keeps me on track.

Namaste, Jill

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Results and Treatment

One of my test results is in and the news is good. The CT/PET scan showed no signs of cancer and all of the places that lit up (it lights up the cancer) prior to surgery are dark now. The CA125 is a blood test. Normal range is 35 and under. When I was first diagnosed my CA125 was 185 and by the end of treatment it was 9. It went up to 11, then 22, then 156. It's a bad sign when it doubles, but other factors can influence it so we were hoping it wasn't cancer until last August, when I actually found a lump that was visible externally. This time I started with 156 and it was 95 after surgery. The goal is under 35, but single digits are what we really hope for. They say the number you get after 3 rounds of treatment, which is where I am now, is a good indicator that there won't be a recurrence. Of course, it's all a bit of a guessing game. My oncologist was certain I would not have a recurrence because I had a top notch surgeon who was certain she got it all, because I responded so well to the chemo and my numbers were so good, and because of my positive attitude. He also told me, at one point, that if I did recur he would probably advise me to do nothing for five years because my cancer was slow growing and because in five years there will be better treatments. Then it came back and was so big I had to have surgery again!! This cancer is difficult to predict.

The first thing I asked both my surgeon and my oncologist was if they thought I'd be able to work during treatment. You may remember that he said he usually doesn't recommend it, but he knows how much I love my job and if anyone could do it, I could. That was wishful thinking. Not only are my white cell counts too low to risk it, I also have minimum eight days a month where I have an appointment or treatment and I'd need a sub. Add that to the days I am too nauseous to get out of bed and I'm not there much. It's not good for kids to have a different teacher all the time. They need a routine and consistency. My stamina is also an issue. I have progressed to the point where I can do several loads of laundry, but just two weeks ago one did me in and putting it away had me napping afterward. Teaching six classes a day takes a lot of stamina and energy, and as much as I miss my kids I'm just not well enough.

If you saw me, you'd be surprised that I don't look sick. My appetite is excellent except for the four days after chemo when I don't feel well. So, my weight is normal and my scale is actually creeping up to the too high mark. I figure I need the padding before I start the harsher chemo! My hair is thin, and it doesn't look too great because I haven't had it cut or styled in four months, but I'm not bald...yet. That should happen in March. I am now walking all the way around the loop in our neighborhood that covers two blocks, where just tree weeks ago I was struggling to walk around our backyard. I am practicing yoga with both Jean and Cathy, so I am getting at least one, and sometimes two or three, sessions a week. I am pleased and surprised at how quickly I am regaining my strength, because for eight weeks after the surgery I felt like I would be weak forever.

I know I tend to write too much about yoga, but it is the number one weapon in my arsenal. I have practiced before my last two chemo sessions, and the nausea is less afterward. I am doing poses that surprise me, Jean and Cathy! It is really helping to stretch out my poor muscles and scar tissue in my belly. It used to feel like there wasn't enough skin to cover my stomach, and it hurt to get up, laugh, sneeze, cough, etc. My skin feels like there is enough of it now, and yesterday I sneezed for the first time without pain. I could feel it pulling, but it didn't hurt. The surgery was three months ago yesterday, and I am finally feeling somewhat healed.

I have been hoping that I would be able to return to my classroom for the fourth quarter. I will finish my current chemo regimen in February, then I will have four rounds of IP chemo directly into my abdomen. There will be one to two weeks between sessions, depending on how I tolerate it. As I said recently, that is the chemo that I did not tolerate well the first time around. At the very end I may have some radiation. It is looking like I will not finish treatment until May or June. This means I will not be able to return to work this year. I apologize to my wonderful kids. I so enjoyed the brief time we had together, and I am so sad to miss out on being your teacher. It will take me months to recover from the treatment. I will be back at school next fall, but I will be bald, probably too thin, easily tired and my brain will not be as sharp as usual. I am already noticing that my spelling ability is being affected again.

I will be there in August, and I will never be out for a year again, because I am kicking cancer's butt, for good!!

Namaste, Jill

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Getting Relaxed and Chatty

Getting a Ct/Pet scan is a deeply relaxing experience, and next time I'm going to remember that and stay up late the night before. First they took me into an unadorned room with green walls, a recliner chair and a counter with a sink. I was injected with a radioactive isotope. Then I had to recline in the chair and stay as still as possible for an hour while it made its way through my system. No reading, no listening to music, nothing. Just sitting there quietly in the plain green room. Fortunately I am used to yoga breathing and going within so I wasn't screaming with boredom. After about 45 minutes someone came in and gave me two valium.

Next I was taken to the scan room, the one with a huge sticker announcing radioactivity on the door. Same sticker on the recliner chair room and on the bathroom I was directed to use. I am told to avoid babies, small children and pregnant women for 24 hours. The scanner is similar to an MRI, except instead of one long tube it is two donut shaped tubes. The table had a comfy mattress, and they gave me a bolster for my legs and a pillow with an indentation for my head. That and the straps on my legs and arms prevent movement. The scan took close to an hour. The table moved me back and forth through the scanner, slowly. Wiggy on two valium, I feel asleep right away. I woke up shortly before the scan was over and had that panicky moment where I had no idea where I was and why my arms wouldn't move.

As I posted yesterday, certain drugs make me chatty. Pain meds and valium, apparently. I could not shut up afterward when Casey took me to lunch and drove me to SLO for my labs prior to today's chemo. I talked non-stop in the chemo room, which was full. Later I realized as I was chatting away with my nurse the rest of the patients were silent. I think I was dominating the room. Embarrassing!! Why would a sedative make me unable to stop talking? Who knows.

The actual experience of being in the scanner is sort of cool. It's like a cozy savasana, or final relaxation in yoga. Afterward, despite the manic chatter, I felt very calm.

Yesterday before we left for the scan I posted my affirmation that the scan would be clear and my CA125 would be in single digits. Apparently I was unclear and people thought it was the results. Apologies! I get the results today when I see my oncologist. That entire hour in the recliner chair I was visualizing myself cancer free forever and chanting it in my head. I was asking everyone to visualize, chant, or pray with me. Next time I'll be more clear!

My week off was wonderful, but it ends today. On with the fight!

Namaste, Jill

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Strength and Cookies

Whenever someone has cancer or dies of cancer, it is described as a battle and the patient is described as brave, courageous, strong... I have never heard anyone criticized for fighting a weak battle. Cancer brings out strength you never knew you had. It does take strength to fight. It takes strength to get out of bed after surgery and walk. It takes strength to eat when all food sounds disgusting and you're so nauseous your stomach is rolling. It takes strength not to rail at fate. The strength lies in staying positive and it's fed by the people who reach out and who care.

Casey quickly changed the channel when the news reported Elizabeth Edwards' death. He muttered something about how neither one of us needs to hear about that. He is very protective of me when I'm sick. I know he worries that the monster will get me. Cancer forces you to confront your own mortality, but I don't worry about it. I feel confident about my ability to smack the monster down for good. When someone famous dies of cancer it doesn't scare me for myself, it just makes me sad for the person who lost the battle.

My scan was rescheduled - again - and it's today. Blood work in the afternoon and lunch inbetween. We're going to Colby Jack's, where I can get lunch and a fabulous dessert or a pastry. I have been craving cake, and I feel it is wise to listen to my body and give in to its cravings. The more weight I have on me before the IP chemo in my belly, the better.

I really love Christmas cookies, if anyone wants to bring me some!

Namaste, Jill

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Monster is After Me...

There is so much information out there about cancer, it's overwhelming. There are many theories and "cures" people are writing about. There's the asparagus cure, the baking soda cure, the raw diet and juicing cure...lots of theories about diet especially. There's a list out there on the internet that is attributed to Johns Hopkins, which gives it credibility. Further digging reveals that it is a hoax, at least in it's supposed origin. One item on the list has become almost an adage: "If you like your cancer, feed it sugar." There is the belief that processed sugar feeds cancer.

I a not a fan of processed food. I think that one day it will be proven that processed food, including sugar, causes all kinds of health problems. There are currently more options out there. I have stevia in my cupboard - a natural sweetener that has no calories. When I am in charge of the diet and the grocery shopping, I patronize Trader Joe's and buy organic food. Before I was diagnosed in 2008 I was a vegetarian for 15 years, I drank soy milk, and I limited the sugar. Two years prior to the diagnosis I was misdiagnosed with interstitial cystitis. I followed the very strict IC diet, which meant no caffeine, no alcohol, no fun! The list of foods I could eat was short. I had a very healthy diet for years, I exercised consistently from the age of 19 to the present, and I am not a person who tends to get stressed. Yet the monster is after me.

My first friend who died from cancer was Rolly. I met Rolly when I was living in Sunnyvale. We worked together as rec leaders. He was in high school, and I was working as a substitute teacher and went to work for Parks and Rec because I was bored and lonely. Rolly later moved to SLO to attend Cal Poly. Rolly was a young, vegan hippie who was very health conscious. The monster got him. He left behind a young, beautiful wife and daughter.

My second friend who died from cancer was Ben. We knew each other as kids, and he and his future wife Susan lived across the pool from Jack and I in the 80's. Susan became one of my best friends. Ben was one of those people everyone loves. Together Ben and Susan were a shining example of true love. They had two beautiful children. Ben was diagnosed with brain cancer when Susan was pregnant with their second child. They endured six years or treatment before Ben passed. He left behind a family who loved him and will never recover from their loss. Ben lived his life with integrity, with love, and with honor. Yet, the monster got him.

It doesn't matter what type of diet you follow, what type of person you are, or how you live your life. Cancer is random and can happen to anyone. Of course, cigarettes cause cancer as do other things and there are things we should avoid. A healthy diet has many benefits and is very important. It didn't help me, however. My healthy diet and lifestyle didn't keep the monster from coming after me.

Unfortunately we currently fight one monster with another. Chemotherapy is brutal. It kills healthy cells as well. After a treatment it's like having a bad flu for several days. The chemo I did in my port last time was the worst - afterward I was beyond nausea and into vomiting, and it caused abdominal pain as well. It put me in the hospital for five days in an isolation room because my white cell count was dangerously low. This is the chemo I'll start in late February or early March. Hopefully it will not be so difficult this time - it is not soon after surgery like last time, my weight is back to normal, and I am stronger every day. I am dreading it, but hoping it will not be as bad.

This morning I am off to have a CT/PET scan. I am not allowed to eat before the scan, so of course I'm ravenous! The scan is to make sure the treatment is working. Results Wednesday before chemo. I fantasize that my doctor will tell me the scan and blood test show the cancer is gone and I can stop treatment. I now that won't matter what, I must finish the treatment so that the cancer is gone forever. But a girl can dream, right?

Namaste, Jill

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kids Today

Kids today are unlike the kids of previous generations. They have so much technology that they were born into. They are so connected to each other, electronically. They are exposed to so much more than we were, at a much younger age. It is harder to keep their attention in the classroom, which must seem so tame compared to the world they are exposed to, every day. How has all of this affected them? In my opinion, it has made them more confident, more savvy, more interesting. I am constantly amazed by the kids in my life.

Starting with my niece, Catherine. We call her Cate. I admit I am biased, but I think she's incredible. She is so confident, and she has many talents. I finally convinced her to send me some of her writing this year. The kid writes like a college student, and she's only 16. She is thriving at The Met, her charter school in Sacramento. She went from struggling with math to tutoring geometry. She is focused, college bound, and so intelligent. So far, she makes wise choices when it comes to boyfriends. I spent a week with her last summer and I had do much fun! She is more confident and mature at 16 than I was at 26. We are so lucky to have in our lives and in our family - she is the best of us. She is sweet, appreciative and delightful to be around. She is also beautiful, and she shines brightly. I love her, unconditionally.

Next we have Katie, my poster child for AVID. One of the few AVID kids who actually likes taking Cornell Notes. She has fought, and continues to fight, for the program she believes in. She personifies individual determination. With no support at home, she set her sights on college long before she discovered AVID. She is one of those resilient kids who is focused on her dream and is going to achieve it come hell or high water. She won the AVID writing contest every year until this one, when her school cut the program and made her ineligible. She has won at the regional level, which means she wrote the best essay in Region 8, which goes from Thousand Oaks to Paso and over toward Kern County. She also writes like a college student. She has been granted admission to UCSD in advance, but she is hoping for Stanford. Stanford will be lucky to have her. She is also beautiful.

Yesterday our friend Rob came over with his beautiful daughter, Gabriella. Gabriella was in my class the last time I was out with cancer. It broke my heart to miss out on having her as my student after looking forward to it for years. She came over to play music with Casey. She is a talented guitar player, and Casey loves playing music with her. She has that special quality that talented musicians have - she can play the notes but she can also improvise. Her singing voice is lovely and her songwriting is unique. Her phrasing is interesting and makes her songs work really well. She has also, thanks to her dad the concert junkie, gone to many concerts and written reviews that have been published in online magazines. She also writes like a college student. She dreams of being a music journalist, and she is well on her way at 16.

Then there are the three Willis children. Peggy was my first friend to get married and have children. Ashley was the first baby I ever held. She went to Cal Poly and did part of her student teaching in my classroom. Ashley is an English teacher and Brittany and Eric are planning to teach. The Willis kids are adults now, but they have all impressed me, all their lives. Last summer at Ashley's wedding it was wonderful to see how close the three of them are, and how close they are to their parents.

Overall I am awed by today's kids. I have been teaching and observing kids since 1984, and I think today's kids are an incredible generation. I could give many more examples from my classroom - my AVID kids over the years have been amazing, and the kids in my English class have been wonderful. It's the kids who make teaching such a wonderful experience. I would be proud to have any of the six kids I mentioned as my own. There is something really special about knowing a kid, like I've known Cate and the Willis kids, their entire lives. Watching them grow from babyhood to adulthood is a gratifying experience. I don't have my own kids, but I feel like these kids, and all of the kids in my classroom, fill that void in my life. I feel proud to have a part in their lives.

Namaste, Jill

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Thursday was a day of mechanical failures. I had to go into the diagnostic center to sign some paperwork for the CT/PET scan scheduled for Friday. On the way, Casey and I went out to breakfast. Stella Blue has had this intermittent problem where she starts and then promptly dies. When we would take her in to see our mechanic, she would start just fine. Every time we leave the house, it's something to do with my cancer treatment, and every time I wonder if this is the time she'll leave us stranded. Like the good girl she is, she decided to do it on a non-critical day when we were close to home. We had a tow truck drive up within minutes of calling our mechanic, and the tow was only $45. Our mechanic is close to our home so it wasn't even too much of a time suck, as Casey would call it. When we got home, Casey had to deal with his jeep (which, sadly, doesn't have a name) because his alarm had been going off. That dealt with, we resumed our journey to Templeton. We got on the freeway and the jeep started to shimmy and and lose power. Casey had to keep a foot on the gas at every light. We made it there and back, but it was stressful! An hour or two after we got home I got a call from the diagnostic center. The scanner was malfunctioning and they had to reschedule for Monday. There is a form that must be signed if the scan is canceled, so she asked me to come back in Friday. Fortunately Stella was fixed by 2:00 Friday so we didn't have to take the jeep again!

So, Stella's refusing to start ended up being a good thing. It forced us to deal with it, and now she's fine. The problem was relatively simple and not too expensive. Another gift that came out of a less than wonderful situation.

My CT/PE scan will be Monday at 10:45. Think of me and send out a message for me - clear scan, no cancer, cancer gone forever. I see my doctor Wednesday before chemo and round four begins. Once again, I am grateful for my week off. It's so nice to feel good for a few days, to be able to cook a meal, do some housework etc. Just being out of bed is nice. The break helps me to get strong. Yoga is really helping me - two sessions with Jean last week and one scheduled with Cathy for Tuesday. This is all preparing me for the more difficult chemo to come when I finish three more rounds. I will be nauseous on Christmas but my next week off is the week of New Year's Eve, and our first wedding anniversary. It has been one hell of a year!

Namaste, Jill

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Epic Bliss

Last week I wrote a check to our housekeeper and dated it 2008. This morning I thought the news was wrong about John being killed 30 years ago, because I thought it was 2008. This after watching the CNN special about his death with Sydney last weekend. Chemo brain? I don't know. 2008 was the year of my first cancer battle. Maybe my brain hasn't fully grasped that it's happening again and it is stuck in the past. Hmmmm...

This morning was about one of the gifts cancer gives me. I spent two hours with Jean, my amazing yoga teacher. The first hour was Thai massage. I get to be a passive noodle and Jean does all the work for me. Since he stretches my body beyond where I would go, afterward I feel like I've really worked out. It is better than any massage I've ever had. It works out the kinks everywhere, it aligns my spine and the rest of me, it involves pressure points, getting into my is thoroughly good for me, body and soul. Next I did standing poses and some really cool poses using the wall - my new favorite way to do half moon!! Savasana was a guided meditation and deeply relaxing. If I didn't have cancer, I would be practicing with Jean at the studio and would not have the experience of these wonderful private classes. Between Jean and Cathy my body is regaining its strength and flexibility and my spirit is soaring. As I've said before, my yoga journey is very related to my cancer journey. So, cancer, thanks for all of this yummy yoga!! Now get the hell out of my body and stay out!!



Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Staying home all the time gives me lots of time to think. Lately my thoughts keep turning to home. Although I left Eureka in 1978 and really never lived there again, it will always be home to me. My main priority for finding a college was that it be near the beach and the weather had to be good. Humboldt County is insanely beautiful, but it rains a lot and there are a lot of days that are just gray. At 17 I longed for sunshine and the beach. I remember saying to my sister "I don't care if I never see another redwood tree." I was young and stupid! Now that I'm older, I long for the redwoods, the mountains, the rivers, the gorgeous coast and empty beaches...

I have not been home since the high school reunion before the last. That would have been in 2003, I believe. I have been feeling homesick and have been longing to go up there. Casey, being a southern boy from Georgia, has never been north of San Francisco. Every summer we plan to go but circumstances intervene and we don't make it there. I hated missing the last reunion. It was the only one I have missed. The cliche of the miserable class reunion has never been true for my class. Our reunions are fun and we all love seeing each other.

The older I get, the more I have come to love it when it rains. I am still not a fan of a gray, dreary day, but a good hard rain makes me happy. When Casey and I retire, I think we will be heading north. I can't say for sure until he has a chance to go up there, but I predict he will fall in love with it. He also loves mountains, rivers and trees. I see us in a cabin that has a deck overlooking a river, with redwood trees and flowers all around. In the meantime, I'm hoping to make a trip up there this summer. I want to show Casey how beautiful northern California is, and I want to go back to the ranch with my big brother and our spouses.


Monday, December 6, 2010

Staying Positive

I was just watching a video Anne posted on Facebook of Michael Franti and Spearhead performing on the Craig Ferguson show. The song was "Hey, Hey, Hey" and it reflects my philosophy of life. It's about appreciating every moment in your life, no matter what you are facing. It is this philosophy that keeps me positive despite the cancer. It isn't always easy, valuing my life while spending all my time sequestered from the world. Fortunately for me, I was born with a relentlessly positive attitude. I rarely worry about anything. It just isn't in my nature. My attitude has always been that worrying doesn't change the outcome or do anybody any good. In fact, since I believe in the power of the mind, I think that worrying can call bad things to you. This is why I spend time, every day, visualizing the chemo obliterating the cancer for good. I think this is every bit as important as the treatment. One of the first things my oncologist told me is that a positive attitude is essential to beating the cancer. He recognized that I am a positive person and he felt that it was gone for good the first time. Apparently there were lessons yet to be learned and here I am again.

My biggest challenge right now is fighting the boredom. Thanks goodness for the streaming Netflix movies and TV shows. I am reading a lot, but when you do little more than read and watch TV there is plenty of time for both. There are so many channels and so many shows that it's easy to miss out on a good one. I have been enjoying watching shows that are no longer on, and watching them in their entirety. I finished Heroes yesterday and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Too bad it was canceled and ends rather abruptly, but it does seem appropriate that it ends with Claire showing her ability to the world. I'm currently involved with Eureka, which is also excellent. I see a trend here...I like shows about magic, special abilities and science that seems like magic. Bewitched, Charmed, Star Trek, Heroes, Eureka...all my life I have wanted to twitch my nose or wave my hand and do magic.

They say we only use 10% of our brain capacity. The human brain is still largely a mystery. Imagine what would happen if we knew how to use all 100%. When a group of like minded people concentrate on the same thing, things happen. This is the power of prayer, meditation, etc. This is why it's so helpful that so many people are praying, meditating, putting me in their yoga intention or just sending me positive energy. Cathy says we need to be specific in what we ask for, so please ask not only that I beat the cancer, ask that it is gone for good. On my list serve this morning I read about a woman who has battled this cancer six times. That will not be me. I will defeat it this time and I will go on to retire somewhere near a river and I will live to be old with Casey by my side. Take that, cancer.

Namaste, Jill

Friday, December 3, 2010

TV Viewing

I have been spending a lot of time watching TV the past few months. I find myself thinking about how much it has changed over the years. My generation started out with small, black and white TVs. I remember the afternoon the new color TV was delivered. It was a brown behemoth of a cabinet and it was extremely exciting to have color, right in our living room. Of course, every family had one TV, it was in the living room, and watching was a family activity. Mom and Dad controlled what we watched - not that there was much choice. Everyone watched pretty much the same shows, and at school we all talked about those shows. High school was all about Welcome Back, Kotter and Mork and Mindy. Considering those shows starred John Travolta and Robin Williams, the quality of the programming was good. Shows were family oriented and commercials were clean. No Viagra, tampons etc for us - we were sheltered.

Today's TV is an example of art imitating life. Family viewing is a thing of the past, in most families. I am always shocked when I ask my students to raise their hands if they have a TV in their bedroom. Most of them do. They are watching alone and unsupervised. TV is no longer the family entertainment it once was. Today's kids are exposed to everything from sexual dysfunction to Victoria Secret fashion shows. Kids come to school bleary eyed from watching TV, playing video games, texting and social networking until the wee hours. I see students all over town, in the evenings when they should be home having family dinner, doing homework and spending time with their parents ad siblings. These kids are so connected to each other, but is it at the cost of the family connection?

I find that many of the TV shows I watch are old shows. It's amazing how many shows that have run their course but are still on every day. There are four episodes of Charmed on a day. You can find Full House, Andy Griffith, That 70s Show...just to name a few. Between On Demand, my DVR and streaming Netflix, we rarely watch commercials. I see a big change coming to our TV sets. In an age of Netflix, Hulu, and full episodes online, who needs cable and commercials? I think a world without cable companies who monopolize the market and gauge us with high prices and no commercials sounds awesome!!

I have really been enjoying watching TV shows streamed through Netflix. I am getting close to the end of Heroes. I watched both seasons of Dead Like Me and loved it. The movie was disappointing but the show was great. I am currently enjoying Eureka, although it is not filmed in my home town. I have several shows, thanks to recommendations from Janice, waiting in my queue. These days it's a lot like having enough books on my waiting to be read shelf. Thanks to my dear Aunt Jane and cousin Debbie, I have plenty of those - they sent me a gift certificate to and you can buy a lot of novels for $100! They arrive daily and it feels like...Christmas!! I also have books from Kimberly, Cathy, Debbie, Janice, Sharon and Mary. Thanks girls - you all know how happy books make me!

Everyone keeps asking abut our Christmas plans. I will have a treatment on Wednesday the 22nd, so I will probably spend Christmas day in bed with my friend nausea. Julie may join us for awhile, but otherwise it is just our little family: me, Casey, Ben and Bella. We are forgoing a tree this year. We're fine with it - it is Christmas every day as long as we have each other. Corny, but true.

So, send me TV series, movie, and book recommendations when you think of one I might enjoy. I have a few months ahead of me in which my life consists of treatments, TV viewing and reading. Thank goodness for yoga to break up the monotony!!

Namaste, Jill

Thursday, December 2, 2010

AVID and Education

I miss my kids. I love that Facebook helps me stay connected to some of them. Today Jorge, my former AVID student who is in high school, and Terri, a current AVID student, showed their individual determination (The I and the D in AVID) by posting pleas for other kids to join their cause and beg the district to reinstate AVID in our district. Katie, a graduating senior who is the quintessential AVID student, emailed her concerns about what's going on in my classroom in my absence. She and several other high school AVID kids come into my junior high AVID classroom and tutor on tutorial days. My sub is not an AVID trained teacher, in her defense, but one of the problems has always been that AVID in our district has been too dependent on the AVID teachers alone for its success.

AVID began in one English teacher's classroom in San Diego in the 80's and has spread internationally. It happened when students from the inner city schools were bussed to the mostly white Clairmont High School. Teachers requested transfers to other schools and the administration planned to put these kids into remedial and special ed classes because surely they couldn't be expected to learn, perform, and attend college like their white counterparts. This same dialogue about the achievement gap has been going on for decades. Mary Catherine Swanson found the answer when she created AVID, but after all these years, very few people are listening. AVID targets kids whose parents didn't go to college. It gives them a college going dream and culture at school when they aren't getting it at home. It gives them the rigorous curriculum and skills they need to succeed and go on to college. The results are astounding.

In the regular population, approximately 35% of kids attend a university. About 85% of the kids who stick with AVID attend. The first time I attended AVID training, It was the 20th anniversary and several of Mary Catherine's first AVID class came to speak. They were graphic artists, doctors, lawyers etc. A few years ago one of the speakers was from Arroyo Grande High School, where I started my teaching career. He is the child of immigrants who work in the fields. As an AVID student, he was accepted to Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, if I remember correctly. These stories are not unique and are repeated wherever there is an AVID program.

AVID does not benefit just the kids in the elective class. The idea is that the AVID philosophy, curriculum and strategies permeate the school and all of the kids benefit. The program is introduced to all kids in 4th grade, where they learn organization skills like keeping an organized binder. You's be surprised how many kids struggle simply because they lack organizational skills. The elective class begins in 6th or 7th grade and continues until they graduate. If they stick with it, they become highly motivated kids with big college dreams, amazing writing and public speaking skills, the ability to work well in a collaborative group, excellent note taking skills, high self get the picture. This is exactly what the universities have been saying for decades that students can't do, and what the business world says they need. We have had this program that is exactly what is needed in the public schools, yet it is being scrapped because of the budget.

This is short sighted in the extreme. In bankrupting the education of our kids we are assuring economic disasters in the future. One of the reasons this country experienced an economic boom after World War II is because of men like my father, who came from a working class family but attended college and became a lawyer on the GI bill. In order to reclaim our spot as a superpower and ensure economic health, we need our kids to become as educated as possible. They say they use statistics regarding the test scores of African American boys in the 4th grade to predict the amount of prisons they will need in the future. How appalling is that? In California, the state with the largest college system and three of the best universities in the nation, we not only send a low number of them for further education we lose many of them because they drop out of high school. Charter schools like the Harlem Success Academy prove that kids of color can succeed and attend college. AVID proves this also.

So...why isn't every school in the nation an AVID school? Why are we building more and more prisons instead of funding our schools?

I realize this doesn't seem related to my cancer journey, but it really is. The first time I fought this battle was the year my school was supposed to be a National Demonstration AVID School. They chose not to do it without me, and the next year we had a different principal so we decided to wait. We missed our opportunity, and I can't help but feel if we had reached this goal it would have been harder to cancel the program. This year, there is one last AVID class, in my room at the junior high. Without me, I hear it has become a study hall where the kids just do their homework. There is an AVID club at the high school, which keeps the connection alive for the kids but does not fulfill the need.

If you are local, please contact the school board and speak out in support of this vital program. If you are not, contact your local representatives and President Obama and do the same. What we need to fix education in this country is to repeal No Child Left Behind, which is terrible legislation and any teacher will tell you it is ruining the education of this generation. Repeal NCLB, make every school in the nation an AVID school with 100& of the teachers AVID trained, and we'll see the achievement gap disappear. Oh yes - and fire any teacher who is resistant to change and still expects the kids to sit in rows and listen to the "expert" drone on.

This blog was inspired by my AVID kids, who show their individual determination every day and are fighting for this amazing program that they believe in. I love you all, and I am so proud of you for fighting for your future.

Namaste, Jill

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yoga is Yummy.

It never fails to amaze me, how wonderful I feel after practicing yoga. It makes me feel energized yet calm and centered at the same time. Doing the poses causes my arms and legs to wobble these days, but I can feel that chi energy zinging through my body. I picture it eradicating those nasty cancer cells for good. I had a private with Cathy yesterday and another this morning with Jean (French pronunciation, Jean is a guy). I am betting that I will recover from today's chemo faster because of the yoga. Yoga has taught me to tune in to my spiritual self.

Before I go in for a chemo treatment, I indulge in a little positive self talk. I tell my body that, although the chemo is harsh and makes us sick, it is killing the cancer and saving our life. Yes, I said us. I tend to speak to my body as something separate. This is something that just sort of happened. I know that this body is a temporary thing, but my spirit is eternal. I am very aware of that connection, but it has become clear to me that my spirit is the guiding force helping my poor, battered body fight this disease.

It has been 12 weeks since my surgery. I have recovered a great deal of my physical strength and all of my spiritual strength. I confess to feeling weak in both areas immediately following the surgery and for awhile afterward. I was so ill and so unable to function. I was suffering from anxiety in the evenings and that scared me and made me wonder if I would have the same strength to fight I had the first time. Losing my mom so soon after surgery played a role in this also. Whenever I am sick I want my mommy, and although I felt her presence I longed for her to be with me in the flesh. My private yoga classes helped me with both kinds of strength. My first class with Jean he kept having to hold onto me so I wouldn't fall over. He had to help me get upright after most poses. Yesterday I was able to come up after triangle pose with no problem. I am still awkward getting up and down off the floor and I won't be doing a hand stand anytime soon, but it is so gratifying to see my strength returning.

I have some very pissed off stomach muscles. It hurts like hell to laugh. It hurts to sneeze or hiccup. Throwing up is agony. Having the same incision twice takes much longer to recover from, obviously. The muscles and the scar tissue need to be stretched, and I can't imagine how I would do that without yoga.

I have so many things to be grateful for. Yoga in general and Cathy and Jean specifically are such blessings in my life. Not only for the yoga, but also because they are both such wise, wonderful people and I feel honored to call them my friends. Cancer and yoga have combined to make me brave. There was a time in my life when I would never have taken a one on one class with a yoga teacher. The first time I went to Cathy's studio I took Susan along because I was chicken to go alone. Thank goodness I conquered that silly fear!

Jean and I dedicated one class together to finding my mantra. It ended up being "Yoga saved my life." I am counting on it to do it again.

Cathy and Jean both use the word "yummy" to describe the way yoga feels I couldn't agree more.
Namaste, Jill