On Sunday night, I went to bed with the night sweats. On Monday morning, I woke up with them. Since the beginning of the new semester, I had missed nine days of school. To clarify, this teacher doesn’t like missing school, especially nine days in one month, but cancer. I had finished my radiation Friday and planned to return to school Monday. I don’t like breaking plans. I missed the kids. I didn’t have sub notes. I couldn’t stay home another day. I was going to school. Sweaty or not, I pulled my hair into a ponytail. Only later would I notice my horrifically crooked eyeliner. I looked like shit. I would wear a mask.
Back in 2021, I had cap and gown portraits made at Houston Baptist. The photo package included a mask with the lower half of my face. I bought it, and it’s so creepy. My smile is oversized. See? An understated message. I would fake it till I make it.
My students are working on research papers, a good plan considering my absences. Monday would be a workday. I would be available for consultation at my desk where I would sit and play catch up.
Before classes started, I searched YouTube for Snoop Dogg and clicked Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode.” How appropriate. With the tunes on my overhead speaker, I wrote the kids a note and displayed it on my overhead projector. “I probably should have stayed home,” I said, “but I needed a sense of normalcy.” What is normal? I thought yet again. I signed the note, “with love.”
Between the gangsta hip-hop on my speaker and the ridiculous mask on my face, my students may have been more concerned than ever before. So much for faking it. My note said I needed a silent study hall. Never mind my music. Of course, they wanted to know how I was doing.
I’m not good with “How are you?” Especially with people who really care. The kids really cared. When I’m not okay, a super-sensitive version of myself sometimes appears. When my mouth opens, sometimes so do my tear ducts. I think I cried in every class that day, just trying to say I’m okay.
I CLEARLY was not okay. I possibly hit an all-time low. F-bombs exploded overhead, like a battle cry as I worked from my desk and tried to concentrate on grades and missing assignments, failures and emails, lesson plans and life. The kids seemed to get me, and through the sweats I made progress toward some goals. In the end everything was okay.
Back at home, renewed energy conquered my sweats. I decluttered a corner of my world, put away misplaced things, and patted myself on the back. Action lead to action. And Tuesday was better, and with each day came strength. Cancer has definitely been teaching me a thing or two. Here’s a favorite: