Written by: Jennifer Appel
“The hard days are what make you stronger.”
Recently...3 little words turned my life upside down...
It began with a NIGHTMARE. I woke up in the middle of the night in a sweaty panic. My vivid imagery informed me that I had breast cancer. We’ve all had those horrifyingly realistic visions in the night that wake us up but later reveal themselves to be nothing. This wasn’t one of those.
Instantly, I sprung awake and did a quick self breast exam. In a half groggy state, under the warm covers in the pitch dark, I awkwardly felt around my left breast like an unsure teenager nervously pawing at a girl for the first time. The large lump was present and unavoidable. My mind went straight to denial. According to Emmanuel Acho, Denial stands for:
“Don’t Even Know I Am Lying.”
Immediately, I lied to myself assuming I was in the middle of some disturbingly lucid dream. Yeah, that’s it! I just need to get some more rest and it will be all fine in the morning, I said to myself.
Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning with a pesky feeling of deja vu...indeed, the bulge was still there.
If you haven't read some of my personal story or heard me speak of my previous medical history, let’s just say that I had some traumatic experiences as a teen that caused me to question my own instincts about my health. I thought about this nodule and didn’t want to alarm my husband or overreact. It could just be all in my head. I pondered on it for a few days, before slowly coming back to the facts of the situation. I knew in my heart that I was right and decided to share my concern with Hans. “Will you feel this”, I questioned with a shaky voice.
Putting language to fear is an act of bravery.
He felt the bump and looked at me, uttering my deepest worry, “that has to be cancer.” The bold and blunt proclamation wasn’t what I wanted to hear; but, our best friends have a way of telling us the stuff we need to hear. I knew he was right and quickly made an appointment with my doctor and started the scary process of identification, verification, and confirmation.
Receiving a diagnosis requires a lot of steps. Because of insurance, you have to go to your regular physician and get a referral for the proper tests. Suspected breast cancer entails a mammogram, ultrasound, and then biopsy. Luckily, I saw my primary doctor and he immediately ordered everything. I was able to move through the early steps as efficiently as possible.
A few long days later I showed up for the first step. The gal who did the mammogram saw the knob right away and said they would get me into the next phase immediately; as I was whisked away to do an ultrasound. While lying on the table, the nurse performing the ultrasound said, “I can definitely see the lump and we’re gonna get you in for a biopsy right now.” The urgency in her voice shook me to my core.
Understand, these appointments sometimes take days or at the very least hours. But this medical crew was expediting my diagnosis like I was a VIP with a fast pass at CANCERLAND.
With the speed of these medical actions, I knew they could tell it was cancer as well. However, naturally they can’t tell you anything until the results come back from the biopsy, so you just wait. And wait. And wait some more. Did I mention patience is a growth area for me?
My doctor called me two days later and gave me the disturbing results:
“You have CANCER.”
Three words you never want to hear from your doctor...Even when you know it's coming, those three words are completely SHOCKING. No matter how much you prepare for the outcome, no one is ever ready to hear it.
I asked the doctor a few questions to make sure I had the right referrals to the next doctors. Holding it together in the mirror of your own mortality is the ultimate test of endurance and grit. I listened to every word as my mind echoed his 3 words like a broken record. Each time he stopped for a breath or paused my brain lit up like a neon sign with those three horrifying words tattooed on my soul: "YOU HAVE CANCER!!!!!!"
Hanging up the zoom call I broke down and cried. Not a slow weepy cry like when you're watching The Notebook or The Fault in Our Stars. This was a thunderstorm of violent tears like a Florida rainfall that left me soaked. Hard. Quick. Sudden. But...Immediately sunny afterwards. The storm had given way to a beautiful bright skyline of HOPE.
CANCER SUCKS....BUT I AM GOING TO KICK ITS ASS!
I instantly started focusing on my recovery. Afterall, I’ve still got more books to write, more kids and staff to teach, and joy to inspire. I’ve got work to do and life to live.
I refuse to be a victim or patient. I’m a SURVIVOR! I’m a THRIVER! I’m an INSPIRER!
“I am WOMAN--hear me ROAR!”
Since my diagnosis, nearly a month has gone by. In fact, tomorrow, I brace myself for a bilateral mastectomy followed by months of intense treatment. As I write this, I reflect back on my upside down life of bone scans, MRI’s and pre-op appointments with gratitude for my medical team who are committed to my health. As an unwitting passenger on this roller coaster ride of hell, I’m prepared to take one day at a time as I intentionally discover the lesson cancer has gifted me.
Each week I’ll post a life lesson or two on my survivors journey to joy. Make no mistake...this isn’t some polly ana attitude through rose colored glasses.
Finding the bits of wisdom, in between the hurdles of life has always proved to be an award winning strategy for me. And now, in these challenging times, believing that EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON will continue to be my therapeutic self-mantra. Here’s a few lessons for life:
This week I urge YOU to REACH OUT to a student you haven’t connected with recently, HUG a friend a little tighter than normal, and LINGER a little longer with a loved one.
---Relish the ordinary moments with others.
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo. But what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
Those three horrifying words may have broken me down but I’m excited to explore their true meaning this year on a new ride…
HERE WE GO--JOIN ME ON THE BUS--
NEXT STOP CANCERLAND
ABOUT THE Author
Jennifer Appel is an educator, coach, speaker, and writer. She’s the Chief Heart Officer for the Teach Better Team, Co-host of the Award Winning Culture podcast, and the Co-Creator of Award Winning Culture. In addition to being the author of the highly anticipated sequel to Award Winning Culture, she’s the author of a line of picture books focusing on Social Emotional Learning and Character Ed which includes, “Award Winning Dog and I’m WHO.” Furthermore, Jennifer has been a contributor on two books: "Teacher’s Deserve It" and an upcoming project yet to be titled.
Award Winning Culture was created by Hans and Jennifer Appel with the sole purpose of creating an educational mindset of Positive INTENTIONALITY and ACTION; with a daily mantra to make our sphere of influence stronger through Character, Excellence, and Community. Part of AWC's mission is to highlight outstanding educators, companies, and resources that support an Award Winning Culture. Both Jennifer and Hans work at Enterprise Middle School aka Wildcat Nation. Wildcat Nation received the 2018 ASCD Whole Child Award in Washington, for its award winning culture and the 2018 Global "Class Act Award" for Kindness.