Sowing Seeds of Hope

We all go through highs and lows, it's a part of life.  Battling cancer seems to have amplified my highs and lows.   Or, maybe I've just become heightened to every moment and experience.

A few weeks ago, I experienced the extremist of both within an hour period.  I was asked to share my journey with a group of pre-med seniors before their graduation from high school. I whole heartedly complied.  I got to the school fifteen minutes before eight.

But my intention was to visit an old friend before anything else. He'd been working as a librarian at the school for the last couple of years, but before then we had both been on a Dream Team which I still look back upon with the deepest of regrets (a moment I wish I could have changed if I had the ability to time travel).

"I'm so sorry," I said to him, "If I could, I would rewind time, I wouldn't have run away! I..."

"There were circumstances you hadn't told us that wouldn't have let you. You did what you thought you had to do given the information you had in the current moment."

I sighed, was it forgiveness I heard in his voice? I held him in the highest of regards. I'd seen him teach, watched him inspire, followed, and led alongside him.

Maybe, maybe there had been a different way, another path, I should've... I thought, but didn't say because just then regardless of the fact that there are thousands of students on his campus, in walks one of my "-itos." In Spanish, when one adds and "-ito" to the end of a name, one infantilizes the person.

I won't name him outright, however he'd been my "-ito"since he'd been in sixth grade. I'd taught him for a year, coached him for two more. I'd rode in the back of an ambulance with him as he'd gasped for air and sat beside his parents as we talked about life.

He froze three steps into the library and point-blank asked, "Ms? What ar you doing here?"

I've gone public with my diagnosis. I've shared it with everybody who cares and finds an ounce of benefit in it, but just then I hit a low. I couldn't share. I saw fear and worry in his eyes and I couldn't taint his views.

"You should be at work right now. It's almost eight o'cklock. What are you doing here?"

"I've taken some time off, my dear '-ito'," I said shakily.


I fumbled for a logical honest explanation, minus the truth.

"I've taken some time off to write. I'm writing a book."

"That is so cool," he whispered back as he threw himself into my arms, "You are following your dreams."

Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.

I forced a smile and pushed back the tears.

They both walked me to the elevator where we parted.  To "-ito," I said, "Please sir, high school counts, please be the best you can be so that you too can follow your dreams. Plus, my friend here now knows that you are one of my babies, so there is no escaping down the cracks in the sidewalk."

He grinned and said, "Be well Ms."

I left my Dream Team comrade with my regular three words, "I love you!"

"And I you, Marine," he said.

"Till we meet again old friend, till we meet again," I said with a fist pump as the elevator door began to separate us. I inhaled slowly pushing both to the furthest recesses of my mind.  Within ten minutes, I'd sought redemption, forgiveness, and sowed yet another seed of hope.  I now needed to contain the raging emotions before I turned to the class of pre-med seniors.

A fellow friend,  and principal of a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) school in Los Angeles, (and fellow subscriber to this blog) asked me to  share my journey with his scholars.
The opportunity humbled and excited me simultaneously.

I'd missed teaching. I'd imprisoned myself within four walls for months, trying to keep myself healthy enough to weave through this with as little complications as possible. That being said, one can go stir-crazy. I'd missed being around students, watching their reactions, listening to their queries, and life stories.  I'd missed the metaphorical lightbulb that brightens a class when a  scholar comprehends a truth.

I couldn't sleep the night before. I felt as though I were a five year old entering school for the first time. By the time I tried the classroom door, my nerves were ablaze. My fingers tingled with the neuropathy that I can often keep at bay. My shallow breathing brought with it a bit of dizziness.  To top it all off, the last time I'd stood before high school students was five years ago when I'd co-taught with a different Dream Team member.

I meticulously prepped for this moment. I packed my gear the night before: a  slew of manipulative, a powerpoint presentation, detailed note cards (which I didn't look at once after starting), and a simple case study to hook my audience. I was ready!

I entered into a room of elated seniors, counting down their days, and excited about their endless opportunities.  Hope and eager wonder glimmered from their eyes.

Their teacher introduced me as another teacher.  "Can we please welcome Ms. Marine, who has a story to share with you?"

They quieted and turned their eyes towards me.

"First and foremost,  I am humbled to be here standing before you a week before you live this institution and I hope that by the end their are seeds you will carry forth and use int he years to come.  That being said, let's take a few minutes to look at a hypothetical case study I brought along.," I said as I passed out slips of paper.  "A woman of 39, goes into the hospital with back pain that sometimes hits her lower abdomen and causes dizziness and pain.  Other than this, she's been in good health, exercising and eating well. What questions can you ask her to gather more information?"

They engaged.

"When did the symptoms start?"

"What caused the back pain?"

"How often does she exercise?"

"Is she a world-traveler?"

"What does eating well consist of?"

"Did she have any other preexisting conditions before she came in?"

'Was she taking any medicine that may have adversely impacted her?"

Their thoughtfulness astounded me.

The diagnosis left them speechless.

"She had cancer?" They exclaimed.

"Has," I said, "for the hypothetical female is: me."


I pasted a huge grin on my face meandering between their tables and repeated my initial introductions. Their postures changed. They transformed instantaneously from children into young adults.  This time they stopped all movement and physically turned to examine me. I greeted them with the warmest of greetings knowing full well I held their complete attention now, "I am honored to be here today, to stand before future doctors, and share with you a piece of the puzzle I've been putting together since my December diagnosis, a formula I believe will help you become the best of the best out there when you begin practicing."

I gestured towards the powerpoint that was now highlighting "The 8 Faces of Cancer" slide.

They turned to face the projection and the journey started. We spent the rest of the hour documenting the process from denial through anger, and settling in complete acceptance. We talked diet, meditation, exercise, and mindfulness. We explored alternative medicine that would support and strengthen the normal functioning of a cancer patient. I highlighted the necessity of a support group and described the faces that stood beside me.

A week before their graduation from high school, they sat in utter silence, mesmerized. I wondered at times whether it was too much, whether I was tainting their innocence.

"Why am I even telling you any of this?" I asked in the end.  "What is it I want you to take with you during your next eight year journey?"

The responses rocked my reality.

"You want us to connect with our patients, to get to know them as people."

I grinned and nodded.

"You want us to realize that medicine isn't the only solution that we need to help our patients heal their mind, body, and soul too."

"You want us to help our patients find a balance and use that balance to fight for their lives."

I clasped my hands in excitement.

"Thank you for your time, for listening to my journey, and for taking a bit with you into your future journeys," I said before handing the class back to their teacher.

When I finished, students individually bombarded me with questions and concerns. And before I left,  a young girl came up to me with tears in her eyes.

"I interned in the children's oncology ward last summer and it was the hardest thing I've ever experienced. I had to hold the hand of a little 18 month old who had a form of cancer and they were pumping that poison into her. It, it... "

"I know," I said as I reached out and squeezed her hand, "watching little kids go through this is the scariest thing in the world."

"But I had to experience it. It made me want to go into medicine more than ever. I want to help those little kids."

I nodded, impressed at her determination.

She concluded, "Thank you for coming today for sharing your journey for giving us a glimpse into your heart and sharing with us your formula for healing.  You look amazing, you look as though you have already beat it!"

It was my turn to get emotional after an hour of highs and lows.  I wanted to cry, but I held it in until I reached the street. I knew then that the seeds I sowed that day would take root and one day as these young adults started practicing medicine, my message would resonate somewhere in the back of their minds and they would create "ripples of hope" that would send shockwaves into the medical field.
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If you would like me to talk to your class or group, and you live in the Los Angeles area, please don't hesitate to reach out. It would be my honor to share my journey with them!

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To contact this amazing STEM school, shoot me an e-mail and I will link you with the institution.


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