Saturday, October 30, 2010

First tutoring session

K, my literacy learner, and I met for the first time on Friday morning at a local library.  I think we're going to get along really well.  She's a little shy but seems very sweet.  It sounds like her home life isn't the greatest.  Her mom passed away when she was eleven and now she lives with her dad and at least two of her six (!!!) younger siblings.  She doesn't see some of her younger siblings because she doesn't get along with their moms, so she stays away to not create any drama.  Despite this, K is cheerful and very ambitious.  She really wants to go to college and be either a nurse, a psychologist, or a judge.

I was curious to hear her read out loud, so I brought a few young adult books with me from our extensive collection, intending to have her read just for a couple minutes to get an idea of what she needs to work on.  She picked a "you be the judge/you be the jury" version of the Lizzie Borden trial.  It's a good book for an 18 year old with a low reading level because it goes over all of the facts of the trial in detail, but using simple language.  K did a great job reading, better than I was anticipating based on her information sheet.  She can read most short, common words easily but has trouble with longer words.  She doesn't do much sounding out, sometimes switched nouns to verbs (murderer vs murdering), and sometimes doesn't understand what she's read.  But like I said, she reads a lot better than I was anticipating based on the information I was given.   She wants to improve her reading and spelling and work on her cursive. 

K wants to continue reading the Lizzie Borden book, which is pretty cool, considering the fact that I just randomly picked it out for her to read a few paragraphs.  We ended up reading a few pages and it looks like we'll be reading the whole book!  I have a bunch of ideas for other things to work on in our next session.  I'm very excited about working with her!  She's really motivated and really wants to learn, so I think we'll be able to accomplish a lot. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New activities!

Monday was very exciting.  I had my first "in school residency."  I'm volunteering with an organization that provides a lot of different tutoring services for kids, including sending you into the schools to work in classes on their writing.  I'm working with three other people in a fifth grade class and, funny story, their teacher is married to a girl I went to elementary school with.  We're doing writing conferences with the kids.  They write something, we get them to tell us about it, read it to us, and then give them suggestions for making it better.  We aren't correcting grammar or spelling, just getting them to do things like add more detail, be more creative, explain things more.  It was a lot of fun!  It seems like a great class of kids.  They're creative, smart, well behaved, curious.  I think this is going to be a really great opportunity to learn more about being in a classroom environment.  The teacher, Mr H, even said that we're welcome to come up with our own lesson plans if we want.  It wouldn't be a very involved lesson plan, I'd pretty much just give them a writing topic, but you know, it's still practice, and I'm still getting time in a classroom.

On Monday I also got assigned a learner from the literacy organization I'm working with!  Since I'll be tutoring an adult we call the person we're working with a learner rather than a student, to keep the relationship on equal footing as a partnership rather than as a teacher-student thing.  My learner, K, just graduated from high school but according to my information on her, she only has a beginner reading level.  That means that she reads somewhere between a kindergarten and second grade level.  She has trouble sounding out words, doesn't read much, and is scared of writing.  How kids like this just get passed through the system without getting additional help is completely beyond me.  A beginning level reader has trouble filling out basic forms!  How can a teacher think that's okay?  You have to give her credit, she must be very clever to have done well enough to be passed through her classes despite her low reading and writing levels.  I haven't met her yet but we set up our first meeting, which will be on Friday morning.  I guess I'll find out more then!  At our first meeting we'll mostly be getting to know each other, going over her long term goals and what she wants to work for the next year.  I'm a little concerned that her dad is going to try to be too involved.  When I called to set up our meeting she wasn't there so he set up the meeting place and time with me.  She is 18, still living at home, and she just finished high school, so it's normal that he thinks he should still be in charge of his little girl and her education.  I'll just have to make it clear to her on Friday that I'm working with her, not her dad, and that she and I will decide things together.  I guess we'll just see how it goes on Friday!

I'm really excited to be doing things that matter, and not just filling my day with "stuff" like going to the pharmacy, going grocery shopping, whatever.  I'm actually doing things that make a difference, doing things that I like, that are connected to my future education and career plans.  It makes me feel like my life is on play again instead of being stuck indefinitely on pause.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I used to be friends with someone.  In fact, she was one of my best friends.  Eventually I decided that she was not worth the effort it took to continue being her friend and I let the friendship lapse while I was in France.  I was tired of listening to her complain about everything - how hard her life was, how she didn't have time for anything besides medical school, the fact that she never called.  Basically, after several years of self punishment trying to be friends with someone who will always put herself first to the point of not caring about the problems of others, I realized that no friendship is worth that kind of treatment.  This is someone who, while I was in the hospital getting chemotherapy when I was first diagnosed six years ago, complained to me about how hard it was for her to study for the MCATs and told me that I "had no idea what she was going through."  She was right, I didn't  I was far too busy fighting for my life to have time for anything as serious as the MCATs.  This is someone who couldn't be bothered to call me during the next several months while I was getting treatment because she was too busy with school work.  And even before I got sick, this is someone who made a big stink when I asked her to drive me to the pharmacy to pick up medication when I was so sick I could barely speak. 

I don't know how I put up with her for so long.  When I look back on our friendship it's a series of hurtful events that made me feel bad about myself.  I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.  That and the fact that cutting her out of my friend group at that point would have created serious drama.  Or maybe I was constantly searching for her approval, for her to break down and do something that proved she was a good friend.  I honestly don't know.

Fast forward to this past spring, when a couple of friends came to visit me.  They had just seen this other girl and told her that I was sick again.  Her response?  She already knew.  She already knew, yet she had said nothing to me.  No phone call, no note, no message passed through these other friends.  Nothing.  No acknowledgment that we had ever been friends or that she had any kind of emotion regarding my situation.  Remember, this is someone who wants to be a doctor.  Can you imagine having a doctor who is either so emotionally constipated or so socially awkward that they can't pass along a message of "hope you get well soon?"  !?!?!?!

I really wish this didn't bother me, and that I wasn't still thinking about it and nursing these angry feelings.  It makes me angry, and it also really hurts.  Even though I don't want to be her friend anymore and haven't for years, it still hurts that she couldn't bring herself to say something to me.   Her inability to say anything makes me wonder if she ever cared about me at all.  She certainly didn't show it when we actually were friends,   I wish I weren't hanging onto these feelings.  It's bad for the spirit.  I can't help the way I feel, but I really wish I were over it already.

The more I think about it, the more I think back on her behavior over the years, I think she's one of those people who just can't deal with cancer.  She probably can't deal with mortality and illness.  That, and she's completely self involved.  And yet she's a doctor.  

A lot of cancer patients lose friends when they get sick because they just can't handle it.  The cancer makes them uncomfortable and scared because they have to confront their own mortality.  I am very lucky to have wonderful friends who have stuck by me through the ins and outs of this disease over the years.  I should try to concentrate on them, rather than on people I didn't even want to be friends with who ignored me when I got sick again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Practice makes perfect

This GRE thing is turning out to be more of a pain in the butt than it should be.  I signed up for a class that was supposed to start run Sundays 12-3 and Wednesdays 6:30-9:30, but then I got a call from the Princeton Review says in the class had been canceled because I was the only one enrolled.  I was welcome to enroll in another class starting tonight.  The hours of the class?  Tuesdays and FRIDAYS from 6:30 to 9:30!  Who in their right mind would sign up for a class on Friday night rather than a class on Sunday afternoon?!?  Anyway, I decided not to enroll in that class and to just do an online review instead.

I also took my first practice test!  I was pretty happy with my verbal, I got a 710 (out of 800), but the math didn't go quite as well.  I got a 450!  That is very typically me.  I'm terrible at math, like really, really bad.  And at this point I've forgotten everything I once knew...errr... sort of kind of knew.  Well, the average composite for my program is only 1000, so I'm not freaking out.  Yet.  Although I did freak out a little when I was taking the math test and realized I had no idea how to answer half of the questions.  Really, only a little.

At least now I know what I have to work on!  Read: all math skills I should have learned (and remembered!) since I entered kindergarten. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Straight Lines

I went to another training session on Tuesday, but this one is to work in the public elementary schools helping the little kiddies with their writing.  As part of the training they showed us a video of a third grade teacher working with a few different students on the writing and revising process.

The teacher is working with this kid and asking him to underline or circle parts of his personal narrative that illustrate important ideas.  So the kid takes his ratty old Number 2 pencil and starts drawing these haphazard, very crooked, going all over the place lines, and then decides to add on a "roof" and turn them into circles, which are also haphazard and all over the place.  Not to mention the fact that his handwriting was barely legible.  His narrative was absolutely wonderful - lots of description, an excellent effort for an eight year old.

I had to stop myself from laughing!  In France this kid would have earned himself a punition.  In France all the kids have pencil cases fully stocked with pens in all different colors, erasable pens, white-out, highlighters, scissors, rulers, calligraphy pens, erasers - you get the picture.  Writing in pencil is generally frowned upon, pen is standard.  One time I told the kids to write in pencil because it's easier to erase if you make a mistake, and the teacher came back in the room and yelled at them for not using pens!  If kids have to underline anything it takes 5 minutes because they have to pull out their ruler, line it up exactly, and then draw a perfectly straight line.  And of course by third grade (CE2 in France), the majority of kids have beautifully formed, impeccably neat and always legible cursive handwriting. 

I love America.  Way to value creativity over conformist handwriting and straight lines!

Monday, October 11, 2010


I am so busy lately!  Between literacy training for a couple hours twice a week, either Gilda's Club or bollywood dancing on Tuesdays, and French group on Wednesday, my evenings are booked solid.  Add to that my usual routine of appointments (two last week, two this week).  Then we went to see my brother play this weekend (they won again!  Up to 5-1 on the season and my brother continues to play well), and I just signed up to start volunteering for an hour once a week in one of the local elementary schools.  Plus starting my GRE class in a couple of weeks.  Plus my application for grad school.  Plus..... I can't even remember anymore.  Do I have other things to do?

Unfortunately my GVHD is acting up, which is stressing me out a little bit.  I'm getting more dry, thickened, discolored patches of skin.  Mostly they're just little dots, but it's happening despite applying steroid cream every day.  I'm going to go up to twice a day.  I'm also having some gut discomfort when I eat and a little nausea.  I'm hoping the solution is to eat smaller amounts more frequently.  Today is Day One of the smaller amounts more frequently experiment and so far it's going well.  I'm just hoping I can get the symptoms under control before I go see my doctor on Friday so that he won't put me on steroids.  Steroids are my enemy. 

AND I've been super tired recently.  No need to look too far on that one, but of course I always say "why am I so tired?"  Guess I'm not as totally ready for a full load of activities as I thought.  Fatigue is the most common complaint post-transplant, and I've had two, so I guess that means I get to complain about being tired twice as much?  Hahaha.  I know this is a problem, I should have anticipated it, but it still bothers me that I'm not fully recovered from transplant yet.  Or even worse, that this level of fatigue might be my new normal.

But it's really great that I'm getting out there and doing more things.  I'm very excited about starting my new volunteering programs!  I just have to make sure that I don't take on too many things, that I keep my activity load manageable so that I can fulfill all my commitments and not make myself sick.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Shame on you, NFL

Those of you watching the NFL may have noticed the influx of pink everything this weekend as part of the NFL's annual campaign to "raise awareness" about breast cancer.  To quote from their press release, during the month of October every NFL game will feature:

» Game balls with pink ribbon decals used for every down
» Players wearing pink cleats, wristbands, gloves, chin straps, sideline caps, helmet decals, eye shield decals, captains' patches, sideline towels and quarterback towels
» Pink coins used for the coin toss
» Pink sideline caps for coaches and sideline personnel and pink ribbon pins for coaches and team executives
» Officials wearing caps with pink ribbons, pink wristbands and pins and using pink whistles
» On-field pink ribbon stencils and A Crucial Catch wall banners
» Pink goal-post padding in end zones
» A Crucial Catch pink glow necklaces for all fans attending the Bears-Giants game on Oct. 3

After the game these items will be autographed and auctioned off, with all proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society.  You can also buy special pink team shirts and other merchandise, and an unspecified portion of the proceeds go to breast cancer charities.  Special pink trading cards with facts about breast cancer will be included for free when you purchase a pack of trading cards.  Gatorade carts will feature pink ribbon stickers.  Players and teams will supposedly be involved with different special events and fundraising things.  At one of the games this past weekend 125 breast cancer survivors were on field during the singing of the national anthem.  One player, whose mother died of breast cancer, will be donating $1000 for every reception and $5000 for every touchdown he scores during the month of October.  Oh, and there's this website that mostly encourages you to buy or bid on things but also includes a helpful reminder to schedule a mammogram and the opportunity to sign up for ACS fundraising walks.

Notice anything missing?

The NFL itself isn't donating a single cent to anything breast cancer.  All of the money raised by their campaign comes from the fans.  Only a percentage of the profits from the pink team merchandise goes to breast cancer, and I would be absolutely shocked if that percentage is higher than 20%.  My guess is that it's closer to 10%.  I'm not sure where the rest of the money goes, but someone is going to be profiting off of the general public wanting to help breast cancer, whether it's the NFL or the teams or the manufacturer I don't know.  Not to mention all of the good publicity the NFL gets from "raising awareness" about breast cancer.

But what are they doing, really?  A stupid pink whistle doesn't do a damn thing for breast cancer.  Pink goal padding in the end zones?  Pink glow necklaces?  Seriously??!?!?!!  How on earth does that help?  I just find it irritating,  A woman in my young adult support group, who is a sports writer and breast cancer survivor, says she watches football to forget about breast cancer and hates being bombarded by it all month long.  I highly doubt that this will convince more than a handful of women to go get a mammogram.  I wonder how much money this will actually raise.  Who is going to bid on a pink game ball, even if it is autographed by Tom Brady?  Let's be real here!  Are that many people going to buy pink t-shirts?  I really don't think we're talking about large sums of money here.  This is a completely self serving, nearly meaningless campaign, an opportunity for a bunch of meathead football players to prance around the field in pink cleats and think they're doing something meaningful while the big wigs in the NFL corporate offices pat themselves on the back for turning this into a profit.

Meaningful would be distributing cards about self breast exams.  Meaningful would be donating proceeds from ticket sales to organizations that sponsor mammograms for uninsured women.  Meaningful would be donating money out of the NFL's well-padded pocketbook to research.  Meaningful would be raising awareness about breast cancer in men, because hardly anyone ever talks about that.  That's an issue that actually needs some awareness raised.  Meaningful would be taking the money used to manufacture all of this pink crap and donating it to a breast cancer organization instead.

Not to mention that breast cancer, and cancer in general, isn't just happy pink chin straps and wrist bands and ribbons on football fields.  It's people getting sick, going through painful mastectomies and reconstruction, going through the hell of chemotherapy, and dying.  Yes, we've made a ton of progress and more and more women (and men) are thriving after cancer, but the bottom line is that people are still dying.  No amount of pink merchandise can take away the pain of diagnosis or the loss of a breast or the loss of a loved one.

So shame on you, NFL, for trying to profit off of cancer patients and staging a publicity stunt in the name of breast cancer awareness.  Shame on you for getting everyone else to spend money and not giving a dime for a good cause.  Shame on you for being a bunch of selfish, greedy profiteers.

P.S. Don't get me started on that idiotic facebook thing about where you put your purse.  I've been ranting about it all day.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Back to school?

A couple days ago I was bumming around online, looking at degree programs I might be interested in, when I saw a date that shocked me.

December 1st. As in the application deadline. As in two months from now.

It hadn't occurred to me that I would have to apply for next year's graduate programs right now!

My brain went into overdrive immediately and I hurriedly searched the application requirements. The normal things were listed: application form, personal statement, letters of recommendation....

GRE scores.

It DEFINITELY never occurred to me that I would have to take the GRE in the next couple of months! I would definitely want to take a prep class (I am not motivated enough to study on my own and need to have someone make me do it), so I looked into class dates and test dates and how long it takes to get your scores. It's doable in two months, but barely. My test scores might arrive a few days after the December 1 deadline, but I'm assuming that wouldn't be a huge problem.

So I can get the application in on time, my doctor wants me to enroll in school and live a normal life, but I hadn't totally committed to this program yet. It's a one year masters in education with certification to teach, but I was also thinking about getting a masters in public health, a masters in social work, and every now and then I still toy with the idea of being a doctor before the idea of spending the rest of my life in a hospital makes me convulse in horror. Sorry Dad, the most recent relapse has firmly nailed the lid on the coffin of your dream that I would be a doctor.

I decided to commit to the idea of going back to school to be a teacher. I'm passionate about the idea of educating and preparing youth for their futures. It's something that really speaks to me. If I change my mind after a few years, I can always go back to school. Very few things in this life are permanent, you can almost always change your mind.

Now I have to decide what level to teach, elementary or secondary? I loved teaching elementary students in France. I love working with kids, I find it pretty easy to come up with teaching methods that work well for them, and it's a good fit for my personality. I've never worked with older kids, but I like the idea of working with high school students, especially teaching high school science. I do worry that after ten years of thinking like a young child I might be starved for adult conversation and company, but again, I can always go back to school.

I also have to decide on a program. There are two universities close to my house. Let's call them School A and School B. Both have post-baccalaureate routes to teaching certification. School A has the masters with certification that I wrote about above. School A is also a much more prestigious school in general and therefore has a smarter student population. School B is considered to have a better school of education. School B, however, only has a post-baccalaureate certification in teaching, not a a masters with certification. At School B I would essentially be taking the undergraduate teaching major curriculum but not getting a degree after doing all that work. I don't like the idea of going back to school and not getting an actual degree at the end of it. I know someone who is doing this program at School B and she says she loves her professors, but her fellow students are kind of dumb undergrads. Call me a brat, but I don't like taking classes with people who aren't as smart as I am. That's what I did last fall when I was taking classes (at School B, actually) and it was frustrating for me. School B does have the advantage of being a much more complete preparation because you're taking the full undergraduate teaching curriculum, and at School A it's a condensed one-year curriculum, but I can always take more classes as a continuing education kind of thing if I feel I need them. Also, I already have two years of experience in a classroom, so that has to count for something.

So I decided to apply to School A's masters program, and that basically made my decision of teaching at the elementary or secondary level for me. Because it's only a one year program, you have to have completed subject-specific course work (math, science, history, etc) in previous degree programs. I don't have enough credits in anything to be certified as a subject teacher in high school, definitely not as a science teacher! So elementary school it is, and I'm actually not even sure I have enough subject course work for that either. I have to submit my undergrad transcript for evaluation by the program.

I'm really happy with all of these decisions. The more I think about it the more excited I get, so I know I made the right decisions. I'm also glad that everything has to happen so quickly, especially the GRE stuff, because it means I just have to do it and I don't have time to think about it. Now I just have to figure out what to do about recommendation letters written in French!