Serendipity

It is 1985 and I have just transferred to Rohr Elementary, the second school of my career and where I will remain for 26 years before retiring. I have been assigned a 3rd/4th combo class in Room B-9. It is here where a perfect story of serendipity will be born, thirty-one years later.

Her name is Jody. She is eight. And she is one of my third graders. She is the same age as my son, Eli. And she is now my guardian angel.

Because I taught for so long at the same school site, it was easy for my students to stay in touch with me over the years. Jody was one of those. A wonderful student, she grew into a lovely young woman who even became a teacher at Rohr for a couple of years before she had to leave because of staffing cuts.

She taught in the room next to mine, but she could never bring herself to call me Terri. I was still Mrs. Hamlin from her third grader point of view.

Following her short stint in education, Jody pursued a different career. And then at 34, Jody was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 34, when I was Jody’s teacher.

Deeply concerned by Jody’s diagnosis, her bosses queried medical connections they had with Eli Lilly and Company to determine the finest breast cancer treatment center and doctors in San Diego. The singular response: Moores Cancer Center in La Jolla.

Jody had a lumpectomy, radiation, and aggressive chemotherapy because she was so young. She is a five-year cancer survivor today.

But because of her life-changing diagnosis, Jody decided to make a career change. She attended UCSD, did her internship at Moores Cancer Center, and she is now a radiation oncology therapist at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

And here is the magic of serendipity. Because of a second Facebook account that I created in order to remain in contact with my former students, she learned of my cancer diagnosis and contacted me while I was in Cambria. And then on Sunday she read my first post that detailed my terror, and she knew she could help. She picked up her phone and texted me on Sunday: “Good morning, Mrs. Hamlin! Would you by chance have time to meet today? I also got treated at Moores. I also interned there so I wanted to give you info on the doctors, if you think that would help.”

I opened my front door and together we hugged and cried. I felt like a third grader in the presence of my teacher. We had come full circle, thirty-one years later, from B-9. The irony was, neither one of us was benign.

For the next several hours she calmly and lovingly helped Tom and me process our fears and our questions. Her doctors were the same. I felt the madness pause and I was able to breathe. The blizzard in my brain lightened. I allowed flashes of hope and peace.

I can do this, thanks to the heart of a third grader, who will be with me on this journey. We share an academic history, and now a story. It is a perfect story of serendipity.

Table For One

It is three in the morning and I am in my office downstairs, unable to sleep. Everything is spinning in my head since last week’s Friday’s diagnosis and since yesterday’s Friday’s meeting with the surgical oncologist.

A cancer diagnosis has necessarily brought me to a table for one.

It is a table where many before me have sat, including a lot of my friends. It is a place where numbingly scary words are heard, possibilities are discussed, and tears are shed. It is impossible to intelligently process the waves of information. I wish for the prescience to know what I should have asked, afterwards. It is hard to be brave.

During the technical meteor shower at Moores Cancer Center with Dr. Blair, I heard sparkles of good news: small (7 mm), Stage I, 90% cure rate. I heard shards of terror: triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma, aggressive, recurring, probable chemotherapy, possible mastectomy because of complications from having autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis). I only wanted to hear kittens and puppies.

The drip drip drip of waiting is going to continue. The surgeon will be gone next week. I have two medications that have to cease for two weeks before surgery can be done. The earliest likelihood will be in three weeks.

I will have molecular breast imaging just prior to the surgery during which a radioactive dye will be injected to better illuminate the tumor and start a lymph node sky show. Glowing nodes will be removed with the tumor.

I am awake because now I wish I had asked if having a mastectomy would make this all go away.

Whether I like it or not, I am at a table for one. I need to look ahead to Laughter After.