As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher. I have fond memories from a very young age of playing “school” with my dolls. My dolls were the students and I was their teacher. As time progressed, I attended Rutgers University and received degrees in Education and Psychology. In the early 1980’s, I embarked on my teaching career and completely fell in love with my chosen profession. Teaching made me feel alive.
A change to my stem cell transplant plans
On December 23, 2008, I packed up my classroom for the holidays and anxiously walked out the door. I was looking forward to spending winter break with my family and friends before preparing for the next step of my cancer journey. I didn’t realize that would be the last time I would cross the threshold of my classroom as a teacher, Mrs. C. My plans were to take a medical leave from teaching to have a stem cell transplant and to return to my classroom cancer-free the following September.
My myeloma had stopped responding to my induction therapy after three cycles. My doctors suggested proceeding with a stem cell transplant as soon as possible. They were very concerned because my myeloma stopped responding to my initial treatment so quickly. We had discussed a stem cell transplant during my initial consultations, but the plan was to wait until summer break to schedule this procedure. Plans changed and I would have my transplant in February instead.
Tuning into a #MyelomaWarrior
One hundred days post-transplant, I heard the news I had been dreading. The stem cell transplant failed to put my myeloma into a remission. It had no effect on my myeloma markers. I was not cancer-free. My disease was still active. I still needed treatment. My choices were limited in 2009. Myeloma patients didn’t have the arsenal of treatment options that are available today.
After careful consideration, I decided to retire from my beloved profession to spend time with my family/friends and to pursue ALL available treatments. Fortunately, my myeloma began to slowly, but steadily respond to an older myeloma therapy.
Moving forward on maintenance therapy
Ten years later, I am still doing well. Medically, I am in a much better place. I never achieved a complete remission/response. Tests always show traces of malignant myeloma cells in my blood. I continue to use maintenance therapy to keep my myeloma markers as low as possible, but I am alive and enjoying life.
I do miss teaching, but I don’t regret the decision I made to retire. I have learned not to look back and question my choices. I can not change the past. It’s wasted energy. I look forward and set goals. Having defined goals is very important. Goals give vision and motivation.
The last decade changed my life. I am doing things now that I never thought of pursuing 10 years ago. My passion is to use my teaching skills to educate others worldwide about myeloma, the importance of being your own best advocate, available resources, clinical trials and important cancer legislation. I have learned how to effectively use social media to be my virtual classroom. I have become an empowered, engaged patient and an advocate for myself and others.
Recently I received an email notification from American Airlines which gave me a summary of my year in review. I spent 48 hours in the sky, flew around the world once, visited 12 destinations and earned Gold Status. Much of that travel was as a myeloma advocate. Over the years I have transformed myself from a teacher of 10 year olds to a “MyelomaTeacher”. Prior to my diagnosis, I hadn’t flown in decades.
Embrace change. Live at the edge of your comfort zone. That’s where life begins. Great things can happen if you let them. Take chances. Instead of thinking, “What if?”; say “Why not!?” Live in the moment and enjoy your life even though it may be different than in the past.
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?