Friday, April 20, 2018

Guest Posts for MD Anderson's Cancerwise Blog

In January, I received an email from one of MD Anderson's communications specialists about potentially writing a few posts for their Cancerwise blog. I had never heard of the blog, but when I got a chance to skim through a few posts, I was excited to be a part of the project.

During the process, Aaliyah and Rayne even had a chance to "write" blog posts of their own. "Write" is in quotation marks because what really happened is that I was given a long list of questions to ask them, and I basically typed their answers word for word, which I submitted back to the communications department. Through the answers to the questions, blog posts were created - using their own words, but pulling out the main themes and structuring the answers into a coherent story. 

The question and answer process was surprisingly therapeutic. Rayne actually had a lot to say that I didn't expect. Her blog post will come out soon, as well as one more of mine.

Here's the link to Aaliyah's post:
3 Things I Learned From Ewing's Sarcoma Treatment

And the link to mine:
4 Things I Learned From My Daughter's Ewing's Sarcoma Treatment

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I Choose Hope

For those of you who don't know me and haven't had a chance to check out my daughter Aaliyah's Caring Bridge page, here's what happened in a nutshell:

On a beautiful Tuesday in 2016, Election Day actually, Aaliyah came home after school running a fever. When the fever stuck around for a couple days, I brought her to the doctor. Within a few hours, we were told she might have cancer. Within the week, our worst fears were confirmed.

She spent the next 10 months undergoing 14 rounds of inpatient chemo, a month of radiation, and a 10-hour surgery, among countless other procedures. She rang the bell at MD Anderson on September 9, 2017, signifying the end of her Ewing's sarcoma treatment. She is a survivor.

I will never take that for granted. I will never stop being thankful. I will never stop telling the story of God's healing power and the expertise of our medical team.

On Monday, she had her six-month post treatment scans. On Tuesday, we heard the news we've been hoping and praying for: still NED!

We will continue to return to MDA every three months for 17 more months before we can start resting a little easier.

Those 17 months stretch before us full of hope, but shadowed by the lingering fear of recurrence. Still, day by day, month by month, the shadow fades because "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

Fear is easy. It is tempting and dark and quiet and isolated and strangely satisfying at times when you just want to wallow for a while.

Hope is hard. It demands peace that surpasses all understanding, faith in what you cannot see, and vulnerability in the possibility that your hopes will be dashed. 

Fear breeds sorrow, depression, anxiety, anger, confusion, self-doubt.

Hope cultivates peace, joy, gratefulness, order, confidence, harmony, and faith.

I will probably always battle fear, but ultimately, when the sun rises each morning, I choose hope - and it anchors my soul.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure... - Hebrews 6:19

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Adopting a Growth Mindset

On Tuesday, I will attend the final class for the Adjunct Certification Program I enrolled in this spring. It was a LEAP that truly stretched me, and the final class will stretch me even more, as I have to facilitate a 10-minute presentation in front of my colleagues. 

When I signed up for the program, I felt that I was managing my classrooms pretty well, but I wondered if formal training would help me improve. Now that the eight weeks are coming to a close, approximately 40-50 hours of my life poured into studying the art of teaching, the verdict is in: the leap was worth the effort. The training not only informed my everyday teaching efforts, but it inspired me, it grew me, and it opened my eyes to new ways to engage my students - which is a win-win, because a fully engaged classroom energizes me and makes all those non-paid planning and grading hours well worth the sacrifice.

As the weeks wore on, I did grow weary. Life is busy, my husband has been plagued again with debilitating fatigue for months, and my writing career is growing more demanding. 

BUT...I was reminded of how much I love learning. I'm fascinated by the research on how the mind continues to grow as we feed it, and that success is not determined by our intellectual abilities as much as it is determined by our level of determination and grit. (Check out this TedTalk on Grit if you have seven minutes to be inspired.) For as long as I teach, I hope I always look for ways to improve my methods and increase my connection with my students.

In the same way, I think it's time to step up my game with the craft of writing. I have written and studied writing all of my life. Back before AP classes were common, I sailed through AP English and loved every minute of a class most of my classmates dreaded. I studied journalism in college and then many forms of nonfiction writing in graduate school. Since my goal was a career in journalism, I never spent much time studying fiction writing, which is kind of ironic. 

I think I will always be more confident writing nonfiction than fiction because nonfiction requires less from-scratch imagination. Nonfiction work presents me with ready-made stories that I get to craft into compelling narratives that generally are no longer than 2,000 words. On the other hand, fiction writing requires me to concoct every detail of a story and then craft all those details into a compelling and lengthy manuscript (upwards of 50,000 words). I am not innately creative in coming up with original story ideas or envisioning concrete characters. I have spent a lot of time lacking confidence in this area, observing other authors who pump out books several times a year and have seemingly no trouble coming up with new stories. But, as I grew as a teacher during my adjunct certification class, I started to realize that there is room for me to grow as a writer as well.

I know that I will continue to grow my craft as I write and revise manuscripts, but I also know that there are many writers and teachers with knowledge and experience to share that can help me develop my fiction writing skills - and I could really use a boost!

So, my next LEAP for 2018 is attending a writer's conference. I attended the RWA conference a few years ago with my sisters and my mom, and we had a blast, but life circumstances aren't lining up for all of us to go this year, so I was just planning to stay home. The idea of attending the conference alone is a little intimidating, to be honest.  But my husband encouraged me to go anyway, and I have to admit that the idea of a few nights to myself in a hotel room began to sound pretty enticing. So I reserved a hotel room and booked my airfare to attend RWA in Denver in July. 

I can't wait to listen and learn and grow more as a fiction writer. My nonfiction dreams are still very much alive, but simmering on the back burner for now. In the meantime, I'm diving into a list of fiction writers' reference books (you can view them on my "the craft of writing" list over at Goodreads) to expand my horizons as I plug away on manuscript revisions for the second book in the Shield Protection miniseries.

Be encouraged today: If you have an idea or a goal or a dream you want to pursue, don't let the fear of failure stop you. 

"Failure is so important. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success."
-J.K. Rowling