Friday, November 4, 2011

OPC speech

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 I had the extreme privilege of delivering an address to my colleagues at our Ontario Principal Council chapter dinner.  They wanted a 30 minute presentation on their theme Personal Wellness, Who is Looking After You?  I decided that I would share the last 12 months of my life as an example of my personal journey searching for better life/work/balance.  Below is my speech. 

     "Good evening and thank you.  My journey to personal wellness is a simple one year, big girl runs marathon, girl gets job of her dreams, girl gets cancer.  Believe it or not, these three intersecting aspects of my life are the greatest things that have ever happened to me.  I wanted to share with you some of the choices and struggles from the last couple of years that I have had and some of the not so great choices I have made so that maybe some of my learnings might help you at some moment in your life.
     So, I did not want to become a teacher.  I wanted to be a radiologist.  I even spent time at UWO in their MRI unit and job shadowed a radiologist. My parents, my whole life, told me to become a teacher but I fought them for as long as I could until we all realized that my math skills were not even near the level they needed to be to be a successful radiologist so, off I went to teachers college.  They were right and loved it, and graduated in May of 1993.
     I could not get on the supply teacher list so I got a job at an insurance company.  I worked in London and Toronto for many years as a claims adjuster, subrogation officer, and eventually moved into the Human Resource Department as a Training and Development Consultant - little did I know that all those skills I learned in insurance translated really well into teaching - customer service, organization, planning etc.
     In 2000, I recognized that I needed to move home to stop the traveling and be closer to my family . Everything had changed in the 8 years I was gone from education and now there was an OCT and ATTN so it took some months to get all my paperwork organized but eventually I applied for a job at TVDSB and luckily had my French qualifications to get a job at Sir John A Macdonald teaching Jr French Prep.
     I show up on the first day in my Jones New York suit excepting everything to be perfect and the students to listen to me as I just finished this big corporate gig.  But, to my surprise on the 2nd day and after being told to F off for the 3rd time - I marched into the Principal's office and said I quit.  She sent me home and with the help of my husband and friend Scott P, they sent me back the next day after a pep talk.  Kind of like a boxer in the ring during rounds - "you go back there" and "you can do it", "don’t let them see you upset", "you set the tone".  I of course got over the tough first years and love teaching.
     I had many wonderful opportunities that brought me to Sherwood Fox PS in the fall of 2006 when I took up running. I know, I don’t look like a runner but my best friend and I decided to do something fun from the Spectrum magazine and learning to run 5km looked easy.  We went every Tuesday to a class to have information about shoes, training and nutrition and we learned the 1:1 method of running - you run for 1 minute walk for 1 minute.
     It was during this time that I started to make some bad choices when it came to my own personal wellness. During that fall I was teaching AQ courses at UWO, finishing my masters degree, running a school show, owned a scrap booking business, and teaching grade 7 full time. You can imagine what happened.  I totally burned out and started to feel terrible.
     When I was in my 20s I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis - a disease of the colon and I really felt that it has come back.  I visited my doctor and for months tried to push through going to work everyday, running the school show, teaching and eventually my doctor said that if some of the meds that he gave me didn’t work by Christmas that I needed to check myself into the hospital to get my colon under control.
     Alas, January 7th 2007 I had my husband drive me to Victoria hospital at recess, they checked me over and said, yep something is wrong and they kept me over night.  In the morning, after many tests, it is discovered that I didn’t have ulcerative colitis but I in fact have Crohn’s disease, a much more serious condition of the GI track and I of course had let it go on too long and had completed trashed my colon.  They started to fill me full of steroids but nothing was working.  Luckily a doctor suggested a new drug that had just come on the main market called Remicade.  It was very expensive and at the time scary as it was an infusion drug. They hook you up like chemotherapy and it drips into you.  I was lucky that I was a candidate and got the drug and 3 years later I am in remission and feeling fantastic.

     January 2009 before I knew it, I am tipping the scales at 300 pounds because of all the medication and the "relaxing" I was doing.  I am now the VP at Ashley Oaks PS and working hard but not eating lunch, drinking a ton of coffee, not working out, and getting pretty stressed.  I decided to get a personal trainer and lose some weight - turned out to be terrific, I lost some weight and felt strong.
     That summer a friend recommended a place in Utah called Fitness Ridge - based on the Biggest Loser TV show you can go to this gentle boot camp for a week and work out and get your butt kicked into shape. It is really expensive and I would have had to go by myself as my husband had no interest in going so I signed up for 2 weeks.
     What an adventure.  You wake up at 5:30am for a 2 hour hike through the mountains of Utah. Come back and have breakfast made for you.  Then  you have yoga classes, aquatics classes and cooking classes. Lunch is made for you and then 4 more hours of exercises classes before a dinner and then you go to bed because you are so tired.  In 2 weeks I lost another 14 pounds but more importantly, I returned to being a VP with lots of energy and feeling great about my job.

     The fall of 2009 I bumped into my friend Lindsay at a hockey game who asked about Fitness Ridge and if I was interested in joining a 10km running clinic - I wasn’t a runner and never did finish my 5k clinic back in 2006 because I was so sick. But, for some reason I was feeling strong so I went home and signed up.  December 2009 I ran a 10km race in London.  My friends who I met through the running clinic told me that since I had run a 10km race that I should try a ½ marathon.  I thought they were nuts but joined the clinic January 2010.
     ½ way through the clinic I got strep throat and visited a walk-in clinic for some antibiotics.  While getting my prescription, the doctor felt me throat and pointed out that I had a lump on my thyroid. I didn’t even know what my thyroid was so he told me to call my family doctor for an ultrasound.  I did and it revealed this mass that you could actually see on my neck.  My doctor referred me to a head neck surgeon but the wait would be a while.
     I continued training and in April 2010 ran my first ½ marathon.  I finished last but broke 3 hours.  The cool thing about being last in a race is that all the medical personal are following you so if anything happens they are there to help plus, everyone else is finished so you get the most people cheering for you.
     That June, I finally got to see a surgeon and had a biopsy of my neck revealing something called a Hurtle cell lesion - nothing serious - only 20% cancer but you have to have it out - they remove ½ your thyroid which is great because you can still function normally with the other half.  Problem is - long wait times so they will call me when I have a surgery date.

     So my running friends said to me - you know, if you have run a ½ marathon, you can run a full marathon. I thought they were nuts but thought I would try it - signed up again for a running clinic and through very hard work, (and a 2nd trip to Fitness Ridge in Utah) I ran the Chicago marathon last October - well run, that is a little loose - jog/walked the 42.2 km route.  In Chicago if you run the race in less than 6 hours and 30 minutes you get your name in the paper - they publish all the finishers and I finished in 6:28:42.  My name was in the paper.  I got the marathon bug and knew that I can run a heck of a lot faster and set out to run another marathon in the spring of 2011.
     January 2011, I was thrilled to become the Learning Supervisor for System Staff Development at TVDSB.  A job I wanted for a long time and directly related to my work from my insurance world so got to mesh my love of teaching, administration and facilitation.  14 days into my new job while sitting in this very room at District Review training I received a phone call.  Surprise, the head and neck surgeon called and I have a date for a surgery - I actually had forgotten all about the lump on my neck except I could see it now sticking out.  They had me booked for January 20th - what!!  I had to go back to work and tell my supervisor that I had to have surgery.  He was awesome and told me to do what I needed to do.
    The next Thursday I had my neck surgery and it was rough.  It hurt like heck and turns out I was allergic to morphine and was so sick but, took the weekend to recover and came back to work on the Monday - yep 4 days later - stupid.  But that’s what we do, we don’t take the time we need!!!
    So, I plugged through and eventually felt better knowing the lump was out.  I started to really love my job, get to know people, understand the cadence of the board office and was thrilled to be helping people in my new role.
     February 15th, I returned to the surgeon’s office for a post op and get the all clear.  Well, I knew something wasn’t right when he came in the room alone and my file was pretty thick.  Dr. Nicols said to me that he was so sorry but the lump was in fact cancer; papillary carcinoma.  I do not remember anything after that - papers being signed, pamphlets being handed out and people talking to me about another surgery.  I got into the car to return to work because I was to facilitate that afternoon and called my husband who was a tad concerned and I immediately called Scotty P so he could help my husband deal with this.  Little did I know but I would eventually be the one that was going to be needing some support grasping all this.
     This time I immediately met with our disability management team and said “I will do whatever you say” You see they were very upset with me that I did not tell them about the first surgery or seek their help.  So they told me that I could not come back to work for 4 weeks until the surgeon said I was clear. 4 weeks are you kidding me - my boss is going to freak - he didn’t, in fact he was fantastic and so supportive.
     March 31st I had to go and have the other half of my thyroid removed and began taking a daily dose of thyroid hormone to replace what my body does not make naturally.  Surgery went really well now that I knew what to expect and stayed at home to rest and recover.  I was doing what all the doctors and disability management told me to do.  I returned to work in May and finished the school year off feeling well, rested and awaiting the next steps of the cancer treatments.
     But, I still had another marathon to train for so, in June I started my 19 week training plan for Chicago 2011.  The doctors told me that I needed to be careful running another marathon as without a thyroid it could be difficult. You will have an evaluated heart rate, body temperature and no metabolism - not what I wanted to hear.  I decided that I really did not care what others thought and spent the summer running and training.
     I worked throughout the summer as my new role called for some summer projects so needless to say, when the school year rolled around I was already tired.  I was concerned that school hadn't even begun yet and I was already panicked. My calendar was full, I was swamped, I was already getting that overwhelmed feeling.  What is this that I am feeling?  This is not me. I am normally really positive, I normally have lots of energy, I am an enthusiastic person, but not this year.  Something was weighing me down.
     I didn’t know what to do so I thought about all the advice I had given many staff and friends over the years to call our EAP (Employee Assistance Plan).  I wanted some tools to deal with what I was thinking and to be reassured that what I was feeling was normal.
     I decided I would call EAP.  I called and spoke to their intake worker who asked me a series of questions to assess the situation and find a good counselor match.  They asked me if I was hurting myself I said I had ate 12 donuts that morning and if that counted - silence on the other end of the phone.  I kept telling her that I was normal but I needed some tools to deal with this feelings of being overwhelmed.
     I received a call from a social worker who had an opening that afternoon and I had the chance to go and talk to someone.  Someone not in education, someone who was unbiased and someone with lots of thinking tools. Turns out, I am normal, complicated but normal.  What a relief.  She didn’t make me look at ink blots (my biggest fear as they all look like butterflies to me).  I didn’t need medication.  I needed to allow myself to feel frustrated with work sometimes, angry at the cancer and that I had lots of abilities to move forward.  Finally a good decision regarding my personal wellness.  The sessions made a huge difference.  My weekly running times started to improve and by the time October 9th rolled around, I ran the Chicago marathon again and this time - almost 12 minutes off my time from last year.  And, more importantly, I felt positive again.
     So now what?  I will be running another marathon next year as I know I can run even faster.  I am going to continue to go to EAP every month for a “thinking tune up”, and I will continue to trust the TVDSB, the people and the process.
     I wish you all the best of luck with your journeys, careers, wellness, and I hope that some piece of my story will help you in your time of need.  Thank you"