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Another School Year

Since I’m the daughter of two teachers and an educator myself, I tend to think of years in terms of school years. My life has always revolved around the school calendar. It seems it still does. January might mark the true beginning of the New Year, but late August or September is how I really check off the start of a “new year.”

I even started this blog last September. It felt like the right time.

As a teacher, I have always loved this time of year. Every class was full of new faces, new challenges, new opportunities, new discoveries and new untapped potentials (and yes, new problems!).

Every year when I first stood in front of my classroom and even when I was “merely” the substitute, I took this responsibility, this power to make a difference, very seriously. I knew each year was a fresh start for me, but even more importantly, it was a fresh beginning for every student sitting there as well. No matter what had transpired during the previous school year for any of us, every new school year offered a fresh start, a clean slate, a chance to do things right, or at least better.

That’s a remarkable feeling I will never forget.

I love the hustle and bustle of back-to-school excitement this time of year. I love the eager anticipation mixed with a bit of apprehension I see on the faces of kids as they anxiously meet new teachers, make new friends and reconnect with old ones. And to this day, I love opening up a brand new box of Crayola Crayons.

Last year I was not able to return to the classroom for a variety of reasons. I know many other teachers have carried on in the classroom after a cancer diagnosis and through treatment as well. I know many people carry on in whatever career cancer has so rudely interrupted. Those people truly inspire me, because honestly, I don’t know how they do it.

This year I am once again staying out of the classroom. This year I am choosing to do so, still for many reasons, but mostly because I want to devote more time to writing.

Since my diagnosis, I have decided to focus more on things I want to accomplish yet. I have reassigned the order as to what things matter most to me. Teaching will always matter a great deal to me, but now I want to more diligently pursue one of my other passions, writing.

Sometimes this makes me feel selfish. Why should I get to do what I want? Sometimes this makes me feel free and very grateful (thank you hubby for your support). Sometimes it makes me feel apprehensive. I mean, who am I to think anyone wants to read what I write? Sometimes it makes me feel inadequate and overwhelmed. What should I write about today? Sometimes it makes me feel very vulnerable, I mean what, no paycheck?

Recently I heard some aspiring writer in a movie (I don’t know what the movie was called, I didn’t see it from the beginning or finish watching it), say:

“I write. That’s what I do. It doesn’t even matter if anyone ends up reading what I write. I write because I want to, no I write because I have to. That’s what I do. I write.”

That’s how I feel about writing.

That’s why I appreciate readers of this blog so much because even though I write because I want to and it doesn’t matter if anyone reads what I write, it sure is a lot more fun when people do!

Do you, or did you, like the “back-to-school” time of year?

Is there something you just “have to do” because you want to so much?

Have you changed careers since a cancer diagnosis?

29 thoughts to “Another School Year”

  1. 1. I did, and still do, love back-to-school time. I mostly love school supplies!

    2. Writing is something I “have to do.” It’s like therapy for me, it helps me process the ups and downs in my life. I’ve also started to enjoy taking photos that capture my world. There’s something about an image, accompanied by just a few words, that is very powerful.

    3. Cancer shaped my career, which now involves writing + editing. How perfect that what I “have to do” is what I now get paid to do.

    Great post, Nancy!


    1. Jacki, It’s so good to hear from you! It’s been a while! I remember you helping me out last year when I was getting started blogging and I wish to thank you for that again. I know what you mean about those school supplies, there is just something about their fresh unused status, so full of possibilities. I’m happy, and a bit envious, that you have a job where you get to do what you love – write! Good for you, Jackie. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nancy,

    I love reading your blog. You always give something thought provoking to ponder.

    I too am a school teacher – the most hated kind – a Math teacher. I have always lived my life by the school year and have often thought that the calendar year should be realigned with the school one.

    I have not changed jobs at all. I have been working for the same Junior College for over twenty years. I only took one month off after my final chemo, and have taken several days off here and there, but not even a leave of absence. I worked most of my 5 surgeries around school breaks.

    Unfortunately, due to budget cuts in the state in which I live, I do a job now that three of us used to do. One coworker moved away to San Diego when her husband’s job moved there. The other coworker has retired. I worked 10h/wk when I was diagnosed and now I work 30.

    But I still consider myself “semi-retired”.

    For me, it was the parenting job that took the biggest hit when I was diagnosed.

    Thanks again for writing.

    Dianne Duffy

    1. Dianne, Ha ha, the dreaded math teacher, that made me laugh! Well, I guess you certainly live by the school calendar too then. I’m in awe of you for working through all your treatments and surgeries. You are inspiring. I know what you mean about those budget cuts. Why does education always have to take such a hit? I understand what you mean about the hit your parenting took after your diagnosis. I think everything takes a “hit” or more like a “punch.” Thank you so much for reading my blog and for your very kind words. They mean a great deal to me.

  3. I haven’t so much changed my career, as I’ve been working in Public Relations for the past 12 years, but I have developed my career within the industry and it is all down to blogging. When I set up Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead me. Through my experience of starting a blog and engaging in social media, I have become a trainer and adviser to small businesses, community groups and charities on how to maximize their social media marketing. I have gone into business partnership with a friend I met through social media and next month I am giving a workshop in Malta on social media marketing to an international breast cancer conference. When I look back on my decision to start a blog over 2 and a half years ago, I am in awe of how far it has taken me in my career..and in my life. Marie

    1. Marie, You are simply amazing. I am in awe of your accomplishments and the good that you do. Congratulations! Thanks for your comments, support and friendship. And good luck with your workshop! I’m sure you’ll be fabulous.

  4. Hi Nancy,

    Congrats on wanting to devote time to writing! There’s nothing selfish about it; we all try to live out our dreams in one fashion or another.

    Cancer can be a career changer; it was for me. I went from being a professional writer/editor to a college professor. Now I still love teaching, but as you know, I’ve been also writing a book (and raising a child as a single mom).

    Sometimes I think I’ve taken on too much.

    You definitely have the talent and perseverence for writing. Like you, I love writing for writing’s sake, and it is such a wonderful, meditative activity.

    Have you read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way? It’s a great book, and I think you’d love it.

    Another thought-provoking posting. And, remember, you are following your dreams, which is admirable, not selfish.

    1. Beth, Thank you for your comments that as you know, I always look forward to. Well, you certainly do have a full plate with all that going on, but keeping busy is good. Thanks for the book recommendation. I haven’t read that one; guess I better add it to my ever-growing list. I’m looking forward to reading your book, too, when it comes out. How’s it coming along anyway? And thanks for the encouraging words. You’re so sweet!

  5. Nancy,
    You do realize this was a complete therapy session for me, right? I don’t have the support of a spouse (I may have to remove that little dig from today’s blog-nah….. it stays) but I’m RUNNING with my dreams and I want you to run with yours, too. I enjoy everything you write. I read it all. I just usually want to comment and forget. I’m working hard on these “work around solutions” to that I can focus on that which calls me. “It’s My Turn” movie and song And it’s your turn, too. And I am glad we are friends. AnneMarie

    1. AnnMarie, Ha, you are so funny! I saw that “dig” on your post today, might as well keep it in there. Why hold back, right? Well, here’s to both of us “running” then and “taking our turn” as you said. I like that. Thanks for the comments and I’m glad we’re friends too.

  6. Hey Nancy,

    Thanks for asking about how my book is coming along. The book is finished, the query letter mostly done, but the book proposal just is paralyzing me.

    I’ve had a nasty bout of bronchitis, coupled with motherhood and an exhausting job, so right now I’m at a creative standstill. I’ve learned to be kind to myself until I get another creative burst of energy.

    Oh, an interesting aside, I when I got my phone call saying I had breast cancer, I calmly got off the phone and finished the article I was working on for a trade magazine. And then I taught that night. To be honest, when I kept busy, it was so much better than going home and stewing.

    1. Beth, You are very wise; definitely be kind to yourself and wait for that next burst. It’ll come. I’ve heard people say writing the proposal is the hardest part. Good luck and thanks for the update. Congrats on finishing the book, that’s huge!

  7. Nancy,

    As always, such a great post. I particularly enjoyed this one because I too have always thought about my year in terms of the school year. My year, in my head, has always begun with the beginning of school. This began for me as a kid – the excitement of a new school year beginning – and it continued as an adult (even when I am not teaching).

    So the answer to your first question: Yes 🙂

    2) There are two things that I do because I feel compelled to do, must do, need to do – making music and writing. Music is something that I truly can not live without. Being able to perform during treatment (when I was able to, was up for it) was so wonderful. It took me completely out of any thoughts other than what I was doing at that moment – playing, concentrating on the sound, the piece, the words I sang or the notes I played. I feel like it saved me in many ways during cancer.

    3) I did change careers a bit. Not completely, but, I spend more time doing music and I have changed my focus from teaching in person to writing more study guides (something I am working on now). My focus has changed dramatically after cancer – I try to fill my time with more of the things that I enjoy and music is a huge part of that.

    You should not feel guilty at all. You should be writing and I am so glad that you are writing. I wish I wrote more often, but, I am not in the position to do so just yet. I hope to do more in the future.

    I love your blog. You are reaching so many and helping so many (whether this was your therapy or not – you must know that it is therapy for others as well). Keep up the great work . . . You get an A++ from me 🙂

    All the best,

    1. Lisa, It really is impossible to stop thinking in terms of school years isn’t it? I am envious of musicians. I tinker on the piano and I enjoy that, but wish I was way better. I know you sing, but what instrument(s) do you play? It’s interesting you mention that music saved you in many ways during cancer. Music is so powerful. I’m glad you are filling your time more with things you enjoy doing. I’m trying to do the same and writing is a big part of that, and it is therapy for sure. Thanks for your kind comments and for giving me an A+! Coming from you, that means a lot!

  8. I envy you very much for your “selfishness.” Be selfish. Revel in it! I wish I could be. The financial reality of having three school tuitions (= just the minimum of the cost of kids) coupled with the out-of-pocket expenses of my alternative treatment for my newly discoverd metastatsis keeps me working my “day jobs.” Writing is a passion, but one I must do on the “fly” or in a stolen moment. (Hence all the published posts with far too many typos LOL!)

    Embrace the situation that, despite the challenges of dealing with a chronic disease, you can have the ability to devote time to stokes your passion.

    Keep it up. ~TC

    1. TC, Thanks so much for taking time to comment. I understand about the financial realities and I do worry about that as well, but so far we are doing alright. It’s not easy is it? We still have two in college, so I know what you mean about those tuition costs. What alternative treatment are you trying for your mets? If you wish to share. I admire you for continuing to write even though you are squeezing it in when you can. Keep “squeezing.” We need your voice.

  9. Nancy, it is impossible to stop thinking of the year in terms of the school calendar or season.

    I play stand up bass (am currently in a blues band, we also play a little jazz). I had just joined this band about three months before my cancer diagnosis. I thought that chemo and treatment would mean the end of my being in the band. But, instead, they shaved their heads and we all played bald (when I was up for it) and when I wasn’t up for it, they found a substitute to sit in for me . . . but always held my spot open for when I got better. They believed I would (even though I am sure they had worries and doubts) . . . they always maintained with me, even when I was barely walking, that they were waiting for me to come back. It was truly awesome. I love them so much.

    Thank you for your reply and for your blog! I hope some day we will meet in person!

    All the best,


    1. Lisa, Thanks for responding to my question. It’s fun to visualize you playing your instrument and now I can visualize the right one! I love blues and jazz. It’s wonderful your band was such a support to you during your cancer and they even shave their heads. Amazing. No wonder you love them so much. And you never know if or when our paths might cross. Thanks again, Lisa.

  10. Such a good post, Nancy. Fresh notebooks. That’s what I love about a new school year. Actually, even now. Notebooks are my preferred way of writing, before finalizing on computer. Habit, I suppose. I think I feel the same way about writing as you. From a young age I felt I didn’t choose to write, it chose me and when I didn’t write for so many years after my mom died, I really missed it. I thought about it all the time, but it wasn’t until blogging that I was able to do it again. Funny.

    I love your writing and I can’t wait to see what you come out with. I don’t think it’s selfish to want to spend time doing what you love. I get the paycheck worry. Believe me, I have the same worry, but I like to think if we’re true to ourselves, it will work out. At least I hope so! That’s what Oprah says.

    1. Stacey, Thanks for sharing a memory about the fresh school year. Not surprising you like notebooks I guess! I’m so glad you got back into writing via your blog. I always look forward to and wonder about what you’re going to write next, as I do with all the bloggers. That’s part of the fun. And your advice is pretty smart. Who can argue with you and Oprah, right?

  11. Ah! I’m so excited for you, Nancy. Doing what you love, having the ability to give time to that passion, being supported so much by everyone who reads this blog and your family – you have me smiling, because it all sounds like a good place in which to be. There is no selfishness here. Writing honours a creative side of ourselves, and if it is what you want – than go, go, go! Best of luck and be sure to share. I’m quite looking forward to reading more from you.


  12. I was an elementary music teacher. Unfortunately, my district was doing layoffs, so despite 16 years of loyalty to them, they decided to lay off the teacher with cancer. (There is no tenure in my state. They don’t have to give a cause to not renew a contract.)Last year, I was really struggling with finishing treatment, and then recurrence, but whether I came back or not should have been mine and my doctors’ decision, not theirs.

    I guess you can’t keep me out of the classroom, though. This year, I am a volunteer music teacher for a small Christian school. I teach 4 classes, each one only once a week. (Total 2 hours class-time per week.) Love it. But, it is also proving to me that I would not be able at this time to return fulltime to the classroom. Just two classes today (kindergarten and 1st/2nd) left me exhausted.

    Before cancer, I did a lot more in my church. I taught Sunday School, played keyboard in the praise band for multiple morning services, taught children’s choir, and sang in the choir. I have recently returned to singing in the choir and now play piano Sunday nights, but that is going to be about it for now.

    People used to tell me that I needed to write down the stories I told to make music history interesting for my students. So I have been working on the first of what I hope will be several books, the story of how Silent Night was written. My plan is to try to get it published as a children’s book. I know a young artist who is dying to get a chance to be my illustrator.

    This year, back to school meant becoming a real empty nester. My youngest finished college and will not be showing up to “shop in my pantry” and get her laundry done on weekends. She took a job in Europe as a teacher and left just before school started! I plan to tour Europe this year through her pictures!

    1. Elizabeth, I’m sorry you were laid off. Was it legal for them to do that? I agree that going back or not should have been your decision. I didn’t realize you were/are an elementary music teacher. I used to substitute in elem music and I loved it. I’m glad to hear you are volunteering and enjoying that. I know what you mean about the full time thing though… Your new project sounds great! Good for you! Congrats on your daughter’s new job. That should be a wonderful experience for her. One of my sons just landed his first teaching job in TX and yes, that’s the reason for my absence of late! Thanks for sharing.

  13. Keep following your dream, Nancy. I am also a former teacher exploring writing reluctantly but joyfully. I don’t want to regret not following my dream.

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