Thursday, February 28, 2013

When Life Hands You a Brain Tumor

You know the old saying, "when life hands you lemons you make lemonade?" Sounds simple enough.  But what are you supposed to make when life hands your husband a brain tumor diagnosis?  Can someone please tell me what I'm supposed to make now?

Our world was turned upside down two weeks ago when my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor.  I took him to the doctor with what we thought was a headache and some flu-like symptoms and came out with a devastating diagnosis. Hmmnnn...funny how life can change so drastically in the course of one lousy afternoon.

So, I'm no longer a volunteer addict.  In fact, I've wiped my calendar clean of any commitments other than taking care of my husband.  Yesterday I had a problem saying no to folks who needed help on various committees or projects but the universe decided to step in and has forced me to say no today.  No more waffling, no more hemming and hawing -  a simple no.

Our outlook on life has become crystal clear.  Pre-diagnosis we were just plain busy - with the applicable frustration that comes from trying to do too many things at once.  Post-diagnosis we welcome our unscheduled days and the joy that comes from running a simple errand.  It's not so much the errand we enjoy, but the quality time we get to spend together noticing everything we never noticed before.  I know it sounds so cliche but we really are stopping to smell the roses.

The boys are going about their business enjoying their semi-rock star status.  The teachers at school have been packing their lunches (with the essential added "surprise" they look forward to finding) neighbors and friends are popping over with fruit baskets and cooked dinners.  Practicing piano, while still important, has lessened in its intensity while computer time and cartoons have, unfortunately, gone up.  When I look at my boys' beautiful little faces all I can think is you don't deserve this and here, have another slice of pie.

I am a planner and I do like to control things even though I've been reminded on too many occasions that I don't control the universe.  Everything about our current situation is out of my control and it just plain stinks.  Um, thanks for the reminder.  Damn you, universe.

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” - Chuck Palahnuik

So, what do you do when life hands you a brain tumor?  You don't make lemonade or melancholy soup or why-me casserole.  You put up your dukes, step into the ring and fight for your husband's life. I may not be able to plan or control, but I can battle with the best of 'em.  And he can and will fight, too. Instead of volunteer addicts, workaholics or over-planners we've become fighters.

And smellers-of-roses.






Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Am A Volunteer Addict

Hello, my name is Kim and I'm a volunteer addict.

Every year I swear it's the year I will start saying, "no" more often.  As in , "no I can't help with your fundraiser" or "no, I'm sorry, I'm not available to work on the (insert name here) committee." I plan to say no, I practice saying no and when someone asks me to do pretty much anything I end up saying yes.  Why?  I don't know. Psychology majors feel free to pipe in here.

Last year I said yes to designing the yearbook for our elementary school. That job, by itself, would be enough to satisfy a normal person's volunteer capacity between taking and organizing pictures and planning pages. I don't keep track of how much time I spend each month on the yearbook because I'm afraid to see the numbers.  I start planning the yearbook in September and submit it in March.  Other than the classroom portrait pages that come from the school photo company, the rest of the yearbook is done by me, myself and I.

As a founding member of our school garden group, it's our mission to educate our kids about nutrition and healthy food choices. We planted a garden at the school to show the students where real food comes from, and tie gardening into the curriculum. Gardening by itself = long hours and lots of work. Add to that the countless hours spent on proposals, garden project documentation, website maintenance and general PR and I've got another monumental task on my hands. But, hey, it's about the future of our kids' health!  Of course I will help!

I decided to head our PTA Reflections contest this year because I think it's important for kids to express themselves artistically and this National PTA program offers positive recognition for students' artistic efforts.  We have a lot of talented kids at our school and some don't even know they can WIN PRIZES for their talents.  I set off on a mission this year to get more kids involved in the contest. Classroom visits, creating posters, securing judges, online submission forms, answering format questions, submitting winners to state PTA office, creating display boards for district ceremony, oh my! But, hey, it's for the Arts!  Of course I will help!

This year, I offered to work with struggling readers as a literacy tutor. I only planned to work in one classroom, once a week but another teacher who didn't get a volunteer for her class asked if I would consider helping her, too.  Of course I said yes.   A child's ability to read is directly related to his or her academic performance. If kids can't read well they can't take tests well (or do anything well for that matter) and it's a spiraling descent into a lifetime of hardship. For some kids the only time they spend reading is at school. Hey, reading is fundamental! Of course I'll help!

I've helped with the annual Teacher Appreciation Week luncheon for the past three years. A friend and I plan the menu, shop for and prepare the food and serve it in addition to other appreciation week tasks like securing donations or making baked goods for the coffee cart. Hey, it's for the teachers! Of course I'll help!

I also volunteer in my kids' classrooms twice a week. Hey, it's for my OWN kids!  Of course I'll help!

This is just school volunteering and the list above is not complete. Too many times I've said yes to things that require less time but still require time. Sometimes covering for someone who has a sick kid at home or just helping a friend/teacher in need. Add to that the rest of my responsibilities in maintaining our household and I have no time left for me. Zero. Zip. Zilch. I can't find time do the things that I want to do.  I'm overwhelmed and becoming resentful. Psychology majors feel free to pipe in here.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step in overcoming the problem. I'm admitting I'm a volunteer addict and I know I have to stop. I need to reprioritize my time. 

So, goodbye Teacher Appreciation Week - someone else can step up this year.  Sorry, PTA I can't be on the board.  Party planning is not my cup of tea all you party planners out there looking for help. 

Hello, my name is Kim and I'm a recovering volunteer addict.  I am learning to say no.  For real.

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