Another Winter of Drama

Winters haven’t traditionally been a time of transition for me. Most of my big moves came during the summer months. Starting and ending my Peace Corps experience, moving to and from Los Angeles, and moving to New Orleans were all done during the summer months. Winters, on the other hand, have been a time to regroup, celebrate my birthday, play in the snow, strengthen relationships and continue with projects or work that started in the fall. Not so, since moving to NOLA! This is the 5th winter we have been here and each year something major and life altering has happened during the winter months of December, January and February.

My first year here, I started teaching at a new school at the beginning of second semester, taking over the social studies classes where students were required to take an end of course exam–and had been without a dedicated teacher for over a month. I’ve also been through 2 administration transitions–with the power vacuums that I’ve learned inevitably follow in small charter schools, mid-way through the school year. In regards to my health, not only was I diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy during December 2011, but my doctors found a cyst in the other breast the following year, giving me a bit of a scare. This year, we’re transitioning through our second administration and the situation has been complicated.

Unlike the first time, when the principal was fired during Christmas vacation, my current school’s principal died December 2nd. It was sudden to most people–except those in his inner circle that were aware of all of his treatments for skin, prostate and plasma cancer. Most people didn’t know that his doctors had told him that he wouldn’t make it until Christmas or that there are chemo drugs that don’t make a person’s hair fall out. Most people didn’t know that he spent most of our Thanksgiving Week vacation in the hospital.

I only knew my principal for a couple of months before he was diagnosed in October 2011 with a “serious illness” that turned out to be cancer, so I don’t have much to go on as to who he was before cancer. I do know that he spent two years struggling with his cancer, but was never open about it. Not only have I had to process my cancer these past 2 years, I’ve been living through his battle as well–but in this weird outer circle. We would have these odd cat and mouse type conversations about our illness. We both knew the other had the Big C and would talk about things like the movie 50/50, or compare our hospitals, but he never told me what kind of cancer he was up against or was open about his treatments–but instead would use his and my fatigue as excuses for denying me certain opportunities. Frankly, I’m angry with him for dragging us through his cancer the way that he did. By denying it was going on publicly, as a political move, he dragged his staff through drama that wasn’t necessary. His illness being such a secret led to distrust and reactivity in both him and his staff. I understand a person wanting privacy, but as a principal in a public institution you are out in the open every day. Everyone knows something is wrong, but if you don’t spin your situation, others will for you. One of our teachers actually thought that he had committed suicide because of the secretiveness of the whole situation!

I think if he had been more open about his situation, people would have been able to show more concern and compassion. I also think there wouldn’t have been the extreme power vacuum and stress that has developed following his passing.

But now I must move on. I’ve spent almost two months reflecting, reacting and muddling through this situation. I feel as if I’m done processing it and am ready to focus my energy on other things. I’m choosing to let go of my anger like my students let go of these balloons following the memorial service at school.

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6 thoughts on “Another Winter of Drama

  1. I have seen this secret behaviour in others … Not sure why it is but one feels they miss out on the support that could help them and their family..maybe they feel if you do not talk about it then it is not happening… Everyone is different…..

    • I know, Helen. The problem is that I want to support his choosing a different course than I would have preferred, but there is a lot of damage that was done because of that course. Nothing is ever easy about cancer, is it?

  2. Deep. So, your co-workers did not know he had cancer?? Or that he had it and he killed himself before The Big C got him??! Whoa. Either way, losing a public figure like that is a disaster for a school. Glad they released the balloons to process but….shit.
    I can’t believe I missed your birthday again!! Freezing here…and no school tomorrow!! Yippee!!

    • Many co-workers did not know he had cancer. If I was talking to people about his health, I felt like I was gossiping about the cancer. So strange and toxic. Family didn’t want us to tell anyone either after he died–until his widow shared with the community at his school memorial service.

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