Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Day

The morning began slowly.  Mom had made up her mind days (maybe weeks) ago, but today felt like the time that she had to make a decision.  We gave her space to choose.  We packed things in preparation of the event that she may arrive at the cancer center and decide to continue with chemotherapy or choose a different treatment.  If she so decided, she would have plenty of entertainment, reading, music, food, and hydration.  She had plenty of support as Matt, Cheryl, and I accompanied her to the center.  She also had support at home.  Mickie worked feverishly while Mom was away to cover the wall near her bed with frames of pictures of friends and love ones that she had been preparing for weeks.   Glenda started early in the morning preparing red beans and rice.  The aroma tortured those of us who were fasting.  Elois helped clean the house, send thank you notes, and arrange her nightgowns and robes so that they were accessible and organized since these are Mom's standard attire these days.
     Matt beat us to the cancer center and checked her in so that when we arrived we could proceed to the area where her port would be flushed, the needle inserted, and prepared in case she decided to continue treatment.  It was immediately emotional.  The potential finality of her decision weighed very heavily.  When it was her turn, she simply wiped away her tears, tilted her head and smiled as she told the nurse okay, and joked with her as they made their way to the lab.  The next tidal wave of emotions hit her as the nurse performed her blood work. A woman walked up to her and said, "I know I don't know you, but I'd like to pray for you."  And she did.  Mom came out of the lab smiling, held an arm each of mine and Matt as we walked her to the elevator.  A very nice and pleasant social worker stayed with us during the visit with the oncologist because the staff could sense that Mom was stressed.  The doctor, assuming that we were here for chemotherapy asked how she felt and if she was ready to go.  "What if I choose not to continue the treatment?" she asked. Not immediately understanding, the doctor offered a different, less toxic, but also less effective option.  Mom asked questions about the milder treatment as though she were actually considering it.  "The infusion period is much shorter and we can start right now," the doctor pitched.  As though she hadn't already made up her mind, she seemed to become resolute upon hearing the doctor warn that due to the time of the year and the frequency of the infusions that her holidays would be ruined.  She gave the doctor the decision she told us earlier that she was 99.9% sure of.   The doctor and a clinician described to us a bit about hospice and the process of setting it up.  It was comforting to hear some intersection of our initial research and their recommendations.  We returned to the lab and mom informed the nurses that she needed her port de-accessed.  A nurse whispered to her, "We aren't supposed to say this, but I would do exactly the same thing if I were in your shoes."
     Her liberation materialized in the form of hunger.  She wanted to go to breakfast.  While at breakfast, she talked a lot about how confident she felt about her decision.  "I feel like God lifted 10 lbs off me," she said.  "That's almost exactly how many pounds God took off of you,"  I joked.  Her decision gave her the ability to look forward to the holidays with her family.  She no longer has to prevent her grandchildren from coming over, or into her room.  She doesn't have to worry about wearing a mask around people or sanitizing her hands before rubbing her eyes or eating.  At the table, she decided that all the granddaughters (and parents) should come over that afternoon and stay for dinner.  She squeezed, held, hugged, and kissed each one and turned on a children's show to invite them to lay with her.
     Glenda's red beans and rice were worth waiting until sundown for.  Mom ate relatively well, as did the girls.  Sensing that G.G. (Gorgeous Grandmother) was tiring, we got the girls ready to leave, kissed her good bye, and let her rest at the end of a pretty happy day.


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  2. Dear Arlene,

    I learned the sad news last night at my once a month dinner meeting with some of the former West Region principals. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

    I think of you often when I am standing in front of the closet in the morning trying to figure out what to wear. “Just wear black and jazz it up with a jacket and jewelry”, was your advice for a busy schedule. Best tip ever!!

    from “ Readings from the Outward Bound School”

    To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
    To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
    To reach out to another is to risk involvement.
    To express feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
    To place ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
    To love is to risk being loved in return
    To live is to risk dying
    To hope is to risk despair
    To try is to risk failure
    But risks must be taken because the greatest
    Hazard in life is to risk nothing.
    The person who asks nothing, does nothing
    Has nothing and is nothing.
    They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they
    Cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
    Chained by their attitudes, they are a slave
    They have forfeited their freedom
    Only a person who risks is free.


    May the peace of the Lord be with you always.

    Diane Hathaway

  3. Hello Arlene,

    I know you made your decision about treatment today, and I pray you can find comfort and peace now without having to go through all the terrors of chemo. My sister, Mary Anne, made the same decision three years ago and I experienced the comfort she felt after the treatments were stopped and she was able to enjoy her children and grandchildren. I know "there is a time to weep and a time to laugh", and I feel Violet, Sarah, Soleil, and Marley are definitely going to provide the time to laugh. (Wow, I never could have imagined the joy grand-kids could bring.) I know you will enjoy the scene on Christmas morning as they all gently open their presents one-by-one....NOT!)

    Jason is having a little boy on January 7. I have five neices under 8, and I know you have lots of little girls around you too. Anyway, we're not sure what a little guy is going to do with all these girls....uhhh do boys play princess and kitchen??? Well, I guess he'll have to figure it out.

    Jason, Sonja, Jaslyn and I are all praying for you.
    "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

    Peace, Barb

  4. Forever and always with you, my dearest friend. Love, Jackie

  5. This story came from a conversation I had yesterday with my aunt, my father's sister, who was a high school friend of my Aunt Isabel, Arlene's mother. She recounted how, when newborn Arlene was brought home from the hospital, her parents "could not take their eyes off her, looking at her like she was a jewel."

    The Girl Who Went Around Changing The World

    There once was a girl, who when she was born, was looked upon as a jewel, by her mother and father.
    "This little jewel has changed our world," her mama said.
    "This little jewel will change the world," her daddy said.

    As she grew up, strong in will and firm in knowing, she willed herself to know all there was to know. She came to know good, and not-so-good. She came to know joy and also sorrow. She willed herself to learn all she needed to learn so she could change the not-so-good into good; so she could turn the sorrows into joy. Every place she grew and learned and came to know, she left sparkles of good and twinkles of joy. After all, she was a jewel.

    But not everyone wanted the good she offered to replace their not-so-good. Not everyone welcomed the joy she gave to dismiss their sorrow. Not everyone, but most, and that was all she needed to know. She kept on shining her inner light, turning darkness to dawn. She keeps on growing, stronger in will and firmer in knowing that her light is God's light. Her strength is God's strength, her joy is God's joy; her Good is God. After all, she is a jewel.

    She will forever keep on, changing the world.


  7. Dear Arlene,
    I am sure you do not know me, but I am a member of USP's 20th cohort, so I know you as an extraordinary example of an "equity warrior" throughout your phenomenal career, as a generous guide for my cohort (and others before us) when you would return for our seminars to share your wisdom and respond to our vision speeches, as a special friend to Bob and Deborah, and as a wonderful mentor to my friend Maqueda. Thank you for all of this and more. You will continue indefinitely to inspire so many of us, as we build on your efforts to bring excellent, equitable education to every kid in every classroom across our country. I am thinking of you and your family.
    Best wishes for a Merry Christmas,
    Lizzy Carroll

  8. Dear Arlene,
    My husband and I have been praying for you since we heard the news about your health last week. I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that you have been an inspiration to me throughout my career and I am so grateful to God for allowing our paths to cross. I recall like yesterday a back-to-school teacher’s rally at the MCI Center in DC (August 1999). I was a first-year teacher and a few weeks prior had packed up my car, leaving the comforts of home to begin a career in urban education. After settling in to my new apartment (which was next door to my school in southeast D.C.), the challenge ahead became all too real. Had I made the right decision, I wondered. I wanted to make a difference, but in that moment, all the insecurities of a first-year teacher flooded my thoughts. There was no turning back. Here I was surrounded by a sea of teachers and in just a few days I would have a class of my own. The next thing I knew, a poised, confident (and of course, very well put together) superintendent, took to the stage and reminded us that we were all in it together—for the children. Your words were passionate and inspiring. Even more than that, they were backed up by action. I still remember being like a kid in a candy store when first-year teachers were given additional funding—$500 for classroom resources. You also started new programs like Saturday/Summer Stars to provide additional support for struggling students. You were showing by your actions that "Children First" was more than a mantra; and I was being impacted by your example without even knowing it. At that time, being a teacher was all I could ever imagine doing. Then over the years, my career evolved and doors began to open in ways I never anticipated. I found myself applying to graduate schools and saw that you were going to be leading a superintendent’s doctoral program at Columbia. After being admitted to the program, I traveled to NY to meet with you and some of the other professors with the program. This may sound silly, but I was incredibly nervous about meeting you— an iconic figure whom I had admired for so many years. However, your warm, personable and down-to-earth demeanor put me at ease. It was like meeting with a long-time family friend. You gave me all your personal contact information and encouraged me to call you to discuss my future plans. You took so much time out of your busy schedule to help me with one of the most important decisions of my career. I will never forget that conversation. I was trying to decide between the Columbia doctoral program and a master’s program at Harvard, with the possibility of gaining admission to USP the following year. Without going into detail on the specifics of your invaluable big-sisterly advice :-)… your words of wisdom led me to choose the master’s program at Harvard. And as they say, the rest is history. I was admitted to USP the following year. That decision impacted my life more than any other decision in my career. Not only did I still get to learn directly from you through USP, but I have also been privileged to join a community of "equity warriors" in education who are committed to continuing the legacy you began so many years ago. Thank you for being a shining example of putting "Children First." I am grateful for the impact you have had on my life and hope to one day inspire others the way you have inspired me.

    I will continue to pray for you and your family. May God strengthen and uphold you during this difficult time and may He bring comfort and healing your way.

    With love and gratitude,
    LaToya Walker Harrison
    USP, Cohort 19

  9. Hey Arlene--

    I want you to know that all your friends and colleagues at the Council of the Great City Schools are thinking of you and praying for you during this holiday season. You were always one of our All Stars and we were never prouder than when we were able to honor you with our Richard Green Award for your lifetime of service and commitment. I know you are strong because so many of us leaned on that strength over the years. Please know that you can lean on us now.

    Michael Casserly
    Council of the Great City Schools

  10. Dear Arlene,

    I was so sorry to learn today of your illness. Although I have never experienced what you are going through, I know that it is difficult, having witnessed the last days and loss of a sister to cancer. However, I also know that as a believer in Christ, you will be fine, regardless of the outcome of your illness.

    We are not called to understand what God is doing in our lives, we are only called to trust Him. Isaiah 26: 3 tells us that God, “…will keep in perfect peace her whose mind is steadfast, because she trusts in you.” Trust God with all your heart, mind, soul, and with every fiber of your being. Rest in the knowledge that He is the greatest healer of all. Keep in mind that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts, not like ours. He can choose to miraculously heal you of your illness; or He can choose to use you and your illness as an inspiration to others on how to handle the adversities of life, with grace. He is in total control of your life and has only your good in mind, regardless of how it may sometimes seem to you or others. As Christians, we have the confidence and hope of eternal life through our belief in Christ (John 3:16).

    Although family and friends will grieve your earthly loss when you leave, they can be strengthened and comforted by the knowledge that no believer is ever really lost to other believers. You may get to Heaven before the rest of us, but we will be reunited one day when we cross over to the other side.

    As a follower of Christ, you know that life does not end when you take your last breath here on earth. God has promised this in His Word and His promises are always true. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5: 8 that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. When you close your eyes here, you will be opening them in your eternal home - Heaven. When you arrive there, you will begin to experience the best life you have ever known. Jesus has promised that He has prepared a place for us in Heaven and that He will receive us there (John 14:3).

    It is important to remember that heaven is far better than we can imagine, Arlene; “…it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthian 2: 9).” Heaven is described for us in Revelation 21 and 22. Read all about it now so you will know where you are going – like a tourist, preparing for a trip. I know you love gold and precious jewels; and Heaven is filled with them!! Once there, you will see magnificent beauty beyond words and experience the presence and glory of God. There you will be in the only place where there is no worry, no illness, no pain, and no sorrow. You will see those who have arrived in Heaven before you and will experience a reunion like no other.

    Although I may never see you again in this life, I know that we will meet again, my sister in Christ. I wish you well in the meantime. I wish you a happy, blessed Christmas surrounded by those who love and cherish you. I will continue to pray for you. I will pray for your miraculous recovery, but I will also pray you will get enough rest and that you will enjoy pain-free days that bring you pleasure and the ability to complete whatever you believe still needs completing. Most of all, I am praying that you will receive the peace of God that passes all understanding that we are promised in Philippians 4:7.

    God bless you and keep you, Arlene, until we meet again.


    Cheryl Mason-Dorman

  11. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me A World Full of Love This Be Arlene C.

  12. Arlene,
    I learned about your illness a few weeks ago. I've been following the Blog since I found out about it. It was hard and I just cried because you and my mom are going through treatment at the same time. Then I was angry when I read that you were thinking about stopping your treatment because I couldn't imagine a world to navigate without your advice. Now, I am just grateful that you allowed me in your life and had so much faith in me when you transitioned from Columbia. I wish I knew the magic words to get you through this, but I can only find these words to share: You are an inspiration and your work has given me and so many others the strength and courage to push forward. If God calls you home, I know you will continue to watch over us and guide us through the tough road ahead. I have faith that you are facing this challenge like a warrior and will continue to be a warrior for the many children who depend on education to fortify their future. I love you and pray for you every day. I only hope you know how much you mean to me.