The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Storytelling to Calm Anxiety


Learning to calm anxiety can be a huge challenge for the cancer navigator who is spending time in Cancerland. This debilitating emotion is way beyond simple worry or frustration. It tends to appear when the world is careening out of control, when life feels tenuous, when it feels like a fight for survival itself. When I started having anxiety meltdowns and panic attacks this past fall (because of family reasons, not cancer at that point), I started taking meds plus making regular appointments with a variety of therapists. This weekend, while waiting for the results of yesterday’s CT Scan, I’m struggling big time. (Good morning, Honey. Thanks for making breakfast. Now hold me tight and let me soak your shirt in tears. And no, I don’t have any words to explain my outburst. Sigh… )

man calm anxiety of crying woman

I expected it to be difficult waiting to learn if this current treatment is working or not. Based on past timing, I expected the radiologist’s reports to be posted online sometime early next week. But… at the end of the workday on Friday, the test results for the chest CT scan were posted. Whew! No changes, no evidence of disease. And then… nothing… the report for the abdominal CT scan was referred to in that first report, but it has not yet been posted. Oh NO! This sent my anxiety through the roof, imagining horrible reasons for the delay.

Storytelling as a Tool to Calm Anxiety:

Off and on all day today, I’ve been using a tool I learned from my music therapist. The human brain is wired to collect stories, be guided by stories, and organize the world via stories. These stories are the way our brains resolve any uncertainties. When we only get a tiny bit of a story, our brains fill in the gaps to determine what is happening based on past experiences, similar stories, small details we notice, our feelings, and predictions of future outcomes. As you might imagine, those guessed-at-but-now-feeling-true stories will often be very skewed and might not bear any resemblance to what will actually happen.

1950s woman on phone

Using storytelling to calm anxiety can be done in many different formats—music, art, talk therapy, journaling. I initially learned about our brains’ preference for stories through an exercise of listening to a piece of instrumental music and writing down what I imagined was happening. The therapist and I then shared our stories, laughing at the huge differences. We discussed what experiences, details, and feelings led each of us to imagine that particular story. Then we did the exercise again, using the same music but capturing a different story than we chose the first time. As homework, I have been asked to practice this exercise regularly, coming up with at least 3-5 different explanations each time. (This is an entertaining activity to try with family or friends.)

A second exercise is closely related and has the same goal of building flexible thinking. In this assignment, I had to state the terrible thing I was anxious might happen. I had to identify which bits were known facts, then build on those things with a worse scenario, followed by an even worse outcome, until I had come up with 3-5 outlandish stories. This never fails to make me laugh!

Today’s storytelling:

With both of those exercises, I’ve been building flexible thinking in my brain, rather than simply clinging to one “catastrophizing” story. So, here’s the scenario for today’s therapy:

The radiologist posted the report for the chest CT scan. He has not yet posted the results of the abdominal CT scan. Why not?

My Anxiety-induced Story: Last night and today, I am fighting against doomsday assumptions. Obviously, he did not post the abdominal scan report because it shows significant tumor growth and additional tumors. The radiologist is concerned for me. He wants my doc to be the first to see the report. My doc will give me the bad news at my appointment on Tuesday.

anxious woman peers through hands on face

As I recognize my anxiety and remember that I have no way of knowing what is actually happening, and as hubby reminds me to use my storytelling to calm anxiety, I have come up with the following:

Story 1: The radiologist has worked extra shifts this week and is exhausted. The chest CT report was easy, so he posted that. But he could not keep his eyes open long enough to deal with the abdominal CT report. So, he left it in his to-do folder and went home to bed. He will be ready to handle it when he comes back to work on Monday.

Story 2: The radiologist is shocked when he looks at the abdominal scan and compares it to the images from 4 weeks ago. There is no evidence of any tumors whatsoever. He hesitates to post this as a report, however. He decides to have his co-worker look things over on Monday to verify the miraculous results.

Story 3 (worse version): The very expensive scanner malfunctioned. There is no abdominal CT to report on. I will have to wait another few weeks for an appointment to have the scan redone.

Story 4 (even worse scenario): The radiologist completed the abdominal CT report. However, he was so excited to be leaving for next week’s vacation to the Caribbean that he didn’t notice he pushed the button to delete the scan and the report rather than the button to post it. Nobody notices the error until he returns to work in another 10 days.

Story 5 (an outlandish story): The radiologist was just getting ready to post his report when Russian operatives kidnapped him. They were certain this was top secret information, so they made him save the scan and the report on a thumb drive they handed him. They then smuggled both him and this contraband information out of the hospital and to the airport where a super sonic jet transported them back to Russia. In the meantime, the US government learned about the kidnapping and heist. They insisted that both the doctor and the information be returned to the USA at once. When Putin laughed about it, a nuclear war began. It did not take long for the entire earth’s population to be wiped out… all because the radiologist dawdled on posting my results.

Your Turn: I would love to read more outlandish stories to calm anxiety while I try to not completely freak out this weekend! Please, please post your short “explanation” of why the abdominal CT scan results were not posted online with the first report! I’m certain many of you have even better stories than the ones my anxious brain came up with.

Thanks for taking time to read my silly stories! Please add your version in the comments Since I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.


If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site to see frequent mini-updates or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new blog post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Hold Tight! It’s Gonna Be a Crazy Ride!

Welcome to Cancerland, a theme park for the unamused. We wish you a magical stay. Unfortunately, we seem to have misplaced the magic wands so there are no shortcuts to getting through the park quickly. There are so many decisions you must make with an overwhelming number of things to keep track of. Everyone has their own path through Cancerland. Sorry! The general map will not be of much use to you and your loved ones. Eventually you will find a guide who most likely is a real character but who can help you figure out how to survive the rides. Hold tight! It’s gonna be a crazy ride!

crazy ride with flashing lights and whirling fun

Gravitron – Scan Results

Before fully entering this unamusement park, each patient, er, I mean visitor, must regularly take a ride on the Gravitron located by the park entrance. This is where you will be scanned to verify your credentials for being here. The first few times, this feels like a harmless ride, simply spinning you in a whirling circle. Many times, there will be “No Evidence of Disease” and you will be released from Cancerland. Don’t forget to return for your regularly scheduled crazy ride on the Gravitron. Eventually, cancer will show up again. The floor will drop out beneath you and  your mind will be spinning with what-ifs and why-mes. When the ride stops and the doors open, stumble your way further into the park.

ferris wheel gives big picture perspective

Ferris Wheel – Get Your Bearings

It is strongly suggested that guests return to this simple ride any time they feel lost. Although the Ferris Wheel is rarely exciting, it is easily accessed from most of the park. The best thing about this ride is that it gives you and your partner an opportunity to relax for a few minutes. Take this time to look back on where you have been before and after entering this unamusement park. From the top of the wheel, it is possible to see the food booths and most of the other rides. Decide which direction you will explore after you are back down on the ground. Return as often as you lose your bearings and need to reconsider where you are on the map.

Ride a horse, up and down and all around

Carousel – A Whirl of Emotions

Each guest (and their loved ones) who enter Cancerland, initially believe that the carousel is a gentle, relaxing ride. They think they are in full control of their emotions. What they don’t understand is that this crazy ride spins you gently in circles while it lifts you up and down and up and down. Every time you come back to the Carousel, your emotions will take you for another ride of crying, laughing, scowling, exhaustion, ranting, loving, and more.

Bumper Cars – Bumpy Relationships and Expectations

So, you think you know your friends and family well. When you enter Cancerland, you assume they will react with the same patterns they have in the past—and that you will do the same. Some have already disappeared, uncomfortable with this unamusing park, or afraid they will do or say the wrong thing. Getting in bumper cars with the remaining loved ones who are still with you shows you just how wrong you can be. Bump! They say things that irritate you. Crash! They hover as if you were an invalid, or worse, they ignore what you are going through. Smash! You expect them to read your mind and immediately respond to your ever-changing needs. And they expect the same. Take a deep breath! Remember, this crazy ride is not forever. It’s just one part of visiting Cancerland.

Tin Lizzie Kiddie Cars – Round and Round To & From the Cancer Center

We know you might prefer to avoid this slow, putt-putt ride. But you will inevitably come back to the Kiddie Cars over and over. Your calendar will fill with appointments, blood draws, labs, and scans. It will seem, at times, like you are on an endless loop track of going to and from the cancer center, over and over again. Try to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of routine and unavoidable repetition.

River Boat Ride – Floating Along Through Scenes of Danger and of Daily Life

At times you will be exhausted from all the walking, standing in line, trying new rides, and eating greasy fair-food. Sometimes it is nice to go on this simple ride, floating down the peaceful river of daily life. Be alert, however! You never know what’s around the next bend. It might be another peaceful scene. But at any moment, you might face something terrifying—a storm, an attack, a scene of desolation. This crazy ride demonstrates the new reality of being in Cancerland: expect the unexpected!

Log Flume – Intermittent Pain & Fatigue

This ride can be deceptive. There are ups and downs and occasional splashes of pain or fatigue, but, overall, it feels like you are coping just fine with Cancerland. Don’t get complacent! There will likely be steep curves or sudden drops when you feel like you might drown in the flood of pain that covers you. Yes, talk to your guide about changing meds or adjusting your routines, but most likely there is little that can be done to avoid occasional rides on the Log Flume.

Spinning Tea-Cups – Watch Out for Nausea and Other Side Effects

Everyone has heard about this nasty ride! The spinning teacups will swirl you in circles—causing nausea, dizziness, vomiting, hair loss and more ugly side effects of your trip to Cancerland. Perhaps you will be one of the lucky guests who are guided on a different treatment path and you will avoid this ride altogether.

Flying Swings – Watching Life go by When You are On Your Side

This crazy ride is very disorienting. To begin with, it seems like life goes on the same as it was before you entered Cancerland. Sure, there are some swings and dips, but, in general nothing has really changed. You still feel like yourself. Eventually, however, your swing gets pulled higher and higher until you are flying on your side. You don’t have energy to do anything more than just hold on. As you look around at the park, life is still going on below you, but all you can do is just rest until the ride ends and you are back on your feet again.

Pirate Ship – Practical Tension between Planning and Healing

You hear about this ride from many of your friends. They tell you to focus on the positive, on moving forward, on the eventual excitement of an unexpected ending. But once you get on this ride, you discover that reality pulls two different directions. You get jerked back and forth between planning for a possible future when you will be gone and longing for a possible future when you will be fully cancer-free. Sure, the full circle, upside-down, exhilarating end to the ride is delightful. But most likely you will wish you could avoid this ride altogether.

Roller Coaster –Worst News/Best News

Some guests prefer the tower ride. They only want to hear positive news and best-case prognoses. They are willing to take the risk of a huge emotional crash if the worst-case happens instead and they are dropped back to earth. Others prefer the more frequent but gentler direction changes on the roller coaster. They ask their guide to give them a full range of possible outcomes. As they ride, they experience the upward pull—click…click…click—as it seems like good things are happening, with good response to treatments. But then—whoosh!—there is an unexpected drop toward negative outcomes. Up and down and around steep curves! Choosing this ride is closer to experiencing the up and down realities of a trip to Cancerland.

Tunnel of Love – Sometimes there are no words/Just hug each other tightly

There are moments in Cancerland when no words can express the confusion, fear or sadness the guest is experiencing. At those times, the best thing to do is to grab your partner or your close friend and take a ride through the tunnel of love. Hug each other tightly and remember how much you are loved. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop before you leave, to pick up a photo to remind you that you were not alone in the dark!

Once again, we are glad you are here as our guest in Cancerland! We hope your stay is brief and that you will have no need to return at a future date. But if you have an extended stay, please let us know what other crazy rides we should add to make this unamusement park better match your experiences in the real-life world of cancer treatment. We are constantly researching and developing new therapies, I mean, rides!


Thanks for taking time to read this light-hearted analogy. Please let me know in the comments if there are additional “rides” I should add to this unamusement park! Since I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.


If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site to see frequent mini-updates or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new blog post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

**Illustrations are royalty free for personal use from Google Images**

I am Unique!

We all know that I am quirky and artsy and nerdy, all at the same time. I’m happy to announce that medical science has now authenticated how unique I am. Really! I’m not joking! Let me explain…

Unique in my Family

First of all, did you know that I am the “Queen Bee” of my family? A few years ago, my newest daughter-in-law asked what we wanted to be called. I told her that I had ALWAYS wanted to be called the Queen, but for some odd reason, none of my kids had ever agreed to do so. From that moment on, she calls me QB. And gradually a few other younger friends have started doing the same. How many moms are acknowledged for being the Queen? That’s one evidence that I’m certainly unique.

queen bee, unique chocolate box

Next, we have a large family (7 kids, most now married, with 1 who has given us 3 grandchildren). I thrive on helping my kids pursue their individual interests. This was a major reason that we chose to homeschool most of our kids for most of their K-12 education. Perhaps that does not make me “unique,” but it definitely proves I’m unusual.

Medically Unique

Finally, we get to the medical reasons why I am quite unique. According to the latest data, in 2019, there were 1.7 million Americans diagnosed with cancer. Among the many possible types of cancers, I was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma (LMS). Sarcomas make up less than 1% of all cancers, which makes me part of the <17,000 who have this broad category of cancers. Among those sarcoma patients, my specific type of cancer is 10-20% of that category. Thus, I am part of the 1700-3400 individuals who are diagnosed with LMS each year. Genetic mutations are found in only 6% of those with LMS, which means I belong to a small group of 100-200 patients nationwide. (I also have two different types of DNA mutations which drops me to an even smaller group, but there are no percentages available for that.) So according to medical data, I am a unique cancer patient.

unique, woman wearing tiara
I am the Queen Bee of cancer and everything else!

Unique Treatment

The downside of having a rare cancer, is that most of the available treatments are only 40-50% effective in halting tumor growth. That is a discouraging number, especially when considering chemo, which has such awful side effects. I will likely have to try these different treatments eventually, but hopefully not for a long time.

The intriguing thing about being part of the < 100 people with DNA mutations in their LMS tumors is that there is a brand-new treatment drug which targets one specific mutation that I have. I am in a Phase 1 research study to see how effective this medicine is and to get an idea of what side effects it might cause. This is preliminary to future studies to eventually get FDA approval for this drug. And the best thing? So far, there are virtually no side effects. This is an 8-week study of which I am in the 3rd week of taking pills each morning and evening. At the end of this clinical trial (in 5 more weeks), I will have a CT scan to verify how effective the drug is for me—whether the tumors have grown, have slowed to stay the same as they were at the beginning of the study, or perhaps have even shrunk. If tumors have grown, I will have to try one of the less effective treatments mentioned above. However, if it is proven to be a good fit for me, I will be able to remain on this drug for the long term. Sometimes, there is great benefit to being UNIQUE!

Thanks for taking time to read this explanation of how I am “Unique” in the world! Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini-updates plus links to the pages below;
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini-updates archived in one place; and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.


If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up for email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Becoming a Cancer Navigator — Part 1

When you are exploring a new place—in the car or on foot—how do you find your way around? You might simply follow a clear path to discover where it leads. But more often, we want precise directions. Take the left fork, turn here, stop there. Do you prefer to follow instructions from someone you trust? Or do you prefer to be the navigator—figuring out where you are, where you want to go, and how to best get to that place? I HATE being passive and definitely prefer to be the decision maker. It’s the same for me on this health adventure. I much prefer to be the Cancer Navigator!

I Prefer to be the Navigator

In the previous post, I explained why I dislike being called a Cancer Survivor, Victim, or Thriver. I told you that I am happy to be called a Cancer Navigator… but what, exactly, do I mean by that? And why do I prefer that title over more common labels?

selfie, middle age woman

To me, becoming a Cancer Navigator implies taking an active role in making decisions. The name has positive vibes which encourages me to stay engaged and involved in my treatment rather than becoming a passive victim or survivor. And the term acknowledges the importance of continued learning and questioning at each stage along this journey.

Youngest daughter and I have backpacked almost 500 miles of the AT (Appalachian Trail). (If you look in the archives, that was why I first started this blog before our first long trek in late summer 2015.) Taking a multi-week hike requires significant amounts of advance planning to choose which section to hike, gather gear, plan when and where to resupply food, and more. On the other hand, because it is so well marked, an adventure on the AT does not really require many navigational skills. We just had to follow the trails and landmarks on the map, look for white blazes which show the way, and read trail signs. The AT is well-traveled enough to generally be easy to follow without getting lost. (Click HERE to read about Getting from Point A to Point B Without Getting Lost on the AT)

backpackers, hikers, fall woods
AT blaze, backpacker on trail

Sometimes, a health adventure is like those trips we made. The patient goes to the doctor, then follows the clear path that is standard protocol for that particular illness or injury. Honestly, most illnesses or injuries do not require navigational skills to help with decision making. Unless something unexpected happens along the way, the patient simply follows the path that is laid out for them by their health care provider.

Call Me a Cancer Navigator

So why would I call myself a Cancer Navigator? Can’t we just follow standard protocols for my treatment? Nope! My cancer journey is not a simple “walk in the woods.” It is more like bushwhacking through unknown territory while trying to keep from getting totally lost! I have an exceedingly rare cancer which means there are few standard treatments available and many of the possibilities have a low success rate for survival. In the past, this diagnosis would have been considered terminal. Research offers new targeted treatments which move this diagnosis from terminal (death in a few months or years) to being an incurable, chronic cancer (something I will hopefully live with for many years to come). In my case, I am clearly not on a well-traveled trail. To keep from getting lost in the deep woods, I must hone my navigational skills and figure out which route is more likely to help me live the longest time possible.

masked patient in pre-op, stuffed sloth

Fortunately, I am not alone on this health adventure. I have a supportive husband who helps me sort through information, think of more questions to ask, and make decisions. I have a medical oncology team who communicate clearly and whom I trust. And I am getting treatment at a cancer center known for its compassionate care and cutting-edge research.

The Basics of Being a Successful Navigator

We rarely stop to think of it this way, but building strong navigational skills is important in many aspects of life. It applies every time we try something new, whether by choice or necessity. Learning how to successfully sort through options and choices applies to concrete activities such as driving, backpacking, and boating/cruising. And it applies to less tangible tasks such as effectively working with the education system, the workplace, and the healthcare system.

homeschooled students at table
We spent many years navigating the home-school world

At its simplest, building effective navigation skills in any setting can be summarized with three simple questions which must be answered:

  • “Where am I currently?”
  • “What location or goal am I aiming for?”
  • “What’s the most effective way to get there?”

It might take awhile to clearly define the answers to each step. In addition, the goals, and methods of reaching them are frequently changing. This requires flexibility on the part of the navigator and his/her team. Finally, the navigator must keep in mind the specific needs and desires of the individuals who are participating in the adventure.

The Basics of Being My Own Cancer Navigator

When I consider these questions as a Cancer Navigator for my own journey, my answers look like this:

  • The chronic cancer I was diagnosed with 2+ years ago, has recurred. This time it is aggressive and growing quickly.
  • Obviously, I would prefer the goal of being completely cured of all cancer. However, we must face the reality that this is a “chronic cancer” and will continue to recur for the rest of my life. So, the current goal is finding a way to live fully for as long as possible while co-existing with this cancer. (I will write another post soon to explore this concept more fully.)
  • My doctor presented several options for treatment this time around. We assumed surgery would be scheduled asap. However, both my doc and the oncology surgeon made it clear that surgery was not a viable option until the current cancer is under control and the multiple tumors are shrinking. We had to consider the pros and cons of each route as we decided which treatment option to pursue first.
masked patient in exam room, stuffed sloth

As you know, if you have been following this most recent health adventure, we chose to participate in a research trial of a new, very targeted medication. By trying this option first, we can easily move to another treatment if this fails to control my cancer. But if we had tried either of the other options first, we could not have gotten into the trial later. I am starting week 3 of an 8-week study. If the medicine is as effective as we hope, the trial sponsor will provide me with these pills for as long as I need them after I finish these closely monitored two months in the study.

Please let me know if there is something you want to know more about from my cancer journey! I’m happy to answer questions… In upcoming posts, I will compare being a Cancer Navigator to being a Navigator on an ocean-going ship. I will describe how this Phase 1 drug trial works. I will  explain how most cancer treatment has moved away from being an all-out “war on cancer.” And I will share a few short, hopefully entertaining stories from this cancer journey path.

If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up for email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I cannot imagine doing this alone…)


Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini-updates plus links to the pages below;
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini-updates archived in one place; and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.

I Refuse to be a “Cancer Survivor”

There are several titles given to people who are fighting cancer: “Cancer Survivor,” “Cancer Warrior,” “Cancer Thriver.” It’s fine with me if others choose to identify with any of these groups. However, I refuse to accept or use any of these names. They don’t fit with my experience of living with chronic cancer.

“Cancer Survivor”

woman with IV walking down hospital hall; Cancer survivor

Prior to the mid-1980s, anyone dealing with cancer was called a “cancer patient” or a “cancer victim.” In 1985, Dr. Mullan introduced the term “cancer survivor” to be used from diagnosis to end of life. He felt it was more encouraging and that this new title would better empower patients. Whether they had a poor prognosis or a good one, they were all dealing with cancer.

Don’t get me wrong! I definitely want to live for many, many years after being diagnosed with cancer 2+ years ago. I dislike this phrase because it sounds like I’ve been the victim of some terrible trauma. In my imagination, when I hear “cancer survivor,” it means others have been destroyed but I’m still standing, with ragged clothes, bandages everywhere, and a far-away gaze that is fixated on the horrors I’ve been through. This vision does not fit with my experience so far. I’ve had two surgeries (recovery wasn’t fun but it also wasn’t traumatic) and am currently taking a targeted medication that causes very few side effects. This is certainly a difficult path to walk emotionally, but I don’t feel like a “cancer survivor.”

“Cancer Warrior”

woman with bandaged arms wearing mask, cancer warrior

At first glance, this might be a good description for me. When facing challenges, I tend to stand strong and fight through to the other side of the obstacles. With chronic cancer, every few years I can expect another round of battle. The problem with this label is that the cancer world is changing its focus since the 1970s when President Nixon declared a “war on cancer.” My oncologist often reminds me that our goal is to figure out how I can live in balance with this cancer. (I will explain this more fully in a future blog post.) We want to slow tumor growth and calm its aggressiveness. I am on a (hopefully) long journey. I am not just a soldier in a one-and-done war. I am not a “cancer warrior.”

“Cancer Thriver”

woman in hospital gown with oxygen tubing in nose, cancer survivor

Nope, I am also not a “cancer thriver.” I suspect this less-used title is an attempt to show the changing outlook toward treating cancer. It does have a positive vibe to it—thriving, not fighting—but it feels too Susie-Sunshine-Always-Happy. A constant refrain of “be happy,” “be positive” “claim your victory” gets very tiresome. Most of us who deal with any chronic disease face frequent challenges. Sometimes life is difficult. We keep walking but aren’t necessarily skipping or dancing along the path all the time. As an optimistic realist, I am not a “cancer survivor” but I am also not a “cancer thriver.”

Other Titles for Cancer Patients

couple in snowy woods

I’ve tried to come up with other names for those like me who are dealing with chronic cancer. Cancer winner, cancer conqueror, cancer victim, cancer hero, cancer fighter—all of these phrases fall flat for me, for reasons similar to what I’ve expressed above. Quite honestly, most of the time when I’m talking about myself, I am more likely to acknowledge homeschooling our large family or being a Nature Therapy Guide or being an artist or a writer. Cancer is only one facet of my very full life. However, for times when I want to acknowledge the health adventure I’m currently going through, my hubby helped me find the perfect phrase for ME!

I am a Cancer Navigator!

Thanks for taking time to read this nerdy post! I love choosing just the right word to describe something. And I enjoy learning about the origins of words and phrases. Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.


If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Nerd Notes from a “Cancer Imposter”

I’m beginning to feel like a Cancer Imposter. Friends and family keep asking me how I’m doing with the nasty side effects of treatment. After all, everyone knows that a cancer patient is exhausted, nauseated, bald or almost bald as all hair falls out, immune compromised, either skeletal or puffy from steroids, and more. That IS an accurate picture for many patients. But only for the ones undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. So far, my cancer journey has not included either of these forms of treatments thus I am not experiencing these side effects. (Whew! That’s one positive thing for me!) If I don’t look or act like a “normal” patient, does that mean I’m a cancer imposter? Of course not! But it’s hard to explain sometimes…

Selfie of woman relaxing

As I described in the back story to this round of cancer (If you missed it, read the summary HERE), previous treatment has been abdominal surgery to cut out the tumors. When quarterly scans in early February of this year showed that the cancer is back and is aggressively expanding, we expected to hear that I would need another operation ASAP. It was a shock to hear that I’m not a good candidate for surgical removal of the tumors this time around. No other cancer treatments can be used during the 6-8 week recovery period because they kill fast growing cells, including those needed for healing. Unlike prior rounds where cancer removal was simply cut-and-go, this time there are so many small tumors that it isn’t possible to eliminate all cancer cells via surgery. And in the 6-8 weeks of recovery from an operation, I would likely be back to the same place I currently am as the tiny cancer cells left behind would aggressively regrow into new tumors.

Why don’t I have the “normal” side effects of cancer treatment? Does Santa know that I’ve been good? Am I just lucky? Is God answering many prayers for me to have an easier time? Or am I a cancer imposter? Actually, NONE of the above reasons are accurate.

Traditional chemotherapy involves using a cocktail of chemicals to poison and kill all fast-growing cells in the body. This is often an effective way to eliminate tumors, but the poison does not pay attention to which cells it attacks. If the cell is fast-growing, it is killed by the chemicals. This includes cancer cells but also hair growth cells, cells in the digestion system, cells in the immune system, and more. This wide-scale chemical warfare results in the well-known side effects.

Radiation kills cells in one specific area of the body rather than killing all fast-growing cells. This means many of the typical side effects of cancer treatment are avoided, but since radiation kills both healthy and cancerous cells in the targeted area, the patient often struggles with painful localized side-effects. These include nasty problems such as difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, damaged skin, stiff joints or infertility.

My oncologist drew out a nifty chart. (Good thing I used to type papers for med students years ago—I can read doctor scribbles just fine. HA!) He gave me three different options for treating cancer this time around. I could choose chemotherapy, which is 40% effective against my type of rare cancer. This would likely be the best option for fully shrinking the current tumors. I might end up on this treatment regime eventually, with all the typical side effects, but it is not a long-term treatment, so it doesn’t seem like the best option to try first. (Besides, I have no possibility of kayaking or backpacking this spring if I have to get chemo infusions every few weeks and am dealing with nasty side effects!)

cancer treatment options

Because I have two DNA mutations in the tumor cells, I am a good candidate for two different very targeted treatments. In both cases, there are limited side effects because these are not blanket-bombing, all-out war on a wide variety of cells. One treatment is already FDA approved, but it is only effective for 50% of patients. This is certainly a viable option. It meets the criteria of using a medication long-term if it is effective, but this option doesn’t actually shrink the tumors, just kills off specific cancer cells.

The third option is part of a Phase 1 clinical trial. (More about what that means in a future post…) There is extremely limited data at this point on how effective this medication will be, but it is described as “very promising.” In addition to killing specific cells that have the targeted DNA mutation, preliminary results show some shrinkage of tumors as well. This option has more uncertainty since rounds of trials are just beginning, but I can stay on it long term if it works well for me. If it doesn’t seem to do anything to fight my particular tumors, we can quickly switch to one of the above options instead. We decided to give this medication a try. Dealing with limited side effects is definitely a positive!

What am I experiencing so far? I have no side effects from treatment. On the other hand, there are challenges caused by the cancer itself. As the tumors continue to grow rapidly, they are putting more and more pressure on my internal organs. At this point, I’m having significant pain rather than just being uncomfortable. I wanna tell that biggest tumor, stop being rude! Figure out how to share the space in there! Keep your hands to yourself. (Oops! That’s what I used to yell at the kids when we were on a road trip. I don’t think the tumor is going to listen to me… Haha!) The pain meds cause some level of unsteadiness, fuzziness and/or sleepiness. But that’s manageable. The largest tumor hides just behind my bladder and is pushing hard on it. This means that in addition to pain, I have limited capacity in my bladder, so I pee small amounts frequently. Finally, because of the pain meds I’m taking, I have to take other meds to prevent constipation. I’m not a fan of taking a zillion pills every day, but if this will stop cancer growth and possibly shrink the tumor, I’m all for it!

diagram of tumor location

My oncologist says that these symptoms caused by the tumors themselves will significantly lessen within a few weeks if this targeted trial medication that I started last week is effective. Please cheer me along and pray with me (in whatever manner you support others) that I will be even more of a “cancer imposter” very soon, with no side effects or difficult symptoms at all! That will be a day to celebrate when we see that tumors are shrinking, and cancer is on the run…

Thanks for taking time to read this nerdy post! I’m learning all sorts of new information about how cancer treatments work. Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini-updates plus links to the pages below;
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini-updates archived in one place; and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.


If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up for email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

The Back Story of my Cancer Journey

Some of you have been along for Round 1 and Round 2 of this current cancer journey. You might already remember much of this back story. But for those who are just now joining me on this health adventure, welcome. Let me share some history so you don’t feel lost.


In late September 2018, over a period of two weeks, I was at the ER four times because of bleeding and unrelenting, increasing abdominal pain. Docs quickly discovered a mass in my uterus but weren’t in any hurry to schedule surgery. On the fourth trip to the ER, it was decided to do an emergency hysterectomy. That was absolutely fine with me! I went through menopause years ago and Just. Wanted. The. Pain. To. STOP!

comfort blanket for cancer journey

After I was in the operating room, the surgeon decided to do one last exam before starting the surgery. She was shocked to find that my body was already working to eject the gangrenous tumor. She verified the decision with my hubby in the waiting room, then did a D&C to clean out the uterus without removing it.

As with any large tumor, a biopsy was done. Results came back with a tiny number of irregular cells. Because there weren’t enough to classify this as cancer, they diagnosed it a STUMP tumor (soft tissue tumor of unknown malignancy potential). And the surgeon referred me to a gynecological oncologist in the big city.

In December 2018, Dr. Bixel convinced me (after much discussion) to go ahead and have a complete hysterectomy including ovaries. Her feeling was that there was absolutely no reason to risk possible future cancer when my body no longer needed those parts anyways. I reluctantly gave in and surgery was scheduled just a few weeks later.

After the robotic surgery was successfully completed, Dr. Bixel cut apart the uterus to inspect it. She found a tumor (smaller than my little finger) hiding in a corner and sent it off for biopsy. A few days later I got that phone call no one ever wants to receive. The tumor was an extremely rare cancer called uLMS (uterine leiomyosarcoma — lay-oh my-oh sar-coh-ma). This is a silent cancer that is very rarely found before it is life threatening and has taken over the entire abdomen.

If the first surgeon had done the hysterectomy, she would never have found the tumor. She’s not a suspicious, super detail-oriented oncologist, after all! If I had refused the “unnecessary” surgery, the tumor would not have been found. But God was working in this back story and Round One ended happily.


Follow-up 2019: We considered switching to a medical oncologist rather than staying with Dr. Bixel. But she was confident she could continue overseeing my health adventure. Because she believed all traces of cancer had been removed with the surgery, it was decided that I needed follow-up CT scans every 6 months. Scans in July were clear. Whew!

December 2019: Another set of routine CT scans. Everything should still be fine. But…. Yep, there was a plot twist in the back story, and 3 more tumors were found this time. All within the same area where my uterus used to be. That was quite a shock! Surgery was scheduled for as soon as possible—meaning I celebrated New Year’s Eve in the hospital. As one friend said later, at least I was entering the new year with no more cancer!

Hubby and I didn’t want to ruin Christmas for our grown kids, so we waited until after Christmas to tell them all what was going on. That was a surreal week, celebrating the joys and hopes of Christmas but also feeling shock and fear about what this recurrence might mean while trying to keep quiet about the struggle. I did reach out to a few prayer-warrior friends to ask them to hold us in prayer through those weeks.

Winter 2020: Surgery on New Year’s Eve was successful. All tumors were removed and had “clear margins.” (meaning no cancer cells left behind) It was a full abdominal incision which resulted in many weeks of recovery. (And don’t even get me started about the nurse who botched taking out stitches causing an open wound that had to be tended to day after day…) We had a houseful of extra family staying with us through the winter, so there were plenty of folks around to help with meals, shopping, chores, keeping mama entertained and keeping an eye on youngest (teen) daughter while I was lazing on the couch (and not so silently going crazy).

woman standing by woods and pond
(Last outing before surgery)

Some of you followed this portion of my cancer journey via the many photos and posts I shared on Facebook as I shared the ups and downs of those months. (You are welcome to scroll through my fb archives if you want to catch up on that part of the story.)

Hopeful Months 2020: As I was recovering from surgery, we had a consultation with a medical oncologist who specializes in Sarcomas (soft tissue cancers). It was an extremely easy decision to switch to Dr. Chen as my primary oncologist. Before coming to head this department at OSU/ The James Cancer Hospital, he did his training at M.D. Anderson, one of the top sarcoma centers in the USA. He and his team are good listeners, help guide decisions to be made based on MY preferences and are encouraging without spouting useless positive platitudes.

Dr. Chen is careful about details. He ordered additional testing on tumor tissue plus a specialized MRI to make sure that shadows seen on the CT scans were simply that and not small tumors. We learned that my form of uLMS is quite sensitive to estrogen and has two different DNA mutations in its cells. This information made next steps clear: start Letrozole (an estrogen blocker) and monitor for recurrence with quarterly CT scans. uLMS is a “chronic cancer” so we knew it would recur eventually, but with the estrogen blocker, we were hoping for 2-5 years before the next surgery would be needed.

Each scan during 2020 came back clear, “NED” (no evidence of disease). These are words every cancer patient and oncologist loves to hear! And so, we coasted our way through the rest of the year.

BAD NEWS 2021: It is quite common for cancer patience to have significant “scanxiety” before each quarterly tests. I was surprised to notice that unlike earlier rounds of testing, this time I had no anxiety at all in the weeks and days leading up to my scans on February 5. I had a sense that God was reminding me of his promises to “make the way straight” and that I could relax and let him take care of things. Whew! What a shock just 5 days later, to get the test results. Yikes! There was one large baseball sized tumor and multiple smaller ones scattered throughout my pelvis and abdomen… all of which had grown in the three months since the last clear scan in November.

The past month has been crazy–with doctor visits, consultation with a surgeon, and decisions to make about which treatment option makes most sense to us as well as contacting family and friends to let them know what is happening . Last week I started “Cancer School” as a patient in a medication trial. That’s where this blog begins.

cancer patient with companion stuffed sloth

Thanks for taking time to catch up on my history via this back story! Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini-updates plus links to the pages listed below
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini-updates archived in one place; and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.


If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up for email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

First Day of Cancer School

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 was my first day of Cancer School. Yes, I’ve had surgery to remove tumors twice in the past 2+ years. But this was different. Somehow, spending a day in the treatment center to take my first medication through a clinical trial, followed by labs every few hours, was hard to bear emotionally and mentally. I really AM a cancer patient. This really IS serious.

First things first—I am NOT doing chemo at this point. I was accepted into a Phase 1 Trial for a very tightly targeted medication. I will take pills twice a day at home, with weekly visits to have lab work done. Unlike chemo, there have been very few side effects noted so far with those already in the study. Here’s my “handbook” for Cancer School with everything I need to know about being in a clinical trial for treatment.

Here are my notes from my first day of Cancer School. I include schedule, activities, thoughts, and various ponderings from throughout the day. Randy drove me to the hospital and stayed with me for the exceedingly long day.

We leave home at 6:15am. I have to be fasting—no food and, worse yet, NO COFFEE. (Why yes, I was indeed grumpy. Why do you ask?!)

On the hour drive to the big city, we talk about some of the realities of what we are facing—possible worst case, better case, and hoped-for best-case outcomes. It is kinda scary that within the next few weeks we will more clearly know which is likely to be true for me. We REALLY need this med to be effective!

Here is the traditional photo of the student on the first day at a new school. With my cuddly companion, Sassem the Sloth, of course.

the James Cancer Hospital; OSU medical center; First Day of Cancer School; Cancer Journey

7:30am: all signed in, heading upstairs to the Clinical Treatment Unit. Yikes! This is real.

Paperwork, more paperwork, forms, questions, more forms, informational handouts, more questions… sigh… I think a forest was killed for all the paper used today.

The nurse gets a vein on the first try (yay!) and inserts a line to hopefully be used throughout the day to draw blood for required labs. Once the first labs come back within normal ranges, my doc comes in to talk with us. He checks on how I’m doing, answers questions we have, laughs at my Art Journal pages about his words from an earlier visit. As always, he gives us the feeling that he has all the time in the world to spend with us—even though he is a busy specialist. He signs off—treatment is a go! Meds are ordered from the pharmacy, more fasting bloodwork is taken for the study, and I finally get breakfast and coffee. Ahhhhh….

I’m here for the rest of the day, with more blood draws at various intervals for study purposes. Over the 10 hours we are here, they will collect 18 vials of blood. At least I requested a bed to lounge in rather than a chair. And I’ve got the bonus of windows with a view. (Please don’t remind me that it is a beautiful, warm sunny day outside while I’m cooped up in here…)

lego mini fig; James Cancer Hospital; OSU Medical Center; City Views

10:00am: I take the first 4 pills of what will hopefully allow me to coexist with this cancer for the very long term…

The chaplain comes in to introduce himself. He asks how we are doing. I respond with a laugh, “Considering what we are facing, we are doing Fahbulous! We only cry every few minutes.” We end up talking together for quite a long time. He asks such good questions and opens doors to help us as we continue to process what this cancer recurrence means—individually, as a couple, as a family.

12:00pm: blood draw #4 for the study. Randy gets himself a lovely, healthy salad from the bistro downstairs. He offers to buy me the same, but I just want “comfort food.” Chips and a chicken salad sandwich with my usual half sweet iced tea taste delicious.

After lunch, I put the head of my bed down and doze for awhile. Early mornings, emotional stress, and boredom have caught up with me.

Another blood draw at 2:00pm. It’s a challenge for the nurse to get blood out of the pic line…but it’s still holding so far. One more draw in another four hours. Sure hope the line is still usable then. I HATE repeated sticks when they struggle to get a good vein.

Time for some art journaling, snacks, texts and planning what additional pages I want to add to this website/Heath Adventures. By now, both of us are weary—not just physically tired, but deeply drained after an emotionally difficult day. I didn’t expect the first day of Cancer School to be so hard! This is not something I ever wanted to go through…

The final blood draw close to 6:00pm was a challenge. The line didn’t want to give those last few vials of blood, but the nurse was persistent. Whew! Done for the day!

We pack up our belongings, and head home. I have all the meds needed for the next four weeks. After two hectic days at the hospital, I think I will just lay around for the next few days. I need the rest.


(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

Homeschooling by the Numbers

I’m not a math fan or a statistics geek, but I find it interesting to read summaries of topics, broken down by the numbers. In previous posts, I have explained lessons we learned in 28 years of homeschooling. (HERE and HERE) I also asked my grown kids to share their thoughts looking back on their home education experiences. (HERE) I decided to conclude this series by presenting homeschooling by the numbers for the high school years. As you see the many different ways in which we kept seven children motivated and learning (over 32 years of guiding our children’s education), I hope you will be encouraged to creatively pursue the best schooling options for your family and for your individual children. By the way, unlike some families, we never set out to homeschool our children for most of their education. We kept choosing this option year after year when it seemed to be the best fit for the next school year and the next.

With each transcript written and submitted for college applications, I include an up to date “School Profile.” For high school graduation, each child chooses the name of “their” school, to be used on their diploma, their transcript, and their class ring. Our homeschool has been listed as Maple Ridge Academy, Parkdale Academy, and, most recently, Forest Academy. I pulled the following information from the 2020 School Profile for Forest Academy:

homeschool student, international travel, london


Forest Academy has been educating secondary students since 1996 under the home education regulations of the State of Ohio. This school specializes in coordinating interest led programs and international learning experiences. To date, 6 students have graduated with honors, 2 students were enrolled for 1-3 years only, and 1 student is currently enrolled.

This “Vision Statement” for Forest Academy is “to maximize student potential by providing a challenging learning environment which integrates academic coursework with real-world experience to support students in developing their individual interests and abilities.”


  • English               4 credits*
  • Math                   3 credits
  • History               3 credits
  • Science               3 credits
  • Health/PE         2 credits
  • Foreign Lang   2 credits
  • Electives            5 credits

To graduate from Forest Academy, a minimum of 22 credits must be completed, including at least one semester of concurrent high school/college courses or enrollment in a career program. A Senior Exit Portfolio is also required for graduation. The portfolio includes a resume; strengths assessment; summaries of career and interest explorations; and examples of academic achievement. (*Credits are awarded based on the ‘Carnegie Credit’ system in which approximately 120 hours of work equals one full course on that subject, signified by a “credit.”)


infographic, homeschooling by the numbers


We used a wide variety of methods to keep our kids motivated and learning year by year. Occasionally, we made changes between semesters if something was not working effectively. At one point we were preparing to move abroad. If we had done so, our children would have attended boarding school. Our schooling styles have included:

  • Homeschooling, structured curriculum
  • Homeschooling, parent led co-op (each teaches the subjects they are best at)
  • Homeschooling, but kids attend classes with certified teachers twice a week
  • Homeschooling, everyone in the house learns the same topics at the same time (Mayan civilization! The Solar System! Geometry!) with activities scaled to different ages
  • Homeschooling, mom gathers resources/writes curriculum
  • Homeschooling, older children write the curriculum
  • Homeschooling, students teach themselves from videos or from the teacher’s book
  • Public schooling, full-time
  • Public schooling, for select classes or extracurriculars
  • Public schooling, in and out based on a child’s disability
  • Public on-line charter schooling
  • Private schooling
  • Schooling on the road, while traveling across the US or backpacking in the woods
  • Schooling around a child’s training for a national sport
  • Early/concurrent enrollment in college classes or career program
passions,  raptor rehab, yorkshire


One reason we continue to homeschool our children is that it gives our family the freedom to blend education with real world experiences. As I have explained in previous posts, individualized learning takes much less time than large group, mass education. This means more time is available in the day for students to participate in many extra-curricular activities.

In the primary grades, we helped each child explore individual interests. By the time they were in their teen years, we facilitated the pursuit of current passions. Forest Academy has offered a wide range of student activities, utilizing student associations, community organizations, and participation in local public-school programs. Each student is required to participate in at least one community volunteer program as well. As you see by the following list, our children have followed many different interests:

  • Backpacking Club
  • Basketball
  • CATCO is Kids (Theater/Acting)
  • Chess Club
  • Christian Youth Groups
  • Community Sports Leagues
  • COSI Museum Docents
  • COSI Science Academy
  • Falconry Club
  • FIRST Robotics Club
  • 4-H Clubs
  • International Culture Club
  • Interscholastic Women’s Basketball
  • Jr Ranger (National Park Service program)
  • Lake Erie Nature & Science Center (Animal Care Volunteer)
  • Latin Club
  • Literary Magazine
  • Music Club
  • Mustang Camp (training wild horses)
  • National Honor Society
  • Ohio Youth Leadership Forum (delegate/peer mentor)
  • Photography Club
  • Rock Climbing Club
  • Shane Center for Therapeutic Horsemanship (rider/volunteer)
  • Ski Club
  • Strongsville Skating Club (USFSA Competitive Figure Skating)
  • Student Council
  • Summer Camps (Jr & Sr Counselors)
  • Tae-Kwon-Do Club
  • Thespian Society
  • Video Club


It is important for each family to choose the best schooling options to meet their own values and needs. If your family is more comfortable following the standard education patterns of our society, wonderful! But if you long for other options, I hope you can see from this homeschooling by the numbers post that there is no need to stay trapped in a box of formal, by-the-book education. With the current chaos in our world because of Covid-19, this might be an ideal year to dabble in something different, knowing you can always return to school-as-normal if that turns out to be best for your family. Whatever you choose, know that I am cheering you on!

Feel free to comment below if you have further questions or if you would like to arrange a way to brainstorm together about options which would work for you and your family situation.

For further reading about our homeschooling journey in the past few years, click HERE. Read the story of my friend’s interest-led learning experiences with her oldest daughter HERE. Read  more about recent graduations in our family HERE (Yes, homeschooling is successful for most students…)

Homeschool Reflections

We have been guiding our children’s educational experiences for 32 years. We have been (mostly) homeschooling for the past 28 years. It has been interesting to take time to explore the homeschool reflections for each of us. I know many folks who are considering homeschooling or are in the early years are worried about the long-term impact on their kids. I hope these summaries are of encouragement!

Our eldest daughter CM started me down this road of retrospection with a post she made on Facebook recently. She told the following story, followed by a comment thread discussing her homeschool experiences. She wrote: “I laughed when I read the news today about a kid who finished his remote schooling by 9am, frustrating his working parents. For a while, my brother woke at five, carefully finished all his homeschool readings, writing assignments, and tests, and then sat there calmly eating cereal when I awoke at eight. He grinned at me because *he* was done for the day, and I hadn’t started.”

family history, homeschool reflections

Thoughts from Parents

We never set out to teach our kids at home. Even after starting to homeschool, it has remained a year by year, even semester by semester decision based on what we thought was best for individual children and for the family as a whole. If you had told me that we would still be doing this almost 3 decades later, I would have said you were crazy!

When we were in the middle of this adventure, I was uncertain, frustrated, and overwhelmed at times, just like every mom. As the primary “teacher,” I was sometimes impatient, occasionally demanding, and often too lax, depending on the moment. I regret the times I misunderstood or overlooked struggles and wish I could go back and give each child better life skills to deal with those things. Overall, we hoped our kids would become avid learners, independent thinkers, and successful adults. So far, that has been true for the grown kids, with just one still at home.

From our vantage point today, looking back, we see the benefits of homeschooling. Our kids had longitudinal relationships with their siblings and each one’s learning was influenced by the interests and activities of the others. Freedom was a constant—identifying passions and not accepting “rules” as barriers; allowing flexibility in schedules and choice in activities; and helping each child learn within their strengths and (hopefully) cope with their challenges. For me with my nomadic heart and love of outdoors, homeschooling also allowed our family to wander during less busy, non-traditional-vacation times of the year.

As we talked about our homeschool reflections, my husband noted that the passions each child pursued in middle adolescence can still be seen in the work or hobbies they pursue today. I wonder if this would still be true if our kids had been focused on friends and busy with succeeding at traditional mass education during those formative years.

There are plenty of stories written and shared by parents. What follows is the summarized comments gathered informally in conversation with each of our now grown children. I asked them to share what they remember as being effective, enjoyable, or memorable about their homeschooling journey. I also invited them to share what was difficult. For the most part, the ideas are theirs while the writing style is mine. These snippets were fascinating to me… hopefully they are encouraging to you, as well!

CM – eldest daughter, our “guinea pig”

We started homeschooling when this child was in third grade. In her teen years, CM was interested in research, cultures, and costumes. A summer in Central Asia reinforced these interests. Today she is a University Anthropology Librarian, still fascinated by travel and studying other cultures.

The most memorable [thing] for me was probably in high school when I was challenged to write out a light curriculum — e.g. to research and put together a sequence of learning activities to teach my siblings about Inca, Maya, and Aztec societies. I seem to recall looking at the learning exercises we had for other topics and then researching these settings to see how I could create games and exercises to teach others. It stretched my brain in a new way, which is probably why I still remember it.

I also appreciated homeschool groups where we could learn from different adults, and do presentations / activities with kids in other families. I guess that while on the one hand I was an independent learner who could be impatient with others, looking back I also appreciated seeing how others were doing and how they approached learning.

Both had me reflecting on my own learning in relationship to others, which might have been why they made a more lasting impression than all the other information absorbed / papers written.”

RK – eldest son, 16 mos younger than his sister, a fellow “guinea pig”

We brought this son home from public school the year after his sister. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of teaching him the exact same third grade curriculum CM and I had just finished, that second year of homeschooling I taught fourth grade to both of them while chasing their younger siblings. In teen years, RK was a “Renaissance Guy,” diving deeply into a wide array of passions and activities. RK just completed his PhD and is job hunting—hoping to find a career which allows him to synthesize his many interests under the umbrella of political theory.

RK comments that “self-directed education worked really well for ME, but I wouldn’t recommend it for very many others” who might not get a well-rounded education. He preferred to get up by 6 am when it was quiet so he could do his work away from others. He remembers that every time we went to the library, the kids were urged to choose books that caught their attention. RK says this reinforced and strengthened his innate wide range of interests.

RC – second son, third child, helped “break the mold” for his younger siblings

Of all our kids, RC spent the most time bouncing between homeschool and various types of formal school settings. We weren’t yet comfortable with a significantly alternative, interest-led course of study, so it was hard to meet his needs for action and kinesthetic learning. RC frequently created his own hands-on projects to reinforce what he was learning. In addition, he spent time with mentors to learn auto mechanics, auto body repair, home maintenance, and woodworking while in high school. Today RC has moved into management, doing workforce (data) analytics (a different kind of hands-on work). He has a full woodshop in his garage and enjoys the occasional project as a hobby.

RC points out that a significant benefit of homeschooling is learning in a way that is appropriate for the developmental level of individual students. He gave the example of being allowed to HATE math and quit after he completed Algebra. Because he wasn’t forced to continue, he came back to it when he was ready and now has a heavily math-focused career. At the same time, RC notes that it is important to have rigor in certain subjects. He says that one of the most important things in ANY education curriculum is writing. He points out that getting good at writing allows and prepares you to voice your thoughts and defend your thesis with supporting arguments. Both math and reading are significant for critical thinking.

RC argues that a love of reading is the third pillar of a strong educational foundation. For him, homeschooling allowed the flexibility to fundamentally enjoy reading while absorbing new things. He says reading needs to be both a passion and a tool—neither of which will happen if reading is simply an assignment followed by writing reports or taking tests for no clear reason.

RC also has some helpful observations about the potential risks of homeschooling. He has seen peers who went off the rails when they hit college—having been overly sheltered from both society and relationships while homeschooling. In addition, RC comments that schooling students effectively is hard, trying to find a balance between being too aggressive/pushing too hard for excellence versus being too lax with expectations. This is difficult enough for teachers in schools. For parents, it is even harder trying to find a healthy balance for education while being both parent and teacher. He sees co-operative teaching models for homeschooling as an effective way to make this juggling act more sustainable.

JT – second daughter, fourth child, solidly in the middle of the family

JT attended the local public school for 3rd grade. By the end of that year, she saw reading as a dreaded chore. It took her a few more years before she started reading for pleasure again. Seeing how mass education killed her love of learning reinforced for us the significance of interest led learning in homeschooling.  In her teen years, JT discovered falconry. Over the years, she volunteered for raptor rehab centers in many different locations, including spending time at a falconry centre in England during high school. By the time she was ready to apply for college, we had finally learned to present our homeschooled kids as unique individuals with broad interests rather than cookie-cutter clones of the traditional education system. After college, JT considered becoming an avian veterinarian, but decided to pursue a degree in Pharmacy instead. I suspect birds will again be part of her life as a hobby in the future!

As she shared her homeschool reflections, JT remembers our focus as a family on big over-arching projects with lots of smaller interest-led projects done by individual siblings. She comments that this worked well with how she has learned ever since: as a pattern learner she does best when she can interact with both the big and the small parts of a subject at the same time.

JT points out that she has much more vivid memories of the major projects we did rather than any of the school-type learning she covered. As she says, it was also much more fun showing off these projects to others! Memorable units for her included mapping the Solar System in our street (and eating yummy food at our celebration party!); writing our own Magic School Bus book about the Mayan world, and studying Conquistadors and Explorers during the fall we lived in Florida. She also enjoyed the years that we frequently went to COSI (the local science center) when her older siblings volunteered there each week.

JOE—third son, fifth child, “bridge” between the “big kids” and the “little kids”

Like his eldest brother, JOE tended to dive deeply into interests, then move on to other things. He was a competitive Figure Skater, a year-round sport which consumes many hours per day for practice. Homeschooling was ideal for fitting learning into this demanding schedule. By the time he was doing school, we were fully focused on individual, personalized learning. He spent free time playing an online game and taught himself Spanish so he could play on that server. He refused to do much math, until his mid-teens when he moved through algebra to calculus in just a handful of semesters. Sadly, he died when he was not quite 16 years old.

family portrait

JK – fourth son, sixth child, his role in the family often changed!

Because of the gap between the two groups of siblings, after JOE died, JK took on the role of older brother to his little sister. During his formative years, we were on the road: traveling across the USA and up to Alaska in an RV and living with the Navajo in New Mexico. He spent part of one year living in a remote area and helping to tame/train wild mustangs before we moved back to middle America suburbia.  JK chose to head back west for college. Today he is a technician in a BioRepository (archiving and preparing shipments of tissue samples for research). He is still a sojourner, not yet certain of his place in the world.

JK says that he thinks homeschooling was beneficial and helpful overall. He comments, “I could pursue areas I enjoyed, and it was focused toward my own learning pace.” He remembers so many good, wonderful experiences, including wandering the US and working at Mustang Camp.

JK observes that the homeschooling he experienced was different than that of his older siblings. Looking back, he notes that homeschooling contributed to some of the biggest challenges he has faced in life. He wishes he had learned and practiced stronger writing skills. He points out that “it was great to work within my strengths, but [we] didn’t push as much as I needed where I was weak.” And he found the social aspects to be challenging since we moved so often which meant he had less opportunity to learn and practice social relationships, patterns and skills.

AP – third daughter, seventh child – yep, she’s the “baby” of the family!

AP is 18 years younger than her oldest sibling and was born when both CM and RK were already in college. From a young age, AP has thrived on change and excitement and has enjoyed costumes, acting and roleplaying. She is highly intelligent but struggles with academics because of developmental disabilities. She was just 7 years old when our family began to wander. She prefers to be outdoors, including collecting Jr Ranger badges in National Parks and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. She starts a landscape design program at the local career center this fall, hoping to eventually find an outdoor career in a park department or forest service.

AP explains that all the traveling we did in the RV, in Alaska, and in other countries “made me more interested and curious about history and the environment wherever I go.” She feels like homeschooling was helpful because if she had been in a regular school, we wouldn’t have been able to travel. She notes that the freedom she had with the family to personally wander and explore wouldn’t have been possible on school outings.

AP says sometimes she wishes she hadn’t been in public school for 6th and 7th grades. She hated the drama, bullying, and the resulting trauma she still deals with. But she also notes that this time taught her what school was like and it taught her how to find the good in other people. She summarizes her homeschool experience this way:

“I’m glad you did it! I would be a very different person now if I hadn’t been homeschooled.”

AP, our youngest child

If you identify with this lifestyle, I would love to hear YOUR homeschool reflections about the benefits and challenges of your education. Please share in the comments below…

For other information-based posts about homeschooling, please read 10 Myths of Homeschooling HERE and learn about getting started with homeschooling HERE.

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