Ten years ago, in December 2001, I spent the holiday season at home recovering from surgery for a radical hysterectomy. A month earlier, in November, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Thankfully, I have a great ob-gyn who made a quick, accurate diagnosis and caught the cancer in the early stage. After my surgery on December 2, 2001, I went through six weeks of radiation treatment, and have been cancer-free ever since.
While I was home recovering from the surgery, I got the chance to cool my jets and catch up on my reading. I in a cancer magazine about Fran Drescher’s two-year struggle through eight different doctors to find out that she was suffering from the same cancer that I had. We were both in our early 40s when we were diagnosed, which is considered to be a young age to have this type of cancer, so I do not take my quick diagnosis and treatment for granted. I also discovered the riotously hilarious work of Carl Hiaasen when a friend of mine gave me his novel, Sick Puppy, and now I’m a rabid fan of his books.
But the most important piece that I read during my time at home was the latest issue of the Communique, the newspaper from Local 1180 of CWA, the union that represents my title. If I hadn’t been home recovering from surgery, paper would’ve been thrown on a pile somewhere until it had gotten high enough for me to bundle the whole thing up and throw it into the recycling bin. Since I was home with nothing but time on my hands, I read the paper from cover to cover, and learned about a unique college program for returning adults: The Center for Worker Education at the City College of New York.
Before my diagnosis, I had finally decided to go back to school and get my bachelor’s degree. The first time that I attended college in 1976, I was enrolled as a theory and composition major at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. But my mother had lost her job, so I dropped out after the first semester so that I could find work to help out the family. After being a working gal for so many years, and raising a family of my own, I figured that it was time to fulfill some of my life goals. At the point when I decided to return to school, I had been working for the City for over ten years, and wondered if I should invest in getting a degree in public administration, or go back to studying music or liberal arts, which I had studied since the age of seven. And I was just about to settle for a bachelor degree program in public administration, which was sponsored by the union and offered free tuition, with the rationale that I’d been working long enough for the City that I should make this my field of study.
Once I was home and read about the program at CWE, where I could get a liberal arts degree with a concentration in communications and literature, I decided to enroll right away. Other strong points was that the courses are structured so that you can attend full-time by taking just three classes a semester; the classes met in the evenings and on the weekends; and a Life Experience Program.
My enrollment at the Center for Worker Education at City College turned out to one of the best decisions I ever made. It took me seven years, taking two classes per semester on a part-time basis. In 2009, I got my bachelor’s degree, graduating Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
The holiday cards that I received from family and friends while I was home recuperating turned into an art project for one of my classes. And I wrote an essay about my recovery entitled “Men Will Pause” for my Autobiography class (read the essay: Men Will Pause).
On one of my follow-up visits to the hospital, I drew a tile as part of an art project for cancer survivors. The work is on display in the Radiation Oncology area of the Long Island College Hospital’s Othmer Cancer Center. My tile is near the bottom left.
Here is a close-up shot of my tile:
So while the holidays for some may be a shop-’til-you-drop exercise in keeping up with the latest must-haves, for me it will always be a time to reflect on the ways that the negatives of life can turn out to be positives with the love of family and friends.