Writing My Own Lyrics

This year so far has been a year of loss for me. And that’s been hard. The grief of losing things that held a lot of significance or hope for me has been a long road. But this morning I realized that around the same time my grandmother passed away, a new life came into my life — in the form of a nephew.

Before anyone has a heart attack, he’s not a biological nephew. One of my good friends had a baby in April, and I’ve become Auntie Abigail to her toddler and to her new baby. This new baby, Henrik, has reminded me that with each end comes a new beginning.

I was trying to get little Henrik to get to sleep today, so I sang this new nursery rhyme that I wrote. It’s to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb.” The new words: “Henrik had a teddy bear, teddy bear, teddy bear,/ Henrik had a teddy bear whose fur was white as snow./ And everywhere that Henrik went, Henrik went, Henrik went,/ And everywhere that Henrik went, the bear was sure to go.” It was so much fun.

Baby Henrik has a white teddy bear that’s pretty much as big as he is. And he likes it when I sing the song and bounce the teddy along with it.

Sometimes it’s the little things that take our breath away. They make for some great memories. Something I don’t want to forget, no matter how silly it is.

Abigail

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Was there any warning?

It was just another Lord’s Day morning meeting. Well, maybe not just any meeting. I have to admit, I was sort of having a panic attack again. So during the sharing, I wasn’t really paying attention. Until Grandpa stood up to share. He got really excited. He had different sections stand up and repeat what he was saying. It was all really exciting… until he fell over onto the floor. Yeah. Dramatic.


I went to the ER to keep his wife company. I guess I feel pretty comfortable in medical settings these days, and I figured that it can be helpful to have someone young there who can get food from the vending machine or track down a cup of water, etc. Mostly I just didn’t want her to be alone. I know that sitting in an exam room waiting for things to happen is the loneliest feeling.

At one point, an ER doctor came by and asked Grandpa if there was any warning sign that he was going to pass out. His wife said, well, she heard the defibrillator kick in at the same time that he passed out. (He has an implanted one. It probably saved his life.) And Grandpa said, No. One second he was talking in church, and the next second he was on the ground.

No one asked me anything, but I couldn’t help but add to the conversation. Actually, there was about five seconds notice. He put his hand on Joseph’s shoulder. And then he fell. Backwards. Everyone looked at me and suddenly remembered that that had happened.

Which meant that he felt lightheaded. Which means that he passed out because his heart rate went to zero (not because he became too agitated.) That one little piece of information gave the doctor enough data to check a few additional things. And later when a resident read the data off the defibrillator, it confirmed my observation.

The boy says that I have a knack for observing small details. Perhaps I do. I like to think that that’s what a historian does all day — make sense out of nonsense by keeping track of details and optimizing them. But I think part of it is also those days and years spent in doctor’s offices. That gave me the courage to speak out. Just in case that additional information mattered. Because every piece of data is important… even something contributed by the designated “silent” friend in the room.

So grateful that my patient experiences are being put to good use and that Grandpa is going to be okay,
Abigail Cashelle

A Fresh Start

I’ve been waiting a LONG time to write this post because it just seemed all too good to be true. :::::DRUMROLL::::: I am officially a third year graduate student in history, taking classes, studying for comprehensive exams, writing a dissertation proposal, and on track to be ABD* soon.

I honestly never thought this day would come, or at least, only thought this day would come in a dream world. But it’s real. I’m here, back in the same program, picking up more or less where I left off. Of course, some things have changed. I’m doing better physically. I have much more teaching experience. I know what I want out of the program. Plus, I have a new adviser who is really smart but also generous. He’s also very excited about my project, and we’ve made a lot of progress already considering class has only been in session for 6 days.

I love studying and thinking about grand thoughts, but I honestly miss teaching already. I miss the interaction with students, seeing those lightbulb moments, and wish I had more time in the classroom organizing activities that have definite purposes instead of just marking time. But I have a first year graduate student who has requested to shadow me, so perhaps that will give me an opportunity to walk into the teacher role again. We start tomorrow with office hours!!

Grappling with the dissertation topic again is hard, mostly because I’ve been away for over two years. I haven’t thought about these issues for a long time. Reading some secondary literature last week, I stumbled across the term “millennialism”. Now I used to know not just what that meant, but also what the different schools of millennialism were and how each of them were associated with different expectations of family, responsibility, society, slavery, etc. It’s taking time to refresh everything that I do know. So part of it has been adjusting to being a student. Part of it is about adjusting to being back.

Besides that, being back has been hard. Being in graduate school at the stage I’m in is very fast paced. I’m supposed to read something like 50 books this semester, which is kind of ridiculous, especially when you pair that with the fact that I’m taking two classes and TAing and also polishing a dissertation prospectus. Add to that the fact that I also have a life outside of school, and you’ve got an Abigail pulled in seventeen directions. It’s not just the fact that I want to be active in church and have time for my hobbies or just want to sit down and read about Kate Middleton for a second. It’s also the fact that I have to get a new driver’s license and deal with my car insurance and worry about not having the proper furniture, etc. Plus, throw on top of that the fact that router decides to stop working or one of the toilets in our apartment just decided to spontaneous flood the entire bathroom for no reason, and I have to drop whatever things I’m trying to do and attend to that.

A lot of my old friends are here, which has been helpful. And I’ve been meeting new people. Timothy & Grace have moved, but Aaron’s still here. He’s married now with a baby, so that’s exciting. Joseph and Erica are still here, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time with them already. Diana’s still here; she was actually scheduled to spend a large portion of the term abroad, but those planned were nixed at the last minute, so she’s actually in my neck of the woods. I wish Tabitha was here, but her little brother just started school down the road, so he’s a pretty good substitute.** And all my doctors are still here — Drs. Mark, Leo, Samuel, Harold. It’s nice to have some grounding.

It’s definitely going to be quite the ride, but I’m excited overall.

Abigail Cashelle

*grad school has its own nicknames for everything; ABD stands for “all but dissertation”.

**hopefully that’ll be more than wishful thinking

A New Month, A New Personality Test

because why not?

I saw this on one of my friend’s facebook page. Sometimes it seems like these apps are like fortune telling, but it was pretty fun. Here’s what I got:

AbigailCashelle Molly  MiltonEeyoreEven more interesting is that when I put my real first and middle name into the personality tester, it gives me the exact same results as Eeyore (and Milton). (My last name gives me the same result as Abigail.) So either the test only has a few results OR I’m just very good at selecting pen names. You decide.

Abigail Cashelle

P.S. You can test things out for yourself also!

Milton made me a friend

In the course of the day, I interact with a lot of people, especially on days when I’m working retail. The store I work at emphasizes connecting with customers, and I do my best to try to make people feel like they matter and that they are contributing to my day. Because they really are. Part of why this job has been so good for me has been the positive energy that just comes from interacting with people.

As I was helping one customer, I noticed that her daughter was carrying a stuffed bunny. It’s different for children to be carrying stuffed animals when they’re taller than the countertop, but even I use Molly & Milton & Eeyore as security objects to survive medical settings and transit stations, so I understand that these objects have their place. Anyhow, I noticed that the bunny she had looked exactly like Milton. It was literally the same size and the same shape and the same color. I’d never seen anyone else with a bunny like that before.

So I just told this little girl that I had the exact same bunny as her. She thought that was really cool. I asked her if her bunny had a name and she said his name was Brownie. Since she was shy but obviously interested in the conversation, her mom asked what my bunny’s name was. I said Milton. That’s when I saw the big smile on her face. She told me that the Easter Bunny brought her Brownie. Did the Easter Bunny bring me Milton? I told her, No. I got Milton for Christmas (from Tabitha).*

She thought that was great. We had matching bunnies that celebrated special occasions. And it made my day. Watching her smile. Knowing that sharing something so small was so important to her. Having the time to be part of her world. And feeling cherished that it mattered to her that I shared something with her.

Abigail

*Now that I check the records, it seems that Tabitha gave me Milton for my birthday. I remembered the Tabitha part, but I wasn’t too sure about the when part….

the tables have turned (in a good way)

Now that I’m on faculty at a university (can we just pause and reflect on how amazing that is??), I have a student in my class with a significant chronic illness. She came up to me with some paperwork from the Disability Office asking for some specific accommodations. Now accommodations are annoying to teachers, and I get why. You have some great plan and vision for your class, and all of a sudden some random person comes up to you and says, Sorry. Mandatory change of plans.

But I looked at her sheet and listened to what she had to say and realized that she wasn’t asking for a whole lot. In fact, she was asking for exactly what I asked the ravenous lion for on my very first encounter. She asked for a flexible attendance policy. Attendance is mandatory in my class. You can miss up to 3 classes penalty-free, and attendance counts as 10% of the grade. That’s bad news if you have an unpredictable chronic illness.

What made me really happy was that I was able to sit down with the student and talk through some of the logistics with her. I told her that I was more than happy to give her the full 10% as long as she realized that she was fully responsible for all the content in the class. If she missed a lot of classes, it would be a huge challenge to pass the class. (So it doesn’t really give her much of an advantage.)

But mostly we just talked about life with a chronic illness. I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to know about her illness, anything that I could do to make things easier or intervene in the case of an emergency. I told her that I myself have a chronic illness and am familiar with how scary that can seem to other people. And that secret made her really happy.

She said that most people are freaked out when they find out that she’s not healthy and immediately want her to vanish. And so she spends a lot of time thinking about accidentally making other people feel uncomfortable and how she can avoid that. She was really happy to meet a teacher who felt comfortable talking to her about it and who was immediately on her side. She said that she felt so much safer in the class.

I’m so happy that she found me approachable and understanding. I’m still really nervous about my illness and my lack of a Ph.D. in the department and haven’t told anyone at this university about my illness besides her. I know exactly how she feels because I live in that exact same world. But I’m glad that I could make her feel a little more at home in school. And it gives me a comrade too. Someone else who knows that I’m also struggling some and that sometimes, things are not what they appear.

Abigail

Honored to be Chosen…

as the Advocate of the Month for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.

Briefly, succinctly, mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs and/or abdomen. It’s primarily a result of exposure to asbestos but can take many, many years to surface.

I wrote a little bit more about Robert and tried to add a whimsical twist to the story. If you know me in real life, you know that I like to tease people that the mere fact that they are tall makes them special. Come to think of it, I think my fascination with Robert and Matthew’s height started it all.

I only have a few memories of life before age 5 — being chased by a goose, my best friend’s family moving to Russia, and Matthew and Robert. Matthew and Robert are memorable because they were tall, so tall in fact that they were the only two people in my whole church who had to duck to fit through a doorway….

Read more: http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/warrior/advocate-of-the-month-july-2014.htm#ixzz36YvEqxLD

Abigail Cashelle

CPBC: The Fault in Our Stars

Molly and I snuck out tonight and saw a movie. I’d been hoping to do something really grand for the 4th like go to a waterpark or visit some friends. But my hip is majorly hurting me, it was supposed to be storming, and my friends are (mostly) out of town. So a movie it was.

We saw The Fault in Our Stars based on the novel by John Green. It was beautiful, very heartfelt with really amazing acting.

The premise goes something like this: a teenage girl has been diagnosed with terminal cancer… in her lungs which makes it difficult to breathe. She’s convinced that the only point to life is to make her parents happy because if she dies, the meaning of their life will die with her. Her mom forces her to go to a cancer support group meeting week after week where she meets this teenage boy. She falls for him because he’s handsome and smart and kind of dangerous (and oh he also has cancer but he’s in remission.) The story follows them as they fall in love and are destined to live happily ever after until cancer gets in the way of destiny. Something like that.

I like movies about characters struggling with illness because it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about. The Fault in Our Stars has some amazing jokes about being a chronic patient that are really relatable, like how people always tell you that you are brave for living with illness (is living with an illness a choice?) and you’re strong for saving that this pain is only 9 out of 10 (when all you’re thinking is how is pain quantifiable? and there has to be something worse than this even though you really wish there wasn’t.) The problem is that they tend to have cheesy endings. And usually someone ends up dead. Like A Walk to Remember or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. And it’s all about survivor guilt and the legacy that people leave when they succumb to illness. Or Dear John or The Vow where the premise seems to be about letting go of the past you can’t change and holding on to the hope of the future. They make for great movies but rather cheesy realities. Even though some of them are based on the lives of real people.

TThe Fault in Our Stars has its fair share of movie stereotypes. But it has sufficient redeeming moments to make it worth watching.

  • Like the moment when Hazel confronts her parents about their motivation behind her positive prognosis. It turns into a conversation about how her mom is going to continue to live a purposeful life even after she dies.
  • Or when Hazel tells her dad that it’s not fair to Gus to be his girlfriend, and her dad tells her that it’s not fair to be her parents either and that they’re thinking of abandoning her on the sidewalk outside an orphanage and just walking away so they can live the life that they were supposed to live. For reals. Not even kidding.
  • Or what it means when two (or three) broken people support each other and lean on each other and face their fears together.
  • Or what happens (spoiler alert) when someone dies, and it’s not the person that was “supposed” to die. What does it mean to walk in the shadow of death? How does a dying person survive?
  • Why is it that the simple platitudes that are all around us never seem to bring us any comfort? At “that person’s” funeral, Hazel makes a comment that funerals are really to comfort the living, not to speak to the dead. And sometimes that means ignoring the truth and sugarcoating the past because it’s easier to swallow.

Oh, and the best part, egging the car!! Because I’ve definitely like shattering something. (But the stupid chronic fatigue syndrome keeps me from ever actually getting out and being destructive.) And because the last I thought of when he said, Do you have $5? was that that they were going to egg a car. Plus the line: Between us, we have five legs, four eyes, two and a half pairs of working lungs, and two dozen eggs. So I would suggest you get out of the way.

There were definitely parts of the movie I didn’t understand. And parts of the movie that I would have left out. But I could feel that the movie (or the storyline at least) was written by someone who had passed through the loss that comes with chronic illness and comes before death. And now that I think about it, it makes sense. John and Hank Green are a working example of two brothers supporting each other, making up for each other’s deficiencies, and supporting each other’s curiosities. Hank’s been very frank about his long journey with Crohn’s disease and the way in which society affects us and we them. It’s lovely to see John’s perspective on the issue, particularly in the form of entertainment.

I might just have to start reading the book! Molly, I sense a visit to the library or the bookstore in the very near future.

Abigail

The Provider

Kelly suggested that I look into yet another personality test, so I took the 120 question over at learnmyself.com. It’s unbelievably accurate, just like she said. Except for one thing. It says that I turn my nose up at the arts. And I feel incredibly the opposite about arts.

Abigail-personality-test

I think this description captures me to a T:

You do not experience strong, irresistible cravings and consequently do not find yourself tempted to overindulge; however, high levels of stress can lead to you feeling panic or confusion, but usually you cope with day to day pressures. You tend to feel overwhelmed by, and therefore actively avoid, large crowds. You often need privacy and time for yourself. You prefer the security and stability brought by conformity to tradition. You find helping other people genuinely rewarding and are generally willing to assist those who are in need. You find that doing things for others is a form of self-fulfilment rather than self-sacrifice; however, you are willing to take credit for good things that you do but you don’t often talk yourself up much. You take your time when making decisions and will deliberate on all the possible consequences and alternatives.

Some more food for thought.

Abigail

In Honor of Robert & Heather

It’s interesting how citizenship in the kingdom of the sick works. Almost always you get inducted without permission (or even your knowledge) and citizenship is irrevocable. With time comes knowledge that only an insider can gain. As time passes, one becomes more and more connected to other citizens even if your journey to citizenship is vastly different.

I write today as part of the effort to give a voice to those who have fallen victim to asbestos poisoning. Heather asked me to spread the word about mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. What she didn’t know was how close to home this hits.

As a young high schooler, it was my first real connection with death and mortality. I remember visiting my friend’s house one summer and spending a lot of time with her family. I remember being there every day for a week, and laughing and making fun of her dad who was so tall that he had to duck to come through a doorway. We even have pictures of our two families together.

I later learned that he got diagnosed with mesthelioma that week. It was the beginning of a very difficult journey for this family. Robert was given only months to live and deteriorated very rapidly. At his funeral, hundreds of people talked about his service to the church and to the community. I knew him as a hilarious father and a Sunday School teacher, but I realized that there was a whole other side of him that I never even encountered. I remember learning that he was exposed to asbestos as a high school graduate when he spent one summer working in a warehouse. I remember wondering what he did to deserve this. Did God not reward those who were hard-working and God-fearing? How could this illness so insidiously break up this family? How could someone who wasn’t even “old” die?

I wish I could tell my young self that that’s not how life works. Doing good and being pious don’t guarantee immortality. As humans, our days are numbered. It’s more about making the days we have count than the quantity of days we have. Citizenship in the kingdom of the sick doesn’t come by choice. We don’t have control over when we are naturalized and why. Sometimes there are things that could theoretically be controlled (like exposure to asbestos). Sometimes deficiencies are in our genes.

Today I choose to remember Robert for who he was and for what he did for me and for my friend. I encourage you to take a look at Heather’s story and become familiar with the continued presence of asbestos in our life. Most of all, know that illness strikes all kinds of people in many different ways; every one of them could use the support & encouragement of community.

From my heart,
Abigail