There comes a time in every SLP’s career when we have, to paraphrase the Beatles, “memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” I have reached that point. Due to family circumstances, after nearly 30 years in the field, I will be retiring at the end of this school year.
In August 2017, a week before I started a new school year in a new school, my dear dad passed away from complications related to strokes. I wrote about this rough experience, from both a daughter’s and SLP’s perspective, in my post, “The Therapy Voice.” My parents lived 70 miles away with no family around, and I had promised my dad that I’d move Mom back to Bucks County (where she had lived except for the last 20 years when they retired to Lancaster County) before the winter. All through June and July, he would repeatedly grab my hand and say “it’s going to snow; get her out” and “take care of the house; sell it.” After he passed, I kept that promise. I continued to make the 70-mile journey every weekend through November to help my devasted mother pack up and sell off the house and extraneous belongings. In December, we closed on the house and Mom moved in with my husband and me. Meanwhile, I continued to work full-time in my new school 3 days a week and as an assistive technology consultant 2 days a week. When the holidays came and went, it was apparent that the stress of what we had been through and my mom’s continuing bereavement was taking a toll on me, so I reduced my AT work to one day a week, leaving me with Wednesdays off. The financial cost of this change was far outweighed by some of the weight this lifted off my shoulders. Life was still very stressful, but at least was more manageable.
Mom stayed with us until July, when she finally felt she had the strength and need to move to an independent living retirement village 3 miles from my home. The move was rocky, as Mom was still very fragile and this was one more change in a series of changes that were not part of her original life plan. It wasn’t until early September that she finally settled into her beautiful new home and community, and started to make friends with some amazing women who seemed to be put there for the purpose of supporting her. I started the 2018-19 school year with much more energy and focus than I was able to muster during that difficult year before.
Then, fates changed our plans again. On October 5, Mom was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. Biopsies and scans revealed widespread involvement, so that surgery was not an option and we were told this wasn’t a cancer to be cured, just contained for as long as possible. Being that Mom is 84, otherwise very healthy and energetic, but still missing my dad terribly, we had many conversations in between tests and consults about quality vs. quantity of life and how the options of chemo vs. no chemo might play out. By late October, Mom decided to give chemo a try. Treatments would be on 3-week cycles; 2 trips to the hospital on the first 2 weeks for chemo and fluids (averaging 4 hours per trip), then bloodwork and doctor appointment on the third week, the results of which would set up the schedule for the next 3 weeks. Scans and consults with a specialist in Philadelphia every 3 months were also in the mix. It became immediately clear to me, and fortunately to my supervisors and HR director, that there was no way I could keep up with work and care for Mom, so I started on a medical leave on November 1. My intention was to go back to work on March 1, but that was not to be. Tests showed very minimal improvement (but no worsening!) and we were told that chemo would continue through the end of March, followed by a short break and reevaluation. Because of the high incidence of breast cancer in my family (Mom, my sister, my aunt, a cousin, and me), I was advised to have preventative surgery to protect me from ovarian/peritoneal cancer. I had that surgery last week and, while I am still very tender, the peace of mind is a wonderful thing.
By mid-May, we will know what options are available for Mom. Blessedly, she is looking and feeling really good right now, and is enjoying life with family and friends. However, we know this isn’t going to go away, so some form of treatment or maintenance chemo will be needed, unless Mom decides otherwise. In any event, I need to be available to support her, so have decided to retire in June. I know this sounds like a terrible tale of woe and, yes, a lot of this has been hard. But the gift in all of this is the time I’ve had with Mom. During their 20 years in Lancaster, I’d typically only see them every few months, usually at holidays and birthdays, and always with my family with me — nice times, but never one-on-one time. We’ve certainly had lots of time together throughout the past year and a half, when she lived with us and especially since treatments began: time to laugh, to cry, to remember, to share. In between treatments when Mom is feeling up to it, we’ve had fun, too: shopping at her favorite department store, seeing displays of Christmas trees and quilts at our county visitor’s center, attending a presentation by one of her favorite authors, touring the local Designer House, taking a drive along the river to see the daffodils and rhododendrons in bloom, and enjoying visits with family and friends (especially 5-year-old Miguel, my grandson, who lights up every room he is in). We’ve decorated her lovely home for each holiday, so that it really does — finally — feel like home to her. None of us know what the future will be, but I am so relieved — and blessed — to know that I will be here for Mom, come what may.
That doesn’t mean, though, that I won’t still be involved in the profession I love. My website will go on; in fact, you can look for some very exciting improvements in the next school year! I’ll continue to blog twice a month and send out my monthly newsletter. And I just might finally be able to travel and present to school districts and SLP conferences. I’ve presented at national speech and special education conferences, and I’ve done loads of trainings in visual supports and functional communication, but these were always in conjunction with or timed around my full-time job. I’ve turned down many invitations in the past that didn’t fit my work schedule, but maybe now I’ll have some time to explore these opportunities.
The changes in my life over the past two years haven’t been easy, but much of the hard stuff is now behind us and I feel I have the strength to handle what comes next. I consider myself very blessed to have the support of my family, friends (including so many wonderful SLPs I’ve met through my site), and employer, and, now that the decision has been made, I am really looking forward to the next chapter of my life. Spring is a wonderful time for change. Expect to see photos of my garden, my quilting, and my grandson’s “Nailed It!” cooking creations to pop up in future newsletters among all the SLP-related articles, as proof that life is good. I have so many wonderful memories from my career, and I look forward to sharing them in future posts with the hope that they encourage and inspire you to continue supporting our kiddos who have communication challenges. Thank you, as always, for all you do and for sharing this journey with me!