The New Kid on the Block Shares Her Story by Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston
Even as a child, I’d always had a plan, and with every plan came hard work and luckily immediate success. After spending a glorious year with my favorite teacher in the fifth grade, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I worked as hard as I could to get the best grades and the best work experiences for my resume…babysitter, summer camp counselor, nanny, insurance office worker. Anything that offered the chance to gain awesome recommendations interested me! I was a lucky girl to land pretty much every job for which I interviewed during my high school and college years, and when it was time to move on to bigger and better things, I left each job shaking the hand of a boss who offered me an open door and a warm welcome back should I wish to return. My life continued to move in a positive direction when I graduated from Gwynedd Mercy College with honors, and before the students at Sacred Heart were back from Christmas break, I was eagerly awaiting their return as their new kindergarten teacher! I finally had the teaching job I worked so hard to get! It wasn’t a job that was going to make me rich, but it was where I knew in my heart I was called to be. And just as importantly, it made me happy to be there having a strong impact on the lives of the children. However, this young adult, who seemed to have everything fall into her lap while growing up, had no idea what the next two decades would have in store for her!
There were a few “minor” bumps in the road of this near perfect journey – although I’ll admit that at the time, “minor” wasn’t the word that came to mind as I tried to deal with them. An engagement called off at twenty-two, two lumpectomies that luckily turned out to be benign, an unhappy break from teaching due to the financial strains of working for a parochial school, burnout from trying to work too many extra jobs to pay rent, trying to break into a new career only to have the stress it brought with it try to kill my immune system. (I had never before that time had a physician tell me I needed to quit a job because it was killing me, and I couldn’t believe it was happening!) Each of these challenges were tough to deal with, but in the end my Scottish-Irish tenacity took over, over-drive kicked in, and I put everything in high gear in the hopes of starting over to move in the direction I knew in fifth grade I was meant to be traveling. I put every bit of energy I had, every resource I could muster up, into getting myself back into the classroom. It was a tough egg to crack! Interviewers wanted to know why I left in the first place. The jobs I once told myself I had no interest in – day care – were now one of my few chances to gain the experience I needed to show my dedication to teaching. There were many moments I considered giving up and trying something else…sitting in an infant room with college-aged kids acting as my supervisor while I was in my late twenties with credits beyond my bachelor’s degree and a work history that included years of supervisory experience and my own classroom…let’s just say it wasn’t where I planned to be at that stage in my life. But two day care centers, one children’s home, three years in 6th grade, and a few years of subbing later and I FINALLY reached MY DREAM JOB! Life was looking great and it wasn’t just my career that was golden!
By age 36, I had everything in life I dreamed about growing up. I met my husband on Match.com; we were brought together in a way that seemed destined to be after a few years of crazy dates and the disappointments we both seemed to attract. We dated for five years, enjoyed a short engagement, and had the Celtic fairy tale wedding of our dreams. We didn’t want to wait for children, so we were elated to find out almost immediately after the wedding that we were expecting. The experience was even more special for me; I’m the oldest of three and my brother and sister were also expecting at the same time! In one year, my parents welcomed four grandbabies, and they couldn’t have been more pleased! Our little family of furbabies (two cats) grew when we brought home Mackenzie, an adorable Bichon pup who stole our hearts (another dream I was waiting to make happen in adulthood). My second year as an 8th grade Language Arts and Social Studies teacher for a local charter school was about to begin, and I couldn’t wait to get back to work with my awesome grade partner and a principal who supported me as if she thought I could accomplish anything. Life was perfect! Life was giving me all I ever wanted! Every prayer had been answered!
And then the wheels came to a screeching, grinding halt…
My pregnancy turned out to be a less-than-normal one. My summer brought days that felt like I was getting the flu, but the “illness” always left before it really began and my doctors could never find the cause of it. A month after the new school year started, a stabbing abdominal pain came out of nowhere. I was terrified something was wrong with the baby as I ran, cell phone in hand dialing the OB, down the school hallways trying to find a room with some privacy. From the school library arrangements were made to get me to Labor and Delivery. That was the last day I set foot in a classroom. By November, three months before I met my little angel, I had developed what I was told months later was fibromyalgia. Every day now involved more back pain, flu-like symptoms, and fatigue than I had ever experienced in my life. And still nobody – not one single OB, nurse midwife, or perinatologist who treated me at the hospital – could find a way to help me. I was worried about my baby, my career, my future. I was losing my “self” to this condition, and for the first time in my life, I felt completely hopeless and extremely alone. I was scared – how was I, who was having trouble caring for myself, going to now care for an infant who was relying on me for her every need?
A lot has happened since then. As we get to know one another through this wonderful community of moms, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned about parenting two little ones while juggling a chronic pain condition (fibro fog brought me my second angel, but that’s a story for later), how I coped with losing the dream career I worked my entire life to achieve, battling stage 3 breast cancer, and losing my father, the man who sat by my side during all of my cancer treatments and lost his own fight with cancer just this past September. My calm, serene road that gave me everything I wished for early in life turned bumpy in young adulthood. When life as an adult took off, so did the roller coaster ride that comes with fibromyalgia and cancer. But as much as these conditions caused me grief, they’ve also brought me many positive things…time with my children, a new outlook on life, a belief in the importance of being your own advocate just to name a few. I’ve also found my voice and the courage to share it through my own blog that I write for parents trying to raise their children while battling chronic pain and cancer. Had I been a working mom trying to juggle children with a career, I’m not too sure I would have taken the time so early on to find moms’ groups. And I will be forever grateful for the wonderful friends and never-ending support I’ve been blessed with stemming from those same groups. And now I find myself lucky enough to spread that support as I head our new chapter in Bucks County, Pennsylvania! I look forward to meeting all the new members who join our new chapter as well as everyone I find in cyber space on the group’s site. Thank you for the opportunity to share the wonderful memories we will create for ourselves and our children. And thank you in advance for the support that I am confident will flow among us during the coming months!