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It doesn't happen very often, but lately, I could cry at the drop of a hat.

Mary and I have completed our saline fills, and our last surgery is a month away.  An eternity away.  I'm sporting two hard mounds as tight as a pair of bongo drums.  Ricky Ricardo could go crazy thumping out "Babalu!" on my chest.

There's an appealing picture.

My next door neighbor Ann Hart is in the same boat.

"I'm in pain," she moaned the other day.  Ann's double mastectomy after her breast cancer diagnosis was three months after mine, but she opted for two huge fills whereas my sisters and I took the long slow route of nine or ten small fills.  Either way, the last fill is a bear.

"I've been a little moody lately," Ann confessed. 

Don't I know.  Filled to the bursting point, these plastic water balloons in our chests poke, pinch, ache and render sleep virtually impossible.

I always feel weepy this time of year anyway.  Today is graduation at our school, and I'm mad at the seniors.  Last Tuesday when the final bell rang, a great roar issued forth from the hallowed halls of Grand Island Central Catholic.  It was the triumphant bellow of the senior class on their last day of school.  You would have thought we were housing inmates staging a prison riot.

Why do they have to be so delighted to leave us?  It was the same way when my own boys graduated.  They couldn't wait to move out.  Are we so boring?  Is life with us so dismal?

This year's group of graduates is a particularly good one.  There's Garrett Coble, a future Pulitzer Prize winning author; Kelly Soto, who makes us laugh 'til we cry; Jamie Partington and Gracie Mohr, two lovely young women with wise old souls; Mike Jones who quietly mourns his lost father; Dizzy Lizzy McGowan who can dart like greased lightning around the basketball court; Brianna Golka with her angelic heart; Brenan Anspauch and Riley Jones with their sweet, little boy smiles; Seth Wardyn, the gentle but fierce competitor; Kate Maginnis, the great organizer; Callie Newman and Abbey Galvan, the class beauties; Michael Pfeifer and Eric Juarez, the gifted entertainers, my own two gorgeous nieces, Steph Brand and Kailey Brown - and those are only just a few of the extraordinary kids in our senior class.

For the time they're in our classrooms, our students feel like our own flesh and blood.  Every teacher in this school suffers at graduation.  How could we not?  Our kids are leaving us.  And they can hardly wait. That's the sting of it.

I was mourning our last week with the seniors when Dillon Spies, a great kid in my junior English class, casually announced he'd be undergoing a routine tonsillectomy.  Dillon is wickedly and irreverently funny.  But he was understandably subdued about having to have his tonsils yanked out.

"Don't worry about your English homework," I assured him.  "Go do this thing and eat lots of ice cream."

"Yeah," he hesitated for just a second.  "Thanks."

His mother stopped at school after Dillon's surgery to give us the real scoop.  "Dillon knew he had a tumor behind his tonsils," she informed me stoically.  "It may be lymphoma."

I stared at her.  Dorene Spies is a rock of a girl.  She goes off to god-forsaken places like St. Lucia with a small band of equally committed friends to minister to the needs of the sick and elderly.  I guess you could call her our own resident Mother Theresa.  "How's he taking the news?" I swallowed.  "How are YOU doing?"

She smiled calmly.  "We're all okay.  Dillon's wondering if he might have to lose his hair, but he's handling it."

His pathology report would come Monday, she said.  But when Monday came and went, I started to get nervous. 

On Tuesday, I dragged Dillon's good friend Kevin Donovan into my classroom.   "Do you know anything?"

He shook his head.  "Haven't heard a thing."

"Text him," I said.

He gaped at me.  "You know that's not allowed.  I can't text in school."

I stood over him.  "Text him.  Now."

In all my life, I've never waited so long for a text reply.

"He's okay!" Kevin grinned.  "Every thing was clear."

Dillon was here at school Wednesday for Honors Convocation.  He marched up for his "Outstanding English Award", and I could have cried at the sight of that good, handsome boy.

"Hey, Mrs. Howard," he whispered as I folded him in a hug.

Dillon Spies will live a long, happy life and do great things.  Like his wonderful mother.

This outstanding group of seniors, too, will go off, every one of them, to do their own great things.  And that's the point, I suppose.  It doesn't matter whether you're recovering from a risky tonsillectomy, undergoing a double mastectomy with those pain-in-the-neck expanders, graduating from high school, or leaving this earthly life for the next. 

The idea is to keep going.

I guess we'll have to let go of our Central Catholic graduates just like we do every year.  And I'll have to forgive them for thinking we're so boring.

If only they could see us in the faculty lounge on Strip Poker Tuesdays.

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