Sometimes in order to reconnect, you have to disconnect

A few weeks ago, all of a sudden, I just decided that I needed to take a social media break. I wanted to think about my use of social media and what I was truly getting from it. Also, what was I giving up in return. I wanted time to think about the relationships I had formed with others in the different social networks I use.

The time away from all the social network platforms, in all honesty, was great (thank you all for your text messages of care and concern). I was able to channel my energy on other activities and thoughts. Also, anyone that needed to get a hold of me was still able to reach out using email, text, or a phone call.

The time apart from the different social networks also truly allowed me to determine what I want to do moving forward. The reality is that some social networks no longer serve a purpose for me and I am completely fine letting them go. But for some reason my relationship with Twitter is just such a love/hate relationship that I find myself struggling with how to move forward. I think that for now I am going to focus more on blogging. Please consider this the “I am taking a social media break” formal announcement.

Dense Breast Tissue and Mammograms

Do you know what kind of breast tissue you have?

Until two days ago I had not idea the kind of breast tissue that I have. Until two days ago I didn’t know that women can have fatty breast tissue or dense breast tissue.

As you may or may not know, I turned 40 this year. You also may or may not know that I had a hysterectomy last year. After the hysterectomy, I had a check up with my OB/GYN and he reminded me that because I was turning 40 I should start having my yearly mammogram. So late this summer, I went ahead and schedule my first mammogram.

Woman in pink with a breast cancer ribbon.
Photo by Angiola Harry on Unsplash

One of the most frustrating parts of this experience is that the process lacks an “educational” component that would allow me to truly learn about the health of my breast, the mammogram process, and health screening for breast cancer. So this is what happened:

  • I visited the doctor’s office and had my first mammogram. The experience simply involved having the 3D scan of my breast with the mammogram machine (I am sure there is a proper name for the machine).
  • I got a call from the doctor‘s office 5 days later letting me know I needed to schedule a follow up mammogram at the hospital in the breast cancer center (scary!).
  • I when to the follow up mammogram. I met the technician who told me that she would have to take additional 3D imagines for both of my breast. I had to ask why. Her response: “the doctor’s office notice something in both of your breast”.
  • After the follow up mammogram, I was put in a waiting area and told that it is possible I would have to have an ultrasound of my breast.
  • After a few minutes an ultrasound technician took me to a room where she quietly performed the ultrasound of both of my breast. After completing the ultrasound she told me to wait there while she shared the imagines with the radiologist.
  • After what seemed like forever, she returned and told me that what they were seen in my breast scans and ultrasound images were lymph nodes in one breast and “dense breast tissue” on the other. She simple said: “ But are fine. The radiologist didn’t fine anything abnormal.”

Perhaps for the technicians, radiologist, and other health care personal assume that all of the language that they used was familiar to me or I understood all the consequences of what was happening. But I actually ended up doing a lot of googling throughout the process, the terms, and the research. I came across all sorts of different resources. One major finding amongst the sources I read and listened to is that women with “dense breast tissue” are more likely to have undiagnosed breast cancer: https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/dense_breasts

Two takeaways from this experience that I hope help others that read this post:

  • I felt that there was a lack education during the process. I wish someone has sat with me an explain the process, the terms, and potential outcome in more detail. I will be talking to my OB/GYN in more detail about this. But, it also means you have to do your own research too. So, seek education from a professional but also spend time looking a reputable sources to better understand women’s health.
  • If you are 40 years and older get a mammogram every year. If several mammograms are inconclusive, request an ultrasounds of your breast. I found the TEDx Talk below to very helpful (I know not all TEDx Talks are helpful, but this one truly aligned with research from reputable sources).

Hello World!

As usual I have once again neglected my blog.

I really have not felt inspired to write in my blog. Since my last post on June 8th, I was busy teaching my summer course (which ended at end of June) and June was also an intense month with writing projects. It seems like everything was due in June.

Then I decided that July would be a month of recovery. Recovery meant spending as much time as possible outdoors. Working from home means I sometimes neglect to spend time outside during the work week. By July, I really needed to make time for the great outdoors, getting vitamin D, and fresh air. I needed it both physically and mentally.

August was a month of change. So much change. I really need to dedicate an entire blog post to describe it all. So, let’s put a pin on it for now.

So in order to hold myself accountable, I am going to write that over the next few months I will share more on my blog about some of the hobbies in the great outdoors that I have enjoyed lately, some of the changes in my life (and the life of those around me), and updates on some projects.

This post sounds so vague but it gives my some direction to make an effort to reconnect with my blog.


One of the few relaxing things that I did manage to do in June was to spend a weekend alone while my partner and son went camping. It had been 16 months since I had been apart from them overnight and felt super weird. I did used some of that weekend to do some writing (which I hardly ever do on the weekends) but more importantly I made sure to spend plenty of time relaxing. One of the relaxing experience that I had that weekend was pottery painting. It was seriously so calming, relaxing, and such fun experience. I spend nearly 4 hours painting. I should do it more often. Use the slider below to see some before and after pictures of my “work of art”. I am not Picasso but I think did pretty good!

Pottery Painting

Your Goals

Unless you are independently wealthy or a master manipulator, you will have to work hard and make sacrifies to achieve your goals. I know to most people this may sound like a pretty obvious statement, but for some reason I get the impression that there are some who think that success just happens overnight. Trust me when I tell you I have made plenty of sacrifices to achieve pretty much everything that I have been able to accomplish including becoming a mother, purchasing materialistics things, and my professional accolades.

Right after I completed my undergraduate degree, I went on to do my master and doctoral degree. I studies non-stop for from my associates degree to my undergraduate to my master and then to my doctoral degree. Yes, I was a professional student for 12 consecutive years of my adult life. This does not include the two previous years of undergraduate studies that I did while I live in Panama (after graduating high school). By the time, I started my masters program, most of my friends (in Canada, the Unites States and Panama) were buying cars, buying houses, getting married, having kids, going on fancy vacations, and affording a lifestyle that I could not live because I was on a graduate student stipend.

But, I had a goal in mind. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Therefore, I just stayed focus.

Why do I share this? I share this because I see graduate students comparing their journey with the journey of others. Trust me when I tell you that those who made it to the end (who earned their degree) also made sacrifices. You may not see how they worked hard or the sacrifices they made, but as someone who has been there I can honestly tell you it was not easy for them either.

It is also here where I would like to re-share a prior post I wrote called “Failure.” Here is a quote from that post:

“In academic circles, it gets really competitive. Heck, in life people get really competitive. We start looking at what others are doing and assuming that everyone is “doing things,” “going places,” and basically just “living the dream.” But the reality is that we are all working towards our goals and we all have moments of failures. That is just life.”

I would like to modify the last sentence of that quote and say: But the reality is that we are all working towards our goals and we all have moments of failure, sacrifices, and hard work. Stay focus on your goals and what you want to achieve.

By the way, sometimes I need this reminder too.

Me and my Uterus: It was Complicated

This post is not about COVID-19, life during the pandemic, or self-isolation. This post is not about online learning, emergency remote teaching, or Zoom. I could say this post is about wellness and care. But it is not about wellness and care as an academic or with your students. If you are looking to read about any of those topics, sorry to disappoint. This post is about me and my complicated relationship with my uterus. It is a about wellness and care as a woman; which eventually led me to the difficult decision of having hysterectomy at 39 years old (I did get to keep my ovaries, Yay!). 

Flower Uterus by Catharina Suleiman
Catharina Suleiman [www.catharinasuleiman.com]

Before I start, I want to acknowledge and recognize that despite my circurstances there are other womem who make this difficult decision much earlier in life or make this decision knowing that they will not get to experience a pregnancy or motherhood. To those women: I see you <much love>.

I first heard the word “fibroids” in the year 2009. I was laying in bed one night and I noticed a significant lump in my lower abdomen. I was very scared so the next day I visited the student health center at Old Dominion University (which I was attending as an international student in her first year as a doctoral student).

The nurse practicioner at the health center referred me to an off-campus clinic where an ultrasound would be performed. After the ultrasound, I was told that I had multiple fibroids. The nurse and the technician told me that these fibroids were non-canceours tumors that adhered to my uterus and that depending on how fast they grew they could be an issue or a non-issue for my health. At that time, I had a very limited health care coverage and I did not have any symptons related to the fibroids so I figured I did not need to go for further treatment.

Fast forward three-years later, the fibroids had grown so much that I looked as if I was three-months pregnant, lived with constant back pain, could barely hold my pee (sorry! TMI), and had absolutely terrible anemia. I remember the face of disbelieve when my doctor saw the lab results of my blood work, she looked at me and asked: don’t you feel tired? do you feel lighheaded and nauseous all the time? I remember telling her that I was a doctoral student and I thought that it was just all part of the doctoral journey and that it was normal for all graduate students to feel that tired. Well, it turns out it was not normal at all!

Despite a few hiccups (finding the best doctor to perform the surgery), the summer of 2012 I had a robotic myomectomy. I remember that after the surgery the doctor mentioned that he had removed 5 lemon-sized fibroids. He did mentioned to me that future fibroids were possible and that I would have to “monitor” my uterus. But honestly, at that moment, I was so happy and the months after the surgery I felt really good. I felt energetic. I was hoping that I could put a life with fibroids and my complicated relationship with my uterus behind me. 

Unfortunately, my complicated relationship with my uterus continued as I tried to get pregnant and experience a miscarriage, which let to a D&C. During my second pregnancy, it was not my uterus that was complicated; instead, for a change it was my “incompetent” cervix.  

I feel over the last few years, I have been monitoring new fibroids that have grown in my uterus and it let me the decision to have a hysterectomy. I am tired of feeling tired. I am tired of feeling discomfort and bloating. I am tired of feeling weak for absolutely no reason. Also, the number of fibroids every year since my last pregnancy has continue to double.

I am writing this post while I am still healing from the surgery. As I wrote in a tweet, having the surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic was not easy, it was a lonely and emotional journey as family members were not allowed in the hospital. The weeks before the surgery, I was very anxious. I did not know what to expect. But, I have to say “thank you” to all the nurses and doctors, at the hospital. They took good care of me and I appreciate that. The physical recovery so far has been pretty smooth. Emotionally, I know in my heart that I was not planning to have more children but it feels so drastic (I don’t even know if that is the best word) to know that the possibility of experiencing another pregnancy is completely gone. But, I do feel happy with my decision.

This post is becoming relatively lenghty, but I just want to end and say thank you to everyone for their words of love, support, kindness, and get well wishes via text, private message, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I was struggling with whether I should share what I was going through publicly (I have not in the past with my misscarriage and complicated pregnancy), and it has made me feel better to feel supported by others. So much gratitude!

In honor of International Women’s Day: “Undisclosed stories of instructional design female scholars in academia”

It is International Women’s Day and I would like to re-share a journal article that I co-authored with other Instructional Design Female Scholars: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277539518302231

In addition to sharing a link to the article, I am also sharing a short excerpt from the discussion section of the manuscript (which complies with the copyrights set by the publisher). If you would like to get a copy of the full article, I will gladly share it via email.

IMG_7424

Significance of this Research

Why are these issues that we present through our stories of significance to the ID field? Because we teach, practice, and research this field. We aim to present our field as a process-based, relational, inclusive, equitable, and transformative community.  Yet, instructional design practices, research, and teaching are heavily influenced by the male dominance that permeates higher education institutions. We attempt with this paper to raise awareness, seek understanding, and open the doors for discussion of women’s issues in higher education and the instructional design field.  In the past, “feminist approaches to design have problematized a range of taken-for-granted assumptions (Campbell, 2014, pg. 233).” These assumptions continue to marginalize and oppress through our practice. It is a trickle down effect: if some voices being part of the IDT community are ignored, oppressed, and marginalized , how can we expect the outcome of our design, research and teaching experiences to be inclusive, equitable, and transformative? In the global economy, we talk about reaching out to diverse groups of learners. If those diverse groups can be represented in the decision making mechanisms, then, it might be easier to develop empathic relationship with the diversity, we strive to address.

As an attempt to challenge the hegemony of patriarchy in academia, this paper explores gender-related challenges and issues female scholars experience in their lives. The male dominance in academia and socio-cultural roles assigned to females create conflicting roles. As female academics are assigned with a range of social, cultural, and professional responsibilities in a male-dominant context, it is essential that they are provided with support (Misra, Crist, & Burant, 2003). Changing this mental frame is not easy since it is legitimized and encouraged by power dynamics. As a socially-accepted and culturally-valued role, females are supposed to take care of domestic responsibilities first. The role of parenthood and marriage once combined with the gendered and biased institutionalized norms conflicts with the role of a scholar (Acker, 1992). As a potential strategy to solve this problem, it is essential to recognize gender as a social construct that is shaped by the patriarchy to designate social and cultural roles to women as a tool for suppression and marginalization (Acker, 1992); thereby, allowing us to perpetuate these inequalities that we have been trying to overcome (Valian, 1998).

To make matter worse, the lack of collaboration among the female academics aggravates the practical impacts of these anomalies. Women’s issues are an important part of the female academic identities that are embodied and situated in a social and cultural discourse dictated by the dominant socio-political forces through the gender, power, and context sensitive knowledge creation process (Nightingale, 2003). It is vital for female academics to have an open forum in which they can share their experiences and insights on women’s issues, and triangulate the silences and incompatibilities across the settings. It is important to raise skepticism concerning the neutrality of the knowledge creation through the practice of normal science, and uncover the silenced and empowered voices by the hegemonic forces situated in a social context (Vaivio & Sirén, 2010).

 

Failure

I really enjoy celebrating accomplishments but I also like normalizing failure. We do not always achieve what we want or it make take several tries before we accomplish a goal. If we are mentally prepared to understand that failure is a possibility, we are more likely to build strength to pick up the pieces and try again. So here are some things that I have failed at in the past, yet they did not stop me from continuing to pursue what I wanted to accomplish in the long run.

When I graduated high school, I decided to study computer systems engineering. That did not go too well! At that time (and still today), I was a social butterfly. College was a great place to hangout with my friends. Becoming an engineer was not really a priority. After the three semesters studying engineering and failing many courses, I decided that it was best to throw in the towel. I took a year off from college level courses to work and save to pay for my education. I eventually when back to college and started with an associates degree in Computer Programming which I completed with honors. I went on to successfully complete an undergraduate, master, and doctoral degree.

Another moment of failure in my life was when I applied to doctoral degrees. You see, I was determined to move back to Canada and in particular to Montreal. I had fallen in love with the educational technology program at Concordia University. After spending 5 full years studying in Emporia (Kansas), I was ready to complete my application, get accepted, and start a new chapter of my life as a doctoral student at Concordia University. That did not happened! I applied to three universities: Concordia University, Boston University, and Old Dominion University. A few days after doing my doctoral interview (a phone interview with all faculty members of the educational technology program), I received a letter from Concordia University letting me know that I was not accepted. I cried so much!

However, I was accepted to Boston University (with a graduate assistantship but no tuition reimbursement) and to Old Dominion University (with a graduate assistantship with full tuition reimbursement). Eventually, I decided to attend Old Dominion University and that let to so many wonderful opportunities that have shaped my personal life and career. I decided that although I was not at my number one choice, I was still going to earn a doctoral degree and make the most out of it!

Of course, there are many instances of failure in every day life: the article that gets rejected, the class activity that does not go as planned, the award that I do not get, etc.

Why am I sharing this? In academic circles, it gets really competitive. Heck, in life people get really competitive. We start looking at what others are doing and assuming that everyone is “doing things,” “going places,” and basically just “living the dream.” But the reality is that we are all working towards our goals and we all have moments of failures. That is just life.

50% Chance of Rain

Yesterday was a great day for a stroll in one of the local parks. The forecast said: “50% chance of rain.” It definitely looked cloudy but I was too entertained by gators in the park to notice the clouds approaching. The gator in the photo below, in particular, was just hanging out and chillaxing while everyone just took photos.

img_3481.jpg

Before I realized it, it was pouring! It was like someone had just opened the faucet. We managed to find shelter under the stairs of one of the observations towers. There was a group moms with five children who looks like they were six or seven years old. They were definitely not impressed with the situation. This was not what they had signed up for. I was also thinking: “well this sucks!” The stairs were not really providing much shelter.

 

Then, we all saw a kayak with two people (see image below) paddling as fast as they could trying to make their way back to the “launching point” were they had rented the kayak. In that moment I realized that:

A: While sometimes you may think you are in a bad situation, it could always be worst.
B: Sunny days are good but you have to make the most out of days with a “50% chance of rain.”

img_3487

Latest Publication: ” Undisclosed Stories of Instructional Design Female Scholars in Academia”

Our article titled “Undisclosed Stories of Instructional Design Female Scholars in Academia” published in the Women’s Studies International Forum is now available online (co-authors: Tuğçe Aldemir, Jozenia Colorado-Resa, Camille Dickson-Deane, Ginger Watson, and Ayesha Sadaf).

Abstract: In this critical autoethnography, we come together as female instructional design (ID) faculty and graduate students. We use self-reflection to explore, through our writing, the experiences of our lives as female scholars. This includes gender-related challenges, concerns, and experiences that shape our lives as researchers, instructors, and practitioners. The theoretical frameworks that guide this critical autoethnography are radical and intersectional feminism. Radical feminists practice consciousness-raising in which women come together to share their personal experiences with each other. Intersectional feminists acknowledge that the various aspects of humanity, such as class, race, sexual orientation, and gender do not exists separately from each other. Our stories provide a view into the gender inequalities experienced by women, from various cultural backgrounds, ranks, and roles, while maneuvering the socio-cultural norms ingrained in higher education institutions. Our intention is that these stories generate understanding of these issues and inform ways that higher education may be more inclusive and supportive of female academics in the future.

This personalized URL provides 50 days’ free access to the article (until November 17, 2018). You are welcome to read or download. No sign up, registration, or fees are required: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1Xoml-6kqPaWN 

Self-Care: Barre Workout

Last year during Summer, I started taking barre workout classes. It was painful but I felt good after every class. I did this as part of a Groupon for a month-membership so after the promotion was done, I stopped the classes. All Fall and Spring, I really missed the bar method classes. So I decided to take classes (in a different studio) this Summer. Pretty much every week (except for two weeks in which I was on travel or recovering from travel) I have taken at least two classes.

This is a major accomplishment for me. I have issues committing to any kind of workout and I feel proud of the fact that I was able to workout at least twice weekly all summer. This is also a major form of self-care. I can honestly start work at 8am and stay connected to my laptop thinking that I must get “whatever I am working on” done. I become very sedentary and that is not good. Prioritizing my group exercise class has become a part of my daily routine (I normally do a mid-day class). I am not sure how this will transition into my routine during the academic year but I hoping for the best.

28F5EACA-AF24-473A-8E86-090AC92A49C0