It’s out last week in our house.
Things have been pretty busy around here, hence the silence on the blog front. Hopefully that will change as we get settled in our temporary quarters and construction begins on our new house.
Among the purging, organizing, and packing that’s gone on lately, I thought it appropriate to take a moment and reflect back on the time spent in this house. When we moved in 9 years ago, Trevor had just graduated from Duke University with his MBA. Second from the left, he was all smiles. I was too, because we were leaving North Carolina — which was nice for a couple of years — and coming home to Texas. My favorite girl and my #1 son enjoyed graduation day, too.
When we left Durham, my favorite girl was in the throes of the terrible two’s, and my #1 son had just turned 5. The days were long but the years were short. I’m pretty sure I was too tired to envision our life 9 years later, with a girl preparing for middle school and a boy — ahem, a teenager — getting ready to start high school, and yet here we are.
and my #1 son headed off to kindergarten two months after we unpacked. Wearing his beloved Nomar jersey and light-up tennis shoes, that child looks like such a baby. His profile is the same nearly a decade later, as is his signature cowlick on the back of his head.
but he did learn to be a good sport about it.
That investment paid off, though, and Mr P collected his bounty for this first home run. $20 and a beer was the going rate back then (although he made the same face when he tasted the beer as he did when he tasted the fish). Little League is a distant memory, and home-run bounties no longer exist. Fancy bats and the big fields are our current reality.
We’ve seen a lot of changes in the last 9 years. This house has served us well as we navigated the twists and turns of life with two young kids. I can’t wait to see what adventures await us in the new house.
We arrived in Tyler safe & sound yesterday, just in time to have dinner with a couple of families from the team at Chili’s. Payton & I had lunch at Chili’s while we waited for Trevor to wrap up some business before hitting the road, so it was deja vu at dinner. I did not get my baby back ribs, as I eschew all foods from the mammalian category, but I did rock out on some guacamole and a cold Dos Equis.
Dawn broke clear, bright, and hot on Tyler, TX today–it’s currently 103 degrees. Gotta love July in the great state of Texas. Certain members of my family laughed at me for toting my Keurig coffeemaker all the way to Tyler, but as we enjoyed robust & delicious coffee in the room first thing this morning, there were no snickers from the peanut gallery. I have been pondering today the beauty that lies in having kids old enough to mainly fend for themselves. As Payton roamed the hotel with teammates, room key & iPhone safely tucked in his pocket, Macy and her two darling friends Mallory and Maddy swam in the pool with minimal supervision. I read my book while inhaling copious amount of chlorine fumes from the indoor pool and recollected on the events at this time last year.
I was not in the garden spot of Tyler TX in this great state’s piney woods, festively observing my firstborn’s maiden voyage of State Championship baseball. I was not languidly enjoying the comfy offerings of the Tyler Marriott, nor partaking of the fellowship of this fine team’s families. No, I was stuck in a hospital bed at the Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, enduring another round of battles vs the wily and energetic post-mastectomy infection. I was unlucky in that sense, but very fortunate indeed in that I had the intrepid Dr S caring for me all weekend, and my partner in crime Amy Hoover looking after me in the hospital. At this time last year, I was recovering from a nasty procedure to excise the infected tissue from my hollowed-out chest wall, along with an epic battle vs the morphine and barfiness that accompanied my formerly favorite pain reliever.
It was the beginning of a long and ugly stretch of history involving a lot of narcotics, a wound vacuum, and seemingly endless struggle. It did not involve watching my favorite boy do that thing he does best alongside the upper echelon of 10-year-old All Star baseball teams.
This time last year, I was going through a particularly challenging version of hell. Receiving a cancer diagnosis at the tender age of 40, with two children aged 8 and 10 and long memories of losing my sweet mama to the big C, was bad. Really bad. But I confronted the beast and did all the right things–schedule and endure all the testing, make the hard decisions, go through the surgery, and face the long, painful recovery. Being slapped with a nosocomial infection added insult to injury, for sure. Being slapped with a difficult-to-diagnose nosocomial infection was even worse, but missing Payton’s trip to the State Championship was the worst part of all.
All of that is behind us now, and I am here. “Here” in the sense of being present, and “here” in the sense of soaking up every second of the experience. Last year I was a distant spectator, following along with the games in a narcotic-induced haze. I was a long way from present, physically and psychologically. This year is a whole new ball game. I’m here, and I’m present in every sense of the word. It’s hot, it’s crowded, and there’s a lot of pressure on our team, but it’s all good. Last year the stakes were high: the boys wore their pink wrist bands in honor of me, and they wanted to win it all. Coming home with 2nd place was an honor to most but considered a failure to my kid. Seeing him walk through the door of my hospital room the day after they lost the championship was sweet for him and for me, but I could feel the weight of his disappointment. He wanted to bring the title home, and storm the hospital bathed in pride. Last summer was hard for all of us. Games were played, battles were fought, and lessons were learned.
This summer it’s all good.
I really should have posted this last night, as soon as we got home from the game, but I had to go straight to the defibrillator after suffering several small heart attacks watching that nail-biter.
It was do-or-die for the boys in red last night, and they came out looking confident and strong. The opposing team, however, seemed to think they had victory in the bag and were goofing through warm-ups.
We were scoreless for a couple of innings with some tight defense, until Mr Slugger Mark Stanford came up to the plate with bases loaded and blasted a grand slam to put us in the lead 4-0. I think Mark’s long ball is still traveling, so if you’re in the area, heads up! We were ahead for most of the game until the 5th inning, when Pearland caught some lucky breaks with crazy hops and disgustingly erroneous officiating. Usually I’m the only parent in the stands yelling at the umpires after an egregious call, but last night the entire First Colony crowd was hollering, and on more than one occasion. Our boys overcame the umpires’ ignorance, though, and are primed for victory tonight.
The local newspaper’s coverage focused on the First Colony National 10-year-old team last night, with our team just getting a blurb, which I’ve conveniently extracted for you here. If you’re interested in the entire article, read it here. Tonight’s game at 7 pm at West University Little League decides who goes to the State Championship next weekend. GO RAIDERS!
First Colony 11-year olds force decisive game for title
The First Colony American Red Raiders jumped to an early lead with the help of a Mark Stanford grand slam then held on for a 7-5 victory over Pearland Maroon at West University Little League Saturday night. The result sets up a winner-take-all game for the sectional title Sunday night at West University.
First Colony dropped into the loser’s bracket when it lost to Pearland in the tournament opener. It has won three in a row to get within one victory of a return trip to the state tournament.
Red Raiders’ pitcher Cody Joe Cegielski gave up one run over the first 4 2/3 innings then gave way to Stanford and Camden Kelly who closed out the game when it got close in the sixth. First Colony led, 7-1, at the end of the fifth.
Payton Hicks had two doubles and one RBI for First Colony.
It was do-or-die for the mighty First Colony Red Raiders last night, and the cause of my nervous stomach all day yesterday. I would love to keep everyone in suspense about the outcome, and bury it at the bottom of a long, blabbedy-blab post, but that would be mean, and while I’m not above being mean, I do believe in the great karma wheel and want it to spin my way.
So, without further ado….RAIDERS WIN!!!
The stands were packed, the tension was high, and the mighty Raiders were pumped. Lots of non-Raider First Colony families turned out to support the boys in red. That’s one of the great things about our league (besides our utter dominance thus far in the All Star tournament, with the American League 9, 10, and 11-year-old teams winning district); we support each other. We hear comments from teams we pummel into the ground about our league having a “A” team and a “B” team, but it’s just not true. Nothing but sour grapes. Our league is divided into an American and a National league based on geography, pure & simple. Where a player lives in relation to the dividing line determines whether he (or she) is on an American or National team. No gerrymandering at FCLL.
And now, back to the game…
We had our starting pitcher on the mound, fresh after a day of rest and reset pitch count. The West U team did not. We faced the same pitcher who started for the boys in green on Monday, in which we delivered a 7-4 victory.
Our starting line-up remained unchanged: Max, Cody, Payton, Mark–ready to slug it out. Then comes Gus, Kyle, Camden, Taylor, and Carl. Cooper and Anthony are ready to assist at a moment’s notice. The bats were hot and the Raiders took an early 5-0 lead. No sloppy errors last night, as our boys delivered some first-class fielding and shut the West U team down seamlessly.
Final score: 12-2 in a run-rule (for the uninitiated, in this tournament, it’s considered a run-rule if one team leads by 10 runs after the 4th inning. What it means is the other team can’t catch up, so the game ends early. It’s rather demoralizing for the team who is behind, and exhilarating for the team with the big lead).
Celebration abounded as the Raiders and their parents whooped with joy at the victory. If the baseball gods had not smiled upon us, we’d be done with All Stars for the summer, and a certain gamer at my house would be in a foul mood for the rest of the summer. All Star families pretty much plan our summers around the idea of going all the way in the tournament, which means daily practice from the first week of June to the State Championship at the end of July. I am so very glad I don’t have the entire month of July to fill. It will be baseball, baseball, and more baseball — just the way we like it.
Apologies for the crummy photo quality — the iPhone is a wonderful device, but even with all the improvements the camera still doesn’t handle motion well. You get the gist, though, even with less-than-stellar pics.
Close-up of the district pin, which is quite an honor to wear. And a mighty fine profile, if I do say so myself!
Getting congrats from the West U team and coaches (who were very nice throughout, by the way, and that’s not always the case with opposing teams. A couple of their players cried in the field when they realized their run to State was ending, but the parents and coaches were quite civil).
Payton being interviewed by a local sports reporter. And yes, of course I will link to the story when it comes out. See this, though, for a previous game’s story.
Proudly displaying the district banner, which will be on display at our home field, hopefully surrounded by that of the sectional tournament and finally, the State Championship!
I’m as nervous as a cat. On a hot tin roof.
Payton’s All Star team was one game away from being district champions last night, and they went down in flames. We’d already beaten the West University team but they came back with a vengeance (and their best pitcher). As a seasoned baseball mom who’s used to watching a confident & uber-talented team, I can usually get a read on the game and have a sense of how it’s going to end. Last night I didn’t have my usual “sixth sense” before the game, and even when our boys launched 2 homers in their first at-bat to take a 3-0 lead, I didn’t settle in with my usual feel-good feeling about the outcome.
My kid got hit by a pitch during his first at-bat. Not a wimpy pitch, either, but a smokin’ fastball. That fastball thumped his thigh, just above the knee, quite audibly. My mama- bear instinct kicked in and I was on my feet, wondering if my boy would crumple in a heap on top of home plate. Then my rational brain kicked in and reminded me that my boy is tough as nails and meaner than a red hog on the field. He takes pain like it’s a cool summer breeze, as if it’s a “woonty” on the shore of Salisbury Beach. His pain tolerance is incredible, and yes, he gets that from me. He’s the ideal football player — a coach’s dream — because he’d rather take a beating than admit he’s hurt. Most kids take a “test jog” down the right-field line after being hit by a pitch, to make sure they can still run without a hitch in their giddy-up. Not my kid. After being pounded, my kid just casually tossed his bat and trotted to first base. Not a wince or a whimper from him.
Payton’s teammate Gus responded to the bean-ball by hitting a homer off the pitcher who pegged my kid. Way to go, Gus!
Sadly, the First Colony bats weren’t as hot for the rest of the game, and we came up short. Errors in the field added insult to injury, and the boys in red got a long, stern talking-to from their coaches instead of a celebratory toast at the local pizza joint.
We face West U again tonight, and will likely bring a renewed vigor for victory. It’s winner take all tonight, so the stakes are high. Whichever team goes home tonight with a victory moves on to the sectional tournament, with hopes of progressing through that and onto the State Championship. Last year, that team was ours, and we’re all hoping for a repeat performance.
No one wants this more than me, since I missed every bit of it last summer. Thanks to a post-mastectomy infection, I was in the hospital instead of in the stands. The team honored me by wearing pink sweatbands throughout the summer, and Payton still wears his. We had to get a new pair, though, because the original pair was filthy. The kind of filth that repeated washings and soakings and pre-treating can’t remove. Lots of sweat but no tears last summer.
Apparently I’m a bit nervous , as I was awake at 4:20 a.m. thinking about tonight’s game. Someone asked me at the gym the other day if I’m one of “those baseball moms.” I wasn’t sure what she meant — the kind of baseball mom who attends all the games and cheers for everyone on the team? Or the kind of baseball mom who gripes at the coach and yells at the umpire about being unfair toward her baby? I’ve seen both kinds. I like to think of myself as the former, but I have been known to yell at an ump a time or two over a particularly egregious call. I am the kind of baseball mom who wears my kid’s jersey to the games, proudly displaying #11 on my back just as my kid does. I am the kind of baseball mom who decorates the car windows, as is tradition around here, so that everyone on the road and in the parking lot know that there’s an All Star on board.
I am the kind of baseball mom who feels deep pride at my kid being selected for All Stars. 20 players are chosen, then that group is whittled down to 11 or 12 for the traveling team. Lots of players — and lots of moms — would give their eye teeth to be a part of this team. Missing the games and the camaraderie last summer was hard. Really hard. I was able to follow along with the games via an iPad app that allows a user at the game to enter the pitch-by-pitch action so a user on the other end can follow the play-by-play. One of the moms asked me last night if it’s more nerve-wracking to follow along or to watch the game live. I said watching live is way more nerve-wracking. Sitting in a hospital bed staring at the iPad screen isn’t nearly as complete an experience as being in the stands, in the heat, with the roar of the crowd and the sounds of the game. I do have fond memories, though, of the nurses who were constantly in and out of my room getting involved and asking for updates on the game. And I distinctly remember forgoing pain medicine so I could be lucid enough to follow the game. This summer is a whole new ball game, for me.
Last summer was pretty bad for me and my family. It started innocently enough, with a bilateral mastectomy at age 40 on May 13th, and while I healed quickly and nicely from that, it all went downhill fast.
Just after my 41st birthday, I got a nasty post-surgery infection. No one saw it coming, and to say it took us all by surprise would be a gross understatement. The odds of contracting a nosocomial infection are not small, but my infection is somewhat rare, quite wily, and super slow to treat. In the scope of inconvenient infections, I won the lottery.
Last night was the first game of the All Star tournament for Payton’s team–something I missed entirely last summer. Being present last night to watch my boy do what he does best with his team of like-minded and uber-talented buddies was one of the simplest yet deepest thrills of all time. We take a lot of things for granted in this life of ours, and being able to sit on metal bleachers in the Texas heat in June to watch youth baseball is one of those things. I’ve sat through thousands of games for my little ball player, and hardly thought twice about it beyond the random, mundane thoughts associated with this endeavor: who are we “versing” (as our catcher, #10 Carl says)? Where is Payton in the line-up? Are we on the shady side of the field? Did I remember my stadium seat? How many times will Macy hit the concession stand? How many pieces of bubble gum does Pay have in his mouth at once?
Those are the thoughts that traverse my brain during a game, along with the usual baseball stuff: What’s the run rule in this tournament?; How did we fare against this team last time we met? If the ball hits the bat then hits the batter, he’s out, right? Rules and regulations course through my head as I follow the many games my boy has played.
Last night was different, though. As I was ready to walk out the door, our bestie Ed reminded me that I’ve come a long way since this time last year. Several of the parents on our team remarked at the park that it’s nice to have me there this year. A couple of the coaches said something about having missed me and my big mouth last summer; once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader.
I have come a long way since last summer, and watching my kid play ball is something to be savored, something to most definitely not take for granted. The metal bleachers, the roar of the crowd, the (gross) smell of hot dogs, the infield dirt blowing in my eyes…every bit of it is special to me on a whole ‘nother level.
Last night also marked the first time a newspaper reporter has covered the game, and seeing my boy’s name in print in association with his rock-star team’s blowout and his personal success is something I’ll be savoring for a while. Before cancer came into my life, I would have enjoyed reading the article, and likely would have forwarded it to our nearest & dearest, but this time, I’m carrying the feeling of that article along with me, inside my heart, in that little space where the gratitude lies.
I was flipping through my old Caring Bridge blog, and happened upon this entry, which seems even more prescient a year later. I wrote this on the morning of my mastectomy, before leaving for the hospital. No doubt I was antsy, preoccupied, and ready to get the show on the road that morning. It seems appropriate to reprint it today, in light of the theme of today’s blog.
I realize that when cancer comes into one’s life it disrupts everything and changes “the normal” forever. Dr Dempsey, my superstar breast surgeon, told me you no longer schedule cancer around your life, you schedule your life around your cancer. Life takes a backseat to war.
With cancer, I join a club that I never signed up for and for which I never wanted to become a member.
No matter, I now have a new normal. The new normal is all about taking care of what’s most important. We hear this all the time, but when you really put it into play in your own life, you know exactly what it means. For me, it means facing this beast head on and telling the bastard repeatedly that it doesn’t stand a chance. It means never once, not even once, considering that this cancer will win. It’s not even in the game.
It also means all the pithy stuff you hear about, like savor every day, make the most our of whatever you’ve got. That’s also true. For me it means truly embracing and enjoying my kids and my family, and letting my friends into my life — warts & all — on a whole new level. Y’all may well see my house a mess, which doesn’t happen much. You may see me in a grumpy mood (ok, you’ve seen that, esp on the tennis court!). You may see me just a teensy bit vulnerable, but only for a short time so don’t expect a repeat performance. No matter what, there is a new normal, and I’m all over it.
Today’s my day.
It’s been pointed out to me that in addition to being my birthday, today is the official start of hurricane season. Coincidences are funny.
Birthdays were a big deal in my house when I was a kid. There was lots of celebration, and we always had homemade cake, decorated by my sweet Aunt Margie, my mom’s younger sister, who was diabetic but still made her Nanny Po a fancy cake every year. See, when I was a little kid, I couldn’t say my whole name: Nancy Katapodis. That was a mouthful for a little girl. The best I could manage was Nanny Po. Aunt Margie always called me that, even after I’d grown up. Dadgummit if pancreatic cancer didn’t strike her down 14 years ago. If she were here, she’d be making me the Barbie bowl cake right now, with lots and lots of frosting, and calling me Nanny Po.
I don’t mind one bit that I’m growing older. Not one little bit. I might have B.C. (Before Cancer) but not now. There’s something so very sweet about coming out on the other side of a hellacious battle against a vicious beast and its equally nasty side-kick. Breast cancer and mycobacterium stole a lot from me, but they will not steal my birthday joy. Pre-B.C., I might have fretted about being on the wrong side of 40, about the crow’s feet and the less-than-smooth skin. But not anymore.
I’m planning to savor every second of my birthday. Growing older means I’m alive. I’m here to celebrate another year. I’m thrilled to bits to be 42 today.
I really hope that this year is better than last.
Not to tempt fate, but it can hardly be worse.
Once cancer came to call, I realized that each birthday is much more than the day of one’s birth; it’s another year of victory. It’s another year of walking upright as opposed to being tethered to a hospital bed. Triumphant and upright yet still scarred, I learned first-hand the Chinese proverb:
“The appearance of a disease is swift as an arrow; its disappearance slow like a thread.”
True, so true.
The utter suckiness of last year and the swiftly-appearing disease that is breast cancer, while totally sucky, taught me a lot. One of the big lessons, while completely corny, is to enjoy each day.
And today, on the day of my birth, I intend to do just that.
I don’t have a lot of baby pictures of myself. Those are still at my parents’ house; my mom kept a lot of pictures and a detailed baby book. Like everything else, she did the historical record-keeping of my life very well. In fact, I think most of my school pictures are hanging in the hallway at the old homestead.
I do have these pics, though, and will embarrass myself by sharing.
No idea whose parents owned the magical mystery bus that we decorated for cheer competition, but it was looking pretty festive. Oh, how I loved this particular cheer uniform. It was my favorite, and I hated to have to wear the other ones. I betcha it’s still in my parents’ attic. My mom never threw anything away. It may be moth-eaten and tattered, but I bet it’s still there.
I’m almost afraid to post any pics of my lovely self from college, because my bangs were so big they’d take up this whole screen. Go ahead and laugh. I’m right in the middle, surrounded by ’80s bangs.
After college, my first real job was editing Usborne children’s books that were written in England but sold in the U.S. My job was to “Americanize” the books, i.e., change “biscuit” to “cookie,” etc. To this day, I have a hard time deciding if the word “grey” is spelled with the “e” or an “a.” It looks more right to me as grey. Ditto “colour” vs “color.” It was a super fun job and when I had to leave, to move to Austin so Trevor could start grad school at the mighty University of Texas (HOOK ‘EM!!), my going-away party looked like this:
Randall White, the company president, and I cooked up a little show in which he pretended to insult me, and I shoved a piece of cake in his face. No one else was in on the joke, so it was a bit shocking. No wonder I have such a problem with authority, if Randall taught me these kinds of hi-jinks at my very first job.
Baby Payton got me out of the 9-to-5 lifestyle and into that of a full-time mommy. Keeping up with a hungry baby’s schedule and later chasing after a busy toddler made me wish I had an office to go to again, but only on some days.
Then I really wished I had an office to go to again!
Being responsible for the care & feeding — not to mention the character-molding — of two small kids was a big responsibility. Luckily, I had a great mentor. Just wish she’d have stuck around to help get me through my little darlings’ teenage years.
May not be all that important to them, but it’s my day, right?
Watching my boy pursue his true love (baseball) is pretty great. It reminds me a lot of my childhood, in which I spent a whole lot of time at the ball fields watching my brother and shagging fly balls. Sharing an unabashed love of the Red Sox with my boy is one of my life’s true joys.
The day Macy met Mo Willems stands out as one of the all-time best. He was so entertaining, and we love his books so much. When it was Macy’s turn to visit with him, she told him she likes to write, too. Instead of asking him some goofy question, she asked for his phone number. In parting, he told her be sure to not let Pigeon drive the bus. She replied: “As if!” I predict those two will collaborate one day.
Like my doggies. Maddy, sweet Maddy. My first dog as a grown-up. I saw her being born, and will never forget the shock of how easily the pups just slipped right out from their mama, the polar opposite of all the pushing, sweating & grunting I’d seen of births depicted on TV. Sweet Maddy entered the world easily and wormed her way into my heart. 6 pups were in her litter: 3 black, 2 blond, and 1 white. Everyone who came to look at those pups wanted the white one. But she was mine. I loved that dog all the way to the Moon and back. When she died just shy of her 15th birthday, my heart broke into a million little pieces.
She was the best dog, and a really good sport. I guarantee she didn’t want to wear bunny ears — she was much too smart & sophisticated for that — but because her girl asked it of her, she complied. Sweet old thing.
My dogs bring me a lot of happiness. A lot of dog hair, but happiness, too. Harry and Pedey make me smile every single day.
Later, of course, we learned it’s because he’s insane. They don’t always tell you that at the Humane Society.
As does spending time with my tennis girls. Oh, how I love that. If I weren’t planning to drink so much champagne today, I’d have to get out on the court. Going to tennis camp and playing nonstop for an entire weekend was one of the best things ever. I need a re-do! Come on, girls — get your racquets and let’s go.
It’s been a crazy year, for sure. When they say it’s all down hill after 40, they really mean it! Going from 40 to 41 brought more than the usual changes for me. But I’m on a roll now.
Being 41 and a fledgling cancer survivor taught me to strut my stuff, both at the Couture for the Cause and every day.
As I strut my way into 42, I’ll hold my head high and my glass even higher. This is indeed a year for celebration.
To say that a lot has happened in the last year is an utter waste of words. I’m not sure there are words to convey how much has happened in the last year; if there are, they are reserved for better writers than I.
Being diagnosed with cancer at age 40 is a shock. Duh. It’s scary and unexpected and unnerving. Double duh. 40 is when we hit our stride. For me, it meant my kids were old enough to not need constant supervision but to still need my guidance. I’d recently discovered tennis, the new love of my life, and had time and freedom to play often. I had a tight circle of friends who knew who they are and where they want to go. I was very comfortable with the direction of my life and the steps I was taking to make it the very best it could be.
Then came cancer.
That vicious beast had already stolen my sweet mama from me, when she was only 67. I was 36 and finding my own way as a mother, and needed her input and presence. But more importantly, I needed her friendship. She and I never had the contentious relationship that a lot of mothers & daughters have. We always liked each other. Maybe because we were a bit opposite: she was yielding and I was (am) opinionated. But maybe we just got lucky, and had that special relationship that some fates bestow upon some people but not others. The reason for our good relationship is immaterial; the fact was, we treasured each other, and losing her was the worst thing to ever happen to me.
Until April 27, 2010.
My guardian angels were asleep at the wheel.
I’d been getting baseline mammograms since my mom died, since hers was a reproductive cancer and that put me at a slightly greater risk. More so, though, was my OB-GYN’s diligence. Her husband is an oncologist at MD Anderson, so she’s super-tuned to cancer and its sneaky ways of getting its foot inside the door. She saved my life. Pure and simple. And monumental.
When the news came on this day last year, I listened to everything Dr Dempsey told me about my cancer, as Boss Lady Staci dutifully took notes in Trevor’s stead as he hustled home from a business trip. I held it together until the end, when she asked if I had any more questions and I had one: how do I tell my kids?
They’d watched their YaYa die from cancer, and while only 6 and 3 years old, those memories are powerful. They wanted a lot of assurance that my cancer was different in every way from YaYa’s and that it was not going to kill me, too.
One week after my diagnosis, Payton turned 11. I was gearing up for a double mastectomy, but wasn’t going to neglect his celebration, because if we can’t celebrate life and its happy moments, then cancer might as well come and get us all. We had the usual birthday breakfast on the personalized birthday plates, just as we had every year. As I placed his feast in front of him, I muttered my birthday wish, which was to make sure I was around to place that personalized plate in front of him on May 3rd for many years to come. My firstborn isn’t going to celebrate his birthday without his mama if I have anything to say about it.
The day before my mastectomy, Macy and I met Jeffrey, the orphaned mockingbird rescued by Amy Hoover’s family. We’d been hearing about this little guy, and my animal-loving girl needed to see him for herself. I had a million things to do to prepare for not only surgery but also weeks of dependency, but we made time to meet Jeffrey, and I’m so glad we did.
Two weeks later, I turned 41. I celebrated in typical fashion, with a girlfriends’ lunch and champagne that night. White cake and bubbly are two of my favorite things, and they just say “party” to me. I didn’t feel great, but I was determined to greet the next year in my life with a glass in my hand and a smile on my face. Being surrounded by my best girls during the day and my family in the evening reminded me that life goes on and that while my recovery was hard, it was do-able, so take that, cancer.
A few days before my birthday, I strapped on as much determination as I could muster and took Macy to see Taylor Swift at the Toyota Center with her best bud, Ella, and my partner in crime, Jill. I was so afraid of being jostled by the crowd, as I was still pretty sore and healing was far from complete. But I wanted to be there and be a part of that big event, and to prove to myself that life doesn’t stop for cancer. I’d lost my breasts but not my drive. The glowsticks burned brightly as the music thumped, and I sat next to my favorite girl and soaked it all up. Every last drop.
Good thing I did, because my healing and happiness were short-lived.
Just as I felt like I was really recovering from the mastectomy, the nosocomial infection entered my life. A curveball? And how.
Hospitalized for 9 days, pumped full of antibiotics, right tissue expander removed and left expander drained, my life took a decidedly unpleasant turn. It took 6 weeks to diagnose the mycobacterium, and nearly a month total of days spent in the hospital. That first 9-day stay was the longest of my hospitalizations, but also the scariest because the infection was hiding under the tissue expander, hard to diagnose but making me really, really sick. A month after the 9-day stay, I was back in the joint. Out for 3 days and back for 5 more days. Then, out for 2 weeks and back in for 3 days. A seemingly never-ending cycle. Each time I had to go back in, Macy would hand me Froggy, her most beloved of all her “crew” of stuffed animals. He’s been with her since she was a tiny baby and has enjoyed favored status among the masses of other stuffed animals. He’s been in her bed every night and has gone on every trip she’s taken, and she gave him to me to take on each trip to the hospital. He had a bath in hot, bleachy water with an extra rinse every time he came home to her.
She also gave me Baby Snoopy, another coveted member of the “crew,” and my heart swells at the idea of my baby girl’s thoughtfulness. Though she hated to see me go back to the hospital, she knew her “crew” would comfort me in her absence.
Gross picture, yes, but I did make it smaller so you don’t have to see it in all its glory. Apologies to Christy, who hates this kind of stuff, and Julie: you’d better start skimming because this is the icky part. The aftermath of the mycobacterium is unpleasant, for sure. And this is not the worst shot there is; this shot was taken after much healing had occurred, believe it or not. The wound left behind by the infection was 5.6 cm long, 3 cm wide and 2 cm deep. That dang bug wreaked a lot of havoc on my already-ravaged right chest wall, and it killed what little bit of healthy tissue was left after Dr Dempsey scooped most of it out to rid the cancer. It’s an insidious bug that is hard to treat. It’s not drug-resistant, like MRSA, but it is very slow-growing and so it responds slowly to antibiotics. Hence the long, long, looooooooong course of oral abx and the multiple rounds of IV antibiotics, at home and in the hospital. I still have this collection on my kitchen counter, to take twice a day, but luckily haven’t needed the IV version since the last go-round in March. No idea when I’ll get off the oral abx, but sweet Dr Grimes, my infectious disease doc, has told me that he has patients who are on abx therapy for years. Years. Plural. Egads.
Trevor and I became fluent in home health care and learned how to administer the vancomycin and cefapim all by ourselves. The learning curve wasn’t steep, and the whole process was very systematic. My home health nurse, Chona, was as kind and competent as could be, but the gravitas of my situation was clear.While I dreaded it and resented the 3 hours it took twice a day to infuse, I counted my blessings and reminded myself that it could be worse: I could be getting those drugs via IV in the hospital. Again. Which is why I smiled for the camera, tethered yet again but happy to be at home, with Snoopy to keep me and my IV pole company. And yes, that is a glass of wine on the table next to me. It was a dark period in my life, people; don’t judge.
This is what Sucky’s appendage looked like strapped to my body, so it could suck out the gunk and speed the healing from this curveball. The size of the plastic sheeting and the tape required to keep the Sucky train rolling was big enough to give me the vapors, and my poor skin is shuddering at the memories right now. And isn’t everyone thankful that I didn’t have a better camera than the one on my iPhone? Imagine how gruesome the photos would be! Oh, the horror.
The amount of supplies needed to deal with that wound was staggering. The home health stuff was delivered in big boxes, which cluttered up my office and dining room for a day or two before I said enough! and organized everything to minimize its presence. Out of sight, out of mind (sort of). I pared it down as much as I could.
I became proficient at prettying up the ugly truth of cancer treatment, and its equally- ugly friend,infection aftermath, fared the same. I may not have had control over the mutating cells in my body or the nasty bug that invited itself in post-mastectomy, but I sure could dictate how my surroundings would look during the after-party.
The amount of supplies needed for this fragile existence was great, and so was my need for comfort. That I found comfort in bubbly and coconut cream pie should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I may have been down and out, with cancer and infection taking their pounds of flesh (literally), but I was powered by Piper and pie.
The summer wore on and I barely saw the sun. And only then, through the window; I didn’t get out much. Between the hospital stays, feeling puny, IV drugs, and being on guard against germs, I missed out on a lot.
I did make it to Macy’s 2nd grade last-day-of-school festivities. She had something funny to say when it was her turn to take the podium, and although I don’t recall what it was, I’m glad I was able to be there to see her in action. I also dragged my sorry carcass to Payton’s 5th grade farewell. My friends in high places in the school volunteering world pulled some strings and had a reserved seat for me, along with a parking cone to save a parking place for Mary, who carted me there and back. My baby was moving on to middle school, and I was moving slowly–very slowly–toward recovery, from cancer and infection.
Right before school ended, Payton was honored with a spot on the All Star team. This boy lives & breathes baseball, and has from his earliest days, so this is a big deal.
The team went from District to Sectionals to State (or maybe Sectionals to District to State), and I made it to 1 game. Being in the hospital while my favorite player did that thing he does best was hard on this mama. His team had a lot of heart, in addition to some mad skills, and they were kind enough to play in my honor for the duration of their run toward State champs. I’ve never been more honored and humbled as when he came home from practice the night before the first tournament (District? Sectionals?) with a pair of pink sweatbands on his wrist. Learning that the entire team was wearing the pink, for me, moved me, and like the Grinch, my heart swelled to maybe a normal size.
I’ll be forever indebted to all the other All Star moms who cheered for my boy and provided yard signs, pool parties, custom shirts, and child-wrangling assistance in my absence, at our home field and on the road. Missing the games was hard, but knowing that my circle of baseball moms had my back made it bearable. And having my signed photo of the boys in red (with a dash of pink) brightened my hospital room and my spirits. That frame now sits on my dresser, and every day when I see it I remember not only the special summer of baseball success but also the pure hearts of the families on that team who helped my own family in our time of need.
Good things can come from a bad situation. There is hope inside a diagnosis. You get a measure of the depth of people’s kindness, which comes out in lots of ways. Like custom cupcakes. I liked that one a lot, and so did my kids.
Like a card signed by the staff at PF Chang’s during a celebratory lunch. Our waiter knew we were celebrating some good news in the cancer battle and took it upon himself to have his co-workers celebrate along with us. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: Eat at Chang’s!
My friend Paula from Duke ran in the Salt Lake City Race for the Cure in my honor and sent me her bib from the race. At that point, I was a long way from even considering doing a 5K, so it did my heart good to know she was out there, pounding the pavement among an army of pink and thinking of me.
One weekend in between hospital stays, Macy and I snuck away to Galveston with Christy and her daughter Alexis, for a much-needed break from illness, wound care, and calamities. Macy caught a huge fish off the dock, and seeing her proud smile made the trip even better. There’s something magical about the sunset off the water, and I savored the splendor.
Once word got out that the puppy-sitting business was up & running, we got to keep Pepper for several days. My kids loved having her to snuggle with on the couch, and I relished the idea that the hard times were morphing into better times.
School started, much to my children’s chagrin, and Payton went off to middle school while Macy began 3rd grade. A few days after school started, I was fresh out of the hospital, she and I rocked out at the Jack Johnson concert in the Woodlands. Because I had been hospitalized, again, so recently, my attending the show wasn’t a sure thing. I still had the dressing on my port-a-cath and wasn’t feeling great. What is a sure thing, however, is that I’m as stubborn as cancer is shitty, so I made it to the show.
August and September were spent recuperating, and at the end of September I hobbled myself on down to Tootsies, a chichi clothing store in the high-rent district that was outfitting survivor models for the Couture for the Cause fashion show. I’d only been out of the hospital for a month, but I had committed to doing the show and I made good on my word. Scared breathless and unsure of myself are not states in which I commonly find myself, but the fashion show landed me smack dab in the middle of “What in the world am I doing?” territory. I wasn’t wild about the dresses I wore, but my shoes were a-maz-ing and the experience is one I truly will never forget. Oh, and we raised almost $100K for the cause.
October signaled the return of some normalcy. I was able to put together something I’d daydreamed about a lot in the hospital: the First Annual Pink Party. I wanted to gather my circle of girls who had seen me and my family through the roughest part of the “cancer journey” to show my thanks and spend some non-sick time together. With the pink theme, yummy food (if I do say so myself), and plentiful drink, it was a smash success.
We seemed to have the infection under control and the antibiotics were doing their job, and after a much longer-than-anticipated hiatus, I was back on the tennis court. My sweet tennis friends gave me a little trophy that says “Winner,” and it’s the best trophy I’ve ever won.
This little trophy soon had a friend, though, after Boss Lady and I won the Witches’ Open at the end of October. Being back on the court with my tennis friends was so great. Tennis is very good therapy.
As if that day wasn’t fun enough, that night was the Maroon 5 concert in the Woodlands. Tennis, then dinner and the show was a balm for my battered soul. We ate & drank then sang along with Adam for an unforgettable night.
Before too long, fall was upon us (or what passes for fall in Houston), and we readied ourselves for the holidays. Thanksgiving was spent with Team Cremer, with everyone contributing something to the feast. The kids worked off their meal with the traditional post-turkey swim. We had a lot for which to give thanks.
Christmas and the New Year came and went, and before I knew it was time to start making preparations for reconstruction. The Big Dig was a big step, and I had hoped it would signal the end to my “cancer journey” and allow me to put all that hardship behind me. Adding another doctor, and another Dr S, to my cast of characters could only mean one thing: I was going in for a very big surgery.
The DIEP procedure is amazing and hard, in a lot of ways: time consuming, intricate, detailed, and not infallible. Babying the newly transplanted skin, tissues, and blood vessels was hard work, and the crack team at Methodist in the med center did an outstanding job.
It was a hard 3 days, no lie, but at least I was going home. One thing I would miss from the hospital was the morphine. Oh, how I love that stuff. I guess a lot of people do, too, because they guard it closely and I got a laugh from the ping-pong-paddle-key used to replenish my supply. Kinda reminded me of a gas station restroom key.
One thing I would not miss from the hospital was this chair.
This was the chair in ICU that I had to hoist myself into, after hoisting myself and my 17-inch-long abdominal incision out of bed. Again, it’s a good thing I’m so stubborn, because it would have been easy to roll over, say this is too hard, too painful, too much. But by golly I was going to get out of that bed and into that chair no matter what, and with my morphine pump in hand, I did just that. I don’t think I cussed too much, either.
Recovery from The Big Dig is ongoing, and they say it will take a while longer. I’m not the most patient person, and I’m ready to have everything back to normal. Of course I know there’s a new normal, and it progresses at its own pace, not mine. It’s been a long, tough “journey,”and it seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong, for a while.
But a lot of good things have happened, too. I started blogging, for one, with Pedey at my side or in my chair, or both; who knew so many people were interested in my little “cancer journey?” It’s humbling and rewarding to see my “readership” grow, and I am immensely grateful for all the love and support that’s come my way. Someday I may have no cancer-related news to share. How weird will that be? I imagine I’ll find something to talk about in this space, nonetheless.
I will have more stories to share about my adventures with Dr S. There are a couple of revisions that he needs to make to his palette that is my newly constructed chest, and while we argue about the timeframe for that, it will likely provide blog fodder and laughs along the way.
And like the butterfly bush in my backyard that was uprooted and tossed around by high winds recently, I weathered the storm. I’m setting my roots and hoping that the winds that blow my way in future are calmer.
I just realized that Sunday was 10 months exactly since my mastectomy. And tomorrow will be 2 weeks exactly since reconstruction. I’m trying hard not to think about the fact that exactly 3 weeks after the mastectomy came the infection, which landed me back in the hospital just as I was getting my life back, and ended up costing me 23 days of incarceration (hospitalization); 3 vacations (Duke girls’ trip to Lake Tahoe, to Tyler for Payton’s All Star team’s state championship, and our annual visit to Boston and Salisbury Beach); 3 more surgeries; 10 days of twice-daily IV antibiotic infusions at home; and introduction to and hatred of Sucky, the wound vacuum. All in one summer. I’m sure that nasty infection cost me more that what’s listed, but those are the highlights.
I’m trying, really trying, not to think that a catastrophe is coming. I’m trying not to wait for the other shoe to drop, for the bottom to fall out, and the walls to cave in on this recovery. It’s a fragile peace. Very fragile.
Two mantras run through my head: It’s Temporary, and Don’t Borrow Trouble.
The first comes from Jenny, my survivor-sister mentor who has walked this walk, and then some. Her kids were 7, 5, and 1 year old when she was diagnosed, and like me, her case was anything but textbook. Hers was way worse than mine, and we veterans do like to compare and contrast. But she not only survived, she thrived, and she’s a shining example for me every single day. Now that I’m getting closer to being “done” with this “cancer journey” I appreciate her example even more, because she’s my tour guide for L.A.C.: Life After Cancer.
The second mantra comes from guest blogger and night nurse Amy Hoover, and along with her charging me $10 for being difficult, she reminds me to avoid looking for the bogeyman. Ignore him, assume he’s moved on. I suspect all survivors have a little bit of pessimism in them, no matter how chipper they seem. Yes, I’m glad to have been one of the lucky ones, who found it early and can bask in the security of single-digit recurrence rates. And yes, I do try to look on the bright side, count my blessings, and walk on the sunny side of the street (as my mama used to say). In general, my side is blindingly bright, my blessings are innumerable, and I need SPF 70 for the powerful rays on my side of the street. But the thoughts are still there. Sometimes.
Sometimes thoughts of “what if?” fight their way to the surface and take giant gulps of pessimistic-filled air. Those gulps sustain those thoughts as they traverse my grey matter and circumvent the rational side of my brain that tells them to hush up, quiet down, and go away. The rational side of my brain fusses at those thoughts to beat it, get outta town, and quit plaguing me with doubt, worry, and fear. And usually, it works.
But sometimes, instead of celebrating the milestones and thinking about how far I’ve come, those thoughts prevail. Instead of holding my head high even though my back still isn’t completely straight from the giant incision on my belly, I cower a little. Just a little, because I absolutely despise cowering. But sometimes my irrational brain takes over and reminds me that there are no guarantees in life, and there certainly is no travel insurance on this “cancer journey.” I’m the poster child, after all, for doing everything right lifestyle-wise yet still being crapped upon by the giant cancer bird in the sky.