Royal wedding watch party: success!

This morning’s watch party, aka reason to open champagne at 9:00 a.m., was a smash success. We had all the elements of a good party: fun people, plenty of good food, copious amounts of alcohol, and high-quality people-watching.

The ladies sported fascinator hats popularized by the new Duchess of Cambridge. Seems fascinators have become all the rage since the ever-fashionable Kate favors them. Mine was the lamest one at the watch party, because it was a last-minute addition to my garden-party frock and in the interest of full-disclosure, is a clip-on flower belonging to Macy. I grabbed that out of Macy’s hair-art drawer right before the party started rather than fashioning a fascinator out of feathers, as our guests did. Jill’s mom, Joan (visiting from St. Louis) and my mother-in-law, Jody (visiting from Kentucky) had grey and lilac feathers respectively. Jill’s was blush pink, and all were lovely.

They paled in comparison, however, to Keith’s head-covering. 

Embracing the royal occasion and tradition of “frivolous, oversized hats,” Keith came up with the mother of all hats. Whimsically created with found objects, this inspiring chapeau featured a jaunty elephant, which provided the height so desired in an outlandish hat. Candace from “Phineas and Ferb” contributed a nice diagonal line and bolt of bright red. The one lone eyeball from an unseen creature in the center of the hat sends a playful yet contemplative message.

I hope those girls Beatrice and Eugenie don’t get wind of Keith’s creation. They might storm the party and gobble him, and his hat, right up.

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Yikes.

It’s been said that these girls were trying to send a snarky message because their mom, Sarah Ferguson, was purposefully excluded from the royal wedding. Sweet Lord, I hope that’s the reason they chose those hideous hats.

Yesterday I wrote about William perhaps missing his mom, Princess Diana, on his special day. In my effort to avoid seeing any photos or footage of the royal wedding before my delayed watch party, I didn’t hear anything about whether there were intentional efforts by the newlyweds to include Diana’s memory, so I was super happy read this quote from William, about giving his mom’s engagement ring to his beloved: “It’s my mother’s engagement ring. Obviously she’s not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all — this was my way of keeping her close to it all.” Very nice, Wills.

There were several intentional tips of the hat (or fascinator) to Diana. Kate selected the same flowers that Diana had in her bridal bouquet. The Sweet William and lily of the valley flowers made for a demure bouquet that carried a powerful message.

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Kate’s mom, Carole Middleton, chose a dress that was designed by one of Diana’s favorite designers, Catherine Walker.

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Diana worked with Walker for much of the 16 years between her wedding to Charles and her untimely death, and it’s estimated that Walker designed some 1,000 frocks for the late princess, including the black dress in which Diana was buried. Walker is credited with some of Diana’s most iconic outfits.

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I was glad to see that William and Kate made such an endearing effort to include Diana in the wedding. This screen shot of William next to a photo of his mama makes my heart sad and glad at the same time. Genetics are a powerful thing, and the mannerisms that parents impart to children, unbeknownst to the child, speak volumes. The fact that William exhibited the same nervous half-smile with a slightly bowed head that his mama used to exhibit is a small shard of hope that exists after the loss of someone dear. I’m sure Diana would have given her eye teeth to have been at that wedding, but hopefully she was shining down on the newlyweds and emitting some powerful motherly love.

My favorite image from the day was not of either William or Kate, nor a celebrity. 

It was William’s goddaughter, standing next to Kate on the palace balcony after the ceremony. There was a cool flyover of vintage fighter planes, and it must have been too loud for this little darlin. She reminds me a lot of the little darlin who lives at my house.

Here’s the tiniest member of the royal wedding party silently protesting, while the newlyweds share a smooch in front of the immense crowd.

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Kate looked every inch the princess as she stepped out of the car to head into Westminster Abbey

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and in her second outfit for the after-party, which something tells me Diana would have given an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

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I think Kate would have similarly approved of our fascinators.

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Wedding day thoughts

I’m not posting any pics of newlyweds William and Kate, because I’m having a little watch party for the recorded royal wedding tomorrow morning. Really, it’s a chance to drink champagne and eat scones, and I never turn down the chance to celebrate.

I’m really not all that into the royal wedding, so I’m a little sheepish about having a watch party; however, if I’m going to do it, I’m gonna do it right, and I don’t want to see any pictures of any of the festivities before my little watch party.

Apparently this requires me to stay inside my house with the blinds drawn and the computer, TV, and radio switched off.

Went to the gym first thing this morning, to un-do some of the damage I’m going to do this weekend (I’m still celebrating my cancer-versary, after all). All the ladies in the gym were talking about royal wedding this and beautiful gown that. I told LeRoy I was having a little watch party and didn’t want to see any of the footage until then. First he grilled me about what I would be eating and drinking at the party, then he said, “Good luck — there are 3 TVs upstairs and you’ll be in front of them, on the elliptical machine, for 20 minutes.”

I reminded him that I’m as stubborn as a wild hog and if I say I’m not going to see any royal wedding footage until tomorrow, then you can take that to the bank. Yes, there are indeed 3 TVs upstairs, and they were tuned to CNN, ESPN, and whatever channel airs Regis & Kelly’s show. Two of the three were showing royal wedding footage (good old reliable “Sports Center” had NFL draft junk and baseball highlights). Thank you, “Sports Center!”

Although, I do have a bone to pick with SC, which plays on a seemingly constant loop at my house, thanks to the 11-year-old boy who resides with me. In this morning’s baseball footage, which I saw once at home and once at the gym, they dutifully covered the Red Sox’s 6-2 pounding of the Orioles, but they lost a golden opportunity and made the pitiful decision to show Adrian Gonzalez instead of  Jacoby Ellsbury.

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WTH??

The baseball highlights are brief, and photo opps are precious. Nothing against A-Gon; he’s a stand-up player who’s a lot of fun to watch. But really?? Showing him instead of my boy crush, Ells? Terrible TV journalism.

Ells had a great game and is on a hot streak: last night he had 3 hits, as he had done the night before, and was the hero with a bases-loaded single up the middle to score 2 runs. Ells is 6-for-10 the last two games, and I predict even more great things for him.

Since Ells was robbed–along with the women of America–here’s the Ells shot for the day. I could post more, but I’ll be good.

You’re welcome, ladies.

I’ll be writing a scathing complaint to SC after I finish this post.

Back to the royal wedding.

I managed to not see any footage, a victory that matters to no one, but there it is nonetheless. I did get to thinking, though, about the other royal wedding in my lifetime, that of Charles and Diana

They tied the royal knot in July of 1981, and I had just turned 12. My family had recently traveled to London, and there was quite a lot of hub-bub about the grand event, and being an impressionable young girl, I thought the whole thing was very exciting. My mom and I got up at the crack of dawn to watch it live, London time, and I feel like a bit of loser for having my watch party the day after, but who the hell wants to come over at 3 in the morning? Even for champagne. 

Charles and Diana’s wedding seemed to be a fairy tale, with the grandeur of the monarchy and all the pomp & circumstance that goes along with it. They were elegant and lovely, although my mom couldn’t understand why her wedding dress was so wrinkled! I didn’t notice that, but did wonder if the fashion-forward Di ever looked back and regretted her hairstyle on that momentous day. I know I regretted mine.

Sadly, their fairy tale didn’t have a happy ending. Even though Di carried out her princessy duties with great elan, she never quite fit in with the other royals, including her husband. Her death in a car wreck in August 1997, at the age of 36, was tragic. Just tragic. That she was so young, and was just starting to find some happiness, and that she had two young boys who were the light of her life, is just so very tragic. But as we all know, tragedy knows no bounds and strikes randomly. 

She seemed to be a fun-loving mom who wanted her boys to be noble but also real. Now that I’m a mother, I know how hard it is to raise kids, period, much less royal ones. I’ve known plenty of kids who were royal pains, my own included, but these boys seem to be the real deal. They seem to know how to be serious about their official family duties but also lead full and individualized lives.

Of course, all this got me thinking about William on his wedding day, and how very much he must be missing his mama, despite all the excitement and the festivities. I’ve heard it said that William’s new wife shares some of Diana’s traits, and I hope that her legacy lives on through this young couple.

Marriage is hard, plain and simple. It requires hard work, even when one’s spouse is easy-going and fun-loving, like mine is. Carrying out one’s marriage under the microscope and in the spotlight must be even harder, as the world saw with Charles and Diana. I hope the newlyweds have an easier time, and I hope Kate learned from Diana’s example about how to remain true to yourself while fulfilling your obligations.

I’ll never forget watching Diana’s funeral, and seeing the millions of people lining the streets. Emotions were raw as a nation, and perhaps the entire world, mourned the loss of “the People’s Princess.” 

Watching those teenage boys, one of whom was about my own boy’s age now, walking  along the procession route for their mama’s funeral is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. The grace and maturity William and Harry displayed is a testament to the woman who raised them.

They had to have been so shocked, so sad, and so bereft, yet they knew the eyes of the world were upon them, and like their mama had done so many times, they bucked up and got on with it, fulfilling their duty like the princes they are.

The most indelible image of that day, for me, is this one.

The letter from William and Harry inscribed “Mummy” that rode atop the carriage that carried her coffin to Westminster Abbey.

Nosey-Rosey that I am, I would LOVE to know what those sweet boys wrote to their mama. Of course, I wouldn’t really intrude on such a sacred thing as that, but I am curious. I wrote a letter to my mom, to go in her coffin. Don’t recall one thing I said in that letter, but I hope I expressed the huge love, endless gratitude, utter grief, and bottomless loss I felt in that moment. Words are insufficient when it comes to expressing the most delicate yet most cardinal feelings.

And that, my friends, is why we need champagne. Lots and lots of champagne.


An original piece

Y’all are in for a treat today. Sit down, grab a beverage, put your phone on vibrate for this, because you’ll want to read this uninterrupted. My friend David has created a marvelous original piece just for Underbelly readers. He’s enormously talented with the prose and the pen, and as if the story itself isn’t enough, the illustrations are fabulous. I think it’s terrific, and it’s a perfect recap of my cancer-versary, which I feel compelled to continue celebrating. I favor the total birthday week, so likewise I may have a cancer-versary festival for as many days as my liver can stand. IMHO, now is always the right time to pop open some bubbly (I like later, too).

Those of you who have followed my story over the last year, with all its ups & downs, will know of my special relationship with my plastic surgeon. He and I have really gotten to know each other well during my “cancer journey,” and while I tease him sometimes (and drive him crazy all of the time), I have enormous respect for him and his amazing craft. We have a closer-than-normal bond because of the post-op care I’ve needed, and he’s been there for me every step of the way: entertaining me, enlightening me, engaging me, but in the end, taking phenomenal care of me. I trust him with my body and with my life. His work is simply stunning, and I’ve seen firsthand how he can transform a cancer-ravaged, wrecked body into not just a vessel for our souls but also a work of art.

So, in honour of my favorite doctor, I give you…

The Wubbulous Dr. S

 “My name’s Dr., madam, or just Dr. S

And of all plastic surgeons, I’m strictly the best.

I see your mastectomy’s left you flat-chested,

Well, my reconstructions have never been bested!

If it’s hooters you want, then it’s hooters I’ve got.

I’ll shape up your shape till you’re hotter than hot.

You want to be buxom, then buxom you’ll be—

and you’ll be the envy of all that you see!

How can I do this?  I’ll try to explain,

But it may be too much for your non-Doctor’s brain.

For, once I unveil this special contraption,

You’ll be quite amazed—it’s a natural reaction.

Behold!  I give you the Balloon-Boob-U-Latron,

Which will stack up your rack to the stars and beyond!

And with this little dial on the side, I can choose

Whether you will get Double-D’s or…W’s.

So step right on up and I’ll rev up the engine.

By week after next, you’ll get LOTS of attention.”

“It sounds,” I replied, “Just too good to be true,

And besides, I don’t want DD or W.

I’m happy with simply a B or a C.”

“Nonsense.”  He retorted, “Just listen to me.

As I said, I’m a DOCTOR.  I’m SMARTER than you.

I’ve got major degrees coming out the wazoo.

You just sit back and whistle, while I do my stuff.

I’m starting the engine.  You’ve said quite enough.”

Then he started it up.  It whined and it cried

And he chose Double-J on that knob on the side.

And I sat there and whistled.  That’s all I could do.

But then two hours later he said, “We are through.

Behold!  They’re magnificent!”  Then I looked down.

“I don’t see a difference.”  I said with a frown.

“Of course not.”  He said, “For your eyes are untrained,

But I am a DOCTOR.  I’m quite largely-brained.

They’re just getting started.  You’ll see.  They will GROW.

Trust me.  I’m the best—Dr. S—and I KNOW.”

I went home, kissed my kids, then I laid down to rest,

And when I woke up, I saw shape in my chest.

Not much, I admit, but the doctor was right.

They were growing.  And kept growing all through the night.

I woke up next morning, completely in shock.

I couldn’t believe it and, quick, called the doc.

“Dr. S,” I said, “Now for the shocker of shockers.

Something,” I shouted, “is wrong with my knockers.

The one on the left’s growing stronger than strong,

But the one on the RIGHT is decidedly WRONG.”

“Hmmm.  You’d better come in,” Dr. S said.  “I’m fairly

Sure something has happened that happens quite rarely.”

When he saw me, he flinched.  I was very lopsided.

“You have an infection,” the doctor confided.

A mycobacterium.  That is my hunch,

And my LARGE doctor’s brain knows these things by the BUNCH.

I know just what to do.  There’s no need to debate it.

The one on the left…we’ll just have to deflate it.

And we have other options to give you new breasts,

But I am a DOCTOR, and doctors run TESTS.

I’ll get back to you shortly.  Just wait and you’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’ll send you to deflating room B.”

So my boob was deflated, and so was my mood,

And the next time I saw Dr. S, I was rude.

“Look here, Dr. S,” I said.  “I mean no trouble,

But I live inside of the SUGAR LAND Bubble.

I know you’re a DOCTOR, but I say, what of it?

You can take your Balloon-Boob-U-Latron and just shove it!”

“Tut, tut,” Dr. S said.  “I expected as much.

A Sugar Land patient needs a delicate touch.

I’ve run many tests on your bodice, you see,

And the answer’s so clear for a Doctor like me.

What you need is a TRAM FLAP procedure!  I know,

Because I am a DOCTOR, so on with the show!

Since you’re a non-Doctor, I’ll lend you a hand:

TRAM FLAP stands for ‘Tit Repositioning And

Moving Fat Like A Puzzle’, which quite simply means

That you’ll have to gain weight.  So, goodbye, skinny jeans!

You must grow a big belly to give me the fat

That I’ll move to your boobies, to make them un-flat.

So go forth and EAT!  Eat ice cream!  Drink shakes!

Gobble bon bons and beignets and beezlenut cakes!

Grow the fat for new hooters.  Get busy.  Get LARGE.

(The fat on your ass you can keep, at no charge.)

And because I’m a DOCTOR, I must prescribe PILLS!

Pills for THIS and for THAT and for medical bills.

The mycobacterium must go away,

So you must take these pills twenty-four hours a day.

AND because this procedure is tricky as treacle,

I’ll need an assistant.  Please, meet Dr. Spiegel.”

Then in walked a woman so lithe and so smart

That I almost felt jealousy deep in my heart.

So, now I had Drs. S1 and S2,

One doc for each boob.  What the sam hell to do?

And as soon as I met with S1 and S2,

It became quite apparent (as things often do)

That a struggle for power was starting to brew

About which doc was MY doc,

And who was the MAIN doc,

And who would I see when this process was through?

So for weeks I ate pastries, popped pills, and drank shakes

(And martinis and beers because that’s what it takes)

Till I had so much weight in my belly and butt

That I bore a resemblance to Jabba the Hutt.

At my next appointment, they pinched, poked, and prodded,

And at last both my doctors stepped back and they nodded.

“You’re simply ENORMOUS,” said Dr. S1.

“As big as a WHALE!  What good work you have done.”

Then Dr. S2 added, “Yes, I agree.

There’s plenty of fat here.  Just leave it to me!”

“Excuse ME?” shot S1, “But I won’t stand for that.

YOU can assist ME, while I move her fat,

For I am a DOCTOR…”

“Oh yeah?  So am I.”

And in the stunned silence, they stood.  Eye to eye.

Yes, they stood and they stared, never budging a whistle,

But I finally spoke up and I said, “Ugh!  For shizzle!

Yes, I KNOW you’re both doctors.  I KNOW you’re both wise

But it’s MY reconstruction, so shut up, you guys.

Dr. S1, you have cosmetic vision,

So, you’ll do the OUTSIDE stuff.  That’s MY decision.

Dr. S2, you’re as detailed as hell,

So you’ll move my fat, and blood vessels as well.”

Then they stared at me—stunned—like the strangest of fish,

And then Dr. S1 said, “If that’s what you wish,

I will finish the outside.  But YOU, Dr. Spiegel

Must make room for ME and my extra-large ego.”

“All right,” said the slightly dejected S2,

“When I am all through, I’ll give over to you.”

“And she’ll be MY patient,” shot Dr. S1,

“She’ll be mine, mine, mine, MINE, from the moment we’re done.”

“WhatEVER,” I said, and I just rolled my eyes.

“Time’s a-wastin’.  Let’s do it.  Get going, you guys.”

So they wheeled me to surgery, both did their jobs,

And when we came out, I had spanking new yobs!

“Well, what do you think?” asked S1 and S2.

I replied, “I’m just glad that this whole thing is through.

I have boobs, and that’s fine, but I was fine before,

I just want my LIFE back.  There’s so much, MUCH more.

I want to be free, be a mom, be a wife,

Write an end to this chapter of my so-called life.”

And what happened next?  Well in Who-ville they say

That the doctors’ small hearts grew THREE sizes that day.

My story had touched them.  It lifted the fog

Of their arrogance—and gave me stuff for my blog.

So, thanks to the doctors—their wisdom and skills,

Their sense of perfection, and even their pills.

I’m alive.  I am whole.  Though my journey’s not finished,

My faith in my future remains undiminished.


It’s my cancer-versary

One year ago today the bottom fell out of my carefully-ordered life when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

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. 

Mastectomy day, I was up bright & early and ready to get the show on the road. Here I am at the hospital waiting to get de-cancer-fied.

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.

Macy had just posted this on her chalkboard, and for all we knew, the worst was behind us and it could only improve from there. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.

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.

Remember Sucky, the wound vac? This photo is harder for me to look at than the one of the wound. Oh, how I hated Sucky. Necessary, yes, but hateful. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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.

Before the summer was over, we had the chance to puppy-sit this little beauty a couple of times. If puppy kisses can’t cure me, I don’t know what can! 

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.

This is what I looked like before The Big Dig:

and this is what I looked like 3 days later, leaving the hospital:

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.

One year ago, life took a decidedly unpleasant turn. Cancer entered my life like an afternoon storm along the Gulf Coast. 

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.

Like the pillow on my bed says, I am a survivor.


Back in the saddle

Ladies & Gentlemen, I’ve just returned from the gym.

Oh, happy day.

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I’m back in the saddle. Hooray.

Really and truly happy is what I am right now. No, it’s not tennis, and when the day comes that I step back on that court, I will be really and truly ecstatically happy, but this is a good start.

I saw my Greek friend Spyros, who said “Christos anesti,” to which I replied in kind. He’s always suspicious of my Greek-ness because I married a white guy and my kids don’t attend Greek school, so it was a smallish victory for me to be able to reply to him in the mother tongue. If I’d thought about it, I would have expected him to be there, because he’s always there and may well be the fittest Greek person on the planet, and I would have brought him a red hardboiled egg. See, Greeks dye all their Easter eggs red, to be symbolic of the blood of Christ. We nestle the red boiled eggs into the braided Greek Easter bread, then pass them around to everyone at the table and exclaim, “Christos anesti!” Then we play a little game: two people knock their eggs against each other, and who ever comes away from it with an unbroken egg is the winner. On Sunday at my cousin’s house, Thea Sophia was the undefeated egg holder until my other cousin Kim unseated her. Kinda mean to do to an 83-year-old, but that’s how we Greeks roll.

After greeting Spyros and once again wondering how the hell he stays so fit while loving Greek food, I found my good buddy and trainer LeRoy. Like Peaches & Herb,  LeRoy and I were reunited, and it was pretty good. He usually pushes me to the point in which I think I will barf, and he always knows best. Some people in my household think he pushes me too hard and I’m all worn out & cranky from a LeRoy workout. Those people will be happy to know that today LeRoy was very cautious and treated me quite kindly. He also reminded me often to be patient (blech!) and that getting back to my previous level of fitness is do-able. I’m gonna hold him to that.

Walking on the treadmill is not my thing, ok? I’m looking for something a little more heart-pumping and sweat-inducing than that. Not saying you can’t get a nice workout from a brisk walk, but that I’m too impatient for that. But I walked 20 minutes at a nice clip with a bit of an incline (a bit more than LeRoy recommended, but don’t tell him), lunged down the gym and back, did some light–very light–arm weights (lateral, front, and full raises; hammer curls, tricep extension and high-pulls), step-ups on the tall step not the baby step, and walked another half mile on the treadmill.

Not a workout from days gone by, but a good start. I’m back in the saddle, and learning to be content with that. Yes, the learning curve is steep, but I’m getting there.


Extra! Extra!

The front page of the Houston Chronicle today has an article entitled “Infections Top Safety Issues for Hospitals.”

For hospitals?? What about for patients??

I admit, before I became a statistic and contracted a nosocomial infection, I didn’t think much about it, and I would have to say that infections were not the top safety issue for me. Now, of course, I am a statistic, and I’m not very happy about it. Well, I learned a new word (nosocomial,) which usually makes me happy, but this time, not so much. In fact, not at all. I could have happily lived the rest of my life never hearing that word, much less learning about it so intimately.

The article in today’s paper got my attention, for sure, and I half expected to read a story similar to my own, but instead it’s about systemic vascular infections among Medicare patients. The article itself didn’t enlighten me much, and it never said specifically what kind of infections we’re talking about. Not a single mention of staph or mycobacterium to be found.

Sadly, I’m quite well-versed in those two topics.

The article did say that out of 46 hospitals in a 50-mile radius of Houston, half of them reported that Medicare patients under their care contracted infections. Some 472 “hospital-acquired conditions” were reported among 234,000 Medicare patients from October 2008 to June 2010.

I love how the infections are downgraded to “conditions” in print. I can tell you with 100 percent clarity that my hospital-acquired infection was not a condition. It was hell, and it became all-out war.

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Even though I eventually emerged the victor, like most warriors, I will live in the shadow of that victory forever. I don’t know that I will ever feel completely at ease about the infection. I suspect the fear of infection will always be in the back of my mind. Like Harry Potter looking over his shoulder for “He Who Shall Not Be Named,” I will carry this monkey on my back for all of time.

It’s been a while since I have had the recurring dream in which my chest splits open and fluid is pouring out. Maybe that means I’m healing, mentally. In January I wrote about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how it’s not just for people in the military.

At that time, I was 5 months out from my last hospitalization for the post-mastectomy infection, and it was still alarmingly fresh in my mind. Today, I’m even farther out from that last hospital stay, and hope to continue putting distance between myself and that date. 8 months and counting….

I don’t freak out on a daily basis anymore, and having a reconstructed chest instead of a battle-scarred sunken stretch of mangled skin helps. A lot. To the untrained eye, I look like a normal suburbanite going about her daily business. I’m pretty much recovered from The Big Dig, other than some lingering soreness in my belly incision and the annoying fatigue that I can’t seem to shake. The reconstruction, like the cancer, was a piece of cake compared to fighting the hospital-acquired “condition.”

That “condition” and I go round and round, and even though I was the winner in our balls-out battle this past summer, it will always have a hold on me. The 256 days of oral antibiotics are case in point.

256 days.

Twice a day.

Every day.

256 days. With no end in sight.

The other day, I did something I haven’t done in all that time: I missed a dose.

This is huge for me. I’m a bit OCD when it comes to taking my meds, and I’ve been ridiculoulsy proud of the fact that after all this time, I’ve stayed on course and haven’t had to take a break, to nurse an upset stomach or to quell a GI disturbance. I’ve only barfed a couple of times, and it was because I didn’t eat enough to lay down a good base for those antibiotics.

But lately it hasn’t mattered what I eat, I always feel barfy. Once the simple carbs like crackers & pretzels failed to rid me of the ever-present nausea, I gave in and took the Zofran. The nausea was gone, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Clearly this would not be a daytime solution. Once I’d exhausted the simple carbs and Zofran plan, I resorted to alcohol. And lots of it. I figured, if I was gonna feel that bad, I might as well have a good buzz.

Not such a good plan.

I’m really glad I never read the 2001 study on vascular infections authored by Dr CA Mestress of Barcelona. In it he says that vascular infections are “dreadful surgical entities that are usually accompanied by a high morbidity and mortality.” Yikes. I’m really glad I didn’t know that until now. Dr Mestress goes on to say that these infections “require immediate diagnosis and aggressive treatment.”

The recent study on Medicare patients found in the Chronicle today quotes Donald McLeod, spokesperson for the US Department of Health & Human Services as saying, “We wanted to bring transparency to the fact that patients are exposed to potentially unsafe occurrences at America’s hospitals.” He goes on to say he hopes that the recent study will “spur hospitals to work with care providers to reduce or eliminate these hospital-acquired conditions from happening again to even a single patient.”

There’s that word again: condition.  That’s gonna bug me.

It seems the recent study focused on vascular infections contracted via catheters, so who knows how many other hospital-acquired “conditions” are unclassified. Instead of giving me the details I want, the article devoted itself to discussing other hospital-acquired “conditions” such as bed sores, falls, mismatched blood types, and surgical objects accidentally left in the body after surgery.

Ok, so none of those things happened to me, and for that, I am grateful. Wonder if Harry Potter can whip me up a cure for the all-day nausea?


A double holiday

It’s Easter, a bittersweet holiday for me. Spring is hard. My parents’ wedding anniversary is in March, my mom’s birthday in April, followed a few days later by my first dog Maddy’s birthday, then Mother’s Day in May. Celebrating these milestones without my mom is hard, to say the least. The advertising blitz leading up to Mother’s Day depresses the hell out of me each year, and somehow the loss of my own mama always intrudes on the celebration with my kids. She made every holiday fun, and subsequent family gatherings are sorely incomplete without her and her cooking. We always did Easter Greek-style, with roast leg of lamb, roasted potatoes or minestra (Greek pasta), pastichio (Greek lasagna), a huge Greek salad, homemade Greek Easter bread, and of course, coconut cream pie and the annual bunny cake. This year we’ll be celebrating at my cousin Susie’s house, Greek-style, and I’ll drink a toast to my sweet mama. I think she’d approve of this year’s bunny cake.

The cake is a tradition dating back to when I was a kid (which was a long time ago). My mom saw the idea in a magazine and made it every year. I’ve started the tradition with my kids, and now Payton has outgrown it enough to only consult on whether the frosting tastes ok. He’s come a long way from the little guy in the striped t-shirt, trying so hard to balance as many eggs as his little mitts could gather. Macy is chief cake decorator now, and has had exclusive creative license over the bunny cake the last few years. The look of the cakes varies slightly over the years as Macy chooses the decorations. The 2009 version was a study in understatment and pastels.

Last year’s cake was a bit more candy-oriented, with Hershey’s kisses for eyes and a licorice nest for a nose. His bowtie was heavily crusted with assorted sprinkles and jimmies, and the creative genius behind this version clearly had to jump in the pool after her decorating was done.

This year’s bunny has a jaunty moustache and thick eyebrows. He’s decidedly less pastel-y and a bit more avante guard with nary a sprinkle to be found. He’s both stylish and delicious.

Today also marks 18 years of wedded bliss. On this day 18 years ago, I said “I do,” and Trevor said “I do, too” and luckily he agreed on the “in sickness and in health part,” because we’ve seen more than our fair share of the former. Hope to have nothing but the latter from here on out.

We marked the momentous occasion by waking to the sounds of the kids tearing apart the cellophane wrapping of their Easter baskets. The Easter Bunny had to break tradition and deliver a pre-pack instead of the usual carefully-chosen assortment of each child’s personal favorites tucked among the fake green stringy grass, along with a few trinkets and treasures. This year, the EB copped out, but I don’t think anyone but me noticed.

In typical form, Trevor had a gift and a card for me, and I had nothing for him to celebrate 18 years together. I’m not the most sentimental, and you wouldn’t have to look hard to find someone more romantic than me, which is a crying shame. Luckily, what I lack in mooshiness, I make up for in pluck and resourcefulness and always have a gift stashed somewhere. Like a rabbit out of a hat, I pulled a new Adidas tennis shirt & shorts out of the gift closet for him, and wrapped it up real quick like as if it was my intention all along. The card must be lost in the mail. Really. Sigh.

In honor of April 24th and 18 years together, here’s a little walk down memory lane. 

No, that’s not the hairstyle Trevor chose for his big day, but the gusty wind blowing his thick and luxurious mop. See, there was a tornado the day of our wedding, and no, Smarty Pants, it wasn’t a sign of things to come. Nice try. Sadly, 7 people were killed and 100 were injured by this storm, and no, it had nothing to do with our union. Strictly coincidence and having absolutely no significance for poor Trevor.

There was a Whataburger next to the church we were married in, and while the girls were primping in the bride’s suite, the boys snuck next door for a bite to eat. The photographer caught them in the act, and we have Trevor’s killer tornado hair on record. Sweet.

Here’s the title page of our wedding album, lovingly inscribed in by #1 neighbor and wedding coordinator Susan Postier. Notice the red and black scribbles? That would be Macy, as a toddler. She had an evil streak that incited her to leave her mark on everything from walls to brand-new furniture to wedding albums. Nothing was safe from the wrath of our pint-sized Pollock. Instead of being mad at her and thinking the album was ruined, I treasure it all the more because it has Macy’s signature on it. She wasn’t at the wedding, of course, and isn’t in any of the photos, but she made herself a part of it by stamping it with her signature scribble.

Here’s a much younger version of me with my parents. At the time, I was wondering how many more photos I had to endure, and was probably wondering when I could get to the reception and get my drink on. Now of course I would give my right arm to have a few more days with my mom here, my family intact. She was so excited about that pale pink dress, and had even taken a Jazzercise class to make sure she would fit into it, which was a big deal for her because my sweet mama didn’t like to sweat.

Trevor and his mom, Jody, who is amazingly artistic and designed and sewed her dress herself. The photo doesn’t do it justice, as the color was more teal-green and the intricate hand-beading (sewn on in the car as they drove to the wedding from Kentucky) was beautiful.

Trevor and his dad clowning around. How ironic that I’m looking at the photo of Preston giving Trevor “bunny ears” on Easter morning 18 years later. You can’t make this stuff up, people!

Trevor and his brothers. Marrying into a family of 4 boys was a bit of a shock for me, having just one sibling myself. I learned about “the Hicks pass” in which one empties the dish of whatever food item the other brother requests one passes at the dinner table, and that if you want more mashed potatoes, you better get ’em on the first go-round.  Trevor and I thought we might like to have 4 kids ourselves…until Macy came along, that is, and we decided 2 was plenty.

My brother and me. The next time we’d be formally dressed and in a pulpit together would be our mom’s funeral, 13 years later. He wanted to speak about her and asked if I’d stand with him. I agreed but said I didn’t think I would speak. He lovingly prepared a speech about what an incredible mom she was, and how he didn’t realize until he became a parent himself just how sacrificing and unconditionally loving she was. He cited examples of homemade treats in his lunchbox, endless rides for him and his teammates to baseball and football games, and the fact that his uniforms were always clean, no matter how many games a week were scheduled. A beautiful tribute to an amazing mother. Yet, he was overcome with emotion when it came time to read it, and I found my voice and pitched in to deliver his words. I think our sweet mama, a former speech & drama teacher, would have been proud of our presentation.

The last photo in the bride’s suite before the we got that show on the road. The photographer wanted to get an artsy shot of my reflection in the mirror as my mom adjusted my veil, and I nearly lost it just before walking down the aisle. If only I’d known then that my time with her would be short and all the more precious.

Anyone who knew my sweet mama can imagine her muttering under her breath as my brother led her down the aisle. She was probably telling him that he was walking too fast or too slow, or maybe she was talking to herself about what so-and-so was wearing, or wondering if she’d made enough baklava to go around at the reception. Her brain was always running full-speed, and it was usually focused on other people and their needs.

Jody had 2 escorts down the aisle, and those young boys did a fine job delivering their mama to her seat. They’re all grown up now, which I guess officially makes me old.

My dad looks mighty serious in this photo, and I vaguely recall him telling me it wasn’t too late to change my mind. I’m sure he was kidding. He led by example for all of my formative years, and when it came time to give his baby girl away, he threw a mighty fine party.

My cousin Susie and her baby, Melissa, who is now a senior in high school. It’s official–I’m old.

Happy Easter, everyone, and happy anniversary, Trevor. Now let’s go cut that bunny cake!