Vaca starts today!

This is it. Today’s the day. I’m leaving the heat & humidity of Houston behind for 2 weeks of balmy-but-not-hot weather and cool ocean breezes. My right-brained son pointed out a few days ago that I haven’t been to Salisbury Beach in 2 years. Duh. Of course I knew I missed the trip last year — was painfully aware in fact — but hadn’t thought about it in those terms. So it goes without saying that I have a lot of making up to do. A serious re-do is in order, and it starts today.

We’ve been making this trip for a lot of years. My kids looked like this when we started:

We were much more bogged down with bulging carry-on bags to entertain these little guys on the 4-hour flight. Lugging diapers and endless snacks, as well as car seats, across the country while fretting about how to keep them still during the travel time.

Nowadays they’re much simpler (and thankfully out of diapers). They’re entertained by their iTouch or iPhone and can even load their own devices with songs and TV shows from iTunes. Now that’s progress!

We’ve been talking for days about hitting all our favorite haunts: Markey’s lobster pound, Dunlap’s ice cream shop, Willie’s candy store, the arcade, and of course Blink’s for fried dough. The order is always the same at Blink’s — chocolate frosting with chocolate jimmies. I try to talk the kids into sharing a piece every year, and every year they insist they need their own. Because fried dough hot out of the fryer and covered in frosting and sprinkles is a tradition at the beach, they win that debate. They’ll burn off the junk-food calories chasing waves in the ocean. The water’s a bit cool for this Texas girl to frolic, but it will make me happy to watch my kids battle the waves in giant tubes.

My heart is full as I gather my last-minute things and zip my suitcase. This time last year, I was learning the ins & outs of home health care and lugging a wound vacuum around while my kids flew across the country without me. I was learning just how insidious cancer is and the many ways in which it disrupts one’s life. I had wrapped my head around my diagnosis, endured endless testing, made heart-wrenching decisions, and faced a nasty surgery and long recovery. All of that was bad, no doubt, but the worst was putting my kids on a plane to go to our beloved beach without me. This time last year I wrote about it on my Caring Bridge page:

“The kids are excited, and they’ll have a fantastic time. I can heal in peace for 12 days with no one to think about but myself. That’s bizarre to me. After spending the last decade-plus taking care of my kids every day, minus a few days every year for a girls’ weekend, that’s kind of weird. If I miss them too much, I can always flip on SportsCenter of Disney Channel and leave a trail of dirty clothes around.”

No need to do that this year — I’ll be right there with ’em. Macy reminded me that we’ll be watching the sunset on the beach tonight. I might even get myself a piece of fried dough.

I’m definitely taking the advice of a very wise friend, who said “Drink cocktails. Eat lobster. Love life.”

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Good fat

Another thing to add to the long list of things to love about me: I have “good fat.”

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So sayeth Dr Spiegel, who recognized the high quality of my fat at first glance. So skilled in assessing fat is she that a physical exam wasn’t necessary. No need to grab the fat; she could tell the caliber of my chunky-monkey-ness just by looking.

That’s good, because I need that fat for my upcoming revision. While the Drs S did an outstanding, better-than-expected job at reconstructing my sunken, mastectomied chest, there are a few little tweaks needed before I am “done.”

One big lesson about breast cancer and reconstruction: you’re never really done, and it’s never really over.

Much like the plight of an at-home mom in a house full of busy, messy kids, there’s always something else that needs to be done. In this case, rather than errands, laundry, and getting people to & from activities, what needs to be done is correcting asymmetry, changing shape from oblong to rounded, and filling out a few collapsed areas. The best way to do this? Suck out some of that good fat from my hips and inject it up top. 

Remember the “dog ears” left on my hips after closing my 17-inch belly incision during reconstruction? Those pesky globs of fat have tormented me the last 4 months, since surgery. They’ve gotten a bit smaller as I’ve counted calories and gotten back into the gym and onto the tennis court, but they’re still there. At last they will serve their purpose.

I wanted to get Dr Spiegel’s opinion on the best way to go about this before I went under the knife with Dr S. Since the 2 Drs S worked so well together on The Big Dig, I coveted her advice on the revision. I also knew I’d get very clear answers to my questions, as she is very good at communicating and explaining options.

She had the same ideas as Dr S for how to handle this revision. That’s all the confirmation I need. While I’m not looking forward to it (more anesthesia, pain, and downtime), it’s one more step closer to being done. Or as done as a cancer patient ever gets.

Here’s the plan: I go on vacation to Salisbury Beach for 2 weeks, to forget all about the trials & tribulations of the last year. I soak up every second of my favorite beach in an effort to make up for missing it last year. I say yes to every adult beverage offered me, regardless of time of day, food consumed, or number of beverages preceding. I revel in the balmy weather, listen to the sound of the ocean, and relish my friends’ company. I eat lobster in some form each day. I savor the traditions this trip provides my family. I thank my lucky stars that I’m present for this tradition.

Then I come home–tanned, relaxed, refreshed & slightly worried about the state of my liver–and have 2 days before my revision procedure.

I know, I know — having fat sucked out of an area you don’t want it and relocated into an area you do want it sounds like a dream come true. In theory, anyway. I would find it a lot more dreamy if it didn’t involve tools that look like this

and this

and this

Thank you, Google images, for helping me visualize the method of extraction. I’ve been looking forward to bidding adieu to the dog ears since they became a part of my body and to finally having some symmetry to my newly constructed chest, but like everything in this “cancer journey,” it comes at a cost.


LL mom gone wild

Having just returned from the State Championship and spent the vast majority of the summer involved in Little League baseball, this story caught my eye.

Seems a Long Island, NY, Little League mom had a bone to pick with her son’s coach when her little darling wasn’t chosen to play on the All Star team. Instead of accepting the coach’s decision to leave her 11-year-old son off the roster, Janet Chiauzzi, age 44, went nuts and threatened him and his family, including his son (who I assume is her son’s peer). She also wrote to the school principal and accused the baseball coach of indecent behaviour toward the boys on the team.

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Here’s the note she sent to the coach’s son:

“Tell your stupid father to back away from the East Meadow baseball team or he will be sorry. There are other things in life than baseball and if he wants to enjoy them he will get out of East Meadow baseball for good. Accidents happen and I would hate to see something happen to your mom or dad or sister because of your dad’s stupidity… think about it, if something terrible happens to your dad or mom or sister you can blame your dad for not taking my threat seriously. He will be harmed and the outcome will not be good for you. You might never see your dad again. You all better watch your fucking backs. This is no joke. This is as real as it gets.”

Wow. That is some crazy stuff. Way to go, Mom. Outstanding job setting a good example of how to receive bad news, take the high road, and get on with life. Granted, All Stars is a big deal. As I’ve said before, we plan our entire summer around Payton making the team and the team winning district and sectionals and going to the State Championship.

All that over Little League baseball. Man, I shudder to think what might happen if Chiauzzi’s kid is turned down at a job interview. She has been charged with four counts of stalking, two counts of falsely reporting an incident, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and four counts of aggravated harassment.

Listen, overbearing parents are nothing new in youth sports. It’s a tale as old as time. Some of the greatest athletes in the sports world had obnoxious parents. Poor Mickey Mantle, one of baseballs’ greats, reportedly wet his bed until he was 16 years old because of the emotional stress of his dad’s expectations of him. Tennis Hall of Famer Andre Agassi admitted he hated tennis because of his dad’s overzealousness. He’s the only male singles player to have won all four Grand Slams on three different court surfaces (grass, clay, and hard-courts) but hated every minute of it, because his dad was a jerk.

According to Andre’s autobiography, Open, his father Mike Agassi “banged on the fences with a hammer during Andre’s matches when his son lost a point, screamed at officials and was ejected more than once.”

In all my time logged in the bleachers, I’ve seen some bad behaviour from the players’ parents, usually the dads. Never once have I seen verbal abuse help a kid turn his game around. In fact, it usually has the exact opposite effect.

In Open, Andre tells the story of his father making him play a match for money against football legend Jim Brown in 1979, when Agassi was just 9 years old in his hometown of Las Vegas. When Brown complained about the cancellation of a match he was due to play for money, Agassi’s father suggested that Brown play Andre and put up his house for the wager. Brown countered with a $10,000 bet instead. Andre won easily, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, and said he was relieved that his family’s life savings were no longer riding on him. He was 9 years old. 9 years old.

Crazy parents have no place in youth sports, yet there they are. Perhaps the most famous case of crazy parents in youth sports is the Texas Cheerleader Mom, Wanda Holloway. In 1991 Wanda solicited a hit man to off the mother of a rival cheerleader,  hoping the girl would be so bereaved that her own daughter would score a spot on the middle-school cheerleading squad. 

The story captivated the nation and spawned two made-for-TV movies and landed Wanda on the cover of People magazine.

Holloway was convicted of solicitation of capital murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but the conviction was overturned because a juror was on probation. Rather than face a second trial, Holloway pleaded no contest, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. She served only 6 months of the sentence and was released on March 1, 1997. I wonder if her daughter still speaks to her.

Thomas Junta, aka “the Hockey Dad” must have watched the two movies about Wanda Holloway and got some ideas of his own. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after an incident at his 10-year-old’s hockey practice in July 2000. Apparently Junta was complaining to the coach, Michael Costin, that practice was too rough. Costin replied that hockey is supposed to be rough. That must have enraged Junta, because he attacked Costin and beat him mercilessly in front of the kids. The 156-pound coach had no chance against the 275-pound Junta, and died from a ruptured artery in his neck. Junta was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Too bad Costin’s hockey team didn’t have a Statement Concerning Spectator Behavior, aka Ground Rule #18, like we do in our Little League. This rule was read over the PA system at the games this past weekend, and the text of the rules appears in the programs sold at the games:

“Any person who publicly criticizes the umpires, tournament officials, opposing players or coaches will be asked to immediately leave the complex and will be barred from the complex for the remainder of the tournament. Tournament officials will ask that all players be placed in their respective dugout and play will be stopped until the offender leaves the complex….We will insist that the focus of the game remain on the kids. Please do not embarrass yourself, family and team by violating the Ground Rules as stated and approved by your District Administrator.”

When I heard the rule read aloud, I chuckled to myself and thought it was a bit of overkill. Reflecting upon people like the Long Island Little League mom, the Texas Cheerleader Murder mom, and the hockey dad, however, I get it, and I chuckle no more.

The stakes are high at the State Championship, and every parent there wanted their kid’s team to win. After missing the entire thing last year, I really wanted my kid’s team to win. But I’m happy to report that I did not embarrass myself, my family, or my kid’s team by violating the Ground Rules. I sure wish the Long Island Little League mom had been guided by our Ground Rules. Talk about embarrassing your kid. Sheesh.


It’s all over except the crying

It pains me to report such bad news. Real pain, and seriously bad news.

I’m guessing you can see where this is going.

The mighty Red Raiders went down in flames last night inthe State Championship in the great garden spot of Tyler Texas. I’ve been so busy sweating my fool head off in the 100-plus-degree heat and swilling beer after the games that I haven’t had much time to comment, and the news has not been fit to print. Yes, I know it’s a huge honor to even make it this far. Yes, I know the boys have a lot to be proud of. Yes, I know there are lots of teams in our district who would have happily come to Tyler, even if it meant going home with a loss. I get it. But I’m still disappointed.

I’m proud, but disappointed.

This team did make history in our neck of the woods. These boys were the first team in First Colony’s 25-year history to go to State two years in a row. That’s big. We have a competitive league, full of parents with the time and money to provide the kids with private lessons and coaching. We have several former pro ball players who coach and whose kids have grown up in the league. We have a whole lot of smart and dedicated parents serving on the league board, managing teams, running the fields, and cheering from the stands. So for this group of 11 boys to achieve such a back-to-back feat is worthy of notice.

But I’m still disappointed.

We dedicate our summer to baseball around here. We plan our vacation to Salisbury Beach around the potential of playing–and staying–in Tyler. For the duration of the tournament. But alas, this wasn’t our year. It was a great run, but it ended too soon. The same 4 teams from last year faced off this year, and our boys just didn’t have it. Scoring just 2 runs total in 2 games doesn’t cut it. Last night we were scoreless going into the 6th inning. Literally 0 to 0. We were starting to think about the possibility of extra innings, and wondering how much longer we would swelter in the vicious Tyler sun. Unfortunately, their bats came alive at the end of the game and ours didn’t. Landing in the losers’ bracket right off the bat is foreign territory for us. None of us–players or parents–likes it, but there are lessons to be learned from loss. Like how to be a good sport when what you really want to do is cry or cuss. Like holding your head high in the midst of crushing disappointment. Like the self-control required when facing frustration. Like the strength of character needed to dig deep and battle hard. 

Sounds a lot like the lessons I’ve learned this past year in facing cancer. 

The best team doesn’t always win in baseball. It’s a cruel fact. In baseball, and in life.


Tyler, day 1

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 <3 Fiat!

This week I’ve had the pleasure of driving a Fiat 500 from Clear Lake Fiat. Oh, how fun!

I love this car.

It’s so cute, so fun, so zippy.

It’s way better than a Smart Car or a Mini Cooper. Much more stylish, and it gets a lot of attention.

I’ve had tons of people ask me this week what kind of car it is. The waiter at my favorite Malaysian restaurant chased my bud Sharon & me outside after lunch because she left her credit card. He took one look at the Fiat, parked right in front, and asked if it was electric. No, not electric but way cool. He expressed in his broken English that he lusted after the Fiat. Big love. I can’t count how many times someone has commented on the Fiat this week.

It’s a teeny little thing. Way smaller than my gas-guzzling SUV. It’s super fun to drive, with its tiny size and rockin’ engine, it feels and sounds like a high-performance sports car. I can’t help making the “nunnn nunnnn” sound when I hear the engine rev; this car is made by the same people who make the Ferrari after all.  I feel like Mario behind the wheel. The other day with Payton in the front seat, we were just like Mario & Luigi.

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Lest I sound like a traitor with all the Fiat love, let me state that I do like my SUV. It’s big, it’s comfy, it wraps me in a loving embrace of protection from any unpleasant jarring or ruts in the road. It allows me to tower over other drivers (something I secretly really dig), and I feel safe in it. But this little Fiat is something else. It possesses few attributes of my SUV but is so much fun I don’t even care. It’s zippy and carefree. Doesn’t everyone want to live a zippy, carefree life? (Get a Fiat, and you can!)

It has a super-tight turning radius and I can whip in and out of any parking space, even if I’m going “up the down staircase” as my sweet mama used to say. Sometimes I park my big ol’ Tahoe at the end of the row of parking spaces and trek to the door of the store, just to make sure I can get in and out easily. No such worries with the Fiat. Any parking space, any time, and no adjusting necessary. 

The hatchback is so lightweight I can easily reach it and shut it with one hand, while the other hand is laden with my tennis bag, a cold beverage, bags of groceries, or the ever-present iPhone. My SUV’s hatch is so wide and so heavy it doesn’t even have a strap for shutting but rather a button to push to close it automatically.

This would be a great car for a teenager. I’m no teenager, but I covet it as my wheels when I’m free of kids, carpool, a Costco haul, baseball gear, and all the flotsam & jetsam that weighs down a suburban mom.

Man, even the wheels are cute on this little baby.

There’s not a car on the market that matches the 500 in stylistic expression. This car scores major style points. The interior is decidedly European, with the seat-adjusting controls on the right instead of the left. Never fear, though–the steering wheel is on the left side. You might start speaking with an Italian accent, but that’s up to you.

Everything inside the Fiat is designed to be stylish and fun. Check out the teensy little dashboard, all rounded like a race car. 

The gear shift on this particular Fiat is automatic, with the option to paddle shift, or shift gears without having to clutch. Personally, I like to clutch as it allows one to peel out if one so chooses, but the paddle shift is a nice option if your hands tend to be full while driving, or if you’re on an incline. 

To paddle shift, you push the gearshift straight down, near the “D” and the plus and minus at the bottom, which allow you to shift and downshift. How many times can I use the word shift in my text? Shift, shift, shift. If you don’t want to paddle shift, push the gearshift down and to the right, and the smart little Fiat will shift for you. It’s the best of both worlds, really.

One word of caution about the Fiat 500: the gas tank is small. Like the rest of it. No junk in the trunk here. The tank is 10.5 gallons. I think my SUV uses that much gas just to get out of the neighborhood. Fuel economy is fantastic in the Fiat: upper 20s in town and mid-30s on the highway. 

One of my favorite things about the Fiat is the round headrests in the backseat. How cool are those? Super chic.

Chic, and safe, too. The European version of the Fiat 500 was awarded a 5-star crash rating, and the US version has had several safety-minded upgrades, making it even safer than the 500s across the Pond.

I’m loving the Fiat. I haven’t even thought about driving my SUV for a week, and once I do, I expect to feel like a stranger in a strange land. I’ll be channeling Gulliver and wishing I was Mario instead. 


Victory after tragedy

I wanted to post something about British Open champion Darren Clarke on Sunday, when he won the tournament, but have been consumed with tournaments and champions in a different sport, so here I am.

I’m not much for watching golf on TV. It’s slow and to me, boring. I consider it an activity, not a sport, and I say that knowing full well I’m torquing a lot of golf fans by doing so. I don’t quibble with the skill involved, but to me if you don’t get sweaty & out of breath doing it, it’s not a sport.

Anyhoo, back to Clarke.

I didn’t pay him or any of the golfers one lick of attention over the weekend. If Freddy Couples isn’t playing, I can’t be bothered. 

Then Trevor told me that Clarke’s wife, Heather, had died from breast cancer. That got my attention. Heather Clarke died in 2006 at age 39 after a recurrence. Her boys were 8 and 5 years old when she died. 

That is my biggest nightmare. And I imagine it’s the biggest nightmare of every mother of young kids who is diagnosed with this damned disease. Recurrence is enough of a nightmare, but dying from BC with young kids at home is even more terrifying. Being diagnosed with cancer at a young age, with young kids still to raise, is hard enough. Worrying about and fearing recurrence adds to the terror that comprises this disease. I don’t care that my odds of avoiding recurrence are good, or that I’m doing all the right things to ensure that this cancer does not return. I was doing all the right things before cancer became the pile of poo in my path, and it still infiltrated my life. So while the numbers and statistics are in my favor, the fear is always in my heart.

During her battles with BC, Darren said of his wife, “My wife is a battler. She fights it so hard and I have so much admiration for her.” He too is a battler, having played in the Davis Cup 6 weeks after Heather died, and winning all 3 of his matches.

At Heather’s funeral on August 17, 2006, the minister remembered Heather as “an unpretentious, lovely girl, who was full of character” and said “that day in March 1996 when you married her here in this church, Darren, you really won the greatest trophy of your life.” The reverend made everyone smile by recalling how she loved to shop while her husband played golf. My kind of girl.

After accepting the British Open trophy on Sunday, Darren Clarke said, “It’s been a long and bumpy road, I have had some good things happen to me and some bad things, but I’ve had so much support from an awful lot of people.” He credited Heather with watching him “from up above” and said, “In terms of what’s going through my heart there’s obviously somebody who is watching down from up above. I know she’d be very proud of me. She’d probably be saying ‘I told you so’. But I think she’d be more proud of my two boys. It’s been a long journey.”

He seems like a really cool guy.  He likes to lift a pint or two, and he’s been known to enjoy a cigar after a round of golf. After winning on Sunday, he partied all night, and he started that party during the post-match press conference by drinking a pint of Guinness while being interviewed. I really like this guy. Being a good father is important to him (take a lesson, Tiger). In an interview with Golf Magazine, he was asked how long it took to return to normal after Heather died. His reply is so honest. Instead of platitudes and false courage, he says:

“Well, what’s normal? It’s still not normal. It can’t be normal when you haven’t got the mother of your kids and my wife at home. I was starting to get back to an even keel probably at the start of this year [2009]. It was a long time. There were some dark moments. God knows things have been difficult for me, but it has been even harder for the boys. It has been tough having to deal with things. And tough being thrown in to being 100 percent responsible for my two kids. I had to start making the decisions for everything for the boys. Making the day-to-day decisions for the boys has been a shock to the system. You don’t realize how much wives have got to do until you’ve got to do it yourself.”

When asked in the same interview if he felt angry about her death, he again answered honestly: “Probably. I’m sure anybody would. You know, Why Heather? Why? Why? Why? There are no answers to that.”

No, there are no answers to that.