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.”


Beach bound

We leave tomorrow, bright & early, for our annual trip to Salisbury Beach. I. Can’t. Wait. My bag is packed, I’m ready to go. My favorite girl made a count-down sign and has been packed for a week. The two male members of this household have yet to pack but will throw trunks & toothbrushes in a bag at some point today. Between now and our 6 a.m. departure tomorrow, a few important things need to happen, including one last swim as I attempt to hit my goal of 800 meters before I let myself go completely to pot on vacay; delivering a birthday gift to our favorite 18-year-old (happy birthday, Alexis!); and one last cooking club gathering tonight with some of my besties. We’ll toast the waning of summer while sipping bubbly in the pool.

My math may be off, but I think this is our 9th year to make the beach trip. Two summers ago, I was benched by the heinous post-mastectomy infection. Missing the trip was as tough as the ordeal that caused it, and I’m still in do-over mode. I usually invoke a 10 a.m. start time for drinking on the beach, but in true do-over fashion, I may just relax that rule and say anything goes in the beverage-consumption department. 

The beach trip is always special and much-anticipated for many reasons: spending time with our surrogate family, escaping the brutal Texas heat, lounging on the beach, eating lobster, and going to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game or two. The trip has taken on additional relevance for me in the wake of a health crisis, because it signifies the light at the end of the tunnel and the reward for making it through the really rough stuff. It symbolizes a return to normalcy after a hellish span of time.

The bittersweet part of this year’s trip will be leaving our little piggie behind. While she would be a fun addition to our beach party, the logistics of getting her from here to there and back again are too stressful — for her and for us. She’ll be in good hands, though, with Keely the piggie-loving pet sitter. We stocked up on provisions for our little piggie, so it will be business as usual for her as she fills the hours in between breakfast and dinner. 

On the way home from Costco, with a half ton of produce in the backseat, I saw this car and smiled to myself. I viewed the whimsical paint job as a harbinger of good things to come: fun, carefree, colorful days in the sun, surrounded by the people I love the most. I couldn’t help but notice the placement of the Modelo billboard just beyond the St Arnold’s Brewery tie-dye car as I prepared for our big trip–that’s some good karma right there.

This beach trip will be full of all of our favorite things, and we’ll have the added bonus of sharing our favorite beach with none other than Amy Hoover, my medical sherpa, and her 3 boys as they make the long journey home from Maine. Salisbury Beach is right on their way home, so we’ll rendezvous on the beach. How fun!

We’ll be doing a whole lot of this

and some of this

with a little bit of this

and a pinch of this

and of course, a healthy dose of this.


School’s out!

Good-bye, 4th grade! Adios, 7th grade!

It’s the last day of school in our little corner of the world, and there was much smiling and cavorting this morning in my house. Forget the Queen’s upcoming Jubilee or the Summer Olympics– there’s no celebration in the world that matches the unbridled joy of the last day of school. The entire summer, with all its laziness and promise, awaits.The official countdown has been on for days, of course, with my little darlings and our best-friend/teacher-at-the-jail-school quizzing each other constantly to make sure each one of the gleeful trio knows just how many days of imprisonment were left in the 2012 school year. They do this every year, snickering to themselves as we approach single-digit days left, while I roll my eyes and wonder how I’m going to amuse these monkeys all summer.

This is the first year that I haven’t approached the end of school with a bit of dread. I’m quite happy about that. Usually, I get a little panicky at the idea of 10 weeks of unscheduled sloth. I’m a creature of habit who likes a routine, and summer is anything but structured.

This year, however, I don’t mind the idea of unstructured time. In fact, it’s probably a really good thing — for all of us.

I’ll keep some of the same routines — swallowing my daily dose of Tamoxifen with my cup of coffee, watering plants, going to the gym — while letting the rest of them go. No alarm clocks other than a hungry little piggie requesting breakfast, no lunches to pack, no carpool to drive.

I’ll make my kids groan by insisting they spend a little time every day reading. Macy is finishing up this series, and we’ll soon be on the hunt for the next set of great books. Payton will pretend he’s annoyed by the daily reading time but will soon be swept away by this book or the scuttlebutt about whether there will be another installation in this series. Hopefully I’ll get some reading time in, too, as my list of books to read is long.

We’re kicking off the summer tonight with a celebration of with our sweet friends and their newly minted high school graduate. Corks will be flying and tissues will be passed as we toast this charming young lady who has nothing but great things ahead of her. Tomorrow will be yet another celebration as I turn a year older and celebrate the fact that I’m alive & kicking. It’ll be a total birthday weekend, followed by the first trip of the summer.

We’ll be heading to the Hill Country to enjoy (?) the sights & sounds of Schlitterbahn. My kids have been wanting to do this for years, but being the stick-in-the-mud-amusement-park-hating kind of mom that I am, I’ve always deferred. This year, it’s on! Thanks to some skillful peer pressure exerted by a certain wily trio of suburban at-home moms, my kids will finally get to experience the thrills & chills of this famed waterpark. The crowds! The onslaught of strangers’ kids! The vast bodies of communal water! Oh, joy.

In a couple of weeks my brother and his two kids will be heading to the great state of Texas from the Garden State. We’ll have five days of sun & fun and cousin immersion. What a great way to get the summer started! The day they leave, I leave for my annual trip with the Duke girls. This year we’re going back to Captiva Island, in Florida, for some kid-free R&R.

At some point in the near future we hope to head to Corpus Christi to see our dear friends’ new home. We miss them every day of the week, so getting to see their new house & pool and catch up on some long-overdue visiting will be fun, fun, fun.

Hopefully we’ll be making a return trip to the lovely Tyler, Texas, in July. Tyler is the site of the Texas East Little League All Stars tournament, to which my slugger’s team has earned a trip the last two years. Making it a three-peat would be a great way to close out the Little League experience.

We’ll be taking our annual trip to Salisbury Beach, of course. This trip is eagerly anticipated all year long, and once school ends, the countdown to the beach trip begins in earnest. Escaping the Texas heat and hanging on the beach with our second family is the best part of summer. I’ll be sure to post dispatches from the East Coast on how low the humidity is and how many lobsters we consume, don’t worry.

It’s shaping up to be a great summer.


Journey

If you’re like me, once you read the title of this post, you’d end up with “Don’t Stop Believing” running through your head.

“Hold on to that feeeeeeeeling….”

Yes, we are simple creatures at times, and prone to even simpler suggestion.

As I wrap up the Napa series of blog posts, I reflect back on a fantastic trip, an outstanding weekend, and the kind of memories that would keep me warm on a cold winter’s night if I didn’t live along the Gulf Coast of the great state of Texas. Not that the memories aren’t that good, but that there’s little need for warming around here. Especially with my hot flashes. Thanks, early-induced menopause, because pre-summer in Houston isn’t steamy enough.

Thinking about the trip and preparing to say good-bye to our visitors from Boston today makes me a teensy bit sad. I don’t like transitions. I’m in for the long haul and can work long and hard at a steady pace, but I don’t care for the ups & downs, the twists & turns, the stops & starts. This sentiment applies, for me, whether we’re talking about vacation or illness. Going from my “normal” life to vacation mode takes me a little bit of time. Getting into the vacation frame of mind is a conscious shift for me, even when it’s a vacation I’m looking forward to. Having our friends from Boston here is most definitely something I look forward to, but it still requires me to make that shift in my head.

Now that our vacation with them is ending, I find myself again shifting, from the luxuryof sleeping in on a school day and spending the day by the pool, drinking early and often and into the evening; to hauling my carcass out of bed to pack the kids’ lunches, sign their folders, forge notes about their absences, and getting back to my normal life. I like my normal life, so this isn’t inherently a bad thing; it just required me to shift gears and change my  mind frame.

I’ve never been good at handling change, and that may be why I’m not a great traveler. I don’t like the idea of having to decide in advance what I’ll be wearing, and then pack it, taking care to not forget anything. It seems that once I get used to the new location, it’s about time to go home, and then there’s another adjustment to handle. I do it, and without the need for intervention, but it’s an effort.

That’s why this phrase spoke to me:

It was on the wall of the Cost Plus World Market in San Francisco near our hotel, where we popped into for supplies (and by supplies, yes, I do indeed mean champagne) our first night in California. We were at the checkout, clanking bottles and deciding whether to add chocolates to the purchase, when I saw this saying on the store wall. The other shoppers might have thought me a bit mad to be snapping a photo in the middle of a store, but I stopped caring about things like that a long time ago.

The saying spoke to me because I know that Lao Tzu is right.  He was a mythical figure in ancient China and is said to be the father of Taoism, so you know he’s smart. His ancient quote about the good traveler retains relevance today because people like me continue to buck the journey in favor of the destination. I know that it’s not about the destination, yet I can’t wait to get there. I will jump through all the requisite hoops along the journey in order to get to the destination, but for me, the destination is the goal. Wrong, I know, but still I persist.

Some say that dealing with cancer gives you greater clarity on “the things that really matter.” Or that having survived cancer, you become more aware of and grateful for the things around you. Then there are the idiot-balls who say that cancer is a gift. To them, I say choke off. This is no gift. Yes, it does afford the opportunity to re-evaluate priorities and habits, but it’s no gift.

I spend a lot of time in my personal “cancer journey” marking off time and accumulating milestones. Maybe that’s a coping mechanism, I don’t know. I do know that I can tell you to the day how long I’ve been on oral antibiotics (251 days), and how long it’s been since The Big Dig (49 days). More likely, it’s because I’m focused on the destination and not the journey. I can’t wait to “be done” with this cancer business: the disease itself, the surgeries, the recoveries, the uncertainty, and the drug therapies. I don’t aspire to ever be free of the worry that the cancer business drops on my doorstep like an unexpected and oversized parcel. It will always be there, in the back of my mind. I liken it to the childhood sensation of rolling your tongue through the newly-created hole of a lost tooth. Your brain knows the tooth is gone, but your tongue can’t resist checking for sure, by sliding through that narrow, slippery, and slightly nauseating space. My brain knows my cancer is gone, yet it can’t resist double-checking.

I refuse to live in fear, however. I don’t want to have any regrets: about life in general, and certainly not in this “cancer journey.” Each decision I’ve made along this “journey” has been nitpicked and examined half to death, with risk and reward calculated to within an inch of their lives. Some decisions have been difficult, and some have been easy, but none have come without a lot of thought.

I heard from a fellow breast cancer blogger who is dealing with an infection, possibly of her tissue expander, just as I did. She’s on IV Vancomycin, like I have been many times. I commented on her blog to tell her that the Vanc works and it will cure her, hoping to offer some support. She replied that she can’t imagine how I endured that process multiple times because it’s so stressful. Yes, it is. No doubt there. And if someone were to ask me how I endured it, I don’t know that I would have an answer. I don’t know how I got through it, other than I just did it. Just gritted my teeth, tucked my head and did it. Because I didn’t see any other choice. Saying “I can’t” wasn’t going to make it go away.

I do like to make myself focus on good things, or to “walk on the sunny side of the street” (thanks, Mom!). Yesterday I wasn’t feeling well, for the 3rd day in a row, and was a little put-out that my “cancer journey” was once again interfering in my fun. I wanted to visit and eat & drink with my friends who were in town, but instead I had to lay down and take a nap. Take a nap. In the middle of the day, and in the middle of my friends’ visit. That made me grumpy, and I was just starting to think about getting out the pity-party supplies.

Then I told myself to shut the hell up, get in the shower and get on with the day. There was dinner to prepare for our last night together and 3 bottles of bubbly in the fridge, so there was no time for a pity party.

While in the shower, I was wondering why the hell my belly incision is still so tight and sore after 48 days, and when in the sam hell it’s ever going to heal all the way so I can take a shower like a normal person, without wincing as I lather, rinse & repeat, and just be done with it.

Then I realized: I AM taking a shower like a normal person. There were no JP drains to deal with. There were no holes in the side of my body to keep dry. There was no dressing over the accessed port-a-cath that had to be kept dry. 

When my port is accessed, i.e., has a butterfly needle piercing my skin and the port to deliver medicine, it has to be covered to keep it sterile. The port itself is smaller than a quarter, and the butterfly needle (while really thick) doesn’t extend the area. Yet the whole thing has to be covered with this giant dressing. That’s it above, stuck to my clavicle, shoulder, and neck area. My skin hates these dressing with a passion. The sticky tape irritates my skin as much as Sarah Palin irritates me. After I peel the dressing off, there remains a red, raised outline in the exact size & shape of the dressing.

And yet, I’m sans dressing. That’s a bright side, a good thing to be tallied and counted. I’m also sans sling bag. Not having the JP drains means I don’t have to wear the sling bag, cute as it may be, 24/7. That’s another bright side, and a very good thing.

Yep, it’s cute, and it served a wonderful purpose, and I love my runnin’ buddy for getting it for me. Being able to camouflage the drains by stuffing them in the sling bag, then hide the protruding rubber tubing by the cross-body bag, gave me freedom and kept me from being house-bound.

There’s nothing in there — look, Ma, no drains!! — and that is a reason to celebrate. I’m no longer tethered to plastic bomb-shaped udders collecting all manner of gross stuff, fluid and solid, that my battered body is shedding after yet another major trauma. I don’t have to plan my very limited wardrobe around the bright orange pattern anymore, but now I can do that just because I want to.

I will always be grateful to the sling bag for carrying my drains, and my drugs, in such style. The clear plastic compartment in the inside front is not likely designed for slipping in the essential few pills, but it sure worked well for me. I’ve heard that some people keep their driver’s license there instead. How weird is that?! Instead of my TX ID, featured here are my constant companions Bactrim & Minocycline, the antibiotics for the post-mastectomy infection; a muscle relaxer for the super-tight 17-inch belly incision; and a Xanax for any and all calamities, just in case.

So while this “cancer journey” is far from a gift and certainly does suck, I can still “walk on the sunny side of the street,” look on the bright side, and find moments of goodness contained within as I move forward, always searching for the finish line.

This signpost, sent to me by Jill in the Oakland airport en route from Napa back home, is a good mile marker in my journey. I love that my friends see bubbly-related things and think of me, and I love that no matter where this journey takes me, I’ll have great friends, a sassy sling bag, and plenty of bubbly for the ride.