All hail the Raiders!

They did it!

The mighty Red Raiders beat the Pearland All Stars 15-6 last night to clinch the Sectional title. Cue the music.

You know what this means, right? We’re going to Tyler.

Payton upheld all of his superstitions for this series: wearing the same pants for each game since the last win, no matter how filthy with infield dirt and grass stains; eating the same meal after each game won; following the same schedule during the day on game days. Macy and I joined in the festivities and put red streaks in our hair for the do-or-die game last night. 

Our mojo definitely worked.

Here’s the local story about last night’s glorious game. Hope you’re smiling as widely as I am after you read it.

What a sweet, sweet victory. Readers of this blog may have heard about the utterly crummy season this girl had last year, and how yours truly missed every bit of the Raiders’ victories and trip to the State Championship.

What a drag. Words fail me as I try to express just how crappy it was to miss all this last summer. I’m not sure if it’s even possible. I have tried, but I know I’ve come up short.

All throughout the All Stars series so far, part of me kept thinking, “wouldn’t it be nice if the boys won District and Sectional, and got to Tyler, again, so that I could see it this time?” But another part reminded that part that it’s not about me. It’s about the 11 boys on this team.

Lucky for me, those 11 boys came through and I WILL get to see it this time. I am one happy baseball mama.

I woke up the night before last, after our team beat the Pearland team to stay alive, thinking about the next game. All day yesterday, the day of the winner-take-all-loser-goes-home game, my thoughts kept turning to baseball. Payton was uncharacteristically nervous yesterday, and had a hard time eating his pre-game meal. Walking up to the fields yesterday, we had to pass the Pearland fans in their bleachers to get to our bleachers. There were a lot of them, and they were fired up. But when we got to our bleachers, we saw a sea of red. Folks turned out in droves to support the Raiders. Members of the 12-year-old All Star team lined the outfield fence and had 3 big flags, each with a different letter: F, C, and A for “First Colony American.” Those flags were flying even before our boys stepped onto the field.

The Raiders looked a tad bit shaky as the Pearland team came up to bat. It was 3-0 them to start, but the boys in red looked strong and confident. I knew they were going to come through, and by the 3rd inning it was 9-4 us. While anything can happen in baseball, I began to really and truly realize that we were close to clinching the coveted trip to Tyler, and that I was going to be there for it.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: watching my kid on the field is one of life’s greatest joys for me. He’s in his element, doing what he loves most in the entire world. He’s energized and engaged, he’s a gamer. Baseball is his life, and he makes the most of it. Every single game. Seeing #11 come up to bat thrills me; watching his discipline at the plate, appreciating the mechanics of his swing, and hearing him make contact with the ball all work together to fill me with happiness. Knowing that he’s experiencing success in his most beloved endeavor is parental bliss.

The game was fantastic, and last night’s victory is so, so sweet. I’m still savoring it today, exhausted though I may be from the late-night celebration. Seeing Payton on the field with his team after the game, awaiting their Sectional banner and pins from the District Commissioner was pretty great. 

Seeing the boys come together and play like champions was redemption for a crappy summer last year. That summer will go down in history as the worst one ever. This one will be remembered as the best.

 


R.I.P, Betty Ford

Betty Ford died yesterday at age 93. I’m so glad it wasn’t the breast cancer that killed her. As a young(ish) cancer-chick myself, it’s depressing as all get-out, not to mention terrifying, to learn of other women’s death from the disease we share. When this damned BC menace claimed Elizabeth Edwards, I was saddened and more than a little sick to my stomach at the stark realization that this disease does kill, young or old, healthy or not. The fact that this dreaded disease claims some 40,000 women a year brings into sharp focus the loss of maternal love that comes with each BC casualty. Knowing how much I miss my own sweet mama, the idea of the motherless Edwards children weighed heavily on my heart for weeks after her death.

I was a kid when Betty Ford was in the White House, so I don’t have much of a reference point for her. I do recall a grade-school chant of “Ford, Ford, he’s our man; Carter belongs in the garbage can” during Ford’s bid for re-election, but like the other kids on the playground, I chanted that with virtually no knowledge of politics. I’m sure I knew that Richard Nixon had been president, but was much too busy riding my bike and playing cul-de-sac games to realize that Gerald Ford became president in August of 1974, taking the place of a disgraced Richard Nixon. Now I know that Ford had been vice president less than a year before being “called up”; he’d been chosen to succeed Spiro Agnew, who also left office in disgrace amidst accusations of tax evasion.

I’m sure I didn’t realize that Betty Ford went from a “regular person” to wife of a Congress member fast. Really fast. She married Gerald Ford a month before he was elected to Congress; in fact, he was late to their wedding because he was campaigning up to the last minute. When JFK was president, the Fords became friends with the Kennedys and attended several parties at the White House. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, Betty Ford lingered at the burial and was the last woman at the gravesite. Two years later, Ford was elected minority leader of the House, and was away from home a lot. That’s when her heavy drinking began, and it continued for more than a decade before her family intervened. After she conquered her addiction to alcohol and pain pills, she founded the Betty Ford Center, which opened in October 1982. Since then, some 27,000 people have been treated there, including celebs like Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Tyler Moore, and Mickey Mantle.

I didn’t think much about Betty Ford once I was an adult, either, since her time in the spotlight had more or less passed and she endeavored to live as a private citizen. She apparently shunned the spotlight yet was returned to it in December 2006 when the country entered a 6-day mourning period upon the death of President Ford.

Even then, I didn’t think much about her, until I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

See, Betty Ford was a member of the pink ribbon sisterhood, and she blazed a trail that has significantly benefited subsequent generations of women. Women like me.

I was 6 years old when Mrs Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast. She learned the bad news on September 26, 1974, according to the First Ladies’ biographies website. Two days later, she underwent a radical mastectomy. She’d been the First Lady for a matter of weeks when she was diagnosed. She faced the situation with the candor for which she’d become known: she announced her diagnosis and surgery publicly and even invited the media into her hospital room and posed for photos. Here she is, reading a get-well card signed by Congress.

AP file photo

I have no idea if she realized how much of a trailblazer she was. It’s probably just how she was, and to her, being outspoken and honest about her “cancer journey” is “just what you do.” I can relate to that. I hope Mrs Ford realized the impact she had on breast cancer awareness, which is safe to say was nonexistent in the early 1970s. I think she must have, based on this quote: “Before I was ever out of the hospital, there were, on television, women checking in to have mammograms,” Ford said at the Gerald Ford Museum in May 2001. “It was kind of like, if the first lady can have breast cancer, anyone can have breast cancer.”

Mrs Ford underwent two years of chemo, and in the fall of 1976 her doctors declared her cancer-free. Someone once asked her if she felt sorry for herself after losing her breasts. I absolutely adore her reply:

“No! Oh no — heavens no. I’ve heard women say they would rather lose their right arm, and I can’t even imagine it. It’s so stupid.”

She believed that women facing breast cancer should “go as quickly as possible and [get the surgery] done. Once it’s done, put it behind you and go on with your life.”
It’s safe to say that Mrs Ford paved the way for countless women–including yours truly– who were diagnosed after her. She removed the stigma from cancer, and breast cancer in particular. Before she piped up, there was no breast cancer awareness, no public discussion, and certainly no pink-ribbon culture. Barbara Brenner, former executive director at Breast Cancer Action said that Ford “showed people that you can live with cancer, that it’s not a death sentence.” The Komen organization has similar respect for Mrs Ford. Their official statement says “Betty Ford opened the door for millions of women when she candidly acknowledged her breast cancer diagnosis at a time when we didn’t talk about this disease and untold numbers of women suffered in silence. She showed the world that breast cancer could be faced with courage, with humor and with great dignity.”

It’s also safe to say that Mrs Ford would likely be quite pleased with the advances that have been made in breast cancer treatment. Ironically, in the same year she was diagnosed, Tamoxifen was showing itself to be a wonder drug in decreasing breast cancer recurrence. Now it’s become a household name in the BC community, and it’s a daily part of my life.

I think I would have really liked Betty Ford. Not just because we’re both members of the dreaded pink ribbon club, either. Because she was smart, sassy, outspoken, and real. She was a survivor, in every sense of the word. She was beloved as First Lady, and used her role as a platform to educate the American public on controversial subjects such as abortion, marijuana use, and the Equal Rights Amendment. She made it clear that she and President Ford would share a bed in the White House (something not previously publicized, apparently), and when someone asked her about sleeping with the president, she said “I do–every chance I get.”

She was perhaps unconventional as First Lady, and I like how she shook things up a bit. I love this story about her, told by White House photographer David Kennerly. On her last day as First Lady, Betty Ford walked by the empty Cabinet Room and told Kennerly, “You know, I’ve always wanted to dance on the cabinet room table.” Kennerly said, “Well, nobody’s around.” Opportunity knocked, and the plucky First Lady took advantage.

Kennerly says she took off her shoes, hopped up there, and struck a pose. “She’s a tiny woman, really, in very good shape. Very graceful, as a former dancer with the Martha Graham company. She got up there.”

Speculating on why Mrs Ford would be compelled to dance on the table, formally set with notepads and ashtrays (yes, ashtrays!), Kennerly realized that very few women have had a seat at that table. “I bet you could count them on one hand at that point, and knowing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment”—she endorsed it—”she was tap-dancing in the middle of this male bastion. She was storming the walls of the gray suits and gray-haired eminences.”

“It was a wonderful and whimsical ending,” Betty Ford wrote, “to that magical time I spent as first lady.”

R.I.P, Betty Ford.


girls’ trip

Once upon a time, in a city far, far from Houston, there was a group of young-ish women. All had relocated from every corner of the country with young kids in tow to help fulfill their husbands’ dream of getting an MBA from a top-10 business school. None of the women knew anyone in the new city, and all were a long way from home. For two long years, without paychecks and luxuries like babysitters, the women bonded while the hubs crammed their brains with all things MBA-related. Once the menfolk had diplomas in hand, the group of women dispersed, to new homes in new corners of the country.One night before going separate ways, the women left the hubs and kids at home and went out for a nice dinner. There the plans were laid and a vow was made: let neither distance nor the rigors of child-rearing sever the bond created by hardship and the shared need for breaks from their preschoolers. The solution: come together for an annual girls’ trip, to reconnect and recharge. 

The first trip was to San Francisco, then Sanibel Island in Florida. Next came Captiva Island, then Scottsdale. Park City was next, followed by Lake Tahoe. Every year was a different locale, but the theme was the same: reconnecting.  

The women had gone their separate ways, and a few left the domestic scene to pursue careers in law and medicine. The others continued to toil on the homefront, trading preschool and playdates for elementary school and homework. The kids grew up, and a few new babies joined the fold. One thing remained the same, however: the women’s commitment to the annual trip.

The End

Well, not really the end. Just the end of my little story.

It’s the eve of the 7th annual Duke girls’ trip, and my suitcase is packed. My boarding pass is printed. My Kindle is full of new books to be read uninterrupted by young children. My house is stocked for my peeps to exist in relative ease in my absence. I’m going, I’m really going.

After 7 years, you’d think that preparations for the trip would be somewhat by rote. Decide on the locale, find lodging, book flights, pack a bag, kiss the fam good-bye, and vamoose.

But not for me. See, last year I was ready for Tahoe. That trip was to have taken place 4 weeks post-mastectomy. As I described it this time last year, the trip was “my goal, a partial finish-line, and my sanity-saver since my diagnosis.” One of the first things I asked my superstar breast surgeon, Dr Dempsey, upon diagnosis, was if I’d still be able to take my girls’ trip. Tahoe with my Duke girls gave me something concrete to work toward in  my recovery from surgery, from being diagnosed with cancer at age 40.

Instead of stocking the fridge and packing my bags this time last year, I was in the hospital, sick–really sick–with a nasty infection. I was admitted to the hospital unexpectedly when symptoms of the infection appeared out of nowhere. I literally had seen Dr S the day before the symptoms cropped up; fine one day, sick the next. The day I was hospitalized, I was still clinging to the hope that I’d be in & out of there quickly and still be able to go on my trip. Silly, silly girl. My mind was willing, but my body said “No can do.”

After countless IV bags full of different antibiotics, my fever kept spiking and I got worse instead of better. While the scarier bugs like anthrax were quickly ruled out, the specific infection remained elusive. My infectious disease doc told me that the cultures grow at their own pace, and the culturing is done old-school: in a Petrie dish in an incubator in the lab downstairs. I was confined to the hospital bed until the growth was complete, and no one knew when that would occur. The day before the Tahoe trip, I had to concede that I wasn’t going to make it. Rotten luck.

While it broke my heart and seriously injured my fighting spirit to tell my Duke girls I wouldn’t be joining them, untold hard times followed. Missing the trip was chump changed compared to what was to come. Looking back at my Caring Bridge journal entry for June 10th of last year yielded this:

“I should be on a plane right now, en route to Tahoe, but instead I’m in an ugly gown, sitting on scratchy sheets in an uncomfortable bed (most definitely not a Tempurpedic mattress). Looks like I’ll be here a while yet.”

I don’t recall this part, but it must have happened:

“They moved me across the hall last night to a new room. My new neighbor is an older Asian man who talks louder than anyone I know, and so do all of his relatives. In fact, I just got up my scratchy sheets & walked across the hall in my ugly gown to shut his door. Sheesh. This hospital has an entire floor for Asian patients, which is pretty cool and indicative of this huge city we live in, but I’m wondering why he’s not on that floor.”

Tonight, on the eve of the 7th annual Duke girls’ trip, there are no scratchy sheets and there is no ugly gown. There’s a not-so-youngish-anymore woman who’s had one helluva year, who’s ready to get on that plane and make up for lost time. SPI, here I come. Now that’s a happy ending!

 




At the ballpark, again

Last summer was pretty bad for me and my family. It started innocently enough, with a bilateral mastectomy at age 40 on May 13th, and while I healed quickly and nicely from that, it all went downhill fast.

Just after my 41st birthday, I got a nasty post-surgery infection. No one saw it coming, and to say it took us all by surprise would be a gross understatement. The odds of contracting a nosocomial infection are not small, but my infection is somewhat rare, quite wily, and super slow to treat. In the scope of inconvenient infections, I won the lottery.

Last night was the first game of the All Star tournament for Payton’s team–something I missed entirely last summer. Being present last night to watch my boy do what he does best with his team of like-minded and uber-talented buddies was one of the simplest yet deepest thrills of all time. We take a lot of things for granted in this life of ours, and being able to sit on metal bleachers in the Texas heat in June to watch youth baseball is one of those things. I’ve sat through thousands of games for my little ball player, and hardly thought twice about it beyond the random, mundane thoughts associated with this endeavor: who are we “versing” (as our catcher, #10 Carl says)? Where is Payton in the line-up? Are we on the shady side of the field? Did I remember my stadium seat? How many times will Macy hit the concession stand? How many pieces of bubble gum does Pay have in his mouth at once?

Those are the thoughts that traverse my brain during a game, along with the usual baseball stuff: What’s the run rule in this tournament?; How did we fare against this team last time we met? If the ball hits the bat then hits the batter, he’s out, right? Rules and regulations course through my head as I follow the many games my boy has played.

Last night was different, though. As I was ready to walk out the door, our bestie Ed reminded me that I’ve come a long way since this time last year. Several of the parents on our team remarked at the park that it’s nice to have me there this year. A couple of the coaches said something about having missed me and my big mouth last summer; once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader.

I have come a long way since last summer, and watching my kid play ball is something to be savored, something to most definitely not take for granted. The metal bleachers, the roar of the crowd, the (gross) smell of hot dogs, the infield dirt blowing in my eyes…every bit of it is special to me on a whole ‘nother level.

Last night also marked the first time a newspaper reporter has covered the game, and seeing my boy’s name in print in association with his rock-star team’s blowout and his personal success is something I’ll be savoring for a while. Before cancer came into my life, I would have enjoyed reading the article, and likely would have forwarded it to our nearest & dearest, but this time, I’m carrying the feeling of that article along with me, inside my heart, in that little space where the gratitude lies.

I was flipping through my old Caring Bridge blog, and happened upon this entry, which seems even more prescient a year later. I wrote this on the morning of my mastectomy, before leaving for the hospital. No doubt I was antsy, preoccupied, and ready to get the show on the road that morning. It seems appropriate to reprint it today, in light of the theme of today’s blog.

I realize that when cancer comes into one’s life it disrupts everything and changes “the normal” forever. Dr Dempsey, my superstar breast surgeon, told me you  no longer schedule cancer around your life, you schedule your life around your cancer. Life takes a backseat to war. 

 With cancer, I join a club that I never signed up for and for which I never wanted to become a member. 

No matter, I now have a new normal. The new normal is all about taking care of what’s most important. We hear this all the time, but when you really put it into play in your own life, you know exactly what it means. For me, it means facing this beast head on and telling the bastard repeatedly that it doesn’t stand a chance. It means never once, not even once, considering that this cancer will win. It’s not even in the game. 

It also  means all the pithy stuff you hear about, like savor every day, make the most our of whatever you’ve got. That’s also true. For me it means truly embracing and enjoying my kids and my family, and letting my friends into my life — warts & all — on a whole new level. Y’all may well see my house a mess, which doesn’t happen much. You may see me in a grumpy mood (ok, you’ve seen that, esp on the tennis court!). You  may see me just a teensy bit vulnerable, but only for a short time so don’t expect a repeat performance. No matter what, there is a new normal, and I’m all over it.


The battle of the K tape

In addition to battling cancer and a nosocomial infection, I’ve also been busy battling plantar fasciitis.

mayoclinic.com

The PF preceded the BC, and while not as nasty–and certainly not life-threatening in any way–it’s a major drag. My feet hurt all the time. All. The. Time.  Maintaining my busy-body active lifestyle is pretty tricky with feet that hurt All. The. Time. It also severely limits my footwear. Cute shoes are pretty much out, as is going barefoot. I haven’t resorted to orthopedic shoes, but I’m not out of the woods yet, either. I have custom orthotics that go in my tennis shoes (don’t be jealous), and if I’m not wearing my tennies, I’m in my very dear Cole Haan flip flops or my not-s0-cute but cushy crocs flip flops. Thank goodness I don’t work in an office that requires closed-toe, pinchy shoes. I’d have to quit or get fired. Probably option #2.

I’ve seen a foot doctor, I’ve tried herbal remedies, I’ve taken copious amounts of RX anti-inflammatories, I’ve iced and elevated and slept in a splint. I had high hopes that while recovering from The Big Dig and taking several months off from tennis and most of my daily activities beyond laying in bed bemoaning my pitiful state would provide some respite from the foot problems that plague me. Alas, it did not. In fact, having foot pain while lying in bed doing none of the active things I want to do gave me more about which to bemoan. 

My tennis buddy and dog-spoiler extraordinaire Christy had the answer to my problems. Dr Scott Kelly of the Airrosti Clinic. I need another doctor in my life about as much as Lindsey Lohan needs another bad-influence friend. The thought of adding yet another doctor my circle of docs did not appeal to me one little bit, but desperate times….

The Airrosti Clinic uses an intense treatment model that involves some serious hands-on time with the doc. And when I say hands-on, I mean he’s gonna put his hands on your tenderest injured spot and mangle the hell out of it. For real.

airrosti.com

See, fascia is connective tissue that covers most of our body. It covers the different muscles, blood vessels and nerves “much like plastic wrap holds the contents of a sandwich together,” as it was explained to me. Problem with fascia is it’s everywhere, so your chance of injuring it is great, and it has little or no blood supply, so your chance of healing said injury is not great.

That’s where the laying of hands comes in. Dr Kelly gets his long, strong, mean hands into the damaged fascia and starts kneading it like bread. Then stretching it like taffy. Then punching it like a speed bag. All the while laughing maniacally at the moans, cries, screams and curse words coming from the patient. (Ok, he doesn’t really laugh maniacally but he does seem to enjoy his work very much, and when I showed him the line of bruises on my calf after his first hands-on treatment he smiled with obvious pride and said that’s his signature, and if he could sign his name in bruises, he would. That’s one autograph I don’t really need but apparently am gonna get. Repeatedly.)

When I met him last week, he grabbed ahold of my foot and said he could diagnose me in 30 seconds. I said I didn’t realize this was like speed-dating. He rolled his eyes, then told me that he could cure my PF in 3 treatments. I asked if he could also name that tune in one note. Why oh why don’t any of these doctors get my humor??

As skeptical as I was, I have to say that after the mangling, kneading, stretching, punching, and cussing, I could tell a difference. It took a while for the shock and trauma to subside, but once it did, I could tell that we were getting somewhere. The day after my first treatment, I got out of bed and walked barefoot on the tile without pain — something I hadn’t done in at least a year.

There’s homework, of course, that involves standing on a golf ball and rolling the ball all over the bottom of my feet, paying special attention to and lingering on the really tender spots. There are also a couple of exercises involving a 36-inch by 6-inch foam roller.

And then there’s the K tape

Kinesio tape. In every color of the rainbow, according to the image on ktape.com. The website is pretty glowing about this product:

“It’s designed for Professional athletes, Olympians, and active people world-wide who take health & fitness seriously and who refuse to stop training, playing, or living life active and free. The design is minimalist, the results are magic.”

That’s me: I refuse to stop training playing, or living life active and free. Bring on the magic!

I’d had K tape before, when I was treating my PF myself, and again when I started seeing my lovely lymphedema specialist, Tammy. She’s a certified K tape master. She’s been using K tape on my post-mastectomy chest and now on my post-reconstruction belly. I’m a believer in the magic of K tape. As part of the scar-tissue-management on my 17-inch-long incision on my belly, Tammy puts a couple of strips of K tape and we wait for the magic happen.

So when Dr Kelly wanted to tape my feet after my first treatment and asked if I’d ever heard of it, I said as a matter of fact, I have some on my belly right now. We hadn’t been through the whole song & dance about the BC business; I was hoping to keep the BC beast out of the sports medicine arena. Well, the elephant was certainly in the room when I mentioned I had K tape on my belly. In for a penny, in for a pound, and I had to explain. 

Yes, those are bruises just above the shorter piece of tape. If you’re fluent in the language of torture, you can probably tell that that’s how Dr K signs his name.

Dr Kelly seems to be a bit competitive, and wanted to tape me up real nice so that Tammy, the other K tape master, would approve. She did. And then she took it a step further. I guess she’s a bit competitive, too.

Instead of just using a couple of strips on the scar tissue on my belly, Tammy used a new technique she’d just learned at a K tape workshop. Could this be Turf Wars part deux? 

I can’t wait to show this to Dr Kelly. The battle of the K tape is on!

I hope neither he nor Tammy sees this K tape image and gets any big ideas:

googleimages.com

I’m ok with the crazy blue racing stripes on my legs & feet, and with the Frankenstein pink on my belly and over my new belly button, but I’m drawing the line at a pink ribbon made from K tape. No thanks!


Insomnia

So it’s 1:00 in the morning and I’m wide awake. You’d think an impromptu dinner party with the hens in which we put away 5 bottles of Piper and 2 bottles of wine would give me the impetus for a hasty nighty-night, but no, my brain is whirring & churning instead of sending vibes of lullabies.

I have no idea how all those bottles got emptied, but I do know that I will be worthless at my early-morning tennis drill. I’m not a night owl, and no matter how late I stay up, I tend to wake up with the roosters, so I’m already thinking about the piquant smell of the coffee beans being ground and am hearing the sound of the jet-engine-like grinder as it pulvarizes the coffee beans into a fine enough powder that combined with hot water elicits an energizing brew.

Girlfriends old and new gathered around my dinner table is a tonic for the soul, for sure. Grilled teriyaki tuna steaks, ginger rice pilaf with snow peas, roasted broccoli, and a most delicious salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, strawberries, blueberries and candied pecans filled my belly and my soul with happiness. Throw in a sinfully complex chocolate mousse cake and you’ve got the recipe for bliss.

I’ve promised Payton & Macy a trip to see Kung Fu Panda 2 tomorrow, followed by a belated graduation dinner for my cousin Melissa. I may be napping through the movie and longing for my bed early tomorrow, but will not begrudge the laughter and fellowship of the late-night hens’ dinner party. As Po would say, “You guys see that? It’s called being awesome.” And as we all learned from the original Kung Fu Panda, there’s no charge for the awesomeness.

kungfupanda.wiki.com


My other life

One of the many blogs I read is a fine one published by a lovely woman named Marie in Ireland. It’s called Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, and Marie’s goal via her blog is to provide some guidance on how to navigate the “post-treatment limbo” that cancer survivors find themselves in once “it” is all “over.” There’s plenty of information out there for those who’ve recently been diagnosed and for those who are actively in treatment, but not much out there for the “what next?” portion of the “cancer journey.” I was honored to be a guest blogger on Marie’s site in February, and I always come away from Marie’s blog feeling enlightened and empowered. (And really, I’m not just sucking up because she’s giving away a copy of Sheryl Crow’s new cookbook, which I really, really, really want. I mean it. Marie’s blog is fantastic.)

Marie posed a challenge to her blog community to write a post about our “other” lives, about who we are when we’re not fighting cancer. We cancer-chicks who blog tend to know a lot of intimate details about each other, as is the nature of the beast we all have in common, but we don’t always know a lot about each other besides the beast.

Never one to back away from a challenge, I ruminated on my B.C. (before cancer) life. It took me awhile to remember, so wrapped up have I been in the cancer-vixen lifestyle. I racked my brain to recall what it was that I used to do with myself absent multiple doctor’s visits, endless testing, countless trips to the pharmacy, and hours of feeling yucky.

It was a perfectly ordinary life. I’m not one for a lot of drama; I’ve been to high school, and don’t have any desire to replay it. I have no patience for grown-up “mean girls” and so have a tight circle of true friends. We live an ordinary suburban life, most of us at home during the day, having forgone careers to raise kids, although several of my besties do work outside the home and do amazing things like crude trading and nursing. Ok, I’d better clarify: one friend trades crude oil, and another is a nurse. Since this blog is usually about all things boob-related, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m talking about crude nursing, as in off-color breastfeeding.

So my life was pretty ordinary, pre-cancer.  Ordinary, but good.

I left my editing job 12 years ago, when Payton was born, to become a full-time mommy, and after Macy joined the herd my workload doubled but so did my heart. As my kids got older and started school, my life took on the pattern of theirs and I volunteered at their school a lot while also spending some time doing my own thing. I walked that fine line between being a full-time mom but still being my own person. Like millions of other moms at home raising young kids, I packed my kids’ lunches while doing laundry and tried in vain to keep up with the household chores. I stole some time from the domestic hustle & bustle every day to go to the gym or play tennis, and made my to-do list while waiting in the carpool line.

My pre-cancer schedule was pretty full of ordinary things: kids’ dentist appointments, play-dates, sports, lessons, and parties. I served on the PTA board, was a tenured room mom, and worked the school book fair every year. Shortly after my mom died I was at the book fair, surrounded by books and overcome with loss. I missed my mom so much; she was an avid reader and we always talked about the latest stack of books on our nightstands. I met another mom who was volunteering that day. Jenny was new to our school, having recently relocated to Sugar Land. We chatted about books, and she shared with me that her dad had recently died, and she was swamped by grief, too. I decided then and there to start a book club, and to invite her to join me. Instead of allowing my sadness to rule, I wanted to find a way to diffuse it.

I had no idea at that time that Jenny was a breast cancer survivor and would become my mentor and tour guide through the “cancer journey.”

Meeting Jenny was an extraordinary event in my ordinary, pre-cancer life. Along with my Runnin’ Buddy and our nurse practitioner friend Laura, Jenny and I comprise a quartet of book-lovers who meet once a month and discuss the book we’ve read. Five years later, we’re still going strong. We’ve read some amazing books as well as a few clunkers, and are constantly on the look-out for the next great read.

When I first started running the book club, I would research book group discussion questions and print out a list for each of us. Over time, I’ve gotten lazy and now just highlight an interesting passage, a particularly pivotal plot point, or a bit of prose that speaks to me for whatever reason. This is the basis for our book club’s discussions nowadays.

I’ve always loved books, for their ability to transport us to other worlds. The written word is precious to me, and I suppose it’s in my genes; my mom was an English teacher, after all. I chose my college major (journalism) based on the right ratio of the least amount of math & science and the maximum amount of literature. My career in publishing and editing surprised no one, and I continued to read copiously after leaving the industries for motherhood. True, most of what I read was written for the preschool crowd with a heavy emphasis on pictures, but I started building my kids’ libraries long before they could read. I suppose it was perfectly natural for me to start a book club.

Just in case you’re wondering if I sit around and read all day when I’m not fighting cancer, the answer is no. I spend as much time as humanly possible playing tennis, then I sit around and read for what’s left of the day.

Ha!


National Cancer Survivors Day

Well, we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, and even Bosses’ Day for pete’s sake, so why not Cancer Survivors Day? Makes perfect sense, as there are millions of us around the world. I do wonder, though, why there’s no apostrophe in the title. I double-checked it on the NCSD website and sure enough, no apostrophe.

It’s today, by the way — I feel like I should wear a shirt that says “Kiss Me, I Survived Cancer” but I’m not really the kissy type. I guess I could wear my “cupcakes” t-shirt, which I love, but then it seems like my “cupcakes” get the credit for kicking cancer to the curb when really, they were the culprit in the first place. Without them, I never would have had breast cancer, so I’m not giving them the credit for having survived it. I will wear it to the gym, though, because I love the look on people’s faces as they read it, then do a not-so-subtle double-take at my chest.

So what is National Cancer Survivors Day all about, anyway? Probably something a little more meaningful than wearing a snarky t-shirt and giggling to myself as the shockwaves from said shirt ripple through the gym. According to the NCSD website,

“National Cancer Survivors Day® is an annual, treasured worldwide Celebration of Life that is held in hundreds of communities throughout the United States, Canada, and other participating countries. Participants unite in a symbolic event to show the world that life after a cancer diagnosis can be meaningful and productive.”

Well, I’m certainly proud to be part of an annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Although I think I missed the parade. Considering how many people are affected by cancer, you’d think this day would get a bit more press. There’s probably a Lifetime for Women movie about it and I missed that too.

As usual, I have lots of questions about this annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Who qualifies as a survivor? And when does survivorship begin? What time was the parade? The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a “survivor” as anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life. I think it’s perhaps a bit more personal than that. I also think it’s more than just surviving cancer. I also survived a nasty infection and a nearly  year-long regime of some pretty bad-ass antibiotics. I survived a complicated and intense reconstruction process, and I survived yet another long, hard recovery.

I considered myself a survivor as soon as my mastectomy was over. Surgically removing the tumors, and thereby the cancer, from my body was when my status changed from “regular person” to “survivor.” So for me, I became a survivor in the late afternoon of May 13, 2010. Although I certainly didn’t feel like much of a survivor at the time, bandaged and battered, stitched up and sore. Moving my body at all was a seemingly unattainable feat, and raising my arms high enough to put chap stick on my lips was definitely unattainable. I wasn’t able to slick my own lips for a day or so.

At the time, I had no concept of what a double mastectomy truly meant or looked like. So focused was I on ridding the cancer that I gave zero thought to the aftereffects of the surgery. Even now, in the hazy afterglow of just one year’s time, I struggle to remember exactly what I looked like after that first surgery. In fact, when Trevor gave me The SCAR Project book for my birthday a few days ago, I looked at the portraits of mastectomied women and asked, were my scars vertical or horizontal? For a brief moment, I couldn’t remember. (They were vertical, BTW.)

Deborah Lattimore

That’s why I’m so grateful for things like The SCAR Project and for women like Deborah Lattimore. Like the women who were photographed for The SCAR Project, Deborah Lattimore didn’t want to forget what she looked like after being mastectomied. This defines a survivor, IMHO: facing a shitty situation with not just courage but with moxie. Reading Deborah’s blog, I’m so impressed and moved and in awe of her take-no-prisoners attitude. I immediately felt a kinship with her as I read what she wrote about her post-cancer silhouette soon after her bilateral mastectomy: “my body is still ‘re-architecturalizing’ and will for the coming year. eventually my chest will be completely flat and the scars will be an even line. i really love my skinny small body!” Cheers to Deborah on this annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Wish I could tell her happy National Cancer Survivors Day to her face, and to bask in the supreme power of a strong, confident, self-assured woman who tells cancer to bugger off then shows the world the true face of a survivor. No padded bras, no prostheses here. Not that there’s anything wrong with padded bras or cutlets. How we face the world post-mastectomy is an immensely personal decision, and I in no way want to imply judgement on how any woman makes that decision. For me personally, I applaud women like Deborah who celebrate their mastectomied bodies and view them as a badge of honor. In our breast-obsessed culture, this is no easy thing.

So happy National Cancer Survivors to everyone. I’m thinking we should all have cake. What kind of cake is appropriate for NCSD? Something festive, for sure (you know how I love celebrations). This one is nice:

Love the colors, but the pink butterfly kinda creeps me out.

Maybe this one, then:

Nah, I’m not much of a cat person, and it’s not a birthday cake I’m after, although I do love the idea of the cat eating a fish-shaped cake. Maybe we survivors should eat a tumor-shaped cake. Ewww, gross. Never mind.

Ok, so something breast-cancer related:

Or not. Definitely not.

This one is pretty, and the lemon filling looks yummy:

This one is hilarious, although not appropriate for the annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life:

Maybe something from this bakery:

Surely they’d have just the right kind of cake for the annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Something like this, perhaps?


The day after

The day after one’s birthday can be a let-down, but I’ve got enough festive spirit to carry me right on through. Needless to say, yesterday was one of the best days ever. Big kudos to Trevor for orchestrating a fantastic day. This one is going down in the record-books as the most festive birthday celebration ever.

Yes, I wore a tiara, and yes, that’s a glass in one hand and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in the other. At the nail salon. What of it? Doesn’t everyone do that on their birthday?

Having that beautiful orange box make an appearance at my party not once but twice was pretty great. Happy birthday to me!

I’m laughing so hard here because the first cork that popped hit the ceiling and scared the nail techs. I guess they don’t have a lot of champagne corks being popped as they prepare to buff & polish clients’  nails.

I’m sad to say that not one photo was taken at my birthday lunch, but picture this: a group of smiling, laughing ladies gathered around a festive table while pitchers (plural) of frozen margaritas are passed. Glasses clink, some with salt and some without, in a toast to great friends, good food, and enduring health.

Meanwhile, a kind senorita whips up a batch of fresh guacamole tableside, adding just the right amount of cilantro, jalapenos, lime juice and kosher salt (but no onions–don’t like em). Custom-made, tableside guac is one of the finer things in life. A big thank you to Mr Reyes, GM at Escalante’s, for the complimentary guac and queso for my party. Abundio knows how to treat the ladies!

Handmade Mexican food just kept coming as the conversation (and margaritas) flowed. Get a group of women together to eat, drink, talk & laugh and you know it’s going to get a little wild. We kept it in check but certainly had a stellar time.

Meanwhile, on the penultimate day of school, Macy received the classroom award for “Most Helpful,” which doesn’t surprise me one bit. School’s out today, which means my kids are now 4th and 7th graders. Let the summer fun begin!

thanks, Carla, for the photo!


Shut up about the small stuff

amazon.com

Remember the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff? I have a copy, somewhere. Or did at some point. I read it, too, thinking it would be good for someone like me: impatient, intolerant of idiots, and in turmoil over all that I couldn’t control.

The book was on the best-seller list for more than 2 years. Richard Carlson went on to write some 20 books in this series, from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women. I think I had the original copy, and knowing me, might not have made it through the entire book. Too impatient for that.

I do recall a few ideas Carlson presented in the book, such as “live in the present” and “become more patient.” Not sure I managed either, since I’m always in a hurry, usually thinking about what needs to be done next, and am most definitely not patient. It’s hard to become “more” of something when you’re not really “any” of that thing.

“Life isn’t an emergency” is another one of Carlson’s anti-sweat-isms. I’m not even sure what that means, but I can tell you for certain that it does not apply to cancer patients. Life most certainly is an emergency when you’re dealing with diagnosis, research, treatment options, doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, mounting medical bills, surgery, hospitalizations, and the like.

Carlson also encouraged us to “get comfortable with the not knowing.” I feel pretty confident saying that this will never happen. Never. Ever. I most definitely will not get comfortable with not knowing what happens next, where this “journey” is going, or what the future holds. Hopefully Carlson took his own advice, as he died from “an illness” in 2006 at age 45. That’s 3 years older that I am now (well, I will be on Wednesday), and 45 is too young to die, IMHO.

I wonder if Carlson would have had the same attitude if he too had been facing cancer. Maybe he would have sweat for a little bit, then invoked his ant-sweat-isms to conquer all of the “small stuff” that invades ones life along with a diagnosis of cancer.

My blog friend Lauren wrote yet another stellar post about this very subject. Every time I read one of her blog posts, I’m hard-pressed to say which part I like most, which idea resonates the loudest, which anecdote finds me nodding my head in agreement, or which passage has the power to make me misty-eyed. This week, it’s this passage that stands out:

“There are no small things in cancer. There are no ridiculous things. People like to tell us not to sweat the small stuff, but there is no small stuff in cancer. There is no such thing as a small assault on our feelings/psyche. Sometimes, the tiniest pebble in our shoe is the one that will make us most weary; indeed, the smallest of stones can derail a train.”

I now feel as if I have permission to sweat the small stuff.

As if I needed anyone else’s permission.

A whole lot of the cancer thing is indeed big stuff. Not to imply that my “journey” is harder than anyone else’s, but I would respectfully submit that being young-ish with dependent kids at home makes for more sweat-worthy stuff along the way. Laura, another blog friend painted a vivid picture of battling cancer while raising young kids when she wondered how to hold back tears when her 6-year-old said, “I forget what you looked like before the cancer when you had long hair.” Tell me how to not sweat that. Please. It reminds me of my own struggle to remember what my mom looked like before cancer. I was 36 at the time. I still have to work to hear her real voice and not her “sick” voice, and I was a grown woman at the time of her battle. Laura also remarked upon the depression and guilt she felt as her 8-year-old son helped his little brother pack his lunch for school while she lay on the couch motionless. That makes me sweaty just reading about it.

Lauren also covered a topic in her post that I recently experienced myself. It involves Press ‘n Seal. 

You know, the stuff in your kitchen that you use to cover food.

While Press ‘n Seal has many domestic uses, it has a medical use too: covering one’s port while said port is slathered in numbing cream, before facing the 20-gauge needle used to puncture the skin and the port membrane to deliver drugs.

Last week I went for my regular port maintenance, in which I have to have the oncology nurses access the port (poke the big-ass needle through it) to flush it. This needs to be done every 4 to 6 weeks to avoid a blog clot. The port is tied into the jugular vein, remember, and I do not want to mess with that big dog.

Before my port maintenance, I use the numbing cream (when I remember) so the needle stick isn’t quite so traumatic. Needles have always been rather sweat-inducing for me. I don’t care what Richard Carlson would have told me, I have never liked needles and they’ve always given me that sweaty-palmed, slightly nauseated feeling.

The day of my most recent port maintenance, I was going from the gym to the oncologist’s office. I told my Runnin’ Buddy to remind me about halfway through to use the numbing cream. I was pretty proud of myself for remembering the cream and the Press ‘n Seal, along with a hypodermic needle from my stash at home and my teeny little vial of B12 that my sweet oncologist prescribed for me. I get a B12 shot once a month, and it was time. I figured since I’d be there, why not ask the oncology nurse to give me the jabful of B12?

Any shot at resuming normal life is gone, baby gone as soon as you realize you have prescription Lidocaine, B12, a needle, and Press ‘n Seal in your purse. Any attempt to seem like a normal person is duly shattered by that paraphernalia in one’s pocketbook.

So at the appointed time, I stood up against the wall of mirrors in the gym, pulled my shirt to the side and slapped a thick layer of cream on my port. Then I cut a small piece of Press ‘n Seal and covered the cream so it wouldn’t sploosh all over my shirt. While I finished my workout, the cream slid around a bit, and the Press ‘n Seal crinkled with each movement, and the curious onlookers were probably wondering what in the world they just witnessed.

Here’s what Lauren had to say about our ol’ friend Press ‘n Seal:

“In all my years of reading on PTSD and grief and trauma with breast cancer, not once have I seen a section on dealing with the emotional trauma of how dehumanizing it is to put Press N’ Seal on your body. Not once have I seen a section on how deeply humiliated you feel when you are made to walk half-naked through hallways on the way to an MRI, where then, in front of the room full of techs, you must disrobe and awkwardly lay on your stomach and hang your breasts through two holes in a plank. There is nothing in any book about how violating it feels having a breast written on in sharpie, and that the last time you see it in your life, it has a doctors intials on it. There is nothing in chapter 3 of any book that discusses the indignity of having our bodies being measured with trigonometry like a drafting project as we lay there naked, and get tattooed by nurses for radiation, especially when you are one who doesn’t like the thought of ink in your skin. There is nothing, nothing about the angst of a port sticking out of your body, or how impersonal it feels having your body lifted and shifted by nurses until you are lined up just right for radiation.”

I can’t speak to the parts about radiation, but on all the other stuff I say yep, that’s right. How strange it is when things like Press ‘n Seal on your body become part of your life. How sad when experiences like the ones Lauren describes become lasting memories, and not in the warm & fuzzy way. How terrible its is when you realize that there’s “nothing in any book about how to come to terms with the death of control over your body and life,” as Lauren so aptly puts it.

I’ve learned, just as Lauren and Laura and millions of other cancer patients have learned, that the small stuff becomes big stuff, and the death of control over our bodies and lives is just one of the many casualties in the “cancer journey.” The PTSD in one’s daily life also chips away at the idea of normalcy, signaling the death of innocence, the end of easy.  It may or may not be well-documented, but it’s there. And as Lauren says, “Just because it is not said or written about, doesn’t make it less real. It does not make our feelings about many of these more ambiguous losses less valid, less deserving of mention. It does not make the trauma less valid, it does not make us whiners about small stuff.”

She notes that “we will suffer many more deaths on the cancer journey. Some by things taken from us, and some by things given/done to us. There will be a thousand deaths in cancer, and then a thousand more.”

And so I will indeed sweat the small stuff. Anytime I want.