4 girls, a lotta booze,and a fashion show

Recently this fabulous foursome attended a super fun, chichi event called Project Glam at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Looks like trouble waiting to happen, right?

Right.

mix965houston.com

It was a night full of fashion, cocktails, accessories, cocktails, eyelash extensions, cocktails, and professional models. Fun!

Being a recent fashion show model myself, it was so fun to watch the pros do their thing. The runway was in the Hall of Paleontology of the museum, and the catwalk was built to encircle the dino bones. Cool.

For some reason, I ended up with several pictures of the male models in their swimwear. Strange.


Love those Sperrys.

Navy & white is always a summer classic, fellas.

The “lady” in black on the left was actually a drag queen. In a skin-tight black unitard and spiked-heel knee-length boots, she/he put on quite a show.

The models did a stellar job of looking bored out of their minds. I love it! 

The female models’ hair was teased up sky-high, as Big Texas Hair should be.

The male models’ hair was more representative of the remaining states in our fine Union.

Hair, hair, everywhere. Tangerine and turquoise along with platform wedges ruled the stage, just as it did in the Couture for the Cure.

I’m thinking the cardigan sweater won’t be the latest fashion trend in hot-hot-hot Houston, but it worked on this guy for the night.

A sequined romper is always a good choice for fun in the sun. Especially with red heels. 

A good look for clubbin’ in the big city.

The white dinner jacket is an eternal classic. One version had a chocolate brown stripe around the lapels — so fine!

More tangerine and more big hair. 

Her expression says it all: I’m too bored to even look bored.

The sharp-dressed man was slightly less bored.

My favorite dress of the show. I’m a sucker for hot pink.

I know the pics are kinda blurry. The bored models moved fast, and there was a lot of Captain Morgan’s dark rum involved. That’s the world of high fashion for ya.


Couture for the Cause, redux

I was trying to download some photos from the professional photographer’s website for the Couture for the Cause this past Saturday night. They have some beautiful pics of the event, and a handy “Post to WordPress” feature, but when I tried that feature, it posted the pic without allowing me to add any text.

So I will use the non-professional photos, taken by one John Burrmann, which IMHO are plenty good. See for yourself. He focused more on the people than on the venue, so I will paint a picture in your mind of the stately grounds and lovely estate that housed our fashion show and fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The house is nestled onto a huge lot that slopes gracefully to a private lake. The runway was constructed on the lawn, with chairs around the perimeter and small round tables sprinkled around to allow for casual viewing of the big show. 

The show is a big deal. Last year the event raised some $94,000 for the ACS, and I hope this year exceeds that amount. Having cancer survivors model the fashions is a brilliant idea, both because it encourages the audience to dig deep into their pockets, and because it gives us survivors a chance to celebrate life. What’s more important than that after we’ve faced a terrible disease, difficult surgeries, ongoing treatments, and uncertain futures? Nothing. Not one thing.
There were several breast cancer survivors modeling again this year, and we talked amongst ourselves about how many years out we are. There was also a 20-year-old leukemia survivor who’s been in remission for 15 years. One model had brain cancer and is facing another reconstructive surgery next week. While all of the survivors who participated have a different story, we also have a commonality, and it was nice to unite in that commonality for one night and celebrate life.

The amount of volunteer hours and professional time that go into the gig are staggering, and the result is a first-rate production. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks, and being an experienced survivor model I was ready to do my thing. I had the ultimate fun of having two of my dearest friends model with  me. Amy and Christy both rallied at my side when the Big C wrecked up my life, and it was such a fun thing to have them by my side for the big event. Unfortunately, the excitement was clouded by sadness from the unexpected death of our sweet dog Harry.  Because he died late Thursday night, I made the executive decision to not tell my kids until after school on Friday. It didn’t seem right to tell them Friday morning and send them off to school; I wanted them to have the luxury of grieving in private. I fretted all day Friday about how to tell them. I should have consulted my intrepid breast surgeon, Dr Dempsey, who has honed the skill of delivering bad news to an art form. I’m sure she would have had just the right words. As it turned out, I delivered the news then had to rush off to rehearsal for the show. My head wasn’t quite in the game for rehearsal, and I struggled with the finer points of the runway choreography. The “one and a half” and the “down and back” refer to the way we walk on the runway all decked out in our finery, and while it’s not hard, it took some brainpower to master.

Lenny and Tamra are the dynamic duo who take these fashion shows from cute clothes and accessories to a full-blown production. They pick the clothes for each of the 22 models, add accessories from jewelry to hats to feathered headpieces, design the sets and lighting and choose the music, then orchestrate all these pieces to cohere into the sum total of an amazing show.

We were instructed to show up at 6:00 sharp for our 8:45 pm showtime. Hair & makeup were time-consuming but fun. The show’s theme of the Roaring Twenties was reflected in the intricate hairstyles that featured soft waves and lots of pin curls. Makeup was subdued but included false eyelashes and red-red-red lipstick for each female model. As we went from chair to chair in the war room of hair & makeup, we felt like celebs preparing for a red carpet debut.

check out those eyelashes!

After the work was complete in the war room, we hustled to the dressing tent behind the runway. Talk about a chaotic scene. Each model is assigned an assistant called a dresser. The dresser’s job is to help us into our clothes, put on our jewelry and shoes, and make sure we are ready to leave the tent and present ourselves backstage for final inspection by Tamra. No detail escapes her sharp eye, and she is ready with a safety pin to bind a gap, a hairpin to tame an errant mane, and a keen sense of how a headpiece should lay or a scarf should be tied.

There’s not a lot of time to get dressed, and even with our dressers helping, it’s a crazy, crazy scene. In fact, as soon as we left the runway in one outfit, we were instructed to start taking off as much as we could while hustling back to the tent. Getting dressed was even crazier this year because two of my outfits were very light-colored — one white with a black skirt, one ecru with an orange ruffle — so trying to pull them on quickly while not smearing makeup on them was no small feat. My intricate flapper-style hairdo complicated the speed-dressing process, too, as there were 100 bobby pins holding my hair up that needed to be delicately avoided. There’s nothing delicate about a tent full of women and their dressers in the middle of a fashion show. The production assistants were yelling out our names to let us know we were due backstage, and a few male assistants were in the tents, too, making sure we staying on task and on time. There’s no place for modesty in the tent.

The first scene featured black & white fashions and was kicked off by the professional models. These girls know what they’re doing, and they know how to get the show started. This lucky guy got to strut his stuff with one of the pros, Mariah. She and I chatted in the war room and she’s as nice as she is beautiful.

The professional models may have had all the right moves and the picture-perfect looks, but we had the best cheering section. A sampling of our supporters:

The applause was thunderous, and there was more than one instance of hootin’ and hollerin’ when we took the stage. I only wish I’d channeled some of Mariah’s grace and stage presence when I hit the runway in my black & white outfit.

This isn’t something I ever would have picked for myself, but that’s part of the fun of the fashion show. The skirt was rather short, and the fishnet hose were a bit out there, but it was fun, fun, fun!

Christy’s black & white outfit was a romper, which Dr Dempsey referred to as a onesie. Some fishnets and a beret completed the look.

Amy’s outfit for this scene was so cute, and she rocked it.

The true-blue friend who brushed my teeth in the hospital and mediated more than one altercation with a white-coated professional was utterly transformed into a hot-hot-hot model!

Not only did I have some of my best girls modeling with me, I also had Dr Dempsey struttin her stuff. She did an outstanding job puttin’ on the ritz, and while I enjoyed every minute of modeling with her, I hope she doesn’t quit her day job! (She’s the blond, on the right.)

The blond in the beige dress is my favorite breast surgeon!

She told me she had an alter ego on the runway, and now I know that to be true. Being together for this event also gave her the chance to fuss at me for not coming to see her for my post-mastectomy follow-up. I’m a bit behind on that, but I’m happy to report that I went yesterday.

Scene 2 was tangerine-themed, and my one-shouldered dress was super fun (but a little too blousy). The ecru color with the tangerine ruffle was cute, but I’m not posting a pic because it’s not very flattering. It’s my blog, and I can withhold photos if I want to.

Instead of showing a not-so-great pic of me, I’ll show you the pros doing their thing:

The one bad thing about being involved in the fashion show is not getting to see everyone on stage. While these girls were modeling these cute dresses, I was frantically getting out of outfit #1 and into outfit #2.

I was able to watch this husband-wife combo strutting their stuff, and I would have loved to have seen more. They were having a ball and the crowd loved them. 

This lovely lady is a longtime survivor who gives newbies like me a lot of hope. She also rocked the runway in her high heels.

Our third scene was print dresses, and they were so so so cute. Amy looked like a million bucks in hers.

Christy and I got to walk together for this scene, and we both love our dresses. We had to try hard not to giggle and talk while cruising the catwalk.

The pros glammed it up in long dresses in gorgeous colors.

The show was almost over at this point, and we didn’t have to change into another outfit but just get ready for the big finale.

All the models circled the runway in a triumphant finish. Our faces hurt from smiling, our feet ached from struttin in heels, but our hearts were full of pride and happiness.


Model prep

The American Cancer Society’s Couture for the Cause is fast approaching. As in tomorrow. I’m experiencing equal parts excitement and terror about modeling in the fashion show. Since this is my second time to model in the Couture, the excitement should be outweighing the terror, but alas it is not. Ask me tomorrow which feeling prevails. Hopefully it will be excitement. Sadly, all the fun and triumph surrounding this event are overshadowed by the unexpected death of our sweet dog Harry. It has been a long, hard day at our house, following a sleepless, sad night. I can only hope tomorrow is better. I’ll have a couple of my besties modeling with me this year, so it will be a great comfort to have them backstage and on the catwalk with me.

Getting ready for the show is pretty easy, assuming there are no big bumps in the road like the one we’re experiencing as we grieve for our dog. There’s the model survey to fill out (height, weight, hair & eye color, favorite designers, personal style, etc) and a full-length photo to submit. Then show up for a fitting of the outfits I’ll be wearing; show up for rehearsal with finger- and toenails painted red; and show up a few hours early for the event to have my face painted and my hair teased and tousled by a team of professionals. Oh, and procure the items on my “bring list,” which this year include a pair of brown platform sandals, a pair of black peep-toe platform heels as high as I can manage, and a strapless bra. Last year, I modeled between mastectomy and reconstruction, so there was no need whatsoever to bring a bra, strapless or otherwise.

In fact, last year I modeled having been sprung from the hospital just a few weeks before the big event. That nasty post-mastectomy infection damn near kept me from being able to participate in the most terrifying and most amazing experience I’ve ever had. This year, I’ll skip the hospital part and head straight for the show.

Last year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into but was coaxed and cajoled by some people I really love (that means you, Yvonne) and some people I’d never met but who assured me I’d be perfect, just perfect. All of the other models were cancer survivors, save a dozen or so real-life models to really showcase the outfits and lend an air of professional gravitas to the event. There were several other breast cancer survivors among the non-professional models, and they happened to be a lot farther along in the cancer “journey” than this fledgling model was. Every single one of them was done with reconstruction and didn’t bat an eye before showing me their results. Only at an ACS event would it seem perfectly normal to be closely examining a complete stranger’s breasts, but that’s how cancerchicks roll. 

Needless to say, last year I was a teensy bit unsure about taking the stage and strutting my stuff on the catwalk among hordes of people who’d paid a lot of money to get into this gig. My body was a train wreck, my mind was somewhere between blown and trying to follow along, and my emotions were all over the place. I’d managed pretty well at that point to wrap my head around the cancer diagnosis, but dealing with the infection that threatened to be an unsolved medical mystery — not so much. 

Hooray for being in a muuuuuuuuch better place this time around.

And hooray for actually liking the outfits I’m going to model on Saturday, and for hopefully not having a mink headwrap this time around.

While there is a lot of prep work that goes into pulling off a successful Couture show, thankfully most of it is done by others. I’m pretty sure there’s not another cause I’d be willing to model for, even though it gives me an excuse to buy new shoes. All this fashion show prep reminded me of a story Trevor shared with me a while back, about what the Victoria’s Secret models go through before their big fashion shows. Seems the Telegraph followed VS model Adriana Lima leading up to her fashion show. Lima is a bit more serious about prepping for her show than I am for mine:

She sees a nutritionist, who has measured her body’s muscle mass, fat ratio and levels of water retention. He prescribes protein shakes, vitamins and supplements to keep Lima’s energy levels up during this training period. Lima drinks a gallon of water a day. For nine days before the show, she will drink only protein shakes – ‘no solids.’ The concoctions include powdered egg. Two days before the show, she will abstain from the daily gallon of water, and ‘just drink normally.’ Then, 12 hours before the show, she will stop drinking entirely. “No liquids at all so you dry out, sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds just from that,” Lima says.

Say what??

I can assure you that I will most certainly not stop drinking entirely before my show. If anything, I’ll probably be drinking even more than usual. I will most definitely raise a glass and send up a toast to my sweet dog who is no longer waiting to greet me after my big event.


Happy birthday to me!

Today’s my day.

All mine.

Happy birthday to me. 

It’s been pointed out to me that in addition to being my birthday, today is the official start of hurricane season. Coincidences are funny.

 

Birthdays were a big deal in my house when I was a kid. There was lots of celebration, and we always had homemade cake, decorated by my sweet Aunt Margie, my mom’s younger sister, who was diabetic but still made her Nanny Po a fancy cake every year. See, when I was a little kid, I couldn’t say my whole name: Nancy Katapodis. That was a mouthful for a little girl. The best I could manage was Nanny Po. Aunt Margie always called me that, even after I’d grown up. Dadgummit if pancreatic cancer didn’t strike her down 14 years ago. If she were here, she’d be making me the Barbie bowl cake right now, with lots and lots of frosting, and calling me Nanny Po. 

I don’t mind one bit that I’m growing older. Not one little bit. I might have B.C. (Before Cancer) but not now. There’s something so very sweet about coming out on the other side of a hellacious battle against a vicious beast and its equally nasty side-kick. Breast cancer and mycobacterium stole a lot from me, but they will not steal my birthday joy. Pre-B.C., I might have fretted about being on the wrong side of 40, about the crow’s feet and the less-than-smooth skin. But not anymore.

I’m planning to savor every second of my birthday. Growing older means I’m alive. I’m here to celebrate another year. I’m thrilled to bits to be 42 today.

I really hope that this year is better than last.

Not to tempt fate, but it can hardly be worse.

This time last year, I was recovering from a bilateral mastectomy. Ouch. Look at that chest — flat enough to play quarters upon if you wished.

Once cancer came to call,  I realized that each birthday is much more than the day of one’s birth; it’s another year of victory. It’s another year of walking upright as opposed to being tethered to a hospital bed. Triumphant and upright yet still scarred, I learned first-hand the Chinese proverb:

“The appearance of a disease is swift as an arrow; its disappearance slow like a thread.”

True, so true.

The utter suckiness of last year and the swiftly-appearing disease that is breast cancer, while totally sucky, taught me a lot. One of the big lessons, while completely corny, is to enjoy each day.

And today, on the day of my birth, I intend to do just that.

Let’s start at the very beginning; a very fine place to start, as Frauline Maria would say in The Sound of Music.

I don’t have a lot of baby pictures of myself. Those are still at my parents’ house; my mom kept a lot of pictures and a detailed baby book. Like everything else, she did the historical record-keeping of my life very well. In fact, I think most of my school pictures are hanging in the hallway at the old homestead.

I do have these pics, though, and will embarrass myself by sharing.

No idea whose parents owned the magical mystery bus that we decorated for cheer competition, but it was looking pretty festive. Oh, how I loved this particular cheer uniform. It was my favorite, and I hated to have to wear the other ones. I betcha it’s still in my parents’ attic. My mom never threw anything away. It may be moth-eaten and tattered, but I bet it’s still there. 

I’m almost afraid to post any pics of my lovely self from college, because my bangs were so big they’d take up this whole screen. Go ahead and laugh. I’m right in the middle, surrounded by ’80s bangs.

After college, my first real job was editing Usborne children’s books that were written in England but sold in the U.S. My job was to “Americanize” the books, i.e., change “biscuit” to “cookie,” etc. To this day, I have a hard time deciding if  the word “grey” is spelled with the “e” or an “a.” It looks more right to me as grey. Ditto “colour” vs “color.” It was a super fun job and when I had to leave, to move to Austin so Trevor could start grad school at the mighty University of Texas (HOOK ‘EM!!), my going-away party looked like this:

Randall White, the company president, and I cooked up a little show in which he pretended to insult me, and I shoved a piece of cake in his face. No one else was in on the joke, so it was a bit shocking. No wonder I have such a problem with authority, if Randall taught me these kinds of hi-jinks at my very first job.

Fast-forward through my next editing job, for Harcourt Brace, in Austin, and onto my next career: that of a mom.

Baby Payton got me out of the 9-to-5 lifestyle and into that of a full-time mommy. Keeping up with a hungry baby’s schedule and later chasing after a busy toddler made me wish I had an office to go to again, but only on some days.

Until Baby Macy arrived. 

Then I really wished I had an office to go to again!

Little did I know that chasing two kids around all day every day would be the adventure of a lifetime. 

Being responsible for the care & feeding — not to mention the character-molding — of two small kids was a big responsibility. Luckily, I had a great mentor. Just wish she’d have stuck around to help get me through my little darlings’ teenage years.

Raising my kids to love each other, enjoy each other’s company,

appreciate family ties,

savor family time,

exercise self-sufficiency,

and sit still for a photo shoot are important to me.

May not be all that important to them, but it’s my day, right?

Knowing that my kids are happy, healthy & safe is a great birthday gift. Knowing that they are pursuing their passions is the icing on the cake.

Watching my boy pursue his true love (baseball) is pretty great. It reminds me a lot of my childhood, in which I spent a whole lot of time at the ball fields watching my brother and shagging fly balls. Sharing an unabashed love of the Red Sox with my boy is one of my life’s true joys.

The day Macy met Mo Willems stands out as one of the all-time best. He was so entertaining, and we love his books so much. When it was Macy’s turn to visit with him, she told him she likes to write, too. Instead of asking him some goofy question, she asked for his phone number. In parting, he told her be sure to not let Pigeon drive the bus. She replied: “As if!” I predict those two will collaborate one day. 

On the day of my birth, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that make me happy. Like my family (everyone says that, right? Unless you’re on Maury Povich, you say that).

Like my doggies. Maddy, sweet Maddy. My first dog as a grown-up. I saw her being born, and will never forget the shock of how easily the pups just slipped right out from their mama, the polar opposite of all the pushing, sweating & grunting I’d seen of births depicted on TV. Sweet Maddy entered the world easily and wormed her way into my heart. 6 pups were in her litter: 3 black, 2 blond, and 1 white. Everyone who came to look at those pups wanted the white one. But she was mine. I loved that dog all the way to the Moon and back. When she died just shy of her 15th birthday, my heart broke into a million little pieces. 

She was the best dog, and a really good sport. I guarantee she didn’t want to wear bunny ears — she was much too smart & sophisticated for that — but because her girl asked it of her, she complied. Sweet old thing.

My dogs bring me a lot of happiness. A lot of  dog hair, but happiness, too. Harry and Pedey make me smile every single day.

The day we picked out Harry from the Houston Humane Society, I swear he was smiling. And that made me smile.

Later, of course, we learned it’s because he’s insane. They don’t always tell you that at the Humane Society.

Pedey’s not crazy, but he is a weasel. A weasel who makes me smile. Who wouldn’t love a dog who wants to help with the chores?

Then there are the side-kicks. Harry & Pedey’s best friends, Sugar & Snoopy. Having 4 dogs around creates quite a ruckus, and I love it. 

Raising my kids with an all-consuming love for dogs is a very good thing for me. Little kids and puppies make me smile.

Appreciating traditions makes me happy, too. This one is a classic. Seeing my kids straddling the state line between Massachusetts and New Hampshire on our annual family vacation makes my heart sing. 

As does spending time with my tennis girls. Oh, how I love that. If I weren’t planning to drink so much champagne today, I’d have to get out on the court. Going to tennis camp and playing nonstop for an entire weekend was one of the best things ever. I need a re-do! Come on, girls — get your racquets and let’s go. 

It’s been a crazy year, for sure. When they say it’s all down hill after 40, they really mean it! Going from 40 to 41 brought more than the usual changes for me. But I’m on a roll now.

There’s been the influx of new friends

And the stability of old friends.

The past year brought me the finer points of home-health care and wound care–what a joy it is to not need either anymore!

Being 41 and a fledgling cancer survivor taught me to strut my stuff, both at the Couture for the Cause and every day.

As I strut my way into 42, I’ll hold my head high and my glass even higher. This is indeed a year for celebration.

Cheers to a cancer-free birthday! Cheers to the rest of my life!

 

 


It’s my cancer-versary

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

To say that a lot has happened in the last year is an utter waste of words. I’m not sure there are words to convey how much has happened in the last year; if there are, they are reserved for better writers than I.

Being diagnosed with cancer at age 40 is a shock. Duh. It’s scary and unexpected and unnerving. Double duh. 40 is when we hit our stride. For me, it meant my kids were old enough to not need constant supervision but to still need my guidance. I’d recently discovered tennis, the new love of my life, and had time and freedom to play often. I had a tight circle of friends who knew who they are and where they want to go. I was very comfortable with the direction of my life and the steps I was taking to make it the very best it could be.

Then came cancer.

That vicious beast had already stolen my sweet mama from me, when she was only 67. I was 36 and finding my own way as a mother, and needed her input and presence. But more importantly, I needed her friendship. She and I never had the contentious relationship that a lot of mothers & daughters have. We always liked each other. Maybe because we were a bit opposite: she was yielding and I was (am) opinionated. But maybe we just got lucky, and had that special relationship that some fates bestow upon some people but not others. The reason for our good relationship is immaterial; the fact was, we treasured each other, and losing her was the worst thing to ever happen to me.

Until April 27, 2010.

My guardian angels were asleep at the wheel. 

I’d been getting baseline mammograms since my mom died, since hers was a reproductive cancer and that put me at a slightly greater risk. More so, though, was my OB-GYN’s diligence. Her husband is an oncologist at MD Anderson, so she’s super-tuned to cancer and its sneaky ways of getting its foot inside the door. She saved my life. Pure and simple. And monumental.

When the news came on this day last year, I listened to everything Dr Dempsey told me about my cancer, as Boss Lady Staci dutifully took notes in Trevor’s stead as he hustled home from a business trip. I held it together until the end, when she asked if I had any more questions and I had one: how do I tell my kids? 

They’d watched their YaYa die from cancer, and while only 6 and 3 years old, those memories are powerful. They wanted a lot of assurance that my cancer was different in every way from YaYa’s and that it was not going to kill me, too.

One week after my diagnosis, Payton turned 11. I was gearing up for a double mastectomy, but wasn’t going to neglect his celebration, because if we can’t celebrate life and its happy moments, then cancer might as well come and get us all. We had the usual birthday breakfast on the personalized birthday plates, just as we had every year. As I placed his feast in front of him, I muttered my birthday wish, which was to make sure I was around to place that personalized plate in front of him on May 3rd for many years to come. My firstborn isn’t going to celebrate his birthday without his mama if I have anything to say about it.

The day before my mastectomy, Macy and I met Jeffrey, the orphaned mockingbird rescued by Amy Hoover’s family. We’d been hearing about this little guy, and my animal-loving girl needed to see him for herself. I had a million things to do to prepare for not only surgery but also weeks of dependency, but we made time to meet Jeffrey, and I’m so glad we did. 

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

Two weeks later, I turned 41. I celebrated in typical fashion, with a girlfriends’ lunch and champagne that night. White cake and bubbly are two of my favorite things, and they just say “party” to me. I didn’t feel great, but I was determined to greet the next year in my life with a glass in my hand and a smile on my face. Being surrounded by my best girls during the day and my family in the evening reminded me that life goes on and that while my recovery was hard, it was do-able, so take that, cancer.

A few days before my birthday, I strapped on as much determination as I could muster and took Macy to see Taylor Swift at the Toyota Center with her best bud, Ella, and my partner in crime, Jill. I was so afraid of being jostled by the crowd, as I was still pretty sore and healing was far from complete. But I wanted to be there and be a part of that big event, and to prove to myself that life doesn’t stop for cancer. I’d lost my breasts but not my drive. The glowsticks burned brightly as the music thumped, and I sat next to my favorite girl and soaked it all up. Every last drop.

Good thing I did, because my healing and happiness were short-lived.

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

Just as I felt like I was really recovering from the mastectomy, the nosocomial infection entered my life. A curveball? And how.

Hospitalized for 9 days, pumped full of antibiotics, right tissue expander removed and left expander drained, my life took a decidedly unpleasant turn. It took 6 weeks to diagnose the mycobacterium, and nearly a month total of days spent in the hospital. That first 9-day stay was the longest of my hospitalizations, but also the scariest because the infection was hiding under the tissue expander, hard to diagnose but making me really, really sick. A month after the 9-day stay, I was back in the joint. Out for 3 days and back for 5 more days. Then, out for 2 weeks and back in for 3 days. A seemingly never-ending cycle. Each time I had to go back in, Macy would hand me Froggy, her most beloved of all her “crew” of stuffed animals. He’s been with her since she was a tiny baby and has enjoyed favored status among the masses of other stuffed animals. He’s been in her bed every night and has gone on every trip she’s taken, and she gave him to me to take on each trip to the hospital. He had a bath in hot, bleachy water with an extra rinse every time he came home to her.

She also gave me Baby Snoopy, another coveted member of the “crew,” and my  heart swells at the idea of my baby girl’s thoughtfulness. Though she hated to see me go back to the hospital, she knew her “crew” would comfort me in her absence.

Gross picture, yes, but I did make it smaller so you don’t have to see it in all its glory. Apologies to Christy, who hates this kind of stuff, and Julie: you’d better start skimming because this is the icky part. The aftermath of the mycobacterium is unpleasant, for sure. And this is not the worst shot there is; this shot was taken after much healing had occurred, believe it or not. The wound left behind by the infection was 5.6 cm long, 3 cm wide and 2 cm deep.  That dang bug wreaked a lot of havoc on my already-ravaged right chest wall, and it killed what little bit of healthy tissue was left after Dr Dempsey scooped most of it out to rid the cancer. It’s an insidious bug that is hard to treat. It’s not drug-resistant, like MRSA, but it is very slow-growing and so it responds slowly to antibiotics. Hence the long, long, looooooooong course of oral abx and the multiple rounds of  IV antibiotics, at home and in the hospital. I still have this collection on my kitchen counter, to take twice a day, but luckily haven’t needed the IV version since the last go-round in March. No idea when I’ll get off the oral abx, but sweet Dr Grimes, my infectious disease doc, has told me that he has patients who are on abx therapy for years. Years. Plural. Egads.

Trevor and I became fluent in home health care and learned how to administer the vancomycin and cefapim all by ourselves. The learning curve wasn’t steep, and the whole process was very systematic. My home health nurse, Chona, was as kind and competent as could be, but the gravitas of my situation was clear.While I dreaded it and resented the 3 hours it took twice a day to infuse, I counted my blessings and reminded myself that it could be worse: I could be getting those drugs via IV in the hospital. Again. Which is why I smiled for the camera, tethered yet again but happy to be at home, with Snoopy to keep me and my IV pole company. And yes, that is a glass of wine on the table next to me. It was a dark period in my life, people; don’t judge.

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

This is what Sucky’s appendage looked like strapped to my body, so it could suck out the gunk and speed the healing from this curveball. The size of the plastic sheeting and the tape required to keep the Sucky train rolling was big enough to give me the vapors, and my poor skin is shuddering at the memories right now. And isn’t everyone thankful that I didn’t have a better camera than the one on my iPhone? Imagine how gruesome the photos would be! Oh, the horror. 

The amount of supplies needed to deal with that wound was staggering. The home health stuff was delivered in big boxes, which cluttered up my office and dining room for a day or two before I said enough! and organized everything to minimize its presence. Out of sight, out of mind (sort of). I pared it down as much as I could.

I became proficient at prettying up the ugly truth of cancer treatment, and its equally- ugly friend,infection aftermath, fared the same. I may not have had control over the mutating cells in my body or the nasty bug that invited itself in post-mastectomy, but I sure could dictate how my surroundings would look during the after-party. 

The amount of supplies needed for this fragile existence was great, and so was my need for comfort. That I found comfort in bubbly and coconut cream pie should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I may have been down and out, with cancer and infection taking their pounds of flesh (literally), but I was powered by Piper and pie.

The summer wore on and I barely saw the sun. And only then, through the window; I didn’t get out much. Between the hospital stays, feeling puny, IV drugs, and being on guard against germs, I missed out on a lot.

I did make it to Macy’s 2nd grade last-day-of-school festivities. She had something funny to say when it was her turn to take the podium, and although I don’t recall what it was, I’m glad I was able to be there to see her in action. I also dragged my sorry carcass to Payton’s 5th grade farewell. My friends in high places in the school volunteering world pulled some strings and had a reserved seat for me, along with a parking cone to save a parking place for Mary, who carted me there and back. My baby was moving on to middle school, and I was moving slowly–very slowly–toward recovery, from cancer and infection. 

Right before school ended, Payton was honored with a spot on the All Star team. This boy lives & breathes baseball, and has from his earliest days, so this is a big deal.

The team went from District to Sectionals to State (or maybe Sectionals to District to State), and I made it to 1 game. Being in the hospital while my favorite player did that thing he does best was hard on this mama. His team had a lot of heart, in addition to some mad skills, and they were kind enough to play in my honor for the duration of their run toward State champs. I’ve never been more honored and humbled as when he came home from practice the night before the first tournament (District? Sectionals?) with a pair of pink sweatbands on his wrist. Learning that the entire team was wearing the pink, for me, moved me, and like the Grinch, my heart swelled to maybe a normal size. 

I’ll be forever indebted to all the other All Star moms who cheered for my boy and provided yard signs, pool parties, custom shirts, and child-wrangling assistance in my absence, at our home field and on the road. Missing the games was hard, but knowing that my circle of baseball moms had my back made it bearable. And having my signed photo of the boys in red (with a dash of pink) brightened my hospital room and my spirits. That frame now sits on my dresser, and every day when I see it I remember not only the special summer of baseball success but also the pure hearts of the families on that team who helped my own family in our time of need.

Good things can come from a bad situation. There is hope inside a diagnosis. You get a measure of the depth of people’s kindness, which comes out in lots of ways. Like custom cupcakes. I liked that one a lot, and so did my kids. 

Like a card signed by the staff at PF Chang’s during a celebratory lunch. Our waiter knew we were celebrating some good news in the cancer battle and took it upon himself to have his co-workers celebrate along with us. I said it then, and I’ll say it again: Eat at Chang’s!

My friend Paula from Duke ran in the Salt Lake City Race for the Cure in my honor and sent me her bib from the race. At that point, I was a long way from even considering doing a 5K, so it did my heart good to know she was out there, pounding the pavement among an army of pink and thinking of me.

One weekend in between hospital stays, Macy and I snuck away to Galveston with Christy and her daughter Alexis, for a much-needed break from illness, wound care, and calamities. Macy caught a huge fish off the dock, and seeing her proud smile made the trip even better. There’s something magical about the sunset off the water, and I savored the splendor.

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

Once word got out that the puppy-sitting business was up & running, we got to keep Pepper for several days. My kids loved having her to snuggle with on the couch, and I relished the idea that the hard times were morphing into better times.

School started, much to my children’s chagrin, and Payton went off to middle school while Macy began 3rd grade. A few days after school started, I was fresh out of the hospital, she and I rocked out at the Jack Johnson concert in the Woodlands. Because I had been hospitalized, again, so recently, my attending the show wasn’t a sure thing. I still had the dressing on my port-a-cath and wasn’t feeling great.  What is a sure thing, however, is that I’m as stubborn as cancer is shitty, so I made it to the show. 

August and September were spent recuperating, and at the end of September I hobbled myself on down to Tootsies, a chichi clothing store in the high-rent district that was outfitting survivor models for the Couture for the Cause fashion show. I’d only been out of the hospital for a month, but I had committed to doing the show and I made good on my word. Scared breathless and unsure of myself are not states in which I commonly find myself, but the fashion show landed me smack dab in the middle of “What in the world am I doing?” territory. I wasn’t wild about the dresses I wore, but my shoes were a-maz-ing and the experience is one I truly will never forget. Oh, and we raised almost $100K for the cause. 

October signaled the return of some normalcy. I was able to put together something I’d daydreamed about a lot in the hospital: the First Annual Pink Party. I wanted to gather my circle of girls who had seen me and my family through the roughest part of the “cancer journey” to show my thanks and spend some non-sick time together. With the pink theme, yummy food (if I do say so myself), and plentiful drink, it was a smash success.

We seemed to have the infection under control and the antibiotics were doing their job, and after a much longer-than-anticipated hiatus, I was back on the tennis court. My sweet tennis friends gave me a little trophy that says “Winner,” and it’s the best trophy I’ve ever won. 

This little trophy soon had a friend, though, after Boss Lady and I won the Witches’ Open at the end of October. Being back on the court with my tennis friends was so great. Tennis is very good therapy.

As if that day wasn’t fun enough, that night was the Maroon 5 concert in the Woodlands. Tennis, then dinner and the show was a balm for my battered soul. We ate & drank then sang along with Adam for an unforgettable night.

Before too long, fall was upon us (or what passes for fall in Houston), and we readied ourselves for the holidays. Thanksgiving was spent with Team Cremer, with everyone contributing something to the feast. The kids worked off their meal with the traditional post-turkey swim. We had a lot for which to give thanks.

Christmas and the New Year came and went, and before I knew it was time to start making preparations for reconstruction. The Big Dig was a big step, and I had hoped it would signal the end to my “cancer journey” and allow me to put all that hardship behind me. Adding another doctor, and another Dr S, to my cast of characters could only mean one thing: I was going in for a very big surgery.

The DIEP procedure is amazing and hard, in a lot of ways: time consuming, intricate, detailed, and not infallible. Babying the newly transplanted skin, tissues, and blood vessels was hard work, and the crack team at Methodist in the med center did an outstanding job.

This is what I looked like before The Big Dig:

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

It was a hard 3 days, no lie, but at least I was going home. One thing I would miss from the hospital was the morphine. Oh, how I love that stuff. I guess a lot of people do, too, because they guard it closely and I got a laugh from the ping-pong-paddle-key used to replenish my supply. Kinda reminded me of a gas station restroom key. 

One thing I would not miss from the hospital was this chair.

This was the chair in ICU that I had to hoist myself into, after hoisting myself and my 17-inch-long abdominal incision out of bed. Again, it’s a good thing I’m so stubborn, because it would have been easy to roll over, say this is too hard, too painful, too much. But by golly I was going to get out of that bed and into that chair no matter what, and with my morphine pump in hand, I did just that. I don’t think I cussed too much, either.

Recovery from The Big Dig is ongoing, and they say it will take a while longer. I’m not the most patient person, and I’m ready to have everything back to normal. Of course I know there’s a new normal, and it progresses at its own pace, not mine. It’s been a long, tough “journey,”and it seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong, for a while.

But a lot of good things have happened, too. I started blogging, for one, with Pedey at my side or in my chair, or both; who knew so many people were interested in my little “cancer journey?” It’s humbling and rewarding to see my “readership” grow, and I am immensely grateful for all the love and support that’s come my way. Someday I may have no cancer-related news to share. How weird will that be? I imagine I’ll find something to talk about in this space, nonetheless.

I will have more stories to share about my adventures with Dr S. There are a couple of revisions that he needs to make to his palette that is my newly constructed chest, and while we argue about the timeframe for that, it will likely provide blog fodder and laughs along the way.

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

And like the butterfly bush in my backyard that was uprooted and tossed around by high winds recently, I weathered the storm. I’m setting my roots and hoping that the winds that blow my way in future are calmer.

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


Now that’s some bank!

The photo isn’t great, for which I apologize, but hopefully it’s good enough for you to see the amount payable to the American Cancer Society: a whopping $93,545.00

Yowza. That’s quite a check. It’s from the Couture for the Cause, which you loyal readers will remember was the premier Fort Bend event at the end of September in which funds were raised for the fight against cancer, and in which yours truly participated in the fashion show.

You may recall the tremendous amount of trepidation I felt toward the event. If not, let me remind you: I really, really, really didn’t want to do it. I had only been out of the hospital a few weeks, and was not in runway shape, to say the least.

However, as with most things we force ourselves to do, in order to stretch our comfort zones or become a better person or whatever reason for the torture, it ended up being one of the absolute, bar-none, best-ever experiences of my entire life.

As much as I’d like to claim responsibility for that huge sum of money raised, the truth is that beyond the $100 ticket that Trevor bought to attend the event, I didn’t have a whole lot to do with it. But next year, I will. Because I will be hounding everyone I know to pony up, buy a ticket, and come to the event. I plan to do the fashion show again, and I expect you all to be there.

In reflecting back on how scared I was to do the show, and how uncomfortable I was in my outfits (but loved every inch of the shoes!), I’m grateful for a whole lot — for having the courage to do it even though I didn’t want to; for having parents who raised me to honor a commitment even though I didn’t want to; for being upright and out of the hospital, not attached to an IV or a wound vac; for the great and true friends who were there that night to cheer me on; and most importantly, for life and the ability to savor it.

Lenny, the director/producer of the event, sent an email the day after the shindig, to the volunteers and models. He wrote something pretty special, and I want to share it:

Please know what a personal and professional experience last evening was for Tamara, me and my fashion team. We love our work in the fashion industry. I am grateful that through the almost 60 – 70 events me and my team produce a year that we are able to help important causes raise awareness and more importantly dollars for worthwhile causes. But the true joy of our work is the people we meet and get to work with along the way. Tamara, me and my team spent all of last night after the show while packing things away recounting very special moments each of us experienced with each of you. We are grateful for those moments and they will mean much to us for a very long time. This event  honors and celebrates a special group of people who have experienced or are experiencing cancer. While there are many stories I will share one from last night. One of the models was very gun-shy about participating in this event. She came into the fitting at Tootsies tentative and not all certain about modeling in the show or that we would find anything flattering for her to wear. Her experience with cancer is fresh and current, recently having surgery. During the hair and make up prep period I started seeing how excited she was getting. She especially loved her hair. During the show I remember her beaming as I sent her to walk the plank. After the show she shared what an amazing and fun time she had by modeling in this show and said she would see us next year. And she will.