The Thanksgiving list

 

It’s Thanksgiving and I would be remiss if I didn’t remark upon the things for which I am thankful. This time last year I was fresh off the post-mastectomy infection train and trying to navigate life as a survivor. This year, the infection is finally in the rear-view mirror, and 8 surgeries later I’m on the road to reclaiming my normal life.

I’m contemplative on this day of everything good in my life. Not gonna think about the bad stuff today. Here’s a short list of the things I’m grateful on this day of Thanksgiving.

My family. And the beach. Two of my favorite things at the same time — good stuff!

Living in Texas, where it’s warm enough to swim on Thanksgiving. People joke about how Texas is a whole ‘nother country, and it’s true. Everything is bigger here, and better.

My kids. Every parent thinks their kids are amazing and wonderful and I am no different. 

As the grow I see more and more the people they are becoming, and that will always be a source of pride for me.

Youth sports. Being a part of a team, and experiencing the thrill of victory as well as the agony of defeat is a wonderful thing. 

Raising kids who love animals. Whether furry or slimy, cute or with a face only a mother could love, my kids adore animals and have learned compassion and sacrifice through caring for them. 

Good books. I love a good read. And I love that my kids are readers, too. My sweet mama the former English teacher would be so proud!

Natural beauty. Whether the rolling waves of Salisbury Beach, the mountains of Utah, or the public gardens in Boston, I’m grateful to have beautiful scenery to gaze at as I go about my days. 

Tennis. I’ve learned so much from the game, most notably humility, and continue to be challenged. People laugh when I say I started playing tennis because I like the clothes and had no idea how hard a game it is, but it’s true. 

Funny art and snarky humor. I hope I never outgrow my enjoyment of them. If I’m ever too old to laugh at something like what you see here, smother me with a pillow. 

Jacoby Ellsbury. Because he’s so fine. Oh, and baseball, too. I’m thankful for baseball. But mainly Jacoby. 

 

 

A legacy. The women in my family are strong and funny and kind-hearted. I hope to continue the traditions they’ve established. 

Mentors for my kids. I’m so grateful for the people in my kids’ lives who teach them, guide them, and love them.

Cocktails. Need I say more?

Great food. To soak up the alcohol.

Puppies! The more the merrier! Sometimes I think I like dogs more than people. Puppies especially.

Things that challenge me to get outside of my comfort zone. Like modeling in the Couture for the Cause a few weeks after my latest hospitalization last fall. Yikes. After wondering what in the sam hell made me agree to do it, I ended up having one of the single best experiences of my life. And plan to do it again in March. Get your tickets now, before it sells out!

Friends. Couldn’t have made it through the last 18 months without them. Whether buds from way back or newly connected, I’m imminently thankful for my friends. 

Cheers to Thanksgiving!


One year ago today

Y’all know I’m a milestone-observing kind of girl. I’ve written about my cancer-versary, about a revelation, about week-old recollections after The Big Dig, aka my reconstruction, and returning to the tennis court after a long absence full of longing.

I’ve written about the anniversary of my sweet mama leaving this earth. That was early on in my blogging, and I hadn’t mastered the art of inserting photos. The photos of her are woefully displayed, and in my free time (!) I need to go back and fix them. She deserves better.

I’ve also observed the end of the worst year of my life. “Don’t let the door hit ya” was my message to 2010 as it went out like a lion. A mean, underfed, on-the-hunt-for-victims lion. Almost halfway through 2011 and I’m happy to say it’s turning out to be a much better year. Course, we didn’t have far to go to make it better than its predecessor.

Back to the current milestone. One year ago today, I said bye-bye to my breasts and was the lucky recipient of a flat–but cancer-free–chest. This was me, this time last year. On this very day (although it wasn’t a Friday, it was May 13th. Having a bilateral mastectomy on Friday the 13th would be cruel).

Trevor snapped this photo of me waiting for my surgery, in the holding pen before moving to a pre-op room. My brain was swirling with lots of thoughts, too many thoughts, and I was likely firing off a quick email to our BFF Ed with some last-minute kid-wrangling instructions. Notice the pink notebook in my bag: my cancer book, full of pathology reports, doctors’  notes, research, and bills. Bills, bills, and more bills. I think the current estimate of the cost of my last year medically is in the range of $260,000. And we’re not done spending yet.

One year ago today, I wish we’d thought to take a close-up shot of my chest instead of the deep wrinkle snaking across my forehead. My chest would never be the same, and would become a major battleground–and that was after the mastectomy. If I’d seen that pic before going under, I would have asked Dr Dempsey, breast surgeon extraordinnaire, to give me some Botox while she was in there. Yikes.

I didn’t know what to expect from the surgery, other than the basics. With subsequent surgeries, I’ve learned that actual procedures are available for viewing on youtube and I’ve watched a few. Gross. But amazing.

All I knew, really, was that I had breast cancer and I wanted it gone. I could have had a lumpectomy, but chose the slash-and-burn option instead. I’m not a half-measure kind of girl, and the idea of just taking a part of the infected breast instead of the whole thing wasn’t anything I ever seriously entertained. Slash-and-burn meant taking both breasts, even though the cancer was only detected in the right one. Only. Ha! Good thing I lost the pair, because the post-mastectomy pathology showed the left one had some problems, too. If you can call an area 5 cm in diameter full of cancerous junk a problem. I can, and I did. Little did I know then, one year ago today, that pretty much anything that could go wrong with my post-surgery self would go wrong. As my nurse practitioner friend Laura says, “Your case certainly has not been textbook.” Truer words were never spoken, but we didn’t know that one year ago today.

Because there were only 3 weeks between my diagnosis and the mastectomy, and because most of that time was consumed with tests, tests, and more tests, there wasn’t a lot of time for freaking out or being scared or crying about my fate. Not that I would have done any of those things anyway. There was a problem, and we were going to fix it. ‘Nuff said. I had a great team–breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, and oncologist– and was in a nationally ranked and highly acclaimed hospital. Course, I’d end up adding a kick-ass infectious disease team, home-health care nurse, a beloved lymphedema specialist, and wound specialists to my team before it was all said & done.

Dr Grimes, my hero

Tammy Sweed, I adore you!

The week before surgery, Payton turned 11

and Macy & I pampered ourselves with a Chinese foot massage.

I squeezed in as much time as I could with my girls

I didn’t know it would be a while before I did anything like this with my favorite girl.

Going into surgery one year ago today, I had no idea that I’d end up spending nearly a month more in the hospital and undergo 3 more surgeries; minor surgeries compared with the mastectomy, and of course reconstruction was way off in the distance, with even more days in the hospital. I had no idea how much I’d miss my kids while hospitalized

and my dogs (and their friends).

I had no idea how many times I’d need the special parking place.

I had no idea how much infinite kindness my friends would bestow upon me. We were on the receiving end of many, many meals delivered to our house, a kindness for which I’m so grateful. The rides to & from my  kids’ activities helped more than I could ever guess. The sleepovers and outings that my mommy friends provided kept my kids’ life normal when everything else around them was off-the-charts abnormal.

My cousin Teri’s hubby Tom made me more than one coconut cream pie. I ate a lot of this

but not nearly enough of this

Keith’s crab towers were chock-full of healing properties.

As was this:

Yes, lots of champagne eased the way from being an average, suburban at-home mom to becoming a statistic. From regular woman to cancer vixen. From got-it-together overachiever to at the beast’s mercy. And my bubbly companion continues to ease the way, from cancer victim to cancer survivor. Cheers to that.

A week after surgery, I began to feel a bit more human and was blown away by my little girl wearing a pink ribbon on her shirt–all her idea, BTW–to school every day.  

I was not enjoying the amount of time spent doing this:

although Pedey enjoyed every lazy minute of my recouperating.

Seeing me in jammies all the time gave Macy an idea: she could raid my jammie drawer and wear them herself. 

I’m not sure I ever got that pair back from her.

I certainly have learned a lot over the last year. Things I never knew I would have to learn, like the difference between invasive ductal carcinoma and in situ carcinomas. Like how a tumor is graded to determine the stage of the cancer. Like cure rate statistics and recurrence stats. Like how fine a line there is between the science of medicine and the art of medicine. Like how fighting a wily infection could be even worse than fighting cancer.

The crash course in all things infection-related was a big education. A very big, most unwanted education. My biggest lesson in this arena is how many unknowns exist. I wanted to know when, where, how, and why I got this infection. No one knows for sure. I wanted to know why it took so long to diagnose it, and why so many drugs have to be involved. I learned that my oncologist could have me all my drugs delivered to my doorstep via UPS. I learned to love vanocmycin and to depend on probiotics. I learned to eat breakfast as soon as I got up, hungry or not, because I needed to time the antibiotics right so they hit an empty stomach. I learned that morning sickness-style nausea doesn’t go away as the morning changes to afternoon and then to evening. I learned that there was nothing, not one single thing, I could put in my stomach to ease that awful nausea. I learned that washing those drugs down with alcohol doesn’t make me feel worse; that in fact it made me feel a whole lot better. I learned to develop a schedule and a rhythm to taking my antibiotics every 12 hours for 267 days. 

I learned that “We’re discontinuing the antibiotics” are the sweetest words I’ve heard in a long time. I’ve learned about the complete and utter relief of dumping my remaining oral abx out, because I don’t need them anymore.

That’s the tip of the iceburg, or what my friend Michele would call “a booger’s worth” of the practical things I’ve learned. The topical aspects of changing one’s status from normal person to cancer patient. Then there’s the other side of it.

There’s the stuff  I’ve learned in the last year about the unquantifiable side of a serious illness. The depth of inner strength required to get through something like this. The well of emotion that accompanies the clinical stuff. The patience and fortitude I didn’t know I had (although I’m still working on the patience part). The measure of gratitude toward the people who’ve helped along the way. The unbridled joy of making new friends in the midst of a shitty situation. The passion for writing, long dormant in the day-to-day of child-rearing, and the love of blogging. The understanding that my doctors are just regular people under those scrubs & white coats, and while they’re full of knowledge, there’s a whole ‘nother side of unknown things for which they make an educated guess and hope for the best. And, I have to admit, how much fun I’ve had getting to know these people in the white coats.

 

While being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 certainly does suck, I’m lucky that I made the decision one year ago to not let that diagnosis define me or impede me living my life. There certainly were times in which I was miserable from surgery and infection, and down in the dumps about my limited capabilities during recovery. There were also times over the last year in which I thought for a second I can’t take any more–not one drop more of bad luck, rotten news, and beastly complications. But those times didn’t last long and they did not prevail. Cancer did not prevail. Not over me. No way. Nuh uh. That’s perhaps the most important thing I learned over the last year.


I’m over it

Yesterday was a bad day, but just for about half of the day. I was in a wicked bad mood, the cause of which remains unknown but the remedy of which is no surprise: a stiff drink in the company of good friends. I got some talking therapy from several sources, and with the assistance of some Stoli and tonic, all was right in my world once again.

It’s a good thing, because guest blogger and night nurse Amy H was going to charge me cash money for my bad mood. You may recall her referring to her $10 surcharge while sitting with me in the ICU last week. It was the day after my big surgery and she was subjected to my ranting about the extreme heat and pounding headache. I ran up a tab that day, and added to it yesterday. She kindly reminded me that it’s ok to crash around in a foul mood for a little while, but then get over it and get on with it, and she sent me a picture of her policy, in writing, that hangs in her kitchen.

Point taken.

Today is going to be a good day. It will, it will, it will.

It’s gloomy outside with thunder threatening, but the birds are still singing and congregating around Macy’s feeder in one of the trees in our front yard. It’s spring break in these parts, so my offspring are fanning out in search of entertainment and a respite from the rigors of 3rd and 6th grades. Macy, the little zookeeper, is going to day camp at the Lone Star Pet Lodge, which Trevor refers to as the Last Resort Pet Resort in a funny malapropism.

Macy will be tending to the animals whose owners checked them into the resort while they’re off on spring break adventures. We’re not sure exactly what her duties will be, but it sounds like an ingenious plan on the kennel owners’ part to both extort child labor and turn a profit. We pay them for our kid to do their work. How crazy is that? Crazier still is that I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Macy came home a part-owner of that place. She was definitely in her element when we walked in; we were greeted by a miniature Yorkie at the reception desk, and for the first time ever, Macy didn’t hesitate when walking into a camp. She didn’t hesitate, and she didn’t look back to tell me good-bye. Yep, she’s in her element.

Payton’s spring break adventure is of the roadtrip variety. My firstborn has a taste for the great outdoors and a longing to see some of our fine national parks. Sadly, he missed the great cosmic birth-order assignment that might have landed him in a camping and hunting type family, and ended up with a less-rustic and more beach-oriented family. Lucky for him, there’s Ed, our nature-loving BFF. He’s a fan of the roadtrip and is well-versed in all things national park, so he and Payton hatched a plan to drive to Carlsbad Caverns in the neighboring state of New Mexico. Payton and Ed will be on the road all day today en route to their base camp in Van Horn, TX, which is about 10 hours from here but close enough to Carlsbad to visit the caves. Payton is looking forward to the “guy’s trip,” seeing the sites and splendor of West Texas, exploring Carlsbad’s 117 caves, and consuming more junk food than his mama allows. With him gone, I don’t know what I’ll do without my daily infusion of Sports Center, but I’ll try to muddle through. My prediction: since Macy has exclusive rights to the TV, there will be a Wizards of Waverly Place marathon going on when she’s not at camp.

It’s definitely going to be a good day.


Pedey, aka Weasel Dog

It’s been brought to my attention that I have written about Harry and Cinco the leopard gecko, but not Pedey, the other canine member of our household. Well, excuuuuuuse me.

Pedey, oh Pedey. I don’t even know where to start.

He’s a cutie, for sure. We weren’t planning on getting a puppy, not really. Not that day, anyway. IMHO, any day is a good day to bring home a new puppy, but not everyone subscribes to that point of view, so you gotta tread lightly.

Flashback to May 3, 2008. It was Payton’s 9th birthday. I went to Petsmart to pick up something for Harry and the Houston Humane Society was there with the mobile adoptions. I figured I’d scritch a few pups, get a dose of puppy breath, tickle a few fat bellies, and move on. Then I saw this: 

Oh. My. Gosh. I was smitten. That face! Those floppy ears! The speckled feet! The fat belly! The little white blaze down his nose! 

Did I mention that it was Payton’s actual birthday? 

And that I now really, really, really wanted a puppy?

And that I really, really, really wanted this puppy?

Long story short, Payton fell in love with Pedey (his mama taught him well), and we had to have him. Trevor, being the good sport that he always is, gave in, even though we already had one dog too many for him. Payton and I reasoned that Harry needed a dog, and since it was almost summer, the kids could help take care of this puppy.

Welcome to the family, little guy.

I think you’re going to like it here. We have a mentor for you named Harry. He’ll show you the ropes. He makes the mean face sometimes, especially when he has a chewie, but just ignore him.

We’ve got a best friend lined up already (Snoopy), a pool should you become a water dog, lots of toys & treats, and unlimited belly rubs.

It took us a while to come up with the right name for the new guy.

Since he was officially Payton’s dog, Payton got to have the final say. And he decided on Pedey, after his favorite Red Sox player, Dustin Pedroia. The dog is nothing like his namesake: he’s cowardly, lazy, and clumsy with a ball. But the name stuck.

He settled right into our life and weaseled his way into my heart. Let me state for the record that I’ve never had a small dog, and I’ll admit, I’ve never quite understood the appeal. Now before you carry-dog lovers out there go ballistic and send me death threats, let me be clear: I don’t dislike carry dogs or their owners. I’ve just never understood the benefits. 

Now I get it.

He was of course the cutest puppy ever. (I can say that because Maddy, the best dog in the universe, has gone on to her Great Reward, and because we adopted Harry at age 2 and never knew him as a puppy.)

He likes to snuggle more than rough-house. He would rather sleep than do just about anything else (preferably in my lap). 

We call him The King of Comfort, because he always manages to find the most comfy spot available. 

If he’s not fast asleep in a prime spot, he’s camped out under my desk chair. 

Sometimes his legs or tail peek out from underneath the chair, and sometimes he’s completely hidden and I forget he’s there until I scooch the chair back and accidentally scare him half to death.

Sometimes he gets in the chair, right behind me. When he was tiny, it worked out just fine. But now he’s a little too big for that, but he still tries it sometimes. 

He still manages to fit. Mostly.

He likes to make a nest when he finds a comfy spot for sleeping. He will either wedge himself tight in between pillows & cushions, or get himself wrapped up in blankets & comforters. He will also stay in bed until he’s good and ready to get up, instead of leaping up the instant my feet hit the floor, like Harry does.

We don’t know what kind of dog he is, besides lazy & shiftless. Beagle, maybe? He has short, coarse hair; very different from the labs’ hair I’m used to. He has a very wrinkly brow and often looks quite contemplative. It’s mostly for show, though, because he sure doesn’t seem very smart. 

He’s not all that well-trained, either, because he was so cute we were always holding him instead of schooling him to sit and stay. 

He never did learn to love to swim, like the other dogs do. He doesn’t really even like for his feet to get wet, hence the need to be in my lap as often as possible.

Dana Jennings, a wonderful writer for the New York Times said, “Good dogs – and most dogs are good dogs – are canine candles that briefly blaze and shine, illuminating our lives.” I’ve had 4 dogs in my adult life: Maddy, the best dog ever in the history of all dogs. So good, I still get teary when I think of her, several years after her death (and y’all know I’m not much of a crier). So good that the urn of her ashes is on a side table in my bedroom, her name engraved in a simple, beautiful script, the urn way too small to contain all the love and memories she provided. Then there was Lucy, who we got to keep Maddy company. Her canine candle was pretty dim, and there is no urn for her. Then came Harry, and now Pedey. A short but very full doggie history.

Pedey was so happy this past summer, when I was convalescing from surgery and multiple hospitalizations. I don’t usually lay around much, but I had to then. And he loved it. He was always right by my side or in my lap, sleeping away. We joked that we should have snuck him into the hospital, so he could have slept on my bed with me there.

Well, Pedey, rest up; in a few days, I’ll have some more down-time. Are you ready?


Update on my guardian angels

Remember these three lovely ladies? If not, read this. I wrote about my guardian angels and their unfortunate accident in which they flew off the shelf and crashed onto the floor.

They’ve been repaired and restored to their shelf in the kitchen, where they can watch over my family and me. I think they’re recovered from their trauma, but are likely wary of another episode and probably watch over me with a worried eye, thinking, “There she goes, crashing around the kitchen again like a crazy person. It’s only a matter of time before she bustles over here to grab a cookbook off our shelf, and down we go, smashed into bits on the hard porcelain tile.”

Or something along those lines. I have no idea what Willow Tree angels’ conversations actually sound like, but that’s how I imagine this one. 

All three angels went to Ed’s magical workshop for repairs. They may want to ask about a frequent customer card, as they’ve been there before, and will probably end up there again. His rates are very reasonable, he does outstanding work, and he always manages to work in the casualties resulting from my carelessness.

This angel sustained the most extensive yet least noticeable damage. She pretty much snapped in half, suffering internal injuries but held it together cosmetically. You can see that she now has a long scar all the way across her middle, which is prescient as that’s what I too will have after reconstruction, since they’re gonna cut me hip-to-hip to harvest the skin & flesh to rebuild me up top. Ick. I wish I could manage as serene an expression as this Angel of the Heart in the face of my trauma, injuries, and recovery.

The Angel of Hope needed limb restoration, but thankfully she managed to escape the accident with her right arm intact, since it holds her lantern that she uses to watch over her careless charges. A single amputee is bad enough; a double would have been really tragic. She also lost part of her ponytail, but as we all know, hair loss is temporary, and hers did magically grow back at the workshop, and her scars are barely noticeable.

Sustaining the most overall damage was the Guardian Angel and her young companion. The decapitation was especially devastating, and sadly his head was never found. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Harry the eating machine found it and devoured it before he realized it wasn’t actually food. She also lost her head, but I found it and it, along with her hand, were restored to their previous state.

Thanks to everyone who wrote, called, or emailed with concern and support about these lovely ladies. Let’s hope they stay in one piece for a while.


Goethe’s got it goin’ on

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”— Goethe

I’ve always liked this philosophy, and what better day than a snow day to heed his words?

Well, let’s see: it’s a snow day without snow (gotta love Houston), so the kids are home but not playing outside. No snowmen or women, no snowball fights, no sledding or tubing or ancillary snow-related activities. No giant snowbank on which Harry could leave his yellow mark, and certainly no homemade snow ice cream.

Instead, it’s 10:30 a.m. and the kids are immersed in video games and iTouch pursuits. When they become bored from those, they will likely move on to Nickelodeon.  The washing machine is humming, the dishwasher is doing its thing, there’s a long list of things to do, and none of them coincide with Goethe’s missive.

Ok, wait, I will turn on my iTunes while I type this, so I am hearing “a little song” (some Jack Johnson to drown out the hum & clank of the labor-saving devices). I will attempt to speak a few reasonable words, but suspect the result will more likely be a rambling blabbityblah instead.

With the humming & clanking sufficiently quieted, I got to thinking about Goethe and who he was and what kind of a person he must have been to utter the above suggestion, which is so simple yet deep. He’s basically giving me a recipe to daily happiness. I like that. I need that. I’m digging Goethe.

If I stretch back into the deep recesses of my grey matter, I recall that he was a German writer in the 1800s from a good family. After some trouble in school, he was home-schooled, and his mama encouraged his love of the written word, just like my mama did. He’s described as a polymath, a word that’s always intrigued me. Of course the Greeks defined it best and used it to describe someone as “having learned much. ” While Goethe is perhaps best known for his written word (he was called the supreme genius of modern German literature, after all), he also was into nature, politics, and painting. A real Renaissance Man.

Goethe’s insights on plants & animals paved the way for naturalists like Charles Darwin, and I like to think that Goethe opened the door to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Our modern-day jokes about the shallow end of the gene pool wouldn’t be nearly as funny–or true–without either of these guys. Don’t know why, but I find that interesting.

Politically, he was conservative and thought the revolutionaries in France were wasting their time because people couldn’t possibly govern themselves. He was a fan of small principalities ruled by benevolent despots. Which is all fine & good as long as the principalities want to be ruled and the despots are indeed benevolent. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

Seems Goethe anticipated being remembered for as a painter, but he gained his fame as a writer. He did study colors extensively, and considered his Theory of Colors to be his most important work. He believed that colors developed from “the dynamic interplay of darkness and light.” I’d venture to suggest that this concept does not apply strictly to art. If I were a better student with more patience and time, I’d love to investigate this concept and expand on it. But alas, the laundry calls and the dog-hair tumbleweeds grow. Goethe probably didn’t do his own laundry, and I bet he wasn’t troubled by the accumulation of dog hair on a tile floor. He was busy pioneering the idea of physiological effects of color, which is intriguing because he lived in a rather black & white world. Imagine how he’d react to our technicolor lifestyle.

Since he was famous for his writing, I thought I’d break out my copy of his most well-known poem, Faust, (anything to avoid tacking the to-do list) but then I remembered that it’s really, really long. I remember it being billed in one of college courses as relevant and timely for our modern world, but I don’t have that kind of time to sit and read it.

A little Carl Sandburg, perhaps. His stuff is easy to bite off into manageable chunks. Fog is my favorite. I’m not a cat person (d0n’t flame me, cat lovers, I don’t not like them I’m just more canine-inclined). I do like the image that Sandburg paints of “little cat feet.” If you don’t know this poem or are a little rusty on its simplicity, allow me:

“The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.”

Simple, beautiful and I can read it in about 10 seconds. Yet the imagery will resonate with me long after. I think Goethe would approve.



He’s done it again

Good Lord in Heaven, I think my dog Harry can read.

I think he read my post about his thieving ways (see “Thank goodness for tile” under recent posts; the link isn’t working so you’re gonna have to find it yourself). While I was busy carrying in my loot from Costco, he snatched a pound of sliced Swiss cheese and horked it down.

Damn that dog to hell.

It’s too cold to keep him outside, and I am a bit of a sucker for his big brown eyes imploring me through the window to let his sorry butt inside. But it’s that sorry butt I’m worried about after a pound of cheese passes through it.

If he makes another mess in the house, I’m shipping him off to the glue factory.