My favorite girl and I had a busy weekend. While my #1 son was busy with baseball, she and I went to a baby shower for my cousin, then hit the Galleria to find a very special birthday gift, and took a trip to our favorite gourmet grocery store. While normally I’d rather open a vein than go to the Galleria on a Saturday afternoon, my girl’s unbridled enthusiasm made up for the fact that I felt like I was back in NYC with the crush of humanity all around us. No matter; my girl soaked it all in and enjoyed every minute of it. Once we left the mall and pressed on to the smaller yet still significant crowd at Central Market, my little foodie was in her element and wanted to sample every piece of produce and taste the fresh-ground cashew butter and indulge in the specialty Easter candies in the bulk bins. She wasn’t nearly as interested as I was in examining the sparkling wine section, so she forged on ahead to the condiment aisle to peruse the soy sauce (her latest food obsession).
On my own, I would have raced through the store, grumbling at those inconsiderate enough to leave their carts unattended in the middle of the aisle. I would have thrown items into my cart and crossed off my list with much haste. (I still would have lingered in the sparkling wine section, but quickly.) With my girl, however, I was reminded to slow down and savor the experience. After all, it wasn’t about filling my cart with groceries as much as it was about experiencing the store’s bounty with my fledgling foodie.
After we saw and sampled everything there was to see, we pushed our canvas-bag-laden cart to the car. Instead of collapsing in a heap in the passenger seat, my girl hauled her share of the bags from the cart into the trunk, chatting away. Once she returned the cart and buckled up, she looked at me and smiled the sweetest smile and said, “I really like spending quality time with you.” She went on to say that she doesn’t really understand when she hears girls say that their moms drive them crazy or embarrass them (although that’s probably coming). She said that just doesn’t make sense to her, because she enjoys hanging out with me.
What a compliment. And an honor. Huge. On both fronts.
A few days later, we ran errands after school, including a trip to the garden center to pick out some spring color for the front flowerbeds (those of you still bogged down in winter, feel free to curse; I would. We’ll revisit this topic in August or September or October when it’s still hot enough to break a sweat walking through the house despite the $600/month AC bill). Of course my girl wanted to help plant the flowers, too, and had ideas on how to best mix and match the different colors for maximum effect.
Again, I would have quickly divided up the flowers, dug too-small holes, and jammed the plants in, just to be done with it. Not my girl, though; she carefully raked the mulch away with one tool, dug the hole with another, and gently broke up the roots before gingerly placing the plant in its new home. As if that weren’t enough, she lovingly watered each plant with the gentlest of streams from her tiny watering can.
As I stopped myself from telling her to skip the watering because the sprinkler system would douse the new plants in the morning, I could feel the universe trying to tell me something. When the universe tries to tell me something, I stop my busy-body ways long enough to listen. “This,” the universe said. “This is what it’s all about.”
I know in my rational brain that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. But I don’t work that way, and am continually smacking my head up against this conundrum. However, as my girl and I finished planting just as the sun slipped down even with the horizon, leaving trails of pink and orange to match the flowers we’d just planted, I heeded the universe’s message and stopped long enough to notice the stunning colors of the sunset. To inhale the sweet scent of the purple stock. To watch the drops of water pool and drip, one by one, from the newly-planted flowers. To appreciate that my girl wants to hang with me. To give thanks for the fact that we both find satisfaction in a job well done.
This. This is what it’s all about.
And I appreciate it. Especially in light of the fact that a couple of years ago, I struggled to imagine doing something so simple yet so satisfying with my girl. A comedy of errors post-surgery ensured that anything that could go wrong would go wrong, and a relatively simple, early-stage cancer diagnosis turned ugly with a hard-to-diagnose post-surgery infection. She was just 8 years old when I was diagnosed, and even then possessed a wisdom that belied her youth. While my #1 son fretted internally and worried about my survival rate, my girl knew that we would get through that perilous journey. With a wisdom that still belies her youth, nearly 3 years post-cancer, she reminds me that This. This is what it’s all about. Running errands together. Sampling yummy food and picking out new things to cook. Planting flowers with the utmost care. This.
As we headed back into the house last night after our gardening was done, she did it again: she told me that she’s really glad we spent that quality time together. I’m humbled and honored again. Would she say this had I not been picked in the cancer lottery? Would she appreciate the time we have together had it never been threatened? Knowing her, probably so.
We washed the dirt and grime off our hands, vying for the lion’s share of the faucet stream, laughing and chatting about which flower is the prettiest, which will grow the biggest. And this morning, as we backed down the driveway en route to school, my girl told me to stop. I figured she had forgotten something, and as I put the car in park I waited for her to leap out and run back into the house. Instead, she didn’t move.
“What did you forget?” I asked. “Nothing,” she said. “I just want to look at the flowers for a second.”
Macy and I were watching Animal Planet (aren’t we always??) when this commercial came on. There’s a series of them, created by the American Cancer Society through the More Birthdays campaign. I like this campaign. I give it two thumbs up. The list of musicians who have participated is long — from Aaron Neville to Weezer, with plenty of variety in between. Even my personal fave, Jack Johnson, got involved.
According to the ACS:
“We believe every birthday you celebrate is a victory. Another year that cancer has not prevailed. Your birthday means everything to us. That’s why we’re dedicated to creating a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Thanks in part to our work, 11 million cancer survivors will celebrate another birthday this year. But we can’t stop there. With your help, we can create a world with even more celebrations, more laughter, and more birthdays for all.”
Macy was puzzled by the campaign, which surprised me. Cancer has been a part of her life for most of her life — my mom was sick during Macy’s preschool years, then we had several “normal” years before I was diagnosed. Kids whose parents have cancer grow up fast — they face the ugly realities of illness, fear, uncertainty, hospitalizations, treatments, doctors’ appointments, and death.
My girl didn’t quite get the point of the campaign for more birthdays. I would have guessed just the opposite — that because she’d witnessed my cancer “journey” firsthand, she’d understand exactly what the ad meant. I guess it’s a good thing that my kid doesn’t associate my cancer with death and, by extension, with no more birthdays. It’s a slippery slope when dealing with young kiddos and disease. On one hand, I’ve tried to be open and honest about my “journey” with my kids, but on the other hand, I sure don’t want to plant the seed that makes them realize that, hey, wait — people die from this, so Mom could too.
What’s the right answer to the “how much is too much info” question? I haven’t the faintest idea. There’s so much about the cancer “journey” that lacks a definite answer. Come to think of it, there’s so much in parenting that lacks a definite answer. I’m sure there are a million and one books on amazon.com about the best way to talk to kids about cancer. I was way too busy upon diagnosis, though, to order any, much less read them. Having cancer is a full-time job, as is raising young kids. So I never found the right answer, and decided to just wing it. So far so good, as evidenced by the fact that my favorite girl doesn’t understand the campaign for more birthdays.
We arrived in Tyler safe & sound yesterday, just in time to have dinner with a couple of families from the team at Chili’s. Payton & I had lunch at Chili’s while we waited for Trevor to wrap up some business before hitting the road, so it was deja vu at dinner. I did not get my baby back ribs, as I eschew all foods from the mammalian category, but I did rock out on some guacamole and a cold Dos Equis.
Dawn broke clear, bright, and hot on Tyler, TX today–it’s currently 103 degrees. Gotta love July in the great state of Texas. Certain members of my family laughed at me for toting my Keurig coffeemaker all the way to Tyler, but as we enjoyed robust & delicious coffee in the room first thing this morning, there were no snickers from the peanut gallery. I have been pondering today the beauty that lies in having kids old enough to mainly fend for themselves. As Payton roamed the hotel with teammates, room key & iPhone safely tucked in his pocket, Macy and her two darling friends Mallory and Maddy swam in the pool with minimal supervision. I read my book while inhaling copious amount of chlorine fumes from the indoor pool and recollected on the events at this time last year.
I was not in the garden spot of Tyler TX in this great state’s piney woods, festively observing my firstborn’s maiden voyage of State Championship baseball. I was not languidly enjoying the comfy offerings of the Tyler Marriott, nor partaking of the fellowship of this fine team’s families. No, I was stuck in a hospital bed at the Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, enduring another round of battles vs the wily and energetic post-mastectomy infection. I was unlucky in that sense, but very fortunate indeed in that I had the intrepid Dr S caring for me all weekend, and my partner in crime Amy Hoover looking after me in the hospital. At this time last year, I was recovering from a nasty procedure to excise the infected tissue from my hollowed-out chest wall, along with an epic battle vs the morphine and barfiness that accompanied my formerly favorite pain reliever.
It was the beginning of a long and ugly stretch of history involving a lot of narcotics, a wound vacuum, and seemingly endless struggle. It did not involve watching my favorite boy do that thing he does best alongside the upper echelon of 10-year-old All Star baseball teams.
This time last year, I was going through a particularly challenging version of hell. Receiving a cancer diagnosis at the tender age of 40, with two children aged 8 and 10 and long memories of losing my sweet mama to the big C, was bad. Really bad. But I confronted the beast and did all the right things–schedule and endure all the testing, make the hard decisions, go through the surgery, and face the long, painful recovery. Being slapped with a nosocomial infection added insult to injury, for sure. Being slapped with a difficult-to-diagnose nosocomial infection was even worse, but missing Payton’s trip to the State Championship was the worst part of all.
All of that is behind us now, and I am here. “Here” in the sense of being present, and “here” in the sense of soaking up every second of the experience. Last year I was a distant spectator, following along with the games in a narcotic-induced haze. I was a long way from present, physically and psychologically. This year is a whole new ball game. I’m here, and I’m present in every sense of the word. It’s hot, it’s crowded, and there’s a lot of pressure on our team, but it’s all good. Last year the stakes were high: the boys wore their pink wrist bands in honor of me, and they wanted to win it all. Coming home with 2nd place was an honor to most but considered a failure to my kid. Seeing him walk through the door of my hospital room the day after they lost the championship was sweet for him and for me, but I could feel the weight of his disappointment. He wanted to bring the title home, and storm the hospital bathed in pride. Last summer was hard for all of us. Games were played, battles were fought, and lessons were learned.
This summer it’s all good.
It was do-or-die for the mighty First Colony Red Raiders last night, and the cause of my nervous stomach all day yesterday. I would love to keep everyone in suspense about the outcome, and bury it at the bottom of a long, blabbedy-blab post, but that would be mean, and while I’m not above being mean, I do believe in the great karma wheel and want it to spin my way.
So, without further ado….RAIDERS WIN!!!
The stands were packed, the tension was high, and the mighty Raiders were pumped. Lots of non-Raider First Colony families turned out to support the boys in red. That’s one of the great things about our league (besides our utter dominance thus far in the All Star tournament, with the American League 9, 10, and 11-year-old teams winning district); we support each other. We hear comments from teams we pummel into the ground about our league having a “A” team and a “B” team, but it’s just not true. Nothing but sour grapes. Our league is divided into an American and a National league based on geography, pure & simple. Where a player lives in relation to the dividing line determines whether he (or she) is on an American or National team. No gerrymandering at FCLL.
And now, back to the game…
We had our starting pitcher on the mound, fresh after a day of rest and reset pitch count. The West U team did not. We faced the same pitcher who started for the boys in green on Monday, in which we delivered a 7-4 victory.
Our starting line-up remained unchanged: Max, Cody, Payton, Mark–ready to slug it out. Then comes Gus, Kyle, Camden, Taylor, and Carl. Cooper and Anthony are ready to assist at a moment’s notice. The bats were hot and the Raiders took an early 5-0 lead. No sloppy errors last night, as our boys delivered some first-class fielding and shut the West U team down seamlessly.
Final score: 12-2 in a run-rule (for the uninitiated, in this tournament, it’s considered a run-rule if one team leads by 10 runs after the 4th inning. What it means is the other team can’t catch up, so the game ends early. It’s rather demoralizing for the team who is behind, and exhilarating for the team with the big lead).
Celebration abounded as the Raiders and their parents whooped with joy at the victory. If the baseball gods had not smiled upon us, we’d be done with All Stars for the summer, and a certain gamer at my house would be in a foul mood for the rest of the summer. All Star families pretty much plan our summers around the idea of going all the way in the tournament, which means daily practice from the first week of June to the State Championship at the end of July. I am so very glad I don’t have the entire month of July to fill. It will be baseball, baseball, and more baseball — just the way we like it.
Apologies for the crummy photo quality — the iPhone is a wonderful device, but even with all the improvements the camera still doesn’t handle motion well. You get the gist, though, even with less-than-stellar pics.
Close-up of the district pin, which is quite an honor to wear. And a mighty fine profile, if I do say so myself!
Getting congrats from the West U team and coaches (who were very nice throughout, by the way, and that’s not always the case with opposing teams. A couple of their players cried in the field when they realized their run to State was ending, but the parents and coaches were quite civil).
Payton being interviewed by a local sports reporter. And yes, of course I will link to the story when it comes out. See this, though, for a previous game’s story.
Proudly displaying the district banner, which will be on display at our home field, hopefully surrounded by that of the sectional tournament and finally, the State Championship!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The viewer mail is pouring in about this post and this one, in which I inadvertently gave y’all some reason to think you might be suffering a small heart attack. Many apologies. I didn’t mean to scare anyone or cause anyone to stroke out. I promise to be much more boring and much less dramatic in future.
I will get to coverage of Day 2 in Napa, really I will. It’s in the works. The trip was so fantastic, I want to do it justice, and sometimes that means ruminating, and you know I have very little patience.
As Winnie the Pooh referred to himself as “a bear of very little brain,” I am the blogger of very little patience. Working on it, people, working on it.
Thinking about Winnie the Pooh reminded me of how much I loved that bear as a little girl, and I’m sure somewhere in the deep recesses of my parents’ attic, there are photos of me surrounded by Winnie; my sweet mama never threw anything away. I had the Pooh treehouse with all the little figures: Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Christopher Robin, Kanga, and Roo. Oh, and Tigger. Don’t forget him. He’s c-razy! I had some Pooh pajamas that I wore nonstop, although not out in public like my little girl does in her jammies. I had a stuffed pooh, the original AA Milne version before Disney got its hands on him, and that bear went everywhere with me. I loved him so much I even gave him open heart surgery with my mom’s seam ripper from her sewing kit. I must have left the closing to my surgical assistant, because Pooh had a hole in his chest for the rest of time.
Now that I’m all grown up, I appreciate Winnie the Pooh on a whole ‘nother level, and find the depth and meaning contained in his quotes so moving.
We’ve all seen this one, on a greeting card perhaps or a t-shirt: ““If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.” So endearing when said by a cartoon bear, but if a human said that I’d want to barf. Those of you who know what a non-romantic I am will be shaking your heads right now. Go ahead, it’s all right.
This quote from Pooh’s endless wisdom does not make me want to barf, however:
This one is all right with me. Don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because it reminds me of my sweet mama, and how very much I miss her. It also reminds me of my favorite ee cummings poem “i carry your heart with me,” which I had planned to read at my mom’s funeral but I just couldn’t get the words out. The words are always in my head, though, and I especially like this part:
“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) i am never without it… you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)”
Having cancer sucks, but having cancer while you still have young kids at home really sucks. There’s the day-to-day junk that still needs to be dealt with, despite the gravity of disease, treatment, hospital stays, and ongoing drug therapy. I guess it’s not surprising that I find myself not really caring about whether I sign Macy’s daily folder, or wanting to punch the teachers who think another parent-driven school project is in order. Simmer down, teachers; I won’t really punch you but when you assign projects that my child cannot reasonably complete on her own, I do think about it, briefly, because it’s hard to muster the emotional energy needed to guide my child in her education, and I sure don’t want to have to make a trip to Hobby Lobby for supplies.
There’s a never-ending juggling act that comes with the cancer territory when young kids are involved. Like the fact that most of my doctor’s appointments are with surgeons, who tend to do surgery in the mornings and see patients in the afternoon. Sometimes that means I’m cutting it close when seeing the doctor and taking care of business while still making it in time to pick up the kids from school.
Like the fact that I never know when this beast will rear its ugly head again and interfere with our daily life, plans, and schedules. Payton’s Little League season is halfway over, maybe more, and I’ve yet to make it to a single game. For the first time in his Little League “career,” he’s played games for which neither of his parents was in the stands. Not the end of the world, by any stretch, and he’s a pretty resilient kid, but it still bugs me.
Like the fact that sometimes when my kids are venting to me about whatever problem is foremost in their minds, and all I can think is, “It’s not so bad…at least you aren’t dealing with the aftermath of cancer.”
But then I smarten up and realize that yes, they are dealing with the aftermath of cancer. It’s there for them, too, even though they don’t talk about it much or worry about it like I do. It comes out sideways, sometimes, like in Macy’s “getting to know you” questionnaire from the first day of school this year, and her answer to the question “What scares you the most?” Her answer: That my mom will get another infection. Geez, what happened to monsters under the bed? We’ve eclipsed that childhood fear and have sped headlong into unchartered territory here. Like Payton asking us about the annual summer trip to Boston and Salisbury Beach, and wondering if all of us will be going this year. Since I missed it last year, I want to be there even more this year, but part of me hesitates in promising him that, because with this damn disease and this damn infection, I just don’t know. I’m operating under the assumption that the answer is yes, we’re all going this year. But I shy away from promising it.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of two things: the seeds & pulp in a halved cantaloupe, and going over bridges. I have no earthly idea why the cantaloupe scared me, but it did. I remember watching my mom cut the fruit in half and dig out the seeds & pulp with a big spoon then flip the gunk into the sink to go down the disposal. Creepy.
The bridge thing started early. We used to go to a local park a lot as a family when I was a kid, and there was an old, wooden bridge with wide planks (maybe even railroad ties?) and a shallow stream running underneath. The wood was worn, and there were spaces between the planks, between which the stream could be seen. I held my breath all the way across, every time.
I’m not afraid of the cantaloupe seeds & pulp anymore, but bridges…a little bit. The Ship Channel Bridge in Houston gives me the vapors, and driving from Houston to New Orleans includes a series of loooong bridges over mysterious-looking bodies of water. I’m not crazy about the concrete jungle flyover freeways around here, and the Beltway going toward I-10 West has a pretty high on-ramp that gets my heart beating a little faster. I don’t have to hold my breath anymore, but I’m still just a teesny bit uneasy about bridges.
I was reminded of the cantaloupe thing the other day as I cut into one and cubed it up to serve with dinner. I chuckled to myself at my childhood self and fears, and in my head, felt some pride at only having had two little fears. Monsters under the bed never bothered me, nor did the amorphous Bogeyman. I didn’t need a nightlight, and don’t mind things that go bump in the night.
When my kids were tiny, I was a little bit afraid of becoming the victim of a violent crime. The idea of leaving those precious babies motherless unnerved me. Then my own mom died, while my kids were still pretty tiny, and I quit worrying about violent crime and began to fear cancer.
Little did I know that not even 5 years after losing my mom to stupid, wretched cancer, my newest, biggest fear would materialize.
Being diagnosed ahead of the curve, i.e., at a young-ish age, is a surreal experience. I remember well the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I got the phone call on April 26th to say that the biopsy indicated a malignancy. I’ll never forget Nurse Sharon telling me that Dr Dempsey needed to book some time on my calendar, which turns out to be a nice way of telling me to come and see them the very next day so they can hand me a diagnosis that will change my life.
When that fateful call came, Macy and I were shopping for a birthday gift for my cousin, and I had to pretend that everything was ok because I didn’t want to alarm my little girl. Trevor was out of town but en route home, and after I got the call we kept missing each other as he boarded a plane or I was in the car with the kids and not able to speak freely. We resorted to exchanging texts to convey the most horrible of news.
The kids and I went on to my cousin’s birthday party, me with a big secret but determined to put on a happy face and not ruin the celebration. It seemed torturous at the time to be unable to talk to anybody about what I’d just learned. In hindsight, however, it was probably a good thing because it gave me time to process the steaming pile of bad news I’d been served.
It took a couple of days before I really wrapped my head around the fact that I had breast cancer. The more people I told, though, and the more times I actually said the words, “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer,” the more real it became. Before long, the awful reality had set in, and I transitioned from shock to action.
Dr Dempsey has a rule of not accepting a patient’s decision on which surgery option–lumpectomy, single mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy–until at least 3 days after she delivers the diagnosis. I made up my mind pretty fast, but waited until 3 days had passed before I called to tell her. I’ve never regretted the choice I made.
The bottom fell out of my world, and many things changed with my diagnosis. My fear of cancer was one of those things that changed.
I don’t know how it happened or why, but I stopped fearing cancer. Maybe because it became such a huge part of my life, it lost some of its scariness. Maybe by being forced to confront it, and the myriad ways it had infiltrated my life, I became braver. Or maybe I just got sick to death of the damn topic. The more I learned about it, the less scary it became. Knowledge truly is power.
And while cancer is still scary, it doesn’t scare me. Going head-to-head with the beast has taught me an awful lot about myself. Most of it good. I know I can endure a lot, I know what’s really important, and I know that should the disease mount a counter-attack on my battle-weary body, I’ll be armed and ready. Not scared, but ready.