The day after

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thanks, Carla, for the photo!


Cinco de Mayo

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, and as a public service, I’m reminding y’all to get your margarita supplies now, before they’re all gone. While it’s not a Mexican holiday or even an American holiday, it is a reason to drink margaritas. I don’t know for sure, but I think margs are the official drink of Texas. If not margs, it must be Pearl Light beer. With a lime. But tomorrow it’s all about the margs.

How fortuitous is it that the Jimmy Buffet show in the Woodlands coincides with Cinco de Mayo? I’m not now nor do I aspire to be a Parrot Head, but I’m happy to hop in a limo with a group of friends and eat tacos and drink margaritas on the way to hearing live music from a legend.

Because I’m feeling generous, I’m going to share my world-famous margarita recipe. Back in the day, I was known as the Reina of the Blender, and my margs have stood the test of time.

Before I give you the recipe, let’s talk about the blender. If you have a $10 blender with 16 settings, including “frappe,” donate that piece of junk and get yourself a real mixmaster. Crushing ice is serious business when it comes to frozen margs, and an amateur blender just can’t hang.

This is the one I have. It’s the Osterizer Classic with the stainless steel carafe. Margaritas and glass carafes don’t mix, IMHO. 

It has 2 speeds, “on” and “pulse,” and that’s all you need for blending. I’ve had this blender for a decade and it’s still going strong, even after being put to use a lot. If blenders had mileage, this one would be high. Really high.

On to the recipe!

You’re going to need some frozen fruit. This gives the marg that creamy texture, almost like a smoothie. In fact, the addition of fruit qualifies my margs as a health drink, so you can have as many as you want. Gotta get those 14 daily servings of fruits and vegetables in, people.

You can cheat and buy bagged frozen fruit at the grocery store, but if you really want to be authentic, you gotta buy whole fruit, cut it up and freeze it yourself. I like watermelon but have also done strawberry and peach, and grapefruit is very refreshing. Juice a bunch of fresh grapefruits and freeze the juice, either in ice cube trays or ziploc baggies. Of course you can also mix & match your fruits, so if you want a tutti fruiti marg, have at it.

Take your frozen fruit and fill your blender carafe halfway. Fill the other half, or the rest of the way to the top, with ice. The smaller the ice cubes, the smoother the marg, so if your ice maker spits out wonkin’ big chunks, you might want to buy a bag of ice.

cedardoor.com

Once the blender is half filled with fruit and half filled with ice, add 1 cup good quality margarita mix (i.e., no corn syrup and neon green artificial color). I like Stirrings brand, which is widely available, or Cedar Door, if you can find it at your liquor or grocery store. The latter is made right here in Texas, and is now sold online, so if you’re not lucky enough to live in the Lone Star State, they’ll ship your mix to ya. The Cedar Door in Austin is famous for its Mexican Martinis, which require a whole ‘nother post. Their mix, however, is equally good in margs or Mexican Martinis.

This is the neon-colored, artificially flavored junk you want to avoid. Yes, you’ll have to pay a bit more for the brands I’ve mentioned, but it’s worth it.

If you’re cheap or desperate, you can use either of these brands of mix with my blessing:

ZingZang uses real sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. It claims to be “Not Just Another Margarita Mix,” and it’s pretty good but not great. Uncle Dick’s uses HFCS but is still worthy because it contains grapefruit juice, lime juice, and lemon juice (from concentrate), so it has a nice tartness to it. And it has a cute label with a big, fat bulldog with his paw wrapped around a marg.

Ok, so add 1 cup of mix to the fruit and ice, followed by 1 cup of good tequila, whatever brand blows your skirt up; I’m not going to lecture on the booze like I did on the mix. However, I do think there’s something to the idea that the cheaper the tequila, the bigger the hangover. Don’t waste your Don Julio 1942 or your Harradura in a frozen marg, though. Save that for the sippers in your life.

Throw in about a quarter cup of Triple Sec or Cointreau, along with the juice of 2 limes, and blend well. The noise of the blender will be deafening for a couple of minutes, but so very worth it. 

Mix up a batch and let me know what you think.


Round and round

Sometimes I leave the doctor’s office in need of a drink, and sometimes I leave there in need of a nap. Sometimes, I leave there needing both.

Yesterday was one of those “both” kind of days. It was my first visit to his office since the big surgery, and when I walked in the door, his nurse gasped, I can’t believe how well you’re walking! I told her the same thing I told my tennis teammates when I went to watch their match Wednesday: it’s been more than a week since the surgery; I’m done.

If only.

I’m wardrobe-challenged again, like I was post-mastectomy. While it seems like an eternity ago that I was scrounging through my closet after the mastectomy to find something, anything, to wear, it’s all coming back to me now. How complacent, how cocky I have been in recent months, thinking I can just pull any old thing on and get out the door. Now it’s once again a carefully orchestrated project that involves lots of shuffling, digging, flipping, re-hanging, and cursing. This time, though, the challenge is because the remaining drains are at the super-long incision on my belly. One drain on each hip, like an unruly set of twins. I’m starting to despise those twins. I got a mild scolding from Jenn (Dr Spiegel’s PA) when I saw her Tuesday because I was wearing jeans, and they don’t want anything to rub on that gigantic tummy incision. I may just start wearing my pajamas everywhere until that bad boy heals. Or maybe I’ll wear whatever I want and send the same message that Shia LaBeouf sent. Seemed to work well for him.

The first thing the good doctor noticed when he graced my exam room was that I have several bruises on my leg. I got him good, though, by telling him they were from playing tennis. The look on his face was priceless. Oh how I wish I had a freeze frame of that look. That moment between what he thought (she’s been playing!) and reality (no way she could have played already, it’s only 10 days post-op) shines in my memory as one of my favorite moments.

Every visit to my doc’s office results in innumerable nuggets of wackiness. First runner-up for nugget of the day was when his nurse  said she thought my new chest looked really good. I said, yeah, if you’re into that sort of thing. What I meant was, if you’re into a mostly cleaned-up mess, a partially cleared train wreck, and that the docs did a great job with the concaved, ET-looking chest I ended up with after the infection. Compared to that fresh hell, the new, improved version is pretty amazing. And as a testament to the skill and artistry of the surgeons, yes, it’s great.

The highlight of yesterday’s visit came when the good doctor examined my tummy incision and took a look at my lower half. Remember how he thought I needed to gain a bunch of weight to provide the building material for the new girls? And how even after I gained several pounds, he was still convinced it wasn’t enough? Well now that the dye has been cast and the pounds that weren’t reallocated have stuck, he’s not happy with the extra bit that settled on my hips, and says, and I quote, “We need to suck that right out. We need to get rid of that. I’m going to suck that right out so it is gone.” I swear, There is no pleasing that man.


1 week ago today…

I was out cold in the OR, having unspeakably nasty things done to my body to restore the damage wreaked by the post-mastectomy infection. Whew!

The first couple of days of week 1 are pretty hazy, thanks to my BFF morphine. Love that stuff. But my BFF knows its proper place, and we have short but infrequent get-togethers. This time around, my BFF gave me a terrible headache, which was quite rude, so I bid adieu to the pain pump as fast as I could.

Let’s start from the beginning. Or as much of it as I can remember. Readers, feel free to chime in when you notice I’ve left something out. We got to the Medical Center on time (6 a.m.) and I got right into my pre-surgery room. My beautiful gown and compression stockings were waiting for me, but I waited until the very last minute to don them. After some precursory steps, like accessing my port for the administration of the really gooood drugs, a gaggle of white coats entered the room.

Dr Spiegel led the way, with her PA Jenn next, followed by their resident, Dr McNight, then my favorite plastic surgeon. He was the only guy in the room. Yahoo, girl power! He had a cool wooden box in his hand and when I asked if it was a present for me he gave me one of his looks. Someday he’ll appreciate my humor. Inside the box was not a present, but his loupes, which sadly he didn’t offer to model. I’d love to see him in a pair of goofy glasses.

Dr Spiegel and Jenn started marking my belly and I’m so mad I didn’t think to take a photo because it was cool. They used a blue sharpie for arteries, a red sharpie for blood vessels, and a black sharpie for incision lines. Lots of arrows and lines later, there was a roadmap of sorts. Very cool. At one point, Dr Spiegel wasn’t happy with an incision mark so she had Dr McNight scrub it off my belly with alcohol and re-do it with the black marker.

After that it was time to head to the OR, and they must have given me a cocktail in the pre-surgery room, because I don’t recall anything after the sharpie party. When I woke up, some 8 hours later, I felt pretty good…but it was because I was wrapped in the loving embrace of some big-time anesthesia. Dr Ashmore, my hand-picked anesthesiologist, did a fantastic job of putting me to sleep, and more importantly, waking me back up. It was good and restful.

I’m not too sure about whether I was in a recovery room or went straight to the ICU, but once I got to ICU I recall that it was HOT. And I’m a Texas girl, so I know about some heat. The docs had warned me that the room would be warm, to help my newly transplanted blood vessels learn to regulate themselves in their new northern home. But wow, was it hot. Between the high temp, the two heaters, and the squeezing of the compression hose, I was roasting. I tried to be nice about it, and I think I only lost it once, when I begged one of the ICU nurses, probably Carol, to please please please just crack the door and let some AC in. Just for a second. She declined my request.

I spent the night in ICU, but thankfully the flaps, aka former belly skin & fat that were magically transformed into breasts, behaved and there was no drama (other than me begging Carol to crack the door, turn down one heater, turn up the thermostat or bring me a gallon-sized frozen margarita). The flaps had to be checked every hour, yes every hour, with a hand-held doppler. There were (until yesterday) some wires stitched on top of my chest that somehow transmitted audible sound of the blood rushing through my newly transplanted blood vessels through the doppler. It sounded a lot like a fetal heart monitor. And we heard it a lot. My flaps were cooperative, and the nurses were able to hear the blood rushing almost instantly after putting the doppler onto my chest. One nurse told me that sometimes it took 20 minutes to find the sound. I started to panic after a few seconds of not hearing it, so can’t imagine the size margarita I would need if it took 20 minutes to register.

The ICU room had a wall of windows with mini blinds, and the nurse was right outside the door at a desk looking into my room if not attending to her one other patient. Some people might think that would make you feel very safe and catered to, but it made it hard to sneak anything by her because she was always watching. If she wasn’t watching, somebody else was walking by. It was a constant parade of doctors, residents, nurses, PCAs and other people peeping into my room.

I got released from ICU after some really delicious jello and a contraband peanut butter & jelly sandwich (liquid diet…pffft) into a regular room on the 8th floor of Dunn Tower. Lovely view out the window of the heart of the Texas Medical Center, and more importantly, no heaters. It wasn’t exactly chilly in the new room, but so much better than the ICU room. Nevertheless, I did beg to have the tight, scratchy, hot compression stockings removed. Those nurses were not swayed by my shameless begging.

Apparently the docs were pretty pleased with their handiwork, and if you missed Trevor’s and Amy’s guest blogs while I was too loopy to post, go back and take a peek. Long story short, the flaps were cooperating, the morphine headache abated, some regular food arrived, and life rolled on. At some point they moved the flap checks to every two hours instead of hourly, which was mighty nice. It’s amazing how your perspective changes in a situation like that. After umpteen hours with no food, a simple PB&J was a delicacy. After being awake most of the night, a short cat-nap seemed a decadent luxury.

I’m sure I said some goofy stuff and probably offended someone at some point with my off-color humor. Apparently I channeled my mom, too, telling my friend Laura who works at Methodist and who visited me several times a day, “Thanks for dropping by.” Every time she came by. I was just being mannerly and didn’t realize I’d seen her a few hours previous.

There are conflicting reports on how the turf war between the Drs S played out. All parties are being quite cagey on the details of who did what part of the surgery, and like a good murder mystery, we may never know who real killer was. I have my suspicion, but even asking point-blank hasn’t garnered an answer, so we may have to label that information “permanently classified.”

I did get to skate out of the hospital a few days ahead of schedule, and even though I received impeccable care, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Coming home is always sweet, but never as sweet as when I’m leaving a hospital room.

I have more mobility than I did after the mastectomy, but not as much as I’d like. The first few times I had to get up without using my arms but relying on my legs and abs, the hip-to-hip incision on my tummy protested mightily. But it got better every time, and now I do it almost without thinking about it. Almost. I still can’t walk completely upright because the incision is still very tight, but I’m not quite the Quasimodo I was in the hospital. I get a bit straighter every day.

I came home with 6 JP drains this time, and had to upgrade my VB sling bag to a bigger VB bag that could accommodate the drain party. I knew from last time around that 4 drains fit nicely, with a little extra room for my Blistex, some folding money, and a teeny ziplock bag of pills, should they be necessary. Six drains would have burst my handy little bag right open. Wonder how many drains this lady is toting in her VB bags?

I had my first real shower today, not counting the seated variety the hospital offers. Again, it’s the little things we take for granted. I’m down to just 2 drains and back to my sling bag, thanks to Jenn removing the 4 drains up top yesterday. She gave me a good report; everything looks good and is healing nicely. 

While I feel a whole lot better and am ready to get back to normal, my handlers think one week post-op is a bit premature to jump right back into the day-in, day-out routine. I am trying to take it easy. I’m resigned to the fact that I’m back to one outing a day for a while, and sadly, a doctor’s appointment counts as an outing. Yesterday I had a small entourage escort me to see Jenn, and we had a bite of lunch (sans margaritas) beforehand. The handlers insisted on snapping a photo of this maiden voyage, and there was some talk of me earning a margarita for every device I had removed at the subsequent appointment. Between the two doppler wires and the 4 JP drains, somebody owes me 6 margaritas. No salt.

Although I complain about going to the med center, there’s always something interesting to see along the way. Getting out of the suburbs is a good thing, and there’s a whole ‘nother way of life in this big city of ours. Last time I was at the med center for some testing, I saw this car and had to take a picture, to show Macy. I knew this car would appeal to her:

She loved the polka dots and said she’d like to have that car, then she saw the back and said forget it. Fickle.

Yesterday on the way home from the med center, I saw this:

and had to snap a picture. Yes, it is a zebra car, complete with a long tail. Gotta love the big city.


Leavin’ on a jet plane

I’m not really leaving on a plane and my bag isn’t packed yet, but as I ready myself, my home, my kids, & my life for the next round of surgery, I find the lyrics to that song running through my head. Peter, Paul & Mary; Janis Joplin; and John Denver all recorded versions of this sappy little love song, with its catchy yet insidious chorus that will get stuck in your head for half the day if you’re not careful. It’s meant to be an ode for lovers, and I’m usually immune to sappy stuff and odes, but with the big surgery rapidly approaching, I must be going soft because this goofy tune is reminding me how hard it is to leave my family, endure a nasty procedure, and be cooped up in a hospital room. I am a terrible patient. No truer words have been written.

I have written a lot about what a terrible patient I am. Not that I won’t do what needs to be done to get to where I need to be in this “cancer journey” but that I hate every minute of it. I’ve also written my fair amount of scathing posts lately about stupid things people say, so I won’t go there now, but suffice to say if you were planning on telling me that at least I’ll be getting some rest, or to enjoy being waited on, you can skip it. I don’t like to rest and I really don’t like having someone wait on me. As a determined two-year-old might say, “Me do it.”

As terrible as I am as a patient, though, I’m ready. I’m at the point in which I’ve prepared all I can, and whatever doesn’t get done will just have to wait. I’ve been a busy little bee lately, feathering my nest and gearing up for what I know will be a hideously gross surgery followed by a long recovery. This process is akin to getting ready for vacation: at first the list of things to do seems miles long, then time ticks on and the list is whittled, and then you become exhausted from and sick to death of all the prep and can’t wait to just get going. While I’m not exactly going on vacation (!), I am done with all the prep and ready to just get going.

I still haven’t watched the video consultation that explains and illustrates the surgery I’m having tomorrow. Maybe I’ll just use my imagination. You know it’s a big deal with you get 12 pages of pre-op instructions, followed by a 3-page alphabetized list of medicines to avoid.

One of my instructions is to shower with Hibiclens, an antimicrobial wash, for 3 days prior to surgery. No problem. You know what a germaphobe I am. Some of the other text from the informed consent section of the paperwork made me laugh out loud, especially the parts about who’s not really a good candidate for this surgery: women who require more complex breast reconstruction (what’s more complex than this surgery??). Women who are good candidates are those who have inadequate chest wall tissue (me); those who have concerns about breast implants or tissue expanders (I wasn’t too concerned but my body apparently is); and those who may have contracted a post-surgical infection. Yep, that’s me.

The literature then goes on to explain that infection is very unusual after surgery. Yeah, maybe for some people. And that patients must inform the doctor if she has any other infections, “such as ingrown toenail, insect bite or urinary infection.” A bug bite? Really??Oh, mercy, if only it were that simple. How I would love to say I have an ingrown toenail instead of a mycobacterium fortuitum.

There’s also a lot of scolding in the section on bleeding: “Increased activity too soon after surgery can lead to increased change of bleeding and additional surgery. It is important to follow all postoperative instructions and limit exercise and strenuous activity for the instructed time.” Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah.

Yesterday was a near-perfect day: I had a few hours at home to get things in order, then on to Beauty Envy to get the hot new shellac manicure. It’s supposed to last a couple or three weeks without chipping; we shall see. I’m not going to be doing any manual labor anytime soon, so the prognosis is good. Got my toes done, too, which is always nice. Even though my toenails are short as can be, they still take a mighty beating from tennis, but they are pink and shiny now. After the nails extravaganza, it was off to lunch to enjoy the sunshine and margaritas in the company of some first-rate girlfriends–a trifecta for sure. You can have your acai berries and super elixirs; for me, there’s nothing more fortifying than the sun on my face and a drink in my hand with my friends.

Today will be equally good with my last tennis drill of the season, then lunch with whichever members of the team are game for a little noontime tippling. I also gotta make a quick belated birthday meal for my dad, who recently turned 75 but looks a decade younger, easily (I’m hoping it’s genetic, but not very optimistic). I’m whipping up pastichio (Greek lasagna) and a pineapple upside-down cake, two of his favorites. He’ll be ferrying the kids to and fro and keeping up with Macy’s near-constant stream of chatter, so he’ll need a good meal. 

Speaking of Macy, she’s at it again: leaving me a note to find when I least expect it but am most likely to need a little pick-me-up. She’s a little apprehensive about me going back for more surgery, but the long summer of me and revolving hospital door must have toughened her up because instead of being sad she’s curious (which hospital? how long will you be there? can we come visit?) and stoic.

She needs a little work on the spelling (I assume that “Your asomest chid” means “Your awesome-est child”) and “Hopefuley” she will keep writing without regard for menial details like spelling. Most important is the message: if Macy says this is my last surgery, then I can go into it with a clear mind and a happy heart.


There is no free lunch, dammit

Some things just go together like peas & carrots, as Forrest Gump would say. Like idiot people & dumb comments. I’m still scratching my head about this one, but am putting it behind me and moving on. I’m trying, people, really trying, to smile sweetly and listen open-mindedly, but I don’t think I can stand it any longer. Do I really have to listen to one more person tell me how lucky I am to be getting “a free tummy tuck?” Reconstruction is serious business, people, and while I’m all for finding some good in a difficult situation, I AM NOT GETTING A FREE TUMMY TUCK. Yes, I realize I was shouting, and I apologize.

First of all, it’s not free. It comes with a whole slew of costs. While I may not be paying cash out of pocket, there are costs. Boy howdy are there costs. Any economist will tell you that even if something appears to be free, there is always a cost to the person or to society as a whole. I know this because I almost failed Economics in college and had sticky notes with econ principles taped all over my apartment that semester. (My near-failing grade had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the class was taught by a wickedly cute TA who made it hard to concentrate. Yes, we flirted, then I was stupid enough to assert that I needed to earn my grade in the class and not coast on his goodwill and the fact that we drank beer together a few times at a seedy bar. True story. So stupid. The assertion, not the flirting.)

This “free” tummy tuck comes with a hip-t0-hip scar; 6 Jackson-Pratt drains, 5 nights in the hospital; 4 weeks of sleeping upright and in a chair; not being able to raise my arms for a week; a ban on lifting anything heavier than 5 lbs for a month; and no workouts for 6 weeks. Oh, and if you’re wondering how soon I will be able to get back out on the tennis court…don’t. Don’t wonder, don’t bring it up, don’t ask. Don’t even think about it. Don’t even speculate. Got it?

Can we talk about opportunity cost? Please, let’s talk about anything other than how long I’ll be on the DL for tennis. While I’m not paying actual money for this surgery, there’s plenty of opportunity cost, which means that to get one thing that we want, we usually have to give up another thing that we want. This is the idea behind the “no free lunch” adage. We could delve into economic efficiency, utilization of resources, societal costs, and other economic principles, but we don’t need to because (a) they’re pretty boring; (b) I never really learned them that well in the first place because of the prof crush & beer; and (c) all we really need to know is there’s no free lunch. Plus, I think I burned the textbook after that class was over. Bad, really bad.

Yes, I will come out of this surgery with a flatter stomach (something I could easily get from more time in the gym, BTW). And, as my cousin Susie said, I’ll be waking up to a nice present (new boobs). Both are true. But they’re not free. I reminded her, and will remind everyone who will listen, that I was pretty happy the way I was.

I don’t know where this place is or who these people are, but after all this talk of economics and surgery stuff, I want to go there. I might even stand in line for an “extreme” margarita. Don’t know what that entails, but I know I want one. Or two. Maybe I can even get a free lunch.


Don’t let the door hit ya…

As we prepare to bid adieu to 2010, I took a stroll down memory lane in the months since I joined the club of which no one wants to be a member. There were some great moments in the first few months of 2010, or BC (before cancer), and I made it my mission to ensure that the months that followed had the same. Two weeks before I was diagnosed, life was grand, as evidenced by the happy girls in this photo of Yvonne’s birthday dinner at Stella Soli. So fun! Who knew that something wicked this way comes?

The day before my surgery, Macy and I had the great good fortune to meet Jeffrey, a baby mockingbird rescued and rehabilitated by our friends the Hoovers.  I’m sure I had a million things to do to get ready for the big day, but meeting Jeffrey was high on the list, and I wasn’t going to miss out on the chance to have this sweet little guy hang out with my favorite girl.

An awful lot of people did a whole lot of nice things for my family and me, following my surgery, including but certainly not limited to custom-made cupcakes,

an apropos coffee mug for my cup of Joe (the photo is small but the mug says “cancer” with the red circle & slash mark,

and home delivery of my all-time favorite coconut cream pie. You know you’re in the inner circle if you’re invited to share a slice of my cousin Tom’s homemade heaven. 

One of my first post-surgery outings was around the corner to dinner at the Cremers’ for Keith’s famous crab towers: lump crabmeat topped with a most delectable avocado-mango salsa atop a bed of greens with a citrus-y vinaigrette.

Dinner at their house is always good, because he and Jill are both fantastic cooks and there’s always plenty of bubbly on hand. 

Y’all know how much I love my bubbly.

Some may say I love it more than my kids, but that’s not fair.

We all know it would be a tie.

Two weeks after the surgery, but before the dreaded infection showed up, it was my birthday. Those who say it’s all downhill after 40 may not realize that to a cancer patient, each and every birthday is a gift, and I met birthday number 41 head-on with a welcome embrace: Mexican food, margaritas and the cutest cake ever with my girls. None better.      Who cares that I still couldn’t wash my own hair at this point? Not me! I was happy to be upright and out of the house.

A week after my birthday, the bottom fell out of the extraordinary recovery I was experiencing post-surgery. We were at a joint birthday party for 3 June girls (but there were no joints at the party; that’s how rumors get started!), and I didn’t feel good. After two weeks of slowly but surely making progress and feeling better, this was weird. What was really weird was waking up the next day to a huge red rash and blisters at the surgery site on my right side. You don’t have to be a doctor to know that is not good.

In the time that I was hospitalized the first time, Payton made the All-Star team 

and embarked on one of the most memorable summers ever, for baseball. Memorable because the team did so well (District champs, Sectional champs and on to the State championship in Tyler) and because the boys chose to show their support for me very publicly by wearing pink sweatbands all summer. These warriors in pink tore it up on the baseball field and made this mama so proud.

I only made it to a couple of games but got to follow along with all the action thanks to an iPhone app that allowed Trevor to “broadcast” the games to a website that I followed on my iPad from the hospital. I will never forget the look on the nurse’s face when she came into give me a shot of morphine and I told her I needed to wait (I never turn down the good drugs) because I wanted to keep my wits about me and follow the game. Also memorable was the wound-care specialist who had two sons go to State as All Stars who called me from home at 10:30 pm to see if Payton’s team won. They did.            

In between hospitalizations, I spent a couple of hours one day in my backyard in the sunshine, watching Harry frolic in the pool. After being cooped up in a dreary hospital room and feeling lousy, the fresh air, sunshine and unbridled canine joy were just what I needed.

One of the best days of all was in early July, in between hospital visits. I had been to see Dr Darcourt, my third oncologist, and learned that he agreed with all the research Trevor had done: no chemo! Celebration was in order, and when Amy & I ordered champagne at lunch, our sweet waiter at PF Chang’s asked if there was something special to celebrate. He had no idea but we filled him in! 

Another highlight was getting to spend the weekend in Galveston with Christy & Alexis, who were kind enough to teach Macy how to fish. And fish she did: that girl caught the biggest fish of the trip! Later that night, I caught a baby sting ray (not my intent, for sure). I still feel bad about that poor little guy happening by the tempting lure on my fishing pole. All’s well that ends well, though, and with some help from some more seasoned fishermen, the little guy was freed. More importantly, I had a fun weekend with great friends that approximated a return to what most people consider a normal life. 

Despite the idyllic setting, that weekend was just an approximation, though, of normal life, and the infection would puzzle and vex not one but two set of infectious disease doctors. After two more hospitalizations and a new team of ID docs, we got a handle on it, and although the last thing I wanted was to go back to the hospital, and to the Medical Center at 10:30 on a Sunday night no less, I wasn’t alone in the joint. 

Macy loaned me her beloved Froggy to keep me company, and he took his job seriously. He didn’t left my side until I was allowed to go home, and then he went straight from the suitcase into the washing machine lest he brought home any nasty germs from the hospital. We’d had quite enough of those in our life.

Early August was bittersweet: I was on the mend, literally, but still on IV antibiotics at home and not well enough to travel to Boston for our annual vacation. After already having missed my Duke girls’ trip to Lake Tahoe in early June and all of the State championship in Tyler, I was beyond sad to miss this trip, which is always the highlight of our summers. Leave it to Macy, though, to bring me a fantastic souvenir: Continental Airlines had unveiled a new drinks menu on her flight home from Boston, and she got me a pomegranate martini mix and, once home, brought two glassed full of ice, two lime wedges, and one shot of vodka. My favorite girl and I had a welcome-home drink together. Of all the bevvies I’ve consumed, that one may be my all-time favorite.

A few days after school started, and a week or so out of the hospital, Macy & I had tickets to see Jack Johnson play at the Woodlands pavillion. After a string of disappointments all summer, I was determined to make it to the show. It poured rain on us and traffic was horrendous, but we made it and had a great time. What would be an already-sweet occasion was all the better because I was there, upright and out of the house!

I got through the rest of August and September without incident, and was starting to think maybe, just maybe I would be able to actually make and keep some plans that didn’t involve a hospital.

October marked my first foray into Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a survivor. While always aware of the fact that every October is earmarked and punctuated with lots of pink ribbons, it’s a different experience on this side of a cancer diagnosis. I was tickled pink (sorry, couldn’t resist), when Payton’s baseball team played in this tournament. 

Next up was an event that was huge for me: the Witches’ Open tennis tournament at our club. I went into my double mastectomy in the middle of our tennis season, not knowing how the surgery would affect my game. Of course it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t get my game back, the question was how much and how soon. So playing in the Witches’ Open was a stellar event. Not only did I play with my longtime running buddy, Staci, but we won! I’m pretty proud of our little trophy.

That same night, still basking in the sweet glow of victory from the Witches’ Open, I made a return trip to the Woodlands pavillion for the Maroon 5 concert. Talk about a perfect day: tennis then a road trip & dinner with super fun girls, then the show. That great day slid into a great night, and again I was beyond happy to be upright and out of the house. 

As if this month hadn’t been great enough, the last Friday night in October was the icing on the cake. I gathered by BFFs for the first annual Pink Party. Prepare to be seeing photos of this event every year for the rest of my life. It was that good. Many a nights laying in the hospital bed, I thought about what I was going to do once I finally got well enough to do something for my friends to show my appreciation for all the love and support they’d so freely given during the worst time of my life. The Pink Party was all I had envisioned it would be, and the fact that I was able to put on the dog for my girls was monumental for me. 

Next on the calendar was Thanksgiving, and at the risk of sounding totally hokey, I had an awful lot to be thankful for this year. At first, as we approached the holiday, I tried not to think too much about it, for fear that reflecting back on all that had happened would overwhelm me. Then I realized that’s whacked, and instead of avoiding it, I should be relishing it–every bit of it. Another major triumph for me was making my mom’s famous crescent rolls. I’ve made them before with limited success, but this year, they rocked. 

After Thanksgiving of course was Christmas, and the first ornament to go on our tree was this one: the cocktail shaker that says “Shake It Up.” I intend to do just that in the New Year.

And for the record, it was Macy who picked that ornament to go on first, in my honor. That girls knows me so well. Like most families, we have lots of cute and meaningful ornaments in our collection, but it makes me smile that she chose this one to kick off our Christmas season.

So as 2010 draws to a close, I can’t say that I’ll miss it. Unequivocally, it has been the hardest year ever. But amid the chaos and confusion and abject misery, there were a whole lot of bright spots. Those moments and memories outshine the yucky stuff.