Distance traveled

I didn’t fall off the face of the Earth. It just seems that way. The Belly is still in business; thanks for your concern.

I had every intention of sitting down for a nice, rousing blog post over the last week, but life got in the way. It tends to do that. While the days were whizzing by and I remained blog-less, several ideas for posts meandered through my brain, but because I didn’t write any of them down, they’re now a swirling mish-mash of disjointed words and unattached ideas. Probably best to just start fresh. That’s what the New Year is for, right — starting fresh?

Being an overachieving busybody, I have tons of plans rattling around in my head. Yucky but necessary plans, like cleaning out my study and purging the stuff I don’t use anymore. Like touching up my kitchen paint, which has been nicked in many places as this busy little family has gone about its business over the last few years. Like repairing the wallpaper in the powder bathroom, which has started to peel in a few spots. It’s the only wallpaper in my house and I love it: big, lush banana tree leaves. Those giant leaves wrapping around that small space makes me smile, 8 years later. Lots of projects on the to-do list in addition to the everyday hub-bub of keeping my family up and running. After a long, leisurely winter break, my kids went back to school today (a somber affair that remained heavy and dreary despite the oh-so-rare appearance of a warm Pop Tart on each kid’s plate. Yes, I am that mom — the one who deprives her kids of sugary processed pastries for breakfast. Poor babies).

Besides a fresh start and umpteen projects, the New Year brings me perspective. Before looking forward and lurching headlong into 2013, I want to take a mo to reflect back on 2012. While 2012 had its challenges, it was a far cry better than 2011; that year and the one that preceded it were pretty stinky, with a cancer diagnosis followed briskly and cruelly by a nosocomial infection that would. not. go. away. Looking back on those dark days makes me shudder.

Many parts of that “journey” remain hazy in my  mind. When I think back to that time, it’s almost as if I’m watching a movie. A really bad, really scary movie. I know that it was I who endured it, yet my brain tries to protect me from conjuring up the details. Thank you, brain. I remember bits & pieces of it all, but not the specifics. It’s not as if I’ve erased all the unpleasant memories; they’re just faded. When I go back to the month I spent in and out of the hospital because of that damn infection, I can recall the exact look of each room in each of the three different hospitals, but I can’t really remember what that time was like. I know there was a lot of hopelessness and fear, but if I had to describe it, I would fumble. If you were to ask me what it was like to undergo a bilateral mastectomy two weeks before my 41st birthday, I’m not sure I could come up with more than, “It was hard.”

If you ask me how it felt to have a wound vac attached to me 24-7 for weeks on end, my answer would be that I can’t really say. I remember how loud that damn thing was, and how cumbersome it was to lug it around. I remember my home-health nurse coming four times a week to clean the wound; I know she measured the depth, length, and width of that wound every visit, and compiled the stats in a handy chart that we used to hang on to a semblance of hope that progress was being made, that the damn thing was healing. I know she used an oversized, medical-grade Q-Tip to clean the wound, and that it was horrific enough that she recommended a xanax before each visit (for me, not her). I remember her using that giant Q-Tip to gauge how deep the wound still was, yet when I try to recall how it actually felt, I can’t. I guess that’s a good thing.

This time last year, I was trying to regain my footing as I negotiated life after cancer and that awful infection. I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions that year, or this year. I’ve never been one to inscribe grandiose plans upon my new calendar. Perhaps it’s an effort to fly under the radar. To live a normal life. To step lightly around the sleeping beast that is cancer recurrence. To put as much time and distance as possible between then and now.

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Cheers to 2011

“The Old Year has gone.  Let the dead past bury its own dead.  The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time.  All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!” ~Edward Payson Powell

I have to admit, I didn’t know who Mr. Powell is, but I sure like his sentiment. About the New Year. About the past being just that — the past. About the ripe possibilities contained in a brand new year.

(BTW, Powell was a journalist and author in the late 1800s and early 1900s who died at age 83 while on a fishing trip with his daughter.)

Every January, the dawn of a new year is exciting and full of potential. Many people make (and quickly break!) resolutions in an effort to shrug off bad habits and assume good ones. Personally, I abstain from resolutions. I’m more of list-maker and goal-setter year-round. Not that there aren’t things I’d like to improve upon, for schizzle. But I’m wise enough in my advancing age to know that a promise made at the tail-end of one year for sweeping change in the next is an unrealistic proposition.

January is one of my favorite months, as it signals the end of the hectic holiday season– which typically is not my favorite time of year– and it ushers in the celebration of the entrance of Macy into the world. (I feel the same way about May, and the celebration of all things Payton.) 

This year, this fresh new year, of all years, I’m not looking for sweeping change. The last 6 months notwithstanding, I have to say my life is pretty sweet. And even when I factor in the calamity that ensued since May, I would have to give myself an above-average grade in coping, managing, and reinventing.

Not to toot my own horn, but I think I handled it all just fine. There was a decent amount of bloodshed, but all of it was mine and I didn’t cause it to happen to anyone else (namely Dr S, who could have suffered at my hands more than once!), so that’s a good start. I made some new friends, always a good thing, and learned an entirely new vocabulary. I like to think I passed the “Eleanor Roosevelt test” in which a woman is like a tea bag: you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.

So I won’t make any resolutions for this newly minted year. I will resolve, however, to keep on keeping on. To not let the turkeys get me down. To keep on truckin’. To mind the gap. To live free or die. To do unto others. To keep calm and carry on.

And my new favorite platitude: 


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.