Redux

I was mindlessly folding clean laundry this morning and remembered something from the beginning of my cancer “journey” that was so funny it warrants an encore. From my Caring Bridge journal, the precursor to this little blog, on Friday, May 26, 2010. To set the scene: Macy and I were at the ballpark, walking from the parking lot to the field for one of Payton’s baseball games. I was just shy of the 2-week mark since my bilateral mastectomy, and this was one of my first outings that didn’t involve a doctor’s appointment. My chest was flat as a board, but I didn’t care because the cancer was gone.

As we walked up to the field, Macy said totally out of the blue: “Mom — did they do something to your chi-chis? Because they look all shrunken.” My mind was racing at this point because #1, I have NO idea where this is going, and #2, I thought I’d explained the surgery to my  kids. I have yet to find a parenting book or video that guides me through moments like these. So I told her yes, they did do something to my chi-chis: they cut them off! That’s what the surgery was all about. Then she says, “Well, are they going to fix them? Because they’re not looking so good.”

From the mouths of babes.

Advertisements

All hail the Raiders!

They did it!

The mighty Red Raiders beat the Pearland All Stars 15-6 last night to clinch the Sectional title. Cue the music.

You know what this means, right? We’re going to Tyler.

Payton upheld all of his superstitions for this series: wearing the same pants for each game since the last win, no matter how filthy with infield dirt and grass stains; eating the same meal after each game won; following the same schedule during the day on game days. Macy and I joined in the festivities and put red streaks in our hair for the do-or-die game last night. 

Our mojo definitely worked.

Here’s the local story about last night’s glorious game. Hope you’re smiling as widely as I am after you read it.

What a sweet, sweet victory. Readers of this blog may have heard about the utterly crummy season this girl had last year, and how yours truly missed every bit of the Raiders’ victories and trip to the State Championship.

What a drag. Words fail me as I try to express just how crappy it was to miss all this last summer. I’m not sure if it’s even possible. I have tried, but I know I’ve come up short.

All throughout the All Stars series so far, part of me kept thinking, “wouldn’t it be nice if the boys won District and Sectional, and got to Tyler, again, so that I could see it this time?” But another part reminded that part that it’s not about me. It’s about the 11 boys on this team.

Lucky for me, those 11 boys came through and I WILL get to see it this time. I am one happy baseball mama.

I woke up the night before last, after our team beat the Pearland team to stay alive, thinking about the next game. All day yesterday, the day of the winner-take-all-loser-goes-home game, my thoughts kept turning to baseball. Payton was uncharacteristically nervous yesterday, and had a hard time eating his pre-game meal. Walking up to the fields yesterday, we had to pass the Pearland fans in their bleachers to get to our bleachers. There were a lot of them, and they were fired up. But when we got to our bleachers, we saw a sea of red. Folks turned out in droves to support the Raiders. Members of the 12-year-old All Star team lined the outfield fence and had 3 big flags, each with a different letter: F, C, and A for “First Colony American.” Those flags were flying even before our boys stepped onto the field.

The Raiders looked a tad bit shaky as the Pearland team came up to bat. It was 3-0 them to start, but the boys in red looked strong and confident. I knew they were going to come through, and by the 3rd inning it was 9-4 us. While anything can happen in baseball, I began to really and truly realize that we were close to clinching the coveted trip to Tyler, and that I was going to be there for it.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: watching my kid on the field is one of life’s greatest joys for me. He’s in his element, doing what he loves most in the entire world. He’s energized and engaged, he’s a gamer. Baseball is his life, and he makes the most of it. Every single game. Seeing #11 come up to bat thrills me; watching his discipline at the plate, appreciating the mechanics of his swing, and hearing him make contact with the ball all work together to fill me with happiness. Knowing that he’s experiencing success in his most beloved endeavor is parental bliss.

The game was fantastic, and last night’s victory is so, so sweet. I’m still savoring it today, exhausted though I may be from the late-night celebration. Seeing Payton on the field with his team after the game, awaiting their Sectional banner and pins from the District Commissioner was pretty great. 

Seeing the boys come together and play like champions was redemption for a crappy summer last year. That summer will go down in history as the worst one ever. This one will be remembered as the best.

 


No autographs, please

Today is a very good day, for 3 reasons, maybe more. #1: Macy started two weeks of Fine Arts camp, which she loves (and I’m rather fond of having a few hours to myself while she’s off doing fun projects that someone else cleans up, and by “someone else” I mean anyone but me). While she hasn’t gotten quite this messy in a while, she’s definitely still got it in ‘er. 

#2: I did push-ups at the gym this morning. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do them, and there’s a bit of pride on the line since I was working out with my 12-year-old son. I wasn’t about to let him see me doing “girlie” push-ups with bent knees, so I tried the real thing, and while it didn’t feel great, I did it. Pre-cancer, pre-mastectomy, and pre-infection, I used to be able to do 50 push-ups like it was nothing, and while I’m not there yet, I’m getting closer.

#3: The article for which Payton and I were interviewed was published in our community newspaper. Corey the reporter was nice, and I think he’s a good writer. He has covered the district All Star games for all the ages, and he’s made the games come alive in his stories. P really enjoyed being interviewed; I like the drama of the article, especially the part in which I’m portrayed as “fighting for my life” (cue the dramatic music here).

It’s a good reminder to be careful what you say, too, because I joked with Corey about P having gotten his mad baseball skills from my side of the family. While it’s true–my dad’s baseball career started with PeeWee ball in 1948 and ended with him playing for the University of Tulsa–I was being smart-aleky, and Corey not only took it seriously but also included that in the article! I certainly don’t want to sound like one of “those” baseball moms. I think my kid is a good player who happens to have some natural athletic ability and a body built for taking some hard knocks. However, I’m under no illusion that he’s going to play ball for a living when he grows up, and his *$#& most definitely stinks.

While I can take or leave the publicity, reading the latest article did make me realize that a whole lot has changed since this time last year. And most of that change has been good. Really good.

This time last year, Payton’s All Star team was preparing for the sectional tournament, which they totally dominated, BTW. But I was fighting another battle against that damned nosocomial infection and was back in the hospital. Again. So after P’s team swept the sectional tourney, they were preparing to go to the State Championship in the lovely Tyler, TX. I remember thinking on that Monday, the day I was admitted to the hospital–again–that we’d get the infection under control, pump in some more vancomycin and I’d be on my way to Tyler.

Yes, I was that delusional.

Instead of the scenario playing out the way I’d envisioned, it went something like this: I was admitted on a Monday and didn’t get out until Thursday. An area that started as a red, streaky site on the mastectomied right chest wall had to be opened up, drained, excised, and packed with gauze. Repeatedly. The packing part was particularly brutal. See, there was a bunch of fluid inside my chest wall from the infection. Dr S cut a track–sans anesthesia, I recall–to open and elongate the drain hole, to let the fluid out. Once the track was there, though, it had to be packed with gauze to soak up all the nasty fluid. It wasn’t a quick process, because the hole and the track were small but had to be completely filled with gauze, for maximum soaking. Thus, a lot of shoving in an already sore, infected, and aggravated area was required. As was a lot of xanax. At one point, after Dr S shoved the gauze into the open wound, my blood pressure was 212/65. That’s a little high for me.

I survived 4 days of intense wound-packing and hard-core IV antibiotics. But just barely. I missed the entire State Championship experience, then put my kids on a plane for summer vacation, that I didn’t get to attend. I did manage to stay out of the hospital for 2 and a half weeks, but had IV antibiotics at home and a home health care nurse packing that wound. I was hoping to have turned a corner after all that (and more than once wondered what it would take to finally kick that infection) but was back in the hospital again the week before school started.

It was not a good summer, to say the least. This one has been much, much better. While the bar wasn’t exactly set very high after last summer, this one is pretty sweet.


Ice, ice baby

Pagophagia sounds like one of those words Lucy spouted off in A Charlie Brown Christmas. You remember the scene, in which Charlie Brown pays a call to Lucy’s psychiatric booth (The Doctor Is Way In), and she confronts him about his prospective phobias. “Perhaps you have hycangeophobia; the fear of responsibility. Or maybe ailurophobia — the fear of cats. Or climocophobia — the fear of staircases. Or thalassophobia — the fear of the ocean.”

I remember those long, complicated names for the phobias because I played Lucy in my 5th grade production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I remember the blue pinafore dress that was my costume, and I remember that it was kinda hard to pronounce and memorize the long words that marked the phobias from which Charlie Brown might well have suffered. Little did I know that as an adult, I myself would suffer from claustrophobia and aquaphobia. How ironic.

So the first time I heard the word agophagia I figured it must be a phobia. Nope, it’s a disorder. And I have it.

Agophagia is a form of the disorder pica, in which a person craves and is driven to ingest non-nutritious substances, usually because of a vitamin or mineral deficiency. People with pica tend to eat all kinds of weird things, from paint to dirt to chalk, and it can get really weird with people trying to eat things like batteries and feces. Gross. I must be pretty mild on the agophagia spectrum, because the idea of eating any of those things is not just weird but disgusting.

No, for me the agophagia manifests in a powerful addiction to ice. 

Yes, that’s right, ice.

Not even ice that’s surrounded by a good cocktail, either, but ice. Just plain ice.

I am addicted to ice.

Hello, my name is Nancy and I’m an ice-a-holic. I’m an agophagiac.

I didn’t think much of it at first, but just chomped away happily at the ice that was left in the bottom of my water glass, or the cubes that collected once my iced tea was gone. Sonic ice left me positively swooning, but I didn’t realize I had a problem until I was going through the drive-thru just for a cup of ice. Route 44 size, please. Feeling a bit self-conscious about my addiction, I did a little research and learned I am not alone. Sonic ice has a Facebook page with more than 218,000 fans.

Excessive ice chewing is a symptom of an iron deficiency. Guess what I have? Yep, an iron deficiency. I am definitely anemic. I’ve been on a prescription iron supplement, but once I started feeling so puny from the long-term antibiotic I had to take, I stopped taking the iron pills. Not a good idea.

My cutie-pie oncologist likes to blame my iron deficiency on the fact that I don’t eat meat, but the fact of the matter is that it’s yet another fallout from the nasty-ass infection I contracted after my bilateral mastectomy. I was vegetarian long before cancer dive-bombed my house, and never had a problem with anemia. Once the mycobacterium set up shop, though, the anemia gained a foothold, and the ice obsession began for real. That dadgum myco caused a whole lot of problems, of which the anemia was the least of my worries. Once diagnosed with that wretched, wily infection, one of the many sites I consulted for research stopped me dead in my tracks with this: “Disease typically chronic, progressive; rare spontaneous resolution has been reported.”

Guess that means my ice-chewing obsession would be around a while. 

Like most addicts, I was the last one to notice that I had a problem. My girlfriends would giggle at me when my input on where to go to lunch after tennis revolved exclusively on which places had the best ice. Yes, I have them categorized much as my dear friend Amy Hoover knows which places serve the best iced tea. Some places use the same filter for the flavored and unflavored tea, ya know.

We have an ice machine outside, in the outdoor kitchen. It makes these groovy mushroom-shaped ice cubes that I adore. Not as much as Sonic ice, of course, but they’re pretty darn good. In the height of my addiction, I would consume 3 or 4 rounds of a 24-oz Tervis tumbler full of ice. Sometimes I wondered if the chomp-chomp-chomping sound was disruptive to those around me. Most times, though, I chomp-chomp-chomped away anyway, blissful in my puffy little cloud of addiction.

I’m not one bit ashamed to admit that I’ve been known to dig through the Hoshizaka to find the choicest bits of ice. Some cubes are more delectable than others; it’s a fact. And those are the very cubes most desirable to an ice-chomping addict.

However, I did start to suspect I had a problem when the only thing I wanted to pack for a long evening at the baseball field in 98-degree heat was ice. No water, just ice. And when the only thing I purchased at the baseball field concession stands was ice. Again, no water, just ice.

The pivotal moment in my addiction came a couple of weeks ago, when I was on my girls’ trip with my Duke friends. When it came time for the beverage service on the plane en route to the beach, I requested ice. No water, just ice. And more than one cup, please. Once at the beach, I realized the ice-cube trays in the freezer of our condo would not suffice, so I had to run out and get a cup of ice. Every day. I got smart and ordered 2 cups so I could put one in the condo’s freezer (alongside the worthless ice) for later. Each night at dinner, I asked for a to-go cup of ice. In the past I’ve been known to request a to-go cup, but I can assure you it wasn’t just ice. These were unchartered waters I had entered.

After becoming seriously worried that I was going to crack my teeth on all the ice I was consuming, I decided it was time to start taking that prescription iron supplement again. Within days, my ice obsession had waned. Weird.

While I still covet really good ice and will still pick through my ice machine for the best cubes, I’m not driven to chomp cup after cup of it. In fact, I realized this week that I’d gone 2 whole days without chomping any ice. Today while watching Macy’s tennis lesson, I got a cup of iced tea (extra ice, natch) and actually left most of the ice in the cup.

I’d like to think that my waning obsession with ice is a harbinger of my return to normal life, after a protracted cancer battle. I’ve had my share of complications on this “cancer journey,” and the idea of things turning around for real is pretty sweet. I relish the thought of being able to put that “cancer journey” on ice and getting on with my life.


The much-anticipated results of last night’s game

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.

Payton receiving his district pin from the league pooh-bah (in the black shorts).

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). 

The ceremonial dousing of the coach with the water cooler. Craig is a very good sport. 

One of my favorite family shots — with a victorious boy under the scoreboard (which I cropped out because the glare off the board was heinous).

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!


A whole new ball game

I’m as nervous as a cat. On a hot tin roof.

Payton’s All Star team was one game away from being district champions last night, and they went down in flames. We’d already beaten the West University team but they came back with a vengeance (and their best pitcher). As a seasoned baseball mom who’s used to watching a confident & uber-talented team, I can usually get a read on the game and have a sense of how it’s going to end. Last night I didn’t have my usual “sixth sense” before the game, and even when our boys launched 2 homers in their first at-bat to take a 3-0 lead, I didn’t settle in with my usual feel-good feeling about the outcome.

My kid got hit by a pitch during his first at-bat. Not a wimpy pitch, either, but a smokin’ fastball. That fastball thumped his thigh, just above the knee, quite audibly. My mama- bear instinct kicked in and I was on my feet, wondering if my boy would crumple in a heap on top of home plate. Then my rational brain kicked in and reminded me that my boy is tough as nails and meaner than a red hog on the field. He takes pain like it’s a cool summer breeze, as if it’s a “woonty” on the shore of Salisbury Beach. His pain tolerance is incredible, and yes, he gets that from me. He’s the ideal football player — a coach’s dream — because he’d rather take a beating than admit he’s hurt. Most kids take a “test jog” down the right-field line after being hit by a pitch, to make sure they can still run without a hitch in their giddy-up. Not my kid. After being pounded, my kid just casually tossed his bat and trotted to first base. Not a wince or a whimper from him.

Here’s the after-effect. I expect it to become much more colorful in the coming days. 

Payton’s teammate Gus responded to the bean-ball by hitting a homer off the pitcher who pegged my kid. Way to go, Gus!

Sadly, the First Colony bats weren’t as hot for the rest of the game, and we came up short. Errors in the field added insult to injury, and the boys in red got a long, stern talking-to from their coaches instead of a celebratory toast at the local pizza joint.

We face West U again tonight, and will likely bring a renewed vigor for victory. It’s winner take all tonight, so the stakes are high. Whichever team goes home tonight with a victory moves on to the sectional tournament, with hopes of progressing through that and onto the State Championship. Last year, that team was ours, and we’re all hoping for a repeat performance.

No one wants this more than me, since I missed every bit of it last summer. Thanks to a post-mastectomy infection, I was in the hospital instead of in the stands.  The team honored me by wearing pink sweatbands throughout the summer, and Payton still wears his. We had to get a new pair, though, because the original pair was filthy. The kind of filth that repeated washings and soakings and pre-treating can’t remove. Lots of sweat but no tears last summer.

Apparently I’m a bit nervous , as I was awake at 4:20 a.m. thinking about tonight’s game. Someone asked me at the gym the other day if I’m one of “those baseball moms.” I wasn’t sure what she meant — the kind of baseball mom who attends all the games and cheers for everyone on the team? Or the kind of baseball mom who gripes at the coach and yells at the umpire about being unfair toward her baby? I’ve seen both kinds. I like to think of myself as the former, but I have been known to yell at an ump a time or two over a particularly egregious call. I am the kind of baseball mom who wears my kid’s jersey to the games, proudly displaying #11 on my back just as my kid does. I am the kind of baseball mom who decorates the car windows, as is tradition around here, so that everyone on the road and in the parking lot know that there’s an All Star on board. 

I am the kind of baseball mom who feels deep pride at my kid being selected for All Stars. 20 players are chosen, then that group is whittled down to 11 or 12 for the traveling team. Lots of players — and lots of moms — would give their eye teeth to be a part of this team. Missing the games and the camaraderie last summer was hard. Really hard. I was able to follow along with the games via an iPad app that allows a user at the game to enter the pitch-by-pitch action so a user on the other end can follow the play-by-play. One of the moms asked me last night if it’s more nerve-wracking to follow along or to watch the game live. I said watching live is way more nerve-wracking. Sitting in a hospital bed staring at the iPad screen isn’t nearly as complete an experience as being in the stands, in the heat, with the roar of the crowd and the sounds of the game. I do have fond memories, though, of the nurses who were constantly in and out of my room getting involved and asking for updates on the game. And I distinctly remember forgoing pain medicine so I could be lucid enough to follow the game. This summer is a whole new ball game, for me.


girls’ trip

Once upon a time, in a city far, far from Houston, there was a group of young-ish women. All had relocated from every corner of the country with young kids in tow to help fulfill their husbands’ dream of getting an MBA from a top-10 business school. None of the women knew anyone in the new city, and all were a long way from home. For two long years, without paychecks and luxuries like babysitters, the women bonded while the hubs crammed their brains with all things MBA-related. Once the menfolk had diplomas in hand, the group of women dispersed, to new homes in new corners of the country.One night before going separate ways, the women left the hubs and kids at home and went out for a nice dinner. There the plans were laid and a vow was made: let neither distance nor the rigors of child-rearing sever the bond created by hardship and the shared need for breaks from their preschoolers. The solution: come together for an annual girls’ trip, to reconnect and recharge. 

The first trip was to San Francisco, then Sanibel Island in Florida. Next came Captiva Island, then Scottsdale. Park City was next, followed by Lake Tahoe. Every year was a different locale, but the theme was the same: reconnecting.  

The women had gone their separate ways, and a few left the domestic scene to pursue careers in law and medicine. The others continued to toil on the homefront, trading preschool and playdates for elementary school and homework. The kids grew up, and a few new babies joined the fold. One thing remained the same, however: the women’s commitment to the annual trip.

The End

Well, not really the end. Just the end of my little story.

It’s the eve of the 7th annual Duke girls’ trip, and my suitcase is packed. My boarding pass is printed. My Kindle is full of new books to be read uninterrupted by young children. My house is stocked for my peeps to exist in relative ease in my absence. I’m going, I’m really going.

After 7 years, you’d think that preparations for the trip would be somewhat by rote. Decide on the locale, find lodging, book flights, pack a bag, kiss the fam good-bye, and vamoose.

But not for me. See, last year I was ready for Tahoe. That trip was to have taken place 4 weeks post-mastectomy. As I described it this time last year, the trip was “my goal, a partial finish-line, and my sanity-saver since my diagnosis.” One of the first things I asked my superstar breast surgeon, Dr Dempsey, upon diagnosis, was if I’d still be able to take my girls’ trip. Tahoe with my Duke girls gave me something concrete to work toward in  my recovery from surgery, from being diagnosed with cancer at age 40.

Instead of stocking the fridge and packing my bags this time last year, I was in the hospital, sick–really sick–with a nasty infection. I was admitted to the hospital unexpectedly when symptoms of the infection appeared out of nowhere. I literally had seen Dr S the day before the symptoms cropped up; fine one day, sick the next. The day I was hospitalized, I was still clinging to the hope that I’d be in & out of there quickly and still be able to go on my trip. Silly, silly girl. My mind was willing, but my body said “No can do.”

After countless IV bags full of different antibiotics, my fever kept spiking and I got worse instead of better. While the scarier bugs like anthrax were quickly ruled out, the specific infection remained elusive. My infectious disease doc told me that the cultures grow at their own pace, and the culturing is done old-school: in a Petrie dish in an incubator in the lab downstairs. I was confined to the hospital bed until the growth was complete, and no one knew when that would occur. The day before the Tahoe trip, I had to concede that I wasn’t going to make it. Rotten luck.

While it broke my heart and seriously injured my fighting spirit to tell my Duke girls I wouldn’t be joining them, untold hard times followed. Missing the trip was chump changed compared to what was to come. Looking back at my Caring Bridge journal entry for June 10th of last year yielded this:

“I should be on a plane right now, en route to Tahoe, but instead I’m in an ugly gown, sitting on scratchy sheets in an uncomfortable bed (most definitely not a Tempurpedic mattress). Looks like I’ll be here a while yet.”

I don’t recall this part, but it must have happened:

“They moved me across the hall last night to a new room. My new neighbor is an older Asian man who talks louder than anyone I know, and so do all of his relatives. In fact, I just got up my scratchy sheets & walked across the hall in my ugly gown to shut his door. Sheesh. This hospital has an entire floor for Asian patients, which is pretty cool and indicative of this huge city we live in, but I’m wondering why he’s not on that floor.”

Tonight, on the eve of the 7th annual Duke girls’ trip, there are no scratchy sheets and there is no ugly gown. There’s a not-so-youngish-anymore woman who’s had one helluva year, who’s ready to get on that plane and make up for lost time. SPI, here I come. Now that’s a happy ending!