Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Wish to Friends and Family

As the hymn says, "Now the day is over, night is drawing nigh..."

It's not exactly night right now, but the holiday is definitely winding down. The presents are unwrapped; the ham, potatoes and yams are in the oven; wrapping paper and bows are strewn across the house; and the kids are all occupied with either naps or their Christmas treasures.

It's a good feeling.

I admit that there were moments leading up to this day that I doubted I could pull it off, what with two surgeries in the last two weeks. And in fact some traditions had to be put aside. The family picture that was supposed to grace our Christmas cards was scheduled to be taken the day Natalie planted her face into a tree. Various new ideas for a clever card never turned into a finished product. Same with gifts for friends and coworkers.

I did manage to purchase and wrap enough toys for under the tree to keep the kids happy, and bake enough goodies to keep their bellies full. That in itself is a small miracle. But over the last couple of days my mind has repeatedly gone to the greetings I didn't send; and the people I love who didn't receive them.

And so I'd like to take a moment before setting the table and cleaning up that gift wrapping to send a wish to you all, I just hope I can put my thoughts into proper words.

I'm sure you've heard the wish that every day could be Christmas. That's not the wish I have for you--but it begins the explanation. I know this will sound strange, but in one way this past year has been like Christmas every day. Not that there's anything festive about cancer treatment. Or something I'd wish to do every day. But I don't think a day has passed in the last year that I haven't been the recipient of at least one act of kindness.

Some days I'm overwhelmed by the number and amount of good things that have been done for my benefit: tangible gifts like jewelry, flowers, home decor, and of course food. Lot's and lot's of comfort food. Then there's the messages--by phone, by mail, by foot, by text, by email, by Facebook they come; offering encouragement and love. And I can't forget the prayers. I could never forget the prayers.

I remember one friend apologizing for not calling me when she got the news. "I didn't know what to say," she said. But then she continued, "And so I just prayed."

"You did exactly the right thing," I told her. And it was true. I can't explain the feeling of knowing that hundreds of prayers are going up to the heavens on your behalf. But it truly buoys you up at a time that you know you should feel your very lowest, but instead it feels as though the hands of God are literally cradling you.

And so, with that explanation, this is what I wish for you, my friend: I wish that each of you would take a moment this season to realize and appreciate your magnificence. Yes, yours--not your children's or your spouses or your neighbor's, but yours. And I'm talking about the person you are today--not the one you hope to become after you figure out how to organize your time or lose a few pounds or stop getting mad at the kids. That person might be fabulous too, but the person you are on this day is truly amazing.

I can say this with assurance because I have witnessed and felt your truly caring nature. I know from experience that you carry the light of Christ within you. You are not only born in the image of God, but you are a beautiful emulation of Him. Your love and concern for your fellow man is as tangible as the gifts given on Christmas day.

I can never say thank you enough to those who have been helpful to me throughout the course of my treatment. It boggles my mind to even think about it. And maybe after Christmas I'll get around to sending out a proper greeting. In the meantime, this wish will have to do.

Merry Christmas, my dear friends! And Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Speaking of counting

I am not one to shy away from confessing my age. At least not since my scare with heart failure while still in my twenties. But now...well let's just say I'll be doing the happy dance on each of my birthdays. One of which happens to be today. Yes that's right. My 48th. Happy happy 48th.

And while I need to go join the family celebration, I want to quickly share my philosophy.

First, when it comes to birthdays in general, they are very good things. Waaaay better than no birthdays. I have known way too many people who no longer have birthdays, and I'm not voting for that plan.

Second, there's this whole deal of pretending you're younger than you really are. Frankly, I don't get it. If I were tell someone I was, say, 29; chances are good they'd either flat out know I was lying, or wonder what the heck happened to me. SHE's 29? Are you kidding me? She look's HORRIBLE!

But if I tell them my real age, there's a chance they'll think I look a lot older than that, but if that's the case, just imagine what they'd think if I told them I was 29? Odds are better, however, that they'll think I'm holding up pretty well for someone of my advanced years, especially one who's been through the ringer. (Besides who but a 48-year-old would even think of the term ringer?)

In sum, I'd much rather have folks think I've held up well than wonder what the heck happened to me, so for that reason I always tell the truth about my age and take my chances.

I guess I'm weird, but that's what I think.

Not that anybody's keeping score

Just in case someone besides my insurance company is keeping track...yesterday makes three in two months. Four in fives months. Reese family surgeries that is.

After three weeks of studying and taking finals with her collarbone shifting around more than the San Andreas Fault, we finally got a plate put onto Natalie's bones to hold them steady. Last night, after a full day at the hospital complete with IV lines and nausea and vomiting and all that good stuff, she called it the best day ever. Not because she's into that kind of thing. Because she was able to lie down without the bones shifting, which apparently feels really good.

I feel bad for waiting the three weeks, except that we didn't know the bones wouldn't stay aligned so it would have felt like overkill at the time. So we take the "lumps" as they come (in this case literally) and try to stay grateful for the blessings - like having a daughter who's enough of a trooper to take finals while in excruciating pain. Bless her little heart.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Race Is On...

Wow, was my last post really in October? Thanks to those of you who nudged me back here. One good friend even used the word verklempt. As in she gets verklempt when I don't blog for a while. I have no idea what that means, but it does not sound good. And so I must write.

I have begun kind of a marathon existence, running from one activity to the next with barely time for mundane things like eating, let along blogging. This life on the run began a few months ago when I started a part-time writing job. Just a few hours a day, enough to get me up and dressed and out of the house every day. Or so I thought. And in theory it should work fine. But I'd literally only been on the job a few days when my Daniel needed that inconvenient emergency surgery. Between the new job, hanging at the hospital, and regular life stuff, there wasn't time for anything else. Once he was healed up, I started this new distraction:



Not the best picture, but as you know, I'm in a hurry. Anyway, when I wasn't at work I was helping my oldest learn to sew this adorable outfit. Yes, I failed as a mother and never got around to teaching her when he was still at home, so it was the least I could do. Awesome slam dunk for a first time sewer wouldn't you say? Yeah, it was ambitious, and kept us busy, but Jen learned a ton and I got to spend all that time with both my girl and grandbaby.

Things should have slowed after that, but two things got in the way. First my book group asked if they could review my book. Not my current one, but my new one, Perfectly Normal. Which of course meant FINISHING it. That was incredible by the way, with rave reviews, so watch for news on that. Working on the book took every spare second, at least it would have if it weren't for Thanksgiving.

This was possibly my last chance in a long time to get all the kids together, so we decided to spent the holiday at a cabin. And that meant gathering food, including a holiday feast, for over a dozen people. And even though I had a couple of weeks to put it all together, it still seemed like a marathon getting us all there.

During all this rush, rush, rush, I kept thinking that I could blog about all these great things while sitting by a fire at the cabin. First though, I did this:




That's me at the top of the hill, and again near the middle with my hubby, trying not to wet my pants. Good, good times. Oh the blog posts I had planned. They were hysterical.

But then this happened a few minutes later:



I stepped into the cabin for just a few minutes. Just a few. And when I came out they were in the trees. Stupid, stupid trees. We are so very happy she is alive. The collarbone is broken, and you can see the face. The worst part is that she's in the final weeks of her first semester of college. She is back at school as of today, but hurting like crazy.

Which leads me to my next activity...surgery!!! For me!!! Just two days away. A coconut-ectomy. Basically just preparing me for the real reconstruction in a couple of months. And honestly, I'm looking forward to the forced rest. Not to mention losing the coconuts.

And yes, the medical bills are staggering, both in number and amount. Let me go on record as saying I am so grateful for insurance. We're thinking they may just ask us to move into a hospital wing, to save on paperwork and such.

So there it is, my two-month marathon in a very fast nutshell.

If nothing else, while rushing and running and reminding myself to eat I am constantly reminded of what a rich, and very full life I have. Despite all the stress and pressures of day-to-day, I wouldn't trade a bit of it. (Well, okay I could do without broken collarbones and pancreatitis and cancer. But I'd keep the rest in a heartbeat.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Boys being Boys

Our house has become a lot more masculine since all three of our girls have moved out. We're down to just the two boys, and despite their age gap (23 and 11) they manage to find something to argue about pretty much constantly. The latest being Halloween costumes.

As you know if you've followed this blog, Brandon is an actor. Big time drama, drama, drama actor. He sings, he dances, and he plays pretend. He's also a planner. Birthday plans for April start in about May. Christmas starts in January. As a result I've made a rule that I don't want to hear a word about Halloween costumes until October 1st. So, of course, on Oct. 1st, it became VERY urgent that we come up with a Halloween costume THAT DAY!!!! All other activities and interests ceased to exist until a costume was figured out.

And it was no surprise that the costume theme was SPIES. Because SPIES are the biggest, most important thing in the entire world. There is a piece of paper taped to the door that leads under the stairs that says SKI CLUB. In tiny (I'm talking so tiny you need a magnifying glass) letters underneath the big SKI, it says 'spy kids incorporated'. I once asked Brandon what his SKI club was about, and he was delighted that he'd fooled me. Behind the door of this club is every gadget he's managed to finagle from me or his dad or Santa or his grandma, which means tons. Spy glasses, spy spears, spy cars, spy cases--you name it and he's probably got it.

So come October first, otherwise known as Costume Day, we did a search for spy costumes to get some ideas. I noticed one spy who was wearing a tan leather jacket, and pointed out that his sister has one just like it. He found the jacket, and also found a hat that matched. He stuffed the jacket with all his spy gear, made himself a mustache, found one of my old wigs and voila! a spy was born.



He proceeded to put on this outfit on the 2nd of October, and the 3rd, and the 4th. You get the idea.

But after several days of exuberant spy-costume wearing, Daniel lost his patience. "You don't look like a spy. You look like a girl. Those are girl clothes."

Brandon came to me, deflated. "Is it true? Are these girl clothes?"

I confirmed that yes, it was his sister's jacket. But he knew that. And it was my hat. And wig. But he knew that too. But it didn't really matter, as long as when you put them together you look like a spy. Which he did. And he shouldn't listen to mean 'ol Daniel anyway. I did this while leering with all the loathing I could manage at Daniel. But it was too late. He discarded the outfit and began plans for another one. I told Daniel he could pay for whatever a new outfit cost, but that didn't go over too well. He said he didn't care what he wore, as long as they were never seen together. Mean Daniel. Mean, mean Daniel.

The outfit stayed in a heap just outside his bedroom door for a couple days. But then one day he put it on again. When I asked about it, he told me he'd talked to his friend, who is also going as a spy, and they decided together that it was perfect, no matter what mean ol' Daniel said. Because, he continued, his eyes bright and enthusiastic, this wasn't just one costume, it was two. He then ripped off the coat and hat (dramatically of course) to show me his "blending in" costume.



"Blending in?" I asked.

He rolled his eyes. As if I was born yesterday. "All spies have blending in outfits. Haven't you watched anything on TV?"

That is obviously one brilliant kid. Now if I can just figure out how to keep him from growing up.

A fine day for a walk...

My daughters (well, two of them, one was too far away and busy with college) and the grandbaby took me walking...for a cure.



Couldn't this be a poster for the American Cancer Society? Jen has another picture, after it popped, where he looks a little like Eeyore. So adorable.



It was a beautiful day. Ethan made it half way. But when we saw a marker that said we'd gone two miles, and he was out of the stroller wanting to walk, and it was a five-mile route, we knew we were in trouble. But he was a trooper!



We're not sure what blue chips (they were passing them out on the route) have to do with a pink cause, but the red hair (supposed to be pink) added to the blue tongue made for...I'm not sure what. But we it was hilarious at the time.



I didn't get the picture with Jen, she was behind the camera with this one, but she was there, carrying Ethan most of the way! Thanks girls!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Party Crasher

Today was supposed to be my big, huge, final day of treatment. After a full year of Herceptin by IV every three weeks, today was supposed to be the last. I've been talking about it and looking forward to it for weeks. Even had a party planned.

But instead, I'm doing this:

Yes, there is something wrong with this picture. And no, that is not me in the hospital gown. Note to my children: The next time I spend the night in the hospital, I want to be the one in the bed. I really do prefer it that way.

This turn of events started on Monday evening. Daniel was in stomach agony when he arrived home from work. As any parent knows, there are plenty of times that you have to go with your gut when it comes to kids and illnesses. There are three basic options when they come to you with a complaint. You can tell them to toughen up and ignore it. (Without really letting on that that's your plan of course. "Oh I'm so sorry your tummy hurts. I bet you just need some rest. Why don't you go lie down? wink wink") Or you can turn to the medicine cabinet and start playing Doctor Mom with whatever drugs you happen to have on hand. Or you can load up the car and head to the doctor.

Normally I start with method one, go to number two if the complaints continue, and only move on to option three as an absolute last resort. But lately my gut instinct has been a little out of whack. I won't embarrass myself or my children by listing the minor issues that have sent me to the emergency room in the last year. Let's just say that they probably roll their eyes when they see me coming. My recent brush with the dramatic has made every little bump and lump seem like a good reason to panic.

So I didn't hesitate to tell Daniel to get into the car when he came upstairs pale, sweating, and in extreme pain. It wasn't until I was sitting in a dark parking lot so he could throw up into a bush that it occurred to me that once again I'd skipped right over steps one and two and headed straight to step three. I hadn't even offered him some of that amazing Earl Grey Tea that had done wonders with my nausea during chemo. But when he climbed back into the car, slightly green and moaning, I doubted if he'd be pleased with the idea of going back home for some tea. So we forged ahead. To heck with medical bills. And sleep.

Well it turns out (several hours into the night later) that it was his pancreas. Pancreatitis. Who would have thought?

For the record, I am totally patting myself on the back for making that emergency room call. Apparently the pancreas is a really important organ. And it hurts really bad when it's inflamed, which happens (very rarely) when a gall stone travels in a totally wrong direction and blocks it. But the good news is that he's out of surgery and doing great. The doc expects a full recovery. So tomorrow we can get back to normal things like my big last-day-of-chemo celebration.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some Kind of Normal

I received a call today from one of my nurses. There are two of them who call to check up on me every couple of weeks. I can't keep track of which is which or who they work for, but they're both nice and so I try to make time to chat with them when they call. Today's nurse pointed out that today was my one-year anniversary.

Apparently I had my biopsy a year ago today.

WooHoo. Break out the party hats.

I wanted to verify the date so I just went back and read the entry I wrote a year ago. Don't think I should have. Living it once was good enough. But I'm glad it's behind me.

My last few posts have been kind of downers. And I've been intending to post something a little more upbeat about how I'm doing. Then I had the friends with cancer trauma that foiled that plan. But now that I know it's my anniversary, I guess it seems appropriate to post a one-year-mark entry.

So...as of Sept. 15, 2010, my life has gotten back to some kind of normal. I have a new job doing freelance editing for Papercraft magazine, which it turns out is a really sweet gig.

I also have a new head of hair. It's surprisingly dark, and looks like this:



On the day I took that picture, Maura Tierney was on the cover of Parade Magazine styling a similar do:



If you don't recognize her (I didn't), she used to play a nurse on the television show ER. At the time she had long hair, kind of light brown. Kind of like me. Then she played a patient in real life, also like me. Personally I think she looks way better with her short locks. Kind of inspires me to maybe keep mine this way. Except the only way I'd look that good is if I had a fortune to spend on a stylist. And then got hit hard with a pretty stick. Plus I have this huge desire to run my fingers through my long hair. But I don't know. I guess I'll decide when and if the hair gets to a point that I decide I liked it better short. That's a luxury most of us never dare try. So score one good thing from this cancer.

Another part of my life that's totally different a year out is my arm. It's hard to be upbeat about that. But there's some good with it. In case you don't know, shortly after my mastectomy it swelled up like a balloon. It's called lymphedema, and sometimes happens after lymph nodes are removed. In my case, the arm just kept getting bigger.

They gave me a compression sleeve to wear during the day, and taught me a massage to do at night. At first I tried to just wear the sleeve during exercise, like a lot of people do. But it was obvious that wasn't enough, so I started wearing it for a couple hours, then a few, and eventually I realized I just had to break down and wear it all day. It's a pain, but less of a pain than having a swollen arm. And for a while that was good enough, but eventually it wasn't. So then I got to start wrapping my arm at night. Every other night actually, just to keep it under control. It's pretty ridonkulus. I don't even know how many layers. Three rolls of gauze, two rolls of styrofoam, three different wraps. Takes like half an hour, and another half hour in the morning rolling everything back up. Here's the pic:




I know. Seriously, who thinks up these things?

But the good news is I've been able to take the sleeve off for a couple of hours every day. Which means I don't usually have to wear it to places like church. And I'm doing some weight lifting. So maybe some day I'll get back to just wearing it for exercise. I know that doesn't sound very impressive as a dream, but for me it sounds huge.

Let's see...what else? Oh, there's hormones. Or lack of hormones. They've all been shut off. Every last one. It's called chemopause. My cancer happens to be a kind that feeds off of estrogen, so that's part of the treatment. Amazingly it hasn't been too bad. In fact the doc was worried for a little bit because I don't even have hot flashes. But I guess I just lucked out that way. Don't get me wrong, I do have issues. Mostly aches and pains and kind of wild, random mood swings. And dry skin and acne. But that just keeps life from getting boring I guess. Besides, I now have a boat-load of excuses for being forgetful and irrational.

And finally...there's the whole reconstruction thing. If you've been following this blog, you know what a huge disappointment that was. And how anxious I am to move forward. So here's where those hugely miraculous blessings start to kick in. I've kind of been afraid to talk about it, like I might jinx it or something.

My plastic surgeon told me about a procedure he's been following with interest. The results of a study were just released, and in my humble opinion it is beyond impressive. It's amazing. Incredible. Exciting.

Long story short, he's actually offered to fly to Florida next month to do a training, and then use me as a guinea pig. Which I know sounds really crazy. Except that he knows how to do the basic procedure, it's just a particular way of doing it that he has to learn. This has the potential to be the next big thing in mastectomy reconstruction. And I'm really, really excited to be bringing it to Utah. If you're interested, here's a video that talks about it.



Exciting, isn't it? I'm sure I'll be talking about it more in the future.

But for now, that's me, one long icky year after diagnosis. I'm not sure how to type out the sound of a party horn, but just imagine it with me: Pllllbbbbblllll!

Fighting Mad

I've been angry for almost a week now. In the traditional stages of grief, anger is the one I tend to hang out in. Which I realize isn't a great testament of my faith. But there it is. I can't usually place my finger on where my anger's directed. But I know this time. I know exactly. It all started with horrid news about this lady:

Beautiful, isn't she? Her name's Karleen. Her role in my life started way back in the seventies in The Year of the Move. My parents took two big-time California girls (who kept our vinyls on a constant loop with songs like 'California Dreamin', 'Wish they all could be Californian', and 'Surfer Girl') from the Awesome and Cool place known as Hacienda Heights, California; and transplanted them entirely against their will to the dinky little cold place known as Logan, Utah. No one ever wrote a song about Logan, Utah.

To make matter's worse, I was going into the ninth grade, which was high school in California, but only middle school in Logan. But that wasn't as bad as my big sister's situation. It was her senior year. It is hard to imagine a more cruel thing to do to a senior in high school.

Karleen lived just up the street from us in Logan. She was a year older than my sister, which I just learned, but makes it even more remarkable that she rescued Sis by bringing her into her circle of a friends--a circle that included my future husband, who also lived in the neighborhood. I'm quite certain Karleen was the one bright spot that made that year tolerable for my sister. Karleen had a glow that attracted people to her like bugs to a porch light. Everyone she came in contact with felt like a good friend. She even made me - a puny little middle schooler - feel loved and accepted.

Karleen went on to teach kindergarten. And from what I hear she was a natural. Made every one of her students feel like her favorite. She had a daughter too, who was the light of her life.

On Friday I got a call from my sister (who by-the-way promptly moved back to California after graduation and stayed. I, on the other hand, developed a fondness for that Logan place.) Carolyn gave me the bad news that Karleen had passed on. She knew little beyond that, a possibility of cancer. But we learned from the obituary that Karleen had started the school year, taken on a class of bright-eyed kindergarteners, so obviously she hadn't planned on leaving this world quite this soon.

My husband and I scrambled to make plans to get to Logan for the burial the next day. He happened to be fishing with his brother in Yellowstone, which is north of Logan, and I was home in Draper, south of the place, so I gathered up respectable funeral suits for the both of them and drove up to meet them.

At the cemetery, I asked a mutual acquaintance if she knew more about Karleen's story. She confirmed that it was breast cancer. She'd gone through treatment, and everything was fine. The woman placed her hand over her chest, near her shoulder. "And then she found another lump," she whispered. "It was mean and fast and aggressive."

At that moment, the funeral director stood and announced the dedication on the grave. Karleen's father--eyes red-rimmed, looking weak and beaten--stood to offer the prayer. Karleen's women - her mother, her daughter, and a sister - sat under a green canopy, clinging to one another for strength.

For just a split second my mind's eye saw my husband standing in that man's place. My beautiful women sitting under the canopy. And I gained a new appreciation for the term 'weak-kneed'. The prayer was beautiful. But I had a wedding to go to afterwards, and I hadn't thought to bring makeup, or even tissues, so it also became an internally-frantic attempt to keep my composure. Keep the tears from flooding my face. Keep those knees holding up my body.

That's when the anger started to build. A put-up-your-dukes kind. It hadn't diminished in the least when more news came that very same day. This time one of My Girls. I didn't give birth to her or raise her. One of my good friends gets to take full credit for that. But I was her church leader for nearly six years. From the time she was nine until two years ago, when she started high school. And in those years her bright smile managed to weave it's way around and through my heart. She's a senior now, same as my sister in her challenging year. That year of vulnerability and possibilities. She's beautiful, brilliant, and cheerful. Take everything you know about stuck-up, snotty, flighty teenagers and throw it out the window with this one. She's nothing like that. Everything a young person should be.

While on my way to that wedding, I learned through Facebook that Tiffany was in the hospital. Through a friend I learned they were thinking maybe leukemia. After a couple days of tense waiting, it turns out leukemia would have been good news. It is cancer. But they don't know the source. And since cancer's behave in unique ways depending on their source, they really have to know that in order to fight it properly.

So now we wait some more while they run test after test on her young body. A body that should be worried about math tests and boys and what to wear to school, not blood counts and pic lines.

And that's why I'm mad. I want to put my fists in the air and shout at that cancer: HOW DARE YOU!?! HOW DARE YOU THINK YOU CAN INVADE THE BODIES OF THESE BEAUTIFUL WOMAN?!? GET OUT RIGHT NOW AND LEAVE THEM ALONE!! LEAVE US ALL ALONE!!

Of course I'd just be circling around waving my fists at nothing. Tipping at windmills. Fortunately we have prayer, and a belief that there is a purpose in everything. That God is in control. And I do feel so blessed to have that faith. The prayers that have been offered up in my behalf have been unbelievably tangible. God's mindfulness of me is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Yet I still dream that some day cancer will listen to demands like that. That it will get out and stay out. That the angels in heaven will have to find new ways and reasons to minister to us.

In the meantime, please join me in praying for Karleen's family, and for my girl Tiffany.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Accidental Summer

So apparently there are people besides my mother who worry when I don't blog. And while I'm touched and grateful, I'm also sorry for any undue concern my recent silence has caused. And I guess I partly didn't write because I wasn't feeling up to it, but mostly it was because I had to prioritize.

I'd planned my summer very carefully: from the day of my surgery on there was a big black line drawn through every day for a full six weeks. That's what I was told to expect. But when that didn't work out, no one was really sure what to tell me in terms of recovery, especially since it was my spirit that hurt worse than my body.

And I suppose I might still be in bed today if it weren't for that family reunion. I hadn't planned on going, since it was near the beginning of my black-line phase. I was really bummed about that too, especially since family members who NEVER come to Utah were going to be there. So when the surgery failed, and I was feeling kind of human a week later, I sort-of happily dragged myself there, happy meaning happy to go, but not exactly happy or ready to get dressed and leave the house. But I went, and was glad I did. This is the crew, at least the stragglers that were still there when someone thought to take a group picture. I'm the one sitting down (looking like an invalid) in black. My daughter has the picture of just me and my siblings, but if you see faces that look an awful lot like mine, they're either my kids or my sibs. And the sweet older lady who looks like she's doting over me? Well I guess she is. She's the reason for all the fuss - my mom - who's turning (yikes!) 90 in a few months.


After that day we had family visitors, racquetball tournaments, swim lessons, band concerts, acting gigs, birthdays, outings with the grandbaby, school starting, kids moving out, and before I knew it I was back in the world of the living, ready or not. There wasn't ever a point where I decided I was ready to spend more time in bed than out of it. Certainly never a time I decided I was healed. I'm still not sure how to answer when people ask how I'm doing. I think I tell them I'm plugging along. As if that doesn't make me sound like an old geezer.

But stuff just kept happening that I didn't want to miss, even if I didn't feel up to it. Cancer will do that to you, you know. Make you want to live. Big time. The other things--cooking, cleaning...and blogging...kind of got second billing to the fun stuff. (Gotta reserve that strength you know.)

So here in a nutshell are some of the highlights of the summer that I didn't think I'd get to have:


Me and the girls celebrating Whit's birthday at 'Erin's Slumber Party'. They'd just gotten their nails done. Mine are still too weak from the Herceptin to be painted. Frowny face. (Which I know will make the birthday girl laugh.) I did get a massage, which I swear was twice as long as it should have been. One perk of being a cancer patient.

Here's my adorable little Ethan touching a donkey for the first time at the petting zoo.
And here he is AFTER touching a donkey for the first time. He really didn't mind the donkey so much, it was those goats that kept trying to eat him that really got to him. Not that I can blame him.

Private swim lessons sound really impressive until I admit that I've been too distracted to give Brandon a chance to keep his skills up and there weren't any classes at his level for boys his age. But his teacher did wonders with those numchuck...I mean swimming skills.



And here's the little Stud Muffin doing his modeling gig. (I didn't get pictures of the commercial or movie he was in, but he's been a busy little actor.)

This is Natalie on her first day in the dorms at BYU. I also missed pics of Whitney who moved out the day before. Losing two girls in two days is a little too much of a shock to the system. And below is Brandon, excited for his first day of middle school. More system shock! And finally, below that is a horrible video of an adorable performance Brandon did a few days ago with his band, Prodigy. Yep, I'm the totally lame and unprepared parent who only has her phone to record her son's solo performance. He also had a couple duets with a cutie girl that didn't even get recorded. And I don't even know if this one will work because I've just been getting errors for the last hour. But it was really cute. I'll do better next time - but at least I have all these bonus memories!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Lessons on the Hill

I live on the side of a hill. Okay, I guess it's a mountain. It's called South Mountain, so that must be what it is. Either way, it's steep. And I know--from a scientific engineering-type point of view--that when walking on this hill/mountain, one must go both up and down. But despite this knowledge, and vast experience, I can't seem to get past an urge to find a level path for walking.

Which means that every time I set out on a walk, I go in a new and different direction, one that most surely--I decide at the last minute--will lead to a level path.

But what really happens is that I spend about 90% of the first part of my walk going downhill, (because the downhill option ALWAYS looks better than the uphill option). But then eventually I decide I'm just going to have to go home, and since there's no level path in site I decide to just turn around and go back, which means of course that 90% of the homeward journey is going uphill.

This morning, grunting and groaning on that uphill part of the journey, I decided maybe, just maybe, there's a lesson to be learned.

I'm still thinking on it.


Friday, July 30, 2010

The Big Step

So as many of you know, last Monday was THE big day. The one I've anticipated throughout this entire journey with a whole range of emotions. A little fear, a little excitement, and a lot of anxiety. Reconstruction Day.

I had planned to write something before Monday about the surgery and my decision to have it. Because it was a crazy, big surgery. Ten hours long. Five days in the hospital. Six weeks of recovery. And some people (*cough*mom*cough*) kind of questioned if I should really put myself through all that. But of course a generation ago women didn't often get the opportunity of putting their bodies back together again. I consider myself very fortunate to have had my plastic surgeon on my team right from the beginning. It has never been a question of whether he would do anything, just what he would do. He has always been respectful of the second-place position of his role to my care. The first concern is always to save my life. His job is to give me my life back - which is never allowed to interfere with the first, but both jobs are way important in my opinion.

I love this quote from PJ Hamel on HealthCentral:
"Outwardly, reconstruction is all about looks–which doesn’t mean it’s all based on vanity. Any guilty thoughts you have about making this decision purely for “vanity’s sake,” get rid of them right now. Reconstruction (or no reconstruction) is really about feeling normal and healthy...It’s about being able to take your life back because you feel good about yourself, both emotionally and physically. It’s about looking in the mirror, and not wanting to look away because you see a wrecked, disfigured body, a body that makes you feel sad and ashamed."

PJ goes on to say that any decision - whether to reconstruct or not reconstruct can be the right one, as long as a decision is made and the patient feels good about it. So I made my decision, with my plastic surgeon's help, to go for a diep-flap, which is considered the gold standard in reconstruction. It is a biggie upfront (as I mentioned) but when you're done, you have all your own tissue - since they take your abdominal tissue to form breast mounds. Sweet, isn't it? The reason for the length of the surgery is that you are both a tissue donor and a tissue recipient. And frankly, what woman doesn't like the idea of donating her belly fat to a good cause?

In the days before the surgery, that ring of fat around my belly started to really bug me. Like a house guest that had worn out its welcome. And those expanders I've been wearing for the last eight months? You know, the ones I refer to "fondly" as my coconuts? Let's just say that my first thought upon waking, every single morning for the last forever, has been "one day closer to getting these out of here."

I'm not sure why I never got around to blogging all this before my surgery - I kept thinking it was because I was too busy getting things organized for me to check out of life for a few weeks. But also, I think I hadn't quite put my thoughts in order - I was having such a pull of emotions.

If my life were made into a movie, the last few weeks could be a cheesy montage of me growing my hair, growing stronger, and getting ready for the re-do. I felt so confident going into the hospital. I knew it was going to be a rough few weeks afterwards, but that after that I would be so grateful I'd done. I joked with the doctor when he drew lines all over my body, told him to make me beautiful. And it would have been a beautiful montage--I could just picture the ending, with me and my smoking hot new body running of into the sunset, my inch-long hair waving in the wind.

But sadly, the music came to a screeching halt Monday afternoon. One o'clock to be precise. I remember because the scene was with the patient in a hospital gurney, struggling to wake up from sedation, and trying to focus on the clock. It looked like it said one o'clock, but that couldn't be right. The surgery wasn't supposed to end until closer to six or seven o'clock at night. The patient (me) called to somebody walking by, "what time is it?" When the answer came back, "one o'clock", I grabbed for my belly, and realized it was still intact.

"What happened?" I croaked. "What went wrong?"

"What makes you think something went wrong?" The poor, naive little nurse-person said. "Everything's fine."

Well, I happen to be known for getting a tad bit emotional when I wake up from anesthesia, even when everything has gone according to plan. And this was NOT according to plan. I'm pretty sure I did my reputation proud.

Another nurse came rushing over to tell me that my doctor was in another surgery, but he would come talk to me when he was done. ANOTHER SURGERY??? My doctor is in ANOTHER surgery? This one was supposed to last all day!!! He CAN'T be in another surgery!!!! The nurse rushed off and returned moments later with the news that she had read my chart, and all she could tell me was that they weren't able to complete the surgery as planned, but that I still had the opportunity to go back another time, and in the meantime they had reinserted my implants.

Did you catch that? Because I did. They had reinserted my coconuts. Just put them right back in. As if that was okay!!! As if I wouldn't mind that they put them back again! As if that was even a possibility!

I'm not sure exactly everything that happened after that. I do remember being extremely unhappy that they not only couldn't produce my surgeon, but they couldn't even provide my husband. Something about rules. And I remember the nurse lady saying, "You do realize don't you, that your body is full of narcotics and that you're not behaving rationally?"

And I remember thinking right about that time that if my incisions were still fresh, maybe I could claw them open myself and take out those stupid coconuts.

That's about the last thing I remember. Apparently they decided I didn't have quite enough narcotics in my system.

The next thing I remember was waking up in another room with my husband sitting sheepishly in the corner. He explained as best he could how the surgeon had tried for hours to make the surgery work, but I had too much scar tissue from my open-heart surgery. The doc had warned me that might be an issue, but there was a back-up plan, which was blood vessels on the side. Turns out mine are unusually small, too small to graph with the bigger ones down in my abdomen. It's a fluke, The surgery almost never fails like that. But as you know, I tend to do fluke. My anger was gone, but I cried piteously.

The nurse in the room gave me this pep talk about how I needed to keep a good attitude. How's it's all in the attitude. I ignored her as best I could. After she left, Rob just sat quietly. He'd had a stinky day. Maybe not as bad as mine, but he could remember it all. And he's been through enough of my waking up from surgery's to know that the best tactic is probably just to stay quiet.

Only problem was, this was now officially my pity-party, and sitting quietly wasn't in my script. I wanted to him to fall all over me telling me how sorry he was. And he was just sitting there.

So I asked him to leave. He didn't even question me, just got up to go.

That wasn't in the script either, so then I asked him where he was going. (Don't you love drugged, disappointed women?)

"You told me to leave."

"Only... because...only because you're being... judgmental."

"Judgmental? I'm not saying anything."

"Exactly. I can see it in your face," I continue, partying hard. "You think I should be strong. You think I'm being a baby."

"I didn't say that. I didn't say anything."

"Exactly."


The conversation went on like that for several minutes. I'd write it all out, but then some soap opera writers might just rip me off and use it in an up-coming episode.

I do owe my sweet hubby big time though. Poor guy.

The pity-party continued into the night and most of the next day. I was not a good patient. I am usually the queen of good patients, but I ripped off my leg-squeezers and my oxygen tube. I ignored my breathing exerciser. I even slapped an orderly who tried to take blood pressure on my bad arm in the middle of the night. One nurse did her level best to shake me out of it. Kept holding up a picture of my grandbaby. Telling me I had to keep up the fight. She kept the pep talk going right up to the moment that she loaded me in the car.

But I showed her. Showed 'em all.

They think they can send me home with coconuts and have me smile about it? I don't think so.

Funny thing is, I did know she was right, even while she was talking. It just felt like I would be a failure if I admitted it before I was ready. Now that I'm at the end of the week, most of the pain has gone, and I'm ready to start talking about my other options. I'm still not wild about the coconuts for three more months, but it could be worse. It could be way worse.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sisters in Battle

In the last couple of days I've been introduced to two different women who are related to old friends of mine. Women who are battling this breast cancer beast--not that I've met them personally, just that I've learned their stories.

And while I've heard a lot of moving stories of people touched by cancer, tonight I'm thinking especially of these two. I'm told that once you get the diagnosis, you become part of a pink sisterhood. I'm just starting to appreciate that.

One of the ladies is on her second go-around with the disease, and it's not good. She's resigned herself to the horror of it all and is just happy for the year with her family that she didn't think she'd get.

The other just got the news and is still grappling with how to make sense of the insensible. How to accept the unacceptable. She doesn't know how to tell her children. Or her father. Or how to say goodbye to a part of her body that she really wants to keep.

I look back on my own experience of gradual acceptance, and I want to cry for that woman, for what I know she's going through. I look ahead to what the other has had to accept and pray I'll never walk in her steps.

The best I can do tonight though is to pray for them. For all of us girls in pink.

Monday, July 12, 2010

And the Losses Continue

This week I have learned that the loss of a trust-worthy fifteen-year-old washing machine is not anywhere near as traumatic as the loss of a beloved dog. In fact, the two shouldn't even be compared. BUT when both losses occur in the same short span of time. And when a bunch of other crud (that I don't think I have to re-hash) is going on at the same time, well...one can begin to feel severely picked on.

Especially when there are six people living in the house who all wear something like three outfits every day and all those outfits are piled in great smelly mounds in the laundry room so you pick the first repair person who can make it to the house and spend over a hundred dollars to get the machine fixed only to learn that isn't really fixed and you'll need to spend a couple hundred more to get it fixed right and then you'll end up with a very used machine that cost about the same as a new one and you have to decide whether to pretend you threw that first investment out the window and buy a new one or keep throwing money into the wind to fix the old one and you don't have time to give it a whole lot of thought because people keep poking their head into your room saying in a panicky voice, "No washing machine yet?" And then they laugh at you in that way that means they think you've really lost it this time when you remind them that we have running water and sinks. Whew. It makes for a really stinky day. Or several days, as it turned out.

Don't get me wrong. I haven't lost sight of how truly blessed I am - I have an amazing family, a wonderful husband who has a steady job, we live in a comfortable house surrounded with beautiful trees that sway in the breeze all day, I have wonderful friends who truly care about me, and most of all I get to be alive to enjoy it all.

However, I have also learned this week that it is possible to feel utterly picked on and utterly blessed at the very same time.

By the way, I picked door number two: the new washer. And I love it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Thing About Support

One of the questions I am asked most often, when one learns I'm battling the Big C, is if I have a good support network. Which seems like an odd question to me. I mean, what would they say if I said no, I ain't got nobody. Would they volunteer to be my friend? That could be scary, volunteering to befriend a person who hasn't managed to make any on their own. Or would they just shake their head and say they're sorry and leave us both feeling awkward? I for one have made a mental note to never ask that question, just to be safe.

Fortunately, I have a great, overwhelming, phenomenal number of people who support me and cheer me on, so I get to say that yes, yes I do. And then they get say that's great, because that's so important.

To be honest, whenever that question comes, before I make that mental image of all those fabulous wonderful examples of support, I always think of the one glaring example of lack of support from someone who should have been close. Funny how that works. The thing you want to put behind you most just sticks around like a big ol' elephant in the room. (And by the way, if you heard the one about how I just made up the cancer for the attention, well...yeah. Sometimes it makes me laugh, sometimes it makes me cry.)

Anyway, after that little rumor comes to mind and I brush it away...again...I then picture all those other faces. Even packed in tight together in my mind they take up more space than that stupid elephant. There are so many that they make me choke up and I can barely say yes to the person asking about my support system.

And today I've been thinking about how I don't thank them nearly enough. By them I mean you.

There's the person who sends me a text every once in a while to see how I'm doing. Or comments on my blog. Or sends me an email. Or calls. The many, many who have brought meals. And treats. Sent cards. Made hand-made happy-thought books. Bought me hats. Stopped by for no reason. Driven my son to school every day. Had him over for play dates. Met me for lunch. Helped clean and organize my house. Listened to me whine. Lied to me about how good I look bald. Hugged me. Cried for me. Cried with me. Prayed for me. Taught your children to pray for me.

See how many there are? How they fill up that space in my brain to the point that it pushes the tears out of my eyeballs?

And if you didn't see yourself in the list that was my fault, because if you're reading this I bet anything you belong there. So thank you for helping to make such a big, wonderful net. I don't know how I could have gotten through without it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Missing My Little Guy...



For the first time in eight years, the house is quiet when someone comes to the door. And I don't have to watch where I put my feet when I stand up. And no one prances with joy when I get home.

Toby's last day was too gruesome and sudden for me to recount yet. The tears are slowing, but they still come often. Like right now.

Sometimes it seemed like his spirit was too big for his ten pounds of body. Like when he'd leap so much with excitement that he'd land on his back, even after he became a "senior" dog.

Sometimes he'd try to talk to me by sneezing, and would seem so frustrated when I couldn't understand him. His favorite time of day was family dinner, because he knew he'd get his chew treat. Sometimes we'd confuse him by having family breakfast, but he'd be so persistent that he'd usually get two treats that day.

One day when he was just a puppy, I got a call from a neighbor asking if we had a little white dog, because there was one in the street yelping in pain. I stepped out in the yard and saw that he was there, so I assured her that it wasn't our dog, ours was fine. He tried to run to me when he saw me, but collapsed before he could reach me. Turns out he'd crawled under the fence after getting hit by the car. Or maybe the bike. Nobody actually saw the accident. And it was a wonder he lived. He was only about 4 pounds at the time. But the doctor said he had road burn, so something must have hit him. He broke his leg, and had two subsequent surgeries. His back never was the same, but he didn't let that slow him down, until Thursday, when his body came to crashing halt.

And if there really is a doggy heaven, I'm sure he's tearing up the place.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's Official!




Today I decided that (drum roll please!) I am officially no longer bald! Or even mostly-bald! Or even partly-bald! Eccentric-looking maybe, but not bald. And I love, love, love hair. I love that I no longer feel like an invalid when I leave the house, or wonder what people are thinking when they look at me. And I totally love the way it keeps my head shaded in the heat and warm in the cold. Great invention this hair stuff.

This new crop is darker than my original light brown, and for some odd reason has less gray. It's also very straight. I've been told over and over to expect curl. And at this point curl would probably be nice, since what I have is growing straight out and totally ignoring my attempts at giving it a part or lying flat. But I've vowed never again to complain about hair. I figure there's no such thing as a bad hair day, as long as there is actually hair involved. So cheers to hair, bee-u-ti-ful hair!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Getting Emotional...

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, this chemopause I've been thrown in to has given me cause to fight my emotions in a way that brings back not-so-fond memories of my teen years. I read about one woman who says she's learned to look forward to these out-of-control because she feel victorious when she overcomes them. And I agree, once I figured out WHY I was freaking out over the littlest things, it became much easier to stay in control. And then I get to pat myself and the back and say "Good for you Suz for not stomping out of the room like a two-year-old in front of the whole fam because you burned candied nuts." Yeah I know, it doesn't sound like that big of a victory, but trust me, it feels like it.

So...one of my author friends Anne Bradshaw put this on her status on Facebook, and I was moved. I did have to wonder whether it covered chemically-induced temper tantrums, but I suspect it does:

“Almost every emotional problem can be summed up in one particular bit of behavior: it’s a person walking around screaming, ‘Love me.’ Love me, that’s all. He goes through a million different manipulations to get somebody to love him. On the other hand, healthy people are those who walk around looking for someone to love. It’s hard to learn, but it’s good when you learn it.” ~ Thomas P. Malone

Wow - how simple is that? How profound? From babies to hard-to-deal-with family members to chemo-brained cancer patients - just love me. And if you're the one acting bad? Go find somebody to love. Easypeasy.

Just when I think I've got this living thing figured out...something new comes along.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Getting There

Monday I went to the Draper Temple parking lot--which is really big and totally empty on Mondays--and Mags and I zoomed around for close to an hour. (That's what I've been calling her, now that we're on a less formal basis.) I imagined intersections, semis, traffic jams with stop and go traffic; and got pretty darn good, if I say so myself. But then, imaginary fears are never quite as effective as the real thing.

So Tuesday I gathered up all my courage and headed off with good 'ol Mags to the hospital in Murray, about a 20 mile drive. I got onto the freeway without a hitch and traveled along writing the rough draft to this blog entry in my head, how I'd say that I didn't have so much as a shoulder shrug, let alone a shake fist, pointed in my direction for the entire trip.

But then I get to the hospital, and there's a guy in the toll booth in the parking lot. I've been going to the hospital almost daily for about six months and there's never been a guy in the toll booth. But this time there was, and he waved me down to stop, which took me totally by surprise. He asks me if I'm a guest. And I'm wondering if he means guest in the way that restaurants call their customer's guests? Like, "Here, let's roll you inside this big tube and fill you full of radioactive material! But don't think of yourself as a patient, think of yourself as OUR GUEST!!!"

Or maybe he means a guest like someone who is there to visit a patient? The only thing I know for sure is that I'm not an employee. Maybe that's what he wants to know. Maybe he's just trying to make sure the employees go wherever they're supposed to. So I say, "I'm a patient?" (As if he can't tell, with the hairdo and all.)

That seems to satisfy him, and he waves me on, turning his attention to the car behind me. But I'm so distracted that I forget about Mags and her needs. And when I try to go on my way she promptly dies. Start, die. Start, die.

By this time there are a couple of cars behind me. Panic sets in.

The guy looks back at me and says, "You might want to try putting it into first gear."

I laugh, the nervous kind of laugh you do when you feel stupid. "Oh yeah, that's a good idea," I say. Silly Mags, so full of needs.

Then last night I took Brandon to the library. As he climbed into the backseat he told me he was kind of scared. I told him there was no reason to be scared. Embarrassed maybe, but not scared. When we got home he informed me that I was much improved. "All you have to work on now," he says, "is the clutch."

You here that Mags? That's all we need to do. Work on the clutch. I'm glad he cleared that up.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Me, Menopause, and My Magic Car

This is my new Honda Fit. I decided it's a car that needs a name, even though I don't usually name my cars. But this one has too much personality to not have a name. So I call it 'Magic'. It was called a magic car in one of the reviews I read, and it really does feel like magic. Even my hubby says so. See, it's this tiny little thing. Only takes up about half the space of a regular car in the garage (or it seems like it), but you forget that when you're inside. It just feels like a regular car with plenty of leg room, head room, and storage space. It's not till you get out that you go, 'oh yeah, this thing is tiny'.

So I absolutely love love love this little car. Except for one tiny little problem: I can not drive it.
Yeah I know, that's really a big problem.

The picture above was actually taken with the intent of posting it in the classifieds, which I haven't done yet. Because I really don't want to get rid of it. What I want is to love it unconditionally. But I think I have to be able to drive it for that to happen. If you remember, it's a manual. Which I don't exactly know how to drive.

So here's a bit of news, in case you're wondering. A 47-year-old woman who has just been put into chemical menopause with subsequent wild mood swings is NOT a good candidate for learning new tricks like driving a stick shift. Who woulda thought?

I'm really surprised there haven't been news headlines about this little red wanna-be car causing traffic jams at intersections around the city. Because that's what's been happening. The thing is, I do just fine in parking lots. I can stop and start and putter and all those good things. But get me at an intersection and well...it's kind of like the time I played a piano solo in church.

Anybody who was there knows exactly what I'm talking about. For those who don't, the story goes like this: I knew this song inside out and backwards. My fingers knew it better than my brain did. When I was at home, I could play it like nobody's business. But when I sat down in that church meeting to play, I went one note, two notes, crash. One note, two notes, crash. One note, two notes, crash. At that point I decided that my fingers were just not going to go beyond those two notes. So here's what I did: I walked up to the microphone at the pulpit and asked everybody to leave. Really. Not even making that up. I then explained that I was having serious stage fright and could do much better if they were all out in the foyer. I then begged their forgiveness and tried one more time. I made it through with just a couple minor flubs. One of my friends told me it was the first time she'd wanted to give a standing ovation while in church.

So now that you know that story about me and my quirkiness, this next one will make more sense. I've been telling this story for days, because when anyone asks about the car, someone in the house says, "Tell them The Story, Mom." And I proceed to tell them The Story. So I guess I need to blog about it. And THAT story goes like this:

After some serious parking lot practice sessions, I took my little new car out on errands, and was feeling pretty cocky about my stick-shift driving abilities. Until I get to an intersection that is on a serious hill. Anybody who knows stick-shift driving knows that getting started while on a hill is the hardest part. But I hadn't learned that yet. Not until I took my foot off the brake, the car rolled backwards, towards the car behind me, and then died. I tried again, and again, and again. But every time the car threatened to roll into the car behind me. Eventually that car went around me. And so did the next. And the next. All while I started and restarted the car. I eventually came to the conclusion that the car was not getting off that hill with me driving it. So I did the only thing I could think of. I got out, walked to the car that had just pulled up behind me, and asked the driver if he knew how to drive a stick shift.

Well, it just so happens that the driver was in his mid-twenties, and cute. The kind of cute that makes you forget for a few minutes that you're an old lady. An old mostly-bald lady. He also happened to be driving a very nice car. The men in my house can't believe that I didn't notice the make and model. But I didn't. Just that it looked very valuable, with lush leather upholstery. He (the cutie) was also very kind and did what his mother taught him to do with a lady in distress. He jumped out of his fancy sports car and told me to follow him. Yep. The poor kid told the crazy mostly-bald lady who was causing major traffic jams to drive HIS very expensive and beautiful car. I'm sure that later on he was whacking his head wondering what on earth he was thinking. But I jumped in and I drove behind him, muttering to myself, 'Don't hurt this car. Don't hurt this car.' He got me to a parking lot and was still very polite, but couldn't get out of there fast enough.

And now even though I've mastered hills, I still go into a panic at intersections, even when they aren't on a hill. I haven't had to ask any more strangers for help, but I've annoyed plenty of them.

And that's the story of me, menopause, and my magic car... still waiting on the happily ever after.

Proud Day


I've taken to going out in public without a hat - which is both liberating and intimidating. Nat's graduation was my first dress-up day that I dared go ala natural. But I sat through Jen and Mike's graduations with a hat one day and a wig the next. (or was it vise versa?) Anyway, both options were long and hot and itchy, and that was in the winter. So I left the hat at home and braved it. And since the day was about my girl and how proud we are of the young lady she's become... (have I mentioned she's headed off to BYU?)...it really doesn't matter what I was wearing!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Redefining Myself

The world-renowned breast cancer specialist Dr. Susan Love (as far as I can tell that's a real name, how sweet is that?) says that it is almost impossible to go through cancer treatment without becoming somewhat of a new person. And that it's typical to get to a point that you begin to wonder who you have become.

I remember similar feelings after my open-heart surgery. Except that time I had a house full of babies, and the only thing I really could do was get back into the thick of being Mommy. Plus, there was no sense of being part of something bigger than myself. Apparently heart disease is a big problem for women, but I literally knew of no other young mothers whose hearts had failed due to a birth defect. While I certainly had a new appreciation for life, I was an army of one. There was no one to rescue, no new generation that needed saving.

And while I have no delusions of changing the world, I do feel enlisted - into what I'm not sure. I just know I have a sense that I need to do something worthwhile with this experience--something that will have made it worthwhile. At times I feel like the old me is emerging - but then I notice the hair in wrong places, the odd bumps and lumps, the aches, and worries about those aches, and realize that the old me is gone for good.

I've done little things like change my car. The new hairdo is a given. But the biggest changes are yet to come - like the question of where we'll choose to live out the rest of our days. And what I'll finally decide to be when I grow up. It's a big question and I don't have an answer yet.

But there's another question that maybe you all can help me with: what do I call myself? My blog has me listed as a "cancer warrior". That felt right at the time I wrote it. But every soldier reaches a point when the heavy fighting is over, and they have to retreat and lick their wounds. That's me now. Still a fighter, but no longer a warrior.

The accepted term these days is 'survivor'. And maybe that's what I'll use. But it brings to mind a half-starved person strewn on a desert island. I heard of one lady who calls herself a 'thriver'. I liked that, and maybe I'll use it. But Rob gave me a thumbs down. There's always 'victim'. Ha. As if. Maybe 'Cancer Conquerer'? I've always liked 'Conquistador'. That was the mascot of the high school I was supposed to attend in California--before my parents stole my whiny teenage self to Utah. (For those of you who have read Where Hearts Prosper, that happened to be the mascot of Paige's high school as well.) Anyway, back to my dilemma, 'conquistador is a bit of a mouthful, and little pompous. I've thought of 'Cancer Advocate', but pretty much anybody could call themselves one of those.

So there you have it - I started to set up a poll, but that got way too technical. So if you'll just go to comments and tell me your favorite for my new title? Or give me a new idea?

Here are the choices: survivor, thriver, conquerer, conquistador, advocate.

And maybe after I get that figured out I can start working on that big question of what I want to be when I grow up.

UPDATE: Since comments don't always make it through (I had to tighten things up to stop the flow of junk comments) I wanted to add that there have been to votes for the new suggestion of 'cancer champion', in addition to the to votes for warrior and one very persuasive vote for conquistador. Keep 'em coming! =)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Snowy Tulips

My Momma called last night and told me that when she checks my blog and it hasn't been updated, she assumes I must be too tired to do much of anything. So I guess for Momma's sake I'd better post something. (The woman is pushing on 90 and doesn't need any more stress than she currently has) The truth is I'm beginning to feel like some kind of normal--not a true everything-is-like-it-was normal. But a new kind, one I suppose I can live with.

Sometimes I feel like the tulips and glads in my garden. At times they're standing up tall, facing the sun, looking new and fresh and like they totally belong here. Then suddenly a storm will come in and dump snow on them, and they look rather confused and and pitiful and out of place.

I'm getting my energy back, able to exercise for real and not just with the slowest pace on the treadmill. I've gotten Brandon back into his music, though it's still just hit and miss. In the last week I actually (drum roll please) interviewed for a job. It's part-time editing work and from my home. Don't know if I'll get it, but just the fact that I feel like I can do it is wonderful. AND (longer drum roll) I bought a new-for-me car! It's got a few miles on it, but it is beautiful (at least in the pictures). Bright red and sporty. Rob asked me if I was going through a mid-life crisis, and I told him it's more like a post-cancer celebration. It's on its way from Texas as we speak, and I am sooo excited. Oh, and it's a manual transmission. And I kind of don't know how to drive those. But I figured it's time I learn. (I'm sure there will be more on that to come.)

So you see - I'm back in the world of the living, doing normal (well, normal for me) living things. Of course I also have three scans in the next two weeks. They're not looking for cancer, as some have assumed, but watching for problems that my meds could cause - my bones, my heart, and my blood vessels.

The changes they're making to my hormones cause some wild and wacky things to happen from time-to-time (like snow in May) but nothing I can't live with. I keep getting reverse hot-flashes (as I call them) which are just deep internal chills. (Weird I know, especially in the summer, but I'll take them over hot-flashes). And I grew a beard then broke out in a rash when I tried to get rid of it. (I warned you it was weird stuff). My bones scream at me when I stand up, like I'm even older than my mom and have no right to be forcing them to move. But it only lasts half-a-second and then I feel fine.

So there you go. I guess you could say that I'm not quite out of the pool, but swimming much closer to the surface than I was before.