Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Food, Glorious Food!


As the holiday season approaches and we rush around in a slight frenzy buying gifts and treats for our friends and family, it struck me how integral food is in both our holiday celebrations and in our times of illness and grief. Sustenance provides comfort when we are joyful and equally so when we are experiencing loss or sickness. I was reminded of the various delicious meals that were provided for me during my chemotherapy, which began on December 11th two years ago.

One night, before my first treatment, the phone rang during dinner. I was recovering from surgery at the time and preparing for the chemotherapy. Normally I wouldn’t have answered the phone during a meal but for some reason I did that night. “Hi Jeanne, this is Wendy H. You don’t know me but I just heard from one of the second grade mom’s that you have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis. I went through my battle with breast cancer a year and a half ago when I was thirty eight. Can I answer any questions for you? Also, I would love to be the first one to bring you dinner when you have your chemotherapy. I know exactly which foods will make you feel better.”

I was quite surprised. I wasn’t sure that I liked the fact that the second grade mom’s were gossiping about my cancer. It really felt a little bit invasive. On the other hand, this woman had been kind enough to pick up the phone and call a perfect stranger to let me know I had her support and she was ready to cook for me. “Sure you can bring dinner that night.” I said, sort of in shock. “My friend Sara is coordinating that.” I hung up the phone and shrugged as I returned to eating dinner.



Sure enough, Wendy H arrived at my house that night of my first treatment with a delicious homemade meal. It was simple yet perfect for my quesy stomach. She had roasted chicken in butter, made a beautiful salad, a rice dish with more butter and fresh herbs, rolls and a little cake for dessert. There was just enough for the four of us to have for dinner with a little bit left over for lunch the next day.

That same week I overindulged on spaghetti pie. A friend of mine dropped it by and it was a big hit with the kids and a bigger hit with me. It was layered in a pie pan with cheese on the bottom and then spaghetti and sauce on top. Then the whole thing was baked to form a “spaghetti pie.” My friend also sent salad, rolls and chocolate chip cookies for the children.



I will say that some of my favorite dishes were quite bland. They seemed to comfort me. One friend of mine brought over a casserole of organic chicken, brown rice and cream of mushroom soup. It was great for the nausea I felt from the chemotherapy. I ate small portions of it throughout the day and that would help me for a couple of hours.

My decorator made the best meal of all (you know those creative types). She stuffed four puff pastries with chicken breasts and wild rice and added legs, arms and eyes to each. The end result was little people who looked like gingerbread men, two girls and two boys. I popped them into the oven and in a half an hour we not only had a delicious dinner, the children had something to entertain them and get their mind off of my illness. She also sent green beans with almonds and butter, rolls and an apple pie for dessert.

So as the holidays approach and I am rushing to get all of my shopping done, I try to reflect on these meals. Because I am reminded that as simple as it seems, a homemade gift from the heart is often the best gift of all.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Taking A Break... And all that Goes with It


Anxiety can be overwhelming. It can take over your thoughts and render you incapable of moving forward. I suffer from it on occasion and when I do I try to breathe and get more centered. But how do we help children deal with this? I am away for a couple of days with my husband and I really had to think long and hard about this.
My son is an anxious child. I try to help him through his daily life with kind words and parental guidance as best I can. Now I am lounging by the pool in Florida, enjoying the last day of a short junket with my husband thinking about my little boy at home and feeling extremely guilty for not having better prepared him for dealing with life.

Most of his anxiety comes from a fear that something else bad will happen to me and that he will be left alone with my husband and his sister without his mother to guide him through the world. This is a real fear and as resilient as children are, he has difficulty with this thought. Sometimes it just overwhelms him.


We went to a party on Sunday night which was not only fun but extremely professional. We reconnected with my husband’s former colleagues and reminded ourselves that he is, in fact, one of the leading experts in brain genetics and pathology, at home here in the world of academia. It was a wonderful night, until we called home.
“How are things?” I asked my almost seventy year old mother. “Well….” Enough said. Clearly things were deteriorating. Then Luke got on the phone. His tears would not stop and his crying was heart wrenching. You know the kind of crying I am talking about, the kind of crying that forces you to catch your breath and gasp for air. I felt so bad for leaving my boy and also felt helpless because I was so far away.

Fortunately, my husband got on the phone and “talked him through” his moment of sadness in a very psychiatric way. “Mommy will be home tomorrow. Just take a deep breath and try to think of something fun that you will be doing this week.” It seemed to work, there seemed to be an audible sigh from the bedroom at home.

The next morning he didn't get up for school on time and when I called for the fourth time at 9:30 he finally talked to me.  "Mommy, is that you?"  He questioned, knowing full well that it was me on the line.  "Luke, you have to get up and go to school."  I commanded, hoping that my authority stretched across the phone line.  "Who is this?"  He continued to prod.  Finally, I suggested that he give my mother the phone and he surrendered. 
"Mom,"  I said.  "Just take him in when he is ready."  She did and he came home from school a renewed and more independent person.  I called again at the end of the school day.  "How was your day, Luke?"  I asked, waiting patiently to hear the response.  "It was good."  Came the response.  I was in safe territory once again.
When I recounted this last conversation to my husband he laughed and said, "Can you stay one more day?"  I glared at him with piercing eyes.  "One more day,"  I said.  "Are you out of your mind?"  I began to pack my bag to go back home.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Yoga for Health


The healing effects of yoga have been well documented throughtout history in the over five thousand years that people around the world have been practicing. Personally, I have just been reintroduced to the power of the mind body connection since my illness.


As a teenager, growing up in Atlanta, I remember stumbling upon one of my mother’s books in our family room/library. Interestingly, it was a book of yoga poses.  Always open minded and curious, I began to form my own “practice,” mimicking the poses on the pages of the red jacketed book on the soft gray carpet in our family room. Some things in that book still stick in my mind.  I  remember reading that doing a shoulder stand helped your thyroid and that the universal mantra is OM.  I practiced my poses for a few weeks, and then lost interest because I , like most teenagers, was busy with life and cheerleading at the football game.

After I had my surgery someone suggested that I try yoga to help with my recovery. I was too intimidated to go to a yoga studio so I purchased a DVD at Whole Foods and began my own Anusara practice in my family room. I noticed that I felt stronger and longer than I had before. I also noticed a peace of mind that hadn’t been with me previously.

One day I was looking for a yoga class to attend and I noticed that there was a class taught by a fellow cancer survivor at a local fitness studio. I called my friend Lisa. “Lisa, I found this yoga class at Focus Fitness and it is for cancer survivors. Will you go with me?” I didn’t think I could go alone and I knew that she would try it with me. “Sure, why not.” She replied. So we met at the studio with yoga mats in hand to begin the class.




I hadn’t seen Karen, the instructor, since her hair was short and I was thrilled to see her looking beautiful and poised; ready to heal our tired bodies. She explained that the class was only for cancer survivors but she let Lisa stay for that one class anyway, thankfully. After an hour of stretching, twisting and strengthening we emerged renewed in spirit and mind. Needless to say, I have been faithfully attending classes ever since, gaining a deeper mental and physical connection with each session I attend.


The class is called RePose Yoga which is, "Yoga developed to renew and restore the mind , during and after cancer."  According to the studio's website.  The class focuses on particular poses to enhance the immune system of cancer survivors and current patients. Karen is certified by the OM Women Cancer Survivors (WCS).

We begin each class with a big OM which, according to Karen, has healing qualities because of the vibration of the voice. Then we tap a little bit on our chest, right around the sternum. This supposedly stimulates the T-cells. I don’t know what scientific evidence that there is to that but it feels good, sort of like a little kitten kneading its paws on your chest.



We move on to a self massage to drain the lymph from our arms where many of us have had lymph nodes removed. This is one area that I do know clinicians have proven that movement stimulates the lymphatic system.  Not only does this feel wonderful but my arms feel lighter afterwards, my fingers less swollen.

We proceed to do many traditional yoga postures but also continue to do poses that focus on range of motion and lymphatic stimulation. We OM a little bit more and strive to become one with the universe. Inevitably I leave the session feeling relaxed and less stressed It makes me wonder what might have happened had I not had a thirty year lapse in my yoga practice. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20. Time to go to yoga…..OMMMMM.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Annual Check up


I tell myself that I am not worried but subconciously I am.  It is my second annual check-up with the breast surgeon and I wait patiently for him to enter the room.  To pass the time, I clean out my purse because I never have the opportunity to do this particularly mindless chore.
The resident comes in first.  "Are you having any problems?"  She asks.  In fact I have had some discomfort on my right sidewhere my implants meet my ribs.  "Yes," I say.  "I have been doing more upper body exercises lately and I have a pain right here."  I point to the spot and she begins to carefully feel for a tumor as I hold my breath.
I don't feel like she is going to find anything, but my intuition, while good, isn't always accurate.  "It feels like scar tissue to me"  She says, showing me how the skin in that area remains stationary as the rest of my skin moves.  "Do you see that?"  She inquires.  I do and I am relieved.
"The doctor will be in shortly."  She says as she leaves the room.  Now I am alone with my thoughts in the sterile examination room.  I go back to cleaning out my purse.
A half an hour later the doctor appears.  "So you are having some pain on your right side?"  He asks.  Now I am getting nervous because I know that he is the expert and if he finds something I am in trouble.  "Yes," I say, "Right here."  He looks and feels around the area with great care.  "I don't feel anything that you need to worry about.  I let out my breath not actually aware that I was holding it.
"So what is my chance of recurrence now that I am two years out?"  I ask, ready for the news.  "It is about ten percent in five years with the Tamoxifen that you are taking."  He replies.  My first thought is that this is a rather high rate of recurrence, then I check myself.  I had a thirty percent chance of getting pregnant naturally every month for four years and it never happened.  Ten percent is quite a bit lowere than thirty percent so when I look at it that way I am much more optomistic.
"I will see you next year."  He says.  "Have a Happy Holiday"  I think to myself that I definitely will as I pick up my purse and go home.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Quieting the Mind



I am really trying lately to focus on the present.  I want to learn to savor each and every moment, almost like eating a really good piece of chocolate, discerning the first bite from the finish and understanding the subtle difference between the two.  Don't rush, just be, is my new mantra (Which of course will change next week).  Live in the present.  Many of life's moments may seem trivial or unimportant but there might be a greater meaning to things in my life if I really try to focus on what is happening right then and take a lesson from it.

I was running the other day when we were visiting my in-laws in Annapolis and I was struck by the stillness of the water in the Severn River which is in front of their house.  Can I possibly get my mind to be that still?  I am striving for that.  To be honest, most of the time my mind is racing from one thought to another such as what activity is going on at school or what we are having for dinner.  So the thought of having this kind of  presence of mind is a little bit daunting.  Then there is the future, looming so large and requiring so much forethought because I am sure I am going to be here to enjoy it.


When I do take deep breaths and quiet my mind, the world seems to take on a different hue.  The colors in nature are brighter, my husband's jokes are funnier and my children seem more beautiful and perfect.


So as the holiday season approaches and we rush around to please everyone, as we always do, I will try to quiet my mind and enjoy the aura of life.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Three Little Kittens




So the day after the fashion show last week, my friends Lisa and Carol rescued three little kittens who were abandoned by their mother.  Aren't they adorable?  It is my daughter's birthday this week and guess what she has asked for?  You got it; one of these kittens. 
I am not a really big animal person, I was so proud of myself for agreeing to get a goldfish a couple of years ago, but now I am reallly working my way into the world of animal lovers.  We went to the pet store the other day to get all of the essentials.  The litter box, the bed, the toys and the cat litter.  I am really in over my head already.  I know that there are many of you who have animals and you handle it just fine.  I am just not sure that I am this person.  I guess that we will find out soon enough.

Two and a half years ago right before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, we were visiting my parent's home down in Virginia and there was a stray Tabby kitten that landed on my  the front door step.  For three or four days, that kitten followed my daughter around, almost like a puppy.  She was so cute and loving that I almost brought her home. 
I feverishly e-mailed my husband, who was on a business trip in Japan, to try to figure out what to do.  Could  I handle bringing a kitten on an eight hour drive back home with a four and seven year old?  In the end, I chickened out and a neighbor of my parent's adopted the kitten.
We went home to what we thought would be out normal life.  One month later, I was diagnosed with cancer and our world was temporarily shattered.  I wished many times I had brought that kitten home for my daughter.  Now it is two and a half years later and here we are again with an opportunity to adopt a kitten. 



This time I just have to say yes.
So, for my Thanksgiving baby, on this Thanksgiving day, I am thankful that I can open up my heart and home to one of these kittens.  Wishing you all health and happiness this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tory Burch Fashion Show

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

I am modeling Tory Burch's Resort Wear for 2010.  Woo Hoo!!!



Tory with all of the models.




More me in Tory's clothes!


I had the opportunity on Monday to participate in a wonderful event sponsored by The Wellness Community of Philadelphia.  I got to model Tory Burch clothes, with twelve other cancer survivors, in front of two hundred and fifty women of the Main Line at Golf Mills Golf Club.  The entire experience was inspirational and best of all, Tory Burch was there!!!   She is such a fashion icon at the moment that I was completely
overwhelmed.  So much so that I literally didn't know what to say.


Me and my wonderful friends and a fellow model at lunch.


We got there early to have our hair and make up done by professionals and an hour later we were totally transformed.  Hair was curled or straightened as needed and make up was liberally applied(making sure to cover up the bags from staying out late at the cocktail party the night before).  We all looked like a better version of ourselves as we put carefully put on our predetermined outfits to walk down the "runway."  We thought we wouldn't be nervous but in four inch heels, on steps, in front of friends, we all got the butterflies right before we walked out.
The chatter amongst the models was so loud at one point that we were hushed by "Tory's people" so the guests could hear what the emcee was saying about each model.  The clothes were gorgeou;  they are from her Holiday and Resort Collections.  I was so happy to wear the gold and silver sweater they chose for me that I can't wait to buy it and pair it with my favorite white jeans and her signature flats.  Who knew I could enjoy being a cancer survivor so much?  I guess it is the silver lining; it seems that there always is one.

I had an opportunity to talk with Tory "one on one" and I am still laughing about the whole experience.  We just happened to be standing in the lobby waiting for the luncheon to begin and there we were, the two of us with five or seven photographers taking photo after photo of us as we chatted.  I found the experience to be extremely unnerving and lost my train of thought a couple of times while we were talking.  I finally looked at her and said, "Oh my gosh, you must be used to all of this paparazzi but I can't seem to concentrate!"  She smiled and turned her head and waived a hand nonchalantly.

 "Oh that," she said, as she waived them into obscurity.  "So tell me," She continued, grounded in the conversation, "How do you like Philadelphia?"  I took a breath and continued to talk, much more aware than ever of the idea of being present in the moment.  Here we were, in a room full of photographers, reporters and people who wanted Tory's attention and she was just fine where she was; in the moment.  All I could think after this interaction was that I need be more aware, more present and more in tune with myself and others and maybe, just maybe, I should do more yoga.      




Saturday, October 24, 2009

Happiness

I have always been a little superstitious, particularly when it comes to my own personal happiness.  When I was younger I would start to get nervous when things were going too well for me, knowing that life was going to throw me a curve ball and my bliss would be tranformed into some type of worry or angst. 

Then I met my husband.  He is a psychiatrist who has been through years of psychotherapy,  He is extremely grounded and practical in his approach to life.  I was in awe of this but realised that it was rubbing off on me.  With him, the ups and downs of life seemed to to be just that, manageable bumps on a pretty even road.  I was happy and content.  Then we hit some major road blocks.  Infertility, a major move and my brother's cancer.  My happiness was replaced by worry and sadness.  I was better able to handle this, or so I thought, because I was sure that these were justs more bumps on the road and I had my rock(aka Mike) to help me through it.  I did okay, falling apart here and there but believing that I came out a stronger person.

Then the major curve ball came, the big C.  This one was big but I just pushed through it as best I could, trying not to think about the uphill climb I was embarking on and simply putting one foot in front of the other.  It seemed to work.  I got through it.  But now I am back to worrying.  Will my world be rocked again?  What will it be this time?

I was driving to a yoga class the other day and thinking, "I am happy and my life is good."  I haven't felt this way for a long time.  Then I caught myself.  "Don't jinx it."  I thought,  "Too much exhuberence will get you another curve ball."  I know that this is a superstitious and irrational approach to happiness, but given my history, I think I will err on the side of caution and realise that my moments of happiness may be fleeting  and that I need to be ready when, and we know it will happen, life takes another major turn.  Batter up!!!    

Monday, October 19, 2009

Magic Mushrooms?!?


I guess the old adage you are what you eat really holds true now more than ever.  These days it is difficult to figure out just exactly what you are eating unless you start from scratch yourself or only shop at Whole Foods.  As a cancer survivor, I am more careful now than ever about what I eat and I take a lot of antioxidants.  Interestingly enough, I started taking a dietary supplement of organic mushrooms just because a fellow breast cancer survivor left me a bottle of these mushrooms in my mailbox when I was sick and I am not one to scoff at alternative therapies.  Now, two years later, I find out that there is some good hard research to support my taking those supplements everyday and I am so thankful that Karen took the time to drop that bottle of pills in my mailbox.

A friend of mine forwarded me a link that was picked up by Reuters Health touting the health benefits of mushrooms and green tea for women.  The study found that women who get plenty of both in their diets may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer.  The study was conducted in China and included 2,000 women.  Women who ate the most fresh mushrooms a day, which was 10 grams or more, were about two thirds less likely to develop breast cancer than women who did not consume mushrooms. 

In addition, lab research has shown that mushroom extracts have anti-tumor properties and, in animals, can stimulate the immune system's cancer defenses.  In a study done in mice in 2006, researchers found that mushroom extracts interfered with the action of aromatase, an enzyme that helps the body make estrogen.  While this study was conducted with animals and in the lab, the findings seem to be in line with the current findings.

What does it all mean to me?  Well, I am putting mushrooms in everything I cook.  I made linguine with broccoli and mushrooms, I am sauteing mushrooms and I am putting them on my salad.  I am trying to figure out ways to slip it in my children's food as well.  I will be serving them "mushroom burgers" and "spaghetti and mushrooms."  In the end, I may just have to give everyone a mushroom supplement and call it a day, but it is certainly worth a try.  As my mother always said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."     

For more information on mushrooms go to:  www.topnews.in/health/eating-mushrooms-can-help-boost-immunity-fight -cancer

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nice to Meet You... By the Way I have Breast Cancer

October is definitely breast cancer awareness month for me. This month, almost two years ago, I had both of my breasts removed. I remember prior to my surgery having lunch with a woman I had recently met through my son’s baseball team and really liking her. At the end of lunch she felt the same way that I did, we had connected. “Let’s bring the kids here one night for pizza.” She began. “Maybe we can do a yoga class together?” She continued. I felt a tug. I had to tell this person whom I hardly knew that I would not be able to join her in any of these activities because I was going to be going through surgery and chemotherapy for my cancer. So I dove in. “Julie* I want to tell you something and I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I have breast cancer so I won’t be making any plans for a while.” Her face went white. After a few seconds she recovered and said, “Let me know if I can help with your kids or anything else.” She said, catching her breath and scribbling her cell phone number on a napkin. “Call me any time."  She said as we walked out of the restaurant, and I knew that she meant it.   I left that luncheon trying to figure out how to manage my disease.


Eventually, I figured out that I wouldn't be able to go it alone.  I needed the help of my friends and neighbors.  So I asked, in a mass e-mail, explaining my diagnosis and giving people information on who to contact for meals, etc.  The help poured in and thus I was surrounded by a "web of caring" which was formed primarily by women.  This support system was uplifting and transformative for me during my illness. Women whom I had known for many years and women, like Julie*, I had recently met formed a small army of dedicated soldiers who watched the front line as I battled as best I could behind them. My point is; the little things in life do make a difference.

Virtual strangers took my children home for play dates, provided meals, and became my new friends; we had recently moved to Pennsylvania from Chevy Chase, MD. My oldest and dearest friends moved in to our spare bedroom, each taking a week to leave their families to take care of mine. They shuttled the children to and from school, they painted my toenails and they did my laundry ( I know for a fact that my friend Laurie doesn't even do her own laundry so you can imagine my surprise when she brought a pile of clean clothes into the room where I was infirmed). At night, they fed my children the meals that had been provided and read them bedtime stories. I also enlisted the help of three Villanova University students who basically became the “big sisters” to my children; playing board games and red light green light with them after school.

Each of the women who helped me did it quietly and with little fanfare. They weren’t looking for thanks or praise, they simply wanted to help. And help they did. Because of them I was able to rest and get better. I feel a responsibility to them. To tell them how grateful I am for this gift. It made difference in my recovery and my life. Do we thank people for these things often enough? I don’t think so and I would really like to thank my girlfriends.

So here it is. THANK YOU! YOU MADE A DIFFERENCE!  YOU GALS ARE GREAT!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perspective



I would like to think that I have the ability to keep things in perspective, but I am reminded daily of how often I can lose it. You would think that after battling breast cancer I would make a daily pledge to get up and live each day to the fullest and savor each moment. The truth is though, the farther away I get from my illness, the easier it is to forget to be thankful for each and every day. So often nowadays, I forget. Maybe it is because the trying morning routine just gets to be rote or maybe it is all the shuttling that just becomes so redundant. I am not sure. But two days ago, I was reminded of how precious life and childhood are when my daughter rediscovered her life size Barbie doll that had been tossed in our storage room, abandoned, and minus a leg.

"Mommy can you put this leg back on?" I looked down to see my daughter holding the huge Barbie in one arm and the severed leg in the other. "Oh my." I said trying to act concerned about this large plastic Barbie who I was sure had made it to Goodwill. "Let me see if I can reattach her leg." After a few twists and turns I was able to put it back on the doll. "Come on Mom, let's get her dressed." I followed her upstairs to her room where I proceeded to dress the doll for her in several fashionable outfits. Then Barbie, or Lacey Elizabeth, came to dinner, seated next to my daughter with her own plate and cup. At bedtime, my daughter put on her pajamas and I put pajamas on the doll. "Isn't she cute?" My daughter squealed in delight. "She sure is." I said. Thinking how this doll had made her so happy.

That is when I started to think about perspective. It is all of these little moments in our lives that quickly go by and a lot of days lately I forget to stop and appreciate them. It is like my tennis instructor says, "Jeanne, slow down! Don't rush it!" It is true. When I rush and push through the days I miss so much. My timing is off in life , just like my tennis game. But when I slow down and look around and savor the good stuff; I get it. Perspective. So I will try to keep steady and slow and enjoy.







Monday, August 24, 2009

It is August, Just Get Me Through It

I really hate August. I suppose that I shouldn't because good things and bad things have both happened in my life in August, but this year, it was the bad again. I was spending some quality time with my parents in the sunny south when the call came. "Margaret T. died this morning. I don't want to tell you what to do," My mother in law began, "But I think that you should come back for the funeral." It was Saturday, August 15th.


A day earlier my mother had just said, "Congratulations, you made it through the day." I was relieved that nothing disturbing had happened on August 14th, the two year anniversary of my diagnosis with malignant breast cancer. Just four days earlier, I had made the same comment to my mother, on the forty eighth anniversary of her mother, Margaret M's death from breast cancer. We were finally through our bad days of the year and I was just settling in to the slow pace of southern life and really starting to relax. Well, cancer just doesn't let you relax. It just keeps rearing it's ugly head. I would need to pack my children into the car sooner rather than later and turn around and head back north. I was numb and in shock.


Margaret T was the sister of one of my very close friends. She had breast cancer for thirteen years on and off. When she was diagnosed she had a bilateral mastectomy and then took Tamoxifen for five years. Six months after getting off of the Tamoxifen, she had a recurrence. Since that time, she battled quietly and bravely with her cancer and kept it pretty much a private matter. Now it was over, one day after I was celebrating being at the two year mark of being cancer free. I guess that is what cancer does, it reminds you that you have to live in the present and make the most of each day. You never know when this disease will catch you again. Margaret T thought that she had it beat the first time and she almost did, but as we know, almost doesn't count.


The funeral was packed with family and friends. I was sad and yet I felt rather disconnected. Perhaps it is because I never saw Margaret T when she was very ill. The last time I saw her she was doing well with the meds she was on and was in a clinical trial at Memorial Sloane Kettering. I just didn't want to think that it was really over for her. She fought so hard and stoically over the years that it is still hard for me to believe that the cancer got her. As I watched her two teenage children walk from the church I thought of how it should have ended. We should have been saying, "She won! She is cured!" She should have lived to see her son finish college and her daughter marry.

Unfortunately, that is not how her story ended. So as August comes to an end, I think about all of the life changing events that have happened in this month in my family. My grandmother died, my parents were married, my son was conceived, I was diagnosed with cancer and my brother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Each year, I take time to reflect. I am thankful for my blessings and my current health, I am thankful for my children and my husband, I am thankful for the warm days and the laziness of summer. But deep down, after all the reflecting is finished, I just want to get through it and move on.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Obsessions about Hair.. Of a Different Sort


As I have said before, I really love my hair now, I look at it everyday and thank God for letting me have it back. I am a little bit obsessed with it but the truth is that I have worked really hard to grow it out and I look forward to seeing it in the mirror everyday. I have even let my daughter grow her hair long because I know how great it feels to swish your hair over one shoulder and experience that feeling of ultra femininity. But recently, I began to rethink my love affair with long hair.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter came home from camp complaining, "Mommy I have sand in my hair and it is itchy!" I dutifully searched her little red head for sand or whatever else might be in there and saw nothing. "Let's wash your hair really well and get that sand out." I replied. So we scrubbed and shampooed, sure that we had gotten all of the "sand" out.

A week or so went by and the "sand" would seem to reappear on occasion and I would scrub and wash her head to try to get it out. I started to worry about lice and kept checking to see if I saw any bugs. Each time I checked, I saw nothing. That is probably because I wasn't really sure what I was looking for. Needless to say, a couple of days ago I looked at her head again and I saw a tiny little black bug crawling around. "Bridget, you must have gotten fleas from Lucy." I explained. "First, let me call Aunt Suzie to check and see if she knows what these bugs are." Suzie has two teenage daughters who both have long, thick beautiful hair. She has been through the lice thing before so I knew she could help me identify these creatures. "Jeanne, I am sorry to tell you this, but those aren't fleas, they are lice." What? They were brown bugs not white. I had always heard that lice were white. "The nits, or eggs are white but not the lice themselves. The lice are brown." I just about dropped the phone. It was nine o'clock at night and my husband was out of town(of course). I had just been through a particularly trying day with my son the day before and the last thing I wanted to hear was that we had lice.

"In the car everyone!" I cried out like a drill sergeant. "We are going to the CVS NOW!" The one thing that I have to say about my children is that even though they don't listen to me ninety percent of the time, they do know when my voice has a hint of panic and urgency and they responded dutifully. They hopped in the car and we practically ran to the pharmacist to ask for a recommendation about treating "the bugs." Armed with our shampoo and combs, we went home to battle. When we got home I shampooed everyone and went through Bridget's hair with a fine tooth comb. I pulled off sheets and began washing everything. At 11:30 I put everyone to bed sure that I had this thing under control.

The next morning I woke up and began checking Bridget's hair again. "Oh my God! There are bugs everywhere!" I was completely grossed out. So I shampooed her hair with the lice shampoo again and began to comb again. This time I put her in better light so I could really see the hair. Piece by piece, I painstakingly went through her head to see what I could get out. Three hours later, I quit and decided that I had better check Luke, just in case he might have it too. Sure enough, I saw a bug. I started to itch myself, everywhere. How was I going to get rid of these things? "Come on Luke, I need to check your hair." So I repeated the process I had done with Bridget and spent another two hours searching for bugs. By four o'clock, I was exhausted. But I still had to wash all of the comforters again, vacuum everything and bag more stuffed animals. Then I began all of the alternative therapies. Olive oil in their hair at night, conditioner with baking soda and combing the next day. I went to Whole Foods seeking holistic advice and the salesperson told me to try Tea Tree Oil. I have done it all(not that I am obsessive or anything).

It is at this point that I started to rethink my relationship with my hair and my children's hair. Maybe I should just shave every one's head and be done with it. We could be a modern day version of the Saturday Night Live skit "The Coneheads." We could be "The Domeheads" with our sleek bald, lice free heads. Maybe we could all get a pixie cut like they had in the nineteen sixties, wouldn't that be cute? Or maybe we could all have buzz cuts like the marines. After this brief fantasy, I decided that we all do look a little better with our hair and went back to work "nit picking" through my son's head, hoping that tomorrow they will all be gone.












Monday, June 29, 2009

Hormone Mania!

I have been going through what I will call "hormone mania" for years but recently I have had a reprieve from the symptoms of these sometimes unpleasant hormonal fluctuations. That is primarily because I am in menopause because I take Tamoxifen and I couldn't be happier( for those of you who don't know, Tamoxifen is given to breast cancer patients who are estrogen receptor positive). I know that it sounds strange to say that, everyone tells you about the horrible side effects of lower estrogen levels in your body but for me, lower estrogen levels seem to be a saving grace. I feel so much better than I did before I got sick and my theory is that I am "hormonally challenged." This is not a term that is currently sanctioned by the medical community but one that I think best describes my condition over the years.


First of all, I always had painful periods. Ever since day one. I remember sitting on the steps in my robe at the tender age of twelve and crying in pain. My mother and my sister both stared at me in disbelief at my anguish and whispered to each other, "It can't be that bad. She is so dramatic!" Even though I can be a drama queen on occasion, this wasn't the case with my periods. They were very painful, just about every month. Then came the next major side effect of the hormonal fluctuations, wicked PMS.



For those of you who suffer from severe PMS, you know how bad it can be. I had the classic symptoms: that feeling like you are going to crawl out of your skin, losing your patience with just about everyone you know; particularly your husband and children, anxiety about everything and nothing at all, and finally rage and paranoia. My episodes became more frequent and more pronounced as I got older. Two weeks into the month my husband would get this look on his face that would indicate that I "had turned." Sybil was out for a couple of weeks and it was time to walk on egg shells. Run for cover, he would think, nothing he could say or do was going to be right until the estrogen levels dropped.



Next came the migraines. This happened a couple of years before I had cancer. All of a sudden, the month after we moved to Pennsylvania, I got this awful feeling of vertigo accompanied by a terrible headache and nausea. I got my period the same day. For the next four months this pattern continued. I would spend at least one day a month completely immobilized from these headaches. I kept thinking that it was due to the stress of moving to a new place. Finally, at my husbands insistence I went to see a neurologist who diagnosed the events as menstrual migraines. Some women experience them when their estrogen levels drop right before their periods. I was given migraine medicine and told to consult an Ob/Gyn to see if there was some way to regulate my hormones to lessen the impact of these headaches. She put me on birth control pills which in turn intensified the headaches. Needless to say, after two weeks of that, I was back at the neurologist asking for more migraine medicine.


I continued to suffer from these headaches until I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then my periods stopped while I went through surgery and chemo. A couple of months later I began to take Tamoxifen. At first it didn't seem to be working. I was still getting my migraines and my period. Then I stared to have the symptoms of premenopause: insomnia, night sweats, hot flashes, weight gain and infrequent periods. It was a little bit uncomfortable but not that bad. I gained a little bit of weight, but not much. I did have trouble sleeping but it would last for about a week and then stop. All in all, I think the insomnia was the worst part for me. Now, I seem to be past that.


I no longer have my periods but I still have night sweats and the occasional hot flash. The upside is that I am much more "even." My PMS is a thing of the past and the moodiness that went with it went away too. The biggest benefit of all is that I don't suffer from migraines any more. They are gone. I have lost the weight I temporarily gained and am in better shape than I have been in a couple of years. My husband hasn't seen Sybil for over eight months and is just as happy not to know her any more. And about that libido thing, I don't have any idea what those doctors are talking about. So good riddance to"hormone mania!"

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

I went running and played tennis today. Summer is in full swing. I am back at my in laws summer home where I bring my children each summer to enjoy summer camp and the feel of a small community. Imagine "Dirty Dancing" with a focus on sports and you can visualize this Shangri La for children. I have strong emotions about this place. It is wonderful for my children, yet it is here that I found the lump that started my cancer odyssey.


So it is with mixed feelings that I have returned to this summer haven for the past two years. I want my children to experience the freedom of riding their bike alone with their friends for hours at a time or to go to a friends house unescorted. I want them to get ice cream at the general store after a long day of fun at camp. It is hard on me though. I am the one who sacrifices my personal space and personal time for them to be there. Now, I feel like I have to be careful. My reserves aren't what they used to be. Limits, I have to remind myself, remember your personal limits.


I suffer from the "giving too much of yourself" syndrome that many mothers do. I want so much to make sure that everyone else is happy that I often put myself last. Way last, way too often. I am working on changing that. This year I went home to my own house and let my husband parent his children with his parents for a couple of days. I have to remind myself that this is in fact healthy for everyone. They will gain some independence and I will regain my strength. Each of us will benefit.


I am not sure why I am thinking a great deal about my cancer this summer while I am here in Mayberry. Maybe it is because I am finally feeling healthy again after almost two years, or maybe it is the fear in my subconscious that something bad will happen again just because I am here. Last year when we came, I had less than a half an inch of hair so I was still in what I will call "the other realm." That is the place where you almost feel like you are on the outside looking in. You see so much and yet you have this ability to instinctively discern the important from the unimportant. This year, I am much more in the real world. Maybe that is why I can't stop thinking about it.


So here I am, back at "the scene of the crime" and trying to remember that my health and happiness are paramount. My children need their mother to be strong. So I will remind myself to nap frequently, sleep in when I can and go home to my own bed when I need to.

Would He Remarry?

There was a story in the Washington Post yesterday that rattled me. A young mother was bringing five of her six children home from swim practice at a swim club that we used to belong to and her car was hit by a large tree branch. The mother and one of her daughters were killed instantly. I knew this woman. Years ago, when we belonged to that swim club, I chatted with her on several occasions, and I remember her as both vivacious and intelligent. Her passing, makes me think of my fear of dying.

It is something that I still think about even though I am almost two years out from my diagnosis. Since my children are so young, I know that they would need a mother if I were to die. I also know that my husband is an efficient and matter of fact kind of guy and he too would quickly realize that his children would need a woman's nurturing. He knows that he knows about five percent of what I do on a daily basis and he would be pretty much lost without my help. I am pretty sure that he would find it difficult to juggle two kids by himself and working full time(even though many women I know do just that). When I ask him what he would do if I were to die he responds, "I would never remarry." I really don't believe him.

I look around at all of the women I know and I try to figure out who he would marry. Would he find a widow who has lost a husband to cancer to be my replacement? I can hear the conversation in my head. "Oh, I know how you and your children feel. My children had a difficult time too but we are getting through." There would be a common ground established and he would be comforted by that. Or maybe it would be the younger, attractive PhD who doesn't have her own children but shares his interest in neuroscience research. "They are so precious." She might say, not knowing how much work they require. "I would love to take them to the zoo." I can go on and on with scenarios in my head.

Perhaps it might seem a little bit morbid to think of these things, but I can't help myself. It is the inevitability of life that we all die. Some of us have had to look our mortality straight in the eye and figure out how we feel about it. I, of course, worry about being replaced and not remembered. I don't think that I am unusual in that respect.

I do know that my relationship with my husband is stronger than it was before I got sick. What didn't kill me, did make us stronger. We are kinder and gentler with each other and a little more forgiving of each others faults. We try very hard to work as a team and parent together rather than in opposition to each other. He gets that I need more rest than I ever did in order to ensure that I stay healthy and puts the children to bed most nights. We are better than we used to be.

So, I think of this poor father left to parent five children and to deal with his sadness over the loss of his wife. I am sure they will all make it through one way or another. Inevitably he may marry someone else and she will become a faded memory to her children. It happens. Life will go on.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Fear of Recurrence

I had my six month check up on Friday. I had to take the children with me because they are out of school already for the summer so I dragged them kicking and screaming downtown to the oncologists office. Luckily for me, his office is in a new building next to the old building where I had my chemo. I used to have a Pavlovian response when I would pull into the parking lot of that building, becoming nauseous instantaneously. Now I rarely think about the six months of chemo I had when I walk into the building, that is until I see the women in the waiting room in their wigs and then it all comes flooding back to me.

As we sat in the waiting room, Bridget hung her legs over the side of the chair and Luke complained about the show that was on the television. I was just hoping that it wouldn't be too long of a wait. My patience was dwindling with them on the second day of summer vacation. I noticed an older woman looking at Bridget and smiling. The woman had on a wig and had a port catheter in her chest. Finally she asked me, "How old is she?" I replied that she was six. "My granddaughter is six too and she has the same color hair." I noticed that she had an Irish accent.

I began to talk to her and then she got up from where she was sitting and came to sit next to me. Normally I wouldn't have engaged in such an exchange, I never talk to the person sitting next to me on an airplane much less a stranger in the cancer center waiting room. But for some particular reason I wanted to talk to this woman. Maybe I was intrigued by her accent, being Irish myself. I explained that Bridget had gotten her red hair from my Irish grandmother who was originally from Galway. "I am from Galway too." She said. "I lived in a town called Tuam."

"I am never going to Ireland again though" She said. "I went the first time and six months later I got breast cancer. I was cancer free for eight years and then I went back for my nephew's wedding and six month's later almost to the day my cancer came back. I tell you I am finished with Ireland." I looked at her and suddenly my fear of recurrence surfaced from the back of my mind. I usually try to keep it back there, but on this day I couldn't keep it at bay.

Sometimes I have a dream that I have a huge tumor on my leg and it is the size of a grapefruit. It is on my calf and I am walking around trying to pretend that it isn't there when someone screams out, "Look at that thing on your leg!" I look down and realize that I have cancer again. Then I wake up in a sweat. So today, I look at this Irish woman, from the same town as my grandmother and I hope that in eight years it doesn't happen to me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I am Scared!

I took a trip with my daughter over the weekend to attend my niece's high school graduation in Denver. I thought it would be a nice way to spend some time with her one on one, girl to girl. What I didn't expect was the anxiety such a trip cause. It started before we even left home. She and her brother were both acting out in every conceivable way. They were fist fighting in the car on the way home from school. They were crying and whining about everything. I was floored. How could they be so upset about me taking her on a trip for two and a half days? Well, they were. She was nervous about leaving Luke and Daddy and Luke was mad about being left out. As usual, nothing is ever easy.

Her anxiety intensified when we got to the airport to board the plane. We were waiting in the gate area and there was a little boy in his pajamas sitting across from us. "Mommy, look at his face. It looks just like Luke's. The only difference is that he has hair like mine. I miss Lukie and Daddy!" She stated as tears began to roll down her cheeks. Oh, no. Not tears. Then to add insult to injury, my husband called. "I miss you too," he tried to comfort her. That just made things worse. More tears and more comparisons about the little boy and Luke. My plan was definitely in backfire mode.

When we finally got on the plane we settled in and she played with her DS. Whew, I thought, we got past the tears, now we can have fun. I ordered a glass of wine for myself and a Sprite for her. Two minutes later, she hit the tray table in front of me and the wine, water and Sprite that were not at all precariously perched fell onto my lap and also on the woman next to me. More tears. "You are mad at me. I know it, mommy!!" Heavy sigh. "No I am not mad at you." I reassured her. "But I think it is time for you to lay down and go to sleep." With that she laid her head on my lap and we were lulled to sleep by the purring of the engines. We got off the plane in Denver only to realize that we had left the DS in the seat pocket.

The weekend went by quickly. We went to the convocation ceremony, the graduation and the all important graduation luncheon. We had a lot of fun together and she got to spend time with her favorite cousin. Her anxiety seemed at bay. Then that night, at 4:30 a.m., she woke up and exclaimed,"My tummy hurts! I am scared." I quickly carried her to the bathroom where she promptly threw up. Great, I thought, we are flying home today and now she has the flu.

I put her back to bed and went back to sleep myself, dreading the morning. When we woke up, she exclaimed again, "My tummy hurts and I am scared Mommy!" I wondered what she was afraid of so I asked her. "I am afraid that I am going to throw up." Interesting, I thought. Why would throwing up make her afraid? Of course my mind wandered back to my illness and whether she was feeling afraid of being sick like mommy was. Maybe yes, maybe no, but I couldn't help but wonder.

So we were boarding the plane to go home and we were walking down the jet way when she threw up again. At this point it just became comical. I just wanted to go home. I told the flight attendant about the mess and went to our seats to hide, grabbing barf bags from as many seats as I could on my way. Four hours later we arrived home. I had to get a wheelchair to get her off the plane because I couldn't carry her ( no heavy lifting after an axillary node dissection). We were escorted and transported to baggage claim. Finally we saw my son and husband and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Almost instantly though, I realized that even though my little girl was scared, I wasn't. Because despite all of these obstacles we had to overcome just to get to Denver and then home, we were just going to get through it, one step at a time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What to Say and Do for Those left Behind

A note came home from school the other day. It was sent out to all of the parents at my daughter's school. A mother died of breast cancer last week and since it is a small school many of the children know the family of the deceased. I personally did not. It really doesn't matter though, I cried anyway. Another mom lost to this disease. On the way home from school my daughter asked me what the note was about. I couldn't talk about it so I said, "Oh, it is nothing. Just something for grown ups to read." I couldn't bear to think about it so I put the envelope aside hoping the topic wouldn't come up again.

When I was at school later on that day, one of the mom's asked me an interesting question. She said, "What can we do for this family? They have been very private about her illness and now that she is gone we aren't sure what we should do. We just want to help them so much." I had to stop and think hard about this for a minute. I know how this family feels in one way and yet I know nothing about what this family feels in another way. I am still cancer free at this time but the whole question gave me pause and made me think long and hard about what it is that helped me through my battle.

What helped the most was the support of friends and members of my community. Many people didn't even ask me if I needed something, they just did it. They took the children for the afternoon so that I could sleep, they bought Christmas presents for my children, they made chocolate chip cookies and left them on my doorstep for me to find. They were thoughtful in so many ways. This situation is a little different. A father is left to parent his children without a mother. How will he manage? How will the children manage? My guess is that they will do it exactly the way that I did, they will get by with a little help from their friends and family.

Last night my daughter asked me if I knew about the mother who died. I started to cry. "Yes," I said, "That was what the letter was about." She looked at me a little bit puzzled. "Did she have cancer like you, mommy?" My mind was racing as I tried to figure out what to say. "Well, she had the same cancer but it was a worse one." I fudged. I have no idea about this woman's diagnosis but I want to believe that hers was different from mine. For all of us. She wouldn't let it go. "Mommy, are you going to die when I am a teenager?" She continued, "Because that would be bad. Daddy wouldn't know what to do." My heart felt heavy as I assured her that no such thing was going to happen to her mother. But all I can do is hope.

I imagine that the best thing that this mother can do for this family is to watch and wait. There will be time to help. Grieving is a long process and in time, I am sure that this family will reach out to the community. They will get there when they get there. I would say, just be ready "to do" when the time comes.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Old Hair is Back!


It has been a year and five months since my hair fell out and it is finally just like my old hair. It has been an interesting experience, the "hair transformation." When my hair first came in it was jet black and very straight. It was very severe. So severe, in fact, that I kept my wig on even after my hair was a half an inch long. It just really wasn't me. Then when it got a little bit longer, it started to curl. And when I say curl, I mean short curly black hair. Weird?/? Maybe not for people who have always had curls but for me, yes, my hair was a bit wavy but never curly.


My mother looked at me and started laughing. "You have never had hair like that your entire life! Not even when you were a baby. Where did it come from?" I laughed too. Some people I have talked to say it is from the chemo. Boy that stuff is harsh on your body. It seems like every couple of months my hair changes again lately. After the curly hair came longer curls and then it got lighter thanks to the help of my hairdresser. After my first haircut since "the balding" my curls were gone. I still had a lot of waviness in it though so everyone thought that I had a perm. Does anyone even get perms anymore?

I just got my hair cut again and had some highlights put into it. I really love it. It is the same color that it used to be and it is so soft and almost straight. I cherish my hair. I promise it everyday that I will never take it for granted and I will not abuse it. I will not over color, over straighten or over anything to it. I want it to stay on my head forever. Seems like a silly thing to wish for but after you have been sick and bald it makes perfect sense.

There are people who have only known me for a short while who don't recognize me when I see them. I have to admit, I am a little bit tired of reintroducing myself. Sometimes I wonder if it is the hair or if I have gained weight or maybe it is that I look a lot older. Since I don't want to think that it is the other things, I'll just continue to believe that it is just that people don't recognize me with this hair.
I was glad to have any hair when my hair came back in but now that I have my old hair back I look like my old self. And even though I will never be "same old self" at least I am a little bit more of a facsimile, at least on the outside.






Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!??!

I had a really great Mother's Day this year. I got breakfast in bed with my daughter, I got cards and flowers and I only had to make one meal. A banner day in my book. There was a time when these small but meaningful gestures might not have been enough. I like to call it my "Angry Period." Picasso had a "Blue Period," I had an "Angry Period." I spent a great deal of time mad.

I think back to Mother's Day three years ago when I was in this phase of my life. I was worn out from moving our family to a new city and having very small children who couldn't dress themselves or even tie their shoes. I really just wanted to go to a restaurant and have someone both make the meal and clean it up. The problem was that I hadn't really communicated this to my husband. I thought he should know. This was the wrong assumption on my part; he had no idea what I wanted and really didn't understand why I wanted it. It is really not his thing to go our for lunch or brunch or dinner or even a snack. He doesn't even really like restaurants too much because he often gets sick from the food. I on the other hand, LOVE restaurants and will eat out for any meal that I can.

So when he didn't want to go out, I began to sulk. I sulked all day until finally he gave me a present that afternoon. He gave me gorgeous turquoise and gold earrings. He had been thoughtful in his own way and yet I was still in such a bad mood I couldn't get over it. Who is to blame? No one really. We just didn't communicate very well. I expected Prince Charming to know exactly what I wanted and he expected Cinderella to be happy with the glass slipper. The classic scenario. Interestingly, I wear those earrings all of the time and they pretty much go with everything in my wardrobe. I guess that he got it right after all.

This year I asked some mothers at random how their Mother's Day was. Surprisingly, quite a few said, "Oh, just like any other day." One friend of mine was thrilled because her husband was making dinner for her. "He has already been to the store twice." She said with a little twinkle in her eye. She didn't have to say that she was enjoying the fact that for this one day he was getting a taste of what it means to make everyone happy, ALL OF THE TIME.

I am glad that my husband really got it this year. As my breakfast arrived, rose and all, I sipped on my coffee and ate a bran muffin with my daughter. She proceeded to get crumbs all over the bed which in turn fell on the floor. The coffee spilled on my comforter. So, after enjoying my little indulgence, I vacuumed my room and put the stained comforter in the washing machine and went on about the day. Oh well, I thought, at least they tried and that really is good enough.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Do I Pass the Good Mom Test?

I woke up this morning and felt an arm on my head. No, it was not the arm of my loving and adoring husband. It was the arm of my nine year old son. You see, my husband is in India for the week so sleeping in our house has suddenly become a free for all. It begins around eight o'clock when it is getting close to bedtime. That is when the anxiety and fear of sleeping alone sets in for my children.
"Mommy I am scared!" One will cry out. "What if a robber comes? Daddy isn't here and I am scared!" The other will finish. I am scared too, I think to myself. Not of the robber but of the swine flu, but that is another story. Because I can understand their fear I listen to their not so convincing arguments. "We can't sleep in our rooms without Daddy. Can we please sleep in your bed?" They will prod and plead. But this is where I do draw the line. "You can't sleep in my bed. You can bring your sleeping bags and sleep on the floor." I reply as firmly as I can. A pushover as always.
So the migration begins. There are pillows and blankets and sleeping bags to be moved. Not to mention the forty or so stuffed animals that each one must surround himself with to sleep. When we have finished setting up the makeshift beds I survey the room. It is just about completely covered from the doorway to the bathroom. Why did we buy a house? I wonder. We could really live in a two bedroom apartment quite comfortably because we are usually within five feet of each other when we are home.
"I will read Bridget a story while you read to yourself." I say to Luke. "But mom I am still scared!" He whines. I ponder my dilemma. His anxiety will soon become my anxiety. "Okay, go downstairs and get a baseball bat and I will put the alarm on before I go to bed." I say, feeling like a brilliant mother. "Can you come down with me mom?" He retorts. "I am afraid of robbers." Groaning, I get up and walk him down the stairs to find the bat. When we have found the bat, we climb back upstairs to try to go to sleep. "We need the alarm on and the door to your room locked mom." Luke informs me. Dutifully I turn on the alarm and put the bat in his sleeping bag.
I actually started to laugh to myself. If a robber ever did get into this room he would probably run the other way just because we look like a bunch of wackos. Is this really how I am raising my children? They can't sleep alone. I let them sleep on my floor with a metal bat. I sing them to sleep because they are afraid.
Yes, I guess that it is how I am raising them. Maybe I don't pass the good(or perhaps strict) mom test. But all that I can think is that it won't be too long before they won't want to sleep in my room when Daddy is gone. I guess it is okay that Luke snuck into my bed in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A New Pair of Shoes



Yesterday I was a Target scouring the shelves for a pair of Easter shoes for my daughter. I knew it was the last minute and I also knew that my chances of finding her some nice new Easter shoes were very slim. I perused the dress shoe aisle and instantly realized I was probably going to have to go to plan B, which of course I hadn't formulated yet. There were only three or four pairs of dress shoes left and they weren't even close to her size. I walked around a bit to see if there were any other shoes that could possibly pass for Easter mass and came up empty handed. So I moved on.

I found some cute summer clothes for her and a darling bathing suit, all good finds. I was pleased with my purchases but realized that my primary reason for coming to Target( which I often times forget when I get in there) was to get Bridget some dress shoes. I should just double check, I thought, maybe I missed something. I wheeled my basket back down the aisle and suddenly there they were; a size 12 pair of Mary Janes with a little heel. Perfect! I couldn't believe my good fortune. I wasn't sure that they were going to fit and the heel seemed a little bit much for a six year old but hey, I was glad to have something in hand to put on her feet rather than trying to force her to wear her old, small shoes. With a tight grip on my purchase, I took my bag of goodies and went home.

"Will you try these new shoes on for me?" I asked her when she arrived home. "They are for Easter and I need to see if they fit you." She opened the bag and let out a scream. "I can't believe that you got these for me Mommy. I thought that only Barbie's had shoes like these!" She smiled from ear to ear and I watched her as she danced around the house for the next hour. "Can I wear them to gymnastics?" She requested. I promptly replied that no, she would have to wait to wear them until Easter. "Then I am going to wear them to bed the night before so I will be ready in the morning." She retorted having thought out a plan. I smiled as I watched her dance and sing with her shoes on in front of the mirror for the next hour.

I reminisced about my favorite dress when I was her age. It was a black and white gingham chiffon dress with an empire waist that had a red rose in the middle. I wore it all the time. For pretend teas, for family pictures and any time my mother would let me put it on. I thought about how certain things in my closet still bring me joy when I put them on. I just bought a great pleated red skirt that is a knockout. I love to swish around in it and can't wait to wear it again.

I finally had to tell her to take the shoes off because it was time for gymnastics. She acquiesced and put them in a special place in her closet. I hope she enjoys those shoes and remembers them when she is forty six and has a daughter of her own. I hope that she will smile at the memory of her dancing and singing and feeling like"Barbie." It was definitely my lucky day.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same







I spent some quality time last week with my sister and three of her four children in Florida. We don't see each other very often because we live far away from each other and, to be honest, we just don't make an effort to see one another enough. I like to spend time with my sister though, she is the only one I have, and there is a special bond between us that can never be broken. Maybe it is because we are only eighteen months apart and growing up we played together all the time or maybe it is because we are just like every other set of close sisters; very much alike in many ways. On the way home on the plane I kept thinking of the old French proverb, "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, " or "the more that things change, the more they stay the same." This is how I think about my relationship with my sister.
We have taken different paths in our life. My sister had her first child when she was twenty six years old. She was ready. It had been her dream since we were young playing our childhood game of "Maize and Nance" to be a mother. "Maize and Nance" went to high school in their hip huggers, went to college and kissed boys and eventually sat around the play kitchen "smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee" while chatting about their children, dogs and husbands. She had been thinking about being a mother for years. She has four children, the eldest being twenty one and the youngest eleven. She stayed home with her children for many years and then decided to become a teacher. Now she teaches third grade.
I on the other hand was stuck in "Maize and Nance's" after college phase for a number of years. I wanted a career and felt that I needed to establish myself professionally before I entered into motherhood. So I worked and pursued my masters and waited for the right moment to have my children. Well, the best laid plans don't always turn out the way you hope. After four years of infertility treatments and thousands of dollars, I finally had my first child at the age of thirty six. Having waited for this moment for so long, I gave up my career to stay home with my baby.
So here we were at the beach and I thought about the flip flop our lives had taken. She is working and planning to pursue her masters and I am home with my young children. We never seem to be doing the same thing in our lives at the same time. What do we have in common anymore? Truthfully everything. We always seem to show up with the same outfit on or the same shoes. We worry about the same things; our children, the economy and cancer. We get mad at our husbands about the same things and comment often that we really married the same man. The kicker is that we each have a redhead daughter with a very strong will. They seem to have inherited our telepathy for fashion because they even picked out the same exact bathing suit even though they live hundreds of miles away. When they are together I see the special bond forming between them too.
Inevitably, my sister and I sit down over a bottle of wine and start remembering our youth. We tell "Maize and Nance" stories and laugh about my white plastic go-go boots(that is another story in and of itself). We talk about the disruptions that occurred in our young lives as we moved from Chicago to Australia, back to Chicago and then to Atlanta all within a three year period. We remember how we vowed we would never do the same thing to our children as we admit that both of us have done just that within the last five years. Ultimately, we run out of words and put ourselves to bed.
With that our week at the beach came to an end and all that I can think is that the more that things change the more they stay the same.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Is it a Mid Life Crisis?

I wonder if I am having a mid life crisis. I am trying to figure out how to reenter the work force after a hiatus of almost nine years but I am having a difficult time identifying what it is that I want to do with my professional life. I would love to write. I have always wanted to write but instead I ended up working in marketing and sales and pursuing an MBA. Now it is later; after cancer and babies, and I keep coming back to the thing that I have always wanted to do. The only problem is that I have to reinvent myself and that isn't easy. I realized that I am fast approaching middle age and I am somewhat obsolete.

This became even more apparent to me the other day. I actually had my first job interview in probably twelve years. I was excited. The whole idea of getting dressed up and talking to someone about my accomplishments was enough to get my adrenaline going. I talked at length with the interviewer about my former life as a mid level manager in a large telecommunications company. I did have a very exciting career and as I talked about it I realized that I had accomplished a great deal. It made me feel good.
Then I took a an assessment to determine whether I knew the software that this company manufactures. I was so sure that I would do okay on one of the packages that I didn't really study the tutorial very well for that one. I did, however, study for the other two tests because I haven't worked with those packages in years. Well, you can guess what happened next. I failed the test on one of the software programs. That burst my newly inflated bubble and made me think long and hard about what I would really like to do.

Then my friend called me about starting a business. She suggested that we import wine from South Africa or Argentina. We could try to sell boutique wines to specialty stores and restaurants. How intriguing, I thought. It would be fun to travel to South Africa and go to vineyards for wine tastings. Never mind that my knowledge of wine is limited to $10 Chardonnay, this could be it. Then I called Jim, a friend of mine who has been involved with buying wine for years. "I don't even like South African wines," he began. He then spent an hour telling me all of the reasons that this was going to be a difficult business for me to delve into. Shoot. Another great idea down the tubes.

When it comes down to it, I keep coming back to the thing that I want to do the most and that is writing. I wrote a book while I was sick in honor of the women who helped me through my cancer. I want to see this published. I want to write this blog and touch any one I can through these words. I also want to pick my children up from school and be there to tell them, "It is okay, mommy is here," when they have had a bad day. I can't do that with a high powered job. So for now I will plug away at my dream and get in the carpool line.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Living up to our Potential

I had a very proud moment today as a mother. My kindergarten age daughter sang a solo at her spring concert. She sang loud and clear and I was beaming as her voice rang out in the gym. I wanted to yell, "Way to go, Bridget!" But fortunately for her, I just continued to document this moment in her history on my video camera. Thank goodness it was charged up because usually my battery runs out just as I am trying to record this kind of important event.
As I left the concert I thought about potential. How do we fulfill our true potential as humans and why do some people figure it out earlier than others? Often times it takes a parent, teacher or perhaps a coach to recognize the potential in a child. For Bridget it is her music teacher. I think that he "gets her." She is a natural performer and loves to sing. She happily skips everywhere she goes while humming a tune. It is a wonderful sight to see and makes me think of all of the opportunities in life that await her.
Will she develop to her full potential? That is the tricky part. There are so many ways that she can go wrong. The path will be crooked and treacherous for her just as it is for all of us. How will she manage? I won't know for at least fifteen years. Will there be an ah-ha moment for her that helps catapult her forward toward becoming the best she can be or will she get caught up in a whirlpool of self doubt and spiral downward? I as her mother, can only build her up and hope that I can give her the tools that she needs to continue her trajectory forward.
As I sit here and think about her future, I have to force myself to live in the moment. There is such joy in her voice and happiness in her face everyday. She loves to climb in the tree and make a fort and play with her friends. I need to remember this and not get ahead of myself. These are the threads that will help her weave her quilt of life. These moments should be nurtured and cherished because hopefully they will provide the stability she will need to reach her full potential.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Well Deserved Personal Indulgance




As an anniversary present to myself ( one year out from last chemo) I did something that I wouldn't have dreamed about doing a few years ago. I left the country without my family for three whole days. Yep, I flew the coop. Just like that, I hopped on a plane and went to visit my parents at their winter refuge in the Dominican Republic. I felt really gutsy. It has been twenty years since I have visited that beautiful untamed island paradise and it seemed ever so much more civilised than it did twenty years ago, which isn't saying a whole lot.
I had so much fun preparing for my getaway. I renewed my passport, ugly photo and all, which had recently expired. I got babysitters lined up to pick the children up after school. I left pages and pages of notes outlining every detail of every one's day, down to the minute, for my husband. Not that I was skeptical or anything.
When I arrived at the airport my seventy year old parents were there to meet me with a dusty beaten up SUV that would take us to their condominium. My dad got behind the wheel and started driving like a maniac with all of the locals. Horns were beeping, chickens were running around by the side of the road and I took a deep clean breath of air and thought about how I would spend the afternoon in this wild island paradise.
We turned off of the main road and immediately the terrain changed. Immediately we were jostled about in the car as it lurched forward and from side to side. We were on the dirt road that leads to the development where my parents spend a couple of months every winter. Ah, it is nice to know that some things are still unchanged. As we bumped and bounced our way to their home, I thought about my parents and this place they were taking me. Should I be worried about them? They are getting older. Then I came back to my senses, they have a little bit of latent hippie in them and this is their way of holding on to it. It is great to get back to your roots.
We went to the beach that afternoon and I lounged and read and drank a pina colada. I did that for two and a half days straight, calling home once a day to check in. The children cried and I felt a little bit bad but, hey, they would survive, or so I hoped. I was so far away from my real life that it felt like it belonged to someone else. This trip was my reward to myself for last winter. As I was lying sick in my bed last year I dreamt of the sun and the sand every day to help me get through the chemo. I vowed then and there that I was going to spend a weekend in the sun this year. Perhaps it is a little bit selfish, but I feel like I earned it.
As I rode home on the plane after three days of natural Vitamin D and rest and relaxation, I started to worry about everyone at home. I hoped that they had done alright. I missed them too and next time I go away we will all go together. When I arrived at the house I quickly tiptoed into their rooms to see their little perfect faces. They were deep in slumber and looked positively cherubic. They were all in one piece.
Yesterday I was informed that daddy is a really great cook, a lot more fun and gets everyone to school on time. Instead of having my feelings hurt, I was relieved. They had all been okay for a couple of days. I am not indispensable. I am already booking my trip for next year.