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.