Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Making Memories

My dear friend Katie always takes loads of pictures of every family outing and vacation and declares with every snapshot, “We are making memories.” This year, I have taken her motto to heart as I have been busily making a Christmas of memories for my children. It is my knee jerk reaction to my friend’s recent cancer diagnosis and my brother in laws death. I think that I went a little overboard though.

It started with the weekend after Thanksgiving. My mom, dad, and my family went to see a staged production of “White Christmas.” We dressed up and went downtown on a Sunday night to see the spectacular musical. Bridget was mesmerized and I spent half the time looking at the joy in her face as the actors sang and danced for hours. Luke, of course, was more worried about the snacks that were available at intermission but he really enjoyed it too.

The next weekend we took the children downtown to see “The Dickens Village” and “The Light Show” at Macy’s. It is in the Old Wannamaker building in Philadelphia which is a gorgeous old department store. We shopped a little bit and then had dinner in a family restaurant.

Then I decided to have a big Christmas party. I hadn’t had a party since the children were very small and this year I decided it was time to open our house to all of our friends and neighbors in Philadelphia. I shopped and cooked for the days preceding the get together in order to be prepared. Then on Sunday afternoon we greeted about ninety of our closest friends for a few hours of merry making. It was a success and parents and children alike enjoyed the festivities.

I recuperated Monday and Tuesday we did our “family shopping night” which has always been a Christmas tradition. I was still a little tired and feeling that I had done pretty well at “making memories” but there was still more to come.

Thursday, I took Bridget to see “the Nutcracker” at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. The building alone is stunning but then to have the entrancing ballet to delight us for two hours just made the day perfect. When I asked Bridget if she liked it she succinctly described the entire experience by saying, “It is beautiful Mommy.” She hugged me and kissed me repeatedly throughout the performance much to my delight.

Christmas Eve was spent with our friends at their home, a tradition that began when we moved to Philadelphia five years ago. Then Christmas arrived with the plethora of presents and both children declared that it was their best Christmas ever. I felt enormous satisfaction.

After morning coffee and clean up we hopped in the car and went to my husband’s family’s home for Christmas Day. We enjoyed a buffet dinner at my in law’s country club and then prepared to drive to my parent’s home in Virginia for yet another celebration.

Last night we had Christmas again with my mom and dad. We opened poppers and put on our crowns as we each recited our fortune embedded inside. The children sang, danced and read stories for us.

It was a wonderful Christmas and we made many memories this year. As I watched the children enjoy their holiday in so many ways I felt a sense of accomplishment. They will remember this Christmas always. The only problem I have now is repeating the performance next year and quite frankly, I am exhausted!!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I have neglected this blog too much as of late. I was overwhelmed with the funeral and the holiday and now it is December. Now that we have made it through that tough time, I am excited for the Christmas holiday and looking forward to seeing the joy on my children’s faces when they see the goodies Santa brings to them.

I did have my appointment with the gynecological oncologist and upon examination she exclaimed, “Oh my, that is sitting right on your bladder.” Yes, it is getting more and more uncomfortable everyday and thankfully I am scheduled for a laparoscopic hysterectomy in January so it is a minimally invasive procedure.

I am concerned about another surgery on the one hand, on the other hand, I will be glad not to have to use the restroom every half an hour. That part is getting old. I am more concerned about my children and how they will hold up. I don’t want them to relive the trauma of my cancer so I am going to spend a great deal of time after the first of the year having conversations with them about the surgery. Hopefully that will go well. I hope that by preparing them better than I did last time, they will be less stressed out.

The other reason I haven’t written is that several days after we returned from the Thanksgiving holiday I got a call from an old dear friend who was a bridesmaid in my wedding.

“I don’t know how to tell you this gently so I am just going to tell you. X has esophageal cancer.” X was a bridesmaid in my wedding too.

“Oh, my God,” was all I could say.

For several days I was really depressed and feeling down but then I started to look at things a little bit differently. I started to think about how precious life is and how I, we, all of us should focus on the things that truly give us joy. When I was thoughtful about it, I realized that there are so many simple things in life that give me immense joy.

A great yoga class, the smell of a good cup of coffee, decorating our Christmas tree, the sun setting on the beach; the list can go on and on. So as I pray for my friend and wish her well on her journey with the big C, I will try to mindful of the simple things in life that can provide comfort and joy each and every day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The phone rang at 6:06 this morning and it was my mother in law calling to tell us that my brother in law died around 5:00 a.m.  After hearing the news on the speakerphone, my husband hung up the phone and went to get in the shower.
I stopped him immediately.  “Aren’t you going to call your sister?”  I couldn’t believe he wasn’t on the phone already.
“Now?  I should call her now?  Maybe I should wait.”
“Wait? Wait? Wait for what?  Her husband just died.  How can you be so detached?  If it were my sister I would have been there with her.”  He sighed at my early morning hysteria and slowly put on his sweatshirt, as if it were a shield, then walked downstairs to make the call.  When he came back up he explained that he had talked to her briefly but no plan had been made for the memorial service yet.  She seemed in shock.  It had happened sooner than she had expected.

I went downstairs to make coffee.  All the while I was thinking about Bridget.  She never got to see Jim before he died.  We tried to schedule the visit but it seemed like were intruding on their privacy and in the end we had to respect that.  I did send the card that she made down to him on Saturday so he got it on Monday.  I am just happy that I was able to get it to him before he died. 

“Mike, you know Bridget is going to be really upset.  We are going to have to tell her.”
“Do you want me to do it?  I will go up and tell her now before I go to work.”  He climbed the steps and then came back down a few minutes later. 
“She said she knew that she wasn’t ever going to see him again and then she rolled back over.”
“She was okay?”  I was not sure how that could be.
“She went back to sleep.” 
“Bye.  I will call Kate again later to see when we should go down.”  He kissed my cheek and was off to work.
I made the lunches for school and then went upstairs to get everyone up.  I walked into Bridget’s room and saw that she was already awake and she had been crying. 
“Mommy, what time did he die?” 
“He died early this morning.”
“Was he alone when he died?
“I don’t think so.”
“Did he die in his sleep?”
“Yes, I think he did die in his sleep.”
“So he had a peaceful death?”
“Yes, I think so.” 
“I don’t have a dress to wear to his funeral.”
“Yes you do, I bought you one.” 
“Oh, that is pretty.”

“Can I tell Luke?  Daddy shouldn’t have told me that way.  He told me and then he just left.  You need to stay with someone when you tell them something like that, not just walk away.”
“All right, let’s go get Luke up.”  So we walked into Luke’s room to share the news.  We sat with him as he digested the information.
“He had a peaceful death,”  said the oracle that is my seven year old.  And with that we all got up and began what was a very long and sad day for us all.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Earlier this week I actually went in to see my oncologist after our interesting phone conversation.  I was almost due for my annual checkup anyway and I wanted to talk more about the fibroids, the endometrial lining and a troublesome lymph node under my left arm where I had the axillary node dissection.  Thankfully, he fit me in.
The appointment went completely opposite of our phone call.  He was open minded about the idea of getting a hysterectomy because of the size of the fibroids. He listened to my concerns about their size and whether or not they would grow.  He seemed to hear me as I explained that I did not want to “sit around and wait.”
To make a long conversation short, he finally saw it my way after I expressed my repeated concerns about the growing tumors.  Maybe they won’t cause cancer, but they are causing discomfort as they push on my bladder and left ovary.  They certainly aren’t shrinking at this point.  At the end of our appointment, he called a gynecological oncologist who works in the same building and scheduled an appointment for me to see her.  The appointment is in two weeks.
 I feel so relieved to have the appointment scheduled and to be able to talk about the best approach to this problem with a qualified gynecologist.  I am not sure what course of action I will choose, but I am comforted to know I have a plan.
Thanks to everyone for your helpful comments.  It really helped me to see that I wasn’t overreacting to the situation.  I felt more empowered in my appointment and I feel more in control of the situation.  At least for now.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Week To Remember

Last week was definitely one to remember. It all started with the news about my brother in law and his declining health. Then I heard about a friend who died suddenly of a heart attack. I was very saddened by this news. I had so many fond memories of this friend when we were growing up. He was funny and charming and had a great outlook on life. I hadn’t seen him for many years but I still felt terrible when I got the call that he had passed away. Another reminder of how precarious life can be.

That all happened by Monday and on Tuesday, October 26th, I had an ultrasound scheduled. My gynecologist had recommended that I have one done because I have uterine fibroids and I take Tamoxifen. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought about the fact that this same date three years ago I had my mastectomy. I tried not to be superstitious so I kept the appointment and didn’t think too much about it. In fact, I really wasn’t worried. My health has been good lately and I feel strong.

So I went to my appointment and had the ultrasound done. While I was lying on the table and the technician was moving the probe over my belly, I noticed her eyebrows rise a bit. Those of you who have had these scans have probably seen the look. I watched her continue to measure and check. When she was finished she said, “That fibroid is really big. I need to check and make sure it isn’t blocking your kidneys.” I was floored. How big was it? What did this mean? I walked out of the office and I was extremely shaken. I got in my car and I immediately called my husband.

“I have a huge tumor in my uterus. I can’t take it. I can’t handle any more cancer.” By this time I was in tears. “I can’t believe this. Maybe it is nothing but I won’t know until the doctor calls me back tomorrow.”

“Do you want me to come home? I can come and get you.”

“I don’t know. I am just so upset. I can’t take this.”

I drove home and finally stopped crying. I called Mike back to tell him not to come home. There was nothing he could do until we heard from the doctor the next day. The day went slowly. I went to my writing class, my yoga class and then went home and put my pj’s on. I was wiped out.

When the call came the next day, it was the news I expected. The fibroid tumor in my uterus is the size of a small grapefruit. My endometrial lining is thickening because of the Tamoxifen.

I called my oncologist and asked him what the course of action is.

“Nothing. Because if it is not causing pain or bleeding then we don’t do anything.”
“What if it gets bigger?”

“If it gets bigger and starts to cause problems then we do something.”

I am not sure I like this approach. What is it keeps growing and does cause my kidneys to back up? What if it interferes with my digestive system or my ovaries? It just doesn’t seem normal to be walking around with a growth the size of a grapefruit in my body. I hate this wait and see attitude. Why do I have to wait to see if it grows?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do We or Don't We?

“Mommy, he doesn’t have much time left to live. We have to go see him.” There were tears streaming down her face.

“Who are you talking about?”

“Mommy, it is Uncle J. He is getting really sick and we need to go see him soon. I think we really need to go within the next two weeks.”

“Sure honey, don’t cry. We will go and see Uncle J. I am sure we can do that sometime very soon. Try not to worry.” And with that, the conversation was forgotten, at least by me.

A week went by and I was taking Bridget to school. I n the car on the way there the request came again. “Mommy, when are you going to take me? I have to see him. He doesn’t have that much time left and I want to see him. I will even miss a day of school to go.”

This time I was paying closer attention. My husband had just talked to his sister who was told that they should get her husband’s affairs in order. All of a sudden, time was running out. This request which seemed out in left field at first was actually making sense.

“You are right Bridget. We do need to see Uncle J. He is getting sicker each day so we will make plans to see him soon.”

“Thanks, Mommy.”

I am not sure about this trip to see a dying uncle for my seven year old. On the one hand I think it is very brave, courageous and mature of her to want to see him but I also wonder if it will be too traumatic. She has experienced the fear of losing a parent first hand only the outcome was different. How will she really react to seeing a man who has lost fifty pounds and is grasping on to every bit of his life? I don’t know.

We called to schedule a trip in spite of my fears only to find out that this weekend is not a good one. So we will wait and see. I just hope that we don’t wait too long.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ode to EB

“Mom, when is EB coming to visit? I miss her so much.” My daughter whined at dinner the other night.

“I am not sure, she is very busy with her new job but she promised to come sometime this fall.”

“But she hasn’t been to visit us for such a long time!”

“I know, she was like your big sister and you miss her.”

“She wasn’t like our big sister, she was like our mom.” Luke chimed in. “She did everything that you did for us when you were sick.”

The conversation was about our beloved babysitter, EB, who was a senior at Villanova the year I battled breast cancer. We have had many conversations over the past three years about EB. Because she was such an integral part of our family during that intense time of our lives, the children hold a special place in their hearts for her. I do too. She really did become part of our family.

It makes me realize how important the support for a patient really is. Having her energy in our house changed our lives in such a positive way. Last spring she came back to visit us and I had a chance to talk to her about the year we spent together, sharing our lives.

I asked her why she decided to give up her senior year of parties and fun to come to our house; a house filled with illness and fear. Here was response.

“Was it only a year that I was with you all? I remember the first time I walked into your house and you mentioned that you had been diagnosed with breast cancer. You were going to be a big appointment and were stressed out. I am not sure how long I had been coming over to the house but, Jeanne, I will never forget the moment that it changed from me being just a babysitter to being a part of this.

It must have been a Friday night. You were getting the results of the axillary node dissection that day. We were still kind of in the “getting to know you phase” of our relationship. I was over helping you that afternoon to get to know the children better and give you some time. Again, I was getting to know you, getting to know the family.

Then you called. I was out. Next door at some stupid Friday night thing. My phone rang and your number t came up.  I answered because I was eager to hear about it. You called me to tell me that the cancer had spread to your lymph nodes. I remember being on the phone and having to leave and walk across the street and process that. This must be serious because you are calling me late on a Friday night. That was when I knew that to me it was more than being a babysitter it was more about me being part of the family and part of this fight.

How could you not be all in? What is going to happen to these kids? What is going to happen to this family? Here I was twenty one and that day everything changed. From that point on it changed from me coming over to take care of the kids for a couple of hours to me taking the kids to school, me picking up the kids and me going to their events at school so that you had the time and space you needed.

I just kept thinking about what I could do to possibly help in this horrible, horrible situation to change things and God, the fact that I even cared enough to answer the phone it scared me. It scared me to throw all of my chips in like that but I knew that it was something way bigger than I had ever experienced and it scared me how much I felt compelled to be a part of that.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I was so proud of my children. They worked so hard to make this event happen. They were Co-Chairs for a Mini Golf Tournament to benefit The Wellness Community of Philadelphia. All of the proceeds of the event are going to help kids with cancer. At first, when we made the commitment for them to be chair people, I wasn’t sure that they would understand the importance of their role as organizers of the event but they did not disappoint.

They printed out letters and sent them to our friends and family to acquire sponsors. They made a particularly compelling presentation to their grandfather and a few other people. They also walked around the town of Wayne and asked small business owners to donate items and were quite successful in this endeavor. Almost every business they approached was willing to give something- even if it was small.

My son and two of his friends who were also co-chairs spoke in front of his school assembly and told the children about the event and the mission of the organization. They wanted to make sure that the event was well attended. The kids they spoke to were very excited about helping kids with cancer, playing mini golf and of course having ice cream.

I was touched by the honesty that Luke had during this presentation. “My family has had a lot of cancer,” he said as he took the floor. “One person has died from it, one person is dying from it and my mom had it. This event means a lot to me.” I almost burst into tears. Cancer has made a huge impression on my ten tear old. He won’t ever forget what we went through.

On the day of the event we had a great turnout and raised about $20,000for The Wellness Community. Most importantly, the kids had fun while raising money for a worthy cause.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lessons Learned

The moments have been rushing by lately. The children went back to school, which of course is a huge transition from the slow pace of summer. All of a sudden we are moving at warp speed by comparison and my brain is literally trying to catch up with the increased logistics that are required to keep a family running. In fact, I have made a couple of really great mistakes. The best one was putting my ten year old son on the wrong bus to go to school in the morning (is it the menopause or just me???).

Because he was embarrassed at the idea of mom coming down to the bus stop, he insisted I wait in the driveway until the bus came. As a bus pulled up, I saw the middle school children getting on and I thought that this was his bus.

“Luke! That is your bus. Get on it!” I yelled from the driveway. He looked back at me and dutifully followed orders and boarded with the big kids. As soon as the door of the bus closed I realized my mistake. There was another bus almost directly behind that bus which was the one he was supposed to be on.

I tore down the hill and ran to the bus driver. “My son got on the wrong bus and it is going to the middle school! Can you stop it?” I was panicked. It was the second day of school and his first time on the bus. Fortunately, the bus driver was wonderful and radioed the dispatcher to let him know what happened. I was thinking too. I ran inside and called my next door neighbor whose son takes that bus.

“Do you have Griffin’s cell phone number? Luke got on his bus by mistake.”

“Sure, but he may not answer.” She replied. I hung up and called his cell immediately.

“Griffin, this is Mrs. Egan, Luke got on your bus by mistake. Can you find him?”

“But I don’t think he got on.” He replied. “Oh, no he is here, Do you want to talk to the bus driver?”

He handed the phone to the driver and I tried to figure out where I could get Luke to get off of the bus. I jumped in my car as the phone rang. It was the dispatcher.

“Sorry Mrs. Egan, you will have to drive to the middle school to pick him up.” Great, now he was going to be late on top of everything. I drove as fast as I could to try to intercept the bus. Finally, I saw it drive by on the street in front of me as it pulled into the parking lot of the middle school. I saw my sweet little son sitting in front waiting until all of the children had disembarked. I waved to him, he saw me and came rushing over.

“Great mom, you just embarrassed me in front of about one hundred kids and now I am late for school.” He complained, but only a little bit.

“Well how was the middle school bus?” I asked.

“It was okay. The kids are all really loud.” He replied.

With that I looked at him and thought, “He really is okay.” What a huge relief. I was proud of him for putting it all in perspective. The experience could have been frightening but he didn’t seem scared, in fact he seemed a little bit amused. Good for him, I thought, he has been through scarier things and has come out the other side. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn a lesson from that.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

Recently we celebrated my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary in Colorado at my sister’s house. It was a gorgeous night as we raised a glass to toast their special day as a bagpiper played in the background. At that moment, there as the sun set, I thought of so many things. I thought about how marriage is about compromise and forgiveness among other things. I thought about how my parents made it through hard times and also shared so many good times.

I thought about the keen sense of adventure and love of travel they have always shared. They both have a bit of wanderlust and will take a trip pretty much anywhere at a moment’s notice. This is not just because they are both retired; they have been this way since they got married.

Maybe that is because my grandmother, my mother’s mother, was dying of breast cancer when they were married. She was so ill that she had difficulty attending the ceremony and left the reception early. She was in the throes of chemotherapy to try to save her life. My mother and father began their life together with the acute sense that life is short and should be lived to the fullest, each and every day; they were only twenty four and twenty at the time. They were young and in love but knew that their time together could be cut short at any moment. So they decided to live out their dreams

My father had always wanted to live in Australia. So after they had been married a few years, we packed up and moved. My sister was six, I was four and my brother was 18 months old. We went on a wonderful month long cruise to get to our new home. After living in Perth for a year, we moved to Melbourne on the other side of the country. Eventually my mother got too homesick and insisted that we move back to the United States. We boarded a plane and flew to Hawaii and then Los Angeles so they could take us to Disney Land.

We moved several times over the next year or so and finally ended up in Atlanta. We moved once during that time; to a bigger house in a better school district. At that point, my parents decided they couldn’t uproot us again until after we finished high school. That didn’t stop their travels though, they left us often (yes, alone) to take trips to exotic destinations whenever they felt the need to get away.

The year I graduated from college, they sold our house and moved to Germany. This time it was my mother whose dream they were following; she had always wanted to live in Europe or Ireland. They were there for a year or two and then back in the States and then they moved to Northern Ireland for ten years.

All the while, my sister, brother and I were trying to keep track of their current address so we knew which house or country to call. They never seemed too concerned or phased by the fact that we found this to be unsettling. It wasn’t about us. My father would often say, “If I died tomorrow, I would have no regrets, I did everything I ever wanted to do.”

Even though I have resented what I thought was their selfishness at times, I have to admire their courage and commitment to each other. I realized as I watched them pose for pictures that they have stayed young at heart and they are still on a journey. And what a great journey they have had. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Last Saturday we spent the day on the beach at the Jersey Shore (no, I did not see Snookie) enjoying our last day of our week long vacation (yes, we were on yet another vacation). It was an absolutely gorgeous day and the end to a fabulous week. We rented a house with our friends who have children similar ages to ours and it ended up working out quite well.

So we checked out of the house and headed to the beach for our last day of play in the sand. It wasn’t until about noon that I realized that it was the third anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. I was actually taken by surprise. I usually hate August so much that I become immobile, unable to make a plan and then regretting that I don’t have anything to occupy the children. This year, it just worked out that we ended up on a family vacation at the beach.
When I realized what day it was I turned to my friend Kim and said, “Today is the anniversary of my diagnosis.” She calmly replied, “The Radnor Hotel pool three years ago.” She remembered when I told her the day after I heard the news. On that day, I didn’t want to tell many people about my health but I was at the pool with her and the calls from doctors were coming in on my cell phone as we chatted. She was staring at me and wondering what was going on.

“It is breast cancer,” I told her.

“Oh, my God,” it is DCIS, right?

“What is DCIS? I don’t know what that is, I just know that it is invasive ductal carcinoma.”

“Are you sure it isn’t DCIS? It just has to be contained. I just know that it is DCIS.”

“No Kim, it is not DCIS and it is not contained.”

“I am so sorry,” she said and she began to cry.

I was tired of this conversation. I had no idea what DCIS was only that I was sure that I didn’t have it. Now she was crying. I couldn’t understand why she was crying if I wasn’t. It didn’t make sense. Maybe it was because I had taken a Xanax before I went to the pool so I was not feeling particularly sad or anxious at that moment. Needless to say, the crying annoyed me.

A few minutes later, she explained why she had become so emotional. Five years earlier she had been diagnosed with DCIS and was just fine after a lumpectomy and a breast reduction. She had hoped that I would have a similar situation. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

So here we were, three years later, quietly sitting on the beach watching the children play once again. Only this day I was feeling quite different. I was relieved to have made it to the three year mark and thinking about the future.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Left Arm Up

I have been reading a bit about lymphedema lately and I have come to the conclusion that I am suffering from a bit of it in my left arm. I find that if I overuse my arm it starts to hurt, actually throbbing at times. It is odd, I don’t really experience swelling in my arm but I do experience swelling under my arm close to my rib cage.

I first noticed the irritation this spring. I was playing in a tennis clinic once a week and then I was asked to be on a tennis team. I was nervous at the prospect of playing matches, having never done so before, so I went out to the tennis courts to practice, practice, and practice. After playing four days in a row one week my arm began to hurt.

I thought that it was odd but didn’t pay too much attention. I tried to elevate it when I could and rest it when I wasn’t playing tennis or doing yoga. It continued to bother me and actually hurt more and more. Finally, I came up with a self diagnosis of overuse which has required a hiatus from tennis this summer. The pain subsided.

On our recent trip to Hawaii, I irritated it once again. Lifting bags and toting various suitcases caused the pain to return. I should have known better but I keep thinking that my arm is almost normal and not “damaged goods.” As my energy level has steadily increased over the past few years I mistakenly think that I can do all of the things I did before my surgery. The throbbing is a painful reminder to be gentler to my new body.

This week I have decided to try to rest my arm and myself and not overdo it. As much as I want to run, play tennis, do yoga and of course clean the house(ha,ha), I need to give my arm a rest. I will try to enjoy this time and perhaps read a book. I know for certain I will not miss cleaning the house.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Slow and Steady

The summer is half over and I am approaching the third anniversary of my diagnosis. I think it is the best summer that I have had since my children were born. It has been so different from other summers. First of all, we have stayed home for most of the summer rather than traveling for weeks at a time (Hawaii was only a week and totally restorative). Second, I am feeling much stronger and well rested than I have for a while and third, the children are growing into little people.

It has been relaxing. We have enjoyed our home, our friends and our swim club. I guess that we are finally settling in after living here for almost five years. We are also farther away from the trauma of cancer so we seem more normal, even if it is an altered state of normal.

It is at times like these that I pause and try to figure out what is next. The children seem in a good place emotionally and I don’t feel their fragility quite as often as I have over the past couple of years. “They will be okay,” I tell myself on a regular basis. “They need to be more independent.”

With this independence comes more freedom for me to pursue whatever life goals I have. I know I want to continue to pursue my writing, but in what capacity? Blogging has opened a new world for me and I will continue this blog as long as I have anyone that is interested in my prattle. I will also continue to refine my memoir (which needs a lot of refining).

What else will I do? I used to do so much; maybe too much. Now I want to strike a balance between being fulfilled and being overwhelmed. How much more can I add to my plate before it is full? I worry about that. Because just as sure as my name is Jeanne, someone will get sick or perhaps have an emotional breakdown and I will have to pick up the pieces; putting my life on hold once again.

So as I look forward with trepidation about the future, I will tread lightly. I will try not to overextend myself as I continue to try to “move out of the nineteen fifties and into the twenty first century,” as Luke would say. Slowly and methodically, I know I will arrive just where I am supposed to be.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


We are in Hawaii. It is beautiful and breathtaking. The water is azure and calm. You can swim out to the coral reef right off of the beach and look at the butterfly fish. We are vacationing in paradise.

My husband is attending a conference and I invited myself and my two children along. As I sit and watch the gentle waves on the beach I start to think about the few times that I have been to Hawaii in my life. Each time I have visited this state, it is right before my life takes a major turn.

The first time I was here I was just seven years old and we were moving back to Chicago from Australia. We spent two and a half years living in Perth and Melbourne. I loved our life abroad and did not want to return to the states. I even had an Australian accent. I remember the long flight from Sydney to Honolulu and my sadness as we left our home behind.

Even so, I quickly adjusted to the change as I marveled at the clear water and palm trees on the way to the hotel. After we settled in, I swam on Waikiki beach with my sister and brother. I was seven years old. Now, I am here with my seven year old daughter swimming on Waikiki beach and marveling at the natural beauty all over again.

The next time I came to Hawaii I was twenty eight. My boyfriend had a conference at the same hotel we are staying in this visit and I tagged along (you can see where this is going). I was in love. Not just with this island paradise but with my boyfriend too. I thought for sure that he would ask me to marry him as the sun set in the background on a beach in Kauai. Instead, I got a t-shirt from the local store in Hanalei. My hopes of telling everyone at Christmas dinner I was engaged were dashed. Three months later; however, I would get the ring I was waiting for from the man of my dreams and a new chapter in my life would begin again.

I am enjoying this trip immensely and wondering if there is a change in store for me when I return home. I already feel different. I want more independence from my children and I want more for myself. Maybe I am growing up a bit just as they are. I want to be more than just a “mom.” I want more of my old self; the person who has an identity outside of my family. I suddenly remember who she is.

Maybe it took coming all the way back to this island in the Pacific to remember all of the things that I wanted from my life. Now hopefully, I can continue to pursue my dreams and be more of the person I used to be.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kundalini Yoga

We are visiting my in-laws at their summer home on the river outside of Annapolis, Maryland. During the week, the kids have camp and activities but on this particular Sunday, there was nothing on the schedule in the morning so I started to look on the internet for yoga classes nearby. Bingo. There was a class called Kundalini that started at 11:15 and it looked like it was nearby. I had no idea what kind of class it would be, but, “Hey it is a yoga class,” I thought to myself. I quickly found my yoga pants and shirt and scurried out the door.

After a few harried minutes of trying to figure out where I was, I found the studio and hurried in. When I arrived I was greeted by a nice woman who asked me if I was there for the Kundalini class.

“Why yes, of course,” I replied. “I don’t even know what it is but I am willing to try it.” I said.

“We will be doing a lot of energy work,” she said. She smiled widely and led me to the classroom. I followed her with interest.

There were only three of us in the room other than the instructor. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was keeping an open mind.

“We will be doing some chanting, singing and dancing,” the instructor said. I thought this was curious but again, I was keeping an open mind. The first thing we did was rub our hands together to get heat and energy going. My hands felt hot so I guessed that I was doing the right thing.

As the class wore on, we chanted an Indian mantra with our eyes closed, we danced around the room feeling free and “looking like we were at a rave,” as one of the students noted, and we sang a song. There were breathing and strengthening exercises as well.

• By definition, Kundalini yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual discipline comprised of the physical and meditative techniques . According to one theory, kundalini energy can be awakened by openly practicing a combination of yogic techniques, including the use of mantra, prana, and breathing techniques, or purely through devotion and prayer.

Sounds a little bit out there, right? Well I certainly felt that way but hey, I will try just about anything once. I started to think about the way that people sometimes look at me when I say that I love yoga. This is what they think a yoga class is about; people closing their eyes and dancing with their arms flailing or people sitting and singing an Indian song.

It really is nothing like the yoga classes I have attended before. The yoga I have done is much more “Americanized,” focusing on the breath, meditation and movement but also very physical. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not, it was so different than anything I had ever done.

When the class was over and I had moved my arms “with breath of fire” and chanted a traditional Indian chant, I thought about expanding my practice. There is so much to learn. The next Kundalini class is this Sunday and I plan to be there.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Tools in My Tool Box

I was explaining to a woman I met at our pool that I had experienced disappointment because of something I had recently tried to achieve. I told her how I had been trying to reinvent myself after breast cancer, ten years of child rearing and the fallout illness has had on my family.

“It was like someone was staring me in the face, telling me the answers and I couldn’t even pick up the cues,” I complained to her. “Here I have an MBA and thirteen years in marketing for a major corporation and I basically just failed Marketing 101.” I felt miserable.

She sighed. “You just have to say that it was God’s work this time and maybe you don’t have enough tools in your toolbox. That is why I volunteer so much. You get rusty if you don’t use your tools.” What a wise statement; it was really true. I haven’t used those tools for many years because I have been so focused on other things. Of course I failed Marketing 101, I need more practice.

I vowed to do a couple of things this autumn to sharpen the tools in my tool box. I decided that I am going to try to find a writer’s conference to attend and I am going to volunteer a bit more. Rust, rust go away! I hope that soon enough I will have a shiny new tool box and perhaps next time I set out to do something I will be ready.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Circle of Life

I move my hand in a large circular motion clutching the paper towel and watching the foam of the glass cleaner bubble up on the glass. As I clean the dinner table I begin to think about life as a circle; beginnings and endings intertwined. Sometimes it seems that the past, present and future are all one.

My mother called today and explained that she had to go back for a second mammogram and an ultrasound. She is pretty sure she saw a lump on the ultrasound. She has so much anxiety around cancer, she is upset. Her mother died of breast cancer when she was just twenty one and my brother and I have both had cancer. Clearly, her anxiety is well earned.

I am surprisingly calm when I talk to her. I was the same way when I got my diagnosis. I feel detached and clear about how things will move forward if the lump is malignant.

“I didn’t want to worry you,” she begins, “I know that this must be hard for you.”

“Well, you don’t know what it is yet,” I say, trying to stay in denial, “they would have to biopsy it to see if it cancerous.” I know I have had six biopsies over the course of many years. I don’t want to get ahead of myself and go down the path towards worry. It won’t help.

“If it is anything I am not sure that I want these people to treat me here,” she says, appearing to have thought this through already.

“You have to let them get a diagnosis first mom and then you can figure out where you want to be treated.” Our roles are reversed; I am calming my mother, providing guidance.

I think about my mother, her mother, me and my brother. If she does have cancer it would be a continuation of this circle of cancer. I begin to worry about my son and daughter, for they could be affected too.

Now the glass on table is sparkling and the circular motion of my hand has stopped. I leave behind a fresh, clean table ready for the next meal. I hope that this is a metaphor for my life. That the circle will stop and that all will be well for the future. All I can do is hope.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dreams of Summer

The summer has officially begun. The children are out of school and the days are longer. The air is heavy with humidity and the pool is officially open. I breathe a sigh of relief because the school year is ending and the picnics, parties and concerts are all winding down. It is a good feeling to be on the summer schedule, yet the season always takes me back to the year I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was three years ago this coming August that the lump that I had found was determined to be malignant. So each year as summer begins, I tend to relive the moments that preceded that day when I felt a lump so different from anything I had felt before.

I remember that I hadn’t been feeling well for quite some time. It began when we moved to Philadelphia a couple of years earlier; I started to get migraine headaches. At first they were only right before my period and then it seemed like I was getting them all of the time. They were quite severe and debilitating.

I finally went to a neurologist who diagnosed the headaches as menstrual migraines. My hormones were fluctuating severely every month. I even began to get the headaches mid cycle. Eventually, it seemed like I was always on the verge of a headache and reaching for a migraine pill virtually every day.

One July evening of that year, I started to feel a headache coming on while we were on vacation. It put me in bed for two days. When I started to feel a little bit better on the third day, I performed my routine self breast exam which I did religiously every month. I felt something very hard in my left breast. I knew immediately that it was different. In fact, I actually screamed, “Oh my God!” Out loud.

My thoughts raced back in time to a story our next door neighbor told me several years earlier. She too found a lump and exclaimed the exact words aloud. They discovered that she had Stage IIIB breast cancer and after two years of treatment that included a bone marrow transplant, she nearly died. Every speck of my female intuition told me I was in trouble.

Sure enough, two weeks later, after a fine needle biopsy, the malignancy was discovered. The rest, as they say, is history.

So as the summer begins and the fireflies come out, I vow to try not to worry too much or dwell on the past. “Enjoy these days,” I think to myself, “the summer will be here and gone and you will be one more year out from diagnosis.” I cross my fingers, say a quick prayer to God and breathe a deep breath. “Yes,” I think, “I am lucky to have this summer, now go and enjoy it.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Love Heals

They say that things (primarily bad things) happen in three’s. This past week I heard of three young people who were diagnosed with cancer. It is weeks like this that give me pause. Two of these three young people had been in remission and their cancer returned. The other little girl was diagnosed with leukemia and will be in treatment for three years. It is very disheartening to hear these stories and my thoughts immediately go to the mothers of these children.

That is because I can’t imagine the horror they must be experiencing. In spite of this, they must be strong and supportive and hopeful. They have just found out that they might see their child die but they must persevere.

Going through cancer treatment as an adult who has lived half a life is one thing. First of all, when it is you, you feel like maybe you can control it, or at least understand it. When it is your child who is ill, all you can do is hope and pray for the medicine to work and their little bodies to be strong enough to fight this disease.

I guess when it comes down to it; it is the ultimate test of a mother’s love. I am sure that each of these parents will do whatever is in their power to help their children. I try to keep this in mind as I face the daily challenges of parenting and remember that through love we can heal. Through love we can grow into the people that we strive to be. Through love we will survive.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Will Time Heal all Wounds?

Recently I have had to confront something that I really never wanted to think about. I have had to confront the profound and lasting effect that cancer has had on me and my children. We are all transformed. We are more fragile emotionally at times and yet we are stronger too. We have experienced fear and anxiety about the future and yet made it through these fears. It was not without cost.

Illness had changed us all. We look at things differently now. The things I once valued seem so much less important. I don’t need a fancy new car or a designer bag, it is just not that important. I try really hard not to sweat the small stuff, and so much of life is the small stuff.

My son is not quite as resigned as I am. He is very angry that cancer ever came into his life. “Mom,” he said the other day, “I want to get as far away from cancer as I can. Your cancer ruined my life.” Now, keep in mind that he is a known exaggerator, which of course is hereditary, but I understand his feeling. He switched schools the same fall that I was diagnosed and so he had to try to make new friends while everyday he was sick(literally- he began to suffer from bad stomach aches) with worry over my health. That is quite a bit for a seven year old to bear. Yet bear it he did and he kept it all inside. Then my hair grew all the way back and I looked like my old self. He in turn fell apart.

My daughter, on the other hand, was much younger so she was less aware of what was going on while I was in treatment. She whined and cried for pretty much the entire year after I was sick, so perhaps she got her fears out right away. She did wear my wig to school for crazy dress day recently so I guess there are still some residual effects of illness lingering in her psyche. I am sure that I will hear more about it when she is a teenager.

As we continue to move through our days and confront the debris that cancer has left behind I hope and I pray that this journey will get easier. They say that time heals all wounds. We shall see.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yoga Definitely Unites

It was cloudy and a little bit cold this past Sunday morning as we headed down to Philadelphia. We were participating in an outdoor yoga class on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum for Yoga Unites for Living Beyond Breast Cancer. I was glad we stopped at Starbucks to get a tea before we got there. It warmed the chill in my bones. My team, “Sisterhood and Survival,” consisted of myself and two friends. Complete with tea in hand and homemade t-shirts complements of moi on our backs, we were ready for our yoga adventure.

As we drove down along Kelly Drive which borders the Schuykill River, I remarked on the flurry of activities that were going on at this early hour. There were runners and bikers on both sides of the river. “It is turning into a fine morning.” I remarked as I watched people jogging, pushing strollers and biking with zeal.

We parked the car and put our mats under our arms as we ascended the steps of the museum to find a good spot to do our practice. We were fortunate to find a place together, it was so crowded. Later, they would announce that there were close to 1,000 people participating in the yoga class.
Once we were on our mats, we waited for the class to begin. Lu Ann Cahn, a local newscaster, spoke briefly about her personal experience with breast cancer and then introduced Jean Sachs, the CEO of Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Sachs acknowledged the teams that raised the most money and the individuals who raised the most money. They announced my name as one of the top individual fundraisers. I was shocked! It is thanks to my wonderful friends and family that I was included in this group. She in turn, introduced the yoga instructor, Jennifer Schelter.

We settled in on our mats and began to chant “Om,” with the rest of the group. As we began to calm our minds and begin the moving mediation, the sun peeked out through the clouds. A few minutes later, all of the clouds dissipated and the sun shined brightly in the beautiful blue sky. The moment was magical and powerful.

We all joined hands and raised our arms high over our heads as the sun beamed down upon us. As I moved through my practice to the sounds of the melodious music, I looked high to the sky to see a blue and yellow flag waiving in the wind. When I looked around me, I saw hundreds of peaceful faces looking inward. When I looked ahead I saw the flags of all the countries waving in the wind on the Ben Franklin Parkway. When I looked behind me I saw the powerful façade of the Art Museum.

I smiled an inward smile and thought how lucky I was. Here I was, on this glorious Sunday morning surrounded by peace, strength, and love. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I would like to pass along some information on a wonderful event that is being sponsored in Philadelphia by FORCE(Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) this Thursday night in honor of Mother's Day.  Happy Happy to all mother's out there!

Join Us May 7th as we celebrate Spring, Mother’s Day, and the

arrival of the new Perennial Hope™ Crocus plate by Plates With Purpose™
at an exclusive Garden Party to benefit FORCE from 6-9pm at Scarlett Alley.

241 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Old City

Plates With Purpose™ is a trademark of Riverside Design Group, Inc.
& Perennial Hope™ is a trademark of Marketing That Matters, Inc.
Inspired by one woman’s battle with breast cancer and her unwavering hope for a brighter
tomorrow, this is the first offering in Riverside Design Groups’ new Perennial Hope™ line of
recycled glass plates from Plates with Purpose™. A generous portion of proceeds from
crocus plate sales will go to FORCE, a not-for-profit organization that provides help and
support to those individuals affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

Come enjoy complimentary hors d'oeuvres, cocktails and live music by singer, songwriter and
cabaret performer Karen Gross as we celebrate the launch of this special new Perennial Hope™
line and all that Scarlett Alley and Plates With Purpose™ do to give back to their communities.
RSVP by May 3 to Liz (liz@scarlettalley.com, 215.592.7898) or Sandy (sandarac@facingourrisk.org, 610.457.0752)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dinner Date

Just when I have had enough of the talking back, the insolence and the general challenges that come with parenting “an almost tween,” my son turns around and does something so sweet and special that all of those bad times melt away. I have to admit I am a softie anyway but he really got me this time.

My husband was leaving town on a Saturday night for a conference so I decided that we should go to five o’clock mass and then out to dinner. The argument for the defense began. “Mom, I hate going to church, they say the same thing every week and it is so boring.” He started.

“Well, it is my job to make sure that you have good values, just like it is my job to make sure that you eat your vegetables. Going to church just reinforces what we believe in.” He bounced the basketball hard on the pavement of the driveway and thought about his next argument.

“Mom, we already have good values, we don’t need to go to church! Please mom!” I was finished with this banter and I was not going to give in. “Inside in fifteen minutes and then shower and change.” I said as I went inside to cajole my daughter into doing the same. In the background I could hear, “Come on mom!” But I chose to ignore it and stood my ground.

Dutifully, fifteen minutes later, he came inside and showered and changed into his khakis and polo shirt. “Mom can you help me?” he pleaded. Okay, I thought, he probably needs socks. “Can you help me put this wallet in my back pocket?” I helped him with it and didn’t really think about why he wanted his wallet with him. I guess I just thought he was trying to be like his dad.

We went to mass and then walked through Wayne deciding on a restaurant. We sat down for dinner and ordered our drinks. Then the big surprise came. “Mom, since we are going to Hawaii this summer for a vacation, I want to buy dinner to help you save money for the trip.” I was truly taken aback. Was this the same self entitled boy who had insisted I make his bed because he was “just too tired?” No, this boy was the boy I had hoped we would raise; a caring, empathic and thoughtful person. I was proud to know that all of my work here daily is not in vein and something actually managed to get through. As parents, we have all had these moments. On this particular day, all I could think is, “One day he will make a fine young man,” and that is all I want.

Monday, April 12, 2010

On Grace

I was raised a Catholic but I have never been an overly religious person. I went to church under duress as a child and my father actually called me “the little Pagan.” Years later; however, when my brother was diagnosed with cancer, I turned toward prayer as a way to alleviate my anxiety about his recovery and the future. Interestingly, I began to pray for Grace.

I am not sure why I did because I did not even fully comprehend the meaning of my prayer to God. Grace, in the Catholic religion is defined as unearned merit bestowed upon a person by God. Then there is the more complicated notion of sanctifying grace, this is the grace that communicates supernatural life into the soul. In Catholicism, the soul in its natural state isn’t fit for heaven but if you can reach a state of sanctifying grace you are in fact fit to enter the pearly gates.

So how does the soul actually achieve this state of sanctifying grace in the Catholic religion? The soul must first go through a process of justification which includes preparatory acts. During this time the soul must endure great spiritual suffering such as fear and contrition. At last the sinner is transformed from the state of sin to the state of sanctifying grace and the soul is in a state of holiness and is one with God.

What in fact was I praying for? Certainly not this, but truth be told this is what I got; pain and suffering and the transformation of my soul. In my ignorance, I forgot to put the “ful” on the end of grace. I really wanted God to help me curb my opinions, keep my voice down and help me not to laugh so loud. Instead, I have been grappling with this notion of sanctifying grace ever since my brother got sick. Next time I make a plea to God, I will certainly make sure that I get my terminology right.

Is this a testament to the power of prayer? Perhaps it is. My friend Katie just called and I explained my revelation to her. “Katie, I can’t believe I was praying for something I didn’t even understand and sure enough I got it.” Her response was interesting. “Jeanne, I totally believe it. My mother used to pray for a cross to bear and sure enough she got it. My dad died in a terrible car accident a year later and the next year my brother died from a brain tumor. I tell her to pray for joy now.” Good advice. Thanks Katie.

Now I wonder if I am in a state of grace. It would follow, from these teaching, that I would be, although I don’t feel that way. I feel more connected to the universe and closer to God but I certainly don’t feel like I am in a state of holiness. Maybe that is “the Little Pagan” coming out again. I would, however; say that I am transformed. Hardship of any kind transforms people. Illness makes you view life, and death for that matter, differently.

I suppose that most of all through all of this I have learned that we need to be joyful and playful in our endeavors and try to remember to be GRACEFUL towards one another and perhaps we will reach a state of grace.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I saw Kelly Corrigan speak the other day about her new book, “Lift.” Not only is she charming and funny, she is quite profound. She described why she chose the title and I thought it was so interesting. She explained that lift is a hang gliding term that describes the thermal lift that hang gliders use to move the hang glider higher. They try to move from one thermal lift to another. As the hang glider moves through the air, it collides with air molecules which slow it down. The faster the glider moves the more drag it creates. The pilot’s job is to find lift to get through the areas of turbulence in order to soar.

I love this metaphor. I guess it is because I have been having one of those weeks. There seems to be so much turbulence in my atmosphere. I am searching for a little bit of lift to help get me through. I crave the ability to soar above it and fly away. Since that clearly isn’t going to happen, I will try to muddle through as best I can and keep in mind that it is all about the journey.

Kelly inspired me to write this blog with her wise words at a book reading many months ago when she had just published her first book, “The Middle Place.” I again find her words to be an inspiration. Hopefully, I can soar above it all with a little bit of lift.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Full Plate

My brother tells a story that I love. He was working in his tennis shop he owned at the time (just one of his three jobs-no wonder he got cancer) and a graceful gray haired southern belle, her hair pulled back in a bun and a double strand of pearls around her neck, walked into his store. As he did with many customers, he struck up a conversation with her. Somehow she found out that he had been through cancer treatment and she divulged that she too had been treated for cancer. As he rang up the items she had purchased at the cash register, she spoke these words of wisdom in a quiet voice.

“You know,” she began in her lovely southern drawl. “At the end of the day everyone’s plate is full.”

My brother called me and told me this story when I was going through my cancer treatment and it is one of my favorites. I think of it often as my plate fills up and I am completely overwhelmed. Lately my plate has been quite full of worry and sadness, not because of my cancer, but just the day to day challenges that my life is bringing to me now. Some days I have been on the verge of tears and feel like getting back in bed and never getting up. It is at that point that I remember this story and I think to myself, “Yes, your plate is full, but so is everyone else’s.”

Whether it is sickness, a parent dying, financial difficulties, or parenting issues, we all face the same obstacles and we must muddle our way through as best we can. So I continue to press on, knowing that life is going to have ups and downs reminding myself that it is just a part of life to have a very full plate.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's Next?

“So what is next?” She asked me as we chatted in the bookstore, “My treatment is almost over; I am still wearing this wig and I am wondering how I am going to regain my strength and reenter my former life.” These are profound questions that any cancer survivor has. You spend so much time “fighting the fight” that when you’re done you look around and literally have to figure out what to do next.

I thought back to this time in my life, remembering how I thought that once chemo was over my hair would instantly reappear and I would resume my life as if nothing had ever happened. Then reality struck. My hair wasn’t growing very fast and I was exhausted from even the briefest activity.

“My advice would be to focus on rebuilding your immune system.” I told her. “I take a lot of antioxidants now and I will gladly drop some by for you.” I take a mushroom supplement that someone recommended when I was ill, Vitamin D, Calcium and Vitamin C to name a few. “Then there is yoga, that will help as well,” I continued. “I just started that and I really love it!” She responded.

“Also, remember that hair takes a really long time to grow,” I bluntly reminded her. “No one told me that and I wish I had known.” I continued. “I have to say that you look really great,” I told her. It was true. Her skin was beautiful and her eyes were bright. Her wig was very flattering and looked just like real hair.

“So do you,” she replied. “And you are going to play tennis. That is a good sign!” She walked away and I thought about what she said as I stood there in my tennis skirt. It is a good sign; there is so much life to be lived after cancer. That is what is next.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Winter of Discontent

I have had that week that tests both my patience and my hold on sanity. My children have both been sick and of course my husband is out of town. I am not sure why I am surprised by this; if I look back over my last nine and a half years of parenting I am sure that there would be a mathematical correlation between my husband walking out the door to go on a business trip and someone getting sick. Even so, I still feel like I have been blindsided every time it happens.

Yesterday, after my daughter had thrown up for twenty four hours straight, I dragged her to the doctor. I had to pick her up and carry her into the office because she was too weak to walk. Her hair was tousled and she was still in her pajamas. I also had my son with me. He had a cough that sounded like a freight train coming. Sure enough, he was diagnosed with bronchitis.

I had to pick up an antibiotic on the way home to treat his cough and my plan was to run in and get the prescription filled while I left the children in the car for a minute. Not a great plan, but one that was out of necessity because I don’t have any family in the area and the babysitter doesn’t want to be around my sick kids. Then the final blow came. “Mommy, my tummy hurts! I am going to be sick.” Thankfully, I had put a bucket on the floor of the backseat, anticipating this very moment. Clearly, there was no way I could stop at the pharmacy, so we went home.

I thought about what to do and then I came back to my mantra from when I was sick myself. I would have to ask for help, and be okay with accepting it. It doesn’t mean I am not a perfect mom (Ha!) it just means that I am in a bind and my husband, my mother, my sister or my brother are not nearby to help.

So I called my friend Lisa who recently moved to the area. We were friends before we ever had our children so we have a bit of history. “Lisa,” I began with trepidation, “Can you stop by the CVS for me and pick up a few things?” I waited for her response, hating to put any one out. “”Of course I can, Jeanne,” was her cheery response. “Can I bring you something for lunch too?” I was so relieved. “Well, I think I could use a bottle of wine more than anything right now.” I replied, starting to cry. I felt so alone and overwhelmed with all of the throwing up and coughing, I just couldn’t take anymore. “I will be there soon,” she responded and I hung up the phone thinking how lucky I am to have my girlfriends.

She arrived an hour later with the prescriptions, Gatorade, Ginger Ale, a beautiful salad for lunch and a lovely bottle of wine. “I will put some soup on.” I told her as I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t alone any more. We set the table with pretty placemats and wine glasses and sat down for a delicious meal of salad, roasted red pepper and tomato soup and a lovely glass of Chardonnay. “Sometimes you just have to pretend that you are at a café in the South of France,” she joked. We ate and laughed and talked for several hours until it was time for her to go get in the carpool line. I felt like a new person.

“Thank you so much for coming over.” I told her. “No problem,” she replied. “Just remember, it is all about sisterhood and survival.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Overcoming Fear

Recently we made a trip out west to do some snow skiing. It was the first time we had taken our children to “the big mountains.” I was a little bit worried about how they would handle the sight of the 14,000 foot peaks but determined not to let them know that I had any trepidation about it. “You are going to love it in the mountains of Colorado,” I convincingly cooed. “The natural beauty is spectacular.” They were sucked in by my enthusiasm and we all became more excited as we boarded the plane and settled in for the long plane ride.

When we got to the resort it was late at night and we had just gone through the mountains. I was scared. I am afraid of heights, generally, and the roads were dark, windy and snowy. My husband navigated us through the mountain pass as the children slept and I held on to the door and pressed the imaginary brake at my feet.

When we awoke the next morning, it was snowing and overcast. We skied together on the bunny hill to warm up and then we did a couple of beginner runs. “Mommy, my face is freezing,” My daughter exclaimed a little bit after lunch. “I don’t want to ski anymore.” I understood her complaint. The winds were gusting and it was snowing. The problem was that we had two more days of skiing. “Fine,” I said, thinking that I was better off to take her in than to force the issue. “Let’s go for a swim and meet Luke and Daddy later.”

Off to the pool we went. Two and a half hours later, waterlogged and tired, we went back to the room to sit by the fire and have dinner. My mind was racing towards the next day when the children were in ski school and I would ski with my husband.

I wasn’t sure that I would be able to ski very well. It had been nine years since I had been to Colorado and so much has happened with my body. I used to run more, ski more and do everything more, now I have had major surgery twice and been through chemotherapy. Would my body cooperate? I would find out soon enough.

I sent the children off to ski school the next morning with facemasks and goggles because it was so windy and cold. After leaving them, I joined my husband on the lift to go up the mountain. I looked down at the beautiful snow and thought, “Sure, I can do this.” Then we got further up the mountain. The winds were blowing fiercely and the chairlift swayed side to side. Again, I thought, “Sure, I can do this.” We got off the lift and started down our first run. The snow was blowing so hard I could barely see and all of a sudden my fear got the best of me. I looked down and the mountain was very steep. I had a pit in my stomach. How was I going to get down?

At that point it hit me. What was there to be afraid of? I already had been through one of the most difficult things I can imagine. My body survived and now I am strong again. I thought to myself, “I know I can do this. I am strong and healthy and this could be fun if I am not afraid.” So I looked back to my husband and challenged him. “See you to the bottom! Last one there buys hot chocolate!”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Is Estrogen my Nemesis?

I would like to think that estrogen is my nemesis, but in truth I don’t know that for sure. All I have to go on are my unscientific observations of my personal health when my estrogen levels are askew. Recently my body seemed to have a reaction to estrogen; I missed my dose of Tamoxifen one day and then proceeded to get the timing of my daily pill a little bit off for the entire week. What followed seemed to be an imbalance in my hormones. By the end of the week, I felt a migraine coming and then I became exceedingly anxious. The next day, I felt another migraine coming.

Suddenly I had a flashback to the two years before I got breast cancer when I suffered from migraines first before my period, then before and during my period, then before, during and after my period (which of course, is all the time). I pretty much felt anxious all of the time too. My neurologist explained that my body was reacting to the fall in estrogen that occurs right before the menstrual cycle and the fluctuation in my hormones was causing menstrual migraines. According to her, it just happens to some women.

I am not sure what happened next to cause the migraines to become more frequent but suddenly everyday seemed to become one big migraine. I was getting rebound headaches and taking quite a bit of migraine medication. Then I got breast cancer and the headaches completely stopped.

I asked my oncologist if there was any correlation between my migraines and menopause. “You see, Dr. F I have hardly had a migraine since I started taking Tamoxifen. Is that because I no longer have that drop in estrogen production once a month?” I said. He assured me that my observations were sound. The estrogen was more than likely causing the headaches and probably the anxiety too. I wish I had known then what I know now. I would have taken better precautions. I probably would have eaten less red meat and exercised more. I definitely would have done more yoga. That might have helped with the balance of the hormones.

Then again, maybe there was nothing I could have done to prevent the cancer. Maybe I was just destined to get it sooner or later. I fit the risk factor profile; early menstruation, having children late in life, and dense breast tissue to name a few.

Regardless, I am just thankful that I am able to take Tamoxifen to help stabilize my hormones and keep that estrogen at bay. Nemesis or not, I just need to continue to work at keeping everything balanced, which of course is where we all would like to be.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Looking Forward

I really detest the month of February. It is cold, the days are short and I am just trying to look forward towards the warm weather. As I gazed at the snow this morning, I recollected going through my treatment two years ago. I was finishing chemo just about this time of year and I really needed to look forward rather than back. I became obsessed with going to a warm, relaxing place when it was all over. My plan had to include lots of sun and fun for the entire family. So where do you think I chose to go, of all the places in the world? Disney World, of course.

I remember feeling like I had won the Super Bowl. You know, that commercial where the guy yells, “We are going to Disney World,” as he holds up the trophy for winning the game. Maybe I didn’t have a trophy for winning my game but I certainly wanted to celebrate the same way those guys did. So I spent hours on line booking our travel for April.

I chose the month of April for the trip because I thought that I would be back to my old self and fully recovered by then. How silly of me! Hair takes a REALLY long time to grow, which of course I didn’t know, or maybe didn’t want to know. I was still bald when we went on our trip, much to my chagrin and I still had on my wig for dinner each night. In spite of the fact that I was still bald, the trip was wonderful. Everyone had fun and the warm sun heated my tired bones.

Looking back on it, I am so glad that I made the plans for that trip. It gave me hope. Hope for the future and a life full of more possibilities. I am also glad that we went to Disney. It was full of magic for my children and they desperately needed a little bit of magic.

So as I sit here this February, I will try once again to look forward and think of the rebirth of the world that will happen again this spring just like every other. As the trees grow leaves and the flowers blossom, I will try hard to remember that we, like the earth, will have the opportunity to reawaken our mind and spirit. For that, I look forward with gratitude.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The OMM Spa

The other night I had the opportunity to experience the relaxation of the OM Spa. Now this is no ordinary spa, this is a spa that was invented by my seven year old daughter. “Mommy, come in here and sit down. Please relax and enjoy.” I was tired and really didn’t feel like playing but I went along with the game. I looked over next to me and there was my little red head with her arms raised and her palms open, sitting cross legged on the floor.

“Omm, Omm’” she chanted as I watched in fascination. “Welcome to the OM Spa. We do yoga and give massages here. We are going to do a down dog and an up dog now.” She instructed me in a soft trance like voice. Now I was interested. “When you have finished that, you will need to lie down.” She continued in her yogi like voice. I did my yoga poses obediently and then I became parallel on the floor, wondering what was coming next.

“What kind of massage would you like Madame?” She requested. “I would like a back massage, please.” I replied, starting to really enjoy this game. Two little hands began to knead my sore and tired back. I was thoroughly amused and was actually feeling a bit more relaxed. “Would you like an arm massage too, Madame?” The “masseuse” requested. “Of course I would,” I answered.

My daughter, with a very serious face and demeanor proceeded to massage my toes, legs, hands, and feet. “Where did you learn about yoga and massages young lady?” I inquired. “From my mother, Madame, she does a lot of yoga in our family room and she gives us massages in the morning sometimes.” I thought about this and realized how important my role is as a mother. “Well, young lady, it looks like you learned your lessons well and I know your mother is proud.” I responded, feeling both very proud and overjoyed. I guess that the OM Spa’s approach to wellness works, and I hope I will be invited back soon.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Can cancer be compared to a nuclear explosion? Maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration but I can’t help it, I exaggerate. I think about it and I visualize the impact of the bomb and then there are the casualties. Finally, there are the survivors and then the fallout. I have been thinking long and hard about this as I have witnessed more of “the fallout” this week from my “nuclear explosion” two years ago.

It still catches me by surprise sometimes, the deep and lasting effects that this journey had on my family, primarily my children. They will never be the same, unfortunately, as they were before. They will always worry about “mommy getting sick again.”

The other day, I was taking my son to get his hand x-rayed because he had jammed his pinky at basketball the night before. It didn’t look terrible but I wanted to be sure. As we entered the parking lot to go to the x-ray center, my son noticed a sign on the front of the building. “I know that place mom you went there with us before.” I breathed a deep yogic breath to try to deal with this calmly. “Yes I did go there with you before.” I replied.

The sign was for the Breast Mammography Center* and Luke remembered going there. It was 2006, the year before I had my malignant biopsy. I found a lump almost one year earlier to the day. For that appointment my husband and children accompanied me. That tumor was benign. The next year when I went for the biopsy I went alone and the outcome was dramatically different.

“I hate that place!” He raised his voice and clenched his fists. “Ugghh!!!!” He began kicking the dashboard of the car. “That guy ruined our life. It is his fault that you got cancer. I am so mad at him.” Wow, I thought, I hadn’t expected this. Here was real, raw rage oozing out of my nine year old. I wanted to tell him that “that man” had in fact saved my life because we found the cancer early, but it would be lost on him, he was too upset.

“I am fine now honey. We aren’t going to that office for your x-ray we are going to the office right behind it.” I stopped the car and watched him wrinkle his face up again and listened as he yelled, “I hate that man. Doesn’t he know that he ruined our lives?” I know that I didn’t do the right thing next. I tried to minimize the whole thing and tried to get him to focus on the x-ray he was having. “Come on honey, the faster you get the x-ray done, the sooner you will be able to have your play date.”

I wanted to move on, I wanted to forget that this was where it all had in fact started but it just isn’t that easy. “Alright mom,” he replied. “I am just really mad.” I held his hand as we walked across the parking lot. That is when I thought about cancer being like a nuclear explosion. It changed our lives and now, fortunately or unfortunately, we have to deal with “the fallout.”