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23 posts from October 2010

October 31, 2010

Spooky (or Boo-ky) Suprises

Nicholas has trouble saying spooky, so it often comes out sounding like "booo-ky."  Christmas lights are still "pretties" and Halloween decorations, particularly gory ones, have become "spookies."   Nothing surprising there, but we did have one shocking thing happen today:  I manage to have one of those now rare "Life is Good" days.  Yes, I know it happens from time to time, but after the past week, I was not expecting anything remotely uplifting so soon.

I simply was not at all looking forward to Halloween.  It was highly anticipated until a few weeks ago, and then I just lost all interest.  Sad, because Halloween is "our" holiday.  We even planned Peter's R&R around it, as we all love the dressing up, decorating the house, putting up lights, hanging skulls from trees and playing spooky music for hours on end.  However, by yesterday morning I was completely ignorant of everything Halloween related.  

No candy had been purchased and whatever decorating that had taken place was courtesy of the kids.  I simply lost every ounce of interest and would have been thrilled for it to come and go without one iota of participation on my part.  Then we headed out to Annapolis to a friend's house last night for a pre-Halloween party.

IMG_5264 IMG_5262 I was a bit of a grumpy gus (internally), but still tried to enjoy myself.  I was surrounded by a few new folks who didn't know me (or my "history") and it gave me a night to ignore the situation.  The hostess, also a friend of the Salty Dogs, is a fabulous cook and treated us to gourmet delights all evening long.  She even offered the girls pre-gutted pumpkins for carving delights (a good 2 hour activity there) and Nicholas spent the evening alternating between the sand pile, the toys and the hummus.  

We were all appropriately exhausted after a few hours and headed home, with most of us heading to bed early (excepting me, of course).  We were up early as Kelsey had to sing in the church choir, which was followed by Sunday school.  Cait then had a CCD party in the early afternoon, I had a "yummy food party" to attend and the kids and Pete still had to shop for Halloween treats.

I didn't expect it, but apparently the yummy food party was exactly what the doctor ordered.  Getting out of the house, not focusing on the issue at hand, stuffing myself with treats (and ordering quite a few) made the day a bit brighter.  Then I noticed the hostess's family members were busy decorating for Halloween...and I am not sure what clicked, but suddenly I couldn't wait to get home and do the same.

IMG_0536 IMG_5270 I arrived home before the kids and managed to get the cool wall stickers up, find the lights and cobwebs, and find all of the necessary candles for the luminaries.  The rest of the crew soon appeared and joined me in the fun.  Before I knew it, the house had a bit of a spooky air, and I could almost smell the fun the kids were set to have.

Our neighborhood held a block party for several hours prior to the commencement of trick or treating and we finally met a few of our neighbors that we don't always see during the day.  The kids played up and down the block until night fell and we hurried home to get the Halloween bags and to prep the candy for the onlslaught.

Realizing that Nicholas's haul should probably be kept small, we hit two streets as a group. After the second round, the Little Guy and I were ready to head home and dole out candy with Scary Daddy.  The girls went around the neighborhood by themselves (woot!), and we waited on the front stoop with Peter for 45 minutes with nary a treater.  Finally, as we were loading up to head to our friends' house to view their amazing decorations, a few stopped by...but nothing like what we expected.  Extra candy, anyone?

IMG_5274 Our Halloween night then finished up at Jack & Janet's house.  They are long-time friends who are known for their terrific Halloween displays that grow more grandiose each season.  Sadly, I am not known for my photography skills, so you will not get the complete picture.  However, it was not just their house that was uber-decorated;  the entire neighborhood participated, so the girls ran off and enjoyed raking in even more loot.  Nicholas, on the other hand, decided to hang around and chat with Jack and admire his talent with Halloween decor.  

We finally realized it was well past a certain LG's bed-time,  bade our farewells and drove home.  The Little Fireman was sleeping soundly in full gear upon our arrival at home, and even had a lollipop clutched tightly in his hand. A rather thrown together, last-minute sort of day and yet, it was absolutely perfect for a change.  Now for an appropriately scary movie and a bit of Thai take-out to round out the day...and the real trick?  To figure how to keep the happy go lucky, even keel bit going. Oh, and yes, look closely at the above picture...that is a real smile (slightly strained, but real) on my face...who knew it was still possible?


*If you are wondering about Cait's costume, she was Annabeth from Rick Riordan's  Camp Half-Blood series.  She worked on the costume for months and even requested the Yankees cap as a birthday gift.  The coup of the night?  While hanging out with Jack and Janet, several trick or treaters (about her age) stopped by.  As they ran away, one of them shouted, "Hey, did you see Annabeth?"  After worrying for ages no one would recognize her, she was over the moon with excitement that her simple and relatively inexpensive costume was spot-on!



October 30, 2010

We have a date

DISCLAIMER:  This post may seem extremely negative and hypercritical.  I have debated not posting it, but since many of you have been supportive of posting my feelings regardless of the 'rawness', I have decided to go ahead with it.  Please note that there will be a follow-up post and there also may be a change in attitude.  Last, but not least, please do not forget that any and all feelings are still due to the sledgehammer that hit my life three weeks ago and I am still dealing with the myriad of feelings, good and bad, that accompany such an event.

for the surgery and frankly, I'm scared to death.  While I have accepted that surgery is the best route to start, it's nothing short of an execution date (of sorts) in my mind.  It's the end of this fabulously normal life I have been living and as much as I realize this particular change is necessary, the entire procedure and possible outcomes have me shaking in my boots.  However, considering how I felt at the beginning of the week, even that is a significant upgrade.

We began the week with a visit to a support person near the hospital where I will have surgery.  Peter and I met with C.  in the early afternoon.  Frankly, I was not eager as I was feeling very nervous about the possible follow-up treatments to the surgery (okay, STILL feeling that way) and had no desire for yet another person to try and convince me that they are in  "my best possible interests." So very tired of hearing that phrase.   Peter was also somewhat desperate to meet with her as he felt perhaps she could finally convince me that I should shirk the guilt that I feel over the entire situation.

We met, Peter exchanged pleasantries with her and it went uphill for him and downhill for me.  He ran through my history and then immediately touched on my concerns, from extra treatments to my guilt over the diagnosis and the how it would affect our lives.  She temporarily ignored the treatments (for which I was glad) and jumped right onto the guilt.  She wanted to know why I would feel guilty about 'being sick' and both Peter and I tried to explain about our lifestyle.  He discussed his current tour and then tried to explain how I was upset about possible treatments interfering with our future plans.

C. asked  it mattered if we could not leave the country in August (as we had hoped to do). Peter and I both tried to explain about our lifestyle, how we had planned everything so carefully, and had counted on departing for a new overseas post, as a family, no later than early fall of 2011.  She then asked why we simply couldn't wait or postpone, as after all, isn't my health paramount? (Insert how I still don't 'feel' sick here!)

NOTE: A lot of my angst about this situation is tied to the fact that we love our lives in the Foreign Service and desperately want to live overseas again as a family.  As there are fewer positions (the higher one goes) overseas in my husband's career track, we did everything we could to have the opportunity next year.  Even the unaccompanied tour was going to be leverage towards this overseas posting.  Now, due to my illness, everything is (in my opinion) in jeopardy.   Some folks like want the same house forever with the white picket fences...which is fine.  We, however, love the excitement and craziness of our current life and I can only blame myself for what will likely be the outcome of this current tour. I have nothing against our home country, but we didn't join the FS to live in the U.S. year after year.

I certainly don't fault her concern, but I was at my limit.  I gathered everything I had, all of my love of living overseas, all my ammunition about why were were so dedicated to this lifestyle and it came out in what could have been the most award winning moment of my life:

"Because I want to leave this flipping country!"

Um, yeah.  Follow that up with curling into a ball on a very uncomfortable office chair and bawling your eyes out and said award goes bye-bye.  Instead you might get a look that says you are flat off your rocker.  Peter was less than thrilled with my response, to say the least.

He did his best to make amends on all accounts, but I was livid.  We managed to get through the rest of the meeting by reviewing my now confusing (at best) diagnosis and going back and forth on whether a surgery date had been scheduled, if our date of choice could be had and being handed a slew of information on support groups.  We finally finished and then headed upstairs to the surgeon's office to finalize the surgery date...or so we thought.  

Unfortunately, the person we needed was on the phone and we realized we would never have a chance to talk with her.  We realized I also needed a follow-up appointment with the surgeon and could simply set the date then.  Luckily, we were able to snag a visit for the next morning.  Nothing like starting off the day with a trip to yet another doctor.

The appointment started off quietly enough with the standard exam.  Peter then reviewed some of our questions, and all went well until we started discussing future treatments.  Granted, nothing will be final until the surgery, but we questioned why chemo and radiation (remember what I didn't want to discuss last week?) suddenly seemed not only back on the table, but nearly definite.   I got the standard "You are so young, we need to be aggressive" answer that has done nothing but annoy the heck out of me.  

The real problem is that I am just tired of this entire situation.  I have been inundated with nothing but (mostly) bad news for the past three weeks.  Our lives have been turned upside down and we are in limbo indefinitely.  I am beginning to think there should be some sort of comprehensive list of doctors who "get" the Foreign Service.  It still didn't seem to click  that this is more than just an inconvenience in our schedule, but that we are going to have to revamp our lives in so many ways.

I also don't think it was understood why I was nervous about some of the side effects of the surgery. From swollen limbs from lymph node removal (if needed) to infections, I am simply freaked. The statistics scare the bejeezus out of me, especially considering that this surgery is not something I requested or desire.  I finally just let Peter continue with his line of questioning. We did get confirmation that while it is still the more drastic surgery,  it will be skin-sparing (but, sadly, nothing else).  We finally finished up the appointment with date discussion and got the happy news from the front desk that *maybe* we would know by Friday.

We escaped the office and stopped to have a coffee and review the less than stellar appointment. Our disagreements over what should happen still continued (I fear lymph node removal, not surprisingly, he doesn't) and we had to agree to disagree.  We picked Nicholas up on time for a change (a miracle as of late) and managed to catch up with a friend for a bit in the early afternoon.

It wasn't the best day, but by evening things had become calmer.  Cait had her first school concert of the year and it was a distraction I desperately needed.  I have had this feeling of late that I have "patient" tatooed on my forehead.  From the frequent trips to the hospital, the nerve-wracking discussions about our future and the thoughts about potential treatments, I haven't been able to focus on anything but this situation.  Cait's concert changed that for two whole hours, and I was able to simply be her mom and we ignored everything "BC" related until we got home.  More arguments, more disagreements, and little or no sleep to be had.  Despite all of that, I was still willing and almost eager to meet with Dr. X the next morning.  After all, his job is to make me look better, rather than, well....

Our wait was not quite as long and the visit much shorter and we even had a surprise.  We had not heard so much as a peep out of the surgeon's office, yet the minute Dr. X walked into the exam room, the words "So, we have a date!" flew out of his mouth.  Um, we do?

Sure enough, the surgeon's office had set the date, but we had not received a phone call.  In the end, it didn't really matter, as it was the date we requested, but still...   The visit with Dr. X was fairly routine with measurements taken, a nice pre-surgical photo op (cringe), and a few words of comfort.  He was sure that my side effects would be minimal, I would not have abnormal swelling issues (thus helping me stress less about the possible node removal) and answered question after question about reconstruction.  Due to the possibility of future treatments, it will not be at the same time as the surgery...could be a few months from now, it could (gulp), be next summer.    

We also received the happy news that since I am not having reconstruction at the same time, I have much more flexibility.  I have more time to research my options and can even opt for a temporary implant if we need to delay the 'official' surgery for any reason.  I suppose, ideally, I would do it all at once, but I think the extra time to come to terms with the nature of the primary surgery will be good for me.  For once a visit I could tolerate..and how does one follow that up?

*At some point I may reveal names, but for now I am granting those helping me a certain bit of anonymity.  I do highly recommend Dr. X and will gladly share his name off-line.  

October 29, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 

Wishing everyone a fantabulous Halloween weekend!

*** *** *** 


idea courtesy of Soulemama...if you have a moment, please leave a comment and a link!



*Not to ruin with an explanation, but LG had asked if he could eat his oatmeal in the living room.  I reminded him that we eat in the kitchen.  He then came up with his own creative arrangement to satisfy both our desires.


October 28, 2010

I Never Knew I'd....

Becky of Small Bits is hosting the Round-Up again this week and will do a fabulous job, so don't forget to stop by on Friday.  I am sure there are many far more interesting stories I could capture from our past, with the theme of "I never knew I'd," however, only a few are jumping out at me.

I never expected to touch a glacier or give birth overseas.  I never knew I would one day crave the idea of moving every two to three years and didn't really envision living across the country much less around the world.  I knew I wanted children, but it didn't occur to me that they might not all grow up in the same house, measuring their height each year on the kitchen wall.  

IMG_0528 I never thought I would have more trouble adjusting to the U.S. than I would to living overseas.  I never ever imagined the spine-tingling anticipation that a sheaf of paper could give me every two to three years as we pondered the posts of our future and perhaps the craziest "I never" out there?

I never, ever, in my wildest dreams thought I would say, "I wish my husband was still overseas on his unaccompanied tour."  Yet, that is exactly what I have stated every day for the past three weeks as Peter was not slated to arrive home on his R&R until this morning.  We have loved having him here, but each day his presence has been a bittersweet reminder of the new direction our lives are taking.

I also never knew I would be part of such an amazing community of people.  I have always known FS folks to be supportive of one another, but the past few weeks have been incredible.  Each and every day I am given a reminder of how lucky we are to have this crazy life and I wouldn't trade it for the world.


*The gorgeous flowers are courtesy of Peter's office and add quite the cheery touch to our family table.   Many thanks!



October 27, 2010

Instead of this, try...

This post is the third in a four part series in honor of National Breast Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I am collaborating with Dionna, who writes at Codename: Mama, and Sarah, who writes at Balancing Act and who authored What Not to Say. Cancer has touched the lives of all three of us:  I have recently been diagnosed with cancer, Sarah is a cancer survivor, and Dionna helped her grandmother live her last days peacefully at home after a battle with cancer. Chances are, cancer has touched your life or the life of someone you love, too. It is our hope that this series of posts will be a help and a comfort to you.

I hope you had a chance to visit Dionna's site on Monday and  Sarah's site yesterday for her thoughts on how to talk to young children about cancer.  Please come back to Code Name: Mama on Thursday for an interview with the Executive Director of Cleaning for a Reason, a non-profit dedicated to helping women undergoing cancer treatments.


Three weeks ago, we seemed like a normal family.  Despite the fact that we had just moved across the country and that my husband was deployed to the Middle East for a year, everything was going swimmingly. Then one afternoon, two days after having a biopsy for a suspicious lump in my breast (found upon self-examination), my world turned upside down.  The words I never, ever thought I would hear hurtled over the phone lines to me:  "I'm sorry, but you have breast cancer."  I was stunned beyond belief and am still trying to come to terms with how our lives have been irrevocably altered.

I have also quickly learned how different it is to be on the other end of the spectrum of news sharing.  I have dealt with the illnesses and deaths of friends and family members, and until now always assumed I had the perfect or at least acceptable phrases for the occasion.  It wasn't until my recent diagnosis that I realized just how even the wording of one's reaction to the news that your friend or relative has cancer can affect them. 

The most natural answer may seem to be the best.  However, until you are in that person's exact situation, it is very hard to gauge how things will affect her.  While I have not had to deal with all of these comments personally, I know these are many of the first things that used to pop in my head when I heard about a new diagnosis.  Now that I am living through this scenario, I have realized there might be better options, having learned by those who have comforted me.

1.  Instead of this: It’s only a breast.

No, it's not.  It is a part of my body.  Whether I have always liked its size or shape, it has been much appreciated.  Yes, it may be a sexual object, but I also used it to nurture and feed my three children.  I am still nursing my youngest (he is 2.5) so it has not outlived its usefulness in the slightest.  I really cringe at the notion that I should suddenly want to toss away a part of my body that I have always enjoyed having.  It is a loss and I do need to mourn it.

Try:  I'm really sorry.  I can't imagine how you must feel right now.

The above is an open, honest answer.  I don't expect you to know how devastated I am, but appreciate the non-judgmental concern.

2.  Instead of this:  You must be really overwhelmed.  Please let me know what I can do to help.

There is nothing wrong with this statement at all, unless you happen to run into a stubborn, self-assured future cancer treatment patient who still thinks she can do it all herself.  I have quickly learned that I can't.  Just having a doctor's appointment in the morning can wear me out for the day, especially since life goes on in every other respect.

Try (no, DO):  I am bringing you chicken noodle soup, and I will include salad and a dessert.  I just need to verify you prefer that over stew and there are no allergy concerns.  How does Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. work for a drop-off?

I had plenty of offers for help, but didn't realize at first how much I needed them.  Then one friend very kindly insisted she was bringing us dinner THAT DAY.  She easily saved us two nights of cooking.  I have since come around and realize that it's okay to ask for assistance in a time such as this one.

3.  Rather than:  In a few years, you will forget this ever happened!

I will never forget this time period.  Due to the nature of my husband's career in the U.S. Foreign Service, this has irrevocably changed much for us for at least the next two years.   I am having trouble imagining making it through all of my appointments this week, and next year is completely out of the picture.

Try:  Take it minute by minute.  Don't try to imagine the future, congratulate yourself for taking each day as it comes.

"Take it minute by minute" is a piece of invaluable advice given to me by a friend who has dealt with something similar.  Given all of the decisions we have to make, trying to envision beyond next week is simply too difficult.

4.  Instead of:  If I were you, I would do x, y and z!  Why are you nervous?

I certainly understand this line of reasoning.  What person does not want to be strong for their friend, offer him or her the best possible advice and prove to them how easy it is to be firm in one's conviction?  The only problem is that with cancer, it is very hard to know the "right thing" to do, when there are so many conflicting (and, yes, sometimes scary) sources of information.  Even the best doctors may differ slightly in their opinion, just enough to worry a new patient. 

Try this:  Just listen.

Don't feel you have to have all of the answers or even any of them.  If you really ache to be supportive, but can't find the right words, say so. Offer that if you friend needs an ear, you can't tell them what to do, but are more than happy to be an outlet for venting.  Sometimes just getting a huge amount off one's chest with nothing more than a "that must be hard" in return is a huge relief.

5.  Instead of thisI wanted to call, but couldn't think of anything to say.

No one really knows what to say.  Even this advice here may not be on target for everyone.  Every person is different and giving your best shot is all you can do.

Try this:  I wasn't sure what to say, but wanted to call and let you know I am thinking of you.   By the way, did you hear the news about...?

I am not advocating gossip.  However, if your friend has missed work or recreational events, she may not be caught up on fun news.  The bonus?  It's a distraction for her. She may even continue to angle the conversation away from her health as she knows that life goes on and would really like to know what's going on in your world.

It’s always a tough call with illness, especially cancer.  Who wants to say the wrong thing and end up offending the person one is trying to help?  In the end, remember your friend simply needs support, and the important part is trying.  It is the effort that will be remembered years later and that is what matters.


October 26, 2010

How to Talk to Young Children About Cancer

I am teaming up with Dionna of Code Name: Mama and Sarah, who writes at Balancing and who authored What Not to Say  for a four part series in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yesterday, Dionna wrote about "how to help a parent who is undergoing cancer treatment." Please stop by to both get ideas on how to help someone you love who is struggling with a serious illness, and leave your own suggestions of how people can help. Today, Sarah is writing about how to talk to young children about cancer; tomorrow, I am writing about what to say (and what not to say) to those who are newly diagnosed with cancer; and on Thursday, visit Code Name: Mama for an interview with the Executive Direction of Cleaning for a Reason.


October 25, 2010

How to Help a Parent Undergoing Cancer Treatment

I am teaming up with Dionna of Code Name: Mama and Sarah, who writes at Balancing and who authored What Not to Say  for a four part series in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Today, Dionna is writing about "how to help a parent who is undergoing cancer treatment." Please stop by to both get ideas on how to help someone you love who is struggling with a serious illness, and leave your own suggestions of how people can help. Come back all week for more: on Tuesday, Sarah is writing about how to talk to young children about cancer; on Wednesday, I am writing about what to say* (and what not to say) to those who are newly diagnosed with cancer; and on Thursday, visit Code Name: Mama for an interview with the Executive Direction of Cleaning for a Reason.


*This is not to say that I have received anything but the most thoughtful comments.  However, the entire situation has made me rethink things that I may have said in the past or might have considered in the future, had I not had this experience with breast cancer.  Any and all support I have received has been truly appreciated!

October 23, 2010

I'm procrastinating

I'm supposed to be working on a fall project of sorts, but doing nothing but reunionizing (that IS a word) with friends from Iceland this morning and eating tons of yummy brunchy foods has taken a toll on my brain cells.  We were so exhausted this afternoon from sitting, talking, occasionally standing to try more goodies, more sitting, talking, chatting, laughing and reminiscing, that I am now not capable of nothing more taxing than a movie night with the girls.

It was such a great afternoon and so amazing that so many of us who served in Reyk were able to get together and enjoy one another's company.  Of course, the kids had grown a collective several feet since the last time most of us were together in such complete group and we have all moved once, if not twice to new and exotic places (Cali was new to us!).  The kids entertained one another for hours while the adults mingled and caught up and we left feeling with that fabulous feeling of all being right with the world.

IMG_0517 I thought this afternoon would then be an ideal nap time, but it really ended up more of a chore hour, while Cait tended to Nicholas's needs.  Not only did they spend an hour crafting, but then she took him outside so he could spend another hour "shobelling" the leaves. Kelsey was at a Girl Scout Camping trip for most of the day, so it was very interesting to watch Cait and Nicholas interact throughout the day without the involvement of another sibling. So different with just two of them.

IMG_0518 I did not end up accomplishing as much as I had hoped, but the kids were certainly busy.  Caitlin not only finished all of her Halloween cards, but the two of them made a ton of incredibly cute and creative Halloween decorations.  It's official:  she (thank goodness) did not inherit my lack o'crafting ability gene....*sigh* at least I helped with the supply purchase? Someday I will channel my inner Soulemama/Crafty Dog...

I'm blushing

Click here and you will see why.  I must admit, I may have cried a bit, but they were tears of happiness. So many FS bloggers, far and wide, shared their "where I am now" moments this week and many included pink for extra credit.   They showed their support for me and every other person (sadly, it doesn't just affect women) dealing with this dastardly disease.

We have also been humbled by the outpouring of offers for help.  Whether it would be with the kids, or scrumptious dinners being delivered to our doorstep, we are extremely thankful.  I had not realized until a week into this debacle just how exhausting the details of this sort of life-changing event can be.  Not having to cook several nights this week made our lives so much easier...even more important, we were able to finally meet one fellow FS blogger in person.  

IMG_0505 Eve arrived on our doorstep on Sunday with enough yummy soup, stew and pie to keep us for several days.  Another friend stopped over Tuesday night and saved us on a day that the appointment at the plastic surgeon ran quite a bit longer than expected.  I thought up until then that I could just keep 'doing it all'...until I realized that even doing half of all is much harder when each day has something health-situation related that needs to be accomplished, in addition to everything else.

Today also had another bright spot, as I received a tiny bit of good news from the surgeon.  Nothing I should probably share yet, and I suppose the universe could shift and alter my reality (again), but it seems that the news we thought was so bad was not set in stone.  My doctor also neglected to mention (fearing it would upset me) a few details of the surgery.  Not hearing about them made me worry about the worst-case scenario.  

While I appreciate the concern, had I known the details (which, yes, we should have asked and just plain forgot, with our 80 other queries), it might have made life around here much less frustrating for the past two days. Peter was finally able to have a decent conversation with her regarding our concerns and was able to allay my fears concerning two, maybe even three of them. Confirmation should hopefully come next week, as well as *shudder* a date for surgery.  As much as I don't want do to this, I can't deny that the pain has not gone away.  After nearly two months, I am fairly sure it is a strong sign that even I can't ignore on my most "but I'm not sick!" days.

Now, please, click on the link above and peruse the blogs.....I promise you will be amazed by the show of support.   A huge debt of gratitude is also owed to Becky who came up with this week's idea and then worked to tirelessly to deliver a fabulous Round-Up!


October 22, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments* for all to find and see. 



Have an awesome weekend!


*Idea courtesy of Soulemama, but I'd like to continue...please post if you have a moment!


October 21, 2010

I Can't Lie

Yesterday was a crappy day.   I know there will be ups and downs, but really wishing some of the downs weren't quite so low.  In fact, it was so awful that I wrote a horribly raw and pain-filled blog post and nearly subjected you all to it.  However, the little Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder thought better of it and removed my quivering finger from the mouse before I could click publish.  

Now that I have had a night's sleep, I realize that there are going to be many days from here on out where I just really have to dig deep to find anything positive about my life right now.  Yes, I know there are many obvious things out there (to others), but sometimes the negatives just really cloud them out. You know, the whole forest for the trees bit?

I have been officially forbidden to use the computer today for anything other than blogging, Facebook, bill paying (woot!) and email...or reading other blogs.  So, I started perusing a few and realized that my positives were staring at me in the face, or practically glaring (in a very happy way). One will please the pants off Kelsey (how much is that horse in the window?) and others remind me that while this may seem to be a long, empty road at times, I am anything but alone.  There is one friend who is just satisfying a basic need for warm tootsies, but manages to do so in a way that is uplifting to me.  I know there may be more that I haven't yet seen and for that reason, can't wait to meander through tomorrow's Round-Up.

To those of you who have sent comments, emails or messages in the past day or so....I will get back to you, I'm just still trying to digest yesterday's news.  Thus far, this journey has been far more ardous than I anticipated.  One day is an uber-high, the next day is a real kick in the pants.  Thank you to everyone who is following along, supporting, listening to my ranty phone calls and texts and not judging me during what has turned out to be a hugely confusing and stressful time.

It's not just what the diagnosis means for me, it's how it is redefining our entire year.  How I feel completely and utterly to blame.  How we had so many goals that are now, in all likelihood, will never be reached.  I can't come to terms with every single thing I am being hit with overnight.  What is it one very wise person wrote to me, "one minute at a time"?



October 20, 2010

Turning a Corner

Where are those toothpicks when you need them?  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why doing nothing more than going to just one doctor's appointment per day is so exhausting.  I'm not even making the appointments or in most cases, driving to them, yet they wear me out.  Perhaps it is the idea (and action) of rehashing my life's story for the past two months (they always want to hear your version) or just the anticipated stress of the visit.

Today was the first of two visits to local plastic surgeons.  I will likely identify the chosen one at some point, but for now, since we are undecided, will let him/her enjoy their anonymity and will call the first Dr. X.  We had a long list to choose from, but there were two who were starred and have worked hand-in-hand with my breast surgeon on numerous occasions.  Both come highly recommended and not surprisingly, have offices in McLean.  Our first appointment was at 2:00 p.m. today and not only did we arrive with paperwork completed and in hand, but 30 minutes early.  This is apparently when they decide to make you wait 45 minutes in the waiting room.  

There's nothing like sitting in a waiting room, surrounded by numerous magical elixirs, line-removing facial creams, uber-dressed up fancy moms and ads for every type of plastic surgery under the sun.  I had long since decided this doctor was my #2 choice and was really just going through the motions for Peter.  Honestly, even GOING  to the appointment was a huge step for me.  I am sure the receptionist, patient liaison and doctor quickly figured this out when I noted that my reason for being there was "POSSIBLE breast reconstruction".  Oh, yes, I most definitely used all caps...remember, it's all about choices for me.

Finally, as I was about to nod off for the 18th time, I was called into a room by the receptionist.  We stepped into the room and the first thing we noticed?  The counter was covered in various styles and sizes of implants.  I just stood there, stunned.  I looked and Peter and he just shook his head, and said, "I know, it's okay."  I couldn't believe the insensitivity...leaving these out knowing why I was in the office that day.   Then, a funny thing happened.  Curiousity got the better of both of us and we began to look and, yes, I even poked a "Memory Gel" implant.  It was difficult, at best, to imagine that tucked inside my body.

I was still miffed, though, and finally sat down to pout and ignore them.  Two minutes later, there was a knock on the door and the patient liaison teetered in  the room in her high heel boots (I dream of wearing such boots on a "fancy" Jen day).  She took one look at the counter, gasped in horror, started apologizing and shoved the implants and a special bra into the drawer.  She finally turned around, apologized again and then indicated that she wanted to review my history (oh, yippee, AGAIN?!...Say it's not so!!).

We went over it, yada, yada, yada and, as usual, I peppered the conversation with "ifs" not "whens".  Peter answered as much as he could, especially when I seemed to lose steam and the questions were a little more difficult.  At that point, she realized it was time for the doctor and practically insisted I have a glass of water.  A few minutes later she came back in with the doctor in tow and just as I suspected, he was an older gruff doctor who....

Well, no.

I had reviewed the website and perused the waiting room, but missed the photo section.  I was expecting a gruff, grandfatherly type who was going to share war stories and tell me to suck it up, that I should be grateful options are available these days.  Instead a young (okay, our age-ish) surgeon walked in and...he just seemed...kind.  Whether he had been forewarned that I seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I can't say.  However, Dr. X was very soft-spoken, said he was sorry, but he would like to hear my history one more time and then wanted to know what options I was considering IF I went through with the surgery.

At this point, Peter mentioned that we were primarily considering the Diep Flap, ahem, IF, this were to happen.  A brief review of my body style indicated that not only was it possible, but I was the perfect candidate for the Diep Flap/tummy tuck* procedure.  Since I have no interest in implants (it's just me), this was what I was hoping to hear should it happen.  However, he also pointed out that right now we were hoping to keep the surgery as non-invasive as possible.  A lumpectomy would be ideal and what did he think about reconstruction as far as that goes?

(Insert slightly uncomfortable throat clearing by the doctor.)

Dr. X very delicately danced around the subject and mentioned that while each case is different, sometimes it is very hard to do a lumpectomy when the other surgery (the only one the breast surgeon recommended) is really more necessary.  If things are too widespread, it simply isn't possible to reconsctruct something from nothing.  Peter then questioned about certain skin-saving techniques and queried about numbness/sensation issues.   It may sound trivial, but I don't like diving into anything without knowing exactly what I could be facing at the bottom of the pool.

It was at that point that Dr. X faced me and said, without indicating that my case was problematic, that it simply may not be an option.  As much as it would be nice to leave as much skin as possible intact, there was no guarantee it could happen.  Everything is dependent on the cancer and getting it all out, of course, trumps the 'beauty' portion of the procedure.  He then went onto explain that it may well be possible that if I chose the more drastic surgery (yes, the "M" word..), radiation and chemo could be avoided.  He knew from having worked with the other doctors that it could be very possible to have a complete removal of the cancerous areas and avoid even more medical procedures.  If I chose to go with the lumpectomy, there was no guarantee and either chemo or radiation would be a must, not a possibility. He looked at me with gentle, kind eyes and just a touch of sympathy...

and it hit me that this was NOT the end of my life.

I suddenly realized that this could be a new beginning.  No, it's not perfect and it's not ideal.  This is not the road we envisioned for us a year ago or even six weeks ago.  However, when my brain really started processing everything he said in that "you don't have to do anything, this is all your choice" tone, I knew my decision was made.  There may still be other tough choices, but for now, I have accepted that I will likely do the single "M" and I will be okay with it.  

It's my decision and as hard as it was to make, I know that it is the best one for me at this point in time. I also know there is no guarantee that other tough decisions won't pop up over the next few weeks. However, at least I know that my acceptance of this new reality might get me through tomorrow's appointment with the breast surgeon (barring anything unseemly with the MRI results...).  I am hoping (for the moment) that we might all be on the same page, and that alone is a huge weight off my shoulders.


*Yes, a tummy tuck.  No, I am not a 'plastic surgery if not necessary' type person.  However, this is a BOGO of sorts, so who am I to look the insurance company in the mouth?  It might also come in handy on a future weekend away (one that I have been recently promised, pending treatment plans).  You know, the kind that involves swaying palm trees, cabanas, fruity beverages and skimpy swim attire (well, not that skimpy).  It's all about the bright side...



October 18, 2010

Exhaling in


If one couldn't sense from the past few blog posts, the last 12 days have been an incredible roller coaster of emotions for me.  From the first day of testing, through this afternoon, it is safe to safe I have been up and down and all around.  It seemed that every piece of news that came my way was cause for more worry and I ended up at the point where I simply didn't want the phone to ring.  I had lost the faith that even a smidgen of good news might come my way.  

Today we had to run a few errands and decided to include Kelsey since it was her early day.  Peter had spent a good portion of the morning pestering doctors and support staff, making appointments and being the stalwart support person that he has become. We found this list online, and both agree that these 10 items are key for anyone helping another in this type of situation.  Even in my darkest moments, each and every item seemed realistic without being hokey.

The doctor's office called as we were nearing Target and upon listening to the voicemail, figured out it was a call for a follow-up appoinment.  This was interesting, as Peter had called this morning to find out when we would come in next and hadn't yet heard back.  Before he could call the office back, the doctor called, asked to speak to me *shudder* and Peter handed me the phone.  Ahem, support person?

Grudgingly, I took the call and the doctor asked me how I was (seriously, really?).  I choked out "Fine!" and she offered that both the genetic test (for BRCA1/BRCA2) and the PET scan results were in.  She then started to detail the PET scan results.  As far as the liver, left breast, lymph nodes and bones were concerned I was in the clear.  Nothing appeared anywhere else, but...


There was one small area of concern on an ovary.  From what I have learned PET scans, cycles and false positives, it is likely not a problem, but she has referred me for another ultrasound just in case.  I'm thinking I should get some sort of punch card with this...have ten, get one free?  I'm sure the insurance company would more than appreciate it.  So,  we are avoiding thinking about the ovary for now, but will have it scanned and are being positive that it will be clean.

Forget about the ovary, though, I was still stuck on the PET scan being, well, normal.  I was so non-responsive, she asked again if I was okay.  Still waiting for the bad news to hit, I mumbled that I was okay and waited for the other shoe to drop.

It didn't.  The genetic test was in and I am NEGATIVE!  Given the options I was originally given, this is the equivalent of a lottery win to me.  I was looking at possibly a much larger, more invasive surgery if anything was found on the left breast and/or the genetic test was positive.  Just knowing I have more options has us on cloud nine.

What does this mean?  Realistically, things could change.  However, for right now, the efforts will be focused on the original and only current point of concern. By no means is anything 'over' and we realize there may well be a very long road ahead of us.  The bright side?

There is a bright side and for the first time in 12 days, I can see it again.  I am by no means resigning myself to any particular route to wellness, but now feel as though I have some sort of options, that I am not being cornered into a do or die position.  I feel as though there is hope and am so grateful to have the support of a loving husband and family and friends (old and new) who care so deeply.  I realize I have been in an all-encompassing fog and I am so grateful that it has begun to lift ever so slightly... 


October 17, 2010

What was your moment?

Yesterday we decided to visit a pumpkin patch in order to give Peter a chance to have that fun, fall fest feeling we experienced last week.   We opted for Pumpkinville which happens to be a part of the Leesburg Animal Park in Leesburg.   Having tried and failed at making it to the Falls Church Farmers Market (why was every ATM in FC out of commission yesterday??), we got back on Route 7 and headed out to the country.

Peter wisely realized a few minutes in that perhaps we should have a bit  of lunch first and we stopped at Panera.  Up until this point, all was well, and for whatever reason, I was of little or no mind to do any Googling.  Perhaps it was the lack of sleep (insomnia has reared it's ugly head) or the perfect fall day, but I was just blissfully ignoring everything.  Then I made the mistake of sneaking in a quick Google, something along the lines of "miracle cure for breast cancer no surgery." 

What did I find?  Well, of course, to Peter's chagrin, I found at least one case of a person who did not have surgery and lived to be very happy with her solution.  I think at least chemo was involved, but as far as I could tell, no surgery and her diagnosis seemed similar to mine (and there I go again...comparing cancers...which I KNOW I shouldn't do).  I offered him my iPhone, he read it, muttered something under his breath and I knew I should quit while I was ahead.

IMG_0498 Off we went to Pumpkinville.  I turned the phone off and other than one tiny set of tears on the hay ride (let's blame it on the dusty straw, okay?), I was fine.  I didn't cry for almost two hours and nearly posted it on my FB status, as I was so darn proud.  Then I realized how that ridiculous that would sound and thought better of it.   

It also helped (sadly) that Kelsey had a bit of a fall and I was distracted by her pain.   She tried some swinging seat activity and managed to bloody not just one, but both knees and needed a bit of TLC.  It felt so good to feel as though I could give her comfort for a change, though I slipped in my mom of the year ranks by not having one single band-aid in my purse.  In fact, I had to borrow some from Cait who, "always has some in her bag" (insert #momfail here).

IMG_5257 We cleaned up the knees, the kids played for hours, we took a long (and mildly scary) hay-ride that Nicholas loved, fed ducks, watched swarms of fishes, grabbed our free pumpkins and finally headed out on our way.  I took a long nap on the way home, as did Nicholas and felt completely normal upon arriving at home.  

The kitchen was a disaster (in my book), dinner needed to be made and Peter was working on the garage.  All was well and happy and I even managed a few return phone calls to people.  Then it happened (again).  I hit that wall of "why me" and skipped dinner in favor of going to Trader Joe's by myself.  I blindly put stuff in my basket, got back to the car and broke down again.  For the life of me, I can't get past having surgery.   Remember my control issues?   

My breakdown resulted in more heated discussions (heated on my part, Pete was a saint, as usual) and a less than stellar night.  I spewed ridiculous statements and spent way too much time on 'what-ifs'.  I finally realized the evening was wasting away and relaxed enough to watch a bit of tv and, of course, fall asleep on the couch. I dragged myself up to bed, fell back asleep and woke up this morning realizing something...

I need moments.  If you went through this diagnosis (or something similar), what was your moment? What made it finally click that you would be okay if you went through with surgery?  

You see, I still don't see myself as being sick and I have realized that is a huge issue for me.  Since I am not sick, I cannot get worse.  If I am not sick, I should not have surgery, because I am really fine and thus, surgery is a huge mistake for a healthy person.  I know all about the argument of having surgery to extend one's life, but I can't envision mine being shortened in the first place.  So, it hit me this morning that I need to know more.

When did you (anyone afflicted with anything remotely similar that would require surgery to remove the affected body part) know for sure that it was the right decision for you?   How did you finally decide to simply believe that something was truly wrong with you and it was okay to let the doctors proceed with their plan?

For the record, I don't necessarily doubt that the doctors have found something.  However, everything has happened so quickly...and this diagnosis is affecting our lives in such a gargantuan way (Peter's current assignment, his future assignments), that I feel like I am being rushed to make a life and body altering decision...and what if I make the wrong choice?  What if I just haven't Googled the right "magical non-surgical cure for breast cancer" search yet?  What if there is something missing?

Or maybe I just need moments.  Maybe I do have to suck it up and do this.  Please  share with me if you can...on-line, off-line, anywhere.  I should add I have read a few moments, but more along the lines of the types of surgery vs. having the surgery in the first place.   I apparently need a huge smack in the head to get me to where Peter (and the rest of the medical world) believe I should be with my thinking.  

What was it that convinced you?  Was there someone you spoke to about the issue (counselor, good online support group), a particular book, and/or an article that convinced you without either scaring your pants off and/or depressing you to the point of ignoring the situation?  (And if you have already shared and I somehow missed it...please feel free to remind me!)


October 16, 2010

A Slice of Normal

While I am still mostly safely ensconced away in my dark corner, the past few days have given me a few brief moments of clarity and completely normal for which I am grateful.  While Tuesday pretty much bit the big one, I suppose Wednesday and even parts of Thursday were days of relatively normal news, so I will take what I can get.

Since we are still in the process of reviewing every option out there and don't have a complete diagnosis, I am following the directives of the breast surgeon.  In order to even consider, um, surgery (sorry, can't say the actual word yet...I'm a wimp, it will come with time), I had to have a pre-surgical clearance.  Having not re-established with a primary caregiver in the area, I went with the doctor that the surgeon's office recommended.  They work hand-in-hand on many cases and paperwork transfers and such are simplified.

Really, the visit was nothing to cry over, but I used half a box of tissues anyway.  The minute we sat down, a woman waltzed in, grabbed a piece of candy, and wriggled "I'm pregnant" into the conversation with the receptionist.  I love happy, pregnant people.  I love babies in their newborn cute wrinkly-face-ness and still can't believe that my youngest baby will be three in February (where are my smelling salts?).  Somehow, though, right now, just the sight of a pregnant woman triggers a sadness in me.  Not sure entirely sure of the corellation, but it's there all the same.  So, cue set of tears number one....oh, heck, it lasted well into the appointment.

I was called in not long after and they began with weight and height (normal, check).  Then there is the Q & A period with the inevitable question:  How do you feel?

Well, DUH, I feel FINE. I'm not in pain (okay, still a teeny bit, but I am going w/residual biopsy pain).  I haven't lost weight (well, a bit from not eating much, but...), sinus problems no longer plague me, I do not have so much as a darn cold.  In fact, I feel healthy as a horse.  The assistant looked at me, looked at the paperwork, looked back at me and clearly had trouble digesting "fine" as an answer since I was there for a pre-surgical work-up.

Then my new LEAST favorite question in the whole, wide world:  What type of surgery are you having?  I can't type the word, much less choke it out, so Peter has thoughtfully taken care of this one for me almost every time.  I am wondering if he shouldn't just have an index card with the word written down so that I don't even have to hear it uttered aloud.  Oh, sure, some day I'll throw it around like no one's business...but that's not today and I doubt anytime over the next few weeks.

The medical assistant and then doctor tested me for everything possible.  Heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting, EKG...everything is great!  Yippee!  I know this is good news and I do give the doctor an amazing amount of credit.  She did not focus on the negative, she did not call the surgery by its name, she simply indicated that my overall health was fabulous. She then went on to indicate that should the surgery take place, she did not doubt that it would be 'easy' (as they go) and that my recovery would be as good as it could be for the scenario.

We left the doctor's office feeling as though at least something went right.  I tried to ignore why we went, but by Wednesday night, I hit a crescendo and the walls came tumbling down.  I knew I needed to write and get it out of my system.  I know I blogged a total "woe to me" post, but it completely changed the course of my evening.

As much as the blog is completely mine, the recent turn of events affect other members of our family (quite obviously).  I would not necessarily change a word of what I wrote, but have given Peter the chance to at least review before I "go public."  When he returned home from taking Kelsey to choir, I pointed to the computer.  He sat down, absorbed the information, turned around and said, ever so softly, "I get it now."

You see, we had been having many arguments about the surgery. As I mentioned before, it's not a vanity (well, I don't think) issue for me;  it's the removal of a working body part (or two).  Lest this be too much TMI and/or if this grosses you out, well, whatever.  As it turns out (and it isn't something I expected to happen), Nicholas is still morning (occasionally), night and comfort nursing. It is far from his primary source of nutrition, but nevertheless, the "na-na" is still a part of his life.  I am mourning not only any future loss, but a current need that was so easily filled.  I am sure there will be no ill effects from a somewhat forced weaning, but it's sad to me that it won't be on our terms.

Until Peter read the last post, he didn't realize how much of my pain was attached to the usefulness of the body part vs. the overall look of my body.  I can't say the latter is not affecting me...when one isn't overly blessed to begin with, the thought of losing anything is not attractive.  However, he read, he digested it and things lightened up, at least for the remainder of the evening.  We talked, laughed a bit and just enjoyed each other's company until Thursday rolled around.

I don't know what happened.  I didn't expect to wake up and feel fantastic, but I spent most of the day feeling off.  The morning was great. Coffee with friends cheered me up and I enjoyed just being. I am not sure what happened later in the afternoon, maybe long lines at the drugstore, too much traffic from the rain, or finding out at the last minute possible that not only would I have an MRI on Friday, but that would be immediately followed by a PET scan.  I couldn't find anything remotely cheery about either one on-line and tried to have an immediate break-down.  Luckily, something saved me:  Young Teacher's Night at Nicholas's Montessori.

It was an amazing 30 minutes.  From the moment we walked in the door, I was just Nicholas's mom. The entire focus was on him and his sharing of knowledge. We sat by him as he showed us how to use the mat to do his work.  From puzzles to stacking, it was a grand time.  In fact, 20 minutes into event, I looked up at Pete and mentioned how normal it seemed.  He nodded, smiled and 5 minutes later reminded me how we couldn't forget to pick up my films from the doctor before we went to the imaging center in the morning.

Slap!  Yes, that was reality hitting me once again.  I shut the door on it, went back to my happy place and managed to get to the car without bursting into tears.  May I just say now how much money tissue companies are going to make on me over the next few weeks?  I seriously need to look into the purchase of hankies...

I had my slice of normal and all went downhill.  We came home, the kids ate (I lost my appetite officially last Friday), and they were soon asleep for the night.  Then came the discussions...the questions neither one of us can answer but keep asking...the arguments over the options...whether or not to attend upcoming 'support' meetings...my insistence that yesterday's testing would only bring more bad news, so why bother.  It was not a night I want to remember, but probably one I should.  Peter was stronger than a person should be and I finally gave up and told him it was in his hands.  

If you know me, I like to be in control of everything.  This entire scenario has me losing my mind because I now feel as though everything is out of my hands and nothing I want to do is truly a viable option.  However, my ideas are probably not realistic or healthy and Thursday night I just gave up and gave in. After hours of dicussion and tears, I let Peter decide what we would do on Friday (okay, I didn't have the nerve to cancel) .  In turn, he called and let both the imaging center and the doctor's office have it for not ensuring we knew about both appointments being back to back.

When we arrived at the hospital in the morning, he retrieved the paperwork from the doctor, answered as many questions as he could for me and guided me every step of the way.  He stayed with me through the MRI and would have for the prep part of the PET scan, but for the health risk to him.  He was a rock while I spent most of the morning (pre-Xanax), quivering, shaking and crying.  I'll add that the bonus of 4 tries to get an IV started for the PET scan didn't help matters, but right now it is really the least of my worries.  

The results?  It wasn't (gulp, I hate saying this...) as bad as it could have been.  A dear friend left me a note on Facebook last night with clothing tips for PET scans.  I went with loose and comfortable (or what I like to call, my 'morning look' at the bus stop) and did not regret it.  I even, despite my intentions to be uber-brave, utilized my doctor's prescription for Xanax.  In hindsight, I am very, very glad I took that bit of advice.  I do not like to medicate when not necessary, but since I slept through the MRI and the waiting portion of the PET scan and half of the scan itself, I am now a firm believer that a little bit of relaxation can be a good thing. 

Five hours later after we arrived, we left the testing center with two personalized cds (um, yea?).  I have yet to review them, but suppose I should bite the bullet at some point in time.  Now we just need to hope and pray for a result of status quo when the results are in next week.  Fingers crossed...






October 15, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 



Wishing you all a lovely weekend!

*** *** *** 



October 13, 2010

And the other shoe drops...

I suppose before I delve into the newest and less than fabulous news (from my perspective), I should try to look at the bright side:  the State Department delivered the best possible care package in the world on Monday morning.  After numerous plane and automobile rides, Peter arrived at our house, safe and sound, in the wee hours of the a.m.

I had not told the girls about this turn of events.  I had known for a whopping 24 hours and didn't want to get anyone overly excited in case he missed any flights or was delayed in any way.  I must admit, I was tempted to spill the news when Kelsey (out of nowhere) went on and on about missing Peter Sunday night.  I just gave her a hug, reminded her he would be home "in two weeks" and smiled to myself, knowing that she would be estactic (to say the least) when she saw him in the morning.

He crept in around 6:45 a.m. and I was the only one awake.  We opted to let the kids sleep and when Nicholas finally stirred, Pete walked over to his crib and said hello.  It took Little Guy a few moments to grasp the situation, but within minutes he had warmed up to Peter and clearly loves having him back.  

We actually had to wake up the girls, as Sunday just wore them out.  Both were thrilled, though Cait's first words were (to me), "You lied, you said he wasn't coming home til October 27!"  Well, yes, so I did.   In the end, white lie or no, the kids were over the moon and we had a relatively uneventful family morning together.

Monday was also to be a big day as I would be retrieving the written pathology report from the doctor's office.   I was a bit leary, as there was still that "and" lingering in the air.  The doctor had said "DCIS and breast cancer" and tried to give me a word for word run down, but I simply didn't get it all.   I figured a look-see at the path report would clear everything up, I would have the appointment scheduled at the surgeon's (hoping this still might simply be precautionary) and we would go from there.

I retrieved the report and started reading.  I read it, re-read it and realized that an over the phone review (while I was distracted) might not have been the greatest idea after all.  I realized that DCIS was far from the only issue, and in fact, I might have much more to worry about than I originally thought.   My diagnosis was not only DCIS, but also Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  In fact, I didn't mention the "and" in the previous post, because I thought she was simply defining that DCIS was breast cancer.  Nope. 

I spent hours on Google (I know, I know) researching this new diagnosis on Monday night.  I tried not to worry, tried not to frantically text anyone and we really didn't discuss it too much since we had yet to actually sit down with any type of doctor and review the paperwork.  Luckily, I was able to secure an appointment with the recommended breast surgeon for Tuesday afternoon.  The girls were in school, Nick went to extended care, and we went to the doctor.

IMG_0494 An hour and a half later, we walked out with oodles of paperwork and even more stunned, if that is possible.  I suppose the appointment was successful in some respects, but I ended up leaving feeling like a giant failure.  In but a few days, I went from a basically healthy person to someone who apparently has a ticking time bomb in their right breast.  

We went over everything from my overall history to recent events.  The doctor went through every possible scenario except for my favored choice of runnning away and hiding in a dark corner until the whole thing blows over.  Should I choose the course of action the surgeon recommends, I have no fewer than 6 doctors to meet with in the next three weeks and test after test to take (pre-op clearance, MRI & PET scan, to name a few).    

The saddest part to me was the peppering of the conversation with the phrase "you're so young."  I began to feel as if this was a crime, as if they would have to work that much harder to ensure that everything was successful.  However, it also made me feel guilty.  No one, as of yet, can pinpoint any reason that this happened (I am sure this is not uncommon).  No matter what I said, the questions about my health history, my family's health history and my lifestyle kept coming, as though I would suddenly magically have the correct answer.  Sadly, it never materialized.

We also learned that not only is my right breast basically shot (for lack of a better term), but it could be possible the left breast might be eventually affected due to a possible genetic mutation. I took a very expensive saliva test with a tiny bottle of Scope and in two weeks will find out if there is any chance of saving that side, so to speak.  What next?

Sadly, the worst case scenario is what will likely happen.  As an FYI, I am somewhere between anger and denial.  I have not been myself since my appointment yesterday, and not sure exactly when I will be back.  I thought I was finally through my 5 steps of grief in dealing with Peter's deployment and now...I get to do it all over again!

I am sure someday I will look back on this and think of it as some fabulous learning experience or remark on how it changed my life in some uber-positive way.  I'll go on and on about how medical technology saved my life and if it weren't for the wonderful tests and doctors and...well, who knows where I would be.

Sadly, though, I am still in a period of adjustment to the diagnosis.  To be quite honest, I am nowhere near accepting what the doctors are recommending.  I am not saying it won't be done, but I simply have to grieve.  It may seem like nothing to some, but the very part of my body I am going to lose gave nourishment to my children for years.  

In fact, Nicholas was nothing but breastfed for the first six months...and now I feel as though I am supposed to lose an integral part of myself willingly and eagerly simply because it's the only real option.  So, please, pardon me while I head off to my dark corner and cry my eyes out for a few more days...it may be a weak and pathetic response, but right now, it's really all I can manage.

I do need to thank you, though, for the continued support.  The comments, the blog posts, the emails, texts and phone calls continue to mean the world to me...I really can't thank you all enough.

October 11, 2010


IMG_5232 I was reading through the numerous comments on the blog yesterday and honestly, I can't say thank you enough.  (I am trying to get back to each of you personally, but it may take a day or two.)  I am so grateful for the comments, the messages, the emails, the phone calls and the texts.  I have received uplifting thoughts and valuable information from those who have had similar experiences and it has been incredibly helpful.

IMG_0493 Additionally, my friend Jill wrote an amazing post on the subject and I can't thank her enough.  I am so grateful to her for the support and for spreading the word that much more.  Please head over there ASAP, but don't forget the tissues. I know I needed at least one for each read.

IMG_0486 Perhaps because I was so immersed in the outpouring of support, I got up from my desk at one point and forgot to close the blog.  I was in a hurry and trying to cook breakfast, get the laundry finished and get the kids out the door so we could be on our way to a nearby pumpkin patch.  In my multi-tasking haste, I left the screen up and my 'secret' was suddenly a little more widely known.

The minute I walked back into the kitchen, I was accosted by Cait.

"You know, if you don't want people to READ your blog, you shouldn't leave it open on the computer!"

Um, oops.

I asked if she had read the whole thing...she had.

I asked what she thought, if she was upset...and she just shrugged and said, "I'm fine."

With that, I queried if she even understood what I was writing about.  She looked at me as though I had 3 heads (this is a very common look in our household right now, as she is 12 going on 32) and the answer?

"Um, Mom, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month...yes, I know!"

IMG_0477 IMG_0480 Oh.  And, with that, our conversation was over, and we both headed in different directions in order to try and get ready to leave before sundown.  We had decided to try a new pumpkin patch/festival this year and met up with the Salty Dog Crew near Leesburg.  The boys played for a bit and then we made the drive to Great Country Farms in Bluemont.

IMG_0489 IMG_5239 I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but in the end, felt the day was well worth the admission fee.  We did not have a chance to do the U-Pick (think it was just beans yesterday), but visited the animals, jumped on the giant balloon, played on a wooden tractor, played on a real, but retired tractor, climbed a pile of tractor wheels (heaven for LG), rode the rope swing 18 different ways, played in the corn bin (not for those who fear dust), played in the sand box, ate pumpkin pie ice cream (a diet buster, but worth it), took the required photos in front of giant pumpkins and rode the cow train.  In short, it was a good day.

I loved the back play area, as it was spacious, the views from the tire pile were incredible and the kids had so many options.  There was plenty for them to do that did not require anything but the admission fee (except the cow train...photo op worth the ticket price) and other than the train there were not any typical sit-down rides.  There was lots of jumping, hopping, sliding and tons of energy burning.   We left tired and happy, picked up a pizza on the way home (healthy pizza, of course) and had a girls' movie night in after Nick fell asleep.  Without a doubt, it was a fun day that was quite needed and much enjoyed.



October 09, 2010


I receieved a phone call yesterday that has already begun to alter the course of my month, if not my year.  Up until two days ago, I never imagined such a conversation would take place.  In fact, it is safe to say that I am still stunned by the turn of events.

Four weeks ago, I felt a lump in my breast.  I wouldn't have thought much more about it, and would have assumed it was nothing more than a cyst, but for the pain.  It wasn't much at first, and generally only when I touched the side and could actually feel the lump.  I realized I should probably get it checked out, but was in the throes of reunion travel and excitement.  I also thought it might (let me have my fantasy) resolve itself and I needn't worry myself.

I can't say that my first thought was not cancer, but I promptly researched "lump and breast pain" with Dr. Google and found (according to most sites) that pain was not always associated with cancerous lumps.  I am sure if I was not a worrier, this would have been sufficient for me.  However, I knew what I really needed to do and it was just a matter of finding an Ob/Gyn that was not completely booked for the next year.

I found one rather quickly, but then life got in the way and I kept forgetting to call for an appointment.  Finally, after 3 weeks I realized I was delaying in the hopes that everything would magically clear up on its own.  It hadn't and I knew it was time to face the music, no matter what was in store.  I made the appointment, went in, the nurse practitioner reviewed my fabulous medical history and all went swimmingly.

She knew why I was there, but was not concerned.  I was "young and healthy" according to her, had no known risk factors and certainly this was just a fluke.  I was feeling quite positive until the exam.  The minute she finished her demeanor changed ever so slightly.  She suddenly seemed to have less pep and offered that she could not make a diagnosis, and recommended that I have a mammogram and ultrasound to rule things out.

Great!  I would go, "rule things out" and that would be that.  It would be a cyst, some type of infection, I would get antibiotics and head home.  I  filled out the online form that night, a scheduler called me the next day and set me up with a 12:45 p.m. appointment.  I called Nicholas's Montessori and asked for extended care and figured I would easily have him home by 3 p.m.  I wrongly assumed that only a long wait due to many appointments would keep me there.  

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that by 2 p.m., after having one ultrasound and two mammograms, I would be curled up on an exam table, freezing despite the warm room, shaking like a leaf and being prepped for a biopsy that, in the doctor's words, "couldn't wait."  I had not even had a chance to call Peter, only the time to send him a quick note indicating that the tests were taking longer than originally thought.  In fact, I had been so nonplussed about the appointment,  that I hadn't even mentioned it until a quick phone call prior to leaving the house.

By 3 p.m., I was in the car, films in hand and bawling on the phone with Peter like no one's business. It wasn't even the testing, but the sudden urgency after the two mammograms and the ultrasound both revealed "suspicious calcifications."  I had watched an 80 year old woman bounce out of the testing area and declare, "Oh, that was easy, it didn't hurt a bit" and had just assumed at my age, I would have the same experience.

Instead, I left with an ice pack tucked away in my bra, and headed to the nearest CVS to load up on extra-strength Tylenol to dull the pain from the biopsy.  I was stunned by the turn of events, but Peter and the 3 other (extremely supportive) people I told were sure it was nothing and spent 48 hours sending me good vibes and hope.

I can't say I wasn't nervous, but tried not to focus on the negative.  I kept reminding myself that no one mentioned severity or anything of the nature during the testing, they simply said it needed to be done.  For all I knew, anyone with anything remotely suspicious went through the exact same process and ended up with a phone call that indicated all was well.  

I gave the doctor's office 48 plus hours and finally threw in the towel.  Between the never-ending bidding process (no, we still don't have a post) and this situation, I was started to unravel a bit.  I just wanted the news, no matter what, so we could move forward if something was wrong.  I called my doctor's office, but no one picked up, so I left a voicemail.  I then gave the actual diagnostic center a call, but all of the doctors had left for the day.   

Not five minutes later, my phone rang with an unknown number on the screen.  I figured it was likely a wrong number, but picked up anyway.  It was the OB/Gyn returning my call and letting me know that the test results were in.  The doctor did not waste time and while she was very thoughtful, she did not mince words and the next thing I knew I had a diagnosis of breast cancer* (DCIS), a list of doctors to call and a plan of action to start.

Thus far, I am not sure what to think.  I know that it has been caught very early, and that is extremely good news. I know many people have gone through much worse and I should be grateful it is what it is.  I know that there are so many treatment options and that in all likelihood this will be but a blip on my medical history radar.  

Yet...I'm still in shock.  Not only did my body betray me, but at an inconvenient time at best (I know, I know, there is never a good time).  I don't know what to think and at least for the next few days, there is not much I can do.  I have done my share of Googling this type of non-invasive cancer and think, for the moment, I am going to take a break.  On that note, though, if anyone has any experience with this type of breast cancer, please feel free to share on or off-line.  I'm just going to give Google a rest for a couple of days.

Instead I'm going to think that perhaps leaving the choir was a better call than I ever imagined, and enjoy the fall weather.  The kids don't know anything yet, so in certain respects, I can try and live in blissful ignorance.   We will hit a pumpkin patch or two, enjoy the long weekend and try to hold onto our little piece of normal for just a few more days...


*This was the preliminary diagnosis over the phone. I expect to have a more detailed pathology report on Monday to review.   




October 08, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments* for all to find and see. 

Wishing you all a lovely weekend!


Idea courtesy of Soulemama 


*Yes, I copied and pasted the text from Soulemama...but if you  had a special moment this week, please leave a link!



October 05, 2010

And with that

Cait is out of the choir.  We are still tethered to the voice lessons due to the contract, but we can live with that schedule.  Interestingly enough, she is only taking voice lessons as it is a requirement of the choir...but no "trial period" with the voice lessons.  

Even more interesting is the response I received to the email I sent to the director today.  It turns out that Caitlin would not actually be required to perform until the holiday concert.  I don't ever remember that being stated, however, that would still require rehearsals 3 out of 4 school nights the final week of school before Christmas (and one rehearsal lasts 4 hours).   While Cait was initially disappointmented that there was no practice tonight, she then realized that meant we could have a calm(er) sit-down dinner and she had more time to just relax.

Kelsey was also able to benefit by having an extended playdate (and dinner with a friend!) and Nicholas was not shoved into the car twice yesterday for two 30 minute round-trips guaranteed to make him tired and cranky, but not sleepy.  I managed to have 'quality time' with all three of the kids and am far ahead of my normal 10 p.m. self.  Another bonus?  Cait started talking about Drama Club (set design/auditions)?!  This would be an after-school activity and while there may be additional time requirements, no doubt not what we were facing with the choir.

The best part:  guess who had nary a meltdown today?  Who knows, maybe it's entirely unrelated...but I'll give myself (a small) pat on the back for realizing that sometimes, we simply can't do it all.  I must admit, I hadn't completely thought out the whole "how does one child's activity affect the other kids when there is only one of me?" prior to the choir debacle.  I think I can definitely say lesson learned on this particular topic.

And now that we are a bit less stressed, the temperatures have dropped and the crisp leaves have begun to fall, it's time to enjoy the season.  Pumpkin patches, apple-picking in the Shenandoah and Halloween creeping up oh so quickly...glad we will have a little more time to enjoy what this area has to offer.  After all, who knows where we will be next year? 


October 04, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

When we first moved here, I had the perfect plan to make the adjustment of the relocation easier:  mimic our California life as much as possible.  Theoretically, it seemed perfect as the kids would be in the same or similar activities, would meet like-minded friends and we would have just have a peachy-keen year.

One problem:  it's nearly impossible to replicate something that took two years to figure out...especially in a completely different location, environment and set of circumstances.  Unfortunately, I didn't figure this out until a few days ago, when I thought about the issues Nicholas has been having, pondered the comments on my previous post and really looked at our current situation.  I realized, sadly, that my fabulous idea may be at the root of his discontent and am desperately trying to find a way to repair the damage.  

As has been stated before, Cait has a deep and abiding interest in song.  I have always wanted to help her nurture that talent, but have not a clue as to how to do that on my own.  Thus, I have encouraged her to join and audition for choirs, and to use those as stepping stones in her musical career.  I was not thrilled that she had to leave the church choir and the Danville Girls Chorus when we moved, but assumed we would quickly find replacements.

I Googled children's choirs and one in particular kept popping up. A friend had recommended it years ago and from the description, it seemed amazingly similar to the DGC.  I contacted the director, set up an audition, and it seemed to be an easy in for Cait.  We left deciding to "think about it", as she was unsure about the commitment, and a month later we talked about it for the 20th time or so and decided it seemed like a good move.

Then Cait wavered.  I even wrote to the director, indicating she was in a bit of flux.  The director reminded me there was a trial period (a great idea, in hindsight) and had a feeling Cait would love it once she started.  And?

She has enjoyed the singing, and seemed to make friends quickly.  However, the commitment seems to have grown overnight.  I remember thinking the DGC had a schedule that could not be taken lightly...this is easily two or three times the rehearsals and performances.   Weekely practices are held every Tuesday, there is a 4 hour  practice the first Saturday of each month, there are 3 concerts in addition to special events and performances.  Concerts require 2-3 days of special rehearsals and there is more fund-raising than I have seen in public schools.  Then there is the cost...

I added everything up (again) the other night and realized the entire year (if I opt out of volunteering) could run close to $3000.  Granted, this is if I choose not to volunteer.  Should I choose to not pay the buy-out, I am committed to 40 hours (and I would guess that is a minimum) of volunteer work for the choir.  This is easily 10 times, if not more, the amount of work required by the DGC.  Now I shouldn't compare apples and oranges, but the more we became involved, the more overwhelmed we became.

Did I mention the voice lessons?  In order to participate in her choir, Cait must take voice lessons every other week.  Theoretically, this is fine with me, and something I think she should be doing anyway.  However, the voice lessons also require additional group lessons (1 per month) AND the group will have their own recital at some point...though where they find the time is beyond me.

I should add that I do think that the goals of the choir are admirable.  It seems as though they have done some incredible work and have amazing talent in the different groups....I just don't know that it's going to include the talent from our family.

I realized that part of Nicholas's unsettling antics may be due to an upset in the schedule.  The DGC held their rehearsals early in the late afternoon...Cait's current choir holds them from 6-8:15 on Tuesdays (every Tuesday), add in CCD on Sunday nights, voice lessons every other Monday, homework, any other activities she might want to do, oh, and sleep and you have a nutty, at best, week.  In fact, last week, when she had activities three nights running, it wasn't until Wednesday afternoon that any of us had a remotely regular schedule.  I knew it was a bit hectic, but it wasn't until Saturday morning that it hit home.

After a full week of school, Cait was scheduled to have a 4 hour rehearsal beginning at 8:15 a.m. on Saturday.  Normally, I suppose this wouldn't be so hard...except that she was utterly exhausted from the week (we all were) and was already dragging.   Kelsey, Nicholas and I spent much of our evening hanging out with the neighbors (and Kelsey even snagged her first sleepover) and we ended up getting to bed later than we hoped.  No chance any of us would want to get up at the crack of dawn, especially as we had been doing it all week long...and with the exception of Kelsey, we would all have to since no one else could drive Cait.

Then Saturday morning arrived.  Nicholas was sleeping soundly, I was not rested enough to be out of bed, much less driving, and Cait was a zombie.  She could barely sit up, much less get up and get going and I knew at that point, there would be no rehearsal...at least not for us.  She said she just didn't feel well enough to go, and that was enough for me.  I realized I didn't have a cell phone number, so left messages on the numbers I had and sent emails to the relevant addresses and hoped for the best.

IMG_0445 We ended up getting a bit more shut-eye and then having a quiet day enjoying Nicholas's school picnic and just playing outside.  Kelsey and her new friends spent hours outside running around and playing, and I didn't stress about having nothing planned for the evening.  We had a busier day today due to church and CCD, but Nicholas and I still carved out fun time in the afternoon and Kelsey and I enjoyed a quiet dinner together while Cait was in Sunday school.  

IMG_0451 The upshot?  I realized that while the choir schedule didn't seem that daunting in the beginning, it is designed for those who can give more than 100% and we simply can't do that this year.   Activities and concerts pop up and meetings can be scheduled with 48 hours notice.   If Peter were here, likely not an issue....but I have two other children who have needs that must be met...and more than at just a basic level.

In the end, I think Tuesday's rehearsal will be her last (it's the final day of her trial period).  I do feel bad, as she had begun to make friends, but I can't have her schoolwork or health suffering.  If she were not in the Advanced Chorus at school, we would rethink it...or perhaps try to find a choir with fewer commitments.  However, for now, I think we are going to use our out clause and enjoy more quality, family time together.   I don't know whether it was the extra down time on Saturday or simply my coming to terms with the decision, but Nicholas has been much calmer the past few days.  I wouldn't say things are perfect, but definitely much improved and I would like to keep it that way.



October 01, 2010

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 


Idea courtesy of Soulemama