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19 posts from December 2010

December 31, 2010

{this moment/this year}

{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 that your New Year is everything you want it to be and more. Idea courtesy of Soulemama.


Since it is the last moment of the year 2010, I also attempted to create a collage to capture our year in review.  It may not have every moment, but touches on many special times in 2010.


December 30, 2010

Our new dog

IMG_0881 for a few days was this little guy, Dylan.  He is the second child of our friends Jack and Janet.  They were taking their older son to New York City for the week and needed an emergency pet sitter.  Enter our family...we adore dogs, but for obvious reasons, will not be adopting another one just yet.

IMG_0887 Now that Dylan has been with us for a few days, and even learned how to 'sleep-in' a la Caitlin (maybe it's something about her room?), the kids have remembered that having a dog requires a great deal of responsibility.  

To quote Kelsey, after taking Dylan out for the 5th time on Tuesday, "Having a dog is a lot of work!"  She loved taking him out though and spent this morning lamenting the fact that he never spent the night in her room.  Perhaps he, too, was flummoxed by the never ending supply of Barbies and books clogging the available floor space?  It was enjoyable work, though, as I was able to combine my exercise needs with Dylan's for several days with a few very long walks.  Win/win!

Kelsey's utterance, however, is the reason if we do get a dog anytime soon, it will not be a puppy.  I can handle an older mutt, but puppies aren't even a consideration until the Little Guy is quite a bit more...mature.  Sadly, I wasn't able to get the most fabulous pics of Dylan, but here are a couple of the little guy happily settling in for a few days with the family.  


December 26, 2010

'Twas the night before Christmas

IMG_0842 IMG_0846 and all through the (town) house...not a creature was stirring, except for a crazed parent or two, frantically wrapping gifts in the wee hours of the morning.  Of course, they hadn't planned to be up at 2 a.m. trying to play Santa, but when the Little Guy was suddenly and inexplicably quite ill much earlier in the evening, plans quickly changed.  Not long after arriving home around 7 p.m. and eating dinner (and merely moments after deciding to camp out under the Christmas tree), LG suddenly turned, coughed and...Peter spent a good half an hour with the Little Green Machine and cursing our carpets.

IMG_0847 IMG_0849 IMG_0848 Up until then, it had been a calm evening, peaceful as Christmas Eve should be.  Sure, a bit of a push to get to church in time for Christmas Eve mass, but we made it.  Not only did we get a parking spot, but 3 prime seats in front of the children's choir.  It was a beautiful, standing room only ceremony (even the balcony was filled) that was over in time for us to view a friend's outstanding light display and enjoy a fabulous dinner of Chinese & Thai prior to our reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

IMG_0858 Sadly, something hit Nicholas during or not long after dinner.  One moment LG was happily pretending to camp out (& wait for Santa) under the Christmas tree and the next moment...well.  Once LG was cleaned up and appropriately attired in Christmasy jammies, we snuggled on the couch, took turns reading the Christmas poem and bid adieu to the kids.   Unfortunately, as I led Nicholas up to bed, it was take two on the sickness.  A cough here, a cough there and suddenly Peter was stuck cleaning our bedroom carpet as well.  No fever, nothing otherwise wrong with him, perhaps just a little too much excitement?

Hours later, we tackled the gifts.  We did not go overboard, yet there still seemed so much to wrap and, par for the course, we forgot a few things (and had to quickly wrap and throw under the tree the next morning/afternoon/evening...).  We all slept in Christmas morning and once the video camera was set to go, we marched downstairs. 

IMG_0852 IMG_0855 Stockings were opened first, as always.  A small amount of chocolate, bath treats and small trinkets prevailed.  The girls then tore into their gifts (including sleds, so we are (sadly) officially responsible for not receiving enough snow in the DC area today) and we spent a very happy and lazy afternoon reading, eating (homemade scones...yum!), snoozing, playing with trains, painting and "burning the fire" (playing fire station/fire man according to Nicholas). 

I spent hours just watching the kids, listening to Peter snore and watching Little Guy take his IMG_0860 time to truly open and enjoy each gift, before moving to the next one.  While I know some kids (my girls, to be sure) enjoy ripping through things (and then going back to admire each one), there is nothing like seeing an LG truly appreciate and treasure each and every present as though it's the only one. Unwrapping, looking at it, the eyes growing wide and then playing with it while thinking they have the best auntie/sissa/grandparents in the world because they knew he would love the recycling truck/fire truck/train set/helicopter.

IMG_0870 I'm not sure how to categorize Christmas just yet.  There were a few moments that we could have done without, but how was I to know that the carpet cleaning would remind me of how much things had changed in just two months?  Yes,  a weird but valid connection of thinking how if we had wood floors, Peter wouldn't have spent the evening cleaning carpets, but because things have changed for us, wood floors are out for now...you know how it goes.

Conversely, Peter was here for Christmas, and despite the doctors original assertions, I am far healthier than they thought.  Maybe, just maybe, around this time next year we will be frantically cleaning the carpet for a different reason:  the house being prepped for pack-out, we will enjoy a small, but festive final Christmas in the U.S. and our next post will be only weeks away at best.  A girl can dream, right?


December 24, 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 an amazing weekend!  Idea courtesy of Soulemama.



December 23, 2010

Last week

IMG_0759we had an opportunity to attend a very unique type of holiday party.  As Peter was on an unaccompanied tour at the time the event was first mentioned, I thought it would be appropriate for us to attend.  I double-checked that our attendance would be allowed regardless of his status (since it could feasibly change just prior to the event) and I was given the thumbs-up to send in our information.

IMG_5334 An invitation soon followed and before we knew it, Tuesday, December 14th arrived and we found ourselves scrambling to get ready and downtown in time for the celebration.  We pulled the girls out of school early (worth it, in our opinion), got onto Route 50 and within 15 minutes (about 45 minutes EARLY) arrived at Main State to find no parking whatsoever.  Peter had decided to come with us and run a few errands, so either way we needed a spot that did not expire at 4:00 p.m. We decided to take one last swing up C Street and miracle of miracles, a limo driver stopped in his tracks and waved us over to the ONE spot facing Main State that was open and not in a tow-away zone after 4 o'clock.  We thanked the driver profusely...almost as if he knew I had a sleepy toddler and a bum arm and no way of walking the Little Guy for several blocks (the stroller thing just doesn't work or expend enough energy for him).

IMG_5332 We angled the car in just so, bumped into a long-time FS friend as we were doing so and then decided to brave security (ironic, eh?) sooner rather than later.  Within 10 minutes, we were with many others waiting for our elevator ride to the reception room.  

At approximately 3:15 p.m., we began to move slowly but surely upstairs.  We registered, stopped at the coat check and took the short trip to a winter wonderland.  The entire floor was gorgeous and one room was filled with holiday treats for the younger set.  Upon wandering inside the main reception area, the gingerbread house table hosted a "Christmas boot" (as Nicholas called it) decorating area* and there were delicate sandwiches and drinks (sodas and such) aplenty.  

IMG_5335 IMG_0764 We wandered back and forth between the rooms (after having toured the whole floor) and enjoyed healthy snacks as well as incredibly rich hot cocoa.  Rudolph (yes, as in the Red-Nosed) was also in attendance and waved several times, but Nicholas kept a good 12 foot distance.  He likes the idea of Rudolph and Santa, but still has very little interest in say, shaking a paw or sitting in a lap.  

The highlight of the day was the opportunity to hear the Secretary of State speak.  Her office hosted the party from the words spoken by the Secretary as well as other guest speakers, to the ballet, to the gourmet treats (particularly the "candy bar"), it was an afternoon we won't long forget.   Kelsey had been initially reluctant to go (I had to drag the girls out of school...I would have been thrilled to miss classes at either age!), but once we were there, they didn't want to leave.  Both girls loved listening to the Secretary, and Kelsey was particularly excited as a class discussion had centered on Secretary Clinton just one week prior to the reception. 

Photo ops with the Secretary were numerous, though the quality of mine is dubious.  Guess who's camera (the ole point and shoot) died in the middle of the afternoon?  Yep, you know what's on my Christmas list...well, maybe next year's.

IMG_0762 We probably long over-stayed our welcome, but enjoyed meeting up with long-time friends, as well as others whom I had met only via email.  We slowly but surely made our way downstairs, found Peter, gathered our coats and headed out into the blustery and cold  evening.  It was a long afternoon and my first outing with the kids (on my own) since the surgery.  I was exhausted, but so thrilled to have a chance to really get out and see people.  More to the point, the party had the flavor of an Embassy Christmas/holiday party which we really miss attending.  A bit bigger than those attended in the past, but cozy at the same time and will not soon be forgotten.  Many thanks to everyone who worked so hard on the event...a hit in our books!


*It was a little ornament decorating section and Nicholas chose a stocking or "Christmas boot."  Fabulous idea, as was the candy bar, to give the kids a creative outlet and a bit of a treat.  There was nothing sweeter than watching Nicholas delicately spoon 5 M&Ms and a lollipop into his treat bag and wander off, thrilled with his 'loot'.  Oh, and yes, the last picture is my favorite!



December 20, 2010

We have a handshake

and the start date is definitely January 3.  Peter spoke with his new boss today and met with the person he will be replacing.  I can't get into every detail yet, but it is a position at headquarters with everything we desired and more.  Flexibility (regarding my *cough* issues), regular hours, travel (if desired) and a few other perks are all part and parcel.

Now, here is where I brag on hubby's employer:  absolutely amazing.  We have had our ups and downs in this lifestyle, but from Peter arriving home within 2.5 days of my diagnosis (as in stepping through the doorway) to the new career opportunity, we have been so unstressed in certain respects.  The past few months have not been a cakewalk for us emotionally (or me physically), but not having to worry about sick leave or his employment (other than my self-imposed guilt) and the way the FS community has rallied around us in every way possible, has made life much easier.

Funny, as of today I have finally given up feeling guilty regarding Peter's curtailment.  Tonight as I was doing my stretches/arm exercises, I realized that I have close to full range of motion in my arm and shoulder. A huge (emotional) weight off my shoulders...arm and shoulder nearly back to normal.  Coincidence? With my increased understanding of illness and the mind-body connection, I think not... 

December 18, 2010

The envelope was tucked

in the pile with the rest of the obvious holiday mail.   Notes and cards from friends and relatives, wishing us a joyous Christmas, Happy Everything and a very happy new year.  Some had photos, some not, but all were appreciated.

Then I picked up the second to last one up.  Unbeknownst to me from a first glance, it was slightly thicker than the rest.

"A-ha," I thought, "my first Christmas letter!" 

I curled up with my cup of coffee, wrapped myself in the soft and cozy blanket from a friend and prepared for what was surely an interesting read about the sender's past year.  Imagine my shock when I started reading and discovered that the letter was to me and about me. The words written were so thoughtful, but  the letter took me completely by surprise.

I wasn't really sure what to say and I was stunned beyond belief.  Peter's first words were, "How many times did you cry?"

At last count, three:  one per read.

I can't and won't write too much more...but once again I am touched beyond belief and the wish will be honored with much joy.

December 17, 2010

{these moments}

{these moments} - A Friday ritual. Two photos capturing moments from the week. Two simple, special, extraordinary moments. Moments I want to pause, savor and remember.  





May your weekend be the winter wonderland of your dreams.  Idea courtesy of SouleMama.  

December 16, 2010

That darn cat

I mean, our sweet "Bailey-Kitty" thought he would help me with a post.  Just as I was about to re-write the title for the umpteenth time, he pranced across the keyboard and clicked publish for me.  Thus there is (or was) a bizarre link that went nowhere. I gave up after that as it simply wasn't the right time and I also realized I should be working on Christmas cards.  

No, they will not be so timely this year...but better late than never?

December 15, 2010

It's official: He's back

for good and I may be the most selfish Foreign Service spouse on the planet.  It was Peter's idea, but for many weeks I steadfastly said I would not allow him to do it.  However, a week or so after the surgery, I looked ahead at my next year, even without chemo, and decided I just can't do it alone.  The result?

He curtailed from his unaccompanied tour of duty.  

As of yesterday afternoon he is no longer on the UT that we worked so hard to plan and implement. He will be returning (well, paperwork wise) to the DC area to a new and different (but exciting) position.  It's not 100% definite yet, but he had an interview earlier this week and if all goes well, he will have an incredible career opportunity (a one year assignment) beginnning on or about January 3, 2011.

Where do you go from here?  How do you really feel?

This will be our year to reorganize and re-energize.  The extra few months to a year in the area won't hurt in the long run and the kids are so excited that Peter will be sticking around.  Yes, he will be busy with his new position, but even having him home evenings and weekends will be a huge help for me.  With all of the indefinites that still remain, I realized this is something we need to do.

Are you going out again?  

You bet your bippy.  I'm not hanging around here any longer than is necessary.  We are hoping to bid on a position that would let us depart for post sometime between January - July 2012.  

Isn't that crazy?  Um, aren't you recovering from cancer?  Don't you need constant supervision?

No. Yes. No...well, not really.

We made it abundantly clear to all of my doctors that we would not allow this 'blip' to interrupt our lives. Not only did this not surprise them, most of them had experience with patients moving and/or frequently going overseas.  While they would love to see me every six months, they have already amended that to a once yearly in-person visit.  I will just need to find a local doctor/RMO who can perform the six month tests (bloodwork, etc.) and forward the results.  

What about follow-up surgeries, radiation, reconstruction and hormonal therapy?

I will get into all of the above more in a future post, but right now almost everything is in a holding pattern.  We are going to get a second opinion on radiation and hormonal therapy and go from there.  If we decide Tamoxifen is right for me, it can be shipped to me at post, so that will certainly not hold us back from moving.  

I neglected to mention one other development that eased my mind at the plastic surgeon's office. Dr. X had long ago offered that I might consider having an implant exchange.  He would remove the tissue expander and give me a temporary implant.  This would help me with my discomfort, as I am really tired of feeling as though I have an underwire bra underneath my skin (yep, it feels that good!).  The regular scar massages (and time) have helped, but there are still feelings that make my skin crawl. The sooner the tissue expander is out (about 10:45 a.m. on January 20th), the better!

I know I have made it abundantly clear that I want a 'natural' look and feel, hence the Diep.  I am just too overwhelmed right now and need more recovery/adjustment time.  Given that radiation is still up in the air and I would need 4-6 months recovery time from finishing that treatment, we are now anticipating that I will have my 'real' reconstruction in the fall.  Having the implant placed now will give me a more normal feel to my chest region until I am prepared for reconstruction (and Pete saves up more sick leave...there's a lengthy recovery period).

I really wanted to be that super-confident and strong person.  I yearned to desire to continue this year by myself, no matter what I had to go through and how exhausted it left me.  However, it finally hit me that sometimes it's smart to be selfish and I am fairly sure most would agree that this is the right move.  For those who don't, well, so be it.  I have decided to let go of the guilt and enjoy the opportunities that this change in plans gives us.  It's not what we envisioned, but we will make it work.


December 13, 2010

Buyer's remorse

set in last week with a vengeance.  I can't remember the clicking point (generally involves trying to get to sleep) but at some point Thursday evening I came down with serious regrets about the way I have approached my entire health 'crisis'.  I freaked out and decided that I had rushed things too much, tried to get everything done too quickly in the name of getting back to normalcy and worried that I should have tried harder to ensure I wasn't going overboard, particularly on the surgery.

Oh, I remember...it was the planner.

I received a gift pack in the mail on Thursday.  It had a blanket, a bag, several scarves and a planner. The planner had forms for each doctor visit and approximately 18 second opinion sheets.  I also happened to read in a book (that very afternoon), about the importance of having "x" number of second opinions.  So, what if I had overdone it?  Too little, too late, right?  However, with the the drains, the weird bras, the constant pain and discomfort, the sensation issues, checking for swelling and scary arm problems, painful arm exercises, the way the right side of my chest still looks like...well, it looks awful, the way I can't shower without crying (because showering means scar massage...a painful, but necessary deed) and the way I still feel I have let everyone down....I just couldn't stop doubting the decision, thinking the surgery was too drastic.

Peter tried to comfort me and calm me down.  He tried to reassure me that I should not second-guess myself.  He said all of the evidence from all of the doctors indicated that I did exactly what I should do, but I couldn't agree that he was right.  I finally fell into a fitful sleep on the couch, and Peter, the saint that he is, slept next to me on the chair the entire night. (FYI: When one is in the midst of any sort of emotional turmoil, there is nothing on earth more comforting than waking up the next morning and finding your spouse still next to you on said chair...)

I also woke up to find that not only had he scheduled a massage/MLD for me at the Teal Center for that afternoon, but also an appointment with a new doctor.  She is a doctor of Functional Medicine, an MD that works with people who have chronic illnesses (guess I sort of qualify) and treats the whole person, not just the disease.  She won't prescribe chemo, radiation or hormonal therapy, but she will spend 2-3 hours just reviewing my records and getting to know my medical history. 

We had bandied the idea about for a bit, but Thursday night sealed the deal.  Peter explicitly forbade any further decisions on conventional treatments until after I met with her.  I know full well that despite her holistic background she may indicate in her opinion that it is best for me to go through with radiation and hormonal therapy.  In fact, I am not really expecting her to say either treatment is a bad idea. If I do go through them, I need to be in the best shape possible and supplement with the most ideal complementary therapies to get me through with the fewest side effects.  

I don't want to be guessing about which supplement will interefere and/or when is the best possible time to try acupuncture or how many sessions of manual lymph drainage I will need per week if I opt for radiation.  While my oncologists (medical and radiation) have been wonderful about answering questions regarding the actual treatments, the alternative portions are not their pieces of the puzzle. Having someone outside who can say "Yes, this is a good idea, but you should do x, y and z." may be exactly what I need.  Knowing that I have yet another support person to guide me through what could be a difficult time will undoubtedly help me make  a more confident decision.  Well, and then there is Dr. X.

We had a follow-up appointment with him today that was supposed to consist of discussion and then another fill.  Iffy news?  Lots of discussion!  Good news?  No fill!  Fills are supposed to be exciting, but for me they are just ridiculously painful.  I nearly kicked the poor guy last time (thank goodness he had a steady hand...) and I was not looking forward to this morning.  

We reviewed the surgical information and have come to the conclusion that the extra excision is not going to work.  It IS a good idea and should always be considered, but simply won't fly in my case. There is nothing left to excise on the medial margin, and he would end up having to take too much skin.  Taking any more would negate the "skin-sparing"ness of the surgery and I don't want to go there.  He knew we were still undecided on radiation and did share a few tid-bits regarding my RO's style with regard to radiation.  He let us know that the skin was generally in far better shape, there was virtually no risk of lymphadema and that (in his opinion) it couldn't hurt to have the extra safeguard against recurrence.

I get it completely.  I know the issue up, down and all around.  However, I am an unusual breed and fear over-treating more than under, especially when we are so clearly in a gray area.  Many of my frustrations with this illness have revolved around me not wanting to go overboard...but I couldn't figure out the reason behind my worries.  Part of it is the health issue:  I don't like possibly making myself sick in other respects in order to deal with this issue.  However, I am also simply not as afraid of the cancer as the doctors would like...and I couldn't understand why until recently.

I had a bit of an epiphany last week and finally traced the source of my discontent and my reticence about both radiation and Tamoxifen, and yes, even the surgery.  It's not something I'll blog about anytime soon, but just my own knowledge gives me comfort.   I realized that I just have to take that part of my thinking out of the equation for the moment.  It doesn't mean I am any more afraid of the cancer; I'm not, it will not be the end of me (ever).  It doesn't mean that I am any less afraid of treatments or their side effects, but between the new doctor and a better understanding of my fears, I think I am better able to make a decision that I (and my doctors) can live with for a very, very long time.


December 10, 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 a very special weekend and a very 

Happy (early) Birthday to Dr. Salty Dog!  

Idea courtesy of Soulemama.

December 09, 2010

Little Guys can be very

IMG_5330 literal.

When we were on our final getaway before 'it' a few weeks ago, Nicholas was hanging out with Dr. (Auntie) Salty Dog.  On the way to the playground, she happened to mention to the Little Guy that we were traveling to Pennsylvania. Not a word...happy as a clam and ran off to play the minute they arrived.  

IMG_5329 Thirty minutes later he thoughtfully asked, "They have pencils?"  It took her a minute, but she then remembered his curiousity about our destination.

His latest interest took me a few days to comprehend in several ways.  We have noticed that the tree has been shedding, and much more than we normally see.  Not only were needles falling, but bits of branches, too.  This seemed odd until I happened to walk in on him one day..."trimming the tree."  From now on, we will "hang decorations" in our household.  On the other hand, his cutting skills are very sharp (yes, he uses scissors while we *generally* supervise, and is actually quite skilled in that area).

Now are we upset about the tree?  Not in the slightest...just so glad we have some photographic evidence of his adventures.


Note: Yes, he always appears to have a ring of chocolate around his mouth...it's a Little Guy thing..though this may actually be fruit bar.



December 07, 2010

The secret is out...

and this time I didn't know what to say.

Last week, Peter attended Kelsey's Girl Scout meeting, as I am not back behind the wheel.   I haven't driven since the surgery and I want to be sure I really have a good range of motion before I hop back on the Beltway.  I'll probably give it a go over the next few days, but since Peter goes with me most places, the whole thing just hasn't been an issue.

He attended the cookie meeting, brought all of the important forms home and that was that.  He later told me that he had mentioned something about the "big C" (if you will) to the troop leader.  I hadn't said a word...well, no, I wrote to her about having surgery, but didn't clarify.  The whole thing still unnerves me and it seems like the minute you break the news, there is a slight change in the atmosphere.   I can't pinpoint it exactly, but I instantly feel sorry for the people I am telling...as though it will somehow rock their world a bit too much (or maybe not at all) and I just avoid it.

IMG_0709 I really hadn't told anyone here, either in our neighborhood or at Kelsey's school.  I guess I was a bit embarassed about how my body managed to fail me, especially at such a critical time in our lives and I just sort of crawled under a rock.  Peter came home from B'dad and I literally dropped everything in his lap.  From wake-ups to putting Nick to bed at night (well, I helped a bit with that...and laundry...and...), I let him do as much as he wanted.  I felt a bit guilty when I was clear-headed, but spent so much time being crazed about my diagnosis that it didn't hit me until later on that I had all but disappeared from our neighborhood.

IMG_0710 I was just getting to know most folks when suddenly I feared leaving the house.  I felt like I had a giant B (or C or BC) on my chest.  I stopped doing bus drop-off or pick-up as I was too tired in the mornings and too fearful of reactions in the afternoon.  As it turns out, Peter only told one neighbor (at first) and she didn't say a word to anyone.  Then the word gradually began to spread, but most folks did not find out until after the surgery...to include the troop leader.

IMG_0713 Fast forward a bit and tonight found us at the Arts Night at Kelsey's school.  Each classroom displayed special projects they had created.   Kelsey's classroom worked on the topic of Egypt and temporarily fused their art and history classes.  Kelsey sketched a self-portrait and then an overlying picture of what she would look like 'back then'.  We watched the video, admired her work and visited a few other classrooms.  The bonus? Tonight was also a book fair.  While we have tried to scale back our book purchases, we generally allow one or two (especially if allowance is involved).

When it came time to make my purchases, I snuck over to the short line as I actually had a few Christmas gifts in hand.  I was waved over to the other side of the table and heard a "Hi, Jen" from a PTA mom.  As she looked around a bit furtively then glanced at me again and started to speak, I realized she is also a Girl Scout mom.  She gave me a kind look and offered that she knew what happened.  Apparently, the troop leader had mentioned 'it' to the group after Peter left.

I was stunned...not because I was upset (it's not like I have been all hush-hush about this), but because I just didn't know what to say.  I just stared at her for a minute and suddenly felt like my scar was glowing red.  I actually double-checked to make sure I didn't look any different (FYI, when you are wearing a parka over a sweater over a....) and then looked back up. Finally she broke the silence by asking how I was, did I need follow-up treatments and offered that if I was ever too tired or sick to pick Kelsey up from a meeting, to please just let someone know.  I gave her the update, thanked her, picked up my purchases and rounded the corner to find a screaming Nicholas wailing on Peter (translation:  time for the long drive home).

I left feeling almost as though I had let her down.  I don't think I did, but I suddenly wondered if I should have said more to everyone and sooner.  I just didn't want anyone else to worry.  We didn't even tell the kids' teachers right away (still haven't said a word to Cait's) as we felt they had better things to stress about and it's very hard to tell people (at least for me) in a face-to-face scenario that there might be/is something wrong with your body that otherwise appears to be in working order.

And now? Actually, I am relieved.  People know (who probably do need to be aware), I didn't have to tell them and I really am quite grateful for the offer of support.  Even more importantly, they know that if Kelsey has an off day...well, there might be more than meets the eye.

December 06, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Seriously.  I was cold yesterday and that almost never happens.  Yes, Little Ms. "We lived in Iceland for 3 years and we played happily in sleet" and company froze their bums off yesterday for the sake of music and holiday joy.

IMG_0702 Cait's school choir had been invited to participate in a holiday concert at Wolf Trap.  Wolf Trap is fabulous during the summer, well-known as a fantastic outdoor concert venue.  At 38 degrees F? Even those dousing their liquer in coffee had chattering teeth as they raised their rapidly cooling mugs to their blue lips.  So, when half-way through the sing-a-long portion, Peter and the kids called it quits?  Well, I was only sad I couldn't join them.

It was fun, but it was FRIGID.  It's a concert, as in you sit, listen to the music, clap politely when the musicians are finished and then patiently wait for the next tune.  I don't think I had to clap as the blocks of ice pretending to be my feet were clapping constantly for me.  

Now one might say, well, why didn't you bring blankets or dress more warmly?  Well, I was fine with the exception of my feet and my head.  Not only was my hair still damp when we arrived at the concert, but I had forgotten a hat.  I did remember my parka (so grateful I didn't give it away in CA), gloves and wore tights under my skirt, which was likely warmer than jeans.  However, I didn't give a thought to the kids.  I have what I am terming "surgery brain."

Maybe it is a lack of sleep and stress, the fact that I did have just have major surgery, or just that I am still not all here due to this entire scenario.  I have not been myself for weeks and just didn't think about the fact that we were going to be sitting outside for two hours (had to arrive an hour early) and that something other than jackets and gloves for the kids might be nice.  Granted Peter (who just doesn't get cold) was mostly in charge of them, but not 5 minutes after we were there, it hit me that I was a complete #momfail.  No blankets, no sleeping bags, nor did I even consider that a thermos of hot cocoa would be useful (or allowed, apparently that was overlooked yesterday).  There were folks carting what must have contained an entire linen closet's worth of blankets and picnic baskets galore.

Not only that, I didn't completely 'get' the event (but neither did Peter).  We thought it was just a sing-a-long.  Nope, it's a concert then a sing-a-long.  Finally, as we were 6 songs into a 14 song portion of the sing-a-long,  Peter, Nick and Kelsey opted out.  One of us had to wait for Cait, but the kids simply couldn't hack it any longer.  Kelsey was miserable, Nicholas was numb and even Peter was feeling the cold.  They packed it in and headed to the car....with the rest of the folks who were part of the semi-mass exodus.  

I continued to feel guilty until Peter texted me that it seemed everyone with a toddler was headed to their car.  Well, not all, but enough so that Peter felt justified in his exit.   He then also reminded me that blankets are great, but when you have to sit for two hours in the freezing cold, they are only of so much use.  

Now the concert was fabulous.  The music was great, the band was terrific and the kids sang their little hearts out.  In fact, had it even been 10 degrees warmer, we all would have lasted the entire time and sung a bit more (chattering teeth made singing difficult).  I texted Peter back that we would simply have to remember all of this for next year...blankets, foot warmers, hot cocoa, shots of Baileys for the coffee....).

His response:  "Next year?!? ;-)?"

Oh, I almost forgot, I managed to get a picture.  Despite frosty fingers and forgetting my real camera, I managed several shots of them all on stage. What was that?  Which one is Cait? 

Just look for the girl in the Santa hat ;-)



December 05, 2010

Forgotten breaths

Do you ever consciously think about breathing?  Then the minute you try to stop, you can't?  It becomes almost obsession, and the more you try to stop, the more you feel like all you can do is breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out and each breath feels crazier and your heart is racing and you can't think about anything else, but...then you forget.  Suddenly you look and realize that in the blink of an eye...

the leaves have turned, the Christmas lights are up, beautiful, home-made wreaths adorn every door and suddenly you have forgotten that breathing in and out can be simple and easy.  You don't have to think about it, count your breaths or research your options anymore.  No, in fact, everything is fine or at least better. The world has slowed down and you are no longer on your obsessive roller coaster of breathing, I mean, fact-finding...at least not for a few days.

I finally came to grips with reality and enforced a true self-prescribed cease-fire on my obsessive research about the issue that has overwhelmed me for the past two months.  You see, it is very, very easy to say (or write) that one will do that, but the reality of actually letting go is much harder.  It is so simple to think, "I will just do one more Google" or "No, no, really, I just have to look at one more article" and then just keep plowing on through the internet.  I convince myself that just five more minutes will give me the answer I seek or clicking on one more page.  Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion tonight that no one can give me the answer, because, truly, no one knows what will happen.

IMG_0684 IMG_0686 I finally stopped (officially) Friday night/Saturday morning.   We had journeyed to Williamsburg on something of a whim.  At nearly the last minute, Peter thought it would be fun to take the girls...oops, kids, and we managed to find a room at the nearby Residence Inn for the nifty price of $77/night (gov't rate, natch).  We left the house at 7 p.m., were at the hotel way before 10 p.m. and we all settled in...except me.  

It's not a new or very renovated Residence Inn and they don't have the little plug sets by the lights. Instead the only remaining one I could find to re-charge my iPhone (courtesy of Mr. I Must Bring Every Electronic Gadget I Own On Every Trip) was in the bathroom.  I plugged the little sucker in, tucked myself into bed, tried to watch a little HGTV and was up every 5 minutes researching every iteration of my newest idea regarding possible treatments.  The good part?  I found the information I wanted to locate.  The bad part?  I couldn't put the phone down and just let it lie.  I had to keep looking for more and more and more.  

I tucked myself back into bed and then hopped out, repeatedly and obsessively, just as I hop back and forth between "Cancer Jen" and "Normal Jen".  I SO want to be normal Jen and worry about nothing more than if our meals are relatively healthy, are we doing enough fun stuff, are the kids growing up to be conscientious and aware citizens, do we have enough coffee for tomorrow morning, and when did we last change the guinea pig's cage?  Instead I become "Cancer Jen" and obsess about the proper foods, medication interactions (when I am not even ON medication, other than supplements), effects on my body in 30 years from possible treatments now, what can FEP case managers do, why is there no discount for having breast cancer and why I can't I just get over myself and be happy for the moment?

IMG_0693 IMG_0694 Finally, I went to bed.  I tried to tell Peter about my new discovery, but since he had fallen asleep two hours before, his response was less than encouraging.  I had my usual issues falling asleep and finally nodded off after stressing about not getting my point across to Pete.  Then it occurred to me that maybe I needed to quit...and mean it this time.  I woke up and while I was still somewhat miserable (lack of sleep not helping), I didn't pick up the phone and start Googling.  I checked e-mail and Facebook and left it at that.  

IMG_0697 We spent the day in Williamsburg, ostensibly to see how it was decorated for Christmas and to let Cait pretend that she is a girl of the past (a favorite hobby...I yearned to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, so I get it).   Given the historical nature, there is plenty of decorating, but far more laid-back and less electric than one might see on our street (we are officially the Griswolds o' the Pass).  I originally expected more, but why?  After all, plastic pre-lit reindeer had yet to be invented!

IMG_0698 What did we find?  Plenty of boughs of holly and nary a window without a candle.  We also noticed that there was a wreath on nearly every residence.  We then began to see the subtle differences in the wreaths:  some utilized only dried fruits, another showcased shells and the most unique (in our opinion) involved clay pipes.  After a tiny bit of research, I came upon several articles that discussed the wreaths of Williamsburg.  It is actually a fairly new practice, but is stringent in that all items used must be those that were available in Colonial times.   Hmm, sort of like eating locally...

IMG_0701 By 2:45 p.m., we had nearly exhausted ourselves and Nicholas was rapidly heading towards nap-time.  It occurred to me that since our arrival around 10:00 a.m., I hadn't thought once of looking at the phone, other than to check the time.  Then I had a novel idea:  what if I could just pretend I was normal and thus, get through the entire day without checking?

I did...and I did.  In fact, it worked so well, that I declared last night (and then promptly choked up) that all weekends should be "cancer-free" in the household.  There can be minimal discussions, but nothing intense and no researching.  In fact, I am so enjoying my moratorium that I may just extend it into the week...and what the heck, maybe for the entire Christmas season?  I know that I've said it before, but this time I really think I am serious...





December 03, 2010

{these moments}

A Friday ritual.  Three photos - no words - capturing moments from the week. Three simple, special, extraordinary moments. Moments I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment(s)' in the comments for all to find and see. 

I know, I know, it is supposed to be *one moment*...however, all three* screamed "pick me!"

Happy weekend!




*** *** ***   

Idea courtesy of Soulemama.


*The Advent Wreath may seem simple and unassuming, but it is a symbol of a change (the good kind) within our small family.

December 02, 2010

He never thought

he'd eat that!  Yes, I am a cheater.  My dear friend, Lauren, is hosting the Round-Up this week and I couldn't possibly not participate, but


I really don't eat interesting things, at least not in my opinion.  I'm sure wheatgrass qualifies as exotic to some, but to me it's just another staple in our household these days.  Even while in Iceland, I gravitated towards fish, Skyr and veggies.  Tasty, yes, but I'm not sure they would qualify as items I never thought I might never try.  Peter, however, shocked us all by not only giving puffin a go, but also Hákarl.  

During our third week in Reykjavik, the Embassy staff hosted a barbecue.  Not long after we arrived at the meet and greet, the grill was loaded up and ready to go.  Soon a rather gamey smell wafted through the air and while I was curious as to the source, I had no inclination to try it.  Peter, not generally the adventurous eater, heard that the aroma was grilled puffin and was nearly first in line.  His recollection?  "Yum!"  Not my cup of tea, but he loved it.

The puffin later proved not to be enough.  A few months later, my father stopped by to visit Iceland and attend Cait's First Communion (held at the base in Keflavik).  We wanted to show him as much of the local culture and cuisine as possible, so spent one evening at the Viking Village.  Technically, the special treat was for dad, but Peter was the only one remotely interested in trying the um, marinated shark.   I'm fairly sure the look on his face says it all as did the fact that he did not hesitate to follow up the bite with a shot of Brennivín.  

Oh, and wondering about this delicacy?  It never made it onto our dinner table, but maybe on our next journey to our favorite little island...


December 01, 2010

How I might be a guinea pig

IMG_5307 Thanks to the protocol my oncologist is proposing.  No, of course, she does not see it that way, but given my past history...where, oh, where to start?

Well, with semi-good news:  radiation is still on the table and not definite for the time being.  I am hugely undecided here, but have to say I am leaning towards not having it, some days more heavily than others. It turns out that there are two margins of concern (one was previously not mentioned as being an issue). One of the areas could still possibly have extra excision.  The other area, a medial margin, has nothing left to be excised (the bad news, apparently).  The good news?  They are not concerned about the invasive cancer on the medial margin, just the DCIS.  

Since the DCIS can only be found in the ducts and I am (insert small cry, tears miraculously reappear) now duct-less on the right side, one would think there would be less of a worry.  Unfortunately, it still puts me in the gray area, as recurrences can happen and of course, the doctors want to err on the side of caution.  Too bad the doctors and I are in differing camps regarding the definition of "erring on the side of caution."  

The really bad news?  The oncologist is ready to go full-force with the Tamoxifen.  I have zero to no interest in taking it.  I know it can be like taking a vitamin, however, I would not take a vitamin without researching it thoroughly.  Thus I researched Tamoxifen, then really, really thought about my medical history and became very afraid. 

You see, if you recall, I made mention somewhere in the past of episodes of Intrahepatic Cholestasis of the Pregnancy.  This is some bad-you-know-what stuff that you really don't want while you are pregnant. I lucked out enough to not have it just once, but twice!  The truly interesting piece is that I did NOT have it while pregnant with Nicholas.  Now Peter and I have our own theory as to why it didn't happen, but theories aside, cholestasis and liver damage (in general) can both be side effects of guess what? Tamoxifen.

So if I appear to be a bit hesitant to swallow that pill, it's with good reason.  ICP is not a walk in the park, but at least it is 'curable' in that it disappears once one gives birth.  As far as I can tell, Cholestasis (not of the prenatal) variety does not.  One might then be inclined to think, "Well, at least you won't have a recurrence of breast cancer!" 

Maybe.  Nothing I have read/heard from my doctors says I won't have a recurrence, just that there is a lower chance of a recurrence (and not a huge one in my opinion).  Given my stage, my Oncotype and all other factors (and let's not forget my natural reticence to incorporate this type of drug into my protocol), to me it is too risky.  I am quite sure that some may see my hesitance as unwise. However, I am one of those crazy people who sees this from a different perspective.  

I don't see this as a time to attack with the big guns, and thus far, the data seems to be indicating that 'less is more'.  Yes, I went ahead with the surgery, however that was to remove the cancer.  It was invasive, and there is* risk, but I did not see anything inherently toxic.  I still regret feeling that it was necessary, but it was not as though they took out the cancer and put something equally as bad back in. While Tamoxifen may have its benefits, it is far from something one would naturally take on a regular basis.  The side effects are known and numerous (and include cancer).  There are those who have taken it and still had a recurrence.  There are those who have NOT taken it and had no recurrence.  Where does that leave me?

Completely and utterly undecided.  My oncologist feels it is necessary, Peter is less hesitant about me taking it after talking with her today, and I still want nothing to do with it.  As it is now, I have a grace period and have indicated I will not even consider taking it prior to January 1st.  If I end up doing radiation (for whatever truly compelling reason), then I will defer beginning the Tamoxifen until that is completed.

Now there is one small chance that my ICP was actually related to gallbladder issues and I do not have the enzymatic defect that causes cholestasis.  I only just learned of the possibility this evening and it is a very small to non-existant chance.  If it was truly a gallbladder** problem (blockage of the ducts with gallstones) vs. a liver problem, then there is a better chance my worries are unfounded and I will give the medicine a go for a trial period.  Isn't that incredibly reasonable of me?

In the meantime, can I just say how I am so tired of decision-making and feeling like everything hinges on me making the "right" decision?  Unfortunately, no one knows for sure which decision is best and it always seems to me to be a 'lesser of two evils' scenario.  Hard to believe fewer than two months ago, my biggest worry was about the bid list and our choices.   Oh, how I yearn for those days...

*I typed "is" because having a mastectomy carries permanent risk factors.  I write that not to frighten anyone, just to make he/she well aware.  In fact, the risk factors are the reason I (finally!) obtained a referral to a physical therapist.  I don't think I am having any problems at this time, but want to be 100% sure I am on track as far as recovery goes.  Despite my breast surgeon's insistance I would be fine without it, the oncologist thought my idea of an overall assessment to be a very good one (points for her and sort of evens out the Tamox issue a teeny bit) and immediately typed up a scrip.  

** Generally, having one's gallbladder removed does not ensure that one will not have ICP. However, apparently there are cases where one could seem to have ICP, but instead has a version caused by gall stones blocking the bile ducts.  Since it was assumed that I would have ICP with each pregnancy (and most women still have ICP even with cholystectomy), there was never any testing done for the liver defect...hmm...