Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Juggling Breast Cancer and Motherhood

Looking back, I'm not quite sure how I did it. With an 18 year old entering college, a 6th grader in the first year of middle school and a 3 year old entering preschool for the very first time, I had my hands full right before school started last September. After a needle biopsy indicated invasive lobular carcinoma, a form of breast cancer that invades the lobules of the breasts, I needed to move on with my treatment with haste.

I decided to have my surgery 2 weeks before school started simply because my children needed to enter school within Mommy intact. Worrying about my kids thinking of me in a hospital bed just gave me nightmares. I pressed to have my mastectomy quickly, including an elective left side mastectomy as a preventative measure. It turns out I made a good choice having that surgery before school started. We bought school supplies, lunchboxes and uniforms before my surgery and organized everything just in case I was under the weather.

I ended up spending a harrowing 3 days in the hospital. This was so rough on my girls and it would have been harder if they had been in school. Calling me on the phone and visiting soothed even my youngest. Our aim was to transition these children slowly with solid information about Mommy's health. The girls helped care for me during recovery and this empowered them with enough strength to leave for that first day of school with heads held high and happy expectations.

Surgery marks the first step on a long road for breast cancer treatment. We all might think losing a boob or two is the very worst that can happen. Chemo trumps that. Chemo takes a person and wrings them out like a rag. It wrecks the body with weakness that even motherhood barely penetrates. I was lucky - very lucky I never had such low counts to end up in the hospital. Every 3 weeks I traveled into the hellish realm of chemo-induced weakness and suffering. This fog lasted for a solid 7 days. And then I'd emerge to be Mom again.

This isn't to say I didn't do plenty of Mom things during that 7 days after chemo. I did. I just don't remember many of them. It was a complete struggle to remain on my feet, concentrate on projects and make lunches. My husband helped with homework and picked up my slack. With the help of his incredible mother, my girls transitioned through the chemo period quite well with loving support and attention from my mother-in-law. I truly believe she kept them from being so afraid by maintaining their schedules and giving them her undivided attention.

The toughest part of having breast cancer with such a young child is explaining why Mommy doesn't feel well. You literally need to tailor the message to provide just enough information so your child won't be scared. We told our 3 year old that Mommy had an inside boo boo that needed to be taken care of . My precious baby would curl up next to me during those 7 days after chemo, tucked close and patting my back. When Daddy asked her what she was doing, she said she needed to snuggle Mommy to make her feel better.

After that first 7 days, it's like someone flicked a switch and I was back on track. I could drive kids home from school, play with my preschooler and focus on the hundreds of mother-type things that Moms do each day. Two weeks of regular-life bliss followed that hellish 7 days. And then I did it again, over and over for 6 sessions of chemo. And my kids held my hand along the way.

Having a 12-year-old just blooming as a young lady added an interesting aspect to my treatment regimen. When a child hears the world cancer, they automatically assume the person will die. Convincing my most sensitive child that the cancer was gone and I wasn't going anywhere took quite an effort. She's come to accept that Mommy is still Mommy, with or without hair or boobs. My mantra was and remains that I will be here for my girls to help them fight this beast if they have to.

Women don't simply stop being Mommy with a breast cancer diagnosis. We deal daily with running a home, taking care of kids, holding down a job and being the general mastermind of most households. We deal daily with the fear of not seeing our children reach adulthood and the fear that our own kids will succumb to this viscous disease. Fighting as a family makes the road so much easier to bear.

Six month after my final chemo session, I'm still not up to my regular energy level. I conk out quickly and struggle to keep up with my active children. I am, however, striving to enjoy every, single little thing they do each day. Each smile, each laugh, each argument (not!) and every night at the dinner table shows me my blessings. I couldn't have succeeded at fighting the beast without the true gift of my wonderful children.

Friday, June 19, 2009


I lumped Steffie and Jackie into the wildlife post because they're crazy :) This was at dinner the other night. Jackie had her beautiful silver flip flops on so she asked me if she looked like a princess. Where did my grubby baby go?

Little gator in a watercourse along one of the bike paths. He didn't like me taking his picture. Right after this, he went under water so I'm lucky I even caught this pic.

Turtle!!! Love my turtles! This guy was hanging out on the rain pipe that feeds the ponds. Later on, 3 of his friends joined him in the sunshine.

Goofy bird. Funny story. These guys try to hang out around the folks fishing in the ponds. If you give them bait, they will show up at exactly the same time the next day for more. Quite a memory, even though it's driven by their stomach. Guess this is why herons come to visit my Dad's pond for days at a time.

We leave tonight. I'm bummed. We've made the executive decision that next year, vacation will be 10 days. 2 weeks is too long but 10 days sounds just right!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gators and Lightning

This little guy was waiting for me on the bank across from our porch this morning. He's about 2 feet long but acts like he's 8 feet. He was just sunning himself about 10 feet from a cormorant. He couldn't have cared less that I was there. I have yet to see the big daddy that hangs out in the main pond. He's huge!

A massive storm that was more bluster than rain thwarted our evening bike ride. But I caught some wonderful lightning pics for the first time in my life.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Promised Pics

I took my camera on a 10 mile bike ride this morning hoping for some wild life. Well, I got some in the form of a great blue heron. There's a story buried way back on this blog about where my pen name S.F. Heron comes from. So in honor of that, here's some pretty cool heron pics.

Betcha he'd eat every fish in my Dad's pond in a heartbeat.

Here's the linky dinky doo to the story. It's partially edited for profanity.

Hi from South Carolina

We're here. Getting ready for a trip kicks my butt even when I'm 100 percent healthy. It really kicked my fanny this time. We left friday after Stef got out of school at 11 a.m. and headed south. Packed to the gills :)

It's beautiful down here. By far my favorite is the Spanish moss. There's something just so dramatic about it. I'll take some pics to post soon.

We brought my old kitty, Maui. She makes this rather annoying meow that isn't a real meow. It sounds like "rrrerrr" over and over again. She did this all night when we stayed in the hotel. I'm sorely missing my sound making alarm clock thingy. I love me some white noise to block out kitty sounds. I did figure out how to make static on the radio sound like a waterfall (or maybe it's just my imagination!)

It's late here. After 1 but then I slept through dinner. Jackie and I conked out. She's still asleep so I imagine she'll be ravenous in the morning.

This kitty is yelling really loud. The reason we brought her along is because she's 18 and usually refuses to eat when I'm gone. I almost lost her when I was in the hospital for 3 days with my mastectomy. She's a drama queen, just like my kids :) Maui is beautiful and itty bitty because she's so old. And what a trooper. She traveled better than all of us!

I'm hitting the sack.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For Sheri

...Cause if she's not gonna have a party to celebrate being done with chemo - then I'm doing it for her.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hair Epiphany

It's been a hair kinda weekend. Let's start with Jackie. For Christmas, Santa brought her a pair of her "very own scissors." When I opened the package from Santa, we had an at length discussion about what we use scissors for. A very integral part of the discussion was about how we never use our "very own scissors" to cut our hair. I put the scissors up high and only pull them out under supervision.

So Friday night, she decides she needs to cut up some paper into minute pieces to scatter everywhere. This cutting is one of the things her preschool teacher asked us to do with her to help fine motor skills (since she hates coloring). So she's hacking up a sheet of white paper and I move into the other room (with open doorways and within my line of sight) for all of 2 minutes.

She pops into the room and stands next to me. I reach out for her hair on the left side of her head and see the hack job. I couldn't believe it. Her absolutely beautiful long blonde hair was chopped up. She said she cut the pieces that kept falling in her face.

Now I don't cuss at my kids too often but boy did I go off. Hair is now a sacred topic to me and I take fabulous care of my kid's hair especially now given that I have so little. In any event, I marched her upstairs for a tongue lashing and proceeded to layer her hair to hide the damage. Fastest hair cut I ever did with her sobbing all the while.

She was roundly punished for all of Saturday with no TV, which to her, is the end of the world. We all got through it but I do believe she realizes she is not allowed to cut her hair with her "very own scissors" anymore. I hope.

By the way, when she first discovered her gift from Santa at Christmas, she clasped her hands together and let out a gasp and said, "My very own scissors!" It was cute then - it's not cute now. Santa needs to be kicked in the butt.

Onto the hair epiphany. I decided I was tired of strange women asking me if I was Jackie's grandma so I decided to color my hair with a box from the store. As much as I love my hairdresser Kim, I won't be paying her $180 to color my hair anytime soon. It's not worth it for 2 inches of hair.

So I got my box, follow the directions and with Bill's help, color the gray right outta my hair. Except I hated the color. So I decided the next day that I would get a much lighter color since my hair came in really dark. In actually, I really couldn't tell you what color my hair was before the cancer because it had been foiled for so many years. Maybe a honey golden blonde with some dark brown and light brown highlights mixed in.

So I apply the second round of haircolor Friday night, hoping to lighten the dark color which just isn't me. No dice. My hair won't take color now. Bill swears it removed some of the red highlights but I don't believe him. After 25 minutes, nothing. Not a hint. It looked like I applied the same color as I did the first time.

So I go hunting across the internet trying to find out what I did wrong. Turns out my hair shafts are full or somesuch and need to be clarified before they can take more color. I need to wait for a week or so, maybe longer until my stupid hair can take more color.

Call me shocked because I used to be able to process my hair to kingdom come and it just took the punishment.

So I now have well-hidden gray in too dark hair and it's ticking me off. But at least the gray is hidden.

I will report on the next coloring when I'm on vacation when I next attempt to get my hair shafts to absorb some lighter color than the one that's currently on my head.

Note to all who plan to color their stubby hair: go as close to your color of preference as possible because the hair shaft might rebel. I need to check on this with Kim for verification but I suspect the shafts have absorbed all the color they can right now.

Now it's soft and fluffy but the wrong color. I keep pulling on it hoping it will grow faster :)

The fun never ends...

Bone Pain

I thought I'd write about something cancer related. Even though it occurred to me that I don't have that nasty anymore. I should change the banner on my blog but I haven't come up with anything yet. Will do soon.

The pain in my ankles and shins gets overwhelming at times. For the first time in quite awhile, I actually considered taking some heavy duty painkillers last night. The ache is incredible in my hips and back. I do wonder when this will end. Or if it even will.

I feel okay when I'm moving around after I get up. But boy is it difficult to get up sometimes. When my feet first hit the floor in the morning, it's brutal. The pain concentrates in the joints from ankle to knee, takes a break for my thighs and lands in my hips. It's not pleasant. Throw in a little sciatica and I'm the resident gimp here :(

I never expected to have this gimping action going on so long after chemo was finished. I'm at 5 1/2 months out now. I do hope this leaves soon as it's making me miserable. I had 6 neulasta shots. The debate is whether the bone pain was caused by the shots or the chemo. Who cares? Just make it go away.

My treatment plan is to workout every day as much as I can - on the exercise bike and elliptical and take a bike ride with Jackie or Bill. Not impact exercise but a gentle steady workout. At times it helps and at other times, I need the help of some Advil.

It isn't much fun when I'm heading down the home stretch to the start of vacation next friday. I need some energy and my bones to cooperate to get everything done. Our car ride to the beach to see Bill's Mom a few weeks ago was absolutely excruciating. That was 150 miles. God help me, I need to last for 600 miles this time.

Maybe they can strap me to the roof!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Been Busy

And trying to squeeze in a nap here and there because I'm so stinking tired all the time. I still drop off to sleep at the blink of an eye. Not a really safe thing when I'm home alone with Jackie. So I stay on my feet to keep from getting sleepy.

Had blood work done last week to test liver enzymes and counts. Counts were okay and I'm waiting on the results of the enzyme tests. These will tell me if I can still take Tamoxifen. I guess I should call them.

I didn't realize I've been getting marker tested throughout these long months of treatment. I find that pretty funny. I wasn't even aware of it. Walter told me when he did my blood draw last week :) I'm clueless and forgetful. Frankly, if I hadn't written this post I would have forgotten about my enzymes too.

I did mow the lawn yesterday. It kicked my butt. I don't ever remember being so tired after mowing the lawn on such a cool evening. But it helped out Bill who has bad allergies.

Steffie is almost out of school. She's started swim team this week with nightly swims in a very cold pool. I take evil delight in this for some odd reason. Whenever she's giving me sass, I just think of the freezing cold pool and feel better. Evil mom :) We do some serious drama around here - even the cats!

Kate finished her freshman year with great grades at MD. She's home for the summer, working an internship teaching water therapy to the elderly.

We leave for vacation on June 12th right after Steffie gets out of school. We're all excited. The whole crew is going and taking the bikes.

Jackie got her very first big kid bike 2 weeks ago. She's got a pretty pink helmet and she's riding with training wheels like a champ. She still tips over at times (and this is hilariously funny - mean mommy again). I took her out for her first real ride on her own bike with me on my bike on Monday. Jackie followed all my instructions to the letter. She's proud of herself and rightfully so.

Mom's birthday is today :) Happy Birthday Mom!!!

Billy's birthday was Saturday :) Happy Birthday Bill!!!

In honor of Mimi's birthday, I'm posting a Clyde pic

The whole problem with this cat is he thinks he's human. This drives Bill crazy since he says I attribute human qualities to my animals. At least I'm not living in denial. I know who is really ruling the roost around here :)

He's just too cute, isn't he?