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Today Was One Of Those Bad Days And Suddenly You Appeared

If you read my profile, you already know that I’m married 23 years with 2 teenagers; a daughter, almost 20 and son just turned 16. Four years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer, went through a double masectomy, chemo, radiation and reconstruction. I was in remission up until 3 months ago when it was discovered that the breast cancer has returned, in the lining of my stomach, treatable, not curable (1% chance).

This is not to be mistaken for stomach cancer – confusing right?

Needless to say I went through the depression, anger and shock all over again. Only this time it was harder. The optimistic goal of beating it wasn’t as easy to grasp because it had already returned once.

My meds have been changed, my doctor’s visits are more frequent and the side effects more intense. Hotter flashes, sleepless nights and mood swings. I am not always the easy-going, jovial Queen that used to rule this Kingdom. No, I often become that dragon you referred to in the Bands write-up. But I allow myself to breath some fire, release some anger, then I straighten my tiara and return to my throne surrounded by my adoring and supportive family, my riches, my strength, my motivation.

I could fall in the moat tomorrow and get gobbled up by… well whatever lives in moats. I’m not going to let this Cancer defeat me and takeover my Kingdom…

I know I will have bad days but I also know that I will get through them with a little help from my army (my friends and family) …

Today was one of those bad days and then, suddenly, you appeared!

The Band Back Together Project. Thank you for being here.

Mother’s Milk

i’ve written before about my love hate relationship with the pump… well, mostly about the hate portion.  its rhythmic sucking makes me sing little songs to its always irritating tempo.  then they mix around with the gymboree songs already stuck in my head.  then i realize how badly i really do need the prozac and ativan.

i don’t know for sure how long it’s going to last.  i’m trying to be realistic about the prospect of having cancer, undergoing chemo and pumping for (hopefully only) six months.  it’s kind of like starting out nursing.  i tried to limit my expectations of myself.  i said i’d aim for six months and then see if i could go for a year.  that seemed ridiculously long to me at the time, much like pumping for six months does now.  but a year came and went and well, here we are.

my husband, nugget daddy, stayed down at my parents’ last night so nugget and i have been left to fend for ourselves for the majority of the past two days, save for a playdate and lasagna drop off yesterday afternoon.

i didn’t get to pump at all yesterday.  i can’t pump in front of my daughter, nugget.  that would be like asking your pregnant best friend to take you to happy hour.  i meant to pump last night once she went to sleep, but i fell asleep, too.  my boobs had been angry ever since.

nugget likes to have her naps with me, but this limits my options for the duration of naptime as to what i can actually accomplish with twenty pounds of sleeping toddler strapped to my chest, lovely though as she feels snuggled against me.  her grandmamie puts her to sleep in the stroller and i bribed her into it with chocolate chips this afternoon so i could pump, finally, and subsequently blog about it.  lucky you!

i was so angry the first few times i pumped after starting chemo.  it was like rubbing salt in the wounds.  i couldn’t nurse nugget and i had to stand uncomfortably in the bathroom watching my milk fill up plastic bottles instead of a happy baby.  and then as i would dump the ounces of heartache down the sink a new wound would appear like a gaping mouth to catch my salty tears and sting my aching soul.  what a waste.

you won’t find much if you google “cancer” and “breastfeeding” except for articles about nursing after breast cancer.  “chemo” and “breastfeeding” yields the same contraindication tagline over and over, and “cancer” and “breastmilk” mostly just points you to article after article about this guy who drank breastmilk to fight his prostate cancer.  those, mostly sensational and local news, articles mention milk banks selling milk to cancer patients when they have excess available to sell.  it costs $3 an ounce.

i’ve had plenty of time to think about that guy and those $3 ounces while making up songs to the pump’s rhythm and calculating how much i’d just poured down the drain.  warning!  here comes the crunchy freaky part.  squee!  maybe you want to stop reading, uptight next door neighbor guy or old school grandpa, maybe there’s a golf game you’d rather be watching. okay, so seriously, why the fuck would i want to keep dumping my milk down the drain when other cancer patients are paying good money to get their hands on it?  i don’t know what exactly it might do for me, but it sure won’t be doing anything at the bottom of the sink that’s for sure. so i sucked it up and sucked it down.

it was sort of gross at first, though why exactly i’m not sure.  i think it was the temperature.  i can’t think of any beverage i regularly consume at body temperature.  but now i’m used to it and pleased by thought that i might actually be doing something to help save my own life.

so, now i have a new goal.  i want to pump twice a day for the whole six months, or however long it might be.  i know i might get sick.  i know i might have to stop if i do.  but if i approach it the way i did breastfeeding, then maybe i can make it through.  maybe if i tell all of you about my plan then i’ll be hell-bent on reaching my goal.  maybe some mother out there trolling the interwebs for a glimmer of hope will find my blog now, instead of all the other useless crap i found.

Bite Your Tongue

I’m sorry.  Right now, I cannot be a good friend.  I am not a good wife or daughter, sister, neighbor, niece or cousin.  I love you.  I appreciate everything you do for me and for my family.  But for now, everything I have, every smile I can eke out, every happy moment, belongs to my daughter.  I can’t give you what you want, not today and maybe not tomorrow either.  I don’t have enough for you.

My fear is all-consuming.  I am endlessly treading its dark waters.  Your well-intended positivity crashes into me, knocking me down before washing back out to sea.  Your genuine, heartfelt words of hope leave me salty-eyed, gasping for air, bracing for the next wave of “You’re so strong!” or “Kids are so resilient!”

Your generous offers to help are not falling on deaf ears, but I’m afraid my desperate cries for it are.  I can hear you happily proposing your casseroles, a walk in the park, an eager ”whatever you need!”  I’m sure one day I will very much need those things.  Today I just need simple kindness, compassion, companionship.  I need you to hug me and hold my hand.  I need you to stop worrying about the tasks on your list and just be with me, sit here and keep my head above water.

I realize nothing about this is convenient for you.  I know the closer you are to me, the deeper the water, the stronger current.  I’m sorry that you’re being pulled in, challenged, diverted from your regularly scheduled life.  But this is my nightmare and sadly, you’re in it.

so bite your tongue,
you’re not the only one
who’s been let down.

The Pain of Losing A Family

The day Tom died, I lost more than a husband. I lost a family. From the moment I turned on CNN, the family I loved, enjoyed and belonged to began to fracture, as if the second the plane crashed, it became more than tortured steel and shredded rubber.

Tom was from a large, German, Catholic family, where he was the baby of seven. There was quite an age difference between the oldest and the youngest. I’ve always believed Tom was the favorite, the golden child, because he was most like his father and was the last child his mother could ever have.

He loved his family, but they exasperated him. He was closest to his father and endured his mother. He once told me he loved his mother, but he didn’t like her. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when they turned on me. There were signs over the years that I didn’t measure up. When we got engaged at graduation, she was planning a celebratory family dinner. I wasn’t invited, until she found out we were engaged, and then she felt obligated.

Tom’s first job took us to Fargo, ND. There was never any question I wasn’t going, although the wedding was 10 months away. The night before the moving van came, we moved my boxes to his house. As my boxes sat in their living room, his mother told Tom if I intended to live together, and then have a large “white” wedding not to bother sending invitations to the family, because none of them would come. Tom stood up against her and she finally backed down. She never apologized to me.

Years later, his family was incredibly supportive when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. They flew in for my surgery and sat by my bed. Seven months later when I ran the NYC marathon, they were wearing sweatshirts with words of encouragement.

But, when we announced we were adopting, his mother wasn’t happy. The rest of the family was ecstatic. Weeks before Tom’s death, one of his brothers call to try and convince him not to adopt, but hire a surrogate instead. I was the problem after all, and with a surrogate, the family genes would be passed on. Tom hung up the phone in anger. It was the last time he ever spoke to his brother.

If these memories of the past didn’t raise a red flag, how they treated me during the funeral should have woke me up. Tom’s memorial service was held in the church we were married. His family wanted to memorialize the child Tom was. I wanted to celebrate the man he became. They wanted to have the Stations of the Cross; I wanted to toast him with Scotch and cigars.

It didn’t stop there. His brother insinuated himself into the investigation of the crash, claiming I was overcome with grief and he was acting on behalf of the entire family. He was notified of official information before me, such as the recovery of Tom’s remains. When he knew about the recovery of Tom’s wedding ring before me, the shit hit the fan. My attorneys took on the Nova Scotia government and I tackled the US State Department. But, as soon as all of his remains were identified, I closed the door on his meddling family. They wanted Tom’s remain repatriated and buried in their small town cemetery, I intended to have him cremated and his ashes scattered over the crash site. They tried to manipulate me by playing the church card, but I stood firm.

The day I scattered his ashes, his family was absent. They didn’t know. They would have turned it into a three-ring circus, but I made it about Tom. I informed his father in a very difficultly written, heartfelt letter. His family never forgave me for that, but if I had to do it all over again, I would change nothing.

An uncertain truce was called after I adopted Elliott. Although they attended her christening and showered her with gifts, they were sharpening their knives. I sued the airline after Tom’s death. I was the only person who had the legal right, but they effectively counter sued me. They seemed to have forgotten at the moment we said, “I do” all rights shifted to me. They claimed our marriage wasn’t solid, Tom wasn’t Elliott’s father, and they disclaimed Elliott as family, and claimed breast cancer wasn’t an excuse not to have children.

By the end, his mother said Tom married beneath him, it was my fault we didn’t live near home, and if I read between the lines, she wished it were me on the plane rather than Tom. One of the very low points during this difficult time came when a brother told me “they” had decided it was harder to lose a son than a husband.

My attorneys tried to protect me from the worst, but the damage was done. I became so paranoid I feared they would have me followed by a private investigator. By this time I had met Colby and I wanted to move on with my life. The amount of fear and anger this family was causing me was overwhelming. The hardest part of it all was I thought they loved me, I thought they cared, but to discover how they felt about me rocked me to the core.

Four years after Tom’s death, we were summoned to federal court in Philadelphia. The judge clearly took my side, but he went through the meditative process. In the end, an agreement was reached. The lawsuit was settled and I could move on. I exchanged “pleasantries” with his parents on leaving the courtroom. His mother was not warm and welcoming, his father was in pain. He hugged me a long time and I could feel how much he missed his son. He asked after Elliott and I gave him a picture. It was the last time I ever saw them.

I remember getting in a cab bound for the airport when I turned to my parents with tears streaming down my faces and said, “I can finally marry Colby.”

I lost more than a husband the night Tom died. I lost a family I loved, a family I enjoyed, and family I felt I belonged to.

How naïve I was…

Losing My Religion

Yesterday afternoon, shortly before 12:30pm, I nursed my sweet baby girl for what I can only pray was not the last time.

I sobbed silently, my tears dripping onto her curls while a swarm of my closest friends and family buzzed around the kitchen.  I was losing my religion in the living room and the day was only halfway over.

My mother is back and stayed with Nugget while Nugget’s Daddy worked from home. Barbara and Martha took me to chemo.  Despite having loaded up on Ativan, I cried most of the way there.

I wore a top that would provide easy access to my port, which had been slathered with theemla cream and covered in saran wrap for at least an hour.

Patients are only allowed to have one guest accompany them to the treatment room.  I had two, who would not take “just one” for an answer.  Marla, my oncology nurse, happily pulled up another chair to accommodate my posse.

Then a senior patient, as all the other patients seem to be, swung the treatment room door open and announced, “Well!  All the good chairs have been taken.”  I wondered if I’d gotten one of the good ones.  I hoped so!

Marla drew the curtain so she could access my port.  I told Barb and Martha that they would be watching, because I couldn’t really get a good look at the action and wanted to be sure my friends suffered along if there was indeed any suffering to be done.  There was not.  I think it was worse for them.  Then the two of them chatted about how they’d like to be nurses except for, well, all of the gross stuff.  Cute scrubs had been really, really appealing, but simply couldn’t trump dealing with blood and needles.

The dynamic duo was relentless in their efforts to keep me entertained.  As I was showing them my phone that Nugget had rendered the antenna unretractable on, Martha cracked, “Your phone has an antenna?”  I replied with a smart, “Shut your trap!” which sent senior patient #2, coughy McHacksalot, into a rage of laughter and then into a, well, fit of coughing and hacking.  Note to self – keep wiseass cracks down to a dull roar in the treatment room or suffer the wrath of coughy McHacksalot.

Treatment went fairly well.  I had no reaction to the test dose of Bleomycin.  I took the extra dose of Ativan she offered.  (duh!)  At one point I was having some pain, almost like a burning sensation when I took a deep breath.  so Marla switched my iv bags and checked my lungs.  Whatever it was, it subsided and I finished Day 1 of treatment with no real issues.

Cancer Sucks

Cancer sucks. My grandma, barely sixty years old, died from breast cancer when I was four. Even though I was so young, I still remember watching her suffer. I remember watching my mother and her sister suffer, too. Even though I was young, I still remember thinking if there was really a God, why would he put my grandma through all of this?

She never hurt a soul…and I loved her.

Cancer claimed my mother-in-law, too. I loved her as though she were my blood. Maybe even more than that because she never said a harsh word to me, or as far as I know, about me.

She had lung cancer and yes, she smoked. “I shot myself in the foot,” she said to me when she was diagnosed. She fought like the feisty Scottish lady that she was. She was diagnosed around Thanksgiving and lost her battle that following June.

Just about six months. DAMN! It was so quick! I know it didn’t seem so quick to her.

She went through chemotherapy and all of the horrible shit that went along with it. She did everything she was supposed to do. She did everything right. And then they found cancer in her brain. The woman never took a fucking pill in her life and here she was having fucking brain surgery! She made it through the surgery. My sister-in-law and I went into the recovery room and damn it if that lady wasn’t sitting up and talking right after having her skull busted open.

While she was in rehab, she had a stroke. It was a kind I had never heard of. It was progressive so it started out slowly. She knew what was going on.

Chef and I went to visit her in the hospital and at that point she said she had had enough. She said to us, “if they find any more cancer, I don’t want to be treated.” If she had known that she only had six months to live, she would have said, “Screw chemo,” and gone to visit her grandchildren in Wisconsin.

I know that because she was an open book. She had no secrets. What you saw was what you got.

The next day she could not speak.

We were the last of her children to carry on a conversation with her. When the doctors finally determined that she had had a stroke and that it was progressive, my sister-in-law decided to bring her back home. The doctors said she had less than a week to live, so she would come home to be surrounded by her children, grandchildren and her beautiful antiques.

My husband and his sisters took care of her for that week. Because my children were so young, I stayed home and came for the weekend. My two year old daughter stood by my mother-in-law’s bed and spoke to her. She called her “gammy.” My mother-in-law would grunt occasionally. Sure enough on day seven – just a week after we had our last conversation with her – my mother-in-law lost her battle.

I ask the question once again, forty years later… if there was really a God, why would he put my mother-in-law through all of this?

She never hurt a soul…and I loved her.