Friday, July 13, 2018

Raise your hand if you can't believe it's been 3 weeks since my surgery.

Let me tell you, that's on my looooong list of things I will hopefully never take for granted again. Being able to raise my hand. Along with: getting out of bed, changing position in bed, getting up from a chair, getting in and out of a car, buckling my seatbelt, and more. Whew.

Why so long for an update you ask?

I literally just typed that I've had limited use of my arms. Why would you even ask that question? (Insert winking emoji face here) Also, it's kind of hard to write a blog when you can't remember what's transpired. David and the kids are helping me piece some of those days back together. "I did what...?" " I said what..." Not funny viral video type things, darn it (I love those). Just day to day happenings and conversations I have no recollection of. Gotta watch this crew though. They're likely to ad lib things just for the fun of it. "Yeah Mom, you said you didn't care if we wore belly shirts now and that we could wear them to Sunday School".

Truth be told, I actually didn't even have all the info I needed for a complete update until YESTERDAY. Heavens to Betsy. Talk about being weary of the wait!

I completely understand now why a cancer diagnosis is referred to as a journey.

Journey: noun-A traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; trip.

Mine wasn't supposed to be a cancer "journey". It was supposed to be a cancer "jaunt" back in March. I cannot believe all the stops and detours I've made in between then and now. My 2nd diagnosis, my skull scare, craniotomy, lumpectomy changed to bilat mastectomy. I've had more pictures taken of the inside of my body than there are pictures of me growing up. (Third child problems. Tate's just lucky he was a boy. Ensuring I took a plethora of pics. Had he been another girl, I may have just said, Been there. Done that.)

On with the update. I'll share the good, the bad, but probably skip the ugly here. Although I'm fine talking about the ugly with you if you'd really care to hear. It just doesn't quite fit with the theme of my blog. It's more Edgar Allen Poe-ish. And I don't want to scare anyone who may stumble upon this entry down the road about to undergo their own surgery. To them I would say, "I made it!! You will too! It sure doesn't feel like it some days. Keep on keepin' on. Ok, that one's cliche. But seriously. You will not want to get out of bed. But you have to. And you will feel 87% better when you get up and around. That's a solid B+, my friends."

The week leading up to my surgery, I started to panic.

Over dumb things.

It was all of a sudden imperative I wash our couch throw pillow covers and hose down the front porch chairs no one sits in.

And my linen closet? No way was I heading to the hospital with that in such disarray. I pulled everything out, threw out old, haggard linens I was too embarrassed to donate, and arranged the leftovers neatly. I spent a few minutes holding on to Tate's little hooded dinosaur towel, before it found itself in the toss pile. Nostalgia got the best of me so I pulled it back out and cut just the hooded dinosaur head off for a keepsake. But that just looked creepy, so it all went back in the trash.

We sent Reese off to Florida the day before my surgery on a school trip. Which was well timed. Her first trip without us and I couldn't even worry because I was sedated half the time. Handy. I still didn't care for the fact she kept going over who got to keep what if her plane crashed. "Can you not?!" I finally said.

That same day, my sister showed up at my doorstep with her roomba, wanting to know where she could help. Her house is spotless. Mine was a hot mess. I delegated living room duties to her and she set to work. Scrubbing the fireplace doors, glass candle holders, and making a pile of little hidden treasures from under the couches, exclaiming more than once, "I just love to clean!". I'm still trying to decide which one of us was adopted.

Enough build up to surgery. Let's get on with it. Spoiler alert: I made it through. David took, what is now hands down, my most unflattering picture of all time before I was awake from anesthesia. Scrub cap and all. If I ever find that framed in one of his offices somewhere, all of his belongings will be tossed onto the front lawn.

When the nurse came in later that evening to help me up for the first time, she said, "Now, you'll have to rely on your leg and stomach muscles these next few weeks."

How convenient. I have neither.

My pessimistic tendencies became amplified. My 2nd day home I thought, "This is it. I've peaked. I'm going to feel this way for the duration of my Earthly days." But I discovered I have this spunky little inner voice that is both motivating/sassy, "Heavens, Girl. What in the world?! Millions of women have gone through this surgery before you and are walking around as we speak with full use of their upper appendages, not dragging themselves around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Now get out of that bed and change your shirt for crying out loud."

I can only sleep on my back currently. And can't change position without difficulty. My skull incision still feels weird to sleep on so I can't put too much pressure on the left side of my head. Just call me Goldilocks. I've tried all the pillows in the house. Some too firm. Some too soft. I sleep slightly raised, with more pillows to prop my arms. I'm like a little Tetris piece trying to fit in my bed nest/recliner just so.

And I would like to take this opportunity to thank Facebook for all the helpful pop up ads and articles. Experimental treatments for cancer. Personal stories of those who've lost their battle. Various cancer memorabilia. So sweet of you to remind me every single time I get on your site for the past few months that this is part of my life now. Really. (Insert eye roll emoji here)

Fast forward a week from my surgery. (Since everything is fuzzy that happened before that anyway.) I had an appointment scheduled with my oncologist to get my pathology report and find out the treatment plan. Of course that would have been too easy. And they called saying my path report wasn't in yet so there was really no reason to come in. Could I reschedule? For two weeks later? My report actually came in a few hours after that phone call, at which point my oncologist had already left for vacation. My breast surgeon was very considerate and called me with the results but wasn't able to go over anything further as far as treatment.

The entire report is 9 pages long. But the gist was I actually ended up with three types of breast cancer and a huge area of cells that are markers for developing future breast cancer. Too little too late there, buddies. Would have appreciated the heads up a bit earlier. My sentinel lymph nodes on each side were positive. And my surgeon then said, "I was very happy when the report showed you also had invasive cancer on the right side that we didn't know was there."

As I began questioning her medical certification in my mind, she went on to explain that if there hadn't been invasive cancer on that side, the positive node would have meant the left side had already spread and I would have been Stage IV.

Here we go again! I feel like a cat. That's twice now I've dodged a Stage IV diagnosis. I should have 7 lives left at this point.

My left nodes had to be dissected out. So that's now my "bad" arm. And it's not to be traumatized by anything further like blood draws, blood pressures, etc. It even gets to wear a fancy sleeve when I fly or exercise so I don't develop lymphedema. I want to get one with tattoo designs. So I'll look super tough on the airplane and no one will mess with me. The nurse helpfully explained I'll still be able to engage in my regular activities like yoga, gardening, crocheting. That was great news. If I actually did any of those things to begin with.

I could not get through this without my support system. I. LOVE. YOU. GUYS. (Which, yes, includes all of you reading this). David got his own Facebook post already regarding his support, and I could actually write about 12 more for him. I have a select few friends/family who are impatient and can't wait for my blog posts. So they demand immediate updates after all my appointments. Bossy little things.

And it's amazing to watch their replies roll in. All of their different perspectives and responses are JUST what I need to hear at that time.

"Crap! Hate that!"

"Are you kidding me??"

"You've made it through the worst, you'll make it through this too."

"So, how are you after hearing that news?"

I have friends who've been through it, nurse friends, friends who say "What can I do?", and friends who just "do". I have friends checking in I haven't talked to since high school. I'm on church prayer lists in at least 3 states that I know of. People I have never met and probably never will meet. With many more individually praying for me around the world. This is both overwhelming and humbling for a wallflower like myself to be smack dab in the middle of such a huge circle of supporters.

Sorry to say, your stint isn't up quite yet. Since I was node positive, my treatment plan will be chemo followed by radiation. Beginning week after next. Yes, I've already ordered a new ball cap: Chemo Hair. Don't Care. 

Reese asked, "Do you want us to shave our heads too?"

Drue looked appropriately horrified.

"Well no!" I put their minds at ease.

"Ok. We'll just make Tate shave his then..."

Sure, because him shaving off the half centimeter of hair he currently has as his Summer cut would be a huge sign of support.

"No one's shaving anything!"

Just when I thought things couldn't get crazier around here...

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Confession: My attitude isn't always "how can I find the humor in this to make it bearable?". I suspect most of you knew that. But just wanted a guilt-free conscience going forward.

Case in Point: Bursting into tears on the way to the dollar store this evening.

I was going over in my head all that we had going on tomorrow.

Let's see...Thursday...May 31...May 31? Why does that sound super familiar?


Tomorrow was the day all my follow-ups were scheduled for after my original surgery date of May 18th.

All three of them.

Breast Surgeon. Plastic Surgeon. Oncologist.

Three different campuses. But I didn't care. I'd be getting my drains removed, hopefully hearing how nicely I was starting to heal, and finding out whether or not I'd need chemo.

I would be closer to returning to work, returning to regular t-shirts pulled over my head, returning to...normal.

And the tears came.

Not a lot. Just a few. Because all of these appointments and milestones are now over a month away.

A month. I wiped my cheek. Honest to Pete, in the grand scheme of things, a month is not. that. long.

Heck, with the way time flies at this stage of my life, I'll be buying stocking stuffers next week. And Easter candy the week after.

I've heard the story of the parting of the Red Sea from the time I was toddling around the church nursery. But I never truly grasped what an awe inspiring miracle that would have been to behold until I saw the Ten Commandments on TV. However accurate, or inaccurate, that Hollywood portrayal was, it stuck in my head. And I could never understand how the Israelites who had just experienced that could grumble about such trivial things immediately afterwards? What on actual Earth? They had just walked through the sea on dry land. Thanks to an amazing God.

I still have the scratch piece of paper I scribbled notes on when my oncologist called to discuss the MRI of my head.

-need skull biopsy
-might not be cancer
-if it is...Stage IV isolated metastatic disease

My subsequent BENIGN skull mass result was my Red Sea moment. And here I was just 5 days after receiving that wonderful, amazing, colossal answer to prayer, feeling sorry for myself for having to wait another month for my follow-up appointments.

Nope. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. Turned into the dollar store parking lot. And went on with my evening.

My new lucky/unlucky number, depending on how you look at it, is 22.

3/22- Cancer diagnosis.

5/22- First surgery ever.

6/22- Rescheduled date for my second surgery ever.

On 7/22 I'll either win the lottery or get hit by a bus. It's anyone's guess.

Next year, of course, 22 will become my celebratory number.

That will be here before we know it.

Oh, and at some point, I'll probably change the lyrics to Taylor Swift's "22" to something related to my cancer journey. Come on, you all had to know that was coming...

Thursday, May 24, 2018

When I don't feel like writing, or drinking white chocolate mochas, you know things are bad.

Thankfully this morning, I sipped away on my cup of white chocolatey goodness in our backyard gazebo, and, well, you're reading this aren't you?

Telling people I needed a skull biopsy elicited quite a few cringes and replies of, "Yikes! How the heck do they do that?!"

And I would repeat what my neurosurgeon had told me (minus his super cool accent), "So, they'll just make a tiny incision back here and take out a little sample of bone to send off. Not a biggie."

Uhhh...that tiny incision required 13 staples in the back of my head. I feel like that's a semi-biggie. I was sent home with after care instructions for a craniotomy!

And I call "Bologna!"...or "Baloney!"...however you want to spell it, I call it. We know those hospital shows don't give a completely accurate picture of medical life. And I now know their depiction of the doctor/patient dialogue the day after surgery is f-a-k-e. The patients in the shows are well rested, sitting up comfortably in bed, able to carry on a perfectly normal conversation about how their surgery went, blah, blah, blah.

I was in a complete fog when the doctor and discharge nurses came in yesterday morning. I could barely hold my head up to look at them standing next to my bed. My glasses hurt and I had to wear them crooked so the stem wouldn't rub my incision, cocking my head to the side to keep them on while the nurses spouted off "do's" and "don't's", med directions, follow up appointments, etc. Finishing with, "Any questions?".

"Yeah. Huh?" I thought. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and have David roll me out to his truck. Which is pretty much what I did, thanks to the wheelchair they brought us.

Let's back up a bit, however, to before my surgery. Reese took a driving class last August and finally finished all her required driving hours last week for her restricted license. All we had to do was pop into the Driver's License place and trade her paperwork in for her license. "So, can you take me Tuesday?" she asked over the weekend.

"I am getting a HOLE drilled into my SKULL on Tuesday. So, no," I said.

"Oh. Then can you take me Wednesday?"

I still haven't answered her.

David. Bless him. He really is the best caretaker. He spoils me on a good day, and even more so on some of my worst ones. He's had to rearrange his travel schedule, calls, and meetings, on top of taking care of everything around the house and with the kids. And he does a better job than I do. Which doesn't make me jealous. At. All.

Now that I've sung his praises, I feel like it's ok to poke fun of him. Just a bit. He's always been super patient with the kids. But not so much so when it comes to waiting on things. Food at a restaurant, appointments starting on time, or surgery starting when it's scheduled. We sat in my little pre-op room for over 4 hours yesterday. Waiting. He still had some work to tend to, but when that was taken care of, he 'bout drove me bonkers.

He chatted it up with any doctor, nurse, tech, anesthetist who popped their head in. Being his usual, jokey self.

After one such encounter he turned to me and said, "Wow, he's not very jokey."

"He's a brain surgeon," I replied. "Not really a hallmark of their personality."

Next, he wondered aloud if he should have my surgeon take a look at his poison ivy while we were there. I contemplated calling security.

But I just shook my head and responded, "You're a mess."

"Am I? Because you're the one lying in that bed."


We played pool and basketball against each other on our phones to pass the time a little. But he quit after I beat him at both.

"Last time I saw you in a hospital, you were having Tate," he reminisced.

"I know. It feels weird to be in a hospital without a baby."

"I'm sure there's one around here you could have," he suggested. Great. I wouldn't need to call security after all, they'd come on their own if someone overheard that comment.

The nurses finally descended upon us and said, "Ok, here we go. Time for good-bye hugs and kisses."

Why did they have to use the word "good-bye"? Cue the tears streaming down my face. Even if I had been ready to kick him out one minute prior. And even though it would only feel to me like I'd been away for 5 seconds when all was said and done. For my next surgery, I'm just going to have David say, "I'm going to the vending machine to get a Diet Coke" instead of "good-bye". I'll handle that much better.

When I settled into my room for the night, and David headed back home to run kids around, I reached up to push my hair out of my face and gasped, What were all those plastic wires doing hanging out of my head?! 

You guys! It was my hair!

Whatever they had to coat it with to ward off infection makes it disgustingly crunchy, cement like. Now, I don't consider myself to be a terribly vain person but when they said I couldn't wash it until Sunday, I wanted to assume the fetal position and cover my ears. I look like Medusa. Sorry, no photographic evidence. Because I'm pretty sure David would get his hands on it, and send it out as our Christmas card this year.

Or the kids would make bad hair day memes out of it for all eternity.

They're supportive like that.

Speaking of supportive, I don't take medication regularly. An Excedrin now and then is pretty much it. So these pain meds are doing a number on me. I went down to the kitchen last night with my water bottle and literally forgot how to use our ice machine/water spout on the fridge. David and the girls yelled "Stop!" before I spilled water all over the floor after pushing the wrong button twice. They then proceeded to double over with laughter.

David went to throw something away and said, "Who got into the kitchen trash?"

Drue chimed in, "That was Mom...she was trying to find the bathroom!" And they all doubled over once again.

I'm keeping notes on all the ways I've been wronged.

At least they balance it out by being sweet. Tate sent me to the hospital with some of his favorite squishies and a small stuffed animal to remember him by. Reese gathered all the little "pink" items she could from her room and left them for me with a note. Cue more tears.

They normally cover holes in the skull with titanium mesh, but my surgeon left mine open in case I did need radiation. David is already making quips about this new hole in my head, "Now I can say, 'It went in one ear...and out your hole'!". Good thing he can cook.

I gathered my crunchy, Medusa type locks into braids before leaving the hospital so I wouldn't turn all the staff into stone on my way out. Peace Out KU Med. Until we meet again.

Which could be sooner, rather than later, if my skull mass is a benign fibrous dysplasia, like my neurosurgeon is thinking. Now that he's seen it in all its glory. I should find out tomorrow or the first part of next week.

Again, THANK YOU for all your prayers. This was my first surgery ever. And it hasn't exactly been a walk in the park. When my meds start wearing off and I think, "I cannot do this" God gives me strength and I know is saying, "But I can". So I'm able to put one foot in front of the other.

And perhaps even relearn how to use our ice maker.

Saturday, May 12, 2018 impending double mastectomy doesn't seem so scary after I spent a week not knowing whether or not the cancer had spread to my brain (it hasn't!!).

But between a suspicious spot on my temporal bone lighting up on my scan, to when I got the results of my head/brain MRI (ohmygosh YES, I had to go in that tube of terror for a THIRD time!), I was in waiting limbo Hades. A special place reserved for those of us wondering which direction we'll head in a "Choose Your Own Adventure: Medical Edition". Except we're not the ones getting to choose.

When I first heard, "biopsy recommended" in March, God flipped my switch to preparation mode. Yes, the internet can freak you the heck out, but it has its helpful moments. I narrowed down the possible diagnoses I could be given if my results weren't benign. So when I actually got the call, I was 90% ready to hear it, 10% freaked out.

For my second biopsy, I knew it would either be "benign and continue on with our plan" or "malignant and double mastectomy". When it was the latter, I calmly said, "Ok, thanks for calling."

Next up, if my CT/bone scan showed the cancer had spread to an organ or nearby bone, we'd postpone surgery and start chemo. So I was mentally getting myself ready for that just in case. What I wasn't prepared for, was my oncologist's call 20 minutes after I left my bone scan, saying a suspicious spot lit up in my head that didn't make sense and they needed more detailed images, including brain images.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. 

At my last appointment with my breast surgeon, she'd said, "You haven't really freaked out this entire time. And I've kind of been waiting for you to."

Well, that phone call from my oncologist did it. That's what tipped me over into semi-panic mode.
Because for the first time since this whole process began, I thought, "This could end badly." And I had to stop to catch my breath that evening on my walk, when the thought of not being here to see the kids as their adult selves hit me like a ton of bricks. Or not being here to make fun of David when his goatee goes completely silver. It's about 1/4 of the way there now, I like to point out to him frequently.

I toodled on over to the main KU Med campus this week for my MRI. The thought process amongst those in charge of the layout of that hospital had to have gone a little something like this:

"First, let's challenge all of our patients and see if they can find a parking space. Get them really frazzled. Next, let's take a super scary test...say, on their brain, and put that MRI machine all the way in the farthest corner of the basement. We'll make the basement extra creepy looking too. So it doesn't even really look like they're in a hospital anymore. More like they just stepped onto the set of Paranormal Investigations. Make sure there are absolutely no windows down there, lest they get a glimpse of the outside world to try and draw hope from the sun. Oh, and don't forget to charge them when they actually find their car again and exit the garage. They'll be so relieved to be getting out of there...they'll pay anything."

For my brain MRI, I only had to go halfway in the tube. This brought me joy. But then they put a little cage over my face, so I felt like Hannibal Lector ready to silence some lambs up in there.

My results show it has not spread to my brain. However, the spot on my skull does require a biopsy. I can think of 1,000,001 things I'd rather have done than that.

My apologies to those of you I may had conversations with this past week. I have a limited recollection of them. My mind was elsewhere. I hope I said something witty. Or at least something coherent.

Looks like I'll be adding a few more links to my surgery countdown chain. It was scheduled for next Friday, but has been put on hold while they figure out what is wrong with my head. David has been trying to figure this out for years, so it will be nice to have some answers.

I thought about having him post an update when I finally do have my surgery but here's how his updates usually go:

David: "Oh, hey, the So-and-Sos had their baby."

Me: "Awww...what'd they have?"

David: "A baby."

Me: "Boy or girl?"

David: "Yep."

Me: "Name? Weight?"

David: "I've told you all I know."

So I'm pretty sure his super helpful and informative post would be something along the lines of, "Kristen had her surgery."

For now, I'll stick to the updates.

And he can stick to counting his silver goatee hairs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Well, crumb.

I had hoped my update would read: All is well, lumpectomy went swimmingly, cleared the bump in the road called cancer.

Of course, that would have made for the shortest blog post ever.

AND I don't regularly use the word swimmingly.

After feeling as though I'd been kicked by a Shetland pony for a few days, I bounced back from the biopsy, no problem. Not terrible, just uncomfortable. But I was still relieved to put the whole process behind me. The procedure, the recovery, and the w...a...i...t, grateful I wouldn't be going through that again in the near future.

Next came my MRI. Not a fan. I'm the person who gets to the movies/church service/program early to secure a seat near the aisle and feel confident in my escape plan, heaving a heavy sigh when asked to "move in toward the center aisle to make room for late comers". Well, they can just shove their way past me and feel stuck for all eternity in the middle of the row because I ain't budgin'.

So getting slid into a tube, in my skivvies, staying stock-still, was not my ideal way to spend a half hour. I almost pushed the panic button twice. But I refrained and tried to think of humorous things to distract me. Which may have included envisioning some of you falling. Don't judge.

And can I just say: You know you're from Kansas when...your medical facility is under construction and the MRI machine is in a trailer out back! I kid you not. The techs wrapped a warm blanket around my shoulders and out the door I trudged in my hospital gown and scrub pants in 30 degrees. No sir. If I never had to have another MRI in this millennium, it would have been too soon.

Lo and behold, my surgeon called the next week saying the malignant area on my right side measured twice as big on the MRI as it had on my original mammogram. AND the images picked up an area of abnormality on my left side. So I'd need an MRI guided biopsy.

An MRI BIOPSY?! Was that even a thing? Would a clown with a knife be performing the procedure? Because that would pretty much cover all the bases of what my current nightmares are made of.

We decided to wait to tell the kids until after the results came back. But Reese foiled that plan. She is always watching. Always listening. And has been since toddlerhood. How she didn't figure out Santa and the Easter Bunny by age 3 is beyond me. The girl picks up on everylittlething. The evening before my second biopsy, she casually asked me when my next appt was.

"Uhhh...errr..." I stammered.

"Oh, and why did you have your cancer notebook this morning when you took Tate and I to the dentist? You brought it out of the house and put it in the car," she observed.

My bedroom was an interrogation room. Luckily, I had a good answer for that one, "I had my blood drawn today for all the genetic tests. My orders were in that notebook," I explained.

"Hmm. And what about your MRI?" she quizzed.

"That's tomorrow," I said, not thinking.

"Tomorrow?! It was last week! What are you talking about? You have another one? What's going on?"

Oh boy.

Drue appeared from across the hall. The girl can't hear us yell her name 4 times to do the dishes, but by golly, she can sure pick up on conversations I hadn't planned on having yet.

Cancer is getting on my nerves. Literally. Some days, out of the blue, my stomach just knots up like I'm about to perform the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. But the next minute, I'm fine. And I know it's because someone has prayed for me. I cannot thank those of you enough who've done so.

So, the results are in. My left side decided to say to my right, "I see your non-invasive ductal carcinoma, and raise you an invasive lobular carcinoma."

Double the cancer. Double the...ugh.

Over this past month, they've been poked, prodded, smashed, smooshed, pushed, pulled, tugged, clipped, bruised, marked, steri-stripped, and glued. And quite frankly, they've had enough. Their series of unfortunate events will conclude with a mastectomy.

Which Reese has been on board with from the beginning, "Just get everything off. I mean, it's not like you have all that much up there anyway."

Straight from the mouth of one of my biggest supporters, folks.

She also feels she's earned a spot on my surgical team because she watches Grey's Anatomy. Yeah, no. I've seen her bedroom. And I most certainly wouldn't let her anywhere near my operating room. The nurses would be tripping over her backpack, shoes, and dishes from last week.

When she found out about my second diagnosis she said, "On Grey's, there was this fake doctor diagnosing people with cancer who didn't really have it. And he would start them on medicine and everything!"

As I made a mental note to research boarding schools, she continued, "I mean, I don't think that's what's happening here. I'm just saying..."

They can't tell right now the extent of the invasive component/stage so they won't know if I need chemo until after surgery.

Reese's take on that? "Awww...I hope you don't need chemo. You just figured out how to curl your hair good."

Seriously, someone take this child. Give her a loving home.

I'm so thankful for my first cancer diagnosis, which led to a discussion with my surgeon about getting an MRI, which led to David and I shrugging our shoulders and saying, "Sure, why not?", which led to a diagnosis of my invasive cancer that wouldn't have been found otherwise. Does God work in mysterious ways? I've never been more certain.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

That first week back after vacation can be a doozie. Am I right? Lazy days of sunshine and carefree agendas replaced with a slew of activities and commitments.

I do believe my week back after this Spring Break was my dooziest yet.

A biopsy, breast cancer diagnosis, and some dental work thrown in just for grins.

"Hi, Florida? Yeah, I think I'm gonna go ahead and come on back. Kansas isn't working out. At. All."

I had zero symptoms.


My mammogram at the beginning of this month was just another pesky thing to check off my "to do" list. Which I think must have hurt its feelings, because it decided to go ahead and just change the course of my health, my priorities, and my general outlook on life.

My images were suspicious so they recommended a biopsy. I can't help but wonder if my radiologist suspected malignancy more than he was letting on, because when he handed me my disc of images, he said, "You'll need to take this with you to all of your appointments." All of them? A biopsy is one appointment. And my results were supposed to be benign. So there wouldn't be "appointments" plural.

We headed off to sunny Florida. And I channeled my inner Scarlett O'hara, pushing aside all worries for a week away with the fam, "I'll think about that tomorrow..." We came home, David left for Indy, and the next day I headed to my biopsy. He called that morning and asked if I was nervous. "Nope," I said, semi-confidently. Apparently, my subconscious decided otherwise, because I started sweating on the way. And I was instructed not to wear deodorant until after the procedure. Not wanting to arrive a hot, stinky mess, I stuffed wads of kleenex under my arms and cranked up the A/C, all while the temp outside registered a balmy 40 degrees. At least I was headed to a hospital, where they'd be well equipped to treat me for my subsequent frostbite and hypothermia upon my arrival.

As I neared the exit, a billboard advertising their healthcare system caught my eye. Something about "advances in cancer treatment...". I'd have to speak to them about that. Because that's pretty much the last word one wants to see emblazoned in the sky as they reach their destination in a situation such as this. Perhaps a palm tree, or a cute puppy photo could better advertise their facility and evoke positive emotions.

Tate had forgotten his gym clothes at home that morning. Naturally, I was exasperated. Looking back, I think it was divinely timed. Instead of worrying about my predicament in the waiting room, I was focused on devising a plan for how I would make it back home, find his clothes and deliver them to the school office before heading to work. I was also scrambling to find the email I deleted from his school with the location of their temporary office while the main one is under construction.

My name was called. And off I went, trying not to leave a trail of kleenex behind me.

They said I should get my results in 2-3 business days. This isn't an Amazon order, people, I thought, this is my future.

I got the call at work 2 days later. And just like that, "oncologist", "treatment plan", and "hormone receptors" were added to my vocabulary list.

Next came telling the kids. The day I was told I'd need a biopsy, I was driving Reese to practice that evening and she was going on about great her life was at that very moment. "I just have like these bursts of happiness!" she said, all smiles.

"Awww...that's called bi-polar," I suggested.

"No, like I'm always happy. But sometimes I'm just like extra happy, like right now. But I kinda feel like something bad could happen at any moment though."

So I kept my mouth shut. I wasn't ready to be the reason that their biggest worry in life was no longer how many likes they'd get on their Instagram post.

Should we sit them all down together to break the news?  No. Too ominous. Although, that is how we surprised them with a trip to Disney World a few years ago. So I guess it could have gone either way.

I told the girls together. "Soooo....I had my mammogram a few weeks ago..." I started. Reese immediately interjected, "You have breast cancer!" So much for easing into it. I went through the timeline of events, reassured them it was early stage and very treatable, then answered their one trillion and one questions. "So when they called me yesterday..." I continued, Reese interrupted again, "Yesterday?! You've known since yesterday? Why didn't you tell us last night?"

"Uhh...because I was carting all of you to and from practices all night. We weren't even all home at the same time," I reminded her.

"You, Drue, and I were all in the car together on the way to volleyball," she pointed out.

"Yeah. And you were driving! What was I supposed to say, 'Ok, go ahead and take a left up here. Oh, and I have cancer'?! What on actual Earth?!."

Our conversation took a slight detour when Drue asked, "So, do you know if you're heterozygous? Because we're studying punnett squares in Science."

Reese's biggest concern was that I'd let a man do my biopsy. Bless it.

Tate adorably let it sink in and asked, "So, like, is this something that we need to be worrying about?"

"Nope. Not in the least, Buddy."

The kids suddenly became very agreeable and amicable toward one another over the next few days. At first I thoroughly enjoyed it, but then it turned a little creepy. And when I suspiciously beat the girls at MarioKart, I said, "Aha! You let me beat you! Stop it!"

From the moment I got my diagnosis, I've had a flurry of phone calls from nurses and schedulers. The very first of which turned out to be a sweet nurse I actually met when she was a little girl and her parents taught my Sunday School class. It was very comforting to have her end our conversation with, "I'm praying for you and your family!"

My cancerous culprits look like grains of salt on my images. But instead of playing nice and spreading out evenly, they decided to cluster together and plot against me. We're waiting to see if any cells have escaped into other areas or if I have mutant ninja genes indicating a high rate of reoccurrence. If not, my surgeon is just going to crash their little party, remove them all in an outpatient procedure, and any stragglers will get zapped with 3 weeks of radiation. At which point I'll do a mic drop as I exit the hospital. Until I return shortly thereafter for my appointment with my oncologist to begin my 5 year med. Maybe I'll just take my mic to all future appointments from here on out.

So, ladies...G-O! Go directly to your mammogram. Do not pass "Go". Do not collect $200. Although I'd gladly bribe you if that's what it takes.

I want to go back and hug the radiologist who read my mammogram, the 75 year old survivor who didn't hesitate to approach me in the waiting room offering encouragement, and the nurse who instinctively reached out and held my hand during my biopsy. I'm not even a hugger. But I suspect I'll be more open to the idea from now on.

I finished out the week getting a filling in my tooth and was numbed up half the day. There I sat at my desk, contemplating the information I'd received within the last 24 hours, dribbling my water all down the front of my shirt thinking, "I've had better weeks..."

Friday, January 12, 2018

To Infirmary...And Beyond!

Deep thoughts from our week under quarantine. Just indulge me here, folks. I've had limited adult contact with the outside world this week. I have words, lots of words, to get out.

We had bugs from all over. Tate was puking. I was coughing so hard I was awarded my first inhaler in 41 years. Fevers galore. Entire bottle of ibuprofen dispensed.

Basically my deep thought is this: There's nothing like a week of sickness to reset one's attitude. I was downright giddy when my fever finally broke for good and I felt well enough to clean the bathrooms. Mundane chore last week. This week, I'm glad to be able do it. Which, yes, should be my attitude every week. But it's not. Far from it.

Weeklong sicknesses can also reset attitudes when it comes to teens. Not theirs of course, (wouldn't that be nice?), but mine towards them. Just like when they were little. Their abundant energy could certainly wear me out some days. But as soon as one of them would go down with a fever, I'd take one look at their pitiful sleeping self on the couch and think, "I'm not sitting there 'til I disinfect that whole cushion"...oh, but then I'd think, "What I wouldn't give for them to be running up and down the stairs strewing their toys from room to room."

It's the same way with teens. On Reese's worse day this week, when she didn't change position for hours on end and I kept tiptoeing up to her bedside to see if the covers were rising and falling, I thought, "What I wouldn't give to see her roll her eyes or give me that look of 'what planet are you actually from'?".

This was the same day, incidentally, I read an article about flu related deaths in otherwise healthy individuals. Talk about timing. Of course I wasn't going to tell her because it would freak her out. But I must have been hovering a little too much that evening because she finally looked at me and croaked, "What?"

"Huh? What?" was my smooth comeback.

"Mom..." she pushed.

"Tell me if you feel any different."


"No reason."

"Mom..." she pushed again.

"Oh alright already! People are dying from the flu. Like healthy people. So just tell me if you feel extra bad, even if it's in the middle of the night."

There was not one day this week that all 3 kids attended school at the same time. It became part of my nightly routine to call a school or 2 and leave a message. I half hoped a truancy officer would come to my door, just for some face to face contact with society.

While we're on the subject of sneeze at the dinner table in elementary school, and they were announcing they must stay home the next day. Those days are g-o-n-e. I debated with Reese and Tate at length Sunday night why they would both be missing their first day ever of middle school and high school on Monday.

Tate argued, "But I haven't thrown up since like 3am. So I can go!"

Technically the lad was correct. "Buddy, every time you stand up to do something you black out for like 5 seconds. Black out time is not factored in to what little time you have between classes. You're staying home," I rebuffed.

And Reese was convinced she'd need to repeat the semester (which literally had begun 2 days prior) if she missed a day. At this point I was still sick and not feeling up to arguing so just said wearily, "I don't know what to tell ain't goin'." (Perhaps I'll take an English course with her that additional semester).

Turns out, Tate just didn't want to do the extra homework he'd have from missing class. Which took all of maybe 20 minutes Tuesday night.

Tate and Drue headed off to school Tuesday while Reese and I settled in for our morning naps. My phone rang around 10am. The school nurse. "Hi, I have Drue here in my office..."

"Of course you do. I'll be right there."

Reese bemoaned missing another day on Wednesday, but by this time she felt so miserable, I didn't have to put forth nearly as much effort arguing with her.

Apparently, Mother Nature even grew tired of Reese's objections to missing school, so she dropped the temp and sent just enough ice to get school cancelled for Thursday. "There, you're not actually missing another day," I reassured her.

"Yeah. But I can't enjoy the snow day because I'm sick."

Oh. My. Stars. In. Heaven.

She emailed her teachers to get a jump start on makeup work. "What do you have to do to make up P.E.?" I asked. "Run a mile per day I miss," she said, complete with eye roll (Yay! It returned!). "'re going to be running your own personal 5K to make up this week!" I figured up.

David checked on us all Thursday night from Denver, "How's everybody doing?" he asked. When I reported we had all turned a corner and were on the mend he said, "Oh good! I was just wondering if I should extend my stay."

I was quite the little organizer keeping track on my phone who had medicine when and what their temp was. They were all set to go back today but Drue decided to be an overachiever and keep her fever a little longer and her voice comes and goes in croaky whispers.

I took pity on Reese walking to the bus stop in 7 degree weather this morning before sunrise and offered to drive her to school. This is big, folks. I haven't driven her to high school once this year.

We dropped Tate off across the street from his school and as I pulled into morning traffic to take Reese, my friend Carrie "Voxered" me (cool walkie talkie phone app) and said, "Just in case you're dropping any kids off at Walgreens, that light's not working." So I had just dropped my son off in single digit weather with no way to get across 4 lanes of morning commute traffic. Lovely. A quick call to another Mom friend who dropped her son off at the same time eased my mind. She dashed back to check on them and they were nowhere in sight. I didn't even want to know how he made it across. (Turns out, the button was frozen on their side of the street, but not the other, so someone ended up pushing it for curiosity got the better of me.)

As we neared Reese's school, I said, " know I'm not going in that parking lot, right? I'll drop you off on that side street. And don't be a hater about it."

As I started down that street I saw the side parking lot with no line of cars. So I pulled in and around near a random door but stopped short on the corner, "Oops, I don't think this is really a drop off and here comes a truck behind me. Hurry! Hop out!"

"But I don't even know where I'm at!" she said.

"Love you! Have a good day back," I replied as I drove off.

I'm doubting she'll have to add on another semester, due to the fact she challenged me in a game of Fight List on my phone 30 minutes into the school day. Working real hard there, Reese, real hard.

She did such a great job convincing me she was well enough to return today, after school I said, "Oh. Hey. Clean your room."

"I can't. I'm sick," she replied without batting an eye.

Yep, glad to have my sassy gal back.

Now we just need to get Drue well enough to be her snarky self and all will be right with my world.

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