As we sit poised on the brink of the new year, one of the more significant things that occurred this year, and that will follow me into 2011 is the breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. I'd say chemotherapy is the nastiest thing I've ever had to go through -- and at this point, I am halfway through the six every-three-week treatments. Yes, it is quite as horrible as you may have heard, with nausea being the foremost complaint. I do believe I've experienced most of the side effects one may, but I'll spare my blog a list.
I find that today, I feel more about blogging through images than through words, and so:
A few highlights from the journey so far........
Here I am, just before starting chemo.
This shows my port catheter. It is in my chest, and a tube goes up my neck.
It is a good thing.
This is my meds bag.
Isn't it cute?
It is important to be cute and pink when undergoing breast cancer treatment.
Then I lost my hair. Lots and lots of hair. Such a cliche. Wish I could have been more original. And hairy. Or do I mean haired?
And so I wear hats. Lots and lots of hats! I am a mad hatter! Mad I have no hair and have to wear lots and lots of hats!
We had a Merry Christmas!
I count myself highly blessed, with a loving family, wonderful friends, and more resources than most.
When I wrote to my professors to tell them I would have to postpone my dissertation proposal defense, I said that I was sorry, but I had been "unrealistically optimistic."
One of my professors wrote back to tell me that this is a good thing, that she once heard Carol Anderson and Froma Walsh (two very eminent persons in our field) say that "a characteristic of people who win health battles is that they are 'unrealistically optimistic.'"
Happy New Year!!!
and may you be as unrealistically optimistic as you like and need to be!!
So... in the last 3 weeks since I've been diagnosed with breast cancer, I've been going through a ton of tests to find out more. So far we know that it's triple positive, high grade, aggressive, fast growing. We now also know with some degree of certainty that it is confined to two masses, one very small, in my right breast. It's interductal, and the larger mass is invasive (spread a bit, but still in the breast, and around that mass).
I had CTs of my chest and abdomen, and a nuclear bone scan, and MRI's of both breasts, and we're waiting on news of those. Those entailed getting three kinds of dyes, so goodness knows what my kidneys are thinking! I've had ultrasounds and mamograms, and 3 biopsies: in the two masses and a lymph node, and one of the best pieces of news is that it doesn't appear to be in the lymph nodes. Also great news is that the MRI didn't show any more cancers in either breast. We'll have news about the larger body scans later, but I believe those are just to be sure, and they don't expect to find anything more.
Yesterday, I had surgery in which they installed a port catheter high on my left chest, so that the chemo can go there in the main veins of my chest, rather than blowing out the peripheral arteries in my arms. Sort of really super creepy to me, to have something like that in me, but I understand how good it is to have, and how lucky I am that Loma Linda does these routinely, when some people have to fight to get them.
So, starting Nov 8th, I'll have chemo every 3 weeks, two days in a row, for 3 hours and 10 minutes to give me 3 different chemos. After 18 weeks, I'll have a breast sparing surgery (lumpectomy), followed by radiation treatments, and finishing the year of chemo. I'll be bald, bloated, and sick, they tell me -- but I will do everything supplemental to treatment to stay healthy and positive. I'm very optimistic to come through this well, and Loma Linda's breast cancer center is an incredibly wonderful place for me to receive my care, so I am incredibly fortunate to be there.
Most of the folks at Loma Linda are warm, brilliant, and wonderful with care. Many I've met have offered me deeply personal words of wisdom, shared experiences, faith, and support that have moved me and given me such strength and lifting. They are kind and understanding, an (d just super people. I should really write down some of these stories.
Every now and then someone makes us laugh, though, like the "breast coordinator," a story in herself. Most recently, I was getting an IV put in for the surgery, and I was laughing and making dark humor jokes about how much I've been stuck and mis-stuck (missing veins) lately, and helping her to get a good stick in a good vein. Craig and I were cutting up and laughing about what we could do to help a vein come out of hiding, and especially when (sorry) my blood started spurting out of the vein she (phew) did stick.
"Whoa, looks like you found a good one! Oh, no, well, maybe too good! Thar she blows!" OK, guess you had to be there... Hahaha! But the thing that really cracked us up were this young woman's words, as she gazed earnestly up at me, and offered to me in my moment of duress, "Wow, you're so brave and positive, and it's a really good thing you have such a great sense of humor, you're really going to need it to help you handle all the terrible, awful times you have ahead of you, the horrible things you're going to have to go through." She didn't seem to understand why Craig and I about died laughing at that. But I am glad she got me on the first stick.
Nothing like staring death in the face to make you think -- what really doesn't matter? and what does? Funny how you can tell yourself over and over to focus on the real priorities of life, and how that can be fuzzy and often forgotten. Why is that? But when you think, Wow, I may only have a few months left on Earth! well, then it seems pretty effortless to let the petty things, the petty annoyances and worries, go take a long walk off a short pier, all by themselves.
I used to lecture myself, Do I really want to waste 3 minutes of my life being annoyed about the toothpaste in the sink? Now, I look at something like that, and almost laugh. It's even kind of precious to me, like Oh, look at this cute evidence of life, of living with those I love! Sound weird?
So I just got the official word, werd, wurd, and I do indeed have breast cancer. It's really hard to sink in. You mean, me? A member of that club? But I'm sure I never sent in my application. Don't you need references? And then, it's kind of like after you have sex for the first time, and you keep expecting to look different, for the world to look different, and yet it just goes on, but still you're not a cancer virgin anymore. Like it or lump it. (Haha, cancer pun.)
I wanted to stand on a mountain and shout it out to everyone, post it on facebook as my status, start wearing a t-shirt with an arrow pointing to my right breast and the words "Cancer Here, Can You Believe It?" in bold, because the disconnect is so disorienting -- that life should go on as always, all around me, when Don't you know, friends, everything has shifted?!!
Here's the poem I wrote in a funky fugue, for my Facebook status yesterday: * * * * * * * * * It's positive. Baking a pumpkin pie from "a real pumpkin" and it smells great. The sun is shining across my arm, warm, bright. Kids outside are laughing and calling, rolling wheels scratch on the sidewalk. Chase is chewing on a bone under the table, at my feet, contented. The side of my nose itches. Yep. Still positive. * * * * * * * * * *
Do you know what I mean?
Of course, I'm super sad and scared.
But that's only some of time. Other times, I seem to be dealing with it automatically in the same way I deal with life and things I have to take care of, generally. Such as, I actually caught myself thinking, Should I finish this hummus off now, since I might not be here tomorrow to eat it? As if I were thinking about clearing the fridge of perishables, before leaving on a journey. I actually followed the last thought with, No, it's okay, I'll still be alive tomorrow. All in my is-it-time-to-put-the-next-load-in-the-washer state of mind. Then two heartbeats later, I felt the craziness of that.
Well, really, I don't intend to die. (But who does?)
I'm returning to SparkPeople.com to help me out. They're free, fun, and helpful. And I find upon my return this morning that their site has been much improved in my absense -- WAY super fast Nutrition Tracker, for one. Lots of fun tools and games and things. To really lose weight, I think I have to OBSESS, and this site makes that possible! I love how you can track improvement in like 20 areas, if you want -- like inches, lbs, # of push-ups, resting heart rate, and so on. Lots of feedback and little rewards, graphs and charts and "points." Even counting calories becomes a game. SOOooo, you're starving, so what, when you're having so much fun! Bahahahahahahaha, let the GAMES BEGN!
If you guys want to be my buddies, that would be fun. My goal is to lose 15 lbs, but they will only let me set a max of 2 lbs per week, which is 10 lbs by Aug 6th.
I've gained 8 lbs since a year ago -- YUCK! And about 15 since my lowest, 2 years ago. I loved how I looked 15 lbs lighter, so that is really my goal -- WE SHALL SEE!!!
First of all -- HOW DO I EAT almost nothing, and still get Craig to eat?!!! Sigh. OK, I'll do my best with that. WILL POWER, LADIES!!!! Visualize success! See the dress. Be the dress. Hahahahahaha! (Manic laugh!)
And so... After many hours of searching, designing, cutting, printing, folding, gluing, stickering, and addressing -- TADA!!!
Was it fun? yes. Was it tedious? yes. Would I do it again? Hmmm... if you'd asked me at the tail end of this project, I think I would have said, "No way in H would I ever do this again!" But, like the pain of giving birth, soon the memories of pain and push, push, push fade away, to be left with the happiness of the result.
I drastically under estimated how many hours I would spend on this craft. But I must say -- I really likee how they turned out! Hurray!!!
So I've been planning a wedding. Which may be an extremely DIY wedding-on-a-budget kind of affair, and one of the things I've been looking at is how to (gasp!) make a wedding cake -- I know, right? Crazee. I think so too, actually. But still. I've been reading up on it. And luckily, I do believe that my friend's friend, who used to work in a cake bakery, is going to make our cake for us! Woot!
However, all that cake research has not been in vain! Oh, no. For both my daughters have just had their half birthdays, and these very blessed events are marked by very special, Mom-made cakes! Often these have been very interesting looking creations, although I do believe they've tasted good. (In fact, when quizzed, my youngest once said that the best thing her Mom makes is her frosting!) (Ahem, the world's easiest -- the buttercream recipe on the back of the powdered sugar box.)
So, with visions of fancy cakes dancing in my head, I was inspired!
First, Jenna wanted a "Brownie Cake." This is something my kids invented, and it is simply brownie batter baked in a cake pan, and frosted with the famous buttercream frosting, cocoa added. So this time, I fancied it up a bit with beads, flowers, and lace, and set the cake up on a pedestal created by inverting a bowl. We had a half-bday tea party, and it was ever so lovely!
Then, 3 days later, was Isy's half-bday. You see above the half-eaten, fully glorious remains of Isy's cake. And, because I used super special WEDDING CAKE TECHNOLOGY, it was actually THE BEST CAKE I'VE EVER TASTED! And it looked pretty, too, before we ate it! My fiancee wasn't in the mood for cake, having none of the sweet teeth that my girls and I have in demanding abundance, and so I said (just a little peevishly), "Fine, then, if you won't eat any, then take a picture of it!" And so he did. :) And I kinda love it, actually. ---See more of his "real" (and quite splendid) work at craigblankphoto.com by the way.
So what is the secret to tremendously yummy, wedding-cake-level, bday cake deliciousness?! Why, it is simple syrup, my dearest dear. (Sort of similar to why iced "sweet tea" in the south is so delightful, much better than sugared iced tea.) Specifically, put a quarter cup of sugar in a quarter cup of water, heat it up and stir until the sugar disolves. Then paint or spoon the syrup to cover the top and bottom of each sliced layer on the cake. It is like wow.
For this cake, Isy wanted strawberry whipped cream, and no texture (no lumpy strawberry bits or seeds -- yucky, Mom!). And by the way, I cheated and used a store-bought angel food cake. And I sliced it into 4 even layers with a long, serated bread knife.
I added 2/3rds of a small jar of seedless strawberry jam to 1 and a half cups of cream, whipped (along with "Whip It" - a powder that keeps whipped cream holding its shape). This went in the top layers and on top of the cake. I filled the bottom layer with the rest of the jam, heated in the jar for a few seconds to make it spread easily.
I decorated around the bottom with halved strawberries, and the top with mandarin oranges. And by the way, another "sweet tea" kinda thing from my southern mama: the strawberries were prepared by washing, trimming, placing in a bowl,and sugaring them up generously. This way they taste great and sweet, and they also make a great strawberry simple syrup that goes great over pound cake. Since I used the strawberries for the cake, the strawberry syrup went into my caiparinha (Brazilian cocktail) later. :) "Saude!"
Lead: Fire & Windy,
Point: Ashley & Gabriel,
Wheel: Taffy & Lakota photo by unknown newspaper photographer
Hermosa Beach, from the pier, photo by me
Everyone I have ever gotten to know -- and as a very social person and a marriage & family therapist I have had the privilege of knowing many people quite well -- is a fascinating, one-of-a-kind mix of many things that seem consistent, along with some special things that surprise. I suppose I'm no different, and yet... Somehow, I feel that I have taken the suprising-mix-thing to an extreme, and it can be troubling. Or at least befuddling.
You see, I am a passionately eclectic person! I love and crave diversity, color, adventure, abundance, and texture in my life: past, present, and imagined future. I have no desire to fit in any single mold -- and yet, I desperately want to "fit in," to find a place to belong, to be understood and welcomed -- where friends warmly shout, "Norm!" (does that mean "normal?") when I walk into my real or virtual watering hole. I adore wearing every one of my many hats (and yet I sometimes feel a little identity-crisised). If forced to be constrained within a single, predictible channel, I imagine that I would feel angry-panicky and excrutiatingly bored! And yet I yearn with an intense angst for the many pieces of my life to feel cohesive, connected, coherent, or at least -- collected!
I do believe that having moved so much as a kid and in my 30's and early 40's explains a good deal of the discontinuity that disorients and dismays me. Certainly the divorce contributes. I believe that everyone needs and wants witnessing of their life -- to make it feel real and meaningful, and to help it all relate -- and so I struggle, because there are no witnesses to all of mine. We know ourselves at least partially through other's knowing of us. Moving as much as I have, dear friends have only been near for a few years at a time. Sometimes now I have a sensation of having begun to exist at the beginning of the most current chapter of my life, the one in which I moved back to California almost 6 years ago. Strange feeling.
Hence I am drawn to write this blog, so hopefully titled "Eclectic-Connected." I hope I can keep some of what I've been, even as I emphatically embrace all I am and all I hope to be. This is my attempt to write stories about...something that is me, that is my life, unique amongst the multitude of precious lives in this created universe!
I am a list maker, a taker of stock, a put-it-down on paper gal. So let me begin with who I am today:
a full-time, work-from-home Mom of two wonderful girls ages 12 and 14
a full-time PhD student in Marriage & Family Therapy (all-but-dissertation)
a really good cook
a half-time research scientist & author
a music lover who loves to sing
a therapist for victims of crime in the LA area
a sometime room-Mom, coach, PTO volunteer, party planner, and whatever else the kids need...
a wanna-be author of articles for popular journals (and books)
an on-again/off-again ebay seller and frequent ebay and thrift store shopper
an occasional university instructor of research methodologies and statistics
a very spiritual person
a demon for speed
a fiancee, in love with the most amazing and good man, planning a wedding in August
Here are some of the things I have been and done:
a young kid whose parents were in graduate school, in Louisiana, Florida, and Texas
a 10-year-old, tall and skinny kid who moved to California and grew up spending most of her time on the beach and in the ocean in Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach, California
an avid tree climber and book worm
an athlete in cross country and track (I could run 10 miles in 80 minutes), and a high jumper (I could jump my own height: 5'9")
an almost concert pianist (but I quit), a violin player
a super devout Christian
a librarian's assistant at UCLA
a nanny in Beverly Hills, one summer
an electrical engineer who helped to design super-secret communications systems
an expert pitt crew for my bf's track, bicycle (road and velodrome), and triathlon racing
an award-winning sled-dog racer, who showed and bred champion Siberian Huskies for 16 years, all over the USA and Canada
a college math teacher of algebra and statistics
an editor for the International Siberian Husky Club magazine
a 200-mile-a-day commuter (Cincinnati, Ohio to Lexington, Kentucky) for 4 years, putting my ex thru medical school, working an engineering job that made me miserable
an over-achieving pregnant woman/Mom in the rural outskirts of Cleveland for 4 years, solo parenting while dad did his 100-hour/week residency -- this was a really tough period of isolation and hard times
a small-town "Doctor's Wife" in Hoquiam/Aberdeen, Washington (whose husband kept a mistress), solo parenting while going through that dark 5-year period of divorce, heartbreak, & rebirth
a graduate student in Marriage & Family Therapy my last 2 years in Washington
after a move to California, a clinician and doctoral student in Marriage & Family Therapy while living with my parents in Murrieta, CA for 4 years
a budding party girl, when I had the time for it, with my awesome friends
a month-long vacationer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming while my daughters learned to ski, and I fell in love with the most amazing man
a renter, just my kids and me, and then adding my bf, in Winchester, California
a happy returner to my hometown in Hermosa Beach, California a year ago!
OH, you know, there's always more, but that's about all she wrote this evening. :) See ya later, oh blog o' mine!