Thank you to everyone who donated!
Dagny, coming around the house to stare at me while I sit at at the computer. I think she wants to come inside now...
Moderation, I'm sorry we are not better friends. I really have made an effort to understand your merits, which, from what I have heard, are many! Yet, every time I try to foster a closer relationship with you, you elude me (thus no tv for a month, and then 5 hours in one sitting. Or no gardening for 3 months, and then so much "gardening" that I am falling into bed exhausted. Or never trying a class at the gym, and then trying 7 classes in 5 days, and not being able to walk. And no blog-writing and only quick glances at the computer for weeks, and then a whole morning stolen by writing and reading online. And let's not even get started on chocolate chip or ice cream consumption....). Stop being such a tease, Moderation. I promise I'm not such a bad person. You might even like me.
What's that? I need more willpower, more discipline, before you will ever show your face to me? Well, then...forget what I said. You're too boring for me anyway.
And now, for YOU, Procrastination. I am tired of you. And to show you that I can totally defeat you in this battle that we have undertaken, I am hereby nominating this to be the week of Pam's Battle VS. Procrastination. You should be scared.
Last night I joyfully signed the kids up for this year's swim team. Yes, I said JOYFULLY. It may not have looked like I was joyfully signing up, but inside I was TOTALLY JOYFUL, because last year at this time I was just starting to suffer from my painful infection after my mastectomy/reconstruction, and couldn't go to the sign-up (Bill went). I went back to look up what I wrote at that time...and apparently I was, as usual, not writing anything about the horrific misery I was starting to feel. I was probably just hoping it would go away. And though my memory is not great (thus the blog), apparently the feeling of that infection is BURNED IN MY BRAIN because last night, it felt so AMAZING to NOT be infected and in pain! (Isn't it always? But it especially feels so good when you have that really strong flashback to the pain. You feel the absence of the misery so much more acutely.)
My joyfulness only increased when I saw familiar faces - not friendly faces, per se (because I'm always joyful to see those faces), but the faces I know from taking my kids to swim practice every day from the middle of May to the end of July (the faces you recognize, though you really don't KNOW the people they belong to...). Those faces gave me another flashback to just how hard last summer was for me - how hard it was to go to the pool every day bald, with extra sun-sensitive skin, to not be able to wear a bathing suit because I was disfigured in my chest. How hard it was to get all three kids ready every day to swim in the water, and know I couldn't do that because I'd have to put on a swim cap and also, more than likely I would get some sort of something (pink eye, a cold) because of all the stuff that is in pools (you don't realize this until you have no immune system due to chemo and you get sick EVERY TIME you went in the pool)! And then, worst of worst - getting the whole family ready for swim meets, which more than likely fell on a day of chemo, or during the super hard days - I can't even BELIEVE I did it, when I think back to how miserable I felt!
I am overstating my point, but I am just so happy to not feel that way...and so happy to be regular. Seeing those faces and remembering how jealous (yes, horrible of me, but I was so jealous) I was of all those people who could just take their kids to the pool as a regular person brought it all back to me. (And of course, I know better now that everyone has issues...but when you are really so miserable and trying so hard not to be, sometimes it is hard to realize that anyone else has problems except for you!)
I'm so happy, that I am afraid I am going to go all-out for Katie's birthday this Thursday. Last year I couldn't even GET OUT OF BED because of the pain of the infection. I had to cancel her party, I couldn't even make a cake, we had to open her presents near me in the sick-bed. I know I more than made up for last year's April 2nd and the problems I had that day. (We had a friend birthday party before my mastectomy for that reason...had all the family over and celebrated well with a joint party for Emma's first communion). I still can't help myself, though. Some days it just feels so great to be totally here and running my own life!
But I have to adore her enthusiasm...especially when I read what she put on her Jump Rope for Heart Page. Scroll down and you will see not only a very popular quote in the cancer circles ("Life's not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain!" - Emma has definitely absorbed a lot from cancer world over the past year+), but also a personal statement from Emma:
All of the donations make a difference, by sending in 25 dollars you are saving a life!
(Wouldn't it be so great if it only cost $25 to save a life! But I love my cutie for believing that, and for trying. And I love my family, and Marci (extended family!), for loving Emma so much to donate to her campaign, after having JUST given to Katie's a couple of months ago! She really is so excited and feels like she is making a difference...and boosting me up with her enthusiasm as well!)
Emma's Jump Rope for Heart page
He told me that going to the gym would be the best use of my time. Which was really what I wanted to hear, because, as Emma believes, "Mom would exercise all day if she could". Now, I know I don't LOOK like I would do that if I could...but that is because I would also eat chocolate and ice cream and cereal all day if I could, too. ESPECIALLY after spending time exercising.
- And while we are on this topic, let me just take you aside and ask you...why should I exercise if then I need to eat two lunches? Wouldn't it be better for me to just not exercise, and not eat two lunches? And plus, the harder I exercise, the more I need to sleep! So it ends up that my whole life, if it could be, would just be like it used to be at cross country camp or during winter training in Tampa for crew - eat, sleep, and exercise. And I would be happy...that might be weird, but I think some people are just wired that way. Maybe some people are wired to not eat all the time *not me, or they are wired to sit and knit *not me, or they are wired to spend their time intellectually pursuing various topics and discussing them with vigor *not me. I just like to move. Well, either to move, or to eat, or to sleep. If I ate or slept less, then I would maybe look like I ever exercised.
Anyway, back on topic. Bill gave me permission to go to the gym and NOT feel guilty about it, and something about that clicked. HE REALLY WANTS TO KEEP ME AROUND. He thinks I should go to the gym because that is something that has shown positive effects on breast cancer not recurring. And also, because he loves me, he isn't telling me to exercise (because then I wouldn't)...he is just quietly supporting me when I do.
HE REALLY WANTS TO KEEP ME AROUND. All of those vitamins he doles out for me, everyday, all of that research, all of the people he contacts with questions about breast cancer research...I knew he was doing it for me, but somehow it was just when he told me that no, I don't have to clean the house (he never tells me to clean the house), no, it wouldn't be better for me to spend that time with the kids at school (I would probably do that if he thought I should), and yes, I can go to the gym if I want to that it really hit home.
I have been married to Bill for almost 10 years, and with him for over 16. He would have said the same thing to me any time over those years...it was my ears that weren't hearing it. My brain has constantly been telling me I need to be doing something else, making a difference somewhere else besides just internally in my own body. I feel so lucky that he did not give up on me somewhere during these 16 years, that he KEPT telling me nice things about myself when I didn't believe them, that he kept telling me I could do things for myself first until the time finally came when I heard him.
I hope I can be as good to him.
Me, confused: "Um...what?"
Emma: "The last thing that you are is a couch potato."
I don't know if I should be happy about this or not...because my goal tonight was to sit quietly on the couch with my kids and read. Instead we are wrestling on the floor and going crazy.
Or wait, was that Cardiorama at the gym on Saturday that ruined me? HMMM....I could barely walk afterwards. But I was very inspired. There is something so truly number one about participating in an event with people that range in age from about 13 to 90, and all sizes, races, religions...if the quite young and the quite old can be doing all of these crazy things, so can I, right?
I know this sounds a little weird, the possessive "my ducks" and all...but listen to what happened. I saw them, ran inside to tell Bill how excited I was, and ran back outside to take some pictures of them. They were walking away, as the feeder area was completely empty. I said, "Hey ducks!", and they turned around and started walking to me! So then I asked them if they were hungry, they nodded yes (not really, but they kept walking towards me), I dumped some birdseed in the traditional area, and they had a nice little snack.
So see, they are my ducks! Oh, how I love spring, when all the little buddies come back.
(These pictures suck, but it is dusk and I didn't want to figure out how to make the camera work...)
So, I made an appointment for the day we returned from our trip. Does all of this sound familiar? Pam goes on vacation, finds something, gets it checked out... The timing is just a teeny bit off as I found it just BEFORE vacation, but still. Weird.
I drag my 3 little turkeys into the dermatologist's office (Emma had something to get checked, too, and we got back so late on Thursday that I had the kids skip school and sleep in that Friday). The PA checks me, says she'd like to remove 2 of the moles, but I will have scars. I remind her that she just SAW my belly/chest - with the mastectomy scars, the port scar, the oophorectomy scars, the c-section scar, the stretch marks from 3 pregnancies - does it LOOK like I care about a few more scars down there? I ask her again about the mole that started it all. "I think it looks perfectly normal, but I will remove it if you feel very strongly about it."
It took a little effort for me to say, "Yes, I feel strongly about it..." I'm a people-pleaser (if those people aren't my poor husband or children), especially with someone who has more knowledge than I do. But I said it, and had it removed. (And a little side note, here - numbing shots into my abdomen and having my moles scraped off in front of my 3 children? Weirdo, but at least I was multi-tasking and modeling no fear of medical procedures.)
Fast-forward to today...a follow-up for Emma and, I decided, another appointment for me. I may as well take off this other annoying mole on my belly, too. The PA tells me that 2 of my moles were benign, and my little guy, that started it all? The one she didn't feel should come off? The only abnormal one. I refrained from skipping around the office, telling her that I was right and she was wrong.
So she took off more, to get clean margins...and I had her remove 3 additional moles.
Then I came home, thought back to these crazy compulsions I can have sometimes - like that feeling that I must remove this teeny mole which seemed like nothing - and thanked my darling mother. I don't care if other people don't believe she is telling me to do certain things. I know myself, and I just would never be looking at myself that closely, or feeling so strongly about a teeny mole, without a little guidance. Thanks, Mom!
For example, yesterday was the anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy. I celebrated by getting dirt for my gardens and taking my crazed wild beast for a 4 mile run! A year ago today I was resting with drain tubes, and popping Vicodin. Today Bill is the patient on Vicodin (oral surgery he had today), and I am the girl who gets to fill prescriptions and buy the soup for the patient!!!!!!
And it just goes on and on...each day over the past 2 months I've been celebrating anniversaries - on Bill's birthday this year I was in Roatan, instead of at U of M getting a second opinion. And all this week I've been ripping up the yard, each day knowing I am doing something I could not have done last year at this time. This year, I have NOTHING that should stand in my way from doing whatever crazy thing I desire (current project is building more raised beds - one for every family member for their own "gardens"~!). Oh WAIT, except for motherhood and all of the trappings of daily life.
That's not to say I'm just skipping around gloriously, all day long...part of the problem with normal day-to-day life is that your minor problems are elevated to major problems, in the absence of having anything major to worry about. My minor problem is always the lingering mood issues I've come to embrace as my closest enemy. Breast cancer was almost a nice respite from depression/anxiety - my schedule necessitated breaks from reality so there was almost a break from the stress that brings it all on. But that is just a minor thing (easy to say now that I am on the upswing again - and that's also why I'm writing again! I'm either too busy to write, or too worked up to write. This week I was both, in turn)...and how nice to just have minor issues!
I'm learning a lot, though...and I've already learned a lot as a parent. For example, since this is my second child, I already know the misery of school projects, so THIS time, I chose a project that was at least interesting to me. I had no idea what a yurt was, but through the interesting life of someone I knew fleetingly many years ago (a facebook "friend"), I had heard the word and seen pictures, so I decided to make that our shelter. (Thanks, Craig!) Starting out with something that is interesting to me is a great and wonderful idea I wish I had implemented sooner in my parenting career.
So far, I've read about real-life yurts (used by nomadic people in the grasslands of Mongolia), learned about the climate in Inner Mongolia, discovered that there is a company that sells yurts to people, park systems in the US, and businesses (and now I want one, of course, because I want everything), and have started to build my own model yurt. Oh wait? Is this supposed to be Katie's project?*
*But come ON. I won't send her to school with a model shelter made entirely herself, I'm not that stupid. I know I would only have to deal with her tears when she says it isn't as good as the other model shelters. I'm trying to tell myself it is enough to have her help me assemble the yurt, to have her sit with me as we research yurts, to practice her writing as she writes up the paper on yurts, etc. And putting in these hours of work on my (whoops, Katie's) model yurt is much more palatable to me if I know I'm not going to be dealing with a temper tantrum, or tears (hers or mine) now, this afternoon, or when she comes home after seeing the other kids' model shelters of the world.
However, it has become clear that this is going to have to change. Example number one: Saturday, after breakfast.
I knew the kids had eaten already, but not much...so as I was making myself some eggs I asked if they would like some.
Emma: "No thanks".
Katie: "I already had breakfast."
Nathan: "No thanks."
5 minutes later, eggs cooked...
Katie: "Can I have some eggs?"
Emma: "Me too!"
Me: "GIRLS. I just asked you if you wanted some eggs and you said no. Yes, you can have MY eggs, but next time I'm not even going to ask, I'm going to just make you eat."
3 minutes after the eggs are all gone...
Nathan: "Can I have some eggs, too?"
Example number two: this morning.
Me: "Nathan, do you want to go to the gym, or are you happy here at home?" (Thinking, if he is happy to play with his toys now, I'll just clean the house. It's so much easier to go with the flow if he is happy and situated...and on the days when he is bored we leave the house earlier.)
Nathan: "Happy here at home."
4 minutes after the class I wanted to attend started at the gym...
Nathan: "Can we go to the gym?"
And here is a picture of my hair, after beauty shop day:
And here is this year...I don't claim to be a beauty, but I have more in 2 physical ways than I had expected to ever have - so funny. It is at least an interesting comparison!
Life is so fun, when you aren't worried about making your next doctor's appointment. It's so fun to put on your bathing suit on your vacation without worrying about if your breast form is in right, or who might walk in on you as you fiddle with your stuff. It is so great to go to my girls' first basketball games, and see old friends, instead of staying home and trying to either rest or catch up on something I need to have done before my next medical thing.
It blows my mind with happiness to think about this spring and to know that I don't have anything that would keep me back from doing whatever I want in my yard. I can make as big a mess as I want, experiment in countless ways, make more mistakes as I teach myself about gardening, and have enough time to clean it all up and try again without worrying that I'll not have the energy or ability to get to that clean up.
But, you know, it was also fun to have those doctor's appointments...more fun than I thought it would be at the start of everything. I met great people. I faced lots of fears. And honestly, I think I grew up. Today I had a realization - more than pregnancy, motherhood, or the passing of 35 years, breast cancer has made me feel like a woman. YES - I gave away my breasts, my ovaries, and my hair - but finally after 35 years I feel like I can call myself a woman instead of a girl.
I've spent so long wishing for those girls that I was in the past - the runner or rower that I was, the smart girl with all that possibility. I think that is what was keeping me from embracing the woman in me - I still wanted to be that girl. Today I realized how silly all of that is (of course, I was struggling on the treadmill when I realized this - I always have realizations when I am struggling to exercise!). It's ok that I'm not that same girl anymore. I'm happy to be a woman, and I'm proud to be grown up. I'm happy and lucky to be here.
(OH, and it is so fun to be annoyed at all of the minutia of daily life, too. I find myself getting annoyed at some of the same things (and avoiding some of the same things I would avoid before) - and then I catch myself and smile. How fun to be back to normal, too.)
I'm still adding more, but Bill took 800 pictures, so it is taking a while to go through all of them!
Here's Bailey's Key, where I was clandestinely stealing time with the dolphins under the far deck of their enclosure:
- Traveling was so fun with the 3 kids - seriously. I don't think I've ever traveled without a teeny one in 9 years - and we've traveled plenty with teeny ones - so that was a relief in and of itself. To have kids pack their own things, and carry their own carry-ons, and have no stroller or car seats (we weren't in cars except to and from the airport, plus one quick jaunt to town), was like heaven!
- Even though Bill and I were at the same place, spending lots of time together, our vacations were really different! Bill= read four books, took kids to the pool, rested in the little cabana we were staying in, was on Nathan duty and liking it... Pam= read nothing, lots of kayaking and exploring, snorkeled as much as I could, stole time with the dolphins, spent a few evenings with my parents, had a few dance parties with the kids. Together we snorkeled (with Emma), rode horses (Bill twice when the kids did it too, I did it a third time with my parents), hiked to the top of the (small) mountain in the Botanical Gardens, took a crazy taxi into the closest town.
- Our kids were really lucky. They had laid-back, let's-relax-and-do-things-you-like Dad, and crazy, let's-see-how-much-exploring-we-can-do Mom. Plus three grandparents on vacation with them! Between the treat from the gift shop and the visits to the snack shop with Grandma Sybil, and the fancy fruit punches and snorkeling trips with Bubba and Grandma Nancy - they were spoiled. And they were the only three kids at the resort from Saturday-Thursday, which made it very easy for Emma to win the limbo competition and dance competition Wednesday night! (Our other two kids were in bed...)
- Here's a quick note to myself later, too - remember Pam, you don't like scuba diving. We did have a chance to dive twice on this trip (Bill was seasick and so only went once) - and I was interested to see how I liked it this time. When we were finished our certification 2 years ago on Grand Cayman, we never had a chance to dive without practicing/learning stuff (still had a one year old on the trip), so these were our first real recreational dives. I was reminded that I'm not afraid of scuba diving, but I find it to be a little annoying - like I am just floating around watching the National Geographic Channel on TV and getting colder (despite wetsuit). I so much prefer snorkeling, where I can be buffeted by the waves, swim around madly when I get cold to warm up, dive down and come up without worrying about my depth and nitrogen levels...so I hope I remember that. I guess I like having the option to dive once or twice, but it won't become a lifelong love.
- Regardless of how I saw them (snorkeling, diving, or just looking through the clear water under my kayak), I did love seeing all the sea creatures! Bill and I saw a nurse shark while snorkeling, sea turtles while diving and snorkeling, I clandestinely pet quite a few dolphins (and also did it as part of the resort-sanctioned dolphin encounter), lots of starfish, we lived by some spiny lobster for the week (houses were on stilts over the water), fish, fish, fish, some eels, a sea horse...
- I hope I do NOT forget the poverty, or the simple life of the island. Roatan was so different than Grand Cayman in that way - people really lived in shacks, there were stray dogs everywhere (not in the resort). But it was still so interesting. And every time I return from vacation I am so in awe of the fact that we lived with so few possesions and were still just fine and so happy. (And then when I come back to a place where I have to take care of all of these pets and all of our STUFF, it's a jolt!)
- On the flip side of that, our kids love our home, and they LOVE those 7 pets. I sometimes think they don't, but vacations sure prove me wrong. Nathan wanted to see the pets (all of them) on the first night we were gone, and was homesick from the start. (Of course, now he wants to go back...) The girls, too, missed every single pet. Makes me relieved, and happy, since it is HORRIBLY ANNOYING to get 7 pets ready for us to be gone for a week, and these 7 pets are A LOT OF WORK *in case you didn't already know that.
- I was so proud of myself that the kids and I came back the same color they were when they started their week in Central America - such a big sunscreen advocate that I am. But then I did yard work all afternoon here today and got a sunburn. Such an idiot I am. (Kids remain unscathed by the sun...I may not be preventing my own wrinkles but I'm careful to prevent theirs...)
- More later, and some of our 800 pictures (seriously...that's the other thing Bill did while on vacation) to follow!
What age were you and what year was it when you were first diagnosed?
34 when diagnosed on 2.18.08.
When I'm sick, my kids don't like that I can't play with them ...but that's usually a day or two...How did you handle that long term during your bad days?
I was still up and around on my bad days, but just slept more. My sister (and baby nephew) came into town for each chemo treatment and most of my (I had 5) surgeries...so they were a fun distraction. I also scheduled my treatments so that I had my bad days over the weekend, when my husband was home (Saturday and Sunday were harder days). I still forced myself to go to school functions, swim meets, etc. as much as possible, walked on most days, etc. They knew I was not feeling great, but kids are kids - they worry a little, but they are also in kid-world, too! I was able to do much more than I thought I would be able to do.
What one gift did you receive that really helped/touched you?
What tips did you follow to combat nausea?
For nausea - sleeping and walking. I pretty much did that and only that on the really bad days. I also had Healing Touch done the day after my treatment, which I am sure helped, at least mentally.
What adjustments did you make to your wardrobe, if any?Wardrobe adjustments - so many. I had a bilateral mastectomy, so had to have shirts/sweatshirts that zipped up the middle, many sports bras/compression bras, a great little cami that you could slide the drain tubes into...and then I had a problem with one of my tissue expanders so for about 8 months I had no breast on one side (it was removed, I had chemo, and had it replaced after chemo). So then I needed to choose shirts that worked with my mastectomy bra. Also, I wore hats (didn't use my expensive wig very much as it was summer and too annoying), so I felt I needed to coordinate hats to things, too. I'm not a very fancy or coordinated person so all of this was so annoying to me.
How did your relationship with your husband change after diagnosis and then after treatment?
My husband and I grew closer than I could have imagined. He is my biggest patient advocate, he reads (still) thousands of pages of breast cancer research to keep up-to-date on new discoveries, he read all of the scary stories that I couldn't handle at the time. When someone can love you and want to be with you and even be intimate with you when you are bald and have only one half-constructed fake breast, that relationship becomes such a source of strength. I really learned that no matter what I look like, this man will love me until my dying day.
How did you thank the people who helped you the most often?
I have no great Martha Stewart ideas on this front. I of course wrote notes, thanked people on my blog, etc....and now I try to always be the first to volunteer to help, or to donate if they have a cause that is important to them, etc. Mostly, I am karmically thankful - trying to put all of the goodness that was shown to me back into the world in whatever way I can do it.