I love this man...

I asked Bill to send out his annual supportive-husband-of-a-3-day walker/breast cancer survivor email...and he came through with flying colors. Here is his letter, too good to not post!

Dear Friends:

I am emailing to ask for your support and donation for Pam Lucken’s 2009 Breast Cancer Fundraiser. Here is her link: http://www.the3day.org/site/TR/Walk/MichiganEvent?px=1432578&pg=personal&fr_id=1296

Many of you know that Pam and I recently celebrated a special 1-year anniversary of her cancer diagnosis. The whole story is actually chronicled on a blog she started at the time of her diagnosis to update friends and family: www.pamlucken.blogspot.com

(note from Pam: obviously, if you are here, you knew that part!)

When Pam walked 60 miles last summer just a few weeks after finishing chemotherapy and earlier surgery, she inspired all of us. However, the true inspiration for her closest family members was her incredible ability to fight this daily battle while still being a great Mom, wife, friend, sister, and daughter. Dragging herself to swim meets, soccer games, school events, pickups, drop-offs, conferences, gardening, appointments (~55 or so in the span of 1 year!), was really the true test of her amazing spirit and will. For those who haven’t experienced first hand or witnessed first hand the effects of chemo, it is essentially a controlled poisoning. I still don’t know how she managed to pull it off (well actually I know at least part of it had to do with all of the love and support that came from you all).

Luckily, we were able to raise over $10,000 for this cause (again with the help of many of you!). Since then she has had more surgeries and ongoing treatments to ensure her health and cancer free future. While she continues to live life on her terms, she is (with a little help from her family), sticking to a lifestyle which maximizes her health (lots of anti-cancer supplements, great diet, exercise, etc.).

When I have given money to various fundraisers over the years, I never really thought of the cause but more about helping a friend hit a goal. I just always assumed the money was going to a good place, a good cause. Well, I can assure you that the money being raised for this cause IS making a difference for thousands of women and their families. Luckily, breast cancer research is evolving rapidly towards targeted treatments, new chemotherapy approaches, better surgical outcomes, new detection methodologies, and ultimately better survival rates. In my lifetime, breast cancer will be considered a curable illness, period. Of course it is nice to know that people are willing to support the person, and I know many of you were kind of enough to do this. But, please know the money you have donated will go towards this eventual cure and saving lives.

As Pam’s amazing oncologist (Dr. Margolis) told us, there are 3 groups of cancer patients– those whose cancer is cured by the treatment, those whose cancer did not need treatment in the first place (it wouldn’t have come back but you never know so have to treat to be safe), and those whose cancer resists treatment and returns (recurrence). Unfortunately, you don’t know which group any one patient will fall into.

BRCA1 Triple Negative breast cancer (Pam’s cancer type) is unique in that there is a higher initial recurrence rate, but for unknown reason drops drastically after 5 years and to near zero after 8 years. Researchers are just beginning to understand ways in which triple negative can be defeated so that the initial higher recurrence rates can be addressed with targeted therapies and novel detection approaches. This is where the research funding is so critical.

Pam and I look forward to celebrating her 40th Birthday which will coincide with her 5-year recurrence-free window. With some help from great research minds (Constantine, you are the best), dedicated fundraisers (thanks Nancy and team..and Ellyn, you are amazing), wonderful cancer foundations, and a little help from generous donors like you, maybe this birthday party can also be a celebration of a cure! If so, consider this a “save the date note” - July 10, 2013.

Thanks again for all of your love and support! I know some of you have already donated – thank you so much.

Bill and Pam (and Emma, Katie and Nathan too)


This is what I have been working on...

We've expanded the garden! I dug out all 7 of the new stupid beds myself...and have since filled them with dirt. Bill built the new boxes with lumber from our failed ice rink...and put up a fence because if he is planting things, he doesn't want interference from the deer. I sort of doubt the deer will be a big problem as the mouthy dog (who has her butt in our faces in this picture...She is barking at Dagny, who is taunting her with the ball in her mouth) is constantly running circles around the house. The fence is truly fantastic for keeping said mouthy dog out of the garden, though...or at least providing a bit of a barrier. It takes her a few minutes to bite a hole in the deer fence, and by that time I usually have caught her and shooed her away. (So I guess you could say constant surveillance of mouthy dog is another one of my latest hobbies. Oh, and shuttling around the cute 9.5 year old in this picture.)

So, the kids have the far 3 boxes...Bill gets 3, Grandpa Bill gets one, and I get 4. I was kind of feeling ripped off (I had 4 boxes of my own last year...so why spend 3 hours digging and filling each additional box for other people?), until we went to Bordine Nursery this weekend. It was so fun to let everyone buy their own plants and NOT HAVE TO SHARE MY GARDEN SPACE with them! And it was cute to have them all planting. I will take pictures so that you can see how cute the newly-planted gardens are - Katie's garden is all organized...Emma's plants are all planted correctly....Nathan is trying to grow rocks...and Bill has optimistically planted all sorts of vegetables that aren't even supposed to be in the ground yet. It's too rainy to take those pictures today, though...and honestly, that's the only reason why I am on the computer today!

But silly Emma is now asking me to get off so she can catch super villians on Fun Brain...and how can I deny her? :)

Where have I been?

I have not been sitting at the computer, that is for certain. I've been spoiled with my iphone, and I'm spoiled with my big yard...and when I put both of those things together I can spend a whole day not completely out of touch (because I can check email), but without sitting down at the computer. I love not having to sit down. But I do miss blogging, and researching whatever various topic comes to mind (here are the topics I would be looking up right now if I wasn't writing this: what are good groundcovers for Michigan, how to cure constipation brought on by menopause, how to potty train your bad bad 3.5 year old boy, and how to make small talk). Clearly, Mr. Lucken needs to buy me a laptop.

You see, if I spend all my time trying to potty train a bad bad boy, and shuttling 2 girls around, and trying to fit in some exercise, and all of my housewife-y things that I do, and running after an 8 month old puppy who has something or other in her mouth, and then squeezing all of the extra minutes of garden time in that I can - well, by the end of the day I don't feel like sitting, I feel like collapsing on a bed. On top of that, if I DID feel like sitting at the computer, I would have to wrestle one of the 3 other literate computer users away from it...and we fight enough all day long that I don't feel like fighting that battle. Plus, how can you tell your 9.5 year old (who is still playing educational games on the computer - math games! - when she could be in the world of the 'tweens, and you are so happy she is not yet a 'tween-) to get off the computer? Or your 7 year old who is finally reading big books? Or your husband, with his toothless grin and sore chest from having a mole surgically excised? Well, I could...but I would usually prefer to go to bed instead... But what if I had my own laptop to use in bed? There's a brilliant (albeit costly) idea.

I hope someone's husband is reading this and contemplating how great an addition a laptop* would be in the Lucken household.

*small footnote - a laptop for PAM



Before my breast cancer year, and before I found out I carry the BRCA-1 mutation, I was terribly worried about menopause. Admittedly it did not take up my every waking thought, or really any space in my daily thoughts...but when the idea crossed my mind I thought I should be terribly worried about it. My hormones have taken me on quite an emotional roller coaster over the course of my life...and I was thinking that menopause was going to be the mother of all emotional roller coasters. I was hoping to survive it without harming myself!

Of course, then I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the BRCA-1 mutation, and my constant hormonal battles seemed to be the least of my worries. And crazily enough, hormones had nothing to do with my breast cancer (triple negative tumor - estrogen and progesterone receptor negative...and I almost wished they HAD caused my tumor because triple negative tumors are a little scarier. You can't use any biological therapies like Tamoxifen or Herceptin, etc.). Though hormones had caused me much misery, they had not caused me THIS misery. Now I was dealing with breast cancer and any other cancer my mutation might bring my way...and doing everything I could to extend my chances of living longer became my biggest concern. I chose surgical menopause in a heartbeat (oophorectomy), choosing something that for me, might be even harder than breast cancer. I think I have mentioned before that breast cancer is scary, but my mood battles can be worse!

Well, I know that most of my friends and acquaintances will not be encountering menopause for about 15 years or so (!)...but I thought I should tell anyone reading this that it has not been the demon I expected it to be. My marriage is not on the rocks. I'm not going through a mid-life crisis. I'm not suicidal with the mood swings. I'm not gaining weight at an alarming rate. The hot flashes are not bothersome. Even the insomnia is not killing me (major sleeper that I am). And this is with surgical menopause, which apparently can cause more severe menopausal symptoms than natural menopause.

I'm not saying that I have NO symptoms of menopause - because I do have them. Bill doesn't think I am any more crazy than I normally am, though (I sometimes remind him that I am menopausal, just to get credit for the fact that I am so emotionally stable and not losing my shit all over the place!). My hot flashes are easier than they were when I first got them, nursing my babies. They wake me up, but a quick stop outside in chilly weather and I am ready to hop back into bed. And I have found something that helps EVERYTHING - Yoga.

I tried Yoga to loosen me up (gardening season - I normally am sore for the first month!), and came out of the first class feeling like I was on drugs, I was so relaxed. The next few classes left me feeling the same way. Yesterday I checked a book out of the library, hoping that I could bring some of this good stuff home with me...and found there's been a long history of treating menopause with Yoga. It only affirmed what I already felt - that downward-facing dog (and yoga in general) is like magic, especially for menopausal Pam.

So pals, if you see my children running around wild and me just smiling contentedly, you won't need to wonder, "How can this woman in the throes of crazy menopause be so relaxed?". I must have been spending some time upside down with the other wise souls in a yoga class. Or, like today, just spending some time in downward-facing-dog while the kids played on the playground at the school. Yes, the teenager walking his dog was laughing at me for talking to him while in such a strange position, but I was under the influence of Yoga so I didn't mind.


Updates on all fronts

Update on Hope: She's great. Happy, even, though her reproductive organs have been removed. She's also quiet, which is a blessing. We'll see if that continues into tomorrow...I'm keeping my fingers crossed! Somehow I need to contain her energy for the next 10-14 days as she heals.

Update on the Family: We missed Hope, even me. We DID take advantage of the one-day's break, though - the kids could leave their stuff out and their doors open, the cats could walk around without fear of being "played with", even Dagny looked relaxed. But, it's just not the same around here without her, and from the kids' giant hugs to Dagny's very pleased gentle tail wagging and nuzzling, Hope was welcomed back home with open arms.

Update on Pam's feelings about Phineas: I'm feeling better, and though I miss that little bugger, I feel a sense of exhaustion that must only come after 11 years of cleaning up rabbits and their poopy butts. Plus, I finally don't have to worry if the end is coming for him anymore...that's emotionally tiring. I was looking at websites for rabbit rescues, just in case I start missing cleaning up rabbit pellets. I'm not bringing any home, though...the idea just makes me nauseous. I'm telling you, if you haven't spent the last 11 years cleaning up after your pal - it is so annoying. Especially if he doesn't want to use his litterbox, ever, and then it becomes even more annoying when he CAN'T use his litterbox, or even hold anything in. So, I miss him and like to look at pictures of rabbits to make myself feel better, but I don't want one.

Update on the guinea pigs: They are happy to receive the leftover attention (after the children, Dagny, Madeline, Annie, and Hope...) that once belonged to Phinny. Cookie Dough enjoyed some pets yesterday, and Oreo ate from my hand for the first time. I'm glad I have those 2 useless pets...it makes the basement so much more entertaining.

Update on Bill: Feeling better from his oral surgery...finally? I hope so.

Update on spring break: It's killing me. I have taken to enforcing mandatory "quiet times". Call it a defense mechanism - it seems like the 3 Lucken children will not let this break end without totally destroying each other in the process. It happens every time they need to learn to live with each other 24 hours a day - the marking of the territory, the whining, the complaining that they are bored, the tears - and right around the time when the break is over, they will have come to love each other and enjoy each others' company. Until they get to that utopia, however, mandatory "quiet times" are required to maintain a mother's sanity. And yes, I could schedule them into something so that they aren't forced to get along - and then I would be so happy - but I believe it is an essential part of childhood to learn how to coexist with your siblings (if you have them), and to learn how to occupy yourself, and to learn that all of life doesn't revolve around you. So meanwhile I am suffering whilst the children kill each other and learn valuable lessons. I need some valium, or maybe just some Yoga, exercise, a hot sauna, a shopping spree, and lots of chocolate.


True Love

My giant puppy

No, she's not as good as Dagny...but this little crazy dog IS good company. While all the elderly pets sleep and take cozy naps all day long, this dog has enough energy to not only be around, but also to drag me up hills on runs, and follow kids around with whatever scheme they've concocted, etc.

Send good vibes for her spay and recovery today...no babies for the baby.


This is what I mean about Dagny

She's always around to honor the dead pets with me.

Hard days

Today isn't the easiest day for my sister, who has to say goodbye to her beloved kitten after 10 years together...I'm thinking of you and of darling Dottie, thinking of when I came with you to pick her out 10 years ago, pregnant with Emma and not yet knowing it, thinking of all of the times I have visited your houses over the years and went sneaking off to look for her under beds or in closets to steal a few pets. She was such a good girl, so adorable with all of her dots...the sleekest cat with the cutest mouthiness when we talked on the phone. She is joining all of our beloved friends today in heaven.

It's also a day of hard news for our family...facing hard ideas but also remembering how much we love each other. I hope my Dad knows how much I love him, how much I respect him, how good he was to me in so many ways. I'm going to keep hoping and praying, and doing as he does - really enjoying life, working hard, and finding the fun in so many different things. I'm so lucky to have learned so many things from him, and even luckier that my children have had the chance (and still do) to learn things from him. Such a guy.

Happy 18th Anniversary, Dad and Nancy!

(And Debbie, if you read this, Happy Birthday to you!)

Thank you

Thank you, so much, to all of you who sent kind messages about Phineas. Thank you for helping me to not feel so crazy, grieving for a rabbit. Thank you for remembering him! - that probably meant the most to me...hearing from the friends I've had as long as I had Phineas, those that remember him in his sprightly days, living in the dining room of our old house!. Somehow I felt so old, remembering adopting him at the age of 25, with no kids, no breast cancer, so much younger...and then looking up and thinking of how different I am now, knowing the woman I am today won't be optimistically adopting a little rabbit. It doesn't bother me to feel so much older when I think of how long I have had these friendships...having people who remember all of these years with me just makes me cherish all of the years I've had so far!


Some notes about the end of an era

  • It took me over 3 hours to clean up all of the things I have collected for rabbits over the years - and to reclaim over 75 square feet of my basement. It's sad for me that my "basement will just be a basement without him down there shuffling around"...
  • I told Bill it was always a little shameful to me that I was the only 35 year old I knew with a pet rabbit, and a dirty one at that since he never wanted to use his litterbox, especially at the end - but I don't like being more respectable now.
  • The kids are quite obviously fine, though they shed the appropriate tears and decorated the grave site in a very cute manner, with rocks and drawings and smiley faces. However, they did ask their father, "Why is Mom still crying? Why is she still sad about Phineas?" after only about an hour of crying! He explained that I had had my rabbit for longer than I had them.
  • After thanking Bill for letting me have a rabbit and care for him for all these years, he said a few funny things. 1) "I got a lot of jokes out of that rabbit..." and my favorite, 2) "That's just the cost of doing business with you, honey." He also told me I could get another rabbit immediately when I was hyperventilating with my crying. (not really hyperventilating, but it sounds good)
  • There's not going to be another rabbit, really, even though Bill said yes and Julie is placing secret bets. It is so much work for not much snuggling, and it is hard to snuggle if they can't hold their pee (this was particular to Phineas, especially during the last few months). And it is hard to find time to snuggle if you have 3 kids who need it, and an elderly dog, and 2 cats, and a puppy that you don't really want to snuggle yet, but you feel like you must so that she becomes affectionate and happy in your family. It's too much work in general, totally not worth it unless you are completely committed to that individual as I was to that rabbit. I even got 2 companion rabbits for him! And chose guinea pigs instead of a hamster, in case he or Lydia was alone for the last part of life (bigger, better size to be companions).
  • Dagny is such a kind, sensitive dog. I brought her with me to dig the grave, and she solemnly sat while I dug. When I held Phineas for the last time and cried, she nosed his little face gently, and then sat closer so that we were touching. She sat solemnly while we buried him, and then came close to me so that I could bury my face in her fur and cry. I took her for 2 long slow walks alone, without the bad Puppy, to thank her.


The end of an era

Phineas (late 1997? early 1998? - 4/4/09)

Mrs. Lucken is officially out of the rabbit business...and I don't say this in a cavalier manner (as tears roll down my face). It's been a long, long haul, and almost 11 years of love and adoration for a certain rabbit who came into my life on the first Michigan football Saturday in 1998. As many of you know, I don't care much about football...but it made that 3 mile drive home a much longer endeavor as we lived one block from Michigan Stadium at the time.

I didn't expect to get into the rabbit business, but when a woman came into the veterinarian's office where I was working, with this fellow and his pee-stained feet, I wanted to help her. She couldn't keep him, her landlord wanted him out, she couldn't drive to the Humane Society (and couldn't express herself, either...she had some special needs and probably loved Phineas but I'm not sure how she could care for him.) The offer to help get him to the animal shelter became a lifetime commitment when I saw the way he hopped in our first yard - a few hops here and there and then a leap straight up in the air followed by some furious and silly tearing around. I guess I should say it became at least two lifetime commitments, because I first had to beg my boyfriend to let him live in his dining room. (2= my lifetime commitment to Phineas, and Bill's lifetime commitment to his crazy girlfriend-come-wife.)

When we spontaneously bought a house 2 blocks up the street in Ann Arbor, I told Bill we could not actually move into the house until the rabbit came with us...and the rabbit could not come with us until we got him a friend to live with in the basement. In my mind, a dark basement, alone, was not the same as living in the dining room (in a cage of course), around people and pets (even if one of them ignored him). With no hesitation, he said, "OK, let's go get him a friend", and we loaded up our 10 month old, drove to Pet Supplies Plus, picked out Frances, and moved into 919 Edgewood that night.

I guess we are on to lifetime commitment #3, because Phineas and Frances were so cute together. (Phineas had been neutered for $12 - anesthesia cost, and sutures - by my friend and veterinarian at Ypsilanti Animal Clinic, so baby rabbits wasn't a concern). Frances sadly had some sort of bacterial infection which eventually paralyzed her (but a couple years and 2 hours down the line), but Phineas stood by her side, literally, to help her hop around and get her food. And as she deteriorated, he was always there as well. Frances taught me a lot about rabbits - how much they can respond to human kindness, how much rabbits like companionship and can be empathetic to each other - and I was heartbroken for Phineas that he had lost his pal.

On to lifetime commitment #4...I packed up 4 year old Emma, and 5 year old Phineas, and we were off to pick out a friend - this time at a rabbit rescue. I had loved Lydia's white paws when I saw her on the sanctuary's website, but it was Phineas and Lydia who really chose each other (with Emma's 4 year old input). Despite an early altercation (Lydia freaked out in the yard and broke Phineas' ear - my fault for putting her in a stressful situation too soon, with someone to take out her misery on), they became snuggling buddies for the next 5.5 years until we lost her suddenly 8 months and 2 days ago.

By this time, Phineas was 10 years old...at least (as he was an adult when he made his entrance in my life). I felt sorry, but 10 years of cleaning rabbit cages through 3 pregnancies, chemotherapy and surgeries, making nice rabbit areas in 5 separate houses (in the last move, I was driving 3 kids, 1 dog, 2 cats, and 2 rabbits in my minivan over to our house - poor rabbits were tossed and turned as I frantically followed the carpet cleaner, who thought we weren't home and was driving away...), had made me tired of the rabbit business. Mrs. Lucken has always loved Phineas, though...and had prepared for the life with one rabbit by securing a pair of guinea pigs who became Phinny's friends and companions. What kind of rabbit shares his cage and food gladly with two spunky little guinea pigs? But then again, what kind of cat gently licks her rabbit friend on the head when she sees him (Annie), and what kind of dog guards her rabbit friend from other dogs who don't know this is our family member (Phineas and Lydia were in a cage in the yard one time, and a neighbor dog was trying to figure out a way into the cage until Dagny tried to bite him several times).

And now I am crying again, because what a bunny, and what a silly life. I know it sound stupid, because he was just a bunny, and I really got so tired of trying to make his life as good as it could possibly be. I do have to say that I never gave up, though...and I did really love him. And I am so thankful, too, because somehow, I knew that he might not be around much longer (as I did with Frances, and even with Lydia). So Thursday night he had a bath and a long cuddle with me on the couch...and Friday I visited him about 10 extra times for pets and to try to get him to drink some water or eat his favorite treats. I even told Nathan that Phineas was probably going to need to leave his old body behind and go to heaven soon (to get a new body that worked so much better). "Who will drive him?" "Well, he won't have a body, so he can just go. He'll get a new one when he gets there, and the old one we will put in a hole because he doesn't need it anymore." Nathan told this to Bill last night, and he was ready to see Phineas today and say goodbye to the old body. Katie came down with tears and kisses and goodbyes yesterday too...and Emma was given fair warning also (I'm sure she visited, as she has become a good caretaker of these little pets).

And this morning, he was gone.

After all of these years, thousands of feedings, hundreds of cleanings, baths, vet visits, all the money spent at Pet Supplies Plus, nail clippings, hours chasing rabbits in the yard after fun fresh air time (with so many nice helpers along the way - sisters, friends, kids, friends of kids), introductions and goodbyes, Mrs. Lucken is out of the rabbit business. It was not a very easy road, and not always a very rewarding one...but why am I so miserable? Just a bunny, but also a lifestyle...and a lifetime commitment that I am so sad to have over.



Can I just say, that life with my girl Katie has always been nothing short of an adventure in parenting. She is a sparkly, complex little girl - a smart, emotional, strong-but-also-kind, fiery-but-also-sensitive, introverted AND extroverted girl. She's a middle child who easily could have been an only child - she likes her quiet time, she likes her friends, she likes the spotlight (and some of these things are just so impossible to have as much as she might like, sandwiched in between her big sister and her younger brother). A lesser personality could be lost between the accomplishments of the older sister and the beguiling smiles of the cute younger brother...but not Katie!

Anyway, Katie is so many things, I will never get it right in describing her in one post (especially as I have her cake to frost, her birthday dinner to make, and her presents to wrap). Let's just leave it that parenting this complex girl has been one of the most rewarding adventures of my life. I'm so lucky to have her - trying to understand this girl and to be the best Mom I can be for her has made me a better person.

Happy 7th Birthday to my Baby Kates! And Happy Birthday to Daddy's Little.


Love this picture

Yes, we are in LOVE with spring around here...maybe too much in love! But I was going through some pictures of our winter adventures for K's Young Authors book, and found this totally radical picture. From our trip to Bayfield, you can see the date on the pic.

Advice to self - more crazy nature walks with kids. Look at their faces! (We do a lot of these, but apparently we need a lot more.)