Bread is My Mortal Enemy.

“If you are going to have cancer, this is the one you want to have.”

If I could, I’d roll my eyeballs right out of my skull. Yes, of course I know the statement is true, because more likely than not this will not kill me, but it doesn’t mean it won’t suck a million times over. I wish, in general people would stop saying this because it’s not quite the neat little package that it’s made out to be. While initially, the diagnosis, surgery and treatment were acute – lots of big, scary things happening all at once and in a small period of time; now, it’s chronic. My salivary glands no longer work. Yes, you heard me correctly. I won’t die, but now I can’t spit. Bread is my mortal enemy.

The past few weeks have been a roller coaster trying to figure out what the hell is going on. When lumps appear in your neck after a cancer diagnosis the alarm sounds quickly and loudly. I cried hysterically to my ENT reliving the very rare, very fast death of Al Copeland who died of salivary gland cancer. “He lasted a minute! I can not go down like this!”

I am beyond grateful for supportive and non-judgemental doctors.

I don’t have salivary gland cancer but I likely do have radiation damage. So there’s been lots of blood work, several physical exams, an upcoming CT scan, and an upcoming appointment with my very first rheumatologist. (I actually know her, and she’s one of my favorite people so I’m pretty confident that if I fall apart in her office it will be totally cool.)

Having junk for salivary glands is totally cramping my style. Forget chips, crackers, dry cereal, granola, dried fruit, or anything that doesn’t require a liquid in order to consume it. Earlier this week I almost choked to death on the second bite of my turkey sandwich. All is not lost, however, because right after I dumped the deli meat dish of death, I replaced it with a large strawberry shake from Sonic.

Look, I am fully aware that I have very little, if nothing at all to complain about but I still find myself asking ‘why?’ What the hell is the universe trying to tell me? It’s confusing because it’s as though the universe came in and decided to fuck with me just enough to turn things on its head. Not enough to kill me, just enough to get me thinking.

Someone, anyone, please help me figure out, WHAT IS MY LESSON?

Is it my children? Yes, I agree that I sometimes make them wait and don’t treat them like they are the center of my universe. Well guess what, I am a complete human with a life, a career, a hot husband, interests, and friends. Sometimes they need to wait. I readily admit that there are times when I don’t look up to see exactly how they have twisted their fingers into a cool knot, drew an astronaut space lizard or can roll their tongue. (So can I. It’s really not that big if a deal, junior.) Sometimes Mommy has to respond to an email. Sometimes Mommy has to answer her girlfriends in a group text after a field trip to Farm Day about cow clothes and the lingering smell of death because That. Shit. Is. Funny. Making them wait, I believe, will also teach them the ever important life lesson that this big, beautiful world does not, in fact, revolve around them.

Is it vanity? Sorry, I’m not budging. I will not stop putting on actual clothes on a daily basis nor will I stop putting on make-up every day. I now face the world with the scarred neck of an 85 year-old chicken. So, I’m putting on the damn mascara. Besides, I am the female prototype for both of my children which, to me, is a pretty important responsibility. Taking care of myself, and actually caring for myself is a pretty powerful message to send to them. Not to mention, when out in public, a little lip gloss goes a long way when pushing a shopping cart full of giggles and fart noises.

Is it balance? I have made the very conscious decision to make 2017 my bitch. I think I’ve done a terrific job so far. I’ve exceeded my initial goal of one publication on a ‘big site.’ Right at this very moment, I’ve lost exact count, but I’m ever humbled and grateful for each and every one of them. If something doesn’t bring me joy, I don’t do it. I say ‘no’ when I need to. I cry when I need to and ask for help when we need that, too. I feel more at peace and more balanced today then I have in years.

So what the ever-loving hell?

In the meantime, while I’m trying to figure it all out, I’ll continue to focus on gratitude. In the midst of uncertainty, it’s really the only thing that grounds me. No matter what, I really do have so much to be thankful for. Sure, not being able to eat sucks, but at least the bread didn’t kill me. I refuse to let whole grains take me down. Death by food would only be acceptable if it was something good enough to drool over, and well, since I can’t do that anyway…

xoxo

Sunny Side Up.

I originally sat down to write this post with the opening line, ‘2016 can suck it.’ My plan was to sit and bitch about the ups and downs we faced in 2016. I was going to find humor and delight in skewering the year that was a royal pain in the ass for all who were so fortunate to experience it. That was my plan.

I ran into an acquaintance at church this morning, someone I had not seen in quite some time. Her hair was shorter than mine but not for the same reasons. I hugged her and immediately saw her as a mother, a friend, a wife, a complete person facing uncertainty and I immediately felt a sense of gratitude for the year that was 2016.

As much as 2016 sucked, and by all means it did, the truth is, I had the year. It was mine to bitch about, which in so many ways is something to truly be grateful for. Every minute, every day, every year is truly a blessing. Both the good and bad.

Over the course of this year we have watched our children overcome struggles and blossom into strong, courageous people. I have watched them turn an obstacle into an opportunity. Together, Brian and I have faced the fears and did it anyway. We worried and stressed, hoped and prayed. We watched things work out really well and others, not so much. I was often drained emotionally and physically. We have been doused with the uncertainty and fear that tag along when you face cancer. We have watched our people gather around us and support us in ways we never thought possible. We have seen the greatest of humanity and sadly, the less-than-great as well. We have persisted and prevailed in the face of both. We have laughed. A lot.

So, 2016 can suck it, but I am eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to live, love, and laugh through it. I sit with great anticipation for 2017. Not necessarily for any grand gestures from the universe but maybe to be just a tad lighter on the crappy stuff.

So, 2016, in a few short days I will usher you out the door and happily close that chapter of our lives. I will look back fondly at the good times and memories, and stand in awe at all we overcame. I will welcome 2017 with anticipation and deepest gratitude, in hope that once again I am granted the precious gift of life for each and every day of it.

Happiest of New Year’s to all. xoxo

 

 

 

Three Gifts of the Father.

By the time I became coherent and realized that, in fact, I had just had surgery and wasn’t really playing with random children at the beach, I was in my hospital room with Brian by my side. Everyone had kissed me goodbye and returned home, I was in a ton of pain, thirsty and hungry. It must have been the drugs because I was suddenly concerned about a white bag sitting on the counter.

“What’s that?” I grumbled.

“Your dad bought you a few things while you were in surgery.”

I motioned for him to bring me the bag. I lifted my bed up, focused, and watched as Brian showed me what was inside. The bag contained three gifts: a square, a stone, and a scarf.

A Square.

It was a flat, squared-shaped magnet, colored white and aqua that read, “Cancer Sucks. That is All.” Nothing speaks a greater truth. No matter where in your body or what kind, cancer sucks. It shakes your foundation and unsettles your soul. It is a logistical pain in the ass. It is very expensive. It’s scary. While I have no control over what cancer is or does, I can control the way I react to it or the way I deal with it. Some days I say this to myself and it helps; I mean it and believe it. Other days I laugh and laugh at myself, saying instead, what-the-fuck-ever sista; this shit sucks. Either way, it’s ok.

A Stone.

It was a polished white oval with gold script lettering that read, “Celebrate Life.” I have found there is no better way to do this than to sing at the top of my lungs along with Toto. I found so much joy signing ‘Africa’ the other day, tears actually ran down my face. I don’t know if it’s because I love the song so much or that I am so incredibly thankful that I didn’t lose my voice after surgery. When faced with the possibility of loosing it, having a voice really is something to celebrate. I could have also been just really excited to finally be alone in my car. I’ve celebrated by saying ‘yes’ to almost everything lately. Yes to staying up late, yes to new shoes, yes to cookies for breakfast, and yes to TV binges both for me and the kids. All of which is okay. Life really is great and so much of it is worth celebrating. As much as cancer does totally suck, it could be so, so much worse.

A Scarf.

There were actually two scarves, one hot pink and one aqua. We had planned a beach vacation prior to my diagnosis and were leaving 10 days after surgery. My surgeon gave me the okay to go but only if I made sure the scar was completely covered, protected from sun and water. I cannot think of a better way to accessorize a bathing suit in the middle of the summer than with a scarf.

I was nervous about the trip for a multitude of reasons but despite my worries, I found that burying your feet in the sand really does have therapeutic properties. Walking along the surf is often exactly what the doctor ordered. Laughing with your family while teaching your children the game of spoons (a game that has a very long history in our family) is incredibly good for the soul. Watching your daughter win the spoons championship is the icing on the cake! Or in this case, the cream on the pie. I had a slice of key lime pie twice a day, every day of which I do believe had a positive effect on my overall healing. Our Lady of Emotional Eating, pray for us. 

I wore those scarves everyday. There is no doubt people thought I was totally nuts. Picture it: black and white mod one piece, large brim black hat, and a hot pink scarf. If that isn’t the image of a high maintenance weirdo, I don’t know what is. Truthfully, if I had even one shit to spare, I still would not have given it. I wore those scarves with pride and let my flag fly. Be weird. That’s okay, too.

I discovered that my days were very much like the beach waves – some good, some not so great, some perfect. The important thing wasn’t so much the quality of the day, but that the water was continually flowing. Some days I didn’t crack a smile until 10am and other days I woke up laughing. The best thing I could do was give myself space to feel however or whatever I was feeling that day. An exercise in peace and patience….even now at home. Either way, good days or bad, it’s okay.

These three gifts turned out to be a true reflection about life for me right now. We are all going to have times that suck. There may be days, weeks, or months that suck, and it may be really awful, but no matter what, hold on to the promise that it will get better.  It will. Remember that there is always something to celebrate. Even the tiniest, smallest thing can be celebrated. Sing in the car. Laugh with your kids. Buy yourself the shoes. Have a cookie for breakfast. Let your flag fly. Be you. Be the best you, you can be no matter what. All of it is so totally, and completely okay.

 

Just Ask.

So, I’m pretty sure you have figured out by now that I didn’t die. Thank the good Lord because that would have sucked so terribly bad. The days leading up to surgery were filled with stress and anxiety. To fix that, I decided to clean my house from top to bottom – steamed bathroom floors, cleaned windows inside and out, and washed basically everything in the house that was made of fabric. I can’t imagine how bad the cleaning tirade would have been had I not had the Xanax to keep my feet on the ground.

While stress and anxiety were completely expected, what was completely unexpected was my willingness to ask for help. How in the hell that happened, I have no idea. Look, I will be brutally honest, I make no effort to hide the fact that I’m a kick-ass working mother of two and wife who has all of her shit together. I mean, aren’t we all? The absolute last thing I need is help. No thank you, I’m fine. F-I-N-E. Right? F-I-N-E.

Well, maybe I don’t need help on a random Thursday around 10am but after a cancer diagnosis and pending surgery, more than likely, I do need help. In a big way, actually. Asking for it wasn’t something I normally did or necessarily liked to do. At all. But in this situation, there really wasn’t an option.

I first asked for help when I called that awesome receptionist at the Baton Rouge Clinic. I so wish I had asked for her name because she needed to be recognized. That woman was a true-to-form rock star. I’m still amazed that I did it but I actually accepted food from total strangers! Friends from church organized dinner for my family for over ten days. Looking back, I don’t know what I would have done without these gracious people feeding my family day after day.

I needed someone to watch my kids. All day. On a Wednesday. Throughout all of this my brother’s wife had said repeatedly to me that she’d help in any way. She offered to watch my kids numerous times so I took her up on her offer. I hated making the request – it felt like so much to ask! She immediately assured me that she would be there, just for me to tell her what time to show up.

The requests for help continued. I need ice chips. Please may I have something for the pain? Mom, can you stay at my house another night? Please can someone help me to the bathroom? What about something solid, like something that I can actually chew. Can someone please make that happen? None of this was within my comfort zone but I focused on my family – our children. If I didn’t ask for help now, I would not be able to help them later. It was for my own physical and spiritual good.

I can only blame it on the pain meds but I took this picture the morning after surgery:

IMG_5674

I call it my ‘proof of life’ photo. I survived the surgery and lived to tell about it. I never needed that emergency trach that sat ominously next to my bed, with a label “DO NOT REMOVE FROM ROOM!” I asked for help a million times and I didn’t implode. I showed the world that I couldn’t do this alone and not a single person pointed or laughed. It’s a good thing because I’m fairly certain that my requests for help will continue. I’m still not sure how to process what lies ahead.

Thyrogen…injections…levels…scans…levels…isolation…radioactive…ablation…

What I can process, though is the love that I see and feel around me. I can process how I much I love my kids. I can process how I feel about my husband who has been an absolute steadfast rock-of-life throughout all of this. (The next time any of you see Brian, please be sure to give him a high-five or a hug, or whatever you deem appropriate because the man has been AMAZING.) I can also process the fact that I’m ready and willing to do anything and everything to get well and be healthy, even if it means asking for help.

Truly, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for all of the help. xoxo

 

 

Love in Action.

We say it all of the time:

“I love you.”

“I love her.”

“I’m in love.”

Years ago before I was married my mother gave me some powerful advice about love. “Be Missouri. Make sure they show you.” She reminded me that the words are really easy to say, but it’s the actions that count. Love is a verb.

As mothers, it’s easy for us to love our babies and children. We cradle them, gently sing to them, rock them, prepare meals for them, engage them continually reinforcing our actions of love. We hug them, we listen, we pack lunch, we make them laugh. We show them each day how we love them.  I honestly haven’t thought that much about how this is expressed between adults. Romantic love, well that’s easy. What about ordinary, everyday love?

We see the true face of humanity; the wonderous good and dismally bad, within the space of two life changing experiences: 1) winning the powerball, and 2) a cancer diagnosis. I’ve only had the pleasure of experiencing one of these experiences and it is through this that I have witnessed love as an action and it’s beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Love is stopping me in the hall to ask how I’m doing and standing there long enough to listen to the entire, oddly crafted, winding answer. Love is sending a hand written note with words of support and encouragement. Love is praying with me. Love is sitting with me, crying alongside me while I worry out loud of the possibility of death. Love is laughing while hugging me and exclaiming, “But you’re not going to die!” Love is beautiful hand-made pajamas. Love is offering to watch my children and taking off work to actually do it. Love is calling daily and simply asking how I’m feeling. Love is reminding me that I am never alone. Love is hot food waiting at my door.

I don’t think I have ever witnessed a greater expression of compassion, love, and humanity as I have in the past few weeks. On the eve of my surgery, I don’t think I’ve ever seen love in such full and complete action. I feel it. Brian feels it. Our children feel it.

My deepest and most sincere gratitude to everyone who has reached out and truly loved our family.

Peace out! See you on the flip side…

xoxo

I Took a Xanax and Didn’t Die.

I’ve heard someone describe a cancer diagnosis as like being on a roller coaster. Some days you are up, some days you are down, and some days you are stuck hanging upside down dangling at the mercy of a carny and his willingness to hit the release button. There can be no more perfect metaphor; this is exactly what it is like.

After we met with my surgeon, I was up. Like really, really up. Brian and I both felt super confident with him and really liked his bedside manner. He covered every one of my questions and then some. He was willing to talk with me as long as I would have needed. He was very honest; told me that this type of cancer does like to come back. It’s possible that I will face it again down the road but the odds of me dying from it are seriously slim. “It’s likely not going to kill you. You may need more surgery or treatment, but the cancer won’t kill you.”

My mantra after that meeting was simply this: It’s going to totally suck, but it won’t kill me.

Just as I could feel myself climbing to the top of the roller coaster, thinking I was about to enjoy the view from my sky-high perch, I began the descent. The fall was swift and I could barely catch my breath. I call it anxiety because there really isn’t another word that accurately describes it. It’s really much more than that. It’s a total and complete breakdown of your normal physiological and mental capabilities. My fingertips would tingle and go numb. Sleep was elusive. My head felt like it was buzzing. I lost three pounds in as many weeks. When I did sleep it was hard; not hard like a good sound sleep, it was hard as if every muscle was clenched. When I would fall asleep, the pain in my shoulders would jolt me awake. I would wake up with sore muscles and aching joints. I recognized often that I probably had not taken a complete breath within the past hour. My chest burned.

I rode my bike. I weeded the garden. I helped Audrey sew a mermaid tail out of a deconstructed lab coat. Yes, we did this. Nothing helped.

The cancer I have may not kill me but the impending heat attack I’m about to have certainly will.

I called my surgeon and he was out. My primary care physician is out on maternity leave. My GYN is out of Fridays. I called the scheduling desk at Baton Rouge Clinic and all I can say is that those ladies are total rock stars. I tearfully told her what was happening and she kept me on the line while she called every internist in the building until a human answered. She’d been in the game long enough and knew better than to put me through to a voicemail.

I met with a doctor I’d never met before which only ratcheted up my anxiety. What if he tells me to suck it up and be strong? What if he thinks I’m crazy? What if he thinks I’m doctor shopping?

He didn’t think any of that. In fact, when I opened my mouth to talk with him and only tears came out, he assured me that I really didn’t have to tell him anything. He was there with me and for me.

The truth is, I’m not a pill person. I’m not really a medication person. I’d rather not take anything if I can help it. My progesterone cream is all natural and I buy it at Whole Foods. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a nut, I use bleach to clean my toilets. I’m just not a big fan of medication. Honestly, it scares me a bit.

But this is different.

Basically all of my panties are big girl size so I did the right thing and popped that fucker before bed. I silently prayed that I wouldn’t die. I mean, how bad would that suck? I’m happy to report that, in fact, I did not die, instead….I slept. I slept comfortably and relaxed. I didn’t sweat all night. My joints didn’t ache. Praise. The. Lord.

It’s Saturday and we had to get out of the house. I desperately needed to get out of the house. I wanted to go to the zoo but I didn’t want to be a wreck the entire time. I (somewhat) confidently took a tiny dose and we all headed to the zoo. I didn’t die. I had fun. I smiled. I felt normal. Something I haven’t felt in a long time. Every time I checked I was actually breathing; full and complete breaths. Despite my fears, I didn’t fall into the Koi pond or end up inside the monkey enclosure, either. I was a normal mother, a normal wife, on a normal trip to the zoo.

I’m still not sure that I’m a pill person or love the idea of medication. But, for what this has done for my quality of life (and not dying from it), all I can say is praise sweet Jesus, Mother Mary, and any and all of the Saints that had a hand in creating this tiny, round, miracle tablet.

Peace out. (Like, literally, I’m at peace.)

xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Side.

“I just want to know. I can handle it, whatever the outcome, I just want to know. The waiting is the hardest part.”

Over the past few weeks I must have said this a thousand times to various people. I was sure that no matter what the doctor said, I would be totally fine, knowing I finally had an answer. In truth, the wait was brutal. An epic exercise in peace and patience. From 1:09pm on June 9th – 11:43am on June 20th I was like a walking, talking version of Schrödinger’s cat. Might be, might not be. All I desperately wanted was to be on the other side of the phone call.

The call came and while I certainly didn’t like the answer, at least I had one. I knew. My life was now all encompassed by the 99% certainty of eight, pap-stained direct smears interpreted by a pathologist. So why don’t I feel better?

While technically my wait for results is over, I am now faced with an entirely new wait. Here I sit on the other side of the call and I feel less certain, less secure, and less at peace.

I’m waiting to not feel crazy, however, under the current circumstances I don’t think this will get better. I laid in bed Monday night wrestling with my new reality and it hit me like a thunderbolt.

What if he gave me the wrong results??

That’s it! It made sense and seemed perfectly within the range of possibility. What if he was really trying to call Marilyn Lamont but dialed my number by mistake; and in a state of panic I just went with it? That would mean that Marilyn received my results that the biopsy was benign and I received hers! I feel bad for Marilyn. It’s going to suck so bad when she finds out that this was all a big mistake.

I’m waiting to get off this crazy train.

I’m waiting to meet with the surgeon. What if he’s a total goober? What if he doesn’t think I’m a nice person? What if he accidentally damages the nerves in my voice box and I can no longer speak? How can I live not being able to tell my children that I love them? Sure I can write it and learn sign language but they need to hear the sound of my voice! See what I mean?

I’m waiting to no longer feel afraid.

I’m waiting to know if surgery will be enough. I’m waiting to know if I will need additional treatment. I’m waiting to know if it’s in my lymph nodes. I’m waiting to feel secure. I’m waiting to feel like there is solid ground under my feet and I’m no longer tethered to the clouds trying to function like a normal person while I’m dangling from the sky. I’m waiting for certain people to do the right thing. I’m waiting to no longer feel scared.

I’ve read and often heard it said that of all of the worst that cancer is, this is the one that you want. Well, no one wants it of course, but because it is highly curable this would be the lesser of two evils. I get it, I do. But being on the other side of the phone call, I can tell you it’s not the lesser of anything.

I’m finally sitting right where I had longed to be and truth is, it still sucks. The wait is still there; I’m now just waiting for different things. All of this is currently unchangeable so I have to focus on the things that do make me feel secure; the things that do tether me.

My family is amazing. My mom, dad, brother, and sister-in-law have been steadfast. I know that Brian cries a bit every time he hugs me lately and despite his fear and worry he is rock solid, compassionate, and always ready and willing to help slow the crazy train of my endless mind.

My friends have shown the greatest love and support and I am humbled.

My faith. I couldn’t get by without it. None of this makes a lick of sense but I’ll surely go even crazier trying to figure it out. All I can do is place this in God’s hands and pray that He will give me peace, cover my mistakes, and graciously forgive me when I yell, “Slow the fuck down!” to some lady while shopping at Wal Mart. Only He knows how human I am and eventually we all breakdown during a shit show. He also knows it’s OK because the bitch totally had it coming.

xoxo