Gotta Get a Goal.

The start of 2017 was epic. I was so ready to leave the past of 2016 and focus fully on the potential and promise of a new year, I set my sights on the year and made it my bitch. Within the first few weeks, I landed my first ever big publication on Scary Mommy which was quickly followed up by two more on that site. I was picked up by Red Tricycle and then Post40Bloggers. Sammiches & Psych Meds soon followed. Other bloggers scheduled and shared my articles and posts. I was networking within the writer/publisher sphere of the interwebs. I was on a writer’s high for three solid months. Then, life got busy and I got comfortable.

You know how it goes, work commitments ramp up, the calendar gets cramped, we were juggling two soccer teams, one baseball team, scouts, and all things related to the end of the school year. I hadn’t written anything new except to lament my current inability to eat bread. I hadn’t had anything new published in several weeks and I was unsettled by how comfortable I was about it. So is this it? Are you done?

Hell no.

I said to myself, somewhat out loud, that I wanted to write something totally new – we’re talking just an idea and a blank Word document – and get it published. Brand new, baby. In the past, I have submitted work that I had already written and published here on my blog. Writing something new is important for two reasons – one, you can get paid for new, unpublished content, and two, it’s risky. Although I’m working on monetizing my writing, right now that’s not the top priority, but the risk is. Posting things here gives time for exposure and feedback. I can get an idea of what people think about my writing on a small-scale. It’s safe. Going straight to the general public, well, the thought truly takes my breath away, and yet I could not stop thinking about it.

Like, literally, I did not stop thinking about it and it was a total and complete pain in the ass. Like a small rock in my shoe, it was there, day in and day out, reminding me that I set this damn goal and now I have to work to achieve it. As long as there was a rock in my shoe, I could not get comfortable. This was problematic because I was suddenly faced with the worst case of writer’s block.

I thought of everything.

Maybe I need to write about the impossible set of expectations society sets for women. I was waiting in the doctor’s office recently and saw a blurb about quick and easy ways to make my Easter better. “For an extra special touch, fashion little containers out of bendable balsa wood, then personalize the outside with ribbon, homemade tags, and faux flowers!”  This is neither helpful, nor reasonable as I see zero place in my life for bendable balsa wood. Things like this do not help women in any way. It only has the potential to make us crazy.

Then I thought, maybe I need to write about how sometimes when we are miserable, it’s our own damn fault. Yes, you heard me, the truth is we are responsible for our own happiness. While I know this is true, the only things I could come up with were to get rid of all the bendable balsa wood in your life, have more sex, and go out with your friends more. It sputtered along then died a slow, painful death.

I could not rid my shoe of the rock.

Then one day, while pulling a blob of wet clothes out of the washer, it hit me. Yes! Yes! Of course! That’s it!

I did what I always do – started my writing process of organizing my thoughts in my head, mentally editing and arranging. Side notes, anecdotes, reflections, all maintained by the threads of my neurons. I hold it all in until I have the time to sit at my computer and dump it all out like a hamster emptying her food pouches.

I’m happy to report that my new, never-published-anywhere-before article has been accepted and will be published on national platform this Sunday. (By the way, family and friends, please don’t collectively lose your shit. I’m fully aware of my son’s birthday.) If I had not set that goal, if I had not made myself uncomfortable, I would not have reached this milestone.

While the rock in my shoe was a total pain in the ass, living in a state of discomfort had its benefits. I was certainly more aware, as I was always thinking and processing things in ways I normally wouldn’t. I thought about things more critically and dug deeper into my own personal reflections. It also kept the fire lit. It was oddly energizing. Living in a state of discomfort actually kept me going. Knowing that the only thing to rid me of this rock would be to finish the article and submit it is what kept me moving forward. I wasn’t comfortable, but I was moving.

I know that if I get too comfortable, I get stagnant. Believe me, I love nothing more than predictability and being comfortable. Just look in my underwear drawer. But there is nothing better than achieving your goals.

So remember, having a rock in your shoe may actually prove to be a good thing. A very good thing.

 

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

Mel-A-Phone

“Mom!”                                  “Mommy?!”

                       “Mom?”

“Mommy?”             “Mooooooooom!” 

Don’t judge me, but last Friday night I looked at Brian and confessed, “I’m ignoring them.” I can’t help it, it’s the end of the week for me, too and I just need a break from the countless, seemingly endless string of questions and requests. I truly feel like we are raising good, smart, solidly kind children but I worry about their need for me to intervene in their lives. Brian and I recently heard John Rosemond speak at our school and he assured us that children today or not in any way genetically different from children 50 years ago. If this is true, my 8-year-old daughter is the same, typical third grader that I was in 1982. Thinking back, I was insanely resourceful, especially when it came to bird-dogging my mother.

Here’s the scenario:

“Bon soir, La Cuisine, may I help you?”

“Yes, hello sir. I need to find one of your customers. There’s an issue at home and I need to speak with her.”

“Oui, Madame. Who can I find for you?”

“Her name is Elaine Forstall. She’s tall and thin with straight shoulder-length blonde hair. Tonight she has on a gold and turquoise peacock print dress, it has a jewel neck and drop waist, three-quarter length ruched sleeves. She’s with her husband, Rick. He has salt-and-pepper hair. He has on a white button down shirt, no tie, and a grey suede sport coat. I think they are dinning with two other couples.”

“Oui Madame. I think I see her. I will get her for you.”

**wait**wait**wait**

“Hello?”

“Mom?”

“Melanie, what’s wrong?”

“When are you coming home?”

I had mad skills. With a phone and white pages in hand, I could make just about anything happen. I had the communication skills at 8 to be a CIA operative and yet sometimes my kids get stumped opening a single serving pack of Sweet Tarts. How is this possible? No one taught me how to do this. My mother never sat me down to discuss the finer points of stalking people. I was driven enough and I just did it.

My parents fondly named my skill the ‘Mel-A-Phone’ knowing that they could never go too far without me finding them. They really were never safe. While I don’t condone the idea of constant invasion of parental privacy, I give my 8-year-old self kudos for having the drive to get shit done.

So what’s my plan? I’ve decided that I am no longer helping. Nope. No more…everyone can tie their own shoes, so please by all means tie them. Everyone can get dressed on their own, I’m not needed. Look for it. No one in my house has a weight lift restriction which means everyone can pick up their own shit and put it where it belongs. I am not needed for this task. If you can’t open an item on your own, the likelihood is that you don’t really need it. I bet you big bucks that if you were dying of hunger you would figure out a way to get that wrapper open. Look again, look harder, and look one more time. You do not need me.

But you do need me.

Come to me for hugs. Come to me for snuggles. Come to me and ask questions about life and tell me about your day. Come to me when you are scared, happy, lonely, or sad. (Not bored, don’t come to me when you are bored. I cannot help bored.) Come to me with excitement or worry. Lay your fears at my feet and I will always wipe your tears. Come to me to laugh. Ask me to play with you. I will love you ultimately forever. Come to me for encouragement. Come to me for a reminder of the beautiful soul you are and how much you are truly loved.

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.

 

#LTYM LIVE!

FINALLY!!

The videos from the Listen To Your Mother Baton Rouge show have finally arrived! I couldn’t be prouder of the show and having been a part of it. It was a true honor to share the stage with the other women and I hope to work with the show in some capacity in the future. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience.

I wanted to be sure the link to my closing piece had a permanent home here, on my blog, especially since this is really where it all began. Here, in all its glory is,  I No Want It.

 

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