Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Commuting in Commuter Family

Our decision to be and to stay (for now) a Commuter Family has not been a decision made lightly.

One of our scenarios has played out. What if someone in our family has a serious health issue? We felt  our Dallas community and our breadth of meaningful relationships with both people and institutions (schools, Temple, work, medical facilities, etc.) would be important. As it has turned out, it is more help and support than we could have possibly imagined.

The flip side, of course, is that Commuter Husband is in Houston. That part is hard.

The tremendous reality that this healing process is going to take time and more time and more time has hit full force in this 3rd week. I am working hard to employ patience - a quality that does come easily for me. The surgeon's nurse gave me an interesting list of things to start doing to restore my physical health. One of the more surprising items is to shoot baskets - yes with a basketball! So I must prioritize and make time for self-care these next few months.

And as these realizations have surfaced, our household felt the reach of our Houston community. Commuter Husband's boss extended the option for Commuter Husband to work remotely some Fridays and Mondays in Dallas in February. I literally cried as he told me on the phone this morning.

Commuter Husband will be home Thursday night this week. Oh happy day!

Flowers from Commuter Husband's employer in Houston.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Role Models

How much information does one share with kids in times of grief, trauma and serious illness? There are as many answers as there are parents ... endless.

Our household paradigm tends towards blunt truthfulness versus protective caution. This is more a reflection my being than any grand parenting wisdom. Thus far, no regrets. Facing adversity builds character - as the old saying goes.

We have been open with Oldest Son and Youngest Son since my diagnosis of breast cancer. Their level of understanding, curiosity and concern has been predictably in line with their ages (10 and 12.)  My favorite moments this week were the times Oldest Son or Youngest Son stood beside me in front of the mirror and mimicked my arm exercises with a grin on their face. This was not a planned grandiose gesture but just the boys being themselves and it was nice.

They are watching how I face adversity as a person, as a woman and as a mother. They have seen me working through serious treatment decisions then having surgery and now laughing through my tears as I try to move my arms over my head.

They are watching Commuter Husband face adversity as a husband, as a man and as a father. Perhaps the best lessons are found here for these young boys. The husband who knows his true love is for the spirit and not the body. The man who bravely looks upon the scars with ease and poise. The father who stays and cares for his family during tougher times.

They are watching as our friends, colleagues and family extend help to us through meals, rides, car pool, phone calls, messages, visits, flowers, books, scarves, earrings, candles, lawn assistance, house cleaning, kind words, cards, gifts and offers to help any way needed. Extraordinary acts of kindness every single day. The kids of these friends, colleagues and family are also watching and sometimes helping too.

Small children and young kids and confused teenagers are watching the world around them. Illness provides many opportunities to model facing adversity. We are setting an example. We are all being role models which is ultimately the highest teaching truth.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

You're Done

Dr. Knox: "You're done."

Me: With obvious happiness "That was exactly the goal of this treatment path." 

Commuter Husband: Sweet smile with tears in his blue eyes.

I am Done because ...

  • No additional types of cancer found in the final pathology report so no oncologist and no chemotherapy
  • No radiation and no tamoxifen (hormone drugs) because I chose a bi-lateral mastectomy (versus a lumpectomy)
  • No more medical procedures or risk of additional infection because I chose no reconstruction
  • Drains were removed from both sides this morning! I get to shower tomorrow - oh the small pleasures.
However, this does not mean I am done healing. I still have fluid accumulation that my body will need to learn to absorb and I could possibly have issues - some women do. I must exercise my arms to avoid scar tissue and tightness. I am actually more sore, sensitive and tired today than any other day so far (the doctor says this is normal.) While I can move about, I cannot exercise normally for another couple weeks and it will take months for my chest to completely heal. The surgical site still looks bruised, swollen and lumpy. I have a follow up in one month to make sure the healing process is going as it should.

Emotionally I feel really good right now. I have left the house and started dressing my lesser shape. Soon I will probably need to go buy some new clothing basics. I expect to live flat but we will see.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Week

Since arriving home Tuesday, I have attempted to be low key for both physical and mental healing.

I have been out of the house twice this week (short notice drivers appreciated.) Brief outings which necessitated clothing selections. I opted for the layered approach of a t-shirt, a nice sweatshirt and a casual scarf (in the scarves passed my way this week!) Either people are really, really nice or I actually looked okay. I suspect a bit of both in play.

Physically, I am still working the dreaded drains. I am not in real pain - just sore and uncomfortable. I finally slept through most of the night.

The first real look at my chest with no breasts brought on a faint, sick feeling. I had to sit down. Commuter Husband was right there still standing. I looked again today and it was not as startling. Again, Commuter Husband was right there with all the right words.

Mental space has been important. Bits of time to reflect and to just be.

But living life has been important too. We have shared much anticipated family dinners (thanks to all our wonderful friends.) We have done the things you do to keep a household functioning. We have smiled and laughed this week just like all our other weeks. We are talking about future adventures.

This was not a normal week but that is okay. We are supremely grateful for the tremendous outpouring of love and support that has helped make it a bearable week.

In a gift basket today ... I agree but not always so easy ...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Svelte Me

I may not meet the exact definition of svelte ... yet ... or perhaps ever ... but it makes a nice tag line.

"Svelte means slender. It's used to describe people, not things, and it implies a certain elegance. You might say that a middle-aged woman who had kept a svelte figure could still pass for a sixteen-year-old girl."

I loved it when Oldest Son asked me on the phone Monday night "Do you feel different?" That is really the perfect question, isn't it? No, I do not feel different. I am the same me just without breasts.

I do, however, have a new normal to adjust to over the next few months. Right now there are still unknowns.  My journey in my new body began Monday afternoon. I will take each day, each week and each month until living breast free is part of my being.

I have made choices to reduce procedures, side effects, complications and cancer re-occurrences. I am hoping these choices play out as intended.

Day 3 Post-Surgery: I am home. I am mobile and doing arm exercises. I would say I am more sore than in pain.

Commuter Husband is doing great job helping with my drains. The left side has very little drainage but the right side is still producing quite a bit of fluid. I am heading to specialty store today to hopefully get a more comfortable camisole that will hold the drains. No showers or baths while I have these drains. That is a total ugh.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Painting

It was between seeing Titanic, the movie, and getting pregnant with my first child. I was both inspired by the titillating scene of Jack drawing Rose and anticipating the ravages of childbirth on my body.

So I decided to get my own painting. I thought Commuter Husband would like it. I was 33 years old.

I knew "someone" who was an amateur artist. I inquired with him on how I might accomplish my own painting. He had the perfect solution. He was part of a class that used nude models who actually got paid a small fee. I could pose and then buy one of the paintings at a reasonable price. I brushed aside that "this someone" was also a work colleague.

The sitting consisted of me posing on two occasions. There are certain experiences which create a liberating sense of self. Entering a room, removing your clothes and being posed in front of 8 strangers (one being a work associate) qualifies for one of those times.

I surprised Commuter Husband with this daring and romantic gesture. Well ... let's just say my husband was not thrilled. I obviously did not anticipate his reaction nor did I completely understand his varied reasons for that reaction.

The 3ft by 2ft full-frontal nude went in the closet for a cooling off period. Eventually, I pulled it out for display in our bedroom. During our year in Mexico, the neighbors housed it - I did not ask how or where.

It currently hangs in our master bathroom. So yes, that is me if you ever wondered.

And now, I am pretty damn glad I have The Painting ...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Brother

On phone with brother who lives in Seattle ...

Brother "I will be there January 11th at 1:30 ...."

Me "You do not have to come ..."

Brother "I know. I will be there to see you and help with the boys. I will leave January 16th ..."

I Will Be There.

Those four words are much more than words. 

Back to the thankful list ... so, so thankful for my brother. The person that has ALWAYS been there and will be until the end. As it turns out, I have plugged him in to help in several key ways. My younger brother knew better ... go figure.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Love in Our Bond

Seven girls women gather in the favorite meeting place in Fort Worth. There are party favors. Several are dressed in the theme of the occasion. Multiple conversations start and stop like ping pong balls bouncing across the table. There is a group picture, of course, with a mat signed in fat pink sharpie with clever comments and endearing sentiments. A thoughtful souvenir for the guest of honor.

The women have been friends since they started college ...  almost 30 years. We all agree we look great and isn't it funny how men age more quickly? All be it, our collective list of ailments starting at age 40, and then again at age 50 for some, might betray our mental youthfulness. But, as we giggle and drink and gossip, we definitively are still the young women who shared so much when we started our adult lives together.

The theme of the night is Pink. How ironic. 

Pink is the color of Phi Mu, the college sorority that binds the seven of us. And pink is the color that represents breast cancer. The guest of honor is the first of the group to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

This party is a Bye Bye Boobs Breasts Party. The party favors set the mood for a celebration of women, of choices and of friends. The koozies say "save the ta-tas" as do the hot pink magnetic car appliques.
As with many women, how we dress says allot. One friend dresses in pink plaid while another wears a humongous sparkly heart necklace with the familiar pink ribbon. Then, there is the friend who goes commando baring what nature did not give her: wearing no bra and a tight shirt reveals what the guest of honor will look like in eight short days. This friend looks beautiful and it is not so bad (seriously.) She reminds us that sleeping on your stomach is a total advantage (really.)

Mostly the boisterous conversation is about catching up on the usual topics of kids, work, indulgences, travel, health, etc. The common theme for this array of women is strength. A-type personalities abound. Mutual respect runs high. Clever, funny commentary is the norm.

But the discussion turns serious at points. We hear about the mothers of these lovely women who have survived breast cancer. There are questions which include the whys surrounding the choice of a double mastectomy. There are eyes that tear up with genuine caring. The tears that started before this gathering for their sister.

The end of the night brings hugs that are just an extra bit tighter and longer than usual. The Love in Our Bond is readily felt by the one of the group who appears confident and strong but has a cancer growing inside.

Thank you to my dear lifelong friends for being there last night and through out the many years and in the days to come ...
Graduation Celebration 1987!
Red Cups are timeless as are these friendships  ...
Spring 1987 ... Moving into the real world ... after lots of drinks & a limo, of course.
Love in Our Bond
Pre-Party or Real Party?
Spring 1987 - Hair anyone?
Always, always a good time.
Much more than friends from the first sighting ... kindred spirits still.
More shopping ...
These are truly the Life of the Party - then and today!
Only Eye Candy. 
Married and Definitely Not Married.
It is only a few actuarial exams ...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Last Day in Israel

Wednesday - Our last day in Israel

Temple Blog Link for lots more including video of Youngest Son at Ammunition Hill

Our journey to Israel concluded with another meaningful day. At 8am, Holocaust scholar, Shalmi Barmor spoke to the group about how the Holocaust impacted Israel in the years immediately after (before 1967) and then the generation that fought in the Six Day War (1967+). Fascinating.

We then elected to go to Ammunition Hill versus Yad Vashen (the Jewish National Memorial to the six million victims will wait till our next trip when boys older.) Ammunition Hill was the site of one of the most important battles on June 5-6, 1967 for the unification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War. Between the video/laser graphic show and our guide, the reality of this tremendous battle brought tears to almost all in the group.

During movie, that model of Jerusalem came to life with colors and lines showing the battle logistics and movements.
Youngest Son. Israel Flag. Wow.
We then had our last falafel in Mananeh Yehuda Market - the shuk.
The colorful and fragrant spices of the shuk.
Commuter Husband and boys walking through the market.
No trip is complete without taking local public transport so we successfully bought tickets and boarded the Jerusalem train for one last visit to the Old City. So proud of ourselves!
Youngest Son reading sign on how to get train tickets as Orthodox gentleman completes his purchase.
And our final walk back to the hotel ... along the Old City wall, beside the Valley of the Shadow of Death ...
The Old City Wall to the left and see the Montefiore Windmill on upper right built in 1857.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death. Our hotel built on the right side. Completely and utterly surreal.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Digging, Mudding & Riding

Monday Afternoon - Kid's Party in a Sandbox

Monday morning Oldest Son along with four other Jewish teens became adults in the Jewish tradition. It is customary to celebrate this significant life cycle event. What better way than to do an archaeological dig in Israel? We took part in an ACTIVE dig at the Beit Guvrin Caves where we uncovered pottery and bones, schlepped out the dirt and then sifted it again. Israel is brilliant in designing authentic and useful tourist attractions.

Youngest Son & Commuter Husband uncover pottery & bones. We carted out about 50 buckets of dirt - seriously.
There are so many shards that visitors can take discarded pieces. Youngest Son made a Chanukiah!
Tuesday - Masada, Dead Sea & Genesis Land

We had three biblical experiences today.

We first took the cable car up to Masada. Our guide told us the great story of the Jewish Zealot's last stand against the  the Roman Legionnaires and about Masada's symbolism in Jewish defense and in modern Israel.
Youngest Son walking along the Southern end of Masada. 
Oldest Son views the original fresco and structure below the black line .
Note Youngest Son's kippah under is baseball cap!
After Masada, we smothered ourselves in black mud, swam in the salt of the Dead Sea and lounged in the hot sulfur mineral bath. It was really fun and relaxing.
Oldest Son helping Commuter Husband. They both had mud head to toe by the end! 
Youngest Son eventually has it in his ears!
Our final stop of Tuesday was at Genesis Land which is a Biblical encampment in the Judean Desert. Abraham and his servant greeted us as we rode camels to a Hafla feast.
See how Youngest Son is holding Oldest Son's arm as they approach that camel? 
We had a kaleidoscope of experiences helping us understand the daily life and landscape of our Jewish ancestors. The learning on this trip is just exponential ...