Monday, April 22, 2013

Anniversary for Commuter Family: Sagacious?

Pomegranates, in the literature of the Hebrew Bible, have come to embody fruitfulness, beauty, honor and sagacity.
On April 22, 2012 Commuter Husband drove from Dallas to Houston to be ready to start his new job on April 23, 2012. We have hit the one year mark. The custom art above comes to us from our Friends of the Heart in Turkey (thank you always.) The pomegranate can represent sagacity: the quality of being discerning, sound in judgement and far-sighted. So have we been sagacious? Here is how things are stacking up ...

The Job That Started It All: Commuter Husband is SO HAPPY professionally. He has had many successes over the past year at work, enjoys the team he works with daily and is definitely never, ever bored. Commuter Husband will absolutely continue with The Job in Houston.

My Job: My professional life is centered in Dallas. Although, I have made some shifts to create more flexibility and less stress.

Oldest Son: Oldest Son turned 13 and is finishing up 7th grade. HUGE year of change for him. There is more academic pressure and as the year has progressed he has stepped up to maintain honor role status. He has played school sponsored sports: football (1st time), basketball and baseball. He has also continued his fencing outside of school. Oldest Son has elected to compete in Quiz Bowl (2nd in State and going to Nationals), Junior Classical League (Oldest Son was 1st in State in Green History and the Latin Team finished 2nd in State) and Spanish (took Level 3s which is 11th grade material and we are awaiting results.) He has spent the year in debate electives and he plans to continue next year and perhaps compete thereafter. And Oldest Son had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel on December 31, 2012! We are now watching him figure out his next level of Jewish engagement. Oldest Son has friends and favorite teachers. He is a normal kid and starting to show stereotypical personality changes for a new teenager (the good, the bad and the ugly.) He is figuring out who he actually is versus who he has imagined. Why is this laundry list important? Because Oldest Son is happy. Happy teenagers should not be taken for granted.

Youngest Son: Our wild card. Our family's spirit and passion. Our surprise around the corner. Youngest Son forces all family members to laugh out loud and scream with impatience. He has a multitude of interests: soccer, lacrosse (1st year and he rocks it), baseball, swimming, skateboarding, drama (does musicals), speech & debate, volunteering at Operation Kindness, playing shofar at Temple, community service club, cooking, mathematics, creative technology, hanging with his buddies and on and on and on. Youngest Son is game for just about anything - he is a life adventurer. As a consequence, he lives in the moment while manipulating the future to his 11 year old desires. Our path with Youngest Son is a winding road and I think he just wants to be able to see us while choosing his own direction. Youngest Son defines happy as he goes.

Afternoon Nanny: Could not, could not, could not -- do it without Afternoon Nanny. She flexes with a smile and a sweet demeanor. We are so fortunate to have her laughter in our life.

Logistics: Logistics are way more complicated and time consuming than we could have possibly imagined. Commuter Husband still staying with his sister when in Houston (which is not as often as you might think) and this has helped keep some level of simplicity in Houston - thankfully. We finally outsourced the Dallas home lawn work and pool maintenance last week to free up time for Commuter Husband and boys on the weekends. We are still working on other simplifying measures.

Breast Cancer: Got it. Removed it. Living on. The Dallas community was more supportive than I can describe in words. The outpouring of love has made a tremendous impact on my healing process and our family. We have also had encouragement and help beyond Dallas - near and far.

The Year: I am changed. Commuter Husband is changed. Honestly, I think I am still absorbing it all. This is part of my happiness puzzle. My Youngest Son does not fall far from my tree. Like him, I very much figure it out as I go.

Our new normal is that we are not mainstream. And we often choose convoluted paradigms. I think of it as maximizing life experiences. Ha!

We have 5 and 8 years left with Oldest Son and Youngest Son, respectively, before they finish high school. No doubt, we will seek to make those years purposeful and packed with adventure. We will try to embody wisdom and sagacity.

So yes ... we are staying in the Commuter Family set up and our life and this blog will continue on ... for now ...

Oldest Son chose this kippah with a hand-sewn pomegranate for his Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem: a good omen?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Perspectives on Dealing with Sick Friends & Family

A Smiling Jewish Friend recently posted links to LA Times and WSJ articles on the Dos and Don'ts of interacting with friends and family who are sick. Here are the links:

How not to say the wrong thing

For a Sick Friend: First, Do no Harm

The first article has an interesting way of categorizing your own emotions when someone you care about is ill. Frankly, it is about not being selfish albeit well-meaning. I recently used its Ring Theory in thinking about my own actions regarding those I care about and their health challenges. It helped.

The other article has "10 commandments for conversing with a sick friend." Since I have been on the receiving end of those comments for a few months, I will share a few of my thoughts: 

1. Rejoice at their good news. Don't minimize their bad news.

I completely agree with this advice! I must say 99% of my friends, family and acquaintances have absolutely practiced this recommendation. I have only had one instance of a friend coming across as minimizing the type of breast cancer I had - and I do not think they meant it in a hurtful way.

2. Treat your sick friends as you always did—but never forget their changed circumstance.
This one is tricky but I agree. It seems best to talk about normal stuff first and then later in conversation ask how things are going. As time passes just inquire every few encounters - not with every single conversation. It is sometimes hard to get off the illness topic when that is the the lead in comment. But I also appreciate people showing they care by asking.

3. Avoid self-referential comments.
Personally, this one does not bother me too much. People are just trying to relate in any way they can.

4. Don't assume, verify.
Yes. My experience with breast cancer is that there are lots of factors to consider. There are various parts of the diagnosis and the treatment. There are many paths to consider and each has a different set of circumstances, outcomes and risks. None are perfect or obvious.

5. Get the facts straight before you open your mouth.
Again this one does not bother me too much. Most of us have too much going on ... it is hard to keep it all straight.

6. Help your sick friend feel useful.
Not the least bit applicable to me. I can, however, see how this would be important in lots of recovery situations.

7. Don't infantilize the patient.
Duh. Of course.

8. Think twice before giving advice.
I disagree with this one. Doctors do not always lay it all out for the patient. Talking with others with similar health experiences is very helpful and welcome. I am perfectly comfortable listening to the advice and then applying the parts that matter to me.

9. Let patients who are terminally ill set the conversational agenda.
Fortunately I have no experience with this one.

10. Don't pressure them to practice 'positive thinking.'
Another hard one. We are a society that places great value on positive thinking. There is a fine line to walk between allowing someone to grieve and be vulnerable versus encouraging the positive attitude. I have viewed my journey of healing in more pragmatic terms. I am making informed decisions that work for me and my loved ones. My positive outlook is more of a "getting on with life" posture. What other choice is there really?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Three Months Post-Op

I am at the three month mark after my bi-lateral mastectomy. Here is what my journey of getting better has been like so far ...
  • Reality Bites:  The surgeon told me it would take three to six months to heal. She was right. I am still healing. Each week gets better.
  • Drugs: The Gabapentin (Neurontin) worked for me. I convinced my Surgeon at the end of month one that the pain was more than expected and exhausting me. She finally agreed the Motrin was not effective and to prescribe Gabapentin to relieve the nerve damage discomfort while healing progressed. This drug does not help all mastectomy patients - approximately 30%. I have been lucky that it definitely made a difference for me. I took it for about four weeks and have been off for almost two weeks now. I have regressed slightly in my range of motion without the Gabapentin. I am still deciding whether to restart. The skin, chest and underarm sensitivity is so much better now.
  • Breast Free: Living breast free is not a big deal and does not bother me at all. I am learning to dress differently. I felt like a tween when purchasing these little sport type bras to wear under T-shirts in the warmer weather. And, who knew I would be the Scarf Lady?
  • Overwhelmed: Slowing down at work and in my life has been stressful. I still feel so behind on everything. I am not very good at letting things go and uncomfortable saying no and hate to miss stuff ...
  • Community: I have a more mature understanding and appreciation for community. So many generous souls. I am still benefiting from many kindnesses.
  • Changed: I have made some changes at work. Cancer does create a space to think about priorities. I hope to make some other changes this year but recognize I can only do things step at a time.
  • Marriage: I am thankful for my Commuter Husband ... he has been loving, compassionate, sensitive and caring. I suspect he has been strong when perhaps he wanted to cry. While an odd path to marriage improvement, that is exactly what has happened.
  • The Right Decision: I made the right breast cancer treatment decision for me and my diagnosis: bi-lateral mastectomy with no reconstruction. Living my life unimpeded by medical procedures, invasive treatments, hormone drugs, side effects and cancer risks was always the end game.

I go back to the surgeon next week - on my 48th birthday.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

What Was I Thinking?

Happy 11th Birthday Youngest Son!
See any difference between the cake above and the cake below?

I proudly pull out Youngest Son's birthday cake - a surprise red velvet with cream cheese frosting lovingly ordered from Stein's Bakery.

Youngest Son says "10 Mommy?" with a combination of surprise and sarcasm.

Oh sh-t ... a quick swipe of my finger and it is a smudged 11 because it IS his 11th Birthday.

Mental lapse? Sign of crazy?  Bad mommy day? Blame it on the bakery?
Perhaps just a subconscious attempt to keep him my baby?

Fortunately Youngest Son has a sense of humor.

Left over from last year? Afraid not ...