Wishes for a New Year

new years card

With Emma Clare’s busy Living Christmas Tree drama schedule this year, trying to find time for a family picture for a Christmas card was nearly impossible.  Last year, Sally took such lovely photos of our family just after I’d started chemo, and my hair was long and beautiful.  But it felt a little less than genuine to send out that photo weeks after I’d shaved my head.  So the back of the card featured a quick family snap with my bald head.  I’m not much of one for a long Christmas letter, so I went with the “a picture’s worth a thousand words” philosophy and just added the address of my blog in case anyone was curious.

So the year after you send out an “I have cancer, and by the way Merry Christmas” card is not the year to skip the card because your family is too busy to take a decent photo.  But after thinking about it, I decided a New Year’s card would be perfect. I wanted to highlight “healthy” hoping that would send the “I don’t have cancer anymore” message.  But we decided the back might be the place to make the message a little clearer.  And you might as well have fun on the back of your “I don’t have cancer anymore, and also Happy New Year’s” card, right?

Lego’s First Breast Cancer Minifig?

It’s been cold and snowy here.  The kids finally headed back to school and it was as if you could hear all the parents breathe a collective sigh of relief as we put their cold little bodies on the bus yesterday morning.

But filling five consecutive days off has been a challenge. We played (briefly) outside, made fires, made chili and chocolate chip cookies, and the kids played far too much Wii and Minecraft. (For the record, they also each completed one “big” school assignment and got some more books at the library.) But thankfully, they love Legos and have played a good bit with those, too.

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This is currently one  of Emma Clare’s favorite characters, she is reading a book about a Japanese-American family, so is drawn to the cherry blossom tank. But she showed it to me because she thinks it looks like me.  Apparently, this is kind of what my hair looks like when I don’t spike it up fauxhawk-style.

Legos sure have come a long way since I hoarded the trees and flowers to try to give my houses at least a little bit of a woman’s touch. Now, apparently, I have my very own Lego minifig. I must be big stuff.

Breast Cancer and My Kiddos

kiddos breast cancer

I met a young woman last week who was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months before I was and so we instantly started talking about our shared experiences.  Being moms, chemo, baldness, those wretched tissue expanders…  But as we chatted, she said something that left me speechless.  (And this blog would indicate that I am rarely speechless!) She hadn’t told her kids that she had breast cancer.  They range in age from preschool to upper elementary school.  I couldn’t imagine trying to keep that up– making excuses for missing out on activities because of doctors appointments and fatigue, explaining why people were bringing us dinner, hiding a port, scars, post-surgery pain…  But most of all, it exhausted me to think that she couldn’t let her kids know that she was bald.

That’s not the way we decided to handle it for our family.  Let me make it clear though, the way we handled it was definitely the best way. For OUR family. Not the best way for her family, she needed to make that decision, and there’s no way that I would judge her or try to tell her that she did it wrongly.

But it did get me to thinking.  There are probably women who struggle with how to talk to their children about their cancer diagnosis.  Or whether to talk to their children.  And when we had that conversation with the kiddos a year ago, it was a very raw time for me.  That fell into the category of things that I just couldn’t blog.

We decided to wait until we knew for sure the treatment course, I wanted to be sure that the kids got the full information when we had that conversation.  We wanted them to hear the whole story the first time. So once we knew for sure that I would have chemo and then surgery, we sat down with them.  I thought that it was important that we were honest with them and answered their answered their questions truthfully, but I know that there is such a thing as giving kids too much information.  Answer only what they ask, no more.

So when we sat them down, I reminded them that I’d had a couple of doctor’s appointments that week.  Then I told them that the doctors told me I had breast cancer.  Emma Clare gasped. Turner immediately said, “So you’re going to die, right?” Insert knife into heart. As quickly and as confidently as I could muster, I answered.  No. I explained to them that cancer is when some normal cells go out of control and don’t stop growing when they’re supposed to.  If the cancer cells get to an important part of a person’s body, that can make them die.  But my cancer was in my breast, and while they were important for feeding my babies, I didn’t need them to live. So I was going to have to take some pretty nasty medicine to kill the cancer that might make me sick and would make my hair fall out, and I would have surgery so that they could take out all the cancer in my breast.  But the doctors would do their very best to kill all the cancer and then make sure that I felt and looked as good as new when it was all over.  They didn’t love the idea of me being bald, and they really didn’t like the idea of me having to stay in the hospital overnight when I had my surgery.  But after we talked, I had several weeks before chemo started.  They had time to process, ask questions, and get used to the idea. They talked about it with us, with their teachers, with their friends. I think being able to talk about it made it less scary, little by little. By the time they went with me to have my head shaved, they were excited about it, and months later, they were even ok with the surgery, too.

I won’t say that we handled it perfectly.  I won’t say that it was easy. I cried a little.  I was honest and told them I was scared, too. (Maybe I should have been stronger?) At one point, Clay had to take over because my heart was broken, and so was my voice. But we told them that we had so much confidence in my doctors, and more than that, I was confident that God had a plan for me and for our family, and we would come through it all fine.  Believe me, just this week, I’ve had a couple of doses of reality.  Cancer isn’t pretty and pink, it isn’t easy, it doesn’t always have a happy ending, and my kids might not have the most realistic perspective of how bad it can get.  But you know what? I’m totally ok with that.  They’re just kids. They can grow up later.


countdown blood tests

I’ve never been the cross the days off the calendar type of gal, but I’m getting dangerously close to that point right now.  Two official countdowns going on in my mind– six days until school starts and ten days until my surgery.  This last week before school starts is usually long and short at the same time– long because it is the last week and we’re all ready for them to get back to school, yet short as we try to squeeze in every last bit of fun. One afternoon already this week, I spent some time at the hospital, getting ready for that second countdown. Once again, I answered a battery of questions (Do I have heart problems? Do I have kidney problems? Has anyone ever noticed that I stop breathing when I sleep?) all with a “no,” and was thrilled to be able to say that I am taking no medication at all.  The nurse remarked that I was easy, so healthy. Well, healthy except for that pesky cancer.  Anyway, after a quick blood draw, I was on my way home, ready for next week’s surgery.  I go back and forth, questioning the wisdom of scheduling surgery for the first week of school, but really, I am so eager to have this finished that it would have been a struggle to wait any longer.

This procedure will be outpatient, and since I’m the first procedure of the morning, I should be able to beat the kids home and maybe even get a nap, too.  The recovery isn’t supposed to be too bad, all of the muscle cutting/rearranging/stretching has already happened, and that’s the painful part.  This is just a swap out– trading the tissue expanders (which have done their job but I hate) out for my “real fake boobs,” the implants that are my final step in the road to normalcy. I’m also having a little bit of liposuction, oh yes, ladies, you can be jealous, for fat grafting– he’ll use that extra fat to strengthen weak skin and give me a more natural appearance overall. I’m sure I’ll have some lifting and exercise restrictions (and I’ll be in all that lovely compression gear) for at least a month or so, but my doctor said I can expect to be pretty much recovered in a week.  Which is good, because as soon as school’s in session, my calendar really starts to fill up, and I’m looking forward to a fun, and healthy, school year!


Kids | Cancer: An Essay

cancer essay

I vaguely remember seeing this when I found it the first time, but was so amused when I came across it last week.  I have no idea where she got her five month timeline, but it turns out she was pretty close.  Five and a half months from diagnosis through chemo to surgery and declaration of no more cancer.  I just love the innocence of how kids think, and will treasure every one of the things they’ve written and drawn for me.

Kids | Priorities

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I was going through all the  mail I’d saved for Wednesday’s post, and I came across this prayer request card I’d snagged after Emma Clare filled it out at church.  On Christmas Eve, we were sitting next to Sally and her family, and Emma Clare included her friend’s name on this card. Apparently, she was hoping a pastor at church would pray for me.  Also for her to be able to have a playdate with her friend.  Priorities.  At least I was the first request.

Summer fun

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Since I managed to score a haircut appointment at the very last minute, I didn’t want to worry with finding childcare for the kiddos.  Plus, I was going to pick up Turner from camp early as it was, taking him back home would mean he’d need to miss even more camp.  So after I picked him up, we headed to Georgetown, and we made it there so quickly!  Not only that, I found a parking spot right away.  I figured we might walk past this super fun water feature and they could run through once.  But we ended up with almost twenty minutes to kill, so they didn’t stay as dry as I’d hoped.  Not dry at all, really.  But they were about to sit through an hour long haircut, and they needed to have their fun too.

photo 2 They were soaked by the time we found our way to the salon.  Thankfully, Heather quickly grabbed them a stack of towels, so they dried off a bit and took a seat on a few towels to read their new library books while Dragan worked his magic on my little locks.

Again, thankful

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I’ve written about being thankful before, but once again tonight, I am feeling so very thankful.  I talked tonight to a sweet friend– she has a good friend whose four year old is in the hospital, fighting cancer.  As we chatted, I kept thinking of these beautiful faces.  Of what it would be like to watch them, in the hospital, fighting for their lives.  I am so very thankful that I was the one to have cancer. I’m thankful that I’ve come this through quickly and as strong as ever.  Stronger than ever, really.  But mostly, I’m thankful that these precious children are healthy, happy, goofy, strong.  (Even when Sally asked them to be serious, Turner could hardly hold a straight face!  Emma Clare, ever the model, gave a great blue steel look!)  So tonight I pray.  A prayer of strength for a mother facing her worst nightmare, a prayer of healing for her sweet little one.  And a prayer of thanksgiving for these two healthy goofballs.

This is my village

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We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child.  Well, this is my village.  At our bus stop, at least thirty kids get on the bus every morning.  Except on the rainiest days, there’s a crowd there long before necessary– the kids play, the adults chat and drink coffee.  And after school, there’s a group playing for at least an hour every day.  All during the school year, anytime I needed to head to a doctor’s appointment early, I knew I could drop the kids here or with a friend before they headed over.  And if I thought I might be late, a quick heads up in the morning or even last minute text was enough to ensure someone would see that the kids got off the bus safely and had somewhere to go.

I don’t think I ever told the story about how they found out I had cancer.  I found out on a Friday afternoon, and then had appointments Tuesday and Wednesday.  Tuesday I dropped them early with a friend, and then Wednesday, Clay was going with me to the oncologist, so we both walked the kids to the bus stop.  One friend was just ahead of us, still wearing her running gear.  I remember telling Clay that her littlest must have gotten up early, so she’d have to go for her morning run later, with the stroller.  It’s amazing how much you can know about a person and what’s going on in their life when you see them twice every single day– just her outfit told me lots.  Not remarkably, she could tell that something must be up with me, too– I was dressed, made up, in heels and ready to go for the third day in a row and Clay was with me (maybe only the second or third time he’d ever been there in the morning).  She asked if everything was ok, and I must have nodded and mumbled something about a doctor’s appointment and I’d tell her all about it later.  Only that afternoon, I was late to the bus and everybody cleared out early for various after school activities, so I didn’t see her.  We told the kids I had cancer that night, and the next morning, I had a very early appointment with a plastic surgeon, so Clay had to take them to the bus stop again, only this time, solo.

Clay got to the bus stop with the kids, and a big group of moms was chatting, as usual.  Turner ran up to the middle of the group ahead of Clay and announced quite loudly, “My mommy has cancer!”  And then he ran off to play with his friends.  And then, crickets.  Clay said all the talking.  just.  stopped.  It still makes me giggle to think of how that must have looked.  Thankfully, we’d been camping with two bus stop families a couple of weeks before, so at least two moms knew Clay well enough to approach him and talk to him, most of the gaggle of moms only knew me.

And before I’d even had a chance to chat and hear how it all went from Clay (honestly, I laughed– such a funny scene in my mind!), I had texts from at least two friends.  Simple words, but thoughtful and so kind.  In your thirties and early forties, I think it’s kind of hard to know how to react to something like a friend with a potentially terminal disease.  But my village, they did it perfectly.  Lots of hugs and promises of support.  They offered help, but were so gracious not to smother me.  These families fought over the opportunity to meet any need I even mentioned, and they bragged when they managed to secure a spot to bring us dinner!  They watched my kids, they cooked us meals, they learned more about cancer and reconstructive surgery than any woman our age should ever have to know.  They celebrated with me.

Now that it’s summer, we don’t have that daily connection.  I miss my village.  But even with no bus to catch, we’ll still be spending some time at the bus stop.  It was never really about the bus, anyway.