Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lucky 72

I just kissed Nick goodbye as he and his buddy Paul headed out the front door for a little boy time at the bars in Scottsdale.  Tonight we had a wild houseful as our friends the Palmers and their three kiddos visited us from Southern California.  All I can say is that at one point the big ottoman in our master bedroom was on its side, pieces to Nick's acrobatic marble game were strewn across the floor, and both four-year-olds, Fisher and Sean, were in time outs. I'm not sure who had more fun, the kids or the parents. It was great to see our old friends, Karey and Todd, who we truly love and have known since college when we were super wild ourselves.  

Paul mentioned that he noticed that I wasn't drinking (alcohol) tonight.  Well, as I was reminded by my oncologist, Dr. Wendt, at my appointment yesterday, I'm not really allowed to drink anymore.  "At all??  Ever??" was Paul's response.  Unfortunately, it kind of seems that way.  I can have one here and there, and I will, but my big party days are over. When I asked Dr. Wendt about this point blank yesterday, he quoted studies that indicate that even three or more cocktails a week truly increase cancer recurrence rates.  That part really sucks.  

I had other questions for him too.  In fact, I arrived armed with a whole list.  Besides the alcohol thing, I wanted to know the data behind why I was prescribed to exercise five times per week by both him and my radiologist.  I was told that studies prove that three hours of weekly exercise significantly cut recurrence rates.  So, you'll find me, five days a week, huffing it around Steele Indian School Park or up and back the Bridal Path on Central Avenue.  Sweet Nick bought me some fab workout attire from the fancy Lululemon store that I adore.  It's my new uniform.

So then a tough one... something that has been gnawing at me. Ready?  I read that Stage 3 breast cancer patients have a 50/50 chance of living for five years past diagnosis.  I've been stewing that one in my brain for a while now.  I desperately wanted to hear from Dr. Wendt that this prediction was bogus, but I was scared out of my mind that he would confirm it.  So I finally got the courage to ask him. GREAT news.  For me, it's not true.  He said "You are really interested in your prognosis, aren't you?"  Well, yeah, I think I am. The long and the short of it is this.  Because I took the most aggressive treatment possible, which included double mastectomy, dose dense chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, my prognosis is that there is a 72% chance that I will still be here in ten years.  I mean really, can anybody claim much better than that? Anyone can get hit by a bus, crushed by a piano or eaten by a shark at anytime.  72% for ten years, and he had a color chart to back it up. I'll take it.  Add to that my new clean living lifestyle, I'd say my prognosis is even better than that.  Huge sigh of relief.

So leave it to Nick to bring up the really big question.  "So," asks Nick, "what about marijuana?" Dr. Wendt had definitely answered this question before.  He replied with a slight smile that while marijuana does not have actual healing powers, it may improve a patient's state of mind.  He continued that it has been proven to increase bladder cancer, surprisingly not lung, but if I got caught buying it, he could probably help me find a medical reason for my purchase.  How awesome is that?  He's a total stud.

I'm off to bed because tomorrow I'm in for a real treat.  I'm using a generous gift from our friends Pete and Mellissa Moser in New Jersey and enjoying a little spa morning at the gorgeous Royal Palms Resort here in Phoenix.  My first massage since surgery is way overdue.  While I still can't lay on my stomach comfortably, I'll be more than happy with a neck and shoulder massage while on my back.  Just the idea of it puts a big smile on my face.

With love on a rainy but cozy Phoenix night,


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Imperfectly Perfect

Heading to the Lee's in Scottsdale for a lovely Christmas Eve celebration
The house is a DISASTER.  Seriously, it's off the charts.  My anxiety from that alone is edging me to up my zanex tonight. The kids didn't put on clothes today. They went from Christmas jammies to hot tub and back into jammies.  I didn't get dressed until 6pm.  I went from jammies to hot tub to finally a pair of jeans.  I didn't want the camera Nick got me.  Nick already had the driver I got him.  Fisher, yes the four-year-old, got a fully functional heavy duty tank that is suited for a 40 year-old-man who is into warfare games that shoots actual pellets.  Jenny-Jane ate 18 Hersey's kisses and then had a grand mal meltdown.  The beautiful beef tenderloin roast took almost two hours to cook when the recipe said 38 minutes.  My mom gave me this hideous bustier style purse and I didn't know she was kidding- don't do that!  

It was the best Christmas ever.  I want 40+ more just like it.  Hope yours was equally as fabulous.

Merry Christmas,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Out With The Old

Every December I buy a new daily planner.  I bought my new 2011 planner this past week, so tonight I sat down to do what I always do, which is go through the previous year calendar to mark down birthdays and such in the new calendar.  Obviously, this past year was rough so I knew what I was getting into, and it was deep.  For the first time, I walked through 2010 and watched as the days of my normal life turned into this incredible journey to save my life. It was all documented in my little spiral calendar: the first discovery appointments, actual diagnosis and the multiple phases of treatment. I still can't believe this was and is my life.

So many people have complimented me on my "strength" through all of this, but I never understood what they meant.  Now I see it. Literally, I see it in my calendar.  Almost every day, there were doctor's visits or procedures.  There were family and friends coming and going.  Constantly.  And through it all, we were raising two little kids, ages 1 and 4 at the time.  Holy shit.  

My 2010 planner is officially on the shelf.  I do not want to carry around all that baggage anymore.  My new 2011 calendar is pretty, it's clean and it is cancer free, like me.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hower Overload

Overindulgent?  Absolutely.  Do I feel guilty?  Not a smidge.  Why? Because if anyone deserves to send out a video of 56 photos of their family this year in lieu of a holiday card, it's me.  

Hopefully you received this video holiday card directly from me via email, if not I totally apologize.  I just hope you like it.

Click here to see the flash version.

Click here to see the YouTube version.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Matrix

Gorgeous grandparents!!
I did it again, another week has gone by and I am finally sitting down to write a quick post. I think this is good news, meaning I have no major health issues to report and I'm feeling good enough to be super busy like a real live normal person this holiday season.  My radiologist warned me this would happen.  He said I'd slip back into almost normal life.  I think that's what's happening...Yay!

This past weekend was spent with Nick's wonderful Mom Virginia and step-dad Rusty here in Phoenix for four days of gorgeous weather.  Before they arrived, Nick created a "matrix" of activities to keep us busy.  I've got it right next to me, I wish you could see it.  We checked off almost every item on said "matrix" including a picnic in our favorite downtown park, dinner at our favorite "hood" restaurant Tuck Shop, a viewing of our current must-see movie "Get Him To The Greek" (warning- it's not for everyone!), a messy double dog wash at Wag n' Wash, multiple hot tub dips and coffee shop visits and a grand finale of Luminarias Sunday night at the Botanical Gardens.  If you are not familiar with this special event, they line every path of the Gardens with luminarias (paper bag lanterns) and have various musical acts playing Christmas carols.  Of course Fisher stole the show.  

Upon listening to the hand played bell choir, the director asked the audience "Who recognized the last piece of music?"  Fisher raised his hand and said "When I was a little Indian boy, I heard that song.  It was called Jupiter".  Ok, so let me explain.  For the past year or more, every one of Fisher's stories begins with "When I was a little Indian boy...".  We have no idea where that came from, seriously, but I think he believes what he is saying.  Past life maybe?  And the Jupiter part?  You got me.  I'm just glad the audience and the director thought he was adorable and not audacious.  Jenny-Jane did her part to try to out-cute Fisher by dancing like a spaghetti legged fool to a raucous swing band.  All in all, a very memorable holiday family outing.  Oh, and my favorite part was the six-member all-female mariachi band sweetly singing children's carols and playing their Mexican tuned instruments.  Quite dreamy.

Having Virginia and Rusty here before Christmas was like a gift in itself.  They are hip, funny and really, really fun.  The kids truly adore both of them and of course we do too.  It was hard to say goodbye this morning as they drove off for the airport back to temps in the teens while we hit a sunny eighty degrees today.  

In a day or so I'll have a few more photos to share of our weekend of pure play with V and R.  It was relaxing and silly and filled with love.  I'm not sure I could think of a better compliment.  We love and miss you Virginia and Rusty!

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Own Steve Nash

Oooh, it's been a full week since my last blog post, sorry.  Hope you didn't think I went off the negative thinking proverbial deep end.  In fact, quite the opposite happened.  We have had a lovely week of holiday celebrating and decorating.  Friday morning, our favorite photographer, Stuart Thurkill of Eyes to See Photography, gave us a monumental Christmas gift.  At his own expense, he accompanied my well dressed family to the Whitfill Nursery Christmas tree lot to photograph us picking out our tree, loading it into Nick's light blue '55 Chevy pickup, and then delivering it back home to our house.  The kids looked adorable in their holiday duds, and I have to say, Nick and I looked like a pretty hip couple, who just happen to have the same haircut.  Think J.Crew Christmas catalog, or that's what I'm hoping it looked like.  You'll see too when I send out my Christmas cards donning the aforementioned photos.    

I attended Andrea Evan's baby shower (Ellie should be arriving in the next few weeks!), a surprise birthday party and a wild couples' White Elephant gift exchange.  We even fit in a picnic in the park with the Lee family on Sunday.  Whew!  And, I have to brag, I'm about 80% done Christmas shopping for our friends and family around the country.  So as you can imagine, I'm feeling pretty darn good.  I do still take advantage of the double kid afternoon nap and take a snooze myself, but wouldn't you?

My recent, and fairly minor setbacks include the following:  a nasty ingrown fingernail caused by one of my chemotherapy drugs, Taxol.  It really screws with your nails and I'm on antibiotics to get that thing under control.  My other ailment is a pulled muscle under my right chest expander, which is on my cancer side.  I was trying to blow up a heavy duty balloon for Jenny-Jane and really stretched my lungs and chest far beyond their current capacity.  I'm popping Advil during the day and vicodin and valium at night.  I even tried calling my plastic surgeon to try to score some more valium, you know, for emergencies, and I got denied, damn it!  Can't blame a gal for trying.

Today I met with my radiologist Dr. Brachman for my six-week post-radiation check up.  All the nurses ooh'd and ahh'd over my new hair and my weight gain (which is a good thing).  The doctor even went as far as to say that my right radiated side looks even better than the left which was not radiated.  That's really amazing!  I hope that means my exchange surgery for my breast implants next fall will go without a hitch.

I was asking Dr. Brachman questions regarding my limits on alcohol, sugar and red meat consumption, just to confirm that he agrees with my oncologist Dr. Wendt.  Dr. Brachman said this, and I quote "Dr. Wendt is like the Steve Nash (basketball superstar) of breast cancer oncology, and your other doctors, like me, are just gravy.  So you are in the best hands possible.  Listen to him."  Pretty cool.  Dr. Brachman did say that I do not need to worry about sugar, as my primary care physician suggested, and that sugar fears are Internet hooey.  He truly believes that cancer is not accelerated by sugar in any way.  I celebrated that revelation today at Dairy Queen with the kids.  And, a couple alcoholic drinks a week won't do any harm.  Hallelujah.  Anyway, he said I am doing better than expected and he is sure I will continue to do so throughout my recovery.  Exactly what I wanted to hear.  I don't need to see him again for five more months, another vote of confidence.

This Thursday evening, Nick's Mom Virginia and his stepdad Rusty come from Boston for a quick weekend out of the cold.  We are looking forward to family mornings in the hot tub and evenings in front of the fire.  Don't you wish your in-law visits were so fun?  

I'll try to be better about my blog updates, but I think I'll cut back to two a week, especially during this wild holiday season.  Hopefully I won't have much health information to update you on, but I'll be sure to share any and all good stories as they arise.  

Happy holiday season and merry shopping,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Traditions and Decorations

I looooove decorating the house for Christmas.  Nick and I agree that our house looks and feels the coziest during the holidays.  Tonight the kids and I opened the five large storage boxes of Christmas decorations and started to deck the halls.  They love that I've wrapped most things in tissue paper or old Christmas wrap, so each item is like opening a present. Fisher is at an age where he now remembers decorations from years past. This is how childhood memories and traditions are started.  I'm so very pleased that we have established holiday rituals, like the way we decorate the house and all go to get the Christmas tree each year, because I know from experience that a home rich with tradition is a home filled with love.

During the joy of the decorating, my mind can't help but wander... Who will take the time to put out our holiday decorations if I die? Would Nick even want to bring the boxes out of the basement?  And if so, who will know that the red berries go in the hurricane lamps, or the Radko ornaments get tied to the dining room chandelier?  Will anyone else know that one of our nativity scenes was painted by Nick's mom while she was pregnant with him in Germany?!

The reason these morbid but real questions are at the forefront of my mind tonight is because I know my best friend Jenny's family had to endure this quandary after she passed away from Melanoma three years ago.  Jenny loved Christmas and decorated her house like I do.  There are lots of decorations and every item has a certain place.  I know that even after she was gone, her two kiddos still expected and needed their traditions.  Of course her family took over and did a great job, but still, I'm sure it wasn't exactly the way Jenny would have done it.

I can't even imagine someone else putting up our decorations or experiencing the joy of my children rummaging through the boxes.  I have to think, is this my last Christmas?  That's one of the many evil parts of a (Stage 3) cancer diagnosis.  It sneaks up and puts thoughts in your head that you don't dare say aloud.  I'm hoping that writing about it here gets it out of my mind. Of course I have MANY Christmases and birthdays and years ahead of me.  Positive thinking.  Yes, positive thinking.  Shoo evil thoughts, shoo.  

No more somber thoughts, at least tonight.  I need to get back to my velvet bows and sparkly Santas and maybe hot chocolate spiked with a Xanex.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Quietly Spectacular

Gotta love a self timer camera!
While I truly missed my family this Thanksgiving, I have to say our private celebration was quietly spectacular.  We usually have at least a couple family members from colder climates join us for Phoenix's perfect fall temperatures, this year it was just the four of us.  Yes, I did have pangs of homesickness when I called my parent's house in Milwaukee and heard my sister Diane and my brothers along with their kids laughing in the kitchen with my Mom.  And I missed Nick's Mom Virginia being here to act as my right and left hands working alongside me in the kitchen.  But we have seen so many family members over the past several months, so just us was just perfect.

We hot tubbed, bloody and virgin mary's in hand, with the kids in the morning and Nick played ball with them in the sunshine in the front yard in the early afternoon as I cooked.  What I didn't want to make, we picked up from AJ's Fine Foods.  The kids took late afternoon naps and Nick and I sat in front of the fire in the living room together as we enjoyed a few moments of quiet together before they woke up.  Everything was strangely calm as I even polished a few extra pieces of silver (thank you for our beautiful pieces Virginia and Mrs. Reinhart!) to use.  Nick's grilled turkey was perfect, per usual, and the kids even sat nicely at the table for a while.  The four of us held hands as we prayed before eating.  Nick and I stole quiet glances as we knew oh-so-well that this was a very special moment.  All we have to be thankful for is more than we could ever begin to express.  

So as Thanksgiving winds down, we move on to Christmas preparations.  Time to bring the holiday decoration boxes out of the basement and start preparing our home for the most wonderful time of the year.  

We send our love to all of our friends and family who we missed this Thanksgiving weekend,
with love

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cup Runneth Over

Yes, that is a double turkey leg hat Jenny-Jane is wearing.
Those art teachers at the Children's Museum are on crack, for sure.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!!
Kristin, Nick, Fisher and Jenny-Jane

Thanksgiving eve date night at the Phoenix Suns game

Monday, November 22, 2010

Doctor's Orders

Last Thursday I saw my oncologist, Dr. Wendt, for the first time in over two months.  Nick and I definitely felt a little unsettled getting on the elevator and exiting on the 4th floor in route to his office.  The hallways have a medicinal smell that brings me right back to those four months I spent so sick coming and going from his office during chemo.  I had my blood drawn, per usual, and Nick and I waited patiently to see the doctor.  I think we were both scared that he was going to tell us something new or something we weren't ready to hear.  When Dr. Wendt walked in, all smiles, we both knew things were still fine.  That's what I want to know for the rest of my long life, that things are just fine.

You see, Dr. Wendt is the quarterback of my cancer treatment.  Not that I understand one ounce of football, but I do know that Eli Manning scores the most points for my fantasy football team, and he's a quarterback, so in this equation, Eli and Albert (Wendt) are my go-to guys.  I kind of have to do what he says.  He said I need to exercise five times a week (yikes), take the drug tamoxifen for five years (which I have officially started as of Friday), and get this, pretty much eliminate drinking alcohol.  WHAT??  There seems to have been a recent study of women who had an increased recurrence of breast cancer when they drank more than 3 alcoholic beverages a week.  I spit out "But what about the nutritionist at the radiologist's office who said I could have 3.2 drinks a day if I upped my folate?".  His answer was that excess folate increases colon cancer and I shouldn't be taking that either.  Crap!!

So, of course I am doing tons of research, and calling everyone I know to find out what the deal is here.  I mean, I will definitely stop drinking my daily glass of wine or beer, but can I have a few special occasion cocktails without worrying that I'm killing myself?  The jury is still out.  It does seem that Dr. Wendt's study was stratified by postmenopausal, obese women.  Neither of which I am.  In fact, the study further says "no association (of recurrence) was observed for premenopausal or normal weight women".  Ok, I like that part, but if alcohol increases my chances of cancer recurrence even a tad, it is of course not worth it.  

I am still trying to decide the right thing to do, so while I'm figuring it out, don't judge me if you see me having a cocktail.  I have had many, many people point out the fact that medical marijuana usage was just passed here in Arizona for certain ailments, and oh yes, cancer is on that list.  Has anyone seen the show Weeds?  That might be me soon, the soccer mom selling pot to pay grocery bills.   What a crack up.

Last thing, he said we should all be taking one low dose aspirin a day.  It does amazing things to combat a wealth of diseases, including breast cancer.  So do it.  Please.

Happy turkey week,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What I Did On Vacation, By Kiki

Together in Paradise

Enjoying Mexico, kids?

Our living room and patio overlooking the ocean.  

The boys kept us well fed.

Fisher and Ben hated the beach- not!

Nick, me, Fisher, Jenny-Jane, Ryan, Rebecca, Ben and Jerry

So the first thing my sweet friend Courtney emails me upon our return from Mexico was "Are you super tan?"  You know, it's strange, I didn't think once, not once, about trying to get a tan while we were on vacation. For a girl originally from Wisconsin, where your vacation success is judged solely by the depth of your tan, it's extremely odd.  My radiologist warned that I would need to wear a t-shirt over my swim suit to protect the recently radiated skin, but I had free reign to tan the rest of me.  Let's just say that I am not any tanner now than when I left, anywhere.  So, by Wisconsin standards, the weather must have been horrible and our vacation must have really sucked.  Not so.  It was a dream vacation and we had perfectly sunny skies with temps in the low 80's.  So I thought maybe a list of my top ten highlights, along with the photos, might be the best way to briefly (I promised to spare you every detail) share our experiences.

Kiki's Top Ten Highlights of The Hower's Thank God It's Over Vacation (in no particular order)
1.  The house.  We rented a Mexican mansion.  While not everything worked exactly as advertised (Mexico will be Mexico), it was still right on the beach, had a pool overlooking the ocean, floor to ceiling ten foot pocket doors that opened to the ocean, beautiful furnishings and more space than we could possibly use- even when there were eight of us there.
2.  The Carlo Family.  Rebecca, Jerry, Ryan and Ben joined us for five days for fun in the sun.  I don't think I'll ever want to travel without them again.
3.  Alberto and his wife Martha. We had a personal concierge and housekeeper who arrived every day about 9am to ensure our happiness.  No, I'm not kidding.
4.  Fish Tacos!  When the boys arrived home from fishing, we'd hand plastic bags of fish to Juan, who worked at the peaceful restaurant 100 yards down the beach from the house, and a half hour later, we'd be treated to an incredible spread of grilled and fried fish served with tortillas, cabbage, sauces, rice, chilled beers and margaritas.  It was like magic.  
5.  Fisher and Jenny-Jane.  They napped peacefully every day.  
6.  Bucerias.  We discovered this little town where we ate dinner two nights with our toes in the sand while watching the kids play on the beach at sunset.
7.  The Beach/The Ocean.  It was clean, it was deserted and it was just steps down from our patio.
8.  The Laughter.  It was constant.  Kids laughed and played on the beach, in the waves and while running around the huge house.  The adults enjoyed cervezas (beers) all day and stayed up late playing games and watching silly movies.
9.  Nick.  For everything he did to indulge my fantasy of this amazing vacation.  He's my everything.
10.  The Peace.  There were many moments and even hours when I forgot or maybe didn't choose to think about my health and the uncertain future of my family.  I found a piece of peace that I have brought home with me.  It's the best souvenir I could have imagined.

with love

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mexico Dreamin'

Still fresh in our minds...
Weeeee're baaaack! Oh my Good Lord did we have an amazing trip.  A full week of perfect weather, a sprawling private home on a deserted beach, a bounty of freshly caught fish to eat and lots of time with just family as well as with our lovely friends the Carlos.  I remember on our first night in Punta Esmerelda (about 30 minutes north or Puerto Vallarta), Nick and I were worried that we would not be able to sleep because the ocean was SO loud as our enormous master bedroom suite hovered over the crashing sea.  Now, back home, we have to play ocean wave music in landlocked downtown Phoenix to lull ourselves to sleep.  

I will have more time tomorrow night to write and include photos, but I wanted to announce that we are back in the States, safe and sound.  I am feeling good, and I did the whole trip.  I'm definitely not back to my former self, but that isn't expected for quite a while yet.  My stamina is better, I can even skip afternoon naps, but my physical strength and coordination are far from stellar.  I don't feel like the strong young woman I used to be.  There were no wild romps in the ocean or long morning runs on the beach (ok, I never did that, but let's pretend I did).  I'm still feeling the after effects of my treatments but this vacation helped me solidify in my mind that the worst is over, and from here on out, I'm just going to get stronger.  

Tomorrow I get to be the "parent participator" in Fisher's classroom for the first time this year, as I'm finally able.  The kid could not be more excited.  He's asked me every day this year if I get to stay in class with him like all his friends' parents have done, and tomorrow is finally the day.  It's another step in my recovery to normalcy.  Of course Fisher is bringing his hand-carved hammerhead shark that Nick bought him on the beach for "show and share".  

I also see my oncologist tomorrow afternoon for the first time in about three months for my first post-treatment check-up.  I'm not quite sure what to expect, but I truly feel in my heart of hearts that he's going to say that I'm doing exceptionally well.  I believe he will be starting me on Tamoxifen, my new five-year anti-cancer drug.  It's a big day, so I'd better get some rest.

Back tomorrow with more stories from the beach, and more photos too.  I just so wish I could have you all over in my living room so I could set up the slide projector and bore you with my vacation photos.  I'll try to spare you every detail and share only the highlights.  Thanks in advance for indulging me just a bit. 

With love to all near and far,

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Halloween and Adios!

Darth and Leia (aka Fisher & Jenny-Jane)
Fisher (Darth Vader), Nick, me, Diane, Claudia and Jenny-Jane (Princess Leia)
Yes, I realize we are a week past Halloween, but I wanted to post a couple photos of our little Darth Vader and Princess Leia.  Notice the fantastic buns in the top photo, they didn't last long.  And the cute silver belt that went along with the dress my Mom made?  The tiny princess wouldn't even try it on.  I'm guessing next year she'll want to pick out her own costume.  That should be interesting.  

Please note that I have black cat ears on the top of my head, and not black tufts of randomly growing hair. And I am carrying the traditional Hower red cup for the trick or treating festivities, at least a few things are back to normal.

I wanted to let you know that we are just days away from our "Thank God it's Over" vacation.  We are crazy excited to get out of here to celebrate, but packing a family of four for a week in Mexico ain't no easy task.  We are staying in a gorgeous private home on the beach just north of Puerto Vallarta.  Our friends the Carlos and their kids are also joining us for part of the week.  I have things like boxes of macaroni & cheese in my luggage for the kids.  I am not sane when organizing for a big trip like this so please excuse my brief post tonight.  

Our home will be well guarded and our pets well loved.  Just a few more things to add to my to do list before we leave, yikes!

I will hopefully have a chance to blog from my iPad in Mexico as we were told that there is Wi-Fi service, but we'll see.  Mexico is still Mexico.  So if you don't hear from me until next week, don't worry.  I'll be lounging on the beach, sipping margaritas, watching gorgeous sunsets and enjoying every single moment with my family.  

A tremendous and public thank you to Nick who is paying for this extravagant trip at a time when we should be seriously buckling down.  He says we all need it, and that's the truth.  I think he deserves it most of all.  He's been amazing through all of this. I can't wait until he gets the chance to cast his fly rod into the ocean, a place where I hope he can find his own peace.  

Hasta la vista amigos,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Birthday Blessings

That's the whole gang (minus Miss Sassy-Pants):
Mom, Mike, Genny, Diane, Claudia, Caitlin, Nick, me and Fisher
Fisher handled the pumpkin goo, Mom baked the seeds
Diane braving the Biltmore slide with Fisher
Claudia, me and Jenny-Jane poolside
Mike and Genny love the kids, or they fake it really well
I promised photos and here we go!  I originally think it was my sister Claudia's idea that everyone come to Arizona to celebrate my big 4-0 and end of treatment. Of course, I was thrilled.  My Mom and Claudia were easy to convince, it took a special call to Genny (Mike's girlfriend) to help get them here.  I swear, I didn't mean to cry on her voicemail when I called to say how much it would mean to me to have them here, but it worked.  Unfortunately my brother Peter and his wife Binky could not come from Wisconsin, but their fab daughter Caitlin came up from UofA in Tucson to be with us Saturday evening and Sunday.  So their family was represented too.  From the moment my Mom arrived on my birthday Thursday morning, we were on the go and we were together, which was really the best part of all.  Our family really jives.  We all get along and we all really have a blast together.  

I don't want to bore you with the blow by blow, but here's a quick overview of what we did.  Thursday was a fancy dinner out at Lon's at the Hermosa with my sister Diane, Mom, Nick and me.  We adored the gorgeous weather out on the patio under the stars.  This was one of my Dad's favorite spots and although we missed him all weekend, we really felt his absence here.  He loved to dress up and take his handsome family out to a fine dinner.  Nick was our host instead of Dad on my birthday night and he did a great job entertaining the ladies.  I'm sure my Dad would have been proud.

On Friday, Claudia, Mike and Genny arrived.  Boy, do I love them.  Since Mike and I share a birthday, we celebrated him too.  Upon their arrival, the girls gussied up for a ladies lunch at Elements at Sanctuary Resort and the boys did what the boys in my family do, they went fishin'.  Friday night was dinner at my house with endless laughs and teasing.  Fisher chose the menu of crab legs and he and Jenny-Jane ate their weight in crustaceans.  Am I the only one who thinks that's really odd that this is their all time favorite food?  Mike taught Fisher the joke "I saw a dead horse in the road.  I one it, I two it, I three it..."  By the end of the weekend Fisher had claimed to have "eight it" to every gross thing imaginable.  Isn't that exactly what uncles are for?  Yup, teaching super yucky things to their nephews. That makes me so strangely happy.

Saturday was fun in the sun at the Biltmore Resort pool where we lounged in our cabana, ate a big lunch al fresco and watched Fisher go down the huge slide about 35 times, not exaggerating.  Most everyone took their turn with him, but Mike did most of the work, sliding down that wild thing at least a dozen times.  Saturday dinner was briefly postponed as Mike and Nick tackled an electrical issue in the kitchen, typical, then we were off to tour Kitchen Sink Studios and dinner at Pizzeria Bianco.  We loved sharing our favorite spot in town with my family.  Our favorite waiter and friend, Dave, kept calling my Mom "Mom".  Who knew she was also the mother of a handsome black guy?

Sunday was Halloween and I've got cute photos of the kids in costume, but I'll save those for my next post. Monday was a great family day of hanging out together and really playing with the kids.  We even got an extra pumpkin carved.  As I wrote earlier, saying my goodbyes to everyone was especially hard because it meant my big weekend was coming to an end, but having my big family under my roof was absolutely overwhelmingly joyful.  I still carry that feeling within me now.  

Oh, and did I mention presents?  Yes.  I received fantastic and bountiful gifts for my birthday. I was spoiled rotten.  Not to pick a favorite, but I will.  My Mom gave me a gift at lunch on Friday that belonged to my Dad, and before that to her Dad.  It was a truly beautiful black rosary.  Of course I cried, and am now again just thinking about it.  I keep it next to my bed.  And while I can't remember the exact prayers in the order I'm supposed to say them, I do use it to help me count my blessings.  As I touch each bead, I think of my Dad and my Grandfather once doing the same, and I thank them for every wonderful thing in my life.  They originated and gave me this most remarkable family and for this I feel beyond blessed.


Monday, November 1, 2010


Is it possible to feel joyous, honored, thankful, sad, scared and loved all at the same moment? Because that's how I feel right now.  My Mom was the last one to leave our house tonight after the most memorable birthday celebration of my life.  My heart is still aching for her.  My sister Claudia also left today, and my brother Mike and his most wonderful girlfriend Genny left yesterday.  I am utterly exhausted, (oh, add that to the list) emotionally and physically, but oh so incredibly happy.  I truly cherish every moment we all had together over the past five days.  We didn't talk much about cancer, barely at all.  We laughed and ate and laughed and ate some more.  We had lots of crazy fun time with the kiddos, and time for just the grown ups too.  Of course we didn't take enough photos, but Nick and his trusty iPhone captured many of the key moments.  I'll do my best to get them posted over the next day or so, along with stories from the highlights.  In the meantime, I need to catch up on all the regular life things I've gleefully ignored over the past several days while my family was here around me. 

Now it's time to reflect on and embrace all these vivid emotions.  My world is in technicolor and I'm still not quite used to it.  As the fog of my treatments clears, and the memories of all the ugly challenges I overcame to get to this moment fade a bit, my new life is coming into view.  I'm immensely touched that my family was here to welcome me back to the surface.  I love you all so very much.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Done Done Super Done!

Today was my official last day of radiation treatment, yay!  It's been six and a half weeks, a total of thirty three sessions, every weekday for a month and a half.  Honestly, it was pretty simple.  I got to know the nurses and technicians well, they scooted me in and out pretty quickly, my "burning" reaction was pretty mild as was my fatigue.  Every Wednesday I met with my radiologist, Dr. Brackman, and he monitored my progress and reactions.  Nick came with me today for my last session.  He got to see the ginormous radiation machine that I laid under every day, and sat in on my last evaluation with the doc.  I have full permission to enjoy our "thank God it's over trip" in Mexico in two weeks, as long as I wear a t-shirt in the sun.  While I am scheduled to see Dr. Brackman again in six weeks, it's just an office visit, to see how I'm feeling.  Sounds good.

Nick kept pressing the doctor to give us "symptoms" to watch out for in the coming weeks, months and years.  The doctor really couldn't give us anything definitive, which made Nick a bit crazy.  So finally, the doctor said, if you have a new symptom that you cannot identify it's source, give it three days and then call me.  If it's something major like dragging your leg behind you, call me the same day.  Comforting?  I'm not so sure.

I brought flowers for my technicians, my nurse, Lupe who also finished treatment today, the front desk gal and even the valet woman who's been surprisingly one of my biggest cheerleaders, her name is Sylvia.  It's been pretty humbling the women I've met through this journey.  From the gals I've been seeing every day in the treatment waiting rooms, to women I meet at the grocery stores.  First a shout out to the cute blond I saw daily getting treatment for ovarian cancer. She had to stand on hands and knees on the table that I got to lie on, while they attached cords from inside her private areas into the radiation machine.  Really?  Is there no dignity?  You would not believe what some people have to endure through their treatment.  I hope hers is over soon.

Then there are the grocery store angels.  One I met at AJ's.  I was with Fisher and saw this older woman kind of stalking me.  I knew right then that she also was going through cancer treatment and wanted to talk to me.  I see people like this every day.  We kind of have homing devices.  So- at check out, she asked me if I'm going through treatment and said she is too.  She gives me a big hug and a metal angel coin to keep in my pocket.  Her name was Bonnie.

Just yesterday, I was checking out of Trader Joe's with all the shades of pink gerber daisies that I was bringing as gifts to radiation today, and a woman commented "aren't those the most beautiful flowers!  What are you doing with them?"  I answer that I am giving them to my radiation nurses to celebrate the end of my treatment.  She stopped, hugged me, blessed me and asked about my family and how we are all doing.  She said she would pray for me and keep me in her heart.  Her name was Paula.

And tomorrow, my MOM arrives first thing in the morning.  Let the weekend of family celebration begin! Four of my favorite things:  family, birthday, ending treatment and Halloween, all at once!  I'd better get to bed to prepare for all the fun ahead.  I'm feeling truly happy, loved and almost peaceful.

with love

Monday, October 25, 2010

Daddy-O In The House!

Fisher and Grandpa Larry "fishing" not "catching"

Before bed cuddle with Grandpa Larry
Escaping the heat of the pumpkin patch
Fish on!
Cyndy has 3 daughters and 8 grandkids, she knows how to soothe the
savage beast
Continuing on our wonderfully busy month of October, we spent the past weekend with Nick's Super-Dad Larry (I call him Daddy-o) and his lovely fiance Cyndy here in Phoenix. Since they live in Rhode Island and we had not seen either of them since my diagnosis, it was a very special reunion.  I know it was really hard for them to be so far away during all our turmoil.  I think they really needed to see us in person, to hug and kiss us to make sure we are really ok, which surprisingly, we are.  

Nick and his Dad are the bestest of best friends.  They are happiest when they are together.  And they are even happier when they are fishing.  So as you can imagine, they managed to fit in three fishing opportunities with Fisher over the past four days.  The first was after Fisher's soccer practice on the day of their arrival in a local park pond (several small fish caught), the second was Saturday on a day-long adventure at Roosevelt Lake (not a single bite) and the third was just this morning at McCormick Ranch pond in Scottsdale (one carp and one catfish successfully reeled in, thank goodness).

Among fishing outings, we had a fairly painfully hot and dusty pumpkin patch excursion, a very special grown-up dinner out at Tuck Shop in downtown Phoenix, and even a shopping trip to Last Chance (Nordstrom's scary yet fantastic return depot) for the girls.  

Fisher was on his best behavior all weekend, and Jenny-Jane was on her sassiest.  Grandpa Larry is still relishing the few super big hugs she gave him.  Most often she'd dismiss anyone who got near her with a "bad daddy," "bad fish-fish" or "bad grandpa".  Oh my.  What a hot little tamale she is.

They left for the airport this afternoon.  I think they took comfort in the fact that our family is highly functioning, we still enjoy a cocktail, and we are really still the same kids beneath this veil of weird cancer drama.  We love you and miss you already Cyndy and Daddy-o!

Get ready for this week's adventure... my family is coming to be with me for my 40th birthday weekend!!! My mom arrives Thursday from Milwaukee, my sister Claudia arrives Friday morning from Portland and my brother Michael and his girlfriend Genny arrive Friday from Milwaukee.  Michael's birthday is also Thursday (I was born on his thirteenth birthday, true!).  We are celebrating not only birthdays, but also my end to treatment with my last radiation on Wednesday.  Oh, I can't wait!  Of course I have an itinerary of family activities already sent to their in-boxes.  My mom kept asking me, "don't you want to have a party with your friends?"  And truly, I don't (sorry friends, you know I still love you).  I want to be with my family most of all.  Our time together in September during my Dad's passing was so emotionally overwhelming, yet we reformed our connections to each other.  I want to be with them again, but in celebration this time.  

So expect me to have plenty to say about this upcoming week-o-fun.  Oh, and did you notice my new hair in the above photo?  Yes, I do have a "do".  Plus eyebrows and eyelashes too!  It's at the stage where I could be a cancer patient, or I could be a stylin' gal who chose to have SUPER short hair.  I prefer to think of myself as the latter.

Much more to come soon!