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.