Monday, April 25, 2011


Easter morning front yard egg hunt in pj's

Nick is the master egg hider in our family
Jenny-Jane just wanted "more candy!"

The golden egg!

Jenny-Jane looking petting zoo pretty
Happy Day After Easter!
Holidays at the Howers aren't always traditional, but we do things that make us all happy, and ultimately, isn't that exactly the way things should be?  Because we live far from both families, we are free to conduct our holidays at our own silly pace.  To recap, Easter morning started with Jenny-Jane and Fisher finding their Easter baskets and pretty much eating their weight in sugar by 8am.  We enjoyed our homemade brunch on the back patio and then proceeded to the front yard for our own personal egg hunt.  By 10am we were in the hot tub, bloody mary's in hand, and by noon we were at the club for the petting zoo and fancy shamancy egg hunt, ours was MUCH better, by the way.  Next came naps for all, and then over to our dear friends the Evans for potluck dinner and the third egg hunt of the day, along with 30 of our favorite friends and their kids.  This big group has become our Phoenix family.  I'm not sure what we did to deserve this level of truly special friendships, but it must have been pretty good.  We did miss my sister Diane this weekend, but she kept us fat and happy with gorgeous Easter cookies as she jetted off to visit my Mom in Wisconsin.  

I just love the traditions we have established in our little family.  Far from relatives, clear across the country, we've been given the opportunity to blaze our own trail in the way we raise our children and celebrate the holidays.  Yes, Nick and I bring our favorite family customs into the mix, but some of our most cherished rituals were started right here on Verde Lane.  Were were hot tubbing in Milwaukee at every celebration?  Heck no, but we do here in Phoenix, and I know the kids will always fondly remember that.

In addition to the Easter fun, I have a bit of a "whew" to report.  Last Tuesday I visited my dermatologist for my annual skin exam.  When you live in Arizona and have had your best friend die of melanoma, it's an appointment you don't miss. I had not seen Dr. Romine (woman) since before my diagnosis so she got an earful of my eventful past year.  She checks out all the moles etc. and pauses on a little spot I had return on my nose after an initial nitrogen removal a few years ago.  She lops off a chunk of the tip of my nose for a biopsy, and sends me on my way with "I'm sure it's nothing but we need to double check with your recent cancer history." The nurse hands me a brochure entitled "Skin Cancer".  Crap.  Let the anxiety begin.

So, I spent the past week with a gross, flesh toned little bandage on my nose, and a fear in the pit of my stomach.  I got the all-clear in the form of a voicemail from the dermatologist's office this afternoon, which is exactly what I wanted to hear, but I also got my first taste of real recurrence terror.  While skin cancer would be a whole new ball of wax from breast cancer, I experienced that "Oh my God, I've got to do this all over again" fear.  I've heard the "I'm sure it's nothing" before, and I believed it once.  I now know better, which is too bad. The "everything is going to be ok" bubble of mine has been popped. Rightfully so, I guess.  I made it through this little scare fairly unscathed, but I know I'm going to have a lot more of these trails in my future.  This is life after cancer, that "living in limbo" and waiting for the other shoe to drop thing.  It's scary.

But I don't want to end on a negative note.  We are all happy and healthy.  We just shared a fantastic Easter together and I wasn't a worry wart about the skin cancer thing all weekend, truly, I wasn't. My house is full of candy and my family is tucked safely in their beds.  I'm off to steal some treats from their Easter baskets and end my day with the knowledge that sometimes when the doctor says "I'm sure it's nothing," they truly mean it.

with love

Monday, April 18, 2011

BP & Me

The magical day is approaching!  Yes, we are now just two days away from being a full year out from when I first heard those dreaded words "You have cancer".  I know I should be brimming with thoughtful insights about how my life has been changed, but right now, I'm just not feeling the need to pontificate over all that. Things are good, actually great, and I'm thrilled.

I've stayed away from the term "survivor" because it always seemed a bit corny.  I'm having a hard time avoiding it now because technically, you become a survivor the day after your initial diagnosis. So, I'm just days from being a one year breast cancer survivor.  Oh, that sounds so weird to be talking about myself in these terms. I do know that every year I hit as a survivor means I'm less likely to experience a recurrence.  As corny as it may be, I'm happy to start racking up those survivor years if it means I'm lessening my chances of having cancer again.

Tonight on the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams was doing story after story reliving the BP oil spill one year ago.  That event hit at the same time as my diagnosis, so the details of it are pretty foggy to me.  I remember one night, about a year ago, I was recovering from my bilateral mastectomies and caught a bit of the news.  I remember asking Nick, "What's this BP story?  When did all this happen?"  I was so lost in my internal world, that I had no idea what was happening outside my own bubble.  

I actually feel like I lost a good 6 months of my life during treatment. Life went on around me, but I saw little of it.  I'm more than happy to give up that time if it means I get another 20, 30  or 40 more years on this earth with my family.  That's a no brainer.  

So, I'm sure I'll have more to say about this milestone, but for now, I think I'll keep the fanfare to a minimum.  I'm more than happy not to be the center of attention, for once.

with love

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I was reminded via text tonight by my sweet friend Shelley that I needed to provide an update on my blood work from my oncologist appointment last week.'s perfect.  I honestly don't know what my oncologist, Dr. Wendt, looks at, probably something I should ask, but he said it all points to a very healthy gal.  Yay!  Dr. Wendt did say that my "sugar levels were enviable" which sounds good whatever that means.  I was surprised to learn that he did not test my tumor markers.  I thought these were necessary, but he said that he does not lean on them.  I found this helpful explanation on

"Tumor markers alone are rarely enough to show that a cancer is present.  Most tumor markers can be made by normal cells as well as by cancer cells.  Sometimes, noncancerous diseases can also cause levels of certain tumor markers to be higher than normal.  And not every person with cancer may have higher levels of a tumor marker."

So there.  He said he would test them at my next appointment in three months.  Fine.  My radiation oncologist says Dr. Wendt is the Steve Nash of breast cancer, so I totally trust him.

Nick and I celebrated our 12th year wedding anniversary on Sunday with a very civilized brunch on the patio of one of our favorite Phoenix restaurants, St. Francis.  We also bought each other new patio cushions which should be arriving this week and I'm beyond excited about that.  A quick check of my Hallmark gift calendar says 1st anniversary is paper, 5th is wood, 10th is tin or aluminum, and get this, 12th is silk or linen.  Does Sunbrella fabric count as linen?  I do believe it qualifies.  Oh, 20th is china and platinum, I'm looking forward to that one. Just one more reason to hold onto my hubby.

All kidding aside, this 12th anniversary was not only a great milestone for our marriage, but of all that we have lived through together:  college, homes, engagement, wedding, births, deaths and this abomination of a year.  This anniversary reminds me of a quote from one of our top five movies of all time, Shawshank Redemption: (as narrated by Red aka Morgan Freeman)

Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want to.  Five hundred yards..that's the length of five football fields, just shy of a half mile.  Andy Dufresne - who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.

Amazingly accurate, especially in light of my most recent blood work. And it wasn't just me who crawled through the shit smelling foulness, it was Nick too.  He held my hand every step of the way and when I couldn't walk, literally and figuratively, he carried me.

Twelve years ago on April 10th we committed to "in sickness and in health."  Boy, did we put that one to the test this past year.  Thank you Nick, for holding up your end of the bargain with the strength of ten men.  I am forever in love with you.


Monday, April 4, 2011

A Beautiful Idea

Good news... Got a great bill of health at my 3-month follow-up appointment with my oncologist Dr. Wendt on Friday!  Oh yeah, I'm healthy, oh yeah, I feel good (can you see my accompanying dance to this ditty?).  

Cute Dr. Wendt in his causal Friday dark denim asked all the usual questions, things like "are you coughing up blood or mucus?" and "do you have pain or stinging when urinating?"  Thank God I can still answer no to them all.  Shit, I'd be on his doorstep in a New York minute if I were coughing up blood, right?  So he does his battery of physical tests including thumping on my back to listen to my lungs, pushing deep into my stomach to feel whatever he thinks he needs to feel in there, and scrunching into my collarbone to feel the lymph nodes that reside at the base of my neck (and would be the runners up to cancer after the ones in my armpit which they removed). I ask him every time "you would tell me if you see anything weird, right?". To which he again explains that we are on the same team, and that yes, he would tell me if he found anything unusual.  Ok, I just need to hear that.  

I am still waiting on my blood test results, which are routine, but I forgot to go have them done before my appointment.  oops.  I need a handler, or a calendar, or something to keep me better on track.  I'm not thinking about cancer every second anymore.  I've got big things to tackle like what to bring for snack to Fisher's preschool tomorrow- and yes, the kids love me for bringing apples with carmel dip.  So I'll be sure to let you know the results when those tests come back later this week. 

And get this.  Nick probed until Dr. Wendt said that "he does not expect the cancer to come back."  Really?  I've always expected the exact opposite.  That's what all my freaking out is about.  He truly thinks that I'm not only going to survive this thing, but that he doesn't expect it to rear it's ugly head again.  I'm still not able to grasp this.  I was Stage 3, with five Grade 3 tumors.  The notion that I could very well be done with cancer is something I have a hard time believing. Don't get me wrong, I want to believe it with every cell in my body, but it feels like a big fat lie.  I truly think this one is going to take time to absorb.  I love the idea, but I just don't trust it, not yet anyway.

Oh, and if you read my last post about Adrienne, I'm happy to report that we have connected and have even become Facebook friends. Look at me, Facebook girl. She's done with chemo but has her big surgery ahead of her and I think she could use some renewed strength.  So for those out there who pray, would you mind adding her to your docket?  And, if you remember my friend Gabbee in Florence (Arizona not Italy), a big shout out to her on her last day of Taxol today, yippee!  Now that's a milestone really worth celebrating. Lastly, Wimberly, who has handled this cancer thing with the greatest of ease, is flying through radiation with a gorgeous new head of hair that's growing back fast and furious.  That light at the end of the tunnel just keeps getting brighter and brighter.  

I think that's it for tonight.  I've got 27 five-year-olds to wrangle tomorrow as parent participator, on rodeo cowboy day, none-the-less.  How could I ever fit cancer back into a busy schedule like that? I think I'm beginning, just beginning, to trust that new, hopeful, beautiful idea.

with love,