Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bring out the tissues

I'm about to start watching a Lifetime movie called Living Proof about the doctor who brought Herceptin to market.

Preparing for a cryfest.

PS It stars Harry Connick Jr....bonus.

Edited to add:
I'm watching women on TV discovering lumps.
Attending their first chemo.
Crying with their families.
Trying new drugs.

It makes me cry.

Dinner with Gagging

Remind me not to make my family Split Pea Soup with Ham ever again.

Gagging, choking, and other lovely sound effects from the little one. Terror in the eyes of the big one.

Oh my.

Tonight I served leftovers of aforementioned soup to Tessa since Ryan's in Portland. The gagging increased about 100 times for the reheated version.

I told Tessa I wouldn't make it again for a long time and she actually cheered.

Oh well - you win some, you lose some. I guess we're done with that for the foreseeable future....!

Saturday morning

Ryan is preparing to head to Portland for the day to wish Mom & Dad S. well (Happy 55th Anniversary!), Tessa is bouncing off the walls and feeling better (though we're keeping her away from Dad to prevent unnecessary germs - sigh), and I'm sort of puttering around feeling a mite under the weather but prepared to ignore it.

It's a perfect fall day, so we hope to spend some time outdoors today.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The hard stuff

In the past year or so, I made a conscious decision to live according to my values.

This doesn't seem like such a stretch: I was proud of who I was/am, and I don't lie, cheat, or I had a head start.

But I made the vow to myself in a decision to live life more deliberately, and consciously. Unlike Thoreau, I do not have the luxury of giving up everything to try life, but I do like what he says:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the eesential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

This sums it up. I wish to live fully and completely, and in thinking about what that looked like for me, I decided that it meant identifying my values and then living according to those values, even at a cost of high inconvenience.

The green living comes from that. As long as I can remember, I've cared about my environment, and I've spent more time than most out in nature, particularly hiking the mountains and valleys of the Pacific Northwest. I grew up hiking and camping, and it is engrained in me to love the smell of a campfire, the feeling of a boot on a pine-needle trail, the splash of glacial melt from a small stream upon my face to cool off. By stating my commitment to go green, and by taking steps every day to do so, I'm living a value that I hadn't been true to. I had always cared, but I hadn't always taken steps to avoid the path of least resistance, which is often NOT green but simply old habits.

My spiritual quest comes from that, too. I've always considered myself a deeply spiritual person, but in hindsight, that was more of a hopeful label than a true one, because I wasn't doing much in the way of spiritual growth. It's not just my commitment to WSUU that makes me a more spiritual person these days (though that is a big part of it), it's committing my leisure hours to reading books about spirituality, and it's meditation, and it's deeper introspection, and it's discussion with other spiritual types about what it is we're doing and where we're trying to go. It's little things like having a little spiritual center in my house (with candles, a cross, a Buddha statuette, a picture of the Dalai Lama, a "Believe in Miracles" plaque from Caley, and some beautiful stones from nature, one of which is painted with a chalice) to remind me of what I'm striving for; it's bigger things, like attending church every weekend and becoming part of the RE council and dedicating my time to a covenant group.

My volunteering comes from this, too. The 3-Day taught me, again, how essential it is to my well being to give something of myself to my community and to the greater world. Sometimes these days I feel like I'm doing too much volunteering, some days I feel like I'm doing too little, but always I know that I'm striving in the right direction, and that taking action to make the world a slightly better place, even in the smallest of ways, is a part of my value system.

Those things are not behind me, but I still count them as successes in my life: they are my true self, and I'm proud of them, and despite my imperfections, I know I'm giving them my best and I'm happy with that even as I try to grow in those areas.

But I can't sit still, I can't believe that I have simply arrived. Those things might be the easier things.

My marriage. I have to advise anyone not yet married, that marriage is much harder than it sounds. First, you meet, find interests together, learn to have fun together, and fall in love....and that is the easy part (even though I didn't think so in my early twenties when everyone else was falling in love and I was single and wondering what I was doing wrong). The hard part is what comes after "I do," when life hands you things you've never expected, like cancer, and lay-offs, and depression, and ten surgeries in three years, and you're broke and frustrated and disconnected from one another and wondering how on earth you got so far from where you started. Anyone who has been married a decade or more is certain to nod their heads - it is a very small number of individuals who do not survive a decade of marriage without some pretty serious interruptions, despite the good intentions of both parties.

So, marriage wasn't exactly what I expected, but I have recommitted to it, over and over, and I'm striving to be the partner that I ought to be, that I want to be. Ryan has also been recommitting, and together we are making stupendous progress with one another, and I am so grateful for that that I barely know where to begin with it. It amazes me to think that holding on to marriage is a value....I thought love held marriages together, but I am learning that love isn't enough, not nearly. Love for another person is so much, true, but when the world is upside down and nothing is as you expected, I think that its ones values that keep a marriage together.

(Note: I am fortunate, I have not experienced abuse or infidelity of any sort in my marriage. I am NOT extolling the virtue of sticking it out in an abusive relationship, ever. I'm talking about a different kind of marriage than that. What is true of my marriage commitment perhaps should NOT be true of all marriages, and I recognize the need for gray in that spectrum.)

And the other big

Oh, money. Frankly, if you'll pardon my language, money is a giant pain in the you-know-what. (Okay, I'll keep this PG, but you get my point.) Money is so stressful!

But I'm determined to live according to my values with money, too, and I'm slowly ocming to the realization that I haven't been doing that, not at all.

No, I'm not in bankruptcy, and I haven't been forging checks, and I haven't taken out multiple mortgages on the house....nothing like that. It's much more subtle than that (fortunately).

I think that I had just been telling myself that I deserved certain things, and despite my scorn for those who try to keep up with the Jones', I think I'd been doing it in some ways. Not in cars (our 8 year old Subie probably isn't going to win any luxury car contests), but in other, smaller things. Like eating out at nice resturants, like ordering take-out when I didn't feel like cooking, like too many lattes and pastries (what's with the food theme?!), like too many trips to Target and Marshall's to buy things that I don't need.

This week I, once again, took a trip to Goodwill. I filled up almost the entire Subie - how ridiculous! Some of it is explainable - Tessa outgrows clothes, shoes, and toys - but some of it is just embarrassing. These are things that we had purchased, that we now dispose of....not into a landfill, but that means that we wasted good money.

I am fortunate, I do not have much "need." I don't "need" new furniture, dishes, books, house....I have enough, and even more than enough. I don't "need" new clothes or shoes, because my closet is overflowing. Our house is full of music, books, and the small pleasures in life.

So now I'm trying to live according to my financial values, and it's hard....harder than carrying a bag so I don't take plastic bags, harder than "no impulse shopping" even when that's part of it.

Now, our family has to cut back so that we can get out of debt, and live according to our financial values. We're going to have to really watch our budgets, eating more lentils than steak (well, at least that's good for the environment and our bodies!), in order to get ahead.

Living according to my financial values would look like this:
- debt free
- at least 10% contributions to retirement 401(k) and IRA
- regular contributions to Tessa's college fund (529)
- save for items before buying them
- "vote with my dollar" for ethical purchases (e.g. organic cotton)
- not buying disposable items (stuff destined for a landfill)
- regular contributions to charity and church and political beliefs/candidates
- keeping a sizable emergency fund

We have a long way to go to check off the items on that list. First, we have to work hard starting where we're at. But I'm identifying these values, and I'm determined to make it work, balancing all the other values.

It's hard. It's not even a little bit easy. But I'm trying.

Living deliberatly, or as Oprah says, living consciously. I think that there is something to it.

Tessa update

Well, our little bouncy girl is alternately bouncy and fatigued. I thought she was quite well, and while I was chatting on the phone with Grammy she about drove me nuts following me around and being loud and goofy....but then the Tylenol wore off and she started feeling crummy. She (by her own choosing) is back in bed, has had a throat lozenge, and she's getting rest.

We did do hair - my hair currently holds every single barrette that Tessa owns. (It's impressive, if I may say so myself.) We went through the attic, organizing things, getting rid of yet more stuff, and taking out Tessa's snow-stuff to see if it fits (boots: no; hats, no; gloves/mittens: no; pants: maybe; jacket: yes....thank goodness it was a bit big last year!). I vacuumed up and down, and we cleaned up Tessa's room together.

And I will not tell you how many chocolate chip cookies I've eaten today, or you will think that I have absolutely no willpower.

Anyway, a sick day for a minor illness (and I do thank God it's minor) is a small blessing. I wouldn't wish Tessa to feel crummy, but we've been chatting, we had lunch together (she was hungry but didn't eat much), and we've been playing. I like just being with her....

Growing pains?

I just measured Tessa on the chart in her room. She grew 3/4 of an inch since Sept. 17, which was (coincidentally) the last time I measured her. It wasn't my imagination that she's growing in leaps and bounds!

Staying Home

Well, here we are.

Tessa's throat is scratchy, she's running a bit hot, and she feels achy and tired.

School has been contacted, our carpool ride has been contacted, Daddy has been told. Next, we need to notify the Portland folks....we're not going anywhere.


Tessa is fine - it's just one of those bugs going around. I, too, woke up with a scratchy throat but I hope that mine will disappear quickly.

Yesterday Tessa didn't want to do much besides vege in front of the TV (which I don't usually let her do, so it's a treat when she's sick), so I baked. I made sunflower seed bread, chocolate chip cookies, AND new granola.

(Note to those in the know: how come my granola didn't clump nicely? I followed the recipe and it tastes good but it didn't get those little crunchy clumps that are so delicious.)

The tablecloths and soup were delivered to the pot-luck at Alki, and I'm told the event went well.

Today? Not sure what we'll do - not baking, though. I'll take care of some filing (I let it pile up again -ugh), do a few chores around here....not much. Maybe Tessa and I will paint our nails later in the day.

Bunkering down. Fortunately, I went grocery shopping earlier this week, and we're all stocked up. Nothing much to do but heal.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Change of plans

Well, I was going to be helping to put on the kindergarten social this evening; this week I've been exchanging emails and phone calls, shopping for last minute items, and getting things organized to bring the Alki kindergarten families together.

Well, change in plans. Par for the course, I guess!

I spent the morning volunteering in Tessa's classroom, and she was fine. I got a call at 1:30pm from the school nurse saying that Tessa felt ill and had been resting for 45 minutes in her office. Uh oh! I thought she might be faking (she looked great earlier...) but no, indeed, she is sick.

So, I'm madly sending out email, getting someone to pick up my potluck dish at 5pm, and getting someone else to deliver the tablecloths to my co-coordinator right after school.


Tessa is okay, just tired and achy...I'm sure it's just a bug, and another child went home sick, too. But it's no fun, so I need to pamper my girl.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Love of family

It's no secret that I love my family - anybody who has read more than two of my posts should have it figured out by now. My family is my number one concern, and I'd place the happiness of my family as a whole (of course, I'm including myself in the term "family") over my happiness of myself as an individual. I've tried it both ways, but when I'm putting family second I feel regret, remorse, guilt and it's just not worth it to me.

This weekend, I thought I was putting family first by sending Ryan solo to spend a day celebrating his parents' anniversary in Portland, believing that it would give Ryan some 1:1 time with his brother on the way down, and that Tessa needed to have a quiet weekend, and that everybody would come out just fine. I have a new perspective this morning, however.

Last night we received the information that Ryan's dad had been admitted to the hospital to check out some internal bleeding.

A whole new perspective.

I'm packing up our family, and we'll head to Portland together this weekend. Tessa needs to give her Bopa a hug. Ryan needs me at his side, offering him support, so that he can support his parents. We ALL need to celebrate the anniversary, whether it's in a hospital or in a resturant (as originally planned). Family first.

We'd planned on being home together on Sunday to attend church, but I think that church would want us to be with our family. We can listen to the podcast of the service, and we're involved in other church activities through the week, so we're still getting the community aspects.

Mom & Dad S., I send you my love and wishes for healing. As Jaki (who knows from personal experience) says, "Aging isn't for sissies!" I hope and pray that Dad will be returned to good health immediately. We can't wait to see you this weekend. We love you, and we love being part of your family.

PS This puts my surgery postponement into some perspective. I'm still not happy about it, and I'm still dealing with it, but I'm managing it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A battle of the wills: The victor is declared

I've been having this internal battle with myself since learning of the out of pocket costs for my upcoming surgery.

One of the voices in my head says, "Do it now! You need this! You deserve this! Get it over with!" and the other voice says, "You've made it this far, you can go a bit farther. It's hard enough to manage your finances without paying an additional $2000 that you can avoid. It's not preventing the surgery, it's just a delay."

The second voice has won. I called and rescheduled, and now my surgery is January 8. This was the earliest date in the year that I could get on the surgery schedule; hopefully I'll be fully recovered by Tessa's birthday. Okay, I won't be FULLY recovered, but hopefully I'll be recovered enough.

I talked to my therapist yesterday, and to Ryan last night, and to the girls on the breast cancer boards, and to a couple of friends. My therapist said that I should think about what I could do to feel like I'm putting myself first, even if I delay the surgery. This is what I'm thinking of now. How can I make myself feel rich and worthy, despite this decision? I'm open to ideas on this one. Of course, I don't want to spend money on myself right now - if I was doign that I'd just have the surgery - but my life isn't about money, so maybe I can come up with a better idea. Any genius ideas floating around out there that you can share?

Doing the right thing is difficult. It comes at a cost. Hopefully, I will come to realize that the cost of not doing the right thing would be even higher, and I can revel in that. Hopefully.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Difficult Decisions

Sometimes being a grown up is hard.

I am scheduled to have surgery on October 23rd. I've done my pre-op appointment, I've got childcare lined up, and I've arranged for my own babysitters during the 24 hour surveilance period after the surgery when Ryan's at work.

I've also started looking into the financial ramifications of this surgery, and I found out a few things:
1. This is going to cost $2000 out of pocket, which happens to (coincidentally) be the maximum annual out of pocket for our new insurance
2. The new health insurance operates on a calendar year, and so even though we didn't start with this company until Oct. 1, the out of pocket restarts on Jan.1.

Because of that, and because of the fact that I use up all of my out-of-pocket costs most years, I am looking at postponing my surgery until the new year and effectively saving us $2000.

This is not a decision I want to make. That is an understatement, actually. The way I really feel about it is essentially unprintable; it involves a lot of four letter words and foot stamping and whining and the kind of crying that is really snotty.

I hate my expanders. In addition to the fact that they look terrible, and they're deformed, and my breasts are no longer on the same parallel and it's even visible when I'm fully clothed, the expanders hurt. Sometimes they're merely uncomfortable, sometimes they're painful, but they're always present in my life. They disrupt my sleep (imagine sleeping on baseballs implanted under your skin, and you've about got it), they make me uncomfortable in my own body. I hate them, and this surgery is all about getting rid of them.

So, I have a conflict. Financial concerns versus physical concerns. What kind of decision is that?! It's completely unfair to me to have to make that kind of decision, and it sucks. Yes, sucks. There is no more literary term to define it: sucks is about the only word that will suffice.

I am strongly leaning towards postponing the surgery. Our family has aquired too much debt through this process already, and we already have payment plans set up with two hospitals. We don't need to add $2000 to that pile....if I do the surgery in October, we will aquire $4000 in medical expenses between now and Dec 2009, but if I do the surgery in January, we will "only" acquire $2000 in medical expenses. (Not including copays, prescriptions, or other "not included" categories...but I won't go there for the sake of this post.)

I'm trying to be an adult about it. I'm trying to remind myself that I'm not putting off the surgery indefinately, only for a couple of months. I'm trying to remind myself that financial intelligence sometimes involves making difficult decisions, and that I'm not immune from avoiding difficulties, either. I'm trying to remember that a few years from now, a few months one way or the other won't make much of a difference, but paying interest on credit cards for that same time might still be making a difference.

I'm trying to put on my big girl panties and do what is right for my family, not just for me.

I'm trying to remember that I have dealt with much, much worse stuff in my life. I'm trying to remember that it's "only" reconstruction, and it's not a life-saving technique.

I'm trying not to focus on the fact that I'm so dreadfully tired of having surgery hanging over my head, and that I just want it over with.

I'm trying to remember that I am allowed to put myself first.

I'm trying to remember that making a decision that benefits my family will make me feel good, too.

I'm trying.

If you pray, please put in a prayer for me that I will make the right decision about this, whatever that might be. I have not decided what I should do, or what I must do, or what I can do; I have not decided if should and can are the same thing. If I postpone the surgery, I do not know how to remove the black cloud from over my head; if I have the surgery now I do not know how to avoid feeling guilty at the cost.

I would love to have an answer. Anybody have advice?

Monday morning

It's a cool fall day, and I can tell it's breezy even from inside because the hanging bats on our porch (Happy Halloween) are swinging wildly back and forth, and the wind chimes on the back deck are tinkling away. I love days like today: not wet, but cool, crisp, and filled with gorgeous fall colors. Most of the neighborhood trees are still covered in leaves, but the leaves are an amazing array of color.

The weekend at the cabin was wonderful, but all too short. We hot tubbed, listened to music, read, drank wine, prepared a nice dinner, ate way too much, and just enjoyed it overall. Ryan worked on the cabin bike for hours, and appeared to be in nirvana as he puttered and corrected and concentrated on the bike, sitting on the deck of the cabin amidst all that scenery. Tessa got to hike the whole property on her own for the first time, with the promise that she'd stay close enough to hear me if I called her, and she romped in the fields and down the paths, the two dogs close at her side. Marisa and I got some much needed girl-chatting done.

My only complaint was that it seemed as though as soon as we got there it was time to go home. No fair!

On the way home, I got an unexpected treat. As usual, we had to wait a couple of hours in the ferry lineup, and so Tessa and I were reading. Only this time, Tessa read to me! We have a silly book designed for early readers that has perhaps 20-30 words per page, and Tessa read me the first fifteen pages pretty much all on her own. It was startling to me to watch her connect with the language, and to see how many sight words she's picked up in the past few weeks, and how good she's gotten at phonetics. I was giddy with excitement to see how much she has learned recently - it was fabulous. She's read other books with perhaps 10 repeated words, and though this book was quite simple it was still much more complex than that. Hurrah for reading! And best of all....Tessa was as excited as I was, and her eyes sparkled and danced, and she obviously feels great pride an excitement in her progress.

We're a family of readers. Wow. For me, this is a dream come true. I have a daughter who reads....and I can't even explain how this touches my heart. It's another sign of a babyhood long gone, which is hard, but it's also a sign of how incredibly interesting Tessa is - she's interested in the world around her, and she's become such an amazing companion. I deeply enjoy being with her.

And speaking of which.....driving home, we had a deep conversation about houses. Houses? Yes. Tessa started asking about how different houses were constructed, and what materials would be needed, and how people in different countries lived. It became a conversation about how LITTLE one truly "needs" in order to live, and Tessa drew her own conclusions about how amazing our home is, and how little she would require in order to be merely comfortable. Again, we talked about Laura Ingalls and how she had only a corn-cob doll for a toy, and we discussed how many toys we had at our house. And then Tessa came up with multiple ideas about how she could build houses. She decided that she could fill a bucket with mud and straw, and let it sit for a few days until it dried out, and make bricks one at a time like that, and then use the bricks to build. The wheels were turning, and I could see her social conscience building, and I could see her making connections previously not made, and I could see her taking it all in.

It's good to be Tessa's mother. I am so immensely grateful for the experience of having Tessa in my life. Of all of the children in the world, I could have been given anyone...but I was given this amazing daughter who suits me so well, and whose ideas make me think, and whose compassion and kindness make me melt.

Sure, she's a kid, and she can annoy me like no other person on the planet. But even in the midst of the annoyance, I'm pretty amazed by who she is.

And now, this Monday morning, I'm still puttering around the house and putting the morning mess back together: breakfast dishes put away, beds made, toothbrush slop (yuck) wiped up, the weekend mail off the dining room table, and the rest. Laundry is running, Tessa is at school, and I've finished my first big mug of coffee.

And the rest of the day? Today, in addition to chores, I'm trying to organize my thoughts around what I want to accomplish with my day, my week, my month, my life. I'm trying to spend time doing things I won't regret. I'm trying to listen to music while I clean, and I'm trying to stop multi-tasking when I do other things. I'm trying to manage our finances (why is that so hard?!), to manage our nutrition, to tread lightly on the planet (amazingly, this takes a lot of effort), to care for our home, to care for myself, to care for my friends, to care for my family.

It's a big list. Today, I'm working on breaking it down into smaller pieces, and putting it back together in some order. Okay, that's what I'm ALWAYS working on, but today I'm working on it intentionally and with purpose. Wish me luck!