Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winding down, gearing up

Winding down the year now - Christmas has come and gone, and it was lovely. Family, friends, church, the delight in Tessa's eyes. I've learned a lot about American Girl dolls, but first and foremost is the information that Tessa's is named Maya and she's "the best gift ever." Thanks, Santa!

Today I spoke at church, reflecting on the year behind, the year ahead. It was difficult to speak about the tumultuousness of "the scare" but joyful to talk about my conclusion: it is a good thing simply to be alive.

The tree is down, though the stockings and lights are still up. We're getting ready to visit family and friends in Portland for a couple of days.

Winding down a long year....gearing up for a new year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Life continues to zoom by, even when I'm moving slowly.

I've had lots of questions about my blog, and why I'm not writing much, and I don't have "real" answers. I think it just boils down to being busy.

And tired.

I can never seem to get caught up with my fatigue. One late night really exhausts me for days; normal activity tires me out. I don't really understand it, so I can't fully explain it. As the Beatles sang, "I'm not the man I used to be." Woman. Whatever.

Studies show that about 30% of cancer survivors suffer long term fatigue, or chemo brain. I have both, and it is a "new normal" that requires some adjustments that I'm still learning to make. My attention span is shorter, I'm easily tired, and my brain feels like it has to work a lot harder at simple things.

I don't think I'm complaining, just explaining. Four and a half years after my diagnosis, I thought I'd be SO far past all of this, and I'm not. I think that it has a lot to do with the extremeties of my treatment: the chemo, of course, but also the deep burns, the number of surgeries, the number of complications, the extended use of cancer drugs, the utter loss of estrogen (surgically and chemically).

I do not regret my cancer treatment choices. I did the best I could with the information that I had at the time, and if I had to do it all again, most likely, I would. But I had no way of predicting the price it would extract from me. The price is heavy.

I am thinking about these things a lot lately, and I have a lot more thinking to do. I am not me, I'm someone else. I am trying to learn, to adapt, to change to that new circumstance.

But life is good, even with negative changes. Tessa is doing well at school, and I'm so proud not just of her learning but of the way she's learning to be a hard worker and do her homework and things like that. She is a wonderful daughter, and I am blessed. Ryan's job is going well, and he's going to take a couple weeks of vacation over the holidays - hurrah. We're looking forward to a quiet yet festive Christmas - family, food, relaxation. We have cut back a ton, and we are not in a position to give many gifts this year (we are determined to get that "cancer debt" under control!) but still, that is okay. We look forward to time with friends and family, playing in the snow at Snoqualmie, a short trip to Portland to see Mom & Dad Surface, and of course, watching Tessa's eyes light up on Christmas morning.

It's a wonderful life. Not the life I'd planned, but a wonderful life. I "get" that movie more than ever these days.

We aren't sending Christmas cards this year, so I'll do a "Christmas card post." Soon. :-)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Now, where was I?

I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.~Henry David Thoreau

I do not exactly know why I haven't blogged in ages - this is my longest blogging break since beginning to blog - but I do know that life has been busy and I've been hunting down my marrow. I can't tell you that I've reached any grand conclusions, or that I have anything in particular figured out, just that I'm nesting, trying to care for my actual nest (home), body, and soul. I'm trying to figure out how to cram in as much joy and depth as possible, while still living simply...without rushing. I have a feeling that this is a goal I will never reach, but I will continue to reach in the general direction.

I suppose my biggest change since my blog break is that I re-joined Weight Watchers. I've been on it for almost two weeks, I've dropped a few pounds, and I feel VERY happy about the direction I'm headed. One day, I just woke up and realized I'd had enough. I took Shep for a long walk through Lincoln Park, and I sort of meditated on the problem of size and health. By the end of my walk, I knew what I needed to do. Of course, I knew all along, but somehow, I just felt settled in the decision, and committed. I am not too worried about losing the weight, because I've done it before and I have faith in my ability to do it again, but I am very concerned about keeping it off. One step at a time; I am up for the challenge. I am trying to live in the present moment....but I'm fantasizing about what I'll look like six or twelve weeks from now.

Fall always makes me want to clean house - much more than spring, when all I want to do is be outdoors. This year, I'm cleaning mentally and physically, and Weight Watchers is part of that for me. I'm also on a rampage to get rid of stuff - anything that's cluttering my life, including old paperwork, weight, Tessa's old toys, clothes, any anything else that isn't either functional or beautiful. I've been striving to declutter the surfaces of our home, and doing so makes me feel more rested within myself.

Speaking of rested, I'm not. I'm tired, pretty much always. I'm trying to learn to adapt to this version of myself, and though it's frustrating, I think I'm learning to slow down.

I am getting very excited about the holidays, as usual. This year, most of the Surface clan - 16 of us total - is gathering at our house for Thanksgiving, and I've started putting together recipes and making a plan for that week. I can't wait to have our house filled to bursting, with the chaos of so many people talking and laughing and eating. Usually I do the holidays in a formal style, but this year I'm going to try a buffet, casual style that is more relaxed. Ryan is very happy about the prospect of avoiding hours hand washing china and crystal, too. (I have to have it for Christmas...but that is a smaller crowd so easier.) Our out of town relatives are coming just for the day, so we won't have any houseguests this year. I actually love having houseguests, but it will also be nice to wake up the day after Thanksgiving and have "nothing to do." (We do plan to go to the holiday parade downtown, though.)

Tessa is well, Ryan is well, and I am well. Busy with life, but well. I have some wishes out in the universe right now, and I'll let you know if they come true for our family...time will tell. But I am grateful for health, grateful for family and friends, and life is good.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I'm still alive, and I still revel in that fact. My recent scare ("trauma" would be a better word!) has changed me. I've always found joy in life, but right now, I'm seeing more clearly than ever before. My life is a gift, and I am so grateful.

Our family is trying to truly buckle down - still, or more - on expenses so that we can pay off cancer-debt. No more meals out, no more take-out. Ryan is bringing his lunch every day instead of just sometimes, and I am cooking dinner every single night. We're eating vegetarian about 50% of the time (but even then, we eat cheese and/or eggs....we're not even close to vegan). I'm getting better at finding coupons for the types of things we buy, and I'm remembering to use them. It's all a lot of work, and requires a lot more planning and persistance, but it's working, and I'm proud of us. In the past year or two, I think I've cut our grocery bill in half, and I've cut our waste significantly as well (yes, the two are related).

I can't remember the last time I went to Target. Funny, I don't miss it at all! We have what we need, and a lot more than that. When I do need something, I'm much better at getting that thing, and not throwing other stuff in my cart.

It's not all fun and games. The school and church auctions are coming up, and we won't be able to contribute much. It would be lovely to take some nice vacations. And most of all, our front porch is in desperate need of work.

Cancer debt is depressing, especially because it keeps growing (this latest business is going to cost us thousands....sigh). We still owe my parents, and how I wish we could write them a fat check to apply towards rebuilding their house: I'd love to buy their granite counters, or some other upgrade....

But it's okay. It's all okay.

Over the last couple of nights, our family watched the Kit "American Girl" movie (from the library). It was another reminder about how lucky we are - we're giving to soup kitchens, not eating at them. Our futures look bright.

This weekend, we're headed to Marisa's cabin for some R&R. Halloween is coming up, and our family attends a party that we just love (in addition to trick or treating with neighbors). Family is coming for Thanksgiving, and we're excited for that. And Christmas? I haven't even thought about it yet, but I love the holidays.

Tessa is growing in leaps and bounds at school. She's been struggling with her reading, but I see her catching up, and her ability to do homework is extraordinary. Our whole family has had to adjust to it - every night she has three or so worksheets, plus spelling/sight words. At the beginning of the school year she cried and complained and whined "I can't! It's too hard!" but last night she happily brought it to the kitchen table as I was prepping dinner and said, "I like homework!" We're finding our routine, and it's working well.

I'm working on the book, and making progress. I hope that my boss doesn't hate me for being so far behind, but I'm catching up and hopeful that I can turn it into what it ought to be. Ryan is helping out more at home so that I can focus on the book, and I'm grateful for that.

I'm counting my blessings. I am grateful for the bounty of my life, and trying to see things with perspective. I am a lucky woman.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Great Recession

I'm making dinner and listening to NPR commentary about the recession, the job market, and the economy in general. There was just a prediction that it may take until 2017 to recover all of the lost jobs.

WHAT?! I thought that a couple more years sounded harsh, but that is a very long time.

For those who have lost jobs and not been able to recover them, these are frightening times.

Tessa and I have been reading the American Girl story of Kit in the Great Depression (1934), and we're finding an awful lot of parallels. We're also reading "Little House on Plum Creek," the fourth in the "Little House on the Prairie" series, and we just finished the chapter where the grasshopper cloud came down on the wheat a week before harvest time, and completely destroyed the Ingalls' crop, and they owe money to the bank for their new house, and Pa's boots have holes in them and now they don't even have food. Bank collapse or grasshoppers, financial instability is anything but new. It seems that today's problems are old tales, that these stories have been around forever, but I have to say I honestly didn't see it coming. That makes me blind, I think.

Such large changes in the world are bringing about smaller changes in my world.

Tonight there is soccer after school, and then there is a PTA meeting tonight. (Oh my goodness - look at my life!) We will only have about an hour in between, and it would be so appealing to go out to dinner. Instead, I made vegetable soup in the crock pot, and Beth is bringing some bread, and we'll have dinner waiting for us after soccer. A few years ago in a similar circumstance I would have gone out to eat, no question, and not thought much about the money. But now we think about money frequently. I was going to make squash soup, but I had some leftover tomatoes that I needed to use, so vegetable soup it is tonight; squash keeps longer than fresh tomatoes.

And somehow, it is okay. I hope my soup tastes good (fresh kale, celery, carrots, zuchinni and cranberry beans from the market; onions from my garden; herbs from my garden and Sarah's; we'll top it with shavings of parmesan cheese), and I know it's healthier than what I would eat if I went out. Dinner will be waiting for Ryan, hot when he gets home. I saved some leftover kale and celery tops in an old yogurt container, and stuck them in the freezer for next time I make soup stock. The rest of the vegetable scraps went into the worm bin, where they will turn into rich compost for my garden next year. We eat a lot more vegetarian meals than we used to - we've changed from maybe 5% vegetarian to 50% vegetarian, and our pocketbooks are helped, and so is our health (hopefully). The environment probably appreciates the break, too.

I'm not wasting nearly as much as I used to - even vegetable scraps go to good use. I can't - our medical bills still stink and they keep coming in. (This latest episode will likely cost us a couple thousand out of pocket, which is MUCH less than insurance will pay, but still hurts.) But right now, I feel like I'm in good company. My friends don't mind coming over for a simple vegetable soup, and nobody seems to mind when I say that I'm watching my money and can't do some activity (and offer a cheaper alternative.) People know that times are hard, and it seems like there is a lot less pressure to do things in a grand style.

But these simple styles are really, really appealing to me. I love the green aspects, I love the slower aspects, and I love the healthier aspects.

I wouldn't wish this economy on anyone, but we're doing okay. We feel broke most of the time, but it is a good, good, good life. We are very fortunate.

Vegetable soup on a cold day, friends, activities. Our bank account looks crummy (bah.), but somehow, it will all work out. The Depression ended eventually; Laura Ingalls went on to write all those books. The story isn't done.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Today Lida and I went back to Olympus Spa. We soaked, we talked, we read, we roasted, and we froze. I meditated for a little while.

It felt like playing hooky! Well, it was playing hooky, because my house is a mess and the breakfast dishes are in the sink. Ah, well, it was worth it.

I have some thoughts about breast cancer awareness month and a number of things....but right now I think it's time to do chores.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I wonder when the floating, euphoric sensation will stop? Right now, I am so very attuned to the joys of my days. Last night some friends came for dinner, and the food was so good (potluck) that it gave me a little thrill; this morning, we walked to C&P and my tea* tasted nothing short of spectacular, and running into friends was a particular treat. Today we are Maisy-sitting (Maisy is a labradoodle puppy) and watching Shep and Maisy tear around the back yard together, full of doggy mischief and fun, makes me giggle.

Tessa has back to back birthday parties to attend today. The first is a "sporty" theme, and she's wearing a little tennis skort and work out top with a sassy pony tail and a pair of running shoes. The afternoon party is a "fancy" theme, and she's wearing a long white princess dress, crown, etc. Ryan is taking Tessa to the first party, and I'm attending the second party. What joy that our lives are filled with friends, celebrations, and fun.

Tomorrow I will get to stand up in front of the congregation and share my joy. I'll bet that I'll cry, and I don't care. And in the afternoon we're going to Tessa's second soccer game, and the grownups will stand on the sidelines and cheer and chat (fortunately, it's a GREAT group of parents - people are just genuinely happy to see their kids trying, and it's not one of those sideline groups that makes people cringe to watch).

I hope that I can keep this feeling a long, long time.

*I'm cutting back on my coffee. A cup or two a day, but not the insane quantities that I had been consuming. I had coffee before we decided to go to C&P, and hence the tea.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The bliss of a normal life

I am still riding high. I actually feel high, without the help of drugs. (My apologies to friends who saw me on "percocet afternoon" - I think for a while there I was talking twice my normal (fast) speed!)

My neck still reminds me that I've had recent surgery, but it is almost a pleasure to feel the small pain, not because I am a masochist but because it reminds me how close I came to losing it all (or so it felt).

Several friends and family members have now confided to me how worried they were, and how intense their emotions have been through this. I have been blessed by tears by many, upon hearing my good news. I am filled with joy and gratitude that there are those who care so much about me, who will me to be well.

And today I'm doing tons of usually tiresome chores. Okay, my chores - laundry, mow lawn, vacuum, etc. - are still tiresome, but today there is a difference. Today I am living in the moment, relishing the small pleasures. A clean floor, a drawer with things lined just so, the books in Tessa's bookcase all lined up beside one another. Look at my life! I have drawers full of useful things, I have a home often filled with laughter and sometimes shared tears (both are important, I think), I have food in my belly, a dog who follows me with love in his eyes.

Tonight a few friends are coming for a potluck. I will sit in my small, ordinary back yard, a glass of wine in hand, and laugh with them, and help with our collection of children, and feel Ryan's arm around my shoulders, and I will know that I am rich. I will know that it is heaven, that I am blessed, and that life is filled with so much joy.

Pain, too. Yes, there is a lot of pain. I know that. But I don't want to lose sight of how much joy there is, too.

Have a wonderful, joy filled weekend, my friends. May you feel joy in the mundane, and find beauty in the small things. Remember that it can all be taken away in a moment, but instead of dwelling in that terror, remind yourself that you are here, now, and that fact alone is beautiful. Visit me in this place...come live with me here, reveling in our lives.

With love,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A normal day

I'm just about to wake Tessa up from her slumbers; Ryan is on a bus somewhere on the way to work. I'm wearing my workout clothes in anticipation of a walk/jog along Alki with Shep. It's Sarah's birthday, and I'm baking a cake today for her.

It is a good, good, good life. Warts and all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My best life

If you got a second (third, fourth, fiftieth) chance at life, what would you do? What would you change? What would you keep?

I have a lot of thinking to do. I have been granted a new chance to be alive, and I could not be more grateful. I will not waste my life, and I will not take it for granted.

MORE benign news!

This day keeps getting better.

Just got off the phone with Dr. Rinn, who just got off the phone with the pathologist. The nodes are so absolutely normal that they are not doing further testing - NO signs of lymphoma.

Benign all the way!

It is time to celebrate. :-)

Initial results: BENIGN!

My lovely onc called.

Initial results are in: BENIGN for breast cancer.

Oh I can not tell you the level of relief....I have been so scared.

We're waiting to hear if there will be further pathology for lymphoma but this is GREAT news and we will take whatever comes after it.

Thank you for your love, support, and prayers through all of this.

I'm shaking with relief, giddy and nervous and excited....

Making an effort

The past couple days I haven't done a thing - mostly just laid in bed. Today, I'm attempting to be up and at'em. I'm showered and dressed, Tessa's oatmeal is cooking, and I'm going to try to get through the whole day in a somewhat normal fashion.

I took the clear plastic (Tegaderm?) bandage off my neck, and I'm glad I did. It looks like I was having an allergic reaction to it - I have one blister, and the whole area is red. OUCH. I'm keeping an eye on it, and I'll call the doc today. (A good chance to pester him about results, anyway.)

So, off I go to greet the day. Still hoping, wishing, praying for good results....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Waiting for answers

This morning, Tessa snuggled up to me and said, "Mommy, when are you going to stop having surgeries?"

I still don't know. Please please let me be done, let me be healthy, let me have a long life...


Last night I slept soundly from 10-12, and then I was awake all night, with only minutes of sleep here and there. Why? I have no idea! I am so tired that the fatigue is like a cloak of achiness draped over me - why couldn't I sleep? Tonight I will take an Ambien to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Ryan is getting Tessa ready; Laurie is giving her a ride to school. I'm in bed.

Recovery is not as much fun as being fully recovered.

Edited to add:
Tessa is off to school, Ryan is off to work. I'm going to hunker down all day and just enjoy the stillness. I'm in bed with a cat at my feet and a dog at the floor beside me. It is time to rest. My neck really hurts and is showing some bruising...I'm moving really, really slowly.

Monday, September 21, 2009


My neck hurts. No surprise there, I know.

I still feel hopeful. Physically uncomfortable....but hopeful.

Post surgery update

I am home from the hospital, right on schedule; I've already had lunch. (I was craving won ton soup from Lee's - good healthy comfort food.)

The surgery went well. The surgeon removed two nodes from the right side of my neck, and the frozen section did not appear to be cancerous....but as the surgeon quipped, "the tissue is the issue" and only a full pathology will report actual results. The surgeon said that he is cautiously optimistic.

I'm still on pain meds, but doing okay on that front. I feel far from normal, but I don't feel terrible.

Thanks for your continued love and prayers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I have done my chores.

I have cheered Tessa's soccer team.

I have done my best to be positive.

And now I'm scared. So frightened.


Yesterday was a trip to the Olympus Spa in Lynnwood with girlfriends to celebrate my 40th birthday. It was, indeed, an incredible celebration....but it was also a good way to prepare for tomorrow.

The spa is not like other spas I've been to. This one is a Korean spa, and uses traditional Korean ideas. It is a series of pools and rooms, all in different temperatures, and with different elements. The areas range from swelteringly hot to freezing cold, with everything in between. The rooms have different elements: jade, mud, charcoal, sand, salt - and these elements are supposed to help with different bodily or emotional cares. It is women only, and women walk around either in a light robe provided by the spa, or are naked in the pools.

I wasn't sure how the naked part would be for me. In addition to concerns about belly fat and cellulite and other "normal" thoughts about my body, I have such a tortured body, with the most obvious part being that I do not have nipples. Would I get stared at? Would I get pulled into conversations about breast cancer and how "my grandma died of breast cancer" and such? Would I be told that if I had just eaten more soy or less soy or something that I wouldn't have gotten cancer in the first place?

None of the above. Though the spa is very open, people maintain a sense of privacy. Anyone who caught my eye gave me a slight smile and looked away. Only one woman saw me and then, perhaps unconsciously, flew her own hands up to her breasts, covering them as if to protect them.

My girlfriends stood by my side, proud and strong. And frankly? With them around, I wouldn't mess with me. I know some amazing, powerful, centered, spiritual, articulate, intelligent women, and I would not mess with them. I felt strength with them by my side.

...and then those thoughts went away, and despite it all, I lost all sense of my body, and just threw myself into it. Many of the rooms are silent, and women softly slip in or tiptoe out, but mostly there is just silence. There is a meditation room, and a room with journals to write in, and a reading room, but most of the other rooms are designed just for laying down.

I warmed my body, cooled my body; I soaked my body, I dried it out. I drank gallons of water and tea. I shared the company of my friends, and watched them let some of their cares and worries drift away. I inhaled ancient herbs, and I read a silly magazine.

But I can't describe any of it. All these words don't come even close. The coccoon of the spa, the power of the women in it, just filled me with peacefulness and centeredness. What an incredible gift.

I got one other unexpected gift, thanks to Jenny, one of the friends I met while teaching at BHS. Jenny went into the super-cold pool - the one I'd dipped my toe into and said, "NO WAY!" because it was so cold - and had such a smile as she did it. I offered her some question like "Are you crazy?" and she explained that the heat followed by the cool felt so soothing. Soothing? How do you get to that? She said that she relied on her childbirth teachings, and went towards the cold instead of shrinking from it, and that she embraced it by breathing deeply. Ohhhh - old lessons that I had forgotten. With this reminder, I inhaled, set feet in the pool, and exhaled. I walked in, still breathing deeply, up to my neck. I submerged myself under the waterfall, my body surrounded by the cold water. It was incredible! It was like summoning my center, reminding myself of my own strength, reminding myself how much control I really did have over my body. I was not a victim, I was a powerhouse. For this reminder, I am deeply, deeply grateful. I don't have to remind anyone reading this how fortunate that reminder is this weekend, as I face what is ahead.

(Yes, I'll go back. Wanna come? And really, set aside your body worries. There are women of every size, shape, age, and color. To me, they were all beautiful - from the gaunt to the round, from young to old, from milky white to ebony black, from smooth to wrinkled. I envied each and every one of them those two circles on their chests - brown or pink, large or small, pronounced or hidden - and thought how beautiful health was.)

So today I will try to take that with me into the coming week. I am less concerned about surgery - although let's face it I'm not looking forward to it - and more about results. I've played out every possible scenerio in my head, including some morbid ones that I won't get into. But I am determined to face my life head on, whatever my life gives me. (Thank you, Lisa Prisco, for teaching me about that.)

I will continue freaking out, but I've got some calm mixed in, too. Today I will do chores like change the sheets, stock some groceries, tidy things up....but really, I think I am prepared for tomorrow's surgery.

Thank you for your continued thoughts, wishes, prayers, white light, karma, and love.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Picking up the pieces

Tessa fell apart this morning, and I don't blame her. What a week this has been. Today I'm realizing how messy our house is, and how disorganized I am, and how far behind I am. I'm scrambling to get some semblance of order back into my head, and then into our lives.

We will have a quiet evening at home....that ought to help.


PollyAnna is showing her face again.

I feel so much more optimistic today, so much more hopeful.

When "Auntie" Carolyn was here, she gave Tessa a horseshoe necklace that Tessa wears almost all the time. Yesterday, Tessa told me that if I wore it, the cancer wouldn't come back, and she put it on me. (sniff, sob - so sweet)

I woke up feeling like the cancer is gone.

I don't believe in magic necklaces, though I do believe in Tessa's own special magic. I just feel better about this whole disaster today than I did before.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quick check in

I met with the neck surgeon, who specializes in neck oncology. I also had a good chat with my oncologist.

If this is breast cancer, it is a very unusual presentation, not at all the norm. Possible, but unusual.

The node on my neck is palpable, subcutaneous. It is the one with the highest amount of uptake (eg greatest risk) and also the most accessible one, so the obvious choice for a biopsy. I am scheduled for surgical biopsy on Monday, checking in at 6:30am, coming home by noon.

The neck surgeon thinks it's 50/50 whether it's malignant or benign. No questions what I am hoping and praying for.

I probably won't have any sort of result for a few days after surgery, though you may be certain I'll be pestering all of my doctors.

On another note....
Thank you to Susan for driving me to my appt and taking notes today.
Thank you to Heather, Natasha, Steve, Sarah, Michele, Tracy (and assorted youngsters) for meeting me for a birthday lunch and making me feel special.
Thank you to my parents for coming over tonight to take the family out to dinner.
Thank you Sarah for making my birthday cake.
Thank you Beth for driving Tessa to school.
Thank you for phone calls, cards, flowers, and gifts. (Wow!)

I am a blessed woman. I'm just greedy, and I want to stick around another 60 years to enjoy those blessings.


Carpe diem

Sure, I will start my birthday with a trip to a surgeon to discuss breast cancer and lymphoma possibilities....

But the rest of the day will belong to me.

I am so grateful for my life, my family, my friends.

If I need to fight cancer again, I will do it. I will fight harder than ever. Sure, it's a terrible fight, but the victory is worth it. I am prepared to fight harder than ever before if called to do so.

Or maybe it will be nothing. Wouldn't THAT be a gift?

Today I will celebrate my life with friends and family. And I will take it one day at a time.

Now, off to wake the girl!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Medical limbo and birthdays

I have really, really been looking forward to my birthday. Forty is a big milestone for me - for anyone - that seems even bigger given the cancer business.

I was just so sure that this nasty business would be over by now, instead it seems worse than ever.

I am four years, three months, and fifteen days out from my diagnosis. Those are four years, three months, and fifteen days that I am SO grateful for. Every day is precious to me, even the days that suck.

And let's face it, today has sucked.

Tomorrow morning I will meet with a neck surgeon to do a pre-op visit - number eleven, here I come. It will be a day surgery, but general anesthesia. My current understanding is that the surgery will be Monday, and I pray that I will have results soon after.

This is all pretty surreal.

I've done just a little bit of Googling, and it seems like many kinds of lymphoma are highly treatable with long life expectancies. Frankly, it sounds preferable to breast cancer right now, but I very well could regret saying that. "Nothing" sounds best of all, of course.

But back to the surreal part.

I am supposed to be celebrating my birthday, preparing for parties, laughing with friends. Instead, I am wearing the same sweatpants and t-shirt that I wore to my PET and CT scans yesterday, and I'm freaking out. I've been hibernatinig with the TV (and Susan) all day, trying to avoid thinking too much. Friends have sent notes, flowers, and chocolates; Sarah brought lunch.

But it's surreal. I think that I'm reliving my first diagnosis. I can taste the fear - still cold, still metallic. I can start to plan how the next few months will go. Will I be bald at Christmas, or am I just being overly dramatic?

I have lots of questions for my new surgeon tomorrow. Are the nodes in a chain? How big are they?

Tomorrow, aside from the appointment with the surgeon, I will attempt to have a good day. It's Tessa's first soccer practice. My parents are taking Ryan, Tessa, and I to dinner.

Damn, this sucks.

Prayers, Please

Well, my fears are through the roof right now and I'm asking for your thoughts, prayers, white light, karma, love - whatever you have to offer.

Today I got a call from my surgeon to tell me the results of my PET scan. Seven nodes "lit up" - in the breast area and up into my neck. This could be the result of breast cancer, lymphoma, or "nothing." I have an appointment tomorrow at 10:30am (on my 40th birthday!) with a neck surgeon as a pre-op appointment for surgery on Monday to remove node(s). The surgery will be a day-surgery, but under general anesthesia. I'll know more about that tomorrow.

Susan left work to be with me. Sarah is bringing lunch. Beth drove Tessa to school and Katie is picking her up. Heather has provided dinner. Michele has invited us to dinner. I am surrounded by blessings, and I'm grateful.

My friends, I am so, so, so scared. Thank you for your continued good thoughts.

Monday, September 14, 2009

PET scan update

Needles full of radioactive contrast, drinks full of frothy nastiness. Ativan is vying for my affection, but Heather helped to keep me sane. Together they were a good pair.

Now my head is full of fuzziness and I'm trying not to think too much about the next results. At earliest I'll hear tomorrow.

Until then...wait.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Breathe in, breathe out

When I breathe in, I breathe in peace;
When I breathe out, I breathe out love.

So goes one of my favorite UU hymns.

Today I am feeling better than I did yesterday, and that's good, because yesterday I felt horrible. I am finding this round of testing really difficult and overwhelming, but I feel like I'm coming out of that a big fog.

I am hoping that the PET is actually perfect for me. I am hoping that it doesn't show any kind of cancer symptom(s), and that I will not require further testing or surgery.

I'm trying not to think about Monday. I have to fast on Sunday, and Monday I'm only allowed water before the test. I got a prescription for anti-anxiety meds to help me through, and I have a friend to drive me.

One day at a time. Maybe by my birthday (Wednesday) the nightmare will be over and the sun will shine?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

And the answer is...

...I dunno.

They took my blood pressure at the doc - 164/94. Holy smokes. It's "situational" as usually my BP is around 112-120/70-80, but I could FEEL my blood in my veins I was so stressed out. (They were more amused than worried - at normal appts I really am fine.)

We discussed it all. In the end, one more test - a PET scan.
Hopefully it will give us a definitive answer. Wouldn't it be great if I could avoid surgery?

I am EXHAUSTED by all of this.

PET is Monday. Fasting prior to the fun.

Thanks for caring, everyone.

Trying to remain calm

Now that Tessa is (happily) at school, fear is making itself known. I took Shep for a walk this morning along Alki, and stopped mid-way to meditate along the sea wall. I'm listening to calming music. I am trying very hard to remain calm.

Because without a lot of effort, I feel like I could have a panic attack.

Several lovely and loving friends offered to come with me today to my 3:15 appointment, and at the last minute I did accept Sarah's offer because she can bring her baby with her and doesn't need to take time off work. THANK YOU Heather & Lori for also volunteering.

So I'm just going to keep distracting myself, and try not to throw up.

Please pray that I will make the right decision about surgery (or not), and that I will find peace in that decision. And whatever happens, please pray that the cancer isn't back.

I will update when I have more info.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Highs and lows

Today was Tessa's first day of first grade, and it was a smashing success. She loved just about everything about it, from the teacher to the reading nook (filled with stuffed animals) to the new principal to all of her classmates to the activities (self portraits, writers' workshop, story time). Her new teacher is known for being strict, but she is equally known for being warm and kind. This is an exactly what I think Tessa needs, and I believe she'll thrive in this environment.

Tomorrow I meet with a surgeon to discuss my swollen lymph nodes and to decide whether it is worth surgically removing them. I am hoping and praying that I walk away tomorrow with a strong sense of the right path, whether that is surgery or not. The uncertainty is torturous. So is surgery, of course, but my fear is that if I leave the nodes in then I will continue with sleeplessness and fear for months. I do not know what I "should" do and I hope that the good doctor will help me to choose the right path.

Tonight I feel sick to my stomach (literally) worrying, and sad because I am not able to just revel in the day's successes. Hopefully by tomorrow night I will feel calmer.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


At this time of year, I love the rain - the sound of it, and particularly the smell of it. It washes away the accumulated dust of summer and refreshes. It sends me back indoors to cups of steaming tea and good books and soft throw blankets and quiet music and family board games. It feels rich and lush on my skin, and on the dry grass.

But it also feels appropriately gray. I never met Lisa in person, but I am grieving.

I am struggling with my own medical situation, too. Next week I need to decide, with the help of my surgeon, whether to undergo surgery again. I am struggling with the idea that I might have cancer again. I am not sleeping well; I have a hard time falling asleep and then I wake up in the middle of the night and lie there, restless and slightly scared. My sleep is fitful. What is my life bringing me next? Am I strong enough to handle another hit? How can I protect my family from the pain that comes with such a hit? How can I stop from going insane in the process?

I am still praying that it is nothing, of course. But part of the struggle is accepting that this is my path for the rest of my life: there will be tests, and there will be fear, and there will be waiting. Never again will I be normal, never again will I be innocent. My knowledge carries a heavy

Praying that it is nothing.

And trying to live my life fully, and not just crawl into bed for the next week.

I remain very focused on my efforts to cook sustainable, local, seasonal, healthy food. We eat tomatoes with every meal right now; last night I brought bruschetta to my girls' night in potluck with friends; today, I'll make that again or maybe switch up to insalate caprese. Katie gave me more plums, and I'm in the middle of making jam - "real" jam, not the freezer variety - for the first time. (Thanks to Kathleen for giving me her canning stuff.) If it wasn't raining today I'd hoped to pick blackberries for more jam.

Yesterday Tessa and I went downtown with friends to SAM and the water taxi and the Pike Place donut shop (I didn't eat any donuts - yay me).

Today we're having some friends over for an end of summer BBQ....indoors, apparently, because of the rain.

Next week, Tessa begins school. We've got her school supplies (with horse pictures on them) and her backpack (with a horse on it) and her new clothes (mostly with horse motifs).

I'm moving my herbs out of pots and into the ground, so that they will be in the front of the house and have a chance to grow more.

It takes effort to do these fun things, or these chores, because there is a big part of me that wants to curl up in a ball and cry "I'm so scared, I'm so scared."

On Thursday I hope to have the surgery/no surgery decision. Most of all, I hope to find peace.

I'm glad there is church tomorrow.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


I have mentioned before that someone I "know" on the YSC was dying, and that I struggle with that.

Today, Lisa died.

She was a mentor, a bright light, a wise voice in the darkness. I miss her already.

Sbe shared this song as a favorite, and it speaks to how I'm feeling now.
Jane Siberry - Calling All Angels lyrics
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A man is placed upon the steps,
a baby cries
And high above him
you hear the church bells start to ring.
The heaviness, the heaviness of it settles in,
A mother starts to sing.
Then it's one foot then the other
as you step along the road
Steppin' on the road,
how much weight,
how much weight?
And it's how long
and how far and how many times,
Oh, before it's too late?
Calling all angels,
Calling all angels.
Walk me through this one,
don't leave me alone.
Calling all angels,
Calling all angels.
We're trying,
we're hoping,
but we're not sure how...
Oh and every day you gaze upon the sunset
With such love and intensity.
Why it's almost as if, if you could only crack the code
You'd finally understand what this all means.
Oh but if you could, do you think you would
Have traded all the pain and suffering?
Oh, but then you would've missed the beauty of the light upon this earth
And the sweetness of the leaving.
Calling all angels,
Calling all angels!
Walk me through this one,
don't leave me alone
Calling all angels,
calling all angels,
We're trying, we're hoping
but we're not sure...
Calling all angels (call all angels)
Calling all angels (call all angels)
Walk me through this one
Don't leave me alone.
Calling all angels,
Calling all angels
We're trying,
we're hoping,
we're hurting,
we're loving
We're crying,
we're calling,
But we're not sure how this goes."

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

SIGG bottles and BPA

Check this out:

I chose SIGG bottles specifically because I did not believe that they had BPA (a chemical used in some plastic bottles, and can linings, which is a known carcinogen found in high concentration in breast cancer tumors, among other things). Well, this month it has come to light that until August 2008, SIGG liners did indeed contain trace amounts of BPA. Since that time, they have changed, and newer SIGG bottles do not have BPA.

I am pleased that the company has corrected their policy, and that they are offering free bottles as replacements to existing customers. I'm gathering up my bottles and sending them in, and encourage you to do the same. Their website has shipping labels and information about returns, including how to tell if your bottle is the old style with BPA or the new, BPA style. (Hint: if you have a bronze interior on your bottle, it's the old style; if it's a matte finish yellow interior, it's the new style. But check out their website to learn more.)

I'm disappointed that it took a year for SIGG to advertise this information; I have used my Buddha bottle for well over a year, and I probably drank on average two full containers from it each day as my primary source for water. I'd given SIGG bottles as gifts, too, and I've talked up the company on here on my blog as a green alternative to plastic or one use bottles. Still, I am glad that the information is public now, and that the company is willing to take a loss to do what is right to correct the situation by replacing older bottles. The cost of shipping the bottles back is well worth it to me.

Since I left my Buddha bottle at the zoo last week, I need to get it back before I send mine in. I'll update on my response from SIGG after I've sent mine in and (hopefully) received replacements.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Catching up

I haven't been online as much lately - not really sure why, just not in the mood.

We had a fabulous time at Cannon Beach. Sand castles, coffee, kites, run on the beach (me), bike rides (Ryan), and just those simple pleasures. We love the Surf Sand hotel that we go to.

And, treat of treats - we got to see the Shogrens! We ran into our old friends, and had some wonderful time together.

Now we're home, and doing small things...a BBQ with neighbors (fun), church (nice to be back), Farmer's Market, little house projects. We're eating a lot from our garden - today we harvested a nice basket of pears, and every day we're harvesting tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes by the hundreds. (Matt's Wild Cherry is VERY prolific, for those who want to know.) Tonight I made pasta (fresh from the market) with zuchinni and crookneck (from Sarah's garden and ours, respectively), tomatoes (garden), basil (market), chantrelles (market), goat and parmesan cheese (TJs) with just a little garlilc, salt, and olive oil. Okay, a dab of butter too, I'll confess. Anyway, it was delicious, and tasted so amazingly fresh - not surprising, given that most of it had been picked that day.

On a more substantive note...
I am still struggling with medical issues. I spoke to my oncologist about my recent test results, and she told me (as I thought) that an FNA (fine needle aspiration) biopsy is not 100% definitive. My lymph nodes are still large, and we don't know why. I am not happy about the wait and see process if there might be cancer growing inside me - either lymphoma or breast cancer could do this. I have an appointment on September 10 to meet with my breast surgeon to discuss options. If she thinks it is advisable to wait, I will wait. If she thinks that I should have surgery to have the entire nodes (one at my sternum, resting on my lung, in the center of my chest; the other two deep in my armpit) removed/biopsied, I will do that. It would be a serious surgery, more scarring, more recovery. It goes without saying, I hope, that I dread the idea, and that I don't want to go under the knife again. Still, I will go with her recommendation because my onc and I are both on the fence about whether it's a good idea.

What a roller coaster. It makes my back tight just thinking about it.

Still, we are enjoying summer's lazy days. Yesterday Katie delivered a basket of plums, and I made two plum cakes for a BBQ, and gave her a basket of tomatoes in return. There is much to be grateful for.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Off to Portland/Cannon Beach

We leave today for vacation - have a good week, everyone.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In the minority

The bag fee did not pass:

I'm disappointed. I am sure we have not heard the end of it, though, and I hope that one day we look back at this and say "things were sure different back then."

Some say that instead of having a twenty cent tax, we should just ban plastic bags. I'm okay with that, actually.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Never ending appointments

This morning I went back to Swedish for my Zometa infusion. I have had a lot of hand holding this week; this time it was Sarah with baby Leif. (My gratitude to my friends...I am so blessed.)

Two tries for the IV, and the appointment lasted two and a half hours, but otherwise uneventful. Now I get to wait and see if I get "flu like symptoms" in the next day as a side effect like last time.

Sometime this week I need a chest x-ray just to confirm what is going on with my lymph nodes. My CBC (bloodwork) came back a-okay, but nobody knows why my nodes are so very large.

I don't feel elated about my good news because it seems like it's uncertain. "Probably" no big deal. I just keep that I will start to feel much better when all these tests are fully behind me....just the x-ray left.

And now: back to chores, and a rather recalcitrant, sassy six year old. Please, where is my dear sweet Tessa? She is in major disequilibrium right now and I'm trying not to engage in power struggles....but we are struggling. Deep breaths....

Friday, August 14, 2009


Is it this week? Is it spending two hours waiting for my appointment at Swedish today? Is it yet another blood draw? Am I still just coming down from the stress of the biopsy?

Whatever it is, I am so very tired. To the point of not being able to cope. Off to bed!

Some observations about the bag tax

Seattle needs to decide whether to accept a twenty cent bag tax.

Some observations:
- When I was in Italy for three months in 1994, I went grocery shopping my first week. The clerks looked at me, confused - where was my bag? How did I expect to bring home my purchases? In Sienna, you bring your own bag. No questions, just everybody does it. People in Sienna are rich and poor, young and old, and somehow, they all do this.

- Most stores sell reusable bags for one or two dollars, or even give them away for promotions. The reusable bags are not expensive, and what's more, most people have a dozen reusable bags or totes that they could use already, without buying more. Most people I know also have a stash of paper and plastic bags from previous shopping trips that could last them months.

- The plastics industry has spent over a million dollars to try to fight this legislation. It could have provided a million reusable bags instead for the same cost.

- When asked, many Seattleites oppose the bag tax, feeling annoyed by yet another expenditure. But those same Seattleites point out that if they were charged for bags, they'd be more likely to bring their own bags.

- The poor are not likely to suffer from this legislation, despite what the anti-reusable-bag folks have said. Poor people are not stupid, and they are perfectly capable of bringing their own reusable bags with them, and they will. Food banks will hand out food in reusable bags, and people will donate reusable bags to the food banks. (I have a half dozen of them in my attic waiting to be delivered.)

- Approximately 30% of customers are bringing their own bags already. I think that this is up about 30% from five years ago. People CAN change, and though people resist change, it isn't that painful. 30% have already figured that out.

- I decided a year or two ago not to bring any more one use bags into my house. In that time, I think I've brought in five (because I forgot my bag, or my items didn't fit into my bag). I used to bring home 1-2 bags a day on average, so by that calculation I've saved probably 600 bags in a very short amount of time.

- The way that I remembered my bags was by promising myself that I would not shop without them. If I'm in the grocery lineup and remember that I forgot them in the car, I exit the line (taking care not to make people wait for me) if necessary, I park my cart somewhere, tell a clerk I'll be right back, and run to my car to retrieve the bags. This is annoying, and so after doing that perhaps three times, I don't forget my bags any more. If I can learn, you can too.

- I carry a bag in my purse. When buying Tessa a few school clothes items at Old Navy last week, I said "I have my own bag" and put the clothes in that bag. Invariably, I get the same comments from the clerk each time. No, not "why on earth did you bring a bag?" but "oh that's such a cute bag - what a good idea!" I love my purse bag because it has a darling style, it's very strong (I've hauled milk, canned goods, etc in it before with no problem), and best of all it folds up really small so that it fits in my purse and I simply always have it with me. I use it, refold it, and back into my purse it goes, alongside my wallet and keys.

In my opinion, if the bag tax passes, the best thing that could happen is that no money would be made on the bag tax. If everyone brought their own bags, nobody would have to spend extra money at all, and the environment would be a winner. And "the environment" is you and I: the air we breathe, the water

we drink. We all win.

Think about it, please.

And in case you've missed it other times, the bag I love is called Envirosax. They come out with new patterns each season. I have two of them, and one is coming up on two years old, I think, and none-the-worse-for-wear. I use one of them almost daily. (I only have two because I am a bag lady who loves a pretty bag!)
They are available widely; PCC stocks them, and so do some of the cute shops in The Junction.

Ryan has a Chico bag, which is a lot more masculine (it's plain), but the same idea and a little less expensive:
We got his at Thriftway.

I'm not in the bag business, so I'm not invested in anybody buying bags. You can use the freebie given to you at your last conference, or you can reuse the plastic bags in your cupboard, or you can stick things in your purse (purses are really large these days!), or tuck them in your diaper bag, or your computer bag, or your briefcase, or for small items, just say "I don't need a bag" and carry it out in your hand.

This isn't rocket science. And it isn't difficult, either, and once you get used to it, it becomes second nature.

Thanks for considering.

The next day

Today definitely feels like "the first day of the rest of my life." I feel like I have been given another chance - not just a second chance, but another chance - to live my life. This comes with the reminder that it is the only life I have, and that I must give it my all, offering my life the best of myself.

It means I must be true to myself.

I continue to think about what this means to me. What does my "best life" look like? What internal factors am I in control of? Where do I need to change? Where should I stay the course? I think that this is less about going a different direction in my life, and more about tweaking the details. I want to spend my time more wisely, I want to take better care of my body, I want to leave off the excuses.

In the depth of my fear, I was bargaining with God. Of course, I don't believe that God takes these kinds of bargains, but none-the-less, I was bargaining. I need to exercise more, eat more healthy food, less wine, more writing, more structure to my day. Really, I am bargaining with myself, as we all have God within us, I think. This is my life, and I must live up to it. Care of the shell of my body will pay off.

I am just so incredibly grateful to have yet another opportunity to appraise my life from a healthy vantage point. I am tired of wake-up-calls, but I will take the blessing along with the curse. I am thankful to be approaching my fortieth birthay, thankful to see Tessa enter first grade, thankful for my comfortable home, thankful for my community, thankful for my family, thankful for my friends, thankful for the black and white cat curled up at my feet and thankful for the big black dog who gazes at me so adoringly. I'm thankful for the books that are in piles all through my house, and for the many West Seattle libraries which bring even more books in. I'm thankful for garden fresh tomatoes, and for hot sunny days followed by cool damp ones.

I'm thankful for Tessa's laughter as we danced in the kitchen yesterday.

I'm thankful for my big cup of coffee this morning (thanks, Ryan).

I am so thankful for my life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What I didn't predict... how tired I would be after all this. HUGELY relieved, but exhausted.

Great news


Oh thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyou...

More info to follow, but I wanted to post this as soon as I could.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No news

I did call and pester my oncologist's office, but I don't have any news to report. Hopefully tomorrow.

And no question what I'm hoping and praying for!

Keeping busy

I doubt I will hear anything about my biopsies until tomorrow, and so we're just forging ahead with our regular plan. Today Tessa and I will hang out with my parents; unfortunately, I'm not allowed to go swimming but I'll sit poolside and watch. Anyway, I won't be near the computer but trust me, if I get an update, I'll update tonight.

Thank you so much for your messages and continued prayers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Home from biopsy

It's been a rough afternoon. My appointment was at 1pm and I got home at 5:30pm with light traffic.

The first problem was that they needed some special solution to put the biopsy samples in to test for lymphoma, and they didn't have any at the nuclear medicine place. I sat around in a stupid gown for an hour and a half before I got started.

WHAT???? Lymphoma?

They took six needle aspirations from 2 different locations on my right (untreated) side: one not far from the center of my chest, and the other under my armpit. They dug around for a full hour plus, no joking, under guidance of ultrasound.

She kept saying "It could just be inflammatory." I kept repeating, "You mean an inflammation, right? Not inflammatory breast cancer?" and she was like, "ummm, yah." Sigh. It could be metastases. It could be lymphoma. Or it could be "just an inflammation."

Biopsy results in 24 to 48 hours. In the meantime, I'm poked full of holes, and I have ice packs wedged into my little A-cup bra.

It's been a rough day. Thank you for your continued prayers.

Salmon fillets in red wine

Mark Bittman and Deborah Madison are my chosen muses (great food, but not fussy; check out their cookbooks), and today's dish comes from Bittman, because I had some salmon fillets in the freezer and Madison is vegetarian. We've got some garden tomatoes to serve on the side, and I've been debating whether insalate caprese would be too much with this dish (salmon is pretty rich, after all).

Next I'll delve into Madison's book to figure out a vegetarian meal for Thursday. Tomorrow we're eating with my parents, so I'll bring some kind of side dish that I haven't figured out yet.

My appointment is in five hours. Instead of obsessing over that, I've decided to obsess over food.

Edited to add: Thursday's plan: Summer Squash, Herb and Rice Gratin with home made tomato sauce. (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Page 286) I was thinking that maybe my family would tolerate the Cauliflower Gratin with Tomatoes and Feta but since I don't have cauliflower right now and squash is in season (yellow crookneck growing in our garden) I'll hold off.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Food thoughts

Since watching Julie & Julia this weekend I have really had food on the brain.

Of course, it is better to think about food than needle biopsies, which is what I'm trying so desperately to avoid thinking about.

But back to the food....

I don't think I have any desire to become a Julie/Julia style cook. I think that there were 100 pounds of butter in the film, and while I do enjoy butter, I don't think of it as my best friend. A little here, a little there - yes. A pound per plate? No thank you. And I do enjoy cooking, but not for hours at a time every single day.

But maybe I can challenge myself in some other way. What if I simply challenged myself to make a home cooked meal, with no processed ingredients, every night for a month? I cook frequently, but I'm not deluding myself into believing that I've ever gone thirty straight days with all home cooked food. We get take-out, or go out, or do store bought ravioli or something.

Tonight, for example, I didn't feel like cooking. But alas, there is the money issue (still haven't found it growing on trees), and in addition, I had some boneless skinless chicken thighs that needed cooking. I rummaged through the fridge and pantry and found the usual suspects: rice,onion, carrot, potato, spinach, garlic, fresh tomatoes from the garden. I decided that this was the basis for a curry....and I used the bottled Trader Joe's curry sauce. Ironically, we're about to sit down to dinner, and I regret my decision to fake it part way through. I make a good curry, and this one is comparably a bit bland. I chopped all the veggies (including finely chopping a couple good handfuls of spinach - shhh, don't tell my family, they won't think they're eating greens), sauteed the onion and garlic, chopped the chicken and seasoned it with a bit of salt, and added that to the onion. I poured the sauce on top, and added chopped carrot and potato, and simmered until they were nearly soft. Then I added the chopped spinach, which sort of absorbs into the sauce. At the very end I'll add some fresh chopped tomatoes. It would have been nearly as easy to measure my own curry spices, maybe some tomato sauce, some coconut milk. Ah well, live and learn.

But I'm inspired to go on some kind of foodie adventure of my own, for its own sake...not for the blogging of it, but because it might be a good lifestyle experiment. And maybe blogging would keep me on track.

I think the rice is ready - dinnertime!

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Yesterday, Susan and I spent a girls' day downtown. We breakfasted, we saw Julie & Julia (thumbs' up), we shopped. Mostly, though, we just talked, the way we always do. It was just what I needed. (I bought myself a trench coat, too - finally - and the bit of retail therapy helped as well.)

I am recovering from Friday's bad news. I am more hopeful now than I was when I got that horrid phone call, and I'm certainly more composed. Don't get me wrong, I'm still freaked out, but not in the way I was on Friday.

Today we'll have a nice family day, then celebrate a good friend's birthday. I'm distracting myself from the freak out that this has become, and I'm moderately successful.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I got a new attitude

(Sing along with me.)

Getting ready to spend the day with Susan.

Embracing my life.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Hard questions

Tonight Tessa asked a lot of question.

Why weren't the pictures the doctor took good enough?
What is wrong with your breasts?
Why are you scared?
...and the hard one:
Do you have cancer again?

I tried my best to explain it in optimistic terms. Tessa said, "Maybe there is a bone that the pictures can see." Something like that, honey.

Sigh. Six year olds should NOT have to worry about cancer. I am so sad that she has so much life experience that these questions arise for her.

I promised that I would not lie to her, that if I had to do chemo again I would tell her so that it wouldn't be a surprise, and so she didn't need to worry. I said we'd celebrate next week when we got good results, but that I was nervous until then.

I hate cancer.

Working it through

Today I've been a wreck.

I was completely caught off guard by the results of the MRI. Completely. I was so worried that there was a leak, but I really hadn't spent too much time thinking about cancer.

I've cried a lot, because I'm thinking of it now.

But I also talked to my oncology nurse, who helped to talk me off the ceiling. (Love you, Betsy.) She told me that the radiologist who called me is known for freaking people out unnecessarily. She told me that it is highly unlikely that I would have a recurrence in nodes on the opposite side. A lump, nodes closer to the cancer side, bones or liver....but unlikely in the nodes.

Okay, it's a start. And with all the loving things people have said to me today, it was the one that got me to catch my breath.

I'd like a second chance. Or a fifth, or a five-hundredth, or whatever this is. I want to live my life fully, passionately, with purpose and meaning. I want to be focused on what is true, and important, and real. I want to be the best mom possible to Tessa, the best wife possible to Ryan, and a true friend. I want to touch the world, to be a part of its vibrancy, to help heal what needs healing.

I want a lot. I am prepared to give, too, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to take all that the world has to give, too.

I've said it before: I believe that there are only two kinds of prayers in the world: please and thank you. I'm saying the first with my whole body today, and will continue to do so until I get results. I really, really hope that I get a chance to say a long version of the second prayer next week.

My intense gratitude to those who have reached out to me today. Your love is a prayer, too, so maybe that's a third kind of prayer.

Thoughts and prayers, please

I had my MRI yesterday, and today I got a call.

There are suspicious lymph nodes on the right (untreated) side. It is either "an inflammatory response" (nothing), or cancer.

I'm terrified.

I have a follow up appointment on Tuesday for an ultrasound and possible biopsy.

Please hold me in your thoughts that I can keep it together until Tuesday, and that this will be nothing.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The waiting game

My MRI is done, and thanks in great part to Heather's hand-holding (metaphorically), I survived it. I tried to sing "All Will Be Well" inside my head to calm myself, and I thought about Tessa's comment"This is a heaven day!" last weekend when we were camping, hanging out at our campsite with a cheeky raven, holding hands and jumping into the lake with Ryan and Tessa, Shep's glee on our hike. The machine whirred and clicked and beeped and made grinding sounds, all rhythmically, and it was deafening. I had a horrible hot flash in the last few minutes and I was gritting my teeth to get through it...and at last I was done. I was told I was inside the tube for 19 minutes. That was a LONG 19 minutes.

Then Heather and I went to lunch, and even did a bit of shopping, before coming home and picking up Tessa.

Now....I wait. Dr. Rinn is out of the office this week, so I will likely get results next week.

Thank you for your continued prayers. This annual "scanxiety" really is tough, and I'm particularly concerned that I will require surgery to fix a leak this year, as my left breast has changed so much. I'll know next week, one way or the other.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Xrays and MRIs

Today I took Tessa to the pediatrician. She's had "green spit" (aka phlegm - ewwww, sorry) for a while and has a hard time getting up in the mornings, and this reminds me of myself as a kid...with sinus infections. We told the doc, and she had an exam, and the exam didn't turn up much. However, the pediatrician listened to me, and suggested an Xray. Yes, Tessa has a sinus infection. She's on antibiotics now.

And tomorrow I go to my annual MRI. And I am DREADING it it. I hate, hate, hate that claustrophobic, loud machine. I hate that it takes so long (usually a half hour) and that the whole time I have to lay so still and think about how they're looking for cancer. This time, they're also looking for implant left (treated) side looks "weird" and I'm suspicious. It brings back pretty bad memories to be in that tube, too.

So tonight I'm moping and feeling heavy and sad.

Fortunately, tomorrow night it will be done. I'm praying for 'boring' results. I don't want any excitement.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The beginning of the week is a fresh start

Our family had a great time camping in the North Cascades. It was hot -in the 90s - after all, but we cooled off by jumping in the lake, and by hiking through shady forest along the river. We were entertained by a very vocal raven who hung out at our campsite. We went to ranger talks in the evenings. We drank the usual gallons of coffee, and unusual quantities of marshmallows.

On Friday night there were more stars in the sky than seems possible.

We were hot and sweaty and dirty and covered in mosquito bites....but that is not how we felt. We enjoyed togetherness, reading by the fire, walking along gorgeous trails, looking up butterflies and snakes and wildflowers in my field guide.

We held hands and counted to three and then jumped into the lake together, shrieking from the cold, then warming ourselves in the sun.

And now we're home and the week begins. Ryan is off to work, Tessa is still snoozing, and I've been busy. Bread is baking, there is home made granola in the oven (and the whole house smells of cinnamon as a result), the laundry is running (again...or is it still?). I'm trying to get my act together because I've been feeling really scattered lately, not myself. I have been feeling disorganized and sort of struggling...I don't know how to describe it. I've been having great times with Tessa, enjoying the summer, but I also feel snappish.

So now I'm trying to work on some self-care. Unfortunately, this involves some Lexapro, but also some writing, some down time, some exercise, some girlfriend time, more time in nature (been getting plenty of that lately). I'm trying to tidy our home because tidy home = tidy mind for me; I relax better in an organized space where I feel Zen instead of feeling the weight of undone chores.

I have vowed to get up earlier, so that I get some down time before Tessa gets up, so that I start the day ahead instead of behind. I'm listening to CDs, writing this, and drinking coffee, and it's a good start.

Today Tessa and I will walk to Lincoln Park to begin her swimming lessons, and Anna will come over for a playdate. I plan to do some gardening this morning, get my body moving and feel the sun on my skin. I'm hoping that by creating accomplishments, my day will feel 'right' instead of 'off'. I have a good life, and I know that. I'm used to feeling like PollyAnna, and so I hope that my mind can return to that state soon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Record highs

Today Seattle hit an all time record high temp of 103. The sign in the Junction read 105 at one point, and the car said it was even hotter. In the sun at the back of the house, our thermometer read 108; in the shade at the front of the house it "only" read 102. However you measure it, it was HOT.

We spent the morning and early afternoon with friends at their home, and the girls enjoyed backyard pool time. This afternoon, we drove to Ikea for some air conditioning! The kids played in the kids area and had a blast. We even ate there, then came home to ice cream at Husky Deli.

Now I'm in our hot house and melting.

Tomorrow we leave for the North Cascades National Park to camp. It will be 15 degrees cooler there - hurrahhhhh!

Not our house

Not our house, but one a dozen houses away from us on our street:

A neighbor's house burned today, and apparently the smoke was visible from downtown Seattle. For those who were worried, yes it is close by, but no, it wasn't us.

Prayers for those who just lost their homes. My parents are still dealing with their home, and it will be a long time still before their house is rebuilt after their June fire, so I feel particular empathy for the victims of this fire.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Home from camping

12 adults
10 kids
2 dogs
1 lake
6 campsites
2 nights
80-90 degrees

Tessa got more freedom than she's ever experienced in her life, and loved every bit. Home now, tired and dirty but glad we did the trip.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hot fun in the summertime

Another day with a six year old. Actually, two six year olds, as Jessie joined us. Katie dropped us off at Constellation Park for some quality time with sea creatures at low tide, and then when we were done with that we walked over to the sandy section of Alki. We picnicked, and then Tessa and Jessie went swimming and caught jellyfish in their buckets. We ran into friends, and a good time was had by all. In the heat it was a bit much, so when we got too hot we caught the water taxi shuttle bus back to the Junction, picked up some bread for dinner at Bakery Nouveau, and came home for a glass of lemonade.

These are the days that we live for. I am grateful. I'll do chores this afternoon, and make dinner for a friend (condolences to Randal, whose mom passed away this week- their family is in my thoughts) and walk it over.

Quiet days, yet filled with adventure. I do love it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Weekend pictures

We stumbled into a parade, walked through the market and SAM, enjoyed getting to know Brett and visiting with Juliann, and then an afternoon with the Nolan-Vinci family. (Love the picture of the three girls climbing on Ryan, who was a willing beast...lots of laughter.)

Pony Camp

Pictures of pony camp. My little horsey girl came home very, very happy and filled with stories. She was able to trot "out of the saddle," and she got to muck out a field (which, for some reason that only she understands, was just what she wanted to do. She rode a pony named Chunky Monkey the first day - named for his love of all things edible. However, Chunky got in the way of a Belgian Draft Horse (a giant of an animal) when the Belgian was trying to eat, and Chunky got a swift kick, so he was out of commission for the rest of the week. After that, Tessa got to ride Romeo, who won 2nd in the national pony contest in 2007, and though Tessa had already fallen in love with Chunky, she took great pride in "her" prize-winning-pony.
Tessa had a fantastic time with Grammy and Grandpa, and got to see cousins Caleb & Josh, and go swimming, and generally get spoiled. (I believe that she had a cheeseburger EVERY day, something that Grammy & Grandpa were happy to spoil her with.)
But as much as she misses all those ponies, and swimming, and the rest....I am glad to have my daughter home.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I will update about pony camp. I will update about our visitors, Juliann & Brett.

But right now all I can say is, we're HOT! In Woodinville my car said 102 degrees today when I picked up Tessa from pony camp. It was "only" in the 90s in West Seattle, but we're all roasting.

And happy birthday to my cousin Barbara, who hits the big 40 today. I love you, Barb!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Trash to treasures

A few weeks ago, I was at a friend's house, and when I came outside there was a desk on the curb. We checked with the neighbor and yes, she was giving it away.

Her trash is my treasure! It's a solid maple piece, and I knew it would be perfect for Tessa. While Tessa has been gone at horse camp this week, I sanded and painted it, and it's almost ready. (Almost because it doesn't have drawer pulls yet; I'm replacing the 1960s/1970s hardware that it came with. I found horse drawer pulls and they're on order!) We had an old pine chair that cleaned up nicely with a coat of white paint, and voila, Tessa has a place to do homework and art projects in her own space.

I hope that Tessa is excited when she sees it in her room, all set up and ready to go. She's coming home tomorrow and I'll be glad to see her - of course we miss her.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Warming up

Tessa is at pony camp. I've done chores - including getting a tire fixed (slow leak), investigating cell phones, dishes, laundry, bills, mail, painting Tessa's new desk. The dog has been walked. I've drunk my gallon of coffee.

So now I sit at the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, up on the 9th floor where I am surrounded by diamond shaped panels of glass ceiling, and the light is natural. I have my laptop (obviously), my commuter mug, my pencil case, my post-its, my open documents for updating.

Now, there is nothing to do but to do it. How many complete resident biographies can I finish today? Time will tell!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Surgery thoughts

I opened the door to considering surgical options a couple of weeks ago.

For a while, I was peering in at the door marked "New Orleans." The NOLA doctors are the best in the country, and they do special cases. I could do a DIEP (move belly tissue to create a breast, replacing what I've got) and get rid of the implant. I've been mulling this over for a while.

I think I'm closing that door. (I'm not certain, but it's where I'm at right now.) I just don't want to subject my body to that much again. I could deal with the short term (2 months) problems of travel and surgery and recovery, but it's the longer term issues that concern me. It's a long surgery, meaning a lot of anesthesia. It's a huge incision and some smaller ones (always a risk of infection). And my body has not behaved they way I'd hoped in other surgeries, so I have no expectation that it would do so this time. It's too much risk.

So I think I will call my PS, the one who did corrections previously, and I will go with the minimum. I will accept my flaws and problems as long as I do not have an implant leak, and do nothing.

I'm still peering into the door marked "minor corrections". I don't know quite what I think of that. I'm going back and forth between "do nothing" and "minor corrections" right now. I am grateful to have time to decide, on my own schedule.

Mama Instinct

Yesterday I brought Tessa to horse camp.

It was dirty, disorganized.

I had a bad feeling in my stomach.

I drove away thinking, "How could I leave my daughter with these people?"

I drove straight to another horse camp, checked it out, and found it vastly different: clean, organized, with safety talks and lots of helpers. I signed her up, turned around, and withdrew her from the first camp.

The first camp is not very happy with me, and is refusing my refund. (I got them to agree to a 50% refund, which does not satisfy me.) I will work with them and my bank at getting the bulk of my money back, but I know this: I did the right thing. Tessa's safety is paramount. I don't often get warning signals from my instincts, but this time I knew I couldn't relax until she was picked up. The second camp gave me a totally different feeling, and I am glad she's there.

Parenting is tough stuff. Definitely not for sissies.

Little decisions

I am attempting to live my life mindfully, and part of that is being green. Sometimes I find it quite simple - being mindful about bringing my own bag to the store, or refilling my own water bottle, has become second nature.

Ryan's new company requires him to have a Blackberry phone, and pays his phone expenses, so he is no longer on our family plan. Our two year contract is up, so I went to Costco to figure out what new kind of phone to get. In short, I have two choices: a fancy phone with internet options, or a simpler phone that just, um, makes phone calls. I looked at all kinds of pretty phones in a range of colors, with slide out keyboards and touch screens and MP3 players and nice cameras; I discussed the number of minutes available to me, and "data" add ons.

New, cool features are fun. Undeniably. Very seductive, as a matter of fact. My dad had come with me, and he said, "How much of your life do you want to spend looking at that screen?" It was a mindful comment. I know that if I had a fancy phone, I'd spend a lot more time looking at it. It would be easy to scroll Facebook on the playground; it would be easy to read the NYT at the park. I could be on email all the time.

And so I have decided to stay in an early-century model of the phone. As a stay-at-home-mom, I don't need those features for my job (and when I write, I have my computer), and I have enough time to check email at home without bringing it with me. I don't need to spend the extra money on data connections. And I don't want to spend more time on my phone, I wish to spend LESS time. I've actually considered not upgrading my phone at all - my current phone works just fine -but it looks like someone pilfered the car charger out of our car and it's a free accessory with a new phone upgrade whereas I'd have to buy one for the old phone. Too bad, because keeping it would be very green.

After all that looking and admiring, I think I'll be cutting the number of minutes that I'm using, too.

A million decisions to be mindful. I'm working on it, anyway.

Edited to add: I went back, asked more questions, and found out that I could upgrade my phone at a different time, and don't have to do it concurrently to renewing my contract. I decided to keep my old phone, charge it at home and not in the car, and REDUCE my minutes (and my bill). Then I came home and saw the note in my comments making a suggestion to keep the phone. :-) I thought I had to do it all at once or miss the opportunity for the free phone, but that is not the case. If this one dies, I can go in to have them upgrade it for free...but until then, I'll keep using mine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Working Girl

Today I will take Tessa to pony camp (11-3), and I will become a working writer once again. Tonight she is spending the night with my parents, and Ryan is on a business trip, so I will be solo at home with the dog and cat.

Alone in my house overnight? Wow!

I will work on the book and drink gallons of coffee, switching to tea at noon.

Ahhhhh. This actually sounds very peaceful to me.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jungle garden

I continue to garden, although it seems that my garden could use some TLC to remove some weeds, and it's not orderly....but it is growing strong. Sunflowers are planted amidst the tomatoes, and the peas fell off the trellis because of their weight, and the strawberries have taken over their own section.....and it's great! We have lettuce every night, we have a big crop of fava beans to pick, and we have tomatoes galore but they're still green.

More help from Mary Oliver

A friend's mom is in hospice, and the social workers have told the family that, if they're ready, it would be helpful to release "mom" and tell her that it's okay to go; her time in this world is short.

Is any family ever ready for that news?

I am holding my friends close in my heart, and hoping that they will have strength and comfort in this difficult time.

Mary Oliver always helps, don't you think?

When Death Comes

When death comeslike the hungry bear in autumnwhen death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;when death comeslike the measle-pox;

when death comeslike an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everythingas a brotherhood and a sisterhood,and I look upon time as no more than an idea,and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouthtending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and somethingprecious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my lifeI was a bride married to amazement.I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonderif I have made of my life something particular, and real.I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Ahhhh to be alive is lovely.

Today Elena is over and Tessa and Elena and I caught the bus downtown and met up with Michele and her sweet boys, and all of us saw an African dance skit (with drumming) called Kaleta, and then we walked a few blocks and saw another City Hall concert. The City Hall has a stage and chairs set up, but off to the side they also have a little fountain/wading pool area that the kids splashed around in, and there was a credit union handing out free beach balls to play with. The girls danced, the children splashed, the music played, and it was....lovely.

PB&J tastes much better in the sun, accompanied by friends and laughter and music.

We're home now, and Tessa and Elena have been playing in the wading pool, being total goofballs. (The pool is six years old now and still holding strong...Tessa can't lay flat in it any more but they use it for games and goofiness and just run in and out to stay cool. If they think it's's fun!)

Sarah & Leif came over for lemonade and conversation. Shep licked Leif, and Leif laughed, so Sarah and I laughed. A lot of laughter.

Next week Tessa will stay with my parents while she attends Pony Camp, and I will work like a maniac on the Hunts Point book. I will probably go downtown to work, because I get the most done at the library. (Ironic that I'd spend so much time there, but whatever works!)

Tonight Ryan's hanging with Paul, and Tessa and I will walk into the Junction to run errands like buying Mo a new collar.

It is a simple life. It is my life. I love the simple joys, and I am grateful for today. I will not take the sunshine for granted; I will not take any of it for granted today.

This is my best attempt at living mindfully, living in the present. I am not an enlightened being - if only! - but in these small moments I am certain that I can see something of the divine.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Hair pictures

On the YSC boards, we got to talking about hair. (Find a bunch of bald women, and you will find a discussion about hair.) I don't have many pictures of myself, and I should take a pic from the back to show how long it is, but here are some pics that show just how long 4 years worth of hair is.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Poem of the Day

The Ponds
Mary Oliver

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them -

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided -
and that one wears an orange blight -
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away -
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled -
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing -
that the light is everything - that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

More height restrictions

Tessa knew that she needed to be certain heights to go on Disney rides. Well.... looks like she can go on almost everything now.
If she gets one inch taller, she can go on rides that make me sick just thinking about them. :-)

If only we had the winning Lotto ticket! :-)

Booster seats

I was getting behind in my safety knowledge (who, ME?!) and decided to look up booster seat info. Here is what I found:
It says:

Recent research suggests that boosters with a back
are more protective than those without a back, particularly in side impacts.

...but goes on to say:
Backless boosters are lightweight and inexpensive, so they are a reasonable choice for carpooling, play dates, and public
distribution programs. A backless booster should not be used unless the child is able to sit upright throughout the trip and
the child’s head is supported by the vehicle seatback.

I remember the seatbelt rubbing my neck when I was a kid, so I would tuck the shoulder strap behind; I also remember removing the shoulder strap so that I could lay down to sleep in the back seat (with the lap belt around me). I guess Tessa's booster seat "wings" will keep her upright, because now I know better.

Tessa is 47 inches and 44 pounds, so I thought maybe it was time to let her go "backless" but reading this convinces me otherwise. I will waiver to allow for backless on playdates (especially with three in a row, it's hard to fit three booster seats in the back of a car) but we will keep the back on in our car for a long time.

Boosters are required to age 8 or 4'9" - see the Washington State law here:

I'm only posting this info because I had to seek it for myself, so thought that someone else might be looking for that info and benefit from it as well.

Edited to add:
Booster seats protect against serious injury 3 ½ times better than seat belts. Booster seats protect against head injury 4 times better than seat belts.


After my last surgery (well, before) I said, "Never again."

Never say never.

I am seriously considering yet another surgery. My PS always intended to go back, to remove the scar tissues from previous surgical "mistakes" and tighten this and remove that misshapen bit and resculpt here and there and oh, yes, maybe even give me nipples. I said, "No." I simply walked away.

Well, six months after my last surgery, I am very carefully reconsidering.

My right breast is relatively okay. It's the right shape, covered in horrid scars, but okay. It is enough.

My left breast continues to change, and it is not okay. The breast has indents that push like spokes in a wheel, so that one quadrant is deeply rippled from the center outward. It is misshapen. The thin skin is visibly wrong; I can manipulate the implant, feel edges.

I am considering major revisions. I could leave the right alone, maybe do a DIEP on the left. That would replace the radiated tissue with (healthy) belly tissue, and perhaps I could remove the implant on that side, using my own tissue instead. Such a surgery is basically a tummy tuck....but more painful, involving muscle.

How much more of this can I stand? How many more surgeries should I do? When is enough enough?

I have not made any decisions. I'm exploring options, opening doors that I thought I'd closed. This is a decision that only I can make. The YSC girls are strongly encouraging me to fix it, to make it right. Would doing so symbolically help me?

My poor, tender, bruised body. What else will I ask of it?

I don't know.