When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Joey was almost four, and Danny was 18 months old. Now Joey is eight, and Danny is almost six. And I’m still alive. How’s that for hope?
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Joey was almost four, and Danny was 18 months old. Now Joey is eight, and Danny is almost six. And I’m still alive. How’s that for hope?
Every time I look down into my kitchen sink, I see this breast cancer strainer drain. A mommy friend gave it to me, way back when I was knee deep in chemotherapy, not a hair on my head. This momma was one of many who dropped by meals for me and my boys, and along with the food she delivered on her assigned night, she brought me this.
If you’re looking for a simple, yet meaningful and not-so-expensive gift for someone touched by breast cancer, this just might fit the bill. Click right here to purchase your very own.
If fighting breast cancer is on your mind, you’ve got to go see my friend Stacy and her fabulous “Fight Pink” site. Here it is — take a look and you’ll find that it’s filled with all sorts of good information and inspiration.
Want to know about the seven deadly health sins women make. Stacy’s got the dirt. Motivated by survivor stories. Check out this library of leading ladies. Need some scoop on breast cancer events and campaigns? Here you go.
Get ready. Get set. Now fight.
I admit it, I’m concerned about my weight. Not worried about it, just concerned about in a way that makes me work at keeping it right where it is. But I don’t exercise and eat right (yesterday doesn’t count) for weight reasons alone. I also do it for my overall health, which really is a bigger concern for me than the numbers that stare up at me from my scale each day.
A healthy lifestyle as it relates to cancer prevention gets a lot of press. It’s pretty much a fact nowadays that by eating certain foods, ditching all the junk and working up a good sweat most days of the week, we can ward off all sorts of disease. Simple stuff. Also pretty high pressure.
Now that I’ve had cancer, I know that the way I live my life can quite possibly keep me from getting it again. So I do my best. But when I cheat and eat that plate of chicken nachos or skip a day (or week or month) on the workout circuit, I feel guilty, as if I’m rejecting the medicine that can keep me well. It’s a weird mix of motivation and burden. Knowing I have the key to a long, healthy life makes me want to eat veggies for all of time. But knowing I have the key to a long, healthy life makes me feel like I’m doing myself a major disservice when I steal fries of my kids’ dinner plates.
I know, I’m human, and I can’t be perfect all that time. Still, it weighs on my mind. Which is why today, I walked for 3.5 miles, and tomorrow, I plan to lift a few weights. A fruit salad is on the menu for breakfast this morning, and I’m recommitting to a ban on most packaged foods. It’s the least I can do to ensure I’m here for the long haul.
Those of you who stop by regularly know that this blog is not all about breast cancer. It’s a lot about kids too. My kids. Those two little boys who simultaneously fill me with love and joy and render me a wacked-out mommy most days of the week. My emotional roller coaster aside, I love writing about my beautiful monsters. I hope you like reading about them.
Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading about kids in general too, because I’ve landed a another writing gig, and I’d love for you to join me on this new ride. PlanetKid is where you’ll find me.
PlanetKid is a Drop-In, Flexible Child Care Center in Melbourne, Florida and also home to a very snazzy Child Care Blog. And that’s where I’ll be, blogging all about kids, for the parents and caregivers who love them. You’ll find me talking sleep, shoe-tying, books, sunscreen, giveaways and more. Every day, Monday through Friday, I’ll give you one post. Come by and take a read, share with others and leave me your comments too. It will be a nice break for all of us. You know, to forget the breast cancer for a while and re-focus on the little people of the world. That’s what I’m going to do. Hope you will too.
Stress can make you sick. Cancer sick, I don’t know. But I suspect lingering stress can cause disease. Which is exactly why I don’t want it bottling up in my body. It has been, though, and I must find a way to release it. Because I want absolutely no part of sick.
Way back during my chemo days, I saw a counselor in the Psych Clinic in Shands Hospital. ‘Psych Clinic’ sounds so, um, mental, doesn’t it? Not sure I like that. But stress is mental. It weighs on the mind and travels through the body and if you’re like me, makes you a little bit crazy and a whole lot frazzled. It happens to me when my plate is too full. Like now. There are kid demands. And work demands. And guys who have been working in my house for nearly a week, installing granite countertops, jack hammering tile off my floors, replacing it with pretty hard wood and stirring it up all sorts of dust. There’s anxiety about how often and how much I exercise, pressure to volunteer at the school carnival, a pending trip to see snow and I think you get my point. Stress.
I’m trying to calm down, breathe deeply and employ the strategies my counselor Lindsay taught me all those years ago. One of my favorites, which I’ve been forgetting lately, is asking myself this question: What’s the worst thing that can happen? What’s the worst thing that can happen because dust covers my furniture? Well, it needs cleaning, that’s all. The worst thing that can happen if I don’t exercise today? I guess I burn a few less calories. I don’t volunteer for the carnival? The committee must find someone else. The point is, if it’s not a life or death scenario, well, then, it’s really not worth the stress. I need to remember that. And if I can’t, I can at least remember 8-year-old Joey’s words of wisdom: It could always be worse. Because, you know, it could be.
The following article was previously published in Gainesville Parenting Magazine.
Danny wants to be a dog walker when he grows up. He’s had a bit of practice walking his Nana’s dogs and is pretty sure this career path suits him well. If it doesn’t pan out, he has another option.
“When I grow up, I want to be a football guy,” 5-year-old Danny told his daddy the other day. If he ever asks me for guidance, I’ll push him in the doggie direction. It may not be as glamorous a job as football, but it’s got to be easier on the body. Should Danny opt for football, though, and end up needing medical attention, his brother Joey can respond.
Joey wants to be a doctor. He sprang his decision on me one day while we were walking through the parking deck at North Florida Regional Medical Center. We happened to be on the level where doctors park their cars, and we were admiring all the fancy vehicles when it clicked for 7-year-old Joey: If doctors have nice cars and nice cars cost lots of money, then doctors must be rich. On the spot, he named his future profession. He will be a doctor—or a “blogger.”
“I don’t want a job,” Joey declared recently while strolling around the yard. “I want to be a blogger, like mommy.”
I guess blogging—and all the other writing I do—doesn’t seem like much of a job to a kid who just knows his mom is with him all the time. That’s precisely why it’s such an ideal endeavor for me. I get to stay home with my kiddos, write when they are in school, and then seem completely unemployed when they return home. Still, I have a job. Joey will realize this some day, when he figures out the ways of the world. For now, I’ll let him bask in the simplicity of life, until his lease on this gift runs out.
There’s something so innocent and basic about how children approach life, something that makes it easy to dream of walking dogs and fixing bodies one minute and playing football and blogging the next. Wouldn’t it be grand if adult minds could arrive, if only for a moment, at the very place where kids imaginations run wild—the place where everything seems to make perfect sense.
After Joey announced his plans to become a doctor and just before a school drop-off one morning, I noticed a slick, sporty little car driving next to our worn and tattered mini-van.
“Look at that nice car,” I commented to my boys. Looking in the direction of the woman driving this cool ride, Joey said with absolute certainty: “She’s a doctor.”
Yep, life is simple for little ones. And how fun it is to be the mom of two of the greatest dreamers around—and to have a job that allows me the time to marvel at the wonder of my glorious guys.
There you are, plugging along with your day, happy as can be and fully expecting that nothing can disrupt your groove. All the while, something deadly is growing inside your breast and even though you do your self-exams, perhaps even get mammograms, you have no idea it’s there. But it is. And it continues to grow, sometimes for as long as eight to 10 years before it can be detected. And then the day arrives when it appears, maybe underneath your fingertips in the shower, maybe in a annual exam, maybe in the form of dimpling skin or nipples that suddenly invert, maybe after your infant refuses to breastfeed because it becomes apparent that something is wrong. But there it is. The tumor. The mass. The cancer. And it wrecks the day. Totally and completely wrecks the day. To be honest, cancer wrecks many days. But the first cancer day really sucks.
My friend’s sister-in-law just had her first cancer day. And so I wrote her an e-mail and said this:
Breast cancer is both a horrible and wonderful disease. It might be hard to believe the wonderful part at this moment and I can tell you for sure that in my early days with the disease, there was absolutely no bright side. Now, however, I have this head full of hair I like better than ever, I have a writing career that was born from cancer, I have a deeper love and appreciation for my family and friends, I worry and stress less (well, sometimes) and I have met some of the most glorious survivors who assure me I am not alone.
It’s my somewhat standard message to those new to the disease. And I mean every word of it. Cancer can be horrible, especially on that first day. But the days do get better. They can even return to happy. And then you get back to plugging along, happy as can be. Am I fully expecting nothing can disrupt my groove? No, not anymore. I am prepared for the ball to drop at any moment. I don’t think it will. But I’m ready.
I keep thinking about this one-day-at-a-time thing. It’s a good concept. Not so easy for those of us in the Type A camp, those who like to control the world and everything in it. But definitely a solid approach for living peacefully and without much stress.
I’ve been trying to take it one day at a time ever since breast cancer threatened to take my days away. It became clear to me right after that dreaded “you have cancer” phone call in November 2004 that cancer was pretty much in charge and my only job was to push back. There was a lot of pushing, so one day was really all I could manage. It wasn’t very effective to fret about what ifs when each individual day was overwhelmed with its own set of issues.
One day at a time worked for me when cancer was all-consuming. Now: Not so much. I’ve got stuff to do, you see. And I simply must think of all the days that follow. I’ve got stories to write, schedules to manage, lunches to pack. I’ve got to keep up with little boy homework, tests and projects. I need to plot my workouts and plan dinners and fit requests of others into my weeks and months. I can’t take one day at a time. If I do, nothing will ever happen. What I can do, though, is not stress about what’s coming down the pike. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I still plan, schedule and manage. But I try to give serious thought only to the events of a 24 hour time frame. If I have a worrisome doctor appointment tomorrow, for example, I’ll note it on my calendar but reserve all serious thought (read: stress) until its own allotted day.
I cannot entirely take one day at at time. But I can compartmentalize my brain in such a way that only one day consumes me at time. Well, I can try to compartmentailze, anyway. That’s my plan, anyway. Gosh, I love plans.
And because first borns get all the attention, I simply must honor my second born.
2. WERE YOU MARRIED AT THE TIME? Yes.
3. WHAT WERE YOUR REACTIONS? Mostly joy. But I felt a bit sorry for Joey for the transition he would have to make. Then a friend told me the best gift I could give Joey is a sibling, and I felt better.
4. WAS ABORTION AN OPTION FOR YOU? No.
5. HOW OLD WERE YOU? 33, almost 34.
6. HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE PREGNANT? Home pregnancy test.
7. WHO DID YOU TELL FIRST? Husband John.
8. DID YOU WANT TO FIND OUT THE SEX? No. The first baby was surprise, and I loved the suspense.
9. DUE DATE? 5.26.03
10. DID YOU HAVE MORNING SICKNESS? Not really.
11. WHAT DID YOU CRAVE? I can’t remember.
12. WHO/WHAT IRRITATED YOU THE MOST? My weight, for the second time.
13. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CHILD’S SEX? Male.
14. DID YOU WISH YOU HAD THE OPPOSITE SEX OF WHAT YOU WERE GETTING? Nope.
15. HOW MANY POUNDS DID YOU GAIN? 42
16. DID YOU HAVE A BABY SHOWER? No.
17. WAS IT A SURPRISE OR DID YOU KNOW? N/A
18.DID YOU HAVE ANY COMPLICATIONS DURING YOUR PREGNANCY? No. Just a repeat of the first delivery — a big baby who had a hard time emerging.
19. WHERE DID YOU GIVE BIRTH? North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville, FL
20. HOW MANY HOURS WERE YOU IN LABOR? About 15.
21. WHO DROVE YOU TO THE HOSPITAL? Husband John. Mom showed up later. Mother-in-law stayed with big brother Joey.
23. WAS IT NATURAL OR C-SECTION? Natural, with epidural.
24. DID YOU TAKE MEDICINE TO EASE THE PAIN? Yes.
25. HOW MUCH DID YOUR CHILD WEIGH? 10 pounds, 2 ounces
26. WHEN WAS YOUR CHILD ACTUALLY BORN? 5.30.03
27. WHAT DID YOU NAME YOUR CHILD? Daniel John Donaldson. We call him Danny.
28. HOW OLD IS YOUR FIRST BORN TODAY? 5
We’ve been seeing a lot of movies here lately. There’s Bedtime Stories. And that Despereaux one. And Paul Bart: Mall Cop. Just recently, we saw Hotel for Dogs. My favorite is Bedtime Stories. My boys are all about the dogs.
The other day while driving home from the Regal cinemas, I told Joey and Danny that I hope we can still see movies together when they are grown up and living on their own. “Can I still visit when I don’t live with you anymore?” asked Joey. “Of course you can,” I told him. “I’d be sad if you didn’t.” And then he started dreaming of his life away from home.
“I’ve been thinking,” 8-year-old Joey said, “that when I grow up, I’d like to live on a boat. A boat like Forrest Gump had. A shrimp boat. I’ll catch fish too and sell them.” I asked 5-year-old Danny where he wants to live. “In your neighborhood,” he told me.
“Actually, I might have a condo,” Joey shared. “I’ll dock my boat and still live in it, but I’ll go to the condo for food. Do you want to come stay with me, Danny?”
“I definitely want to have kids,” Danny responded.
“You might not want to live near mom,” suggested Joey. “Pick a place where you can have fun. Like you can go on the boat, swim and fish.”
And then the focus shifted to video games. We were almost home, after all, and my Wii-fiends began plotting their next activity. Mario Kart is a favorite. Danny always chooses to steer a car. Joey: A motorcycle. If only there were a boat.
1) I have two beautiful boys who made big entrances into the world: One was 10 pounds, 9 ounces and the other was 10 pounds, 2 ounces. No C-sections. Just lots of drugs, lots of a pushing, a vacuum and two whopper episiotomies.
2) My big boys left me with big tummy skin. Five years after the second baby arrived, I had a tummy tuck. I must say it was one of the best moves I’ve ever made. Something about sitting down and not having a roll of skin flop over the top of my pants is quite liberating.
3) My biggest boy (Joey, he’s 8 years old) won’t stop growing. The kid wears my same shoe size, is something like four feet nine and weighs well into the 80s. His doc thinks he may be six feet six when he “grows up.”
4) A tummy tuck is not the only surgery I’ve had. Before kids, I had a breast reduction and lost 4 pounds of dense, heavy tissue. I went from a 34 DDD to a 34 C. Another great move.
5) My reduction may have saved my life, because 8 years later, a cancerous tumor showed up in my left breast. Had all that tissue not been removed, the mass could have been buried deep inside, detectable perhaps only at a late stage.
6) My breast cancer was caught early (I found it while taking a shower). It was stage I, with no spread to lymph nodes. Still, it was aggressive and so my treatment was quite harsh.
7) Being bald was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to endure.
8) I am a licensed cosmetologist. Thought I didn’t want to go to college, so I did a vocational program in high school. Then realized I did want to go to college and spent the next seven years there.
9) I got my undergrad degree from Kent State University and my grad degree from the University of Florida.
10) I was born in Ohio and lived the majority of my years there. Yet Florida seems more like home, maybe because my mom and sister live here.
11) Someone I know thinks my mom, sister and I look exactly alike. I guess that means I look 62 or my mom looks like she’s in her 30s. I’m going with the latter.
12) For 30-some years, my sister and I were never told we looked alike. Then my hair grew back brown instead of the blonde it had always been, and it’s like we’re twins or something.
13) I have very poor vision. What someone with perfect eyesight can see from 400 feet, I can only see from 20 feet. I hid my glasses in my bedroom closet for the whole year I was in first grade. Wonder if that made things worse.
14) It took me 37 years to learn how to eat well. I figure a healthy lifestyle is my key to surviving cancer so no red meat, alcohol or sweets for me. I only drink water (although not enough, I’m pretty sure) and try to consume lots of fruits and veggies. I watch calories and fat but sometimes go overboard on the bad carbs. I just can’t resist restaurant bread.
15) I’ve been known to exercise obsessively (to maintain my weight and stay healthy too) but am sad to report that I’m just not feeling the motivation lately. Burnout, maybe.
16) I’m a neat freak but not a clean freak. I don’t clean once a week or anything, just when I notice the dust piling up. But everything must be in place at all times.
17) I traveled to Europe just after graduating from high school and for the whole month I was away, I wanted to be home. I never want to go back.
18) I hate to travel. I hate packing, driving or flying long distances, living out of suitcases. I was miserable on a flight to Hawaii many years ago, and while traveling from Ohio to Florida as a kid, I could will myself to sleep for almost the entire drive.
19) My boys have never seen snow but can’t wait to see it. And I can’t imagine ever getting them to a snowy location, because it will require travel.
20) My boys want a baby sister. I don’t want another baby.
21) I miss my grandma, who died three weeks after my second guy was born.
22) I love candles and silence.
23) I love when my boys are really happy. My heart breaks when they are really sad.
24) I have been married for 13 years. John remembers exactly what I was wearing the day we met. I remember that he complimented me on my cute toes.
25) I’ve worked at a hair salon, a yogurt + tanning salon, as an RA at Kent State and a judicial officer at UF, as a college administrator, a preschool assistant teacher and as a server of booze at Blossom Music Center in Ohio. My favorite jobs, though, without question: Mommy and writer.
My friend Carmen just had surgery yesterday.
A double mastectomy for her second fight with breast cancer.
Here’s hoping it’s her last.
I must admit it’s tough for me to write this post, to share with you passages from a woman’s very personal diary, a young woman who had breast cancer, fought it and then passed away. It’s tough because it makes me sad that Laura, a young wife and mom to little girl Charlotte, had to die. It’s tough because Laura had the same disease I had, and that makes me consider my own mortality (again). I also feel guilty, in a weird sort of way, that I’m living and she isn’t.
It’s all so unfair, the way breast cancer swoops in, takes over and does what it wants. There’s no changing it at this moment in time, I know, but I like to think that awareness is a pretty powerful tool for clobbering the disease. Because if we know about breast cancer, how to help prevent it, how to empower those who have it and how to honor those whose lives are lost along the way, we can surely make strides. And this is why I pay tribute to Laura today.
What follows are a few excerpts from Laura’s journal, each one included in the book “My Life with Laura: A Love Story,” written by Laura’s Husband, Chad Moutray. If you like what you read and want more, please order your own book right here.
And so we begin.
In May 2006, after experiencing breast-feeding difficulties, Laura was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in her left breast and surrounding lymph nodes. She went through the “ringer,” she wrote, thought she was in the clear and then the disease can back.
June 8, 2006
I started chemotherapy today. More on that later, but for now, I feel seasick, mild headache between eyebrows, a little warm. Drinking lots of water and staying still. Numbness coating legs, feet, knees so a little wobbly. Loud noises are a little startling. Foggy brain.
Late June/Early July 2006
I have breast cancer, And now everyone else knows it, too, because my hair fell out and I have to wear scarves. But it’s okay because I’m getting better.
After a trip to the emergency room, a four-day stay in the hospital for low white blood cell counts, viral and bacterial infections and surgeries, Laura wrote:
I am learning to find a deeper peace with God.
Chad writes that things go well for a bit. Laura feels better, they don’t need to rely on volunteers as much and Laura does a little potty-training with Charlotte. Chad and Laura are optimistic. So are doctors. Then things go downhill. Laura experiences severe pain, suspicious spots are found on her hip and Laura has back surgery to fix a fractured vertebra. Her disease had progressed.
After contemplating the real possibility that she might die from her cancer, Laura wrote a letter to her husband, Chad. A few of the sentences she wrote:
I’d like to be creamated because it takes up less space, is cleaner, and quick/easy/cheaper.
If you want to remarry (which is fine, you deserve it), find someone who wants to be a good mother to Charlotte. Maybe someone who could give her some brothers and sisters.
Please let her be in contact with my family, even if it’s only once a year at the holidays if you choose to move away. They love her, and I want her to really know and love them, too.
On November 13, 2007, Laura passed away. But her legacy lives on in My Life With Laura: A Love Story, a book dedicated to little Charlotte, so she will forever know her mother.
John and Joey went to the Gator basketball game last night. And ran into Tim Tebow. You know, that quarterback guy who had a thing or two to do with the Gator Championship win on Thursday night. Well, they got a chance to meet him, shake his hand and pose for a photo. John says Joey was like a deer caught in the headlights and reports that he, himself, was reduced to stumbling for words upon meeting this football superstar, who, by the way, announced today that he will be back for another year of Florida football. You can bet John and Joey will be in the stands, cheering him on.
Chemo was bad. The next worst thing about breast cancer, though, was this nasty allergic reaction I had to the tape/latex used during my surgery to remove the tumor that threatened my life. What started as a few red bumps grew into quite a mess of blistery yuck. It burned and itched, made my skin crawl and sent me nearly over the edge. My surgeon (and a dermatologist he pulled into the case) had never before seen anything like it, and they hadn’t a clue what to do about it. They gave me Xanax to get me through.
The reaction happened again, in response to an antibiotic I received while hospitalized for low blood counts. And now, it’s happened again.
Tegaderm tape could be the trigger of this allergy. Well, either that or latex. So I always list both as allergies when asked by medical professionals. I’m sure it’s on my chart at the dermatologist office, but somehow I was sent home after my skin cancer surgery on Monday with bandages containing, oops, latex (there they are, pictured above, apparently “ouchless”). Sure enough, I slapped them on my arm, covered my stitches and then 12 hours later discovered the mistake I’d made. A mess of blistery yuck. It burns and itches, makes my skin crawl and is sending me nearly over the edge.
Double check. That’s what I’ve got to do from now on. No more assuming that someone else is going to look out for my best interests, that someone else is going to actually read my patient paperwork for a listing of my allergies. Nope. It’s all on me. Well, all over me, right now. Which is proof that no one can take better of me than me.
You’ve got to stop back on January 14 for a my post about the book “My Life with Laura: A Love Story.” If you want to check out the book before I write all about it, click here. Be sure to come back, though, and learn all about Laura, a young women who survived breast cancer for a short time and now watches over her husband and little girl Charlotte from up above.
I know, it’s gross. Or maybe you don’t think it’s gross, I don’t know. Regardless, I publish this picture as a simple reminder that careless sun bathing during teenage and young adult years can cause this to happen to you, like it did me. Heck, reckless sun-seeking behavior during childhood and old age can do it too. And it doesn’t need to be sun bathing. Running outdoors, walking your dog outdoors, tossing a football outdoors (hey, that reminds me: Go Gators!), anything that keeps you in the scorching rays without sunscreen or other cover-up gear for more than, say, 15 minutes is downright dangerous. Go ahead and enjoy your 15 unprotected minutes each day (this is your best bet for soaking up a good dose of vitamin D), but otherwise, be warned, my friends. Or you could look like this.
I like to find the silver lining in all things, if I can. Take my eyes, for example. My vision is utterly horrible, aways has been, ever since something like the first grade. For a long time, my eyesight got worse and worse, which means my glasses got thicker and thicker, which means I normally wear contacts all. the. time. Because my glasses never look trendy or even remotely stylish. They just look thick. The silver lining: My eye doctor recently told me about this new type of glass and all these techniques available for making it look less like a Coke bottle. So I got new glasses. In a pretty navy frame. Just picked them up today. And here they are.
My new glasses are not totally free of thickness. The thick is still there, it’s just not as bad as it could be. Makes sense. My vision is 20/400, after all, which, if you’re not clear on the meaning of this, translates as follows: What a person with perfect vision can see from 400 feet, I can’t see until I’m 20 feet away. I’m something like technically blind, except I can see figures and shadows. Hold up some fingers, though, and unless I’m wearing contacts or my sporty new specs, I’ll have no idea how many are standing tall. A guess is all I can make.
I’m guessing right now that I’m going to like wearing my new glasses for more than getting to and from the bathroom at night. Not just because I think they rock. But because my 5-year-old Danny has told me several times since I put them on, “You look so cute.” I don’t care that 8-year-old Joey said, “They make your eyeballs look really small.” I’m sticking with Danny. He delivered just the silver lining I was looking for.