Friday, November 25, 2011

Day 24 and 25: Thanksgiving and Gift-Giving

Day 24: We had the most wonderful Thanksgiving at our house.  Brian and I were happy to host my parents, Meghan, Brian's parents, Tricia, Jim and their three kids.  It was our first true festivity in our new home.  The food was wonderful, the Christmas decorations were up, the kids were celebrating and while the men watched football after dinner, the ladies sat in the kitchen and score online shopping loot.  Which brings me to....

Day 25:  I love giving gifts!  I love spending time thinking about the perfect gift for each person and putting things together.  I made my list of all the people that I get to buy for this year.  It was made even better by sitting in front of my computer, all of my coupons in tow, shopping in my pj's.  Shopping for the boys, Brian, in-laws, nieces and nephews, goddaughter, teachers and parents are all done!  I can't wait for all of the packages to arrive this week so I can get to wrapping. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22...(So I'm not super organized)

Day 17:  Spartans and Wolverines win!  Makes for a happy Brian and Erin in this house.  And poor Evan gets caught in the competitive clothing war.

Day 18:  Biggby's Grande Skinny Carmel Lattes.  Love picking one up on the way downtown to the hospital.  Makes the whole morning seem a little more relaxing.

Day 19: Wine show with hubby, sissy and friends!  Love sampling the wine and food - two of my favorite things.  Also, an excellent time to people watch and check out the eclectic crowd!

Day 20: I'm thankful I am healthy and strong enough to make it to radiation on my own.  Some people aren't as fortunate.  Also thankful for great conversations with my father-in-law - sometimes his direct messages give me the kick in the pants I need.

Day 21: Thankful we can host Thanksgiving dinner at our home.  Brian, Evan and I tackled the grocery store and can't wait to have both families over to celebrate (even though it's not the same without BK and Alison).

Day 22:  Thankful for a perfect colonscopy result!  Although I haven't eaten since Sunday, it was worth it to see there is NO cancer in my colon and in fact, it looks pretty darn healthy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 15 and 16: Inspiration and Hope

I think I have reached a place where I can be positive about my prognosis and excited about my future.  I am optimistic and know that once I am done with radiation and I wrap up a few more quick surgeries, this will all be behind me.  I truly believe that now.  It feels like the fog has been lifted and my optimism has returned!

Part of this is because I am ready to listen to the encouraging words and people around me and take inspiration in things.  I want to hear about others' battles and how they overcame.  I watched the 20/20 special on Gabrielle Giffords this week - amazing!  It touched my heart to see her say there is no anger and her focus is on being, "Strong, strong, strong".  If she can do it, then I certainly can do it.

And I have saved every e-mail and every card I have received this year.  On tough days, I read back through them and know I am thankful for all of the prayers, thoughts and love.  My friends and family have inspired me to really put this disease to rest once and for all.  I'm too tough to let it bring me down.  And I finally believe that Brian needs me here to be his wife, Gavin and Cohen need me to be their stepmom, Evan needs me as his mama, and my family and friends need me too.  But most of all, I am thankful that I have hope - and recognition that I need all of them too.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 14: Days with Evan

Even though I am off work for reasons I would rather not be, it means I get to spend my days with Evan.  Today was my first day alone with Evan in several weeks, since I was just granted permission to begin picking him up last Thursday.  It was one of my best days in a long time - he took great naps, ate all of his food and we had a lot of play time together.  We also fit in a lunch date and trips to Meijer and Forest Hills Foods.  I'm not as strong as I used to be and my iron levels are way too low, but I am healthy enough to enjoy a great day with my son.  And that gives me so much to appreciate!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 11, Day 12 and Day 13

November 11: I am so thankful for all of the Veterans out there that sacrifice so much. It's amazing to see so many that are willing to take on such meaningful work.  I watched my cousin, Tim Miller, enlist in the Marines shortly after graduating from Lawrence Tech University. We are so proud of the work he did in Afghanistan.  Both of my grandfathers were vets and it truly shaped the scope of their lives.

November 12: I am thankful for cozy weekends at home with my family and friends.  We spent time watching movies, making dinners, doing yard work and watching football.  We also had an awesome day for family pictures on Saturday - a perfect, sunny day.  Look for your Christmas card soon!

November 13: I am thankful for snuggly blankets.  I have the best blanket that I use for every chemo - and as I was there this past Friday, I had several different people comment on how much they like it.  I am also thankful for my chemo nurse, Becki.  She takes great care of me and I love having one familiar face every time I go in for treatment. 

Best snuggly blankie ever.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 9 and 10: My Doctors and Treatment Facilities

Even though Grand Rapids isn't a huge metropolitan city, there have been several investments and developments made in the medical community in the past five years.  Grand Rapids has TWO dedicated cancer centers and some of the best surgeons and plastic surgeons in the country are here.  In the past seven months, I have been treated by:

The Absolute Best OBGYN: Dr. Susan VandenBosh
My Neo-Natal OB: Dr. Russell Jelsema
My Neonatologist: Dr. Craig Kinney
My Oncologist: Dr. Amy VanderWoude
My Surgeon: Dr. Jane Pettinga
My Plastic Surgeon: Dr. Ewa Timek
My Radiation Oncologist: Dr. Brian Kastner
My Cardiologist: Dr. Craig Alguire
My GI Doctor: Dr. Heather Slay
And the urologists group that took care of my kidney stone.

At one point, six doctors on this list were in regular contact regarding my care and treatment plan.  It made it very easy to feel that I had a medical team that were familiar with my diagnosis, pregnancy and delivery and were ultimately able to help me make decisions best for our family.

In addition, if I have to spend hours at the hospital, Lemmen-Holten Cancer Pavilion is a beautiful facility located in Downtown GR, only 9 miles from our home.  The building is made out of limestone, has meditation gardens on every level, offers valet parking (which is only a requirement when I am late, which is 50% of the time) and has awesome smoothies and pretzel rolls.  Brian often is able to stop up during his lunch to see how I am doing since I am only a few blocks from the Fifth Third building.

I feel very fortunate that these amazing doctors are located so close to my home.  We certainly won't be leaving Grand Rapids anytime soon!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Day 8: My Company

Big banks have been taking a beating in the press lately and as always the media portrays a lot of things incorrectly and exaggerates negatives that don't really exist.  Between the protests on Wall Street and the supposed millions of bonuses that are being handed out, consumers aren't loving a company as large as Bank of America like they used to.
But today, I am grateful for my company and thankful for the leaders that run the organization. My job provides me the opportunity to help support my family and allow Brian and I to build our dream house.  My career provides me the ability to exercise some of my greatest strengths - investing in associates' development, creating a team atmosphere and working in collaboration to exceed goals. 
I have had some of the best leaders and peers teach me.  Laura, who I mentioned yesterday as a friend, is also my "other half" at work.  Not only did she coach and guide me when I first came in to my role, but she transitioned to my peer and allowed me to learn and flourish underneath her guidance.  Laura is a fantastic, "unofficial" mentor but has made a profound impact on my career.
Most recently, when I worked for my last manager, Stacey, did I realize what it meant to have an opportunity identified and really have someone invest in closing that gap and making it a strength.  It was a painful process but Stacey consistently worked with me so now I can say, it's a strength of mine.
Lastly, my company has afforded me incredible insurance and support during a year of need.  Since all of my life events have occurred in the same year, my teammates have been nothing but supportive and understanding.  My current team, carries my load and executes on my goals the same way they do their own.  I am so comfortable and appreciative knowing that Chad, Jill and Laura are handling my associates and guiding them to the same success I would want to.
I have never been pressured to come back to work; quite the contrary.  My current manager and manager's past have all encouraged me to take the time I need to fight my battle and get healthy. They have worked with me on my schedule, my ability to work when I can and just to get better.  So, to me, this very big corporation has a very big heart.   Out of all of the fears and worries I have had in the past seven months, health insurance and income have not been one of them.  So, I am grateful to work for a company like Bank of America.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 7: My Friends

When I was thinking about how to start this post and all of the memories I have, it made me start laughing.  Out loud.  Alone.  In a room full of people.  It's not the first time nor the last time I will be caught doing that.  Today, I am thankful for friends, both old and new....

My best friends today are the best friends I had when I was 12 and when I was 16.  My beloved Gwen, was my first close friend in Grand Blanc, and we did everything together!  We would call each other as soon as we got off the bus and say "Let's meet in the middle."  Which meant, the road in between our houses.  It was also the perfect way for me to spy on my first real crush, which lasted for years (you know who I'm talking about, Mike Agnone :)) Gwen and I posed for pictures together, at Sears, in eighth grade holding crayons and then did it again our senior year of high school with my head laying on top of her head.  We've tailgated together, gone through break ups together, cried together but laughed even more.  Gwen is my friend that traveled five hours to celebrate my 30th birthday with me at dinner and then drove four hours out of her way after my surgery in October and came in and gave me my first "butt hug" - she just hugged my butt, knowing that a regular hug is pretty hard on my chest for me.  We snuck out together in high school and still relieve our glory days of our freshman year when we thought we were so cool because we were dating juniors.  Gwen is my soul mate - we are so different in so many ways but she's that person I talk to irregularly, but everything is the exact same when I see her.

Gwen, turning 30 and fabulous with her boyfriend Alan.  Me, five months pregnant and sober.  But we loved making the trip to Chicago to celebrate Gwen!!

Then have my high school friends, Katie and Lacey.  Most people know that a "Group of 3" typically doesn't work out with women, because someone always feels left out.  But in this case, it's been the three of us so long, that we've always made it work.  We've taken many road trips together (or really, just Lacey and I traveling to wherever Katie is), singing our way up to Harbor Springs, or hiking the mountains in Colorado.  I remember we climbed on top of this giant rock and when we were done admiring the view, Katie and Lacey jumped right off.  I was way too scared to jump and just stayed up there on the top.  Katie and Lacey kept encouraging me to come down, telling me I could do it, all the while almost peeing their pants because they were laughing so hard.  When Lacey got engaged and Katie and I got the phone call, we immediately rushed over to her house to celebrate with Lacey and Ben.  When Katie got engaged, Lacey and I were texting her like crazy asking for pictures of the ring and couldn't wait to start planning her bridal shower, bachelorette party, and 30th birthday.  Whenever I've had a problem, they are the first two I call...even though Katie knows I've probably made a stop to the book-store since I'm convinced a self-help book can solve many things. On the day of my diagnosis, Katie and Lacey showed up in my house full of boxes with flowers and wine and continued to make regular appearances during my journey.  I love them like crazy and can't wait to see what our next fifteen years of friendship brings.

Celebrating Katie's wedding in September.  I wore my long hair so I could get fancy for her big day.  It is so wonderful to see both of my closest friends with their soul mates.

Katie and Lacey, coming out to run the 5K Susan G Komen race in September 2011.

Then there are the friends that I knew were my friends, but have turned into such jewels during this tough year for me.  Meghan Harsevoort, Katie's sister, is such an important person in my life.  It makes sense that if I adore Katie so much, I would love her sister equally as fast, since they are so similar!  But it was great to spend my maternity leave visiting with Meghan, watching our babies grow bigger together (Evan is 4 weeks older than Gracie) and be able to talk about the challenges of a blended family.  My other pregnant partner-in-crime, Lisa Roberts became my go-to; we would laugh and we would think, "How on earth did we get here?"  But Lisa's little Mattie is healthy and Lisa is so kind to me while always making me smile.  Plus, she made me Wife of the Year by getting the UM jersey signed by Denard.  It is hanging prominently in our "Michigan room" (yes, we have one). Then there is my dear friend Nancy, who has had such a challenging year herself but always makes a point to send me an e-mail or make an effort to get together.  When we had lunch this summer, I laughed just as hard as I used to when we shared a tiny cubicle together!  There are my old work friends, like Ismeta and Jen and Sherry and Teddi who I hear from regularly.  With my diagnosis, came the biggest smorgasbord of Bosnian food from Ismeta - making all of my favorites including her world famous bread.  Teddi organized a Relay for Life event with all Fifth Third associates and together they raised over $4000 for Team Murray.  And Sherry and Jen have been so supportive through e-mails and prayers.

Evan and Gracie, best friends.  I wish Evan would adopt Gracie's good habits.  Like sleeping.

My two favorite sisters, Katie and Meghan.  They brought over fantastic dinners and applesauce right after my surgery.

Sherry and me in 2009 at Melanie's wedding.

Ismeta, Keri's husband, Sherry, me, Brian, Jen and her husband Brent - that was a fun night!

Finally, there are my new work friends that have turned into family. My Central Michi team, although disbanded is one of the closest teams I have ever been a part of.  Stacey, Laura and Courtney are my special family and even though four women in charge can be challenging, we worked through all of our obstacles together to produce an outstanding leadership group.  I will never forget the look on Laura's face when Stacey talked about bringing her cat to Office Day.  I will also never forget the pride in Stacey's face when we finally got Laura to use foul language.  All of our meeting consisted of a "good conversation with a good deck" and a white board to keep track of our 76 ideas running at the same time.  Even the tough days could be solved with a glass of wine, "Bob skippity bo bop, I lost it" - Stacey talking to the parking attendant after Court, Stacey and I indulged in a huge Italian dinner. We learned about Coppertones, Q-tips, nicknamed Scotty-Poo and enjoyed every BC visit to Howell, which meant a trip to the outlets after work.  Then there are friends like Jill, my new teammate who is so supportive of me taking the time I need to recover even though it means she is carrying part of my workload (along with Laura and Chad).  I'm so appreciative of them picking up for me so I can truly take time to heal and work on getting Evan better.

Court, as Mrs. Peacock and Stacey and me as Mrs. White to celebrate Courtney's 30th Clue birthday party.

There are many many other friends involved and those that reach out to me.  My mom's friends alone, deserve their own day of appreciation - so that is coming soon.  But if it takes a village, my friends have certainly helped me get to this point along the way.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's November - That Means "Give Thanks"

So, I've decided to change my attitude this month, since it's all about Giving Thanks.  Or at least I have made that decision during this exact moment on this particular day (or maybe it's because of the extra hour we picked up.)  Whatever the case may be, I am going to spend each day of November thinking about what I am thankful for and take the time to appreciate what I have.  Since this lovely idea came to me six days into the month, today I am going to list six things I am grateful for - and since family is first that means I am starting out with my mom, my husband, my brother and sister (they're a team, because we are a team...a team of siblings...Go Team EMB), my precious baby and stepkids, my dado and my in-laws.  I mean really, I have a super fantastic family; all of my aunts and uncles that check up on me all of the time (even if it is to leave me voicemails about rich Chinese billionaires, Uncle Rick), send me such sweet, thoughtful presents (loving the lotion and body wash Aunt Mary and Aunt Pauline) and the gigantic carmel apple (Aunt Kathy and Uncle Doug) and the flowers (Uncle Mark and Aunt Maureen), the pizzas (Aunt Connie and Uncle Hugh), and Evan's favorite toy, his glow worm (Aunt Miriam and Uncle Joe).  Oh, and we can't forget our precious Cousin Conner who sent Evan the Miracle Suit to sleep in - he looks like a sumo wrestler. 

But let me take a moment to explain my family to you:

November 1: I am most appreciative of the most genuine, self-less, amazing woman I know, my mom.  The second she knew I needed her, she quit her job and essentially moved in.  My mom has pretty much been raising Evan since I am unable to do it and there is no one better for the job.  I know that no one can love him and kiss him and care for him the way that I can, except for my mom.  She has put her life on hold while I put my life back together and I am so grateful for her.  She never complains, never says she wishes her own time back and never lets me down.  She has watched me go through this roller coaster of a year and is always 100% supportive, even when I am pouting about not wanting to do something.  I am so thankful...and so lucky.

November 2: P.S.  These are in no particular order.  I am sitting in my bed with an empty spot next to me because Brian is out of town, but of course, I am thankful for my amazing husband.  Last night, we went out for the first time since my surgery and had so much fun together.  It's these moments when we aren't fighting cancer or managing three kids and two careers and millions of calls to insurance companies and doctors that I realize how much we are meant to be together.  He is still my amazing partner, a brillant manager and devastatingly handsome.  I am so lucky he has been by my side during this time; I have needed his directness with doctors, his shoulder to cry on and his hand during Evan's delivery, my chemo, my kidney stone, my mastectomy, my nausea, my fatigue, etc.  I have not been the best partner the past six months but Brian hasn't waivered once.  I am so happy the love of my life is by my side.

November 3: Noogs and BK.  Or Meghan and Bryan.  I couldn't have two better siblings or better godparents for Evan.  Meg is another surrogate Mom to Evan, taking care of him while I can't.  She often volunteers her time to help out with Gavin and Cohen on nights where it just gets crazy here.  I told her that I needed her help while I am recovering from surgery and she postponed her kickboxing class for eight weeks to be there for me.  Plus, she tries so hard to make me feel pretty even when I have no hair, no eyelashes, no eyebrows and the inability to work out. Meg sends me at least one card a week in the mail telling me to be strong and encouraging me to get through this.  My sister is so thoughtful.  And my brother....even though he isn't near and has a crazy busy schedule in NYC, he sends me so many texts just to see how I'm doing. He worked out his schedule to fly home for Evan's baptism and likes to check in to see how we all are doing.  And even though BK has his own health challenges, he is so complimentary to me about how I am handling mine.  I am so lucky to have such involved siblings and know that they will be just as close to Evan as I am to my aunts and uncles.

November 4: My sweet little Evy Pie and Gavin and Cohen. I didn't realize I could love someone so much as my little Evan.  Not only did he save my life - my getting pregnant helped to detect my cancer - but he showed me what it really means to unconditionally love and put someone else before myself.  He is just as sweet as can be.  His health issues, including his reflux, break my heart, because it's so hard to see him in pain.  But I am grateful that Grand Rapids has excellent medical care and we are going to get his little tummy all figured out.  And for my two stepsons, Gavin and Cohen...stepsons has such a negative connotation, but I just feel so blessed that they are such good boys and such wonderful older brothers to Evan. Gavin and I just spent time working on his student council election (he won!) and Cohen and I came up with a school-approved Halloween costume.  They are warm and gentle and lovely and I am so thankful.

November 5:  My Dado.  Never has there been someone who doesn't complain and works hard and is at his happiest when his family is around, like my Dado.  Any drive and self-motivation I have comes from him.  Only my dad can run marathons, start a new career at 56, tell his wife how beautiful she is everyday and make sure that he calls all of his kids at least once every few days.  And like his father before him, Foster, he loves when all of his family is with him (especially if that time includes happy hour).  The name was passed on to my dad and brother and we were honored to pass it along to Evan Foster.  My dad is an amazing man and I am blessed to have grown up with a such a fantastic role model.

November 6: Not only did I win the lottery of step-families, I also won the in-law lottery.  I love Brian's family.  From the beginning, they have accepted and loved me and included me in everything they do, including my quirky, non-Murray ways.  Brian's mom, Cindy, is all things gentle, sweet and compassionate.  She even lets me tell her when to stop spoiling her grandchildren (though she doesn't like it). Ed is always there for me when I'm ready to talk about things, and is even often there to talk to me even when I am not ready :) For the Murray family picture, I pulled the cancer card on Ed and begged him to take one with the entire family in December.  He finally relented.  And I adore Brian's sisters.  Tricia lives in Rochester with her family and Alison is in Colorado but I love when we are all able to get together.  It's an interesting family dynamic and I love even more when all of the Murrays get going and Jim and I can roll our eyes at each other :)   I think it's fabulous that all of the cousins get along so well - Gavin and Cohen love Laney and Kylie like their sisters...and it will be so fun to watch Evan and Jameson grow up together, being only five months apart.  So, picture soon to come, once I drag them all to the photographer in December.  At least they comply with me.

So, six down, twenty-four to go.  I have so much to be thankful for; the only way this list could get any better is if I had a scanner to include some really old pictures.  Because friends are next on my list and I would love to show you the sweet photos that Gwennie and I had taken in eighth grade, with crayons, or the pictures that Lacey, Katie and I have with gigantic sunglasses on when we were 19.  But stay tuned...