Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Who's Home? Me!

In November 2011, about a month after my surgery, I found out that my position at work was eliminated. Or rather, due to reorganization, I was eliminated from my position.  I felt like I had been hit with a ton of bricks and things really couldn't get much lower.  Brian and I spent several weekends re-evaluating our finances, exploring options and coming to the terms that I would be a stay-at-home mom.

It's not that I didn't see all the benefits of being a stay-at-home mom. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and provided an amazing upbringing to my siblings and me.  It also didn't have to do with the fact that being a stay-at-home mom is HARD (even though I was afraid!).  During my extended leave of absence, I had the chance to see how many balls needed to be juggled - schedules, meals, laundry, chores, housecleaning, sports practices, etc.  On top of that, the unending patience and love that need to be provided by being that primary support are a phenomenal feat.  My concern was that I enjoyed working.  I like being part of work teams and coaching associates and collaborating to make processes better and smarter.  I had invested a lot of years in my career and was proud of my accomplishments.  Losing my position at work was another chip away at my identity.  On top of the cancer and my mastectomy, not having my career made me start to wonder what was left.

My instructions at work were to come back from leave and find a new position.  As I finished with my radiation in January, I went back to work, full of questions and concern.  It was at that point, a project manager position was identified.  It was a new position and I was told I would have the opportunity to mold it into my own.  On top of a new challenge, it offered a lot of flexibility. I would be able to get to doctor's appointments and chemotherapy and make up the time on my own terms.  The travel that had consumed me before had all but evaporated.  A few weeks after I took my new position, I was told that I could start working from home.  That meant a printer, computer, and phone would all be supplied to me.  It meant on the days I didn't feel well, I would be able to work from my bed!  And on top of everything, it merged all of the benefits of being a stay-at-home mom with begin able to maintain my career.

Working from home has been incredible.  When I have breaks in between meetings, I am able to go into my kitchen and see Evan eating in his high chair.  When Evan is sick, I am able to squeeze in extra cuddles and kisses.  If I don't have morning or afternoon meetings, I am able to walk to the bus stop with Gavin and Cohen.  It enables me to throw dinner in the crock-pot at 11:00 and get that last minute birthday card at 3:00.  Most importantly, when I wrap up at 4:30 because all of the boys are home, I can plug back in after they are all in bed and finish my work for the day.  I have taken conference calls from the chemotherapy chair and sent many meetings notes from the waiting room.

Being at home provides unforeseen challenges though.  I feel pressure to make sure laundry is done, sheets are clean and grocery shopping is completed.  I find myself finishing up five minutes early from one conference call, sprinting upstairs to strip some sheets and flying back downstairs just in time for the next meeting to start.  Right now, my office is located on the main floor in our home.  There have been times when I have been breaking up arguments or I am spotted by Evan when he gets up from his nap and it's just easier to play with him than let him cry it out.  It can be a challenge to focus and stay innovative when there are so many competing priorities.  And even though I have a someone watching Evan in my house, somehow, he seems to sneak away and find me.  This was the view from my office just a few weeks ago.

Tongue marks and all, I couldn't help but laugh.  And I was on the phone with my boss!

I didn't realize that losing my position would turn into such a fantastic opportunity.  I don't have to worry about missing school conferences or musicals or bedtimes anymore.  I love having a career that's my own, while still contributing to the smallest moment's in my family's day.  Truly, there are silver linings around the darkest clouds.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day - The Merriest of Days

This year, I was able to celebrate my first "official" Mother's Day.  I have celebrated before as a "stepmother" but Hallmark's cards are not as warm and fuzzy for that occasion.  A year ago, I was 36 weeks pregnant, four days away from my induction and battling some tough chemotherapy.  It's hard to believe it's been a year and it's amazing to think about all of the lessons I have learned.  All of the cliches about motherhood are true - it's the hardest thing you'll ever do, it's the most rewarding thing you'll ever do...  But there are a lot of things that I didn't know, nor could I ever imagine, until I had a baby of my own.

Sacrifice?  I barely understood how to spell it, much less than define it, before Evan came along.  Certainly, I would compromise and acquiesce, but actually giving up something meaningful, if it means Evan is happier?  Absolutely.  Sleep?  Done.  Meals?  Of course.  Going to the bathroom with the door closed?  Guess so.  I re-read my posts from last year and was terrified that Evan might not know who I was, as his mommy.  I was so sick during his first few months and then there was the six-week period when I couldn't pick him up.  But all of you know-it-alls were right - of course he knows me!  He knows my voice, my touch, my smell.  So much so that I can no longer put Evan to bed at night.  He associates me with playing and taking him out of his crib (hmm...wonder why), so anytime I walk in his room, he is up with a super grin, waiting for me to get him.  He follows me everywhere I go and babbles, "Mama" all of the time.  Gavin and Cohen have been concerned lately that Evan won't know what to call me.  The two little guys have always called me, "E".  They are worried that Evan will get confused and suggested that maybe I should have Evan call me "E".  It's a funny conversation, but it warms my heart to know there is one little person in the world that will call me "Mama".  Or Mom.  Or as my brother calls my mom, "Ma Dukes" (and she hates it).  Sacrificing for our children seems to appear magically in the birthing suite.  Out comes baby, out comes all of these feelings and emotions that put our child in first place.  When Evan is sad, I am sad.  When Evan doesn't have a good day, I don't have a good day.  If Evan were to ever get sick or hurt, I would move hell and Earth to protect him and fix him.  I'm sure when he is 15, he might find this mildly irritating, but that's the burden that will come with being my life's savior :)

I have also found a lot of time in the past year to discover who I am.  I am not defined by positions at work, volunteer activities, latest athletic achievement (of which there have been very very few lately), or results on tests.  I am my own person, but I am defined by my family.  My favorite activities are snuggling in bed with Evan and Brian, watching a movie with all of the boys, going on walks with my mom or shopping with my sister. Celebrating Evan's birthday this week is going to be great, not only because I can't wait to watch Evan be so excited about gifts and cake and balloons, but because all of our family (minus Bryan and Alison) will be here to celebrate. It seems to me that women are afraid to be defined by being a mom or wife - that it will make us lose our sense of self.  I have a sense of self, but it is wrapped up in those exact roles.  And that is something I willingly want.

Other lessons?  Time.  Time in and of itself is a lesson.  I wish it to go faster - please be 8:00 so all of these crazy boys can get in bed.  And then it's 8:00 and I wonder where the day went and if I appreciated the memories.  I go through my "shoulda, woulda, coulda's".  Need to use the camera more.  Need to give more hugs.  Need to say, "I Love You" a few more times.  Should have played a little bit longer, been a bit more creative, had a few more patience.  Should have used organic vegetable, should have made them eat vegetables.  Shouldn't have made them eat so many vegetables they now hate vegetables.  I spend so much time wondering how I can better utilize my time that I should actually just DO what I'm thinking about!

Of course, every parent finds themselves saying things to their children that their parents said.  Always the things that we swore we would never say.  And I have some pretty amazing parents.  I wonder how Evan sees me through his eyes.  I want him to be happy and always know joy and know that he is so very loved and cherished.  Will it be this easy to convey these feelings when he is bringing frogs inside the house, after playing in the woods?  Or when he has his drivers license and leaves the house driving for the first time?  Or he gets involved with a snarly girlfriend and of course, I can see that, and why can't he? My lesson learned is that as much as I give hugs and kisses, there can always be more.  I can find room for one more compliment, snuggle and kiss.

So on my first "official" Mother's Day, I am most thankful I have someone to call me "Mom".  Even on my sleepless nights that end up with my buddy and me together in the bathroom, after we dine on a meal of macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Have Faith?

I've weathered my most recent storm, though I still have waves of emotion that hit at unexpected times.  On May 1, I started my Tamoxifen.  It wasn't without a few tears though.  Many of you sent me beautiful notes and kind thoughts that really helped me get through - experiences of others, words of love, encouraging stories about all different kinds of families.  I don't know what my family will look like, but I do know that I took my first dose of Tamoxifen and Brian sat on our bed with me and let me cry.  Then he rubbed my feet.  It didn't take away the sting of medicine, but it made it a little easier to swallow (pun intended :))

It's times like these that I look deep inside myself and at my faith.  While I want to say, "My faith is strong and will see me through" it's hard to always be optimistic and encouraging.

I was raised in the Catholic Church.  I made my First Communion, Confirmation, and attended church on Sundays.  My mom sent me to Vacation Bible School and I was Meghan and Bryan's sponsor as they made their confirmations.  I had a rosary and said prayers to help me fall asleep at night.  When I was in high school in Canada, my favorite class was Religion.  I loved learning about the history, the lessons and the background that made me who I was. I remember the first story that moved me to tears at church - the prodigal son - and I was only in elementary school. 

But then, I went away to college and I stopped going to church on Sunday.  I occasionally would go for significant events or Reconciliation but overall, it wasn't on my list of things to do.  It was during this same period of time that the child-abuse sex-scandals in the Catholic church came to fruition.  I followed the news stories and was horrified at the cover up, the extent and the ignorance that took place. I started questioning my faith and all that I believed in. This, combined with my laisezz-faire college attitude, was the perfect combination for letting my obligations go.

It's been a long road since then and I still haven't quite found my way.  When I was diagnosed, I immediately started going back to church.  Not because I was praying for a miracle, but because I felt lost and truly wanted some guidance.  But then I had Evan and felt so sick and it was just one more thing that was easy to get away from.  I haven't questioned why this is happening to me but it is easy to question "how" it happened to me.  It is easy to question what is the purpose of this happening.  It makes me question what the role of "faith" is in seeing me through this journey.

I find it challenging to incorporate the science of medicine and the healing powers of faith at the same time.  I know they exist but haven't made sense of how they exist together.  I have faith that I have the strength to get through this.  I have faith that my family will be okay.  But I don't understand how side effects of chemotherapy or the loss of my hair or a withering ejection fraction interject with my faith.

Evan was baptized last August, when he was three months old.  This was a very important milestone for us to make together - I wanted him to be a part of the same Catholic community that I was a part of growing up, but that I find myself struggling to integrate with as an adult. I have attended different churches trying to find where I can fit in but feel the same sense of overwhelming displacement that I feel when I am at the Cancer Center.  Where are the people like me?  Who else is struggling with this aspect of their life?  Who can I relate to?

Certainly, I do believe that relationships take nurturing and work.  Brian and I see, everyday, how important is it to spend time working on our relationship, even when the days go fast and get away from us.  Yet, my relationship with God, and the strengthening of my faith seem to be the relationship that I let go by the wayside.  It makes me feel guilty and it makes me feel badly for not putting in the same quality and effort that I do to other things.  Yet, I find myself unable to do this because I don't truly understand it.  I don't blame God for my trials and challenges.  We all have them and we all find different ways to cope.  But how do some people know to thank, cry and pray to God for strength and salvation, when others like me, question how this plays a role in the everyday practicality I live in?

It continues to be a balancing act and something I will continue working towards. I want to teach Evan to have faith, believe in God and know there is something bigger and more powerful than ourselves to help in all times - good and bad.  And I also want to explain how tough things happen and how our faith can help us through.  Tonight, when I say my prayers, I am going to try to stop asking for understanding of my role of faith in my life and instead, start asking to strengthen this role in my life.  Someone said to me, "I'm not sure how [cancer patients] cope without faith".  Maybe my journey would make a little more sense if I strengthened this relationship the way I do others.