Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mothers of the World: I Salute You

I knew mom's were a tough bunch but I did NOT understand that fully until this past week.  When Evan was sick.  When I was sick.  When Brian was sick.  And apparently, someone still has to take care of the toddler.

I know, right?  Sick babies don't take care of themselves.  And more importantly, they are needy. And super whiny. And instead of baby cuddles and kisses, they don't want ANYTHING.  I provide juice - the very juice that 2 hours ago he couldn't be without - and the current state of affairs proves that WE HATE JUICE.  I provide endless hours of the Sprout channel (which honestly, only exacerbates my own illness), toast, cuddles, rocking, stories, vaporizers, and a million Kleenex. But, it's all for naught.  Evan wants up; he wants down, he wants to sleep, he can't sleep.  Who can blame him?  He can't breathe.  He isn't eating.  I feel baaaaaad....but I want him better.

And I want him better for all of the mommy reasons: I don't want to see my baby suffer and I don't want a prolonged illness to affect him in any way.  I want him healthy and back to his bouncy, babbly, baby self.

But I want him better because I'm sick.  I need to be babied.  I want to cuddle up in bed with my nasal spray, Vicks and eye mask and turn the world off. I want someone to make and serve me tea and pick up my prescriptions and get me heating pads.  I can't take care of my baby because I'm a huge baby.

So, I struggled for two days, trying to take care of my sick baby and my sick self. I was sanitizing and snuggling and washing sheets and blankies and pacifiers (try not to judge me for letting Evan still use a pacifier; he's only 18 months and we will approach that next milestone at 2 years) and making tea and singing songs.

And then I gave up.

I called in the Army.  The Nana Army.  It went something like this:

Me: "Mom, is Dad out of town this week?"
Mom: "No."
Me: "Oh.  Waaaaahhhhh".  (In Debbie Downer mode)
Mom: "Why?"
Me: "I'm just wondering...Evan's not feeling that great."

And that was that.

Nana came over to help me help Evan.  And by help, I mean DO EVERYTHING.  She took care of my crying guy, rocked him to sleep at night and wiped his runny nose.

I'm pretty sure I was able to play this card out because I caught this bug 2 weeks after my 3rd reconstructive surgery.  My doctor (and my mom) were concerned about this turning into a bigger issue since my body is still healing.  So, Nana came in, and took over.

Thank God.

Sick Evan.

But I know that a lot of women are not fortunate like I am and don't have their Mom's nearby to come in and save them.  And for that, I'm amazed.  There are no sick days for Moms.  There is no Mom pampering or doting.  You are still expected to make dinner and make arrangements for the kids and have groceries on hand.  (I did think several times, "They have to eat AGAIN?") It is TOUGH work.  And these Mama's do it everyday....just because that's what they do.  They are amazing.  I want to be like that one day.  Like my Mama.  I probably will do it when she is unavailable next time to come bail me out.

P.S. I took this picture on Night #2 of Being SOOOO sick.  Look at the Vicks under my nose.  And Brian passed out and kept putting his hand ON MY HEAD.  If I would have been a violent person had more energy, I probably would have punched him in the face.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Cancer Journey: Is there an end?

I am almost three weeks out from my third reconstructive surgery.  I had the surgery on December 20; an odd-date, right before Christmas, but I am a victim of the insurance company, (as we all are).  I wanted to get it completed in the 2012 calendar year since I already met my deductible!  On one hand, this was very smart and money-conscious.  On the other hand, what idiot with a full-time job and three kids schedules surgery over Christmas (this idiot).

The purpose of the surgery was to 1) re-do fat grafting on my left side, since the radiation has made that area continue to tighten and shrink up, 2) cut scar tissue out from underneath my left arm and 3) nipple reconstruction.

Why do I find it so uncomfortable to talk about nipple reconstruction?  Some of my new friends in my Survivor group call mastectomy boobs, "Barbie boobs".  Barbie didn't have nipples and she is supposed to be the idea of perfection.  Or mannequin boobs - also nipple-free.

I don't think I understood exactly what the nipple reconstruction would entail. I did not realize that tissue was stored during my second reconstructive surgery to use to create the nipples.  I did not realize that they are created and manipulated and come out looking GIGANTIC - seriously - standing out from your body at least 1/2 inches, because they anticipate them shrinking up to 70%.  I didn't realize you would have to "protect" them with two sets of nursing pads for several weeks and I didn't realize that I am supposed to help them "thrive", so they don't DIE!  I am breeding life on my breasts!

So this is the order of things:

October 2011 - Double mastectomy, Stage 1 of reconstruction (tissue expanders)
Remove 11 cm tumor from left side, 19 lymph nodes, 1 lymph node positive (post-chemo)

July 2012 - Removal of tissue expanders, replace with implants.  Fat grafting over implants.

December 2012 - Fat grafting over implant, removal of scar tissue, nipple reconstruction
I would like to think I am done with surgeries.  If I can keep both nipples in "survival mode", I could be there.  It's annoying to have to take care of children, the house, chores and nipples.  (I NEVER thought these things could be grouped together).

The last stage is tattooing of the nipples.  It will be my second set of tattoos, the first being my radiation tattoos.  I wish I had something more bad-ass.  "Oh, yes, I have three tattoos on my chest and am going to get two more."  Not stupid cancer-related tattoos.

I am still taking Tamoxifen everyday, which is my estrogen-blocking drug.  If you look on Wikipedia, it uses the word "antagonist" to describe Tamoxifen.  I know they are using the medical definition, but I feel this is very applicable because this drug ANTAGONIZES ME.  It's annoying and gives me all sorts of side effects, typically reserved for menopause (hot flashes, mood swings, etc).  I know I'm supposed to think it's fabulous and life-saving - and it is - but it's also an irritant.

There are many times during the day where I don't think about cancer and I don't think about its effects on my future.  But when I continue to have surgeries and check-ups and daily prescriptions, it's not as easy to tuck it away.  I try not to look "sick"and take great care in trying to get my appearance back to "normal" (actually pulling on my hair is not making it grow faster, but I'm trying Biotin and hopefully that will help).  I've heard that five-ten years after the diagnosis, it really doesn't affect your day-to-day activities but when I start thinking about the doctor saying, "Your rate of recurrence without Tamoxifen is 60%; with Tamoxifen it's probably 30-40%".  Hmm.  That seems a bit higher than normal. Especially, when you consider:

The odds of getting struck by lightening: 1 in 1,110,000.
The odds of winning an Olympic gold medal: 1 in 662,000
The odds of finding out your child is a genius: 1 in 250
The odds of a woman getting breast cancer: 1 in 8
The odds of my cancer coming back: 1 in 3 

Anyway, wish me luck on my nipple-caring process.  Hopefully, I will be able to report on the success of two new little ladies in a few weeks!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My New Hangout!

I have been working from home since January 2011.  This is an amazing opportunity and provided for a lot of flexibility while I was finishing up chemo (Jan - June) and having bunches of surgeries.  It gives me the chance to see Evan during the day and take care of the kids when they get home from school, but if I have a heavy workload, I am able to go back to it after everyone is in bed.

This was all 100% amazing, until I realized how DISTRACTING it is to work when everyone is around.  Many people think that because I'm home, I don't work all day.  I think my husband, particularly, thinks I nap and eat ice cream all day (because that is my dream job description). As my project load became heavier, the harder it became to balance the work/life dichotomy.  And Evan could see me everyday.  Which meant, sometimes, when I was on important conference calls, this would be my view:

"Hello Mama.  I see you.  And I am going to lick the door until you open it."

This process stopped being functional once Evan learned how to maneuver the door handles, which happened about two seconds after I took this picture.

This led me to ask for more privacy.  I love the benefits of working from home, but when I am at work, I need the chance to focus on my job.  And since we had one last bedroom in the basement to finish, I asked Brian to make it my office.

We cleaned everything out of the office in July and the five-month project began.  Brian framed off the closet (thinking one day, it may be a bedroom).  We had the electrician come out and put in plenty of wiring (technical speak) and even an ethernet box, so I can have my own modem and phone in my office.  The plumber came out and fitted the room, so when we are ready to put the bar in the basement, we are all set.  Brian spent many hours installing the door, window and trim work, working very hard to match everything to the rest of the house.  The painters came, the carpet came and finishing touches were made.  Then, while I was recovering from this last surgery, Brian and my Mom made several trips to a bazillion stores to get the final details (no exaggeration).

Last items to get: armchair (which is being delivered in two weeks) and a table for my printer.

A nice snuggly little corner for me to read in.
I love my OWN little space.  I've never had a space ALL TO MYSELF.  There aren't toys or computers or messes.  Everything is neat and organized and perfectly MINE!  I still have some finishing touches to make, like putting decorations on the bottom of the bookshelves and filling up pictures frames, but this is the best Christmas gift ever.  I have been able to have conference calls with ZERO interruptions (or loss of train of thought) and still sneak upstairs for a little Evy kiss when needed.

I love my beautiful office and am so grateful to have such a thoughtful and handy husband.  If I ever have to stop working from home, I am going to have high expectations that the building I move into is outfitted with Pottery Barn and Pier One furnishings.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: A Year in Review

It's that time of year (well, actually it was this past week, but I was laid up in bed from surgery) where we reflect on the activities and lessons learned from the year past.  We make resolutions; we break resolutions.  For myself, every year I resolve to do a better job of sending out birthday cards.  Friends and Family with Jan/Feb birthday - congratulations - you are always VERY LIKELY to get a card.  For anyone post-March - that is about the time my resolve withers away.

So, here is our Murray Madhouse recap.  What a year it's been:

January: Halfway through 36 radiation treatments.  Ring in the New Year in Times Square (what what!) Return back to work after a lengthy leave of absence from double mastectomy.
Ringing in 2012 in New York City
February: Brian turns 37! Radiation is done, getting treated with Herceptin every three weeks, getting back to normal.  Evan has an ear infection every two weeks.  We become great friends with our pediatrician.  Take the boys to Great Wolf Lodge for a weekend - this trip give definition to the saying, "Great intentions.  Epic failure".  Wait; I think that's my saying.
A moment of smiles at Great Wolf Lodge (one of the only smiling-moments captured).

March: Brian and I take off to Mexico!  Although we were just away in January, it's been a crazy year and we are proud of ourselves for not killing each other still being in love. We spend the days reading, walking on the beach, and enjoying our afternoon Booze Cruise (getting into the pool and floating over to the pool bar on a raft).  We hold hands the entire plane ride home and within 5 minutes of entering the house are back on a mad dash for survival.  Evan stays with Grandma and Grandpa, and of course, the weather is a balmy 75-degrees while we are gone.

A little faux-hawk time after the bath.

Cuddled up in Nana's crib for Evy.

April: Enjoy a quiet but warm spring in Michigan.  Finally feeling like I can re-join the fitness community, so I hire a personal trainer.  Am excited to get back in shape and run a race.  Mental health: check.  Physical health: MIA.  Celebrate Meggie's 28th Birthday; it's the last time I wear my wig out in public.
Wine-induced smiles.

Happy Birthday, Meggie!

May: Evan turns 1!  I feel so humbled to reach this milestone.  I was so worried about my sweet little boy while I was pregnant and going through chemo treatments, that I am just thrilled he is healthy, thriving and the light of our family.  He is funny, charming and such a flirt.  We celebrate with a small party with our family at home.
Daddy and the Birthday Boy.

Boompa, Nana and Auntie with the Birthday Boy.

Celebrating Evan's Big Day with an outside BBQ.

My 1st Birthday!

June: My last Herceptin treatment!  Fifteen months after I started chemotherapy, I am done!  Very excited to finish this portion of treatment, because it also means I can have my port removed during reconstruction.  Brian throws me a SURPRISE 31ST Birthday Party!  I am so excited to see all of my family at my party, especially because I spent my 30th birthday exhausted, getting 7 hours of chemo. Evan is walking and into EVERYTHING.
Celebrating at my 31st Birthday Party with Stacey and Courtney.

Getting my last Herceptin treatment.

My view from chemo is checking out this sexy fellow!
July: Fourth of July - my favorite holiday - spent on Lake Fenton.  Leave vacation to return to reconstructive surgery; remove tissue expanders, remove port, insert implants.  Cannot lift Evan for four weeks - it's a tough transition.  My mom dedicates all of her time to watching Evan while I recover; one week into recovery, she slips and falls in the bathroom and breaks her elbow.  2 Mommies Down.
Fourth of July on the Party Pontoon

Heavy wine, heavy cheese consumption.  This helps with surgery recovery and Nana's elbow break.

Evy camped out at Grandma Cindy's during my surgery.

Brian wins the Dickel Cup!
August: Brian and I celebrate our 2nd anniversary in Chicago.  Cubs game, deep dish pizza, shopping on Michigan Ave.  It was a great weekend to get away and enjoy time with each other.  We always have the best time together when there are no obligations/work/kids/cancer/chemo around.
My best friend.

Checking out our first Cubs game.  (boring)

An amazing dinner with a fabulous date.
September: Kids are back to school, which is amazing sad. Since I'm working from home, it's great to have them around but a bit distracting to have the three boys running all over the place. It's also the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  I had planned to run the 5k but have complications from a minor surgery I had 10 days before the race.  But I walk.  And I walk faster than I did the year before.  I am absolutely going to run in 2013!
Cohen in 1st grade.  Gavin in 4th grade.

All of my boys.

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  One of my favorite events!

My handsome little man.
October: Fall, football, apple cider, Halloween.  I start to travel a little bit more for work; I have to leave for a trip when Evan has a 104.3 degree temperature and Sixths Disease.  Mommy Guilt is the worst.  Brian and I are invited back to New York to help Nivea kick off their 2013 New Years Kiss Contest.  We head from NY to Denver, CO to visit Brian's sister, Alison.  Great time away, but anxious to be home.
Date night with Mommy and Daddy at the Children's Museum.

Sneaking cuddles from Grandma Cindy.

My little monster.

Pikes Peak, CO

A wedding in Akron, OH

Reliving our 2012 NYE Kiss in New York City.

November: Thanksgiving at our house with both families.  I'm out of town every week from work.  I'm also dealing with a lot of issues in my left arm - axillary web syndrome - which is very painful when at rest, and almost impossible to work out with.  I'm frustrated because I want to get back in shape but keep having physical setbacks.
Spend every week at the airport.

December: Shopping.  Decorating.  Baking.  Wrapping.  On top of work travel, school activities and another surgery.  Another reconstruction surgery on December 20.  It's all a bit overwhelming and I feel tired.  Ready to move on to 2013!

But I have a beautiful, healthy 19-month old.  I have the most supportive husband I could ask for.  My family moved in for a week to take care of Evan and me - and that's the best gift I could ask for.  I was able to spend time with my talented brother, Bryan.  And have some time off work to recover and rev up for next year.

A blessed Christmas at the Murray Madhouse!

Evy didn't understand why he had presents, but thoroughly enjoyed unwrapping them.

In bed recovering from surgery.  But enjoying my fancy pajama pants.
2012 was definitely better than 2011, health-wise. Instead of having a lot of diagnoses thrown at me, I was able to wrap up a lot of things - radiation ended, Herceptin ended, and hopefully surgeries have ended.  I am about to finish Year 1 on Tamoxifen and have some major decisions to make; do I stay on the drug for the prescribed 5-years or go off of it early to have another baby?  I don't feel like my family is complete but am also concerned about getting pregnant and what that estrogen will do to me.  Big things to thing about.

Also, very eager to recover from this surgery so I can get back on the road to health.  I want to run a race (25K/half-marathon).  I want to get rid of the last baby-weight turned steroid-weight turned can't-work-out weight.  I want to attack physical therapy with everything I can and get rid of my "cords".  There is no room for them in 2013.  Ain't no one got time for that (best YouTube of 2013).

Hope you had the most wonderful of New Years!  Brian has been talking about writing a guest-post on my blog, so I expect to do that soon!