Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Unexpected Gifts

Since my last post, I've been trying my best to come out of the fog that was my last chemotherapy treatment. I think in some ways, looking ahead to the holiday season, my mind, body, and spirit were just not ready for it all.  I keep reflecting back to December 28, 2013, my 40th birthday.  It was a gorgeous day and my mom hosted such a beautiful party - it was so great to see family and friends come from near and far to celebrate. I look at this picture and I think how crazy my life became just 4 months later and how quickly 2014 has gone.

We headed to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving this year and I think the change of scenery was good for all four of us.  I know it was good for me, it was my first week since April that I didn't have any medical appointments.  The road trip and time with family was a good way for me to recharge my batteries, my can-do attitude that has gotten me this far.  I do, regardless of my current circumstances, have plenty to be thankful for and staying positive, accepting help, and helping others is how I've managed to cope (hopefully, this attitude has helped others deal with me!)  I'm glad I "met" someone to remind me of that.

We went to the Carnegie Musuems of Art and Natural History.  These, along with the Carnegie Science Center are excellent museums (Pittsburgh, despite some rumors, is a great place to visit).  We focused on exhibits that the kids would like and then we stumbled into one entitled, Maggie's Centres: A Blueprint for Cancer Care

Maggie Keswick Jencks was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer and died in 1995.  Because of her experiences as a cancer patient, she was determined to help people "not lose the joy of living in the fear of dying."  Even after given only months to live, she worked tirelessly with medical professionals, architects, and designers to create a different kind of support for cancer patients.

The first Maggie Centre opened in 1996 and focused on providing those diagnosed with cancer and their families a place to receive a variety of emotional and social services.  One visitor said, "Maggie's provided me with a refuge - a sanctuary - part of the real world but somehow detached.  The world hadn't changed but cancer had totally changed who I was and I needed help to learn how to live again."  Yes. That. Exactly.

As I walked through the exhibit, I was so energized by Maggie's spirit.  I couldn't wait to get home and read more about her and the centre.  No matter who you are, where you are, you can make a difference, big or small.  I am so very grateful to know that Maggie Keswick Jencks walked this earth.

Today is #GivingTuesday.  I hope my post inspires you to further research the causes that are near and dear to your heart and that you find a way, no matter the footprint, to help those in need.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” --Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Friday, November 7, 2014

I "HEART" Student Affairs

As I was going through chemo, heading into the Halloween weekend, I thought about my large family of student affairs colleagues.  A Friday Halloween followed by a daylight savings time change is just handing college students an invitation to be creative - in good and not so good ways.  I reflected on security plans, on-call protocols, plans, e-mails, texts, and so many conversations that at their core were about keeping students safe and helping them make good decisions.  While at BU, “Make Good Choices!” was often the Friday send-off to our student employees and on Halloween Friday, I had that moment of missing students, missing colleagues, wanting to be part of those conversations.  

I recently re-joined NASPA after a one-year hiatus and joined as an Emeritus/Retired member because it was what closest matched my current situation.  How funny, I’m retired!  Yes, I’ve been looking into a little beach shack.  Around the same time I joined, I also received an e-mail about the ACPA/NASPA committee on professional competencies.  I reviewed the current competencies and thought about how I’ve applied my skills; I feel like such a competent cancer patient!

  1. Advising and Helping -- Changing roles from advisor/helper to advisee/helpee has been rough - I’m pretty sure my control issues got a wee-bit worse!  How many times did I tell a student not to hesitate to ask for help?  I got better asking for advice, but I think my wake-up call was watching us struggle as a family and knowing I can’t be my own kids' counselor.
  2. Assessment, Evaluation, and Research - Having a foundation in this area has been empowering because I can talk to my doctors and ask the important, research-driven questions...and help Steve get his scientific head wrapped around each step of the process.
  3. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion - To me, what is key here is openness.  When I was first diagnosed, I was scared and felt guilty, like I caused my cancer.  That made it harder for me to reach out for support, to learn from others who had walked this path before me.  Being closed- off like that was such a waste of time.  I expanded my reach to let others in, and the people I’ve met, stories I’ve heard, and places I’ve gone this past 6 months has taught me so much about cancer, research and fundraising, and our healthcare system, including our military’s health care.
  4. Ethical Professional Practice -  I loved working with college students for many reasons and especially enjoyed it when they challenged us to think about policies, procedures, etc.  These experiences made me a better consumer-patient; I had to quickly assess the Boston medical team and the Fredericksburg medical team and ensure I was confident in their practices.
  5. History, Philosophy, and Values - Having a passion for the student affairs profession has helped me greatly.  Channeling my desire to best understand the who, what, where, and why of my cancer has led to learning more about oncology as a profession as well as discovering interesting history related to HER2 positive breast cancer like Hollywood money is basically saving my life with Herceptin.
  6. Human and Organizational Resources - Making a connection to this competency is a stretch.  Except that my career path definitely helped me to resolve conflict with students and employees. Being a mom is tough work, being a mom with cancer has its extra challenges.  So, resolving conflict and de-escalating crisis is handled on a case-by-case basis and we know when to bring in HR (aka Granny).
  7. Law, Policy, and Governance - For me, this connects to assessment, research, and practice and I’m trying to use my investigative spirit (I believe student affairs professionals were detectives in their previous lives) to learn more about how our state and federal functions impact cancer diagnoses, research, and treatment.
  8. Leadership - I have been using a lot of cheerleading techniques to get my kids to rally around mommy’s booby problem.  Participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk was a really great way for the kids to feel like they are a part of something, that they aren’t alone.
  9. Personal Foundations - This has been key to facing cancer head-on.  Maintaining a balance as best I can and staying positive gives me the strength to fight.  Communicating each step of the process with the kids and modeling positivity will hopefully help them now and in the long term.
  10. Student Learning and Development - I miss the opportunities to employ theories and practices with college students, however, I love staying connected and hearing about what my colleagues are doing.  I continue to read journals and such because a) I never stop learning and b) I have plenty of time during chemo treatments!

What I came to realize is that so much of what being a student affairs professional is about, prepared me for walking this path with cancer.  Even better, I recognize that these are ever-evolving competencies that I can continue to develop.  I bet if you have anything going on in your life right now, you just might feel the same way too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thank you, Mums

It was a year ago today when Mums died.  I like to think that she, the irreplaceable Grammy, became our guardian angel that day.  Given all that has happened since her death, I just have to believe she's guiding us through some pretty rough, uncharted territory.

Grief is such a mysterious black box.  For me, it is like an ocean with low tides and high tides.  The bitch of it is, I don't have the timetable for when those huge waves of emotions are going to hit.  I never know when something I see, hear, or smell can trigger those emotions - the love that Mums gave me when she welcomed me into the Schaffer clan, along with the pain that comes from knowing there are no more moments to be shared.

I see a commercial for fried shrimp, a Mums favorite, I cry.  I see an old outfit she bought for the kids, I cry. Mums loved classic country music and whenever our station slips an old George Strait song in, I just start crying like a baby.  I'm sure I'm getting known as the bald, crazy lady driving and crying around Fredericksburg!

Since being diagnosed with cancer, I've often thought about Mums and how concerned (pissed off) she would have been about my health and prognosis.  I have more time (unemployed) and more things to tell her now (cancer patient), but of course, wish I would've called her more back then.  Intellectually, I can work out the guilt, but emotionally, I think that's the baggage that will stick around for awhile.

Steve would call Mums on Sundays and always said hello by saying the state or city we were in at the time (e.g., "Massachusetts calling"). It saddens me that Steve never got to say "Fredericksburg calling." In my heart, I have to believe that Mums knew we had hopes to move back down South in the future so that we could be closer to family.  Her death solidified that for us - we had to get the kids closer to one another.

The kids.  Corey, Dillon, Matthew, Logan, Jack, and Anna are the living embodiment of all that was their Grammy.  It's moments shared with them now that make us realize how truly fortunate we are and thankful that Mums got to love (spoil) her grandchildren.

They love and laugh deeply because of you, Mums.  Thank you for that.

We love and cherish you, always.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Just Like Me

Before heading to NYC for the Today Show's special program, #PinkPower, Steve and I talked to the kids to prepare them for a) my time away from home and b) the possibility that I would be on TV.  For as much as they could understand, Jack and Anna seemed equally excited for me and disappointed that they wouldn't be able to come.  I definitely owe them a train ride.

The Saturday before I departed for the show, we went to Maymont Estate in Richmond. This is a beautiful historic property on the James River with lots of trails, a nature center, and a farm.  It was hot climbing back up from the river, so I took my head-wrap off to cool down.  Jack instantly said, "Mom, put your hat back on, the kids are going to laugh at you."  It caught me off-guard and I knew I had to respond, but not chastise him.  I didn't do such a great job at that.  I sharply said to him, "Look, Jack, I'm hot, I decide what I wear, and I'm sure there is some other bald person here."

I think that was just too much emotion and information for Jack to process, so he made sure to find an alternate path to hike - preferably with his non-bald dad.  He didn't mention the hat to me again and overall, the day was quite nice, but that moment shared with Jack crystallized for me how hard it must be for a 6-year-old boy to have a hairless mom with cancer.  There is palpable anxiety when I'm at his school (we can't get out of there fast enough).  When meals get delivered to our house by a parent from his school, he's highly vigilant about who is delivering it (I wonder if that's because he will be horrified if the meal is from one of his classmates).  I know it's probably crazy to try to make my cancer an everyday, "normal" thing for the kids, but that's what I try to do, so that I can also make it "normal" for me and survive it...you know, and not totally lose it.

The exciting and nerve-wracking part about heading to the Today Show was not knowing how it would all work out.  I wanted my mom and sister to have a good experience as well, even though I know those two can make any situation fun.  Like going to Guy Fieri's American Bar because touristy, basic food seemed the way to go for my chemo-controlled stomach.  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.

I thought it would be great to get on camera with other women who were bald so that I could say to Jack (and Anna), "see, those women have a booby problem just like mommy."  Of course, if I got to spend time with the hosts or any celebrities, that would be icing on the cake.  From the moment I heard about the event, I just knew I had to go and I'm glad I never second-guessed myself, even when I got nervous or anxious.  The entire experience was exactly what I needed, what my family needed as something positive and energizing to reflect on whenever we lose our way.

The cast of hosts spent time with us, especially Hoda Kotb, a breast cancer survivor. Every single person felt loved and supported by her - she came to see us at 6:30am and was with us throughout the morning playing Pharell Williams "Happy" on her portable i-Pod stereo; evidently, she carries it everywhere.

And then, I got to spend some time with Carson Daly.  Our sons are both named Jack and we had a good laugh about watching The Voice with them.  His grace and kindness really shined through given he truly understands a mom's fight.  Carson may be a celebrity, but he's also just a boy at heart, a son who has lived with the roller coaster that is having a mom with cancer (his mother has been in remission for over 10 years). I was so glad I got to show Jack this picture and let him know Carson's mom was "Just Like Me" and her doctors helped her and she's doing great.


Being able to stand beside Joan Lunden and ask her a question on national television was pretty surreal. Like anyone with cancer, you are thrown into a new life you didn't plan for and not only is she fighting for her own recovery, she's a tireless advocate for everyone else.  For me, #PinkPower was an event that then turned into a state of being.  We can use our #PinkPower to keep fighting, educating, and empowering with hopes of eradicating.

Jack and Anna ask to see me on TV just about every day now and are far more comfortable with my appearance.  I kind of wish every month was Breast Cancer Awareness Month because it definitely helps keep the conversation going with them.

I met so many wonderful people and heard so many amazing stories, but there is one person in particular that will stick with me.  Our trip had come to an end and we were getting on the elevator to head to our car at Union Station in DC.  A man in the elevator with us simply lifted his wrist to mine, he had a pink "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" bracelet and said, "My Grandmother, 1956-1957, she lived until the age of 98. Keep Fighting."

I get up each day knowing that I have so many wonderful people helping me with this journey, this marathon of fighting one ugly disease.  Thank you so much for your love, prayers, and support.  It all adds up to make a huge impact!

Please remember to schedule annual exams and encourage your loved ones to do the same.  In case you didn't get to see the segment on the Today Show, you can view it at: http://www.today.com/video/today/56155141

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Secret O' Life

My mom will be quick to tell you that she's my primary caregiver (Steve accepted this back in the 90s).  She has pretty much dictated my after-chemo rest schedule.  I had chemo right before Labor Day weekend and then went to my mom's house, alone, at her request.  I think my mom wanted me all to herself, back at my childhood home, so that she could see and feel like things were progressing, that everything will be o.k.

My treatment is going well right now, but, I do sometimes think about the what ifs and future not-so-good scenarios (I think all my loved ones do).  It's hard not to worry, but if there's one thing I've learned from my mom, I can't let worry control me.  I can't let anything control me, not even the cancer and the really crappy party favors it brings with it: nausea, headaches, constipation to diarrhea back to constipation, and pain in places I didn't even know existed.

I'm glad I spent Labor Day weekend with my mom.  It gave me time to truly rest, but I was also able to hear some family stories I hadn't heard before and revisit a box of old souvenirs and mementos; it was an unexpected gift, a little bit of therapy.

There I sat, in the living room, looking at my father's beautiful handwriting on a 1982 Webster's pocket dictionary he gave me for Valentine's day, reading a note about fried chicken from my Southern Belle Aunt Sally, and laughing hysterically at my 1989 journal and programs from REM and Paul McCartney concerts. Boy, my mom was so sneaky.  She knew that appreciating my past would help me deal with my present.

My mom is a very strong, independent, positive woman, but honestly, it's shocking how positive she is considering all she's witnessed in her lifetime.  The impact of The Great Depression and World War II, mental illness, gun violence, and suicides have all been at my mom's doorstep.  She has every reason to be bitter, negative, raw, but, she isn't.

Even when it seems impossible to do, I watch my mom face each day with conviction, faith, and hope.  I wake up every day and try to do the same - I try, I fail at times, and I try again.  As mothers ourselves, my sister and I are blessed to have Sara Ann Goodman Bounds as our mother, teacher, and role model.  Of course, it took us a little while to figure that out!  But that, as James Taylor says so well, is the Secret O' Life.

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it, there ain't nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.
But since we're on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.

The secret of love is in opening up your heart.
It's okay to feel afraid, but don't let that stand in your way.
Cause anyone knows that love is the only road.
And since we're only here for a while, might as well show some style.  Give us a smile.

Isn't it a lovely ride? Sliding down, gliding down,
try not to try too hard, it's just a lovely ride.

Now the thing about time is that isn't really real.
It's just your point of view, how does it feel for you?
Einstein said he could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space, the smile upon your face, welcome to the human race.

Some kind of lovely ride. I'll be sliding down, I'll be gliding down.
Try not to try too hard, it's just a lovely ride.
Isn't it a lovely ride? Sliding down, gliding down,
try not to try too hard, it's just a lovely ride.
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"More Than A Woman"

Music means a lot to me. It keeps me connected to memories of my dad, he was such a great musician and lover of music.  Last night, we took the kids out to a restaurant that is located across the street from one of our old apartments.  We ate outside and enjoyed the eclectic mix of old tunes playing.  When the Bee Gees' "More Than A Woman" came on, it was as if I got my marching orders from dad to get this blog post done.

During the summer of '79, my mom couldn't keep up with washing my favorite iron-on, Bee Gees t-shirt.  I loved the Bee Gees - dancing to their songs is just pure fun.  Recently, Barry Gibb has been in the media talking about being the only living brother, touring alone for the first time, and dealing with the roller coaster of emotions that all of that brings.  I can certainly relate to those peaks and valleys; I have so much love and support surrounding me, but I can still feel alone, lonely in my struggle.

Right now, I'm losing my hair rapidly.  I will probably be bald by Labor Day.  I try to remain positive, especially for Jack and Anna.  I remind them, and myself, that all of this is not permanent and we can have fun trying on different hats and wigs.  This is really hard to do when you are confronted with commercials that have celebrities talking about the latest advances in hair color or how shampoo technology has improved to make your hair as strong as rope.  I never thought that I would hate going through the hair care aisles in CVS so much!

My hair loss is another example of something I can't control and of course, that royally sucks.  I feel less like myself, less like a woman, less like the girl Steve fell in love with (I know that my long, brown, curly hair must have had something to do with it).  Of course, the irony is, like many people, I often hate my hair!  I have had a lifetime of struggles with my thick, curly hair, so perhaps I should take this as a gift of starting over. I've been told that my hair may come back different -- so stay tuned for that one.  In the meantime, I'll try to keep reminding myself that these changes, these struggles make me more, not less of a woman and if all else fails, I'll cue up Saturday Night Fever...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mommy's Booby Problem

I've sat down a few times to write about my cancer through Jack and Anna's eyes, but each time I tried, I just closed the laptop and walked away.  I didn't know where to start or how to really convey how much it sucks for a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old to live with their sick mom, the uninvited breast cancer (and all the doctors that came with it), and their dad who really isn't o.k. with it all either.

From the very start, I give credit to the Dana Farber website and my doctors for helping me find age appropriate ways to talk to the kids about what was going on with me, in baby steps, one day at a time. That approach worked pretty well with the early stage of appointments, procedures, and surgeries.  Steve and I sat them both down and reassured them that the doctors were helping me get some bad stuff out of me.  Of course, being inquisitive children, they asked, "where is the bad stuff in you, mommy?" and I pointed to my chest, my right breast, and from that point on, Anna referred to my cancer as "Mommy's booby problem."

Now that things have become more intense with chemotherapy treatments and the related symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and hair loss, the questions have definitely become tougher.  The ability for Jack and Anna to cope with what they see and hear is all the more challenging for them; adding to it is the fact that everything around them is new.  Their house, their yard, their neighbors, their friends are all gone - nothing looks right.  It is really hard to ask your kids to stop yelling and crying, in a 2-bedroom apartment nonetheless, when in actuality, they have every freaking right to hate all this.  In their world, this thing, my cancer, is happening to them.  But, they can't yell at those shitty cells in my body, so Steve and I will have to do.

Jack has asked questions like, "when is this going to be all over?" and "what if you don't get better?" I try to use times I have alone with him to be more specific, provide details in a sequence that hopefully reduces the abstraction.  Last August, when I was sick with viral meningitis, he asked if I was going to die, so I know he has the ability to create doomsday scenarios in his head.  So, I sit there with him, hoping something sinks in, he shakes his head, shrugs his shoulders and in split-second fashion, switches gears and tells me the cool, new Dude Perfect stunt he saw on-line and that Alabama Crimson Tide is SO much better than LSU.  That makes me feel better and here I'm trying to make him feel better.

Anna loves to play hair salon - she really has amassed quite a collection of salon tools.  We usually take turns doing each other's hair.  A couple of days after I got my hair cut short in preparation for chemo, Anna stopped asking to take turns with me.  She just wanted me to do her hair and I didn't push her to do my hair or to tell me why things had changed.  But, recently she said to me, "I want your hair back to the way it was Mommy."  I had to stop myself from saying something that wouldn't make sense to her in that moment and I didn't want to scare her by starting to cry.  I reserve my crying for the bathtub, at about 2am, it works for me.  I asked Anna, "how do you want my hair to look?" and she replied, "long, you know, about to here (she points to her shoulders)."  Knowing that Anna loves to shop, I said to her, "well, let's go see if someone has my hair out there in a store and maybe it will be purple."  This seems like a good fall project, right?

Parenting is constantly adjusting and making it up as you go along.  Cancer is the housemate that has forced us to be even more patient, creative, and spontaneous.  And when we are, those little moments that bring such life, laughter, and love happen.  Spur-of-the moment trips like going out to Fairview Beach (tims2.com) and showing Jack and Anna a little bit of the Redneck Riviera/Parrothead fun that helps mom and dad deal with the insanity of life (Jack seems to be interested in Keno already).  And, our timing was perfect because we just made, in seamless fashion, the pontoon shuttle that Steve worked on almost 20 years ago.  I might have been thinking of my booby problem, but I knew in that moment our kids weren't and that meant the world to me.

And then this happened:

Me: Jack, tomorrow I go for my chemo.
Jack: You get to go to the restaurant tomorrow to play Chemo?!?

Not a bad idea, Jack.  Let's see if I can get my chemo moved to the Keno bar.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Gin, Forrest Gump, and Seinfeld

My new Virginia license plates!  They finally got on my car today after we learned we did things a little backwards with state inspection, but really, when have we ever done things as they are supposed to be? The personalized plates have a lot of meanings for me and they arrived when I stumbled onto a life lesson from an unlikely source.

I didn't hesitate, at all, when I found out I could donate money to the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation by getting a pink ribbon plate.  And, I thought, why not personalize it?  4 MA GIN is for me, Ma Gin because so many of my students over the years referred to me as mom, Mama Gin and I want to always carry my adopted children with me.  Also MA is for Massachusetts; the people, places, and experiences will always have a place in my heart.  Lastly, it carries my love for Steve and my memory of him often repeating to me that adorable line from Forrest Gump, when Forrest introduces his love to Lieutenant Dan, "This is my Jenny."  These plates are about feeling good when there are many times that I (we) feel so bad.  This journey is unbearable at times, it is ugly, but it's the little things that give me (us) a boost to keep moving forward.

For as long as I can remember, Steve and I have always tried to have one television show that was ours to watch together.  I think it all started with watching West Wing and then our selections got much less serious with shows like Entourage and Big Bang Theory.  As the reality of the cancer diagnosis and my symptoms started to sink in, I knew Steve and I would absolutely need something to watch together, so we started watching the Internet show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  A show that offers us therapy through such easy, feel-good laughter.  If we don't laugh, if we don't find those boosts, my cancer and all the anger and worry it brings will just swallow us whole.

If you haven't watched it, and I highly recommend you do, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is a brief glimpse into what it would be like to just hang out for a little while with some funny celebrities.  We just watched an episode where Jerry takes Michael Richards, (aka Kramer from Seinfeld) out and about.  The humor and banter was great, but then, there was a beautiful moment of humility and grace shared between them; it's not every day you see an adult (Michael) admit fault and have such insight on the mistakes he's made.  Michael said of his on-stage, racist rant seven years ago, "I acted selfishly, not selflessly."  I think I might have seen my life flash before my eyes when I heard him say that - honestly, being unemployed and fighting cancer kind of does that to you too, but his words felt like such a powerful reminder of how our intentions in our actions is everything.  I thought it was one of the most authentic expressions of caring, humility, and insight I had ever seen; I hope I find some of that clarity on this long road trip of mine (ours).

Perhaps Jerry Seinfeld would like to drive me around for 20 minutes of therapy?  

Watch the episode:
Michael Richards It's Bubbly Time, Jerry - Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee by Jerry Seinfeld

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Making Lemonade

A close family friend sent me a card that read, "Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, you don't feel like making lemonade."  This card is now sitting prominently among other cards that have, shall we say, more inspiring, positive messages because I need to be reminded that it's o.k. to not be o.k. with this whole cancer thing. I don't have to be positive all the time and sometimes, the lemons come when you least expect them.

As we continue to figure out our new normal, my mom comes to help on the days I have doctor's appointments. My main appointment this week was focused on blood work to make sure my system was handling the chemo and Herceptin so that we could move forward with an every 3 week chemo schedule. This was to be a quick appointment at 10:45am, so I decided it would be a good time to introduce Jack to the oncology center (Anna has dropped me off with Steve before).  The office was beyond busy and I didn't get called in until 11:45am.  My anxiety was high as I was just waiting for my kids to start running laps in the center.  But, my mother, God Bless Her, had Jack and Anna entertained, fed, and content during the visit. She has that Mary Poppins' bag where things just keep coming out of it that are simply magical to children.

So, feeling good about passing my blood work test (next chemo is August 7) and that the kids were comfortable during the office visit, I say let's go to lunch (yummy Strawberry Lemonade was consumed) and do a little shopping.  The kids' good behavior continues and my mom and I set our sights on some back-to-school shopping.  We found a Famous Footwear with a Kohl's next door.  Just as I walked into the shoe store, I clumsily bumped into a display, within minutes, I was pretty dizzy sitting on the floor telling my mom to grab the Hello Kitty shoes in a "there's no time, save yourself" kind of fashion.  My body went into complete fight or flight mode and I grabbed Jack, ran out and headed to the Kohl's restrooms...running...in flip-flops...with a 6-year-old boy asking me if I'm going to make it.

The movie Bridesmaids has an epic scene where the entire bridal party gets food poisoning while at the bridal gown salon; in that moment at Kohl's, I'm Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy all rolled into one.  What had been a fun, calm 3 hours turned into a panic-filled literal crap-fest.  Of course, Jack didn't really understand what was happening to me and of course, he wanted his Granny because she could get him out of that bathroom!  All I could say to Jack was, "I'm sorry and it will be o.k." while all I could think was, "WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!?!" along with my sailor-special expletives.

My mother occupied the kids in the toy section while I collected myself so that hopefully we could make our way home.  Walking to the car, it was like an immediate flash, Jack started to misbehave and not listen to instructions.  It doesn't take too long for Anna to follow suit.  Lemons everywhere.

We didn't make it home.  I got to check out the nice, clean bathrooms in the new Sheetz Convenience Gas Mart. Great. This leads my mom to suggest that perhaps I should map out all the clean restrooms in Fredericksburg.

Lemonade everywhere.

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Five Hundred, Twenty Five Thousand, Six Hundred Minutes"

Ever since meeting my oncologist in Fredericksburg yesterday and receiving my 52 week chemotherapy plan, I can't get that iconic Rent song, "Seasons of Love" out of my head.  "How do you measure, measure a year?"  It's quite an odd feeling to know that I have a group of people, a great team of caring doctors and nurses, looking for me every Thursday for the next 52 weeks.  And then, after one year, they will continue to treat me with radiation and anti-hormonal therapy.  I knew that my treatment plan would be a long road, but seeing it with actual dates was just another step of embracing my identity as a cancer patient.  I feel like I owe myself a new luggage set - is there a registry for this type of thing?

I really love my doctor because he knows his stuff, but he dropped Harry Connick, Jr.'s name to discuss my type of cancer with me.  Any doctor that will put the mental picture of a handsome man like that in my anxious-filled mind gets an A in my book.

I have Stage IIB Adjuvant Invasive Ductive Carcinoma, HER2-positive breast cancer.  Clinicians describe HER2-positive breast cancer "as a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which promotes the growth of cancer cells."  Not that long ago, women like me were given much lower odds in chances that the cancer wouldn't come back and thus lower chances of survival.  Thanks to a UCLA researcher, Dr. Dennis Slamon (played by Harry Connick, Jr. in the movie, Living Proof), the ground-breaking drug Herceptin was developed to reduce the aggressive nature of this cancer-producing protein.  I was amazed and grateful to learn that because of funding from the cosmetic giant Revlon and the famous "Fire and Ice" ball started by Lilly Tartikoff, wife of NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, who died of cancer in 1997, Herceptin was made possible.

So, how do you measure a year?  I guess I'll take it a week at a time and see how it goes.  I think a trip to LA, with my new luggage set, sounds good to me ;-)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Granny, LuLu, Anna, and Me

I think it's safe to say that organizing our move from Massachusetts to Virginia was stressful enough and then, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, we were faced with the emotional toll that brought, but the reality of how all my appointments and procedures would impact our ability to move as scheduled.

Steve and I went to our house closing at 9am on Friday, June 27th and at 11:30am that same morning, I was informed by my oncologist that the team felt I was good to go and that my team of doctors down south were ready to take over my treatment.  I really can't thank my Boston doctors enough for their swift and smart decision-making.  Yes, I'm still scared as hell as to what lies ahead, but when I think about the professionals I have fighting this shitty thing called cancer with me, I re-focus on the good stuff that life has to offer.  Or, the funny things in life that you can't make up like traveling roughly 500 miles with your mom, your 3-year-old daughter, and your 16-year-old, crazy cat, LuLu.

We had LuLu checked out and boarded during the time that we had to deal with the movers, house closing, etc.  I was shocked, as many who know her were, that she got a complete clean bill of health from her vet.  I know it sounds horrible, but because LuLu has been less than kind to us with her bathroom habits, we thought maybe the time had come for us to part ways due to renal/kidney issues.  My mother, who is beyond sainthood at this point for all that she has done for me and my family, has agreed to have LuLu live with her. It was quite sweet to hear how my mom was thinking about giving her one of the bedrooms with a bathroom so that LuLu would feel safe (she liked being under beds and in bathtubs).  Then, my mom spent time with her...

We began our adventure towards Virginia and LuLu's meows only got worse over time, the chick is pretty strong for only 9 pounds - that cage was rocking!  Anna thought she was hungry, angry, or missed her daddy.  Eventually, Anna decided to join in and you couldn't decipher who was groaning more.  O.K. time to get out of the car.  We stopped in Bethel, CT and was unlucky at our first 2 stops to find a vacancy/accept pets place.  Then, we found what I'm sure is the smallest HoJo's ever - it had quite the hostel feel, we were meeting people from Germany, Portugal.  It was our own little World Cup village!

As soon as we got into the room, I knew to check under the bed with the hopes they had those blockers to prevent you losing small items, which they did.  So, I got LuLu set-up and let her explore the room and she did well with her litter box and eating her food.  We all got a good night's sleep and woke up wondering, where's LuLu?

Wouldn't you know there was a small 4x4 hole at the headboard that she stuffed herself into?  My mom had to move two dressers (one had a safe in it) and I had to borrow a broom to poke her out, which worked, but then she got away from us, so the second time, I just had to go for it and pull her out like a mama cat would do.  The amount of adrenalin running between my mom and I was unbelievable - we've never needed iced coffee more.  Thank goodness for that well placed Dunkin Donuts drive-thru next door.

My mother, enjoying her iced coffee, calmly said, "basement it is LuLu".  A quiet meow was uttered from the back seat; she was pretty docile for the rest of the morning drive.  We had a lunch picnic at a rest area and brought her carrier outside with us.  Upon seeing what was out there in the real world (people, trucks, dogs, and lots of noise), she seemed perfectly content to be in her carrier; we didn't hear from her for the rest of the trip.

I got all of LuLu's essentials set-up in the basement, knowing she would have all kinds of places to hide, I just kept checking the litter box and food/water bowls to make sure she was o.k.  Of course, she was fine, she was finally living where no one would ever bother her.  On Tuesday, the third day, she showed herself to me, talked to me as if to say, "you are never doing that to me again" and went right back to her hiding place. That's o.k., I know I'll get to pet her at some point - she's still got a little kitty cat in her. ;-)


Thursday, June 19, 2014

"See me beautiful"

288 days ago, Jack started Kindergarten.  He had just dealt with me having been in the hospital for a week and losing our beloved cat, Buck.  I recall spending time talking with his teacher, expressing concerns that he may have trouble transitioning into the classroom environment.  Of course, it was more about me and my fears and guilt.  As my health continued to decline, Jack and I had our struggles.  Then, I was diagnosed with cancer and although we provide Jack details about my illness in small doses, I imagine his 6-year-old brain thinks I should be able to do something about it!  I get angry with myself for being sick and then get frustrated with him for not listening to me and then he acts out because we are all just one hot mess.  It's a roller coaster we've all been on as parents, it's just an even uglier one that you can't get off of when cancer is also a member of your household.

Today, I attended Jack's Kindergarten recital, a celebration of his graduation to 1st grade.  It was really special for us to attend along with my mom and Gayle, our wonderful daycare provider.  It was a bit hard for me to focus because I found out today that I'll be having 2 more surgical procedures next week - my surgeon needs to go back into the breast tissue and I also need to have a biopsy of a cyst found on my liver.  The fatigue from being part of the Frequent Flyer Surgical Club and our pending move to Virginia has been challenging.  I try to stay positive, but today felt like a day to use my, "I have cancer, I can be an entitled bitch if I want to be" card.  I haven't started any form of chemo or radiation yet, so, not knowing what lies ahead during the treatment phase of my cancer journey scares me that much more.  I'm overwhelmed by the fear of not being the mom Jack and Anna need me to be, the mom that I want to be.

The students sang many wonderful songs, but the following song, performed using sign language, stopped me in my tracks:

  See me beautiful
Look for the best in me
Its what I really am
And all I want to be
It may take some time
It may be hard to find
But see me beautiful

See me beautiful
Each and every day
Could you take a chance 
Could you find a way
To see me shining through
In everything I do
And see me beautiful

Thanks for teaching me, Jack.  Message received, message received.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Gotcha wallet? Gotcha watch?"

Father's Day offers a time to reflect on all the great memories I shared with my dad and to be so very thankful for Steve, a dad who was made for Jack and Anna.  It's also a time that I grieve for my dad. Both he and Steve's dad would have been such wonderful grandfathers.  Whether it's Father's Day, my dad's birthday, or the holidays, I often get that empty feeling knowing my kids won't get the benefit of hearing his stories and advice or getting the best hugs from a 6 foot 3 inch gentle giant.

Since being diagnosed with cancer, I've thought about my dad quite a bit and wished I could get one of those hugs.  Whenever we headed out on vacation or even short road trips, my dad would ask all of us, "Gotcha wallet? Gotcha watch?" - even as young kids who had neither, he would still ask us that question every time. My sister and I would laugh it off, but we did ask one day why he kept saying that question.  He told us that we should always remember to "take inventory".  As a military man, he had to have everything in his barracks checked every morning and night, so I can see where he got into the habit of "taking inventory", but I see now he wasn't just talking about the material things.

Our upcoming move to Virginia and my diagnosis came together in such a ridiculous fashion.  I literally had to stop and take inventory - thanks, Dad!  Steve and I have never quite had the same style of packing - he packs in a flash and makes decisions later.  I, on the other hand, painstakingly go through everything and am paralyzed by whether I should keep something or not.  A bitch slap like cancer made the packing decisions of keep, toss, recycle, or donate a whole lot easier. No, I really don't need to save that Crate&Barrel wrought-iron candelabra from 1997.  The logistics of our upcoming move is still stressful, but I think our de-cluttering efforts have helped us to focus on the intangibles and to deal with our new normal a little bit better each day.

Having my mom be by my side in this early stage of living with cancer has reminded me just how positive my parents, as partners, were in any situation - and really, they had so many reasons in their lifetime to be bitter, depressed, and pessimistic.  It's that positive spirit that has gotten me through each step since the lump was detected on April 24th.  am thankful for my party-filled last day at BU, I am grateful for having been able to give my children fun birthday parties, and hopeful to continue to spend quality time with close friends before we move.   These moments, these connections are the inventories that matter.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

It is what it is

Every day since leaving BU, I wear the bracelet pictured above.  My wonderful ERC family was smart to remind me of my own words that I would commonly say around the office, "It is what it is".  They contacted Steve to get the navigational coordinates of our building so they could have them engraved inside.  Now, if I could only practice what I preached...

My last day at BU was Friday, May 30 and in what seemed like a flash, I began my journey as a breast cancer patient on Monday, June 2 when I had my lumpectomy and lymph nodes extraction.  During this first week without my BU family, I've been in quite a lot of pain, both emotionally and physically.  Of course, having a buffet of pain and nausea medications to choose from helped to not really have to think about my new existence.

When I woke up on Friday, June 6, I was in some pain, but really anxious because I realized that in this coming week, everyone around me would be "back to normal".  My mother has returned home, Steve and the kids will be going to work and school, and my BU colleagues will be catapulted into presenting orientation sessions, preparing for fall, and enjoying their own summer vacations with family and friends.

I'm not sending out invitations to a pity party (yet).  I know how fortunate I am to have people checking on me post-surgery and will continue to be thankful for the support offered and provided.  What this anxiety is about is that, in my mind, my professional identity fades a little each day.  To look at my cell phone and not have e-mail to check is hard for me - I'm not needed anymore.  Yes, Steve and the kids need me and I'm trying to be the best I can be given the circumstances.  But, it's hard to turn that student affairs switch off - the one that drove me to help a student in crisis or solve a myriad of logistical problems.  I even had a dream about catering orders the other night!  In my mind, I know that I'm being illogical and that this time off will not negate my entire career, but in my heart, it just hurts and it's scary not knowing what lies ahead.

Since my diagnosis, my friend Colleen sends me cards regularly and one just came in the mail yesterday, the classic, "Keep Calm and Carry On".  Perfect timing. That card helped me to get these emotions out on "paper".  I also watched the video for Fun's song, "Carry On" - I always feel better after watching it.  It is, in fact, what it is and writing this has shown me that I have the tools and am learning more to cope with my breast cancer. Professionally, it really doesn't matter what I do in the future, I'll have that much more to offer when it's time to get back out there.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Southern Girl Loves Pittsburgh Boy

Today, I say good-bye to my Boston University family.  Given all that Steve and I have been dealing with lately, I had kind of laughed at the fact that my last day at BU fell on the same day of our 16th wedding anniversary.  Goofy types of scheduling things just seem to happen to us all the time - we have the planes, trains, and rental car bills to prove it.  But, as I've been reflecting on my time at BU and my overall professional career path, it's actually quite fitting that I would celebrate my marriage to Steve on this day as well. He has been by my side for 20 years and I couldn't have accomplished my professional goals without his love, support, and encouragement.

One of my fondest memories with Steve was taking drives in his old Chevette listening to music (there was a whole lot of Rush and Jimmy Buffett tapes).  Since he was 16, his cars offered him a way to escape; I knew his car was a special possession to him.  When, without hesitation, he gave me the keys to his car so that I could do an internship at Mary Washington hospital, I just knew we were going to be partners for life, in good times and in bad.

I say good-bye to BU today and hello to my new job of fighting cancer on Monday.  I love this picture of us because it reminds me of how our story began and the love that sustains us through all the ups and downs.  I am beyond thankful for my family and friends and know that the journey ahead will be filled with light, love, and laughter.


It has been an honor being Mrs. Virginia Ann Bounds Schaffer.  I love you and I thank you. 
Save the last dance for me ;-)

Love always,

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Facts of Life

I've had the theme song of that oh-so-great 80s show, "The Facts of Life" in my head for the past few days.  "You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have, the facts of life" because I think it was easier to believe that what has transpired these past couple of weeks was something straight out of fiction.  A friend of mine suggested I chronologically detail recent events since, well, they do have a Law&Order-like feel to them.

To re-cap from previous blog entries, it was February 19 when I had a successful neurosurgery and began my recovery as best as a working mother of two could possibly hope for; the tumor was benign, but I had definitely fooled myself thinking I'd be up and around sooner.  On March 26, I publicly announced that I was leaving my position at BU and moving back to Virginia.  Then, on April 7, I didn't know it yet, but I was about to start a journey like no other.

On April 7, I had a blood pressure reading of 144/205 and knew I had to go to urgent care (which quickly became staying in the ER until about 1am).  Although they cleared me for any cardiac/pulmonary issues, they did tell me that since I was still complaining of breast/chest pain and that there was an inconclusive reading on one of the x-rays, I should follow-up with my primary care physician sooner than later.

The follow-up appointment on April 9 focused on a "baby" blood-pressure medication protocol, but also put more immediacy on rescheduling an annual exam with my OB/GYN that I had missed back in August when I had viral meningitis (something I assure you is far worse than a pap smear).  We were in Virginia (April 17-22) to celebrate Easter and to check housing options in Fredericksburg as well as show the kids their new schools.  We had a great time and being there made me feel good about our decision to move. I felt like someone dumped a Gatorade-sized bucket of iced cold water on me when on April 24, my OB/GYN discovered a lump in my right breast.

I was scheduled for a mammogram, ultrasound, and other tests on May 1 which confirmed that the lump was in fact solid, not something they could instantly rule out as benign.  I knew something was up because I was taken in and out of a lot of rooms, underwent a lot of tests, and then was asked, "Do you have any other plans for the day?"  Why yes, I do.  I want to return to Boston to say good-bye to my students, I have Red Sox tickets to pass off to a friend and, we have a couple of houses to get on the market.  How was I going to fit these interfering, albeit wonderful "we are all about the boob" doctors into my life?  So, here's the play-by-play:

On May 7, my mother-in-law's house went on the market in Pittsburgh.
On May 8, our house was professionally cleaned while I underwent various biopsy procedures.  I was then told it was likely the mass was cancerous.  I went to a hotel with my mom.
On May 9, Steve and his siblings received multiple offers on the house in Pittsburgh, we got our house on the market and had requests for showings within minutes.  I went back to the hotel with my mom.
On May 10, Anna turned 3 years old!  Jack went to his tee-ball game and Anna had a great birthday party.  Roughly 7 showings occurred at our house.  Mom and I should have just bought the hotel.
On May 11, Mother's Day and I ate my favorite bagel in the world.  We accepted an offer on our house.
On May 13, I received official confirmation that I have breast cancer.

Today, Steve and I met with our informative and supportive surgical oncologist team.  We left with visuals, outlines, and resources to help us best understand my diagnosis.  I have Stage I Invasive Ductal Carcinoma - HER2 positive.  I will have a lumpectomy on June 2 proceeded by a year's worth of chemotherapy, radiation, and various medications.  I am sad, I am disappointed, I am angry, but I know that what's important to remember is that we left our doctor's office with treatment options.

It's going to be a tough road, but at least I have a road to travel.  Be kind to one another.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spring Break Throwback

Due to my health issues this year and pending move back to Virginia, we decided not to take our annual SEC spring break trip this year.  So, I decided to post my journal of the first trip we took in 2012.

Because it’s never too early to tour college towns…
Taking toddlers on an annual tour of college campuses sounds, well, like over-the-top helicopter parenting. But, as our ESPN buddy Lee Corso would say, “not so fast my friend!”  These trips started out as a whimsical idea to tour Southeastern Conference (SEC) sports meccas, but these trips have become cherished journeys filled with love, laughter, and life lessons.
When Steve and I realized that we’re in for many years of spring break school vacations and juggling work schedules, we figured, why not take a trip?  Why not do something different?  So, as the crazy sports fans we are (and those we’re creating in our son, Jack and daughter, Anna), we thought, an SEC tour sounded like a great idea.  Why SEC?  We used to live in Gainesville, Florida and are huge Gator fans, but actually, have found ourselves loving all SEC schools (which is actually something I shouldn’t put in print).
Our first trip was in the spring of 2012 and we headed down to Alabama – our son was and still is crazy about Alabama’s Crimson Tide, we don’t know why other than they were winning a lot at the time.  Of course, we were nervous about flying, you never know if the kids are going to be calm or complete crazies. Luckily, a wonderful couple entertained us for the flight from Charlotte to Montgomery.  The gentleman was quite taken with Jack’s affection for Alabama – while waiting for our luggage; he gave Jack his Crimson Tide hat.  Wow – talk about Southern Hospitality!
We arrived in Montgomery, tired as any family is when traveling, and headed straight to Dreamland BBQ. Lesson #1 – There is no such thing as a kid’s menu at a true BBQ joint.  This was ridiculously delicious BBQ; the kids survived on cornbread and whatever snacks I had in the bottom of my carry-on.  But, no worries, we found some classic chicken tenders later at a fun little place called Jack’s.  
We had to get back on the road to head to Tuscaloosa and check-in at the Hotel Capstone (University of Alabama’s hotel).  We hope to continue staying at university hotels because the college and town history that is displayed through photographs, artifacts, and other artwork is simply wonderful.  It was impressive and kind of sweet actually, to see the community’s allegiance to the Houndstooth pattern worn by their forever beloved football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant.  It really does look good on anything – a scarf, a lampshade, dog’s leash; really, ANYTHING.  As the sun was setting, we took a lovely tour of the campus.  This is where a Southern school truly shines with its grand architecture and beautiful landscaping.  THEN, we arrived at Bryant-Denny stadium – an enormous shrine to all that is Alabama football.  This was serious – they even had their Admissions Welcome Center inside the stadium.  I’ve never seen Jack smile so big – this trip was just getting better and better.
Friday morning in Tuscaloosa and we were about to have the best breakfast of our lives!  In the shadows of the football stadium stood Rama Jama’s – it has all the makings of a neighborhood institution.  We figured before heading to our next location, we’d try to get a closer look at the stadium.  Lesson #2 – Always, Always check the spring football game schedule.  This is when football teams test themselves in a scrimmage type of game and get their fans excited for the upcoming football season.  The stadium was on lock-down for the game the next day – the lady we spoke to almost broke the rules to let us in – she was impressed that we had come all the way from Boston to see the campus.  Jack was disappointed, so Steve and I agreed to never mention getting inside a stadium again.  Good-bye, Tuscaloosa.
Another thing you should know about us is that along with being crazy sports fans, we long for the island-time, Jimmy Buffett, Parrothead lifestyle, so we just had to check out the Gulf Shores (and see for ourselves the infamous Flora-Bama bar that gave oh-so-many musicians their start).  We had a great time at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach – did all the typical beachcomber activities of swimming, playing miniature golf, and go-karting.  Lesson #3 – If your child is recently potty-trained, go ahead and keep him in swimmer diapers as to not embarrass yourself with a “Baby Ruth” incident on the pool deck.  To tap off our beach trip, we had to go to Jimmy Buffett’s sister Lucy’s restaurant and marina - LuLu’s.  We ate some really good fried okra, jalapeno hushpuppies and grilled shrimp…and a cheeseburger, in paradise of course.
We said a fond farewell to the beaches and headed back north toward to the college town of Auburn and home of the Auburn University Tigers (and War Eagle) – fierce rival of the Crimson Tide of Alabama.  This was a quintessential college town and the Hotel at Auburn University did not disappoint with their lobby, rooms, and conference center stocked with history.  We learned that the restaurant in the hotel was an Italian restaurant run by an Italian professor who takes students to Italy on study abroad trips and then has those students work in the restaurant.  The campus was lovely as we expected it to be – the stadium had somewhat of an understated class to it – nowhere near the brick after brick shrine of statues at Alabama. Still, it was a nice stadium and clearly, football and championships were important.  We also went to the university’s art museum – a nice museum with a beautiful Dale Chihuly chandelier.
The best and unfortunately, sad part of Auburn is Toomer’s Corner.  Home to a fantastic, old-timer drugstore, Toomer’s (pictured below), famous for homemade lemonade and Toomer’s trees – a staple in post-game, commencement celebrations.  Unfortunately, a misguided Alabama fan poisoned these trees and despite exhaustive attempts to save them, they will be removed in ceremonial fashion after the spring game on April 20, 2013.  We might be crazy sports fans, but this was just a sad display of fan-dom gone wrong and hopefully, the Auburn community will find a new way to honor the trees and all that is the history of that special corner.  We didn’t go into details with Jack about what was happening to the trees, but I do think, one day, it will be an important story to tell because winning isn’t everything.
We headed back to Montgomery to catch our flight back to Boston – reflecting on all that we did and hopeful for the adventures to come.   Back home, I sat at the dining room table working hard on organizing our photos to complete a photo book of our trip and in the background, I was serenaded by Jacks’ cry of “Roll Tide” and Steve’s retort of “War Eagle” – and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Kentucky, Ole' Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU are up next!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Warp Speed

Jack was home sick today - a horrible stomach bug that had us up all night.  He's doing fine now - a classic 24-hour "ick" as my neighbor would say.  He really hasn't been feeling great since the massive dumpster and Pod arrived at our house on March 28th -- our big, little guy got catapulted into the reality that we are, in fact, moving.  We've never moved with kids before and despite our best efforts to talk to the kids, prepare them for the move, I don't think you're ever prepared to face the fear and anxiety of a 5-year old.  Especially, when I haven't really dealt with it myself.

It's ironic that of all days to be home sick, Steve was home helping the contractors make decisions about various repairs we needed to do before putting the house up for sale.  I think my face turned a shade of green - maybe because I'm getting sick too, but I think it's because for the first time since making the decision to move, I really felt it.  I looked around the house thinking, this is really happening, I AM leaving BU and we ARE moving to (back to) Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The thing is, I hate moving.  I don't hate the adventure of moving to a new place.  But, getting me to pack is like trying to herd cats.  Steve, because of necessity to keep his sanity, has always taken over the whole moving process because he knows I take my baseline level of craziness and kick it up a notch or two.  Looking back at all the moves we've done in the past, I've come to recognize that my anxiety was about the amount of stuff that needed to be moved and my emotional attachment (whether valid or not) to the things we accumulated both as individuals and as a couple. Also, and this is where I get so frustrated at myself and my controlling behavior, I didn't like how Steve packed or cared for his stuff -- what wasted energy!

When I got home that Friday evening when the dumpster and Pod were delivered, Steve was getting right to the task at hand of packing because that's who he is, that's what he does.  I, of course, had a flash-flood of emotions right there on the back porch and before thinking, accused him of not telling me this was "on the schedule."  Then, I realized we weren't by ourselves, the kids have to see me be part of this process so that they feel safe and secure about it.  It wasn't easy making decisions in that moment about what we are packing away, throwing away, and donating - and I'm now confronted with making these decisions on a daily basis.  These past 8 years in Boston, at BU, have truly taught me that things are just things and the quality of life that we are striving for with this move is far more important than any material possession.  Through this process, I've felt really good about contributing to an upcoming yard sale and donating to our local library and Veterans' association.  I imagine Steve is in a bit of shock to see me be this helpful - of course, I did tell him he had to save some of our old cassette tapes.  There's nothing like a little Erasure to get you moving!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I am my father's daughter...

After my father passed away, if I was telling someone a story about him and tried to describe him, I would often say, "if he walked through the door right now, you'd know he was my father."  I have his height, his fair complexion, and his hair.  If you've been reading my previous posts, you know that my father died of various medical and psychological complications - becoming insulin dependent and battling high blood pressure were just a couple of his chronic battles.  As I got older and slightly wiser through my own recovery process, I tried to be mindful of my own genetic risks when it came to diabetes and high blood pressure.  I generally did pretty well when it came to glucose tests.  I was super proud of myself when I passed the 1 hour and 3 hour gestational diabetes tests when I was pregnant with both kids.  I remember drinking those hideously sweet orange glucose test drinks and thinking about dad, almost angry at him for the traits he may or may not have passed on to me.  It's funny how I was always focused on the diabetes because it was such an overt, chronic disease in that I watched him check his blood sugar and give himself insulin shots.  But, it's so true about high blood pressure - it is the silent killer.

Even though I have been on a roller coaster ride of anxiety and depression for many years, surprisingly, my blood pressure has always been normal, even a little below normal.  Well, I'm in for a new fight that I was in no way prepared for -- my blood pressure readings have been consistently in pre-hypertension and stage 1 high blood pressure for a month now.  I'm trying to be realistic in that this has been an unprecedented month for me because of my neurosurgery, anyone would be stressed, right?  But, I can't stop thinking about my father and wonder if this just good old-fashioned genetic code at work.  Of course, all this wondering and worrying certainly won't make that blood pressure monitor read any different!  On this first day of spring, even if the weather isn't ready to make some changes, I think I might be.  I think I might just have to be.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"No One Can Ever Take That Away From You"

That's me in 1973, in my dad's arms with my beaming sister, Mary Susan nearby.  My sister and I had a father who worked extra hard to make sure we felt loved.  My dad's father died when he was 14, his mother eventually became institutionalized due to mental illness, and his older brother committed suicide - in today's time, his suicide would have been attributed to PTSD due to serving in the war.  I don't think my dad ever fully grieved his losses - it certainly would explain his own troubles with addition.  I am my father's daughter and I often wonder if I've been carrying that guilt and grief around too (both his and mine).  He did have his flaws, but he was my dad and he had such a gift for making everyone around him feel special; I really miss watching the Southern Gentleman work a room.

My dad was a proud Veteran and often had little sayings related to his military service.  Whenever we accomplished something, he would say to us that we've earned a badge and "no one can ever take that away from you." I had been having lots of mixed emotions about my recent neurosurgery and I had been thinking a lot about my dad, wondering what he would have thought about all my medical struggles over the years.  I just needed that boost that only Garland Clement Bounds could give me.

When I arrived for my pre-op a few days before surgery, I really connected with the Nurse Practitioner who was ensuring all my tests were complete and everything was set for my surgery.  We had shared a couple of stories, she told me her brother-in-law had just had the same procedure and was doing great, she made me feel at ease and I could feel my tension easing up.  At the end of our appointment, she said, "You are in good hands, you will do fine, getting this osteoma out will be like a badge, a badge of courage."  I couldn't believe it - I remember feeling my whole body slip down a bit on the exam table, like some kind of comedic pratfall. I walked out of the examination room and said quietly to myself, "Thanks for coming with me, Dad, I really needed that."

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Panic Party

Today I had to pre-register for my operation and tomorrow I go for my pre-op labs.  Given I've had my share of surgeries, I'm used to the questions they ask to ensure they have all the necessary information.  I've been keeping a pretty positive attitude about this surgery because I know that it's routine for the neurosurgeon.  I also have faith that it's the right thing to do to address some of my chronic pain issues. However, I think this registration today brought some unexpected anxieties. Plus - I can't take any of the medications that help me control my pain, so I'm a real peach right now.  I wake up in pain, I go to sleep in pain and I hate it.  Steve teaches on Wednesday nights, so the kids are having to fend for themselves with a combination of books, Olympics and the tablet.  They are fed, they are clothed, and will be situated as my natural heating pads when it's time to go to bed.  I remind myself every night to not give in to the guilt I feel about my limitations, keeping my anger in check is no picnic either.

When I was answering the nurse's questions this morning, I was suddenly taken aback when she made some suggestions for what clothing I should pack, you know, as a brain surgery patient.  The logical person in me knows that's what this is, brain surgery, but it was weird to actually hear it.  Then, as I'm trying to answer the questions about my health care proxy and religious preferences, I had this overwhelming panic set in.  I felt like I hadn't prepared myself at all, for anything.  In that moment, I was feeling overwhelmed with work stuff, but as the day went on, I really felt the fear of not having the family prepared.  I know I've worked out logistics for next week, but I feel irresponsible for not solidifying the logistics of life in a will.  So, legalzoom.com and I are becoming good friends over the weekend.  Super Bowl weekend, we had a party while we got our taxes done; Presidents' Day weekend we'll have a will party.  We Parrotheads always say, "Party with a Purpose"  ;-)

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Today is Steve's birthday - I'm writing this blog to remind him that it's his birthday and to embarrass him just a little.  I couldn't resist including this picture -- I swear, the Mary Washington College admissions office should have used us in their brochure.  I also think Steve looks like he's running for office.

I've spent 20 birthdays with Steve.  I had only known Steve for a month when he celebrated #23 and something had come up in conversation about lead pencils vs. mechanical pencils (he uses the latter).  I think it might have been a Seinfeld reference, but I bought him a pack of lead pencils.  To this day, he's never used those pencils, but there they sit, year after year, front and center in our desk drawer.

The following year, when we were "officially dating" , I tried to throw him a surprise party and failed pretty miserably, but Steve made me feel special for trying and the party was just plain, silly fun. When someone has your back like that and makes you feel loved and special - on his birthday - you know you've found something, someone worth keeping.

The years went by and we celebrated Steve's birthday with fun day trips, weekend getaways and all kinds of live concerts.  It's funny because those experiences, along with many others, really helped to define our partnership.  Having evolved from reading paper maps, to first generation GPS devices, to our present-day smart phones has earned us points in both how-to and how-not-to communicate.  Living in new places, knowing no one, having to figure everything out on our own has taught us a lot about each other as individuals and as a couple.

Now, as parents who get strung-out at times, Steve needs to be reminded about calendar items such as his birthday.  So, when he starts thinking about it, he usually starts thinking about how to celebrate his birthday through his children's eyes.  His sister reminded me that last year, a significant snow storm came in and Steve called our local cupcake shop hoping he could still get some cupcakes for his birthday.  He was really excited when the owner said, "come on down!" and he took Jack on an adventure in the snow to get those cupcakes.  Those were some really yummy cupcakes.

Last night, we went out to dinner and then Steve took Jack to see the new Lego Movie.  Today, we'll head out for breakfast and then go to the Boston Home Show.  Steve's love of This Old House and other home improvement shows is just another reason why I love him so.  Because of a fortunate raffle win by his boss, Steve will take Jack to the Celtics game later this evening.  Our time together is the best gift and I am so very grateful.

Steve, thank you for being such a wonderful husband and father to Jack and Anna.  And thank you for your severe chocolate addiction - it makes birthday gift-giving so easy this time of year.  I love you, honey.