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