Tag Archives: survivor

Mom, you should wear a bikini

My seven year old daughter is full of confidence and spunk and smarts and style. She asked for a bikini from the Easter Bunny. Delivered.

Totally and without reservation she put it on last weekend in preparation for a pool party, did a twirl in the mirror and set her face to one of approval. Then she turned to me and asked, “Mom, why don’t you wear a bikini?”

It was one of those seminal parenting moments I was totally and completely at a loss for words. “Because I worry what other people think?” “Because I have been called many things in my life and a covergirl is not one of them?” “Because my body has changed so much in the last four years that I sometimes don’t recognize my own reflection?” “Because the last time I wore a bikini was on my honeymoon with your Dad and I was a size I will never be again?”

I thought it would be a sign of strength and purpose – and frankly, there was a little bit of vanity involved – to be able to wear a bikini when I turn 40 (or even just before). Celebrating a milestone with style. But every time I look in the mirror, I see my imperfections. Every time.

I even had a few days where I did sit ups and crunches – thinking somehow that would put me over the edge and tighten this section of extra – abdominal muscles that were strained and pulled and cut and sewn. A belly that now thinks I’m postmenopausal and is storing fat like a rainy day is coming.

I know, logically, I should embrace my body – it’s been through a helluva lot. And it’s done me well. I have had three kids – two pregnancies – gained over 65 pounds with both … created happy healthy amazing kids including 16 pounds of twins … then the cancer. Scarred, implanted, tattooed … hormones amuk causing muffin tops and rounded corners and insomnia and anxiety. But, I’m still here. Why isn’t that enough?

As a woman raising a girl, I want to instill confidence and self-awareness and body image and a glorious, wonderful sense of assurance. I have struggled with it my whole life. What if I could save her from that in some small way? She is perfect now – fashion oblivious, sporty and hilarious and assertive and amazing. I want to keep this. Bottle it.

When she turned to me and asked me about the bikini, all of this went through my head. I thought of my struggles with healthy weight … losing weight when stressed to the point that I was melting away because I forgot to eat. Gaining weight while in chemo eating plates of french toast to abate the cravings. Up and down as a collegiate learning to eat and exercise and drink and not have the structure of square meals and sports.

Now I have the balance I always craved. I play tennis, I go to barre ocassionally, I dance with my kids. I drink light beer and champagne. I love chocolate. I’m not willing to give that all up, but I am also totally and completely and unabashedly self-conscious of the pile of “twin skin” and extra rolls that I have on my belly.

But when Emmy said that, I realized it’s not always about my feelings. Part of being a parent is sucking it up – lose sleep? Privacy? Adult conversation? And, selfishness.

So there was a bikini. And she wanted me to post it on Facebook. Here it is. But I do this for all the Moms out there raising girls. All the women who have gone through hell and back with cancer treatments and surgeries. All the women who realize that bodies can be perfectly imperfect and still celebrated. Who don’t have time for evened out tans or bikini waxes or body toning. Who live their lives and struggle through fears and try to love their bodies.

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This will be for you, for me, but mostly, for my girl. Because why shouldn’t we all wear a bikini?

And yes, this is as brave as I can be – lounging, sitting down. Girls weekend. I’m trying!

And, my girlie loved the picture.

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And now the dog has cancer

I am overwhelmed. The frivolity and happiness of the new puppy muted by the terrific disappointment and anguish of the dreaded C word again reappearing in our lives.

Like before, out of the blue. Like before, no real symptoms. Like before, fear and pain and sad.

Our 10 1/2 year old first “fur baby” Cameron didn’t eat his kibble the last day we were gone. When we came home, he was less than enthusiastic. But it could have been that we brought along a 10-week-old puppy. I mean, we knew he wouldn’t be thrilled by that addition in general, but this was downright weird. He is totally and completely food motivated.

We saw him breathing shallow, and thought – maybe there’s something in his mouth, on his neck.

Imagine our shock and surprise when we found out that based on the Xray, he had a “mass” – likely cancer.

The frenzy, the questions started anew. Where do we go for another opinion and soon? Where do we go to get the best care? What can we do? Will he die?

I cried more than when I was diagnosed. Somehow this felt worse – I was powerless. I have been a red ugly raw all weekend.

We still don’t know – a trip to the Texas A&M emergency room netted us a a 10am slot on Monday morning for a CT scan and diagnostic follow up with specialists – the best in the country. He will have a CT guided biopsy (eerily familiar to those of us who have undergone the X ray guided biopsy – at least he will be asleep!) The earliest we could do here in Austin – surprisingly – was the 15th of January.

It has been the longest and shortest two days in the last year. Going from ebullience at puppy cuteness – she chases her tail! she walks sideways! she has a white spot on her chest! To the recognition that our other dear dog, my therapy dog, might instead be lost this week.

We told the kids, this time avoiding the term cancer bugs – Davis was concerned that it would echo too much on their minds to my battle (cancer = death??) We told them there was a mass that wasn’t supposed to be there and there might be drugs to get it better. Dad and Cameron will go to the best doctors in the country on early Monday morning for the tests that will allow the doctors to see his body better. But, there might be a chance Cameron doesn’t come back. There might be a chance that he would die.

Henry said “Well, Mom, you’ve been through lots of surgeries and have been fine – I’m sure Cameron will be fine.” I am sure of it too, because this time around, like last time, the other option is unthinkable.

You may think me sappy or sentimental for being so attached to our dog, but I point you to my last two years and the net that was my constant support – Cameron amongst. And, now I am granted the glimpse into the world of those around the cancer patient – the frustration, the grief, the overwhelming sad. I feel what so many felt for me.

I guess the good news is that Cameron doesn’t know the fight he faces. But the rest of us do, and we see the end in sight. Much closer than we expected. As is always the case.

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Why NOT a puppy?

There are times when I find my journey has changed my outlook. Holidays are certainly one of those times. I was always a Christmas girl – my grandmother was literally Mrs. Claus on her stocking and it rubbed off. Last year, this year, more special – cramming as much fun and frolic into the season. The elf, bon bon parties, extra big live trees, etc. This year, a puppy.

Yes, a puppy.

Just about everyone thinks I’m crazy. I have been working on Davis for over three months, but I desperately want a puppy and we are getting her on December 26th.

I was thinking today about why.

Cameron is a great dog – my therapy dog and companion in all of this and in all of our last ten years. He is such a good dog with the NOTABLE exception of the counter surfing – only one place in the entire kitchen is safe – a three foot square plot of land at the back of the range. But he’s getting old. I want to spare my family the pain of losing a dog and having a void. I want our new dog to enjoy his company, to teach him, and for him to have a burst of puppy energy.

But I’m sure there’s some Freudian reason for my desire – a cathartic rebirth, seeing my mortality reflected in the eyes of my dog, an existential crisis.

For me, it’s the pursuit of happiness. What’s a few hours of sleep missing, a few chewed fingers, an extra mouth to feed, when you consider the joy and love that will come. Of course I say that now before we are inundated with housebreaking and a pouting septuagenarian.

This week, this holiday, may your gifts be merry and bright, and may you be 10% as excited as my kids are about the presents that await them. And 1% as excited as me.

 

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When You Follow Joy

As we head into the season of giving and receiving and joy and family it’s also a time for hilarity – at least at the Ward house. And, these days, the way we roll is to just let it go.

I want to illustrate with science fair. There will be time for elves later.

Those of you who know our family know that Davis and I are scientists by study, and certainly organized by nature, but it shocked even us to hear that the kids wanted to do science fair projects this year. All three of them. Even though all three aren’t required – below third grade – all three wanted to do it. Even though all three aren’t due until January 29th, they wanted to do it early. Sunday. And, even though there are only two parents, all three wanted a parent, all the time.

Emmy originally wasn’t going to do a project but then she thought about doing it, and thought about drawing a science book, and decided she should. She has a book she loves that shows the layers of the human body and she wanted to make it. One of my gifts is execution – helping achieve a certain vision. She had the vision – layers of plastic, held together with clips. She brainstormed the layers: blood/heart, tummy, skeleton, brain, skin, lungs. We drew it and then she wanted to make a board. And we did and it has typed out facts she dictated to me and stuck on the board and it looks like a six year old made it and she did. Maybe it looks like an eight year old made it. It’s amazing. Did you know it takes 20 seconds for blood to circulate through your body once?

Carter decided he needed to do something too – and they had just learned the planet song at school. SO, a model of the solar system. As we are in process on purchasing sytrofoam balls and a base and a board (2nd trip to Michaels if you’re counting) he says “And, Mom, the sun needs to light up.” Of course it does.

I ask at Michaels – thinking I can get a lamp if I need it, but no, now they have LED lights that you can put into objects after you “turn them on” so Carter has a glowing sun solar system – each planet painted, in order, and a board with facts. Did you know that Pluto is in the Kuiper Belt? Had you even heard of the Kuiper Belth?

We weren’t able to complete Carter’s project Sunday because the planets had to dry. On Monday when he got home from school all he wanted to do was finish the project. In fact, he started crying because he didn’t want to take piano lessons since he wanted to work on science fair “Mom, all I wa-a-ant to do is finish my so-o-lar s-s-system.” Tears streaming down his face.

Henry (from Davis) got the idea to test paper airplanes. Together, they developed 10 prototypes – each named and numbered, and a series of experiments: how far, how many and type of tricks, flight time, and weight it could carry. He flew paper airplanes for three hours straight. Data collection. Of course, he still hasn’t formulated a hypothesis, but he did some great drawings in his journal of his process – little stick Henry on the balcony with a little triangle plane – distances marked where known.

I couldn’t stop smiling all day. It was complete chaos – at one point I was whispering letters into Emmy’s ear for her resource list in her journal and turning to Carter and doing the same for his list (“P-A-P-E-R, Emmy and Carter B-A-L-L-S”. Davis and Henry went up and down the stairs in our house for hours – literally. It was a beautiful, organic, crazy day.

On that second trip to Michaels we met a frazzled family trying to determine which boards to use for a display. I asked if they were working on science fair. The Mom, exasperated, said YES, it’s so much work (in front of her kid and mine). I said “Yes, we are doing three projects at home right now. And we’re having a great time.” She said “I guess I shouldn’t complain about our one.”

I thought, you shouldn’t complain at all. You have a happy healthy family and a kid who wants to learn. Facilitating that may be annoying at times – we had tears, spent $50, and were exhausted just from Sunday – but the joy is infectious. Emmy has started bringing her book into class to show her friends. Some of the other kinder kids now want to do projects.

Happiness, despair, excitement – so much comes from within. I learned from my cancer battle that attitude is a huge chunk of the fight. So at the Ward house, we go with happy.

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I Don’t Know How She Does It

There have been a lot of comments about the similarities between the main character in the book and movie about the working Mom who does it all … and I have to admit I have been doing a lot. Between the hot pink hair dye party, speaking at a Komen event, hosting a party for 21 kids, making sure to please my children on their 6th birthday and prepping for Halloween, it’s been a busy two weeks.

But that’s not why I haven’t written.

I am scared to face a reality. My breast cancer could come back at any time. In any place.

Why on earth would I be worried about this in the middle of all this fun chaos? The lovely woman, Courtney, who wore my art bra last year (Hooter for those of you keeping track) to the event … who just got married … who is 33 and exercises like crazy and eats paleo and everything … found out her cancer is back last week.

And, for those of you who don’t know, when you have a bilateral mastectomy, breast cancer can come back – that’s why they don’t use the term remission – because it never really is ever totally gone. At five years they start breathing a sigh of relief – Courtney was a year 2.

And, when it comes back, it comes back in another part of your body – because, yes, you have no more breast tissue really so instead it comes back in your bones and liver and brain. Courtney now has breast cancer tumors in her liver.

And, when breast cancer comes back in another part of your body – because where else could it at this point, right? – it’s Stage 4. relative survival rate of 20% for 5-years. In and out of chemo, just trying to hold it off as long as possible.

Everyone thinks I’m brave, and yes, I had courage to fight something every day but I knew that it would work.

I am in pain right now – physically and emotionally for Courtney. I am scared for myself and my other survivor friends. I know I can’t dwell on it every day, but it is there in the shadows, and with Courtney’s diagnosis, I find myself thinking about it at least 5 times every day. at least.

When my mind wanders, it’s there. SO I don’t let my mind wander, I make pirate themed art bras for Davis to wear in front of total strangers. I host the soccer team end of year party with two hours notice, I pitch in to help with the Doss Chinese Immersion Advisory Council.

Even tomorrow, when I will fly to California to celebrate my Mom’s 70th birthday, I download three movies and two books because if there’s too much quiet time, I will slowly go mad. Or sad.

This last day of Pinktober, and Halloween, I don’t mean to scare you. I just mean to share – there are bigger things to fight. There are real things to be scared of, and there are also real heroes.

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A Ridiculously Complicated New Normal in Cancer Survivorhood

I used to be one of those people who had a pretty simple routine. In fact, there wasn’t much of one at all. Get up in the morning, put on some deodorant, put on the same pair of earrings, jeans and a shirt, and roll out the door. Seriously.

I prided myself on the fact that I was unswayed by those marketing ads for skin care and cream – for hair products and serums – makeup, fashion, all outside my zone. I was above it.

Getting ready for bed was also easy – shower, jammies, bed. Oh and brush the teeth.

Maybe the fact that I didn’t do the breast self exams in the shower was part of my problem.

At some point in the last year I felt a subtle shift. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t have hair, maybe it was the fact that I felt so alarmingly fatigued, or maybe it’s just that time of life , but I suddenly developed a fear of being seen dishabille. I felt naked if I walked out the door without a tinted moisturizer and mascara. I started wearing trendy, dangly earrings and jewelry. I paid attention to color palettes for clothes and eyes.

Part of my new routine is also to assess how I’m feeling about 40 times a day – do I need a nap yet? Am I hungry enough for food or will a mint suffice? Is that pain there normal? When did I strain that muscle? What on Earth is that thing on my leg? And, my entire day has become a choreographed dance through creams, liquids, and meds.

I wake up in the morning and put on moisturizer because apparently my skin has decided that it wants to peel off all creased portions of my body – which includes my eyebrows, hips, ankles, and knees. Then I put on BB cream because I need sunscreen since I catch a sunburn just looking at the sun through the window after radiation. And, I flush so easily from the tamoxifen I need to cover up the rosacea. Next I put on my watch which I have wrapped around my tamoxifen bottle so that I don’t forget it .

Then I decide on a relatively comfortable, fashion-neutral outfit. I strap on my ladies and get dressed. (Up to this point I still have not seen anyone in my family or gotten out of my closet).

Then I try to attempt what they taught me at Sephora with my eye makeup; pick coordinating, bangly jewelry, realize I haven’t had a pedicure in eight months, and put on flats.

I have a Diet Coke first thing downstairs as I help get kids ready for school with full backpacks and tummies. I try not to nap although some days I’m so exhausted that I literally pass out. I try to exercise 3-4 times a week but at least have Pink Ribbon Pilates on Tuesdays. And I don’t have caffeine after 2pm. I have one beer at dinnertime. The kids are asleep around 7:45 and I take my first round of meds which includes my sleep quality increaser, vitamin D (for eyesight), magnesium (for hot flashes), Omega 3 complex (for dry skin and eyes), Calcium (for osteoporosis prevention), and my anti anxiety medicine.

At 9 I start winding down – no email, no TV. I head upstairs and take off my makeup with Cetaphil because my skin is still crazy reactive. I take off my ladies, scuttle to the shower, and have a nice warm relaxing shower. I revel in the fact that my hair actually feels wet now – and that I have enough to wash.

I get into my long pants, long sleeved sweater shirt, and curl up with Cameron – who has nested on my side of the bed invariably. I then read my book – right now I am flexing the power of the Amazon Prime Lending Library.

The thermostat needs to read 71 degrees and I need two blankets. (One degree more or one blanket more and I have hot flashes). I put on a breathe right strip, take a tylenol, and try to get to sleep – lights out – at 10.15.

Of course, there never is a “normal” day – Davis is out of town, Carter is up in the night, Henry wants to feed the dog at 6am. Emmy wants to read the book she wrote. There never is a full night of sleep anymore – I am up at 3 or 4 with or without kiddo intervention.

But there is a ridiculously complex survivorship routine – physically and medically – I haven’t even gone into my follow up and doctor schedules.

Oh, and after April 1st, I won’t have to strap on the ladies anymore. My reconstruction and expansion begin. That will be a chance I will welcome.

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Survivorship is a Thing

Throughout my cancer fight of the past year there has been a defined task: stay strong until there are no more cancer bugs. Keep the family together and keep the family happy – go with happy. I have the distinct honor, and yet, challenge, of moving to the next phase: survivorship. When I heard the term I just thought it meant “the time after you beat cancer.” And it is that, but it is much more. And so hard to describe.

I had a meeting last week with my oncologist called a “survivorship seminar.” I was flippant and jocular about my journey and progress until I realized this was about the rest of my life. It hit me when I got home and I have been a psychic fugue for a week: I am never going to be the same physically or emotionally.

It’s not maudlin, it’s truthful. And, it’s also tricky.

In the cancer fight it was physical – survive, sleep, eat, heal. Now it’s more psychological. Watch for side effects that could signal that the cancer has come back (e.g. monthly self exams of my chest wall which actually makes me a little nauseous to even think about. Getting to know my scar tisssue? No thanks). Make follow up appointments with doctors, including regular three month checkups for the next three years.Don’t go to see a regular massage person because your body is in such a different state than normal. Only go to exercise class that is low impact because your muscles are weak and relearning. Oh, and did I mention scheduling the next round of surgeries because I still need permanent ladies? And, don’t plan on being back to any state of “normal” until at least six months (which for me is May 1st).

I am thrilled, don’t get me wrong … I am lucky to be in survivorship. And as I navigate the new normal I am so thankful for my friends and family and their love and support. And, yes, it needs to continue. Even though the care calendar is gone. 🙂

But a new normal is tricky when your most recent old normal was cancer and the normal before that was moving to Dubai. Navigation is slow as we rebuild what our family responsibilities are – who does this chore this time? Who is responsible for dinner tonight? What is your role? What is mine?

Now I am in the family most days all day – although some days I have to nap or don’t feel well. I am meal planning and shopping; picking up children and organizing play dates. But, every once in a while it catches up with me and I crash back down. I am not used to limitations on my time or my energy and yet I have to be patient. In PreK they learn to be a STAR – Stop, Take A breath. Relax.

Because I am no longer required to “just heal” I feel a sense of pressure to be more … and maybe that’s what this survivorship thing is about. This isn’t just the time after I beat cancer – it’s 2013, the year Davis turns 40, and the twins enter kindergarten. Integrating cancer into that year and that life is what I must do.

And to learn that watching an hour of America’s Funniest Home Videos with my three kids will make you laugh until you cry every time. And that laughter is the best weapon in survivorship. Especially when it is belly laughs at a puppy.

 

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