A new site

A lovely new friend, KDesign, has made me a new site that is a little (okay, a lot) more personalized for me.  I’ll be posting to there from now on, so change your bookmarks or RSS feeds (and any other necessary tech-y action that might be prudent.)  All of the content on this site has been moved to the new one, and it is also a little (okay, a lot) more organized.  There are three new posts up there as of the date of this message.  (Sorry for the delay in notification!)

http://www.dotodaywell.com

Thanks for reading,

Jen

25 meters

Ahhh, summer.

Maren is having her first experience with being on a swim team.  She had her first “race” this week.  As she in the youngest class of swimmers, there are older swimmers in the water to help her (them) along if necessary.  The man sounds the horn, and all the 6-and-unders line up.  None of them are brave enough to get up on the starting blocks, and they all look simply adorable in their mini team suits and their goggles.  Maren jumped in from the side of the pool (next to the block), and swam her very best free-style (with a fair amount of doggie paddle) down the length of the pool.  When she finished, she climbed out, received a lollipop and a rainbow participation ribbon for her efforts.  I greeted her at the end of the lane ready to congratulate her on her first 25 meter swim.  She spots me, and rushes over as she clutches her candy and ribbon.  As she reaches me, she immediately bursts into tears.

“Mom!” she said through her sobs, “That was so HARD.  I didn’t fink I was going to finish it.”

“Maren, you did it, I’m so proud of you.  That was awesome.  You were awesome.”

She looked at me through her tears; she was choking on her emotion.  “But it was so hard.”

I’ll never forget that face; she was so indignant that it has been so taxing.  It wasn’t exactly fun in the way that she is used to having fun.  I grinned at her, squeezed her tight, and said, “But you did it, sweet girl.  You. Did. It.”

Ten minutes later, she was all smiles and showing off her ribbon.  She’s still unsure about whether she liked it, but she is, most definitely, proud of herself.  And that is a Mommy Moment that keeps bringing tears to my eyes when I think about it.

I was an athlete and I remember that vivid point-of-exhaustion that Maren hit on Tuesday night.   Lips are blue, legs are shakey, heart is bursting, lungs are burning.  Maren is right, that feeling does make some part of me want to burst into tears.  But, once the shakiness passes, in comes that feeling of accomplishment.  It’s the one that says,

I did it.  I am strong.  I am proud of myself.  That was hard, and I rocked it.

It’s not a first oft-written in the baby book, is it?  The first I-can-do-more-than-I-thought-I-could.  The first I-am-stronger-than-I-realize.  The first I-conquered-something-hard.  But I’m writing this one down for my Maren.  I feel myself bursting with pride in her achievement, and I feel the ache that she’s growing up so fast.

Well done baby girl big girl.  I love to watch you swim.

These days are happy days

As I tumble through these first weeks of summer, I have so many thoughts, and I don’t even know where to begin.

It is fantastic to have Maren around all day, every day.  I realize how much I’ve missed her during those short 2.5 hour days of kindergarten.  Yesterday while I folded laundry, she made a fairy house out of a shoebox.  She made her own 3D furniture out of paper, she cut holes for windows (and breathing), and it was all her own idea.  I love this kid.  She comes up with ideas like this daily.

Greta has moved into a new stage; she has developed her imagination, her communication, and her creativity.  It is awesomeness that Brad and I would like to bottle.  I love this little girl.  She’s obsessed with the purses and the small bottles of hand sanitizer.  She trots around with her purse and asks anyone who she deems worthy, “Woodju wike some hansanasizwer?”  She is so fun, and funny, at the same time.

Brad had a lot of vacation the past two weeks, and now that he is back at work this week I miss him.  The girls and I have our rhythm and routines during the day, but everything comes together when Brad is with us.  I love my family.

This summer I am breathing in God and all He has given me.  Brad and I are filling the calendar with all the fun things we have planned for this season.  I’m noticing Maren’s new freckles, and that I need to just sit and just snuggle with her every day.  It’s her love language.  When I put Greta in her crib for naptime and bedtime, she gives me a big hug and says, “I wud you Mommy.”  Then she waits for me to say, “I love you, too Greta.  See you after you sleep,” before she lays down to go to sleep.  Melts my heart.

These days are happy days.  I. Love. My. Life.

IMG_3614 IMG_3548 IMG_3727

The quiet reminders of just what I have overcome are always close at hand.  I have the scars and the memories and the t-shirts that are the talismans of my cancer journey and they illuminate the blessings in my life.  I see the good things so clearly it hurts sometimes.  Above are the pictures of June 2013 (can you see the awesomeness, the happiness, the joy, the hope, the wonder?)  Below is a picture from June 2012.  It’s a shot I self-snapped in the parking lot of the oncology office for a long distance friend who wanted to see me bald because she’s a visual prayer.  I see this picture and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

IMG_0066Indeed.  These days are happy days.  There but for the grace of God go I.

 

May Chaos

People.  Did you know that when your child(ren) hit school age, the month of May becomes a lot like the month of December?  Lots of awesome activities and celebratory occasions and picture-worthy events.  Sometimes, I think it should work like this:  “Maren, do you want to go to XYZ activity or do you want to eat dinner?  Because at the moment, I really do not feel capable of taking you to XYZ and also making dinner.  Choose ONE, honey.”

Humbly, I only have one school-age kid, and she’s only at the school for 2.5 hours a day, so I’m not even entirely sure that counts.  Seriously, I put her on the bus, go to the gym and the grocery store with my two-year-old, and then go right back to the bus stop to pick her up.  Her teacher, given the amount of knowledge that Maren has acquired during those 2.5 hours per day this year, probably makes dinner and takes all three of her kids to XYZ, and ABC, and LMNOP with no problem-o.  (Her teacher is amazing, and Maren had a sensational year of school.)

Am I the only mom out there who did not know about the May Chaos?  It’s not to be confused the December Chaos (obviously, it’s not cold out).

I am choosing to love the moments amidst the chaos.

Greta has two band-aids perpetually on her knees.  She loves (LOVES) her shoes, and she is constantly changing pairs, taking them off and on, and, of course, doing it all i.n.d.e.p.e.n.d.e.n.t.l.y.  She often puts them on the wrong feet which leads to an increased number of “crashes” as we call them, or “cwashes” as Greta calls them.  I’ve found that she cries less over the skinned knee than she does over the injustice of Mama fixing her shoes to prevent the “cwash.”  So, I bought more band-aids and she does what she wants with her shoes.  She is highly adorable and she will tell you all about her injuries.  Often, she says, “Oh, man!” or “Bummer!” or “Holy moly!” when lamenting over her wounds.  She’s awesome.  She still gives strangers the cold stare, but she is super chatty if you catch her in the right mood.  Those who know her best know she’s got something to say about everything.

Maren is finishing kindergarten.  Tonight we read a book that was collectively written by all of the students in her class.  Each student finished the sentence “My favorite thing about kindergarten was…”  The diversity of answers, the handwriting, and the spelling, oh the spelling, were so magical and so very reflective of the little people that they became this year.  Maren wrote about watching the first-grade plays, something that she chose because no one else wrote about it.  That’s my girl.  She’s becoming aware of the world around her and that she’s not quite the center of the universe.  She’s blossoming and it’s so, so, so beautiful to watch her grow.

Last night, she tiptoed into my room and I said, “Maren, go back to bed.”

She said, “Mom, can we snuggle?”

Me, “No, we can snuggle tomorrow.”  Usually when she wakes me up, she’s scared and wants to pray.

Her, “Well, can we snuggle for a really really really really really (seriously there were that many really’s) long time tomorrow?”

Me, wanting to go to back to sleep, “Yes.  We’ll snuggle a lot tomorrow.  No problem.  Go to bed.”

I love that at two in the morning, I am her touchpoint.  I love that snuggling with me is home for her.  I don’t want her to go to school for seven hours next year.  I want to snuggle her, snuggle them both, until the end of time.

Playing with my girls, and snuggling with my girls.  Ending up with band-aids on the knees, and newly written stories.  Maybe that May Chaos isn’t so bad after all.  Great things have happened this May.

It’s the moments, people.  The moments.

The Lost Lost Tooth

Maren lost her first tooth last week.  Then, she lost her first tooth.  Let me explain.

Maren has had a wobbly bottom tooth for several weeks; we predicted it would be out before the end of school.  Last week, as she came in to say goodnight to me, I said, “Maren!  When did you lose your tooth?”

In perfect teenager-speak, she said, “Mom, I didn’t lose it, it’s right here.”  She’s pointing at the hole in her mouth where the tooth used to be.

“Um, Maren, your tooth is not there.  You lost it.  Where do you think it might be?”

She runs over to the mirror and sees for herself that she is, in fact, toothless.  She immediately starts looking at the floor around her feet.  She drops to her hands and knees and begins crawling back down the hallway.

“Hey, Maren… didn’t you just brush your teeth?”

“Yes,” she says, still crawling on the floor.

“Do you think maybe it fell out while you were brushing?”

She stands up and looks at me and says, “Well, there was actually something hard in my mouth that I spit out because I didn’t know what it was.”

It’s all I can do to not burst out laughing at this point.  The kid feels something hard in her mouth, spits it out, and doesn’t even investigate what it might be?

We go together to the bathroom and look at the sink.  “Well, Maren, I have some good news and some bad news.  The bad news is that I think your tooth went down the drain.  The good news is that I know just what to do.  Did you know that the Tooth Fairy accepts notes of explanation?”

When I was a little lass, I lost a tooth.  I put the tooth into my tooth pillow underneath my big pillow and went to sleep.  In the morning, I excitedly checked my tooth pillow and found… my tooth.  The Tooth Fairy must have had a busy night, or so said my mom.  The next night, we repeated the same thing, and the next morning… still the tooth.  My mom said the Tooth Fairy must be really extra super busy, and perhaps we should write her a note reminding her to come pick up my tooth.  So we wrote a note for the Tooth Fairy, which said something along the lines of “Dear Tooth Fairy, PLEASE STOP HERE.  I HAVE A SHINY TOOTH FOR YOU.  Love, Jennifer.”  We then taped the note to the window (facing out, obviously, so she can see it when she flies by), and I was finally rewarded with an extra quarter the next morning.

I told Maren this story, and we sat down at the kitchen table and wrote our note to the Tooth Fairy, explaining the whole tooth-in-the-sink debacle.  We taped it to the window, and voila!  The Tooth Fairy delivered.

How is it that my little girl is my big girl who is losing teeth?  Her smile is different now; it’s older.  It still comes easily; I can draw her out without too much effort.  She still loves to snuggle me, and she still wants me to carry her.  Last night we couldn’t find her beloved blankie, so she asked for my dark pink fleece-y sweatshirt to snuggle instead.  I’m soaking in all these mama moments with deep gratitude for this lovely life of mine.

Reconstruction

For the 6% of you who are hoping I’m going to discuss post-Civil War politics in the U.S., you are going to be sorely disappointed.

I’m talking reconstruction, as in breast reconstruction.

Let me first clear up the misconception that reconstruction after breast cancer equals a boob job.  No, people–not the same.  There are lots of reasons it’s different.  Consider building your dream home; you have to work within the lot you own, but you can do what you want with the house–that’s a breast augmentation, or boob job.  Next consider restoring a building after a fire, but you can’t use any traditional materials and you have to keep the original floor plan–that’s breast reconstruction.  The former is ideally designed, the latter is patched together.  Comparing the two is really not fair.  Each are beautiful in their own right.

I am a candidate for reconstruction, wherein a plastic surgeon would create new breasts for me.  I haven’t yet met with a plastic surgeon to discuss what type of reconstruction is best for me.  There are several different types of reconstruction: implants or donor site tissue (back, belly, butt or thigh); often a combination of these is recommended.  There are also lots of physical factors for the surgeon to consider: body shape, donor site tissue viability, body fat percentage, radiation burns, surgical scarring, and skin tightness/thickening.  If and when I meet with a plastic surgeon (or two), I expect I will get a very specific recommendation about what type of reconstruction would be best for me given all of the aforementioned factors.  Also, different surgeons use different techniques, so that element comes into play also.

Why haven’t I done reconstruction yet?  Well, I had to have a bi-lateral mastectomy to cut the cancer out (August 2012).  After that, I had to have radiation therapy to nuke the cancer site (September-November 2012).  Radiation continues to impact the skin and tissue for six months after treatment, so this month (May 2013) is the first month that I could potentially be eligible for reconstructive surgery.  Some breast cancer patients are eager to get on with it: they want their “new breasts” and it is important to them.  Other breast cancer patients are more comfortable as is: flat and fabulous; they decide not to do any reconstruction.

I find I am not really in either camp these days.  I am not eager to go through the long, painful reconstruction process.  And honestly, being flat has it’s own set of challenges.  Neither option sounds *awesome* right now.

However, NED is AWESOME, so I’m totally content.  I’m so grateful that I’m cancer free and that I’m waffling over these inconsequential non-life-threatening decisions.

I have decided I am going to sit down with a plastic surgeon (or two) to talk about reconstruction so that I can consider it at some point in the non-immediate future.  I already know that it will require multiple surgeries and the accompianing pain and logisitics.  I know that it will require me to step out of my life as mama to my girls again, especially Greta.  I didn’t see Greta for nearly three weeks after my mastectomy surgery, which was so hard for me, but necessary.  SuperGramma was able to live in our house and take over; she and Greta have a special bond because of that time.  It was a good thing.  Now that Greta is two, she’s bigger than she was in August, but I still lift her in and out of her crib, carseat and highchair ten? fifteen? times a day.  Surgery would mean that I would have multiple multi-week periods of time where I could not lift Greta at all.  So, for the immediate future, I’m not ready for reconstruction because it is more important for me to be present to mother Greta (and Maren).  After fighting cancer, I just can’t voluntarily give up that time with my kids.  I just can’t.  But maybe, when the kids are older, I will be ready.

Brad is going to come to the plastic surgery consultation with me so that we can both understand the options.  He tells me I am beautiful no matter what.  I’m so thankful that it’s his voice I hear in my head when I look in the mirror.  Thanks, babe.  You’re amazing.

Her Medical Choice

Everywhere I went today, people were abuzz with talk about Angelina Jolie’s brave and inspiring announcement.  I encourage you to read Jolie’s own words in her op-ed piece in The New York Times.

There is little doubt that Angelina was proactive with genetic testing because of her mother’s diagnosis at forty-six, and death at fifty-six, of ovarian cancer.  I think her wish is simple: she doesn’t want her children to have to go through what she did.

I get it Angelina, I do.

And what scares the pants off me is that my daughters will be facing a similar decision in a few decades.  My diagnosis at age thirty-two means that my daughters should start being screened at age twenty-two.  That’s an awfully young age to make big decisions.  Breasts, like it or not, are intimately tied to femininity, sexuality, identity, and beauty.  I grapple with each in the wake of my diagnosis and surgery, and I’m a “healthy”, “well-adjusted” woman who has already been lucky enough to marry her stud muffin husband and birth her gorgeous babies.  Angelina and I have that in common.  Many women, my sisters and daughters included, are looking at either daunting family histories and/or positive BRCA (breast cancer gene) tests and trying to weigh these big issues against one another.     It is a hideous predicament to find oneself in.  And honestly, I’m glad I never had to make the decision in that gray shady area: in black and white, my doctor’s told me what I had to do in order to save my life.  My cancer left me breast-less.

To be clear, I am BRCA negative.  But my doctors believe that my cancer does have a genetic component: it might be BRCA3 or BRCA 45, or we may never know.  Regardless of individual genetic testing and statistical analysis, the fact remains that one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime.

One in eight.  Think of your eight best friends.  I know, yikes.  Then add eight of your aunts, daughters, nieces, grandmothers and moms into the mix.  Double yikes.

My hope is that women are empowered to become informed and to choose their own path.  Having one of the world’s sexiest women as a face for proactive medical choices will certainly open the door for a lot of conversations.  Lives will be saved because more women will do more.  I also hope that the public takes it easy on Angelina and the BRCA community.  She’s just turned the odds around and given her kids the best gift they’ll ever get (which is saying something in the Jolie/Pitt family): the gift of herself.

I pray that my girls can conduct themselves with the grace and dignity and bravery that Angelina Jolie demonstrated today, regardless of circumstances they must bear in their lives.

You know what?  I think that tonight we should raise a glass to Angelina’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who tonight would be saying to her daughter, Well done, sweet girl.  I’m so proud of you.