There is something very intimate about being unwrapped after surgery.
Friday, I came home bound up tight like a mummy - my entire chest encircled with a wide ace bandage like a 70s tube top. I was able to remove it 36 hours later, but I left it on for an extra day because things came up. I was tired, the kids were running around, it got too late to shower... but, really... I wasn't emotionally ready.
On the third day, I asked Dr. Fab to free me. The man has known me for almost 20 years. We've been together as a couple for 12 years, married for 11.
I have been "unwrapped" by this man on many levels, many times, emotionally and physically. He has watched my body change from that of a 29 year old graduate student, limber and spry, to that of a functional baby-making machine, bringing our three little ones into the world.
He has lain next to me as I nursed each one of our babies - watching my body morph from one glorious thing into another. He has witnessed the unstoppable pull of gravity lap upon my shores with each passing decade. He has seen me unwrapped and unglued; unbreakable and undone.
When I was ready, he unwrapped me with the tenderness and love I've grown to know and almost take for granted. I'm soothed by the silence between us. It's the silence of old friends, of unconditional love, of blind trust. The bandage unwound around and around. We joked that it was like the magician pulling the endless ribbon of scarves from his shirt sleeve.
"You look beautiful," he told me as our eyes took in the dried blood beneath the steri-strips and the yellowish hues that were just starting to form under my skin.
And the crazy thing was, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that he meant it.
Finish putting away the laundry so everyone has drawers stuffed full of clean undies and socks.
Pack the swim bags, soccer bag and tennis bag for the kids's weekend activities.
Clean the bathrooms and kitchen, finish your week's worth of organization and cleaning, and lay out tomorrow's clothes for the kids.
Read the many texts and emails wishing you luck, love and prayers.
Receive a box filled with meals from your amazing neighbors.
Serve one of those amazing dinners so you don't have to cook.
Open a care basket from a friend and breast cancer survivor filled with wonderful things to help your healing. Start bawling half way through the card she wrote.
Dye your hair. Because you don't want gray roots on the operating table. I mean, a girl's gotta have her priorities.
Lay out your easy to slip on shoes, your front-opening shirt, and your yoga pants for comfort and ease the next day. Top off your wardrobe with your new "I Am Strong" pink socks your friend gave to you and slip your "Fight Like A Girl" pink bracelet from your care basket. Start to cry again remembering how two strong survivors wore it before you.
Read your children bedtime stories and kiss them goodnight.
Check on your kids one last time and spend an extra minute kissing their sleeping faces and stroking their hair.
Remove all of your jewelry.
Go to bed early because you know you will not sleep well.
Snuggle next to the love of your life.
Say a long ass prayer, do some deep breathing and tell yourself you are gonna ROCK this, so don't be scared.
Try your best to sleep before the 6:30 alarm.
Surgery day was one of those highly anticipated days that filled me with both dread and relief. Dread because I was scared. I've never had surgery before and never received any kind of anesthesia in my life. I've never broken a bone, never had my wisdom teeth removed and never had to be on medication. The worst things I've had were a root canal and a few skin surgeries for pre-cancerous cells that were done with local. Going under anesthesia was actually a pretty big fear of mine and I was hoping to avoid it for as long as possible. But, there was also relief. I was looking forward to just getting this part over with and let's face it - you are ASLEEP during surgery which makes it the easy part. What filled me with something akin to "dread" was a bunch of pre-surgery stuff that was going to happen that morning. It involved multiple injections into my breast, mammograms and wires being threaded into me. All while 100% awake and alert.
But, I told myself this was a means to an end. It was ONE day... not even a whole day. Only a few measely hours. Any discomfort and anxiety would be temporary. When this one day was over? A major, MAJOR part of my treatment would be over. The rest would be healing, radiation, and medication. I could handle all of that. Piece of cake.
The morning of surgery, I was able to put my kids on their busses since I didn't have to be at the hospital until 10:00 am. This meant a lot to me. My surgery wasn't scheduled until 2:00 pm, but I had to get there at 10:00 to start all of the fun. Unfortunately, with a lumpectomy you don't just go into surgery, get put under and then wake up after it's over. With a lumpectomy, there are about 3 hours of unpleasantries that occur before you go into that operating room. Unpleasantries that would involve six injections clockwise around the right breast, mammograms, needles and wires. They use the mammos to find the spot where they left a titanium clip during the biopsy. They needed that mark for my surgeon to know where to operate. They locate it via mammography, and in my case they had two spots - one cancerous area on the right breast and the LCIS they were opting to remove on the left breast.
They had such a hard time finding the one clip near my armpit that I was squeezed in that mammogram for what seemed like forever. I just stared at a spot on the wall and breathed as deeply as I could and kept my heart open to let all the love that has been around me in. "It will be over soon, It will be over soon," I repeated in my head. And it was. When they finally got my clip in sight, they stuck a needle into my squashed boob to numb then threaded a wire into me which is left to stick out, discreetly covered by a Dixie cup and medical tape. High tech, I know.
Fortunately, because the clip on my left breast was displaced by the nice hemotoma that had developed post biopsy, they just used the hemotoma as the mark and were able to thread in the wire via ultrasound which was far more pleasant on the scale of "yucky things you wish you didn't have to do."
Once that was all over, I was able to hang in the pre-op room with Dr. Fabulous and all I had to endure was the world's largest gauge IV needle into my hand and a silly blue cap on my head which Dr. Fabulous swore I looked cute in. With that, the ugly tan hospital slipper socks, the hospital gown and two Dixie cups jamming out on my chest, I'm sure he was totally smitten by my hotness.
I wasn't allowed to wear any jewelry, but I had my "Fight Like A Girl" bracelet around my ankle, tucked under my sock. It was such a small thing, but I needed to wear it. I needed to know it was there. Dr. Fabulous read me all the texts and emails that continued to flood in, since I didn't have my phone. When they gave me the "Two more minutes" til surgery alert, I admit that I started to break a little bit. There were a few tears that I really tried not to let out. I was ready to get it all over with, I really was. I wanted it over, but it is intimidating.
Walking down that cold, stark hallway with a stranger and turning to see my husband standing there unable to come with me... that was one of the hardest parts. He has been with me through everything but he couldn't come with me on this final leg of the journey.
The room was filled with people but I felt totally alone. Climbing onto that white table in a huge, cold room filled with lights and tools and wires... I just felt so small, so vulnerable, so insignificant. It is really humbling as a human being to feel so fragile. Everyone was so nice, but I didn't know them. I was alone. But really, I wasn't. I summoned up all the people who have loved me and who I loved and they were there with me. I felt all the prayers and well wishes that everyone has given me during these past weeks. I felt prayed for. I felt safe. I was scared half out of my freakin' mind, but I knew I could do it. Many women have laid where I laid and many more would come after me.
We all must unlock our courage, put on our game face, lace up our boxing gloves and come out swinging. How could I give anything less when so many have fought before me and will continue to fight long after I'm healed? Because of all those before me, I could endure this. Many have endured much, much more.
Going under is surreal. I remember waking up, as if from a brief nap. Tired, but alert, I tried to keep my eyes open so they knew I was awake. I heard a nurse say "Bring in Dr. Fabulous for Alicia," and I struggled to keep my leaden lids open.
In what seemed like seconds, I saw him walking over to me, smiling. As if I was the most beautiful, magnificent girl he had ever laid eyes upon. As if the sun wouldn't rise until he saw me awake and okay.
And in that moment when our eyes met, I finally began to heal.
The surgery is over. The worst of everything is behind me. I will write more later. For now, just know I'm recovering well and I'm filled with gratitude and happiness that the worst part of this journey is finally over.
Not quite up to writing my typical long blog post, but wanted to say these three things:
1. I did it.
2. It's over.
3. Thank you.
Thank you for your prayers, your well wishes, your positive vibes, your cards and texts and calls and comments on Facebook and here on my blog. I read them all, I felt them all. I carried them all with me into that operating room and when I lay on that table half scared out of my mind, I reminded myself of all the love and support around me.
Tomorrow is the big day - surgery day and the first major step in becoming cancer free! By this time tomorrow, I will have hit a major milestone in the recovery process. Though I'm not looking forward to the actual surgery itself, I AM looking forward to closing the door on this chapter.
Plans have changed a little. I have breast cancer in my right breast, but a biopsy of a suspicious area in the left indicated that I had something called Lobular Carcinoma In Situ or LCIS. Though it is NOT breast cancer, it is a cluster of abnormal cells that increase a woman's chances of developing breast cancer from 12% (average woman's chance over a lifetime) to a 40% chance. So, since I'm going under the knife anyway with the right sided lumpectomy, my surgeon suggested that she excise that tissue from the left as well. It makes sense and hey, it beats having to go back in again later! So, basically, I'll have two lumpectomies so both sides can feel nice and even!
I was at my pre-op appointment a few days ago down at the cancer center. After it ended, Dr. Fabulous ducked off to the restroom while I finished checking out with the administrative staff. On my way out to the lobby, I passed a woman not too much older than me with a scarf wrapped around her head. She was talking to the front desk woman and I heard her saying "I'm so blessed. There are so many people who have it worse."
I smiled to myself, knowing that this woman obviously has been going through chemotherapy (a bullet I have dodged) and likely will go through radiation too. I was smiling in appreciation of her gratitude despite her circumstances. She sounded so sweet and upbeat it almost made me cry because I would have looked at her and felt sorry for all she had to endure, seeing that scarf on her head. "It could be worse," I would think to myself." "I could have to go through what she is going through."
Dr. Fabulous wasn't back in the lobby yet, so I ducked into the restroom too. When I emerged, he was sitting there staring across the room with a face full of emotion and a sad smile.
"What? What's wrong?" I asked.
He shook his head and said nothing, but he still had that look.
"What?!?" I pressed.
He told me that the woman across the room with the scarf on her head was with her young adult daughter who had Down Syndrome.
I glanced over nonchalantly, and it was her. It was the same woman who I overheard talking about how blessed and lucky she was and how many people have it worse. She was a caregiver to a disabled child.
There were no words at that point.
There still are no words.
All I can think of is this. That in some way, being a caregiver to a child can sometimes tear you down, challenge you, exhaust you. Yet, at the same time it makes you a fighter. It makes you less concerned about yourself because you are so concerned with another. It makes you find humility and gratitude in the little victories embedded in the bigger stressors.
So, even today when I got that phone call about the surprise of an additional surgical procedure? I went through a myriad of emotions but landed on this - there are so many things someone can hear, and if this is what I hear? I'll take it. I'll take it, run with it, be glad that this is all I get right now. And I'm grateful for everyone and everything that has made me stronger along the way.
Tomorrow is game day. Look out cancer, you are getting your ass whooped. I take no prisoners.
Sometimes a little gem falls into my lap. 100 Things To Do Before You Are 10 is one of them. This book is co-authored by my friend Taralee O'Malley-Hurff who, along with Makaya Vista (Illustrator) and John O'Malley (Creative), wanted to encourage families to get "back to the basics" and just spend time together.
In a technology driven age, families are not just busy and over-scheduled but also distracted. 100 Things To Do Before You Are 10encourages families to get out there and explore the world together! Get hands-on and interact with the environment AND each other... the old fashioned way.
This book is perfect for young children - ideally I could see starting this with a toddler. My girls are 7, 9, and 10 and STILL got a kick out of looking through the book, already checking many things off the list. Honestly, though, I could see this working better when you start it young!
The book serves as an inspiration and idea center for little outings and simple pleasures. In addition, it is also a journal where children can document each of the 100 activities as they complete them. The black and white pictures can be colored and under each picture is a space to write "What I Remembered Most" about each day. It's such a simple concept, but so powerful and important... it makes you wonder Why didn't I think of this?
From jumping into a pile of leaves, to riding a train, to visiting the library, the list goes on and on.
We have running through a sprinkler ...
watching a parade...
riding a bike...
learning the Pledge of Allegiance...
and giving someone flowers, as some examples.
The whole point of the book is to take every day activities and appreciate how special they are, especially when experienced for the first time through the eyes of a child.
As a parent, it brings a richer "living in the moment" meaning to things that may have seemed "ordinary" before. There are even cool activities in the appendices like a S'mores recipe and instructions on how to make your own volcano.
Of course, I'm already adding things like riding a miniature pony.
Playing a giant guitar.
Entering a cake eating contest.
Finding the world's largest peep.
Burying yourself in the sand.
Training wild cats.
Getting a pilot's license.
Learning to surf.
Breaking the World Record in Pom Pom shaking.
And, hanging off a giant's toe.
I love the interactive quality of this book and the journaling aspect. I also love the family-centric values within its pages. If you want more ideas, 100 Things To Do Before You Are 10 has a Facebook page which is filled with awesome crafts, outings and resources for kids. It's really great and is geared toward all ages.
This simple, sweet little book will bring loads of memories and fun for the little ones. You can purchase the self-published 100 Things To Do Before You Are 10 for only $15.00 by directly contacting the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This weekend my little tiny Tink turned 9. Her last year of "single digits!"
Was it nine years ago that I was welcoming this little peanut into the world?
She has her big kid teeth now, the kind that don't yet fit her face. Her hair has grown from bald to her signature "bob." Her eyes are still gigantic and soulful. Her smile still lights up a room.
Originally, my surgery was scheduled for this past Friday, so I had not made any birthday plans for Tink other than having her best friend sleep over. Those two partners in crime are so low maintenance and well-behaved that I knew I could handle it. But, my surgery was delayed until THIS Friday so I scrambled to see if I could put something together for her. Something low key and small. "Let's just invite only the number of kids that can fit in our minivan," I instructed. She rattled off some names, I shot off some emails and low and behold... it came together seamlessly.
Sometimes shooting from the hip works out.
She and her girlfriends did a little bowling, ate some greasy bowling alley food and then headed to the YoGo Factory where they filled their cups with soft serve and piled on the toppings. The end.
That is my kind of birthday celebration - easy, simple, fun. After our little outing, we returned home to commence the "sleep over portion" of the birthday. Tink and her Bestie camped out in our family room, watched a movie and woke up together on Tink's actual birthday which was a huge thrill for her.
The day of her actual birthday it poured an icy rain all day long without reprieve. The ice actually resulted in several multi-vehicle pile-ups on the major roadways around the Philadelphia area and unfortunately there were several fatalities. We stayed put, lounging in our pjs until evening swimming. Then we headed over to my in laws for a little dinner and birthday cake to celebrate two birthdays - Tink's and her grandfather's, born the same day!
We concluded the evening with the "jelly bean challenge" which my 14 year old niece introduced us to. There are two to three identical jelly beans in each box. One is a yummy flavor, but one is a gross one. Canned dog food, barf, rotten egg and skunk spray topped the list of disgusting beans. My niece asked who was brave enough to do the challenge with her and the birthday girl was all in!
She lucked out every time while my poor niece got stuck with every nastiness one could taste. Rella took her chances in hopes of getting the Chocolate Pudding but ended up with canned dog food.
"Yeah, it's dog food," she said chewing.
"Do you want to spit it out?" we asked, handing her a napkin.
"Nah," she answered. "It's actually not that bad."
I tried one and got moldy cheese. Tasted like a gorgonzola jelly bean which wasn't great but at least it wasn't puke flavored which, from what I hear, tastes exactly like puke which is... well... no comment.
That ended our thrilling evening. The glamorous life we lead over here! Monday the girls had off for MLK day. I had a doctor's appointment so Tink and I made her school cupcakes first thing in the morning. She had selected "Butterscotch Cupcakes with Salted Carmel Icing" from a cook book she took out of the school library. The icing had to be cooked over the stovetop... that was a first for me. Did I mention I wasn't really good in the kitchen? Well, this kid had me elbow deep in scratch cupcakes and cooked icing... but we did it!
Dr. Fab and I went to my "pre-op" appointment and I learned about all the fantastic things that will be going on Friday to include multiple needles in the boob, radioactive materials injected into my body followed by a mammogram, then a wire being stuck into my boob to mark the spot for surgery ... and THEN I get put under for the actual operation. Sounds super fun.
But THEN I get to wake up, go home and put it all behind me! Good riddance.
Dr. Fabulous grabbed the three girls from his Mom and I drove to Maryland to bring CB back home. Except for missing CB, it was a pretty awesome weekend.
And a pretty awesome birthday celebration for a pretty awesome kid.