Saturday, November 28, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes...

There's been all kinds of stuff going on in my life...chemo scheduled to start December 3rd, of course...less than a week now -- and then there's THE HOUSE. We took a quick look around and found a second house that we love (photos below). They are both very different, both have pros and cons. I could elaborate specifically but that's not really the point of this post

We have been agonizing over choosing which home to bid on. It's all complicatecd by my illness, naturally, so one might think I should forget the whole thing and wait until after chemo. Yet to let both houses go could be a serious mistake, they are singular properties and for us it turns out this is actually a pretty great time to buy, financially speaking.

I was talking to Megan (8yo) about all this...going back and forth, bemoaning my concerns, listing the positives and negatives. I've been driving myself crazy, truth be told. Last night in a fit of confusion at one point I lamented, "Good grief, Meggie, this is just the hardest decision I've ever had to make!" which she said, without missing a beat: "But Mama, I thought you said choosing between lumpectomy and mastectomy was the hardest choice you ever had to make?"

Indeed, I did. Indeed, it was.

Here I am going nuts over which home to buy. Heck...this is nothing. Aside from the fact that I'm blessed as all get out to even have such options available to me, let's face it -- any choices I ever have to make after the one I made this past summer pales by is SO not worth freaking out about. This is just life. And the point is it goes on no matter where I live.

Damn smart kid I got there.

PS: Okay, I know that house looks positively massive, and it is a larger home...but it also needs major updating, which is why it's even remotely in our price range.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's finally time

I knew this day was coming, but on so many levels I have been able to ignore the inevitability.


If you saw pictures of my gaping flesh at its worst and compared them to today, you would be amazed. The human body is extraordinary. Mind you, I am still disfigured, but so much less so than I could have imagined. And there is more healing to do...scars will fade, indentations will fill out. One would hope in terms of my mastectomy reconstruction that the worst is over.

But this wound closing also means I can start chemo now. The week after Thanksgiving I will begin poisoning my body in order to make sure no stray cancer cells that may or may not be lurking can ever survive to set up housekeeping -- or at least that's the hope, anyway. Today I am a completely healthy woman with a full head of, yes, I'll say it -- pretty darned nice hair. Within about two weeks time that will all change dramatically. I do not know, nor can anyone predict, how physically devastating chemotherapy will be for me.

During the last few weeks there's been a flurry of doctor appointments to various oncologists that I haven't blogged about. There's been some choices to make between two different drug regimens, along with dosages and actual locations for treatment.

I will receive my treatment at the local hospital, the doctor there is as good if not better than any of the rest, trained at Sloan Kettering, etc -- plus it's only about 15 minutes from home (either home, btw).

I have reluctantly chosen the potentially stronger of two different drug regimens, meaning it will take longer and could possibly make me sicker, cause more side effects -- but it has a better proven track record. However there is one drug of the three that I may use the newer version of in hopes that it will leave me with a lessened risk of permanent side effects -- particularly my greatest fear, which is neuropathy.

It has also been suggested that I take the first phase of drugs in shorter rounds, as in every 2 weeks. Although that leaves my body less time to recover between rounds it might have a higher success rate. This is called "dose dense". I haven't decided that one yet. I think I might try it -- I can change my mind at any point and slow down the time between rounds if my understanding is correct. There is a slight chance of heart problems with one of the drugs and I need to know if dose density increases it. Although because I am young it is believed to be a very, very low risk.

The particular chemo regimen I've chosen will take anywhere between 4-6 months, depending on dose density and my individual tolerance. The other regimen would have taken only 3-4 months. In the scheme of life that's not a huge difference in time but in the midst of suffering...well, you get the idea. This was a tough choice.

I swing back and forth between calm, purpose driven multi-tasking and literally laying in bed with the covers pulled up over my head and hiding from even the simplest of requirements. I find my mind tracing mental pathways back to other times I have endured...from the emotionally devastating to the physically dangerous. While former evidence of my apparent ability to overcome adversity gives me comfort, it also terrifies me. Is there a limit? Where is the line between what strengthens or diminishes us?

What will this all look like on the other side, will I even recognize myself? Having come thru some major traumas before I know that I might not. I also know that change wrought by ordeal is a double edged sword that can transform our lives for the better or for the worse. It takes sheer strength of perspective to determine which it will be.

That is what I wish for, what I need now: an unending source of industrial strength perspective.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What would you do?

As if I haven't already had to make enough agonizing decisions of late, now I can't decide what to do about the house we are considering purchasing. Once again I find myself in a quandry. I'll say this, tho, it has definitely taken my mind off my impending chemo, lol!

Here's the deal: Love, love, love the house. Did I mention that I love it? It is almost perfect. While it is at the tippy top of our price range it is quite doable. Thankfully the house doesn't need any work to move in. Even my furniture will all fit just right. All I will need to purchase is a new computer desk for me to write at, with an incredible view to gaze upon while I ponder, I might add.

So, what's the problem, you may be asking?

The house is on a VERY busy street. It's a county road, just two lanes...but the speed limit is 50mph. It's also in the middle of a straight run of secluded woods, meaning some folks tend to go faster than recommended. The house itself is only shy of 25 feet from the road's edge. That feels pretty close.

Of course first and foremost I'm worried about the kids. I also know that between the fact that we are the epitome of over protective parents and that children do grow up and learn not to run out into busy roads, Daniel & Megan would no doubt always be safe. But there is that idea of a slim chance, that awful reality that if they somehow pulled away or got careless at just the wrong moment and went a couple dozen feet away from our front door they could be....well, I don't even want to say it.

And talk about life imitating art! In my novel, for those that don't know, the family lost a son about the age of my own because he was sadly struck by a car when he managed to get out of the house unbeknownst to the parents. Now, these parents were wrapped up in their own issues and were careless...I'd like to think that would never happen to us. I'd have child safety locks on my child safety locks I'm that nuts about keeping my kids protected. But still, it gave me an uneasy feeling to think that here I am writing about a child being tragically killed by a car and I decide to put my own children more in harms way than they are now.

Now, let me say there is a sturdy little picket fence across most of the front of the property which we could continue to essentially completely block access. Also, with the addition of a simple gravel driveway the door which the family could come & go from, seen here between the well and the tree, is much further from the street than the official front probably at least 50 feet...and that area of the yard is blocked by not one but two fences (thanks to it being behind the garden). And further -- most of the entire 2.5 acres of land is behind the house and practically 2 acres of it. There's plenty of room to play and explore (with supervision) far, far away from any danger. You can see the back yard is quite expansive in this picture.

I should also add that Michael is very artistic and handy...he has wonderful carpentry skills and is a folk-artist in his own right. This property being on a main drag would open up the opportunity of him selling some of his work, we could even spruce up the little old barn and open it as a sort of impromptu rustic shop/gallery now and then. In fact, we once considered buying commercial property to have a little shop so this is not a new idea. What with the garden and perrenials and herbs, we could also do up a little farm stand right there by the road side -- there's even a small parking lot already there.

In terms of noise, when things are quiet inside (rare in a house w/kids, lol) you do hear the cars go by, but not as loudly as you might think. I believe that this old house has rather thick walls because the sounds from outdoors are kind of muffled. The nice thing too is that the main living room is at the back of the house so it the most quiet. Even with a screen door open I was surprised at how buffered the noise was -- but it can always be heard, no denying it. Where I live now is pretty quiet. It's also not a busy street...because of a blind curve I don't let my kids play or walk by themselves, but hours can go by without a car. I'm a bit sensitive to noises so this is all a concern.

I am back and forth about this. We bought our small home 15 years ago and intended it to be either a starter house or something we expanded. Yet in all these years we have looked at many houses, never finding one we wanted to make an offer on, good houses here are hard to come by. The house in question is move in ready, larger than my home now. It clearly oozes charm. But my present house is kinda cute too and could be easily expanded, maybe even for less money...and while we have a smaller amount of land (1/2 acre) we also back up to protected woods, just like the other house.

What would you do? How do you feel about busy streets? Would that preclude you from buying what otherwise could be your dream home?

Should I stay or should I go?

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm in love

I don't know about you, but I have a mental list of homes that I have always loved. Some are no doubt out of our league financially speaking, but several could be within reach if they should ever come up for sale. I've lived here in this town for 15 years and only once has one of these dozen or so houses been on the market. Unfortunately it was a smidge over the top of our range and had a bidding war already going on. We also were surprised at just how small it was on the inside. It lacked a few necessities we have in our present home. So we let it go.

Right before I was diagnosed another of my favorite houses came up for sale. We called and it was out of our budget. It turns out that it has almost three acres of land and is larger than it looks from the road. The home is an historic 1880's colonial complete with cottage gardens and authentic well out front. I always thought it looked like the kind of house a writer would live in...romantic that I am. Not that a writer couldn't also live in an industrial loft...or a rustic cabin...or some other such place. I know a novel can be written anywhere...but ambience doesn't hurt either -- I'm easily inspired by my surroundings.

Anyway, Sunday Michael and I were out & about and drove past the is surprisingly still on the market and they were having an open house. I say surprisingly because even in this economy I thought it would already have been sold. Turns out not only is it still up for sale, but they have dropped the price in we could theoretically afford it now.

Yes, I am crazy. Yes, I know this is not the time to even think about this for soooo many reasons they are beyond counting. This is absolutely not practical on several levels. But I am still going to think about it. I may even do it!

A person with cancer wouldn't do this. And that is precisely why I want to do it. I can't explain it any better than that.

We went inside and fell in love. Wide plank oak floors, a sun room, a view of the gorgeous back yard, a small dilapidated barn...

Okay, it is on a very busy county road and the front of the house is quite close to the hear the sound of cars whooshing by while you are in the kitchen. But the kitchen has the cutest window over the sink and more cabinets than I have now.

Yes, it's old and not as easy maintenance as our home now...but it has been very well cared for...there's also a rolling hill in the back yard that the kids could sled down come winter. It's surrounded by protected woods. It has a fenced in garden just screaming for herbs and vegetables. And I just know that in one of those upstairs rooms I could finish my novel.

Speaking of which -- tho I haven't posted some of the excerpts, there are several that prominently feature the homes that my characters live in. Homes are like characters in and of themselves. This house is a place I could see myself in. Don't get me wrong, I like my present house well enough, but I have never loved it. Yet I always thought I would live in a home that I was crazy about...that I truly adored.

I would totally love this house. I already do.

So, we'll see...if it doesn't happen I will chalk it up as not meant to be. But here are some pix in the meantime:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Like mother, like daughter

My mother and I are vastly different. We often don’t see things the same way and have opposite approaches to most everything in life, from motherhood to style. Still, I will say that when it comes to fashion I do take a few cues from Mom -- in my own way. I also have been known to ask her advice on what to wear to particular occasions when I find myself in doubt. So when I was wondering recently what one typically wears to chemo infusions she was the first person I asked. I specifically wanted to know what she wore to her treatments two years ago.

Mind you, my mother was the original fashionista in her day…so I planned to take what she said with a grain of salt. Mom puts make-up on to go to the mailbox…she wouldn’t dream of ever appearing out of the house in sweats and is a woman who was once known to go months without ever wearing the same garment, let alone the same outfit. Rain or shine, sickness or health, old or young my mother has always been put together appearance-wise. During her cancer treatment I never once saw her without full make-up and styled wig -- plus dressed cute…even if it was just for a visit with her grandchildren.

But I never went to infusions with her. Back then Daniel was a baby and her chemo day was a day Michael worked. So her answer to my inquiry about chemo clothes surprised me: She wore the exact same thing for each and every single treatment. Right down to her shoes. When I asked if it was because others were uber casually dressed she surprised me again and said no. Mom noticed what everyone else wore, of course. She said sometimes women came from work and were dressed rather nicely…and yes, some women came in the equivalent of sweats & t-shirts…but still others came in some version of jeans and a blouse. She never noticed anyone wearing the same thing twice, and apparently she usually saw the same people treatment after treatment. However for some reason my mother chose to practically wear a uniform for the only time in her entire life. It hangs now in her basement. She’ll never wear any piece of it again and says she’d like to burn it…but it’s still there, collecting dust hanging from a pipe in the ceiling. It was as if she didn't want cancer to touch any of her real clothes...a way of holding the awful reality at bay, perhaps. Clothing as a defense mechanism, if you will.

As I have been getting ready for my own treatment I once again cleaned out my closet…just like I did at the beginning of summer before my impending mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. At first I figured that once again I would only need comfortable, practical clothes – lamenting the fact that many of my winter things won’t get much use this year. Since I will be avoiding crowds and other unnecessary exposure to germs at the height of cold & flu season, I won’t be venturing out to do my holiday shopping or go to large festive gatherings.

But I decided not to take my cues from my mother’s wardrobe choices this time after all. Instead I am planning chemo outfits that yes, are comfy, but are also pieces that make me feel good about the way I look. My favorite cardigan, the soft new black sweater I bought, my most sparkly pins and the best fitting jeans I own…these are the things I will try to wear to chemo. And if I am able, I will snap a picture before leaving for each treatment since it is likely to be some of the only outings I will go on.

Because even though that’s not how my mom did it, I learned the value of putting my best foot forward from her…learned that appearances matter. Of course I know they matter not so much in terms of the impression you make on others…but more importantly, because of the way it effects how you feel about yourself on the inside.

Thus, I’ll wear some cute clothes for chemo and try to look at least a little nice. Guess I am my mother’s daughter after all – but totally in my own way, of course.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hold that menopause

I mentioned in a previous post one of the oncologists I saw suggested starting ovarian ablation & estrogen blocking drugs now, rather than after chemo, since my chemotherapy has been soooooo delayed by this darn wound.

Well, scratch that.

For one thing, it would really only cease one, maybe two menstrual cycles at this point -- not really worth it. Additionally, chemo will effectively put me into rapid menopause anyway, often known as "chemopause" by those who've experienced it.

So the other oncologist (a woman) thought, why torture me more now for such a small benefit? Had anyone known the skin necrosis would delay things this long, yeah, sure, it might have been a great idea. But since no one did predict this holdup, that shipped has pretty much sailed.

So we're hitting the pause button, however briefly, on menopause.

It's kind of weird knowing that right now as I type this I am PMSing for probably the last time. The last of my eggs has been released, the last time I'll bleed is approaching. While I wouldn't say I loved getting my period I did love what it represented...the cycle of life, the particular gifts of being a woman. Even if one never conceives children it is always there, a symbol of potentiality, of promise. Menstruation is a connection to Mother Earth, to the lunar cycles, to the wild side of our own natures. Monthly bleeding connects all does the natural cessation of that bleeding.

But there is nothing natural about what will happen to me now, and that makes me sad. I wasn't looking forward to menopause...admittedly, since I knew HRT was out of the question due to my blood clotting issues I was even a little fearful of "the change" -- I watched my mother pretty much go deeply insane for a while at the onset of her menopause. Still, I had hoped that maybe I would be spared that...maybe somehow with some herbal supplements and such I would manage to muddle thru it with some modicum of grace.

But that was supposed to be about 10 years from now. It was supposed to be a gradual process. I was supposed to even have the option of giving birth to another child, perhaps -- or at least the illusion of that option.

I will miss getting my period...both biologically and psychologically. I will also miss it spiritually, strange as that may sound. I will miss knowing every month that my body was making a fresh start, a cyclical reminder to me that all things are possible.