From the Mommy Files…

Archive for April 2015

We left and I barely said a word to my friend. We walked to the parking garage, to realize neither of us knew where the car was. We went to 4 different floors, then finally going back up to the 10th floor, site of the original attempt, only to realize it was there, but on the other side. This was pure comedy, certainly funny to anyone who saw us. To us, it was much-needed comic relief, and temporarily lifted the fog. We laughed so hard, I thought I’d bust open my incision. We laughed so much, I wonder if we looked like drunks searching the parking garage for our car? We found it and headed home – in record time. When we arrived at my house, I felt like I couldn’t go home. I felt like I couldn’t face my family. My kids would want to play, talk, and I wasn’t up for it. I wasn’t ready to talk about what just happened to me.

I went inside to find the house empty. Perfect. Once inside, I found roses and a beautiful card from my husband. Sigh. Soon he and the girls arrived. They came barreling inside. “Mommy! Mommy! Are you OK? He told them I went for a test and would likely get a shot. I didn’t want to tell them. I forget they aren’t babies anymore and I have to treat them accordingly. Would knowing some of it be so bad? I told them I was OK, just a little sore. As I rested on the couch, he announced he was taking the girls out so I could have quiet time. I turned on the TV. I was glad to be alone, but hated it at the same time. How did I live alone all those years? The silence was deafening. I watched 4 back-to-back episodes of Seinfeld –something I never do – and stayed on the couch. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t check email. I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I didn’t want to voice the fear that I was feeling. I didn’t want to give it life. I felt like if I did, then it would be real. I stayed in this state of other-world-ness for a while.

The next morning, I went about the regular routine, counting the hours until he doctor called. I tried to stay positive. In just a few hours, my fate would be revealed. Stay busy! I couldn’t go to the gym–no strenuous activity or 48 hours. So I just rested on the couch and read a book. After school, I picked up the girls and took them to dance class. It would start at 4, the expected time of the fateful call. I was glad they wouldn’t be with me. I went to the cafeteria to await the call. I read a book. I checked emails. 4:00. 4:05. 4:07. 4:08. 4:10. When was the call going to come? Deep breath. I’m Ok. Everything’s fine. Pray. Pray. Pray. 4:12. 4:15. 4:16. The phone rang.

“Hello Maria. How are you? Any problems? Any pain?” the doctor asked. “No. I’m OK,” I responded. “Good. I’m glad to hear it. So we got your results and reviewed everything. It came back normal. Everything’s fine! No problems in there. There’s no need for further testing. Have another mammogram next spring. Everything looks great. You’re OK! This is great news! Now exhale, and celebrate!”

I could barely find the words. “Oh yes! Thank you so much!” I immediately texted my husband and a few close friends in the know. Thank you God! My prayers were answered! I was elated, on top of the world. I could breathe. I got another chance. I got the kick in the ass, the push I needed to remind me to stop waiting for things to be perfect. To find the beauty within. To decide to be happy. To always live in gratitude. To stop waiting for a sign to move forward on the road to fulfilling my writing dreams. To stop waiting for permission or approval. This was the time. Now is the time. It’s time.sometimes

Has it taken something drastic to give you that push you needed to get started? Have you ever had a scare like this before? Please share in the comments below.

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The day after we scheduled the biopsy, I walked around in a funk.

Do I have cancer, again?

I just got the all-clear in January: my vertebral artery dissection was healed. With my last chemo treatment 4 years behind me, and feeling really good, for the first time in nearly 5 years I am healthy. So, why? Why now?

Many thoughts raced through my mind. What about the kids? How would they handle it? Who would make their lunches and help with homework and take them to school? How would my husband handle this? Why can’t I just be healthy? I’d been healthy my entire life, until molar pregnancy ripped the rug out from under me, and caused a chain reaction of maladies that would impact every facet of my life and my family’s. I thought we were past this. So why? Why now?

I called a friend, who’s a nurse. She gave me a dose of tough love.

“It’s going to be fine. It’s probably nothing. I had the same thing happen years ago. It was nothing, and I’m fine. You’re going to be fine too. Stop worrying and get on with it.”

Get on with what? Life? Writing? Planning our summer vacation? All those things I’d put on hold until I had some concrete evidence – cancer or no cancer – because that would change everything.

She offered to accompany me to my appointment, for moral support. At that moment I felt like she was being insensitive. I was in despair; I called for comfort. I didn’t realize this until the next day. I was so grateful for that call. I’m glad she didn’t offer sympathy, or even pity. It was time to get on with life. I got a kick in the ass, and I’m so glad she did it. Why was I sitting around feeling sorry for myself? I’m fine. Everything’s fine. It’s time to get off my ass and do the things I have been putting off – planning that vacation, launching my website, enjoying my time off with my girls. Enough with the pity party. I prayed. And prayed. To God, to the Virgin Mary, to St. Nectarios (patron saint of cancer patients), to my deceased mother-in-law (who died from cancer nearly 10 years ago), to our angel baby. And then I prayed some more. And then it hit me.

Even if it is cancer, there is no time for feeling sorry for myself. So I went about my life, didn’t think about it, started writing, making plans, “getting on with it.” I also called my friend and told her I would appreciate if she’d accompany me to the appointment. I needed the support.

As the days went on, I reverted to old ways – I have this thing about bothering people and asking them for help. So I spent 2 days trying to convince her not to go with me. Lucky for me, she saw right through it.

Two days before, a mom I knew posted on Facebook. “I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and tomorrow I’m having surgery. I demand that you all go get your boobs checked. I had no symptoms. Do it. Don’t wait.” I sent her a private message. I wished her well, and shared my story. She couldn’t believe it. We cheered each other on. That morning, I posted an image of St. Nectarios on Facebook, asking him to pray for her. The prayer chain began. I stalked Facebook the entire day for news about her surgery. Finally, she posted, and she was OK. Thank God! Surgery went well. She would eagerly await my news. I prayed for both of us.

Tuesday. I shopped, cleaned, did laundry, prepared meals. I didn’t want to have to worry about it later, and I didn’t know what would happen next, but I felt better knowing it was done.

My appointment was downtown at 2:00 pm. With traffic and limited parking at the hospital, we left 1-1/2 hours early. My friend is sharp. She told me I had to drive, because she had to leave her SUV for her husband to drive kids around, and she didn’t feel comfortable driving his new car. So I drove, and the conversation was about everything but my impending biopsy. Thank God for her!

We arrived pretty early, parked, and made our way to the hospital. We approached the security desk. “4th floor please,” and the attendant handed us guest badges. “I really hate the 4th floor,” I told my friend. “After today, I’m not coming back. This is my last trip to that damned floor.”

biopsy (2)

I was starting to get a little nervous, but was able to contain it. We checked in. Within 5 minutes, I was called to Registration and after signing consent forms, I was on my way. It was 1:45 pm. They told me to expect to be there 2-3 hours because they never run on time. Here they were running early. I was glad. To me, it was a good sign. It would save me some trepidation for what was to come, and get me home sooner.

Same routine: Go through the door and wait for the volunteer. Volunteer arrives, gives instructions, takes you to the dressing room, gives you a lovely green gown. Wait! It’s beige with stripes. Woo hoo! I’m liking the diversity. I take it as another good sign. After changing, I go to the waiting room. Quick! Quick! I’d just taken out my Kindle and started reading when they called me. Deep breath.

A nurse took me to a small room to explain the procedure. I asked some questions. Then the radiologist came in. She asked me if I had any further questions. I pulled out my handy list, printed from Cancer.org

“Hey, you’re prepared! I like that!” the doctor said. “I wish more people wrote their questions down, because once they’re here, anxiety takes over, and they forget to ask, or don’t write down responses, and forget what we discussed.” “I know,” I said. I spent a lot of time on the other side of this floor, and I learned quickly that you have to be prepared, and to take notes. “You’re a pro!” she said. “Will there be a scar?” I asked. She took out a pen. “I will make an incision like this,” and she drew a line :__________. “There is a chance for scarring, but more than likely, you will just have a bruise, because any time you break the skin, you will bruise.” Great. I bruise VERY easily. This should look lovely. “The nurse will come to get you in a minute to take you to the ultrasound room.”

There, I had to partially undress, and lie down on the table. Turn onto your left side, let’s put this pillow under you. Raise your arm above your head. Let’s put this rolled up towel under your arm for comfort.

We’ll give you a local anesthetic to numb the area. You will feel some burning. Then we’ll insert the instrument to extract the tissue. You will hear a clicking sound. Let me show you what it looks and sounds like.

The tech proceeded to show me a device that reminded me of those lighters that you hold a button and click and it lights at the end of the wand. Then she demonstrated the clicking. It startled me. She then said she’d go get the nurse and the radiologist and we’d get started. She left the room. I made the sign of the cross and I prayed. And prayed again. I’m Ok. Let’s get on with it. Deep breath.

The trio returned and the doctor advised she’d check the area with the ultrasound wand for accuracy. The screen was positioned so I couldn’t see. Maybe that’s better. I didn’t know what I was looking at anyway. She found the spot. “11 o’clock, 8 cm from the nipple,” she told the nurse, who scribbled some notes. And the doctor drew on the spot with a marker. “We’re ready to go.”

The anesthetic came with a long needle. I tried to block that from my mind. The needle went in – not so bad – but then it felt like she put in a needle with teeth—tiny saw-like teeth cutting away into my breast. It didn’t feel like burning, it felt like cutting. I prayed. Then the tears came streaming down my face; I couldn’t contain it. I was in full cry-mode. “I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “This won’t take too long.” Again, I thought of my kids. We can’t go through this again. I can’t. What will we do? We can’t do this again. We won’t.

The clicking instrument now bore a long, silver “stick” resembling a flat, thin screwdriver. The radiologist inserted it, there was a beep, the click, and another beep. She’d hand it to the nurse, who’d put the sample on the tray and hand it back. We’d repeat this 4 more times. All the while, the ultrasound tech was monitoring.

Once the tissue extractions were complete, a small titanium marker was implanted at the site. This marker would delineate a point to check carefully in each subsequent mammogram. Steri-strips closed the incision. Then it was time to visit “The Crusher “, again. Yup. They had to verify that the marker was placed correctly and was stable.

Step forward, lean in, turn your head, hold your other breast away. I have to pull this really tight, sorry. Take a deep breath, don’t move. Beep, beep. Ok, let’s do the side view. Sorry it will have to be a little tighter, as tight as I can get it. Lean in, deep breath, now don’t move. Beep, beep.

She checked the images, and we were done. Then she applied some gauze and tape, and advised me to leave it on for 24 hours, then remove it, but keep the Steri-strips in place for 4 days. Guess she didn’t want me to view the wound. They’d call me with results the next day at 4 pm. Go home, rest, no lifting, no exertion, take it easy. Page the doctor if anything unusual happens.

I quickly got dressed and went to meet my friend. I felt like I was walking in a fog. I was in another reality. What was happening to me? Who was I? I’m not a cancer patient! I’m a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a writer. I’ll be damned if I surrender to this bullshit again. I still felt weird, as if I was straddling this world and another, waiting to learn my fate. We walked out the door, and I noticed the clock. 2:45. It took exactly one hour. Why did it feel like 5?

Check back later this week for Part 2.


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