Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Weird

For those that have spent much time chatting with me, it's pretty well known that one of the biggest sources of stress in my life comes from food. Andy cannot eat onions, has issues with food textures, and is very picky about food temperatures. Me, I have issues with food textures that further limit our menu. It was already a problem, but then we were blessed with a child who is the fussiest eater in the world.

Feeding my family is a nightmare.

In addition to being a fussy eater, Michael is downright hostile about eating. I don't know how this happened. Knowing the battles my parents had with my sister, I worked very hard to make food a non-issue. But, it didn't work. Michael would never acknowledge that he was hungry, he activity resisted eating most foods, and even fought joining us at the dinner table.

Once he hit about 40 pounds, a few months ago, he finally got to the point where he would have to ask for food because he needed fuel to run his body. He would do it grudgingly and it even included a temper tantrum where he got mad at himself for joining us for dinner when we hadn't asked him to.

Let that sink in. He was mad at himself because he was so hungry he had to sit down at the dinner table and ask for food.

Things have been improving slightly. Michael will now ask for food if he is hungry. He's resumed eating most of the foods he once ate but gave up about a year ago when he switched to Mac 'n Cheeseianism. But, he's still been down right hostile about joining us at the dinner table.

A month or so ago, I was making dinner when I asked Michael if he was hungry. "Yes. I want Mac 'n Cheese in the living room." I politely informed him that he needed to eat in the dinning room with the family.

Michael started chanting with the sweetest, sing songy voice, "I hate the dinning room! I hate the dinning room!" Over and over again. The words didn't go with the cheerful sound of the song.

Well, that was it. I was just done with the whole thing. DONE! What I really wanted to do was go ape-snot crazy and rant and rave about how insane it is to be hostile towards food and eating. Years of this has pushed me to just about my breaking point. But, only just about.

I collected myself, remained calm, and using the same sweet sing songy tone, I walked into the room with him chanting, "I hate fighting about dinner, I hate fighting about dinner." I had a smile on my face and the levity of my mood was clear.

It was just a joke to help keep me sane in the face of the great food wars.

But you know what? It worked. When I called Andy and Michael for dinner, Michael came to dinner with a smile on his face. He ate until he was full, and then excused himself and washed his hands and face.

I was shocked and was sure it was just a fluke.

The next night, I called him for dinner and he came. And he ate. And then the next night and the next. He even started trying new foods and discovered he liked a few of them.

I've been hesitant to mention anything about this because I'm afraid it works the same way as saying your baby is sleeping through the night. As soon as you breath a word about it, it goes away. And I do not want this to go away.

Last night, when I called that dinner was ready, Michael jumped up and came running into the kitchen yelling, "YAY! Dinner Time!" I stared at him in shock as he went running by.

There is only one thing I can conclude from this. Someone has stolen Michael and replaced him with a cyborg that looks just like him. It's really the only thing that makes sense.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sad

This is one of those posts that I end up debating with myself over whether I should post it or not. It's a meaningful post to me. I want to get it out of me. But, I worry that it's depressing, or overly dramatic, or something crazy like that. Today, I've decided to go with it. Life isn't always happy, so it seems silly for my blog to always be happy.

As I've mentioned several times now, my mom has (had?) breast cancer. I included the "had" in there because it's an important point. She had localized cancer that was surgically removed. All of her tests came back negative for the cancer having spread. It's very possible that the surgery removed all of the cancer cells and that she's cured. The chemotherapy, targeted therapy and radiation therapies she will be receiving are extra therapies in case some of those sneaky HER2+ cells slipped by. They are being given because they reduce the likelihood of the cancer recurring.

I know this is not the worst case scenario when it comes to cancer.

But that doesn't mean that I'm not scared for my mom. I am. I've read over all of the information on the medications that she will be given starting on Wednesday. They don't mince words. Some people do very well with the regimen. Many people do. But...of course there is always a but. With chemo, there is a pretty long list of them. Nausea, vomiting, hair loss, bruising, fatigue, fluid retention, risk of infection, mouth sores, cardiac complications, allergic reactions, death. Eek!

Clearly, that slight risk of death from the medications is a tad bit scary. But, when my mind starts wandering into that territory, I just go into distract mode. I need to know this, but dwelling on it doesn't help anything so I do my best to focus on areas with more benefit, like what things I can do now to make things easier for my mom in the weeks to come.

One thing that I can do, is consider the much more likely effects of Chemo, and find ways to help my mom through them. I've done some shopping to stock up on necessities for her. She may not feel great, but damn it, she will not run out of soda on my watch. I'm working out a mental schedule of when to stop over and check on her and do small tasks like changing the cat litter (which she's not allowed to do even if she feels great), picking up laundry and doing shopping. I want to make sure that the little things are covered, so she can focus on the big things.

From her point of view, I think one of the hardest side effects to deal with is the idea of hair loss. It's so much a part of every woman's identity, that just thinking of losing your hair feels like it somehow diminishes you. On paper, it seems like the easiest side-effect because it doesn't hurt, but in reality it's the most visible indication that something is wrong.

From my point of view, the common side-effect that disturbs me the most is the increased risk of infection. The first reason is because I don't want her getting sick while also dealing with the effects of chemo. The second reason is because it means that she is supposed to avoid being around crowds and people who may expose her to germs. And who spreads germs better than an almost five-year-old who goes to daycare, picks his nose, and still hasn't entirely grasped the concept of how tissues work?

Michael has spent at least two days a week with my mom since he was three months old. She has always been a huge part of his life. He looks forward to "grandma days" with excitement. And the feeling is mutual. To quote my mom, "He's the whole purpose to my life."

This week, Michael starts daycare full time. If my mom does well on chemo, somewhere down the line she may be able to take him for a day here or there. But I don't want to make promises to either of them. And it makes me really sad. Sad for my mom that during this difficult time she will not have the comfort of Michael hugs and giggles. Sad for Michael who doesn't really understand what is going on and who is going to miss his grandma terribly. She came over for Easter dinner last night, but it felt more like the last supper to me. Their last supper together, at least for a while.

The current treatment plan calls for four three week cycles of chemo. That's 12 weeks, or three months. I'm sure that those weeks are going to fly by for me. I'm going to be busy juggling work, my normal life, and caring for my mom. It's going to be July before I even know it.

But, I'm not foolish enough to think that those 12 weeks are going to fly by for either of them. Time goes much slower when you are five, so I expect those 12 weeks to feel like an eternity to Michael. Even worse, time goes very slowly when you feel sick and miserable, so I also expect those weeks to be painfully long for my mom. It makes my heart ache for them both.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Phone Photo Friday - It's Coming!!!!

I was going through the camera roll on my iPhone the other day and discovered that Michael has been having a little fun with my phone. I thought he was playing Plants vs. Zombies in the car, but he wasn't.

There were about 30 of these!

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At least he wasn't picking his nose.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Like Pulling Teeth

Michael has been in part time daycare for over a year now. Next week, he'll be going to full time. I really like the center that he goes to. They are very responsive. Everyone, including the director, knows Michael and appear to truly care about him. They have been very understanding of the changes we have needed to accommodate my mom's medical treatments. It's nice to know that we can count on them.

One thing I don't know, is what Michael does at school. I get reports from his teacher and they post he class schedule. So, I know the structure of his day. I know all of the kids in his class. But, I have no idea what Michael actually does on any given day because he refuses to talk about it. Here's a typical conversation I have with Michael after a daycare day.

Me: Did you have a good day at school today?

Michael: It was great!

Me: That's good. What was so great about it?

Michael: I don't know.

Me: What did you do?

Michael: I don't remember.

Me: We'll did you just sit in a corner all day doing nothing?

Michael: No.

Me: Did you play with anyone?

Michael: Annie.

Me: What did you guys play?

Michael: I don't know.

Me: Did you take a nap?

Michael: Yes, but only a short one.

Me: Why, did someone wake you up?

Michael: I don't know.

Me: Did you have tumble tots?

Michael: Yes.

Me: What did you do.

Michael: I don't remember. I have a magic spell that makes me forget.

Me: Do you have a magic spell that makes you remember?

Michael: No.

Me: Sigh (look over Michael's head and say to Andy) This is like interviewing a hostile witness.

I've tried not asking him in hopes that he'll tell me anyway. I've tried waiting until bedtime to ask about his day. I've tried spacing the questions out. Nothing makes any difference. He just will not tell me about his day.

I guess I just need to get used to it, I can't imagine this will get any better as he gets older.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Michael Encounters the Easter Bunny

We went to the mall on Friday night so that Andy and I could enjoy some Five Guys cheese burgers. Michael was a little tired, but I thought he was fine for the trip. I forgot that he insists upon having a soft pretzel for dinner when we visit that particular food court, so I didn't consider the hunger factor on top of the tired factor.

We survived the food court and we survived the Lego store. (My checking account took a hit though. I've got a serious Lego problem.)

Things started to go down hill on the way to the Apple store, but Michael perked up as soon as he picked up an iPad. It was actually the first time that I've handled one, and it was so nice. I quickly checked the pricing for them while Michael plucked it from my hands. While he absorbed himself in some apps, I realized that if I were to actually buy one, I'd only ever get to use it when Michael was sleeping. That's a huge drawback for such a pricey toy.

(Still, it was SWEET!)

When it was time to leave, Michael was not happy. He was getting so cranky that I decided to skip looking for Easter Ideas in William & Sonoma and head home.

On the way out of the mall, Michael spotted the Easter Bunny. Based on past experiences, we knew there was no way Michael would consider sitting on the Easter Bunny's lap, but he decided he wanted a picture. He said he was going to sit next to the Bunny. So, we walked over and watched some kids making it very difficult for the Photographer to get a picture of them. I pointed out the Easter Bunny.

Michael looked him/her/it over quickly and said, "That's just a guy in a costume."

Oops!

I assume that the proper etiquette when your child is shattering the Easter Bunny illusion in the presence of the Easter Bunny and other children is to get your kid out of there fast. That cute little 3 year old snuggled up next to the Easter Bunny really shouldn't be exposed to my analytical 4.9 year old's cynicism a week before Easter. So, we started to walk away. All of the sudden, the child who has been resisting Santa/Easter Bunny photos all along decided that he just had to have a picture with the Easter Bunny he had just outed as being a fake.

Nope. Not a chance. I'm not shelling out money so I can spend 15 minutes fighting with a tried, cranky kid who I know will refuse to go near that dude in the bunny costume. I'll take carrying a crying kid out of the mall over forcing a crying kid to be in a picture any day of the week.

Plus, I can used the money saved on Legos or and iPad!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yanking the Rug

Last week I got to write a wonderful post where I announced the good news about the results of my mom's cancer surgery. I waited until that post to give the bad news because I knew the good news, and it was an easy post to type.

Before then, I had drafted a number of posts in my mind that never made it to print. It's easy to say, hey my mom has cancer, but she's fine. It's not easy to say that my mom has cancer and I'm really worried about this and that. There were so many things that I was worried about, I just couldn't figure out how to put them all down.

After she got the results of her bone scan and chest x-rays, at least we knew the cancer hadn't spread. That was a huge relief. HUGE. However, I was still very concerned that she would need chemo. Surgery sucked and the idea of radiation isn't great either, but at least they are predictable and have limited side effects. Chemo, not so much. I was concerned about how sick Chemo would make my mom. How much extra care she would need. How would we get her to all of her appointments if she's not well enough to drive? My brother is already dealing with a health issue in his wife's family, how much more time can he miss? My sister just started a new job, how much time can she miss after just one month in? I've been rationing my time off for a few years now, and I don't have much to work with. How can we pull this off?

My next concern, after my mom's health and providing the care she needs, is that she still watches Michael part time. To quote her, "Michael is the purpose to my life." I have no problem putting Michael into daycare, but it really breaks my mom's heart to think that she'll have to give up the time she spends with them. Taking away her time with him is just adding insult to injury. Finding out that she didn't need chemo eliminated that concern.

Of course, I also had to worry about how Michael would handle the news. He looks forward to grandma days, and I cringed at the thought of telling him that grandma is sick and that he would need to go to school full time. Oh, and the follow on discussions that go along with that. Why is grandma sick? Why is grandma losing her hair? Is grandma going to die? I really didn't want to go there, and learning that my mom didn't need chemo also lifted that weight off my shoulders.

My mom's general practitioner has been receiving all of her tests and has been following her case through all of the reports he's been getting. He finally asked that she come in to see him after her surgery, so she saw him this past Monday. When he came out to greet her, he had a huge smile on his face and gave her a big hug. From the results of all of the tests, he actually told her that she was basically cured. When she relayed that to me, I cringed a little. Cured might be a strong word. She still has radiation and hormone therapy, and will continue to have frequent monitoring to make sure there has been no recurrence. But, yes, things look really great.

On Wednesday, my mom had her first appointment with the medical oncologist who would manage the hormone treatment and long term monitoring. She expected to get a prescription for the hormone therapy. Instead, when she got there the oncologist informed her that the initial results from the needle biopsy were not correct. The pathology on the tumor showed that her tumor was estrogen and progesterone negative and HER2 positive. Because this is a more aggressive type of cancer, the recommended treatment is chemo.

All of the concerns that went away after the results of the surgery came snapping back into reality. Chemo. Hair loss. Risk of infection. Nausea. How will we make this all work? What do I say to Michael? And, what if...

My understanding is that her prognosis is still very good. I'm very happy about this. I'm very grateful that she has these options and that they will give her such a good chance for a full recovery. But still...Chemo?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reactions

As I said in yesterday's post, the five weeks between learning that my mom had found a lump, and getting the results of the last test she needed was stressful. Very stressful. However, I held it together pretty well. One way I did that was to imagine organizing the world. As I sat through meetings, listened to the news, read the internet, you name it, I would start mentally fixing everything. "So and so isn't getting their work done? Let's take a look at the process and see what the obstacles are!" I figure it was my way of trying to find control during a time when I had none. Considering I'm already like that, ramping it up during stress is not surprising.

What I did find surprising was my reaction to the good news that the cancer had not spread to my mom's lymph nodes. My immediate reaction was, "YAY!" I quickly texted my sister to let her know the good news as well. Since it was Friday evening, I figured maybe we could celebrate in some way. But, instead of partying, once the initial news wore off, I crashed. Hard.

I spent the entire weekend in a really bad mood. I went for a run, but I couldn't muster the mental strength to make it up the big hill. I took Michael to a birthday party, and instead of enjoying talking with other parents, I was annoyed over petty little things that typically don't even hit my radar. I was too grumpy and tired to even consider doing my normal Sunday evening workout.

What the heck? This isn't how I'm supposed to feel!

Upon more consideration, I realized that the reason I was feeling that way was because I had just spent the last five weeks holding thing together for my mom, for Michael, for everyone that depends on me. I did what I needed to do, but it sucked. Once I finally knew where things stood, I could finally exhale and take care of myself.

So, that's what I did. I decided to let myself off the hook and sulked around a little. Screw exercise, screw smiling. I just needed a little time to feel some of the many feelings that I didn't have time to deal with while everything was going on. It was finally safe to do that, so I went with it.

Now, I'm working on getting back in the game mentally. I'm taking care of many of the small things that I let slide. When I went out to run on Monday, I decided to only do two miles and focus specifically on the hill that beat me. I don't feel like I'm completely back on my game, but I at least feel like I'm getting there.

Maybe this weekend I'll be up for a little more of a celebration than last weekend.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Good News!

Yes, I have good news. It was negative!

Wait, maybe I should give you the bad news first so the good news makes sense.

Back at the end of February I called my mom to talk, but Michael was being difficult so I told her I was going to go. Normally, my telephone hating mother would be glad to get off the phone, but this time she told me to call her back once I got Michael to bed.

"Why, are you dying?" I asked sarcastically.

"Maybe."

Well, that joke fell a little flat.

When I called my mom back she informed me that she had found a lump in her breast and that she was scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram the next week.

I'm both a linear and a big picture thinker. In my career, having both of these skills are very helpful. It allows me to think of as many possible outcomes that can occur in a situation, and then find ways to mitigate obstacles that pop up to prevent the desired outcome. In my personal life, it means I churn over every possible outcome and then start planning for each one, even if some aren't that likely.

So, when my mom told me she had a lump in her breast, every possible scenario jumped into my mind, and I started planning actions for each and every one. The plus side? I was prepared. The negative side? I freaked myself out. Because you know, as soon as you hear the word lump, one possible outcome that pops right up is horrible, painful death from cancer. And that's just what my mind did. It would swing from, "it's a cyst" to "OMG" and everything in between.

To add to the fun, my mom asked me not to tell my brother or sister until she knew more. That's fun.

The process from learning that my mom had a lump and where she is now was tough. It's not just tough because it's scary. It's tough because there is so much waiting and guessing.

My mom went in for the mammogram and the radiologist informed her that the 1 inch lump looked like a carcinoma. She was referred to a surgeon. Without a biopsy, I was hesitant to give up hope that it might be a cyst, so in my mind, all possible options were still on the table.

My mom saw the surgeon. He told her it looked like a carcinoma, performed a needle biopsy, and sent her for a bunch of tests, including a chest x-ray and bone scan. Without results of the biopsy, I was hesitant to give up hope that it was a cyst. All options were still on the table, and I was trying to limit my thinking to the happy options.

Her doctor is awesome and really gets the urgency of getting results back to his patients as soon as possible. The night before my brother, sister and I were getting together for the annual boyscout pancake breakfast, my mom learned that she does, in fact have breast cancer.

That narrowed down the possible outcomes, but not really in the way I was hoping for. Taking the best option off the table sucked.

I volunteered to share the news with my brother and sister. You know, because I wasn't stressed out enough.

At this point, things were narrowed down to the best case scenario of localized breast cancer that would require lumpectomy, hormone treatment, and radiation. Worst case scenario..."STOP THINKING ABOUT IT!"

The next step was for my mom to get all her tests completed. That took about a week and then a few more days for all the results to make it to her doctor so he could devise a plan of action. That week and a half lasted for what felt like a year and involved many, "STOP THINKING ABOUT IT" moments. I tried to prepare myself for learning the worst while hoping for the best.

All of the tests came back negative. This was awesome news. The cancer had not spread to her chest wall or her bones. But, it still didn't rule out the cancer spreading to her lymph nodes and possible chemotherapy. So, while good news, we still didn't know everything we needed to know.

That allowed my mind to continue churning over things. Oh, and to keep things nice and complicated, don't forget that my mom watches Michael two times a week and that I'm out of sick time. When I suggested putting Michael into daycare full time, my mom's response was, "But Michael is the purpose in my life." Hey, no pressure there.

Last Thursday, my mom had a partial mastectomy and a sentinal node biopsy. When I picked her up from the hospital that night, she told me she'd get the results this Wednesday. Almost another full week of waiting, for a combined total of about 5 weeks of worry and stress. The hurry up and wait thing was driving us all crazy.

The surgery was an amazing success. The doctor was able to remove all of the cancerous tissue and achieve clear margins. He did an awesome job and managed to preserve my mom's shape really well. I don't even think she'll need to buy a new bathing suit to cover any scar tissue! And best of all, my mom had nothing more than I little tenderness at the site of the surgery (because I swear she is a mutant and does not sense pain like the rest of us.) She was up and getting around like normal the very next day. AWESOME!

So, all that was left was to find out the result of the lymph node biopsy. Negative would mean hormone therapy and radiation. Positive would mean chemo, hormone therapy, and radiation and a higher likelihood of recurrence. (I cringe even typing the words.)

On Friday, my mom forgot that the doctor had said to call to make an appointment on Wednesday. She had it in her mind that she needed to go back in 48 hours to get the dressing changed, so she called his office and had them track the doctor down. He called her right back to explain what she needed to do, and he also happened to have gotten the results back from pathology. Her lymph nodes were negative! She shared the news with me that evening when I called to double (or quadruple) check on her.

I was so thrilled to her the news. I was so thrilled to not have to wait until the following Wednesday. This was the best case scenario, and I'm so relieved for my mom.

Right now, my mom is doing great. She is feeling so good that she opted to take Michael today and they headed out to Bounce Town a little while ago. I just wish that Michael could understand just how special this time he has with his grandma is, and that he is so lucky to have her.