Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's The Little Things

Jimmi and I were in Tennessee for my brother's wedding this weekend. I wasn't sure how I'd be feeling, so we chose to drive down on Wednesday, rather than risk hours in an airport and a bumpy flight that might make me more nauseous than I've been feeling already.

The drive wasn't bad. It was about 15 hours over the course of two days. Jimmi likes to drive, so he banged out 11 hours in one shot, stopping only to eat and pee. That brought us to Pigeon Forge, TN, home of the famous DollyWood, where we decided to stop for the night. It was bitterly cold when we got out of the car, and I was immediately reminded of the last few months of Hell as the icy wind blew through my wig and caused goosebumps to rise all over my bare scalp.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

After a short night's sleep at The Ramada, Jimmi and I explored the nearby town of Gatlinburg, TN. As we walked around the streets full of quaint, little shops, I noticed I was getting winded very easily, but I trudged on. Soon, we found ourselves standing in front of a creepy looking haunted house. "Let's go in!" I said excitedly. After paying for our entrance, I was told we would be going on a self-guided tour of the "Mysterious Mansion", which included seven flights of stairs. Six months ago, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. But now, I found myself wondering if I'd be able to get through the amusement without stopping to rest or feeling faint.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

Luckily, we made it through the house unscathed, and headed for the huge aquarium down the road. Jimmi and I entered the building, and the overwhelming smell of fish hit me right in the face. Instantly, I felt nauseous and had to talk myself out of vomiting. "Do you want to leave?" Jimmi asked with concern. "I'll be ok," I convinced myself. "Just give me a minute." While the odor didn't disappear, I was able to tolerate it enough to continue our day of touring.

We decided to sign up for a "Penguin Encounter" that would allow us to go with a small group and touch and take a photo with a live penguin. It sounded so cute! As we sat in the small room with 12 others, the aquarium employee told us a little bit about "Jimmy", our penguin friend. She explained how to touch him and that he may try to bite at sleeves or jewelry. Then she added, "And for any of you men wearing baseball caps, you might want to take them off because Jimmi doesn't like the brims and he may try to attack you." A thought instantly went through my mind that made me cringe. Thank God I was wearing my wig and not my baseball hat with the hair attached to it. How could I have taken that off? I couldn't have. Then I would've had to explain to everyone why I wasn't able to touch the penguin. I would've been so ashamed.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

Jimmi and I left the aquarium after our penguin experience and headed for DollyWood. But, as if we were living a scene right out of National Lampoon's Vacation, the theme park was unexpectedly closed for the day, so we got back on the road and headed for Nashville. We arrived at dinnertime on Thursday, and the hotel was swimming with family members who had just flown in for the wedding on Saturday. But it wasn't just my family. The bride's family was there too. Meghan, my new sister-in-law, introduced me to her friends and relatives, and by the greetings I was given, I knew they had all heard my story. I got the sympathetic head tilt, the grab of the hand, and the "How are you feeling?" more times than I wanted to count. Seriously, people, I appreciate the concern, but can we talk about something else? By the time my own cousin asked the same question, I rudely snapped back, "I really don't want to talk about it." I felt terrible for biting his head off like that, but I don't want to feel like the poor little sick girl anymore.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

Friday was a busy day. My mom and I headed out to a Bridesmaids' Luncheon with Meghan's closest female friends and relatives, then made a quick stop back at the hotel to change, grab my dad and Jimmi, and run to the rehearsal dinner. I dealt with more head tilts and questions about my health much better than I had the day before, but I refused to walk around and mingle too much, and stayed close to my table, where I felt safe from cancer discussions.

As the dinner came to an end, goodbyes were exchanged, and my cousins started talking about hitting the strip in Nashville later on. I was tired and cranky, but I faked an excited, "Ok!" and the plans were set in motion. We all shot back to the hotel to change, and off we went. I was nervous because I wasn't sure if smoking was allowed in bars in TN. I couldn't be around smoke. Not only because I can't stand cigarettes; not only because I have asthma. The main reason I couldn't be around a smokey bar, was because I didn't want my wig to suck in the fumes. You see, after a night out, most people can just wash the smell out of their hair and go on with their lives. Not me. Washing my wig is an involved process that requires a styrofoam head, about 25 straight pins, a spray bottle with a shampoo and water mixture, a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol, and a deep conditioner - none of which I had brought with me. I had to avoid smokers because I refused to let myself smell like an ashtray for the rest of the weekend.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

As we walked around looking for some good live music, I realized there was no way around the tobacco sticks. Everyone on the street was smoking, and the backdraft was impossible to avoid. As I sniffed the tendrils of my wig, I became increasingly more depressed. But my night was about to get much worse. We crossed the street and saw a young man with dreadlocks and traditional hippie attire holding a sign that said, "Need $1 for weed". I shook my head at his joke, and was jolted back to reality when I heard a woman's voice ask, "Hey, can anyone give me cancer?" I stopped in my tracks and looked into the eyes of the weed man's female counterpart. "Excuse me?" I said not quite understanding what she was talking about. She made herself clear when she asked, "Can anyone give me a cigarette?" I felt myself start to shake. My hands clenched into fists and I had to hold myself back from popping her right in the jaw. Was that supposed to be funny? Did she think asking for cancer as a clever synonym for a cigarette was a joke? I kept walking, but every part of me was dying to run back to her and say, "You want cancer? Take it! I don't want it!" And that was it. My night was over. I left Jimmi with the rest of the group, and my cousin and I headed back to the hotel.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

Once I was alone in my room, I decided to get ready for bed. The wedding was the next day, and I really wanted to get some sleep. I pulled back my wig, and realized the tape was starting to come off. Jimmi would have to help me reapply it in the morning. I continued my routine of washing my face and brushing my teeth, then I looked at my reflection in the mirror. Oh no! I looked more closely. Oh shit! They're gone! I pushed my face right up against the mirror and confirmed my fear. My lower eyelashes were gone. All gone. I couldn't hold the tears back any longer and they started to fall down my cheeks like rain on a windshield.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

In the morning, Jimmi helped me tape my wig back on, then we went downstairs for some breakfast. I had to eat quickly because Meghan's sister, Cathy, was picking another bridesmaid, Alexis, and I up so we could get our hair and makeup done. Another situation I was dreading. When I got married, my hair - wig - and makeup were done by my stylist, who is a very close friend. He's known me for years, and he knows my situation. This time, I had to go to an unknown salon, and see an unknown stylist and explain that I'm wearing a wig. I felt so embarrassed.

Cathy arrived at 11 am, and Alexis and I hopped into the car. I tried to act happy and excited, when inside I just wanted to scream, "Let me off at the closest Starbucks. I don't want to go with you!" But I couldn't do that. We walked into the salon and my heart started pounding. We checked in and went to wait on the couch. Within minutes, a very young, blonde girl approached me. "Suzanne? I'm Molly. I'll be doing your hair today." I followed her to a styling chair and plopped myself down. I had to tell her before she touched me. Should I just blurt it out? Her hands started to reach for my head and I lunged forward. "Um, I don't know if Meghan told you when she booked my appointment, but I recently went through chemo and I'm wearing a wig." I was mortified. "Yeah, she told me. It's ok. So what do you want to do with it?" She seemed fine about it, but I wasn't. I used to love having my hair done. I loved the feeling of the brush running through my long, shiny locks. I loved how it would massage my scalp and make me feel so relaxed. This was just the opposite. I didn't want this girl to touch me. I wanted to leap out of the chair and run away. But I couldn't. I answered her question. "Well, I really can't wear it up because you'll see the edges of the wig. Just do whatever you can with it as long as it's down and everything is covered." I wanted to cry.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

When Molly finished with me, she brought me over to Sun, who was scheduled to do my makeup. Oh, how I wish it had been just one person doing both my hair and my makeup. Now I have to explain it again in case she needs to move my hair off my face. "Um, I'm not sure if Molly told you, but I recently went through chemo and I'm wearing a wig." She didn't seem to be phased by my announcement. "Yeah, Molly told me. She said not to pull it or anything. I was like, what do you think I'm gonna do? Rip it off?" Ok, can I please crawl into a hole and die now? Oh, wait, there's more. "Oh, one more thing. I noticed last night that my lower lashes are gone. Can you give me fake ones?" She got right up into my face, "Oh, yeah, you're right. Hmmmm, well, we only do fake upper lashes here." Of course they do. Ugh! "Ok, well, can you just hide the fact that they're gone with some eyeliner or something?" She nodded and started the process of attempting to make me look normal.

It's little things like this that don't allow me to forget what I'm going through.

Cathy, Alexis and I left the salon photo ready. Though, the last thing I wanted to do was smile for the camera. I know it's not true, but I feel like everyone is looking at me and whispering, "She's wearing a wig. It looks so fake!" I used to be outgoing and vibrant, and now I just want to hide from the world. But I couldn't. We picked up our dresses and met Meghan at the wedding venue. I did my job as a bridesmaid and acted happy and did as I was told. But as soon as the reception started, I made my way to my table and I never left. I didn't want to be seen. I didn't want to be noticed. I didn't want to be Fred's little sister with cancer.

I just want to be me again. Will I ever be me again?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Mommy

I should be ashamed of myself.

Since starting this blog, I've written from the heart without holding back. But I just realized I've never written about one of the main reasons I'm fighting as hard as I am.

My mom.

Yes, I know she's been a main character of just about every one of my entries, but I've never taken the time to talk about how truly amazing my mom really is.

Now is the time to correct that oversight.

I never expected anyone to give up anything for me. But my mom has given up everything. Before cancer, I used to joke that my mom had more of a social life than anyone I knew. From meetings to movies to Broadway shows, she really knew how to pack in her days. Her schedule was full from the moment she'd get up in the morning until the moment she'd close her eyes at night. And to top it off, she and my dad had recently purchased a house in Florida, and hoped to spend a lot of time there enjoying the relaxation and time with their friends.

But all of that changed last April.

My parents were supposed to leave for Florida the week I was diagnosed, but for some reason, something told my mom not to go. They postponed their trip for just a few days, so I asked my mom to join me at the gynecologist's office for the results of my LEEP, which I expected to be totally normal.

Obviously not the case.

"They did find some cancer there..." Dr. Ferrante explained, as I stared at him in disbelief. My mom was there to hold me as I cried. I'm sure she was holding back her own tears, but she never showed them to me. She was strong and positive and kept me from losing my mind.

They never did go to Florida. From that moment on, my mom cleared her schedule and put me first. She accompanied me to every single appointment with the countless specialists I needed to see. She never said, "I'm busy" or "I have something to do that day." I was her only concern. If she had a prior engagement, she'd cancel it without a thought to be there for me.

My mom slept at the hospital with me when I had my surgery. She dropped everything and ran into the city at midnight (twice) when I had to go back in for infections. She was tireless. She never showed weakness and she never complained. If there was something I needed, she was there. No questions asked.

Over the last six months, that never changed. Not only did my mom keep up on all of my medical needs, she went far beyond that. I can't even count the times she's cooked for me or cleaned my house. She's been here to manage the mountains of paperwork and bills that have collected on my kitchen counter. She's organized my kitchen, made the home office workable for Jimmi, put away laundry, taken the kids on outings and tended to my pets.

But the one thing my mom can do that no one else can, is talk me off a ledge. I must call her 15 times a day just for reassurance. "Mommy, I hate how I look." "Mommy, I hate how I feel." "Mommy, when will this stop?" "Mommy, my kids must think I abandoned them." "Mommy, I can't do this anymore." "Mommy, it hurts." "Mommy, I don't want to die."

She always knows what to say, and she will always talk to me. She never tells me to stop complaining. She never tells me to just deal with it. She never tells me she doesn't want to hear it anymore. She says, "I know it's hard. You just have to keep fighting." "I wish I could make it better." "Your kids know you love them." "Think positive."

I don't know how I got so lucky. I've heard the expression, "You can't choose your family." But, quite honestly, if I could, I would absolutely choose to have my mom.

I love you, Mommy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hitting Hard

After such a positive, upbeat last post, I've been avoiding writing again for fear of bringing down the mood. Actually, that's not entirely true. I haven't really been able to write anything at all since this last round of chemo has knocked me right on my ass!

I forgot they told me the effects would be cumulative. I had an extra week off before my third cycle because of the wedding, so I was feeling pretty good for about a week. And for some reason, cycle three - while not a picnic in the park - wasn't quite as bad as the ones before. But cycle four, on the other hand...Wow.

I shouldn't complain. So many others are going through worse experiences in their lives right now. I should be able to deal with a little poison in my veins. But, quite honestly, I'm just sick of being sick. I hadn't really recovered from the last cycle before this one started, so it's really throwing me for a loop. I know I should be celebrating because this was supposed to have been my last cycle, but I'm just not in a partying place.

What if it didn't work? What if I have to go through this again? What if it's not over?

I'm scared.

I should be thinking positive thoughts. "Your attitude through all of this is very important," my mom keeps reminding me. But as hard as I try, it's not always easy to think happy thoughts when your head is in the toilet.

I'm really scared.

I have my follow-up CT scan scheduled for November 10th, with the results on the 14th. Hopefully, by then, I'll be back into a routine with my kids again. I miss them so much. But what if the results aren't good? What if this Hell has to start all over again? What will I tell my boys?

I can't think that way! My mom keeps reminding me, "Look at all you've been through in such a short time." Do I even remember it all?

Since April, I've had a LEEP, numerous PET scans and CT scans and MRIs, I've given myself shots to stimulate my eggs, I've had my eggs retrieved, fertilized and frozen, I've had a hysterectomy and my ovaries were removed, I was sent back to the hospital for an infection, I've had 28 days of radiation and four, three-day rounds of chemotherapy, I've lost my hair, I was sent back to the hospital for low white cells and I've gotten married.

Have I missed anything??

Oh yeah. My honeymoon. I missed that. And my kids. Haven't seen them very much. I really miss my old life, actually. I miss feeling healthy. I miss going to the gym. I miss hanging out with my friends. I miss waking my kids up for school. I miss helping them with their homework. I miss feeling like a person.

I feel like a walking science experiment. No ones knows exactly what to do, so they'll just keep trying different potions until something works. I hope.

I really hate that I'm being such a downer. In the middle of writing this entry, I called my kids just to hear their voices. Their dad called out, "It's Mommy!" and I heard a rush of excitement, then a joyful game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" to see who'd get to speak to me first. Justin emerged victorious, and his bubbly little, "Hi Mommy!" almost brought me to tears. I listened as he told me all about the macaroni skeleton he'd made at school, and how he had memorized the Cub Scout Promise. Then Dylan took the phone and let me know the he, once again, was chosen for Gifted and Talented reading. He shared some ideas for his birthday celebration in November, then I let them both go back to dinner and homework. I hung up the phone after repeating "I love you" and "I miss you" over and over again. I don't understand how any parent can willingly decide not to see his or her children. It breaks my heart.

And here I am again. Alone in front of my computer. Jimmi is out picking up some dinner that I probably won't be able to eat, and I'm typing away while I'm well enough to sit up straight. I just want this part to be over.

I need prayers. Please pray that this will be over. Pray that my scans in November will be clean. Pray that they will stay clean. Pray that I'll be able to watch my kids grow up and graduate from high school, and college. Pray that I'll be there to congratulate them on their first job and dance with them at their weddings. Pray that I'll be able to hold my grandchildren in my arms and kiss them on their soft, sweet heads.

Please, pray for me.