New traditions

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Over the years, Thanksgiving has taken on many different forms.  When I was a child, my family would sometimes spend the weekend in Rhode Island & Connecticut with my father’s side of the family. All of the cousins would stay up late the night before, sharing stories and giggles. We would sleep in on Thanksgiving morning and wake up just in time for appetizers at noon. The adults would sit at the main table and the kids would have their own table or two.  We would eat all day, having second and even third dinner, with naps & snuggles on the couch in between.

Other years, my family would spend the day with my mother’s side of the family. We would all gather at my grandparents house for dinner promptly at noon. There were so many aunts, uncles and cousins that we ate buffet style. We would line up with our plates and serve ourselves heaping helpings of food and then sit wherever we could find the room. Sometimes the table, sometimes the couch and sometimes the stairs going up to the second floor.

The first Thanksgiving after I met Joe, he wasn’t planning on celebrating the day because his family was in Florida. Him and his roommate were going to stay home and order a pizza. I immediately invited them to my grandparent’s house and after a little hesitation, they both agreed. “The Joe’s”, as my uncles called them (something they laughed at for years), were welcomed into my family gathering without question.

After moving to Florida, we spend the first few Thanksgivings at my in-laws, with the exception of the year we bought our house when we hosted for the first time ever.

The last four years though, we have taken on a new tradition that has been named the Brown-Hall-Rivers-Thanksgiving-Extravaganza. It started with my younger sisters coming to spend their first Thanksgiving in Florida with the windows open and wearing tank tops. This first year was also the infamous year that I dropped the freshly baked apple pie that my little sister made for dessert. The following year, we decided to head to Georgia and experience a cooler fall Thanksgiving, where we were able to bundle up and snuggle to keep warm in the chilly air.

Last year, my baby sister and her (now) fiance traveled back to Florida to spend little man’s first Thanksgiving with us. Jacob, despite only eating milk at the time, was the head of the table (something that seems rather fitting!).

This year, we caught an amazing sale on plane tickets early in the year and we are back in the beautiful late fall that Georgia offers. Though, instead of celebrating today, we are waiting until tomorrow so that my soon-to-be brother-in-law can join us. Today, he is in uniform protecting this wonderful city.  Tomorrow ee will join his aunt & uncle, who are kindly hosting us in their home for a feast and celebration.

So today, though we won’t have turkey and fixings, we are thankful. We are thankful for all of the amazing Thanksgivings that we been blessed to have, for the incredible family & friends who love and support us more than we could ever have imagined, for it being a “good” week that allows us the ability to travel and eat well, for this gorgeous fall weather, for each other and for each year that brings a new spin to our Thanksgiving traditions.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy this beautiful day with loved ones! I’d love to hear what traditions you share!

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A few updates…

Happy Saturday, friends! I feel like I have been gone from here for far too long, so sorry! This week has been quite busy. Here are a few updates of this past week…

This week’s checkup was similar to the previous one. There has not been any changes to my tumor or lymph nodes so it isn’t growing (yay!) but it isn’t shrinking either (boo). Since it isn’t growing, we are continuing on the current path to finish the next 2 treatments that include Perjetta and Herceptin before moving on to surgery and radiation. If it were growing, we would stop treatments and move right into surgery. Though I am disappointed that the shrinking seems to have stopped, I still have faith that I will be cured at the end of this journey!

I asked why my cancer seems to be an outlier from previous HER2 positive treatments. I learned that my cancer is not a “simple” (I use that word lightly) HER2 positive case and that my cancer contains additional features that could be delaying the tumor from shrinking. I asked about the details of those features but the medical jargon was lost on me. Knowing that my case is not standard helps me to better understand why the tumor is hanging on tight. With two more of the aggressive treatments to go, I am confident it will lose this battle and start shrinking again!

An interesting side effect has become a daily nuisance – watery eyes. The oncologist noticed my eyes watering at an appointment a few weeks ago and informed me that it is a side effect of treatment, recommending cold compresses to ease it a bit. I hadn’t really noticed the eye watering at that point but my goodness it has become a regular thing now. All day I feel as though the tears are going to spill over and I will start crying without warning. Though this is not a severe side effect, it is super annoying. Just a head’s up if we’re chatting it up and I look like I might start bawling!

They draw blood and review my counts pretty regularly throughout treatment. Each week, the doctors continue to be amazed that I am still within the “normal” range. While this is a new normal and lower than normal for a healthy adult, it is great news that I am 4 treatments in and not anemic. My white and red blood cell counts, as well as my platelets, all look good. If they didn’t, there would be the possibility of delaying treatment until the counts were brought up. I am thankful that my body continues to stay strong throughout this journey!

To add to the typically hectic work week, yesterday daycare called because little man suddenly came down with a 102 fever. An afternoon trip to the pediatrician diagnosed a double ear infection and the cold virus. He has only been off of antibiotics for about a week since his last ear infection. That makes 6 total since March – poor little guy! Next month we visit an ENT to figure out why he keeps getting these. Thankfully, the antibiotics are working fast and he is back to his energetic and smiling self this morning! Knowing that my blood cell counts are good makes for some worry-free snuggling too.

With the holidays fast approaching, I hope that everyone has a fun filled weekend with family planned. Enjoy this beautiful day!

A girl needs to have a little fun!

A few months ago I purchased an eyebrow conditioning serum to help with my thinning eyebrows. When it arrived, I excitedly opened the package and read the instructions  (yes, I do that!). The fine print stated that it had not been tested for use by patients undergoing chemotherapy. Sigh. Not wanting to take the risk without asking, I emailed my oncology nurse. She stated she needed to do more research and asked me not to use it for now. She also shared with me that there is a program called Look Good, Feel Better that would help me learn how to do makeup while undergoing treatment. It would also help teach about how to wear head wraps and wigs. I googled and read about the program and decided to sign up.  I am not a fashionista by any means, so I need all the help that I can get. Especially now!

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending. I had anticipated that it would be a room full of people and not a whole lot of one on one time. My goodness, was I wrong! There were 3 of us lovely ladies, a cosmotologist who has been volunteering with the program for over 17 years and the coordinator. We were each given a bag of goodies, filled with makeup for each step of the makeup wearing process (apparently there’s an art to this makeup wearing stuff!). We were taught, hands on and even with demonstration help, how to apply all of the makeup. The cosmotologist gave us tips and explained why we should do certain things a certain way (like only using disposable tools while in treatment to avoid infection while the immune system is down).

The makeup bags fit our skin tone (light for me, please!) and a lot of the goodies forced us out of our comfort zone – like wearing lip liner and pink lipstick, something I would never be brave enough to do on my own.

After the makeup fun, we were taught how to easily tie some head wraps and how to bulk them up to make them look like an accessory and not a cover-up.  Next, was wigs. We all had some fun with wigs and totally ventured out of our comfort zones.

It was a great experience and a lot of fun! It was more than I ever expected from the event. And while the free goodies and wig were awesome, the best part of the experience was spending time with these women.  The 3 of us each had cancer of varying forms and stages but we didn’t need to talk about that. We learned about how to feel better about ourselves through the art of cosmotology. We didn’t talk about the side effects in a negative way but instead focused on how to help those side effects by using things like moisturizers and foundation. And we had fun!

This is a nationwide program and is FREE to anyone currently undergoing treatment for cancer. I strongly encourage anyone undergoing treatment to look into this program in your area and sign up if you can.  The time spent with these ladies was priceless!

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Pumpkins

Behind their yard, my grandparents grew a vegetable garden. My grandfather would plant rows and rows of all types of vegetables and they grew like weeds, thanks to the love and care that he gave them. I’ve never seen such a massive vegetable garden. My grandfather would send home anyone who visited with a basketful of the freshest vegetables. Toward the end of the vegetable season in New York, he would grow pumpkins.

Every year, a few weeks before Halloween, all of the cousins – dozens and dozens! – would venture over to my grandfather’s house and pick out their absolute favorite pumpkin. The one that would be theirs this year. There were dozens upon dozens of pumpkins to choose from; more than enough for everyone. But there was always that one…the one that we each knew was perfect for us because we were able to pick it out ourselves.

I remember running amongst the rows of pumpkins, determined to find the one that I loved the most. Sometimes it was small and round, other times it was fat and heavy. I would move it around in the dirt to see if it had any imperfections. I would try to lift it and it would take all of my might to pick it up – and it wasn’t even done growing yet! Once I was convinced that I found the perfect pumpkin, the one that was just right for me, I would let my grandfather know. He would pull out his pocket knife and carve my name in it. Not too deep, as to pierce through the pumpkin, but just enough for my name to be visible. Over the next few weeks, the fresh carving would start to heal and the pumpkin would continue to grow with it.

When it was time to start carving our pumpkins for Halloween, my sisters and I would return to the vegetable garden. We would run through the pumpkins once again, past the names of all our cousins etched into the bright orange skin, trying to remember exactly where our perfect pumpkin sat. By this time, our names had become a part of the pumpkin. No longer an open wound but instead a brown scar, healed by time.

Today, we cut open one of the pumpkins from our hayride (late, I know). We scooped out all of the seeds and set them out to dry overnight to bake tomorrow. The other pumpkins? They’ll be placed out on the side of the house to decompose, with the hope of growing new pumpkins next year. Perhaps one that is just right for Jacob’s name.

A compassionate Saturday…and a small world

When we attended the K92.3 Survivors Meet & Greet last month, we met a wonderful warrior named Dixie who is a 4 year survivor. In an interesting twist, her husband is currently employed where Joe used to work prior to his current position. We all became fast friends and exchanged contact information. Earlier this week, Dixie invited us to be guests at an outreach event for a local breast cancer organization – Compassionate Hands and Hearts.

Today we attended this wonderful event and met dozens of incredible women – survivors, supporters and their families and friends. Every month these women get together and open their homes, their hearts, their stories and their love for local women battling breast cancer. Each and every one of them is a story of strength, courage and hope – filling a room with that much love can easily bring a person to tears. We spent the morning making new friends, enjoying delicious food and sharing stories.

In an interesting twist of fate, we were even able to meet a supporter of ours in person for the first time! My baby sister’s soon-to-be aunt-in-law has a sister who lives about an hour from us. She sends us cards regularly and prays for us every morning. Today, after seeing little man in his Red Phoenix shirt, she realized that she knew us and introduced herself. I immediately started bawling and hugged her. How cool is that?! What a small world…

As if the tears weren’t flowing enough already after spending time with these amazing, inspiring women, we were we able to witness this organization provide 6 incredible women fighting the fight with goodies and a financial gift. And then we were surprised at the end with a financial gift as well. What an amazing day.

I’ve heard there is strength in numbers. Although each of us has fought or is fighting this battle, I find strength with them.

I’ll share pictures once they’re posted!

So. Much. Love.

When I was a little girl, I loved to write letters. In between visits, my cousins and I would write back and forth to each other. During summer breaks, my closest friends and I would write to each other every few days; often making our own envelopes out of another sheet of paper. Sometimes we would fill them with confetti, which would cause quite a mess when opened! We would even look up the address to hotels and send letters to each other during family vacations. I remember excitedly checking the mail each day in anticipation of the arrival of a new letter addressed to me. There is just something so wonderful about receiving mail.

Although Jacob doesn’t know it yet, I’ve started (try) to pass along this love of letter writing to him. Each holiday, and every vacation, we send him a letter or post card. The letters usually have $1 in it and we share with him a few thoughts, words of wisdom or an event that occurred. We address it to him and mail it out – many times from our own mailbox. They are sealed and stored in a memory box for him to open sometime. We even did this when I was pregnant – addressed to “Baby”.

Where we live now, there aren’t mailboxes (in the typical sense) at each house but instead a large, metal mail box at the end of each road for all of the houses on that street. Typically, it takes a few days for us to check it because it isn’t right in front of our house. Since beginning this journey though, it has become a nightly tradition for us – something that I look forward to doing together. Jacob is strapped into his Radio-Flyer tricycle and we take a family walk to the mailbox together. Most days, that metal box is filled with a letter or a card or a package. Someone reaching out to send their love, their thoughts, their prayers or a surprise gift to let us know that they are thinking of us and that we are not alone in this journey.

Twice this week my husband returned from picking up little man with a gift for me; the first a gift basket filled with goodies from coworkers to remind me how strong I am and today an embroidered tote from daycare filled with goodies to keep me comfortable during treatment. This week, which is the hardest one for us, we have also been given a meal each night so we don’t have to cook.

And the list doesn’t end there – the calls, the texts, the fundraiser, the visits to see us, the prayers. So. Much. Love.

Writing this out, I can’t help but cry. I like to think that words come easy for me when writing but I don’t think I can properly express how much all of your kindness means to us. This is, by far, the most challenging, life-altering journey that we have ever been on and you have all done so much to help us through this. Each and every one of you. We are so humbled and so incredibly blessed with all of your love. There are so many different ways that one can demonstrate kindness, love and support…and I feel like we have seen every single possible way.

A dear friend said to me, “Our prayer is that this helps you and your family, even if it’s just a little.” Oh, but a little it is not. It is so much bigger than that.

Thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

Day 4 – DONE!

Day 4 - DONE

Better late than never, right? Treatment #4 is DONE! It feels super awesome to see the progress and have only 2 remaining aggressive treatments. So. Close.

I’m beginning to feel better today, though still quite tired. The fatigue hit a lot harder this time around and I tire easily when moving around. But I’m getting through it and that’s what matters.

I saw my oncologist today, as I do every week. I expressed concern that the tumor and my lymph nodes don’t appear to be shrinking lately. He examined them both and agreed, though he also doesn’t feel like it is growing, which is good news. While it is not typical that the tumor would stop shrinking with the treatment that I am undergoing, we don’t know what is happening inside the tumor. It’s possible that there is a mass of dead cells hanging out in there, waiting for surgery to remove them. I’m disappointed that I can’t feel the progress being made like I did in the beginning but I am confident that my body is reacting the way it needs to. I also feel, as my oncologist does, that I need to continue on the course of treatment that we are on currently.

So. Though this isn’t the greatest of news that I have to share, I will not let it deter my faith that I will beat this horrible disease. I took a moment in the car ride home to dwell in my anger at the situation and now I’m done. I won’t let it bring me down and I won’t waste my energy worrying about it.

Because today I ate a cupcake for breakfast that didn’t taste like metal.

Because today I picked out little man’s school pictures – and his shirt wasn’t dirty!

Because my husband is running out to grab me a strawberry milkshake.

Because tonight I will catch up with a dear friend when she brings dinner for my family.

Because I am grateful for today, and every day.

Because I am doing the very best that I can and that’s all there is to it.