Happy birthday, Mike

Mike

Most of us meet new people regularly. We interact with them in the grocery store, in daycare, at work or just walking down the street. Some of them become friends for a moment, others friends for a lifetime. A few leave marks on our lives and in our hearts that we will hold dear forever.

I first met Michael, Joe’s brother, when Joe moved to Florida in February 2004. I spent that summer in Florida, in between semesters, before moving down permanently. Joe’s car was a 5-speed and I had never driven one before. Joe tried to teach me but, frankly, it wasn’t going well. I needed to learn so that I would be able to drive myself around. One night, after an unsuccessful attempt at driving around the block, I was feeling a bit frustrated. Michael was off from work the next day and volunteered to teach me how to drive. I happily accepted.

Michael sat in the car with me and explained the mechanics of shifting and the purpose of the clutch. He also explained that each car was different and that it was important to feel the car and listen to it, to know when to shift gears. We practiced for a few hours and despite many stalls, I started the get the hang of it. The next day, we took the car out again and this time Michael told me to drive onto one of the busier roads in the neighborhood.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked, slightly terrified.

“You have to learn somehow. Eventually you need to drive on these roads, and it’s better to do it when there is someone in the car with you to help.”

I decided to take his advice and headed onto the main road. I did well at first but then, as I tried to turn, I stalled the car. I started to panic. There were cars behind me, waiting for me to get moving and what if I couldn’t get the car started again?! Despite my heart racing and the cars lining up behind me, Michael remained calm.

“Remember what we talked about. Remember what you learned.” He talked me through the steps of pressing in the clutch, holding the break and starting the car without being in gear. Once the car was running, I held the clutch and shifted into 1st. I slowly released the clutch while lightly pressing the gas and started to ease forward. I didn’t stall!

I made it home without stalling and was, quite frankly, proud of myself for being able to make it home. I was also very grateful to Mike, who stayed calm, had a ton of patience and a knack for teaching. I attribute my ability to drive a stick shift to him.

We lost Mike too early – today he would have been 31. I only had the pleasure of knowing him for a brief moment in time but I have many amazing, fun and priceless memories with him that I hold dear to my heart. He left a mark on all of the lives that he touched during his time with us.

Happy birthday, Mike. We miss you more with each passing day. We love you.Meg and Mike

Learning limits

I’ve been struggling with how to express my thoughts these last few days.  I haven’t been feeling quite like my normal self and the reality of cancer has been hitting me pretty hard.  On top of the normal craziness of life, I’m exhausted most days.

At my weekly oncologist appointment today, my doctor reiterated that the tiredness will only get worse before it gets better and that I need to be conscious of how active I am and allowing myself time to rest.  After my appointment, I started reflecting on the last few days.  This weekend was, what I would consider, “normal”.  I had a few activities outside of the house and returned in the early evening both days. I was tired but nothing more than usual. Before bed on Sunday, the reality of just how exhausted I was hit me hard.

Going through treatment creates a unique perspective on free time.  There is a week or two after treatment where I feel horrible and can’t do much of anything. When I am feeling better, I try to squeeze in enjoyment at every possible moment in the day. I want to brace every second that I feel good.

I am learning that I need to know my limits.  There is no more normal for me, in the old sense. I need to embrace my new normal and remember to take it easy.  This should help with my mindset too, in ensuring the tiredness doesn’t impact my overall wellness and positivity.

The hayride

Hayride

My grandparents had 11 children so our family is quite large – aunts, uncles and dozens of cousins. As a child, the central meeting place for all of our family was always my grandparents’ house. Their doors were always unlocked so that anyone could stop by whenever they felt like it. We spent many Sundays eating a large dinner at noon, while sitting on a wooden bench and drinking ice cold milk. During the warm months, we would sit on the picnic table outside, under the shade of the maple tree that hung a tire swing. My grandmother took great pride in her yard and garden. It was always filled with colorful flowers, decorations and beautiful smells.

One of my favorite memories from childhood is in the fall. When the air cooled and the night came early, my entire family would meet at my grandparents’ house to celebrate Halloween. We would dress up in our costumes and load up in my grandfather’s wagon, surrounded by bales of hay. He would hop onto his tractor and we would ride all around their property. Past the vegetable garden that my grandfather grew – now filled with leftover pumpkins, past the old dilapidated barn that us cousins were too afraid to explore in depth, behind the neighbor’s house where we often played. We would splash through the mud tracks where the dirt trail was a little bit lower. The wagon would sway through the divots in the road and we would giggle as we bumped all around. The tractor would pull us farther and farther, until we couldn’t see my grandparent’s house anymore. We would pass the massive maple tree that had lost all of its leaves and steer away from the pond that was surrounded by muck. The hayride seemed to last for hours until the sun went down and it was time to head back.

Today we visited a farm and Jacob experienced his very first hayride. Although the weather was much warmer in Florida today, the bouncing seats and bales of hay brought back incredible memories. Jacob sat tall on a bale of hay with his buddy from birth and smiled big. I couldn’t help but feel content. These moments in time, where I am able to take an experience that I loved as a child and pass it along to Jacob makes my heart smile. I hope to continue this tradition every year and I hope that Jacob will grow to love it as much as I do.

What tradition from your childhood do you hope to pass along?

So I cried today

Years and years ago, I was chatting with my best friend about needing an outlet to cry. I wasn’t upset or sad or angry, I just needed a good cry. She recommended the movie The Notebook, which I had never seen. I immediately purchased it and watched. I bawled my eyes out. My goodness, I cried! It was a sad cry, an angry cry, a happy cry and a fulfilling cry. It was exactly what I needed. That movie is typically my go-to for a good cry now.

This morning, I woke up to a Facebook post to me that was inspiring and thoughtful about life. Then I watched a video that someone shared with me. It was a sweet little girl singing to her mother, who is battling Stage 4 breast cancer. I bawled my eyes out. I cried – hard. Everything about it brought me to tears and made me start reflecting on my own life.

Cancer sucks. It does. It sucks. It’s painful, exhausting, emotionally draining, time consuming, terrifying and about a million other words. But I try really hard to stay strong. It is what it is and I can’t change it. But I can fight it – and that is what I am doing with all of my being. But it’s not just me fighting this horrible disease. It is my husband, my son, my family, my friends – the entire Red Phoenix community. Everyone who is impacted and chooses to fight alongside of me. I am not alone in this.

Every single day of this battle, I am shown an act of love, kindness, generosity and thoughtfulness. My husband in the way he cares for our home and our son. My family, who puts everything aside to drive / fly down and take care of me during treatment. My in-laws, who watch our son and bring us meals. My family & friends, who send cards and packages and kind words and bring meals to feed us and so many other amazing things. People that I haven’t spoken to in years, who reach out to let me know they are thinking of me and praying for me.

So I cried today. I cried for all of the good great things that I have in my life – all of the incredible people that I am so grateful and so blessed to know.  It was exactly what I needed.

The reality

I used to follow a blog by a dear childhood friend that spoke about the reality of life and parenting. I admired her honesty at being so real and open with the world. Today I want to follow that approach and talk about the reality of treatment. If you aren’t up for hearing the details of the day to day life after treatment, then this post isn’t for you – and that’s ok! I am simply trying to be true to myself and today, I am feeling that reality.

The day of treatment is tiring. Between the liquid Benadryl and the hours & hours spent in the chair, I’m exhausted. The next day starts slightly normal because the steroid is still flowing freely through me but that typically only gives me a few hours of “normalcy” before the side effects start kicking in. It’s also the day that I go back to the treatment center for hydration and my immune booster shot. I feel as though I spend most of this day in limbo, waiting until I start to feel bad.

The next few days all mesh together in a blur, although it doesn’t seem like a blur at the time. Everything tends to hit at once and not go away for a while, if at all. I am not accounting for all of the side effects here, just the ones that are on my mind today.

  • Tired – oh, so tired. Everything is exhausting. I could sleep for days. I nap as much as I can but I also try to move about somewhat so that I feel human but I’m tired. All the time. Some days keeping my eyes open takes all of the energy that I have in me.
  • Thirst – so thirsty and yet I hate drinking anything. It all tastes funny and frankly, it’s tiring. Yes, the simple act of lifting a cup to drink from is tiring. Thankfully, there are straws.
    • Side note – have you ever drank your water with a dill pickle in it? Genius. The restaurant that we ate at on our anniversary did that and I love it. I also love dill pickles though, so it’s a win-win there.
  • Food aversions – thankfully the medicine is working really well for nausea but the food aversions are always a struggle. I still have an appetite, which for me means that I am pretty much hungry all of the time, but it’s hard to eat. They aren’t kidding when they tell you to stick with bland foods for a few days. I may love something one minute and then after I eat it the thought of that same food makes me sick.
  • Hot flashes – ugh. The hot flashes are constant, day and night. One minute I’m hanging out and the next I am covered in sweat. My entire body heats up and I envision myself unzipping my skin and crawling out of it to obtain some relief. Then, a few minutes later the flash is gone and I am freezing, trying to cover myself up with every blanket I can find.
  • Fever – This is a typical symptom and as long as it doesn’t get above 100.5, I have no need to be concerned. But, as you may know, fevers come with chills. Chills vs hot flashes – who wins that battle?
  • Heartburn – Thankfully, I have medicine to help with the heartburn and it has done wonders for me. I am learning though, that heartburn comes from things I would never expect. Like red Gatorade. Really?
  • Headaches – I’ve dealt with migraines and headaches for years. They’ve become a bit more regular in recent weeks and on Saturday I had one of the worst headaches that I’ve ever experienced. It was horrendous and nothing  helped relieve it. I woke up Sunday with some relief and it hasn’t been as horrible since, thankfully.
  • Stomach issues – let’s just say that I carry Imodium with me everywhere I go. It is in my purse, my desk, my car and my diaper bag. You never know. And this side effect is one that becomes manageable but doesn’t go away the weeks in between treatment.
  • Mouth sores – I have been lucky enough to have only mildly experienced this so far and that is enough for me. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t become a regular thing.
  • The fog – I plan to focus on what I’ve come to learn is called “chemo fog” in a future post, but it’s worth noting here. The other day I poured bleach into the fabric softener holder in the washing machine. Thankfully, I was actually washing white clothes.

This is simply meant to be a glimpse into the world of treatment. It is all worth it in the end, I know that. But some a lot of days are hard. Having an incredible support system helps me through them. For that, I am grateful.

Day 3 – DONE!!!

Day 3 - Done!

Halfway. Halfway done with the aggressive treatments. 3 down, 3 to go. So. Close.

Today started out a little rough. Jacob has 2 top molars that broke through and has been causing some sleep struggles. Tack on vacation, which threw off his schedule a bit, and he had a rough night. We had a few things to get done before leaving so the morning was a bit hectic. But we pushed through it and arrived on time – exactly on time. Whew.

After giving me a dose of steroids and anti-nausea medication, I received liquid Benadryl to help with the side effects. This only takes about 15 – 20 minutes and I don’t last long after receiving it before I fall asleep. Last treatment, I fought the sleepiness because I wanted to accomplish a few things while I was sitting in the chair. This time, I embraced it. I slept for 2 hours straight in the middle of the day – I was tired! It felt nice to lay back, get comfortable and sleep. It’s a rather long day, usually about 7 – 8 hours at the treatment center, so 2 hours of sleep was wonderful.

The side effects haven’t hit just yet, I imagine sometime tomorrow night or Saturday morning. I’m not looking forward to them but I feel more prepared for what to expect this time around. After this, I have 3 more long treatment days to finish out the year and then we move on to the next step in this journey.

I’ll continue one drug (currently 4, not including premeds) every 3 weeks until next September (possibly October with the holidays pushing out treatment a little). When 2016 rolls around, we will discuss what surgery is best and after surgery / recovery, I’ll move to 6 weeks of radiation.

In the meantime, I am rejoicing in this small win. Halfway. Halfway! Oh, and thanks to the date switch, I shouldn’t be sick for Halloween. Double win.

Tomorrow

The days leading up to treatment are bittersweet. Food tastes better, the weather is more appealing, the minutes seem to matter more and the days seem to move too quickly. Yet there is a list of to-dos that haven’t been done and treatment approaches too quickly. The anxiety that I feel is a mixture of “I don’t want to do this again” and “Let’s get it over with!” You can imagine the battle in my head.

I have spent many days in my life waiting for tomorrow. These tend to be happy occasions – Payday is tomorrow! Or – We leave for vacation tomorrow! Or – My birthday is tomorrow! But sometimes they are less exciting– I have a big meeting at work tomorrow. Or – There is a parent / teacher conference tomorrow. Or – I need to schedule an appointment tomorrow.

These tomorrow statements tend to be a point of anticipation. This anticipation can be exciting or sad, thrilling or nerve racking. Having a week of vacation – and an extra week in between treatments – has allowed me to put off the thought of treatment day a bit more than usual. The last day or two, as treatment quickly approaches, my thoughts have continuously returned to Thursday morning, when I will begin my third round of treatment.

The thought of the approaching treatment causes a little anxiety because I don’t know the extent of the side effects and how they are going to affect me this round. The first treatment went easier than expected and the second was harder than I anticipated. Third round could show the compounding effects worse, or it could be better than I imagine.

Tonight, as little man reached up to me so he could sit on my lap at bedtime, I am reminded of why I shouldn’t be concerned about the days ahead. Regardless of the hardships that this treatment causes, or the discomfort following, it is allowing me the opportunity to live a longer life. To eventually be healthier and stronger, so I can continue to raise my son and be around for all of his “firsts”. So that I can dance with him on his wedding day. So that I can be a wife to my incredible husband and cry happy tears when we watch our son graduate college.

So, my friends, remember that as frightened or uneasy you may be about tomorrow…it is helping to build a better future. Tomorrow, I am halfway done with the first 6 treatments.

You deserve it

When Joe & I were planning our wedding, we couldn’t decide on where we wanted to travel for our honeymoon. We tossed around ideas about traveling to California and staying at a cabin near the vineyards, heading over to the Bahamas and seeing Atlantis, flying across the world to Fiji and even the possibility of exploring Europe. Indecision had a hold on us and we struggled with deciding.

One idea that came up periodically was a cruise. It was not something that we had done before and seemed rather pricey so we went back and forth on the idea a few times. After chatting with a few friends and doing some research, we decided a cruise best suited our taste and decided to book it. We booked the cruise on a Thursday morning, just 3 days before our wedding day. We left the following week on a seven day vacation to the Western Caribbean. We had no previous cruising experience, no cell phone access, and way too many things packed.

Booking so close to our wedding day and having the excitement of the wedding to focus on didn’t allow for a lot of time to look forward to the cruise. The excitement built over a few days but the weeks, or months, of anticipation that typically comes from a vacation wasn’t there. We spent the few days prior to cruising researching what we needed to bring, the best excursions to take and shopping for last minute necessities. The vacation itself was amazing. The week flew by – each day seemed to move faster than the one prior and before we knew it, we were pulling back into port. Memories had been made and we still talk about that cruise as one of our favorite vacations ever, five years later.

We booked this weeks’ vacation in the beginning of January, allowing the opportunity for lots of anticipation and excitement to build. We call it our staycation, where we stay at a timeshare locally. Our first stay at this particular timeshare was in 2013, when we were a family of two. Joe & I have been anxiously awaiting this vacation, knowing the fun that little man would have here.

After I was diagnosed, we debated on whether or not to cancel or reschedule our staycation. The trip fell on a treatment week and we weren’t sure what that meant. We didn’t want to risk a change in my prognosis or issues with scheduling if we made any changes to the treatment plan. After speaking with my oncologist and better understanding the timing, we decided to push back my treatment by a week and keep our staycation. This change wouldn’t impact my prognosis and would allow us to have some much needed family time together.

The last week has been filled with silly laughter from little man, lots of snuggles, time outside together as the weather cools, hearing new babbles that little man has suddenly developed, pool fun, relaxation and even a date night with my dear husband. We have created priceless memories and we had the opportunity to forget about our fight for a brief moment in time.

Knowing the battle that looms ahead made this trip much more needed, much sweeter and even more valuable. It was a chance for us to regroup as a family, rebuilt our strength and enjoy time together to focus on us. It was perfect.

Whether a vacation that you take spontaneously, a staycation that you plan ahead or even a weekend getaway down the road…enjoy the time away. Take the time that you need to center yourself, regain perspective and enjoy your family. You deserve it.

101010!

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My cousin once met us at the beach for a day trip and upon seeing us unload our bag filled with the beach necessities, she smiled and said “You’re beach people, huh?”  We hadn’t thought of ourselves as beach people at the time but we were.  Our bag is packed and ready for the beach at all times, so we can grab and go when able.  After getting engaged, we knew that our wedding would take place on the beach because it is our happy place.

The morning of our wedding, Joe and I both woke up early and separated to begin the wedding festivities.  I joined my big sister and her family on the pool deck, which overlooked the ocean, and watched the sun rise.  The sky slowly filled with incredible variations of pink, orange and red. What began as a sliver rising from the ocean, turned into a large, round sun that shined bright and seemed to cover half of the horizon.  I sat in awe as I marveled in its perfect beauty.

While I sat and watched the sun rise, Joe went surfing.  He paddled out past where the waves crashed and waited for the perfect time.  Sitting amongst the waves, he heard a splash and looked over.  There was a pod of dolphins swimming next to him – one within an arms reach.  They played and splashed and seemed not to notice Joe, though he sat in awe at their perfect beauty.

Our wedding day flew by.  It was filled with love, laughter and happy tears shared with family and friends.  We committed ourselves to a lifetime of love, through sickness and health.  When I think back over what the last 5 years have brought, I see the perfect beauty of it all – the perfect beauty that is us.  We have built a strong, indestructible bond throughout this marriage that continues to strengthen each day.  While we did not anticipate this disease attacking our family, we are strong and will continue to strengthen throughout this fight.  We will beat this, together, and continue in the perfect beauty that is our love.

A little food and a little wine…

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I love food. I love wine. I love food and wine at the same time. During the time following treatment, there isn’t much food that I find appealing and wine isn’t an option. I take a lot of medicine to try and curb the nausea but the food aversions are quite strong. I still have an appetite, which makes eating especially challenging because of how unappealing everything is. I have consistently been able to eat cheese, eggs, crackers and popsicles. Lots and lots of popsicles. Water is a challenge too but I work past it because I know how important water intake is to flush my system.

Today, we spent a few hours at Epcot with Grandma and Grandpa exploring the Food & Wine Festival. Despite the heat, which has been getting cooler and cooler each day, it was such a wonderful day. We visited many countries around the world and shared different appetizer sized plates and small beverages. Since it has been a few weeks since my last treatment, I am able to eat pretty regularly. And I did just that today. I savored many delicious treats.

I’ve been to the Food & Wine Festival before but this visit was a little more precious. Every moment with my family is precious. Seeing Grandma & Grandpa smile while little man dances to the music in Morocco makes my heart smile. Enjoying the fabulous food around the world, knowing there will be a time again in the next week where the thought of food is completely unappealing, makes me grateful for each and every bite while I am able to enjoy it.

While I sip a glass of red tonight, I am savoring the moments of today. The carefree joy of time with family, the ability to relax and the spirit of innocence while my little man met Mickey and Goofy…makes for a memorable and amazing day. Happy Friday, my friends.