Spoiled Brat Anyone?

There are moments in our lives where things seem absolutely terrible, then you’re reminded of how much of a spoiled brat you can be in situations that are inconveninent at best.

Let me explain:

We traveled to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. We knew it would be a very long trip, especially with three kids, one being under 2 years old. I hadn’t made it easy for my husband on this trip because I knew our little man wasn’t going to like being strapped in a car seat for a total of 10 hours. Plus, now due to American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children remain rear facing until 2 years, the distraction of a video wouldn’t apply to him.

We broke the trip up over two days, stopping to visit friends half way. Then we drove the other half to our destination of Hobart, Oklahoma. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of this town either until I’d met my husband.

It’s a small town (population 4500) with friendly folks and everybody knows your name (cue the Cheers theme).

The visit with family was very nice and the food was amazing (as always), but our Little Guy had trouble navigating a non-baby proofed house and really got tired of hearing “stop” and “no, not for you”.  After hearing him scream for three days, I’m pretty sure everyone there was ready for us to go and I was ready for a vacation. The last thing I wanted to do was get in a car and drive for 10 hours back home with a kid who’d had enough of not getting to do much of his routine.

Thank God that our older children had a blast visiting cousins and were great at entertaining themselves in the car.

We headed out on Friday morning, but our trip had an immediate hiccup. A Nice. Flat. Tire.

Now, that wouldn’t usually be a big deal except that we have those run-flat tires, which means no spare. You’re supposed to be able to drive on them at 50 MPH for about 120 miles. This is supposed to give you time to get to the dealer and get this special tire changed.

Oh, did I mention we were in Southwest Oklahoma? So the biggest town (Lawton, OK–population 96K) with a dealership was a good 60+ miles away. After I had a, let’s say, a dramatic moment about the entire thing, we headed on our way.

The first town we came to was Blair, OK  (population 894) and a very nice mechanic, who reminded me of Mater from Cars, said he could give us a tire the same size so we weren’t driving on a flat. Well, he tried, but unfortunately, we’ve not only got a special tire, but it’s a special metric tire, so he has no tire that will fit.

He put the run-flat tire back on, charged us nothing (which was so very nice), and we started the drive to Lawton.

So where’s my appreciation moment? Bare with me, it’s coming.

We’re trucking along at about 40 MPH and we’re only 8.2 miles from the dealership (per the GPS) and the  back of the van begins to shake…a lot. We pull over and we can’t go any farther.

I call the roadside assistance and the conversation goes something like this:

Operator: “Yes, can I help you?”
Me: “Yes, our run-flat tire is flat and we’re 8.2 miles from the dealership. We’re just outside of Lawton, Ok.”
Operator: “Ok, can you tell me what the cross street is where you are?”
Me: “I’m on highway 62 east bound, 8.2 miles from the Honda dealership. I”m in Cache (OK).”
Operator: “Oh, I need a cross street.”
Me: “I’m on a highway between towns. There is no cross road.”
Operator: “Look outside. What’s around you?”
Me: “I see a donkey and a horse.”
Operator: (silence) “Oh…are there homes?”
Me: “Yes.”
Operator: “Do you see any the numbers on the house?”
Me: “No, they are farms.”
Operator: “Okay, we’ll have someone out there within the hour.”
Me: “An hour? There’s no one available before then? I’ve got three kids in the car, two of which have to pee.”
Operator: “No, if they aren’t there in a hour, call us back.”

So we waited an hour and called back only to learn that it would be another 30-45 minutes. We waited and another 45 minutes went by. By then, we’d gotten out and made friends with the donkey, the horse and local two dogs.
I called again only to learn it would be another 30-45 minutes, probably.

I’m feeling very insane about that time when I get a text from my best friend. She let’s me know her hair is falling out in clumps due to chemo and she’s headed to the hairdresser who’s offered to shave her head.

Between texts and waiting for the tow truck, I’m also reading a book by Kevin Sorbo (AKA Hercules) who talks about his recovery back from having three strokes.

I want to scream, sob uncontrollably for the things I can’t control. Things I can’t fix or make better, but it won’t do any good right now because I’ve got kids who are hungry and have to pee and a very sweet husband who has kept his cool through this entire episode.

So I’ve got a choice. I can continue to fume and act like a spoiled brat, make my husband more miserable than I have, OR I can realize I’ve got a problem that’s at best inconvenient.

For the first time that day, I realize I’m fine.
I don’t have cancer at the age of 43.
I haven’t suffered a stroke at the age of 38.
I’ve got a flat tire, a few hungry kids, and I’ve got to pee. Big F-ing Deal.

But it’s all FIXABLE, all of it.

Then, a wonderful (Cache) police officer comes by, calls a friend who has a tow truck service in Cache, and he also calls a taxi so we can ride in it while our car is being towed. We all make it to the Milo Gordon Honda dealership where the service department helps us with not only getting our tire fixed, but lets us know who delivers food so we can eat.

After a delay of 5 hours, we’re on our way back to Texas. We end up stopping in Abilene for the night.

It’s after ten at night. Everyone but me is tucked in. I’m finishing the last few pages of Kevin’s book because I have to see how far he fought to recover.

I’m sitting on the floor, in the doorway of the bathroom for light. I finish the Kevin Sorbo’s book and applaud his perseverance and determination to recover from a debilitating stroke.

I think of my best friend on her journey of recovery. Her head is shaved and she’s posted her bald pictures.  I’m afraid to look at them because I know I’ll lose it.

I sit in the bathroom of the hotel and cry because I’ve got nothing to complain about. Nothing to be upset about and I acted like the world was coming to an end because things didn’t go my way for the day.

How easy it is to get wrapped up in life’s inconveniences, things that don’t work out they way you planned. Since then, I’ve apologized to my husband and not complained at all.

I can’t promise I won’t freak out when things are too many things get piled on me in a day, but I do promise I will do my best to breathe and count my blessings everyday because life can change on a dime.

Check out Kevin’s book. It’s an inspiring and amazing journey.

And check out my best friend’s post about her journey to baldness: https://candidaboutcancer.com/2011/11/26/becoming-one-of-the-follicularly-challenged-a-k-a-bald/

Becoming one of the “follicularly challenged” (a.k.a. bald)

Several years ago, I watched the Grammys where Melissa Etheridge sang a Janis Joplin tribute with Joss Stone (another favorite artist of mine). Melissa was bald. Completely bald. She had big beautiful earrings, no hair, and her voice was incredibly strong. I remember thinking, “Wow. What an inspiration! She’s fighting breast cancer and she’s showing that she can still be her amazingly talented self even without hair. She’s not trying to hide it – she’s showing the world that she’s strong and cancer won’t get her.” I found her performance very empowering and I remember telling myself if I was ever faced with cancer, I would do the same – forget the wigs and go bald. A self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps, because fast-forward to today and I find myself in that very situation.

When my doctor originally spoke to me about undergoing chemotherapy, she let me know that Taxol causes hair loss and that it comes out 18-21 days after the first treatment. I am in that “window” now and her words have come true. A few days ago, my hair started coming out in small clumps. Yesterday, I lost a huge amount while taking a shower. I have taken matters into my own hands – literally – and have decided to shave my head.

Today, I enlisted the help of my hairdresser who’s been doing my hair for several years. We have developed a warm friendship over the years and she knows more about my hair than I do. She graciously agreed to “do the deed.” She also helped me with my scarves which I ordered last month in preparation for this imminent day. (I ordered scarves to keep my head warm because I live in New England and wintertime is rapidly approaching.)

First day of chemotherapy (11.10.11) – full head of hair

It starts to come off

Only the bangs are left

Bald is beautiful

My pink camouflage scarf - FIGHT LIKE A GIRL!

I am o.k. with losing my hair. This is part of the journey to beating cancer. Each person needs to make his/her own decision when faced with hair loss. I have nothing against wigs. For me, I am choosing not to wear a wig at this time because my scalp is sensitive due to chemo. I may change my mind at some point but for now I’m comfortable going without one.

Thank you, Melissa Etheridge, for showing the world that a woman fighting cancer can still be beautiful without hair.

The joys of hot flashes

Hot flashes and chemotherapy have wreaked havoc on my internal thermometer. I was thrown into menopause when I had my radical hysterectomy. Adding chemo to the mix has not “balanced” me out. Not in the least. I wake up in the middle of the night in a drenching sweat. I now keep a change of pajamas by the bed to put on after I take off what feels like a wet swim suit.

I also returned to work this week where my desk is in a corner and the temperature is extremely cool. This is good since I’m always hot now. One of my managers even noticed that my face was red – she figured it was due to the hot flashes. She asked me about it and we both started laughing. I told her it was either a hot flash or she caught me with the “Taxol glow” that comes from chemotherapy. Ah, well…my cheeks are rosy and my hair is falling out.

The joys of hot flashes and chemo – what a combination!

Something Simple

 

Yep, that's us

Yep, that’s us at about age 3.
We’re sitting on my great-grandmother’s couch when she lived in an apartment on Oltorf in Austin, Texas.

When Seana told me she had cancer, I was in the drive-thru line at Starbucks.
She called me, all doped up from her preventative outpatient surgery to tell me that she already had the big C. As I reached through my window to pay the Starbucks employee, the work “cancer” ripped through my ear canal and shot out the other side.
“What?” No! I didn’t hear that rightJust keep listening. You heard it wrong.
Cancer came through again and I knew there was no mistake. “O-K.” I grabbed my latte and drove out of the parking lot, not sure what to do or where to go.
I needed to think…of her.
So many things ran through my mind at that moment, most of them were profane, but none of them were necessary because I knew what I had to say.
“What do you need?”
Because she had heavy drugs on board and I’m sure had to be shell shocked, she said “nothing right now.”
After we hung up, I pulled into a parking lot and cried–snot pouring out of my nose sobbed. I cried because the idea of her not being there when we were 90, the thought of her not being there when I needed advice on a recipe, simply her not being there…well, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
I wanted to do something, anything to fix this. To make her well and yet, I knew I didn’t learn magic powers,  buy a wand, or construct a tricorder (I think I skipped that week in school).
We talked on and off everyday then after a week, she called me and asked if I’d participate in the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) 5K run/1K walk here in San Antonio. “Hell yea! Something I can do.”
I got to feel productive, because I felt totally and completely helpless.
Once I’d registered for the race, I texted her to tell her about it. Within moments, we’re sending each other messages when my husband walked by.
I told him I’d plan to participate in the race, but I wanted to do more. “I want to do something for her.”
He pointed to the phone as another text rung. “You’re doing it. That’s what she needs right now. You to be there.”
Sometimes it’s the small things that are what people need. A note of “what’s up?” today or “How you feeling?” or “Want to hear a dirty joke?” It sounds too simple and maybe it is, but I know she needs me to be, well, me. I’m no good to her if I’m frantic and acting like an idiot. She knows I can’t fix it, but I can be there when she needs me and when she simply wants a cheerleader.
We’re going to be given many obstacles to jump and avoid in our lifetime, but sometimes you’ve got to hit them head on and think of nothing but what someone else needs.
Is that the meaning of friendship? Maybe.
Can it really be that simple?
Absolutely.

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Tips and Tricks to Stay Organized

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who have helped me get all my responsibilities in order so that I can concentrate on beating cancer. Here are some of the tips and tricks I have used from items to keep handy to ways to utilize all those offers of help that one receives when diagnosed with a serious illness. These can also be useful to someone who is wanting to help a loved one and may need some guidance on what might be needed:

* Medicines – I need to take several different medicines. Some I take once each day, some I take more than once a day, and some are less frequent. I bought one of these from WalMart to help me keep track:

Medicine Organizer

* Calendars – I have a calendar for my appointments and one for my medicine schedule. I keep them on my bathroom mirror and check them off each day:

Calendars

* “Chemo” bag – When I go for chemo, it is important that I have my medicines, my blood pressure cuff (who knew that you now get charged $85 each time you don’t bring your own?!), chemo treatment info, planner (a gift from some friends to keep track of everything), a Velcro seatbelt cover to cushion the port site on the ride home, water, snacks, wet naps, and a book. This bag is kept packed and ready to go at all times.

Chemo bag and its contents

Packed Chemo Bag

* An overnight bag with a change of clothes and toiletries. I keep this in the car in case I am not able to make it home after a doctor’s visit or a chemo treatment.

* In addition, it is very important to have any legal stuff in order including medical directives, durable Power of Attorney (if applicable), and an updated will. The cost for all of these is not great so please don’t hesitate to take care of these needs. You can also seek out an attorney in your local community or religious organization to see what can be done at a reduced cost. Having the piece of mind that your wishes are written down greatly reduces stress.

* Car pooling – I have people who have offered to drive me to treatments as well as help transport my kid to/from school and school activities. Take people up on their offers to help. Set them up on a schedule if needed and rotate through them.

* Cleaning – I now have a person come to clean my house on a regular basis. If you have offers of “please call me if I can do anything,” put these offers to good use and set them up on a rotating schedule and have a different person come each week to help clean and do laundry. That way, no one person has to take on the whole responsibility and it allows your friends and family to really help you. It is not a burden for anyone who has offered assistance to you to come and help you clean, do laundry, or go grocery shopping – don’t be too proud to accept the help when it’s offered.

These are just a few ideas. Please share any that you may have!

Cancer vs. Control Freaks

On Thursday, I went back to the hospital to receive my first chemo treatment. Since I had only been released on Tuesday after my collapsed lung ordeal, I felt like I’d barely left. My sweetheart and I were warmly welcomed by the nurses and set up in a very nice private room. This was the first of my “long” days (there will be six in all) where I received a couple of different chemo drugs as well as “symptom” meds to prevent the onset of symptoms. I settled in with my iPod and my book and my sweetie did the same.

Since I had nothing to compare the experience to, I didn’t know what to expect. My nurse was wonderful and explained every detail. All in all, it was a good day. It was also humbling because I know that much of the next few months is out of my control. What I have control over is:
* taking my medications (both traditional and complementary – my doc is aware of all that I’m taking)
* having “conversations” with my body to tell the good cells to fight off the bad cells
* exercising gently to keep my energy up
* eating as healthy as possible
* getting enough rest
* minimizing stress levels by spending time with my family, reading, cross-stitching, and enjoying other hobbies

Although it looks like there’s a lot that I have control over, ultimately it is up to my body to accept the medications to fight the cancer. In theory, this should stave off symptoms and side effects of the medications and ultimately beat the disease. The “control freak” in me needs to take a backseat. All I can do is support my body in its fight.

Embracing the unexpected

I came to the hospital for “routine” outpatient surgery last Thursday to place two port-a-caths so that chemotherapy can begin next week. One of the risks of placing an IV port-a-cath is the possibility of getting an air bubble around a lung. This happened to me so I was kept overnight for observation.

I woke up Friday morning and although I could feel a difference in breathing, I had very little pain. My oxygen levels were good so I grabbed my IV pole and strolled the hallways. After my morning x-ray, I learned that I had a collapsed lung. My outpatient surgery became a weekend stay instead.

As I sit in my hospital bed during this unexpected stay, I look out my window and I can see the snow-capped peak of Mt. Washington in the distance. I never expected to be in the cancer wing of a hospital and be able to see another state. Literally. This beautiful view is one of many “unexpecteds” that I have embraced this weekend.

Mt. Washington is way out there - smack-dab in the middle of the photo

Although my stay was not planned, I have made the best of it. My doctors and nurses were amazed that I was walking around with good oxygen levels and a collapsed lung. They continue to be pleasantly surprised that I have been wandering the hallways while carrying a portable lung vacuum with me.

I was supposed to have the chest tube removed today but since that didn’t happen, I couldn’t take the shower that I had been looking forward to for the last couple of days. I managed to wash my hair in the bathroom sink with the help of my sweetheart. He washed and rinsed for me and then he helped me shave and get cleaned up. He brought me pajamas from home as well as a Starbucks iced coffee drink which had been previously approved by my oncologist. My son brought his iPad for me to borrow which is what I am using to write this post.

To me, this is life and this is what I do — I “go with the flow” because lots of things in life are unexpected. This includes my cancer diagnosis. If I embrace the unexpectedness rather than fight it, I am able to appreciate some things that other people may take for granted — clean hair, a clean body, comfy pajamas, a decadent iced coffee drink, and seeing another beautiful state from my hospital window.

Sunset outside my hospital window

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