Birth Day

img_1139

Our first family photo

Two years ago today, my baby boy was born.

Like most parents, I cannot believe how fast the time goes. It feels like just yesterday that I was pregnant. Looking at this photo, it’s hard to believe that little peanut is now a rambunctious two-year-old boy who sang “Happy Birthday” to himself this morning.

I remember the day he was born so vividly. I was three days overdue and was induced because they didn’t want me to go too long past my due date because of my age (35 is ancient in child-bearing years). The labor process via induction was long and painful. At first, very little happened. Then I got pitocin and the doctor broke my water, and things got real (and by real, I mean seriously painful). Contractions on pitocin are no joke. After laboring for a while on my own, I could no longer take the pain and got an epidural (a magical, wonderful thing).

Even after all that, he wasn’t progressing enough, and my blood pressure was rising, so the doctor made the call to do a c-section. I was disappointed because I wanted to do it on my own, and also afraid because a c-section is fairly major surgery.

But, it all went well. Even though I was terrified, the moment I heard Alex’s first cry made every bit of it worth it. I relived that moment this morning as I held his wiggling toddler body as he slept next to me in our bed, marveling at how much has changed in just two short years.

So, happy birthday to my sweet boy. I love you more than you will ever know.

 

Hitting Close to Home

1361222

The Modern Love column is one of my favorite features in The New York Times. For the unfamiliar, it’s a weekly essay series that explores the topic of love in all its various forms. It’s often heartbreaking, revelatory and even sometimes funny.

Last week’s essay, though, struck me deeper than any has in the past. The writer is fighting metastatic breast cancer that recurred in her spine, the tumor actually breaking one of her vertebrae.

Not only is she fighting cancer, but she’s also my age. And she lives in my city. She’s the mom of two little boys, and she worked as a writer and editor. The parallels between our lives were striking. Except, for one–I am lucky enough to have a good prognosis (at this time, at least), while hers is far more grim.

I have cried so much for this woman I don’t even know. I’ve cried for her husband. I’ve cried for her babies. I’ve wondered if our paths have crossed at the cancer center. I’ve wondered if we have any mutual friends. I’ve wondered if there’s any way I could connect to her, to tell her I’m so sorry, to give her a hug, to ask if she needs anything.

There’s one paragraph of this beautifully-written story that I keep coming back to. In talking about her sons, the author says this:

Their very existence is the one dark piece I cannot get right with in all this. I can let go of a lot of things: plans, friends, career goals, places in the world I want to see, maybe even the love of my life. But I cannot figure out how to let go of mothering them.

The tears are welling in my eyes right now reading this. She absolutely captured the feelings that a mother has when facing the specter of death. I know exactly how she feels. I can handle anything else about my diagnosis and all the scary possibilities that come with it, but the possibility of not being there for my child is the one thing I cannot bear.

So, I cry again for her, and for her boys. And I hope that somehow she can feel my love and empathy floating across our city to her.

Toddlers Don’t Care

capture

Last night was a rough one at my house. And for once, it really didn’t have much to do with cancer.

My son is almost two years old. And, yes, he is in the throes of the “terrible twos.”

Toddler parents–you know what I’m talking about. The screaming. The refusal to sleep. The teething. The utter nonsense.

Last night was a perfect storm. He’s cutting about three teeth right now (two of them molars), he’d napped about 20 minutes total and it was waaaay past bedtime. Yet, instead of going to sleep like everyone else in the house longed to, he had a full-on meltdown the likes of which I haven’t seen in ages. So. Much. Screaming.

In the olden days, I’d soothe him with hugs, a calm voice and most likely, the boob. Of course, those days are long gone. The hugs and calming voice did nothing. It finally took strapping him to my body in a baby carrier (thanks, LILLEbaby!) and walking him around outside in the dark, a technique I hadn’t been forced to use in many months.

These nights are hard. And like everything else, they’re especially hard when I’m tired and a little loopy from chemo. I pray tonight is better. I pray he goes down without a fight (and sometime before 10 p.m.). BecauseĀ even though I’m tired and a little out of it, toddlers don’t care.

 

Treatment Update

GTY_chemotherapy_jef_150105_16x9_992

A lot of people ask how I’m doing (which is so nice and makes me feel so loved), so I thought I’d do an update for anyone who follows this blog.

I’m just coming off my gap week after my second chemo treatment. That means today, I feel pretty dang good. I have my third treatment on Thursday. It’s the next-to-last in this round of chemo. Once I finish this portion (which is multiple drugs and the most intense part), I’ll start 12 weeks of weekly treatments with just one drug. This part is supposed to be easier.

After each treatment, it takes me about a week to feel halfway normal again. Usually, each day is better than the last. My symptoms have been fairly mild, thus far–a feeling of queasiness, but no vomiting (thanks, anti-nausea meds!), fatigue and the brain fog. And, of course, my hair has fallen out. I still have some fuzz on my head, but that’s steadily coming out, too. I’ll likely be totally bald by this time next week. But, I have a really nice wig, some hats and scarves and I’m also planning to buy some fun wigs once all the Halloween stuff comes out (my timing on all of this is pretty good, wig-wise).

Another side effect is that my immune system takes a major hit about a week after each treatment. I go in for lab work each week after chemo, and my white blood cell counts have been very low each time (this is totally normal). My doctor gives me antibiotics as a preventative measure, and I’m washing my hands so much they’re starting to get a little raw. But, better red skin than a nasty bug I can’t shake.

Mentally, I’m doing pretty well. I have my bad days/moments, for sure, but I’m hanging in there. My son is pretty oblivious to what’s going on, other than rubbing my head a lot and saying, “Mama hair gone.” But I think he thinks this is pretty cool rather than being disturbed by it. Thank goodness for small blessings.

I have an appointment next week with the plastic surgeon to talk about reconstruction after my bilateral mastectomy. All of that will likely take place after the first of the year.

I also plotted out on my calendar the remainder of my chemo schedule. I will be done just before Christmas. I really can’t think of much better timing or a more perfect gift. šŸ™‚

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parellel Lives

things-to-never-say-to-pregnant-woman

One of my nurses during my first chemo session was pregnant. She was one of those lucky women who stayed slim with little more than an adorably round belly to let others know she was expecting.

Judging from the size of said belly, I surmised she was likely due around the same time I had my son. Sure enough, she told me her due date was Oct. 2, the day before my son’s birthday (his due date was Sept. 30, but like his mama, he’s not exactly on the punctual side).

After making this realization, we laughed and swapped some war stories about surviving the third trimester in North Carolina during the hottest part of the year. As she and I talked, I had the odd feeling once again of being on two opposite, but sort of parallel journeys, just two years apart.

635999646476505798-1665549773_SUSHI COVER.jpg

Oh, sushi. I already miss you so.

The first time I felt this way was during chemo class (yep, that’s a thing) when the nurse gave us the rundown of all the foods we should avoid while in treatment. The list was almost the exact one my OB had given me two years prior when I was pregnant with my son–sushi, undercooked meat, unwashed fruit and veggies, etc. In both cases, the risk of infection can cause major problems, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

There are other little things, too, like counting weeks of pregnancy vs. weeks of treatment, feeling intense cravings for fruit and vegetables and, of course, being hyper-aware of my changing breasts.

10456826_10152561450544314_6176654190366995439_n

Baby’s first beach trip

I loved being pregnant. And even though I was as swollen as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man by the end of it, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Feeling a living being grow inside you is almost indescribable, it’s that amazing. I’ll never forget the feeling of kicks turning into rolls and, my favorite, when he would get hiccups. It was all so wonderful (well, except those bladder kicks–I could have done without those).

So, to think that just two short years ago I was over the moon with excitement over becoming a mom, experiencing this miraculous process of creating another human being inside me, is kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around. Because over the past few months my body has been creating something else inside, something I neither wanted nor suspected was there. To live inside a body capable of both these things is scary and confusing. How did this happen? How did I go from one extreme to the other so quickly?

That’s the thing about both pregnancy and cancer–they both remind you that you have very little control over your own body. Sure, there are plenty of things about ourselves that we can manage, but at the end of the day, our bodies will do what they do, whether we like it or not. We can react to those changes and either go with or fight them, depending on the scenario. While I was definitely a go-with-the-flow woman in pregnancy (and I am in life, in general), this time around I’m fighting, and I’m fighting hard. Because that little baby needs me, and I plan to be here for him as long as I can.

The End of Breastfeeding

mother-breastfeeding-infant

I was one of those lucky moms who was able to breastfeed their child. We hear all this stuff about “breast is best” and women feel an incredible amount of pressure to breastfeed their children. The reality is that, yes, breastfeeding is great for babies. But it’s also incredibly hard. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Babies won’t (or can’t) latch correctly, moms don’t produce enough milk, etc., etc.

The first couple of months were really hard for my son and me. There were plenty of tears from both of us as we found our way, but eventually we did, and established a pretty good groove. So good, in fact, that I breastfed much longer than I ever intended to–21 months.

I always said I’d be thrilled to be able to do it for six months. I never thought I’d be an extended breastfeeding mom. But my son never lost interest, and honestly, I’d backed myself into a corner using the boob as a crutch to soothe him and get him to go to sleep at night. I was actually ready to stop, but afraid I’d never get him to sleep again.

Then cancer intervened. Once I found out about it, I stopped letting him nurse on that side. And this week, the other side had some weird spots on an MRI. My doctor asked if I’d been breastfeeding on that side, and when I said yes, he let me know that was the culprit. I knew I’d have to quit altogether soon anyway because I’m about to start chemo, so I decided that day to pull the plug.

My son was not pleased. He’s too little to understand, so he cried a good bit when I told him no. And then I cried because I never expected our breastfeeding journey to end this way. Even though it was certainly time, we were forced to stop, unable to end it on our own terms. I know it’s the best thing for us both, but it still hurts.

Cancer takes so many things away from a person. I’ve just begun my journey, so I haven’t lost the biggies yet, like my hair or even my breasts, but these little losses are still pretty tough. They serve as constant reminders that my life is no longer in my control, and that things will never be the same again.