Month: August 2014

“Hi, I’m Josh. And that’s my girlfriend.”

When Penny was born at 3 lbs 3 ounces, she was swept away to the NICU, and I was drugged and confused.  To be honest, it wasn’t a great day.  Alice’s birthday, on the other hand, is one of my all-time favorite days, but Penny’s birth was scary and full of unknowns.  After the surgery itself, the first thing I really remember is being in a hospital room full of my family, who told me that my blood pressure was too high, and I broke down.

“Heather, why are you crying?” someone asked.

“They didn’t even let me hold my baby.  I haven’t even seen her or gotten to hold her yet.  They just took her away.”

My brother or cousin, I’m not sure who, then brought over a camera and showed me a picture of me holding Penny.

When I think about it now — now that my beautiful baby girl is almost four and healthy — it’s funny.  Sometimes, I even tell that story and laugh.  But at the time, doctors were warning Josh and me of a possible guarded future for our newborn.  They told us they didn’t know how she would function neurologically.  They said she might be a little “slow.”  It was a wait and see.

NICEPenny

In all honesty, it took me a couple of weeks to really bond with her.  I was hurting physically, scared for this little girl, and unsure of our future.  But not Josh.  Josh fell in love with her that very first night.  He couldn’t stand her being out of our sight.  I could barely move, but he constantly left to check on her.  The first time he didn’t come back (for an hour and a half!), I thought something was seriously wrong and he’d come back bearing bad news.  I braced myself.  Instead, he came back with a smile on his face and a pep in his step.

“What’s wrong?  Why were you gone so long?”

“I just couldn’t leave her there.  I’m sorry.  Were you worried?”

Uhh, yeah.

“They said I could hold her!  So I took my shirt off and held her skin to skin.”

He beamed as he told me all about how she felt against his chest and the little songs he sang to her, and I knew he was hooked.  I knew that he would take care of this little girl better than anyone in the world.  I knew that she would always be safe in his arms.  I knew that no matter what happened, he was the perfect dad for her.  Because that’s who Josh is.  He is full of love.

I tell you this because, as we go through this hard time, I find myself feeling so sorry for Josh.  I find myself thinking that he just can’t take all of this.  Or shouldn’t have to.  There’s so much pressure on him right now.  It feels like I am falling apart, and he’s not allowed to.  His workload is incredible and time for himself is non-existent.  He is so tired.  I can see it in his face.  I can hear it in his voice.  But he tells me it’s okay.  He tells me that we will get through this and move on.

I guess I just wanted you guys to know that he, too, is struggling.  And that he is pretty amazing.  The way he loves Penny is the way he loves Alice is the way he loves me is the way he loves his twin brother is the way he loves his mom.  He’s the guy that wouldn’t take no for an answer.  (I canceled, like, three dates before going out with him.)  He’s the guy who, after only a date or two, showed up at my work with a winter coat because he didn’t think mine was heavy enough.  My girlfriends and I weren’t sure whether he was suuuper creepy or just that nice.  He’s just that nice.

Unless you hit on me right in front of him.  One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen was Josh putting one of my older brother’s friends right in his place with absolutely no qualms.

After a few catcalls and in jest, but lewd comments, Josh walked right up to the guy, looked him straight in the eye, and extended his hand for a shake,

“Hi.  I’m Josh.”  He points to me.  “And that’s my girlfriend.”

He turned around and walked back over to me without even waiting for a response, and the poker table they were all seated at erupted in laughter, along with my girlfriend and me.

Early on, though, I didn’t think he was the “right” guy for me so I tried breaking up with him once or twice.  He talked me out of it.  He had so much faith in us that, after only a few weeks of dating, he bought us concert tickets for EIGHT MONTHS LATER.

Whoa there, dude.  Calm down.  You’re freaking me out, and is it hot in here?  I can’t even commit to these shoes for the next eight months.  Let’s just slow this train down.

But yeah, we went to that concert.  And during a time when I don’t know what’s up or down and I can barely hold myself together, I’m glad that Josh is always so sure.

Wedding

Permasmiles and crowd surfing.

I sipped on that sweet chemotherapy cocktail all afternoon yesterday, and now I’m just waiting for that weekend hangover.  Last cycle was my worst, possibly because I fasted as some preliminary research shows it to be helpful in reducing side effects and identifying cancer cells.  Whether it was a result of fasting or not, I felt sick sooner and for longer.  Honestly, I don’t think I came out of the fast properly, but this time I ate my little heart out, as I’m accustomed to doing.  Fasting and I are just not friends.  I’m definitely a Ron Weasley when I don’t eat.  And this cancer is pretty much a horcrux.  Does anyone have a basilisk’s fang hanging around?  Or, like, a super fancy sword made by goblins?

Chemo days are actually some of my favorites.  I kick my feet up, watch this tv, and flirt with the old men while someone else takes care of my kids.
Chemo days are actually some of my favorites. I kick my feet up, watch this tv, and flirt with the old men while someone else takes care of my kids.

So anyway, I kind of got the wind taken out of my sails yesterday as my doctor gave me some unexpected news.  First, let me just say that my oncologist is a very smart, accomplished, and sweet woman.  She just smiles so dang much!  The first time I met with her, it was rather offensive to me.  She rocked her permasmile as she talked me through my treatment plan and odds.  My odds.  Yeah, she smiled through that scary little nugget.  She even gave pointed little giggles before responding to my questions.  I left her office after that first meeting not really sure if my doctor understood the severity of my situation.  I am ALL for a laugh, but this stuff: not funny…unless I make it funny.  Then, it’s funny.

For my third treatment three weeks ago, one of my bffs, Christen, accompanied me.  I warned her of this smiling phenomenon, stripped down to put on a gown, and waited for the doc.  As we waited, we did what all best friends do.  She felt me up, of course. You know, then we had a pillow fight in our jammies.  jk. jk.  Kind of.  I don’t think it counts if the boob isn’t attached to me, right?  See, what had happened was…I took my boobs off and handed her one.  We’re pretty much like sisters, and I showed her my scars too.  She’s the first person besides Josh and my daughters (oh, and a million medical professionals) that I have shown so it felt kind of like another step toward acceptance.

Christen, preparing to be my maid of honor, even in kindergarten.  She never could handle her "juicebox."
Christen, preparing to be my maid of honor, even in kindergarten. She never could handle her “juicebox.”

Aaaaand I’m off track.  The point is that today, when Dr. M walked into the exam room, she wasn’t smiling quite as brightly.  Instead, she informed me that she took my case to the tumor board for the third time at my insistence (I just know that doctors love nurses as patients!), and they decided that I did, indeed, need radiation.  I was not expecting that.  She explained that they reviewed the original biopsy results and basically concluded that, although my two tumors were small, I had an aggressive form of cancer.  My odds of recurrence are higher, and I’m young.  Youth is not an advantage in the case of breast cancer.  Hormones and such.  Dr. M literally told me that they were just going to throw everything they had at me.  Fun.

Except, not really.  Not even remotely what I wanted to hear.  I guess that, now, I am not halfway there.  I don’t know.  We don’t have a radiation plan yet.

I realize that this really doesn’t change anything…just what I know.  I realize that getting radiation is a good thing.  I realize that my God is a big God, and I realize that fear will only stop me in my tracks and rob me of the now.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t head straight to the bathroom and break down.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t walk into the chemo waiting area looking a hot mess.  Think Britney Spears, circa 2007.  Then, the kindness of the other cancer patients was more than I could take.

I sat down next to Josh and tried to hold myself together, but hot tears escaped one by one of their own volition.  People looked over sympathetically.  People gave me my space.

Then the middle aged woman sitting across from me wheeled away.  No big deal.  I was trying haaard to shut myself down, stuff it back inside, so her movements barely registered with me.  Until she came back bearing tissues for me.

She looked me in the eye, “Here.”

That was too much for me.

I started sobbing into the tissues she just handed me.  More people looked.  I buried my head into Josh’s arm.

“Everyone’s looking at me.”

“That’s okay.”

One final sob.  Then, lock down.

When I was called back into the infusion center a couple of minutes later, all I could do was look at the woman in the pink hat and mutter, “Thanks.”

I know she knew what it meant.

Thanks for acknowledging me.  Thanks for supporting me.  Thanks for knowing that sometimes we just can’t hold it in.  Thanks for understanding this pain.  This fear.  This loss of control.  Thanks for seeing me.  Thanks for being my friend.  And I will call that woman, who I will probably never see again and who I only exchanged two words with, a friend always.

This whole thing is bananas, really.

I mean, in other news, my eyes have become the place where eyelashes go to die.  I can’t yet tell that any are missing, but I can sure feel them practicing their cannon balls one by annoying little one into the pool of my eye.  On the bright side, my brother-in-law pointed out that I have a lot of wishes coming my way.  Score.

Also, I had to have a conversation with Penny last week about why my hair will grow back but not my breasts.  The answer is easy enough if you have a brief moment to prepare, but my initial response to her question contained a lot of “uhs” and “umms.”  I found my way through though.  And I will find my way through this too.  With the help of friends and family.  You guys are rocking it.  And I just can’t keep up with all of the thank yous right now.  I feel like, one by one, you are all carrying me.  Sort of like crowd surfing.  Each meal, each letter, each dollar donated, each ridiculous beard shaved in the name of more donations or promises to run the marathon portion of a legit Ironman race in a prom dress.  A mowed lawn.  Childcare.  A care package in the mail.  A shoulder for me to cry on.  A tissue passed my way.  They are all hands, and you just keep holding me up…until I make it to my brother, Paul.  Then I fall.  True story.

I was once crowd surfing and was dropped hard.  I look up from the floor, and it was my very own brother that dropped the ball…err, me.  Maybe he was tired of seeing so many dudes trying to cop a feel.  Or maybe he’s just short.  But then he hoisted me back up because, you know, I had already lost a shoe.

Yeah, this is totally like crowd surfing.  My loved ones are holding me up, that shoe probably represents my mind, and I’ve been groped more times than I count.

Livin’ on a Prayer.

Real talk: I am a mess.  I  am overwhelmed.  I am drained.  I am struggling.

BUT I am also halfway done.  If I count surgery, and you bet your ass I do, I am MORE than halfway done.  While I am definitely happy to be here, chemo is getting harder so I have my reservations about throwing a halfway done party (mostly because I don’t want to get off the couch).

A few weeks ago, I went to my first young women’s breast cancer group meeting for women in their 20’s and 30’s.  I threw on my pink wig, some cute shoes and hoped that I wouldn’t cry on this first date of sorts.  (I didn’t.)  I went looking for someone who understands, a friend in cancer, if you will.  I have certainly met other women who have been through what I am going through (1 in 8 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime), but each time, I feel like they don’t really understand because they are older.  I’m only 32.  I have two very young children.  Wah, wah, wah.

What I found at the meeting humbled me.  The women there certainly did understand.  It was funny how, at first and for most of the time, even we spoke of hair loss (instead of what’s REALLY bothering us).  We also talked about chemo, surgery, our boobs.  Then the talk switched to children.  There were only six of us, and four of the women hadn’t had children prior to diagnosis.  When those women discussed embryo freezer fees, the risks of pregnancy, the uncertainty, and life plans altered, my heart broke for them, and I felt grateful.  So very grateful for my little girls.

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because having cancer AND being a mommy is hard, but those women really reminded me of how much I have.  It sucked to have to stop breastfeeding (which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, truly) on cancer’s terms, but at least, I had that experience.  For three weeks after surgery, I couldn’t hold my baby, but at least, I have my babies.  And on and on and on.

Let me be clear — I’m not saying that I’m rocking motherhood right now.  Quite the opposite, my friends.  Also real talk: this household is out of control.  Seriously, you guys.  I try to remind myself to cut me a little slack, but when I am laying on the couch (again) and my kids are swarming around me and Netflix is churning out one show after another, I feel guilty.  Our old routines are out the window, for sure.  They are being fed, yes.  They are being stimulated, eh?

Poor Alice doesn’t seem to know any different.  At her age, Penny was being read ten books every two hours, took two walks a day, was practicing her colors, numbers, animal noises, penmanship, multiplication tables, and going to day camp for cello lessons.  Or it felt like it.  I was definitely in her face.  The point is that I was mad trying with that kid.  At this point, I wouldn’t hire me to be their babysitter.  If I saw me on the nanny cam cleverly hidden in the belly of a stuffed giraffe, I would fire me.

“You rarely got up from the couch.  You let the baby play with a roll of toilet paper rather than read to her or sing ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’ for the 26th time.  You let my three year old watch two and a half hours of tv, gave in to all of her fits just to quiet her, and when she begged you to play dolls with her, you told her that her daddy would when he got home.”

A roll of toilet paper is a good babysitter, yo.

We may have been a little too lax with teeth brushing lately.
We may have been a little too lax with teeth brushing lately.

But really, I am having all sorts of anxiety and mommy guilt.  I am also having all sorts of stomach pain and exhaustion.  It’s a losing battle.  Except the one against cancer.  That one I plan on winning.

I guess what I’m saying with is threefold.

1.  If you are stumbling around this blog because you are going through something similar, I feel you.  This is not all pink ribbons and sisterhood.

2.  If you see me out with my kids and my almost four year old is acting a fool and not listening one bit (as is the norm lately), cut us some slack.  I am too tired to be doing this the right way, and Penny’s world has also been turned upside down.

3.  I couldn’t be more aware of how lucky I am to have this little family.

One of the girls from the group meeting recently finished her chemo and messaged me some encouraging words about reaching the halfway point.  She said that she adopted this as her halfway there anthem.  I love it.  I am totally livin’ on a prayer (but it does make a difference if we make it or not).  Plus, Bon Jovi’s hair makes me feel okay about being bald right now.

My Great Escape.

Okay, you guys, chemo #3 was last Monday and its nasties are well underway.  Plus, I fasted for three days.  You did not want to be my husband for any of those days.  I may or may not have tried to get everyone around me to describe every meal they were eating.  But I will get to all of that super fun stuff next time.

Right now, I am on a mission. I’ve been going back and forth about this, but I really only plan on having cancer this once.  (Let’s just pretend it was in the plans.  In which case, do not come to me for any life coaching.  Uh, duh.)  You see, I try to keep positive, but truthfully, I could really use something to look forward to.  So I’m MAKING A WISH!  For real, you guys.  And I need your help.  First, I’ll lay it on you.

Hansonbanner

Boom!  Many of you are not surprised, I know.  Those of you near and dear to me know of my undying love for Hanson and the immeasurable joy they have brought to my life over the last 17! years.  (Wow, our relationship can almost vote, or get a tattoo, or, like, pawn stuff at a pawn shop while buying a lottery ticket and opening a call for jury duty.)  For you others, I will try to explain – something I’m not actually sure that I can do.

When it comes right down to it, Hanson is home to me.  I know you may only know of “Mmmbop,” but they didn’t stop there and neither did I.  I feel like we have grown up together.  There have been the highest of highs — like the time I saw them play in the middle of the Atlantic ocean under the moon and stars until 3 AM — and some pretty funny lows — like the time I left in the middle of a show because the set list was making me mad and I was so hungry I was “seeing” cheeseburgers.

Also, I'm not a creepy fan at all.  It's totally normal to take your picture with someone who doesn't know it's happening, right?
Also, I’m not a creepy fan at all. It’s totally normal to take your picture with someone who doesn’t know it’s happening, right?

There are songs that immediately make me feel 16 and just so happy (Hello, “Minute Without You!”), and there are those that have helped me through some pretty tough stuff.  Like when I didn’t know how to deal in high school, or when my mom died.  There is a song that my daughter is named after (along with “Penny Lane”), and there are even songs that I don’t like.  There are songs that I’ll never forget hearing for the first time and some that I will always jumble their lyrics.

And the shows.  Around 40 shows in the last seventeen years.  With my mom, with my best friend, friends I don’t see anymore, my husband, my brother…  It’s like stepping into an old friend’s home and picking up where you left off.  And you just know it’s going to give you what you need.  And make you smile (and dance).  And reconnect you to a part of yourself that is only for you.   Maybe it’s the Cardinals for you.  Or hunting.  Or crafting.  Or a certain movie or video game.  Or maybe you understand because you feel the same way about The Cure.  I don’t know.

Hanson Collage

What I do know is that these guys make me straight up happy, and on this journey, having something to look forward to after each chemo session has made such a difference.  Whether it has been a family birthday party, dinner with friends, fireworks at my in-laws’, or a trivia night with my best friends, it’s what I look forward to when I’m not feeling so hot and, honestly, feeling a little left out of the world.  And let’s face it, in the last year, my husband and I have brought another new life into this house (cue the Lion King music) AND are fighting this crazy cancer battle together.  We could use a little refresh (with Taylor Hanson on my other arm, of course).

So here’s what I have been dreaming about.  It’s five days and four nights worth of sun and ocean and Hanson performing at night.  I want it bad, you guys.  Picture me smiling through the rest of my chemo.  Picture me throwing wigs in the air and flashing prosthetic boobs and chest bumping my husband.  I need this.

So I’m not really sure how to make this thing happen so let’s just try to get this thing into the hands of my boys.  Or any of your ideas are welcome!

https://twitter.com/hansonmusic

www.facebook.com/hansonmusic  <—I can’t figure out how to post something to their page though.

Share the crap out of it.  On your page.  On their page.  Everywhere!  It would seriously make my day.  Get your dogsitter’s aunt’s best friend’s mailman to share it.  Get your first grade teacher and your favorite barista to share it.  I think I’ll going to go ask my grandpa to open a twitter account so he can share it.  Let’s just somehow make this happen because, in my book, cancer sucks and Hanson is awesome.