Archive | December 2013

Lone Jellyfish, Candy Apple Redhead, Happy Holidays, and a Weekly Photo Challenge

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In a tank full of jellyfish, we watched as this lone jelly moved gracefully away from the others

It has been far too long, but I am popping in to wish you all a very happy holiday season.  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or warmest wishes for whatever holiday you might celebrate.

The boys and I celebrated a lovely (but exhausting!) Christmas together.  They both made special cards and scoured the house and found items to wrap up and place under the tree.  Picture that scene from one of my favorite Christmas movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  [If you haven’t seen the movie, you should.  My sister and I loved it so much as kids that we watched it more times than I’d care to admit.  As a result, we can recite the script verbatim, complete with accents and inflection, also something I only admit sparingly.]  Aunt Edna arrives at Clark’s house with two gifts.  One box is leaking and the other is meowing.  Old Aunt Edna doesn’t have much money (and is a bit senile) but still wants to give gifts, so she has wrapped up jell-o and her cat.

Thankfully the boys did not giftwrap the dogs this year.  [Yes, they wrapped the little one up last year.  She did NOT like it.]  They gave me chocolates from the cupboard, one of my favorite winter scarves (which was a relief because I thought I had lost it, but it was under the tree the whole time!), and a few other special items they found.

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“One of these birds is not like the others”
The photo doesn’t do the vibrant red hue of this red-crested cardinal justice. What a beautiful bird!  [What is a photo of birds doing in this post?  Trust me, there is a reason.  Read on…]

They gave their dad some things we were able to procure together, like a nice Columbia fleece and some of his favorite candy.  They also made homemade ornaments with their photos on them and special cards to accompany their gifts.  And they wrapped up a handheld showerhead we had gotten a few years ago for their bathroom.  Their current cheap showerhead leaks so much that their is minimal water pressure when they shower.  It takes them forever to rinse their hair.  So we acquired the new one from our struggling kitchen and bath supply business.  It’s lower quality than what we normally sell, so we decided to keep it for ourselves and figured it should solve the boys’ bathroom dilemma.

The only problem is that my husband hasn’t installed this unopened self-proclaimed “easy installation” faucet in the three years it has been sitting next to their bathroom door.  You are probably wondering why I haven’t just done it myself.  Believe me, the thought has crossed my mind a thousand times.  But I can’t manage it because I can’t lift my arms over my head thanks to the bilateral mastectomy & axillary lymph node dissection surgeries.  [Of course it would have helped to have continued my intense physical therapy sessions instead of failing to show up one day because I was too tired.  In my defense, I did call them to tell them I would reschedule when I felt better.  That was 2 years ago, though.  Woops!]

The boys thought that if they wrapped up their new showerhead and some of the other home improvement items that have been gathering dust, the jobs would get done.   I even caught them wrapping the curtain rods from their bedroom windows!  I had been really sick for months when we decided to remove the curtains, rods and their anchors so we could paint the boys’ room (ocean colors with freehand waves and plans for ocean creatures).  I had just started the painting when I had to go in for biopsies on both breasts and lymph nodes. The biopsies confirmed the doctor’s cancer diagnosis 24 hours later, and the diagnosis and more biopsies and scans were immediately followed by my first lymph node and powerport implantation surgery and intense chemo until I was ready for the mastectomy and full-blown lymph node removal surgery 5 months later.

Needless to say, I could not reinstall the curtain rods because of the “not being able to raise my arms thing,” so the twins still have no curtains up in their room.  Part of me thought, “good for them for wrapping up their curtain rods!”  But they know their father all too well.  They said they were sure they would have to wrap all of those things up again next year because (I’ll paraphrase, but it was something like this) “Dad doesn’t care about our curtains and showerhead and smoke alarm batteries and blah blah blah… because they are not the internet or a video game.”

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I know, I know. You are saying, “WTF, another bird? What does this picture have to do with the holidays?”

We had a quiet Christmas Eve.  I worked on finishing Christmas cards between appointments.  I’d been up until 3 or 4 a.m. for the few nights before, writing personal notes on the cards (and reapplying for health insurance).  I mailed a stack each day for those 3 days.  So when I was finished with my appointments at the hospital, my husband and the boys came to get me and it was a relief to stop at the post office to mail out the last stack of cards.

I was glad to be heading home after a long day.  I was tired and had a lengthy to-do list that had to be finished before Christmas the next day.  But my husband’s bad mood won out and when something set him off, he decided to punish us by parking the car and refusing to take us home or to relinquish the keys.  We sat for over an hour like this.  Luckily, I keep warm blankets in the car (it’s really a minivan) during the winter, so I gave the boys a couple each and they alternated reading and playing DS (handheld Nintendo games), while I worked on the Christmas cards that didn’t need to be mailed and finished my insurance paperwork.  It was 17 degree F and snowing but I dared not challenge him too much because I’ve learned that it isn’t worth it when he is in one of these moods.  And I honestly didn’t think he would keep it up for that long.

We sat until the kids and I couldn’t wait to go to the bathroom.  So the boys and I got out of the car and walked to a nearby grocery store to use their restroom.  When we got back in the car, the boys insisted that we go home.  We were going to Christmas Eve Mass at 7:30 (which they were not looking forward to earlier in the day, but were now begging to go home for) and we were still 30 minutes from home and had to eat dinner and get ready to go.  So he reluctantly drove us home.

We barely made it home to eat, and I didn’t have time to change out of my wet clothes (a byproduct of a day full of hot flashes — a gift from my hysterectomy) and then ended up getting to church late.  For as often as we go to church (not often at all!), I don’t think we should walk in late.  We hadn’t been in weeks and filing in while everyone was seated and the priest was watching us walk in the door was not a good way to return.  But the service was nice.  And we ran into my aunt and uncle (and my cousin and her boyfriend), so that was a good surprise.

Christmas was nice.  I was up until about 4 writing long notes in books and special cards for the boys and helping Santa get things ready (he left notes for the boys and personalized their stockings, etc.).  Comet even left a note and explained how he was sorry for leaving a bit of a mess on the front step — he left some chewed up carrots from the plate we left out for the reindeer and some droppings that looked a lot like raisins that had been soaked in warm water to plump them up.  [Yep, reindeer poop.  Since the kids had been questioning the Santa thing all of a sudden, the big guy had to step the proof of his existence up this year!]

And then the boys were up and ready for Christmas morning at 6:30.  Thanks to the kindness of a family at church who “adopted” us, and to the generosity of the boys’ teachers and school, we had gifts to put under the tree.  There were even gifts for me, including several giant packs of paper towel, toilet paper, Lysol wipes, and laundry detergent.  Such amazing angels who knew exactly what we needed.  Despite the events of the day before (and so many days before it), I couldn’t help but feel thankful for the good people in my life.  Such a stark contrast to my marriage are the relationships I have with other people.  Thank goodness, or I think I would have given up a long time ago.

We rounded out the day by going to my aunt and uncle’s to spend the afternoon with my family.  We hardly ever get to see them, so it was good to be together.  And then we moved on to Christmas dinner and dessert with my husband’s mom and dad.  It was a busy day and we didn’t get home until late, but it was really nice.  And I was glad we were able to have our own little Christmas in the morning and then have time for both sides of the family the rest of the day, so Christmas felt complete.  And I know the boys enjoyed the time spent with family.  They fell asleep on the way home, though they were up again at 6 a.m. to build their new Lego sets!

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Hmm, I was hoping to have this post serve double duty as a photo challenge post, but this week’s challenge topic is “Joy” and I think this post is just not joyful enough to qualify.  So I will improvise.   While I missed The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge for last week, I might as well show you the photos I would have designated for that post.

Titled “One,” the challenge asked that we show:

“photos that focus on one thing.  Maybe you’ve got a stark photo of a single tree silhouetted against the setting sun, or a lone sandpiper wandering the beach as waves crash.  Perhaps you’ve caught your mother sitting by herself in a moment of quiet contemplation.  Maybe you saw a basket of wriggling puppies, and got a photo with a single fuzzy face in focus.”

So now you see why I have a photo of a lone jellyfish and two oddly placed bird photos here.  Thanks for bearing with me!

Here’s one more:

Easter cupcakes pink breast cancer thirties 30s 30's thirties kids twins mom motherhood loss art show bird one daily post weekly photo challenge mastectomy

And I promise to come back with the JOY photos from this week’s challenge.  Full disclosure — I’ll tell you that I’m in a “Tell it like it is” frame of mind so I can’t promise that the text will be overtly joyful.  But I can promise you honesty and I hope that’s good enough!

Until then, thank you for reading and for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts, light and dark.

My warmest wishes and appreciation for you all…

p.s.  If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge, just click here for a list of challenges or here for the current challenge, “Joy.”

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Dogs Get Cancer, Too

canine cancer edward carter motley zoo cancer in my thirties breast cancer 30s 30's

This is a heartwarming story that I’ve been meaning to share with you for some time now…

I’ll admit that when jme first told me about this little pup, my heart sank a bit.  4-year-old Edward Carter had been diagnosed with cancer — advanced T-cell lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells.  

My thoughts first turned to my own special girl, my Mattie, who died from an aggressive canine cancer (hemangiosarcoma of the spleen) when she was 10.  [Read her cancer story here.]  My heart still aches when I think of the circumstances of her death.  

But when jme told me that Edward Carter had a bucket list and that he was going on adventures and making the most of his last days, I could picture her smiling as she spoke to me on the phone, thousands of miles away.  Edward Carter would make the most of his remaining time and have no regrets.

jme is founder and executive director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, an rescue organization committed to improving the lives of animals and finding loving homes for those in need.  Motley Zoo is foster and volunteer-based.  They have a dedicated volunteer board of directors and caring foster families who provide temporary homes for dogs and cats in need until permanent homes can be found.  jme and her exceptional team have found adoptive homes for over 1,100 animals since Motley Zoo’s creation less than five short years ago.  She is so committed to her mission that she and her husband have personally fostered over 700 dogs and cats to help Motley Zoo.  In fact, it would be odd for me not to hear a chorus of dogs in the background when we talk.

So it is not surprising that Motley Zoo wanted to help this little Powder Puff Chinese Crested / Maltese mix who was abandoned at a local shelter and found to have incurable Stage V lymphoma.  [If you have any knowledge of cancer in humans, you are probably looking at the V and thinking it is a typo, but it’s not.  While the highest stage for human cancers is Stage IV, canine lymphoma stages range from I to 5.] 

Despite being dropped off at the shelter in September and later diagnosed with cancer, he was quickly swooped up and moved into his new and permanent home with Brooke, a longtime foster and Motley Zoo volunteer.  Because he is a hospice dog, he requires special care.  Brooke and her dog Ottis happily accepted the challenge and decided to be his permanent foster family, giving him a warm, safe, and loving home to live out the rest of his days comfortably.

Just like those of us humans who have been diagnosed with cancer, Edward Carter has an oncologist and expensive medical bills.  He also has caregivers who need to make decisions about his treatment and his quality of life.  And since lymphoma is a systemic form of cancer, it has to be treated with chemotherapy. 
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But unfortunately for Edward, there is no cure.  The goal is solely to lengthen his life and to give him the best quality of life possible.

Edward Carter doesn’t seem to understand how sick he is.  He is active and full of LIFE and LOVE.  So creating a bucket list for him seemed like a great idea.  Motley Zoo even created a fan page so that his followers can follow his journey and participate in helping him come up with and check off bucket list boxes.  He has even been the feature of a number of news stories.  He is quite the character!

If you would like to learn more about Motley Zoo Animal Rescue or about Edward Carter and his bucket list — or even ways you can help him with his list or his costly cancer treatments, please visit his facebook page, aptly named Edward Carter’s Stairway to Heaven, or visit Motley Zoo.

And please take a minute to help Edward win Modern Dog Magazine’s Star Dog Photo Contest.  It just takes a second and you don’t need to sign up for anything — just click a button to vote and help a little dog’s dreams come true.

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light

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Before I get to this week’s photo challenge, I wanted to mention that I’ve just been nominated for Healthline’s Best Health Blogs of 2013 Award and I was wondering if you could please vote for my blog?  Voting started a couple of weeks ago & my nomination was just posted so I am quite behind!

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There are many amazing blogs included, so I doubt that I have much of a chance, but I truly appreciate your support and I am honored to even be grouped with the other blogs.

So, to vote:  You can vote EVERY DAY until JAN. 20th. Voting is through Facebook or Twitter.  Click here to VOTE:  http://www.healthline.com/health/best-health-blogs-contest-id?id=714  — or — click on the “VOTE FOR ME” badge in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog.

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

And now, on to the photos…

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

The Daily Post‘s Weekly Photo Challenge topic for this week is “Let There Be Light.”  From the original post: “We’re entering a truly light-filled season. Christmas trees, Hanukkah menorahs, and Kwanzaa kinaras are spreading their glow in homes the world over (or are just about to), while main streets and public buildings are being prepared for the winter holidays with an explosion of bright decorations.

Take a look around you. Choose one of the light sources you see, and make it the focus of your challenge entry. It can be a dramatic chandelier or a pair of dying candles; the moon, a row of glaring lightbulbs in the parking lot, or a gaudy lava lamp stored in your attic: anything goes. The light doesn’t even have to be switched on: some lamps are just as fascinating for their shape as for the photons they emit.”

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

Sadly, shortly after I finished this post I learned of Nelson Mandela’s death earlier today (12/5/13).  It is my hope that Mr. Mandela’s legacy will endure and that his life’s work, his leadership, and his compassion will continue to have a deep impact well beyond his years on this earth.  

I will leave you with my photos and with a favorite quote that many believe was uttered by Mr. Mandela.  While there is controversy about whether he ever spoke these words (written by Marianne Williamson in Return To Love), I think the sentiment so perfectly relates to my vision of how Mr. Mandela lived his life that I feel compelled to share it here regardless:   

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The world lost an amazing source of light and life today.

Thank you for visiting my little corner of the world, for voting (if you choose to), and for bringing light into my life.

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

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If you would like to participate in this or a future challenge, just click here to visit The Daily Post.

Hello Again…

Safari

Hello dear readers…

Once again I am returning with a photo post after a long hiatus.  I know it is not the ideal way to manage a blog, but it seems to be what I need to do for the time being.

Though this used to stress me out, I am learning to let go a little.  And that is because of you.  From the comments I’ve received from so many of you, I have found that you are forgiving of my infrequent visits and that you’ve even embraced them.  What a lucky girl I am to be able to stop in with some photos of my spirited little boys and my quirky canines and know that you will be here to welcome me back with open arms, to know that you will celebrate the good moments in my life, and to take comfort in the fact that you will offer words of kindness when times are tough.

The past few weeks have been a bit of a mixed bag.  I began to follow up with those of you who left comments on my last post to let you know that the thickening in my chest was likely swelling compliments of the lymphedema that has made its way beyond my arms and into the area where my breasts once were, but I never formally posted about my appointment.  It was a bit of a blow to discover that it was likely an extension of the lymphedema, but MUCH less of a blow than a cancer recurrence would have been.  It’s amazing how cancer puts everything into perspective!  I never would have thought there would be a circumstance in which I’d “welcome” an advancement of my lymphedema, but here I am!

[If you would like to know more about what lymphedema is, what causes it and how it is managed, stay tuned — I’m working on a post that will deal with this important topic.]

Just after that last post, pneumonia came knocking and, as you can imagine, it has been difficult to come back from.  On a positive note, though, I had a nice Thanksgiving break with the boys.  I spent most of Thanksgiving day preparing a turkey with all of the fixings.  I was pretty exhausted, but I’ve always enjoyed roasting the turkey and making Thanksgiving-y foods, so it was a labor of love.  Still, the day itself was a bit sad.  It was an unusually quiet holiday this year.  My in-laws had just gotten on a plane that morning and we had visited them night before, so we weren’t going to be going to their house on Thanksgiving Day.  And we were also not honoring the tradition of spending the other half of the day with my side of the family (usually at my aunt and uncle’s home) because we were missing some very important members this year.  I lost my youngest sister to the Alaskan wilderness (and her Alaskan boyfriend) when she packed her suitcase and got on the plane for a 5-day trip to Willow, AK in February.  5 days has stretched into 10 months because she has yet to return!  And the sister who had always been within minutes of me since she came home from the hospital when I was two years old, moved to Virginia to follow her/our dream to be near the sea.   She and my brother-in-law and my only niece and nephews hugged us goodbye as they drove away in their minivan and a big moving van during the first week of July.  And, sadly, they have not been back and my husband will not allow us to go to visit them (which the boys and I were pushing our hardest to do over the long Thanksgiving school break).  That leaves one sister [I am the oldest of four], but she and her husband [who is not a giant meanie like mine] went down to VA to spend Thanksgiving with my sister/BIL and the kids.  So it was VERY quiet.  My mother came over to eat with us and brought her little Yorkie.  The boys helped me decorate the table with our Halloween lights so we dined by the lovely saffron glow of the twinkly pumpkins we’ve collected over the years.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Then on Saturday and Sunday we took a quick little road trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Though the kids did their best to cajole my husband into allowing us to go to Virginia to seem my family, he made it clear that it would not happen now or ever, so we ended up “compromising” with Pittsburgh.  We had never been there but had heard that the city had a wonderful children’s museum and science center, both of which we have free admission to because of a reciprocal partnership between our local science center and other museums around the country (including those in Pittsburgh), and we also had a free hotel stay there.  Though the boys and I were sad about VA, we knew that it wouldn’t help to be upset about it, so we were determined to enjoy the weekend.  Though I would have been content to spend another “sick” weekend curled up under the blankets with the boys and dogs, I was the only one who would have gone for this over the long Thanksgiving weekend because the “sick” weekends had just been piling up with no end in sight.

Though it was tiring, I am glad we did it.  As it turned out, I had plenty of time to rest.   We only spent a few hours at the Children’s Museum on Saturday and then The Carnegie Science Center on Sunday, and we got home fairly early on Sunday.  And I just read during the roundtrip drive.  The hotel also provided board games, so we played Sorry! after the museum closed at 5 on Saturday, and then I was in bed by 9.  It was actually pretty relaxing.  At home, unless I am pretty sick, I have a hard time with giving myself permission to really rest.  For some reason it was much easier to do this while in another city or during the long car ride.   And the Children’s Museum was excellent.  There were plenty of activities to keep the boys engaged.  Our favorite section was an art annex of sorts.  The boys and I sat for ages at a long table cutting shapes that they could take up to a screen printing station where our designs would be printed.  I did the cutting and they would take the shapes up to be printed.  We made a nice stack of art that we plan to decorate their room with.  They loved the idea of stringing the pictures we made up on a long twine clothesline with old clothes pegs that were once my grandmother’s.  That will be our next project!

William enjoying one of the activities at The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA

William enjoying one of the activities at The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA

The Science Center was a bit more difficult for me.  But there was plenty to keep the boys busy.  And there were a plethora of benches and even some comfy chairs for me to sit in and even lie down on!  It really was chock-full of activities and displays.  We were even able to enjoy a star show (also free!) in their cozy planetarium chairs, located right inside the science center.  And the boys participated in some cooking demonstrations (free, too — and with samples!) in the “kitchen” section of the center.  Yum!

Yay! for The Carnegie Science Center's comfy chairs!

Yay! for The Carnegie Science Center’s comfy chairs!

And then we were back home to our dogs Sunday night, and I was back in to the hospital Monday morning to start off a full schedule of medical appointments this week.  But it was nice to have a change of scenery for a weekend!

Wow, I’ve written far more than I intended and I haven’t even gotten to the photo challenge yet!  Rather than muddle the photos up with all of these words (which have little/nothing to do with the challenge!), I’ll post a separate photo challenge entry in a minute.  I’ll also be requesting your help with a little something in the next post…

See you in a few…