Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Full of Grace

1.  The girls are home so we did our traditional Disney movie together.  If you have not seen Frozen, go see it.  It is wonderful.  And if you want to know what my daughters look like, that would be them.

2.  Beanie’s boyfriend, who during some alone time with him told me “I know she has had a hard time with a former boyfriend.  I just want you to know that I love your daughter very much and that I would never, ever hurt her.”  And he bought her a star for her birthday.  She is very happy.   I hope he’s a keeper.

3.  Peachie, who once again bought me a sentimental present to mark the second anniversary of my mastectomy.   She will always be my emotional, cuddly, caring daughter.  I want her to be the one to pick my nursing home : )

4.  Family dinner out for Beanie’s birthday.  Beautiful Italian restaurant, sharing a bottle of wine, great conversation, lots of laughs and the lobster and crab ravioli in tarragon sauce that was to die for.    

5.  The ability to take a family vacation, to a lovely tropical place.   We are on the brink of our daughters’ independence and live’s of their own that will take them who knows where.  I am so, so grateful for the time we are able to spend during the holidays and to be able to vacation together.  

I wish you all a beautiful holiday, whatever you conceive that to be.   I will be back after the New Year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Year in Review

2013 was a very interesting year for me.   It was a year of huge growth and accomplishment, but also of immense sadness and loss.  Mostly I think it was a year of transition.

January began with me finished with breast cancer surgeries and starting an oral chemo regimen that was supposed to help reduce my fairly high chance of cancer recurrence.   It was a time of fear of the unknown and doing anything to safeguard against cancer seemed reasonable and desirable.   Unfortunately, my body did not tolerate the meds and I became one very sick puppy.  So sick that dying of cancer seemed like the more desirable route and I stopped taking those drugs.   Which actually turned out to be a good thing because it totally changed my mindset about the meaning of health.

February found me making my bucket list, convinced that going off the chemo would somehow invite cancer back into my body.  The expression ‘to live like you are dying’ became very real to me and it gave me the courage to make changes in my life.   One being the strength to step away from a friend whose arrogance and thinly veiled elitism and heterosexism, constant whining (although she was the most privileged person I know) and boundary violations had worn me raw.   I never, ever end relationships - always thinking that there’s a way to make adjustments - but I finally said I couldn't do it anymore.  It was a huge step for me in gaining back some power, something I’m told is a big step for people who have experienced rape.  

March seemingly marked the end to my journey to overcome PTSD.  I still cannot really describe this except to say that the combination of rebuilding my physical strength after cancer, and finding my voice to say “enough” to a friend, seemed to empower me in a way that I had not felt since the day of losing all of my power.   I literally felt like I was shedding huge emotional balls and chains.

In April I went to New Orleans (a bucket list destination), saw a psychic who told me I should teach others about surviving and that I had a long life line.  I began to really think about what my life (however long it was going to be)  should be about now.    And I began to build back my physical strength.

During May I was conquering all sorts of things - the last of the high peaks in the Adirondacks, sex without breasts, playing piano, my daughters home for the summer . . .   I was beginning to feel positively giddy with my new emotional and physical health.

In June I had my first serious PTSD trigger and was able to say “fuck off”  and it worked!   For the first time I was beginning to sense that I really had conquered it.

July and August - rest and relaxation.

In September I lost yet another close friend to cancer.

During October I watched my secretary watch her daughter die of cancer.

November yet another friend, the man who gave us our children, died of cancer.   Have I mentioned how much I hate cancer? Thanksgiving became even more meaningful to be with the people I love.  

So  I am now in December trying to figure out where to go from here.   I used to spend an awful lot of emotional time controlling my PTSD, trying to be “normal”, and a lot of time doing physical things to control my always rising anxiety.   Now I have become a slug, staying in bed in the morning and just thinking about what I should be doing next.  Nothing brilliant has come to mind.

Cancer does something to you.  Not unlike PTSD, it likes to remind you that it is always lurking, waiting for a moment of weakness to pounce.  And having lost so many loved people in my life to cancer, I am very tuned in to the importance of time and not wasting time and especially growing and nurturing the relationships in my life.   

So 2013 marks a year when I became free of PTSD (knocking on wood, throwing salt over my shoulder, and whatever else I need to do to not curse this.)   I loved myself enough to end a seriously unhealthy (for me) friendship, I ended almost all cancer treatments and got myself back to good physical condition (although I have been quite the slug lately.)   It was a year of gaining great strength but also great sadness. I lost three people I cared about but was able to travel and say goodbye to a most beloved friend. Lots of sadness, but no regrets.   A bittersweet year.  

I feel now like I am starting 2014 with a totally blank page and I have no idea what I want to write on it . . .

. . .  yet.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Full of Grace

1.  All my holiday preparation is done.  Gifts made and bought and wrapped and mailed.  Cookies baked and distributed.  Stockings stuffed.  I am positively gloating while all those about me are in chaos.

2.  Slow dancing in the dark.  

That probably sounds more romantic than it actually was, but I’ll take it.

3.  Snow storm coming and having the house fully stocked with food.  And by 'food', I mean junk food.

4.  Hot chocolate made with almond milk.  Yum!

5. Ohboy ohboy ohboy ohboy!  SNOW!  And LOTS of it!   And it was perfect snow, soft and light and airy, the kind you can walk right through without snowshoes, even though it is up to your knees.  And when the sunlight hit it, it looked like a million diamonds glittering.   Absolutely dazzling!   I love snow in December.  (by February I’m pretty much over it : )

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Decision #1

Recently I have been ruminating, agonizing, and tossing and turning over a few decisions I have on my plate.  First up - reconstruction.

It has been two years since my bilateral mastectomy.  Physically my body has healed. My scars are about 80% faded.  I have full range of movement and I have regained my muscular strength.  Emotionally I have steeled myself to the possibility of cancer’s recurrence and I get past the  daily reality of my mutilated body reflected in the mirror.

What I can’t get past is the problem with clothing.  I’ve had to toss almost all my cute summer, clingy t-shirts and now wear mostly loose shirts with some kind of design across the chest.  But I can’t wear white or light colors and nothing at all shear.  I can’t find an appropriate shirt to wear with suits.  All the turtleneck shirts and sweaters are gone.  Literally 75% of my work wardrobe has been removed.  I’ve cut the cups out of bathing suits which now just droop.  And finding anything dressy for weddings and such has been down right depressing.

I originally bought a mastectomy bra with inserts but they wound up on the shelf because having these rubbery things hanging off my chest just felt too weird and were uncomfortably hot and sweaty when the weather got warm.  And I can’t do the boobs one day, none the next thing.  

And so I made an appointment to talk to a plastic surgeon about reconstruction.   This is what I found out - it would require two surgeries, one to place expanders under the skin.  Then every couple of weeks I would go and have saline solution added to the expanders until my skin stretched to the size I would like to be.  (small)   The second surgery would be to remove the expanders and replace them with silicon implants.  

The negatives - Two surgeries.  Both under general anesthesia which I have a very hard time with.   Two new recuperations totally 5-6 months.  Scars re-opened.   Not knowing what they will feel like.

The positives - No more clothing issues.  That the scar tissue which has adhered to the muscle underneath, will be separated, therefore the constant feeling that I have duct tape on my chest, pulling every time I move, will be eliminated.   And my insurance will cover the whole thing.  

Strangely, I don’t know of any other women who have done this.  One woman I work with recently had one breast removed and will do reconstruction to match, but she is still in the chemo stage, so not much of a resource.

My sister’s opinion - “Do it.  Then you won’t have to feel bad about yourself anymore”

Well, I really don’t feel bad about myself.  I actually like being flat for a lot of reasons, although I don’t like being lumpy.   I don’t love the way my body looks now but it has benefits.  And if you look at pictures of reconstruction, it is basically two artificial mounds, no nipples, with a scar running across each mound.   I don’t think it will solve the ‘mutilated’ feeling.

Peachie’s opinion - “Do it.   I’ve seen how difficult to get dressed.  How hard it is for you to go clothes shopping and how long it took for you to find something to wear for a wedding.  Just think how you will feel  when it’s MY wedding.  Have the surgery now,   recoop for 6 months, and then never have to worry about it again.”

Martha is against it - mainly because she is very leery about putting something foreign in my body, especially something that has been known to cause women problems in the past.  And she is concerned that the implants might obscure the detection of a recurrence of cancer, something I know I have a high probability of.

And so I continue to sit on the fence.  I have made another appointment with the doctor so Martha can go and ask her questions, which amazingly she has agreed to go.   I just wish I could preview what they would feel like. I wish I knew women who have done it, or not, how they made their decisions, and whether they are happy with their decision now.  

So any opinions out there?  Do you know anyone who had reconstruction?  Did they love it, or hate it?  Would you do it?   Anything info that would help nudge me would be appreciated.  I really need to make a decision soon if I’m going to do it so it will be complete by summer.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Full of Grace

1.  In this season of miracles, another one has occurred!  Martha actually threw some old, unneeded stuff out.  It didn't go in the box to bring up to the lake (the next stop for most unwanted/unneeded stuff), it didn't go in the “I think I could repair this piece of crap”  bin.  No, she actually threw stuff out.  In the garbage.  And the garbage men came this morning, so it is really gone. Wonders may never cease.

2.  Beaner’s boyfriend called and asked if he could fly up (he currently lives in Florida) to surprise her for her birthday.   Normally, that would not be that big of a deal, but she has had some very hard luck with boyfriends recently so I am doubly grateful that this one is very kind and seems to care a great deal for her.  

3.  Fighting a cold/cough that has moved in for the long haul.  But having the freedom to leave work and stay home, or take a nap and come back, or just work from home.   There are so many things about my job for which I am grateful, but the ability to come and go as I please is on the top of the list.

4.  That Martha has finally stopped singing “Climb every Mountain” after watching the Sound of Music special last week.   Wow, what an ear worm!  Crap, now it is back in my head.

5.  Knowing that this is an actual store.  Somewhere.  I need to find out where.  Lord have mercy.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Pause.  I feel like my life has been paused.  Perhaps it is fitting since it is the advent/solstice season, a time of quiet reflection and anticipation of the coming light.  So much in my life has changed in the past year that I feel like the rest of me has not yet caught up.

I volunteer for an organization that provides rides, and other help, to people in need.  I used to do this on a regular basis. By that  I mean that I had clients whom I drove to weekly appointments, or did their weekly grocery shopping and banking, etc..  When I was so ill last year, recuperating from cancer surgeries and taking intolerable drugs, I had to give up all my regulars. Since then I have been occasionally substituted for other drivers, rather randomly.  Not nearly enough.  I have been feeling well enough for quite awhile to call and get back on a regular schedule, but something has kept me from doing it.  I’m not sure what.  Volunteering has been on Pause.

I have not gone backpacking since . . . I actually can’t remember when.  It’s been awhile.   Not at all in the Fall which is my favorite time to go packing - less people, cool hiking temperatures, no bugs, beautiful foliage.  I have not gone mostly due to my favorite hiking buddy having a critical illness in her family.  And the fact that all my joints ache from this estrogen inhibitor I am taking.  But the truth is that I have other friends who would love to go into the mountains with me.  And I am achy, but far from disabled.  Something has kept me from doing it.  I’m not sure what.  Backpacking has been on Pause.

I have managed to occasionally get to the gym  But not my usual daily commitment.   I find more excuses not to go than to go.  Exercise is definitely on Pause.

I used to arrange a lunch date with someone once every two weeks to balance my introverted side and also to keep up professionally with community people.  I would rotate through a file I keep of church leaders, the school superintendent, fire department captains, Chamber of Commerce people, community rabble rousers, etc.  When was the last time I invited anyone to lunch?  I can’t remember.  And I have turned down almost every invitation I have received.   Pause.

I feel in many ways I have spent my entire adult life trying to get back to the person I know I lost.  And now that I have finally stepped through the door of trauma healing, I realize that I can never, ever be the person I once was. Nobody can. Too much time has passed.  Too many new experiences.  We all change and grow.  I have a new life.  But I don’t have a new ‘me’ yet because I actually don’t know who I am without all the trauma baggage I have carried around for so long.   I am feeling a little lost. And I think I am mourning the loss of all that baggage.  Not that I want it - no, I worked very hard to rid myself of it.  But it was my familiar, if that makes sense.  I seem to have let go of all those things I desperately needed to keep myself out of the trauma hole - the volunteering and the forced socialization, the obsessive exercise to control anxiety, even the the need to completely remove myself from civilization.   All those things became what defined my life because without them I felt I could not emotionally survive.  But now what will define my life?    I wish I knew, but I don’t.

And so I am in this state of Pause.  I am also in a state of extreme doubt and perhaps a little depression.  I have gained a lot, but I feel like I have lost myself. Again.  I feel very unsure of everything and every decision.  I am afraid to make the wrong move. Yet, very similar to the advent/solstice season, I am also wondering and anticipating what the new light will bring.  



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Full of Grace

1. Wednesday
Spent a little time delivering turkey dinners to shut-ins. They are always so appreciative it is such a high. Then Beaner’s boyfriend arrived for the holiday and Peachie’s showed up for just the night.  I am beginning to see the future and it’s very nice.  My girls are happy and we like the men in their lives.

2. Thursday
Bagels, the parade, and the dog show, all curled up in our jammies.   I love traditions.

A short, energizing nap.

Dinner with Martha’s niece and family.  I knew it was going to be a little rough as infidelities have caused one divorce and threatens another marriage. I spent my time with the babies and the Cowboys (oh yes!) and stayed away from the drama and the drinking.  It was a good choice and I had a delightful time.  I love her family. They are such good and gracious people even when they are going through difficult times.

3. Friday
While my crazy family went early morning shopping, I went to help a friend who supplies firewood for families in need.  A few hours outdoors with a chainsaw and a splitter. Actually, I am afraid of splitters, so I did some cutting, but mostly stacking.  Lots of stacking. A great way to work off some of those sweet potato pounds.

An “oh my back is aching” nap.

Many of my daughters’ friends are home from school and came to visit. Most of them I have known since they were in preschool and consider them my ‘other’ daughters. So nice to watch them grow up, go off to school but still come together as if no time had passed.

Went and got our Christmas tree.   Hot chocolate and Xmas carols.

And then the girls went out with their friends.  Are we alone?  Oh yes, some sweet sexy time.  It’s funny how we are alone all the time now, but in the midst of so much activity this weekend, we felt like teenagers getting away with something while the parentals were away.

4. Saturday
House decorating, in and out.   All Thanksgiving/Autumn packed up.  Outdoor lights, santas, snowmen, garland, trying to get the tree to stand up in the stand, and for the first year - being able to display my mother’s creche. Christmas decorating has to be done as a family so we have a short window to get it done while the girls are home.   Lots of frantic activity.

An “I have to get away from all this activity” nap.

Watched Auburn beat Alabama  (Oh no!)  Trimmed the tree with the help of many ‘other’ daughters. Egg nog and cookies.  Yum.

5. Sunday
Went to the gym with Peachie to work off the cocoa and eggnog and cookies.   Learned new exercises with a kettlebell.   So nice to have a daughter studying athletic training and exercise science . . . who doesn't laugh at me.

Came home to the news of the NYC train derailment.  It is the same train I often use and the one that my daughter and her friends use constantly between their campus and the city. Spent some anxious hours waiting to hear from many of those friends.  Fortunately, aside from trying to figure out how they were going to get back to school, everyone was found safe and sound.

A “thank the universe” nap.

Sending the girls back to school. Kisses and hugs and only three weeks before they are home again.

Looking back on my long Thanks Giving weekend, it doesn't take much effort to write out a ridiculously grateful list.   Friends, family, food, warmth, cozy naps, home, health and love.  Lots and lots of love.   

Going to bed Sunday night, all I could think about was when a good friend of mine met Daphne for the first time.  Her response to me later was “you are one lucky fuck.”

I was then.  

I am now.  

Life is amazing.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

November 30th

It is the last day of the minimalist challenge.  And yes, I did indeed complete the purge.  Today I am tossing a laundry basket full of orphans socks.   I’ve had these for years thinking the matches would show up. Sometimes they do.  Our cats love to hide socks around the house so occasionally we move furniture and find some matches.  I get inordinately excited when that happens.  But I decided it was time to let them go.  So some for Martha’s rag bin and the rest are out in the garbage.  And I get my laundry basket back.

This month I tossed, donated, or recycled  flower vases, old computer software,  pathetically frayed underwear, owner’s manuals for appliances long since dead, a lot of clothes I can’t wear flat-chested, numerous books to the library book exchange (without taking any new ones home), old flower and vegetable seeds, unused and broken tools, a slew of VHS tapes, a collection of unrecognizable objects in the junk drawer, expired medicines,  eternally dull knives, disgustingly shredded cat and dog toys, dozens of dried up pens and markers, and a host of other strange and no longer needed items.   

I am definitely going to make this an annual event. And Martha never even noticed the difference.

Next . . . my office.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Full of Grace

1.  Being all together to celebrate Martha’s birthday.

2.  Dinner at the French restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America.  The food was embarrassingly fancy and expensive, but Martha enjoyed the spectacle and the girls enjoyed the wine : )    And I am thankful to have the financial means to occasionally celebrate a very special occasion in a very special way.

3.  Sunday morning, waking to the sound of snowplows and being able to just burrow down deeper into the blankies and go back to sleep.

4.  That the world can be so breathtakingly beautiful.

5.  And, of course, during this week of Thanksgiving. my most favorite of all holidays - I am thankful for all of the folks who come and visit with me here; for all who are kind enough to take the time to comment; and especially for those of you (you know who you are) who continue to be such a source of strength and support and inspiration to me.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013


The other night I had dinner with an old lesbian friend.   (She is both an old lesbian, and an old friend : )   And she said to me “did you know that Dr. Peter died last week?”   No, I didn’t know.   I guess this is what happens when you give up your newspaper subscription in favor of on-line news.  I don’t see obituaries anymore.  

So please indulge me as I tell you about Peter, a man who had more impact on my life than any other, with the exception of my father.

Back when Martha and I were first together she told me that she wanted children.    I was still in my totally dazed, black hole mode and I really didn't care one way or the other.  But wanting to please I said “okay”.   As the story unfolded, Martha did not want to have the children herself.  Mostly because, as a cop, she knew she would have to come off the road if she was pregnant and she loved her work.  So I said, “okay I’ll do it.”

That was 24 years ago and options for lesbians wanting children were still very limited - especially if you wanted an unknown donor, which we did.   But we did a lot of asking around and finally found a fertility clinic we were told might consider us.  And that is how we found Peter.

On our very first visit to his hospital clinic the waiting room was filled with heterosexual couples, all looking both sad and hopeful at the same time.    People stared, not sure what to make of us. But Peter greeted us warmly. We explained our situation and Peter said that we would be the first lesbian couple he had as clients, and he was excited about it. But he also explained that:

1.  Because infertility was not the issue, our medical insurance would not pay for the procedures.  Which were expensive.  Very expensive.

2.  Because it was expensive, he recommended a full medical work-up to insure the possibility of pregnancy.  No sense in throwing away thousands of dollars if there were other medical issues.

3.  Because he had never done this with a lesbian couple, he wanted us to go through a psychological evaluation first.  We thought this was a little odd, but our eyes were on the target, and we would have to jump through their hoops.

We went to a psychologist of their choosing and I remember being asked questions like “what will you do when your child is teased about having two mothers”  and “how will you handle child care.” We apparently passed our evaluation with flying colors and were accepted into the program.  Step one - check.

Step two was my medical work-up.  Blood work and a physical were first.  I found out my thyroid levels were very low and went on meds to correct that.  Then I had an internal exam.  I remember that being difficult for me at the time and Martha had come with me to hold my hand. Then I got a call that I needed to come back for some dye test.   And then I got called back one last time. Just Peter and I, a consultation in his office.  He sat next to me and very calmly and compassionately told me that I had a lot of internal damage and that the likelihood of my being able to get pregnant, or to hold onto a pregnancy, would be very unlikely.   He never asked what had happened to me.  I never told him.  My only strong memory is of him, holding my hand, and sharing the silence as my eyes just welled up and the tears rolled.  We sat there like that for a very long time.  “Would you like me to explain this to Martha, or do you want to?”   I don’t even remember my answer.   I only remember not wanting him to let go.  And he didn't.  

Anyway, the story does have a happy ending.  Martha stepped up to the plate and turns out she was extremely fertile.  It took two tries to get pregnant with Beanie, only one try for Peachie. Through the whole process Peter was our biggest cheerleader. But he was also sensitive to my mixed emotions - happy that Martha was pregnant, sad that I never could be, and saddled with all the triggers that went with that.  For every ultrasound, for every office visit, he was always by my side.  Understanding that pain.

He came to the hospital after the birth of both our babies and seemed as proud as any father would be. We stayed friends for a number of years and socialized occasionally but then slowly faded to just exchanging Christmas cards.   A number of years back he started his own private practice and he would see him on TV commercials.  It always brought smiles to our faces.   

Oh, and I should add that after our first daughter was born we went back for a second pregnancy. I told him that I thought it was unfair that we had had to go through psychologist testing, as no straight prospective parents had to.  He apologized and agreed to drop that requirement.   (He also dropped the requirement that a woman had to have a partner)   We became the best advertisement for his clinic and he became to the go-to doctor for lesbians in our area wanting anonymous donor insemination.    

So, having dinner with my old lesbian friend, it came as quite a shock to hear that he had died.  He was only 56 years old.  I would not have my beautiful daughters if not for him.  My friend would not have her amazing son.

Later I looked up his obituary and then read the comments people had left.  Dozens of people thanking him for his dedication,  coming into the office on weekends because “fertile time” was on Sunday.   People thanking him for his compassion when every last bit of hope and science had been tried and there was not going to be a pregnancy.  And then thanking him for staying with them through the adoption process. People thanking him for his humor because, honestly, it is an awkward progress to go through.  He made it magical and delightful and fun. But mostly it was people thanking him because, without him, they would not have their children.  

It must have been an amazing life - to help people achieve their dreams,  to know you were responsible for all these beautiful babies that would not have been otherwise.    As his obituary says “His legacy can be measured by the thousands of babies conceived through his medical practice.”  

So I am feeling a little sad.  The world lost an amazing and compassionate man.  In an odd way we feel he was the father of our children. There is a new hole in my heart but his smile and compassionate touch will always be remembered. And, because of him, the world has received thousands of beautiful babies - one article said over 5,000!  What a legacy indeed. Thank you Peter for making our dreams come true.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Full of Grace

This week I asked Martha the same questions I answered about her - What do you love best about me?  What drives you nuts?   She immediately thought it was a trap.  But she did humor me and do it anyway.   

She took a long time with 10 things she loved but seemed to want to go on and on about what she didn’t.  Go figure.  

The love list:

1. Loyal

2.  Compassionate

3.  Caring

4. Always calm when things are going to shit

5. Generous to people in need, sometimes too much.

6. Loving, caring, involved mother

7. Gave me family

8. Gave my life stability

9. Handles the family finances

10.  Handy to have around

And the not so much list:

1.  Stubborn

2. Perfectionist

3. Socially awkward/embarrassing/non-social

4. Shitty cook

5.  Picky eater

6. Wacked

7.  Over analyzes everything

8.  Pain in the ass quirks

9.  Always on my heels turning out lights while I’m still in the room, turning down the heat when I’m freezing, taking things for compost when I’m still eating, recycling containers before I finish it, lectures on how many miles I drive my car, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera  

10.  Can spot one single surviving flower in a huge field but doesn’t see the cat puke on the kitchen floor

So for this week’s edition of Full of Grace, I am very thankful that for all my faults (and the list could have been much longer)  she still loves me and hasn't kicked me out of the house.