Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  After only two weeks, I can sleep on my stomach.  It takes a little gentle maneuvering to get to that position, but I am one happy sleeper.

2. The pathology on my back tumor came back as benign.  That was expected but it is always a relief to know for sure.

3.  I received the hospital bills for my two surgeries which totaled over $18,000!  My out of pocket expense was $150 - a $75 co-pay for each surgery.   And I paid nothing for the 12+ weekly doctor visits for the consult, weekly expansions, and follow up.   I am extremely grateful that I have wonderful health insurance, which I have never paid a dime into and will be covered by my employer for the rest of my life.   It is a luxury I know very few people have.

4.  Babysitting our 16 month old grand niece over night.  Is there is anything more amazing than falling asleep, nuzzling the smell of a freshly bathed baby?

5.  Someone left this for me on my desk.  Oh my.  A very nice way to start the day.

Friday, April 25, 2014


I was going to title this post “Spring Cleaning”  and talk about how I plan to clean up my head and body and get stronger.  But I realized that this project will be much more than a spring cleaning.  I need a complete overhaul..

In the past 3 years my body has been under siege -

2 knee surgeries
3 breast biopsies
1 bilateral mastectomy
1 additional surgery to increase the margins around the removed tumor
1 course of  oral chemo
1 surgery for tissue expanders
1 surgery for implants
2 1/2 years of a 5 year course of estrogen killing meds which has taken a huge toll on my bones.  

In the past few years I have also taken some huge emotional hits.  My mother died.  Two beloved friends were taken tragically and long before their time.  My therapist/friend/savior died unexpectedly. My children went off to college.    My world has gotten much smaller.

I feel like I’ve aged 20 years in the last three.   I am tired and slow and have allowed myself to feel physically and mentally old.   I have made excuses and not done what I know I could have/should have done.  I have sometimes felt sorry for myself.   I have become soft and flabby.   I have allowed Martha to take on more than her fair share.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve been backpacking.  I have not volunteered in quite awhile. I do very little socially.  And I have become lazy.   Very, very lazy.     

How did this become my default?

Right before my last surgery I got my bike back from it’s annual tune-up and asked Martha is she wanted to go for a ride. She responded “okay, but not one of your 100 mile, tortuous mountain rides.” At first I was flattered to think that she still thought I did 100 mile mountain rides.   But then I felt sad that it wasn’t all that long ago that I was that fit enough to do them.   I doubt I could do 10 miles now.

I have allowed myself to get soft.  Very soft.

This needs to change.

I have tried in the past to get back in shape. And I would be successful . . . temporarily. And then I had yet another expansion or surgery that would put me back at square one. Friggin' frustrating and disheartening.

But now, for the first time in a long time, I do not have any health challenges on the horizon.  My path is clear and I know what I need to do, although I often find that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Spring is a great time for renewal and growth and I am in need of some major work, both physically and mentally.   In order to keep myself accountable, I will be reporting my progress here.

Come watch me grow.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  Both my girls home for Easter weekend.  Without boyfriends.  I do like their boyfriends, but it is so nice not to have to share my daughters when they are home.  The time is coming soon enough . . .

2.  Spring has finally sprung!  Warm weather.  Sun.  Green grass.  Buds on trees.  Daffodils and tulips emerging.   Of course the temps are going back down into the 30s this week but the short blast of warmth was enough to give everyone happy Spring fever.

3. Secretary's Week. My secretary and I have been together for 25 years. She and I are the entire department and together we have accomplished some pretty cool things. Besides the administrative stuff she takes care of, she is kind and compassionate and keeps me laughing. She always has my back and I am particularly grateful for her now that I am only working part time. I couldn't have done this semi-retirement thing without her to hold down the fort.

4.  Martha, who has spent the week dispensing my meds, retrieving those things I could not reach, helping me shower and dress, and sleeping on the couch so her movement would not disturb my very fragile ability to sleep this week.  She was totally against this reconstruction surgery from the start, yet she has been amazingly supportive and caring.  I am one lucky girl.

5.  Steri strips and stitches removed today from the boobs and back.   There were times this past week when I thought I would go insane from the itchiness of those things.  The word grateful does not even come close to how I feel now that they are gone.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reconstruction complete

I was a little bummed when the hospital called to tell me my surgery time was 12:45, and to be there at 11:30.  I already have problems with nausea and dehydration so not being able to eat or drink since the night before, and then all morning, had me feeling very anxious.  When I got dressed, I found yet another dime in my pocket.  Being a skeptic, I accused Martha of putting it there, but she denies it, so maybe my mom was telling me that she would be with me.

When I arrived at the surgical center at 11:30 they took me right back to the prep room, the nurse got an IV started with just one easy attempt in the back of my hand (usually my tiny,scared veins roll away or just collapse) and I took this as a good omen.  The anesthesiologist came in and promised me he would pour the entire anti-nausea cocktail in me and then my doctor came in and started drawing all over my chest and back with magic marker.

I was rolled into the OR at noon, ahead of scheduled and with no time to think about it. I scooched over onto the operating table and that’s all I remember.

I woke up at 3:00 gently and without any problems.  No anxiety, no triggers, no freaking out.  So much different than my usual recovery experiences.  It was amazingly relaxed.  Then they put me in a chair and wheeled me to the next room and told me that they would go get Martha.  But the first person in the room was Peachie who had driven 4 hours to surprise me.   That girl does make me smile.

So surgery at 12:00.  Home by 4:30.  Not bad at all.

Today, 48 hours later, I am sore and itchy but not in pain.  I went to work for an hour, just to return phone calls.  The tumor they took off my back was apparently deep in the muscle, so that is more sore than the my newly sliced open boobs.   And I am tired.  It is difficult to sleep when you’ve had surgery on both your chest and back, but I can manage to find a moderately comfortable position to nap in.   It’s only when I move that I wake myself up.  

Other than that, I am feeling great.  It will take a few months for the new girls to settle in and be a more realistic shape, but I think I will be very happy.  Especially because they have already made such a big difference in being able to wear clothes.

Before any reconstruction surgeries.
After the tissue expanders were surgically placed.

Expanders filled with 430 cc of saline.
These were hard as a rock.

After final implant surgery.
The implants are still taking the shape of the expanders but will settle
into a more natural position in a few months.  

Next week the stitches will come out and then in 3 to 4 months, when everything settles, I will be re-evaluated to see if any adjustments need to be made.    I am so glad this is over.

Thank you for all your good thoughts, prayers and kindnesses.   I am truly blessed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Full of Grace

I am posting this early as my final reconstruction surgery is in a few hours and then I’ll probably have anesthesia brain for a few days.

1.  My first retirement pension check.  I can’t believe that this will now arrive in my checking account every month, for the rest of my life.  It is a financial security I have never known.

2. Putting away my warm, cozy, flannel sheets for the crisp, white cotton summer sheets.  I love the feel of them.

3.  That I was gifted this.


A whole room full of knotty pine wood that was removed for a Habitat for Humanity house.  I have often worked with them and they asked if I wanted it.  It will replace some old, dark paneling at the lake house.  I really wasn't looking for yet another project to do but sometimes these gifts just fall from the universe.

4. That this just appeared where I work


I have already taken two books and replaced them with others.  Such a wonderful thing.

5. Being barefoot in the grass.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Southern Discomfort

I just rented 12 years a Slave.  I purposely didn’t see it in the theater, knowing it would be much too intense for me on a large screen.  I watched it at home, in small chunks, and left the room for many scences.

I am proud to say the Solomon Northrup’s story begins in the late 1830s as a respected, free man in a town near where I live.  It is where I spend a good deal of my summers.  It is only when Solomon is transported to the south that he is treated inhumanely.  

And this started me thinking.  Almost every story of slavery in the south shows not just the injustice of free labor.  No, there is always the dominant white people (men and women)  engaging in torture - rape, whippings, hanging, and often placing slaves in intolerable conditions.   And this by people who would quote the Bible as their justification.

I openly acknowledge my own personal bias against the south.   When Daphne and I were attacked it was by men with southern accents.  They were quite vocal about how our lesbian relationship was an abomination and sinful, while Daphne’s black skin gave them license to torture her.  Lesbians and blacks were sinful according to them, but apparently rape and sadistic torture were not.  

I know of very few people, driving through the south with New York license plates, who have not been stopped and hassled for some bogus reason.    A friend’s son spent one semester at Wake Forest before returning home because he couldn’t/wouldn’t tolerate the open racism by his dorm mates there.  Any person I know who has gone south to work, has always come back.  They are shocked by the open bigotry against blacks and gays.  And while we have often taken winter vacations to the warm southern climate, it has always been gay friendly tourist places, filled with other “snowbirds” from the north.   There is safety in numbers.

I am not saying that all racists and homophobes live in the south nor am I saying that every southern person is a racist or homophobe.  I am painfully aware that there are people everywhere who, for whatever reason, sadistically hurt people and/or animals and hate crimes occur everywhere.   I’m sure you can pick up a newspaper anywhere and find these stories.  But when these incidents happen, the horrified community usually comes together and punishes the wrongdoer.  There is some response and dangerous and sick people are removed from society.   Not necessarily so in the south.

Fast forward from the Civil War, 100 years to the civil rights movement.  Again, horrific southern behavior toward blacks.  I remember watching The Butler and the scene where young black people sat at a lunch counter and white Southerners came and taunted them, spit on them and finally began physical violence.  Cruel behavior against blacks was acceptable.  And was encouraged.  How did an entire region not only turn a blind eye but accept such behavior?  How could anybody find this acceptable?  I find it very scary.  Like Nazi Germany scary.   Yet unlike the Holocaust,  Southern racism has lasted generation after generation after generation.  Oh yes, you've got to be carefully taught.  

For a while I corresponded with  woman from the south.  She considered herself quite the liberal, progressive person.  Yet most of her views and opinions that she thought were so very progressive are the viewpoints of the average person where I live.  And even with her self given label “socialist for Jesus”,  gay/black/poor micro aggressions always leaked out of her.   She was white, straight, educated and religious and she never failed to let me know how superior she was.  I don’t think she ever realized it.  It was just her way of being in this world.

Last year I drove through North Carolina and wrote a blog post about the bumper stickers I saw. Incredibly racist and homophobic sentiments were openly displayed.  

Gay rights? Gays have the right to die. (with bible verse I couldn’t read)

If I had known this I would have picked my own cotton (along with a picture of the Confederate flag)

I learned everything I need to know about evolution from the Holocaust

and on one truck -

The Bro and his Ho have got to go
Don’t Re-Nig in 2012

I don’t know - where I come from those bumper stickers, and possibly those vehicles, would have been removed.  My daughter recently came back from Florida, very upset with the number of confederate flags openly displayed.  “Aren't people upset by that?” she asked.  I ask myself the same question but have no answers.  I find it hard to believe that the majority of southerners still carry such bias, yet where is the outrage?  Where is the push back?

12 years a Slave has gotten under my skin.   I can't comprehend how anyone thought the mistreatment of slaves was an appropriate practice.  I cannot even stomach watching the recreated images on a screen. I can't imagine witnessing it in person.  I do not understand how a human could treat another living being the way these slaves were systematically treated.   Or watch it happen. And with same mistreatment, and acceptance of such mistreatment continuing long into the 1960s and into today.  That so many southerners seem to accept the racism and confederate flags and racist/homophobic bumper stickers, just totally escapes me.  Perhaps they are so close to it they don’t even see it?   Is it a cultural thing I'm missing?  I simply don’t understand how an entire region, and a highly religious region at that, could continue to condone and encourage these attitudes.

Hank Aaron was recently quoted as saying “ The difference is that back then they wore hoods.  Now they wear neckties and starched shirts.”   

I find this very scary.

I am proud to say the Solomon Northrup’s story begins as a respected, free man in a town near where I live.   I wouldn't want to live, or raise my children, in a place where it was any other way.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Full of Grace

So, so much to be thankful for this past weekend.

Friday night Martha and I went to Beaner’s college to see her inducted in the national Criminal Justice Honor Society.  A very proud parental moment.

The keynote speaker was introduced as a former judge, now a deacon in the Catholic Church.  (Beaner’s college was formally run by Catholic monks.  It is no longer, but there is still a heavy Catholic influence there)  His theme was “always to the right thing” and he started talking about same-sex relationships.  Martha and I held our breath.  But it turns out that he was the New York State judge who first allowed a same-sex adoption and his ruling stood up to challenges and became law.  He talked about how he knew it would hurt him in his religious community and in his run for re-election.  But he knew it was the right thing to do.   Oh yes, I shook that man’s hand afterward and thanked him.  For all of us.

Peachie and her BF drove 5 hours to try to get there for the ceremony, but were late.  They showed up at the restaurant we took Beaner to and surprised her speechless.  A perfect moment.

Saturday was Beaner’s last dance recital.  She has danced since she was 3 and joined this dance company at college.  They give recitals twice a year, all proceeds going to children’s cancer research.   So blessed to have healthy, vibrant kids who give back to those who aren’t as fortunate.

Beaner’s best friend (and my daughter from another mother) drove 4 hours from her school to surprise Beaner and be at her last dance.   

Afterwards we, and a few of Beaner’s housemates, all went out to eat and I just sat back and watched my daughters and their friends laughing and joking and just being awesome.  It is a wonderful thing when you can look at your kids and see that they are loved, are full of joy,  and what fine people they have grown into.   I had this vague look into the future knowing that they will be all right.

And then there was Beaner’s text message afterward - I feel very blessed and I have you and mommy to thank for that.  I love you both very much.  

I feel very blessed and have so many people to thank for that.  And I love them all very much.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Briefcase

This is my briefcase.


It sits in a tiny alcove in my bedroom, and along with this picture of a barefoot angel

which I’ve written about here:

They are, very intentionally, the first things I see in the morning.  

I used to carry this briefcase with me.  All the time.  I used to work.  All the time.

It was a time when I couldn't face life.  Or the world.  Or people.  I used my work to hide behind real life.   I could easily lock myself in my office and ignore everyone and everything and work gave me an excuse to do that.  I would bring my work home so that  I didn't have time for other things.   All those things I was too afraid to face.  Or deal with.  All those things about myself I couldn't even start to acknowledge.  Work can be a wonderful drug for those who cannot deal with their life.

And then I moved, and in the next 3 years, found an amazing therapist (or more accurately, she found me) met someone who loved me and started a family.   And from the day my first daughter was born, I never carried that briefcase again.  I wanted to live a whole and healthy life.   And as for work - I often thought of that biblical message “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto god what is god’s.” When I was at work, 9 to 5, I gave my all to it.  But when I was with my family or friends, I was all theirs. And time to myself was all about self care.  

I knew a woman who would brag to me all the time about how much she worked.  She was oh so busy and oh so important.  12 to 14 hours days.  And not just during an occasional emergency or prep for an important conference.   She would attend family reunions at a beach house and stay inside and work.   Her mother visited from England, and she stayed inside and worked.  She would brag about how she occasionally coordinated with White House staff who also worked 12 to 14 days and oh, they were all so very important.  And she was so important for working with them and they were all so busy, busy busy.  I would feel such sadness for her.   I knew she was using work to avoid her own demons and to inflate her feelings of worth.   Sadder still that I think she really believes in her own super importance.  And saddest, she continues to drown in depression.  No mystery there.

I am fortunate that I recognized my avoidance addiction early on.  Even more fortunate that I had a job that allowed me the flexibility to attend every one of my daughter’s special events and athletic games, volunteer and come and go at a moments notice if a friend needed me.   Except for strange anomalies that do occur from time to time, my life has been pretty balanced, abundant,  and very, very happy.

Last month I semi-retired.   Work has taken an even more remote back seat in my life and I am trying to discern how to use my time now.  That will be the subject of a different post.   For now, I am waking up and looking at two things - one barefoot angel to remind me to do the things I love, and one briefcase that taught me a very valuable life lesson.

I’m thinking it’s time to get rid of the briefcase.  I have not looked in it for over 22 years.  I have no idea what’s even inside.   For a few years it was used as a drug.  And then it was an every day reminder not to use that drug ever again.   

I think I will let it retire with me.  It has served me well.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  Rain!!!   Not that we need any more precipitation - our streams are already swollen and the ground saturated.  But rain!  I do not have to shovel rain!

2. Super grateful that my 6 month old grand niece who was rushed to the hospital, not being able to breathe, is going to be just fine.  Phew!

3.  Black jelly beans,  

4.  And chocolate bunnies everywhere.

5.  Scored front row seats to see James Franco (Peachie's crush) in “Of Mice and Men” on Broadway for her 21st birthday.  I had taken Beaner to see Jake Gyllenhaal when she turned 21.   It is so nice that these men decided to make their Broadway debuts just in time for my daughter's birthdays.  They must have some good karma going on.