Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rough Week

It took the dawning of a much brighter day today (odd, since it was raining) for me to realize how tough the last few days have been for me.

My mother was admitted to the hospital on Sunday with a severe kidney infection that resisted antibiotics for several days before succumbing. On Monday I thought she might not make it.

Happily, the infection broke and she was discharged this morning. I am relieved to have her home not only for her health's sake but also because she was in the hospital in Los Angeles which is about an hour's drive from me. It was a strain to have her so far away.

This marks another in a series of medical problems my mother has had lately and it is so very hard to watch her go through all of this. I am reminded often these days how fragile health is and how so many of us take it for granted when we have it.

Funny how I can handle my own medical issues better than I can watch someone I love go through them. I suppose this is happening so I can learn to understand what my family and friends are going through watching me struggle.

I am so very weary of doctors, hospitals, lab tests, imaging, waiting rooms and injections. How I long for the days when a visit to the doctor's office was a rare event not only for me but for anyone in my family.

Since it doesn't look like those days are coming back for me anytime soon, I must learn to find the good in the present situation. I think I can, I think I can... Actually, I KNOW I can, I KNOW I can.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!


Well, this year for the first time in my adult life I did not send out Christmas cards, so this is our official family Christmas greeting. Merry, merry Christmas to all!

Thanks to Robin, my wonderful neighbor, who corralled the kids for this photo. If she hadn't, I fear there would be no annual photo at all. And I'm so glad there is!

This is particularly amusing to Jay and I, as it marks the second Christmas photo in a row where Bella had to be held up from the bottom to be in the photo. Every group picture we have of her shows her screaming. She does not like to conform, that's for sure.

At any rate, I hope you all have a blessed Christmas and amazingly wonderful New Year. I think 2010 is going to be a GREAT year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

T-DM1

If you are interested, check out this link that gives the best summary I've read of the T-DM1 drug I am currently taking.

Thanks, Donna, for sending this to me.

Keep in mind as you read this article that the results they are citing are for women who have had as many as seven different treatments fail before receiving this drug. For me this is a first-line treatment, so we can hope that the results will be even better.

How wonderful that companies and doctors are working together in an unprecedented way to reach and really help people with this. It gives me hope for humanity!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Annunciation

As you may recall from my earlier post on the Agony in the Garden, I have been thinking of the mysteries of the rosary in a new light lately, by trying to place myself in the events that took place so long ago. (There is nothing like the diagnosis of a possibly terminal illness to jump start your prayer life, let me tell you!) At any rate, I thought I would share some of my reflections on the Annunciation from my new perspective on things.

Lately I have been thinking that many of my feelings following diagnosis must be similar to those that Mary had after the Angel Gabriel visited her to tell her that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.

When Mary first saw the Angel, she must have been afraid and apprehensive. How majestic and frightening must have been this glorious creature sent to communicate with her! She must have wondered with trepidation, "What is happening to me? Why am I here? Am I in trouble? This could be very bad!"

Although the creature sent to share my news with me was necessarily less glorious than the Angel Gabriel, she was every bit as majestic and frightening to me, because she held the answer to the rest of my life in the little manila folder in her hand. I stared at her with apprehension much the same way Mary must have stared at the angel Gabriel, and I can tell you that all the same questions were running through my head as well. "Why me? Is this really happening? I must be dreaming."

(Now, here the similarity briefly ends. While among the angel's first words to Mary were "Fear not, you have found favor with God," mine were more along the lines of "invasive carcinoma." Not the same thing, I assure you. But after this we get back on track...)

Mary must have been overwhelmed when the understanding came to her that she had been chosen by God among all others to bring forth Jesus. As a good Jewish girl, she knew what it meant that the Messiah was at last coming, and how amazing it must have been to her that she was THE ONE. Yet at the same time she must have been worried about what was ahead. The angel did not give her a lot of details, and there was much she had to be concerned about. She was, after all, engaged to be married and how was she going to explain this to her husband to be?! Not to mention the pressure that must go along with mothering the Savior of the World. Yet, she took a deep breath, trusted God, said 'yes'.

It didn't take long after my diagnosis to realize that I, too, had been chosen by God. This did not just happen. 38 year old, otherwise healthy women with no substantial family history of cancer do not wake up one day with stage IV cancer as I did. Especially ones who have birthed and nursed as many babies as I have, as each one reduces the risk of breast cancer. It took the perfect storm of events to allow this to grow so long undetected inside of me. No, indeed, this was not an accident. Nor do I believe that God is punishing me with this. So, there is only one conclusion left: this is a gift.

Crazy, you say? Many will think so, but I do not. I firmly believe that God gives us what we need to become better people and for some reason I needed this. This is an opportunity for me to learn charity from those around me, to smooth the rough edges of my pride and to come to appreciate what is really, truly important in life. God would not have picked me for this great trial if he did not think I could handle it and rise to the occasion. And I certainly intend to do so to the best of my ability. So, like Mary, 'my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.'

Also like Mary, I do not have many details about the future. I have things that concern me and much uncertainty. I did not have an angel to tell me to fear not as Mary did, but I do have wonderful priests in my life who have told me again and again, both directly and through homilies to never, ever be afraid. And I am not. I hear God speaking through them and I am listening.

I did not have the opportunity to say "yes" to this cancer, and I can't honestly say that I would have had the strength to do so if asked. However, now that it is mine, I embrace all that I have to learn from it. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Sobbing

Once again, tears of joy and gratitude were falling from my suddenly oft-wet face yesterday. This time, however, they were not in public.

Instead, these tears were shed in the privacy of my own room, when I took note of just how much my primary breast tumor has shrunk in only a week. It is absolutely incredible and if I could not feel it myself I would not believe it.

Mind you, there is still a pretty big tumor in there. But just seven days ago there was no evidence of pliable or healthy tissue at all. Now, there is what seems to be quite a bit of soft, healthy tissue with a distinct lump in the middle. Everything is different, and I almost cannot believe it is true.

My doctor told me I should expect to find a noticeable change in the first week; but this much I did not expect. He also said it would be a good barometer for what was going on in the liver and bones as well, so I am so very hopeful.

Perhaps one of these days I will stop blubbering (and sleeping) long enough to post on another topic, but for now thanks for bearing with me through what is sure to become known as my "cancer period". It is too easy to develop a one-track mind when something like this is going on your life. I appreciate your continued readership!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can't Stay Awake

After an initial hurrah over my mild side effects, I have since taken to bed and can hardly get up.

Today, for instance, I got up at 6:30, went to mass, loaded the dishwasher, hit my bed again by 10am and have not removed myself since. I have been sleeping, and sleeping, and sleeping some more. I did not know anyone could sleep this much, especially me who rarely even sits.

Last night I drove myself to mass (I definitely have a much-needed mass theme going on) and then fell asleep in the parking lot, taking a good 20 minute snooze before I could muster the energy to walk across the street and into the church. I feel like a narcoleptic!

Nothing serious here, folks. This could be way worse, I know. But as soon as I sit up I feel weak, nauseous and head-achy, all of which disappears when I sleep. Therefore, sleep is my good friend.

I, who LOVE to eat, is forcing myself on doctors orders to put down three square meals. This may be the strangest part of all, as generous people are filling my kitchen with food that looks so good. Normally, I would be ALL OVER this! Luckily the 8 others in the family are, and I am so grateful to not be thinking of what to feed them right now.

As I sleep, I imagine the cancer killing going on inside me and, believe me, my dreams are sweet as a result.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quote of the Day

Well, I did end up having a few side effects to the treatment, but nothing too horrible. On the drive home I felt like I had come down with the flu...chills (I could not get the car warm enough to Jennifer's dismay), aches and some nausea. By the time I got home I was feeling pretty poorly and went straight to bed. But it really did seem like a standard flu and nothing worse.

This morning when I woke up I felt as if I had been in a minor traffic collision. Everything hurt, even my cheekbones. But when I got up and started moving around I began to feel pretty normal. Aside from being generally quite tired and a little run down, I feel actually quite well. I am pleasantly surprised.

I even felt well enough to give Sam some lessons this morning (he, by the way, is going back to school in January, but I am closing things out to the best of my ability before then). It was during a poetry lesson that he left me in stitches.

Me: We are going to practice using some metaphors and similies. I am going to give you a phrase and you complete it. Ready? 'The girl was as mad as...'

(I am thinking to myself that the word hornet would complete this phrase well.)

Sam: (after a moment's thought) Eight monkeys with seven bananas.

What a joy it has been to spend these months homeschooling this clever, funny, smart boy. I am going to miss him.

Monday, December 14, 2009

So Far So Good

The cancer killing has officially begun. I am sitting here in my infusion room BarcaLounger with all of today's medicine coursing through my veins. Hopefully, at this very minute the T-DM1 miracle drug is chasing down cancer cells, entering them through their little HER2 receptors and imploding them violently from within their very own nuclei. I am really enjoying this imagery.

So far I feel pretty normal. No nausea, vitals are all good. And I should know, as they are checking them every 15 minutes! Right now I am in the 90 minute post treatment observation period so I am basically just sitting here with Jennifer, laughing, reading and snoozing a bit. They even have snacks and hot tea, so it's almost like I'm in the Red Carpet club here. Destination unknown.

I have really lucked out with this study drug, even more than I knew. What I am receiving, I learned today, isn't even really chemotherapy. The drug I am receiving is technically an antibody, which means I don't need any of the steroids, anti nausea meds or Prilosec that normally comes in concert with standard chemotherapy. As an added bonus, I don't have to come back the day after each treatment to receive the often-painful white blood cell stimulating injection I was dreading. If this new drug is as effective as my doctor believes it to be and it is as easy as all this, I'm thinking that I should really buy myself some Genentech stock.

On another note entirely, my treatment nurse is wearing a scapular. I consider this to be an excellent sign.

I am sure fatigue is on the way as this battle rages on within me, but at this moment all I am feeling is relief and profound gratitude.

Treatment Day

I didn't sleep too well last night. As it turns out, it is a lot easier to think cheerfully of chemotherapy in the abstract than it is to actually face it.

But don't get me wrong: I am not terrified or morose. I am just a bit apprehensive. I don't know what level of side effects to expect and this scares me a bit...fear of the unknown and all. Plus, there is the lurking concern that this treatment won't work. But I won't know that for nine weeks, so no sense in worrying about that now.

So, let's focus on the positive: today the cancer that has been happily growing in my body is going to have a very bad day. And I don't expect tomorrow or the next day will be much better for it. So, HA!

Let the games begin.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I Guess I Shouldn't Have Been Surprised

When I picked up the kids from school yesterday, I enthusiastically shared my news of the clinical trial and the new drug. As I drove, I explained how lucky I was to be in the trial and how promising the treatment was. They were definitely happy for me, I think mostly because they could see how happy I was about it all.

I was going along, outlining all the good things that this meant for us when I came to one of the best parts: that I wasn't going to lose my hair after all. I paused and waited for them all to join me in what I was sure would be a unanimous cheer.

Well, it was unanimous, alright, but it was not a cheer. Instead, it was a groan. With a few "awwwws!" thrown in.

I looked at them in total surprise and quickly learned that they were all actually looking forward to my bald head and had been deciding on my behalf exactly what was to be tattooed on it.

Apparently I have ruined the only fun they saw in this whole cancer thing.

(Sorry, guys.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Prayers Answered

I have been officially accepted into the clinical trial (thank you, Genentech).

I have been randomized into Arm A of the trial, which means I get the very potent and promising trial drug (thank you, prayer warriors).

I have my first treatment on Monday (thank you, God).

I get to keep my hair (I don't really know who to thank for this one but I am certainly grateful).

I received the call from the study nurse letting me know all of this while standing in the toothpaste aisle at Target. When I hung up I couldn't help but cry, as I was so overwhelmed by gratitude. My dear friend Jennifer held me up and wisely reminded me, when I expressed concern about how I was embarassing myself in public, that there really wasn't that much remarkable about a grown woman sobbing into a Listerine display in the Palmdale Target. Point taken.

Yes, it is a good day. I have NO DOUBT that this fantastic news is a direct result of all the prayers being said on my behalf. I am filled with hope and the certainty that God is listening. Thank you so very much.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Golden Ticket

Do you remember in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Charlie unwrapped his Wonka Bar and found the Golden Ticket when he wasn't expecting it? This is what happened to me on Thursday when my oncologist called me unexpectedly to tell me he had obtained a slot for me in a small and very sought after clinical trial of a new drug for Her2 positive metastatic breast cancer.

Specifically, the trial is for women who have not already been treated with other chemotherapy, so I am extra fortunate this slot came up when it did, as I was supposed to start my standard treatment tomorrow. Instead, I found myself running back and forth to Los Angeles at the end of the week getting myself enrolled, and completing all the extra tests required for the sponsor. I don't think there is a single part of my body that has not been scanned, poked or processed in some way. They should definitely have a pretty clear picture by now of what things look like.

Now, I don't much about biochemistry or genes or cancer cell receptors, but I do know this: my rather even-keeled, realist of an oncologist, who is one of the eight UCLA oncologists on this trial, showed excitement that I have not yet seen and spoke of the high hopes that this new drug is giving. Further, the research doctor who came in to explain the medication and trial to me said straight out that if anything was going to CURE my cancer, this was. Two weeks ago I was told there was no hope for a cure, and hope is such a beautiful thing.

This new drug, as my feeble understanding allows, chemically binds the two standard drugs given to patients in my situation: Herceptin and Taxotere. Herceptin is a very targeted therapy that only finds and destroys Her2 positive cancer cells. Taxotere is a general chemotherapy drug, found to be quite effective when combined with the targeted Herceptin at treating my kind of cancer. However, being a more general drug, Taxotere interferes with healthy cells as well, which is why you lose your hair when being treated with it.

Apparently, when you bind these two drugs together, the result is an extremely potent, very targeted cancer killing machine. Being as targeted as it is, it is my understanding that I will not lose my hair if given this drug instead of the standard treatment. At this point, believe me, losing my hair is far from my greatest concern, but, hey, if I can keep it that's great news!

You may notice that I used the word "if" above. IF I get this new drug. Being that this is a clinical trial, there must be a control group. 50% of people enrolled in this study will receive the new drug and 50% will receive the standard treatment of Herceptin and Taxotere that I was scheduled to begin receiving tomorrow before the trial came up. Of course, it is my great hope that I will be computer randomized into the test group as opposed to the control. However, if I am placed in the control group and do not respond well to standard treatment, my doctor can switch me to the new drug since I am a trial participant. For this reason, we have come to view this trial as my golden ticket, as I will have access to this drug if I need it simply by having lucked into a slot.

To give you an idea of the scope of this and just how fortunate I am to be a part of this, here are some statistics for you: There are 120 people in this trial at 25 centers around the world. There are only 10 enrolled at UCLA, where there are 8 doctors and a full time study nurse following the 10 of us. Regardless of which group I end up in, my case will be scrutinized as if I were a bug under a microscope. In this case, scrutiny is a very good thing.

Just having a study nurse assigned to me is a blessing in and of itself. She is in constant contact with me, letting me know what is happening, what I need to do, and what my test results are looking like. Again, a very good thing.

So, pending my final acceptance in the study, which should come tomorrow, I will begin treatment next Monday the 14th. I truly can't wait to get this started. I am ready!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Update

It has been a wild ride this week on our medical roller coaster.

As I type, I am in the waiting room of the surgical center where, in about an hour, they will insert a device called a portacath into my chest. This is a semi-permanent catheter that resides under the skin and allows for easier administration of the chemotherapy drugs.

On another note, I have been offered a spot in a clinical trial of a new, powerful drug for Her2 positive metastatic breast cancer. This is huge for me and exactly what my hope had been in choosing UCLA for my treatment.

It looks like they are ready for me, so I will post more on this later!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Happy Birthday, Natalie!


She loved her cake. She loved her gifts. She loved it when we sang Happy Birthday. How typical of this delightful, happy child who is so easy to please!

Natalie, I cannot believe it was only a year ago that we welcomed you into the world, as it now seems a lifetime ago. You were absolutely meant to be in our family and the world is a better place because you are here, beautiful daughter!

Natalie received the best gift of all from her doctor yesterday...official release from her hip abduction brace! Her hip angles, while still not perfectly proportional, are below threshold levels for treatment, so she is free at last. Her doctor will check her in a year, then in two years to be sure things are correcting on their own, which they often do from this point on. We are cautiously optimistic that her treatment is over and delighted that she is now free to begin walking and continue crawling unfettered.

Happy birthday, Natalie Lucia. Your name literally means "light of Christmas", but please know that for us you light up the rest of the year as well.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hip Hip Her2-Ray

Just when you think you've got a plan, everything changes.

We learned today that my cancer is Her2 positive. We had been waiting for a pathology culture that tested for this and it came back today.

At first glance, this might seem unfortunate. Her2 positive cancer is very aggressive and historically has a poor prognosis. The Her 2 receptors, as I understand it, cause the cells to divide rapidly and get out of control quite easily.

However, Dr. Chang (my surgeon) declared that this was "outstanding" news because it means that an aggressive treatment option, previously unavailable to me, is now open. In her experience, treatment with Herceptin (a relatively new drug for Her2 positive cancers) gives us a chance not just to halt the growth of the cancer as the hormone therapy might, but to possibly shrink it back. In particular, it has a unique chance of getting rid of Her2 positive cancer cells that have spread outside of the original tumor (in my case, liver and bone). Other therapies cannot do this. Dr, Chang had told me last week that she was hopeful we would get a positive result, and was nothing short of delighted when she called to deliver the news that we had indeed achieved this.

I have yet to discuss what this means to me practically with my oncologist. However, within an hour of receiving these results his office called to set up an appointment, so clearly he intends to move quickly with an alteration to my therapy. I see him on Wednesday.

Herceptin is most often given in conjunction with chemotherapy. So, just when I thought I'd have three months of not-too-bad, I am now likely faced with "here we go". But you know, I'm ready for this. I want to really feel like I am hurting the cancer and so far I have not felt much of anything.

So, bring on the baldness, the vomit, the fatigue. I am stronger than you, cancer, and we are going to bring you down!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

More Thankful Than Ever

I am acutely aware of my blessings on this Thanksgiving Day. Never before have they seemed so bountiful...and fragile.

I don't belive I have ever been so thankful to simply be present at the table, sharing the meal with my family. Nor have I ever really appreciated the strength I had to help prepare the meal and clean up after it. But I did today.

I am beyond grateful for my marriage, unshaken by life's twists and turns, that will endure all things to come, and for my extraordinary husband who makes me a better person.

I am so very blessed by my seven healthy children. Today I delighted particularly in their observations and activities, and simply enjoyed the buzz of their circulating around me. (Until, that is, the buzz got so loud that it annoyed me, at which time I chased them all out of the kitchen unceremoniously.)

No one has ever been surrounded by a more supportive and loving community of family and friends, both near and far. I am thankful for every email and phone call and blog comment I have received, letting me know you are all thinking of me and wishing me well.

I am thankful for doctors and researchers, and for all who have traveled this road before me and helped to pave it.

But most of all I am thankful for my faith, which is strengthened through my own weakness. Without it, none of this would make sense.

Happy Thanksgiving--may your blessings be counted as many!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wishing For My Own Personal Summer

I am waiting.

Just waiting for hot flashes, night sweats or any other tell-tale sign that the estrogen is departing my body in a hurry. So far, all I'm feeling is tired and occasionally dizzy, and that is not definitive enough for me. I want to FEEL that I'm kicking this cancer where it lives.

Perhaps I should just be grateful that I'm feeling well (and I'm sure when symptoms do kick in I will wish myself right back where I am right now) but I'm ready to feel something, anything that tells me we are gaining some ground.

After so much activity and lots of news in such a short period of time, I think I am going to have trouble adjusting to this waiting period. Three months with no progress reports, feedback or status is going to seem like three years.

Thanks for waiting with me and keeping me afloat.

Because There Are Other Things In Life Besides CANCER!

I don't know what's wrong with my photo editor, but if you can focus on this microscopic image you will see that it is a photo of my very happy eldest son Joey, clutching his second consecutive Superbowl trophy. It was earned last Saturday in a complete domination (28-0 I think) of the Jets, his team's long time Rivals. The boys end their regular season undefeated and, all told, it has been 22 games since they have lost. As wonderful as this is, it's starting to get a little boring...we haven't seen a really close game in a year!

In search of a challenge, the Rebels will be traveling to the Jr. Rose Bowl next week in Anaheim where they will attempt to defend their title as champions. In addition, they play the Superbowl champs of the Los Angeles Youth Football League on December 12th.
Thank goodness it's still football season around here, because it is a great distraction for the whole family.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guerilla Warfare

First things first: I am delighted with my Oncologist. His name is Dr. John Glaspy and I am completely confident in his ability to handle my situation in the best possible way. He is the Chief of Oncology/Hemotology at UCLA and a very published researcher who will know of and have access to the newest and most advanced cancer treatment therapies as they become available over the years. I am fortunate to be in his care.

As we suspected would the case, the game plan has changed now that the cancer has spread. Initially we thought we would attack it hard and cut it out, in hopes that we would kill it all and be done with it. This is no longer an option for me. As Dr. Glaspy explained, if we try to win this war, it will kill me in the process. Short of a miracle cure (which, by the way I am most certainly NOT discounting), I will always have this cancer and I will alway be fighting it.

Now, I must admit, this has taken a little swallowing, this change of mindset. When you have something dangerous and unwelcome growing in your body, every instinct you have is to squash it out and dominate it completely. Instead, I must learn to co-exist peacefully with this. The goal is this: keep me alive as long as possible with the best quality of life possible. Really aggressive treatments are not sustainable over the long haul (and believe me, the long haul is what we want!) so for now we are going with the old adage "slow and steady". It won't win the race but should give us the best combination of results.

Like guerrilla soldiers, we will not attack head-on or draw battle lines. Instead, we will constantly annoy it...drop grenades on it from here and there instead of firing bazookas. As good guerrilla fighters, the first thing we are going to do is cut off the cancer's food supply and watch it flail around for awhile. This should make it good and angry.

My particular cancer, as Dr. Glaspy explained it to me, is addicted to estrogen. It is what it feeds on to grow. If we cut off the estrogen available to it, it should cease growing for now, and may even shrink a bit. This may work for a few years (or much more or much less) and then, when we need to, we will talk about what needs to happen next. All the avenues of chemo treatment are still open to me, but we won't break them out until (and if) the cancer stops responding to this starvation, which is called "hormone therapy".

So, you may ask, how do we cut off the estrogen supply to the cancer? By completely removing it from my body in a very short amount of time. Like the cancer, my body is not going to enjoy this very much. Essentially, I will be passing into complete menopause in a matter of days. Most women find this uncomfortable spread over months as the body adjusts, so he has warned me that I am likely to find it quite uncomfortable for a few weeks. Still, it all sounds better than chemo to me, so it's all relative at this point!

This is the plan: we will begin to shock the estrogen out of my system today with an injection and oral therapy that will continue for 3 months. At the end of 3 months we will re-scan my entire body to see if we have indeed halted the growth of the cancer. If it is working, we will remove my ovaries to make my post-menopausal status permanent and consider whether or not to proceed with the masectomy, depending on how the breast tumor is looking.

Warning: I am apparently going to be intensely crabby and weepy over the next few weeks. (Pray for Jay!) It has been suggested to me that I consider laying off the blog during this time in case I alarm any of you with what are sure to be crazily shifting perspectives on all of this. I may and I may not, but do be forewarned as to the potential instability of my sanity as my body adjusts. By all accounts it will return eventually.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the really good news in all of this: So far, the spreading cancer has not done much damage to my liver. It is sprinkled all over it like fairy dust, but has not really dug in anywhere and affected its function. So, if we stop this thing where it is I can literally live for decades with it. That's right, decades! This is so much more than we hoped for when we walked into that office yesterday, and hope is such a good thing.

Of course, the less attractive alternative remains that the cancer does not respond to hormone therapy at all and continutes to grow over the next three months, so please pray specifically that it responds (and keep up with that whole complete miracle cure thing too, if you don't mind!).

Thanks again, amazing family and friends. You teach me strength, faith and charity, and humble me with your kindness.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Agony in the Garden

Since Monday, my meditations on the mysteries of the rosary have taken on a new light. I suppose this is natural, since I have experienced this before through other events of my life. As my perspective on things changes, so does my understanding of the events of the lives of Jesus and Mary. This is part of why the rosary is such a beautiful prayer.

I find myself suddenly with new perspective on what it must have been like for Jesus while he waited and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemene.

Jesus knew what was coming. He knew the soldiers would come for him, and he knew he would suffer great physical and emotional pain, though at that time he was only experiencing the agony of anticipation.

He knew he would be leaving his disciples to fend for themselves and had to trust that the principals he had instilled in them would bear fruit. He also knew they would stumble along the way.

He prayed that this cup might pass him by. Yet, even in his distress, he remembered "Thy will be done, not mine."

He watched as his friends repeatedly fell asleep, though he asked them to wait and pray with him.

Like Jesus, I know what is coming. I know that the soldiers are coming for me, though I can only physically sense the barest hint of their presence right now. I know that there will be great physical and emotional anguish ahead for me and for my family and friends, yet right now I see only the graces that this situation is bringing as my community surrounds me with strength.

Like Jesus, I know that I may be leaving my children, hopefully not physically anytime soon, but to a degree, while I turn to face my battle. I must trust that God, with the assistance of my family and friends, will guide them through the worst parts of this when I am unable to, and that the seeds we have planted in them will bear great fruit in this time of trial.

Like Jesus, I fervently pray that this cup might pass me by. But always, His will be done.

However, unlike Jesus, my friends and family have not fallen asleep. You are all very much here with me in the garden and wait, wide awake, to face this by my side. Because of this, I will never truly understand the depth of Jesus' suffering. Thank you.

We always teach our children to pray, "Please let me be like Jesus." Well, now I have the chance.

Friday, November 20, 2009

It's Time for a Miracle

Family and friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I tell you that this cancer has spread to my bones and, apparently, to my liver as well. I am in complete shock, as I don't feel sick. How could I get this sick and not know it?

I know many of you will have questions about treatment going forward, prognosis, etc. I cannot answer those questions right now. I don't know what this means in terms of my treatment or lifespan. I will know more after I meet with my oncologist Monday. Right now, all I know is that I am in need of a miracle which do, as we all know, occasionally happen.

And please know this: my faith is unwavering. I trust in God completely and am not afraid, except for how it will affect my children and all of you. Please be strong for me.

For those of you Catholics out there, I want you to know that I am praying to Don Alvaro, former prelate of Opus Dei, who is under consideration for beatification. He needs credit for interceding in a miracle to become a saint, and I need a miracle, so perhaps the two of us can hook up. If you are so inclined, please check out this link to his prayer card and join me in making so much noise in heaven that God heals me just to shut us all up, if nothing else.

In the meantime, I am planning to enjoy my weekend and watch my kid win his second Superbowl. Go Rebels!

I love and appreciate you all.

A Medical VIP

The good thing about having a big, nasty tumor, especially at my age, is that it gets everyone's attention. I am no longer plagued by the waiting periods that characterized the time in between the mammogram, the biopsy and the ultimate diagnosis. For me, waiting is one of the hardest parts, so all this activity is good for my psyche.

Yesterday I had five procedures done at UCLA, one after the other: PET/CT, chest X-Ray, blood work (including a check for the "breast cancer gene BRCA1-BRCA2), EKG, Echocardiogram. All were in the same building (one of the best parts of going to a university setting for treatment).

I had no pre-set appointments. I just walked from one counter to another where, inevitably, there were quite a few people waiting for the same test. I went to each counter with my paperwork, told them who I was, and as soon as I said my name there was a flurry of activity behind the desk, words thrown around like "we've been expecting you", "STAT reading", "same-day results", and "we'll squeeze you in even though we're overbooked and two techs have the flu". It was the least bureaucratic, smoothest process you could imagine. This part was a comfort (although it should probably scare me a bit!). What it tells me is that my case is being taken seriously, and that my surgeon is well-respected and can get things done. I like that. I am on the conveyor belt for a cure and, right now, I don't have to make any more decisions. I believe I have the very best doctors I could have, so I am pleased to lean on them and let them carry me along while I work on educating myself in parallel. Lots to read!

I am back to UCLA today for my final initial test, a bone scan. I'm there again on Monday to meet my Oncologist. Then, I should have a few days of respite to get my ducks in a row and celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. The Monday after that I begin fighting this officially.

Again, a million thanks to all of you who have written or called. I have not been able to respond to everything but please know how much I appreciate each and every contact I have received. I am drawing the strength I need for this journey from your support and prayers. Between each procedure I open up my mail and, to my delight, find notes of encouragement and support. How lucky I am to not be alone in this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Encouraging News

After much bad news we finally heard something positive!

I met with another surgeon today, Dr. Helena Chang. She is the director of the breast cancer center at UCLA and comes very highly recommended. We liked her very much and feel that we are in good hands.

She believes this is treatable and that a cure is a likely outcome. This is the first time since this began that I have heard this, so this was a big moment for me.

That being said, I remain a challenging case and this next year is going to be very difficult for me. Like the other surgeon we met, she believes that chemotherapy prior to the surgery is the way to go to shrink the tumor enough to ensure a clean margin during surgery. So, beginning the Monday after Thanksgiving I will start several months of chemotherapy and am looking at surgery in April or May.

This week I will be busy with all the pre-tests, bloodwork, body scans, etc. required to be sure the cancer hasn't spread and that I am
otherwise healthy enough to withstand the chemotherapy. Also important is a culture that will tell us what kind of chemotherapy to use with this particular cancer. I will meet my Oncologist as well.

I still can't really absorb that this is happening to me. Yet, it is, and the good in it is evident in all of you who are praying, writing, calling, and offering to help with whatever we need. Thanks will never be enough.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Think I Liked "No News" Better

Well, I met with the surgeon today. He confirmed what I already suspected, that this is a fairly aggressive cancer and that I will need a complete masectomy. He set me up with an oncologist and a PET Scan so they can assess whether or not the cancer has spread outside of the breast. He saw nothing that indicated to him that it has spread, so I am hopeful.

Chemo is in my future, potentially both before and after the surgery. I am ridiculously and superficially concerned about losing my hair, as if it really matters that much. It will grow back. Still, the kids are going to be merciless with the bald jokes...

I have an appointment with UCLA tomorrow for a second opinion. We liked the surgeon we met today just fine but it seems a second opinion for something this major is in order. They may recommend a different course, in which case we will need to make some decisions.

I am overwhelmed by gratitude for the prayers, support and help I have received from far and near. Especially I am grateful for my church and school community who are mobilizing in an unbelievable way to help us through this. Words cannot express my heartfelt thanks.

Keep praying! It's going to be a long road, but I'm determined to beat this.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Not What We Hoped For

Here we go...

I have cancer. I can't actually believe it yet but it seems to be true. I will know more tomorrow after I meet with the surgeon.

Thank you for your continued prayers, they are what's holding me together.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Seven for Seven

It's official! Now that Joey is down, there is no one left in my house to catch the flu...except me, but since I don't intend to get it I am declaring that in 24 hours we will be DONE.

Here's to dubious achievements!

Friday, November 13, 2009

No News Is Good News, Right?

Well, it's not bad news, at any rate. It's just no news.

The doctor's office called and said, hopefully, I will know something Monday. The pathologist hasn't signed off on the sample yet, though it has been on his desk all afternoon. Of course I'm full of crazy ideas about why that might be, but that's just my imagination.

So, thanks for worrying along with me. I'll let you know as soon as I know.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Good Distraction

If you need to distract yourself from any of life's difficult situations, may I suggest this trick which is currently working very well for me.

Have your family contract the stomach flu, watch them go down one by one like dominos, and eye your few remaining children as if they were ticking time bombs. Watch your husband go down along with them.

I am finding this an extremely effective distraction on this day when I most desperately need one. So, gifts sometimes do come in very strange packages.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Unthinkable

There is something wrong with my breast.

For several months a dense mass has been developing. At first I thought it must be related to breastfeeding, some kind of mastitis. During the summer Natalie started refusing the affected breast, so for the last several months I only fed her on one side. I thought this odd but wasn't particularly alarmed since I know some babies do this for no reason at all.

In September I went for an Ultrasound. They could not do a mammogram because I was still nursing and the milk makes it unclear. The tech said she really couldn't see anything but could definitely feel the mass so I should come back for a mammogram when I was finished nursing.

I began to wean Natalie shortly after this, in anticipation of a mammogram. It was a little earlier than I would have liked, but I felt that I should not let this situation continue unchecked.

I went for my mammogram last week. It showed "architechtural abormalities", skin thickening and calcification, none of which are good to have, but no specific mass, so the radiologist ordered an MRI and a biopsy. The MRI confirmed and pinpointed areas of suspicion.

I have just returned from the biopsy and am now waiting until Friday when there should be a preliminary report on the pathology of the samples they extracted today.

No one seems to know exactly what this might be. It is suspicious, but not a clear-cut cancer. On a scale of 1-5, 1 being clearly benign and 5 being clearly cancer, the radiologist rated my "spots" a 4. She also said that if it is cancer, it is an agressive one given how fast things are changing. Not something you want to hear.

On a more positive note, she mentioned a rare, benign condition called "granulomatous mastitis" which seems to fit my symptoms nearly exactly. It shows up in women generally within 18 months of a pregnancy. It is still not a good thing as it requires major surgical intervention, but at least it is not cancer. I am in the strange position of hoping that this is what I have.

I write this today asking for your prayers for a positive outcome to all of this. I think that whatever the outcome, I have a bit of a journey ahead of me and I am greatly comforted by my friends and family, even those of you who read this blog and have never met me personally.

I am grateful most of all for my faith, which remains strong and gives me peace. I am certain God is firmly in charge of this situation and will not give me more than I can handle.

I will post the outcome when I receive it, hopefully Friday. In the meantime, please think positively for me!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

It's All in How You Phrase It

We were all sitting around the dinner table the other night when Julia burped. Loudly, without restriction.

Now, Jay and I are soft in many areas (sweets, TV, for example) but table manners is not one of them, so we reacted immediately.

I said, incredulously, "Julia, did you just BURP at the dinner table?" in my best "How Could You!" tone, while Jay shot his famous "Dad is Disappointed with You" glare.

She looked up innocently and said, "No!"

"What was that, then?" I asked skeptically.

"Just air coming out of my mouth," she replied without missing a beat.

When the hysterical laughter burst out around the table I knew my chances for discipline were slipping. When Jay and I couldn't help joining the laughter, they were completely dashed.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hint Taken

Okay, okay, here are the photos of the kids in their costumes...I can take a hint!

Lindsey the Eskimo carried Pooh Bear Bella all around her school's carnival. It was very sweet.


Sam the hot dog...

Sam was nice enough to loan Tony his football gear so he could be an official player, just like his big brothers.


Julia was a beautiful flamenco dancer.



And here are the girls dressed for the All Saints Day mass at school. Lindsey is Mary and Julia is St. Rachel the Matriarch. Not sure Mary ever wore black sneakers under her mantle, but, hey, she probably didn't have P.E. in the middle of her afternoon, either.


Joey did not really "do" Halloween this year, so no photo of him. He wore his football pads to school and went trick or treating as "the Ultimate Steelers fan" in his Jersey and belt.
I never even dressed Natalie in her clown costume. Some mom I am! She is just so wiggly and drooly that I opted for practical, regular clothes. Clearly she is the seventh child, poor deprived thing!
Hope everyone had a very Happy Halloween...and Merry All Saints Day!



Saturday, October 31, 2009

Something in the Air

I have heard many legends of crazed parents coming out of the woodwork at children's sporting events. You know the ones...those who scream and shout and insult and seem to ache for a confrontation with someone, anyone. Yet, I have never really seen any of these parents in action. Until today. And today, they were out in spades. Maybe it was because it is Halloween. Or, maybe we just ran into everyone in the valley who happened to be in a bad mood. Whatever it was, it made for spicy sporting events!

It started at Julia's soccer game this morning. It began as a nice game, from our team's perspective, anyway. We were winning, 7-0 when a girl on the other team started shoving our girls. I don't mean pushing them casually during play. I mean really shoving them whenever they got near her to guard her, whether the ball was in her vicinity or not. At first there were just a few "hey!" type comments from our parents, and the assistant coach asked her, very nicely, to please stop pushing. It persisted until our coach asked her coach to remove her from the game. This request caused the other team's coach to come unglued (apparently, it was her daughter). She was not at all happy with the score and began blaming our coaches for not telling our girls to back off and let them have some goals. Seriously? This is a competitive sport, is it not?!

Things devolved extremely quickly. When the other team's coach refused to remove her daughter from the game (or even correct her) our coach eventually called the game, refusing to allow play to continue under those conditions. A literal swarm of parents came and physically confronted our coach and her husband. I, who never get involved in anything like this, actually stepped in the middle and was one of several parents pulling them apart. One mom was saying, "How dare you talk to our players!" as if we should really, truly not say anything when one of their players was physically assaulting our players. Truly unbelieveable.

However, I, who am not nearly as much of a soccer fan as I am a football fan, found this to be one of the most interesting, engaging soccer games I have ever attended, so I guess every situation has it's positive points.

This spirit of confrontation followed us to Joey's football game where it was my very own husband who found himself in the middle of an altercation. Jay counts plays for Joey's team and usually watches the game from the other team's sideline, where he is most often stationed. His job is to make sure that the other team is honest about how many plays each team member logs during a game, to be sure every player is played at least 10 plays. He has done this job many times and has never had a problem (although he has often reported how lucky we are in our coaching staff relative to the mess that are some other teams in our league).

As he always does, Jay was cheering for Joey when he made some especially good pops. The opposing team's coaches told Jay to shut up and accused him of "coaching" Joey from the sidelines. He was absolutely not doing that, just cheering and encouraging him to block his man, so he gave those coaches a little feedback that let them know in no uncertain terms that it was his right and duty to cheer for his own kid and that he was going to continue to do so. Three very large coaches pushed him back and started screaming at him. Jay held his ground and ultimately told them to count their own plays, returning to our side. After a brief investigation by the president of the league, Jay was well supported. Even the other team's team mom said that Jay was not the problem, that he had been nice the whole time. Nevertheless, he wisely remained on our side for the rest of the game. In what I thought to be a totally classy move on his part, Jay made of point of shaking hands with the worst offender coach after the game when he passed him in the parking lot.


What on earth is going on here? Should we not cheer for our children, no matter where in the field we are? Should we not demand that players play fair and follow rules of conduct for a game? There are bullies everywhere who will run you over if you don't stand your ground.

And it seems we ran into every one of them today.


(And, by the way, this ends regular season play for our boys. Joey's team is undefeated with a bye for the first week of playoffs and Sam's team has just one loss. Playoffs, here we come!)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Daily Dose of Reality

Tony ( while hugging me): You're the best mom EVER!

Me (all excited): Really?

Tony: Well, actually, there are some that are better than you, but you are better than some others.

Thanks, Tony, for keeping it real.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Not Too Shabby

Lindsey's cheer squad took second place in today's cheerleading competition. It was really, really close between her team and the squad that won...I'm glad I wasn't judging it because they were both so good!

I think Lindsey's routine was a little tighter (more in sync), but the Highland squad had four really good tumblers (as opposed to one on Lindsey's team) so that part was quite impressive. At any rate, it was my first cheer competition and, all in all, pretty fun to watch. I especially enjoyed seeing the boys from the teams hand out roses to the girls after competition (including Joey and Sam). They practically ran eachother over to get to the girl each preferred to give a rose to.

Last night we hosted the pre-competition hair party for the girls and, my goodness, was that a scene! 12 giggling, screaming girls getting curlers in place with Joey and Sam looking like they couldn't quite believe their own good fortune to have a house full of cheerleaders. Joey actually asked if he could invite his team over in order to increase his social capital (not in so many words, but you get the idea...).

It was definitely nice to see Lindsey, who often feels overshadowed by the football players, have her day in the sun...and, boy, did she shine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another of Life's "Good News-Bad News" Situations

Well, my washing machine is broken. Again.

It has served me well over the last 10 years, washing on average 12-15 loads per week. It was visited by the repair man several months ago, and has been on borrowed time ever since. So, as it wheezed its last gasp yesterday, I decided to officially take it off of life support and say goodbye.

This was much easier than it sounds.

In fact, it was with a light heart and a skip in my step that I raced off to choose a new washing machine, knowing with certainty that it really was a necessary purchase and not at all premature. It is a sad testament to how much of my time is spent in the laundry room that I actually relished searching through the feature sets and price points, narrowing my choices according to my washing needs. It is a reflection of my reality that I made my choice in less than 20 minutes, came home and read all the reviews, prices and comparisons, and then went back two hours later to seal the deal. In the laundry arena, I have no time to waste with indecision. The purchase was made about 6 hours after the machine went down, and those of you who know me well know that I like to take days to weeks to make a decision like this!

At any rate, I can't wait to greet my new machine on Thursday. In the meantime, I actually get a few days off from laundry (thank goodness I was caught up when it went down, or I'd be in trouble!).

What shall I do with all my spare time?!!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Working Girl

For the first time in 10 years, I am earning and contributing some money to our household! Granted, it is a very nominal amount but, even so, it feels great.

Regular cantors at our church are paid a modest stipend, and I am singing nearly every Sunday now...hence the paycheck. I never would have thought I could earn money for doing something I love so much.

I suppose as time goes by, the hours of preparation and extra masses I attend may begin to feel more like work, but for now I am in the happy position of doing something I love and calling it a job.

As I was doing my "job" this morning at the 6:45 am mass (OK, maybe I SHOULD be paid for getting up that early) I had the pleasure of seeing the morning sun break through the stained glass window and cast its rays right on the altar. As I "worked", I experienced the joy of serving alongside my daughter, who served as the book bearer for the mass (OK, maybe I should be paid for getting HER up that early!).

How tedious could work be that requires you to proclaim the word of God in song? That forces you to listen to different priests reflect in totally unique and inspiring ways on the same gospel? That allows you to sit peacefully for stretches just outside of the tabernacle?

Nope, it's not too tough at all.

(Don't tell them, but I would totally do it for free.)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Bursting With Pride

Those of you who are easily nauseated should skip this post, for I am going to shamelessly boast about my eldest child.

For a number of years, Joey had a difficult time in school (with academics, never behavior). In addition, he had trouble finding an extracurricular activity that he had a knack for. These things combined seriously shook his self-confidence and resulted in Jay and I being very worried about him.

Everything is different now, and I am so grateful.

This morning, I attended a sixth grade awards assembly at Joey's school where he was selected as the first "Student of the Month" for his class of 32. There is only one per month so it is not an honor everyone receives during the year, by any means.

Last year Joey also made student of the month (twice, actually) but was selected by his resource teacher, not his regular classroom teacher. Today's recognition was what he had been hoping for, to be chosen by his primary teacher.

Listening to her talk about why she chose Joey, I heard her describing the child every parent dreams of. Consistently works hard in school, is always pleasant and willing, tries again when he doesn't get something right the first time. To frost my cake, Joey's other teacher (they switch between two classes in sixth grade to prepare them for Jr. High) came up to Jay and I after the assembly and said that she, too, would have chosen Joey if he had been in her homeroom. She echoed the sentiments of his primary teacher...and she is his language arts teacher, his weakest subject!

Two or three years ago Jay and I would have paid anything, made any sacrifice, to have a conversation like that with his teacher, yet today we had it.

On the extracurricular front, Joey has also made amazing progress. This week, he got "promoted" to the higher offense in football in recognition of his great personal improvement over this first half of the season. He is hitting hard and making his blocks more and more consistently. He is now playing defense too, where his job is to sack the quarterback. Yesterday, to his utter surprise, he actually reached him for the first time (against the best offense in the league). It was clear to everyone that it would be the first of many for him. He also, for the first time, got to play QB for a few snaps yesterday. He was so jazzed. That would not have happened a year ago.

Further, we are coming into snowboarding season, the sport where Joey was naturally gifted from his very first run down the mountain. With all his new gear (gratis from the wonderful 686 company) he is going to be a sight. I am so glad for him.

None of this success would mean a thing to us if he weren't also a really great person. He has a good conscience and is reliable. He is funny and fun to be with. I trust him.

How blessed we are to see our child, after many prayers, transform into all we knew he could be. There is no greater joy than witnessing your child, especially one who has struggled so, experience success born from hard work.

Yes, it is a good time for his parents.

P.S. The other kids are doing really well too! More on them another time...

Monday, September 28, 2009

An Insult Only A Catholic Kid Could Come Up With

Lindsey: When I get to heaven, my guardian angel will be my best friend!

Joey: No she won't, she'll get assigned to someone else. You know, your guardian angel used to be someone else's.

Lindsey: Nuh -Uh!

Joey: Face it, your guardian angel is refurbished!

Friday, September 25, 2009

So Very 8-Year-Old-Boy

For those of you who may not know (since I haven't posted in so long), I am homeschooling Sam this year. I am absolutely loving my time with him, as I am getting to know him and his delightful personality so much better through our time together.

Today I took Sam to our Catholic Homeschool Group's President's Physical Fitness Day in the park. They basically drill the kids a couple times a month over a few months to prepare them to hit the PE goals of this program, like doing a certain number of situps in a minute and hitting running goals, pushup goals, etc.

At the situp station, the kids were paired up. One child did situps while the other held the knees and counted. The kids were all very interested in how many situps they could complete in their time allotment and competition was high, especially among the boys.

When it was Sam's turn, he eagerly attacked his situps, obviously trying to be the rooster of the group. He was giving it his all, throwing himself into each situp while his partner held his knees and kept his count, at first out loud and then silently, at the request of the moderator.

I noticed about 30 seconds in that Sam's partner was looking off into the distance. Must be really concentrating, I thought. Good, because Sam was really flopping himself up and down in his frantic effort to be situp king.

When the moderator called time, Sam heaved himself on the mat, exhausted, and asked eagerly, "How many did I do?"

His partner looked confused and did not answer. The moderator said, "You DID count Sam's situps, right?"

The answer was not even apologetic; rather it stated a simple fact: "No, not really."

You have GOT to love 8 year old boys.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apologies

Thanks to those of you who have written to see if I'm OK, as I have not posted in forever. Yes, we are all fine!

My computer has been on a slow decline for a number of months. It finally reached the point where it became so slow and buggy that I quit using it nearly altogether, especially now that I live by my iPhone for most things I might have used my computer for. However, I cannot blog to my satisfaction on my iPhone, so I simply have not been blogging.

The good news is that I am typing this from my new computer which my family purchased for me for my birthday. I am totally excited by how fast it is but am still figuring out Vista and getting all my old files transfered over...some more succesfully than others.

So bear with me, and thanks to you if you are even still reading this sleepy blog. I am not intending to abandon it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fire

The Station Fire is not far from us. For the past two days, the sky has been an awesome and terrible reminder of the battle raging only a few miles away.

Ash is drifting down on us like snow--Joey's football game got called at the half yesterday for air quality concerns. We all had to shake the flakes off of our clothes, out of our cups and even off the car windshield wipers, where it likes to pile.

There is an eerie and beautiful light to the day, capped off by amazing glimpses of a totally red sun. How ironic it is that disaster creates such beauty.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost their homes, and especially with the families of the two firefighters killed this afternoon. May this beast be contained quickly and deftly.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Silly Me

So, I'm watching Joey's scrimmage game last week when Lindsey comes up to me and tells me that Tony is kicking people. (He is playing with a group of off-duty cheerleaders and various siblings of players.)

I call him over and proceed to have this enlightening conversation with him:

Me: What's going on? I hear you're kicking people.

Tony, with total wide-eyed innocence: Not EVERYone.

Oh. Well. Then I guess we're OK. How silly of me to be concerned, because clearly there is no problem here! So glad he set me straight.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Valid Concern

Tomorrow Jay and I are flying to San Antonio with Tony, Bella and Natalie.

While I was tucking the kids in tonight, I was explaining how to behave on a plane...how not to bother the other passengers, etc.

After hearing the list of basic courtesies, Tony looked skeptically at his sister and said, "I think Bella is going to make all the other passengers jump right out of the plane."

I am actually entertaining this possibility. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Four More Months

The good news...Natalie's hips are making some good progress toward correct alignment.

The bad news...they are not quite where they need to be yet, and she will be in her brace four more months.

Luckily, she is not too broken up about it.


In fact, I don't think she cares at all!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Faith Strengthened

I am training to be a cantor at our church, and tomorrow morning I am singing the Responsorial Psalm for the first time. Over several days, I memorized the verses and the response and, as of last night, was feeling ready, but still nervous. In an effort to calm my nerves, I grabbed my bible as I went to bed and began to pray.

During my practice, I had not noticed which number Psalm I was singing, or what the greater context of the verses was. So, as part of my prayer, I asked to God to show me the Psalm I would be singing so I could read it in the context of the scripture and truly know that this was something he wanted me to do. I opened the bible to a random page and took a peek.

The first page I opened was Proverbs. I knew Psalms were a little bit back, so I pinched what I thought was about the right amount of pages to get me to Psalms. There are 150 Psalms, so I knew that even once I got to the right Book it would take me a bit of paging around to find what I was looking for, especially since I didn't know the actual number. But I was willing to put in some time to find it (and I was too lazy to get out of bed to find my songbook and check the number), so I flipped my chunk of pages and stared at the center of the right hand page for a start.

At first I could not believe it when the first thing my eyes fell upon was the response to tomorrow's Psalm: "Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation". The words in my bible were slightly different due to its translation, but there was no doubt. The verses followed, one after the other, so familiar. The text was in the middle of a page, in the middle of Psalm 85. There was no physical reason for my eyes to have been drawn there, or for me to have choosen that page, for that matter. None at all.

A chill (the good kind) ran through me and I suddenly felt God's presence all around me. I was immediately peaceful and knew without a doubt that he did want me to cantor and that it was going to be fine. His grace is always sufficient for whatever task is at hand.

This morning I woke up with that same peace and it has remained all day. I am not nervous about tomorrow--believing God himself asked me to do this makes it easy. It is not often that God, a God of silence, speaks so clearly to us. I am so glad that he chose this time to speak to me. My faith is affirmed and I am ready to sing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

686

Remember the pictures I posted a few days ago of Joey's room? Well, I sent one of them to the 686 company so they could see what a fan they had in Joey. As a former brand manager, I know how fun it was for me to see consumers engaged with my product, so I hoped 686 would be enthused to see their logo on his wall.

Now, you never know how a company is going to react when they see their logo used outside of their corporate standards. They may ask you to remove it, obtain special permission, etc., so I knew I was taking a small chance in calling this to their attention. However, from what I gathered of the company culture (from their website), I figured it would be OK.

Well, it was better than OK! Check out their website at www.686.com to see Joey's room featured in the "news" section (link in the upper right corner). In addition to writing a neat little blurb about Joey, they sent him a box filled with snowboarding apparel. His favorite brand, of course!

This was a fun experience with a very cool company. I wish 686 all the best for many, many years to come. So, buy their stuff!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

If Only Time Could Stand Still

Tony (who has a birthday coming up): I don't want to turn four. I want to stay three and a half.

Me: Why?

Tony (quite concerned): Because four year olds don't like to play with cars anymore and I still want to play with my cars.

Me: You don't have to stop playing with cars when you're four. Lots of older kids still like cars. It's OK.

Tony, visibly relieved, has nothing more to say. And all I can think is: Sweet Tony, you can stay three as long as you want. In fact, please do.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Maybe, Just Maybe


I am willing to consider that perhaps I have allowed the children too much unstructured play time this summer.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Abundant Harvest

My garden is doing very well this year! I learned from some of the mistakes I made last year and things have exponentially improved.

So far, we have feasted on peas, corn (ready much earlier than I thought it would be), strawberries, beautiful and perfect bell peppers, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, jalapenos, and herbs of all kinds (basil, dill, cilantro, sage and rosemary). Still coming are some gorgeously forming pumpkins, watermelons, spaghetti squash, butternut squash and pole beans. My artichoke plant is thriving as well, though we won't get any flowers in this, its first year.

In the fruit category, we have forming figs, apples and pomegranites. We had just a few blueberries on the bush but no peaches this year. Perhaps next year. It doesn't look like we will have any grapes this year, as both types seemed shocked by their transplant, but at least now they have some new growth on them.

Speaking of abundant harvests, today Jay and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary. There is no doubt that our union has been a fruitful one! Happy anniversary, Jay--I'd glady marry you a thousand times over again.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Brand New

Here are some photos of Joey's newly completed room...


Too bad for Joey that he's obsessed with name brands since he lives in a Target family. But, hey, at least he can dream about them since his favorite logos are right over his sleeping head now.

If you like what you see, please note that this is our guest room as well...come see us and sleep in this paradise yourself!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Short Attention Span

I am such a happy baby. I love to sit around and smile at my mom.

Oh, hey, there's my foot!

This life thing just keeps getting better and better.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Seeing Spots

As a Father's Day gift for Jay, I thought I would start posting again on my recently somewhat abandoned blog. (He has completely given up bugging me about it, which tells me it's beyond time to get back to it.)

I thought I'd share some pictures of what I have been up to since school got out. I promised the kids that, after three years in this house, I would finally make their rooms "their" rooms with paint and some other general updates.

I began with Lindsey's room and just finished yesterday. It started out beige, like the rest of the house, with army green roman shades (a remnant from when it was Joey's room). This is what it looks like now:


This was lots of fun to do...definitely a labor of love. The design and colors were her choice.

My greatest accomplishment was the shades. I didn't have a budget for new window treatments, so I bought 4 yards of complimentary fabric and literally glued it to the existing canvas shades, wrapping like a present and threading through the pull strings. It worked beautifully and, including the paint, kept the total cost of her "makeover" under $50.

I started Joey's room tonight...a red and gray combination. I'll post photos of that when I'm done. Wish me luck, but mostly stamina!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Yep, I Married A Real Man

I know this because, when told by our dryer repair man (who had been over three times in three weeks) that we needed to call a chimney sweep to clear out our filthy vent, Jay did no such thing. Instead, he went into the garage, found a big tank of compressed CO2 and let 'er rip into the vent.

I wish I had been standing outside to witness the quick exit of packed lint, as the resulting scene outside reminded me of a winter wonderland. Except it was made of gray lint instead of snow. I could have created yarn and knitted a mountain of blankets from the "wool". (Good thing I don't have that kind of time on my hands.)

I also wish I knew if our brand new neighbors happened to see this gigantic belch of filth emanating from the Di Silvestri house. Because it just might have served as an ominous warning of what life might be like living next door to us.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

More Fun With Fish

I got the fish, the tank, the aquatic plant and the rocks. But I forgot the food.

So, back I went to Petco the next day with Isabella and Natalie to buy fish food. Should be simple enough, right?

When we got to the store, Isabella did not want to ride in the cart because she remembered that she could see the fish better while smearing her greasy little nose directly on the glass. So, I put Natalie in the cart and I let Bella run ahead a little, thinking that there was no harm done by a little toddler aquarium gazing.

Silly me.

I forgot the Betta fish were on display in little tupperware-like containers, stacked in a pyramid on a table. I forgot that Isabella has a razor-sharp memory and likes to repeat things we have previously done. I forgot that she watched Julia select a fish from this stack the day before.

Before I could stop her, she grabbed for a fish at the bottom of the pyramid to helpfully place in our cart. Down went a number of the fish, thudding hideously in a staccato pattern on the concrete floor. One (and thankfully only one) of the containers split and flooded the area, leaving its inhabitant flopping desperately in the broken container. There were no employees in sight.

Panicked, I grabbed the fish and began to place it in the container with another fish who had survived the fall. But then I remembered that these were all male Bettas and that this would NOT be a good plan. So, I did the next best thing. I started hollering, "Help!" in the middle of Petco. No one came.

Plan B was to stupidly dash around the store looking for an employee, shouting something nonsensical, like, "This fish is going to die! Help!" Finally, alarmed by my apparent instability, the checker left the checkstand mid-transaction to save the poor fish by getting a new container and filling it with water in the nick of time.

I quickly paid for the food and left.

(The next time I need something I am going to PetSmart down the street.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fun with Fish

Julia's Kindergarten is making a town. Each child is bringing in one building, and Julia chose "aquarium". Anyone who knows me knows I am not crafty at all, so I generally dread these projects. But this one sounded easy, since I had permission from her teacher to use a real mini aquarium.

Off we went to Petco and came home with a Betta fish and a tiny tank (apparently, Bettas prefer small stagnant spaces, so that's why I chose that kind of fish). Julia was delighted with her beautiful fish and sure she would have the best building in town.

Joey came home from school, took one look at Julia's fish and said, "Cool! That's a Siamese Fighting Fish! What's his name?"

Julia, in her sweet six-year old sing-song voice declared, "Rainbow."

Joey, who misheard, shouted excitedly, "Rambo?! That's the PERFECT name for this kind of fish!"

An excellent example of the difference between girls and boys, now, isn't it?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Technological Glitch Makes for Poor Posting

I have so much to post about. May has been an incredibly busy month.

Sam celebrated his First Holy Communion. Julia turned 6. Joey turned 11. Jay made his annual Mother's Day brunch. Joey made student of the month for the second time in three months.

Baseball continues. Four kids, five different teams (Joey plays on two) means 9 regular practices and 4-7 games per week. And that doesn't even count extra batting practice! Throw in choir (mine and Lindsey's), dental, medical and orthodontic appointments, and I am going through a tank of gas every three or four days. Thank goodness it isn't $4.50 a gallon anymore!

Joey and Lindsey both have major projects due this month. Lindsey's, on Harriet Tubman, required a costume rental and extensive poster board preparation. Joey's is a science fair entry and has Jay welding a catapult (yes, you read that correctly, a catapult) in the garage during every waking moment while I frantically assist with the presentation board. When did it become so that a child's project is a parent's nightmare? But if we don't help when the other parents do, doesn't that put a child at a disadvantage? A vicious cycle to be sure.

Why then, with so much to talk about, haven't I posted anything? Simply because my camera is broken. It is usually photos of these events that get me motivated to post about them, and no images means no motivation. How slippery is the slope of modern technology! What a crutch is has become to self-expression for me!

At any rate, if I ever pull myself out of the fog that has become my life, I will fix the camera and get back on track. In the meantime, bear with this busy mom. I am simply too busy living my life right now to write about it.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, is looking forward to summer more than I am. Fourteen more days of school. But who's counting?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

From Someone Who Has Been Around The Block A Few Times

I have had a bad few weeks, calendar-wise.

Generally, I keep a fairly good calendar. Given how much is on it, I do a pretty good job of getting people where they need to be with the proper items. However, these past few weeks I have been dropping the ball. Kids have missed entire games, I nearly blew a team snack and I have shown up at the wrong time for things that were correctly written on my calendar. What gives?

I was mulling this mystery over out loud while driving the kids to school, when Lindsey said with all the wisdom of someone who has been through this quite a few times, "Mom, are you pregnant?"

I cracked up (and only, mind you, because I am NOT!). Apparently, my nine-year old knows that, in my case, the most obviously explanation for any period of total brain fade is due to pregnancy hormones.

I am guessing that most kids her age would not have gone there first, but I am so amused that she did.

When I assured her I was not expecting, Joey jumped in with, "Well, I guess you're just finally really losing it then."

Thanks, bud.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

It Was Inevitable

Someone was going to need stitches, sooner or later.

Joey's teacher called yesterday morning and told me to come fetch him right away, as he was going to be needing some medical attention. Joey's description of the incident: "I was trying to cut the grip off the pencil--which I now know was a really bad idea--and the scissors slipped."

I will spare you the gory photo I took in the urgent care, but the kids are really enjoying grossing themselves out over it.

Two hours and four stitches later, he is on the road to recovery and is quite the celebrity at school this week. Happily, he missed the tendon and should have no lasting effect beyond a "really cool" scar on the index finger. Lucky boy.

Is this a blog or a medical reporting medium? Lately, it is getting hard to tell the difference.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Just Another Day in the Di Silvestri House

Jay, while quizzing Lindsey on her spelling words:
"Calves. When you slaughter calves, they become veal. Very tasty."

Lindsey, without missing a beat:
"C-A-L-V-E-S."

There is little chance our children are going to grow up normal in any sense. I apologize now, kids.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Okay, Okay

Here are some updated photos of Natalie, for those of you who have asked. The last two show her in her new brace, which doesn't seem to bother her too much, happily.





Thanks for asking, and I'm sorry I have been so slow in posting updated photos!

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Surprising Diagnosis

I took Natalie to the orthopedist today.

When she was born her pediatrician noted a "dislocatable hip" and sent us to the orthopedic specialist. By the time she first saw the specialist (at two weeks old) the hip had already apparently corrected itself and was no longer able to be popped out of the joint. The orthopedist thought that all was well but suggested that we do a follow up x-ray at four months (when enough bone has solidified in an infant to be visible) just to be extra cautious. He was so confident that all he would see was a normal hip joint that I almost didn't even keep the follow up appointment since it required a 45 minute drive.

Well, I did keep the appointment and, as it turns out, for good reason. As soon as the doctor looked at the x-ray, I could tell by his silence that not all was well. Natalie has hip dysplasia which means that her hip joint is not forming properly. Left untreated it could cause her to have a limp, early arthritis and likely surgery down the road. The good news is that catching it so early means that we can influence how the joint forms so she will likely make a full recovery without surgery.

Natalie's doctor has ordered a special brace for her that she will wear for the next three or four months to keep positive pressure on the hip socket. It shouldn't bother her (I hope!) although it may delay her reaching certain milestones (such as sitting up) by a few weeks.

For the second time in a month, I am grateful for excellent health coverage and for her amazing pediatrician who caught what was even not immediately apparent to the specialist. Most likely, she will recover fully with no recollection of this ever having happened to her.

Prayers to this effect are appreciated!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Quick Thinking

Sam recently celebrated his first reconciliation. I proudly took him to the church and participated in the opening rites of what was essentially a penance service for him and his classmates.

Sam and I were sitting toward the back of the church, watching as his friends went to the confessional and then returned to their seats one by one. I was thinking to myself that when Sam's turn came he was going to be VERY quick, as both Joey and Lindsey were in for barely a minute or two for their first confessions. I remember thinking at the time that they couldn't possibly have mentioned even a small fraction of the items I would have put on their list of confession-worthy transgressions, and that Sam was sure to have an even shorter list, knowing him.

At any rate, there I am, sitting with Sam who is now only a few students away from being called, when I am suddenly struck by the fact that this is SAM I am dealing with. I look over at him and see him happily playing with his program, alternately making a telescope with it and folding it back into a vehicle of some sort. It occurs to me that I had better inquire as to how prepared he is for this significant event.

"Sam," I ask, "you DO know what you are going to say in there, don't you?"

"Oh yeah," he replies confidently. "I say 'Bless me father for I have sinned' and then I say it is my first confession."

"No," I say. "I mean AFTER all of that. Did you think about what sins you are going to confess?"

He looks at me like a deer in headlights. "Uh, not really."

"You know, Sam, you might want to give it some thought before you get in there."

"Yeah, OK." He looks serious for about 10 seconds and then goes back to his program art.

Before much time has passed, Sam is called to the confessional and he hops right up and trots in. By this time I am SURE it will be less than a minute, since he hadn't even thought of the sins in advance, but what do you know? He was in for six whole minutes. Longer, by far, than anyone else in his class! I was about to send in a rescue party!

He bounced right back to his seat, loudly announced his penance, completed it and gave me a big grin.

I sure would give a lot to be a fly on the wall of that confessional. Ah, well. Some things are just as fun to imagine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

They Ain't What They Used To Be

Birthdays, I mean.

Take, for example, Jay's 45th birthday which was this past weekend. Did he spend it eating at a fancy restaurant, or taking in an opera? Drinking fine wine, hanging out with his good friends or even being waited on by his family? Well, not exactly.

Instead, here's how it went down:

His wife (me, of course) was laid up in bed with the final stages of pneumonia. I did manage to let him sleep in and make him some coffee, but then basically spent the rest of the day in bed. (Sorry, honey, I'll make it up to you!) He is such an amazing man that he actually spent his day not only taking care of the bulk of the children, but also upgrading the irrigation system in my vegetable garden. Yep, he's a keeper!

The next day we enjoyed a nice visit with his mom after mass but then came home to discover that our 17 year old cat Stanley was dead. So, Jay set right to work digging a grave while the kids tearily decorated a box for him to be buried in. Naturally, this did not all go smoothly. Jay hit a sprinkler line when he was digging and had to run to Lowes for an emergency sprinkler repair. Thank goodness, he is quite talented in this area and was able to fix it fairly quickly. But, still, not really how you want to spend your birthday weekend, repairing a sprinkler line you broke while digging a grave for your cat.

By this time it is 4:30 pm and Jay has to leave for his Bingo shift (the Knights of Columbus offers Catholic school tuition assistance to dads who work their Bingo games). But the cat is still not buried. So, we gather quickly for a funeral, say some nice things about our cat, take turns throwing dirt on his grave, and then Jay races out of the driveway for Bingo. Everyone there understands why he is 15 minutes late, but Jay HATES to be late. For anything. (I don't have that gene.)

Did he have any time for himself? No. Did he get to exercise, as he likes to do every day to keep job stress at bay? No. Did I treat him like the king I think he deserves to be on his birthday? No.

Did he ever complain, even once? No. Act a little bit grumpy about the circumstances? Never. He is a better person than I, that's for sure. I have a sneaking suspicion that everyone would have known about it if I had spend my birthday weekend like he spent his.

Happy birthday, Jay. Now that I am feeling better I am planning to take you out to dinner...after I find a babysitter of course! :-)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wish I Were Him

How come adults never get to go on field trips like this one? Thanks to my friend Julie who took these beautiful pictures so I could experience Tony's field trip to Uncle Andy's Donut Shop from my command post in bed (and thanks to grandma for taking him).

Illness By the Numbers

Number of days I have had a fever: 7
Number most commonly seen on the thermometer: 101.3
Number of medications I am now taking: 6
Number of times I have been to the doctor: 2
Number of diagnoses I have received: 2 (pneumonia and mastitis)
Number of grandmas working themselves to the bone to cover for me in my downtime: 2
Number of children who seem to notice that I am ill: 0
Number of times I cough in one hour: too high to tally
Number of naps I will take today: at least 3
Number of pounds I have lost: 5 (see, there is always a silver lining!)
Number of shots received in the behind: 1 (ouch!)
Number of blessings in my life: too numerous to count (so none of this is really all that bad, is it?)