Wednesday, March 31, 2010

OK, I Admit It

(Although I shouldn't.)

I really like Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA". I totally rock out to it in my big, thumpin' church van.

There, I said it. Are you shocked?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Just Don't Get It

As many of you know, Jay is a supernumerary member of Opus Dei. I, while not a member, am a co-operator and participate in lots of Opus Dei sponsored activities, including the retreat I just returned from. I have great fondness and respect for the organization and simply cannot understand why, when I mention it, so many people look uncomfortable.

I have recently been doing some research to figure out why Opus Dei has a "reputation", and all I have come up with is fluff. Yet, for a something so completely unsubstantiated, there certainly is a lot of material to be found suggesting that Opus Dei is secretive, ultra-rich, a cult, elitist, actually controlling the Vatican, demeaning to women, or any other number of sensationalistic ideas that people want to put forth. Most of these theories pre-date The Da Vinci Code, so I can't even point my finger and say that Dan Brown started it all, although he certainly fueled the fire.

So what is it then? I must say I am helpless to understand. In my experience, Opus Dei helps people to become better Christians through being better at whoever they already are: employees, homemakers, spouses, parents and friends. The idea is that the world will be transformed through the transformation of individuals, so the more people learn to live the virtues truly and for the love of God, the better off the world will become.

Through Opus Dei formation, Jay and I have learned such shocking and scandalous notions as: think of others before yourself, pray a lot, make sacrifices for the good of others, be the best you can be at whatever job you do, be cheerful, trust God, strive to improve yourself, and other similar things.

But most of all, we have learned to thoroughly and completely trust God, as we are his children. This is what brings peace, and goodness knows I could not be dealing with my life right now if I did not have this total trust and peace. I credit my Opus Dei formation for the level at which I have arrived at this.

Opus Dei, of course, wants to grow so its formation can reach more people. This is a good thing, nothing scary or threatening. The group is not chasing people down and making them sign up, but instead encourages them to attend activities and then decide for themselves. Once someone decides to join, he or she actually has to wait awhile to be sure that really want to be a part of the work. Just to take myself as an example, in the ten years or so that I have been attending Opus Dei activities, I have never been pressured (or even asked) by anyone inside the organization to join.

Opus Dei does not tell its members how to think or how to vote, it only asks that one form his or her own conscience based on the principals of the Catholic faith (which all Catholics should be doing anyway). Opus Dei does not separate members from their geographical parishes, rather it encourages them to be as involved as possible. It supplements a Catholic's parish activities rather than replaces them.

Pope John Paul II was very supportive of the organization, as is Pope Benedict, so there is no truth to the idea that it is a maverick, wacked-out, red-headed stepchild of the church. Rather, there are many, many diocesan priests who are members themselves, though not actually Opus Dei priests.

So, I simply don't understand why people are suspicious of, put off by or otherwise threatened by Opus Dei. I, for one, think its great and am a far better and happier person for the principals I have learned through my involvement with it.

(Oh, and if any of my readers decide to join after reading this post, please let me know so I can pick up my free toaster! ;-).

Monday, March 29, 2010

Treatment #6

My, how time flies when you're having fun!

I can not believe that today marks my sixth treatment of T-DM1. This means we have been kicking this cancer without hesitation for 15 weeks. It also means that it is time for my second set of post-treatment scans, which will be taken on April 15th. Good thing my taxes are already done, or else I'd be stressing!

Seriously, I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous about these scans, because they are high-stakes for me. I knew without a doubt that the first set of scans would be good because I could feel the regression of the tumor in the breast. Now that the only tumor I can feel externally is virtually gone, I no longer have a marker to assure me that things are continuing to go well. Now, mind you, I don't think things are growing like wild-fire or anything like that, but what concerns me is the possibility of stagnation or slight progression. Stagnation wouldn't be terrible news, but any progression, no matter how small, is cause for my removal from the study. So please pray that there will be none whatsoever.

I have no reason to believe that the news will be anything other than good, but I also don't want to be so naive as to believe that there isn't any possiblility of less than stellar news. So, I will continue to pray, have faith that all things are possible in God and, in the end, whatever happens I will have peace with.

In the meantime, it's off to sleep so those T-DM1 trojan horses can find their entry gates and deliver their poison. A beautiful thing.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In Full Retreat

Days on retreat. Recollection in order to know God, to know yourself and thus to make progress. A necessary time for discovering where and how you should change your life. What should I do? What should I avoid?

--Furrow, Number 177

I am just back from a peaceful three-day retreat filled with quiet reflection, spiritual reading and resolution-making. (Oh, and lots of sleeping, too.)

I do this every year and absolutely love it. I cannot recommend it enough. If you don't already do this regularly in your life, make time for it! I come back refreshed, clear-headed, calm, and ready to make positive changes in my life.

I am renewed in my determination to be the best mother I can be to my children, reconciled with my illness and its place in my life, sure that the path I am attempting to follow is the right one.

Peace. Cheerfulness. Hope.

This is good stuff.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Me? Healthy?

Well, clearly, no. But I'm trying.

For the first time in my life I am attempting to change my eating habits for the sake of my health rather than for the vanity of losing weight.

Those of you who know me well know that chocolate chip cookies are, by far, my favorite food. Followed fairly closely by cake of any sort. Chocolate works for me as well, as do really salty fries.

This being said, it is no small thing for me to substantially ratchet down my intake of these types of items and replace them with healthier alternatives, but indeed this is what I have been doing for the past three weeks or so.

I have been flirting with diabetes ever since three of my last four pregnancies were gestationally diabetic. I regularly check my fasting blood sugars, and have watched as they have crept up to their recent average of 114. This is solidly pre-diabetic. Flat out diabetic is 125.

And, as you already know, I am riddled with cancer, so now seemed like a good time to do whatever I can to make a quick u-turn on the path I am currently on. It would be a terrible irony if I were to beat cancer only to find myself living decades with diabetes! I hope, instead, to live long and healthy.

Three weeks after reading "Stop Prediabetes Now" and implementing much of what was recommended, I have arrived at a fasting blood sugar in the low nineties. I am hoping over time to bring it down another 10 or 15 points. As a bonus, I have lost five pounds. (In fact, my study nurse asked me what was 'wrong' at my last oncology appointment--she was concerned that my appetite had left me again!)

In addition to virtually eliminating carbs (sugar, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, tortillas), I have substantially increased my intake of non-starchy fruits and vegetables, along with protein such as meat, eggs and cheese. I am also faithfully exercising 20 minutes per day.

I don't like to exercise. And I don't like meat. So, while this does not come at all naturally to me, I am giving it my best shot. I am not perfect, and I will most definitely not go the rest of my life without ever having another cookie or piece of cake, but it is my most sincere intention to make them rare treats. If I get a second chance at life, I want to treat my body with more respect this time around.

Wish me luck, as I attempt to convince myself that food is more for nourishment than for pleasure. 'Cause I still have a lot of self-convincing to do!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Is it wrong that I love them best when they are asleep? OK, maybe not all the time, but definitely sometimes!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bumper Sticker of the Day

As spotted by Jay in Pleasanton, CA today (San Francisco Bay Area):

"Global Warming? Have cats, not kids."

I don't think I need to comment. (Although I certainly could.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You Can Imagine My Relief

We had a full house of preschoolers today. My neighbor Robin broke her elbow and had to get it cast this morning, so I had her two, along with a friend of Tony's who came over to play. These kids all know eachother well and spend lots of time together, so even though I had six kids under the age of five, it was a very peaceful morning.

One of the things the kids were playing with was a light-up turtle that displays stars on the ceiling of a darkened room. So, they were in the hall closet for awhile, which is windowless, so they could see the stars. I was folding laundry (as usual) just outside the door so I could hear their squeals and giggles, which were, for the most part delightful. Have you ever listened to a bunch of three and four year old converse? It is pretty amusing stuff.

Hours later, while I was driving with them, Bella's announcement to Tony's friend tuned me in to their chattering: "I'm going to love you in the closet!"

Needless to say, I was dumbstruck. My head began to spin with questions. What was going on in that closet, anyway?! Has our world come to a place where I have to gender-separate three year olds for fear that they will be kissing in closets? What kind of moron must I be to allow them to play behind a closed door, even if I am just outside of it and think I know exactly what they're doing? How naive am I? My THREE YEAR OLD is talking about love ,and in a closet for pete's sake!

It took an interjection from Tony, who speaks three-year-old better than I do, for me to realize my mistake: "No, Bella, it's not nice to lock people in closets."

Oh, thank heavens, she meant to say lock, not love. Hallelujia! Suddenly I was back in a world where three year olds are still innocent and nothing untoward is going on in the closet. Silly me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Small Successes


This is a good reminder for all us moms who are feeling overwhelmed with the magnitude of what needs to get done. The idea, propulgated by the folks over at Faith & Family Live, is that each mountain is climbed by a series of small steps (something we all know but frequently forget). So, I am joining other Catholic mom bloggers to post my small successes of today...

1. I planted a tree, with four-year old Tony's help. It's an Australian Bottle Tree and, by itself, makes our back yard look ready for spring. So what if my arms are sore from digging?!

2. I got all of my laundry done and put away today. That last part is the key, as I often get it all washed but rarely put it away the same day.

3. I exercised. 20 minutes on the Stairmaster. Under heavy pressure from my husband who wants to extend my life as long as possible, I have done this for nearly two weeks now, missing only the day after my treatment (which I TOTALLY get a pass for).

So there you have it. Not bad for a Thursday, and a treatment week to boot. Listing these things makes me feel a lot better about all the things that have not yet made this list. For, surely, they are to come.

So, what were your small successes today?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Latest

I had treatment on Monday, and treatment days mean I see my oncologist. This was the first time I had seen him since my scan results came in three weeks ago. He said the results were 100% positive and that we would continue on this path indefinitely: treatment every three weeks with scans every nine weeks.

When asked if he now believed a cure was possible, he said that, in his experience, Stage IV cancer could not be cured. This is simply because, even when it looks like it is all gone, it is often lurking, too small to be seen. So, you can never assume you have a cure, even when it looks that way. However, he also acknowledged that we were "playing football with United States rules on Mars" so, in other words, he has no idea what to expect from T-DM1 because he doesn't not have any history on this particular drug. I suppose anything is possible, but it is nothing he has seen so far. So, what we are hoping for, rather than a "cure", is an extended period of NED.

He expressed hope that we would have the problem, come 2014 or so, of deciding whether to continue virtually forever on the drug or risk what might happen if we stop it. That, in his opinion (and ours too), would be a mighty nice problem to have given where I started. His recommendation was that I not allow anyone to pry this medicine out of my hand now that I have it. I am in complete agreement, although the practical thought of going through treatment every three weeks in perpetuity is a bit exhausting.

As far as potential future surgery goes, he is now of the opinion that, depending on the next scan results, a lumpectomy followed by radiation might suffice rather than a complete mastectomy. This was a very pleasant surprise to me, as I had never even considered it as a possibility. In fact, the last time was had talked surgical options we were discussing double mastectomy and the removal of my ovaries as well, so this is a huge leap from there!

So, needless to say, the news was all positive. I am not sure, then, why I have been a little sad ever since our visit. I suppose the reality of this being with me for the rest of my life is hitting me. Given my initial rapid death sentence, I feel like such an ingrate for being even slightly disappointed with where I am now. Any month I am given is a gift, and I am acutely aware of that. Nonetheless, I am realizing now that the initital "I am going to die soon" fear is abating, that I am never going to be the same again, and that is hard to accept. I think this must be true of any major change in life (even run-of-the-mill aging, really!).

But, accept it I must, and accept it I will, and I will gladly hustle my tush down to UCLA for treatments, blood draws and scans 6 times a month with a smile on my face and a prayer of gratitude for every time I am able to go. And in the meantime, I will be hoping that the yet-to-be-written rulebook for Mars will be to my advantage.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A Wedding, A Funeral, and Two Birthday Parties

If my weekend was a movie, this is what it would have been called. However, since I am not in a movie, and Jay is not Hugh Grant (thank goodness!), I will just call it busy.

I had the great honor of singing at a funeral on Saturday. Although I did not know the man who died, I do know his daughter. He was 101 years old when he died! He left behind many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and it was such a joy for me to see the church filled with so many people who loved him.

Immediately following the funeral, I joined the church choir in singing at the wedding of two choir members. It was a five tissue ceremony for me--one of those weddings where the joy of the couple is palpable. I felt priviledged to witness it.

Later, at the reception, Sam caught the garter...and held it between his fingertips as if it were toxic waste. I was totally amused. Natalie, who is becoming quite a chunk, ate three pieces of wedding cake. I tried, believe me I tried, to feed her less, but she screamed and clawed her way toward the cake table so disruptively that I ended up giving it to her just to keep her mouth busy. That girl loves to eat.

When you factor in the other weekend invitations we had for the boys' sleepover birthday party and the girls' garden tea birthday party, our living room looked like Christmas, given the number of wrapped presents waiting to be dispersed.

In addition, we had the monthly meeting of our Faith & Family discussion group at our house today. For those of you locals that don't already attend, I invite you wholeheartedly to join us (the first Sunday of each month at 11:15). We support eachother in raising children in the Catholic faith, and our topics vary greatly. There's plenty of coffee and donuts, and kids are always welcome!

I guess I should feel bad that I didn't spend the weekend ordering the house for my upcoming treatment downtime, but I don't really--I had too much fun. (Plus, my dryer is broken again, so I couldn't do any laundry anyway; this is always a blessing as well as a curse.)

I hope you all had a nice weekend too!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Make-Your-Own Party

Every time I walk into the room, Natalie breaks into a little happy dance. It is the most wonderful thing. From her high chair, from the jump up, from someone else's matter where she is, she starts jumping up and down enthusiastically with complete abandon and pure happiness. I don't ever want this to end.

For the last month, Jay's dad Don and his wife Carmen have been visiting us from Guadalajara, Mexico, where they live. It has been really nice to have the company and the help around the house. I will miss them when they leave tomorrow.

Carmen and I speak mostly in Spanish (although her English is better than my Spanish now), so it has been good practice for me to have her here. I love the differences between the languages and enjoy thinking about how sentences are constructed differently between the two. I also really like some of the idioms of Spanish that I have learned. Which brings me to the reason for this post.

Yesterday, when Natalie broke into her usual happy dance upon my return, Carmen said, "Hace mucha fiesta!" which translated literally means, "She makes a lot of party." Of course, what she meant by that was that Natalie was very happy to see me. but for some reason, this struck me as extremely funny and will forever be a part of my vocabulary now.

How wonderful to be greeted by someone so happy to see you that they, indeed, make their own party. Viva la fiesta!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Time Off for Good (Blood) Behavior

You may have noticed that, lately, I have not been posting much about *The Cancer*. This is because, happily, I have nothing to report! Things are stable with me right now, continuing in a predictable pattern, with no highs or lows. I am loving this!

By bloodwork has been so good, in fact, that I even got this week "off" from driving to UCLA. This is the first week since mid-November that I have not been even once.

At last report, one week after my last treatment, my white blood cell count was normal (granted, it was the very lowest number it could be and still be normal, but normal nonetheless!), and my hemoglobin, which had been as low as 8.3 in recent weeks, was a whopping 11! Just under the normal range of 12-18. My liver function, which had been bordering on "toxic" just a few weeks ago is also nearly normal, with only one measure still running high, and not even very high at that.

Thanks to these numbers, I was able to get my teeth cleaned today! This is a luxury that I have taken for granted my whole life and never really appreciated until I was in jeopardy of being allowed to do so.

Yes, things are good. I believe I am becoming a walking miracle!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Bad Parenting 101

Here is a list of what NOT to do in order to teach your children responsibility and natural consequences of their actions...

1. Should your child, who generally finishes his homework at school, get in the bad habit of leaving his backpack in the car overnight, do not let this continue uncorrected.

2. If, against your better judgement, you HAVE allowed this to continue, and you happen to pick up this same child in your husband's car one day, most definitely DO NOT allow him to leave his backpack in the car, as there is no telling where it might go with your husband (even if your husband's daily routine is unfailingly predictable).

3. If you have completely failed at executing numbers one and two, and your child finds himself without a backpack as you are leaving to take him to school at 7am, absolutely, positively, DO NOT allow him to talk you into driving like a lunatic across town to the church where your husband's car is parked in order to grab his backpack and eventually deliver him to school, unscathed and with virtually no consequences to his irresponsibility other than, of course, your own highly elevated stress level.

4. Most of all, avoid number three if your ever-patient and long-suffering neighbor is waiting for you to be home precisely on time so she can leave with the remainder of the children who need to be delivered to an entirely different school, because doing so might cause a domino effect and cause her completely innocent carful of children to be late due to your son's error. Because even if they weren't actually late, they COULD have been.

There you have it. What not to do. Not that I would know all this from experience or anything...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Just When You Thought You'd Heard it All

For your daily dose of "What is our World Coming To?!" just click here.

Do you think this human rights commission might consider how I feel discriminated against? That I just may consider it a violation of my right to be able to raise my children with the most basic of traditional values...that girls born girls are girls and that boys born boys are boys?

Yeah, probably not.

I find it impossible to believe that this commission is protecting the rights of children rather than pushing their own adult agenda. After all, when is the last time you heard of a consiously transgendered sixth grader? For goodness sakes.

Now, please know that I am not a hate-filled ranting psycho. I truly feel sorry for people who are not comfortable in their own skin. But don't make me put my girls in pants when I happen to love their little plaid jumpers! And don't plant the idea in their heads that wishing to change their gender is as acceptable as changing their hair color, because it's not, and I guarantee you that my first grader is not going to come up with this on her own.

I guess I'm glad I'm not living in England right now. (And, I'm guessing the English Human Rights Commision is equally glad about this!)