Lost in Tennessee

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Though the hurricane did not directly hit us, we decided to evacuate anyway. The kiddo has a panic attack when he hears the word “tornado,” so we thought it best to make sure he felt safe. Besides school was cancelled until Wednesday, so we didn’t need to worry about taking him out.

We left Saturday morning and arrived late afternoon. The drive itself was not particularly awful. The house was fabulous — three stories with a hot tub, foosball table, pool table, and a mini golf arcade game. We checked things out, and Allen and Brian played a game with pool while I did some writing.

For those of you who are just joining my blog, I’m a cancer survivor and I had a failed implant (became exposed got infected, had to be removed). Therefore I have prosthetics. While my right implant is still in tact, I have prosthetics for both breasts to ensure symmetry.

Prosthetic breasts are rather heavy and I find them fairly uncomfortable, especially by the end of the day. Typically, once I am home and know I won’t be going out, they come off. And if I don’t have to wear them, I usually don’t. Anyway, by around 4:30 or 5:00 I’m done with them. Saturday evening was no different.

After writing, I joined the boys around the pool table. We ate dinner and enjoyed the hot tub. In the meantime, hubs had gotten a bit of a cold and I had been bitten by the writing bug. The next morning we just hung out around the house. Hubby was feeling miserable and didn’t want to do anything. Kiddo was content on his iPad and I spent the day writing.

By Monday, though, we were ready to explore. Upon our arrival Saturday, we had seen a wax museum with King Kong on the outside of the building. Kiddo was intrigued and was unable to quite comprehend that the building itself was not wax, but the figures inside were.

It was while getting ready that I realized I’d lost my boobs. I could not find the bra I’d worn on Saturday that contained them. Though my insurance covered the expense of the prosthetics, I was pretty sure that any additional pair would need to be paid for out-of-pocket. So this wasn’t like just losing an undergarment. This was like losing a $200 dress. We were worried, but I was sure they’d turn up before we left the next day.

Side note — I do go out occasionally without wearing my prosthetics. I figured I didn’t know anyone in Tennessee so I didn’t really care that I was lopsided. And I really just wanted to get the wax museum over with so I could get back to writing.

However, by that evening Hubs and I were both getting pretty worried. Like I mentioned, these suckers aren’t cheap. Saturday morning, we searched — almost in a panic — but came up empty. I swore that I had taken my bra off as soon as we arrived Saturday, but Hubs asked if I’d even worn them Saturday. I wasn’t sure.

How does one lose her boobs in a cabin in Tennessee?

I called my parents at around 7:30 a.m. Here’s a conversation I never thought I’d have with my father:

“Um hey dad, could you go to my house and see if my boobs are there?” But that’s exactly what I said.

Being the good father that he is. He got dressed at 7:30 — without having had his coffee — and drove over to our house to look for his daughter’s prosthetic boobs. About 20 minutes later he called:

“One lumpy bra located.” he said. Evidently in my infinite wisdom, I had thought “why wear them all day in the car when they’re uncomfortable?” while at the same time packing several bras.

I continue t blame chemo for my memory issues.

Hope this made you laugh.

xoxo

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Folly Beach, SC

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Labor Day weekend always unofficially marks the end of Summer. Even though it’s still ridiculously hot outside, the kid has been back in school for two weeks, and it’s still Hurricane season. We decided to celebrate this transition by spending a long weekend in Folly Beach.

We hadn’t been before, and really didn’t know what to expect. Dad rented a great condo across the street from the ocean, and though we had a parking lot in front of us, we could hear the ocean from our balcony. It was immediately relaxing.

By the first evening, I knew that it was going to be a fabulous getaway.

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In preparation for reading on the beach, Mom and I had gone to the bookstore and gotten two books each. I don’t remember the last time I read an actual paper book. It was amazing!

I read Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty first. Hubby and I had watched Big Little Lies, based on the book by the same name, and really enjoyed it. So this seemed like a good choice. At over 400 pages, I was concerned it would take me awhile to finish it; but it was so compelling that I finished in around 24 hours. This is how I read — I binge, ignoring most of my surroundings. My husband refers to himself as a book widower during these super-concentrated times. It’s why I rarely read books during my daily life. Verdict on the book: a compelling page-turner. Great story with lots of unexpected surprises. The best part — Moriarty wraps up the story in a satisfying manner — so I was not left mourning the characters, wondering what happened next in their lives.

The second book I read is The Woman in Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware. A mystery, the story moved quickly, albeit somewhat predictably. I recommend it as a fun and quick read. At this point, I was out of books, so I raided the library in the condo and found James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider. While I was reluctant, as I kind of see James Patterson as a formulaic writer, I thoroughly enjoyed the psychological mystery.

But I digress. While I enjoyed reading immensely, and it contributed to one of the most enjoyable and relaxing getaways I’ve had, the real highlight was spending time on the beach with family.

Because of the chemo and radiation, I’ve avoided the beach, as I sunburn easily. But I have missed it so much! We brought beach umbrellas for the trip, and I was able to sit in the shade with my feet in the sand. The lovely cool breeze and the sound of the ocean waves melted away all the stresses of daily life.

Watching my son, shy at first, but then venturing into the ocean up to his chest and jumping along with the waves was one of the happiest things I’ve seen lately. In fact, the kiddo didn’t complain about anything we did. It’s the first trip we’ve taken in recent years where he enjoyed every minute.

The other highlight of our getaway was a boat ride to Morris Island. We went with Adventure Harbor Tours and were not disappointed. Great ride out to the island, with some pauses to watch dolphins, and some light Charleston history. Morris Island itself is an uninhabited island and is known for it’s excellent shells and sharks’ teeth. I don’t know that it quite lived up to the hype, but we all found some neat shells and some sharks’ teeth. I would definitely recommend the trip.

Folly Beach attracts a younger crowd, so we did have to suffer through a pretty loud party Sunday night. We will keep the timing in mind the next time we go.

Surf and souvenir shops line the town’s Center Street (their Main Street), eliminating the desire (for us, at least) to do any shopping. Open air restaurants are aplenty, but nothing out of this world. That said, I do recommend Taco Boy for lunch or dinner and Rita’s for breakfast. It’s a very walkable town, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We only had to use the car to drive to the Morris Island boat trip.

We’ve decided that Folly Beach is our new beach destination. The beach itself is beautiful; the town is easy to navigate and walking-friendly. The oceanfront rental opportunities abound. We all slept better than we have in a long time, and felt completely relaxed at the end of the trip.

I know this is not one of my typical posts, so hang in there. I’ll be writing one next.

xoxo

 

New Beginnings?

I’m finished with Chemo! Can you believe it?! I’m actually done. More than a year later, but I’m done! From now on, I am in “screening mode,” which means that I will see the Oncology team every three months — checking blood work and undergoing a breast exam. I will also get a mammogram next week, which as of right now is the only imaging being done.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with myself. There are what I assume “normal” anxieties … what if the cancer comes back? Will a mammogram show enough? When will I feel like myself again? But I also have a tremendous sense of relief that it’s all finished.

It’s not the end of the road for me yet. I will have another surgery, but that’s not even a possibility for another six months.

I start back to work next week. I’m so excited. Throughout IV chemo, I went to work a couple days a week, but typically worked in the back (to minimize infection risk). Since surgery and oral chemo, I’ve really not been in the shop much. The general fatigue has kept me close to home. So to know that I get to be at work, interacting with my customers, is a thrilling prospect.

Fatigue is still a concern for me — and will be for some time. But I think the tired feeling at the end of a day full of productivity will be much more gratifying than the feeling of fatigue after sitting at home. In a lot of ways I’m lonely, so I look forward to the human interaction.

I look forward to previous routines (which I can barely remember), like taking the kiddo to school in the mornings and getting to the shop early. And I look forward to new routines, as I adjust to a new normal.

For those who have had a similar situation, what helped you transition from “sick mode” to “maintenance mode”? How did you manage your expectations?

I hope that you all will keep reading my blog. Just because treatment is over, doesn’t mean I will stop blogging. It just means some of the focus may change. Tell me, friends, what would you like to read about?

Un-Expected Delays

Hello, my friends. I’ve been quiet for awhile because I ran into some issues during the month of November. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will sum up …

I began the month with throbbing pain in my leg that turned out to be blood clots in three places (aka Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT). Treatment with blood-thinners was my first delay in my chemo. About two weeks later, I was in surgery to remove my implant that had been exposed, due to my radiation wound not healing properly. Cue delay number two. I’m finally back on chemo with what I think is a January 11 end date.

These delays have been tough, physically and emotionally. Physically, it’s been exhausting. Emotionally, it’s tough for this usually meticulous planner to accept not being able to plan out even one day. The surgery has shaken my already unsteady self-esteem. Fatigue from recovery, chemo, and my untreated arthritis has been difficult to cope with; I struggle with negative emotions associated with my limited productivity.

We moved this month, too. Sold our house and moved into a really nice apartment. This,  has also taken a toll on me. I’m physically unable to accomplish much due to my arthritis; it leaves me struggling with feeling like I’m lazy or a slacker. I worry whether I’m paying enough attention to the kiddo.

The kid has been wanting some extra snuggle time at night this week. The other night, after our bedtime routine was finished and the lights were out, he scooted close to me, threw his arm around me, and said, “Have I ever told you that no matter how scared I am, I always feel safe when I’m with you?”

I may not be able to play with him much these days, but I help him with his homework each night; I listen to his descriptions of superheroes he’s made up in his head; I hug and kiss him. It seems that these things are enough for him.

Putting a stop to the negative self-talk has been more of a challenge. I try to put things into perspective, but it is a struggle. It isn’t even that I’m comparing myself to others, necessarily. I find myself comparing my energy level now to my energy level when I was receiving IV chemo. I know I shouldn’t … this chemo is twice a day every day for two weeks; while my last IV treatment was once a week, and I had steroids to help. However, on bad days I do. I criticize myself for not doing more.

Having an amazing support team around me — and being blatantly honest with them at times — has been such a lifesaver. Whether it’s an outpouring of love in response to an Instagram or Facebook post, my mom taking the time out of her day to eat lunch with me, Face-timing with the bestie, an encouraging phone call from my sister, a reprimand from the hubs for beating myself up, a hug from the kiddo, or even just a sweet text to check on me, my friends and family keep me going.

It’s funny how just hearing someone’s voice can be so upbuilding. Yesterday, it was a phone call to my sister just talking about food and the kiddo’s winter break. Today, I got to FaceTime with my best friend … seeing her face and hearing her laugh made my day. Plus it feels like I’ve accomplished something — I got to be a good sister and a good friend.

Each time I think that I’m not strong enough, God answers my prayers by reminding me that I have the best support system ever. Support locally, and also from across the United States; even from Ecuador!

Again, I find myself so grateful for my friends — near and far; in person or virtually. Thank you for following my journey. Thank you for loving me so much.

 

 

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved life. She loved her mama and daddy and her big sister and spent lovely days with them (even though she got on her sister’s nerves). She was a bit of a follower, and let her friends take the lead, but she was a happy girl.

Her innocence was taken from her early on, but she lived on with her family, contented among them. As she got older, darker thoughts filled her mind — doubt, guilt, self-hatred — but on the outside she clung on to kindness and happiness and her always steady family.

She met a man she loved and married him. They had a baby whom she loved more than she ever thought was possible.

In deepest, darkest days, she still saw good in people. Some called her naive — and they were right — but she always felt it was better to see the best and get disappointed than to immediately see the worst.

Chronic illness ravaged her; depression ravaged her; and one day cancer did, too. But she stood up and looked for the good — like she always had — and got through it all one day at a time.

She still does that, to this day.

 

Hurricane Matthew

I’ve lived on the southeast coast for almost 21 years (not consecutively), and I have never had to evacuate from my home (My sister and I were forced to evacuate the Outer Banks one time, but it isn’t really the same because it wasn’t my home town). Until now. Seemingly out of the blue — the weather was sunny and warm — we were informed that we must evacuate to at least 100 miles inland.

We were given more than 24 hours notice, but the closest pet-friendly hotel was in Alpharetta, Georgia, about five hours away. I didn’t think we would have to travel that far, but with so many other evacuees from Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, we had no choice. In fact some of our friends went as far as Tennessee and the mountains of North Carolina.

It’s a surreal experience, to be away from your home and to not know what is happening. Of course, we had the Weather Channel, but they were covering larger cities and towns than ours. And we had Facebook, but specific details of certain areas of town were hard to obtain.

What does one do when evacuated? Well, we tried to make the best of it. We shopped, took the kiddo to an arcade and Go Kart track and to a movie, but it all felt kind of dream-like. A forced vacation is a strange experience. We wanted to relax, but we were all glued to our phones looking for updates.

We thought it would be fairly simple — the storm would come Friday into Saturday morning, and we would be allowed to come home Sunday. How wrong we were! Interstate 95 was impassable due to downed trees and flooding. No one had power, and trees were across many roads in our area, making them un-drivable. Moreover, our barrier islands were unreachable because causeways had been destroyed.

The re-entry process for a hurricane-touched area is more complicated than the evacuation. Traffic needs to be considered; roadways cleared; and power restored. Those who re-entered the area early ended up having to sleep in their cars on the road because access was not possible.

Our town was cleared for re-entry on Monday at 3 p.m. We waited until Tuesday to return home. We experienced some traffic, but nothing serious. Don’t judge us, but we had left our cat at home, and we three were so relieved when we opened the door and he meowed at us.

Fortunately for us, the power had been restored and our home retained no damage. Trees had fallen behind our house, but thankfully in the opposite direction. Mom and Dad came home to a tree leaning against their house, but no evident damage. I cannot describe the sense of relief we felt coming home to a pristine house.

Slowly, but surely, things are returning to normal. Doctors’ offices have reopened; my husband is back to work. However, schools are out until Monday, as some evacuees are still trying to return or are still cleaning up their homes. More and more businesses are open, but when I went to the grocery store, the usually full bread shelves were pretty sparse. Trees are still being removed and some homes will likely have months of repair ahead of them.

I never thought of it before being in this situation, but it was pointed out that those who decided to “shelter in place,” that is, to stay in their homes, ultimately put first responders in danger. Not only that, but in the aftermath, their driving around neighborhoods inhibited power and tree-removal crews from getting around easily.

Sadly, many people stayed behind because they had nowhere to go — too poor to stay in a hotel; or no relatives to stay with; or no means of finding where shelters were. For these people, my heart breaks.It must have been a traumatic experience to live through the hurricane.

Others, too, stayed. Perhaps not for financial reasons, but for some other motivation — perhaps responsibilities required them to stay put. Part of me thought that we were overreacting by evacuating, but I am so glad we did. If we hadn’t, we could’ve gone days without power; we could have run out of food; we could have been stuck in our neighborhood.

Experiences like these, while tragic, teach valuable lessons. It teaches me respect for the local authorities who made sure it was safe to return home. It makes me even more grateful for first responders, many of whom had to send their families off to evacuate while they stayed behind. It shows me that there are good people in the world, like the owners of a local pizza place delivering pizzas to all the recovery crews; or the neighbors who checked on houses and took pictures of potential damage. And it reminds me to not take life for granted, but to live each moment fully, being the best person I can be.

The Journey Continues

Hi my friends. I’ve been meaning to write for awhile now, but I haven’t been able to organize the right words … I wanted to write about my life after chemo, but before I could finish a draft it was time for surgery …

I’m a week out of surgery. The pain level varies from day to day, as does my fatigue. My spirits fluctuate as well. All things considered, I am largely relieved; they were able to get the rest of the cancer out, and I am currently cancer free. However, the impact of looking in the mirror for the first time was traumatic. I certainly feel that I’ve lost a great deal of femininity; but I’m grateful to be alive and to have lowered my chances of recurrence. I feel a bit like I’ve been gifted an expensive piece of jewelry … that I find hideous. Grateful for the thought and resources invested, but dreading the thought of wearing it in public.

As the healing continues, I am sure I will get used to my new appearance. For now, though, I try not to look too much. And when I do I keep reminding myself that this is what fighting looks like; what my life looks like. These are my battle scars, and I won the fight.

In the meantime, my sister is here helping me convalesce. She makes sure I get my medicine as scheduled; she feeds me and tends to my drains; and she provides quiet company for me … allowing me to converse as I wish and nap as I wish. We watch movies and tell stories. She makes us dinner and helps my son with his homework. She gives me a sense of peace knowing that Hubs doesn’t have to do it all.

I was beginning to like my life after chemo, so the surgery feels like a setback. As I fall asleep each  night, I think of all the things I’m going to get done the next day. And the next day rolls around and I find that I tire before I can complete a project. This is one of my biggest frustrations … having the desire and the creativity to work on a project only to have my body fail me.

My primary project is getting done slowly, between naps and games on the iPad. And I suppose I need to be content with that because I am healing from a major surgery. If you know me at all, though, you know that I hate when my body doesn’t cooperate with my mind. It makes recovery a very mercurial process, as one minute I’m content to nap; and another I’m irritable because I cannot complete a task in one sitting. Even now, as I write this post (it’s taken two different attempts so far), I find my eyes getting heavy.

On that note, I think I will say goodbye for now. Perhaps it is time for a nap. Please continue to comment and send well wishes. It boosts my sprits more than you know.

xoxo