Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hi Y'all!

So sorry I've been absent of late. School and work have kept me incredibly busy over the last few months, but I've finally come up for air. Last semester was only 8 weeks long, but it felt like an eternity! I've been killing two birds with one stone though. Johns Hopkins is allowing me to submit a grant proposal as my capstone project (masters thesis.) This works out great because Career Puppy is applying for a federal grant. So I've spent the last several months putting the grant together; a feat I do not wish on anyone! Do you know you have to learn an entirely NEW language just to write a federal grant?! Because no one speaks english they way they expect you to write this thing!! I'll spare you all of the gory details, but after much blood, sweat, and tears, we finally submitted it this past week. Ahhhhhhh..... What a gorilla off my back! Now we just have to wait 5 months to see if we got it.

This semester is going much better. I only need 6 credits to graduate in May, so I'm considered half-time at school. A breeze compared to the last few months. I'll be presenting my capstone to students and faculty on May 9th (send good vibes my way...) Graduation is just around the corner too on May 20th and 21st. I can't believe it is finally here. I look back to Jan. 06 and can't even fathom how much has passed through my life since then.

Oh yes, and if you happen to be anywhere near on Saturday, May 23rd, my lovely husband is having a graduation party for me that day. Come one, come all!! I'd love to celebrate with every one of you!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Historic Day

I'll get all the negative stuff out of the way... It was frigid, there were unreal lines to wait in, and I walked no less than 10 miles and did about 12 hours of aerobics (to keep warm!) But all of that paled in comparison to be a witness to history.

This all started last Saturday. I was editing video when I got a phone call. Caller I.D. said the call was from the U.S. Government. "Oh lawd! What has Gary done now?" I thought! I decided to answer and it was the congressional office of Steny Hoyer (our congressman) asking if we wanted 2 tickets for the inauguration. Uhhhh, no? DUUUHHH! OF COURSE!!! I know you are asking HOW on earth the phone call came to US? Right after Obama was declared the winner of the election, Gar called our senators and Hoyer's office and requested tickets. Hoyer's aide, Fallon told us w
e would have to go down to his DC office to pick them up Monday.

Our dear friend Laura had come up Saturday for a long weekend for a quick visit. She originally was going to leave Tuesday morning to go back home to Charleston. But after considering the historic events about to unfold, she told us she'd be staying for the inauguration. I told her we'd gotten tickets and she said she would just go to the un-ticketed area. Gary, being the King of Schmooze was somehow able to get Hoyer's aide to give us a third ticket!! So all three of us were able to get in the 'exclusive' Silver ticket area with the other 200,000 lucky ones.

The day started at 4 AM. We'd left the house by 5:15 and were on the Metro by 6 (click link for photo.) There were hardly any lines (YET!) Until we got off the Metro. We waited almost an hour to get out of the station. (Photo.) But everyone around us was excited about the day and when we emerged from the Metro, the Capitol building was beautiful. We walked about 2 miles to find our gate to enter, but then had to walk about 3 miles back from where we had come just to get to the end of the line. Oh well... By now it was 7:30. By 8 AM they'd opened the gates and we were moving. I think we got through security and had found a spot we were happy with by around 9:20. We were dead center of the Capitol steps about midway back in the reserved Silver section behind the reflecting pool. AND we had a great view of the Jumbo-tron. We were pretty far back, but closer than about 1.8 million other people. We got to know the people around us and the mood was absolutely jubilant! At 10 AM the music started and by this time we were popsicles! I'd brought lots of air activated hand and body warmers. They did get somewhat warm, but we all agreed that they did little to bring back the feeling in our frozen parts!

I won't describe the inauguration, because unless you were on Mars you likely saw it. I can only try to describe the thunder of gloved and mittened hands that echoed through the mall like a slow wave. The deep growling sound absolutely dwarfed the cannon's they fired after Obama took the oath of office. The crowd was so electrified that there was noise and whoops of excitement all throughout the day; except for when Yo Yo Ma and the quartet played 'Simple Gifts.' Everyone was completely mesmerized! The sun had just come out and the warmth on our faces and the sweetness of the music held everyone completely transfixed! You could have heard a pin drop! It was surreal!!

When Obama was sworn in, the crowd went absolutely wild. People were crying and laughing, hugging and kissing each other... It was like New Year's Eve, Superbowl, the Olympics, and the birth of a child all at once!!

We met people from Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New York, California, Tennessee, Maryland, Michigan, D.C., Arizona, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, Texas, Nebraska, Washington State, and even Spain, Holland, and Bermuda! We formed a bond with everyone we met and the people around us became my 'Inauguration Family.' But at the end, we shook hands, hugged, and said goodbye.

Getting out was crazy. You just had to go with the river of people. We had to part ways with Gary. The nut had to do a night shift, so he was going to make his way to the hospital and try to nap before his shift. He had to walk half way to the hospital before catching a cab the rest of the way. Laura and I made our way to the Metro, but we learned early on that they'd closed the station we'd come in to, so we had to head east to the next station over. By the time we arrived, the line was absolutely wicked! We found a Thai restaurant nearby and waited in line an hour to get in. By this time, I was beyond popsicle status. My feet, hands and face were completely frozen and in pain, by back hurt from standing for 8 hours straight, and every muscle hurt from all the walking, dancing, marching in place and other aerobics in my futile attempt to keep warm. Oh, but when we got in and sat down, joy of joys!! A warm seat, hot tea, and delicious lemongrass soup (some of the best I've ever had!!) An hour later, our bellies full, and skin partially thawed, we headed back out to walk about 100 yards back to the Metro. There was still a line, but not nearly as daunting as before. Mercifully, we were on the Metro within 15 minutes and back to our car within the hour.

We walked in the door at home at 5:20. I couldn't wait to get a hot shower and get into jammies and rewatch the festivities id recorded from TV. I think I was out cold by 9 PM and in bed by 10. I didn't even make it through the pre-inauguration yammering of talking heads and still have yet to view the swearing in on T.V. I'm completely in recovery today and feel like I did after my 14 hour surgery. I'm a little wind-burned, still a little dehydrated, a little sore and tired, but it was ALL worth it. I'd do it all over again tomorrow!!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

No, I've not been kidnapped by gypsies...

...Contrary to popular belief, I'm sure! It has just been a very busy Summer and Fall. So much has happened that I barely know where to begin.

First, I suppose, my health. Energy is nearly back to normal, but there are day's I just must nap to get to the end of the day. The scars are fading slowly, but that is to be expected. About 10 days ago, I had my nipples and areoli tattooed (or as my friend Jenny said 'tittooed.') The skin is still in recovery stage, but I think it is really looking great. Once the scars fade I really think that one will be hard pressed to notice I had a double mastectomy.

As of September, we entered into the period of anniversary's. Mom was diagnosed September 4th, and for some reason, I have a keen memory of the date of every appointment, every milestone, every set-back. Thursday 10/9 was her birthday. As in all of these 'anniversary's' my heart was heavy with the pain of missing her, but so many of the good memories came also. I miss her so much that sometimes the feeling is visceral.

The flip side is I have been so busy that I haven't been able to sit around and mope much. I returned to school this semester; if you can call it that. I am taking a 1 credit class -- barely enough to even qualify as attending. But since I'd been away for a year, I met with my academic adviser. We caught up on all of the things going on with me, including the new business I've started with my partner Gwen. For the last 8 months or so, we've been working on developing a career guidance and mentoring website. It will be unlike anything that exists on the web. The actual site is currently in development and we should go live early next year. I spoke with my adviser about how it could be used to help under-served kids that don't know the full extent of their career options and don't have any career mentors. Long story short, I am going to be able to do research in this regard and can earn up to 20 credits towards my degree!! This means I can graduate this May! Plus it will advance the business and help kids also. It is a win-win all the way around.

So, yesterday was my last day at my 'paying' job. I submitted my resignation a few weeks ago. As of next semester (which starts in less than 2 weeks) I'll return to school full-time and work on the business full-time. I couldn't do 3 full-time activities... there just aren't enough hours. Leaving my job was a very difficult decision. They have been so wonderful and supportive over the last year; not to mention leaving a paying position in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in recent memory (or, potentially EVER!) It's a little scary. But the timing was right, Gary is supportive as ever, and I just had to go for it. Sometimes, when you are standing at the edge of the cliff, you just have to push off as hard as you can and hope your wings work. I'm ready to soar.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mom... the Finale

Gary and I left last Friday headed for Key West. Our main objective was to dispatch mom's ashes to the place she loved so much. I initially thought the worst was behind me and that this was merely a formality. However, the closer our plane got to the Key's, the more nauseated I became. I was a complete bundle of nerves by the time we landed. It wasn't only our task at hand that was eating at me. This was the first time in 13 years I'd stepped foot on the island. I grew up loving this place so much, but was saddened and disgusted at how it had developed when I'd last seen it. I was worried I wouldn't even recognize the place. Also, our dear family friend Pat was letting us stay at her house (now a vacation rental and place for family and friends to stay.) Her place, as fate would have it, lay squarely in between the house I grew up in and the one Mom and my step-dad Gerry moved into after I left for college. I wasn't exactly certain how my emotions were going to respond.

I spent the entire drive gasping and marveling all the way to the house. True, so much had changed. Many things were gone, new businesses, buildings or condos in their place. But in the short ride out to the house things weren't as bad as I'd envisioned. Strangely, everything in the old neighborhood looked much smaller than before... Isn't that always the way it is when you go back to the place you grew up.

My friend Fish drove down from Naples to spend the weekend with us. He arrived moments after we did. We got settled into the house and decided to head out for dinner.

A friend of mine from high school (Rich) told me several months ago that the class of '83 was having their high school reunion the weekend I was down and invited me to 'crash' the cocktail party. I wasn't sure if we were going to, so I didn't commit, but we decided 'why not' at the last minute. Initially Rich had said not many people were going to be there. Even though I was 2 years behind him in school I had many friends in that class, but it never crossed my mind I'd see anyone other that him and his wife Paula there. What a terrific surprise! I saw several people there that I knew, but the best was two of my dear friends Kathy and Beth! I think they were just as surprised to see me. Rich hadn't told them I might be coming. It was hilarious walking up to them with this grin on my face. Both of them had this 'I-know-I-know-you-but-I'm-just-not-sure-who-you-are' look. Then BAM! The light bulb went off. It was fabulous catching up on old and new times.

On Saturday, Gary, Fish and I did a most unusual ritual with mom's ashes. We took her on the 'Duval Crawl' as the locals call it. Normally this refers to a pub crawl along the main drag of Key West. We decided to hit all of her favorite places along the drag. I'm completely convinced that she would have loved the absolute absurdity of it and was smiling down the entire day. We went to her favorite places starting at La Te Da, had a great brunch next to the pool, and ran into Kathy and her husband Steve. We snapped a shot of me and mom in front of the "White House" (now a Key Lime Pie store) where she had her hair cut for years. Next we cruised on down to Fast Buck Freddies, the best (but not cheapest) shopping in the known universe. (Also my second place of employment where I wrapped presents for celebrities and dusted every single one of the 10 billion chochkies in the place my senior year in high school.) After that we slid on into Margaritaville, previously known as Del Rio's back in the day. This is where Jimmy Buffett used to perform before he "grew older; not up." Mom and I were known to frequent the place from time to time. I think the picture says it all. (See slideshow below.)

Sunday we headed out to 'return mom to the earth' as Beth so eloquently put it. The neighbor across the street Tracy offered his boat for the event and he, Pat, Fish, Gary, Beth and I headed out around mid-afternoon. Originally I thought I wanted to put her to rest in what we call the 'back country;' the islands to the west in the Gulf. But is was a little rough, so we went about a mile off shore from the old neighborhood towards the Atlantic.

Mom loved "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran. Shortly before we went to Key West, I found the book given to her by her dear friend Carole Anne many, many years ago. I read the following:

Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together
and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream we shall build another tower in the sky.

I slipped the water soluble envelop that held her ashes into the water. It bobbed gently on the waves and we all let the wind catch rose pedals that settled beside her. Tracy maneuvered the boat in circles around the flowers and ashes for several minutes until they sank beneath the waves. We then popped a bottle of mom's favorite champagne and toasted her wonderful life.

I really hadn't planned any of it. Granted I got the rose pedals and the champagne, but I really wanted it to just unfold. And it did; beautifully. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the local marina bar having a wonderful time, just as mom would have.

The rest of the time in Key West was great. I'd managed to work through my nerves by Saturday and quickly slipped back into island time. No multi-tasking; no watches or clocks! We didn't really plan one day to the next and had a great time doing it. We were able to spend time with friends both old and new.

Strange that I couldn't put my finger on my emotions after letting go of mom's ashes. I was very emotional reading from "The Prophet," but immediately after, I was empty; no, maybe placid is the word. Not in a negative way, not even in a positive way. I didn't even feel a sense of "closure." It was just simply done; finis. I suppose there is a peace to having that.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Circus Moves to a New Town... (Not Really)

The week has been a blur. We got in to the new place last Friday afternoon and began taping the walls for our weekend long paint-a-thon. The beach bungalow was in pretty bad shape; I don't think it had been painted in at least 20 years. But by Monday afternoon, we'd finished for the most part. We decided to leave the hallway for later since it is so narrow and the movers were certain to 'ding' the walls. But oh what fun this place is. We picked Caribbean colors that sound atrocious, but are really perfect. Light chartreuse for the living room, aqua for the kitchen and dining room, coral for the office, a sea glass green for the bathrooms, and a light khaki green for the bedrooms (not really tropical, but it works with the decor.)

At the crack of 10 on Tuesday the movers showed up. God, we have a lot of crap! We've paired down a lot, but I honestly wonder why we "need" all that we have. Of course, I go through this every time we move, but once the stuff is stowed away, out of sight; out of mind until we need (fill in the blank...) Unpacking this time has been a little slower that our usual pace. I've been trying to take it easy and not wear myself out. But believe me, it is very easy to sit down and stair out the wall of windows facing the Chesapeake. I though our last place had a nice view... Not even close to this!! The weather has been fantastic (breezy and very comfortable) so I open all the windows and doors in the morning and let the air come.

Gary has had to work the last couple of days, so I've been on my own. But the man is a powerhouse. I have no idea where he gets his endless energy. He's my hero. I'm normally pretty anxious to get everything unpacked. I really hate living in such disarray, but it'll get done when it gets done. Mom has so been on my mind. I keep thinking I want to pick up the phone and tell her all about the new place. She would have loved it here. She was a beach bum like me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stormy Weather

The weather Mothers Day was much like my mood, dark and gloomy. The rain held off until later in the day, but as I worked in the office on the third floor I could see the waves continuing to build. By early afternoon they were crashing over the jersey barriers that separate Atlantic Ave. from the Chesapeake Bay.

At 7pm, I decided to give office work a rest and went downstairs for dinner and a movie. The rain was really
coming down by then, driven sideways by the gusts of wind. At one point around 8pm, during the early scenes in Transformers I looked out on 9th street to see only water. Hmmm. I'd only seen the street fill with water once last winter when I was recovering. I tried to go back to the movie, but I kept looking outside. Every few minutes it had grown even higher. I went out on the porch to take a look. My neighbors were peeking outside their door. "You okay?" I replied I was fine, just marveling at how FAST it was rising. They live in a single story. "You gonna stay?" I told them I planned on staying. I had 3 dogs and 3 stories, so I could probably weather it okay. A few minutes later they were wading to their cars and headed to higher ground the wrong way up a one way street. Ironically, Atlantic Ave. that runs right along the water stays drier than 9th Street.

Within 1 hour the water had risen to the second step of the house. The wind was wild, but I've been in worse having grown up in Key West and weathered a few hurricanes. I called Gary who was at work to warn him that he may need to wade home. He was due to get off at 11pm. I went to bed at 11:30 but didn't sleep particularly soundly. I was more concerned about Gary making it home safely. At 12:30 we lost power. But luckily the house is equipped with a generator. Oh wait! That only runs the 3rd floor of the garage apartment. Joy. So now I get to try and sleep with a generator wailing outside my
bedroom window, no electricity, wind howling, and about 150 lbs. of shaking, panting, scared furry children laying right on top of me. Gar managed to make it home just after 1am. Oh, and did I mention the security light on the garage apartment that kept going on and off ALL NIGHT LONG right into the bedroom!!! The blinds were no match, so we tacked up a thick blanket over the window.

The alarm went off at 5:30 (I had set it in hopes of making it to work...) Nice to know my new alarm works even when there is no electricity. I went down to assess the situation. Waters hadn't receded. (This shot is looking away from the bay up 9th Street. ) No power still. Oh No! That means no coffee!!! Thank God for extension cords. We strung one from Mark's apartment on the 3rd floor down so we could power the coffee pot. He didn't have any coffee, so it was a good trade. Power for a cup a' jo. After that we could at least plug in the fridge so we wouldn't lose all the food.

The poor pups had a heck of a time trying to figure out where to go to the bathroom. Poor Hudson mistook floating wood chips for terra firma and went trudging right off the deck for an impromptu swim. Talk about a wake up call.

The shot to the left is our neighbor Mark braving the cold waters. He walked out in the middle of 9th St. to look at an abandoned car that didn't quite make it through. It was a nice Kodak moment.

The absolute photo op of the day was when a mallard came swimming up 9th Street. This was totally priceless. He clearly was not daunted one bit by all this water and floating crap and seems to be completely enjoying himself. I've left the picture kind of large. If you look very closely he is in the center of the shot. This is looking out from the porch onto the parking pad... I mean parking pool.

The power was restored yesterday and the water receded in the afternoon as quickly as it came in. There is a huge mess to clean up. The landlord had just put fresh wood chips down and they are now everywhere EXCEPT where they are supposed to be. The car is running fine (I was a little worried there for a while.) The ducks have returned to the pond and the pup's are very happy to have grass to pee in again.
All is well now. The adventure never ends!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

As Promised...

Below is the link to the commercial that was shot a few weeks ago for the UMMC Breast Center. Sadly, my "tree pose" ended up on the cutting room floor. Hmmm... wonder if that meant it wasn't very good?

They also did a story on the website in conjunction with the commercial. Click here to be linked to the story. Also take note of the picture they took. If you look over my shoulder, you'll see that lovely picture of mom staring back. How perfect!!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fire Sale at the Big Top

Wanna know what I did for my birthday??? Had a garage sale. I know; it sounds like the epitome of fun. However, North Beach had a town-wide yard sale which was a perfect opportunity to 'down-size' all of our stuff before moving into the (much smaller) funky beach shack.

How does one get all that stuff? For a year we've had the largest sized warehouse that the local place leases. It's criminal. And before that we've had one in various places (Baltimore and Charleston before) for around 3 years. Maybe it's hereditary. Mom had a warehouse in Marathon Florida for over 20 years!! All during a time when we lived 50 miles away. When it was said and done she had to back up a dump truck to the door and empty the whole thing out. Anyway, I digress...

So we had this wicked large sale yesterday. Kudos to our neighbor Mark for letting us take over the garage to set everything up! It made life much more wonderful. Power to prove things worked (plus the absolutely necessary music), nice and shaded, and best of all when it was said and done we just closed the door. Fabulous!

Sadly, we've done a few of these before. Gary and I have differing pricing philosophies. His is to ask the highest price and hope it goes... Nothing really wrong with that. Mine though is to price it to go... Release all emotional attachment to the stuff and let it fly. This has worked in the past. We had an enormous barn sale when we lived in North Carolina. And let me tell you, those people are major yard salers!!! In a two-weekend sale, we made over $5,000!! And still had enough stuff to completely outfit the abused women's shelter.

We did very well this time; sold all the furniture and probably half of the stuff. People that came said we had the best sale in town - good prices and tons of stuff. One woman spent 2 hours and her car was absolutely bulging at the rivets when she pulled out. Several others returned with friends. Despite the good turn out we still have billions of kitchen gizmo's and enough clothes to start our own department store. We made over $600; not bad. It will pay for the movers. Today we'll pack the rest up and take it to the local charity thrift store.

My day wasn't all work. We joined our friends Aric and Gwen and some of their friends in Annapolis last night for sushi. Had a great time and some tasty fish. Drove home through a total deluge, crawled into bed and slept the sleep of the just.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lights, Camera,,, Circus?

More insanity at the circus. The powers that be at the University of Maryland Medical Center Breast Cancer Center somehow got it in their heads that I would be a good subject to make a TV advertisement about. Okaaaayyyy... The weeks approaching the shoot were rather hilarious. My super-wonderful colleague in charge of the shoot, Denise, informed me that I would be given several questions about my experience plus they would film me doing an activity that my recovery is allowing me to do.

Hmmmm. What in the world do the brand ta ta's enable me to do now. I joked with her for weeks that now I can enter wet tee shirt contests or take up pole dancing. But I'm not sure the head of the cancer center would appreciate that hobby. Oh! Sailing!! Now I can go sailing again. That's perfect. But the shooting schedule didn't allow the camera crew to drive an hour to get to the boat let alone the time it would take to go out on it.

Denise kept probing, "What other activities do you do?" "Well, I walk the dogs." She just looked at me. "Hey, if you knew my dogs, you'd understand that it's a complete workout!" Again, logistical issues of time and travel were an issue. Moving on.

I like to garden. Again, not something in which I actively use my breasts, but it's physical. Great. We are in downtown Baltimore and the only acceptable green patch is in front of the medical school. I think if I moseyed up and started digging up their tulips I'd probably be arrested. Next.

"Hey, I knit! And I've gotten really fast since my surgery!" I've never seen anyone roll their eyes that far back in their head. "Great! Your 40 and we have you knitting, Grandma. This is supposed to show how you've gotten back into activities. You know; like being active." Oh dear.

The problem is I was only cleared last Thursday to slowly resume lifting and activity. Yea, finally! But I haven't exercised or lifted since November, and now that I am cleared to do so I really see how much strength and flexibility I've lost. I've never in my life been this out of shape... No exaggeration. So much so that I'm not sure where to start without really hurting myself. Ah ha!!! That's it. I'll get back to doing yoga! It's been a while but it is self-paced and you do what you can and it builds strength and flexibility. Perfect. Denise loved the idea.

So once they have the commercial edited (a few weeks or so) I'll see if I can add it to the blog. You'll be able to see my best (albeit shaky) tree pose and warrior stance. Still workin' out that charlie-horse in my calf though.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Circus is Packing Up

Much as I hate the act of moving (from house to house that is) Gary and I have decided to resettle once our lease is up at the end of May. Having moved twice since December of 2006, I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather have my wisdom teeth removed through my nostrils. But we discussed it and while we live in a great house now, we really need to pair down. Since mom is gone, this place is entirely too big for us. There is something kinda sad about waking up every morning and looking out of my bedroom into hers and seeing an empty bed. I absolutely refuse to close the doors; I would rather look into her room and feel a pinch of sadness than close off the memory all together.

We have no intention of leaving North Beach. Despite not being able to truly enjoy all this little 'burg has to offer over the past year, we've completely fallen in love with the place. For those who haven't been to 'Casa del Fuego' it is a great beach house built about 10 years ago, 2 rows off the water, a wonderful covered porch, hot tub, blah, blah, blah. But we've found a funky little beach bungalow build in 1928, right on the water, stunning views from the living and dining room, screened porch, excruciatingly small bedrooms (3 of them) and two, uh, really funky bathrooms (or were those closets?) And we plan to paint each one in funky beach colors. Can you say 'South Beach?'

After spending a year dealing with 'adult' problems, Gar and I need a year off. We need to have a little carefree adolescent time. This past year has been wrought with hardship, change and enormous growth. While I'd give anything to have mom back with us, I relish the growth that her illness and passing (along with my own cancer) have forced me to experience. I've learned more about myself over that time than in any other period of my life.
Now Gary and I need a year of rest to let those seeds sow.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Moving Along

Things continue to progress on this end. All bandages and steri-strips are off now and most of the scabs have washed away. For the first time in 5 months the headlights are on (but nobody's home...) Get it? Sorry; bad joke.

Anyway, I've been pardoned from the penance of wearing the 'bra' for now, but I must still wear the binder. It's still a hate-hate relationship with the thing, but I'm a little more used to it now. Having proportionately larger hips than my waist means that I'm constantly pulling it down as it never fails to inch up my torso. And the itching, oh my lord!! Especially around my back at the lipo sites. At first I just thought it was the area healing, but I was a bad girl last night and took off the binder to sleep. Lo and behold, this morning I was 'itch-free.' It was wonderful!

I'm looking forward to getting back to life. My doctor told me I could not drive until this coming Monday, so I've been working from home all week. I sounds nice, but it's been a little frustrating that I feel perfectly fine to get out but I've been sequestered at home. The weather has been a little warmer here, so I've really enjoyed my daily walk to the post office.

On a more somber note, I've started going through Mom's things. I woke up yesterday and I knew I was ready, so I took the day off from work. Going through drawer after drawer, a wave of emotions washed over me. I went through all of the 'get well' and condolence cards sent. I reread every one. Laughter, sadness, pride in such wonderful friends and family went through me. I found pictures long forgotten, Mom's collections of everything from lapel pins and buttons to an unbelievable supply of stationary (the REALLY good stuff too...) I guess I have no excuse not to write anymore. And good lord! The SOCKS that woman had! I've only begun to get through it and there is still so much more to go. In some respects, it's a little sad doing it by myself, but it's very private and intimate and I can take the time I need to get through it. I feel her there with me, laughing and crying right along with me. Reliving all the memories.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Step by Step Improvement

A week has now gone by since surgery. I'm still sore and my torso looks (and feels) like I've been hit by a car. I'm moving much better. Walking a little down to the water and have been off pain medication since Wednesday. I'm still quite stiff though.

After that glorious shower the other day I decided to ditch the abdominal binder. It continually rides up and Dr. Rodriguez told me to wear it until the pain went away. I was sore, but not in excruciating pain, so as long as I was resting I left it off. Well I saw him yesterday. Gary had to work so I drove myself. Who thought that being in a car could be so uncomfortable. I guess this is my week to underestimate things...

They removed the stitches from my breasts. Wow, that man is an artist!! Absolutely amazing! The man-made stuff looks better than what I had before. Really! I still have steri-strips across the abdomen and heinous bruising across my chest and lower back, but it's already lost that eggplant purple hue and is starting to get that bruised banana look. Anyway, I'm to wear the binder AND the bra for several weeks. (Insert twisted frowning face here.) He explained that I will need to compress the outer layers of skin to the deeper tissue until they adhere. Oh, and no pressure on the nips either, so the 1950's Sears Catalog / Madonna inspired underwear is in my near future as well.

I can return to work Monday, but I can't drive which should be interesting as I live an hour commute 1-way to the office. Also no lifting of more than 5 lbs for 4 weeks. That's going to be a neat trick too considering my laptop weighs more than that. I can walk a do stairs so that's good.

So my surgical days are behind me. The last thing left to do are the tattoos. I've joked with friends that maybe I could do something interesting instead of just areoli... Maybe a daisy, or an 8-ball.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Post-op Day 3

To sum this surgery up in a simple phrase: grossly underestimated. My bad. I should have known that 3 hours (or what turned out to be 4 hours) of surgery was not going to be a walk in the park. I've had much more pain than I expected. Saturday I decided to take darvocet. I hate the way the oxycodone makes me feel. I was in pain most of the day, but not crippling pain. Strangely, I've had absolutely zero pain in my breasts where he did the most work. My abdominal incision hurt on Saturday somewhat, but the lipo sites in my back and where he did the fat grafts above my breasts have been excruciating.

I know, I know... Don't be a hero. Honestly, that's not what I was going for. So yesterday I took the oxycodone. Yup, that does the trick. No pain whatsoever. But oh my lord! I lost about 4 hours yesterday afternoon. Just wiped from my memory. Gary had to work and set everything up for me. Dinner was ready to go; all my pills around me; phone; everything. He even had the neighbors call to check on me (thanks Gwen & Aric!) Getting up was no problem because I wasn't hurting, but I had the where-with-all to focus through the drug induced haze. Good news is I wasn't wobbly on my feet.

Gar is home today. The doctor says I can shower (yea!) so that is my goal for today. Easy does it... easy does it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Chillin' on the Couch

As you've no doubt read in Gary's message, the morning started heinously early. I drove so Gar could get a few more winks on the way to UMMC. Things seemed to move a little quicker in pre-op this time, but maybe that's because I had company. My friend who has been going through the same process was the next case after mine and was there early as well. So she came in and we compared notes and nerves. It was so reassuring to have someone there who new exactly what I had gone through and what I was about to go through.

They took me back at 7 am and once again I was staring at the two OR lamps above me. Then it was lights out. The surgery took about 4 hours. He removed the scar tissue from my abdominal incision and contoured the "dog ears" at the ends. He also took the cartilage 'stored' just under the skin in my breasts, shaped them and inserted them to give the appearance of a nipple. He also cut down on the size of the skin islands and pulled it tight so it will look round like an aereola. (I've had two friends who 'make stuff' tell me they could have crafted nipples for me in their shop... Ones that could shoot bullets! I do have strange friends!)

The one thing that had bugged me from the previous surgery (besides my manufactured love-handles, a.k.a 'dog ears') were the indentations left from where he removed the cartilage from my 5th ribs. Besides being unsightly, whenever I sneeze it would feel like my entire chest was going to come through that space. I've learned since to support the area with my hands when sneezing or coughing. Dr. Wonderful, of course, had a way to fix it. He told me that he was going to do liposuction on my real love-handles (again, I wasn't aware I HAD any!) and take the removed fat cells and insert them over the indentations to smooth things out. Okay, I must say that I am probably the only woman alive who has had fat removed with liposuction and then had it immediately replaced. Again I emerge with a net zero loss, just completely re-arranged. I'm starting to feel like Frankenstein, but rebuilt with all my own parts.

I emerged from the OR bound up like a Christmas goose. I'm wearing a Madonna-inspired bra. It looks like something out of the '50's (it is ENORMOUS), but the tips of the cups are cut out and I have gauze just laying over my nipples. I also have to wear an abdominal binder to help contour where they did the lipo on my back. So I haven't actually seen any of the work he did yet, and probably won't until Monday or so.

As far as discomfort, I was pretty woozie most of yesterday. The thing that hurt the worst was where he'd injected the fat into my chest. This morning my abdominal incision and areas that he lipo'd are hurting. I have a plethora of drugs to take, but the oxycodone he gave me really does a number on me, so I've downgraded myself to darvocet I have from last time. It seems to do the trick as long as I don't move that much.

My goal today is to rest up enough so I can be relatively independent for tomorrow. Sadly, Gary has to work. He has been so fabulous as always, getting every little thing for me, fluffing my pillows, feeding me... I got weepy last night when he was putting me to bed because I kept needing so many little things (I couldn't even reach to turn out the light.) He's done so much for me and all on little more than 1 hour sleep in something like 30 hours. He is such a rock star! I think I'll keep him.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Prepping for the Next Phase

This Friday I'll undergo the next phase of becoming the Bionic Woman. ("We can rebuild her.") It's not really that dramatic. Even though the surgery will be 3 hours and I'll need to be intubated, Dr. Rodriguez plans to do little more than four revisions; hence the lengthy operation time (refer to Dec. 27th post for what will be done.) It's funny, after a 13 hour surgery I'm sort of thumbing my nose at a mere 3 hours. But I've been reminded by a friend of mine who is a cardiac surgeon that there are far more serious surgeries that take much less time. True, but my surgeon won't have his hands deep inside my torso.

I'm scheduled as the first case which means that Gary and I need to leave the house at 4:30 AM - ouch! But I'll have a nice, fresh, rested doctor. I like it that way. I should be home in time for the evening news and hopefully we'll be able to beat Friday afternoon traffic. I'll be sure that a message gets sent out either by myself or Gar to update everyone. Dr. Rodriguez said I should be back to work no later than Wednesday. See. Piece o' cake!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

One FLU over the Cuckoo's Nest

After a 13 hour surgery and having my "front end" rearranged, I didn't feel remotely as bad as I feel right now... As spring approached, I thought I had managed to successfully dodge the flu, but noooo. I got it bad. I've been on my back for 3 days with my fever peaking yesterday at over 103. Plus the other typical stuff that comes with the flu; aches, chills, cough, and a killer headache. This one is a real butt-kicker. If I even LOOK at another Gatorade I'm going to scream!!

As always, I have wonderful caretakers. Gary has waited on me hand and foot bringing me soup, medicine and picking up my 'snot rags' with tongs. The puppies have done their best to snuggle with me and keep me warm when I have the chills. I went to my doctor today. He confirmed what I knew to be true, said we were doing all the right stuff, and gave me a script for some high-powered cough medicine. That's what has worried me. I can feel the stuff down there, but it is as solid as tree bark and isn't moving at all. The last thing I need is to develop pneumonia so I wanted to get something to get it loosened up. After all, my follow up surgery is one month from today and I don't want anything to delay that!!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Memorial

It was cloudy and cold, but the rain held off. All the preparations and rehearsals completed. Flowers delivered; keyboard set-up. As people entered, Don played piano. It was a large, but unusually cozy room. The front was a stage with a podium to the right with a large bouquet of colorful flowers. Centerstage was a large screen with ferns on either side and the keyboard and microphones on the left. The back wall of the room was glass overlooking the Japanese garden. In the back of the room, several cocktail tables set up for after the memorial.

Uncle Harry spoke first. (Link to remarks will be added soon.) He is mom's maternal uncle. He started off with a joke. It was an absolutely perfect way to set the tone of the day. At the end of his eulogy, he told a story of my grandfather. My grandfather used to own a tire shop and Uncle Harry worked there with him. He said that after my grandfather died and they were closing the shop, he was cleaning out the desk and found a bible. He remembered my grandfather pulling out the bible from time to time through the years and reading it. Nearly in tatters and held together by masking tape, Uncle Harry noticed that my mom's name was inside. He held onto the bible. And at the memorial, he had his son, my cousin Mark, present it to me. A very special and unexpected moment.

Next, Don -who came all the way from California- played a medley of some of Mom's favorite songs. Songs included tunes from Jimmy Buffett, Carly Simon, James Taylor and Billy Joel. Both upbeat and slower tunes were included. I'm sure Mom would have been singing along.

Ann Sheffield, self-described as "Carolyn's O
ldest First Cousin," got up to speak. (Click here to read remarks.) Most were memories from early in Mom's life. Ann definitely illustrated what a spirited, funny kid Mom was.

Then Sandra Wheeler (or
Sandolly as I call her) spoke next. (Click here to read remarks.) She is Mom's longest (I dare not say "oldest") friend. They were best friends for over 52 years! Her comments were just amazing and I really have no idea how she got through them without going to pieces. I know I didn't. I was just fine until she got to the part about me.

Then Ava (a.k.a. Bebe, one of the Diva Losers) sang a beautiful song "See My Face" while being accompanied by Don. (Click to listen.) It was incredible and everyone is still talking about it.

Aunt Nell was the next person to give her recollections. (Click here to read remarks.) Memories from her spanned mom's life. And she has a way with words. She managed to talk about Mom, my grandparents, Gary, and even Ripley!

Next came something I put together called "Remembering Carolyn - A Photographic Journey." Before I returned to work, I'd started going through all of Mom's photos. I wanted to put together a retrospective of her life. I picked only the good pictures which numbered into the hundreds!! With the help of friends and family I was able to shave the pile down. The presentation is still about 10 minutes long, but
if you don't connect with any other link in this post, you'll certainly want to see this. It truly shows what a vibrant, fun, and complex person she was. From her love of 'dressing up', to her days as a hunter, to the time she made an arrested landing on an aircraft carrier; she honestly had a remarkable life. (Click here and be sure your volume is 'on.')

Appropriately so, Don followed the photos with t
he playing of "Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffett. The audience joined in the sing-a-long and before it was said and done, the four Diva Losers were on stage singing right along. I'm sure Mom was right there in her mardi gras beads singing word.

I then gave a few remarks. (Click here to read remarks.) I honestly don't remember much about it. I tend to have on-stage amnesia and usually get through things okay, but never have much of a recollection about it afterwards.

The 'show' was concluded when Don and the Diva's all performed a lovely a capella piece called "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."
The four part harmony was beautiful and the sentiment was perfect. When I was in the choir in high school, Mom was a major supporter and fund-raiser. We ended every concert with this piece and she absolutely loved it. I thought it would be perfect to end the memorial with it too.

Everyone then enjoyed the fabulous spread of fruits, cheeses, and desserts. Oh, and I can't forget the wonderful cheese straws... Mom's favorite. I can't even begin to describe all of the wonderful goodies, but we also had key lime pie tarts. A special request since Mom was famous for her key lime pie. The tarts were
pretty good, but Mom's pie is still hands down winner.

Friends and family who hadn't seen each other in so many years were able to catch up and reminisce. It was just the party Mom would have wanted. The day slowly wound down and people trickled out here and there.

Isn't is strange how a social custom like this can bring closure. As long as I live, I will have a hole in my heart that has been left by mom's
absence in this world, but since the memorial I feel a joy; a peace in my soul that can't be described. Maybe I needed to celebrate her life with others who loved and appreciated her. The memory of hearing all of the stories of her will be with me always.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Turning the Page

Back now from Atlanta. Although I am completely worn out, it was a truly fantastic weekend. The memorial was everything I could have wanted and more. Mom would have absolutely loved it (I'm sure in some way she was there partying with us.) I plan to post a complete synopsis of the event as soon as I get copies of pictures and eulogies.

We arrived Thursday evening after 10+ hours on the road. It was a very nice, but long drive. Our host Pete had a scrumptious dinner on the table as we walked in the door; salmon, homemade mashed potatoes and green beans.
Yummy! Deb was en route from work in Seattle. Throughout the weekend we were able to spend some quality time with our goddaughter Caroline (apparently, I read a great bedtime story.)

The next day, after wrapping up loose ends for the memorial (or as I've come to call it, "Mom's Show") I met up with Foxy (one of the Loser Diva's ~ reference posting from October 6, 2007) and Musician Extraordinaire, Don Luigi Longworth Roksov (read on; please...) to head to Bebe Barbosa's palatial estate for rehearsals. Along with the aforementioned Losers and Trouble Popinolpolous, we learned, and occasionally butchered, a piece of music for Mom's Show. Later, the rest of the entourage arrived for a sumptuous feast cooked by Bebe and her most wonderful husband. The revelry continued into the night and the Diva's elected to allow Musician Extraordinaire in to the Loser's fold as an honorary member (no voting rights mind you!)

The next day was long and exhausting for me, but completely fabulous. The 'show' was everything it needed to be and more; music, memories, laughs, tears... Perfect. I promise to post when I receive everything from people.

We arrived home last night to some very happy puppies! It is good to be home now. Time to turn the page; start a new chapter.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Every Day; A New Day

The nice thing about a routine is the further along you get into it, the less you notice it. Things are returning more to "normal," if that's what you could call my life. This week was much easier. When I first returned to work I thought it would be a month before I could work a full day. By Thursday I noticed that I wasn't as tired or shaky by the end of the work day. Deb, my friend of nearly 30 years (yikes!) has frequently reminded me throughout our friendship how resilient I am in mind, body and spirit. I suppose she may be right... I am surprising even myself at how quickly I am getting stronger. Yesterday, I even managed to take Gary and the Girls on a walk when I got home from work. :)

While I still have moments of sadness over Mom's absence, as I will for the rest of my life, I feel my grief over her loss waning. This is aided by planning her memorial. At first it was hard to imagine anything but a somber occasion. I've only been to a few in my life, but they were all quite serious and dignified. Nothing wrong with that. But Mom lived life out-loud. (For those of you who never were able to meet her, this statement is her essence.) She was loud and fun and always laughing. I would dishonor her not to have a memorial for her that didn't live up to how she lived her life. So if you are coming to the memorial, expect something a little different. Tissues and hankies are welcome, but be prepared to shed tears of joy. And lot's of laughs!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Returning to the "Routine"

Two months is an eternity when you don't have a routine. Try as I might, I just couldn't manage getting into any sort of routine while recovering from major surgery. You just never know what one day from the next is going to be like. Throw on top of that the emotional upheaval of losing a parent and the temporal distortion is really drastic. But a few weeks before returning to work, I started to realize I was really going to be in for it if I didn't start trying to get back into a routine.

Physically, I feel fine. The range of motion in my arms has returned and even though I still feel a stretch in my abdomen at times when I stand up after sitting for a while, I am able to walk upright. In anticipation of returning to work, I started scheduling my days so my re-entry into the "real world" wouldn't be as hard. Ha! You know what they say about 'good intentions.' I would wake up (after a mere 11 hours of sleep) energized and ready for my daily routine. I would actually dress in something other than pajamas (to make it more realistic!) And start to do my little list. Mostly things around the house, but I managed to get out to do a few errands too. I tried to walk to the post office every day to build up my stamina. But every afternoon, I would hit a wall and need to take a nap. "No problem," I thought. "I'm working up to it and once I get back to work, I'll be right as rain."

I started back to work on Wednesday. I developed a plan to ease myself back into work. I know I can't push too hard, so I decided to be very mindful about how I'm feeling. I woke up early to give myself plenty of time to get ready. It had been quite some time since I donned make-up and work clothes. It was like the first day of school after summer break. It was beyond wonderful to see all of my co-workers again! And although I didn't have new clothes, I did have a whole new 'look' as it were. "Did you lose weight?" "Oh, you look great." I heard over and over. "No," I replied. "No weight loss. It's just been re-arranged."

I spent the day catching up on what I'd missed, saying hello to everyone, but at 2:30 I hit the wall. All I could imaging doing from that point was crawling under my desk and taking a nap. I left early and after the hour commute home, passed out on the couch for a couple of hours. I'm pretty sure I'd pushed too hard because I had a wretched night. In fact, I slept through my alarm (that blared for an entire hour) and woke up 90 minutes late. The next day, I was determined to pay even closer attention to my energy level. But low and behold, around 2:30 I hit the wall again. The problem is that I go along just fine and then my energy is gone. The feeling doesn't creep up so it's hard for me to tell if I'm pushing too hard or not. So I talked to my boss about working shorter hours to build my stamina. I have to push a little because that's the only way I'm going to get back to normal.

What was that mantra I had a while ago? Wasn't it patience, patience? ...Patience damn it!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Just Chillin' Out at the Corn Dog Stand

I suppose y'all thought I fell into some sort of hole in the earth. Not so. Just was taking a break from it all. I've been working hard on rebuilding my stamina which seems to be the only residual from my surgery. On days when the weather isn't so depressing, I've been walking along the boardwalk. I walk down to the post office everyday to get the mail. And today I got out to do errands. Everyday I get home, I just collapse though. I'm definitely improving, but it's in very small increments. I start back to work on Wednesday, so we'll see how it goes...

I had another follow up appointment with my doctor today. We discussed the next phase of 'rebuilding' me. There are four things he's planning on doing; two of which are "clipping my dog ears and making my cats eyes smaller." And I swear to you that is exactly what he said!! But I'll break it all down in 'human' language.

  • As mentioned before, he will re-do my abdominal incision to give it a nice small scar. There were areas that opened up during my infection so now my scar is rather wide in a few places.
  • At either end of my abdominal incision (which ends right around the love-handle areas) the skin has formed little triangles. These are what he calls the 'dog ears.' He's going to smooth these out because dog ears coming out of your love-handles is completely unacceptable in most social scenarios.
  • Gravity has taken its toll. (He told me this would happen, but he really didn't have to. I'm well aware of this horrifying phenomenon from past experience.) During my surgery, he had to remove a small part of the 4th rib on each side. The breast mounds have settled a bit and now I have what can only be described as an area that is concaved just over each breast. So he needs to insert a little more fat to make it look more natural and less like a breast implant.
  • Lastly, he will insert my new nipples and decrease the size of the skin islands, which incidentally are shaped like cats eyes.

The surgery should take around 3 hours or so and I'm scheduled for March 23rd. He said I'll be out of commission for a few days, but I should be back to work by the following Monday or Tuesday.

Hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season. Things have been very low key here. Gary had to work Christmas night, so we haven't really participated much in holiday festivities. He made a really scrumptious breakfast on Christmas morning and then we took the dogs on a nice walk. It was actually very nice just to spend time together and not be so caught up in all of the gift insanity or all of the cooking craziness he is usually involved in. Seeing as he is working on New Year's Eve, I plan on doing something completely different to ring in the new year. I'm going to celebrate behind closed eyelids. Usually we are out celebrating, but I figure I'm going to welcome the new year the next morning well rested. Philosophically, I think it's a great start to 2008.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Updates from the Circus

It's been a little while since I blogged, so I wanted to let you know that I'm doing okay. My infection has cleared, but my incision looks like hell. Dr. Rodriguez says he'll be doing the revision, but I'm not sure when. Sections had opened up to drain during the infection, so they are still healing. I'm also still trying to 'stretch out.' I'm walking upright, but my range of motion isn't quite back to normal. My right arm is doing better, so I'm trying to focus on reaching for things with my left. But being a righty, this is taking considerable mental effort.

My dad came up last Monday. He's been helping me going through Mom's stuff and walking the dogs and things that I'm not up to yet. Mostly he's been here for emotional support. My grief over Mom's passing has started to subside, but I miss her terribly. Not an hour goes by that I don't think of her. Sometimes I'll hear something and think 'I can't wait to tell Mom that.'

I'm still working on the details of the memorial and am still trying to decide on an appropriate venue. Still planning for late January though. More details as they become available.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

News from the Big Top

We had a few inches of snow here yesterday. It was beautiful and I was very happy to watch the weather from the comfort of my living room next to the fire. I think I am starting to feel better though. The little piles of clutter all around the house are starting to get to me. I straighten a little here and there, but like mushrooms, every time I clean up a pile three or four pop up in its place. I managed to help Aunt Nell change the sheets on my bed, then immediately took a two hour nap. I'm still trying to get my strength back.

I had a follow-up appointment to check on my infection today. It has started to clear and I have only a few more doses of the antibiotic to take. Dr. Rodriguez was encouraged and removed a few left-over sutures (likely the culprits of the infection.) I'll see him just after Christmas and we'll talk about my revision of my abdominal incision at that time. A few parts of the incision opened up and drained the infection, so he'll have to trim away that tissue and stitch it up again so I'll have an 'attractive scar' (if there is such a thing!)

Getting out this morning to head to Baltimore was another matter. It usually takes about an hour to get to the city, so we gave ourselves over 90 minutes because of slippery roads. Despite planning ahead it took over 2 hours. No worries though. My doctor was trapped in his driveway and arrived only moments before I did.

Aunt Nell will leave us tomorrow. She has been such a wonderful help, both as a caretaker and emotionally. We will miss her and have made her promise to come back when I have recovered and we can 'play.'

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Do Something...

You all have been so supportive, asking what I need done. You are all giving me exactly what I need right now; prayers, love, memories of Mom. I realize that you also feel the need to 'do something' as an outlet for your own feelings and grief. Donate in memory of Carolyn C. Braden... money, time, yourself; whatever you can or want.

If you've followed the blog from the start you may remember my mentioning a website I found early on called the Circus of Cancer. If you've not gone to the site I suggest you do. This was the brainchild of Kelly Corrigan, diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer before the age of 40. The site is filled with a photographic and written account of her journey through this circus. The site also focuses on how to talk to a friend with cancer. I feel this is such an important aspect of a woman's diagnosis because so many people don't really know what to say. Or think they know what to say.

People keep telling me how strong I am, but the truth is that I have derived my strength from the support you have given. I somehow have been able to surround myself with truly remarkable people, but I don't think everyone is so lucky. This education campaign that Kelly has taken on has so much more value and importance to breast cancer survivors than any of you know. If you would like to make a donation in Mom's memory, please do so by sending it to:
Kelly Corrigan's Circus of Cancer
455 Mountain Avenue
Piedmont, CA 94611

Another organization that is close to my heart is the American Cancer Society. I worked there in a breast and cervical cancer screening program several years ago. I am absolutely committed to the ACS mission. And folks, they are one of the best when it comes to utilizing funds. They use less than 10% of their funds on administrative costs and salaries. The rest of the money goes to research, programs, advocacy, and fundraising. You can donate money or time as a volunteer. Go to the American Cancer Society donation page for more information on ways to donate in Mom's memory.

Mom hid her cancer for over a year. I'm living proof that if caught early, cancer can be cured. More needs to be done so that no other woman ever needs to go through what my mother did. There must be more research for cures and treatment, more funds so that every woman can be screened early and receive treatment, and education so that woman (like my mother) don't have to be burdened with the fear of this disease.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Are There Roller Coasters at the Circus?

My dear, dear friends and family. How could I possibly be so lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful people? Your messages of support, your tears through the ether, your phone calls have all been so appreciated. I have cried while reading your memories of Mom and your words of encouragement for me and the 'Support Team.' You are all the 'medicine' I need to cure my broken heart. I may need to take it for a while, but it will help to mend it back together in time.

I am taking care of myself. But this morning Gary and I had to drive to Baltimore to complete the arrangements for Mom's remains. Laying awake last night in the wee hours, my arm brushed my abdominal incision. It was very tender. I knew without even getting out of bed exactly what it meant. I have developed an infection along my incision. This was confirmed when I looked at it when I got up this morning. Red, swollen, tender. On the way to Baltimore I called my doctor. He was able to squeeze me in after Gary and I left the funeral home, God bless him! He gave me an antibiotic which he thinks will take care of things, but he gave me his number to call him this weekend to check in and let him know how I'm doing (he is truly wonderful!) I'm having quite a bit more pain and the infection was probably the source of the pain I've been having since Thanksgiving Day.

I should have named the blog 'Stephanie's Carnival' since there aren't any roller coasters at the circus. This has definitely been a roller coaster ride. But I plan on staying in and focusing on healing myself over the next days and weeks. My wounds; my heart.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Circus Lights are Dimmed

Shortly before noon today, my dear beautiful mother, Carolyn Clem Braden, peacefully slipped from this world. She was surrounded by her loved ones and I am so honored to have been by her side holding her hand as she left me.

The last two weeks have been the most difficult I hope to ever have in my life. That was when we started nearing the end of our medical options. But she continued to fight. We gave her every chance to rally, but when I saw the chest x-ray from 10 days ago, I knew that she would not win this war. The doctors approached me last week about discontinuing her ventilator support, as this was the only thing keeping her alive. I could not bear the idea, feeling as though I was playing God with her life; deciding whether she was to live or die. After the awful job of sorting through my own feelings and recollecting the conversations I'd had with her about this very scenario, I knew what we needed to do. I was keeping her alive for my own selfish reasons. I didn't want the pain of making the decision. I wanted her to go at a time that she determined and take that burdensome decision away from me. I also had her last response ringing in my heart: she had told me she'd wanted to fight. I was so utterly conflicted by all of these things. But I remembered a conversation we had shortly after her diagnosis. We'd discussed quality of life vs. quantity. These last two weeks she'd been minimally responsive at best and without any quality whatsoever. The vent was the only thing keeping her alive. This is no way for anyone to live.

Earlier this week Gary started to inquire (again) about bringing her home to die. He called respiratory companies, case managers, doctors, any- and everyone to see if this was feasible. But it would be more trauma for her just to get her here and she would die immediately after arriving because her oxygen needs were much greater than anyone could provide. Again, I wanted her here for selfish reasons. I wanted her to be closer to me so I could be with her more.

After much introspection and a conversation with my father, I came to the conclusion that maybe my promise to fight for mom meant more than just fighting to keep her alive. Maybe it meant fighting for her; her wishes; what she would have wanted if she'd had a voice. I know that she would have hated to be languishing away in a hospital bed. She'd fought so hard against this thing, this wretched cancer and in the end it was her lungs that just weren't strong enough. She could never fathom how strong she really was. Such strength in such a little package.

My heart is totally broken, but I'm comforted in knowing that there is no more suffering for her. Gary, Sandra, Aunt Nell and myself were there. We spent time talking to her, praying, and reading sacred words to her. We had beautiful music playing. Music was such a large part of her life. For those of you who weren't lucky enough to know her, she was a accomplished musician. She started playing piano when she was 5 years old and played everything by ear. She also had an incredible singing voice, although I never got to hear her sing in her prime. She often joked that when she had me, she screamed so loud that she could never sing soprano again. But she did still sing.

We will start working on arrangements for her. She expressed her wish to be cremated. We will likely plan some sort of memorial service after the holiday's in Atlanta, her home town. We will reflect on her life and it will have the air of how she lived her life... Easy with a smile and a laugh.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Status Quo at the Circus

Not much of anything new to report from the circus, but I know how y'all get when you don't hear anything. I would be the same way!

I called late Thanksgiving Day to check on Mom. They told me that they were moving her to the Special Care Unit. It is a unit that can care for patients on ventilators, but they don't do a lot of changes in the vent settings. Since Mom's vent is maxed out, and they are just keeping her comfortable for the most part, she is okay to be on this unit. She has a very large room and it's on a nice quiet hall.

Deb and Pete left Friday morning. It was hard to see them go, but Deb had been away from her daughter (my adorable godchild, Caroline) for 12 days!! Deb helped out so much during her week here with us. Pete had come up Tuesday which was a great distraction for Gary. Individually, they are spectacular in the kitchen. But together, they are a force to be reckoned with. They whipped up a phenomenal Thanksgiving feast. I also think it was good for Gary to have an extra male in the house. Being surrounded for so long by all these females (both human and K-9) he says that the smell of testosterone, which smells like diesel fuel, has been ever so faint.

After Pete and Deb left, Sandra and I went to visit with Mom. I told her all about Thanksgiving and how it just wasn't the same without her smiling face there at the table with us. Though she never opened her eyes, she seemed to smile and raise her eyebrows as I told her what Gary and Pete had fixed for dinner. I updated her on all of the emails and calls we'd received. She continued to react with her facial expressions. It was the most expressive I'd seen her in over a week. I told her that we'd connected with some old friends in her address book and passed on messages they wanted us to tell her. I remembered to call her childhood friend Judy who had wanted to just say a few words to her. I held the phone up to Mom's ear and when she heard Judy's voice, she was visibly startled! After the jolt, she raised her eyebrows and smiled! It was wonderful to see her reactions as Judy spoke to her. I spoke to Judy shortly before the nurse came in. They had to change Mom's ventilator out for a different model, so we moved our chairs back out of the way. We ended up staying about two and a half hours; much longer than I should have, but it was just so good to see her being responsive.

This morning I woke up exhausted. Visits with Mom just take it out of me, both emotionally and physically. I couldn't muster the energy to go for a visit today which just kills me. I called several times to check on Mom; no changes; status quo.

Aunt Nell returned today also. It is so good to have her back. I'm hoping I'll feel good enough to go tomorrow for a visit. If not, I know Aunt Nell will want to go. It is so much more comforting to have family there with her. I wish it were me.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Much to be Thankful For

Such a cliche, I know, but it's something I've been thinking a lot about lately. This season has been a difficult one with the absence of my mother's beautiful smile at the house. Nonetheless, I'm so incredibly grateful for so many things. I'm so thankful for the last 18 months that she has lived with Gary and me. Since her diagnosis, we've been able to have a lifetime of meaningful conversations. I'm so thankful we didn't put any of those conversations off for a later time. We've been able to relive a lot of great memories too; many I'd forgotten. I'm incredibly thankful for the support I've had not only during my disease and recovery process, but also the whole ordeal with my mother. Both experiences have enabled me to befriend people I would have otherwise never met. In fact, many of them I have YET to meet in person. But they have given me amazing and unending support and advice.

Today I am surrounded by loved ones, both near and far. Sandra and I went to visit Mom today. She is unchanged and didn't rouse while we were there. She is, as far as we can tell, comfortable. It's all I can ask for right now.

As you gather today with your loved ones, think about what to be thankful for. If dinner ends up being late, don't get impatient. Eat some bread and remember fun times. This may become a great memory for the future; the time the turkey didn't get finished until 9pm.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Today's News

After the marathon visit of 8 or so hours on Sunday, I was utterly drained. I mustered the strength to make it to the couch, but that was about it. I slept on and off, but seemed to feel just as tired. While I am continuing to heal and make gains in my recuperation, I just don't have the stamina yet to put in a full day.

Monday morning I had a call from Lizzy Lou (one of the Loser Diva's) of the Left Coast. As luck would have it she and her lovely daughter were heading to Buffalo within hours to spend Thanksgiving with her brother and his family, and she had a layover in Baltimore. Making an impromptu decision, she chose to miss her second flight so she could come shower Mom with love, kisses, and a serenade or two. I gave her directions to the hospital. They jumped in a rental and high-tailed it to Annapolis. They sang several songs including 'Santa Baby' and the 'Green Acres' theme song. I know Mom was loving it and laughing along inside! She and Lovely Daughter then headed to North Beach to shower us with love and kisses for the evening. It was wonderful and we had a sleep-over last night with them in the loft above our bedroom. They continued on the second leg of their journey today.

We had a short visit with Mom today. We jumped through a few hoops to get permission for Ripley to visit 'Granddogma' but it was very worth it. They had turned down Mom's morphine drip in hopes to decrease the sedation so she could enjoy the visit, but she is so sensitive to the drugs that it gave her only minimal change. She nonetheless is still comfortable. She was fully aware of her fuzzy visitor though. She smiled when we came into her room and told her that Ripley was in tow. Ripley also arched her head and stared at Granddogma when we came in also. We put her on the bed and she sniffed and sniffed. She inched forward to Mom's face and gave her sweet little kisses. Mom squeezed my hand. After a few minutes of sniffing and licking, Ripley became very upset and wanted Gary to hold her. She kept darting her eyes toward Mom and burying her head under Gary's neck. After a while, she wanted to get back on the bed and she laid by Mom's side.

Ripley was very quiet on the ride home. Normally angling for the front seat, she climbed in the back with Sandra and curled up. I know how she feels. Even though this visit was just an hour I'm beat. These visits are emotionally exhausting, but being at home just waiting isn't much better. The Support Team are just as busy as bee's around me. Sandra and Deb are Gary's right and left hand girls right now. They clean, fluff, launder, cook, and do any other necessary household or outside errands for us. It is so good to have them here now.