My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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A Letter To Oliver On His Fourth Birthday

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Dear Oliver,

I think I start every year by telling you that you are the light of my life.  This year is no different.  It’s amazing to me that I can be just as in awe of you, if not more so, as the day you were born. I feel like you are the same incredible little boy that you have always been, but now you are a year older.

This is the year where I feel like you have really become a little boy.  You have strong opinions and wants.  You speak with so much expression.  You are dramatic like me.  Your talents are starting to show.  I’m getting a glimpse of the person you are going to be.

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You still love to make people laugh.  You like to make up stories and words.  You like to dance around making funny sounds.  You like to call people silly names.  Your number one goal in life is to see people, especially me, laugh at your jokes.  And you truly are funny.  When we came home from parent teacher conferences this year, we said, “Your teacher said that you are doing a very good job at school,” to which you replied, “And they said that I am a funny guy?”  They did, in fact, say that.  They said that they whole class laughs at your jokes and that several of your friends said that you are the funniest person they know.

 

You continue to be one of the most gentle, kind hearted people I know.  You are always taking care of me.  After my surgery this year, you never left my side.  You would walk me to the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to walk alone.  “Walk slowly, mama.  Be careful.”  And you wouldn’t leave me until I was safe back in bed.  You always ask about my “swollen arm” and kiss it to make it better.  You are still trying to wrap your head around the fact that I will have this condition my whole life and that a kiss doesn’t make it all better.  But that doesn’t stop you from trying.  You are always talking about friends who have felt sad or angry during the day and how you have hugged them to make them feel better.  Your love is what this world needs.  I think when you grow up, your love and caring for others will be the thing that shapes who you are.  I think you are going to change the world!

This year you have become more adventurous.  You like roller coasters and other rides.  You like to run right into the waves at the ocean, even in your clothes in the cold weather.  You take risks that you have never taken before.  It’s awesome to watch you push your limits and discover that you can do things you never thought possible.  You are beginning to understand that taking risks can reap rewards.

You still are obsessed with trains.  You like other things like blocks, legos and puzzles but you are passionate about trains.  You love learning all about them, from old steam engines to modern bullet trains.  You can’t get enough!

You have learned so many new things this year.  A few of them are…to put on  your clothes and shoes by yourself, to poop in the toilet, to write your name, to begin to read and spell, to add and subtract, to put a puzzle together by yourself, to ask life’s deep questions (“Am I going to die?”  “Why am I here?”  “How was I born?”  “Why does night happen?”  “Why does the mood follow us?”), to use big words like, “frustrated,” and “deflated,” to gallop, to sing whole songs that aren’t nursery rhymes (“Let It Go”), to reenact parts of the musical Oliver, for which you are named, and to make yourself cry on cue.

You love to play with your trains, take train rides, go to the park and run around, ride on your scooter, play with your friends, play with babies, go to school, sing, make up songs and eat sweets.  Your favorite books are The Big Book of Trains, Insects, Snakes, Train Song, The Gingerbread Man, How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?, The Three Bears,  and so many more I can’t even remember them.  Your favorite foods are muffins, lollipops, pancakes, runny eggs, peas, corn, turkey burger, tortellini, ham and cheese sandwiches, ramen (not the cheap, $1 kind but the real stuff), grilled cheese, mac and cheese, ice cream, bananas, grapes and blueberries.  You love to bake with daddy.  You are starting to love the arts; singing, dancing and acting.

I am proud of you every single day.  There isn’t a moment that goes by where I don’t realize how lucky I am to have landed a son like you.  You are my everything.  I love you to the moon and back, the stars and back, the planets and back and the galaxies and back.

Happy 4th birthday!


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Goodnight, Sweetheart

Last night was the last time I put Oliver to bed as a baby.  He’s still my baby, of course, but today he started pre-k and will be going to school five days a week from now until….  As I put him to bed, I was aware of all of the changes we are about to experience.  He is going to learn so much and make so many new friends.  Last night I knew that as I took him to school in the morning, I was setting him up for his next stage of independence from me and Ken.  So, I held him a little longer and nuzzled his curls on my nose, as I like to do, long after he fell asleep.  He didn’t want me to sing him songs but, instead, asked nervous questions about his first day.  “What do I do if I don’t understand the teacher?  What do I do if I don’t understand what the teacher tells me to do?  What happens if the teacher sends me home and puts me on the train by myself?”  He was worried.  I calmed his fears and he woke up this morning with a crazy, wild energy and anticipation to see his new school and meet his teachers.

We started off by creating his pre-k poster of some of his favorite things this year.  He was happy to answer all of them.

This is what he looked like last year at the same time.  Can you believe how much he has grown?

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The school is really close, less than a mile away and only two stops on the bus!  Ken was working so I had to bring him and a suitcase worth of school supplies with me.  You see the suit case in the picture but not the other bag I had on my shoulder.  So much stuff!

The school, which has over 500 pre-k students this year had the children come in two groups.  We were the afternoon group.  The good thing was that one of Oliver’s best friends was in the afternoon group.  They are in different classes but that didn’t seem to get them down.

Once we got in, we found our classroom.  Oliver has two very sweet teachers.  They had toys set up for the children to play with and Oliver ran over without taking his backpack off and made himself at home.

He was doing so well so I said a quick goodbye.  Funnily enough, I didn’t cry!  That’s so unlike me!  Maybe because I had an hour and a half to myself that I decided to spend with some other parents I knew at a local cafe.  I had the most delicious blueberry/hibiscus iced tea!!!!

When I came to pick Oliver up, his teacher was finishing up a book.  When it was done, the children noticed all of the parents in the room and ran to us.  Class dismissed?  I went to the teacher to thank her and she told me that Oliver made a prediction about the book!  An “A” student on day one!  That’s my boy!!!!!

We left and got lunch with his friend at a local restaurant and then went to a playground to burn some energy.  As we walked home, we stopped at another cafe and Oliver looked at me with those sweet eyes of his and pointed to a pink cupcake.  How can I refuse him on his first day of pre-k?

Today, my baby became a little boy.   He started real school.  He’s just going to keep getting bigger and older.  I can’t even!


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The Never Enough Doctor

Two days ago I went to see my physiatrist.  He is the doctor who monitors my lymphedema.  When I first went to see him when I developed lymphedema, I liked him a lot.  I liked how he took a whole body and whole mind approach to my care.  He’s the one who helped me start therapy when he could see my distress and depression.  He made it happen.  He talked about helping me get a healthier lifestyle to help with cancer prevention.  But the last few times I saw him, I felt like he had an unrealistic view of my life and how I can fit lymphedema care and a healthy lifestyle into my every day.

To my young or youngish survivor friends, I don’t know if this happens to you as well but I have found that throughout my cancer journey there has been a lack of understanding of what it’s like to have cancer and be a working mother.  I know that the majority of patients that are seen are in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older.  50s and 60s is not old in my mind but these women are often at a different point in their lives.  They don’t (usually) have very young children.  They are not (always) building their careers.  To raise a small child and still try to define myself professionally and creatively while having cancer and lymphedema has been my greatest challenge.  I succeed sometimes but feel that I fail a lot.  That’s because I have way too many priorities.  I’ve written about this before.  What do I prioritize?  My health?  My finances? My career?  My son?  My mental health?  My emotional health?  My relationships?  My free time to be me?  I’m often overwhelmed by these questions.

Nevertheless, because I have gained a considerable amount of weight in the last few months, I have chosen to put my health front and center.  I’m unhappy looking in the mirror and unhappy with the way I feel.  I wrote two blog posts ago that I’m having a lot of difficulty losing the weight despite exercising 4-6 times a week and eating a plant based diet (not vegetarian, not vegan just way more veggies and fruits).

The last time I saw the “never enough doctor,” I was told that I needed to exercise more.  I couldn’t figure out when to find the time, especially with the work schedule my  husband had at the time.  I was only weeks out from my DIEP Flap and feeling like hell physically and emotionally.  He told me to “call on my community” to help me get it done.  What he didn’t understand was that my community is also made up of working mothers who have very little (if any) free time.  This pissed me off.

With that being said, in recent months my husband and I have discussed the importance of my health and what sacrifices we could make to help get my health back on track.  This means that my husband is not running as much (he loves to run) so that I have time to work out.  He has also put on weight because he is not running as much as he did previously.  I am also rarely putting my son to bed at night.  When he was in preschool only 2 days a week and I spent more time with him, this wasn’t a big deal.  But now he is in summer camp 5 days a week and will be starting full day pre-k in the fall.  My time with him is getting less and less.  With having to exercise at night, I’m sacrificing some of that time.  But I’m doing it not so that I have more minutes with him but more years.

I’m also sacrificing some major sleep so I can go out, get my work done, do the dishes, pump my arm and wrap it at night.  It’s a lot!

I’m also now seeing a nutritionist.  She agreed that my eating habits are healthy and we are monitoring my progress.

I have to say, I think I’m doing a hell of a lot here.  But according to the “never enough” doctor, I’m…well…not doing enough.

“How long are you exercising,” he asked me?

“35-40 minutes, 4-6 times a week,” I said,

“What exercise are you doing?”

“I’m run/walking and when I can’t get out, I’m doing a kickboxing video.”

He stopped, turned to me, looked me in the eyes.  “You really need to do more.”

“More?  More than 4-6 times a week,” I asked?

“No, not more times a week.  You really need to do 60 minutes.”

What???!!!!????

“You need to do more land based activities. Are you exercising in the gym?”

“No, I run outside.  I go to the park.”

“You really need to join a gym so that you can monitor your heart rate.  It’s more disciplined that way.”

“But,” I said, “I’m having a hard enough time finding the time to do the exercise I’m doing.  Back and forth to a gym is 45-1 hour plus an hour of working out, not to mention waiting on line for a machine…we’re talking at least 2 hours 4-6 times a week!  When am I going to do that?”

“Well, you do what you want to do but, if you really want to lose weight, this is the way you are going to do it.”

Fucking Asshole!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, I’m finally figuring out a way to get exercise into my life, which is what he asked me to do last time.  I’m pumping my arm every night.  I’m wrapping most nights.  “You’re not wrapping during the day as well?”  WTF!!!!!!??????!!!!!!!  But instead of trying to find ways to get more exercise into my life (a pedometer to watch my heart rate and this thing called youtube which, I’m sure, has a lot of videos on how to do more effective work outs at home or outside), he just said I need to do the thing I can’t feasibly find the time to do.

It’s not enough.  It’s never, ever, ever enough.

His message: You can’t have cancer and lymphedema and still have a life.

What I say: There has to be a balance.  I can’t do it all and I can’t live for my condition.  What kind of existence is that?

He said that he doesn’t need to see me anymore but I can come back if I ever need anything.  I don’t think I would go back anyway.  I need to surround myself with people who will help me live with lymphedema and the side effects of cancer treatment, not for it.

 


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15 Random Facts + WTF!!!????? (a new blog post)

Hello fellow bloggers.  It’s been a lazy summer, at least for blogging.  I haven’t been around much to write or read.  I’m hoping to change that soon.  I’m not working too much but with the work I do have, I’m pretty busy with prep so, by the time I’m done, I still have all of my home stuff and exercise to do.  It’s not leaving room for other things like writing.  But I’m making time now.

I’d like to start with the blogging challenge from Nancy’s Point, one of my favorite breast cancer blogs.  Last year I wrote random facts about myself so I will try to be innovative.  I’m pretty much an open book.  But, here it goes.

  1. I have a dent in my head because of a freak zip lining accident I had in Costa Rica.  The guide forgot to put the brake out for me and I hit a tree.  I needed stitches which I got in a shack in the jungle.  It was the first time I ever tried something adventurous and the last.
  2. My husband and I decided to try to have a baby while folding laundry in a 24 hour laundromat.  I always wanted children when I was young but after grad school, I wasn’t sure.  I’m glad we made the choice to try because 3 months later, I was pregnant with Oliver.
  3. I hoped for a natural birth; no drugs, no IV, with a whirlpool tub and candlelight.  What I got was a completely medicalized birth.  My blood pressure skyrocketed 2 weeks before delivering and my organs started freaking out.  Oliver was 16 days late so I had 5 methods of induction.  The nurses were all over me constantly.  After 23 hours of trying, I finally gave in and got an epidural.  Three hours later, I had a c-section.  Totally not the experience I hoped for.  One of the things that makes me sad is that I’ll never know what it is like to deliver naturally.
  4. I don’t own a home but desperately want to.
  5. I have never lived outside of New York City.  I even went to college here.  If I could move anywhere, I’d love to live in Portland, Oregon.
  6. I hated Lord of the Rings.  The movie.  While beautiful, it bored me to tears.  I think I’m the only one who feels this way.
  7. I love fresh, baked chocolate chip cookies and can eat the whole cookie tray in one sitting.
  8. I’m envious of people who get to travel globally for work and wish I got to travel much more.
  9. I’m like a sponge for other people’s emotions.  If someone is in pain, depressed, excited, I immediately pick up on in and take on that emotion.  I can easily put myself in someone else’s shoes.
  10. I want to be a zombie on The Walking Dead.
  11. If I could have an affair with any star, past or present, it would be Gene Kelly.  I love everything about him.
  12. I get motion sick very easily.  The worst is on boats.  I won’t go on a boat in choppy water.
  13. I’m sickened by the state of the world right now.  I don’t know how humans can treat each other with such disdain and disrespect.  I look at pictures of Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi refugees and I feel so uncontrollably desperate to save them.  I know that is not possible.
  14. When I’m stressed out, I need to cry before I can find a solution.
  15. I can’t dance.  Seriously.  My top half and bottom half won’t coordinate.  But in my mind, I’ve got rhythm and grace.
  16. BONUS:  I love farmer’s markets.  They are my happy place.  I can’t get enough of all the fresh produce.  I think it’s beautiful.

 

Now for some of the stupid, breast cancer related shit I’ve been dealing with.   For the last (almost) 2 years, I’ve heard and read about women complaining about treatment related weight gain, whether it be from chemotherapy or tamoxifen or other drugs.  I’ve considered myself among the lucky.  I managed to lose a little bit of weight during chemo (not much and it was because everything tasted gross) and, even on tamoxifen, I managed to drop one size last summer due to exercise and healthy eating.  After my DIEP Flap reconstruction this year, I decided to be a little lax with my food choices.  That, mixed with not moving around much led to some weight gain.  I knew that was going to happen but I figured I’d deal with it when I recovered.  What I didn’t take into account or realize was that my new medication, Zoladex, could also play a role in weight gain.

When I tried my summer clothes on this spring and realized just how much weight I truly gained, I decided to take  my health very seriously.  I began exercising 4-6 times a week, eating smaller portions and eating more fruits and vegetables.  I figured that, by mid-summer, if I kept this up, I’d be back to my previous weight and down some more.  After 2 months of consistent exercise and healthy eating, I didn’t notice too much change in my body so, I decided to weigh myself again.  Not only had I not lost weight, I had gained 6 pounds.

WTF!!!!!?????!!!!

Let me tell you what upsets me about this.  Aside from my feelings about my physical appearance (which I do not like right now), I’m really pissed about my lack of control.  You see, I hate running.  I hate it!  But it’s all I really have the time and money for.  It’s free and I can be outside.  But I hate doing it.  What I loved about it was that I felt like I was taking control of my health.  When it comes to breast cancer, there is so little we have control over so when I can control something, I feel omnipotent.  So, to find out that I have been working so hard and that it has yielded no results, well, I lost my shit.

As my therapist commented, “it’s a bitch and a half.”  To work at something day after day.  Something that all the books and magazines PROMISE will get you results.  But I am the fucking exception to the rule.  Hard work is not rewarded when you’re on an ovarian suppressor or dealing with other breast cancer treatment.

It never ceases to amaze me.  That no matter how far I get from my diagnosis date, breast cancer still creeps up in my life to remind me who is boss.  It reminds me that life really isn’t in my control.  It reminds me that my body no longer belongs to me.  That no matter how hard I try, it will never be mine again.

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Bits of Happiness #28, #29, #30, #31, #32

I’m super behind on my Bits of Happiness posts.  I have had wonderful things in my life that have brought me joy each week.  I’ve just been too busy with work and life.  So, I’m going to update a few things.  I’m sure I’m missing tons and tons.

#28

Tulips!!! Tulips are my favorite flower and they’re everywhere in Brooklyn  right now.  My son even knows them and loves to point them out whenever he sees them and drags me over to see it.  It’s so sweet.  What a magnificent flower!

#29

Cherry Blossoms!  We missed the Cherry Blossom Festival this year due to the crappy weather but Oliver and I got to visit them together the day before.  We don’t have too many great pictures because it was just the two of us but they were lovely.

#30

Beautiful Brooklyn Streets.  I love walking around my neighborhood and watching the flowers gently fall off the trees and the leaves start to bloom.

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#31

Exploring My City With Oliver!  I took Oliver to Battery Park for the first time since he was a little baby.  We had such a great time exploring the wonderful gardens, looking at all of the boats and the fire boat that was spewing red, white and blue water.  It was an overcast day but we had so much fun!

#32

Hidden Playgrounds!  In Battery Park, there’s a hidden playground between two buildings.  It’s called, Teardrop Playground.  It’s right by 22 River Terrace.  And it has the biggest slide ever!  It was magical.

 


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Mother’s Day: A Regression Story

Sometimes I regress to my former self.  The self before I was happy; happy with my career, happy in love and happy with a family that I made myself (ok, I had a little help).  The self that was superficial and wanted “things.”  Lots of things.  And I think I have been regressing lately because I’ve been so unhappy post-cancer.  I’m unhappy with my body, with how I feel, with my outlook on life…emotionally, each day is a struggle to get used to my new normal.  I don’t even know what normal is!  So, when I thought of Mother’s Day, I thought of all the things I wanted.  The things I deserved!  I mean, haven’t I raised a child (and did a great job of it, I must say) while undergoing treatment, post surgeries and despite extreme fatigue?  Don’t I continue hormone therapies with terrible side effects so I can be around long enough to be a mother to my growing child?  Don’t I sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice?

The answer I came up with was, FUCK YEAH!!!!!!!  And I wanted pretty things to prove my worth as a mother.  What things?  I don’t know.  A pretty dress, earrings….something that I can throw on my body and say, “I earned this.”

I don’t like the person I become when I am unhappy in life.

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be treated well, with wanting something pretty or to feel special, putting such importance on a frivolous items defeats the purpose of the day.  And I know better than that.  I am constantly grateful for what I have.  I have a happy and healthy family, as of last week my scans show no signs of cancer, my son is amazingly perfect in every way, I have a job, a home (rental but a home), food to eat and even a little money left over to go out once or twice a month.  I’m not running from my country fearing for my life.  I’m not afraid that a bomb is going to fall on my home.  I enjoy religious (or lack there of) freedoms without fear of the consequences.  My water is safe to drink.  I have water.  I have health insurance.

Life is good.

I have so much.  I have so many wonderful things in my life the greatest being, Oliver.  He showers me daily with kisses, hugs, snuggles and huggles (a hug/snuggle hybrid that we made up).  He tells me he loves me.  He wants to play with me and takes me on imaginative journeys with tickle monsters.  He protects me.  Just yesterday he reminded me to buckle my seatbelt (I didn’t forget) and said, “Am I protecting you, Mommy?  Like you protect me?”

I mean…c’mon!!!!!!!

What more could I want?  There are few things I really, really want that money can buy.  But what I really want is to feel happy, to have a fulfilling career, a marriage full of love and to watch Oliver grow.  Right now, I have that.  I am grateful.

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Bits Of Happiness #21

Today I had my post-op appointment with my plastic surgeon.  He said that I am doing really well.  While I need to be careful, I can slowly start getting back to normal life.  So what is the first thing I did?

I came home and crawled into my son’s toddler bed and snuggled him for the first time in over four weeks.   We did our bedtime rituals, we kissed each other, we talked about nothing in particular until his breathing got deep and his eyes got heavy.  I stayed longer than I should have.  But these days will be gone soon and I got a taste in these past few weeks of what it’s like for our nighttime snuggles to be gone.

I think the day when my baby becomes too big and doesn’t want me to hold him until he falls asleep will break my heart.  So, until then, I will crawl into that tiny toddler bed and hold him every night.  Because I can.