Monday, July 29, 2013

Cry Me a River

Stepping outside in Phoenix right now is like walking straight into an oven. Arriving at the airport and stepping onto black tarmac wearing a sweater because it was only 54 degrees out when I left Seattle is downright spontaneous combustion-worthy. The heat literally knocked the wind out of me. It made me claustrophobic with its weight, so that I was pulling my sweater off before I even got to the first curb outside baggage claim. It made me want to hop right back on that airplane until the end of October when daytime highs here will finally dip below 100 again.

Cry me a river, right? (Just please make it a cold river I could plunge into and feel refreshed.)

I just got back from two of the most stunning days in Seattle. Days where it seems everyone is outside, shit-eating grins on their faces simply for the fact that the sun is shining and what more reason do you need? (I swear, that city was showing off for me, from the minute my plane landed and Mt. Rainier greeted me in the distance to the pinkish purple sunset over the skyline and Elliot Bay my last night there.) So I understand if it's hard to feel sorry for me when I say living in Phoenix is like sticking a hot blow dryer in your face and turning the turbo switch on. I've been lucky enough to escape the heat a lot more than usual this summer, and I do appreciate it.

I'm lucky to have a husband who recognizes when I need a mental health break from here, who let me leave with only three days' notice so that I could spend time getting my toes painted and taking a canning class with my oldest and best friend and her friend, Jenny. (Yes, canning.) So that I could sip cool rosé on a rooftop deck while eating the most delectable peaches covered with salty crumbled cheese and think Life doesn't get much better than this. So that I could recharge my batteries before I stepped back into the chemo ring again this morning.

I'm so lucky for that.
learning to can

I'm also lucky to have a friend who knows me so well we might as well be sisters, a friend who can make me laugh until my face hurts, then turn around and get teary-eyed with me because life has thrown us a metric shit ton of curve balls the past couple of years. But none of that seems like too heavy a burden when you're surrounded by good food and sunshine and love. God, Seattle turned me into a total hippie. Worth it.

Monday, July 22, 2013


I can't believe I'm complaining about my hair, of all things. But it has ventured past cute pixie territory straight into curly mullet land, and I need to get it fixed, and quickly. I'm hoping my stylist can guide me toward something more like this
and less like this
No offense to Scarlett Johansson, but that is not the look I'm aiming for. 

On so many levels, I feel like any hair is good hair (except armpit hair; that is still just annoying). But six months out from my last broad spectrum chemo infusion, and I finally--finally--could use a hair cut. 

It's the little things, don't you agree?

So I've been searching all over the Internet for advice on how to grow out a pixie because I hope I'm that lucky. I hope this chemo is working. I hope I get to stay on it long-term. I hope I get to keep this hair, even if there are umpteen awkward grow-out phases in my near future.

It's funny, but in all the time I've spent bald--or nearly bald--in the last couple of years, I've sort of forgotten what it means to keep up with a hairstyle. There is apparently a lot of finessing that goes into gracefully growing out one's hair. And in true Jen fashion, I am stumbling all over the place on that front right now. 

I am even a hairstyle klutz, you guys. 

But it looks like my stylist can fit me in next week, so I'll post some updated hair photos then. 

Friday, July 19, 2013


We made it. Quinn and I survived Chris' Summer Trip to Africa, 2013, with only a few hiccups. After a month-long absence, Chris arrived home safely from Kenya this week. (His bags were another story, but those have now been delivered safely to our house, too.) Remarkably, Chris is already back to work, jet-lag be damned. That man is nothing if not dedicated.
Quinn is thrilled to have his Daddy back (as am I). I hadn't realized how much stress and emotion I'd been holding on to, trying to run this household and parent a toddler and fight cancer by myself, until I started sobbing in bed Chris' first night home. It felt good to let it out, even if Chris was baffled by my behavior. (That's nothing new.) The best I can explain it is that my partner's back, so I can be vulnerable again. Either that, or I'm just a basketcase. 

You shush it, Chris.

I also seem to have broken my streak of medical emergencies happening to me when my husband is out of town, although Quinn and I did have a visit to pediatric urgent care last weekend, where they gave him a teddy bear for being so brave. He promptly named it after his newest love, my friend's daughter Townley. Townley Bear now does everything with Quinn, which totally warms my heart. And a few doctors visits later, all seems to be alright with our little boy.

As for me, I don't want to jinx anything so I hesitate to even admit it, but this last round of chemo was actually bearable. I had some fatigue, but see above about Chris being gone for a month. Fatigue was to be expected. I really hope this chemo is working, because a) I hope this chemo is working, and b) it would be really nice to have relatively minimal side effects for awhile. My next scan is about a month from now, so of course I'll keep you all posted.

Speaking of you all, thank you to everyone who stepped in to help me out over the past several weeks--by opening your homes, coming to visit us in this ungodly heat, or just sending texts to let me know I wasn't really doing this last month on my own. I had you guys, and I am so grateful. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

In It to End It

As you may have heard, I'm once again going to participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. My team and I did last year's walk in Santa Barbara and signed up for this year's walk just as soon as we crawled across the finish line. This year, we're walking in San Francisco--because we needed more of a challenge than 39.3 miles over 2 days, and I hear there are hills in San Francisco. So that should be fun.
Once again, I'll be doing the walk (and training for it) while going through treatment for the disease we're raising money to end. I will wake up at 5 in the morning to lace up my sneakers and walk a dozen miles (or more) before the temperature in Phoenix reaches triple digits. My hips will ache, my feet will hurt, and I'm sure I'll want to quit more than once. I might even lose a toenail or two again.

But this is important to me, and I'm okay with a few bruises, aches, and pains. I've been through worse.

We are still losing too many people to this disease--most of them your moms, sisters, aunts, and daughters. Breast cancer gets the unfortunate label of the "good" cancer to get. There is the misguided perception that everyone beats breast cancer. Pink is a happy color, after all.

But breast cancer kills almost 40,000 women in the United States alone every year. Let that sink in a minute.

In their lifetime, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. A whopping thirty percent of those will metastasize, at which point this disease is no longer considered curable. This is what I have--metastatic breast cancer.

I may respond well to chemo, may knock cancer down to undetectable levels over and over again, may even get to see remission, but I will likely always have to take medicine to keep this disease at bay. I will have to get full body scans every three months for the rest of my life to make sure the cancer hasn't stopped responding to my current medication. I will have blood drawn every week, scars across my chest where my breasts used to be, and a couple of wigs standing by...just in case.

I will always be more aware of my mortality than most 34-year-olds.

Another friend of mine--a mom to two little girls--called a couple of weeks ago to tell me that her breast cancer is back, in her lungs, after she was initially diagnosed with early stage cancer and had already completed chemo, radiation, and surgery. I hate this disease so much.

We just want to be around to watch our children grow up.

So I will do my little part to advance research into stopping cancer in its tracks. I will train my butt off (and my toenails, too) if it means some doctor in some lab might get the funds he or she needs to figure out how to derail this disease once and for all. I will shamelessly beg you all to donate to this cause.
At least forty thousand women each year deserve this commitment my team and I are making. Their families deserve it. Quinn deserves it. I'm pretty certain I deserve it, too.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Up Next: The Benadryl Method

Last night, I stayed up way past my bedtime, reading snarky comments about some mommyblogger's dating life (so, wasting time online) while I tried to calm down after a particularly bad bedtime "routine" with Quinn. After more than an hour and a half of my regular tricks not working, I resorted to the partial cry-it-out method to give it a shot. A number of people have recommended it, and I was about to resort to heavy drinking, which is not recommended while on chemo.

This method involves letting your child cry for 5 minutes, checking on them and putting them back in bed, then giving it 10 minutes, then 15 (in theory). After the 15 minute increment, you can start back over at 5 minutes. And so on. When you do go into the room, you're only supposed to put your child back in bed, without words or cuddling or any attention whatsoever--because you've already told them it's time for bed, so there's no need to repeat yourself. Two year olds always listen the first time you tell them something. They're kinda renowned for that. No, really.

I have always had two problems with this method of sleep-training for my particular household. (I try to  refrain from judging other parents' techniques, because at a certain point, you just do what you have to do, am I right?) So my problems are: One, Quinn isn't in a crib anymore, and won't stay in bed if I'm leaving the room, so we race to get to the door and then I have to slam it in his face behind me. Even when I'm completely frustrated with his antics, that has always seemed a bit harsh. Second,  he can turn doorknobs, so this method also requires me to stand on the other side of the door holding the handle so that he can't escape, which feels especially wrong to me. I don't know if I'd be more at peace with closing the door on him if he wasn't adept at doorknobs, but standing there also means that I have to listen closely to his total body sobs, his panicked tantrum, his desperate cries of "Mommy!" I hate that. It does not feel good.

Also, I know my son can fall asleep on his own. He does it easily and without protest for everyone else but me. This is not, then, a matter of training him to sleep, but training him to sleep in the vicinity of me.

Which might be difficult because I'm a softie when it comes to Quinn, even when he's making me crazy because he won't sleep, even on a day that I had chemo, even when I've been a single parent for more than three weeks now. Clearly, he knows what a big softie I am. He has me 100% pegged.

So I didn't make it to the 15 minute increment. Ten minutes had me in tears, wondering what the hell I was accomplishing. He was about to break the doorknob and my heart hurt. I opened the door, picked him up, cradled him in my arms, and kissed his forehead a few times. And after nearly two hours of protesting it, he fell fast asleep--on my side of the bed.

And yes, I do let him sleep with me when Chris is out of town. Like I said, I'm a big teddy bear when it comes to this kid. I often wonder if it's because I've had cancer, or if I would have been this way regardless. Either way, I've hired a babysitter to handle bedtime tonight. It was either that or Benadryl, potentially for both of us.

For those of you cancer survivors out there who are also moms, has cancer changed how you interact with your kids? Other moms, how do you handle sleep issues at your houses?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Home. Sick.

There's nothing quite like returning home after an extended vacation--during which Quinn and I spent some quality time with some of my best friends and their kids, who are quickly becoming Quinn's best friends, too--only to be met with a low-grade fever, chills, and severe stomach cramping. It's like my body associates Phoenix with chemo and went ahead and got symptomatic three days before treatment. Nice work, Body.

We've been home approximately 42 hours, and I've spent 20 of them sleeping, and most of the other 22 racing to the bathroom. Yesterday, I tried not to snap at Quinn as he climbed all over me on the couch. "Please, not on my stomach," I begged him. "Mommy hurts."

"I hurt, too," the poor guy started repeating.

We spent Saturday afternoon watching a superb parenting mix of Backyardigans, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Cars while I tried not to vomit on the couch.

I feel better today, but still not well enough to eat much other than bananas and toast. I have chemo tomorrow morning, so I'm sure that will improve things in the nausea department. Wink, wink.

Can't we just go back on vacation? It appears to be a surefire way to make me feel better.

We spent ten wonderful days in Maryland, DC, and Virginia, welcoming in summer in true summer fashion: marveling at lightning bugs, playing board games, eating steamed crabs and corn on the cob, watching fireworks, splashing in mud puddles after intense afternoon thunderstorms, celebrating a friend's birthday, and lounging around poolside.

All of which beats a stomach bug when it's 110 degrees out and you are facing chemo any day.

As Quinn put it when we were driving home from the airport Friday night, "I don't wanna go home! I wanna go mommy's friend's house!" I agree, buddy. I agree.