Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What These Boys Know

When Quinn was born, more than one of the labor and delivery nurses declared that he was an "old soul." You could see it in his eyes, they said. There was wisdom there. Look for yourself:
I remember so vividly the feel of his velvety baby skin, covered in soft downy fuzz that I swore was in the shape of angel wings across his back. (When your eyes return from rolling to the back of your head, I'm still here...with even more eye-roll inducing stuff.) As corny as it sounds, I believed he'd come to guide me, teach me, deliver me. Babies are capable of that, you know.


I have a scan again next week, although I've graduated from a PET scan to a CT scan. (It causes too much radiation exposure to continue doing PETs every 3 months). Still, a scan is a scan when it comes to anxiety about what they could show, how life could screech to a halt again, how I could come fully unzipped.

I try to keep my panic attacks to a minimum during the day, try not to snap too often about things like bath-time delays and mud on the floor. I try to maintain some semblance of normalcy, even in the week before my scan. But it's been difficult this week, and I'm pretty sure I won't be nominated for an Oscar for my abilities (or lack thereof) to mask my angst anytime soon. I wish I could hide all of this from Quinn, spare him this stress. He chewed his fingernails down to the bloody quick over the weekend, so I fear I'm not doing enough.

Another family member was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last week. We are still waiting on results of his PET scan, which will determine next steps--most likely intense, high-dose chemo. Maybe surgery. Certainly a horrible next couple of months, especially for those closest to him. Cancer is a fucker.

Last week was also a rough week in the breast cancer community. One woman in my circle died at the age of 30--thirty!--from this godforsaken disease. Another, a friend of mine, died the next day. Her teenage son posted a selfie in which he was wearing a pink shirt and a smile on his face. He said: Got my pink on for you mom. I love you and miss you already. I'm smiling cause no matter what you were going through you always smiled. That's one thing I'll never forget, and that's one hell of an example of strength, what you always had. And shared with many others. You'll always be a fighter! So of course I bawled my eyes out, more than once. 

I'm scared about next week. I always am, and I don't know if there's any way around it. No matter that my last two scans have been clean and nothing in my treatment regimen has changed. No matter that my weight is up, that I feel strong, that I believe I'm healthy. Cancer is wily and unpredictable, and I'll never be able to let my guard completely down. I miss that, but that's for another post.


Last night, as I was putting Quinn to bed, lying in the dark with him just after books, he said, "I'm scared, Mom." "Scared of what?" I asked. I was expecting him to say the dark, or the shadows on the walls (which he calls ghosts). He thought a minute, then said, "Um, nevermind. I'm not scared anymore." He paused. "I don't want you to be scared, either, Mom." And then I did my best to muffle my sobs in the pillow, gritting my teeth together because that's what steroids and scans and cancer make you do--lose your shit when you realize your little boy probably knows more than he should. 

Then I rubbed Quinn's back--my little angel--until he fell asleep. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Part 2 of Turning this into a Shopping Blog

Earlier this week, I wrote about the challenges I face when choosing a swimsuit, and you all responded with so many wonderful suggestions (and compliments, let's not forget the compliments). Thank you! My summer attire is looking less bleak already.

I joked that that post was my first step in turning this into a shopping blog. Turns out, I was only partially kidding.

Last night, a friend of a friend hosted an online fundraiser for the Avon Walk that I'm doing again this summer, and--apparently, this is Part 2 of turning this into a shopping blog. I mean, I can't help it. Just look at these pieces. (Seriously, Chris, take a look at all THREE of these awesome necklaces).
But if you missed the event last night, please don't fret. You can still support our team (and fetch some great jewelry in time for Mother's Day) by shopping at the link below through Sunday, April 27th.
But first, check out these beauties. I feel like they would automatically make me a better, more grounded person. Jewelry can do that, right?
So here's the link to shop and all proceeds go to the AVON WALK!!! Make sure you see Booby and the Beast in the top of the screen when you click the link. As always, thank you for your support.

(And if shopping isn't your thing and you'd rather support us directly, that's fine, too. You can click on our team page here or my personal page here to donate). We appreciate it in any form.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Swimsuit Season

I know, I know--some of you are still wondering whether it's finally, really okay to put the snow shovels away for the season, and here I am about to talk about swimsuits. What am I? Heartless? I can't help it, you guys. It is NINETY-SEVEN DEGREES here today, and that is not a fluke, not a one-day oopsie-daisy. We are this close to triple digits, which means we are also this close to swimming pool weather. Right now, the water is still just a tad too cold because the air still cools down into the 50s/60s at night here. Come August, the pool will feel like a hot tub and I'll be begging Chris for a plane ticket to Seattle.

A couple of years ago, I bought a few bikinis at Target. I didn't give much thought to them because I was just happy to be healthy enough to enjoy the water with Quinn, to vacation in Mexico with him and Chris. I had my expanders in then, and despite their coconuts-on-a-board appearance, I was hardly self-conscious because I was alive. People could think I got a terrible boob job--let them! I thought.

After a couple of years of sun and chlorine and toddler tugging, my Target swimsuits need replacing, and suddenly I am feeling very stuck. I'm self-conscious about the port in my chest (whereas it didn't even cross my mind a couple years ago), so I'm looking at halter styles or a one-shouldered suit that might strategically hide the darn thing. I'm anxious about sun exposure post-radiation, so luckily rash guards are everywhere. I used to gravitate toward string bikinis because you can adjust them so there are no unnecessary lumpy parts, but I'm second-guessing myself with Quinn, who is at perfect string-pulling height.

And then I think: I'm being ridiculous and should just wear whatever stays put best with a toddler climbing on me in the water. Your kids do that too, right? Use your bikini bottoms as a step-stool? 

I picked out a couple of suits at Target last weekend to get me through the first few pool days, but the only one that fit is a total mom suit. "I'm sure you can do better than that," Chris told me. A mom at Quinn's swimming lessons recommended Victoria's Secret, but that seems too...spring-breaky, too young, too sexy for what I've got in mind. I've browsed online at J. Crew, Athleta, and Canvas by Land's End, but nothing is grabbing me, although I've gone back to these ones for a second glance. 
Clockwise from top: 1 2 3 4 5 6
And it is wonderful to occupy my brain with something so trivial as a new swimsuit. I do realize this. Don't fret: I have scans coming up in a couple of weeks, so I'll get back to discussing my anxiety and mortality soon enough. 

But seriously, I'd love your thoughts. Where else do you shop for suits that are reasonably-priced? Do more expensive suits hold up longer? If you've had a mastectomy/reconstruction or a port, does that affect your swimsuit style? Does having kids influence your choice of swimwear? Because I'm thinking I won't be such a jungle gym in a one-piece. And do you hate me for mentioning pool weather this early in the year, after the winter most of you have had? 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nipples (or, How Many Page Views Can I Get Based on a Title Alone?)

Quinn and I flew out to Baltimore a couple of weeks ago; a dear friend was getting married in DC, so I thought I'd turn it into a little longer vacation. Chris was partway through a three-week trip to Ethiopia for work, and I figured a change of scenery would be good for Quinn and me. I didn't realize we'd get snow this late in the spring, or that by "65 and cloudy" the weather channel would really mean "38 and sleety." But I digress. It was still a great trip.

On a whim a few weeks before we left, I called a tattoo shop I'd heard rave reviews about to see if they had any openings while I'd be in the area. It was unlikely, as this place books out months in advance. I'd called last fall to see if something in their New Orleans shop would be available over Thanksgiving, and had been told the earliest they could do was February. So I didn't have high hopes.

These weren't just any tattoos I wanted. They would be my first "real" tattoos. My only others are the four pin dots around my torso that I got for radiation. (The technicians use the dots to ensure you're lined up on the machine exactly the same for each session.) I'd considered tattooing my bald head before my hair grew back, but I couldn't think of what to put there. (A giant middle finger? Pink ribbons aren't really my thing.)

These tattoos would be the last step in my reconstruction process, taking my boobs from something like nipple-less Barbie boobs to ones that might resemble real breasts again. The new tattoos might hide my scars a bit, I thought, might make me less self-conscious around my husband, which is a weird thing to be after nearly a decade together.

I debated whether to move forward on this process for awhile, given that I'm Stage 4. Is it worth spending the money? I wondered. What if I'm not around very long to enjoy them? It's a morbid thought process, I know, but these are the hoops my brain jumps through now whenever I think about planning more than a year in the future. The permanency, the foreverness, of tattoos kind of had me rattled. But then I thought, Why the hell not?

And if there is such a thing, the nipple gods must have been smiling down on me the day I called Little Vinnie's Tattoos (yes, really), because Vinnie said he'd be able to fit me in the afternoon of March 26th, a day after I'd be arriving in Baltimore. I booked it.

I made arrangements to borrow my friend's car and drove the thirty minutes to a strip mall in rural northwestern Maryland. I didn't know what to think as I stepped inside the tattoo parlor. Heavy metal music was playing on the speakers. A couple of guys in black leather motorcycle jackets sat waiting on a bench. There were pictures of skull tattoos covering the walls. This was unfamiliar territory for me.

Vinnie, when he emerged from the appointment before mine, introduced himself while his daughter-slash-assistant prepped the room for me. My heart was racing. I considered taking a Xanax. Vinnie was dressed in a tweed vest and wearing a fedora with a feather in it. Also, wing-tip shoes. He had kind eyes. I smiled and began to relax despite myself.

I sat in a leather recliner in his office (I guess that's what you'd call it?) while he mixed ink colors--a little drop of blue here, a fleshy-beige there--until he seemed satisfied he'd gotten it right. With a marker, he drew circles on my skin to make sure I was okay with the placement, then wiped them off with an alcohol swab and began to free-form my new areolas.

My appointment ran late, but the actual tattooing only took about an hour. Vinnie was--as promised--an artist. He talked to me about his sister's diagnosis, how angry he gets about the business of breast cancer (even though he was charging me $800 for two quarter-sized tattoos, which my husband Chris thinks is ridiculous, but you can't put a price on art, I tell him), about the non-profit he's forming in order to take his artistry to women in Mexico who cannot afford reconstruction at all.

I'm not going to post photos of my new nipples online, even though I felt like I should show the world after spending that kind of money on them (worth every penny). Part of me wants to flash them on Bourbon Street in exchange for beads, but I don't really need that kind of validation (or, God forbid, rejection--wouldn't that be embarrassing!)

Mostly, I feel a little more like myself again. Step by little step.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


For the past week and a half, I've been traveling on the east coast (and by traveling, I mean hanging out at my friends' house northwest of Baltimore, watching "Monsters, Inc." over and over again with Quinn and their two-year-old). It has been incredibly relaxing to step back from doctor's visits and the construction project going on at our house for a few days--to sleep in, listen to the frogs outside at night, and catch up with dear friends.
{my little traveler}
And then Chris got back from Africa and joined us here, which made Quinn a little giddier and me a lot more relaxed. We hadn't seen him in twenty-five days, and it's so nice to be a family unit again. I say this as my brother is in the midst of a much-longer-than-25-day deployment, leaving behind his own family, and all I can say is: I have no idea how military wives do it.

The three of us will be back in Phoenix soon, and I'll pick up the pace here again. I have so. much. more. about this trip to tell you. Because it hasn't all been movies on the couch with toddlers (although that part's been wonderful, too). In the meantime, here's a guest post I wrote for my friend Marie, who runs a beautiful blog "Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer." Please take a look, and stay tuned...