Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Kindness of You

You people are incredible, you know that, right? Look what you did--almost $12,000!

I am going to walk my ass off this weekend (and possibly my toenails, too). And I am so grateful to be able to do it. I know how lucky I am. We'll see if I'm still saying that at mile 24.

However many blisters I accumulate or Advil I need to take, thank you all for supporting me--financially, emotionally, and otherwise.

I think you all know, especially if you've been reading here awhile, or--you know, just have common sense--that cancer has brought a lot of dread and pain and exhaustion to my life. And I think I've said it before, but it bears repeating. If cancer were a "gift," I'd give it right back. I'd say: No thank you, I've got plenty of stress already, do you have a J.Crew gift card instead? 

People ask me all the time how I stay positive in the face of this shitstorm.

Quinn, for one. While he can be an obstinate terror from time to time (like most 2-year-olds), he will then say to me just as I'm turning out his light at the end of the day, "Mom, I want to see your face. I need you," and my heart melts.

Chris, for another. I could probably write a book of Chris-isms and pass it off as inspirational daily quotes, if you like the no-b.s. approach. For example, the other night I started to get anxious about cancer, and Chris quipped: "Why don't you save your worry for a time when you're not able to walk 39.3 miles in a weekend?" Man makes a fair point.

But there is also all of you--my friends, family, distant supporters, former colleagues and classmates--who've commented here just when I need a pick-me-up, who've donated to my walk efforts even though I haven't seen you since at least law school graduation, who've sent me products that were the secret to my radiant skin during chemo, who anonymously sent me a $500 gift certificate to my hair salon just in time for me to need a haircut (or ten), who've shown up to help take care of me and my family when we needed it most, who remind me every day that I'm not in this alone. I am so blessed to have you in my life.

Yes, cancer has brought me more scars and anxiety and anger than I know what to do with, but it has also brought me closer to you guys, has shown me the meaning of kindness, has revived my faith in humanity. So even though I would give cancer right back if I could, it hasn't all been bad. Thank you for that.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Beyond His Years

I took Quinn to get his hair cut last week.

{my baby}
We used to go to one of those kids' places--with a train table set-up and a seat shaped like a car and capes made to look like superhero outfits--and Quinn hated it. He would scream through the entire session, just throw a flat-out fit, and he always ended up with uneven haircuts I regretted paying for.

A few months ago, we tried taking him to Chris' stylist, Lena, and Quinn fell in love--with her or the experience, I'm not sure. She's calm and pretty, and a young mom herself. Quinn gets to ride up and down in the chair. She indulges his commands, and I think he feels like he's in control--minus the sensory overload that the other place offered. Also, he gets a lollipop at the end, so what's not to love?

Anyway, last week was the first time we'd gone without Chris. It just happened to work out that way with our schedules.

Quinn still sits on my lap during his haircuts, and so I got to chatting with Lena the way I would with any hairdresser. As we were making small talk, she asked about my work schedule, whether I was working from home part-time now--since it was midday on Friday--and it caught me off guard.

Most people know I'm not working, and I figured Chris had probably told her everything about my condition. Because I tell my hairdresser everything, don't you? I figured wrong. Chris hadn't said a word.

I started to tell her I was at home full-time with Quinn these days, and why.

"Oh, I had no idea," she said. And she asked the normal follow-up questions: When were you diagnosed? Did you catch it early? How are you doing now? 

I went through my spiel. I'm happy to share my story, and I don't usually think twice about it. I answered matter-of-factly: He was five months old. It was Stage 4 from the beginning. I'm responding really well to treatment. I'm tired a lot of the time, but aren't all moms?

As I started to talk, though, Quinn tensed up--noticeably. He clung to me, wrapped his legs around me, and buried his head in my neck. He was clearly uncomfortable. Lena noticed it, and we exchanged looks in the mirror. My voice trailed off, and then I spoke to Quinn.

"Mommy's okay, honey. I'm right here. I'm fine."

I have to start choosing my words more carefully around my little man, it seems. He's growing up much faster than I expected.

{my little man}

Monday, September 16, 2013


Friday was my thirty-fifth birthday, which means I'm now at an age I distinctly remember my mom being. She had this great stonewashed denim maxi skirt that I thought was the coolest piece of fashion I'd ever seen. Let's hear it for the 80s, right? I must've been six, and thirty-five seemed so old and wise and elegant. I wanted to be those things, too.

So even though I'm 35, Quinn insisted on saying I'm now three while he held up the requisite number of fingers (because that's how old he'll be at his next birthday--gotta love the logic of a two-year-old). I woke up early on Friday to go hiking.

When I got home, Quinn came running through the kitchen repeating, "Happy birthday, Mama!" so of course I started crying. God, I love that kid.

Then Chris orchestrated a birthday party for me at our house on Saturday--from clean-up to food-prep-- which means I essentially spent the weekend eating cake surrounded by people I love.

Getting older is pretty wonderful, you know that? (Mustaches and all...)


In a little less than two weeks, I'll be heading up to San Francisco to walk 39.3 miles alongside some more people I love to help raise money for breast cancer research and support services for women who aren't as fortunate as I am.

I'm battling one heck of an ingrown toenail right now (which is so gross, I know; I'm sorry), so we'll see how that holds up on the hills of San Francisco. I've promised my nurses I'll listen to my body and won't overdue it. I am, after all, old now (at least according to what I thought when I was six.) As one nurse said to me the other day, "This walk is to support people like you, not to be done by people like you."

Hey, at least this year I won't be bald.


Here's to lots more birthdays, hiking well into middle-age, Quinn getting to make fun of my fashion choices thirty-some years from now, cake, and wishes coming true.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Over the weekend, Chris, Quinn and I went up to Spokane, in eastern Washington, in honor of my grandfather's 80th birthday and my grandmother's 76th. Even though they haven't been married for probably forty years now (or maybe because they haven't been married for forty years), they were able to come together with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to blow out candles with each other and celebrate with the family they began more than a half-century ago.

{my grandmother and me sharing a moment on a swing}

I wasn't sure what to expect for the weekend, honestly. I haven't seen some of my aunts and uncles since my high-school graduation almost two decades ago, and even though I was in Spokane in 2010 for my maternal grandmother's funeral, Chris hadn't been able to join me then and had never visited. It wasn't exactly at the top of our destination list. Not to knock the city where I was born, but it has always looked to me like a town in need of a fresh coat of paint.

We stayed at my Aunt Kathy's house, which used to belong to my great-grandfather, although you can hardly see the outline of the old house after a year of remodeling and renovation, both inside and out (no fresh paint needed here). This house is next door to where my dad grew up and my grandmother still lives today. Together, the houses sit on six acres in a suburb called Otis Orchards, not far from the Spokane River and the Idaho border. It is rural, and was probably an idyllic place to grow up when my dad was a kid. Now, my Aunt complains of "tweakers" stealing parts out of her barn to sell or trade for meth, so they've had to put up an extensive security camera system. The economic downturn hit Spokane's manufacturing economy hard; trailer parks and junk yards have taken the place of wide open fields and horse farms. As my dad will tell you if you visit with him, "It didn't used to be like this."


I met two of my first cousins for the first time on this trip. It's a long story that's not really mine to tell, but there are a couple of special kids growing up there without a mom, which I know isn't all that unusual in the world, but it is unusual in my family. The mother in me wanted to shower them with as much attention as possible while I was there. It was only a weekend, but I bonded with Lacy, a precocious six-year-old, pretty quickly.

While I was reading books to the kids, she saw my license sitting out on the dresser and asked bluntly if that was me. I said yes.

[my license photo, probably taken summer of 2008}

"Why'd you cut your hair?" she wanted to know.

How would I explain this? I wondered.

"I had to take some medicine that made my hair fall out, and it's just growing back in," I tried. I told her it wasn't like any medicine she was ever likely to need, because I didn't want her to be scared the next time she had to take Tylenol or antibiotics.

I've been wondering lately how I will explain cancer to Quinn when the time comes. He's getting older, and already knows how often I have to go to the doctor. I'm going to have to explain this to him someday soon. I think honesty is the best policy, but I also want to keep my discussions with Quinn (or any other kid) age-appropriate. How much should I tell her? I decided against using the cancer word, against going into detail about why I needed medicine or what my future might look like.

"Oh," Lacy seemed satisfied with my simple explanation so I left it at that.

And then she added, "Your face used to look better, too. I think you're growing a mustache." She looked closer. "Yep, definitely a mustache."

Apparently, the last few years have aged me a little (but at least I have enough hair again to worry about waxing my upper lip). Go figure. Let's see what my face looks like when I turn 80.

{four generations, ages 79.9, 34.9, 60, and 2.5}

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

This Time of Year

In my Facebook feed over the last couple of weeks, just about every parent I know has posted pictures of their kids heading back to school. You guys have some cute kiddos, you know that? And I can't help but hope I'll be around long enough to see Quinn off to second, third, fourth grade, to his first day of high school, to his high school graduation.

This time of year used to be my favorite. Back to school signaled new beginnings, and the crispness in the air was a sign that the holidays were just around the corner. But there is no crispness in the air here; in fact, it was a whopping 110 degrees out today, so maybe that's why this time of year seems harder for me lately.

Or maybe it's the impending autumnal equinox. Although I really think it's the damn heat. I walked into Safeway the other day, saw Halloween decorations and endless buckets of candy, and had to stop to think about what month it was. I had to remind myself that it's okay--Halloween is next month, after all. They're not jumping the gun (unlike the Christmas displays going on in Costco that started last month; that's just ridiculous). To Safeway's credit, it's not still mid-summer, even though it feels like it is.

And although we'll be a month behind schedule, next month we're switching Quinn out of daycare and into a preschool a bit closer to our house. This new school follows the Reggio Emilia approach, which as far as I can tell just means they emphasize play as a way to learn. The children assist in growing their own garden and raising chickens (once the weather cools down). And starting at age three, the school offers Spanish enrichment as part of its curriculum.

We have the option of either five hours a day or nine, three days a week, and at Chris' urging, we chose the longer days. Because I am exhausted--from chemo, from this heat, from parenting an active toddler who no longer naps--and embarrassed to admit that being a stay-at-home-mom is so much harder than I anticipated it would be.
When you have a baby, everyone advises you to treasure every moment. That is a big task, and it's hard to enjoy every single second when you are exhausted, when you've been up all night with an inconsolable baby, when your heart aches because you've got incurable cancer. On the other hand, I know intimately well that my time with Quinn is limited and I want to make the most of it.

I hope I'm making the right decision--one that will give me more time to rest so that I'm able to keep up with Quinn a little better, one that will give him room to learn in ways I'm not capable of creating (because I've forgotten most of my Spanish and am not willing to raise chickens, you see). Mostly, I hope Quinn will be happy.