Summer camp and update 7/9/2014

July 9th, 2014 § 49 comments

IMG_8583Now that all three of our children are at sleep away camp I get asked a lot “what I’m doing with all of my free time” and “what fun things I have planned.” Clearly what people think life is like for me are a bit skewed. I have nothing planned. I can’t travel and haven’t been able to take a trip for over a year. I’ve missed family celebrations, holidays, and get-togethers. I’ve eschewed visits from family and friends because I’m not well enough. What others consider “free time” is recovery from chemotherapy and struggling to do day-to-day functioning including the many medical appointments. Being able to make it out for a coffee date is a thrill and isn’t possible many days. Most of the rest of the time my “free time” is spent in bed fighting nausea or fatigue or pain or other side effects.

For the last few weeks my blood counts were sliding and I couldn’t do anything without huffing and puffing in a much more severe way than usual. I struggled to bend over to pick something off the floor without needing to sit down to catch my breath. My hemoglobin levels had been hovering around 8.2 for months and I pushed through but they dropped to 7.2 and by then it seemed I needed a boost to be functional. Ten days ago I received two units of red cells in a transfusion that because of some problems with the samples and testing and a five hour infusion ended up being a ten hour marathon day. It was so worth it. Red counts came up within days and I felt better starting about 24 hours after receiving the cells and that continued to increase within two to three days. My platelets were also very low at 24 but regenerated on their own (low platelets are a predictable result of this chemo regimen) and I was able to avoid a transfusion of those. This was, by the way, the first time I had ever had a blood transfusion in my life.

I had chemo yesterday: Carboplatin and Gemzar cycle #6 (that means I’ve had 6 infusions of Carboplatin and 11 of Gemzar so far). Starting now, but especially with cycle 7 and every time after that, there is a risk (reported at 27% for round 7, here is an article for anyone interested) of an anaphylactic reaction to the Carboplatin (and the other platinum-based chemotherapies like it). We are being conservative and premedicating with drugs that will hopefully help blunt or avoid this type of reaction altogether. There isn’t any reliable way to predict if it will happen to any individual patient. I did have a reaction to Taxol when I received it in the metastatic setting (after not having a reaction the first time I had 4 cycles of it seven years ago) but that is not a reliable indicator of a reaction to platinum-baed drugs.

It will be time for a scan soon I think, we are watching my tumor markers which have dropped consistently in the last few months which is fantastic but on yesterday’s test just stabilized without a drop. We’ll have to see if this is just stabilization (fine) or if this is the start of the chemo losing its effect. It is unsettling to think about losing another chemo combination that has been working, even though it’s a tough regimen to tolerate.

My voice has returned to almost normal unless I use it on the phone or talk a lot. With the kids gone I really am not talking much. I had an extra five days off chemo because my oncologist was on vacation and that allowed me to get things done I usually don’t have enough rebound time to do. The transfusion timing helped too.

IMG_8515I haven’t been outside much, the humidity and heat have been too oppressive for me, but I am hopeful it will break soon. I do try to make it to the beach once a week to get a change of scenery.

We will get to see the kids this weekend and I can’t wait to hug them and hear all of their stories before they go back. They love camp, always have. They look forward to it year-round and now that they all go it’s great they can share these stories and experiences (they are 15, 12, and 8. Last year the youngest begged to go for a week to try it out. We said yes, knowing his siblings would be there and he would have a blast. Five days in he called in tears, begging to stay. That repeated every week until after a month we said it was time to come home!).

Some may wonder why, at this time, I let them go instead of keeping them home with me. I do it because it’s not about me. It’s about them. It’s something they love. It’s an important routine, tradition (this is the sixth year for the oldest). In my eyes, it’s important that they have a change of scenery, freedom to be kids, get away from the ways my cancer and its chronic treatment limit what I can do, and therefore what they can do. It’s a gift I can give them and I also feel it reassures them that I am doing better than I was a few months ago. This is important.

IMG_8614I love having them away from electronics, away from wondering if asking me to take them somewhere or do something with them will be “too much” or “bothering me” which I know the older ones are always concerned with. I want them to be with friends old and new, having fun with young and energetic counselors, trying new things. There are so many (most/all) physical activities  I cannot do with them that they can do there. So many new games to play, achievements, laughs, experiences. I never hesitated when they were ready to sign up last October for this summer. I knew that no matter what, they needed and deserved it. On the left is my favorite photo from camp so far: Tristan getting hooked in to try rock wall climbing for the first time. It makes me laugh every time I look at that facial expression!

That doesn’t mean it’s easy for us to be apart. We are very close. Especially the older kids worry about me I am sure. But I stay in touch by email, will see them on visiting days, and I send them weekly care packages.

But the truth is that separation is good. It’s a selfless act for me to teach them how to to be without me. One of the most important things, in my mind. Coddling them and making them stay home is not what I feel is best for them right now. It is part of our job as parents to teach our children how to be independent, how to solve problems on their own, how to go off in the world without us for whatever reason. I will always want more time with them. It will never be enough for me. But this is my old age. I must teach them as many lessons as I can, while I can, for as long as I can. And that is true for everyone, but of course I have not only the urgency to do it NOW but also I have no idea how long I have and will likely be debilitated in some form until that time comes.

Yes, it’s true no one knows how long they have to live. But those diagnosed with a terminal disease know what is most likely to kill them. And that their time is not just going to be shortened, but consumed daily with the treatment and effects of that disease. It’s not having a normal, healthy life that is relatively good and healthy until a sudden accident happens. It’s just not the same as the general worries of growing older or aches and pains. It’s never-ending. I don’t get to count down how many chemotherapy (or other treatment) sessions until I’m done this time. Being done will mean there is nothing left for me to try. Anyone who has had chemo or radiation or some other type of therapy knows how important it is to have an endpoint, a countdown. Knowing that will never happen (and in fact what you’re really hoping for is a lot of them, because that means you still have options) is one of the mental struggles each week, since it isn’t just spending one day a week getting chemo, it’s how it makes you feel each day after that.

My hair is growing slowly back on this current combo. I know many people mistakenly think this means I’m “better.” I do like that soon I won’t be covering my head and that means I can be more invisible in public. But I also know how many comments I get on the occasions I have done it that people think I am done with chemo or all better. Not all chemotherapies cause hair to come out. My hair will come and go numerous times by the time we are done with this. Its presence or absence only indicates something about which chemo I’m on, not its success or failure.

Someone on Twitter asked for my piece on what to say and how to be a friend to someone who has cancer/serious illness. Here is a link for anyone that missed it and is interested (it’s too long to include the text in this post).

Also, I am including two posts from last year at this time. One on the eve of the kids’ departure for camp and one written while they were away. Of course I was doing even better than I am now, my thoughts were similar, but not as urgent, strong, painful as they have been the last seven months.

I’ll post again with an update if there is anything to report on change in treatment, scan results, etc. For now we stay the course which is not easy, but is the best possible choice of the options I have right now. And that’s the best I can do.

I appreciate the support, as always!


In these last remaining hours (Camp) original post here

In these last remaining hours
Before my children disappear


In these last remaining hours before they go and spread their wings again,
Leave this nest,
I miss them already.

I put the dinner pots and pans away.
Wipe the crumbs from the table,
Load the dishwasher,
Play fetch with the dog.

I sit in the garden,
Listen to the wind in the trees,
The birds settling down before nightfall,
As we settle, too.

I tuck them in one last time,
Hear their doors click shut.


Tomorrow night there will be no mess to clean,
No yelling upstairs that the TV has been left on again,
No trunks piled high with carefully labeled belongings in the dining room.

I will cry, I know.
Not because I am sad that they are going– no, that gives me great joy.
Children being children.
Forgetting stress at home and doing new and varied things.
I cheer their independence.

I will cry because I know they will always need me somehow and I just wish I could be there for them to outgrow
by choice,
by time,
by age.

I hear the mother bird in the tree calling out.
I don’t know to whom.
I will be like that tomorrow,
calling out,
with no child to hear.


Like dollhouse rooms left abandoned (original post here)

Like dollhouse rooms left abandoned,
The rooms stay tidy:
Beds made tight,
Pillows square,
Hampers empty.

It’s been one week since the children left for camp.
Littlest Tristan was due back yesterday but a few days ago he said he was having so much fun he wanted to stay another week.

I realized this week that after being sick for the previous two that I needed this time to catch up, to rest, to regroup.

I miss them but am so glad they are having fun doing what they love.

I pack up care packages,
write letters,
wake in the middle of the night and mentally picture our children sleeping in cabin beds.

Our dog Lucy follows me, sleeps in my room now, not Paige’s.
She doesn’t want to be alone and stays within feet of me every moment.

I tell her it’s okay:
The kids will come back.
The rooms will get messy again.
There will be crumbs dropped at the dinner table and car rides galore.

Paige and Colin and Tristan will come back tired and dirty and happy.
They will come back.
They will.

That is the key.

I think of absence like a hole:
How different it is when it’s temporary and filled with happiness,
Rather than when that hole is a pit of grief. Of ache. Of loss.
The way it will someday be for them.


The story I cannot edit

August 20th, 2013 § 47 comments

This is the last week of summer before school begins.

IMG_6370 This summer was a big one for us. Youngest Tristan went off to sleepaway camp for one week and loved it so much that in the end, he stayed for a month. Paige and Colin returned to camp as seasoned veterans and had a wonderful time in their home away from home. All learned new skills and made new friends. Paige and Colin’s constant banter of camp stories at the dinner table are now supplemented by Tristan’s own stories.

I’m so pleased they could be in a place where they could just be kids, not worried about me, free to be carefree and happy. It is my gift to let them go, to not keep them here for my own needs. While I want to spend as much time with them as I can, I know that this is what they all needed to do this year.

IMG_6837I sit back and smile now, loving that they all have a common reference point of their weeks at camp. Despite the eight year age gap they all find laughs and joy in their summer adventures. They look older to me, of course. And while others are sad about the passage of time and their children growing older and being independent, I say again that I cheer it.

You see, my job now is to prepare them for life without me. My goal is to show them how to accept the help of others but not be reliant on it. I choose to show them every day that there is determination and nobility in facing what life throws you. You may not be able to change the final outcome, but you can change what you do to be ready for it. The strongest way of teaching this right now is by living my life deliberately, making choices and showing them the best I can be. This doesn’t mean denial. Nor does it mean I don’t lose my temper or raise my voice or fall apart sometimes. To be emotionally numb or invariable in my response to what is happening is not healthy. I try to show them that expressing what they feel is a better option. Emotions of anger and sadness and grief and fear are fine to have. It’s beneficial to talk about them, but dwelling on them won’t make things better. Acknowledging their reality, their truth, their basis is what’s needed.

As I always say when I get bad medical test results: a short pity party is good. Then you have to pick yourself up and move on.


IMG_6403It has been almost eleven months since my diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer, and there isn’t a day that goes by that is free from concern. I notice myself being more and more affected by the daily chemotherapy, feeling more fragile, more vulnerable. I have already had one bad respiratory illness this summer, and I worry about the school year and all of the potential colds and infections that will be transmitted. I don’t want to think about the ways cancer affects my daily life, but I must. The decisions I make about activities, treatments, and chemo all directly affect my life… both in length and quality.

I push myself to do the most I can. I try to do all of the little things that add up to a full day: school supply shopping, back to school haircuts, camp laundry, new shoes, sports registrations, and walking the dog. I also request meetings with school administrators, coaches, and anyone new in my children’s lives for this fall that need to know how my kids’ home life differs from the one they had a year ago.

I’m a planner. I take comfort in routine, the familiar, the predictable. Unfortunately, those are now removed from my life forever. Yes, I know life always tosses everyone curveballs. That’s what life is. But I experience it in a whole new way. I have no way of saying life will ever return to “normal” or even a “new normal.” There will not be a “better”… I am not “sick” in that I cannot recover.

I still feel the drive to help, to counsel, to educate. But am finding it more difficult. I hate saying no but know I will need to start saying this more. In-person interaction is very difficult for me. While no one would know it to look at me, social interaction is extremely draining these days. I try to minimize contact knowing that when I am in public I am under scrutiny. People want to know how I am. They want to be reassured. They look at me for clues as to how things are. There is no reassurance I can offer. This is a disease of progression to the end, a story that will not have a happy ending.

I want the story that I am living to be a good one, to the highest degree it can be. I want the story for my family and friends to be one full of love, memories, and devotion. These people are the center of my world.

I want the story to be different from what it has been, different from what it will be.

As a writer I am used to editing. Revising. Changing what I don’t like.

But I can’t edit this story.

I can’t start it all again.

And so I write through it.

The only way out is through.

But this one… well, this one is quite simply going to have a sad ending, as many stories do.1

  1. I have been at the new, increased maximum dose of my current chemo for the last two weeks. I am still monitoring test results and getting more information about its efficacy. I may need to change my chemo again. It’s a challenging and confusing time right now and I don’t have all of the information I need to plan what to do next. The coming week will be full of tests and meetings and research. []

Growing Pains and Psychological Stretch Marks

December 1st, 2010 § 0 comments

August 18, 2009

Summers bring change. The end of the summer signals the start of school for children, and for some it’s their first day of school ever. My youngest child, Tristan, will start nursery school in a few weeks. This month has brought the inevitable developmental milestones of potty training and sleeping in a big bed. My oldest child, Paige, will start middle school. She went to sleepaway camp for the first time this summer (and loved it). My middle child lost his first two teeth.

As I sit and watch and listen to the waves on our beach vacation I know the summer is drawing to a close. Some of you reading this are already sending your children back to school.

The months and years go by. Like all of you I mourn the quick passage of time. “Where did the summer go?” I hear my friends asking. Projects we hoped would be accomplished — tasks we hoped would be done — sit unfinished. Organizing photos, cleaning out a closet or a room, or reading that book a friend recommended; many things went undone in the last eight weeks.

Maybe you were lazy, maybe other things came up, maybe you were preoccupied with family obligations. Maybe you had an unexpected cancer diagnosis, maybe you got the flu, maybe your parents’ health was sub-par.

Regardless the reason, there can be a bit of disappointment when summer ends. The children we send back are taller, older, more mature. They’ve had lots of experiences to tell their friends about. Maybe they’re in a new school, maybe they’re now the oldest in school, maybe they’re now the youngest. New bus routes, new starting times, new friends, new backpacks, new teachers.

Some children will be starting back with a new experience to tell their teacher and friends: “This summer my mommy got cancer.” That one will not be an isolated instance, unfortunately; women around the country will be sending children to school with that summer report.

Growth happens in fits and spurts, not with smooth sliding grace.

With each phase comes







When I had the tissue expanders in my chest to make room for the implants that would replace my breasts after the mastectomies, every week my plastic surgeon would add to them. And each time after a “fill” they would feel tight. The skin would not be big enough for the volume inside, and it would react. The skin would feel the pressure and grow, that was the point of the process. Until the skin could replicate there was achiness, tightness, a ripping or tearing feeling.

A similar sensation happens during the days during pregnancy when you feel your belly just can’t accommodate the growing baby inside it. And yet it does. If it happens too fast you get a stretch mark, a sign your skin just couldn’t keep up. The growth was too rapid, too harsh, too vigorous.

I often wonder if mothers and fathers get psychological stretch marks when we are asked to accommodate changes we’re not quite ready for.

What can we do? What options do we have? None. We must “go with the flow” and do the best we can. Our children grow and change whether we like it or not. We do them no favors by trying to protect them, coddle them, and keep them young. We give them wings to fly when we give them tools to be


and caring

and inquisitive

and trusting


I am moved to tears as I watch my children grow.

I am moved by the succession of infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

I know that as a mother I lack many skills I wish I had.

But I also know that the words I have written in my blogs and essays will one day be a gift to them too.

Not a gift to the children that they are, but instead a gift to the adults that I am raising them to be.

Each August or September as they go back to school I marvel that another school year has passed and yet another is here.

I mark time differently now. I mark anniversaries not of weddings, but since diagnosis, since mastectomies, since chemotherapy began and since it ended, since implants, since Tamoxifen, since Arimidex, since oophorectomy. They are not just dates; they have meaning. They are meaningful for doctor visits and tests I must have done and dates I can stop taking drugs and dates I must know for other treatments.

No matter how you measure time it always goes too fast.

The growth happens too fast.

And the growing pains hurt for me.

The stretch marks might be invisible this fall, but they are surely there.

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