Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Honey Maid Graham Crackers and Other Ways to Get Through Cancer

Every once in a while, someone will contact me and ask for tips or words of encouragement on getting through cancer. Here are some things that helped me.

1. Acknowledge that you're in a dark, scary place. This acknowledgement didn't come right away for me. It took about a week or so after my diagnosis.

2. The darker the place you're in, the more sensitive you are to the light that shines through. But you have to be looking for the light. My light came in the form of my coworkers, who cheered me on for every surgery and every round of chemo. It came in the form of my neighbor, Melinda, who had also been through breast cancer -- 11 years before I was diagnosed -- and who coached me through the double mastectomy and every single round of chemo. Had it not been for Melinda, I would not have done my last round of chemo.

It came in the form of Lena, another neighbor, who brought us heaping piles of homemade breakfast burritos one morning. And through the Lockwoods, more neighbors, who made my children cinnamon Mickey Mouse pancakes and made my husband and me giant fritattas with asparagus and tomatoes. And Beth, who came to check on us one night after I'd had chemo. She realized I was going downhill fast, and she kneeled down beside Allie's toddler bed and read her "The Monster at the End of This Book."

It came in the form of my boss, Barb, who curated only the best snacks from Whole Foods and packaged them together for me before each round of chemo.

And in my husband, who sat for hours on end with me through each round of chemo and went to Chick-Fil-A and brought me back a chicken sandwich during one round. (A bonus tip: Do not ever eat a Chick-Fil-A sandwich during chemo. I assure you you will never want one again, and the smell of one will make you vomit on the spot.)

And in my parents and in-laws, who stayed with us after each round of chemo to help my husband take care of our kids.

3. Go ahead and splurge on the Honey Maid graham crackers. The store brands don't cut it. You will need all kinds of bland foods to put on your belly while you're going through chemo. But you're not going to want to eat anything at all. Except for graham crackers with maybe a tiny bit of peanut butter on them. You might also invest in some noodles of some sort and lightly coat them with your favorite type of sauce. The key word here is lightly. You might be able to keep those down.

4. Make yourself get out of bed. Even if it's just long enough to walk around the house for five minutes.

5. Push yourself to get out of the house if you can. Make your spouse take you to a movie, even if you have to shuffle down the hallway to get to the theater where your movie is showing.

6. Don't turn down people's offers to help you. If anyone reads this, it'll likely be independent, self-sufficient, I-can-do-it-on-my-own Americans. I tell you what. Just stop with that nonsense, take a nap, and let your neighbor empty your dishwasher for you.

7. Find some good TV to watch. For me, it was "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" and all those MTV shows about teen moms. Don't judge.

8. Don't be afraid to lay in bed all day long under the covers.

9. Take your anti-emetics exactly as your doctor tells you to. Drink lots of water. I know you don't want to. But you have to do it. You will feel so much better if you stay hydrated.

10. This bears repeating: Drink lots of water.

11. Buy some Miralax. Your anti-emetics and your unwillingness to follow tips 9 and 10 will make you become more constipated than you've ever been in your entire life. Believe me when I say this: "sh*t a brick" is not just a catchphrase. It's a real thing. And the only time I ever asked myself "why me" during my stupid cancer treatment is while I was living through that catchphrase.

12. If people say weird things to you in an effort to lift your spirit, but really, what they say makes you want to punch them in the throat -- just let them say it. Don't judge them. Don't hate them. And don't punch them in the throat. Everyone wants to take care of you, but not everyone knows the right words to say.

13. And there is a Bible verse that helped me put all of my cancer experience into context. It's Acts 17:26-27 (ESV):

"And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined the allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us."

OK, fine. Paul was probably referring to God's sovereignty over the nations. But I have a hard time believing that this doesn't also apply to Purple Sage Drive, the street I live on. When my neighbors come out of the woodwork and buy us groceries, fold our laundry, take our kids to the water park -- when the Easter Bunny sprinkles candy-filled eggs all over our front lawn because he knows we probably aren't going to be able to get the kids out to visit him in person -- I know without a hint of doubt that God put me and Mario, Miles and Allie and Spanky Mae, exactly where he knew we needed to be.

And speaking of God, why would God allow cancer to happen to a 33-year-old mother with a husband and two young babies? I don't know exactly. But I know that the cancer cells in my right breast were not a surprise to him. And he could have stopped them from multiplying and spreading. (If he couldn't have stopped them, then he's not God.)

But he didn't. And I praise him for allowing my wound. I praise him for letting me fall into the darkness so that I could be sensitive to his light.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

As I was bemoaning in my head the fact that I was frosting Olaf cupcakes at 11 o’clock last night, and reminding myself to tell Miles when he’s 25 or so that he better choose a mighty fine nursing home for me, several other things crossed my mind. Here’s the thread of thoughts:

“Arghghghgh, these stupid Olaf cupcakes A) don’t look anything like the Pinterest picture – and therefore don’t look anything like Olaf, and B) are taking WAY longer than anticipated.”

“Miles better see to it that I am in the World’s Finest Nursing Facility when I’m old and senile. He owes me one.”

“Remember that one time Mom and I made Halloween cookies when I was in college? And we made the icing from scratch? And I ate so much I came this close to throwing up? Yeah. That time.”

“Remember that other one time when Mom and I made Diego cupcakes for Allie? OK so fine Mom made them because I had post-partum depression from Miles, who looked so unbelievably handsome sitting in his bouncy seat while Mom and I squirted melted chocolate in the shape of Diego’s hair onto wax paper?”

“Oh. My. God. Three years ago today, I had my boobs cut off. Dear God, thank you for American Cancer Society’s tagline or mission or whatever to celebrate more birthdays.”

“These look like Olaf’s evil cousin, Johann, who had the misfortune of being delivered vaginally, forcibly with forceps, vacuums, pliers and maybe an allen wrench that came packaged with the instructions to IKEA’s Svornijen shelving unit.”

“Why can’t I decorate cupcakes like all the good mommies on Pinterest?”

“I’ve never been so happy in my life. I love sucking at making Olaf cupcakes.”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New melons for Melanie

Here's why I'm already getting an upgrade to my new boobs, as illustrated in these photos of my melons.

These are my melons. (I know it's citrus. Work with me here. A cantaloupe would have been an exaggeration.)

These are my melons from the inside. (Different camera angle. Sorry about that.)

These are my melons after the breast surgeon scraped all the tissue out. She saved the skin and trashed the tissue. (And we're back to camera A.)

These are my melons after the plastic surgeon put the implants in. (Another angle.)

A close-up of the implants -- a little wrinkly inside my melons. It's not the plastic surgeon's fault. Plastic surgery, I've discovered, is far more art than science.

Fat from my belly and flanks. (Yes, I said flanks. That's what the plastic surgeon called the junk in my trunk.)

Flank and belly fat grafted to the insides of my melons.

New melons for Melanie!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Whatcha got in there?

Today, while poking my boob, Miles asked me what I had in there. Which reminded me of this gem that my graphic designer pal, Peggy, put together for me.

This, by the way, is the only time I'll forgive someone who knows me well for misspelling my name.

It also reminds me of this book that Matt Hein gave me, although he didn't tell me it was from him. Thanks, Peggy, for fronting Matt out.

How did the HR police not fire us all for this?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

It's all OK

Writing about cancer is hard. Lots of people get it and write about it and live through it, so it’s not like I have anything of value to add to the conversation.

But then, that has never stopped me from contributing to the conversation in the past, so I will try to explain what it’s like when your body turns against you in the prime of your life.

You just stop
When your cells go rogue, you change courses really fast. Your mind shuts everything else out so that the only thing there is cancer. Suddenly that coworker who you hated and was sucking all the emotional energy out of you means absolutely nothing. That newsletter you were editing is also meaningless.

Everything around you slowly, gradually grinds to a halt.

You stop the process of signing your daughter up for ballet with her friends because you have no idea if you will be tied up with chemotherapy or surgery or what. You waffle back and forth between sending out the custom-made monster-themed invitations to your son’s first birthday party or just saving them all in his baby book unaddressed and unmailed.

You call your babysitter and ask her if she can keep your kids a little later because you and your husband received some life-changing news, and you thank her profusely when she says “of course” with no questions asked and even says her own family’s home-cooked dinner is almost ready and your kids can eat with them.

You freak out but try really hard not to
You sit on the couch with your husband and two Bud Lights and think through the most likely case, even though you have no basis for knowing what your case will be.

You know you have invasive ductal carcinoma. You tell your husband that the most likely thing that will happen is that you’ll be inconvenienced at some point in the next few months with a lumpectomy. A not-too-terrible surgery. And surely you won’t need radiation or chemotherapy. There’s just no way this has spread or will be all that bad.

But what if it is? Pathology reports are hard to read. What you don’t understand, you Google. And when Google tells you that on a scale of one to three, with three being the worst, yours is a three, your heart starts to beat a little faster.  And you start to breathe a little more rapidly.

You wonder if you’re going to die, and you think, no way. I’m not going to die. I’m not even sick. It was just a lump, for God’s sake.

You Google and change lanes
The pathology report says the cells were dividing at a fast pace and there were quite a few dead cells in your two tumors. Which is not really a good thing. Cancer cells live much longer than normal cells, so the fact that they’ve been in your body long enough to have died is not a good sign.

You and your husband keep Googling and Googling until you can get in to see the breast surgeon, and you do this without talking to anyone else because you don’t want to freak anyone out.

At some point in the purgatory between the indecipherable pathology report and the visit with the breast surgeon, you drive alone in your Jeep, and if you’re lucky, you get the sense that I got at this point.

If I die, it will be OK. My children have the most loving, engaged father imaginable. They have aunts and uncles and friends and neighbors who adore them and will make sure that they are raised in a loving environment to grow up and become happy, well-adjusted people (as well-adjusted as can be expected from the Medina/Trice/Allison/Talkington gene pools).

And they would be OK. I would watch from Heaven as they play soccer and learn the piano and have their first crush.

Who says this? What mother in her right mind says it’s OK if she dies before her kids are old enough to start school? I don’t.

I didn’t conjure up this sense of peace on my own. It was God given. Because no reasonable, rational person says they’re ready to die when they’re 33.

But this peace was real and it was pervasive.

I still cried when I leaned over Miles’ crib and swept his messy hair from his face. I cried when I thought about not being there with Allie when it was time to buy school supplies for the first time.

But I knew that God loved us and would take care of us.

And after that realization, I wasn’t scared. I had switched tracks into my alternate reality.  I was in it, and all I wanted was to find out what I needed to do next.

You bask in God's grace
Thankfully, the breast surgeon, Alison Laidley, put everything into perspective for us. She showed us my mammogram films and explained what was concerning about them. She told us why I wasn’t a candidate for the lumpectomy + radiation protocol, and why I’d need a mastectomy of, at the least, my right breast, and likely both breasts. And why she thought that, even though my tumors were classified as grade three, the cancer was likely only stage two.

She freed up my mind so that, even though I never mailed out invitations to Miles’ first birthday or signed up Allie for dance classes, our family was in a good place to celebrate the birthdays of these two little ones.

The invitation that was never mailed (or rotated properly before posting, because Mario took Photoshop off my Mac and made me use a stupid open source program called Gimp, which doesn't work. Go figure.)

Aunt Chrissy came in all the way from Louisiana for Miles' birthday and for moral support for my mastectomy, which took place the day after the birthday party. And that's Aunt Judy in the background, who was diagnosed with stage IIIB lung cancer right around the time I was diagnosed. Mama Toni (my mom) spent 2011 taking care of both of us. And we are both cancer free today.

I never mailed his birthday invitations, but I did make him a cake from scratch! It was horrible -- in taste and appearance.

It was nice being able to focus on Miles' birthday instead of the surgery. That's G-ma sitting on the right-hand side of the picture. (Pretty sure that's her. It looks like her wedding band.) She and my sister Nicole spent the night after Miles' birthday so that Mario and I could leave for the hospital first thing the next morning.

One of my favorite pictures of all time. My son sleeping on my dad. Life does not get any better than this. On the left is Allie sitting on Aunt Nicole's lap (I have good hand recognition. But poor framing skills.)

Allie's birthday, which falls a month after Miles', was also a lot of fun. She got the Barbie Fairy that she wanted. This was the first birthday party that included friends, not just family.

I'm pretty sure I used Evite for Allie's birthday party, and I didn't make her cake from scratch. But Mama Toni bought her the best cake in the world (from Whole Foods), and I made the cream cheese frosting from scratch for her cupcakes!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Unemployment Opportunities

I have not had a full week off of work since Mario and I got married in 2005. I'm in between jobs for the next week and a day. Here's what I'm going to accomplish:

  • Black coat to the dry cleaners so that my mother will not be embarrassed of me when I wear it in public.
  • Pants & jeans to the seamstress for hemming.
  • Sign my baby girl up for pre-K.
  • Organize kitchen.
  • Organize desk at home. It's a mess.
  • Clean out kids' closets.
  • Coffee with Amber.
  • Lunch with Melinda.
  • Visit with Melissa.
  • Run like crazy. Either treadmill or outside if the weather's OK.
  • Cook real food (not boxed) every night for the Medinas.
  • Cook extra stuff to freeze for when I'm back at work.
  • Shop for upcoming 5-day trip to Cabo San Lucas.
  • Organize family photos.
  • Update blog with more cancer thoughts.
  • Read. Currently reading "Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer." And "Of Dying...Of Living," a collection of poetry, prose and sketches from a young mother who caught her breast cancer too late.
  • Take the Medina babies to the zoo.
  • Do this "Masterpieces" thing I found on Pinterest.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Goodbye, Friends!

Acts 17:29

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…”

I always knew I was here at Children’s for a reason, and in 2011, that reason became clear. God knew I would need every single one of you to help me through the toughest time of my life.

I hate for my cancer experience to be what everyone remembers when they think about the almost five years we’ve been together. I hope you also think about my masterful writing and editing talents. My occasional bouts of inappropriateness. My knack for walking in to surgeries at the most inopportune times. Things like that.

But I’ll never be able to look back at on my time at Children’s without thinking of how you carried me through breast cancer.

The earring tree.
Every single morning of the rest of my life, when I open my jewelry box, I will think of my coworkers who brought me earrings of every sort to rock with my baldness. Every time I see a stupid pink ribbon, I will think of the pink ribbons taped to the Paris conference room. Every time I see the big gash in the side of my Jeep, I will remember the state of euphoria I was in while pulling out of the damn parking garage after the mastectomy party you threw for me.

The gash. This is all y'alls fault.

Specifically, here are some other things I will always remember.

All the hard work.

Savvy internal marketing campaigns.

Juan Pulido.

Kristen Janssen.

Sarah Snarkees.

That creepy Elf on the Shelf.

That other creepy elf.

Hard-working coworkers.

Sharp-dressed coworkers.

Fabulous hairstyles.

Testing out the new Macs.

My coworkers' awesome design sense.

And especially their re-design sense.

My buddies helping me keep my chin up.

The competition.

Pregnancy support.

Did I already say sharp-dressed coworkers?

My fashion sense.

Two maternity leaves.

Coworkers who make me feel like I am 90.

My coworkers' fashion sense. Wait. Did I say that already?

Getting smashed with coworkers.

My coworkers' fashion sense.

That time we all got new iPads.

How much you guys really, really like me.

I will miss you guys more than you know.