Help for a Friend

Beautiful Janel and her fight against cancer

I have fair skin and after years of being made fun of for my complete lack of melanin in my legs and sad, painful attempts at a tan, I finally gave up and embraced my paleness. Yes, I joke that my untanned legs are similar to the color of plucked, dead chickens but honestly, I don’t care.  I’ve endured sunburn so bad that it gave me egg-sized blisters as a child and sent me to the doctor to have the blisters drained. I’ve attempted to tan with predictable results. I’ve endured self-inflicted pain from sunburns and the weird, cool, jelly feeling that rising blisters give. I’m done. Finally, I slather myself (and my family) with the highest sunscreen. I use umbrellas and hats. I love the sun but recognize it is my enemy as someone with pale skin.

My friend Janel would not fit the definition of a sun worshipper. She used sunscreen, never went to tanning beds. Yet she finds herself battling back from Stage 3b Melanoma for 3 years. Besides her remarkable generosity and concern for others, she is no different than any one of us.

I know Janel thanks (ha) to infertility and our geographical proximity. My first incarnation as a blogger was an infertility one after our FET had failed in 2007. I was bitter and angry. I didn’t know where we were going. I had been following IF (infertility) blogs for a while, and Janel’s resonated because of her story but also because she lived in the same state and about 2 hours away. I followed along with her story as they pursued cycle after cycle, the wonderful pregnancy with O-Man and the bed rest.  Her attitude was upbeat throughout, and she was admirable.  O-Man was born healthy (and is now an energetic kindergartener), and we finally had our chance to cycle for surrogacy.  When we felt comfortable after our several betas and ultrasounds, Janel sent a gift.  She arranged many NC IF meet-ups, and I treasure the pictures I have from these gatherings.  Janel is a connector. Janel is GOOD people.

So it is devastating that she has been diagnosed with melanoma and suffering a terrible range of effects. She has had skin issues, liver issues, dental issues and now uterine issues. She’s had periods of “no evidence of disease”, followed by cancer reappearing in pockets of soft tissue around her body, requiring more surgery, more pain, more weight loss. Each day brings a new complication, a new worry. The fear is unending.

What I’m asking is this: we can’t take the cancer away. But we can help her family pay the bills that continue to mount as new cancers and new effects of chemotherapy make themselves known. We can relieve her heart and show her she IS LOVED as much as she is LOVE to others. We can set the debt account to zero so she and her family can begin the next fight to recover from these surgeries and strengthen her immune system to fight off cancer’s next punch.

And if your generosity exceeds her need, she’ll gladly give it away to another charity. After which she’ll spend the rest of her long and cancer-free life, continuing to be the friend and person she’s always been in the world by being kind, sharing light, and proving that love does indeed have the last word.

What we are asking for Wednesday is this: make a difference for her with your 5, 10, 15 contributions–remember on this day, no one can give more than $25. Share her story widely, with your friends, family, neighbors, at the bus stop, at the coffee shop, on the train and let everyone know that they can be a part of shining light and love into Janel’s fight.

Cancer sucks. Infertility sucks. Janel has had a rough several years but is full of grace.  Let’s help her. Here’s the link to the fundraising site. Again, no more than $25 required. Give what you can.

Donate here.

Roller Coasters

We wait.  My anxiety levels are through the roof.  My stress levels are high. I can feel the cortisol coursing through my body.  When the phone rings, I twitch before answering it.  J called me three times on Monday, and I almost screamed at him to stop calling me because every time he did, I worried he was calling with bad news.

Bad news.

That’s so…delicate.  Bad news.  Deterioration. Death. That’s what we are anticipating and dreading with each phone call.

We’ve been up, euphoric, one day with good news and down, despairing, the next with bad news.  We’ve had instances where those upheavals have occurred in the same day, almost hourly.

It’s tough, and I have no doubt that it is toughest of all on the patient, J’s beloved grandmother, and his mother, her daughter.  And of course on J and his brother and grandfather.  I have no problems giving J all the time he needs to spend with his grandmother and mother.

We love Mum.  We don’t want her to be in pain, and this up and down is terrifying and confusing.

Roller coasters are fun at amusement parks.  They are not fun when it is your life, your reality.

Tonight was a good night for Mum, so we took Daniel to see her.  Unfortunately, Daniel had not had a nap, so he deteriorated quickly after about 20 minutes.  Even though I had only arrived a few minutes before, I bundled my wee one into his coat and carried him to the lobby, ignoring his weepy protests of “Put down, Mama.”

Daniel means the world to Mum, and I hope she was able to witness her dynamo of a great-grandson for a few moments tonight.

I don’t know how many more moments we’ll have.

I’m beginning to hate roller coasters.

2011, You Sucked. Oh, How You Sucked

As the current year hobbles frailly to whatever afterlife years have, it’s time for me to join billions of others in the annual rite of passage of being introspective and musing over the highs and lows of the past year and trying to decipher what, if anything, they mean.

Without further ado, I give you my verdict on 2011:  It sucked.

I don’t mean to be so dark and cynical; I had optimism this time last year that 2011 would be better than 2010, but the universe laughed and proved me wrong literally on January 1 when Jimmy and I woke up with colds/flu that kept us home from work the first two working days of the year.  And it went downhill from there with a speed that would be fascinating if it weren’t happening to you.

2011: Craptastic

  • Jimmy’s father was diagnosed with Stage 4 gastric cancer and died suddenly a month later
  • Colds and illness for all three of us throughout the year including croup for Daniel and the two month flu/sinus infection/bronchitis hell that was our Autumn
  • The beginning of job uncertainty for Jimmy as his employer “merges” with another company
  • Friends moving on (no longer my coworker) and away (to Florida)
  • Preschool woes and the beginning of worry about what’s normal for my toddler
  • Worrisome and expensive pet illnesses
  • A speeding ticket
  • An infestation of carpet beetles and/or moths that have eaten several suits and sweaters in our closet
  • Jimmy’s grandmother being diagnosed with a gall bladder blockage, then pancreatic cancer.  Chemo before and after successful surgery to remove the cancer.  Then the discovery of a bladder polyp which is likely cancerous because they usually are.  Sudden bouts of extreme confusion, lethargy and unconsciousness and several hospitalizations.  This is where we are now.  She was taken to the hospital two days after we celebrated Christmas, comatose and is still there.  It might be a stroke.  It might be a heart attack. 

2011: A Few Bright Spots

  • I graduated from grad school after 5 years!
  • I still have a job
  • I started blogging again
  • I had a conference proposal accepted and will be heading to Florida in May 2012
  • Seeing Daniel’s face light up on Christmas morning when he saw the train table Santa brought him
  • Jimmy and I celebrating our 10th anniversary in December
  • The stunning and awe-inspiring strength displayed by Jimmy’s tiny grandmother over and over as she encountered another hurdle in her recovery

I think it is safe for me to declare 2011 an awful year despite some wonderful things that happened, but I wouldn’t change anything about 2011.  I believe that life happens how it happens and no one is owed or promised sunshine and roses; it is how you respond to it that matters.  I can acknowledge that it was a really bad year with a lot of terrible events, but I hope that each one has acted as a crucible to make us stronger.

I started this post yesterday, and it would have been a lot darker, but I feel more at peace and with a tiny glimmer of hope for 2012.  Jimmy’s grandmother is now breathing on her own and awake.  We’ve been down this road before, but for now, maybe it’s enough.

I make no resolutions other than to be mindful and kiss my guys. We know too well how quickly things can turn to crap, and I want us to enjoy each other and each moment.

Good bye, 2011.  Perhaps 2012 will be peaceful after all.

Happy Boy on Christmas Morning

Cancer, Steve Jobs and Truly Helping

Steve Jobs passed away tonight.  He had most recently been battling a rare form of pancreatic cancer, a cancer that hits pretty damn close to home for my family and others lately.  I was an Apple hold-out for a long time, but my first Apple product was the iPod Nano.  When the iPhone came out, I was dismissive.  I would never use a phone to surf the Internet.  Then I played with one in an Apple store and was hooked.  Three iPhones, two iPads and one MacBook Air later, we are almost 100% an Apple family (I’m typing this post on a 6 year old HP laptop).  I admired Steve’s vision and innovation.  He truly changed how we interact with everything from music to the Internet. 

He died in October, which is also breast cancer awareness month.  While last month’s Facebook meme about breast cancer seems to have faded away, I’m seeing tweets daily about breast cancer awareness and most of them are inocuous which is the problem.  If you want to raise awareness, that’s great.  Sure, we’ll be more aware that cancer exists.  But wouldn’t you rather DO something? Do something that could potentially help find a treatment for cancer?  Last night, someone I follow on Twitter tweeted whether she should add a pink streak to her hair for breast cancer awareness and asked yes or no.  Several others tweeted back versions of “yes, cool!”  I responded, “No.  Donate $$$ to research instead.”  She responded a tiny bit defensively but said she would dye and donate.  Ok.  Detente achieved.

I’m no role model.  I’ve walked on ONE Komen walk.  I need to do more with the American Heart Association for my father, but I’m just so tired of the easy, feel-good actions being pushed.    As the recent Babble MomCrunch article pointed out, a lot of brands grab on to breast cancer awareness but contribute very little of  your purchase.  What I really want everyone to do is the think critically and do something meaningful that will make a difference.

A few links of interest:

Tonight, I made belated donations to those groups.  Will you or will you dye your hair instead and hope that helps find treatments for cancer?

How Facebook Can Raise Awareness of Just How Thoughtless and Ignorant You Are

You’ve probably heard about the latest Facebook game to raise awareness of breast cancer, asking women to post how many weeks they are and what they are craving. Last year’s game was about the color of your bra and where you left your purse. Somehow, these cryptic status updates are supposed to raise awareness of breast cancer. This year’s weeks/craving meme has the unintended effect of making all of your friends and family wonder if you are pregnant and questioning the status of their relationship with you if they were out of the loop on such monumental news and had to learn it from your Facebook status. It has also caused quite a stir in the infertility blogosphere.

I know it is tempting to write off all of us who disagree with this meme as curmudgeons, but guess what – even those suffering from breast cancer aren’t fans of these types of memes.

Normally I would just roll my eyes at the lemmings participating without giving a moment’s thought to what they are doing and whether it even makes sense, but this particular meme impacts me in two ways: as an infertile, it dredges up those feelings that Mel wrote about in her post as well as someone who is much more acquainted with cancer than she would like to be.

A year ago yesterday, my coworker died of prostate cancer only one year after his diagnosis. He tried to work as long as possible, so we saw the deterioration, the brutal effects of his chemotherapy. There was a month in which he couldn’t sit down the entire day because of intense pain. We shared the highs and lows as he received a bit of good news and then bad news and then really, really bad news.

Last December, my mother was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous tumor in her breast. Thankfully, it turned out not to be cancer, but it is something she will need to have removed, and having watched her mother die of breast cancer, it weighed heavily on her mind.

Last January, my father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 gastrointestinal cancer and died one month later before being able to start treatment.

And most recently, my grandmother-in-law is recovering from pancreatic cancer at age 88. This strong woman has endured 12 weeks of chemo and surgery.

And a dear friend is reeling as her father is beginning his battle after his recent diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. If you want to help raise awareness, please consider participating in her fundraiser via the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

So you know what? Cancer isn’t funny. It’s serious, and if you really want to raise awareness, donate money to the American Cancer Society or participate in a Komen walk (I did). If you really think that posting a Facebook status is going to make one bit of difference in the fight against cancer, then I urge you to read this excellent book about the history of cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies. It will spell out starkly just how far we are from having a cure for almost any type of cancer.

Catching My Breath

2011 continues to be interesting for my family. One of our kitties is at the vet having a lumpectomy today, but thankfully the doctors have found no more cancer. J’s father is recovering well from his surgery, and his doctors put in a port last week to prepare him for chemo. It turns out that his cancer is technically gastric cancer, not pancreatic cancer, though it is in his pancreas as well. J’s family is understandably scared about what is coming next for his father.

Oh, and that little acquisition of Progress Energy by Duke Energy? For some, it means happy things like potentially lower power bills. For my family it means decidedly unhappy things like a potential layoff for J or having to move to Charlotte. Thankfully, there won’t be any layoffs or major changes until the deal is approved by regulators, and that will take about a year, so we have some time to get our ducks in a row and prepare for what may come. That’s all we can do, right?

Things are very unsettled at my own work as well. My awesome boss left last week, and I don’t think it is a stretch to say we all feel unmoored. We are also facing some major budget cuts with our state funding and a major threat to our federal funding, so yeah, 2011 is going to be an interesting year. Anxious is the word I would use.

But today I’m catching my breath.

You may note that the past few posts haven’t been Daniel-centric. That isn’t part of any grand strategy, but I definitely want to blog more. I need to blog more. And I need an outlet for what’s on my mind and going on in my life, so I’m going to try to do a better job of blogging and express myself a bit more.

Two years ago on Martin Luther King day, we had our big u/s and discovered we were having a boy. And now that little boy runs and climbs and plays with trucks and loves chasing the cats. Getting a hug from him can make even the crappiest January better.

Out of the way, Mommy!

Happy New Year?

I survived my first night as a single parent last night! J is in Florida with his father and brother (I’ll get to that later), so for the next few days I will be parenting solo. Oh, and Daniel is fine too 🙂

And I discovered that tv makes an excellent distraction for a wild 19 month old while you are trying to get ready! Or rather, “age-appropriate” tv makes a good distraction. Poor Daniel is often subjected to what we watch, which includes a lot of Food Network (not too bad), History Channel (educational!), Law & Order (dubious) and Snapped, Deadly Women, Wicked Attraction et al. (probably scarring him for life).

However, it turns out there is a great channel called Nick Jr, and this morning Daniel watched his first Dora the Explorer and other stuff and loved it. He crowed at the tv and only tried to climb out of his crib twice. Success!

And later I was able to pry open our cat’s mouth and toss in an antibiotic. Success again! I am clearly on a roll.

If only the rest of the year were going as well.

J and I had high hopes for 2011 after the craziness and sadness of 2010. I’m usually a little wistful about the ending of a year but not last year. I gleefully anticipated midnight and the fresh start 2011 signified.

2011’s first gift was to give J and I a chest cold out of the blue. I missed two days of work. The first two working days of 2011. How pathetic is that?

But worse (much worse) was to come. We found out yesterday that J’s father has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. J and his brother flew down last night. We’re all in shock and still trying to figure out where to go from here.

I cannot believe that only 6 months after my own father’s death that we are dealing with a horrific medical situation with J’s father. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to give J any advice (whatever poor wisdom I have to offer) on this type of situation so soon.

It’s so awful. J’s father and stepmother live in Florida and have met Daniel only once and that was when he was 5 months old. It’s too soon.

Today is the 7th of January. The first 7 days of 2011 have been so bad that I’m almost afraid of what the rest of the year holds*.

Please keep us in your thoughts.

*PS J and I just received biopsy results on our cat, and they suspect a mammary carcinoma and recommend removal. My MALE cat has a breast tumor. Unbelievable.