Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Urgent Care

When you are diagnosed with any life threatening condition, or even think you have a condition- you feel the sense of urgency.

Urgency to live.

Urgency to love.

Urgency to get things in order.

Or to get the chaos managed in a semblance of well- managed chaos. The months leading up to my surgery were filled with the urgency. After Lily was diagnosed, urgency to fill our lives with as many memories as possible. Living with LFS, knowing life is short- being reminded by every lump, every treatment how impermanent we all are.

Did I want to leave my children memories of me sitting at the computer? No. So the book goes unwritten. The stories are written in memories.

Did I want my husband to regret the times away? No. So we feign normal. We fall back into routine, with prescheduled reminders of how quickly it all will change. Not CAN change. It WILL change. We don't know when or how. So we urgently persist. We urgently live.

You pray for normal. Then normal shwacks you upside the head- burying you under your new normal with normal normal on top. It comes in the form of a kitchen full of maggots, car trouble, garage trouble, health trouble. Kid trouble. Politics trouble. And my soulmate, my better half reminds me- this is normal. Deal with it. He leaves early every morning- his escape to another normal- with hundreds of other normal problems. Urgent in his world is very different. Much bigger problems. Just as it isn't always noticed when you do a good job, when others don't do theirs- it trickles down. It is noticed. In the form of maggots and brokenness and trouble. So you triage. The squeaky wheels get the oil. Unfortunately there is far too much squeaking and not enough oiling.

Phillip has been complaining of headaches. Then he had bloody noses. Kiera's back is bothering her. They both have MRIs scheduled, which is a task in and of itself. Which reminds me we are due to check on Bella's arm. Which reminds me I am due for scans. Lily always has something- but for the moment is the least urgent of them all. When things move fast, it is scary- things are rolling along and we are hoping to be dealing with normal stuff.

When a friend asks which day is busiest, she'd like to bring us dinner- I gratefully say any day is fine- truly- Thursdays are traditionally take out or leftovers if there are any. I am grateful when she brings dinner on Thursday. I think the kids are almost through the Costco sized Ramen. Which I keep telling them isn't real food and we need to go over some basics. But then something urgently needs my attention and well, you know, normal.

When Phil texts from work on Friday that a good friend is in town, do I want to meet up and maybe stay in town? My gut reaction is- dear God I am so fucking tired and I'm pretty sure I will be no fun. But I say yes, because you know- urgency, we don't get many nights out- the big kids are working, the littles want nothing more than to eat pizza while watching tv- so yes, yes I want to do something normal.  And then your very good friend meets up for a hug and hands over a key to a hotel room and sends you on your way to dinner with promises to meet up later for a drink. So you have an incredibly lovely dinner with your amazing husband and you remember when this was somewhat of a normal thing and I am so incredibly grateful for those somewhat normal times and the urgency we had to have them. I am grateful for the wonderful friends who continue to support us knowing we really mean it when we say we owe them and also know the debts will probably go unpaid.

It was a great reminder that self-care is urgent care. Years ago I was running ragged trying to get the nonprofit living LFS in order, not wanting anyone to feel the loneliness of LFS if it could be avoided. Friends rallied to my side when tumors reared. Urged me to take care of myself and when I wouldn't, made sure they did. Each one knowing urgently how much self care I needed because they too urgently needed care. I hate not being able to be the friend I want to be. It gets lonely. The self-care thing. Sometimes the positive side is elusive. I am so grateful for the friends who have become family. Who check in and keep me from checking out. I am grateful for my kids who remind me hourly what normal is and daily what exceptional is.

So I stack our appointments, to limit hospital time where we can(flu anyone? no thank you) for March 5th.  I'll wait in the chemo bay while the bigs get scanned and meet with my oncologist. My scans and Bella's scan will pend appointments and urgency. One shark at a time. Hopefully they are just fish. Then we keep swimming- for now I am Grateful for the boat and that I can wave to friends nearby even if we aren't always in the same boat.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Eric's Garage.

My last memory of my cousin Eric was his laugh, as he sat on my dad's lap in the tiny Toledo airport shortly after New Year's 1994. The next time we'd fly through there would be for his funeral in April, then again in June for my dad's service. He is celebrating yet another birthday in heaven today.

When he was just a baby, I got to "watch" him as the family gathered downstairs. I would prop him in my bean bag until he would fuss- the pick him up because clearly he needed me. A few years later, when they visited us in Denver, we were family but almost strangers- no longer being able to see each other weekly or for birthdays- but sometimes through videos sent back and forth and pictures. He had a broviac for chemo and while they were there- I was the only one he would let clean it. He was such a wonderful little butthead. It meant a lot to me.

Of course I wonder what he would have accomplished had cancer not taken him. I know for sure how much we all were changed for even having him for those brief years. I had already gotten accustomed to the distance since we had moved, but for my cousins- the much wider gap left for them would never be filled. Pirate ships, nachos, crazy pranks. Goonies Never Say Die.

Bella has been on a burrito/taco/nachos binge. I think of Eric a lot. I worry about my family. Despite the years, you learn to move around the grief. It is always there.  I also remember Phillip's brief stay in the hospital as Pancreas Boy and promises of Nachos to get him through the week of feeding tube while his pancreas rested. A simple, common thing like nachos- something you wouldn't think could completely wrench your heartstrings. Sharing a beer with my dad during Monday Night Football, stealing his olives from his martinis. Soon he would put an entire swizzle stick full in his glass, just for me.

So of course the other night, in the midst of running back and forth- the garage refused to close. It's old, it gets overheated and just refuses. At first I would get frustrated and angry, now I'm just plain sympathetic. Phil texted he was on his way home, so I sat outside in the breeze and waited- surely it would close on the first try for him.

 The messages went like this:

 I of course had to text my aunt and cousin- that autocorrect named our garage Eric. My aunt reminded me his birthday was in a couple days. I knew it was in February- but honestly I'm terrible with dates. She also reminded me about the time Eric got his mittens stuck in the garage- hoisting him like a pirate ship jolly roger. So I got out my label maker and made a sign for our sign.

and believe it or not, we were out of margaritas, no rum to be found- so I soaked some olives in vodka and toasted Eric and birthdays and signs and of course to naming Eric's Garage- which has been working since- we'll see what today holds- Eric loved a good prank. Happy Birthday Butthead. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Waiting for Superpowers

I'm hopelessly behind on updates. So I'll try to be quick. I keep thinking I'll write a quick post or thought a day, but something pops up. The kids and I are doing these daily journal books- which are quick and fun and also give me an idea where we are all at emotionally. Kiera doesn't participate but helps clean and run errands- which gives me an idea where she's at.

Before Christmas, Phil and I met with the Radiation Oncologist re: the spots on my pelvis and spine. It is a bit hazy since it was the morning post adrenal crisis and Phil had to give me a second shot before I could roll myself out of bed.

He was great- I was a mess.  Phil asked the right questions, we looked at the images. Those always hit home. There was also a spot on my right pelvis that we wanted to consider scanning prior to treatment- in case it needed a zap. Scans are great, but really unless you biopsy-you don't know for sure what you are dealing with so you can watch and wait- if it walks like a tumor, talks like a tumor...

I wanted to discuss a few things with my oncologist, endocrinolgist and trusty mutants before setting a date. Then there is Phil's nebulous schedule and trying to plan. My nurse and oncologist opined that radiation was probably our best choice, it was too soon to rescan with PET though, so they would discuss timing with the rad onc while I contacted the endo. Between training days, holiday, chemo- this is a process and of course mid discussion with endo she drops the- I'm going on maternity leave bomb. sigh. She helps me calculate stress dosing and gives me the on call endo's name. I ask her politely to please fill him in on me. Of course. No seriously...I did come away with a decent- avoid crisis during chemo weeks plan and a window that would be better for rads.

So new Year's came and went. We headed into January chemo. It was the best time to settle the radiation decision- I was going to do it- just had to get up the nerve and time it. Fortunately it was super busy in the Bay and no one was particularly bothered to lecture me AND they put me back in the isolation area which-drumroll please-I had never even visited. It was just that busy. Phil tries to knock out some other things while we are there and found my Debbie friend in the abyss that is the pharmacy waiting room. I have a very short list of people allowed to sit with me. Many say they feel bad when they see people alone in the Bay- for some it's a time for meditation- as much as you can in a big room with 10 strangers all in varying degrees of discomfitude and everyone knows everyone's medical business. I also now know where they keep the snacks! And am grateful Deb got to share the time with me- it made a long day more enjoyable.

I keep my schedule open now the first 2 weeks after chemo. I find that emotional stress honestly pushes me towards crisis pretty quick and if I run around too much, well that doesn't help. There were 2 major events lined up for the Saturday, a paddle out memorial for a friend and a 1st Birthday celebration for a special little friend. Both events carried with them significant emotional balloons.  Then Thursday evening, the rad Onc calls and wants to schedule treatment which entails a planning CT, planning period then radiation. We were going to wait for the next PET, but overall- no time like the present? I scheduled the planning CT for Monday, not knowing how long the planning period would be and having already scheduled a Physical Therapy appointment. I explained that I wanted the treatment before chemo, but not during the crisis prone first 2 weeks after chemo, the other issue being my pesky platelets which are not rebounding at all. He mentioned planning could take an afternoon to a week depending on several factors. But his plan was to use IMRT- a more focused arc of radiation to avoid damage to surrounding tissue as much as possible. Very similar to gamma knife.

With short notice, I knew Phil's schedule might not be easily arranged and asked Kiera to skip school to drive me Monday. You'd think it was Christmas. Sweet girl. Germaphobe and all- I even told her she didn't have to come into the hospital with me, but she sat while I did PT and then even chatted later with the rad onc. She was a little put out that he over explained things- but I prefer that to the alternative. She was thrilled to watch HGTV in the waiting area- squeaky couch and all while I did my prep CT.

Now, we try to avoid radiation when possible. Radiation works by damaging cells- my mutant body doesn't clean up that damage as well as a non mutant's. So normally I'd fuss about all the CT's and stuff, but feel like we are on the same page and the info has been passed. I get a gown and robe and am instructed to strip waist down. I'm so used to waist up ops- I feel overdressed on top- bra, shirt, gown and robe. Truly grateful I wore a long shirt- feeling a bit breezy- but all's well. The tech takes me into the room, explains the process, how it will work today, why, how it will work for the actual treatment, why planning could take an hour or days....he was great. Theres a blue pad on the table- I lay down and he will squoosh it around my legs to make a mold- it helps to keep the pelvis and spine in the same position for treatment. I manage to gracefully lay down, keeping covered, he lays a blanket on me and proceeds to squoosh the mold. A couple minutes in he huffs like Dobby does when you won't share dinner with him. I apologize for being difficult- he says he's just not happy with the mold- would I mind trying again? I don't mind at all- I prefer them to have exactly what they need for the best result and I imagine these mold thingies are not cheap. I hop back up as he brings the next mold over and lift my legs so he can put it under. As I do this- a nice cool breeze reminds me I am commando. Oh Dear- I shove the gown between my legs and apologize- probably should have considered groundskeeping with pelvis anything- but I wasn't expecting commando and CT don't care if you shave. Then I realize the door is at the foot end- lucky no one walked in-and right above the door is the closed circuit camera. Yay- my first naughty tape- of course it would involve a scanner of some sort. boom chicka wow wow- I didn't order any contrast....

Anyways- Cts are fairly easy peasy and quick- you know if you have ativan on board and have gotten past the genetic assault about to occur- it was the set up and the markings that take time- I got four stickers(one on each hip, one on my belly and one apparently that was hidden in my c-section-hysterectomy scars- how embarrassing?) to wear home and the tech said they would shoot for Monday or Friday of next week but he'd call once planning was done to confirm. Needless to say- I was surprised when he called the Tuesday afternoon as I was picking Bella up from school. He said the planning was done- which I guess is good- no surprises  and I could come in tomorrow or any day this week if it was better. ARGH. I hate the the ball is rolling too fast now feeling. hurry up wait hurry up wait. I let him know I have to check Phil's schedule and that would really set the day. They are way easy going in the rad onc clinic. It's a bit creepy at times. He said just give him a call- if we can do tomorrow great- they had everything they needed so it was when worked best for us.

Phil was flying Tuesday, I knew I wouldn't hear from him until later, so I texted him the deets and was surprised after he landed when he responded Wed. works best. Wed. as in tomorrow. Ok- let's do this. I kinda wrote off the evening. Spend an hour boo hooing on the phone with my friend Trish and had the kids make themselves dinner. Phil got home. We decompressed. He slept. I laid there performing great mental gymnastics- olympic level shit. Enough that by 3am I wasn't sure if I was in full on panic attack or adrenal crisis. It's one of those things- You can talk yourself up, down, around, in between. You can relate it to experiences and know you've come out fine. And you also know shit happens. Radiation was awful for my dad, it killed my grandfather. Neither would have survived their tumors- but the rads made it worse. I know so many who struggle from the after effects. The plan is one dose and done. Higher dose, but more precise, hopefully less damage. I was terrified of gamma knife- it wasn't easy but comparatively an easier way and not too tough to tolerate. The whole brain surgery swelling mopping up later are the after effects I speak of. And I've been really lucky there too. The PTSD is there. You just deal. Sometimes with big doses of antianxiety meds when the oils and the pacing and stretching all fail.

So I woke Phil up, he held me on yet another ledge until the ledge ebbed away and I slept for like an hour until the girls came in to say goodbye and I had to shower. Everything went really smoothly today. As planned. Got there- got set up- got irradiated- didn't feel a thing. They did give me 3 tattoo
dots as markers "in case"- I asked if she could do an elephant- she said no. Plus the stupid low platelet thing made them bleed and she was not down with that. I hope the recovery will be unremarkable. Everyone says I should tolerate it very well, as it was just a single dose and radiation effects tend to be cumulative. I had a great ativan nap when we got home and Phil made a delish dinner and now it's time to decompress.

This blog brought to you from my quiet space.... ha ha ha ha- but they are very sweet if not conducive to my writing. Oh my God- I almost forgot the best thing- we got a parking pass to park in a radiation therapy spot today! And there was a spot- and we parked in it! Sometimes its the small things. Now I have to wait for my mutant superpowers to reveal themselves!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ballistic Missiles and other Disasters.

Last night I took an ambien to help me sleep. I try not to take it more than once a week- I hate relying on meds- but the other meds, the steroids keeping me alive while chemo is fighting the cancer- causes me to lay awake at night- physically exhausted but unable to sleep.

Phil had today off- I try to plan around when he's here- in case. You know. Kid vomiting, someone launches a ballistic missile, that kind of thing. Which also sucks, putting him on the hook when he's had long weeks- but you know- parenting, partnership all that jazz. Plus he was "on call" this morning. You know in case the aina was threatened or something. So he had to be up an available at 6am. I felt a little bad. The glass of wine before the ambien made that better.

The good news is we got through week 1, no adrenal crisis. I had many conversations with specialists this week, we are trying to figure out the best timing for my body to deal with the new/new old bone mets in my hip and spine. I am a HUGE believer that we have to keep keep the system as strong as possible- so I'm not charging in- BUT we have to balance the need to take care of this in a timely manner. Then there's the whole fear of radiation and stuff and the my mutant body's general dislike for the ionizing elements.

The past weeks have been tough emotionally. A dear friend lost her son, another lost her husband- there are other losses. It's hard. It's a helpless feeling. I know there is virtually nothing I can do to fill the gaping losses, but it is my nature to want to try, to hug the ever loving daylights out of someone if all else fails.

I woke up this morning to text after text- are you Ok? Shit- people have a glass and wine and ambien all the time- it's not a great practice- but is a decent night's sleep. I don't make a habit of it.  Did I do a bunch of 'influenced" texting? no. hmmm. I head down stairs- Phil is on the phone. He hangs up and immediately responds to texts. Well although not unusual- he usually looks up. Hmm. The boy is out hiking, I missed a call. Oh shit. One of his friend's mom had texted- he was ok, they had talked to him after the alert. Alert? Oh crap- there was a ballistic missile launched towards Hawaii. No wait- it was a false alarm. Phil looks up- someone hit the alert by accident- there's no missile. Don't go anywhere near social media. So, of course, I log in to facebook. People are completely panicked. Well, were an hour ago. Now everyone is grateful to be alive and pissed at how this could happen- Someone needs to be accountable for this- the alert system needs to change.

I wait for Phil to look up- his phone is blowing up. No pun intended- oh hell pun away.  I start responding to texts. He hasn't heard from Phillip. The girls are all still sleeping- he hands me a plate of eggs and bacon. We have breakfast. Yeah that's right- my rockstar husband made breakfast whilest dealing with a missile crisis. Or fake missile crisis. Blast you fake news. *fist shake*. It's family cleaning day. I think the Gods are sending me a message about the enormity of the task at hand...

The girls have all had fallout drills, chemical spill drills, and evacuation drills of all sorts this year. Each one is followed by lengthy discussions at home about what to do in a veritable cesspool of situations- 1000 ways to try not to die. Another day in the Mallory house. ' Pretty much hunker down- it's a flipping island. We practice giving shots in case of health emergencies- so we kinda just roll with the emergencies. Bella is particularly concerned. Insert discussion about radiation fallout and finally getting our mutant superpowers.

I am not dismissing anyone's heart attack or stress this morning. I've felt it- hurricane, tornados, tsunamis- blizzards, lock downs at school, cancer diagnoses, LFS diagnoses, broken pancreas, adrenal crisis after adrenal crisis.... Every day Phil flies- knowing that could be the day- the heightened risk. Crossing the street. Driving on the H1. Life. Full of heightened risk and risk management. And so many times- NOT ONE FLIPPING THING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. If a missile is launched- the best we can do is hunker down and hope for the best. I guarantee you- I would have been a wreck had it been a school day, or Phil had been gone. Yet by nature of his job- they're usually the first to know and go.

This is the type of stress I feel before every scan- mine and the kids- knowing that this information WILL change our lives from here out. AND THERE'S NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT.  When there are lumps and bumps, waiting for the next cancer shoe to drop. Trying to pick between tumor treatment and side effects. Sometimes you get the glorious all clear- false alarm and everyone cheers and you should feel grateful- you ARE grateful but the scanxiety, the stress- took months, maybe years off your life. YET by catching cancer early- trying to prevent risks- you can add years .

I understand wanting to hold someone accountable. To find a reason when there is no good one. I understand the frustration of energy wasted on stress, the gratitude of- false alarm. The what if the next time is real. I am very sorry everyone had to feel the stress. I am sorry that many people completely lost their shit. As the girls rolled out of beds- their teeny bop friends texting, extending the drama of certain impending death- we cleaned the house- because apparently it is not yet officially a natural disaster. We talked about survival and life and found 5 of Dobby's bones under the couch. We laughed, we hugged. Because we know when the ballistic missile is really launched into your life- it's the moments like this that are the ones that determine your life- because through life and other disasters, we choose to live each day the best we can. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Eye on the Ball

This year will be the 13th year we've lived in Hawaii. This is the longest Phil or I have officially lived anywhere. I open the windows when the weather is cool in the fall and the kids say it smells like Christmas. Hawaii Christmas smells much much different than my Ohio and Colorado Christmas memories of pine, snow, and spice. Their Christmas is a salty floral warmth.

With the holiday season, comes many events. Every year, like most do- we have to pick and choose. When Phil was at the Academy- we went to several balls, dining outs or ins- oh hell I still can't get those straight. Cancer took over most of our lives, but the military is also a huge part of our family. 
Service Academy Something or Other- 1995.

I had been introduced to the military formal one winter with Phil's parents, he comes from quite the military family. Both sides. For me, my dad and grandfathers were in the military- of course most of their lives was war time and what I remember most was how to make a bed, fold towels and scrub a toilet- dad would tell a story here and there but mostly those cleaning techniques and love of Air Force football from his days in the Air Force were what he handed down.
well that feels natural.
USAFA Ring Dance 1998.

USAFA Grad Banquet 1998

I don't like dressing up. The expense, the time it takes, the airs. It's taken me 20 some odd years to realize- it doesn't matter. There is significance and importance to formal events. We've had some amazing times with friends over the years. Sometimes it is nice to dress up. Sometimes it is a royal pain in the arse. Sometimes you just throw on the dress that barely covers your nursing tatas and hope for the best.
UPT Grad Banquet-I think 2000?
Langley- Hughes Trophy Banquet 2003

 Every year there is the HING ball- Hawaii National Guard. Between kid activities, squadron activities and life, we never made it to the HING ball. We have been to several HIANG- HI Air National Guard formals- and well if I dress up once a year that's pretty good for me! This year, since Phil is Squadron Commander of the 169th, we agreed it would be good to go.
HIANG Dining Out. or In. who knows. 2015

Generally I stress about what to wear- the pressure is quasi-debilitating. There is something to be said for going through chemo side effects like hair loss and massive weight gain to put a lot of it in perspective. The point is to look nice- I had a dress that was comfortable and appropriate. I've never subscribed to the only wear it once thing. So I collected some different bling to dress it up and sparkly sandals(love this about Hawaii) because well heels are just not an option right now. I've learned over time- I love shoes and jewelry, I just don't care to wear them.
a good sign- the teachings of Buddha in the hotel room. 

We knew it was a chemo week, so Phil got a room nearby the Convention Center where the ball was. He is so sweet- he promised if I just wanted to sit in the room and rest- it was ok. I packed some snacks and wine- I think I was looking forward to getting out of the house more than anything and just not rushing to get ready or have a dog and kids vying for my attention. We get there when we get there. I could leave when I got tired.  And we were together.

These events can be very overwhelming. We used to go over social rosters on the way to events, hoping to remember everyone's names. Now I go with the approach, just be friendly. That's the only detail that matters. And drink wine. That helps too. Each event has it's own personality, I was looking forward to the Hawaiian style formal. This would be our first formal in a leadership position. It was different, but I found it to be a little more subdued. I sat and appreciated the myriad of dresses, shoes and genuinely appreciated the glam effort others put in. This is for Irina, who wanted all the details.

Formal pictures were set up outside the ballroom, where an hour prior to seating thousands gathered for drinks and schmoozing. We walked from the hotel and missed most of the social hour because well I am not very fast. Ok we missed all the social hour. I wish it were for a scandalous reason- but the truth is it was nice to just leisurely get ready. As we arrived, Phil procured drinks and I tried to procure a spot for photos. That was when seating began- so we detoured into the hall greeting friends and acquaintances along the way. Then the hall went dark.
I always keep our name cards tucked in a program. 

Many times at formal events, like the opera- lights will dim to gently scoot you towards your seats. This was a full blackout. After a couple minutes, generators kicked in and the hall was dimly lit. We found our way to the table. We all kinda laughed about the power- knowing those organizing the event were not amused. Apparently the power was out on the entire block. The entertainment- local band Kapena, packed up and left. The photos shut down. Anything requiring electricity was a no go. Not ideal for a hungry room of over a thousand. So a very good decision was made- the food was ready and they started bringing it out. This is my kinda event. Normally you have the presentation of the colors, speeches, toasts before the food comes out. I always worry my stomach will rumble crazy loud during the moment of silence when they present the POW table, also known as the Fallen Comrade table or Missing Man Table. This might be one of the most significant parts of these events for me- a table intricately set to remind us of those who are unable to be here with us.

The rest of the guests are at tables for 8, the centerpieces a beautiful mix of local red ginger, birds of paradise and greenery. Each place setting has a program, name card and festive shot glass with local chocolate. Salad was served first, with a coconut curry pineapple dressing, followed by a main of with beef or fish. Both were excellent. Dessert was chocolate cake or cheesecake. Shortly after dinner, the lights came on and the official program began. Governor Ige gave a short speech expressing his gratitude for the service members before he had to jet to another scheduled event- which probably had electricity. Awards were given, a special dance was performed by leadership couples and artwork was presented by local painter  Brook Kapukuniahi Parker.  A Hawaiian artist and historian, Brook dedicates his energy and talents to bringing to life the Hawaiian ancestors and the beauty of Hawaii through art. The painting presented represented all the Hawaiian warriors over time from Kamehameha to modern air power and was the perfect piece to represent the occasion. After the presentations, we visited awhile- catching up with friends in different units and managed a quick picture. All in all it was a ball. We did not dance- because well Phil is afraid I might break- even though I still have to remind him to clip his walking pace a bit. I came away without blisters or back aches and my wrists were only slightly green from the glitzy bracelets of inauthentic quality. Yet none of it compares to being on the arm of the handsome man I adore.

2017 HING Ball. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

stable ·ish

Short and the Long of it... I NEED to not do scans before Christmas. 

Scanxiety- the stress associated with routine cancer scans.

It's real- it's bad. The scanxiety. You can't logic or busy your way out of it. It just is. It is cumulative and hard and you do the best you can to get through without driving everyone around you completely bonkers. 

Phil finished up his not 1, but 2 online Air War College Courses. breathe.  That lightened his load a bit. sts. sunday night-So when do you want to head into chemo?  

Second left after never, buuuut since it's keeping me alive- let's just do it for shits n giggles. 

Didn't we just DO chemo- isn't it next week?

Actually- this is week 4- the new timeframe we are trying since the fatigue is getting bad and my platelets are not bouncing back. Not crawling back. They are just leisurely sprawled, not doing a lot but they are getting tired and I could use some fresh ones. Especially since everyone is sick with something. 
sexy PET scan bathroom selfie. 

When  I called to get my PET scan results- I interpreted visceral disease stable, we are watching 2 spots- one on my pelvis, one on my spine. I have an appointment with my onc on the 22nd- so I figured we'd discuss then- start the plan ball rolling for these spots if they are gonna be a problem.

I was hoping for N.E.D.  NO EVIDENCE of DISEASE. 
Go to https://snarky-cancer.myshopify.com/  Snarky Cancer rocks. 

I would be happy if N.E.A.Ds were met. NO EVIDENCE of ACTIVE DISEASE. 

I got Stable. with 2 spots. Stable is good where I am. It's been 5.5 years that I've been living with Breast cancer.  4 years I have been living with METS- Metastasis. Cancer cells that have journeyed and set up camp in other parts of my body, also called Stage IV(4). The goal is to tuck them in and get them to sleep as long as possible. They used to call it Remission-  complete NED. But we have learned that cancer cells are pretty adept at survival and use some ninja cloaking skills to escape detection and lay low until they can seize an opportunity to attack. 

I run(figuratively- there is no running here unless cookies are burning or something equally as important. ) in many cancer circles. I know many in various stages of cancerdom. I cringe when I see the declaration: cancer free. I have seen the devastation when the cancer comes back. but but but the doctors said it was gone. And that my friends would be called a cure. Each cancer is as individual as the person dealing with it and although some cancers have treatments that work well- there are many many more that don't. Worse yet are the options if the cancer comes back. 

Living la vida mutantville: we often hear- oh good it's a NEW cancer and not metastasis. Because well mets suck. They are terminal. They can be managed for a time and many bounce from treatment to treatment, waiting for the next option, hoping it comes out of the pipeline before this line of defense quits. Having mets, living with cancer is much like being a mutant. A lot of waiting and worrying and seizing the moment among all the unknowns. 

When I started chemo- the decision was hit hard, keep the new drugs in the back pocket. I got 18 months out of one of the hard hitters. I had a complete response, although there were shadows of healing(keeping me just a shade away from NED) the chemo worked at shrinking the mets spots.   Radiation was the best option for the tumors in my brain. There were 3, a bigger one in my cerebellum and 2 in my frontal lobe. The little ones- pretty much disappeared. The bigger one required more radiation and well- didn't like it so much- leading to a bunch of swelling and dead tissue and this year's brain surgery. 

After radiation in 2015, I started Kadcyla- which is immunotherapy with chemo attached to it. It is much more targeted than the first chemos. Think sniper versus grenade.  Prior to starting Kadcyla- I had Progression of Disease - meaning some of the spots I had were waking up AND there were new spots. Cancer is graded on severity and staged. I'm Stage IV since 2013. Probably sooner- we just didn't know.   When I first started chemo- Phillip googled shit. He came to me with a look of terror. What is Stage V? There is no stage V. But again, I had a great response to Kadcyla- shrinking the new spots in my leg bones, hip bones, shoulder bones, adrenal gland and some of the old spots that woke up. The problem was we now had multiple organ systems being attacked. Brain, lungs, bones, adrenal. That is why we scan- it's a dance- catch it early to stay in the lead. 

I also take something called Denosumab(Xgeva) it's a shot- immunotherapy that helps my bones hold on to calcium. When the cancer gets into bones- they get weak- not only is it painful, they are prone to breaking. The Xgeva helps keep them stronger and hopefully prevent fractures. Older people also can take this- usually once or twice a year. I've had a few lifetime's worth of it. We started at every 3 weeks and last year went to every 6 ,weeks after research showed less often dosing did not affect time to progression or see more breaks. 

I finally put on my big girl chemo pants and told Phil we should get an early start in hopes of getting out of there and helping kids with after school stuff. Well I rolled over, he was sleeping, he rolled over, I was sleeping- we ended up "sleeping in". Chemo was packed and we waited 2 hours. The way the blood draw site kept bleeding, did not bode well for the extra week off increasing my platelets. When we finally got back to the bay, my nurse(mid care of a much sicker chemosabe) says- I need to talk to you as she runs back and forth! Well that's not good. 

After discussion and reflection, my team does not like the 2 spots and recommends radiation. You know my gut reaction is NOOOOOOOO. But I take a deep breath and listen. She asks me the standard questions- any fever? no, aches? the usual nothing new Cough? nah(as I am surrounded by people hacking up lungs- my offspring included). My onc wanders over. She makes her case. She wants me to think about it. What about the Li-Fraumeni- remember the angry brain spot? Yes, that is a concern, but broken pelvis and spine and spreading cancer are a circling shark. Well GDMFCSSOB. Since the rest of the areas are quiet and responding to Kadcyla- the best option to treat the bone spots is radiation. Shit the ball is rolling. 

My nurse is on the phone with radiation oncology trying to get me an appointment to talk with the rad onc. Yep she's asymptomatic, she's one of our weird ones. Flashback to brain decisions. Ugh. radiation. Ugh. Cancer sucks. Ugh. It could be worse. Ugh. She tells us to think on it, rad onc will call. Ball moving faster. My phone rings- it's the nurse at school- Kiera isn't feeling well- crap- she has to sign herself out- who knows how long we will be. 

SO I finish up chemo, make it to the car and have my meltdown. Phil says- you don't want to do radiation. You don't have to.     I wish it were that simple.  I kinda like this living thing. Even though it's hard and emotional.  I mean the kids- they fight like crazy- we are all still trying to process the last round.  Ugh I don't want to tell them- Kiera is asleep on the couch when we get home. Phil changes and is back out the door to get Bella- The tears keep falling. We promised the kids we wouldn't hide stuff from them- mostly because I have shit for a poker face. I make Kiera and I some tea. I tell her, she hugs me- I say eww your sick, she laughs. Lily gets home. She is also a snotty coughing mess. She struggles enough on chemo weeks. She and Kiera have an audition. Telling Kiera ironically would help her focus- I can't tell Lily yet, it would completely throw her off. It's bad enough both have to audition sick. Next time I turn around, Kiera is laying by the front door asleep with Dobby. This fucking sucks. But it could be worse. 

When they leave, I tell Phillip who is just getting back from work. his shoulders sag. This fucking sucks. But it could be worse. I tell Lily the next afternoon. Which means she will have some physical manifestation in a day or two(cue finger "contusion") Days pass, I can't remember if I told Bella. She wants to make cookies. I sit and talk with her while her hands are busy. At first tears. Then the red headed anger- why can't we have a Christmas without medical CRAP!  I apologize and promise to try and plan scans better. She says it's ok, all she wants for Christmas is for us to be together and for me to get better. 

So I have pretty much checked out- focusing on the basics and just trying to enjoy the season and keep stress low. Not in a Grinchy way- just a survival do what's important way. Just another dose of perspective. I baked cookies because I wanted to. I got some Christmas cards out, because I love cards. I'm looking forward to Lily's piano recital and Kiera and Bella's holiday Nutcracker show. We meet with radiation oncology on Tuesday next week- Phil has a couple days off around Christmas- I'd really love to take those days and have some fun family time. We will come up with a plan and go from there. So as things go- pretty stable-ish in Mallory land. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


How do you not become bitter?

I've known Phil more than half my life. He is my best friend. We've stood by each other at our best. We've helped each other at our worst.

Years ago, I became a fighter pilot's wife. Fortunately I knew that fighter pilot way before he was a pilot- so I saw through much of the shenanigans. It wasn't either of our identity, just a part of a bigger picture. I was never a trophy, nor he- we are partners. The thing with partnership is it isn't always 50/50. Sometimes it's 110/110. Sometimes it's 150/-45. 

Yesterday morning he hugged me. Which is not unusual- he hugs me every morning. But it was one of those hugs.

This year. oh. This year. It was the best of years, It was the worst of years. The best being that I'm still here, I think. Phil always makes me better. He makes me want to be better. We have been through some shit. It is difficult to not be bitter. It is a conscious choice. It is work. Like life, like relationships. It is worth it. Even though sometimes we wonder. 

There is always someone who is going through a rougher time. There is always someone who has it easier. There is a very deserving person, who gets no recognition. There is the slacker who seems to just skate by.

Not only did Phil care for me and the kids during one of the scariest times in our lives, he somehow balanced several jobs and so many other responsibilities. He does not complain. He does it, because he is that good of a person. He has been through hell. He has cards stacked against him repeatedly. He does the work of others, because they cannot be bothered and it needs to get done. He genuinely cares. He sacrifices free time and time with us. He is here when it matters. He is my rock.

Others carve out time for vacations, he makes sure he is at every chemo, every scan. He makes dinner, he does laundry. He takes the kids to appointments when possible. He is not perfect. He works too hard. But he is perfect for us. He loves me, scars and all. Moods and all. Better yet- he seems to really like me. I know I REALLY like him. He makes me laugh. We laugh a lot- even when we fight. I get upset because I want more time with him. I know he does too, but he is making sure everything is taken care of. He takes care of his people. I am so lucky to be his people.

Every year for his birthday, I want to celebrate him. He is as uncomfortable with that as I am with my birthdays. We don't need the big fanfare- but we thrive when the ones we love and respect show us their love. Of course this year, he had Air War College deadlines to meet- so we cleaned up the dishes and he hit the computers. Yes computers- because it takes 2-3 for him to operate efficiently -while fielding texts from work on both his personal phone and work phone. The next night, we rally the kids and have a rare dinner out- celebrating that he finished not 1, but 2 online courses. While being a squadron commander, attached to a flying squadron, dad and husband.

I am quiet lately because it is hard. It is hard to not get bitter. It is hard when dreams seem ever elusive. Planning feels like a set up for disappointment. We both struggle with it. There is Plan A, B, C all with options. There are those who have an abundance of help while we watch so many others struggle. I hate that we are so busy- it is a rare event that we can help others. Yet we continue to work hard, to make it better. We want it to be better for our kids. That is not to say so they don't have to work hard, but so they work better. Not to be better than others, but to be our better selves, to help others be better. Always shooting for our best, always hoping for better. And sometimes before we get there, we just have to BE. So yesterday, in that hug, we just were. It wasn't a vacation- which is direly needed- but it was a respite. For those minutes, everything was better. Because of him.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

For Bobby

November 12, 1974 my brother Robert Donald Connolly was born. Robert after both my dad(his middle name) and my mom, Roberta. Donald for my dad's dad.

He was a very sick baby. Heart problems, lung problems, stomach problems. He wasn't expected to live a year. His first year was full of hospitalizations. Yet he defied the odds. Until the fricking brain tumor.

We were not quite 2 years apart. We had a pretty normal childhood. I knew he was sick as a baby, scars on his chest and throat stayed the same size as he grew around them. I never knew how precarious that first year was. I knew that although we were treated normal- he wasn't pushed to be as active as other kids in sports. I never questioned why-I just knew it made mom nervous. But just about everything made her nervous. That's just how moms are.

He loved bananas. So I hated them. He wanted pineapple upside down cake for every birthday- pretty much it was all about the cherries.  He loved cars. No one could ever tell the story better than my dad about our short stint playing pee wee baseball- Bobby used to smuggle hot wheels in his glove and would sit out in right field- forging paths in the dirt for his cars. I can't hear Peter, Paul and Mary's Right Field without ugly crying, or John Denver's For Baby, originally titled For Bobby. Fortunately neither song gets airplay and only randomly pops up on shuffle. Or days like today when I play it while Phil n the kids are at the movies.

We hung out with Melissa and Jason. Roughly our ages, I always envisioned he and Mel would eventually get married, making us real sisters. She was his first kiss- waiting for the bus, they were 5. That sealed the deal in my book.  She and Jay message me every so often when they think of Bobby. Other than family, I often wonder who remembers. As much as it hurts that he is gone, hearing he is remembered is the gold that fills the broken cracks.

He had posters of Ferraris and Lambourghinis in his room when he got older. When I turned 16, we were gonna buy a Jeep together- I got to pick the color, it was going to be blue.  He loved music- he introduced me to Europe and 2 Live Crew. Ironically we sat and listened to the Final Countdown on his walkman over and over in the hospital. Countdown to what, we had no idea at the time. Going home, feeling better, something. Mom played Pachelbel's Canon in D constantly as the countdown kept ticking, the tumor unrelenting. When Phil and I got married, it had to be Pachelbel- not because it was the trend, but because I had to attach happy to the song, it was already a part of me and I could not be debilitatingly sad every time I heard it.

The only time we were on the same team was when we were both against something. We fought a lot. In high school we rarely talked. He had his own set of friends, Jimmy and the other Bobby, he now was just Bob. They were into cars. We were happy forging our own ways. We still would decorate the bay window for Halloween- before everyone started "decorating" for Halloween- we'd start right after school so it would be lit up when mom and dad got home from work.

Our discussions consisted of don't tell mom and dad or else I'll tell them this. We were keepers of each other's secrets. The biggest one being when he was in a rollover car accident. It explained the headaches. We were in the same level math, I'd go ask for help- he'd yell at me to get lost. He was failing. It was a secret that wouldn't be kept for long.

I remember his hands. Phillip has his hands. He would have been tall. All torso like my dad. He would have been the best uncle. He would have been a great husband and an amazing dad. But he never got the chance. When my kids struggle with normal, I am constantly torn between being thankful for normal and can't we just skip the BS? I could sit around and be angry- lord knows there's enough anger and saddness- but that would be a disservice to him, to his memory. He and his death are a huge part of why I approach life the way I do. We are impermanent. We will be only memories to those who love us and they are also impermanent. But I cherish the memories. And we are what we pass on and we pass on pieces of those we love any way we can. I remember the way he laughed. sneaking around together early Christmas mornings, time outs in our rooms- sitting in the door jams whispering about how much trouble we were in.

I remember him every day, but days like today he is both closer and further away. The sadness heavier. When we were first trying to cope with losing him, my mom used to say- I had 15 more years with him than I thought I would. In that I saw her strength,  but also the great sadness that never leaves, the nervousness made sense. I recognized this when I had my kids. Even more tangible when Lily was diagnosed. Then Phillip's diabetes. Every year when we scan them. But we are not permanent. We do our best to live as long as we can - the emphasis on living. We make the memories that others carry with them. We remember.

I miss him every day, but today a little more as we make pineapple upside down cake. Happy Birthday Bob.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Insufficient Breaks

Ah Life. The ups. The downs. The more downs.

Lily was looking for pictures the other day and stumbled across the blog. She read quite a few and we sat and talked. She had lots of questions, she didn't remember a lot. Part of the reason I started blogging was a journal-now reading back- I don't remember a lot and then the words crash around me. It's not easy. We've kinda dealt with a lot of shit. It's been tough to write lately- finding time, emotional energy and not be negative. Although as a good friend reminded me- you can feel the toughness and you don't have to be happy about it. Happy about it has been elusive.

Lily is doing the best of all of us right now. She and Kiera remind me a lot of me at those ages. Bella is truly a unique creature and dealing with being 11. Being 11 kinda sucks- in case you hadn't heard- she will tell you. The snark is strong with that one. Lily reads and reads and reads. real books. she prefers them to the kindle or electronic versions. I understand. She says she just likes the feel of the book and turning the page. We visit the library, a lot. She has friends at school and seems to be really happy.

Kiera is struggling with the challenges of the IB program as well as the time requirements for dance. It is so different than where we were with Phillip at this point. She is realistic and although she loves to dance- she does not think she wants to make a career of it. I just hope she will continue to dance, she would like to start a club at school. She is talking about withdrawing from classes after their Nutcracker performance. She really stepped up and became the little mommy for us last year, I really can't argue with her wanting just to have time to be a teen.

Bella is 11. not a little girl - not a woman- plain ol trying to figure things out. We just extricated Lily from this awkward place- or she grew out of it- so we apply miracle grow and hope for the best. Tomorrow is her arm MRI- finally-hoping to rule out some of the anxiety around that thing.

Dobby is like having a toddler. He eats things he shouldn't, poops where he shouldn't and needs lots of attention. Of course everyone gives him attention in their own way and that amounts to several hours of circus dog training for him each day. I walk him a bunch which is good for me physically and emotionally and he enjoys quiet naps in the sun while the kids are at school.

My sweet Phillip. He turned 18. And magically did not instantaneously gain the wisdom of life that adulthood promises. After being in a relationship for a year, young Romeo and Juliet were told they could no longer see each other. Although I don't agree with how many things have been handled, we absolutely respect her family's wishes. We lost part of Phillip last year, I thought it was me, I remember all too well being surrounded by sickness my senior year. I practically lived at Phil's house that year,  But it wasn't about me. Phillip was in love. All focus was lost, he started to lose himself in the relationship. His grades were the first indication, then he didn't apply to some colleges we had talked about, he stopped talking to us, he wasn't careful with his blood sugars- which made him angry, a lot.  He was going through a pretty normal thing with a bunch of not normal. We were trying to cope with a pretty normal thing with a bunch of not normal. Just when I'd see glimpses of him and think he was moving on, he'd slide back. My poor child - cursed with his father's loyalty and my passion for saving lost causes.  Oh to be able to share the insight on that and have him hear me.

Parenting is not for the weak. You lay the foundation and just pray it holds. I wish I could prevent him from heartache, but these are the experiences that break the heart wide open. With the right healing- the capacity for love will be even greater.

My adrenal glands just aren't recovering. I try to manage physical and emotional stress the best I can(I have a new dragon egg smelly thing- as the kids call it- a diffuser for relaxing oils)- we are the opposite of relaxing- even on our most laid back day. The night after my last chemo- I went into adrenal crisis.

I thought it was a headache. Which stresses me out- it could be the weather, it could be the stress- it could be more. So I retreated to my room with oils, tylenol, and ice pack then a heating pad. Within minutes the rest of the available Mallorys were sitting around, playing with Dobby, rubbing my feet. Everyone knew something was up. My stomach started hurting- again catch 22 stress- then the vomiting began. I tried zofran, I tried heavy steroids, everything came back up. I felt horrible. Phil decided I was not in fact contagious and needed the shot. He tried to take my puke bucket away. I cursed him- I think it would have made a great remake for the Exorcist. He finally gave me the shot, and we headed to the ER.

Of course the ER didn't know what to do with me, we enlightened them. It was slow going. The shot kicked in- iv zofran was lovely and fluids helped. I upped the steroids the next few days and then wean back to my regular dose. The dose changes are always tough emotionally. And life goes on and I make dinner because Phil has extra work to make up for the unintended day off. It's a reminder to take better care of myself for everyone's sake and well adrenal crisis really really fricking sucks.

My adrenals are quitting, my platelets aren't bouncing back- nothing transfusion worthy- just bloody noses and bruises. Like anything- I know so many who are far worse off- so I dare not complain. But my gut says we need to strengthen my body again. So after meeting with my oncologist and some thinking- we are holding chemo- the idea was until we do a PET scan. IF there is no progression, or evidence of active disease- we can evaluate and come up with a balance. But of course the PET is not available until the week after Thanksgiving- which would mean skipping 2 treatments. No one knows the right call. SO it's mine. Choose your own adventure cancer style.

SO I go with what I know versus what I wish. I know that I have aggressive cancer that keeps trying to find a way to thrive. I wish No evidence of disease meant I didn't have to worry- I will always have to worry- it's just at what level. I know it could be worse. I wish it was easier. I know I am tired. I wish I wasn't. I know that chemo is keeping the cancer at bay. I wish it didn't damage the other systems in the process. It's time to mitigate damage before it's too late, while not letting the cancer get ahead and this is what managed care is. It's not a cure. Other things go wrong, you have to roll with it and hope to keep ahead of all the bad things. And sometimes you just need a break.

So I will probably head to chemo next week and pound steroids like a world champion cyclist. Thankful for a little break, help the kids with the big ones, wait for the PET and hope for the best.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Don't be an Ass.

It is fairly frustrating trying to raise humans up when the world around you seems to be going backwards.

Friday, Lily came home from school. She's our talker. No surprise there. I often tell people, the Mallory's don't have secrets, we have a Lily. If you want to know anything, just ask her. She tells me who is doing what, funny things her teachers say and mostly interactions she has with people.

Friday's interaction was disturbing. She was walking down the hall after 5th period and a boy ran by and grabbed her butt. I set down what I was doing- looked her in the eye and told her that is never OK.  Bella pipes us- yep- grab (pause) butt Friday. (they aren't supposed to swear).  Grab Ass Friday is a THING in elementary school too? well actually says Bella- some boys try to but they are stupid, but today a teacher grabbed a girl and yelled at her.

So many things to discuss. First things first. Lily. who. what. where. when. She tells me. She wilts a little. Part of her was flattered. I can understand. Middle school is tough enough, trying to figure out social whatevers, trying to be liked by little assholes who end up being big assholes and not quite understanding that someday the pond will be much bigger - and the pond needs the good to balance out the ass.

We live in a country where we still have discrimination. Try as you may to believe otherwise and act otherwise, there are many who want to make the pond a swamp while telling you they are draining it. You can add all the gold and water features you want to a swamp, it's still a swamp if it is all sludgey. We live in a country where rich men can grab women inappropriately, laugh about it and there are swamp dwellers who feel that is still less evil, even worse that it is OK. It's a huge setback. We have to discriminate, people are just doing it wrong. Do you want the fresh chicken or the injected, mistreated, genetically modified chicken. You are what you eat. Well shit- I want the fresh chicken then. I just discriminated against the poor injected, mistreated, genetically modified chicken. But it's Ok- I know mutant chickens. smh. Not all are bad for you. We can be discriminating without being unjust. We have differences. Many of these differences need to be celebrated. Unfortunately, a lack of understanding that differences aren't always bad, leads to fear, fear leads to discrimination.

But I digress- I can spout all I want to my children but it means very little if not followed by action. We have to not only BE the good, we have to DO good. I know Lily wants me to be outraged but also sympathetic. She does not want to be singled out or known for THIS. At 12, this is fairly basic human nature- and it's flipping confusing. We discuss how to handle these situations, she said she pushed his hand away. In mama bear mode I suggested that next time a punch would be acceptable and I'd gladly defend her. I know unfortunately this will not be the last time one of my girls deals with sexual harrassment, "boys will be boys" and trying to find the line between good natured fun and objectifying power plays by cowardly people. SO I email her principal. Lily looks terrified. I try to reassure her that she will not have to be front and center in this issue but we have to make sure the principal knows it's going on so it doesn't continue.

I think what bothered me most was that Lily was not herself all weekend. It wasn't a tummy ache, but she "just didn't feel good".  We talked about how this is her gut telling her something was wrong. This is huge. Lily prides herself in being the teacher's pet and following the rules, she has no problem turning rule breakers in. But somewhere in this growing up process, we learn that behavior is less acceptable and cool. She couldn't control the action of that boy in the hall on Friday, she could only control her reaction to it. He had the problem and he was making it hers. So although it's hard to talk about it, we have to do something so other people do not feel this way.

 I was relieved when the principal called me Tuesday. I was pretty sure this would get lost in the holiday weekend flow. She handled it admirably. She wanted to make sure Lily knew she could come to her at any time or any teacher with these concerns and they would help and she could be anonymous. She also wanted Lily to know how sorry she was this happened to her.

We also talked about my telling Lily to punch a kid next time. As a mom, she understood, but we can't meet one assault with another. That made sense, if everyone today retaliated against brutality- it would be chaos. Oh wait. Ok in the heat of the moment- mama bear reacts, but after discussion and rationalization- we have to stick to who we are -we do good. even if others do not. 2 wrongs do not in fact make a right. It is pretty tough to understand- especially when you are afraid your concerns won't be heard.

I know where Lily is coming from. Part of me didn't want to be the mom who overreacts and makes a mountain out of a molehill. I called lil Phillip. Dude- quick question- some kid grabbed your sister's butt- Is Grab Ass Friday a Thing?

No mom. It's Sexual Assault. It is never a THING. That's just wrong. I'm at work.

Ok bud- that's all. And like that- despite many doubts about if anyone hears me, I'm trying my damnedest to swim upstream and give my kids a fighting chance in a time where the good and common sense seem to be on the losing side of the battle. I think that makes me a smart- ass.

Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)