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  1. Double Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

    May 22, 2012 by Momma Bear

    First off, I just have to say CURSE YOU HELLO KITTY DIARY!  I’m pretty sure that I was falling trap to my old style of “Dear Diary, I don’t have anything to say, so bye!”  It seems the universe has other plans for me, though.  More ass-kicking plans.  I’m gearing up for another fight here.  And apparently I have a lot to say about it.

    Let me back up just a little.  I had actually been working on a post  which was all about just complaining feeling like I don’t have time or room for cancer in my life.  I didn’t even have time to finish the post, which, yes, like much of my life, is rather ironic.  (Don’t ya think?  Yes, Alanis Morrisette is running through my head now.  Awesome.  But I did finish the post, even though it was late.  See below.)

    Anyways.  About 2 weeks ago I started having a nagging headache.  Nothing terrible, all perspective, didn’t even take advil for it.  But it was there every morning when I woke up and the usual cure of sleep didn’t help a bit.  At first, I blamed a hangover (yep, that’s still how I roll), then allergies, then ovulation (my brother David is sooo grossed out right now), then stress, then not drinking enough water… you get it.  So, finally I called in.  The nurse said that they weren’t particularly worried, but that since they would likely have me do a brain scan soon, they would do one now just to set my mind at ease.

    (Dark foreshadowing music here.)  I went TODAY at noon.  The tech was super nice, no issues.  She said they would have the report to my oncologist around 1:00 p.m.  At 1:07, the secretary called to say that “HE” needed to see me right away and I should come at 4:40.  Ummm, okay.  THEN, when I was trying not to stress out shopping at Costco (because, oh yeah, I have kids that like to eat), his nurse called to say that I should make sure not to come alone.  WHAT????  This is the same man that I know I have driven crazy (even though he is much too nice to ever admit it although he kinda has) with a room full of people.  And now he WANTS me to come with people???  Hmmm.   I’m no rocket scientist, but…

    So, I went with people.   My mom and other mom (for those of you that don’t know my family, I mean my mom and step-mom… I don’t have 2 mommies in THAT way, not that there is anything wrong with that) were in the room with me, when the door opened,  in came my doctor… AND THE SOCIAL WORKER!!!  Are you with me, peeps?  Would you have the same reaction?  Cuz  I have gotten a LOT of bad news, but that is the first time the social worker (who is totally delightful, by the way, and none of this is a reflection on her) has been there.  I think I blurted out, “Oh wow, you must have REALLY bad news for me!”

    And he did.  At least I know I’m supposed to think that.  The fucking cancer has metastasized to my brain now.  Seems like that is pretty much a glass half-empty thing.  I love my oncologist, who I can only hope is having a big ol’ giant martini  with a whole bunch of pepperoncinis tonight.  But, seriously… I already knew I had stage 4 cancer… is this *that* shocking? And the glass-half-full is now I’ll get to DO something about it.  I’m ready to fight like hell.  BRING IT.

    So, here we go again.  Brain radiation starting tomorrow, and then we’ll follow it up immediately with a systemic chemo.  I may be ineligible for clinical trials now, but with results coming soon on the genetic testing, I am still hopeful that there will be something.

    Damnit, my hair was just starting to look like a girl again and was ALMOST cute.  I’ll probably shave it off this weekend – head radiation causes some craaaazy hair­ loss-patterns and I don’t think I want to deal with it.

    I’m not ready to talk about it yet, but I did tell the cubs.  Man, do I love those little ones.  They only experience cancer as I do, so I like to think that I am teaching them to be strong, not give up, and to make the most of the hand you are dealt.  (GREAT.  Now I have Kenny Rogers and “The Gambler” stuck in my head!”)

    I was worried the appearance of the social worker meant “the talk” was coming.  I *NEED* to know that my doctors aren’t giving up on me – that they will help me keep fighting.  My doctor swore in front of the witnesses this wasn’t the case, and that there is a lot of room here to still do some ass-kicking (my word, not his).

    So, saddling up!  Here we go!

    And, Cancer?  You listening?  You picked on the wrooooooong momma bear.  FUCK YOU!

    Jessica


  2. But I don’t have the right shoes for crazy

    May 22, 2012 by Momma Bear

    (And yes, this whole post is not going to be especially p.c., and I am sensitive to the issues of mental illness and understand that for people living with mental health issues and their loved ones – there is nothing funny about it.  It’s been one of those weeks though.)

    There are several reasons why going crazy is not an option.   Most of them are the obvious ones, like I am the custodial “stable” parent, etc etc… but it’s more than that.  It occurred to me this morning that I just don’t know what I would WEAR to crazy.  And while I am sure I could piece something together from all the too-small clothes, I for SURE don’t have the right shoes.  I also don’t know where I could possibly put it in to the packed schedule right now to go shopping for footwear.  So, although crazy was looking awfully good this morning, I decided not to go there.  For now.

    More than I don’t have time to go shopping for crazy shoes, I *REALLY* don’t have time for cancer.  And right here is where I am going to be preaching to the choir to all the moms out there.

    I had an appointment with my oncologist yesterday.  I really heart that man.  [ No real news… more waiting. I will have a CT scan the end of May and hopefully then have the genetic testing results and THEN can make a decision.  Really thinking I will do something in the realm of experimental… and as my doc pointed out, there is always the traditional to fall back on.  We also talked cocktails.  Just saying.]  Anyways.  My point here was that my appointment was at 3:40.  I had to take the cubs because I couldn’t figure out how to make it everywhere else if they weren’t with me.  They were heavily bribed perfect angels and made me look really good.  So, I picked them up at school, and went to the appointment.  18 miles.  We drove home really quick to change into the appropriate sports gear.  14 miles.  Took Cub 2 to baseball practice.  9 miles.  Left him there and took Cub 1 to lacrosse pictures.  8 miles.  He forgot his white jersey, so had to run home and bring it back.  4 miles.  Left him there and went back to get Cub 2.  8 miles.  Met Cub 1 and friends for buffet night at our favorite pizza place… because oh yeah, it was 7:30 and the cubs needed to eat and I realized I had forgotten to eat lunch in between work and my appointment.  9 miles.  Not counting work… I drove SEVENTY MILES after school yesterday.  WHAT?!?  This is most parents’ lives with kids this age and in sports, so not really asking for sympathy here.  Just feeling it

    What I am REALLY feeling here, though, is the ‘single parenting’ thing.  It’s not just the driving and scheduling.  It’s not just that the kids don’t eat unless I feed them.  (Although that is a lot of pressure…) It’s not even that there is no one to tag ‘it’ when I have reached the end of my rope and oh-my-gawwwwwwwwwd-they-are-fighting-again-and-is-that-SHOES-they-are-throwing-at-each-other?  It’s just the sheer overwhelming volume of all the stuff there is TO DO.  I have girlfriends doing this that make it look easy but oh-for-the-love, it so isn’t.  I don’t get how I am supposed to work, do all the house and yard stuff, do all the shopping and cleaning and cooking and washing and omg the flaundry, AND do all the mom things, and OH YEAH!  I HAVE FUCKING CANCER!  And SERIOUSLY — how is it ALWAYS garbage day AGAIN???  So, I ask you…  am I so tired because I have cancer, or because I’m a single mom?

    If I *do* decide to go crazy, then I would have lots of time to see my girlfriends.  They could come visit and we could do fun supervised crafts together.  Looking better and better, just saying.

    But now, the cubs are sleeping… both curled up in my bed waiting for me to get in that most special spot right in between them.  They are so beautiful and angelic (they’re sleeping, remember?) and I think of all the silliness, laughter, sweetness… their funny conversations, sayings, their curiosity and wonder…  I think I will stay here for now.  Don’t even think I will hit the online sites for shoes.

    But, hey cancer???  FUCK YOU.

    Jessica

     

     


  3. There’s a hole in the bucket

    April 30, 2012 by Momma Bear

    I have quite a few goals for 2012… kicking cancer’s ass being at the very top of the list.  Not far behind it, though, is one I have had a lot of trouble with –  and that is starting sentences with, “My therapist says…”

    Epic failure, here we go.  Because, MY THERAPIST SAYS that I should make a “bucket list”.  (He also told me is going to be REALLY pissed at me if I die, so I don’t think his point was that I was kicking the bucket.  No pressure.)  We’ve all heard it before, though, right?  I think it was Erma Bombeck that made the concept famous.  Use the good china, already!

    One time in a life that seems so far away now, I was leading a workshop.  A man in the front was making me feel like a rockstar.  He would sit with an intent look on his face, get a flash of excitement in his face over something I said, and write furiously.  For the whole 4 hours he did this.  I was feeling like the queen of training workshops!  When the workshop was over, everyone stood up and left, but he had left his notes behind on the table.  Wait!  I couldn’t have him lose his record over what had obviously been such a transformative learning experience for him!  I went to snatch the notes up and give them to him – and when I looked at the notes… WOW.  Not workshop notes at all.  Nope.  The man didn’t listen to a word I said, because the whole time he was making a BUCKET LIST.  Four hours of sitting there thinking of all the things he wanted to do… and not getting a thing out of what I was teaching.  It’s only occurred to me in hindsight that maybe (if he had actually remembered the list) it would serve him a lot more than workshop notes.

    But when my therapist suggested it, I was like, “It would be really boring.  ‘Cuz all I want to do is love on my kids, spend time with my family and friends, decorate my house and hang out in it… I don’t want anything crazy.”  Even though I always want to ‘live like I am dying’, I really don’t have any desire to go skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, or go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.  (I do like that song, though.)  I really AM pretty boring, and I really do like my feet best on the ground.

    I can admit now that it was such a dark and horrible time when I first learned about the extent of the cancer (and surgery and all the narcotic drugs they give you  do bring about depressive tendencies… lesson there) that there was a part of me (just a part) that was pretty ambivalent about what would happen to me.  Life was HARD, and I think it really was only the pressure of my kids that kept me going.  My Effexor and I are so happy to report that those days are long gone – and every part of me now wants to live that sweet, boring life.  And I am going to HAUNT THE HELL out of my cubs if I do die.  (There’s a whole post coming on that topic… some other time.)

    Those that know me personally know that I love Dr. Seuss.  It’s a deep, unreasonable kind of crush – kinda how I feel about margaritas on the rocks.  His nonsensical and rhyming quotes are just my style, though.  I have lots of favorites, but this is one of them:  “Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite. Or waiting around for Friday night or waiting perhaps for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil or a better break or a string of pearls or a pair of pants or a wig with curls or another chance. Everyone is just waiting.”

    It occurs to me that it’s not just that I am boring, it’s that I am too caught up in WAITING.

    So, enough is enough!  No more waiting for me, Dr. Seuss, and oh, the places I’ll go!  No more waiting until the test results to know what to do with my life.  No more waiting until I get the chemo weight off, or my hair grows out, or I stop being so tired.  No more waiting to swallow my fish oil when I know it’s good for me.  No more waiting to exercise.  And I’m still not riding a bull named Fu Man Chu, but I might borrow some other things from the song… I’m going to love deeper, and speak sweeter and give forgiveness I’ve been denying.  Fishing will still be an imposition (thank my ex for that memory) but being the friend I’d like to have sounds really good.  And, yes my cubs, I’m still going to yell less.

    What’s the lesson here?  People keep asking me what they can do for me.  Right now, I don’t need much help besides being 2 places at once with the cubs’ sporting events, and occasionally moving big heavy things.  I hope it always stays that way.  I was thinking, though, if someone REALLY wanted to do something for me, they would pay attention when I’m leading a workshop.  Kidding.  They would share the love by doing just one small thing that they know they should.  It could be anything… if you are still reading, I know the wheels are turning and you are thinking what it could be.  Stop waiting for something to happen first… live today.  I’d love to hear from you what it will be.

    And, hey cancer???  FUCK YOU.

    Jessica

     


  4. The year 2011 B.C., or here it is…. My Story

    April 23, 2012 by Momma Bear

    I used to talk about “Life B.C.” and meant ‘before children’.  The time of sleeping in, still perky boobs, and so much less emotional angst.  You don’t know guilt and worry until you become a momma bear.  Now when I say it, though, I mean ‘before cancer’, and I’m having trouble reconciling in my mind that there was a time before all this.  The cubs mark it as a day… Cub 1 calls April 22rd,  2011 his “last normal day ever”.  (Yup, you don’t know guilt until you become a momma bear.)

    A year ago today, I was married.  I didn’t know I was sick, at least not this kind of sick.  I was also miserable, in a marriage clearly on the road to nowhere fast.  I went to counseling once a week to get help coping with his increasingly erratic behavior, his mood swings, and the ratcheting tension that defined our daily lives.  I did love him then, but I lived in a state of anxiety attacks and constant guard to make sure he didn’t get set off.  We seemed so nice and “normal” (whatever THAT means) from the outside looking in.   I was very invested in keeping that appearance up.

    (And to be fair, since I started this not really sure where it would go, and it is clearly going to the disintegration of my union… it takes two to destroy a marriage.  I was not the perfect wife by any means, and he, of course, does have a side to this story.  Here’s the deal for anyone reading this, though:  DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS NEVER OKAY, NEVER EXCUSABLE AND NEVER YOUR FAULT, NO MATTER WHAT.  Yep, that suuuuuure doesn’t seem like rocket science, especially coming from someone with a masters degree in counseling (ooooh the irony) but it took me awhile to get that through my head.)

    And that’s what happened.  I wrote about it once for my “victim’s impact statement” in Court, but I think I need to leave it behind me right now.  In the interest of helping others that may be living in quiet shame, I may tell it at some point. Today, though, I feel “triggered” remembering it all.  It was a long night, and a brutal night.  I got away to a soul-sister’s house (forever grateful, J.), and thank God for her calm and take-charge ways, especially as I had no choice but to escape and leave the cubs behind – and was absolutely crazy freaking out about it.  He went to jail and we’ve not been together since.  I ended up with freaky bad bruises, 2 broken ribs, and an incredibly broken psyche that couldn’t be x-rayed.  (There’s nothing they can do for broken ribs, either, and let me tell you – they HURT.  Living in pain makes it hard to forget.  In my worst moments, his voice from that night echoes in my head.)

    It was the day before Easter, on the day of one of my soul-sister’s birthdays (I’m forever sorry it played out that way, E.).  I went in for a chest x-ray.  This, dear reader, is where when they make the Lifetime movie of it all, there will be very dramatic music.  (And I’m SERIOUS about the Lifetime movie – pick who plays you now so we will be ready for casting.  I so want Sarah Jessica Parker.)  I got a call on Easter Sunday that ‘something funny’ showed up on my chest x-ray and that I needed a ct-scan.  It was the nurse from Urgent Care, and she was very insistent about all of it.  The cubs and I were staying at my mom’s house (he had bailed out of jail and I didn’t have a restraining order yet).  I remember exactly where I was, and I was like, “Do you know how much I have going on right now?  Can’t this wait?”  She was clear and firm.  “No, it can’t.”  The word ‘cancer’ wasn’t even on my mind.  I was still trying to wrap my head around what had happened to my family.

    So, here was the week.  Somehow we got through Easter, my brother and his family took us to see “Hop” (I’d like to strangle that damn bunny for what he reminds me of, but I took an expensive nap in the theater) and everyone tried to make it okay for the cubs.  Cub 1 had been awake and heard the whole thing, and Cub 2 was woken up by police in the house.  I don’t know if my body or my heart hurt worse, aching for my sweet baby bears.   They will always be the hardest part of all of this.

    Monday I had to ditch work and the huge field trip to go get a restraining order.  (I LOVE MY JOB AND THE PEOPLE I WORK WITH.)  My dad also called a physician friend of his to get the ct-scan ordered, as I didn’t have a primary care doctor.  Tuesday, I got the chest ct at the hospital.  Really fun having to explain your bruises every time – NOT.  This primary care doctor called me before I was even out of the parking lot to tell me I needed a biopsy.  I remember so clearly he said, “The concern here is cancer.”  That poor man, who it turns out lives with cancer as well.  I shrieked into the phone, “Are you FUCKING kidding me????  DO YOU KNOW WHAT I AM DEALING WITH RIGHT NOW???”  He yelled back at me, “DO YOU THINK I LIKE MAKING THIS PHONE CALL???”  I know he didn’t.  I’m always reassuring my doctors now that I’m okay and commiserating with them when they have to share bad news. That’s how Jewish momma bears roll.

    So, Wednesday (yep, still talking about this same week), I went in for a needle-guided biopsy, where they blissfully had me sleep for awhile.  Not really understanding the procedure, my biggest worry that day was that I was wearing bad underwear.  Hmmm… there is probably a lesson there.  I left the hospital and went and signed divorce papers.

    Quick aside.  I have met some of the most amazing doctors and PEOPLE through all of this.  The woman who did the biopsy will be forever in my heart, and I’m determined that she will have wine with me someday.  I’m not naming my care providers because, frankly, I’m not sure that they would appreciate being recognized in a blog that has so much swearing.  If they ever read this and want to be, I will surely shout their names from this blog’s rooftop.

    IN HINDSIGHT.  When I woke up, the doctor prepped me and my mom and some girlfriends for cancer.  She gave us lots of information, and told us she thought it was “50-50” that it was.  I think she knew and was just giving me room to get used to the idea.  I’m going to ask her next time I see her.  And I’m going to make a wine date.

    This was my first experience with scanxiety, (more dramatic music here), a feeling that anyone waiting for cancer tests knows all too well (scan+anxiety).  Tom Petty sure has it right… waiting IS the hardest part.  (And last time I was dealing with scanxiety, I heard that song on the radio a whole bunch.  Weird.)  I never WANT bad news, but there have been moments it has been almost a relief to end the crazy anxious waiting.  As nuts as that sounds, that’s what scanxiety is all about.

    So, by Friday afternoon, at a birthday party for one of Cub 1’s friends, I still hadn’t heard.  I did NOT want to wait the weekend, and that evening the cubs had a piano recital.  We were due to stop by the piano teacher’s house for them to practice one last time.  (‘Cuz, yeeeeah, they hadn’t done a whole lot of it that week).  Remember the super nice woman doctor that did the biopsy?  Well, it wasn’t her job to have to give me results, but I didn’t want to get them from someone I didn’t know… so I tracked her down from the birthday party.  ‘Cuz THAT is the way to party, right?  Man, is she a nice and compassionate soul.   She said she would go look and call me back, but “JUST IN CASE”, how about if she got me an oncology appointment for Monday?  (Foreshadowing music here.)  She called me back when I was driving to the piano teacher’s house.  “Hey, watcha doing?”, she asked.  When I told her I was driving the kids, she told me to call her back when I wasn’t driving and I was alone.  If THAT wasn’t a clue…  The kids went into the piano teacher’s house for 10 minutes, I called her, and she told me.  Just like that.  My head was spinning after the initial confirmation of cancer, but I remember she said, “You know how I explained to you the difference in the kind of cancers?”  Then she said something about me having the bad kind.  At that time, the thought was that the cancer was a localized tumor, she assured me it would be okay, and we hung up.  I called my mom, my step-mom who called my dad, and sent a text to my girlfriends and other family.  Then the cubs came out and we went to a piano recital.  Holy surreal, Batman

    So, Friday to Friday, life forever changed for the cubs and me.  It’s a whole other story what happened next with surgery and discovering the cancer was more extensive than first thought.  I’ll write about that some other time.  This is getting really long.  I’m impressed if you’re actually still with me.

    I had mixed feelings putting this out there.  One, like I said before, I know people sharing my married name will read this at some point.  Also like I said before, I am past the point of being hurtful.   He’s done a lot of treatment and is in a better space.  We are divorced and for the sake of the cubs, I am determined to get along with him.  It’s also a shameful thing – I never thought of myself as someone this could happen to.  There’s a lesson there too.  But, here it is… a year later, I have let go of it all and it is so liberating.  I love my new house and my new life (obviously except for the cancer part).  And as my girlfriends pointed out to me, he made me a warrior.  So, this is NOT to call him out or make his life miserable, but it is MY story to tell.

    Just a few nights ago, the cubs were upstairs getting ready for bed when all of sudden they started screaming and came flying down the stairs, both hysterically crying.  Cub 2 had to translate what Cub 1 was trying to say because he was almost hyperventilating.  They heard a noise upstairs and were convinced someone was in the house.  They were shaking and sobbing and really inconsolable.  (No, Mom, calm down… there was nobody there.)  The night ended with the three of us hugging on my bed, and I was repeating over and over, “It’s okay.  Nobody will get hurt in this house.”  It felt SO good to say that and have it be true.  I reminded them that I am their momma bear and what does a momma bear do?  Cub 2 said, “She protects her cubs no matter what.  She always keeps them safe.”  Then Cub 1 said, “But she can’t stand up to lung cancer.”  I think that is when we all cried.

    So, that’s it.  Cancer is our new predator, but it has NO idea the force it is up against.  Cub 1’s words will be in my heart and I will do everything and anything to protect my babies.  I am so grateful that I can say (and BELIEVE) that this is a safe home.  THIS IS A SAFE HOME.  As for the rest?  I am tough and I will fight like hell.

    So, hey Cancer??? FUCK YOU!

    Jessica

     

     


  5. An Update

    April 21, 2012 by Momma Bear

    It has been an emotional day.  I’ll start with with an “up” for those of you that might have been a little concerned about the cubs’ teeth with some of the previous posts.  We just came from the dentist and they are both proud members of the “No Cavity Club”.  Helped ease some momma bear guilt, that is for sure.

    And a serious down.  One that could drain the life force right out of me, actually.  I can’t even really process this yet.  A good friend has been a member of the CC (remember that’s the Cancer Club) with me, and received the news today that his MRI shows an aggressive growth of his cancer, Glioblasoma Multiforme.  And it FUCKING SUCKS.  I want to pull a Cub 2 right now and throw a monster tantrum, and when my momma bear asks me if I’m being “mature or immature” (new phrase courtesy of the counselor we will never graduate from), I will answer like him, “IMMATURE AND I DON’T CARE!”  Because this is SO UNFAIR.  (If I could be hopping up and down while I yell that, I would… but it would suuuure make me breathless these days.) Now his kids are in the predicament I hope to everything mine never will be, he’s having to think about and face everything that I don’t want to.  I guess this is real.  And it hurts.

    I went to see a pulmonologist to get ready for this most recent biopsy, some torturous procedure where they intubate and do whatever it is they do for a biopsy.  Sometimes anesthesia is really the best way.  Anyways.  He was a very nice man, about my age.  It occurred to me that we should be sitting over a beer discussing mutual interests, not talking about a lung cancer recurrence.  He said, “You know, it always gets the good ones.”  I asked him, “Hey – how do you know?  I could be a total bitch!”  (Sometimes I think I am funnier than anyone else does.)  I have to say, though, in this case, cancer is after a reeeeeeally good one.  I’m toasting you tonight, Dustin.  You and your family will be in my heart and mind and prayers.

    I spoke with the doctor from OHSU this afternoon.  It is such a blessing to have the people I do on my team.  No REAL news… we are going to use the time waiting for the genetic testing to plan the next step.  Whatever is going on with me, it is early.  I have been told several times there is no prognostic benefit to treating a recurrence early but it is taking all my self-control to not rush the chemo suite and jam some chemicals in my port by myself.  I will explore clinical trials as it takes time to enroll etc.  And I’m not taking my blue bracelet for Dustin off.

    You know, you never really know how you are going to impact someone.  There are so many gifts in my day-to-day life.  One today was having lunch with my grandma.  The other came from a soul-sister’s mom, who not only embroidered me the MOST adorable dishtowels you’d ever see, sent along this note:

    Jess,

    I want to tell you a story, a true story by the way, that occurred in my family.  When I was young, starting 1st grade actually, my mother contracted Rheumatic Fever.  After some time hospitalized, her doctor told my family that there was nothing else medicine could do.  However, the Army had an experimental medicine that he wanted to try with our permission.

    Well, permission was finally given to the Army to try their medicine on a civilian.  My mother lived long enough to see the two grandchildren I gave her, and many others as well.

    The experimental medicine was Penicillin.

    Enjoy the towels, and maybe they will remind you of how we all pray the blessing my mother received will be passed on to you.

     

    They will remind me.

    No more words.  Except…
    Hey Cancer?  FUCK YOU!!!!

    Jessica


  6. The Sunshine and Flowers Post

    April 20, 2012 by Momma Bear

    I mentioned before about sunshine and flowers.  I wish I could say that I was the kind of person that found out they had cancer, and suddenly every day was magical, fueled by the miracle of life.  I would like to be that girl that frolics in the sunny meadow, twirling around with her arms open as her beautiful size 2 Sundance Catalog skirt flows around her in the field of blooms.  Where there is a theme song of glorious music, and it rains bacon.  I don’t know why I wrote that part, because that is ridiculous.  I just really like bacon.

    My life is so full of irony that I couldn’t make this stuff up.  Cub 2 literally just came in and asked if I would clean the barf off the bathroom floor.  Yeah, I am so NOT that girl in the meadow.  I’m also the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life except for pregnancy, and size 2 wouldn’t fit around my thigh.  Strangely enough, I might be the most at peace with my body I have ever been (a lesson there — that is another post).

    I want to be that girl… but nope.  My kids still make me crazy (a lot), I still yell (maybe not quite as much, but still an awful lot), there are moments and even days that are NO PART of magical, and with this damn chemo-brain I forget stuff all the time.  Seriously.  ALL THE TIME.  I’m also way less of an attentive mom, and somehow I think that girl in the meadow must be totally on top of everything going on with her kids – the same kids that didn’t leave a single stretch mark, I’m sure.  The other morning, Cub 2 came downstairs to put shoes on for school and his mouth reeked.  Seriously.  Like something crawled in and died there.  Very disturbing smell to emanate from a 7 year old.  I’m like, “Seriously, child.  You need to do some very dedicated tooth brushing RIGHT NOW.  There is no way you can go to school smelling like that.”  He says, “I don’t know where my toothbrush is.  I’ve just been using the fluoride rinse.”  WHAT?!?!?!?  Turns out he hadn’t known where his toothbrush had been for FOUR DAYS.  Yup.  Four days of no teeth brushing.  Let’s just say that the pre-cancer me would have been all over that. And even if I wasn’t, the pre-cancer me never would have publicly acknowledged it.

    I did NOT take a break from writing this to address the vomit and Cub 2 just yelled at me again to PLEEEEEEEEASE CLEAN UP THE BARF!  I’m so far away from the meadow now,  I can’t even hear the theme song in distance.

    I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are in the CC (Cancer Club – it’s exclusive and I hope you never get an invite) get deeper into their faith.  Maybe that is part of where the sunshine and flowers come in for them.  ‘Cuz I’ve sure read a lot of cancer blogs with an awful lot of meadow-dancers.  I have complicated feelings about all that.  I have always been a believer, but my Jewish family has never been the kind to knock on doors about it or shout it from the rooftops.  My relationship to God and my faith has always been more private, more personal.  That said, one of the most touching things to me through all this is people telling me they are praying for me.  I intensely believe it works.  Even if it doesn’t heal me, it gives me so much comfort.

    (Now there is apparently a “GIANT” spider upstairs that my 2 brave boys are afraid to smash.  SOOO much to comment on there, but I really do have to take a break now, as the kids are threatening to never go upstairs until the spider is gone… and bedtime is close and necessary.  Mostly for this momma bear.  I want to stay on topic, but I must tell you – there would NEVER be spiders in my meadow.)

    [Big sigh.  Okay back to the God thing.  Do me a favor… have a glass of wine RIGHT NOW.  Seriously.  Sit there with it, and it will kinda be like I’m not drinking alone as I write this.]

    I remember a time post-surgery when I only had the lung stamina to walk to the end of the street and back.  My dad went for a short walk with me.  I told him that I thought God had probably gotten REAL TIRED of how stubborn I had been.  I was like, “You know… in hindsight, there were some signs that I was sick and needed to address it, and there were FOR SURE signs that I needed to get out of my marriage, so I think He just got fed up with me and was like “Oh for the love of ME, I guess I am going to have to just make this really clear!”  (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, at some point I will have to get around to my whole story… just not there yet.  Probably soon.)  My dad looked at me.  Then he said dryly, “I prefer to think He was just napping.”

    We had a neighbor growing up that was apparently in REALLY good touch with God.  I was like maybe 10 when she told me that God told her what to make every night for dinner.  It occurred to me even then that if God had nothing better to do than plan that family’s meals, we were all in trouble.  Then they got a new puppy and my mom told me later that they put it down because God told them to.  I’m all for tolerance and believe it is the differences that makes our world go proverbially around, but I don’t think my God would tell me to kill puppies.  Or give me cancer.  I think sometimes bad things just happen.  I think He had a really unusual way of making sure I found out about it in time to fight, but I do know He is with me.

    So, what’s the lesson here?  It’s this:  Cancer has taught me that there are things that I just can’t control, and I have to just have faith, pure and simple.  Cancer has helped me realize how much I love my (highly imperfect) life.  I love my REAL life, and real life isn’t always sunshine and flowers.  Far from it. So many people suffer, and I’m only now talking about right here, with relationships and kid stuff and money and illness… nevermind the grand suffering like famine and genocide going on in other parts of our world.  Some of my friends are afraid now to tell me about what is going on in their lives, afraid that it somehow is insignificant in light of what I’m dealing with.  That bugs me – I crave knowing what is going on and all of the real life things people are doing.  I love being a facebook stalker (although that original title belongs to my mom.)  Before cancer, I was much more invested in ‘being/seeming/doing everything/trying to look’ perfect.  Now I think trying that hard just makes you sick.  Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.  (Although I could do with less barf and spiders, and I’m quite sure the cubs could do with less yelling.)

    It’s all about perspective.  The statistic of a 5% survival rate is really commonly linked to stage 4 lung cancer.  When I went to go see the specialist, he acknowledged that but also said that I had a “30 to 40% chance” of knocking it back enough and keeping it at bay so that I could make my goal – to see the cubs graduate high school.  I was so excited!  And, yes, perspective… if someone had ever said to me, “Look, you have a 60 to 70% chance of being smote down when you walk out your door” I would NEVER leave my house.  Yup.  Perspective.  Because I will take that 30 to 40 percent, and I will RUN with it.  Maybe even through a meadow.

    And, hey cancer???  FUCK YOU.

    Jessica


  7. Formerly kinda-sorta a love/hate thing, now just plain hate

    April 18, 2012 by Momma Bear

    I did a Facebook post the first time around that just said:

    “Dear Cancer,

    I HATE YOU.

    From,

    Jessica”

    And then when I thought it was behind me forever, I realized that it was only sorta true.  That in some strange ways, getting cancer had been a really positive thing for me.  I know I even went as far to say, “AS LONG AS I DON’T GET SICK AGAIN [emphasis there], getting cancer was one of the best things that happened to me.”  (So, Cancer, all bets are off now.  I officially fucking hate you.)  I told this to a friend the other night when we were having a full bottle glass of champagne, and she was like, “Really?  I mean, really…?  You don’t have to say that, you know.”  I guess that does sound all sunshine and flowers and little birds tying flowers in my bald scalp hair, and I’m not really that girl.  Not reeeeally.  More on that some other time… the sunshine and flowers thing is a whole other post.

    On the road I travel at least once, if not twice, a weekday to take the little cubs to school, there is a dead coyote.  I’m not sure why nobody has picked it up, but they haven’t.  Maybe because it’s really gross.  It wasn’t at first, though.  The first day, it looked like maybe it was just taking a cute little coyote nappy on the side of the road.  The next day, it looked like a pretty stiff snooze.  And I’ve seen that damn coyote probably for a month now, slowly decomposing just on the road’s shoulder, looking less and less like any sort of real thing, and more and more like a gray disintegrating hunk of ashy nothing-ness.  This morning it occurred to me that is what the cancer is doing to my lungs, slowly rotting out the inside of me.  And THAT imagery will probably fuel my next long sleepless night (because yes, in spite of being so hopeful, I do have them… and anyone that meets their own mortality eye-to-eye in that dark alley and says they do NOT have them is lying)… well, it just will.  But I will think about these other things too.

    Cancer was an integral part of my marriage ending.  Maybe more on that some other time.  I’m undecided still on how much I am going to comment on that subject.  Never in a million years would I recommend doing treatment and a court battle simultaneously (I often referred to the divorce as ‘the other cancer’), but the marriage needed to end, PERIOD.  I’m aware that it’s possible that people that share my married name will read this at some point, and I’m long past the point of wanting to be hurtful.  I do need to be honest though.  I am so intensely thankful that I didn’t have to go through treatment with ‘him’.  Somehow that is something good about cancer.  I worry that the stress of the divorce is part of why perhaps the initial treatments maybe didn’t work, so now I am just glad that this next go-around I can do it with that whole thing resolved.

    Cancer healed my family.  My step-mom and I stopped being bitches to each other.  (Apparently it healed my grammar a little bit, too, because I *really* wanted to say ‘my step-mom and me’.)  Cancer has brought me closer to my dad, and him to my kids, — more than I ever hoped for.  That’s good stuff.  Cancer taught me what an amazing rock of strength my mom is, not like I didn’t already know but I saw it in action again and again.  And my brothers and sister (in-law only technically) – wow.  They have stepped up in some incredible ways.  I love all this and wouldn’t trade it.  My extended family grew and were so loving and supportive.  I could go on and on about this but I think it’s starting to sound like an overblown Academy Award speech.

    Oh wow.  Except I’m going to keep going.  Because my friends?  And community?  Almost (almost) no words.  Oh, my sweet sweet girlfriends.  I can’t think of Jessica’s Army without tearing up, and I’m not crying a lot these days.  (That might be courtesy of preventively bumping up my Effexor, more on that some other time.)  What people have done and continue to do for me and my little cubs is an outstanding display of humanity.  I think about that… that as hard as it was/is, the opportunity to see that goodness and light in people makes it overall such a positive experience.  I’m so grateful my boys were witness to that.  I got back in touch with a lot people.  That’s a beautiful thing.  (Love me some Goldbugs.)  And I finally stopped making excuses and just owned that I really REALLY suck at voicemail.  Hey, I just can’t do it all.  (There’s a lesson there, too.)

    Can I just say I love my doctors and nurses and staff?  I really do but I can’t wait for the day when I never have to see them again.  I’m very grateful though.  I hope anyone reading never needs an oncologist or cancer care but if you do, man, do I got the goods.

    My hair is growing in a MUCH better texture than it used to be.  That right there almost makes the whole damn thing worth it.  (Okay, not really… and one thing this taught me is that after ‘no-hair days’ I won’t really be complaining about bad-hair days!)

    I asked Cub 1 once if he thought there was anything good about me having cancer, like did he think maybe he would be a better grown-up for it…?  He thought for a few minutes, and then he said, “Well… I think maybe it will make me kinder.  And more understanding.  And probably more helpful too.  I think I will know that I can do anything because I will have already had the worst part of my life over.  After this, everything will just be looking up!”  If my mom is reading this, she is rubbing and knocking wood like a mad woman right now.

    And what I’ve learned about myself… the hard lessons that I think I needed.  Part of me felt in my bones (not literally and hopefully not ever, because bone metastasis would suck) that I wasn’t done yet because I still had some growing to do.  I think that is part of what this blog will be about.   Not this post yet, though.  But hey!  Cancer!  Do you hear me?  I am getting it. You can back the fuck off now.

    What’s the lesson here?  That is the point, right?  My tagline is “LESSONS from a cancer-fighting momma bear”, not “RANDOM RAMBLINGS…”  I guess it’s this.  It’s time for me to walk my talk.  For years, I’ve ‘preached’ that it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with it.  When I was a juvenile caseworker, I would play this card game with the teen crimlets in my group.  I’d deal them cards, and then there would be a legend to tell them what each card meant, representing different life experiences.  (I think one was ‘you have cancer’… ewww)  The point I made then all those years ago is my lesson now.  Yes, I got dealt a hand that I sure wouldn’t have picked.  I can take it, though, accept it, and do something positive with it, or I can choose a whole array of other less helpful options (which, truthfully, I have considered, drinking myself  comatose holding the highest appeal).

    Do you know who I really dig?  Viktor Frankl.  If you’re not familiar with who he is, go google him now.  Seriously.  Right now.  His quotes will probably make a regular appearance here.  I dedicate this one to you, idiot dummy-head cancer: (Cub 2’s favorite insult, by the way)

    “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

    So, hey cancer?  FUCK YOU.

    Jessica


  8. The update in case you are a friend, but not a Facebook one

    April 18, 2012 by Momma Bear

    If you are a Facebook friend, feel free to skip this one.  I know I have driven a few people a little batty wondering what is going on, as evidenced by text messages like, “I’M NOT ON FACEBOOK, YOU KNOW!”  I’m anticipating using this blog for several purposes, one of which being to just keep the updates going.

    So, here it is, for sake of ease at this point, taken directly this time off my Facebook timeline, just to catch up.  Aren’t I efficient?

    April 7:  Today is a new day. The sun is shining, and my thoughts are full with my blessings of amazing friends and family. No matter your faith, this is a weekend to celebrate God’s grace. Off to a soccer game, then lacrosse, and then to my family’s Passover celebration. Biopsy results on Tuesday… thank you all for the loving thoughts and prayers.

    April 10: @#$% CANCER!!!! Looks like it’s time to kick some cancer butt again. Not the news I was hoping for.

    April 11:  Cancer is an evil beast, no way around that… but if you HAVE to have cancer, you guys sure make it all feel better. Laughed and cried and felt so buoyed up reading all your comments and feeling your love and prayers. Thank you all so much!!! I will get my cancer-ass-kicking plan on Friday morning. My understanding so far is that it changes everything into a Stage 4 incurable… but as my brother keeps reminding me, that doesn’t have to mean ‘terminal’. I *HATE* bullies and have no intention of letting this one get me!

    April 12:  Well, told (Cub 1) yesterday. It was hard for the 30 seconds before he went back to playing his video game. This morning he wanted to know if I would lose my hair again. Not sure — think I might. I’m glad that his is biggest worry!

    April 13: (Cub 2): “Why can’t they invent a hairdryer like thing with a big cancer magnet in it that they could stick in you and just suck all the cancer out?” Yeah! Why can’t they?????

    April 13:  Will see a specialist on Monday at OHSU to discuss a clinical/experimental treatment. I feel like it’s a gamble either way — traditional treatment has horrible prognostic odds, but experimental is, well, experimental. I woke up this morning thinking I could focus on cancer, or I could focus FIRST on being a mom, daughter, sister, friend, teacher… who lives with cancer. I choose living!

    April 16:  Met with specialist today and I feel SO GOOD. Really positive and hopeful. Probably won’t have any news for a few weeks, and in the meantime my tumor will get screened for 50 different mutations courtesy of a research grant. I am just appreciative of all the love and support for me and my boys. And oh yeah… I can SO do this. :)

    So, there you have it.  All the news.  Tomorrow I am the focus of the “Tumor Board” at OHSU, a dubious honor but one nonetheless.  Looking forward to hearing the feedback from it.  Should get a call late tomorrow or Friday.  My care team rocks.

     

     


  9. Here we go.

    April 17, 2012 by Momma Bear

    Before I found out that the !@#$ cancer was back, I wanted to start a blog.   I wanted to document my journey… for my kids someday, and as a way for me as a survivor to move  forward.  I also wanted to start blogging, though, because when I was dealing with surgery and chemo and radiation and all the gazillion of physical and emotional changes, I found that the professionals’ advice was one thing —  but that I really learned from the people in “the trenches”.  So, if I was dealing with something, I would google a phrase like “chemo nose sores blog” (and yes, it’s pretty surreal to type those words in a search engine, and good LORD are those evil and hard to clear up) and then I would get directed to a blog entry.

    Here’s one reason why I did NOT want to start a blog…inevitably  I would get directed to some entry buried in the blog, and I would read it and get sucked into the story, so I’d start reading the blog from the beginning to the present, and it always ended with the PERSON FREAKING DYING!!!  So, listen up, oh non-existent reader (my brother warned me it would be weird to write this to nobody), I have NO INTENTION of dying.  I mean, yeah, whatever… everyone dies at some point, and it looks like I probably know what will eventually get me, but I will not give in to this vile bully anytime soon.  This momma bear has 2 little cubs still and I *WILL* see them through high school.  Just saying.

    Another reason I did NOT want to start a blog… I’m a little afraid it will turn out like every diary I ever got as a kid.  Where I would ramble on and on until… January 6th.  And then the whole rest of the book would be blank.  I think in my Hello Kitty one I made it to January 9th, but the 7th, 8th, and 9th all said the same thing:  “Dear Diary,  I don’t have anything to say, so bye!”  I do have lots and lots to say this time, and my thought is that by putting it out into the blogosphere there will be sufficient pressure on me to perform.  Plus, I got a text message from a fabulously talented and seriously funny blogging friend who said she wanted to write my story.  And mentioned wine.  So I will gladly drink wine, and take the blogging help.  Because I say yes now.  (There’s a lesson there, too.)

    So, this is my first entry.  I had to get the introduction out of the way, but what I really wanted to write about here is hope.  In 2nd and 3rd grade, Cub 1 started all his school papers by saying what they were going to be about.  So, here we go.  My name is Jessica and this paper is about HOPE.

    A funny thing happened to me on the way to this cancer bar.  The first time around, everyone felt compelled to tell me their stories of loss, and of all the people they have known that didn’t win the battle.  Kinda like when you are pregnant and everyone (EVERYONE) has to touch your belly and tell you their horrific birth story (as if there is any backing out at that point, just saying).  It was really sad and played into some component of my Jewish guilt that I somehow was surviving.  This time, though, everyone wants to tell me their survivor stories.  Which is AWESOME…. except that it is always followed up by the crazy stuff they did.  So it’s like, “My friend had stage 4 cancer and totally beat it!  He just only ate foods that started with the letter ‘k’, stood on his head for 3 hours a day, and did coffee enemas every 6 hours!”  Now, I love coffee as much as the next mom, but there is a limit.  Given that I can’t stand on my head to save my life (ahem), and any diet that doesn’t include wine at this point is unacceptable… this kind of information, while interesting, doesn’t really calm those potentially long dark nights.  (And I digress for a moment here because all this is sounding REALLY snotty, and truly – TRULY – I appreciate ANY show of support and ANY story that is shared in the spirit of inspiration… I’m just talking about HOPE here, remember?)  So.  Back on track here.  My brother David (for those zero readers, the one that started this blog for me, not sure whether to thank or curse him, I’ll let you decide) called me and said, “Hey… remember (so-and-so)?  Well, his mom was diagnosed with 6 months to live, and that was 12 years ago!”  [Silence.]  “Well, what did she do?” I asked (because remember, that is always the next part of the story).  “Nothing.  She just lived!”  So, YUP.  I will take that.  I choose that.  I choose LIVING.  That will be my focus.  So, yes… I have cancer.  A really shitty kind.  But, what if I don’t make that number one?  What if I focus on being the best mom, daughter, sister, friend, and teacher I can be?  (Full disclosure:  kinda got the daughter and sister ones nailed already since I am the only one.)  Cancer will not be what defines me.  And if some google search regarding a cancer diagnosis got you here, that is today’s lesson.  JUST CHOOSE LIVING.  My head is not in the sand, and I’m not cruising down da Nile River.  I know what potentially lies in front of me… but I also know what surrounds me right now.  I AM INCREDIBLY BLESSED.  I am in awe and humbled by the amazing generosity of love and spirit and kindness and compassion, and also all kinds of tangible things, that my family, friends, and community have showered on the little cubs and me.  I love my kids and I love my life.  I CHOOSE LIFE!

    And, now I have to go a lacrosse game.  I’ll be back.  I was trying to think of a witty way to end these posts.  Lots of people have cancer blogs, and they always end their posts the same way, with something really motivating and inspirational… but here is what is really in my heart…

    Hey Cancer?  FUCK YOU.

    Jessica


  10. First Post.

    March 29, 2012 by Momma Bear

    This first post is not really me — it is my handsome, charming, smart wonderful brother, David.  He set up this system for me to yap at the world.  He loves me a ton.