Sunday, October 22, 2017

A New Chapter

Liz, my dear friend, nurse, sister, mother, and psychologist, opened her home again so that she could nurse me back to health again after my breast reconstruction/reduction. 

This time, I stayed in her son Grant’s man cave in the basement since he’s now rooming with some friends at UK.   She stocked the fridge and cupboard (all in the man cave) with all my favorites: chocolate covered bananas, Oikos Triple Zero Yogurt w/ Redi-Whip, fixins for grilled cheese and Tomato Basil Soup,  tons of fruit, a basket of strawberry cheesecake Quest Protein Bars, corn chips and guacamole, and a pint of Gelato.  What more does a girl need?  Sheesh. I was only staying for a few days!  I knew Jeff had a crazy week scheduled. It made much more sense to stay with my newly retired friend.   Besides, I knew if I stayed home, Henry and Annie would be jumping on my chest.

Liz drove me to the hospital where we promptly arrived at 5:30 a.m.   We walked back to registration where an attractive lady introduced herself, “I’m Rose and I’ll be getting you registered.”  I introduced Liz to Rose and told her that she would be the one driving me home that day.  Rose asked all the usual questions about my address, next of kin, and whether I had a living will.  She smiled when I told her I lived in Prestonsburg.   She used to as well, but she moved away decades ago.  That’s usually the case.  No one ever moves from Lexington to Prestonsburg…except me. Never met anyone, actually.  I asked Rose her last name and who she married there.  Get this. His last name is Rose.  The woman’s name was Rose Rose.  Introducing yourself to anyone would be like Who’s on First?  Liz and I talked her ear off and she said, “Girls, I have 8 minutes to check you in.  They’re waiting on you upstairs, Ann.”  Well, alrighty then.

More nurses came in to ask me my health history.  Again, I was sailing through the questions with no’s until we got to the cancer box. Yes. Breast. 2013. Lumpectomy. Chemo. Radiation. Medications? Tamoxifen because I was estrogen receptor positive and Effexor because it helps with the hot flashes caused by the Tamoxifen.  The nurse said, “I had breast cancer ten years ago and haven’t had a recurrence …BUT... I was just a few months away from ending my 5-year Tamoxifen protocol and I was diagnosed with liver poisoning as a result of the Tamoxifen.  I have cirrhosis. Never drank in my life. I’m on the waiting list for a new liver.”  Well great.  The new protocol is ten years, no doubt so that the drug companies can make double the profits.  I couldn’t focus on such negativity. I had to go into surgery with a positive attitude.   No problem. The anesthesiologist’s assistant came in with some happy serum.

 It was just in time because Dr. Schantz arrived with his purple pen to draw a playground on my chest.   He walked in, all smiles, as always, and sat on the rolling stool by the bed.  Thanks to the happy serum, I didn’t much care that I had to stand up buck naked in front of him while he drew all over my chest or how he was squeezing my boobs together to determine how much he could remove but still have some cleavage.   Then I saw it. It was a bright greenish yellow banana sticking out of his white coat and God help me I said it, “Is that a banana in your pocket or are you happy to see me?”  The room of about six people died laughing.  Dr. Schantz's face turned beat red and I apologized.  So, I asked myself, “If I had the wits about me to apologize, why in the world would I ask such a question?” Good medication was the only answer.

I’ve had many surgeries.  I always do great before and after, but there is one part where I don’t do so well.  When they wheel you to the surgery room and there are bright lights blinding you. The surgeon is scrubbing in, they scoot you onto the actual table, you sometimes get a glimpse of the instruments covered with a cloth. That’s when I usually start hyperventilating and the doctor nods to the anesthesiologist (to knock me out before I take off running).

At UK Health Care (Formerly Good Samaritan), there was no long trip on the gurney to surgery. I was out right after the banana comment.  Don’t remember anything after the laughter.  I guess they thought I was dangerous after that moment!
What a way to go, if that had happened, and thank God it didn’t.  I had made a room full of people laugh on my way out of this world.

As always, I woke up hungry. It had been something like 20 hours since my last bite and I was starving.  The recovery nurse had just left to get me some ice chips. She was gone about 20 seconds and I decided to get myself together and search for food.   I was still hooked to an IV so I struggled to tie the hospital gown in the back. Impossible. I grabbed the gown with my left hand to keep it closed in the back and pushed the IV pole with my right.   I bumped into the nurse as she walked in with the ice chips.  “Whoa. Where are you going?” she asked me, like she hadn’t just heard me beg for a cheeseburger.  “I was just going to try to find the cafeteria.”  Now, I remember that conversation clearly, but for the life of me I can’t imagine what I thought I would do when I got there. I had no money. If I did, I’d have to let go of my hospital gown in the back. Hmmm. A dilemma I didn’t have to solve, thankfully.

She said, “Once you’ve walked around and gone to the bathroom, then you can go home. Boy, you’re a feisty one.”  I told her I didn’t have to go. I was under for over 4 hours. I should have to go. She said they cathed me while I was under.  How smart. They know when to do all the traumatizing events…when you’re under!

Liz came like the hero she is and took me to Chick fil-A.    Best chicken sandwich ever.    Liz didn’t order anything. Whaaat? Who can go to Chick fil-A and not order anything?  She just wasn’t hungry yet.  Wow. I think her last meal was the same time as mine.
She took me back to her house and helped me to bed. 

Lauren brought the babies over after work and seeing the three of them took my mind off my discomfort.  Liz said, “The doctor said she has to wait 48 hours before taking a shower.”  Both of them howled with laughter.  I take a shower every morning and a bath every night without fail.  I’m either the cleanest or the dirtiest person I know.  I guess if you have to have some slight form of OCD, twice a day showers/baths is probably pretty benign. Lauren says, “I’ll bet she can’t do it. I’ll bet money.” 

Friday was supposed to be the big reveal (at the doctor) but I couldn’t stand it.  I was a literal bloody mess and needed to redress the bandages.  I came out of surgery in a bra, well…a vest. A very tight vest that zipped up the front.

A couple of hours after Lauren left I said,  “Get me out of this, Liz. I can’t stand it!”  I’m sure both of us were grateful for her carpet-free basement those few days.  I unzipped the bra expecting a layer of gauze and tape.  There were a few gauze pads stuck to the underside of my breasts and surgical tape (about two feet total) covering all the incisions.  We threw out the gauze and stared at the new girls.  Although they’re supposed to be C’s, they seem much smaller to me.  I was used to D’s.  Liz and I both gasped when we saw them.

I must get to the gym.  My new perky Franken-boobs look like they belong on an 18 year-old! Who could complain, you might be wondering?   No complaints, but imagine wearing a pajama pants with some Manolo Blahnik stillettos or investing in a state of the art sound system in your 30 year-old El Camino.  The new girls must match not only each other but the rest of me!
So, I’m allowed to do strength training after November 10.  For once, I’m looking forward to it. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017


I usually don’t know what I’m feeling unless I write about it.  When I finally do, I often surprise myself.   Right now, I have no idea how this post will end.  

In 1988, at Lauren’s first birthday party, I met my mom’s new boyfriend Dale.  My parents divorced four years earlier and I was just beginning to forgive my mom for leaving my devastated father after 22 years of marriage.  Dad had moved on, but I couldn’t.

Mom’s previous boyfriend was a loser and I thought this one would be too.  I was so wrong.

That birthday party was at Chuck E. Cheese - a ridiculous choice for a first birthday party.  Many people told me so but I was resolved in my decision to let animatronic bears terrify my first-born.  Looking back at photos, I have to laugh.   Lauren has a sad, pouty look on her face, as if to say, “I would have rather had a small party in my familiar surroundings at home.”   I was twenty-three and clueless about nearly everything.

I was engrossed in the new world of motherhood and oblivious to the fact that this single man was in a room full of strangers wearing a cone-shaped birthday hat with one of those pinching elastic bands strapped under his chin.  At the time, I never thought about how awkward a 38 year-old man should feel in this getup.  He was grinning ear to ear.  

They married about a year later and Dale became Grandaddy Dale, a term he loved almost as much as he loved Lauren and Jordan.   He and Mom moved to Akron, and we were limited to visits every few months.  They always came to Prestonsburg for Christmas, when they would bring pictures of children crowded around Santa (Dale) and Mrs. Clause (Mom).   Dale would begin growing out his beard in the early fall so he would look more authentic.  The tradition was to open presents after dinner on Christmas Eve.  Lauren and Jordan would inhale their food and stare at the Christmas presents under the tree in the next room.  Dale knew this but insisted on just one more plate of food.  The kids would scream, “Noooooooooooo!”  and he would laugh the deepest belly laugh.   He loved Christmas and he especially loved singing in the Christmas musical.

Dale has a deep bass singing voice and such a range that he could sing and harmonize with any professional or amateur, always making them sound better.    I saw this several times during Karaoke when he would ask a reluctant intoxicated patron if he could accompany him/her on their song choice.   As soon as he opened his mouth, we all could see the smile on everyone’s faces, especially the guy/girl that picked the song.   Mom always said she wished she could sing half as well as Dale so she could understand his passion for music and the hours he devoted to the Christmas and Easter musicals every year.

Surrounded by months of family drama, my father was buried on my mom’s 50th birthday.   She was forbidden to attend my dad’s funeral (I told you. Drama.).  Dale took her to his grave later that day so she could say her last goodbye to the father of her children.
When someone dies, everyone (or maybe just me) seems to glorify them and forget all offenses big and small.   I was a Daddy’s girl and unwilling to let anyone attempt to fill his shoes.  Dale never even tried, however, because he never had any children, he often referred to my sister and me as his daughters.  
Jeff and I aren’t handy or particularly fond of manual labor so every visit to Prestonsburg, Mom would always put Dale to work fixing things around the house and digging up flower beds.  Looking back, I’m thinking he must have dreaded coming here.  If he did, it never showed.  
After fourteen years of marriage, Mom died of emphysema. I will always be grateful to Dale for caring for her when she was sick, a gift I wish I could have given at the time.   I knew that he would remarry quickly so I wasn’t surprised when he announced his new love Elaine.
We met her at TGIF when we drove north to pick up our mother’s family heirlooms.  She and Dale were already seated and we walked in looking for them.  To get our attention from across the room, Dale’s new girlfriend and soon to be bride, stuck two fingers in her mouth and surprised us all with a commanding whistle you see when New Yorkers hail a cab or a zealous sports fan cheers at a game.  Gail and I looked at each other and laughed. We knew Dale had met his match and we were both relieved.   Elaine plays the piano and comes from a very musical family.  Dale now had someone who could sing with him at her baby grand piano every day.

No new bride wants to live in the shadow of her husband’s late wife, however, Elaine visited us many times over the years, often at Christmas.  I consider myself pretty progressive and tolerant of situations often uncomfortable for most people, but asking a woman with a huge family to spend the holidays with his late wife’s family is too much to ask.  Elaine, however, accepted us all as her own family, laughing and crying along with the rest of us.
Dale was very emotional.   Whether it was a happy or sad occasion, he cried very easily and unapologetically:  when Lauren asked him to sing at her wedding, he received handmade gifts, when prayers were answered, or seeing me during my cancer treatment...  It’s an endearing quality I’ve not experienced often from a man.  
Although Dale and I disagreed on many things, especially political issues, I always knew that he loved us, celebrating all our successes great and small.  
Once I knew that she wouldn’t recover, I had about six months to say goodbye to my mom.  It wasn’t a goodbye, really, just time that I never took before to do her hair and makeup or listen to stories of her childhood.  By the time I had entered the next stage of grief after denial, it was too late to say goodbye to my dad.  One would think that by age 53, I would have learned my lesson.   With Dale, we didn’t see it coming.  It was a massive heart attack- the widow maker. He left for work at 7:25 a.m. as always, kissed Elaine as always and said their “I love yous”.   Two hours later, he was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Elaine later told my sister what I truly believe as the sincerest of all comments, “He’s in glory now…and I know he’s seeing your mom and his dad.”   What an unselfishly beautiful comment.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Magic of Kindness

For the last week, I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell a story- a true one- about kindness, compassion, generosity, confidence, and how important they are in making each of us successful human beings.  Sometimes the success comes in the form of money.  Sometimes, you’re rewarded with a full heart.  If you’re lucky, you get both.
Last week, I got a text from my friend Liz saying, “I have a crazy story to tell you.  Call me when you can.”  
“You won’t believe this,”   Liz said.   “Today, a man walks into CASA (where Liz works) and says, “I’d like to make a small donation to your organization.”  He handed her a check for $25,000.   Tears welled in her eyes as she said, “Oh my gosh! This is the single biggest donation that CASA has ever received from one person!  You can’t imagine how much this will help the children!”  When she asked him what inspired him to make such a generous donation, he proceeded to tell her that they had a common denominator:  me. 

Years ago, thirty-three to be exact, this shy young man was eighteen.  He was with a couple of friends in a small town near Lexington. One of his buddies said, “Let’s find some hot, rich, Lexington chicks!”  The clever friends were looking in the Lexington phone book for “children’s” phone numbers.  That meant they were “rich” (J).  We were hardly rich. Mom sold real estate part-time and she certainly didn’t need two teenage daughters tying up her phone line.  While crank-calling random numbers, there was a 50/50 chance a girl would answer.  The first friend said, “I’ll go first.”  He dialed a number. No answer.  The second one dialed a number.  Busy. The shy one dialed a number and it was me.  He hung up.  Later that night, he called me when he was home alone.

“Hello? Who is this?” I said.  Finally a voice on the other end said, “Eddie”.   He never told me at the time how he came to find me or my number. I just thought it was a misdial.  At some point, I asked him his last name.  He searched his room for ideas and saw the name on something he can’t recall.  “Murphy.”  I laughed. “Yeah, right.  Eddie Murphy.”   It wasn’t until I said his pseudonym out loud that he realized what he’d done.  He made a comment about his parents naming him before Eddie Murphy became famous.  I believed him.

We talked for hours every night.  We talked about music, his troubled life at home with an alcoholic father, my abusive ex-boyfriend, hopes, dreams, and goals.  Without the benefit of the internet or text messages, there was no way to know what we looked like.  We didn’t care.  We were each other’s confidante. 

I finally pressed him to meet. 

When the doorbell rang, I remember a shy blondish-brown haired blue-eyed boy standing on the porch.   He later said he thought he was in way over his head.  
“Eddie” and I went to a movie, he met my parents, taught me how to drive a stick shift in his Dodge Charger, exchanged Christmas presents, and I gave him a birthday card that played music when he opened it.  It blew his mind.  Inside I enclosed the following photo- my senior picture.  In 1983, that musical card was cutting edge technology!  He said I had “game”.   He said he was chopsticks and I was Moonlight Sonata. 

After months of intimate conversations on the phone and time together, “Eddie” was overwrought with guilt and finally told the truth.  While in his car in my driveway, he handed me his driver’s license.  He wasn’t Eddie Murphy and he didn’t live in Lexington.  “I can’t believe you did this to me,” I said while slamming the car door.
A couple of days later, I drove to his small hometown and asked the first person I saw if he knew him.   He did and I followed him to his house.  “Eddie” sweated bullets while I made small talk with his mom.  He later told me he was terrified that I would tell his mother what he did.  “I know why you did what you did and I forgive you.”  He couldn’t believe I forgave him.
In the end, I told him I knew that our relationship wouldn’t last. I had plans to become a flight attendant and travel the world.   I don’t ever remember an official goodbye, although there might have been.
Two years later, he opened his own business that eventually grew into a company with more than 500 franchises worldwide.  He eventually sold half of them for multi-million dollars! 
In 2006, the shy boy-turned- millionaire attended a workshop in Fiji in which the facilitator asked the group to write the name of two women who have inspired them in their lives.   First he wrote his mother and #2 was Ann Ritchey, a young girl he hadn’t seen or heard from in over 23 years, at the time.  He doesn’t use social media, however, he likes to read inspirational blogs and stories online.   He clicked on  a site which belongs to my friend Greg Forbes Siegman, an author and philanthropist whom I met at a KY Lottery sales conference years ago.  Last year, Greg asked me to send a photo of myself with a couple sentences about how I’m taking leaps of faith.  So I did.
One night in late January 2016, the man searched the internet for an inspiring story after his alcoholic father passed away.  He clicked on and scrolled down the page reading inspirational stories.  He saw this photo.

Ann, Ky: "In 2013, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I took a Leap by starting a blog -- -- to share my feelings, while hopefully inspiring others who might be experiencing a health crisis."

He thought I looked familiar but thought that I might be involved with the Susan B. Komen foundation, an organization his company supported.  He clicked on the attached link and read the most recent entry about our trip to the Amalfi Coast.  He had been there and enjoyed reading the story.  He wanted to read more, so he started at the beginning.   When he read the entry which had a photo of Jeff and me at Jacobson Park in 1984 (a year after “Eddie” had called me the first time), he knew it was me. 
He has a photographic memory and remembers the smallest details of our months together.   He remembered family names, my birthday, what we got each other for Christmas, and what I was wearing when we first met.  When he read my blog, most of the names were familiar to him but he didn’t recall Liz.  That’s because I met Liz in 1992.   He thought that maybe she was a friend from high school that he had forgotten.  Since he doesn’t forget much, he had to do what we all do when we need an answer to anything:  Google.   He found out that Liz was a Clinical Psychologist, got her PH.D at Stanford, and works at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates- for children).  He then Googled CASA and felt compelled to give to an organization that advocated for children.   He also wanted to thank the woman who worked tirelessly to make me comfortable, drive me to dr. appointments, dry my tears, cry some tears with me, clean my house, stock her fridge with my favorite foods, and say all the right things when so many tried and failed.  He knew that CASA was close to Liz’s heart, so he wanted to thank her for taking such good care of me.  
Of course, the shy boy is still very much an introvert and a private man.  He respectfully asked me to use a pseudonym (perhaps Richard Pryor, he suggested) and wants his donation to be anonymous.

I have spent the last week walking on air.  I feel like the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes that day in Whoville.    If you’ve read my blog, you know that I don’t believe in coincidences.  A Greater Power was busy at work on this one, perhaps for years.     Those months together were meant for me to teach him confidence and realize that he was worthy of love.  For me, it was a lesson in forgiveness and compassion.  It was a true “coming of age” story for both of us.  As Oprah would say, a “full circle moment”:

The blue-eyed boy became confident and founded a multi-million dollar business.  He “miraculously” found the young girl who was kind to him years ago and realized she had been fighting another battle.  Her friend helped her survive the battle.  He rewarded the friend with a generous donation to a cause close to her heart. 
I now know that the cancer was worth it all. Yes.  I’m including the eggplant colored honeydew sized boob following surgery, the hematoma, the drain, the chemo, the 18 months of baldness, the Neulasta side effects, and the fear….were all worth it.  If I hadn’t had cancer, I wouldn’t have posted that photo on Greg’s website and Liz wouldn’t have had to spend a year helping to care for me.  If she hadn’t cared for me, there would be no gigantic donation which will help feed and clothe so many children.   I certainly wouldn’t feel this sense of relief, that I, an insecure young girl at the time myself, did something worthwhile and changed the trajectory of a young man’s life.  What’s more, his donation will do the same for many children.  Imagine, if you will, that each child paid it forward someday, or even one child did, and the cycle continued for another 33 years.  It sure would make those two painful years of my life a short blip in the movie that continues to be my beautiful life.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Good Girl

Yesterday was the day of my follow-up appointment with my oncologist.  I was at the stage in my treatment where I only have to see her every four months.  Of course, there’s still the radiation oncologist and the surgeon if I plan to have reconstructive surgery, but THIS one is always stressful for me.  
Jeff had a deposition in Lexington and we rode together.  He knows how anxious I get when I have these visits so he offered to drive me.  His presence serves as a buffer between Dr. Moss and me.    I can be argumentative with her and it’s sometimes very tense in that tiny room.     Now that I’ve made it this far (28 months since diagnosis), I’ve had a little more confidence in her and have tried to keep my thoughts about natural healing, vitamins, acupuncture, etc.  to myself.   It’s easier that way.  “Honey, go to the bookstore instead of this appointment with me.  I’ll be fine.”   He gladly obliged.

Here’s the routine:  The nurse always draws several vials of blood and takes my blood pressure.  It’s ALWAYS sky-high when I’m there and below normal any other time. She weighs me.  Unlike at most doctor visits, this is NO problem because the scale measures in kilograms.   I am seriously emaciated if you look at the number and think in terms of pounds.   I don’t even have to take off my boots, socks, sweater, watch, earrings, bracelet, and hair barrettes before weighing.  This is brilliant. Why don’t ALL doctors do this?

Dr. Moss asks me a list of questions: “Any headaches?  Bone pain? Coughing? Fatigue? How’s your appetite?”  These questions are to determine if the cancer has spread and metastasized in another organ.  Normally I would look at my watch and say without thinking, “I’m fine.”  Now it’s important I think about each question carefully.   “Headaches? Definitely. But we just got back from Italy a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had jet lag and stress from catching up at work.  Also, I’m ashamed to say that after over four years without a Diet Coke, I caved a few months ago and I now have that monkey on my back again.”  She said that one or two a day wouldn’t hurt me.  I know better. 

The hot flashes continue as my ovaries “sputter” and this might go on for years.  No problem.  Jeff is used to the house feeling like a meat locker.   Same with Miranda in the office.  Dr. Moss said, “Well, I’ll see you in six months when you come back for your mammogram.  Sweeter words have never been spoken.

I get dressed and walk back to the waiting room. It’s filled with yellow-faced patients with oxygen machines, masks covering their noses and mouths, IV poles, and terrified loved ones sitting by their sides.   The receptionist offers me a sucker out of a basket on the counter.  I wondered…did Dr. Moss tell her I didn’t pick a fight today?  

I thanked her and smiled with the Dum Dums sucker stick between my teeth.  I turn around to leave and look at the patients sitting there in a daze.   Was that me two years ago?   I wanted to say. “Hang in there.  It’s going to be ok.”  But I knew better: Sometimes it’s not.   My guilt was overwhelming. How did I make it through this in one piece and so many other don’t?  My mom always said, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  
I walked out to Jeff’s car and he saw the sucker in my mouth.  “Well. Well. It looks like someone was a good girl today at the doctor’s office!!”

Click here to see some of my husband Jeff's photos from our trip to southern Italy and Sicily: 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Dream Comes True

Forgive me, friends.  It’s been over five months since my last blog post.  Until now, I really haven’t had much to say.  Jeff and I have been working long hours to get ready for our long-awaited trip to southern Italy and my follow up doctor appointments are now 4-6 months apart (Yay!)
Because of your support and prayers, a few doctors, and God who decided I had some unfinished business to tend to, I'm here to tell you about a dream of mine that recently came true.  

* If you go to the blog archive on the right side of the page, find August 2013 and click on "Bucket List", you'll see a blog entry with my bucket list.  I tried to create a hyperlink so you can click on it, but isn't cooperating.

Five years ago, after reading Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, I searched online for trips to Italy.  There were websites inviting boring geriatrics to hop aboard a huge bus and see all of the ruins.  Not for us, I thought, but could Jeff and I actually find our way around the country alone to see all of the fabulous sites?   Would we actually be able to navigate the Amalfi Coast Drive, which is a Unesco World Wonder in itself?!
The answer came in the next click.  A photo of Stephanie Chance, an exotic beauty, was sitting atop a Vespa with shopping bags in tow. Above it said, “Hop aboard with us and see Italy-two tours a year!”   The more I clicked, the more I knew that this was the perfect tour for us.  I showed Jeff photos of her small tour group having dinner with an Italian family!!  I immediately e-mailed Stephanie asking for more information. She mailed me a brochure and I opened it often, dreaming of a day we could go.  “Maybe when Jordan is out of college,” Jeff said.   At that time, he had just graduated from high school. 
Stephanie and I became friends on Facebook and I relished looking at her photos from her twice a year excursions.  Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Months became three years.   Then came D-Day, the day I was diagnosed with stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.   Soon after, I began this blog where Stephanie kept up with my treatment, my family,  the undeniable hell of surgery, chemo, and radiation, and my gratitude I tried to find in it all.  
About a year after my last radiation treatment and I started feeling human again, I said to Jeff, “Let’s do it. Let’s go on Stephanie’s trip to southern Italy!  Like having children, if we wait until we can afford it, we’ll never go!”   What I thought but don’t think I said was, “What if the cancer comes back and I’m too sick to go?” 

For decades, Jeff and I have dreamed of going to Italy, specifically the Amalfi Coast and Venice.    Although we didn't see Venice this time (that will be our NEXT trip!), the Amalfi Coast was our last stop on a 12 day adventure this month!   
For almost two years, I've stared at a painting of Amalfi, Italy hanging in my office and dreamed of the day we would stand on that coast and have our photo taken in that exact location.  Well, here it is: 
The painting in my office

                                   Can you find us?
The Amalfi Coast Drive- Mamma Mia!

                                                  Jeff and me on the beautiful Amalfi Coast
Positano-my new favorite place on earth!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Life Returns

I know the exact day it happened.  It was April 11, 2015 when I finally felt a little like myself again.   My friend (and breast cancer survivor) Jo Ann said it happened for her a year after her last radiation treatment.  For me, it was exactly 14 months and 14 days after mine. It could have been the beautiful crisp sunny day, the green that finally began to sprout from the trees, or maybe it was my first trip to Lowe’s this spring to buy some Gerbera daisies. On second thought….no. It was my ponytail, or a semblance of one.  It was about an inch long and I had to sweat a little to cram it in the elastic band, but it was a joyous occasion.  I ran into the living room and squealed, “Look honey (queue the twirl)!  A ponytail!!!”   He smiled, kissed me and said, “I’m so happy for you.  I know how long you’ve waited for this moment.”  It sounds silly, but when you spend 18 months either bald or having some kind of hair crisis, it’s such a relief to finally have a little hair on your head.

My ponytail stub.  :)

  Lauren and Jordan help me through one of the most difficult moments of cancer treatment.

My annual mammogram was April 20.  It’s always a day of dread for me. April 20, that is.  That’s the day my dad died.  A few days later would have been my mom’s birthday and I just felt really sad those few days.  Why in the world would I schedule a mammogram that week?  I’m on edge a few days before, imagining myself walking into that same office where just 22 months ago, they dropped a nuclear bomb on my little world.  
I walked into the waiting room and counted the women sitting there.  There were eight of us.  I thought, “One in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer.”   I said a silent prayer that I had been the only one in THOSE eight women who was diagnosed with breast cancer and that none of us would get called into that dreadful little consultation room today. 
The technician was very kind and respectful.  I’m sure she’s seen it all.  She placed wire tape over my scars so that the radiologist could easily determine where the tumors were removed.   The technicians, the way they pick up and contort your breasts and manipulate them into the perfect place between the two sheets of plexiglass, resemble a baker with a slab of dough squeezing it into a pie pan.  “How are you doing…emotionally, I mean?”   I felt my throat tighten up and swore I wasn’t going to cry today.  “I’m terrified.  With every headache I think it has spread to my brain.  If I’m aching, I’m sure it’s in my bones. What is this organ? My liver?  I feel twinges sometimes….”  She nodded like she understood.  “I was diagnosed with melanoma a few years ago.  I’ve had several surgeries since then, but I’m here.  And you are too…and we have to live each day to the fullest and put it in God’s hands. Hold your breath…(the machine whirs)……..You can breathe now.  All done.  Have a seat in this room and I’ll come back and get you if we need more pictures.”      I waited for about 20 minutes. The sweet technician with the big brown eyes said, “Everything looks great. You don’t need to come back for a year.” 
“You mean the radiologist already read it?”  She nodded, hugged me, and said she would pray for me.   I wanted to say that I would do the same for her but my throat was burning and I felt the tears coming and I really didn’t want to cry.  So, I nodded and mouthed, “Thank you.” 

I have an appointment soon with a plastic surgeon.  If he can spackle this hole in my breast, or better yet- transfer some fat from my belly into that hole- I’ll be a happy camper.  If he can do it outpatient so I can get back to work in a day or two, even better.  I’m just now beginning to have a little energy and can’t imagine wanting to start from square one with an extensive reconstruction surgery. My body has been through enough these past two years.

When Jeff was two years old, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She was a very religious woman and prayed that God would let her live long enough to see Jeff graduate from college.  He graduated in May 1984 and she died two months later.

My dad always told everyone that he’s always somehow known that he wouldn’t live to see 53.   He was in his 20’s when I first heard him say it.   I was 7 or 8 and didn’t worry about it much because 50 seemed really old to me.  He was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer at 52 years and 7 months old and died four months later.   Does our brain have that much power over our bodies?   Just in case, I’m telling myself and everyone else that I’m living to be 100!

Thursday, September 18, 2014


It was a perfect weekend.  Jeff and I spent the day outside. He closed the pool and I pruned rose bushes.  Since it was a beautiful day and the side effects (hot flashes) of Tamoxifen are still doing a number on me, I didn't wear long sleeves. 

A rose bush and I had a fight and it won.  I came inside with a bloody arm, took a shower and forgot all about it. 

The next day, when I made it up the steep stairs at the building where I work, I had to sit down at the top of the steps.  That's when I knew I was in for a long day.  Did I overdo it at (rotator cuff) physical therapy on Friday?  Surely I didn't work THAT hard in the yard.  After a couple of hours, everything was aching and my left breast was on fire.  That's when I began to cry and shake.  The cancer is back.  I called Jeff and he left work to take me home.  I was too weak to drive for seven minutes!

 I called my oncologist and my surgeon but they were both booked solid.  My Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Mater, was out of town, so her partner Dr. Matter wanted me to come in immediately the next day.   A four hour drive to and from Lexington for a 20 minute visit?  Yes. We will be there.  That night, my fever spiked at 102.  God bless those people who get 104 degree fevers because they must be miserable!  That night, I slept, if you want to call it that, in Lauren's bed.  I cried most of the night.  80% from misery. 20% from fear. From past experience,  I was way too scared to tell many people about the swollen red breast.  I can hear it now..."That happened to my mom/aunt/sister/granny and the cancer got her that time.  That's what they call it in the country..."the cancer".

Dr. Matter is not only handsome, but he's very kind with an excellent bedside manner.  If a doctor ever says, "bless your heart", "you poor woman", or "It'll be ok.", well...I'm sold.  You know how I love a good shot of empathy and validation.  Jeff who is in the room with me, looks at me with wonder as I make conversation with Dr. Matter. Just minutes ago I was telling him I was more miserable than I was on chemo!  

The redness in my breast and my side and back were likely caused from an infection from the tear in my skin from the rose bush thorn!!  Because my body hasn't recovered yet from the chemo and radiation, any infection is likely to settle at the weakest areas with scar tissue. That explains why my neck and shoulder were hurting too.  He prescribed  an antibiotic and said, "If this doesn't work, we're going to have to admit you in the hospital."  

We had a quick lunch with Jordan and Oriana at Local Taco.  It was a blur.  I was in agony, but I insisted on seeing them..and I'm glad we did.  
Jordan and Oriana 

I've certainly been a bit demanding with God this past year.   I've begged for my health back (getting there), the knowledge and strength to be the best I can be in my new position (getting there), and most of all ....praying my heart out for Lauren. She moved to O'Fallon, MO near St. Louis, in March.  She's been unable to find a position as a sign language interpreter. Someone once told me that as a parent, you're only as happy as your unhappiest child.  How true. After six months, she finally got an interview last week. She just called me today to tell me she was offered the job!

I made sure I said my prayer of gratitude 'cause I read somewhere that if the only prayer you ever say is "thanks", it's enough. It was Maya Angelou, Eckhart Tolle or Oprah or someone spiritual and inspiring like that.   I'm too tired to Google right now.  Anyway,  here goes...

 Thank you, God, for allowing the people interviewing Lauren to see how gifted and special she is.  Thank you that this wasn't a cancer recurrence.  Thank you for Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin.  Thank you for my husband who has taken such good care of me these past two days and always. Thank you for my co-workers who have worried about me these past few days and give me the daily encouragement to keep going.  Thank you for my son, who calls me regularly on his walks between classes just to check on me.  Thank you for the friends and family who are just now learning about my near death experience.  Slight exaggeration, God.  Only slight.  And God, I still love my rose bushes and am thankful for them. I'll just be more careful next time.