Monday, August 15, 2016

While Mommy's Away...

While I am here in Houston still anxiously awaiting specifics regarding my treatment plan, my beautiful children are back home in Oxford living it up with their Daddy.

Before I left, I was able to attend Meet the Teacher for both of their schools.  Violet is at Bramlett Elementary for kindergarten and Jeremy is at Della Davidson Elementary for 3rd grade.  I really wanted to be able to be at this day, since I knew I would miss their first actual days and weeks of school.  I was able to talk to their teachers and explain what is going on.  I think I threw the teachers for a loop with my little bombshell, but this was my only opportunity, so I had to take it.  I feel good about both schools and sets of teachers, and the kids seemed excited as well.

I can't help it - the Student Affairs and Housing professional in me has to note that the bulletin boards at Della Davidson were on point.  SO cute.

Here are my photos from my last day with my kids.  Violet came in and snuggled me, which she does every weekend, and then later I said goodbye to my monsters and was so proud that I did not cry.

Jeremy's first day of school was Monday, and Brian sent me this picture.  I cannot believe how big my little man is.  I feel like we were taking him to the UT Early Learning Center for preschool yesterday.  He is at that funny age where school starting is only mildly interesting.  He is excited to see friends and learn "cool science experiments", but he is also aware that homework, earlier bedtimes, and no phone privileges are also part of school days.  He is such a good kid, but this year I am hoping to see him grow in his penmanship, critical thinking skills, and verbal communication with adults (proper eye contact, less stammering, etc).

And my Violet started kindergarten a day later on Tuesday and was SO excited.  She has been playing school with her dolls and pretending to do homework for weeks.  My fears with her are that she is building it up in her head to be something that it probably is not - constant playtime with kids who will follow her orders, fun snacks, recess, and songs.  She will probably have a rude awakening regarding the strict schedule, lack of being the center of attention, doing what she is told, actually sitting still and learning things, you know, all the school parts of school.  My hopes are simply that she grows in her interpersonal skills, gains confidence in her academic abilities, and learns to follow the structure set out for her while also making some good friends.

So far, the reports from Daddy have been good.  Jeremy has been very enthusiastic about school and is enjoying the experiments with worms.  Violet comes home exhausted and takes a nap(!) to get out her grumpies before even attempting her homework.  This is a big transition for our little spoiled kiddo.  But, she will be good once she gets the hang of it.  And shoutout to Brian for his own transition to being a single parent trying to get the kids to and from 2 different schools each day with all their supplies.  Other than the 1st day lunchbox snafu, he is doing such an amazing job!!
The poor left behind lunchbox on the very first day of kindergarten.  Oops!
I have begged Brian to send me photos, so here are some of the pictures I have spent tons of time staring at as I miss these kids so freaking much.
They look so tired!  And I think Daddy gave up on even trying a headband in her hair after one day.  Oh well.

Who is this incredibly handsome young man?!  I saw this on my phone and my heart literally skipped a beat.  This kid. 

I had to give Violet a pep talk to get her through brushing her teeth one night.  It is so very traumatic that we make her actually use toothpaste!  So unfair!!

I have tried to Skype with them each night before bed (I have not always been able to due to pain), and hearing their little voices is so much fun.  I have no idea what they are talking about most of the time, but it is great to hear them and see their smiles regardless.

This past weekend, Joey, Megan, and Dani (who are also rotating to keep Penelope since Cheri is here with me) grabbed the kiddos and took them to Megan's parents' place to swim and play with the model train set.  They had a fantastic time and luckily were well-behaved and sweet to the Travis family.
These girls!!

How sweet are Joey and Megan?  And how exhausted must they have been at the end of this day?

Absolute heaven.

I simply don't know what I would do without so many amazing family members who were falling over themselves to step up and help when we were suddenly hit with the immediate need.  I hate all of this, but it has reminded me once again of how lucky I am to be a part of the best family in the world and married to the absolute best and most selfless partner and dad.

Tomorrow morning I have my follow-up appointments with my team of doctors, so I will have some treatment information to both process and share.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Patience is a Virtue

So, I put my pretty updates on Facebook for all to see, but I feel I can be real on my blog since only the tried and true actually read it.

Real talk: my Facebook update is totally true - we are making progress, my neck biopsies came back negative, and my team of doctors absolutely seem to be at the top of their game.  Awesome.  But, after my first meeting with Dr. Weber when I heard that I would not see him again or get a treatment plan until possibly Tuesday, Tuesday!!!, I literally started cussing and crying in the office the second he walked out the door.  What the hell?  Does he think I came to Houston to see the sights?  To take in an Astros game and see a movie?  I freaking don't get paid anymore starting Friday.  Meaning, I am literally living off the kindness of others to pay my rent, feed my kids, and keep my electricity on.  That makes me sick.  SICK.  I have always provided for my family, and this is so upsetting to me.  And sitting around Houston, TX doing nothing while the state of Mississippi garnishes my pay is not amusing to me in any way, shape, or form.  The social worker came in and told me that she could sign me up for the Christmas program where I will get $75 for each person in my household to buy them gifts.  I cried so much, I could barely sign the stupid form.  And I was not crying from the generosity of others who would donate that to us (which really is so kind), I was crying because how ridiculous and awful that I won't be able to provide Christmas gifts for my children?  I have a master's degree.  I have worked really hard to be successful in a field that I love.  I got a big promotion.  And I am basically having to flush it all down the toilet and have some stranger hand me money.  I know it is silly, but I really, really hate it.  I will get over it, but I am not yet.  It hurts me in so many ways.

And this stupid tumor is in my mouth.  In my mouth.  There is not a single second of the day that I do not feel it.  I only eat liquids now. I get soups from a store, put them in a blender, then put them though a sieve so I can ensure there will not be any chunks (actually - Cheri does this for me, and I love her so much for it).  It is depressing.  It hurts to swallow and I wake up in the mornings with blood on my pillow and dried to my face and neck.  Too much?  The tumor is getting so large, I cannot help but sometimes hit it with my teeth, and it starts bleeding - a lot.  Today, while walking through the cancer center, I had to stop and sit down and pulled a huge blood clot out of my mouth, spit up a bunch of blood, and then kept walking.  My life is a horror movie.  The extremely strong medicine I take for pain causes horrible bowel issues, and I am also dealing with those super exciting side effects, just for a little cherry on my sundae.

I know that I am in the best place. I know I am SO lucky to have so many people on my side, but this is my truth - 80% of the time, I am rational and thankful and level-headed about this.  The other 20% of the time, I am crying, spitting up blood, and feeling like I am tumbling down a black hole.  I am told that these feelings are normal and get better, but I just get overwhelmed sometimes.  I want to be strong and live up to the wonderful things people are saying about me, but ultimately I know I am just an normal person with normal insecurities placing her life in the hands of others.  I randomly burst into tears when they finished my 2nd neck biopsy today.  Not because it hurt or I was worried about it - it just hit me in that moment that I am a cancer patient sitting in a hospital gown with my paper bracelet and no control over what is going on around me.  I love my life: I have the best husband, the best monster children ever, and I am so lucky to have a fantastic job.  I want to keep living that life.  I have done nothing to cause this to happen to me, and I am a bit bitter that it has happened to me - me, who has followed every rule and met every deadline and gotten all the As and never done the bad things.

Whew.  I am sorry, again, I need to let this stuff out so that I can acknowledge it, honor it for what it is, and move on.  This is taking longer than I hoped, but we are moving forward.  There are some yucky physical side effects, but it could be so much worse.  I have $0 to contribute to my family upkeep starting Friday, but I have friends and family who will not let my kids become homeless or starve.  I know these things, but this has all been so much so quickly, I sometimes need to take this time to reflect and remember.  One day at a time, this will work out, and I, and my family, will be stronger for it.

Next post I promise cute pictures of the kids from their first days of school and the fun adventures they are having with their awesome Daddy!

Monday, August 8, 2016

So Many Thanks

My mom, my older sister, Cheri, and I have arrived in Houston.  I have my first appointments at MD Anderson tomorrow.  They already scheduled 5 appointments for me so far.  It is crazy.

But, as I sit here in this amazing house in Houston, I need to take a moment to thank the people who helped me get here.

It was only a few weeks ago that I was officially diagnosed with cancer, and already I have an astounding team of support people who have been guiding me from step to step with their kindness and generosity.  I literally, 100% could not do it without these beautiful angels who have entered into my life.

Let's start with some kindness bestowed upon my babies.  Melissa and Nicole (high school IC girls!) bought Violet a backpack for school, both of the kids new lunchboxes, Violet a nap mat for kindergarten, and both kids some new clothes for school.  Cheri, Alex,and Penelope got a hold of the rest of the school supply list and bought them both the rest of their supplies.  I just can't even explain how little things like that help so much by simply taking things off my plate.
Lunchboxes from Nicole

Backpack from Nicole

Nap mat from Melissa

Tom, one of my incredibly wonderful staff members at Ole Miss, set up a MealTrain for our family, so people at work have signed up and bring food to our house on various days.  Since I am now out of town and Brian is basically functioning as a single parent of 2 kids with a limited budget, this is so hugely helpful.  And the kids think it is awesome that people bring them yummy food.  :)

Speaking of work, I continued to work every day through Friday, though I was far below my usual energy and productivity level. My wonderful boss and staff surprised me on Friday afternoon with a beautiful Ole Miss blanket signed by them all that I can use in the hospital. They also gave me boxing gloves to "kick cancer's butt" and some incredibly inspiring words and hugs.  The students, in particular, have been so kind to share stories from what they have seen their parents or loved ones go through, and they cannot be more helpful or emotional.  I just love my job, and I cannot wait to get back to it.
SO incredibly kind!
As far as our trips to Houston, I have been knocked over by the help people have given us.  I have at least 5 people who have offered for us to stay with them or family members and a few who have offered up airline miles or cars.  It is just insane.  Currently, we are staying in a beautiful house less than 10 minutes from the Cancer Center.  The house belongs to Cheri's best friend's friend.  She is out of town for the summer, so we are basically house-sitting for her for the next 10 days for free.  It is amazing.
Our Houston home for this trip.
 As for this flight, I seriously cried over this one.  My mom booked 3 flights and it was around $1000.  Joey then said that people had reached out to him to cover our flights and asked if she could cancel them.  She said she could if he could find someone else quickly. Within 30 minutes, the three flights were completely covered.  You may remember my friend Bryan Murphy, who died several years ago in a very tragic and awful circumstance.  I wrote about him here.  Well, when he passed, I got to know his family and have since tried to keep in touch at the very least with Christmas cards to his mom and dad each year.  Well, it was his brother, Patrick, who reached out to Joey and covered the flights completely.  I just don't have words.  Their family has also donated money to us as well.  I am so incredibly blessed so know so many wonderful people.

On the plane from Memphis to Texas!
And the list keeps going. I get cards, prayers, and checks in the mail daily.  Our GoFundMe account continues to grow.  I felt so awkward about people giving us money, but my friend Skye, who is a Cancer Social Worker, pointed out that any cancer battle is long, hard, and expensive.  No one can do it alone, and that includes financially.  We don't really have any money, but even if we did, we would still need help. I HATE that I only have 4 days this week before I am officially no longer receiving a paycheck, but that is what life has dealt me and I will do the best with it.  I have learned to be big enough to accept the help and know that I will be the one on the offering end soon enough.  I don't have cutesy photos or people to call out for this one because money is a personal thing, but know that I appreciate you, your kindness has brought me to tears, made me want to be a better person to live up to your generosity, and has kept my children in their house and home - absolutely literally.

And this does not even include the people who have helped by simply offering kind words, prayers, jokes, and advice.  Wendy, Jack, Christina, Skye, Melissa, Nicole, Holly, Lauren...this list goes on...text, email, call, and check in regularly.  And I love them so much for it.  It gets more and more painful each day as the tumor grows to speak, but I love you and appreciate you more than you know.

I have saved my amazing family for last.  This has been a horrible year.  We lost my dad in a very sad and way-too-soon manner on January 29th, and that is really enough pain and hurt for one year, right?  People have commented my entire life on how lucky I am to have such a close family.  My parents are fantastic and all 4 of us kids get along and would do anything for the others.  And now I am seeing that first person.  Cheri is here with me now, Joey and Dani both dropped us off at the airport - because of course they both did.  Dani took me to my PET scan.  Joey and Megan came and made me dinner, played with the kids, and gave me a haircut.  Cheri has left her baby for 10 days to be with me here.  And they all do it without even being asked and without any hesitation.  I love them so much.  My mom is my hero, and I would not be who I am today without her.
Dan with me at the PET scan.

My new Megan-made haircut.

Before heading off to Houston.
So, now we start this battle for real. I go tomorrow morning and meet with my oncologist, Dr. Webber.  Being here is making me incredibly emotional - plus, it was Jeremy's first day of school and I missed it.  It is all real now.  No more "tomorrow" or "next week" or feeling like this is happening to someone else.  I have officially registered as a cancer patient (I have the app on my phone, so it must be real), and thus my journey officially begins.
I wasn't lying about the app - see, bottom right corner!
I am not sure what will happen when these appointments start, but I will try to update regularly.  It is therapeutic for me, even if no one else reads it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Bad Day...Turned Bright

So, I am having a bad day.  I have decided that if I am going to document this fight, I am going to do it properly - and that means acknowledging the good and the bad.  Hopefully by the time I am finished writing, I will have brought myself back around to the good.

I am in a lot of pain.  Like A LOT of pain.  All the time.  Always.  I take strong narcotics for pain management every 4 hours.  I have a timer on my phone to remind me not to miss a dose, which is hilarious because once the 3 hour mark hits, I am looking frantically at my phone every second until I can finally take another.  If I feel this horrible on the medicine, I cannot even begin to imagine the terror of not having it.

Fun little side effect of living on strong pain meds 24/7: they make you dizzy, foggy, and nauseous.  All the time.  To counteract that, the pill bottle label helpfully recommends I take my medicine with food.

Well, isn't that cute?  Food.  As in the stuff you have to chew in your mouth and swallow with your tongue?  Adorable suggestion, little pill bottle label.

I'll just leave that right there before my sarcasm becomes actual anger.

When you live in intense pain you cannot sleep.  I check my phone for my medicine timer at least 200 times every night.  I also drool a lot in my sleep and can't sleep on my left side where my surgery side would be pressed against the pillow.  How my husband crawls into bed with a drooling monster grunting in pain each night is beyond my comprehension.  He deserves a medal.

Brushing my teeth is the single most painful thing (in a day full of painful things) that I do.  I do it multiple times a day, though, because I am warned that my treatment may cause me to lose my teeth.  Don't get me wrong, this crooked-toothed gal has dreamed of getting her teeth knocked out since the braces didn't take at age 15, but in actuality, the idea of getting dentures at age 35 is less than ideal.

I also work 8 hours every day.  Or more since it is late summer and that means we have been training our staff since the end of June.  Just yesterday, I stood in front of my 150 beautiful Community Assistants (we call them CAs, not RAs here) and welcomed them to training.  I did two large presentations for them.  Projecting to an auditorium without a microphone for hours.  I smiled the whole time because I truly do love my job and those wonderful student leaders.

But, I am not going to lie and say I did not immediately crawl into bed and cry myself to sleep with pain when I got home.  And then I woke up and prepared another presentation to do for them today.

Some people say don't go to work.  Well, I don't have any leave left (thanks to my many biopsies and my dad's illness and passing), and I just started working here in November, so I do not qualify for FMLA.  The minute I stop going to work, I have 2 days before I lose my paycheck.  I have two beautiful children and I enjoy them having a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.  Work I must and work I will.

And work I love.  I have been working on this career for 17 years.  I finally got an amazing promotion to run my own Residence Life program, and I get struck with some insane disease that takes away my ability to enjoy the best and most exciting time of year for my job. It literally tears me up that I am going to miss Opening.  It is basically sacrilegious to miss Opening when you work in Housing.  I feel like someone is going to come strip away my ACUHO-I membership.  And I have worked really hard with some incredible staff members here at Ole Miss, and I feel like I am abandoning them in the height of battle.  Plus, I just genuinely like them a lot and enjoy spending time with them making this campus a wonderful place for our students.

See, look, I forgot about the pain and got happy thinking about my wonderful staff and students at Ole Miss.  It's working.

The hardest part of all of this, and the part I am still avoiding dealing with, is the kids.  My heart is overwhelmed.  Jeremy knows and understands what is happening.  The word cancer is real to him.  When I got my great scan results back that it had not spread, we were so happy.  Jeremy jumped on my bed and hugged me and said, "So, it's not cancer anymore!  Great!"   So hard to look into those huge blue eyes and tell him that we are so happy because yes, it is cancer, but it is only a little bit of cancer.  He cuddles with me all the time.  We have started watching the tv show Brooklyn 99 together at night.  He grabs his blanket and holds my hand and we watch our silly show.  He tells me he loves me at least 20 times a day.  I know he is trying to act normally, but those things are not normal for my 8 year old.  He is so kind and sensitive and while the extra attention is out of the ordinary, his love and kindness are 100% him.  He told me just last night that he is lucky to have me as the best mom ever and he thinks I am beautiful.  I almost cried as I am a horrible mother at the moment and looked like a monster from one of his scary books.  But, how can you not just hug that little face?  Love him.

Vi is another story.  She is sweet and walks around like I am made of glass.  She keeps saying my tonsils are messed up.  Not sure, but I think she has reclassified things for her better understanding.  Jeremy had his tonsils out, he was sick for a few days in his mouth, and then he was fine.  Mommy will follow that same, safe, pattern.  She is being nice and behaving better than ever, but she is letting her annoyance show.  She does not understand why I need to sleep all the time and cannot play.  She is an active kid, so my lack of energy is very inconvenient for her fun.  I also cannot read to her at night (prolonged talking is very painful), which is very upsetting.  She loves her stories and Mommy always does her bedtime routine.  However, it has been so beautiful to finally be able to fully see the bond that exists between her and Brian.  I knew it was there since they are always together when I am at work, but usually when I get home, she is all over me, so I don't see it.  She is truly a Daddy's girl and they share so much affection, love, and little inside jokes and stories with each other.

I taught them to play War (inane card game) recently, so sometimes they crawl up in bed with me and we play War.  I love that game for kids, by the way. It teaches them the basic card hierarchy while also being very simple.  All luck, no strategy at all.  And, Violet loses sometimes and as it turns out, the world does in fact not end!  Who knew?  Good lessons all.

OK, so I do feel a bit better.  I hate the way I physically feel right now, but I have so much to be thankful for.  I have friends and family members who call and text and email me daily with encouraging stories and words.  I have people falling over themselves to help out my family or cover some medical bills. I have a great job and the best husband and children on the planet.

I will absolutely get through this and I will look back and cringe at this self-indulgent whiny post.  But, it is honest and I needed to purge those thoughts before I let them take over.  And I hope that maybe that helps someone else dealing with similar feelings of overwhelming yuck.

I will dedicate my next post to some of the amazing stories of kindness that have been coming our way this past week or so.  It has been crazy and I think will prove to be a nice uplifting thing to write about when I am down in the dumps again.

Thanks for listening - sorry for the depressing start.  I'll always try to give a happy ending.  :)