This weekend was full of firsts. We took the big girl into the city to see a Broadway show (a gift from the grandmas). Her first time on the train, first time in the big city, and her first time on Broadway. She loved the special time with Mommy and Daddy (little sis stayed home with the grandparents). I loved seeing her excited expressions every step of the way.
Then today was a typical Sunday. Swim lesson, walk to town, hang out at the bookstore and clean the house. Usually I don’t get too bent out of shape if the house isn’t perfect but now I have a deadline. It’s worse than pregnancy nesting.
It’s almost like going on vacation. I need everything in order and packed up. List items crossed off to prepare for the journey. I was starting to feel bogged down from both the clutter of my office and the feeling that I was missing time with my girls just so I could clean, when I stopped to look out the window. Little did I know there was a gift outside.
Side by side rainbows stared back at me. The one on the bottom was the brightest, most vivid rainbow I’ve ever seen. The little girl was napping but I quickly grabbed my big girl and brought her out to see it. It was the first rainbow she’s ever seen in the sky. These few precious minutes were exactly what I needed. I don’t generally believe in anything mystical or signs from above or beyond, but I couldn’t help thinking maybe this one meant something. I have been so worried about the unknown on the horizon that I haven’t truly pictured what this is all going to be like in the end. As we stared at Mother Nature’s present, my daughter said, “it’s gorgeous”. And so, it will be.
Usually I’m not a fan of looking in the mirror. I can go an entire day realizing I haven’t looked since I put my mascara on at 8am. It is not a good thing. Not for me, not for the people looking at me. It’s not that I don’t care how I look, I just forget or get distracted or maybe I’m avoiding my reflection. Well by the end of the day when I go to wash my face, I almost jump back in horror at the plain sight of myself.
Lately though, I’m very interested in taking in my current appearance, specifically of course, my boobs. I’ve never been thrilled with their general appearance au naturel. And things certainly haven’t improved after breast feeding. But as with anything you’re about to lose, I’ve gained a new appreciation. Fortunately though, I’m still more excited to have perky new ones than these old saggy ones (even if it will come with lots of emotional baggage and no nipples for a while). I do want to make it clear to my surgeon that although I don’t love the space from my collarbone to my nipple being roughly the distance between Maine and Key West, I also don’t want the new boobs touching my chin.
There’s a reason why it’s easy for ballerinas to look like graceful birds when performing Swan Lake. The long, thin neck, the open chest spreading out to create the illusion of wings with delicate arm movements. Most former dancers try to hold onto some aspect of their glory years as a ballerina once age or injury has taken its toll. I would like to hold onto the same.
My collarbones are my favorite feature. I feel they give me a grace and an appearance of thinness even when I’m neither. Hopefully they won’t be compromised with the implants placed higher than I’ve had boobs up there in the past 15 years.
Ready for the doom and gloom? (sorry Mom, this one’s definitely not for you. Look away. Look away.). I’d be fake if I didn’t address the not so cheerful aspects of what’s about to happen. As I am now into single digits on my countdown, the ugly face of fear is staring me down like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. (Why does it always seem like he can see through the tv screen and straight into my nightmares?)
Now that I feel somewhat secure in the routine I’ve established for the girls and that their support team is ready and waiting, there’s time to dawn on the dread: what if I die? What if something goes wrong and I’m left in a vegetative state? These are the unlikely catastrophic events that could occur. As I’m trying to eliminate the risk of cancer, I am indeed putting myself at risk for other unforeseen complications. Choosing the best team of surgeons, staying away from drugs and alcohol, and following pre-op directions gives me the best chance to mitigate the risks, but shit happens. As I said to my husband last night, “if shit didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be here in the first place”.
There are so many things in life that are out of our control. So many factors that are unpredictable. Maybe that is my true fear? Lack of control. I guess I always knew I was a control freak, but this experience is forcing me to gain introspection I kind of wanted to avoid. I’m uncomfortable knowing that so much is in fate’s hand. Perhaps I’m just scared to see the road ahead from the passenger’s seat. I so long to be the driver.
The other night at the iHeartRadio concert, Billie Joe Armstrong (lead singer of Green Day), freaked out on stage when he saw that he had one minute left. It was a throwback tantrum of guitar smashing, expletives and an “I am a Rock God” type ego outburst. Following this yawn worthy tirade that we’ve seen time and time again by inflated stars, he checked into rehab and the band issued an apology. Same old story. And by old, I mean, give it a rest dudes, aren’t you grandpas by now? (don’t get me wrong, I jump at a chance to see the Stones, this is no ageist rant on my part).
My husband and I got into a heated debate that ended in an agree to disagree truce. He thought Billie Joe’s anger was merited and that he’s a rocker and that’s what they do. I agree, that used to be typical behavior and was almost commonplace back in the day, but today with social media broadcasting every waking moment for each twelve year old with a computer or phone or iPod Touch, this is inappropriate. I think it’s irresponsible to throw a fit and then think you can get off the hook by saying sorry and going to rehab (please note, I hope that if he indeed has a drug or alcohol problem, he gets help. I just think the timing of all of this is a little fishy when they have a new record coming out and had barely been on anyone’s radar for some time. A little drama does a lot for sales). My husband thinks it’s not Armstrong’s responsibility to be a mentor to the young fans out there. He’s a rocker, he can act like that. Kids are smart enough to know that they shouldn’t be looking to these guys for life lessons on how to behave. I disagree.
This all lead me to examine the role models that my girls have. Who do they want to emulate, even at this young age? So far, I can almost control it, but my handle on this is slipping fast. You’d think Tinkerbell would be great, right? Have you seen the ‘tude on that blonde chick? I said “excuse me” to my big girl recently. Her response: “No! Excuuuuuse ME!”. Ummm what? I heard the same intonation next time we watched Tinkerbell and the light over my head went off. Even Disney movies aren’t sweet and innocent anymore.
So where do the parents of this generation turn for positive role models? The mirror. I realize more than ever, I am, and will continue to be, the most influential role model for my kids. That is a scary, daunting and exhausting realization. Of course, I’ve always known that’s my responsibility, but upon further examination of outside sources, I feel I need to do more than step up to the plate. I am trying so hard to watch my tone, watch my language, watch my non-verbal cues so that when I look at my girls I can honestly say, “does mommy speak like that to you?”. Sure I lose my patience and totally flip sometimes, I’m only human.
I’m anxious to see what my behavior is like on painkillers. When I had my rhinoplasty (such a perfectly descriptive medical way to say fix my honking schnoz), I didn’t take any narcotics. This time, I will be thoroughly doped and I hope I’m not a babbling idiot. I hope I’m with it enough to interact with my girls in a way that doesn’t scare them or make them anxious about how different Mommy is. I hope I don’t have some intoxicated rage that causes me to lose my mind like Billie Joe in front of my own kids like he did in front of everyone else’s kids. I’m not a rock ‘n roll star, but I would like my kids to think of me as some kind of rockstar, during my recovery and always.
I feel like I’m Rosie Pope. Except instead of teaching over-indulgent, under-estimating new parents, I’m showing my amazingly involved husband the ins and outs of my routine with our kids. Obviously, he knows everything there is to know about them; their likes and dislikes, how to get them to bed, how to bathe them, etc. He just doesn’t know how to do it alone yet.
During the week (if I don’t have any help), I generally do the daily routines by myself with the girls. Waking up, getting breakfast, getting dressed, all the way to dinner time, bath time, bedtime. We have a routine and structure for each part.
I am a person who thrives on a schedule. My husband, not so much. I remember thinking before I had kids that I would write down a timeline for each day of the week and vary it as needed to provide the right amount of structured activity with educational instruction, playtime, puzzles, reading etc etc. It goes without saying that that idea flew out the window the first time we had a projectile poopsplosion just before leaving the house and trying to be somewhere on time. But I find that my big girl and I do better when we have a routine (the little one likes her bedtime routine but that’s about it so far).
As I have been trying to show their father how to do all of it without my help this weekend, it’s been comical. I’m all, “no, you’ve got to do it like this. She likes it this way”. And he’s all, “nah, this is how Daddy does it! See, she likes that too. Booyah!”. Ok fine, sometimes she does but other times I’m in my head saying “5, 4, 3, 2, cue meltdown now”. I’m trying to tell him the tricks of the trade and he is confident they’ll figure it out as they go and that breaking out of the routine won’t hurt anyone. He’s right, it won’t, but when you take an extra 20 minutes to put jammies on at night then she might get her second wind and what could have been an easy bedtime, now becomes another 45 minutes of giggles and “last time of lots of last times” to show you a new dance move.
I suppose I have to relax and give up that last modicum of control I’m trying so hard to hold onto. They will figure it out and hopefully they will enjoy their little vacation with daddy home for a week. My mom has told me many times that this is why kids have daddies. They are the foil to Mommy. They show children another way of thinking or doing something to further their understanding of how things work or that there’s more than one right way to solve a problem. I have to be patient and let them find their groove. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But then again, if Daddy and his girls were building it, between the giggles and the gummy bears breaks (not allowed with Mommy), it might take a bajillion years. Only time will tell.
I could watch the movie Friends with Benefits over and over again (and sometimes I do). I have never had a thing for Justin Timberlake, but his chemistry with Mila Kunis is hot! There’s humor, there’s sex, there’s life; it’s got it all.
JT’s father has Alzheimer’s in the film. And at one point he and Mila talk about that look of pity that he gets when telling people about his dad. He says he didn’t tell her about his father’s illness because he didn’t want to see her look at him with pity. I get it.
When talking to people lately, my quandary is always, do I tell this person about my surgery or do I spare myself the look they’ll give me? Do I sacrifice my own privacy so that they are better informed? The answer seems to lie in the situation I’m in. I find myself saying “my surgery” rather than “double mastectomy” to people who I don’t know as well. I’m kind of hoping they think it’s a torn ACL (which would make me seem athletic) or even another nose job. If someone inquires further I will tell them, but I try to keep it light.
Double mastectomy from a 30 year old with a baby on her hip seems to produce more pitiful stares than belly laughs. Maybe instead I should say something like, “my tits are falling off” a la Madeline Kahn in History of the World Part 1. If only more people loved Mel Brooks and knew that scene. This line would have the desired effect – laughter, not lament.
By bedtime, I’ve hit a wall. I’m not so secretly hoping that the girls have hit theirs too. It’s a delicate balance of who to put where while one is bathed or the other goes to bed. I’m not sure I could do it without the iPad (admittedly, that’s kind of pathetic). I’m so utterly exhausted when the clock strikes 8 that I’m just wanting to tell the girls, “just go to bed already”. (ok, there might be an expletive added in my inner monologue version sometimes).
I’ve mentioned maybe in a few instances that our kids are not sleepers. I wasn’t either and in my overly empathetic way, I have likely hindered them. So I rock them a little too long and usually stay until they’re asleep. Not my brightest parenting maneuver, but in the past few weeks I’ve been thinking I should enjoy these moments with them. I won’t be putting them to bed for a while post-op.
The little one still snuggles into my breast to be rocked to sleep. I’m trying to stay in the now and download the feeling of her warm head resting just below my collarbone. I know she can hear my heartbeat like she did in the womb only a year ago. I know she will still hear it after surgery, but will I feel her there? I won’t have a nipple for a while and certainly I am aware that all the sensation I have been lucky to have will be gone forever, but how far will the lack of sensation spread? Will the nerve endings be damaged all the way up the curve of my new breasts?
It’s funny how much pain I was in when I was breast feeding. I was told by a breast surgeon when the little one was two weeks old that I had “traumatized nipples”. I powered through it because I wanted to give her what was naturally made for her. These basic biological gifts that nature has bestowed are sometimes taken for granted. We, as women, can feed our children and nourish their growth just from our bodies which carried and birthed them.
It’s especially crazy when you actually think about it in the context of our highly modernized society. As I tap away on my iPhone and revel in everything that it provides me at my finger tips, it’s really only what is natural in this world that we need in order to survive. I just have to ask Siri what poisonous berries to avoid picking.
When I was a cheerleader in high school we did a cheer about dynamite that ended with us yelling, “tick, tick, tick, tick… BOOM!”. Well, that’s what yesterday felt like. Since receiving the positive result of my BRCA test, I’ve felt like a ticking time bomb. Maybe I’ve felt that way my whole life, but the imminence has intensified upon scientific confirmation of my sneaking suspicion. I will probably get breast cancer.
The first part of my mammogram went smoothly. Boob on vice, flattened like chicken paillard, sweet release. I sat in the little hallway while the tech and the radiologist studied my images. Not even five minutes later, the tech called me back into the room and said, “we found something behind your right nipple. It only came up on one view, which is good, but I have to take more images.”. For some reason that didn’t totally freak me out. Looking on the screen at the white spot she identified raised my anxiety only slightly because shortly after that she was cranking down a little platform onto my nipple. Remember I said before that mammograms don’t hurt when your boobs are naturally like pancakes? Not so much at the nipple. Wowza! (helpful hint: never get a mammogram days before your period, if you can help it, makes things a little more uncomfortable and perhaps harder to read).
After the medieval torture had subsided, I sat down again in the little waiting area. I tried to watch the tv displaying relaxing images and distract an anxious old lady next to me (and myself) by asking her where she thought that beautiful photograph was taken. Before I could even ask her if it looked like Ireland (old people know/love to think they know everything), the tech came back out and said, “follow me”. It felt like being summoned to the principal’s office (not that that ever happened to me, Mom). It did not look promising for me. All I could think was, “well there you have it, you missed your golden opportunity. You waited too long. Now you’ve actually got cancer and have to do everything you wanted to avoid. Why did you wait?”. She must have seen the terror and remorse in my expression because she quickly said, “you’re fine. You can get dressed. The spot disappeared after I pressed down on it”. (cue the floodgates, sprung wide open from relief).
This was one of the scariest moments. This was also one of the most affirming times in my life. It sucked, but it was perfect. I now have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the double mastectomy is completely necessary. It is not a choice anymore. I never want to face that again. I’m done waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for my bad news, waiting to hear ‘you’ve got breast cancer’. I’m changing the ending. I’m defusing the bomb. Tick, tick, tick, tick… Shhhhhhh.
I realized last night that my 3 year old daughter and my 36 year old brother have the same taste in music. They were both dancing and singing to LMFAO. I don’t know if the choice of song was really appropriate for either of them, but it was a pretty awesome scene. Music has an unusual way to transcend boundaries and bond people, to encourage brain development and to lift spirits.
My big girl tells us she’s going to be a “conductanor” for Halloween. And then she waves her hands around as if there’s an orchestra she’s commanding. Her love of music and instruments transcends far beyond the pop genre (thank God). She jams out to Weezer, to Shakira (still pop but perhaps a bit more cultural) and even to Mozart’s classical symphonies. She will watch a YouTube video of guitar instruction and then pick up her guitar and show me, “mom, these are my chords”. Even the baby starts bouncing now when she likes a song. We are thrilled with the big girl’s obvious passion and want to provide her every opportunity to learn more. She will undoubtedly benefit from her musical exploration and education. You must be dedicated and disciplined to excel as a musician; valuable attributes to learn as a young person. For those of us who are music lovers but not necessarily talented enough to pursue playing an instrument, listening to music has its own benefits.
On my way to my very last mammogram today, I was rocking out to my own playlist (I remembered headphones this time, phew). It occurred to me that whenever I’m sad or nervous or angry, if I play the right music, all of those emotions subside. I choreograph dances in my head as I bop along and I wind up feeling so much better. I’m transported to a new place, not quite zen, but still relaxing. People put together playlists to motivate themselves while they work out. I’m going to work on a new playlist that can pump me up before I go under.
Yesterday I had my internal ultrasound for ovarian cancer screening (remembering that now I need them every 6 months). The October issue of Parenting magazine was in the office’s waiting room. I was drawn in by the allure of Halloween costumes for less. (I have always wanted to make the girls’ costumes but have given up control and let my husband take over. In his eyes, I am to Halloween what the Grinch is to Christmas. He refuses to have them in crap costumes.) However, in this issue of the magazine, I got way more than I bargained for.
There was an article about 10 Moms who had survived cancer. All of their stories were remarkable and one breast cancer survivor even had a double mastectomy with kids almost the same ages as mine. Their quotes made me well up because I felt like I’m not alone and I’m also so grateful. I don’t have to be in a position where I’m shocked by this awful news like they were. So many had to do chemo and radiation. Some were even pregnant when they had to start treatment. One said that her doctor put it simply, if you don’t live neither can your baby. Takes my breath away.
So many of them talked about their treatment not being a selfish act. It’s a funny way to put it. One mother commented, “taking control of your health is not selfish- you do it for your children’s sake.”. It’s so true. I often feel guilty that I will be putting my family through this ordeal, but I know it’s the best thing to do. I want to be here for them as long as humanly possible.
Shannon Miller, the Olympic gymnast, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 33. She said, “it’s really important to shout from the rooftops and tell women that we have to make our health a priority. We’re so busy taking care of everyone else, and we have to make that time for ourselves, too. It’s not a selfish act – its a very selfless act. If we don’t take time for our health, then we won’t be here for our kids and our family and everyone else.” Reading her quote validated exactly why I’ve been blogging and why I’m going on this insane journey. I’m shouting it from my keyboard, I’m taking care of myself so I can be here with everyone I love. It’s just as simple as that. It’s the best motivation I can think of and the force that drives me forward when I feel like falling back.