Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Daddy's Girl

Tuesday, January 31, 2012: Last Saturday was my dad's 73rd birthday. I miss him...a lot. I still think about him every day. I still cry sometimes, thinking of the "might have beens". On Friday, Janessa and I bought vanilla ice cream cones and an order of fries from Atlantis Burger and dipped our fries in the ice cream all the way home. Dad loved going to Wendy's and buying a Frosty and some French fries to "dip". I thought of him with every bite. It tasted fantastic! Saturday, I took a little "I Love You" balloon to the cemetery and Janessa carved "Happy B-Day, Pop!" in the crusty snow on the east side of his grave. Someone had left a penny on the bench. It's a family thing - if you see a penny heads up on the ground, Pop is thinking of you. If you see a feather on the ground, Pop is with you. I love finding feathers in the most unique places - the hospital parking lot, outside the church, on the sidewalk by our house. He is with me, I know it.

Still no word from Huntsman on the date and time of my next PET scan. It will probably happen next Monday, but it's frustrating to wait. I'm feeling good, though. As much as I hate the exercise in the morning, it is giving me energy throughout the day. My next goal is to give up all (or at least, MOST) of the junk that I eat every day. It's a battle.

I've also noticed that my skin has changed in the past year. I used to have combination skin, prone to breakouts, and had to be very careful about the moisturizer I would use on my face. I even swtched to a "sensitive skin" formula a few years ago, which seemed to help. It seems that now, since my diagnosis and all the things happening through radiation and meds and heavy-duty supplements, that my skin has changed again and is now very dry, especially this winter, being in the house all day with the furnace blowing on me. I can literally slather thick moisturizer on my face and five minutes later, it is completely absorbed. Ah, the aging process continues! I've also noticed that if I don't "slather" (I love that word!) my neck scars with lotion morning and night, it is extremely tight and uncomfortable. And every time I do it, I think of those early days after my surgeries, when all I longed to do was fill my hands with lotions and rub, rub, rub. I admit I'm a "lotion freak" (thanks, in part, to my mom!) and I love all kinds of moisturizers - baby lotion, thick hand & body lotions, scented lotions, even the Vaseline-type ointment I put on my scars every night. Just thinking about it makes me want to go give myself a second dose/massage this morning...

(Pictures, l to r:) Lisa at the Bountiful cemetery, January 28, 2012, in full sun!; Mom & Dad in February, 2003, just five months before Dad "went home"... Don't they both look wonderful?!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Young & Old

Thursday, January 26, 2012: I've been to three funerals in the past month and that's three too many. The first was a life taken by her own hand, much too soon, with two little granddaughters to live for. The second was merciful, as age was robbing the spirit of its essence. And the third - just yesterday - was a tender life taken before it was even begun. I have cried for the young and the old, for the family left behind, and for all the little (and big) regrets we humans carry with us all the time, whether we know it or not. It's painful, these self-reflections, these "what ifs" and "should haves". But, it's also very comforting to see and feel the hope that remains in the survivors - and in all of us - and that we have to keep going, no matter how hard or lonely or sad we are. My prayers overflow for all of us left behind.

The experts say it takes two weeks to form a habit. Somedays I believe it and somedays I don't, especially when it comes to exercising. I read a quote today - I think it was on Facebook - about exercise: that you will always be tired in the morning and at noon and at night, so just do it and "quit your grumbling" (did Mrs. Potts say that??). I grumble a lot these mornings. For one thing, I had such a nice little routine going - wake up at 6:00, read my scriptures, say my prayers, get Janessa out of bed, take my shower and get ready for the day, all before 7:30. Now, I've added exercise to the mix and it's messing everything up! The last few mornings, I've driven J to school with no makeup and a mop of out-of-control hair. This morning, I hadn't even showered and was wearing my penguin jammies in the car. It's that 30-minute, 2-mile "walk" (in front of my TV) that has put my schedule upside down. I even forgot to say my prayers, which got lost somewhere after the 2 miles and cleaning the bathroom and gathering the garbage (garbage day tomorrow morning) and mopping the floors and vacuuming up dead poinsettia leaves and doing the dishes and starting the laundry. I finally talked to Heavenly Father over my lunch...and I cried. I cried for all the sweet babies that are too precious to stay on earth. I cried for all the moms that fall in their bathtubs and get bruised and broken. I cried for all the sisters that are sad and all the brothers that are frustrated and all the husbands who are overworked and all the people wishing their lives away. And I'm grousing (didn't Mrs. Potts say that, too?) about 30 minutes of pumping my arms and stretching my legs and feeling the sweat trickle down my back and breathing heavy and hearing my ankles pop and crack (I can hear that hard breathing and those ankle pops because I now have to mute cute Leslie - I've memorized her and I'd rather read her lips than hear her say, "Are you all right? Of course you are, that was just the warm-up!" one more time). I cried because I still don't have a set appointment for my next PET scan and I hate insurance changes and even though it's been two weeks since I started exercising every morning, it's still hard and I'd love to skip tomorrow (and the next day and the next). I feel a lot older than I did the last time I exercised to this walking DVD five years ago and I cried about that, too. But, in the end, I wiped my tears, said Amen, and ate my lunch. Just gonna keep on going - me and the rest of the world.

(Pictures top and bottom: Final radiation treatment (No. 30!) on June 7, 2011 - "burned" neck, hair loss at the back of my head, and the dreaded & dreadful mask that bolted me to the radiation table...and Grammy & little Knox on June 19, 2011 - looking and feeling better, though I didn't realize the burned neck look was permanent...)

Friday, January 20, 2012


Friday, January 20, 2012: I got my regular blood test today after almost three weeks (during which I was off the Coumadin for the two endoscopy tests for a time). It came back 2.2, which is good, normal. Dr. Beckstead's email message simply states, "Therapeutic. Continue on current regimen and repeat INR in 2 weeks." So there. Normal. I'd be more happy, I guess, if I was doing it on my own without taking a pill every morning. Someday. I watched that little droplet of blood being scooped up into the testing monitor and thought - again - of how wonderful these bodies are and how grateful I am to be one of God's creations. He's genius, of course.

In the past few months, I've noticed a weird "new" thing, which I'm sure is a result of surgery and/or radiation or any number of things: I leak. Don't freak out, though. The leak is above my right ear. At first, I only noticed it when I'd eat spicy food, like hot salsa or smothered green burritos, and I'd feel this little trickle on the side of my cheek by my ear. I was amazed when I realized it was a huge drop of sweat! Only there, nowhere else! Then I started noticing it when I'd chew vigorously, like when I'd eat something hard and, well, chewy - French bread or taffy or toffee or raisins... I pointed it out to my family and their response was, "Gross!" I guess it is, kind of. But, I still shake my head in wonder every time I have to reach up and dab a napkin around my ear - this numb, "dead" ear that leaks. I must ask Dr. Avizonis about it when I see her in a few months.

And while I'm on the subject, why is it that I get all teary and emotional listening to my exercise DVD? I swear, every time Leslie talks to the television camera and says, "How are you doing? Are you okay? You can do it. You're a warrior," I get all choked up. Like she's really talking to ME...like she can see me sweat and hear my labored breathing and see me wincing as I try to do knee lifts with sore "degenerating" knees...it's kind of embarrassing. But it also makes me feel that what I'm doing is right, and believe me, I don't always feel that way. So, I leak out a few tears and brush away the drops from my ear and keep fighting...

(Pictures left to right: Grammy playing giant Candyland with Olive & Lachlan, March 27, 2011, the day before Knox was born, at Mom's villa in St. George. I was 40 lbs. heavier in this picture than I am today. It was 10 days after my left neck surgery. On the right, Grammy and baby Knox, one day old, March 29, 2011. I think I look pale and a little bit like a "deer in the headlights", but it was only 22 days since the news that I have melanoma...)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chasing Spots

Thursday, January 19, 2012: I hope I didn't scare anyone by not posting yesterday after my visit with Dr. Grossmann. It was a busy day of work, running errands, and a church meeting last night, so I put myself to bed about 11:00 instead of blogging. Forgive me. No need to be worried (Mom, Aunt Barb, Aunt Mem, Colleen) and any who were thinking the worst. Nope. I'm still okay.


Dr. Grossmann was happy to see the results of my endoscopies with Dr. Adler - that there was nothing to be concerned about - but he said that still does not answer his questions of just what that "hot spot" was on the last scan. He said he talked to the radiologist and they both agreed that it would be best for me to have ANOTHER PET scan, six weeks from my last one, which would be the middle of February. Arrgghh!! He asked if I was okay with that, and though I hesitated (more time spent on nothing, more money spent on nothing, more worry for nothing), I still consented. I am grateful that my doctors are so thorough, but (as cute Lindsey pointed out), being grateful does not have to mean you are happy about it. There is always the possibility that another weird spot will show up in the next scan and off we'll go, chasing that one down. So, there it is. I'm not happy about it, but I am grateful for a good team of doctors. I don't have a definite date yet for the scan, but I do have a follow-up appointment already set with Dr. G on February 8. The scan will probably be Feb. 6 or 7. Oh joy...

On a better note, Dr. G looked at my lab work that was done just before the appointment and said everything looks good. He even said that my (here's another vocab word for you!) "Hematocrit" was excellent, that most women test in the 30s, but mine was 46.4. He said that indicates that I have a "strong army of red blood cells" that are fighting the bad guys like crazy! That made me happy! I don't know which of my vitamins or supplements are helping to make that happen, but I'll continue to stay the course! Love news like that. I told him that my goal now is to eat healthier, lose weight, and exercise daily and he said those blood cells will help support that, too. Awesome.

I also learned that when I know I'm going to get my blood drawn, I need to drink lots of water and warm up my cold hands and arms. Seriously. The lab tech yesterday said the "good vein" in my right arm (in the crook of my elbow) shows signs of scar tissue and that's why when I get poked there, the vein "chases" off in another direction and goes to nothing. She tried to find a vein in my hands, but they were so cold, nothing popped up. I told her that when I had my endoscopy last week, the nurse (cute Jan!) had to wrap my hands and arms in a hot blanket for a few minutes before she could find a good vein between the knuckles of my left hand. She said, "Let's try that," got a blanket from the warming oven, and wrapped up my left hand. We talked while it was trying to warm up and I told her that I'll have to start wearing my gloves for an hour before I come to the doctor! (One of the reasons they've been so cold lately is because I've been working right before I head out the door to the doc and typing in my cold, little office freezes my poor hands and fingers. Besides that, it's winter, for heaven's sake...) Finally, that hand warmed up enough that she could find a vein and get enough to test for Dr. G. Geesh!

Many of you were sweet to email me about my last post in answer to my question about pictures. You really want to see pictures? Okay. I'll probably start out with one or two at a time, going from past to present (I tend not to have a lot of pictures of myself, so what you see is what you get!). The sweet picture on the left was taken on "Christmas Eve Grammy Day", December 2010. This was several months pre-diagnosis. Beautiful grand-girls (Ally with a pretzel tongue), my short hair, my pre-surgery neck. The one on the right is Janessa (and bear) and I around our fire pit on New Year's Eve 2010. I had no clue what was coming in just a few short weeks. Good thing. I think I might have run away, screaming.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Year Questions & Goals

Tuesday, January 17, 2012: I've resisted setting any new year's resolutions or goals thus far, simply because I haven't had the time or the desire. I'm just glad to be ALIVE!! But, lately, as I've sort of settled into a more normal routine (that doesn't include trips to the doctor or hospital more than a couple of times a month), I've found that I need to have more organization and self-control. I've started a new filing system that makes me happy from a visual perspective - it looks so cute! - but so far, the actual files that need to go into the filing system are a bit overwhelming. All year, I've cleared off my office desk and stuffed two boxes (at my feet) with receipts and statements and anything else that I didn't want to deal with at the time. Well, NOW is the time to get those bits & pieces of paper into their proper place. The other day, I sat down to unwind and watch a little television...and I couldn't sit still, thinking of what needs to be done in my office. I don't want anyone else to do it - they'd be lost in the piles. I know all it will take is TIME...and so, instead of sitting idly watching TV, I gathered up a bunch of those loose pages and slipped them into their new homes. It felt great, but admittedly, there are oodles left to go. I know it will be heavenly when they're all in their places, but for now, it's a bit of H-E-double toothpicks! Resolution No. 1 - get my office and paperwork organized.

The next resolution is one I make almost every year, as do millions of others - to be more active, physically, and lose weight. This past year, with a "diet" of surgeries, trauma, radiation (and no taste buds), etc., I lost about 40 lbs., which is wonderful NOW (not so fun at the time of the "diet")! But since Christmas, I noticed a small weight gain, which I attribute to the yummy chocolates and goodies lurking around my house. I know I need to eat more healthy food choices. But I also realized that I need to get more active, get moving more, before these creaky knees and joints and this temperamental back get older and more cranky. A few years ago, I started a walking program that helped me lose over 75 lbs. I loved the way I felt when I was doing that! I want to feel that way again. I want to give my "cancer fighting army" as much advantage as I can, and I know being healthy is a big key. So, for about four days now, I've been "walking" with my 3-mile Leslie Sansone DVD. I'm starting out slow - doing the 1-mile workout for now - but, I'll start adding more time (and miles) in a few days. I know I can do it - this should be a cinch after what I've done this past year. Resolution No. 2 - be healthy and active enough to go on a hike in Southern Utah this year with my family! Oh boy. I've said it out loud. Now, I'm committed.

I've also been thinking lately about adding pictures to this blog. I purposely have not added pictures before for a lot of reasons - I wanted this blog to "tell" my journey in words. I wanted it to be simple. I haven't taken a lot of pictures through the journey because I felt deformed and wounded and scarred. I didn't want to scare anyone. But looking back on the few pictures I do have, I wondered if I should share them. Does anyone have any feelings, one way or the other, about this? Should I keep this blog the way it is or would you want to see some pictures along the way? It's something to consider. I'm thinking too...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Endoscopy, No. 2

Friday, January 13, 2012: Warning! You'll get much more information than you need from this post, but it's my chance to vent a bit and show that this journey is never easy...but it is, inevitably, worth it.

Ever since my first endoscopy on January 3 with Dr. Adler, I've been trying to make an appointment for another one. Not that I really wanted it, but Dr. Adler wanted to do a second one to check my ampulla with a "side scope", which can only be found at the Huntsman Cancer Center. Since I'm on blood thinners (still - ugh), I sort of really absolutely most definitely NEEDED to know as soon as possible, so I could be off the meds for a time before the scope. I had the first scope that Tuesday, but by Friday, we were still no closer to getting the scheduling people pinned down for the next procedure. As Janessa and I sat at the UofU Hospital on Friday, waiting for my scan disc (which, BTW, I STILL don't have in my possession - I gave up), I talked to Karen at Dr. Grossmann's office (forgive me if I'm repeating myself from my last posts) who had talked to Dr. Adler's office who had told her that the scheduling person was out sick and expected to be back in the office Monday, January 9. Okay. I went back on the Coumadin, figuring nothing would happen over the weekend anyway and I might as well get some meds in me for a few days. Monday came. I called Dr. Adler's office (who has the most "grandmotherly-voiced" receptionist ever - I felt like I was talking to Lillie or Mary Olive!). After "Grandma" transferred me, I was directed to someone's voicemail. I left my message, explaining the situation, and asked them to call me as soon as possible. Tuesday came. I called Dr. Adler's office again. Same Grandma-receptionist answers. Same transfer to voicemail. I leave another message, this time putting on a sort of angry face and using a sort of angry voice (you know me) to say I need to know, one way or the other, as soon as possible. My mom calls to see if I've heard anything. She thinks I should just wait for the doctors to sort it all out. Lindsey calls me to see if I've heard anything. I ask her if I should just give up. She thinks I should keep bugging them. Wednesday comes. As I start the morning, I decide not to take the Coumadin. I take Ness to school and come home and warm up a frozen pancake from last week. It's about 8:30 and I am not happy that I have to make another phone call, no matter how nice Grandma-receptionist is. I call and leave the same voicemail...and then forget about it. All through the morning, I sit at my desk and work, not stopping (like I usually do) to grab a snack or fill up a water bottle to drink from as I work. I plow ahead. I decide I'll stop and eat some lunch just before noon, and then the phone rings. It's a weird name on caller ID, but I would recognize that phone number anywhere! It's Dr. Adler's scheduler. She proceeds to tell me that something is on the books for me for January 18, but she's not sure what it is. I shake my head because I DO know what that is - it's the re-schedule of the appointment with Dr. Grossmann to go over the results of the second endoscopy that I'm trying to get scheduled!! I tell her that in my best exasperated voice. Then, she finally gets it. "Let me give you the number to Huntsman," she says. "Call and see when you can come in for the scope." Really? REALLY? Oh boy. I call Huntsman. They are SOOO nice. They tell me exactly who I need to call at the UofU, where Dr. Adler will do the procedure, and even try to transfer me to the right person. After a couple of tries, I am finally talking to Becca, who is an angel and says..."Can you come in today?" I can't believe it. Of course, I tell her yes. I'm not messing up the karma! She schedules me for 3:30, which means I should be there for the prep work at 3:00. Can I do it? I'll make sure I do it. She asks when I last ate anything solid, and for the first time all week, I can say (though I don't go into details with her) that I did not eat any cashews or Ghirardelli chocolates or M&Ms or crackers or anything else after breakfast - I've had one drink of water and no meds! And even though I've (honestly) only been off Coumadin for one day, I will be forced to lie, just so the procedure can move forward. If I bleed, I bleed, that's all there is to it. I call Dean at work, I call Lindsey (who is sick at home with strep throat), and arrangements are made for Dean to take me to the appointment and for Janessa to be brought home after school.

Even though I just had this procedure a week ago and I know that it's a cinch, I'm still nervous as we head to the hospital. Afternoon traffic is heavy and I'm impatient with the slow drivers. Dean practically has to run to keep up with me as we enter the building about 3:15. I shouldn't have worried, though - Dr. Adler is about an hour or so behind schedule. With my temporary insurance ID, I'm whisked through admittance and Dean and I take the elevator to the basement. How appropriate! "Nate Burkus" is on TV, but I can't sit still or concentrate enough to watch his good ideas. Dean always naps and is worn out after work, and I tell him that maybe while he's waiting, he should find a vending machine and buy a Mountain Dew or Coke to help him stay awake. I don't want some nurse coming out to tell him the results and find him snoring up a storm in the waiting room. The nurse who starts asking me the billions of questions I've been asked by every doctor/hospital visit since March says her name is Jan. A lightbulb goes off in my head! Just after Christmas, when we were originally trying to get my FIRST endoscopy scheduled before the end of the year, Robby volunteered to call a family friend in the SLC area who worked with a Gastriotologist (sp??) to see if she could pull any strings for us. Her name was Jan and I start wondering, could it be? We go through all the questions (I lie about the Coumadin) and as she's washing up to start my IV, I say, "I need to ask you kind of a weird question - do you know Cindy Stephenson?" She turns off the water faucet, looks at me with this strange expression, and says, "Well, YES, I do!" I tell her why I know Cindy and that I'm the one Robby was bugging her about getting an appointment for. "You're the one!" she says. We laugh. The mood in the room changes from formal politeness to warm friendliness. "Now that we're almost family..." she says over and over again, as we chat about all that we now have in common and she tries to find a good vein for the IV. I am freezing (it's a constant now, especially when I spend a lot of time in my cold, little office) and she grabs a warm blanket to try to "warm up" my tiny veins. It's no use. No water, no fluids since morning, plus cold hands and arms - no way those guys are going to plump up and show themselves! She finally decides to go in my left hand, just below the ring finger. "Now that we're family", she uses a baby-sized needle, like they use on children, and it goes in okay. She's concerned that when the meds start going through the IV, it will hurt worse being in my hand, but I tell her it's okay. We talk and laugh, and then she leaves me with a warm blanket and the remote to the TV (so I can watch "What Not To Wear") and goes to check on how much longer before the doctor is ready.

It's amazing how having a friend in a procedure like this puts me at ease. I'm just a little nervous, but mostly I want it done and over with. Finally, Jan comes to take me to the procedure room. There is weird "hillbilly" music blaring on a sound system, and another sweet nurse says, "Well, the doctor's music is on." Jan reaches over and turns it down to barely nothing, bless her. I hear voices from another room and see Dr. Adler (remember the "ER" TV show guy?) and a whole swarm of other people, some in lab coats, all with ID lanyards on. "Looks like you're going to have an audience," the other nurse says. Oh boy. Look at me and all my insides.

Finally, Dr. Adler and his gaggle of interns come into the room. Dr. Adler speaks to me briefly, but the others basically ignore me. To them, I am just a body on a bed, a glimpse into the inner workings of a human being. Jan tells me to turn over on my side, as she is going to start the meds in my IV. Immediately after turning to the side, I feel a terrible stinging in my hand that extends all the way up to my elbow. The blood pressure cuff is squeezing the juices out of my upper arm and something is not right with the IV. This is completely opposite of my first endoscopy, where I felt nothing and simply closed my eyes and went to sleep. This time, I'm wide awake and in pain and I'm wondering when (or if) this is going to start working so I can fall asleep. Jan notices my discomfort and asks if I'm in pain. I nod vigorously (the mouth guard is already in, so I can't talk). She is concerned and apologetic and starts moving the line around where I have rolled over onto it. In a few seconds, I feel the stinging, aching pain subside. I sigh and feel the cool oxygen in my nostrils and the warm, sleepy feeling in my head. "There it goes," I whisper to Jan through the mouth guard, and she says, "Oh, good. You're doing great." That's all I remember before waking up in recovery.

Funny story about recovery: Dean was in the waiting room, wondering why things were taking so long this time. Finally, a nurse (not Jan) came out and said, "Your wife is finished with her procedure and is in recovery. I'll take you back to her." Dean followed her down the hall and into the curtained-off recovery area. Suddenly, he heard someone say, "I don't know this person," and when he looked at the woman on the bed, it wasn't me! She was looking at him and he was looking at her and they were both trying to figure out what was going on. Thankfully, the nurse quickly realized her mistake and led Dean away from the stranger to where I was. She pointed to me and asked him, "Does she look more familiar?" and kind of laughed. Dean said it upset him a bit. Poor thing! (but it does make a great story!)

The best news was when my newfound friend, Jan, brought the pictures and results back to me and showed me the happy words of "no lesions...", "no abnormalities...", "no evidence of metastatic cancer" in the findings. Everything was normal. What a huge relief. It was the answer I was waiting for all these frustrating days, dealing with scheduling and unanswered phone calls and a bunch of baloney.

So, now I go back to Dr. Grossmann at Huntsman and hear his final pronouncement on those crazy "hot spots" that ended up being nothing. Happily, those little melanoma guys aren't multiplying (did I tell you that it takes 1000 melanoma cells to make a cluster big enough to be seen on a scan? and it takes about three months of normal growth for a cluster to grow 1000 cells...). I see Dr. G on January 18 - I had my scans on December 19. One whole month of tiptoeing through this cancer mine field, hoping and praying nothing blows up in my face. So glad it's almost over for another three months.

Monday, January 9, 2012

One A-OK

Monday, January 9, 2012: This morning, I had an appointment to see my favorite Doctor Hero, Dr. Bradley: Surgeon Extraordinaire, Lifesaver Pro, and Prince Charming all rolled into one. Yep, I kind of like him...

He has a new baby daughter and he is in love with her. She's a little younger than my newest grand-niece, Briia, so I can imagine the fun they are having with that little one. He was a walking grin!

He asked how things were going and I told him what I could. It was somewhat disappointing to NOT be able to give him a copy of the latest scans (some IT problems at the U of U file room prevented that today), but I was able to show him my (cool) Endoscopy pictures and tell him the latest. He was pleased and agreed that these little things that pop up in scans are usually "flames of the moment" - quick to ignite caution and worry, but just as quick to burn off and die a quiet death! Let's continue to hope and pray. He did all the usual tests - checked my mouth, throat, nose - and then did his "neck probing", which reminds me of playing an invisible piano - he gets all ten fingers wiggling along the sides and base of my neck, feeling for any abnormal lymph nodes or glands. And I'm always happy to hear him say, "From my perspective, everything looks and feels GREAT!"

I'm also happy when he says, "Let's see you again in six weeks." I'm not ready to give up my visits with Dr. B. He makes me feel like I'm doing something right, which I can't always say after a visit to Dr. Grossmann (i.e. when scan results are haywire, for whatever reason). Every follow-up visit with Dr. Bradley is a shot in the arm, a milestone, an "all clear" for at least a few minutes in my crazy life. So, even though there is another endoscopy on the horizon (still not sure WHEN) and another visit with Dr. Grossmann and team at Huntsman in a few days, TODAY I am "all clear" and A-OK. It's great how that one reassurance is so therapeutic and calming.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

To Be 15

Saturday, January 7, 2012: Yesterday was my girl's 15th birthday. I hadn't planned it to be so soul-searching, but I've been thinking a lot about that 15th year of life. Of course, we spent the whole day together, as it was a National Holiday and you never go to school on a National Holiday! (her words, but I agree whole-heartedly) The differences between last year's (or the year before) Birthday Shopping Spree and this year's was profound: last year, it was all about books--mostly mystery, vampire-ish, teenaged angst type of love stories--and by the end of the day, she had a stack as tall as she was. This year, it was only too evident that she was growing up and teenage-hood had descended upon her: we shopped for "cute" jeans (apparently I've lost touch with what "cute jeans" are as I age), "cute" shoes (again, I'm just an old mom--what do I know?), fun smell-good stuff (lotions and sparkly gel and stuff), AND hair color to do an "experiment". I know my married girls will think I've lost my head to let her dye her hair (don't worry though--it's not bright blue and all over her head) and to HELP her do it this morning, but I think they'll agree when they see it that it's okay. It's just a hint of red and she planned it out so that it "hides" underneath the layers of her hair. (I think she's a bit disappointed that it's not FLAMING red and more obvious, but I like it this way.) And for another first, she had a small friend party last night that included one BOY (brave soul) with her four best girlfriends. He was funny and friendly, and I can see why she would want him to join her little group. He's not THE crush, but he redeems the teenage male species by making these girls laugh and forget the disappointments handed to them hourly in the halls of junior high. I told him he was brave and patient with these silly girls and asked if he had sisters. He said, "Yes, I have two sisters and EIGHT brothers, so I've learned to be patient!" I guess so! They talked and laughed and talked (sometimes all six at once!) until the wee hours. Yes, my girl is growing up.

I thought about myself at 15. I was a sophomore in high school. I was tall and gangly. I had glasses and braces. I fancied myself "in love" every 15 minutes. I was gaining new girl friends, but I too had a best friend who happened to be a boy who made me laugh and feel "cute". I probably thought my mother knew nothing about fashion either, but today I think she's the "fashionista" of all senior citizens! I was terribly insecure about my appearance, whether I fit in with the crowd, and worried sick about moving to a new city and state. Tough life. I think of my Chelsea at 15, as she became a "big sister" while she was going through her own insecurities and challenges as a teenager. I'm sure she was ignored more often than she liked as I tried to handle the stress of a premature baby. Fifteen is hard enough without some of the other stuff we have to shoulder.

Yesterday's spree was also unique, in that Janessa and I spent a good hour and a half at the U of U Hospital, waiting for a disc to be made of my recent scans that I could take to my doctors who don't have access to the files (mainly Dr. Bradley and Dr. Avizonis). For some reason, the files were not reading right and there were problems getting them to download. It was a little easier to wait after we purchased two Caramel Cream Frappachinos (non-coffee) from the Starbucks there in the hospital. Yum! As we sat on a bench and sipped our drinks and watched the parade of mankind walk by, I apologized to the birthday girl, that she had to spend time in a hospital on her special day. "It's okay," she said. "I actually like hospitals now after all that has happened this year. There is a feeling in them that makes me feel safe." Wow. She is growing up.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Vocabulary Words

Wednesday, January 4, 2012: Don't you love it when life hands you a teaching moment on a silver platter? That's how I feel some days, especially when some doctor teaches me a new vocab word that he learned long ago in med school. Gee, thanks, docs...just what I wanted to learn today!

Yesterday was the worrisome Endoscopy, worrisome because I had no idea what to expect. You know, you can watch all the You Tube videos you want and read all the Google info you can swallow, and you're still going to lie awake at night and worry about what's going to happen to your own poor body. That's what I did. But I also experienced another "tender mercy" in the wee hours of Tuesday morning: Dean had given me a priesthood blessing Monday night, and very simply asked Heavenly Father to give me comfort and help me feel peaceful about the test. I went to bed, still fretful, but woke up about 2:00 in the morning...and felt absolute peace. It was as if I was being wrapped in a soft, fluffy cloud. I had no urges to cough (that was one of my biggest fears, that I would cough the tube/camera right out of my throat), no fear, and was able to fall back asleep for a few more hours. Thank you, Lord...and Deaner.

The three of us were out the door and into the morning dark, dropping J off at her friend's house right around 7:00 AM. We love these friends and their willingness to keep J's schedule halfway normal--and to feed her a good breakfast! She never eats breakfast at home, claiming she doesn't "have time", but when she described her breakfast at C's house, she said that her egg and toast were perfect, "probably because they're made with a loving touch!" How cute is that? Dean and I arrived at the Redwood Clinic right on time, 7:30 on the dot. No one else at the check-in desk, only two other people in the waiting room. The morning news was on TV. Dean started coughing (again) as soon as he sat down, but once he was settled, his cough settled down, too. (I told him that the nurses might make him wear a mask, which he was okay with.) It wasn't more than a few minutes before I was called back to the prep room. I changed into a gown and answered a bunch of questions for the nurse. There was a woman waiting in the bed next to mine (we were separated by a curtain), and I wondered if she thought or felt anything when she heard me say that I have melanoma. The nurse then put in my IV for the meds and hit a good vein, first thing. She turned to go, saying she was going to check if they were ready for me, and here came the "sedation nurse", ready to walk me to the Endoscopy room. I thought the doctor was just another orderly until he introduced himself to me. (For some reason, he reminded me of the bald, sort of arrogant doctor in the old TV show, "ER"...remember him? Weird.) He asked me some questions, too, about my melanoma and looked up my Huntsman scans. Another nurse came in, named Alex--a big Tongan man with a long black ponytail, who was very kind and gentle--and he covered me with a warm blanket and hooked me up to all sorts of wires and monitors. Then he had me turn on my left side and bite down on a sort of mouth guard with a hole in the middle of it, which he taped down to my cheeks. The sedation nurse told me she was giving me two medications in the IV--one, a painkiller to help relax my throat; and the other, a "sleep" med to put me out. She said it might sting, but it didn't--all I felt was a warmth in my veins, and then I closed my eyes and was out.

It seemed barely minutes later when I sort of "woke up" with my eyes still closed. The first thing I did was realize that I was lying on my back now. Then I realized that I didn't have the mouth guard in my mouth any more. I was done! I felt someone take off the blood pressure cuff and that's when I opened my eyes--I don't really remember if someone said my name or not. Alex was at my side and asked if I wanted water or juice or anything. "You might have a bit of a sore throat," he said when he handed me a cup of cool water with a straw, but it wasn't sore at all. It felt perfectly fine. I didn't feel at all sluggish, either, which also surprised me. I looked at my watch and it was 8:25. The procedure had taken about 20 minutes, but it felt like I'd been out mere moments.

I think one of the best parts for me was when Alex handed me some pages all stapled together with the basic "if this happens after your procedure, please call this number" stuff, plus a couple of pages with pictures from the Endoscopy and descriptions of the procedure (in medical jargon), along with "findings" and "recommendations". It was just what I wanted and needed to know. No waiting to see if something had shown up--here it was in my hands. I scanned through it a couple of times, looking for the "all clear" sign, and found a spot that said, "The examined duodenum was normal. No evidence of a duodenal mass was seen." Major relief!! I did find out that I have a "Grade C reflux esophagitis (caused by acid reflux)" and a "hiatal hernia" (which I later found out that 60% of people over the age of 50 have, as well) and a "normal stomach." Well, hooray for that!

The doctor came back in just as I was ready to leave and said that he recommends another Endoscopy to look at the "ampulla". He said his scope at the Redwood Clinic is not as "strong" or "sensitive" as the one at the Huntsman Hospital, and he wants to use that one to make sure all is well with the ampulla. (Yes, there's another one of my new vocab words.) He did say that he would "love to give me his blessing" (to which he made the sign of the cross), but he wanted to be certain all was well by doing another scope. As I've learned in recent weeks and months, one scan or scope leads to another, "just to be certain". And now that I know an Endoscopy is not a worrisome, scary procedure, I am okay with being photographed again on the inside!

Hope you learned something today. I'll be a walking medical journal before too long...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012: Wow. Goodbye to 2011, a very tough, growing year. Hello to all that 2012 holds. I hope and pray it will be a happy new year.

We have un-decked the halls and Christmas feels like a dream. It is quiet in our little house with small punctuations of snoring, TV, soft tapping of computer keys, and ever-present music. It's all good and I like it, though I miss the sound of tiny voices saying, "Look, Grammy!"

Today is a day of theater movies, buttered popcorn, and no school or work. I would love to be able to say that it is a day of no worries, but worries are also ever-present. Worries for my children, for my (still) coughing husband, for my heartbroken teen, for my "procedure" tomorrow morning, for test results that could go either way, for all the countless worries in my little life. But, I have to say that I always have hope, and that is my lifeline. Hope for a better day. Hope for a healthier life. Hope for love and all its magic.

Yesterday, I saw and heard something on TV that has warmed my heart. A woman and her little daughter were driving along a country road when they saw a huge field full of dandelion weeds. The woman immediately thought, "Oh, that poor farmer! He'll be busy killing all those miserable weeds." At that moment, her daughter turned to her in joy and said, "Look, Mommy! Look at all those wishes!"

May we see the "wishes" and not the "weeds." Happy New Year...