the new normal

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“Are you ready,  Mrs Bere?”

Was I ready?  I guess so.  As ready was I was going to be.

“Okay, I’m going to slide you under now.  If at any time you start to feel claustrophobic,  let me know.  I’ll be in the room the entire time.”

The technician slid me in and I was directly under what could only be described as a huge, flat, white board.  It was twice the width of my body and twice the length.  I felt like I was in one of those huge commercial iron presses that you see at the dry cleaners.

I was relaxed.  I was sleepy.  My oncologist had given me a prescription for something to help relax me.  I was going to be under the “open” scan press for 2 hours.  I did not want to take a chance.  So I took the prescribed medication an hour before the test.  As the test time got closer, I took another pill for good measure.  I felt an odd sensation moving through my body.  As if everything was moving in slow motion.

“Ok, Im going to lower the top down now.  It will come very close to you but it will not touch you.”  It started to lower slowly towards me.  Closer, Closer.  By the time it was finally in position, I was amazed that it was not touching my nose.  It was positioned, literally,  about 1 -2 inches from me.  I smiled to myself and almost giggled.  I thought that if it was one of my other siblings having the scan, who had inherited  certain features from my Dad’s side of the family,  it would be squashing their noses.

I had my iPod earbuds in and was listening to music.  The night before, I had made sure I had a playlist that would last 2 hours.  I wanted it to be a perfect playlist.  Something quiet and soothing.  I chose country.  Not the rambunctious, fast paced tunes that I play sometimes while cooking.  But the softer melodies.  Mostly about loves lost and found.  About the love of God and our country and of course, driving on country roads and summer nights and beer.  It made no difference.  I fell asleep within 10 minutes.

I had another scan a few weeks prior.  That scan was also 2 hours.  Bruce had driven me to the hospital.  We drove in silence down to the city.  Partly because of the early hour.  And partly because we both knew that this was the big day.   We would get the results before we left the hospital that day of whether or not my cancer had spread. The levels of radiation I would receive would ultimately be determined by the results of that scan.

He kept reaching over and patting my leg on the drive in.  I was emotional and every now and then a tear would escape and roll down my cheek.

It had been an emotional roller coaster the past year.    Towards the end of last summer, there were signs that something was wrong.  I had suddenly started gaining weight.  I was extremely fatigued.  My good friend, Karen, suggested I go see her specialist about my thyroid.  I did.  And so my journey began.

“There’s something suspicious.”   “We need to remove the mass.  You need surgery”    And then ~  “You’ll need a second operation.”  ” You have stage 3 Papillary cancer.”  “You need radiation.”

I remember going in for my first round of radiation.  You go back to a special waiting room.  It was filled with women of all ages.  All waiting for their radiation or chemo sessions to start.  I looked around the room as I walked in.  I sat next to a woman and she told me she was 6 months cancer free.  She was back for her 6 month scan.  She told me that she was given little hope because of the type of cancer she had and the stage it was at.  She had beat the odds.  As my name was called I smiled at her and walked out of that room, knowing I would probably never see her again.  Yet, I felt a bond with her.  We both had the same look in our eyes.  Was it the fear of the unknown?  Was it a sense of peace that we both knew we were going to be ok?  We never asked each others names.

I’ve been through my radiation.  It was not what I had expected.  Because my surgeries went so well and I had bounced back so quickly,  I assumed the same would apply to the radiation treatments.   It was not the same.  I got very sick.  Nausea overtook me for days and days.

My body reacted in a negative way.  My face swelled up to the point that I took on a different appearance.  It’s still swollen.  When it first started to swell, I got very upset.  Not because of my ego, but because I realized that it was the first time throughout this journey that I showed outward signs of being sick.  That something was very wrong.  Up to that point,  the weight gain was the only outward clue that something had changed.  Most people would probably look at me and just think. “Oh, she’s gained weight.”  Today, my oncologist told me that it was a rare side effect.  That it should go away in the next few weeks.

I received good news at the outcome of my scan last week.  The cancer, while it is still present at the original site, has not spread.  This is VERRRY Good news.  Answered prayers!!  The radiation in my body will continue to work on the remaining cancer and if all goes well, I should receive a very good report in 6 months. Six Months!!  I can handle this.  My Cancer did not Spread!

I will get my final report from my Drs. tomorrow.  Neither they nor I expect any surprises.  The real results came in last week.  So after tomorrow, I will be sent on my merry way.  To heal.  To get my life back in order.  To continue to get healthy.  For things to return to normal.  Except my normal is now a new normal.

My dear, dear friend Patti and I were talking about this a few days ago.  She lost her son-in-law to Melanoma the past few years.  We talked about how anyone going through cancer, whether as the patient or as the caregiver, does not really go back to “normal” afterwards.  We are changed.  I will take this experience and turn it into something positive.  Just as Patti seems to have done.  She is such an inspiration to me.  She is one of the kindest and most compassionate people I know.

“Peggy, all done”

I slowly woke up.  I was done with my scan.  This was it, the final step for now.  I looked at the clock and 3 hours had passed.  They helped me up and guided me back through the waiting room to the dressing rooms.  I got dressed , walked out and went to find Bruce who was waiting for me.  He saw me and stood up.  He has been my angel through all of this.  For better or for worse.  Through sickness and in health.  We smiled at each other, he grabbed my hand and we walked out of the hospital together.  Knowing it would be our last visit there for a while.  Our normal is a new normal.

isolation

I’ve gotten sidetracked these past few weeks.  Sidetracked from my daily routine.  Sidetracked from projects I was in the middle of.  Usually, I chalk up my short attention span to having too many things going on at once.  This time I am giving credit where credit is due.  My radiation treatments.

I am going to write about my radiation experience.  That can wait for now.  I find my writing getting far too maudlin.  I have equated this isolation period of my radiation to being in jail.  Not that I have ever been in jail.  But if I was, I imagine this is what it would feel like.  Cause you to go a little stir crazy.  Bring out the drama.  Woah is me.  Right now I want lighthearted.

Last time I was on Dr ordered bed rest,  I snuck out.  I went to the mall.  I went out for lunches.  I met up with friends.  I picked up a few hours at work.  This time I pretty much have to stick by the rules.  I have radiation seeping out of my pores.  I could infect some innocent bystander.   So for now, it’s jail time for me.

Bruce is sleeping in one section of the house.  I am in the other.  He takes my Dr’s orders very seriously.  He brings a tray of food up to our room , which I lovingly refer to as my jail cell, when he gets home from work.  He knocks on the door.  By the time I go to open it, he is gone but the tray is waiting there for me.  Like Magic!  Even in jail I imagine you get to see the warden. He is taking no chances!!  As I sit in my room and eat my iodine free diet (Dr ordered!!) I imagine how fast he must turn and run to get away before I get to the door.  I know what time he is going to come each day.  I can hear him in the kitchen preparing my tray.  Or I get a txt from him asking “Are you hungry?”  Of course I am hungry!  But I humor him.  “Well, I guess I could eat a little something.”  I am tempted to open the door next time right as he is about to knock.  The look on his face alone would be worth taking the risk.  I will not do it, tho.  He is far too good of a nurse to play that trick on.  He is irreplaceable.

Scottie is back home living with us right now.   Just  until he can afford to get out on his own.  He takes his cue from his dad.  No chances there!  He yells through my door every morning and night.  “Good Morning, Mom!!….Have a good day!!!…Night Mom, I Love You!!”  The apple does not fall far from the tree.  He is a good sport about it.  He sends me snapchats during the day.  Sometimes they are of him going for lunch.  Usually they are of him sitting at his desk at work or on his way home from work.  “2 Hours to go!!!!  Heading home!!” It’s almost as if I am sitting in the car with him.  This morning I got a TGIF!!! picture!!  No TGIF for me in Jail.  But each day is one day closer to parole.

Via snapchat and picture txt msgs, Lauren has probably gone the farthest above and beyond in helping me to forget I was in jail.  She works the night shift as an emergency room nurse.  I wake up to all kinds of exciting pics from her on snapchat.  Never of anything I am not supposed to see.  Usually of  her co-workers.  Or her desk.  Or a picture of her at 3am telling me she has just had an espresso.  The other day I woke up, in my cell,  and there were about 10 pictures waiting for me from her.  I was excited!!  It was like opening Presents up on Christmas morning!  I got to meet many nurses and Drs. on her shift.  They were all pretty much in the same pose.  A smiling stranger I had never met before waving at me.  Hello!!

Last night she went shopping.  She “brought” me along.  She was trying to pick up the last few pieces for an outfit she needs for a bachelorette party she is going to this weekend.  We shopped via Txt Msg.  She texted me pics of shoes.  Which pair should she get??  She texted me pics of clothes.  Which would go better to complete my outfit? 

We had a spirited txt message conversation on the pros and cons of Spanx.  Have you EVER tried to get into those??  You take them out of the package and if you fold them in half, they literally can fit in the palm of your hand.  At first you think that you bought the wrong size.  After reading the sizing chart again, you realize you didn’t.  Huh?? I am supposed to squeeze into those!!?   First rule of Spanx ~  you need to decide which is more important to you.  Walking around looking lumpy and being able to breathe, or looking smoothed out while slowly suffocating.  I’ve decided that I’d rather look lumpy than go through that torture.  She said it is an Olympic event trying to get them on.  I agreed and said they should be outlawed.

She also acts as liaison between Bruce Robt and myself.  He has never been one to spend time on the phone.  Or snapchatting.  So she takes pics of him and sends them to me.  On the sofa grinning at me.  In a shirt I bought him.  Sometimes taking a big bite of something.  He takes after Clark in that department.  She keeps him well-informed on what is happening.  They are so blessed to have each other.  It’s fun to see how they interact.  In many ways, they remind me of hubs and myself.

Brian is away at college and he gives me daily phone calls.  Since living away from home,  he always has called me a lot to check in.  Now he calls me more.  He is usually on his way to or from class.  Or the Fraternity house.   Or to meet up with friends.  We could be in mid sentence or in the middle of a deep conversation about my radiation or my progress on shrinking cancer cells and all of a sudden he announces, “I’ve got to go mom, my friends are here” or  I’m at the dining hall,  gotta go,  I Love You.”   This always makes me smile.  He grounds me.  He keeps life in perspective for me.  He makes my mind go back to a carefree time in my life when I was a college student.  It keeps my mind focused on the whole picture rather than on this bump in the road.

So for now, it’s jail time for me.  I can handle it!  I can do this!  I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  After all, I have to admit that my jail cell is pretty cushy.  I have a tv and Netflix.  I have my pc.  I have my phone.  What more could I ask for?  Freedom, that’s what!  And it’s just around the corner.

mans best friend

Today, my youngest son, Brian, is coming home from college to spend a week with us.  Our home always becomes a haven of activity while he’s home for any length of time.  Discussions become lively.  Friends are constantly popping over.  The house becomes unsettled and messy.    I have learned over the years not to sweat the small stuff.   Knowing that the chaos is only temporary, I try to concentrate on the joy my heart feels when I see him walk back through the door.  I miss him so much while he’s gone.  It’s always so good to see him walk back in.

I answered the phone a few days ago and he was on the other end.  “Mom, I was thinking about bringing  Lil’ Bit home with me next week while on break.”  I was silent on my end of the phone.  I realized that the chaos was one week away.

Lil’ Bit is his Fraternity’s dog.    Last year, someone decided that they needed one so they went out and got one.  I’m still unclear where the pooch came from.  The first time I met Lil’ Bit was last fall while my hubby and I were visiting Brian at School.  We were walking down the beautiful streets of Oxford, soaking up the gorgeous fall day.  Brian was giving us a tour, proudly pointing out all the historical and worthwhile places of interest.   You couldn’t help but  get caught up in the college atmosphere.  There was loud music blasting out of open windows in houses up and down the street.  There were students walking around everywhere.  The coffee houses and bars were filled to capacity.  You got caught up in the carefree and spirited atmosphere that goes hand in hand with college life.

As we turned the corner from one tree lined street onto another, Brian pointed out a group of his friends that were walking about a block away.   “Look ma!!… there’s  Lil’ Bit!!”  I looked up to see one of his friends tugging on a leash with an aggressive dog on the other end.  It was as if this dog had sniffed out a squirrel or something and was eager to go get it.  This dog had energy!  It was dragging it’s master along.  I told Brian that he was a nice looking dog.  Brian told me they were still in the middle of training him and that he was still a little excitable.  He told me that just last week one of his friends was playing tug of war with the excitable pooch and got a little too close and the dog bit his nose.  He thought that was humorous.   This was not what a mom wanted to hear.

Brian has wanted a dog for as long as I can remember.  We never got one and if you asked me what my biggest regret in life was, that would be it.  We had our reasons for not getting one, but over the years, those reasons started to fade.  Before I knew it, the boys were grown and out the door and I felt the opportunity had passed us by.  But, had it?  There have been many times in the past few years that I have wavered and thought, yes, it would be nice to have a dog.  Maybe we should get one.   It’s never really too late.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  I try to picture how it would be if we added a canine friend to our family.  I think about how our life would change and about the adjustments we’d have to make.  I made a mental list in my head and they really did not seem that overwhelming.   Alright,  everything we owned would immediately smell of dog and our clothes would be covered in animal hair.  Vet bills would be high and our toilet would become the dog’s refreshment center.  And of course, there would be no discernment in the licking department….(his privates, the dead thing in the yard, your face…)  But, the unconditional love you get from a pet far outweighs all of those little issues.

Last time Brian was home on a break, I told him that I thought I might be ready to get a dog.  His response was immediate!  Now this was news he had been waiting for all his life!  He started researching to try to find the perfect breed.  He’d show me pictures of cute puppies that you couldn’t help but fall in love with. He was really working all the angles!   He said to me, “My friend has a Saint Bernard.   That would be a great dog to get!!   He can carry one of those little kegs under it’s neck!!”  I just looked at him.  He went on to tell me that they originally started carrying those kegs under their necks because they were true rescue dogs and that is where medical supplies were carried.  I did not see the allure of getting a huge dog with a special talent like that.  If I wanted some tums or Advil or a band-aid, I could just walk to the medicine cabinet.  No, I needed to ease into the world of pet ownership with something a little smaller.  Besides, don’t Saint Bernards have drooling issues?   He assured me they didn’t drool like they used to.  I was skeptical.   The Saint Bernard was out.

We’ve gone back and forth a lot in the past months.  I know that the decision will ultimately be his because it’s very likely that he’ll end up taking this dog back to school with him in the fall.  That is a win/win for everyone!

Brian will be rolling in tonight sometime around dinner and he’ll spend the week with us.  I’m so excited to see him.  We’ll talk about the dog that might be joining our family this summer.  We’ll continue to think about what kind would be good to get.  I will lay out a list of the responsibilities that will be his.  With any luck, we’ll come to terms and make some progress on these decisions.    I know that this means that there will be adjustments to make and compromises to be had, but I feel good about this decision.  Three or four years ago you wouldn’t have heard me mention even the slightest possibility of getting a dog.   Our household is about to change.

samantha stevens

bewitched-elizabeth-montgomeryAs the end of my two week medical leave from work nears, I think to myself, “that wasn’t so bad.  The time flew by.”  My days were at first spent sleeping and recovering.  As I gained my strength back little by little and started to feel like myself again, I started to actually enjoy my time off. I had forgotten how much I liked being home during the days doing housewifey things. It’s nice not being on a schedule and even nicer to sleep in a little.  Yes, I could get used to this kind of lifestyle!

As a young girl, I always thought the tv moms were super cool!  I wanted to be the Samantha Stevens of the neighborhood.  Her home was like a magazine layout.  Her husband had an awesome advertising job in the city and every night when he got home it was cocktail hour.  She had beautiful dresses and perfect hair and drove a convertible.   Her friends would drop over for coffee in the mornings.  Most of them would just let themselves in as if that was just the normal way that people interacted. (Who does that in real life?)  She always had a flurry of fun activities planned during the day that included lunches at fancy restaurants or outings in the city.  Yes!  This was the life I wanted!!

Recently, I’ve gotten a little taste of this.  I got to talk to my dear friend Mary the other morning.  This was a treat!  She is one of my closest friends.  She’s a tiny little thing filled with endless amounts of energy.  Her stories are the best!  She is animated and lively as she tells them.  Bruce and I love to vacation with her and her hubs!  We have been to both the East and West coasts with them.  The trips are always memorable and end way too quickly.  Even tho we both had busy days to get to, (well, I was suppose to be resting), we talked for hours, in our robes, and drank coffee while doing it.  After catching up on each others family’s and discussing the redecorating we were both in dire need of, we said our goodbyes and started our days.  It was close to noon by this time. Yes!  This was the life of Samantha Stevens!!  I can start my day whenever I want.   I am on no schedule.  I have nothing pressing to do. If I want to stay in my pj’s until noon, Im going to.  *nods*

I have picked up a few bad habits while I have been home these past two weeks.  Lauren, my beautiful daughter in law, has gotten me hooked on the Kardashians.  Bruce frowns upon this new guilty pleasure of mine.  He walked into the room one day while I was right in the middle of a Kardashian marathon and looked at me in disgusted disbelief.  “Are you actually watching this trash?”  I shhhush’d him without taking my eyes off the tv.   He walked away mumbling something and I continued to watch the show.  It’s like watching a train wreck.  You know you shouldn’t look but you can’t take your eyes off of it.  I have also started watching episodes of  Kourtney and Kim Take Miami.  I do this at night when there is nothing else on.  If I hear Bruce coming up the stairs, my heart starts to race and I flip the channel real quick.  I have gotten tricky while being at home recouping.  It feels a little sneaky and a tad bit rebellious.  I know that these habits will die as soon as I go back to work.  No harm no foul.  Right?

Other than staying in my pj’s until noon and picking up a few bad habits, my time at home has been pleasant.  I  made a new friend, Tuan, who is now helping me to redecorate my family room.  I stumbled upon this new,  awesome friendship while browsing the furniture stores and looking for new ideas for a front room facelift.  We started talking and before I knew it, I had a confirmed appointment with him for a home visit.  Wow.  How did that happen?   He came out on the day we had agreed upon.  I greeted him at the door and he flew in like a tornado and immediately started shaking things up.  This was exactly what I needed!  Someone who could make split second decisions.  This was very Samantha Stevens!!  I couldn’t help but get caught up in his flamboyant enthusiasm.   He informed me that while my room was lovely, it was very outdated and instead of just needing a couch, as was my original plan, I actually needed to replace everything.  Before I knew it, he had  overhauled the entire room.   He had an itemized list and tally of what everything was going to cost me and handed it to me as he breezed back out the door for his next appointment.   This overwhelmed me.  It was major sensory overload.   I just looked down at it in my hand and then back up at him.  I thanked him for coming.  We ended up only ordering the sofa.    It turns out that I am a creature of habit and my mode is a much slower pace.

Now I am nearing the end of my time at home.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy having the days to myself.  I am going to miss the freedom and  luxury of being able to do whatever I want all day long.  Whether I want to watch trash TV all day or spend it in my pj’s on the phone with friends, the choice is mine.  As much as I wanted to be like Samantha Stevens when I grew up, I think a lifestyle with a little more structure and routine is best for me.  I look forward to going back to work.  I miss my responsibilities there and miss my friends.  It will be good to be back in a routine.

Up until a few years ago, my major role in life was being a stay at home mom.  I consider myself fortunate to be part of a generation that was able to choose whether to stay home and run a household or to go to work and juggle both career and family.   I chose to be a stay at home mom.   The day my youngest son, Brian, moved away to college, I knew my life as I had known it up to this point was about to change.  I was ready for the change, though.  I was ready to get a part time job and to spend my time doing things I enjoyed.  I love cooking and photography ~ travel and writing.  I also love my job.  I count my blessings on a daily basis for being given the opportunity to explore all of these passions.  I do not take lightly, the fact that I have a comfortable and beautiful home.  I am grateful everyday for the gift of time spent with dear friends, my amazing hubby and my healthy family.

out with the old, in with the new

My Dr has me on a 2 weeks medical leave from work due to my recent surgery.  He has me on bed rest.  I think this is a little excessive.   After my first surgery I was also under Drs orders to take 2 weeks off to recoup.  By the second week I was getting cabin fever.   I decided to sneak out to the mall.   I was suppose to be at home resting. I jumped when my phone rang.  I looked down and saw Bruce’s number light up.  Oh, Nuts!  If I had answered it he would have heard the mall music in the background and all the people milling around me.  So I screened his call and let it go to voice mail.  I felt incredibly guilty.  When I called him back,  I confessed immediately.  He did not have to interrogate me very long.  The huge, blazing hot interrogation lights were not needed.  He asked me what I was doing and I sang like a canary.  “I was at the mall!”  “Margaret, I knew I should not have gone to work today.  You’re suppose to take it easy and stay home.”  The lecture was more painful than the confession.

It’s the weekend and Bruce has projects in the works.  Today we are getting a new mattress delivered to the house for Scottie.  He is still sleeping on his original boyhood mattress.  It’s small and needs to be replaced.  I was not ready for a weekend project and am under Drs orders to stay home so I was not able to go get new bedding for his new bed.  Bruce and Scottie are taking care of the details.  This makes me nervous.

Last night I heard Bruce telling Scottie that he needed to clean off his headboard, which is also a bookshelf, and take the bed apart so they could carry it down the stairs.  Shock!!!  That is what was in Scottie’s eyes.  All of his boyhood treasures are crammed onto that bookshelf.  Things that to the rest of the world may look like clutter but to Scottie, each item has a memory attached to it.  After an hour or so behind closed doors in his room, he came out and announced that he was going to leave the twin sized bookshelf/headboard as is and just lean it up against the wall next to his new, much larger, bed.  The weekend project was off to a good start.

This morning I woke up and came downstairs to find a mattress and box spring in the middle of the foyer.  The delivery men are suppose to be here sometime today.  Until then, we will all just squeeze around them.  We have no linens for the new bed.  The guys are going to pick something out later.  We started to look online last night but could not agree on anything so Bruce asked me to “trust him.”  He is going to go out today and pick something out with Scottie.  I should be grateful for a husband and son who are able to pick up the slack while I am recovering.  They are both so “hands-on” for this project.  It really just makes me nervous.

The phrase “out with the old and in with the new” can bring feelings of melancholy to so many.  Why do we save things?  For most of us, we worry that regardless of how unlikely, we might want to use it again someday.  Our belongings and objects carry sentimental value.  They are an anchor to a memory of the past.  We wonder, “Can I really go my entire life without seeing this again?”

All of those thoughts ran through my head as I watched Scottie struggle with boxing up his bookshelf items.  I realized that not everyone wants to or even needs to get rid of stuff.  He is a sentimental soul.  He is a middle child and therefor a peacemaker.  He is non confrontational.  He has always been easy going.  People are drawn to him and like him immediately.

As I walked back up the stairs and passed his room this morning, I peeked inside and saw a big open space ready for the new bed.  His walls were covered in framed sports memorabilia and posters.   On his dresser, among the clutter of paperwork and clothes, were framed pictures of he and his many friends.  On one wall was a shelf filled to overflowing with trophy’s.  And of course, leaning up against a wall in the corner was his old bookshelf headboard.  I walked over to it.  It was  filled with novels, yearbooks and all kinds of mementos.   There were a stack of cards and among them was a  funeral card for his childhood friend, Benny Newsome, who had died 8 years earlier in an automobile accident at the age of 12.  There was another one for his best friend’s mom, Cheryl Kaim, who lost her battle with ovarian cancer last year.  I remember going to that funeral with Scottie.  It was a heartbreaking day for him.  To the left of these items, there was a large program that caught my eye,  It was the program to his grandfather Lambert’s  funeral from last January.  He was such a special man.  He had a special bond with all three of my sons and their cousins.  All the things that had extra special meaning in his life surrounded him every night on that bookshelf.  So for now, it’s a new bed in an old room cluttered with boyhood and high school treasures.  Sometimes it’s just In with the New.