the new normal


“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.

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.

do you want to walk today?

pathBlogging is so 1999 and yet here I am getting in on the fad 14 years into it.

My good friend Bonnie thinks I should write. She’s always encouraging me to do new and exciting things. We take long walks together. Actually, we used to take long walks together before both of us were sidetracked with health issues. But I will save THAT for a different day. During our long walks we usually talk about things like our kids or our husbands or our common friends. Sometimes we dig deep and talk about the world and discuss how we can make a difference. It usually involves some kind of fantastic book that we’d write to leave our mark or some kind of mission work like building wells in Africa. I don’t know why we always fall back on the Wells in Africa thing when we both know that Bonnie would never agree to get all the shots needed to travel to a third world country and I would never agree to travel anywhere that does not have 5 star hotels.

We promise one another that what is discussed on our walks, stay on our walks. We swear each other to secrecy, occasionally allowing a particular interesting factoid to be shared with our hubby’s. Our hubby’s should be honored that they are the exception to the secrecy rule. When I know that I have the green light to blab to Bruce, suddenly I don’t want to. What fun is there in being ALLOWED to gossip? So I usually get home, Bruce asks me what we talked about and I say, “oh, not much.” He rolls his eyes and then wonders how the heck we can walk for an hour or two and not discuss anything worth repeating. Every now and then I will toss him a morsel of news. He never really thinks it’s as interesting as Bonnie and I found it.

If we were to take a walk today, we’d probably talk about Valentine’s Day and what our plans were. After dissecting every way possible of how to spend it in a fun way, we’d both eventually confess to wanting to stay home and get in our pj’s early and finding a good show on tv to watch. To validate not going out, we would discuss, and agree, that we’ve both had our fair share of overpriced roses and that we do not want the added calories of chocolates. We are both in the middle of a love affair with dieting.

Bonnie would eventually get around to saying how blessed we are to be able to take walks together while pointing out all of God’s beauty in the nature around us. I would eventually get around to telling her I was tired or had a cramp in my toe or something awful like that. Our friendship works well because she is glass half full and I am glass half empty. We balance each other out. We tend to see the world through similar eyes and we both know how blessed we are to have the friendship that we do. Even tho I tend to prefer perfect weather conditions before agreeing to walk, I would not trade the hours and hours she and I have spent together on our journeys, discussing life and living it.