Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The New Normal

The first thing most people ask me when I tell them I had skin cancer is, "How did you know you had it?" My response is that I've had this mole on my shin for a couple of years now, about the size of the tip of a pencil eraser; but over the last few months, I noticed that it changed. I can't tell you exactly why I noticed the change -- maybe it's because it was on the front of my leg, but it went from just another spot to an ugly spot.

At first, all I cared about was getting it removed; but as time passed, the color change and shape looked -- I dunno -- weird, for lack of a better term. So, I went to my dermatologist who took a close look and confirmed my suspicions: It didn't look good. She took a shave biopsy and told me she'd call as soon as she received the results.

Her follow-up call was left in voice mail and I knew it wasn't good news when I heard her say, "We need to develop a game plan." No one develops a game plan for carrying on with their lives -- it's only when the game changes.

When I called, she sounded very upbeat - or at least, she tried to sound upbeat; I listened to her calmly and carefully, asking questions I had already thought about once I heard her voicemail; but by the end of the conversation, she said, "This sucks, I know." I wasn't really sure how to respond to that. I mean, maybe I was still ignorant of the long road ahead, but I couldn't grasp the "it sucks" part because I didn't feel any different than I did before I went in to see her. So I replied with, "Can I still go on vacation next week?" She couldn't give me an answer, but she told me she would get me in to see a plastic surgeon for a consult the next day so I could get the surgery scheduled.

The irony of all ironies is that our six year-old dog, Scout, died from melanoma in April. It started with a tumor on his paw, which was removed (along with a non weight-bearing toe) to full blown masses growing in his upper GI tract five months later. The sad thing is that we had put him on a melanoma vaccine program after his tumor had been removed (they actually have a melanoma vaccine for dogs...not for people yet -- it's still in experimental stages) and it didn't help one bit.

When you're diagnosed with cancer -- whether you're a dog or a person, you're given a number on a mitotic index, which indicates the number of cancer cells that are dividing. So, for instance, Scout's mitotic index was at 19. Mine was only a 1. I guess that's why, initially, I wasn't consumed with fear about my diagnosis.

But then, of course, my fears grew after speaking to the reconstructive surgeon the next day. It wasn't just because we didn't know how far it had spread; it was what she had to do to take it out and ensure it hadn't spread.

After she told me that she had to cut a centimeter around my little eraser-tip mole (which, you know, doesn't seem like a lot until you see a diagram on your shin), she explained that she would either have to make a skin flap or take a skin graft from another area to patch it up. After the surgery, I would have to be on bed rest for a few weeks and then walk with crutches for a few weeks more, until the wound closed and the stitches were removed.

What was worse was that she told me I would have to have a lymph node biopsy in my groin (since those are the lymph nodes closest to my shin). The procedure involved injecting radioactive dye into my mole site, prior to the leg surgery. Once the radioactive dye traveled to the closest lymph nodes, it would "light them up" so to speak, so that radiologists could pinpoint which nodes would be affected by the melanoma.

After her explanation, I asked her if she thought I could go on vacation for a month prior to the surgery, or if she felt I had to have it done ASAP. The very fact that she replied, "by all means, go on vacation" without any hesitation, put me more at ease.

Let me back up by saying that I'd have been all too happy to scrap my vacation plans if necessary. It's just that the Mr. and I made plans to go to Croatia, Poland, and Ireland for an entire month, and he was already over in Poland at the time of my diagnosis, and the kids were already booked to fly to Michigan the next day. Part of me was relieved I didn't have to have surgery right away and in hindsight, I'm really glad I went because I came back much more relaxed rather than the jumbled ball of nerves I had become this year. Everything had changed this year. We went from having two dogs to having to put two dogs to sleep; My brother had a heart attack at age 55; I went from marathon running to being an injured mess who could barely walk and needed an orthopedic boot to get around (yes, I wore said boot to Europe. No, it wasn't on my leg with the melanoma). Now, I needed surgery to remove skin cancer. To top everything off, my blood pressure has been sky-high (gee, wonder why?). Unpredictability was the new normal.

I was back from vacation by July 16 and my surgery was scheduled for July 20. How's that for coming in hot?

The good news is that the surgery was a success. The margins around my melanoma were clean and the surgeon removed three lymph nodes from my groin -- none of which had any cancer cells.

The bad news is superficial: my leg looks disgusting right now and while I'm off crutches, finally, I still have significant swelling in my leg -- particularly around my ankle. So I'm required to wear compression socks until that stops. I'm glad they're all the rage now because I got mine in all sorts of colors...but I still look like a total dufus wearing them.

The even better news is that because of my significant downtime, my foot has been healing nicely and I'm off the boot...but have to wear orthotics...so I look and feel like an old lady. I'm not sure when I'll be able to run again but once I get the go ahead from my surgeon, I'll give it a go. I can't NOT run and I'm convinced that's one of the reasons why my blood pressure's through the roof.

Given all the lemons handed to me this year, I've been able to make a huge batch of lemonade. Sure, sure, the stuff I've gone through this year was rough; but I'm alive and I'm cancer-free and I now know I'll have to get checked every three months; plus, there's a good chance I'll develop another melanoma (I mean, geeze, I have over 300 moles) and that's the new normal.

So -- lemonade anyone?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Reading Raven Rocks

Before my daughter started Kindergarten, I downloaded a few apps on our iPad to help her get caught up with her ABC's and 123's, as well as story sequencing. She would play around with the apps for a little bit, but soon after, her attention dropped off and she wasn't nearly as excited to play with them as she was with, say, Angry Birds. In fact, she began to equate the iPad with "work" and would put up a fuss whenever I slid it in front of her to do some exercises. She did this with her speech therapist, too, negotiating that if she had to play with Milo the Mouse, she should also be able to play a few rounds of Angry Birds. She's pretty clever, that one.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me about a new app called Reading Raven--an early reading app that has so many fun features for kids, they hardly know they're actually learning something. No, really, I kid you not. My daughter absolutely loves this app. It's almost as if the folks who developed the app conducted a focus group of 3-5 year-olds, asking them what sorts of thing they liked. Either that, or they're parents who are in tune with what kids like. (Which, I'm guessing, it's the latter, though I'm amusing myself with the visualization of 25 3-5 year-olds sitting around a table, throwing out ideas). Butterflies and bugs? Check. Balloons and rockets? You bet.

The graphics on the app are gorgeous and super colorful, and the music is not at all annoying, even though each lesson has its own loop. It actually works nicely in the background while kids hear prompts and congratulatory soundbites from other kids ("Keep Going!" and "Amazing!")

Reading Raven has several activities that focus on building reading skills. I love the repetition of it because it doesn't feel repetitive, yet it focuses on simple words with all kinds of drills from word or letter matching, letter tracing, and phonics. One of my daughter's favorite part of the lessons is when she can record her own voice reading a word.

Right now, Reading Raven is only available for the iPad. You can find the app in the iTunes store for $3.99. Today, though, is "Read Across America" day and the app is available for half off!

Friday, February 10, 2012

How do you handle people who become unglued?

Recently, I've found myself in two different -- how shall I say -- "sticky" situations with women who have become completely unglued over something and it makes me wonder if the general population has just raised it's own security alert level from "elevated threat" to "imminent threat". I won't go into too much detail about one that was over a writing assignment, except to say that I overlooked some grammatical errors I should have edited and the person who submitted the content was very embarrassed; but the other was at a restaurant where a woman tried to squeeze her way in between our table and hers, nearly knocking our full glasses over. When my husband touched her back to keep her from doing so, she immediately turned around and proceeded to berate him for touching her, adding that he ruined her whole evening. Then, instead of sitting down at her table, she moved her chair so that it was situated in between both of our tables, so her back was up against our table, causing it to move.

I was horrified. What kind of person comes to a restaurant and behaves so completely irrational? This wasn't a five-star restaurant, but by no means was it a dive. At that moment I thought to myself that I had seen more controlled tantrums from my kids and all the while, I was in a state of sheer disbelief. My husband called the waiter over to ask her move her chair since she would not listen to him, and then she proceeded to go off on the waiter (and us, again). Telling the waiter that my husband "pushed her".

We were almost finished with our dinner and were just waiting on our dessert when this happened. I can't tell you how uncomfortable I felt, and how angry and upset I became -- so much so, that I just wanted to go home. After this woman's "showdown", I couldn't take it anymore, and I called her something that, at the time, I felt justified in doing so. Looking back, I felt like I stooped to her level and I wished that I hadn't, but I was at a loss for words, and my only line of defense was to name call. If my kids knew what had happened, they would have gotten a mixed message. As parents, we tell our children not to let other kids who tease and taunt get the better of them. Here, the taunter went completely under my skin and I let her get to me.

What would you have done, if you were in my situation? Do you also feel as though people, lately, have just become a little more sensitive, maybe irrational? Perhaps just a little more on-edge?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Forever Family Q&A

This was the conversation my son and I had at lunch today:

P: I want to be really tall when I grow up.
M: Well, that all depends on your genetics.
P: My what?
M: It depends on your genes passed down to you by your birthparents.
P: (sighs) Oh, well, I guess I won't know if I'll be taller, since I don't know about my birthparents.
M: You'll find out soon enough.
P: (His face changes to sullen) Why'd they give me up anyway?
M: Honey, remember, it wasn't "they". We don't know anything about your birthfather. It was your birthmother who had to give you up. She was single and I can only imagine how difficult of a decision it must have been. But she probably couldn't take care of a baby at that point in her life, so she made the best decision for both of you. She knew you'd be in good hands and that eventually, you'd find your forever family.
P: Could you give up a baby?
M: No, I couldn't. It would be too hard for me. But, she and I have very different circumstances. I don't know what I would do if I were in her shoes.
P: Do you think she cried when she gave me up?
M: I'm sure she did. That's a very difficult decision to make.
P: Aw. I wish I could find her and write her a note letting her know I'm ok, and that I'm a good reader.
M: I wish you could, too, but we have so very little information about her.
P: What was her name?
M: I'd have to go look it up. But that's really all we have.

The conversation then strayed off the subject and later on, my son gave me a big hug and told me he loved me and how soft and cuddly I was. I told him I loved him, too.

My son (and my daughter) both feel a profound sense of loss, even though they aren't in touch with it. It's the loss they endured when they were separated from their birthmothers, and even though they never really "knew" them, that loss will remain with them forever. It's a deep wound that forever moms and dads cannot heal. All we can do is give them all of our love and let them know how dear they are and how happy we are to have such a tremendous gift.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Snow Days = blow days

Remember when you were a kid and snow days were the most awesome days in the world? I'd wake up to a world of white and just as soon as my mom got "the call" that school was canceled, I'd be out there with my neighborhood friends building snow forts and going sledding down Suicide Hill.* Good times.

Now that I'm an adult, I loathe snow days. As a mom who works from home, snow days are days when NOTHING gets done. It isn't just because the kids are around all day, either. It's because I know I have to get out and shovel said snow from my sidewalk. And since my house sits on a corner lot, I have to shovel two sidewalks.

I hate it, too, because I can't just turn my kids out into the snow and say, "Come in when it starts to get dark." Living in the city means we have to trudge to the park which, thankfully, is only a few blocks away; but that means I have to go with them and stand there, in the freezing snow, and watch them play. So, after spending an hour freezing my tukus off while watching my two kids slide down their lame hill (nothing will ever compare to Suicide Hill. NOTHING!) I get to bring them back inside, strip them down, take care of their wet clothes, and then I get to go back outside and shovel.

Of course, what sucks more is when I shovel my sidewalks and then it snows overnight again...which means the kids get another day off and I get to shovel my sidewalks...again.

I'm thankful that we live in a pretty mild climate. Snowstorms like the one we experienced last week aren't yearly occurrences, but this last week set me over the edge. The kids had off from school on Monday for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Then, it snowed overnight, so on Tuesday, they had a two-hour late start. Then, the school called to say that the kids are being released two hours early, which means they were only in school for two hours. What does anyone do in two hours? I had enough time to shower and answer emails, and that was it. Then, school was canceled on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday because it didn't stop snowing until Friday night.

You might be wondering why I'm so anal with the snow shoveling. Well, 1/3 of me is being considerate, and 2/3 of me is forcing me to do it because I would be the only person on my block who DIDN'T shovel snow off the sidewalk. And I don't want to be one of "those" people. Believe me, all of the neighborhood blogs had at least one rant in each of them, discussing the absolute assholeness of people who didn't shovel their sidewalks. So yeah, I'm trying to avoid shame. On the plus side, a few people passed me on the sidewalk during my shovel-a-thons and thanked me for clearing a path.

One week later and all the snow has disappeared, save for a few patches here and there; but it's like the snowstorm of the century never happened. I hope that's the last of it!

*Suicide Hill was located in the woods adjacent to our backyard. We named it thusly because it was steeper than all get-out and when you got to the bottom, you had to bail out quickly because either a) you might veer to the right and smack into a tree; or b) you might go straight into the frozen Hackensack River. I'm proud to say no one has ever lost their life to Suicide Hill.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sage Advice from Moms in 30Seconds

The old adage that moms know best has been around for as long as moms have been doing the mom thing. But where do you suppose moms get their tips from? Fellow moms, of course! And now with technology so readily at our fingertips, there's a stream-based mobile website and app for reading valuable tips from moms all in one place: 30Second Mom.

For instance, did you know that using a lemon can soothe dry skin? Want to know how to make homemade de-tangler? Did you know that dyed foods may cause behavior issues in kids? Those tips and hundreds more, written by over 50 contributors (momtributors), from topics like cooking in the kitchen to spicing things up in your relationship, can be found on 30Second Mom. As a featured contributor, I'm proud to be working with a group of talented and savvy moms!

30Second Mom was created by entrepreneur, Elisa All, a mom of three who is no stranger to new media as her previous venture, iParenting Media, had been sold to the Walt Disney Corp. All founded 30Second Mobile and launched 30Second Mom as the company's first brand when she realized that she used her smartphone constantly to access the Web and multi-task while on the go. She's not alone; in fact, US smartphone adoption is currently at 40%, and likely to be growing to 80% by 2016; and smartphone penetration for parents is possibly even higher as BabyCenter has found that moms are more likely to have smartphones and spend 6.1 hrs/day on the mobile web. The beauty of the 30Second Mom mobile app is that you can access it while you're waiting in line at the grocery store, on the playground, or at school -- anywhere you are. And the tips you like can be shared by you with all of your friends on Facebook and Twitter with a simple tap on the screen.

30Second Mom is a free app that only requires a one-time registration. Click here to get started and pretty soon you too will be a mom that's "in the know while on the go!"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lookit me, all busy and stuff

Time flies when you're running around like crazy, and now I understand why my parents always commented on how the years passed so quickly for them. It's happening to me now, too.

I can't say I've bitten off more than I can chew, but I can say that I'm getting pretty darn close to being able to say it. I've been busy. I've been writin...for everything...for this and this, just not this blog. Such a shame, too, since I started in in 2004. It really deserves to be dusted off and placed back into my regular writing routine.

Both kids are in school now (yay, me!) so you'd think that six hours a day would be a delicious break. No such luck, my virtual friends. I've just managed to cram more crap into my day only to get frustrated by the end of it and wonder what it was that I accomplished.

Alrighty, well, I hate making "resolutions" in January because it seems so trite; but since it's January, and I've been wanting to start the ol' blog back up again, I might as well say that I'm gonna try to be more diligent.