Tuesday, March 07, 2017

For those of you who also love my Betty

Because I hate suspense, and cancer is very scary, I'm going to tell you up front that everything is OK.

And now I'm going to tell you about the past month.

It is February second, and I am in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

I'm a sucker for stained glass and achingly high ceilings.

My dad was Catholic, and when I'm in a church, I light a candle for him. So I am wandering around St. Patrick's, wondering which saint would be the best one for my dad's candle.

I look for Saint Michael, because that's my dad's name, but then Michael was an  archangel, right? How does that work? Does he get a niche with candles?

Before I can examine all the saint options, my phone rings. It's my mother's doctor. I answer quietly. Are you allowed to talk on a phone in a church?

She tells me that my mom's CT scan revealed a mass in her lung. And that she needs a further scan to determine what it might be.

I am too well aware of the fact that Mom has smoked for 60 years.

I start to cry while we are talking, and in the end, I can only whisper, because otherwise, I will wail.

And then I feel so lucky to be in a church. I sit on a pew and sob. I know I'm an adult with children of my own, but I am not ready to let go of my mama. I am not ready for my children to lose their Nana, one of their biggest cheerleaders, reading companions, night-time snugglers.

As I cry, I pray, which is what I do in crisis. I did this every time my dad attempted suicide and went missing. Every time he wound up in the hospital and I held his hand and stared at the monitors.

I beg, and I tell God that I know that I really suck in that I only pray when I need something and it is true that I am not religious and don't go to church and am not going to start. But please, please let my mama be OK. Please.

Unable to stop crying, but with a train to catch, I find the nearest saint, and light a candle for my mom. I figure the living need it more than the dead.

There is a gift shop near the door, and I stop in. I buy a St. Patrick key chain.

Because I am also a sucker for colorful stuff with saints.

The following week, Betty has a PET CT scan. They have her drink glucose and put her in a lead-lined room. She'll be radioactive, so she has to stay in there alone. She can't be around babies or pregnant women for 24 hours.

The technician explains that cancer uses glucose at a faster rate than normal cells. So this test will show if her mass is using glucose, and how much.

Her mass shows up as using glucose. This means it is growing, although not rapidly.

We are fortunately able to get an appointment with a recommended pulmonologist within the week.

The nurse takes her vitals and tests her breathing, which shows that she has reduced capacity for her age. The doctor shows us the scans of this new, growing mass, which wasn't present three years prior. He says removal would be the preferred option, but her reduced lung capacity makes that very risky.

He says he needs to consult with the radiologist to see if he can get to it for a needle biopsy, so they can know what they are dealing with. If not, and they deem surgery too risky, they would consider radiator or chemotherapy.

I ask if it could be an infection, and he says yes, there is a remote possibility. But this is not the kind of thing where he'd give antibiotics and wait to see what happened. We need to start treating this ASAP.

He calls me to say the radiologist can do it.

Betty has the biopsy.

I call to get results, and am told we have to meet with the doctor. The first appointment he has available is 4:40 pm the following Monday.

As in yesterday.

Betty spends the month letting go of things she loves. You like this? Take it. Here, have this. I should sell my Indian paintings. They're valuable.

At some point I realize what's going on and I say, "Mama. You're not planning on dying, are you?"

She denies it, but I don't believe it.

Finally, finally, the Monday that was yesterday arrives. We drive to Sibley, and finally, finally sit  down in the room with the pulmonologist. Who we like, and who, incidentally, has a nice head of hair.

He shakes our hands, sits down and says, "It is not malignant. It is an infection. You dodged a bullet."

I start to cry. I exhale all of the breath that I have been holding for the entire month.

He explains that it takes six weeks for the culture to grow, but they think it is a kind of nontuberculous mycobacteria. This means it's a wee bacteria that's like TB, but not. And it is not contagious.

It's around us, in the air and the soil and what have you. But this one has now set up camp in Betty's lung.

Older women are the population that this typically happens to, turns out. Them and people with compromised immune systems.

He writes down a lot of complicated names, all of which are possibilities. These require 18 months of triple antibiotic. They are, as the treatment suggests and my google research confirms, very hard to kill.

But for now, we wait. They monitor her with another CT scan in May.

It is not cancer. This is the most important thing. It is NOT CANCER!

My mom says, "What should I do now?"

The doctor respons, "Go home and celebrate. And buy a Powerball ticket."

Later Betty says to me, "I'm not going to die."

And that, my friends, was our month.

It was an amazing reminder to me to hold my loved ones tight. To be kind. To appreciate the people I have while I have them.

To love big, with the realization that nothing is forever.

That was our month, and I'm so grateful to be on this side of it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

I mean, I guess I could try

Yesterday the second grade at Jordan's school had an event. Parents were asked to supply breakfast.

I volunteered to bring coffee. You can never have too much coffee, right?

The Dunkin Donuts was surprisingly empty when I arrived. There was one person at the counter, asking for one of the new donuts. This new donut, which I think was actually pain au chocolat, would not ring up.

The man ordering kept pointing at the donut tray and saying, "It's $1.49."

But it wouldn't ring up. It went back and forth like this until the attendant got the manager.

So then it was my turn. I asked how many cups per box. Eleven. I ordered two boxes of coffee.

By the time the boxes were ready, there was quite a line. The manager rang up my order while the other guy filled a bag with cups and creamer and such.

He put the boxes and the bag together on the counter and said, "Do you need help? Is it just you?"

I didn't think, until immediately afterwards, about the fact that they were heavy, and that these men assumed I was driving, and were offering to help carry them to my car. 

So I replied, in front of everyone, "Oh, I'm taking them to school. I could never drink all this coffee all by myself!"

I just...Why?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A twofer of sorts

Most of the time I do not give my boobs any thought.

It's kind of like how I feel invisible when I'm out running, and then am always shocked when someone I know mentions they saw me.

I don't think about them, therefore they're not.

I mean, obviously they're still there, but not in a way that is of particular interest to me. Except sometimes, when I fixate on their no-longer-perky-little-cupcakeness, and then google breast implants.

What I want, really, is just a little scoop up where it used to be. Or rather, two. One on each side. That is all.

But there are more pressing things in the world to think about, and I spend the bulk of my anxiety on my children, my family and loved ones, and on the crisis state of our country and the world.

Nick mentioned the other day that I have the least sexy bras imaginable. And I was surprised, not because I disagreed with him once I thought about it, but because I had never thought about it.

Lingerie was a priority for me for a while. Mainly in my 30s when I had some money and there was no consistency in who might be seeing my undergarments.

And here I will say that I hit one of my lowest points in underwearing in my 20s, just out of grad school. I was in a state of semi-undress with a guy and then realized that one side of my underwear was held together by a safety pin.

And I was all, "Oh, god. My mother would die if she knew I was wearing such terrible underwear." And then he was all, "Why are you talking about your mother?"

It went no further than this. I'm pretty sure I threw out those undies after that. But it's also possible that I didn't.


While I was pregnant and had young babies, I wore very practical maternity or nursing bras. And then when I was done nursing for the second time, and ready to go back to my beautiful bras, there was a lot of space between where my boobs ended and the bras began.


Post-two-baby-nursing, instead of embracing the boobs like a kind hug, my bras regarded them like a picket fence might gaze at the house across an expanse of yard.

Faced with replacing them, I discovered the joy of stretchy sports-y bras. Not with the stern construction and constraint of running bras. But made with lightweight fabrics and thin straps.

These bras have a good shape, no wire, no hooks. They're extremely comfortable. The have optional pads for warmth/looking like I have actual boobs.

Still, every once in a while, I do think about breast implants. I have friends who are utterly delighted with them.

Would I be utterly delighted to have some semblance of my old body back? To occasionally, with the right bra, have cleavage?

But then I think, besides the cost, and really, even bigger than the cost, is the fact that it is surgery.

They put you under. General anesthesia is no joke. It's a big deal.

My friend Maude had cognitive impairment after anesthesia. It is rare, but it does happen. And her surgery was not elective.

What if something terrible happened, when it was something you didn't need to do in the first place? You were altered for life because of something totally frivolous?

I decided no to breast implants. Absolutely not.

And then I realized that in the next couple years, I'm going to need to have a colonoscopy. They put you under for that as well.

So if there were a way to do them at the same time, then I'd only have general anesthesia once, for a non-elective procedure!

I told Nick I just need to find a way to simultaneously get the colonoscopy and breast implants.

He contends that finding this surgery combo seems highly unlikely, even impossible.

I concede that he is probably correct. In the meantime, I'm going to get an attractive lacy bra or two. They just need to not itch.

Boob itches are the worst.

Monday, February 13, 2017

You don't say

India wanted to make her own valentines this year, so yesterday we bought fun colored paper and all these glitter glue pens.

What is it about glitter that makes it so endlessly compelling? Who can pass it up? Not us.

(And now that I say that, maybe it is like trauma memoirs, and not actually a universal preference. Whatever. I love the glitter.)

India threw herself into the project with delight. I cut out the hearts and she went about layering colors of glue all over them. They were all abstract, save one.

"Oh, India, your valentines are all gorgeous!"

"Thank you, Mama."
"I particularly love this one! Is this a dancer on this card?"

"That is not a dancer."

"Well, to me it looks like a beautiful dancer!"

 "Mama." Serious look. "That's Jesus."


Friday, January 27, 2017

School struggles

I'm writing to ask for some guidance. I need help.

Jordan is having a really hard time in school. He says he hates school, which may or may not be true, depending on the moment. But it is true that half his day is a struggle.

Here's the deal, or what I think is the deal. And as I see it, there are two issues. One, a personality clash with a teacher who doesn't have a lot of experience. And two, the inability or unwillingness to stay on a task he finds boring.

Jordan is in a bilingual school. He has two main teachers that split his day--one for English, one for Spanish. All math instruction is in Spanish. Now, he likes math. In fact, he loves it. And his Spanish is great, so it is not impeding his ability to do math problems.

What he doesn't like, or anyway, claims not to like, is Spanish.

We heard this the first year, when he disliked his Spanish teacher. Last year was great; he loved both teachers, and they loved him. We heard no Spanish complaints.

This year, he likes his English teacher. She is fantastic. She's been teaching a long time, and she is  strict and fair and she has his number. He and his Spanish teacher have had multiple standoffs. He clearly frustrates and annoys her, and she frustrates and annoys him.

My brother had relationships like this with some teachers. I saw this annually. His grades were great and terrible, depending on whether or not he liked his teacher. Nick says he was like this as well, so it feels familiar to him.

Me, I just went along to get along. I mean, I didn't always do my work. But I was always, always polite and agreeable. Interestingly enough, that goes pretty far.

Earlier in the year, when the standoffs started, we met with the teachers and the school counselor, who was amazing. (She's now retired, and I don't know her replacement yet.) The counselor knew Jordan, and explained him well to the teachers. He's smart. He's sensitive and intense. The school day takes everything he has--he has nothing left for homework.

I agree with all these things.

Now, Jordan has had to stay after school a number of times to finish math problems. Two days ago he had to work over recess.

They get 30 minutes of recess a day, which is hardly enough as it is.

His teacher explained that she is opposed to taking away his recess, but feels it is her last resort, when she has no other consequences to mete out.

Nick and I have discussed how he does better when he's cajoled than when he's threatened with punishment. I've been in standoffs with him like the ones they have in class. Mine are of the "brush your teeth" variety, and hers are of the "do your math problem" ilk.

The standoffs are obviously wretched for all involved. He is extremely stubborn, and he comes by it honestly.

But he's not disruptive. He just...sometimes doesn't want to do what he's asked to do. So he doesn't.

Sometimes when they're doing math he just spaces out. He dawdles. Yesterday we had to complete his math at home, because he did two problems in 30 minutes, because he was just hanging out.

He's not climbing walls or pinching other kids or getting others involved at all. Nothing like that. He's simply not doing what he is supposed to when he doesn't want to.

But she feels that she can't let him out of classroom tasks without consequences, or her authority is undermined.

The other day she told me that he doesn't do his homework, so clearly he isn't used to doing things he doesn't want to do at home.

Want to enrage me? Imply that I'm a lazy parent. Tell me that I don't require my kid to do anything he doesn't want to do.

So I replied, politely but possibly through slightly clenched teeth, "He's SEVEN. I don't think seven-year-olds should have homework, and I am not going to make a seven-year-old do homework. And I assure you, he does plenty of things he doesn't want to."

Now, I remember having a history teacher that I disliked, and her class was boring. I would sit at my desk and quietly watch the seconds on the clock and see how long I could hold my breath. Tick tick tick tick tick.

I don't remember a single thing she said in class, but I do remember being impressed with myself when I got to a whole minute.

She never noticed. But I also did at least the bare minimum, and would never have said "no" to an authority figure.

So yesterday was a crap day at school, and I got an earful from his Spanish teacher at pickup, and we had a bad night of struggling with math problems. Because my kid didn't want to do them. Because he kept getting distracted. Because I had to keep him on task and keep him on task and keep him on task.

When Nick got home and I told him about it he said, "Do you think Jordan has ADHD?"

I flipped out. Of course he would pick a facile answer. Of course he would be all, let's just throw some medication at our kid. Ooh, I was mad.

He doesn't bounce off the walls. He can sit still. He can concentrate, really concentrate, when he's interested in something. Of course he's bored with those math problems. Especially with the way you have to do math now, drawing boxes and circles and whatever the hell. My god, I'd be bored. I'd quit halfway through, too!

I got over being mad and I did some reading.


So many of the descriptions of symptoms felt so familiar. They could be describing Jordan. Not just in school, but at home. (More surprisingly, they could also be describing me.)

But reading a list doesn't mean this is what it is.

I don't want him to hate school. I don't want him to have miserable days, and then miserable nights. Switching classes is not a solution, in my opinion, because even if were possible, I don't know how he'd get along with the other Spanish teacher. And we'd be giving up the great English one.

It seems only right that we get some professional help at this point. If there's something to diagnose, like ADHD, obviously we want to do so. And if it's not ADHD, but there is something else that can help our kid, we want to do so.

Where do I start?