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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Life is but a dream

“We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death.”
 Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Death is a scary concept.  No one knows exactly what happens to us after death, and the unknown can be terribly frightening.  But we all have our ideas, our hopes, or our faith about what happens after death.  These thoughts are usually kept in a far corner of our minds and only pulled out when needed, but perhaps if these thoughts were shared or brought out in the sunlight more often, death wouldn't be so scary.  

Last week, I lost my eldest cousin, Lynn.  Lynn was a person who inspired others.  She was a yoga instructor for twenty years, and she poured her passion into teaching and nurturing others.  When we were children, Lynn was the eldest of the six cousins, three boys and three girls, our leader and the one who paved the way.  I used to spend hours watching her, playing with the dolls she had grown out of, and so wishing I could grow up to be like her.  She was wicked smart and had a funny sense of humor.  The three female cousins used to go shopping with our grandma for our November birthdays; we were all born in different years but within a week of each other.  I would watch as the older girls picked out clothes that were fashionable and beautiful, and I couldn't wait to be able to wear what they were wearing.  But despite our age difference, Lynn never treated me like anything but an equal.  She came to the very first Thanksgiving I hosted by myself and made me feel at ease when I was freaking out.  We didn't get to see each other much as adults, but we always communicated during the November birthday week.  It's hard to grasp that the three girls have become two in the blink of an eye.

It's always terribly difficult for those of us who are left behind.  We ache for the person we have lost.  Sharin, Lynn's sister, and I talked about that first moment of wakefulness in the morning, the sweet moment where the fabulous start of a new day has begun.  Then in the next moment, you remember.  You remember what you have lost, and the ache starts all over again.  I don't know how to make that go away.  I don't know how to soothe that pain and that sadness.  I have no idea how to make a family complete again.  There is so much I don't know, but there are some things I know for certain.  

I know in my heart that Lynn has gone on.  Trying to put into words how I feel about it all has been difficult.  Perhaps, as Hawthorne wrote, death is like waking up after a dream, a good or a bad dream.  It's the reward for what we went through in life.  When the kids ask me questions about what happens after people die, I feel comfortable telling them what I believe.  I believe, simply, that we are happy.  We are in a place that makes us happy, be it on a beach or in the mountains or at home. We are healthy and laughing and full of joy.  We can watch the sunrise and the sunset with no fatigue and nothing to distract us.  The best part is that we are with the people and animals that we love.  I believe that there is no such thing as the passage of time, so as people on Earth join us, it's like they have always been with us.  We all fit into each other's lives perfectly and with utter joy.  There is no pain, no sadness, no tragedy, and no misery.  Things are simple, peaceful, and the epitome of beauty.  That's exactly what I believe and exactly what I told my children.  The more I think about it and talk to them about it, the more at peace I feel.  And maybe that's all we can do as those left behind: we can try to feel better and be at peace.  

Namaste, Lynnie.  Give Grandpa and Grandma hugs from all of us, and may you forever have your sunsets.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Double or nothing

What a week.  My little Ford Flex drove into the city and back four times.  Thanks to Mother Nature, Wednesday's trip was a little more difficult than the other days.  It took us over three hours to get to Northwestern due to icy roads and a few jack-knifed trucks.  That was the day of the actual RAI dose, and I wasn't allowed to eat before I drank it or for two hours afterward.  Thank goodness Trevor is a patient man because I am certain I wasn't super peachy to be around.

Fast forward to Friday.  I drove back into Northwestern for my WBS, whole body scan for all of you non-medical people.  I'm pretty sure I have an honorary degree in endocrinology at this point, so I know what's what.  The scan itself was easy: I got to change into gorgeous hospital clothes, including some lovely non-slip socks, and lie down on a table for ninety minutes.  I had a blanket that came straight from a warmer, and the technician tucked the blanket in all around my arms.  I was like a snugly warm burrito, and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep, even with a large machine one inch from my face.
I imagine I looked something like this.

I felt very light and free driving home that day because I had made it through the worst of the week.  That feeling went away as soon as I got a phone call from my endocrinologist.  I wasn't even home yet, so I didn't think it was a good sign.  I mean, she's not the kind of gal to just call to say hi, you know?  Apparently, the WBS had gone well.  Score!  However, some rogue thyroid cells showed up.  Boo!  There is no way to determine if these cells are cancerous or not, so we have to get rid of them.  You may be asking yourself how this will happen.   I get to do the RAI once again!  Double down, baby!    Next time, the dose will be a full treatment dose instead of a small test dose.  Once again, I'll get to hum some Imagine Dragons to myself.  Get it, y'all?  "Radioactive, radioactive..." Good stuff.

Anyhoo, that's the scoop.  The first week of June, I'll do the whole injection/RAI/WBS dance again.  I also get to do a low-iodine diet for a month before the next RAI as well as going off my Synthroid.  The idea is to starve my cells of iodine so they gobble up all the RAI that will consequently take them all out.  There's something really creepy about that if you stop to think about it.  If you had any plans to stop by to say hi, I would say to avoid most of May and the beginning of June.  I'll be tired from the lack of meds and glowing after the RAI.

Despite being terribly lonely for my family this week, it hasn't been all bad.  I have done a lot of reading and even gotten some organizing done.  Quite frankly, I'm humbled by all of the kind thoughts people have sent to me, and the kind things people have done for me.  I thank you all so much for thinking of me!  Lots of thanks have to go out to my parents for hosting 75% of the Wellses overnight as well as keeping them fed, entertained, and out of trouble.  Mostly.  Trevor has been incredibly supportive and patient, even sharing a twin bed with Dallas one night.  But I'm counting the minutes until tomorrow afternoon when I can hug my family members again.  I need, NEED, some super snuggle time, and I need it soon.

Just because I miss them and they're so stinkin' cute.

All in all, it wasn't the news I was hoping for, but I'm not discouraged.  I'm ├╝ber-confident that we can hunt down and kill all the straggler-cells that have felt the need to stick around.  Too violent?  Nah, just perfect, I think.  Sorry, thyroid cells, but you're not welcome anymore.  Be gone!  Good day, cells.  I said good day!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Call it what you will

Until recently, I didn't know that quarantine and isolation had two different meanings.  Quarantine is separating healthy people who have been exposed to a disease to see if they become ill, and isolation is keeping sick people away from others so no one else becomes ill.  Fascinating!

Isolation, solitude, sequestration, matter what you call it, it's happening next week.  As of Wednesday, I am going into isolation after getting a test dose of radioactive iodine (RAI) at Northwestern.  As Lottie would say, don't freak out before I finish my sentence.  Nothing is wrong, but this is a follow-up test as I reach the second anniversary of my thyroid cancer diagnosis.  The RAI is used to see if any thyroid cells survived the total thyroidectomy; if there are any still around, we have to get rid of them so the cancer doesn't return and/or possibly spread.  No biggie, I promise.

I foolishly picked an endocrinologist in Chicago (although can you really blame me?) and so I get to put plenty of miles on my car next week driving to and from the city.  I visit my doc Monday and Tuesday mornings for injections of Thyrogen, a drug that basically makes me hypothyroid without having to skip weeks and weeks of my Synthroid.  Score!  I'm always exhausted and achy as it is, so can you imagine how I would be sans thyroid meds?  It's probably best not to think about it.  The downside to the Thyrogen is the crazy price tag.  Let's just say when the Humana representative told me how much of a co-pay I had to pony up, I found myself wishing I had a Victorian fainting couch and some smelling salts.

Me without meds

 So that brings us to Wednesday.  I have to start fasting Tuesday night at midnight; considering I got to bed around 9 most nights, that shouldn't be an issue. Then, Wednesday morning, I go to the nuclear medicine division of Northwestern Hospital to get my very small dose of radiation.  After I drink that cup of loveliness, I have to come straight home so I don't infect anyone else, and I still have to fast for two more hours after that. Me without food is maybe worse than me without meds.  I return to Northwestern Friday morning for a full-body scan that will take approximately ninety minutes.  And thus ends my visits to the big city for the week.

Due to my radioactive status, I have to go into an isolation of sorts.  I can't be around the kids from Wednesday through Sunday, and I can't be around any adults for 48 hours.  Trevor and the kidlets are going to be spending quality time at my parents' house while I fly the yellow flag from home.  I wish Godspeed to them all.  Although I often find myself longing for time alone where I'm not interrupted every six seconds by the call of "MOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM," I am going to miss all of their faces so, so much.  I have mad love for the minion at Apple who invented FaceTime so I can at least give virtual kisses goodnight.

I have been selfishly and greedily hoarding books and magazines to keep me company during what I call The Incarceration.  I have loaded up my Kindle with cheap titles that I found on BookBub, and I have a certain series on Netflix that I am dying to finish.  I have grand plans to organize the storage area of our basement as well, but the books and the general sloth sound far more appealing.  However, I guarantee that I will not feel good about sitting around the house like a bump on a pickle, so it may be the perfect time for spring cleaning to begin.  Visions of uncluttered surfaces run rampant through my head...


Basically, this is just a heads-up for all y'all in the Region.  If you see me out and about on Monday, March 17, and I'm glowing or more frantic than usual, you can blame it on the radiation and The Incarceration.  However, if I'm looking suspiciously like the Incredible Hulk or Spider-Girl, back away slowly and do NOT make eye contact.  Maybe that's how you escape wolves and not superheroes, though.  In any case, I have a feeling it'll be a very happy wearin'-o'-the-green for me this year.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

True love

In February, thoughts turn to Cupid, romance, and love.  Valentine's Day has become a huge holiday in the US, and it only seems to be getting bigger each year.  Weeks before February 14, we are inundated with ads for chocolates, flowers, lingerie, romantic getaways, and jewelry.  Pictures of teddy bears and roses by the dozen appear all over social media sites.  Now, I like romance as much as the next gal, but I'm over it all.

There is so much darn hype about Valentine's day, and I feel like it puts a lot of pressure on people.  Gifts are expected to be big shows of affection, proof of how much you love or are loved.  I am a 41 year old stay-at-home-mom: I don't need or want fancy jewelry, Lord knows I don't need the chocolate, Trevor knows better than to buy me lingerie, and I am WAY too old to receive a stuffed animal as a gift for any occasion. Don't get me wrong: doing all that jazz for someone is lovely.  My point is that I don't need all of the hullabaloo to know how much my husband loves me.  Why not, you ask?

I know Trevor loves me because of things he does for me on ordinary days.  Y'all know that I still struggle with fatigue due to my hypothyroidism that no one can seem to regulate.  On the days when I feel like I could fall asleep at 4 PM, Trevor is always there to pick up the slack.  He takes Lottie to gymnastics, gets my car serviced, and makes laugh when all I want to do is cry.  He drives back and forth between Valpo and Lexington without ever complaining because he knows how much it means to me to live close to my family.  He listens to all my crazy ideas, hopes and dreams, irrational fears, and long-winded stories with patience and humor.  Any sort of curve ball that is thrown our way tends to put me down for the count emotionally, but Trevor deals with blips on the radar with great aplomb.  He takes me on lunch dates during the week just so we can spend some time alone together.  He's even doing a wacky food cleanse with me for two weeks just so he can be uber-supportive.  I mean, this is the guy who thinks Doritos are a food group, so doing a cleanse is quite a step for him.  Not a day goes by without that man telling me that I'm smokin' hot, even when I'm returning from a sweaty workout at the Y.  That, y'all, is true romance.

Butler University 1990 

Gifts are fantastic, but they're just the icing on the cake.  (Icing...yum.  Damn this no-sugar cleanse.)  Anyway, I have all the cake I could ever want on any given day, not just February 14.  I feel like there are so many dudes out there who deserve shout-outs for what they do every day, that the constant little gestures mean more than the more infrequent big ones.  So to all y'all, and you know who you are, thank you for making each day easier, funnier, happier, and more full of love.  And to my T-Dub, much love, babe.
July 2005, shortly before the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The things no one tells us

I have been a parent for seven years, eleven days, and a few hours.  The longer I walk down this parenting path, the more I realize that there are a lot of things no one warned me about before I became a mom.  I mean, I don't blame y'all for keeping your lips sealed, but holy cannoli.  Some of this stuff is getting really hard, really fast.

Dallas has been having some sleep issues lately.  Those sleep issues bleed into behavior issues which ooze back into sleep issues.  See what I'm saying?  Ever since mid-October, Dallas has decided that he doesn't want to be alone.  Ever.  He doesn't want to play alone in his room or run down to the basement to get a toy or sleep alone.  He has always been a kid who enjoyed time alone to decompress, but for the last few months, I can't be more than ten feet away from the boy before he starts to panic.  I have NO earthly idea how this started or where it is coming from.  We have the same nighttime routine we have always had - no shake-ups or surprises - but the routine doesn't seem to be cutting it anymore.  He wants someone nearby while he falls asleep.  Scratch that: he wants ME next to him in bed while he falls asleep.  When I give him snuggle time before he goes to bed, he cuddles under the blanket next to me and says, "Now this is what I'm talking about," while he sighs contentedly.  It's literally the only time of the day when he is fully and completely relaxed.  He doesn't want to feel this way.  I mean, who would want to spend his life being tired and mad?  He's a happy, sweet kid when he is a well-rested kid.

Now, I know you all are rolling your eyes and thinking that the kid has me snowed, that he's doing it all for attention.  This ain't my first rodeo, and I know when I'm being snowed.  When it comes to snowing Mama, Dal is the Sahara.  Whatever is going on is terrifying and absolutely real to him.  I can't dismiss what he's feeling, but it sure would be fabulous to figure out why he's feeling this way.  We have tried a menu of things to help him feel better at night: soft music, plenty of snuggle time, lots of reassurance, leaving a lamp on, and even giving him audiobooks on an iPod to try to quiet his mind.  Is any of it working?  Not so much.

Because he isn't sleeping well, he's a bit of a grump during the day, especially as it gets later into the afternoon.  The bedtime ritual is strained because he's grumpy and tired, so he's going into sleep in a bad mood.  VICIOUS CYCLE, y'all.  Vicious.  It's hard on everyone because he isn't kind to any of us, and it's hard on him because being mean is really not who Dallas is.  He's a sweet kid who likes to keep the peace, but he can't do that when his brain is a grey fog of fatigue.  I try everything I can to smooth things over so we can all enjoy a good dinner and a quiet family evening together.  Nice, right?  Well, Lottie has started saying that all I do is pay attention to Dallas.  Her favorite new phrase is, "Little brothers get EVERYTHING!"  So, that's pleasant to hear.  I have been making a concerted effort to be equal in all of my attention to both kids, but there is only so much I can do.  I'm spreading myself pretty thin, y'all, and I am toeing the line of sanity.  And it didn't help that this happened on our FUN FAMILY TIME at the ice skating rink:
First time on ice skates plus falling on her face equals a sweet shiner. 

No one ever told me how guilty I would feel about my parenting.  I spend hours and hours and HOURS worrying about what the heck I'm doing to my kids.  Am I too strict?  Not strict enough?  Do I push them too hard?  Do I do too much for them?  Am I babying them?  Am I expecting too much from them?   What am I doing right?  What am I doing wrong?  Am I doing anything right?  When they were babies, I didn't worry this much.  I changed diapers, I nursed them, I swaddled them, and I put them down for naps.  Easy peasy.  No wonder women keep procreating: babies are awesomely easy compared to what comes later.

When I had kids, I knew I would love them deeply and intensely for the rest of my life, but I had no idea how much I would question every single move I made.  Being a parent has made me realize how utterly clueless I am and how helpless that makes me feel.  I guess I'm not the only parent who feels this way, so I'm in good company.  But to all of my readers who don't have kids yet, I give you a warning: do lots of smart things now to build your ego because once you have kids, you're going to become a drooling fool who knows absolutely nothing.  For real.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, January 10, 2014

2,555 days

My darling girl,

Today, you are seven years old.  It doesn't seem like so terribly long ago that I woke up thinking I was just having stomach pain when I was actually in labor with you.  From the very beginning, you have been a force to be reckoned with.

You are growing so much each and every day.  I feel like we are at the shoe store getting your feet measured every other month, and I am always looking for new shirts to fit your strong body that is growing so tall.  Emotionally, you are making leaps and bounds into maturity with a few forays back to being a little girl.  You're extremely independent and ready to do things your own way in your own time.  Lately, my favorite time of day with you is just before bed: I call it "truth time" because that seems to be when all of your questions or fears or observations on life seem to blossom out of you.  We cuddle and talk and laugh and talk about when you were a baby.  Sometimes, if someone at school has hurt your feelings, the only thing I can do is hold you, reassure you, and feel my own heart break.

The other night you were bouncing around the house after dinner.  I heard Dad say, "Lottie, I love how much you love life."  I thought that was the perfect way to describe you.  Even at the age of seven, you inhale life: You eat in up in big, lusty gulps and then ask for dessert.  (Literally.  I have never known anyone who loves sweets as much as you do.)  But as you're squeezing every drop of juice out of your day, you never fail to look around to be sure everyone is included.  If it's one thing you can't stand, it's seeing someone being left out...of anything.  You are truly an advocate for the underdog, and you always give someone a chance or two or thirteen.  No one will ever be lonely on your watch.

Your physical energy is a marvel to me.  From the minute you bound out of bed in the morning until the minute you fall asleep at night, you are in motion.  If we're reading a book or watching a movie, you're twitching.  When you tell us stories about your day at school, they are accompanied by huge gestures and dramatic interpretations.  Whether it's 95 degrees or -13 degrees, you NEED to be outside.  You're happy doing your own thing in the snow or just walking around our yard looking for adventure.  You often come in covered in sand, mud, rain, or sweat, and that's how I know you have had a wonderful time.  You're physically fearless, as well.  When we went to Winter Wonderfest in Chicago with Dallas's school, you did the zip line, the highest slides, and even talked me into doing the hang gliding ride with you.  The only thing I have seen you not enjoy was Rock 'N' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  You absolutely begged me to take you on that ride, and you cried within the first sixty seconds.  Lesson learned.  However, the giant hill on Splash Mountain is one of your favorite things in the world and the World.  I went on it with you twice last time, so from now on, I'm letting Daddy take you.  You climb trees, you run, you jump, you make up obstacle courses, you chase, you hang, you fly.  When you do fall asleep at night, you're out fast and hard.  Woe be to the person who wakes you up in the night.

You have made great strides with your school work in first grade.  I know that it's not as easy as Kindergarten was and I know you miss your teacher from last year.  You love your teacher this year, so that's a bonus, but the work is more of a challenge.  Dad and I are so proud and impressed with how much your reading and math have improved.  I can't describe how much joy I feel when you read to me or casually toss out a multiplication fact.  Sitting still and staying focused isn't easy for you, but I'm really pleased with the effort you're putting into your work.

Thank you for reminding me what is important: kindness, love, memories, joy, laughing, and dessert.  I often wonder how we got so lucky with you, but I don't question it too much because I'm grateful that you are ours for as long as you'll have us.

You are my best, best girl.  I love you oodles!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The truth hurts

About six months ago, I had my one-year checkup with my endocrinologist.  Even though all was well and there was no sign of the cancer returning, I was still suffering from the fatigue that had plagued me since the total thyroidectomy.  After going through some medical history and asking a million questions, the doctor finally came out and told me that she felt like the fatigue was caused by my weight.  She told me that there was no way I would feel better until under I had my weight under control.


Ouch.  I sort of nodded dumbly at her, left the office, got in the elevator, and cried.  I mean, no one wants to hear comments about weight, no matter how true the comments may be.

What she said really stuck in my head.  I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I was hurt, partly because I thought she could have been kinder and partly because I knew she was right.  I needed to lose weight, but I was too exhausted to exercise: I couldn't exercise to lose the weight.  Vicious cycle, y'all.  But I started to realize that I couldn't use the fatigue as an excuse anymore.  I kicked thyroid cancer, so I had no reason not to kick fat, too.

It was difficult at first to carve out time to exercise.  No, it was difficult to convince myself that I needed that time, that I deserved that time.  I spend so much of my life doing for others, and I had forgotten how important I am in that equation.  If I'm exhausted or sick, I can't do what I love to do for my family.   If I'm out of commission, my family suffers as much as I do.  I didn't realize at the time that taking good care of myself also means taking care of my family.

I started slowly, using our membership at the YMCA.  I was horribly self-concious and worried that everyone was wondering when the fat woman was going to keel over.  Self-absorbed, yes?  No one at the Y was looking at me.  No one cared what I was doing as long as I wasn't hogging the machines.  I added some weight training and different types of cardio.  My stamina and endurance grew, and surprisingly, so did my determination.  I found myself looking forward to my exercise time, time for me to focus on me.  After years of eating whatever I wanted and being pretty sedentary, I lost some weight quickly, but it took longer than I would have liked to really see results.  I don't know how many times I wanted to give up because although the scale was moving, my clothing sizes were staying the same.  Luckily, I had and still have amazing people in my life to support me and calm my freak-outs.  And I wasn't going through it all alone: Trevor decided to join me in getting healthier for himself and for our family.   We have done everything together, and he inspires me as much as he supports me.

Fun at a White Sox game

I started really paying to attention to what I was eating and how much I was eating.  Boy howdy, I was putting a lot of food in my face and rarely paying attention to the serving sizes.  So out came the measuring cups, and everything I ate was measured out.  For the first few weeks, I was hungry.  And crabby.  I tried not to take it out on everyone around me, but I'm sure I had my moments.  Sorry about that!  :)  But like the exercise, the food slowly became more of a lifestyle change instead of a diet.  Eating healthier became easier, and I had fun researching new recipes to try.  Hunger stopped dominating my thoughts; food in general stopped being such a huge and important part of my life.  It was a weird feeling but a good one.

Last week, I returned to my endocrinologist for another 6 month check up.  I entered the office 74 pounds lighter than I had been before.  (Yes, I had that much weight to lose.  Take a moment to laugh and/or judge, then move on.)    I couldn't wait to see the look on my doctor's face when she realized what I had done since my previous appointment.  She wasn't as whipped up about it as I would have liked, but I have to admit that I loved telling her that I had done what she asked and I was still tired.  BOOYA!!!!!  In retrospect, I may have enjoyed it a little too much.  She didn't really have much advice about the fatigue, so I'm going to keep trying whatever I can.  The best news from that appointment, other than stepping on the scale, was that due to the weight loss, the doc decreased my thyroid medication.  The less medication, the better.

I'm not writing this blog to get atta-girls or anything like that.  As utterly cheesy as it sounds, I have been on a journey, and it isn't one that I have shared with too many people.   I'm proud not just of the weight loss but of the fact that I stuck with it and continue to stick with it.   I'm happy to remember that I matter and I deserve time to work out or read or get a pedicure.