Saturday, July 31, 2010

I'm missing my cousins today

So I'm making myself a traditional Ball family treat.

If only I had the silver spoon/straws that Julie got from Grammy's house, it'd be even tastier.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The most recent page turner in my life

I've been a reading lot this week. A lot.

Gosh, it's good to be back.

This is my most recent read.

Oh my word, I love this book! It is fabulous. Incredibly well written, it's a story of 3 women whose lives are intertwined. It's set in Jackson, MI in 1963. Not the best place in time, if you're at all familiar with the territory. (That line totally just made me sing a little ditty from The Music Man. "But you have to know the territory." ... I digress.)

Anyway, this book? It's fabulous. If you haven't read it, you must. I'm telling you, here and now, it's a must read.

Part of why I have loved this book is that it has reminded me to be grateful for the time and place I was raised in, for the tolerance of my parents and those of the friends I grew up with. Having an underlying theme of Racial Intolerance/Segregation, this book has helped me feel so grateful for my life. It has reminded me that not only were the lines between black and white so thick that generations of Americans had a hard time seeing around them, but also that way too many people had to fight and/or die for the equality that they believed in.

One of those killed on the road to Integration was Medgar Evers. If you don't know his name - if you haven't seen this movie - please watch it. Right away. (But maybe not at night. If you're a sissy like me, anyway. I get a little freaked out, and I've seen it loads of times.)

It's a fabulous movie. It's a true story, and very well done. James Woods is pretty much the creepiest bad guy of all time. And an added bonus, it's from 1996, which was back in the days when Alec Baldwin was a treat to behold.

So, basically, what I'm saying is... Read this book. Watch this movie. ... Just in case you have a hard time figuring out what you want to do with your free time these days, I thought I'd boss you around a little. You'll love both of them, I'm sure of it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The best book I've read in a good, long while

Oh, my word. This book. It was, in a word, amazing. In another, educational. In yet another, humbling. It was the best book I've read in a good, long while.

This book is a first person narrative of a woman diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease. It is heartbreaking. It is life affirming. It is poetic, and it is beautiful.

By the end of the third chapter, I was so grateful to have been diagnosed with cancer at 35, and not EOAD at 49. I'm telling you, this book was a great reality check, in that there are numerous things to be grateful for in my life, not the least of which are being able to read and use language. (Oh, how I love words.)

When I got to page 117, I broke down and cried. And then I stopped crying, and I resolved to be stronger and fight harder.

This book changed the way I think, because it pushed me to feel things on a whole new level. It changed who I am. I could not recommend it more highly.

Please, read this book. Please. I loved it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oh, the things you use your stomach muscles for...

As we all know, I am a lover of lists. And this one has been going strong (in my head, anyway) for a few weeks. So, I thought I'd share it with you - in part, because it's informational, but mostly because it cracks me the heck up, some of the stuff I can't do because it makes my bellybutton hurt.

So, having recently suffered a 13 inch incision in my abdomen that has rendered my stomach muscles totally non-existent, here are a list of things that I cannot do.

The list of things that are not surprising:

Laughing, crying, coughing, sneezing (I feel like I just listed 4 of the 7 dwarfs - ha!)

Bending or twisting at the waist

Lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk (or a half a bag of ice, I've found)

Tying my own shoes

Putting on a bra that fastens in the back

Sleeping on my side

Lying down and/or getting out of bed. Period. (It's horrible and, by far, the hardest thing I have to do all day long.)

Driving a car

Driving one of those super cool motorized car/carts at the WalMart

Pulling open a car door - whether it's to get in, or shut it after I'm in

Blow drying my hair (still not an option at this point in time, so I'm a total frizz ball)

Putting my own tennis balls on the back of Ye Olde Walker

The list of things that are surprising and a bit of a crack up:

Twisting open a shampoo bottle

Turning on the water in the shower

Twisting the neck of the faucet in the kitchen sink to move the water stream

Getting a pan of cake - or bacon - out of the oven (but I suffer because I want the food, dangit!)

Wearing shoes that have any kind of heel/elevation to them

Stirring a pan of anything - including scrambled eggs - on the stove

Replacing the toilet paper roll

*Opening the silverware drawer

Reading a hardback book (paperbacks are fine, but a hardback, bound book is too heavy)

Walking without something to hold on to (for weeks, I had to hold my arms out - down, but straight out at the side with my fingers outstretched whenever I walked sans walker, so I could balance - I tell you, I looked like a really tall toddler who'd just learned how to walk)

Riding in a car (gravity pulls your body when the car turns and without a core to stabilize the bod, turning corners has been agony)

Opening a Ziploc brand baggie (they're tougher than you'd think, man)

Folding a towel

Putting a pillow case on a pillow (excruciating)

Cutting meat, like on a plate with my dinner (how nuts is that?)

Turning a key in a lock, as well as opening the deadbolt from inside my apartment

And... I'm sorry to have to say it... trimming and/or repainting my toenails (the perfect excuse to go for a pedicure, methinks - if only I could drive myself somewhere to get one)

And there's a lot more where that comes from. On a daily basis, I do something that makes me twinge and I think "Who'd have thought you'd use stomach muscles for that?". It's been an eye-opening (and stomach wrenching) experience, I tell you. The hardest thing has been that I want to laugh when I find something new/surprising that makes me hurt - but laughing makes me hurt, so I have to abstain.

Seriously, this surgery recovery period has been full of surprises - abdominal and otherwise. The good news? When I know I'm going to do something hard (like go on a walk or take food out of the oven), I can put on my binder (what Jenni lovingly referred to as "doctor issued Spanx" when she was here), and then I have support/fake stomach muscles so I can do what would otherwise be impossible. Who'd have thought that a big elastic belt could do so much to hold a body together? That binder is a blessing. I'd be dead in the water without it!

*This reminded me of a story. A couple weeks ago, I'd summoned JP to come and perform some manly duties at my apartment (I needed the fridge moved, among other things that neither my mom or I were strong enough to handle). When he was here, we were in the kitchen and I needed to open the silverware drawer to get something. I winced in obvious pain and he asked if I was alright. I responded that I was fine, but "Who knew you used stomach muscles to open drawers?!". Totally deadpan, he said "It looks like you have a new workout, once you're up to it". Right, like anyone could ever get totally ripped by opening/closing/opening a silverware drawer. Ha!

Friday, July 23, 2010

My favorite part of yesterday

Yesterday afternoon my friend Jo came and picked me up and took me home with her, because I still can't drive and I was needing an outing. (So what if I call 4 hours at Jo's house, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking water and eating trail mix (trail mix heavy on the m&m's, but we still like to think it's healthy) while we talk about everything under the sun an outing? Listen, it's a good time. You all should try it. You'd love it, too, I'm sure.)

Anyway, yesterday I went to Jo's. And it was, as always, pretty much the highlight of my day. We always have a good time. When I got there, Roomie (11), Rook (9) and Maggie (2) were home. Maggie shared her Chex Mix with me, one piece at a time. Rook had to tell me about ... oh, crud, I don't even remember what was so important to him. (See? It's a good thing I have no children. I pay such little attention to them when they talk, I would damage them beyond repair.) Roomie sat right down at the table with Jo and me, because she likes to a) listen to everything we say, and b) think she's a grown-up, too. Cili was next door swimming and came home about an hour after I got there.

Now, here's what I love about Cili. (Are you paying attention? Because this is important.) I love basically everything about that kid. Sure, she's a stubborn mule who knows what she wants and won't even think about settling for less. She's a bit of a drama queen and is always one to let you know what she thinks/feels. She's more strong willed and opinionated than most adults I know, and she's 6. We understand each other (and that's not just because we both have a penchant for shiny shirts and black and white accessories). We're basically the same person, only she's little and I'm big. I love her.

When Cili came home from swimming at the neighbor's house (dripping wet, mind you), she came right up to me at the table and leaned in and gave me a big hug. This was the first time I'd actually seen Cili since surgery. I'd been over to Jo's, but Cili was either in the pool or in bed, so I hadn't talked to her in over a month. Normally, I am not a fan of getting hugged by someone who is sticky wet with drippy hair, but for Cili I will make an exception. She leaned in/hugged me for a good long time, until I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her - at which point she was forced to remove herself from me and go and sit across the table from me. (Kids. They crack me up.)

Once Cili was across the table from me, she just sat and watched us talk/laugh. For a good 5 minutes or so, she was just watching us. Then she interrupted with "Laurie, did you change the way you look?". I wasn't sure I'd heard her right, so I asked her what she's said. Again, I got the "Did you change the way you look?" question. Before I could respond (or even be sure what she was talking about?), she looked pointedly at my stomach and said "Because I think you did". Hahaha... It was awesome! I asked her if she thought my stomach looked different. She, looking totally perplexed, said "Yeah. And the rest of you looks different, too. I think you look different.". Which led to a discussion of having had my stomach cut open, then being stitched and stapled back up so I could get better. We had a pretty in-depth and candid discussion of major abdominal surgery, Jo's kids and I.

It was a great day.

But, by far, my favorite part of the day (well, except for going to the store and being able to stock back up on ice and get a hold of some more Havarti cheese) was the 6 yr old who knew who I was... but was confused because I looked different to her. "Did you change the way you look? Because I think you did." Ha! I so love that kid.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

One month ago today

One month ago today, I was leaving my house for the hospital. I mean it, exactly one month ago from right now, my friends Jo and Rhonda came and picked me up and we headed over to pick up Christine and we were headed to the hospital for a 9:00 AM check-in. It's surreal to think about everything that's happened and changed since then.

We met my parents and brother Kirk at the Admin office, and Cathy was there by the time I was in pre-op. Here's a pic of my posse (which is what my mom dubbed the group - how cute is she?) in the waiting room while I was in surgery.

I'm so grateful for good friends who came to the hospital - even though I told them time and again that they didn't need to - and then came and visited me again and again. I'm so grateful for my sweet brother who took off work to be there and hold my hand before I went into surgery. Kirk's always been my buddy, since we were little tiny. I wish everyone could have "a brother like that". I'm so grateful for parents who have been there to buy/read/watch anything I want, for a mother who scratched my back (and my legs) and rubbed my feet ad nauseum, for a father who would rather buy too many cucumbers than too little. I am, truly, so blessed.

It's been a month. I can't tell you how nuts it is to realize that, to write that sentence.

Going into surgery was one of the scariest things I've ever done. I knew I had to do it (as much as I'd wished for a magic "tumor be gone" potion, prayer or blessing, I knew the only way to get rid of the sucker was to cut me open and pull it out), but I was scared out of my mind about having to look at the incision. I was so nervous that it would be goopy and ooozy. (I don't like to see blood, least of all my own.) I hadn't had an awareness that they were going to put tubes down my nose and throat and keep me on IV's for 4 days. I had no idea how badly I would hurt. (And I have a pretty good imagination.) It was crazy. I remember coming out of anesthesia and hearing people talk around me. I'd hear one person say "is this the 22 lb surgery?", and then I'd hear another person answer, "22.5" with heavy emphasis on the .5, then the first person would say, incredulously, "22.5 lbs?!". (Like another half a pound really makes that big of a difference after you hit 22 lbs, really.) I had no idea that they were talking about me. It was surreal. My surgeon said, after surgery, that the tumor was the size of a watermelon.

I may never be able to eat watermelon again.

When the girls came in to see me post-surgery, they came in with flowers. Of course I cried, because I love flowers (and also because I love them). Every time I woke up for the next day or so, I had another floral delivery. I had flowers by my bed, on the shelf in front of my bed, and lining the windowsill in my room. They were a little bit of heaven in a really hard place. I love flowers. Thank you, again, to everyone who sent them.

I remember thinking, day 2 in the hospital, that I'd rather die than keep feeling that level of pain. And then the nurse made me sit up in bed, and I felt pain on a whole new level. And then she made me clear my throat and cough. And then I really wanted to die.

I could have morphine every two hours. It would take about 20 min to kick in and my pain level would go down for about 45 minutes to an hour. The last 40 minutes before I could have it again were agony. I asked my nurse if there was supposed to be a point where I felt no pain, because even when it was better for those 40 minutes, I still hurt. She kinda slipped and told me they weren't sure how high of a dosage to give me - they'd never had a surgery/tumor like mine. I know it's sick, but it made me proud, even in substantial pain, to hear that. Like I'd won some kind of contest or something. (I know, I'm such a weirdie.)

On day 3, they gave me a different drug that was 20x stronger than morphine. It was better, but I still hurt - a lot. I was living on ice chips and chapstick was my best friend. Also, on day 3, I was able to get a hold of my mascara. I couldn't sit up, so I put it on lying in bed (without a mirror), but I felt a lot better once it was there. Also, on day 3, I got the official word from my doctors that the results were in and the tumor had been malignant. My parents called my brothers, and Kirk and Spencer both came running to be with me. Spencer brought more flowers, and Kirk brought hair bows. I love them. Two oncologists came in and met with us and explained the treatment plan. The things I remember from that: the first telling me that I wouldn't need chemo, and the second saying something about radiation treatments 5 days a week. Also, I remember thinking that I was so glad that the second doctor was going to be my doctor, because he was better looking than the first. (This is hilarious to me, because he's ... uhm .... not all that good looking. I had a hard time not laughing out loud in my first appointment with him, that that's what I'd thought that day in the hospital.)

On day 4, I was cleared for food. They took the tube out of my nose/throat and I was able to eat the best freaking fish that I've ever had in my life. (Seriously. It was SO good. I wish I could go back and order that fish for dinner, like the hospital was a restaurant. But alas...) By then, I was walking the halls with my first hospital issued walker. It was awesome, I could walk for 10 minutes and then I'd want to pass out. My friend Rhonda came that morning and stayed until the nurses kicked her out that night. She brought new flowers, re-arranged the original arrangements to get rid of the wilty guys. And then she came back again the next day and did it all over again. She, along with my mother, saved me. That night I had more visitors (Ash & Erika, and later, Christine). I was starting to feel a little more human.

On day 5, I was up and walking the halls for 12 minutes at a time, twice a day. (I know - awesome fitness plan.) Ronnie came back - this time, armed with banana popcicles, because she knows I love them. Nurse Liz brought me a cherry limeade from Sonic. I ordered the fish again, because I loved it so. Rhonda brought a book, so she could read while I took a nap. That night the Petersons came, and we all had a surprise visit from Christine with her new boyfriend. J and Ash stayed late, Rhonda stayed later. I had been surrounded by my people and was feeling more like myself. (Also, I'd been on percocet and ativan - my two best friends - for 24 hours, and was feeling substantially less pain.)

Day 6 was a longer, harder day. (Maybe because I didn't order the fish for lunch, but I don't know.) I was more sore that day, probably because I had been up multiple times the day before. I'd had visitors, so I'd talked and laughed (my fake Katharine Hepburn laugh, but still...) more than usual. I was tired, and I was sore. But I still had the best nurses in the world. Both Lori and Liz would come in and check on me throughout the day. Which I know is their job, but they would just come in and talk. I found out that Lori had adopted her boys, and that Liz had just gotten married in December. They were my friends - and not just because they could give me hardcore narcotics every 4 hours. I loved them.

On day 7, I was advised that I could take an actual shower. I don't know what was scarier, when the nurse took the bandage off (she told me that I had to be able to look at the incision) - or actually getting into a shower. Either way, the morning was fraught with fear and danger. ... But I showered. And I washed my hair. And I survived. And I was released and came home a couple hours after the harrowing shower experience. Glory be and hallelujah, I was able to get into a car and come home. And when we got here, I was able to walk up the stairs and get into my recliner. Jo came and babysat me while my parents went to the store and bought provisions... And thus began the post-hospital recovery.

My mom was here for the first 3 weeks, and I don't know what I'd have done without her. She slept in a chair in my hospital room the week I was in the hospital, and on my couch for the first two weeks I was home. She is the best back scratching, foot rubbing, dish doing, water-turning-on-ing, door opening, listening, leg shaving, meds and food fetching, combination chauffeur and servant of all time. I love her. I always have, but now... Well, now, I have such a greater appreciation for her. Truly, she is the most selfless person I'm sure I'll ever know, and because she was here and because she took such great care of me, I am feeling so much better.

I am amazed that it's been a month. I am humbled at how many visitors I've had, how many volunteers to help me there have been. I have the best friends, and most incredible family. Ever.

I am amazed that the surgery recovery has gone as smoothly as it has (save the issue with the ever-present need for stool softeners and laxatives). I am grateful that my incision wasn't ever goopy and oozy - that at the most, I had to have a band-aid over my bellybutton for a week. It took me a while to work up my strength, but now I can not only wash my own hair, but also shave and lotion my own legs. This week I've been able to walk a mile at a time without my walker.

Thirty days ago today, I had major surgery. This morning, I got myself out of bed, made my own breakfast, walked 2 miles and then sat down with my laptop - all by 8:00 AM. I feel so much better, so much stronger, than I had any reason to think I would 4 short weeks after surgery.

I am amazed. And grateful. And amazed.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

For my cousins - name that fabric

*Disclaimer: I know, I look more than a little like a bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup in this pic. It was the apron I was going for when the photo shoot took place, so I moved my arms back and out of the way. Who knew that act was gonna make me look like a giant, full color, life-sized bottle of mapley goodness? I mean, who knew?!

Aunt Jemima aside, it's the apron that's the focus here. Why? Because I am a braggart. I have a new apron, and I had to show it off my cousins. I'll give 117 Cousin Points to the first family member who correctly guesses the origin and age of the fabric here. (And Julie doesn't count as an entry, because she made me this fabulous thing, and knows exactly where the floral beauty came from.)

Here's a hint: I've been instructed to sing "Do, Re, Mi" whenever I wear it (which I have done, thankyouverymuch), as that's the song you sing when you wear clothes made out of these.

... And now I'm oddly wanting to watch The Sound of Music and have a sing along. I think I will. Singing is good exercise for my diaphragm - and we all know that my stomach muscles need all the help they can get these days.

So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, adieu (for now, anyway).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Channeling Diana Barry

Alright, so maybe my spirit is a little more Anne than it is Diana (I've been called precocious more than once, and... uh... proper, basically never), but yesterday my hair was feeling very Diana Barry. It was very exciting for me, as my previous celeb-hair-alike was Ma Kettle, which was more than a little less flattering than being a Diana-alike.

You all remember Diana Barry, yes? Anne Shirley's bestie from the Anne of Green Gables series? She was sweet. I am not sweet, but I do have dark and frizzy hair. So, in that regard, we are alike - a little bit.

Here's a visual refresher of my two favorite bosom friends. (Just in case - perish the thought! - you don't know who I'm talking about.)

And here's another shot of Diana, all grown up with her fancy up-do. Gosh, I wish I knew how to achieve this polished look. But alas, I think there's something in the personality of my hair that would refuse to be tamed. Bother.

But honestly, isn't she (and her hair) beautiful? I covet it.

And here's the kicker - when I looked in the mirror last night and thought I looked like Diana Barry with her big and fancy hair, that's what I thought I looked like. (I know, I'm about 17 different kinds of delusional.)

Uh, no. No, I did not look exactly like Diana Barry. As you can see below, I was still a little more on the Ma Kettle side. (In my defense, the dark wall behind my head in this pic totally lessens the bouffant effect of my fluffy/big bun. I really do think it was fancier - or at least looked a whale of a lot bigger - when I was backed by a lighter wall and you could see the mass of dark hair.)

On second thought, maybe I still look a little like a geisha. Darn that stupid flash on my camera lighting up my face like it's the 4th of July. (But don't my eyelashes look freakishly long?)

The End.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another pic of my "favorites" & me

Okay, so I realize that this is only going to be funny if you knew my grammy, but I still have to tell you that when I typed the original title for this post, I typed "Another shot of me and my favorites", I heard a little voice in my head asking "are your favorites mean?". Ha! My mom's mom would ask me, every time I used incorrect sentence structure and put myself before the other subjects, if I really thought they were mean. Some examples:

Me: Grammy, can me and Beth have a popsicle?
Grammy: (with a short gasp) Is Beth mean? Why would you want to share a popsicle, if she's mean?

Me: Grammy, can me and Kirk watch a movie?
Grammy: Why would you want to watch a movie with Kirk if he's mean to you?

Me: Grammy, can me and Spencer play in the front yard?
Grammy: I don't understand why you'd want to play with a mean little boy, even if he is your brother.

So, of course, I changed the structure of the title, because my "favorite" aunts are so very far from mean. In fact, they're pretty much the exact opposite of mean. They're nice. (Super nice, in fact.) Behold, they took me for my very first post-operative eating out adventure.

We went to Red Robin, because I love both their fries and their Cobb Salad. (I split the salad with my mom and ate half of Debbie's fries.) It was a pretty perfect night. I love them (even more than I love Cobb Salad and steak fries, which is a lot of love).

Friday, July 16, 2010

Because every lady needs to accessorize

My friend Jenni's here for the weekend (which is SO FLIPPING FUN, btw), taking care of my needs. She's filled my ice water many times, held my bag of Munchies so I could just reach in and grab a snack (she's even eaten the pretzels that I've thrown back into said bag of Munchies, because I am not a pretzel loving fool unless they're covered in chocolate). She's a Class A servant folks, I tell you.

But the most impressive thing she's done since she's been here has been to add a little something to Ye Olde Granny Walker. Yesterday, while I was taking my daily 4 hour nap, she and her friend (I shall him Captain Forearms) hit the Home Depot and came up with the makings of this fabulous little basket.

Behold, the new and improved walker. Ooh-la-la, yes?

You may notice the handy-dandy tennis balls on the back legs. They're pretty hot, right? The thing is, they're funny and functional. In the first week that I was home from the hospital, I walked right through the original plastic coating and was sending metal shavings through the parking lot as I toddled on my morning and night walks. At the time, my mom and I thought it was cheap/thin plastic that had coated the walker feet. We were a little horrified that the manufacturer of the walker didn't put more into protecting their product. So we (by which I mean: she) went and bought some tennis balls to see if that would make a difference.

This is what we found: after 3-4 times up and down the street, I'd walk a hole right though the tennis balls. (Which translates into: it was not, in fact, substandard plastic that the manufacturer had used in production. I'm just really rough on walkers.) Check it.

In the last 10 days, this is how many times I've had to have new feet (tennis balls) added to the walker:

Monday July 5th - Spencer put tennis balls on
Wednesday July 7th - Jason put rubber feet on
Thursday July 8th - Dean put more tennis balls on
Saturday July 10th - Kirk added yet more tennis balls
Monday July 12th - Mom switched out two more tennis balls
Wednesday July 14th - Mom put yet another set of tennis balls on the walker
Friday July 16th - she doesn't know it yet, but Jen's replacing the balls AGAIN

So, what I'm saying here is that a) tennis balls last longer than rubber feet (did you notice that the rubber feet that JP put on on a Wed night had to be replaced on Thursday - they lasted for one walk - awesome), also, b) if you were ever thinking about buying stock in tennis balls, this would be the time. Seriously.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Before & Afters

For those of you who hadn't seen me in the days leading up to surgery... I bring you some fun before/after shots.

Do you see how much I wasn't kidding, when I said I was looking big and pregnant? It was pretty awesome, right?

In fact, here's a fun little story for you. The day before I had surgery (the day these pictures were taken, incidentally), I went to lunch with some girlfriends and about halfway through our meal, the server came to check on us - you know, the standard "how does everything taste, can I get you anything else?" routine - and she thought she'd make a little small talk with me and ask when I was due. (The poor thing, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.) I was a little slow on the uptake (I'd known for some time that I looked preggers, but this was the first time anyone else - well, a stranger, anyway - had acknowledged it), my response was to kind of skew my face up and say "Well....". She cut me off with a quickly uttered "Oh, please tell me that you're pregnant and I didn't just say you look pregnant when you aren't" apology. I laughed (this was back when I could laugh) and thanked for validating that I looked pregnant (many of my friends had tried to tell me that I didn't look preggers, and in fact, didn't even look any different ... both of which were sweet, but outright lies), and then I told her that it wasn't a baby, but a tumor, and I was having it out the next day. You should have seen her face. The poor thing! First she had intimated that I was pregnant, and I wasn't - then I told her that my "baby" was a tumor. She was horrified. I just laughed, again, pretty hard. (You know me, so you can believe it.) Poor little Olive Garden server. Bless her sweet heart... I'll have to go back sometime soon and show her that the tumor didn't kill me, and then I'll order the Steak Gorgonzola and all will be right in the world...

Anyway, so I looked pregnant. I mean.... big and pregnant, with the rock hard stomach and everything. Here's a lovely side shot of my lying on the couch. Check out that tummy. Ha!

And then I had surgery and they took my 22.5 lb tumor out of my body and I was a changed woman.

This is not the most fabulous picture of me, please know that I know this. (But how awesome is my fuzzy baby-bird hair? It's been humid and I like to nap, and I don't like to re-do my pony when I wake up. So there.) But still... holy moly, I am a changed woman. I went to the doc last week and they weighed me for the first time since my initial tumor-finding doctor appointment the week of Memorial Day, and I was 38 lbs lighter last week than I was exactly a month before. (I wish I'd thought to have them weigh me prior to surgery, so I'd know how much I'd weighed right before they took Darth Vader out of me, but I can't turn back time, so the number 38 will have to do.)

I wish I could do a new side shot for you - to show off my now non-preggers belly - but I am still unable to lie on my side. (It may take up to 3 months before I can lie on my side again. It's tragic. And debilitating, as I am, by nature, a side sleeper. But oh, well. I'm alive, so whatever.)

Anyway, that's the old/new me. I mean... I'm still the same me, but that's my old tummy and my new-ish tummy. It's surreal to have gone from having a huge bump of a tummy down to having an actual waist again. It's super weird to have your body change overnight. (I imagine this is what it's like for you women who've birthed actual children.) Now, I'm not going to recommend this as the best/easiest way to lose weight (you would be amazed - or possibly horrified, as I have been - at the number of people who've told me that "this was probably the easiest 20 lbs you've ever lost" ... I wouldn't go straight to "easy", I have a 13 inch incision down my stomach and I eat percocet like they're candy to help with pain), but it has been amazing to have my body go through this crazy transformation in less than a month. I just look forward to the day when I can wear an actual bra again. (It's ridiculous, what you don't appreciate until you have an incision the size of Rhode Island down your torso that makes it pure misery to wear proper undergarments.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Me & my fancy up-do's...

For those of you not familiar with the movie that inspired the title of my blogsite, let me just say... you must see Thoroughly Modern Millie. It's a treasure, in that it's one of the best sing-along musicals, as well as one of the most quotable movies of all time. (Plus, Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore? What's not to love?)

Anyway, I love that movie. (Clearly.) And one of my fav characters is Mrs. Meers. (She's a lunatic of a villain, but I love her.)

One of my last days in the hospital, I'd put my hair up in a bun, and the bun got a little high on the top of my head. I took a look in the mirror and thought "I bet, if I put some of my bendy straws in that, I'd look just like Mrs. Meers!". So, of course, I had to try it. Below is the result. Pretty smashing, if you ask me.

Fast forward to being home from the hospital just over a week, when I went out to dinner (Chinese, obviously) with my mom and brother. I was sitting by the window, and the sun was streaming in and I got a little warm. I reached into the middle of the table and grabbed a package of chopsticks. Just as my brother was asking if I "could really eat with those" (anyone who knows me knows he was just looking after my best interests - I need a fork, lest I dump all my food into my lap), I pulled my hair up and fashioned a makeshift bun with my two wooden sticks. My mom looked at me and laughed out loud, Kirk just shook his head. I didn't even care what I looked like - I was hot, man! We sat and talked for another half hour or so, then came back to my place. Hours later, I walked into the bathroom and laughed out loud. I'd totally forgotten I'd ever put sticks in my hair and was shocked at the sight. ... Of course, I had to take a picture.

I showed my mom the pic after I'd taken it, and said "Uhm... the flash is a bit much, I'm looking pretty pasty". Mom cut me off with "Yeah, like a geisha".


... And that's what's cracking us up over at my house these days. All this time, I'd thought I might have an inner Mrs. Meers trying to get out. Uh, no. It turns out, maybe it's an inner Geisha.


Farewell, $5 Vacuum

I had to say good-bye to a dear friend a few weeks ago. My vacuum bit the dust (literally) the week before I had surgery. Poor little guy, he just stopped sucking. He'd been kinda wimpy for a few months, but in the last few weeks, he just lost his "umph". Bless him.

The good news? I paid $5 for this vacuum almost 5 years ago (I heart Black Friday sales), so it's not like I didn't get my money out of him.

The bad news? I now have no vacuum, and I have some carpet in dire need of vacuuming. (And when I say dire need, I'm not kidding.) I'd bend over and pick up the bigger pieces of crud that're on my carpet if I could, but (alas) gone are the days when I could bend in the middle to pick stuff up.

So, does anyone want to come over for a vacuum visit? Anyone? ... Anyone? (insert the sound of crickets chirping here)

Well ... if you change your mind, and want to bring a vacuum over, just give me a call and let me know. I'd be more than happy to let you push your cleaning machine around my living and bedrooms so my carpets can be lint-and-crud-free again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My two "favorite" aunts

I've been a slacker and a half about blogging lately, I know. (Something about having had major surgery has made me feel more like napping, I guess.) But get this - last week, my mom's sisters totally surprised us with a visit. It was awesome!

I'd played phone tag with Aunt Deb that day, and was actually talking to her on the phone when there was a knock at the door. My mom got up and answered the door and gasped - it was my aunt Cindy. I laughed and said "you're never going to guess who just knocked on my door!", and then Cindy moved a little out of the way and I could see Deb behind her. I laughed out loud, then cried for joy. (What can I say, it's that Ball - or is it Owens? - blood. I'm a crier.)

Gosh, it was great to see them! They are such great aunts, and such great sisters. I think it's so cool, what friends they are, and what a support they are to my mom. They came in Tuesday night, and were here until Friday morning. They took my mom errand running and shopping in the day on Wednesday and Thursday, so I could nap, and they were witness to my first true out-of-the-house expeditions, as we went out to dinner both nights they were here. Cindy was worried that I'd a) bleed b) be in pain c) get down the stairs ... but I did it.

It was so fun to see them, so fun to talk and giggle late into the night. It was awesome to catch up, through their moms, on what my cousins are up to.

I'm so grateful for my family. These women have shaped who I am - from my candy/snacking habits, to how I view and live my life - and I love them.

Thanks, Deb and Cindy, for coming. I'll never be able to tell you what it meant to me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Variations on a theme

So, tonight my mom and I were on our night walk and she asked if I'd taken my pills with dinner. I told her no, that I'd take them when we got back. ... Her response, "We're running low on those, I've added them to our ever increasing totally random shopping list", and then she laughed out loud and clarified that maybe the shopping list isn't so random, after all. To quote the woman, "It turns out our "Random" shopping list is more like "Variations on a Theme".

Here's what's currently on the list:

Licorice, both red and black

Let me just say, for those of you who don't know it, that licorice is a natural laxative. And if you're still wondering what the purpose of those other two pills are, I think you should look them up. I mean, I don't want to be too graphic here.

Is anyone else sick of me talking about poop? ... Good grief, I sure am.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Desperate times call for desperate measures

My mama made me a prune cake.

It was surprisingly delicious.

(If you want to try it, click here for the recipe.)

My mom thinks it's too sweet. I think it's perfect. Well... when I'm eating it, I think it's perfect. I'll admit that I ate a piece yesterday before my night walk, and about halfway home I thought I was gonna choke on the sugary aftertaste (lesson learned: brush teeth immediately following eating a big piece of prune cake, lest you feel a sugar attack coming on at the most inopportune time), but while I was eating it, the cake - and the carmelish icing - was perfect, I thought.

Here's hoping the prunes aren't too diluted by sugar & flour to combat the effects of prescription pain meds - because this cake tastes a whale of a lot better than prune juice mixed with grape juice (shudder)...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Keep your eye on the grand old flag

We all know that I'm a patriotic sap. Music like is is just part of the reason why I get all choked up on the 4th of July.

I'm grateful for parents who made sure I was raised with an awareness that I was being raised in a wonderful country - and for a mother who made darn sure I knew this movie.

I love George Cohan. His music brings joy to my heart and tears to my eyes.

I love my country.

The End.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Coming clean....

So, I decided that it's time to come clean and tell the cyber world what's been going on in my little corner of the world for the past few weeks. Those of you who know, know that until I knew what I was looking at, I had wanted to kind of keep things under wraps. But now that I know, I feel like it's something I should share - whether you live in my neighborhood (because I may need you to come over and vacuum) or whether you live in a far-off place (and wouldn't know, because you can't see my body changing while I go through this Summer of Insanity, but should know because you love me... and frankly, I will take all the thoughts/prayers/good karma I can get right now).

Here's the thing: I have cancer.

Yup, you read that right, and I'm sorry to put it so bluntly, but there it is.

So, here's the scoop - I found out about 3 weeks ago that I had a tumor. It had gotten big enough to be crowding my organs in my abdomen, which is how we found it. It was actually a horrible cough that got me to the doctor's office - I'd been coughing for weeks, my lower back/kidneys were sore, and I was kind of tired, but otherwise I felt fine. (Yeah, I just laughed at my own self after that list and then the "otherwise, I felt fine". Good grief.) When I went in to talk to her about my cough, I also mentioned that I'd been gaining weight recently, but couldn't figure out why. They weighed me, and my actual weight hadn't changed at all - my stomach was just getting bigger. I mean, monumentally bigger. Awesome. (And weird.) But my weight hadn't changed, so there went all of my hopes and pre-self-diagnosis of a thyroid issue, or maybe diabetes. So, I went and had an ultra-sound and a CT scan, and... they found a tumor. A really big one (when they took it out, it was 22.5 pounds), which is why I'd been coughing, and why I'd been so tired. My lungs (and other organs) were really cramped with that tumor in there, which is why I'd been having a hard time breathing and why I hadn't been able to sleep very well, or eat very much. Also, the 22.5 pounder explains why I looked about 8 months pregnant (photos to follow).

Anyway, I had surgery last Tuesday, June 22, to have the tumor removed. The doctors were awesome, and so was everyone else at the hospital. I was there for a week, I came home on Tuesday this week.

When they took the tumor out, they ran all kinds of tests on it. Unfortunately, it was (sigh) malignant. The doctors are confident that they'll be able to get rid of the cancer with radiation treatments, though. I'm really fortunate that I only have to do radiation, and not both radiation and chemo. (Though I have had a nearly life-long goal/wish to have my head shaved and have a custom wig made out of my own hair, I'm grateful not to have to chemo. Frankly, as awesome as I do think wigs are, I can do without the accompanying sickness that would come with the chemo.) So, I'm grateful. My work's been really great at giving me time off, and the doctors have been awesome. My mom and dad came down when I had surgery, and my mom is staying with me right now to help take care of me. I have a crazy incision from my chest all the way down to my pelvis, so I can't bend or move around a lot, but I'm really feeling pretty good. (As long as the percocet is in full force, that is.) Besides not being able to bend in the middle, I'm actually moving around pretty well. I take my little-old-lady-walker out for a spin for 20 minutes in the morning and evening every day (it's too dang hot to go out in the middle of the day, I tell you!). I'm able to get up and down my stairs easily, albeit slowly. My arms are getting stronger, because I have to use them to get up and down - both in and out of chairs and bed. Pretty soon I may have the upper body strength of a 3 yr old. :-)

Some commonly asked questions:

How long had the tumor been there? - Not sure. Several months. It grew from my back, up and around my left side and was starting to creep up into my abdomen. It was a fairly fast growing guy, but there's no way to know exactly how long it had been there. (They can't cut a tumor open and count rings, like on a tree trunk. I know this, because I asked.)

How big was the tumor? - 22.5 pounds. When I had the CT, they were figuring it was probably around 10 lbs. I had surgery 2 weeks later. Whether the original weight estimation was off, or whether it doubled in size in 2 weeks, we'll never know.

Where was the tumor, and how did it get there? - It was in the Retroperitoneol Space (you can read up on that here, if you'd like to know what that is). No clue how it got there. There's no known cause of the tumor, and my doctor assured me there was no way to prevent it or even know it was there until it got so big that it started causing issues with other organs.

How big is the incision? - HUGE. Any of you who know how much I freak out over a papercut can appreciate how disturbed I am by an incision that goes from about an inch under my braline all the way to my pelvis. (Egads.) The good news? It's healing well, it's not oozy or goopy - and the staples will come out this week.

Treatment? - Like I said, Radiation. I don't have a lot of details on that yet. The oncologist came and visited me in the hospital and advised that I need to make an appointment with him in 2 weeks or so. At that time, I'll know more. For now, I know that radiation is usually 3 days in a row or 5 days in a row. They won't start radiation until I've healed from surgery, which is an expected 4-6 weeks. I don't know how many weeks I'll have to do the radiation, the most common side effects are exhaustion and diarrhea (awesome - but I'll take diarrhea over constipation any day). When I know more about what I'll have to do there, I'll let you know. They're confident that they'll be able to treat/kill it with radiation, and for that, I am grateful.

What kind of tumor is it? - It's a grade 2 Retroperitoneal Liposarcoma (for more detail on Liposarcomas, if you're into that, read here).

How am I doing/feeling/handling it? - I'm fine. I mean, as long as my pain pills are in full force, I'm fine. Towards the end of the 4 hours, I feel more in my abdomen, but for the most part I'm just tired. (You know me, any excuse to nap is a good one.) I have meltdowns every once in a while, but they're usually over silly things like I can't get my pillow in the right place. I'm dealing. All I can control here is my attitude, and I know that being upbeat and positive makes life easier - with or without cancer. I learned at a young age that "you're happier when you're happy".

I consider myself, pretty much, the most blessed woman alive. I have the most amazing support system. I have incredible family, both nuclear and extended, who are taking care of my wants and my needs. I have friends who are only a phone call away, and I have literally felt the power of prayers being offered by the many people I feel privileged to call mine. My life, as always, is good. I've been thrown a curve ball, and there are things that have been and will continue to be difficult, but I know that I am loved by the Lord and by the people in my life, and I will be fine. I may be nauseated, sore, tired and scared every once in a while, but I am and will continue to be fine.

For those of you who I haven't been able to talk to personally, I'm sorry that I had to just put it all out there like this for you. For those of you whom I have been able to talk to personally, but I haven't been able to give you all the details or return every call, I'm sorry you had to find stuff out here, too (I blame the pain meds, I've been loopy - at best - for a week or so).

To all of you who are reading this, whoever you are, I love you. I love you for caring enough about me and my wacky life to be a regular reader, and I thank you for your friendship. No way could I handle this without you. If you have any questions, please feel free to call, email or just come over. I'm pretty much housebound, and would love the company. (Just be forewarned that my hair is in a Ma Kettle-ish bun, I can't shave my legs, and it hurts to wear a bra. I'll still have mascara on, but that may be the only thing that makes me look like me right now.)

I love you. I'm grateful you're my friend - yeah, you, whoever you are reading this right now - I love you. Even when it's hard, I love my life, and so much of why I love it is because of the people who are in it. Thank you for being my friend, for being my support system. I love you.