the test

 - by Beth

I’m 11 weeks post-chemo and, internet? I have some hair. It’s nice and thick and even.  And, well, between a quarter and a half of an inch long.

A little piece of me is starting to think that I prefer my super short hair to scarves and buffs and wigs.  A little piece of me that is bold and brave.

I like that piece of me.

So I begin to ask, when do I go topless?  Scarfless, that is.  And, bigger yet, when do I retire my wig at work so I can weather a breezy day without holding my hair?  I likely am not brave enough to do this until I can be brave enough to post a picture of my topless self on the internet, as after doing so I can duck and run.  Deep breath:

Another picture of me in my bathroom for your enjoyment...

nsfw! topless girl here!

As making big decisions can be helped by lists of pros and cons, I give you my list.

Going topless pros

  • Honest, brave, and generally kick-*@(#
  • I can wear hoop earrings again without resembling a pirate (as scarfs can do, you see)
  • Compared to the wig, immensely more comfortable, which could be separate bullet points for itchiness, headaches, excessive heat and the annoyance of fake hair in my face
  • Brief opportunity to resemble an action hero
  • May receive compliments for my well shaped head
  • Will resemble other women I see occasionally in public who I admire for going topless, too

Going topless cons

  • Not much hair yet… short enough to kind of see my scalp
  • General embarrassment
  • Feeling of “coming out” at work where I’ve never worn a scarf
  • May scare kids at school
  • My head might get cold
  • May be mistaken for a prepubescent boy

I’m not sure that I’m quite there yet… maybe in a few weeks. What would you do?

 

girl scouts: adrenaline junkies

 - by Beth

Ally has enjoyed a number of events sponsored by her Girl Scout troop this year, especially a trip roller skating and an event that could only be called craftapalooza. But the best by far was a trip snow tubing! We enjoyed a sunny day in the 50s and had a blast zipping down a hill.  The snow was manufactured, but it did the trick!

A mechanical ramp/lift carries you to the top of the hill.

A mechanical ramp/lift carries you to the top of the hill.

Don't let the mild slope fool you-- the tubes go really, really fast.

Don’t let the mild slope fool you– the tubes go really, really fast.

Ally is ready to go!

Ally is ready to go!

At the top of the hill, you're asked if you want to go straight or spin.  Ally convinced them to spin me once and, well, now I know what a centrifuge feels like.

At the top of the hill, you’re asked if you want to go straight or spin. Ally convinced them to spin me once and, well, now I know what a centrifuge feels like.

top of the 9th

 - by Beth

I remember keenly the last three weeks of pregnancy, the weeks when labor and delivery are less frightening and more a promise of relief.  Well meaning but over-friendly women would reach to touch my ridiculous stomach and nod, “You look ready to pop, honey.”  Then the raised eyebrow, conspiratorial grin, and whisper: “You know what’s good for that, right?”

That’s where I stand in the world of active cancer treatment: three weeks to go.  My skin is pink and blotchy, but tolerating radiation treatment well, and I feel stronger each week.  The hair on my head has sprouted to a luxurious bristly quarter inch, though my eyebrows and eyelashes have decided they’d like to abandon ship, perhaps making room for new recruits.  Nevertheless daily treatments, weekly physical therapy, weekly visits with my radiation oncologist, and regular follow-up visits with my surgeon, primary care physician, and medical oncologist fill the calendar with reminders of the ongoing fight.  It’s been more than seven months since my diagnosis and, to be blunt, I’m done.

I’m done with scarves, wigs, and the constant eyelashes in my eyes.  Done with the well meaning yet oddly smug physical therapists with whom I must chatter for an hour while lying topless and captive.  Done with weight checks and blood pressure checks and blood draws.  Done with referrals and appointment changes and leave request forms at work that, if pulled together for the past year, could feed a bonfire.  Done with the doctors who must admit to me that it would be patronizing for them to not admit that they find my lymph node involvement “concerning.”  Done with acknowledging the frightening long term side effects from my treatments that I am expected to accept gracefully as the price for my life. Done done done done done.

So, this is how the next doctor’s appointment will go.  I will walk into the office.  The receptionist will inform me that my insurance company no longer requires referrals and that, instead of owing a co-pay, they would like to pay me and, by the way, here’s a cupcake.  But I won’t have time to eat the cupcake because a nurse will be ready to see me immediately.  ”Sorry to keep you waiting for two minutes, sweetie. We like to keep our wait times below a minute.”

Ok, wait. I have to stop.  Crack myself up!

Then the nurse will check my weight and will discover that I have magically lost five pounds since my last check two days before.  And then the doctor will walk in! Immediately!  And she will say, “Ms Stewart? I’m so glad to see you. I have some interesting news.  You know that there is no cure for cancer. But, well, now there is.  It’s sprinkles.  So eat your cupcake, and I’ll see you again…. never!”

quatre

 - by Beth

Mandy is four! Mandy is four! And 90% of the time I think this is a fabulous thing, as she and her sister are suddenly fast friends and her increasing maturity means that we can all relax a bit more and enjoy activities together.  The other 10% of the time she’s an absolute horror and likely causing a wave of abstinence among young couples.  Their parents can send me a thank you note.

I’ll add that as I type this, she is sticking her head under my sweater and licking my belly button.

We opted to celebrate differently this year and spent a long weekend at Great Wolf Lodge in lieu of a party.  It was so fun!  My sister and nine-year-old nieces joined us in a large suite.  We spent many hours frolicking in the indoor water park, playing Magic Quest, and enjoying the games and kid spa.  It was such a great weekend that we took few pictures… and the ones we did take are all silly action shots that show we were just too busy for posed photos.

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Mandy really enjoyed the water park, but wasn’t very interested in the slides.  It always surprises me that she is timid because her personality would make you believe she’s incapable of experiencing such a feeling.

On Mandy’s actual birthday she asked to go to dinner at Chevy’s– she loves their chips and salsa (I think their salsa and Chipotle guacamole are the only vegetables she likes) and the dough they provide kids for play.
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Mandy’s likes cookies more than cake, so I made her a giant chocolate chip cookie.  It was so easy and delicious!!  This year she and her sister love fairies, so her favorite gifts were Winx club and Disney fairies.  She also received a sleeping bag for sister sleepovers and really loves modeling clay and costumes.

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Happy birthday to our incredibly special, sweet and snuggly girl.  We love you so very much.

flakes of fun

 - by Beth

During our Christmas holiday we had a series of snowfalls I would characterize as, in a word, perfect.  Just enough snow for sledding and a snow man; just enough to look beautiful outside our windows; just enough to melt by the afternoon!


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radioactive

 - by Beth

Are you singing the Imagine Dragons song now, too?  There’s nothing quite like driving to cancer treatment and hearing a song with lyrics about glowing with radioactivity. Because, these days? That’s me.  Today I began phase three of cancer eradication: radiation treatment.  Because if the surgery didn’t cut it out, and the chemo didn’t kill it, well gosh darn it let’s hit it again.  It seems like some kinds of cancer have simpler treatments while mine, in its general bad assedness, involves treatments like killing Michael Myers.  You shoot and bludgeon and behead and then, what the hey, burn that corpse.

The radiation phase of treatment, I have to say, seems like the easiest phase by far.  Its short term side effects are skin irritation and fatigue and the treatment itself only takes about 20 minutes.  Its key negative is that it must be done 5 days a week–Monday through Friday–for about seven weeks.  Feel like driving to the hospital 33 times in two months? Well, this is the treatment for you!  Other interesting radiation tidbits: in preparation for treatment, I was given four small tattoos that look like blue moles on my chest and underarm that are used to position the radiation, so I can now say with some authority that tattoos on bone do hurt more; people in treatment are advised to only wear one layer of clothing so we can strip quickly upon arrival; and, best of all, a long term side effect of radiation in a very small number of patients is…. cancer.

Snark aside, I’m doing fine.  Treatment one was easy as can be.  What isn’t after chemo? We’re doing our best to fit all of the appointments into our daily routine and I do my best not to think too much about this process.  Instead, I stare at my scarfless head and wait to see hair sprout, which I think has started, albeit unevenly and certainly not in any way that I would broadcast on the interwebs.  Hair chronicles forthcoming.

holly jolly

 - by Beth

It’s time for the annual Christmas recap! This year both of our girls were so excited, so enthusiastic, so enthralled by every aspect of the holiday season.  It was wonderful.

A family photo before church on Christmas Eve.  We've found a real church home this year and it was so wonderful to celebrate Christmas there!

A family photo before church on Christmas Eve. We’ve found a real church home this year and it was so wonderful to celebrate Christmas there!

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After church and dinner, the girls of course donned their Halloween costumes so they could spread reindeer food.

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Bumblebees like Christmas, too.

 

Christmas morning began at 5:30 AM when Mandy woke. Ouch.  But do you remember the magic of Christmas morning when you were a child?  How stunning it was to see the presents and lights? (Even when it was dark outside because all sane people are still sleeping??)

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Ally’s favorite presents this year were an American Girl doll and a Furby.  Mandy received some Octonauts toys but loves most her Winx club dolls; both girls like the show and can “play Winx” together for hours these days.  It excites us so much to see them have shared interests!  We also re-stocked our play-doh collection for some Christmas morning play doh time.

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On Christmas day, we hosted our usual family party, though this year it was especially nice because we had a large group– I think 27?– with family from far out of town included.  I can’t describe how happy I was to have my house filled with the people I love and to start to follow our normal family traditions again.

Mandy changed her outfit about four times during the party; I distinctly remember her running around in circles in her underwear immediately after Christmas dinner. (My relatives were very impressed.)  She received a costume and bow and arrow set for the movie Brave and spent much time attempting to shoot people.  Fortunately with family (and the aim of a 3-year-old) this behavior is charming rather than, well, fearsome.


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Rob and I wish to send our thanks to the many who made this holiday especially meaningful.  I have looked forward to Christmas for months now knowing it would signal the end of chemo and a return to more normal life, and the day did not disappoint.

wedded bliss, day one

 - by Beth

A week before Christmas, we were thrilled to attend the wedding of our niece–Rob’s brother’s oldest daughter–in Williamsburg, Virginia. We made a weekend of it and enjoyed a great time with family and friends.

The wedding’s Christmas theme meant extra use of the girls’ Christmas dresses. Aren’t they beautiful?


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My wonderful family. Why, yes, that is a new haircut for me.  Impressed, right? (I can’t tell you the number of compliments I receive on my wig from strangers who think I have incredible hair. It makes me realize that my real hair must be pretty unimpressive because this is something I’ve never experienced!)

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The wedding was lovely and reminded me of my tendency to cry at weddings.  They turn me into a sentimental blubber.

The center of each table at the reception held a selection of gorgeous lollipops. Mandy lurved them.  When it was time to say grace before dinner, she said, “Dear God, please let my lollipop come to life. Amen.”

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Mandy was thrilled to hit the dance floor and made many new friends.  She’s extraordinarily social and friendly wherever we go!

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Huge congratulations to our niece and her sweet, funny, charming new husband. Welcome to our family!

 

ho ho ho!

 - by Beth

We have some Christmas crazed girls this year! It is a joy to see how excited both are for the holidays. On our second attempt to see Santa we finally made it through the line this morning (note to future self: do not join the long Santa line at 7PM, even on a week night…it won’t happen) and there was much hugging and enthusiasm.

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We’re a bit behind with some of our Christmas preparation, but this weekend it’s all about the cookies and the gingerbread house and the holiday tunes are playing nonstop. I have so many happy memories of Christmas baking and decorating with my Mom when I was a kid, and I really hope my girls are making good memories too… and forgetting about how we abandoned the interminable Santa line with tears and tantrums very late last Wednesday!

one gift was a bit cheaper than the other

 - by Beth

Post-chemo gift to myself: gorgeous Frye boots.  Oh they are lovely. They’re butter. They require a new jeans wardrobe to show them off.

Post-chemo gift to the girls: the huge box from Zappos that was used to ship all the boots I tried!

Why yes, those are last year’s Halloween costumes!  You didn’t know playing in a box requires costuming?