Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas in Oz: Things to love

Sure, I sometimes miss hot chocolate at Christmas, or bundling up to go out and see Christmas lights, but I do love Christmas in Australia. I've said it before, but the excitement of Christmas coming mixed with the relaxed vibe of summer is a great combination. Well, unless it gets too hot, cause then I have to cut someone. But mostly! It's great!

One aspect of the holidays that we love around here is Carols in the Park. All through December, pretty much every community puts on an outdoor carol sing. There's music, food, kids' entertainment, and Santa. People bring picnics, blankets to sit on--groups of friends will go together. It's like a summer music festival with a Christmas theme. Back in the US, I attended lots of Christmas carol services--but of course, they were mostly indoor or I spent them shivering outdoors. Those hushed church services have their charms as well, but we love the outdoor ones here.

Saturday was a very warm day, and because our house doesn't have air conditioning, we spent most of the day in the pool. I kept my crankiness at bay...but just barely. By evening, an air-conditioned ride in the car sounded perfect, so we drove to a Carols in the Park put on by a local radio station. Several friends were already there, so we all sat and listened to the music together. There was also ice cream.

There were some kid's games and activities on offer, and Nate and his buddy wanted to ride in the little jeeps that were set up in the parking lot. When they got to the front of the line, they were told that they had to have an adult ride with them. Lucky, lucky me--I was the only parental figure in the area. So, picture this-- (or actually, don't.) I had to sit up behind them on the back of the jeep, and put one leg on either side of the driver, so I could have a foot on the gas and brake pedals. And also lean forward to grab the wheel if necessary.

Hmmm. You might notice from the photo above, I was not attired for jeep driving by-proxy. And that dress did not have a lot of "give" to it. I looked at the guy running the ride. "Um, I'm not exactly dressed for this," I said. In trademark Aussie fashion he waved away my concern, "Aw, she'll be right!" And off we went, round and round this little track, I'm sure with me flashing the unfortunate bystanders each time. Of course, the boys jerked the wheel too hard before I could stop them, which caused us to hurtle into the tires set up in the center of the track. The attendant was a little annoyed with us, so not only was I scandalous, I was chastened for my failure to supervise, too! And then my flip flop broke when I tried to modestly disembark the jeep! You just can't win sometimes.

Wardrobe malfunctions notwithstanding, it was a lovely evening. The music was beautiful, the lights were sparkly, the weather was cooling down (mercifully).  Christmas in Oz is pretty great.

And luckily, I'll probably never see the people at the jeep track again! And that is the best gift of them all.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Around here

We didn't do a Thanksgiving feast this year, but happy Thanksgiving to all my American peoples! And happy weekend to the rest! After scrolling through dozens of food photos on Facebook yesterday, I told Jason that maybe we should've cooked a turkey with all the fixins after all! I am having casserole envy.

Last night I spent a relatively restless night sleeping in Grace's room. She came down with a little tummy bug and fever yesterday afternoon and we have an unspoken agreement that when she's sick, Mama sleeps on the other bed in her room.

I am less like a mother though, and more like an indentured servant. Or is there much of a difference? All through the night, she'd call out at random intervals for me to adjust her blankets, hand her her water bottle (which was perfectly within her reach), or sing her a song. It was clear she was uncomfortable with fever, but I could also tell she was milking the situation, just a little bit. When she woke up for the day at 6:47am, fever-free and full of energy, I handed her off to Jason and went back to sleep, still in the extra bed in her room.

Today, Nate and I ran out to the mall to pick up a few things. On the way there, he mentioned that his stomach hurt. I felt his forehead and it was definitely warmish. So I found myself buying him a new Zac Power book to read and a $3 can of imported Canada Dry. (What? Ginger is good for the tummy, right? I was walking past the "international food kiosk" at the mall and it was an impulse buy.) Of course, he didn't like how it tasted so now there is $2.80 worth of ginger ale sitting on my kitchen counter, condensation slowly spreading outward in a little pool. And the new book? It's sitting on the coffee table while he watches Phineas and Ferb. Oh well.

How are you? I hope that someone is seeing that all your needs, real or imagined, are attended to.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I know, right now you can't tell

On my berfday, in September. 36!

Friends! I'm still here! How are you? I haven't blogged in months now and I have no good excuses to offer. Um, the dog ate it? My blog was shut down for revealing secrets of national security? I've been on a whirlwind book tour? I've been in the Big Brother house?

No, none of the above. First I was kind of in a funk, I guess. Well, and then life got really busy. And then blogging became one of those things--like when you haven't replied to an email and then too much time passes and you're overwhelmed at the thought of replying cause it's been so, what do I say? How do I sum it all up? Anyone? No? Just me, then.
Grace remains totally fierce. So, that hasn't changed.

July and August were packed with activity, plus I was still feeling pretty worn down from treatment. My mood was pretty low. I thought maybe it was due to me starting Tamoxifen--it's hormonal medication, so I thought maybe my mood swings and irritability could be attributed to that. When I talked to Becky about it, she said something like, "Maybe...but it may also be that fact THAT YOU'VE HAD CANCER." Oh yeah. Maybe it's that. Turns out, it takes some time to wrap your brain around that fact.

I started to feel more like myself in September. I've been doing some thinking about how I handled the time period right after my diagnosis and surgery. I look back at my calendar from that time period, and shake my head at how busy I kept myself. I mean, it was stupid. There were lots of reasons for it--a coping mechanism I'm sure, and also wanting to work while I still felt good. Plus, the world continues to turn, you know? Stuff keeps happening. And at that point, I didn't know what my treatment would entail or how sick it might make me, so I wanted to keep going while I could. 

Yeah, that was kind of dumb. And it came back to bite me. But maybe I'll write more on that later!

Last week was Jason's 38th birthday. (On Halloween!) We had a great day together and went to see Matchbox 20 and INXS play that night. It was really fun! When Matchbox 20 started playing their song "Unwell", I leaned over to Jason and whispered, "This has been my theme song for the past few months." I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell...I know, right now you can't tell. But hang around and maybe then you'll see a different side of me.

Don't worry--I'm not about to get all emo on y'all...wearing lots of eyeliner and quoting Depeche Mode or something. But I have felt just a little unwell these past few months. Nothing terrible...I'm quite fortunate, in fact. But nevertheless, things have I'm sure everyone feels that way from time to time. But over the last 6 weeks or so, I've felt a lot more like me.

I'll be back soon. Thanks to all of you who've checked in with me over the past few months! You are real sweeties. Life continues here in Oz, and it's pretty dang fine. (I was gonna say "pretty damn fine" but then I didn't want to offend some of my church members that read here. So I decided I better not say it. Oh. Wait.)


Thursday, July 5, 2012

I need all the help I can get

Me, towards the end of radiation treatment, hospital gown in hand. As you can see, I wasn't kidding about the Uggs-puffy vest-no bra-last night's ponytail combo. Stellar. Sorry, boys! She's taken!
On Monday, I went to see my GP. In order to meet with the oncologist to start Tamoxifen, I needed an official referral letter from the GP, so I made an appointment. (It's a Medicare billing thing, but anyway.)

I hadn't actually been back to see her since a visit right after my diagnosis, back in February. Over the last several months, we've been fortunate enough to be pretty healthy as a family, and the one time Nate was sick, Jason took him to the doctor.

In telling the story of how I found out I had breast cancer, I often tell people how, after that initial ultrasound, the radiologist who read the scan recommended that I return for a second scan in 6 months' time. That there were a few cysts, but nothing to be really concerned about. I would've followed that recommendation without worry; after all, I was only trying to be responsible in getting that ultrasound anyway.

But when I saw my GP the day after the scan, she read the report and then kind of stared into space for a second. "You know," she said, "I think you should consider getting an appointment at the breast clinic in the city, just to check it out and make sure everything is fine." And so I did, the next day. And you know the rest.

This past Monday, she and I chatted about my radiation treatment, while she printed off the letter I needed. I told her that I'd been wanting to thank her for that initial recommendation. It set off the chain of events that lead me to find that I had breast cancer in an early stage, instead of finding it much later and perhaps with a more grave prognosis. "I've often remarked to others," I told her, "how grateful I am that you referred me to the breast clinic, when you could've easily just told me to wait 6 months. So, thank you." (And as an aside, the remarkable thing to me is that nothing in that initial ultrasound turned out to be was a lump that wasn't even picked up in the original scan!)

She kind of shook her head and told me she couldn't believe it when she'd gotten the call from the breast clinic. "The thing is," she said, "I could've just as easily told you to get another scan in 6 months-I've certainly done that before. I don't know what made me recommend that you get it checked out."

Now, me being me...of course it's my belief that God graciously intervened in that whole scenario. I don't understand it, but I'm thankful all the same. But even besides that, I've been thinking since then about that little nagging voice, that sense of intuition, that gut instinct that people have when it comes to their particular field. My oncologist used this kind of language today when I asked him a question about an aspect of my treatment. He responded that there was wasn't a big body of research for this particular thing I was asking, then he said, "But my gut instinct is...". It's what Malcolm Gladwell talks about in that book Blink. (Which, incidentally, I've never read. Do you ever do that? Summarize books or movies you've never actually read or seen?)

But from what I understand, Gladwell talks about this idea of informed intuition. He calls it "thin-slicing", the ability to assess a situation from a very brief window of exposure to it. Where a person can have a hunch, a snap judgment, a feeling about something that feels spontaneous, but is actually fed by years of their own experience and study. So that, even though they can't necessarily articulate why they have the opinion they hold, they just do. That all those years of study and experience combine in a subconscious moment--a blink, I guess. Me being me again...I think there can definitely be a divine element at work here, too. Not some kind of magical voice necessarily, but a nudge when you need it. Gladwell's point is that we should all tune into this intuition...that we all have it in some way. At least, I think that's his point. I haven't read the book yet, you see.

I've found over the course of the last several months that I'm relying quite a bit on the intuition of these folks. Of course, there's more than that to back them up. Years of research, my own pathology reports, data from thousands of other cases, an established standard of care--it's not like we're operating on spit and fairy dust or something. But, I feel better knowing that they are applying their own "hunches" in taking care of me. In fact, I was talking with my radiation oncologist a few weeks ago about scheduling followup appointments with her. Along with my GP, there are 3 other doctors that are kind of managing different aspects of my treatment. She said something like, "I know it's a hassle to have all these appointments, but we'll space them out, and they'll lessen as time goes on." And I said, "No, I actually like it. The more smart, experienced people looking at me and my case, the better." Team Amy is always looking for more star players. Clearly, it takes a village of experts to keep me operating at full capacity. So we all need to keep our heads in the game. Got that?

I think I'm gonna read that book.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

And just like that

What!? Don't look at me like that. So, I took an unplanned month off. These things happen. To be honest, I was probably too fussy over the last month to say anything y'all wanna hear, anyway.

I had my last day of radiation treatment last Wednesday. Yay! I baked brownies for all the radiation treatment staff and turned in my hospital gown. We all signed each other's yearbooks and promised to K.I.T. over the summer.

It all went just fine. I'll tell you more soon. I'm posting now to say hi, and I missed you. And also cause my dad just sent a very snippy email to my sister and me:

"Saturday will be one full month since either of you has blogged. In recognition of that landmark date there will be no cake and cocktails on the deck at the Briarpatch. Please make no plans to attend.


And because let it never be said that I am not a people-pleaser, LET IT NEVER BE SAID, I ran right over here. Bottom line: I'm doing pretty well, I did not receive the mutant superpowers promised to me in the brochure, but life is good.

More on the details tomorrow!


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How it plays out: Radiation treatment and fashion sense

Monday: "Okay! Just cause you're going to the hospital everyday doesn't mean you can't look nice! Get those skinny jeans on! Let's wear some eyeliner! And your new lip gloss!

Tuesday: "Hmmm, I don't really feel like putting makeup on today, but this headband is cute. Oh, and I think I'll wear my new boots."

Wednesday: "It's cold. I don't wanna take my Uggs off. And these yoga pants are perfectly presentable."

Thursday: "I mean, it's not obvious that I slept in this shirt. I'll just put a bra on and wear it."

Friday: "Okay, so I slept in this shirt, wore it yesterday, and then slept in it again. It's not visibly dirty. Why put on a bra to just take it off again at the hospital? Where's my puffy vest?"

My friends, we are just steps away from me going in my bathrobe. Well, they mention fatigue as a primary side effect of radiation, but no one warned me of a progressive, weakening ability to give a flip about what I'm wearing/how I look. I think this issue alone needs its own ribbon. Ideas?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...or not

This evening, I took the kids out to our local office supply store. I needed to buy an electric pencil sharpener. Which, by the way, do you have any idea how expensive those suckers are? $45 for a battery powered one! Apparently the electric ones are a couple hundred bucks? Whosa whatsa? I can't even. But anyway, that's not even what I meant to say.

As we drove, a news brief came on the radio about a prison nearby that has gone smoke-free as of today. As in, none of the prisoners are allowed to smoke anymore. Can you IMAGINE what that place will be like over the next few days? I get the shakes just thinking about it.

All Ava heard were the words "smoking" and "prisons". So she goes, "Wait, are prisoners allowed to smoke?" I hadn't really been listening to the report, so I said, "I guess they used to, but maybe not anymore. I think in most prisons they can." Meanwhile thinking...there is just no way you can realistically be prepared for the variety of topics that get thrown your way as a parent. It's a good think I took that Sociology class on Correctional Systems! The value of a liberal arts education, right there.

Then Nate says, "Well, they've gotta do something to make prison more fun." 

And it was one of those moments where you just wanna press the pause button, and truly savor, marvel at what comes out of your kid's mouth. (Maybe in fact, like a smoker savors a smoke? Not that I'd know.) Because as hilarious as that statement was...the whole idea of prison being fun defeats the purpose, right? Which Ava was quick to point out. As hilarious as it was, I totally got the heart of what he meant: Geez, those guys are locked up already. This just seems like insult to injury.

And the fact that my 6 year old son, with non-smoking parents and almost no exposure to it, interpreting it as fun? When in fact, all he's ever heard about smoking is how bad it is? Well, like I said, I was marveling.

I laughed out loud, I couldn't help it. It delighted me, in the way that something unexpected and strange does. I know it's cliche to say "I don't know where he gets it from", but I DON'T KNOW WHERE HE GETS IT FROM.  Ava scoffed at the idea of prison being fun. Nate was quiet a moment.

"Ok, then what about lollipops?", he said.