I was in the stairwell close to the 5th floor of the nursing home where my grandmother resides when the phone rang. I paused, startled by the ring, and trying to suppress my slightly out of shape panting before I … Continue reading
I had a list of things to accomplish while I recover from my vocal cord surgery on 3/3. I have been unable to work, preserving my voice for exercises given by my therapist, and brief conversation. But, aside from the inconvenience of not speaking, I have felt pretty well.
That left me with a little time to get a few things done.
I could not push it physically, but I sorted papers, shredded, sent Emails that were overdue, and generally handled things that had fallen by the wayside during the busy nature of life.
I discovered, much to my disappointment, that my attention span for reading has decreased exponentially since spending so much time at a computer screen these last few years. I vowed to get to work on that.
I also discovered that I have an account on the family’s “Netflix” and I learned how to sit still long enough to binge watch some “Law and Order.”
There was time over these three weeks for some honest self-reflection as well.
Sometimes it’s painful to put truth right in front of our own faces, but I had the time to do the work, so I went for it. I already wrote about isolation, and I had some time to think more deeply about what role my own actions play in that. I was able to reconcile that some of it is unavoidable, and some can be mended by me. Balance. I’m on it.
I also took a hard look at my own emotions and how they affect my house.
It is so easy to get “stuck” in the role of caregiver. It is so easy to live a task oriented existence, making sure things get done, and arranging the logistics of life. We may only have one child, but you add into the equation, two of us with a genetic disorder that involves countless appointments, surgeries, therapy and follow-ups things get dicey quickly. Add in that every appointment in NYC is a MINIMUM of 4 hours, and sometimes 6 or more, and the billing that comes with these appointments is at least a part-time job on its own, well, your head can spin. Then, you think about the issues that surround friends and family, illness, disease, financial hardship, emotional distress, and your heart can hurt. When you join that with “regular” stuff, like 2 working parents, a scholar, athlete, theater buff kid, food sensitivities, prescription medication, and anxiety all around – well, it can easily become all-consuming. And it did.
I sat in my office one day, looked around and realized I was unhappy. That was a tough realization.
I am not unhappy with my husband, or my daughter, or the countless blessings in our life. I just became so consumed with getting things done that I forgot myself. Literally.
Sometimes its good to reflect. It’s the only way to get things done.
Last week my sister sent me a box of essential oils. I was skeptical. I bought a diffuser. I feel like peppermint in the air while I work is good for my soul. So is trying something new.
Tuesday I went to Kohl’s. A quiet activity easily done alone. I felt the tension start to release. I picked up a few things for me and for the house. I went out because I WANTED to.
Something amazing happened Tuesday. My husband and my daughter both remarked that I looked happy. I had a story to relay at dinner that was about me. The mood in the house was lighter.
Wednesday I took a nap in the middle of the day. Because I could. Again, I found myself with a little less pressure in my shoulders.
That night I promised myself and my family, no matter how busy things got I would find a way to spend 15-30 minutes every day on SOMETHING I could say truly made ME happy.
I’m a work in progress.
I chose to do a deep cleanse on Thursday and Friday. I was working on my mind, but I had to bring my body along. It had been too long. I had gotten a little lazy in my habits and in my routines. I have this incredible nutritional system at my fingertips and in my home, and sometimes I forget to use it to its full potential.
I woke up this morning having released 5.1 pounds of junk. I started the day with a protein shake full of strawberries. I shopped with my girl this morning. Then, I got to listen to her singing lesson. Now, they watch a movie while I get to write. Then, my little family is off to dinner together.
This week the spring plants that sprouted on 3/3 started to really grow.
The caterpillars that came in on 3/2 have all become butterflies today.
Maybe we all used the same period to try to transform a little. Nothing like a few new butterflies to remind you about new beginnings.
I am focused on this journey now. I may falter along the way, but I will hold true. This feels right. This feels good. And when I feel right and good, it is much easier to remain
I think I blinked, and the calendar changed from October to December. Some weeks I can do nothing more than plan day by day, because to look too far is overwhelming. But, I “lost” the fall in a beautiful way. I lost it shuffling my girl to places she loves to be, and helping her apply to high schools she is excited about. Four years ago I could not have imagined she could keep this schedule. She battles for it every day and I admire every ounce of her determination. I take nothing for granted, and I know a huge “doctor cycle” is soon to be upon us. Meghan’s appointments begin late this month. Mine will overlap, likely culminating in vocal cord surgery. But, for now, for this moment, I am grateful for this chaos. The hint of “normalcy” is not to be left unappreciated.
Today though, I blocked out some time. Today I needed some time to sit in my office and look around. There are beautiful images on the walls of my office from New York City to Washington state – and places in between. Each is carefully watermarked “Leon G. Thompson,” a process that took my husband countless hours. There are thousands of such images on my laptop and several backup drives. You may have no idea who “Leon G. Thompson” was, but I can tell you these pictures are more valuable to me than any you’d find in a museum. Leon G. Thompson was my father, and these pictures are what he left behind on 12/4/13 when cancer snatched him from us far too soon.
“A Few Good Men,” has been far more than a movie title in my life. I was blessed to have 3 grandfathers that shaped who I am. I am equally blessed to say I have had two fathers mold me into the woman I have become. My Mom’s husband Ken came into our lives when I was a teenager, but he has been, and continues to be an unshakeable source of everything from “fun facts,” to computer tech, to house repair and all things in between. There is a special place for a man who steps into a marriage with 2 teenage daughters in tow, treats them as his own from day one, and never skips a beat.
My father, well… let’s just say the early years were rocky.
What I know now, but I didn’t know then, clarifies a bunch. Dad, a Vietnam veteran came home lost. The earliest years are peppered with memories that don’t leave “the warm fuzzies.” The years after that hold memories of fun visits. Dad would come by sometimes. There were movies, and visits to the park and the zoo. There were restaurants, and exciting novelties. But, there was not consistency. There were chunks of empty time. There was a lot of wondering.
Contact got more steady in the teenage years, especially after my brother was born. There were more visits, and more phone calls. But, history sometimes repeats itself, and there were years that faded away again.
Later, after high school, and probably after college too, there was more. Maybe I was ready. Maybe he was. I’m not sure. But, slowly and carefully, over years, a relationship began to form. By the time I got married, I was able to dance with my Dad, (and Ken, and my Pop :-)) and I will cherish the memory forever.
After my daughter was born, he started showing up more. And I liked it.
Hard times came for Dad, and the restaurant industry finally failed him. And that low for him, was the point our relationship became solid. Nothing happens overnight, but he was here. Close. Interested. Available. He helped pick up Meghan. He came to birthday parties, and dance recitals, and swim meets. He came by for Father’s Day and even celebrated a birthday with us.
It was during that time that he first spoke the words I’d been waiting to hear since the second week of my Abnormal Psychology class in college.
“I have PTSD. Do you know what that is?”
“Yep. I know. (and I exhaled a sigh I’d been holding in for years..) And it all gets better from here Dad.”
He was stunned. He had no idea that his entire adult life spent making poor choices, ducking relationships, and often shying away from those who loved him most, were just a few of the symptoms of PTSD. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) He couldn’t imagine that I had already pieced together that unspeakable horror encountered with his Marines in the jungles of Vietnam had impacted, to the point of changing, and really shaping his entire adult life. 13 months in that war, and not a day, a single day, ever went by without it influencing his thoughts and behavior. I was able to pick up from a text-book the reasons why he had shied away from our relationship. I was able to know in my heart that he couldn’t risk expressing his love, showing up, or being truly “present.” But, in that moment, hat moment when he said it THAT is where I got him back.
I can’t say I remember the day. And I may be wrong on the year too. But, it was sometime around 2009. Finally, he was working on his own healing.
And he worked hard.
We spoke more regularly. Once a week usually. Sometimes it was his turn. Most of the time it was mine. As I struggled through raising a chronically ill child, he became my sounding board. He was my confidant of all things. He was where I went to bounce the tough decisions. Because, life had left him a great listener. Raising a child with a rare disease, means often having to make really tough choices alone. When your disease affects only 1 in 200,000 people, experience with it is limited. When Cowden’s Syndrome manifests differently in each of that small number of patients, including myself and my daughter, there is an even lower confidence interval with doctors who often just have no idea by no fault of their own.
It is hard to hear over and over again that a child is ill. Especially, when it is your child, or your grandchild, or one you love so much. I have had to make so many unorthodox medical decisions, that I often just needed someone to hear my thought process, and let me analyze, and over-analyze. I have gone against the doctors to trust an instinct that was strong in my mind and my heart. Dad was the one who could hear it all out. He heard me without speaking. He listened attentively. He offered advice only when I asked, and offered encouragement always. These were not situations where I just needed my ego stroked. These were tough conversations to have, and he never ever shied away from one.
He simply would bring me back to reality. He’d ground me by telling me to use Meghan as my guide. Check on her health, physically and emotionally. Focus. Trust my instincts. Be able to correct wrong decisions whether they are mine or theirs. Still now, three years later I find myself aching for those conversations. She is stronger. She is tougher. She is amazing. But, there are still so many battles to face and so many difficult decisions to make. That’s when I retreat to my office. I sit in his chair, and I look up at the path of snow in central park, or the Washington mountain top, or the waterfall, or the rainbow and I think. I talk the conversation through as if he were here. Because I know he is. I just have to listen really carefully.
Dad told me once that I understood PTSD because Meghan’s medical battles had left me some ways in a similar state to him. When she was younger, and so sick, that perpetual fear of losing her, the hospitalizations, the surgeries, left me with a need to he “hyper” aware all the time. While I could never profess to connect this to the horrors of war, he did. And I think it allowed him to open up with some of his own stories.
Through those years I heard tales from his mouth I had never known. I heard of battles, and losses and names of people, and places. I listened so attentively. Quietly. As he had done for me. Sometimes I even took pen and paper to write down his story. Because I wanted to hang on every word. Because you just never know.
I found out Dad was sick when I made that Friday night phone call in October 2013. His voice sounded a little off and he told me he was in the ICU at the VA Hospital in Brooklyn. When I asked him if anyone knew he said he wasn’t too sure. But, he said, “now you do.” And he laughed, as only he would at that moment.
I got to the hospital the next morning and we went through the details. At that point no one knew anything. Confused doctors was a topic we had spoken about at length.
The 10 weeks that followed were just a long blur. There were about 4 weeks of me forcing his hand to allow me to take him back and forth to his appointments. Sometime after that he admitted he couldn’t drive himself. That was a tough day. I had already called in my sister, and it was time to reach out to my brother in Texas. Family meeting. The “team” assembled.
And through the some of the toughest weeks, I bonded in ways that can never be broken, with a sister I have always had, and a brother who I was getting to know better than I ever had.
Dad was admitted to the VA on Thanksgiving of 2013, and one week later, on December 4th, we were by his side when the angels came to free him. No more suffering. No more PTSD. Pancreatic cancer at age 65.
I dialed his number for months after. I still know it in my heart.
I spent the months after he died cleaning out his apartment. Dad was not a man of many “things.” His iPhone held no Email, and only one photo. “Never want to put too much information in one place,” said the man who in his soul operated always with the mentality of a 19-year-old combat Marine.
As I cleaned I took every single scrap of paper he had ever written on and clipped them together. I laminated them. It was to be the only way we would ever “talk” again. It is Dad’s quotes scattered through this piece.
He loved light. And I guess for a man who had spent so much time fighting the darkness, his love for light made sense.
Dad was, to our family, and friends, a photographer. “Tom” would have a camera around his neck at all times. He took joy out of capturing happiness. He took pleasure at photographing family events, and sharing his photos with everyone. As we sorted through the pictures, in the months and year or so following his death, we saw some incredible images. We sorted out the family shots from the scenery ones. We put up a sharing site for all those family images in case anyone had never seen them. And we protectively shielded his “scenery” images, and carefully watermarked them, and kept great pains to keep them off the internet.
At some point we will organize an art show in his memory. We will print, and sell his treasures. We will find a place to donate any profits that will honor his memory. We will let the world see what he saw. Dad used that camera lens to showcase the light. To view the beauty in the world. Consistently, when I look around I see “Light Through the Lens…” and in doing so I keep his memory alive.
Dad did not leave us rich with money, or objects. He left us rich with visions and memories. The former keeps you satiated for a little while. The latter can keep you fueled forever.
The last gift Dad left for me, was one I did not see coming. In the weeks preceding his death it had become apparent to me that there was a specific incident in Vietnam that clearly should have warranted him a Purple Heart. I gathered data for him, presented the case, and even after denials came in, and he had passed, I kept fighting.
Holly, a treasure in Dad’s life and ours, had held onto a list of names and addresses from a Marine Corps Reunion they had attended many years prior. I reached out to every Marine in that list, and if they were still alive, they reached back. Over 20 of them. 45 years later. I grew up knowing Dad had 7 brothers and a sister. I had no idea of the Marine brothers scattered around the country.
I have had the pleasure of meeting many of them. And this past summer I brought Meghan to meet a few too.
Alan was the first to answer my letter. From West Virginia he called to tell me he remembered crossing time with Dad. He researched the story I told him about the incident. He found it totally credible, and helped me exhaust every option and every appeal to the Department of the Navy. Ultimately that battle was lost on what I call a technicality, but by that time I had a friend and a confidant in Alan, previously a stranger.
My Dad, although not loyal to a particular church, by the time he died had a solid faith in God, forgiveness, and an afterlife.
I do not know the book this came from, but I found this among his clippings…
My Dad in his passing, solidified my relationship with my sister, essentially “gave” me my brother who I had never really “known” but will NEVER let go of, AND, secured for me a confidant in Alan, and gave me the gift of loyalty that Marines save for their own and their families.
He left thousands of photos. Snipits of his own words, and memories of times that we got it right.
sometimes always wish that he would answer when I called him on the phone. But, I know. I know that he is flying free. And I know, that while he needn’t be saddled with the cares of this world, that he checks in. That he is nearby when I need him the most.
So when we are driving in the car and Meghan snaps a shot of a sunrise, or the light coming through the clouds in the sky. When she sees the beauty of the world around her. When she looks for the good. When she keeps her friends list short and neat, I see my Dad. I feel him. I know he’s right there for that moment.
Only when you love deeply do you feel great loss. They all hurt. The oldest to the newest. I can not change the way I love. When I love it is with my whole self. Otherwise, why?
This one hurts differently because it took so long to get it right. But, I rest with the gratitude that we did get it right. And once you get it right, if it’s truly right, nothing before that matters anymore.
You may never know the strength you gave to help us remain
Semper Fi Daddy, Always.
Loved. Missed. Remembered forever.
Meghan loves to swim. I mean, athletically it wasn’t where she started, but the knees. Six surgeries on the right knee, and there was to be no more soccer, and no more dance. After the 6th one, there was to be even no more breaststroke. There is no gym class in school. There is limited walking. There is one foot, a size bigger than the other. The “off sides” that that creates in her body can be quite painful. But, the pool…
Oh, how my girl loves the pool. She is an athlete. She is a competitor. And the pool allows her to be both of those things to the best of her ability.
For the 3rd time in the 4th year since joining swimming, this September brought a new coach for her, and a new group of teammates. There was anxiety about the switch on so many levels. But, as we always say, life has a funny way of working out.
This coach is a perfect fit for her. They practice hard, and often. He is structured, and firm. But he is compassionate, and constructive. He watches. There are sometimes 50 or more swimmers in the pool when he coaches, and I swear he does his best to make some comment to each of them every practice. And, after they compete, his feedback always connects to practice.
And practice, for Meghan, has not been a problem. While maintaining a “Pupil Path” account that no one could ever critique, and planning a major fundraiser, and looking for high schools, and managing doctors appointments, and a mom who doesn’t feel quite herself, this girl has, most weeks, attended practice, Monday, Thursday and Friday afternoon, as well as Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday morning. Quite literally, swimming is good for her health.
Swimming can be a very solitary sport. It takes a good deal of mental toughness to stare at a black line for hours. Interactions with teammates on deck or during dryland (out of water training) are cherished.
Even then, as the “new kid” in the group, you can sometimes wonder about the relationships. Meghan has been very careful not to share too much of her Cowden’s story with these swimmers. She wants to be viewed as one of them, and she is doing a good job holding her own, all by herself.
And then there was today. We were at a meet and she was scheduled to swim the 200 yard butterfly. If you swim, no explanation is needed. If you don’t let me give you a frame of reference. For the group she swam with today, 72 girls swam the 100 yard freestyle. 10 signed up to swim the 200 yard butterfly. It is not an event for the faint of heart.
Meghan feared disappointing, herself, her coach. me. She was scared out of her mind. So scared that it was out of character. Out of character for a child that has had 17 surgeries, and countless tests. ER visits, and hospitalizations. She was that scared.
And as the race approached I watched helplessly from the stands as she began to unravel. And I watched with a grateful heart as teammates picked her up and put her back together again.
The one who I can only say was acting as my angel, talked her right onto the block. It only took a second of my attempt to video the race to see that something was terribly wrong. There sat her goggles, first mid face, then in her mouth occluding her breathing. In butterfly you can not break stroke. At the end of the first 50 she stopped. She was done.
My heart sank, and ached for her. I wanted to pick her up and hug her, and take her back to the rocking chair I used to use when she was a baby. But she’s 13 now – so I could only watch.
The official came to her and asked if she wanted to try again in the next heat. There were 2 lanes open. She said yes. And as they placed her in one heat, her friend, my angel, came to the official and asked if Meghan could swim, “in the lane next to me.” She said yes, and as Meghan barely got settled on the block, another teammate flagged the official to wait a moment. Meghan’s goggles were still not on.
The start went fine this time. The goggles stayed on. And she did it. The whole thing.
By the time she got to her last 2 laps, most of the other girls were finishing. But, then there was more magic. There was cheering, from her teammates and strangers alike. There was a push for her to get finished, to press on, and to make it. So, she did.
I think I cried the last two laps. I was struck by this child of mine, her life, the adversity, and the stubbornness. The ability to not give up. The desire to be normal, and to succeed. And as she touched the wall her team mate, that same angel, swam right into her lane and gave her the biggest, most genuine hug.
She did it.
Not too shabby for the first time. And more than one teammate whom she respects greatly told her they gave her credit for getting up and trying it again. So did her coach.
Meghan isn’t the “cool” kid. She sometimes struggles a little. But, she remains true to herself at all times.
Today, she got to see the kindness in others. It was pure. It was genuine. It was unsolicited. It was the best kind.
13-18 year olds can be a tough group. But these kids showed today that when they are left at their “default” setting, when they are alone and see soemone hurting, they will choose kindness and compassion.
She is asleep. Tomorrow is another day of swimming. But, those events won’t cause this angst.
Gratitude fills my heart, that once again even at the toughest moment, good shines through.
And as she said goodnight, she told me, “Next month, when I swim the 200 fly…”
Endurance. Persistence. Stamina.
Resting your voice is not like resting your knee, or your shoulder. Resting your voice is more like resting your heart, or your lungs.
Something is kicking my butt. And I’m not sure what it is, but I am so not in the mood anymore.
This has been one chaotic stretch.
FInally recovered, mostly from my way too soon implant exchange in August, and my broken toe 2 weeks after, I am battling with trouble in a place I least expected to find it.
This summer I heard, “vocal cord nodules” for the first time, after feeling somewhat hoarse since April. I was quickly reassured by tons of people that these are “normal” and would resolve if I was careful. The doctor didn’t say too much, besides directing me to begin vocal therapy and return in three months.
I knew enough to listen when I was told to start therapy, and I did. Begrudgingly, and convinced it was bogus, I made my way to the recommended therapist. We got in a few visits before school, and then had to switch to weekly as my schedule just wouldn’t allow more.
For about four sessions I felt utterly ridiculous. Then I started to “get it.”
I struggled when I started work, and was told to purchase a “tour guide” microphone. I did, and the small 20 amp speaker with its wireless microphone have been an incredible help. Despite looking like a frustrated pop singer, I am able to talk longer, and with less strain. I am learning to speak differently, and in ways that are often unnatural to me, all with the desired end result being to reduce the stress, impact, and inflammation on my vocal cords.
I saw the doctor for a follow-up on October 11, and I got a very “Cowden’s-like” mixed report. I was told that the vocal therapy had decreased the inflammation. (YAY!) However, the reduction of inflammation makes me a better surgical candidate. (I had really hoped I could just make it go away.) AND, there was now a new, or newly visible “striking zone lesion” on the other side. Both of the lesions were not “typical,” and would not resolve alone. Both lesions appeared to have vascularity to them. And, the “striking zone lesion” was irregular in shape.
Despite his 99% comfort that the lesions were benign, I left with instructions to continue therapy, and to plan on having surgery close to the summer to remove the lesions. I was told for the first time ever, that I would need to practice COMPLETE VOCAL REST for 7 days post operatively, AND for the next 7 days, I would speak approximately 1 minute for every hour. The next several weeks would entail a slow progression back to my full voice use. The thought of it completely freaked me out.
At voice therapy, there were conversations about Cowden’s Syndrome, and our tendency towards over-scarring. The very real possibilities of what excessive scarring would do were discussed in a casual conversation. By this time I am comfortable, and confident in the therapist. She is smart, witty, and honest. She’s real without being painful. She also cares – about me, as a human, a teacher, a mom and a wife.
So, I had really hard conversations with my husband about the future, and I strengthened my resolve. I charged my microphone, and I found the voice that exists out of my throat. I have started to shorten my sentences. I’m learning.
About 3 weeks ago it started to get worse. Slowly and steadily worse. Every day I would do my exercises, and I just couldn’t get the sounds. My air was becoming a battle. The inhaler became a part of many days. I slept as much as I could. I stayed hydrated and took extra vitamin C. I ran no fever, but my chest felt full. My head was pounding.
I stopped using the phone for anything but texting. That was NOT the turn of events I needed, as I was struggling to keep up with people anyway.
Finally, I went to the urgi-center. I was told I had “a lot of fluid” in my head. I changed the allergy medicine. I took a nasal spray. I got a short course of antibiotics because it was lingering, even though I had no fever. I upped the saline, and the steam.
I barely, and I do mean barely, got through the day Friday.
Saturday I sat at therapy, so frustrated. She was so patient. So wonderful. She told me she had been researching Cowden’s Syndrome, and there wasn’t a lot out there on its connection to the vocal cords. We had kind of established that even if the Cowden’s didn’t cause the lesions, we still have to proceed knowing my body has Cowden’s and it affects everything. We can NOT scar the vocal cords.
She had looked at my exams from July and October. Side by side. Frame by frame. And very clearly stating, “I’m not a doctor, but…” I hung on every word. I processed them with respect. Some of our best help through the years has come with the premise of “I’m not a doctor, but…”
Vocal rest. That’s where we’re at right now. I am supposed to rest my voice when I am not teaching.
This is NOT an easy task. I’ve been at it for 4 hours now and I may lose my mind.
This is isolation at its worst.
The lesions won’t heal themselves. I can just get ready for when I need to heal. I can prepare for a lifetime of speaking in a way that babies my voice. I can practice being silent when it is so much the antithesis of my nature.
This time beating cowdens will require patience, strength of mind, and stamina.
It’s messing with me. But I’ve got this. I’ve got this.
If you don’t hear from me… try my email. Or texting. My typing skills will be improving greatly….
** Finding the balance has been a real struggle of late. This has been in my drafts for 10 days…**
I’m writing from the floor in the hallway of the college gym. Meghan’s swim team practices below. For hours. One day I will be able to drop her off and get a few things done. But, not yet. Not now.
I sit in the hall, out of view of my girl underneath. Out of view of her coaches who undoubtedly must think me paranoid. There isn’t another parent here. These are the big kids- 8th through 12th grade. And I’m not here because I don’t trust her. Quite the opposite. I sit here for the unpredictable. For the moments that take us from 0 to 180 in the blink of an eye. And even as I recognize that emergencies happen to anyone. At any time. I am here. Because history, track record, can not be erased or forgotten. I will pull away, slowly.
In the mean time I FINALLY got all my classes together, up and running, and pretty organized. Formative assessment is in place. Lessons are polished up, and I can take the 50 minutes each week that I see the 575 or so chilren as seriously as I like to.
Which is timely because it fell right into High School application season. Yes, season. 30 years ago this was not even a process. Now it’s an ordeal. These are tests to take for every type of school one is interested in. There are then scholarship tests to try to pay for the non- public ones. Open houses, “shadowing” appointments, where she goes to the school for the day to “see.”
This all seems to culminate by some time in December and then be followed by 2 months of waiting. It’s amazing how much “hurry up and wait” there really is.
And I am left to sit here. Quietly. I will her body to do as she wants. I that the right high school for her, is the one she attends. And, I watch as 8th grade starts to pass by.
Your experiences shape you. Your disease doesn’t define you. But, in our case it provides, stamina, endurance. tenacity, grit, and a tendency to want to over-achieve. Not a terrible list of negatives.
“Normal” is a relative term, constantly changing. When we are on the brink of better health, we sometimes find ourselves guilty of waiting for the other shoe to drop. We are often guarded and on the defensive. It’s hard not to be.
This past month a former student buried his mother and father 2 weeks apart. He is Meghan’s age, and while he had step-siblings, he was the only child of his parents. I haven’t had him out of my mind much.
These warnings, these screenings, these appointments, these surgeries, at times leave me down. But, not for long. We’ve been ordered to be vigilant.
There are no promises.
Today bleeds into tomorrow. September just about swallowed up October. And October seems hungry for November.
Stop. Or at least pause. Enjoy the process, no matter how tedious or taunting it may seem.
Hug your family. Call your friends. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Send a text. Stay in touch.
And I, I will be working on taking my own advice!
So, the night I was recovering from my breast surgery on August 19th, I haphazardly checked my Email.
There sat an Email from Meghan’s endocrinologist that shook me out of my anesthesia recovery pretty quickly. There is no time “in between” because there is usually SOMETHING going on. Overlap is a way of life.
Meghan had had lab work drawn the 3rd of August. Routine thyroid labs, and some tests from the gyn worked in. On the 18th the EMail from the gyn told me she was suspicious of a few lingering “issues” and we would address them at her late fall appointment.
The endocrinologist’s EMail said he was concerned about the resurgence of her “thyroglobulin” levels. He wanted to now treat her as a “high risk” thyroid cancer patient.
I almost dropped the phone, alone in my dark room. The last paragraph said he’d be on vacation for two weeks, and we could talk when he returned. I read. And I reread.
Decoding step by step – “thyroglobulin” is created solely by thyroid tissue. Someone with a complete thryoidectomy would have non-detectable levels about 3 or so months post operatively. Only thyroid tissue generates thyroglobulin. If some was left behind after her surgery a small number would have stabilized early. But for it to be gone, and then show up… This meant there had to be regrowth. And yes, it happens. Maybe to everyone, but definitely people with Cowden’s Syndrome. We regrow lymphoid tissue.
It’s a superpower of sorts. Except instead of being a really fun, save the world, or generate sunshine and happiness, superpower, it’s more of the – hey let’s add some more worry to your life superpower.
While the pathology on the thyroidectomy was totally benign, the mind can play lots of tricks. Lots of tricks.
I’m not slow. I am pretty well read. I’m equipped with the knowledge that having faith and worry are counterintuitive. Except I’m honest. And with matter of my girl, worry sometimes overwhelms. I never claimed to be perfect.
So I spent the last 6 or 7 weeks retreating. I barely spoke of this fear, this nagging thought that not only could the thyroid be growing again, but what if… what if all those precancerous things that we took out with it were somehow festering.
I made it my job to access the lab work. And it was a JOB. You would have thought what I was asking for just to see a list of messed up thyroid numbers. We live in a pretty crazy society. But, finally, after 2 weeks of labor, and getting increasingly vocal, I received 4 copies. All on different days. All from different people. But, I got to look at the numbers.
I am a numbers person, so I took some relief in the thyroglobulin being only 3. Undetectable was better, but 3 was on the better end of things. It was clearly well under that “10” I had found. So I took to waiting and ticking away the days until the next blood test. There was a thyroid dose change, and 6 weeks.
I broke my toe while recovering from the implant exchange, a few weeks after learning I was suffering not only from a single vocal cord lesion, but vocal atrophy secondary to premature aging, the latter which was likely due to the hysterectomy that became necessary after the breast cancer diagnosis in 2012.
And yes, I meant that to be a run-on.
It all kept me as occupied as I could while I hid in the start up chaos of September. I hate September. But, when you’re suffering personal angst and need cover under which to hide – it’s September for the win. I poured myself into setting up 25 classes, and over 550 students, logistically, and academically. It took some time.
And I kind of just ducked. Phone calls, texts… I played along.
“High Risk” thyroid cancer patient… like a recurring nightmare.
One of the reasons I was afraid to talk was the fear that someone would talk to be about thryoid cancer being the “best” cancer. Please, no one ever do that. When it comes to my child, a survival rate in the 90%s doesn’t soothe me. When it comes to my child, I, like every other parent want 100%. Nothing less.
I was scared.
We got the labs drawn at the hospital on Weds. the 28th.
On the 30th I was exploding. Every second seemed like an hour. Every scenario was playing through my head. So when I got the call that the test wouldn’t be ready till Monday I dissolved into a tiny puddle.
And then I did what every other mother does. I put on my big girl pants and got through the weekend.
Then Monday there was a brief phone call.
The thyroglobulin has returned to undetectable.
WHAT? How does that even happen? I sent out a million questions rapid fire. Most of them had no answer.
Crisis averted. Prayers answered.
I explained to Meghan why her Mom had been a bit extra on edge. She’s really growing up because she was grateful to have not traveled that mental journey with me, and appreciated me letting her in when it mattered.
Next blood test November 11. And we’re going with the theory that the thyroglobulin was a one time deal. An error. A miracle. Whatever. A win.
We’ve got 6 weeks. Some Mommy doctors. Some swim meets. 6 weeks. Sometimes that feels short. Right now it’s blissfully long.
On my knees in gratitude, we remain…
September is a marathon of sorts. Although all the training in the world can never quite prepare you for the twists and turns needed to navigate it through to completion.
September is establishing new routines, in my own classroom, and in our lives. September is learning new students, and new teachers.
Each year, it is about pushing our bodies farther than we have ever been able to. It is not just about surgical recoveries, or broken toes, it is about swim. So much swim. It’s about swim before sun-up, and afternoons too. It is about drama and singing and doctors in between. It’s about finding the inner strength to press on.
It’s about balancing it all. Work, school, after school, meetings, and the like. It’s about stopping to find the beauty, and the sunrise, and the simple pleasures along the way.
This life, this chronically ill life is lonely. I’m not going to lie, or even try to sugar coat it. It is lonely. But, we three in this house embrace and press on. Because, really, there is no alternative.
There is no fault, no anger, no resentment. Reality is that every moment is spent using all the “spoons” we have to get through. At this moment there are no extras. Family and friends who comprehend will still be there with open arms when there is a “spoon” or two to spare. The rest will have found their own way, and that is a loss we will have to take in stride.
Everyone has something. All lives are busy. All lives have joy, and angst. All we can do is take what is in front of us and do the best we can with what we have where we are.
The worry in my heart runs deep. There is reason for it, yet I battle it all the time. It can not, nor will it, define me, or our lives. Regardless, it lingers always, lurking in the shadows.
My girl continues to amaze and impress with wisdom beyond her years.
For her birthday Meghan had a very specific request this year. One of her gifts was, “The Unabridged Poetry of Robert Frost.” I was familiar only with one of his most famous poems. Meghan read this book fervently for most of August. I think I understand why now.
Lab work tomorrow to keep those thyroid hormones in check. We need our strength to remain
Friday, I tripped over something in my hallway. I wasn’t looking. I ended up against the wall, screaming all sorts of words that I am sure were inappropriate for my daughter to hear. But, for about 60 seconds I let … Continue reading
“Count your many blessings, name them one by one…” Grandma used to sing years ago when we would complain about nonsense. She was a little tough sometimes my Grandma, and maybe that’s where I got it from. But, many times she was right, whether we listened or not. (Maybe that’s where I got that from too? ;-))
I like numbers. They are logical. They are what they are. In a world that often makes no sense at all, I find order in numbers.
Except sometimes I’m faced with the question of what to do when numbers become overwhelming in and of themselves.
This marks the 400th post on this blog. While it’s by no means a masterpiece, when I sometimes poke through old posts I remember so much of where we’ve been. It’s a definite roadmap of our journey, and Meghan and I take great pleasure when people from around the world reach out to us and cite the blog as a source of comfort and strength.
Cowden’s Syndrome is rare enough that it can be a lonely diagnosis. Being able to reach people the world over has been a victory for us, and them.
With over 170,000 hits on various posts I know we are getting the word out. Slowly.
I might have wanted to celebrate this post. I might have wanted to make it really special. But, I’m counting something else today.
Today was the 17th time I’ve gotten off the phone with the nurse, giving me pre-operative directions for my daughter. Today, I listened as I always do, reciting the directions in my mind before she spoke. Really my only interest was the time. The rest is routine. I want to stop counting. I want to just go with it. I can’t give you an exact count on mine anymore – because once you’re a mom, well, you just focus more on what’s important. And you become less important. And that is a gift, denied to many, cherished and appreciated.
Somehow though, if I stop counting for her, it makes her struggle feel less valid. The numbers give her strength. A badge of courage. Something concrete in this world of abstract.
My post last night was about “Patience”
And as I poked around the blog this morning I was taken back years, through so many similar posts.
Their similarities are uncanny. I guess the story doesn’t change much. Hurry up, wait, surgery, wait, recovery, wait, follow up, wait…
So I’ll leave this 400th post as unremarkable. Nothing has changed. Nothing will change. And that’s the precise reason we keep counting, and keep telling our story.
Tomorrow, surgery number 17. 9:15 arrival. As usual, prayers always appreciated.