Jun 24, 2011

10 Days for 10 Years ... Day 10!

Day 10
Well, my friends, you did it! You made it through 10 days and I can’t thank you enough.
There are so many sayings that could apply to my journey:
That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 
God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.
Shit happens.
Because I knew you, I have been changed for good…
I have been changed.
Every day, no matter how bad things look, I have a gauge that they could be so much worse and I survived.
It’s an amazing thing being able to look back over the last 10 years.
The people who came into my life and touched it forever. 
The friends I’ve made.
The friends I’ve lost.
The people who were friends in the beginning, Dina and Rochelle, who became my sisters through blood transfusions and sass.
Most people don’t get to see the impact their existence has on the world until their gone…
I ‘ve been blessed I saw how many people fought to keep me here and the impact that has had on me is worth every drop of chemo, every tear shed, every moment of anxiety I ever felt.
If I could hope for just a few things that people can take away from the past 10 days is that:
1.       you are so much stronger than you ever give yourself credit.
2.       faith will see you through anything .
3.       Love never fails.
Mark and I are happily married.
I don’t deserve him.  Even 10 years looking back at the journals I realized how unhappy I was and Mark was the easiest person to blame.  I’ve also learned that the prince charming; the hot stud in the romance novels; the knight in shining armor I’d dreamed of for so long … I married him 13 years ago.  And, just like those novels, I almost lost him. 
Cancer free was one blessing.
I received three more when my system “came on line” (I love Dr. Chawla’s terminology.)
I carried to full term three little boys. 
Jacob is seven and starting second grade.
Dylann is five and a kindergartner
Logann will be three in August.
I look at them and pray they never have to experience cancer. I pray that only happiness and health follows them … just like any mother.  I tend to squeeze them a little tighter and always, always thank God for the blessing of having them.
My family is still a loud Italian family that meets for weekly family dinners.  I think we all just appreciate each other a little bit more.
I still see Dr. Chawla on a yearly basis.
I walk by the chemo room and see all the terror in the eyes of the first timers. I hope they see me and say one day that will be me.  I hope they know they are in amazing hands of a doctor whose compassion is matched only by his knowledge of sarcomas. 
When I leave after my check-ups he always pulls me in for a big bear hug and says, “I’m so proud of you.” Even 10 years later, I still need to hear those words.
After losing Kim, I had another Shawshank Redemption moment; not a moment from the movie but my own personal mantra: 
For every ounce of sadness I experience I will replace it with a pound of happiness.
I’d like to share some of those moments with you…
Thank you again for taking the time to follow our journey.
I know how precious time is and the fact that you were willing to spend 10 days with me humbles me.

Jun 23, 2011

10 Days for 10 Years ... Day 9

Day 9

I spent yesterday cleaning and clearing all aspects of my life.
Everything that went to the hospital or chemo room I tossed.
Blankets, sweatshirts, pajama bottoms, even the smell of the cucumber and melon lotion …
they all make me nauseous.
I guess I’m trying to put all of this behind me.
I don’t think I ever will…
It’s a part of me.
As much as I have curly hair, I had cancer.
I found this passage today:
Mark 5:34
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.
Go in peace, and be healed of your disease"
But what do I do now?
At least with chemo there was a plan.
There was step 1, step 2, and step 3. I knew where I was and where I needed to be. Now, in remission, there’s just uncertainty and fear.
I spent the next few months dreading my two month checkups and slipping further and further into a deep depression.
The only glimmer of hope, when I wasn’t fearing a recurrence, was that my body “came back on line”.  Now all we had to pray for was that my eggs weren’t damaged.
We met with Dr. Chawla today. 
Good news all around. Everything is looking good.
 I don’t have to go back for another 2 months! 
And, provided everything goes to plan, we can try to have children next year…

Kim and I spent the next few months chatting through emails.
Every now and again a phone call. 
I could hear the same terror in her voice that was in my soul. 
January 16th, 2002 I watched Kim run the Olympic torch down a stretch of the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles. 
Yes, she ran … free and unassisted. 
She had broken loose of whatever fear had gripped her heart; the same fear I was still fighting.

That night at my mom’s house my brothers were watching Shawshank Redemption when we came back from the Olympic torch relay. 
I was still frightened.
Still scared to dream past today.
And four and half years to cancer free seemed like an eternity. 
God works in mysterious ways …
I wasn’t living. I was hiding and waiting. Praying that nothing went wrong.
It was time for me to “get busy living”, because I had fought too hard to “get busy dying”.
I stood up and breathed free air for the first time… I was free.
In February 2002, Mark and I got pregnant.
In March 2002, Kim got pregnant.
In November of 2002 I gave birth to a beautiful little boy named Jacob. 
Kim gave birth to a little girl named Emma … and her cancer came back.
Devastation and grief knocked a walking confident girl in remission down to her knees. 
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be…
I couldn't-

We lost Kim to cancer two years later.

I was pregnant with my second little boy, Dylann.
And I had just lost my chemo buddy…
There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t look at Jacob and think about Kim and Emma.  Moments of grief and guilt plague me when I think of all of the wonderful moments and amazingness of Kim that Emma is missing out on or will never know. 
Survivor’s guilt is almost as bad as living through chemo… almost.
But I know Kim wouldn’t want me to live in a world of grief; a world of regret.
So I live and I pray that one day we find a cure.
I pray that no one ever has to experience what Mark and I went through.
Then I crawl into my bed at home with my husband and three little boys and thank God for the gifts He’s given me.
I hope…

this video will take you away from the site to YouTube, but I loved
the complete clip...

Jun 22, 2011

10 Days for 10 Years ... Day 8

Day 8

After nine days in the hospital and three days to recoup we started round three.  I was beat down, but I was still humming SURVIVOR in my head even if my chemo buddy wasn’t there.
After round three, my counts plummeted like the Time's Square Ball on New Year’s Eve.  Painful blistering sores started popping up on the corners of my mouth, the insides of my mouth, and down my throat.  Within two days of being off the chemo pump, I couldn’t swallow water. I wasn’t even eating Jell-O because it felt like I was swallowing shards of glass.
When I walked into Dr. Chawla’s office, I was chanting: “Counts will be high! Counts will be High! COUNTS WILL BE HIGH!” willing my body’s immune system to at least kick in this round.
Thanksgiving was four days away. I was determined to watch the kick off to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at my momma’s house eating breakfast sausage and biscuits while the turkey was cooking in the oven.
I was ninety-five pounds of determined affirmations.
But as usual, Vickie came out with my lab results, “You got to go to the hospital.”
That was it.
I couldn’t take it anymore.
I pulled my legs up to my chest, and a tear ran down my face.
“I’m not going,”  I said to her just as Dr. Chawla walked by the chemo room.  “I’m not going,” I said to him in an almost teenage-slam-the-door-what-are-ya-gonna-do-about-it tone.
All of the chemo patients sucked in air waiting for Dr. Chawla’s response.
They may have secretly been screaming, “Hell no we won’t go!"
But outwardly, they, like me, knew I wasn’t going anywhere but the hospital.
Dr. Chawla came over to my Lazyboy. I pulled my legs up tighter to my chest like I was assuming some sit-in stance.  Mark was by my side getting ready to toss me over his shoulder and fireman carry me to USC’s transplant ward if need be.  Vickie was shaking her head like she’d seen this tantrum so many times before.
“Why don’t you want to go?” Dr. Chawla said.  He bent down in front of me, so his eyes were level with mine.  There wasn’t condemnation or accusation in his eyes; he genuinely wanted to hear what absurd rational answer I could give him as to why I wasn’t going.  
“Because if you stick me in the hospital today, I won’t be out for Thanksgiving … and… and the parade!” The lone tear turned into tears and then sobs.
Dr. Chawla patted my knees and looked at Vickie, “What are her counts?”
Vickie rambled off my near zero counts as Dr. Chawla took the lab report and studied it.
“If I promise you, you will be home on Thanksgiving for your Turkey-- even if it’s for that one day-- will you promise me  you’ll go back to the hospital tomorrow.”
I shook my head emphatically yes.
Then he looked at Mark, “You’ll bring her back to the hospital; first thing in the morning?”
Mark hesitated.

I knew he didn’t want me leaving unless I was perfect, but I was far from it. I was ninety-five pounds of faltering hope, and if a turkey dinner was what I needed then by God that’s what I was going to get.  He shook his head and then lowered it in defeat.
“After this round, no more chemo cocktail,” Dr. Chawla said as he patted my legs and stood up.
“Wait, wait,” I pulled at his lab coat. It felt like punishment. He was taking away my chemo cocktail. “You said four rounds of cocktail. You said…”
“It’s okay, Mindy.” He walked back over to me and got back down on my level.  “Three rounds is good enough.”
“But I can do four.”
“It’s not necessary.” He smiled his warm, hopeful smile.  “After this you’re off chemo until your surgery.  Vickie, schedule the surgery.”
I didn’t make it home for the kickoff of the parade, but I did make it home for Turkey. Next morning I checked back into the hospital for seven more days of transfusions in my isolation room.

Christmas was spent with me off chemo and getting ready for my January 4th surgery.
I woke up from the surgery to my mom whispering excitedly in my ear, “Mindy, wake up.  They got it all! Your margins are clear.  Mindy, wake up.  100% clear margins.  Mindy, wake up.  You did it. It’s all dead.”
 When I went back to the chemo chair at the end of January, I was on the cleanup rounds.  Five rounds of methotrexate and my chemo buddy, Kim, was back!
 Round after round, month after month we sat in our black lazy boys and dreamed about the future.  Kim wanted to walk down the aisle.  Not walk on a crutch, not walk with a cane, she wanted to walk down the aisle. She wanted to be a mom. We talked about babies and kids. We even secretly plotted that she would have a girl, and I would have a boy and they would be fated lovers whose mother's met in the chemo room.
Of course, that meant we both had to “come back on line”.
In May, Kim finished her last round and gave me a big hug on her second birthday.  That’s what they call it when you’re unplugged for the last time.  The chemo nurses and the patients sing happy birthday to you, because, from that day forward, you’ve been given a second chance at life.
“I’m going to check in on,” Kim said as she squeezed me goodbye.  “You have my email and my cell. Call me if you need me.”
“I will.” I choked back the tears.  I still had two rounds to go.
“I’m going to call you,” Kim said as she walked out the door.
It felt like I was being left in prison, and my friend was escaping.  The room seemed to dull as Kim left. The hum of the chemo machines drowned out the melody of happy birthday.  And we were back to saving lives.
The end, being so close, bring all kinds of different feeling to the surface. 
I just emailed Kim to see how she dealt with the last round. 
I’m almost numb. 
Like I don’t want to get too excited for fear that it won’t be the last one. 
But Dr. Chawla said my MRI and CAT scan came back clean, and everything looks good. 
I see all the new people starting or on their 2nd round and can remember when that was me. 
I’m tired of people thinking of me and saying, “Awe, poor little cancer girl.” 
I want them to see me and say, “What a survivor” so I can answer,
“Look what God has done.”  
I hope He is looking down on me, pleased…
I hope.

June 25th, 2001 Dr. Chawla unplugged me for the last time.  He smiled that ever-famous smile and said, “I’m so proud of you.”
I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear that from him.
Vickie smiled and shook her head, “ Happy Birthday, Mindy.  No more hospitals.”
My fellow chemo patients sang Happy Birthday.
I left happy … empty and scared.
I needed to call Kim. This couldn’t be normal.

Jun 21, 2011

10 Days for 10 Years ... Day 7

Day 7
The body is an amazing thing.
 It wants to be healthy.
 It wants to live and it wants to thrive.
October  19th, 2000
My body is doing some really interesting things…
my period has stopped and ALL of my hair has fallen out.
Not just my head hair, but my nose hairs, my eyebrows and yes, even my vay-down-there hair.
 I’m like a cue-tip.
  I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to hope everything comes back.
You know what’s surreal?
 I know in my heart I’m going have children.
 That this situation is temporary. 
I’m finding a complete trust in my Lord and …
probably the happiest I’ve ever been.
By the second round of chemo cocktail I had Destiny Child’s SURVIVOR running through my head on endless loops.
Kim and I would hum it when we could see the other starting to cave.  Chemo is a mental game. You have to focus on your chemicals killing the cancer and not killing you.  It’s  a twenty-four hour game and it’s pretty exhausting.
As I was ending my second round, Kim was getting ready for her surgery.  She had a sarcoma in her femur and the good doctors at USC were going to basically fillet her thigh muscle, cut out her femur and put a new titanium one in.
No problem, right?
 Kim getting ready for her surgery meant that she was off chemo for four weeks and that meant I was on my own.  My counts didn’t last past my first blood check.
Vickie came back shaking her head and said, “You got to go to the hospital.”
That meant more transfusions and at least a week in the hospital.
It also meant I could be spending Halloween in the hospital.
Back to the transplant ward I went.
The first week past and my counts were still low.
I was also building an anti-body that was fighting the blood and platelet transfusions. Finding blood that my body would accept was now going from not just my blood type but to a four point matching system. I need four points and the blood banks couldn’t find it.
Mark wouldn’t leave my side, except to go to school and work, and when he had to, my dad would be there with me. 
They were like a tag team.
My dad would leave around seven or eight.
Mark had snuck a board the width of the chair into my room and hidden it in my closet.  At night he would stick the board between two chairs and sleep holding my hand.
One night we were watching the Saturday Night Live Presidential Special.  The lights were off and only the TV lit my room.  He looked over at me and said, “this is exactly what we’d be doing if we were at home.”
“Yeah, but you’d be in bed with me.”
“Scooch over,” he said and climbed into my hospital bed with me. 
The nurse tried to shoo him out, when she came in to check my vitals, but he wouldn’t leave me…
He wouldn’t leave me.  

Jun 20, 2011

10 Days for 10 Years ... Day 6

*just a side note:  I didn't post yesterday because it was Father's day.  My gift to Mark: no living in the past; we just enjoyed the day.  Hope you all don't mind.*

Day 6
Dictionary.com defines the following word:
1. having or showing unaffected simplicity of nature or absence of artificiality; unsophisticated; ingenuous.
2. having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous:
3. having or marked by a simple, unaffectedly direct style reflecting little or no formal training or technique: valuable naive 19th-century American portrait paintings.
4. not having previously been the subject of a scientific experiment, as an animal.
My personal favorite … number 4.
I’d never been the subject of a scientific experiment and quite frankly me and chemo were a pass/fail course.
The next day I came back my “counts” –counts are basically the makeup of your blood, white blood cell counts, platelet counts and red blood cell counts— were horrible. The head chemo nurse, Vickie, shook her head and in her oh so thick accent said, “You come back tomorrow, we’ll see if you have to go to the hospital.” 
“Hospital?”  The thought of me ever having to stay in a hospital never occurred to me.  It was as foreign as the port-a-catheter in my chest.
“Yes, hospital. We can’t have you bumping into a table and bleeding to death.” Then she laughed like this was the punch line we’d all been waiting for.
“Wh- what’s that?”
“You’re counts are low if they go lower it’s too dangerous for you.” Vickie looked at my husband, “If she has fever over 100 you go to the nearest emergency room and they’ll call us.  We’ll transfer her here.”
That night Mark and I played temperature roulette.
Every 30 minutes Mark would have me take my temp. I negotiated me taking the temperature because I knew I was well over 100 but I was NO WAY going to the hospital.  The clever girl that I am, I figured out how to hold the ear thermometer just outside my ear so it would register 99 maybe 100, but NEVER the true temp of 103 sometimes 104.    When it started creeping up to 104.5 I started getting a little worried.
How would it look if I had a febrile seizure?
Maybe I did need to go to the hospital? 
When I gave Mark the actual temp it was almost nine o’clock that night.  We’d been playing temperature roulette for almost 6 hours.
Long story short I ended up at USC’s University Hospital on the Transplant Ward.
Remember, my HMO contracted with USC, but NOT Norris.  I couldn’t stay in the cancer wing so the administrators thought transplant, cancer, transplant, cancer.
When midnight rolled around my final blood counts stood as follows:
WBC (white blood cell count, they’re your fighting cells) = near 0. 
Normal would be 4300 to 10800.
Platelets (those make you scab & bruise instead of bleed like a faucet) = 0.
Normal would be 150,000 to 450,000
RBC (Red Blood Cell count) = low. 
That’s all it said, low.  I figured it wasn’t zero or I’d be dead. 
My new nurse tucked me into an isolation room. 
No one without mask, robes or booties could come in. 
No outside food for fear of mishandling or parasites.
And no flowers or balloons. 
I spent a week in isolation trying to get my counts back to a safe level.
I needed blood.
I needed platelets
I needed out of isolation…
I also needed to shave my head.
On day two, I told Mark to get the clippers.  My hair was falling out in clumps and it hurt.  When my nurse walked in Mark had my hair up in one hand and the clippers in the other.  He looked like he was about to scalp me.
“What are you doing?!”
“Shaving my head.” I lifted just my eyes; Mark’s ponytail grip was pretty tight.  I think he thought I was a runner.
“Are. Are you sure. Are you sure you want to do that?”
“Either I take it or the chemo takes it.” I thought a moment. That would be my new mantra. I was taking back the small part of my life even if it meant going without.  “Shear me baby.”
The nurse stood there awestruck.  My shots on her tray along with a bag of blood or platelets for my first of many, many, many transfusions and watched my husband shave my head.

I walked into the hospital something like this…

And left like this…
it's okay, you can gasp.
I still do...

Jun 18, 2011

10 Days for 10 Years ... Day 5

Chemo day…
I know you probably think that I’d be dreading this day, but really, when you’re told you have cancer all you want is for it to be out.
“Get it out!”
“Get it out!”
“Get it out!”
It’s a never ending chant, running loops, over and over again in your head.  It’s like a bee has landed on you.  You can feel it crawling up your neck; humming in your ears.  Fingers of fear seize your sanity and make you crazy. 
Same when you’re told you have cancer.
At the same time, the way you “get it out” is just as frightening.
They were accessing my port.
You know I googled it.
Asked other people if they knew how it felt.
I have a bit of a vivid imagination so you can only imagine the crazy ideas that went through my mind.
The other thing… would I feel the chemo?  Would I know instantly that I was poisoning my body?
Today I took my seat in the lazy-boy chemo room.
“This is Kim.” Dr. Chawla said as he showed me to my seat.  “I think you two will get along nicely.” Kim had a magnetic smile that lit her eyes up with enthusiasm and she was bald.
“Just breathe.”  She said as I sat down.
“What does accessing your port feel like?”  Rushed out of my mouth.
“That’s what you’re worried about?”  She smiled and patted my hand that had a cat like death grip on the arm of the chair. “It feels like a shot.  You’ll feel a cool rush from the saline wash and then nothing.”
She was right.
Past the first prick of the needle and the cool rush, I didn’t feel anything.
No body seizing in revolt.
No immediate vomiting.
I sat and watched Oprah with Kim and my mom.
Chemo wasn’t so bad…
After six hours in the chemo chair they changed my bag, taught me how to change the batteries and gave me an emergency number if I had any problems. 
I walked out of the door with a confident no-problem swagger for my first night…
I was doin’ chemo!
That night the constant swish, swoosh, pause; swish, swoosh, pause … VOMIT… kept me and Mark up all night. 
The swish, swoosh, pause was the chemo pump and, well the vomit… That was me.
Yeah, I was doin’ chemo alright.
The next morning I crawled back into Dr. Chawla’s chemo chair.
“First night’s always the roughest.” Kim said. “It gets easier.”  The chemo nurse pulled back the giant plastic bandage from Kim’s chest, unplugged the needle from Kim’s port-a-catheter and told her to be back tomorrow for a count check. 
I was still on Round 1, Day 1 of a 7 day cycle.
“Hang in there.  It’s like climbing a mountain, don’t look at the top; focus on the step in front of you and you’ll be at the end in no time.”  She smiled and grabbed her bag.  “I’ll check in on you tomorrow.”
By the end of the seventh day, I had vomiting down to an art form.  I could tell when I was going to hurl.  A strong metallic taste would start at the back of my jaw, like I was sucking on a 9 volt battery.  I had a couple seconds to prepare and then …. WHALAH I would let loose.
The swish, swoosh of my pump had been muffled by sticking the pump and the pack under my pillow.  We made the hour and half commute from Huntington Beach to Santa Monica with me usually asleep holding a gallon zip lock bag for, well … my master pieces of hurl.
My almost waist length hair was still there, all though it felt like each individual strand was being pulled out by the root. I was weak, exhausted but I had made it through the first round.  Nowhere near the top of the mountain, but not at the bottom either.
“Come back in two days,” the chemo nurse said.  “We’ll check your counts and hope they’re good enough to start again.”
“Great.”  That was my sarcasm leaking through.  “What happens if they aren’t?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.” The chemo nurse ripped off the bandage and sent me home. 
Sadly, I was still puking and my counts were plummeting....  

I loved this dance routine.
I didn't have breast cancer, but at some point, cancer is cancer.
The fight and courage of both really speaks to me.
Many focus on the woman in this piece. 
Watch the man. 
I think this is EXACTLY how Mark was feeling.
Anyway, I thought it would be perfect for today's post.
 Hope you enjoy.

Jun 17, 2011

10 Days for 10 Years ... Day 4

Day 4
So a quick re-cap:
Contemplated divorce, found a bump.
Had a have-it-removed-or-I-won’t-be-home phone call from my husband
Had the bump removed, told it was cancer and met with Dr. Ego.
Had my surgery to install my port-a-catheter, by the way it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Who knew something so tiny could put so much pressure on your body. I had to sleep sitting up for the first week.  Do you remember the scene from THE MUMMY RETURNS when the scarab beetle invades that hairy guy’s body?  It looked like lumps moving around?  Imagine that lump minus the hair sitting just over your heart.  It was my constant reminder that my body wasn’t mine anymore.  
Boobs: intact.
Booby bump biopsied and came back as …. A fibroid.
Right leg… still there.
Everybody up to speed?
Obviously, we didn’t go back to Dr. Ego.
We had a second opinion at City of Hope.  A little more optimistic, but not where we were supposed to be.
We also consulted a fertility doctor to see what we would need to do to save my eggs.  The fertility doctor said we should see what our oncologist had to say… I didn’t take that as a good sign.
My mom was adamant we get to Norris Cancer Center at the University of Southern California.
While we waited for the HMO to approve our request, Mark and I did what any struggling couple facing their mortality would do … we went to Las Vegas.
I wish I could say it was relaxing it was anything but. 
Mark was a full time student getting his Kinesiology degree from Cal State University Long Beach. He was also studying for the PA entrance exam and on top of that he was a 24hr on 24hr off EMT.
Add to that we had just bought our first home, a condo on Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach that faced the ocean. 
Can you say debt?
Because we were in it up to our eyeballs.
On the last night in Vegas, I laid out all of our debt, all of the reasons why he should leave. 
I had a plan to move in with my mom; sell our condo and give Mark the out he needed me to give him. 
He just looked at me and shook his head.  I was ready for him to say, “you’re right, Mind. It’s a good plan. I wish you the best”.
 I had prepared to do this alone. 
What I hadn’t prepared for was his answer.
“You obviously weren’t listening to our vows.  The minister said for richer or poorer, in sickness and health.  We’re just doing two at one time.”  He smiled and folded up all my documentation on why he should leave and pushed it aside. 
“I’m not going anywhere, Mindy.” 
Driving back to California we got the call, the HMO had approved a third opinion and it was with USC, kind of…
September 19th, 2000
I’m not sure how we got to this Doctor… When my HMO case worker tried to explain it she said, “It’s really a miracle we just contracted with this Doctor.”
We met Dr. Chawla today.
 He’s a kind man with kind eyes.  He came to the waiting room and got me and my family.  I’ve never seen a doctor come and get his own patients.  He took us past the chemo room on the way to his office.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen death cloaked in happiness before.  There was a room full of lazy boy recliners and all these bald people hooked up to IV’s.  It was everything I could do not to turn and run. 
I just smiled back. 
That’s going to be me?
.... Dr. Chawla’s an artist. He writes with a calligraphy pen and talks to himself.  It’s like he’s solving the problem of me in his head.  I think I’m where I’m supposed to be…
Dr. Chawla put down my folder, looked at my slides and finally said, “You know you’re not going to die.”
The room exploded with rebuttals, but Dr. Chawla rolled forward and grabbed my hands. “I have 50 healed cases; you’re not so bad.” 
My eyes welled up with hope and tears and more hope…  I believed him.
“Do you want to have babies?” he asked. 
I shook my head.  The hot tears skidded down my cheeks. 
“You can’t say that to her.”  Mark finally interrupted.
“Yes, I can.  You watch.” 
Dr. Chawla then told us about the tumor board that would dictate the chemo cocktail I would be prescribed.  I would be on a 24 hour chemo cycle, a bag and a pump would come home with me for five to seven days straight.  
“We’re going to take you to the brink of death and bring you back … and then we’re going to do it again. Four hard rounds, then your clean up surgery and the chemo cleanup rounds.   We’ll try to stay away from the chemo that will make you infertile, but even then … no guarantees.”  He said. 
Before we left he brought in a little boy on a skateboard, he was maybe fourteen, he showed me the pump that was in a bag and strapped across his chest like a small purse.  He showed me where the scar where they removed part of his tibia and put in a titanium rod. He showed me the chemo and said, “This is my last round.” 
He was bald and still smiling.
I smiled and prayed one day I could say the same.
“You have your port?” Dr. Chawla finally asked.
“Yeah.” I was still afraid to touch it. Still afraid to even have my clothes lay on it.
“Good, we’ll access it next week.”
I know I giggle snorted here.  The port terrified me and having anyone touch it, let alone access it...  “Access it?” 
“Yes.  This won’t be easy, but if it were easy … everybody would want to do chemo.”  Dr. Chawla stood and pulled me into a big bear hug.
 “Trust me.” He finally whispered.  “You start chemo next week!”

Jun 16, 2011

10 Days for 10 Years ... Day 3

Day 3
It’s funny, you’d think that once you've heard the word cancer the impact of the word would lessen each time you had to say … it.  After a marathon of tests, where I had to give my diagnosis of cancer over and over and over again –something I’d YET to do that day without welling up with tears— at a myriad of hospitals, I found myself in the waiting room of yet another doctor.  The only difference was this doctor was the specialist my primary care physician had arranged. He was supposed to be the one who could save my life …
As Mark and I waited in his lobby my mom joined us with a box of candy. 
I love her. 
She’s Italian and if there’s trouble then there’s food. 
The bigger the trouble the sweeter the food. 
A whole box of candy meant …
I was in some big trouble.   
She’d probably been on web MD like I had and figured out if I came through this it would be not a small miracle but a big water to wine, Lazarus from the dead miracle.
The nurse took us back to the doctor’s office where he proceeded to look down at us from behind his high and mighty desk.  He rambled on and on about the nature of my cancer, what famous people have had my cancer (yes, I have shared a disease with a Kennedy) and then he ended his pontification with, “Of course, I need to examine you now.”   
My momma and my husband sat in the doctor’s office with all of his accolades of what a marvelous doctor he was leering at them  and I was ushered down the hall to my first exam room with the first of many nasty exam robes to change into. 

I have since decided you can tell the quality of the doctor by the quality of his exam robes.  Some have the fabric ones that need to be washed after every use. They are usually worn, but soft … comforting. Then there are the doctors who have the exam robes that feel like fabric but ya can toss them after they’re used.  You know like the paper napkins that fool ya into thinking their linen napkins.  Finally, there are the doctors that have the scratchy, one-time-use robes that make you think you’re slipping on the bark of a tree instead of a discreet robe. 
This doctor had the bark robes. 

When he walked in there were no pleasantries.  
“Lay back.” 
I complied.
Now remember where I said my bump was?  Where my leg and my butt met.  Not the most comfortable place to have a doctor probing… I was already nervous from the diagnosis and petrified by the thoughts of chemo and this doctor wasn’t making me feel any more comfortable. 
Once he finished with my leg he said, “I’m going to check to see if there are any metastasis sites.”
“That’s bad, right?” Did I mention I'm a bit sarcastic when nervous ... okay, just over all sarcastic.
No answer just a grunt and shake as he checked my  groin, my arm pits and then my breasts.  He stopped over my right breast.  Sat me up straight. Eyes wide he then ripped my gown open. 
 I’m pretty sure I gasped and tried to pull it back together, I can’t remember.  I was still in shock that he had shredded my bark gown.  Not that I was fond of the bark, but it was covering, me! 
“You have a lump in your breast.”
“Um, yeah… I’ve had fibroids in that breast. It’s probably the same…”
“No.  It’s a metastasis site.  Get dressed and meet back in the office. “  He then walked out of the door leaving it wide open and me sitting on the table with a ripped robe and my maybe metastasized boobies hanging in the wind for the receptionist to take a gander. 

When I got back to his office, my mom was grilling the doctor like nobody’s business.  My husband, an EMT and Physician’s Assistant student, was holding my mom’s hand and also trying to ask the doctor a question. 
“Let’s understand our roles here.”  The doctor said.  “You,” He looked at my mom “are the mother. You act like the mother.”   He then looked at my husband.  “You are the husband and I am the doctor.”   He sat down and looked at me.  “I’m the one who’s going to heal her.” 
No kidding those were his words… “I’m the one who’s going to heal her.”  He then went on to tell me that I would have a port-a-catheter implanted in my chest. It would tie into my heart because the chemo, if we insisted, would be too strong and burn my veins.  He needed a direct line to my heart.  He had consulted with a specialist on the matter. 
When we finally were excused from his office, I knew there was a possibility I would lose my leg like one of the Kennedy boys had ... what I didn’t know was that the good and all mighty doctor had told my husband and mother that I had six months to live. 
Yeah... I'll let that one sink in on ya for a second or two. 
He was certain that the cancer had metastasized and that chemo was futile.  He also recommended to my family that my breast be removed at the same time the catheter was installed and, if they wanted me to live, so should my leg. 
I was scheduled for my surgery in two weeks …

Jun 15, 2011

10 Days for 10 years ... Day 2

Day 2
A day before I was supposed to have my stitches removed I received a phone call from a random doctor's office wanting to schedule a surgery.  I didn't think anything of it, but Mark insisted I call my primary care physician.  My primary physician's receptionist asked if I could come in that afternoon and was my husband with me.  On the way to the doctor’s office I knew I had cancer. That gut instinct that makes you feel nauseous and jumpy like all you want to do is break into a Forest Gump Run ... that gut instinct was kicking me square in the face.  There were three things that happened that confirmed my face kicking gut instinct of cancer:

  1. When Mark and I got to the doctor’s office we didn’t wait.  We were immediately ushered into an exam room.
  2. The doctor walked in two minutes after we sat down in the exam room.  Just long enough for me to look over at Mark and say, “You know it’s cancer, right?”  He turned green and sunk into his chair.
  3. The doctor wouldn’t look me in the eye when he walked in the room.  His head was hung low like a minister about to give a eulogy or a surgeon about to tell a family he did all he could … or a doctor about to tell a patient she had cancer.

I took the news away from the doctor and said, “It’s cancer, right?”
He just shook his head.
“What do we do?  I mean, what are my odds? It’s chemo and … I don’t know, what’s the next step.”
The doctor still couldn’t look me in the eyes. And when he did speak all he could say was, “Mindy, this is a really rare form of cancer. I’ve never really even heard of it, till you.  I have a specialist set up for you tomorrow. You have to go today to get … blah, blah, blah,”
I tuned out right about there. 
I had cancer...
August 19th, 2000
Well Lord, you really have a way of giving my world a wakeup call.
 I’ve been diagnosed with Extra-Skeletal-OsteoSarcoma … Cancer… at the age of 28. 
Seems surreal to me, but I know you’re going to be by my side … caring for me when needed and cheering me on as I fight.
I'm so very scared.
Please don’t let me become a shell of a woman…
 let me become a beacon to others …
 help me bring people to know You through my cancer battle.
Watch over my husband.
 Keep him strong. 
And let him know I don’t blame him if he decides to leave.

That night, sometime well after midnight, Mark found me crying on the bathroom floor.  He picked me up and set me in his lap.  I didn’t know how long he’d be there, but for that night—that moment—  we were husband and wife getting ready to do battle.

Every time I hear this song it makes me think of that moment...

Jun 14, 2011

10 Days for 10 years ... Day 1

June is kind of a special month for me.
I wasn’t born in June.
I didn’t get married in June.
None of my babies were born in June.
It’s still a special month for me.
Over the next 10 days I’m going to take a little departure from my usual quirky, sarcastic, often cringe worthy posts and invite you all on a little adventure with me. 
I call it: 10 DAYS FOR 10 YEARS.
I know you have no clue what the heck the past 10 years could mean for me. 
It’s been an interesting journey.
Quite a blessing, really. 
I’m a writer. I journal and I save those journals. I’ve written in a journal/diary/memory keeper/ since I was in the 6th grade.  You would be amazed by some of the adventures those pages contain.  Through my memory keeping, I discovered a great sense of faith.  I always believed that my faith would see me through dark times.  I just never really imagined they could be so dark.
I’m a Christian and I believe in God and the journey I hope you’ll take with me over the next 10 days really taps into my faith.
I hope you have the courage to join me…
   DAY 1:
I had a bit of a fairytale wedding.
The oldest and only girl in an Italian family…  
I wore my momma’s wedding dress.
My daddy walked me down the aisle.
All four of my brothers participated.
A wedding party of 14.
A guest list of 400.
I’m sure you can fill in the blanks of awesomeness that my wedding entailed!
You know what? Lemme just show you ....

Little did I know a year later I’d be contemplating divorce and death.
August 14th, 2000
…The only place I find happiness is in romance novels and fictitious men who fight for their women.
And provide for them once they’ve been swept off their feet…
I feel trapped and afraid that this is how life will be.  I feel like a failure contemplating therapy and even worse… divorce.  I’m tired of trying and so close to just giving up.
Lord, what do you want me to do? 
I felt the pea sized lump right where my leg meets my rear end in June or July of 1999.  By August of 2000 the lump had grown from a pea to a golf ball. A day after I wrote the above entry Mark called me at work and said he couldn’t live this way.  I either made an appointment to have the lump removed and biopsied or he wouldn’t be home that night.
I really did contemplate just letting him leave, but my mom said, “Mindy, that’s your husband and he deserves better than that.”  I called and made an appointment for the removal.  The next morning, August 15th, I went to the doctor’s office with my mom and had the bump removed.

Jun 10, 2011

The Year's Half Over! Where Are YOU!?!

The year's half over!
I can't believe it myself.
We're already in June.
In California that means June gloom.
 For four weeks we re-visit winter with all its nasty gray skies, drizzle and long for the sun.  Then, in July, the sun and summer sucker punch us with all that pent up heat we should have been enjoying in June. 
June in the Ruiz house means planning the next school year, figuring out summer activities, finding someway to keep the kids from uttering those famous summer words, "I'm boooooooooored!" Vacation countdowns begin as well as the back to school mom countdown. 
June for the writer in  me, I'll be honest, this is my first summer as a full time writer.  When I was a Realtor we would look at June and make sure we were half way to our yearly commission goals. If we weren't then my momma would turn on the glare factor and we would kick it up a notch.  You see,  most people move during the summer. They find a house in June, they close escrow by mid to late July and that leaves all of August to find new school friends. 
I'm not sure what the calendar for publishing is, but I did find last year a number of the agents I follow took off mid August and came back after Labor Day.  After Thanksgiving it was pretty quiet till the New Year.  So, I guess nothing has changed from Real Estate to Writing.  June is still the stop, evaluate, throw it into overdrive month.  Are you half way to your 2011 goals?  I'd love to hear them as well!

Jun 9, 2011

My Favorite Things + Thursday Throwback!!


1.  Spell check
2.  Customer Service reps who actually service customers.
3.  My ubber-twitter that was on my old BlackBerry
4.  Jason Witten & The Dallas Cowboys
5.  Old movies that still make me cry!

6.  Mighty Putty ... okay anything that has the logo "AS SEEN ON TV' I'm a sucker
7.  Drive thru Dairies.
8.  My little boys when they wake up in the morning and make sweet kitten sounds.
9.  My iPod Nano!
10. People who leave comments on my blog... even if they're a happy face. *HINT HINT* LOL

Jun 3, 2011

Furlough Day for Moms ... yeah,RIGHT!

The oldest mini-me is on a furlough day from school. It got me thinking... are there mom furlough days?
This one is for all my furlough hatin' moms and dads in the world!
I'm certain you'll fully appreciate the lyrics!

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