Thursday, February 1, 2018

lessons learned

In my last month of my 30s, I was summoned to report for jury duty.

"You won't even have to report," they said.
"You won't get selected," they said.
"There will be lots of waiting around, you will be able to get work done," they said.

Um, no. Long story short, I was selected and agreed to be the jury forewoman for a criminal trial. I was pretty much in shock throughout the whole first day - jury selection and then the majority of the trial proceedings. We were not permitted to speak to anyone - including other jurors - about the details of the case until after the trial was over. That was almost the hardest part. The second day, the lawyers completed their questions and gave closing arguments.

Finally, deliberations began.

Have you ever imagined being closed into a room with no windows with 11 strangers to try to agree on ONE single thing? How about FIVE things? I had never imagined this prior to now, but let me tell you it was a challenge. It took us almost 14 hours of deliberating to agree unanimously on each count.

For me, the answers were very clear. I felt there were so many inconsistencies in the physical evidence and in the police documents that there was no way I could say the defendant was guilty across the board. But there were 5 separate charges we needed to come to a consensus on. And it turned out, we all had very strong convictions but not necessarily in the same direction.

By the end, we found the defendant guilty on 3 charges and not guilty on 2.

I learned a lot about working with others, who think very differently from myself.

I learned...

how few people understand systemic racism (or thinks about WHY someone may be dealing drugs, is poorly educated (within this first world country), has very limited choices for earning a living wage)

how few people understand the dynamics of people who live on a different socioeconomic plane

how hard it is for some people to follow the instructions given to them, requiring them to set aside emotions or "gut feelings"

how people's fears can guide their decisions as opposed to compassion

how people believe compassion means putting yourself in someone else's shoes, when really it could mean imagining an experience the way someone else may view it, NOT YOU

how quickly people are to judge others based on CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

how few people understand what racism can sound like and look like

how time consuming it can be to try to get someone who doesn't know you to see things your way

how truly difficult it can be to get someone else to remember we are all innocent until PROVEN BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT guilty

how gut wrenching it can be to pronounce someone guilty of a felony in a court of law, especially when you don't believe the law is ethical, but even when you do

how much work we have yet to do to change the way our society functions.

If we want to drastically reduce crime, poverty, we must drastically increase education. It is the only way forward. I double down in my career choices, and in the way I will choose to spend my professional time going forward.

It brought tears to my eyes once I finally sat down, after I had answered the court's questions about how the jury decided on each count. It's still making my eyes sweat to think about how momentous a day yesterday was for the man whose fate we had a hand in deciding.

I know this blog was created as a post-cancer journal. Here I am, post-cancer, on the eve of my 40th birthday, continuing to learn about the world around me and the meaning of life. I still feel like I can never say thank you enough to those who supported me 7 years ago and continue to laugh, live, and love with me today. I know one thing for sure by now. We are only here for a short time, and so little is within our control. But what we can do is to help others. The only way I can return the love that was shown to me when I needed it is to show compassion and love to others. I will continue to do my best at that, growing and learning every day I get to gratefully do so, even into the next decade. I hope you'll join me.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Still Here

Clearly, I go longer and longer between posting here (evident in the fact that I briefly forgot HOW to post here). I am hanging in over here, parenting, working, thinking of selling our house in the spring, getting used to being a no dog family. I have begun a number of blog posts in the past few months, but none ever made it to the orange publish button. 

Since last November, I certainly do question how distantly into the future we can all realistically look. But there's not a ton of time for deep reflection. I love my children something fierce, but they require a lot of physical and emotional energy. Damn, if I don't worry in my free time, WHO WILL?

I'm currently on a no/low sugar detox (I may have cheated once or twice in the past 3 weeks), as my indulging and food-rewards had gotten out of hand. I definitely feel better, but I'm looking forward to feeling it in my pants as I zip them up without holding my breath. I'll keep you posted.

Still at the same place with my heart and lasting radiation effects. Still on my beta blocker, still sensitive to dehydration and poor circulation. But I'm still here, too. We discovered over the summer that high altitude living is not for me (had to ditch a trip to Colorado a week early due to altitude sickness in Boulder), and I would venture that would go for anyone who had radiation to the chest? I can live with sticking to sea level.

I turn 40 in less than 6 months. Yes, I'm celebrating, for sure (with a trip out west to the desert to chill in a hot tub under the stars). But I'm also starting to panic because my mammograms begin at 40. Is this going to give me PTSD from scanxiety? I promise if it does, you will be the first to know.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Our Mooshu

Waiting for results again. But this time, it's not my bloodwork in the lab. It's our almost 14 year old dog, Mooshu. The vet predicts lymphoma, based upon his giant tumor under his jowl. When I heard that, my heart lept. Seriously? He has to have it, too?

We've been through a lot together. 3 homes, 2 kids, 1 major illness, new cars, countless dog beds, dishes licked clean, crumbs inhaled, tap dances performed for food, trips to Pittsburgh with him nestled in the way back, snuggles, bowls of chicken and rice, cottage cheese, ear infections, walks with snow booties, quick pees, and so much love.

I don't know what I'll miss most. Will it be him sun bathing quietly? Whimpering in his sleep, dreaming about running after a squirrel?  Will it be the way he knows when I'm cutting carrots for lunches and he walks into the kitchen to see if I will share (I will)? The way he smells like stale corn chips when he curls up in front of the radiator in the winter? The way he knows when my mom is coming over and waits patiently at the door? Or how he gives my dad a better reaction than us when we return from vacation? It will probably be the way he lets the boys snuggle up against him, and how he has taught them to care for animals. How Judah and Zevi have never known life without him, a family fixture.

We knew he was getting old (we think 14 in July), but he's been around forever, so it's been impossible to imagine life or our family without him.

When Dan and I first rescued him 13 years ago, in April 2004, he was a scrawny, caramel and white speckled puppy at the SPCA in North Philly. We had just gone to look at the dogs there, not to actually bring one home. But I saw him and fell in love. We went home to sleep on it, and the next morning, we were back at the shelter when it opened. He stunk up the car, stunk up the house, destroyed brown paper bags and dog beds, learned not to eat too much sugar (that's a whole other story), loved food of all types (including cucumbers and lettuce), refused to go out in the rain, kept your feet warm under the dining room table, always knew which visiting child to sit next to (slash nudge into dropping food for him).

Mooshie wasn't super excited to welcome babies into the house. They were noisy and they crawled around his house. He once lifted his lip at Judah when he was about to crawl into his space under the table. I caught him and he caught it from me, and never did it again. Same exact thing happened when Zevi began to crawl. One warning, we nipped it. We never allowed any baby or child to mistreat Mooshu, nor did we let them walk around the house with food, taunting him with treats he couldn't (but eventually would) enjoy.

He's survived 2 bouts of chocolate poisoning, eating a few shoelaces (if you need to make your dog vomit, I can coach you through it) and seasonal bouts with hound dog ear infections. Before children, he lost a piece of his ear at the dog park (we still don't know how it happened), and I came home to what looked like a murder scene at the house, as he'd been shaking his cut ear every time the cut began to clot and itch. The vet hospital called us to come and get him as soon as he woke from his stitches because no one could think while Mooshie was howling.

Oh, the howl. Mooshu's bay was voted best of the Philly dog park in 2004. He liked to turn his head upside down and howl at his friends in the park. He howled to show his joy, to let everyone know he had arrived, to establish his presence. You could hear him howling from a few blocks away and know he had met another dog on his walk.

Our first baby, I will miss his reassuring presence in the house. I will miss him following me into whatever room I'm working in, cleaning in, cooking in, talking on the phone in. I'll miss his clickety clacking around the house, his waiting for a missing family member before proceeding on a walk, the way he communicates with us, staring, motioning, whining, and more recently, panting, until we finally understand what he needs.

And now that we know what he needs, it's so hard to say goodbye.

We will love him forever and ever, our Mooshie.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Present Day

Once in a while, it's a good idea to take a step back and remember how far you've come.

We are settled into our hectic but loving life as a family of 4, toddler in tow. I continue to work part time while the baby goes to daycare and my mom. Judah is now 9 and almost out of elementary school. The past year and a half is kind of a blur, and while the day to day responsibilities and routines can be rewarding, they can also swallow you up. In the current world (election) mood, tension is contagious. All of social media is like a giant pulsing pit of anxiety that I need to escape.

I try to retreat to my corner with my small and large munchkins, and just focus on being present, but it can be a challenge.
smallest munchkin

soccer stars

biggest munchkin

October 24 happens to be the anniversary of the very first Light the Night walk I did to support LLS. I'm looking forward to being able to participate again in 2017 (no special reason other than scheduling and parenting responsibilities have presented conflicts for the past few years), because it's still hard to admit, but we are all so vulnerable and need to know we have community to lean on in time of need. I don't want to need it ever again, but I know it is my duty to be that community for others.

It's been 6 years since treatment ended, but I haven't been able to shake the tempting-fate feeling that ebbs and flows and makes me never want to use words like "cured" or "that's all in the past". While logically, I understand that saying such things would have zero bearing on my cells going haywire, I am still not taking any chances.

Tonight, I was organizing some files and bookmarks on my laptop (truth: so Judah can independently access his Hebrew homework website) when the blog bookmark called out to me. I go so long between posts that I doubt anyone reads them anymore. But I couldn't forget reading others' stories into the wee hours of the steroid-induced insomniac mornings and wondering why they stopped writing. Of course, I vowed to never stop writing, lest someone else wonder.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

5 Years Later

Here we are again. It's the end of December. The year is 2015 (sounds so futuristic, right?), and it has been exactly 5 years since I last entered the radiation room for a zap. Technically that means I am cured. 5 years post-treatment with no recurrence = cured = wonderful, superstar fantastic.

I'm not sure it's that easy. 5 years does not mean I don't still think about it coming back. Or having a new kind of cancer as payment for the rads I took to kill cancer #1. As my onc always says, "there's no such thing as a free lunch." And those words ring in my ears.

During chemo, I remember thinking about this giant dance party we would hold after treatment had ended. We would invite all of our friends and celebrate the end of cancer! There would be loud music, and cupcakes, all of my favorite people, and maybe some glow sticks. But then we got to the end of chemo, and I realized I might need radiation, which indeed I did. Then I had to wait another 3 months for a scan to find out if the radiation had been effective, which, thankfully, it was. There were more tests and scans to follow. The results were positive but felt awfully temporary. And there was not much I could do to change that fact.

For me, that's what is so scary about having cancer. It's a brutal reminder that all living things are temporary, and mostly out of our hands.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I am obviously quite glad to be here to celebrate my 5th cancerversary, the whole ordeal still doesn't feel over. The question lingers: when will I have to pay for my lunch?


How has life changed since 2010? The two biggies are of course different job and new baby. The rest is just stuff. Judah is a big kid - no more toddler - in 3rd grade. He even wrote a story about a baby bird named Beaky whose mother was diagnosed with lymphoma. Our experience together comes up in unpredictable ways. Gratefully, he doesn't seem too worse for the wear. Zev is our newest miracle. Standing tall at 10 months, he uttered his first intentional word last week: "Judah" (was there ever a doubt?) and loves to make all kinds of sounds, crawl, eat, sing, kiss, and snuggle. We cannot stop eating his pudgy arms and legs, and nibbling his round, soft cheeks. Tfu, tfu.

My favorite time of day is between 7 and 8 when we're on vacation and snuggling in bed together. The gratitude can be overwhelming.

I won't go into too much detail about the worries that pop up on a daily basis - mainly they have transferred from being about me back to being about the boys. It's so easy to give into the anxiety and let it run me over, but Dan is good about trying to bring me back to Earth. Mostly. Plus we are lucky to have a solid pediatrician (who is also a friend), who both takes me seriously and quells my nervous, new-again mama fears.

I come back to write this update to make sure that those members of the club who stumble upon this blog see that the story does continue past the last treatment. There are plenty of challenges along the way, but oh, the rewards are sweet.

None of us know what the future holds - and that is MY scariest part - so for today I will eat something delicious and toast to how far we've come. L'chaim!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Turning One-Half

photo credit to Judah B.
 We have made it halfway through little Zevi's first year! Cookies for all! This milestone calls for an update in numbers:

2 - teeth currently poking through those little baby gums
3 - naps taken (by Zev) each day
11 - hours slept at night (though not uninterrupted)
26 - weeks since birth
4 - times he's rolled over (months ago)
6 - foods he's tasted (peaches, sweet potatos, avocado, bananas, watermelon, and of course PRUNES)
3 - usual paci replacements throughout the night
24 - cloth diapers purchased
7 - visits to the beach
57 - calls to the doctor (roughly)
8 - types of formula attempted

It has been a roller coaster 6 months for sure. Zev is a sweet, happy, snuggly boo boo, who adores his big brother, and is happiest in his nightly bath.

beach nap

Feeding has been a struggle, especially recently, as he seems to be dairy intolerant, refuses the special (expensive) formulas, and is stopped up by the soy. He's got an appointment with a GI specialist next month to help us out in that area. He enjoys standing up (all the time), and shoving anything within reach into his mouth. We all smother him with kisses and will do anything for a giggle, though a good night of sleep comes in a close second.

wake up! wake up!
Never a boring baby, Zevi likes to keep us on our toes. He hasn't been rolling over (since he did it a few times many months ago), so we've been on the hunt for a reason he doesn't want to put weight on his arms. It was decided at today's appointment with one of the top pediatric orthopedic surgeons in the country that we are going to give him PT and OT and see if a bit more time will do the trick. He is doing a great job stressing out his mommy (Dan is much better at not worrying than I am).

Judah has been growing into a caring and helpful big brother, and it's delightful to watch them together, cooing at each other behind us in the car. It's fabulous when Judah can reach the pacifier and put an end to screaming in the backseat.

ridin in the car
In a nutshell, that's been our summer: Judah at camp, trying desperately to get Zev to nap/eat/roll over, hit the pool, visit the beach, the mountains, the family members we don't get to see very often. Now that we're venturing into the second half of the year, the start of daycare a few days a week, Judah to 3rd grade, and a return to work for the grown ups, I'm hoping to get into that routine I've been wishing for the past 6 months. I actually enjoy some sameness in my every day life - predictability at its finest.

For tonight, breathing in the end of summer air, counting my blessings and heading off to bed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Moment to Debrief (aka Birth Story Details Ahead)

As most of you probably already know, our long awaited miracle baby has arrived! We welcomed baby Zev into the world 1 month ago tonight, and I haven't had a minute to write about it since then. Today, I have approximately 5 minutes while the baby sleeps (uh oh, he's starting to wake..) and Judah watches movie #3, as he's home sick.

You may recall the baby was breech at our week 38 check up. We did everything we could think of to get him to flip back head down, and found out we were successful at the following check up. I was thrilled to be able to cancel the scheduled c-section, as I feared I would have to undergo general anesthesia, to which history has proven I do not respond well.

In order to get things moving as quickly as possible, I went in the next day for some aggressive acupuncture and an induction massage. I figured if they didn't work, at least I would be relaxed. But that night, I sprung a leak and it looked as though labor was beginning. Mild contractions kept me up most of the night and at 4:30 the next morning, I woke Dan and told him it was time to head over to the hospital. I had called my doctor several times with no call back. (That's a whole other story and a half.)

my husband brought tools to the hospital so he could assemble my birthing stool there. and I had to snap a photo.
I'll make a very long story short. The hours that followed involved an absurd number of interventions, and cords and wires being hooked up to me (IV, pitocin, oxygen, lead attached to the baby's head, intra-uterine catheter to increase fluids in the uterus during labor, 2 epidurals... did I miss something?), but baby Zev was finally born around 9:00 that night. I still can't believe it happened, and we have a small -and very cute- creature now living in our house.

a first glimpse

proud papa

happy mama

One major part of mothering that I had been looking forward to was nursing this baby. I was pretty determined, as Judah had refused to nurse and I was devastated. Well, don't you know it, baby Zev is such a good little nurser! He didn't have the same issues during delivery as Judah did (um, with getting stuck in the birth canal for 3 hours), so he had no problems turning his head. All was going great with breastfeeding until we discovered 2 weeks after birth that my supply is low. This is probably due to the radiation I had to my chest - the fact that my left side only has about 1/2 ounce of milk is the biggest clue - but his birth having been induced probably didn't help either. This low supply issue was even more distressing when I think about how much milk I had when Judah was born, and he wouldn't take any of it!

I was very upset when we first found out that we needed to supplement Zev's diet with formula, but am now in a place of acceptance, especially since he has been gaining weight nicely since we started. After a checkup at the oncologist's office, I was reminded to prioritize. Baby eating is most important. I am still nursing and then offering a bottle after each feed.

We're working on that whole sleeping at night thing. Some nights are better than others, and Dan is a huge help. We're both pretty good at dropping off to sleep at a moment's notice, but I would not put our level of functioning at an all time high.

not so bad

To answer questions about Zev's big brother, Judah is doing great. Except for today, when he woke up with a fever, he's been an amazing help. He is understanding about our need to give attention to the baby, and seems to be quite relieved that the crying and diapers aren't as bad as he feared.

little brother
Thank you to all of you who have sent delicious meals, gifts, advice, and warm wishes of joy and encouragement. We feel very very lucky (and did I mention still in shock?) to have been given this incredible gift, and most precious addition to our family.

our little love