Navigating the Middle

through adolescents, menopause, aging parents & other flying debris



Best Christmas EVER!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I can’t help but look back at the year and happily wave ~ “b-bye.” As you can imagine, there’s no love lost between me and 2016. January began with a biopsy that confirmed the Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma had returned and was followed by twice-weekly chemo over the next five months. July 26 I entered the Allo Transplant Unit and two weeks later I wheeled out so fast I completely forgot to don the required face mask.

September and October meant numerous trips to and from the hospital each week for blood work, transfusions, infusions, imaging and routine checks. Fortunately by November, the time between visits had lengthened. I got my flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine, which gave me a bit more confidence to venture out. So by the time December rolled around, I began negotiating with providers concerning what I could do/what I couldn’t do in the future. It was really hard to hear that it would be a full year post-transplant (August 2017) before I would have my doctor’s clearance to resume life, in other words, my new normal.

By any stretch of the imagination, 2016 was definitely not the year of Dee. But there was a light near the end of my tunnel. Christmas was fast approaching, and I wanted, I needed the family to make new memories to replace the old ones. But with our eldest flying to the West Coast on the 27th and public school closing the afternoon of the 23rd, we had little time for all the plans I’d made. I had to get creative. We crammed days of activities into one: seeing a movie; having lunch; and gathering around the kitchen island to make peppermint bark; bake Chex Mix ; and simmer “real hot cocoa. It tasted and smelled like Christmas.

But this was the Best Christmas EVER!

You know – that Christmas when you tear open a box to reveal the perfect present that you asked for, but didn’t know just how much you wanted it UNTIL you finally got it. Remember Ralphy in “A Christmas Story?” Magical, like THAT, but at an age when you don’t think you’ll ever experience another magical holiday. Your kids are teenagers; you’ve witnessed another season of commercial crap; and almost nobody says “Merry Christmas.” It may look like Christmas, but it doesn’t feel like it inside.

Until the unimaginable happened.

The kind of thing that takes a nano-second for your brain to catch up with what your eyes have just seen – and one of them has GOT to be lying! Because when I looked up, it didn’t immediately register that my mother and my sister were both standing in my family room, having flown in from Houston to surprise me on Christmas Eve.

Did I mention this was the Best Christmas EVER??!! No gift, no amount of money could have produced the joy I felt during the 48 hours of their visit. Apparently I’d been asking my sister for a Christmas visit for the past several months. I just hadn’t realized it.

Sometimes, we get exactly what we want for Christmas before knowing how much we want it. Sometimes the year doesn’t end as bleakly as it began.

Thank God!! and Happy New Year!


Today is a Day Forward

My sister Stephanie got it right when she mused, “When you’ve undergone a major surgery or something like you’ve just experienced, it’s good to remember that recovery is like taking two steps forward and one step back.”

Before hearing her words, I hadn’t stopped to consider that I’d feel okay one day, and kinda lousy, tired or both the next. The passage to recovery is a suffocating struggle against waters so deep, at times my feet don’t touch the bottom; at other times, I’m buoyed by the current. I can imagine where I’d like to surface, but the way up is unclear.

At times like this, it’s important that I talk to myself,
to remind myself of all the progress I’ve made in just over two weeks of being at home. So here goes:

  1. I’m eating so much better now that I can choose what I eat and it isn’t being prepared in a prison galley.
  2. It no longer hurts to swallow pills, which is a good thing. I usually have to swallow at least 12 pills/day.
  3. I can walk around without shoes, a real joy for me since I love being barefoot. (There was no way I’d allow my skin to come in contact with a hospital room floor.)
  4. I have better cable at home. Even HGTV gets old when you don’t want to Love It or List It, Flip It, or Fixit Up.
  5. My world has expanded from a mere hospital room with a bathroom. I have an entire house to move about. Although out of safety precautions, I choose to stay out of the boys’ bedrooms.
  6. No one wakes me in the middle of the night…unless it’s my bladder.
  7. My hair has finally stopped falling out. It hasn’t started to grow back yet, but I don’t have to worry about going to sleep with a regular pillow and waking up to a pillow case disguised as Chewbacca.

chewiepillowBut the very best part of being home is spending my days and nights with family. Because even the worse day at home is better than an afternoon on the BMT Unit.




Day +9: Just Beyond Ordinary

I began this blog three days ago, when I felt well enough to write. Unfortunately chemo-brain is real. And the lack of sleep, nausea and pain don’t fuel the creative process.

I could tell you all about my burning feet and palms, diarrhea, and trouble swallowing food. I could tell you it’s not pretty; in fact, it’s ugly. Or I could chose to focus on being thankful. Extended family, church family, friends, and neighbors have all stepped up to take care of me and my family. Jeff, my girlfriend Kelly, my sister Stephanie and my mom have all taken turns playing nurse and spending nights in the hospital. I call it a slumber party, which when I get my way, is mostly slumber.

I’ve even sparked a social life. My neighbors, T. – whom I fondly refer to as my twin (having received our transplants on the same day); and D. – who received her new cells Wednesday are both from the Maryland-Virginia area, have children, and had related donors. It’s good having them around. I would not want to do this alone.

Yet deep down, I’m somewhat envious of them. I cannot help wonder if having a related donor makes a difference. Unfortunately it was not a real option for me. I can only stress that the path to recovery following a stem cell transplant is no sprint. No cancer journey ever is. My marathon is more like a blinding race through an ever-changing topography that can create a ripple of panic through the spine of my medical team. Anything just beyond ordinary seems to solicit a need for more tests. The test du jour is a CT scan of my abdomen, which I have politely declined…at least for the time being.

Today, I will determine what’s ordinary and what isn’t.

Weird Parenting

My sister got on my case the other night when I told her that I wouldn’t be joining her in DC for our annual girls’ weekend. Her expectations were not unwarranted. We try to take a sister-trip every year, one that usually revolves around her work as an insurance agent. However, due to serious illnesses on both our parts, we’d missed the last two years. Suffice it to say, I was really looking forward to our time together. But you know what they say about best laid plans.

After quickly mentioning that her conference would be in DC this year (while downsizing her home; running a business; and being a single parent), details from my sister dried up. It wasn’t until she literally forwarded her hotel confirmation email, that I noticed the dates: dueling schedules which meant that I would be on the West Coast, dropping my Number 1 son at college, during Stephanie’s visit to our area. While I hate to miss out on the late night talks, socializing, and enjoying one too many glasses of wine together, this could be one of the last mother-son activities that Chris and I will ever share. EVER may seem like a really strong word here, but he’s moving on. I’m the one who’s being left behind, along with his dad and two younger brothers.

I remember being his age, barely able to contain my excitement over leaving home to pursue my new, grown-up life. Back then, I didn’t know there was a difference between becoming an adult and being a grown-up. And being a grown-up means you make grown-up decisions, like committing to seeing your firstborn through his transition to college, even if he is 18.

Since Stephanie also has a teenaged son, I knew she was kidding when she teased, “I can’t believe you’re chosing to take your kid to college instead of seeing me! What kind of WEIRD PARENTING is that? Just because he’s going to school in another country…”

I might not have been a semi-finalist in the NGB (okay, that’s not really a thing), National Geographic Bee, but I am certain that Seattle is in the U.S; I told her so.

But Stephanie just responded, “Um. It may as well be another country.” (Spoken like a true Texan.) She had a point. For about the same distance, (give or take 80 miles and a student visa) he might as well be going to school in Ecuador! And that’s on another continent and below the equator!! THANKS SIS! I hadn’t considered any of this before talking to you. I feel much better now.

I also finally understand why some moms delivered the cartoon-eye-popping-stare when I told them that Chris would be leaving our mid-Atlantic home for the Pacific Northwest. “You’re going to let him go that far away? Could he go any farther away?” were the two most commonly asked questions, followed by: “Aren’t you going to miss him?”

Well, yeah…to all inquiries. (1) He was allowed to apply to any university, provided he was able to secure scholarship money, which he did; (2) He could have gone farther away…like Ecuador (see previous paragraph); and (3) You’d miss your child if he went away to school, regardless of the distance.

Perhaps that was the point some of my friends were trying to make. They couldn’t fathom the thought of having their college kid so far from home. I get it. But we are the parents who attended college across the country (Jeff) and who moved to Hawaii after graduate school (me). In our WEIRD PARENTING world, our son moving 2,300+ miles away seems like a natural choice.

Besides, I am confident that we have done a good job raising him. He will make mistakes, just like we did. And he will figure things out; he’s a smart kid. After all, we trusted him enough to fly across the country (without us) for college tours. I look forward to visiting his campus for the first time when I deliver him there later next month. (WEIRD PARENTING, right?)

And while I might not feel the need to squeeze out every living, breathing moment with him before he takes off, I do want to enjoy this rite of passage before he pushes me out to make room for his new life. He’s a teenager, so the pushing is well underway. Like labor, it’s painful but hopefully seeing your beautiful baby boy turn into a caring, responsible, kind and productive man helps erase the pain.

So as much as I love spending time with my sister, and I really do, I won’t be able to join her this year. I’ve got more WEIRD PARENTING to do.

Stupid Cheerios

I have two teenage boys, which means that most of the time, the pretend not to like me; rarely initiate spending time with me; and they LIVE to hole-up in their bedrooms: doors shut, headphones on.

So the other day as I sat alone on the sofa, watching TV, a little 30-second commercial grabbed my heart. It featured a working-class family, after the dad returned home from shift work. He was tired. In the background, sat a little boy, about nine years old, eating breakfast. Listening.

The next time we see him, it’s dark out. And he’s getting out of bed. The light from the refrigerator shows him retrieving a half gallon of milk, while carrying a box of Cheerios. His dad walks into the kitchen and demands to know why the kid is out of bed…just before “Max” confesses that he got up because he wanted to have breakfast with his dad.

Stupid Cheerios. You’re going to make me walk downstairs and have a bowl of cereal with my teenagers tomorrow morning, aren’t you?


What I Didn’t Do Today

Tonight’s assignment is to write about anything at all, with one constraint. I can only write for ten minutes – no more, no less.

As I mentally unpack my day, I am struggling to remember what I did. TRANSLATION: I wasn’t very productive. I did take advantage of the nice weather and go for an hour-long walk with friends, but besides that, I seemed to have accomplished very little. That’s in part why I am writing now. I want to accomplish something today.

After our walk, I remember showering. I know I did because I don’t stink, and my hair is big and puffy again. My son calls it “pillow hair,” which he pronounces – PAL-LOW.

I cooked dinner. I was supposed to go to Back-to-School night, my second in as many days, but that was canceled due to a “minor” gas leak at school. I’m not sure what constitutes a minor gas leak, but since nothing exploded, it looks like classes on are on for tomorrow.

Oh, and I nearly got the red dry erase marker out of my son’s neon green shorts (which he insists on calling NEON, although I’ve tried to explain that NEON is not a color). There is still a trace of pink, but he doesn’t care. He’s ten.

What else didn’t I do today: I didn’t have a glass of wine; I didn’t finish

If You Get Your Son a Binder

If you get your son a binder,
He’s going to tell you that he doesn’t like it.

If you return the binder to Target,
you’ll want to replace it with another.

Finding the one you want will take you to the other side of the store,
where you’ll pass the women’s workout gear.

A white “t-shirt” will catch your eye.

Seeing the t-shirt will remind you of Kelly’s “White Party.”
You’ll drop the shirt into the cart.

Kelly’s party will make you think of Austin’s upcoming birthday.
He’s turning ten.

You’ll scour the toys section before placing a board game in the cart.
Of course you’ll also need a birthday card to go with it.

Three little boys will fight over birthday cards next to you.

Listening to the boys bicker, will remind you of Lego’s.
The Lego’s will make you wish for a way to organize the bricks.

You’ll leave with the card, to find the Ziploc bags.

Walking through the snacks will remind you that you’re hungry.
you’ll grab popcorn from the end cap and toss it into the cart.

You’ll find the Ziploc bags; they’ll go in the cart too.

Remembering that teachers always need “something” you’ll head to the back-to-school section.
Standing there, you realize that your kids need summer activity books.
You’ll settle on a writing guide.

Reading over the writing guide will remind you why you came into Target.

And you’ll walk a few aisles over and get your son a binder.

How Did You Sleep Last Night?

Me: Good Morning Son.
#1 Son: mum (sound with closed lips, not wanting to speak).
Me: Come in for a second and sit down.
#1 Son complies.
Me: How did you sleep last night?
#1 Son: I slept okay.
Me: Just okay?
#1 Son: Yeah.
Me: Did you have trouble sleeping?
#1 Son: No.
Me: But you slept in your bedroom last night, right? You didn’t have to sleep on the streets?
#1 Son: What? No. I slept in my bed.
Me: And your bed – Did you have it to yourself or did you have to share it with your brothers?
#1 Son: (Eye roll.) I slept in my bed, in my room. Alone.
Me: Oh, and were you comfortable? Did you have a pillow and nice bedding to keep you warm.
#1 Son: Yeah.
Me: Did the AC work in your room so that the temperature was a perfect 65 degrees?
#1 Son: Yes. Was it really THAT cold?
Me: And did you wake up this morning with bites all over your body?
#1 Son: From what?
Me: I don’t know…bites from malaria-carrying mosquitoes or disease-laden rats?

#1 Son (silence…then a smile.)

Me: So I guess when I asked you how you slept, you probably should have answered differently, huh?

#1 Son: I slept well, Mom.

Saving Pinky

Yesterday, I looked up to see my son making a beeline for the house, a combination of fear and excitement across his face. I hurried downstairs to check on him. He was hyped about something hidden just beyond his swing set.

“There!” He pointed. “It’s some kind of animal, and it’s all pink.”

Not a big fan of the “wild kingdom,” I timidly peeked into the dried leaves. Lying nearly lifeless, but not quite, was a tiny, hairless, pink-colored creature, fresh from the womb. We stood there, watching, speculating, until I decided that it was probably a squirrel. It must have fallen out of nest, and now there was no one to take care of it, except the red fox that sometimes visits. I noticed my 10 year-old who LOVES animals looking at me, expecting me to save the thing.


Right about now, you’re probably thinking that I should have either (a) Put on a pair of garden gloves and picked it up; or (b) Left it alone and allowed that whole “Circle of Life” thing to happen. I sort-of went with (b), reasoning that Mama Squirrel might come looking for her baby. So when Jeff returned from work, an hour or two later, that little “thumb of a squirrel” was laying precisely where we found it.

A doctor by day, with the heart of a veterinarian, Jeff did three things, which probably saved a young life.

  1. He placed the unprotected infant in a pet carrier, wrapped it in swaddling clothing (thank you baby Jesus), and started a lamp to keep it warm.
  2. He mixed a potion of water, sugar and salt. Think – homemade Gatorade – although I think he was going for more of a Pedialyte-vibe. Using a medicine dropper, he hydrated the animal every 20 minutes; and
  3. He phoned an animal rescue shelter in the area. Before the dinner hour was up, the baby was in its new home.

Our 10 year-old tagged along to make the drop-off. When they reached the shelter they learned three things:

  1. The owner of the shelter loved squirrels; they were her favorite.
  2. The baby “it” was really a “she.” (Funny how things ‘suddenly’ appear when you know what to look for.)

Noah named her “Pinky” after his favorite baby blanket. Oh, and probably most importantly…

3. The new owner thinks that Pinky has a very good chance of surviving.



Some people are animal lovers. I’m not afraid to admit that I am not one of them. While I don’t dislike animals, I strongly believe that people who LOVE them should be the ones to purchase, adopt, feed, raise, and care for them.

Yet, somehow, we tend to wind up taking care of a small animal every few years. I

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