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Navigating the Middle

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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!

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.

The Social Comparison of New Year’s Eve

I awoke early this morning, intent on doing two things: read my bible and check my Facebook news feed. Believe me, those two tasks don’t usually go together, but I was eager to see how our friends and family rang in the New Year. I willingly risked the “Facebook depression, low self-esteem and bitter jealousy” that (reportedly) comes from “social comparison.” You might not know it by that name, but it’s when we look at people’s Facebook posts (i.e., a BEST OF reel) and then compare it to our boring, ordinary lives. (Guess it’s a good thing I read my bible first!)

I eagerly scanned my news feed to answer the Who? Where? and How? questions of New Year’s Eve.

From fishing to fireworks, you marked the passing of the old into the new wearing everything from party dresses and dinner jackets to jeans and pajamas. Paper top hats, blinged-out tiaras and confetti covered your heads while balloons covered the walls, floors and ceilings. You raised Champagne flutes, beer cans and noise makers high overhead, or you sank into a comfy couch with bowls of popcorn.  You celebrated abroad and close to home, really close to home…like AT HOME.

Whatever you chose to do last night, you did it in the company of that special someone, your kids, extended family, church members, friends, neighbors, college roommates and frat brothers. I saw you surrounded by LOVE, even if you chose to be alone because you love yourself enough to give/receive the gift of self-reflection.

“Social Comparison?”Maybe a little, but I’m neither depressed, experiencing low self-esteem or bitter jealousy. I only see the love.

HAPPY NEW YEAR loved ones!

Day 1: Use Your Gifts to Be Great

Most people sharing content on Facebook seem to do so, focusing on the “great” in life: how “great” the kids are; what a “great” meal we had; back, from a “great” vacation.

But yesterday, a friend posted that he was having a hard time. He wanted to know if anyone else ever felt alone, while being in a room filled with people.

Well, have you?

I’ve been there, feeling like I can’t quite connect with others around me. In those rare instances, I usually remove myself from the situation, and the feelings abate. My emotions return to equilibrium.

I let my friend know that he is not alone, but shortly after, came across this great video that another Facebook friend posted. Check out the way this guy uses his gifts to connect with total strangers.

That’s the message: Use your “gifts” to connect with others and “GREAT” things will happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 10: What I Miss Most

Over the years, my sisters and I wrapped an assortment of obligatory Father’s Day gifts: ties, socks, shaving kits, books, and coffee mugs. (Daddy always seemed to be harder to buy for than our Mother.) But the framed, fill-in-the-blank “World’s Greatest Dad” certificate that hung on his bedroom wall, must have been his favorite. It hung there for decades.

I have difficulty recounting most of the Father’s Days we spent together. Not because he wasn’t around, but because Father’s Day 1981 was a watershed moment. The Sunday fell on the day right before my birthday. My mother thought it would be cute to bake a cake, so that we could celebrate the two occasions together. Apparently, my father didn’t think so. He accused Mother of “really” baking the cake for me, and only claiming it was for both of us. After that day, I knew he would never be the “World’s Greatest Dad”.

But in 2005, there we were, gathered at our family church in Houston to celebrate Daddy as “Father of the Year.” He was all smiles as he stood center stage, holding an engraved plaque, surrounded by his wife, kids, grandchildren, sisters and extended family. A photographer snapped a picture. My father seemed pretty pleased, but later admitted that he received the award only after the church had nearly exhausted its list of dads. (He laughed about it; so did I.)

Daddy could make almost any story sound funny. Like the time he was visiting a (white) friend, when another (white) guest walked in, complaining that he’d tried moving from his neighborhood into another neighborhood, “But niggers is everywhere.” Or the time he rode the segregated train from college in Louisiana to Texas. Instead of going to the back of the train, he sat in the WHITES ONLY section, along side his buddy P., who could “pass.” (If you are imagining correctly, my father has brown skin, curly hair and brown eyes.) But that combination of charm, cockiness, and a football player’s frame gave Daddy the courage to remain in the south, long after others fled.

Not that I always appreciated his stories. Daddy admitted that he wasn’t prepared to get married or have a child at the age of 20. (Considering that I have an older sister, I doubt he was ready at 18 either.) But that’s who he was, a chronicler of life’s events for those who wanted to hear them, and those who did not.

It would take years before I could fully appreciate his skill for spinning a yarn. Friends would point out how funny Daddy was. I dismissed them, initially. But with the passing of time, I realized that I’d almost missed one of the best parts of my dad. He could take the most benign event and twist it into something wickedly funny or slightly inappropriate. He was an excellent storyteller.

It’s been almost five years since I’ve heard my father’s voice or any of his stories. He isn’t gone; nor is he completely with us. Yet I can still see him on Father’s Day, standing over a charcoal pit, smoking meat for the better part of the day. It’s the place where we talked, shared a beer, and swapped stories.

…stories that now belong to me.

Day 13: The Good Wife

People sometimes ask me what’s the key to remaining happily married. Jeff and I have been married nearly 19 years. We’ve been through a lot together. Now I could tell them that marriage is more than a contract, it’s a covenant between you and God.  Or I could tell them that marriage isn’t about your feelings or someone else making you happy; it’s about you making your spouse happy.

But the one thing I like to point to, is the plaque that hangs in my laundry room. It is rumored to be excerpted from a 1950’s high school home economics textbook. Maybe you’ve seen it before. For those of us who may have missed that class, here is marital advice to live by.

How to be a Good Wife
HAVE DINNER READY: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal on time. This is a way to let him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned with his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home, and having a good meal ready is part of the warm welcome that is needed. (‘Planning ahead’ is key. I once served Jeff  microwave popcorn for dinner. In my defense, I opened the bag and poured it into a bowl.)
PREPARE YOURSELF: Take fifteen minutes to rest so that you will be refreshed when he arrives. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift. Greet him with a smile. (If I were a little “gay,” I’m sure I ‘d also be a little more interesting.)
CLEAR AWAY THE CLUTTER: Make one last trip though the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up children’s books and toys, papers, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you lift too. ( We have two teen-aged sons and a preteen. Enough said.)
PREPARE THE CHILDREN: If they are small, wash their hands and faces and comb their hair. They are his little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. (See prior comment.)
MINIMIZE ALL NOISE: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise from the washer, dryer, or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet. (So, you DON’T want me to clean the house?)
SOME “DO NOT’S”: Don’t greet him with problems and complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Count this as a minor problem compared to what he might have gone through that day. (Question: When do I get to complain? If you couldn’t tell – I’m complaining right now.)
MAKE HIM COMFORTABLE: Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest that he lie down in the bedroom. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing voice. Allow him to relax and unwind. (Why don’t you just say –  and get undressed.)
LISTEN TO HIM: You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first. (Or  enjoy the sound of crickets chirping.)
MAKE THE EVENING HIS: Never complain if he doesn’t take you to dinner or to other entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his need to unwind and relax. (Better to make the evening ‘his’ than the ‘Evening News’.)
THE GOAL: TO MAKE YOUR HOME A PLACE OF PEACE AND ORDER WHERE YOUR HUSBAND CAN RELAX IN BODY AND SPIRIT.

Okay, I actually agree with that last one. That is my  goal. The other recommendations are more like fantasies.

Day 48: Girlfriends are Forever!

pledge lineI never understood girls who claimed they got along better with guys than with other girls. I assumed that must be code for “friends with benefits.” Because I knew deep down that when my relationship with my boyfriend eventually failed, it would be my girlfriends who would put me back together again with a roll of chocolate chip cookie dough and a bottle of wine.  A guy would never do that.

Over the years, I formed most of my girlfriendships while pledging, going to school activities, working, and occasionally, while attending events with my husband. And I have always made a friend at the place frequented by all of Mommyhood – dun, dun, dun – play dates. Do you know how easy it is to bond over goldfish and sipper cups?

But it wasn’t until I walked my youngest kid to the bus stop and returned home that it hit me: WHERE DID MY GIRLFRIENDS GO? Getting older means letting go of the fantasy that every friend will be there when you cross the finish line; some will finish the race ahead of you. Others were never designed to travel with you for more than a season.

But the ones who endure through life’s boyfriends and husbands; bad hairstyles and cancer; cookie dough and really expensive bottles of wine, those girlfriends are forever!

dst 100th-3

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