Posted on April 8, 2018
Posted on April 8, 2018Today is our anniversary.
In my mind I go over all of the things we've been through during our five years of marriage. It is more pain and sadness than a lot of people have to endure over an entire lifetime. I don't sit around too often feeling sorry for myself; it doesn't help any, and frankly, there is no time for any of that.
There were devastating losses and a series of unfortunate events that unfolded for us before cancer, but cancer was the biggest punch in the gut. I reread my last update and in it I said that I am not the same as I was before cancer; we are not the same. I haven't had a full year without feeling the direct impact of it quite yet, and I look forward to having that 365 days' bumper zone of perceived safety between the memories of "this time last year" but I'm not quite there yet. I do not have cancer anymore, but it takes a toll long after it's left. It has changed so much for us.
One thing it has not changed is the love and the deep gratitude I have for my babies, who, whether I want to admit it or not, are now toddlers. We celebrated their second birthday quietly with "Grammie" Sue and "Grampa" Bill (his real name is Charlie, you know), with two tiny cakes from the local bakery that we brought home. Charlie ate nearly the entire little carrot cake we got for him. I was tipped off that he loved carrot cake from Ramone's Bakery one night when he was very sick and hadn't been eating. He woke up between fevers and toddled into the kitchen wearing nothing but a diaper and after finding myself at a loss trying to get him to eat something, anything-- I tried the leftover Ramone's carrot cake that had been sitting in the fridge. He couldn't get enough of it that night! I never thought I'd be so happy to report that my son was eating gobs of cream cheese frosting at 2:30 am. Charlie loved the cake just as much this time, for his birthday. Clementine, on the other hand, was unimpressed with the lemon poppyseed cake and recommends you choose a different flavor.
Daniel just came into the room and shared with me his woes about a Calculus 3 homework problem, and whenever he does this I always find myself grateful that I only teach 1st-3rd graders (athough I was showing one of my 3rds some high school level algebra this week and that was fun)! The ERE Program is HARD. Really, REALLY HARD. He's gone a lot during the week and I try to hold together my inner Montessorian most nights during a routine that feels much like what I imagine wrangling kittens on high doses of caffeine must be like. Let's be clear that it is the kittens who have the caffeine in this scenario; there is not enough caffeine in the world for me lately! This semester has been challenging for both of us but we still have fun, especially when we're with Clementine and Charlie on weekends.
Recently we've been involved in the fight to save the kids' child care center which is at risk of privatisation or closure due to the university's $9M budget crisis. As you can imagine, it would have some serious implications for our family and many others. I am encouraged by the response to my organizing efforts; a petition that is nearing 1,000 signatures, a team of nearly 500 supporters, and countless letters and emails were written and sent. Daniel and I along with our fellow supporters are using our best public speaking talent and together with all these tactics we're putting pressure on the school. We even made the front page of the local paper, and they are hearing us! Please ignore the fact that my kid only has one shoe on in that photo in the paper.
Our fingers are crossed.
I spent a very romantic Valentine's Day with my plastic surgeon and gynecologist this year. I don't remember the details of my 7 hours with them but I hope everything was relatively consensual and I think I signed a paper beforehand saying that's how it was all supposed to go down. I woke up with silicone implants instead of those awful tissue expanders (yay!) and short a set of ovaries and fallopian tubes. Despite my Dad's teasing that I'd decide to get "a set like Stormy Daniels'", I returned with what Stormy would very likely find disappointing. I think it is hilarious that anyone thought I'd go big; this was no "boob job", and besides, those of you who know me know that I don't care about that kind of bulls***! Also, if you know my Dad, you are familiar with his sense of humor.
Anyhow, I'm feeling pretty good physically and I am glad to be through what we hope is the last big part of this cancer thing. Now we can refocus and continue the hard work of figuring out how to move forward while not looking too far ahead. Looking too far ahead can get scary and the unknown is always there to cause anxiety for anyone, with or without this stuff to think about.
I have to keep traveling to UCSF every few months to get checked up, do some damage control, and keep myself well. We have so many of you supporting us and pushing us toward happier days! You have made such a difference, and continue to. We are okay largely because of your help.
Life goes on.
Daniel and I will have dinner tonight and my Mom is in town helping us during a hard time so she'll watch the kids. They love having her here and we have had some good times. Clementine got her first pair of sunglasses today and she refused to take them off during a trip to the grocery store, much to my fellow shoppers' delight! Charlie has recently discovered that he can climb over the baby gate in his doorway after figuring out how to do it in his crib. We are still trying to process this new aspect of our home lives and he finds this quite amusing.
My students are smart, loving, thoughtful problem solvers and peace makers and I could not be happier to spend my days with them. My colleagues are also my friends and I love what we do together. Chili the Dog turns 15 this month and she is still just as food motivated as ever and enjoys lying in the sun on our front lawn under a big, blossoming cherry tree.
When the unknown sneaks into my thoughts like it still so often does and when I begin to wonder how many anniversaries, or birthdays, or years or months or days or hours there will be, I try to return to what really matters.
What a lot of people spend life thinking matters often doesn't matter at all. What really matters is love, friends, family, wise old dogs under cherry trees in the sun, and eating a good carrot cake with cream cheese frosting at 2am.
Posted on January 7, 2018
Posted on January 7, 2018Hello Everyone,
Life has been nonstop since we returned to Eureka and all went back to our lives full-time. Much of it is a blur and I am not the person I was before cancer. We are not the same family we were before cancer.
I have a wonderful classroom this year and Daniel is doing well at HSU. He got his first B of his college career (**gasp!**) last semester. I think it was a Calculus 2 class that did him in! I am so proud of him and he continues to be a wonderful and supportive father and husband. I assure him that yes, one day he'll get his fancy fishing kayak and some time to actually enjoy it on the water! Presently, Daniel spends his days studying or with the kids, and he does both happily.
The babies are coming up on their second birthday in March and it is unbelievable how fast the time goes. Their language and skills continue to grow at an exponential rate, and they are the most lovely little humans I could have ever imagined spending the rest of my life with. My heart overflows with joy when I think about how much I love them! Clementine is a tiny little person with a huge personality and a brilliance about her. She charms people everywhere she goes and is thoughtful about the way she approaches every interaction or new opportunity. She is a happy child and she makes us laugh often. Charlie is sweet, sensitive, brave, and wears his heart proudly on his size 2T sleeve! He is all about big movements and big emotions, and he loves to go on adventures and learn new things. He reads books, finds out how things work, and tests just how far he can push his toddler limits before falling asleep in our arms.
We had a nice holiday and visited family down in the Bay Area for about a week, then returned home to get caught up on some things and allow the babes to fully recover from the back-to-back cold viruses they've had since starting daycare in the fall semester. We left "Grammie" Sue and "Graa-pA" Bill with colds and a house that had been turned upside down! The kids enjoyed seeing their family and especially their cousins in Walnut Creek for a beautiful Christmas Day Brunch at their Uncle Ted and Aunt Megan's house.
The holidays felt much better this year than they did the last. I was still very sick this time a year ago but did not know of what I would still go through. We were treading water for so long that when we came home and got settled I suddenly had a great deal of processing to do. It has felt a lot like grief and I am still sorting through it all but I am feeling better physically and emotionally every day that passes. My family, friends, support groups and medical community help with this tremendously.
I have been back to UCSF a few times for check-ins with my doctors and surgeons and I am getting prepared for my next surgery in February. I'll have my tissue expanders swapped out for implants and will have my ovaries and tubes removed at that time as well. BRCA1 carries a high risk for breast cancer AND ovarian cancer; it is like a gift that keeps on giving (a really awful one that we never wanted), but we are going to try to get ahead of the ovarian cancer! Your support has made it easier to get through it all so far, and will continue to help me get well and stay well.
I hate cancer. In 2017 I lost two dear friends from cancer and several were diagnosed, including one of my favorite nurses at UCSF and a little boy who attends school where I used to teach. I can only hope that this time next year they will be looking back at the pure hell they are currently trudging through and starting their own process of picking up all the pieces and trying to figure out what the heck just happened. Both places are often uncomfortable to be in and carry their own set of fears and lessons you never wish you had to learn, but there is something especially miserable about the diagnosis and treatment part.
I'm sorry it has been a while since my last update. Things have been sort of crazy around here with twin toddlers, type 1 diabetes, a 14 year old Wonder Dog, full time teaching, and all the moments in between. Just in case you were wondering, Chili is doing great. She spends her days eating the toddler snacks that fall off the table and getting snuggled by kiddos!
I consider myself very fortunate and grateful.
I'll never complain about getting old. I hope you don't either.
Happy New Year
Lauren, Daniel, Charlie, Clementine and Chili the Dog
Posted on October 9, 2017
Posted on October 9, 2017For most, any kind of Fill-in-the-Blank-Here-Awareness Month is a short parade of ribbons, in a pleasant color, in little corners of their life. Maybe a football team will wear pink shoes for a game or two, or a celebrity will make a statement about someone they lost from this or that condition. A restaurant chain will offer a percentage of their proceeds to benefit some well known organization that, at least from the appearance of the nice logo or the annual fundraisers they put on, seems to make some kind of difference.
This year it all started with the lid on a drive through coffee coffee cup (did I have to say that twice?) and this kicked off Breast Cancer Awareness Month in my life, at least the part of it with the pretty ribbon and the trendy hashtags.
Cancer really has nothing to do with these things.
This time last year I was in month two of high dose chemotherapy, with no hair, two infants, and a variety of anti-nausea drugs in little bottles and various doses. My oncologist had told me that it was "going to be a really, really shitty year." Looking back, that was a little bit of an understatement. My life and the lives of those I loved fell apart around me, and for more than a year we struggled to "be okay" enough to get through the next hour, week, chemo infusion, hospital stay, or surgery. Many days I did not have the strength to get out of bed to play with my new babies. My husband, and other people, cared for them. There was a period of about ten weeks during which I was not allowed to pick them up or hold them against my chest.
I remember the day my mother shaved my head, and when my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out. I remember when my skin turned gray and my nails began to get blood streaks in them, hurt, and then fall off.
Over those days and weeks and months I learned that breast cancer was not neat and tidy like a pink ribbon with a safety pin through it. I would never think of those ribbons, logos or trendy sayings about things like cancer in the same way again. They were nice ways of helping well meaning people feel better about something ugly; something that might take someone they love away from them in a messy, sad and tragic way.
I want to be perfectly clear; none of what I am describing should take away the importance of Awareness Months. We do need a way to make such a horrible thing tolerable enough and marketable enough to discuss, spread knowledge of, and (hopefully) do something significant about. These are uncomfortable topics, and as the friends and followers of my story know by now, I don't tend to sugar coat the horrible parts unless I am feeling especially vulnerable or otherwise worried that I will scare people off if I am too honest about my story.
The truth is, Breast Cancer Awareness doesn't just happen one month out of the year for me, or my loved ones, anymore. We have to be aware every day for the rest of our lives. I certainly hope that this means at least a few more decades of Awareness for me and that I am given the gift of living that long. I hope with all my heart that I have the privilege of watching my toddlers grow up to be kind, empowered, and strong adults. I hope I can be their Mother long enough for them to know me, remember me, and watch me get old.
Many young women with breast cancer, especially triple negative breast cancer, don't get that far. I struggle with the decision to stay active in many of my support networks because every time I see another announcement that a young Mother with small children has died, it hurts and terrifies me in ways that I cannot begin to describe to you here.
All I can do are the little things I've been told to do, like eat relatively healthily (without obsessing over it!), continue my teaching career (without becoming stressed or overworked!), take walks (even when I am tired and it is raining!), and keep moving forward through life with the assumption that I will probably be okay (but might not be). There are other things, but I won't bore you with the details.
Here's the thing; cancer will forever be a part of me. Whether it is the trauma leftover, the chronic pain, the remaining surgeries, changes, challenges, successes and failures; the long trips to visit the oncologists and doctors multiple times a year, or the hope I hold in my heart that someday there will be a cure or a solution, it is there.
Cancer finds me often. It finds me when I am holding my babies at night and I begin to wonder how many more days, months or years I have left with them, my husband, my family and my friends. Cancer finds me with every headache, bone pain, blood test and appointment to be made. It finds me on birthdays and anniversaries. There is a deep fear in every one of those things, and I will have to find a way to live with it.
Often people make the comparison of cancer to a war or a battle; something one wins or loses. It's not like that at all, and the ones who "lose their fight" don't ever lose for lack of trying. Most of the time it just isn't an even playing field and your biology has more to do with it than any amount of thoughts, prayers or fancy state of the art treatments or medical care. In America, having health insurance at diagnosis is likely one of the best things to tip the scales in your favor, for crying out loud!
And then there is still a lot of hope.
There is a good chance that with some luck, continued access to care, ongoing support and... meditation, mindfulness, therapy, stress reduction, short walks, healthy food, enough money to fund it all, and a whole lot of LOVE....
Some days I think I might just make it.
There is nothing more that I look forward to than telling a fifteen year old Clementine that no, she cannot wear those shorts outside of the house; or gripping the door handle and stomping on the non-existent brake on the floor of the passenger side of the car (like my own Mother did) when I get to teach Charlie how to drive a car one day. I want to be an old lady with old lady problems and complaints and aches and pains. I want my former students (that's YOU, VMS graduates!! You know our arrangement!) to come pick me up from the old lady home and take me to lunch, even if I am a little bit nutty. I can guarantee I will at least be a little bit nuttier than I am right now. I want to care for, spend time with, and love my parents as they get older.
Last year I was very sick during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year I am better but different and not feeling recovered yet, BUT I MADE IT A YEAR. The next time I see pink ribbons and coffee cup lids, it will be another year I will be here with my family. The year after that, with the pink football cleats and gloves will come the 3 year out mark, when my chances of recurrence start to go down. Those damn pink ribbons everywhere represent awareness of something that is often sad but also hopeful.
Oh, and before I forget, that pink ribbon should remind you to go get your boobies checked. Don't fucking wait on that, don't put that off. Also, while I'm at it, don't hesitate to throw that f-bomb in with the c-word, because there is no better combination. FUCK CANCER. See how nicely that rolls off the tongue?
This month, wear your ribbons, sign up for your walks and donate if you can to organizations or individuals that need your help.
I still need help. We still need help. I need those cards and texts and calls to keep coming. I need those words of encouragement and funny photos and inspiring stories to keep heading our way. If you are able, we can use help paying for childcare while I go to doctors appointments or therapy sessions to keep me healthy, or just to rest, or the gas to get to UCSF from Eureka.
I don't care who you help during Awareness Month, just help someone however you can. Share the love because LOVE is what makes life bearable and even joyful during the most miserable times.
You have brought so much joy to our lives. You have helped so much. Thank you.
Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month; now here come the trendy hashtags: #BRCAware #checkyourboobies #minetriedtokillme #fuckcancer #sorrynotsorry #inmemoryofsomany #iwanttolive
Please SHARE our YouCaring page to bring awareness this month. You could save a life with our story.
Lauren, Daniel, Clementine, Charlie and Chili the Dog