Recipe Fail...

We have an apple tree in our backyard.  We've lived in this house for five years and it has never produced as many apples as it has this year.  So far I've made apple butter and applesauce and my husband made a pie.  Apples have been yummy.
With all of this cooking, though, it was bound to happen.  I flubbed a recipe.  I don't know if something was missing from it or if I did something wrong but my beautiful cream cheese apple bread not only doesn't look at all like the picture on the recipe but the center completely collapsed. 
Here's hoping it still tastes yummy but one thing is for sure, I'm not freezing loaf number two and saving it for Thanksgiving!
 UPDATED:  I did an online search and came across the recipe on this blog and realized as soon as I read it what I did wrong.  I didn't "fold" the flour, etc. into the wet ingredients.  I mixed them.  That gives me hope...I should be able to do it again and get it right!  Here's hoping.  And...we did go ahead and try one of the loaves and the taste is AMAZING!!!  I will definitely be trying this again and trying to get it right!!


National {fill in the blank} Day

I LOVE a good party.  I love planning them, I love all of the work that goes into putting them together, I even love cleaning up after them.  If I could, I'd plan parties ALL the time.  I came into that love a little late, though and so "event planning" wasn't the career for me but I sure can see myself doing it.

One thing is for sure, I don't need an excuse to throw a party but I sure do love it when one is handed to me.  What I've decided, though, is I need a "party calendar" - one that shows me in advance what the "National ________ Day" is and when it's happening.

For instance - September 18th - National Cheeseburger Day.  September 19th - National Talk Like a Pirate Day.  September 26th - National Pancake Day.

Who knew?

There HAS to be something out there - somewhere - that shows all of those "National" Days, right?  All I need to do is find them all, put them together in one place and then start planning parties around the ones I like.

I mean - who wouldn't love to talk like a pirate all day?  Or eat pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner?  Who wouldn't love to celebrate with a ginormous, juicy cheeseburger after a hard day at work...

Anyone know of any other FUN "National" Days?  When and what?


Sharing Opinions

A friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook today.  She was talking to someone who shared an opinion regarding my friend's "liberal" views on child labor in other countries.  The woman stated "I don't even have TV... I love how all you liberals automatically spout off things you know nothing about. Also...those "poor children" who have to work for pennies per day are happy to have those jobs to FEED their families. When do gooders like yourself go in and stop companies from hiring those children and poor people... Many times they starve because that was their ONLY source of income."
First, I have to say - I'm not a fan of name calling.  Probably because I have done it far too often in my life and it usually has disastrous results.  What I've realized is those words come out of our mouth, usually without thinking.  We don't even look at what we're saying as "name calling."  The term "do gooders" in her comment wasn't meant as a compliment, though.  It was a sneaky way to tuck an insult into the middle of her point.  That by itself would be enough to turn me off from listening to her.
The second thing I want to point out here is where she states "you liberals automatically spout off things you know nothing about."  Yeah - there is that name calling again but more importantly, she stereotypes AND makes an assumption about my friend's knowledge base.  Is she certain my friend doesn't know what she's talking about?  Does she know for an absolute certainty my friend has never talked to any of these "poor people" who "have to work for pennies per day?"  Probably not. 
This woman wasn't trying to make - or disprove - any kind of valid point.  Instead, she attempted to make my friend feel foolish, stupid and ignorant.  I'd be curious to ask her if she was part of her debate club in school.  If she ever had any kind of class on building a constructive argument.  I'm not against her having a view different from my friend.  This country was built on allowing differences of opinion.  I sometimes wonder, though, if we haven't strayed so far from being capable of stating a persuasive argument that the only way we know to share a differing opinion is to denigrate the person who doesn't agree with us.
That doesn't state our case at all persuasively.  It instead creates antagonism toward each other and then nothing is heard.  It's how feuds get started... and wars... 
I disagree with this woman on many levels but that isn't what I'm talking about today.  That would require a post all of its own, a lot of writing and re-writing and I'm not going there this morning.  What I wonder, actually, is what would happen if we called people who spoke that way to us on the carpet?  What if we asked them, politely, to back up what they just said?  How would that woman have reacted if my friend had asked her, point blank, what proof she had "those poor people" ARE happy to "work for pennies?"  What were the statistics, who had she talked to, what had she read?  Also, I would have probably asked her how she was so certain my friend didn't know what she was talking about.  How in depth had this woman gone into my friend's experiences to make such an accusation? 
Don't get me wrong - this wording is quite antagonistic and I realize that.  I'd probably word it exactly as I've written it but smarter people than me could definitely figure out a way to say it more diplomatically.  If they chose.
Say what you want about Jesus (and some of those comments would probably require a blog post of their own, too) but you can't argue too much with his methods of teaching.  He was incredibly persuasive often because his way of teaching involved asking those he taught a question.  He didn't lecture.  He didn't name call.  He didn't denigrate those who were listening to Him.  He "astonished" the Pharisees and scribes because He taught as one with authority.  Even those who sought to kill Him had to admit He knew what He was talking about and in those days, that wasn't so easy to do.  They didn't have college level classes on line in those days...  People then sat at the feet of teachers for years, learning all they could.  How did He gain and maintain such authority?  By teaching in such a manner as to be respected.  He made people think for themselves, rarely giving answers - just answering questions with more questions.
Perhaps it's time we stop trying to force others to swallow our opinions.  Perhaps it's time we converse in questions and with a sense of respecting another's thoughts - even if they are completely wrong.  Respect does not mean agree and does not mean condone.  It means treating others as we want to be treated.
Yup...that one is biblical, too....


Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 14

You know what I realized this morning?  It's the 21st of September, there are technically 9 more days until the end of the month and from here on out, my posts would be talking about the end of Mom's life.

I can't do it, folks.  I can't write about ovarian cancer for 30 straight days and maybe that's a good thing.  It'll mean being creative next year.  Maybe I'll do 30 days of how to use teal instead... Or... 30 days of how to live and DO what's on your bucket list, don't wait.  I don't know.

I just know I can't write for 30 days about the saddest year and a half of my life so far.  And you know why?  Because life isn't about death.  It's about living.  It's about living even if you DON'T have a terminal diagnosis.  Talking about that balloon festival trip brought up so much for me.  So many things I had thought about when Mom died but let time do what it always does - distract me, derail me, shift my focus.

See - before Mom got sick, I fought hard against human trafficking.  I did everything I knew to do to bring awareness of that horror to everyone I came in contact with and I knew my stuff, I'll tell you.  I knew the stats, I knew what was going on where and I knew who to talk to to get involved.  I knew I wasn't going to play some dynamic world-stage kind of role in that fight but I knew what my fight was.

Then, Mom was diagnosed and suddenly God said - focus here.  So I did.  I focused on Mom and our relationship and everything I could to make family as right as I could before she died.  I did learn I'm not the best diplomat in the world but I already knew that.  I learned I still needed to practice humility.  I'm not so good at being humble.  I learned I don't always have to be right but that I really, really like it when I am.

And I learned that we all have an "end" date and we don't know what it is so it's best to live each and every day as if today were that day.  I believe in heaven and my faith tells me I get to live there when I die but it also tells me that not everyone I love here will join me.  You don't have to agree with me but this is my blog so I'm not going to argue it.  It is a part of my faith and that's that.

I had the privilege of staying with my mother through her last weekend.  I gave her her last bath, I carried her from her bedroom to the dining room where the hospital bed was set up.  I gave her her last dose of morphine that Saturday night.  I found her at 4:30 AM Sunday morning, pretty quickly after she had passed.  Other than that, everything that happened that weekend stays with me.  I won't share it beyond saying the business of dying isn't at all glamorous, or quiet or easy.  The images I carry from that last weekend have robbed me in many ways - of my mother's "real" voice, how a "real" hug from her actually feels, even her laugh... I can't remember the sounds of who she really was.  All I can remember are the sounds from that weekend. 

There is that side of it but then there is the other side of it.  The side that says I was capable of being there.  What happened that weekend took a strength I had no idea I had - because it wasn't my strength.  This I know, with everything I am, if it weren't for God holding me up that weekend, I would not have made it through.  Remember that conversation I had with the nurse about my ex-husband during my son's birth?  She was oh so right - there is nothing worse, in my experience so far, than witnessing someone you love with all of your heart going through excruciating pain and you can do absolutely nothing to help them with it. I could administer morphine, I could wipe her forehead with a damp, cool cloth but she had to die without my help.  I couldn't do that for her. 

But God could and He could strengthen my hands, my back...and my heart... to get through those last 3 days. 

As time has passed, the memories from that weekend have not faded.  They are as clear to me as if they happened last weekend.  What has happened, though, are other memories are coming back.  It's as if they ran from a bully for a little bit, until they realized that bully really has no power.  Mom died that Sunday but she is not dead.  She is with Jesus.  She didn't end so much as she walked through a door.  I just had to close and lock it behind her.  Once my memories started to believe that (ok - that's poorly written but I hope you know what I mean), they could come back.  Tentatively at first but now?  Now it's like a flood.  Honestly, I still can't remember her real voice or her real laugh - but I can see her, the real her so I pray those sounds come back to me eventually, too.  I keep saying I need to watch videos of family gatherings so I can hear her again but so far, I haven't been able to do that very much. Not yet.  I know I'll get there, though.

So - I end my posts on ovarian cancer here.  Maybe somewhat in defiance.  Ovarian cancer won't go away just because October 1st happens.  My mother won't come back to life because I share memories of her here.  So...in defiance I stop.  I stop trying to hold onto something I can't get back.  Instead, I think, I'll turn a corner and see if I can figure out how to give it all a new look.  A new hold...  Sweet, beautiful memories of an amazing woman who I was blessed and am honored to have been able to call her Mom.

With that said, though?  Please don't ignore the message of these posts.  Ovarian cancer is a silent disease.  It masks itself as other issues that women ignore until it is too late.  Remember what I have said - Mom walked around for SEVEN YEARS with stomach issues, bloating issues, gas issues.  SEVEN YEARS she was told it was in her head.  And even though she was staged 1c, she didn't make it 2 years, let alone the 5 "average" for someone diagnosted at her stage.  Don't ignore the signs, no matter how small they may be.  Go.  Be your own best advocate.   

Now, I'm going to resume life in my "new normal."  God bless.


Ovarian Cancer Facts - Post 5

A few statistics:

1.  Approximately 204,000 people are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.

2.  Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women.

3.  The importance of an early diagnosis:  The prognosis for survival of 5 years or more for a woman diagnosed at Stage 1a to Stage 1c is 80-90%.  A woman diagnosed at Stage 4 is just under 12%.

4.  The percentage of women diagnosed early?  30%



Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 13

We often hear people say don't put things off, don't procrastinate.  Tell someone you love that you love them, don't miss an opportunity to do that.  We've heard a thousand stories that drive that point home and I'm jumping ahead in the story a little bit here but this is mine. As I've been writing these posts, a lot of memories have come flooding back. Most of them are still hazy but some of them are incredibly clear. Those that are clear are sometimes painful.

Every year in Walla Walla, WA, there is a hot air balloon festival. It's not huge but it brings hot air balloons from all over the area and a few from out of state. My favorite part is the night glow. Balloons circle up and when the sun sets, they all fire up and the glow is breathtaking. The patterns and colors on those balloons are lit from within and it's gorgeous.

When I first moved out here I was fortunate enough to experience it one weekend. From time to time, Mom and I would talk about planning a trip over for the balloon festival. She so desperately wanted to see all of those balloons in one place and to experience that night glow show I talked so much about. 

We planned on getting a hotel, hanging out together, enjoying the balloons, the food, the craft booths... For many years it simply wasn't in my budget. To be honest, I don't know if it was always held over Mother's Day weekend but at some point we realized that was when it was held and while my grandmother was alive it was a bit tricky for us to plan on going. Nan couldn't travel like that anymore and Mother's Day was important to her. It always made us laugh - she would treat us to brunch. On Mother's Day. The oldest mother in the group, our matriarch and she treated us on that day of all days... But it was important to her.
I digress. It was, ultimately, why we never went to the balloon festival. Then Nan passed away and while it didn't occur to us that first year, it did finally sink in that we should go. So for three years we talked about it and in that talking, Mom was diagnosed. That changed things a bit. Suddenly it became urgent but then again, not so urgent. In all of Mom's treatment, we let too much time go by that first year - we couldn't get a hotel reservation and there was no way Mom was sleeping in a tent. The second year I wish I could remember what happened but I can't and so whatever it was, we didn't go that year, either.
Finally, January, 2011 we thought about it with plenty of time and made the arrangements. We were going with a few of my friends and we set it up so that Mom & I would have a room to ourselves if she were able to go but if she weren't, there wouldn't be an extra room.  We talked about that trip and talked about that trip for months.  Mom seemed excited but now?  Now I think she did that to avoid disappointing me.  Remember how I mentioned earlier Mom in tune with God, knowing He was going to call her home?  I'm fairly sure on some level she knew she wasn't getting to Walla Walla but at the same time, hope lived on and she might have thought "maybe..."

We were headed out on Friday and I talked to her briefly on the Tuesday before and it was then that I asked her and she said 'I don't think so.'  And that was that.  The end of a dream.  A small dream, mind you.  In the grand scheme of things, for all of the stuff I was able to do with my mother, not going to the balloon festival was fairly minor on the list of things we couldn't do but still...  It was another dagger, driving that point home.  Mom was dying.  Dying.  She would be gone.  Not here.  I couldn't call her, I couldn't ask her what she was up to today...did she want to go...  I couldn't ask her how to make her pork chops and I couldn't lose her lasagna recipe (again) because I wasn't going to just be able to call her and ask her.

Even as I sit and type this, I can feel it.  Inside.  It starts in my gut and wells up until it's so huge and so much pressure from the inside that I feel like if I don't scream, I'm going to explode.  I know God's plan is perfect and I know He didn't make any mistakes in calling her home but still...  Mom???  Why did He need Mom then?  Why so young?  Why so early?  Why so soon??? 

Going with her to the balloon festival wouldn't have changed the hurt in losing her.  It would mean one less regret, though. 

By the way - that scheduled trip?  The Walla Walla Balloon Festival 2011?  May 13-15, 2011.  Mom died on the 15th.

Don't put off until tomorrow...


Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 12

So I've been writing a lot about anger during Mom's last year.  Now that there is time between then and now, I can look back on it and see just how angry we were that Mom was sick. 
You know - when I gave birth to my son, one of the nurses I had chatted with me when I was getting settled into my room about my then husband.  I had some mixed feelings about how he had handled the whole thing and ultimately, I felt deserted.  He took off for 7-Eleven and picked up food for himself when the best I could do was suck on ice chips (and he ate in front of me), he had to be taken care of by a couple of nurses during Chris' actual birth because he almost passed out.  They gave him orange juice...while I was in ridiculous pain and scared to death because our baby was under a lot of stress during that birth.
All of this to say the nurse put all of my anger and disappointment into an interesting perspective.  She told me my ex's reaction wasn't all that uncommon.  Fathers come into the labor room and later the delivery room and can do, basically, nothing.  Maybe handle a camera if that's what they decided ahead of time but the actual birth and delivery?  Not much they can do.  And they stand there, watching their wife in pain, crying and begging for relief and there is NOTHING they can do.  Men do not do well with "helpless."  Especially not when someone they love is hurting.
As I watched Mom's decline, I thought of that nurse often and realized I completely understood how my ex felt.  I was so ridiculouslyl angry because Mom was sick but I was even angrier that I could do absolutely NOTHING to make it better.  I couldn't take it from her, I couldn't ease her pain, I couldn't chase the cancer off.  I could do nothing.  This unseen disease had snuck into the midst of our family and rendered us helpless.  Angry and helpless.  It was stealing from us the glue that held us together, the one we loved the most and the one we could rely on the greatest.  And we couldn't stop it. 
Of course, we could see it now.  We could see it in the white wisps of hair she had.  Her beautiful strawberry blonde (I'll give her that today - I used to tell her she had red hair because she did but she preferred the term strawberry blonde...) hair had all fallen out and at one point she was bald.  Then, it started to grow back in with chemo number two and it was so soft, such a beautiful white/silver color and it looked cute so short.  I'd ask her, when she was sitting at her desk at work, if I could run my hands through her hair. She'd laugh and let me.  It was so soft - softer than cashmere and I loved touching her hair.  I miss those days.  I miss her giggle and her outright laugh.
You start looking at the many facets of who a person is when you know they're going to be gone.  It's definitely hard losing her but I am very grateful for the time we had with her as she fought.  If it had been a heart attack or something else sudden, so much would have been left out there - unsaid, undone, unknown.  We learned so much in those months and discovered a lot. 
And treasured things more.  In 2006 my grandmother passed away and when my grandmother still lived in New Jersey, she would create grave blankets every year for members of her family - her mother, her grandmother, my grandfather's parents, various aunts and uncles and eventually my grandfather.  When I was little, we'd go over there and Mom would help her.  Then, when they moved to the west coast, I helped my grandmother.  When my grandmother passed away, Mom and I took up that tradition and made a grave blanket for her.  We'd put it out the beginning of December and it would stay until sometime in January.  In December, 2009 Mom and I worked together. In December, 2010 Mom "supervised" and then drove down with me.  In December, 2011, I made blankets for my grandmother and my mother.  When I made that first blanket for her last year, memories ran through my head from 2009. 

I seem to be deviating from the actual journey of Mom's cancer, don't I?  I think that's in part because during this time period, we were wrapped up in the business of living.  Mom was still going through chemo but Mom's retirement happened, Thanksgiving happened, Christmas happened...  2010 was a year of "lasts" and we knew it. 
My next post I'll talk about Mom's retirement...


Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 11

The second round of chemo started but it didn't take too long to know it wasn't really working.  Mom wasn't feeling any better.  Considering how quickly they had to start her on the next round, she was down a lot more than she was up, too.  She hadn't had a chance to bounce back at all before the next assault on her system happened.

For me, it was so hard at work.  Not because of the extra work, although that was challenging.  What was so hard was trying to adjust to her not being there.  With the benefits plan we have at our work and how old I was when I started and how old Mom was when she started, we always joked that we'd retire at the same time.  It was becoming more and more obvious that plan wasn't going to go as originally designed. 

Days went by, weeks went by.  Summer 2010 happened and I stayed away from a lot of the full family gatherings.  Tension with family stuff kept me away.  My sister gave birth to her 3rd daughter in June and I wasn't a part of any of it.  I was fairly angry and honestly, still am in a lot of ways, that my family allowed her to be the way she is.  The thing that got me was it was she & my brother-in-law who initiated the entire problem and should have taken care of it right away but chose not to.  It took me a long time to admit I had any part in causing the issue.  They started it and they ran from it.  Rather than talking to me, they took the coward's way out.  That's how I saw it and honestly?  That's how it was.  What I didn't do was keep my eyes focused on He who reminds me to be a peacemaker and keeper.  He who reminds me that non-believers don't have the same set of rules I do.  I let my temper flare and I ended up saying things I shouldn't have said.  Justifying it because - well - they started it.  Probably the only thing I can say about it now is I have tried - I have admitted my part in escalating the issue, I have asked for forgiveness.  They choose to hold a grudge and be bitter about it.  That was what made that entire time period so difficult.  That was their choice and my family allowed it.

With that said, I wasn't there for that last 4th of July.  I didn't spend a lot of time with the whole family that last summer.  I would spend time with Mom, at work, etc.  In there, though, and I can't remember exactly when it was, Mom and I had a massive fight about what my sister & brother-in-law had done.  And we had it at work.  I was so absolutely disgusted by all that they had allowed and the straw that broke that camel's back was my mother brought in a picture collage of my new niece and hung it on her desk.  When she was gone, I noticed it and commented on it.  It disappeared immediately.  She told me she had been told I was allowed to know nothing about by new niece.  That did it.  Mom had sided with my sister and I was done. 

It really is hard to talk about now because there are so many facets to this issue and they go back many, many years.  A lot came to a head with that fight and at the end of it I told Mom that while we were at work we had to strictly be co-workers.  We couldn't be mother & daughter.  That family ugliness was totally unprofessional.  She had walked out after that argument without saying a word to me, just walked out the front door and drove off.  I sent her a text asking her if she had quit, telling her that leaving without telling me was incredibly unprofessional and this is where that working together thing was tough.  We had a family fight.  At work.  But there was still work to do and we had to be professional at work.  And she acted unprofessionally because of a family fight...

And I was furious because she used her cancer to try to guilt me into behaving a certain way.

When she came back, that was when I told her we couldn't bring family stuff into the workplace anymore.  That we were strictly co-workers because honestly?  I can't begin to tell you how ripped apart I was that she had chosen my sister.  Actually?  I knew that even if the words were never said, my sister would have taken her girls away from my mother if my mother didn't do what my sister wanted.  My mother was caught between a rock and a hard place and instead of offering her compassion because of that, I chose to behave like a spoiled brat, too.  I wasn't any better than what I said infuriated me about my sister...

It took a couple of weeks but Mom and I did head out, on a Sunday afternoon, to a nearby park and talked through all of it.  We needed that neutral place.  It wasn't just that fight, either.  There was something in our family history that my mother had always said she didn't believe me had happened.  When that subject came up, Mom talked about how hard it was for her - if it had happened, what did that make her for not believing me, not protecting me?  If I had been 20 years younger during that conversation I would have told her it made her a horrible mother.  Instead, we talked about her fear and that what mattered was now.  There wasn't anything to be done about what happened, I just wanted her to believe me.  I asked her - if it wasn't true, why did I hold onto the same story for 30 years?  Why did that particular subject still hurt me so deeply?  If it wasn't true, why wouldn't I just...let it go.  It was me who brought it up - not her.  If it was a lie, why wouldn't I just let it go - you'd think the details would be difficult for me to remember & it would be oh so easy to catch me in an inconsistency but the story NEVER changed.  For just about thirty years I lived with that pain - alone.  Even today, of the people who know the details, the only person who actually believes me is my husband. 

It took that day and a few more conversations for us to be ok.  Or as ok as we were going to get.  It must have gotten through to her and I, though - at the end, she told me she wished she were more like me and I told her I wished I was more like her.  I wish I could tell you the clouds parted and sunbeams danced on daisy petals but it wasn't quite that lovely.  We did clear out tons of eggshells, though and from that day forward we were better, we weren't walking around each other like we were still walking on those eggshells...  I didn't pressure her anymore to confront my sister.  My anger at my sister didn't really dissipate - especially not when Mom would make a comment here and there about how she was still getting treated but I could put it in a different place, if that makes sense.  Mom so desperately wanted a happy family.  She loved her children with an intensity that is hard to describe.  She woke up every day hoping today would be the day we would be the people she dreamed we would be.  She took so much from us, especially her daughters, because she loved us.  I sometimes wonder what our lives would have been like if we had cleared the air years ago instead of trying to beat our position into the other one... 


Ovarian Cancer Facts - Post 4

Ovarian cancer can be beaten - it's just rare.

Go here to watch survivor stories.


Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 10

Well - here it is.  The middle of the month.  September 15, 2012.  Exactly one year and 4 months from the day Mom passed away.  16 very long, long months.  You know?  I wouldn't want her to have one more day of pain, one more day of being trapped on the couch or unable to enjoy anything but I often wonder how I'm going to get through every day of the rest of my life without her.
If you are - or were - fortunate enough to have an amazing mother, you know what I mean.  My life was wound so incredibly tight around hers, her dying is like ripping open a hole in my side - one that refuses to stop bleeding let alone scab over.  I think of her so often I'm amazed I can keep from crying constantly.  I talk to her in my head quite often - but they are short conversations because I get SO angry that I can't hear her answer.
About a month or so before my mother passed away, I talked to my boss about using a vacation day every Friday until either Mom was better or she passed.  My sister and my father were my mother's constant caretakers at that point and my coming up every Friday meant my sister could be at home with her family while my father went to work.  To this day I wish I could have been there more often but I couldn't.  Mom had retired (more on that as these posts continue - I've decided this post is going to be more about my feelings than about an account) back in October, 2010 so by April, 2011 we had filled her position and the woman had been with us for about four months.  She could do enough to get the guys through a day without me around.  It worked out ok. 
And I loved it.  I'd get up there about 10, give Mom the chance to wake up and get herself situated (she often slept in because the nights would be a bit rough).  A couple of times I swung by Jimmy John's and bought us gargantuans for lunch.  Mom loved them - they were as close to a yummy hoagie from New Jersey as we could find out here.  She couldn't eat much but she loved it nonetheless.  The first time I brought them up, she ate fully half of her sandwich.  It worked out.  I ate the other half and saved the second one for my Dad's dinner.  After that, she ate maybe a quarter.  The last one was just a bite or two.  It was so hard to measure her decline in things like that. 
The best part about those Fridays, though, was just being with Mom and talking.  Talking about memories, about the kids, about the job - whatever came up.  I'd do little things - I'd change the sheets on her bed and wash the old ones.  When I made her bed, I'd add some little touch - a stuffed animal at the foot of it or some other such thing.
We talked about our relationship a lot in those few weeks.  I was not a stellar example of a daughter and there were things that happened in my childhood that had put a wall between us.  I was angry at her, too, for things she should have done but didn't.  I didn't handle that anger very well - I was ridiculously immature about it.  Add to that my anger at my sister and the stuff that happened there plus my anger that my mother was dying, I had behaved fairly poorly quite often over the previous several months.  We talked through all of that.  I asked her to forgive me and she said she did.  I believe she meant it.  It wasn't so cut and dried - I had to face up to a lot of ugliness I had done and she had to face up to a lot she had and hadn't done, too.  It wasn't easy but it was good. 
The last conversation I had with my mother we had to laugh.  She made another comment about no one missing her when she was gone and I just reacted as I always did but this time I didn't just tell her she was wrong.  I asked her if she realized that 99% of the fun in my life was because of her or with her?  I told her - you have NO idea how much I'm going to miss you.  Every day of my life involves you somehow or another.  I told her I had absolutely no way of knowing how I was going to function.  She told me I'd manage - she wasn't all that special.  Laughed again...that kind of sarcastic laugh that has the undertone of "Are you KIDDING me????" Then I told her that most of my life I've wished I was just like her.  She was kind, she was sweet, she was nice - people liked having her around. 
That was when she started laughing.  That was when she told me she'd spent a good part of her life wishing she was more like me.
I probably had the most confused look on my face.  More like ME?????  Whyever would she want to be like me?  I'm loud, I say the wrong thing - always, I get angry far too quickly and often say things with the intention of hurting whomever I am talking to, if they get me mad.  She told me, though, she always loved how sure I was, how strong I was.  How I always knew what I was doing and didn't take crap from anybody.
She wished she was more like me...
To this day that conversation resonates in my head.  See - all of my life, I felt like the expendable one.   If I went away, my family not only wouldn't care, they'd forget I ever existed.  There was a lot that was done to me growing up and I was pretty sure it turned me ugly enough that no one would ever want me.  A lot of walls, a lot of foolish decisions and many years later and my mother tells me she wishes she was more like me....
Yeah.  Losing my mother was going to be hard and I really, really, had NO idea what hard actually meant.


Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 9

That July Mom went in for her CT scan.  The results were definitely not what we expected.  Mom's cancer had recurred.  According to her doctor, it was the fastest recurrence she had ever seen.  See - CT scans can only be done once every three months, something to do with the radioactive junk they have to drink.  Too often and it's lethal...or something like that.  I don't really remember.  My job was to take care of Mom's job while she did the medical stuff.  It was my sister's job to deal with the medical stuff.  It worked although it meant I really didn't know too much of what was going on, unless she was hospitalized.  Then I was there, often only slightly less than my father was.
What the doctor assumed, based upon what she saw in Mom's CT scan results, was the chemo combo she was on for those first 6 or 7 months stopped working after 2 or 3 months or so.  Mom was riddled with tumors.  All over her abdomen and she had a golf ball sized tumor sitting on her pelvis.  She knew her pain was more than it should be and that tumor confirmed what she had suspected.
We were in shock, we were angry and we were frustrated.  How was it possible?  The doctor had TOLD us - if they could cure ANYONE they could cure her.  How was she so wrong?  How is it, with all of the people who go through this treatment, MOM is the one who is chemo-resistant?  Why did she end up with the "aggressive" cancer, the one that could overpower the poison they had pumped into her system religiously, week after week.
We did not know what to think.  Mom asked her doctor what came next, would there be more surgery and the doctor said no - there were too many tumors to remove.  They would have to tear Mom apart and they still couldn't get them all.  Additionally, Mom had that "flakey" cancer - if they went in and removed any of them, the cells would flake off and only God knew where that cancer would end up next. 
Of course...it ended up in places it shouldn't have anyway but here we were.  July, 2010 and Mom was starting her second round of chemo.  She and I went to lunch to talk over her options.  There were three types of chemo to choose from but really only two that made any sense to consider.  There was also talk of her possibly taking Avastin but the possible side effects from that, including stroke, made her very nervous and since it was still new in the fight against cancer, Mom didn't want to risk it.  Part of me often wonders if she had started on Avastin would it have meant more - maybe even "better" time but there really isn't much point in going down that road for long.  She made her decision and so there we were.  Round two. 


Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 8

October 19, 2009.  The day we met with Mom's doctor again and heard what we already knew - it was definitely ovarian cancer.  Clear cell  - not the type of ovarian cancer with which 85% of women are diagnosed when they hear this dreadful news.  Clear cell - more aggressive, harder to treat ovarian cancer.
She was diagnosed Stage 1C, the c because the tumor had ruptured (I mentioned that in another post so I won't go into it again here) but still - Stage 1.  A good stage, it means the cancer was caught early.  The doctor was still so positive. 
Chemo was going to start pretty fast, the doctor didn't want to waste any time.  She wanted to kill off any cells that might have escaped during surgery.  I'm not 100% sure I'm yet clear on exactly all that we were told but it's my understanding clear cell is also a "surface" cancer.  It likes to lay on the surface of things, like scales that aren't attached and they can slough off...floating through the body until they "land" elsewhere and start to grow there.  Some of those cells probably escaped (definitely we'd find out later) and the doctor wasn't going to let any grass grow under their feet.  She wanted them dead. 
So did we.
Chemo would be quite arduous.  Three weeks on and the "day" of chemo was exactly that - a day.  Then she'd have one week off.  It ended up scheduled so Mom would be "off" the week of Thanksgiving.  Chemo would run through March and then in July she'd have a follow up CT scan and re-test on the CA-125.  The number that particular CA-125 showed would be Mom's marker.  It would be what her CA-125 would be measured against in the future.  If it went up from that number the cancer was back.  I should have written those numbers down, I don't remember exactly what they were.  I do remember her highest CA-125 was in the 500's, which her doctor said was very encouraging - she had seen that number in the 5,000's.  Normal is between 0-21.  I think Mom went down to 19 at one point. 
Chemo did exactly what you'd think it would do.  Mom lost her hair, her energy, her appetite and her strength.  We kept holding onto that March date, praying it would be the end of it and we could get back to life as normal. 
That first round of chemo we didn't really think too much about things.  This was just a blip on our family's radar.  Mom would get through it, we would help as much as we could and then we'd go back to being our normal dysfunctional group.  There isn't too much to say about those few months.  I did a lot of extra work at work - Mom was out of the office a lot in that time but thank God for an awesome employer.  There was no question they were helpful and supportive.  Mom would come in every time she could drive herself down to the office because she would much rather hang out with the guys we worked with than sit at home and feel sorry for herself.  Our co-workers carried her through a lot in those first few months.  I'm still amazed at how blessed we were by them through the entire thing.
Next up...that first CT scan.


Dr. Susan Gubar

63 at diagnosis.  Loves to throw parties.  Ovarian cancer battler.  And there, it seems, the similarities with Mom might end but this is someone who, hopefully, will shed a vocal light on what those women who live with Ovarian cancer deal with, or can deal with, every day.  And what no one wants to talk about.

Hoping I can get my hands on a copy of her book and see what it holds.


September 11, 2012

I'm taking a break today from my Ovarian Cancer Awareness posts to honor the memory of those men, women and children who died 11 years ago today at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on Flight 93 in that field in Pennsylvania.

We must never, never forget them because the moment we do we tell those men and women who now fight in Afghanistan and Iraq that their lives, their service, their dedication to protecting the freedoms we value in this country do not matter.

May we never, never forget.


Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 7

Very little happened over the next couple of days.  Mom woke up, met with her doctor, started to heal.  Flowers came, well wishes poured in...  People surprised Mom by visiting...  She really had no idea how many people were praying for her, worried about her, worried for her.  My mother was so unassuming, so humble, so sweet and kind.  She never thought she meant much to anyone - something that still about kills me if I think about it too much. 
Even in pain, though, she would laugh (although remind us repeatedly to knock it off...it hurt to laugh) and wanted us around her as much as we'd stay.  She was never fond of attention and really didn't want this but she wasn't going to argue with having us sit with her, chat with her, keep track of things with her and for her. 
There is going to be a lot of this time that is just a vague recollection.  Too much happened, too much went on.  Being sick is hard work, serious business and time consuming.  I had given Mom a notebook/journal, hoping she'd keep track of what she was going through but the business of healing took all of her energy.  She didn't write much in that journal and she didn't write a lot in her personal journals, either. 
Ovarian cancer is ugly.  Not that any cancer is pretty.  Not that any serious illness is pretty.  Basically it's an obvious statment not even worth making but I'm saying it anyway.  Ovarian cancer is ugly.  Even with chemo not even started you could see where this illness started to rob us of the mother we had always known.  Her hair was duller, her eyes lacked their normal twinkle, her smile wasn't as big. 
The shift wasn't blatantly obvious.  She did go back to work after her however many weeks she had to be home.  I think it was three.  Maybe four.  In there, October 19th happened.  That was the day we heard the actual pathology report and learned what came next.


Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 6

All of these posts are going to be from my perspective.  There was a lot that happened through Mom's illness that I wasn't a part of, of course.  I couldn't be with her 24/7 although let me tell you - I wanted to be there ALL the time.  I became a total family only recluse.  I didn't go anywhere or do anything without checking with Mom first.  This year I'm not going to involve my family in this series but I may next year.  I'm not even 100% sure I'll be able to talk about ovarian cancer every day for the month of September but I am going to try.
That night, after Mom's surgery, we all assembled together in her room.  She was still very, very sedated so we basically just stood over her, rubbing her back or rubbing her legs and hearing her moan every once in a while.  We could ask her a question but we might get half an answer, if we got anything at all.
No one wanted to leave, though.  Dad actually spent the night and I honestly don't know what time my sister and I finally left but...neither of us wanted to go.  Laying there she looked so helpless and I can't speak for my sister but I know all I could think about were all of those things I had done wrong.  All of those things I'd said and couldn't take back.  The bratty kid, the loud-mouthed teenager, the girl who ended up pregnant while in high school, the obstinate, self-absorbed ridiculously childish daughter I had been for years.
I wish I could tell you I grew up that day but...there was more childishness to come.  Sometimes I think fear is the most telling thing about a person's character.  How I react when I am scared witless says a lot about me and I'm usually not so proud of who that is.  In thinking about it, though, I keep praying I will react better next time.  I'll be more thoughtful, less selfish, quieter in situations - listen more, talk less... you know what I mean.
All I can remember, though, is all those memories swirling around my head and it starting to echo through my head that my mother was going to die.  Maybe not from cancer, maybe not soon but...there was going to come a day when she wouldn't be a part of my life and I wanted to scream.  I wanted to howl and scream and just...throw things.  Glass things.  At walls.  And scream more.  Life without my mother looked so bleak.  And it was then that I realized that losing her would be hard.
And like I've said several times - I had no idea what "hard" actually was...


Ovarian Cancer Facts - Post 3

Did you know...

Ovarian cancer can NOT be detected with a Pap test.
Currently, there is no accurate, reliable test available to test for ovarian cancer.  Available and should be used (ask your doctor):
  • Annual vaginal exam for women age 18 and older.
  • An annual rectovaginal exam for women age 35 and above. (Physician inserts fingers in the rectum and vagina simultaneously to feel for abnormal swelling and to detect tenderness.)
  • Transvaginal sonography for women, especially those at high risk. (An ultrasound performed with a small instrument placed in the vagina.)
  • Blood test to determine if the level of a tumor marker called CA-125 has increased in the blood for women at high risk. Its role in postmenopausal women is superior to that in premenopausal women. (This test is not definitive because some non-cancerous diseases of the ovaries also increase the CA-125 levels, and some ovarian cancers may not produce enough CA-125 levels to cause a positive test.)



    Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 5

    That first Wednesday (October 7, 2010), the four of us (Mom, Dad, my sister & I) assembled at the hospital and got settled in for a long day.  When Mom was called to go back, she was able to take one of us with her and she chose me.  I was a bit surprised but was thrilled to get to hang out with her one on one for a bit before all of this started so back we went.  There wasn't a whole lot of talking going on.  There was changing, gathering her clothes, nurses taking vitals & giving Mom the run-down on what was going to be happening and waiting.  Sitting by her bed, holding her hand, kissing her on the forehead when they came to get her and then finding my way back to my father & sister.
    After they took her in, we began the process of waiting.  It was only a couple of hours but it felt like forever.  We checked out the gift shop, made a few phone calls, tried to chat with each other but for the most part we spent time in our own heads, trying not to worry.
    When the doctor finally came out, she was still thinking everything looked pretty good.  The tumor itself had started to deflate.  She described it like a water balloon that had ended up with a little hole in it and had a slow leak.  It had that wrinkled, slightly deflated look so she figured it either had just happened on its own or they might have nicked it getting in there.  The doctor was very hopeful, though - they had taken a lot of fluid out from around the tumor and the initial pathology showed nothing in it.  Unless the in-depth pathology found anything more, they would probably stage her as 1C and that was because the tumor had ruptured.  She would have been 1A if it was intact.
    For the longest time I was so angry about that first cut for that surgery.  Why would you take a knife anywhere near that tumor, knowing you could rupture it if you can't see what you're doing and what that could possibly mean.  I held onto the idea that if that little rupture hadn't happened, those cancer cells would have never escaped into Mom's system and she would have been stage 1A and she might still be with us.  I did realize, though, after a LOT of talking to God, that it wasn't that surgeon's fault.  It wasn't the knife's fault.  It wasn't even cancer's fault.  This was the road Mom was supposed to walk and it wasn't anyone or anything's fault.  It just was. 


    Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 4

    Our first visit to Mom's oncologist was actually fairly uneventful.  The doctor examined Mom and then the three of us sat down with her (my mother, my sister and I were an almost inseparable trio those first few weeks) as she went over what the ultrasound had showed and what the next steps would be.
    First on the schedule was surgery.  Mom needed a full hysterectomy and depending on what they found while they were in there, she would probably have some, if not most, of her omentum removed.  Once the tumor was removed, they would do the pathology on it and Stage Mom.  Stage is an actual verb in this case. 
    We really liked Mom's doctor, from the moment we met her.  She was very good at communicating with us, answering every one of our questions and never once making us feel like she had to get to another patient.  Mom felt very comfortable and safe with her doctor.  It was a very good thing at the time, it became a bit tricky later when having to travel to Swedish in Seattle while living near Arlington but that comes later.
    For this first appointment, after we had exhausted all of our questions, the doctor's assistant called the hospital to see when Mom's surgery could be scheduled.  Even she was surprised to find out they had an OR available for that Wednesday.  This was Monday.  Instead of having to wait a couple of weeks, as expected, Mom had to wait two days.  This was after Mom's doctor was able to get Mom in with the oncologist only two days after her ultrasound - something that also normally took two weeks.
    We were so very encouraged by how fast all of this was moving, how sure folks seemed to be that we had caught this early and while Mom was in for a bumpy ride, it would all be behind her by about March of the next year, then it would just be the every 6 months check-ups, praying to stay NED (no evidence of disease) for five years so she could be declared cured.  It all looked so positive on those beautiful October mornings...


    Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 3

    When the doctor told my mother about her tumor and left the office, the three of us fought tears.  There is no other word for it - fear had entered that room and consumed it.  The first words out of my mother's mouth when the doctor was gone?  "You might as well go ahead and plan my funeral."
    My sister and I responded exactly as you would think we would - telling her to knock it off, don't think that way, let's find out all we can, we will help you with this in every way we can but Mom knew.  Most people would tell you it's a self-fulfilling prophecy idea.  If you believe you can't beat it, you won't. 
    I don't agree with that.  I do believe many people, who were already sick, decline once they have a firm diagnosis but I also believe that's because what they already knew is now public knowledge.  They no longer have to buck up, pretend they're ok...they can let that go. 
    What I do believe is Mom, for all that she struggled with and through, walked with God every day of her life.  I believe she knew He was going to call her home and how and while she wasn't thrilled with it, was actually quite nervous at all she was going to go through, she accepted it as truth.  She didn't want to die, believe me.  She had asked for, prayed for, begged for even, the ability to take my oldest niece to Germany when said niece graduated from high school.  It was a trip the two of them had been talking about for years.  Mom had backed out of a trip to Germany with my sister-in-law and her two, my niece and nephew, just that summer because she wasn't feeling well. 
    My mother had a life to live and she was very unhappy it was interrupted.  Shocker, right?  Who would be happy?  But...interrupted it was and so it all began.  Our next visit?  Mom's first appointment with her oncologist.


    Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 2

    The day mom went to the doctor for her bleeding was the beginning of the most difficult time our family has faced to date.  My grandmother's stroke was tough but she passed only three short weeks after having that stroke.  It was a blessing to know her suffering had ended.
    As for my mother, don't ask me how but Mom and I both knew (My sister probably did, too but that's a whole other story. My mother probably didn't share what she was going through at that time with my brother.) what it meant but considering the very adamant "don't be negative" comments my father would yell, we didn't dare discuss it.  I actually told her a few times "Don't go there.  Not yet.  Let the doctors tell us what is wrong."  No supposition.  At least that's what I kept telling myself. 
    Back to that day.  The doctor scheduled my mother for an ultrasound.  One thing is for sure, they didn't waste much time then.  All those years, though, she kept going and not one single time was that suggested... But a 63 year old woman, who has gone through menopause, shows up bleeding and they kick it into high gear.
    By the way?  That bleeding?  Doctors weren't thinking ovarian cancer at that point, either.  Ovarian cancer doesn't usually cause vaginal bleeding...  But then in all honesty, ovarian cancer isn't all that typical or do much of anything in a "usual" way.  Hence the lack of accurate, reliable testing for it.
    But I digress.
    Mom's ultrasound was handled by two technicians.  As God only can provide, one of the technicians had gone to school with my sister and they shared a mutual friend so when technician #1 left the room to grab a doctor, this mutual friend had a tough time talking to my mother.  Conversation isn't supposed to lean toward what they're seeing but it was fairly obvious to my mother that something was wrong, seriously wrong.  So...she asks.  And the tech who knew of our family/knew my sister would only tell my mother that yes, they saw something on the ultrasound and it was big enough to block their view of her right ovary.
    After that appointment, my mother called me almost in tears.  I told her not to worry - not unless the doctor called her and wanted to see her right away.  I kept praying it was just a cyst.  Just a cyst, God... please...just a cyst.
    But it wasn't to be.  The doctor called and asked my mother to come in at 4:30 that afternoon.  I asked her if she wanted me with her and she said yes.  I left work and met my mother and my sister at Mom's doctor's offices.  And that was when we learned she had an 11cm tumor on her right ovary.
    The doctor referred my mother to a gynecological oncologist immediately, had her nurse call and push my mother into an appointment for that following week.
    That was October 1, 2009.  That was us getting to the top of a very big hill on the roller coaster.  The ride down reminds me why I hate roller coasters...


    Ovarian Cancer - Our Journey - Post 1

    I don't remember exactly when it started.  Mom & I worked together for 15 years so I was with her almost every day for a large part of my life.  From the time I was born until my parents moved to California in December of my senior year in high school, then again when I moved to California after graduating from high school.  Although - I really couldn't stand California so I moved back to New Jersey with my then husband so for a couple of years there we were apart again.
    Then I came to visit them for Christmas in Washington State one year and fell head over heels in love with this place.  I moved here over Labor Day weekend that following year.  And I was with my mom again.  That was 1989.  In 1995 she came to work at my current employer and she was there until ovarian cancer forced her into retirement in October, 2010. 
    For 15 years we were together almost every day.  Vacations or when one of us was sick was about the only exception.  Even weekends we would usually hang out doing something on at least one day, often both. 
    When she told me in July of 2009 she had started bleeding I looked at her as if she had grown a second head.  I was there when she went through menopause.  She hadn't had a period in over 10 years.  I knew that.  What in the world was she talking about?  I didn't tell her anything she didn't already know and she did make an appointment to see the doctor.
    That wasn't really the beginning of our nightmare, though.  See - for years before that July my mother dealt with stomach issues.  Gas, bloating, pain...  She went to doctor appointment after doctor appointment.  Two colonoscopies found nothing.  Whatever other myriad of tests she had found nothing.  I'm really not sure, though - not anymore - if they ever did a CA-125.  Not until the bleeding started, anyway.
    Looking back, I've often wondered why they weren't more aggressive in that area.  She had a rough time with menopause.  Heavy bleeding, a D&C (and pardon my ignorance - that's what they called it then but isn't that about the same as an ablation?) and all sorts of discomfort accompanied that time in her life.  Why, when she complained of pain, bloating and such didn't they look further into the possibility it had nothing to do with her stomach and intestinal track we will never know.  But they didn't. 
    Of course, we know now those are symptoms of ovarian cancer but it can mask itself pretty well.  It sure did for her.


    Ovarian Cancer Facts - Post 1

    Did you know...

    More than 22,000 women will be newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year and 70% of them will die from the disease.

    Source:  www.whyteal.org

    September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.