Twelve Years Ago

I’m tired. My eyes are stinging from lack of sleep and the realization that I likely didn’t get enough sleep today, but whatever.

I just finished drafting and sending a long overdue email to my mom’s oncologist to thank him. Jesus, how do you thank someone for saving your mom’s life? All my words felt trite, silly, trivial, but I still felt compelled to send the email.

So, I did.

I can’t believe that this November will mark twelve years. Twelve years ago, my mom and I sat in a local coney island restaurant when she received her diagnosis.

Sarcoma.

I still remember that day like it was yesterday. My mom’s biopsy had been days earlier and we were all anxiously awaiting the results. As we dined, her cell phone rang.

She answered. She dug around in her purse for a pen and began writing on her paper placemat. My heart sank. I had a feeling this wasn’t good news if it required written words on a cheap diner placemat. My mom began scribbling while she spoke.

“Sarcoma?”

Her scribbles continued. More words, most of which I cannot even remember now, but the one I remember the most was

sarcoma.

fuck.

As someone just entering nursing school, I knew that any word ending in -oma didn’t always hold great promise. Sarcoma is defined as a malignant tumor of connective or nonepithelial tissues.

I can look back and type all of this now without pausing to grab a fucking kleenex, wipe my eyes, cry angry tears, and wander through my days trying to muster up the strength to be strong for the one of the people I loved most in this entire world.

But, those feelings are still very raw and real. My mom and I comment often how we never really forget that time in her life, but as the time passes, we see it move further and further away in life’s rear view mirror.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard the word ‘sarcoma’ uttered very recently again. This time it’s affecting a peer.

fuck.

I really hoped I could go the rest of my life without hearing that word used in conjunction with anyone I know.

Cancer is insidious and evil and indiscriminate. It doesn’t give two shits about anyone or what good they bring to the table.

And after hearing this word again, I was immediately transported back to that coney island, sitting in that same booth across from my mother as she wrote the word

sarcoma.

So, the fight begins again. And yes, I can sit here and type words like ‘fight’ and ‘hope’ because my mother is living proof that there are badass researchers, doctors, nurses, surgeons, and other medical professionals that make all the difference. She is LIVING PROOF of such medical advancements.

So, you can just fuck right off, cancer.

You’re not welcome here.

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Things My Mama Taught Me

I just bid my mama farewell after a 10-day visit, and it reminded me of all the things she has taught me….

 

-Sit up straight. There’s nothing more slovenly-looking than someone slouching. It doesn’t cost a dime, and it will most likely make you feel better.

-Don’t shuffle your feet. You sound lazy and look even worse.

-You can’t unring a bell. Think long and hard before you say something you might regret. You can’t take it back.

-Write thank-you notes.

-Ladies, take the time to look your best.

-If you’re on time, you’re late. Be early.

-When you remove an album from its sleeve, hold it by the edges.

-Tell the people you love how you feel. Every day.

I love you, mom.

November Rain, The Final Cut

Not to be confused with the Pink Floyd song that bears the same name or with a really bad pun, considering my mom is about to undergo surgery to remove her cancerous tumor.

I digress.

Amazingly, a year had passed between the initial diagnosis and surgery. A year filled with pain, fear, treatment, anxiety, waiting, and now anticipation. Anticipation that the day had finally come to hopefully rid my mom’s body of this unwelcome guest.

Mom understood the risks of surgery as best she could. With any sort of neck surgery taking place so close to the great vessels (jugular and carotid), there was always a risk of nicking one and bleeding to death. Another little-known risk was to her voice. There was a very real chance the surgeon may inadvertently clip the nerve that innervates her vocal cords. What did this mean? No more talking. It meant that mom would spend the rest of her life speaking at little more than a whisper.

But, you know what?

A whisper is better than cancer any day.

The surgery proceeded, and mom came through it nicely. I still remember seeing her immediately post-op. She looked happy through the veil of anesthesia and painkillers that had been put on board while she slept. She looked relieved. She looked hopeful. (There’s THAT word again).

The surgeon informed us that the procedure went very well, no major complications and she was able to get what she felt were clear margins. The only way to know for certain was to wait for the pathology to come back and tell us that the remaining tissue was indeed cancer-free.

Cancer-free.

What the fuck is that anyway?

The past year had been defined by Cancer. Our lives revolved around Cancer. Not a day passed without Cancer making its very presence known. Now we were faced with a possible future without Cancer.

The pathology returned.

The margins were clear.

At a follow-up visit, mom’s oncologist told her the good news, and a decision was made to immediately proceed with radiation as a further step against recurrence and/or eradication of any possible remaining cells.

Radiation. Ick. Treatment would immediately commence and would entail five-day-per-week treatments for a total of eight weeks. 40 treatments. Since all of my mom’s care had been done in the same place, the radiation, while it was feasible to have this done elsewhere, would also occur in the same hospital. Mom wouldn’t even dream of doing it anywhere else. We had grown close to the staff, had gotten used to the 50-minute one-way drive for appointments, treatments and surgery.

When you ask mom what was the hardest part of this entire ordeal, she will always say the same thing: radiation. The radiation sapped her strength in a manner that couldn’t even be approached by the chemotherapy. The radiation was constant, daily exhaustion. The chemo was intermittent and allowed her a “rest period” in between treatments. The radiation was daily. Radiation didn’t take a break. I watched her get even more exhausted than she ever did when she was receiving chemotherapy. Her skin became leathery and discolored at the treatment site.  I watched the tumor site change shape, color and size over the eight weeks of radiation.

Tumor: Party Crasher

This shit was intense. Nothing like shooting radiation directly into your body every day for eight weeks. If that shit doesn’t kill you, it HAS to make you stronger. Right? RIGHT?!

The radiation treatments plodded along. Not once did my mom complain. She drove herself most every day to her treatments, only to lay down on the table, get strapped down, get zapped, and turn around and drive home. Monday through Friday. It seemed like it would literally never end.

Finally, the treatments ended.

Another CT scan was ordered. We were old pros in the CT scan arena. Mom probably had enough scans to fill a small room. I’m sure most cancer patients could appreciate this fact.

We met once again with mom’s oncologist. He had the CT scan results.

“Juli. It’s been a long road. We have done so many things only to find ourselves sitting right here. Right now.”

We both stared blankly ahead. My breath caught in my chest. I couldn’t find the muscles needed to exhale. I was hanging on every. single. word.

“Based on the findings of the CT scan, the pathology report and the operative report of the surgeon, I can safely say that you are in remission.”

WHAT?!

Wait.

Doc, if this is your idea of a joke, you are one sick motherfucker. We both looked at each other quizzically. Remission? What did THAT mean? We seemed to have more questions than answers.

What is this remission of which you speak?

Indeed it was true. There was no detectable sign of cancer in mom’s body. The grueling chemotherapy, subsequent surgery and follow-up radiation had actually worked. It almost didn’t seem possible.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking that at this point, most people would stand up, rejoice, cheer, laugh and dance around the room. I bet you’d be surprised at how seldom that actually happens. Remember, Cancer is like that bad date that just won’t end. Cancer doesn’t know when to just walk away and go home. Cancer stays for a while, sets up shop inside your body, makes itself comfortable. A guest like this doesn’t just leave based on upon your request. With an enemy like this, it seemed almost unbelievable that any amount of treatment could actually work.

It worked.

Cancer has left the building.

My mom would receive CT scans every three months for the first two years, then every six months for a year, then yearly. Mom didn’t allow herself to get excited for quite a while. As a matter of fact, my mom refused to have her chemo port removed from her chest. She felt like it would jinx it. Mom waited for over a year, until she finally relented and let them remove her port. I’m quite certain that if offered the option, she might have just left the port in as a reminder of all that she had endured and as an amulet to ward off evil Cancer spirits.

As of today, every single scan my mom has received has been clear. Every. Single. One.

My mom has been “cancer-free” for almost five years. Five years without cancer. Five years of a new life. Five years of time spent enjoying life. Five years without Cancer knocking on the door, insisting to come in and crash the party.

It’s been a good time.

It’s been a great time.

But…..

Mom will be the first to say that while she remains cancer-free today, she awakens every day asking herself,

“Is today the day that Cancer comes back?”

(to be continued….)

I’m No Carol Brady

But my hair is beginning to resemble hers.

No, seriously, today marks the beginning of a month-long visit by my son. I couldn’t be happier. Amazing how it feels like he hasn’t even been away.

I suppose I should bring my readers up to speed, huh? Okay.

A year and a half ago, I was a staff nurse in Michigan. Due to economic conditions, the stars being misaligned or some other cosmic bullshit, I found my full-time job being slashed to practically per diem. As the low person on the seniority pile, when census in our unit was down, per union contract, I was the one that was forced to stay home.

You can see how this affected my bottom line.

I investigated travel nursing options with the blessing of both my son and my ex-husband who at the time, realized that the economy in Michigan was getting no better, and in an effort to make more money, this was a viable alternative.

Well, that and it really, really aligned with the gypsy traveler in me.

I found my first assignment up in Santa Rosa, CA at a small local hospital in their Med/Surg Tele unit. Weeks passed, and with the economy getting no better in Michigan, I found myself entertaining the possibility of permanent positions here in California. Was it a difficult decision? Sure. I knew it would keep me from my son, yet I knew that he was thriving back in Michigan and being well cared-for by my ex and my mom and her husband. Tyler was certainly not suffering from a lack of love.

I should interject at this moment to address the oft-answered question: “Wow. Don’t you MISS your son?”

Um, yeah, dumb ass, I do. But, I also want my son to see a strong woman who is willing to travel miles for a good job to provide financial stability for him. Is it a trade-off? Sure. I had to take my chances that my son wouldn’t think that his mother abandoned him in search of a job. it was a chance I was willing to take. I will also admit, I had never been the type of mom that couldn’t leave her son while on vacation, for a weekend, etc. If this makes the mother in you cringe, I make zero apologies. There are all different types of mothers, and I don’t fall into the category of “helicopter mom”. If you do, fine, but moms come in all shapes, sizes, and philosophies. Yeah, I missed my son, but I didn’t cry every day or fail to motivate myself to go to work and do my job. Some may even say I’m not the most “maternal” person they have ever met. I don’t take offense to that. I embrace that. I am the person I was meant to be. I’ll be the first to admit that you’ll never find me volunteering for the PTO, organizing a school dance or militantly shoving those fucking fundraiser brochures under peoples’ noses. I did volunteer in Tyler’s classroom when he was in early elementary school. I’ll also be honest and say that while I did it to be with Tyler, a big part of me did it to get a cheap laugh at the interaction of children with each other. Priceless stuff. Girls cliques starting in first grade, boys bulldozing each other as they clean up toys, flagrant nose-picking and non-filtered conversations with kids. All good shit. Yeah, I’m a fan of ALL that.

When I was offered a permanent position here in California, I leapt at the chance. The money tripled what I was making in Michigan, the benefits were free and comprehensive and the fringe benefits were phenomenal. I realized that this meant PERMANENT. As in, I’ll be living here and not traveling. Yep. I’ll take it.

Meanwhile, I had created a home here with my now fiance, so things were beginning to settle down somewhat. Last year, we traveled cross-country back to Michigan for my fiance and my son to meet for the very first time. To say it went well was an understatement. We had a fantastic time, (no thanks to my ex-husband who tried every petty trick in the book to derail it) and we came back to California with a renewed sense of purpose to have Tyler visit more often.

Fast forward to this past April. My mom and Tyler came out to California for the first time. Again, to say it went well would be understatement of the century. I could read it in their faces and see it in their smiles. Yeah. California was a huge hit.

Another fast-forward to today: my 12-year old son flew across the country to come and spend the month with me and my fiance. We have many trips planned and a lot of downtime planned. I think it’s important for my son to see us in both environments. I think it’s important to immerse my son in what we call “daily life”. I work. My fiance works. We maintain a household. I want him to see two hard-working people in addition to all the fun we will have. Who knows. There may come a day when Tyler will choose to live here in California. I’m painting him a realistic picture.

The biggest point of this post is to tell those moms out there who may not feel the most maternal, that IT’S OKAY. Nobody said we had to be like Carol Brady or Michelle Duggar (holy shit, thank goodness) or even the Octomom. Make no apologies for how YOU parent. Life is too short. Enjoy your kids, enjoy YOUR life and enjoy the all that surrounds you. Even if that means the occasional glass of wine while you puree baby food.

My biggest hope is that my son can look back and say,

“My mom fucking rocks.”

Yeah. Just like that.

Test, check…

Well, well.

Amazing how much the fucking internet changes when you step away from the blog.

With Facebook growing stale and ridiculously boring, I find myself wanting to blog. While I do have an account at Tumblr, I don’t think it provides me the outlet I need for writing, hence I find myself here.

Oh, and introduction? I’ll keep it brief.

My name is Lisa. I’m a nurse. I’m a mom. I’m a runner. I’m a devout atheist. I’m a girlfriend. I’m a cynic. I’m more than what meets the eye.

I love my son. I love my boyfriend. I love Vegas. I love music. I love cats (although I’m decidedly NOT a “cat lady”). I love to laugh and at times, I love to laugh at others.

Shall we begin?