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I love you back

What’s up with these children of mine?  I’m not sure why I don’t write more about parenting considering I have two children – a 16 year old son and 12 year old daughter. It might be because they’re at a phase where they’re no longer impressed by us as their parents. They’d much rather spend time on the computer, phone, or talking to their friends. My husband and I have officially been deemed boring. We have a few choice words about how we view them too. We often find ourselves rolling our eyes in awe of the foolishness that’s come out of their mouths, particularly my son who I affectionately call, “THE BOY”. Karma is a @#%^!@ because we were once them too.

Whatever they think of us, we know they are our blessing. And I find them to be quite humorous.  I’ve said time and again, my life would be boring without my children. I’ve told many a story to coworkers, friends, and family regarding their shenanigans.  Even though they can get on my nerves with the arguing, ignoring, yelling, making excuses, exaggerating, correcting, resisting, stealing (apparently our room is a store), procrastinating, etc., every now and then, I see a glimmer of sparkle and innocence in their eyes like when they were little. 

Occasionally my daughter spends the day with me at work when she is out of school. On one such day, she typed an action memo on my phone, ” I love you, mommy”. I didn’t see it immediately…maybe later in the day, which made it so much sweeter. Those little gestures warm my heart and fill me with so much joy.  My children like to make me laugh too, which I think is funny. It reminds me of how much our children’s identities are tied to us as parents. We are their first mirror. They look to us for who they are. They look to us for confirmation and validation. They look to us to determine how to act and react. 

When we’re watching my daughter’s shows on tv, she spends more time watching US to see if we are laughing at the funny parts or gasping at the shocking parts. When we make eye contact after having the same reaction to a scene, I can see how excited she gets. Even though she’s starting to explore being in opposition to us (i.e., the clothes she chooses, her selection of hairstyles, what foods she likes), I can see that she’s still watching us…watching to see our reaction…watching to see if we approve.

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Oh September

September has been difficult for me emotionally. Last September (2016), mummy came to Austin for a two and a half week visit. The whole time she was here, I was undergoing multiple tests to determine what the tumor was in my left breast. I didn’t tell her what I was going through and I wasn’t planning on it until it was confirmed by my doctor.  I don’t regret it either.  The day she left, my husband and I took her to the airport, then headed to my doctor’s appointment for the news. I already knew. I had been researching breast cancer obsessively. September 28 marks one year since my life changed drammatically.

It’s been almost 3 months since mummy passed away and it’s been a struggle. Most days, I’m well, going through my normal routine and then it’ll hit me. I become overwhelmed with emotion and start crying. It especially hits me when I’m driving home from work because for about 5 years, it was my routine to call her during this time. I miss her voice. My Facebook memories feed also reminds me through pictures that she is gone. I’m glad that I’ve taken so many pictures with mummy when she’s come to visit or vice versa. My sister noted that she and my other siblings didn’t think to take as many pictures with mummy since they all live in the same city and saw each other frequently. I happen to enjoy selfies plus I didn’t have the luxury of seeing mummy often, so I loved commemorating her visits.

On September 1, I had my annual exam with my primary care doctor and it was also emotional for me because the last time I saw her, she told me that I had breast cancer. She was on the verge of tears when she told me. Of course, I was happy to report that I’ve been well and healthy, but I soon found out that I need more tests for some other potential issues.  Her words were, “You’ve been through a lot this past year already. There are still some questions.”  I had testing on my breasts yesterday and things didn’t go as smoothly as 6 months ago. The radiology technician called me back 3 times for more testing, then Iltheu requested the ultrsound. This was all too familiar, but last year, I didn’t think anything of it. Apparently, I’m not completely out of the woods yet on this cancer thing. I need a biopsy. The doctors want to be sure about the 2 new spots on the same breast.

I’m generally a positive person, but I don’t want to go down this road again. However, this does put things in perspective in terms of what is important in life. I needed the reminder. The hardest part of all of this is that my biggest supporter will not be around to take care of me for whatever procedures/treatment I may need. Last year, once it was confirmed that I had breast cancer and after we had met with the surgeons and oncologist, I told mummy of my diagnosis. She took it hard, but was back in Austin by the end of October to be here through my two surgeries in November. How will I get through this next phase of whatever without her.

Whatever happens, I will do what I need to do to be alive as long as I can for my family.  I am strong and brave. I just wish September wouldn’t be so hard. On the positive side, the weather has changed. The expression, “seasons change”, just rang in my ears and we all know that to be true. Only God knows why I’m faced with these health challenges in this season of my life. I will go through this season with everything in me… like a champ or chump, by fighting hard or barely hanging on, but I’ll get through it with her spirit within me. I’ll get through it with the support of my family and friends. I’ll get through it with God.

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Surreal-ality

It’s been over a week since we buried mummy and I’ve been facing a new reality – surreal-ality.  Yes, this a word I made up as an attempt to describe this realm I’m in. It seems surreal that she’s gone, and yet, it’s the reality I must face. Nothing in life prepares you for the death of a parent, although intellectually and spiritually (for some), we know all humans will die.  A high school classmate very thoughtfully wrote on my facebook page, in sum, that she is still with me, but in different form. His words were touching.

From the outside, it looks like I’ve gone on with my life, and in many ways, I have. I went back to work on Tuesday, have been cooking, exercising, tending to my plants, shopping, doing housework, reading articles, and so on.  What has been difficult is not hearing her voice, but I can still hear her voice in my head. You see, for the past 5 years, I’ve called mummy almost daily, particularly during the work week. I decided to do that a few years ago because I was aware that I didn’t know how much longer she would live. Part of that has to do with mummy prepping us for her death for about 15 years now. She became ill a few months after retiring. She’s been telling us since then we need to prepare.

My purpose in calling her was two-fold – distract me from my work day and bring a little joy to mummy’s life. In the process, I’ve gotten to know her as a person and I haven’t held back in letting her get to know me as an adult child. It was difficult at times to switch roles and be the encourager many times, but I did it.  My brother told me twice after the funeral that he knew I was her favorite. He said he heard her talk about things with me he never heard her talk about previously.  I don’t know how to take what he said, but I am certainly thankful I made this effort. I miss her voice. Even when she was irritable due to the medications or pain, or when she was complaining, or when we were arguing, I miss her voice.

The Saturday before I returned to Austin, I was at my oldest sister’s house, in the backyard, reviewing the paperwork from the funeral home and signing the 100+ “thank you” cards.  There were 4 small boxes in a bag. Curiously, we opened our boxes together and gasped with tears when we realized what the gift was – an embedded photo of mummy in a light up key chain.  It was such a special moment that we shared together. My sister asked me not to tell my other siblings because she wanted to be there in person to see their faces.

When we returned to Austin, I was reviewing the many photos I took in Chicago. I came across a photo where I was trying to capture the breath-taking key chain in the light, and in the background, I noticed my kids playing with each other.  They rarely play with each other, let alone outside, but my sister had a toss game that she set outside for them. It was a gorgeous day.  They might have played for all of 10 minutes, but it was so touching to see in the picture because I hadn’t noticed it when we were there.

Caleb & Elise 2017

Caleb and Elise, Chicago, July 15, 2017

As my brother said, mummy is in all of us. This picture gives me comfort because I know that she is with me, with all of us, and that she left a beautiful legacy. We’re going to be okay.

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Goodbye, So So, my Haitian queen

Yesterday, I received the dreaded call that no one ever wants.  My sister was on the other end of the line. She sounded calm, and for a moment, I was relieved. However, her next few words pierced me to the core, “Mummy, passed away this morning”.  It took me a few seconds to process. I heard her voice quiver. We exchanged a few more words of which I can’t remember and she reassured me of something.  I told her I’d call her back. I walked to the group of ladies from my Zumba class who were talking. I  tapped on Mary’s shoulder and muttered the words, “I just found out that my mom passed away”.  I cried hard and loud as they embraced me for what felt like forever and I’ve been sobbing intermittently every since.

Albeit painful, I made peace on Friday that mummy might not make it through the night based on my sister’s report from the doctor.  They were transitioning mummy to hospice care. This is painful to write and I stopped a few times due to the uncontrollable tears. My husband told me that I should stop and that it’s too soon, but I must because writing for me is therapeutic. When I woke up Saturday morning without hearing new updates, I decided to go about my normal routine of  going to Zumba class and then the grocery store. I’m so thankful that I was in the company of my Zumba-loving prayer warriors because they consoled and prayed for me.

Words can’t truly express the sorrow I am feeling right now. However, despite the sorrow, I am overwhelmingly thankful Solange (SoSo) Nicholas was my mother. I’m thankful that I saw her beautiful smile in person last month. I’m thankful that I hugged and kissed her.  I’m thankful that my sisters and brother made sure mummy was not alone while she was in the hospital for almost 2 weeks. I’m thankful that my sisters made efforts to shield me from what they were experiencing while watching mummy suffer. I’m thankful my sister put her phone to mummy’s ear so mummy could hear me tell her that I loved her.  She told me that mummy’s eyes got bigger indicating she heard me.  I’m thankful that mummy is no longer in pain and that she can finally rest in peace. I’m thankful that mummy gave us her best. I’m thankful that she saw me beat breast cancer and came to Texas to be with me for my surgeries. I’m thankful that she always thought of us first. She even made and paid for her funeral and burial arrangements, so we wouldn’t have to worry. I’m thankful that I had a loving mother because not everyone has a loving mother.

SoSo, you did a valient job raising your 4 children…only if you knew it while you were alive. However, maybe you did because I spotted the look of contentment on your face when all of your children were together last month. You were always so humble and generous.  You came to Texas to visit your baby, the youngest (me), any time you could. You’ve been here, by far, more than anyone else.  You’ve been there for me, by far, more than anyone else. I can only aspire to be like you. BRAVO, my Haitian queen!

I have no more words…for now.

 

Aside

Intimate moments

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but something weird happens when you’ve been married to someone for almost 20 years like myself. The details of life can wear you down, flip the script and highlight all of the negative things about your beloved spouse whereas in the beginning years, you focused only on the beautiful things.

Recently, a memory flashed in my mind of when I was recovering from giving birth to my daughter. I was heavily sedated in the hospital due to extreme pain after the anesthesia wore off from the c-section and I remembered my husband whispering a message in my ear a few times, “Get better…our babies need you.” One might argue he said that for selfish reasons, but I know he was encouraging me to get better so I could take care of OUR babies. They all needed me including him. I also have memories of him kissing me on my forehead from time to time as I was sleeping. If he still does it, I wouldn’t know because I sleep like a brick nowadays. Whatever the case, when I think about very intimate memories like those, I get a warm feeling inside and am reminded of the unmistakable love my husband has for me. Hold on to memories like that. Use those reminders to fuel the flame and draw closer…not farther away.

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This is what breast cancer looks like

I’m actually starting to feel normal again…my brand of normal.   I listened to my doctors and rested for the most part.  Over the last few weeks, I gradually started doing housework, cooking, getting organized, primping myself with mani/pedi’s, and have completed a week at the office.  I’ve been exercising for a week via DVD’s from my vast exercise DVD collection.  The desire to do more things has been a sign that I’m getting better…stronger. It’s been 4 weeks post breast reconstruction and I am healing beautifully.  I have to admit that I am beyond pleased with the results…stitches and all.  My breast cancer is Stage 1 and I’ve gotten test results indicating that chemotherapy would not impact my survival rate very much.  Therefore, I will not take part in that treatment.  I’ve since met with the radiology oncologist and had a CT scan last Monday.  It’s just a matter of days before I get a call to discuss my treatment plan which will determine how many radiation sessions I will receive.  After radiation, there’s a minimum 5 years of hormone therapy since my cancer is responsive to estrogen and progesterone.  I’m anticipating living at least 30-40 years once all of my treatment is over. To think that three months ago, I wasn’t even thinking about my life expectancy. I couldn’t be at a better place considering the circumstances.

I intended to write a sarcastic comment about how all of this has been a breeze, but who am I kidding?  I don’t want to bring anyone, or myself, down for that matter, but I want to tell the truth.  My strategy has been to do what I have to do to get better. Period. It hasn’t been a traumatic experience, but it certainly hasn’t been easy.  After the first surgery, I thought “this wasn’t so bad”.  A few days later, I began dreading the second surgery (scheduled a week later), and rightly so, because that was the more intensive one of the two. Post op, I felt like Frankenstein because of the drainage tubes sticking out of my body for a full week. My husband emptied the tubes for me every day, twice a day, helped me take a shower, gauzed up my breasts daily, opened my pill bottles, uncapped the pen  (amazing what strength you lose after surgery) so I could log the fluid amount, brought me food, etc…all because I could not.  The anxiety of waiting on test results, especially those that take 2 weeks to get back, can be overwhelming. There were forced adjustments such as sleeping on my back, dealing with the pain and discomfort, not being able to shower for a period, logging the fluid from the drains, having to expose my breasts at every appointment (still doing this), and not being able to exercise (my preferred form of therapy). This is the reality.

The reality is also that I received a flood of support from my family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.  I never thought I’d say this, but I’m on a few prayer lists. People who I don’t know personally, yet know me through my family (i.e., my mom) have sent kind words.  In an age where texts can be impersonal, I’ve appreciated them all because it means that someone has been thinking about me.  I received a lot of texts.  Even a text requires some level of effort, and honestly, at times, I didn’t want to speak to anyone anyway because talking made me tired. The calls and visits to my home with food have been a blessing. One dear friend from Chicago surprised me with a visit.  Another dear friend sent me some coping tools.

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Fxxx Cancer

I’m thankful that my children have witnessed people being kind and personal in a world where it doesn’t seem like such people exists. My doctors and medical team have been wonderful as they’ve eased my mind so many times.  I appreciate their expertise and care.  When I worked as a mental health rehabilitation specialist, I thought about how my client’s lives were in my hands (figuratively speaking) and I didn’t take that lightly.  I do believe that my medical team has the utmost respect for my life and are vested in improving it so that I can have the best prognosis.

I’ve been told that I look great, whole, and healed.  I’ve been told that I don’t even look like what I’ve been through.  Sometimes, I can’t believe that I have cancer. I’m usually focused on plugging through my day, yet every now and again, the thought hits me that I have this disease, or I think about my children’s risk, and tears stroll down my face.  For the most part, I feel great physically, mentally, and spiritually, albeit a little tired since going back to work.  I don’t want to let how I look get to my head.  I think the way to get through something as life changing as this is to: 1) take things day by day; 2) be open to receive the love that people (even 1 person) are so eager to share; and 3) to listen to your body.

I’ve had people remind me to take things one day at a time and I needed to hear it.  Overachievers like me have issues that can impair progress. Also, if it were not for me being vulnerable enough to share my diagnosis, I would not have had so many people expressing their concern, love and support.  As I’ve indicated before, 10-15 years ago, my pride would have prevented me from being so open, but I’ve grown since then.  One of my coworkers wrote in a card to me to let the love that others have for me carry me through this journey.  That resonated with me so much and I followed her advise.  I do understand that some people are private, but I still recommend entrusting a select few with what you’re going through.  God puts people in your path for a reason. And listening to your body is so key. I have overdone it at times.  For example, yesterday I did 2 tracks on my exercise DVD instead of one.  At the time, I felt energized and thought that I could do more. I should have known better since I didn’t sleep well the night before, but as I indicated, overachievers like me have issues.  As the day went on, I started to feel it in my hips, and therefore, we decided not to go to the Austin Trail of Lights because I didn’t think I could do the walking required.

Something so fascinating about sharing that I have breast cancer is that I’ve discovered that there are so many people who have cancer.  When you share, you give others permission to share.  I think the prevalence of cancer is an epidemic.  I don’t know…that’s for another post, but what I do know is that people…people you may know are going through all kinds of challenges.  It’s not easy to judge a book by its cover.  My face is of a person who has breast cancer and although it has made a significant presence in my life at this moment in time, it’s doesn’t define me.  It hasn’t taken away my joy.  It’s not who I am.  However, it has certainly taught me some things that will ultimately make me a better, kinder, more loving and thoughtful person.