November 6, 2007

There is a woman in my cancer yoga class who has a child.  A six-year-old child.  And when I heard that, my heart momentarily leapt, thinking of the playdates that we could have, and the moments over peppermint tea and apple slices, and the relaxing in the back yard as we both recovered from chemotherapy sessions and watched our children play.  My mind raced with both happiness, in finding a fellow mom there at The Wellness Community , and sadness, for the child whose mother has cancer, and the mother who must explain these things to her child.

But, as it turns out, it is not the mother in that family who has cancer.  It is her child.  Little Zachary, age 6, has cancer that is not responding to chemotherapy.  He has no more chemo options, and his mother is … well, distraught would not be an exaggeration.  She held it together well, but as we talked, walking to the twin minivans in the parking lot, it was evident that she has a lot on her mind.

And now I have a lot on my mind too.  I’ve been thinking a lot about her today.  About how hard it must be for her, her husband, and child.  About whether Zachary has little brothers or sisters at home, and what it’s like for them.  But mostly about her.  What must it be like to be the mother of a child who is very ill?

As it turns out, it’s easy enough to find out, in these blogging days of the internet.  There are heartbreaking stories everywhere, about the nephew with a terminal illness, the son with cancer, the daughter with lymphoma, the mother with brain cancer.  Then there are the stories of loss.  Of infants taken too soon.  Those born too small to thrive.  Those who were lost in the womb, labeled “miscarriage,” perhaps.  Those who never got to rest in their mama’s arms and smile beguilingly at their daddy with newborn coos.  And what is the greater tragedy?  Where is the greater pain?

As I realized in reading bon’s post earlier today, this is a senseless question.  We all have tragedy in our lives, and we all have loss.  No hurt is trivial.  And yet, they all are, compared to love. 

Today, let us focus on the love.



November 5, 2007

Were I to use this blog only to recount the kindnesses of friends and strangers, I would still post every day, and it would be cram-packed full of stories.  I would write today of the kindness of my friend Mike, who picked us up yesterday when our car stalled and I was stuck with a carful of groceries and a toddler — who was NOT going to ride in the front seat of the tow truck, despite how happy it would have made him.  I would write of the kindness of Stimey, who watched my kids this morning while I went to cancer yoga to work on the pain and weakness in my upper chest.  I would write of Jacquie, who brought over dinner and special treats from Trader Joe’s.  I would write of the elves that quietly leave me a bag of goodies every morning I go to chemo, cheering me on the days I don’t want to step outside and go down to the hospital for treatment.

I would write of the kindness of my parents and my husband’s parents, who have put their lives on hold to care for us during this time when I am having trouble caring for myself.

I would write the first paragraph over and over, until it became boring for you, for every week, a mom helps me with the kids while I go to cancer yoga.  Every week, a mom brings over dinner, to give our caregivers a bit of a break.  Every week, a mom calls to see what she can pick up for me at the store, to see if there’s an errand I need running that I can’t pull myself out of bed to go and do.  Every week, I get cards and letters from cousins and aunts and friends, bringing a bit of cheer.

Every week, you, my blogfriends, leave me comments and send me email, checking in, asking about me, letting me know that I am not alone.

And because of you, all of you, I am gathering the strength to go on, to pick myself up, and to get back to the business of living.

Today I am stronger than I was yesterday.  The chemo is working.  The tumor is shrinking.  And my spirit — my spirit is stronger than it has ever been.  Today I am reminded of all the good there is in the world. 

Whatever your day brings, I hope that it brings you as well a moment of kindness, and a moment of peace.

Inside the darkened room

October 16, 2007

I always cry during yoga.

Nobody knows but my yogi, and I would happily keep this to myself, but today I’m wondering why.

Is it because the lights are low, the room is quiet, and we are encouraged to look deeply inside ourselves as we meditate and stretch?

Is it because I’m stretching muscles that have gone unused for far too long, and as they cry out I do too?

Is it because I have so much trouble with the poses, with my cancerous right breast, the pain in the upper chest and shoulder (from carrying it?), bone pain in my arms and legs and tush (from the Taxol chemotherapy), and now a popped knee (from Sunday’s walk)?

Is it because my yogi is so nice to me, modifying the poses just for me when I need it, nodding when she sees me use the strap to hold my knees, since my right arm won’t cooperate?

Is it because she is simultaneously so nice to the others in the room, modifying their poses to accomodate their masectomies, their ports, their bone pain, and their weaknesses?

Is it because here I feel surrounded by the strength and the weaknesses of the dozen other cancer patients in the room with me?  Each one is sick, each one hurts, each one is fighting for her life … but all of us are here, actively working to regain strength, calm, and balance.

Or is it because here and only here (and in the chemo unit) I focus entirely on fighting the cancer?  Here I am able to put aside thoughts of my little boys, my family, my friends, my fears and their fears, and I can relax and let the toxic tears go.

I still don’t know.  But what I do know is that when I come out of cancer yoga at The Wellness Community each week, I am relaxed, refreshed, and oddly hopeful.

MOMS Club Magic

October 13, 2007

Dear MOMS Club,

I hope I can write this letter without crying. 

For the past three years, you gals have been my rock.  My touchstone.  My friends.  You’ve been there for me through some of the best and some of the hardest times of my life, and all I can say is … thank you. 

When we first met, I was the new mom of a 6 month old, unsure what to expect in a group of stay-at-home-moms.  I’d had my head buried in my work since we moved to D.C., and I had never taken the time to join a social club or neighborhood group, so I wasn’t really sure what lay ahead.  

What I found was a group of highly educated, motivated, driven moms determined to give their kids the best start in life they could offer them — and to be there for them, every step of the way.  Moms of infants and moms of toddlers, these women were sharp, educated, and up on the latest books and theories of child development.  Not that it was their field — in fact, our backgrounds were astonishingly diverse.  My first friends from the club included an engineer, a lawyer, a USAID worker, a Peace Corps volunteer, a CPA, a teacher, a nurse, a writer, an entrepreneur … amazingly experienced and with-it moms, who all — each and every one — had made the decision to put their careers aside for a while and spend their days at home with their children instead.

We took infants to playdates at parks.  Toddlers to museums.  Everyone to the zoo.  We opened our homes to each other for regular and spontaneous playdates, tearing apart playroom after playroom, but always — always — cleaning up together before we left.

Talk of teething and bedtimes soon gave way to more detailed discussion of theories of child-rearing, of independence, of curiousity, of limiting TV or expanding book collections.  The facades were dropped as we realized that there is no “perfect parent,” and SuperMom exists only in our imaginations.  Sooner or later, everyone forgets the juice box.  We relaxed and opened up to each other, sharing our fears, our worries, and most of all our joys at raising our children and being so lucky as to be able to be there for the big steps and the little ones, every day.  We hit it off pretty quickly. 

When my little one wasn’t crawling on time, we stepped up the playgroups with the crawlers; once he saw what was expected, he put one knee in front of the other and made it happen.  He went on from that to crawling up the steps at 9 months, walking at 11, and shimmying up the redwood playset at 12 months.  He and certain other little preschoolers in our group haven’t stopped climbing and running around since! 

But as much fun as we had together, I didn’t realize what friends I had in these women until I was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t know how to talk about it.  I didn’t know what to do next.  I told one friend, and then another, and then I sent out a note to my weekly playgroup with the news and a note that since I would have to start chemotherapy immediately, I would be really susceptible to infection, so would they please let me know if their kids were sick before playdate, and my kids and I would just skip that week?

Their response was overwhelming.  What can we do? they asked.  How can we help?  All I asked for was their friendship and their company.  I was scared to death.

The day before I was to start chemotherapy was July 4.  We’d planned for weeks to host a midweek barbecue at our house, to celebrate our friendships and include the dads in a rare family playdate.  My family helped me keep my promise, cooking, barbecuing, and answering the door while I sat in a chair out back and tried to be the cheery hostess, putting my fears about tomorrow aside.  To my surprise, everyone came.  All 10 families came to our house to visit and play and have one last perfect day before my fight with cancer began.  Everyone brought a treat, too:  every kind of side or dessert from potato salad to rhubarb pie, decorations, forks and napkins, and three kinds of cupcakes.  It was one of the most perfect days I’ve had in my life.  My friend Lisa brought t-shirts.  Pink t-shirts that she’d emblazoned herself with the bold slogan that Canape coined, TEAM WHYMOMMY.  We all put them on and took a picture together.

But that wasn’t the end of their show of support for me in my battle against this deadly cancer.  They got together and made a plan.  Each mom would take a week to be my lifeline; they would offer to do whatever I needed to make it through.  They were so generous with their offers:  errands, grocery store, Target, meals …. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  Because I had family that also came to our rescue, I was able to keep the needs to a minimum:  a playdate here, a yes to a dinner there, and those simple needs were lifesaving this Summer and Fall.  The dinners brought us good nutrition when we were too distracted with determining treatment plans.  The playdates brought me psychic relief and exercise and friendship for my toddler.  Really, they kept me from slipping into a lonesome depression caused by my exhaustion and exasperation that I would have to deal with intense chemotherapy, so soon after an extended period on bed rest for my last pregnancy.  The weekly visits were critical to me during the first 3 months of chemo.

And every time I went to chemo, when I opened the door in the morning, a bright pink bag of goodies awaited me.  Those women had somehow found the time and energy to put together a bag of everything from homemade brownies to scarves to soft socks (my weakness) to bath oils, mints, and trashy magazines; anything they could think of to help me or distract me from the business at hand, and to deliver it to my doorstep early in the morning before I left for chemotherapy.  The bag itself was always covered in inspirational messages, exhortations, recipes, poems, and smiling faces.  An incredible show of support.

Now that I’m on weekly chemo, I told them (who? they do this anonymously, so I just guessed) that they should really feel free to stop.  It’s got to be a drain on them, and I really don’t want that to happen.  But they didn’t stop.  A bag was left on my doorstep again this week. 

And now, after listening to me cry one day, one of the moms helped organize even one more thing for me.  The thing that I need most of all while I try to recover from the chemo, the cancer, and an upper chest and arm that has been unusable for months.  They’re giving me the gift of time.  A mom is taking my oldest for a playdate once a week so that I can go to cancer yoga and try to make this arm work for me again.  So that my son can see friends and get out of the house.  So that we all can relax a little for an hour or two.  They’re going to do this for me for this coming week, and every week from now until my last chemo treatment in December. 

My MOMS Club is made up of incredible women.  All I can say is thank you.  Thank you.  And … I promise to be there for you when you need me.  Just say the word.



Little Bear, Widget, WhyDaddy, and I love our MOMS Club friends!