I Got 99 Problems

As I stare at my calendar and map out our summer, I catch glimpses of Facebook statuses and mommy blogs plotting out the complexities of planning that gloriously warm and sunny time off from school. For some it's the ultimate mommy challenge and she who has the fullest calendar, can wear herself out the most or has the most twisted schedule wins.

It comes with an inevitable silent online sigh and the implication that juggling the extra curricular life of a child can be extremely more complicated during the carefree days of summer.

I'm in the same boat. With several upcoming trips to contend with, I'm weighing the highs and lows of summer schedules for Merrick. I have petty concerns of regret over picking a camp that starts at 8am in the summer and I wonder if I'm being selfish for only choosing camps that I can get to via a drive-thru Starbucks.

And in the mix of all the social media feigning over summer stress, I want to anonymously remind those Internet strangers that I have one greater logistical mess on my hands with which to contend. And it's not a conflict between Johnny's soccer camp and Suzy's art camp having overlapping pick-up times, or Lucy not getting into jewelry camp on the week that worked best with our trip to St. Barts with the kids.

The self-pitying me wants to remind all those stressed out moms that I have to plan camp around treatment. I know that I'll be back on a full dose of chemo this summer, and that will make camp an every-other-week-only option. It will make doing anything outside of the house an every-other-week-option, as I return to the land of the very sick and bedridden for days on end.

But I'm not the one-upping type who needs to make my problem greater than hers or theirs, and shove it with guilt-producing power in anyone's face. For all those times I want to counter someone's complaint with my greater argument, I don't. But I often feel the urge to remind people that public complaining can be offensive to people with struggles they might not take into consideration.

I can see all of you mentally running through the last 3 months of Facebook statuses and wondering if any of them might have offended me. Don't worry, I'm just generalizing here and casting my net across the entire web, in an effort to stick up for people who wince when the next person whines about something that is so paltry. And I'm not one of those overly emotional or sensitive types that takes things personally. Ain't nobody got time for that.

We are all entitled to vent and you can tell me to unfriend you or stop following you if I don't like it. That's not my objective. I've just noticed that since I got the cancer label slapped across my forehead, I'm less likely to publicly complain about the petty things of the world. They do matter in our own little lives, but in relation to everything going on, they seem frivolous when I take a step back.

Too many times I want to comment on someone's Tweet or status or blog post and ask them to go to Target and buy a Facebook Filter for reasons beyond oversharing. They need to think about what they are saying and take their readers, friends, followers and viewers into consideration. They need to ask themselves if what they have to complain about is really a worthy problem in the grand scheme of humanity.

Am I here to point the giant Mickey Mouse finger at you and tell you I'm offended at the headache you just told your 1,526 followers about? No. I know that telling the world your hurt lifts your spirit enough to perhaps make you feel just a little bit better. Knowing that somewhere out there, in the vast reaches of Al Gore's Internet, someone hears your cry or can potentially offer you help is the beauty of social media.

What I'm asking is that you put your life into perspective before impulsively and superficially reaching for the keyboard and getting on a soapbox that will only give angst to someone else. And if you must, please, I beg you, try and at least be funny about it.

I must remind myself to put my own life into perspective on a daily basis. I, too, can start to complain about how hard it is to feel nauseated or tired day in and day out. Or lug around an infusion pump at my waist as I'm doing at this very moment. But I know that there is some mom out there in far worse shape, with far less of a future and far less ability to do what I can still do. There is always a hurt greater than our own.

If anything, cancer has the most cliché way of making you focus on what really matters. It's also given me a filter like I've never had before; to always know that there are people that I come in contact with that are hurting, suffering, needing and often hiding pain that far exceeds any in my own life.

So is the point to tell everyone to stop complaining? No. Kyle will be the first one to put me in my place after reading this, as I LOVE to complain in the privacy of my own home. Just the other day I pulled a box of Keurig cups out of my Target (reusable) bag and realized (in my excitement over seeing 2 new Peet's Coffee brews on the shelf) that I accidentally grabbed a box of vanilla hazelnut K-cups in my blind giddiness. There I was, complaining that I now owned an entire box of flavored coffee I'd probably never drink. I wanted to slap myself in the face with my #whitegirlproblems and bring myself back into the real world.

Or that day I ran out of sparkling water and complained about having to drink actual tap water like a regular person. Holy cow, who am I to complain when there are people dying from water born illnesses obtained from the very water they had to walk 2 miles to get? #whitegirlproblems.

My point is for you to think before you share with the world.

I know that putting together the family calendar can be stressful. Complain away.  But ask yourself what your motivation is in complaining in a public forum, and is that motivation really worthwhile and beneficial. This world needs less defeat and more inspiration, less complaining and more affirming, less tragedy and more laughter, less whining and more doing, less Debbie Downer and more Rachel Dratch (and Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Kristen Wig).

Like JAY-Z said, I got 99 problems and a, um, never mind.


Putting the DO in DOnate

Not that long ago, through the very organization we are running the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K with in May, Kyle received a caregiver grant through the Tony Snow and Betty Jo Caregivers Network. It wasn't some vast fortune meant to reward him for all the shockingly graphic details I gave him regarding my trips to the bathroom during full blown chemo.

It was a small grant meant to take care of the caregiver. So much of the focus with cancer (or any chronic illness) is on the patient, and overlooked is the person picking up the slack. The one driving to all the appointments, sitting in an infusion room taking pictures of their Benadryl'd up wife drooling all over the recliner for hours on end, cutting work short to pick up kids, getting up in the middle of the night to get the puke bucket and sacrificing golf games on Saturday so I can lay in bed uninterrupted watching Netflix. The caregiver gives and gives and gives, yet the patient gets all the glory and attention.

I submitted a nomination for Kyle, not really to reward him with a game of golf on some overpriced PGA course, but to help alleviate some of the "burden" of child care cost. As I lay around cuddling my infusion pump in the recliner, he's out there being our sole bacon maker. I, in turn, drop some of that bacon off with a sitter so that I can go to my infusions alone. As much as the infusion room could use that sweet love that radiates from Lachlan, it's just not the best place for him to hang out.

It sounds simple, but in my mind I thought it would be nice if I could take a little bit of that financial burden off of him by nominating him for this grant.

And guess what? He got it. The first 6 treatments of this new year are covered.

And how do grants like this come about? For all the countless organizations that host races, sell t-shirts, auction off bachelors, get 10% of the profits from a night at a restaurant, have galas, jog-a-thons and host bake sales; this is their final product. I'm sure every person reading this has participated in some grassroots fundraiser at some point, but do you ever wonder about that end result? Did your $10 for that raffle ticket really make a difference?

Well here we are; the very people that benefit. So when I formed Team Colon Cancer Chick and we participate in this race (and future athletic endeavors), I am thinking of those little ways that every donated dollar can make a big difference. It's not going in the giant, ambiguous pot of cancer research; it's going right here where I live, to possibly help the very people that I will see on the morning of that race, or in the infusion chair next to me the following day.

So if you blindly give to a cause out of the pure goodness of your heart, look at us as the stand-in poster kids of that donation. Every dollar really does make a difference to those who may not even want to admit there is a need. And to be on the receiving end makes you want to be on the giving end so much more. What goes around really does come around in the end.


Chemo: Illustrated

For visual people like me, seeing colorful objects spread before us makes far more sense than knowing how to spell, adding without a calculator, coordinating colors and linear thinking. It's why we've always preferred Macs over PCs, maps over directions and get distracted by bright, shinny pictures.

So to simplify the last 2+ years for those of you who have just been nodding along in agreement and content with a vague understanding of those fancy terms I throw around, I present my chemo; illustrated.

Big words put in fun boxes. Because creative people are fun people.


Good Stable Disease

"Good, stable disease" is how my doctor described my latest CT scan (done last week). Doesn't that sound odd? Like a big, fat oxymoron? Good disease.

The magical word once again is stable. But his oncological definition of stable and my definition of stable is different.

As I expected, all my innumerable lung friends have once again grown another 2mm. That is what I prepared myself to hear given the track record of my last few scans. And once again, we were assured that 2mm is "stable" in the cancer world and we should relax. As relaxed as one can be when they are watching cancer continue to dominate, albeit mere millimeters at a time.

The glass half empty me sees that chemo-lite isn't working; that it's not stopping the disease in its tracks or keeping it at bay.

The glass half full me sees that chemo-lite is working; keeping the cancer cells from dividing that much faster and slowing their progress throughout my lungs.

But I still challenged the whole idea of another 2mm and the use of the word stability, because in my world, stability means nothing has changed. And 3 months from now, and 6 months from now, and 9 months from now, as I continue to add 2mm to each of my innumerable tumors, they will start to become a problem.

And we have to ask, do we just keep on with the status quo until it becomes a "problem" (impacts breathing, lung space or spreads elsewhere), or do we become more aggressive now? The general idea of chemo-lite is to give my body a break, which it has had. I have recovered in every sense of the word from the chemo that ended last September.

As it stands now, I will continue on for another 3 months of chemo-lite with my tiny little tumors. Several options were put on the table and the discussion was slightly more passionate regarding the next step. I don't have a passive attitude about this whole idea of "stable" disease, but I also want to avoid the full dose of chemo as much as the next guy. I just feel like I'm not in a position to do so for much longer.

With a few days to think about it, I've formulated a game plan that I think my doctor will be on board with and I'll talk about it later with some amazing graphics to enable the medical terminology impaired. It does involve a repeat of last year, but perhaps not nearly so bad. In the mean time, it's treatment and motherhood as usual.