Seven Years by Mary Beth

April 29, 2013

Shortly after midnight on Saturday my daughter and her friend gave me this beautiful card case to hold my business cards.

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Sunday was my seven year anniversary as a Breast Cancer Survivor. On Friday, I ordered a cake for myself to celebrate this day.  I don’t really drink, I don’t do drugs and I have never smoked and I still got cancer… so yes I eat sugar.

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I asked my closest friend in California, (who was literally the first person to hear the news as the Doctor called me at work) to come over and celebrate with me.

The day started out a little later than I had planned, I was running late for church and the chapel that I attend is very small and difficult to sneak in late. I decided to go to the church that we belonged to when we first moved here (and during my treatment) as their mass starts 15 minutes later. This parish had been talking and planning and raising money to build a new church when we became members. I do believe things happen for a reason and as I sat in the church I became very reflective on the past 7 years. I sat in the old church and prayed to heal and survive when I was sick. Now 7 years later I sat in this new church and so thankful that I am still here.
Cancer changed my life forever, not all bad, but changed nonetheless. I am healed on the outside, but sometimes the emotional side still creeps up on me. A few months back I had a “touch-up” procedure done. Before I left work for the appointment I looked at myself in the mirror and thought outwardly, most people that I meet now, have no idea that I am a cancer survivor. My hair has grown in and they can’t tell that it is much thinner than before. My eyebrows and my eyelashes have grown back and my eyelashes hold mascara again. My scars are not visible when I am dressed. People cannot see the effects of the aromatase inhibitors. But as I lay on the table with the greatest leopard hospital gown on… the tears started streaming down my face. I was back 7 years ago as they wheeled me into the operating room to remove a part of my body. I have learned we must allow ourselves to honor these moments as part of the healing process too.

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Today the tears streamed down my face again, so many emotions. Happiness that I am still here, gratefulness for all of the people that supported, prayed and helped me. Sadness for many of the people that I met because of the cancer that are not here anymore. I wrote and delivered a note to another close friend at that time, who had helped me with the kids. Our lives have now taken us in different directions. I sent a thank you text to Lou for supporting me during my treatment. We were close to divorcing in 2006 and then I was diagnosed. We decided to stay together. We tried for another 5 years, but it just was not meant to be.
After honoring those few moments of tears and emotions I was off to enjoy my day. I walked my favorite island and visited my friend who is still recovering from a freak illness. He congratulated me and then asked “did you think you would be sitting here 7 years later?” “Honestly, I was not sure, but my Doctors were.” was my response. They told me it would be 12-18 months of hell and then I would have a greater risk driving on the freeways.

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I treated myself to one of my favorite childhood candies while relaxing for a pedicure.

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My friend and her daughter came over and we celebrated our friendship… and the girls ate CAKE!

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The only part missing in the day was seeing my Dante. This was his weekend with his Dad and his future Step-Mother. Other than that…
I am a survivor.
I am alive.
I have so many amazing people in my life that care about me.
It was a great day.

cross-posted at marybethvolpini

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One Door Closes: Another Opens by Mary Beth

September 21, 2012
This post has nothing to do with cancer… but I think that this site can use an uplifting story…
I am so happy to be writing this story. My daughter was adopted at 2 days old. Her Birth Mother selected us from a resume that we compiled. We never met her. She was given two of the hospital birth photos.
 
We knew quite a few details about her family and medical history but no identifying information as the adoption was private. She was born in Pennsylvania, but the adoption took place in New York State. We were told that when my daughter was 18, she would be able to sign the adoption registry and if her birth mother also signed, the records would be opened.
Nina knew that she was adopted and we shared all of the information that we knew. All except one piece of information. When I received the paperwork I had noticed that the attorneys had forgotten to black out her Birth Mother’s last name on one of the bills. That is how I knew that part of Nina’s heritage was Irish. My feeling was that I would honor our agreement that we would not look for her and she would not look for us… until Nina was 18.  Nina always talked about wanting to meet her Birth Mother. Two questions that she always wanted answered were: Who do I look like? and Does she think about me?  Society is so accustomed to biology, people just naturally try to figure out where the resemblance is: do you look like your Mom or your Dad? Even in school, usually at the beginning of the year the kids always have to talk or write about their heritage.
Adopt means… to take as one’s own. They did take our heritage, but it does not mean that she did not wonder whose biology she was made of and what was her biological heritage.
Last year when Nina turned 18 she had wanted to fill out the paperwork and start the process. The year was quite traumatic for all because of our divorce. I told her when she was ready I would help her. My biggest concern as a Mother was to protect her. I was worried that if her Birth Mother did not want to be found it would be another source of abandonment and disappointment. Nina had decided she was prepared for that event, but that she had to try to find her. I decided I would let Nina go through the legal procedure and if for some reason the records could not be opened then I would hire a private detective to find her and make sure that she wanted to be found. I had even done a few internet searches but nothing concrete had come up.
The weekend of September 7th was a very difficult weekend for Nina and her paternal adoptive family. She was very upset and crying most of the weekend. Mean things had been said by both sides. As a Mother, you want to make it all better, but I just did not know what else to do, except pray. I said a few extra rosaries. Sunday after mass I always light a candle at the Statue of Our Blessed Mother and ask her to watch over our family. This Sunday I asked for extra help for Nina, to relieve her pain.
When Nina came home from work, she sat down on the couch and was so exhausted from the emotions of the weekend. She was so sad. Dante was playing his video games. For some reason, I decided to pick up my phone and put her Birth Mother’s last name into my phone and the word ‘adoption’. An “adoption connect” site popped up and the 7thentry down read:
25-Mar-2009
I am searching for my daughter who was born June 7, 1994. She was born in St. Mary’s, PA but the adoption took place in Buffalo, NY. I am her birth mother and want to find her. She has a birth mark on her forehead. I was too young to care for a child, but have never forgotten her and hope she was given the life I could not give her.
 
 
I could not believe my eyes. The only incorrect piece of information was the year. I put my phone down. I told her that we had to believe and trust that God was watching out for us. I could not tell her why I felt this way, at this moment but I would tell her when I could. I started to cry and both kids looked at me strangely. Nina asked if it was a good thing and I said “yes”. I was waiting for Dante to go to bed, so I could have some private time with Nina to share this news. She was so exhausted that she went to bed before him.
When the house was quiet, I went in to wake her up and I asked her to bear with me as I told her the whole story. I explained how I knew that she was Irish and why I did not tell her her biological last name. Then I read the post to her. She started to cry. When I first read the post my biggest concern was alleviated, “does her Birth Mother want to be found”. When Nina heard the post, one of Nina’s questions was answered, “does she think about me?”
Nina hopped out of bed and turned on her computer. She registered on the site and pressed the correspond with this person button. She wrote:
If your name is Melanie, and your Mom’s name is MaryAnn and you gave me the name Leila at birth and your birthday is October 28. I am your daughter. I have a birthmark on my right temple.
 
This message was sent at 10:30pm on a Sunday night. One guess as to who did not sleep much that night? The next day at about 11:00am, I got a call at work: “Mom… Melanie responded” that started a whirlwind trail of emails and information and 19 years of questions answered on both sides. Melanie sent a photo of herself. The biggest question of all. “Who do I look like” was answered. Nina looks just like her birth Mother with the exception of her nose.
Wednesday was going to be the first phone conversation. As I was driving home that night I thought … how do I ever thank Melanie for the gift she gave me? I started to cry, which is not the smartest idea while traveling on the freeway. When I got home, they were talking and Nina let me speak with Melanie. I told her that I do not know how to thank her and she said the same to me. We talked for quite a while and when we were done I told her that I loved her. I don’t even know her, yet I love her. It was so nice to hear the two of them talk and laugh, to hear pure pleasure in my daughter and tears of joy.
In the same day, one door shut and another opened on a whole new family. She has a Birth Mother, a Birth Father, a Step Father, a full biological Brother, 1/2 biological Brother and Sister that are twins, a birth Grandmother and a birth Great-Grandmother an Aunt and an Uncle and two Cousins. She is emailing, texting and talking with them every day. We are planning a trip to meet all of them.
Melanie said when she read the email, she was speechless. She sat stunned. Her husband came downstairs and asked her what the matter was? She said that she could not speak, she just turned the laptop towards him and let him read it for himself. She had written the post to find Nina 3 ½ years ago! Both Nina and Melanie agree that this week has been surreal and amazing at the same time. Two of the best things that I could hear Nina say were “Thank you Mom” and “They love me and they don’t even know me.”
So many prayers were answered that day…
cross-posted at marybethvolpini.com

Featured Charity: Breast Friends Forever (by Judy)

October 8, 2011

One of the things that attracted me to feature Breast Friends Forever is not only that more than one person recommended it, but also that it was started by Erika Rech and Mike Ruane when they were just 15 years old.

According to the history in their pamphlet:

When they were just 15 years old, cousins Erika Rech and Mike Ruane found out that one of their family members was diasgnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. . . Through their determination, Breast Friends Forever was created. Mike and Erika rely solely on donations to fund their cause. To date, they have rasied in excess of $150,000 and have helped in excess of 100 families.

Impressive for a couple of kids, no?

The goal of Breast Friends Forever is to support those individuals and their families who are fighting Breast Cancer. Our mission is to help them deal with the consequences of this diagnosis by providing emotional, intellectual, spiritual and financial support and resources in their time of need. Additionally, it is the goal of Breast Friends Forever to encourage young women to take charge of their health by performing monthly breast self examinations.

They don’t just talk about helping, though; they have real-life examples of people and families affected by breast cancer whom they’ve helped. I could list some of those that they feature in their Breast Friends Forever pamphlet, or I could let you read for yourself from their website and tell you that I support this organization, am impressed with their resolve, and say that they give me oodles of hope for their generation.

This reminds me so much of Margaret Mead’s quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Thank you for changing the world, Mike and Erika. I’m impressed. 🙂

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Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


Some Things

April 12, 2011

A year ago when I was rediagnosed with breast cancer I was diagnosed with stage IV Metastatic breast cancer. which basically means my cancer had spread outside my chest area to other parts of my body. I kept this pretty private do to the girls and tried to make it as easy on them as possible only making some details known to them, to protect them in a way.

Lately my scans have been good I have had some set backs but I believed I was on the up swing. I had another round of scans last week and my scans reviled a shadow that my doctor wanted to check out a little closer. So I had a brain scan on Friday morning, by two o’clock my doctor called me with the results. The cancer has spread to my brain in one spot on the right side in the back of my head. I also had questionable spots throughout my brain.

So this has been really hard to soak in. It’s not an easy thing to process. Yes I have cancer, in my brain what will happen to me? So I start radiation to my head tomorrow, and they will treat me for two weeks everyday. Then we will work on the spot of cancer if it needs to be treated. they will stop my chemo until then, they don’t like to mix the two together.

So that is what we are facing right now, it’s hard and scary and I hate sharing it all with you, but you are all a big part of me and my recovery and my blog has pulled me through some really tough times. So I thought I could share this with all of you.

Thank you so much for all of your prayers and support

Sarah

Cross posted on Spruce Hill


A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

April 5, 2011

By Jenster

A few weeks ago I had a scare of epic proportions. I thought I had lost all my digital photo files from 2004 through 2008. That thought made my stomach hurt and my heart ache and I couldn’t concentrate on anything until my hero husband found them on a back up drive. Oh, how I love having a former IT guy for a spouse! After the photos were recovered and put in the home they belonged in, I spent a good portion of my day just looking through them.

In 2004 we took a great family vacation to Durango, Colorado and Taos, New Mexico and a few points in between. I cherish the memories of that vacation and I adore those pictures. My kids were 9 and 12 and I remember thinking how big they were at the time. Looking at their abundant smiles in those photographs I would say they enjoyed that vacation as well.

The pictures of my son from May 2005 through July of 2006 were a lot different. Looking through those photographs made me realize just what a difficult time that was for him. The smiles were a lot fewer and even when there was one it very rarely reached his eyes.

Taylor turned 13 the Saturday between my Wednesday diagnosis and my mastectomy the next Tuesday.  A couple weeks before that he had been crushed when we told him we were moving from Arkansas to Pennsylvania. After all, when you’re in 7th grade you pretty much have your entire life planned and it normally does not include moving away from all your friends.

The following year was hard on everybody and maybe especially Taylor – a 13-year-old boy who only got to see his dad every weekend at best and whose mom had cancer. Not only that, but he knew once I finished treatment we’d be getting back to our original plan of moving.

Our family was blessed beyond measure during that year. We had so many people taking care of us, including friends who would come get my kids and take them to the pool or the movies or the water park or just to their house for some normal, ordinary fun. Katie had an awesome support system at school, Taylor had a great support system in his junior high youth group and both were bolstered on Sunday mornings and really, I think they both did a phenomenal job that year. They loved on me and took care of me and very rarely gave me any problems. But those pictures tell a little bit different story than what I perceived during that time.

I think it’s safe to say that the teenage years for any kid have their challenges. Add to those typical strains several life changes and it makes for a pressure cooker. So which is it the pictures reflect? Just the usual teenage angst or a kid with the world bearing down on him?

When we finally did join Todd in Pennsylvania after a year-long separation, Taylor was both relieved to be a family again and disappointed to move away. While his sister had made a friend practically before her feet ever hit her new driveway, his friendships took a little longer. But before too long he met a couple of guys in the youth group at church and once he started the 9th grade three months later, he met some kids at school. By the end of that first fall he told me he hoped Dad didn’t get transferred back to Arkansas because he really liked it here.

When I look at pictures from mid-2006 on he looks happy. His smile reaches his eyes. Five years later he’s a freshman in college and instead of the world bearing down on him, he’s taking all the world has to offer. Not only is he very happy, he’s fulfilled. He sends me and Todd texts just to say “I love you”, and when we get to see him (not enough to my way of thinking) he hugs us both like he’ll never let us go.  I miss him terribly and yet I’m so full of joy and pride. What an incredible young man he’s turning out to be.

I won’t sugar coat it. That was a horrible year. As all the moms who write for Mother’s With Cancer will tell you, our ceaseless concern is what this life crisis is doing to our children. Don’t we all want to protect our kids and make sure they’re safe and happy? Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way.

 I am proud of both my kids and have come to the determination that they are who they are not in spite of our catastrophic year, but because of it. Not that I don’t think they’d be spectacular individuals without that experience; however, I do believe it played a part in developing their character. While the pictures of a forlorn teenage boy break my heart just a little, the knowledge that he’s better than okay today soothes my soul.

Crossposted at Jenster’s Musings


A new Year a New Hair Do

January 4, 2011

After getting my hair cut really short on The Wednesday before Christmas my hair continued to fall out after my chemo on Thursday. The day after Christmas I decided it was time and I shave it all off. It came out so easily I barely had to even touch it with my razor. So I’m bald again. I never thought I would be here again. I even gave away all my scarves a year or so ago, thinking I would never need them again. I gave them too a friend in my support group. Everyone came through and I have lots of new scarves and hats and got my old ones back. I am all stocked up. It’s a bit colder being bald in the winter, wooo! So no more flying under the radar, now I look like I have cancer. I was really enjoying my hair and not looking like I was doing chemotherapy. It was nice I felt like I was incognito. Mow not so much, we went shopping at the mall the day after I shaved my head and I got stares and smiles, people being nice to me just because I have a scarf on my head. That is something I never get used to. I tied my wig on the other day and I still hate it. It’s itchy and ugly and I just don’t like  it. If I do get a new wig I am going long and bright! It’s hard to get used to being bald again, I see myself in the mirror and I don’t recognize myself. Today was my first day back to my regular routine, picking the kids up at school. I waited until the last-minute to get out of the car, not wanting to talk about it and avoiding all the Mommies. I felt guilty about it afterwords. They all think I am so strong but I don’t feel that way inside. I feel like a sacred little girl not wanting to be noticed and be different from everyone else. I guess that doesn’t change as we get older. We just don’t realize it until something happens.

Cancer is not just something that happens to your body but it really effects your mind as well. I lay in bed and wonder about all kinds of things. About my girls and how they are taking my second battle with cancer. I worry about my husband and all the extra things he has to worry about. I worry about my parents and them worrying about their child with cancer. I worry about my siblings, and how they handle it. I worry about everything at 3:00 in the morning. Every night before bed I pray that I sleep. That I will not wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to turn off my brain. It’s hard having cancer, going through treatment. I never imagined in a million years that I would be doing this all again for a second time. The stakes are higher this time and it scares the crap out of me.


Mothers and Daughters (and oil and water, and Israel and Palestine…)

July 25, 2010

One day while driving home from work, I called my friend Kyle in tears.

“My daughter hates me.”

“If it makes you feel any better,” she said, “I have two daughters. Double the hate. In fact, I made [honey] kosher chicken noodle soup last weekend and she gave me shit about it.”

“?”

“We’re Jewish, but [honey] is orthodox. She only eats kosher. And she has to have her kosher food made in separate pots and pans and served on separate dinnerware. I make [honey] kosher chicken noodle soup every Friday night to make sure she’ll have something kosher to eat for the weekend.”

“Wow. That’s really nice of you.”

“Except for the fact that I was chopping the carrots and celery with my bare hands, which made [honey] wretch and gag and proclaim me disgusting.”

“You asshole!”

“I know! I feel horrible!”

A couple of days later, I was telling my boyfriend about an incident with my daughter. “You know,” I said, “this sounds like hyperbole, but going through cancer was easier than living with a teenage girl who absolutely hates me. No matter what I do, it’s wrong. And not only is it wrong,  I am wrong. Everything about me is disgusting, including my voice, my appearance, my beliefs, my approach to life, my relationships, my job, everthing. When I was in treatment, I may have been scared to death and tired, but my own sense of self-worth actually increased.”

“When you had cancer, you probably thought, there’s an end to this,” he said. “With daughters, it can feel interminable. You lose them for about four years, and it’s an agonizing four years.”

I don’t know when this tumultous mother/daughter relationship will resolve itself, and sometimes in the moment it feels impossible to repair. But the one thing I do know is that all I have is this day, this moment in time when I have the absolute luxury and honor of angsting about my relationship with my daughter instead of worrying about my post-op drain. Or my sore post-chemo arm. Or my post-radiation narcolepsy. But this morning as I sit at my kitchen table wearing embarrassingly old pajamas with unhighlighted hair and unmanicured nails, drinking coffee out of the mug my daughter gave me “just because” when she was nine, I am beyond grateful.

photo: feet belong to another, hipper, mom and her daughter…