Fatigue, Brows, Oxygen, Kiddos – Updates

I’m tired. Really, really tired. I need – nope, I require – a nap every day, and bedtime is definitely before 10 p.m. (usually closer to 9, really). The oncologist says this is because of the cumulative effects of the chemo. Including this week, only five more rounds (11 rounds DONE!). Thank goodness. Fridays at the cancer center are starting to wear me out.

I met with the surgeon on Monday. I still have the choice of lumpectomy or mastectomy, and I’m thankful to have options since many women don’t. As I expected, there are more doctors to see (radiology oncologist tomorrow and plastic surgeon TBD) and more test to schedule (mammogram and ultrasound) before surgery. I reiterated my desire to have surgery done and recovery complete before next semester (Labor Day). Right now, that looks do-able.

Other updates:

– Classes are done, and I’ve never been happier to get to the end of the semester. I’m almost done with grading, and since I’m teaching the same three classes in the fall, prep time for fall will be minimal. I’m looking forward to resting and just taking it easy. (And naps whenever I want – yay!)

– Drawing eyebrows is hard. My eyebrows and eyelashes are nonexistent these days, and without any hair on my head, I look… like a cancer patient. I’ve tried eyebrow gels and pencils and powders and crèmes… I’ve tried freehanding the brows and using a variety of stencils. I usually get one dark brow, one lighter, one with a nice arch, one flat across, one super wide, one a little too narrow. Basically, if you see me IRL, please only look at my right brow – it’s the better one most days. And forget lashes – I’ve glued my eyelids together more than once with my “eyelash wigs” (Lauren’s term for false lashes).

– My oxygen levels are still not always where they need to be. I continue monitoring myself with a pulse ox meter I bought at Walgreens. Walking from my car to the office causes my levels to get in the low 90s/high 80s. And even though the levels climb to the high 90s pretty quickly, I find myself short of breath with a really rapid heart rate for a while. After talking to the doc, I think some of this is related to not having much stamina – it’s been about two months since before the fever and the pneumonia and even feeling blah before that. So almost two months since I’ve done much. I’ve started walking on the days when I can (Fridays, Saturdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays – the other days, I’m zapped). It’s slow going, but Ethan usually walks with me and cheers me on. I’ll get the stamina back – it’ll just take time. And I really hope that’s the answer to getting oxygen levels more stable, more often.

– I’ve coined a new phrase – “free balding” – which amuses me to no end. “Free balding” means going out in public without a turban or scarf or wig or anything on my bald head – basically, it’s going cranially commando. Used in a sentence: “It’s crazy hot so I’m going to free bald it to the grocery store.”

– Ethan has REALLY stepped up in the last few weeks. Reports from his teachers and the principal are that he’s really maturing this year, and his behavior is much better than at the beginning of the year. He’s been just amazing through this whole cancer thing. He looks out for me – if I’m chilled, he’ll bring me the thermometer and insist I make sure I’m not running a fever. He’ll proactively do things around the house, like clean bathrooms and take out the garbage. He’s been helping with Lauren, and he’s been very cuddly. He’s a great kid.

– Lauren turned five on Monday, and I almost forgot her birthday. Blame it on end of the semester craziness or chemo brain or just being a bad mom, but her birthday slipped my mind until late Saturday. It was a mad scramble to order cupcakes for school, bake cupcakes for home, figure out birthday presents (and shop and wrap), pull together decorations. Sundays and Mondays are my “worst” days – basically, I just don’t want to do anything – and those were the days I had to take to pull off all-things birthday. It happened. She was thrilled. And now she’s five. (Hot damn, my baby is five…)

When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Lauren replied, "Cupcakes!"

When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Lauren replied, “Cupcakes!” (She also got her first “big girl” bike, ballet classes, and some toys.) 

One Year Ago: My Sister

My sister and my niece arrived at the hotel for Mike’s funeral on January 27. We all went to dinner, and my sister said that she was there to help in any way she could. She sounded sincere, but given her history of being unreliable, I had my doubts.

“Just help me with the kids,” I said at dinner when they arrived in town. “That’s what I really need right now. Mom has been such a huge help these last few days, and she needs a breather. I don’t ask for help often, but I’m asking you, I’m looking you in the eyes to say that I need help with the kids over the next few days while I handle all kinds of funeral-related things. Can you do that?”

“Anything,” she said. “I’ll keep the kids busy. We’ll have fun.”

My mom had been eager for a haircut, and she had been so helpful and strong over the previous days that I wanted to treat her. I called a local salon and made a cut-and-color appointment for her. I told my sister at dinner that night that I would need her to help me with the kids while I took mom to get her hair done the next day.

“Great,” she said. “I’m here for you. No problem.”

On the 28th, the kids, my mom, my sister, my niece and I went to lunch then headed back to the hotel. I told my sister that I would pull up to the front of the hotel and she and my niece could get the kids out of the car because my mom and I needed to get to the salon.

“What?!” my sister yelled. “It’s my birthday! I’ve invited friends to celebrate with me! I can’t watch your kids on MY BIRTHDAY! That’s not fair!”

(Side note: She was turning 37 years old – not a milestone, and she wasn’t a child. Even with all the other stuff going on in my life, I didn’t forget about her or her birthday. I ordered a birthday cake for her, and the kids bought her a small present and flowers. She wasn’t forgotten, but this wasn’t her day either. Also, we were raised that birthdays, after you reached 16 years old, weren’t really big deals.)

I got out of the car, walked over to her side and whispered in her ear. “We talked about this yesterday. I need help with the kids over the next few days. I want to treat our mom to a few hours in the salon. Please…” I begged.

“Whatever,” she said and walked into the hotel. “I can’t believe you’re asking me to do this ON MY BIRTHDAY!”

Fast forward a few hours and my mom and I returned from the salon – and the bakery with her birthday cake. My sister was nowhere to be found. My 16-year old niece was alone in the hotel room with Ethan and Lauren. “Where’s your mom?” I asked.

“With her friend,” she said, rolling her eyes. “She just keeps saying it’s her birthday and she’s going to do what she wants.”

Right after we left, my sister’s friend arrived and she dumped the kids with my niece. She hadn’t so much as checked on her daughter or my kids in the last several hours.

I was furious. Trying to take my mind off things, I started looking at my Facebook feed. There were several posts from my sister about how she was “partying” on her birthday, and how any friends in the area should stop by, and how excited she was to be with friends her birthday. There was also a check in from her “friend” at the hotel – “Partying with J on her birthday, so glad she’s in town to celebrate with me!”

I was pissed. She was in town because MIKE DIED. This wasn’t Party Town. This was the Grief Train. She was there because she was supposed to be helping after the loss of her brother in law. She was staying in a hotel room – paid for by my mom – to attend the funeral for my husband. It took everything in my being to NOT reply to the friend’s check-in: “Glad you’re having fun. I’m preparing the funeral of MY KIDS’ DAD, which is why she’s in town….”

I knew that I would lose it if my sister and I were together much that day. A group of college friends were coming into town and had texted to ask if I was interested in going to dinner with them. I needed the escape.

Dinner with friends was nice. We laughed. We cried. We told stories about Mike and caught up on each other’s lives. I was touched that they all came in for the funeral from faraway places, and it was nice to spend time with them before things got crazy with the viewing the next day.

When I got back to the hotel, my sister was on a rampage in the hotel lobby, waiting for me. “I can’t believe you didn’t have dinner with me ON MY BIRTHDAY!” she said. “I can’t believe you WENT OUT ON MY BIRTHDAY! I would never do that to you on your birthday!”

“No,” I said. “You would just make my husband’s funeral miserable. Today wasn’t about you – we’re here because Mike died. We’re going to see my children’s father tomorrow. He’s dead in a box.”

“But it’s my BIRTHDAY…” she screamed after me as I walked to the elevator.

I left her in the hotel lobby. She would never change. Selfish when she was a kid, selfish now. I just couldn’t take her ridiculousness. Tomorrow will be one of the toughest days of my life, I thought.