Update to -1

Ethan’s teacher responded to my email. She was “surprised” that I sent an email and “sad” that I thought she “would be such an inconsiderate teacher.” After a couple of email exchanges, I have a bit of clarification, but not satisfaction.

Students were told to ask “any adult” to tell the story of where they were when the Challenger exploded. Some parents, as the teacher pointed out, were only a year old at the time, so it could be any adult. (A year old in 1986!? Now I feel ancient…) She said she specifically told Ethan he could ask his grandma for a story. Students received one point for each “story” they brought in.

Fine. However, “story” seems to be a pretty broad term. Literally, most students had one line – “my dad was home sick.” That’s not a story. That’s a statement. I wrote a story. A one-page story. The only story.

Also, while the kids see my mom regularly and B is becoming a more regular fixture during the week (YAY!), there’s one “adult” with whom the kids have regular contact. Me. It’s presumptuous to assume there’s anyone else around the kids on any given day. There is simply me. That’s only one extra credit point because there was only one adult around the dinner table with whom Ethan could get a “story.”

On the night of the assignment, I picked E up from school, and he was with my mom for about 40 minutes while I went to the gym. In that 40 minutes, at minimum, she emptied the kids’ lunchboxes, made snacks, ensured Lauren had all her winter snow gear for the next day, went through Lauren’s school folder, listened to Lauren read a story, helped Lauren with homework, and took the dog out to potty. She probably also moderated arguments between E and L, coerced them to change out of school clothes, tracked down Lauren’s water bottle (she always leaves it in my mom’s car), and who knows what else. Point being, there wasn’t  a lot of time for my mom to chat with Ethan about her recollection of that historical day.

Sometimes adulting is hard. Sometimes it sucks. Today is one of those days.


And you get -1 for not having a second parent

I’m pissed. I’m sad. I’m literally crying in a Panera Bread right now. (Since it’s too early for a drink, I’m medicating through pastries and massive amounts of caffeine.)

The kids attend a Catholic school, which means there’s an expectation for parental volunteering. I could write PAGES on how I feel about volunteering and how it’s (mis)handled at the school and why it’s best for everyone that I do the minimum (lest I be seen as a raging, controlling, know-it-all bitch), but that’s not today’s point. At the beginning of the year, I signed up to help with “Friday folders” in Ethan’s class. Basically, once a week, all the tests and homework and notes to parents have to be sorted and put into the correct kids’ folder to go home. It’s usually less than an hour every three or four weeks. I can do it alone, first thing in the morning when I drop off the kids, and still have the rest of my day for grading, yoga and errands.

Generally, I don’t pay much attention to anything I’m sorting. Look at the name, put in the kid’s pile, move on to the next. But there was one assignment in which I was interested.

The kids were asked last week to talk to their parents about where they were when the Challenger exploded in 1986. The kids had to write (or have a parent write) the response for extra credit. I told the kids the story of where I was and how I learned of the explosion. It was long and convoluted (junior high, screaming crying science teacher, seeing it on TV in the classroom after lunch, watching endless coverage that afternoon/night, sister’s birthday celebration that night downgraded and somber, Chicago Bears Super Bowl decorations still out around my grandma’s house where my sister and I were staying while my mom was in the hospital and dad was out of town). See, lots of detail. I remember it well. So I wrote the response. It was an entire page.

Ethan added a second part of the extra credit – how many Earths would fit into the sun? (1.3 million, if you were curious.) And he turned it in.

Today those responses were part of the work to be sent home. Most were short – “my mom was in high school” – few went into much detail – “my dad watched it in the library at UWM.” Mine was by far the most detailed and longest. (And it was the only one written in green Sharpie. Green for science, get it? Color coding!)  Ethan received two points extra credit (one for my response, one for the Earth/sun question). Great.

But several kids in the class received THREE points on the extra credit assignment. One point for the Earth/sun question, one point for mom’s response, one point for dad’s response. The teacher made three check marks on the papers that received three points – one check next to the Earth/sun question, one next to the mom’s response, one next to the dad’s response. Three points.

Two-parent families, in which both parents contributed to the “where were you” assignment, were rewarded more than those in which only one parent responded. (And, quite frankly, the generic nature of the majority of responses – “My mom saw it on TV. My dad saw it on TV.” – make me question how meaningful some of the conversations really were, and, honestly, if some of the conversations actually even took place.)

Spoiler alert: in our household, there is only ONE parent capable of responding since the other is, you know, dead.

It feels woefully unfair. It’s exactly what I don’t want Ethan – or Lauren – to experience: “your dad is dead and you’ll never be on the same playing field as kids with two, living parents. Those kids will always get three points, and you’ll be stuck with two points. You can’t ever get three points.

Exaggeration? Yeah, sure.

It’s just extra credit, you’re thinking. Big deal, right?

Wrong. This is a kid who continues to struggle with his memories of his dad. A kid who is still coming to terms with his grief. A kid who is ANGRY that his dad chose to drink beer and vodka and whiskey instead of choosing to LIVE to see his kids grow up. A kid who is very aware that he is different because his dad is dead. Dead. Dead.

Yeah, to THAT kid (and his mom), losing out on one point is a much, much bigger deal. It’s symbolic of what’s lost and can never be replaced.

It’s another more hurdle to overcome. One more time in which he won’t have something others will, through no fault of his own.

He will always be one point shy of his classmates’ scores.


Updated: I sent the teacher the following email (yes, regardless of what I say in the first paragraph, I’ve already jumped to conclusions, but I needed to write/post this blog or I would explode with rage). I’m eagerly awaiting her response:


While doing folders this morning, I saw something that really disturbed me. I wanted to ask about it before I make any assumptions.

On the “where was my parent when the Challenger exploded” and Earth/sun extra credit, some students received 3 points, while others (like Ethan) only got 2 points. The only difference between those who received 3 points and those who received 2 points was the inclusion of information from both parents (Earth/sun=1 point, mom=1 point, dad=1 point).

Please clarify the point system, and if Ethan did not get a third point because asking his dad is impossible. Thank you.



Going backward with grief: Ethan update (also genetic results are back)

While Ethan has handled the news of my diagnosis well at home, apparently he’s not doing as well at school.

His teacher emailed last night about problems staying focused and being disruptive in class. He told his teacher that he “wasn’t allowed” to talk about my cancer. He was also in trouble for saying “Paul Revere rode like hell to warn the Colonial militia about the British.” (OK, he shouldn’t have said “hell.” I get it. Also, thanks, History Channel documentary for putting that phrase in his mind.)

I went out for drinks with colleague friends last night, so I didn’t get home until nearly kiddo bedtime. My mom took Lauren upstairs for a bath, and I sat down with Ethan. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Do you know why your teacher would have emailed me today?”

He started to rub his eyes. He admitted that he has too much on his mind: my diagnosis trigger thoughts of my health, my mom’s health, and the deaths of his dad and grandpa. He also feels completely abandoned by Mike’s parents, who remain MIA (despite having multiple ways to contact us).

He’s afraid to say anything to the kids at school because he thinks a few of them will make fun of them or laugh about my hair loss. “Ethan, most of the moms know,” I told him. “And if anyone makes fun of you because I have cancer, I’ll call their parents directly and take care of it. Or I can take the kid out on the playground and kick their ass. Your choice.” (Wisely, he opted for me not to kick any kids’ asses.) I also assured him that I am fine, and I’m going to remain fine.

I assured him my mom is doing well. Her health issues seem to have disappeared, and other than arthritic pain from passing weather fronts, she’s doing really well.

We talked about Mike, and he cried because he can’t remember many of the good things about his dad anymore. I told some stories, and we laughed.

Overall, I think we’ve lost traction in the grieving process. We’re back to Ethan blaming himself for his dad’s drinking (“I should have stopped him. I should have told you.”), and Ethan worrying about what happens to him and Lauren if something happens to my mom or me.

The solution is just time. Time and talking. Time and talking and the generous understanding of those around him.

Good God, this kid’s been through a lot in his 9 years.


Unrelatedly, genetic testing is back and… of all the genes tested, all are negative for mutations. My genes are normal! This means genetics did not cause the cancer, and I don’t have an increase (compared to the average population) of getting breast cancer again or any of the other cancers examined in the test (brain, thyroid, ovarian). What it doesn’t answer, though, is why I did get cancer. It could be environmental. It could be a mutation on some other gene yet to be discovered. It could be that science just doesn’t have the technology to “find” the mutation yet in the genes examined.

I really don’t need the answer for “why me,” and I’m taking this as very good news. The information will help me and the medical team finalize surgery plans. It also means the kids do not need genetic screening for these cancers. However, Lauren will need to talk to her doctors when she’s in her early 30s about starting mammograms sooner than traditionally recommended.

Needles in my boob, the meaning of positive, and so much damn cancer information

Didn’t mean to leave anyone hanging, but I’ve spent a ton of time with the kids and B during the holiday break. From Christmas (and so much playing!) to a New Years (kid-free!) getaway with B, it was a great week. In between the fun, I was researching and reading and plotting all the potential scenarios, but as much as possible, I tried to focus on the kids and B. But now I’ve reached the point at which I need to write this out, to get these thoughts and feelings out of my head. As I’ve said before, this blog helps me process, and I’m going to need to process a LOT during this process…

So the update, starting with the Christmas Eve biopsy.


I don’t think I ever want to spend Christmas Eve morning at the breast imaging center again.

The results of my mammogram and ultrasound were suspicious, so the biopsy was the next course of action. Again, not feeling like I had much to fear, I was in good spirits – looking forward to the next day with the family and the start of a week with B.

I changed into a surgical gown and was escorted back to the ultrasound room. The radiologist who would perform the procedure came in. He was really nice, to the point, and very socially awkward (which I appreciate and kind of adore in people). He explained the procedure and looked at the images from my last visit. In a few minutes, I was warned that the local anesthesia would sting a bit. It did, but it wasn’t bad.

A few minutes later, the first incision was made. I watched on the ultrasound as the first mass was found. I could see the radiologist’s needle approaching the mass.

“One. Two. Three,” he counted. Click! I watched as the needle pierced the mass and retracted back. This went on for six or seven times. Count to three. Click sound. Needle in and out. No pain, but I could feel blood dripping down my side.

Then he made a second incision for the next mass. Same procedure, except he forgot to count. “I’m so sorry,” he said with a little under-the-breath laugh. “I forgot to count. Are you okay?”

I assured him I was fine. Since I was watching the whole thing on the monitor, I could see the needle approach and anticipated the click and needle in-out thing. Besides, I couldn’t feel anything with the local anesthesia.

The nurses laughed as I explained that I figured it out and didn’t need the countdown. “Everyone is different,” Nurse Gina said. “Some people ask a ton of questions. Some want to bury their face in a pillow and not look at all.”

The whole thing lasted about an hour. During that time, the nurses, radiologist and I talked about our Christmas plans, recipes for cooking a tenderloin (two of us were making one for dinner the next day), and recipes for our themed holiday drinks. (We would have Cranberry Margarita Martinis, while Nurse Gina was preparing Frozen Grasshoppers.)

When it was over, Nurse Gina applied pressure to the two incisions for about 10 minutes. That was probably the most painful part. It was SERIOUS pressure. Then steri-strips and a gauze/adhesive dressing. The incisions were so small, Nurse Gina had a hard time finding them.

I had to change the dressing a few times that night because I kept bleeding through. It turned a beautiful purple color. (I joked that it matched the dress I was going to wear on New Years.) And there was a lump where the biopsies originated. But there was very little pain.

The worse thing was the flu that I was coming down with and would battle for the next week and a half.

Then waiting… Having B and my mom around, and the kids of course, kept my mind occupied (somewhat), but there was still the WAITING…

Positive Doesn’t Mean “Good”

Friday at 9 a.m., B and my mom were getting ready to leave, after they both spent two nights with the kids and me. My cell phone rang.

“I just got off the phone with the pathologist,” said the socially-awkward radiologist. “It’s positive for breast cancer. Both areas. Wait, sorry. I should have started with asking how you’re feeling since the biopsy…”

I laughed. I’m good, I assured him. Surprised at the results, but the biopsy area was fine.

“I really suspected it was cancer when I saw it,” he said, “but I had to wait for the results to be sure.”

He told me a nurse would call soon to schedule a meeting with a surgeon.

Tears. I walked out of my office and into the kitchen. I looked at my mom and said, “It’s positive.”

She put her arms around me and buried her head in my neck.

“Positive is good, right?” said Ethan, who I didn’t even realize was in the room. Until this point, I hadn’t said anything to the kids.

“Usually, yes,” I said. “But not usually when it comes to medical stuff.”

I explained that I had a test that showed a lump in my breast and had another test to determine what it was. It was the second test that was positive for something and that meant I’d have to see more doctors to find the best way to fix it. That satisfied him and so far, I haven’t said anything else to him.

(I’ve thought a lot about this. Until I have a plan and more information on my particular kind of cancer, talking about it to a kid who’s been through so much would do more harm than good. I really want to be able to say “here’s what’s up, here’s how we fix it, and everything will be okay.” I just don’t have enough information yet to do that.)

About that time, the surgical nurse called. I had already reviewed the surgeon profiles at the cancer center so I knew which surgeon I wanted to see. I had three options: two general surgeons and one breast-only surgeon. I’m going with the breast-only doc. Of course, she’s out of the country until January 12, so things are kind of on hold until then. She’ll be the one to refer me to the oncologist and radiation doc, and order additional testing necessary before surgery.

Information Overload

In the waiting time, I had an “education session” with Nurse Gina. I brought my mom for two reasons: 1) the cancer people kept asking if I had a support system (since I’d been alone during the mammogram and biopsy) and I wasn’t sure they believed that I did have support, and 2) I thought it would help my mom. (It did make her feel more comfortable.)

Most of what Nurse Gina covered, I knew from my hours of research, but there were two points that caused me to cry.

She explained that since I was pre-menopausal and under 50, I would most likely have to endure chemotherapy. As she went over the specifics and side effects of chemo, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself. Losing my hair, eyelashes, eyebrows – “fuckity fuck fuck,” was the only thing I could think as tears streamed down my face. As she continued with the services offered in the cancer center – head shaving, wig fitting, scarf tying, eyebrow makeup classes – more tears. Tears because, quite frankly, I can hide all of this from people, but not if I lose hair. Then I’ll get sympathy looks, which I hate. I also teared because it’s so ridiculously vain – and that pissed me off that I could be so damned vain about HAIR… And it cycled back through again.

The second thing that caused me to cry was when she asked if I told the kids yet. I said no, and explained why and what they did know. She gave me information on how to tell kids, which is somewhat helpful, but given our situation, it’s so much more complicated. I just tear whenever someone talks about or I think about how my kids have been affected (and in some cases, messed up) by so many things out of their control. And at such young ages. This is just one more thing for them to worry about.

Nurse Gina was fantastic during the education session. She made my mom feel completely at ease. She sent me home with an inch-thick book and a two-inch binder, plus a ton of pamphlets and brochures on information and resources locally and nationally. I like having as much info as possible, so I’ve already devoured everything except the book (which seems to be a lot of info I’ve found in my research). And last night, I started researching wigs and scarf tying and the god-awful bras and inserts made for women who’ve gone through breast surgeries.

That’s where things stand right now. Stay tuned… there are still a half-dozen topics I want to write about, and will write about, in the coming days/weeks.


I was watching the season finale of Sons of Anarchy last week, when I found a lump in my breast. A big one (the lump, not my breast). Also, don’t judge about why I was doing a self exam while watching TV. (Very disappointed at the CGI at the end of that finale. Lame.)

I called my doctor the next day, and went in for a check up. She did an exam and said she was pretty confident it was no big deal. But advised that I get a mammogram anyway. Besides, I’m 41, and I should establish a boob-baseline.

Yesterday was the mammogram and ultrasound (ultrasound was necessary since I could feel the lump). I was joking with the techs, and watching on the screens. They took a lot of images, but since this was my first mammogram, I wasn’t sure what was normal. Honestly, I wasn’t worried. I’m healthy. There’s absolutely no cancer of any sort in my family. What could go wrong?

I knew it wasn’t good when the radiologist came in to give the results and asked if I wanted to have someone with me during the consult.

Um, I came alone. It’s just a test, right? Surely, she was going to tell me it was a cyst. Maybe it needed drained, but no biggie, right?

So, there are two rather large masses in my right breast. They’re solid, so they’re not cysts and unlikely to be menstrual-cycle related. They’re also not perfectly round. Good news: they’re not spider-webby, just a little pointy on each side. The radiologist was rating the area as a BIRAD 5. The scale only goes to 6, with 6 being a confirmed malignancy. The radiologist said I could wait until after the holiday to schedule a biopsy since there was unlikely going to be a change. Then she left the room so I could wipe the ultrasound goop from my chest.

I sat stunned as the tech ushered me back to the locker room to change into my clothes before meeting with the surgical nurse, who could answer questions.

I just stared at the tan and blue dressing room curtain. What the fuck does this mean?

Waiting for the nurse in her office, I did a quick google search for things to ask when your mammogram comes back suspicious. I never had a reason to pay attention to news articles or information about breast health. All I could think was “shit, I should have paid attention more to women’s health topics.” I felt completely uninformed.

The nurse was great. Straight forward, which I like and appreciate. I listened to information about the procedure, and then asked her my “what if” questions: what if it’s more than just a mass? What if it’s cancer? What are the options if it’s not cancer? What are the options if it is?

She answered everything, straight to the point, no-nonsense. Then sent me to scheduling.

I go in for a biopsy on Christmas eve at 8:45.

I spent last night researching. I’m a researcher, have to know my options. My head is like a flowchart: if this, then that. And I needed to fill in as many of those holes as possible. I like options, even if I never need them.

B called last night. He knew I was going in for tests. I broke down into tears when I was talking to him. It was the first time I cried since getting the news. I cried even more when I tried to go to sleep last night. It isn’t the procedure or even what it might show. It’s how this will impact the kids.

What if…

Then ((tears)).