Post Whipple, post chemo follow up

I haven’t written anything in awhile, but it’s hard to sort out in my mind what I want to actually say when I tap on the keyboard forming word after word until it unfolds like a sentence that makes everything so definitive.

When you have anxiety and panic attacks, well, your mind churns out scenarios by the millisecond and none of it is pleasant. For a moment, after my mother’s eighth chemo treatment (4 post Whipple), I was riding high, I was untouchable, everything seemed to fall right back into place as if a clock started ticking counterclockwise. My subconscious, on the other hand, is determined to not let me forget, it would only conjure all my worries and fears. It was good at that. I don’t sleep. I mean, I have always had a problem with insomnia, but I find myself sinking into my pillow, as though I’m on a cloud, but on a cloud in the middle of a thunderstorm. My mind usually drifts towards my mother, sensing that she’s awake too; worrying just like me, alone with our thoughts, five minutes between us, laying among the darkness that lingers in the room. Her voice echoes in my mind, she’s always saying, “I get tired of talking about this, it’s all I do” I tell her that it’d be difficult to think about anything else, and that it’s okay that she does. But I feel like she still thinks she’s a burden. I remind her that cancer is a burden, she is not the burden.

We usually talk on the phone at the same time every day, for an hour 2pm-3pm. It makes everything seem normal, like nothing has shifted, it makes me forget our “new normal”.

We like to go to the casino and gamble a bit, not too much-$20.00 or sometimes we slip an extra $1 or 2 hopeful that we’ll leave there with a little more than what we started with; hopeful that we will have beat the machine.

My mom had her first follow up appointment since her last chemo treatment yesterday, the doctor told her that her cancer marker (CA-19-9) looked good-it was 11. My mom didn’t think so, and my anxious mind didn’t hesitate to want to fire questions until the fuel had run out.

“Oh no, it went up” I could hear the strain in her voice. My ears were burning. My entire body was getting hot and my face was turning red. Six weeks post Whipple, her cancer marker was 5, then 7 and now 11. The doctor assured us that it was fine. She said, “You could come in here tomorrow and get blood work and it may be lower” and “A man had cancer that metastasized, and post chemo his numbers went up but nothing was found on the CT scan.”  But of course I had to google it. And of course, I must have found a dark path that led me to what seemed to me to be the dark web. What I was finding online was like walking along the edge of a skyscraper in complete and utter darkness.

I did get in my car after that, and cried what felt like water drowning me. The new normal has yet again emerged. Follow up appointments, CT scans, bloodwork, wondering, worrying, praying and praying, feeling at times, God, my dad, my grandma, grandpa, and best friend were with me trying to ease my anxious thoughts and asking for me to have faith. It is so scary though.

I want to go away on a little trip with my mother, just me and her. I’ve never taken a trip where it was just me and her before. She loves beaches, so we’re trying to decide Florida or Cape Cod. I’ve never been to Cape Cod, so that may be the place. Today, during our phone call, we talked about all the places we’ve ever dreamed we could go. Greece, Australia, Italy, Hawaii, Ireland were the top choices, but she said that now, and the older she gets, the places that she once dreamt about going seem so distant and left in the past. Now, she said, “I just want to go to a beach”.

Whipple Procedure

My mother had her surgery -the Whipple procedure- 5 days ago. The surgery started on time, at 7:30 am and ended around 3:30 pm. She was in the recovery for 2 hours before they moved her to a room closer to 6 pm. The surgery was 8 hours long due to the tumor being near a major artery. The doctor explained that he took a vein from her groin to somehow connect it to well…medical jargon. But the important part is that he said he got the entire tumor out. He said, “it went super good”, and that he, “got it all”. She has to follow up with him in 1-2 weeks to go over the pathology results and will decide the next step from there.

The next morning, around 9 am she had already gone on two walks around the hospital, drank some water, broth, and cranberry juice. Around lunch time, she ate fish, carrots, and mashed potatoes. Shortly thereafter, she started feeling nauseated and throwing up. Not really sure, if it was the food or the pain medicine that someone gave her without her consent-(but not going to get into that here). She threw up three times -bile-the nurses took it to test it since they said that it wasn’t normal…totally not what my good ol’ google education taught me.

Me and my stepfather stayed with her the throughout the night. It took awhile to get her some Zofran-almost 4 hours or so, and until they finally came with that, she could not sleep. I kept bugging the nurse because I felt so awful-it’s difficult to watch someone suffer without being able to do something about it. We stayed up the entire night making sure my mom was comfortable; adjusting her pillows and blankets as needed, helping her get to the bathroom since she was a fall hazard, cooling her down with a cold washcloth. I must admit, I’ve never seen my mother so vulnerable before this, but even when she’s vulnerable she’s a fighter. My mother amazes me.

After that last meal, they decided to put her back on an “IV diet” for the rest of the night and throughout Thursday. My stepfather stayed with her again Thursday night. I got to her room around 12 pm and she had already gone on 3 walks, was back on solid foods, and as she puts it, “she’s just a little sore”. The doctor and his physician’s assistant removed the drains and IV and any medicine she had to take was administered orally. She was also given a shot, (which my stepfather had/has to give to her), and will have to get for the next two weeks to prevent blood clots. She is also taking Imodium for diarrhea and Pepcid to prevent ulcers.

I stayed the night Friday night, and by 8 am on Saturday, her birthday, the doctor gave her the good news that she was ready to go home.

Everything I have read on the Internet about this cancer thus far, has not applied to my mother. While anxiety still lurks, I do realize and appreciate that everyone is different, and now know that the Internet’s sad stories overshadow the individual victories; small or big.

How to Eat Better; the Affordable Way.

With so little time on our hands these days, it’s hard to be the exact epitome of health. With so much going on, and so little downtime, we’re often overtired, overstressed, and just plain overwhelmed to even consider the thought of carefully selecting healthier options by reading labels more carefully. No instead, we’re usually just waiting for the microwave or oven timer to beep to deliver a prepackaged meal or waiting in the drive thru frantically checking the time. I wouldn’t be surprised if on most days you spend learning (and struggling) with the new common core curriculum that’s eased its way into schools around the country. Or you probably just have to rush right out the door as soon as your child gets home from school, have them complete their homework later, and try to make it to sports practice or dance rehearsals or maybe even just a school function.

Long gone are the days of having cookies and milk after school was considered the only processed food you might have had, which in that case, wasn’t so bad. But even as we’re forced to acknowledge the ever growing rate of obesity in this nation, more and more meals are rolling out of the microwave and into our mouths.

People think they can’t afford “healthy” and why shouldn’t they?  They feel overwhelmed when they walk into a grocery store and are quickly discouraged when the have filled up their grocery carts with what looks to be enough for only a couple meals, but for an entire family, only to find out the total comes to well over their budget. Then they realize that they actually have less for the same budget they had before they made the choice to “eat healthy”, which results in people doing what they can afford; eating less calories, skipping meals, or just not doing it at all. Ever notice that it’s easier to find a coupon for a processed dinner such as “Weight Watchers” or “Healthy Choice”, rather than any other staple that would be more than likely a far better choice.  People do want to lose weight, they do want to look better, feel better, live better, but they’re stuck not with lack of information but with limited resources to make that change.

So I’m going to dispel a few of what I consider “myths” and just society being, well, self-absorbed and what is often said, “Keeping up with the Jones”.

You may have heard all the hype circling in health and fitness communities about Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, but that’s what it is; Hype. Don’t walk away from getting fit and healthy because you can’t even afford to just lurk around at those grocery stores without feeling like you need a guest pass.

A membership to BJ’s or other wholesale club is extremely helpful. Or if you don’t have one close to you, Wal-Mart is just as good as any to find healthy, inexpensive food. BJ’s even offers coupons for healthier options. I have a membership at BJ’s and I have literally knocked $400-$500 off of my grocery bill each month. They normally offer coupons for top brands such as Eggland’s Best Egg Whites, Greek Yogurt, Chicken, Fish etc.

Healthy doesn’t only equate to organic foods. No, it’s doing the best you can, with what you know and more importantly, what you can afford. It also doesn’t equate to bland and boring meals either. I’m not going to claim I’m Martha Stewart in the kitchen or that I deserve my own cooking show, no, that’ll go to my husband, but I know there’s a lot of you who know how to work the kitchen. In fact, you may even discover or rediscover the passion of cooking and creating meals. You never know.

But for me, I don’t enjoy cooking. I just want to eat. I love to eat. So, spices are my friend. And you can find spices at the Dollar Store. And at BJ’s or Wal-mart.Okay so look I know that fresh vegetables and fruit are what some consider to be the best choices, but buying them are expensive enough, so to buy them, bring them home and have them spoil too soon can be frustrating. Makes me want to scream actually… Especially if you’re struggling to pay bills and eat healthy, the last thing you want to do is see your hard earned money go in the garbage.  I know various nutritional sources will inform you that frozen and canned may lack the same nutritional value, but there are also some that will tell you the opposite, so I go with what I can afford for my entire family. (Besides, according to those same sources, if you purchase fresh vegetables and boil as opposed to steam them, you lose the nutrients anyway.)

As for fruit, I do buy fresh bananas, but only what I know will be consumed. I usually purchase frozen fruit such as blueberries and other kinds of berries. (They just last longer that way.)  And if you’re wondering what to do with frozen fruit? Try heating them up and putting them in your oatmeal or cereal, or you can even add the frozen fruit to plain Greek yogurt, freeze it, and enjoy as a frozen dessert!

For water and the environment, I take advantage of Primo, the water cooler system. I buy the 5 gallon water jug and once it runs out, I just recycle and get a new one! I have a couple of those shaker bottles as well as flip-top water bottles to carry around with me. Believe me, drinking bottled water can become very expensive!

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m the World’s Healthiest Mom and that I deserve an award for feeding my kids all organic, all natural foods. Please! I still buy my kids snacks, but I try to choose snacks that are only minimally processed, and don’t have 10 different ingredients that sound more like a science experiment gone bad. I do try to stick to just buying chicken, fish in bulk, but for the kids, I will keep pizza rolls, hot dogs, and frozen pierogies in the freezer to have once in awhile. It is okay, to still live after all.

Besides, I’m not going to preach to you about restriction, I’m going to tell you that if you want to reach a goal, or just feel better; improve your health, you can do it. There are plenty of fad diets most are willing to follow for a pretty hefty price, mostly because there is so much misinformation about what you have to do to look and feel better.

Choose you. All day, every day; for a life time. Always.

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up

On my way out the door, this message caught my eye

My son's message to me this morning

My son’s message to me this morning

It was from my ten-year old son. It made me cry a little. I’m often hard on myself for not being the “perfect-cookie-cutter” mom or wife. I don’t even need a mirror to summons the not so wonderful mommy moments I have had. I often feel guilty for not actually doing more for my kids, not giving them everything that they want, and maybe once in awhile skipping a hug every now and then, maybe because I was raised in a family where expressing a lot of heartfelt emotion wasn’t always prevalent. Hugs were sparse and when often uttering the words, “thank you” it was rare to ever tell if the words of gratitude were ever registered or even necessary. Without a doubt, however, I knew I was loved, and I only mention this to give a brief insight into my childhood and realize how I am really not one who practices a great deal of affection. Don’t get me wrong, I tell my kids that I love them; I interact with them, and acknowledge their importance in my life. But I always feel like there’s more that I could do or say. Especially when you have more than one child, it becomes more of a challenge because they all seem to want your undivided attention in equal amounts, at the same exact time! But I know that regardless of the attention they receive, there will always be one of them who is going to feel slighted in some way.

But today was different. It stripped away everything that I thought I was hiding and protecting; it took away everything I thought I knew and understood. Up until this morning…

It didn’t take a long time to read the message of course, but in that very small, brief moment, after reading the words, I paused, allowing them to resonate inside of my very being. The meaning behind those words surged through me granting me the right to forget about everything and just pause. Pause to recognize the time that my son took to write that before he even had a chance to see me this morning; to recognize the impact I have had on him without even truly realizing it. And without ever really wondering if he even understands. And today I was just reminded that he does. He sees beyond the superficial and believes in me…sometimes even more than I do sometimes.

With all the social media that intrudes our daily lives; it can be hard to remember that even though you have an audience connected via the Internet, the most important audience will always be your child/ren. And they are always paying attention, looking up to you, and eventually following your lead. Yes. Someone who is resilient, yet fragile and innocent will always be your largest cheering section; your biggest crowd, and you will always be their first act; an everlasting impression on who they turn out to be.

You are their only spotlight and they learn from you; it’s okay to show them struggles, it’s okay to reveal your weaknesses and show how truly vulnerable you are. The important thing is how you pick yourself up and carry on regardless of how big or small, or how insignificant you may think something is, they are always watching, following, and learning from your mistakes.

Materialistic things such as, toys, video games, and technology, can never truly compare to their little eyes carefully watching you manage decisions, burdens and sometimes, or a lot of times, your own self doubt. They will always look at you, and do so without judgment; only admiration and unconditional love.
So the next time you say that you cannot do something, even if you utter the words to yourself; it doesn’t matter, they sense it. They feel it. And they are always watching you.

I really, truly know and understand that now.

All you need is love…love…love

“There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.
Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.
It’s easy….” ~The Beatles Lennon/McCartney

I have been out of work for four long years. It didn’t start out that way, however. I was supposed to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree, find an amazing career and quit my job as a student loan customer call center representative; a job that I had managed to hold down for 11 years since I started at the ripe age of twenty.

Well….I got the degree.

It actually makes me anxious and uncomfortable when someone asks what I do for a living; I stutter and close my eyes and force the words out, “stay at home mom”.  Okay, so I don’t necessarily close my eyes, but I sure wish I could and not have to answer that question. For the longest time I said I was a student, but then that got old, and I knew I had to let go of that crutch and move on.

To be honest, my children are 10 and 16, and because they attend school, I’ve never really considered myself to be a “stay at home mom” and some may agree with me. In fact, I remember just last week, I was asked, “…And what do you with your life” Yes. Just like that. And I got flustered. I got butterflies. I stumbled over the words; why do people have to be defined based on what they are doing in life? Okay, so I know that it’s usually just a piece to a conversation puzzle, but I just find it irrelevant.

“I’m a stay at home mom”. Ugh. Even when the words stumbled off my tongue, I wanted them to roll into the ice water I was holding and freeze.  But it happened. It was too late. I said it. However, I wasn’t prepared for what she was going to say next, “..And how old are your kids?” Okay, so it could be a reasonable follow up question to get me to open up and share; engage in a conversation, but her eyes weren’t very warm or inviting. No. They were judgmental, and took on a life of their own. I felt like she wanted to know how old my kids are so she could secretly determine if I met the conditions to be a stay at home mom. Sure enough, after I provided the ages to my children, she pierced her words with judgment a little harder, and said, “oh well, I guess they are hard to manage at that age…” Alrighty then. I had to laugh. I later made a mental note to just tell people that I am…oh never mind….

I know that not everyone has the luxury of staying at home, raising their children and taking care of the house, but when I am home, seeing the love my my kids have for me is validation enough. Also, I am thankful that I have been given the chance to be able to stay home with my kids for the past few years, simply because it has provided me with an insight to my children’s lives like I’ve never had before.

Currently, I’m slowly emerging into a new journey, a new path; trying to spread my wings and help people lose weight, get in shape and eat healthy.  I can’t help but sense the absence that my kids, especially my ten year old son, feel when I cannot just watch television on the couch, or listen to every single one of his funny stories, or latest creation; ALL OF THE TIME.  I also miss the quiet, long conversations my daughter and I used to have out of the blue, (you know when we’re not yelling at each other). It saddens me at times, but I always go to bed and remind myself that I need to grab it back somehow, make time for them, and never let go of quality moments, no matter how old they get, or how busy life gets.  I know I’m not far away, but all of the undivided attention that I was once able to provide to my children is slowly shifting.  However, with all that is going on, I am also beginning to appreciate my role as a ‘stay at home mom’ a lot more, and am also starting to realize that, that role, whether the kids are in school or not, should not be devalued at any cost.

When my son and I finally got a chance to sit down and watch Celebrity Apprentice (he loves that show), he proudly says,

“Mommy, you inspire me”

It’s moments like that. Words like that. They fill my heart with solace; taking any doubt, harsh words, or judgments that anyone may have cast upon me, away.

My response? “Well, you inspire me too!” and he says, “No, really mom, you inspire me,” and proceeded with some of the reasons why, making me realize how much he has been paying attention to me; how much time we have been spending together, and how much of an impact I’ve had on his life by being at home these past four years.

I did leave him speechless and confused a bit when I responded, “Well, you inspire me to inspire you.”  He didn’t know how to handle that one!

While my daughter may not be so vocal, I know she is supportive and understands, simply because of her actions. Not all the time, but she’s a teenager! And believe me; she sure does act every bit the part!

My family is like an old house; filled with memories, open to new ones, shakes and rattles here and there, but can usually weather just about anything. I always try to remind myself that that clouds are always temporary, a broken window can always be fixed, and a door can always be opened or closed. Once the foundation is solid, nothing can tear it down.

With them, I am provided with experiences, moments, the courage to persevere, the desire to live with passion, and most of all unconditional love.

Hiking at Piseco Lake, NY

Outdoor winter activity is not something I enjoy. Often I wonder how I ended up in the wrong state. I was born here, but I’ve lived in states where the winter months weren’t as severe. Sometimes, I feel like I was born in the wrong state. Is there a term for that? Like Trans-state? I don’t know. Could be a word, I guess.  Anyway, when my sister announced that she was going to go hiking and asked if I could go, I reluctantly agreed. Mainly due to the fact that,

a) It was last minute &

b) she had told me there would be snow

Ugh. The older I get, the more I need routine, schedules, and to plan ahead. And why would I want to travel to a place that has snow? I’m trying to welcome the spring-like weather that is slowly making its way in, and now I’m going to go play in the snow?!!? Fiiiiiinnnnnee. I will go.  It will be an experience, I thought. I’ll try something different! Besides, my kids seemed to be excited to go, and I could get some cardio in, so off we went!

Here we go...

Here we go…


We stopped to climb a up some huge boulder to take a picture,


My sister, Kim


Our Fearless Leader hehe

Once you get going, and allow yourself to take it all in and relax, the scenery is quite beautiful! Snow was covering the ground; fighting with the mud and water that was trying to wash it away. Branches and rocks hid behind ice and more snow. A trickle of water quietly streamed over the sharp edges of the plated rocks. The branches stood naked; unmoved by the chill in the air.

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Winter can seem gloomy, the sun sets much earlier thus turning the clear sky blank with only a dark shadow stretching out above, but there winter stood, on the mountain, during our hike, breathing against the earth, unnerved, pure and peaceful. The sun brushed our skin lightly as we steadily hiked upward, pushing ourselves farther and farther to the top, anticipating our reward. Emerging at the top, the sun snuck away, allowing us to capture the beauty that engulfed us; a sheet of pure white touching the horizon gently and peacefully.

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And we all made it!



My niece, Madeline, didn’t put socks on, so she had to use my sister’s gloves as socks…


Don’t let that serious look fool you! She’s just being funny!

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And what goes up, must come down, RIGHT? Ugh….going down took sledding to a whole new level.  We were slipping and sliding, trudging through the sticky mud, trying not to break our neck on the glassy ice, and trying to avoid accidental falls into large holes of water. Yea, I was quickly reminded of how quickly things change from all different levels and views.


Down we go!

Overall, it was a good day, but I couldn’t wait to get back to the gym for some weight lifting! That’s just where my heart is right now!