“Mommy Dearest”

Before I begin what is essentially a rant I wrote several months ago after an incident with a mother…  a little background on my childhood.

I grew up in a wealthy suburb outside of New York City.  Although my father was a doctor, I was considered one of the “poor kids” because my mother actually worked.  In fact, my parents work together.  Dad is the stoic professional.  Mom is the “everything else” – the first one to rise, the one that handles all the bookwork, all the appointments, and on and on.

While most of the kids in my small, private grammar school had their mothers breezing into the cafeteria in their pristine white tennis skirts to drop off McDonald’s for lunch, I rummaged through my sad, brown bag lunch of Wonder Bread and a slice of American cheese.

The worst were the “egg sandwiches”, which were literally sliced, hard-boiled eggs, slapped onto some bread.  Trust me – you don’t want to be the kid that brings “egg sandwiches” to school!  It’s like that co-worker, who constantly microwaves their fish from last night’s dinner, stinking up your entire office for hours.  Yeah – THAT person.

I was always the first child at school. Some mornings, the building was still locked when my father dropped me off in a rush to get to the office.  I’d simply wait outside until the janitor or principal let me in.

At the end of the day, I’d watch my schoolmates get into their mothers’ Mercedes, BMWs and Jaguars, who had all lined-up in the parking lot well before the last bell rang. Some families even took limos to and from school everyday.  My mother didn’t even drive.

More often than not, I’d be the last one in the parking lot, not knowing if my father or one of his assistants would be picking me up.  I always felt so deeply ashamed when an assistant showed up in one of their beat-up, old cars.  Thankfully, at least in my adolescent eyes, they were usually late.  So, no one would have to see me getting into “that” type of car.

My mother was literally told I would not be able to join the Girl Scouts, with all my other friends, because she worked. She could not “help out” like the other mothers.  See, I had made the mistake of catching a stomach virus on an overnight trip while still a Brownie.  Since my own mother hadn’t chaperoned, another mother had to deal with me.  So, the class mothers all agreed I was “too much work”.  Unless my mother could commit to come with me on overnights, I would never become a full-fledged Girl Scout.  Ironic how a slutty Girl Scout is now such a popular Halloween costume, because that experience was definitely a nightmare during my childhood.

You see, these Mommy Dearests didn’t have to work, or chose not to.  They weren’t immigrants like we were.  They weren’t working night and day like my mother and father, building a successful medical practice.  My mother grew up on a farm.  She could care less about what brand-name clothes she wore, or her style of purse. While the other mothers came to our Christmas shows in full-length fur coats, my mother barely had time to change out of her scrubs.

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I’ll be honest.  I resented my mother because she worked so much.  There’s probably still some deep-seated resentment lingering there. Yet, now as an adult watching my friends and family become mothers, I realize how utterly selfish and entitled those Mommy Dearests were and how it still affects me to this day.

My mother did everything in her power to ensure I was cared for, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.  I am so thankful for the sacrifices she made because it could not have been easy.  She made me who I am today – a strong-willed, independent, intelligent woman.

I am not a mother.  I likely never will be.  I am happily married to the love of my life.  We travel.  We go out to expensive dinners and treat ourselves to spa days.  We do what we want, when we want.

However, a year and a half into our marriage I was struck by the “Big C”.  Typically, that’s supposed to be the time you start discussing children. You’re supposed to consider whether your one-bedroom apartment is enough.  Do you stay in the City, or should you buy a house and move to the burbs? How many children are you going to have, or can afford?  Could I really go back to work six weeks after having our first child?  Because of course, in the States, that’s all the maternity leave my firm offered.  Would it even be worthwhile going back to work given the cost of childcare?  These are the questions you’re supposed to be asking yourselves.

Well, we never even got the chance to consider those things. We had to manage my illness, my multiple surgeries, my inability to return to work, my mounting medical bills, my medications and their side-effects, the never-ending doctors’ appointments, and frankly – whether I was going to live or die.

***DISCLAIMER: This does NOT apply to every stay-at-home Mom, or to all mothers in general***

So, to all the Mommy Dearests out there, I have a few lessons.  If you prefer the term “suggestions” that’s fine too.

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·     You are not better than me, or special because you are a mother.  Unless there is some complication, any woman anywhere can have a child.   Women have been doing this since the dawn of time!
·     You also didn’t earn some virtual Ph.D. on how to love and care for others because you popped out a kid or two.  You didn’t win an Olympic Gold Medal because you have a child.
·     If I choose to tell you I don’t have children, it’s not okay to ask, “But why not?”  It’s none of your business.
·     It’s also not okay to pity me because I don’t have children.  There’s a chance, even with my illness, I’m happier than many of you.
·     It’s definitely not okay to tell me, “Maybe you’ll be able to still have children one day”, as if you’re bestowing some kind of hope upon me.  I’m not some pathetic soul simply because I do not have a child.
·     Your child should be your world, but he or she does not have to be mine.  Just because your life may revolve around your child, mine doesn’t.  So, if your kid is riding along 200 ft. in front of you on his scooter, I shouldn’t have to step aside with my cane so Little Timmy can rule the sidewalk.  Also, you can say, “Thank you” when I hold the door for you and your double-stroller.  Or, you could even move that double-stroller out of my way as I struggle to walk through the maze you and your Mommy Dearest group have created with those strollers in our tiny, local coffee shop.
·      STOP with the “Mommy Brain”!  Guess what?  I literally have damage to my brain.  So, sorry to tell you, “No, you just forgot shit.”
·     STOP saying raising your child is harder than going to work!  If you forget to do the laundry, you’re not risking losing your job, an income and/or health benefits.  ***DISCLAIMER: Again, this is not directed to all stay-at-home Moms.  It is very, very hard to raise children.  This only applies to those select entitled mothers, who think they’re God’s gift to the world having had a baby, and who look down upon those of us who don’t have children, or mothers who work***
·     STOP complaining about how tired and stressed you are because you had to help Little Sally complete her science project!  Yet, your day was spent going to a spin class or tennis lessons at the country club, followed by lunch with your girlfriends, then picking-up your kids in your Range Rover to return to “the Club” for their tennis lessons, only to pick-up dinner and then start working on Sally’s science project.  You know who is tired and stressed out?  That other Mom who woke up at 5:00 a.m., went for a run because it’s the only time she has for herself, cooked breakfast, got the kids dressed, fed them, got their backpacks together, made sure they had their lunch with them, drove them to school, then went to work for 7 hours, got yelled at by her boss and a client, then left work because the babysitter will only stay until 6:00 p.m., got home and cooked dinner, sat down with the kids to do their homework, bathed them, finally put them to bed, only to hop on her laptop to finish the project due tomorrow morning.  Now that woman is tired!

A mother is not neglecting her child by working.  If you choose to work, or have to work, you are not a bad mother.  In fact, you’re superwoman.  By the same token, if you have the ability to stay at home to raise your children, more power to you!

Thus, not every mother is a Mommy Dearest.  I know that.  Yet, some months ago I was told that I “didn’t understand” a situation involving a grown adult and his mother because I “didn’t have a child” and “never created that special bond” by having a child.

So to all those darling, Mommy Dearests of the world, I don’t need to touch a flame to know that fire is hot.  I don’t need to stick my tongue against a frozen flagpole to know it’s cold.  (If you don’t get the reference, you weren’t a child of the 80’s).  And I certainly don’t need to have a child to have a beautiful, happy, love-filled life.

Yes, having a child was certainly a decision taken out of my hands because of cancer.  Yet, I’m not sure I would’ve ever decided to have one.  There could even be a day I write a post about getting pregnant.  Who knows?  Regardless, just don’t judge a woman if she doesn’t have children.  You haven’t walked a day in her shoes.

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Doing It All Over Again – The Second Surgery Pre-Op

In my prior post, https://braincancerbabe.com/2016/06/29/the-confirmed-recurrence-and-yet-another-brain-surgery  I explained that on June 30, 2015, I underwent my second brain surgery.

There isn’t much I’d detail about the day of that second surgery.  It was pretty much the same routine over again.  There were several ridiculous moments in the pre-op process though.  Just to add some levity to a seriously scary situation, I’ll explain.

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My surgery was delayed for quite a while (at least an hour or more) because the nursing staff found that my results of the routine pregnancy test, given to any female patient under a certain age, was “inconclusive.”  The chaos this caused around the staff was almost unbelievable – laughable even, if it hadn’t been me.  The staff even went so far as to call down a “specialist” to review the results.  Mind you, they never spoke to me directly – I overheard it all through my very bare curtain while sitting in my pre-op bed.  Of course, I knew full-well I was not pregnant.  Did I really need this on top of waiting for my second brain surgery???

My neurosurgeon finally came in with a smile on his face.  “So, you’re not pregnant!”  He clearly realized the ridiculousness too.  He always does though.  That’s why I love him so much.

Another thing I will never forget is the first nurse they assigned to prepare me for surgery.  I can say with absolute sincerity, I have never encountered what I’d consider a “bad nurse” in my hospital… with the exception of this one.  Let’s call her Jane (I don’t even know her real name anyway).

Jane was relatively young.  She was probably in her late 20s.  She never smiled.  She was completely monotone when she spoke.  Basically, she seemed like this was the last place she wanted to be.  Ya know, mind you, she was dealing with patients going into brain surgery!  Suck it up, honey!  If you’re having a “bad day” mine is probably a little worse.  So, needless to say, the pre-op station was probably the last place she should have been assigned.

On top of her miserable demeanor, it was her duty to give me my IV.  I mentioned casually as she was prepping the IV that I had great veins and no one had ever missed a vein.  Murphy’s Law, of course.  What would you know?  She was so mindless that of course, she missed my vein.  Apart from failing to get my vein, it actually hurt a lot.  I immediately began to cry, hard.  Rather than apologize, she took out the needle, rolled her eyes and sighed in annoyance.  Then, she stalked out of the area.

As if in a movie, kinda like Wonder Woman, another nurse (Let’s call her Mary) pulled back the curtain, swooped in and took charge!  While Jane attempted to come back in, Mary abruptly turned to her and said in no uncertain terms, “I’ve got this!”  I never saw Jane again, thankfully.

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From then on, Mary stayed with me, even wheeling me into the operating room.  We talked about imagining my favorite place, the beach, and sipping cocktails all day in the sun.  She helped soothe me and calm me down.  I laughed and smiled the whole time she was with me.  Thank God for Mary.

So, with Mary by my side, there I was, in the operating room.  I was surrounded by surgical staff frantically running all around.  Once again, I was looking up at the enormous operating room lights.  I could hear the loud hum of the MRI machine.  I was just about to undergo my second brain surgery, just doing it all over again.

The Confirmed Recurrence and Yet, Another Brain Surgery

In my prior post (https://braincancerbabe.com/2016/06/22/the-dreaded-word-recurrence/ ) I wrote about my suspected recurrence.  Well, that was confirmed in June 2015.  I say “confirmed” recurrence, although whether the lesion was indeed “cancer” can only be truly confirmed with the pathology report following surgery and removal of the lesion… but you get what I’m saying.

It is strange that I do not remember much about when I was told I would have to undergo yet another brain surgery.  Everything about Round 1 continues to be so clear in my head: the initial diagnosis, the first surgery, treatment, etc..

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This time around, I again met with my neurosurgeon in preparation for the surgery.  He was comforting in saying that the lesion was very “superficial” and remained very distinct.  The only way I can describe it is that the lesion hadn’t spread out like tentacles into other surrounding areas.  It would be a more simple surgery to just go in and cut it right out.  Okay.  That sounded promising.

I also clearly remember the phone call when my neurosurgeon’s nurse gave me the date of the surgery.  It was less than a week from the time my oncologist had confirmed that the lesion was indeed growing, indicating the recurrence.  However, I don’t really recall the emotions I felt, or any of the preparation leading up to the second surgery.  Maybe I’ve blocked it out subconsciously, or it is just part of my memory I’ve lost due to the trauma to my brain.  Maybe it’s both.

Furthermore, I didn’t have much time to think about the second surgery.  It was scheduled so quickly, thankfully.  I just wanted it done and over with – move on!

I do recall sitting back on the days leading up to the surgery and thinking, “Is this really happening again?  Another surgery?  Wasn’t one brain surgery enough?”  However, my doctors were confident that since I had come out of the first surgery so well, and had basically returned to my normal life, I would come out of the second one just as well.  That was a pretty reassuring thought, honestly.

From what I remember (and again, maybe I’ve just blocked it all out), I handled the situation pretty well.  One theory that has stayed with me is that my worst fear had come true – the cancer had come back.  So, if I got through this okay, I would have conquered that immense mental and physical battle.

All of my family and friends were blown away.  They were so frightened, but all I kept saying was, “I’ll be okay.”  I meant it too.  I had so much confidence in my medical team.  I knew what to expect this time.  Funny enough, it was the minor things that I knew were coming while I would be admitted in the hospital that I dreaded.  I hated the idea of the daily shots in my stomach to prevent blood clots.  I would be undergoing brain surgery, yet that’s what bothered me about the future hospital stay!  I also despised the gauze bandage turban they had wrapped around my head after the first surgery to reduce the swelling.  The thought of that turban actually made me angry.  I don’t know – maybe it was mind’s way of protecting me from the truly frightening consequences.

So, June 30, 2015 came along and I was once again reporting for duty – “Good morning.  I’m having surgery today.”  Again.


The Dreaded Word – Recurrence

I think it’s safe to say that every single cancer patient fears that dreaded word – recurrence.  We may not think about it every single moment, of every single day.  However, every survivor I have spoken with over these last 2 years admits, “It’s always somewhere in the back of my mind.”  In this awful world of cancer, is there really anything more frightening?

Cancer Attacks

Going back to my original diagnosis and the beginning of the “cancer chaos”, I technically remained “cancer free” following my surgery in April 2014.  Yet, I then underwent treatment for cancer, obviously in an attempt to remain “cancer free.”  I recall asking my radiation oncologist, “So, what do I say?  Do I actually have cancer?”  She looked at me with a questionable smile and said, “Well, you don’t have a tumor, but you are being treated for cancer.  So, there is really no easy answer to that question.”  Fair enough.

I HATED it when people said, “Oh that’s great!  You’re in remission!”  The other comment that made my skin crawl was, “So you’re cured!”  Hmmm… not so much.  I don’t blame them.  People who haven’t lived through this really don’t truly understand.  They mean well and only want the best for me.  It is frustrating though.

Anyway, 2014 rolled on.  MRIs all looked clear.  I was back at work.  No more treatment.  Sure, I was still on anti-seizure meds, but those weren’t going away any time soon.  I still had physical therapy, but I was exercising regularly and could do every workout I wanted.  Yes, I remained in therapy every so often.  Cancer is a true trauma and a little professional help goes a long way.  I was heavily involved in charity organizations, which gave me so much strength and purpose.  I was meeting so many other amazing survivors.  Life was really pretty much back to normal, although we all know it was the “new normal.”

The fear of a recurrence never went away.  However, it didn’t dominate my thoughts.  There were even moments I didn’t even think about cancer!  I almost forgot about it… almost.

So 2014 came to a close and I decided to celebrate the end of the hardest year of my life in the Caribbean with my husband.  We sat on the beach, sipping champagne.  We ate A-mazing food.  We watched the fireworks over the ocean on New Year’s Eve.  God, life was good.

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We rang in the new year in style, but it was back to reality.  And boy, did reality strike like a ton of bricks.

In February 2015, ironically just after my 35th birthday, my MRI began to show an enhancement at the surgical area where the original tumor had been removed.  It was extremely small, so my doctors could not absolutely confirm it was indeed a recurrence.  We would just have to wait and see.

So there it was – that dreaded word.  My biggest fear staring me in the face.  Yet, I didn’t even have enough information at that point to even confirm, yes, the tumor is back.  I would be stuck in limbo for the next few months until my next MRI.  The hope was that the enhancement would remain stable, indicating that it was likely just a side effect of the radiation.  However, if it increased, then, well, it was likely it was a recurrence.

Simply by reading the title of this post and it’s category, the recurrence was eventually confirmed.. but I’ll get there.

Daily Prompt – The Companion I Never Asked For & Never Wanted

“I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”  Groucho Marx

In April 2014, I gained a companion I never asked for and certainly never wanted.  I did not want to be a member of this companion’s club.  Yet, I had no choice.  This club accepted me despite all of my fear and loathing for it.  Unfortunately, this companion was brain cancer and I gained a permanent membership to the Big “C” Club.

My cancer companion will remain a constant part of my life, even if I remain “cancer free.”  I have a name for my companion – Chester, Chester the Brain Molester.  For ease, I’ll just call him Chester.

I did hate Chester.  He changed my life forever.  He turned my world upside down.  He infected me.  He took away so much, not just from me, but from everyone who loves and cares for me.  I will never be the same person I was before Chester came around.

Yet, Chester will always be my companion, whether I like it or not.  So, I’ll just have to live with him.  I’ll have to accept him.

Hating Chester truely a waste of my time and valuable energy.  Resentment and anger towards him will only hurt me.  I will just have to bury Chester deep down inside, filling my life with love and inner peace.

So, yes.  I am forever a member of the Big “C’ Club.  I’ll never know why that Club chose me as one of its thousands upon thousands of members.  I’ll never know why Chester needed yet another companion.  Yet, I am at peace with it now.  My strength, my resilience, the love that surrounds me will forever and always be so much more powerful than Chester.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/companion/

I Did It! I Made It Onto a Podcast!

THE NEWS

First – the big news.

I did it!  I made it onto a podcast!  For anyone who would like to listen (I would LOVE anyone to listen) the link is here:

http://croydonradio.com/podcast/show.php?HistoryID=215b2eb5-886d-fde2-1a8a-773bce29f2ba

My segment begins just around 14 minutes in.

HOW I MADE IT ONTO MY FIRST PODCAST

It took so much for me to sit down and create this blog.  I was so self-conscious and intimidated by the idea of opening myself up like this.  Still to this day, a few months since I began the blog, very few of my friends and family know about it.

I’ve spoken publicly many times about my story and this “cancer chaos.”  However, there is just something that feels so different about putting it all out there on the worldwide web, for absolutely anyone to read, anyone to find.

I recently listened to a video by Gabby Bernstein (if you don’t know her, you need to!  http://gabbybernstein.com/.  One of her particular messages is that it is our responsibility to share our own empowering message – to share your story.  Along with that, she also teaches not to compare ourselves in telling that story – there are more people in need than those who are serving that need.  In other words, even if there are 300 people out there with a similar story, there’s so many more people in need of hearing those stories.  Plus, your story is your own!  It is different from every single one of those 300 other people’s stories.

So, with that motivation, I decided to put myself out there just a little bit more, beyond this blog.

Through Twitter, which I also joined at the same time as I began this blog, I found an incredible woman, Claire Bullimore.  Claire is a fellow brain tumor survivor.  She is the founder of Aunty M Brain Tumours, a radio presenter on Croydon Radio (online) and the host of a show dedicated to people affected by brain tumours, called the Aunty M Brain Tumours Talk show.  As Claire says on her website, her show is there “to give a voice to brain tumour sufferers, survivors, family or friends.”  AND, this was key – her website said that she interviews “anyone who wants to have a voice or tell their story.”

So, fate/the cosmos/what have you was clearly sending me a message.  Tell Your Story!!

All it took was a simple email to Claire and just a few days later, we were setting up an interview for her podcast.  It was such an amazing experience and I hope that anyone reading here will listen to my podcast, and all of Claire’s past and future podcasts.

Thank you, Claire!  You will always be my first podcast!

Claire’s website is: http://www.auntymbraintumours.co.uk/ and specifically, information about her talk show is here: http://www.auntymbraintumours.co.uk/aunty-m-brain-tumours-talk-show/

Her Twitter handle is:

Her blog can also be found at https://braintumoursupportauntym.wordpress.com/

Oh and did I mention, she’s an author too!  “A Brain Tumour’s Travel Tale” by Claire Bullimore.

In the Clear! And, the “New Normal”

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In my prior post “Vacation Period?” Seriously…, I described the traumatic period between my last radiation treatment and my follow-up MRI.  Well, the day of reckoning had come – the MRI results were in.  ALL CLEAR!  No sign of cancer!

Without a doubt, I was indescribably relieved.  I cried tears of overwhelming joy.  That metaphorical tons of bricks weighing on my shoulders immediately lifted.  It was almost surreal.

Once my oncologist sat down with me celebrating the incredible news, we got to another topic… the emotional turmoil of those weeks leading up the MRI.  She knew full-well what I had been going through, thanks to multiple calls to her office.  Even with the clear MRI, she knew I needed help to process all of this.  So, she recommended several things, including seeing a therapist, as well as a psychiatrist for an evaluation to determine if I
needed medication to ease the anxiety that had overcome me during that period of time.

I had never been in therapy.  I was of the strong opinion that here in the U.S., we were over-medicating ourselves with antidepressants and drugs of all sorts.  I’ll be honest – I was against it all.  However, she felt that it was almost a “prescription” to seek out professional help within the hospital’s incredible counseling center.  So, because I literally trusted her and all of my doctors with my life, with much hesitation, I agreed.

Additionally, she suggested reaching out to the hospital’s social worker, who specifically dealt with neurology patients and particularly brain cancer patients.  I had an easier time agreeing to that idea.  It seemed a lot less clinical.  As it turns out, the social worker pointed me to some really great cancer organizations, particularly First Descents (http://firstdescents.org/).

During the dark period, it also hadn’t helped that I had been on a seizure medication known to have terrible side effects regarding anxiety/depression in some patients.  So, with the clear MRI, my seizure doctor was comfortable taking me off that medication and replacing it with another drug.  Changing that medication made a world of difference for my mental state.

Going back to the time period between my surgery and throughout my radiation period (approximately 6 months after my inital diagosis), I had actually been extremely positive and strong.  I had become heavily involved in the National Brain Tumor Society (www.braintumor.org).  I had also just signed-up for a post-treatment support group through CancerCare (http://www.cancercare.org/).  So, I will say I was fortunate that the dark period only truly lasted those several weeks before the MRI.  Now, with the news the MRI was clear, boy, did my whole outlook change!  I went back, almost immediately, to that fighter/survivor, who people had truly been amazed by.  People had called me an “inspiration” (discussed in my post https://braincancerbabe.com/2016/04/19/being-an-inspiration/) and yeah, I felt that way again.

So, life began to quickly normalize again.  I felt happy.  I felt strong.  I felt positive.  I truly felt that everything was going to be okay.  Of course, the fear of a recurrence remained in the back of my mind, but it didn’t dominate my thoughts.  I was meeting so many other survivors and realizing, “Hey.  I’m not alone in all of this.  Other people actually felt the same way I did!  This was NOT a death sentence”  I went back to work, part-time.  Although, I still hated my job and actually regret going back so soon.  I did see the therapist and set up a regular schedule of appointments.  The psychiatrist, thankfully, deemed that I did not need antidepressants.  Life felt good again.  It felt really, really good.

While yes, life did normalize, it was indeed my “new normal.”  I felt comfortable with the fact that cancer had changed my whole world, but it wasn’t all for the worse.  I truly embraced a new perspective on life, namely, “Live every minute of every day like it’s your last!  Appreciate everything you have!”

I saw how lucky I was to have come out of all of this with very, very few side effects.  I was doing pretty much everything I had been doing before cancer entered my world.  I mean, seriously – I had had brain cancer and brain surgery!  Yet, here I was, pretty much the same girl I had been.  I truly recognized what an amazing support system I had.  The kindness, concern and love from even strangers overwhelmed me.  Man, was I loved!

I continued to be monitored very closely by my neurology team.  At every visit, they were beyond thrilled that the dark days were behind me (which I now see as a very brief period of time in the grand scheme of things).  They loved seeing that girl they had first met, who showed what a fighter she was and how she continued to embrace life so much.

I was kickin’ ass.

However, things did change in early 2015.  So, that will lead to my next post and specifically, Round 2 of the cancer chaos.