Wherein I ask for a favor from you guys.

Whether you know me personally, or a reader of my blog, you know that I lost my mother to cancer, in 2013. It was a horrific ordeal, and honestly, it’s the only thing in life that truly was as awful as I imagined it would be. Actually, it was even worse.
My point is, no one should have to experience that. As a patient, or as a loved one, watching someone waste away. Cancer is insidious, and non-discriminatory, but there are incredibly significant strides being made to combat it. But that requires funding. Funding to continue research, trials, and preventive screenings, among other things.

So, that’s why we formed a Relay for Life team. If you’re not familiar with Relay for Life, you can learn more about it here. Members of my family, friends, and extended circle are working to fundraise for the American Cancer Society.

And this is where you come in. We are seeking donations for our team, and I am hoping that you, dear readers, can help us out. Every little bit helps move us closer to our goal, and closer to better treatment and support services for those living with/affected by cancer.

If you feel moved to contribute, you can do so here. Thank you in advance for helping us out!

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Months 3-6: Times, they are a-changin’.

Today marks my entry into the third trimester. A line I’m crossing happily, but also with a bad limp, and slightly winded. The past three months have been full of transformations, realizations, and, well…sugar. Lots of it. But, that’s neither here nor there. So, a few highlights on this journey:

For those of you not in the know, we’re having a boy. I felt all along that it was a boy, and also (not so) secretly hoped it was. Girls-they’re great and all, but I just don’t feel excited about pink, and dance lessons, and her slamming her bedroom door in my face at 15 years old when I ask her how her day was. Of course, I know he will come with his own set of challenges, but that’s stuff I can handle (scoffs naively). Or outsource to his dad. His name will be Dempsey, a name we both love, and were able to decide on easily. Not common, but also not “Pilot Inspektor” weird, either. And his middle name will be Reid, which is Andy’s mother’s family name. I like the history and significance of that. So, one tiny task down. He has a name!

I no longer recognize my body. Over the past three months, my stomach has grown to (what I perceive as) epic proportions, my back feels like someone started a garbage fire in my spinal column, my boobs are huge(r), and nearly everything winds me. I stood in front of the mirror before getting into the shower the other day, and marveled for a minute. It’s certainly not disdain or disgust I feel, because let’s face it-growing a human is a pretty powerful, amazing thing we do, but it was more like, “Is this ever going to go away?” It feels like I’ve always been pregnant, and will always be. Perhaps this is the pre-cursor to me feeling like I can’t remember what my life was like before him. Or, more likely, it’s because all I want is some effing brie, and a bottle of the smokiest red I can get my hands on. And what a glorious day that shall be. I’m also excited about the prospect of painting my toes again, without requiring a nebulizer treatment.

Humiliation 1: For the first few months of my pregnancy, I saw the nurse practitioner at my practice, a woman who I adore. She is warm, and engaged/engaging, and kind, and willing to answer any questions I have. I loved visiting with her. So, the last time I saw her (two visits ago), I brought up my mother’s illness, and how I worry about how that affects my body and the baby, because of the stress it puts on me. We had a great conversation that helped put me at ease, and she shared the fact that her father faced a very similar situation. Of course I cried a ton, because that’s something I do all the time anyway now, but I felt better. I stood up to leave, and thus started the “I think we’re going to shake hands, but you now feel obligated to hug me, given the conversation we just had” dance. We got entangled in this weird embrace that felt like it lasted for 5 minutes, and also ended with her kissing my cheek, which I don’t really think she intended to do. My face was aflame with embarrassment-I don’t particularly like physical interaction with people I’m not close to, and this was off the charts weird. Totally well-intentioned, but just really awkward. So, with that, I decided that when making my next appointment, now was the time to start rotating through the physicians in the practice. Now when I see the NP at the office, we can share a quick smile and wave from a safe distance, and go about our business.

Humiliation 2: I got a packet of stuff in the mail, that was mostly pregnancy/child-related deals, coupons, etc. So, a few of them were for free crap, like baby slings and a nursing cover. So I thought, why not? I hopped online, ordered them up, raised an eyebrow at the URL of the nursing cover website, but otherwise moved along. The next day, I paid some bills online, then ran over to the mall to pick up the iPhone 5. I made my intentions clear to the sales guy, rebuffing all his offers of additional accessories (no, I don’t want that wood-veneered Bluetooth device, OR that terrible phone case), and handed over my card to pay. Declined. Wait, what? I asked him to run it again, please, and again…declined. So, that of course embarrassed me, and I asked him to hold tight while I ran to the satellite office that my bank has in the mall. The girl at the window informed me of my balance, which was exactly what I thought it was, and allowed me to make a cash withdrawal, but also told me that maybe I should call ‘fraud protection’, because sometimes they place holds on cards that aren’t immediately visible. Having had my identity conveniently stolen previously, during Christmas 2011, my stomach tightened. Not again.
I ran back, picked up the new phone, and then got into the car, and called fraud protection. Todd, who was most likely not older than 21, took my call. He informed me that they had tracked some potentially odd purchases, and locked my card as a precaution. So, then he started to read them off to me to verify. Yes, I said, as he read 3 purchases off that were legit. Then, he says, “And this next one from “ooo, oooo-der covers.com?” “What?” I asked, and he repeated himself. “Oooodder covers?” Jesus. Oh my God. That stupid nursing cover I picked up online had a shipping charge associated with it, which I placed on my card. My face flamed red again, and I cleared my throat, trying to be an adult. “Um, it’s uddercovers.com.” “Oh, um…”, he said. “Look, don’t worry about it, it’s legit, nothing to be concerned about,” I said. I heard him take a breath in, to start speaking again. Oh my god, I thought, we are going to keep discussing this, aren’t we? “Well, usually, odd-sounding websites trigger us that something isn’t right. People’s cards get stolen and used for porn sites, stuff like th-” I stopped him. “Whoa, no no. This isn’t that sort of thing. It’s a baby site. For nursing covers,” I said. “Uh, um, yeah, well, OK, as long as it’s a purchase you made,” he hesitated. Clearly, he wanted this done as much as I did. “OK, great, thanks for your help. Are we all set then?” I asked. Given an affirmation, I hung up. Just another incident in an increasingly-long string of things I never imagined having to participate in. I guess given all the indignities that I will have to endure over the coming years, this is small potatoes. But, God, come on.

So, that’s where I am. This is all starting to get very real to me, signing up for childbirth classes, and not being able to tie my shoes without assistance. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. I can’t wait for him to be here, to figure out what our new normal looks like. And stay tuned-my friend Angie and I recently decided to attend a La Leche League meeting, which ended up being a totally hilarious (and slightly terrifying) debacle. But, that’s its own post.

Happy Sunday, ya’ll.

A bit of gratitude.

I feel better when I write. I’m not always the most verbally articulate person when it comes to naked displays of emotion or concern, so I put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as it were) to try to make sense of things. And I wrote about my mom’s illness yesterday, because I needed to lay it out in front of me, to take time to put my thoughts into conscious, organized words that did justice to what we’ve experienced thus far. As I expected, it released a lot of the frenetic energy that has set up shop in my spirit. What I did not expect, however, was the outpouring of love and light and good thoughts from those who read it-my family, my friends, and acquaintances whom I may not have spoken with or seen in years. So, to all of you, I extend my deepest gratitude for the kindness you have shown my family and me. It’s in these moments, that I am reminded of how connected we are to one another, as a people.

In keeping with that, I also feel the need to recognize the staff at University of Rochester Medical Center/Strong Memorial Hospital for the care that was provided to not only my mother, but to my father and me. From admission to discharge, the level of skill and care and support that was given was nothing short of exceptional. And I am not merely talking about the physicians, mid-level providers and nurses. I am also talking about the therapists, the environmental services team, nutrition staff, transport, and every other staff person we encountered during my mom’s time there, who may have offered a smile, small talk, directions, or a laugh. Strong is where I began my nursing career, and I have always been proud to have worked for such an amazing institution. Our time and experience there on the other side of things only reinforced that pride. My approach to nursing practice has always been that one should provide care for patients and their loved ones in the way they would expect themselves or their own family to be cared for, and I am infinitely grateful that my mother received that sort of care from everyone. It definitely made the difficulty of the time there a bit easier for everyone. I am always humbled by the graciousness of strangers.

“It’s cancer.”

There sat my mom, on her hospital bed, digging through that overstuffed purse of hers. After two weeks of having a hard time breathing, she was admitted to the hospital. That morning, she had a bronchoscopy, which revealed a tumor in the airway leading to her left lung. I had just walked into the room to see her, and out it comes, very first thing. “It’s bad. It’s cancer.” Like she was saying something as simple as, “It’s Monday” or “It’s so nice out.” Matter of fact. No tears, no real discernable fear, just those three words. Even though I had been steeling myself for this all morning (and really, for the past few days), it made me dizzy. In typical Patti fashion, we were being no-frills about this. “I’m just going to fight this as hard as I can, and that’s it.” Back to digging through her bag. I looked at my dad, who was looking at me, presumably trying to gauge my reaction. Nodded my head. I went into the bathroom and cried, grateful for the loud fan that was muffling the noise. It struck me as almost laughable that after quitting smoking nearly five weeks ago, this is happening now. What horrible luck. Now can’t be the time to ruminate on such things, though. My parents need as much of their stress absorbed as possible, I have three younger sibling that, while adults, I feel the need to support and guide through all this, and everything is about to get busy. And difficult. Maybe it’s the nurse in me kicking in, to help me refocus my energy from fear, to action.

I went back out, and I asked my parents if I could tell Kate when I met her in the lobby, and they agreed, so I went down to wait for her. The anxiety that surrounds having to tell someone such a horrible thing is unbearable, but I was glad to shoulder that burden for my mom, maybe it would make it a bit easier for her. I can imagine that when you’re scared and still processing information yourself, sharing it with others is probably nearly impossible.

Katie came, and I asked her to sit down. I explained the events of the past few days, and told her that our mother had lung cancer. She stared for a minute, and then began to cry into her hands, her tears sneaking through her fingers and dripping onto her pant legs. In that moment, my heart hurt, because I saw her as she was at nine or ten, not as she is now. We went together back to my mother’s room, and I think being able to see her, and see what great spirits she was in made her feel better. The four of us had a good afternoon together. My dad stayed the night at my house, and all night I slept fitfully, constantly listening for his horrible snoring, to know that he was actually asleep, and not up worrying.

My mom is back home now, and despite the addition of oxygen, is getting back to her regular routine. She will find out next week where she’s at in terms of staging, and her treatment options. It’s difficult to wait, but there’s also an odd comfort in at least knowing why she hasn’t felt well. I’m not sure what the road ahead will look like, but I do know that this illness has one hell of a fight to come up against, in my mother and the medical team she has in her corner.

And if you could offer up a kind thought, good energy, a prayer, whatever it is in your heart, it would be greatly appreciated.

What’s the real cost of food?

My friend Marc and I were discussing this NY Times article earlier this week, that purports that despite what many people believe, junk food is not necessarily cheaper than its healthy alternative, particularly for those living with lower-income. While I think that there were some unfair assumptions made about those living in low-income homes (which for brevity, I will not get into here), I do think that author Mark Bittman illustrates wonderfully the two-sided responsibility that is being shirked – by consumers, for making choices not to cook, not to slow down and choose better options (because cooking now equals work), and not demanding more of their food sources and suppliers; and by the corporate food industry, for playing into every opportunity to literally shove their product down people’s throats, making them crave more, and think less, with no regard for consequences.

Many arguments for food reform are one-sided, but if we’re to ever to make any progress, we need to hold everyone responsible for their role in doing what is right. People have a right to healthy, accessible, safe food choices, but as long as we’ve got food being chemically engineered to spur addictive tendencies, marketing strategies designed to manipulate people into repeated consumption, and representatives of food corporations lobbying on the hill, with politicians in their back pockets, the only interests protected are those of big business food. Like Bittman said, we DO have a choice. We not only have a choice to decide to plan and cook our meals, but we also have a choice to demand better from our food, its origins, and our government. We’re ultimately what makes that system thrive, not the other way around.

At the end of the day, it’s not about financial cost. It’s about what it’s costing our bodies and health, our lives, our future generations, and our planet. Sustenance is a right, not a privilege, and it certainly shouldn’t be about putting money in the pockets of those who aren’t concerned with any of the aforementioned consequences. We all have a right and responsibility to understand what’s truly at stake, and to send the message that it’s no longer tolerable.

Friday round-up: road rage, more medical mishaps, and why I can’t get any work done.

Road rage is for the badass and/or mentally ill.

Which is why I guess, being bad at it is a mixed bag. Yesterday, I was passing a slow moving tractor trailer, who suddenly decided he needed to get into the passing lane. Ok, fine, I’m moving. All the sudden, he decides that I’m not moving fast enough (at 70, I think I was, considering up until this point, he was going around 62), and starts maniacally waving me forward, his tattoo-sleeved arm flailing out the window. “I’M GOING!” I shout, to no one in particular, because he sure as hell can’t hear me. Then, in a fit of anger, I…shook my fist at him? Yes, you guys, I road rage like Alice, complete with “NHHHH!” Why-I-oughta! sound. Apparently, this pissed him off, because then he laid on his horn, and did an aggressive pseudo-swerve towards my lane. Ok, I’m outta here, as fast as the four cylinder engine I’m commandeering (and the law) permits. I’m not a rule-breaker, after all.

Once safely ahead of him, I got ballsy..and half-flipped him off. Two things about this-ultimately, I only did it because I knew he couldn’t see me (again-scared of confrontation, especially with someone piloting an 18-wheeler), and because another car moved in between us. Beep, beep! I’m lame. Oh, and non-sequitur, but about twenty minutes later, I came to an intersection that was only a two-way stop (and I was not in a stop lane), and this cadaverous old woman in a Ford Taurus blew through the stop, causing me to slam on my brakes and beep at her. What does she do? Slowly turns her head towards me, and raises a creaky, spindly middle finger in my direction. Narrowly averted car crash aside, it was just too funny to be angry. When you’re 104, what do YOU have to lose? Cruise on, Cryptkeeper!

Can I get a funnel in here?

This morning, I had a doctor’s appointment, one which involved me peeing in a cup. I don’t know about you, but I prep for this event the way others prep for surgery. Driving to the doctor’s office, telling myself that I’ve consumed enough water so as to not provide a paltry sample, giving myself enough of a cushion should I miss the cup at first. A pep talk, if you will. For some reason, there is no worse potential outcome for me than wasting a sample due to my wayward aim, and having to sit around the doctor’s office for another hour, pounding chlorinated tap water and waiting for my chance to shine. And yes, I’ve lived that experience. Multiple times. So, I get there, and it’s time to get to it. And while I was mostly successful, I still didn’t get out of there without peeing on my hands. It’s like my body goes crazy, and becomes some sort of unmanned fire hose. This particular visit was even better, though, because I somehow managed to get pee on my shorts. ON THE FRONT OF THEM. Which looked super awesome coming out of the doctor’s office, by the way. And since I’m sure everyone’s wondering with excitement now, no, I’m not single. This girl is off the market. No big surprise, right? I’m a lackluster cook, mediocre with an iron, and pee on myself. Anyone would be lucky.

Sure, Pickle, go ahead and eat that plant of unspecified origin.

So, between my two trips to the doctor’s office today (one was first thing this AM for bloodwork), I was already feeling disorganized by working at home today. Given that, it only made sense that Pickle should suddenly snap up some sort of unidentified greenery and swallow it, when I took her outside this morning. Dog owners will know that with that event, comes the invariable gastrointestinal warfare that is now being waged against my house. Three hours, five episodes of vomit, and an utter lack of paper towels later, I’m now down multiple dish cloths (yes, totally not green of me, but what the hell was I supposed to do?), a shitload of Lysol wipes, and half a bottle of 409. And all before noon! This dog is sick more frequently than any human I’ve known, and of course, like any good American, she’s uninsured. I think we’ll try to ride this one out, see if it gets better. We’ve been to the vet enough with her, that we should get some sort of pay ten visits, get one visit free punch card. And maybe some paper towels.

Happy weekend, ya’ll-hope yours turns out less messy than mine has started.

Tales from the doctor’s office: GYN edition.

In addition to choosing a new primary care provider, I also chose a new GYN provider, and today was my first appointment there, and also my annual exam. After the usual uncomfortable question and answer session between myself and Michelle, RN, she asked me to take off all my clothes (“you can leave your socks on,” she said), put on a gown and wait for the nurse practitioner. She left the room, I did as I was told, took a quick double peek down my legs to make sure I had, in fact, remembered to shave this morning (yes!), and had a seat. I sat around, waiting, beginning to get that familiar creep of anxiety in my stomach, as I started to entertain the idea of all the possible disasters that could strike. Then, as if on cue, I looked around at the wall postings, and saw all those potential horrors being advertised in full color, before my very eyes- CERVICAL, UTERINE and OVARIAN CANCER! PREGNANCY! PELVIC INFLAMMATORY DISEASE! INFERTILITY! HPV! PREMATURE BIRTH! STDs! SURGICAL STERILIZATION! MORE CANCER-COULD BE HEREDITARY! 99% of these things are not even in the cards for me, but nonetheless, I was going to whip myself into a frenzy about them anyway. Ugh, God. Ok.

I wanted to grab my phone from the desk, distract myself with facebook, Words with Friends, anything, but I was too scared to, as another sign on the wall directed me not to text or answer my phone while in an appointment. I understand that some rules are meant to be broken, but not while I’m sitting underpants-free in fluorescent lighting, with nary more than an ill-fitting gown and white ankle socks on. I think I’ll stay put. All in all, I waited about 20 minutes for the NP to arrive, which provided me ample time to work myself up enough about reproductive cancer, that my heart was beating irregularly, and my palms were sweaty. God, what I am going to do? I wondered about my non-existent diagnosis. I hope my insurance coverage didn’t get hacked back enough this year to leave me underinsured.

Then, in walked the NP, who was put on this earth to be a medical professional in a blue state. T, as I will call her, is a woman of about sixty years, who has all of this experience in women’s health, even working specifically with migrant women (which immediately earned her an A in my book). She was warm, funny and completely open, which encouraged a lot of really beneficial conversation about my health. I am going to sound terrible saying this as a nurse, but I have a penchant for “tidying up” facts about my health, to present myself in a better light (“Alcohol use? Oh, hardly ever. Maybe once every few months. What? How often do I exercise? Um, about 3-4 days a week?”). I blame it on my desire to be praised for doing the right thing. Hey, back off. My intentions are good. However, I know this is doing me a disservice. Which is why today was so nice, to have a provider who really took the time to engage me in genuine dialogue, talk me off my perpetual ledge of anxiety (for the time being, anyway) and gain my trust. It’s so critical for patients to have that sort of relationship with providers, and it rarely happens.

So, we came up with a plan for a few things, and I was able to reacquire my clothing (and dignity). I walked out feeling much better than when I came in, and on the drive home, I thought about why suddenly, I’m having all this fear related to doctor’s appointments and my health. I think I’m finally starting to understand that health and life are finite, and that I need to start thinking about and reevaluating my well-being and habits, family histories and my love of sugar. Thirty is feeling good so far, but it’s moments like the one today, where I hear my Grandma Alice’s commonly uttered phrase-“Man, it’s hell to get old.”