Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ryan James is Not a Baby

Where Did the Baby Go?

Looking back at Ryan's baby pictures brings out an overabundance of emotions in me, the foremost being gratitude that we were given such a precious little miracle to love and devote ourselves to. Just look at this tiny bundle. 

But, at the same time, my heart breaks a little tiny bit when I see these pictures.

I dearly miss the days that were filled with newborn coos and gurgles, tummy time, baths in the sink, toothless gummy smiles, and wrapping our baby up like a burrito. Yes, I even miss this pointy little head with the patchy bald spots.

It reminds me of one of my favorite childhood books that I used to read with my mom, called Where Did the Baby Go? by Sheila Hayes.

I used to get such a kick out of listening to the story about the toddler girl searching everywhere for the baby in the picture that she finds, and then realizing that she was the baby. Only she wasn't anymore. I now realize how bittersweet that book actually was.

Ryan is at the age where he understands that he used to be a baby and now he is a "big boy" and that one day he will get even bigger, like daddy.

Ryan has taught us so much during the past (almost) two-and-a-half years, and he has actually disproved many of the beliefs that I had previously held as a new mommy, such as:

I used to think that it was my responsibility to teach my child everything, but I now see that he learns most things on his own, just by exploring and living life.

I used to worry that I didn't know enough about raising boys. Now, I realize that it doesn't matter, because boys are wired to be boys and even the most "girly" of moms will be effective with their sons.

I always assumed that bribery was bad, but now I believe that there is nothing wrong with a little bit of positive reinforcement once in a while.

I used to think that potty-training would be the biggest challenge. Instead, I have found that our biggest issue is getting Ryan to put on enough weight to stay on the growth charts. Eating is something that we struggle with every single day, as we attempt to find foods that are nutritious, fattening, and delicious to Ryan at the same time.

Ryan continues to make our world spin with endless excitement and spontaneity. He keeps us laughing because we never know what he will think of or say next.  He has picked up on many of our expressions and he somehow knows exactly how to correctly apply them to situations.  For example, he regularly says to me: “Thank you for telling me that,” “Sure, mommy,” “Let’s save that for later, okay?” and “Don’t do that, mommy.”

For the sake of record-keeping (and the fact that this blog doubles as R's baby book) here is what else he has been up to lately:

At 28 months old, Ryan...  

Uses the word “actually” when he changes his mind about something. 

Knows that he can always get my attention and that I will drop anything and everything I am doing when he says “I love you, mommy” or “I need a hug.”

Makes it his job to let us know whether or not Lucky is being a “good boy.”

When he gets hurt, but not too bad, he says “I’m fine.” 

When he is bored, he says, “I want to do activity!” 

Begs me to do laundry. Loves jumping into the pile of clothes, helping to sort, and handing me each individual piece to put into the washing machine.

Climbs in and out of his car seat by himself, pulls his own pants up/down when using the potty, and helps to clean up whenever he finds “crummies” (crumbs) on the floor. 

If you try to get in the way of his independence by doing something for him, he will narrow his eyes at you and say, “RA RA DO IT!”

Doesn’t need rewards anymore for going to the potty, but gives me imaginary treats every time that I use it.  (“Cookie for mommy.”)

He has creative conversations between his cars and trucks. (“Help me. I need a tow. I have a flat tire. I need an oil change. Wait for me.")

Memorizes many of his books and randomly talks about them throughout the day.  

Makes up his own story as he flips through the pages of a new book, pretending to read it.  ("These friends play with toys. These friends say woof woof.”)

Thinks almost every thought aloud.  ("What is this string for?" Points to his sweatshirt.  Answers himself, "For putting in the mouth." Proceeds to bite the string.)

Bounces his elbows up and down when he gets excited.

Flips all of the handles on our furniture up and then laughs.

Asks "What does that do?" about anything unfamiliar.

Is passionate about all of the different types of vehicles and has a remarkable memory for learning them.

Knows exactly what he wants and does not hesitate to tell us!

Ryan's 2 Year Old Interview

So I decided that it would be fun to interview Ryan every year, asking him the same list of questions and seeing how his answers change throughout the years. This is our first year of starting the tradition.  

Here are the questions and his answers as a two year old:

1. How old are you?  2
2. Who is your best friend?  Mater and Lightning McQueen
3. What is your favorite color?  Red (like Lightning McQueen)
4. What is your favorite book?  Race Team by Dennis R. Shealy
5. Describe your perfect day.  Police car, Digger, Dump Truck, all of the cars in there.
6. What is your favorite place and why?  Pool. It's so nice.
7. What would you never do as an adult?  Need a cake.
8. Where do you want to work when you grow up?  At a bank and eat pizza there.
9. What is your favorite thing to do for fun?  Play at school. Share with Gavin and Miles.
10. Tell me a joke.  (Pretends to laugh and does a funny movement).

Random Video from iPhone

Okay, this one is super random, but I like that he shows his silly side and how he can be very weird sometimes.

I still can't believe that our baby boy will be starting preschool next fall. The other day, I put a Sesame Street book into the cart, and he told me that he doesn't like Elmo and Big Bird because they are for babies and Ryan is a big boy. For the first time (of what is sure to be many throughout his life) I totally felt like an uncool mom. haha!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chemo Care Package Ideas and Chemo Tips

I can’t even begin to tell you how important it is to have a support system while going through chemo. When I look back on the days that I spent in the chemo room while my mom received her treatments, while I received mine, and when we were both getting chemo at the same time, I actually feel happy. We made these times fun for each other because we had long conversations, remained lighthearted, and did things to cheer each other up when the other person was feeling sick. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. (The nurses would joke with us and say “it looks like you two are having too much fun for chemo!”)

If one of your friends or family members is going through chemotherapy, how wonderful would it be if you could lift their spirits and make them feel special by putting together a Chemo Care Package

Sometimes thoughtful little gifts make all the difference in the world when trying to get through a bad chemo day. Here are some ideas of things that would most likely be appreciated by chemo patients:   

   Lemon Drops

Chemo can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Literally. You actually experience a weird, metallic taste in your mouth and lemon drops (or any other tart candy) seem to miraculously take it away.

Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer

When your white blood cell counts are low and your immune system is weak, avoiding germs becomes one of your top priorities. Since you are probably either completely exhausted from chemo or still hooked up to your IV line, taking a million trips to the sink to wash your hands is probably the last thing that you feel like doing. Antibacterial hand sanitizer is the next best alternative.

Hand Lotion

During chemo, your hands often become dry and chapped. Make sure to choose a hand lotion that doesn't have a overpowering smell, because those can be especially harsh for chemo patients who are already feeling nauseous.

Fuzzy Socks

Your poor feet may experience numbness, neuropathy (a sensation of needles poking, numbness, and burning), sensitivity to coldness, and become very chapped. And… who doesn’t love fuzzy socks?

Head Scarf or Hats

Depending on the type of chemo that you have, you may or may not experience partial or complete hair loss. Either way, a hat could be used to keep warm in the freezing cold doctors' offices and hospitals.


Chemo can do strange things to a person’s appetite, but every once in a while, in a moment when the nausea has passed, you just might be in the mood for something sweet.

(If the person going through chemo doesn’t like chocolate, then pick out a treat that you know that they will like.)

One of my favorite surprises was when my some of my best friends came to visit me in the hospital and brought chocolate covered strawberries!

Other Ideas: a soft blanket, a journal, a magazine, a book, a travel pillow, a smartphone (I spent countless of hours on Pinterest during chemo!) a water bottle (although chemo can sometimes make water taste yucky), a big tote bag 

Chemo care packages ready to be taken to my oncologist's
office for patients who are currently undergoing chemo.
I am also donating a bunch of hats and head scarves.

Chemo Tips

Everyone’s experience with chemo is different. A lot of it depends on your chemo cocktail, dosage, the number of rounds that you need, and your body’s natural physical strength or sensitivity to the drugs. You will probably receive pamphlets and descriptions about what to expect from your doctor, but there is no one-size-fit all set of tips that applies to everyone. Instead of attempting to write one, I would like to share some of the tips that helped me personally; just the kinds of things that I learned from my experience.

1.  Keep a list of all of your medications.

More than likely, you will be taking a bunch of different meds and you will be asked to fill out a lengthy health questionnaire multiple times a day. It helped me to write it all out ahead of time: the name of the med, the dosage, and the time of the day that I took it. I kept it in my wallet. I then simply gave the card to my nurses and they made a xerox copy of it onto all of the forms. It was just one less thing to worry about and it saved the time and hassle of hand writing it all out a million times.

2. Chart your side effects.

For me, the chemo side effects were progressive and got worse after each round. However, there was a definite pattern to the timing and the types of side effects that I experienced after each round. By writing down a list of side effects (including the intensity) for each of the 14 days following each chemo treatment, I knew what to expect in the upcoming rounds and which medicines to take on which days, in preparation of lessening the worst symptoms.

In my experience, the nausea medicine Kytril worked the best, Emend was fine, and I absolutely hated Phenergan, Reglan, and Zofron. I learned that I usually needed Neupogen or Neulasta shots to help to boost my blood cell counts during the week following chemo. I always received the steroid Decadron to take the day before chemo, and it gave me so much energy that the day before chemo always became my happiest day of the whole month (weirdly enough).

The delayed side effects were much more painful and difficult than the actual receiving of the chemo. I could socialize on the day of chemo, but a week or two later, after I was sent home, I was stuck spending time laying on the bathroom floor. (Imagine the worst hangover that you ever had and multiply it by 1,000). 

Also, my brain became very fuzzy and I had severe short term memory loss for about 6 days following each chemo. There were days when my legs were so weak that I couldn’t stand up, but as the side effects wore off, they eventually regained strength. I had to plan ahead for the days that I could only eat soup or liquid because, right on schedule, those were the days that my mouth sores would hurt too badly to eat.

Thankfully, all of the side effects eventually disappeared once chemo had stopped, with the exception of neuropathy and fatigue. So, although these were not the most intense side effects during that time (6 rounds of chemo), I would consider them the worst because they last for months and even years.

3.  Bring someone with you.

If at all possible, bring someone with you to your chemo treatments and doctor appointments; it makes a huge difference to have them there supporting you. My husband and my mom were right by my side for every single one and I definitely relied on them for the emotional strength to make it through. 

Even if you are not able to bring a friend or family member with you, know that chemo nurses are some of the sweetest and most pleasant people in the world and many of the other patients are friendly too. It really does help to talk to other people and to try to make the experience as positive as possible. (I was never the kind of person that enjoyed talking to strangers before, but even I found this to be true).

4.  Wear the right clothes.

Wear comfortable, layered clothing that can easily be rolled up for injections and IV medicines. Even on days that I wasn’t expecting it, the nurses would often decide to give me fluids, saline or heparin, so it helped to be prepared with loose sleeves. It is always a good idea to dress as comfy as possible.

5. Be extremely careful with ports and picc lines

Some people’s bodies, like mine, have a natural resistance to anything foreign put into the body and want to reject it. Many of you already know that my port gave me a staph infection, sepsis, and pulmonary embolisms. My picc line also got infected several times, which required me to be on IV antibiotics even while at home, and my husband had to help me clean out the picc line every night. 

Thank goodness the doctors removed the picc line immediately after my last round of chemo, because I don’t think it would have lasted another day in there without giving me another serious infection. My best advice would be to avoid ports and picc lines. If you need to have them, make sure that anyone who accesses them is very careful to flush them and clean them out an extra number of times!

I am so thankful to be finished with chemo, and I continue to pray for all of those who are still going through it.  It is a rough, unpredictable road, and remember that you are so strong for fighting for your lives!  It is worth it!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Remembering my Mom

1 year ago.  I can hardly believe that it has been a whole year since I heard her voice, hugged her frail body, and told her (and myself) that I was going to be okay without her. A year ago today, my mom was taken home to be with God and her suffering ended. It was a long and difficult road that she had to put up with for three years. Metastatic cancer is as ugly as it gets. I truly believe that she was too good for this world and that is why she was meant to be an angel in heaven instead.

It is completely unfair that I had to lose my mom when I was 27 years old, but I still feel more fortunate than most people because I got to have her as my mom. She raised me with the most sincere type of love and nurturing. There was not a selfish or mean bone in her body. As I grew up, we became the closest of friends and we regularly enjoyed each other's sense of humor. Our conversations were always animated and interesting. We fun together doing pretty much anything, whether it was simply running errands or talking about a book that we had both read.

Needless to say, there is a huge hole in my heart, in my soul, and in my life that makes me feel perpetually lonely and sad. It is bittersweet, to have such a great thing and then for it to be gone. It is just a reminder for me to make the most of every moment that I have left with my loved ones.

Wonderful Memories.

1.  Myrtle Beach, Mother's Day 2009.  What I remember most about this trip was a lot of laughter and silliness. My mom had just been diagnosed the month before, but she was not going to let that get her down. She had such a beautiful spirit.

2.  Ocean City, Mother's Day 2010.  I was four months pregnant. My mom couldn't be any more excited about her new grandson on the way, and he was pretty much all we could talk about on that trip. I remember it being extremely windy while we ate dinner outside on the water.

3.  At Ryan's birth, September 2010.  What a blessing to have my mom there for the birth of my first child! She provided me with so much comfort. This was THE most special moment and I will treasure it forever.

4.  At the hospital for chemo, March 2011.  My mom, reading a book to Ryan, while I received my IV chemo treatments. I do consider this a wonderful memory, because my mom had a way of making even these times fun for me.

My mom certainly left the world a better place, but a far emptier one.  

In one way, it feels like she is somehow still here. We live in the same area and regularly go to all of the same places that she and I went to throughout my whole life. Ryan still fits into some of the clothes that she bought him. I can feel happy that she is still a part of our lives, but these circumstances will not last forever. I dread how empty it will feel in the future. Sometimes it doesn't even seem possible that she existed here with us just a year ago.

What I miss the most are the "in between" moments, the memories that are starting to turn fuzzy in my mind. I desperately do not want to forget the little details of her. When I discover old pictures on my computer or in albums, it is reassuring to suddenly remember something that wasn't particularly memorable. Does that make any sense?

I miss my mom's unconditional support, her advice, and the way she could put a positive perspective on anything. When my heart is heavy, I talk to myself in her voice with what she would have said in that situation. I know it sounds weird, but I guess that it is the only way for me to still feel close to her.

Ryan recognizes Grandma Sue in photos. If you ask him about her, he will point to heaven and say that she lives up there. He also says that Grandma Sue used to "hold me when I was a baby". I wonder if there is any part of his subconscious mind that remember his first year of life and how attached he was to her then? She could comfort him and make him smile more than anyone else could.

I remember the day before my mom passed away, we listened to the song "I Can Only Imagine" and she gave a peaceful smile and said, "I like it."  Those were some of her last words.

I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk by Your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see when Your face is before me
Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine when that day comes and I find myself standing in the sun
I can only imagine what all I will do is forever, forever worship You
I can only imagine.
-Mercy Me

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Reflections: 2 Years After Cancer

2 years ago. I remember it so clearly. It was a Thursday that started off like any other. My mom came over to play with our 3-month old, Ryan, who was just starting to roll over from his tummy to his back. She didn’t have chemo that week, so she was feeling relatively good, and she wanted to spend time with us and help baby-sit. I ran some errands at Target and happened to return at the exact same time that my husband was arriving home from work. As we were walking in, I remember telling him that I had been feeling sort of “weird” that day. It was probably just because I didn’t sleep well the night before. We were getting ready to sit down for a dinner of homemade tacos when the phone rang.

It was the doctor. As soon as I heard the word “malignant” my insides felt numb and my head felt confused and dizzy. In that split second, nothing in the world made sense. “We need to discuss your treatment options.” The doctor might as well have been speaking gibberish because my mind was frozen in shock.

I passed the phone to my husband.

I sat down next to my mom and could barely find my breath to speak. “We both have cancer.”  It didn’t feel real as I said the words. I felt like I was repeating a lie, or simply reciting lines in a play. It felt like I was telling her a cruel joke.

I will never forget the look on my mom’s face. For the first time since I had known her, my strong, brave mom did not try to act like she knew how to make everything okay. She just wrapped her arms around me and we cried. That night, I held hands with both my husband and my mom, with our baby sleeping beside us, and prayed to God to give us all the strength that we needed to get through this. And He did.

The day before I was diagnosed;  Two days after I was diagnosed.

Today I am cancer-free and starting a whole new chapter. Barry, Ryan, and I are looking forward to some exciting changes coming up very soon. I have finally reached the two-year mark, which is a big milestone and we have been waiting a very long time for this. I have finally been given the all-clear to be normal again.

Although, I know that I will never be “normal” in the sense of being the exact same person that I was two years ago. Our experiences shape us into who we are, and I am thankful for all of mine, even the difficult ones.

I now have firsthand memories of what it is like to be hooked up to an IV line for weeks at a time, watching poisons flood my body, and contemplating whether it is worse to risk dying from chemo side effects or from the cancer itself. I remember when the cancer wing of the hospital felt like my home, and I learned to be okay with that. I learned how to give myself injections, clean open wounds, and how to adapt myself for my body’s unpredictable needs at any given moment. I learned how to find the balance between taking care of myself and letting others care of me.

Sleeping and cuddling with my little one; A few weeks into chemo with B, R, and my mom.

I learned how to lean on my husband and to appreciate him. I am now able to see how much more certain things matter that I had never even thought twice about before. I feel more understanding and caring towards other people because I know that everyone is struggling with something, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside.

I have learned to accept the inevitability of death, to value life, and to desire to live fully while I am here. I have learned to trust in God’s plan. I now know that when something bad happens, I will get through it because I have to.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”   
~Helen Keller 

I believe that we all have the capability to think in a way that puts things into a positive perspective. No matter what situation we are in, there is a way to somehow experience happiness and appreciation. We have to make a conscious choice and put considerable effort into our thinking, but it is worth it. Outside circumstances, monetary possessions, and health statuses do not determine the quality of our lives. Happiness can only be achieved by our attitudes. It requires no effort at all to simply exist and to allow negative thoughts enter our minds automatically. But I would much rather put some extra effort into creating positive thoughts each day so that I can thoroughly enjoy my life.

“The tragedy of life is not the fact of death, but in what dies inside of us while we live.”   
~Norman Cousins

Instead of feeling a sense of entitlement and having high expectations about what the world should do for us, it is better to focus on what we can contribute to the world. Making a meaningful difference in this life is the only thing that will still matter long after we are gone. When all is said and done, you only live once, and have ONE chance to be the person you will forever be known as, and to accomplish whatever you desire to do here on earth.

I have found that when you expect nothing from the world, people seem to rise above your expectations and you become genuinely happy and pleased with what is happening.

We took a beach vacation to celebrate three weeks after I finished chemo.

Throughout my chemo treatments and surgeries, I was blessed to have people in my life who were very understanding and supportive of me. Most people accept that a person is going to be completely exhausted when they are going through chemo, but they often don’t realize how long the fatigue and overall lack of energy continue after treatment is over (especially when a particularly strong regimen of drugs was involved).

My body is no where near as capable as it used to be. People seem surprised when I can’t keep up with “normal” physical activities: housework, errands, going to school, chasing after a toddler, socializing, and not to mention exercise (I wish!) It takes triple the amount of effort and energy to do anything now. But I am okay with that. I still plan to live every single area of my life to the fullest.

The hurtful part is when other people aren’t okay with that and judge me for not being able to do more. Or when they try to restrict me from doing something that I want to do.

It is hard to explain. I am pushing myself and my body to appear normal because I refuse to let cancer hold me back anymore than it already has. I feel like I have spent enough time being restricted and limited from activities, so now I want to “do it all”. I just may need to rest for a few days afterwards, and I want that to be okay.

I want to be trusted when it comes to knowing what my body can handle, and knowing when I need a break. I am completely accepting of the fact that things will probably be more difficult and complicated for me than they are for other people. But I will not let that stand in my way of experiencing happiness and fulfillment, because I know that it does not have to.

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