The Waiting is the Hardest Part

…at least, I hope it turns out to be that way.

Today TheDad and I will return to Philadelphia for his 1-year cancer checkup. He has 3 appointments:  an X-ray, a CAT scan and a meeting with the surgeon. (No, there’s no surgery on the agenda at the moment, but we both thought that the surgeon was a better choice for our follow-ups, just in terms of personality and ability and willingness to explain things clearly.)


My pocket Rosary is ready to go; it will keep me company while I am waiting. Even if I’m too distracted to pray, there is great comfort in holding this Rosary, made (and prayed) by a caring friend, in running my finger over each knot that represents so much, in gripping the cord tightly in my fist.

Please pray for us as we wait, as we attempt to keep the balance between hope and dread.


Did you hear that deep, deep sigh yesterday around 11:30 AM Eastern? That was me and TheDad after we met with the very personable surgeon at the cancer center. Under the circumstances, we got the best possible news.

The tumor (what’s left of it) is in a place that is easy to access. It is not in, on or near any organs and it has not spread anywhere. Next Friday he will have it removed in a same-day surgery.

After he recovers from the surgery he will begin radiation treatment. There will not be chemo because chemo doesn’t work on this type of tumor. Beyond that he will just need regular imaging to see if anything has returned but with this type of tumor the chances of it returning are pretty slim.

I am ever grateful for your prayers and support. I feel like the really hard part is over now. We have a game plan, and we have assurance that the tumor is contained.

Upside Down

I spent the morning yesterday in a hospital waiting room. My husband was there for same-day, minor surgery. I drank a lot of coffee, prayed the Rosary, and tried to ignore the overly-loud, overly-large TVs. I was nervous, of course, but not very worried, because we’d been told so many times that it was ” probably nothing.”

I should have known that my uncharacteristic optimism was misplaced.

I kept thinking to myself that it would be No Big Deal, all the while in denial of just how easily No Big Deal can turn into a Very Big Deal Indeed. Minor can go to major in less time than it takes to spell my last name. And your whole world turns upside down as the surgeon says those 3 words nobody wants to hear.

As we try to let it all sink in, as we think of how to find the words to make the kids understand, we simultaneously scribble down specialists’ phone numbers on Post-It notes and assemble folders full of referrals, test results and form after form after form after form.

It is all these details, I think, that will make me crazy and at the same time keep me from going crazy. If I concentrate on the details, I won’t have to think about the big picture. I don’t want to see the forest for the trees.

We will have to wait more than a week before the next step can be taken, before all the results are in and appointments can be made with just the right doctors. And all those other minor-league problems we’ve been dealing with? We’re not feeling the need to deal with those just now. Can we please just put that stuff on the back burner for a while?

One thing at a time, Lord. It’s hard to turn this over when I want to take the ball myself and run with it. I’m a ball-hog in that regard, just as much as some of the hotshots on Little Brother’s soccer team. It’s hard to turn it over because if I abandon it, if I relinquish the control I try to hard to maintain, I might just go to pieces when it is least convenient.

Mom doesn’t get to fall apart, you know. That’s a rule. And if nothing else, I’m a rule-follower.

Even–perhaps especially–when our world has just been turned upside down.

Pray for my husband, if you would; for his doctors; for the kids and for me as we negotiate this new and scary road.

And thank you to Barbara for the beautiful Rosary!

Of Goodbyes, Long and Short, and Birthdays

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. Three years ago it stopped being a happy occasion.

On his birthday three years ago, we stood next to each other, all lined up in fancy clothes, alongside his father’s casket. Pop had passed away two days before after a short and unexpected illness. Some of the people at the wake remembered that it was my husband’s birthday and awkwardly wished him a happy birthday along with offering their condolences.

It was weird, and a pretty crummy way to have to spend a birthday.

The other day we gathered with my mother-in-law, as well as my husband’s sister-in-law and 3 nieces, to attend a Mass for Pop. After that we got some pizza. No one made sure there was a cake, or candles. No one even sang or suggested the idea of it. You don’t commemorate the anniversary of a death with a birthday cake and a rousing chorus of “Sto Lat*.”

My mother-in-law did not call her son yesterday to wish him a happy birthday. I don’t know if she remembers that his birthday was Sunday; during the past couple of years it has become apparent that she is suffering from Alzheimer’s. On Friday evening, after we got home, my husband confided that it’s really hard for him to see his mom like this.

Hard as it was to lose Pop, his illness was mercifully short. In early August of that year, we were arguing with him that he should see a doctor because of a few symptoms he was having. By the 24th he was gone. In between those two points were a horrible couple of weeks in which my husband spent his time shuttling between his job and his parents so that his mom could get to see Pop in the hospital. There was no time to think about what might happen, what it would be like with Pop gone. There was no time to think about anything.

Now, all he has is time. He knows that he is losing a little bit of his mom with each passing day. It’s just a question of how many days will pass before a family agreement must be made, because the time will come (sooner rather than later) when she cannot continue to live on her own. In many ways, already, she is no longer “on her own,” depending on my husband and his sister-in-law for things like errands, food shopping, paying the bills, doctor visits and filling her medication organizer.

This is an awful way to lose someone.

Right now, what is lost is the short-term memory stuff: the “where did I put my keys” and the taking medicine as scheduled and the writing out of checks to pay bills. But we know what’s coming. And the hardest loss of all, I think, will be the loss of the relationship: the time when she no longer remembers her son, when she cannot recognize her grandchildren.

One way (out of many) in which my husband and I are opposite is that he is a relationship person and I am a logistics person. It’s something that I admire and am frustrated by, sometimes in the same minute. But while I worry about his mom largely in terms of the logistics, he is grieving, in advance, the loss of the relationship with his mother, even as he must deal with the logistics of her physical needs.

And that is a pretty crummy way to spend a bithday.

*”Sto Lat” is a Polish happy-occasion song. The lyrics, loosely translated, mean “May you live 100 years.” In my husband’s family, it is always sung at birthdays.


Are the Stars Out Tonight?

So my husband and I went over to the Boy Scout Spaghetti Dinner in 2 separate cars because the Cub Scouts are planning to leave right after spaghetti for an astronomy field trip.

I’d been gone all day, so at dinner, my husband (Mr. Cubmaster) gave me the scoop on the plans for the evening.

“After dinner I’m going over to where they’re meeting and I’ll make sure everyone has directions and see them off.  Then I’m going to come back here and hang out with the Boy Scout leaders.  Little Brother will be with me because he wants to help with the dinner.”  (Translation:  Little Brother wants to hang out with the Big Boys.  And they put up with him, so it’s all good.  And sometimes he actually helps, a little.)

So I ate my dinner and enjoyed the ’80s music provided by the Troop’s own DJs, the Clubmasters.  (Nice job, guys.  I particularly enjoyed “Addicted to Love,” for the record.)

I asked my husband, the meteorologist, if this trip was even going to happen.

“It’s cloudy,” he said.  “There won’t be anything to see.  Even if they go, I’m not going.”

“What if Little Brother wants to go?”

“I’m not going.  After they all leave, I’ll bring Little Brother back here.”

OK.  Middle Sister and I finished our food; she visited with her friends among the Scouts and we left.  I wasn’t expecting them back for about another hour anyway–and then my cell phone buzzed to signal a new text.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

Yup.  They went.  Should be interesting to hear all about how that went down.

I Concede

Sometimes I get frustrated when my husband doesn’t do things the way I’d do them.

OK, I always get frustrated when my husband doesn’t do things the way I’d do them.

Controlling much?

(I spent half my time on jury duty last week rethinking their systems and figuring out how to eliminate potential jurors more quickly.  Yeah–I’d say I’m controlling.)

It’s a good thing my husband puts up with me.

I’m the nuts and bolts around here; he’s the dreams.  I worry about the practical stuff like what’s for dinner and who has to be where and who’s driving them there and how long has Little Brother been playing on that Game Boy, anyway?  He wishes for exciting vacations and gives in to Little Brother’s “five more minutes” requests and lets the kids have sleepovers.  He says “yes” when I want to say “no.”

And when Little Brother and Adventure Boy have a sleepover that involves making “forts” out of all the cushions in the family room, he lets them.  And when they’re too scared to sleep in the family room when everyone else is upstairs, he sleeps down there too, on the couch.  On Father’s Day.  And then when we go out to a restaurant for Father’s Day, he invites Adventure Boy to come along.

It’s a good thing that we have him in our lives.  He might make me crazy sometimes, but we really do need that balance, that other side, that he brings to things.

Happy Father’s Day to my husband, TheDad!

Time to Celebrate

Thursday, TheDad and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.

Whose brilliant idea was it to get married in January, anyway?

We wanted to enjoy our special day, but there were the kids to get off to school, and pick up from school, and a Cub Scout meeting, and all of that.

Plus, being January, there was plenty of snow on the ground and it was cold, too.

So we did the best we could with what we had. After everyone got on the school bus in the morning, except for Big Brother, who was enjoying his last few days to sleep late before college resumes again this week, we went to our favorite diner around the corner. Then we attended Mass together at our parish.

After church, we’re such exciting people that we dropped off my van to get some much-needed repairs (like putting the “magic” back in the “magic door” that doesn’t like cold weather–that automatic sliding door has to be fixed every single winter). Then we zipped over to Center City Philadelphia to have lunch at our favorite spot.

No, not The Four Seasons. Not Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse either. And not the latest gourmet Asian-Fusion-French-Barbecue place. In fact, we didn’t choose any place with huge prices and tiny portions.

We went to Reading Terminal Market, where I insisted on dragging TheDad up and down every last aisle of the place, inspecting all the options, before we chose what we’d have for lunch. Of course, each of us picked something from opposite ends of the market. We met at the tables in the middle and ate together.

Big Brother agreed to pick up his sister after track practice so TheDad and I could go out to eat. There’s a cafe in a nearby town that we enjoy–we usually celebrate our anniversary there, and we have a date there again in the neighborhood of Valentine’s Day. Because it’s always best to eat at places without parking lots during the winter, where you have to fight for spots on the street and step in giant snow piles. I always get the same thing when we go there, but this year the menu has changed (new owners) and I’ll admit that was a bit of a disappointment. But the food’s great and the atmosphere is nice too. You can’t beat dining with real silverware in a 30-seat restaurant that almost never contains someone else’s children. Let’s face it: I love kids and enjoy being around them. But when I’ve arranged for child care for my own kids so I can have an evening out with my husband, the last thing I want to hear is someone else’s kids.

Twenty years is a big deal. We didn’t commemorate those years with something big, but we did the best we could to take the day off (I didn’t even do any laundry!) and enjoy it with each other. At least until it was time for Cub Scouts. At that point, TheDad was on his own.

Learning from My Mistakes

Someone famous once said that if we don’t remember history, we are doomed to repeat it.

With that in mind, I declined Cubmaster Dad’s generous invitation to stay at the Cub Scout Pack meeting tonight. 32 little boys with 16 basketballs in 1 gym is not my idea of a good time. And only the new kids are getting any awards, since all 13 of our new Scouts (yes, 13!) earned their Bobcat badge. So it’s not like I need to be there to clap for Little Brother.

But most of all, I declined this invitation because of something I saw in the Shopping Bag of Cub Scout Meeting Supplies. Along with ropes for knot-tying practice, “Hello my name is” stickers for parents, and lots of pens, Cubmaster Dad had put several rolls of toilet paper.

I have very vivid memories of what happened last time someone brought toilet paper to a pack meeting. And someone still owes me Milky Ways for that time.

He now owes me some toilet paper, too–since he took all the extra rolls from both bathrooms.

An Open Letter to TheDad

I know that since you are busy in Washington, D.C. you would want to know how things are going here.

The Cub Scout meeting went fairly smoothly. The boys especially enjoyed the “wrap the mummy” game, especially since one of the other leaders volunteered his wife and me to be the mummies. It was fairly chaotic as 16 little boys wrapped us from head to foot in toilet paper (1000 sheets really DO last longer!)

That leader informed everyone that you told him to nominate me to be one of the mummies.

When you come home tomorrow, I recommend that you Remember the Milky Ways.

You owe me.

Big time.

And if I find anything on YouTube about this, you’ll be buying Milky Ways by the case.

Love you!

Yet Another Reason

…why TheDad is officially an Awesome Guy.

I am just not in the mood to cook anything today. Never mind the fact that my eyes are filling up with tears at irregular intervals, and chopping things for the planned lo mein dinner would probably not be a good idea. I don’t want to amputate any fingers….

But all I had to do was ask and he said, no problem–you don’t have to cook.

I did iron today, and do laundry, and I got some “absolutely necessary” errands in–like making sure we had some stuff in the house so there would be lunches for the kids tomorrow. But I just did not get to anything else, and I’m thankful that TheDad is understanding about that.

I just feel like I am walking around in this weird state; I can go along for a few minutes just fine and then it occurs to me, oh yeah, my dad has cancer and he’s not going to have it taken care of for 2 1/2 more months.

I think tomorrow I am going to start the day with some caffeinated coffee and throw myself into something big like cleaning out the garage.