Celebration

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When my mom was here last week, we had to take a few trips to Cancer Central for Nupogen shots. While we were there, we ran into my friend Mandy.

She’s been doing chemo for a long time now for the OC. She’s on the MORAB-003 trial now, though, and doing well. In fact, some of the most persistent tumors (like the one on her liver) have disappeared altogether.

I was so happy to hear Mandy’s great news, especially in front of my mom. I can tell my family all day long that MORAB-003 is resulting in miracles for some women, but for my mom to hear it out of Mandy’s mouth, and to see the joy on her face: priceless.

On the way home, my mom, the eternal optimist that she is, said she felt it was serendipitous that we ran into Mandy, a sign that we were going to find out soon that MORAB-003 was working for me, too. We’ve been waiting patiently, you see. They test the CA-125 tumor marker at the beginning of the trial, then again, after four doses.

Well, mom was right. As usual. We found out this morning that my CA-125 had reached 756 when I started the trial, and after four mini-doses of taxol (and maybe the study drug), the number is now down to 110!

Phew.

I mean, Hallelujah!

I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that this very doable “lifestyle” chemo regimen is working for me. When it does, I might explode. Or cry. Or it might just be that we’ve been on this roller coaster for so long now that my reaction will be to simply be thankful and carry on.

It’s storming here in Sugartown today. Big fat raindrops pelt the daffodils. But this year, their stems are so robust that their bright yellow heads don’t even sag in the downpour. Maybe each year that they return, the daffodils grow stronger, more resilient. They just stand out there in the rain in their quiet glory.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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The lights flickered on and off just before the thunder and lightning came. Then the six-foot ladder blew right off the back deck while Heather and I were hunched over the couscous and cucumber salads, chopping away. Just when I thought the foul weather might be a bad omen for the party, Dennis entered and announced, “It always storms on my birthday. This is great.”

And so it was.

You should have seem him out there in his storm jacket, grilling sausages in the downpour. With a flashlight. He and Tom had spent most of the day rigging a tarp over the pergola in case there was the slightest chance that people would want to go outside. There wasn’t.

But indoors it was gorgeous and candle-lit and cozy. Friends and family had driven across bridges and through the rain to celebrate with us. Everyone was smiles and happy-to-see-you’s and dressed adorably.

One of my favorite moments was when Shelley (gorgeously preggers with twins!) had the brilliant idea of re-staging an old photo of Dennis with some of his best friends.

This was taken in August of 1988:

Ryan, Dennis, Paul, and Seth

November, 2010:

Oh my gosh, we are all so old. But the guys just get better with age, don’t they?

The party is over, but the happy energy still lingers. We cozy up to the fire these last cold nights, with our tea and books and puzzles. In spite of the dark, stormy outside, the sweet energy from the birthday fete lingers, and we hope Little J still believes us when we assure him he didn’t miss a thing!

Hugs,

Jennifer

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Tune-up

I’ve been so wrapped up in party planning, present hiding, cake frosting, sign making and other shenanigans, that I forgot to update you on how the MRI went.

Fantastically well.

For one thing, there was no banging. Those of you who’ve had an MRI know what I’m talking about. I think of my high school friend Matt who went on to be a Navy SEAL. He told us about POW training. I mean, no he didn’t because he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Anyway, if he had, he would have said something about being in a small box and people banging on it with metal tools and such. That’s what MRIs sometimes sound like. But this time, as I said, no such banging.

However, after I was slid into a long (skinny!) tube, I heard blaring alarm-like sounds. You know the sound you hear when the “regular programming is interrupted to test the emergency broadcast system?” Like that, but right in my ear. For an hour.

So, I took Jodi’s advice not to open my eyes (no matter what) and pretended that, with each loud sound, one of my chakras was being tuned. I’m not kidding. I imagined I was enjoying a new, super high-tech chakra-alignment process. One hour later, I emerged from the tube refreshed, restored, and perfectly aligned.

I should also mention that I had on my lucky socks: black and grey striped knee-highs,  pink halloween bats with rhinestones eyes. That helped, too.

After the appointment, I met up with a group of ladies (OC survivors group) for lunch here in Sugartown. Get this. Out of fourteen of them, HALF are ten to twenty-year survivors. And all but one of them has had more than one recurrence. The other seven women were, like me, about two-ish years since Dx. What a group of strong women! I left there inspired and very, very hopeful.

Back to birthday talk. Last night we celebrated D’s 40th at a local family-style pizza restaurant. Little J, Princess T, and I had decorated a chocolate cake and taken it to the restaurant where the wait-staff hid it. I think Dennis was genuinely surprised when our waitress brought it out after dinner. Even though Little J had been yelling, “Where’s the cake?” Okay, thanks Dennis, for pretending to be surprised.

More little surprises and lots of celebrating around the corner, D.

Hugs and happy Friday, all.

Jennifer

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Every day I count my lucky stars.

Because it’s going to take at least a lifetime to get through all of them.

Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

From Little J, too!

We love you!

Jennifer

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Traveling Mouse by Maggie Rudy

Tomorrow I start my journey as Mouse Number 8 in the ovarian cancer maintenance trial known as GOG 255.

The first step is for me to get an MRI of my chest at 8:00 am. I’ve never done this before. They say I’ll be slid into a long tube and hear loud banging. I’m praying for calm and zero claustrophobia.

Next week, I have an MRI of my abdomen and pelvis, then some blood work.

The following week, I get my first injection of the mystery substance. We know for sure I’ll get an immuno-boosting substance made from a tree bark. And perhaps I will also get the vaccine that will keep the OC away. Fingers crossed.

Dennis and I are feeling good about the trial. The fact that the substances are non-toxic, immuno-supportive, and helpful, rather than harmful, gives us relief and hope.

In the mean time, as Dennis’s 40th nears, I’m thinking of chocolate cakes and little surprises. I’m thinking of guests, of family and friends, of clinking glasses and celebration, of presents and smooches and the like.

Tomorrow is two years since the cancer part of our story began, a day before his birthday. This year, we’ll let the healing and the cheering blur out that memory, let the sun burst through that cloud that hangs over the day before, let the anticipation of celebration mark the day instead.

Chocolate frosting smooches and hugs,

Jennifer

*more adorable meeses at http://mouseshouses.blogspot.com/

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Hallowed

Over the week that we returned from Kauai, the spirit of island lingered in that way that it does. We found it hard to get up on time, we smelled the floral scent in the air, and I felt urged to walk around in a sarong and flip-flops forever.

But holy Kamehameha, nothing says, “You are now back in Sugartown” like getting ready for Halloween on our All-Hallows devoted street. There was Heather’s annual pumpkin carving party.

There was scaring up the place with ghoulish decorations.

And there was the Power Ranger who could just barely wait to don his power suit and hit the streets.

And as they tend to do around this paganish holiday, and this time of year in general, the sacred and the profane crossed paths.

Now, you know I like to keep my secrets when it comes to the sacred. I throw my pennies in the wishing well and don’t say a word. But let’s just say that a certain extraordinary healershamanfriend came to visit and filled our house with her light and presence. And though I’ve never met a being quite like her, I feel I’ve known her my entire life. A more generous soul, I’ve yet to meet. And her husband, I cannot begin. That is for another day.

Halloween weekend for us was about Welcome home to Sugartown, and aren’t we blessed by the people in our lives, and aren’t we always *this* close to the sacred with our holiday and everyday rituals?

Hugs,

Jennifer

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I was going to post today about my trip to the ER early Saturday morning, about how being in the ER is the only time that I actually wonder whether this fight is worth the agony and indignity it sometimes involves. I wondered about how shocked my faithful readers (you are all over the world now!)  would be  to hear that sometimes I want to give up. The ER can really make you feel that way.

Instead, I am happy to post about the fact that our family is DONE WITH CHEMO. You heard me right. WE ARE DONE!!!

I walked into the Dr.’s office this morning with my numbing cream on my IV port, and my yellow sticky note on my Elle Magazine, ready to regale Doc G with the usual battery of questions and results of my most recent research (thank you, Dan). When he sat down and said, “I think we’re at a point where stopping makes sense,” I didn’t even hear it. I responded with, “I really don’t want to do this anymore.”

He and Dennis looked at each other like I hadn’t understood. Because I hadn’t.

“I think we can be done now. Your CA-125 is great, and your bone marrow has taken a beating. Doing more would not make sense.”

My first thought was that, instead of spending six hours in chemo today I was going to read my Elle magazine, have a long bath, spend time with Dennis, and plan his 40th birthday party.

And then it hit me. I have my body back. My bones, my poor bones and their marrow can begin the healing process.

We all teared up, even Doc G.

It is all I can do not to run down the street and get Little J out of school and smother him with kisses. Boy is he gonna get some after school.

For now, I’m so happy to share this news with you all. Biggest hugs and thanks, and keep reading here for  lots of pictures and notes about the sweet life in Sugartown. Because we never really lost sight of that, did we?

Jennifer

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On the way home from post-treatment-then-post-healthy-five-yr-check-up for J,  we stopped for our usual frozen yogurt. After that, Little J was tuuuckered. “Daddy WHEN are we going to be back in Sugartown?”

“By the time you count to thirty, we’ll be off the freeway,” Dennis answered.

Immediately and predictably, Little J started to count as fast as he could. To get the off-ramp there faster.

When he realized he was going to finish before the off-ramp came, he slowed down. When he realized he couldn’t control how quickly the off-ramp was going to come, he let it go and started to do something more fun. “Let’s all count to one hundred.” We were home before we knew it. The kid’s been in kindergarten for three whole days, but he already knows the most important lesson of all, one that Joan Didion taught me: “Play it as it Lays.”

Speaking of Kindergarten, here’s Little J on the first day.

We agree as a family that we’ve accomplished our goal set back in May to have a great summer in spite of the cancer treatments. The last few weeks were no exception. With my birthday celebrations followed by a super-amazing blood-transfusion, and James tearing it up at summer camp, how could they not be great weeks. Here for you, the five senses tour:

Taste

Uncle Mike turned 50 two days after I turned 41, so he treated us all to brunch at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville. Yum is not enough. Family-style delicious fare shared with Coopers, their BFFs, their lovelies, and their little ones is about as much perfection as one can take. Then there was the local pub for Fish ‘n Chips on my actual bday with my Sugartown girls. Finally, Central Market with the BFFs Mari and Carolyn.

Watermelon salad with feta cheese and lavender-infused honey. MMM.

*Romantic dinner in SF with Dennis after quick jaunt to Tiffany left out to preserve sweetness and mystery.

Smell

Chlorine, spray-on sunscreen, and victory as Little J and his swim coach Mason engage in a smile-off. J has just swum half the length of a full-length pool.

Sound

The crunching and slurping and satisfied mmms of the long-awaited last-day-before-school-homemade ice cream sandwiches. There were even some bees buzzing nearby. And maybe a cat yawning in the sunshine.

Touch

The last hug and kiss before school.

Sight

Before this happened:

Sixth sense?

Well, the last thoughts of summer leave us so grateful for my successful treatment and our healthy, happy kid. I have one more round, possibly two (if my bone marrow can take it, visualize strong marrow!) but I’m not counting the seconds to the off-ramp, either. I’m walking to school each day with J and D and playing “I spy with my little eye” and secretly fantasizing about being a part of the PTA when I have the strength. Playing it as it Lays.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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I’ve been thinking a lot about angels lately. The invisible ones are my little secret. The ones that walk this Earth are my friends and family. And they fluttered all around me this weekend. All the messages, cards, and presents, from a bottle of Holy Water from Lourdes, to a pot of a succulents for my garden, touched me deeply and left me feeling so loved.

The ones I want to share with you are from the tiny angels in my life. A card from Little J:

And two from the little cherubs of Sugartown:

I’m so lucky.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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A Bigger Splash, David Hockney, 1967

On Wednesday, Little J walked into our bedroom after his swim lesson, and suddenly I saw him as this kid who’d grown up while I wasn’t looking. His sun-bleached hair in his eyes, his tanned skin, his hoodie zipped half way. The smell of chlorine. I was looking ten years into the future when he’ll be this tall, athletic teenager who walks around without a care.

“Mom, I have somesing to tell you. Your are going to blow away by this.”

And then he was little J again. I pulled him into my arms. I could feel the sunshine lingering on his his cheeks, his warm back.

“What is it, my sweet?”

“I passed the swim test at the club.  I can go off the diving board now.”

I look at Dennis for some confirmation. This seems far fetched, coming from the kid who was barely dog paddling last week.

Dennis nods, all grins. Proud papa.

“That’s amazing!” I squeeze Little J tight, trying to picture him full-out swimming, and honestly I can’t.

There have been patches of this summer that have gone by, small bits of time, two weeks, one week, where I’ve been flat out with chemo fatigue, and Little J has unfurled a whole new part of himself. Then during my week off, we spend every second together, and I catch up. This was one of those times.

We took J to Finn’s to celebrate the completion of his swim lessons and his diving-board test. He doesn’t want to go off the diving board, by the way. But he’s ready if, for some reason, he has to. He told us this over dinner, during which he ate two meals from the kids’ menu.

And after polishing off his sundae, he hands me the cup of crayons and paper. We’re ready to pay up, but he wants me to draw him a picture first.

“Mommy. Draw a pink castle because that’s your favorite color. And draw you as the princess inside.”   I do.

“Now draw daddy as the prince, and he needs a crown and a big, big sword.”   I do.

“Now draw the super-hero kid flying over everything with a giant knock-out-punch fist. In case the other people can’t kill the dragon, and he has to.”    I do.

He thinks it’s perfect and is finally ready to go home. He doesn’t want to have to kill the dragon himself, by the way, but he’s ready, if for some reason, he has to.

Today we’re celebrating Little J’s birthday with a small group of friends, and tomorrow we’re headed off for our first camping trip as a family. I’ve never seen a happier, more excited kid. And the fact that he didn’t have me draw this dragon that he might have to tangle with is giving me hope that his summer is as carefree as we’re trying to make it. Hope yours is too, so far.

Hugs,

Jennifer

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