Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Calm Before The Storm

I am unusually calm considering it is the night before Thanksgiving and I am a high anxiety, heart-racing, if there is nothing to worry about, then find something to worry about type of person.  This is a good news column and if there is any time I should be writing good news, it’s on Thanksgiving, yet all I have to offer are the yearly clichés that we are all thankful for, which aren't very imaginative considering I am someone who likes to boast some new and profound insight.  I’m sorry to disappoint.  I have nothing, I am too calm to write.

Two and half weeks ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to skip Thanksgiving completely.  Then again, I think up an excuse to skip the holidays every year, only this was the best one I had come up with yet.  Like, who would even begin to fault me for not wanting to celebrate?  Who dare say “Sorry about that breast cancer, but we still expect a turkey out of you.”  I had an easy out if ever the universe had given me one.

Only, I actually love the holidays; every single one of them.  I bask in them to the point of one awkward teenage year spending at least ten hours making every one of my family members, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma a special hat of construction paper with each letter cut out individually so that we could wear them for ten minutes at midnight on New Year’s Eve.  That’s how much I love the holidays.  My aunt Katie recently sent me a copy of the picture from that year, and I burst into tears.  And that’s why I hate the holidays; they leave me….longing, nostalgic for something I can no longer touch, and then the added emotional reality in knowing that we will one day crave what we are celebrating now; because nothing is forever.  If that doesn't leave a person with a love/hate bittersweet relationship over the holidays, I don't know what will.

But tonight, I am unusually calm.  The house is clean, the table is set for a Thanksgiving feast, my eggnog is made (my aunt Annie’s recipe), my pumpkin pies are cooling, and it’s 11:00 p.m. and I just made my last of three trips to buy groceries.

So why am I so calm?

First I thought it was the turmeric.  My dear friends bought me a lifetime supply of the most potent fresh turmeric available, which is known for its healing properties, and I have been peeling and grinding it daily into my food.  Or….it’s the crystal I’ve been carrying.  A kind lady that has never even met me gave a crystal to my daughter to give to me, because crystals are known to bring good health.  She doesn’t even know me, and she wants me to get well.  I’ve also been rubbing a polished stress stone that my close friends Bev and Brett gave me.  Engraved into the stone is “Surround Yourself with Positive People.”  I love that stone.  Additionally, I am drinking green tea because someone told me it was a great anti-oxidant, not that I know what an anti-oxidant is, but if someone told me that licking my left shoulder every morning when I get out of bed will bring me good health, then I would do it (which I strangely did as I kid because I had a month long superstition that I had created in the bizarre and imaginative recesses of my pre-pubescent mind).  For the record, I don't do that any more, but I would if I thought it would help.

So, how is it, that the night before Thanksgiving when tomorrow will be a mad house of chaos, cooking (by me) noise, laughter, Christmas music, football games, dogs barking, that I am…..calm?

Maybe it's because my cousins have been holding my hand giving me every ounce of their time (while I am in high maintenance mode), as are my friends, my family, and my mother who has called me every day since I was diagnosed.  Maybe I have sucked the calm out of everybody else.

I have even considered that I have cried so much all week, that there is nothing left but calm.  A friend from high school lost her son, only two nights ago, and another friend has a friend whose house had burned down, leaving their family homeless, and there is so much pain in so many lives, that I’m simply all out of tears.

It’s 11:00 p.m., the night before Thanksgiving.  I walk in the door with bags of groceries, and my house smells like egg nog and pumpkin pie, and my dogs are sleeping, and tomorrow will be our typical Thanksgiving where we sit around the table and I have to remind my girls that they weren’t supposed to start eating until we all say what we are thankful for, what we are always thankful for; and they sigh like “here we go again” and then somebody cracks a joke and someone else is laughing so hard that Martinellis is coming out of their nose and I am scolding them for not taking Thanksgiving serious, and before you know it we are too stuffed to eat pumpkin pie, but we all do anyway, because it is Thanksgiving after all.

Maybe I’m calm because I find comfort in tradition.  Sure it can make us crazy, yet it can bring us so much joy in knowing it is exactly as it is supposed to be, as it’s always been, as we always hope it to be.

This year, more than ever, I am truly thankful for everything cliché that we give thanks for about life and friends, and family, turmeric and crystals and stones, and people that are willing to reach out, even when they don’t know one another…and during the holidays when there is so much pain and sadness and grief, there is also so much love.  Even when we may not realize it, we are surrounded by it, every single day.  And that, is what I am thankful for, and maybe that is why I am so calm.

I wish you all more than anything in the world, a feast of Love on Thanksgiving.

Let the holidays begin!
Sweet Dreams, and Always GOOD Dreams,

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I should have trusted my gut. I shouldn’t have minimized what I felt, but I’m a woman and we tend to do that.  We put ourselves last, we worry about worrying too much, we ignore our fears when they have to do with our own lives, and yet, when it comes to our children, our pets, our loved ones, we will go to the end of the earth to protect their well being, immediately and without question.

I knew I felt it, and it was exactly as I had learned from the time I was 17 during my first visit to Planned Parenthood for the education I was seeking about becoming a woman, a young woman anyway.  But there I was 32 years later, a grown woman, and questioning myself. “Maybe I’m a hypochondriac, maybe it’s not what I think it is.”  I tried to get my daughters to see if they could feel it, but honestly, what girls in their 20’s want to feel their mother’s breast? “Eeewweeee” was all I remember them saying, and we laughed about it.  Richard couldn’t feel it either, and yet it was so obvious to me….but maybe it was all in my head.

I went for my mammogram (See “The Mammogram Maze”).  When asked if I had any abnormalities, lumps, bumps, anything unusual, I responded with “No, everything is normal.”  I lied to them and I lied to myself.  The mammogram would catch it if there was something suspicious, I thought.  It didn’t.  I’ve learned since then that mammograms are important, but not perfect.

One year and four months later, I went for another mammogram.  For four months I put it off past the year deadline, in spite of the regular reminders in the mail that I was overdue, because work, and life, and projects, and bills, and laundry took priority over a mammogram that would probably just serve to end with a letter reading “See ya next year.”  It didn’t work that way. In fact, this time, the mammogram caught it, and the biopsy confirmed “malignant” the word that no one ever wants to hear. 

If I could have a redo I would have trusted my gut, I would have been honest with the radiologist, I would have told my doctor, I would have been proactive and insisted on an ultrasound.  But I didn’t.  Shoulda, coulda, woulda.  There is no going backwards in life. 

Now I move forward into an abyss of fear, not knowing the stage, only that it is invasive and I have to act now.  My head is spinning with emotion and information, phone calls, emails, texts, doctor visits, and the fact that I feel as if when I talk about it, I am talking about someone else, not me.  But it is me.  There will be a roller coaster of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, hormone treatments for the next five years, possible mastectomy, and the hell my family will live through while dealing with my gamut of inappropriate jokes, breakdowns, pity parties, anger, grief, laughter, and singing, that I am still alive, still here, still breathing; emotions changing now as quickly as the weather.

Looking back, I remember mentioning the little pea size lump to a few friends and neighbors.  Women want to comfort one another, we seldom say "Oh my God, it could be malignant, go have it checked!"  No, instead we use words to comfort "Oh, it's probably nothing."  "Well breasts are lumpy you know, I wouldn't worry about it."  All these comforting words which were meant in kindness threw me into a false sense of security.

If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that we should trust our gut.  So often we wait for validation from others to believe what we know all along, and without others nodding their heads in agreement, we readily dismiss the obvious.  Never ever, dismiss your gut.  It is usually right even when you want to believe that it is wrong.

I can’t turn back the hands of time, and I cannot deny this journey in front of me that was never written into the plan, not by me anyway.  Yet here I am thrust full speed ahead into a future of survival mode with no amount of charm or mercy allowing me a “Get out of jail free card.”

I have learned from statistics and experiences that the happiest of people are those that can adapt to the unexpected, and even, as difficult as this may seem, embrace it...and so for this I strive.

“It’s not about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  (Author Unknown). 

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Monday, November 7, 2011


November 7, 2011. This day will be forever etched in my memory as a defining day in my life; a day when the reality of the richness of my moments have become clearer to me than ever before.  A day when the leaves look greener and the sun seems brighter and I want to breathe in deep the freshness of the autumn air. I want to breathe it in so deep that it burns my lungs, and then let it out slowly with relief, because life has more greatness than we can ever begin to realize, until we are forced to take a closer look.

In my last post I shared with you that I have a breast tumor.  Today I learned that my breast tumor (aka “Lil Bastard”) is malignant.  Because I don’t like to give anything more power than it deserves, I am not going to tippy-toe around this, this thing that invades the life of too many innocent bystanders and all those who love them. Today I was told that I have breast cancer. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  There, I said it.

Lil Bastard, you are no longer a secret and you have no power over me.  Only secrets and bullies have power, and you have none.  You are nothing more than a sneaky little snake in the grass parasite that should hang your head in shame.  I am coming after you and I have a bad ass posse of friends and family ready to take you on....all I have to do, is say the word.

So there ya have it.  I promise not to bore you with facts and figures, research and statistics....yawn, that makes me sleepy already, but I will keep you posted. All I ask of you is patience.  Forgive me in advance if I make inappropriate jokes, or occasionally blurt out the F word, or act odd, or don’t return phone calls. Grief and fear do strange things to the most normal of people, which I am not to begin with…so I ask for tolerance and patience in advance of my long journey and possible freak outs ahead; and it will be not be easy, so I hear.

Most of all, I need you all now more than ever.  I am one dang lucky girl to be loved so well by friends that practically knew me when I popped my head out of the womb and said “Rock On World!” And family, who had no choice but to claim me as part of their gene pool, but chose to love me anyway. Dang I’m lucky.  I am also blessed because I was gifted with this sense of finding the good in even the worst of situations.  Like, God I’m going to be sexy in an auburn bob if I have to go through chemo. I’ve promised Richard black go-go boots and a show if I lose my hair.  But more than that, way above and beyond the humor, is how much love I have for all of you…genuine raw love for my friends and my family.  Every single one of you has a special place in my heart and I can tell a million and one stories about our great times together and the many more we will have if only on Facebook or our occasional visits.  There will be many, many more to come.

So, the good news is, being an extrovert and all, I’ve chosen not to be secretive about this journey.  In fact, I am begging you to all take it with me, as best as you can; and if you can't, I understand, this isn't everybody's cup of tea.   I just  don’t want to walk this path alone.  I don't know how to do it without you, and I may never admit this again, but I'm scared.  And so, to quote Linda Ellerbee, a Breast Cancer Survivor, “I knew from the beginning that I would need to wrap my friends and family around me like an old quilt to get through this…”. You are my quilt and my comfort. I know you will be holding me up when I am falling down. 

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Friday, November 4, 2011


Okay so this is going to be the end of the beginning of a funny story, which really isn’t so funny.  In actuality, if I don’t see the humor in life, I’m a gonner, so lucky for me the humor peeks its head out just when I need it to save me from momentary madness.  It’s a family trait, which comes from my Grandma Nellie, has passed from gene to gene through my mother, her sisters Katie and Annie, and pretty much most of the grandchildren.  We laugh and find humor at the most inappropriate of times…and then we can’t stop laughing. So we’re a little weird, but it gets us through.  Sometimes, it can be quite embarrassing, especially at funerals.

So here goes the end of the beginning of the first part of the story....I don’t read directions. Written directions confuse me and annoy me (which is why I don't shop Ikea).  To top that off, when I’m in a place of frustration, I don’t hear directions either; all I hear is the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher saying "wahah wah wha wah."  So if I'm receiving both written and verbal directions, that's a problem.  Needless to say, life hasn't been easy for me, and I get lost constantly.  Just let me throw myself into the fire and figure it out; eventually, I will.

Exactly 48 hours ago I had a biopsy.  I know it was 48 hours ago because I would like to take a shower and they said not for 48 hours.  That part, I remember.  In case you’re wondering, or not....I have a breast tumor.  Refer back to “The Mammogram Maze” if you want details. The last two weeks have been hell as my imagination has taken over where the facts have been left out or too unclear for the doctors to share; and then everything they do share is a qualified statement "This is just my opinion, and only my opinion based on the blah blah blah."  I get it. They don't want some crazy version of me calling them in the middle of the night screaming hysterically "You told me....." so everything has to have a disclaimer.  I can be that crazy person, so I respect them for it.  In the meantime, all I really know is that I have a tumor and it is "the opinion" of the radiologist that it is highly possibly malignant.  Please don't freak out, I'll do the freaking out for all seven billion people on the planet over this "tumor" that may be or still may not be malignant.  In the meantime, I have named him “Lil Bastard."  I’ll leave that story along with the angry rap song I wrote called "Lil Bastard" for another blog so as not to confuse myself or you, my friends.

Anyway, 48 hours later – which was like, five minutes ago, I was excited to see the damage, to tear off the bandages, to observe the battle scars of the biopsy, which biopsy I observed every second of on the monitor while they injected the needle and vacuumed out the tumor cells, because I am sick like that.  It was fascinating and masochistic, all at the same time.

I pulled off the bandages.  Yes, bruising, lots of bruising. Niiiiiiccceeee.  Proof that I suffered….a little.  Honestly, it didn’t really hurt at all, it was a piece of cake.  Off came the gauze, then the bandage, then I very slowly pulled the tape…which I learned about two minutes ago, after the fact, that they are called “steri-strips.”  One tape, two, three, then four, all perfectly criss-crossed to hold the itsy bitsy needle hole from opening and possibly infecting.  Done!

Just as I went to turn on the shower this little thought from absolutely no where…like an angel ever so quietly whispering in my ear popped into my head.  “Read the directions."   Directions? Did they give me directions? Reluctantly, I went back into the kitchen, found the file labeled "Miscellaneous" and pulled out a paper entitled "Core Biopsy Aftercare Instructions."  There were a lot of blah blah blahs on the page, until I got to the part that said "...The bra and bandage can be removed on 11-4-11. You may then bathe with the steri-strips on. They may be gently removed 2 days after the pressure dressing is removed.”  Wait, I have to bathe with the steri-strips on??? Oh, I didn't know that.

And so, I slyly look around to make sure no one is watching, because you know, doctors and nurses might be lurking in the corners of my house to make sure I followed the directions…I then tippy toed into the bathroom and shamelessly pulled the rolled up smashed gauze, bandages, and “steri-strips” from the top of the garbage. Ever so slowly I pulled apart the “steri-strips” and attempted to replace them on my boob, all the while realizing that these weren't made to stick twice.  I then used my fingernail as an attempt to scratch them back into sticking in place.  So now, pieces of the tape are half falling off my boob and half sticking on while I contemplate how I am going to shower without wetting the "wound" knowing the tape will fall off.  If only I had read the directions.  But suddenly I have an "ah-ha!" moment.  A moment of genius.

I'm an Alaskan girl and proud of it! In Alaska we learned that duct tape fixes everything from holding a car window in place, to keeping a boyfriend tied up that is trying desperately to flee.  And so, proudly sporting a big ol' piece of duct tape on my biopsy incision to hold those weak little "steri-strips" in place, I am ready to bask in the warmth of a long shower with confidence that the duct tape is reliable and my wound will stay safely intact.

Duct tape my friends, always keep a roll never know when you're going to need it.
Sweet Dreams and Always, GOOD Dreams,