Thursday, April 2, 2015

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

Every day, when I pick Ember up from preschool, there is a pile of about 20 drawings in her cubby. I flip through the multi-colored construction paper pages and marvel over her fire-breathing dinosaurs, the decked-out princesses, and the families of penguins she has created. 

Ember has talent. She draws beautifully, filling every inch of her pages with characters and objects. If you watch her draw, you will hear her tell a story as she puts her marker to the paper. Her stories are elaborate, sometimes a little hard to follow, almost always quite emotionally charged.

It is an amazing thing to watch the artist as a young woman. To be honest, I am just a little envious of her abilities. She sits down at the kitchen table, takes a pen in her hand, and her imagination just kicks in to high gear, with visions and ideas pouring out of her fingers. It comes so easily to her.

For me, it is not as easy. I mean, I went to art school, and spent four years of my life intensely immersed in an environment that fostered my imagination. But now I am a working mommy. When I sit down at the kitchen table, I am thinking about my grocery list, and getting my kids enrolled in summer programs, and doing the laundry, and surgeries, and… the list goes on. It is so hard for my mind to put reality on pause, even for a few minutes.

But, inspired by Ember and her talents, I have ventured to take apen in hand again recently. I haven’t quite been escaping my reality, but I have been drawing my reality. And though my drawings are not quite as imaginative as Ember’s, it still feels really good to draw.

Thank you, Ember, for being so magnificent with your own imagination, and for inspiring me to give my creativity an outlet. I look forward to seeing your creativity grow and flourish, and to sharing our pens, pencils, markers and paper for many years to come.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jolie and Me

Two years ago, when Angelina Jolie brought national attention to women who are BRCA mutation positive by writing "My Medical Choice" in the New York Times, I was just beginning to think seriously about getting my own prophylactic mastectomy and reconstruction. After reading Angelina's thoughtful and brave article, I was filled with gratitude. It felt like the world had given me a strange but very meaningful gift. A beautiful, confident celebrity the same age as me had JUST gone through the same surgery I planned to go through, and she was really PROUD of her decision.

Five weeks ago today, I went through my own nine hour prophylactic surgery, reducing my risk of getting breast cancer by around 90%. 

The morning of my surgery, I was not fearful. I had been anxious in the weeks leading up to my surgery, but as I entered the hospital, filled out the paperwork, and got my IV, I was very calm. I know it may sound strange, but I thought A LOT about Angelina Jolie that morning. In my head and heart, I felt connected to her. I felt brave, and confident, and clear in my decision. I felt PROUD of what I was doing, just as I had imagined she had felt.

In the five weeks that have passed since my surgery, I have not had a single moment of regret or doubt. Not a SINGLE moment. I am so proud of my decision, and I know I made the exact right decision for me. 

Now, having the bulk of the mastectomy, reconstruction, and recovery behind me, I have just begun seriously thinking about and planning the timeline for my oophorectomy. I know I need to get it done. My doctors have urged (almost begged) me to do it. My maternal great grandmother died of colon cancer, and four of her sisters died of gynecological cancers. My grandmother and mother both had oophorectomies, too. There is no doubt that this too will be the right decision for me, if I want to try and live and see my children grow into adults.

But it doesn't make getting the surgery done any easier. 

So when I heard, today, about Angelina Jolie's decision to get an salpingo-oophorectomies, I again felt like the world had given me a gift. I again felt indebted to this woman I have never met, but feel very connected to, by virtue of our shared genetic mutation, our shared decisions to be proactive, and our ability to be PROUD of our choices.

Angelina Jolie's article is beautiful and truthful. It is not about being self-pitying or self-aggrandizing. It is about gaining knowledge, and using that knowledge to make powerful decisions, so that you can be proud of the decisions you make.

Thank you, again, Angelina Jolie, for sharing your journey with the world, and for being PROUD of your decisions. It makes it that much easier for other women, like me, to share and be proud, too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Micromanaging a Microsurgery

The countdown has begun. My prophylactic mastectomy and reconstructive surgery is coming up awfully soon.

My mind is going a little nuts with anticipation, anxiety, excitement… MORE anxiety.  Seriously, I have begun worrying about EVERYTHING.

What if I get sick with the flu the week before surgery? What if my daughter totally freaks out when I am not with my family for five nights? What if there is a horrible snowstorm right before my surgery date? What if my surgeon sneezes while he is operating on me and cuts me in half? What if my two year old cries for 6 straight weeks because I cannot hug him/hold him? What if a freak tornado hits at the exact moment I am having surgery done? What if my husband mixes red clothes in with the white laundry while I am out of commission? What if the surgeons discover an alien living in my body? 

See? I worry about EVERYTHING.

I also worry about dying on the operating table. 

I also worry about looking like a rag doll post-surgery.

And truthfully, I also worry that I am going to go through with this surgery, and will look like a rag doll, and then I will get breast cancer anyway. Or ovarian cancer. Or melanoma. Or tongue cancer. 

But “Que sera, sera,” right? I should give up on all this unproductive worrying because it is so… UNPRODUCTIVE! I should listen to the words of my daughter’s animated idol, Elsa of Arendale, and just “Let it go! Let it go!” 

And yet, because I have been anticipating this surgery for months now, and because the anticipation has involved all aspects of my head, my heart, my soul…  I just can’t let it go.

Generally speaking, honestly, I am totally a no-drama, easy-peasy lemon squeezy kind of gal. This kind of thing just brings out my inner Woody Allen.

So in an effort to combat all the negative thoughts that swirl around in my brain and distract me from being my normally optimistic self, I have been doing what I know works best to help me calm down and be less freaky. No, not yoga (yoga makes me antsy). No, not meditation (meditation makes me loopy). No, not self-medication (drugs make me queasy). 

My therapy of choice? The OneNote app.

Planning, and uber-planning, and micro-planning every aspect of this upcoming surgery has been my means of self-soothing over the last several weeks, and I've done it all on the cute OneNote app. In my OneNote notebook, I have created a plethora of lists related to the surgery, each filed under a different beautifully colored tab. I have created a “packing list” tab, an “important contacts” tab, a “places to go” tab which lists activities for Chris to do with the kids in my absence, a “shopping list” tab, a “sample schedule” tab (providing Chris with a basic outline of the children’s day), and a “preparing the house” tab. All of these tabs form a beautiful rainbow of preparation, and it is oh so calming for me to look at them. 

If I am feeling panicky, all I have to do is add a pastel colored new tab to my OneNote notebook with a list of books to read or movies to see while I am out on sick leave.  As I focus on compiling a list of dramas and comedies, my worries start to dissipate, and I start to see my upcoming sick leave as an opportunity to catch up on all the Oscar-nominated contenders. Voila! It’s like magic.

I know what this is about, of course. I’m no fool. I am trying to control what I CAN control, because the thought of giving up ALL control as I am laying on the operating table, getting my anesthesia cocktail administered, is totally frightening to me.

Obviously, in a short period of time, my surgery is going to be a reality, and not just tabs and checklists in a OneNote notebook.  Obviously, I have to face my fears, or “embrace the tiger” as I like to say, and just trust that everything is going to turn out okay. I have an amazing surgeon and an amazing team performing an amazing surgery. I have an amazingly supportive family, and an amazingly supportive group of friends, who are all going to be pulling for me and praying for me (and maybe preparing food for our family, which is double amazing). I have made an amazing choice, and I am following through with the choice I have made. All in all, this is an amazing opportunity, and I can see it as just that, if I simplify everything in my head and heart. Because really, deep down inside, I know I am a strong person, and I trust my strength, and I trust in God, and I trust that everything will be okay. Really. 

But for now, I also trust in the OneNote app. It will get me through the coming weeks, and will provide me with a trusty little haven of pretty colored tabs.