A Sentimental-ish Post about Traditions. Kind of.

Since the day I found out I was pregnant with Carlitos, my husband and I have lived in six different homes in three different states.  I changed jobs and added in about four different part-time positions, he changed jobs three times and started graduate school.

To balance out the chaos, we have plenty of solid family traditions that help stabilize our little family.  I have noticed that since moving to New York City, I tend to push these traditions to be as full of nature as possible.   Apple picking in September, pumpkin picking in October, Christmas tree chopping in December.    I also just noticed that I didn’t have a blog post for this year’s apple picking, nor pumpkin picking excursions. Hmm…what would possibly cause me to not document these beautiful memories?

Oh, wait!  I did document these memories…on Instagram!  Ahh yes, Instagram has effectively stolen the photographic memory portion of this blog.

So I am stealing it back.

Here are the Instagram photos of us choosing our tree:

The boys are just happy to be out doors.  Okay, really they’re happiness probably stems more from being allowed to carry the saw and tree-measuring stick.

Spotting the perfect tree?  Or yelling at his brother?  Let’s go with tree spotting.  More magical.

Riding a horse. (His words, not mine.)

Teamwork.  Okay, this was actually super adorable.

Looks lovely, right?  Carlitos was trying to push my hand off of the measuring stick and Xavi kept swinging the saw into my shin.  #littleboys…sigh  as they say in the Instagram world.

I am pretty sure that, as with verb tense in an essay, you are supposed to stick to one ‘filter’ throughout documentation of a specific experience.  I don’t follow rules very well.

After inspecting every single tree there, we finally cut down the tree that spoke to our souls.  I mean, that was the least brown and/or less than 12 feet high.

So, the thing about cutting down your own Christmas tree is that it often costs more than what you would pay on the sidewalk in Manhattan.   The trees are also not as uniformly perfect.   Or at least, that has been our experience thus far.  Fill up the gas tank, drive for two hours, cut down our tree, pay for some hot cider and cocoa,  put more gas in the car, stop at a restaurant, drive two hours home, put up our tree and make ourselves fall in love with her sparse branches and gaping hole on the top, right hand side.

It is clearly a labor of love, not pursuit of perfection.  The experience is what makes it so special and what makes us love our dear little tree as much as if it were full, sturdy and symmetrical.  Perhaps more.

In truth, it is one of my most proud parenting moments each year.  I am reminded of our adventurous spirit as a family collectively.  The tradition is strong, but we alter it each year, visiting a different tree farm or picking out a local restaurant at the last minute.   I love the combination of knowing we will all take part in this annual tradition enthusiastically, but will also see what spur of the moment experiences we can add to it each time.

I know I am getting sappy and gushy and soppy and gloppy.

I don’t really have an excuse.

So here are some stolen moments from Instagram of our tree decorating.  (Poor little bugga needed some decorating and general TLC.)

The boys watching Rudolph while waiting for their daddy to finish his homework so we could start decorating.

The boys’ Tias gave them these awesome plates.  The arrangement of vegetables on them is blatant mom bragging (magging?), but I don’t care.  It was part of our ‘tree decorating evening’ experience.

To compensate for the ‘magging’ here is some mom shaming (Maming? No, not maiming, maming.) I totally had a dessert martini before dinner.  By myself. (Sidenote: chocolate vodka, half and half, splash of amaretto, spoonful of Nutella, shaken.  Make it.  Lordy.)

The before shot.  Missing:  ornaments.  Also missing: the tree skirt that ‘mice’ ate and pooped on in storage.  Yay city life!

We aren’t the only (awful) parents that rearrange the boys’ ornaments after they go to bed, right?  I think the tree would have fallen over if we didn’t.  Or those two branches would have at least collapsed under the weight of 23 ornaments each.

Aww.  Golden, dreamy filter.  Twinkling lights.  The children placing the angel on top of our Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  The angel I made out of a paper plate 25 years ago.  With their arms around each other.  And matching PJs.  Who am I kidding, the only thing taking my breath away in this photo is how damn hot my husband’s arm looks.  Fatherhood looks good on you, hotstuff.

Done!  And very proud of it, in case you can’t tell!

We are always in the business of adding more traditions to the holidays, so please feel free to share yours in the comments!

Unless, of course, if involves the Elf on the Shelf.  I love seeing updates from funny people who turn into Sarah Silverman and Martha Stewart’s lovechild with their Elf of the Shelf antics for all of December, but I won’t be taking part.  I am just not that creative.  I am the girl who tries to make her gingerbread house look exactly like the sample one on the box.  I could never come up with 25 creative elf activities.

Anything else though, lay it on me!

And, just, you know, totally random helpful holiday hint:  Don’t ever pack up left over Christmas cookies with your Christmas tree skirt and Santa hats in an easily chomped-through plastic bag.  You may regret it.  Or so I’ve heard.

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Dark Clouds and Silver Linings

Lonesome.

A family friend (who survived stage 4 lung cancer) used that word in an email to me last week.  I feel as though my emotions and thoughts have been swirling chaotically around inside of me for the past two weeks.  Hearing the words, “You have cancer.” shook me.  As someone who is usually able to articulate my feelings (and articulate them and articulate them and articulate them…) I suddenly felt weighed down with the uncertainty of what to say.  Of how to describe how I felt.  When I read that one word, it was as though all of the other words in the email disintegrated, falling away and leaving that word stamped in my mind.

Yes.  That is exactly how I have been feeling.

Lonesome.

When I told my husband, parents and in-laws the news about my cancer their reactions were all confusing to me.  Everyone seemed upbeat. 

You can do this!  Okay, it could be worse!  This is curable!  You’ll be fine!

There were no tears, no visible sadness, no anger.  And nobody asking me how I felt about it.  Just constant reminders to Stay positive!

You know when someone tells you to “Calm down!” when you aren’t even acting angry (ahem, yet)?  Yeah, that is what it feels like when you are told you have cancer and you actually are trying to handle it in a healthy way and still all anyone wants to tell you is to stay positive.

To be fair, it isn’t even just my immediate family repeating the ‘It’s a good cancer! You’re lucky! Be positive!’ mantra.  I hear it pretty frequently.

Yeah, there’s a lot of face smacking going on in your mind’s eye as you force a smile and nod and say, “I know!” but are thinking, “Oh, great, so you’ll take it then?  Here!  Have on with it! Fun times ahead!”

As I’ve had some time to absorb it all myself, as well as think about how those closest to me might feel, I have come to terms with all of it much more.  I now understand that many of the people who love me the most maybe couldn’t allow themselves to think the worst.  Or thought that ‘being strong’ for me was what I needed.  That if they asked how I was feeling and it made me open up and fall apart, they would crumble right along side of me.   I figured out that the closer people are to me, the more this diagnosis happened to them also, not just to me.

I get it.

It is also true that the odds are in my favor with this type of cancer.  It isn’t crazy to hope that surgery will be my full treatment.  If that’s the case, I truly will be thankful.  And lucky.

But my only thought isn’t simply: Will I live or die?  I have to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for all possible outcomes, even if the chance is small.  If the cancer has spread, I will need nuclear iodine treatment (the form of radiation used to treat thyroid cancer), possibly more surgeries and possibly more rounds of radiation.  That level of radiation can make you infertile.  We had been hoping for baby number three.

And then there’s the vanity.  How will my scar heal?  Will I struggle with weight gain?  Will my skin and hair be drier?

Not to mention the things that are now changed for the rest of my life.  Every day I will take a thyroid hormone replacement pill.  I will have to see my Endocrinologist regularly, have blood drawn, and make sure my levels don’t need to be readjusted.   My eating habits need to change – unfortunately not in the direction of  ‘more chocolate, more pasta and more cheese.’

And I’ll always be looking over my shoulder.

The truth still remains that none of this is insurmountable.  There are millions and millions of people who have been dealt much worse cards than I.  Children dealt much worse cards than I.  In the grand scheme of things, I am a very, very fortunate human being.

But I want to be the one saying that I am lucky.  I don’t want you to tell me how lucky I am if you aren’t in my shoes.  That’s like when someone hits your car and then tells you the dent isn’t that bad and that it is fine.  Yeahhhhh, no.   You don’t get to tell me that my car damage is fine.

And you don’t get to tell me that I am lucky.  That’s my job.  And honestly, when other people are telling me that my cancer is ‘lucky’ or ‘good’ or ‘fine’ it just makes me feel the need to somehow defend myself and my feelings and the validity of what is happening to me.   Please let me have that.

You tell me it sucks.  And I get to tell you I will be okay and feel lucky.  Not the other way around.  Okay?

Not understanding other peoples’ reactions, not understanding my own.  Being confused by other peoples’ emotions and not knowing how to express my own.

It is a lonesome place to be.

So, I did what any ‘rational’ person would do and shared the news with the world.  Well, the world that I can reach, anyway.  Trust me, if CNBC had called for an interview I would have gladly obliged.  But I had to make do with the megaphones available to me: text, blog, facebook.

The truth is that I didn’t even shed any tears myself until I spoke to a friend on the phone.  A friend who I knew would be able to ask me how I felt.  A friend I knew would be able to share her sadness with me.  That day, I spoke to several friends on the phone.  I reached out to those who had been checking in on me throughout all of the testing and who I also knew would express their own anger, frustration and sadness, therefor letting me release my own.  I felt so much better.

Putting it out there on my corners of the social media world also helped.  It helped me know that I wasn’t insane to feel upset.   And it let me know that my safety net of support reaches much farther and wider than I realized.   I needed that comfort.

And then I discovered a silver lining to having cancer that I never expected: gifts.  Books arriving in the mail, roses, a silky, soft blanket from Nordstrom, an amazing gift basket made with care and all of my favorite things (wine, champagne, special chocolates, journals, quotes, face masks, tequila, truffle cheese, guinness cheese, French cheese…), Opus One, a bathrobe and mani/pedi (from my mama) and slippers that cost more than what I usually spend on shoes (from mah man).

Ummmmm, it’s not even Christmas yet.

So, yes, there are plenty of silver linings.  Not just the thoughtful and generous gifts, but the kind, kind words from so many people.  Plenty of times from people that I barely know, knew when I was seven, or even clashed with over the years.  It can be very surprising who comes out of the woodwork to offer support and who retreats when you were certain they would be by your side.  Although, overwhelmingly it has been the former.  I have had enough people tell me they would help with the boys that if I took them all up on it I could probably have free childcare for a year.   And I think I should be thankful that thyroid cancer is the only type of cancer that studies say actually improves with alcohol intake, since wine seems to be a favorite ‘Cancer Gift.’  (2012′s answer to the Push Present?)  One of the biggest gifts of all has been my family all offering to come stay with us before, during and after surgery to help take care of the boys so my husband can take care of me.  I know I spoke about how their reactions confused me, or even hurt at first, but ultimately, they have each found very strong ways to show their love and care for me.   I am extremely grateful for such a close, loving family who rushes to be by my side whenever I need it.  And for a husband who would do anything in the world for me.

And kids who give hugs and kisses like it’s going out of style.

My surgery is January 4th and I will be spending the next month enjoying holiday parties with friends, attending Christmas shows with my family, cheating more often than I should on my new cancer-fighting eating regime,  finally learning how to properly do (play? perform?) a dreidel, dancing (a lot), and singing Christmas tunes…to my neighbors’ chagrin.  That also means cancer won’t be the main topic on this blog, as it has been of late.  So I wanted to take a moment to truly, truly thank anyone who has reached out, written an email, called, left a comment, sent something, thought of me, sent me positive vibes, prayed for me or done any of the above for my family.   No, this isn’t the worst thing in the world but it still stinks and it is still scary, so your thoughtfulness has meant so much.

I think I am pushing out of the dark clouds for now.  The silver linings that have been given to me are helping me do that.

So, thank you.

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Curveball

So, I am going to rip off the bandaid right away, just like my doctor did Thursday night when he called me with the full results from my biopsies.

The bad news: I have cancer.

The good news: I have one of the best endocrinologists in the world and will be meeting with a chief endocrine surgeon who is also one of the best in the world and has his hand in every piece of data and research (old and new) relating to cancer and the thyroid.  I am in good hands.

I have seen it stated on the web, largely as quoted from Brooke Burke, that this is a ‘good’ cancer to have.  I disagree.  Yes, the percentage of people who beat it are high – and trust me that I plan on doing everything in my power to be within that high percentage – but it is cancer.  There is no such thing as ‘good cancer’ in my humble opinion.

As my cousin put it this weekend, “There is really only one type of cancer and that is fucking cancer.”

You know I don’t ever swear on this blog, but I think I this is a valid time to redeem my ‘one free pass’ from the swear word patrol.  There really isn’t a replacement word available in this case.

My main emotion is still shock.  Even though I suppose the fear and anxiety I felt during the past two months of tests probably stemmed (sometimes subconsciously, sometimes in the forefront of my mind) from worry that this could be the final discovery, I didn’t really think this would be the outcome.  As I prepared for each new test, my family reminded me to stay positive and the doctors told me how unlikely it was that they would find cancer.  How very, very unlikely.

At the end I finally let myself fully believe everyone.  I had tried to act positive throughout, but there was always a seed of fear, based on the unknown.  By the end, I wasn’t acting anymore.  I truly believed that the fact that there were so many nodules (cancer is more commonly found when there is only one nodule), I felt healthy, that the incidence of malignant nodules in general was so low, that the people conducting the biopsies said the preliminary examination of the nodule material looked benign, all meant I really was fine.  I unclenched my jaw, relaxed my shoulder blades and stopped stuffing cookies and sticks of butter in my face.   All was well.  When the following Wednesday came around and I still hadn’t received a phone call from my doctor, I knew everything was fine.  The letter telling me so must already be in the mail.

Giant sigh of relief.

And then the phone rang with an unknown number while I was with a client Thursday evening.  Something told me to answer it (even though many of you know I don’t actually believe in answering my phone pretty much, meh…ever) and my stomach dropped when I heard who it was.  He told me to finish with my client and that he would call back in about 20 minutes.  After managing to finish up our session, I rushed outside toward the subway, ducking into a brightly lit orange and green cafe just outside of the subway entrance.  I understand Murphy’s Law very well and was quite certain he would call back the moment I was underground on the subway, so I sat on a stool, sipping on a Coke and watching New York pass by.  In a random twist called fate, God or chance, depending on in what you believe, my parents were visiting for about 48 hours, so I called to tell them I would be a little late and to please kiss the boys goodnight for me.

After almost an hour, he called.  He did exactly as I did above:  I have your biopsy results.  The bad news is, you have cancer.

Oh, hi to you, too!

I actually don’t blame him.  He took time with me where it was important: In his office, looking over test results, assigning appropriate new tests, not stopping until he got to the bottom of what was going on.  I am so thankful.

But his delivery was…well, humorous, actually.

The rest is all nitty gritty, really.  I have a consultation set up next Wednesday with the surgeon.  We will then set up a time for him to remove my thyroid and give me a lovely scar that allows for all sorts of fun “He had a knife…in a dark alley…but you should see the other guy…”  story scenarios.  Surgery should let us know the stage of the cancer, based on if it has spread or not, and whether or not further treatment is necessary.

Obviously, I am hoping that once they open up my neck they discover that the cancer is truly very localized and that my full treatment is the surgery.

But to be honest, I am trying to let myself feel the fear of knowing that isn’t the only possible outcome.  Yes, there is only a small chance that it has spread, but guess what?  There was only a small, small chance that it was actually cancer also.   I can’t really handle allowing myself to be cradled in the safety of  ‘Of course you are fine!’ and then sideswiped with ‘Okay, not totally fine’ again.  I really can’t.

So, I am going to be cautiously hopeful.

Also?  It’s my body and my life.  It’s my two kids I need to kiss and hug every day for at least 16 more years.   It’s my husband that is being strong but who I know would be devastated to lose me.  I am the one who heard ‘You have cancer.’ as a 31-year-old mom.

I own those aspects of it and I plan on feeling whatever fear, sadness, anger and confusion that I feel connected to those things.

But please understand that none of that means that I plan on moping or focusing on the negative feelings.  I will use positivity as the medicine I know it can be, I will be as strong as I know I can be, and I sure as Hell plan on fighting.

My mom told me to pick a bathrobe that she can get me for my hospital stint.  While I ended up choosing a beautiful peacock robe, this one was a very close second:

Bring it on.

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Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Read All About It!

I promise I am working hard on my ‘How the Heck do I Keep Grocery Prices down?!’ blog post, but I am too excited about my newest upcoming venture to keep it to myself any longer!

This vlog is only about 2% fancier than the last one (I found a free video editor on my computer!) but I worked all darn day on it, so I refuse to spend any more time trying to fix things that perhaps just aren’t in my ‘vlog editing skill set’ quite yet.  I will continue to try to improve by leaps and bounds with each one.

You’re just lucky I didn’t do a ‘spin out’ transition after each word I spoke and psychedelic rain storms with the background sound of  ‘Elongated doorbell 2′ in between each segment.

It was tempting.

To any mamas reading this, I probably already have you on my list of moms to harass until they agree ask to do an episode.  If we don’t know each other in real life and you would like to be an interviewee, please leave a comment on this post and I will contact you.

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My First Vlog! AKA: Evidence That I Truly Write Exactly Like I Speak…Nonsensically

Sometimes I paralyze myself.  Not in, like, some magic power sort of way, but more in a ‘Yeah, I’ll do that once everything is perfectly aligned.” sort of way.

Guess what? Nothing is every perfectly aligned.  I should know this.

I’ve written about this issue before, this ability to stop myself from doing something because I don’t think it will be good enough, let alone as perfect as I actually would like.  However, I am happy to report that I seem to be having some sort of personal growth and am working on changing this tendency.

My first foray into “Hike up those Big Girl Undies and just do it!” is vlogging.

What is vlogging, you ask?  It’s just a fancy weird way of saying ‘video blogging.’  When I attended BlogHer this summer I had several fellow bloggers tell me that I should really start vlogging.  Mostly this chick.  Since then I’ve had some other people tell me the same thing.  So my supportive husband bought me a little stand to hold my iphone and a special mini microphone.  I carried them both with me everywhere, telling myself I would come across that perfect moment to do my first vlog.

It’s been three months.  Yeah.  Notsomuch.

Yesterday, someone from high school randomly told me that he stumbled across my blog, loved it and thinks I should find a way to make it into TV or something…so that I can grace the cover of US Weekly someday. (He earned extra points for referencing a specific blog post and personal goal. Only 478 more points until you earn a mini, mini, mini kooshball, my friend!)

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Or maybe the power of hearing my name, TV and US Weekly all in one sentence was just too much for me to fight.  I had to try something.

So, after waiting months to find the perfect setting, topic and moment, I ended up deciding that 15 minutes before rushing out the door was the right time to record my first vlog.  With no specific topic in mind, let alone anything deep or meaningful, I forged ahead.  Oh, and I realized the camera stand and microphone were in the car, but was too lazy rushed to go get them.

Also, seeing my teeth up close in video makes me suuuuuper excited that I wore braces not once, but twice (!), and then refused to wear my retainer afterward.   Idiota.

Hi, my name is Annie:  I will choose tomato sauce because it is 20 cents cheaper, but then waste thousands of dollars by not putting on a stupid retainer at night.  Sigh.

Okay, at this point I’m just stalling.  Without further ado…A whole lot of rambling:

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Sandy Isn’t Over Yet

Tragedy occurs every single day, all over the world.  Horrible atrocities.  Crimes that shock us.  Violence against innocents that makes your stomach turn.  Natural disasters that wipe towns, cities and islands off the map.  Injustices that we never even hear about because they don’t make the news.

It’s all unfair.  All of it.  I think most of us would solve all of it if it was possible.  World Peace.  End Hunger.  Stop Abuse.

I wish.  I truly wish.

Even if it’s not quite just, the truth is that we often pay the most attention to the tragedies that relate to us, whether that means a connection through gender, race, ethnicity, similar personal experiences…or geography.

Right now our neighbors are suffering.  I feel a responsibility to do my small part to keep the conversation going about Sandy devastation until at the very least people have some sort of shelter, heat and consistent food.  Please understand that it is quite literally freezing here at this point.  People are so desperate for warmth and food that there isn’t even any mind being paid to the typical regulations on donations.  Usually it is difficult to donate anything anywhere these days unless it is unopened.

Organizations are currently accepting as many hot, home-cooked meals as they can get their hands on.  One location gladly took three used blankets from the back of our car – they still had pieces of grass on them from our last camping trip.  I was allowed to drop off a giant trash bag’s worth of clean, but definitely used, towels this weekend.

People might assume that because New York and New Jersey are relatively wealthy states in a relatively wealthy country, people must be okay.

They are not okay.

A natural disaster of this proportions doesn’t care where in the world you are or how much money is in your bank account.  And no matter how organized and well-financed government aid or other large programs are, it is impossible to ‘fix’ destruction in a week.

I know many of us are working with tight budgets these days, especially at this time of year.  If you are able to help any of the efforts listed below in any way I assure you someone will be better off for it.

And thankful.

Amazon Registry – Coney Island, Brooklyn

* Amazon Registry – Breezy Point/Rockaways, Brooklyn

* Amazon Registry – Staten Island

* Amazon Registry – Long Island

* Donation/Volunteer Information for Brooklyn and the LES, Manhattan

* Well-known Organizations in Need of Donations for Sandy Relief

* Staten Island Donation and Volunteer Updates and Requests

* To Give Blood

* Red Hook, Brooklyn’s Needs

* Wide Variety of NYC Service Options

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The Power of Connection

The last time I wrote – just a couple weeks ago – I was waiting for my nuclear iodine scan and uptake results.  A lot has happened since then.  I kept calling my doctor to find out the results and finally, almost a week later, they realized that they had received them the Friday prior, but hadn’t recognized my middle name.  This was red flag number nine or so with this doctor.  I then had to wait another day for the doctor to review the results.  When they called me back into the office to get the results I asked her if there was any way to give the results over the phone, since last time they charged me a copay to go in for the results, simply to tell me I needed more tests.  She told me I had no choice but to go in for the results because the doctor had to discuss everything with me.  Thankfully, so much time had passed that even though my mother-in-law had returned home, my dad was now visiting us and could watch Xavi while I went to go get my results in person.

After paying another copay to meet with my doctor and hear the results from the scan (and hopefully also the blood work and sonogram that had not yet really been explained to me), I was seen by the PA who spoke to me for no more than two minutes.  I wish I was exaggerating.

The PA, who reeked – and I mean REEKED – of cigarette smoke looked at the paper and shrugged her shoulders and said “I think you’re fine.  You should go see an Endocrinologist.”  I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but honestly, her confidence and knowledge levels were that of Dr. Spaceman on 30 Rock.  I asked her if that meant they hadn’t found any cold nodules and she looked at me as if I’d asked her to list all of the ingredients in nail polish and said, “Uhhh, I, uh, I don’t think so.  You said they found a nodule ten years ago and it ended up being fine, right? So I’m sure this will be fine.”

Awesome.  Did you guys know we really only have to go to the doctor once, maybe twice per lifetime and then just use that data to see if your healthy from there on out?  Seems wicked smart, right?  The kind of reasoning you really want your  (now former) health care provider using.

Somehow, the more tests they ran on me, the worse I felt.  It seemed like they were gathering more data, but I actually felt increasingly left in the dark.  Which led to more fear.

It also led to binge eating.  I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when under duress or anxiety, I eat.  A lot.  And not lettuce.

I got into my car and immediately Googled ‘Best Endocrinologist NYC.’  I also reached out on Facebook and to family.  Within an hour I had a friend offering to give all of my results to someone at NIH to see what they thought, a friend who is a doctor trying to get me in quickly with an excellent Endocrinologist he knew from medical school and an actual appointment with a doctor who is part of the 7th best Endocrinology department in the country.  Obviously, it was not the same endocrinologist my ‘doctor’ suggested I try.  Their referral was probably to a ‘Fendocrinologist’ if I had looked more closely.

Literally, I went from feeling utterly uncared for and dismissed to feeling entirely safe and in the care of the best of the best.

Also, I have to share that from that one single Facebook post about searching for an Endocrinologist I had so many people message me and offer support, connections, kind words and more often than you might realize, similar stories and situations.  I was amazed at how many people I know are working through issues with their thyroid – medicine, tests, biopsies, symptoms, regulation, surgery, iodine treatment.  It actually seems pretty rampant and I would have had no idea if I hadn’t said something.  I know many people mock Facebook and mock those of us who share a lot on there.  But honestly, I am unashamed to say that it often works as such a connector, not just to find out who is married, pregnant, divorcing, going to the Bahamas monthly, but also to give and gain support when things happen.  When life happens.  Personally, I am thankful to have a way to see when someone I know and care about needs extra support.  And in this situation I am thankful that so many reached out to me.  It really felt so wonderful to understand that there are always more people than you realize ready to help you.

Last Thursday I was able to meet with an endocrinologist who spent over an hour talking with me, analyzing my test results and then explaining my situation to me.  Basically, I have a lot of nodules and from my first sonogram it looked like seven of them were big enough to need a biopsy.  My blood work also showed possible signs of slight Hyperthyroidism, but I haven’t experienced any symptoms yet.  Kind of impressive that even with possible Hyperthyroidism I put on twelve pounds in two weeks, right?  That’s what anxiety does to my eating habits.  And that’s why, as I’m shaking my head in disgust at my original doctor, all of my chins seem to be shaking in disgust in agreement.

My new doctor had me do more blood work and another ultrasound.  I am hopeful that the second ultrasound finds less than seven nodules that need to be biopsied because Halloween has already passed and I can’t really think of anything else for which a Swiss cheese neck comes in handy.  I guess I get to tell people I’m ‘holy’ for a few days? Really looking for a silver lining here, guys.  In any event, the biopsies will take place next Wednesday and then I can hopefully move forward with concrete information and a plan.  My waistline is excited for that.

You may have heard that there were some other big things happening in this area recently. (What? My biopsies weren’t on the news?!?)  Hurricane Sandy was no joke.  Thankfully, our family is completely fine – save for how unprepared I was to have TWO boys home all week with no parks or playgrounds open.  Unfortunately, many, many people are not fine.  This storm took many lives.  It also took away homes, possessions, electricity, heat, water (well, it took clean water and gave us salty sewage water in return), and transportation.  I am sure most of you have seen plenty of news updates about Sandy that have told you way more details than I would know.  I am sure of this because I have had every friend and family member, as far as France, reaching out to see if we are okay after seeing the news.  What I can tell you is that all of us appreciate that so much.  To know that the world is watching and thinking of us means a lot.  I have seen many New Yorkers (on Facebook!) say how much strength it gave them to know that people thought to check on them and see if they were safe.  New Yorkers who haven’t been home in days due to lack of heat and water.  Like I said, our family is safe and comfortable, but so many are not and I have seen plenty of those people put updates on Facebook in order to reach out to concerned friends and family. You can tell that sharing their part of the story and receiving so many supportive responses is helpful.  And healing.

As if it hasn’t already been an intense couple of weeks, there was also a tragedy so big, so unreal, and so painful, that as a friend said, “It kind of shifted something inside of me permanently.”  A few days before the hurricane hit our city, there was another reason people were looking at the front pages of newspapers, mouths agape and tears welled up in their eyes.  A mother took her 3-year-old daughter to swim class and returned home to find her other two children stabbed to death by their nanny.  It’s the kind of thing that takes your breath away.  That almost literally punches you in the gut.  And then I saw a friend from Carlitos’ preschool write a message on Facebook of peace and love and support to her friend grieving the loss of her two children.  And suddenly I knew why the older girl’s name had seemed so familiar.   I hadn’t yet seen any photos at that point, but as soon as I did I realized who the family was.  The eldest daughter had been at the same tiny preschool as Carlitos when we first moved here.  She was one year older and in a different classroom, but they had also just moved to NYC and the mom was also pregnant.  Everyone’s kids ran around together after school.  All of the moms hung out in the small hallway at pick up.  We all volunteered at the the fairs and events throughout the year.  It really hit home that what happened to them could have happened to anyone.  They were a young family, still moving around as the father’s career grew.  The mom was very involved with her kids, only hiring a nanny to help out once they had a third child.  They had sent their kids to a language immersion school in support of the kind of cultural diversity that exists in a city like New York.   They were a family just like us – somewhere in the middle, trying to do the best things for our kids and the world around us, working hard, doing the best we can.  And their kids were taken away from them suddenly and in a way so gory that nobody deserves it, let alone small, innocent children.  The whole situation is unthinkable.  I don’t really know if there is anything that truly soothes a parent who has lost their child or children.  From experiences growing up in a town where too many teenagers died I know that there is medication involved because the pain is truly too much to bear.  That alone tells me that perhaps any words of comfort give more solace to the friends and family offering them than to the grieving parents themselves.  I would never venture to suggest that connecting via email, phone call, text or  Facebook could alleviate the pain of that parent, but I do think it can help everyone else affected.

People need a place to connect.  I truly believe that there is so much power in the knowledge that you aren’t alone in your experiences or your feelings.  This has been a rough few weeks for me personally, but on a much bigger scale, for many people around me.  I am thankful for ways to give and receive whatever comfort we can offer each other.

I hope this next month offers all of us happier times and plenty of positive moments as we lead up to our national day of thanks.  And even if the events occurring around us and to us continue to be as difficult as they have been recently, at least I can say that I am thankful for you and for all of the people who open themselves up to human connection in one way or another.

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On the Bright Side, My Car is Now Clean

I’m a lucky girl.  My mother-in-law was able to come up on Tuesday and Wednesday to help watch the boys since I wasn’t supposed to be very close to them  after swallowing  the radioactive iodine pills I had to take for the thyroid scan.  Her presence turned two crappy days into two very productive ones.

Yesterday alone, I went to the DMV, changed the title on our new car, got it registered, changed our car insurance, drove home, picked up the license plates from our old car (yes, that I should have brought with me the first time), drove back to the DMV and turned them in so that we could cancel our insurance on our old car, took the new car to get it inspected, cleaned out all of our junk that had already accumulated in the new car (within a few weeks we had enough clothing and shoes in there to keep the boys dressed for two  months), took our laundry to the laundromat and put away all of the clean folded up laundry that had been sitting in our bedroom for weeks.

Even though I was proud of myself for accomplishing so much in a single day, I felt gross all day.  The DMV smelled like urine.  The car inspection place had a layer of grime on everything from the floor to the half-full coffee pot.  Cleaning out the car unearthed a few ‘surprise items’ I wish had gone into the laundry or the trash weeks earlier.  Plus there was the fact that I was doing all of this knowing that there were chemicals swirling around my body that I wished weren’t there.

Oh, and I hadn’t hugged or kissed my kids in 24 hours.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is harder than you think to be around your kids without going near them at all.  In fact, it is pretty much impossible to make a 2-year-old understand that he can’t come near his mommy.  Which is why I tried to stay out of the house all day and evening.

I’ve been dreaming about having a whole day to myself with no kids and without having to pay a babysitter.

It wasn’t as fun as I’d imagined.

In fact, the best part of my day may have been the scan itself.  I was able to just lie down and close my eyes for 30 minutes with a giant machine centimeters from my face.   I’m not sure of the technical term for it, but I am basically the opposite of someone who is claustrophobic.  I love small, enclosed spaces.  Nooks are my jam.  This scan was a breeze.

Well, it was the best part of my day until I came home to find a gorgeous composed salad with salmon and brie toast on the table, my best friend playing with the boys at the playground, my mother-in-law finishing up homemade ice cream sandwiches and pouring wine.  Wine with the label “La Bella Sposa” because, as she put it, “Even if they have to take out your whole neck, you will still be beautiful!”

I’m pretty sure no results they could give me will have the endgame of ‘full neck removal,’ but I appreciate the sentiment and positivity.

And now comes the really fun part: The waiting game.

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The Fear of Uncertainty

I keep sitting down to write these past few weeks and ending up with nothing.  I check my nonsensical gibberish in the notes section on my phone, think about funny or important things happening in the world, in New York or with my family.  Sometimes I just put my fingers on the keyboard and see what comes out.

Nada.

Finally, I think  I have figured out the issue:  There is something else on my mind.  Something I hadn’t planned on mentioning on here.  But somehow nothing else can squeeze itself past and onto the screen.  So, I give in.

Right before our big European vacation in September Carlitos had a pretty bad cold.  My mom noticed a lump on the side of his neck just afterward.  We thought it was probably a swollen lymph node so I decided I would take him to the doctor after the trip if it was still there.  As soon as we returned, we all came down with a pretty nasty sinus infection. We literally all began sneezing on the airplane ride home.  I then noticed a lump on my neck, too, which I obviously assumed was another swollen lymph node.

To be on the safe side, we decided to have Carlitos’ lump checked out since it was still somewhat visible.  When the pediatrician checked him out and told me she was certain that it was a swollen lymph node I felt so relieved.  Lumps are scary.  Lumps on your kids are…more than scary.

I then laughed and told her that she had saved me a trip to the doctor, too, since I also had a lump that I could feel in my neck.  Having had such a doozy of a sinus infection, mine must be left over swollen lymph nodes, too.   I passed my hand over my lump as I laughed with relief and she suddenly stopped what she was doing and looked directly at me.

“Is that where you feel a lump?”

Yes.

She didn’t take her eyes off of mine and calmly said, “There are no lymph nodes in that spot.”  Still a little slow on the uptake, I asked her if that meant there was no way my lump could simply be a swollen lymph node.  She told me I should still go see my doctor, again with an eerily calm voice.  Again, I asked her if there was any way that mine was also related to my recent sinus infection.

“You need to go see your doctor.”

Okay, okay, point taken.

On the bright side, Carlitos was totally fine.  On the other hand, his doctor, who has never seemed concerned a single time – no matter how many times I bring the boys in with rashes, lumps, bumps, fevers, pain, or any other symptoms – suddenly appeared pretty concerned about me.

I made an appointment with my doctor and they did all of the necessary blood work.  They also had me come back in for a sonogram.  Sidenote: Nobody on the planet has a better poker face than a sonogram technician. Man, they’re good.  I hope they spend their vacation days in Vegas making serious bank.

A week and a half later they called me in for the results.  Like a big dummy, I asked her why she couldn’t just tell me over the phone.

We all know we want a fat envelope instead of a thin one when receiving mail from college admissions offices.  And we all know we want the doctor to tell us over the phone that all tests came back fine.  Being called back into the office isn’t a great sign.

Here is where it all gets kind of blurry.  I don’t like blurry.

I already knew that I had some nodules on my thyroid.  When I was 21-years-old a doctor found them and after a bunch of tests they did a biopsy on one of them which came back benign.

This time, it seems like they found nodules and cysts of significant sizes.  I mean, there is one that I know is pretty big since I can feel it from the outside and all. Outside of that, I don’t really understand what everything means and just how nervous or calm I should feel.  Right away I asked my doctor if I would have to get another biopsy.  I was thrilled when she said no.

Well, thrilled until she told me I had to get a nuclear scan and uptake and also gave me a referral for an Endocrinologist.

What?! I thought you said this sonogram doesn’t mean anything certain concerning cancer! Why are you already sending me to a cancer doctor?!

She (barely) refrained from rolling her eyes.  She could not, however, stop herself from placing a dunce cap on my head.

Okay, she didn’t actually put a dunce cap on my head.  But there was *some* exasperation in her voice as she had to explain to me that Endocrinologists deal with thyroid issues.  Oncologists deal with cancer.

Oh. Yeah.  Totes knew that.

Next up on my ‘concerning radar’: Umm, did you say nuclear scan. What the what? That doesn’t sound fun, positive or safe, frankly.

She talked about ‘hot’ versus ‘cold’ nodules.  Thyroid issues.  Cancer.  Surgery.  She is, of course, sure I am fine. (That’s usually why people order scans with the word ‘nuclear’ in them, right?  Because they are certain you are fine. Mmm hmmm…)

All of that being said, I truly do think I am fine.  I have tried to keep my ‘Googling’ to very scientific, informative, medical websites that simply clarify what a nuclear scan is and when it is used.  It’s always best to refrain from chat threads when trying to determine how scared you should be for just about anything in life.  Betsyhearts345 with the avatar that looks oddly similar to Kate Gosselin always has a sister who died in some horrible way after having the same symptoms you are researching.  And forget about Google images.  ALWAYS a bad idea.  Google images can give you heart palpitations and a certainty you are about to die simply by typing in ‘hangnail.’

Honestly, my main concern is my kids.  The kids I already have and the third one we still want to have.  I can convince myself that everything is going to be fine, but even the slightest possibility of something being wrong is terrifying in terms of my kids.  I can’t bear even the tiniest chance of leaving them this young.  And I feel sadness at the idea of something getting in the way of us trying for a third child.

Right now everything is so confusing and uncertain that I just keep wavering in between mocking myself for feeling panicked and then chastising myself for not taking this seriously enough.  Thankfully, the test takes place today and tomorrow, so it shouldn’t be long now before I have some more concrete answers and information.  It’s much easier to manage your feelings and reactions when you know to what you are reacting.  Or so I hope.

In the meantime, I am also secretly hopeful I will be left with a bit of a nuclear glow that lasts long enough to really add some pizazz to my outer space Halloween costume.

Silver linings, folks.  They always exist.

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The Hired Help…For Free

We are visiting my parents this weekend with a special added bonus:  my in-laws are here, too.  Pretty neat, huh?

Yes, we are in a very fortunate situation where my parents and my in-laws get along wonderfully.  Like, they visit each other even when we aren’t around.  Even though they live nine hours away from each other.

This weekend, though, we are here.  And it is fantastic.  It’s fantastic for all of the obvious reasons, like how much we love our parents and love having our kids spend time with them.  But it is also fantastic in that I get to pretty much be the most hands-off mom imaginable.  (Which, as all moms know, is never completely hands-off, but still…)  As it is, I don’t really have much responsibility on weekends.  My husband basically does all of the diapers, showering, changing, bedtime reading, disciplining and nap times on the weekends.  But with TWO of our three sets of grandparents here this weekend?!  I am made in the shade.

It’s pretty awesome to just kind of be around for all of the fun, beautiful moments but not have to do the heavy lifting.  I’m not saying that I don’t change a single diaper or wrap a towel around a shivering boy or make my little baby a sandwich.  I do those things, but I could easily ask someone else to step in and help if I don’t feel like it.  And I can easily just go to the bathroom whenever I feel like it, knowing that someone else can keep an eye on the boys.   Showering?  Oh, it happens every day when we are here, rather than twice a week.   Carlitos wants to play ‘Go Fish!’ six times in a row?  Grammmmmy!  Papppppi! Xavi has snot coming out of his nose?  Mima?  Lito? Could you grab a tissue and just…yeah…right there…his nose…yeah….thanks!

The fun without the difficult?  The good without the bad?  This is pretty nice, folks.

Now, if I could just convince everyone to move in with us…

(Sorry for such a short post, but I have other important things to tend to like my children reading the May issue of Real Simple, the February issue of New York Magazine and a book I ordered from Amazon last Christmas.  And maybe even having a glass of wine before 5:00 pm.)

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