Friday, April 21, 2017

The Creativity Faucet

Sometimes, like now, the creativity faucet is at a continual drip, drip, drip. The ideas emerge slowly, but at least they are coming. Trust me, I have experienced times when the pipes are clogged completely. Other times, the pipes have busted and what came out was pure...well...sewage. Last month, however, the words were gushing like a broken hydrant. It was wonderful for my writing, my creativity, and my confidence. But other aspects of my life did not receive the attention they deserved. What I'm striving for, a steady flow of clean words that nourishes my soul and hydrates others only comes with continual upkeep -- adhering to a writing schedule and maintaining my own physical and mental well-being. How is your creativity flowing? How do you reach the steady flow? 

A Purple Mom on a Purple Day

When Maddie Grace was just a few weeks old, someone asked me if I was a “crunchy” mom. I had to Google the term, but even then it still wasn’t clear. I was breastfeeding, but I supplemented with formula. I used disposable diapers, but I did carry her around in one of those slings sometimes. I was pretty sure I wasn’t crunchy, but who knew? My hair was definitely crunchy. Today, I am proposing a new term for myself: purple. I have a feeling there are a few more “purple” moms out there too.

You see, purple is my favorite color. My LuLaRoe leggings today remind me of that poem “When I am old, I shall wear purple with a red hat…” I’m 37 with ankles that ache from chasing an 18-month old, but that’s not why I’m purple. All in all, I absolutely love being Maddie Grace’s momma. Motherhood is everything I hoped and prayed for during my years of infertility. But, to get to the purple, one must mix reds and blues -- the frustrations and the sadness. It does, however, come out beautiful in the end. This morning has been the perfect example of being an imperfect or “purple” mother. I am a middle-school library media specialist, and it’s the first day of public-school spring break. So what better idea than to take my eighteen-month-old daughter to the public library’s story hour? I strapped Maddie Grace into her little pink backpack/harness, and together we strolled through the stacks.

I was thrilled when she picked a book off the shelf and started turning the pages. I was not so happy when she started tugging the leash and demanding to play on a computer during story time. The man trying to work quietly in the corner wasn’t so thrilled either when Maddie started to cry as I pulled her away from said computer. I gave her a pacifier, even though I had demanded my husband this morning not to give into her. Everyone on the second floor of the library was relieved. Our next fun outing was lunch at Chick-fil-a. I thought arriving at 11:15 would be early enough at the popular restaurant. Wrong. There were no parking spots, except at the hotel next door. I carried my twenty-seven pound toddler across the ditch and walked into a crowded restaurant with lines at the counter, no spare high chairs, and no empty tables. But I wasn’t giving up that easily. I didn’t want to have to strap her back in the car seat already, and I needed caffeine.

A kind employee secured us a high chair, and I wheeled Maddie Grace up to the counter in it. Only to realize that I had grabbed my 2016 discount card this morning, not my 2017 one. Surprisingly, the manager at the register next to ours still gave me my free fries and Diet Coke anyway. He must have a “purple” wife, because there was a certain understanding in his eyes that our clerk didn’t have.

A friendly couple motioned for us to take their table, which was next to three moms with a total of six kids, two under six-months old. I don’t know know how they do it. They have their own special color -- like rainbow unicorns with sparkles. Meanwhile, my one and only and I enjoyed a delicious meal. We sat across from each other like two ladies who lunch, and Maddie Grace ate her applesauce and grilled chicken nuggets all by herself. She didn’t even throw food on the floor.

Then we went to play area. Maddie Grace ran from play center to play center laughing and squealing in delight. She played with other kids too. I was one proud momma sitting cross-legged on the rubber mat until another mom came over and looked down at me. “Your first?” Guess it’s as obvious as my sister and I being American tourists in Italy a few years ago. How do they just know? I nodded.

“I never let my first come in here. Now that I have older kids to watch my third, we come a lot.” I smiled, hoping transparent me was only secretly smirking at her back-handed statement. She continued. “I can’t believe you would bring her here on a day like today You must not have known it’s spring break.”

“Actually, I work full-time,” I said. “This is my spring break.” I wanted to add, “and your kid pooped his pants.” But luckily I didn’t, because then I realized it was my toddler with the fragrant behind running around.

I took Maddie Grace to the changing table in the handicap stall of the women’s restroom. “You’ve got this.” I told myself. Until I realized there weren’t any more diapers in my bag. I looked down at Maddie Grace and smiled because what else could I do? “Sorry, kid. We’ve gotta go. I love you.” She grinned back at me. Luckily, since I had found a stuffed cat that she hadn’t played with in awhile, she wasn’t holding a grudge.

We are home now. She fell asleep in the car five minutes into our twenty-minute drive, so I am sitting in the front seat of the car typing this on my laptop. I’m pulled into the garage, letting her sleep with all the doors open because it smells like a toilet in here.

But I am happy, because today is a purple day. With a little luck, Maddie Grace and I will have more purple days this week. I’ll put a fresh set of diapers in the bag, but undoubtedly something else will be forgotten. Things will go wrong, but hopefully they’ll be outnumbered by the things that go right. As my grandma used to say, “You’ve got to keep on keepin’ on.” And that’s what purple mothers do.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When Life Gave Me Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts.  The name alone makes me cringe.  I did actually try them last Thanksgiving, but not even bacon, parmesan cheese, and EVOO could hide the dreaded taste or the awful texture.  Of course, I choked them down so as to not make a scene in front of my in-laws.  But when my writer-friend asked me to think of a disgusting food yesterday, Brussels sprouts immediately came to mind.

This week, the doctor served me Brussels sprouts.  It’s difficult for me to call it what it actually is: cancer.  (1)  Because I am only 37, and (2) The prognosis is not as horrible as what so many others with such a diagnosis must endure. 

The abdominal mass was discovered on a renal ultrasound this past summer.  While this is not a routine test for most people, I have one yearly to monitor congenital bladder and kidney issues.  Since I also have endometriosis and had had a fibroid the size of a grapefruit removed along with my beautiful baby girl during a C-section 15 months ago, my gynecologist attempted to remove the mass laparoscopically. However, he found it to be out of his territory and surrounded by blood vessels and wouldn’t touch it. 

Next step was a colonoscopy. The general surgeon took sample tissue of the egg-sized growth that seemed to be attached to the outside of the colon.  While obviously not normal, it did not seem to be anything too alarming.  Over the past twenty years, I have had other cysts and tumors arise.  A surgeon would remove them, the pathology report would come back clear, and life would go on.  Once again, this seemed to be the case. 

But, thankfully, the surgeon did not write this off.  Three months later he ordered a CT scan to monitor any changes.  Despite having such tests before, this time I had a reaction to the dye and ended up in the ER.  But when I read the online MyChart report that the mass had not changed in size or appearance, I figured this was the worst that could happen. 

To my surprise, he did want to remove the mass.  I was devastated.  This would be my thirteenth surgery.  I have a 15-month old that I would not be able to pick up during recovery.  I would have to take a few weeks off from my new job as library media specialist that I loved.  I asked him if we could wait until summer vacation since the mass was so slow growing. No, we could wait until Christmas break, but not until June.

On December 28, I had the mass removed and my colon re-sectioned.  I had another allergic reaction, this time to the anesthesia, but otherwise the surgery went very well.  I was up and moving the next day, eating solid food two days later, and home by New Year’s Eve.  I felt so much better than I expected -- well, until my terrific toddler brought home the stomach bug.  Then I was nauseous and lost my appetite for days, but luckily Grammy was around to help change Maddie Grace’s diapers.  Still, I managed to stay hydrated and avoided going back to the hospital. 

On January 10, I had my follow-up visit with the surgeon, and as he removed the staples which made my stomach look like it zipped up the middle, he told my mom and me the news.  The pathology report was not what we expected.  The mass was actually two tumors (7 centimeters and 2 centimeters) called GIST or Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors.  These alone are very rare and only recently identified as cancer.  As I would later read online, only around 15,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States a year.  Of these, only 2% occur in the colon.  I always have been one of a kind.

I couldn’t believe it!  The doctor had briefly mentioned this GIST thing back in November, but I had been so busy with Maddie and school and writing assignments and the holidays that I hadn’t even given it my usual WebMD attention.  Mom and I gathered up our winter coats, her hastily-written notes, and our chins and did what any two women in our situation would do – we headed to the DQ and ordered Blizzards.  The sweetness of the chocolate and salted-caramel concoctions helped to mask the taste of the Brussels sprouts as I called my husband at work and broke the news.       
The next couple of days were spent telling loved ones, watching comedies on Netflix, and Googling the new terms on the Internet.  On Friday the thirteenth, I met with my oncologist.  While this word does not exactly roll off the tongue either, I again feel that for a bad situation mine is the best there can be.  Even though he is fairly young and has only been in Owensboro a short time, his training at the University of Kentucky was actually in this area of rare cancers.  He described a pill he has used to successfully treat other patients which specifically targets GIST cancer cells and has few side effects. 

Life may have given me Brussels sprouts, but my portion is small and for that I am so very thankful. If all goes as expected, my treatment will last three years.  I will have frequent blood work to monitor the effects of the Gleevec medication and undergo CT scans every three to six months (with a dose of Benadryl and steroids to prevent an allergic reaction), but there will be no chemotherapy or radiation.

Undoubtedly there will be days when I just can’t stomach these Brussels sprouts, but seasoned with faith in God and love from family and friends I can digest them.  Hopefully those bad ones will be outnumbered by days like today, when I can drown them in a little humor sauce and take them a bite at a time.