Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ten Good Things about Chemo, a list in progress (Originally written 4/25/2006)

It is later than I should be up, and it is thunder storming outside, good, because once again, I did not water when I should have. I am counting on Mother Nature to help me out these days. So far, so good. Thanks, Mother Nature….keep this up, please.

A couple of things, as it is late (late is now any time after say 9 PM)

I am mostly doing fine, the first chemo was the 14th, so this is about day 12 or so post treatment and I still have hair. Not for long, as it is getting buzzed tomorrow in anticipation of the total loss of hair expected between now and day 15 or 16. I had a moment this AM, while blow-drying my hair as usual, that perhaps I would be the one person in chemo history *not* to lose her hair… Call Guinness Book of Records… yeah, that’ll happen. So tomorrow, on nearly everyone’s good advice, I am going to a supportive person, Darlene who runs “Lovely Lady Boutique” (for people like me) and she will buzz me and style Dee Dee (the wig).

I am accumulating a little collection of hats and scarves and head toppings. I am looking to bulk purchase teal bandanas, as teal is my cancer’s official color. Wish it were purple or fuchsia, but teal it is. This, like many other things, is simply out of my control.

Who knew when those yellow, then red, then pink ribbons appeared, so many years ago, that an industry of sorts was being born. Pretty much, these days, if your disease or issue doesn’t have an official color, you might as well forget about it. I should have invested.

So, the “theme” for the first round of chemo is “chemotherapy is not a walk in the park”. After I had the first treatment on Friday the 14th, it went well, I guess, and then I went home after six hours, where my Mom and I played another game of Scrabble (I beat her this time, but the game, like most of those we played over the next couple of days, was close). I went to sleep a bit early, but was nausea free (thanks to the big GSK drugs) and woke up Saturday AM feeling “normal”. So did the regular Saturday errands, went to a birthday party for twins where they had ponies, you know, normal stuff. Felt pretty darn good. Kept taking the anti nausea drugs as instructed.

Sunday…awoke not nauseous so thought I would try it without the drugs and see how that went. Tried to swing my legs off the bed and holy crap! The most killer pain in my legs and joints/bones!!! Like one of those round metal truck things they use to smooth cement had run over me in my sleep, several times. But sort of from the inside out, not bruises but pain/ache/pain/ache/pain/ache. Took therapeutic doses of Ibuprofen, which did not even touch it. Mid-day I broke down and took big pain pill, leftover from the surgery. Good thing I had a lot leftover, because this pain lasted through Tuesday. I am usually not a pain-wuss, but this was something else. I am so grateful Mom was there, not only for the Scrabble distraction, but she helped a lot with Sofie. Sofie is being pretty darn cooperative about the whole “Mommy is feeling a little uncomfortable today” messaging. Most of the time.

So, the other things they (they is the team, the folks that are now controlling my health, recovery, treatment, whatever). They are concerned about the big drop in my white blood count after one week, (I get blood tests weekly now for the next four or five months) and also my red blood cells. I dropped there too. That accounts for the fatigue I am noticing. I am ok in the day mostly now and don’t need naps as I did during the bad pain time, but I am really tired by say, 8:30-9 PM. Which essentially means:

I put Sofie to bed, and then I put Debra to bed. Not to sleep, I watch HBO or Showtime on demand, or read but essentially I am in for the night. This evening is a huge exception, probably due to the ice cream cone sugar infusion earlier this evening (it was Ben and Jerry Free Cone Day, I had to!!!).

So, a few things to know:

Please do not be offended if I do not answer the home phone (or cell) after 9 PM EST, I could actually be sleeping or resting!

Nobody would guess I am fatigued at all during the day. My energy is still greater than many folks not on any medication during the day. I know I am waning a bit, but it is not all that obvious, I don’t think.

So far, the chemo has not affected my appetite. I am getting worried, if I cannot experience a loss of appetite on chemotherapy, there is no justice in the world. I might have to fake it.

I am starting a list of “Ten Good Things About Chemotherapy” (inspired by a borrowed book called “I would rather do chemo than clean the garage”.

1. No need to shave legs this summer

2. Will save several hundred dollars on haircuts and color

3. I am learning the lost art of scarf tying

4. I can get a lot of sympathy by “pulling the C-card” if I need to

5. I am forgiving myself for not having my house in perfect neat order….”I am just too tired to do it now”

6. Hair care in the morning is about to get a lot easier, I think

That is all I have so far, but I suspect there will be more.

It is funny, I realized the other day that it is completely against my nature to do what I am doing now, turning over my free will to the medical establishment! I did it during the period of my life when I was doing fertility treatments and now, once again, my body is not completely my own. I take enough pills in the AM to substitute for breakfast. And I had to buy the large Costco size of Benefiber. I won’t bore you all with the details.

Now, for the part that some will not want to read….so consider yourself warned!!!

The other part of this whole thing that is a bit overwhelming is the medically induced menopause. Prior to this, although my chronological age was right up there, I simply wasn’t experiencing the symptoms of menopause, even though every medical person assumed or thought I was completely over it!

So imagine my surprise the first morning I woke up around 5:30 AM, sweating and hot. First thought (I swear, this is true) “damnit, I must have left the heat on overnight”.

I padded to the thermostat to squint at it, only to see that it was fine.

But I clearly wasn’t!

Like a time delay process, it dawned on me… this is “IT”. Yuck. Maybe it will only happen this one time. Optimist that I am.

It is now happening more, as I was told to expect. They (those medical folks again) cannot really tell me how long this might last, or how severe it might get. So I am just trying to keep a sense of humor about it, breathe through them and consider it just part of the hand I was dealt. We will see how long that lasts. I did pack up all the warm nightwear, as that seems like a silly idea now. I make my own heat!

I admit to being a bit anxious as I face the razor tomorrow. Melissa Etheridge looked hot bald and so did Samantha on Sex and the City (Kim Cattral would look hot with a plaid head). But I am neither of those gals and so I hope I don’t feel too self conscious.

I have started to see bald headed women in more places in the past week or so. Did I simply not notice before?

OK, I really do have to sleep, so good night all. I will let you all know when the blog and the photos are up.

Love to Alan (and his faithful dog Kimo) for shaving their heads (and for Kimo, pretty much the whole dog) in support.

The full photo gallery will follow as soon as I can do it.

Love to all of you who constantly remind me that I am loved and prayed for and the recipient of good, no make that great, energy.

Next chemo I am going solo, but someone will drive me. And I purchased a “summer read” type novel for entertainment.

More about the Care Team next update, I meant to write about that, but it deserves its own update or blog entry. Trust me on that!

YIKES, big thunder, I bet Sofie wakes up and wants to sleep with me.

Chemo is NOT a walk in the park (Originally written 4/16/2006)

Just wanted to quickly update all of you on the days following chemo number
one....Friday was fine, no signs of appetite supression, grazed all day and
into the PM. Played a re-match of Scrabble with Mom and bested her by 38
points....watched movie and had slight sense of "stuff" going through
my body, tingles, nothing much.

Saturday was fine, totally normal. Ah ha! I thought, I am going to sail
through this. Lost Scrabble, but only by one point. Very tired, but it was
11 PM....

Sunday...OUCH! Leg and joint pain, feel like old person (Keep snide
comments to yourselves, girls....) Took super Ibuprofen. Still hurts but
planning walk and hot bathing seems to help a bit. Otherwise, fine.

Sofie looked for and found all her hidden eggs this am. Then we made
pancakes. How very Easter-y.

More later, I am sure there will be more.....ow, my legs feel like I was
kicked hard in a fight...

Chemo, Round One

(Originally written 4/14/2006)

When faced with something new, unknown and scary, I do what I like to call “going to the dark side”. This is more or less a mental journey that takes into consideration all the very worst things that could happen, if all the side effects went into full tilt boogie at the same time, and if
they were all awful and uncontrollable by any modern medical “cocktails”.

Once I have gone there, I come back to reality, and just let it be. And that is what I did today, day one for chemo. The funny part was that the telephone kept ringing on and off, from 7 am until 8 ish. Sofie got it right “Mom, it is just because people are wanting you to be ok and tell
you they love you” And I was trying to get Sofie up, dressed, hair combed and fed while packing a light snack for the hospital (for my mom more than me), and making sure that I had blankie packed up for tonight, as she is off to be with Jamie “in case” of nausea or whatever.

Then, when Delma (self-designated driver and cancer nurse incognito) arrived, we just left the house, with bags of distractions, snacks, etc.

Dropped off Sofie to Chris who has his daughter Lucie (one year younger than Sofie, see old photo attached) and a seven month old.

Then off to Duke, when I registered ten or so minutes before my appointment, was given a buzzer as if I were at the Cheesecake Factory waiting for a good table, and then nothing….for an hour. Of course, when I went to ask about this, I was in fact, next up on the pile (I could see my chart).

Instead of the chairs we had seen last time, on our stealth visit, I got a hospital bed, complete with ceiling affixed plasma flat screen TV (not with dvd player, sadly) and that was in honor of the first visit. Kathie was my nurse, I only winced a bit when the IV was started, swallowed my starter benedryl without water and awaited the dripping…the Taxol went first, over about two and three quarter hours, then the “carbo” which is the one that can really cause fatigue, they say. I think it will be interesting to see what they mean by fatigue, is that similar to what I experienced the first year of mothering, when I slept an average of four hours a night, usually interrupted and used to mainline Starbucks and Peets? Or as they described it “fatgue like you were hit by a truck” (see explanation previously given). I will wait and see.

Overall, the treatments went without incident of any kind. The pharmacist tried to give me booklets on side effects, but I had pretty much read everything, so I got a few handouts. Good ones, but that was about it.

It was interesting to observe the waiting room. A fair amount of “old” folks (meaning older than me) but also a lot of people younger. And sometimes, I would try to guess who the patient was, only to find out later, while passing a treatment area, that the older woman who was with the woman of about 35 or so with the big frosted hair was the mom or support person and the frosted person was the patient. And the cookies and juice were being consumed by everyone, so that was not a good indicator either…..

It does just support the “this feels surreal” moment or two I have in the clinic. I find myself in the observer role, in Social Worker mode, just wondering about things, making mental notes of things that are good and areas for improvement. But mostly focusing on being there and

accepting the care, niceness and eventually, the intensely person nature of having big toxins intentionally pumped into my veins. Me, who declines Advil most of the time for minor pain. Me, who did not even really do much recreational drugs. Oh well, it is just a phase in my life,

one that I hope will be over without much incident, a bump on the overall journey.

So, to conclude this more brief update, it went well so far, I have anti nausea drugs here at home and I am planning to sit and watch Memoirs of a Geisha for the next few hours, assuming that big truck of fatigue passes me by.

Nice spending time with my mom, too. Although the circumstances could be better!

CT scan on Tuesday was good, not showing lymph involvement. So this chemo is more precautionary. But necessary. 20% done, and let’s see how it goes.

Attached, are two photos of KIMO, wonderful companion to Alan Lessik, shaved in solidarity for my soon to be shaved head. The babushka picture is Alan’s idea of a head garment I hopefully won’t do too much, and Alan, everyone knows you tie it in the back, not under the chin.

For reference, there is a photo of Sofie and KIMO from when she was three and a half or so. She looks like such a baby, but she is tall and grown up now.

Managing the Moments (Originally written 4/9/2006)

The Medical Stuff

A month ago, just about, I found out that I had a “mass” on my left ovary. The time since then is a blur of doctor visits, multiple co-pays to doctors, radiologists, labs, clinics and the like. None are large, those bills come later. My pharmacist associate at the super market (Courtney) and I are on a first name basis now. She is a babe, under other circumstances……I digress.

So, the quicker fast forward is to simply say that I had, as many of you already know, surgery on the 16th of March, which they did laprascopically, a method that is less invasive of the body overall and has much faster healing (through two small incisions on the belly and via the belly button). The “frozen section” pathology, done during the surgery, was encouraging, and after removal of many internal parts (which I will simply refer to as “girl parts” for the squeamish), I left the hospital with a pretty optimistic prognosis the next day. I never even got a bowl of Jell-O.

I do want to comment about the folks at Duke, who were mostly quite nice and worked well with me and as a team. Except when listening to what I wanted for pain. I asked for Vicodin, which has worked for me in the past, and I tend to take one or two and be done with it. Instead, they offered up Oxy-contin which I recalled hearing about as a new “street drug” on 20/20 or something. Why, I don’t know. They make me sick to my stomach nearly immediately and I rejected all further offerings. I got something else instead, but ended up with lots of Ibuprofen, which is both cheaper and less likely to make me unable to drive.

My sister and dear friend Barbara were home with me for a few days post op and got me through all the recovery, which was actually mostly uneventful. Jamie visited every other day with Sofie. And I prepared to go to a development conference in Las Vegas the following Sunday through Thursday. I left without fanfare on Sunday and returned home Thursday PM, going was totally the right thing to do! And the Kinsey Sicks were at the Hilton, I got to visit with Ben and Irwin. Thanks to Tracey and Sharon, who were, as Sofie called them “the visiting mommies” and moved into my house to care for her for the work week.

Then the pathology report came and things shifted a bit. The “borderline” tumor that you all heard about from Barbara and Nancy (found on frozen pathology at the surgery) was not the final report. Tumors of all sorts have to be “staged”. I have what would be called a Stage 1c Ovarian tumor, graded as such due to the fact that the damn thing burst several days prior to surgery. All other organs were negative for cancer, but this is still more serious than it was if it had not burst. But it did. And so I got more info on the path report (and later, at clinic, from my doctor and nurse, who are pretty cool folks) and found out it ago gets “graded”. I have a Grade 2 tumor, which refers to how organized the cancer cells are. Mine are pretty organized (not as good) but the thing with Ovarian cancer is that most women don’t even find out about it until Stage lll or even IV, which reduces overall chances of survival considerably (although some women do survive Stage III after treatment.

Getting to the point: this means that I have to have chemotherapy, and they wanted it to start soon (meaning next week) and it will be a biggie. The first thoughts I had were not about hair, but about vomiting, which I truly hate more than most things. Interestingly, in a moment I think of as “anticipatory nausea” I got a bit of stomach flu last Saturday. Sofie had been up all night with an ear infection, I had not slept much and woke up feeling punk. On the way to her doctor appointment, I puked my guts out on the ground right near the car. Sofie was totally appalled and proceeded to tell pretty much everyone she saw all day (including strangers at a restaurant) that “My mom threw up stuff that looked like hot dogs on the ground…Eeeeew, GROSS”.

So, as you can see, vomiting is not a popular activity in our household. I realized later that day that since her adoption in April 2002, Sofie has *never* thrown up on my watch or at all from what I know. Pretty amazing. I for sure have jinxed this now, but it was a nice ride.

Last Friday, I went to the Morris Clinic (the cancer clinic at Duke) for my pre-chemo work up. Delma, a friend who is a cancer nurse at UNC came along, incognito, to the appointment. I was very glad she did. Right from the start. I was put in a room and given a sheet/drape and asked to undress. Out of habit, perhaps, I started to unbutton my blouse. Delma gently reminded me that they had no interest in my top parts, just to take off my pants! Good thing she was there, saving me the embarrassment of being totally naked for the appointment!

About the Hair Issue

After a lot of explaining about the side effects (they have to list all of them) and what they as a team could do for me to help, I got a “goodies bag” for patients who are starting chemo. From drug reps of course, but this am I read through all the materials. Mostly quite helpful, but I couldn’t help but wonder, why do the pamphlets have all those pictures of lovely looking people, *with hair and eyebrows* ????? They have caught up with the PC notion of having them all be racially/ethnically diverse, and of different ages, but why not actually show a person not from a stock photo but with actual hair loss? Does GSK or Amgen think I might say “hey, no thanks, I read the booklet and I did not like the way that woman on page 39 looked, so I will skip the treatment, thanks anyway”. Not likely.

So, camera shy as I am, I plan to have some photos taken of this journey. I don’t know that I will send them out with these updates or the blog if I ever get that actually set up (I plan to really try), but I want to record all of this. Make it real.

During the days that followed this appointment, I had a couple of moments of sadness and tears, once when I realized that “hair loss” meant all hair, including eyebrows. That moment of tears while driving to work on Monday morning, gave birth the subject line of the email, which will probably be the ongoing title: Managing the Moments. Because that is, of course, what a lot of this will be about. The tears resolved, I reached out to a dear friend to share that moment went on with my day.

Jamie and I discussed how to tell Sofie more about what is going on with me with her therapist whom we see from time to time. Jane was her usual helpful self and also suggested some good ideas for me, about stocking up on anti-depressants, just in case, and also preparing for the (inevitable) hair loss on my head. The essential messaging here has been along the lines of “Mommy will have to take some strong medicine for that bump in her tummy, to make sure it won’t come back. The medicine might make her sick so she might throw up sometimes or it might make her more tired. And guess what! Mommy’s hair is going to fall out of her head, just like the cat hair. But she is going to get pretend hair for a while”. Along those lines. Sofie has managed absorbing this gracefully and only reacted to the idea of my vomiting again (eeeeew, disgusting).

One piece of advice that was consistent and made sense, was to get the wig before the hair loss happens (which is 10 days to two weeks after the first treatment). I tried first to simply Google wigs cancer Durham NC. But most of the hits were either closed or were not specific to chemo induced hair loss. So again, with a referral from Delma, who knows about these things, I went to “Lovely Lady” boutique on Saturday am, and met Darlene, a wonderful woman who is a wealth of experience, 30 years, of dealing with women on chemo. I also met another woman there, about my age, undergoing treatment for breast cancer. We swapped experiences and honestly, if I had met her at Whole Foods instead of the wig room, I would not have thought she was wearing a wig at all.

Darlene wasted no time in assessing my hair color and measuring my head and brought out a wig for me to try that is a pretty darn good color match (to the “color enhanced” version of my hair) and popped it on. When styled (that happens on the next visit) it should suffice for the short haul. I know those of you who watched “Sex and the City” all remember that Samantha moment when in the middle of a surgically induced hot flash, she yanked off her wig. Well, rest assured I have no such plans in mind. Not a promise, mind you, but no plans.

In about ten days, I will go back to Darlene, she offered to do the buzz cut. I graciously accepted and will, as mentioned, try to get some photos. The wig will be styled to suit me and I will be off to the world of bald.

Sofie expressed interested in watching me get my hair cut off, so she is likely going to come to that appointment with me and see me kind of bald (very short stubble). How many 5.5 year olds have that to talk about in show and tell?

After we agreed on “my” wig, which was presented to me on a little Styrofoam wig head, I played around with the other ones in the store. It was just too tempting. I tried on a hooker looking blond number, a black art student cool looking one, a couple that looked like Suzanne Pleshette in the 70’s and so on It was fun, and convinced me that this was not the time to experiment with another color or style. I want to just kind of pass in the hair department. Now, I will have to work on learning how to “draw” eyebrows. I thought for a brief moment of having them permanently tattooed on, but then panicked: what if they grew back in a different place and for the rest of my days, I had to wax the “real” ones off to keep from looking like a Ringling Brothers clown? Not willing to go there.

For hot days, they advise ditching the wig altogether and wearing head scarves. I have never ever been good with scarves, so I will need coaching here. And their assortment was not to my tastes, either. I asked Darlene if she ever got ones that were less “Amish” (with apologies, no insults meant here), they only had ones with little floral patterns in dark colors at the store. She assured me they were getting more in that I would like. So I hope so, because when we are sweating it out in Disneyworld over Memorial Day weekend, I would like not to resemble the fashion style of Wife Number Two on “Big Love”. (Those of you without HBO, look it up). I will even have a little cozy hat to wear at bedtime, if needed.

So, after bringing the wig home, I decided to name it/her since “the wig” sounds so impersonal. And I will be having a long relationship with this piece of synthetic hair…at least five months or so, possibly longer, until my hair starts to really grow out. Her name is now officially Dee Dee. My alter ego? Not quite sure, but I will be getting a lot of practice with her.

So, before I close this long report, I have to say that one of the more disheartening things I heard this past week about chemo was that it does not always mean weight loss. That really affected me, if I cannot even lose weight while having chemotherapy, I might as well give up the entire idea. So my plan is to follow the eating guidelines to have little meals, but to make sure that I don’t turn to my “drugs of choice” (ice cream and other sweets) for comfort.

But Seriously

As you are reading, I am approaching this phase in my life with humor, but also trying to stay focused on living each day at a time. Enjoying the wonderful things too, like the fact that somewhere in the past month, Sofie started drawing realistic looking (for a kid) figures, not scribble scrabble ones. And that she is a wonderful, compassionate child, who wanted to take care of me the day I had stomach flu or whatever that was. So sweet, she rubbed my back like I do for her when she is sick.

I just love her to bits. I am being careful not to say “cancer” to her at this juncture, or “chemo” because those are loaded big words and might be misinterpreted by well meaning teachers or other parents, and she might get a more negative message. So I am saying “medicine” and “treatment” and the like. Hopefully it will be a serious of moments to be managed. Mostly I am concerned about managing the huge co-pay bills now coming in, but will work on a payment plan. My insurance plan is not all it was cracked up to be, that is for sure. But they never are. Hillary Clinton, get to work on universal health care bills, please.

I want to say, at closing, that the love and support, via emails, and cards, and good thoughts I have received have been abundant and welcome. I feel that one of the many lessons that will come out of all this is my increased ability to receive love. That has to be a good thing.

I have not even begun to discuss the joys of a medically induced menopause, that will be later. So far, actually not too bad. But there are months to go!!!

I will write more soon, probably after the first treatment. My mom is coming for her first visit next week, planned six months ago, and this is a comfort, even though spending five hours in chemotherapy treatment room was not on my to do list for the visit. Hopefully we will feel better enough to do more over the weekend and while she is here. I hope so.

My love and thanks to all of you.

Fast Forward, One Month (Originally written 3/11/2006)

What a difference a month makes. The A, B, C's of parenting from last month was a theme I planned to continue for a bit, so perhaps I will. But I might skip to another letter in this update, S. Keep reading, I will get there.

I realized when I sent the update in February that I had forgotten another of the C's...

C is for CAMP and the challenges of summer....

Who knew, when applying for international adoption of my adorable toddler girl, the challenges that summer would bring post pre-school/daycare days. I guess I just had not thought this all out, but the public school system is not year round! Duh. So I was a little taken aback when advised by a more seasoned parent (who has a first grader), that the selection of summer camps has to begin early. Like in December for some of the more popular ones.

There are books and magazines and of course, websites for all this. But it is daunting none the less. I decided that I would try a few camps for her this year, since I am not quite sure what she will like. One is a three week camp that my friend's daughter went to, a "pure camp experience" and Sofie is registered for three weeks, mid-summer. Then I filled in with the life and science museum camp for at least a week and then mostly YMCA camp. She goes to the Y programs during the school days off (schools close for "teacher workdays" and holidays that UNC does not seem to recognize, so additional care is always needed on these days). The Y is great, she skates, swims, uses the gym and comes home worn out and happy.

And it is close to our neighborhood, and on the way to work, so it is almost ideal. Except this is the south, so the C in
Y M C A is a bigger deal here than say, in Berkeley where you have to really look to see what it means at all. The pool area is festooned with messages about G_d, and there are other messages more subtle but ever present about developing Christian values and character. I had a talk with one of the program managers, Gordon, a fresh faced, earnest young man who seemed to get that I had some concerns about over-doing the Christian aspects of the YMCA in programming. He was pretty reassuring that this was not heavy handed, but there was something in his affect (reminded me of those earnest missionary people in the Downtown SF area, smiling at you as they attempt to stuff booklets into your hands...they look so sincere, but they also were a little too Clockwork Orange for my taste...maybe it was their suits). Anyway, Gordon and I reached some sort of understanding, and to be honest, the convenience, price and all round location of the program won out.

So, hopefully, the full summer is scheduled with camp experiences. And Sofie will surely tell me which she likes the most. I know that developing friendships is important as she is getting older. And so being at the YMCA will hopefully make that a bit easier, with some consistency.

So, now for the other letter in this update: S is for surgery.

Last week, I found out that I have a "mass" on one of my ovaries. Not small either, about the size of a grapefruit (small grapefruit, but all the same.....). In a matter of days, I went from my perception of myself as doing pretty well, health-wise, to "patient". It started the moment I walked through the doors of the Morris Cancer Clinic at Duke. Yep, there are the "CLINICS" and then this special door. Why, I am not sure, but it is creepy that even "suspected" cancer patients have to enter through a special door, in a different area to get to see their doctor. But as soon as I crossed that threshold, I felt a subtle but real transformation from person to patient. I got there at 8 am. I left the clinics at 2:30, scheduled for surgery the following Thursday and having had myself EKG'ed, chest x-rayed, blood drawn, examined by a number of various folks in the pre-op area and all that. I did my best to keep a sense of humor throughout, as those of you who know me might imagine. For example, my height and weight was recorded in the gyne-oncology clinic by one nursing assistant. An hour later, Lisa in the pre-op area told me to stand on the scale and be measured and weighed. I mentioned that in fact that had just been done. But evidently, one floor does not trust the measuring of the other, so on I went. Sadly, the weight did not change, but I seemed to have grown a half inch in the hour between measuring. So that was good, I guess.

Everyone was nice, it is a big research center, just like UCSF or any other big place, so I signed two or three forms consenting to be in this study and that tissue bank and all that. The very last person, a nurse assigned to get me to consider giving tissue samples to their tissue bank, was unexpectedly the one who finally, gently and without much fanfare, acknowledged that this day must have been hard and that the surgery must be scary. And she was so right. She shared some wisdom from her mama, about letting go on some things, and I found myself relaxing just a bit.

Interestingly, I had not been able to shed a tear from Monday, when this all began, until Thursday PM, when I watched the DVD of RENT. From the opening song, I just let the tears flow. It was quite cathartic and I felt like now I can deal with the logistics of all of this, getting help (thanks to Barbara and my sister) and support from friends (you have all been wonderful and I can literally feel the energy coming from West Coast to East Coast). The lesson learned for me, from this, is that I have in fact, learned to ask for help. A big deal for me as some of you might know.

So now, I have to tell Sofie this weekend. Will put this into simple, clear and 5 year old operation at the hospital to take out a lump in my body that should not be there. Hopefully she will be able to see me on Thursday night or Friday. And we will retain as much "routine" which is the best thing for a little person. But I imagine she might be worried. She is kind of intuitive, I have found. And if she is, she will know that my darkest thoughts have been about not being able to see her grow up. I cannot imagine that. I am trying to stay positive, at the same time, signing legal documents, getting paperwork together, etc. Very complex and also a good distracting project to take my mind off things sort of, for a little while. There is not much time to organize all of this, but you know I love a good project and a deadline to motivate me. So I am writing, clearing things off of piles, etc.

Did I mention this sucks?

Hopefully, the outcome will be a benign mass, a quick recovery and a much more organized office and guest room.

I will keep you all posted. Barbara might use this list to update you all after the surgery or later in the week.

I love you all and thank you for your support. And I believe in the healing power of energy. So send that this way.

The ABC's of parenting today (Originally written 2/13/2006)

So, it was more than a week, what a surprise! It is hard to get back in the once a week mode of writing. So where to begin? Turning to Sue Grafton for inspiration, I will loosely use the A, B and C method this time to update you on some funny and not so funny things!

First, A is for Attitude

Whoever thought a five and a half year old (official on February 2nd and don’t you forget it!) could have this much attitude!? It is sometimes subtle, in the way she says “maaaaaam” and sort of rolls those baby blues. Sometimes less so, as when she told Jamie a week or so ago that I told her that she (Jamie) was not her mom and that I was lying (and that lying is not a good idea). Jeez. It is tough to explain the nuances of single legal parenting to a kid, you know? She keeps trying on different ideas for shared visitation:

How about if I stay with you tonight, and Jamie tomorrow and you the tomorrow after tomorrow and then Jamie the two tomorrows after and……?

What if I stayed with you all week and spent weekends at the condo? (Jamie’s condo). That is fair, right?

Mom (whined not spoken)…it isn’t fair when…..(fill in the blanks).

Poor kid, she loves us both, tells us what we want to hear sometimes (“Mom, I love you the bestest ever ever”) and pines for what she does not have.

It is hard enough to keep track of what stuffed animal is currently residing in which home. I trust her to know more than I do.

But then I soften, last night she spiked a 102.4 temp and I kept her at my side in my bed, all night, worrying about febrile seizures (she had one over two years ago) and waking frequently due to kicks, legs sticking in my ribs, etc. How can someone who weighs under 40 pounds strike such a punch? Yeow! At least she doesn’t shed, Gracie, our “plump” cat, walks on me too, and sheds constantly. I choose the kicker with the high temp any day of the week.

B is for Boyfriend (and Birthday)

So, about a week and a half ago, Sofie is in the back of the car, where we have most of our more philosophical chats, and she says, kind of out of the blue, “Mom, you know what? I have a boyfriend”. I counter (calmly of course), “you mean you have a friend who is a boy? That’s nice”. “No, mom, (exasperation in voice), I have a boyfriend. You know. (well, actually, I don’t know. What exactly constitutes a boyfriend at five and a half?). So I ask her, what does that mean to have a boyfriend? What do you do? And she responds: “well, we play together and read together and laugh and sometimes we have recess together and play”. Relieved, I support her with interest. “That’s great. And what is your boyfriend’s name?” “I forget” she says. Whew. I guess they are not doing anything that special not just yet.

It has been interesting this week, however. We got into a discussion of sameness and difference with people. She said we looked “the same”. I asked her why she thought that and she said our noses were the same and our eyes. I pointed out that mine were brown and hers blue-grey, but that parents and kids did not need to look anything alike or friends either to have those relationships. She thought about this a bit, and responded that “yeah, that is right. Sheldon is different and we are friends”. Sheldon is an African American boy in her class. (I suspect he may be the “boyfriend”). I probed a bit about those differences. “Well, mom, Sheldon doesn’t have a lot of hair, and I do” was her response. You gotta love the blank slates that our kids start out with. Appreciating differences is a Montessori value, at her school and she is learning a lot. She came home singing a song last week:

Everybody, everybody, out to (sic, ought to) know freedom

Everybody, everybody out to know justice

Everybody, everybody out to know friendship

It is sweet, she frequently sings to herself while playing. Tonight, she sang this to me in her voice and then in a cute high pitched voice, she sang it for her blankie. I wish I had not written that, that she was totally over this object of her affection, but I am beginning to think she will be packing it when she goes to college. It made me smile, however, to hear her sing it in a totally different pitch for the blanket.

Oh, and the birthday B is so sweet. I had a very quiet birthday last week, Sofie and I ate out at Whole Foods little cafĂ© (a whopping $5.86 for both of us, she gets salad bar and pasta but such a small portion that it costs under $2.00 and I got soup and a roll). Then she picked out the most huge frosted chocolate cupcakes to take home for candles. That day, my actual birthday, she learned to zip up her jacket solo, so I told her that was a great present for me. Her response (and it still makes me smile)…Mommy, I am your present…with a big kiss to seal the deal. Best present ever.

C is for Challenges and Ccccchange

I am still trying to figure out if I/we need to move back to California. Day to day, life is manageable, if somewhat boring (by my bay area standards, I guess). Unremarkable, perhaps? I find myself looking smaller signs of good things, and finding them in little things, realizing I know several ways to get to a destination, without Map quest. That the cold days don’t seem as cold as last year. That I kind of like the way the house looks most of the time. That Sofie is growing and changing in all sorts of lovely ways. That I don’t mind not going out three nights a week.

But I miss the company of friends, I miss gay men (I don’t have any gay male friends here at all!) And nary a black tie event to even consider. This year, for the first time in 20 years (since 1986) I will be watching the Oscars in my bedroom slippers and not in black satin. Yep, I am unable to go to the Academy of Friends this year. So it will be a novelty, to watch from home. I might have to bring in some gourmet food and wine, so the withdrawal is not so painful!!! And perhaps I will wear my pj’s but with heels.

I miss that feeling that there are all sorts of possibilities out there, even if I am not attending them. I am totally happy with Netflix and the occasional movie in a theater. I have started reading again, which I love and missed. But sometimes…..

And I miss that feeling of familiar. The feeling you have after 20 years in the same place. The weather. The bay area-ness of it all.

But then I think about “retirement”. Whatever and whenever that might happen. And I think that I won’t be able to live in the bay area then, not with a small retirement income and no house. So what would make more sense? I really love Asheville. (Western NC). My good friends Jacque and Barbara are there, living a lovely life (no kids) and always welcoming. It is a place with beauty, cultural arts, some but not tons of snow in the winter and not so many hot sticky nights in summer. Not a bad option, eh? So that is a new train of thought. If I moved “back” to CA for now, rented and perhaps bought a house for my future in NC, in Asheville.

The thought of not having my own house, after nearly a decade of owning one, is hard to handle. I know what a fortunate person I was to have done that in the bay area, and I mourn my lovely home in Oakland. But it is more than that. Renting doesn’t seem settled, somehow. And so far, the only places to rent I have investigated are from $1750 to $2100 for not so much space, less than 1200 square feet. So it is hard to let this less expensive option here go.

Everyone who has written and been so incredibly supportive, I thank you. Don’t stop! And if I start driving you nuts with my indecision or my process, let me know, gently and I will try to stop.

And, if I have not mentioned it, you are all welcome to visit. One or two at a time, of course.

OK, must stop for now and go check her temperature again. She was down to 99.8 before she fell asleep, but that was the Ibuprofen, I suspect.

Love and happy Valentine’s day.

Return of the Update/Blog (Originally written 1/14/2006)

At the request of several of you and because it is a new year and I resolved to try to write more again, I am planning to re-establish the Updates (formerly known as the Ukraine Updates, then the Sofia Updates). I have not named the new blog yet, but if you want to catch up on the previous postings (from about June 2004 through May 2005), you can go to I have to come up with a better name for it as well. If you did not receive them before but are getting this, it is because I thought you might enjoy them.

I will, however, let you know the new blog address in a week or so, so you can check that if the spirit moves you****

I will likely be setting up a completely new address for this. As most of you know, the past year (past ten months, really) have had many changes. I stopped writing the blog entries in March, just as things at the “Kent-Lamkin” household began to unravel.

I moved to Durham with Sofie in June of 2004, using the motto “Leap and the net will appear” as a mantra. I had huge hopes and dreams for bringing us together as a family. We got a new house, painted the walls in gorgeous rich colors, re-did the kitchen, got Sofie in a great preschool, and I went on the longest job search of my lifetime. Less than a year after moving to the Triangle, it was very clear that although I was adjusting to the ‘burbs as I call them (all of Durham feels like a big suburb to me, I actually live less than ten minutes from downtown, such as it is), and even learning how to manage the bugs, the heat and the oppressive humidity, the relationship was never going to be what I had hoped. Two very, very different people. We tried, I guess. Years from now, no doubt, I will have more perspective. Right now, I still have many regrets and sadness about the whole thing.

And so the decision was made officially to split up for good sometime in April. Those of you who traveled this path with me in the 2002 split know that one was done with much drama, and that one was exactly the same time that I got the referral for Sofia’s adoption. I made the decision in 2002 to move ahead and go Ukraine to get my daughter. I had waited the 18 months all the paperwork took, not to mention I have never regretted that, even on the most sleepless nights/weeks. My family, friends and community rallied around and I felt supported by the village. The net did appear then, and I landed, albeit not very gracefully, in the net on more than one occasion.

This time, I find myself in a different place. I have a house, a job, a daughter (now nearly 5 and a half years old, where did the time go?) in kindergarten and not a whole lot of friends, family or community around me to bolster my spirits, support me on the bad days and generally be there. I have, as many of you know, turned to lots of you out there in CA for support. And I have been nourished by you.

So now, I am in a place of consideration. Do I want to stay or leave? If I go, where exactly am I going to? Back to California does not mean back to the life or the home I had there once. So much has changed. To all of you who said “don’t sell your house” (which I did, anyway), I want to say “you were so right”. But I am trying to figure out if I can go back to my community and pick up my life there, knowing it will be a different path. Maybe I won’t be able to get a house again, which is a harsh reality. I know the Bay area is a very expensive place to live, so that is a consideration too. But CA is calling me, it still feels like home. And Sofie (post our holiday vacation), cried the other day about how she missed her friends. And that CA is better because the zoo there (Oakland Zoo) has more rides.

A great part of the reason for the move was Sofie’s wellbeing. It is not easy being a single parent as many of you can attest, and it was made more challenging there due to heavy workload and a daughter with some special needs. I thought she would benefit from having two adults and she has. We are different people, Jamie and I and we parent differently, but Sofie being Sofie, has figured all that out. The move to the Triangle in that regard has been a blessing. Sofie has blossomed here, she has gotten lots of services (occupational therapy for one) that have helped her come into her own. She is still the lively child she was, but her behaviors have matured. She is an active kindergartener now, in a great Montessori public (yes, public) school, one block from our house. The IEP team from the Durham Public Schools is awesome and are very focused on helping her achieve. She is learning phonics and also sight reading and gets so delighted when she sees a word that is one of her sight words. The kindergarten list is about 20 short words, like the, and, see, to, etc. I have added Costco, Target and Sears to that list. We read together everyday, and I am taking such pleasure in her learning. She also seems to really like math (the Montessori math methods might have even gotten me to like it), and is so proud of herself when she achieves something in math. She did the hundreds board the other day, and could not wait to tell me. I fake the enthusiasm for the math stuff a bit, but I am secretly excited that she shows aptitude here. She is also more able to express herself, verbally and emotionally. And she has a great memory. She will remember a “promise” I made to her in passing three weeks ago and remind me of it at the most inopportune moments!

I have attached some recent photos, the other girl in the one of two kids is Naomi from San Leandro CA. The girls had a nice play date in CA and they have been having these play dates since Sofie was 21 months old and Naomi was a year old. The grew up together, in many ways. As did their moms. We take photos of them together annually, we have for three years and we hope to continue until they are in college. Or tell us to get lost. Which will probably be a lot sooner than college.

So, do let me know if you want to keep getting these little updates. I send my best to all of you for the new year. And if you should happen to call us here in NC, Sofie might just answer the phone with “Hello, this is Sofie, who is this please?” or the alternative “what do you want?”. We are working on it.

“Leap, and the net will appear”