Our miracle RAINBOW BABY BOY arrived 8/2018

1st IVF = BFN
2nd IVF = Baby A, born May 2015
3rd IVF = Miscarriage at 14 weeks
4th IVF = BFN
After we paid for 5th IVF, positive pregnancy without IVF!

Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Return to Running

I'm not sure how or why, but my blog was just featured as #46 in: 

The post? Ironically, "100 Best Running Blogs" in spite of the fact that I have not run one mile in longer than I care to admit; it has been at least a few months. And I don't even have a valid excuse. I have a super-nice jogging stroller that glides along effortlessly. My almost 10 month old baby sleeps 10-12 hours a night, naps and always falls asleep early. I have a very supportive husband who rarely, if ever, goes out so that's not it either. 

So why haven't I logged any miles? I have had a pain in my left hip post-run ever since my friend Delia peer-pressured me into my first (and only) ultra-marathon: The North Face Endurance Challenge, back in 2011. It actually was an incredible experience that you can read about here. After that race, I took a break for two whole months, and was all set to start training for the Ragnar Relay. When I did, the pain was still there. I kept running anyway, but had to back off the distance and sell my entry into the race to a friend. 

Then, I was out of commission while undergoing fertility treatments (a few IUIs and 2 IVFs) and during my entire pregnancy. I don't believe that running is unhealthy during pregnancy, and always thought I would continue. However, because I was going through the IVF process, my doctors would not allow me to, and I wasn't about to go against their recommendations.

After my c-section, I couldn't run for over two months. My doctor even chided me for walking too far during that time. I was doing three miles, twice a day, which he said was too much. When I was finally cleared to run, I was so excited to get out there, but it was infrequent because we did not have the right attachment to put her car seat in the jogging stroller. She needed to wait until she had good neck stability, and was over 6 months old. I went for a run here or there, but hated being apart from her.

After waiting all that time, I was ready to get back into it. Finally old enough to go in the stroller, I headed out for a few 3 mile runs which were extremely difficult. Not only was I heavier than pre-pregnancy, but it seemed as if all my cardio was gone...as if I had never run before. When you're used to going on 10+ mile runs and then finding yourself not able to run 1 mile without a walk-break (or two!), it is mentally and physically defeating. 

And then the hip pain came back. It was slightly different, on the side instead of the front, but still my left hip.

It was so bad after one 1.5 mile run with my husband (3 laps around the block) that I was limping the next day. Wondering if I was doing more harm than good, I resolved to hold off on running until my doctor could determine what was wrong. I went in for an appointment, and he didn't really do anything other than recommend physical therapy which is too far from my house. A few days later, I called and asked for an MRI. I wanted to know if this was just something fixable (such as ligaments, alignment, muscle imbalance) or if it was possibly an early arthritis or bone issue. I started to wonder if I should be running at all. When he (through speaking to his nurses) would not order an MRI without seeing me again, out of frustration I said "Please let him know that I'm going to switch doctors."

I switched to my new doctor, who ordered a hip x-ray (precursor to an MRI). I was all set to do that when I was given the diagnosis of melanoma, which turned out to be incorrect. While we still thought I had melanoma, I had a wide-excision on my back and two lymph nodes removed. This was almost a month ago and I just now am starting to not be in pain. For the first time in my life, I was going through something emotionally difficult and draining and I was not able to run to make it seem smaller.

Which brings us to today. Having my blog featured in this was a bit of a wake-up call. I still need to get my hip pain checked out, but now that I was just given an (unnecessary) dose of radiation with my PET-CT scan, I'm not sure I want to add an MRI to that. I also have to switch doctors and find a new primary care physician who won't tell me I have cancer when I don't. In the mean time, I don't want to (literally) sit around! My goal is to be back to my pre-pregnancy weight by her first birthday, which is only two months away. Running is my go-to activity for weight loss, and also for helping me feel amazing mentally. 

So as soon as I finish this, I'm headed out the door for a run. It won't be far, and it won't be easy, but I'm going to do it and commit to running 3 miles at least three times every week until her party.

Monday, March 14, 2016

I Don't Have Cancer?

WARNING: This post contains a photo of my incision. If you do not want to see it, do not scroll down. Stick with the cute illustration here on your left. 

The month of March rolled in like one of those foggy mornings where the fog lingers well into the afternoon and you think it's going to clear up, but it never does. I constantly found myself distracted by the looming outcomes of my various tests and biopsies. The best example of how distracted I became is one night after a particularly sweet and mood-boosting conversation with my Mom Cathy, I passed the phone to my husband, who had a few things he needed to ask her. While they were on the phone, I started to search for mine. I checked where I was sitting. No phone. The kitchen, the charger. No and no. At a loss, I mouthed to my husband "Have you seen my phone?" To which he responded by pointing to his ear. Oooh, he's still on it. Right.

I did my best to be present and happy and sweet for my baby girl, who really is becoming more and more, with each passing day: My sunshine. Seeing her excited smile, and a squeal if I'm lucky, when we've been apart or she sees Trevi, fills my heart. I can't get enough of her when she's awake, and I always have a twinge of sadness when she drifts off to sleep, in my arms. I hold her for awhile after she falls asleep because I just don't want to put her down. And sometimes, I put my face close to hers so that I can feel her breath when she exhales.

Somehow, I was able to make it through that first week of March without crying at work (practice from Mom's situation?) but would often let down my guard on the drive home, or once at home. It sure must be confusing to a baby who is new to learning expressions and their corresponding meanings, and the world in general, to suddenly be faced with a Mommy who bawls her eyes out, while also trying to smile and now hugs her just a little too tightly.

On the 14th, I returned to my primary care physician who I credited with saving my life, and we were to continue with mole removal. I was also planning to ask her if there was any way that the original three biopsy samples had been mixed up...because no melanoma was found in the wide excision that was done. But, we since learned that happens, sometimes.

We were in no way prepared for what we were told when her and her office manager walked in: You do not have melanoma, and you never had melanoma. The biopsy results were mixed up. 

We are still in shock and don't know what to think. My husband is unsure that these "new" results are even accurate, and we have asked for DNA testing to be certain.

Every person who is told they have cancer wishes and prays that it is not true. This must be some sort of a mistake is one of the first things that goes through your mind. How many get called back in and told it really is?

We can't stop thinking the poor other girl who got the clear results only to be called and told this, after it has been growing for 3 weeks. The doctor said she has had melanoma before.

It's almost 1/2 my back, plus lymph node removal

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

My Oncologist

I have an oncologist, which means I have cancer. These two facts still have not really sunk in. I imagined signing in at my oncologist's office in Huntington Beach this afternoon, only to be called up to the window a short time later and told "Megan? I'm sorry, there seems to be a mistake. You were referred to us when you had cancer. Your results were faxed to us yesterday and we see that you're now cancer free. Congratulations! There's no need to see the doctor."

But as I learned just days ago, while the results were great (clear margins, not in lymph nodes), I still "have" cancer because it is melanoma and melanoma does not operate by normal rules.

We left our daughter at daycare and sat in the waiting room with a litany of questions to ask:
  • What is my chance of re-occurrence?
  • Is there anything I can do to prevent re-occurrence
  • How does this affect our planned infertility treatments 1) Natural cycle IUI's and IVF?
  • How might the hormones used in treatment affect the melanoma?
  • Does melanoma really grow faster while pregnant?
  • What stage am I?
  • Are there any other screenings I can have done besides PET/CT?
  • How frequent will my scans be? Are there negative side-effects from frequent scans?
  • How can we be as aggressive as possible?
  • Should I have lymph nodes biopsied again in a few months?
  • What type of sunscreen should I wear?
  • Is there a certain amount of time when I will be "in the clear" if I don't have any re-occurrence?
I think we left the office with more questions than we had answers. For example, we don't even really know what stage I am. The doctor told us I was stage II b - a devastating fact - and when Nathan asked him to show him on the admittedly confusing flow chart, the doctor retracted his answer with a less than confident "Oh, no I see, you're right, 1b."

There are no treatments for patients unless they are stage 3 or 4, as we had already learned because the benefits need to outweigh the costs, and even the treatment can kill you. And sadly, he did suggest holding off on trying to have another baby, at least until we have our 6 month scans. I asked him if I could have the scans in 3 months instead, and he explained that if any cancer was growing now, it would not yet be big enough to be picked up on a scan in three months. Plus, there's the exposure. We split the difference, sort of, and he agreed that I could have scans again in 4 months.

Then we were told something slightly alarming: that there was no melanoma found in the wide excision. Well since the biopsy showed margins that were not clear, there should be some there, right? This had us wondering if - gasp - the wrong area had been excised. What if the bottles were labeled incorrectly by the doctor or when they were sent to the lab? It could happen, right? Nathan was on the phone to the surgeon, who took personal offence to the thought of this (though the error would have happened prior to his involvement) and started explaining that he doesn't just go taking out chunks of skin. Well, the oncologist, who knew the surgeon and was motioning for the phone and Nathan passed it off to him, not really being given the opportunity to explain he was handing it over. It was pretty funny when the oncologist started telling my surgeon that my wound was now looking infected and he would need to place me on a course of antibiotics, and the surgeon, still thinking he was talking to Nathan shot back with "You cannot say that - that needs to come from a doctor!"

We left the 3 pm appointment just after 5:30 pm, more confused and defeated, and arrived to our little girl's daycare before they closed at 6 pm. We are considering switching medical groups on the first of the month, but still have appointments this week, with a new dermatologist and another visit to my primary care. We are also getting second opinions on the pathology reports, which may take up to 10 days, so that we can be certain of proper staging.

Being told that you - or a loved one - have cancer knocks the wind out of you and shakes you to your very core. I used to love being scared as a child and remember entering my teens and 20's realizing that "nothing" scared me anymore. Well cancer sure does. And it does it in way unlike any horror movie. Because it is real and it is your life and it is in your body.

It invaded my mind long before we found out that it was not in my lymph nodes. At church that first Sunday, my thoughts started drifting as we sat in the fifth row, close to the choir because our daughter likes watching them sing. I guess I do, too. I looked at my favorite cute older woman, 70-ish with a gray bob, stylish clothes and always a bright shade of lipstick. As she sang, I imagined her having tea with a good friend later that day, watering her spider plants on the patio and then feeding her cat a combination of wet and dry food, so it didn't ruin their teeth. Then my eyes landed on a homely girl in her late twenties. She was pretty, but not too pretty, with no ring on her finger. Before I knew it, I pictured her making a good second wife to my husband. I was as comforted by the fact that she looked like she would be a good Mom to my daughter as I was the fact that she probably did not have as good of a sense of humor as I do, thus ensuring that he would still miss me from time to time.

I have been so caught up in my own worry, self-pity, and fear of leaving my daughter without a Mom that I did not realize the turmoil my husband was in. His tough "we've got this - you're going to be fine" attitude was mixed with the sweetest helpfulness, and he would cheerfully ask me several times each day what he could do for me, or help with. Each day, I woke up a new post-it in a different location with an explanation of something he loved about me, which I have hidden away, and will save all my life. He prayed with me at night, and held me as I cried and told me he wished it was happening to him instead. I had no idea that he was going through so much because he seemed fine and was "there" for me.

It wasn't until I saw his elation yesterday when we were given the good news of clear margins and clear lymph nodes and he told me "Now I can eat" that I realized how tough this had been on him. In less than two weeks, he had lost 15 pounds, and I dropped five. It probably would have been more, if not for our local Catholic church's meal tidings which we signed up for with some coaxing, and were given a few home-cooked meals every few days for one week.

But I will say that not all of this has been negative. There's nothing like being told you have cancer to infuse your life with meaning. My husband and I already have a completely new outlook on life and each other, how we spend our time, what we worry about and who we let get to us (read: no one). This new perspective is slowly emerging and taking shape as we steady ourselves, still reeling from the news. I hope to expand on that and use the power that cancer has over me right now in positive ways. Tonight was a rush and a blur and we are tired and scared but we are clinging to each other with a tender kindness that somehow makes it all palpable.

Though I lament the fact that I now have an oncologist and still technically have cancer, I am keenly aware that what I have to be thankful for outweighs the power that cancer holds. I am blessed beyond measure because "something" got me to that my new doctor (Tiffany Wilson in Irvine), who did a biopsy of a mole that didn't really look suspicious and caught it. That "something" was either my Mom, God, my intuition, or all of the above.

I want to thank you for reading and being a part of my journey through this, and all of you who have reached out in support. Somehow, my blog views are now hovering just above 6,000 every month, something I never dreamed of, with ten or more readers in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, India, Estonia, Brazil, Spain and Russia.

If you haven't already, you can sign up to be notified of future postings here. Don't worry, you won't read about me to turning into a cancer warrior or survivor, something I think should be reserved for those who undergo chemotherapy. But I will share with you my life as it comes my way, with honesty, sincerity and hopefully some humor.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Retrospective + Results

When I started my blog just over five years ago, I didn't really have much to blog about. But I wanted to start a blog just the same, and so the topic of most of my posts became triathlon training, since I was gearing up for my first (and last) half Ironman. My first posting was enthusiastically titled FIRST DAY IN THE POOL! and I continued to blog about the ups and downs of training for the next six months, sometimes throwing in a recipe or, if you were really lucky, motivation or race-recovery tips. 

I ended up not completing the entire race, finishing 69.1 miles instead of the 70.3. When I look back at that race report here, I see photos of my Mom, Dad and brother and am brought back to that sunny day in May when my greatest concern was that race, and my biggest regret was not having trained harder for the swim portion.

When I had a lull in my training, I remember sometimes being at a loss on topics for my blog. Slowly, my blog did start to tackle more serious topics, but not until quite awhile after I wrote about Shifting Focus of my blog to, you guessed it, self improvement. I quoted a book I was currently reading, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. 
"The words of the writer Colette had haunted me for years: 'What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner.' I didn't want to look back, at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe, and think, 'How happy I used to be then, if only I'd realized it.' I needed to think about this: How could I discipline myself to feel grateful for my ordinary day? How could I set a higher standard for myself as a wife, mother, writer, a friend? How could I let go of everyday annoyances to keep a larger, more transcendent perspective?" (from The Happiness Project)

I cautiously introduced my now husband to my "readers" (how many did I have then, 10?) months after I had written in my private diary that I knew he was the one on the night of our very first date. And I gushed over his proposal to me in front of the Trevi Fountain on a surprise trip to Rome in my We're Engaged! posting. It was perfect, and a fairy-tale, and more than I had ever even hoped for, as we began wedding planning.

All of my posts were positive, because that's how life was at the time. Simple, yet exciting, with everything finally falling into place.

Then, three months before our wedding, Mom was diagnosed with cancer. Brain cancer. And I started my posting The Big C with a quote that really wanted to believe, but now finally know to be true: 

“The next time you’re faced with something that’s unexpected, unwanted, and uncertain, consider that it may be a gift.”—Stacey Kramer

No longer searching for topics, I blogged my way through my last 14 months with her and came to understand just how therapeutic putting my thoughts down and sharing them with others had become. Never one to go on the computer and proud of the fact she had never sent or received and email, she would often contribute to my blog by suggesting I share her point of view or a funny anecdote that happened during chemo treatment. I interviewed her about parenting after our first (failed) IVF procedure, knowing she might not be around when I had my little girl. 

I started to make connections and had other people from different parts of the world reach out in support. It also felt good knowing that our memories were saved; archived. I wouldn't forget, for example, Autumn Weekends with Mom, and they were there not just for me to look back on one day, but for family, her family even, in other parts of the world to see and always there for safekeeping. And for future family, like our now 9 month old little girl.

I blogged through our two IVF procedures, and the birth of our amazing little girl - life's real game-changer and our greatest joy. The tough parts were finally behind us, and we were set right again on a great course for our life. Having already had our fair-share of trials in our short marriage, some of which actually were not blogged about, we had emerged with our relationship in-tact, not completely unscathed but stronger as a couple and definitely closer for it.

And that brings us to today. A day or two before I will hopefully be receiving the news that my margins were clear, and the melanoma was not already in my lymph nodes. But here I sit, absolutely terrified that won't be the case. Or that it will return in three months. What I'm learning about the disease is that it will never be "cured" or gone from me. The most I can hope for is what melanoma survivors call NED: no evidence of disease.

I had avoided google and webmd until a few days ago. That was when I found out that because my primary tumor was more than 1 mm, and I'm most likely stage 1B, I will never be cured. It may recur, but with current stage my chances would be lower. Lower...but what I really wanted was it to be gone. Forever. I asked a family member who is a doctor how it reoccurs....same mole/site or different? She said Usually, the same one shows up years later. It recurs locally or may spread distantly.

I was so distraught by this. Distraught by the fact that there was nothing I could proactively "do" to get rid of it, like chemo. I could stay on top of my scans every three months, but even PET CT scans only show actual masses, not cellular changes. Depending on where they are, it can be too late. I lamented to my Mom Cathy, who has checked in on me every day since the diagnosis, that I did not want to leave our little girl with no Mom at 10 years old or heck, even 20.

I usually try and tie my postings up with a tidy bow and put a positive spin on them. But in this one, I'm not going to try that hard. I am going to end it with how I am feeling and how frightened I am of leaving my little girl and the love of my life who has, in less than three years of marriage, proven himself a thousand times over to be more than I could ask for or probably deserve.

***UPDATE*** My surgeon just called while we were on our walk. Margins were clear, primary site was widely excised, and there were NO melanoma cells in my two lymph nodes that were biopsied. He is faxing the report to my oncologist who we meet with tomorrow at 3pm. My husband picked me up, careful to avoid my 18 stitches that look like a shark bite, spun me around and kissed me. It may not be gone, and we have a lot to learn about how to remain vigilant, but for right now it is a whole lot smaller.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Melanoma Surgery

It has been 10 days since we found out that I have melanoma and each one has been fraught with emotion. Up and down every day, sometimes even within the same day. I managed to stay away from survival rates/prognosis until the day after my surgery, today. That is when I learned that if it has not spread to my lymph nodes - something we will not find out for a few more days - I have an 86% chance of being alive in 10 years. That's a B+, and a tough pill to swallow.

The day before my surgery we received the PET/CT scan results and found out that they were clear. We were elated, knowing that this at least meant I was stage IV because there were no masses. However, we quickly learned that this type of scan does up cancer cells, only masses, so the melanoma could have already spread to my lymph nodes. Only a biopsy would determine. We quickly went from elation to tempered enthusiasm.

We checked into HOAG hospital at 8:45 am and left just after 3 pm. It was a long day, but I was under anesthesia for most of it. When I arrived I was taken to the pre-op room. My husband and daughter were brought back to visit with me before I was taken down to nuclear medicine for mapping of my sentinel lymph node. I have always said she was a good sleeper, and this was no exception. Less than five minutes after she was placed on me, she was out and even stayed on my while they hooked up my IV on the top of my left hand. Holding her is the best calming drug out there.

I was wheeled down to nuclear medicine so that they could do some mapping and find which lymph node the melanoma would go to if it had spread. I was a bit alarmed to be told that due to the location (over right shoulder blade) which was more in the middle of my back, it could go to either the lymph nodes by my right armpit, or the ones near my right groin, or both. This was alarming. Each of the four injections stung and burned and I held my breath with each one. Laying as still as possible so they could get good images for 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there, I was quickly told that the radioactive dye only traveled to my right armpit area and was relieved. The radiologist came out and drew the location with a marker.

Then I was wheeled back up to the pre-op room where my husband and daughter were waiting, and met my anesthesiologist and my surgeon that we had met just a few days prior. We had been under the impression that he was going to biopsy my lymph node(s), but were a bit confused to learn that he would actually be removing 3 of them. Since there are about 50, he explained it as "picking grapes." I gave kisses to my loves, and was taken into the surgery room.

The surgery rooms are always so bright and cold. As I was injected with the medicine to put me under, my blood pressure cuff was inflating and it burned and hurt so bad. Even though I had been given something to relax me, tears immediately started flowing. "Hold off on her cuff" was the last thing I remember hearing someone say as I was placed on the surgery table and quietly said three Hail Mary's before drifting off.

Hours passed and the surgeries were successful I would find out later. Well, we will not know if they "got" all of the melanoma until the results of the tissue being analyzed come back and the margins are clear. And the real game changer: has it spread to my lymph nodes. Apparently, there is only a 6% chance that it has for  me, based on my data.

As I "came to" while being wheeled into recovery, I was crying. I vaguely remember someone asking if I was in pain, and trying to articulate, no, I was not in pain but I lost my Mom to cancer and now I have and a 9 month old little girl. I don't think I got much out because it was hard to form words.

I was told that the lymph node surgery was a success - that they removed three - and was happy. At our consultation earlier in the week, he said that there was a small chance he would not be able to "find" it so, I was relieved. Anxious to see my husband and my girl, I had to wait an additional 30 minutes in recovery after being given a narcotic in my IV. My right arm hurt the most, more than my back incision.

It was so wonderful to see them and be reunited after what had seemed like a much longer period of time. "I'm glad that it is out of you. I love you, you're my baby." He whispered in my ear as we both nuzzled our 9 month old girl.

I felt pretty optimistic on the drive home, and for the rest of the evening. I tried to stay positive and said that this would be looked back on as the great cancer scare of 2016. We walked around the block with baby A in her SmartTrike and I did some watering of my recently planted sunflower seeds for her party. I talked to my Mom Cathy who also seemed very cheerful and my Dad and friend Andrea. My husband was beyond amazing doing everything to prepare baby A for bed. She drifted off to sleep at 7pm and I carried her into her nursery, as he transferred her from my arms to her crib.

We had time alone together to start reading The Catechism of The Catholic Church, our "homework" assignment from the priest who had visited the night before, in response to me asking him what I could do to grow in my faith. He suggested we read it slowly over a year or two, together, and discuss it. We both very much felt that if we can get through this we will be stronger and focus on what is really important in life: being kind and good to each other and to our girl and growing in our faith.

I tried to sleep and could not stop thinking about planning for her first birthday. My mind was racing, which I didn't understand since my medication was supposed to make me drowsy. It took an hour of laying there party planning with no chance of sleep for me to realize that maybe the grande caramel machiatio I had on the drive home at 4pm wasn't the best idea. I finally took a sleeping pill at 11:30 pm when she awoke for a feeding and my husband brought her to me.

When I woke up, I was in pain, and  found that my happy, optimistic fog had dissolved during the night. Still not knowing what stage I was, I started looking up stats, which I hadn't done before and started crying. My husband came out and found me holding our girl, and my phone, looking at this:

What stage am I? We won't know until Tuesday or Wednesday...but I'm at least 1B. I kept staring at the 86% and was so focused on that. But I didn't have too long to feel sorry for myself, because we had to get ready for my Dad and brother and take our Baby A to see the Easter Bunny for the first time. 

What else do you do when you find yourself down and in the doldrums? Get out there and put some wind in your sails! For us, this was a trip to the Irvine Park Railroad and our little girl's first experience of terror. 

My everything
Seeing my family and the bunny had an analgesic effect, but here I sit back at home wondering and worrying. Time to get busy ... crocheting, cleaning or getting a movie lined up for tonight to watch with my husband. Right now our girl is napping on his chest and there are beautiful overcast skies and a lovely breeze coming in through the slider. When she wakes up, he's going to build a fire. What is the point of focusing so much on the 86% as the best possible outcome and feeling robbed of my 100%? Doing so robs me, and my family, of the here and now. Besides, how many of us know that we have 100% anyway? I thought I did, but I sure didn't. If this had not been caught, my 10 year survival rate percentage would have been 0%. I have to try my best to focus on what I have and how lucky I am that it was caught, instead of being upset that I have it or that it wasn't caught sooner.

As Andy from Shawshank Redemption said I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Cats in Space + Anointing of the Sick

When we left my doctor's office last week with the word "melanoma" still ringing in our ears, I told my husband I have to go to church, every week. Still struggling to believe, but believing more now that I had at any point in the past (except when I was a child), I needed this crutch, as I use to call it, and I needed to be held accountable.

We had missed Mass the previous Sunday for plans that ended up being cancelled. We could have, and should have, gone to Mass. It's easy for things to pop up, even when you have a quiet weekend planned. This weekend for example, it was two children's parties, one each day.

We went on our early morning walk and returned with less time than I needed to get fully ready for Mass. "Good enough for Home Depot." as my husband would say, a shower but no time for hair or makeup. "Maybe we should just skip and get ready for the party...so we're not rushed." I said. "No, we're going to church" which was just what I needed to hear. I grabbed a dress that I realized was not long enough, and so I threw on my cats in space leggings. One thought of someone noticing these on me in church and I couldn't help but crack a smile.

If you do not yet own a pair of cats in space leggings, I highly recommend that you buy a pair as ASAP as possible here. You never know when you will need them, and they work in a variety of situations. You can throw them on when you find yourself starting to be too serious, when the weight of the world is a bit too heavy or when you're just having a really crappy day, receive a bad medical diagnosis, stub your toe, are upset with your spouse or job...the opportunities really are endless. They are that versatile. Putting these on, isn't just for you. Think of all the other people out there who could be slogging along in life until they see you. In your cats in space leggings. Now you just brightened their day too.

Mass was good enough to make me cry, though I don't completely remember the homily. The priest spoke about procrastinating and that we should be living and doing God's will because we never know when our time is up...and that's when I started praying more and listening less. As we walked out, I approached an usher and asked if there was a priest that I could speak to about a recent diagnosis and anointing of the sick. He was very nice and took me over to a priest who I explained my situation to. "Okay, well see how surgery goes and then give the office a call and we can set something up." Okay, thank you!

Call is cat-pants power, but I was not ready to give up. Exiting the main hall I found our favorite priest who delivers very interesting homilies that he's very passionate about. He's upbeat, happy, intelligent and not afraid to show emotion. During one Christmas-time homily he played and old song that still - after 50+ years makes him cry and sure enough, it did again. He's approachable, and the kind of person you imagine when you hear someone described as "Filled with the Holy Spirit." There was a bit of a line to speak to him and we waited.

As I started to describe what I was going through, he said yes of course, he could help. With a big smile, he waived to our baby, and then wrote down his email address. Explaining that he lived at St, Michael's Abbey, he told me to send him some dates and times that worked for us and he would make it a priority. I was very pleased because he is a Norbertine Priest. The Norbertine Fathers are a monastery of Catholic that my husband's grandparents highly revered. Six Norbertine Priests are also on the staff at the Catholic School that we plan to send our little girl to as soon as she turns 4 and can start pre-K.

On Monday morning, I dutifully sent off my email to "my" priest and thought of how different it was in Mom's time, back in England or Ireland when the Priests would regularly pop on over for a game of cards, some smokes and usually more than one glass of whiskey.
From: Megan Swanek Sent: Monday, February 29, 2016 3:09 PM
Subject: Anointing of the Sick
Father Joe,
I spoke to you after the 11:15 mass at St. Thomas Moore yesterday regarding my recent melanoma diagnosis.

I found out today at my surgery consultation that the depth (1.37mm) requires a biopsy of my lymph nodes because there is a chance it has spread.

Surgery is scheduled for Friday.

I’m not sure what your schedule is like, or if you would be able to meet with me prior to surgery. I am not concerned about the process of the surgery, but rather the results of the biopsy. If it has spread to my lymph nodes, prognosis is poor. If it has not, prognosis is good.

In this one-time meeting, I would be very interested in any advice, suggestions, reading, analogies or Bible passages you may have to help me with faith.

I come from a long line of Irish-Catholics and was raised Catholic but drifted away as a young adult. My husband and I returned to the faith prior to our engagement. We were married at St. John Neumann by Msgr. Don and have had our baby baptized. But I have always struggled with believing even though I so desperately want to.

We are available 4pm or later during the week, or any time on the weekend.

I know you’re busy and do appreciate your time.
To: Megan Swanek Subject: Re: Anointing of the Sick
Hi, Megan! Sorry for the delay in replying. Would it be possible for me to meet you at your home tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:00 PM?  It would be nice to chat and pray together before your biopsy.  If that’s not possible, how about either Friday or Saturday at your home at 7:00 PM? All I would need is your street address, and my GPS will guide me. God bless! -Fr Joe-

So I am brought some level of comfort knowing that he will be by to talk, counsel and perform the anointing of the sick the night before my surgery. Below is the technical description of what the anointing of the sick "does" but, I like to think that having it performed infuses me with special magical powers, much like wearing my cat leggings.
The anointing of the sick conveys several graces and imparts gifts of strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety, discouragement, and temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude (CCC 1520). These graces flow from the atoning death of Jesus Christ, for "this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’" (Matt. 8:17). 
The Sacrament’s Effects
"The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church; the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age; the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of penance; the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; the preparation for passing over to eternal life" (CCC 1532).
Does a person have to be dying to receive this sacrament? No. The Catechism says, "The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived" (CCC 1514).  

All joking aside, I do hope that it brings me closer to God, as I am already closer to him (and my Mom) through my suffering, and by receiving graces, peace, strength. 

Specifically, I will Father Joe ask that he pray that it has not spread to the lymph nodes. And I ask that you pray for that too. Please, not just for myself but for little Autumn Mary, who deserves to have a Mom to grow up with. For my husband Nathan, that he not be left a young widow. Since this anointing ceremony will be performed right before I go to bed and then wake up early for surgery Friday morning at HOAG, there won't be another (blog) update until the weekend. Feel free to follow my more frequent updates on my instagram. I also wanted to take the time to everyone who has offered their support, prayers, personal experiences, jokes and just general well-wishes. They've come in person, over the phone, in facebook and instagram, private messages, texts, calls and emails. Some are silently praying without my knowledge. I talk to my Dad and brother (who are going through a lot themselves right now) and Mom-Cathy every night. My Husband's twin gave me a medal of St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer that she had blessed. Special shout-out to my sister-in-law who sends a different "relentlessly optimistic animal" rooting for me every day, and family members behind the scenes (Linda, James, TJ) helping Nathan with research best care.

While I have never been so scared in all my life, and I am beyond frightened about the possibility that it could have already spread, I do not feel alone. I feel surrounded by the love of my family and friends and even those that I don't know, who have walked similar paths. I know I am very close to Mom still, and that she endured far worse, but she did it with grace.

Inline image 1
Relentlessly optimistic animal rooting just for me

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

February, 8 Month Update

You hold this little baby in your arms on the days she's born and you realize you couldn't possibly love her more. But then she starts to grow and take on a personality, and make you laugh and then it hits you: You love her exponentially more in this moment than on that first day. This realization came to me around the middle of the month, when we were shopping at Trader Joe's. She was doing her new "nose-scrunch and snort" at every person she made eye-contact with, and it was cracking me up. I had a very tough first day back to work after a week off, and was extremely concerned about my brother. It all dissipated, being with her.

Our little girl turned 9 months on February 26th, so for the majority of the month she was 8 months old. The month started on a Monday, and we have our week-day routine down. Shortly after we get home, I feed her food and a bottle, before our walk. We always walk 3 miles, which takes us about an hour because we're slow, and have our little side-kick Trevi. Sometimes we walk through the neighborhood, and other times we walk to the grocery store, Starbucks, Dollar Tree or for ice cream. When we get back, there's always play time and about every third day or so, playtime in the bath. She has graduated from the sink to the bathtub, but I still use her blooming flower which I place in a laundry basket so that she, and her toys, don't float away. Then, it's time for another feeding around 7pm and by 7:30, she's asleep in my arms. I transfer her to her crib, where she sleeps until our morning feeding and cuddle time.

The first weekend of February was low-key. The only thing we had planned was a birthday party for the now 15 year-old boy we briefly fostered. He is thriving with his foster family, my co-worker and his wife and it was good to see him doing so well.

I continued our lunch-time visits and am very proud to say that I haven't missed one day! Since the weather has been nice, between 70 and 80 degrees, I have started taking her outside for our visits. She loves to sit in the grass and pick at leaves, slowly crumbling them with her tiny fingers. When a plane or bird flies overhead, she looks. She watches the leaves blow with the breeze. Because I'm there at lunch time, sometimes workers from her class are coming or going for their break, and she always has a huge smile when she sees them. Then, I take her to the big kids area and hold her while she goes down the slide on the count of three, and cover her in more kisses than she would probably like as I carry her back to the room. I make sure to wave bye, not sneak out, and she usually flaashes a smile. She may enjoy those 30 minutes, but they make my entire day.

Baby A was quite the charmer at Mass on Ash Wednesday. She looks around, trying to make eye-contact with anyone she can, and as soon as she does, her whole face lights up with a smile. While we are trying to listen and appear focused, its not unusual for someone to say hello to her, laugh, or exclaim 'She's so cute!' She alternated between wanting to be held by me, and being held by Daddy. Her new favorite thing to do is touch his nose, eyes, or take off his glasses. I love watching them interact, and how he doesn't mind her little finger prints all over his lenses.

She started to become a more competent crawler, and really picked up speed. It's not unusual for her to crawl from her nursery, down the hall and through the kitchen or the living room. She loves going over to the sliding glass door, which I usually then open for her, and she crawls out on to our patio and sometimes, into the grass.

On Valentine's Day I had another IUI and we went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant in Old Town and brought our little girl. As always, she was as good as gold, and had fun dropping toys from her high chair over and over. Nathan gave me Coco Madomosielle by Chanel, which I plan to wear...forever. Mom's signature scent was Chanel No. 5 and I like that mine is in the same family.

We had the next week off, called "ski week" for our district. We usually travel during this time, but it was so nice being home with Bean. We did a lot of planting, and started a project outside her nursery doors. There was a planter there that was hard as a rock, and overgrown with crabgrass. I softened and turned the dirt, weeded it, leveled an area to add some stepping stones, and filled the areas around them in with Irish moss. Then she helped me plant a lot of seeds.

She loves playing in the water and in the mud. And I love letting her get dirty, even though she usually requires a bath afterward. She's standing up on almost everything, and I know it's just a matter of months until she is toddling around. Spending more time outside, we bought her a Little Tikes swing/slide and also a really cute playhouse that also has a dollhouse section. I am proud of the fact that I found both these items on Craigslist for 1/3rd the cost. Finding a play house that looked Victorian and also had a dollhouse was so exciting for me. Yes, I just may be living vicariously through her. I had fun making a stepping stone path to it, and finding a tiny white picket fence.

On Saturday the 20th we started the first of 5 weeks of classes through the city of Tustin called "Babies love music" and went to her neighbor-friend's first birthday. As we sat outdoors in the warm February weather, and my thoughts drifted to the future I thought of the girls growing up together and becoming friends.

The last week of the month started with her first dental appointment and 3 skin biopsies for me at what we thought were routine procedures. Nathan thought it was funny that I was taking her to the dentist with only two teeth, but my book said that the first visit should be by her first birthday, or her first tooth. We left with a tiny pink toothbrush a prize she picked out, a purple caterpillar. A few days later, her third tooth came in, top right,

And then I got the call from my doctor's office, telling me I had to come in for the results. You know that is never good. I Have Cancer I thought, and felt, in the pit of my stomach. I still went to work and we still attended the baby music class the next morning but I felt like I was now an observer. Someone pretending to be a happy suburban Mom, with a little free time and money looking for enrichment activities for her college bound baby. Not someone possibly dying. The big "Hi! How are ya?" pleasantries are the hardest to respond to because no one really ants to know right then and there, from someone they hardly know. I seem to be able to built up to a certain level of acting normal and then loose it, usually in the car ride home. We went through the motions of two birthday parties and were sure to go to Mass. We had skipped the previous week for some plans that ended up falling through and I told my husband, I need to go. Every weekend. I was tired from our walk and sad, but felt better leaving, as always.

Moving forward, I will continue my monthly updates of my girl's first year, and will keep all the yucky other stuff in separate posts. Because cancer may have already invaded my world, but only to the extent I let it. And it has no business taking up space in what belongs to her.

  • Pulling herself up to standing and staying for awhile 
  • Independent play
  • Crinkling her nose
  • Developed object permanence
  • Had to adjust and lower crib mattress
  • More babbling, especially when she wakes up
  • Third tooth! Top right
  • Clapping on demand
Things I don't want to forget about this month:
  • Squealing when she gets excited
  • How her breath feels on my face when she falls asleep
  • Planting seeds and getting messy 
  • How she loves shredding paper and playing with dresser handles
Routines we're continuing:
  • Singing to her: You Are My Sunshine, Amazing Grace (bedtime)
  • Reading children's books to her. She has started to look at the pictures and turn the pages
  • Evening walks
  • Crocheting
  • Nightly prayers
  • Morning snuggle time
  • Lunch visits - every day!
  • Peak-a-boo
Routines we're establishing:
  • Playing with items in the cupboards, taking items out of the diaper bag (taking inventory)
  • This little piggy
  • Asking "Where's Daddy?" or "Where's Trevi?" and cheering when she looks
  • After her morning feeding she's starting to sleep beside me instead of on top of me. This is a sign she's getting bigger, and makes me sad, but she's still cuddling.
  • Listening to the same record at every feeding. I have it on the floor, by her high chair, and she loves watching it spin. Its an old Disney record, "Mother Goose."
New Foods This Month:
  • broccoli
  • black beans
  • pears
  • pineapple 
  • yogurt