Saturday, June 26, 2010

My friend Deb

In early December, my long time friend Deb lost her battle with breast cancer.  She endured a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, gamma knife surgery and two open brain surgeries.  She died right after I came home from my first week of round 2 of IL-2.  Jim and I attended her funeral, and I wrote a long rememberance of her life and our relationship, that unfortunately was eaten by the internet before I could post it.

We met in 1990 when Deb came to work for Cleveland Clinic and I was assigned to her workgroup.  She was a wonderful boss, very supportive and sharing.  I had just been moved to the benefits department, which terrified me... I didn't know anything about employee benefits!  I learned though, and we went through many changes together with our team... a new computer system, benefit changes, a less-than-successful attempt at telephone enrollment for annual changes, etc.  In 1996 Deb moved on to another company and I was sad that I would not be working for her any more, but we remained friends.  I got to hear  stories of her kids, as they grew up from the small kids I met when we first worked together; she shared in my happiness when I met and fell in love with Jim.

A couple of years later, she returned to the Clinic, to a different part of HR, and eventually moved back to the building we had worked in together.Even though we didn't work directly together, we were both involved in some of the same projects, and we made time to have lunch together more than occasionally.

Our respective cancers were discovered within a year of each other, which we used as a bonding experience.  Even though we had different cancers, the feelings we had were similar and it was nice to be able to talk to someone who understood those feelings, someone who didn't try to make me feel like I should just "think positive" and "don't dwell on the bad things".  Not that Deb wasn't a positive thinker - she inspired so many people with her attitude.  It was a life outlook that she had prior to her illness; one in which she saw the good in people.  She was a very hard worker and was always thinking about what would be in the best interest of the Clinic.  If I made a cynical comment about something, she would laugh, but she didn't often let  the politics of corporate life get her down.  She was realistic about those politics but didn't let them harden her.

It was the same way with her illness.  She wanted to fight as hard as she could to live; she loved life and wanted to continue it for a long time.  But she knew that it was possible that she might not be able to kill the cancer.  We had a talk early last year, while she was still working, about death.  She had gone to the funeral of an elderly relative.  The priest, in his eulogy, spoke about how we all feel that it's good to live, but that it's also good to be in heaven with God.  Deb really took that to heart.  I think she felt comforted by that thought; on the other hand, she was sad about leaving her family behind and about the heartache they would endure.  I totally understood what she was saying, as my big worry is dying young and breaking the hearts of my family, most especially my girls.  It's easy to say that we, the patient, shouldn't worry about that, because our loved ones will survive and move on.  It's not so easy to not feel guilty or sad about being the cause of their sadness, however.

I always had hope for Deb, always thought that if anyone could beat the odds, it would be her.  Maybe I was in denial, I don't know.  But it didn't seem right that someone who knew so much about her disease, who fought so hard and was willing to try anything to get rid of it, would be unsuccessful.  I miss her still... having good talks, listening to her vent about some work or life issue, hearing her say "hey, lady!" upon seeing me in the morning.  She gave me good advice that I continue to use; every so often if I struggle with wording an email or some such, I will wonder "what would Deb say" and know what to do.   She was always so concerned about me; checking in to see how I was doing when I was recuperating from surgeries, etc.  When we went to Columbus last summer to meet Dr. Olencki's team to see if I qualified for IL-2, Deb called me that morning to wish me well and let me know she was thinking of me and praying for me.  Meanwhile she was at home on long-term disability, losing her eyesight because of her brain tumor.  But she worried about me and took the time to let me know.  Our last conversation was just before Thanksgiving; we only talked on the phone for a few minutes because that was all she could handle, but while she had difficulty with speaking, I knew that Deb was still there, just inside her head, having trouble using the body that was being taken away from her.

Deb supported Susan G Komen for the Cure, with her time and efforts.  In 2007 we both signed up for our building's team for Cleveland's Race for the Cure.  I decided to bring the girls downtown with me, and recruited my friend Sherry to come with us.  It was a cold morning, and I forgot my cell phone, but managed to talk to Deb when we got there, as we were planning to meet up for our team photo.  Nobody else from our team made it there early enough to be in the team photo:

The girls were very young; Rebecca was 4 1/2 and Carly was not quite 2.  Sherry and Deb's husband Jeff are the other adults in the photo.  Deb was rocking the Energizer bunny ears!

Jeff has taken up the mantle of raising funds for Komen in Deb's place.  She was a top fundraiser for our area, and while Jeff doesn't feel he can do as well, he'd like to try, in her name.  You can click here to support him in raising funds for Komen.  I am hoping to walk the 5K but will settle for walking the mile in her memory.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Jim took the girls to Rebecca's softball game last night and I stayed home for some "me" time.  Usually I go to their activities unless I have a schedule conflict, or when I was in treatment and wasn't feeling well enough to go.  However, I am almost never home alone, and the past several days have been particularly busy, so when Jim suggested I skip the game, I agreed.

Needless to say, I spent part of that time doing dishes and laundry, and going through the mail. I promised myself that if I did a little housework, I would be able to go spend some time reading or web-surfing relatively guilt-free.  I was able to do that, but spent more time on chores than I had planned.

To top it off, Rebecca came home holding the game ball, which her coach had awarded her for making two outs in a row at first base.  The one game I missed, and I wasn't there to see her great play.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer already

We're getting into summer mode here at silly mama central.  Rebecca finished first grade last week and started day camp this week.  Both girls like wearing their swimsuits outside, even if they aren't going to be swimming or running through a sprinkler.  And both are taking swimming lessons this summer... thank goodness for their daycare/camp, where we can pay for lessons and the camp folks take the kids one morning a week.  While I would like to be able to watch their progress, I am glad they can have these additional activities without further disrupting our family schedule.  This weekend is the biennial dance recital at the girls' dance studio, so once we get through Sunday we won't have those 3 one-hour blocks of dance time filled for a couple of months.  The recital itself will be fun though; Carly will dance for the first time, and Rebecca is in two dances - one ballet, and one jazz.  I volunteered to be a "class mom" for Carly's ballet class, so I get to sit with 12  3-5 year olds.  Rhw other mom who volunteered had to back out, so I may be flying solo, though I'm not too worried about it.  I think the experience of being there is magical enough that the girls will behave pretty well.

Rebecca is playing softball this summer for the first time, so we have games a couple of times a week, always at 6:30.  The coach pitches, they don't keep score, nobody strikes out, or is  tagged/called out at all.  Basically they play 3 innings and each girl gets to bat each inning.  They are all learning the fundamentals of softball and they are having fun.  This was the first time Rebecca has been interested in playing an organized team sport; when I have asked her in the past about signing up for a sport, she has been unenthusiastic.  But now that she is in school, she hears positive things about team sports from her friends, some of whom are also playing softball, and many of whom play soccer.  Carly participates in soccer, through another program that is brought into her day care, but Rebecca has never formally played.  That will change this fall, because both girls are now registered to play soccer in our local rec league...  And thus, my transformation into a mini-van driving soccer mom is complete.  

I am actually okay with that, because I want them to enjoy movement and activity.  They both do ballet and Rebecca started jazz this year, both are learning to swim.  Carly takes soccer and gymnastics at day care and Rebecca does karate.  Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn't it?  It costs some money, too, but I'm working to stretch the dollars to keep up with these activities for their sake.  The only activity I have vetoed recently is a seven-week cheerleading session that is coming to the daycare/camp.  It is $70 plus $20 for a shirt.  I'm not against cheerleading  but thought that was a bit steep, especially right now.  Both girls were a little disappointed that they aren't going to participate, but not badly so, which made me feel better about saying no to it.

Jim is still looking for work, and so money is still pretty tight here.  He's seen a couple of promising leads in the past week or so, but I have learned not to get too excited about them, since we've been down that road before, more times than we'd like to recall.  I'd like to have a garage sale this summer, to get rid of some of the excess stuff that fills our house, and would also like to try to sell a few things on Craigslist, but my security-conscious husband is not in agreement.  He is against having people come to the house from CL and doesn't want me meeting them elsewhere.  Okay, so let's at least have a garage sale, says Liz.  Well... that might be okay, but then there are those people that come around (referred to as gypsies, which always makes me sad, as I like to think of gypsies as magical carnival people) and try to scam you out of your stuff.  I learned from Jim's mom that they had experienced someone trying to do this at a garage sale she held when he was a kid.  So okay, I can see why he'd be worried... but I am tired of being buried in stuff and just want it OUT.  Frankly, if someone scammed me out of some of my garage sale goods, then great... less stuff to have to pack up for charity.  So if any of you has any reassuring words for Jim that will help me, please pass them along!

Through it all, I am in personal waiting mode, as usual.  I have an appointment at the end of the month with my gynecologist to discuss this ovarian "thing" and see what we're going to do next.  Impatient me wants to know, since life is busy, what will I need to plan for... biopsy? Surgery?  We don't know. 

Most of the time I'm able to put it out of my head, but when I stop to think about it, I'm not scared so much as annoyed... and tired of not being able to make plans for more than the immediate future, "just in case" I may be undergoing some kind of treatment.  But it is the way of my life these days so I just work on accepting it. 

In the mean time, I'm trying to work on my body and health.  I joined a friendly competition program at work, where we form teams and track things like exercise minutes, pedometer steps, water consumed, etc. over the course of 12 weeks.  I've been faithfully wearing my new pedometer every day and was pretty sad at first to see just how sedentary I have been.  But wearing it is inspiring me to move more, whether to make that extra trip to get something, or to take the stairs at work more, etc.  My office is four floors up from where I park.  Last summer I got into walking up all 96 steps to my floor.  Now, I stopped at least once on the way up each day, and felt ready to pass out at the top, but I was doing it, up until I got my scan results last July, at which point I gave up... then when I got back to work, I didn't have the stamina at first to tackle it.  I'm still not going up all four flights in the morning, but I am trying to do 1-2 flights.  In the afternoon I usually take the stairs down all the way to the basement.  A friend told me once that she had read that walking down stairs in particular is good for your blood pressure.  I haven't found anything online to support that, but it can't be bad for it.  Some of my co-workers and I are getting back to taking regular walks during the day as well.  It's good for all of us, and nice for me to have company AND peer pressure to keep up with it.

My eating has not been too great however; I've been far too mindless and not mindful enough.  I hope to work on that next.  However, I am trying to do things that are positive, rather than set myself up to feel deprived or punished.  I'm trying to get into a self-love mindset in the hope that more healthy eating patterns will follow.  Each day is a new start but some new starts seem to go downhill rapidly... but enough about that, I 'm not going to criticize myself.