March 31, 2013

Life is but a breath

I've been scant on the posts lately due to some news in my family. My mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer this past week.

Recently she was at our house helping us paint the  bathroom, seemingly as healthy as can be. A few weeks later she was in the hospital having two major surgeries and almost becoming septic. Days later she was given her diagnosis: a fatal cancer that had most likely been present in her body for years. Here are a few facts about pancreatic cancer:
  • It is considered the cancer with the poorest prognosis. Of those who have it, only 6% will live past 5 years of their diagnosis.
  • It is typically detected in the later stages. The pancreas is hidden behind other organs, and there are few symptoms in the early stages and those symptoms are like the signs of many illnesses.
  • There is currently no preventative screening available for pancreatic cancer. Most of the procedures that could potentially get a good look at a growing tumor in the pancreas are expensive and/or invasive like an endoscopic ultrasound, laparoscopy, biopsy, and/or MRIs and CT scans.
  • Of those who do receive detection in the first stage, only about 15% will live past 5 years.
  • There has been slow progress experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer. This is partially due to the complexity of the cancer, partially due to it being a rare cancer, and partly due to lack of lobbying for research funds. When almost everyone with a specific cancer dies relatively quickly after they are diagnosed, there aren't a lot of people knocking down Washington's door or running 5Ks.
  • There is a rare pancreatic cancer gene mutation that can run in families.
  • The average life expectancy for stage IV PC is 3-6 months.

My grandmother had pancreatic cancer in 2008. First she developed diabetes, then died within 6 weeks of being diagnosed, right before my wedding. She was in her 80s. My mom is less than 65.

What exactly do you do when the second most involved person in your life is suddenly, out of nowhere, going to die? How do you handle that? At this point I can't even believe it. I can't even see my life without her in it; my children's lives without her as their grandmother. How can one lose both parents before the age of 30?

What I really don't understand, though, is why some people's lives are filled with so much hardship and tragedy while others' follow a normal and relatively easy course. My mother is one of those people who has had a hard life. She took care of her husband while he was in a coma for two years before he died in his early thirties- while having three young children. She then finished raising three particularly challenging teenage girls (to say the least). When she finally had a chance to breathe and enjoy being retired, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she helped take care of her. Then she had to help take care of her father who has Alzheimer's, and just recently was told her husband has Parkinson's disease. Almost her whole life has been spent taking care of others.

Now, less than two years after having her first biological grandchild, which was a joy she looked forward to more than anything, she finds out she is dying. My children won't even remember her, or that she was the best grandmother one could ask for.

Why do some live a life of gut-wrenching experiences while others skip through life with, at worst, a breakup, strained relationship, or job failure to deal with? Why is the burden so unevenly spread? Why couldn't my mom enjoy the rest of the life she had left?

Perhaps I should have expected something like this. I'm convinced God has decided to bestow us with at least one traumatic experience every year, so I guess we were due. Ok, obviously I don't really believe that, yet a part of me wants to be bitter. My mom isn't bitter, though. She never has been. She goes through life with a big smile on her face and she never complains. She's always known what is really important. Not money, things, status, comfort, or others' opinions, but love, respect, generosity, and support. I hope that the next months of her life are the best yet. She deserves nothing less.

Life really is but a breath.




March 19, 2013

Two Years. Three Months.

I haven't been doing the usual monthly posts, because I simply don't have the time, so here's the latest on my two little pumpkins.

Anna is practically two years old! I can't believe she is so grown up. People always talk about this age as if it's from the devil, but it's my favorite so far. Sure, there are challenging times, but overall it is SO much fun. Anna is learning words a mile a minute, and everything fascinates her. She wants to know what everything is called, and she practices her words in bed when she wakes up. Her current favorites are "avocado" and "outside".

She is still taking a good nap in the afternoon but has started to stay up longer in the morning, which pushes her nap and bedtime later. She is regularly going to bed at 7:30 most nights, but I foresee it moving to 8:00 at some point. She still wakes up between 7 and 7:30 most mornings. One major milestone is that she is now sleeping in a big girl bed! Well, actually it's a mattress on the floor, but she sleeps at night and takes all her naps there. We also moved the baby into Anna's old crib, so they are currently sharing a room! It has gone surprisingly well. They are learning to sleep through each other's noises. I still haven't figured out what to do about napping, though. It's much easier to wake each other up when napping.

She has gone to the bathroom in her little potty several times, and honestly could probably have been potty trained at 20 months, but we haven't had the time or energy with Kimberly. I know I can't get her to the potty in time for the training period! We are thinking about waiting until the summer.

Anna continues to be small and I'm not sure she is even on the growth chart. I don't keep up with it anymore. Last I checked she was below the 3rd percentile. She weighs around 20 pounds, and wears 18-24 month clothes.

Things she is currently into: puzzles, books as usual, and playing with her baby doll and teddy bear. She copies everything I do with her "baby" including dropping saline in her little nose and sucking with the syringe :)  She takes her baby for a walk in her baby stroller and rocks her to sleep in her baby cradle. She has also started to get into dress up clothes thanks to a few items passed down from a friend- sunglasses, butterfly wings, and play shoes. She is learning to help me a lot with household chores- she takes her clean clothes into the bedroom, puts her dirty diapers in the trash can, helps me pick debris off the deck, and put away her toys and books. Whatever Ben and I are doing, she wants to help.

Anna received a water table from her grandparents as a birthday gift and loves to catch her little fishies in the net.

She had adjusted well to her baby sister and is patient and gentle. She giggles at her and is always saying "Mama, Baby!" When I have to tend to the baby, she is usually understanding. For the first three months it was all wonderful, but lately Anna has had some tantrum moments.

I think it's her displaced frustration and adjustment to sharing my attention and often having her needs put on the back burner due to the reality of a newborn. The tantrums usually revolve around food. She either doesn't want what I give her, or she wants something that I won't give her (like crackers for dinner), or she won't eat anything but then twenty minutes later wants to eat again. Unfortunately, her diet is limited to what she is not allergic to. I know she gets tired of the foods I serve her because they are SO limited, but there's not much I can do about the situation. I'm ready for food struggles to be over.

Anna has started to pick up on almost everything we say these days. She knows when you are talking about her, and sometimes she gets upset when people laugh at her or mock her, even if it's in good fun. Ben and I do not talk about her as if she's not there anymore. We try to respect her as we would any adult, and save those conversations for a time when we are alone.

Anna continues to ask "Why?" in regards to her leg on an on-going basis. She often precedes it with "Uh oh". Sometimes when she's really tired it will make her cry. It breaks my heart in two and I have to focus on not becoming visibly upset myself, and am reminded how unprepared I feel. I hope she handles the warm weather well and any resulting attention she might receive. People tell me kids this age have no clue about such things, but I know that's not true for Anna. She is perceptive. She knows she has a difference, and she knows when people talk about it. I have to remind family and friends to be mindful of what they say about her leg in front of her.

The challenges are many but I love my little girl so much. I can't find words to express it.

First attempt to run resulted in a faceplant.



Helping Grandma and Grandpa paint.


Playing on Mommy and Daddy's bed

Kimberly is doing great. She's much bigger than Anna, though the doctor said she will probably still be petite. She is 11 pounds and in the 50th percentile for weight, but only the 10th percentile for height (not surprising since Ben's family is on the shorter side).

Kimberly is a very easy baby. It's amazing to me that this is what many moms experience- it feels like a piece of cake compared to Anna's struggles as a newborn! She sleeps and eats well. She goes to bed at 7 and sleeps 8-10 hours, eats sometime between 3 and 5, and then sleeps some more until 7 or so. She is a pretty good napper, fussing just a little and then falling asleep on her own for the majority of the time, though she definitely has her rough nap moments. She still regularly wakes up after a sleep cycle because she's a little too young to be able to self soothe well. She tries to find her fingers but doesn't quite have the control yet. As soon as she does, I think she will take even better naps.



 I love these two girls.

March 10, 2013

One project down

Remember how I said in this post that our chairs were still bottomless? Well, they are no more. We finally finished recovering them.
We didn't have any dining room furniture when we moved, so we decided to work on an antique hand-me-down set from Ben's great aunt.
This is the condition the chairs were in before:

And after: 

We happened to have some fabric on hand from an old curtain project that worked perfectly. This was our first time recovering chairs, and it was harder than we thought. The finished product is anything but perfect (we aren't Young House Love here), but much better than before. Now people will actually have a place to sit! Here's hoping the chairs hold up and don't fall apart on any guests!