Archive for July, 2012

A Sneak Peek

Thursday, July 19th, 2012
The Browns by Brian Brooks

Finally settled into our new home, doctor’s bills paid, and 18 months cancer free, I now have more time for me.  This is a bit of a ridiculous statement actually.  Maybe I should re-phrase that, I sort of have more time for me.  I still have three kids, four cats, a snake, ten Koi and one husband to look after, but I will take the cats and the snake and the kids over cancer any day.

So, what do I plan to do with my time?  I am writing an anthology, a collection of essays about my adventures in breast cancer that I plan to get published. 

Writing about cancer is genuinely healing for me as I sift through the sands of time, making sense of these last couple of years.  It also gives me a chance to give back and help others that may be going through the same thing. 

But, like everything in my life, I don’t want to do this alone.  I need all of you.  Along with my essays, the anthology will include a compilation of prose, poems and art by any of you creative inspiring writers and artists out there that would like to be a part of this project.  So, calling all artists, writers, poets, and photographers, if you are interested in submitting a piece, please let me know. 

My intent is for each essay, poem, etc. to stand on its own, but together as a collection, tell my story and the story of the other 200,000 women that are battling breast cancer each year, in the United States alone.  I hope to fill the pages with truth, humor, compassion and sometimes shock, giving my readers a better understanding of what breast cancer is really like.  What it actually feels like to have your breast cut off, to intentionally put poison into your veins, to shave your head and tell your kiddos, husband and parents that you have cancer.  No holding back people! 

As I get close to a finish date, I will send out more details.  In the meanwhile, I am excited to give you a sample peak of one of my pieces to get your creative wheels rolling. 

Happy reading!

Lights, Camera, Action!

 “When other women have this same operation, it doesn’t make any headlines”…Betty Ford.

In the wake of stealing second base, nursing babies, and push up bras, I still feel a deep bond with my breast, even though it tried to kill me.  About to have it cut from my body, the nurse wheeled me through the cold blank halls and gray walls of the hospital into the operating room.  I placed my left hand across my chest as if pledging allegiance, and said my goodbyes.

The room was intimidating.  The only splash of color was blue scrubs.  Ominous machines, computer monitors, and aseptic surgical instruments were strategically placed around the operating table.  Huge fluorescent lights hung from above like angels watching over me. 

The tranquilizing effect of the sedative began to set in as two male nurses picked me up and transferred me to the operating table.  I could not help but wonder if I just displayed my bear ass to everyone in the room.  It is not a time to be modest, I thought to myself, when I have much bigger issues. 

As I lay waiting, watching the doctors and nurses prepare for a modified radical mastectomy, I glanced at the tools, reminding me of silverware placed meticulously besides dinner plates at a five star restaurant.  I observed the bright white lines going in rhythm to my heart, and the pressure gages moving up and down to my blood flow. Listening to the beeps, clatter, and talk between the staff, I felt strangely calm amid such a production. 

And then my imagination went amuck.  I pictured my doctor removing the wrong breast, saw him slip, and cut my jugular while making the incision.  I imagined an ordinary household vacuum, extension attached, sucking up all the cancerous fatty tissue while my nipple sat in a jar of formaldehyde.  I envisioned both my breast and lymph nodes being poked and tested, making sure they got all the cancer, and then casually thrown out with other body parts in the hospital incinerator.  I shivered. 

A nurse, thinking I was cold, placed a warm blanket on top of me.  It felt as if it had come straight from the dryer.  She carefully folded in the sides making special care to cover my feet, reminding me of my mom tucking me into bed when I was a little.  I appreciated the distraction from my spiraling thoughts. 

A few minutes later, the anesthesiologist sat down next to me, put his hand on mine, and said, “It’s time.  Are you ready?” 

“Are you ever ready for something like this?”  I asked. 

He was quite chatty as he prepared a potent cocktail for me, sharing a little bit about the process and his self.  Making sure that I had nothing in my stomach, not even water, to avoid drowning in my own fluids during surgery, he asked, “When is the last time you ate?  “Dinner time, last night,” I told him.  “Good girl.”  He then inquired, “So, what do you do Deanne?” 

Slurring my words a bit, and still freaked out by the drowning thing, I answered, “I am the lead singer in a rock band.”  I explained how four years ago, six of us forty something suburban housewives decided to start our own band, even though not one of us could play an instrument.  I told him how we bought guitars and a bass and replaced the couch and coffee table in the living room with drums, amps and a PA system.  “I leave the dishes in the sink and the laundry behind,” I continued, “to steal a few precious moments away from my kids, husband, “should’s and ought to’s.”  “Honestly, nothing compares to singing with my girlfriends on stage.  It is where I should be.” I finished. 

Why did I choose to tell the anesthesiologist, a complete stranger, all about my band instead of the other thousand things I do each day as a mother of three like cooking, cleaning, driving and parenting?  Probably because lying on an operating table, completely naked under a flimsy gown and blankets, with a hair net and no makeup, about to have my breast cut from my body, makes you feel a bit vulnerable; invisible. 

Maybe it was for good measure, or maybe it was the drugs but apparently, during our conversation, I also led him to believe I was famous. 

In actuality, my breasts are more famous than me.  Ever since I found the lump, they have been in the public spotlight, the leading ladies; my very own pair of Lady’s Gaga’s.  Mammograms, ultrasounds, MRI’s, and PET scans invade my days like celebrity stalking paparazzi while cold stethoscopes, hands and doctors probe like inquiring fans.  Needles poke, nurses jab, and I bleed.  It is a high price to pay for fame. 

Famous or not, it does not matter, I simply wanted him to know, I am more than my breast cancer. 

With a reassuring voice the doctor said, “I am going to give you a bit of oxygen, it might make you sleepy.”  I did not have time to respond, as he placed a clear mask over my mouth and nose.  About to perform in my biggest show yet, I took a deep breath.  It’s time to sing, girl.

Lights, camera, action!

Save the Koi

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

It was sunset.  In desperate need to relax after another busy day, I stepped outback to commune with the Koi.  I immediately heard a terrible sound, silence.  Silence is not golden when it comes to our backyard.  Typically, there is the sound of water gushing, pumps humming and Koi splashing as they jump out of the water to catch unsuspecting insects flying by.  But at that moment, I heard nothing; not a trickle or a drip.

Panic ensued.

“What’s going on?  Why is nothing running?” I said out loud.  I ran into the house to get the kids.

“We have a situation.” I yelled.  

I began to check every lever, switch and knob.  They were all “on.”  I tested the circuit breaker, no blown fuse.  I turned the pumps “off” and then back “on” again, nothing, complete silence.  I finally checked the pumps.  My heart sank.  They were completely submerged under water and steam was rising from the surface.  This was not good and I knew it. 

My biggest concern at the moment:  how long can the Koi live without the pumps?  My second concern:  how much is this going to cost us? 

Kevin, usually my “go to guy” for things like this was still at the office.

Erik, the previous owner and creative genius behind the Koi pond was in the Caribbean.

And, me, well, I was at a complete loss.

I called my friend Orit, a fellow Koi pond owner, for advice.  She said she will have her Koi pond guy call me. 

In the meanwhile, I checked the internet to see if I could find any information on how long Koi can live without a pump.  Of course, there was no straightforward answer.  It depends on a combination of factors such as the size of the fish, the amount of fish in the pond, the size of the pond, the depth of the pond, and the total gallons of water the pond holds.  You need to be a mathematician to figure it all out, that, I am not.  All I knew is that we have ten Koi worth anywhere from $50 to $2,000 a piece.  I also knew that a new pump could cost us up to $1,600, and it takes two pumps to keep the system running at full speed.  That math I could do. 

So, how far do we go to save the Koi?  Is it worth spending a shitload of money on a handful of fish?

At this point, my imagination went amuck.  I pictured our family wearing “Save the Koi T-shirts,” hanging out on the street corner begging for money to help buy a new pump system.

Two hours later, after no answers and no change, Kevin is finally home and my phone finally rang.  It was Orit’s Koi guy, Andrew. 

Andrew said it was imperative we keep the water oxygenated.  He asked if the Koi are showing any signs of distress. 

“Actually, yes,” I answered.  “They are all grouped together in the shallow area of the pond hiding under the bridge.  Usually at this time in the evening they are jumping out of the water catching bugs.”  He told me to go to Pet Co tonight and buy some Power Heads, mini pumps used for fish aquariums.  They may buy you a little time until you get everything up and running again.  He also said, he can come by on Friday, to take a look at the pumps. 

“That is two days away,” I said. 

“It’s the best I can do,” he answered.  I asked what else we could do in the meanwhile. 

He said, “Cross your fingers and hope for the best.  Pet Co closes in 10 min, he added.” 

“Shit.  It’s sink or swim guys.” 

We decided to swim.  Maggie and I hopped into the car to get the pumps.  It was a scene from Dukes of Hazard as we raced down Villa Park to get there before closing time.

Back at home, Kevin was looking around the house for any possible spare parts while Riley and Grandma attempted to drain the flooded pump well.  They placed one end of a hose into the well, while Grandma, on the other end of the hose and on all fours I might add, tightly wrapped her lips around the nozzle and began sucking with all her might, in an attempt to siphon the water.  Kevin, catching a glimpse of what was happening rescued my poor mother, pointing out that there is a switch to drain any excess water from the well.  Mom, you will stop at nothing to help us. 

While the well was draining, Casey kept the water oxygenated manually with buckets, a broom and a hose.

Once Maggie and I got home, we spilled the contents of the power heads onto the floor.  There were no directions on how to put these suckers together.  Riley and I painstakingly connected the tubes and stones one by one until we had them set up and working.  We placed them precariously into the pond, scaring the fish as they attempted to flee these strange contraptions.  There were bubbles, lots and lots of bubbles.  Yay! Thank god for all those years of “Instant Challenges” in the Destination Imagination competitions. 

While we were taking care of the power heads, Kevin found an old back up pump in the garage.  Erik left us with all kinds of tools and parts for this house.  That should have been our first clue.  Anyway, Kevin crawled down into the well with a flashlight and all the creepy crawlies that come out late at night.  Standing in cold water up to his knees, he tried to remove the not-working pump. 

“It won’t budge,” he said.  I need a pipe wrench!” 

“It’s 10:30 at night.” Riley replied.  “Where are we going to find a pipe wrench?” 

“Let’s try Dave!”  I suggested.  Our neighbor, Dave, used to own a pool service company. 

Riley and I ran two houses down and knocked on his door, no answer.  We knocked again.  Nothing. 

“Shit.  What now?”  We just stood there, looking at each other in utter defeat, as if we were on the deck of the Titanic watching the last lifeboat go out to see.  Seconds later, headlights broke our stare as a big truck pulled up to the curb.  It was Dave.  We were saved.  Sure enough, he had the tool and some good advice.  Whew!  Someone was watching over us. 

With the pipe wrench, Kevin was able to remove the pump and replace it with the spare until we are able to buy a new pump.  Although a temporary fix, we saved the Koi. 

You know, I was hoping for a bit of an adventure when we chose to buy this house.  Kind of like the movie “We Bought a Zoo,” except we bought a jungle.  Well, I got my wish.  It’s been one drama after another around here. 

So, is it worth it?  Let’s put it this way.  The power heads: $78.  The Koi:  at least $500.  The new pump: $1,600.  Our family coming together in a time of crisis: priceless.