Saturday, February 19, 2011

Barbies, butterflies, and one very busy week!

It's been a long week. Brien and I spent Valentine's day at work and then after that at Kaiser, which was probably not most people's idea of the most romantic spot but at least we were together. As most of you know, I had surgery to have my thyroid removed in December. About two weeks after, the lab results came back positive for papillary thyroid cancer. Two very small growths were found that would have never been detected had I not gone forward with the surgery. At first, we were dumfounded and devastated. Luckily, we learned soon thereafter that this was the most common type of thyroid cancer and it was very treatable. We thanked our lucky stars.

Our first step was already completed, have surgery for removing the thyroid. Now when the surgery is completed, unfortunately they have to leave some of the thyroid tissue so there is always a chance of cancer spread or recurrence. So, the next steps were to undergo a full body scan to make sure there was no spread of the cancer and then swallow a small dose of radioactive iodine that would destroy any remaining thyroid tissue. However, before that could all be completed, I had to go off of my thyroid hormone medication for three weeks. This was, by far, the most difficult part of the whole process. Your thyroid, although a very small part of your body, plays a very crucial part in many areas of functioning. For me, the worst part was that the symptoms of low thyroid are almost identical those experienced during the grief process. Many days I had no idea whether I was coming or going, had virtually no patience, was exhausted although I had done virtually nothing, slept way too much, and became distracted at the drop of a hat. Brien was a saint for putting up with me and taking over ALL of the needed household duties and chores.

So, on Valentines Day, we were finally ready for the last step. I laid still for a half hour while the machine scanned my body and then we met with the nuclear med doctor to review the scan and take my iodine dose. We were fortunate to immediately find out that the scan looked crystal clear, no cancer spread, and the doctor even commented that my surgeon did an excellent job, leaving behind virtually no residual thyroid tissue. Other than having to stay five feet away from people for a few days due to the iodine dose, and one last follow up scan to take place in the near future, I was DONE and so happy to be cancer free!

That evening, we received a Valentine's day present, it was Grace's marker for her site at the cemetery. Brien spent so much time finding the perfect design for her and working with an artist to make sure it was just perfect. It's just beautiful, her lovely face is embedded within a garden of flowers and, of course, a butterfly. He delivered it to the monument company on Tuesday, and as soon as the rain lets up here, they will install it at the cemetery. Her spot is at the very edge of the Angel Garden, we call her "the greeter" and now she will have a wonderful tribute marker for everyone who passes to see.

On Wednesday, I was allowed to start taking my thyroid medicine again, and even was able to start back with double doses to help me start feeling normal sooner. Never have I been so excited to pop some pills! Then, that evening, something extraordinary happened. For so long, I have longed to dream of Grace, for her to send me a sign. I look at her pictures and videos most every night before bed in hopes I will see her in my dreams. Once, I did dream of her, and she wasn't sick. But, that was all I could remember of that dream and it was quite some time ago. On Thursday morning, I awoke at 5:30am out of a very vivid dream. I immediately grabbed my phone and started typing away at what I remembered. Grace had passed away already and Brien came to me holding her, but she was a doll. He told me I had to hold her because she was breathing again. I took her and noticed she was not real but a doll. He told me to change her diaper and when I did she relieved herself on the changing table (something we often thought was so funny when she did this in real life) and when I picked her up she was breathing, alive, and then she smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen. She then went back to being a doll again. Brien and I both just stood there holding her and we cried together but they were the most joyful tears. I woke from the dream with a feeling of peace that was just completely overwhelming.

Call me crazy but I do believe in signs. I do believe Grace was sending me a sign that she was okay, she was happy and content. Maybe she was also happy that I was okay, cancer free, and on the road to recovery as well. That was Thursday. Fast forward to today. We were on our way to visit Grace and decided to stop for a bite to eat on the way. Brien was joking with Gabe (who is a teenager) asking him if he wanted a Happy Meal for lunch. I thought a Happy Meal sounded good with its small portion sizes so I ordered one, something I never usually do. We ate quickly and headed to see Grace. We didn't stay long today as it started raining, however one thing that struck me was that today was the first time we visited her and I didn't cry. Brien said it was due to my state of mind, and I agreed that I was in a good place today. On the way out, I looked into the Happy Meal box and pulled out the toy. It was a small Barbie doll with one accessory....butterfly wings. I've never seen a butterfly Barbie before but she was just beautiful, of course, not anywhere near as beautiful as our angel Grace. I continue to have hope and I am thankful for all of the blessings in my life.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Moments of Normal

Brien just wrote about the Road to Recovery. I think I am on that road with him, just maybe not very far down the path yet. First, I can't bring myself to use the word "recovery." When I think of that word I think of recovering from an illness, and that implies "back to normal." Recently, I spent some time in a recovery room at the hospital and I will, without a doubt, recover from cancer. I have yet to accept use of the word "recovery" though when it comes to Grace's passing. I will never recover from that, she has forever changed my life, and because of that my life will never be totally normal again. Instead, I must move forward in this new and much different life as a very different person.

Last week, when attending the bereavement group, the leader was describing the grief process and emotions from initial shock to denial, anger, acceptance, anxiety, guilt, etc....the list is endless. He spoke about how the process is fluid and not usually sequentially completed in "stages" so to speak. A few things he said really struck home with me. Several weeks ago I really felt like things were getting worse for me. Time was not helping heal any wounds at all but only making me miss my baby more and more each and every day. The sadness that encompassed me was often overwhelming. I learned that is totally normal and my feelings were not just spiraling out of control, however it was, I believe, my own "rock bottom" so to speak. The leader then spoke about how slowly, these "moments of normal" would sneak into your life and they would be ever so fleeting at first and then, eventually, these moments would happen more often every day. When he said this, I couldn't help but think back to the night before we came to group.

As a bit of history, I have been an off and on "gym goer" for about twenty years I'm sure many of you can relate! For the past ten years I was a member of 24-hour Fitness Club and use to frequent the downtown Sac location. I loved the aerobic classes, my favorites were step and turbo kick. After becoming pregnant with Grace, I didn't often go to the gym, figured it was as good of an excuse as any of the others I had in the past. Lately, I've had other excuses, going through the grief process has been exhausting enough, let alone now going through the process of cancer treatment, which means going off of my medication in which a side effect is lethargy. Getting to the gym just seemed like too monumental of a task. Then, we moved our office and low and behold, my work was next door to Gold's Gym. After much debating, I finally took the plunge last week, cancelled my old gym membership of 10 years and joined Gold's. The night before our bereavement group, I decided to try out the step class there. I was nervous, I hadn't been to a class in over three years. Granted, it was challenging to keep up with the cardio but, thankfully, most of the names of the moves hadn't changed so when the instructor called them out, it was like riding an old familiar bike. It took awhile, but towards the end of class I had a fleeting feeling of happiness, that this was normal. But then, like a butterfly, it flitted away. I had no idea what I was feeling at the time so when I heard the support group leader discuss these types of "normal moments" the next evening, it gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, it would happen again.

Joining a new gym has been a different experience, I no longer see the old familiar equipment or the friendly familiar faces of instructors and members that I once knew. I now see a bright sparkling environment filled with change such as unfamiliar faces, new equipment to learn, and a whole community of strangers that I have yet to meet. Even though everything there is new and different, it's also oddly familiar. I feel like this new gym gave me some new hope and promise for the future. I plan on going back to class this week in hopes of feeling normal again. Maybe I will, maybe I won't....but, perhaps, I will at least become somewhat healthier in the process.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Road to Recovery

After Grace passed away we received a lot of information about different organizations and support groups to help grieving families. We looked at a variety of them but settled on a pediatric bereavement support group run by UC Davis. Last night was our first session of the 8-week group.

Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive of attending such a group. I wasn't sure if I could handle hearing other people's loss while our pain is still so real. But no mater what the age of the child, nor the circumstances be it from illness or sudden death, we all lost a significant part of our lives. And for that we're all in the same boat.

After listening to many of the families I felt very fortunately we have such a strong and considerate support system. Some of the stories we heard of insensitivity or being abandoned by family and friends were heart wrenching. Holly and I are very fortunate to have each other and be able to communicate so well with one another.

I'm going into this as a learning experience. I feel we have addressed the loss of Grace and perhaps even hit rock-bottom. We can only go up from here. As I told Holly last night, the one emotion that is the strongest in me is how much I still miss her. I'm not plagued by sadness or depression, but I can't stop missing her. And that I think will simply take time to subside.

So we welcome this new road to recovery. We hope it will help us deal with our loss and move forward with our lives. Grace will always be in our heart and so many others.