One Breath at a Time

It has been a just over a month since my world was forever changed. On November 9, I found out that my 28 year-old brother, Mark, had passed away suddenly and tragically.

About a month before that my friend Amanda died after 7 years of treatment for her metastatic breast cancer and a prolonged time on hospice care. When Amanda passed away, I was sad, and I missed her, and I was broken-hearted for her husband and her sons, but it was hardly a surprise. I had been visiting as often as I could through her last months and I saw her withering away. The last time that I went to see her, I held her hand, I got a brief moment of clarity from her drug-induced haze when she looked right at me and told me she loved me and I was able to say the same to her.

The last picture I have of Amanda and I together.

On the drive home I sobbed and I prayed that she would let go, that she would be released from her unimaginable suffering and finally be at peace. When I got the news of her death, I was in the middle of writing an angry rant that I will probably post eventually, but I stopped and cried for a while. I had been actively preparing for her death with my therapist (as much as you can prepare.) Every time I saw or spoke to her I knew that it might be the last time and I always ended our visits with that in mind.

I first met Amanda 3 years ago when we were both in the infusion room getting treatment. I was happy to have her as a friend, and to be able to provide free childcare for her through Mommies In Need. Three days after her death, a fantastic group called Resounding Harmony was doing a benefit concert for Mommies In Need and we decided to dedicate a song to her and to light candles in her honor. I was the one who was going to deliver her tribute. At the dress rehearsal I was a mess. I barely got out the words I had written for her memorial and then I sobbed through the whole song.

But the next day for the show, I called upon every bit of strength that I had and I was able to speak for her in a way that I will always be proud of. I had no idea that event was a sort of dress rehearsal of it’s own.

When Amanda died I thought I knew what sad was. It turns out I had no idea.

I now know that there is a level of grief that is so deep it physically hurts. I know what it is to be shocked with news that knocks the breath out of your lungs. I know what it is to fall to the ground crying because you cannot keep yourself upright. I know the panic that comes when you feel that if you allow yourself to start crying you will never be able to stop.

When my brother died, my parents were extremely smart about how they told me. They called my husband and had him come home to be with me as I heard the news. When he said he was getting out of work early, I didn’t think anything of it at first. But when he got home, he guided me to the couch and he said he had something to tell me.

At that point I got this strange tunnel vision- I knew what he was about to say would be bad and my mind was racing as to what it would be. My first thought was that one of my grandparents had passed, but I had talked to them earlier that day, so that didn’t make sense.

When he said, “Mark is dead,” I did not understand the words that were coming out of his mouth. I went into a sort of shock in which I laughed and said “No, that’s not true.” He had to tell me five or six times until I could put it together in my head.

It’s funny how some memories are so blurry and others so clear. I don’t think I will ever forget how that felt as I began to comprehend that my baby brother, the sweet little boy nine years younger than me, whose diapers I had changed, who I read all the Harry Potter books out loud to, who is a part of most of my best family memories, was no longer on this earth.

I don’t think I have fully accepted that I will never see him again in this life. That still feels too big to even start to process.

The details of the days that follow are more complicated and personal than I can even begin to share here. I will say that I am forever grateful that my other two siblings and I live in Dallas and that we are all married to exceptional people who helped us get through the worst of it. We were all able to be together at my parents’ house as we stumbled through that first day. Grieving with people doesn’t make it any less painful, but it does make it a little less heavy. My family and I helped carry each other through the moments when none of us would have been strong enough to get through it alone.

As funny as it sounds, I have a lot to be grateful for from that period. Grateful that my family could be together. That I have two amazing and hilarious 5 year-olds that I can snuggle all the time. That a friend of mine is married to a funeral director so I had someone to call in those first hours to help us stumble through the practical things you have to do when someone dies unexpectedly. That I have a pastor and a church community who were present when I needed them. That one of my dad’s best friends heard the news and put together a celebration of Mark’s life just three days after we found out he was gone. That a wonderful musician and family friend was in town and sang in Mark’s honor. And that I had that dress rehearsal.

As we talked about what we would do and say to honor Mark, I volunteered to speak for him. When my parents asked if I was sure that I could do it, I said yes. I had gotten through my tribute for Amanda and I knew that it would be a thousand times harder but that I could also do it for my brother.

Me and Mark
This picture is from a few years ago but is still one of my favorites of Mark and me.

And I did. I read a beautiful message from my father, a poem my mother selected, and wove stories that my parents and siblings contributed into a speech that I think was just right for him. We ended it with a toast and a shot of Jack Daniels because that felt like something he would have thought was pretty badass.

I held myself together through the whole thing and then had the blessing of that beautiful song in which I let it go. I cried and was held by my loving family as we continued to share that grief.

So how am I now? Well, it depends on when you talk to me.

For a few weeks after we lost Mark, I went into a hole and pretty much didn’t talk to anyone except my immediate family. My friends texted and called and emailed but I couldn’t face talking to anyone. I have slowly started to join the world again, so there’s progress.

Sometimes I am pretty good. I am back at work. I couldn’t get myself motivated to start up again for a long time. But then Mommies In Need got applications from two new families desperately in need of help. I couldn’t get it together to do admin work or fundraising, but being able to help someone else going through a terrible time in their life made me feel just a little bit better.

Sometimes I am a good wife and parent. I can pick up my kids from school and play with them and talk to my husband about all the stuff we have going on in life. My patience is pretty limited though. I get irritated easily, I snap more than I would like, and I haven’t cooked an actual meal that I can remember (not that I am normally much of a chef, but right now even boiling water is sometimes too daunting a task.)

But then there are the times that I am so sad. So deeply sad that I can’t function. Or when I feel like a zombie just going through the motions. When I walk around a store for an hour and then leave without even buying anything because I am not actually seeing the store, I am just keeping my body busy while my mind checks out.

I am going to the holiday parties, and I manage it pretty well when I am around people I know and can be honest with. But I just can’t with idle chit-chat. I found myself at one party just sneaking off to a corner with an XL glass of wine because I couldn’t face anyone.

I will tell you one thing I know for certain. I will get through this. I am a Survivor after all. I get into dangerous territory when I spend too much time thinking about how much I have been through in the last six years and wondering how any one human being can be expected to cope with the constant blows I have been dealt.

But then I stop (maybe take a Xanax) and breathe. Another thing I am grateful for is that all the shit I have been through has taught me how to manage the worst moments in life. I have learned that you have two choices- curl up in a ball and die or keep going. I will always choose to keep going.

And that looks different depending on where I am. Sometimes I take it one day at a time, or one step or a time, or one tiptoe at a time, or one prayer at a time. And when it is really bad, when the sadness threatens to envelop me or I feel myself coming to the cliff’s edge of an anxiety attack, I get through one breath at a time. Take one breath and then another and keep moving forward. If I can remember to do that, I know that even this I will survive.




It has been a long time since I wrote on this blog, which some of you may have noticed (although probably not, I don’t kid myself that you are breathlessly awaiting the next installment of my life story!)

There are a couple of reasons I haven’t written. First of all, I majorly overestimated my time management skills and overcommitted. Like a lot. As in I decided it was totally doable to be a stay-at-home mom to twin 3 year olds, run a growing non-profit, write a blog, be on several boards and committees for other organizations, and manage my insane list of doctors appointments and health conditions.


I think that part of the issue was that I felt like my life was on pause for so long, that once I started to feel a little better I cannon-balled into a million activities rather than inching in and doing just a little to see how it went. And maybe that wasn’t the best idea.

And if I am being truthful, which is what I strive to be in this blog, in a lot of ways it was easier to fill my time with tasks I had to do, rather than to turn the focus inward and deal with my own crap- sometimes literally.

My recovery has not been what I hoped for. It is taking a really long time for me to get to whatever my “new normal” will be. I am coming to terms with the fact that I’m missing a bunch of organs, and that means life will never look the same as it does for other people. I am living with the fact that I had cancer and there is no guarantee it won’t come back. I am learning how to keep from yelling at doctors who tell me frustrating and semi-absurd things like I either have some amount of internal bleeding (which they can’t do anything to fix,) or a bone marrow problem (for which the treatment is worse than the problem so they won’t even test me for it,) that is causing me to be chronically anemic and get IV iron every month- probably forever.

And worst of all, I have had this “mystery pain” going on that I can’t trace to anything I eat or do. For a long time, I was always living with the uncertainty that at any moment I could be feeling perfectly fine and then suddenly be wracked with extreme abdominal pain that could last for hours and make it impossible to continue my day. Sometimes I could fight through it, and other times I had to lie on the floor of the bathroom crying and call my mom to come get my kids because I was physically unable to put them into the car and get them home.

I have also been dealing with a lot emotionally. I have discovered that my battle with depression and anxiety is directly tied to the amount of medical issues that I am having. So this summer, when I went through three weeks of extremely invasive and, in one instance, legitimately torturous testing to determine the cause of my mystery pain, I became, well, a big hot mess. It was hard for me to find joy even in the great moments I had with my family. I was just boxing up those yucky, unclear, unpleasant thoughts and feelings and sticking them in a closet to deal with later. I have gotten pretty good at that particular defense mechanism over the years, but at some point that closet can’t fit one more thing and when you open the door it all comes pouring out.

I spent a lot of time the past few months in therapy discussing the fact that part of my brain is always alert for the next thing that is going to go horribly wrong with my body. It’s exhausting. My mom once said to me that it seemed like I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Yes. Exactly. Why wouldn’t I expect that, because in the last four years of my life, it always has. Every time I would just barely recover from a major blow, there would be something else to come along and knock me back down.

Boom. Miscarriage. Feeling hopeful because of a healthy twin pregnancy then Boom. Emergency hysterectomy when the twins were 6 weeks old. Start to come to terms with the fact that I almost died and had my uterus yanked out without my permission and then Boom. Find out that all the medicines I have been taking have caused me Osteoporosis, and then come very close to fracturing my spine. Boom. My ulcerative colitis flares so bad I have to have my colon removed. Boom. I have Thyroid Cancer. Boom. Three major surgeries in four months. Begin to slightly feel better and then Boom. Anemia so severe I could barely move and we were considering another blood transfusion.

It just kept coming, I mean how many effing shoes are there?! So when the doctors found a giant gallstone during all of those tests I almost felt relief. I thought, well here it is, the Boom that I can almost count on. One more surgery.

But then they decided that the gallstone was not the cause of my pain and surgery to remove it would be too dangerous with all of my scar tissue. That wasn’t so much of a Boom as a sigh…

So I go to my GI again, and try upping the dose of the medicine he gave me last time that is maybe kind of helping. Truthfully I am not really expecting it to work.

And then a miracle happens…my pain is gone. I realized one day recently that it has been almost three weeks since a major pain attack- I was having them 2-3 times a week. And then I start to feel like I have a little more space, more patience, more light. That’s when it hits me, not with a Boom but with a HAZAA! My background pain is gone too!

See, I didn’t really even count my everyday gut pain amongst my list of things to worry about because it had moved to the back of my brain. The chronic cramping and steady pain was just a hum running through my life that I could manage, it was the acute bouts of pain that I couldn’t live with.

But once it was gone, I realized how freeing it is to be without pain. How much space that pain took up in my head and my heart. How much anxiety and depression and hopelessness that pain caused.

The reason I haven’t written in so long is because I couldn’t. I didn’t want to share my feelings with the world because they weren’t good enough.   Because I wasn’t good enough. Because my writing rang false every time I tried. Depression will do that. And some of you reading this who have suffered with depression might understand, all the rational thought in the world couldn’t overcome the ugly, nagging voice that was whispering quietly that I was destined to be sick forever, that I should just get over myself because so many people have it worse, that I had nothing of value to say.

But when my pain eased, and I got on the right combination of medicines to manage my pain, depression, and anxiety, that gloom started to lift. Yet again Xanax for the win!!

I’ll never forget the first time I realized that my hope was back. I was on the floor rolling around with my twins playing some sort of ridiculous game and the three of us were all laughing hysterically. And I looked at the two of them and my husband who was sitting across the room chuckling at our antics, and I felt like my heart would explode. I was hit with an overflow of gratitude for my life, for my ability to be present with my family in body and in spirit. It was a fleeting but absolutely perfect moment.

And with that moment, I started to find myself again…I started to get some of my sparkle back.

Thank you flowers from a friend, they just made me really happy so I thought they fit this post!
Thank you flowers from a friend, they just made me really happy so I thought they fit this post!

Mitzvah Therapy

Yesterday was an amazing day.  A Hallelujah, sing in the car, have a super-cool dance party with the hubs and kids sort of a day.  Yesterday I got some incredible news- my Osteoporosis has not only stopped getting worse, it may actually be reversing itself!!!!  I also had a great meeting with the wonderful folks at Cancer Support Community of North Texas.  The work they do for people affected by and living with cancer is unbelievable.  If you or anyone you know are dealing with cancer, please check them out as a resource.  They have support groups, informational meetings, kid’s nights, social workers, counselors- you name it, all FREE to members (but that actually cost a lot of money, so if you have some extra cash laying around you might want to throw it their way!)

At this meeting I got invaluable ideas and support for Mommies In Need, and I also came away from it with my favorite new term: “Mitzvah Therapy”

When I explained the whole backstory of Mommies In Need coming from my struggles and said that it has really been a huge source of comfort and joy to me in my recovery, one of the women in the meeting said that was an example of Mitzvah Therapy.  In its casual usage a “Mitzvah” is an act of kindness that you do for a person without expecting anything in return.

When I got home I googled the term and found this video:

The story told here made me cry in it’s simplicity and beauty.  In it, Bill O’Hanlon describes what the late Dr. Sol Gordon coined “Mitzvah Therapy” and tells a lovely story about how it changed one woman’s life.  Now, I am all for psychotherapy- I’m not canceling those appointments anytime soon!  But as he says in the video, psychotherapy is all about you and Mitzvah Therapy is all about giving.

And I have a confession to make here, I have kind of become a giving junkie.  Seriously, I am always looking around for my next fix.  I actually keep some of it a secret (I guess until now) from my family because it seems a little crazy- well, crazier than usual.  If I have extra cash I pay for the parking of the person behind me whenever I leave the hospital lot- someone did that for me once and it made me smile on a not-so-good diagnosis day!  I have blessing bags in my car with protein bars, tissues, soap, etc. to give to any homeless people I see.  We did a diaper drive for the twins birthday and I got a huge high when the woman picking up the donations was so excited about everything she was loading in the car to distribute to underserved families.  I even carry around $5 gift cards to Starbucks that I sometimes give to random moms when I see them carting 3 kids through Target or dealing with a toddler having a stage 5 meltdown.  I hand it over with just a few words, “One mom to another, you probably need to treat yourself” and walk away.

I tell you this, but please don’t go on about how awesome I am or anything like that.  I mean, I’m pretty cool, don’t get me wrong, but I am not writing this for compliments!  See for me, those acts are actually pretty selfish, because I get such a huge boost of happiness and even self-confidence from doing those things.  When I walk away from that mom who has a little light of hope in her eyes that someone gets what she is going through, I feel pretty darn good about myself.  And that feeling, really helps me get through the day sometimes.  I have been forced to deal with a lot in the past few years- see A Brief Timeline of Crazy.  And there are days when I can get pretty depressed or anxious or just plain mad that all of those crazy and terrible things happened to me.

And I need my psychotherapy to work on the root of that depression and anxiety and anger, it’s not something that just goes away when you ignore it- believe me, I tried that and wound up with panic attacks (which I really don’t recommend!) But for me, when I get in a dark place, being alone and thinking about myself is a surefire way to go even darker.  And the quickest fix? A little Mitzvah Therapy!

So maybe I have taken this to an extreme by starting my own non-profit, but seriously, try to insert a little random kindness into the days you are feeling like crap.  It’s hard to be grumpy when you are giving joy to someone else.  Even just holding the door open for someone with a genuine smile on your face, rather than grudgingly doing it with no eye contact can brighten a person’s day just a bit.

Ugh, sorry if this whole post is a little Pollyanna, but I am coasting on a major high right now.  Mommies In Need has officially accepted TWO new families to help!  I am overwhelmed by the amount of support that this cause has gotten in such a short amount of time.  Don’t get me wrong, my heart hurts for the women we are helping.  I have been in situations like theirs and I know the kind of rough road they are going down.  But I am filled with joy knowing that Mommies In Need is taking a huge burden off of them by making sure their children are well taken care of.

If you feel like doing a little Mitzvah Therapy of your own today, please consider donating to our campaign to support these Mommies in their journeys through cancer.

The kids of the first Mommies In Need family.  Knowing we helped them have stability while their mom was sick is the ultimate Mitzvah Therapy!
The kids of the first Mommies In Need family. Knowing we helped them have stability while their mom was sick is the ultimate Mitzvah Therapy!

You Won’t See My Facebook “Year In Review”

Seriously, stop asking Facebook.  No, I do not want to share a montage of my life the past year with the caption “It’s been a great year!”  Because 2014 sucked!

It's been a great year for drugs!  Sadly most of them are anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea...but still!
It’s been a great year for drugs! Sadly most of them are anti-diarrhea and anti-nausea…but still!

It has been nothing resembling a great year, in fact I can genuinely say it has probably been the worst year of my life.  Now before I go on, I want to make it very clear that I have had bright shining moments this year.  I have found love and support everywhere I turned, I have reconnected with old friends and made new ones.  I have had some wonderful times with my family and been hugged a million times and laughed a lot.  For example, today my husband taught Curly to do a dance routine that included “The Sprinkler” and ends with Jazz Hands.  Well, to be fair, she is 2 1/2, that is pretty much the whole routine, but still… awesomeness!

But honestly, the best thing I can say about 2014 is that I survived it.  I survived 3 major surgeries, the removal of my colon, 3 months with an ostomy bag, a skin cancer biopsy, a thyroid cancer diagnosis, the removal of my thyroid gland, panic attacks, depression, anemia, and being told by multiple doctors that my hemorrhoids will probably never go away.  I survived 16 days in the hospital and countless more in recovery.  I survived mountains of pain.  Epic, horrible, screaming pain.  Pain that was so bad that when I finally got the drugs (I heart you Dilaudid) that helped, I may or may not have tried to kiss the male nurse who gave them to me, with my amazing husband standing right next to me.  Umm awkward!

I struggled with seeing my husband take on more than anyone should ever have to by caring for me and our kids.  He stepped up in a major way but I hated having to watch him do it and not being able to help. I survived not seeing my little loves even by Facetime because all the tubes I was connected to scared them.  And after months of being at home with them but being too tired, or sick, or in pain to play with them, I survived learning that I can’t always be Supermom.

That was a hard one for me.  I have never been good at the home-maker part of being a stay at home mom.  So having other people come around and help clean, cook, and do the dishes and laundry was perfect for me.  But I’ve always been good at the “Mom” part.  I love getting on the floor and playing silly games with Flopsy and Curly.  I love teaching them, and listening to them, and reading with them, and wrestling with them, and cuddling with them. And for a good part of this year I couldn’t do those things, and when I did, it was not with my usual enthusiasm.  I survived letting someone else take care of them when I did not feel up to it.  And guess what?  They survived too!

And I came out of this year a changed person.  I really don’t think I could go through all of that and not be a little different at the end.  I am much more anxious about everything, and I don’t really trust my instincts when it comes to my health.  Finding out I had cancer when I had absolutely no symptoms and between two other major surgeries for a completely different issue, kind of made me into a nutcase.  So now I tend to expect the worst, am kind of always waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I’m working on that.

I do like some of the changes in myself though… I have found this blog, a place where I can be truly honest rather than just “sucking it up” or pretending that I am fine when inside I am a giant hot mess.  It has been wonderfully liberating to have pretty much everyone I know (and a lot of strangers) filled in on my struggles so people are kind of caught up to my drama and I don’t have to spend every moment talking to them discussing my health issues, because I Refuse To Be Old!

I also really like that I have become a resource to people who are going through a difficult time.  Over the past year I have had friends come to me to talk about surgerymiscarriage, anxiety, depression, cancer, and lots of other issues because of how open I have been about my difficulties.  I don’t want anyone else to ever suffer through the things I have had to deal with, but if they have to, I am at least grateful that I can be there for them.  I can be a listening ear that lets them cry or a voice to tell them “that just sucks,” and allow them to feel their negative feelings, because pretending those don’t exist doesn’t make them go away… believe me I tried.

And I love that I have become more compassionate, because I understand that things can get really, really bad.  And that I want to make it easier on people going through a difficult time in any way I can.  So I started a non-profit, Mommies In Need, that helps sick moms have temporary in-home childcare so they can focus on recovery rather than constantly worrying about who is taking care of their children.  I may have done it with no plan in place and in a very fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants manner, but hey, we got 501(c)(3) status in just 2 months, so I must have done something right!

So I guess that 2014 hasn’t been all bad, just… complicated.  There is no way that a Facebook algorithm is going to be able to sum up my year, so I did it here instead.

Friends, family, and virtual friends, I wish you a very Happy New Year and a wonderful 2015.  To 2014 I say, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!”

** If you want to help other mommies out there who are sick and need help with childcare in 2015 and beyond, please consider donating to Mommies In Need here or share that link wherever you can.  We accept Paypal and all major credit cards (or you can mail a check) and you can get a last minute 2014 tax deduction!  If you ever wanted to do something for me when I was sick and didn’t know what to do, you can help now.  I am really passionate about this cause, and starting Mommies In Need has been a huge source of healing for me.  It helps me understand that maybe all the crap I went through in 2014 can lead me to something positive in 2015 and beyond!

I Have A Lot Of Feelings

Those of you who have seen me recently probably have no idea, but this has been a tough couple of weeks.  Most of the time I hear that I look great (aw, thanks!) and seem so much better.  And that’s true, I am so much better… except when I’m not.  Unfortunately recovery is not a linear thing, physically it is very up and down, and emotionally…well, I’m sort of like- I don’t even go to this school, “I just have a lot of feelings.”

If you didn't get this reference, I'm not sure we can be friends anymore!
If you didn’t get this reference, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore!

I have been doing well lately- my energy is up, I feel motivated by all of the things I am doing with Mommies In Need and Best Buddies, and I actually physically feel better than I have in a very long time.  So I should be elated and grateful and happy all the time, and I am- a lot- but then I have days when the enormity of what I have been through kind of ties my shoelaces together and trips me up.

I went to my GI doctor last week.  I haven’t seen him since last December when he told me that we could continue trying a variety of treatments for my Ulcerative Colitis, but that he was not hopeful that we would be able to find one that worked and he wanted me to consider having my colon removed. So here I am, about 10 months after getting my colon removed and I can honestly say that without question I am better off without that organ that was making me sick.

Maybe because I was getting progressively worse around the holidays last year, right now, I am able to acutely remember the hours I missed on Thanksgiving and Christmas because I was in the bathroom or lying on my mom’s bed upstairs in so much pain that I could not go down and participate in the celebrations.  So it’s good to know I am better than that.  I am at a place now where, while I have not-so-great days digestively, at least I am not in that kind of pain.

But my visit with the GI was hard.  Because we discussed a bunch of things that made me realize that I actually don’t have a colon.  Which is a big deal.  It means that for the rest of my life, my body will function very differently than everyone else’s and that I will have ongoing worries that others don’t have.  For example, Curly got a stomach bug recently.  Thankfully, I did not get it, which is truly a miracle since she literally vomited in my hair.  For most people, getting a bug or food poisoning would be an unpleasant few days, but if I were to get one, there is a very real chance I would be hospitalized.  Because without a colon, I can easily become dangerously dehydrated in a matter of hours.

I knew all of the possible long-term effects when I went in for the surgery, but they are a lot more real to me now.  At that appointment, my doctor said to me that he was glad we had taken my colon out because if not I would be “extremely sick or dead right now.”

He said it casually but that statement knocked the wind out of me.  I couldn’t even repeat it to my husband when he called to check in after the appointment without crying.  I had to get off the phone suddenly so as to not have a panic attack while driving.  I guess because I am past the “might die” part, my doctor was sort of casual in saying that.  I just don’t think I understood how sick I was.  I spent so much time in the past few years pretending that I was fine when there was this devastating disease tearing up my colon, that I think a part of me actually believed that I was over-reacting and I could just live with it.

What scared me so much about my doctor’s statement was realizing just how much I had convinced myself of this delusion that my UC wasn’t really that bad.  He was worried that if we didn’t take my colon out I COULD DIE.  And yet, days before my colon surgery one of my biggest fears was that they would take it out and do a pathology report and find out there was nothing wrong with it.  That I had taken out a perfectly healthy organ and would have to live with the consequences.

I was clearly nuts- I have since become slightly less nuts.  I had been having horrible bleeding, pain, and pretty much constant diarrhea almost every day for close to 2 years and I worked myself into a frenzy thinking that maybe I was making it all up.  WTF, Natalie?

So now that I am not in immediate danger and my doctor just casually says something like that, I freak a little.  Maybe I had to be a little delusional to get through the last few years.  I know that my scale of “feeling good” is drastically warped.  And even now, I probably seem perfectly healthy to everyone because I am operating at about 80%.  I was operating at like 10-20% for most of the last year, so that jump is pretty significant.  But I am still so anemic that I have to get IV iron infusions once a week, and my digestive system is still healing and very fragile.  I can go out and have fun and feel great for short periods of time but then get so tired that I have to nap because too much activity is truly exhausting for me.  And my thyroid medication is still not balanced, so every time we adjust the dosage my system goes a little wacky.

Which leads me to the thyroid cancer.  For the last 7 or so months I have been operating under the assumption that my thyroid cancer was a thing of the past and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore, the thyroidectomy got it all and all I have to do is go in for a blood test once a year.  I could box that up and put those worries on a shelf and focus on other things.  Then I went to my endocrinologist (again a referring doctor I hadn’t seen since surgery) and she said, “I guess it was benign, huh?”  Um…what?  Turns out she never got the path report from my surgeon and had no idea I had cancer.  Lesson learned, doctors never talk to each other when they should, you need to be on top of that shit.  So I had to wait while she got the report, looked it over, and then told me that the margins were not as clear as she would like them to be and we needed to schedule some tests to see if there is any remaining thyroid tissue and if anything has grown back in the months since surgery.  If so, I will need to get a radioactive iodine treatment.

Now, if I had gotten this news right after I first found out about the cancer, I could have dealt with it and understood that it was a part of my cancer treatment.  But now, I find myself realizing that my cancer has a threat of coming back, so even if I don’t have to get radiation this year, I will have to continue getting an ultrasound every year forever and just praying that it always comes back negative.

Oh and did I mention that this type of radiation treatment has relatively few nasty side effects (which is great) but that if you take it (it comes in pill form) you are RADIOACTIVE for about 10 days.  Like legitimately radioactive, like you can’t be around any humans for the first 5 days and no where near children for the first 10.  Please remember at this point that I have twin 2 year olds.  And you have to throw away all towels and sheets used during that time, and wear plastic gloves when touching anything.  So I would basically have to go into a full quarantine for 10 days.  Again something that would have been good to know SEVEN MONTHS AGO!

I got my blood results back and found that I do have at least a small amount of thyroid tissue left and now have to wait for the results of a scan that I am getting done on Tuesday to find out if I need to turn into a walking Biohazard.  Just after that call, I went into CVS to pick up an RX and when the woman at the counter told me it wasn’t ready I had a full blown meltdown.  Tears streaming down my face, sobbing- oh btw I was getting my anti-depressant, so I guess CVS lady realized just how much I need it! Because sometmes it is those little things that prove to be just too much.  And as a friend recently said to me, “It’s ok, you don’t have to be strong all the time.”  Oh right, that is the whole reason, I started this blog in the first place.  To have a place where I could let it out, to share with the world that even when I seem to be doing great sometimes on the inside I am keeping it together with chewing gum and scotch tape. I have already dealt with too much.  It’s not fair and it’s not fun.  And at that moment I needed my stupid medicine so I could go home, pop a Xanax, and take to my bed for awhile.  I just have a lot of feelings!

On the plus side, Sebastian has said that if I have to get the Radioactive Iodine, he would like me to bite him to see if he gets superpowers.  I’m hoping for the superpower of getting our kids to finally sleep through the night on a regular basis- fingers crossed!

Hanging in The Hospital

I’m sitting in the hospital right now, but for once it’s not for me.  My grandmother, Gaga, is having some health issues and I am here with her.  We are waiting to see if a blockage passes, so I am hoping and praying that she does not need to have surgery, especially since I know just how difficult intestinal surgery can be.

But right now, I’m just sitting here.  She is sleeping and I am hanging out in her room so that there is someone here for her if she needs anything and to help communicate with the doctors when they come in.  I’m also giving my mom a break so she can shower and rest since she was up all night getting Gaga admitted.

And it’s weird, cause I have spent a LOT of time in this hospital, but most of it was in that motorized bed, not next to it.  So the beeps and whirs of the machines, the constant hum of chatter in the hallway, and the ticking of the clock (because for some ridiculous reason apparently the only clocks they can put in hospitals are stupidly loud,) are familiar to me.

Right now a lot of people close to me are going through health issues similar to ones I have dealt with and it’s strange to be seeing it from the other side.  It is also difficult, because even though I am so incredibly grateful that I am (hopefully) past the worst of my health struggles, the memory of that pain is still quite fresh.  So when I see Gaga with an NG tube sucking bile out of her stomach, I cringe for her, cause I hated that thing- like more than I hate Caillou. Which is a lot.

For anyone who has not had the pleasure of being acquainted with an NG tube, it is a long tube that goes through your nose, down the back of your throat and into your stomach and then it sucks up everything in your stomach and spits it into a container and every once in a while a nurse comes by and dumps out your sludge bucket.  It doesn’t hurt, but it is super annoying, irritating, and generally unpleasant and gross.  Wanna hear one of the most disgusting things ever to happen to me? If not stop reading now…. still here?  Ok, when they yanked the NG tube out, I got nauseous and started puking, as a tube was coming out of my nose and throat, it was unbelievably miserable.  And this was when I was in the hospital for having my colon removed, so my whole abdomen was sliced up.  I have experienced a lot of different types of pain over the past few years, but I can say without a doubt that intensely vomiting after abdominal surgery (which I did after each of the 4 I had) is the worst!

And that brings me to Annie, Annie who inspired me to start Mommies In Need.  She and I spoke the other day and on the bright side, the Mommies In Need nanny we have paired her with is working out beautifully and the whole family is really happy and relieved to have that very necessary help.  But ya’ll (sorry my Texas roots are showing) she is in the worst of it right now.  The nausea, the pain, feeling like everything hurts and you think something must be terribly wrong and then having a Dr say that what you are going through is just a normal part of the healing process.  And you are like, “NORMAL?!!  So having pain so bad you think an alien is about to burst out of your stomach and start tap dancing on the table and then rushing to the ER and needing a morphine drip only to find out it was gas pain is normal?”  Well that sucks.

Unfortunately, going through this stuff just sucks.  And I feel terrible for my friends and family who are suffering right now because I truly know how they feel and I hate that they have to go through it.  But all I can do is sit here and watch Gaga sleep and hold her hand when she needs it.  Or give Annie some words of encouragement and a safe place to express frustration with the healing process and keep working to grow Mommies In Need so that she doesn’t have to worry about her kids during treatment.  And I am happy to do those things because I know just how much it means to have someone by your side in a dreary hospital room, and how much of a blessing it is to have a friend willing to listen, and how vitally important having a nanny was to my recovery and my sanity.  So thank you to all the people that were there for me when I needed it, and thank you God for allowing me to be strong and healthy enough to be here for the ones I love.

Hey, at least when my friends and family get sick they have a hospital/surgery/general health issues pro on hand.  I’m like a one-woman Wikipedia of illness-related crap! With one call I can tell you what to bring for a long hospital stay, give you a reference for an excellent Internist, GI doc, Colon/Rectal Surgeon, General Surgeon, Endocrinologist, Osteoporosis Specialist, Urologist, Physical Therapist, Dermatologist, Hematologist, Oncologist, and Shrink and give you a run down of the pros and cons of just about every pain medicine on the planet!

Mommies In Need Update- Spoiler Alert It’s A Good One!

I just want to take a quick moment to say I am truly astounded by the outpouring of support I have gotten since my last blog post about starting Mommies In Need.  In a little over a week, we have more than doubled our original goal for helping Annie and her family!!!

I was not sure if I could really do this thing, or if I was just being an (even more) insane person.  But you guys are backing me up and giving me the courage to keep going.  The amount of people who have shared the link, donated, or offered to help in some other way is incredible.  I think it has spoken to a real need in society. I have heard over and over again when I explain the idea to people, “I never really thought about it, but I don’t know what my family would do if I got that sick.”  Mommies In Need is growing at the rate that it is because it offers a tangible and relatable service to people who are in an unthinkable situation.

So just to keep you in the loop here are just a few things that have actually happened in the last week:

We have the beginnings of the 501(c)(3) paperwork done.  This is an extremely tedious process but I am hoping to have at the very least the articles of incorporation submitted to the state by tomorrow.   Once that goes through, I can get the rest of the forms to the IRS in the next few weeks.

We have a Secretary and Treasurer for the Board.  We will be having board meetings and voting on measures and all sorts of official stuff!

We have a Mommies In Need bank account where all of your incredibly generous donations are going.  And by bank account, I mean real bank account, not a bag with a dollar sign on it under a loose floorboard.

We now have a PO Box.  Send us something!  I recommend a check made out to Mommies In Need, but you could also send Annie a letter or card of encouragement, a sonnet you write about how generally awesome I am, or whatever else you feel inspired to pass along.  Our new address is:  Mommies In Need, PO Box 601562 Dallas, Tx 75360.

And most importantly, we have raised enough money to fund a Nannie for Annie (sounds like a Dr. Seuss book) for over 2 months!!!  I am amazed and overwhelmed by the generosity and enthusiasm that everyone has shown.

So please continue to donate or have people send checks to our new address.  You can also send me an email at if there is some other way you want to get involved or just want to be on the mailing list for any and all Mommies In Need info.

I am so excited that we are able to help Annie and hopefully many more mommies like her in the future.  Thank you to all of you for listening, supporting, and sharing! And for jumping on board this crazy train with me!

Jumping for joy!  I'm not currently on the Great Wall of China but you get the idea!
Jumping for joy! I’m not currently on the Great Wall of China but you get the idea!

My Why

I have said on this blog before that I no longer believe that everything happens for a reason.  Some of you may have heard me articulate this as “I don’t believe that God gives us the bad stuff.”  I just can’t wrap my head around a world where the difficult path that I have been down was chosen for me, that I have suffered so much because I am uniquely strong enough to bear it.  I think we have a lot more choice than that, and sometimes shit just happens.  And it’s not fair, and it’s not because I deserved it, or because I needed it to grow as a person.  I am just someone who for a long time couldn’t catch a break.  And I went through a long string of crazy health problems and am just now coming out the other side of it.

What I do believe is that people who are dealt a rough hand have the option to bet on it anyway.  We don’t always have the ability to change the circumstances that come into our lives, but we can choose to keep going, to get out of bed every day (or most days) and hope for the best.  And if we are lucky, we can find a way to turn those things into something great.  And sometimes God, or The Universe, or Completely Random Chance (whatever you want to name it that makes sense to you) lets things line up in a way that all that crap makes sense and has a purpose and can be turned into something beautiful.

This is more philosophical than I usually get here, but I need to explain to everyone why all of the sudden I have become (even more of) a crazy person and decided to take on a huge project when I am not quite fully functional myself.  I started a charity.  Like yesterday.  With no real plan in place, just flying by the seat of my yoga pants and praying that it turns out ok.

I have actually been thinking about starting this since I first got sick.  Because I always knew how fortunate I was that with the help of our families we could afford to hire a nanny to get me through the worst of it.  And I found Wonder J– as I have written before she has been amazing for our family.  I always knew that I could focus on taking care of myself and be there for my girls as much as possible, but have confidence that if I hit a wall and had to go lay down, or got dizzy, or was about to poop my pants (sorry for the TMI but we are talking colon removal here!) Flopsy and Curly were in good hands.   I can’t even begin to describe how much I needed this help, I am not exaggerating when I say I am not sure I could have gotten through the last few years without a nanny.  Cause stay at home mommies don’t get sick days.  Ever.  Not if you have a cold and not if you have cancer.

I never thought I would get so sick I couldn't even lift ONE baby!
I never thought I would get so sick I couldn’t even lift ONE baby!

Stay at home mommies of young kids don’t have disability insurance and most of us don’t have any sort of childcare set up.  Maybe a MDO or a couple of hours of babysitting here and there.  Not enough to go to seven doctor’s appointments a week.  Or be in the hospital for 20 days in a year.  Or go through invasive treatments and surgeries that leave you feeling like warmed-up death.  And if you can’t afford to hire help than at best you have tons of different people volunteering a few hours here and there, having to explain your kids schedule to every person that helps you, feeling guilty that there is no consistency in the kids lives, and at worst have to miss vital appointments or treatments because you can’t find someone to watch your kid with strep.  Who, by the way, you shouldn’t even be near because you have a severely compromised immune system.  Not a great situation, huh?

So when I heard that my friend Annie (who has two darling kids and not-so-cute colon cancer) was back in the hospital following surgical complications, and did not have and could not afford full time help to get her through the rest of her surgeries and chemo, I knew I HAD to do something.  See, a few years ago, I would have heard her story and thought, “Aww that sucks, she’s so nice, this is going to be really hard for her.”  But now I hear that story and say “NO!!! You can’t do this by yourself, if you can’t get help then I will get it for you.”  And then the real miracle happened.  Our previous nanny (who left only because she got a full time job, we loved her) texted me and said she was looking for a new family.  And I thought, “Hello, all I have to do is put these two together, raise a bunch of money, and I’m off.”  So Mommies In Need was born.

But can’t I just raise money for another charity that does this?  Nope.  If there is one, I couldn’t find it.  And my vision is very specific.  I want to not only fund the nannies for sick moms, but also provide them with someone who is vetted, background checked, and stamped with the SuperCrazy Mommy seal of approval (as in I have/would leave my own kids with them.)  Because when you are in pain is not the time to have to do interviews and reference checks and try to find the right person.  My long term goal is that if I get a call for a mommy who just got a diagnosis I can move fast and have a reliable nanny to her in a few days.

I know that there is a daunting amount of work ahead of me, I just opened the new bank account and am starting all the 501(c)(3) paperwork, and I actually do have “Grand Plans” for the future.  But already I am amazed at the people who have stepped forward and said they think this is important and want to be a part of it.   I am feeling grateful that everything came together at the right time for me to get off my ass and actually start this thing.  So is it crazy?  Yes.  Is it Super Crazy? Yes!  But I am doing this because I feel like I finally found the good that I can pull out of all the shit I have been through.  This non-profit is my silver lining, my reason for all my difficulties.  I actually have an answer now to the question that plagued me everytime I got hit with another diagnosis or huge crisis.

In Mommies In Need I found my “Why?”


*If this blog has ever spoken to you, or made you laugh, or given your day a little lift, please consider donating to MommiesInNeed.  If you can’t donate, please check out the fundraising page and share it on any media platform you can.  Plus as you will see on the campaign page, if you donate $100 or more I’ll Be Your Best Friend! You can also like me on Facebook for more updates on this project.


A Moment of Gratitude

I rant a little (or a lot) on this blog.  I talk about the crazy things that are going on in my life and how difficult it has been to deal with it all.  I have talked about my anxiety, my cancer, my miscarriage, my disordered eating, and my surgeries, in addition to the general insanity of raising twin toddlers.  If you want to get caught up quickly you can visit A Brief Timeline of Crazy.  And while I have just begun mining the things I want to vent about and get off my chest, I feel the need to pause for a minute and say that despite all of that I never forget that I have also been amazingly blessed.  I can’t say anymore that I believe that “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe that if you try, you can take the bad that happens to you and make something beautiful out of it.  For me that something is a new appreciation of the good things in my life, as well as the ability to be there for others who are going through a difficult time.  So here is a list of 10 things for which I will be eternally grateful:

  1. Flopsy and Curly- more than anything else they have been my reason for getting out of bed and my motivation to keep going no matter how crappy I felt.  They are awesome and hilarious and they love tutus, purple, and sparkly things (just like mommy!)  They were the worst sleeping babies in the history of the world, but I am incredibly thankful that they are relatively even-tempered toddlers.  They play really well with each other about 75% of the time, which is pretty good for 2 1/2 and every single day they do something that stops me in my tracks because it is so cute, or sweet, or smart, or funny and I think, “I am the luckiest person in the world that I get to spend my days with these two amazing little people.”  Like when Curly put her hand on my cheek and looked into my eyes and said, “You’re my sweet girl.”  Or when Curly was getting frustrated with putting on her own shoes and Flopsy said, “I’ll help you” and then put Curly’s shoes on for her.  Or yesterday, when they were playing on the swings and taking turns sitting on each other’s lap and swinging together.  I seriously almost had a stroke from cuteness.
  2. Sebastian- My husband is incredible.  Truly, it makes me mad sometimes because I can’t even complain about him when I get together with a bunch of other moms.  He helps around the house, gets up in the middle of the night with the kids when I’m not feeling well, is a loving and devoted dad, encourages me to take “me” time or go out with friends when I can, and managed to pick up all the extra work I could not do this past year when I was really sick.    He also has to put up with much more of my crazy than anyone else and somehow still loves me.  The most annoying thing about him is that he is almost always right.  Please don’t tell him I said that!
  3. My Family- By this I mean my parents, siblings, grandparents, and also Sebastian’s family who have been wonderful through all of our turmoil.  I seriously don’t know how we would have survived the past few years without the family support we have had.  They have gathered around us like a giant protective hugging net that has kept us from falling- yes a hugging net, I don’t know what that is either but I’m sticking with it.
  4. My Friends- Even those who I have not talked to on a regular basis in the past years have come out of the woodwork to support me.  Especially since I started this blog and actually let people in to the realities of what was going on with my life, I have been showered with love from my friends.
  5. Wonder J (Our Nanny)- I have a whole post dedicated to her, but knowing that my kids are in such good hands has taken a ton of mommy guilt off my shoulders!
  6. Dr. Awesome (My Therapist)- she helps me keep the crazy at bay and gives me Xanax.  ‘Nuff Said.
  7. That I Had Twins- sure, having 2 babies at once was front loaded with difficulty, but when I got the scary news that my uterus had been removed to save my life, I was devastated, but not nearly as much as I would have been if I hadn’t had two darling babies to go home to.  I know that my family is perfect and complete.  Plus, I don’t get a period anymore- can’t say that I miss that!
  8. The Body Scan that Found my Cancer- it was horrible timing, but I do realize how lucky I am that a random scan before surgery found that lump and I was able to have it removed long before I ever showed symptoms.  Otherwise, that little ball of yuck could have kept growing for a long time and put me in a much worse situation.
  9. Our Financial Security- I am immensely grateful that we had good insurance and the ability to get through these years without the crippling debt that chronic illness and multiple surgeries can bring to a family.  Sure, I would much rather have taken an awesome vacation than spend 20 days in the hospital this year, but we didn’t have to choose between paying for my medicines and paying for food.  I do realize how very lucky I am for that.
  10. This Blog- I only go to therapy once a week, but I can write here whenever I want!  It has given me a sense of purpose, a way to express myself, and an outlet for the whirling dervish of thoughts that are constantly going in my head.  It has allowed me to be honest in a way I have never been before.  I am very good at putting up a front of being fine when I am actually far from it. It has been so helpful and freeing to me to have a place to let down my guard, to show the mess I have going on inside, and to advertise to the world how NOT perfect I am.

I started thinking that I needed to write this because I have several friends in crisis right now, and I constantly get people saying to me, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t complain.  It’s not as bad as what you’ve been through.”  I would like to state right now for the record- that is total BS.  If you are dealing with pain, difficulty, or trouble in your life, that is yours and you have every right to be upset about it.  A dear friend of mine who has been through cancer, the loss of her mom, and many other struggles said something to me that I will never forget.  I was saying essentially the same thing to her, that I shouldn’t complain because it could be much worse.  And she said, “If that helps you right now, then use it.  If it doesn’t, don’t!”  I love that thought.  Sometimes you need to wallow in your grief or pain or difficulty to get through it.  And sometimes you need to look at the big picture of the world and be amazed that in the scheme of things your life is actually pretty good.

Right now I feel the need to show my gratitude to the universe that let me get through this horrible time in my life with myself missing a few organs and a little bit of sanity, but mostly intact.  For the first time in a very long time I feel hope.  And that is so beautiful.  I want to say to those out there who are in the midst of a dip in your life when you feel like things will never get better… I have been there.  Like really there, in a pit, thinking that I would never be able to climb out.  And while I am not at the end of my journey of healing (so don’t be surprised when I have ranting posts later about Ulcerative Colitis, or surgeries, or other craziness) I can finally see that glimmer that things are going to be OK.  It is crazy how that snuck up on me.  I didn’t notice I was doing so much better until one day I realized that I could breathe a little easier, that I wasn’t in a constant state of tension waiting for the next of like 40,000 shoes to drop.  And for that spark of hope I am completely awash in gratitude.  Thank you to everyone reading, commenting on, and messaging me about this blog.  You have all helped me to find that spark, thanks for being part of my therapy.  But don’t worry Dr. Awesome, I still need to come to you for my Xanax!

How can I not be grateful for getting to see this?!
How can I not be grateful for getting to see this?!

The 5 BEST Things about Major Surgery

Today, a friend of mine is going in for surgery and it made me start to remember all of the things that I thought and worried about before each of my 5 major surgeries in the last couple of years (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you just went, “wait, WHAT?”)  I can go on and on about how scary and difficult and painful surgery is (wouldn’t that be a fun blog to read?!) but I realized that no one really talks about the good parts of having misbehaving organs ripped out.  So here it is…

The 5 BEST Things about having Major Surgery

  1. The Binge Watching- TV shows and movies on Netflix, Amazon On Demand, Hulu, etc. were practically designed for someone in the hospital or in recovery.  My suggestion is to pick a show that you have never seen before that is already 6 or 7 seasons in and then just marathon it.  Personal favs include Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl but I am really sophisticated and cultured like that, you may be more of a West Wing person and that’s cool too.  I wouldn’t recommend Lost though because with all the drugs in your system you will probably get really…well, I think you know where I’m going with that one! Which leads me to…
  2. The Drugs- I have a bizarrely high tolerance to pain meds, but even I got to a point when I started professing my love for the nursing staff giving me the drugs.  Apparently I kept telling my Dilaudid-wielding nurse, “I love you, do you know how wonderful you are?”  This got a little awkward for my husband who was standing there, especially since it was a male nurse!  If you are lucky you get a magic device- the pain pump (my favorite was filled with Dilaudid but Morphine is pretty good too.)  Don’t be a hero, you don’t get any points for not pushing that button, use this liberally and enjoy.
  3. The Love- Your friends and family will come out of the woodwork to shower you with cards, emails, texts, flowers, gifts, jewelry (ok, maybe not jewelry, but if you have a friend in surgery- please consider it.  Nothing says “Get Better Soon” like a pair of diamond studs!)
  4. The Help- Again, at no other time in your life will people be so ready and willing to help you.  Everyone says, “Let me know what I can do.”  Don’t make the mistake I did and just think that is an empty line.  Most people that say this truly do want to help (and if they don’t- too bad, they offered, if they didn’t mean it that’s on them!)  Seriously, let your loved ones know what they can do.  Here’s a list of possibilities- grocery shopping, dishes, pick up dry cleaning, make you food, buy you food, watch your kids, do your laundry, bring you magazines, get your prescriptions, or just come over and keep you company for awhile when you can’t leave the house and are going stir crazy.
  5. The Perspective- I think this is the biggest one.  If you survived a major surgery (or many surgeries) you will probably come out of it a little different.  You don’t know just how much you can live through until you go through it.  The worst of the pain, the hospital stay, and the recovery feel like forever.  But then one day, you wake up and realize that you are starting to get back to yourself again.  You think, how in the world did I get through that?!  And you start to understand that just maybe you are stronger than you ever gave yourself credit for.  Maybe you have a little more appreciation for the good things in your life.  Maybe you hold your loved ones a little tighter because you realize just how precious your life and health are.  Maybe you will one day be able to give support and compassion to someone going through a tough time in a whole different way because you get what it is like to be really down.  Maybe the whole process helps you realize just how many people love you and who your true friends are.  And maybe, just maybe, you have some killer new bling to go with your new look on life.

If you are about to go into a major surgery right now or know someone who is, remember that even the hardest things in life eventually pass.  Enjoy the downtime while you have it, I feel like I’m speaking in cliches here, but the world moves really fast most of the time.  I don’t really believe that everything happens for a reason.  But I do believe that things happen and you call on every bit of strength you have to deal with them, and that you can then choose to find something good that came out of it all.

I can’t say that I enjoyed any of my surgeries or sicknesses, but I can say that I truly appreciate all the love that people showered on me, the knowledge that I have more resilience than I ever dreamed of, and that I am overwhelmed in gratitude that I am alive, on the mend, and able to hold my husband and daughters every night.  Oh and Gossip Girl, I really enjoyed getting to watch that show in a continuous marathon- when you are on drugs and don’t take a break between episodes it is even more crazytown!

When recovering, you never have to get dressed!
When recovering, you never have to get dressed!