Jingle Bells. You know, deck them halls and all that stuff.

Welp! ‘Tis the season, y’all, and boy has it flown by in a hurry! We went from Turkey Lurkey to Jingle Bells in about 72 seconds flat! And during that time, there’s been—as usual—nothing and everything to report.

Health-wise, things are pretty much the same; I got my second Red Devil treatment on December 6, and my body’s reaction to it followed a pattern similar to the first time. The primary difference was that the whole ball o’ fun started a day earlier; whereas last time, Thursday was when the adventure began in earnest, this time the strict, days-long diet of applesauce and rice (and avocado rolls from a nearby sushi joint—a specific sushi joint, I discovered the hard way (by trying rolls from a different, closer place, and being turned ALL the way off by their flawed rice-to-avocado ratio)—which I would have eaten for eight meals straight if I could have) started on Wednesday.

The other difference, this time, was that it was December, which meant that during my gastrointestinal sturm und drang, my children were popping into my bedroom to ask me questions like, “When are we going Christmas shopping?” and “Are we decorating gingerbread houses this year?” (My responses: “Not sure, but not THIS week, Baby Cheese,” and “Maybe—we’ll see, Cookie Butt.” The answers in my heart: “Fuck if I know, Baby Cheese,” and “Fuck that shit, Cookie Butt.” Too harsh? Y’all know I love those boys more than all my favorite socks combined, but their timing sucks.)

I have also noticed that I seem to be losing hair in earnest, now; I may have mentioned my surprise, once I shaved my head early on in this process, that my hair kept growing. And while that’s still the case, it’s a LOT sparser, and my eyebrows and eyelashes have LEFT THE BUILDING, earning me both a new nickname around these parts, and a too-late Halloween costume idea:

My family now takes great delight in making fun of me, because along with my eyebrows went 92% of my facial expressions. I now apparently have a sort of vacant RBF going on all the time, which has resulted in a lot of smart-ass “Why are you giving me that look?” comments from my loved ones, anytime I look in one of their directions. Even the little one (who has been my staunchest ally throughout this process, staying in bed with me for hours on end during the days following my Red Devil treatments, and eating white-rice dinners alongside me in solidarity) has turned on me and joined in on the ribbing; “Hey, Mom, make a mad face—I want to see if it works!” he’ll say. Then, when I give him my best mad-Mom frown, he’ll say something like, “Nope! You just look disappointed and sleepy.”

Story of my life, kid. Story of my life.

But I digress.

The point is, I now have two Red Devil treatments down, and two to go—the next one happening two days after Christmas—and although they certainly aren’t FUN, they seem to be relatively predictable so far: about a week of rice and applesauce, followed by a few more days of eating regular food, but not getting much enjoyment out of most of it (which did have a negative effect on Thanksgiving dinner; all I could really taste was the stuffing, which leads me to believe it was probably WAY too salty for everyone else), and then about a week of feeling “normal” before the next treatment begins.

Even “normal,” these days, though, sometimes involves bone pain (mostly in my ribs, and it’s nothing debilitating, but I find sitting in the same position (at work, or in the car) for too long can make me achy) from the bone marrow stimulant they jab me with on the day after each treatment—and has, for awhile now, involved blackening nail beds on five of my fingers (two on the left hand, three on the right):

Those have become a little achy, too, giving me to know just how much I use my fingernails as tools, because I find I can’t do that anymore, without a little pain (and a little fear that one of those suckers is going to pop right off the next time I try to pick a stubborn label sticker or glue booger off of something).

And finally, I’ve noticed that fatigue can jump on me suddenly and HARD, like a baby grand falling from a 4th story window onto my head. Case in point: one of this month’s Advent calendar surprises for my dudes was an afternoon at the movie theater, which we’d rented out for a private screening of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (yeah, we don’t do the traditional 24 days of Advent chocolate; we go HAM, baby). Boy the Elder invited his girlfriend and a couple of other friends, and afterwards, we schlepped the girlfriend along with us to dinner and then to a low-budget holiday lights tour (i.e., just us, in our car, looking up neighborhood displays on our phones and then driving to check them out).

And MAAAAAAN, I was WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIPED afterwards! In fact, I cut the tour short, because I was so exhausted by . . . just . . . SITTING all afternoon and evening—first in the movie theater, then in the restaurant, and then in the car through three measly neighborhood displays—that I was struggling to stay awake by 8 p.m., in bed by 9, and conked out by 9:15. I slept for 10 hours straight (GLORY!), but I still felt like I’d been felled by a freight train for the entirety of the next day, and had to beg off work early to squeeze in a SECOND nap before dinner. And this without even the fun of egg nog overindulgence!

Otherwise, though, I’m doing pretty well for an old gal who’s being poisoned.

It’s the next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways . . .

So now that I’m almost through chemo, I’ve begun the process of planning my surgery. Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve managed to maintain a one-step-at-a-time focus, so when I was doing the weekly chemo treatments, I only thought as far ahead as the Red Devil. And now that the Red Devil is halfway over, I’ve begun thinking about giving up the girls.

To be honest, the reality of that—of the fact that the boobs I have had for 40-some years now are on their way out—has not really hit me yet. And it may, like the loss of so many other things (mostly of the filamental variety) throughout this bullshit, leave me surprisingly unfazed . . . but I’m prepared for a mild freak-out to jump on me at some point. In the meantime, Nurse Navigator Peppy (remember her?) has booked me an early-January consult with a plastic surgeon, so shit is definitely getting real.

I’ve already decided a few things with 97.4% certainty:

  • I’m going for a double mastectomy, as opposed to a lumpectomy or a single mastectomy, both because I want to be able to say I did EVERYTHING I could to prevent this motherfucker from taking me down, AND because I have a weird affinity for symmetry.
  • I will have reconstructive surgery. We have the technology. We can make them better than they were. Better, stronger, faster. (I’ve been asked if I’ve considered going flat—after all, I resisted wearing a bra for the first 15 or so years of my adult life, and aside from perhaps a couple, at most, of misguided pre-adolescent longings, have never really wished for bigger boobs—and honestly, if I were still 25, I WOULD consider it, but at this point in my life, the “flat” part would end at my sternum, and then the un-flatness of everything below that would be especially, er . . . pronounced. So in an effort to maintain some sort of chest/belly balance, I’m gonna go ahead and get new boobs.)
  • I’m going to get implants. This decision was more recent; I was originally leaning toward the DIEP flap method of reconstruction, because how awesome is the idea of taking fat away from your belly to make you new boobs? However, the more I read about the recovery process, the more it sounded like pure hell—because you’re basically recovering from breast and abdominal surgery simultaneously. So although I was initially hesitant about implants (another personal weirdness: although I know implant sickness is a thing, I was more just squicked about having a foreign object—or, well, TWO—inside my body, which made little sense, because if I broke a hip and had to have it pinned, or needed a pacemaker, I wouldn’t hesitate . . . but I digress), I am now looking at implants as the way to go. If nothing else, they’ll make it easier to achieve the symmetry I crave. But it’s my hope that I’ll also have an easier time, er . . . bouncing back (pun intended) after surgery.

Nothing, of course, is set in stone at the moment, and the consult with the plastic surgeon could reveal some new intel that changes things, but for now, I feel relatively clear about what I want to do, so assuming nothing changes, all that will remain is to set a surgery date (likely sometime in February, about a month from my last chemo treatment on January 17).

Waxin’ Rhapsodic

On the heels of my little dude’s star turn as a duck in his school play came my elder dude’s opportunity to flaunt his own mad showmanship skills, in concert with the city-wide youth symphony in which he’s played cello for three years. When he first joined, COVID prevented in-person rehearsals, so he participated in a 45-minute virtual rehearsal once a week (and a virtual concert at the end of each semester). For the past couple of years, though, he’s been rehearsing in-person for two hours every Monday night, and this season (which began in September), he earned a spot in the more advanced-level ensemble—a difference which was obvious from the first rehearsal.

“How was it?” I asked, as usual, when I picked him up that night—only instead of giving me the usual answer—a shrug and a cursory “Good” (which most parents know could mean anything from “I got to play with an entire litter of puppies today and then scored a free donut” to “I flunked three tests, then accidentally dropped my lunch into the sewer, and I had to fight a rat to retrieve it, so I may have rabies”)—he replied with an exasperated, “Humbling.”

He went on to talk about this horrendously long, complicated, and difficult piece they’d started working on, and how there was NO WAY they were ever going to be able to learn it by the December concert.

As time went on, and I asked how the piece was going, he was still doubtful they’d pull it together in time. At one point, he mentioned that they were flying a pianist in from Germany to play the piece with them, and was stressed about the fact that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to rehearse with her until the day before the show, which was going to make it hard for the cello section to hit their cues.

On the weekend of the concert, they rehearsed for three hours the day before the show, and three MORE hours on the day OF the show, perfecting this beast of a piece.

The funny thing was that I never asked him the name of the piece; because I’m not well-versed in the classical music canon (aside from the Nachtmusik/Für Elise basics), I just assumed it would be some esoteric piece I didn’t know, perhaps by a composer I’d never even heard of.

Imagine my surprise and utter delight, then, when Song Long and Impossible turned out to be Rhapsody in Blue! (I guess this is a testament to my ability to tune the boy ALL the way out when he’s practicing at home.)

Y’all, they KILLED IT. Earned themselves a standing ovation (granted, 99% of the audience were likely their parents and grandparents (not the harshest critics), but still—we didn’t stand our asses up for any of the other songs they played). And all I kept thinking, as I hooted wildly from the second row, was, “THIS was it. THIS was the song that’s been making him grumbly every Monday night for three months!”

Rubbing it here, and scrubbing it there

The other lovely thing that FINALLY happened in December is that I got a CLEAN HOUSE. After weeks of texting back and forth, apologizing to one another for one unexpected turn of events or another (viral illness in my house, school obligations for her), the house cleaner commissioned and funded by my wonderful (bossy) friend was finally able to enter my house and face the nightmare. She brought reinforcements (i.e., another person to help her and likely lend emotional support), and together they spent three hours getting my business sparkling.

Well, most of it, anyway; I gave them a list, in priority order, of what I needed done (first and foremost: scrubbing all the Great Dane head-shake-flung flotsam from the walls), and excluded all four bedrooms, thinking that there was no way they’d even get through all of my list. But damn if they didn’t get every last thing on my list done before dashing out to their next appointment.

And me? I hung out in my bedroom with the flotsam-flinging Dane (the other dog staunchly refused to come upstairs with me, even with the lure of treats, so the ladies graciously offered to work with him downstairs, which likely means they had to mop around his old grumpy ass, as I often do), eating, reading, sleeping, and folding laundry while the magic was happening. It was like a Christmas miracle, yo.

I’d rather have it 30, 20, 10, 5 and let it freeeee-eeeeze . . .

So it seems only fitting, after the small homage to Heat Miser in my last post, that Snow Miser would demand HIS day in the sun cold. Which he did in the form of the winter storm that’s knocking temps below zero across the U.S.—and in the concomitant discovery (by Boy the Elder) yesterday that the pipes in our hall bathroom were frozen solid.

Which was odd, because our other full bathroom—with pipes on an outside wall—still had running water, as did our washing machine and kitchen sink (also along outside walls). Meanwhile, this ONE bathroom, fed (we suspected) at least partially by inside pipes, had no running water. But without cutting, perhaps fruitlessly, into the drywall, we weren’t quite sure where exactly to find the frozen pipes to wrap them or blow-dry them or whatever people do. So Love Tank just busted out the space heaters, and placed one directly in the defunct bathroom, one in boy the Elder’s room (which shares a wall with the bathroom) and one in the pantry/laundry room located directly below the bathroom, to warm that sucker up from as many directions as possible. Then he cranked the taps and closed the door, and we prayed to both Santa and Krampus that nothing would burst.

And lo and behold, as I walked up the stairs to bed last night, I heard water running from behind the closed bathroom door. At first, I thought nothing of it, except, “Why is the elder dude taking a shower at THIS time of night?” but then my brain cloud cleared, and I threw open the bathroom door. Sure enough, both the sink faucet and the shower faucet were running full blast, and I started shouting, “Water! WE HAVE WATER!” until my family came running from all directions to witness the second Christmas miracle of the season.

And to all, a good night

So this brings us to Christmas Eve morning, with a still-relatively-clean house, and all of us nestled snug in our beds—Love Tank and me by choice, the boys because they started fighting at breakfast (after I went out in single-digit temperatures to get their asses Panera) and got sent to their rooms.

But don’t pity them too much, as their final Advent goodies were stacks of books in honor of Jolabokaflod, which we started celebrating last year, because HOW AWESOME are books and chocolate on Christmas Eve?

But I digress.

The point is, since the boys like to open each day’s Advent goody first thing in the morning, they have brand new books and brand new candy to keep them occupied, not to mention a slow cooker full of hot chocolate, which I whipped up before they started fighting, so they could enjoy it with their books—all of which seems to be working, because although it’s edging up on lunchtime, the house is still blissfully quiet.

And that may be the greatest miracle of all.

God bless us, everyone.

7 Replies to “ Jingle Bells. You know, deck them halls and all that stuff.”

  1. Halfway through the Red Devil!!! Congratulations. I love you and am wishing you all the best.

  2. Props to Auggy — Rhapsody in Blue is hard!

    And 🎄😍🎅🏽🎉 to you and yourn!

    C & A

  3. You are literally the most brilliant, magical girl I know!! Love you, OBFF!!!!! Keep kicking A!!!!

  4. Happy that you are halfway through Red Devil. I am so impressed with Rhapsody in Blue – one of my favorites. Keep writing – the book will be a best seller!!!!

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