Chemo Season

My oncologist established that skinny-little-me could handle the chemotherapy.  Why would he think otherwise?  I had no idea what I was in for, thank heaven, but I would soon find out.

My chemo treatments especially are dreadful memories for me, and each treatment seemed to run into the next, making them equally disheartening.  Mariano usually drove me to the hospital for my appointments, and the first treatment was no different.

We headed to the oncology department for what would become routine blood tests.  The doctor would review the pertinent markers each visit.  Subsequently, doctor visits and blood tests were on a different day from treatments, and were scheduled monthly for the chemo oncologist.  My first treatment included a lot of preparation and information sharing with the nurse that was assigned to my file that day.

From the waiting room, I was directed to a long narrow room where at least seven or eight blue and green reclining chairs lined up along what seemed like a forty-foot wall.  They weren’t the cozy chairs you would put in your family room, but ones you would expect to find in a public area – boxy, with a high back rest and covered in thick vinyl.  They weren’t as comfortable for me as I would have liked, because I didn’t have the strength to recline them on my own.  I wished the surroundings were prettier, like the new lounges in some hospitals.  It felt very clinical, but during the Christmas holiday, the nurses put a little artificial tree on the counter, decorated with colourful ornaments and a flashing star at the top.

I’m not sure the nurses assigned each chair to a particular patient, but I often sat in the same area.  Perhaps each nurse had their own section, and I would sit where it would be easier for that nurse to take care of me.  But wherever I took refuge for my frailty, the room still felt grim.  The nurses went about their pleasantries, heedful as they tried to lighten the mood.  But patients sat and stared ahead as they received their poison.  It was mostly silent and laughs were scarce, so that was the extent of the activity generating from that room.


Today, November 29, 2016, marks the day that I began chemotherapy twelve years ago.  It’s also my daughter’s birthday.  There are no words how grateful I am to still be around for her.  I refuse to abandon her again!  But it’s not always in my hands, is it?

Be well…

Tis The Season

My chemotherapy treatments would begin on my daughter’s second birthday, November 29, two months after my operation.  So I arranged a small party for the day prior to celebrate her second birthday.  It was a great distraction, but a brutal reminder of what may come.  Would I make it to her third?  Will she remember me?  Who can tell me I can watch her grow up?

No one.

Each birthday or Christmas (because they are about one month apart), depending on when I had more time, I would write Isabella a letter.  They are accumulating in her Christmas stocking, and I hope she’ll look at them again later in life.  That second birthday or Christmas was the only year I wasn’t able to fulfill that new tradition.  I still felt strong, but there was too much going on, so I had likely forgotten about it.  My letters would reflect on the past year, what I’ve learned about being a mother, lessons we taught each other, and aspirations for the future.  I also write each of my nieces and nephews special letters at Christmas.

The first Christmas in my new home was unavoidable due to my illness and inability to go out unnecessarily.  Trailing my feeding machine in the evening was not worth the hassle, so it was natural that we spent the holiday at my house.  So I began another tradition by celebrating Christmas Day at my house during subsequent years, sharing it with my entire family and mother-in-law.  My mother and my sisters handled every thing, since at that point, I was already carrying the weight of chemo’s side effects.

We eat, eat, exchange gifts, and eat more.  We also play games and cards.  Though that first Christmas was difficult, it made every other remarkable.


I pray every day for those that I love.  Join me in offering peace, health, and happiness to all those around us.  Regardless of our different races, religions, upbringing, desires, or emotions, we will all end up “together”.  Let’s make the transition memorable, not miserable.  Don’t waste each day avenging on who you think your enemies are, but send them love, and you will feel fulfilled in ways indescribable. 

I apologize for missing last week’s post – I certainly received “feedback” from readers who expect their Tuesday’s email to contain my new excerpt.  Thanks for reminding me how important this is!  Life happens, and next time, I promise to try to schedule it in advance so it’s there waiting for your viewing.


12-Egg Custard Cake

Eating large meals is such a big part of our family’s history.  We are always together for holiday and birthday dinners, followed by the occasion’s cake.  Normally, we would just buy Italian desserts, or my mother would bake cookies or her amazing twelve egg, coffee-and-sweet-liquor-mix, four-layer cake with custard (part of the cake had chocolate custard, the rest was vanilla).  The top was covered in simple icing sugar and sprinkles.

In 2010, my oldest brother-in-law, Ralph, was diagnosed with Diabetes, so we toned it down on desserts for his benefit.  We continue to look for interesting sugar-free desserts, but he’ll either limit his intake or skip it altogether.  My sister, Lisa, will cook with much less salt, and they avoid sugar as much as possible.  He’s a champ at controlling his once strong sweet tooth.

I’m so proud of the way Ralph handled the life change.  Under the worst odds, he became an example of a true fighter.  His doctor initially wanted him hospitalized because of the gravity of his illness.  When Ralph told the doctor he would take care of it, I don’t know if he realized how well he would do.  My life wouldn’t be the same without him in it.

Ralph didn’t tell all our family right away, so he could have a chance to soak it all in and get into a routine.  He gave up chain smoking immediately, with the help of a patch, began exercising and walking every single day, and ate healthy, timely meals to help stabilize his sugar.  Within a few months, he looked skinnier and healthier than I had ever remembered him.

He had his own reasons to fight.  His oldest child, Claudia, was expecting her first child – his first grandchild.  That played a major role in his new and obligatory regimen.  Today, he still gets up early for his walk and eats well.  He went from insulin and pills every day to just a half-pill.

“Now we both have to stay away from the sugar!”  The consequences are quite different for us.  It would be detrimental to Ralph’s health to deny his inability to treat sugar;  but for me, it would simply cause the runs.

Ralph’s mother was a Diabetic, and died from her symptoms.  As a result of possibly passing on bad genes, his family eats healthier.  Diabetes can kill you just like cancer can.  In the end, does it really matter which disease you get?  We must take care of ourselves as best we could – despite our lack of control over certain illnesses and handicaps.  I wanted him to feel he wasn’t alone.  He isn’t really – I really do need to pay attention to what I eat, but for different reasons and with less-than-life-threatening results.


Hmmm… now I’m craving something!

Fancy The Feast

My family was awaiting my return.  It was passed 1:30 in the afternoon when we arrived at our house.  As Mariano unlocked the door, my mother and Lisa were right behind it.  What a warm welcome it was, with my daughter running straight into my arms.  With some caution, I knelt and hugged her.  “God, I miss you.”  How could I expect her to understand what was going on and why I had been away from her for so long?  She hadn’t forgotten me… and I didn’t want to remind her of the reason for my absence.

Every thing needed to move in slow motion for a while.  The delicateness of my torso was intimidating for all of us.  They couldn’t feel the tenderness of my skin, but every one was consciously careful around me.  They were happy to have me home, but I could see they avoided hugging me too hard.

Though my chest and belly were still numb, there was much sensitivity at the same time.  Even today, when someone touches the area – including myself – it feels tender.  Without any stomach or strength there, the feeling is almost inexplicable.  Some think the sensitivity is gone, like my nephew or brother-in-law who play-fight sometimes.  I can barely touch it, so the discomfort or pain with pushes and the like, are awful.  The abdomen feels (and is) empty, like you can punch right through it.

“Wow, what’s all this?”  There was a feast laid out on that metal table my parents had given us – until we could find a dining room set we liked.  We hadn’t bought all our furniture yet for the new house.  Aside from Isabella’s bedroom set that was new, we had many more rooms to fill now that we were out of that basement four-and-a-half-room apartment.

For the first time in my life, I felt threatened by all the food scattered across the table.  There was no hunger or comfort in the thought of eating without some kind of professional to help me if something went wrong.  Even prior to the operation, when esophageal pain was present, food was the enemy.  It was frightening, wondering where it would all go now that I didn’t have a stomach or feel a physical need to eat.

My sister, Lisa, asked, “Do you want me to make you a plate?”

“Oh, no.  I can’t have this…  I only just started having solid food.”  It did look really inviting for those who were waiting for it, but I wasn’t hungry at all.

I realized I would never be able to splurge again when it came to eating.  It was a whole new world for me, like a baby receiving pablum for the first time.  Unrecognizable, I had to question all that I knew about eating and myself, and try every thing as though it was the first time.  This brought on fear that created an immediate defense to stay away until I was ready.

“But we waited for you, so we could have lunch together.”

“Go ahead.  I’m not hungry.”  If I was, I wouldn’t know it anyway.  At first, I didn’t realize how Lisa would react, but I soon felt terrible about all the trouble they went through for me.  Pizza, coldcuts, cheese… my mom even offered to make soup for me.  They were probably famished, but didn’t want to eat without me, especially on my first day home.  The truth was that I was afraid to eat outside of the hospital environment.  The last thing I had eaten was at the hospital this morning.  What if something made me ill?  The last thing I want is to return to the hospital.


Hope you and your children had a safe and fun Halloween!