my world has just changed. to be honest, my world has been changing a lot lately. a mostly empty nest, deciding to grow out my gray hair, placing my mother with alzheimer in hospice care, all common and yet life altering events. instead of remembering the first day of my last period, waiting for results of an amnio, and scheduling playdates for my children, now i’m recalling the last time i colored my hair, waiting for results of a biopsy, and making funeral arrangements for my parents. usually, my post on the 4th saturday of the month is on an occasion or event that had happened recently in my life but what i’m about to share with you is a bit more that than. given the circumstances, i’ve decided to not include any fashion photos and there is no link up this week.
the post is rather lengthy and personal and i can understand if it’s not of great interest to you. i’ve written this more for myself and than for anyone else because my thoughts and emotions are in a jumble right now and this helps me sort them out.
as i’d been sitting at my computer responding on comments for a bit before i needed to leave for my annual physical, i got a call from the breast center at Kaiser, my HMO. at first, i thought that the call might be from my doctor’s office to tell me that my appointment that day needed to be rescheduled because my doctor had become unavailable (outgoing calls from Kaiser all appear as same phone number). instead, the call was to tell me that additional imaging was needed on my right breast. i’d had a mammogram done on March 27 and just that morning one of the thoughts running through my mind had been “i should be getting my all-clear letter soon”.
at first, the return appointment to the breast center was scheduled for the following thursday even though i’d thought to ask if there was an available appointment for later that same day but i was told that none were available. a few minutes later, i was called again and told that there had been a cancellation for that same day, immediately after my physical, so i took it. my husband was at home with me when i got the first call and of course, he offered to go with me to the return appointment. once the appointment had been switched to that same day, he was tagging along for my physical as well. our mail delivery came just as we were leaving and in it was the awaited letter from the breast center. like the phone call, the letter told me that another set of images would be needed because i have dense breasts and one area needed a second look.
the fact that i have dense breasts is not new to me. i’m amply endowed, to the point that i’ve had the girls reduced not just once but twice (first time when i was 26 and second time when i was 46) and i still wear a DD cup. i’m glad that i got the phone call first and already had a return appointment booked before i saw the letter even though the information including in the letter said that the need for follow-up imaging was not unusual and that there was a high probability that no additional testing would be necessary. in my experience, Kaiser is quite diligent in regard to making personal contact for the scheduling of follow-up appointments or procedures.
unlike a typical mammogram where it takes 10 days to 2 weeks for results, the images at this follow-up appointment were looked at immediately and we met with the radiologist shortly after. the second images confirmed what had been seen in the first set. in comparison to images from a year ago, there was an area where some small calcifications had formed that had not been present previously. the doctor explained to us that there could be many causes for these calcifications, many of which are not cancer and he was hedging that it probably wasn’t. however, these calcifications were new so that was of some concern. he told us that i could take one of two courses of action. the first option was to “wait and see”, return in 6 months for another set of images and see if there were any changes. the second option was to have a biopsy done. without even looking at my husband, my response was “why would i wait 6 months? let’s do the biopsy.” the appointment for the biopsy was scheduled for april 19.
i think that we were both a bit in shock as we left from that appointment, at least i know i was. i’m not one to immediately go to the negative and i didn’t in this case either. my original plan for that afternoon was to do some shopping after my physical (which i’d originally planned to go to alone) and a pending biopsy wasn’t going to change that but a tag-along husband might. fortunately, he was willing to indulge me.
it was already late afternoon so, i scaled back on my itinerary and opted to just stop at a nearby Marshall’s. mostly, i wanted to check out their selection of sandals and lower heel options for work. my husband hung around for a bit as i looked and then wandered off. i didn’t find anything i wanted to buy in footwear, and after a brief look through the clothing racks, i went in search of my guy and found him in the home decor section. he asked if i’d found anything and then said that he wanted to show me something. on a shelf, was a trio of frog figurines each in a different yoga pose. i’m not sure why he thought to show them to me but i was amused, snapped a quick photo of them, and then walked away. but something pulled me back to them, and after some consideration, i decided to buy the one you see in the feature photo. i’ll get to more on this later in the post.
after purchasing the frog, we opted for an earlyish dinner at an upscale burger place in a nearby outdoor mall and then strolled through the mall where i got a ridiculously expensive scoop of ice cream. we window shopped, wandered through a furniture store, and found ourselves amused by the t-shirt above (and i texted this photo to one of my blogger meet-up friends who has a pug). it was good to feel normal and just spend time together in an unhurried manner. on our way home later, we stopped at a market to get a few items still needed in preparation for Passover.
as we talked during this time together, my husband told me that he was glad that i had opted right away for a biopsy and didn’t go with the “wait and see” option. we agreed not to tell anyone, no one at all, until we knew the results going with the premise of not wanting to worry family and friends needlessly when in all likelihood, the outcome would be ‘not cancer’.
life goes on. my husband and i had plans in the afternoon with our daughter to go car shopping with her but before that, i headed over to see my mother at the new board & care home that my sister and i had moved her into the weekend before. we had already been in the processing of arranging to move her from an assisted living/memory care facility to this new place when our mother had had a medical emergency that necessitated a call to 911 and a trip to the ER. once stabilized and after a brief hospitalization, it was evident that she would now need a much higher level of care than she was getting at the assisted living facility and her condition was such that hospice care would be arranged. thankfully, we were able to move up the timetable on moving her into the board & care home.
we knew that our mother was nearing to the end of her life at this point and the goal was to ensure her comfort. during her first week at the new place, she seemed to bounce back a bit but the episode had taken a toll on her. long, long story short, she’d had alzheimers for several years already, and while she may not have remembered the how or why of it, up until that point she still seemed to know that she knew my sister and me but now, that was no longer the case. the director of the board & care home texted the photo above to my sister and me a few days after our mother moved in. we were so delighted to see her dressed, smiling, and holding the two dogs that live at the home. my visit with her was short because she was having a hard time staying awake after eating her lunch.
the afternoon of car shopping with our daughter didn’t end until nearly 10pm that night but we had settled on a price and arranged for financing on the car she wanted. however, i hadn’t brought a check with me (bad mom) thinking we could put the down payment on a credit card. our daughter would be paying for the car herself with the financing in her name (awesome kid!) and the down payment would come from her savings account as well as a contribution from us. our plan had been to put the down on our credit card (and earn points) and we’d settle up on the transfer of funds after. well, it seems that dealerships have varying limits on the amount they will accept on a credit card charge for a down payment and the amount we had wanted to charge exceeded this dealership’s limit. this meant that she would not be able to take possession until the next day when we could return with a check.
Passover seder was hosted by my sister and her husband this year. i stopped by in the late afternoon at the board & care home to drop off something for my mother and to check in on her. she was asleep when i got there. i speak with the caregivers and they tell me that she had been good earlier in the day. her presence, as well as my father’s, is missed that evening at the seder.
my sister and i receive a text from the director of the board & care home telling us that there was swelling in our mother’s left cheek/jaw. the hospice nurse who examined her thought that it may be an infection and that an antibiotic had been ordered. the director also said that mom was communicating more and responding well to the caregivers. with that and busyness at work, i managed to not give much thought to my upcoming appointment.
since my mother moved into assisted living/memory care three years ago, it had been my routine to visit with her once a week and the better part of this last year, i would usually see her on thursday night. part of this routine included a stop at a nearby ice cream purveyor before the visit to get a double-scoop for each of us to enjoy (don’t judge) while we watched jeopardy, wheel of fortune, and then one of a half dozen old shows now in syndication on nick-at-night or other similar channels. since her move to the board & care home, she’d been falling asleep right after dinner so there was no point of visiting with her in the evening. my husband plays poker every other thursday night and this was a poker week which meant that the evening was mine to do as i pleased and i was pleased to do a bit of shopping (what else).
i didn’t have photos yet for my next blog post so i managed to leave work a little early and with the lengthening days, we’re are able to get the shots i need for Greenery And Sunshine: Color My World. as i wrote that post, i was a little conflicted by the knowledge that how i looked on the outside didn’t quite match how i was feeling on the inside.
ah, the weekend. even though i usually publish a post on saturdays (hence the previous day’s photo shoot) but i let that slide, opting instead to get caught up on laundry and to take photos for my poshmark closet (sold two of those items since, yay me). i headed over to see my mother before lunch and sat with her while she ate. it’s not a good day for my mother, she still had the swelling along her left jaw (although the caregivers said it was getting smaller) and she was being spoonfed. and like previous visits, she didn’t seem to recognize me. my mother had a hard time staying awake once she was done eating so the caregivers return her to her room to nap and my visit with her was over.
Easter sunday is not a holiday that is celebrated in our family but since it often coincides with the week of Passover, a long time tradition for this day had been to go to my parents’ house for a matza brie brunch. somewhere along the line, my sister and i (and my sister-in-law) took over the duties of hosting most of the holiday celebrations and this was the last one that my mother relinquished. since our father’s passing three years ago and our mother with barely any memory of past celebrations combined with grown children and their own priorities, there hasn’t been a matza brie brunch in a while and there isn’t one this year either. however, my sister invited my husband and i to have dinner at their house and it’s a topic of conversation. she had visited with my mother earlier in the day and my sister’s experience during it was about the same as mine from the day before.
the director of the board & care home contacted my sister and i to tell us that our mother’s condition was worsening. the swelling along her jaw was larger, seeming to affect her neck/throat which might be making breathing a little difficult, and more importantly, she appeared to be in significant pain. the director said that she had called the hospice nurse who was expected to stop by shortly. after examining our mother and consulting with the hospice doctor, the nurse called me to report that the infection in her jaw was indeed worse and that a different antibiotic was being prescribed. additionally, she would be given medicine to help reduce the swelling as well as medicine for pain.
i went into work as usual in the morning with a plan to leave by 11:45am giving me time to stop at home first so that my husband could drive me to the 1:30pm biopsy appointment. the hospice nurse called me just after i’d left from work to tell me that my mother’s condition was worsening and they were now just attending to her comfort. a nurse would be with her round the clock. i called my sister to update her as well as my husband and daughter. as much as i wanted to stop a see my mother, i didn’t want to miss my appointment. when i speak with my daughter, i ask her if she’d like to see her grandmother. since she does, i make a plan to meet her there later in the afternoon. my sister says that she will be stopping by before going home after work.
the whole process for the biopsy takes about 90 minutes and while the physical pain is minimal, any medical procedure can be anxiety inducing but it was over and done and there were no missed phone calls during it regarding my mother. the doctor who performed the procedure told me that it usually takes three days to get the results so he would be calling me either late friday afternoon or sometime monday morning.
my husband and i go home to rest briefly before heading to see my mother. the director and nurse tell me that my mother had just begun to look more comfortable and without pain. she’s non-responsive and there is no return gesture when i squeeze her hand and say hello to her. my daughter arrives and as i bring her into my mother’s room, i’m overwhelmed at the feeling of duality of being both a daughter and a mother of a daughter at the same time. the nurse tells me that my mother’s bp is low and we can see that there is pausing in her breathing pattern. i say goodbye to her not really knowing if it would be the last time.
i’ve been the primary point of emergency contact for my mother these last few years and i’m relieved when i wake up and realize that there had been no phone call during the night nor had i been sent a text message. as i was getting dressed to go to work, my sister forwarded to me the message that the overnight nurse had sent to her. the message said that our mother had rested comfortably during the night however, she was still non-responsive and her vitals had declined further. we both go to work and plan to stop by in the evening to see our mother.
at about 11am, in a group text with the director of the board & care home and myself, my sister asks if there has been any change in our mother since earlier in the morning. the director tells us that she is comfortable. at a little after 12noon, as i was working on a project with a colleague, i got a phone call from a number unknown to me that i almost did not answer. the caller id said the call was from a Santa Barbara number and since my son goes to school in that area, i opted to answer the call. it turned out to be the nurse who had been with my mother that morning and she had the unfortunate task of telling me that my mother had died. after offering her condolences, she asked me if i or anyone else in the family wanted to see my mother before the mortuary was called. i told her no and that she should go ahead and make the call.
knowing that my mother’s death would likely be coming within a few days, i had set about that morning at work to get a few high priority things in order in anticipation that i’d likely be out of the office for a few days in the upcoming week. even so, the finality of the news hit me hard and i pretty much bursted into tears. unable to speak, i sent a text messages to my sister, to my husband, and then i cried for a bit. my sister called me about 15 minutes later and we discussed making an appointment at the mortuary/cemetery (it’s an all-in-one type facility) and agreed that the meal following the service as well as the shiva minyanim would be at her house. shortly after, i called the mortuary/cemetery to make the appointment which was set for 9am the next day and asked about the availability of setting the funeral for sunday (in the jewish community, burials typically take place within two to three days and funerals are never held on saturdays). unfortunately, both chapels are already booked all day on sunday so the funeral is scheduled for monday.
i’d intended to leave the office as soon as i could but there were still tasks i needed to finish and/or delegate to others all the while contacting my children to tell them about their grandmother and juggling between text messages and phone calls with my sister and my husband. my sister left from her work early and arrived home to find that there was an active leak from an unknown origin that has flooded two of her downstairs rooms. she turned off the water to the house to stop the flow of water and was waiting for the plumber. given the water damage to the two rooms that could be seen and the unknown origin of the leak, she now thinks that we won’t be able to use her house for the meal after the service or for the shiva minyanim. we could hold the shiva minyanim at my place but we’ll need to figure out a different plan for the meal. you know the saying “when it rains, it pours”, well, this was just the beginning.
it can be difficult to estimate how many people will attend a funeral and then be at the meal of condolence, but based on our family, circle of friends, and the members of my mother’s temple likely to attend, we expect there to be 70 to 80 people at the meal. usually, this meal is held at the house of one of the mourners but now my sister’s was out of commission. my husband and i live in a townhouse and while most would say that it’s spacious, it could not accommodate such a crowd. he and i discuss options like using one of the rooms in our complex’s clubhouse or holding it at a country club where my sister and her husband have a membership that is nearby.
perhaps you’ve skipped ahead, looking to find out the results on the biopsy. i’ll get there but first, a few other things had been thrown into the mix. before heading to the mortuary, my husband and i inquire at the hoa office on the availability and cost to use one of the rooms in the clubhouse. we are told that the room is available but that arrangements for use typically require two weeks notice. after explaining the circumstances, the woman says that she will speak to the manager about making an exception. on the way to mortuary/cemetery, my husband and i discuss all of the extra logistics of holding the meal in the clubhouse vs my sister’s home or the country club and between the two of us, concluded that the country club would be the better option. all i had to do was convince my sister.
we meet up with my sister at the mortuary/cemetery to finalize the logistics for the funeral. while there, my husband gets a call from our son who tells his father that he’d been hit by a car while riding his bike from school back to his apartment. he’d been knocked off of the bike but not run over and thankfully, he hadn’t hit his head when he fell. he had, however, his wrist was hurting a lot and he had some minor scrapes on his leg and hip but there was no significant bleeding. the back wheel of the bike was tweaked but he’d been able to walk it back to his apartment and secure it. in the location where he was hit, signage tells drivers that bike riders have the right-of-way and according to our son, the driver that hit him had blown through the stop sign. she did stop and they exchanged information but unfortunately, our son only got her cell phone number. i guess we hadn’t schooled him well enough in what to do if you’re in an accident.
at this point, my husband went out of the room to continue the conversation with our son and my sister and i had a moment alone while the funeral arranger was printing up the contract. my poor sister was quite shaken by the news about my son plus what was going on at her house, and perhaps unfairly, i played the cancer card (even though i didn’t yet have the results) to convince her that we should pursue the country club option for the meal. remember, up until then, my husband and i hadn’t told anyone about the biopsy. she is overwhelmed by the news and agrees to go with the country club if those arrangements can be made. we have an appointment to meet with the event coordinator at 3pm.
back to my son and another long story short, my husband makes arrangements with him to go to urgent care that afternoon, leaving my sister and i to meet with the rabbi on our own to discuss particulars on the service. i’ve found that grieving is up and down process and our talk with the rabbi is helpful for putting some of our feelings into perspective. at one point during the meeting, i got a call from a number that i thought might be about my test results. it was just my husband who was using a landline phone at Kaiser (all outgoing calls show the same number in caller id) because there was no cell phone service in that part of the building and he was giving me an update on our son. he was being sent for x-rays on his wrist.
we’d met with the rabbi at my place and it was just past 1:30pm when he left. both my sister and i, as well as my niece who had joined us for the meeting, were hungry. my sister and niece were planning to head over to the country club early and eat lunch before meeting with the event coordinator and i was invited to join them. i get another update call from my husband and he tells me that the doctor is ordering another set of x-rays on the wrist because they see something but aren’t quite sure if it’s a fracture or not.
the meeting with the event coordinator goes well and the plans are set. while we are waiting for those contracts to be printed up, i get another call that i know is from Kaiser but a different number so i walk out to take the call in private. when the caller identifies himself as the doctor who is filling in for my regular doctor while she’s out on maternity leave. realizing that it’s not the doctor who did the biopsy, at first i think that this call is about the message he had left the previous week regarding my cholesterol test. that wasn’t it at all, he was calling about the results of the biopsy.
mind you, this a man that i’ve never met. i’d seen my regular doctor just two weeks earlier and the caller wasn’t the doctor who had done the biopsy. he was, however, very kind and sympathetic in the delivery of his news. the result was positive. he gave me the name of the cancer which included the words “in situ” (the rest i don’t quite remember nor did i write it down). based on what we told at the second mammogram and a bit of internet research, i think it’s ductal carcinoma in situ. the doctor explained that the cancer hadn’t metastasized and the only treatment i would need was surgery. he said that he was submitting an urgent referral to surgery and that i would be contacted about scheduling an appointment. frankly, as i think about it now, i surprised that i didn’t get a call from the surgery department first because that happened to me a few years ago when the results on a skin biopsy had been positive.
i immediately try to contact my husband but he doesn’t answer my call (he was still with our son at Kaiser in a location where cell reception is spotty). i rejoined my sister and tell her the results and what the doctor said about treatment. at this point, the event coordinator returns, the contract for the meal is signed, and we head out. as we exit from the club, my husband calls as he and our son are leaving from Kaiser. i tell him about the biopsy results and then he tells me that our son indeed has a fracture in his wrist. the cast clinic was closed for the day so he’s got a temporary, removable “cast” for the night and an appointment to get the hard cast put on had been scheduled for 9am the next day.
my husband and i agree that we should tell our children as soon as possible but while all four of us can be together. our daughter had joined up with the two of them while they had been waiting for the x-ray reading but the kids hadn’t overheard their father’s conversation with me. as our son heads to his sister’s car with her, my husband tells them that i’m headed home and that they should head there as well.
this may seem like an odd point at which to end this post but it’s gotten quite lengthy already and with so much more for me to write about, this feels like the right spot to wrap up for now. back when i’d gotten the call about making an appointment for the second round of images, i hadn’t yet decided on a topic for this In Real Life post. i pretty much knew in the moments following that phone call that my world had changed and that i now had a topic for this post. little did i know then how much more there was to come.
i almost forgot to tell you the rest of the story about yoga frog. below is the photo i took of the yoga frog trio that my husband had pointed out to me while we were shopping that day after the second images had been taken. the one in the middle is the one that called me back for that second look and in an instant, it became my spirit animal. ohm.
thank you for sticking through and reading to the end. this coming saturday is one of those occasional 5th saturday of the month when i feature A Woman I Know and this next one will be a very special one. there will be no link up next week. i will resume the fine-whatever weekly link up in May. namaste.