Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Sickness and In Health

Just about a week ago, Brian and I arranged babysitters, packed a bag, and left the house in a hurry, half-dressed in our pajamas. A glamorous five-day, five-night stay at Brigham & Women's followed, including room service, shopping, and non-stop infusions.

Yesterday, thanks to three shifts of wonderful friends and family who took the kids, we again packed a bag and left the house in a hurry, half-dressed in our pajamas. But this time, we headed up to Maine, fever-free, for our friends' wedding.

Leaving the house with only one bag and no kids always makes me feel like I have forgotten something. It takes a while to decompress from the craziness of planning to be away for a night and the hectic process of actually getting out the door. But once we crossed the Massachusetts border into New Hampshire, I was ready to enjoy a night away in a place where I wouldn’t be stuck with needles every few hours and where I could go to the bathroom without a nurse coming in afterwards to measure how much pee I left in the “hat.”

I haven’t dressed up in what feels like ages and as much as I love Life is Good pajamas and sexy blue and white johnnys, it was nice to put on a dress and try to look somewhat put together. It was especially fun to learn that the whole double mastectomy and reconstruction thing comes with an awesome perk (or better yet, two perks) – I no longer need any strapless, stick-on, or sewn-into-the-dress bra when it comes time to be fancy. Nope, those tissue expanders stay strong and upright, and since it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the work of my plastic surgeon, I’m not too modest to brag about it. Oh, and, I still don’t have any nipples so I don’t even need to worry about my dress falling a tad too low – there’s nothing to see even if it did.

In my haste to prim and prep for the wedding, I also realized that no time was needed to do my hair. I just threw on my dress and my slippers and we were off. Once we turned off Interstate 95 and onto Route 295, I did my make-up, shimmied on some nylons, switched my slippers for heals and I was set to go. I guess this cancer thing does have its benefits after all.

The wedding was absolutely beautiful and wonderfully unique. It was in Portland, a small city I love not only for its proximity to Bowdoin and for the fact that Verrill Dana's home office is located there, but also because it has a fabulously lively though totally relaxed vibe (perfect for the bride and groom who I would describe exactly the same way). There was a dusting of snow on the ground when we arrived at Grace, the wedding venue that is a church converted into a restaurant and function space. The setting was stunning, as was the bride, and we had a great time catching up with friends. What made the night, however, was how happy Bill and Annie were to get married. Their joy spilled over into every part of the night. It's impossible not to have a good time when surrounded by that happiness, and there's no doubt that everyone did. And of course, throughout the weekend, I thought a lot about marriage.

Bill and Annie's wedding vows at Grace
Brian and I got married on July 8, 2006. Last night while I was falling asleep next to my snoring husband in our cozy bed at the Portland Harbor Hotel, I had a moment when I wondered, Who did we get to babysit the kids when we were at our wedding? Oh right. They didn't exist yet. Maybe it's true what people say -- it's hard to remember life before kids. Or I just have chemo brain. Or I'm losing it. It's probably more of the last one.

I love weddings for so many reasons. First, I love appetizers. Unfortunately, I didn't have a single appetizer at yesterday's cocktail hour because I'm trying to stay as germ-free as possible and I figured the serving plates may have collected more than my small collection of fresh neutrophils could handle. It wasn't easy to say No thank you to small pieces of beef, chicken on a bone, and flaky pastry triangles, but I stayed strong and resisted the temptation every time the smiling servers came around. Thankfully, Brian ate enough for both of us.

I also love weddings for the music and the dancing. Brian's not so much this way although over the years, he's come around to it. One of my favorite, and earliest, memories of Brian was from a party at Bowdoin. I got such a kick out of this Southie kid in his shell-toed shoes who was trying to make me laugh with his goofy dancing. Years later we recounted that night and I told him how funny I thought he was back then. Turns out he wasn't trying to be funny at all. He was actually just dancing. I couldn't stop laughing then, and I happen to be finding it just as funny right now.

Teddy takes after Brian and Annabel takes after me. When I play music in the house and start dancing like a fool, Annabel joins me. She can't help it either. But Teddy, like Brian, just looks at us half-embarrassed, half-laughing, and fully hoping we leave him out of it. We don't, just like I never let Brian hide from the dance floor, and I think deep down they both like it.

The band last night was totally awesome, but like the appetizers, I hung out in the background. My right arm is still so sore from my last round of chemo and my left arm is still tender from last week's infusions so I really wanted to protect them. But I learned that sitting on the dancing sidelines has its benefits too -- I got quality time with great people and ate far too much carrot cake and pumpkin whoopie pies. Yu-um!

On a slightly deeper level, I love weddings because I think they reveal so much about the bride and groom. As we get older, I feel like weddings have gotten even more personal (and more fun), as it seems that with age comes more confidence to stray a bit from the norm. Through the ceremony readings, wedding party attire, venue, toasts, and a hundred other details, I feel like I get to know the couple so much more, even when they have been as close to me as Rachel and Brianne. For instance, I never knew the extent of Seamus's patience, creativity, and artistic skill until I saw the place cards that he designed for their wedding (they are both huge Celtics fans). Pretty amazing, huh?!?

I also never realized how much Matt truly loved my sister until I saw him unable to hold back his tears as she walked down the aisle. That was one of the happiest moments of my life, and probably their's too.

At the same time, I'm not totally romantic at heart. In all honesty, I think that getting married is kind of like taking a new job or buying a new house -- to some extent, there is only so much diligence one can do. Part of it also requires gut instinct and a leap of faith. I was lucky enough to have known Brian for six years before we got engaged, and I knew that we had the same fundamental values. But when I said Yes and put that engagement ring on, I didn't know Brian's opinion on every issue that could come our way. I didn't know for certain where he ultimately wanted to settle down or how many kids he wanted. I definitely didn't know what he thought of adoption or how he'd handle something like cancer. Those just weren't things we thought about at 26 years old.

At my own wedding, I didn't sweat the small stuff. My Mom and Brian and I had so much fun planning the event and when little things didn't turn out as expected (for instance, the flowers that landed on the tables weren't even close to what we thought we had ordered), we just laughed. The only thing that got me down was the brief time during my reception when I thought our wedding video, shot by one of Sean's best friends, Paul, had been accidentally deleted from my little camera. Teddy and Annabel didn't exist yet, but I figured one day I'd want to show my kids that video. I was thrilled when we found out that in fact, the video was still on the camera. Thanks to Paul's keen camera work, we all enjoyed that DVD tonight. Teddy loved how much hair Brian and I had way back then. Yes, the comparison is pretty amusing.

It's probably obvious by now that I love photographs. (In fact, I need to hurry and finish this post so I can finalize the 100-page Shutterfly book that I give Brian every year for Christmas -- Shutterfly's 50% off sale ends at midnight Pacific Standard Time!) One of my favorite photos from our wedding is this one:

I love it because it captures my very favorite part of our wedding -- walking down the aisle with my Dad towards Brian who was at the end waiting for me. It's actually my favorite part of every wedding although I've never really thought about why. I guess partly it's the little things -- the beauty of the dress and the music and the culmination of the anticipation of that moment. But it's more the symbolism of it all -- without words, it's the proof that two people have made the decision to stand together.

July 8, 2006
I also love when couples write their own wedding vows, although Brian and I didn't think to do that. To be honest, at the time, I don't even know if I was mature enough to. If I had written my own vow six and a half years ago, I probably would have stuck to fundamentals -- for instance, that I knew I was marrying the nicest, smartest, and funniest guy I had ever met.   

If I had to write my vows now, they'd have way more detail and probably seem much less romantic. I'd talk about Brian's heroic role in Teddy's ridiculous bedtime routine, or his smiles and waves at Annabel after she wins the battle to visit him behind the hockey bench while he's coaching a scrimmage (or soon, a game!). I'd talk about Brian changing the drains that were sewn into my chest and about his attempt to sleep on hospital recliners. I'd talk about the fact that Brian didn't think twice about missing his hockey scrimmage (against Westwood) this Wednesday so that he can come with me to chemo. I'd talk about how he tells me all the time that I look more beautiful bald than I ever have (liar).

I know those vows don't sound romantic and if a couple ever brought up cancer during a wedding ceremony, it woud probably go over like a lead balloon (as Brian likes to say). In sickness and in health definitely sums it up in a much more clean and concise fashion. We actually didn't use that phrase in our vows. In fact, I distinctly remember taking it out, although I don't remember exactly why we deleted that phrase from the draft vows that the Reverend gave us. Maybe because I couldn't fathom that either of us would ever get sick. Or maybe because I wanted to keep the ceremony full of only visions for a perfect future.

Tonight when we all watched our wedding video, I tried to listen to our vows. But I couldn't really hear them. Partly it was because the little camera that I bought at Best Buy the week before our wedding didn't have great sound quality. And partly it was because Teddy and Annabel were being their usual nutty loud selves. So I'm not really sure exactly what we said to each other in the church that day. Whatever it was, I'm so glad that I said it.

I found out last week that I have graduated from the ICU at the Brigham and instead, they are going to try my next round of chemo in the outpatient desensitization unit at Dana-Farber. So on Wednesday, we will open the place at 7am and close it down at 8pm. Hopefully that's enough time to get all of my Allies in. I can't say I'm thrilled about spending all that time getting infused into one of my sore arms. But I can say that I'm actually looking forward to that time with my husband. That reality makes two things really clear -- one, I married the right guy, and two, we really need to get out more.

At Bill and Annie's wedding -- 12.1.12.


  1. Today's post is perfectly timed for me ;)

    And you DO look more beautiful than ever. No lies about it!!

    Good luck Wednesday!


  2. Beautiful couple! You are amazing Tara

  3. See! You ARE gorgeous bald. I vote pixie cut when it all grows back! You can really rock the short hair look ;)