Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Three Little Birds

It's very old news on this blog that my son is not easy to get to bed. He's been that way from the very first week that we brought him home from the hospital. The layout of the condo that we lived in at the time included a small walking loop -- through the kitchen, down a few steps of the main hall, into the little eating area, and back into the kitchen. I vividly remember Brian walking around the loop with a swaddled up little Teddy. Their two massive heads would be snuggled close to each other and Brian would be singing to him. He'd always sing Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds." He'd start out really soft and sweet and once Teddy basically screamed back, "Nice try Dad, but not a chance," Brian's volume would increase and his tone would get less sweet. About then it went from cute to funny. A while later, it just got down right frustrating.

Teddy still loves that song. One of my favorite videos is Teddy singing it to us a few years ago on a long car ride when he was still learning how to talk (he had no idea I was filming him from under the headrest of my passenger side seat):

I love his interpretation that "Every little thing is gonna be oper-ate." Because somehow, that seems to work too. (Also, we used to call him "Goobs" so he's saying, "Three little Goobs on my Goobs-step," which is, for some odd reason, what I used to sing to him.)

I got home from work today just in time to run up and kiss Teddy goodnight. After a big hug -- the kind I only get from him when I return home from work late enough that he's had time to miss me -- he asked me to sing him a song. Even though I haven't sung this one in a while (we were on a long run of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," with intermittent Star Spangled Banners), I started singing Bob Marley without even thinking about it. I take that as a good sign for tomorrow's Round Three. 

Last night I posted a quote about worry because, being an expert on the topic and all, I've been wanting to write about it for a while. In fact, I was bursting to write about it last night, but Wendy's case has occupied my full days and nights in the last two days so I didn't find the time. After I posted the quote, I worked a bit more then I took a break to watch this week's Homeland episode with Brian who had been waiting for me to pay attention to him (yes, sitting next to him to watch TV counts). I enjoyed my Edy's Slow-Churned Mint Cookie Crunch in front of our Christmas tree and our favorite new drama series. 

Mini Spoiler Alert for anyone who still has the episode on DVR or is a bit behind on the DVDs: towards the end of the episode, there is a scene in which a character begins to have serious heart trouble. I watched, and in an instant, I felt the devil's heat. Yep, there it was. Exactly like it had hit me at the Brigham last week. Heat in my chest, tightness, heat in my throat. Brian scrambled to shut off the TV and get my medicine bag. I could hear him frantically rustling through the many pill bottles as I tried to calm myself down. It's the same as last week, I explained bent over with my fuzzy head in my trembling hands. I wondered if I should reach for the little Verizon lifeline-type device that Sean bought for me and set up last week. Is this the real thing? A heart attack because a drug as turned toxic on my vital organ? And then I tried my best to convince myself that it was something far less serious. I remembered Jill telling me last week that my episode was likely a panic attack. I remembered Colleen explaining that grown men come into the ER all the time convinced that they are having a heart attack when in fact, they are suffering from a panic attack. I remembered that all of the tests that the doctors and nurses conducted when they rushed into my room last week showed my vital organs to be just fine. I trusted that this was something I could control. I'm OK, it's not the shock, I told Brian. It's panic. That's all. It's OK. 

A minute later Brian rushed over with an Ativan and some water. This is what the doctors said to take, he explained. I had forgotten all about that but he's right, they did tell me that. I swallowed the pill as instructed. Then he sat next to me on the sofa and held me tight.  You're OK, you're OK, he repeated. I was, and this one never escalated to the magnitude of last week's seizure-like panic attack. My legs and elbows never shook uncontrollably and even though the heat in my chest and throat returned for a bit a few minutes later, I remembered that that had happened in the hospital and I convinced it to go away. About five terrifying minutes later, the devil receded to his hiding place (back into the TV, perhaps? or maybe just back into some dark spot in my brain?). Then I cried for a minute, as lots of questions ran through my head -- Was this really what I had become? I can't even watch TV without some ridiculous drama? How long will this haunt me? Forever? Oy. Cancer sucks. 

I told Brian I needed another image in my head -- something much happier than the one that was stuck on pause in my memory of the Homeland character having a heart attack. He pulled out his phone and showed me photos of the kids. It was a brilliant attempt and I totally thought it would work. But unfortunately, it made me sick with worry. I looked at those pictures with a feeling of the purest desperation. I cannot leave them, I thought to myself. I stopped sliding through the photo stream. 

We sat together a while longer staring at the Christmas tree. Eventually we got up to make the kids lunches. After filling their lunch bags with food that we know we'll end up throwing out when it comes home again, I returned to my work for an hour or so longer. Brian asked if I would be OK downstairs by myself. I assured him that I would but he took his cell phone upstairs anyways and said I could call him if I needed him. I think he was trying to be funny. Or else he has a very warped sense of the size of our house; I barely need to raise my voice for anyone else to hear me, even if we're at the furthest ends of the house from each other. He texted me something to that effect a bit later so he clearly brought his phone up to bed (although he may have been quietly Fantasy-Football-ing on it). From upstairs, he heard me laugh at the text when I received it. 

I haven't written much about my panic attack in the hospital last week because in all honesty, it took me a while to believe that that was what it really was. When Colleen told me the next morning that she thought it was a panic attack and not an allergic reaction I listened, but not really. I thought to myself, It couldn't be only that because I felt it in my chest. And I wasn't even worrying about anything when it started. I still think it's strange that last week, the devil's heat came out of no where, and it makes a lot more sense to me that it would happen at that scene of Homeland. But I trust that Colleen and the doctors are right. Especially after last night. 

I used to think I knew what a panic attack was. When I flew on planes and my arms and legs shook and I could barely move, I thought I was having a panic arrack. Maybe I was, because I still don't claim to understand much about it. But what I felt on planes was nothing compared to this. Because my last two attacks (and perhaps even the episode I had during Round Two which now I realize may have been only panic) were something so physical that I literally felt the heat of the anxiety in my chest and my throat. I had no idea that something that originates in my mind could so seriously effect my body. But now I know -- the mind is even more powerful than I thought before, and I already knew it had pretty incredible forces. 

Last night when I was going to bed, I thought more about my worrying habits. They've come to annoy the hell out of me and I was jumping from thought to thought about that. I realized that I shouldn't pretend that I only started worrying when I got cancer because I was a habitual worrier long before that. So really, I should only blame cancer for the difference in the marginal worry. It's a substantial increase, but I have to admit, I didn't go from 0 to 60 in a few months. 

The thing is that I never sweat the small stuff, even before cancer. I always saved my worry for big stuff, like terminal illnesses and terrible car crashes. At least once or twice a week I have bad dreams about natural disasters (usually tsnuamis and tornadoes -- makes sense for someone who grew up in Massachusetts, right?!?) and when those tragedies really happen somewhere in the world, I can barely peek at the news without feeling anxiety and overwhelming sadness surge in me. Ever since September 11th, I also worry way too much about terrorism. Of course that makes flying beyond miserable, but my crazy mind sometimes runs amuck even on the commuter train to Boston. As I sit there working myself into a tizzy, I wonder if the woman doing Suduko or the guy reading the paper next to me can tell how nuts I am. I doubt they can, which is good. But then I just get mad at myself because I can't be normal like them. Brian always jokes that I can't turn my brain off. I really can't and I hate it. 

Here's one more, really good (or bad?) example of how how crazy I am. One night earlier this year, a couple of raccoons somehow got stuck on our roof. Brian and I were both sound asleep and we awoke to the unbelievably loud noises of these two little beasts hissing and tumbling and running around above our heads. Here's how I know that I am off my rocker in an subconscious state, as well as a conscious one -- as Brian ran around outside in his boxers and sneakers, wielding his hockey stick and flashlight, I lied in bed more than half asleep worrying that aliens had landed on our roof. I honestly wish I were kidding and I won't be surprised if I scare off a few friends with this post (although that's always a risk with the steroid induced entries). Or perhaps I will just get flooded with ideas for a good therapist. Don't worry -- Dr. Fasciano is already meeting with me tomorrow during my infusion to discuss ways I can deal with my anxiety. She called me after the line had fallen silent on my end. Truthfully, I thought I was doing great. Clearly I was wrong. 

Back to aliens. I admit that while I don't believe UFO stories and stuff like that, I do believe in extra-terrestrial life. I mean, in a universe (or universes?) that have no end, I figure there must be something else out there somewhere. But when I woke up the morning after the raccoon romp and remembered what my wacky mostly sleeping mind had been worrying about the night before, I horrified even myself. And again I thought, why can't I just turn my stupid brain off?

In my recent clinical adventures, I have learned this concept of a baseline and as I mentioned above, I had a quality baseline of worry. I think I've risen above my worry baseline in the last few months because my worry is now clearer and more concentrated. Cancer has given me very tangible images of what to worry about -- not being able to breathe because of an allergic reaction; my heart suffering as a side effect of the Herceptin; or worst of all, my cancer returning and all of the nightmarish things that would soon follow. Yeah, I better stop writing this paragraph before I need to call my friends at Verizon's Care Center (Brian has escaped to play hockey, but turns out my pre-911 system calls him after I call them -- neat huh?!?). 

Moving on. As clear as the day, I remember my first interview in August 2006 with a partner at Ropes & Gray (who has since left the firm). He asked me something about how I handle stress. I told him that I try to reserve my stress for only the important things in life. For instance, I explained, if my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, I would be stressed, but with work, I just try to keep it all in perspective

Ah, perspective. I've learned recently that it can't stay stagnant because life sure doesn't. Dana-Farber and the Brigham have given me a whole new perspective and most of the time I am there I feel so blessed to be fighting for a cure. Actually, I feel so lucky from the moment I drive away from our house or my kids' school towards Boston for an appointment; I thank God that my kids don't need to walk into an oncologist's office with me. Every single day I feel so lucky that I'm the one that got cancer because I couldn't sit in the recliner watching this happen to someone I love. 

As you know, I get pissed too. At smokers and at holding patterns. At allergies and at sore arms. At my brain, which, like most Apple products, just doesn't seem to have a Power Off button. 

OK, now I'm just running on steroids so I better wrap this one up before your boredom sets in. (Brian suggested that I put a Steroid Disclaimer on these posts to prepare, or better yet, to spare potential readers.) Unfortunately, I don't have any wise words for worriers except to say, I understand, and I feel your pain. I assume Corrie Ten Boom felt our pain too because she sure seems right on when she said, "Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” I do feel empty of strength when I worry, and it definitely doesn't make any future sorrow go away. 

I guess what she's implying is that I will be stronger if I don't worry. That seems to be true, but worrying sure is a tough habit to break. I'm not asking for a lot. A good first step would be to call Brian's cell when I figure he's available, have him not answer, and not jump to assuming that something awful happened. Baby steps. 

I wonder if Bob Marley understood the worriers' pain, too. On the one hand, I think maybe he didn't because his command is much easier said than done. I don't want to worry, I just don't always know how not to. Then I keep singing and I realize why I love that song so much. Because every morning I rise up and I appreciate that the sun has risen up too. And every morning, three little birds are singing at my doorstep (actually, one big bird and two little ones). Actually, Teddy is usually yelling for me to get him his milk and Annabel is wondering, "Mama, whee-ah ah you?" But those are my melodies, and they are pure and true. Those sweet songs give me all the reason I need to do anything and everything to make sure that everything is gonna be all right. Even if I worry too much along the way. 

"Three Little Birds" 

By: Bob Marley

Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin': "Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"

Rise up this mornin',
Smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', ("This is my message to you-ou-ou:")

Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin': "Don't worry about a thing,
'Cause every little thing gonna be all right!"


  1. Tara,

    I am also a habitual worrier, but this quote always makes me feel better and reminds me to stop worrying:

    “There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever”
    --Mahatma Gandhi

    Good luck tomorrow!


  2. Tara,

    I've suffered from panic attacks for YEARS... since I was probably 7 or 8 years old.

    I found a book a year or so back that is super helpful in dealing with panic attacks...and eliminating worry altogether (since they obviously go hand in hand). It's a workbook, very logical with the goal of making you self-aware about your thoughts and why you're having them, and how to "train" your brain differently....

    It's called the Panic Attacks Workbook, and you can find it on Amazon here: .

    I hope this helps!!


  3. Tara,
    I loved this entry- steroid influenced and all- it takes a lot of energy adjusting to the ups and downs of treatment, and you're doing so great... I'm so happy the 3rd cycle went off without a hitch :) Enjoy the holiday with your family!