Monday, April 1, 2013

The New Normal

I love Brian’s extended family for many different reasons. I especially love their holiday gatherings in South Boston because those times highlight their loyalty to each other, their sense of humor, and their impressive ability to consume awesome amounts of appetizers (plates, napkins, and utensils not required, or even suggested). Yesterday, I was reminded of all of these things, and of another reason that I love Brian’s extended family. That reason involves soda.

Even before I was diagnosed, I had cut back on drinking soda despite that I really, really love it. I can imagine the taste of an ice-cold Coke now and in my mind, no other drink beats it. I admit, however, that after Brian de-rusted his putter by leaving it in a bowl of Coke, I was slightly horrified. So I made soda a treat, not an everyday thing.

After I was diagnosed, I stayed away from soda altogether because of the sugar content (apparently there's a lot) and because of my fear that the sugar would feed my tumor. Post-surgery, however, I went back to having a soda every now and then when I craved it. Yesterday was one of those times.

Now that I think about it, I wasn’t so much treating myself to a glass of soda at Brian’s family’s Easter gathering, as I was merely surrendering to the sugar gods. I had already consumed so much candy, donuts, muffins, and banana bread in the last few days that one glass of soda wasn’t going to make an ounce of difference in my cancer battle.

So I added some ice to a cup and poured myself some Diet Coke (Diet, obviously, because the half a block of cheddar cheese I was trying to wash down may as well be fractionally offset by diet soda).

I swallowed the soda and there it was -- a flat, stale taste with which I was so keenly familiar.

Brians' cousin, Taryn, was standing in front of me as I gulped. She blogs too, and today, without either of us knowing that the other was doing it, we both wrote about the experience. Since Taryn's description was so much better than mine, I deleted my summary and replaced it with this link to Taryn's blog:

Taryn's Life of a Paper Doll Blog.

As Taryn explained, this is the first Easter without Grandma Kosta. It was also the first Easter without Brian’s great-uncle, Pete. Pete died less than two weeks ago. Like Grandma Kosta, he was blessed with over 80 good years, but unlike Grandma, his death was very sudden, and thus, especially hard for his wife and daughter.

Grandma lived on the first floor of a triple decker. Brian’s parents live on the two floors above her. They have worked hard in the past weeks cleaning up Grandma’s space. I took a quick peek in there yesterday. It was strange and sad to see it so empty.

This Easter, we all gathered upstairs instead of at Grandma's place. Without Grandma and Pete, I was worried that our gathering would be strange and sad, like the empty apartment. But it wasn’t, which is the main reason why I love Brian’s family so much.

The Kosta/Tracey/Antoniou/Foley/Shuman clan is, in spite of anything, fun, funny, loud, sarcastic, and (even though it doesn't always sound like it from a distance) incredibly kind. Grandma was the head of that clan and Pete was a much quieter, though equally as important, leader. Even though their absence was undoubtedly felt, no one let it completely darken the day. Probably because that’s exactly how Grandma and Pete would have wanted it.

When Grandma died, I wondered what would happen on Easter. Given that Pete’s funeral was less than a week ago, I thought maybe people would want to skip the holiday. But that’s not what happened. Brian's family is much more resilient, and loving, than that. It's inspiring.

* * *

Tomorrow at 1pm I will step out of a business lunch at a nice Boston restaurant and call the Faulkner for my Wednesday surgery time. If I weren't going through this, I wouldn't understand why there needs to be another surgery and why it will happen now. So I'll talk about that for a minute.

This second surgery was always planned for after chemo (obviously I couldn't heal properly while on chemo). On Wednesday, Dr. Chun (my plastic surgeon) will reopen the long incision across each of my breasts. She will remove the temporary tissue expanders that she had gradually inflated with saline since she implanted them back in September. Then she will place silicone implants where the expanders used to be and sew me back up. It's probably more complicated than that, but I'm pretty sure I don't want to know any more detail.

I take that back. I did have one question for Dr. Chun at our last meeting -- Have you ever opened someone up for this surgery and found more cancer? 

"Never," she answered. And that was that.

Dr. Chun said my recovery time should be about a week. I have my next treatment in a week, so I hope to beat that estimation. In fact, I plan to be back at work on Monday.

A few weeks ago, my Mom and I spent a long morning at the hospital for several pre-op appointments. I answered the same questions I answered in the pre-op appointments before my double mastectomy -- my entire health history, in which I essentially answer "no" to every question until we hit cancer. I didn't have much to add since last time, except for my newly discovered allergy to Taxotere. Fortunately, (fingers crossed) my Taxotere days are behind me.

At my March pre-op appointments, I realized how far I've come since the meetings from last September. Back then, that day was a glimmer of light in a very dark time. But this time, I wasn't scared at all. I was mainly just focused on enjoying a precious few hours with my Mom before skirting around Boston traffic to get to work at a reasonable hour of the morning.

*  *  *

In writing this post, I realized that cancer has opened my eyes to the sheer resiliency of the human race. From the small things like the taste of expired soda (I'm sort of kidding) to the really big things like battling a life-threatening disease or losing a loved one (not kidding at all), people have an unbelievable ability to adapt and, somehow, to carry on. I'm not saying that the adjustment is easy or fast, or that life will ever be the way it was before. It isn't and it won't.

What I am saying though, is best explained by one of the bravest people I know. Sarah, who has battled brain cancer with more grace and goodness than I could ever dream possible, recently wrote to me about her "new normal." I love that phrase because I, too, feel like I've found a new normal. Most of the time, I'm really grateful for it.

Knowing my new normal, I'll probably roll up to Faulkner on Wednesday with my stomach growling and my fingers crossed that the anesthesia doesn't make me sick. I'll likely also be pissed that I have to lie around for a few days while I heal (unless I can find a way to hold James without terrible pain...then I may enjoy these couple of days). After all the prep and placement of IVs, etc., Dr. Chun will draw on my chest with a Sharpie while I make some dumb joke about the boob job I never expected. Finally, I'll hit Play on my Kick Cancer's Ass playlist. And I'll drift off to sleep.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. But I'm glad I found a plastic surgeon who really wants to try. 


  1. Good luck with your surgery.

  2. you are so amazing to me. good luck with your "boob job"! This post was so special :)

  3. Tara (or Ms. Talbot, as I knew you many years ago), I was a quiet, introverted freshman student in your History class at Canton High School and to be honest, I don't remember too much, but even 8 years later, I do remember how interesting, and exciting, and inspiring each class was. When I think about the teachers who have profoundly shaped my outlook on education, learning, teaching, and life in general, you are always at the top of my list. You are one of the reasons why I am going to study secondary education in graduate school next year. I am continually inspired by you and I send you support and love as you embark on the next steps of your journey.

  4. Hi Tara
    - thinking of you today. Good luck for a speedy recovery!

  5. Tara - Thanks for these kind words about my Dad. Love You!! Glad everything went weill with your surgery yesterday.