Friday, December 11, 2009

Round 6 Just Breathe

Well, I knew that when my veins started to look worse than Keith Richards' that I probably was going to have to do something about it. You hear about chemo patients getting poked and prodded and eventually the burn of the drugs making the smaller vessels collapse and then it takes three tries to get a line in (which it did last week). So I finally succumbed and on Monday allowed them to put a port in my chest so that it would be easier to administer the drugs. Of course, everyone makes it sound like it is a “simple outpatient procedure,” which of course it is, except if you hate being a patient. And if they decide not to give you much anesthesia because your blood pressure is a little low and your heart is skipping a beat, which mine is and does. So I was awake while they put this round metal device above my heart and threaded the hard plastic tube into my chest. Ouch. Then they said I couldn’t lift anything for a week (yeah right, I have a nine-month-old) and that I couldn’t exercise for two weeks (are they trying to kill me?). Yesterday, I went to Pilates and said to Joshua, my instructor, “OK so we just do lower body work and work on breathing to open my chest.” I then sat on the exercise bike for 30 minutes.” And I feel like a million bucks today.

I knew it was going to be a good day on Monday (despite the surgery) because when I arrived at the Georgetown waiting area all of the flatscreen tvs were playing “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I wrote to some of you in a previous dispatch how this is a movie I used to watch with my Dad when I was a kid before it became overly commercialized with every Christmas. I love the story of George Bailey. All he wanted to do was travel the world, but life got in the way. Everyone knows the story so I won’t get schmaltzy on you, but I saw the fact that it was playing as a little wink and a nod from my Dad, who as many of you know died of lymphoma seven years ago on the day after Christmas.

There have been a lot of signs in fact that he was watching over me. Too many coincidences to count. One of the more extraordinary was when “Souper Girl,” the superhero-like nymph who floats to my door with organic freshly made soup every Tuesday and rings the doorbell just as I am returning from chemo with her brightly colored (antioxidant filled) yummy fresh soups, rang the doorbell a few weeks back and said, “My parents were at your wedding.” I was stunned. I didn’t even know her name. She was just “Souper Girl” to me. I asked her what her parents' names were. She said, “Ira and Marilyn Pollin.” I was stunned. Ira Pollin had been a law partner of my Dad’s and, of course, I remembered her parents coming to my wedding at the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia 15 years ago. I threw my arms around her (despite her invisible cape) and she said her Dad nearly fell off his chair when he heard she was cooking for me. He said he thought of my Dad nearly everyday. There are no coincidences. And as my dear friend, Jill Kamp, always reminds me. “God has perfect timing.”

A lot of you have asked me how the kids are doing. And they are doing great, but there is no way this kind of disruption and seeing a parent ill doesn’t have an impact. So it comes out in different ways. I got a call from Annalise’s fabulous teacher, Jennifer Ramsey, last week when I was driving back from North Carolina. An earnest sort of call in which she said there had been an incident. Annalise was ok but that there had been a lot of tears and hurt feelings. I guess it started in the lunch room. Some friends told her that there was a rumor going around that Annalise had breast cancer. So one of her well-meaning friends hopped up on a chair and announced to the 3rd grade, “That’s ridiculous. Annalise can’t have breast cancer,” she said. “She doesn’t have breasts!” At that point the entire class was guffawing and frankly as a 3rd grader to have someone talk about your “breasts” even if you don’t have any is worse than someone saying you have breast cancer. So Annalise spent the whole recess crying. Fortunately, Ms. Ramsey was there braiding her hair, comforting her and showing her how to make origami swans that her Korean grandfather had shown her to make as a girl. Ms. Ramsey, whom I have compared to Michele Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds,” is one of these young, hip, dedicated public school teachers who knows that her job is so much more than the three R’s. So she had a big talk with her class about how hard it is for Annalise having her mom sick and how would it feel if their moms were sick. I am told that the whole class was in tears at the end of the lecture and a group hug was required. I decided with Ms. Ramsey that a little damage control was needed so that the kids could see I was ok and to talk to them about what it was we were experiencing with the cancer treatment so I went up to the school last Friday. I put on my most perky wig and a lot of blush and a big smile and I asked them whether they knew anyone in their family who had had cancer and they all put their hands up. And they asked questions about the side effects of chemo - good questions I might add. They wanted information. And one girl, Anna Meikle, told the class how she donated 10 inches of her flaxen long hair to “Locks of Love,” which makes wigs and provides them free to cancer patients. The bell rang and I thanked all the kids for being such good friends to Annalise during this trying time for our family and explained that no matter who you are your family is probably going to feel some pain at some point and it always helps having good friends. They wanted me to come back and show them my other wigs and to even take my wig off so they could see my bald head. I promised to do so. Annalise was grinning from ear to ear. And she’s asked me all week when I am coming back because the kids have more questions and want to talk more about it. Soon.

Amelia’s 1st grade class, on the other hand, surprised me after Thanksgiving with individual handmade cards from the whole class. The funniest was from Isaiah: “November 23 2009 Dear Mrs Griffin, I’m glad you are feeling good. When I feel bad I sit down and drik (sic) Hot tea. And were (sic) my costume.” I laughed out loud and thought next time I sit down to watch “Modern Family” with my hot tea, I need a costume.
Amelia wrote: “Dear Jennifer (she thinks it’s funny to call me Jennifer), I’m so glad your feeling well. I hope you have a great cemo tomorrow! When are you coming in to show the class your bald head (ha ha) Love, Amelia!”

Soon. When I find the right costume.

Luke, on the other hand, decided to surprise us yesterday. And started to walk. 4 steps. 9 months and one week old. Baby steps. Exhausted by the end of the evening because Annalise and Amelia kept pushing him to do his new trick, making him do laps across the living room until his legs gave out. It reminded me of “suicides” in the St. Agnes basketball gym in winter until our legs were noodles. I walked in the front door from Pilates, humming my new anthem “Just Breathe” (Anna Nalick) and the kids shouted for me to come see Luke walk. I dropped my bag and was over the moon. I no longer felt any pain from my port and I lifted Luke up in the air and felt like Hercules. We had both taken some baby steps. His smile and their laughter - no doubt stronger than any chemo drugs. “Just Breathe,” I keep telling myself.