Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Belly of the Whale...

“Belly of the Whale”, by Linda Merlino is the story of a day in the life of a mother of 4, Hudson Catalina, battling breast cancer. It is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts during a Nor’easter blizzard that has not been experienced in years. We follow Hudson through her morning of frustration with the disease and all that it entails. We travel on her road trip for chemo with her best friend and sister-in-law, Kathy and examine her relationships with the various people in her life. The story takes a turn for the worse, as the storm does, when her intentions to plan for the future of her daughter land her in Whales Market.

In Whales Market we meet characters that many of us have met in our own lives. Ruby, who guided by her strong faith provides wisdom. Willy Wu, a “Lamb of the Lord”, special in his own way. Buddy Baker, a person so damaged by the experiences and events that have occurred in his life that he forever changes those he unleashes his anger and wrath upon.

I personally had a difficult time reading part I of the story. I am a 30 month breast cancer survivor and found myself comparing and contrasting my experiences to Hudson Catalina. Hudson speaks of her feelings as she looks in the mirror, “I paused and saw the sunken eyes and sharp angles of my thinned face traced atop a neck so narrow that it disappeared into the collar of my robe.” That sentence alone took me back to the same face that I stared at in shock and disbelief when I was a cancer patient. I kept reading and started to enjoy the story more as it developed. As I read, I tried not to analyze Hudson but just experience her life.

Ruby is my favorite character, some of her phrases resonated with me, “A Mamma has got to do what a Momma has to do”, "The Lord puts us where we're supposed to be" and “I’ll tell you that life’s a circle and we go around like the spokes on a wheel. Sometimes we’re happy, our faces in the light, and sometimes the wheel thrusts us into the harsh places of darkness and despair. But we have to believe that it keeps going round, back into the light. Never give up hope.”

Linda Merlino has a descriptive style of writing that makes it easy to imagine the setting, her characters personalities and the events in their lives. After Part I, I found myself wanting to read chapter after chapter to see how Hudson’s emotions and experiences changed throughout the story. When I completed the book, I went back and reread part I. I found it much easier to read the second time around. I am not sure that I would recommend this book for someone currently in treatment although it does prove the point that in most circumstances there is always a situation that can be worse than the one you are currently going through. The story starts out "glass half-empty" but changes to "glass half-full" and therefore reiterates the message of never give up hope…

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


My life the past few days and the next few days is filled with Reflections. Not the type of Reflections that most would think would be on this blog. I am speaking of the National PTA contest. I am the chairperson for my son's school. The children submit their ideas for this year's theme of "WOW" in visual arts, literature, photography, dance choreography, musical composition and video/film production. We had 132 entries from 90 students. Almost one third of the student body. I have cataloged them and they are ready for our 3 judges. Friday all of the children that participated get to make their own artful creation in ice cream after they eat their lunch. (of course we realize that is the main reason the participation is growing each year)
The winners will be announced next week and the 1st place entries will move onto the district level of judging. I love promoting children to be creative. Some of the entries are unbelievable, my favorites are always the ones that you can tell are truly the kids ideas. When creativity is encouraged, nurtured and rewarded it is amazing what can happen.....


Thursday, October 16, 2008


My 4 month check-up with my oncologist was scheduled at the end of September. The day before the appointment the office called to cancel and I had to reschedule for yesterday. Even though I am feeling good there is always a certain amount of anxiety that pops up prior to any doctor's appointment. When it was cancelled, it was a short relief until this week. The anxiety builds until the appointment.
It was a pretty easy one though - 1 hour flat - unbelieveable!!
Weigh -in, Blood work, chat with the nurse - review medicine and symptoms.

The doctor comes in and gives me a big hug. "You've made it to the first big milestone - 2 year survivor" (2 year, 5 year and 10 year are the big ones) and proceeds to ask me a ton of questions...
Are you exercising? - yes - jogging 2 -3 miles 3 times per week,
How are the hot flashes? - not as bad as during chemo (as the nurse said -"we hit you so hard during chemo that any flashes after do not feel as bad"),
We talk about the hip pain I have been having - side effect due to lack of estrogen, but my hip bone density is great
How is your brain function? - forgetting some names
He performs my physical exam and asks about the kids, etc.
He says my blood work looks good.
He tells me to keep my stress level down - okay I need to work on that one.

We talk about the Komen race and he mentions how powerful it was. I spoke of how encouraging it was to sit by a woman wearing 20 strands of beads. We both agree we have come so far in this cancer fight, but we have so far to go. He talks about 3 new drugs on the cusp of being approved.

I show him the MotherswithCancer flyer and talk about our site, he thinks it is wonderful and asks me to give it to the nurses to post. He will see me in February after the San Antonio Conference. I always thank him and tell him to thank his wife for giving up so much of him while he is saving so many lives. I love my doctor... I love his bedside manner... I love his nurses... I am blessed to be one of his patients.

I say hi to all of the patients getting an infusion on my way back to the nurses station. I remember all to clearly the 8 times I sat in those exact chairs. I catch up with the other nurses. I get a flu shot.

My anxiety is relieved for another 4 months... I treat myself to a Jamba Juice... It was a GREAT day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Guest Post

I was asked to contribute a guest post regarding my cancer experience... so you can check it out over at capessa if you would like...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Too Close for Comfort

This is what we saw today from our front yard when we got home from school. The fire was burning in the nearby canyon but they evacuated the 3rd phase of our development. They told us to have our things packed. If the wind were to shift slightly we would have to evacuate quickly.
Luckily the wind shifted the other way so we did not have to evacuate. About 50 acres burned in 2 hours. Thankfully no one got hurt in this fire and only part of one home was damaged.
The firemen told my husband that if this reservoir was not so close to the fire it would have gotten out of control and many homes would have been lost. We saw the CSI's walking around so we will find out if it was arson.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

laugh. dance. cure.

My husband wrote in to the ellen show and got 2 tickets!! My daughter and I were in the audience yesterday. What a fun day!!!!
We got up to LA about 2:30 and checked in, walked over to the studio and received our instructions, no sunglasses, no gum, turn off cell phones, no cameras, no grabbing ellen…. We were seated in the studio and the warm-up guy got us dancing and cheering. During every commercial everyone dances and cheers and sometimes they have dance contests. Ellen came out, she looked great and when it was time for her to dance she danced right across our row!!!

Harry Connick Jr. was on speaking about his new movie about the Doctor who developed Herceptin. He dunked the guy from “The Office” in the dunk tank for breast cancer. Microsoft donates $10,000 to the cause for each dunk. Two cute little sisters who are expected to become the next Williams Sisters were on – so cute….. Chris Brown danced – and my daughter could not have been more excited. I can not believe that he is only 19. We got some fun giveaways and then spent some money in the Ellen shop. She has a bunch of stuff with her laugh. dance. cure logo. They will register you to vote if you are not registered so she also has laugh. dance. vote.

We got a special treat after the regular show, they taped a segment that will be on a special show that Ellen will be doing later this year – this amazing magician performed – incredible.
It was a great day – great memories for me and great memories with my daughter. Our show will air today October 9 - so you know what we will be doing today at 4:00pm!!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Giving Back...

Last night my daughter and I attended the 10th Annual Founders Gala for Kids Konnected. It was held at the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin, CA.

I wanted to give back to this organization that helped us so much throughout my cancer experience and continues to help us emotionally move forward. I created this original collage that I felt was significant to Kids Konnected and the children that they assist.

The director of the organization placed the artwork in the live auction and asked if I would be willing to say a few words about our experience with Kids Konnected and my collage. My daughter and I went up before the audience and this is a summary of what I said… “Two years ago today I was in surgery undergoing a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, before the surgery I underwent 4 months of chemotherapy and during that time we found Kids Konnected. Kids Konnected has helped us emotionally move through this horrible disease. Even as I got well my daughter wanted to stay involved, she became a teen leader and continues to help other children navigate through this maze. This painting was created to express how even though a child may lose a parent to cancer, their parent will always stay in their heart… their Mom or Dad goes up to heaven and becomes the angel watching over them. Even though my prognosis is good, I know that if I hear those dreadful words again (you have cancer), our Kids Konnected family will be there to help my children.”

The bidding started at $300.00 (the cost to send a kid to camp), the bidding worked it’s way up to $1000.00. The gentleman bidding then added, “I pledge $1000.00 annually”. He said he would honor his pledge and we could rebid the painting. They started the bidding again and another gentleman matched the $1000.00 annually. I am not sure if it was the collage, my speech or the visual of my daughter and I standing there together and people really seeing what their money can do…. but the details really do not matter. Six kids will get to go to camp each year, every year and that is what truly matters.

cross posted at MotherswithCancer


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