Sticks and Stones

“How bad is the pain?” asked the doctor pressing on my lower back.
“It feels like I’m in active labor” I replied matter-of-factly while sitting on the exam table.

I knew what he was thinking. How on earth is this woman sitting here chatting with me nonchalantly while in as much pain as she would be while in labor? I almost told him the story of how I delivered my twin boys without an epidural. And how that paled in comparison to the pain after my double mastectomy. But something told me he probably didn’t want to hear it. And, after waiting over an hour in the waiting room (where my excruciating pain led me to Google -sorry Mitch – my symptoms and diagnose myself before I even walked into the exam room), I decided it was best to stick to the problem at hand.
It had started over a week before. I had lower back pain that I attributed to exercise strain at first. Then came the bladder issues. And even more back pain. Thinking I had a bladder infection or UTI, I made an appointment to see my primary care doctor. She sent me off based on my symptoms with a prescription for Cipro. It didn’t work. The lab work came back negative for infection. So I made an appointment with a urologist as advised by the doctor.
In the meantime, I was due for my annual OBGYN exam. My OB happens to have a urogynecologist on staff. I decided to make my appointment with her. Perhaps there was something more serious going on. Maybe I had cysts around my bladder or kidney? The late nights surfing the Internet did not help to put my mind at ease. I went through various diagnoses in my head, including ovarian cancer which I am at risk for. Fortunately the doctor was able to put my mind at ease (and correct me about what a urogynecologist actually does). Nothing showed up on physical exam. She suggested I come back the next day for a pelvic ultrasound just to be sure. Fortunately that came back fine too. Phew!
Which brought me to the urologist. Where, while sitting in pain in the waiting room, I looked up kidney stones and decided that was probably what I had.
It wasn’t until the doctor had the nurse run one more test that he decided maybe there was something going on. There was microscopic blood in my urine which he said is not normal. Really? You don’t say!
I was told I would need a renal ultrasound to see what was going on. I made an appointment for the following week. On the day of the ultrasound, I was told I had to drink 35 ounces of water one hour before the test and I couldn’t use the bathroom after drinking all that water. Knowing my bladder, I drank less than half that amount less than thirty minutes before the test. It came as no surprise to me when the tech told me my bladder was plenty full.
I watched the tech who really had an excellent poker face. I saw her measure something and before I knew it the test was over. She told me to wait while she checked that the pictures came out. A couple of minutes later she came back and told me in a very cheerful voice that the pictures came out and I could go home. All I could wonder to myself was what was she measuring? Why was she so cheerful all of a sudden? I kept telling myself that she was just measuring a kidney stone. Yeah, a kidney stone, that’s it. Nothing more.
Soon enough the doctor called with the results. It was indeed a kidney stone. It was most likely too large to pass and would have to be broken up. But before breaking it up, the doctor needed me to go for a CAT scan and X-ray.
In the meantime, I also went to see an orthopedist. The urologist was not entirely convinced that my back pain was all related to the kidney stone and felt it might be skeletal. The orthopedist felt I may have had a bad back strain and advised taking ibuprofen a few times a day for four or five days to reduce inflammation. Now, most cancer survivors will tell you that even though they freak out about every headache or body ache post cancer they don’t like taking too much medication. Something about all the medications pumped into them during cancer treatment. I’m no exception. I get nervous about taking too much of any medication. The warning labels scare me. I’d rather take one painkiller than ten ibuprofens. Or nothing at all. But maybe that’s just me.
Over the last few weeks, I have had my ups and downs. There are days when I just have some minor discomfort but can still go about my daily routines. There are days when I feel totally fine and can have guests for Shabbos lunch or go see a movie with Molly. And there are days like this past week where I am curled up in a ball in pain and it takes every last ounce of strength to get the kids out of the house so I can crawl back into bed and lay there until they come home.
I met with the urologist today to go over my test results. There are actually two stones in my left kidney. The doctor still believes that it is not just the kidney stones causing all that back pain. He said if a stone moves and blocks the passage then it could be painful. He also said that there was still microscopic blood in my urine and elevated white blood cell count which could indicate some type of infection. Now, I’m no doctor but I know my body and I told him that I honestly think there was at least one other stone that probably passed before my initial appointment with him. And the pain I’ve had for the last couple of days is lower left of my back so…..
In any case, the plan is to shock the stones with sound waves. I meant to ask the doctor if I get to pick the music (just kidding). In the meantime, I plan to go back to the orthopedist and have an X-ray taken. Because, you know, I don’t feel like enough of a ping pong ball already.
So…stay tuned….

Two Years Cancer Free!!

Today, January 5th, I am TWO YEARS CANCER FREE!!
I have done a lot of things over the past two years.
I spent time with my family.
I spent time with friends.
I went on vacation.
I participated in a walk.
I recovered from a few surgeries.
I went back to work.
I laughed.
I cried.
I had some ups and downs.
But most of all….I LIVED.

Here’s a recap – enjoy!

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The Colors of October

Tomorrow is October 1st. To many people it is just any other day. The beginning of another month. For me, October has always been an exciting month. Why? Simple. My birthday is October 25th.
October has always been my favorite month, not just because it is my birthday month but because it is the first full month of fall. Fall is my favorite season.I love opening the windows. Putting on a sweater in the early morning or evening. The smell of soup warming on the stove. The crisp, fresh air. I love the colors – the reds, oranges, greens and golden browns.

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Ever since my breast cancer diagnosis, the month of October has taken on a new meaning.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While I was lucky to have had my cancer detected early, there are many who were not. While I survived, there are many others who did not. I have heard far too many stories of women being diagnosed before the age of 40.

It is not my intention to get on any soapbox here. I’m not planning on retelling my story (you can go back and read past posts on your own). But I will ask you to take a moment or two to think about the 1 in 8 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. Perhaps it was you or a loved one. A friend or neighbor. A colleague. Think about their strength. Their courage. Their battle.

I have added a new color to the list of October colors: PINK.

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My 15 (okay 16) Lines of Fame

There are two things that I absolutely love to do and wish that I had more time to spend doing – write and organize.

I have enjoyed writing this blog, even though I have spent far less time posting in recent months. I have just been too busy. I do, however, spend time reading books, magazines, and other people’s blogs.

I also love to organize, another thing I have spent far less time doing (but not less time stressing about). Instead, I read about organizing via magazine articles, blogs, and articles I come across on Facebook or Twitter.

A few months ago, I came across a post on Real Simple magazine’s Facebook page. The question was: What is the nicest thing your parents ever did for you?

I don’t typically reply to those type of posts. I’ll comment on a friend or family member’s status or picture. I’ll write on someone’s wall or send a private message. But I don’t usually comment on posts on a magazine’s Facebook page. This one, however, hit close to home for me. I posted a comment and forgot all about it.

That is until someone from Real Simple contacted me and told me they wanted to use my response in an upcoming Family Issue. We exchanged a series of e-mails, I answered a few more questions and then I waited. And waited. I knew that my response was going to be used but I had no idea in what format. Would they use everything or just my original comment?

Finally, the wait was over. I picked up my copy of the magazine and there it was on page 11:

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Well, there you have it. I’m ready for my 15 minutes of fame :)

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Happy 90th Birthday Grandma Frieda

It’s very rare that anyone in my family reaches the age of 90 years old. So, it was a shocking reminder to me a couple of weeks ago when I was talking to the kids about my Grandma Frieda (who they know as Bubbe Frieda) and I realized that she was indeed going to be 90 years old on her next birthday, July 27.

I wish I could say that I have been a dutiful granddaughter who always called and/or visited her grandmother. Who sent her cards and pictures of the kids. But I’m not. Or, I should say, I am not any more. But it is not because I am too busy with work or the kids or life in general. Or because I am a mean person.

It is because of one word: DEMENTIA.

To be fair, I used to do all those things. I used to call my grandmother every Friday to wish her Good Shabbos. I would send her cards for her birthday, for Mother’s Day, for Chanukah. I would send her pictures of the kids (and later on when her memory started to go, I would write the kids names on the back of the pictures along with “daughter/son of Elisa”) or pictures the kids had drawn for her. When she was back in New Jersey, I took the kids to see her every few weeks. They loved going to see Bubbe, she always had candy for them. They would draw pictures for her, Molly would help sort her pills into her pill sorter, and she would proudly walk up and down the halls showing off her great-grandchildren.

But not any more. It would be too sad for me, too scary for the kids. It would be sad for me to see her and know she doesn’t remember me or my kids. It would be sad to see her get upset that she doesn’t remember things. And it would be scary for the kids if we were to catch her on a bad day, when she is cursing or yelling about something.

I prefer to remember her the way she was back that day in September 2011 when I helped my mother and aunt pack up her belongings and move her from her apartment in the independent living facility to the nursing home wing at Daughters of Miriam in Clifton, New Jersey. She was already declining by then but at least she still remembered who I was that day, or at least asked me who I was when she forgot. I knew immediately that it would probably be one of the last, if not the last, times I would see her. I could see that the littlest thing would agitate her. I knew I would be too chicken to come back. And I knew that the kids could definitely no longer visit.

My grandmother wasn’t too thrilled about being moved to the dementia ward but there was no other choice. My mother and my aunt were too worried about her even with a full time aide. She would call them in the middle of the night panicking that she lost her baby. Or she would talk about her parents as if they were still alive. Or she took scissors and cut up brand new pants for no reason.

I honestly just didn’t think I could handle seeing her like that. I wanted to remember her the way she used to be. As that tough woman who said whatever was on her mind, whether it was nice or not. As that woman who insisted on dyeing her hair brown long after all her friends let theirs turn gray or white. As that woman who packed up her two daughters, ages 9 and 12, and moved back to Brooklyn from Pittsburgh after her marriage ended to live with her parents who helped raise the girls while she went to work (not a very common thing for women to do back in the 1950′s).

I prefer to remember the fun times my brother Brian and I had at grandma’s house after she moved down to Coral Springs, Florida around 1980. We flew down ourselves to stay with her for a few weeks in the summer. We had such fun going to the pool, taking the Number 2 Coral Springs bus to the mall or the movies, going to see Aunt Zelda and Uncle Arthur and the cousins.

My grandmother would fly up to New York for the High Holidays in the fall and for Passover in the spring (and complain, of course, that is was TOO COLD!!). We enjoyed seeing her when she came up but we always knew she couldn’t wait to go back to Florida. To her own apartment. To her friends. To her BINGO games and Sisterhood activities. To where she was happiest.

Until 2005. That was when she told my mother and aunt that she was ready to come back north. Many of her friends had either passed away or moved to assisted living facilities. She was far from her great grandchildren. And she was ready to leave Florida. So she came to Daughters of Miriam where she had her own apartment but was able to eat dinner with friends in the dining room. She was able to go to activities such as BINGO and movies and play cards. She could get on the bus and go to Acme or ShopRite. And she could see her family.

April 2008

April 2008

Celebrating her 85th birthday in 2008

Celebrating her 85th birthday July 2008

Birthday party at Daughters of Miriam 2010

Birthday party at Daughters of Miriam 2010

Bubbe and some of her great-grandchildren 2012

April 2012

I don’t know that my grandmother understands that her birthday is this Saturday, that she will be 90 years old. I do know that I need to get over my fear of going to see her and not knowing what to expect. She may not remember me. She may call me a nasty word or two. But that’s okay. She is my grandma and I love her. And somehow I know she loves me too.

Happy 90th Birthday Grandma!!

The Joys of June

Every year, the month of June is jam packed with all sorts of events, celebrations, and the scramble between the end of the school and the beginning of camp. You’d think I would be ready for it. I mean, after all, it’s the same thing every year (give or take a few events). The same people have birthdays. The same items are required for camp. Yet every year without fail I feel like it has snuck up on me and I’m running around buying last minute bottles of sunscreen, labeling towels, and -as was the case this year – sneaking Father’s Day cards for the kids to fill out on that very morning while Mitch was using the elliptical. Clearly I am SO much more organized in my head than I actually am!

In any case, June in the Cohen household this year was a month of joyous events. Gone are any remnant or memory of bad events. Out with the old, in with the new!

Molly finished fourth grade and will be headed to middle school next year. Yikes!

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Abe and Jack graduated nursery school and will be headed to kindergarten next year.
Double yikes!!

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Mitch’s parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. It was so nice to see family and friends, some of whom we haven’t seen in a while.

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**Thank you Shana of http://www.sewsabina.com for the beautiful challah cover!

The kids excitedly started camp

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No worrying about homework or tests. The kids can come home and go play. No getting up too early to catch an early bus since the camp bus comes later.
And so this brings me to an interesting point. I would like to continue writing this blog. However, I do not feel the need right now to continue writing about the very topic I created this blog for. I’ve moved on.
The question is: about what topic do I write about?
So here’s where I need your help. Please let me know in the comments what topics might interest you. No, I don’t mean topics like politics or religion or major research. I mean topics related to life, family, health, weight, kids, work, etc.

I look forward to your suggestions!

Walk It Off

The sun was shining today. It was a beautiful day, great day for walking. I woke up full of energy and excitement. Today was the day I would be walking along with Mitch and Molly, along with friends and neighbors, fellow breast cancer survivors in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Today was an important milestone for me. This was the first time I have been able to participate in this walk. Last year I had registered, got my shirt, and was all set to walk for the first time as a survivor. But just days before the walk, I had emergency surgery to remove the left tissue expander and damaged skin surrounding it. It was a real blow to me. So much so that I even turned down an offer from a friend to drive me there so I could watch from the sidelines. I was too upset to go. I didn’t want to watch the other survivors and supporters walking or running while I had a drain attached to me and no left breast.
My friend and fellow survivor Rachel came over after the walk and brought me a bag of goodies. We sat and talked for a bit and she told me how sad she was that we couldn’t walk together. We had been through this whole ordeal together having been diagnosed a month apart. She, more than anyone else, understood what I was going through and why I was sad to not be able to walk with her.
This year would be different. I would finally get my chance to put this behind me. It may sound strange but anyone who has battled cancer understands the difficulty of putting it behind you when you are done with your treatments and/or surgeries. For some people, going back to work is enough to make that break from cancer patient to regular person. For others it is not so simple. I am one of the others. Yes I have long ago finished with treatments. But the extra surgeries sort of pushed me into a holding pattern. I was stuck in a limbo, in an in-between place, confused about where I was. I knew I was cancer free but I still had to deal with putting the physical pieces of me back together.
Just 18 days ago I had my long awaited exchange surgery. I have been home recovering and gathering up my strength. And now I am ready to finally put this long difficult journey behind me. I’m ready to “walk it off”.
I was so excited last week when our shirts came in the mail. White shirts for Mitch and Molly and a bright pink shirt with the word SURVIVOR on it for me.
And I was so excited to make it to the finish line today! I admit it wasn’t easy. I walked really slow because I had just had surgery and was also dealing with a nasty sinus infection/chest congestion. But I made it! And next year I am hoping to RUN the race!! Here’s to hoping for no more surgeries this year – and more importantly, here’s to CLOSURE!!!!!

Enjoy the pictures!

with Mitch and Molly before the walk

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me and my girl

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with my good friend Cheryl

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signing the Survivor banner

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getting my Survivor medal at the finish line

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with my co-survivor Rachel

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Team Dale!

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crossing the finish line with Molly

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me with my medal after the race

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who we walked in celebration of!

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and the video…of a song I love and can relate to as a fighter :)

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Some thoughts and more about my journey

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Some thoughts and more about my journey

Some thoughts and more about my journey

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