Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Follow me on Twitter!

Dear Readers,

For those of you who use Twitter, I invite you to follow me! I can be found at @lizzysmilez1. As my readership is growing by leaps and bounds, this is yet another way to keep in touch.

All the best,



I am very close to someone who struggles with extreme depression. I'll call her Molly. Over the past few days, this depression attack has been horrific. Like not getting out of bed I want to die kind of depression. After several days of this, Molly got out of bed, went outside in the heat and (predictably) feinted. I was part of an intervention that forced her into seeking psychiatric help. Who knows if Molly will follow through. It's up to her now. Depression is treatable but it takes time and commitment. It means individual and group therapy, medication, doctor's appointments, and work on her part. It means her family probably will also need therapy on how best to help her. But at least we have all done our moral duty-- we called her attention to it, got her medical help, and will be there to support her in any way we can.

Molly says that there really is no reason to live because life is tough. She listed several areas in her life that she wishes were different. But, really, everything could be "perfect" and she'd still struggle with depression. It's like alcoholism or drug addiction or over eating or you name it-- triggers are just excuses for the behavior. Period. The blame and the responsibility for the behavior and decisions are completely with the individual.

My friend Tom has a son who was a drug addict. By the time his addiction spiraled out of control he was 18 years old. He couldn't be just enrolled in a rehab facility against his will. So Tom and his ex wife staged an intervention. They hired an intervention specialist, the grandparents traveled for it, the siblings, and a few close friends were all in attendance and when the son arrived, he was told that he had two choices: go to rehab right then and now or walk out with nothing and do it alone-- no car, no money, no cell phone, no clothes. He went to rehab and he's doing much better.

My friend, William, has a daughter who was also a drug addict. She wasn't 18, though, so he and his wife put her in a lockup facility for teen drug addicts.

I can honestly say that if Morgan or Siena decide to do drugs and they're under 18, I'm putting them in a lockup facility. If they're over 18, I'll stage an intervention and they'll go away for help. Or, if they're still living with me and they refuse, they can pack up and move out. I will take that kind of behavior seriously and deal with it immediately and decisively because that is my moral obligation as a parent. Nothing else is more important. It doesn't mean that will be a cure and that everything will be perfect, but it will mean that I've done everything I can.

William asked me the other day if many people knew of the abuse and horror I was living with in my marriage. Yes, but only a few. The neighbors knew to some extent because they could hear the horrific screaming. My parents, Julie and Emmy knew. I told Aida about Bob's alcoholism and that I was on the verge of leaving. And Bob's family knew-- his daughters, his mom, his brother and sister in law. I don't know what his sister, Kathy, knew. I spoke with his mother several times and begged her to do an intervention. I told her that her son was sick, that he needed help. She would schedule meetings with Father Joe, though to my knowledge Bob never showed up for any of those meetings.

Which leaves me with the question: Is it a family's moral obligation to take a proactive role in helping the addict to the extent of an intervention? Is it a family's moral obligation to warn newcomers that the individual has an addiction or major mental illness? Tom's son has a girlfriend and she knows that her boyfriend is a recovering addict. If she didn't know, Tom said he would have pulled her aside and told her because that is critically important information for her to have. Instead of entering into a relationship without that knowledge and later down the line, hurting so many others if the relationship doesn't work out because of her partner's addiction, he would rather tell her himself. As it turns out, Tom's son told his girlfriend himself because, addiction aside, he's an honest kid. As for me, I entered into a relationship with my ex husband based on lies and deception. Was his family complicit in their silence? That is a good question.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

My very fun weekend

William and I spent a the weekend in Park City. It was so fun! Here are some of the things we did:

  • A horseback ride at The Canyons. Utah has had some extremely hot weather this summer but Saturday was slightly overcast with light drizzle. I couldn't have ordered up better weather if I tried. Since I still am prone to flank and rib pain, I have to be careful but my horse was so sweet and gentle and cautious with me. The views from the top of The Canyons were spectacular. I think we could see Wyoming from up there.

  • The Uintas: I had no idea that the Uinta Mountains were in Utah. Well, actually, I'd never thought about the Uintas. But during our horseback ride, William was talking to our guide and got the suggestion to check it out. Wow-- it is a beautiful national forest and we drove up to the waterfalls. They looked preplanned, not natural. I can't wait to bring the girls up there and let them wade in the fresh mountain waters.
  • Dinner at The Tree Room at Sundance: I told the restaurant manager about my fight with cancer and they nearly comped out entire dinner. Had we paid what we should have, it would've been over $150 but after tip, it was $30. They were so kind and dinner was delicious. William's mashed potatoes were maybe the best I've ever had and his steak was amazing. I almost never eat beef anymore but I couldn't resist.

  • Rafting on the Weber River: It was a very easy rafting trip, even three year olds can go, so this might sound more adventurous that it was. William was once a river rafting guide and this was nothing to him but it was a new experience for me. It was fun and, more importantly, we both discovered a new part of Utah that we didn't know existed. It was beautiful with some really incredible rock formations. I want to bring the girls back and let them float the river. They would love it.

Xplore Utah Jun-05-2012

  • Jaccuzzi time: So this isn't anything new or different but I had to include it just because it was nice.
We got home Sunday afternoon and before I could unpack, I took a nap. Did I say I love Utah? I do! It has its wacky part, no doubt, but it is home to some of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

While all of the things we did were fun, you know what was best? That my horrific experience of being married to an abusive alcoholic didn't take away my ability to trust others. The day I realized that I trusted William was an incredibly cool and unexpected feeling. It is not only a relief to know and experience this, but it is liberating and hopeful. Yeah for me.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

You don't know pain 'til you've experienced a Brazilian

After chemo, I lost all my body hair, including my pubic hair. So when it all started growing back, that did, too. So it was time for my first Brazilian. I knew they were painful but I was prepared. After two stem cell transplants, pick lines, ports, back surgery, four years of abuse, hey, I was a pain warrior-- I could handle anything, especially at a spa (my personal happy place).

So I scheduled my day at The Brick Canvas like this:
  • 90 minutes of Bikram yoga 
  • 40 minutes of Brazilian wax treatment
  • 60 minute facial
  • Spa lunch
  • 90 minute massage

After yoga, I took a long shower using peppermint-smelling shampoo (yum!), slipped into a plush bathrobe and spa slippers, and hung out in the quiet room sipping fruit-infused water, snacking on cashews and fresh coconut slices, and browsing through Style.

When my aesthetician called me back, I was ready. She gave me a few minutes to undress and get myself situated on the table before entering. It was awkward as I exposed my privates in a way only my doctors had seen. I had to hold what looked like a popsicle stick between my butt cheeks so she could wax that area. I closed my eyes and thought of beaches I had once visited, wishing myself elsewhere.

And then it happened.

Rip!!!! WTF was that?!? I almost flew off the table as the room went dark from pain. My head started spinning and I broke into an immediate sweat. "Oh my gosh!" I screamed. "OUCH!!!!"

"I know, sorry. It gets less painful the more you come in," she said. Rip againThis time I literally came off the table as my heart started pounding so hard I could hardly hear.

"Holy fuck! Ok, sorry I used that word but oh my gosh!" I screamed out again. The poor other guests must have been horrified at my use of language in this conservative Mormon community. "Ok, ok, slow down."

I used my yoga breathing techniques as I tried to center myself. "How much longer?"

"Oh, I'm really fast so it hurts for less time," she said. She started waxing my bikini line.

"Please count to three before you start back up," I begged.

"Why? It's easier if I just do it," she said. Before I could protest, rip!

This time, I was sure I was going to pass out. I had never felt such mind-numbing, acute pain.

By this time, I was drenched in sweat and I was sure that I was on the verge of a heart attack.


Well, at least I learned to block out all outside "noise" and focus on my treatments. I looked down and was sure that she would have ripped off my skin and that I would be bleeding all over the floor. I was shocked to see my skin still there, just red and angry looking.

It was 30 minutes of complete torture. When it was done and Crissy left the room, the table sheets felt as if I had taken a shower on them. Thank goodness that I had the next three hours of heavenly treatments that followed.

The next time I got a Brazilian, I was ready. I had a tube of Lidocain and I rubbed it heavily about 15 minutes prior to my treatment. By the time Crissy waxed me up and pulled, I hardly felt a thing. But there was a down side-- for the next two hours, when I peed, I felt nothing. Very strange.

Morgan hates pubic hair and wants to get a Brazilian. Hello, you're 13 years old. Ask me again when you're 18. 

Sleep-shopping (or "Oops, I purchased what???")

Once per week, I take 20 mg of dexamethasone, which is a steroid. As a result, I won't sleep at all if I don't take Ambien twice a week-- on the day I take dex and the day after. When I take Ambien, I mostly don't remember what I've done. Which means texting and phone calls can be comical.

But last week, I encountered something potentialy not comical. After an Ambien night, I woke up the next day, checked my email, and discovered that I went shopping in the middle of the night and bought things that I didn't want or need. I mean, they're kind of cool, but it was a big "I did what?" moment. So my shipments have arrived and here's what I ended up with:

1. (2) LadyMate Berry Ball Bra and Underwear Washers
The Berry Ball encapsulates delicate undergarments to keep them safe as they tumble inside a washing machine or over the edge of Niagara Falls. A bra fits inside the durable plastic orb, and a small, textured ball is placed in the cups to help the bra maintain its curves. Delicate underwear, hosiery, or rough drafts of romance novels tuck into the included Berry Bag—a small laundry bag that prevents items from being lost or damaged during the wash. Water and soap flow in through the ventilated slots of the Berry Ball and the pores of the Berry Bag's durable mesh. A strong closure and backup clasp keep the Berry Ball from popping open as it swirls around inside the washing machine.

2. A pair of black diamond and white diamond earrings

Black and White Diamond earrings in Solid White Gold

3. A DermaWand

Specialists use for treatments to help manage the signs of premature aging. The difference: DermaWand uses lower amplitude that's perfect for everyday in-home use. Like the big machines, DermaWand provides instant stimulation, thereby providing a massage effect while at the same time delivering thermal energy and enriched oxygen. The results – younger looking skin with only 2 three minute treatments a day. Best of all, you can do it in the comfort of your own home at a fraction of the cost of going to a doctor!

4. A one-hour massage

5. Microdermabrasian package

I tried to cancel some of the orders but to no avail. The good news is that I discovered in my attempts to return the items, that I had purchased a couple's cooking class that was set to expire.

The damage could have been far worse. I've been eyeing a few get-aways on Groupon-- Ireland, China and Fiji. If I had "accidentally" decided on our next trip during an Ambien night, that would've been most unfortunate.

Lesson learned? I now hide my phone at night.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

St George excursion and home sweet home

We left California (bummer- but we'll be back in October for a week) and made our way to St George where we met up with my friend, William, and his two daughters ages 15 and 14. William planned the whole trip, including hotel and two evenings at the theatre.

St George is as beautiful as it is hot in the summer. And by hot, it is scorching hot. To say it is awe-inspiring is a vast understatement. It is also home to the Tuacahn Theatre. It is outdoors and overlooks the spectacular red rock formations near Snow Canyon. St George has an incredible theatre that puts out Broadway-quality shows. The first night, the six of us went to dinner and then went to see Mary Poppins. A few years ago, Bob and I took the girls to see the same play on Broadway in New York and this one was just as good, I have to say. Since the show didn't start until 8:45pm, the heat was bearable.

Day 2 we were going to go hiking but it was just too hot so we found refuge in a cool theatre and saw Dispacable Me 2 (very cute), did a little shopping, took a nap, and went back out to dinner, then saw Andrew Lloyd Weber's Starlight Express (not my favorite).

The next day, it was a fast drive home. We're home! It's nice to be back. This makes it Day 10 for the number of days Morgan, Siena and I have been here since they got out of school. I'm trying to figure out if I can fit in one more mini vacation before school starts back up. Kind of tricky because Morgan's competitive soccer team is in full gear with practices and she's missed too many already.

On the day of our return, I had to dart up to Huntsman for my four-hour infusion appointment (it's Aridia time!), get diagnosed with yet another bladder infection (OMG they are endless and won't go away!), and look forward to my staycation with William in Park City next weekend.

Last night, we saw The Little River Band in concert. I love them. When they sang Cool Change, it brought me back to the summer before I fled my abusive home. Bob and I had separated and, for once, I felt happy and optimistic about creating a new life in a positive environment. I was going to strive for what Terri, his ex wife had. Peace, joy, and a healthy relationship with a good man. One night, I called my ex boyfriend (the one who got away), Todd. We talked for hours, set up a date for dinner the next night, and then I went outside. It was late, the girls were in bed, the evening was quiet and beautiful. I played with the dogs for a bit, then laid down flat on the diving board and looked up at the sky. It was just one of those moments. I had my iPod and Cool Change came on. I played it again and again and again as I just looked up at the few stars I could see and the moon. And I felt such serenity in that moment.

Here are the words to that song...

Cool Change
If there's one thing in my life that's missing
It's the time I spend alone
Sailing on the cool and bright clear waters
There's lots of those friendly people
Showin me ways to go
And I never want to lose your inspiration
Time for
a cool change...
I know that it's time
for a cool change
Now that my life
is so pre-arranged
I know that it's time
for a cool change
Well I was born in the sign of water
And it's there that I feel my best
The albatross and the whales
they are my brothers
It's kind of a special feeling
When you're out on the sea alone
Starin' at the full moon
like a lover
Time for
a cool change...
I know that it's time
for a cool change
Now that my life
is so prearranged
I know that it's time
for a cool change
Well I've never been romantic
And sometimes I don't care
I know it may sound selfish
But let me breathe the air
If there's one thing in my life that's missing
It's the time that I spend alone
Sailing on the cool and bright clear waters
It's kind of a special feeling
When you're out on the sea alone
Staring at the full moon like a lover
Time for
a cool change...
I know that it's time
for a cool change
Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it's time
for a cool change

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The filter of right and wrong

So this photo has nothing to do with my blog post except for the fact that I decided to write about this topic while hanging out at Sunset Beach.

The other day, Morgan needed to make a decision that was somewhat controversial for a 13 year old. It opened the way for a very good discussion on making decisions. I told her that she needed to learn to make good choices because she would be the one to live with the consequences, whether that consequence be good or bad.

And then we talked about running it through a "Decision Filter". There are three basic questions she needs to answer in her head when making any decision:

1. Is it something I don't want someone to know? 
If you're feeling the need to hide something, chances are, it's wrong (or you're wrong). Truth and transparency typically are owned by those making good and correct choices. If there's one thing I learned over the past few years, hiding anything is a horrible thing and serves no one.

2. Will it hurt me or someone else?
If the answer is yes, then obviously the choice is a bad one. 

3. If God were standing next to me (and He is), would I make the same choice?
If the answer is yes, you're probably on solid ground.

I cognitively instilled this filter system in my head pretty much on the day I had the police remove my out-of-control husband from our home and left him for good. Since then, I've tried very hard to live my life in the open, with honesty and truth, trying to be good and kind to others, and making choices that God would approve of. While before getting sick I tried to be a good person, the truth is that I hid in the shame of victimhood, which taught everyone in our household some very confusing and unhealthy messages. No more.

I've not always made perfect choices since then, but I actively try. I wish I had done this from the beginning but I didn't and all I can do is live differently now and teach my children the best I can through coaching and example. I can only hope that their path is better than mine was.

Monday, July 15, 2013

California dreaming

California: How I love thee. Our trip here has been fabulous thus far.

We arrived on July 4 and since then, have managed to reconnect with so many old friends, like...

Kalie! Morgan, Siena and I visited her new apartment (so cute!) and we went to lunch. We brought her back souvenirs from our trip abroad (coasters from Paris, salt & pepper shakers from Sweden, and a magnet from Denmark). We loved seeing Kalie and we miss her so much. She is an amazing person-- an old soul. She is wise beyond her years, kind, compassionate, and understanding (not to mention beautiful inside and out). After we left, Kalie texted me that I was a wonderful mother and not to listen to anyone who would say otherwise. It made me tear up. Hearing it from her really meant a lot to me. She knows full well the hell I've been through, the horrible accusations I endured, and took her time to reassure me that, really, I'm ok. Her mother has raised Kalie well. It's not easy raising a child without a strong father figure in the picture but the proof is in Kalie that Terri has done something right. I need to pick her brain on how she did that.

Aida! Aida worked for me at HSBC and we worked together at Sempra, too. She is one of my favorite friends and people on the planet.

The twins/Taylor/Jerrod: These are my friend Lisa's children (who passed away from pancreatic cancer). Taylor looks so much like Lisa that I can't help but stare at her. The twins are amazing boys and I've missed them so much that my heart aches at times. The twins stayed with me for three days and they are angels.

Kathleen/Kayla: Kathleen's father was a highly functioning alcoholic and she knew exactly what I was living with. She knew me on a level only we fellow victims can. It was wonderful catching up with her.

Cristie/Kelsey: They were our next door neighbors. They heard the horrible verbal abuse and we talked about that and so much more that they saw and witnessed after I left. Heartbreaking and just not at all ok. Some of the conversation was good, other parts just simply very upsetting and hard to hear. Cristie is such a nice woman and I think I have a lifelong friend.

Dr Fong: He is my new California-based oncologist. Either every oncologist is super cool and amazing or I've just been really lucky. But, Dr Fong, if you ever read this: I think I love you! Thank you thank you thank you.

Julie/Shane and my other family: What can I say? Being with my best friends is just like coming home.

The only drag so far is that last night, Jake (Julie and Shane's son) had to be rushed to the ER. They learned that Jake has developed a severe allergy to walnuts. Scary.

Oh, and guess what else I learned? I met with a few other people I used to work with at SDG&E and, wow, big huge surprise: Bob didn't help get me a single job at my entire tenure with the company. Nope-- not a single hiring manager or director-level person above even knew who he was. Wow-- imagine that-- I am actually hirable without the "help" of a certain someone.

Anyway, back to the positives... on our way back to Utah, we are stopping in St George and meeting up with my friend and his two daughters. St George is one of my favorite places in the U.S. It's so incredibly beautiful that there are just no words.

It's been quite an eventful summer on so many levels. Definitely one to remember and it's not over yet.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What's a stem cell transplant?

Over the past few days, several people have asked me what a stem cell transplant is. Since probably few of you out there know, I'll take this opportunity to educate.

There are two types of stem cell transplants: 1) auto (where you get your own stem cells back); 2) allo (when you get a donor's cells). For MM, auto is the preferred choice. For one, it's effective and second, there are no chances of graft-host issues. 

For me, I had two stem cell transplants, which the medical community calls "tandem", which means you get two transplants within a six month period.

Step 1: Install a port
A port is installed in the chest area that makes administering chemo drugs and drawing blood work easier. From that port in the chest runs a line up to the jugular vein. I still have my port in. It's not very pretty but it doesn't bother me. I was put under anesthesia when it was placed in my chest.

Step 2: Chemo 
The first step is a big huge dose of chemo to kill off as many cancer cells as possible. I carried a backpack with me for four days, which gave me a continual 24-hour non-stop chemo stream. Side effects include: chemo brain, fatigue, nauseau, diarrhea, constipation, food aversions, infections, and bruising. During this time, I got regular blood work to ensure I wasn't too anemic. As it turns out, I did get "that" anemic and was nearly hospitalized for it. Luckily for me, I didn't get sick to my stomach, though I did crave pickles like my ex husband Bob craves alcohol. I would shake and panic until I could get to the pickles. Weird. And I hated apples but loved lemons. Go figure. I did this regimen twice. The first time, I was very cranky. I felt like everything smelled like chemo-- my skin, taste buds, hair, pee... The second time, I pulled out a very cute bag I purchased a few years prior at Saks, put the ugly chemo black backpack inside of it, and carried on. About a week after the chemo is done, my body had no immune system. I had less than 1 white blood cells and red blood cells. This means I had to be in a "clean" apartment less than six minutes to the hospital in case I ran an infection. As it turns out, I did run an infection and was hospitalized for four days. This is also the time in which my alcoholic husband was texting me that I was a liar and thief. It was not a good time.

Step 3: Install pick line
A pick line was installed in my neck. This was necessary in order to harvest my stem cells when the time was right. It was incredibly uncomfortable and mine was in my neck for a week. I thought I was going to lose my mind. It was horrible.

Step 4: Harvest stem cells
Harvesting my stem cells involved getting hooked to a large, loud vibrating machine for several hours while my blood went through a machine (similar to dialysis), took out the stem cells, then put my blood back in me. It wasn't painful and I slept. I was exhausted for days after harvest.

Step 5: More chemo
For about an hour, I chomped on ice chips while heavy-duty chemo was administered into my veins. 

Step 6: Stem cells replacement
Two days after chemo, I was given back my own stem cells.

Step 7: No immune system
These are the toughest days of the whole procedure. After I got my own stem cells back, it becomes a waiting game on when the immune system comes back and when the stem cells have engrafted. During those days (about 10 total), I felt like hell. Mental and physical fatigue are horrible. And because I had no immune system, I had to sit in a hotel room watching non-stop TV and eating processed foods (nothing fresh because I could get a food-born illness). I couldn't be home, I couldn't be around my children, I couldn't do anything (not that I wanted to anyway).

Step 8: Engraftment
Once the blood work shows that there are at least 7 white blood cells, that means the body has accepted the stem cells and are reproducing and it's time to go home. 

Step 9: Recovery
For about a month post transplant, walking up stairs left me dizzy, heart racing, and buzzing. It was a slow, tough recovery process. Thinking made me tired. I had to concentrate to do anything. 

And that's what a stem cell transplant is in a nutshell.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

I found heaven (and it's in Corona)

On July 5, I found heaven in Corona, California. I spent the day with my BFF Julie, her sister Vicki, and friends Lisa and Cherise at Glen Ivy Hot Springs & Spa ( We left home at 8:00 AM and didn't get back until almost 9:30 PM. No kids, no stress, no problems. It was a lovely respite. Respite. I think that's my new favorite word. Rest. Relief. On Friday, that meant massage, mud baths, fresh spring water, sauna, fruify spa lunch, fruit smoothies, gossip magazines, lounge chairs, and girl talk. After we left, we stopped at one of my favorite places: Tom's Farms. We got dinner, fresh fruits and veggies, and sourdough bread.

Next week I get to hang out with my favorite twins: Joel and Cameron-- my friend Lisa's youngest children.

So far, I've had a few great health days. I'm still incredibly sore but fatigue has been minimal.

Julie, her mom and I were talking today about the moment I called her to tell her I had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. I didn't even remember it but apparently Julie was at Knott's. She was strong on the phone, hung up and started sobbing. That brought back some awful memories of that time in my life-- a time when my entire world as I knew it ended. How many people came to me with prayers, words of support, shoulders to cry on, you name it. Everyone with one notable exception: my husband, Bob. From him, I got comments like: "You're a drama queen! You're a thief. You're a liar. You a loser and lazy-- you just don't want to work." Revolting, shocking, pathetic and disgusting. It's times like that that true colors show in stark, bold, vivid contrasts. I'm so lucky that I've only had one person like that in my life and I certainly expect it to be the last.

And so next week, I will continue doing that which is what is most important to me: healing, creating new memories, spending time with those I love the most, resting, laughing, and loving, and bonding. Cheers!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Do you kick someone when they're already down?

When someone is already down, what should you do? Help them up? At least ignore them? Or, if you're a monster, you might keep kicking them. In fact, there are some people out there (and thank goodness it's not the norm) who think that it's perfectly fine to not just continue kicking, but to maybe jump on their head and spit on them, too.

Such is the story of Robert and Lisa. Lisa was one of my best friends growing up. She stayed in our hometown of Bishop, married her high school boyfriend, Robert, and they had four kids together. Robert and Lisa's life was far from happy. Robert became an alcoholic and drug addict and, as you can imagine, chaos ruled the day. Finally, after years of abuse, Lisa divorced Robert.

Lisa and I during one of my visits to Bishop (1999)

One day while I was at work, I got an email from our mutual friend, Beth. Lisa had just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer that had spread to her stomach and kidneys. It was a death sentence, though she tried very hard to fight it.

Lisa, Beth and I during a visit to Bishop. Lisa was undergoing chemo in an attempt to fight stage IV pancreatic cancer. She died less than three months later.

Five months after her diagnosis, I drove to Bishop to see Lisa and I knew it would be the last time I would see her. Lisa looked healthy. One would never know the horrible treatments she was going through. That's what's tricky about second-guessing someone who is fighting cancer-- sometimes they look as sick as they are, and sometimes not. With Lisa, most of her hair was still intact and she looked fantastic. Behind that fa├žade, her cancer was raging and growing by the minute. We had a great visit and I cried every time I was out of Lisa's presence. During one of our talks, Lisa told me that she knew that her marriage to Robert had made her sick. Robert's abuse had slowly poisoned her soul and her body. Yes, how well I can relate.

Because Lisa didn't have a lot of money, many people in Bishop came to Lisa's aid. Rusty's, a saloon in town, hosted a fundraiser for Lisa. That night, while Lisa was at the event, Robert showed up drunk and started screaming at her. Another time, Robert called Lisa and told her that she deserved to get cancer because she had divorced him. Shocking, disgusting, immoral and evil.

Lisa died in October 2006 just days after her 38th birthday. She left behind four children ages 15, 13, and 4-year old twins. Because Robert was in no condition to be a father, Lisa's 28 year old single sister took custody and moved them all to San Diego. She has been an incredible mother to those kids and I know there is a special place in heaven reserved for her.

Lisa's oldest daughter

Morgan with Lisa's twin sons. I used to take them for the weekend once per month. That ended abruptly when I married Bob because taking the twins for the weekend meant there would be hell to pay afterwards. I still took the twins but it went from once per month to a few times per year. I felt such huge sadness and guilt over it because I had promised Lisa on her deathbed that I would help and I felt I was letting her down.

The reality is that life with an addict is never good. Still, that doesn't excuse Robert's behavior in the wake of a cancer diagnosis. Simply, when one is down, you don't keep punching and kicking. At a minimum, you back off and walk away. I used to think that Robert was the most vile and evil person I have ever known. I now know that I, too, had my own Robert and that he was capable of the identical behavior.

The last time I was in Bishop, I visited Lisa's gravesite and talked to her for a long time. Tragically, we share many of the same experiences. I can relate to her hell and it makes me angrier and sadder than I was back then. Chaos, anger, bitterness and sickness results from that life.

After Lisa passed away, I did my best to take the twins for the weekend once every month. It gave Lisa's sister a much needed break and it allowed me to fulfill a promise I made to Lisa in the last days of her life. When I married Bob, taking the twins became much more difficult for me. While Bob paid lip service to being supportive of taking the twins, every time I did was just one more excuse Bob had to drink more and be more angry and awful. One such weekend involved the police being called out to our home to calm a raging aggressive Bob. When the police were still at the home waiting for Bob to pack his belongings and leave, Lisa's sister and her oldest daughter showed up. It was so humiliating for me. No longer could I pretend that my life with Bob was as happy as it appeared. In fact, she learned that night that I was living in hell. She distracted the children until Bob and the police left and, once they were gone, she sat with me and hugged me while I sobbed. She knew all too well what I was going through-- her sister lived it, too.

Lisa's story is tragic. I'm still haunted by her story and I think of her often. I lost so much faith in humanity with Lisa's passing and even more during my time with Bob. Time heals all wounds and, thank goodness, I have the time to heal.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Monday musings

Today I had my first visit with my new leading oncologist, Dr K. My initial oncologist, Dr Boyer, was awesome and I was so sad when he transitioned the last of his multiple myeloma patients over to Dr Zangari. Dr Boyer was going to only see leukemia patients. I never met with Dr Zangari because before I could, he announced that he was leaving to head up the University of Arkansas' MM program. I hate seeing new oncologists. It makes me nervous because I'm afraid a new doctor will tell me something that flies in the face of something the last oncologist told me and that could be bad news.

When I first was diagnosed at Kaiser in San Diego (while my husband was sending me texts about what a lazy lying loser I was who was only after his non-existent money), Dr Raja assured me that I would be around for a long time. When I transitioned to the University of Utah, I didn't sleep for days because I was so afraid of what Dr Boyer might tell me. When I got a second opinion at LDS Hospital, and a third opinion at Mayo Clinic, same thing-- fear, no sleeping, anxiety. And this was only slightly different. I didn't lose sleep, but I was definitely dreading it.

So today was it. Dr K is from Switzerland and my secondary oncologist, Dr Patel, from India. And guess what? I like them both! Dr K said that MM is becoming more and more seen as a chronic disease. I never thought I'd be so happy and relieved to hear that I have a chronic disease but, hey, when one is fighting cancer, any news that's not a death sentence is reason to celebrate. And so I will. No change in my protocol-- simply stay the course for now. That means my year of maintenance will end in late October/early November, and then we'll talk about another year or maybe more of staying on Thalidomide/Dex. Dex is awful-- the side effects can be intense, but I will power through it. Yes, I experience incredible fatigue at time. I do have bone pain that ebbs and flows. Chemo brain rages. But I'm here and I'm embracing life and all the good things I can. I'm learning about myself and becoming a better person every day (or at least I'm trying!).

Grandma Kay left today and I miss her already. Visiting with her was such a nice respite. She's a great woman-- kind, thoughtful, sweet, generous, honest and good. I love her and her family as if they were my own.

You know, my ex husband used to tell me that I had no friends, that he had so many great friends and, well, I had no one. That was so ridiculous (though, honestly, anything he could say to try and cut me down was fair game, in his opinion). Sure, he had lots of surface friends-- friends who really don't know him one tiny bit outside of drinking and diving together. But I can honestly say that I have amazing friends who know me incredibly well. And guess what? They actually like me! And, now that I think about it, my ex husband, Bob, is the only ex I've ever had who I'm not on excellent terms with. That says quite a lot, I think!

Speaking of friends, as 4th of July approaches, I'm ecstatic to see old friends, get some sun, and create new memories. Morgan is going to go camping with Devynn (my best friend's daughter) for five days. And that'll leave plenty of Siena-Mommy time. Granted, we'll be surrounded by people so we won't really be "alone" but it'll still be fun, no doubt. I look back over the past two 4th of July's and let's see... Last year (2012) we were in Washington, DC watching the fireworks from the Iwo Jima Memorial. It was so hot and humid and I was so weak as I struggled to recover from my first of two stem cell transplants. The year prior (2011), Bob and I took Morgan, Siena and Kalie on a trip to Arkansas and Tennessee. We were at Bob's friend Kevin's parents' lake house and I was bleeding and cramping from my second miscarriage of the year. I felt like hell, both physically and emotionally. Fun times.

I often wonder why all of this happened to me. I tried to take such good care of my physical body, though I neglected my emotional and spiritual health. Because I feel God's presence so powerfully at times and I know He led me down this path for a reason, I have a theory. My marriage was so horrid that it's unbelievable to me sometimes. I desperately wanted my husband to leave and never come back, but come back he did, again and again and again. Always with a promise to get help, quit drinking, and become a good man. Of course, that never happened. And me, too weak and distracted and tired to continually fight and actually force a divorce, allowed him to come back and for the abuse to continue. I wonder if God allowed this horrible disease to grow because it forced me out of that abusive relationship. I literally had no choice but to run away when I got sick-- and run away fast. Maybe God is taking care of me on the other side of illness-- I believe He will somehow save my life but in order to do that, He had to force me to end my marriage first. If that's true, well, maybe somehow this is worth it. Gosh, that's hard to write. Cancer is never worth it. But I have to believe that God knows best. He saved me once from horror (my marriage) and I know he'll save me this time around (from disease).