Life has resumed back to normal at the McDowell house, happily. We have had an awesome summer, and are in shock that it's almost time to go back to (pre)school and get ready for football season!!
My funky short hair has drawn lots of compliments from strangers; I am always amused to hear them comment on how cute it is and think to myself "wow, they don't know that I would never in a million years have done this on PURPOSE!"! But I do have to admit, more often than not, I do actually enjoy having super short hair - there really is something to be said for not having to blow-dry your hair every morning, especially in the summertime, and especially with a one-year old. And I have on occasion, when I got frustrated/sad to not have long hair anymore, pulled out "Fancy Nancy" and had a blast sporting a sexy long 'do while the world has no clue that it's not my real hair! Sometimes you just gotta make the best of what life gives ya!
We celebrated Ty's 1st birthday this week, with a small family gathering as well as a party for some close friends. It's hard to believe he has grown so much, and that we have made it through the past year with smiles on our faces most times and lots of fond memories to balance the not-so-good ones. Ty took his first few steps at his party, which was a fun surprise, and loved every second of devouring his cake, shoving handfuls of decadent buttercream, white cake and bavarian creme filling into his little mouth! We had a perfect celebration with those who have surrounded us with their love over the past year, and helped pull us through over the past year when we needed a hand. Cancer does teach you some valuable lessons, and for us, one of the most important lessons we learned was the depth of love and kindness we have in our support network. We love you guys - thank you for being there.
As the summer wound down, I made the decision to have my "exchange" surgery (swapping out the temporary tissue expanders for the final silicone implants) sooner rather than later. I was originally targeting late fall for the surgery, giving myself time to do a few more triathlons and running races, but decided that I would rather get this thing over with and race later (Denver half may still be in the plan... but just not as fast, as it will only be 7 weeks post-surgery) :) So I will go in on Thursday (Aug 26, a good friend's b-day for good luck!) for the surgery. Recovery will be similar to the surgery I had in April to replace the tissue expanders; a bit rough for the first week, than pretty good, other than not being able to lift over 10-pounds, which makes it hard to take care of Ty. Luckily, our families are kind enough to help us with the kiddos while I recover; and come mid-September, I'll be almost done (just some final ummm, cosmetic details to go) just in time to travel back to Indy/Cincinnati for my only nephew's 1st birthday party! Oh, and a Colts game too, since we'll be in the neighborhood. :) I'm looking forward to having breasts that feel somewhat real again (not like two tennis balls stuffed in my body) and to being done with this major step. I'll be sure to keep you updated on "the final product", but even with the tissue expanders (which are very round and incredibly porn-star-ish - see above photo!) I am pretty darn happy with them; I can honestly say that I do not miss my old girls at all. I've rocked bikinis, fitted tank tops/dresses and triathlon tops this summer and have not felt self-conscious whatsoever. Hopefully the final girls will be even better! Stay tuned... I know you're all dying to know. :)
Lastly, I am so sad to say that since I was diagnosed a year ago, I have heard about several more women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I also have a friend whose friend was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. So, since this whole "cancer thing" has apparently become an epidemic, with more and more folks being diagnosed every day, unfortunately the chances are that many of you will know someone who will be diagnosed with breast cancer, or another kind of cancer, in your lifetime. And since I know you want to help provide support and love, but aren't sure what to do, I've created Amy's top ten list of how to help your favorite cancer rock star. I sincerely hope you don't have to use it, but if you find yourself in the position of how to be the best support person you can, here it is...
10) Buy them the fuzziest, softest blanket you can find. This is especially important if they are going to undergo any kind of surgery. Encourage them to take it with them to the hospital to remind them of you. It will also come in handy at chemo sessions, post-chemo laying on the couch or anytime they need to "pet" it to bring comfort.
9) Send them a care package. Include fuzzy PJ's, books, DVDs, magazines, stuffed animals, anything you can think of to make them feel loved. Enclose a card that they can read over and over again that reminds them how much you love them.
8) Go with them to get some exercise outdoors. While they might not feel like working out in the days immediately following chemo, getting out and getting exercise with a buddy will help speed their recovery and fresh air pretty much makes everything better.
7) Plan a party or something fun that they will enjoy and will make them feel loved. I will never forget my head shaving party as one of the highlights of my life. I am so thankful that my husband never once said "no way, Aim - what a crazy idea" but instead helped me figure out which food and drinks to serve and what order we should shave our heads in (him first). After everyone left that night, and we were basking in the fun and craziness that took place that night, we said to each other "man, that was a damn good party!". Celebrating is an essential part of the cancer process.
6) Text them in the days following chemo, or leave them a funny message. A good friend left me the most hilarious message recounting some of her crazy college puking stories. I must have listened to her message a hundred times, laughing until I cried. Texting is also a good way to communicate with your cancer friend - especially right after chemo, when your friend feels too sick and tired to call you, but still wants to stay connected and feel loved. I remember thinking several times as I lay in bed, feeling terrible but getting loving messages from my friends wondering how I was, and thinking "man, this is what texting was made for!"
5) Shave your head with them! This is one of the most selfless things you can do for someone - especially if you are a female! It's not easy being bald, and knowing that there are others walking around with bald heads too, just because they love you and want to show you that "it's just hair" (which it totally is) is a pretty damn cool feeling. I know, I know, you're not sure if you could ever in a million years voluntarily shave your head. Just consider it.
4) Don't say "let me know what I can do to help" - instead, just do something. Anything. One of the best "gifts" we got was from our back door neighbors, whose teenage sons (and their buddies on the wrestling team) mowed our lawn every week, knowing that it would be one less stress for Brian and our family. Some good friends of ours came to every chemo session, and every surgery, because they wanted us to be surrounded by love and happiness. Do something big. Do something small. Just do something.
3) Participate in an event in their honor. I'll never forget Race for the Cure, walking with so many people who loved and supported me. But there were also folks who golfed in my honor, walked in my honor, ran in my honor. It's cool to know that your energy and spirit are being celebrated near and far.
2) Laugh. Cry. Laugh some more. Remind them that someday life will be normal again, and until then, you're there to help them get through it.
1) And most importantly - remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. Keep calling, e-mailing, texting, whatever, to remind them that you are always thinking about them. Call them the night before every chemo session to tell them how strong they are. Drop by with a little something halfway through treatments. Send cards every month that will make them smile. Countdown the days until the end of treatment, and by God, when it's all over, party like it's 1999!!! A bottle of good champagne (pink of course if your friend has kicked breast cancer's ass) is always appropriate.
So friends, raise your glasses in celebration of kicking ass and taking names, and to a cancer-free year (and lifetime) ahead. After my scan in November, we'll raise another glass (hey, always looking for an occasion!) and why not, let's raise one when the new girls are in town later this week too.
Amy, Brian and the boys