Thursday, July 15, 2021

Celebrate, Celebrate, Dance to the Music!

Celebrate, Celebrate, Dance to the Music

 "I feel like that needs to be celebrated." ~David Rose, Schitts Creek

Whenever I write about my younger sister, Lindsay Sommers, I'm tempted to play her hits: born on Christmas, yoga instructor, mom of two, the most resilient person I know. But over the past year, after my cancer diagnosis and a pandemic, I've learned the value of listening to the deeper cuts (thank you music friends...you know who you are). One thing I rarely mention, but deserves some recognition is Lindsay's ability to make the mundane into a celebration. She surely gets this knack from my dad, Jack Harris. 

Growing up, I remember how dad used to love to "stretch out Christmas." In our family, we open gifts one at a time, everyone taking turns. It was a rule that the opener got everyone's attention. Presents lasted hours and we took time to appreciate every gift. I intend to carry on this slow-paced gift-giving tradition with Zoe and Emmy. I love the attitude of gratitude. I have hunch...dad just never wants the fun to end. 

Lindsay loves both. She makes the small victories and big events even bigger. She plans and creates and organizes and re-organizes (maybe you can chill a little sometimes, Bud) and presents beautiful tables, hand-written notes, delicious menus, and fun activities. And the best part is, she is always there when I need to celebrate, and when ANY one of her friends or family needs a boost. Having a crappy Monday? Lindsay will be over with a Pintrest-worthy care package in 20 minutes. Break a finger nail? She's ordered you nail hardener and found a YouTube tutorial. Have kids that need to be entertained? She's come prepared with ice pops and a picnic. Need to cry because you ate too much cheese? She'll rub your back and let you cry. (Those last two are based on actual events) For her, celebrating is her way of using gratitude to "stretch out the fun."

Since I began chemotherapy at the beginning of the pandemic, I wasn't allowed visitors. As restrictions eased up a little, I was allowed to bring my mom, Michael, and my older sister, Stacy, each to one treatment. 

A few months ago, Stacy had the great idea to return to a vacation spot in New Hampshire where my family spent a few summers in the 90s. Stacy, Lindsay, and I will return to Clear Water Lodges with our husbands and kids this August. This is literally a dream-come-true. 

I met Michael on the last few days of 2009. His extremely generous parents have hosted family in their beautiful Hilton Head home for years, and I have loved every stay since 2009. We have not been able to visit since Emmy was four months old, but everyone has worked it out so we can be there in the beginning of August. 

So that's two upcoming vacations. But that's not what we'll be celebrating...

...When I started chemotherapy in April of 2020, my Carcinoembryonic Antigen, an antigen number which my doctors use to determine how bad my cancer is, was 1,248. A normal range is 0-4. Today, my number is...

...6.9!

My doctors' have determined it "safe" and have approved me to take a full cycle off of chemo!

There are signs all over the Perelman Center, where I receive treatment, that encourage cancer patients to "ring the bell!" Reasons to "ring the bell" include: the end of a treatment, the beginning of a new treatment, good news, or just because you feel like celebrating. 

So here's your prom-posal, Bud: There is no one I would rather help me ring the bell on July 26th, my last treatment before a month of vacations and celebrations, than you! Will you please go with me? 


P.S. A friend has been receiving chemotherapy after being diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Her LAST chemotherapy treatment before MAJOR surgery is July 26 and we'll be there, at PENN, at the same time. We'll both be ringing the bell.  Even more reason to celebrate! Any good vibes for my friend are as appreciated as all of those sent my way. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Defying Gravity

Defying Gravity

"There was much to hate in this world and too much to love." ~Gregory Maguire author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Remember how I said I wasn't going to lose my hair? Well, about that...I didn't. I didn't lose my hair. Not yet anyway.

It's been a while. The last post I wrote was in July 2020. So here we are in March 2021. It's been almost a year since the world shut down and since I was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. Last September I returned to Timber Creek, attempting to find some normalcy after the shock waves of March and April 2020 started to calm down. Of course, the pandemic was still affecting every strata of our lives and teaching in this new world was anything but normal. But the halls of Timber Creek were, in fact, comforting and I was glad to be home. 

So here's the health update: 

From April 2020 to September 2020 I was on a chemotherapy regimen that required I sit in an infusion chair for 5 hours every 3 weeks and then take 14 days worth of chemotherapy pills. I'd then get one week (which we refer to as my "bye week") with no drugs at all, and repeat. My numbers started going down and things were looking pretty good. My team at Penn Medicine decided that I could scale back on some of the medications (1 and a half hour infusion chair as opposed to 5). 

I returned to Timber Creek following the hybrid schedule. But...numbers started to go back up. By Halloween, it was clear my treatment was going to change again. I had to make a decision: try to figure out a way to keep teaching, or take another medical leave-of-absence. Knowing I was going back on a more intense treatment, I decided to take leave the day before my 40th birthday, which also happened to be the end of the first marking period. This decision proved necessary because when my scans came back right before Thanksgiving, my oncologist sat me down and explained my new treatment:

5 hour infusion every two weeks followed by a take-home pump which administers 42 more hours of chemotherapy. And with this treatment...I would lose my hair. 

The Broadway musical Wicked, based on a novel by Gregory Maguire, gives the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz a backstory. We see that the green, evil witch from Oz is anything but wicked. Well-intentioned, but tragically green, which Kermit tells us, "ain't easy," Elphaba, the "wicked" witch feels compelled to make some difficult decisions. Those decisions tear her a way from her dear friend, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. The two friends part ways singing, "Who can say if I've been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good." 

If you haven't seen me in a while, I should probably tell you: I got a hair cut. Since I was told I'd lose my hair, I didn't want to freak out my daughters by suddenly appearing with no hair, so I decided to cut it short. However, defying odds, my hair is not falling out. The doctors are just as surprised as I am. 

Speaking of surprises, I ruined one. I still check my Timber Creek email. Yesterday, I saw an email that I wasn't supposed to see because my Timber Creek family has been organizing all sorts of heartfelt fundraising for Colorectal Cancer Awareness month intending to surprise me by handing over all the funds to the Colorectal Cancer charity of my choice, in my name. 

The past year, but especially the past 6 months, have been surreal. Who can say if I have been changed for the better, but I can tell you, I have been changed for good. 

The worst part of chemotherapy is the nausea. Being green IS pretty hard. I've had to make some tough decisions. Thank you to the following people:

Abbe Elliott-thanks for the salon recommendation, the best haircut I've ever had, and for raising money for Colorectal Cancer research in an amazingly successful birthday Facebook fundraiser. (And thanks to all who contributed)

Stacy-for driving me to and from Penn for infusions and for baking Christmas cookies for my Penn team. 

Lindsay-for being my soulmate. And for baking muffins against your will. 

Mom-for keeping my haircut tidy and also for baking cookies for my Penn team. 

Uncles Butch and Paul-for shaving their heads in solidarity. Sorry! I don't know why I still have hair?! 

Dad-for enduring my snarky emails and for the beautiful flowers when I took leave at TC.

Michael-for making my soul smile. And for the absolute best "that's what she said jokes" 

Mom and Dad DiVietro-for your unbelievable generosity. And for those Wicked tickets back in 2013! 

Matthew and Eunice-for your unbelievable generosity. And for the beautiful hand-knit hats.

Aunt Susie-for your cards, gifts, and the hilarious dolls. 

Melissa Campanalonga-for never judging me and for always being there. 

Abbe Elliott, Jess Monroe, Carrie Clements, Maria Clements, Emily Severance, Ashley Nichols, Marissa Dugas, and Nora Hartley-for the music and laughs. (More thanksbyjess love headed your way as fast and as tasty as a pastry from Hot Damn) 

Jordana Simmons, Cathy Schliep, Mary Dressel, John Perkis, Poly Alaqua, Jenn Cicotelli, Karyn Miller, Suzanne, and Mr. Hart-for always checking on me. (But Mr. Hart, take down those giant pictures of my head!)

Brian Ernst and Jeff McCoog-for the TV advice and your patience with my ignorance. 

Colleen, Cheryl, and Lisa-for one of the nicest days in the past year, for always checking on me, and for letting me creep on our group chat. Congrats on the house, Cheryl. Evelyn is perfect, Colls. 

Beth Reilly-for the visit, the empathy, and the blanket. Sorry I'm a spaz with schedules! 

Nicole Hohl, Leyna Ambrose, Janine D'Auria, Ed Auge, Dottie Deich, Lauren & Gabe Curiale and the TC English Department-for thoughtful and generous gifts. 

Alica Truman, Emily Severance, Mr. Hart, and my whole TC Family-thank you in advance for the overwhelming love I'm already receiving in Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. 

And to Tom McGovern-I don't have the adequate words to thank you yet. Do me a favor and stick around until I figure them out.   

It's after midnight. It's now March 5th. In 11 days it will be the anniversary of the day Timber Creek (and the world) closed for COVID. In 22 days it will be my daughter, Emerson's 3rd birthday. April 1st is the anniversary of the day I found out I had Stage IV Cancer. April 2nd is my daughter, Zoe's 5th birthday. There is much to hate about the past year, but too much to love. 

I think I'll try defying gravity...