Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ch-ch-changes

I have resisted using this blog for my quilting adventures, other than mentioning one or two items that I felt blog-worthy ... but that is about to change.

I've got someone helping me with a new look (actually customized instead of one of the generic templates!) and I have a big announcement that I will be making soon.  For now, though, I will start heading in this new direction with a few photos of quilty goodness.  Enjoy!

Mini pin cushion for mamacjt.  Love that she asked for rainbow colors and something small!

Mugrug for my hubby.  He's a major Whovian, so I was glad to join up with the Dr. Who-a-long on flickr.
Mini quilt for my partner in the Doll Quilt Swap at flickr.  I've participated a few times, but this was one of my favorites! (Sorry for the blurry photo ... that's what happens when I try to Instagram something instead of taking a real photo.)




I started this mini quilt for swap, but it got no love from my partner.  Instead of sending it to her, I put it aside and finished it up later to give to a friend from my Gilda's Club quilting group.
This little mini was for the Little Quilt - Sew, Vote, Swap group on flickr.  I stepped outside my comfort zone and made something unusual for me after coming across an inspiration piece online.  If you see the similarities between this and a piece at an online quilt shop, PLEASE let me know so I can give credit to the original creator/creation.  I've searched fruitlessly and been unable to relocate it.


And last but not least, a couple of bee blocks for March.  I was about two weeks late getting these out.  That's what moving during the busy season at work will get you!  I love the pattern chosen by the queen bee, and her fabric colors were so darling!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Where It's At (I Got Two Turntables and a Microphone)

I wrote this post last year when I found out one of my friends from high school had died.  I didn't have the heart to post it then, but today was her birthday.  Happy birthday, Gwen, we're still thinking of you.

Yesterday a friend died.  I hang out at a place for people who have been touched by cancer, so I know how inevitable death is.  Sometimes I even expect it.  It's hard to watch someone suffer a brain tumor - someone who was a way cool dad of two young children and a pretty wife.  But I know that's the price I pay for hanging out with folks like me.

But the death of this friend was unexpected.  And maybe that's why it felt like such a punch in the gut.

Her death sent me down that philosophical path that we all travel as we hit middle age and come face to face with our own mortality.  I've had my fair share of that little tete-a-tete over the past year and a half, but once you're past the initial stage where you actually have to consider that you might be the next one to kick the bucket, you sort of forget about it and go on with life.

I'm sad.  

There's really no other way to describe it, this feeling of knowing that I'll never see this high school friend's witty comments on Facebook again.  Or that we'll ever get to share that lunch that never happened.  We both had good intentions, but we got caught up in living.  She lost her job and her house, and had to move back home with her folks.  I found out I had cancer and turned all of my attention to surviving (with grace) each of the steps I had to take until I found my new normal.  The jury's still out on what that will be, but I know now that it will not include us laughing and sharing.

She and I weren't close friends in high school.  We only had a couple of classes together, and our lives were very different.  I wasn't jealous of her, but compared to my boring and uneventful existence, she seemed to be . . . in the thick of things, where stuff happened.  I was fascinated by the stories she told because they were dramatic, exciting - full of action.

We didn't stay in touch.  But then the internet happened, and Facebook gave us the chance to reconnect.  After the bubble of the high school social scene was burst, it seemed crazy how many things we had in common.  

We were both teachers, had gone to graduate school to get our MAEd.  She loved her pets and her students, and maybe I'm the same way.  We both felt like the social dynamics of high school, and all that THAT loaded statement implies, made us the adults that we became.

It seems like when mortality raises its ugly head and announces that we are all fragile beings that I just want to ask:  what was the point of her death at such a young age?

The reality is, there wasn't one.  Death is neither good nor bad, it just is.  As sure as you are living, you know you will die.  It happens to us all in the end.  But we see death as the enemy for what it takes from us, and sometimes, if we're lucky, we get to see what a friend's life can really mean to us before death happens.

I'm glad that this friend and I got to spend time together with late night chats in the middle of summer break.  I only wish we'd gotten to do it more often. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Crossroads

Over the past couple of years, I feel like my career has taken a real beating.  I admit there are days when I enjoy my time on my own to the fullest, but it's hard for my ego when I realize that I have basically become a babysitter to two dogs.  I'm not on sitting on the couch eating bonbons and watching soap operas all day long, but it feels like my sole purpose sometimes is to keep them from barking at every little noise they hear.

Don't get me wrong, I love my mutts.

But, I had a career in my old life (a successful one, I might add, with room for promotion), and I was somebody.  People depended on me, I made important decisions, I scheduled vacations.  And that was before I decided to go back to school to get my MA and be a high school teacher.  Don't even get me started on how important that was to me.

Right before moving to Nashville, I was finally doing what I'd hoped to do from the moment I went into teaching:  I was teaching college classes.  Granted, I was adjunct faculty and worked part time, but I really had the best of two worlds.  My students were still in high school and they were earning dual credit through their high school and through the university.  They were motivated to do good work (not necessarily the case with most high school      college students), they had good attendance, and they wanted to learn.  It was a beautiful thing.

I had planned to work on my PhD eventually - see, I'd gone back and gotten my second MA in history at the local university because quite frankly, that is what is expected of teachers if they want to continue to get raises.  I didn't exactly go back to school just to please the people who pull the strings in the education field, but it was supposed to be a side effect if I decided to stay in secondary education.

However.

This is where life comes in.

My husband makes the bigger income in this household.  It hasn't always been this way, but I have no issues with this.  I am not one of those folks who gets worked up about who might be the more important person in our relationship based on money.  That's just not my style.

But it does determine where we live, because we made that decision a while back.

So what?

Well, that means that I only applied to one PhD program, one right here in Nashville.  I knew it wasn't a good fit for me and that it was pretty much a long shot from the get-go, and as I expected, I didn't get in.  Now, there is a PhD program here in Tennessee that would be a good fit, but I just don't think I have it in me to commute or live away from home.  I've had enough of commuting to last a lifetime, and I got over being separated from my husband for the 7 months he was here in Nashville and I was still in Kentucky.  So I haven't bothered to jump through all the hoops that are necessary to apply to that program, even though I think I would really really enjoy it.

As it turns out, me being off work/free of school obligations was probably the best thing for me since my part-time job became going to the doctor, sitting through chemo infusions, and recovering from surgery (it took me a long time to get to a good place physically after my mastectomy).

Unfortunately, it's not like I could cram everything into a few months and be done - treatment takes time, even when things are going your way.  I remember when I had my first meeting with my surgeon and my oncologist, they explained how my treatment plan should go.  They basically laid out that I had a year of working on my health, but that by the end I should be able to come back around to a more normal way of life.

That was mostly true.  Only they left out the part where I would have to wait a year before reconstruction and then I would need down time to recover from that.  Yesterday I was filling out an online application, and it hit me how much time I've really lost, as I filled in dates for when I completed this degree, left that job, and so on.  It was depressing.

Anyway, here I am now, thinking of what I'm going to do when school starts back.  I miss being in the classroom, and I've paid my fee to the devil (otherwise known as ETS) so that I am certified to teach here in Tennessee.

But I know how this field works.  There aren't going to be a lot of jobs available right now, and schools want to hire people they know.  I suspect that if I want to ever teach full time in this area, I'm going to be subbing for a year, at the very least.  Do you know how very little that pays and how much crap you have to put up with when doing this thankless job?

I do -- I did it for a couple of years before I got my first full-time teaching job.  So for now, I'm just unsure it's worth it.  The education industry (and yes, it is an industry, make no mistake about it) is not the best field for people who really care about teaching right now anyway.  It's ruled by small minded leaders who have one concern - getting reelected.  Not exactly a great formula for getting kids the education that can make their lives better.

I guess that leaves me right back where I started when I finished graduate school.  Do I bite the bullet and apply for a PhD program that would be a lot of work, a fair amount of money, and not a lot of great prospects for job employment?  Or do I sub for a year and hope I make friends with the right people in some local school administration?

Or do I do something radical and consider a serious career change?  There is a high demand for nurses in this area, and that's only going to get greater in the next few years.  I know that moving to a field like that would mean even more time in school, but it would probably be less $$ than a PhD program, and I would have much better career prospects.  Added to that, in future I might be able to teach nursing after a few years of experience.  I keep hearing all kinds of news stories about how there is an even bigger shortage of people to teach nursing classes than there is of nurses themselves.

Thoughts?  Ideas?  I'm very nervous about going back to teaching school with all the BS that I hear in the news about education right now.  I don't think we're going to figure out the problems in this country's education system anytime soon, and I got tired of feeling beat up by administrative decisions when I was in the classroom.  I'd love to hear from anyone who's been there, done that, or who has had an epiphany in the world of careers.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Spread the love

I know, I know, two posts in one week.  This might be a record for me, but don't worry, I'm sure I won't be able to pull it off for two weeks in a row.  But for now, I'm patting myself on the back.

This week I am celebrating a lot of things.  I'm out of the hospital and that was the last HUGE step that I had to take on my cancer journey.  I'll still probably have to have "revision" as it is called, where my plastic surgeon goes in and fixes things that didn't come out quite the way I would want (such as edge of scars and so on).  It also means nipples, which my plastic surgeon has really been promoting.  I care nothing about a "revision" such as that, but he says they're important because they will break up the scar line that is front and center on each of my new girls. ;)  

TMI?  If so, I apologize.  But I find the whole process to be one of TMI from the get-go.  Maybe it's just the way my generation was trained to think.


Now, on to other good news.  

I have had quite a bit of downtime over the past couple of years due to circumstances beyond my control.  Since I know that being at home full-time isn't really something that I am very good at, I knew I had to develop a strategy or two to keep myself sane.

To give my hands and my brain something to do, I've really focused on quilting as a hobby.  Before moving to Nashville, I'd already started to dabble a bit (a very TINY bit, I might add) in quilting, sort of as a relief valve for graduate school.  There was a local group that met at the local extension office once a week and it happened to be when I was free, no classes no GA duties.

That group opened my eyes to so many possibilities!  I know most of them probably don't even have computers, or if they do, they don't use them the way most folks I know do.  They were from another generation, and I had a blast hanging out with them, listening to their stories, learning their histories.  To me, that sort of sums up what quilting is all about.

Sharing.  History.  A personal, handmade gift.


This year, I participated in the Hands2Help charity project hosted by Sarah Confessions of a Fabric Addict.  I did this last year and when I saw her post this year, I knew I was going to jump right in again.

If there is one thing that I've learned over the past two years, it's the power of internet love.

I know I've mentioned this before, but I have to say it again:  I have been lifted up as much by my online friends as those here in my real life.  And I don't think that's something that I'll ever forget.

To me, the best way to thank and honor all those folks who have supported me is through doing the same for others.


This year, I made a quilt using some of my bee blocks.  I have friends who don't understand why I'm drawn to online swaps, but looking at the final product here, I think it's self evident.  I had many blocks from people all over the world (okay, I don't really have any from Asia or South America) and in patterns that I don't know if I would have tried.  So I also want to give a shout out to my Star Bee Block peeps.  You girls rock, and I couldn't have done this without you.

This quilt went to a charity that is near and dear to my heart, a charity called Happy Chemo.  That is a nice warm hug you see hanging there, and it will go to someone else who is now sitting in the chemo chair.  :)


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

New Me, New World

I wanted to write a post a few weeks ago to let everyone know about my upcoming reconstruction surgery ... unfortunately, I had so much that I wanted to fit in before I went into the hospital that I never wrote it.

So here I am, POST surgery and tada!  I am a new me.
Yep, here I am in all my crappy hair glory.  I'm so sick of it.  Please ignore the sewing mess behind me.  I can only pick up five pounds or less and am unable to bend over to put fabric away in the bins under my bed (that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.).
Reconstruction, in my mind, is not for the faint of heart.  Yes, Angelina Jolie did her thing and she probably did removal and reconstruction all in one fell swoop.  Good for her, that means things were easier for her. Plus, she fits into a group know as the "previvors."  Those are the women who opt to do surgery, be it oopherectomy or mastectomy, prophylactically (did you just giggle at that word?  'Cause I sure did.), instead of waiting to see if cancer strikes.

I sort of fit into both camps, but because I am an actual SURvivor, as in, yes, I had the big C and I'm still around to talk about it, my options for reconstruction were more limited than what those brave young previvors have to choose from.

Although my oncologist never really talked about how BIG my tumor was until after I brought it up, it was of a size that warranted, based on the best research available to date, 30 or so doses of radiation on the chest wall where my tumor had been located.  I now kind of regret following along with this part of treatment for a variety of reasons, and if you are ever in a position to where you are considering such a thing, I'd be happy to share those reasons with you.  But in the interest of keeping things short and sweet, I'll leave those details out at the moment.

The reality for me is, I DID opt for radiation, and radiation changes things, especially the skin.  As a result, implants aren't a very good option, and if your doctor recommends an implant behind irradiated skin, I encourage you to do a little research.  You can do a google search, you can go to facing our risk, or you can read the same book that I did - The Breast Reconstruction Guidebook, by Kathy Steligo.  It's a bit out of date (2007, I believe), but it has all the options listed inside.

If you live in an area where any of the flap surgeries are not an option, I would consider going elsewhere.  What a pushy thing to say, I know, but it's your body, NOT your surgeon's, and you have to live with the consequences of your choices.  Your surgeon does not.

Let me reiterate:  I had radiation treatments, therefore, I had a flap surgery.  To be precise, I had the DIEP flap reconstruction.  That basically means that I had arteries from my stomach muscles removed in the lower part of my abdomen, and then I had a chunk of flesh cut out of my lower abdomen to make  each of my new breasts.  It was basically like a tummy tuck and boob job all in one.

Did I mention that I've always been a squeamish person?

It's amazing to me that we have reached an age in medical know-how that a plastic surgeon could do such a thing with minimal impact on any of my muscles and none of my organs.  Aside from the harvesting of blood vessels, everything was pretty much done on the outside of my body.

It doesn't mean that recovery is as quick as with implants, though.

Today I'm two weeks out from surgery.  In a lot of ways I'm in better shape than I thought I would be, and in others, I feel ... I feel like I'm never going to get past this.

I have pretty good range of motion in my arms, something that completely surprised me.  After my mastectomy, it took months before I got to a point to where I felt like I was in good shape.  It took over a year before I could get out of the tub by myself with any grace.  I won't be taking any baths soon because of my incisions, but I don't feel like my upper body strength is totally gone either.

My stomach, on the other hand is going to be something I have to get used to.  As you can imagine (or as you can see, if you're like me and google images of stuff like this), I have an incision from hip to hip, a nice big wide grin of staple teeth, and I have a very large patch in my upper abdomen of pure numbness.  That's almost more disconcerting than all the rest of it.  And smack dab in the middle of all that lack of feeling, I have a belly button nose, surrounded by sutures.  I'm not sure if my surgeon had to actually remove my belly button while he was doing his thing and put it back or what, but I knew that my belly button would be affected because of some of the stories other women have written.

Thankfully, I have a compression belt that I have to wear constantly for the next six weeks.  I think it's to provide stability to my core while I heal, but that's just me thinking out loud.  I plan to ask this afternoon.

Oh, did I not mention?  Today is the day for removal - removal of my last drain, my staples, and the remaining stitches.  Based on how I felt after the other three drains were removed, I will probably be sore tomorrow and maybe the next day, but the part I am dreading most is the belly button stitches.  I can barely stand to feel/not feel something like that.  Hard for me to describe, but I guess it's where I can feel the tugging in the muscles and surrounding tissues, but feel nothing in the stitched skin itself.

Incidentally, I want to put this out there, too.  If you have stage one cancer and your surgeon only offers to do a DIEP flap surgery for you, GET A SECOND OPINION.  If you want a flap surgery, that's fine, but make sure you know what ALL your options are before you settle.  I had a friend who got conned into having a DIEP flap reconstruction, and it died.  Her very arrogant surgeon never even told her about implants as an option because, sniff sniff, that sort of thing wasn't the kind of work he did.

I'm not going to get into the whole implants for vanity's sake are bad, because that's not really for me to decide.  If a plastic surgeon doesn't want to do that sort of thing because his standards are above that, I don't really have anything to say about that either.

But if a woman with breast cancer wants to have reconstruction, and 'you don't do implants,' then it is your responsibility to make sure that she still knows it's an option for her - with another surgeon.  Ladies, we have to take care of ourselves on this.  Just because I put a call for ethical surgeons to share what they know does not mean that the less than ethical ones will tell you all the facts.  Make sure you learn the right questions to ask.

So now I'll hop off my soap box and get on with my day.  I still need to brush my teeth (sorry, my schedule's been very willy-nilly since surgery) and I think I'm going to work on getting a bit of my triangle border finished for my Marcelle Medallion quilt.  I seldom jump on the bandwagon of the blogosphere or flickr or instagram, but this quilt is too luscious and challenging for me to pass up.

Wish me luck, all good people, and I should be back here before the end of the week to talk about a completely different project.

PS - sorry for the lack of photos, but I just didn't feel like I wanted to share too much.  I may want to teach again someday, and while any nudity that would be included here would be strictly for informational purposes, I have to play it conservative to be on the safe side.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday.  Well, mine and The King's, but I'm still around to celebrate it and he's not, so I'm claiming this date all for myself.  :)

I may have seen The Life of Brian too many times during my college years.
 I blame it on no cable and no reception - what other choice did we have,
but to watch the only movie in our possession until we knew it by heart??
I have had a fabulous year, although it might not seem like it to anyone on the outside looking in.  When faced with cancer, I knew I had to choose the glass half full scenario, so many little things have brought me great joy over the past few months.  This is not normally my perspective, but positive thinking and good health go hand in hand, so I adapted.

Which is why I am going to ask a favor and assume that you will help me out.

Over the past year, Gilda's Club of Nashville has been a huge part of my life as a cancer survivor.  If you don't know Gilda Radner, she was a Saturday Night Live comedienne who was struck down in the prime of her life with ovarian cancer - the silent killer.  Before she died, she started the first Gilda's Club in New York or LA (sorry, my memory on this detail seems to be failing me right now) so that people dealing with cancer - either as a patient or as a family member or friend - could come together and create a supportive network and pool their experiences.

"Elephant Walk," made in the ticker tape style.  I love this little mini quilt.
Initially, I joined Gilda's Club for the weekly quilting group.  I don't talk about quilting too much here because I can't seem to commit to writing about it on a regular basis, but it was one of the few activities that I could continue no matter what 2011/2012 threw at me.  What I didn't expect was the openness and sharing of the other members, and how important their experiences could be for me.  Some of the information those ladies have shared has helped me to make better treatment decisions, and for that, I am so grateful.

My activities at Gilda's also include a guided imagery class.  Before I started attending, I had already downloaded some meditations from Amazon and iTunes, but they couldn't prepare me for the meditative experience when a real live instructor is in the room.  I am continually amazed at how relaxed I am each week at the end of this class.  In my heart of hearts, I know that guided imagery enhanced my ability to remain calm in the face of a life-threatening illness, and that it also helped my body to respond positively to the chemo and Herceptin.  If you ever get a chance to attend a guided imagery class, I encourage you to do so.  Being centered isn't just a phrase for me anymore, and I wish I could explain how spectacular the experience can be, but it's something you have to find out for yourself.

"NavStar." This mini was definitely a learning experience in so many ways.
All of this has been free for me - I haven't paid anything for my membership at Gilda's.  Snacks and drinks are always there for members.  The sewing machines, thread, cutting mats and rotary cutters are all provided in my quilting group.  They have a ton of other activities, such as yoga, tai chi, support groups for different types of cancers, cooking classes and so on.  And it is all free.  Anyone who has ever been touched by cancer can join.

Charley Harper rocks, and I had a blast making this for my oncologist.
Here's where the favor comes in.

Gilda's Club of Nashville has several fund raisers all year long, but their biggest is the Country Music Half Marathon.  St. Jude's organizes it (the fee paid to participate is St. Jude's fundraiser), and Gilda's Club asks for volunteers to walk or run the half-marathon.  This time last year I wasn't able to join in, but I decided then that if I was able, I would walk the half-marathon this year. Just last January, I was trying to last for 20 laps around the U-shaped parking lot of the condos behind ours.  This year I plan to walk 13.1 miles and raise $750 in the process.  Has it really only been a year??

I am asking for your help.  Will you sponsor me?  You can see my profile at FirstGiving, so please donate - and while there, be sure to admire my pink hair.  :)  It's gone now, but I miss it and may go pink again in future.  I haven't decided, but I may do t-shirts or perhaps something quilty? for my donors.  I am not shy asking you to donate, so please don't be shy about telling me your preferences.

"Beauty and the Beholder."
This piece is all about me, and I want to do another like it.
It's funny, I think about my life one year ago, and it's amazing how far I've come.  Last birthday, I'd finished chemo the week before and had a shiny new noggin (well, not so new exactly, but newly shiny, lol) to show for it.  I was getting ready to go visit my sister and other family members because I missed Christmas and Thanksgiving due to the infection risk.  I took that in stride because I knew that chemo and a compromised immune system then meant that I would very likely be around to celebrate the holidays with my peeps this year.  It all worked out well.  :)

Anyone who lives in the Nashville area, come on out and support us if you have the chance.  From what I have read, there is live music all along the marathon route, so it should be a lot of fun for everyone.  Or, if you are so inclined, join us as a member of Gilda's Gang - you don't have to be a member to be a fundraiser.  And if you can't support in either of those ways, maybe you could just do me the favor and share this post with others.  Any way you can help me, I appreciate it.

If you are unable to donate (and believe me, I understand - if I'm lucky, I'll be able to go back to work full time in another year or so), I still thank you from the bottom of my heart.  The support I have had from the online community has been phenomenal and I can't thank everyone enough - the cards, packages, and well-wishes/prayers have lifted me up throughout this past year.  All that support, as a matter of fact, is the reason that I'm pushing myself to do this.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Pass It On

Ever play that game as a child? No?  No big deal, because that's not what this post is about.

This year, there have been so many blessings for me throughout my cancer journey.  Cards, gifts, emails, good vibes and prayers all came my way, and many of them were from people like you, dear reader.  People I have never met in person but who I have met online.

While I've been blessed, I've also had a lot of not-so-quality time here at home.  Time where I didn't feel like I could handle a job, but time where I needed something to do.

Remember the post about the string quilt?  It was so successful that I decided that I really wanted to join in with other charity events when they came my way.

Enter Sarah Craig, a fellow breast cancer survivor from the same area.  She hosts an event each year called the Hands2Help project, and quilters like me have the perfect opportunity to make something for a good cause.  This year, there were two options, and you can read about them here if you like.  If you are a quilter (or know someone who is), then you can always join in and offer up your own donation.  I made a quilt for the second option, Happy Chemo.  I've done my time in that chair, and I know what it's all about.  Here's to hoping that someone else can have a better chemo day because they can cuddle up under my quilt.

I have to say a big thanks to Sarah, because without her, I never would have known about this opportunity for me to make a quilt for someone else, and this baby might have stayed in my UFO pile for another year.  Yes, that's right, I made this quilt top last year when I first decided to start quilting, but I didn't need it, and didn't really know what to do with it.

Until now.
And that makes me happy.

Pattern was created by Elizabeth Hartman of Oh, Fransson!  You can see here free tutorial here.  Happy quilting!  :)