family

Sweet Baby James

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When I was back in Illinois last month, the timing of my visit allowed me to attend a baby shower for Boyfriend's brother (Kurt) and sister-in-law (Isabel) - a.k.a. Kurtabel. (What?  It's waaaay better than Isaburt!)  My first real, live, Polish baby shower was quite the experience, and I was thrilled to get to spend some time with Boyfriend's family.  My Mom got to come, too, giving her an opportunity to meet the whole Chowanski clan for the first time.  Grandma Chowanski, too.  It was great.

So baby Kurtabel has recently set the tone for what we already know about the rest of the Chowanskis - they do things their own way, in their own time.

James Willoughby Chowanski was due May 18, but entered the world nearly a month and a half early, on April 7, 2010.  And this little guy is running his own show, with Kurt proudly declaring (with a typical Chowanski chuckle), "He's screaming, all on his own!  All four and a half pounds of him!"

Welcome, sweet baby James.  Congratulations, Kurtabel.  Thank you, Chowanskis, for letting me be a part of your family.

More pictures from the shower here.

Baby Kurtabel Bag

Homecoming

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I've been trying to write this post for over three weeks now, but it's the post that never ends (Yes, it goes on and on, my friend...).  Edit after edit, the message had become infinitely convoluted, and I'd become increasingly frustrated.  So I scrapped the whole thing and started over.  

I'll get straight to the point, because the message is very simple:  Thank you, everybody, for an amazing visit back home.  I had so much fun!  I love you and miss you very much.  I am overwhelmed by your love and support, as always, and I can't wait to see you again.  When the weather's warmer.

And if pictures are worth a thousand words, well, then my work is done, because here's the link to the photo gallery.  Enjoy!  I know I did...

Three Amigas

"Once Upon a Time..."

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My dad writes of this 1978 photo, "...both you and your dad had hair."

How cute are we?

I'm certainly not missing my hair or saddened by the loss of it, thanks to a number of factors:

The first being that I find it quite exhilarating that I can get in and out of the shower, dressed and be out the door in 15 minutes.  That's crazy, even considering the fact I've always prided myself on being a pretty low-maintenance horse girl, comfortable popping a ball cap over a pony-tail most days.  Even when I wanted to get a bit gussied up, I was a 45-minute-max, shower-to-door-girl.  No all-day, multiple-hour beauty routine for me.  But 15 minutes?  With a shower?  Wild!

The second, of course is that Boyfriend continues to be fascinated by my baldness, loves to shave the left side of my head to help me keep it even, and tells me how cute and sexy I am, ummm, pretty much every opportunity he gets.  Feels good.  And I continue to feel like I won the Boyfriend lottery... How is it that a girl could be so lucky?  Sigh.

BUT - I have become OBSESSED with other people's hair.  I find myself staring at peoples' hair, wondering, Should I try something like THAT?  After years of KNOWING my own hair, and what I think works for me, my face, my hair type, color...suddenly there are SOOOOOOO many options.   And it would have NEVER crossed my mind to cut my hair short previously.  NEVER.  I'm going to be forced to try some short styles as it grows out.

What about highlights?  And why not some fun with colors, too?  Blonde?  Red?  Things I would have never entertained previously because the committment would be too permanent on longer hair.  People have also told me it may very well come back different - curly, thicker, finer, straighter.  I can't wait to see what I have to work with!

So in light of the fact that Monday is my LAST DAY OF RADIATION, I'm open to suggestions.  Because it's going to start growing back soon, and a girl has to think about these things!

:-D

Dad and me at the 1978 Volkswagen Club of America Convention.

Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

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It's been a rough week.  Side effects are really kicking in, then an ear infection and new antibiotics.  Just plain scary and weird to have your body in such a state...

But if you think this video of my little brother shaving his head in support is half as funny as I do, you'll get a good laugh, and we'll all get a little healing.  With positivity, laughter and LOVE.

Love you, Little Brother.

Enjoy!

A Week With Mom

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I have been having the week of all weeks with my MOM.  I'm so glad she's here to help out, and it's been so healing to have her all to myself for the week.  She's been able to drive me to all of my appointments and take me on all my errands, not to mention indulge me in a little retail therapy, all while Boyfriend can stay home and get some work done.  As my full-time caretaker, he's not had much opportunity for anything work  or self-related in a LONG time.  So throw some intense mountain bike rides and extra sleep in with the web application work he so loves (and needs to do!) while Mom and I are off doing our own thing, and he's been a VERY. HAPPY. BOYFRIEND.

So here's the health update:

Treatment is still going well, no major increase in side effects to report from the last two weeks.  Still too skinny and finding it hard to sleep at night with all the steroids, but I just try to take lots of breaks, wind down with my Tulsi Tea, and go to be early.  If I'm up at dawn, I'm up at dawn.  More meditating time.

Despite my efforts to keep my immune system strong, and I'm not one to get sick much anyway, I'm fighting a sinus cold and laryngitis.  Although all the gabbing with Mom is certainly a contributing factor to my voice problem...  And I'd like to think that some of the yuckiness that is sliding out of my nose and eyes is bits of tuber running for it's life!  ;-D

And it's official: the hair is coming out.  In clumps.  But only on the right side.  So the plan is to take it all off, eventually, maybe by the end of the week.  Lots of hats, woo hoo!  Boyfriend's excited, 'cause now we'll have the same hair-do!

Took Mom To See Stevie - Look Who Brought Carrots!

Bits and Pieces To Get You Caught Up On My Week

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A lot has happened!  And I intended to write everday, but I've been allowing Boyfriend to step in with major updates, because we're on the low-stress-for-Girlbert-program.  And I've been trying to be a good girl, despite some peaking (drug-induced) creative and physical energy.

So this is long-winded, but hopefully broken down into enough chunks that you can all manage, whether you choose to skim it over or swallow it whole.  I did attempt to put in some kind of order of importance...

Medi-Cal Continues To Give Me Seizures
    Boyfriend touched on this in his birthday post from yesterday, but after 7 months of hoops with Medi-Cal, I have been informed of denial due to a technicality.  My case has been closed, and I will have to appeal the denial, as well as REAPPLY and start the process over to get the ball rolling back in my court again.  7 months, people.  And this is after my Ninja Neurologist got me on the fast-track to approval with a letter stating that I may not be alive in a year without treatment.  Unbelievable, but as always, we'll deal.  We're putting our heads down with some social workers and lawyer friends, and we'll get it turned around.  The squeaky wheel plan continues.

Treatment Is Going Well
I am really happy to report that two weeks into chemo and radiation, I've had no debilitating side effects.  All the medication I'm on has side effects, don't get me wrong, but I'm managing very well with rest, good food, a regular schedule, and loads and loads of meditation to keep my mind in order.  My docs warned me that the irritation of radiation would cause some more swelling and sure enough, my seizures have increased a bit - I have one or two mild, conscious episodes a day, but only one like the episode Boyfriend wrote about on Friday, and nothing like that since.  I took my activity level down a notch (steroids make me feel like Superwoman!) after Friday, and my Ninja Neurologist tweaked my seizure meds and added a sedative/anti-seizure drug for me to take at night to sleep.  

My docs have all warned me that the further I get into radiation, the more side effects I may experience, as the tuber dies off (ba-bye little tuber!), and my brain may become more irritated throughout.  But we're all prepared to deal - I'll get to take more naps, maybe!

The oral chemo is going really smoothly.  The anti-nasuea drug seems to be doing the trick, not to mention I take my one, oral dose right before bed on an empty stomach.  My only complaint is that one of the major side effects is, of course, CONSTIPATION.  So despite the fact we're still pretty high raw, juicing like fiends, and I'm downing water like it's going out of style, hello hemmoroids!  Good times, but not that I don't have the experience to handle it.  So back to Alice I'll go, as necessary.  I'll need a good cleanse when this is all over, anyway.

So just how is Au-Naturale-Girlbert and her complementary treatment plan really feel about all the drugs and western medicine?  That it's the right thing for my body, right now.  I'm grateful for it, and know this is the route I need to take to heal my body, and ELIMINATE THE TUBER.  But I'm asking LOTS of questions.  Every side effect, every medication and dosage change.  And my doctors have thoroughly explained to me the necessity and purpose of each drug so that I understand the benefits for any detriments.  My comfort level with all of it is quite high.  My only concern is that my mind stay sharp and functional, and hasn't seemed to be an issue with all the increased spiritual practice.  My mind is as clear and grounded as it's ever been, despite all the drugs.  I couldn't feel more blessed.

About My Weight
Many of you have asked if I'm eating.  Yeah, I'm skinny.  Too skinny.  Skinnier than I've ever been, but I'm ravenous!  But I agree that checking in at 5'8" and under 120 pounds is a bit disconcerting (haven't weighed anywhere near that since MIDDLE school!), so I asked Uber-Oncologist Dr. G, about it before I even began treatment.
"I have one more question."  At 6pm, the tail-end of our squeezed-in appointment to get some questions answered before I begain treatment the following week.
"Sure - what's that?"  He turned toward me, from the computer monitor full of my scans and charts.
"I've lost a lot of weight - more than 15 pounds in a couple of months - is that the steroid making my metabolism go wild or something?  I though steoids were supposed to make me gain wight.  My energy has been really high, and I know they have that effect, too."
"How's your appetite?"
"I've been ravenous."
"Have you been thirsty?  Having to urinate a lot?"
"Really thirsty and I have to pee all the time."
"Hmm.  Your blood sugar was pretty high in the hospital," he referred to his computer screen for reference, "126.  Steroids can cause diabetes."
The tears came instantly.  "That's in my family history," I whimpered.  The D-word.  After watching many family members struggle with diabetes, my ultimate health goal had been to keep myself from ever having to hear a doctor tell me I had the D-word.  Cancer schmancer.
Dr. G shook his head reassuringly.  "Dont worry - medically-induced diabetes is totally reversible.  But we'll check your blood sugar in your blood tests anyway to make sure."
My blood test the next day showed my blood sugar back to normal.  Whew.

In the meantime, I shared this story with my brother, who shares my ultimate health goal of avoiding the D-diagnosis.
Perhaps channelling our Grandma T's (sometimes inappropriate) sense of humor, he exclaimed, "Oh my - 118 pounds?  Brain cancer is like the best weight loss program ever!"

And we laughed, because we're Tomlins.

About That Trip Up North...
Boyfriend already touched on this in his earlier post, and I've been meaning to, oh, but for the time of really doing the words justice!

Here's the bomb: Following my treatment at the end of November, we'll be moving up to Marin County, CA - the lovely town of Fairfax, to be precise.

So you remember that trip, over a month ago, now?  I experienced a profound shift while visiting our dear friends in Fairfax, and sensed an overwhelming connection to the place as a healing center.  A mecca, even.  Upon driving into town the first time, we came upon healing center after local market, after meditation retreat center after organic restaurant after holistic health care office, and my only thought was that this was the place for me.  Seem abrupt?  All I can say is that it immediately resonated with me at such a high level, it couldn't be ignored, and the 7 days we spent there only confirmed what I knew in that initial moment.  Boyfriend and I both experienced a huge shift in our relationship during our stay, and we're not attributing that to any accident.  We also deepened our relationship with the dear friends who put us up for the week, and can hardly wait to live in their community.  Not to mention a much better proximity to a major University Hospital, more dear friends, and the Neuro-Accupuncturist I will continue to see throughout my healing journey.  The utmost importance has been placed on my health, increased autonomy, adjacency to nature, proximity and access to like-minded, spirit-driven people, continued healing,  and happiness.

Friends and Family Visiting
I've just wrapped up well-timed visits from friends and family this week.  A great girlfriend from Wisconsin was here over the weekend with her little boy, and such a treat to spend time with them - it'd been over a year since I'd seen her last.  The magic of spending time with children - very healing.  Then my baby cousin (okay, so she's 24!), whom I haven't seen for over 12 years, and her boyfriend stayed with us Wednesday night, and I couldn't be more thrilled to see her and connect with out-of-touch family at this time in my life.  The universe continues to astound...

Relief Is On The Way
In the form of more family coming in to help out, as Boyfriend and I continue to manage schedules, work, and appointments.  We couldn't be more thrilled that my mom will be here next Tuesday for eight days to help out with driving, erranding, cooking and whatever.  Not too mention lots of hugs and love.  Just the relief of not having to drive me to treatment everyday will free up Boyfriend's schedule immensely to get some much needed work done, which will help our financial situation tremendously.  Then Boyfriend's parents will be coming on November 4th for about two weeks, and we're are thrilled for the company and help. They have lots of friends in CA, too, to they're looking at it as a double treat.  Can't wait to see you all.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

That about wraps it up!
Please keep in mind that I share my journey on this blog because I believe it is a powerful tool to help me heal.  Your traffic, your comments, your positive energy - I FEEL all of it, and be assured that what you put out into the universe in a loving way will come back to you in amazing and profound ways.  So leave your love here, and you'll heal yourself...

Grandma

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Today is my late Grandma Tomlin's 100th birthday.  Even as a silly, eye-rolling (all grandchildren do that, right?) kid, I appreciated my Grandma's incredible strength, humor, and that she was a horse girl, like me.  As I got older, I recognized and admired how she held her incredible strength and sense of humor through all things.  Grandma "T" was a divorced, single mom in the fifties, LONG before it was the thing to do, and she raised my dad to amazingness in spite of how hard it must have been.  She never stopped laughing, and making all of us laugh, even as her body and mind began to fail her before she passed away.

To celebrate this big day for Grandma and I, I'd like to share a funny story about my most recent stay in the hospital.

I had been meditating in my hospital bed, Boyfriend sound asleep to my left, when the nurse came in to take my vitals at 5:50am.
"Good morning, I'm Jenny.  Sorry to wake you, but I need your vitals."
"It's okay - you already get brownie points because your name is Jenny - one of my closest friends is a Jenny."
"Well actually the latin version is Juanita, but I go by the American version because I like it better."
"Really?  I didn't know the American version of Juanita was Jenny.  Juanita was my grandma's name.  I guess it's no coincidence I like Jennys, huh?"
Or that I had just been talking to Grandma T.

I have long sought out Grandma's strength and humor during my own hard times, knowing that I hold some piece of her within me.  And it never fails - Grandma has always been there when I need her.  So I'm celebrating her all the more today by taking her with me as I go for my first radiation treatment. 

Happy birthday, Grandma.  Thank you.

A horse girl like me - Grandma T aboard Sammy

Idiosyncrasies and Acquired Character

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Whether you want to be like your parents or not, you always have much more in common with them than you think.  Their characters become part of your character.  Where do you think your quirks come from?  Some of your best qualities as well as what you'd might consider flaws?  Our parents are  our greatest teachers because they're our mirrors.  Next time you're complaining about something that your parents do that drives you up a wall, think about whether that is something that you'd like to change about yourself.  Because you can't change them, but you can change yourself.

My parents, Boyfriend and I were having dinner last night, and as I went to cut my corn off the cob, my mother asked me, "Where and why did you learn to do that?"  Everyone else was picking up their corn cobs and just eating the corn directly.

"Oh, I do that because I don't like the corn in my teeth.  I saw someone do it at a dinner party somewhere, and thought it was a good idea."

Mom declared, "I always wondered about that, because you didn't get it from us."

Dad concluded, "So you just pick up random idiosyncrasies from people?"

Not sure that cutting my corn off the cob suffices as a random idiosyncrasy, but whatever.  "If they seem like a good idea.  But I carry a paper towel in my hand everywhere I go - because you do."

My dad smiled at himself and chuckled.  "Well, I got that from your grandmother, she always had to have a tissue in her sleeve."

What are your parentally-acquired idiosyncrasies..uh, I mean, character traits?

Mom and Dad at the Mission

Mom and Dad at the Mission
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