Category Archives: health

Replacing Buts (Not Butts)

storm

I’ve started seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist to address my anxiety. I’ve done a lot of traditional therapy over the years, but this is the first time I’ve approached my excessive worry from a behavioral standpoint. I’m only a few sessions in, but and so far it’s been kind of mind-blowing.

I crossed out that “but,” because one of the strategies I’ve learned is to replace “but” with “and” to remove negative bias. For instance, if I say, “Dinner was delicious but the service was slow,” I let the pessimistic part win. I diminish the fact that the food was good. If I say, “Dinner was delicious and the service was slow,” I still feel pretty good about the meal I ate. It’s a small tweak that has an enormous impact on my automatic thought process, which tends to thrust me down a perilous rabbit hole of fear and negativity.

For example: I have a headache. I don’t usually have headaches. This is weird. Something must be wrong. I must have a brain tumor. I’m going to die.

My fellow anxiety suffers, amirite?

I do this dangerous dance often with my health. In my defense, when you try to have a baby but (and?) get cancer in your uterus instead, an onslaught of irrational worry isn’t so farfetched. It happens with my writing, too. Imposter Syndrome is a beast. Another breeding ground of angst is my children, both of whom are anxiety triggers I lovingly live with day in and day out.

As any parent will attest, kids are a constant source of concern, but and when you have anxiety, concern occasionally turns into calamity without warning because anxiety is a shitty friend.

Lately, I’m fixated on school because I have one child, in particular, who is incredibly bright but detests school. Hold up. I have one child, in particular, who is incredibly bright AND detests school. Better.

I’m a successful product of public schools and my kids are enrolled in an excellent public school district, but parenthood has woken me up to how kids with learning challenges, sensory differences, and special needs struggle to fit in the neat and tidy boxes for which most classrooms are equipped and teachers are trained.

Did you catch that? Classrooms are crap! Teachers are crap! My kid is going to slip through the cracks! His spirit will be crushed! He’ll fail out of school!

I’m ridiculous. Let’s try that again.

I’m a successful product of public schools and my kids are enrolled in an excellent public school district, AND parenthood has woken me up to how kids with learning challenges, sensory differences, and special needs struggle to fit in the neat and tidy boxes for which most classrooms are equipped and teachers are trained.

Can you feel the difference? I turned out great and my kids are in an awesome school AND there are challenges. Now, the positive and negative parts of this story have equal value, and I’m empowered to tackle the problems and advocate for solutions. Everything’s going to be okay, but and I have a serious “but” problem.

School is important, BUT there’s too much homework, BUT there’s not enough recess, BUT there’s too much sitting, BUT there’s not enough STEM, BUT the classes are too big, BUT the classrooms are too small, BUT handwriting skills are ignored, BUT no one is teaching the kids how to type… I could go on, but and I won’t.

It’s hard to see anything positive from behind all of my “buts” (not “butts”). Not only am I hyper-aware of my own “but” problem, but also I’m starting to notice other people’s “buts” (not “butts”), including my kids’ “buts” (not “butts,” although their butts are adorable).

“The Amazon Jungle is the biggest jungle in the world.” My nine-year-old school-hater surprised me with this random and unsolicited outburst of knowledge.

“Is it bigger than New York?” My seven-year-old son’s curiosity was unleashed.

“Of course it’s bigger than New York.”

“Is it bigger than Texas?”

“Yup.”

“Is it bigger than Earth?”

“How can it be bigger than Earth when it’s on Earth?” He was smug with 4th grade superiority.

My seven-year-old, who will always be two frustrating years younger than his big brother no matter how hard he tries to catch up, matched his jungle and raised him a cloud. “Did you know clouds are heavy?”

 “How heavy?”

“Heavier than a grown man. More than 105 pounds!”

“Wow, that’s really heavy.” I stifled a giggle.

“If a cloud falls on you, you’ll die.” The older brother added his two (morbid) cents.

“Mommy, do you know how rain is made?”

“How?”

“Water evaporates from the earth into the sky, it forms clouds, and then water falls out of the clouds,” and then, “but that means when it’s raining, God isn’t peeing on us.”

but

There was a mix of satisfaction and disappointment in his voice. He was proud of his newfound knowledge, but and his imagination got truth bombed by science.

I knew just what to say. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s true that God isn’t peeing on us, but and it’s still God playing the drums when you hear thunder.” (For now, anyway.)

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Filed under anxiety, health, molar pregnancy, motherhood, parenthood, school

Everybody Hurts

 

everybodyhurts

At bedtime, I discovered my younger son had a hangnail on his left thumb. It looked irritated and raw. It looked like it throbbed. It looked like it had been there a while.

“How long have you had it?” asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said avoiding eye contact.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

“I forgot,” he said.

“Let me see it,” I said.

“Don’t touch it!” he yelled.

“I won’t touch it, but you have to let me look at it,” I said.

It looked painful. I had him wash his hands and then I put antibiotic ointment and a bandage on it.

“Do I have to go to the doctor?” he asked nervously.

“I don’t know,” I said. “We’ll look at it again in the morning.”

I hate when my kids don’t tell me when they’re hurt. They wake up every morning complaining about ambiguous aches and pains to avoid going to school – I have a stomachache! My throat is sore! My nose hurts! – but when something truly causes pain, they hide it.

I was worried my son’s nail would get infected, and I was annoyed that he kept it from me. Mostly, though, I felt an all-too-familiar stab of guilt that I didn’t know about it.

About a year ago, I discovered my older son had plantar warts on his feet. It wasn’t a few warts or even a small bunch. It was dozens of warts all over the bottoms of his feet and toes, and I had no idea. None! No matter how many times the dermatologist said, “This happens all the time,” I couldn’t (and still can’t) shake the sting of embarrassment I felt about not knowing something was wrong with my child.

The catch-22 of instilling independence in our kids is that when we stop micromanaging everything they do, there’s a good chance they’ll fix themselves a bowl of cookies for breakfast, wear the same underwear for a week straight, or hide (ignore?) a throbbing hangnail or wart outbreak to avoid the pain of fixing it. It’s not negligence on our part, but rather it’s the inevitable bumps and bruises of gradually letting go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t relieve the guilt.

I told my husband about the hangnail.

“Why didn’t he tell me?” I asked, still irked about it.

“He’s a kid,” he said. “Remember when you were a kid and you hid your medicine in the couch?”

He was right. When I was a little girl, I had this bizarre combination of strep throat, scarlet fever, and some other plague that required endless doses of medication. Several times a day, my mom or dad would give me a handful of chewable acetaminophen and a teaspoon or two of liquid antibiotic, all of which I hid under a couch cushion or poured into a napkin and tossed into the trash when they weren’t looking because I didn’t like the taste.

All hell broke out when my mom discovered the pills in the couch. My parents weren’t just angry at my behavior. They were also terrified that I endangered my health. Now that I’m a parent, I understand how they felt, and I can only imagine the humiliation they endured when they had to explain to the pediatrician not only what I did but also that they had no idea I was doing it.

My husband had a point. Everybody hurts, and we’re all to blame at some point for ignoring it, hiding it, putting it off, or pretending it’s not there to avoid dealing with it. Dodging scary medical interventions – nail clippers for hangnails, cryotherapy for warts, yucky tasting medicine for illness, or worse – is a rite of passage for kids, and dealing with the consequences of what our children conceal is an equally expected lesson for parents.

It was just a hangnail (this time), but it was also a valuable teachable moment. I need to talk to my kids more often about the importance of speaking up when something hurts (physically or emotionally) and about the benefit of taking care of our health even when it’s unpleasant. I also need to give myself a break in the guilt department because when something really hurts my kids – when wearing pants is agony, when fractions homework is torture, or when eating cucumber slices is excruciating – they couldn’t hide their pain if they tried.

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Filed under going to the doctor, health, parenting

Monday Morning Memories

It’s been ten years since my molar pregnancy.  I hold on to so many memories of that harrowing experience, but the one thing I’ll never forget, or let go of, is the ghastly sensation that there was something inside my body – first the botched fetal material and then the cancer – that wasn’t supposed to be there, that I had no control of, and that caused me harm.

After a barrage of invasive medical procedures, including vaginal ultrasounds, a CAT scan, and surgery, it was around this time in February 2005 that I spent every Monday morning for eight weeks at the gynecologic oncologist’s office receiving chemotherapy injections to destroy the malignancy inside my uterus.

On my first Monday, there was an older couple sitting in the waiting room with me. The woman wore a scarf over her head. She looked tired and was quiet. The man looked nervous and was talkative.

“What are you doing here, young lady?” he asked me as if it were absurd for a woman my age to be sitting in the same room with them.

It was absurd. I wanted to scream, As luck would have it, shit happens to us youngsters, too! Instead, I explained my molar pregnancy as best as I could because I still didn’t understand it and as quickly as I could because I didn’t want to cry.

They looked shocked.

I was, too.

We must’ve had the same chemo schedule, because I saw this couple every Monday morning, and every Monday morning the man was eager to talk about his wife and her cervical or ovarian (I don’t remember which) cancer while he (we) waited. I felt bad for them – for his wife who was sick and for him who was powerless to help her – but I dreaded seeing them. I didn’t want to think about what was inside her body. I didn’t want to watch him sit alone. I didn’t want to imagine their future. I didn’t want to do any of it because it was terrifying, and I was too worried about myself to have any perspective that my condition, albeit crappy, was curable and that my future, unlike theirs, was a sure thing.

Eventually, I stopped seeing them, but it wasn’t because they were done with their cancer journey. It was because I was done with mine. I’ve thought about them periodically over the years. Did she survive? Is he alone? My memories of them usually creep up during a medical procedure, like a colonoscopy, a skin biopsy, or a thyroid ultrasound, that probes for something below the surface of my skin.

I thought of them on Monday while I waited to get a mammogram.

I have no family history of breast cancer, but I turn 40 later this year and because of my medical history, you’ll never catch me avoiding an examination, test, or procedure that could help me avoid sitting once again in the waiting room of an oncologist’s office.

For better or for worse, my molar pregnancy taught me two things:

1. It taught me to be afraid. It’s been a decade since that clusterfuck of a pregnancy, and I’m still convinced that every lump, bump, tingle, or pain is a cancer that’s going to kill me.

2. It taught me to take care of myself. The upside of my PTSD is that I go to the doctor more than most people I know.

I never skip a cleaning at the dentist or a Pap smear at the gynecologist. I get a wellness check-up with my primary care doctor twice a year. I also have several visits each year with a dermatologist, endocrinologist, and hematologist. My next (and third) colonoscopy will happen in 2017, I had a follow-up thyroid ultrasound done a few weeks ago, and last Friday I added an orthopedic hand surgeon to my Rolodex of doctors.

In early January, I discovered a small, hard lump underneath the skin of my right hand. Google attempted to assure me that it was most likely a fluid-filled and benign ganglion cyst, but it also disclosed that, although very rare, some hand cysts were malignant sarcomas that could spread to other parts of the body. Despite my outward attempt to not freak out, you can probably imagine the diagnosis that haunted me in my sleep while I waited five weeks for my appointment. Fortunately, my little lump was a benign cyst. Crisis (cancer) averted.

I’m (trying) not (to be) overly worried about the results of Monday’s mammogram, but it was an emotional day. There’s no place to hide when a big machine takes pictures of what you can’t see inside your body. It’s normal for these kinds of tests to cause anxiety about one’s future. For me, though, they also trigger difficult memories of my past, including the couple I met ten years ago while waiting for my Monday morning chemotherapy injections.

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Filed under breast cancer, cancer, colonoscopy, dentist, health, molar pregnancy, thyroid