September 29, 2013

** Niki is home from the hospital now and still healing up like a champ.

At some point – and I am not sure exactly when – Evelyn learned how to walk.  And I’m not talking about a few uncertain steps here and there like I was last week; I’m talking about confidently placing one foot in front of the other to cross an entire room, then turning around and going back to where she started from.

Unlike her sister, Evelyn learned to walk very gradually.  She was focused for so long on standing up that by the time she had conquered that skill she had just sort of HAPPENED upon learning to walk.  She would stand up and toddle about without ever realizing she was unsupported…and then when she caught herself in the middle of the room without a coffee table or a toy box or our arms nearby she would shriek in dismay, sit down, and wail.

Last week she went a few days without walking or standing up at all.  I thought she’d given up and moved onto something else, but then one evening Donald set her down and walked away for a moment and she enthusiastically waddled after him, slowly, deliberately, balancing ever so carefully.

She has been walking ever since, slowly gaining strength and speed, clapping and giggling as she toddles along.

It’s true what they say: time really does fly when you’re having fun.

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** Update: Niki is doing very well, recovering better than anyone expected.  We’re finally starting to all hit a pretty reasonable groove in terms of coordinating things.

1. We went to the aquarium and Charlotte, She-Who-Has-Always-Been-Exceedingly-Wary-Of-Mascots-And-Generally-Rejects-The-Idea-Of-Being-In-The-Same-Building-As-Someone-Wearing-A-Costume (exceptions made for the circus), asked to take a photograph with the penguin.  Donald stood in line with her, she insisted that the picture be taken without him in it, and then we both promptly died from shock.
2. We’ve been more proactive about our cats and dogs being part of our family lately and as a result the fur-babies keep photo-bombing things.
3. Evelyn can walk now, but she still prefers to ape crawl all across the yard instead.
4. She is also forever stuffing my hair in her mouth.  I forgive her because she’s adorable, but have taken to wearing her on my back only as a last resort because my poor scalp can only take so much pulling.
5. Our new favorite thing to do is hang out at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.  If you have a kid who loves dinosaurs, I highly recommend the dinosaur hall.  Upstairs there is a little paleontology lab that Charlotte cannot get enough of.  A few weeks ago when we were there, she stood in one place and watched one of the paleontologists clean a bone for forty minutes.  The paleontologist actually came out and introduced herself since there weren’t any other kids around and Charlotte had been so focused.  Charlotte was completely star-struck.
6. Donald tandem-wearing his babies.  Oh, my heart!
7. In an effort to teach Charlotte how her bicycle works, Donald has involved Charlotte in every detail of fixing up her bike (we freecycled it last summer) and maintaining it.  It’s pretty sweet to witness.
8. Charlotte and I gave Evelyn half a banana and let her go to town.  Boy was it messy!
9. Just another afternoon sidewalk-chalking up the back patio.  Charlotte likes to tell me what to draw (i.e. “a flying dog).  I draw it, then we color it in together and she names it Grover.  Almost everything I draw for her is named Grover.
10. Again with the natural history museum.  Our second favorite exhibit is the nature lab downstairs.
11. Charlotte took this of me holding Evelyn up.  Not too shabby, kiddo, not too shabby.
12. I can never get enough of my babies loving on each other.

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Update as of Thursday evening: Niki did really great in surgery on Wednesday.  She ended up having her spleen, gallbladder, appendix, ovaries, uterus, a section of her large intestine and half of her stomach removed and her liver and abdominal cavity were scraped of the cancer.  The masses were removed as well.  The doctors believe they physically removed around 98% of the cancer and are expecting radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate the rest.  Because the surgery was more extensive than originally anticipated, her recovery time in the hospital will likely take a couple weeks longer than we thought, but all in all we really could not have asked for a better situation.  Niki was conscious, coherent, and asking for visitors Thursday night.  I’ll probably see her Friday, something I’m really looking forward to.  A couple weeks ago when Niki was called in to her first surgery at last-minute, a bunch of us started to organize a support train to cover food, housecleaning, childcare, etc.  It was really bumpy.  I literally sent 200 text messages in three days just trying to keep the baby nursed and soothed for half a week (am apparently the most inefficient texter ever).  This time around we had more time to plan ahead.  We had a clearer idea of what needs would come up, we assigned tasks to each person to oversee, and the support train has gone much more smoothly.

Three weeks ago, a close friend of mine was told that she had a volleyball-sized mass in her abdomen obscuring her ovaries.  She was immediately sent to an oncologist, given a tentative diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and subjected to a number of blood panels and scans.

Two weeks ago, my friend was scheduled to have a surgery to address the monster within her.  The doctors went in laproscopically, quickly realized they were out of their depth, and pulled her out of surgery to schedule a different surgery with a team of specialists in a different hospital who would be better equipped to handle her care.  The cancer is not ovarian cancer as previously thought; it is a cancer of the appendix: pseudomyxoma peritonei, mucinous cystadenocarcinoma.

At four o’clock this morning, she went into surgery again.  This time, the surgery is expected to last at least three to five hours.  At that point, the doctors will be able to assess which organs are affected and to what degree and they will know whether or not they have the expertise required to move forward.  If they do not, they will stitch her up and make arrangements for a different team of specialists.  If they do, the surgery will move forward and will be expected to last an additional ten to sixteen hours.  There are is so much that will remain unknown until this surgery is over.

Today, my family is thinking about her.  We are thinking about her three young children as they navigate this difficult and confusing transition.  We are thinking about her parents as they wait for answers.  We are thinking about her husband.  About her siblings.  About her friends and relatives.

I wanted to write something witty and charming and funny today, but instead today feels like a day of reflection and hope and empathy.

Today is the day that so many people I know are thinking and praying and whispering.  COME ON, NIKI.  YOU CAN DO IT!  LET’S KICK SOME CANCER ASS!  And if you have a spare moment, I’d appreciate it if you could send a little goodwill her direction too.

** There is also a fundraising site set up to help her family replace lost income while her husband is on family medical leave and to help them cover medical bills that arise during this time.  It can be found by clicking this link.  And there is a support page on Facebook as well that you are welcome to join.  You can find it by clicking here.

Afternoon update: they ARE going through with the surgery, which is just unbelievably good news.  Niki and her family will know more about the road they will be traveling moving forward in about ten or so hours.

Next morning update: the surgery is complete.  Niki stayed stable the entire time.  It was a little more extensive a surgery than expected, so her recovery could be a little longer, but the good news is that they think they got all of it (or damned near close).  Such fantastic news!!

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Our garden has been a tad on the pitiful side the last couple years, but Wyatt is still stopping by regularly and imparting his wisdom.  We’ve slowly begun to build a reliable relationship with him and we see him at least once a week.

More recently, Wyatt has begun to invite Charlotte to help him in his garden.  She mostly stands around telling him about princesses and asking him why his hair is white while he weeds, but they both seem to enjoy the experience.

So the other day when the girls and I were out on the road, Wyatt popped out of his house to say hello.  While we were chatting Charlotte was bicycling around and in the blink of an eye, she just flopped over and fell off the bike.

The two of us rushed over.  “It’s okay, there, Teddy, just a little scrape,” Wyatt said to Charlotte as he brushed her off.  “Nothin’ to worry about, little fella.”

My neighbor has always called Charlotte “little guy” and “little fella” and I have never thought much about it, but…

“I’m not Teddy, I’m CHARLOTTE!” she exclaimed.

“Charlotte?” he said, puzzled.

“YES!  CHARLOTTE!” she huffed as she climbed back on the bicycle.

Bewildered, Wyatt turned toward me.  “Charlotte is a girl’s name,” he said plainly.  “She’s a girl.  Her name is Charlotte.  She’s not a boy named Teddy.”

“Um…no.  She’s definitely a girl.”

“Well who has a boy named Teddy?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

It was completely dead silent for a minute.

“So it makes sense why she’s always talking about princesses and wearing dresses now,” he finally said with a chuckle.

And now every time we see Wyatt, he calls out “HI THERE, NOT TEDDY!” and it cracks me up.

Little Miss Not Teddy.

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August 25, 2013

I know that I promised not to neglect this space quite so much, and I really did have the very best intentions not to.  Several of my relatives use this blog as their primary means of checking in on our family, so I never really WANT to neglect it.

But the last couple weeks have just been a little much.  Seemingly every time our family catches it’s breath we find out that something else important is happening with someone who is important to us.  They are all ordinary ups (new babies) and downs (cancer) in our ordinary lives, but for some reason there has been a flurry of them all at once.  Please excuse me for another few days while we find the words to explain some of the downs to our girls, while we find ways to be there for those who need support, while we celebrate with those who are experiencing some of the ups, and while we process everything going on.

(I feel I should clarify: we are not having a third baby right now and none of the four of us have cancer.  So don’t get too excited or worried about us.  We’re like the slow and steady tortoise, just plugging along.)

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