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!!
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.
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.)
1. They adore one another. Charlotte can make Evelyn laugh and keep her entertained like nobody else. She keeps a close eye on her, making sure she doesn’t get into anything dangerous and alerting me of her every move. And Evelyn crawls after Charlotte, always looking around for her. They are the very best of friends.
Charlotte reading to her sister about les papillons (butterflies).
2. First thing in the morning – every morning – Charlotte always asks me if she can go outside and climb trees.
3. Evelyn just started holding her arms out when she wants to be picked up. SWOON.
4. Donald taught Evie how to give kisses too. Oh my stars, I cannot take the cuteness.
She asks to shoot her bow and arrow nearly daily too.
5. A few days ago, Charlotte told me that her name is “Charlotte Anaïs Rapunzel Serenity Merida Christensen” – Rapunzel from Tangled, Serenity from The Apple-Pip Princess, and Merida from Brave being her favorite princesses, of course.
6. We have been slowly working through Cressida Crowell’s How to Train Your Dragon series with Charlotte. It has enriched her fantasy play in ways I never imagined.
7. Also, she is sort of obsessed with Viking helmets now…
Do you see the blue paint everywhere on my porch? OH DO I HAVE A STORY FOR YOU, INTERNET.
8. When Evelyn sees me get out a carrier or a wrap, she starts flapping her arms up and down in excitement. She will also wave at it, babble enthusiastically, giggle, and slowly and deliberately attempt to clap.
9. Seeing Evie in the hand-me-downs that Charlotte once wore makes my heart sing.
In a tree, of course!
10. Every time I wrongly identify a dinosaur, Charlotte’s world basically implodes on the spot. It’s a little annoying sometimes, but it’s also strangely endearing.
11. Sometimes when Evelyn laughs she sounds a bit like a squeak toy. It is awesome.
Charlotte has recently taken a significant interest in dinosaurs. The child lives and breathes dinosaurs. This morning at breakfast she was so busy chattering to me about her toy pachycephalosaurus that she plumb forgot to eat.
If it were a real dinosaur, would it still be these colors? What would it eat? Do dinosaurs have live babies or lay eggs? Do they eat their babies like hamsters?, because her friend A’s hamster ate it’s babies and that wasn’t very nice. Do pachycephalosaurus dinosaurs fight with the spikes on their heads? The spikes look sort of like a ring of flowers, don’t they, Momma?
And if plants were bigger when dinosaurs were alive, were flowers bigger too? Were there bees to pollinate the flowers? Were the bees bigger? Did bees ever get stuck in amber like the bug at the science center? Does all tree sap make amber or only some trees? Do other plants have sap, or just trees?
(These days, I spend a lot of time reminding Charlotte to focus on her food and not knowing the answers to her questions.)
In support of this newfound fascination, last week I planned an entire day of dinosaur-centric excitement for the budding paleontologist. We visited a fossil-themed park in Laguna Hills, checked out their nature center, then stopped at the local science museum so she could frolic about in the fossil yard. While we were there, I purchased a little clay dinosaur egg toy on a whim.
I meant to squirrel away the egg for a rainy day, but I forgot and while I was unpacking the car and nursing the baby this afternoon, Charlotte broke into the diaper bag and found the egg. She promptly opened the box, found some scissors to get the plastic wrapping off the egg, and figured out how to use the digging tool and brush. By the time Evelyn’s belly was good and full, Charlotte had made a mess of clay dust in four feet every direction while she meticulously chipped away at it and daydreamed about the baby dinosaur she was setting free.
THREE HOURS she worked on that egg. Three. Hours. She took a break for some grapes and water (“even dinosaur diggers need a snack, huh, Momma?”) and then she immediately jumped back in. I was under strict instructions not to make any loud sounds that might disturb her baby dinosaur, but other than that she scarcely acknowledged my existence.
Three hours into it, though, she looked up at me and asked for help. She had painstakingly and surprisingly carefully uncovered about 80% of her baby dinosaur, but she couldn’t figure out how to get the rest of it dislodged and her fingers were tired. So I took her outside and turned on the hose to soften the clay and helped her work it out. As soon as the dinosaur was freed from the egg, she washed it off with soap (“because babies need a bath when they’re born!”) and then rushed off to our dinosaur encyclopedia to sort out what she had.
Internet, my grandbaby is a dinonychus.