Dr. M

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I thought I was going to be sick.  My heart was pounding.  My stomach was twisted into one big great knot, and my palms were sweating.  I worried that when I met the fellow for the first time he would shake my hand and notice.  It didn’t matter that I had read my own MRI on the patient site of the hospital, or that if something was wrong I surely would have heard from the doctor before now.  At that moment, sitting in the doctor’s office staring at a piece of paper about new chemotherapy regimens tacked to a bulletin board, all I could think about was one word:  Cancer.

Up until a few years ago I was just seeing my surgeon who created the kind of treatment that I underwent in order to kill the tumor that was inside my eye.  But somewhere down the line my primary care doctor stated that she didn’t feel comfortable checking in with me regarding the maintenance of the cancer and wanted me to see an oncologist.  I remember that just the word, oncologist, scared me.  Enter Dr. M, by far and away my favorite doctor (maybe because he has never had to give me any bad news, knock on wood).  Dr. M and I only see each other once a year.  He states that my MRI looks good (it is recommended that I monitor my liver to make sure that nothing ever spreads) and that he thinks following me so closely is a good thing, as he is well aware that it decreases my anxiety over the year.  Plus, he always mentions that it “balances out his day nicely” since he likes to pat me on the back and say, “See you in a year!”  I have a feeling he doesn’t get to do that with very many patients.

Still, it is nerve-wracking.  One of my least favorite comments that I hear when people find out that I’m a cancer survivor is, “Well, it must get easier over time.”  I feel as though only people who have never had cancer say that.  Nothing about cancer is easy.  Yes the more years out I am from the cancer the less the doctors seem to want to see me.  But sitting there today, waiting 20 minutes for the fellow to come in and speak with me before Dr. M, I realized that 5 years later, it’s still scary.  There is always the possibility that somebody could get sick.  But when you’ve already been sick, you perhaps worry about those possibilities even more.

I couldn’t help but think about the first few months with the cancer, about wondering what the future would look like, about having my eyelid clipped open to receive radiation, about crying on my best friends shoulders because I didn’t want to scare my parents anymore than they already were and do that in front of them.  I couldn’t help but think about how many people suffer so much worse than I did, and then become scared of the future.  Most of us can push things like cancer to the back of our brains, but when you’re sitting at your oncologist’s office, that’s a hard thing to do.  I practiced my breathing.  I thought about what I was going to pack for my girls getaway to California this summer. I wondered what I would have for lunch when I got home.  I tried everything I could to not think about cancer.  It was hard.

I mentioned this to Dr. M, after we were done talking about our summers and how my last name has changed since he last saw me.  I told him that even though in my heart I knew that things were OK,  I still felt kind of sick to my stomach and scared.  And bless him, Dr. M looked into my eyes and said, “That is so normal.  It’s PTSD.  You’ve been through a lot.”  Just those 11 words and I immediately felt better.  Here was a doctor who wasn’t telling me that it “should” get better.  He wasn’t telling me to buck up because I’m lucky (even though I am).  He was giving my anxiety a name (PTSD) and telling me that my anxiety was warranted.  And suddenly, I had a much better perspective on the work that I do as a therapist.  So many of my clients have anxiety and I was reminded that to name it, validate it, and to explain the normalcy in such a circumstance, can relieve it in a big way.

Next week is my 6th month check-up, and hopefully I won’t see Dr. M until next year.  There are many days when I don’t think about the cancer at all, which is a blessing and some place I never thought I’d get to.  But when I do think about it, I let myself feel whatever I need to feel.  I don’t deprive myself of the grief, anger, or sadness that I occasionally feel just because others have been through worse or because a certain amount of time has gone by.  And then I move forward.  Because I didn’t survive cancer so that I could stay in the past.  I survived so that I can look towards the future, even on the days with Dr. M.

When Friends Become Family

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SHL and I recently flew down to Austin to visit my bestie, her husband, and two kids.  It was the first time that we were being introduced to Dheven, who was born on March 4th, and already it was breaking my heart a little bit that I hadn’t met this little guy in person yet (only over Skype).  When A’s first son was born she was living in Philly at the time, which made it much easier to hop on a train and visit when V was only 5 weeks old (I’ll never forget that weekend.  Seeing your BFF as a Mom for the first time is a pretty cool thing!).

A and I have been the closest of friends since our freshman year of college, and luckily we both always seem to put in an effort to make sure that we see each other as much as we can.  After college I went to NYC and she to Philly, so every couple of months one of us would catch a train and spend the weekend in the other’s city.  Throughout those first few years after college we met each other’s boyfriends, celebrated birthdays, tried all the cool restaurants in each of our ‘hoods, shopped, sipped cocktails, and basically did all those things that you love to do with your girlfriends.  Each year we would get together with our two other close friends and do something, whether it was attending A’s brother’s wedding in Houston, a long weekend in San Diego or Miami, or even vacationing in Greece!  Years went by and before I knew it, A was engaged, then married, then a Mom.  I was dating and then engaged to SHL, A had moved to Florida and then to Texas, I to Boston, and as you can imagine, our visits took a little bit more planning.  But still, we spent weekends together on the Cape, took V to Flamingo Gardens in Miami, celebrated my engagement and wedding, talked on the phone, and sent birthday gifts.  Sometimes our lives have been in very different places (A was dating, then engaged and married her husband while I was still single).   But somehow, despite the differences, there were always more than enough similarities to keep us close.

This last weekend in Austin was one of the best visits.  Maybe it was because I got to see A’s husband T and my husband pal around together (everybody wants their husbands to get along with their BFF’s husbands!), maybe it was because we got to meet Dheven for the first time and I got to give him a bath and cuddle with him, or maybe it was because V is now talking up a storm and has such a great sense of humor!  Maybe it was because A and I don’t just live in the past (though we love to tell stories of college, traveling in Europe, and snafus along the way), but because we still have as much to talk about as ever. Maybe it’s because while we celebrate the good times together (A was my Maid of Honor at my wedding) we also still lean on each other during the tough times too.  Maybe it’s because I truly feel like an Aunt when I’m with her kids, slathering sunscreen on V before we hit the tennis courts, taking pictures of the kiddos, plying with V in the pool, changing a diaper, giving a bath, reading a story. Maybe it’s because V calls us Aunty Sam and Uncle Sean and after we left we were thrilled to hear that he told his parents that he was going to Boston so he could visit us.  It’s a special kind of friendship that we all have with each other, and it’s not something that I take for granted, or ever want to.  And it truly is a great example of how friends really can become family.

Austin Texas, June 11th, 2011

Another article on BK (Before Kids)

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The Nest is at it again.  Remember that post a while back on their essential things to do before you have a baby?  Well now they’ve come out with yet another “you should” article entitled “6 Places to go Before You Have Kids.”  Hey, I’m as a big of a fan as anybody as living in the moment, but this is getting ridiculous.  Not only do I now have to gulp down margaritas galore while I still can and have a lot of sex (wait, that’s a bad thing?), but I have to go to Uruguay too apparently.  Wow, if I listen to the Nest.com my to-do list is surely going to continue to grow!

This article didn’t make me feel good, I have to admit.  Probably because travel is the biggest passion in my life and brings me the greatest joy, and I envision someday strapping my kids to my back and gallivanting around as if nothing has changed (delusional, I know!).  My parents passed on their love of seeing the world to me, and together we’ve traveled to places like Finland, France, Iceland, Belize, Peru, Jackson Hole Wyoming and Bermuda. Each and every trip brought me something new, whether it be a tangible object like my favorite Coca-Cola glass bottle from Russia (the USSR when I was there in ’86), or something memorable and yummy like the best breakfast I ever had on the Amalfi Coast.  And then, when I was old enough to travel myself it was to backpack in Europe with a friend, go to Greece for a girl’s trip, branch out and travel solo in Italy, and take honeymoons with SHL in Hawaii and Africa.  People always ask me how I make it to such extravagant and far-away destinations, and the truth?  1) I’m very, very lucky.  And 2) I make it happen because traveling to me is how I rejuvenate and how I get to my “happy place.”  (The happy place being wherever I am lucky enough to go).  Some people find the most joy in their own backyards.  I love home but truly, I live by Miriam Beardeing’s words: “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

So perhaps you can understand how I don’t want to envision a time when I won’t be able to go somewhere.  I know, I know, it doesn’t have to be forever (“When the kids get older, when you have more money, when you can get more vacation time, when when when”).  Though I have a feeling that if and when we’re lucky enough to be blessed with a family this won’t matter quite as much, right now I’m going to keep the fantasy going that my kids will be standing on the Great Wall of China when they’re about 5 years old!

With that being said, here are The Nest’s recommendations for where we newly married gals should go before we have kiddos, if we so choose (not going to assume that all married couples want to have kids).  I’ve only crossed off two of their recommendations so far, Tanzania  and Mykenos.  The other places that the nest recommends when it comes to exploring before babies arrive are: Talkeeta Alaska (never heard of it but I’ll take their word for it), Queenstown New Zealand, Siem Reap Cambodia, and Jose Ignacio Uruguay.

Next stop on my list?  I’m traveling to the world-wide web so that I can unsubscribe from this website and stop torturing myself of all the things that I “have” to do!

Cool, sweet, summer

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As the calendar date of summer approaches and our weather already feels like it is summer, I become more and more enthralled with all things cool, sweet, gooey, and refreshing.  I’ve become obsessed with googling water parks, frozen yogurt recipes, and cool straw hats to keep out the sand and sun that I dream I will need some shade from while on Cape Cod (I just have to get there).  I love this time of year, which comes as no surprise since most do.

Here are a few of the summer treats that I’m looking forward to.  Let me know what yours are and where I can get/find/eat/drink/see them!

So, living in the city and being surrounded by concrete and heat, all I can think about is the water.  I’m seriously considering playing hooky from work one day and finding a nearby water park (again, may need to borrow somebody’s kid to pull this off!).  Every summer at overnight camp we would take a field trip to Canobie Lake Park in N.H., and I’m seriously considering their log flume as a great distraction from the heat… www.canobielakepark.com

Ice cream.  Those two words should say it all, but here’s two more for you:  Max Brenner’s.  Finally they have opened in Boston!  So as tempting as those S’Mores and tutti frutti waffles are, this time I may have to opt for their “Eskimo” — a selection of 2 scoops of ice cream (dark, milk chocolate, dulce de leche or vanilla) in a “crispy sugared waffle cone served with warm chocolate sauce crunchy wafer balls and candied hazelnut crunchy bits.”  Uh, yeah!  www.maxbrenner.com

I used to love popsicles when I was a little kid, but somehow that passion for things on a stick disappeared right around the time I realized I was too old to run through the sprinklers.  Well I’m resurrecting my childhood this summer starting with the popsicle!  Have you heard of the Zoku Quick Pop?  It looks really cool (excuse the pun) and quick (and super yummy)… However, it’s $49.95!  To make pospicles!  Instead I’m opting for a grown-up version of the popsicle, courtesy of Emerile Lagasse and called the Margarita Popsicle. The price?  Whatever ingredients like tequila, fresh lemon juice, sugar, and dixie cups cost.  The taste?  Probably amazing!  I’ll post a pic when I make them and let you know.  Or if you make it first, let us know.  www.foodtv.com

When I think of summer, I think of mini-golf.  It’s something that SHL and I have always loved to do together, and one of our favorite places (and one that we’ll drive to just for the day) is Pirate’s Cove on Cape Cod.  It has your usual cascading waterfalls and pirate ships and is pretty awesome.  Check it out here: www.piratescove.net

And that hat I was talking about?  Don’t think I can pull of the “frayed Panama” but perhaps JCrew’s summer sun hat (for $45.00) will be just the thing… www.jcrew.com

You know you want to update your ipod with all of the walking along the beach you’ll be doing this summer, right?  My new favs are Adele and Mumford & Sons.  www.itunes.com

My new favorite place for manis and pedis is definitely MiniLuxe.  Sure, it’s a little bit more of a splurge than the average nail place that seems to crop up on every single street corner in the city, but it’s worth it.  The last time I went to one of those “average on every street corner places” for a manicure it bubbled and peeled in 2 days.  At MiniLuxe I feel like I’m at a spa; it’s roomy, bright looking, and the highlight– It’s clean.  Plus guys are more than welcome to get their KleanSpa Pedicure on with a whipped scrub and hydrating lotion  (and let’s face it, most guys could use that and more!).  I’m personally opting for the new Essie color Braziliant, a really fun and bright orange that will look great with a tan, once I actually get one! www.miniluxe.com

Speaking of feeling good, I love beauty minis from Sephora!  And as I head off to Cali this summer for a girl’s trip, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to stock up on some travel-sized goodies.  The Ms. & Mrs. Miniemergency kit may be just what the TSA ordered; small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, this gold (or silver or purple) pouch is filled with things like tiny packets of Advil, band aids, Blistex lip ointment, dental floss, clear nail polish, breath fresheners, and hair elastics. Sign me up!  www.sephora.com

And last but not least, summer begs for time to be spent with family and friends.  During the winter I just want to hibernate and become one with my couch, so I find that I don’t see people as much as I would like.  But now that the sun is out and the sweaters are off, everybody seems to be much more in the mood for get-togethers. Summer has a certain charm about it.  The city comes alive, the flowers are in bloom, people dine outside and laugh a lot more than they do in wintertime!  (At least here in Boston). Whether it’s family bbqs or rooftop deck reunions with friends, it’s time to rejuvenate.  Things slow down in the summer for most of us, and we can more easily take long weekends than we can the rest of the year.  I know for me I can’t wait to visit my bestie down in Austin and spend some time with her two little ones at the pool, play at the beach with old camp friends on Cape Cod, relax at a spa with my Mom, and just generally enjoy getting some qt with those that I love.  Priceless.

Summer To-Do

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I recently came across another blog on the front page of wordpress (how do you get to be on the front page, anyway?) and was enamored by posts about pregnancy, friendships, DIY projects and summer to-do lists.  It got me thinking that my blog doesn’t always have to be so serious.  So far I’ve tackled moving anxiety, cancer, and envy, so now I think it’s time to talk about something a bit more lighthearted:  Summer!

Ahhh, summer.  How long you have evaded us, my friend.  And now that you have finally shown your face (albeit you showed up a little early this year!) and I am done licking my wounds for not completing bucket list # 48 go see a taping of Oprah,  I for one am going to set some goals for my last (possible) summer in the city.

Drumroll please…

Samantha’s Summer Bucket List:

1) I can’t wait for Summer in the City by the Boston Harbor!  Every year I say I’m going to take advantage of the outdoor movies and live music that is set on a floating stage anchored behind the hotel at the Rowes Wharf and I never do.  Well this year count me in Field of Dreams and The James Montgomery Band (even if I don’t know who you are!).

2) Boston Wine Festival.  ‘Nuff said.

3)  Picnic at Walden Pond.  Now I know that this isn’t exactly in the heart of the city (for you out-of-state peeps it’s about 20 miles away), but it’s still something that I’ve always wanted to do and would be a perfect outing with SHL or with friends (or both!).

4) Thought fish bowls were a thing of the past?  How I miss those days at Brother Jimmy’s in NYC!  Well now I can sip al fresco at The Landing at Long Wharf; a perfect summer evening for sure.

5) Finally make that home-made ice cream.  SHL and I got an awesome ice cream/frozen yogurt/sorbet maker for our wedding, but then winter clobbered us and I was perpetually too cold to eat ice cream.  Now that it’s blazing hot out, though, I can certainly easily conjure up images of mint-chocolate chip ice cream…

6) Run through the sprinklers.  Yes, you read that right.  It was one of my most favorite things to do as a kid, and now that I’m past the age of 30 (OK, past the age of 8) it’s kind of frowned upon, isn’t it?  So maybe one of you will let me borrow your kid(s) for a day?

7) Channel my inner secret-agent and play a virtual reality game powered by Urban Interactive’s city adventures.  This is kind of like a scavenger hunt meets an online video game.  Doesn’t that just remind you of some terrible hazing activity you had to do in college while running around the city in 108 degree heat?  Yeah, me too.  I can’t wait.

8) How did I not know about this before?  Now that I do I’m eager to check out the Farmer’s Market, crafts tables, and food trucks at the SoWa Open Market in the South End.

9) Attend a BBQ Beach Party hosted by the Phantom Gourmet!

10) Go to a Sox game.  Yes, I have done this many, many times before.  But it never, ever gets old.

What’s on your summer ’11 bucket list?