ode to my belly

 

ode to my belly

 

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After two pregnancies, two c-sections and a bout with cancer, it’s safe to say my belly isn’t what it used to be.

“Are you having twins!” they’d ask, as I’d give them the stink eye and reply with something sarcastic about growing a super-sized baby.

Carrying two big babies, weighing in at 10 and nine pounds, respectively, wasn’t exactly the formula for washboard abs.

But, with bootcamp and more willpower than I’ve been able to muster since, I lost the baby weight and life moved on.

Then came the cancer diagnosis. That wasn’t in my belly (thank you Jesus), but the chemo, steroids and radiation killed my thyroid… and the belly was back. With a vengeance.

Cancer weight gain is a complicated mix of hormones and drugs and fatigue and chemicals that I’m having a hard time tackling.

This wasn’t lost on my six year old, who made a comment about it the other day. He was very clear that didn’t want to hurt my feelings (he’s a softy like that), but he wanted to know what happened to make my belly squishy. (Yes, you can totally feel sorry for me here).

Wanting him to know I was aware and on top of it, I explained that that’s why I’d been working out and seeing my trainer, “So I can get rid of my belly.”

My four-year-old son listened in as we spoke, and the two boys turned to playing after I answered . . . presumably because that was sufficient enough.

A week later my little one was playing at my feet while I worked at my desk. He looked up at me and said, “Momma?”

“Yeah, papa,” I said.

“How will you eat?,” he answered.

“What do you mean?”, I said.

“I’m worried,” he said. “If you get rid of your belly… where will you put the food?”

It reminded me — It may not be what it used to be, but this belly has nourished me and kept me alive, it’s carried and protected two beautiful babies, and it wears the marks of a mom who’s blessed to be here… squishy and all!

facing the C word

One year ago today I was diagnosed with cancer.

While everyone was convinced that I was in shock that day, the scenes play vividly in my mind now.

My phone rang and the doctor’s assistant, who’d just confirmed my appointment to go over my biopsy results, said, “I forgot to tell you – the doctor said to make sure you bring somebody with you.”

I dropped to my knees, clung to my bed and tried to pray through the sobbing. My sister found me on the floor and tried to convince me that it didn’t mean something was wrong. I’m sure we both knew better.

The waiting room seemed to grow smaller every minute that we nervously waited.

The doctor came to get me and told me to bring one person back with me.

As he made up a series of excuses why only one person was good and my sister pleaded to come in (apparently he didn’t know my family—everyone was making their way in the room regardless of how he fumbled through his one-person request), I heard him say, almost under his breath, behind me:

“This is going to be hard.”

I could almost feel the hope get sucked out of us as we quietly took our places in the room, pretending like we didn’t even hear that.

I remember how the white paper crinkled underneath me when I sat on the examining bed and how I tried to steady myself with a deep breath.

I remember him handing me a printout of my results along with a background on Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The cat was out of the bag.

As his carefully-chosen words crept out of his mouth, I remember my sister sliding down the wall in slow motion.

I remember my mom sobbing silently and wanting to tell her I was so sorry this was happening to her.

I remember thinking to myself over and over “Better me than my kids,” to try and find some kind of silver lining… then realizing my mom would now have to go through my worst fear.

I remember trying to be strong for everyone else… trying to ask the right questions and pull a game plan together in my head so I could hit the ground running.

I remember my husband flipping through results pages with me and trying to take it all in.

I remember how pissed off he was that this could happen to me. I didn’t deserve it. No one deserves it. He didn’t deserve to lose his dad to cancer and then hear his wife has it. “I fucking hate cancer!” he said as we made our way back out to the car.

A year later as I’ve just now started to deal with everything I’ve been through, I’m finally as mad as he was on that day.

I remember calling my dad when we got in the car and trying to choke back my tears enough to blurt out an update.

I remember that within an hour of having my life shattered into pieces that I’d already registered myself with City of Hope.

Game on, cancer.

I remember friends and family coming over to my house and in the midst of laughing and crying there’d be occasional WTF pauses of awkward silence as we wrestled between reality and hoping it was all a bad dream.

“You’re in shock,” they said, as I put on my big girl pants and made doctor’s appointments and collected all of my scans and tests in a binder and walked through in my head how many times as I’d been misdiagnosed for six years until a tumor nearly as big as a softball wedged itself between my heart and lungs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back on the past year, I realize now that because I hit the ground running and plowed through surgeries and chemo and tests and scans and losing my hair and losing my mind and experiencing what hell must be like and radiation and working the whole time and………… I’ve never really “dealt“ with it.

As I celebrate living one year since the day I learned something was trying to take my life, I ring it in with battle wounds that have shaken my usual glass-half-full, optimistic outlook on life. PTSD, flashbacks, breakdowns and a host of scars and side effects from treatment now invade my every day. It turns out, my psyche wasn’t the only thing cancer left its mark on. My lungs, thyroid, nerves and heart all took a hit, too.

I may still be trying to recover from the battle, but I’ve learned so much along the way.

I’ve learned that faith can get you through anything.

I’ve learned that life truly is too short.

I’ve learned to take risks.

I’ve learned that work and my cell phone are far less important than I once thought they were.

I’ve learned that my babies can fix everything with a smile, a laugh or a hug.

I’ve learned that my 5 year-old is one of the sweetest, most thoughtful people I’ve ever known in my lifetime.

I’ve learned that it’s ok to be weak.

I’ve learned that when you’re diagnosed with a life-threatening illness people show their true colors — good and bad.

I’ve learned that no one can truly understand what it’s like to fight cancer, then deal with the lifetime of fear it brings, unless they’ve been there.

I’ve learned that there are amazing people out there who’ve walked this journey and I’ve been fortunate enough to make incredible connections with them.

 

 

 

I’ve learned that too many people die from cancer. Too. Many. People. People I knew, people I prayed for… a child my boys prayed for every night lost his battle while I was being treated.

I’ve learned that sharing a life-threatening experience can make your marriage stronger.

I’ve learned that my mom is somehow capable of being more amazing every day.

I’ve learned that I’m lucky to have a best friend that stuck by my side through good, bad and ugly… because there’s really nothing cute about chemo.

I’ve learned that this too shall pass.

I’ve learned to face my demons.

I’ve learned that everything happens for a reason, and if you’re open to learn from it you can gain so much from even the crappiest situations.

I’ve learned that cancer may have left some battle wounds, but I will win the war.

Time flies when you’re living with cancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week marks eight weeks that my cancer was confirmed. It will be my fourth chemo treatment— my official halfway mark. I’ve had more eight-week spans in my lifetime than I’ll ever remember, but the events of the past two months are moments that I’ll never forget.

“This is going to be hard,” my doctor told my family as he led us into the room, wishing he could shield us all from the inevitable. We came to the appointment just hoping that the giant mass that had grown between my heart and lungs was benign… but those six words stripped the hope right from our souls as we slowly took our places in the room.

As he handed me some info on Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he carefully began to explain.

“The first biopsy showed the presence of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cells, but not enough to be 100% certain…” But my doctor knew better. So did I. With every word after that my reality began to unfold.

“You should know this doesn’t have to be a death sentence.” Of this, we were also both certain.

I nervously tried to break the tension by saying something funny but he darted a look my way that I’ll never forget. As he lowered his eyes back to the paperwork it all became so real. My sister went from standing scared against the wall to slowly sliding all the way down to the floor in shock. My mom— my hero— sobbed as quietly as she could while she took it all in. My husband sat next to me as we flipped through pages of biopsy results and more information than I could possibly absorb.

I fought back tears as I tried to ask all the right questions while the room sometimes spun around me. Inevitably I found that “go time” place inside of me that my family insists was shock. I’ll consider it faith. Within an hour of leaving the doctor’s office, as my house began to fill with family and close friends, I quickly enrolled at City of Hope and my journey to beat cancer with God by my side had officially begun.

 

 

 

quality time, every time.

As schedules get packed and our lives fill with to-do’s, it’s easy to let life get in the way of quality time with our kids. While we’d all like to have endless quality time, the reality is sometimes we just have to make the most of the time we have to spare!

In my journey to unplug more and spend more time genuinely connecting with my kids, I’ve found some tips that work for us to make any time quality time.

In the car

When you’re in the car, keep the radio off, ignore your phone and make that time all about your kids. Ask them about their day, about school, about their social life and relationships. Just like dinner time around the dining room table, car rides are a great opportunity to really connect with your kids, sans technology distractions. When I was younger and my mom was a busy single mom who didn’t have a ton of time to spare, we always bonded in the car. As I grew older, I counted on that uninterrupted time in the car to bring up things that were on my mind, or confide in her about things happening in my life with friends, boyfriends and school.

At bedtime

Consider stretching out your bedtime routine to pad in a little extra bonding time. While it’s easy to rush through the routines and get from teeth brushing to tucking-in quickly so we can all go about wrapping up our grown-up to-dos, take a little extra time to sit by their bed and recap their day, check in with them about what’s going on in their little world. It gives both of you a little extra time to unwind  and bond before turning in for the night.

Running errands

Since I had the baby, I’ve tried to find ways to sneak in a little extra one-on-one time with my oldest. While bringing him along when I run errands isn’t necessarily the most convenient option, it’s the perfect option if I need some quality time with him. In addition to bonding to-and-from while we’re in the car, I also try and get him involved with the errands. He’ll push the shopping cart, hold the shopping list for me, I’ll engage him about his opinions if I’m choosing between things or drumming up a project. All of those small gestures are a huge deal in his eyes and they go a long way for bonding and validating for him how important his time, his help and his opinions are to me. It would be easy to leave him behind and knock out my errands in half the time (and get some much-needed me time while I’m at it!), but we’d both miss out on a prime opportunity for quality time.

In the kitchen

A few weeks back, my son’s preschool teacher told us how helpful he is in the mornings at school. He had been setting the table, helping to prepare breakfast… things I honestly hadn’t even thought of engaging him in before! Since then, instead of hustling through making breakfast or lunch while he sits at the table and waits for me to finish, I try and get him involved in the kitchen. By letting him grab the bread, or build the sandwiches and be my little helper in the kitchen, it turns what would otherwise be just one more to-do on my list into  something fun we can do together.

How do you find ways to fit in quality time in your day-to-day?

 

celebrity labor stories and the myth of the painless c-section

Let me preface this by saying— if you chose to birth your baby via c-section, vaginally, through your nostrils . . . it’s your body and your business. We all have choices and how we bring babies into this world is one of them. Do as you see fit!

That being said, the stories I read about celebrities opting for c-section because they’re “afraid of pain,” blow my mind.

Who tells women c-sections are somehow less painful or painless, and why are they buying it? Why would anyone opt to have their stomach cut open (muscles, nerves, the whole nine) and a baby pulled out of it (more like pushed, pulled, tugged until it’s out) and think it’s going to be a cakewalk? And the recovery? Here’s what they don’t tell you: The first time you try and walk after 24 hours of leg compresses and catheters— that feels like someone ripped your stomach open, put about a ton of bricks in it, sewed you up and said, ok go ahead and walk now . . . don’t mind the fact that it feels like the contents of your stomach are painfully dragging on the floor.

I remember the first time someone told me after my first c-section, “Well, at least you didn’t have to have any pain.” Seriously? I still have pain. Also not on the list of things you’ll hear from celebrity birth stories: Two c-sections later and my lower abdomen is a mess of dead nerves and shooting pains. And right above the incision looks like a shelf. It’s very attractive.

Of course, at the end of the day I would have birthed my sons through my little finger if that was the only way I could have brought them into this world. I’d give anything, endure any amount of pain … and I’d do it all over again, twice.

My issue is (clearly I have one), it’s annoying when c-sections are glorified with these celebrities like it’s the hip thing to do when you’re just too cool for pain. If you’re considering skipping straight to a c-section because you read your favorite celeb said it was the way to go in Us Weekly, know that it’s not some magically painless process — it’s major surgery.

 

simple, modern yarn easter eggs

So here’s my deal: I love Easter. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be with family, to celebrate Jesus, to overload on chocolate… all very good things!

But since I have two boys and I prefer modern and understated decor, it’s one of the few holidays that’s hard to decorate my house for. Fluffy yellow bunnies and pink Easter basket grass just isn’t our thing.

In the spirit of celebrating Easter and still keeping it modern and fresh, I created this wooden egg & yarn Easter Egg craft tutorial for SheKnows.

Hope you swing by and check it out! It’s super easy and the supplies are inexpensive, but the end result is Easter chic!

 

my heartwarming tour of the new CHOC Children’s Hospital tower

The Bill Holmes Tower at CHOC Children’s Hospital is designed to be one of the most advanced and safest children’s hospitals in the world. When I toured the new tower recently, I not only saw firsthand how they’d completely covered everything– from advanced imaging machines that can grab scans in a flash (perfect for restless kids), to high-tech goggles for MRIs that show videos and help soothe children, to the region’s only dedicated pediatric emergency department. While all of those advancements and careful considerations make CHOC Children’s Hospital the best in So Cal, and beyond, it was the people on the front lines of care who really moved me.

We heard stories from the pediatric oncology team about granting patients’ final wishes inside of their Rainbow Rooms, about setting up proms for teenagers with critical illnesses and how much pride they take in creating a loving, supportive environment for the families who are there caring for their children. We saw high-tech operating rooms that George Lucas couldn’t have envision in his wildest dreams and heart imaging technology that’s ahead of its time… but the people who shared the information with us, who guided us along their everyday journey in saving lives and helping families cope with loss are what makes the biggest difference in the care at CHOC. I especially loved hearing stories about how their Child Life therapists help children deal with anxiety and emotions through play and art, and how those therapies are used to cut down on anesthesia use, among many other things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the executive and administrative staff — while incredibly proud of how their careful plans, procedures and technologies will help reduce wait times, reduce human error, provide doctors and staff with better tools to evaluate, treat and cure — stood out to me. When they spoke about everything that makes this hospital great, it came from such a heartfelt place… as if they were bragging about their own child.

Don’t get me wrong. While I was already a fan of CHOC, my mind was absolutely blown at every detail, every tool, every machine and even the logic behind their ER protocol. I’m just forever touched by the wonderful people who create the team that makes it all happen.

Some of the key features of the incredible new tower (thanks to some very gracious people in the Orange County community, the entertainment industry and beyond) include:

  • The Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department – Orange County’s only dedicated pediatric emergency department with 31 treatment rooms
  • Robert L. Tidwell Procedure Center with seven operating rooms and five minor procedure suites
  • The CHOC Children’s Heart Institute with two cardiac catheterization labs
  • 28 private hematology/oncology acute care patient beds
  • Seacrest Studios, a radio station and multi-media center in partnership with the Ryan Seacrest Foundation
  • Family resource center with multimedia workstations for researching pediatric illnesses and conditions, along with a business center to help working parents juggle the demands of work and family
  • Pre-teen and teen rooms with amenities such as flat panel TVs, DVD players, game entertainment systems and PC stations. The rooms are connected by a kitchenette where patients and families can gather for cooking classes and other activities.
  • Patient outdoor play area – a private outdoor space designed to promote relaxation
  • Diagnostic imaging services & clinical laboratory services
  • Café
  • Public garden with seating to create a serene, relaxing environment
  • Meditation and prayer center to accommodate people of all faith traditions
  • Space to accommodate future needs

 

 

reprise! toy story birthday

My three year old is obsessed with Toy Story. Obsessed. Everything from his room, to his clothes, down to his little preschool backpack is Toy Story. After a blow-out second birthday party, I promised my husband I’d tone this one down a bit  (a bit). . . but I still wanted to create a special Toy Story moment for my little man.

Cake Table

Almost every party I do starts with the cake (we always use Layer Cake). This year, I wanted a themed cake, but I wanted to use action figures that could double as toys. We flanked the cake table with Buzz Lightyear lunch boxes and spaceship party favors that you can buy here (warning: they’re super cute, but they don’t hold much).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac-N-Cheese Bar

I love doing fun food bars, especially for kids’ parties. If this wasn’t being held at a park (and had I not sworn to keep this one more low key), I’d be posting a fabulous over-the-top mac-n-cheese bar. However, this one totally worked, and it was easy to execute. In fact, we bought the mac from El Pollo Loco since it’s my son’s favorite, so it was super easy. We offered an assortment of toppings from bacon bits to parmesan to turkey dogs, to crispy french onions and more. We made little place cards with Toy Story characters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos

I always love to showcase photos of my little man from the past year to add a personal touch, and to show friends and family how much he’s grown. We found a very budget-friendly way to display photos on-theme. These great little picture frames were only a dollart at Target in the dollar section (now known as the “some of it is a dollar, some is $3, so pay attention while you pile everything into your cart” section). They were on theme with the color, and we just stuck on some Toy Story character stickers we got in bulk. He now has these frames in his room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More . . . 

The birthday boy got to dress in his Buzz shirt, his little brother was his sidekick Sheriff Woody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Potato Head glasses photo op with the some of the kids . . .

valentine’s day: ditch artificial & go natural this year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your little one loves all of the pink & red food fun that comes with Valentine’s Day, but you’re not a fan of artificial food coloring and processed snacks — you have options!

Here are a few quick tips to get you through Valentine’s Day with an organic & natural foods twist!

GO NATURAL: If you’re decorating your own from-scratch cookies, opt for natural food coloring and organic sugar sprinkles. There are so many great colors & options available (online, at WholeFoods & more), that there’s no need to reach for the artificial brands (see my article on allParenting for why we opt out of artificial food coloring)

Here are just a few options if you’re considering ordering natural food coloring online:

CHOOSE FRESHSubstitute fresh fruit for snacks… and for color. We recently used mashed strawberries to tint organic frosting pink and the kids never knew the difference! Dried cranberries, pomegranate & strawberries are all great ways to get bold pops of red colors into Valentine’s Day meals sans artificial colors & flavors!

SELECT SMART PACKAGED FOODS: Opt for ready-made snacks that use natural & organic ingredients (like beets, etc.) for coloring. Try packaged and convenient (but healthy) options like:

  • Earth’s Best smoothie squeeze pouches– Perfect for pint-sized lunch boxes.
  • Jammy Sammy organic pre-made sandwiches (you an cut them into hearts, too!)
  • Organic strawberry milk boxes from Horizon
  • Organic strawberry cereal or granolar bars
  • Organic dried cranberries (My kids love to snack on these. We use the Simply Organic brand from Ralph’s & skip the high fructose corn syrup!)
  • Raspberry or strawberry organic toaster pastries (the perfect substitute for Pop Tarts)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

smitten with caviar & oyster — new makeup palette by bobbi brown

I’ll confess: Makeup is my weakness. Well, makeup and diamonds fair just about equally, but makeup gets me in far less trouble with my husband! You can have your $3,000 handbags. I’d take that money and get a facial and indulge on high-end skincare product and a makeup shopping spree.

There’s something about a killer cream and super luxe makeup that make me feel pampered and put-together.

When I was pregnant and felt like a not-so-glowing giant beach ball with legs, a little bronzer and some gorgeous eye make up would make me feel like the prettiest gal on the planet (cankles and all).

That being said, I’ve found a new fall obsession:  Caviar & Oyster Palette by Bobbi Brown ($75).

Whether you’re going strong and smokey for a holiday party look or soft and pretty for daytime, you’ve got so many options with this palette. It features eight shadows, including rich caviar and pearlescent shades that range from plum to opal, pink, grey and white… plus Ballet Sparkle— a gorgeous sheer shimmer that you can wear on your eyes and sweep across your cheeks.

My favorite part is that you can mix & mach so many looks with this palette & tale your face from bold and sultry to shimmery soft all in one simple compact holder. Perfect for busy moms like me that have to apply their makeup in the car (I know, I know), or on the fly! TIP: It’s Limited Edition, so snatch it up while you can!

 

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