Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off, and Start All Over Again

Ah, Christmas. That magical time of year--when the light twinkles and dances off the ornaments on your tree and you can bask in the utter shininess of the holiday. 

I mean, just look at that tree! Mom, Bay and I scored it the day after Thanksgiving fresh from Washington State (at one of the local Church's tree lots). I put on the lights and Mom and Bay hung all the ornaments, perfectly placing each one. For three days and three nights, I marveled at the tree and it reminded me of all my blessings this year--especially when I consider what was happening last year at this time. I didn't put a tree up last year so this one was particularly important to me. 

And then at 1AM on Sunday night (technically Monday morning), I awoke to a clatter. I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. And what to my wondering eyes should appear.....

But the Christmas tree lying broken upon the ground. 

Now, let me first say, that this is a very embarrassing thing to admit and share with you. I have been putting up trees ever since I was a teenager and never, in all that time, NEVER, has a tree fallen over. Bay blames the stand, but the stand I have is actually the most stable kind you can buy. You screw a cap onto the tree trunk and that in turn snaps into a base that allows you to adjust the tree to fix any issues with a crooked trunk. Basically, you can make sure that your tree is straight. However this year, I wasn't paying as close attention as I should to the fellow cutting the branches off the trunk, and I think there were some branches too low on the trunk that prevented the tree from sitting all the way down in the stand. Also, when I was watering it on Sunday afternoon I heard a click when I was maneuvering the water can under the tree. I think I might have actually unlocked the tree from the base. 

What I am trying to say is it was my fault. But not totally my fault. Maybe.

But when I heard the crash Sunday night and work up, I knew immediately what it was. Trust me, the sound of an 8 foot tree falling over and ornaments shattering is quite distinctive. 

The 6 Stages of a Fallen Christmas Tree

1. Shock

2. Disbelief

3. Panic

4. Anger

5. Mourning

6. Acceptance

The worst part of the whole affair was that the tree was too heavy for me to lift alone. Trust me, I tried. And managed to pull a back muscle in the process. So I spent all of Monday working from home and staring at my poor fallen tree and feeling sorry for it (and myself). Thank goodness for my friend Kent, who came over in the afternoon, helped me pick up the tree, saw off the offending low branches, and snap the thing back into place. I rehung the ornaments over a several day period, mostly because I wanted to make sure it was going to stay upright this time. 

And I think it all ended up alright in the end. Here's the restored tree in all its glory with the full Hanukkah menorah in front of it for good measure and holiday inclusiveness. The tree has stayed straight and true through all the weeks in December and has proudly stood over the wrapped holiday gifts. Perhaps it's a bit of a cliche, but I think I love the tree more for the trouble I had with it. It's more special as a result of the work it required. As I write this post I can turn my head and see it standing there--an 8 foot tall symbol of how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends and family.

And of course Bay and I found time to visit another Christmas tree this year....

I hope all of you have a holiday filled with lights and love--and if this is a hard time of year for you, then I hope that you find some peace in the season. Christmas reminds of all the blessings we have, but it can also be a reminder of all that we have lost. Just know that no matter what, you have people that love you. And THAT is what Christmas is all about. The tree is just the icing on the figgy pudding. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Face

It started out as a little thing. While looking in the mirror about six months ago, I noticed a shiny little bump in the middle of my forehead. "Oh, great," I thought. "I am 34 years old and still breaking out."

After dealing with more than 20 years of pimples, I knew not to try to pop the sucker. It would make it bigger, redder, and last a hell of a lot longer. And since it didn't have an active white head (which I think is pretty much the grossest thing ever), I decided to just let it alone. It would heal on its own and I had a really good foundation to camouflage it.

But it didn't go away. It just stayed there. Covering it up became part of my regular makeup routine. And on the days I didn't wear makeup I just didn't worry about it.

After a while though, the bump began to worry me. I stated making mental notes to call my dermatologist--and of course I immediately forgot these mental notes. I eventually got my act together and called and made an appointment, especially since I had another mole I also wanted to get checked out. About six months after first noticing it, I was finally getting my mystery nodule checked out.

My dermatologist entered the room, glanced at my forehead, and said, "oh, yeah, that's a basel cell. I'm about 99% sure. It's not a big deal, it's not life-threatening, but you will need to have some surgery." She gave me the basics of the procedure, gave me a brochure, and a referral to a skin cancer surgery center.

I was familiar with basel cell carcinoma through my job reviewing medical disability claims for the VA. It's the most common form of cancer and is very rarely life-threatening. The tumors, which usually present as a new mole or shiny bump, don't metastasize, but the cancer will continue to grow and the tumor will get bigger if it is not removed. So my bump needed to come off. I started calling it my unicorn horn.

I read about BCC and the procedure (called Mohs micrographic surgery) and pretty much figured it would be no big deal. There might be some stitches, but if the amount of skin that needed to be removed was small enough I might not even need that. I was nervous, and a bit concerned about the pain, but I figured I could handle it. To put it another way, I was optimistic.

Boy, was I unprepared. Mentally, I mean. The way the surgery works is you go back in the room and after a topical anesthetic, the doctor removes the bump. It then goes to an on site lab and they try to find a good margin of distance between the cancer cells and the healthy cells. Best case scenario: they get the desired margin on the first try and then you might not even require stitches.

This is not what happened in my case.

I had to get cut twice before the doctor was happy with the results. Apparently I had "roots of the cancer spreading into my hairline." Great. Not only was the cutting part awful, but then I had to get stitched up. I had to get extra doses of anesthetic (probably because I am a ginger) and was awake for every cut, tug, pull, and stitch that went into my forehead. I'll spare you the gory details (too late?) but it was kind of traumatic and way worse than I expected. I left the doctor's office with a huge bandage on my forehead and a forced smile on my face.

Recovery was hard too. There was a lot more pain that I expected and I had to leave the large bandage on for 24 hours, at which point it could come off leaving a water proof under-bandage which was still pretty big. That would remain on for a week and the doctor would remove it at my week follow-up appointment. That one went off without a hitch, and I had some small butterfly bandages for the next few days. After that I was bandage free, but would have to deal with my scar.

I've never considered myself a vain person. Of course I care about the way I look--and of course I have major body issues (I spent the first 30 years of my life as a fat girl, so yeah). But for the most part I think I have a fairly realistic idea of how I look and don't spend too much time worried about whether I am pretty or whether the face I present to the world is attractive enough.

But having someone cut into my face and having to look at a 2 inch scar on my forehead for the rest of my life has hit me really hard.

There was almost a sort of mourning period for my former face. It wasn't flawless and I actually had some tiny scars from childhood incidents, but I've never had anything like this before. It's large, obvious, and raised above the skin level. Think of the cliche Frankenstein-type scar, and you're not too far off. Though my stitches (which will dissolve) are thankfully flesh colored and not black.

Because the forehead has to support the weight of the face, the doctor had to raise the scar; otherwise, it would pull open as the skin dropped down. The surgeon said that it would look like "taffy." Gross. He also had to put a sizable dent into my forehead. This is actually some stitches under the skin holding up the muscles of the forehead until they are used to supporting the extra weight of the scar tissue. So not only do I have a raised scar, I also have a dent. Swell.

I want to take a break from my whining and give a shout-out to my surgeon. The folks over at the Skin Cancer Surgery Center (offices in Fairfax and Bethesda) were fantastic. Very professional, kind, and skilled. Aside from the long waiting time, I have no complaints.

The good news is in about a year this will all all fade and I will have a "barely visible" line in my forehead that should essentially disappear into a normal crease. The bad news is, it's going to take a year to get to that point.

So here I am, trying to adjust to my new face. It's a shock and kind of sad to look into the mirror now. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that to the world--remember when I said I had never considered myself a vain person?I think I might have to readjust how I think about that too. I know objectively that soon the scar will fade and most people will never know it is there. I also know objectively that the surgery needed to be done; better to have a manageable amount of pain now and nip this problem in the bud. But I also know that subjectively I am still mourning my former face.

Remember to wear your sunscreen, ok? Because you really don't want to go through this. But I am still very grateful that it wasn't worse and I will have a full recovery. I am luckier than most.

And now, the pictures! If you don't like seeing pictures of scars (or my face, I guess) feel free to skip this part. Nothing is very gross, but hey, just giving the warning.

Big post-surgery bandage and sad face. 

Water-proof bandage (I had this one for a week).

Removal of all bandages in the doctor's office. Check out the dent!

Two weeks post-surgery. Still pretty red. The scar is shiny since I use Vaseline to avoid scabbing. Oh, and the headphones in all these pics are because I took them while working. 

My awesome friend Sarah sent me some fun bandages--these ones are called Oopsie Dasiy!

And here we are today: 3 weeks post-surgery. Still a raised scar and a dent, but the redness has gone done and the stitches have dissolved. So for the next 6 months or so, this is my face.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Welcome back to your life, Maggie


Remember me?

You know, Maggie. The owner of this blog. You can't have forgotten about me already.

Yes, I know it's been 8 months since I updated. But after all the years we spent together I would have thought you wouldn't forget me that easily.

Think of all the good times we had; all the trips we took, all the delicious food we ate (and cooked), all the adventures we had together. I know that if think really hard, you'll remember.

Yay, there we are! Annnnnnnnnd, we're back!

So you probably wondered what happened to me all those months ago. No, I didn't fall off the face of the earth, get kidnapped by Gypsies (Romani? Travelers? whatever), or forget that I had a blog. I was in what I like to call The Bad Place.

The Bad Place is where I spent every day wondering if I would need to take Mom to the hospital because she was so sick from her chemotherapy treatments. The Bad Place is when I had to basically move back home to care for her and make sure she was eating. The Bad Place is when I would spend every evening I was by myself crying and hugging my stuffed toy beagle because I was so sad all the time. And The Bad Place is where I broke out in hives because I had so much anxiety.

That's all I am going to say about that. Because this post isn't about some "Oh, woe is me, my life was so hard" type of discussion. This post is about how happy I am now, and how all the awfulness, and time, and stress, and pain was worth it. Because my Mom is a cancer survivor who has fought her way out of the darkness and is getting back to her life. And so am I.  Sure, she's minus a few lymph nodes, but hey, nobody's perfect.

Basically since New Years 2015, things have made a complete turn around. Every day Mom gets stronger; she's back to working in her office one day a week and can just about work full days at home. She walks almost every day (with a little not so gentle nudging from yours truly) and can eat almost anything she wants again. She will always have a dry throat and has to be careful about getting sick (no lymph nodes, remember?), but other than that she's well on the road to full recovery.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the incredible outpouring of help, love, and support from all of my friends, Mom's friends, and our family. When I say we couldn't have done it without you all, I mean it. We could not. have done it. without you. Full stop.

And as for me, well it seems like everything is going right. Of course that means I've got my eye on the sky waiting for the Acme safe to fall on me, but I am just enjoying it while it lasts. Work is going well (I just got asked to mentor a new attorney), family is all happy and healthy, and I've been dating someone wonderful since January.

In fact, I can't imagine ever being as happy as I am right now. So that's something, right? I am sure it won't last forever, but like Mom said--you gotta have the bad times so you learn to appreciate the good ones.

And I intend to appreciate the hell out of it.

And just to prove that things weren't all bad (and aren't bad now).....

 Me and Selvi at a wedding this past weekend.

Visiting my nephews in February 2015. This pretty much sums up the relationship I have with James.

 Another wedding with my fella.

 Trip to New York City in December to see the Rockettes!

Mom and Aunt Kim happy at Christmas!