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Who knew the hospital could be such a  good time? All afternoon yesterday Austin was asking when it would be time for us to go, and then throughout dinner, he was pestering me and Mark, “When go hop-a-bul? Awtin reeeeeaaaaddddy.” He was fabulous all through last night, complaining only briefly when the IV line was inserted and then delightedly playing with the buttons on his bed. A bed he slept in all by himself (a far cry from the early days when Mark or I were forced to hold him, standing up, all night long) until 7 this morning when someone came in to draw blood–not a very nice way to wake up, mind you, but he toughed it out.

My dad relieved me long enough this morning so I could eat breakfast and take a shower at home before heading back. Then we were off to sedation, where I learned that once Austin turns three and can be trusted to drink the oral contrast himself instead of having it pushed through an NG tube down his nose to his belly, he won’t need to be sedated anymore. So that will take away one long and unpleasant step in this process for us.

The scan was fast and simple and after he managed to shake off his grogginess and eat some lunch, things were back to normal. Jeff found us mid-afternoon to report that the scan was clear, news that was expected but of course very welcome. So we make it through another milestone, one more thing to check off on the road to recovery. We know, as always as always, that this clear scan does not guarantee that there is no cancer growing inside him, but it’s still a good sign and one we’ll happily take. We’ll do another in three months, after Austin’s third birthday and two years since the beginning of the journey. If that one is also clear, we’ll wait until March, which will be two years since the official end of treatment and one year since this last “episode.”

I’ve just returned home (and straight to the computer) after Mark came from work to the hospital . . . with a corndog in tow (Austin’s special request from the hospital cafeteria!). Austin has one more hour of IV hydration and then they too will be home. I’m about to go pick up two important things: Braedan from my parents’ house and our favorite pizza.

And then we’ll be home together, a happy healthy family of four, cancer-free.

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Switching gears here, rather dramatically.  We head into the hospital tonight for Austin’s CT scan tomorrow. It’s been almost three months since his last surgery and this is the natural next step. Mark and I expect that this scan will be clear, mostly because the surgeons were just in there and removed everthing they could see. If some cancer cells were left behind or some new tumor is growing, it won’t be large enough yet to even show up on a scan. Remember, that most recent tumor took nine months before we saw it and even then, it was too small to clearly identify without three more months of watching followed by a biopsy. So we’ll be pleased, of course, if this one is clear, but it won’t make us think we’re in the clear. It’s the next scan or two, those that will happen in December and probably March of next year, that will really give us the answers we need. If those scans are clear, then we’ll breath easier.  That will be the time to celebrate.

So we’ve already dropped Braedan off at his cousin’s for a sleepover and have a normal and full day before heading down to the hospital after dinner.  If Austin behaves in his usual fashion, he’ll scream bloody murder for the sixty seconds it takes to insert the IV into his hand and then will drag me one-handedly to the playhouse immediately afterwards for some make-up playtime.  He’ll be hooked up to IV fluids all night and the scan is at noon tomorrow. Another six hours of fluids and some follow-up kidney function tests after that and we should be home by dinner.

Unfortunately, I forgot to mark this particular scan on Mark’s calendar and he has a trial starting tomorrow! Ooops. Oh well, I’ll stay tonight and my dad is going to give me a two-hour break in the morning. If I get a good (enough) sleep, I’ll use that time to go to my favorite pilates class. If I’m too exhausted, I’ll just head home for a quick nap.  Then back for one more day in that parallel universe.

Braedan brought one of his glittery wishing stars with him for his sleepover and we have another packed in our bag to hang from the hospital room ceiling. They’ve worked so far . . .

Austin's wishing stars, October 2007

Austin's wishing stars, October 2007

Sorry . . . didn’t mean to be so mysterious! It’s on Wellington, between Fairmount and Monmouth.  Voila:

This photo is actually from June 2011, but the one I originally had here was from Howard Hanna and when the house officially sold, I lost access to the image.

We have found it, it is perfect . . . and it is ours.

There is definite chemistry with this house. I ran by it a few weeks ago, on one of my favorite blocks — a classic Cleveland Heights street where the trees on either side form a canopy over the road so you feel as if you’re driving through a quiet, green tunnel. I hurried home and looked for it online but found nothing, so called the office to learn it had gone on the market a mere five days prior. I arranged for us to visit and the papers were signed exactly one week after we first stepped foot in it.

It is so perfect for us. SO much better than the other one, which would have had much unused space. This one gives us everything we’re looking for: big yard, a master suite and what will be a mudroom that Pottery Barn Kids would die for. There’s room to grow, but we’ll fill it up nicely and use every bit of it. The yard is almost three times the size of our current yard, partially wooded and green from every angle. It’s also right down the road from a great public elementary school that parents and kids alike are satisfied with. My own alma mater in fact. I wonder if my mom still has my brother’s Fairfax Falcons t-shirt (I wonder if they’re still called the Fairfax Falcons!).

It’s a major fixer-upper though, that’s the bigggest difference from the other one. The woman who is moving out has lived there since 1964! She raised four kids there and is now widowed and much too old for a five bedroom, four bathroom home. It’s been well-kept, the systems maintained and upgraded, good roof, some new windows, all that, but the kitchen is stuck in the 60s and the bathrooms a few decades earlier. I’m thrilled with this actually because as anyone who lives in a hundred-year-old house in the Heights will tell you, once a kitchen has been remodeled, it’s hard to justify doing it again even if you don’t love it. In our current house, the kitchen was redone before we bought it and while it’s very nice (by hundred-year-old house standards), it’s certainly not the cabinets or flooring or countertops I would have chosen. So this new house gives us the opportunity to create exactly what we want. And I can’t wait.

But I’m gonna have to wait. The woman is moving into a condo that won’t be available until mid-September and then we have about three months of work to do before actually moving in. So this will be a long slow process (which very well might drive me crazy), but I am excited enough with this house that I’ll just have to deal. We’ll register Braedan at Fairfax and start him there before we move in (let me know if you’re a Fairfax family — or one on the fence, maybe I can convince you to go public with us!) and hope to be living there by the end of the year.

All of the qualms and issues we had with that first house — whether it felt right to us, if it really represented who we are — have completely dissipated with this one. This is our house, this will be our home.

I would be remiss if I let Father’s Day get too far behind us without recognizing the other great dad in my life: Mark.  I know I’ve raved about Mark before and claimed that he is the quiet hero of this journey, sitting back and letting others (i.e., me) take all the accolades and attention, but there is no way I could have made it through Austin’s cancer or any other day of parenting without Mark.

The boys, November 2007

The boys, November 2007

For years I’ve noticed that when I’m with other moms, they use the pronoun “I” when talking about raising their children: “I try to sneak vegetables into . . . ” or “I only use time-outs when. . .” while my sentences always start with “we.” We do this and we do that, from food to discipline to bedtime routines to everything else groups of moms discuss. Mark and I do it all together. Parenting is a truly joint venture.

Mark shaving his head for St. Baldrick's 2009

Mark shaving his head for St. Baldrick's 2009

This point is highlighted by the fact that I never have to tell Mark what to do with the kids in my absence. He knows how each boy takes his milk (Braedan mostly soy with a little bit of skim, Austin mostly 1% with a splash of soy), which books are must-reads before naps, the entire bath and bed routine. If I’m at an evening meeting (common) or away for the weekend (not-so-common), I don’t need to leave long lists of what to feed them, how to entertain them, the best tricks for soothing each one’s various needs. Mark is a hands-on, fully present, totally engaged dad, “full-service” as Kelly Corrigan says of her own husband.

August 2007, the beginning of Austin's journey

August 2007, the beginning of Austin's journey

This past year, Braedan’s classmates were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. The responses were typical pre-school fare: fire fighters and doctors, ice skaters and princesses. Braedan thought for a moment and then picked that grown-up job which he most admires: daddy.

He sure has the perfect role model.

My dad is a guy’s guy, a man’s man. Men love him. They form a circle around him, drawn to the aura of excitement and adventure and success, hoping to soak a little of it up. He’s a thrill-seeker, you see, a champion skydiver and a downhill skier and an old battered college athlete. This past spring he went heli-skiing with some buddies in Alaska and none of us batted an eye. Like, “Of course, what else would Dad do but take a helicopter up the ski mountain near a volcano in Alaska?”

He flies airplanes and has a long history of fights on the soccer and lacrosse fields. He’s traveled the world, speaks fluent Italian and French, and has a dramatic story for just about everything.  He loves to spin a long tale over a glass of good scotch, maybe the one about the famous Italian opera singer he and his brothers saved from drowing in Italy when they were teens or about jumping out of airplanes in the 60s with some French soldiers. And you would never doubt that these are true stories . . .  this is just the kind of guy he is.

Cycling in Tuscany

Cycling in Tuscany

He’s also the guy you want around when something goes wrong, a natural in a natural disaster. My mom used to say if there was a nuclear war, he’d be one of the few people who could actually survive and figure out what to do and help restart civilization. You feel safe with him, when he’s teaching you to drive a car or pulling you behind a boat on a waterski or piloting your aircraft. You know he knows exactly what he’s doing and is always in control, even — or perhaps especially — under pressure.

So when you see my dad tooling around Cleveland Heights with his little grandsons, pushing them on the swings at the playground or drinking milkshakes at Tommy’s, you should know there is a hint of greatness, of glory, beneath  that ordinary exterior. 

He has spent a lot of his life seeking greater adventures and greater thrills and greater success, driven by a need to do more, be more, have more. But he has learned, I think the hard way, that what matters most is the little things: family, home, togetherness. And I think, if you asked him today, he would say he has every single thing he needs to make him happy.

And then some.

Happy Father’s Day, dad.

Do bloggers get time off for summer vacation? Maybe where readers are allowed a break too but are mandated to return to regular reading on a set date in the fall? I know there was a time not too long ago when everyone would get mighty worried if they didn’t hear from me for more than 48 hours. Rest assured we are fine and healthy and just busy, busy, busy (and not yet willing — or skilled enough– to blog from my iPhone).

Spent a long lazy weekend at Chautauqua with some of Mark’s old Peace Corps friends, two couples and a little boy who we haven’t seen in six years. It was lots of fun, even for the one other wife and I who have never set foot in Ukraine (and don’t really plan to despite our husbands’ insistance we’d “love it”).

                           

Braedan and Austin immortalized in the Michigan gear brought to them by our
Ann Arbor friends (much to Mark’s dismay!)

We’ve been home for two days and are off again tomorrow for a cold and rainy weekend in Cape Cod (sans daddy!) for my mom’s family reunion. Hmmm, sure seems like fun to be stuck in a hotel room with two active little boys for two days . . .  I wonder if Austin is old enough to sit through an entire movie yet? I’ve heard Up is appealing to all. Maybe that will be our authentic Atlantic Coast experience.

Back to our regular schedule next week with some pretty exciting news to report . . .

Just got word today that Cure magazine will include an essay I wrote in its Fall issue. I had submitted this piece to them back in February and after the requisite six weeks of waiting, I rechecked their guidelines and read those dreaded words, “Due to the large number of submissions we receive, we only reply to those we are interested in publishing.” Ah, silence is the new rejection. How dissatisfying to not even get a “We regret to inform you . . .” letter. So I wrote it off, assuming they weren’t interested, thinking, “Darn, that was a good one, too.”

And then a call came in today from Dallas and it was the editor-at-large saying she wanted to use my “wonderful” piece in their next issue. And actually pay me for it. (Not exactly a windfall, mind you, but it still feels good.) Not sure this magazine actually “hits the stands” as it’s focused entirely on cancer and I’ve only ever seen it in the hospital waiting rooms, but I’ll let you know when it appears.

Speaking of, another essay I told you about a few months ago was supposed to be published in the Summer issue of Caring Today magazine, but their website hasn’t been updated in ages and I haven’t heard anything from them. Funny because I already got paid for that one. Oh well.

And of course, there’s that pesky little issue of securing a literary agent. As you know, my first 16 pages are sitting with Kelly Corrigan’s agent in Los Angeles, who said four weeks ago that I was a “strong writer” and she would request more pages in up to four weeks. Now I realize that she does not have my name and contact info highlighted in her datebook, (**Don’t forget to contact Krissy by June 10!!**) so I’m just sitting tight on this one. She has lots of clients who obviously take precedence over me and I think I’ll wait a few more weeks before contacting Kelly to see what to do next. I have definitely placed all my eggs in one basket with this one and have not bothered to submit to anyone else since this opportunity arose. I am instead adding the latest round to the book so it’s ready when asked for.  Here’s a great story about how The Middle Place came to be, which makes me smile, gives me hope, and keeps me sitting on my hands.

Thank you for the many words of encouragement following my last two postings. I have heard from many of you who appreciate the honesty with which I present my views. I am certain I have lost some of my old Carepage readers, people who may have followed Austin’s story from the beginning, and wished and hoped on our behalf, only to be dismayed to hear me proclaim such a pro-choice stance. And I am sorry to have lost those people and deeply appreciate everyone who cared (and cares) about Austin, but this is who I am in my entirety; take it or leave it.

So, since I seem to be on a roll here. . . In response to a comment from my friend Jason, which read in part,”Until our government and religious institutions can look themselves in the mirror and present a consistent argument for life, they have no business meddling in personal health decisions,” I am copying below a letter I had published in our local weekly newspaper in 2005. I wrote this letter after turning on the news to an image of a young woman with tape across her mouth that read “LIFE” in big bloody red letters. My initial thought was that she was protesting the second anniversary of the war in Iraq and I was deeply disturbed to learn moments later she was instead protesting the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

Dear Editor,

I was struck this week by the juxtaposition of two major news events: the two-year anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq and its attendant protests, and the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube and its attendant protests.  The so-called pro-life movement has proven itself disingenuous yet again.  While they organize prayer vigils and protests outside the hospice center of the woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state for fifteen years, they remain curiously silent about the combined 62,655 Iraqi, Afghan and Coalition troops and civilians killed in the War on Terror.  These people who claim they are for life have allowed our government to fool them into justifying the murder of men, women and children around the globe in the name of national security.  Why are they not protesting the bombing of Iraqi school children?  Why are they not praying over the bodies of Afghani wedding guests?  Why are they not crying out against the murder of suspects in US custody?  Where is their moral outrage?

A small number of extremists have managed to focus the attention of our nation’s lawmakers, judges and media on one woman, who cannot think, speak or respond.  Yet they ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands around the globe who actually had the potential for long and productive lives.  Their hypocrisy is shocking.

I recognize that this is a tragedy for Schiavo’s parents and I even understand why they might try to hold on to any small bit of hope that they have.  But I do not understand how right-wing lawmakers and activists can justify butting in to this very private dispute between a grieving husband and grieving parents, while they remain silent on so many other issues of injustice.

The way they pick and choose just whose lives they value is shameful.

KDG

Well, lo and behold, there was another letter the following week, which read:

Dear Editor,

KDG’s March 31 letter certainly caught my attention, being a long-time pro-lifer, although with a decidely liberal bent.

Her letter reminded me of an evening several weeks ago, when I was walking to the parking lot with a co-worker and her husband. She noted the bumper sticker on my car that had several words with red slashes across them. Those words are: war, poverty, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and racism.

I said to her, “Yeah, I’m one of those liberal pro-lifers. I think there are three of us. Me and two other people.”

I may have vastly understated our numbers. There might be four of us, counting Gallagher.

LP

Well, needless to say, I was stunned and a little bit outraged, so convinced the paper to print yet another letter from me more clearly stating my views:

Dear Editor,

When I read LP’s April 7 letter, my initial reaction was to emphatically type, “I am NOT pro-life!”  But then I realized that is not an accurate reflection of my position.  According to the dictionary, to be “pro” something means to value it or favor it.  Do I value and favor life?  Of course.  Before any more confusion arises, let me state, also emphatically, that I am 100% pro-choice.  The other side, which has co-opted the English language for political purposes, would have you believe that this means I am against life.  I most certainly am not.

Because I value women’s lives, I trust and respect them enough to make their own decisions about if, when and under what circumstance to bear children.  Because I value quality of life, I believe every American should have access to affordable health care.  Because I favor improving the lives of the hundreds of thousands of us living with potentially treatable and curable diseases, I favor stem cell research.  And because I care about life, I also care about that most natural and inevitable part of it: death.  I believe all people should be afforded the right to die with dignity in accordance with their own wishes.

So I agree with Mr. P that the number of so-called pro-lifers with views as consistent as his is pathetically small, and I do not count myself among them.  Yes, I value life, but most especially, I value quality of life and personal control over one’s life.

KDG

Let me be unequivocal about the fact that I believe any woman should be able to choose abortion for any reason whatsoever. I certainly did not intend for yesterday’s post to imply that some women are more “deserving” or at least less condemnable than others for making make this choice. We do not need to divide women into the whore versus Madonna, saint versus sinner dichotomy that has been used for centuries to persecute and oppress women.

But while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about what we can do do to reduce the number of abortions. No, not reduce the number of abortions but reduce the need for abortion in the first place. First and foremost, and I think most reasonable people would consider this fairly obvious, we absolutely must commit to honest, fact-based sex education. Then we must ensure that effective contraception is available and accessible to all women, men and, yes teenagers, who need it.

Those are the obvious first steps: reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and you’ll naturally reduce the number of abortions. But the next step, which is somehow overlooked by so many politicians and policy makers, deals with the way we, as a society, value the lives of women and children.

Women must be assured high quality and affordable health care, both for pre-natal care, labor and delivery, and then for their growing children. Women must have access to high quality jobs that pay a living wage and allow for time off to bear and care for children. Families must have affordable housing in safe neighborhoods where they can send their children to high quality schools.  Families must live, work and play in safe and clean environments in order to thrive. 

Proving that we value the lives of women and children after they’re born  will reduce the number of abortions (and it is just plain the right thing to do). And for all the people who rant and rave and commit murder in the name of life, unless they’re working and fighting for greater social and economic justice, they’re hypocrites. Demonizing and criminalizing the women who seek abortion and the doctors who provide it harms many and helps none.

How about doing some good for once?

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