Thursday, April 13, 2017

It Wasn't My "Time"

Now that it has been a little over a month since my cancer surgery, I have had time to reflect on the entire experience. From the time I found out I had skin cancer in January until right now, I haven't cried. I think that was because I was trying to convince everyone else that I was going to be fine!! One of the very hardest things I have ever had to do was to continue to tell Dominic I would be okay, even though I really didn't know.

It was difficult for Lauren, because she was at college and couldn't come home. My husband was so strong through all of this. He never for a moment was negative. He kept everything positive the entire time. I relied on my faith enormously. I told three priests about my cancer and one of them anointed me with oil. The feeling of calmness after he did that was incredibly powerful. When things are out of your control, sometimes the only thing you can do is pray. The amount of support I received from my family and friends was tremendous! I had so many people reach out to me, both publicly and privately that I realized I am very blessed to have such a huge support system. I told a lot of people about my diagnosis, not because I wanted to be the center of attention, but rather if just one person gets a full body exam to look for suspicious moles, then everything I went through was worth it. Malignant Melanoma is a very serious and deadly cancer. I have had people tell me I am "lucky." I have to 100% agree with that. I am lucky that the cancer was caught early. I am lucky that it hadn't spread. I was extremely lucky I only had to drive one hour to receive treatment. I had reconciled in my own head that if I was going to die, I was ready to go. Thank goodness it wasn't my "time." About a year and half ago, my dad had a massive stroke. He and I have had lots of discussions about what he went through and what I just went through and how it was similar. He came up with one word that describes what are lives are now. That word is "gift." We have been given the "gift," of extra time. That is something no one should ever take for granted.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"Sliding" into Independence

We returned this past Sunday night from a one week vacation to our favorite resort in Jamaica. This particular resort has several pools and we like to hang out by the pool specifically designed for kids. One of the most popular things to do is to go down the giant water slides.

Okay, a little background on the water slides. Two years ago, when we were at this resort, Dominic and I almost drowned at the foot of the slides. We had went over to be able to greet Lauren as she came down, not realizing how deep it was. The lifeguard had to jump in and pull us to the surface. SCARY. That incident was the number one reason I enrolled Dominic in swimming lessons shortly after we returned home.  Anyways, last Friday, (the day before we left), Dominic and I headed over to watch Lauren come down. She had asked several times throughout the week if Dominic could go down the slides. Each time I said no.  I hadn't thought of asking Dominic until we watched Lauren. To my surprise, he said yes! Okay, now I had a decision to make. Do I let my fear hold him back or do I let him try?  Lauren promised me she would be with him the whole time. The lifeguard was also sitting within a foot of the bottom of the slides, so there was not a chance he would drown.  I let him go.  He came down the slide with no problems at all! When they came over to see me, Lauren asked him if he wanted to go again. He said YES! They went down a few more times.

Even now, with Dominic turning 13 in about four months, I am still guilty of underestimating his abilities. My husband and Lauren have to remind me! I don't know why I still assume he can't do something. Trying is a part of learning, right? I think it's my inner "mamma bear " instincts of wanting to protect my "cubs." I was the "playground police," when Lauren was little to make sure she always got her turn on the swings, etc. Good grief. Looking back, I was pretty overprotective!!!  Lauren will be 21 in a few months. As I have watched her grow into an independent and self-confident woman, our relationship has evolved and changed. Ever so often, I catch myself going into that overprotective "mode" with her.  Does that feeling of wanting to protect our children ever go away? I am 53 and my dad is still over protective of me, so I guess I just answered my own question!! As Dominic continues to mature and become more independent, I need to loosen those restrictions I don't mean to place on him. I have already taught him what to say to me when I bug him too much. He says, "please just leave me alone."  I'm glad he can recognize those times when those pre-adolescent feelings kick in! My relationship with Dominic is starting to change and evolve, just like Lauren and I need to change with it, right???

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why I Am Choosing to Talk Openly About My Skin Cancer

I am what you would call "lackadaisical," about using suntan lotion and sunblock. Back in my teenage years, I thought using baby oil would give me that coveted glossy "sheen." I would be that gal on the beach that would be there for hours, with NO umbrella. More than once, I burned my skin so bad that it hurt to sit down. Did I ever think I would get skin cancer? Nope. Did I think I was invincible? Yep.  Below is me from the early 1990's when I went to Jamaica.  I was red as a lobster.

Well, flash forward to the Summer of 2016. I was at an appointment with my doctor and I showed her a mole on the back of my left calf. She told me at the time it was nothing to worry about, the mole was okay, she didn't suspect skin cancer. Towards the holidays, I began to notice the mole getting larger and changing colors. I was super busy and figured I would ask my doctor to take a look at the mole at my physical in January of 2017. Well, once she took a look, she was like, "Catherine, how long has that mole looked like that?" I said,"oh, a few months." She immediately did a "punch" biopsy and said I would get the results in about a week. I knew when she called me personally, the news was probably not good. It wasn't. She told me I had Malignant Melanoma and I would need to go to the Melanoma Clinic at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to confirm the diagnosis. I got an appointment a week later and it was confirmed that I have Stage 1B Malignant Melanoma skin cancer. Even as I was sitting in a hospital gown, I still was hoping it was a mistake and I didn't really have skin cancer. During that appointment, I talked to two doctors and they said, "can you come back tomorrow? we will remove the mole."  My husband was able to rearrange his schedule to be able to take care of Dominic, and since I was getting a "local," I drove myself there and back. I figured since they removed the mole, and it had only looked strange for a few months, that would be the end of it. I had to wait five business days before I got the results and the doctor who removed the mole called me and told me the cancer was deeper than they originally thought and I would need to see a surgeon to schedule my surgery. Excuse me? When I went to see the surgeon on Valentine's Day, she said, "we shouldn't need to do a skin graft." What??? I already have a one-inch scar from where they removed the mole. My surgery is scheduled for March 23 and I will be getting  a "Wide-Local Excision of left calf Melanoma with Intra-Operative Lymphatic Mapping and Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy." Quite a mouthful, huh? There is a 15 percent chance that the cancer has spread. I haven't felt sorry for myself because all three times I have been to the cancer center,  I have seen patients less than half my age in wheelchairs with no hair. I am hoping by being so open about my experiences, if just one person goes to their doctor when they notice a change in a mole, instead of waiting like I did,  then hopefully it will spare them having to go through what I am going through now and what I am putting my family and friends through. Consider it a "Public Service Announcement." For more information, visit the American Cancer Society's website:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Recipe with a "Story"

Back in August of last year, I flew back to Maryland for part of a week and helped my brother start to clean out my parents house to get it ready to sell. I had my brother store some boxes for me at his house and when we were just in Maryland around the holidays, we put them in the back of our van and brought them back to Michigan. One of the boxes contained two of my mother's recipe boxes. Shortly after the new year, I took a quick look through the boxes and then didn't look through them again until a few days ago. Oh my, I found a  recipe card for a cookie that I thought I had in my "collection," but didn't. Growing up, there was a couple that lived next door to my family that had no children. Their names were Mary Ann and Harold. Even though we weren't related, they were like family to us.  Finding Mary Ann's recipe for "Mom D's Cinnamon Crisps," was like hitting the jackpot!!! I have been looking for this cookie recipe for years and thought it was gone forever. It was written in my handwriting on a pink recipe card. I am pretty sure "Mom D." was Mary Ann's mom. When I was in eighth grade and taking a Home Economics class, I brought this recipe to school and we made these cookies in the classroom! Mary Ann and Harold moved to Iowa after Harold retired. I was lucky enough to visit them a few times in Iowa. They both have been gone a long time, more years than I care to remember, but I still think about them frequently. This is one of the few pictures I have of Mary Ann and I.

Below is the recipe for "Mom D's Cinnamon Crisps," if you would like to make them.They are really yummy!


3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sifted flour

2 tablespoons white sugar (reserved)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (reserved)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Set aside. In a  large bowl, put the cream cheese, butter, shortening and sugar.  Cream by hand with a large spoon or with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the flour a half a cup at a time until well combined.  Roll into 36 equal-sized balls and place a dozen at a time on the cookie sheet.  In a small bowl, put the reserved tablespoons of white sugar and cinnamon and mix with a small spoon until well combined. Using the bottom of a small drinking glass, press first in the sugar/cinnamon mixture and then press down gently on the cookie. Bake for about 12 minutes or until slightly brown and then remove from oven. Let them sit five minutes before removing to a wire rack to continue cooling.

I like what I wrote on the back of the recipe card, "these are terrific and melt in your mouth!" Well they do!!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Maintaining a "Connection"

Lauren starts her second semester of her junior year of college this coming Monday! Good grief. That went by SO fast. In the "olden," days (when I was 20), there was no such thing as texting and Skyping to keep connected with family and friends. The "twenty-somethings," of today rely on texting, Snapchatting, etc. I think one of the happiest days of Lauren's life was when I FINALLY decided to ditch my TracFone!!! Yes, I now use an iPhone. Anyways, her winter break has been long and with the hubby and Dominic both going back to work and school today, respectfully, we decided to head out to the local outlet mall. I am so lucky that Lauren still values my opinion and I can be truthful with her. We hit three or four different stores and since the holidays are over, the parking lot/stores were pretty much empty. We got some really, really great deals. Lauren wants to go to law school after she graduates in 2018, so we were over the moon when we found a designer dress that was 60% off! She wants to "intern," and we are working on building a wardrobe full of professional clothes. I think my favorite conversations with Lauren today were on the 1/2 hour drive to and from the outlet mall. We rarely have "alone," time and I really miss that.  I treasure those moments when I have her all to myself, because they are so rare. Thanks my sweet girl for an awesome afternoon! 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Report Cards

Dominic has been in a special education classroom since he was three years old. Just in the past couple of years, he has been getting report cards with a "letter" grade. For a lot of children, paying them for good grades is a big motivator.  Dominic is motivated by positive praise. Always has been and probably always will be. During the day at school, he doesn't have a "typical" class schedule. Most of his time is spent in his classroom. Dominic does get "mainstreamed," into a few classes, like Choir, so it's like he is getting the best of both worlds. I have said this before and I'll say it again, when Dominic was first diagnosed with Autism at age 2 1/2, I had very low expectations for him. I knew absolutely no one at the time that had a child with Autism and I had so many doubts as to what he could achieve. How would I parent him? would it be similar to raising Lauren? For example, teaching Lauren to take a shower was relatively simple, Dominic is absolutely terrified of the shower, so he continues to take a bath.  Oh, my - clipping his fingernails and toenails can't be done at the same time, he will literally run out of his bedroom. I have to put it on his daily schedule or he will refuse to let me assist him. When Dominic asked to go to the barber in the Summer of 2015, that was a huge step forward on the life skills "road." Dominic's class from time-to-time will go to the movies and he gets to order his own popcorn and pop.  Since he was four, he has been on ADHD medication. I used to have to sneak it into foods, but for several years, he has been able to take it himself. He even takes a dose in the school office during the school day! He willingly takes his anti-seizure medication and will remind me if I forget. Dominic puts his dirty clothes in the basket in our bedroom and he sets and helps clear the dinner dishes each day. He dresses himself each morning, though he needs verbal reminders to move it along so he doesn't miss the bus. Brushing his teeth continues to be a struggle, but we work on it. Last week in the mail, we got Dominic's report card. My eyes went immediately to the comments section, specifically the comments about his life skills. It said, "life skills participation grade - excellent participation/effort." He had an A+ too, which was just the icing on the cake. Receiving that type of positive affirmation as a parent of a child with Autism, just energizes me even more to continue to work on those life skills every single day! I have great hope that he can live on his own one day. It is something I think about A LOT. Time will tell.

Friday, November 11, 2016

How an Entire School Choir Has Embraced Dominic

When Dominic started seventh grade back in August, one of the electives he picked was Choir. I liked that he wanted to do Choir, because it meant that he would be with many of the same kids he has been with for the past couple of years. At the concerts, about 75% of the time he doesn’t sing, but stands there. He always gets assistance from one of the guys or gals to help him know where to stand and when to follow the choir when they go on and off the stage. No one seems to care that he isn’t singing, I’m just happy that he can stand there for long amounts of time and not fidget too much. That in itself is an accomplishment for a child with Autism, ADHD and Epilepsy. Last month, after his Fall concert was over and the hubby and I were sitting in our seats and packing up our stuff, one of the girls in the choir came over and kissed Dominic on the cheek, it was very sweet. As we were leaving the auditorium, a bunch of his choir “mates,” were telling him what a good job he had done and were shaking his hand. I didn’t think that anything could top that experience. Well, I was wrong. Wednesday, I got a message from his teacher that I had to send Dominic into school on Thursday wearing his choir “clothes.” The school choir would be singing in a Veteran’s Day assembly in the morning.  Yesterday afternoon, Dominic’s teacher sent me a message that he had done a great job at the assembly. Cool. It’s always good to hear that! Thursday evening, my cell phone rang. On the other end of the phone was one of the paraprofessionals that works in Dominic’s classroom. She said something along the lines of, “I was going to text you, but I decided I wanted to tell you this over the phone.” She went on to tell me that during his Choir class that he has at the end of his school day, the kids spent the bulk of the time writing letters to Veterans. She remarked that the 50 or 60 kids were all talking, so the noise level in the room was pretty loud. Towards the end of the class time, Dominic walked over to the piano in the room where one of the girls in his class was softly playing. Once she noticed Dominic was waiting, she got up and let him sit down. He knows several songs to play on the piano, but he picked the Star Spangled Banner. She said as he played, the entire class got quiet and the kids were all watching and listening to him play. When he was finished, the entire class clapped for him! She told me that the kids all love him and he loves them. Wow, just wow. These kids could choose to ignore Dominic or bully him because he is “different.” Instead, they have made the choice to embrace him!