Archive for the ‘Peanut’ Category

The Last Storytime

In Books, Hazelnut, Peanut on May 22, 2017 at 2:42 pm

So it seems quite anti-climactic to follow up my last blog post with anything other than a reaction to the election, but right now I don’t have the time to quite do that topic justice. Suffice to say, a terrible thing happened, and we need to be praying — and working — for the disenfranchised whose suffering has increased, and for the millions of people who don’t seem to care.

In the meantime, though, as hard as it has sometimes been to believe, life goes on. Winter came and went as always. Work continued for Tolkien and I. School proceeded along for Peanut, who’s now finishing the second grade. (Cue shock and awe.) And Hazelnut is now almost three and a half. Over the past few months, it’s been easy to mourn the sometimes disheartening world in which these two will be growing up, so I’ve been making a concerted effort to focus on the positives.

One of those positives is the fact that, since residency ended (which was around the same time we became parents), I have always worked part-time. For almost 8 years, I have had Mondays off, which I spent solely with Peanut until she went to school and which I now spend with Hazelnut. This is a huge blessing for our family, and not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for it. One of my favourite things to do on these Mondays is go to toddler library storytime. (That is, it’s one of MY favourite things to do. The kids, they could take it or leave it.)

I don’t know if I’ve gone into this before, but I love libraries.  Part of it is simply that I love reading, and part of it is that I grew up in a town with an incredible public library. (The first time I took Tolkien there to visit he was openmouthed at the five-floor glass building on top of a hill with a sweeping view of surrounding towns and an in-house coffee bar built long before such things were ubiquitous.) But my love also stems from the fact that I think it’s amazing that society considers it important to provide this service to its citizens. Free books, free classes, free events for children, free computer access … especially now that we’re in a time in this country when everyone seems to want to deny privileges to their neighbours, I realize that even things we’ve always had could be taken away, so I don’t want to take them for granted. Since I was a very young kid, I’ve just been moved by the idea that stepping into a library gives you access to thousands of free books.

So it’s probably no surprise that one of my very favourite things about being a parent has been picking out books for my kids. It’s a huge treat for me to go to the library once every couple of months and spend an hour curating two new stacks of books to enthrall a seven-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy respectively. (Obviously said seven-year-old and three-year-old can’t actually accompany me on this trip or none of this would get done.) I especially love finding books that I read as a child and attempting to brainwash my kids into adoring them too. I’m already sad about the day when both of them are old enough to pick out their own books. Apparently then it’ll creepy if I keep hanging out in the children’s section.

In any case, storytime (which in our system has the politically correct name of “children’s educational programming”) is also part of the library experience for me. I think it’s just lovely that a librarian selects several books to go along with a theme, some titles of which I may not have heard of either. It’s so sweet to see a bunch of babies and toddlers lisping along to the songs that go with that theme. It’s fun to see Hazelnut interact with other kiddos his age, as Peanut did. And I most love snuggling with Hazelnut while he’s still small enough to fit in my lap, as I did with Peanut before she grew like a weed. It’s not like we don’t snuggle at home, but in public he’s maybe 1/8 less rambunctious than he usually is, which if my math is correct translates into 2 more minutes of lap snuggling than I’d get at home, where the temptation to leap off a bed while hollering “To infinity and beyond!” is too great to resist for long. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just like every other parent, and the actual listening to books meant for a toddler comprehension level gets boring pretty fast. But the overall idea still makes me warm and fuzzy.


However, I realized recently that Hazelnut is starting preschool this fall. He’ll be gone on Mondays. And Peanut is about to finish school for the summer, which means we won’t be going to toddler storytime (I’m sorry, CHILDREN’S EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMING) for the next couple of months because we’ll need to find a Monday activity that engages both of them. So today was my last library storytime. Oh sure, there might be one or two more in the future if there’s a Monday when Hazelnut’s school is cancelled or what have you, but for all intents and purposes, an era is ending here. Eight years of library storytime. Eight years of having a child at home full time. Eight years of raising a baby or toddler. Gone like that.

Someone told me once that every stage of raising kids has its pros and its cons, so Tolkien and I have been trying to enjoy the positives of each stage rather than dread the upcoming negatives or long for the departed good stuff. There are certainly a lot of things that I think will be great about having older and adult children. I will never miss potty training, for example. And if I ever miss being woken up all night long, you can be confident that I’ve suffered a severe head injury. But for today, I’m going to let myself be a little nostalgic about the precious Monday mornings I used to spend listening to picture books and songs with one of my chubby little ones. And I may or may not be making a mental list of story time locations for the grandkids. 🙂

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Healthcare Hot Potato

In Hazelnut, My thyroid, Peanut, Tolkien on September 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Oh you poor neglected blog you! I’m glad you’re not a baby human, and I’m sure Child Protective Services is too.

So how’ve you guys been? Things at Casa Much are trucking along. Update, you ask? Oh, you didn’t? Well, since I’ve already started …

On the thyroid front, when I went for my 1-year follow-up in February, my endocrinologist told me I would need to go through treatment again. For a variety of reasons (not even including the utter hassle it would be) this was concerning to us:

a) because of repeat radioactive iodine’s potential effects on fertility or implications for a future secondary malignancy

b) because of the fact that this recommendation did not follow published American Thyroid Association treatment guidelines, and

c) because of the inability to get a clear explanation from my endocrinologist about why he was recommending this. We seemed to have a tough time understanding each other in person (English was not his first language), and he totally ignored an e-mail I sent with my questions.

This latter issue was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I know just how chaotic a physician’s day in clinical practice can be, but I have never failed to respond in some way to a patient’s e-mail or phone call. I would have absolutely understood if he didn’t have the time to write out a four-page reply and if he had instead asked me to come in to discuss it — no problem at all there. But to pretend a patient has not communicated with you is unacceptable. So that was when I decided it was time to try to find another endocrinologist. But to pinpoint someone who takes our insurance, is located within 50 miles of us, has expertise in thyroid cancer, and has an opening within the next few months is a daunting task. Eventually, however, I did find someone, a doc who actually graduated in Tolkien’s and my medical school class, although he joined towards the end of our time at school so we didn’t know each other. As well, Dr. Med School Classmate (Dr. MSC) and I have a very close mutual friend who I’ll call Dallas Cowboy (these nicknames are cracking me, if nobody else, up) who also vouched for him. Dr. MSC turned out to be awesome. Really kind and helpful, even after I tortured him with endless questions, and he felt we could do some testing first rather than going right into a repeat round of treatment (which was what Tolkien and I also thought was the best plan.)

So there I was, friends, blissfully skipping along in the care of a new, sane endocrinologist, my long search over. It just so happened that Dallas Cowboy and his wife came to Easter services with Tolkien and I later that month. When we were leaving brunch together in the same car, Dallas Cowboy’s cell phone rang. “Look,” he said, “it’s Dr. MSC!”

“Oh!” I said. “Tell him I said hi!”

And why do you think Dr. MSC was calling Dallas Cowboy? Why, to tell his good friend some exciting news, of course: that he was moving. To join another practice. Out of state.

What are the odds I’d be present to actually hear that phone call sending me back to square one? You can’t make this stuff up! Of course I didn’t blame him at all and I was happy for his opportunity, but I needed a nap just thinking about starting my search anew.

So there I was back at the aforementioned square one: needing to find a new endocrinologist. (For those of you keeping track at home, this would be Endo #4 in the course of one year.) I was out of options as far as covered providers under my insurance, so I had no choice but to go back to [prominent academic hospital.] However, I wanted to see a different physician there since I’d had a less than satisfactory experience with the one prior to Dr. MSC. But roadblock! The endocrinology department at this hospital has an unusual policy — they do not allow you to switch providers without express consent from the first one. What? I’d have to ask my original, less-than-awesome doctor for permission to switch like a meek child, explain to his face why I was uncomfortable with his care, and then abide by his final judgment over whether I could stay or go? It’s not even like we have socialized healthcare in this country — I’m paying my own money for insurance and for these appointments, and it’s clear that the payor system treats patients as as consumers. And as one of those consumers, I still have no choice?

Luckily Dr. MSC trained at said hospital and very kindly offered to intercede on my behalf. (He also told me that he’d had multiple patients switch from Less-Than-Awesome Doctor to him over the course of his time there, which may be why the hospital has this policy in place to begin with, to ensure that Less-Than-Awesome Doctor doesn’t end up with no patients at all.) One endocrinologist did agree to see me, but his office still insisted that I had to write a letter to my original guy. Which I did, simply being grateful that I didn’t actually have to have an awkward conversation with him. (Never heard back from him.)

Several months later, I finally saw Endo #4, who seems very nice. He, too, felt that a second round of treatment was not warranted without some other testing first. In fact, he felt that another round of treatment was so far out of the bounds of standard practice that I must have misunderstood Less-Than-Awesome Doctor, since LTAD has an accent. I was not thrilled by this suggestion. Although I fully admit, as stated above, that he was not easy to understand, I am the child of immigrants — I’m not exactly scared away by accents. And I know what he recommended because I asked him a million incredulous questions about it. Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge now. More important is that Endo #4 then casually mentioned, after some varied comments about the weather, that he was moving … to Rome.

People, IS IT ME???? Should I start showering? Am I singlehandedly, one by one, driving all endocrinologists out of my state? Can they sense my unhealthy obsession with L. M. Montgomery? Should I instead start carrying around a copy of, I don’t know, The Art of War or some other universally “cool” tome as a talisman against loss of healthcare providers?

All is not lost, however, for two reasons. One is that Endo #4 is just taking a temporary professorship and should be back in the States next spring. The second is that all testing and treatment for me is on hold for now anyway, because of this:

Peanut #2

Yes, I currently have a uterine buddy. We are super-excited for this new addition (especially Peanut, who wants to know when her baby is finally going to exit my stomach into her smothering care) and are praying hard for a safe delivery and healthy baby. Baby Boy (I’m currently taking suggestions for his blog nickname … anyone?) is due in early December, and I’m trying to ignore all the people who have told us that going from 1 to 2 children actually increases your work by more than 100%. We’re concentrating on less important things at the moment, such as name selection. Boys’ names are hard! Forget blog nickname suggestions, anyone have real-life name suggestions? What did you guys name your sons? We are not above theft.

So no more news on the thyroid front for awhile (I hope), for a very welcome reason. I can’t believe that, after 4 years, we are re-entering the baby phase. It’s time to stop procrastinating, get out all that baby gear, and re-learn how to use it. You know, tomorrow.


In Books, Christianity, My thyroid, Peanut, Tolkien on February 21, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I am so impressed with these mommy bloggers who post every day and still have fed and clothed children. Where do they find the time? I’d be patting myself on the back if I could post once a week.

Since I am not there yet, though, let me give you a quick update on what’s been going on over the last couple of months, category-style:

1. Tolkien – Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Only 4 months left of residency, and then only a year of fellowship before our decade of combined medical training is finally over. It’ll be tough for awhile yet — he’s currently cramming for the first of 3 board exams over the next 18 months, which means even less time he’s able to spend with us — but we can’t help but feel a bit encouraged.
2. Peanut – “Mama,” she told me after receiving excessive hugs and kisses while she wanted to be doing something else, “I have TOO MUCH LOVE.” What a problem. She is the poster child for gender differences being inborn and not environmentally determined, given her sudden and random development into a fashionista. She is currently obsessed with skirts and dresses and how her hair should be done. We’re puzzled about where this has come from. I’ll admit I really like fashion, but given that I now work from home, she doesn’t see me dress up that much, so I don’t think she’s getting it from me. Tolkien lives in scrubs and doesn’t wear ribbons in his hair (to my knowledge.) So, school? It’s a mystery. I don’t like too much of an emphasis on physical appearance, especially for girls (I want her to place her value on her brain and her soul), but I also don’t want to be a killjoy, so I’m trying to go with it in moderation for now. I also took her ice skating for the first time recently, something we did all the time growing up in Canada (and I am no athlete), and it was a moderate success, in that no one ended up in the hospital.

In her salwar kameez

In her salwar kameez

There’s nothing wrong with wall-hugging. Or hogging.

3. Me – Had my 10-month thyroid cancer follow-up yesterday, and my endocrinologist says we need to go through all of it again in a few months — the low-iodine diet, radioactive iodine, isolation — for some long and boring reasons. A big bummer. As always, your prayers would be appreciated!
4. To be filed under “Divine Timing” – Tolkien and I took our first vacation in 5 years two weeks ago, by going on a Carnival Caribbean cruise, just days before the ill-fated Carnival Triumph took its most famous voyage. We had a fantastic time, which is lucky, because I’m pretty sure that if I had seen feces dripping down walls that I would never, ever, ever go on vacation again. Like, ever.

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

5. Favourites – I love reading quizzes people fill out, so here’s a quick one on me. If you feel so inspired, send me your answers to these questions! Really, I find them fascinating.

Favourite colour: Red and purple
Favourite number: 17
Favourite book: Way too many to list. Here are some that come to mind immediately. My disclaimer is that this list is in no way inclusive, and that some titles are listed not because of their literary greatness but because of their exceptional creativity.
The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
The Likeness, Tana French
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krause Rosenthal
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Favourite food: Chocolate, French fries, raspberries
Favourite exercise: Oh dear
Favourite herb: Dill. I came to dill late in life, but now I adore it. I credit this recipe with lighting the fire of my love. It’s actually addictive.
Favourite current TV shows: The Office (though it’s not what it once was, my loyalty shackles me), Downton Abbey
Favourite meal out, ever: It’s funny, as there are so many wonderful meals we’ve had over the years. But for some reason, one that really stands out is a delicious meal Tolkien and I had 9 or 10 years ago at Nawab, an Indian restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia. It was nothing short of amazing that an ethnic restaurant in an area not known for its ethnic diversity could create such a perfect tikka masala, naan and lassi, from start to finish.
Favourite animal: Zebras? Because of the symbolic nature of their black and white skins and how harmoniously they create a whole? I’m stretching here. Seems I don’t care much for animals.
Favourite quote: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
Favourite chore: Washing dishes. And cooking, if that can be considered a chore.

6. Speaking of cooking, some of our favourite recent recipes:


Vegetables being prepped for Balsamic Roasted Vegetable Soup (I’m not a huge fan of soup, so I never think to make it. But Tolkien is, so one day I decided to search out a recipe. This disappeared fast.)

Pink Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies for Peanut’s class Valentine’s Day party.


Pistachio-encrusted broccoli pesto salmon and mushroom orzo.

… and much more, of which I have no photographic evidence. I would invest in a better camera, but then I’d need to remember to use it to take pictures of things. Dilemma!

7. Collective treat for the day – A must-watch clip of the Downton Abbey cast doing a spoken-word performance of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” You’re welcome.

Adventures in Involuntary Off-Roading

In Peanut, Tolkien on October 18, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s quiz time! Just one question, for the win:

How do you most like to spend your hard-earned money? Would you feel best about it going towards

a) Food
b) Shelter
c) Clothing
d) Costly repairs on a finicky, out-of-warranty, 7-year-old car

If you picked d), congratulations! You can move into Casa Much, because apparently that’s exactly how we like to allocate our household dollars too.

We have a Hyundai Sonata (I named it Fluffy, which Tolkien fought vociferously for years but has now accepted — nay, embraced.) For the first four years it was a pleasure. It was relatively affordable, drove like a dream (I have to admit that it still does), had plenty of interior space, earned multiple comments from strangers about how they too were now considering Hyundai purchases. It even kept that new-car smell for a good half-decade — seriously. But then, like a latent schizophrenia that rears its head in young adulthood, things started getting weird. The front passenger seat wouldn’t sense me when I sat in it no matter how I fastidiously I rearranged myself, so the passenger-side airbag would remain stubbornly off. It would, however, sense my purse if I left it alone in the seat, and really I found it rather insulting how quickly the passenger airbag light would switch to “ready”, as if I should be happy that though I might smash headfirst into the windshield in the case of an accident, my bag with its stale granola bars and spare burpcloth would be lovingly protected.

Then the ignition started becoming more and more difficult to turn, until one day it stopped turning completely and I could not start the car at all. It didn’t help that this was at lunchtime on a workday when I was trying to get from the hospital to the office to see a full schedule of patients for the afternoon. We found out, just by Googling, that this is a common malfunction in Hyundai Sonatas. But did that mean it would be covered by Hyundai’s much-vaunted 10-year, 100,000 mile Powertrain warranty? Oh the naivete! Even though it’s a known defect, caused through no action of our own, the company just could not see why they would need to cover it! During my migraine-inducing phone calls to Customer Service, I also could not get a clear answer on what WAS covered by this mythical warranty. So I ended up writing a sternly-worded letter, as I am wont to do, to the CEO of Hyundai. And here’s where I have to give credit where credit is due: I actually heard back, they covered the repair, and I got a personal e-mail from the CEO himself! I certainly believe in rewarding good if you complain about bad, so we remained relatively satisfied, if lukewarm, Hyundai owners.

Then our check-engine light went on. Being rather afraid at this point of what this car was capable of, we took it to three different mechanics. The consensus? That it was something wrong with our check-engine light. You can’t make this stuff up! We drove around for a year and a half with that thing randomly coming on and going off, clinging to the diagnoses of our three manly mechanics.

Until a week or so ago, when I was driving Peanut to preschool and, after stopping at a red light, the entire vehicle suddenly became unresponsive. Picture, if you will, the gas pedal doing nothing, the brake locking up, and the steering wheel becoming impossible to turn. To this picture, add the growing realization that you are on a downhill slope and the car is therefore moving forward, with you utterly unable to stop it. As well, throw in a 3-year-old demanding from the backseat, “Mama, drive PROPERLY!” So, in the space of a few seconds, I made my decision. Self, I said to myself, we are going to have to crash this car. Which we did. I wrenched the steering wheel 180 degrees, which, since it was locked, succeeded in turning the car only about 10, and plowed into a median to avoid hitting anyone or anything else. And thank God, thank God, we didn’t. Poor Peanut was a bit emotionally traumatized, and Fluffy him/herself wasn’t going to win any auto beauty contests (after 7+ years, we still haven’t settled on whether he’s a he or a she) but at least we were all OK.

To make a long story short, turns out we had a stuck oil valve that was causing the engine to stall intermittently while in motion. Wow, that’s not dangerous or concerning at all. Really, don’t mechanics have the same responsibility as doctors to diagnose correctly? I mean, how do we even know if this is the correct culprit? Sheesh. Anyway, the final repair bill was big. Very, very big. As in, the current value of the car is not much bigger. But given that we own the car, and would like not to have to buy a new one until Tolkien is out of training, we went ahead and got it fixed. If it gets us another 2 years out of Fluffy, then it’ll be worth it. If it doesn’t, then we just got played by a hunk of metal. That hunk of metal now has Peanut asking every time we get in a car, “Mama, are you going to crash this car into the curb too?” If she’s telling any version of this story at school, I can only imagine what the teachers think.

Look at it, just sitting there conniving. Probably trying to figure out how it can access my 401k.

But whenever I fume at the chunk of change this entire incident cost us, I distract myself by thinking of a) the fact that no one was hurt, and b) this recent Peanut gem. I’ll share it with you for medicinal purposes. It might even be covered by your insurance.

Peanut: “I have to go get Anjali’s husband.”
Me: (in mock shock) “You let your baby get married?”
Peanut: (seriously) “Yes. As a special treat.”

The blushing bride

Drive safe out there!

You See Dead People? I See Trains. No, I Really Do.

In Baby Howie, Celebrity Obsessions, Peanut, Tolkien on September 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Is it September already? Where has the time gone? What have I been doing? What is this strange device in front of me with little buttons and a screen? And what is the meaning of life?

I’m not sure how three months have passed since my last post, but I’ll quickly recap what we’ve been up to: recovering, working, being in the weddings of close friends, Peanut starting preschool, Peanut’s 3rd birthday party (during the planning of which Tolkien said “After this, I don’t know if I’m going to have the energy to plan her wedding”), traveling, and the next thing you know the summer had gotten away from us. But we are all doing well and are secretly looking forward to a calmer autumn.

So the Peanut has turned 3. She started school this year, a wrenching transition for Tolkien and I but not for her. We ended up enrolling her in the infamous school with the horses, mainly because I ran out of time to see many other schools before my surgery and treatment, but she seems to be having a really good time and always wants to go back. It’s hard for me to see her be out of the house so much, but I try to remind myself that a) we wanted her to have the socialization of being with a large group of kids, and b) nothing is set in stone. I have a lot of conflicting feelings about what the best schooling situation is in this day and age, which is a topic for another post, and I’m sure we’ll go back and forth in the coming years on where she should be educated.

In the meantime, though, it’s been an eventful year. And when we look back on 2012, do you know what we’ll remember? That it was the Year of Thomas.

Don’t look so smug, Tommy.

This was the year that the Peanut became obsessed with Thomas the Train. I never watched it or read the books myself, so I didn’t know anything about it, but Baby Howie showed her an episode once on a rainy day and something about it immediately captured her feverish little imagination. Here are the proofs of her devotion:

  • She is allowed to watch 30 minutes of television a day, and for the past 4 months she has always insisted that the only thing she wants is Thomas. She has actually committed toddler blasphemy and said, “I don’t like Elmo. I only like Thomas.” (I think she said that for the shock value. I can’t imagine she means it.)
  • She has memorized all of the trains’ names. They all look the same to me, but she knows the minute differences between each one. Sample conversation: Me: “Is that Emily?” Peanut: (looking at me with real concern, as if maybe someone should drug-test her mother) “No Mama. That’s Edward. Emily’s eyebrows are rounder.”
  • Every single morning when she wakes up, the very first thing she says is “Today we’re going to have a PICNIC PARTY for [insert name of random train here]!”
  • The owner of our local consignment store thinks I’m the “train lady” and, whenever she sees me, immediately tells me if they have a new batch in.
  • Tolkien and I find ourselves singing “They’re 2, they’re 4, they’re 6, they’re 8 …” under our breath all day at work. Peanut scolds us if we don’t sing it in a British accent, as she does. (And now it can be stuck in your head too. You’re welcome.)

  • Our house is overrun with Thomas paraphernalia because family and friends heard Peanut’s breathless chatter and got her Thomas items for her birthday.
  • The sheer awe Peanut felt each time she found out family members had the same first or middle names as various trains was truly astounding — you could just see her admiring the luck one must have in life to be named after a celebrity.

But here’s the thing … for the last several days, she has started requesting Elmo again during TV time. And here we are, surrounded by Thomas toys and books that we bought used or received as gifts, and not willing to let their time be over so soon. I mean, how wasteful is that? Really, this character toy thing is such a scam! And the people who own the Thomas trademark totally milk this. Do you know that not only is there a never-ending supply of different trains, buses, planes and more, but they make each one with different expressions and in different seasons? I have come up with a very scientific equation to calculate their profit margin:

x number of characters x y number of expressions x 4 seasons = a year’s income and a spoiled generation

Happy Summer Percy

Sad Winter Percy
















We just can’t do this every few months with whatever new book or toy Peanut pulls into her relentless embrace!

So I now find myself in the position of trying to get her back into Thomas and His Innumerable Friends. “Let’s play with Thomas! Isn’t Thomas so cool? I love Thomas!” (As my inner self apologizes to God for these blatant lies.) Next I think I’ll start reading them to her in her sleep. Since I can already recite them in mine.

Dear heaven, I hope something in here will be on my medical boards.

On To Phase “The Next”

In Christianity, My thyroid, Peanut, Tolkien on May 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Friends, how have you been? I can hardly believe it’s been five weeks since surgery, it’s been such a whirlwind. Between starting back at work and getting ready for the next stage of treatment, I’ve hardly had a chance to breathe. Evidence of this is that I haven’t updated my other blog in ages. Sorry, you four people out there who read it!

So radioactive iodine treatment (RAI) begins next month. Being quite naive, (and not having studied endocrinology since med school), we didn’t realize it would literally take up the whole month. This is particularly irksome because June is both Tolkien’s and my birthday month, and while he like most adults would find it hard to care less about his birthday, I love birthdays. I don’t mean I’m one of those birthday-zillas Carolyn Hax is always writing about who demands that everyone throw me parties and buy me jewelry, I just mean I really like the idea of everyone on earth having one special day. I like planning what kind of chocolate cake I get to have on that day. I like going about my regular business thinking in my head “Hello world! It’s my birthday!” I like wearing my favourite shirt even though I just wore it the other day because I can, FOR IT IS MY BIRTHDAY. (Psychiatry friends, please keep your diagnoses to yourselves. Thanking you in advance.) I know, I know, who else really cares about your birthday after the age of 21? No one (although my poor family feels compelled to pretend otherwise), but that’s OK. I care, and I care about everyone else’s birthdays too — this totally goes both ways. On your birthday, I believe you should be the prince/princess (within reason; no expensive presents or genuflecting included) and eat/wear whatever you want. (Bathing of some sort is not optional though, I don’t care whose birthday it is.) So yes. Birthdays!

Where was I? Motherhood has made me so distractible. Oh yes, thyroid cancer treatment. So the full RAI dose is on June 21, but that event is only one in a series of appointments that will consume the last two weeks of June. And for the first two and a half weeks of June, I need to go on a low-iodine diet in preparation. (This is so that any remaining thyroid cells, which may or may not be cancerous, will be “hungry” enough for iodine to take up the radioactive stuff.) What is a low-iodine diet, you may ask? It is a quite restrictive instrument of torture wherein one is denied, or basically denied, many major food groups: no dairy, no store-bought baked goods or bread, no seafood, no meats where you didn’t personally raise the animal from birth and muck out its stall with your bare hands, no processed or canned foods, no chocolate, nothing with molasses, nothing with various specific food dyes, and on and on. But did you catch that? Because there is only one thing that matters: this diet is for the first half of June. I CANNOT HAVE CHOCOLATE ON MY BIRTHDAY.

I am still wrapping my mind around this impossibility. I mean, any day without chocolate is an impossibility, let’s be honest, but my One Special Day? I know, I know, I should be a grown-up, plus everyone’s saying once it’s all over, you can have as much chocolate as you want, we’ll just celebrate late, but you know what? I can’t substitute another day very easily. That just seems like a sham, to have a birthday dinner on, say, July 8, when I would know it wasn’t my birthday. (Yes I realize this birthday neurosis borders on crazy, why do you ask?) But then, my moral fibre isn’t going to be strong enough to actually prevent me from eating any chocolate that happens to be presented to me on July 8 or any other non-medical-diet day, so it’s really a moot point.

The diet is one part of what’s going to make June a challenge. The other part is that after RAI I need to go into isolation to protect those around me, particularly Peanut because she is under 5, from the radiation I will be emitting. The guidelines on how strict and how long isolation should be vary widely, even among medical literature, which is not that comforting when you’re on the patient side of things. The paperwork my own hospital sent me was blithely unconcerned (“Try to stay away from other people for 3 days. Also, try not to cheat on your taxes, but if you do, no biggie!”) But other reports have people renting apartments for weeks to stay away from their families. As you can imagine, the responsibility of not exposing your loved ones or anyone else weighs heavily. The radiation is contained in bodily fluids, so it is not passed on through touch or the air (unless you sneeze) but managing it until it’s all gone will still be complicated (using disposable dishes, using separate linens and a separate bathroom, covering electronics in plastic wrap in case you sweat, etc.). Trying to figure out exactly what to do and for how long has been somewhat stressful, because of the stakes. And during my research, I came upon a patient-information website that said “You will be admitted to the hospital the day before your RAI and your radiation levels will be checked every day. Once the doctors feel you are safe to go home, they will discharge you — usually about two weeks later.” Who in the what now? I soon realized it was a site from the United Kingdom. Oh right, I forgot we live in the U.S., the only developed country in the world without national healthcare! Anywhere else, I’d be admitted as an inpatient for this treatment, but here, because the FDA approved RAI for outpatient use in the 1970s, insurance companies promptly stopped paying for hospital admission (except in very narrow circumstances which don’t apply to me.) What this means is that protecting others from radiation depends solely on the dedication and/or ability of the patient. Some patients go to the hospital, get radioactive iodine, and take public transportation home (not maliciously — they may not have a car), thereby exposing us all.

Whatever — I don’t really want to segue into a discussion about socialized medicine, as it’s pretty obvious I think it’s a moral obligation. It’s not the point, and I am also aware that universal healthcare isn’t perfect either. Also, I don’t want to start complaining, because how incredibly fortunate are we to live in a place where this treatment is available at all? The actual point of this long-winded stream of consciousness is that Tolkien and I have to plan our own isolation using our limited resources. (For example, we don’t own a lead-shielded house.) The good news is that the radiation does degrade off surfaces and out of the patient; you just have to give it enough time. And as some of you know, I recently started a new job with a national company doing consulting for hospitals around the country, which I really enjoy, and I now work at home. Since I just started, I’ve already used up all my leave on the surgery, so I will still have to work while going through RAI, but it will be much easier when all that means is walking to the basement. And hopefully I’ll be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t get too sick.

The plan is that I’ll live in the basement for the last two weeks of June and Tolkien will stay upstairs. For the utmost protection, Peanut will go “on vacation” for two weeks to her grandparents’ houses — one week with each set. By the time she comes back, we should be all clear and back to normal. We’re so lucky to have them be able to do this for us, but I feel really bad at all the upheaval this has meant for poor little P. Don’t get me wrong — she remains the beneficiary of X-Treme Grandparent Spoiling, which will actually be an event at the 2012 London Olympics — but she’s still only two and a half years old. Your prayers that this will be a mere blip on the screen for her would be much appreciated!

The diet starts Monday, so I’ve been trying to cook low-iodine foods to freeze ahead of time (this cookbook that Tolkien found has been helpful) and steeling myself for the necessity of just stuffing this crap down my gullet no matter what it tastes like. (I haven’t taste-tested any of it because I’d like to delude myself a little longer that it might all be extremely delicious.) Last night I was up till 1 AM baking low-iodine bread in our bread machine. Now, I’ve used that machine before (back in, um, 2008) and I don’t remember the bread turning out like this (a dense, pentagon-shaped cube, if there could be such a thing) but maybe that’s how it’s supposed to look, you be the judge:


My mom and dad have also cooked and frozen some meals for me, which is awesome. (No one seems tempted to sneak a bite though.) Unfortunately this all comes at a bad time since Tolkien has to go out of town as his fellowship interviews have started, not that there’s ever a good time in medical training. He has just 2 years left to go though (at which point we will have had 13 years of education and training post-college.) Friends, don’t be mean to your doctors — have pity on them!

So that’s the latest update. I wanted to write it all in one place since so many people have been asking for details. We’re incredibly grateful for your concern and prayers, and would love if you would pray that June will go quickly and smoothly. In the meantime, have a little iodized salt for me. Sprinkle that stuff on your coffee if you have to. Ahhh … it’s as if I’m sipping it myself.

Merci … Gracias … Danke Schon … Thank You

In Baby Howie, Christianity, My thyroid, Peanut, Tolkien on April 30, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Whew … and here I am on the other side!

It’s probably getting old to hear, but I just can’t thank everyone enough for all your support and love. The calls, messages, gifts and most of all your prayers have been such a blessing and comfort to us all. Although I am weeks behind on thanking everyone personally, know that I will catch up and we are so grateful! Most of all, we are so thankful to God for having carried us this far, and for letting me be able to honestly say that if having cancer surgery can ever be a positive experience, this was a positive experience.

Tolkien and Baby Howie accompanied me to the hospital Monday morning while my mom and dad cared for Peanut at home. Man, what a relief that we were able to do this at our hospital of choice, where Tolkien is a resident. Like most urban academic hospitals, this one is huge, and just the simple fact that Tolkien knows his way around (I don’t work there, so I would have been lost) made everything easier. And then of course knowing people on staff is always a stress-reliever as well. The anesthesiology team told me I’d be one of their family, which doesn’t actually make any difference in the medical care I’d receive, but still is nice to hear in the minutes before you go under the knife.

From my perspective, the best thing to happen that day was when my surgeon came by to check in with me beforehand, heard about my endocrinologist’s plan to make me hypothyroid, and said he’d get me in for a second opinion with [prominent academic hospital]’s endocrinology department the next day. When I had tried to schedule a second opinion myself, there was an eight-week waiting list. This endocrinology thing has been a big pain; although my old endocrinologist was perfectly nice, he wasn’t necessarily someone I’d have chosen. My PCP got me an appointment with him. In general, my bias is to select doctors who are young, recently out of training, because a) I feel like you can talk to them more like a peer, and b) they may be more familiar with whatever the latest treatments and procedures are in their field. Obviously this is a total generalization and is not really fair to the many excellent older practitioners out there (and doesn’t take into account the benefit of years of experience.)  But in this one case, my bias was correct, because this endocrinologist’s treatment plan was different from what all our endocrinologist friends, as well as the two surgeons I saw, were recommending. Tolkien and I were well aware of that, and yet didn’t have much choice if I couldn’t get an appointment with anyone else for months. Additionally, I was already questioning whether I should stay with him because it took him 10 days to return my phone call/e-mail with an important question, and he wasn’t on vacation. Now, I understand perfectly how crazily busy a day in private practice can be, but 10 days is a little ridiculous. So in all, it was really incredible that my surgeon was able to do this for me. We didn’t end up seeing the new endocrinologist while I was in the hospital (insurance issues) but we did go back to see him a few days later. And I now do not have to be hypothyroid for weeks, which is great. They started me on thyroid replacement medication right away. When I have radioactive iodine treatment in a few weeks, they’ll use a newer injectable medication to prepare my body instead of the weeks of uncomfortable hypothyroidism you used to have to go through. My endocrinologist friends will be glad to hear I am actually going to be able to do what you all have recommended! Suffice to say, I’ve transferred my care to the new endocrinologist. And am very grateful to my surgeon.

But back to the day of surgery. So I remember everything up through walking down the hall to the operating room with the nurse anesthetist, lying down on the operating table while they hooked EKG leads up to me and started running the medications into my IV, and the anesthesiologist asking what my daughter’s name was. I noticed that the objects in the room were starting to get wavy. The very last thing I remember is me asking her what her kids’ names were. I never heard her answer. The next thing I remember is seeing a very hazy Tolkien next to my bed (it was 6 hours later) and saying “I’m so confused.” That, of course, is what remember. What Tolkien says I actually said was, “I’m so confused. I’m really very confused. Where’s Words With Friends?” Which is weird, because although most new interests of mine quickly become obsessions, that game has not. (Don’t tell Alec Baldwin.)

But I gradually woke up, ended up in my room, and had a nice evening with Tolkien and Baby Howie. The surgery went really well and the lymph nodes appear to be negative. Praise God! The pain was not that bad (having a C-section was much worse) and I had no nausea at all, which is really a miracle and probably the main reason I felt this was a positive experience. Personally, I think nausea is a worse sensation than pain; and according to the research on post-op surveys, apparently most patients agree with me. And it’s lucky I’d rather have pain than nausea (within reason), since this was the third time (wisdom teeth extraction, C-section, and now thyroidectomy) that pain medication didn’t affect my pain at all. For that reason, I don’t think I’m in much danger of ever becoming a prescription-drug addict, but I also hope I don’t ever really need pain management for some reason, because I’ll be reduced to chewing on oak bark or whatever we used to do in the pre-opioid age.

The next day my dad relieved Baby Howie at the hospital, I was discharged, and Peanut and I went with my parents to their house out-of-state. Since then I have been resting while my parents wrangle a very energetic, very strong-willed two-and-a-half-year-old who believes that it is totally inappropriate for her mother not to be waiting on her hand and foot, and has the media been notified of this? I’m on lifting restrictions for two weeks (no lifting anything heavier than 10 lbs.) so I can’t pick her up or do much of her care, and of course she can see my surgical incision, which makes her very interested in the nature, and projected duration, of these proceedings. “Mama,” she asked me, “when we go home will your boo-boo be better, and can you drive me, and feed me, and carry me, and give me baths, and take me to the library, and take me to the park …” Basically, she wanted to know, do I have any intention of fulfilling my duties, or does she need to place an ad for a replacement? Ah, the brains of toddlers!

But Peanut can rest easy because overall, I’m doing pretty well. The pain is minimal at this point. My scar is obvious but not too bad, and will take a year to fully mature, so may be significantly less noticeable by then. I am tired, but that’s to be expected as it may take a little while to adjust my dosage of thyroid medication. So I’m so thankful to have my parents and in-laws nearby to take care of me and the Peanut and to give me this recovery time; I can’t imagine doing this without them. Tolkien and Baby Howie were here for the weekend and we had several friends and family come to visit, which was much appreciated although I was probably not very enchanting company (next time I will endeavour to be witty and fully awake, I promise.)

This journey isn’t over yet, but everything up until now could hardly have gone better. And we know that is due to the grace of God and to the power of the multitude of prayers you have made for us, from e-mailed Bible verses to fasting for us to the prayer conference call on the day of surgery. Thank you so much, dear friends, and let us return the gift for you by giving us your prayer requests. And of course we’re remembering Psalm 107:1 at this time: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” It’s naptime for me … but soon hopefully I’ll be back to my multitasking self!

Oh, and that post-surgical milkshake? Oreo cookies and cream — and delicious 🙂

A Decision, Made

In Christianity, My thyroid, Peanut on April 3, 2012 at 11:28 pm

A very welcome update: the previously-mentioned [prominent academic hospital] that is our first choice gave me a surgery date of April 23! So … no more medical dilemma! We are so grateful that God answered this particular prayer in this particular way. Now comes the flurry of planning, applying for leave, making arrangements for Peanut-care (and Much-care, since I’ll be out of commission for a couple of weeks or so), getting to all the necessary appointments, etc. But in the meantime, thank you to all of you for your prayers about this, and your continued prayers would be greatly appreciated! Before I enter the black hole of convalescence, I feel the pressure to get a lot of things done, one of them being snagging Peanut a spot in a good preschool for the fall (since by the time I return to productive society, even though that’s hardly eons away, all the schools might be full and she’d be relegated to working toddler shifts at McDonald’s or whatever happens to two-year-olds who DON’T GET INTO THE RIGHT PRESCHOOL RIGHT THIS MINUTE.) We don’t live in one of those legendarily uber-competitive preschool locales like Manhattan, so I thought we’d be safe from the craziness, but that’s apparently not entirely true. Today, Peanut and I both had interviews at a certain private school. Separately. It was surrealistically hilarious, and I have no idea what went on during her “cognitive assessment” since Peanut is not the most accurate historian. According to her version, it may have involved elephants. Anyway, it was a nice school. A really, really nice school. But I realized this was not the kind of school I was used to when they told me, in all seriousness, that the school would be happy to board our family’s horses in the on-campus stables if that would be convenient for us. Which, as you can imagine, was a real load off my mind, because the fate of our family’s non-existent equine members was really weighing very heavily upon me.

So basically, I have no idea where we’re going to send the Peanut to preschool.

But, no matter. Things will fall into place, one thing at a time, as God has shown us again and again. For now, surgery is scheduled! Yay!

Hunt for Fed October

In Baby Howie, Canada, Food, Peanut on October 27, 2011 at 7:49 pm

It’s my favourite month of the year, friends. (I know, and it’s the 27th day of that month, but let’s put those blinders on.) I’ve always loved October. It’s the month most closely associated with my favourite season, autumn, and I can never think of October without thinking of brilliantly-coloured leaves flaming forth from trees and blanketing the earth. The air is crisp and cool, with the muggy hair-ruining days of summer behind us and the snow-shoveling days of winter still a safe distance ahead of us. It’s the time of year when it’s not only acceptable to start thinking of ways to combine pumpkin and chocolate, it’s unacceptable not to. For some reason, October always makes me think of home.

I’m unreasonably nostalgic about everything. Because my family moved from Canada to the U.S. when I was 17, and I fought it the whole way, Canada and my entire childhood have taken on a utopian tinge in my feverish mind. Although we moved several times within Canada too, the house where I lived from the ages of 7 to 17 is unquestionably home for me. On nearly every trip back we have parked outside that house and sat in the car just looking, and no doubt attracting the suspicion of local authorities. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the nerve to knock on the door one day and ask to see the inside again; probably not. And maybe it’s better to remember it the way it was, and not see it filled with other people’s mismatched bedroom furniture. (I want my old mismatched furniture!) But anyway, back in the day, behind our house was a creek and a forest. The forest has long since been cut down and a townhouse development has been built in its place, but when I was a kid there was something so poetic about that view. It was something so romantic in the Anne of Green Gables-sense of the word, where romance doesn’t connote a relationship between lovers but a sense of being in the presence of something large and mystical. So often the weather in October would be cold, grey and rainy, and it was so cozy to come in from that weather to our warm house, an afterschool snack (ah, Jos Louis), a good book, and that view.

October is also home to my favourite holiday, Halloween. I was obsessed with Halloween when I was little. My Halloween costume-planning began sometime soon after Labour Day. I was able to come up with marginally original ideas, but alas I am no artistic genius, and thus the execution of said costumes usually left something to be desired. Among other things, I was a blob of paint, a bunch of grapes, the aforementioned-Anne of Green Gables, and a bag of trash. My cousin Ronnie, after moving to the area, often got roped into these shenanigans. Along with Baby Howie, the three of us would doll ourselves up, then go trick-or-treating for hours around the neighbourhood, occasionally making pit stops at home to empty our pillowcases and make room for more loot, and eventually come home to settle in for the next phase of the night: sorting through our bounty and trading with each other for the best stuff. We had a very elaborate value system assigned to each type of candy. I don’t remember much about it except that Coffee Crisps were at the top of the pyramid, with one of those babies being worth about 42 of anything else, and any item that could be even remotely construed as having some health value (raisins, I’m looking at you) being used as hamster cage lining. We did this until I was sixteen. That fact doesn’t even embarrass me.

An ACTUAL bag of trash may have been more appealing.

This year will be the first year that I am the parent of a trick-or-treater on Halloween. The Peanut is two, so still not really old enough to understand what’s going to happen next week, although she knows she’s going to be a lion and is taking every opportunity to practice her roar. Because, as previously mentioned, I am not all that crafty, I can’t rely on myself to make any halfway decent costume, so I have to go with what’s in the stores. But I am going to enjoy this time while I have it, these years when I am still bigger than P and can wrestle her into the ensemble of my choosing. And I’m probably not going to feel very guilty about it.

Exhibit A.

Through my extensive research, I have also learned that October is National Pork Month as well as 3D Ultrasound Awareness Month. So there you have it. 31 days is hardly long enough to cram in all these celebrations, especially if you’re getting a late start like me. Only 4 more days to find some bacon and an ultrasound technician. And to stuff myself with candy. I’ll keep you posted.

A Toddler Is the Boss of Me

In Peanut, Travel on August 18, 2011 at 6:25 pm

I am currently locked in an epic battle with technology, which I will write about later if I can bring myself to discuss it without tears of frustration, so I am distracting myself by noting some of the amusing things the Peanut says.  Recording those moments was kind of one of the points of this blog in the first place.  So here is a scene from our house, circa two days ago.  By way of background, Peanut’s best little buddy A just returned from a family vacation to Sri Lanka.

Peanut: Peanut go to Sri Lanka?

Me: Sure, someday we’ll go to Sri Lanka.

Peanut: Sunday?

Me: No, not Sunday, someday.

Peanut: (decisively, over her shoulder while leaving the room) We go Saturday.

I have a feeling I’m going to find our bags packed Friday.