Saturday, August 9, 2014

Velociraptor Contingency Plan

I gave birth to my oldest daughter during a season where my husband was traveling a lot. As a result, I spent much of my postpartum alone in our apartment with my baby, worrying. Much of what I worried about were things that all new parents do, I'm sure: What do I do if she gets sick? How will I know that she's breathing while I'm asleep? What do I have to do at this age to prevent her ever becoming a contestant on The Bachelor? However, there was one subject that I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about when I was a new mother that I can almost guarantee no one else does.


I would never forgive this person, ever. 
I was about 13 when Jurassic Park debuted, and like everyone else, I went to movie theater to see it. At the time I remember thinking it was a frightening movie, but I still enjoyed it. I've never been someone keen on horror flicks or gore-porn, but by my adolescence I'd been desensitized to the mild violence and action/suspense that was present in the dino movie, so I survived watching it unscathed. 

Or, so I thought. 

I had no way of knowing at 13 a part of that movie had buried itself deeply into my subconscious and that years later I would be lying awake at night, my baby sleeping in her crib down the hall, mentally devising what I refer to as my Velociraptor Contingency Plan (VCP). 

As a new mother, I had learn to coach myself through the worries that inevitably befall parents by coming up with a "plan" on how to handle just about every situation I could imagine. I was trained in first-aid and CPR for infants/children. We had smoke/carbon monoxide/everything else detectors installed in our apartment. I had specifically chosen a first floor residence so that there was no chance our daughter would accidentally fall down the stairs or out a window. Everything was baby-proofed with cushions and covers and locks long before she was mobile enough to benefit from the precautions. I had taken all the necessary measures to ensure that nothing bad was going to happen to my daughter on my watch. 

But of course, I knew that there were things that were out of the area of my control (as cataloged in the television series Law and Order: SVU) when it came to the safety of my daughter no matter what I did to prevent it. For me however, all the worry of hypothetical situations manifested in likely the most absurd of all the scenarios (and likely the ONE subject not ever handled by Detective Olivia Benson): dinosaurs. 

The scene I attribute as the basis for my need of the VCP
As I would lie awake in my bed, baby monitor static blaring in my ear and my husband six hundred miles away, I would plan what to do in the event of a velociraptor attack.  Thanks to this terrifying scene in Jurassic Park, I knew that these dinosaurs were the breed most likely to break into my house because THEY CAN OPEN DOORS. Of course my doors were kept locked, but I wasn't sure if maybe the more advanced velociraptors were also able to pick locks, so I had to account for that possibility in the VCP. 

I'll spare you the details of the VCP (until the inevitable invasion - then I'll post it online and save the planet), but I'm sure because everyone here is a rational human being (unless you are postpartum) and can logically see that in the grand scheme of parenthood, a velociraptor attack should have been quite literally the least of my worries. With the extinction of the dinosaurs, it had been ruled out as a possibility of something I would have to worry about at all. 

I think it's human nature to try to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenarios in life. I think that this can be helpful (when they are actually plausible and not dinosaur related) to think through the possibilities of things that can go wrong and prepare for them. And it's also important to be grateful when the worst doesn't happen. However, in situation where there is something bad that does happen, being thankful that what's happening isn't something worse can't be the only method for coping with the problem. I agree, it is a healthy perspective to take initially, but it doesn't change the fact that something bad is happening and where ever that particular "something bad" falls on the spectrum of life and death, it still needs to be dealt with. 

In the past few weeks, I have been told "at least you don't have cancer" countless times.  And more than anyone else, I am grateful for this. When my tumor was first discovered back in May, this was my greatest fear, but I met with the oral surgeon immediately after its discovery and was told that while it needed to be removed, it wasn't going to be cancerous (I don't know how he knew, he just did). So, I've been being grateful it's not cancerous for awhile now. Because as child I had watched one of my parents battle colon cancer, perhaps I have an ever greater perspective of being grateful that I don't have cancer than someone with less experience with the terrible disease. 

Cancer is awful. On many levels, it ranks higher on the good and bad scale than do velociraptors. However, I would be doing myself a disservice if I only concentrate on what this tumor isn't instead of dealing with what it is. 

0 - Terminal Cancer 10- Benedict Cumberbatch
No, it's not going to kill me. No, it's not going to make me sick. No, I'm not going to have to go through chemotherapy and radiation. But, it is going to change my life. I have to face that, embrace that, and move forward. 

I know that when people say "at least it's not cancer" they aren't trying to downplay or minimize what I'm going through. I'm grateful for any attempt at encouragement someone would offer me, and I know it really is hard to know what to say to someone in my situation because not only is my diagnosis so rare, but the treatment process seems backwards. The surgery isn't going to make me feel better (I don't feel sick/bad now). It's not going to improve anything noticeable (the tumor was caught before I was physically deformed). The surgery is going to make me feel worse, and I'm going to look terrible for a long time afterward and it will leave a part of my body without sensation forever (a part that feels totally fine right now without the surgery). The whole situation is strange beyond strange that I don't even know half the time what to think or say about it. 

So then, what's the right response? 

I can't speak for everyone else in the world who doesn't have cancer, but for me best encouragement is this: 
If you are a natural hugger, I also welcome hugs.
Just don't make it awkward. 

1.) I'm sorry (if you are)
2.) I love you (if you do/and are also not a creeper)
3.) I will pray for you (if you really will)

So many people have written to me and talked with me this week, expressing these three very things. I'm not kidding when I say that I've read your notes multiple times each and replayed our conversations in my head over and over. I am so fortunate to have such an amazing support system, and I need it. This is the very reason I have made my news so public: I cannot get through this without the prayers and support of the people in my life. I am not meant to. People were made for community (think about the Holy Trinity). We are designed to need one another, and just like I'm grateful that I don't have cancer, I'm also grateful with what I am going through, I have my friends to encourage me. 

There are a lot of things about this whole situation that I have no choice about. I didn't get a choice whether or not to have a tumor or whether or not I wanted to go through these surgeries. The only choice I really have in this is my attitude toward it and how I allow God to use it. And right now, I'm choosing to laugh at the following dinosaur video: 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Plot Twist

Usually, I can see them coming. 

I'm a conditioned audience member. Throughout my childhood, television was a third parent to me. By the age of five I had learned that most of life's problems could be fixed in twenty-two minutes of TV if I was willing to sit through eight minutes of Nabisco, Duracell, and Playtex 18-Hour Bra commercials. No matter how much trouble Bo and Luke got themselves into, by the end of the night everything would be fine in Hazzard County. I knew that no matter what life threw at him, nothing kept Alex P. Keaton down for long, and whoever it was that shot the guy from I Dream of Jeannie would eventually be found out and justice would be served in Texas. 

As a child, I liked this predictability. There was no Wikipedia or Google to help me through the suspense of drama back then (I read all spoilers, all the time, without fail) so it was nice to be able to rely on the consistent exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution pattern that all stories on television seemed to have back then since I had no means of finding out what was going to happen before it did. 

I still find comfort in these types of shows as an adult. I've been known to night-marathon The Golden Girls (if you say that you haven't, you are a liar) on the rare occasion I'm sleeping somewhere that has cable. But as I've matured in age, I have begun to gravitate to shows where I can't predict what's going to happen. Stories where characters are more three-dimensional, not so easily classified as heroes or villains. Shows with that perfect plot twist that I didn't see coming but makes everything so much more interesting. 

I admire writing like that. I want to write like that. 

However, I'm not really a fan of life being like that.

When I first went to have the tumor in my lower jaw removed, I didn't give much thought to there being reason for worry. There was no way for me to predict that there would be--no foreshadowing, no scary music... no warning before the beginning of the doctor's appointment that this episode may be disturbing for sensitive viewers (a clear sign to me to turn the channel). There were just words (really yucky ones like ameloblastoma) and a prescription for a CT scan and then a lot of waiting. 

When my doctor told me that my tumor was rare, it didn't matter to me. It didn't matter to me that I am one in two million people to have this. It didn't matter that of the one in two million people who have this, barely any of them are white, women, or in my age range. It didn't matter to me that it didn't make sense that this would happen to me statistically. All that mattered was that it was happening to me. 

To me, there are no odds. There just is, and is not. And in this case, there just is. 

I prayed that of the options the doctor has laid on the table for me, my CT scan would prove that I'm best case scenario. That my treatment would be the easiest one possible. Others were praying this for me, too. Lots of others. More than I probably know. 

I was confident for good news today. I believed that I would go to my appointment and be met with a smile by my doctor and that he would start by saying, "It's not as bad as we thought."

That was the plot twist I wanted. 

It was not the one I got. 

On September 17th, I will undergo a surgery where four centimeters of my jaw (bone, tissue, nerve) will be cut out of my body. Replacing it will be a titanium plate that will be screwed into my remaining jawbone. If all goes well, while this is being done, a second surgeon will be cutting off four centimeters of my hip bone for use in reconstructing my jaw. This surgery will result in the permanent sensory paralysis of the left side of my lower face (inside and out) and mouth. The incision will need to be made on the outside of my jaw rather than the preferred inside (thus, scarring).

Oh, and all of this is going to hurt like a swear word. 

Of the options the doctor had laid before me (this is bold so that you read this sentence in context), in all three categories, I was once again, worst case scenario. 

Now, I know that this could be worse. In so many ways, health and beyond, I am blessed in this life. Even in this season, I am blessed. I don't doubt that at all. But, I am also human, and words like "permanent paralysis" of any part of the body is difficult to swallow (maybe there's a pun here, but it was unintended; however, if you need to laugh, go ahead). 

To know that a kiss will never feel the same again is hard for me. I'll never be able to feel my daughter's hands on my face or know whether or not I got all the ketchup off my cheek without a mirror. I could go on here, but making a list of sadness isn't going to help me or you cope any better, so I'll stop. 

And anyway, I'm okay. 

Really, I am. And if you know me personally, that might surprise you. I know me pretty well, and I'll all but shocked by it. But, I truly am. 

It's strange, I know. Ever since I found out about this, I've been praying for the best case scenario. I've been begging others to pray for me, that somehow I might get that miracle and be spared this season of my life with all its pain and disfigurement. I've read so much throughout my faith journey about suffering and God and how its such an impasse for so many people. How could a loving God allow suffering? Especially a God I am a follower of? 

God didn't spare his own son (Jesus, for those of you new here) of suffering, even though he asked (through tears and begging so intense that HE SWEAT ACTUAL BLOOD) to be spared of it. In fact, Jesus got an infinitely worse case scenario dealt to him than what I'm going through (Google it). 

Jesus didn't want to do any of that, but ultimately he relented to the will of his father. And all that pain that Jesus felt going through what he did on the cross--God used it all for good (Google this too). 

My pain will be much less than this. My suffering will not compare. But, I truly believe this with all my heart-- it will not be in vain. 

Romans 8:28  says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

If I allow him, God will use this season in my life in ways that I cannot imagine. And that is the plot twist I am excited for. 

Thank you for all the continued support. Your prayers are felt. And next time you see me, I could probably use a hug. Unless you're a creeper.