Aggressive, invasive, triple-negative non-hormone driven stage 3 breast cancer.
Yeah sure, I know it was February of last year that I found the lump. And I’m aware that the multiple biopsy results came on Noah’s 13th birthday in March of last year. On April 10, 2013 my body was altered forever when a surgeon removed both of my breasts, all the way to the chest wall. Chemo took my hair shortly thereafter, and by the end made it difficult to walk, even with a cane. Radiation burned my skin, forever making that area slow to heal. Scars were left, after several surgeries, from mid-sternum to underarm, on both sides.
Through all of that, I tried to stay positive. I tried to keep smiling. I tried to keep going and not think about anything but getting through the treatments and get it over with. And I did it! My PET scan was clear, showing no signs of cancer in November 2013. Radiation ended February 19, 2014 – ending all treatments, and that was it. I was done! And every day since it ended, I woke up with an exquisite realization – I BEAT Cancer!
Time passed, strength returned, health returned. I started working out again! I started eating better again! I started losing the 27 pounds that I gained during treatments! Then, despite having said from the very beginning that I would have no part of reconstruction, I entertained the option for two reasons: I did not like what I saw in the mirror, and some of my clothes were not fitting right. Small implants should do the trick, I thought, to fill in the caved-in areas of my chest, fill my swimsuit, yet still omit the need for a bra. Sounded like a win-win to me!
I had my surgery on July 24th. Within a week or two I felt great, and back to normal – despite the fact that you couldn’t even tell that I had gotten implants. Five weeks after surgery, my skin split open on the radiated side, and turned into an infection that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics. So last week, on September 18th, I was back in surgery to un-do all that had been done in July, remove the implant, and get rid of all of the infection.
Yesterday, I removed the bandages for the first time so that I could shower. It was like someone had punched me in the gut. It took my breath away. The damage was worse now than way back after the double mastectomy last year. I obviously was NOT prepared for what I saw, and I stood for what seemed like forever, mouth agape, staring at even worse caved-in scars than existed before. There are no words, but the sense of loss overwhelmed me at that moment – and I believe that it was then that the mourning began.
Today, I can’t stop crying. I have no way to explain it, except for an overwhelming sense of grief. It isn’t about not being grateful that I beat cancer. It isn’t about not being thankful that the staph infection didn’t get into my bloodstream and kill me. I mean, truly, I hated my large breasts before cancer; but I never hated them enough to disfigure myself. But it is a very odd place to be where I don’t look like a woman when topless; nor do I look like a guy when topless. I feel like some androgynous person who gets called sir in the check-out line, and then called ma’am when they hear my voice. I know that there is the option, after a while, to start over with something else that can be made from my own tissue, but that doesn’t take away from what I have to see today, and every day until maybe it can be repaired. But truthfully, the more I see these scars, the less hope that I have for a repair that will look remotely like a breast.
I don’t know how to mourn. I don’t know how to grieve a major loss and then let it go. I know how to shove down feelings, sometimes to the point of omitting them from my memories. I know how to stifle tears that start to choke me, for fear that if I let them go, they won’t stop and will overtake me. When death has touched my family on rare occasions, I will usually cry at the intital news but then keep it together from that point forward. I did fall apart after the loss of a baby and again when my oldest moved out, and that was enough for me. To me, it doesn’t seem to be productive to fall apart, when I would much rather just face things, deal with it, and keep smiling and cracking jokes in order to cope. So for whatever reason, now, all of these months and months and surgery scars later, my psyche has decided that THIS surgery was the one. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Floodgates are being pressed hard by weird, foreign, emotion-type things like the levees in New Orleans during hurricane season.
No matter how much I downplay it, no matter how much I laugh it off – body parts are gone forever. No matter how many more procedures it takes to rebuild some semblance of a chest – they will never be the real thing or look like the real thing. I know that my physical appearance doesn’t define me, and never has – so why in the holy f&*k is this driving me mad NOW??? I just don’t get it. And this whole piece is NOT for advice on how to deal with things, or for great words of wisdom, or for anyone to tell me to “buck up, Buttercup” – because I’m telling myself that one plenty, thank you very much. This piece was just how I know how to process things, and that is through writing. I only share in hopes that if there is one person out there who goes through something remotely similar, that they will know that they are not alone, and that they can, should, and will go through a mourning of their own.
I remember, fourteen years or so ago, when I was pregnant with Noah. No matter what I said or how excited I was, there was no convincing Nicholas (who was eight-and-a-half when Noah was born) that it was going to be great, him having a baby brother. Nope. He didn’t want any part of it. And what did I tell him more than anything else? I told him that he was not being replaced, and that I would love him no less once the new baby arrived – that I would love both boys exactly the same. Even all of these years later, when Harrison came into our lives, I found myself saying the same thing – that I would love all three kids the same. Well, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s a crock of shit! There is no way that I could even remotely love these three wonderful and unique individuals the same! No, that doesn’t mean that I have a favorite, or that one is just not good enough to be loved the same – it just means that I love them differently, and especially just the way that I need to love them as an individual.
* * * * *
To my oldest and firstborn son, Nicholas:
The love I have for you is a love that I cannot give to your siblings, or even to your daughter (my grandbaby). This love is special, because you showed me how to love as a parent for the first time. You showed me that it didn’t matter that I was young, inexperienced,
uneducated, and broke – as long as you knew that your mommy was there no matter what. Because I was young, as you grew, so did I. For a long time it was just you and me, and despite how hard it was at times (which I hope you don’t remember),
there was always the assurance that you gave me the strength and drive to keep plugging away and take care of you. We joke now and you give me a hard time, telling me that we love Noah more than you, and that we love Harrison more than both of you – and we all know that even the thought is ridiculous. Yes, it was really hard for us when you were little; single mom, no money, moving from tiny apartment to living with relatives, struggling at times to pay bills or buy groceries. But somehow we did it, and before my very eyes you grew from a baby
to a boy to a teenager to a young man to a husband and now a father yourself. With every day, week, and year, and even when you got into trouble, my love for you would grow. And even at our lowest point, when my heart was breaking over a decision made, I knew that my devastation was out of fear that our bond was somehow over. For nine months you were out of my house, and for nine months I continued to love you, worry about you, miss you, and want you home. I missed our closeness, and even after all of the pain, I just wanted you to know and remember my love. You opened up my whole world as my first child, showing me what it is like to have a piece of my heart walking around outside of my body. For that, I thank you and love you to the moon and back.
To my middle child and second-born son, Noah:
The love that I have for you is born from hope and thankfulness for the child that I never thought that I would have. After having Nicholas, when the desire was there to have another child, I went through many attempts at pregnancy, including drugs, shots, and fertility treatments. I was finally told that I had secondary infertility, and that it was unlikely that it would ever happen. When I unexpectedly found out, many months down the road, I cannot ever explain to you the joy and love that filled me for you – even then, and from the moment I knew that you were there. You were a miracle, and I was going to do whatever I had to do to protect you. As a little, tiny fellow you made me see the world through your bright blue eyes, full of curiosity and into everything. And as you grew, and your energy was so very hard to contain, so did my fierce, protective mama-bear love; because outside the walls of our home were those who didn’t understand how loving and amazing you are. You desperately wanted to have a greater connection with your big brother, and I often tried to fill that void within you with the overflow that I already had. I so wanted for my love to shield you from any and all hurt and pain, and I imagine that I will always want that. You showed me how to love at full speed, no brakes, every day – because that is how you operate. I may not have always done it very well, in fact, I know that I have failed you on many occasions. But I have learned over the years that the love I have for you is so different and so familiar all at the same time, because I am very much like you. When you became a big brother, you showed me how a guy can, and should, love
a younger sibling, and my love for you only deepens when I see how much you have and that you give it freely. You will never know how much of a connection we really do have, and you will likely never know just how much I love you…and it will never change no matter what you may do. Thank you for always pushing me towards that unconditional love, whether you realize you are doing it or not.
To my youngest child and only daughter, Harrison:
I was not sure how I would be able to love you as much as the boys that I carried in my body, nurtured, and fed. When Mommy was pregnant with you, I often worried that you wouldn’t feel like “mine” because we don’t have a biological bond. But the moment that you arrived, in the middle of an operating room full of people, I was flooded with love at first sight.
A few minutes after you were cleaned up and wrapped up, you were placed in my arms and we were ushered into a room together to wait for the doctors to close up your Mommy and bring her in for recovery. We were alone for a short time, and I looked down at you, instantly falling in love with this baby girl that I never in a million years anticipated. And that love? That love is what filled every fiber of my being and told me that you are mine. Months later, after going through legal hoops, fingerprinting, and home visits from a social worker, we were finally standing in a courtroom in front of a judge, and that same first love came flooding back as you were legally declared what you had been since before birth: my daughter!
You have that same fireball spirit as Noah did (and still does), so the love that I developed for his non-stop energized personality has re-surfaced and brought some patience with it – for both of you. Your smile, your laugh, your singing, and your fascination for every thing around you can frustrate me, wear me the hell out, and love you to the point that it feels as if my heart might explode. When my baby girl says, “Mama? Pweeeeese?” it pretty much melts my heart and you end up getting whatever you want. Your arrival showed me that the special and amazing love between an adoptive parent and this amazing creature that was picked just for them by the universe is an awesome and wonderful gift. Thank you baby girl for letting me love you in this unique way…I will love you forever and always.
* * * * *
So, see? While yes, I most certainly love all of my children deeply and passionately with all of my heart, it is impossible to love them all the same. Each child, in any family, brings their own
unique attributes that require their own unique love. Accept it. Embrace it. Spread it! What you will find out, like I did, is that there is more than enough to go around!
* I just realized that a previous blog post briefly covered some of this information, so my apologies for some repetition. I think I was in the hospital still when I wrote the last one – there were pain meds involved, and thus my recollection of it is a bit fuzzy *
So I guess it has been a while since I have updated in the post-cancer saga, huh? Well there wasn’t much to tell, thankfully, after treatment ended. I finished radiation in mid-February and then just went back to life as usual. My first 3-month checkup was in May, and all of my labs indicated that my tumor markers were normal. In September (well actually, next week) I am due to follow up with both my oncologist and my radiation oncologist – this will be six months out. In between, we finished the last school year, had a fantastic family vacation to Colorado, took an awesome anniversary trip to San Francisco and Napa, and then returned to get ready for Noah’s summer camp just before he started his freshman year of high school. I had been feeling great, working out, finally losing weight, and was getting better and better with each passing day. I knew that I needed another surgery to remove some skin and fat from each side of my scars, under my arms; plus I also needed to have my thyroid removed now that I have insurance. My surgeon had scanned my thyroid several years ago and discovered that there was an old, calcified nodule on it. Once I went in to discuss the thyroidectomy, she scanned it again just for kicks. Yup. Still there. I then started talking to her about possibly having small implants put in, only because I was caved in and my clothes were not fitting that great. She encouraged me to go and get a consultation from her friend and plastic surgeon before we scheduled the surgery – and so I did.
I went for my consultation, and after some discussion we devised a fairly simple plan for some small implants. The first surgeon would go in first and remove the thyroid, and then the plastic surgeon would take over to remove the skin and fat that was under the arms, and add the small implants. We scheduled it for the end of July, the week after we returned from our amazing trip to California. Three nights in the hospital and we came home for what I thought would be a short recovery. WRONG. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, prepared me for the recovery after reconstruction. The pain. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, prepared me for the pain after reconstruction. It was way worse than the double mastectomy had been, most definitely. It took weeks to move without flinching, and I was restricted from lifting anything over five pounds for six weeks…including Harrison. When I woke up from surgery, the first thing that I asked about was not the implants, but about the areas under each arm that needed to be removed – and they were still there. Something about not being able to get to them while I was under. Needless to say, I was NOT happy about that. Follow-up appointments revealed that while he had not been able to get to the areas easily while in the operating room, he could easily access them in one of his procedure rooms at his office. I went in a few weeks post-surgery to have the procedure done in-office, where he numbed me up and snipped and sutured. It’s not as flat as I would like on one side, but it can always be touched up at another visit.
Another one of the disappointments upon getting home and healing a bit was to see that I could hardly even tell that an implant had been added. My chest was so caved in that it pretty much swallowed up the entirety of each of the implants, moreso on the right side. So now, I find myself with a small bump on my left breast area, and no bump at all on the right side. Dear Lord baby Jesus, was this even worth doing? Ugh. So I discussed it with my plastic surgeon, and he said that he cannot go back in to fix it until November. I’m not sure that I get the reasoning behind it, but that is what he said. He said at that time, he will take the current implants out and place larger ones in (and the right one will have to be bigger than the left to accomodate the bigger cave-in). I am really, really hoping that it will be the last one.
Sidebar on the Thyroidectomy: A few days after I got home from the hospital, my surgeon who removed my thyroid called me. She had the pathology report back from the nodule that they removed from the thyroid. Cancer. GREAT. So now what? She said that the good news for me is that it was totally encapsulated inside the calcified, rock-like shell. It was 8mm of cancer, and the other good news is that no further treatment is required unless it is 10mm or larger. Whew. I barely skated out of more treatment! So for now, she is monitoring my meds and my TSH levels, and every six months I have to go for tests to make sure there is no cancer in my parathyroid. At least this scar, the one on my neck, is healing nicely and hasn’t given me any problems whatsoever.
So now here I am, six weeks or so out from surgery. I don’t know if I was moving around too much or if I didn’t wait long enough to pick up Harrison, but my sutures that looked almost completely healed have opened up. First in one spot, then in two, then in three, until I saw four open spots over the weekend. I went last Friday and the doc looked at them, said that there is no infection, and that it is just really slow healing because it is the side where radiation took place. Even though I did wait the amount of time that my radiation oncologist said to wait, and then some, it apprently wasn’t long enough. The plastic surgeon said that the radiated side would be slow to heal for any reason, for the rest of my life. GREAT.
I now, for the most part, really regret even going down this reconstruction road. But I’ve come this far, I pretty much have to see it through – unless I just say “Screw it!” and have the doc reverse it and take the implants out altogether. I’m not to that point yet, considering all of the pain and soreness that I have endured….but I am SO ready for all of it to just be over.
** Added segment 9/12/2014 **
Fast forward to today. Over the course of this week, the pain has been steadily increasing in my left implant, while the wounds are still draining (over a week now) and not looking any better. I went back in for the doc to look at it, with pain so intense that it hurt to breathe. As soon as he took a look at it, he said, “Oh damn. That doesn’t look good.” He examined it, touched all around it, got a Q-tip and dug around in it (not pleasant, by the way), and confirmed that it is infected – probably with staph. Wait, WHAT?? Staph?? Um, are you going to put me in the hospital right now and take it out, and stick an IV in my arm to pump antibiotics in?? He was very calm, telling me not to freak out or be afraid, because staph is just the type of infection that takes place in this area when it happens. He said that he wants to try to save it if possible until we are ready to swap it out in November for the larger ones. I am to spend today and the weekend taking lots of antibiotics orally, along with pain meds, and report back to them on Monday morning. If it is not significantly better, then he will put me in on Thursday and remove the implants. This basically will mean that all of this pain and limitation will all be for nothing, and IF I decide to start over, we will do so with expanders once the tissue is completely healed. Again. And all of that means that there will be surgery next week, then another to insert the expanders, then another to take the expanders out and add implants. Ugh.
With the beginning of another new school year, I have been thinking a lot lately about this label that has been thrown around for several years now – “Helicopter Parents.” Everybody knows those parents, if they are not those parents themselves. I am most certainly guilty of fitting the description myself. According to Wikipedia, “a helicopter parent is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead.” And it doesn’t typically just occur within our kid’s school, both with academics and activities; the helicopter syndrome extends to virtually every aspect of their lives, often from birth until college graduation; sometimes even beyond that in extreme cases. As I look at my middle child who, just last week, began his first year of high school, I have been looking within and examining when and why I became that parent. When did this phenomenom appear? Why did we, my generation of suburban kids turned suburban moms and dads, become so overly protective of our children?
I think what made me really think about it started from a hysterical blog that I read about the difference in back-to-school in the 70s versus back-to-school in 2014. So many of the author’s points rang true, and gave everyone a good laugh in the process. This made me realize that there was also a huge difference in many other areas of life as we knew it then, and life as we know it now. Let’s look at things then and things now.
In the summertime, our parents got up and went to work; my brother and I stayed home, by ourselves. No sitter. No daycare. We were in late elementary and early middle school when both parents worked, and yes, we stayed home alone. We got up, made our own breakfast, and watched cartoons. Now, normally we had to stay inside during the day, not allowed to swim in our pool until an adult was home, unless we had permission to go to a specific friend’s house and mom knew which friend – not that she knew where their house was, or even what street; just somewhere in our neighborhood that we could get to on our bikes. Sometimes we would get permission to ride our bikes to the bowling alley, which was several miles away, and we would have to cross busy Main Street in order to get there. As long as we stayed together, we usually could go bowl as much as we wanted. We rode our bikes everywhere. We stayed outside pretty much all day when we had permission (it wasn’t a bazillion degrees outside like it is now), going in briefly for a snack, for lunch, or for a drink (when we wanted something besides water from the hose). We played kickball at the playground with neighborhood kids – most were our friends, but some we didn’t know and still welcomed to play. There were no cell phones, and we stayed out until dark, when the street lights came on.
During the school year, we either made our lunches and threw them in our metal lunchboxes with thermoses full of either drink or soup. Sometimes we got a lunch ticket for a change of pace. As early as first grade, I walked to school with my brother and our friends from the neighborhood. I didn’t know of anybody’s allergies, if they had them. I was allowed to take peanut butter sandwiches in my lunch, and swap with a friend if I didn’t like what I had that day. My mom typically met my teacher at the beginning of the year Meet-the-Teacher night, and then wouldn’t see them again until an Open House, if then. When I got home, my mom didn’t ask me if I had homework – I just did it. I did homework, ate dinner, maybe watched TV for an hour or so, did dishes, and had a bedtime. I studied spelling words by myself, or maybe had my brother drill me. I brought home report cards, had it signed, and returned it, knowing that if I got a “C” that I would lose privileges; and if I had bad conduct marks (which I ALWAYS did, for talking too much, if you can believe THAT!) then I would lose privileges and/or get grounded. We took standardized tests at school, but our entire academic curriculum didn’t center around them, as far as I can remember.
During the summertime now, parents line up sitters, nannies, daycares, and camps (all that have been background checked, of course) for their children to attend; and even young teens are typically NOT left home alone and to their own devices. Most parents have enough activities lined up all summer long on either side of family vacations that there is little time left for their kids to get into mischief. Sports camps, church camps, theater camps, music camps, you name it – they’re out there. Rec centers have summer camps that involve weekly field trips and multiple trips to city pools and water parks. When we were kids, my mom’s biggest summer expenses for us were shorts/tshirts/swimsuits, and groceries to keep us happy while she was at work. Summertime now, for working parents, is expensive since there is not only the clothes and groceries aspect, but all of these damn camps, too, at usually $100+ each per week long session! Our kids have cell phones, so they can always be in contact with US, along with their gaggles of friends who also have cell phones. And we don’t just send them out the door to play, with a general idea of where they will be, and no idea of when they will be back. No, no. Our kids have arranged play dates, where the parents arrange the time and place, and sometimes they drop them off at a friend’s house but most of the time meet at an agreed-upon location so that they can drink coffee and visit while the kids play. If the kids are older and want to “hang out” with a friend (they are now too cool to say “go play”), we want to know exactly where the kid lives (with an address and preferably phone number), what adults will be there (because no adults = no “hanging out”), and have a set time that they are to return. They are sent out the door with a cell phone that is GPS-enabled, so in the event that they do not return at the specified time we can then track their location to a quarter of a mile. Our kids have computers, or at the very least computer access to a shared device, and access to any and everything in the world online, so we set up Parental Safety filters and restrictions – because while we are cool parents, we know that they have something at their fingertips that we formerly did not possess: the Internet. We watch who they text, who they talk to, how they browse, websites they visit (or try to visit).
Now let’s talk about school. Most parents now don’t just send their kids out the door in the mornings, off to school with a backpack, lunchbox, and a hug; not unless they live fairly close to their school and can be watched for a good portion of their walk. I know that with my oldest, he started riding his bike to school in 2nd grade, but only due to the fact that the school was one street directly behind our house and it took him less than five minutes to get there. My middle child walked to school for the first time in 4th grade, and I walked with him several times at the beginning of the year before turning him loose to walk less than two blocks to his school. With both boys, I knew where the crossing guards were, I knew the folks who worked in the office at school, knew the principals of their schools, and kept in regular contact with their teachers throughout the year. Unlike when I was a kid in the 70s, both of my boys were given planners at the beginning of each year; and it was in these that they would daily write in their homework assignments, and teachers could report any problems or conduct issues. I, in turn, would check the planner after school, make sure that they sat down and did any homework before going to play or hang out with any friends, and then sign the planner before making sure that it was tucked back into the backpack for the next day. After the planner stage of elementary school, they moved into a more digital age, and parents then have access to every class and every teacher online, where we can view homework assignments, test dates, and email teachers with questions or concerns. Unlike when I was a kid and was just expected to do my homework (because NOT doing it and taking a zero was just not an option), today’s parents are now not only keeping up with their own stuff – home, work, bills, groceries, kid schedules, birthdays, anniversaries, family, holidays…the list goes on and on – we are now adding the role of school into the mix. I remember, over the past three years of my son’s middle school time, repeatedly saying how much I hated middle school, yet here I was, feeling like I was doing it again! It got very tiring to look up coursework every day, make sure that he did the work, make sure that he turned the work in, and then regularly check back for grades to make sure he was passing and get him extra help when he was not. My oldest lived with his dad for a brief period during his junior year of high school, and was struggling in some subjects when he first moved there. During this time, his dad sat down with him almost every night to make sure he did his work, and helped him prepare for tests and such. In the course of the past three years while the middle son was in middle school and struggling at times, his dad would often ask me if I was sitting down with him every night to watch him and make sure he was doing his homework. Now I know that I am a hoverer, but my answer most of the time was “no.” I know that this is not a method that helps our kids prepare for life in college, so no, I will not sit with him and make sure that he is getting it done. He is at the very beginning of high school, and he has many tools available to him to succeed: a laptop that is required at his school, a website that his teachers all access and use to post notes, homework assignments, deadlines, grades, etc. I can log on under his name and check these things at any time as well, so if he doesn’t turn something in and gets a zero, I will see it. This is an opportunity for me to step back, land the helicopter for a bit, and let him step off the ledge himself. He is already learning to take notes in class, and how to go and check for assignments for himself. These four years are what will prepare him for college – because his mama will not be holding his hand and making sure he takes notes and turns in his term papers or studies for his midterms.
So from my childhood to now, when did this huge shift in parental involvement take place…and more importantly, why? Of course, as technology has advanced, so have we who became parents during that time. But, there are other things that happened when we were young that hopefully don’t happen as often now under the watchful eyes of all those helicopter parents. You know. Those things that nobody likes to talk about. Kids were left alone a LOT back in the day. Bad things happened. Girls were molested by family friends, by family members; raped by classmates or trusted adults. So were boys. And as we grew up and dealt with things that happened to us or to our friends, we declared within our own minds that those things would NEVER happen to our children, come hell or high water.
We were a lot more grown up back then, or so we thought we were. Kids would sneak around and steal their parents liquor and drink – I mean young kids, too. I was probably in middle school when I first drank, while at a friend’s house and when her parents weren’t home. I would sneak liquor into my Coke when babysitting. I was twelve when I had my first cigarette, also while at a friend’s house, with smokes stolen from her parents. I cannot, in my wildest imagination, picture my kids doing either of those things at the age of twelve! I have always regretted that first cigarette, because it started a fifteen year habit that was very hard to kick; but I did it for the sake of my child.
Maybe it is just me, and maybe the helicopter parent wasn’t born from dysfunction. Maybe, for some, it came from a childhood of neglect or very little parent involvement in their lives. Who knows? I hope that my hyper-vigilance towards my children has hopefully paid off in more areas than done damage. I feel confidant that neither of the boys grew up without being touched or molested by anyone, and our toddler girl should never know the psychological and physical damage from that either. I know that the oldest toyed with smoking for a while, but am grateful that he put it down and walked away from it. And I know that he did some teenage drinking, but I am forever thankful that he was at least smart enough to not drive and hurt himself or anyone else. It is so scary to think about all of the things that our kids have access to out there, and it is so hard to NOT be a helicopter parent. If we can get them through childhood and adolescence relatively unscathed, somewhat educated, responsible and respectful, and a decent human being…then we have done our jobs and can call it a success. It’s hard to let go and let them fall, screw up, and figure things out on their own.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to go check for assignments online…
As many people around the globe, I am still reeling from the shocking news of actor Robin Williams’ death, apparently by his own hand. I hear of celebrities passing, and it rarely has the impact that this one has had on me. Perhaps it was my beloved memories of his films throughout my lifetime, starting with his first appearances of Mork from Ork on Happy Days when I was just in elementary school. Or maybe the spinoff show that Mork got from that role. Or the many, many hours I spent watching Aladdin in my 20s with my young son, Nicholas, who lovingly referred to the Genie (voiced by Williams) as “Genie Dave.” Countless films. Countless laughs. Countless hours of entertainment. I can’t say it of many actors, but of this man, I can: I loved him.
So why does his death feel personal to me? Why do I keep tearing up at a new reference to an old role, or another new posting on Facebook of a memory, or a photo, or a quote? Maybe because it hits close to home, triggering memories of tragic loss, way too soon, by way of mental illness and suicide not once in my life, not twice, but three times, and with several other scares along the way.
I remember when I was in middle school, just a little younger than my Noah is now, when my parents finally got divorced after some back and forth moving in and out on my dad’s part. After 21 years of marriage, my mother was devastated, and consequently sunk into a deep, throw-me-a-lifeline sadness and depression. I couldn’t understand it; I couldn’t fix it, even with all of my 12-13 year old wisdom or humor. My brother and I took care of ourselves – doing our own laundry, getting ourselves to school and church, driving our mother’s car illegally at 13 and 14 to the store with a signed check of hers to buy groceries, cooking our own meals (and making sure that she ate, too). THAT is what I remember of those years. My mother tried to take her own life at least twice that I had to deal with, and thankfully she was not successful. But it leaves an impression on a kid, the importance of a healthy mental outlook. I’m not sure why she didn’t get any more help than some kind counseling from various people from church, but that was all she would accept. No real counselors. No meds.
Years later, at the ripe old age of 22, the stunning news of a close friend from youth group’s suicide was a significant punch in the gut. This wasn’t just somebody that we knew casually – this was someone close, who had been in my circle. There was no explanation, and it was a long time before there was a release from the grip of grief that swallowed each and every one of us who had spent countless hours with this amazing spirit that was now gone. I remember being angry after being upset, calling his actions selfish and cowardly; but I was young and ignorant about the real repercussions of addictions and/or mental illness.
Even more years later and a lifetime away, with different circles and different circumstances, I once again was brought to my knees when I got the call that my mother’s best friend had ended her life. My mom had been living with my family as she battled breast cancer, and her friend had taken over mom’s home, living there and making sure that all was kept in order. One day she came home and made a lone decision that would affect countless others in her life. There was no note. There was no explanation or reason that any of us could fathom as to why she would choose to take this desperate, and final, step. We searched for a note, or an email, or any clue as to why – and never found the answers we so hoped to find. For months afterward, I could not step foot inside of mom’s house. It sat empty for a while. The bathroom had to be remodeled, yet I still couldn’t go in. I couldn’t sleep and had horrible nightmares of guns going off; eventually my doctor put me on anti-anxiety meds and sleeping pills (not the best combo for extended use…but that’s another blog for another day). It took a long time for me to get past that one, as well as my children. But eventually it got easier, and the anger and grief subsided; and I started getting a clearer picture of what mental health issues can do when left unchecked.
Then it happened again. More years later, and only four years ago. Not as close to me as the previous two, but close to my boys and their family that I care deeply about. The days that preceded this death were filled with warnings of a much deeper issue, but those who recognized it felt helpless, dealing with an adult who we all thought had to be willing to get the help themselves. Looking back, and having learned some more about mental health challenges, I know now that sometimes it takes a push from a loved one.
And then most recently. My son, Nicholas. He scared the ever-loving shit out of me. That’s really the only way to describe it. One afternoon, his wife brought the baby to the house for a visit, and was clearly distraught and crying. She said that he was at home, in the bed, and wouldn’t get up. He had quit his job, and was scaring her with the level of depression that he had slipped into. I knew that I had to do something, so I got up and headed over to their house. I called a therapist friend and got some advice, and was prepared to take him to an emergency room if I felt that he was going to harm himself. We talked, I asked a lot of questions, I made him get up and I took him back to my house with me. They spent the day with us and then we went to dinner, and I told him to hang on until we could get him an appointment with the therapist that I had called. A couple of weeks later, I received a text from his wife that he was struggling again, and she was scared. I started talking to him through text, and when he told me that he hated everyone and everything, and then that he didn’t want to live anymore, I knew that the time had come and that I HAD to do something. I would be damned if I was going to sit by and hope that he got help. He was reaching out, and if I had to force him to get help, then I was willing to do it.
I drove to his school in Dallas, picked him up, and drove him to his therapist (and my amazing friend). I left him with her for an hour, and upon my return, we discussed mental health facilities in the area and made a plan. I was more scared for his life than I had ever been in the 22 years that he had been on the planet. My fear of losing him was so great, that I decided that it was worth him hating me for taking him than not doing anything at all. And so I did. I drove him to a facility not too far from where we are, and made sure that he knew that I was going to be leaving him there. Once we got there, he filled out paperwork and we waited. I had to take his necklace, his cell phone, his hoodie that had a drawstring, and ask his wife to bring him slip on shoes with no laces. Soon they were taking him back to be evaluated by the staff, and then finding him a bed. They told me that I could come back and visit that evening, during the one hour visitation. When I returned, his wife had arrived and we took turns going back to see him. I went first so that she could have most of the hour with him.
I will tell you – it was one of the WORST feelings I have ever experienced in my life, driving away and leaving my firstborn there. I cried almost the entire hour drive home; but I knew that he was safe, and wouldn’t hurt himself. At least not today. He would get seen by a mental health physician, get some meds, and would have group counseling three times per day. For six days, he stayed in the hospital, getting what he needed to get through the crisis. For this, I am thankful. I am glad that on THAT particular day, I was the pushy mother who stuck my nose in. I don’t know what I would have done if he would have done something to himself and I had not even tried to do anything to help him. I learned through that experience with Nicholas that sometimes, when the darkness takes over and the demons try to take control, sometimes we just aren’t able to keep our heads above water on our own. And like my friend, Brandie, said today, “We are all here together and we actually ARE each other’s keepers.”
Nicholas also has some insight that I wanted to share: “As soon as we passed the automatic doors, I knew that I was about to be far from my usual comfort zone. However, even if I was not able to do this for my own well-being, I knew that I needed to do it for my beautiful wife and daughter. As I filled out the paperwork for consideration of admittance, I was actually too afraid to look my mother in the eye. I am not sure whether it was due to me feeling ashamed of what things have come to, or just to avoid seeing her saddened face. I could not imagine what was going through her head as my mother, but I am quite sure that it was not entirely pleasant.
Once I was in the hospital, I had enough good fortune on my side that I was placed on the detox side of the hospital, rather than in the psych ward. That was a great thing too, because the individuals who were placed on the psych side of the hospital were not really as stable as the people I had the pleasure of staying with on my side. For most of my time in there, I mainly kept to myself and used the time for a lot of self-reflection. I was still not happy that it had come to admitting myself to a mental facility, yet I knew I had done the right thing,
Attending my group therapy sessions did some good as well, however, not in the sense that most people would think. Most of what was said in the group therapy sessions seemed to be quite “cookie cutter” phrases and what have you, but hearing them being spoken out loud still provides a decent comfort. Not to mention the crowd that you are a part of at a hospital of this nature is enough in and of itself to make you feel better about whatever hard circumstances you may be facing. Like I was saying, though, my help did not really come from my group therapy sessions, but rather hearing what other patients had to say to each other outside of these meetings.
You meet all kinds of interesting people in a mental hospital, from many different walks of life. Hearing these people explain their hardships and watch as tears roll out of their face sort of makes you connect with them on such a level that reminds you of how human you really are. Many people worry that society judges you for wanting to seek help in some sense that it appears as a weakness. I am here to say that in no way is getting help a sign of weakness. Think about all the people that really care about you. I know that that is not exactly the easiest thing to do when depression has set in, but it is important to express what is on your mind to someone as soon as possible before you find yourself in a situation that you could later regret. A good friend of mine recently told me some very simple words that I feel is very powerful in the sense of self-awareness. She simply said, ‘You are enough.’ So if you know anyone out there who is struggling with self-abuse, depression, or suicidal thoughts, leave them with those three words. It is a wonderful and powerful thing to say, and would be a great thing to say when you are not sure what else to say.” (Nicholas Dodd, 8/11/2014)
So…while many people feel like the thing to say to those who are struggling with depression and/or addiction is “I’ll pray for you,” it is important to know that while praying is all fine and good – it isn’t going to help your loved one. Action is what they need, especially when they can’t produce the necessary actions themselves. Take the risk. Make them mad. Maybe even hate you for a season. Would you rather hate yourself if they were gone? And chances are, they won’t hate you at all. We MUST keep a dialogue going about mental health. We need to love each other without judgment, so that those who are struggling aren’t afraid to ask for a lifeline.
So Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. Thank you for the years and years of laughter and happiness. Thank you for the selfless work you gave gave to the USO and to St. Jude’s kids. I hope that your demons are quiet now. You are not stupid, selfish, or a coward; we must understand that you had grown weary of trying to navigate dark and stormy waters. Thank you to my beautiful son, Nicholas, for staying. I need you here. Your family needs you here, all of us. Your wife and baby girl need you here. I say to you, and every other person who may be fighting for their very lives inside of their head:
You are enough. Period.
* * * * *
If you, or someone that you care about needs help navigating through their own rough waters, please contact one of the following resources. Don’t fight alone.
* It Gets Better Project (www.itgetsbetter.org) – for LGBT youth going through difficult situations
* The Trevor Project (www.trevorspace.org) Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386 – Providing life-saving and life-affirming services for LGBT youth
* National Suicide Prevention Hotline (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org) 800.273.TALK (8255)
It’s been a minute since I have blogged about the whole breast cancer journey, mainly because I finished treatments back in February and haven’t really done much else. A few weeks ago, I had my first three-month labwork and appointment with my oncologist. I was nervous before going in, knowing that they would be checking my tumor markers to make sure that they were not elevated (which would mean recurrence). Thankfully everything turned out wonderfully normal!
So a few weeks ago, I went back to the surgeon – Dr. Carolyn Garner, extraordinaire – who performed my bilateral total mastectomies last year, as well as my port placement and repair for chemo. A year or so before I even got diagnosed with cancer, my family knew and loved Dr. Garner’s work as a surgeon. She had removed the thyroids from our friend Holly, Holly’s mom, Erikka (right after Harrison was born), and my mother. Dr. Queen of the Thyroidectomy! One of the times that I had gone in with
Erikka before she had her thyroid removed, the doc did an ultrasound on my throat, just for kicks, since I had so many symptoms related to a problem thyroid. I didn’t have insurance at the time, but I did have an obvious nodule that was likely making my thyroid absolutely useless. Flash forward to 2014, when I finally obtained wonderful medical insurance. I had to wait until I was completely done with treatment, or at least that what was recommended, before finally addressing my throid or anything else that would require surgery. I went in, she wanded my throat again, and just confirmed that the nodule was still there, and appeared to be very calcified. We also discussed removing my chemo port, which she had previously sewn to my chest wall. Yes. Good times and great comfort, particularly all of the times that Harrison hit it with her head or body-slammed me. And then, as an afterthought, change of heart, whatever, I started asking about possible small reconstruction. She had removed my breasts and had gone as close to the chest wall as she could, and this left me flatter than a boy – I was actually caved in. Some shirts and swimsuits just don’t fit right anymore, and I had become very self-conscious about it (and I just KNEW that I wouldn’t care about that kind of thing). Well, apparently, I was wrong.
Next thing I knew, Dr. G had my shirt off and was snapping pics of my chest with her iPhone, and then texting the pics to her friend the plastic surgeon, Dr. Sanderson. She said he was a fantastic plastic surgeon, and that I should consider a consultation with him before we scheduled surgery; and yes, all of the procedures could be done on the same day. When I left her office that day, I called and got an appointment with Sanderson for the consult, and a few days later was meeting him and discussing options. I ultimately decided that I would go with just a small, A-cup implant, and had just enough skin to do it and not have to get expanders. Within a few days, surgery was scheduled, insurance was verified, and I felt really good about my decision. Our anniversary trip was already planned and booked, so surgery would be the week after we returned, with plenty of time to heal and be up and about in time for the new school year that begins at the end of August.
Thursday, July 24th we checked in at the hospital at 8:30 AM for my 11:30 AM scheduled surgery. IV put in, visits from doctors and anesthesiologists, and soon I was in la-la land and off to the operating room. Dr. Garner took out my thyroid and chemo port, and when I asked her about the nodule, she said it was bigger than we anticipated (the size of a marble), and solid like a rock. She said that the lab will have to soak it in a solution that will soften it enough to cut it open and do the pathology on it. It could be cancerous, and if so, that will mean more treatment, but nothing near what I have already done. If it is, that means three days in quarantine taking radioactive treatments – and that is it! So I’m not overly freaked out about whether it is or isn’t, because while it may be an inconvenience, I can certainly handle three days of treatment and then it be over!
When Dr. G was done with her part, Dr. Sanderson took over for the reconstruction portion of the program. I think he was at it for a couple of hours, opening up my previous incisions, placing the implants, and building barriers on each side of them to keep them in place (since I had no expanders or pockets placed previously). I don’t think that I woke up at all in recovery, and was up in my room before I did. At first I didn’t think the pain was too bad – until the first time I had to get up to use the restroom. Whoa! When gravity hit, even in little boob gravity world, THAT was ROUGH. I had not been given the handy dandy little morphine button, and nobody knew why; but I made it very clear that I wanted and needed it! When Dr. S stopped by to check on me, I was in a lot of pain and he didn’t understand why I didn’t have the button either, so he was ON IT. Got me hooked up within a half hour, and I was much better – well at least every six minutes I was a lot better…hahaha. I soon discovered that the pain in my chest from the reconstruction was WAY worse than the double mastectomy, and I’m not sure that I understand why. But I went home after one night in the hospital for that one; this time I have been here going on three nights, and hoping to go home tomorrow. My chest is still wrapped really tightly in dressing and ace bandage, so I have yet to see the results. I know that it isn’t going to be much bigger than before the implants were placed, but I expect not to be caved in anymore, with just enough curve (hopefully) to fill my swimsuits.
Soon enough, I will heal again, and start looking for tattoo artists that have experience in post-mastectomy tattoos. If I find someone good that will take me on as a client, then I will start with 3D areola/nipple tats. After that, I want to put the Biohazard symbol where my port scar is, and then later figure out some cool, non-floral designs over other portions of the surgery scars. I never, ever planned on doing any kind of reconstruction, but am glad that I reconsidered and left it as a possibility after all. We shall see!
Before we traveled to Colorado for our family vacation, I had a fellow blogger comment that we MUST go to Biker Jim’s in Denver for the gourmet hot dogs there. Well…we like hot dogs. We like gourmet. So hell yeah, what’s not to love about the idea of gourmet hot dogs??!!
We drove into Denver one day for lunch from Golden, so only about a 20 minute drive from suburb to downtown. After we located the place, we discovered that parking was a bit limited, but there is a paid lot right next to the restaurant. There were cool, trendy designs to the decore, and looked more like a hipster hangout than a family dining eatery – but we showed up with two kids in tow, nevertheless.
We went up and began to peruse the menu, each of us a little excited about how much we had built up the place in our minds before going. My wife knew before we went that she would be trying the vegan dog, considering that she doesn’t eat meat. She got the Vegan Herby (and it is also available in Spicy as well), with no extra toppings. Upon her first bite, I immediately knew that it was NOT the dog that she had anticipated. She said that the texture was way too mushy, and didn’t seem to like the flavor either. She also got a side of baked beans with her dog, and seemed to like those okay.
We ordered a kid’s meal for the tot, but the choices were VERY limited: All Beef Dog or Mac N Cheese Dog. Sides were extra. Drinks were extra. Not really our idea of a good kid’s meal. Plus, when we got the kid’s meal, we discovered that the Mac N Cheese dog that we thought would be simply mac n cheese formed into a hot dog shape was actually a meat hot dog with mac n cheese inside of it. Needless to say, the kid wouldn’t eat any of it.
The teenager ordered an All Beef Dog wrapped in Bacon. He also opted for no extra toppings, which was fine, because this dog was HUGE! I think that he added some ketchup and onions, maybe some relish – just your typical hot dog fare. He got fries for a side, and said that both his hot dog and his fries were really good.
Now, given all of the random meats that were available for Biker Jim’s gourmet dogs, I really thought that the kid would be more adventurous and try something odd. But no, he opted for safe and what he knew. So it was up to me. I mean, listen to the selection of available dogs: Alaskan Reindeer (REINDEER??? That’s crazy!), Jalapeno Cheddar Elk, Wild Boar, Rattlesnake & Pheasant, German Veal, Jack-a-Lope, All Beef, Louisiana Red Hots, Duck Cilantro, Vegan, All Beef wrapped in bacon, Southwest Buffalo, and Pheasant. I went with the Wild Boar, described as being made smokey, with apricots and cranberries. Sounded interesting! I also chose to top it “Biker Jim’s Classic” style or cream cheese and caramelized onions. To that I added some horseradish sauce, and very much enjoyed my combination of smoky, sweet, and slight spice dog; each bite exploding new flavors and sensations. I wasn’t able to finish it because it was really big. My side was a mixed green salad, with a great homemade dressing (fresh tomato vinaigrette, I believe) that I absolutely loved! I wish now I had thought to ask how to make it! There were about 7 ways to top your dog, if you so choose to, with various stages of heat along with various sauces and veggies.
My wife did end up going back and ordering some of the Fried Mac N Cheese from the sides menu for she and the tot to share. They were really hot when they arrived (hot meaning fresh is always a good thing; they just had a wait a bit to be able to eat them). We considered some of the Deep Fried Pickles from the sides menu as well, but the description said that they make them with horseradish habanero pickles and served with a roasted carrot habanero sauce – so we opted NOT to get them due to the intended heat factor.
Lastly, the drink selection wasn’t all that great, in our opinions. The fountain drinks were a selection of specialty sodas. My wife got the diet cola one (as she is a Diet Coke drinker) – hated it. I got the lemon lime one (hoping for a Sprite-type taste, as I am usually a Coke Zero drinker) – hated it. Son got one of the colas, I believe – also hated it. At first I thought that they all tasted funny because of the O2 of the fountain, but no, that is how they are supposed to taste. And I know that it was totally us, used to our Coke products and not liking the difference of something new. Fortunately, they were very nice and accommodating to us tourists from the South; they had regular Diet Coke and Sprite at the bar and made us some drinks from over there. We really appreciated that! I will also add that the bar was small, but looked like it had a decent selection of both craft beers and mixed adult beverages. They also have desserts, which we opted out of, given that we had spent quite a bit of money on quite a bit of food; most of which we didn’t end up eating.
My take on Biker Jim’s is that it is geared more towards the younger and trendier crowd who enjoy the odd sodas and craft beer, than the older folks like us (30s/40s) and their kiddos. Would we eat there again? All of us? Unlikely. I would go back, probably by myself if I am being honest, just to try some of the other unusual flavors and styles of their gourmet dogs, and for more of that salad. And I would be perfectly okay with having ice water with my meal.
After we arrived in Golden, Colorado this past June for our family vacation, we found that the condo patio looked down over the main strip of restaurants and shops on Washington Avenue – and just up and over Woody’s. The pizza place had come highly recommended from several of our friends who either owned the condo or had stayed there before us, so it was high on the list of places to try.
The atmosphere was fun, with a full-size bar just beyond the front door. There is some outside seating, and the weather there is pleasant enough (at least it was in June) for dining on the patio. We had two kids with us, however, so we opted to go inside for the nice air-conditioning. There was clientele of all ages and types, from couples, to groups, to families; with sports playing on televisions throughout the restaurant, and I think music was also playing. It wasn’t quiet, but it wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t hear each other talking. ALL of the staff were VERY nice, friendly, and accomodating. When our two year old daughter wanted to stop a server and speak to them, they always did, and most of the time would squat to her level and actually talk to her – even with the restaurant mostly full with customers. Our server was so great with both kids, and we really appreciate that when we go out, knowing how busy waiting tables can be.
The main attraction that we had been recommended was the All You Can Eat Wood-Fired Pizza, Soup, & Salad Bar for $11.38 (kids 4 & under only $3.58, kids 4-10 only $8.78). The salad bar was huge, with a fairly large offering of salady-stuff. The soup was a beer cheese soup that was SO good. And the pizza bar offered a pretty big variety of old favorites and unique types; and if you see something you didn’t like or wanted something that you didn’t see, the pizza chef would make it for you. I saw one special request that was an Alfredo pizza with pineapple and anchovies. Yeah. I didn’t try that one. They made an Alfredo Four Cheese for my wife, and a BBQ Chicken (Woody’s own whiskey barbecue sauce, wood-roasted chicken breast, bacon, mozzarealla & local honey) at my request…which I LOVED (I only wish I could have eaten more)! I also tried the Italian Stallion (olive oil, Italian sausage, mushrooms, onion, black olives, roasted garlic, fresh basil, and mozzarella)….hearty and an awesome flavor combination. We both tried the Margherita (olive oil, thin sliced Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, fontina & mozzarella) – very simple, vegeterian, but great flavor came from all of the fresh ingredients! *I will add here that there were NOT a lot of vegeterian options on the pizza buffet until we asked for it; but they WERE very accomodating with anything that we requested. They have a few vegeterian options listed on the menu under the pizzas, but we only saw one at any given time out and already made.
They also had options for the salad, soup, and pizza for those that didn’t want the All You Can Eat route. If you want some of this, and some of that, it is exactly in that way that it is listed on the menu. You can make a one-trip salad bowl for $3.99, a platter of salad for $7.98. You can get just the salad bar for $9.38, or soup AND salad for $10.38 (no pizza). If you want just soup, you can get a crock for $4.29 or endless soup for $7.28. I loved all the options! And slices of pizza for those who can’t eat very many, like mysef who got full after two, are $2.25 each anytime.
Our son opted for the Mark T’s Pulled Pork sandwich and fries – which was HUGE! But for a fourteen year old boy, it was more than enough, and it seems that I remembered that as much as he loved it, he still had to get a box and take some back to the condo. They have several options under sandwiches besides the pulled pork with one vegeterian as well as one fish. The menu does say that gluten free buns are available as well. There are also a few burgers available, and you can make it custom with cheeses, veggies, sauces, additional meats, or even swapping the beef for turkey, chicken breast, veggie burger patty, or a “skinny” burger with no bun. I really like having the turkey and veggie burger options, since I prefer one of those on my burgers nowadays. Next time we visit, maybe I will get a turkey burger!
There are entrees and calzones available for those who don’t want the pizza, sandwich, or burgers…but only a few options like mac ‘n’ cheese (3 types!), fish & chips, a couple of pasta options, and chicken tenders. There were three calzone options that I saw: lots of meat, no meat vegeterian, or create your own. I like that option in a calzone personally!
There were several options for the little ones, which we were happy to see. The $6.25 Kids Menu (includes a soda, juice, or milk) for ages 10 and under had: spaghetti, chicken strips, mini burgers, grilled cheese, or mac & cheese. Our little girl doesn’t eat meat, so she was plenty content with the mac & cheese, and trying our cheese/mushroom pizza. You can also add a salad to the kid’s meals for just $1.99, which is a nice addition. We gave her olives and broccoli from our salads, so she was a happy girl. But if you don’t want to get one of the kid’s meals, there was always the Kid’s Buffet and Baby Buffets that I listed above.
We didn’t see or hear of any desserts, and there aren’t any on the menu, but they DO have them – you just have to ask your server for the day’s selections.
I’m not sure if they deliver, but they do have a “Take and Bake” option, where you can pick it up and cook it in the comfort of your own oven. One night when it was raining, and we were tired and didn’t want to go out again, we considered going and picking up to cook it ourselves – but didn’t only because we didn’t have a pizza cutter and honestly, just didn’t want to cook (yeah, we were THAT tired).
Overall, I loved all of the options, and the prices seemed pretty decent for a touristy, college town. My only negative would be to have more vegeterian pizzas out and on the pizza buffet. The ingredients were clearly fresh, and each pie made by hand. I will totally return upon our future visits to Golden, and highly recommend it to anyone who happens across this hidden treasure of a locale!
This is probably one of the oddest reviews I have ever written, as it will have zero stars. A few weeks ago, I started looking for photographers in the Napa Valley area, since I would be traveling there in July to celebrate my wedding anniversary. I found K. Ann Diaz Photography on Craigslist and thought that her photos were nice, and her prices were affordable. I first sent an email, asking if she would be willing to schedule a session (we are a same-sex couple and I know that some vendors will sometimes not work with us), and if she had the date open that I needed (our anniversary date – July 18th). She wrote back and was very friendly, verified her pricing, and after a few emails, we had the date, time, and place set.
My wife and I arrived at our specified location on the afternoon of our anniversary, and 30 minutes before our scheduled session we changed into our clothes for the shoot. We were scheduled for a 5 PM shoot at the Castello di Amoroso vineyard and winery in Calistoga. I sent a text to the number that Kimberly had provided in ALL of her emails and got no response. 5 PM came and went. At 5:20 PM, I called the phone number and it went straight to voicemail; no return phone call either. I walked back and forth between the entrance and the exit several times. As far as I know, she never showed for the session, never returned my text or phone call, never emailed me again.
I might also mention that I, too, am a photographer in the Dallas, Texas area. Perhaps this is why I was SO surprised at the outcome of this appointment. I have had my photography business since 2001, and have NEVER no-showed for any session or event. The rare occasion that I have had to be late for a shoot due to traffic or unforeseen circumstances, I have ALWAYS called and/or sent a text to notify the client. This incident was the height of unprofessionalism, and particularly when it is done to someone in the same field of work. Now I am a very fair, reasonable, understanding and even forgiving person; but several days have passed and I still never received any form of response. In this case, there is no “three strikes and you’re out,” or giving of second chances. This was completely unacceptable, as she left us dressed in our special clothes and without the special anniversary photos that I was so looking forward to having. I would and will not recommend this photographer for any session or event.
Fortunately, I had my professional camera with me, so we were able to get some photos of each other, and a few of us together thanks to a couple of kindhearted tourists willing to snap them for me after I set them up. Yes, I saved myself some money, but that was nothing compared to the huge disappointment that we had for being stood up.
Domestic Dyke and family are going on the road this summer! I am expanding my blogging to travel writing and photographing, and looking forward to some amazing adventures starting summer 2014!
We are starting our journey with the whole fam loading up in June to Golden, Colorado, and probably some visits to Denver while we are there as well. In July, the wife and I will be traveling to San Francisco and Napa Valley, and plan to visit some cool, LGBT friendly venues as well. I will take tons of pictures – like I always do – and write up blog reviews as we go. I want to be able to pass on all of the good to all of our peeps, especially the LGBT friendly ones! Somewhere in there, hopefully sooner than later, I want to book a trip to one of our favorite spots – Little Rock, Arkansas – now that marriage equality has landed there! Hopefully there will be a lot more LGBT traffic in that beautiful, green state now that marriage is a reality. So if you have any destinations that you have been to and can recommend that might be interested in hosting us/me in exchange for a photo blog review, send me a message or list it in the comments – and I will check it out! Who knows…maybe I’ll be visiting in a town near you. If I do, let me know and let’s have a drink!