For the love of Rex

Rex is my brother’s dog; an 8 year old Rhodesian ridgeback, and a beautiful specimen of the breed.  He is as big as, if not bigger than, any Great Dane, but pure muscle.  Always the alpha male, particularly when it came to his sister, Mia; but, Rex is a lover, not a fighter.  He definitely let his size be known if another dog tried to claim alpha-male status, but anything more I think was out of character for him, maybe simply because his muscular stature was enough.  It has been said that another dog challenged him at doggy day care long ago.  Rex took up a proud stance and let out a giant woof, which was enough to silence the other dog for good.

My brother used to take him to rattlesnake training.  Rex just stood behind my brother the whole time.  He didn’t want anything to do with the snakes.  Unlike my dogs, which would probably be all over them, wondering what they were.  How could they play with or kill these snakes?  I’m sure Rex would still hunt lions though!

Every single time I came to visit, without fail, Rex would be at my driver’s side door waiting for me to get out of the car, always with uncontrollable excitement.  My brother trained Rex diligently, and for the most part, had him well-controlled.  He was very careful to make sure Rex stayed in line with guests.  Rex had a special love for me though, and I for him.  I think because after my nephew was born, I never faltered in giving Rex the attention he still needed and deserved.  My brother was especially careful where Rex was concerned when I was going through treatment and with my surgeries.  But I loved Rex’s limitless love for me.  Nothing can compare to the love a dog gives.

After my nephew and sister-in-law, Rex is my brother’s pride and joy.  My sister-in-law would say, “You know that’s his boy.”  Rex would sit with my brother on his deck while he drank his coffee in the morning.  He and Mia were my brother’s running partners and the dogs often spent time with the family on their wake-boarding boat.

About six months ago, Rex was diagnosed with cancer; a form of melanoma that was found in his dewclaw.  The dewclaw and cancer were removed and my brother and sister-in-law decided they would do everything they could for him, aside from chemo and further surgeries, which they felt would diminish his quality of life.

My brother does not show his emotions, but when Rex was first diagnosed, he told me about it over the phone.  He couldn’t say much and began to choke up.  That was truly testament to his love for Rex.

This past Christmas, only a month ago, I gifted faux snowballs to my nephew and we all had a nice snowball fight, which Rex loved being a part of.  Within a week a two after, the cancer had spread to his mouth.  I went to visit him this past Friday night, knowing it would be the last time I’d spend with him.

Again, even though he hadn’t eaten in a week, true to form, one last time he came and met me at my driver’s side door.  He wouldn’t walk on the grass though, only the driveway.  I know he was glad to see me, but the excited Rex I knew was gone.  However, he still managed to wag his tail from time to time throughout our visit. 

The now huge, cancerous tumor bulged from inside his mouth and gave a very distinct and pungent smell of dead tissue.  It stayed with me for days after our visit.  It’s something you never forget.

I laid with Rex in my brother’s living room with his head gently resting on my lap.  I remembered eight years earlier sitting in the same spot and laying his sleeping body over my lap when he was just a small puppy, about the size his head is now.

I stayed and had dinner with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew.  When it came time to leave, I kissed and hugged Rex several times, knowing it was for the last time.  He walked outside to the drive with my brother, as he always did to see me off.  I intentionally backed out of my brother’s long, winding driveway so I could see Rex in my headlights as I left.  He walked halfway up the drive as if not wanting me to leave.  I cried the entire way home.

I love you, Rex!  Thanks for loving me too!


002bright   IMAG0045   Rex   IMAG0547cropped

In memoriam

I’ve really been missing my father the last few days.

In loving memory of

Ronald Lee Jones

Nov 27, 1936 – Dec 3, 2014

My father

My father passed away the morning of December 3, 2014.

  He had just turned 78 on Thanksgiving day.

He was on hospice care in a nursing home for several months.  In February 2014, while I was still recovering from my double mastectomies I received a call that he had fallen in his home and suffered a severe head injury.  After a couple of weeks in the hospital he had gotten better and we had him transferred to a nursing home to recover further.  His health only deteriorated from there.

The last thing I said to him was that I’d be back to see him later.  Days went by and then he died.  I received the call at work.  The nurse said he had asked for pain medication for stomach pains.  She went to get them and by the time she returned he had passed.

I felt such anguish over not being there; stating I was coming back but had not.  I rushed to the nursing home to find him still lying there propped up in his bed.  I sat with him for a short while crying and saying how sorry I was for not being there, for not coming back.  I held his cold hand and wept, knowing fully this was now only the shell of the person I knew to be my father, that “he” was gone.

The fact was not lost on me that the only other person whose hand I had held after they had passed was that of my mother when she died twenty-eight years ago.  I was only twelve at the time and wanted to touch her one last time.  It was at her funeral and, other than the pastor and his wife, I was the last one in the church.  I stood at her coffin and reached my hand in and placed it on top of hers.  I was taken back by both the way she looked, so unlike how she looked in life, and at just how cold and almost inorganic her lifeless hand felt.  You know without a shadow of a doubt that whatever energy that made up that person, their soul, was truly, long gone.  How anyone can believe we have no soul driving our bodies is beyond me.  As a child of only twelve, this was a shocking revelation to feel simply by touching a hand.  I am older now but it still hit me the exact same way.

I needed that, somehow, in both instances–To touch them one last time.  It was somehow oddly comforting, even with the knowledge they were no longer inhabiting those bodies.

When I was with my father, the chaplain came in and asked if I wanted her to cover him.  I said no, that I would do it.  I tried, but then couldn’t.  We went into another room to wait for my brother so we could decide what cremation service to use.  I was still crying, overwhelmed and shocked at the knowledge he was really gone.  My brother finally arrived and we made the decision on which service to use.  I asked him if he wanted to see him.  He said he would on our way out.  The chaplain said we were welcome to stay but that she would be there to see that his body would be picked up safely by the service.  I couldn’t bring myself to stay any longer and my brother was ready to leave also.  We walked back to the room where a curtain was drawn around my father’s bed.  I wasn’t thinking clearly in not realizing I should prepare my brother for the sight of my father’s body lying there as it was.  I could tell once he drew back the curtain a little that he wasn’t anticipating seeing him like that.  He gasped slightly and uncomfortably turned quickly as he grabbed my coat and scarf.  I still feel awful for that.

For days now I’ve felt haunted wondering if my father had been waiting for me.  Was he feeling lonely and sad?  Was he waiting for me to come back?  It has been almost unbearable, but I can’t keep punishing myself.  I’d told him so many times before that I loved him and have spent months and months visiting him regularly at the nursing home, sometimes three and four times a week.

Many friends have stated that guilt is the first step in the grieving process.  You wonder what you should have, could have, would have done differently to show that person what they meant to you when they were alive.

My father was a sweet man.  Everyone who met him said that.  He certainly had many faults.  My brother and I knew them all too well, but then all of us have our faults.

The fact that my father sat with me through the majority of my chemo treatments after going through the same thing with two wives and then losing them both to cancer.  A lot of men wouldn’t have been able to do that. On one of my visits to his bedside at the nursing home I tried to tell him that.  After saying to him how strong I thought he was for that, he sat quietly for a minute and then said, “did you say you joined the Freemasons?”

There are so many things I will miss about him.  He was a big giver, especially at Christmas time, and he loved being around kids.  He was truly happy being a grandpa.  He lit up being around my nephew.

He did the best he could and whenever I was sick, even if it was just a cold, he’d ask me if he can do anything for me, even stating he would drive an hour or so to bring me whatever I needed – medicine, soup, whatever it might be.  Looking back, I didn’t appreciate him enough for those little ways he showed his love.  Although I was grateful at those times, it was always with the mindset of, “no, I’m fine.  I’m an adult and completely capable of taking care of myself.”  But I know now how much I will miss that, even though it’s been a number of years since he was even capable of doing that.

Photo of my mother and father deep sea fishing (circa early 1970s):


 .                                                               .                        This past year has been primarily dedicated to my father.  Anything to do with my own health, breast cancer status or thoughts on the subject in general have taken a backseat, whether good or bad, to my father’s deterioration and subsequent passing.  It has been another long battle to which I’ve focused whatever energy I’ve had.  I keep remembering Robin Roberts’ words on the subject.  That you have to fight the battle that’s in front of you.  This year, my focus has been on my father, on many fronts.  So much so that it will take me a while to find a new normalcy in life, for whatever the hell that means.

I think that’s why I haven’t written here in months.  My focus was simply, and understandably elsewhere, and not on my continued struggles physically, emotionally, etc. after battling breast cancer.

While still grieving over my father’s passing, which I know will be an ongoing process, and in now stepping back from the steady focus on his care this past year, I hope to return to writing here regularly as I continue my journey on the long road to new boobs and a more resilient life.

I’m the last

My sister-in-law told me yesterday my brother tested negative for the gene mutation.  All good news!  Yay, my brother and little nephew are in the clear!  I assumed that would be the case as I’ve read articles that it doesn’t normally pass on to males in families, but it’s good that my brother took my advice and got tested, to be on the safe side.  Now it won’t be passed on in our family’s genes.  I’m the last.

Livestrong Girls

Last night I met up with the girls I did the Livestrong survivor fitness program with at the YMCA when I was undergoing chemo.  We meet every couple of months now for drinks, food and a fun time laughing and commiserating over our cancer experiences.  We have a lot of camaraderie!  It’s our group therapy time, and what’s better than cocktails and some girl talk.  Each of us experienced a different cancer and different set of circumstances, but we all can relate to the challenges we faced.   We’ll have to take pics next time.

I was happy to hear from the other women that, like me, none of them had suddenly turned into a totally zen, super health-obsessed, fitness guru.  Not YET anyway (I’m still hoping I’ll get there).  We were still enjoying a hard drink and greasy food.  It made me feel better as all this time I’d been beating myself up for falling short of not having already become a huge superstar of health, wellbeing and enlightenment.  Why haven’t I fully accomplished this yet?  Why hasn’t it happened sooner and faster?  What the hell is wrong with me?  I mean, when you survive what we have, you really have no choice but to stand at the crossroads and re-evaluate your life.  I know I’ve been given this second chance, but I’m still majorly stumbling back into old, incredibly unhealthy habits. 

Why haven’t I already dropped to 115 pounds and live solely on organic lettuce and microgreens grown by my own two hands in my backyard, drink only purified water and meditate five times a day?  Well, I don’t know about getting to 115 lbs, my goal weight isn’t even that small, but I know I need to make serious changes. 

The wild thing is that although I certainly haven’t drastically changed everything in one fell-swoop, my life is changing, incredibly!  It’s true, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my transformation won’t happen that way either, and that’s okay.  It’s OK!  It is happening!!!

Everything in its own time, right?  And always a work in progress!

 Shoulda, woulda, coulda no more!!! – Deb, get the hell out of here and move to Belize already!  Just keep a room ready for me to come visit!!!  Geez, maybe I should think about moving to Belize.  Will ponder.  ;-)

A Tribute to my Mother, Aunt and Grandmother

“Do not regret growing older, it is a privilege denied to many.” – Unknown

My mother, Mary, and aunt, Martha, both died in their thirties of breast cancer caused by our inherited mutated BRCA1 gene.  My mother was just shy of her 40th birthday.  It is believed that my grandmother, Doris, also passed away from breast cancer.  I learned recently that she died in 1965 at age 41.  I never met her.  She died almost 9 years before I was born.

When I was first diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (“TNBC”) last year, I knew then that it was also the type of breast cancer my mother died of.  I knew mine was a TNBC even before my breast surgeon confirmed it.  This means it is estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and HER2/neu negative (ER-/PR-/HER2-).   I just remember during my biopsy my surgeon saying something about its characteristics, and me saying, “that sounds like a triple-negative, doesn’t it?”  and her saying, “yes, it could be.”  Prior to my diagnosis, I’d read articles that research shows a good majority of women with BRCA1 mutations present with TNBC; and, in the end my mother’s cancer had spread to her brain, also a classic sign of a TNBC.  Often TNBCs spread to the brain or lungs.  TNBC is more aggressive and hits younger women, as it did me, my mother, my aunt and my grandmother.

I was diagnosed with a 7 mm stage 1a, grade 3 (fast-growing), invasive ductal carcinoma, TNBC in my right breast at age 39.  The age my mother was when she died of it.  I had my 40th birthday on March 19, 2014.  I was lucky in knowing my family history and taking action early on.  I’ve been monitored closely for years and after testing positive for a mutation, screening happened every 6 months.  My cancer was caught at a very early stage.  I’ll never be totally out of the woods though.  Bizarrely, it seems a little scarier now.  TNBC is known to have more microscopic cells that can be found in distant sites of the body later, and not all cells can be removed with surgery.  Although I’ve now taken the most aggressive approach, they don’t really have sufficient ways to continue to screen you or a desire to continue exposing you to the radiation that comes with screening.  However, I guess the point is to now go live your life and not harp on the what-ifs any longer!

I was at my father’s house yesterday looking through old papers and found six or seven dusty photo albums full of old photographs.  These images of my mother and aunt are some of the photos I came across.  They capture both my mother’s and aunt’s sweet-natured beauty.  The baby is my older brother, Ryan.

Mom-M-R  Mom n M  Mom and R  Mom  Mom and Dad on boat


Living it up Texas-style at Poodie’s

A little post-birthday bash with friends at Poodie’s Hilltop bar.  Yay–I haven’t laughed so hard in a while!!!  The lovely, bearded gentleman behind us wanted in on the action too–photo crasher!  Nice guy though and I think he adds a special “Texas” charm to the photo!  Look at that–Within five minutes of us walking in the door, someone had already spilled her beer.  Beth?!

  Poodieville   spilt beer


Goodbye, Chemo, Goodbye

My last chemo treatment happened on Thursday.  Yay!!!  Truthfully, I was a little apprehensive.  I know that sounds weird, but no more systemic treatment is a little scary.  So happy to be done with Taxol though!

My close friend, Beth, came up from Houston bearing lovely gifts!  Another friend, Julie, also came to hang out with me at treatment, and my father was there too.  Unfortunately, you can’t make it too big a party as you may disturb others who are there for treatment.  We had a great time though, talking, laughing and taking pictures.  I rung the bell at the end to say, “yes, I’m done with chemo!” :-)

I had a special cake made for my infusion nurses and the rest of the staff.  See pics below.

20131114_144145cake  DSC05982

DSC05976  DSC05977-300x200new