...Because there's gotta be somewhere to keep these pictures so they can stay in our family history. Forever.
Clara refused to sit by herself, so for her package, we got a family portrait. Maybe I should photoshop Ken's head in there and call our family Christmas photo done? Could we be wearing any more colors or patterns?
She was even happier for her class photo. I hope her teacher uses this for her Christmas picture:
In 2002, Ken, Charmer, and I found out that we were moving back home. Back east. Lo and behold, HGTV's Dream House that year was in St. Michael's, Maryland. I took it as a sign. Sure it would be a three-hour commute for Ken, but I figured if we won it we could buy a small plane for him to commute in.
It's easy to have pipe dreams. Kind of like daydreaming about the outfit I'll wear for the press conference when I win the lottery.
I entered my entire family online every day. I even mailed in postcards. On the night before I knew the winner was being notified on live TV, I cleaned the house, anticipating visitors.
And, well, if you haven't already guessed, we didn't win.
Today, mom and I visited the small town of St. Michael's (now only 45 minutes away) and on our way there I began an ernest search for the Dream House location. It wasn't that hard to find. It's a rental house (for a mere $850 a night) and the address was right there.
So the house wasn't exactly in St. Michael's. If where we live is rural, this location was outright desolate. The abandoned gas station about a mile from the spot advertised gas at $2.15 a gallon. Yeah.
As we drove down the long driveway (me worried the entire time we were going to get arrested. I'm a big rule follower), a huge deer jumped out of the front lawn, the house's only inhabitant. The "Doggie Dream House" was pretty forlorn looking and the whole house in general just looked...sad.
You know me. Still felt like a celebrity sighting.
Friday night I experienced something I've never experienced before. Food poisoning. I literally, literally, literally thought I was dying. In my anguish I even told Ken it was worse than child birth. I later relinquished that statement, ladies, don't worry.
Clara wanted to put a Dora band-aid on my IV wound (I do not have good veins), and Charlie kissed my belly to make it, "Fee better." Today I finally started to feel like a member of the human race again and even made it out to the farm with the kids, then took a two-hour nap.
...a few months ago, I began the process of genetic screening. It was over almost before it started.
As I sat with a genetic counselor, it became clear that although there is a whole lot of cancer in my family history, there's no real pattern. There is breast cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, and now uterine cancer. But nothing showing a distinct genetic reason, which is what is needed for an insurance company to cover the $4,000 BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests (the tests that Angelina Jolie had done).
The best situation, the counselor explained to me, was to have my great-aunt Sally, my grandmother's only remaining sibling (and a breast cancer survivor) be tested for the gene. She went on to say that it's important for an older generation to get the test done so more members of the family can know if they are impacted (there are cousins I don't even know who if Aunt Sally tested positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2 could then get tested themselves). If I were to get the test, it would only be Clara and I who are impacted by the results.
My dear Aunt Sally, who hosted our family reunions in my childhood and braved frigid temperatures to come to my skating competitions and tell me how proud my grandmother would be of me, who is in her mid-90s, went for the test a few months ago.
And today we found out that all of the genetics tests came back negative.
I texted a few friends, who cheered. It was only Ken who said, "How does that make you feel?"
And this is what I said...
I know this is good news. I know it should feel like good news. I know I should be responding to texts and e-mails with words like, "Hallelujah!" and lots of exclamation points.
But if we had the gene. If we had the gene. If we had the gene, at least we could DO something about it. We could have a piece of paper, hold on to something concrete.
I know this might seem trite or insulting to those who have the gene. But you have to realize...not having the gene didn't keep my grandmother from getting breast cancer in her 40s, or my mom from getting cancer too. Environmental factors? Absolutely. Of the half-dozen cancer cases I discussed with the genetics counselor, most of them were at one point heavy smokers. Most likely they were exposed to asbestos at some point. But you can't look at a family tree, at my grandmother's five siblings, three of whom are dead from cancer and one from a heart attack, and not tell me that there's a genetic pre-disposition, somewhere, even if those environmental factors played a role too.
I am a very literal person. I like proof and evidence and truth. I like concrete things I can hold on to. I know I can eat right, I can exercise, I can get annual exams. But the truth? The truth is I am scared. The truth is I think about all the years I didn't get with my grandmother. I think about what my mom has lived through for the last three years. The truth is that not having the gene just makes me feel more like a ticking bomb than ever before.
...no, the kids aren't driving me to drink. Well, at least yesterday they weren't.
Meet Margarita, our friendly liquor store golden retriever.
Margarita is pregnant with nine golden retriever puppies. Nine golden retriever puppies. Her baby daddy is Cruzan, the store owner's other golden.
She is the sweetest, kindest, gentlest golden. She reminded me of every golden retriever I've ever loved. "They will be Christmas puppies," the owner, Jim, told me. Born the end of October, ready to be waiting in a box on Christmas morning.
I thought about Margarita and those puppies all night last night. I thought about Charlie carefully touching her back and working his way up to her ears. How he insisted on going back in the store to say goodbye to her one more time. I thought about the cackle Clara let out as Margarita nudged her in the chest with her nose, asking for another rub. I thought about the glee that opening a box filled with a golden puppy could bring. I thought about the unconditional love a dog, especially a golden, gives at the end of some of the hardest days.
And I realized...My heart is ready.
But the reality is we just can't do a puppy. At least right now. I asked Jim if he could keep the puppies and we'll take Margarita. One thing is for sure, I might become quite the wine sommelier in the next few weeks as we make excuse after excuse to visit her and her growing belly.