Calm Christmas

I absolutely didn’t expect to have a calm or very enjoyable Christmas. The weeks prior had indicated December wasn’t going to give us a break, and then Jack was slated to be with his dad all week, which generally makes it harder for me to get into the festivities. Still, I dutifully did my shopping and wrapping and decorating. It turned out to be worth it, too!

The Sunday before the holiday, I decided I didn’t care if we weren’t having a big family gathering – I was gonna bake anyway! So I got together with my friend Kurstan and we baked our hearts out. We made cookies and brownies and rice crispy treats and then split them between the two of us. I find baking relaxing and it was also wonderful to spend so much time with Kurstan – between our jobs, her upcoming wedding, and various trips and illnesses, we don’t get to just hang out as much as we’d like.

On Christmas David and I were joined by his sister Stella, my mom and her partner Jim. We opened stockings, had a delicious dinner that was just the right size, played games, and opened up a bunch of presents. We got some awesome things that we wanted and some even better things that we needed. Oh and I made a cake that David has been requesting for the past four years – it turned out perfectly delicious.

Yesterday we had tickets to go see the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. It was supposed to be the three of us plus Stella, but David got sick and had to stay home. Jack’s friend Alex took David’s ticket and then Alex’s family ended up getting seats behind ours, as well, so we went in a big group. Thanks to a friend I know in the ballet, we were able to get backstage and see the sets and play in the fake snow, too. It was a magical experience! I’m so glad we got to share it with friends. And Jack loved it just as much as he did two years ago!

Jack got to open all his presents yesterday. He got so much stuff! We’re not quite sure where to put it all but he is super happy with his gifts. I even scored him a couple things he didn’t know he wanted (most beloved is the fire-breathing Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon). WOOT. And he now has a TON of Dr. Who toys, including the 11th Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. He’s barely put that down since he got it. I’d say that makes him a happy camper.

So, we didn’t have a huge gathering of friends and family or a giant spread of food, plus some of our celebrating was delayed, but the holiday was pretty drama-free and relaxing. And you know what? I’ll take it!!

Happy holidays, y’all!

My First Best Friend

“Crystal, there’s a new girl with your name! You have to meet her!”

I was about 7 years old. Her name was spelled differently – with a K and an I, instead of a C and a Y – and she was so much my opposite. Kristal and I immediately became best friends. Like, within seconds. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do. We had the same name, after all.

She lived in a duplex down the street from me – which was as far away from my house that my mom would let me wander (for fear of kidnappers in windowless blue vans). I often padded over to Kristal’s house, barefoot and bedraggled. My feet were tough as nails and black from running around outside all the time.

“Where are your shoes? Does your mom know you’re running around outside like that?” her mom asked me on more than one occasion.

“My mom doesn’t care,” I’m sure I said.

Kristal’s parents dubbed us Pete & Repeat. I was Kristal’s shadow. So much so that she used to tell me to stop crawling up her butt. Sometimes she got irritated with me and we fought. We would take weekends off from being best friends and then make up on Monday, usually. Most of the time, though, I clung to her for dear life. She was my one real friend. To me, she was always so brave and beautiful and strong – all things I wished I was. I was a tiny slip of a thing, always getting stepped on or ignored. I wanted to be her instead.

I loved her family and spent as many days at her house as I could. When I was politely told that my mom probably wanted me home, I didn’t take the hint. “No, I could stay as long as I want!” I would exclaim. No, you need to go home now.

I didn’t want to go home. At home I had to take care of my brother and sister. I had to fight the never-ending battle with my mom’s live-in boyfriend. Home wasn’t home at all and it was the last place I wanted to be.

Kristal didn’t care to spend time at my house, either. My mom’s boyfriend creeped her out. She got frustrated with my mom’s lack of attention to my siblings and me, as well. We had long ago accepted that our mother would space out and didn’t hear us when we called her name over and over. Kristal couldn’t accept it, so she stayed away.

I was happy to spend any time I could at her house anyway.


Kristal & Crystal at the state fair (uh, in the 80s obviously)

Kristal spent summers at her grandparents’ house a few hours south, while I moped around and slept the boredom away. The first year that I went with her, I had to leave less than a week in. I said I was homesick but really, I’d had a nightmare about my sister being hurt. I couldn’t be away – I needed to protect her. I knew no one else would, that it was up to me.

A year later, I went again and I stayed the whole time! And it became the thing I did in the summer. And then holidays were added on. I no longer spent Christmas with my family, if I could help it. I even did chores at Kristal’s house – on Sunday mornings we would polish the furniture. I helped her fold clothes, too. After dinner, I dried the dishes while she washed. I wouldn’t know how to do any of those things if it wasn’t for Kristal’s family.

When Kristal moved away – I believe it was sometime around fifth grade – I was devastated. I had no other friends. She’d been popular and had many, so I sought out her friends. I found another pair of girls who were joined at the hip – Stacey and Melinda – and I hung out with them, the awkward third wheel. It wasn’t the same at all. I changed the spelling of my name. I decided I wanted to be Krystal. A hybrid, of sorts.

Kristal and I were still friends. I visited her at her new house in Utah and then, when her family moved back to California a couple hours south of me, I spent many weekends there. We sent letters back and forth and talked on the phone in between seeing eachother. I still held on for dear life.

During high school we drifted a bit but still kept in touch.

Later, Kristal was my maid of honor when I married Joe.


August 1999

When Joe and I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, she lived with us briefly. She and Joe didn’t get along and I felt very stressed trying to keep the peace between my best friend and my husband. I admit it – I was a little relieved when she moved out. It meant I didn’t have to question my relationship with my husband as much.

I should have paid attention to that. But I’m stubborn, if nothing else.

We drifted from one another more and more after that. And then my childhood caught up with me and I disconnected from everyone who had been a part of it. I went into therapy and opened Pandora’s Box – I couldn’t discern between friends and enemies anymore so I swore everyone off.

Just about the time I split from Joe, though, I sought her out again. The two parts of my life that didn’t go together didn’t have to anymore and it was a huge relief. I wished I hadn’t lost years with my friend, though.

We’ve seen each other a couple times since then, but life has gotten in the way of much more. She met the man of her dreams and settled down, and so did I. In fact, when I met David, I immediately thought of something Kristal had said to me back when we were kids – that when I met my true love, I would have a quiet and gentle love. She was right, I marveled.

I can’t imagine my life without Kristal. It would be immeasurably different if Kristal and I hadn’t become fast friends on that long ago day in elementary school. I know I would have never found my own bravery, strength, and beauty if it wasn’t for her. She was my hero and she helped me hang onto myself through so much hardship.

Kristal, you have always been so much more than my first best friend, I hope you know that. You are my soul sister and I love you.

Yet Again, I’m Blogging About Mental Health

Today is Mental Health Month Blog Day. Mental health – and illness – is a topic of great importance to me and something I’ve written about before. It’s importance has only grown as I’ve gotten older. My experiences with mental illness have led me to get involved in helping others through sites like Band Back Together and I try to speak about my experiences openly and honestly whenever possible.

Did you know that a quarter of Americans experience a diagnosable mental health disorder every year? It’s highly likely that you or someone you know (or SEVERAL someones you know!) is dealing with mental illness. And yet, “research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Vol. 41, No. 2) finds that 68% of Americans do not want someone with a mental illness marrying into their family and 58% do not want people with mental illness in their workplaces.”


This is why it’s important to talk about mental health!

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

I was diagnosed at age 15 with depression after I read an article in a magazine. Mental illness runs in my family – my dad, my mom, my brother, my grandmother, and cousins have been diagnosed with various problems – but I was one of the first to receive a diagnosis and treatment. Once I was diagnosed, a number of my family members realized they struggled with the same issues as I did and sought help. Our family life improved drastically after we got help.

Getting help was the best thing I ever did – for me and for my whole family.

I thought I knew everything I needed to know about depression by the time Jack was born, over 10 years after I was initially diagnosed, but then I experienced Postpartum Depression and PTSD reared its ugly head. I threw myself into therapy once again, this time taking a multi-pronged approach with group therapy, skills building classes, and individual therapy along with medication. I went through a variety of these intense therapies for about four years before I felt like I could take a break.

Treatment has been tremendously helpful. In many ways, I am a different person than I was before that very intense therapy. I grew up with so much trauma and while that is common, it’s not easy to cope with. I came up with some very creative ways of coping but the coping didn’t end when the traumas did. And because I was so busy coping, I wasn’t living.

But treatment alone would not have done it for me. I needed community. I needed friends and family. And as difficult as it was to reach out, I did. And my friends and family kept me going throughout my treatment.

Now my son struggles to cope with the challenges in his young life, partly due to genetics and partly due to his experiences with cancer. I am especially thankful these days that I took the time to help myself! I am strong enough now to help him. I can tell him that it’s okay to be sad and that he doesn’t have to just CHEER UP and GET OVER IT. I can help him grieve and move on so that his feelings won’t haunt him for years and years. And I can show him how to ask for help from family and the medical community.

He doesn’t have to be alone.

It is my hope that – eventually – no one will have to go through mental illness alone. Mental illness was something I struggled with by myself for a long time and it wasn’t until I got help from others that I truly started to find healing. It was 100% worth it.

I encourage you all to share your experiences and to reach out to others – whether you are the one struggling or you know someone else who is. Even if the results are small, they make a difference and can change a life.

Cancer Creeps In

(c) hawmkoonstormbringer on Deviant Art

(c) hawmkoonstormbringer on Deviant Art

“In two years and one week we won’t have a million little spoons to wash,” David said to me this weekend. We use two to three spoons each day to give Jack his medication. We’re both looking forward to going through less spoons.


“I can’t lay down like normal because my back hurts. I have cancer and had a procedure today.”

I took Jack to the dentist yesterday, which was also a procedure day. I try to clump his appointments together so that I don’t miss as much work AND so that we can get the crappy stuff over with all at once. Unfortunately I failed to think this through entirely when booking the dentist appointment. Jack’s lower back was sore from the lumbar puncture he had in the morning, so laying down in a dentist’s chair was uncomfortable. I folded up my sweater as cushioning for his lower back.

We made special requests. We do this here and there to ease some of the things Jack goes through. Do you have toothpaste other than mint? Can you put a movie on other than Tangled (it stresses him out)?

Jack yowled the whole time he was getting his teeth cleaned. He went on and on about how awful the toothpaste (first ‘chocolate,’ then watermelon) tasted. I felt sorry for the other patients. I hoped Jack’s yowling didn’t scare them. I held Jack’s hand and asked him to try to be quieter. But when you’re a kid who chews chemo every day, your tolerance for other bad tasting things is lowered. What can you do?


“I think Bri doesn’t play with me anymore because she thinks my Broviac is gross,” Jack told me recently. I asked if the other kids at school knew about his Broviac and he said yes – he had showed them. Some kids are still mistakenly under the impression the tube comes out of his stomach and find that frightening.


Cancer is on my mind all the time. I wish it wasn’t that way but it pops up where I least expect it. We went for a playdate this weekend and I had planned to avoid the topic. But it’s pretty hard NOT to talk about something that permeates every part of your life. Still, I don’t want to be the person who brings down every conversation. Thankfully, I discovered that our hosts were familiar with the disease. The mom broached the topic and I followed suit.

She nodded sagely when I confessed that I feel like I can no longer chime in on a Facebook status when someone’s child is ill, particularly if the symptoms resemble those that Jack had when he was diagnosed. It’s as if I am the bringer of doom and gloom. I allow that little whisper of “it could be serious” to get through. I give credence to a parent’s worry for their child. People stop talking once I have weighed in.

It’s similar to what happened when I was getting a divorce. Suddenly I could see the worry in the eyes of the couples around me – ‘If they couldn’t make it work, what does that mean for us?’

If her child can get a life-threatening disease, can mine?

Everyone knows the answer. It’s harder to ignore the possibility when the evidence of it happening right out of the blue, with no warning at all, is standing right next to you.

Today I mailed out the request for a 504 assessment to Jack’s school district office. It feels strange. Jack is pretty gifted in many areas. He’s also fierce and determined; he’s caught up well with his peers after missing over six months of school. He can do the homework and he is getting 100% on math tests now.

But here I am asking for him to be considered disabled. It feels wrong.

This is the reason I’ve delayed broaching the topic with the school before now. My son, even with Leukemia, has so much compared to so many others. How can I ask for more? His performance would be normal for so many other kids. Most people can’t tell he has problems at all. Isn’t that good enough?

But it’s not about how much we have or how much others don’t. Jack is doing better than expected, but he is struggling a lot in order to do so. Yes, he’s completing his 12-14 pages of homework each week, but it takes him so much longer than it should and it wears on him. He is tired and moody and often feels like he isn’t living (although he uses different words to say so). It’s hard to learn and retain information when you are using up all your energy just to get through the work.

Hell, if I’m exhausted every day, how must he feel? His worries and his challenges are a bit different, but they are so much bigger than he is. He has too much to worry about for such a small guy.

For the last year I’ve been thinking we’ll get used to all this and life will go back to the way it was. I thought we’d eventually make ourselves believe that everything will be just as it would have been otherwise…that all the worry would ebb away. I’ve been waiting for the time when I could worry less about what is going on in Jack’s body and return to thinking about more frivolous things – or even important things like my relationships with friends and family.

But I’m starting to get it. We aren’t going to go back. We jumped the track and now find ourselves somewhere completely different. We have to move forward. I can’t care about many of the things I used to care about – I don’t have the capacity and I’m in a completely different place.

So, to my friends and family and even people I’ve yet to meet: I’m sorry. I know cancer is unpleasant and it might seem like I’m “all cancer all the time” now. I just can’t help it and I hope you’ll forgive me for that. I am still finding my way.

Cancer creeps into everything.

It Wasn’t All Bad

Despite the hardships we endured in 2012, there were some significantly good things that happened, as well. I DO recognize that and am very thankful. As much as things sucked last year, we were lucky in so many ways and it’s something I think about every day.

  • We had made a goal to buy a house in 2012 and we HUSTLED and totally did it. In less than six months we viewed over 60 houses, made 6 offers, and then we moved in June. We love our house and are very happy there. Our neighbors are wonderful, our location is convenient, and Jack’s school is fantastic!
  • Jack’s treatments have gone incredibly smoothly. Aside from his initial hospitalization when diagnosed in January, he didn’t have to spend another night in the hospital! He had no infections, only one fever (that was benign), and tolerated all of the medications very well. He didn’t even have to take many of the medications other patients take to manage side effects. We’ve had some blips with pill taking and adjusting to going back to school, but I can’t imagine any of it going MORE smoothly than it did.
  • David and I have gone through a lot in our four years together and this year was the hardest yet, but our marriage is better than ever. We’ve grown together, leaned on one another, and become a stronger unit. Our marriage has kept me grounded even when it felt like the world was coming apart around me.
  • We were gainfully employed. This has meant a lot, especially when the economy has been total crap. David was hired on at a great company this year, which was a HUGE relief after the last few employers he had. My own employer has been incredibly gracious and flexible with my schedule this year, which prevented a lot of stress. The health insurance is no small thing, either! I remember walking into the admitting office at Kaiser back in January and the admitting nurse commented, “Wow! You have GREAT insurance coverage!” She was right – our plan has covered probably 99% of cancer treatment costs. I wake up every day and think about how lucky I am to have a good job with health benefits. We would be destitute otherwise.
  • Friends and family were absolutely wonderful. I was amazed at the outpouring of support we received upon Jack’s diagnosis. EVERYONE we knew – and many people we didn’t know – wanted to help. Whether it was meals, supplies, toys to keep Jack busy, cards, care packages…it all left me in awe. Many days we sat and marveled at the goodness of people. We are so loved and never felt alone.

I’m still hoping that 2013 brings many great things (and fewer bad things), but I know I’ll feel lucky enough with what I already have.