Surprises from Italy

I didn't expect Rome to be so charming. Someone said that spending three nights there was too long.

Roma

 

I was told Venice would be impossible to navigate, and smelly too.

People said Pisa wasn't worth more than a drive-by.

And so on.

What a joy it was to be surprised by all I experienced in Italy, and to come away with my own experiences and recommendations.


Let's back up for a moment. Mom and I were supposed to go to Italy in 2016. About a month before we were supposed to depart, the tumor was discovered.

My doctor said I could travel before my surgery, but Mom was reluctant.

"I'm not traveling with you--you're a ticking time bomb!" Mom said.

(She is probably going to be mad at me for sharing this so please keep in mind that I am sharing this for comic effect. Mostly.)

We postponed the trip, lost money* and I had surgery. There was a two month-ish acute recovery period. I survived. We agreed to figure out a new trip for 2017 once I was in the clear health-wise. And I more or less am. Yay.

But when we looked at the Abercrombie & Kent offering for 2017, the Italy tour dates weren't ideal. Mom wanted to stick with a Fall trip so she could continue her quest to make the LPGA tour... I mean, win her golf club's ladies' league.

(Sidebar: she and her golf partner actually did win the league so the sacrifice was apparently worthwhile.)

We bickered for a while. Mom put restrictions on places she would go. She vetoed Croatia.

"But it's like undiscovered Italy, kinda!" I said, but she was unswayed.

I feel confident that within the next two or three years. all of her friends will be going to Croatia and she'll ask me why we haven't yet gone there.

I advocated for France - wine! cheese! - but Mom still holds a grudge against the country for not supporting George Bush (I KNOW). Meanwhile she still drinks only Grey Goose vodka which is very much French.

Mom in Florence

 

(It's possible she may make me remove this paragraph and photo so please enjoy them while you can.)

Time passed. At the very last minute, we ended up going to Italy on the 2017 version of this A&K itinerary.


You don't need me to recap the trip day by day - that would be boring - so here are a few bits that were special to me.

 

In Rome, we dined as a group in the apartment of Barbara Beni. The food and company were spectacular, and I loved seeing how a Roman lives her modern life in an ancient village. While our meal was arranged for our group, you can purchase seats at her wonderful dinners here. Visiting her neighborhood, charming Trastevere, was an added bonus.

Overall, I thought the food of Rome was the best of the trip--it's surely responsible for at least half of the pasta weight I gained. Now that I'm home, I'll be studying Katie Parla's Tasting Rome in an effort to revisit the wonderful pastas. Sadly a cold prevented me from meeting the author in person.

 

In Florence we dined at La Giostra one night and La Grotta Guelfa another; both were terrific in their own way. We also took a cooking class which was lots of fun. 

Oh, and the designer outlets outside Florence are absolutely worth the trip if you like to shop. I bought myself some presents at Gucci.

Visiting Siena for a few hours was a treat. I would love to go back. 

I spent part of my birthday climbing the stairs of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If tickets are available when you visit, I recommend you go up the funhouse-like tower. It's good exercise and the view from the top is worthwhile. Somehow my mother and the mother of a friend I made on the tour spotted us on the top before we saw them on the ground.

Cinque Terre was spectacular. Like much of Italy, it's a photographer's dream. My favorite lunch of the trip took place in Manarola and I am still marveling over the story of Bormida, a village accessible only by a 1500 step staircase.

On our way to Venice, we stopped in Modena to learn about balsamic vinegar at Acetaia Paltrinieri. Our lunch there featured balsamico on everything from grana padano to risotto to gelato. I loved it. Also I met some goats.

Our tour ended in Venice, one of the most unique cities in the world. The key to navigating this beautiful place to know your hotel's position in relation to the Rialto Bridge. If you can keep track of that, it's more difficult to get lost. Plus my maps app was way more helpful than I had been told to expect.

And truly, there would be worse things than getting lost in Venice.

I can't wait to go back.

 

*To be honest, I'm still frustrated with Abercrombie & Kent for how they treated us when I shared my news. They put on terrific tours, but if you book with them, you NEED travel insurance in case anything like an incidentaloma shows up.

Guilt and grief

Tomorrow is Monday. For most people, it will be just another work week starting. But for me, it is the worst anniversary: two years since we lost Dad.

July 17 used to be just another summer day, but now it looms like an exam I didn't study for or a long, painful dental appointment.

As this summer approached, I didn't think about lounging by the pool or trips to the beach. Instead I thought "was Dad in the hospital by now two years ago?" Anxiety festered inside me as I tried to decide how I should observe the day. I worried "what if I missed the anniversary completely? What if I forgot?"

Maybe someday I won't dread July 17, but I doubt I will ever forget what happened on that terrible day.

Sometimes I don't know how I have survived the last two years. One of the two people who created me no longer exists.

Other times, I think "I'm OK. This is how life works," before feeling horrible guilt over denying the extent of the loss.

Guilt has been an ever-present part of my grief. I feel awful for how selfishly I have been grieving. Losing Dad hasn't just been about the pain of not having him present in my life; it has caused me to question nearly every aspect of my life and its meaning. I have found myself drawing boundaries around the parts of me that hurt, building walls and hiding behind them. It doesn't come naturally to me, but I don't know how else to get back to being me.

I miss the littlest things about Dad. The way he's always ask me to help him choose which shirt or tie he should wear. His skinny chicken legs and how they look in all of our Rehoboth Beach pictures beneath neatly pressed shorts. His annoyance with mosquitos and how they gravitated to him, but left Mom alone. 

I think of Dad every time I smell fresh cut grass even though it has been years since he was physically able to mow the lawn. My memories of sleeping late on those glorious first days of summer vacation from high school all smell like grass and the chlorine Dad used to keep our pool crystal clear.

If I had a tally of all the names Dad called me, 'Jen' would top the list followed closely by 'Honey.' He only said "Jennifer" if we were disagreeing about something. Jenny was for when he felt like teasing me.

What I wouldn't give to hear Dad say any of those names for me once more.

What to read this summer (and beyond) - via @Octagon

I had the opportunity to share some book suggestions via Octagon's blog

You can see the full list here.

Via @TheSpaceGal

Via @TheSpaceGal

These are some of my other favorites - some new, some from a while back.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I first read this in high school and few books have stuck with me as much.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I prefer this cover art.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes. The perfect beach read.

Now reading:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante 

 

What are you reading this summer? I get lots of my recs from avid reader Ashley Spivey. She's a great follow.

Am I the only one?

I have a bunch of blog posts started but that I can't quite finish. In the interim, here's something fun inspired by my friend Sara Lang's Facebook post:

What's something you've done that you're reasonably confident you're the only person on my friends list who has done it?

Two things quickly came to mind. And then another and another. Here's my running list.

  • Spent a night at Bill Walton's house
  • Spent 2.5 nights in the hospital after a cat bit me
  • Put in a straightjacket--at age 2 when I needed stitches in my nose
  • Had my picture taken with Lil B Da Based God and ended up in XXL's twitter feed
  • Broke my sternum playing sorority league flag football at Cornell and spent a night in intensive care
  • Hitchhiked in St. Barths with a driver who only spoke French

 

  • Danced to Taylor Swift on the pitch at Wembley Stadium before an NFL game
  • Flew across Kenya in a plane that was probably manufactured in 1970
  • Shot military grade weapons in the Utah desert
  • Was kissed by a doctor in his office (I was 22 or 23 at the time and had a huge crush on him, but I realize it sounds crazy in retrospect)

What's on your list?

The latest and greatest

Spoiler alert: this post features zero gross pictures. Apologies to the disappointed.

Today was my most recent CT scan. As I mentioned before, I'm slated to have scans every three months for a year. 

I prepare myself for the waiting, and yet I still find myself bewildered by the actual experience. In situations like mine, appointments are more suggestion than commitment. It's the trade-off for accessing a world-class specialist, and for him offering to review your raw test output with you in real time, same day. It's the knowledge that a patient in my situation will wait pretty much as long as is required to get whatever answers and comfort are available.

There is much variety within the waiting. Am I waiting in the wrong place? Did I arrive on the wrong day? Did I fail to prepare? Or is someone simply out to lunch?

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

 

Do I risk adding to my waiting by pointing out the waiting? Or is speaking up essential to ending my waiting?

Although this was my third time seeing Dr. T, I'm still figuring out his systems. Whereas my surgeon was with one hospital, Dr. T is with another. Everything I learned dealing with my surgeon is useless now.

And no matter how much I prep, it seems like curveballs are the norm. Today I arrived at 1 pm for a 1:20 pm scan, only to find out that the test would be done without the gross barium drink (that requires approximately thirty minutes to drink and thirty minutes to digest). While this was good news, it also meant sitting in the crowded radiology waiting room until the actual test time: 2:20 pm.

Each visit with Dr. T makes the waiting worthwhile. At our first appointment, Dr. T picked up on my interest in medicine - beyond my own situation - and since then he has happily indulged my every question and even laughed at my jokes. I'm grateful for the way he treats me, as if I'm part patient, part student and part daughter.

So far, our appointments have started with a brief pronouncement from Dr. T - this time that the initial read of my scan says nothing in my abdomen has changed - before doing a deeper review and chat.

At this visit, he pulled up my CT scan images and methodically talked me through his process of evaluating them, what he hoped to see and what he did actually see. He shared with me how he determines if a spot is a blood vessel, some other organ structure or something in need of further investigation. He has studied my liver and kidneys, and complimented my gallbladder, noting that while it often swells with bile after a few hours of fasting, but mine has not done so. I suppose that's good. We looked at my bones, my lymph nodes and the spaces in between.

Dr. T took extra time considering the area where my left adrenal gland used to be, its former 'nest' now marked with medical clips no one had told me about before. 

"If there's trouble anywhere, it will most likely be here," he notes before adding "but it looks good." 

Dr. T will review the more official radiology report that arrives in a day or two, and share anything we might have missed. But the expectation is that I will have my third quarterly scan in July.

And then? Well, that is the subject of today's reality check. After two more quarterly scans, the plan is for me to begin having scans every four months instead of three. In my head, I had thought perhaps six months, so I felt disappointment I hadn't expected.

But the tumor took a long time to grow so large (working theory: ten years) meaning patience is necessary.

And so it goes. Give me a day or two, and hopefully I'll be able to turn my focus to the good news instead of the long road ahead.

Update: the July scan was also clear. I'll get my next scan in November.