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.

Feeling OK

Today is day five post-op and I'm feeling pretty good. I had hoped to post an update sooner, but between pain medication, sleep, visitors and the fact that sitting upright can still be a bit uncomfortable, suddenly here were are.

I feel much better than I thought I would at this point in the process, but today I am feeling TIRED so I will keep this update brief.

The mass is out. It was even bigger than it looked on the CT scan--more than 16 cm instead of the 14.4 cm estimate given by the radiologist. Upon my request, Dr. S texted me a picture of the extracted tumor. To me, it looks like a Chipotle burrito made of pork. If you'd like to see if, let me know. It's not for everyone.

Surgery involved five incisions - four small running from the start of my left floating ribs to my left hip, one larger where the mass actually came out. Dr. S described it as being like delivering a tumor via C section given that the bigger incision is down by my bikini line. From what I can tell, it's the small incision by my hip that hurts the most. I suspect that incision is closest to the former home of the mass.

Update: there are actually six incisions, not five. I need to pay closer attention!

Tomorrow is my follow-up appointment with Dr. S (including, hopefully, a pathology report on the mass*). Today I am doing my best to keep my mind occupied so do feel free to say hello. Unless I'm sleeping. And I'm likely sleeping.

For your entertainment, here's an inadvertently alarming selfie I posted while still under the influence. Red velvet cake via Make My Cake and my friend Adrienne.

Later I will tell you more about the surgery if you would like to read.

Step by tedious step

The tedious part of addressing my adrenal tumor started to sink in during the days following my initial diagnosis.

I have to take a subway to a bus just to go to the hospital or to Dr. E's office. Going home or to the office from the hospital is even more awkward. There's a lot of walking and waiting and, given both the mass and the heat, a lot of sweating (I have no idea why the man seen at this link is smiling because I am not smiling).

I have time to think about the tedium as I walk to the lone CVS in my neighborhood, wondering why it's one of the few places in all of NYC that doesn't deliver. (I later found out that they do deliver, but it's kind of a secret and they like it that way).

Day by day, there are frustrations. 

Answering my [wonderful, worried and well-intentioned] Mom's question of "any news" when I don't have anything to tell her. 

Learning that the blood work results are in, but inconclusive and that said results mean I need to have another test that is gross enough I don't want to think about it before surgery can be scheduled. 

Knowing that the results of my many pre-op tests won't negate the need for surgery, or even tell us exactly what the mass is. The tests only show my doctors how to prepare me chemically for surgery. Everything else will be a mystery until post-op.

Trading endless voice mails with the one person who can schedule the ultrasound I need to rule out other sources of my abdominal pain. Eventually having the awkward, uncomfortable procedure and getting the good news that there's nothing wrong with my Lady Parts, but wondering why the heck I have pain.

Having an incredibly kind pulmonologist pull strings to schedule your lung CT scan for the day after your first appointment with her...which means the one day you thought you were going to be able to avoid a trip to the hospital, you can't. And having to pay the $45 copay two days in a row. But the lung nodules are revealed to be "nothing" so the extra trip to the hospital was worth it.

May all my news continue to be good news. I need some relief.


I suspect that some of you find it strange that I'm sharing so much about my experiences. I get it. Sharing life this way isn't for everyone. 

But for me, writing about what I am going through, as I did during the sad loss of my father, helps me enough that, frankly, I don't care much if I'm judged for it.

Know that I'll understand if you choose not to keep up with my story. 

All these terrible anniversaries

I knew to dread Christmas. Because obviously, Mom and my first Christmas without Dad would be hard. My body created a buffer of sorts: I was sick in bed with bronchitis for three days beginning Christmas Eve, leaving Mom to fend for herself. I was so ill I couldn't even feel guilty until later.

I anticipated that the month of February would be painful between Valentine's Day and Mom's birthday. Dad was a romantic who enjoyed planning surprises for his wife and took pride in his gift giving.

I had no idea how painful my birthday would be. The first October 16 without Dad in this world, how it hurt. I was heartbroken all over again.

And now Father's Day and the rapidly approaching saddest anniversary of all, July 17. How have we lived for almost a year without this man?

 

Last year at this time, life, frankly, was terrible. Mom and I were making circuits between Scranton and NYC and Dad's Philadelphia hospital. We were stressed about treatments that didn't go as planned, Philly hotel prices, our jobs and Dad's mounting unhappiness. The three of us had lived with joy for the most part for a long time and suddenly there was none.

The pain doesn't end when a loved one's suffering does. My mother is reminded of her loss daily, weekly, monthly, always. Daily when someone says a kind word about Dad--and it happens every single day. Weekly when she arrives home from golf league and Dad isn't there to ask how she played. Monthly on the 17th.

My pain comes in waves, some predictable, others not. I am still waiting for the memories of ICU and hospice to be replaced with thoughts of our many, happier times together. Someday I hope this peace will come. I'm not there yet.