Tuesday, March 11, 2014
A Perfect Shower
If you've known me since my cancer diagnosis in 2011, or even if you've read my original blog, weddingtocancer.blogspot.com, you'll remember the elaborate lengths my mom and best friend, Jen, went to in order to make my bridal shower truly spectacular. It was a shower unlike any I, or anyone else in the world, had ever attended. How can I write that statement with such confidence? Well, you tell me.
Have you ever been to a bridal shower where a rock star surprised the 40 attendees with a private concert?
That's right! Sebastian Bach from the immensely popular, late 80s band, Skid Row, wowed the crowd with almost two hours of tunes and banter that allowed me to forget the cancer world for a little while and lose myself in utter joy. But let's be realistic. Rock stars don't regularly show up to entertain a roomful of women who are supposed to be unwrapping lingerie and toaster ovens and playing Bridal Bingo. It's just not normal. But I had cancer and was set to start a nightmare of chemo and radiation just 6 weeks before my wedding, so my mom was determined to give me something that would lift my spirits and help me to enjoy my last days without needles or poisons or medications or side effects or wigs.
And now, here we are in 2014. I've managed to keep the cancer monster away for almost 2 1/2 years and I'm expecting a baby via Lyndsay's uterus in just two months!
Planning for the baby shower began in January, right after the holidays. I needed to be involved in at least choosing the date and submitting names and addresses to my mom and Jen so no one would be missed. But that was all. The date selection turned out to be more tricky than I'd hoped since we had to work around when my ex-husband would have the boys, when Jen was able to drive down from Massachusetts, and, the worst part, the fact that my next CT scan was looming in the not-so-far distance on March 21st. My mom was adamant that she did not want to have my shower that weekend, just in case something turned up on the radiology report. April 6th seemed feasible but I was hesitant to do anything after my scan at all. If the results show cancer, I'll most likely end up back in treatment immediately and would miss the shower or not feel up to attending it, anyway. March 9th, though it seemed a bit early, ended up looking like our best option. "As long as the weather holds up," my mom had said. And, quite honestly, in January I'd scoffed at her suggestion of any crazy snowstorms hitting us this winter. "It'll be fine!" I'd insisted, rolling my eyes. But, as blizzard after blizzard crushed New Jersey, I started to think my mom might have been right.
As the weeks went by, I'd try to trick Jen and my mom into offering up any information about my "surprise" shower, to no avail. I'd joked, "How can we have a shower if there won't be a rock star there to entertain me?" Dylan, who was in the car at the time, heard my comment to my mom on speakerphone and asked with complete shock, "There won't? Why not?" I laughed and shook my head, "Wow, Dylan. I sure have given you a warped sense of reality."
Jimmi and I made sure our registry was complete and I shopped for the perfect dress, which I only found the day before the shower, after purchasing two others that just weren't right. I kept my eye on the weather report at the beginning of last week, which showed a picture of little white flakes falling from a cloudy sky. Seriously? I thought. As I worried about my mom's prediction of bad weather ruining my day, the phone rang. I recognized the number and panicked when my brain registered that it belonged to the office of Dr. L, my oncologist. "Hello?" my voice quivered. I wasn't sure why I was so nervous since I hadn't been to see him for any scans or tests lately, but something about seeing my cancer doctor's number on the Caller ID, no matter what the reason, tends to send chills up and down my spine. "Hi Suzanne, I'm calling from Dr. L's office. I know you have a scan and a check-up scheduled on March twenty-first, but Dr. L won't be in the office that day so I need to reschedule you." I finally allowed myself to breathe. "Oh, ok. When?" My brain was scanning the calendar I keep in my head, knowing Dr. L is only in the New Jersey office on Fridays. This Friday would work, though bad news would ruin my shower. Next Friday is ok, too, but we're going out that night for my birthday. "He can see you on April eleventh at two-forty for the scan and three o'clock for your internal," she said happily.
What? No. That won't work.
"Ummm," I started, "That's not ok. I'm due for a scan in two weeks. How can I wait another three weeks after that?" I heard her nails clicking on the keys. "That's the earliest he can see you," she explained. The typical fears flew through my mind. What if the cancer is back? Three extra weeks will give it time to spread. What if that time is the difference between life and death? "Ok, I'll make it work," I said. I hung up the phone and stormed around angrily for awhile until I figured out a way to make the schedule change work for me. Lyndsay's next appointment with her OB is set for March 20th. I texted Jimmi, "I'm going to MN in two weeks." I wrote Lyndsay to let her know my plans and smiled as I booked my flight with the airline miles I've been saving. Then I e-mailed Dr. C, Lyndsay's OB, and asked, "Would it be possible to bring in the portable ultrasound machine again? I'd really like to see my baby blinking and practicing breathing." He responded with, "That will be no problem at all." And I realized my plans had been rearranged for a reason.
And then my focus was back on my shower. Excitement grew as the days drew closer. Jen arrived from Massachusetts on Friday, the same day my sister-in-law, Meghan, flew in from California. Aria's Godmother, my friend, Laura, took a 48-hour hiatus from her beach chair in Florida and, unbeknownst to me, my Goddaughter, Laura, jetted in from San Francisco to make sure she'd be in attendance as well. I'm always amazed that so many people are willing to travel so far just for me.
We had a small family dinner on Friday night to celebrate Justin and my birthdays, which are coming up tomorrow and Thursday. That is where my mom finally handed me an invitation to my own baby shower. I opened the envelope and pulled out a baby carriage in pink that was tied with a polka-dotted ribbon to a card with the shower information behind it.
I was excited to see that my mom had chosen La Strada, one of my favorite restaurants, as the shower venue. The food was bound to be delicious, but what would keep the guests busy without a long-haired rocker boy to serenade them during lunch? I started to worry that people would get bored and slowly excuse themselves and head to the bathroom, never to be seen again.
The sun was shining on Sunday morning when Jen and I met in my kitchen in our bathrobes. Six diapers, each labeled with a number from 1-5, plus one tie-breaker, were spread out on the center island. I grabbed six small dishes from the cabinet and lined them up. Jen looked over the pile of candy in front of us. "Ok, Rolos, Nestle Crunch, Snickers, Peanut Butter Cups, Peppermint Patties and Whatchamacallit for the tie-breaker?" she confirmed. I nodded as she set the dish filled with Rolos into the microwave. Seconds later, a mushy mess of caramel and chocolate was mixed together and spooned into Diaper #1. "Gross," I said as Jen prepared the Snickers Bar for the same fate. "Nice and chunky," I joked with a grimace and the nutty mess was smeared into another diaper. Each chocolate surprise had a unique consistency that was sure to wrinkle noses and turn heads when my guests were asked to identify the "poop" to win a prize. Before the last diaper was dirtied, I ran upstairs to finish getting dressed and head to the mall where my friend, Amy, was waiting to do my makeup before the party.
Once I was fully beautified I hobbled out of Lord & Taylor in my way-too-high-for-the-mall heels and tripped over my dress as I stepped into my car. I checked for rips which, luckily, I didn't find then hurried off to my shower. My mom had asked me to be there ten minutes earlier than start-time to greet my guests. One glance at the clock told me that wasn't going to happen. I pulled up to La Strada at 12:25, handed my keys to the valet and rushed through the door. The main dining hall to the right was decorated with pink centerpieces but it was dark and empty. I followed the sound of laughter to the back room where I immediately recognized way more of my family and friends than I'd expected to see there so early. "Hi!" I announced as I entered the room. The chatter stopped at once as everyone turned to look at me then applause and cheering filled the room. Hugs and kisses were exchanged and, for a minute, I wasn't even bothered by the fact that I wasn't actually pregnant at my own baby shower. Weeks ago I'd considered freaking people out by wearing a fake baby bump, and had even purchased one from Party City, but I'd decided against the accessory at the last minute since it wouldn't have fit under my dress.
After I'd greeted each member of the swarm of well-wishers I was finally able to stop and look around. Pink filled the room but it wasn't overwhelming. Small floral arrangements filled with pink roses, pink carnations and other pink flowers that I should be able to identify but can't, were set on each of the five tables. Attached to each centerpiece was a single pink balloon with the words, "It's A Girl!" bobbing happily on its pink ribbon. On the middle table, where I was told I'd be sitting, a tiara that read "Princess" sat on top of the flowers. The tables were set with white linens and on each bread plate was a pink cookie wrapped in cellophane and tied with a pink swirl. The cookies were shaped like a baby carriage and had my daughter's name, Aria, written in white. In front of the room stood a long table overflowing with gifts, mostly wrapped in shades of pink, that were spilling over onto the floor.
And then I saw the cake. A tiered beauty in pink and gray, the colors of my baby's newly decorated bedroom, with a large bow made of fondant, small pink and gray sugar flowers, the name "Aria" spelled out in icing and the most perfect topper for my future fashionista: a pair of tiny, pink shoes with a tulle ruffle at the toe. Sprinkled on the table, all around the cake, was confetti with the word, "Princess."
I couldn't contain my emotions any longer and the tears started escaping from my perfectly made-up eyes. I begged for a tissue to blot the inevitable streaking that would run down my face. "You can't cry yet!" my mom said as she reached into her fully-stocked pocketbook and handed me a tissue.
I mingled with my my guests for awhile until we were instructed to be seated so the adorable waiters could take our order. A long list of choices was rattled off: stuffed mushrooms with crabmeat, eggplant rollatini, or caprese salad for our appetizer followed by tilapia, salmon, chicken francaise, or penne with vodka sauce for our main course. Meals were selected before Jen got up and passed around the chocolate-poop diapers, which were an instant hit. After being told to figure out the candy by look and smell, my sister-in-law, Kay, always the life of the party, grabbed her spoon and dug in! The food was served and it was beyond scrumptious. And the cake. Oh, the cake! Chocolate layers with cappuccino chip filling melted in my mouth with each sinful bite.
"Time to open presents!" Jen sang out and I made my way to the front of the room. My friend, Laura, who will be Aria's Godmother, was in charge of handing me gifts while Jen recorded who gave me what so I'd be able to write Thank You notes. Minutes later the other guest of honor, Jimmi, made a guest appearance. More cheers and applause greeted him as he worked his way around the room, saying hello to all of our guests. My dad, the only other man allowed, followed shorty after. I continued unwrapping what seemed like hundreds of generous presents. Tiny dresses and shoes and hats, handmade blankets, bouncers, jumpers, boosters and more baby must-haves were set in front of me to the chorus of "ooh" and "aah." My friend, Maureen, deserves an honorable mention for the baby basics "hoagie" she brought.
But the gift that brought down the house came from my mom. A small, white bag was placed in my lap. In the bag was a rolled and tied piece of paper and a clear tub filled with pink tissue paper. "Your mom wants you to read the paper first," Jen instructed as the audience went silent. As soon as I looked at the words on the page my eyes blurred with tears. I tried to blink them away but more and more kept coming. "I can't read it," I sobbed. I looked at the table to my right and saw my niece, Jenn, who is a trained and incredibly talented opera singer. "Jenn, can you please read this for me?" She agreed without hesitation and walked over to take the paper from my hands. With her powerful voice, she read aloud:
PRINCESS ARIA'S CONVERSATION WITH GOD
ARIA: "God, they tell me you are sending me to Earth in a couple of months, but how am I going to live there being so small and helpless?"
GOD: "Your angel will be waiting for you and will take care of you always. You will be the angel's very special princess and wear a beautiful crown."
Aria: "But tell me, here in Heaven I don't have to do anything but sing and smile and be happy."
God: "Your angel will sing for you and will also smile for you. And you will feel your angel's love and be very happy."
ARIA: "And how am I going to be able to understand when people talk to me if I don't know the language?"
GOD: "Your angel will tell you the most beautiful and sweetest words you will ever hear, and with much patience and care, your angel will teach you how to speak."
ARIA: "And who will protect me on Earth?"
GOD: "Your angel will defend you, even if it means risking its own life."
ARIA: "But I will be sad because I won't see you anymore."
GOD: "Even though you won't see me, I will always be next to you."
ARIA: "God, if I am to leave soon, could you please tell me my angel's name?"
GOD: "Aria, you will simply call her, Mom."
I turned to look at my mom as Jenn read the beautiful poem. She was staring back at me and crying as much as I was. After the last line was spoken, I reached into the bag and pulled out the clear tub. I pried off the lid and removed the pink tissue paper to reveal the tiniest, most beautiful princess crown I have ever seen.
After all the gifts were unwrapped and the last guest wished me well and strolled out of the restaurant, I replayed the events of the day in my mind. All I remember was a constant stream of smiles and laughter. I was so thankful to have my parents, who have done anything and everything possible to give me a wonderful life. My huge family is the best and I love them all. I'm so lucky to have such supportive friends who have stood by me through all of the hard times and are now sharing in my joy. That's when I realized a private concert by a famous rock star wasn't necessary to make my baby shower exciting. It was just perfect exactly how it was.
My sister-in-law, Meghan, who flew in from Los Angeles
My friend, Laura, the baby's Godmother
My BFF, Jen