Wire Monkey


This time last year, I had stress leaking out of my eyeballs. My awesome coworkers decorated my office with tons of black balloons and black and silver “40” garland and turned my door into a giant tombstone mourning my departed youth — complete with red proofreading marks. There was cake and good times.

But even though I had a great time — it was my birthday, after all — I couldn’t stop freaking out. The idea that I was FORTY kept sneaking up on me. I was old. But I didn’t feel old. I know people my age who have GRANDCHILDREN. I have a 5 year old and a 3 year old.

About a week after my birthday, the stress caught up to me and I ended up in the ER with chest pain. I was pretty positive that it was actually my stomach that hurt, but as the oh-so-thoughtful physician’s assistant in the walk-in clinic pointed out, I am 40 years old, with a husband and two small children and I obviously don’t take care of myself (as evidenced by my weight). (Yes, she said all that.) So she sent me to the ER. If I wasn’t stressed out yet…

After lots of tests, the doctors determined that I did, in fact, have reflux. They gave me a shot and a prescription and sent me on my merry way.

Today, another year has passed, but so much has changed. Yeah, I’m 41. Who cares? I have two small kids. I almost lost one of them this year, but I didn’t. I met two new friend this year — one in real life and one online — who also survived cancer. These things all give a person a whole new perspective.

There are awesome Angry Birds posters up all over my office.

Have you heard? It’s a bird-iful day to be 41. Happy Birthday to me.


Here’s last year’s door. I have some really creative coworkers.



I lost weight again this week. That’s a good thing, right? It should be. But I’m discouraged.

Since rejoining Weight Watchers six weeks ago, I’ve lost 10.4 lbs. I know I should be happy with this, but I’m not. I want it to go faster. I want to be farther along. I’m impatient.

I think part of the problem is that I JUST THIS WEEK made it back down to the weight I was when I first started Weight Watchers a couple of years ago. A weight I thought was shockingly horrible at the time — I could not beLIEVE I had gotten to that point. Now I’m back there and even though I’m seeing success, it feels like failure. For whatever reason I can’t get past the thought of how far I have to go.

I think another part of the problem is a blog post I read this morning. I fount it really offensive and it just hit a little too close to home. I don’t use a scooter to get around. The one time I did — I was on bed rest when I was pregnant with Emma and, desperate for something to do, went to Walmart the only way my OB would let me — I was miserable. Believe me. No one would choose to ride one of those things unless it was really necessary. People don’t see you. They look away. They walk into you. They’re rude. It was not an experience I want to repeat.

Anyway, the post was supposed to be a humorous complaint about overweight people at Disney World. But it was mean. And the comments were even worse.

We’ve been contemplating taking the girls to Disney World. One of my cousins (who I recently learned has a son who is a brain tumor survivor) asked if Sydney had her wish yet, referring to the Make-A-Wish program. I thought that was only for kids who were going to die — turns out I was wrong. Good to know. We certainly can’t afford a trip to Disney World. That program (or the lottery) is the only thing that will get us there.

But now? After reading that post? I don’t even want to go. Hell, I don’t really want to leave my house. I’m going to be 41 in a week. I’m plenty old enough to know that people are mean. It’s still a shock to hear just how mean they really can be.

Maybe it’s because it’s that time of the month. Maybe it’s the weather. Whatever it is, I need to get over it, celebrate my progress, remember to be patient and Just. Keep. Going.

Hair wars

A few days ago, my friend Melissa posted an update on Facebook expressing frustration at her daughter’s choice of clothing. She’s 6 and has a definite idea about what she wants to wear and it isn’t always appropriate — think Easter dress to the playground or tank tops in winter.

As I told her, we’re pretty lucky with Emma. She likes to dress herself, but she’s pretty reliable when it comes to clothes. She usually matches things really well. Hell, she even wants her panties to match her outfit. She’s pretty good about picking temperature-appropriate things, and when a tank top is the only thing that will do, I can talk her into wearing it over a long-sleeved T-shirt.

Yep, we’re pretty lucky as far as clothes go.

But the more I thought about it, I realized we have our own battles. Over hair.

Oh, my lord THE HAIR.

Emma has naturally curly hair. She wakes up in the morning to an unruly rats nest of epic proportions, but she’s determined to fix it herself. She just learned how to put a ponytail in by herself, so that’s usually what she does. But that one piece of hair that won’t go back in the ponytail hangs out, down in her face. It’s not a problem for Emma, though, she just puts it back witha giant hair bow and calls it good.

Other days, she decides to add some spray conditioner and comb it into submission.  Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, her little 5-year-old fingers aren’t strong enough to successfully press the button on the pump spray bottle while holding it at arm’s length, so she ends up pressing the bottle against her head when she sprays. So what should be a fine mist all over her head comes out in big soaking patches.

I realize this is just the beginning. It’s good mom training. She’s clean, fed, clothed (matching, even) and healthy. Soon it will be wild-colored hair dye, piercings and tattoos. Relax, mom.

Got sleep?

After my oldest daughter, Emma, was born, I didn’t sleep much. Undiagnosed postpartum depression combined with a fussy infant who only like to sleep on her mama’s chest didn’t make good bedfellows. Lack of sleep intensified my depression and, let’s just sum it up by saying that I was a raving lunatic for a few months. I kind of missed out on Emma’s infancy, which is something I’ll always regret.

OK, not a raving lunatic, but a teary, fearful, panicky creature who couldn’t complete a thought, much less a task, to save her life. Basically a hot mess.

Time heals all wounds, right? Well, that and a good antidepressant. Five years later I’m a much more productive member of society. Or maybe I should say I was a much more productive member of society.

When Sydney got sick, the peaceful sleep left the building and the crazy crept back in. This time I  knew what to watch for, though, so I held my shit together — for the most part. Sleep, though. That’s a whole other story. We had some rough patches when she came home from the hospital, and then during her treatments when we woke at 4 a.m. to head to St. Louis no one slept much. But we are past that, right? RIGHT?

Not so much.

Last night, Sydney finally slept through the night. Maybe the leg pain really was from all the running and climbing we did Sunday at the park. Woo hoo!

Her sister, on the other hand, woke up at 3 a.m. after a bad dream. She dreamed that blue and black bugs with shiny backs like beetles were crawling out from under her quilt. She was terrified. I got up and turned on the light to show her there were no bugs — we looked under the quilt, under the mattress, under all the pillows and under every one of the 87,000 stuffed animals she sleeps with. No bugs. She went back to bed in her own bed, but she wasn’t happy about it.

That lasted maybe 30 minutes until she thought she felt something crawling on her. I really can’t fault her for that. I hate bugs with a passion and just the sight of one has me checking my hair and brushing off my arms for hours. Her daddy fixed it this time and she finally fell asleep.

My point here is that whether the cause is upset over pain and worry over the cause of the pain with Sydney, or falling out of bed and nightmares about bugs with Emma, I haven’t slept through the night in kind of a long time. I need to sleep through the night. Not every night. But some. Or I will lose my shit. Again.

Tonight, when that little creature counts up the Biggle Balls to tally the Who’s Asleep Score, I really hope he can add one more — ME. Please?

Eight paperclips

My chain is now eight paperclips long.

I lost 2.8 lbs. this week, which makes 8.4 total.

Some weeks it gets me down, but today I really feel like I can do this. Go me.

Things that go bump in the night

It’s never fun when your kid wakes up in the middle of the night crying. When my girls were babies, I used to dream of the age in the not-so-distant future when they would Sleep Through the Night.

Ha. What a joke. Sure, we go plenty of nights when no one wakes up, but more often than not, someone has a bad dream, wets the bed, falls out of bed or just wants to sleep with mom. Whatever the cause or the result, sleep is interrupted and mama is tired.

But then there are the nights that are just plain disturbing.

The list of things that can make a 3 year old wake up and cry in the night is probably a mile long, but when that 3 year old is not quite six months past a craniotomy to remove a large brain tumor, that list gets a little bit longer and a whole lot scarier.

We’ve had two of those nights in the past two weeks. Nights when Sydney is up crying inconsolably or screaming that her legs hurt. It’s scary.

After the first one, I emailed her oncologist. She assured me that the symptoms I described weren’t compatible with a tumor recurrence. I have to say, that’s a huge relief. But she’s been complaining of leg pain since after her surgery and it worries me. No one else is very concerned about it. They’re watching it, but they really think it’s just growing pains. I really hope they’re right.


I started this post yesterday. Last night we had another rough night, so now we’re up to three. To make matters worse, Emma fell out of bed. They all ended up in bed with me (Bill feel asleep on the couch), so no one (except Bill) got much sleep last night.

Around 6:30 a.m., everyone started getting comfortable and were just going back to sleep and I decided we were all staying there until we woke up. On our own. I reached gingerly for my iPhone to email my boss and then sweet, sweet sleep. (I’m blessed to have a flexible and understanding boss. Thank you, Andy!)

When we all woke up, Bill took Emma to school and Sydney and I had some much-needed one-on-one time. Since she’s been staying home with daddy all day while I work, she doesn’t see me very often. Evenings aren’t much better because I’m usually carting Emma around to one activity or another. Even when I’m home at night, she’s competing with her sister for mama time.

This morning was amazing. We cuddled. We read books. We played Highlights Hidden Pictures on my phone. It was a perfect morning. Boy, I needed that.

16 feet

The average paper clip is 1.25 inches long. I measured one.

See, the leader of my Weight Watchers meeting hands out paper clips for weight loss. One pound equals one paper clip.

I rejoined Weight Watchers on Jan. 28. It’s not my first go at it. I had lost 40 lbs. before Sydney got sick, but eating — especially sweet, gooey junk food — was my stress relief and all that weight came back. Plus some. I’m sick of it. It’s time for it to go.

At last week’s meeting, I was down 4.8 lbs. and I got four paper clips. On Friday, I got another one. You’d be surprised how exciting it is to be given a tiny piece of plastic-coated metal.

If I ever make it to the end of my journey — and it’s going to be a L O N G haul — I’ll have a chain that’s 16 feet long. I probably have that many paperclips in the jar on my desk, but they don’t count. It’s not going to be easy, but I know my friends will help hold me accountable. Even if you don’t say anything, I’LL know that YOU know and maybe that will help.

Wish me luck.

Flashes of Hope

On Thursday mornings during radiation, Sydney saw her oncologist, Dr. Gayle Murray.

Those visits were always interesting. There was a fish tank and a big toy train set for the kids to play with, regular visits from the Clown Docs and a dalmatian named Nell, who visited the kids dressed as a cowgirl, firefighter, and a daisy while we were there. Sydney doesn’t like dogs and even SHE was intrigued.

On one particular morning in November, one of the child life specialists asked if Sydney and I wanted to have our picture taken. I had been up since 4 a.m. and Sydney was a grouch, despite the post-treatment fruit snacks. But it was free and the nurses were so excited about it, we had to give it a shot.

Flashes of Hope is a national non-profit organization that provides free family photos of children with cancer. The group also helps raise funds for pediatric cancer research. The St. Louis Chapter is organized by the wives of the St. Louis Blues hockey team and run by Diana Davidson, wife of the president of Blues hockey operations.

They provided a professional makeup artist (who gave Sydney hot pink glitter lip gloss) and a professional photographer took our photos. They gave us a gorgeous album with two big prints, an envelope with a dozen others and a CD with all of the images. For free. It was an amazing experience.

Sydney wasn’t too sure about the makeup — she was thrilled with the lip gloss, but would have no part of the blush or eye shadow. But as soon as she got in front of the camera, she went into supermodel mode. She was a total ham. She’s going to be dangerous when she gets older.

We’re not wearing what I would have picked had I known there was a photo shoot planned, but that’s not the point. It’s a documentation of a day in the life of a cancer patient and I will treasure these photos forever.


We met with one of Emma’s plastic surgeons on Wednesday. Went in thinking our plan was set and came out lost in thought.

What we know:

Emma has a nasal glioma — a cyst on the bridge of her nose. That cyst has to come out on March 21. Her doctor doesn’t think it’s anything to worry about, but he’s going to have it tested just to be sure. Fine.

Emma was born with syndactyly of two toes on both feet. Webbed toes. Most of the time they don’t bother her, but she’s getting self conscious about them so her dad and I thought it was time to fix them. Considering she’s already going to be sedated, we thought now was as good a time as any.

BUT. It turns out that the toe surgery is much more complicated than we thought. They can’t just slice the skin and let them heal because there isn’t enough skin there to go around each toe. They’ll have to take a patch of skin from her upper thigh and graft it between the toes to create normal webbing. Recovery is considerably worse than we thought, too. She can’t put any weight at all on it for a week. Which means a wheelchair. Then two more weeks of careful healing before returning to regular activities.

IF the graft takes. Sometimes they don’t.

What we don’t know:

Is it worth it? We’ll be trading a problem that at this point is purely cosmetic for three weeks of painful recovery and a visible scar on her thigh. Every time she puts on a swimsuit or strips to her skivvies, that scar will show.

Lots to think about. Decisions with long-term implications. Hmmm…

Now I know my ABCs

Next time won’t you sing with me? I got this idea from a blog post by Lisa Bonchek Adams and I thought it was a great idea. Here’s my alphabet. I’m sure the me I was before Aug. 25 would have answered a bit differently, but she doesn’t live here anymore.

Side note: I was stuck on U and V for a very long time. I have nothing against those letters, but holy shit cow they were hard for some reason.

A — AP Style. I love it. I know. I’m weird.

B — Brain. Where my daughter’s tumor was located.

C — Cancer. Really, I wish that wasn’t the first “C” word I could come up with. Bill and I both lost our mothers to cancer the year we got married. Now we’re parents of a cancer survivor.

D — Daughters. I have two — Emma and Sydney — and I’m damn lucky. They make me laugh (and cry, smile, pull out my hair) on a daily basis and I wouldn’t trade them for all the tea in China, as my mom used to say.

E — Ependymoma. Sydney’s tumor type.

F — Family and friends. I have some really good ones. I’m so blessed.

G –Gayle Murray, Sydney’s amazing oncologist. She has her nose pierced. (I KNOW right? Cool.)

H — Hunter. My maiden name. Yes, that made me a Mary Hunter. According to my wonderful friend Mindy, a Mary Hunter is a lot like a Jolly Rancher. Aside from being hilarious, Mindy is the most generous, kind, caring person I know.

I — Irregardless. Not a word. One of my biggest pet peeves.

J — Jeffrey Leonard. Neurosurgeon. Miracle worker. The man who saved Sydney’s life.

K — Kreative, Korner, Kountry. Or any other cutesy spelling of a “c” word using a “k.” Another one of my biggest pet peeves.

L — Lemon meringue pie. My absolute favorite dessert. Ever. Could also be lemon chicken. Or hey, just lemon. Love. Lemon.

M — Mayr Helen. I should change the spelling of my name because this is how I type it first. Every. Damn. Time.

N — Nasal glioma. Emma has one. It’s a cyst on her nose. I first spotted it the first time she came to the hospital to visit Sydney. I hadn’t seen her in a week and it’s the first thing I noticed. She’s having surgery on March 21 (which would have been my mother’s 76th birthday) to correct it.

O — Old. I am old. I’ll be 41 in March. Facebook tells me there are people I graduated from high school with who have grandchildren.

P — Patti. Godmother, official chronicler of all things Stoltz-girl, amazing friend and all-around goddess.

Q — Quiet. Probably the word said most often at my house. Also the least-accurate description of my household.

R — Rolla, Mo. I was born and raised here. I used to think I’d move one day, but I don’t think that day is going to come.

S — Syndactaly. Emma was born with two toes on each foot grown together. On one foot, only her toenails are separated. The surgeon is going to fix this when he does her nose in March.

T — Twitter. I’m kind of an addict and my husband hates it. But honestly, without the ability to share what I was going through with Sydney, I would have lost my mind. And I’ve met such wonderful people this way.

U — Uncomfortable. Me in most social situations. See also: wallflower.

V — Vigilant. I’ve always been one of those people who worry about every little medical thing. Vigilant is what I’ll have to be with Sydney for the rest of her life, watching for signs of recurrence of her cancer. But I can also say “relax” because she’s got an entire team of medical professionals who are going to be vigilant for me. They tell me this annoys some parents. I couldn’t be more grateful.

W — Weight Watchers. I had lost 40 lbs. before Sydney got sick. I’ve since gained back each and every pound. And they brought friends. I’m going to rejoin and get back on the wagon. I’m telling you so you’ll hold me accountable.

X — Xanax. My saving grace while Sydney was hospitalized. TGFX.

Y — You. People I’ve met through Twitter and Facebook who followed Sydney’s story and offered help, prayers, kind words, and encouragement. You’re amazing.

Z — Zizzer-zazzer-zuzz. Ok, I could have said “Zoo” because we do love the zoo, but that’s pretty boring. And besides, Dr. Seuss rocks.

How about you? Won’t you sing YOUR ABCs.