Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On This Day

On this day a year ago (it was a Monday), I walked into the Radiology Dept of Good Samaritan Hospital to have a needle biopsy of the mass near my chest wall. Dr. Ryan Willis and I chatted about our children, sports, and anything else that came across our minds. The ultrasound lady was the same from Friday so she knew exactly where my mass was. Holding my hand was the patient advocate, Linda, who would become a rock for me.

Thanks to a family history of metabolizing meds quickly, I was given the full amount of pain meds allowed. But even it wore off towards the end of my procedure. In tears from the pain, it was finally over. I was sent next door with a titanium ball now in my chest to have a mammogram to check on it's placement. Only the machine was broken. I was scheduled to go back in the afternoon.

That afternoon as I had a follow up mammogram, my incision spot burst open and bled on the mammogram screens. I had a major fall apart which scared the girl doing the mammogram. As she dashed from the room, blood oozed down my chest to my stomach. I sat partially unclothed and cried. By the time she came back, with Dr. Willis in tow, I had pulled myself sort of together again. Lesson for the day? Mammograms with a barely closed incision hurt badly. Thankfully, I will never have to do that again.

One week later, at the plastic surgeons office, the bruising from that procedure remained. When I see pictures of myself before my mastectomy, two weeks later, it is still there. I jokingly told my surgeon to follow the bruises to know the right side to remove.

At this point, on that day, I was still unsure of where this road was headed. Where I was headed. I put my trust in God and moved forward.

Now, it seems like a life time ago. And at times, like it all happened to someone else. How life just goes on. And it does. And no amount of worrying was going to change the outcome, on this day.

What have I learned? That I can talk to three people as I lay partially naked in a room with a huge needle in my breast. That I can step away from myself, as a stranger is applying pressure to said wound and ask her about herself. To find out that she, too, had had a needle biopsy. And is a breast cancer survivor. Through our tears she admitted that no one had ever asked her about herself at this point in their journey. I'm thankful I did. She is one of my heroes, although she may never know. I learned I could trust deeper, depend on others, and move gingerly through the day as if nothing happened. I learned God has me in His hand and when I walk the walk He has placed in front of me, I have the best guide of all.

On this day, I am once again thankful for this journey and the people it has brought into my life.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Another step...

Have you ever looked back at your life and wondered about the roads you were on and how you ended up in a totally different place? Are you happy with that different spot? Do you look back and see where you could have gone totally wrong and yet you landed here?? I think of that often when I think about what a single minded teen I was. Things were either black, or they were white. There was no grey area and that was my downfall. Because a lot of life falls in that grey area. But I just didn't get it. If you asked me a question, be prepared for the brutal truth because I had no idea how to be diplomatic. Thankfully, as years have passed, I have learned that skill (mildly). I know I hurt many feelings due to my own insensitivity and it makes me cringe.

Through life events, I've learned that everyone feels they must have an opinion. Sometimes those opinions are hurtful, almost always, they are not even asked for. I've received so many comments about having all boys. And then about adopting a daughter, and now about breast cancer. Each situation has been different. I would get defensive with the comments about boys, whether it was specific or a general comment. I would rally to defend my boys and others. Then I was protective of Elliana. I still am. "Oh, she's the one you adopted..." What? And you felt you had to say that WHY? She is our daughter. She has been in my arms since she came from the womb. I breast fed her, cared for her, went to great lengths to solve an allergy issue for her. She is ours in every sense of the word. But then, on the other side, I like to educate people on the birth order differences, and about adoption. My journey with breast cancer has been different. I don't mind the comments. Or the questions. I love being there to support others, to help guide them, to be a place to start when they are newly on the road.

So where does that leave me? Looking back. I often feel I can't move forward without looking backward. To truly appreciate what I have been given in this life. A patient told me this week that she feels that once you live your life to the potential God set for you; when you have done what he placed you here to do and are using the gifts He gave you, then he snatches you back to Him. That made me think....maybe I don't want to use up all my Godliness yet. ;) I'd like to stick around for awhile longer.  I'm kinda thankful I'm not perfect. HA!

This week I am reliving my cancer diagnosis days of a year ago. And looking back, I see what a blessing having cancer was for me. The ups and downs and twists and turns of this past year have strengthened my faith, increased my connection with family and friends, taught me to reach out in my community more, and reminded me that prayer is the best gift of all. It's almost like I have been rejuvenated in life and am looking at things so much clearer now. I pray I continue to walk in grace.

In a few weeks I will be joining three dear friends as we do a 3 day 60 mile walk for SGK. Each of these friends have a connection in my life that I have due to decisions that were made in my journey. Lisa and I have been friends since 1996 when I moved to North Carolina. She helped me plan my wedding, looked forward to the birth of my first child, we got piercings together on a girls weekend trip......I have a quilt rack hanging in my house that her dad made for me.  I have Christmas ornaments on my tree that we hang every year that she bought for us. She was my saving grace when I moved far away from my family for the first time. Dawn and I have had a connection since 2012 when we met through our adoption agency. We've been there for each other through the trials and tribulations of adoption, her father's passing, my cancer diagnosis....she has been my sounding board. The person who texts out of the blue to make sure you are ok. The voice on the other end of the phone. A meet up in DC where we felt like we had been friends for eons. A soul sister in life. Alexes and I knew each other on the periphery of life. But once the idea of a walk was brought up, she jumped on board with both feet. She has showed up at my house for no reason other than the fact she knew I was having a hard time. She has dealt with my mood swings, my ranting and raving, and my tears. She is my voice of reason. She is ready to do anything we come up with and gives herself 100%. She makes me smile and my heart sing. I am a lucky woman with these three friends. I cannot wait to have this life altering experience with them. We also hope to see our friend Amanda at the walk since it was all her original idea!!!

One year. Another step forward. Another journey after cancer. I wonder what is in store for me next!! Whatever it is, I hope God helps me to continue to walk in grace.......

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Out of the blue

I went in for a regular mammogram. Me, a mom of 4 kids ages from 13 to 18 months. I have no family history. No reason to fear. Other than fibrous cysts, there has been no reason for concern. Small breasted, healthy weight, exercise like crazy, moderation in everything in life, breast fed four babies.......no reason to be concerned. Until there is. At age 37, my mammogram was clear. At 42, it was not. I was brought in for another look. An ultrasound, another mammogram. And then a biopsy. I had breast cancer. Me. Who meets NO risks. Other than the stars aligned and here I was. This was last year. Last year. One year ago I went in for a routine mammogram. Which turned out to be anything but routine.

In a few weeks I will relive the days that led to my diagnosis. The biopsy, the waiting, the call, the dr appt, the scans. Nothing that anyone wants to endure, but things we remotely run through when it is expected of us. Appointments I went to without question. Demoralizing, dehumanizing, yet uplifting and prayerful along the way.

I remember someone telling me this journey would be at least a year. And they were right. One year ago I thought I was completely healthy. Normal every day things irritated me. I was frustrated by tiny things that mean nothing in the wide scheme of things. I was not fully involved in my own life. I was worn out, spent, and emotionally through.

Today, a year later, after a cancer diagnosis and surgeries and a pernicious anemia diagnosis, I find myself light years away. I am MORE involved in life. MORE involved in my marriage, in my children's lives, in my family, with my friends, with my community. We are not promised tomorrow, but we are given today. I have learned to live each day to it's fullest.

Do I ever get frustrated?  Yes. Do I ever feel exhausted? yes. Are my feelings ever hurt by others? Yes. I have learned so much this year. I am SO thankful for my cancer. For this is what I have learned Cancer cannot do:  It cannot steal my joy. It cannot take what I have to offer others. Cancer cannot stop teaching me life lessons. It has taught me to love deeper. Forgive immediately, cry freely, and to offer encouragement when it's needed. Cancer has taught me that every day is a gift. Every experience is to be met head on with JOY not with sadness. With each step my children make, I am smiling like a fool. Thankful to be in their memories and to be there every step of the way for as long as God allows. I no longer fear the end. I am a child of God and I will see him one day. Whether it is sooner or later, I have no idea, but I will live each day with no regrets. Do you do the same?

Cancer does not need to steal your happiness. It does not need to steal your friends or your life. I have seen friends fight huge battles and come out the other end further along in life than they were before. I want to do that. I want to continue to walk in grace. I want to be the face of God in my journey. I had breast cancer. I had both of my breasts removed. But I can come to the alter and pray for you, no matter what is going on in your life, because I am protected by my one true God. I will walk with you, no matter what your journey is. Because I have faced death and won. I have looked into my children's eyes and lived their whole lives with them, even though I take day by day. Lessons learned and passed on.

Sometimes life hits us like that, out of the blue. When we are normally going through things and something extraordinary hits us. For me, it was cancer. It made me rethink my life. My marriage, my boys, adopting the child of my dreams, my expectations, my bucket list. And I'm thankful that I sit here fulfilled. Although there are minute things I may have changed, each lesson has brought me to where I am. And I'm thankful for the journey. And I will continue to face life, out of the blue.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Fear Tamed

What are you afraid of? Losing someone you love? Having a terminal disease? Never having the quality of life you had before? Never having a child in your life? Some fears are bigger than others. Some are fears that stop us in our tracks. When I think of losing one of my children, I can feel my throat close as I start to gasp for breath. But other fears are able to be overcome. They may not be enjoyable, but you can do them. Riding a horse, zip lining, eating escargot.....

Since my cancer diagnosis eleven months ago, I have been afraid that I will never be able to exercise like I had been. I would never do cross fit again. I would never again flip a tire, do chin ups, do push ups, lift weights. With the node removal, my arm is at risk for lymphedema. The swelling of my arm that had the cancer and the nodes removed. It is a serious condition and one I look for even though I am at a relatively low risk. As I have walked and begun running again these past few months, I have ached to get back into the gym. To see what my body can do now. To push myself beyond where I am. Which is stagnant. And I don't want to be here. I want to be where I was. Before breast cancer entered my life and I lost both of my breasts.

But fear has stopped me. The fear of ripping my mesh (which I did) and having to have another surgery (which I did). But mostly it's the fear that I can't do the things I want to do. That I now have limitations that I didn't place upon myself. So I just walked at the gym. Ran a little. Did small weights. Jumped rope....  But my heart called out to the dead lift bar. To push ups. To chin ups. OH, how my heart called out to chin ups!! I longingly watched others do them and lamented that I would never be able to do that again. I was sad.

Then, I talked to another breast cancer survivor. One who did cross fit through her journey before cancer and did not want to give it up. I did a Skype call with her and laid all my fears on the line. She was amazing. She, too, felt like I do. She, too, was afraid. But she did it anyway! So armed with tips from her and exercises to do, I hit the gym.

Today, I did chin ups and pull ups. With my foot on a green elastic band to help with the weight of my body. I did 37 of them. I am not as strong as I once was. But that is ok. I'm also learning I'm not limited. I did dead lifts, and push ups off the bar. And wall throws and kettle bells and lap pull downs and sit ups and obliques.....I did it all! Not at high reps or weights, but going through the motions. I did them without pain. Or ripping. Or trepidation.

Facing things we are afraid of is never easy. But staying afraid is not easy either. And staying the same is not an option for a full life. So go out! Meet those fears head on. And when you do, let me know about it!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Calm After the Storm

A quiet sense of peace envelopes over me. A smile plays at the corner of my lips. Yes, there is pain. And drains to empty. And a sore arm, along with with unattractive velcro bra that a mere nine months ago brought me to tears. But today, today as I empty my sole drain and stare at my scars, I am calm. I am not thinking of what I have lost, but what I have gained by taking my health into my own hands.

"I could never do that! You are so brave." I have heard so many times. Truthfully, I am not brave. I was scared to pieces. I prayed often hoping I was making the right decision. First to have one breast removed, and then, with no reason other than the scary chatter in my head, to have the second one gone.  It is not bravery, it's survival. Every time I looked at an old lady, a part of my heart would squeeze. Would I get to be like that old lady? Would I ever wear the polyester, elastic waisted pants and sensible shoes? Would my hair ever turn completely grey as Grandchildren clamored for my attention? I was so afraid my chances had been removed. So, I chose to have my second breast removed. And now, when I look at those old ladies holding hands with their husbands of 40 plus years, I feel happiness.

Nine months ago, I blindly walked in Faith that God would heal me. I trusted His steps as He carried me.  Today, I do the same thing, only I see two sets of footprints. My Lord always is with me, but today, I walk WITH him instead of Him carrying me. And I love the companionship.

As I told my breast surgeon about the chatter in my head, I was still so unsure I was making the right decision. As I told her of my fears, through my tears, she kindly smiled at me. And suggested the prophylactic mastectomy. It was a decision I knew I had been leading up to when I changed my implant surgery in December. At that time, I was fearful if I had the lift my plastics dr wanted to do done, that I could never have a nipple sparing mastectomy done in the future. So he only augmented and off we went. Until the implant fell through the mesh, and the voices got louder in my head. I knew moving forward to having my second breast removed was the only thing that would stop the chatter.

But little did I know that it would also calm my soul. Little did I know that it would bring a smile to my face. And relief. I truly feel like a breast cancer survivor now. Instead of waiting for the other shoe to fall. Will the cancer come back somewhere else? I don't know. But I do know that it will NOT come back in my other breast. Because it does not exist. I have eliminated my chances of a second breast cancer. And I hope I have increased my chances of never having any type of cancer again.

I find myself looking at my children differently as well. Like I'm here for the long haul, instead of being fearful and trying to soak up every little daily thing. I'm excited for their new adventures; high school, theater, 2nd grade, preschool......because I will be there to see it all. The doom and gloom is gone.

Could I be knocked backward??? Sure. I know that I am still at risk. And the medicine I take every day has it's side effects. But this peace that surrounds me is priceless. I had cancer. I had my breasts removed and reconstructed. And now, I am ready to live my life again. Fully. Without fear. Finally.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ruminations

I'm staring at two weeks. Two weeks until my next mastectomy. Two weeks until I do this all over again. The surgery, the pain, the drains, the removal, the healing. Why am I doing this? Voluntarily? UGH.....

I stand in front of the mirror and I look at myself trying to see if there is a way around having this surgery again. If there is a way around removing both of my breasts that will have implants with skin covering them. A way to wrap my head around the fact that I had cancer. And lost both of my breasts. Due to my own choices. Not that I chose to have cancer. But that I chose to have my breasts removed. Both of them. Who does that?

And then I remind myself. People who want the chatter in their head to stop make this decision. People who want to increase their chances of living make this decision
. People who realize intellectually that breasts are not what makes a person. Even if emotionally they feel they are being judged.

This is not an easy decision. I'm imposing on a ton of people to have a mastectomy this time. Last time it was my parents. Who are medically not in a place to care for me this time. So it is left to our sitter. My husband. My sister. My friends. People who have their own busy lives but are willing to take a moment out to help me. I am humbled all over again. I am inconvienencing my patients who will have to go a month without guidance. I feel horrible about that. I will feel every stumbling block they feel and take responsibility for them. Who leaves their patients for a MONTH?  Sigh...... And my children. Who's summer will be filled with other people taking them to camp, swimming, to dance class, to the cabin.....when it should be me. It should be ME.

But in the middle of the wallowing in self pity, I am reminded that I asked to walk in Grace. That I asked for this journey to make an impact on others. That I asked for this testimony to lean on God and to trust His weaving. So, I am trying to do that. To lean back. To let go. To accept the fact that my real breasts tried to kill me and yet I could make decisions to save myself. So that with God's will, I could watch my children grow, marry, and have kids of their own. That I could hold my baby niece and tell her amazing stories from her Dad's youth. Every time I see an elderly woman, I pray that one day, that will be me.

So for two more weeks I'll waddle around in thoughts that won't leave my head. Looking at my mismatched breasts that feel cold to the touch. And I'll remind myself I'm still one of the lucky ones. I'm a survivor.


Monday, June 9, 2014

You Never Know.......

Who goes on vacation and ends up on the local news? This family!! Some of the crazy hair brained schemes of our lives have never gotten us so much attention. But this one act of last minute decision making (Thanks, Dave, for pushing us all to go!) got us much more than we bargained for.

We go to South Dakota because my Dad is a history buff. He loves Custer, the battles, the Indians, the forts, anything that is related to that time period, he is so into it. I've bought him so many books through the years, we could have our own library. This is my Dad's thing. And through him, ours. Every 4-5 years we have been going to South Dakota with my parents. As young children, and now as adults. Most people go to the beach. We climb mountains. Most people lay in the sand. We bring home huge granite rocks. It's just how it has always been.

In 2005 we did our first Volkswalk up Crazy Horse Monument. On a few days of the year you can walk through the woods and up the monument to the flung out arm. It's a 10K. Mostly uphill. That first time, it was so cold, we had to buy sweatshirts before we started! With Kadin by our side, my dad, brother, husband, and I walked up to the top and took in the breathtaking view. In 2010 we took Cullen as well. This year we were going to take Liam, Elliana, my brother's wife and their baby. But due to the cold weather and the rain, the girls stayed home with Johnna who was gracious enough to remain behind so the babies weren't exposed to the horrible weather.

Who wants to climb a mountain in 45 degree weather? In the rain? No one. But Dave said we came all this way to do it for my Dad, so we headed out.

See, my Dad couldn't be here this time. With surgery on his carotid artery less than 2 weeks past, he was not able to come. So we walked for him. This time, my sister, her son, Dave, all three of our boys, my brother, and I did the walk. A first for Lisa, Jacob, and Liam. Did I mention it was cold? And RAINING?? And this is a hike through the woods and up a mountain? We are crazy!

At the first checkpoint there was a guy with a camera. Just a guy. With a tripod and a camera. Now, I admit, I've been to Disney wayyyy too much. I thought this guy was snapping pictures of people to commemorate their walk. So we get our checkpoint cards signed and I move over to see if he will take our picture. A family photo! How awesome! So, he does it. And then I realize......he is not there to take pictures!! We walk up to him and he is actually an anchorman from a TV station in Rapid City. He is there to film the Volkswalk and to look for a human interest story. We become his story.

He asks if he can follow us up the monument and we say YES! So now we are a group of nine. We learn his name is David Johnson. He's been in Rapid City for 3 months. He would like to do International News. He lived in California. He has a small apartment and likes the warmer weather over the cold we are in. We are here to tell our story but we are blessed more by this man who came into our lives unaware. He films us through the walk, the mud, the other people, and we chat.

We tell him about our hard year. My beast cancer. My brothers shattered arm. My mom's hospitalization and near death episode. My dad's surgery and struggles since......how we are all here. Smiling, laughing, joking, and helping each other up this huge monument for our Dad. Dave chats with David about all kinds of things. We have a new sibling and he is really nice. :)

At the top, we face time with Mom and Dad. Because of the rain, the arm is not filled with people so we can wander around as we want. Showing Dad the view, letting him see if more cracks have come upon the face of Crazy Horse in the past 4 years. Letting them talk with their grandsons. It was the next best thing to having them with us. To see his face and to tell him, we did it. For you.

It was the yuckiest of days. One where you would rather stay in the cabin. But thanks to my husband's foresight, we braved the elements and had one of the best days ever. You never know when a day that seems so dismal will be one of your biggest blessings.

http://www.kotatv.com/story/25724718/volksmarch-special-for-one-family-from-illinois