Expansion day…again

I officially dislike expansion day. I’ll continue with my previous analogy, though I’m not sure how there is room to fill any other space in the post-turkey day belly.

After filling up on Thanksgiving dinner and then the sweet decadence of chocolate pecan pie, the stomach is at capacity and can’t take on anything else. But you’re thirsty. So thirsty. And you need to wash down all that goodness with something, right? Imagine downing a large glass of ice cold milk, letting it fill in every last nook and cranny of your stomach. Now you go to sit down and feel more like you are going to burst than you ever have. Not the best feeling in the world, though you know it was worth the calories and deliciousness.

The expansions are not comfortable. The pressure is intense, pushing hard on my rib cage and outward as well. My range of motion is throw off a bit each time since the expander is quite hard. Today’s fill, which was 90 cc, is the worst yet, since the feeling in my chest is continuously coming back. I can’t feel my skin but I can feel the muscle underneath and around the expander a bit now. And right now those muscles are doing a bit of yelling. They are pulling and stretching, with each of those activities causing a pang or ping of pain. I couldn’t feel this type of pain on the previous fills so this is a new experience. Moving is a little more challenging now that I can feel the pull of the muscles as well so today I am learning to be even more careful getting around. The muscle pain ebbs and flows pretty consistently, even when sitting still. It’s similar to contractions in the way it comes and goes, though not as intense as labor pains. I can feel the pull in my back as well, I assume because of the pressure from the expander on my chest wall.

On a plus side, based on the previous expansions, I should feel better by Wednesday night / Thursday morning. My plastic surgeon said everything is healing nicely and we may do a little less saline at the next fill. I wouldn’t mind that too much. Part of me likes moving this along quickly so I have less fills but as the feeling within my muscles comes back, I am liking the idea of less saline at a time.

So, now I rest. Have a wonderful Monday everyone. Enjoy this extra day and do something you love!

My heart smiles

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The wind blew a heavy gust, which she welcomed under the warmth of the afternoon sun. The sun was falling from the sky but there were no clouds to hide its rays. As she walked across the wet sand, her feet sunk slightly with each step, leaving a trail of footprints behind her. Her footprints were not alone though. The indents in the sand next to hers were not nearly as big yet and didn’t sink quite as far into the wetness.

The smaller footprints come from the same place as the sound of the pitter pattering across the ground. Each step is music to her ears, pitter – patter – pitter – patter over and over again until there is a sudden stop. He yelps and reaches down to grab at the wet earth; taking up a handful of sand to grab the object that caught his eye. This time it’s half a sand dollar. He holds it up for her to see, a smile beaming across his face and his eyes shining under the sun. She smiles back and remarks excitedly as he places his treasure into the bright orange bucket.

He reaches back up to grab her hand again and she gladly accepts the offer. Though his hand is much smaller than hers, he holds on tightly as they begin to walk across the sand once again. The waves crash along the shore as they walk in search of more treasures. The water rushes up against their feet, trying to take back the sand as it moves out to sea.

A bird lands at the water’s edge, where it seems to merge with the sand. It squawks and wiggles its feathers in the heat of the sun, looking out at the water ahead. The little boy drops her hand and squeals again as he runs towards the bird. His pitter – patter is quickened and the shells in his bucket create a musical chaos.

She smiles to herself as she watches the bird taunt him, keeping just a few steps ahead. Finally the bird gives flight and the little boy stops and stares at the sky. He puts his hand up in the air and yells “Buh – bye!” as the bird soars away. He waits until she catches up and then takes her hand again, ready to find more treasures in the sand.

These are the days that make my heart smile, she thinks to herself as they walk along shore.

Saturday blessings

This morning I woke up grateful for a little man who loves books as much as me, an incredible aunt & (soon-to-be) uncle who made this alphabet book for him that he won’t put down and my wonderful in laws who invited us over for dinner and who support us always.

What are you blessed with today?

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#tooblessedtocomplain

A Friday flashback

After putting together the Love Jars yesterday, I woke up wanting to read from mine. It was given to me during my first treatment and it sits on a table in my living room, proudly displayed to anyone who walks in there. The Love Jar is an interesting thing and while there is no right or wrong way to use it, I often wonder which way is best. Part of me likes the thought that I may find a love note that I haven’t read yet, so reading a few at a time is fun. The other part of me wants to devour every sweet word in one sitting, so I can be sure that I have read them all.

For this particular Love Jar, I wanted to spread the love across my treatments. I often found myself pulling a sheet or two or three from it on treatment day and every day for about a week after. Then I would wait until my next treatment before reaching in it again, letting the suspense build. I haven’t sat down and dumped the entire thing out so I never knew if I had read all of them.

Today, I decided to read through all of them. I dumped them all on the table and took a seat, tissues in hand. I took my time reading through each note. I laughed hard at some of the fun memories, cried at the inspirational thoughts and prayers people sent to me and tried to recall the details of all of these incredible moments I have been blessed with in my life.

The very last love note sitting on the table in front of me was one of the longest in the jar. It was written by my cousin Jessie:

“You had an issue with your feet and they pointed inward, so you had to sleep with these hard white shoes on your feet that were connected with a metal bar. The bar and shoes pointed your feet outward. I remember your mom putting the shoes on your feet one night, and putting you to bed. A little while later, I snuck into your room to see you guys. (Sounds silly because you were sleeping but I just loved you guys and wanted to see you.) I remember you laying there on your side, your one leg straight up in the air. It was kinda funny but I felt bad at the same time. You were so small, so young – yet you turned your head, opened your eyes for a second and smiled at me. You went right back to sleep. I can specifically remember thinking to myself, how is she so happy right now? But you were. You were so young, had no clue why you had to have these shoes on your feet while you slept. A brave little girl. You could have cried like crazy!! Madelyn would freak out – I can tell you that!

But not you. Not that night. Not the time I remember. Now here we are 30 years later. And here you are- that brave girl. She still lives in you.”

A few years ago, Joe & I traveled to New York and I wanted to gather some of the things that I have left there for the last decade (thankfully they don’t charge for storage). When I first moved here, I only brought what could fit in the cavalier so I left a lot behind. While searching through my parent’s basement for my old boxes, I heard Joe shout in excitement. He was in the room next to me and I could hear him scrambling across boxes and around furniture trying to make his way out to me. When he finally appeared in the doorway, his smile was huge and I could see the excitement in his eyes. In his hand, he held what can only be described as a long lost treasure…

My old shoes.

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Joe had heard many stories about these shoes and although a quick Google search showed him what they looked like, nothing quite beats the real thing. I had no idea that my parents had held onto these infamous shoes and was quite surprised at their reappearance that day. Thankfully they are a tad too small for me now.

Hearing my cousin’s story about these shoes and how she felt about me wearing them made me heart swell. Her recollection of me with these shoes was incredibly sweet and offered a different perspective than the memories I have with them. I love having a jar filled with so much love and so many stories just like this.

Feel free to share your Friday flashback!

More love…jars!

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I’ve been keeping an eye on the price of mason jars since I last worked on the Love Jar Project. I was a little worried for a bit because the cost of mason jars went up for a while (holidays, maybe?) and then there was a mishap where the 2 dozen that I ordered online arrived completely broken. Thankfully, the jars are back to their normal price and the most recent order arrived at my home safely.

After receiving such a wonderful response to the first round of Love Jars, I was excited to create more. My sweet friend Cara offered to help and today she came over to spend a few hours with me to do just that. In between lots of chatter & laughter at the table, we cut, folded, glued, wrapped and tied to make these fabulous jars.

Using supplies that we had on hand, and thanks to Cara’s creative skills, these jars look different than the first round but they are filled with just as much love. I’m excited that the look changes a bit each time, as I think it adds to the character and fun of the jars. The inside love notes are the same as before, although I did add one more about waking up and naming three things that you are grateful for each day. I love the idea of starting every day on a positive note and a reminder that I am too blessed to complain, so I wanted to share that through these jars.

I’ll be sure to post an update when I bring the jars to the treatment center. I hope the response is positive again so Team Red Phoenix & I can continue to give back in this way. Spread the love!

 

Nuts, anyone?

I grew up disliking any form of nuts. I’m not entirely sure why, and at one point in my early years I totally loved them, but one day I woke up around the age of 5 and decided that I didn’t like nuts. So I stopped eating them entirely. No peanut butter, no cinnamon roasted almonds, no sundaes with chopped nuts on top. Yuck.

Despite my distaste for nuts, every year at Thanksgiving I helped my Dad make chocolate pecan pie for dessert. It’s a family recipe and people raved about it. They looked forward to it every year and even after I moved to Florida I kept up the tradition. Whenever people would complement the pie, I would smile and politely say thank you…but the truth is, I had never tried it. It was chockful of nuts and therefore not something that I was interested in eating. This amazed my husband for years.

When I was pregnant with little man, all of this changed. I woke up one day and ate a peanut butter granola bar. I stared at the wrapper as I chomped down on the bar, surprised that the salty sweet combination tasted so good. Then I ate another. On the third one, I decided that maybe I do like nuts after all. That Thanksgiving, I decided to try the infamous chocolate pecan pie for myself. I started by taking a bite off of Joe’s plate. Wow, I finally understood what the hype was all about – that pie was good! By the third bite, Joe decided it was best to hand me his plate and go grab his own.

The other day I compared my first post-surgery expansion to an overfull stomach on Thanksgiving. Now imagine that you finished this incredibly wonderful feast and then saw the decadent chocolate pecan pie sitting on the table. You see people grabbing a piece and savoring each bite. Before you know it, the pie is half gone and you can’t even think about eating a piece. But, then you think to yourself, what if there is none left for me?! The panic sets in and you immediately cut yourself a slice. You can’t help but begin eating it right away, deciding that your stomach will just have to find the room. It does, of course, but you are uncomfortable and you can’t decide if it’s better to sit, stand or lay down to relieve the pressure. None of these options help but dang it, that was some good pie.

I had my second post-surgery expansion today. Another 90 cc of saline was added to my left expander. The pressure from the previous expansion has been relatively normal since Sunday night / Monday morning so the pressure from today wasn’t compounded. Although I’m still mostly numb, some of the feeling is coming back. I couldn’t feel the stick of the needle, however I could feel the needle inside of my chest. I could also feel the pressure from the saline as soon as they started to inject it into the expander. I can now feel some slight pain near my skin, towards the center of my chest, which is new this time around. It is a bit more uncomfortable than before but I am glad that I am beginning to get some feeling back, even if it’s only a little.

I go back again on Monday for another expansion. Right now, my left is filled with a total of 380 cc, with 220 cc left to go for a total of 600 cc in time for radiation. The plus side of filling so much each visit is that I should only have to go once next week instead of the twice that was originally thought – yay!

The expander itself is quite hard, similar to a mango that is about to ripen. It has some give since it is fluid filled but not a whole lot. I often find myself reaching with my left arm and having to move my entire body because it’s uncomfortable due to the expander. I mostly notice it when getting dressed or folding laundry. One of my new normal that I am getting used to.

I’m able to do some stretches to help my range of motion but still no lifting above 10 pounds. I can use 2 – 3 pound hand weights to get the strength back in my arms though. That’ll help me prepare for when I can pick little man up again!

That’s all for now…I think I need to go eat something sweet.

A warm spring day

The sun shined down through the trees, casting a shadow across her face. The large oak that stood above moved slowly with the wind; just enough to make the moss hanging from each limb come to life, reaching for its mate. The wind sent a shiver up her shadowed arm, despite the sun sparkling across her bare feet.

The birds sang their springtime song, calling out to their friends to come share in the warmth that the shallow water of the bath provides. The blue jay, its feathers the color of the ocean on a warm summer day, dips its beak in and sprays the water about.

An ant crawls up the chair she lays on, trying to sneak a taste of the chocolate scent he follows. She breaks off a piece and savors the richness of it. Her fingers are covered with the melted sweetness and she absently smudges the page of her book, engulfed in the words that fill the page.

There is noise of road work in the distance, the constant humming of a machine that moves dirt around the road it’s working to fix. A project that is long past due and yet provides the familiar comfort of an old friend.

It is the type of spring day that leaves your soul calling out for more; wondering what life has to offer, what comes next in this world, what adventure awaits. A day for reflection and thought.

But all of that is lost on her, as she is adrift in a world that is not her own. A world filled with fantasy and fight and hope, a battle being fought that is not her own. Today, she has no anxieties, no fears, and no worries. Just the words on this page and the next and the one that follows that.

Today, she is just a girl reading a book outside on a warm spring day.

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Lifelong friends

Friendship is an interesting thing. Throughout life, we meet people and connect with them on some level that leaves us wanting to know them better and see them more. Sometimes these connections turn into friendships that last a few months or maybe even a few years. Others may be instantaneous and last forever once the connection is made.  Sometimes, there are friendships that are lifelong.

My parents have been friends with a couple for, what seems like, ever. This couple had children at the same time as my parents and while my parents had 4 girls, their friends had 3 girls and a boy – all the same age as us.  My three sisters & I were each blessed with an instant best friend.

Throughout our childhood, we did everything together – softball, camping, cookouts, swimming lessons, girl scouts, sleepovers and everything in between. We had our fair share of fights but always made up.  My entire childhood is filled with incredible memories with them and adventures we went on together.

We have all taken different paths in our lives but no matter where life has taken us, we have remained in touch. This week, their entire family traveled to Florida for vacation. Joe, Jacob and I took the short drive to Orlando today to spend the afternoon with them. We sat by the pool on this gorgeous day, with the sun shining bright. We watched our own littles play together and splash in the pool. We shared stories about growing up and laughed hard at the life we have shared together. It was an amazing day and something I could have only hoped for when I was a child playing outside with them.

I am blessed to have an incredible group of lifelong friends by my side.  💚

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Sweet Saturday…

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Growing up, I loved Saturday because it was a day off from school that I was able to sleep in a little. I’d wake up and spend some time watching cartoons and eventually wander outside to play with the kids that lived on my street. It was always a fun, carefree day of the week.

Saturdays have changed over the years but they still share that same excitement from my younger years. Nowadays the morning is filled with snuggles, laughter and lots of playing. The days are open to adventure but in recent months, one thing remains the same.  No matter what the day brings, we wear green.

The Saturday green wearing began as a show of support, with family and friends all over the world joining in by wearing my favorite color. I love this and look forward to getting dressed in green every Saturday with my boys. The last two Saturdays I have been limited in my green attire because of the button up shirts I’ve been wearing while recovering. I’ve only been able to wear button ups due to my limited range of motion from surgery.

Today was an exciting Saturday to wear green.  Not only was I able to wear green as a way to remind myself that I am now a survivor, but I was also able to wear a shirt that wasn’t a button up. It took a little longer than usual to get dressed but it was a very rewarding moment for me!

I hope you all had a fabulous Saturday! What made your day special?

Drain free

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One of the best things about Thanksgiving is eating way more than your stomach would typically allow. We often do this despite knowing how uncomfortable we will be afterwards. Actually, some of us may do it with that intent in mind; thus feeling that discomfort like it’s a reward. I’m sure you know the feeling I’m referring to…your stomach so full that you think it might burst, pants unbuttoned or leggings stretched to the max.

This is the closest thing that I can think of to compare the tissue expansion to. I woke up from surgery filled with 150 cc of saline in each tissue expander (the equivalent of a small “A” cup) and today, my left side was expanded with an additional 140 cc. Surprisingly, although it is almost double in size to my right, it doesn’t appear significantly larger. I assume that’s because of the way the expander fills out.

The tissue expander has a metal piece on it, so the doctor uses a magnet to locate the piece of metal. That area is then cleaned and a needle is inserted into it to inject the saline.

The needle that is used to add the saline didn’t hurt since I am mostly numb still but I could feel the pressure from the additional saline in the expander almost immediately. I wanted to take as much as possible today though in the hopes of completing the overall expansion quickly (and hopefully feeling more comfortable sooner). I’ll go back once next week and twice the following week for additional saline. At that point, we’ll reassess where I’m at and whether or not additional expansion is necessary.

This is happening so quickly because I start radiation 4 weeks from today and need to be fully expanded in time for that. Since radiation will shrink the expander and the tissue surrounding it, I need to be over-expanded. It’s not painful, just uncomfortable from the additional pressure and a little awkward when moving my left arm. This is yet another step closer to being done – which makes this process exciting! The plastic surgeon also commented on how nicely my incisions are healing – yay!

OH!! And guess what else?!

I’m officially drain free!!! (Insert happy dance here.)

The last drain, connected to where my lymph nodes were on my left side, is officially gone. I’d like to say it’s a bittersweet departure but frankly, I am ecstatic! No more stripping the tubes, empting the drains, charting the output, sleeping sitting up, wearing an apron around – all done! Plus – I can now take a shower (well, this weekend I can). No more sponge baths for this lady!

And! See that picture of me up top? See that dark shadow around my head? Yup, that’s right – I have hair! And lots of it! I mean, I’m not going to go get it cut into a cute style or add any product just yet but it’s growing faster than I anticipated. The short buzzed style makes it appear as if I’m simply a trendsetter now. 😉 Happy Friday to that!!!

So tell me friends, why are you too blessed to complain today?