My reason for fighting

She awoke suddenly, the pain in her chest causing her to tighten her upper body to help alleviate the sharp pain. A few seconds tick by slowly and the feeling begins to subside. She waits another moment before loosening the grip her muscles have on her chest. Laying there for a moment as if frozen in time, she debates whether or not she should attempt to move her body in an effort to alleviate the pressure she feels across her ribs. Glancing at her water cup through the corner of her right eye, she decides on a short walk to stretch her body slightly and grab some water, hoping the extra hydration may aid in calming her muscles.

Ever so slowly, she moves her legs first, one at a time. As she shifts her body in preparation to sit up, the muscles across her left side tighten again and she stops moving to allow the pain to dissipate. She awaits a few seconds and slowly pushes up with her right arm, while keeping her left side as still as possible. Sliding off the side of the bed, her feet touch the floor and remain there for another moment to allow her body to adjust to sitting up. She reaches for the cup with her right hand, careful not to move her left arm, but the act of reaching causes her chest muscle to spasm again. This time she fights through the pain and grabs her cup and stands in one fluid motion, hoping to prevent another spasm as her muscles calm again.

She shuffles slowly to the kitchen, trying to keep her back as straight as possible as she walks. Reaching the kitchen without incident, she fills her cup and begins the walk back to her bedroom. The house is completely dark with night and she is careful not to bump into the toys that scatter the floor.

Entering her bedroom, she shifts to the left and stops suddenly as another spasm pulses through. The pain shoots quickly across the left side of her chest and down her arm. She clenches her teeth and waits for the muscles to calm again, trying to control her breathing. When she begins walking again, she uses the light from the window to guide her towards the bed. Setting the water down, she moves her body so it is facing away from the bed and sits on the edge. Taking a deep breath, she slowly shifts backwards while using her right hand to guide her towards her pillow. As she turns slightly, another shot of pain courses through her chest. She once again pauses and waits for the muscles to calm before moving. Her pillows are leaning against the wall, allowing her to scoot backwards a little more before leaning against the pillow. Her muscles begin to relax, allowing the pillows to support her.

She leans her head back and is grateful to only feel the pressure in her chest now and not the pain of her muscles stretching. Reaching slowly with her right arm, she grabs the cup and drinks down half of the water she poured. Setting it back down, she breathes in; careful not to pull too much air into her lungs so she doesn’t cause another spasm.

I don’t know how much more I can take. She thinks to herself, fighting back the tears that sting her eyes. She is wide awake now and knows that sleep will not come easily. What if this pain doesn’t stop? She questions, wondering if it will ease over the coming days like the pressure in her chest typically does. Stop thinking like that! She yells in her head. You have to do this! You have to push through the pain! She breathes in again and exhales slowly, wiping at her eyes.

Moving her head slightly to the left, she glances at the figures that lay beside her. Her little man is snuggled against her husband, his tiny hands laying against his chest as it rises and falls to the rhythm of a deep sleep. The starlight from the window cascades across the bedroom, allowing her to see their faces as they lay dreaming beside her. She studies them both, imaging what they are dreaming about.

My boys. She smiles to herself. My reason for fighting.

Reaching slowly to her right again, this time she picks up a book and attaches a nighttime reading lamp to the back cover. Clicking it on, she adjusts the light and begins to read. She loses herself in the story, while distracting herself from the pain.

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!

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.

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?

 

 

Today’s firsts

When my husband and I bought our house years ago, I was super excited for each holiday in it. Since it was our first home purchase, I wanted every holiday to be celebrated within our walls. We hosted each event and took pictures of every detail to create a scrapbook of our first year. When our son was born, this first year of excitement was amplified. Every holiday we decorated, did arts & crafts and celebrated that it was the first of many to come. Each milestone brought pictures and smiles (and books!) and traditions that we were determined to create for our little man. All of the firsts were filled with pure joy and lots of passion. Each day felt as though it brought new excitement.

Though it’s still early in the day, today has been a great day so far! After surgery, I wasn’t able to do much. Each day showed improvement but in general, the everyday tasks were not possible. Thankfully, I have an incredible husband and support system that has continued to help throughout this journey.

Today though…today was a day of firsts for me.

  • I woke up in my very own bed. I have spent the last 2 weeks sleeping in the recliner in our living room. My sweet husband has spent every night next to me on our couch, often with little man snuggled in next to him. But not last night! I am still sleeping at an angle and mostly upright but just being in our bed was wonderful. I was surrounded by a sea of pillows, my warm comforter and my husband by my side. I was even able to get up into it and out of it all on my own!
  • Morning snuggles. Little man woke up in the middle of the night and Joe brought him into bed with us. After waking up this morning, Jacob cuddled up next to me and snuggled into the nook under my right arm. I haven’t had those sweet morning snuggles in two weeks. My goodness, how I missed them.
  • I unloaded the dishwasher. Though this is a relatively mundane task and often something I dread when coming home from work or waking up in the morning, I did this with a smile today. It is the little things in life that bring the purest joy and today’s joy had to do with being able to handle my own dishes.
  • I made breakfast – not just for me but for Joe too! Despite growing up with Chef Dad, I am not an excellent cook. Sadly the knack doesn’t reside in me, save for a few recipes that I have mastered over time. Today though, I made breakfast that consisted of roasted potatoes, bacon and eggs. Simple? Yes. Easy? Usually. The first I’ve made food for myself since surgery and therefore super exciting? Yes!

These firsts may not be things that I ever expected to get excited about but today, they made me smile ear to ear. I am tired despite the early hour and will probably go nap soon but I will enjoy this moment of progress for just a little while.

Drains, drains, go away!

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For today’s update, I’m going to describe the drains a bit. This is your warning ahead of time, for anyone that may not be interested in hearing about that side of the recovery process (it’s slightly graphic).  :mrgreen:

After surgery, aside from the tissue expanders, I had 3 drains attached to me. One was on my right and 2 were on my left (one for the mastectomy and one for the lymph node removal).  These drains are attached to tubes that are inside of my body.  These tubes carry fluid and tissue out of my body and into the drains.  For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been carrying around these drains attached to my little tool belt. It may look like a fashion statement but it’s purposeful….you know, to carry my cell phone.  😉

Twice a day (3 times initially), Joe takes an alcoholic wipe and strips the tubes. He breaks up any tissue that is stuck in the tubes and moves along any fluid that is stuck in them.  Then he empties the drains into little measuring cups and writes down the amount of fluid in each cup and disposes of it.  Once the fluid is less than 30 cc for 24 hours, the drains can be removed. Every day I feel like a kid, anxious to see my output in the hopes of getting below that magic number.

It’s not that the drains are painful, they’re just awkward and a little itchy. I have to be careful everytime I move to be sure I don’t accidentally tug on one and pull it out or make it start to bleed.  There is 1 stitch holding each tube in place at my side and then a large piece of tape covering the opening. My skin is still recovering from chemo treatment so it is easily irritated by the tape.

So as you can imagine, I was very excited today to have not just 1 but 2 of the 3 drains removed! Yay!  The other one should be out by Friday.

It’s just another moment on this journey that I feel progress being made in my recovery and I can’t help but smile at that!  Plus, the surgical tape covering my incisions was removed today so I was able to see the full effect of the incisions from surgery. I am pleasantly surprised and have to agree with my breast care surgeon when she says the plastic surgeon does beautiful work!

Happy Monday friends!

One week of recovery!

Has it really been a week since surgery?!  I know there is a long road to full recovery but each day I feel a little better than the previous day.  Being cancer free…knowing that this was all worth it, everything that we’ve been through since August, helps tremendously in my mental recovery.

A lot has changed over the last week but I’m becoming more used to the changes:

  • Pain
    • The post-surgery pain was intense but thankfully they sent me home with medicine to help with that. After a while, the pain changed as my body adjusted and it has turned into a tightness in my chest mostly.  I still get twinges of pain periodically in different areas that last anywhere from a few minutes to longer.
  • Numbness
    • The numbness in my chest has improved over the last week. Initially I couldn’t feel the area around my collar bone or upper abdomen but that has gone away.  I still can’t feel most of my chest, my left arm pit or the back of my left arm but I don’t anticipate getting much feeling back in those areas.
  • Expanders
    • The tightness that I feel is slowly getting better but it’s not exactly comfortable. It feels like I’m wearing a sports bra that is about 2, maybe 3, sizes too small all the time.  I’m still swollen, mostly on my sides, so I’m hoping the tightness will feel a little better when the swelling is gone.  I can feel them inside of me, which is an odd sensation.
  • Drains
    • I still have all 3 drains. Joe empties them twice a day and measures the amount of fluid output and the color.  I’m hoping to have at least one removed tomorrow but that is probably a bit optimistic.
    • The first few days of the drains were awkward, especially trying to wear a shirt. Through a random conversation, I learned that painter’s aprons work great for drains so Joe grabbed some for me (only $1.50 at WalMart!).  They have been great!  It allows me to store the drains in the pockets and it hangs across my waist like a belt.  When I go out in public, you can see the apron but not the drains or tubes.  I use it even to sleep now, such a great help and significantly less bulky.
  • Showers
    • Still no showers until after my drains are removed. Our shower has a seat in it, which has been perfect for sponge baths.  I’m grateful for the seat too because I don’t think I’d be able to get up out of the bathtub.
  • Movement
    • My range of motion is getting better but is still quite limited. I can’t lift either arm fully and it hurts to reach for things.  I’m hoping tomorrow that I’ll be able to start exercises to improve mobility.

Overall, I’m still feeling pretty good.  I see the breast care surgeon tomorrow to look at how well I’m healing.  I don’t foresee her having any concerns but I’m glad to be having a checkup tomorrow to ensure my healing is on track.  I’ve seen a lot of progress over the last week and I’m grateful for each day that I feel better.  I will be glad when I’m fully recovered!

 

The best day of my life…

Two months ago I woke up and wrote about having a song in my heart. Today, I feel a song in my heart once again. This one not only says that “it’s a great day to be alive” but also this is “the best day of my life” (by American Authors). I have had a handful of best days so far in my young life and today has now been added to that list.

As of last Tuesday, I am officially cancer free.

My anxiety was up a little today when I went to the oncologist for my pathology report. I have been praying hard but fear of the unknown is a scary fear. I mostly worried that the report wouldn’t be finalized yet and I wouldn’t have any answers.

One of the things that I love most about my oncologist is that he genuinely cares about me and my family. When he walked in today, he immediately asked me how I was doing and if this was my first trip out of the house. He was surprised to hear that I made it to the beach on Saturday and commented on how well I’m moving about post-surgery. Then, with a big smile on his face, he looked me in the eyes and said those magical words: You are cancer free.

Cancer free.

Say it with me – cancer free.

One more time now…I am cancer free!

The tears started immediately (and haven’t stopped!), as a huge smile spread across my face (also hasn’t stopped!). I don’t know that I have ever felt such a massive weight be removed before. Joe & I hugged and thanked him. He reminded me to rest up for a while and to not push myself too hard.

We discussed the pathology report in detail. The tumors in my breast (1 large and 4 smaller tumors) were still cancerous and rather large (even larger than the MRI suggested). The chemo treatment did not impact it as much as it typically does for my type of cancer and we aren’t sure why. There were a total of 22 lymph nodes removed and 3 of those were cancerous. BUT! They removed it all.

How do we know it’s all gone? My oncologist explained it like this: When the tumor is removed, a margin of the surrounding tissue (presumably cancer free / healthy tissue) is also removed. Think of the cancer like a tomato, with the surrounding tissue being the skin of the tomato. They want to ensure that the skin of the tomato is not broken. If it isn’t, meaning the margin is clear, then they successfully removed all of the cancer.

And they did. They successfully removed all of my cancer. It’s gone.

So today is an incredible day. The path forward is the same as it was, Herceptin for a year total, radiation begins next month and reconstruction 6 months after radiation ends.

Ya know why else today was awesome? I was able to hug my husband AND Jacob today to celebrate my cancer free news!

I’ll post an update on my recovery tomorrow (hint, I’m still feeling pretty good!) but for now I wanted to share this incredible news with all of you. Your love, support and prayers continues to give me strength and I couldn’t wait to share this excitement with all of you!

Here is our best “CANCER FREE!” face!  (Little man’s molar might be stealing some of the excitement.)

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Recovery

Waking up from surgery is an odd experience. My body is fighting off sleep and yet trying to stay snoozing at the same time. This leaves my mind in a dream-like state that is heavy with fog. I don’t move much, other than my eyes to determine my surroundings. I feel the cuff inflate to take my blood pressure and I hear the continued beeping from the machine at the top of my head. There is a nurse to my right. She sees me wake slightly and walks over to introduce herself; her smile is warm and her eyes are kind.

I ask her how the surgery went, in my mumbled words. She says it went well and that my husband can give me the details once I move to the final recovery room. I feel the wet warmth on my cheeks before I realized I had started crying. The tears fall quickly and I can’t quite seem to find my hands, so the nurse wipes them from my face. I mumble out an apology but she quiets me and tells me there is no need to be sorry. She tells me it’s all ok and my husband will be here soon. My eyes get heavy and I drift back to sleep.

I didn’t expect to cry when I awoke from surgery. The reality and relief of the day was more than I could keep inside. Surgery is over and this horrible disease has left my body.

The surgery went well; both my breast care surgeon and plastic surgeon were pleased with it. I will know the details of pathology on Monday but for now I will rest with the thought that I am cancer free.

I went home after surgery as planned. Joe has been taking excellent care of me and I’m still not sure how I ever become so lucky to call him my husband. Jacob slept at Grandma & Grandpa’s again last night but came to visit us in the afternoon yesterday. He was his typical energetic self but still found a moment to stop and give his momma some kisses.

I feel pretty good. I’m sore, tight and in a little pain but not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. The pain medicine helps and for that I am grateful. They also make me quite tired, as I’m sure the anesthesia leaving my body also does, so I spend most of the day sleeping. A summary of how I feel:

  • My left arm is still numb at the top, so there is no pain around where my lymph nodes were. I haven’t been pain-free in this area for months.
  • My chest feels a bit tight and I have to remind myself to take deep breaths. This is painful but it is encouraged so I keep breathing properly. The chest pain is interesting because it’s muscle pain. The expanders were placed under the muscles in my chest to allow the skin to stretch and for radiation to occur. This is not a pain I have felt before so it isn’t something I could anticipate.
  • My entire body is actually quite sore. My elbows hurt terribly Tuesday night into Wednesday morning and my back is still sore. It’s getting better each day though. I’m sure laying on a surgery bed for 4+ hours would give anyone back pain!
  • I can’t lift my arms very far and lifting anything over a few pounds is impossible but I can already see improvement since just yesterday!
  • The drains are a little bulkier than I anticipated. I have 2 on my left side and 1 on my right side as planned. I expected them to be a little more snug to my body than they actually are. It’s easy to tell something is hanging around under my shirt and I have a fear of pulling on one accidentally.
  • Getting up and down is challenging. It’s amazing how much our muscles intertwine throughout our body. It takes a few minutes for me to get up but I attribute a lot of that to be stiff from sitting for too long.
  • I’m spending my days – and nights – in the recliner, which I am incredibly grateful for. It is powered so it moves up and down easily and I can adjust to different positions. Combined with a ton of pillows and I am relatively comfortable.
  • Both of my expanders were filled with 150 cc, which is great news to start. Because of where my cancer was, it wasn’t certain that there would be enough tissue to fill my left expander initially.

All things considered, I feel pretty good. I already feel better than I did just yesterday so I’m excited for the relief I will feel tomorrow and the next day.

The prayers, love and support that we have received this week has been incredible. We are surrounded by love and are so grateful for the incredible support system that we are blessed with having. Thank you all for your kindness!

Finding Nemo

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The first week of December 2003, I woke up with a weird pain in my abdomen. It didn’t feel like anything I had felt before and when I asked my Mom about it, she told me it was probably heartburn and to take some antacids. I did just that and headed to my retail job.

Around noon, my Dad came to check on me. The antacids and ibuprofen I took weren’t helping and he wanted to take me to the doctor. I declined and he left. About 10 minutes later, when he was about halfway home, I called my Dad and asked him to come back and take me. The pain had started to get worse and I didn’t know what was wrong. I closed up shop and headed with him to the hospital.

After a round of tests, it was determined that my appendix was about to rupture. I was taken into surgery that night. I had never experienced anesthesia or pain medicine before and was feeling rather odd when I was being taken into surgery. While rolling away, my parents wished me well and I told them that I was going to find Nemo.

My parents have always enjoyed telling this story of my loopiness and I even woke from surgery to a Nemo stuffed animal from a family friend.  That same stuffed animal now sleeps with Jacob every night. He likes to grab his eye and pull it close.  Nemo provides him comfort the way it gave me comfort all those years ago. Today, as we packed little man’s suitcase for Grandma’s, we made sure Nemo was tucked inside.

I won’t pretend that I’m not nervous. I am not looking forward to the recovery after this surgery. But I am ready.

I am ready to put this portion of my life behind me. I am ready to be cancer free. And I am ready to rise again after today, reborn a new and better version of me.

Thank you all for your kindness, your prayers and your continued support.  I am feeling the love and it warms my heart. Joe will be updating the blog later to keep everyone updated on surgery. Love you all!

#teamredphoenix 💚