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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Back to my happy place…

When going through chemo treatments, the days following each session were relatively consistent. I knew about which day that I would feel my worst, which I would start to feel better, when the metal taste began to disappear, when my appetite started to come back, etc. Each treatment I would focus on the recovery days; the good days where I knew I would start to feel better again. Having these “end” dates in my head helped me to focus on them.  They were my goal dates. I knew that if I could stay strong and get through the hardest days, that the good days were waiting for me at the end.  Every treatment has helped me to stay focused on the light at the end of the tunnel.

I wanted to take this same approach after surgery. I knew that surgery would be challenging and I knew the recovery would be long. But I also knew that I would eventually start to feel better, one day at a time. After chatting with a fellow survivor, who had surgery in December, I learned that she was at the beach within the first week after surgery. I don’t recall the exact day she went after her surgery but I knew that was the goal that I wanted to set for myself…a visit to my happy place.

I didn’t want to push myself too hard so I decided my goal was to be at the beach by Saturday. Even if it was for a few minutes and even if I didn’t get out of the car, my goal was to be there.

So today, that’s where we headed. It took some extra preparations but we made it!

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The beach continues to cleanse my soul and clear my head. It is my happy place and being there with people I love makes the day even more special.

It was a short visit because the rain met us there soon after we arrived. I am tired and sore from the little bit of walking that we did. But it was worth it. To feel the wind blowing, smell the salt in the air, hear the waves crashing and see the waves moving as they rolled up the sand…made for a perfect day.

I hope you all are able to spend some time at your happy place this weekend with people you love! 💚

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 💚

A hot shower…

Growing up in a family of 6 and one full bathroom, a hot shower was not always a daily thing. With 3 sisters that love to shower as much as me, we often raced each other in the morning in an attempt to enjoy the warm water before it turned cold.  When my older sister and I were in high school together, this became a bigger challenge for me because she typically beat me to the shower by a few minutes. This resulted in quite a few frigid showers for me, though looking back it’s all relative to the chilly New York winters. Even a steaming hot shower didn’t always warm me up on a frosty pre-dawn morning.

Despite the warmth of today’s sunny 72 degrees, I took one of the longest showers ever. I stayed until the water ran cold and my fingers started to wrinkle. Such a sweet luxury that i greatly enjoyed today.

It’ll be a while before I’m able to enjoy a hot shower like this again. Today I’ll have my lines drawn for tomorrow’s surgery and my next shower will have to wait until after my drains are removed. Thankfully, I have lots of baby wipes from little man. I’m actually quite grateful that I don’t have to worry about greasy hair over the next few weeks!  Kindly keep this in mind if you see me over the next month or so!  🙂

Hope and faith

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On my last day of work before surgery, one of my office mates handed me a cross. Her husband hand made it and thought I would like it. This brought tears to my eyes for many reasons. One of those reasons is my recent visits to church. Another reason is that I do not own a cross. Our house was robbed a few years ago and most of my jewelry was taken. I had yet to replace my cross. This kind, thoughtful gift meant a lot for a lot of reasons.

I mentioned the other day that my anxiety is kicking in with my upcoming surgery. I was feeling really good about it until about a week and a half ago, when the pain in my lymph nodes and tumor started to intensify. There has been pain on and off for months, mostly around chemo days. The oncologist has assured me that, while it doesn’t always happen, it typically means the tumor is dieing.

Despite knowing this, the recent pain has unnerved me. I can feel it in my arm when I reach for something or pick up Jacob. It has created a fear in me, a fear that I have fought hard to keep at bay throughout this journey. What if the cancer is fighting harder than me? What if, despite all I have been through since August, it is spreading? What if I am losing this battle?

I have been hesitant to share this fear because I don’t want it to be true. I am hoping and praying that when my surgeon opens me up, she will find nothing but dead tissue and dead cells. I have been praying hard for this, yet the fear has remained.

At church today, there was a lot of discussion about revelation and the coming of days. It wasn’t quite the sermon I was hoping to hear, but God likes to throw a curveball sometimes. At the end of the sermon, the pastor mentioned that we need to pass our sins, our worries and our fears up to the Lord. Have I heard this dozens of times before? Yes. Is this new information?  No.  Is it what I needed to hear today? Absolutely.

So, today, I am letting go of this fear. There is, quite literally, nothing more that I can do prior to surgery.  I am letting go of my fear and my anxiety and handing it off. I feel better already.

Oh, and I am once again reminded that I truly am too blessed to complain.

Happy Sunday, folks. May your day be filled with sunshine and happiness, just like mine.

Too blessed to complain

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Yesterday, Joe & I were invited to a meet and greet at work with senior leadership. We had the opportunity to chat with some of the people that we interact with regularly but are located in different states.  It was a nice evening and we had a lot of laughs.

Towards the end, we were chatting with one particular leader and he shared something personal that he does. Every morning, as soon as he wakes up, he writes down 3 things that he is grateful for from the day before. He uses the first 3 things that pop in his head and they are typically everyday things like being blessed with the ability to heat his home or putting his child to bed at night.  The purpose for him was to start his day with a reminder of how blessed he is and not start his day with a negative thought, or complaint, about the day ahead. He called this his “Too blessed to complain” journal. He showed us his phone and scrolled through the dozens of journal entries he has.

This reminded me of the 5 year journal that I was gifted recently, that I use to track one thing each day that made me smile.  I shared this with the leader and also indicated that his habit fits perfectly into my life currently.

When we arrived home after dark last night, our entire yard was lit up with trucks and power company workers…yet our house was completely dark. Our road has been closed for construction since before Thanksgiving and yesterday afternoon, a truck moving dirt backed into a telephone pole. The pole snapped, pulling the wires tight. Those wires then snapped the two poles in our back yard. The power company was working hard to replace those poles and restore power to our house and two others.

Frustrating? Yes. But thankfully we had enjoyed an evening at work that brought us home late, just in time for little man to go to bed, and we had snacked already.  We scavenged the house for candles and flashlights, snuggled up in our bed and had a slumber party. I read my book to Jacob until he fell alseep.  The hard working power company outside didn’t leave until after 1030pm last night, our power restored.

If that happened a year ago, I may have been angry and reacted differently. Instead, I chose to embrace the moment and enjoy it the best I could. This statement from my leadership summarizes my thoughts.  Not just last night, but throughout this journey since diagnosis.  I am too blessed to complain.

The 100th

When diagnosed with cancer, it’s hard to ignore the thought in the back of your mind that continuously asks Am I going to die?

In the middle of the night and when I feel the worst is usually when that dreaded thought creeps in and tries to wrap its tentacles around my happiness. I fight hard to keep those tentacles subdued but the reality is that I think about cancer for the majority of the day. Whether I’m dealing with appointments or phone calls or that forever painful lump or the medicine I take in the morning or before bed…cancer is always in my mind in some way.

I’ve mentioned before that I have dreamed of being a writer for as long as I can remember. I have always had an excuse as to why I didn’t have time to make that dream become a reality. My decision to start a blog came easily. I knew it was the right thing at the right time for me. It just made sense. Cancer put everything into perspective. It was the push that I needed to follow my dream.

Today, this very post, is my 100th blog post. If you had told me a year ago that I would have 100 blog posts, I probably would have laughed and been silently hopeful that it were true.

Cancer is scary. It is a reminder that life is short and that life is precious. It forces me to embrace each day and be grateful for it – for a fresh start and another chance to accomplish my dreams.

Tomorrow is not guaranteed. This is what I remind myself in the moments of darkness. We do not know what the future holds for us. Cancer is a reminder of that. But it is also the push that I needed in my life to pursue my passions. It is also a reminder that some things can wait until tomorrow (dishes, anyone?). What’s important is that today we enjoy the moment, embrace the day and love the people that make our life whole.

Here’s to 100 posts so far…and hundreds more to come!

Bald…again?

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Finishing my first 6 treatments was exciting for many reasons. One of those reasons is that my hair will start to grow back!

Since shaving my head in September  (ironically my busiest blog visitor day!), my hair has slowly been growing in. It’s not the typical hair growth though. It’s been patchy, with a few completely bald spots right next to patches where hair was growing at a pretty good pace.  My head has had a mixture of baldness, peach fuzz and 1 inch strands for a while now. The day of my last treatment I could even feel pieces of hair blowing in the wind when I moved my head around.

While the hair growth I’ve had has been welcomed, I have learned that it is best to shave your head again about a month after the last (aggressive) treatment. This is mainly because the hair that’s been growing is contaminated with the treatment drugs and can grow in a little crazy and a bit wirey.

So, it was time for a fresh start! Joe shaved my head again today.  There was actually more to shave than I realized.  The red strands clumped together on the floor created a bigger pile than I anticipated. I’ve heard post-treatment hair can grow in differently than the hair that came before it, so I’m curious to see what the weeks will bring in.

It was a good feeling to see my freshly shaved head today.  I’ve seen the patchy strands for so long that I just assumed my head would look like that for a while. Imagine my surprise when the shave revealed that my hair has filled in almost every where and is actually quite even across my head now!  My dream of rocking a pixie cut at my baby sister’s wedding this summer may become a reality after all.

Happy Saturday, friends! Enjoy this beautiful day.