Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Post Surgery Body- Three Weeks

Yesterday morning, I stood naked, looking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror.  I saw my short, growing hair, no longer brown, but grey, with my bright white birthmark sitting on top like whipped cream.  I wondered if I should dye my hair as before or embrace the natural look.  Then I tried to will it to grow longer by focusing my thoughts on the roots.  No luck.

As my gaze went down, I saw my face, with deep new wrinkles and eyes that stared back, hoping for approval from the woman looking at her.  I kept my opinion hidden as I looked further down and saw the scar from where the chemo port was.  I told myself it was getting better and less noticeable.  Maybe nobody would notice it if I put a little makeup on it.

Again, my gaze went lower.  I saw two breasts, one natural breast and one new, smaller, scarred breast.  The bright red scar goes completely around my right breast, and extends from my cleavage to under my armpit.  There are stretch marks that were once on my stomach and easy to ignore by not looking down below my breasts.  But I told myself that this was okay.  Just three weeks ago, I didn't have any breast there, just a long scar.  And now, there is the beautifully shaped breast in front of me.  I squinted at myself in the mirror.... "Sure, if I squint, it looks like a real breast now".

Still looking in the mirror, I turned to the side, and underneath the new breast is a collection of scars.  Drain holes from the mastectomy.  Drain holes from the new surgery.  And old scars from my gallbladder surgery and chickenpox.  I told myself just to ignore those.  They shouldn't even be noticeable in time, right?

I looked at my new belly button.  "Eh, it will do", I told myself, and focused on the enormous scar beneath.  I remember the disappointment five years ago, when I had a hysterectomy and was supposed to do a tummy tuck at the same time.  Days before surgery, I was told that we couldn't afford the tuck procedure.  I've looked in the mirror so many times since then and held my stomach flat, wishing it could change.  And as I looked at myself yesterday, I saw that my stomach was indeed flat.  But who knew the price I would have to pay for this result?

The scar... oh my goodness, that scar.  Still red, still huge, still bruised.  I looked closer, and I could see the line from my C-section and Hysterectomy underneath this new, massive, in your face, scar.  I could see more scars from the gallbladder surgery, and small scars from surgeries done to my uterus 15years ago, and stretch marks from pregnancies. Below that, more drain hole scars from this past surgery.

I stared at the whole image in the mirror.  I tried to remember what I looked like before.  I'm not sure if I couldn't remember, or if I didn't want to, but I immediately brought myself to what was presently looking back at me.  Before I gave myself my own opinion, I thought to myself, "How will someone look at this and think it's beautiful?"  My eyes started to well up with tears, and I broke down.  Just writing that made me tear up again.

Then I picked my head back up, and I looked at her again.  And as I stood there, casting the potential judgment of others aside, I formed my opinion of myself.  I saw a whole person.  Each piece of this patchwork quilt I've become, tells a story of strength I've never known I had. This body is a perfect representation of my inner victories.  Each battle was won with faith, endurance and sheer willpower.  I've been broken down, torn apart, stripped to the core, and pieced back together to form this new person.

I can't hide the view on the outside the way I've hidden the other battles in my life.  But apparently, this is the way to remind myself, and the world, that I'm not weak.  I'm not going to give up, no matter what happens.  I will continue to fight for myself until the day I die.

It's funny, I started yesterday with a look in the mirror, gawking at a woman that looked like she had gone through a shredder.  I ended that moment, seeing a whole person with a unique story.  I can't make others see what I see.  But when it comes to my own opinion, I think I'm beautiful, and my strength shows through.

I admit that recovering from this surgery is extremely hard.  As good as I am at healing, I'm fighting like hell every day.  I force myself to walk on the treadmill, stretch, and do exercises that build my body.  It hurts, and it's hard, and I'm fighting with a body that will not listen.

The new breast is even starting to get sensation.  The downside is that, as the nerves regenerate, it's excruciating.  I look like a mental patient, as I twitch and flinch at each lightening strike of pain to my breast.  The muscles pull tight, and raising my arm above my head is difficult.  I can feel it pulling from my chest all the way to my wrist.  I can see it inside my arm, twisting and painful.  But regardless of the pain, I still try several times a day to stretch it out and do exercises.  I don't give up.

This battle is not over.  I don't know if it will ever end.  But I won't be defined by what's on the surface.  And I will fight as long as I have to, with everything I have.

I won't ever give up.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Two Weeks After Surgery

These photos are two weeks after the DIEP Flap procedure.  The stomach incision goes more than half-way around each hip.  There's a little little bulge over each hip that will be liposuctioned during the touch-up surgery. The belly button will retract and get smaller over time.  The breast swelling has gone down, and the incision line is healing almost as well as the belly incision, although I won't show pictures of that.

My stomach muscles are still intact, however they have been operated on, so they are still healing.  It feels like I've done about a 100 crunches, but I'm still able to use them.   Standing up straight is easy, but does take a little time if I've been sitting for a while.  The biggest issue I've had is the rib pain so far, but the doctor says that will fade in a couple weeks.  It really doesn't hurt unless I'm trying to reach something in front of me.  But other than that, I'm on the mend!!

Here are the belly incisions at two weeks.  Most of the redness is from the steri-strips causing the blistering and scarring.  And it's all so itchy!

Some bruising and swelling over the hip, but not painful

That red line on my stomach is a scar from the tape

The hip bulges will be fixed

And here's what I look like at two weeks with clothes on!!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Visit with the Rents

Having my dad and step-mom here has helped me heal very quickly.  They've cooked, cleaned, mowed, and helped me take care of the kids.  We were even able to get out for lunch downtown today and walked almost a mile.  I'll be sad to see them go tomorrow.  It's been a fast two and a half weeks with them, and it's the longest time I've spent with my father in about twenty years.  But I'm feeling great, with tons of energy now, so it's time to be on my own again.  I'm so thankful for all their help, and I'll miss them so much! They are welcome back any time!

Here are some of the pics from the past couple weeks....

My dad on the zipline

Molly has to be helpful

Presents from the grandparents

More fun with the tissue paper than the presents

Enjoying dinner in the back yard


Obligatory floor picture with the whole family

Pat took very good care of my garden

Scoots McGoots selfie

Molly and McGoots tug of war


Molly has missed E-man


Floor pics

Pop-pop photobomb

Funny girl

Pop-pop reenacts Natalie's most infamous photo

Enjoying Riverwalk

Lunch downtown

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Breast Reconstruction Update

Well, it's been nine days since my surgery, and I am doing very well.  I only stayed in the hospital for two days, and have been recovering quickly at home.  I got the breast drain out on day seven, and was able to get the two abdominal drains out today.  I'm free!

I've been able to walk almost completely upright since coming home from the hospital last week.  Each day gets better and better.  My stamina is growing daily too.  I find that if I push myself a little extra each day, the next day becomes easier and I'm able to do more.  Lifting and pulling is still limited by my abdominal muscles and rib tenderness, but I can manage pretty well with what I have.

In meeting with the doctor this morning, we agreed that the incisions are healing really well.  And the blisters and broken skin from the steri-strips are ugly, but definitely looking better.  Overall, the healing process has been much more rapid than I expected.  In addition, the results of the surgery are surprisingly good.

In three months, the doctor will do a "touch up" surgery to improve the look of the new breast.  He'll probably liposuction a problem area or two on my body and transfer the fat to the new breast to give it enough volume to match the other.  I think I'm looking forward to that. :)

I'll see the doctor again in about three weeks to make sure that all the healing is done.  In the meantime, I can start wearing a wire-free bra by day 14.  I am finally able to start sleeping on my side, not the surgery side yet though.  I can do moderate exercise and walking on the treadmill now.  And in just a few weeks, I should be able to start picking up my son, Eliah, who is 60 pounds.

Here's how I'm looking as of today.  I'm so excited!!  Great job, Doc!!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We See the World, Not as it is, But as We Are

When I was young, I seemed to focus on my own life and how things affected me. Self-centered to the point of annoying, not unlike most young adults. The world revolved around me, and I believed everything happened to me or because of me. “Don’t those people calling know that I’m doing something else and don’t want to talk?” “Don’t those people driving slow know that I’m in a hurry?” “Why do people make decisions that affect my life or what I’m doing?” The world was only as big as what surrounded me. My opinions were only based on what affected me. I did what I wanted, and I gave little thought to how it affected anyone else.

As I got older and had children, that world opened up, and I could see that there was more than just me. Things didn’t happen on my schedule….sleeping or eating for example. My needs were put aside for the lives to which I was responsible. I learned to stop the voice that said, “Me, me, me”, but there was still one that said, “Shhh, don’t you know my child is sleeping?” “Don’t they know my son has sensory issues?” “Why don’t people understand that what they are doing or saying affects my children?” “Don’t these restaurants know they’re supposed to provide things to make my children content” “Shouldn’t books and television sensor what they say for my children?”

Granted, not all the opinions were negative, as these were just some examples, but the point was that my opinions were only based on what affected my children. All of this seemed reasonable. It seemed like that’s what I was supposed to do. Doesn’t everyone do it?

And then I got cancer. At first, before the treatments began, like a vacuum, all things came back to me. What was going to happen to me? How would I make it through? Why me? And then I thought about my children. What will happen to them? How will they make it through? I worried about who would care for them, and I worried about who would love them the way that I always had. Okay, I still worry about that, and I will worry until the day I get them back in my care.

Then the cancer treatments began back in September last year. And in this moment, instead of it being about me, something else happened. My eyes opened to the rest of the world, to all the people out there that suffer silently, to all the people that help those that suffer, to all the people that don’t focus on themselves, but see that there is so much more than our own lives.

At my worst times, I cried, not for myself, but for those that have been through it. It wasn’t because I didn’t feel physical pain, but because I finally realized that there are people out there that are going through this and worse. In the darkest moments, I didn’t resent what happened to me. I didn’t wallow in misery. I thanked God that he showed me a glimpse into the rest of the world. I realized that every day that I had spent worrying about what color my walls should be, what restaurant to dine, or what dress to wear, there was someone suffering an unbearable pain.

Now, there are some other types of people that see the world in a negative way. There are people that go through trials resenting what’s been done to them. There are people that do nothing but complain or bring others down. There are people that do nothing but judge others or have a negative opinion about everyone else. There are people that think the worst of others, thinking everyone is a liar, cheater, or out to get them.

This is exactly where I get the title of this entry. Do you view the world as a beautiful place, full of amazing and redeeming people? Or do you think the world is full of cruelty, pain and neglect. Maybe it’s the reflection you see in the mirror that molds your opinions of others. If you believe everyone is a liar, take a good look at what you choose to let come out of your own mouth. Unfortunately, an example of this is that my children are being told that I am a mean person and don’t request to see them or talk to them. Luckily though, my children see how much I love them and want to be with them. I’m not going to spend time talking bad about others, because that only shows people hate. And more than anything, I believe that people are inherently good and want to help others. Empathy can difficult for some though.

I will be honest, I’ve seen the commercials for starving children in Africa. I’ve seen the commercials for animals suffering cruelty. I’ve seen movies that depict cancer patients dying. I’ve seen all of them, and sure, I felt bad, but I never understood. I never really got it. And then, going through the worst time in my life (to date), I got an all access pass into reality, and it’s frightening and heart-wrenching. And no amount of looking at it on a tv screen can make you understand. And please know, even though I suffered many times during this process, I still don’t claim to know what others have been through. That’s the point. It’s not about me.

For the past seven months, I’ve been shown the good in others beyond what I ever imagined. Humanity came to my rescue. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers all claimed a part to help me and change my view of the world. I have never been cynical, but never in my wildest dreams believed that so many could come together and lift someone so high. I’m grateful that there are people that understand a world beyond themselves and that embrace empathy. I’m grateful for the people that pay it forward and set an example for the person I want to become. I’m grateful for whole experience that cancer has shown me. If this was Karma, it was nothing but good, because nothing but good has come out of it.

This is not about self-righteousness or being a better person than anyone else, because I admit that I’m not in any way. This is about sharing the realization that, despite our differences, despite the success or suffering of each person, we are all part of one family. Our opinions may only be relative to personal experience, but we are still capable of helping and lifting others. Pay it forward once a week, even if it’s just a kind word or smile, because you never know how it’s going to affect the person you help. And thank you for changing my life in the best way possible. And to my children, I love you with all my heart, and can't wait to be with you always.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Breast Reconstruction (Warning Graphic Images)

The mastectomy surgery in March was a success, with a clean line and no cancer cells, so reconstructing a new breast was the next step.  I chose to do a DIEP Flap procedure by the only doctor that does it in the upstate of South Carolina, Dr. Orseck with Magnolia Plastic Surgery.  The surgery consisted of a transplant of fat and skin from my abdomen with tummy tuck, then reconstructed to make a breast, rib-resection, and microsurgery of my blood vessels and veins to reestablish blood supply to the breast.  Needless to say, it's a MAJOR surgery with many components.  It requires a lot of skill, experience and artistry.

My father and stepmother even came down from Virginia to stay with me to help with the surgery and recovery. I went in early yesterday morning, anxious and excited....

I was all puffed up from the hose blowing cold air into the gown

Lots of identifiers.  They even added another one after surgery
Surgery lasted less than six hours, and I was in recovery for about four hours.  Afterwards, I seemed to being doing well enough that I didn't need to go to ICU as they had planned.

Doing my beauty queen wave

I spent the next several hours being nauseated by narcotic pain killers.

I took a short nap, and woke up to find my friend Shanna trying to "help" me.

I slept on and off all night, and had person after person come in the room for anything and everything.  By morning, I realized I hadn't had any pain medicine since 10pm, so I started taking only Tylenol to avoid the nausea.  It's definitely painful, but I prefer that to nausea.

Once they took the catheter out, I was determined to get up and walk.  I made it around "the block" to start.  I was surprised that I was able to stand up straighter than I expected, considering the tummy tuck procedure.

Lap around the block with my nurse Johnette

The tummy tuck incision with new belly button under the little square

After a little bit of rest, I was able to take a shower, eat lunch, and make a couple more laps around the block.  


You KNOW I gotta wear my Wonder Woman socks

This machine measures the oxygen saturation through my new breast. When I first got out of surgery, it was around 52%. The more I get up and around, the higher the number goes. I was talking with the nurse, and she said it never gets to 100% (that she knows). I asked what the average was, and she said that last week, a woman had around 45%. I asked what the highest she ever saw was, and she said, "Yours!" I'm thrilled!!

I'm doing so well that the doctor is considering letting me go home by Thursday evening.  I should get the drains out next week.  And I'll follow up with the doctor in a couple weeks to see my progress.  For now, I am restless and trying to manage pain.  

Now......  here are the before and after pictures..... If you are squeamish, you may not want to look.  But if you are considering this procedure, this may be helpful.  

Three weeks after mastectomy

The drawings before surgery

Now, the following photo is of the new breast.  Although it seems to be very "scary" at the moment, the doctor and I are very excited and pleased with the results.  The scars will fade, the breast will lower some over time, and in about three months, we'll probably add more fat to the breast to match the other.  And like I said in a previous post, the goal is to tattoo a design on the breast instead of trying to make it look "real".

The new breast

This next step is almost complete, and I am trying to heal as quickly as possible to get back to my kids.  And I am so thankful for all the love, support, prayers and good thoughts.  You have no idea how much it helps me through! 

Monday, May 5, 2014


Leaving in the morning at 5:30am to head to the hospital for my reconstruction surgery. I'm excited and super nervous about this next step! Surgery should be about 6 hours, but could be up to 12 hours, starting at 8:30am, and my dad will be updating in the facebook group.  

It's considered a transplant, and they'll even be cutting my third rib and abdominal muscles to get to the blood vessels. I'll be in ICU the first day, and I should be out of the hospital by Friday afternoon.
Anyway, I'll see you all on the flip side with TWO!!!  Mwuahahaha! I love you all!!