Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mastectomy and Radiation Tips

These are things that I came up with that helped me when I was going through treatment, and hopefully they will help you too! If you have any additional tips, please comment below so I can add them. Thank you!!! ❤

  • After mastectomy: Go slowly. Have patience with yourself. Allow yourself to slow down, as tough as it may be. It may take you 20 minutes for your first bathroom run, but don't worry about time; just focus on healing. 
  • Stay on top of the pain meds (as in taking them as prescribed, not waiting extra hours between doses), at least for the first few days. I didn't have too much pain at all while resting, as long as I stayed on top of the meds! I only needed them for less than a week post surgery.
  • Movement is the most painful part, including shifting around, reaching for things, standing and sitting, etc. I was surprised to find that it was more of a burning pain (from nerves being cut) than a sharp stabbing pain. It was honestly intense at times but never more than I could bear, so do not worry too much about the pain because the meds help tremendously. Bracing my chest (basically hugging a heart pillow across my chest as hard as I could) helped TREMENDOUSLY!!!
  • If they wrap you in an ace bandage, watch for skin irritation. If skin irritation occurs, try using some aloe vera on the skin (being careful to avoid any incisions or drain openings). Something else that worked good for me was to wear a tank top or camisole over the bandages, and under the ace wrap. I was scratching several spots on my back.
  • Remember that if you are having a mastectomy with reconstruction, remember that what you see the first time you see your chest with the bandages off is NOT the finished product! While it may scare or disappoint some, remember that you did this surgery because you are strong enough to handle it; you did this because you chose life. And now the cancerous breast(s) are gone.
  • Get a recliner (buy one, borrow one, etc), preferably one with a lift-up feature. The transitions from laying to sitting, and sitting to standing can be very painful, as things shift around as you move. I didn't sit or sleep anywhere other than that recliner for weeks after my surgery. If you're in the Kansas City area, contact me or Google The Healing Chair Kansas City to contact us to sign up for a recliner to borrow after your mastectomy! The girls are great, they deliver it and set it up and when you're done they come and get it! Plus they're amazing women! St. Louis hs a Healing Chair charity too.
  • Connect with other breast cancer survivors. This one is especially important in my opinion, as during the really tough moments I thought of them. Drawing on their strength, and the strength and hope I received from crying out to God, kept me going.
  • Accept and enjoy help. You will most likely have several or more people who want to help you before and after your surgery. This was tough for me, because I always prided myself on being very independent, and being the one to help others. I resisted assistance in every way initially, until a friend (and fellow CA survivor) reminded me that people WANT to help. You may also be surprised, as was I, at how much people really do want to help; especially strangers. Don't reject offers for help; embrace them! I needed helped even feeding myself for the first day or two, so I'm so thankful for my momma!!! ❤
  • Don't get scared about what you will look like. I was terrified to look at my new breasts the first time they took bandages off, but I saw what looked like a regular breast, minus a nipple, and plus an incision. But they were beautiful, and cancer free.
  • Buy oversized button down tops. I bought 2 sizes up, and I am so thankful I did! I allowed myself to splurge on 3 pairs of Victorias Secret pajamas, because I figured they would help me feel pretty after my surgery. I also wouldn't let myself wear them until after surgery, so that that had something to look forward to! Other than getting the cancer out of me, of course ;-)
  • Don't be surprised by odd sensations. I experiences pain, swelling, numbess, tingling, pressure, stiffness, soreness, and even a bizarre "bubbling" sensation at times. Even having studied the nervous system extensively, I was surprised at how many different sensations I would experience in just my breasts after surgery! Even sometimes all within the same day!
  • Heart shaped pillows and drain pouches were my life savers! I had a cousin of mine who wanted to help and is a rock star at sewing make some of these for me, and they were absolutely perfect! I would have been miserable without them!!!
  • I also used a heart shaped pillows to put in the small of my low back at times, when my low back started getting site from sitting around so much. 
  • Ice was my best friend! 20 minutes every couple of waking hours helped take the edge off the pain, swelling, and itching (from under the ace wrap).
  • Keep the drain cords close to body, and be cautions where your walking, and what you lean up against. I.e. don't get your drain cord hooked around a drawer knob, and walk away...only to feel the the pull from the drain site! Lol
  • Keep a blog or journal. It's fun to reflect upon how far you've come. You can do a journal, but blogging allows you to share your journey with as few or as many people as you want. It's also an easy way to help friends and family keep up with you.
  • Dry shampoo, face wipes, and baby wipes were all live savers!
  • Wedge pillows were awesome for under my legs, and for sleeping on after I was done with recliner. 
  • Drain removal - no pain! Only felt something where they insert! So freeing!!!
  • Remember the good and sweet moments. I remember my mom washing my hair in our kitchen sink, patiently waiting for me when I winced in pain. I remember my boyfriend gently washing my fave with a Burts Bee's facial cleansing cloth. These sweet, beautiful moments that many people don't get to experience. When my mom hand fed me at the hospital because it was too excruciating to move my arms.
  • Radiation - I used strictly aloe vera on the entire radiation sites twice per day, and I maintenance a healthy diet (lots of water and vegetables, low sugar and alcohol), and I didn't have any real burns or skin changes until the last week. Be prepared for fatigue, but also for brain fog too! Random symptoms can happen. Oh and make sure it's pure aloe vera gel, not oil or anything! And don't apply it less than 4 hours before a treatment! I also had some itching inside my breast, which benadryl helped with. 
  • After mastectomy, start moving as soon as you can, and as doctors allow. Getting range of motion back in shoulders and stretching out the chest and torso was so helpful in my recovery, and continuing it through radiation was crucial too. Commit to doing stretches EVERY DAY, even of you don't feel tight. Every time I've skipped a day of yoga and stretches, I've felt so tight the next few days! 
  • As with all treatments, REST REST REST!!! 😊😴😪

Friday, July 8, 2016


DISCLAIMER:  I did not proofread this at all.  I typed it quickly, because I wanted to get down in writing and share with YOU that it is all over after today, and to share the Good News.  Please read the whole thing, as I hope and pray God uses it to speak to you!!!  

It finally hit me today, as I was driving.  After today, the bad stuff is all over.  While I know I still have a long road ahead, the hardest part of my journey will be behind me.  The rest of treatment should be much, much easier.  

This past week has been one of the toughest weeks for me.  Yes, I was physically tired, but I was mentally and emotionally exhausted...drained...nothing left.  And it showed, which was the worst part.  I was so tired I couldn't think straight, talk straight, walk straight, NOTHING was right.  Decision making was a lost cause, I couldn't decide on even minor things.  This showed up mostly when I was driving, and at work.  I probably should not have been driving when I got really tired, but (oops) I did.  I've gotten honked at more times in the past week than I have in my entire lifetime!  I remember one specific time I was in the parking lot of the cancer center, and I was backing up.  My head and neck were all cranked around to the right, then to the left, then to the right again...I kept going back and forth, back and forth, trying to figure out if I had cleared the blue minivan behind me (I was in my own little world, and don't remember anything except wondering if I was going to hit that blue van! And I remember thinking it was a dark blue, unlike my friend Georgene's minivan, which was a light blue...).  At some point, I heard a loud HONK behind me, and I am SO THANKFUL that, when it startled me, I didn't hit the gas and hit the van.  I just kept my foot on the brake.  I turned to my left again, and there was some gal (with a full head of hair, mind you) waving impatiently at me.  I waved, and then somehow I got out of there.  No clue how, but I remember I was MAD that I was getting honked at in the CANCER CENTER PARKING LOT!!!  Hello, major chemo and radiation brain here!  I mean, who knows how long I was sitting there, trying to figure this "puzzle" out, but she didn't have to wave at me like I was an idiot.  

And I think that is what sums it up for the week.  I felt like an IDIOT; a moron, stupid, and slow, which made me frustrated and ANGRY.  Not angry at the cancer or anything really, but that I couldn't be super woman and just fly through radiation with no side effects.  

Which kinda sounds like how I felt towards the end of chemo, eh?

I was still feeling angry (and EXHAUSTED) this morning as I was driving around (scary haha).  Then a song came on the radio, and it broke me.  The melody and the lyrics smashed right through what had become a hard shell, where I had just shut down my emotions and care for pretty much everything (and it's amazing how fast we can build that up).  Here's a link to the video with lyrics if you want to hear it (it's BEAUTIFUL).  I recommend you listen to it, even if you don't read the rest of the's one of the most beautiful and moving songs EVER (and, as my best friend and family know, music moves me as it is lol).  It wasn't until the music and lyrics of the chorus that it all overwhelmed me and I broke down, as for the first time in my life I fully realized the full power of the cross (I had to pull over actually lol); but here are the full lyrics with the chorus in highlighted:

My heart hangs on every word
That you speak
I need you, Lord
Come Find Me
Holy Spirit, breathe
I've been walking through deserts
I need more of your presence
I'm weak
Savior, be my strength

Down in the valley, when waters rise
I'm still believing, hope is alive
All through the struggle and darkest day
I'll remember the empty grave

Your touch
Bringing me closer
Your hand
Healing what's broken
My prayer
Father, meet me here
My life for all of your glory
Your grace, let it surround me
Let faith change the atmosphere 

Hallelujah, death is done
All of hell is overcome
Jesus, You are alive
Hallelujah, death is done
All of hell is overcome

Oh my Jesus You are alive 

So, if you've listened to it, I hope it was at least somewhat as powerful for you as it was for me (or at least enjoyable).  

I've always appreciated and been thankful for Jesus and his death on the cross, but I've only understood it in an intellectual sense (Tiffany and Erin, we were JUST TALKING about this Monday! lol); I've never fully appreciated it in an emotional way.  But wow...when we fully realize what He did for us, and we REMIND OURSELVES DAILY of the empty grave, it's life changing.  He conquered death when he died on the cross, and rose again three days later.  This isn't just fact; it's our story - mine AND yours.  He conquered death before I even faced the possibility of death with my cancer diagnosis.  He conquered death before I even knew I had had cancer;, and He overcame death so that I could fully live during my cancer treatment; and even if I didn't make it through treatment, I STILL WOULD NOT FACE DEATH.  Physical death, perhaps; but never spiritual death.  

And He did all that for me.  And FOR YOU.  Even as we continue to sin against Him.  WHAT A GIFT!!!  

Anyways, it also it hit me that even when I was searching for hope, reassurance, and strength from my doctors, my family, my friends, and others, I never realized until today they could never provide me what I needed this past week, no matter what I was going through.  And I was frustrated with that, and worried that I would never "snap out of it" I never fully turned to Him and fell into His arms, letting Him carry me.  I did GREAT at this before my surgery; but not this past week.  Only He can provide me with that.  Only HE can provide with so many things that we look to others for in this world.  ALSO, I realized that when I was down in the deepest, darkest parts of the vally, and the water was literally drowning me (after surgery when the pain was exruciating, when I honestly believed I would not physically make it through the last round of chemo, and this past week when I was honestly not sure if I was awake, asleep, or dead), HE WAS WITH ME.  And while I believe for and had hope, I didn't realize that hope IS ALIVE.  It is alive and well, and it is alive and MOVING in our lives.  I am so thankful that through all my struggles and darkest days, He remained with me.  Even when I didn't turn to Him, and when I've forgotten to thank Him, and when I've sinned again him, He is with us; LITERALLY with us, through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

Again, what a gift.  

Also, at the same time (this was the most overwhelming emotional experience I've ever had; it actually topped the moment I received my cancer diagnosis.  In the moments after hearingmy diagnosis, I feared death.  Since that point, I've never really feared death [thanks Mom! :)], but as I've come to the end of the this "hard" treatment, I've been wondering how may "cancer free years" I will hasn't bothered me much, but it's been in the back of my mind), it hit me that this is the end of the tough stuff...IT'S ALL OVER AFTER TODAY!!!  

And He has been by my side the whole time, and I needn't have EVER feared death. He reminded me that he will be with me as I head, and throughout EVERYTHING else in life.  

Ok I have to go to treatment now, so I will end this here...I am still in tears, but they are tears of INCREDIBLY JOY.  I've never experienced such powerful JOY before, but I hope and pray that you all do.  It is beautiful, and I find myself changed yet again.  

THANK YOU again for reading.  God bless.  

Down in the valley, when waters rise
I'm still believing, hope is alive
All through the struggle and darkest day

I'll remember the empty grave

Monday, July 4, 2016

More than Fireworks


It seems that everything is a 
little sweeter once you've been affected by cancer.  
Letters and notes from friends are more meaningful, rainy days are still considered beautiful, and smiles from strangers are more powerful.  

In the same spirit, I am more thankful than ever today to celebrate Independence Day! 
Memorial Day was also more meaningful for me this year.  

I am so thankful to live in a country where we can pretty much do as we please; land of the free because of the brave; and I am super thankful for those who founded this country and for those who have served and fought to keep it.  Because of them I am free to do so many things that millions of others around the world cannot do.  
I am free to write and publicly share my thoughts, feeling, and opinions (I love that first amendment!).  I am free to work at a job I love, with people I adore, and spend time with family and friends.  I am free to seek and receive treatment for cancer and any other ailments.  I am free to worship God and openly express my love and gratitude for Jesus Christ, without fear of consequences.  Just as we find freedom in Jesus, we find freedom here in America; thank God for both of those!

Regardless of politics, opinions, and the upcoming election, I hope and pray that we all just celebrate this day for what it is, and remember how we got here.  Oh, and STAY SAFE!!!  God bless, and Happy 4th of July!!!  :)  

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Patience is a Virtue...That I Still Need to Learn! (scroll to bottom for pics and a quick update)

Oh patience!  Patience is defined (via Google) as: The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset."  I feel like I have done pretty well with being patient in life, up until this week.  I've been frustrated before, but yesterday found me VERY IMPATIENT.  I had several things I wanted to accomplish, and I had determined this to-do list without regard for my current condition.  My condition is mainly just mental and physical exhaustion from radiation and chemo, but it's aggravated by the major skin irritation on my left side, breathing difficulties (everything major has been ruled out thankfully, but the feeling of not being able to breathe and like I am suffocating at times induces great anxiety in my), etc.  I am usually able to remind myself that all this is only temporary, and that this too shall pass; but yesterday I failed!  

I've been doing an online Bible study (which has been AMAZING, thank you Tiffany!) that has reminded me and encouraged me to get in The Word every day, as it is our spiritual daily bread.  I've written a devotional on this topic, I should KNOW to be in The Word every day!  But yesterday I didn't consume my spiritual daily bread.  I decided I wanted to go ahead and check something off my to-do list, which was go for a walk and stretch.  

Now, exercise is good (and it felt GREAT), but I did not leave myself enough time to open my Bible and read.  Everything was fine until I got to my radiation appointment at 8:45, and they were running 30 minutes behind.  This shouldn't even have been an issue for me, but because I had made so many plans for myself, I let it stress me out.  A LOT.  Which threw my entire day off, and resulted in a lovely panic attack (even after a couple Xanax).  I can't help but wonder if I could have prevented this by spending even just a few minutes with God, in His Word, before starting my day?  The endorphin rush from my workout was awesome, but it pales in comparison to the peace, clarity, and joy we receive from spending time in The Word.  

Also, I MAY have had an unrealistic amount of to-do's on my list...a big surprise coming from me, right? ;)  

This is where I get frustrated.  I am overall feeling SO MUCH BETTER than just a few months ago, but I'm surprised at how fatigued and brain-fogged radiation can make you!  I figured I would just sail through radiation (sound familiar?  like how I thought I'd sail through chemo? lol); but in reality it's a big toll on the body and I need to give myself the time to heal.  Fortunately, I have a lot of motivation and drive to accomplish many things; unfortunately, I am impatient about all the things I want to accomplish.  I want to start working on them all NOW!!!  I also get frustrated because I haven't been able to work full time.  Fortunately, I have an AMAZING boss who allows me to work as much or as little as I can, and co-workers who are so supportive (and I can't imagine doing this journey without any of my office peeps!); unfortunately, I am a Type-A control freak who wants everything done perfectly by the end of every day.  Which is IMPOSSIBLE in a dental office as it is, and even more impossible with my current state of mind and being.  

Update: Overall I am doing very well, all things considered.  My hair is growing back nicely!  I only have 4 radiation treatments left, and I am so thankful for that!  My skin burns are not bad, just a couple of spots where the skin is slightly broken and irritated.  I've "graduated" to only having to see my medical oncologist every 6 weeks now, instead of every 3 weeks (I will still continue to do Herceptin infusions every 3 weeks).  At my next appointment with her, I will start Tamoxifen; the hormone-blocker I'm slated to be on for 10 years.  I have to admit I'm nervous about this for 2 reasons: 1. possible side effects, and 2. 10 YEARS.  TEN. YEARS.  I'm scared to commit to that!  Although I can always stop if if I chose to.  And the commitment issue might also explain my recent single-ness...but I've also come to realize that even if I am single forever, that is ok because I DO have so many things I want to accomplish, people I want to help, and things I want to do and see!  I now always pray that God's will be done in my life, because I've finally come to fully understand that God's will is always the best for our lives.  It only took me 32 years, but hey better now than never! :)    
The burn here isn't too bad, it's mostly just itchy...and seatbelts irritate it!!!   And that's my port on my right side :) 

Under my left axilla, these little marks aren't big (thankfully!) but they are deep and they are INCREDIBLY tender (I think this is part of my insomnia...can't get comfortable)

All dressed up for the Making Strides for Breast Cancer photo shoot!!!  :D  

Snapped this pic on National Selfie Day...I still get goosebumps every time I look at it, or even think of it!  God finally got my attention...I'm following Him harder than ever!!!  

Thank you SO MUCH for reading, and God bless!!!  Hope everyone has a very safe and happy 4th of July!!!  :)