Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cancer...The Gift That Keeps on Giving.

My right hand has lymphedema. You can see the swelling. 

Me, wearing the pump. aka the Brown Beast

 So you may be wondering about the brown torture-looking device I have on. Well, this is one of the treatments for the newest gift of breast cancer---lymphedema. When you have surgery for breast cancer, either lumpectomy or mastectomy, the removal of lymph nodes for testing is a given. However, once you have lymph nodes removed you are forever at risk for developing lymphedema. It is a chronic condition that does not go away, it is only managed. The big bummer is that no one can predict if they will get lymphedema. Some women have 30+ nodes removed and never get it and super lucky ones who only have 2-3 nodes removed do get it. Woohoo! I'm the lucky one again! You may be wondering, what exactly is lymphedema? At the end of the post I shared some links and a video for your viewing pleasure.

After the removal of the nodes, you are told to protect your affected arm at all costs. NO blood pressure. NO flu shot. NO blood draws. NO insect bites. NO sunburn. NO extreme temperature changes. NO trauma. You get the picture. By the way, if you Google images of lymphedema, be prepared. It is not a pretty site if you let it go too far. Hence, my tenacity at finding an answer to my pain.

Little did I know that carrying a DRA kit out of a campus door would lead to this frustrating condition. I scraped my hand along a door of the building and gave myself a deep bruise. That bruise was just below my index and middle fingers on my right hand. Guess which two fingers swell the most? At the time, I had no idea that one bruise would lead to all this. This was right before Christmas and I couldn't figure out why I was hurting so bad. I had no explanation and never suspected lymphedema. I didn't think that lymphedema hurt.

My unexplained traveled from my hand, up my arm, and into my armpit area. My oncologist ruled out a blood clot. But still not having an answer for the pain, I saw yet another doctor. This one said it was tendonitis and gave me a shot in the wrist. (Remeber, I'm not supposed to have shots in this arm...) He also put me in a brace which I wore for about a month with no relief. Finally, after seeing my oncologist again, he referred me to physical therapy for lymphedema. Maybe this was the answer! Frankly, I needed an answer. I was beyond frustrated at not having an answer for my pain.

I met with an OT and PT who both specialize in lymphedema.  These ladies have helped so much and I DO have an answer to my pain. They have helped me learn and educate myself about my lymphatic system and helped me get the Brown Beast, a lymphatic therapy pump which mimics the manual drainage massage of the therapist. The next step is to get the swelling down in my hand so we can have a custom garment made for my hand and arm. I am thinking I may need one that looks like a robot arm. ;) It is a work in progress and a condition I will have to deal with forever. That is the crappy part. So just when you think you are done with cancer...BAM! another fun surprise from the gift that keeps on giving.

Here are some links if you want to know more about lymphedema.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Paying it Forward

Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Day is March 3.

March 2nd marks the one year anniversary of my double mastectomy. Little did I know that it would be a series of 4 surgeries and multiple visits to the plastic surgeon before I could get some semblance of natural looking breasts back. (But still no nipples :))

TNBC accounts for 30% of all breast cancers and is the rarer and more aggressive type. It is also more likely to reoccur. Often it is harder to detect metastasis since no blood work can show a possible recurrence.

Please consider donating to my page for TNBC Awareness. 100% of my fundraising goes to TNBC research.

Here is the link to my page.



Saturday, October 8, 2016

365 Days Later

I have crafted this blog post many times in my head over the past few weeks. Yet, I had a tough time actually writing the words down. It is almost impossible to reflect or even describe the past year of my life. It was at the same time the fastest and slowest.

One year.
One year since my world was sent into a tailspin.
One year of fighting a fight I was never prepared for.
One year consisting of 10 rounds of poisoning chemo, 4 surgeries, a multitude of new scars and several short and long term side effects.

Oct. 8, 2015. A year ago Scott and I were brought into a special room by a nurse navigator and told those dreaded words, "I'm sorry to say, you have cancer." Those three little words, "You have cancer." are the most life-altering words, not only for me, but for my family and friends. All this happened in my favorite month of the year--October, or shall we say, Pinktober? Breast Cancer Awareness Month took on a whole new meaning for me. I was surrounded by pink ribbons everywhere I looked. It was a harsh daily reminder of my new normal.

If you have a close friend or family member who has battled cancer, then you have seen the true face of this ugly disease. It is not a pretty pink ribbon, pink socks, or even a walk. It is ugly and most of us hide this part of cancer from colleagues and friends. Instead, we put on our positive pants, smiles, and plow ahead for those around us. But cancer doesn't play fair.

Cancer robs you.
It robs you of your
taste buds
mental capacity
and finally--your breasts, one of the ways we define womanhood.

However, it does gift you with things too.
mouth sores
discolored nails
chemo brain
weight gain
and scars (more than I care to count)

No, breast cancer is not a pretty pink ribbon, it's ugly and devastating.
It has not been an easy year. I never want to repeat it. Technically, I am cancer-free but really, I'm not. I will never be free of this disease. There is not a day that goes by that I don't wonder if I'll hear those words again--since statistics reveal there is a recurrence rate of 34% with Triple Negative Breast cancer. But this year is over. I can move forward, I am brave. Strong I stand.

One year.
365 days that changed who I am forever.


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Sisterhood

It's a sisterhood I didn't apply for, but I'm proud to be a member. As soon as you hear the words, " You have breast cancer." You automatically file your application. Each member chooses how involved they want to be in "the club," whether just checking in every so often. Then there are those who become the pledge trainers, taking in the newbies and making sure everyone has information. No matter how committed, the sisterhood is part of your life. I am blessed to be a member of this group of fighters.

When you have cancer, no one truly knows what you're going through or how you're feeling except those who have gone before you. Some lead the way with positivity and others with a sadness that can be overwhelming. Everyone handles the diagnosis differently and no one way is the right way. 

One time when I went to visit the Silos in Waco, I was checking out. I was still in chemo and had no hair, only a hat on. The checker asked me if I was in treatment and when I said, "yes" she reached across the counter and hugged me, saying, "I'm a survivor too. Welcome to the sisterhood." I started crying. There is some magical bond that occurs over this devastating disease. 

Recently, while in LA for my TNBC study blood draw, I made arrangements to meet up with a new "sister" from a breast cancer Facebook group. We met for lunch and visited like we were old friends. In fact, we plan to meet up again on my next trip down. What a blessing to have these new friends all over the country and world. I hear over and over that breast cancer has blessed people's lives. I didn't understand that at the beginning of my diagnosis but I do now. I've learned so much about myself, my friends and my family facing this fight. Experiences I hope to never repeat made me stronger because I had them. So if you at some point have to join the sisterhood, know that it is an honor to fight beside some of the fiercest, strongest women, to learn from those who went before you and to help those joined after.

Blessings to all,

Thursday, June 23, 2016

It's Been A While...Update on the Next Step

I know, it has been a while since my last post. A lot has happened since the beginning of April when I last shared.

After my double mastectomy, I went through a series of fills. This is where they insert a HUGE needle into a port under the skin and fill the expanders. The purpose is to expand the skin in order to create a pocket for the final implants. The first expansion wasn't so bad. No big deal. But the second was another story entirely. I was in so much pain, I had to take the good pain meds again just to take the edge off. From there, my weekly fills weren't so bad. A little soreness, but nothing compared to that second time.

Dr. W filled them up with 800cc of saline (to capacity) so that he had some extra tissue to use for nipple reconstruction. Let's just say these babies are hard as rocks. And, 7 weeks later, the skin has stretched so that now I have low-hanging softballs on my chest! I am SO ready to get these things out. Uncomfortable is an understatement.

The good news is that next week is my "swap" surgery! They will take out the tissue expanders, lift my breasts and place the new implants that will sit high and perky. He assures me that they won't be as wide, but they will have more projection. I'll admit, I'm not totally sure what that means. I picture torpedo boobs, but I know Dr. W will make them beautiful. As a bonus, I'm getting out my Power Port (the ugly thing under my skin where they infused chemo). I am ridiculously excited about this prospect. At least the recovery should be way easier than my mastectomy.

I am often asked about how I felt having the mastectomy. Do I miss my breasts? Did I mourn the loss? Did I feel like part of my womanhood was missing? Did I cry?

The answer is different for every woman. No two of us have the same response or feelings.
YES I did miss them right after the mastectomy. I felt like something was missing. I was a DD when I went into surgery and an A when I came out. I felt boyish for a while but now, with the gradual fills, don't have that same feeling as before.

NO I didn't mourn my breasts. They have given me nothing but trouble all my life. First a breast reduction at 24 and now this.

NO I do not feel like a part of my womanhood is missing. My breasts do not make me a woman. (But these new ones are going to ROCK!)

NO I didn't cry. I think I got all that out at the beginning of this journey. Now when I cry it is for the immense gratitude I feel for my family and friends. They have given their time, support and continuous love through it all. My tears are those of joy and blessings.

So next Monday, say a quick prayer for me as I undergo the knife again. Thank you all for your comments, prayers and love. It is felt every day when I can say, "I'm cancer free!"

Much love,

Friday, April 1, 2016

In Sickness and In Health

Many of you have the privilege to know my husband Scott. He is an amazing man. Scott is so many things. He is a talented graphic designer, a soldier, an amazing father, and my best friend. To say that I love him is an understatement. In fact, going through breast cancer with him by my side as my support and rock has made me fall even more deeply in love with him. His unwavering and unconditional love has helped me keep it together through this journey. He has loved me when I was completely bald and sick, still telling me how beautiful I was. He has helped me bathe, gone to the store for me and gone to 99% of all of my doctors' appointments (that's A LOT of appointments!) He went to every chemo proudly wearing his Laura's Tribe shirt. He has held me as I cried and dried my tears. There is no way in the world I could have done any of this without him. We are celebrating our 13th anniversary on April 12. God blessed me with a marriage of ups and downs but with the love to make it through them all. I love you Scott Moore. You are the love of my life!

Monday, March 14, 2016

The "Girls" are Gone Part 2

So, I'm almost 2 weeks out of my double mastectomy surgery. I am SO ready to get these drains out. For those that do not know, they insert tubes around your breasts on the inside to drain any excess fluid and the tubes come out of your skin on your sides and drain into these ever so pretty bulbs. You then have to empty and measure the fluid twice a day. Yuck! This also means that I have to wear these gorgeous camis and bras with little pockets to hold the drains. Which means, not only do I not have breasts, but I also look lumpy at the same time!

Thanks to Wende and Jason for the loan of my "bed" the oh-so-comfy 1990's recliner! I have finally moved back to my bed at night but the recliner was still the best. I set myself a throne area. I have the remotes of course, books, chapstick, and my iPad. I was pretty out of it for a few days following surgery, but now, I'm feeling much better, just a bit sore still, and itchy!

I've realized that I have a hard time sitting still and recovering. I had to read a post on Facebook last night to remind myself that I am not being lazy, I am recovering. It is hard not to get up and do chores, clean the kitchen, etc. My mom was so good to remind me to take it easy and SIT DOWN!

I was so blessed to have my amazing mom in town for TWO WHOLE WEEKS! She is simply incredible. Laundry, taking care of me, sleeping on the couch so that she could help give me my meds in the night, playing with the grandkids, sewing, making cookies, cleaning the kitchen, and taking care of Stacy. I don't know how she does it all. My heart broke a bit when she left yesterday. I got so used to having her come up for all my rough AC chemos that we both went through withdrawals. The house was a little too quiet this morning. The kids back at school, mom and Stacy gone...just Scott and I here.

So...I am going to compile a list of things I'd like to do that I never make time for anymore while I am taking it easy and recovering.

watercolor painting, crafts, reading, writing, napping...that's a good start. :)


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