Surviving & Thriving 5 Years Later

Hello Everyone!

I'm proud of myself that it's only been three months since my last update.  While it's not as often as I would like, it's certainly better than my previous 1-year hiatus.  I wanted to take this opportunity to provide an update on how I'm doing, how I feel, and talk about my 5-year cancerversary.

I still remember the day I heard "you have breast cancer" as if it was yesterday even though it was in 2013--five years ago.  Although I had suspected I might have cancer since I had a rather large lump, numerous doctor appointments and a biopsy, there is a part of you that holds on to hope it won't be cancer.  As much as I suspected it probably was cancer, there was a part of me that just couldn't accept that I had cancer.  I was 39 years old and too young for that.  I felt fine--maybe a little tired, but fine.

Regardless, I was on a weekend trip with my son when I received the call.  It was early morning, and I had been awake for an hour waiting on the call to come in.  I didn't sleep well the night before as I was worried about that looming call from my doctor with the biopsy results.  When my phone finally rang, my heart was in my throat.  I felt short of breath, and my fingertips were tingling.  My doctor didn't beat around the bush, and he quickly told me I had cancer.  He said many other things and talked about treatment plans, but I was a zombie in about 2.2 seconds.  I felt like his voice was very far away, and I couldn't seem to comprehend anything he was saying.  I was crying and didn't even realize it.  Not small tears.  But gut wrenching sobs that shook my entire body.  My son woke up even through I wasn't actually making a sound.  He sat beside me and hugged me from behind.  It was the moment in which a child becomes your strength--an adult.

I tried to put on a happy face for my son during the rest of the day, but it was hard to take my mind off of the devastating news.  As I drove home, my son fell asleep, and I was able to let down my guard and brave face I was wearing for him.  I cried all the way home, which was over a three hour drive.  In fact, I think I cried for several days.  I walked around in a haze and felt utterly lost.  Then, I picked myself up and decided I was going to face this and keep moving forward with my life.  I went back to work on Monday, and a rainbow greeted me that morning as I arrived.  I felt a sense of calm and peace I hadn't felt in days.

The coming months were not easy.  I had 12 weeks of Taxol, a 2-week break, 4 dense dose of AC, a 4 week break, and a double mastectomy.  There was nothing easy about the period from September 2013 through April 2014.  I continued to work, and I tried to stay strong for my family.  Every day was a struggle to put one foot in front of the other.  I took some time off when I had my surgery, but I was back in my office in May 2014.  I had to relearn my job in many aspects.  I had a terrible case of chemo brain, and I felt lost.  I began radiation a short time later, and after 36 radiation treatments, I was finally able to take a break from so much abuse.  While several reconstructive surgeries and a full hysterectomy followed later, I enjoyed that summer and found my smile again.  I slowly felt the chemo fog clear my brain, and I began to truly find my new reality.  My life wasn't the same as it was prior to cancer.  It was my new life.  In a sense, I had died, but I was reborn a different person.

One can read my entries to know what's happened during this interim period.  What they won't see is what it's like to sit here in this moment.  When I was diagnosed, I had this feeling that I needed to cram an entire lifetime in five short years.  For some reason, I thought I would die in five years.  I managed to shove those fears to the back of my brain, but they have certainly cropped up from time to time.  Old habits die hard.  And here I sit at the five year mark.  The point I secretly thought I would never see.  Many people say "you're a survivor, you beat it, you did it, etc".  The truth is, I don't feel like I personally did anything to beat cancer.  I followed all the treatment plans and did as instructed by my doctors, yes.  But so do 1,000s of other women who don't see that five-year mark.  The part of me who always questions things has to wonder why.  Why me?  Why am I still here and other deserving women aren't?  So, having said that, I can only say I didn't physically beat cancer because I'm strong.  I honestly didn't do anything besides get treatment.  The only thing I personally did was mentally try to stay strong, share my story, and do everything I possibly could to help others.

On that note, I can only say I have survivor's guilt to a degree.  I feel guilty that I'm still here and so many others are lost to this disease.  I have not did anything in my life that qualifies me to survive cancer anymore than the woman who didn't get to survive it.  However, I am thankful each and every day of my life.  I remind myself every day that I have been given a second chance to be the new person who was reborn after cancer, and I should never return to the person I was before.  Not that she was bad, but because I am a new and improved version of myself.  Fear still creeps in from time to time, but it's in those moments that I remind myself that God has a plan for me.  I am willing to serve as a walking, talking reminder of the fact that he still performs miracles each and every day as long as it's allowed.  And when my time is up, I will leave this Earth thankful for the time I was given.

So, here I am at my five-year mark, and I'm Surviving and Thriving.  I am so blessed to be here in this moment.  Speaking of Thriving, I use Thrive products, and I'm promoter.  These products have changed my life.  As a cancer survivor, nutrition is so very important, and my busy lifestyle doesn't leave much time to eat healthy like I should.  Thrive gives my body the nutrition it needs, and I have found a healthy source of energy through these products.  I've kicked a caffeine and coffee addiction by using these products, and the aches and pains I've carried since chemo ended have disappeared.  If you're interested in these products, check out my page at the link below where you can sign up for a free, no obligation account to browse products.  Additionally, I'm listing my Facebook group where you can post questions or message me for more information.

My Website:  https://tmtrussell.le-vel.com/Login

Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/groups/309632886287391/

Thank you for reading, and much love and health!

Teresa






The Many Faces of Teresa--a Cancer Survivor five years later. =)

I've been thinking about my blog lately, and I knew it had been quite a while since I had posted any type of update.  Imagine my surprise when I checked my DIEP Diaries post, and my last update was June 7, 2017.  Here it is June 5, 2018--essentially one year later and no update.  I am absolutely ashamed of myself for allowing myself to become so busy I haven't updated something that's so very important to me, but provides a source of support to so many who have or are facing breast cancer and the process of rebuilding your life during the aftermath.

I was trying to think about a topic for discussion.  Sure, I will update my DIEP Diaries post with some "after" photos.  I know how important it is for people to see what one year later is like.  But to be quite honest, I miss just pouring my heart out into my blog and letting what's inside me end up on the Internet because if I'm feeling it, someone else is too.  So, here's my blog post about nothing in particular and a little bit of everything all rolled into one.

Some may ask what I've been doing for the past year that's kept me away from my blog.  The answer is complicated, but the short story a combination of work, school work, and my family (aka enjoying life).  In December 2017, I officially became and Ohio University alumni as I earned my degree in Human and Consumer Sciences.  This was a path I began in my early 20's when I earned my Associates Degree while also being a full time mom.  Like many moms, I had every intention of continuing my education toward completing my bachelor degree, but the need to work full time and support my family took precedence, and the next thing I knew, it was 17 years later, and I still hadn't finished.  After kicking cancer's butt, I promised myself a few things, and working on checking off a few boxes on my personal list of "to do" items included my own educational goals.  Many people have asked me what I hoped to achieve by earning my degree since I have an established career.  My answer is "know I finished something I set out to complete so many years ago".  And that I did.  Pictured below is me after my ceremony with my daughters.  As a parent, there is nothing more you want than to set an example for your children, and through my graduation, I have shown them that I value education and personal goals.


Prior to my graduation in December, I applied to Graduate school at Ohio University, and I was accepted.  Therefore, after finishing up undergraduate work in the fall, I immediately began Graduate courses spring semester 2018.  Here it is summer, and I continue to take graduate course work, and I expect to graduate with my Master's Degree in Social Sciences and participate in Spring Commencement activities May 2019.  My older daughter, shown in the photo above on the right, is also pursuing her Master's Degree in Public Administration and is scheduled to graduate during the same ceremony as myself.  My younger daughter, shown on the left, will begin her senior year at Ohio University this fall, and she now plans to attend Graduate school after she completes her undergraduate work.

I've mentioned in previous posts that school work has helped me to clear the chemo fog from my brain.  I feel this is an appropriate time to comment on that earlier statement.  I still agree.  Does school work stress me out?  Yes.  Do I dislike some of my classes?  Absolutely!  In fact, the class I'm in right now isn't my favorite.  I have to force myself to do the required readings.  But, like chemo, I have to do it so I can meet a goal.  Exercising my brain has helped keep my brain occupied.  The mind can easily play tricks on you, and lack of goals and something positive to focus on can easily lead to situations where fear can rule your life.

That leads me to the discussion of recurrence.  I was diagnosed September 2013, but my lump was present at this time exactly five years ago.  So, I can say "five years ago, I had cancer", and it's a true statement.  As a triple negative breast cancer survivor, I know my risks.  Like my required school work, I did my homework, and the five year period is a crucial time for TNBC survivors.  It can come back ANY time, but the time frame I'm in right at this moment is a very crucial period.  When I was diagnosed, I ran from one appointment to another, and I felt like I was living in the middle of a hurricane.  I saw one doctor after another who had a plan for how to cut the cancer out of my body, what chemotherapy I would receive to shrink the tumor, what surgeries I would have to reduce my risks of recurrence, what surgeries I would need for reconstruction, and even planning months in advance for future radiation treatments.  But NO ONE addressed the madness that was in my mind.  That all-encompassing fear that lives inside your mind and prevents you from sleeping or functioning like a normal person.  I spent months waking from one nightmare after another where I was trying to live an entire lifetime in five years.  FIVE YEARS.  In my mind, I had somehow convinced myself I had five years left to live.  I was convinced I would have a recurrence in five years.  I had read the statistics, after all.  And here I sit at that crucial five year mark.  Tomorrow, I see a new oncologist.  Why a new one?  My previous oncologist left, and rather than establish myself with a new doctor two hours from my home, it just makes sense to become established with one near my home to make routine visits easier.  It's been a year and a half since I last saw a oncologist.  Yes, thats much longer than I'm supposed to go between visits.  So, why would I do this at such a crucial point?  Honestly, because seeing my doctor isn't going to prevent it from coming back if it chooses to.  I've taken every preventative measure I can take.  Now, am I suggesting this was a good idea?  Of course not.  In fact, it wasn't intentional.  It's demonstrative of how much I've been participating in my life and not living in the cancer world.

After five years of treatments and surgeries, I just needed to focus on life and living, and I've certainly did that.  So, tomorrow, I go see the oncologist.  I'll talk about how tired I've been lately and the fact that I sometimes feel as if I can't put one foot in front of the other.  He will likely ask me what my schedule/life is like, and my reply will be "hectic".  I work 50+ hours per week, I'm taking two graduate courses per semester, which is a heavy load for someone who doesn't work full time, and I work full time, and I work like a crazy person around my house never truly allowing myself to relax. So, yes, I am tired.  But in retrospect, who wouldn't be when maintaining my schedule?  It's times like this I remind myself that cancer isn't the answer to everything that hurts.  I simply refuse to give it that much power.

Let's talk hair growth for a minute.  I know everyone facing chemo wants to know what to expect with hair growth.  It's been 4.5 years since I lost my hair and many haircuts later, and here's a photo of my hair at this time.  My hair grows slow, so many people see much faster growth than me.  Also, I have face-framing layers, so it's much longer in the back.  About half way down my back.



On another note, my son, who was stationed in California as a US Marine is now deployed in Japan.  His wife and two children, Wyatt (2) and Willow (1) are now back in Ohio.  I am so very thankful to see them although I am very sad it means my son is away from them.  Please say a prayer for my son as he serves our country.  He misses his family and is making a great sacrifice for each of us.  Below are a few photos we took during our reunion with the babies.  What a joyous day!

<Insert lots of grandma-like photos here>






As I juggle work, school, and life in general, I remind myself how very blessed I am to have such blessings in my life to juggle.  There was a time not so long ago my life revolved around doctor's appointments and treatments, and all I wanted was for my life to be normal and hectic in a good way. So today, I am thankful for all the hectic madness in my life and for my beautiful children and grandchildren.  What a wonderful life I have in spite of every single struggle, difficulty, etc.  Life isn't about having an easy path.  It's what we do with all the bumps, twists, and turns.  It's the beauty that comes from struggle and sorrow.  It's all of these things rolled up into one.  So, as you, my reader, who is facing difficult times, wonder how you'll ever smile again, I can assure you there are bright days ahead.  Cry when you need to, but know if you keep putting one foot in front of the other--no matter how slow--you're moving forward.  Know that in spite of what you see in the mirror today, you CAN and will come out on the other side of this.

Don't believe me?  Below is a photo I had taken to demonstrate that in spite of cancer, a double mastectomy, endless amounts of steroids, a complete hysterectomy and loss of hormones, no nipples, and scars all over my body, cancer cannot and will not take my ability to say "I am a woman, and cancer, you can simply step off"



And in this post, is the many faces of Teresa--a cancer survivor.  Tonight, I'll close with that.  I have homework that needs completed.  =)

Much Love--

Teresa

The DIEP Diaries


This blog entry contains consistent photographs documenting my journey with the DIEP surgery.  These photos include photos of my breasts and stomach incision.  These photos may seem graphic in nature and are intended for educational and documentation purposes only.  These photos are not sexual in nature and should not be considered as such.  Please do not continue reading this blog if photos of this nature are offensive to you.  I appreciate the understanding of my readers that photos of this nature are necessary to assist those facing breast cancer, mastectomy surgery, and reconstructions.  


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March 5, 2017

If you've been following my blog, you know I was scheduled for the DIEP flap surgery for July 2016, but I backed out at the last minute.  I backed out mostly from fear since it's such an invasive surgery, and I'm tired of being in paid and recovering from surgeries.  On December 27, 2016, I had a surgery to remove the implant in my left breast and all the scar tissue that had formed around it, and a new implant was put back in.  While this surgery gave me the relief I was looking for from the tightness in my breast and it allowed my breast to feel soft and look normal again, the victory was short lived.  A spot showed up in an area where a small, extra incision was done to remove deeply radiated and damaged skin, and the skin in this area as breaking down and slowly exposing the implant beneath.  As much as I tried to avoid doing the DIEP flap, I now have no other options if I wish to have a breast on my left side.  The skin currently covering my implant is so severely damaged from my mastectomy and radiation there's nothing left to salvage.

For those that do not know what a DIEP flap surgery is, the most simplistic explanation I can provides is there will be two incisions made on my abdomen--one about an inch below my belly button and one about an inch above it from hip to hip.  All the skin and tissue between the two incisions is removed and reattached to my breast to create healthy skin and create a new breast.  The skin on my abdomen is then stretched from the top incision to the bottom and sutured.  Yes, this means I'll have a large incision on my stomach, which is the reason I've tried to avoid this surgery.  However, this is my last option to find relief from daily pain I've had since my reconstruction journey began.

I will be updating this post regularly with progress of how I'm doing to include photographs at various stages through this surgery and the healing process.  It is my goal to provide my readers with an idea of what to expect with this surgery and what my experience was like.  I have to be at the hospital at 6 am in the morning as this surgery takes anywhere between 6 and 9 hours, and I'm expected to be in the hospital through Thursday.  I'm very nervous, and fear has gotten the best of me the past few days.  However, I've been putting on my brave face and trying to face this head on.  I've tried to stay busy, and maintaining this blog will help me focus during my recovery period.

On a closing note, I would like to say I'm not fearful because of lack of trust in my physicians.  I'm terrified of the outcome I will personally have, the pain I will be facing, and the long recovery ahead of me.  While the DIEP flap is generally a successful surgery with great outcomes, there are those who face healing issues and there are even times it simply fails.  I'm scared I'll be one of these women.  I'm scared I'll be in so much pain it will be unbearable as I'm allergic to any pain medication that's truly beneficial.  I'm scared I'll be put under and never wake up again.  I'm just scared!  I don't think any of my fears are abnormal for someone in my position, and I am moving forward knowing that no one accomplishes great things without taking risks.  I gain nothing if I don't try!

Stay Tuned...........  <3 Teresa

March 8, 2017

Hello All!  It's been two days since my surgery, and although I'm still in the hospital, I'm feeling pretty good.  I ended up being in surgery about 6 hours on Monday (6th).  Since I was only doing one side, my surgery went a little fast than the standard DIEP in which both sides are done.  I don't remember a lot from that day after waking up as they gave me plenty of pain medication plus I as very drowsey the rest of the day and night from the anesthesia.  I remember being in a lot of pain, but they doctors and nurses did a great job of helping me stay on top of it.  I had a pain button where I could press the button every 30 minutes to have pain medication delivered via my IV, and I took advantage of that button every chance I got.


  • Day 1:  Yesterday morning, which was Tuesday, March 7, was my "day 1" after surgery.  My foley cath was removed, which meant I had to start getting out of bed to use the bathroom.  As much as a folly cath sucks, they are a blessing from above when you're too sick or sore to get out of bed.  As I was preparing to get out bed, I began feeling sick.  I threw up a few moments later, which was just liquids as I hadn't had food since Sunday night.  After getting up, brushing my teeth, and using the bathroom, I sat in the chair in my room for a bit.  As difficult as it was to get up, it did feel good to get out of bed for a bit.  While sitting in the chair, I threw up a second time, and after throwing up, I felt better, but I felt I had been through enough, and it was time get back in bed.  The pain was definitely kicking my butt at this point, and I no longer had a pain button I could press, so everything I received was orally.  Needless to say, I asked for pain medication.  I had to get up to go to the bathroom several times during the evening, and it was painful getting up.  It was more difficult to walk and move if I had went too long without pain medication. 


  • Day 2:  Today, which is March 8, was day 2 after my surgery.  I had some pain during the night last night, but it wasn't unbearable.  Today, I noticed getting up to go the bathroom was easier than it was yesterday.  I do walk slightly bent over because the skin on my stomach is stretched so tight, but I'm okay with that. It's been a long time since I've seen my stomach this small and tight.  I walked around the halls two times today to encourage movement, and I actually felt really good while walking.  I'm getting and better each day.  The pain is never above a 4 now, which is a great thing.  When I came out of surgery, I rated my pain as a 9 (out of 10), so that's definitely progress.  Below are some photos for your comparison.  However, please keep in mind that I previously had implants, which the doctor said it's a good thing I did this surgery as the black dot that showed up was a scab, and the hole went all the way down to the implant and wouldn't have healed, so I did the smart thing by doing this surgery before it  became an issue of infection.  Also, this is phase 1 of the DIEP surgery, which means tissue and skin is removed from my abdomen and placed in my breast area where radiated skin has been removed.  This allows healthy skin to be used along with implants.  What you see right now is just the flap and tissue itself--without an implant.  The area needs months to heal before an implant will be replaced.  So, at this time, I look uneven, but I have no doubt I'll get there. 

  • Photo taken night before surgery

  • Photo taken on Day 2 (you can see how much skinnier I look)  

  Hospital Selfie (Day 2)



March 11, 2017

Today is day 5 after surgery, and I'm finding I'm able to get up from the couch a little easier without as much pain.  Does it still hurt?  Of course, but I'm seeing some improvement as well.  I'll try to document various items that seem to be topics of discussion below.


  • Pain Medication:  I was sent home with Vicodin and Flexarill to use for pain.  The vicodin can be taken 1 or 2 every four hours, and the Flexarill once every 6 hours.  Through yesterday, I've been taking two vicodin every four hours in an effort to stay on top of the pain, but around noon yesterday, I dropped it down to one every four hours.  Mostly because I was having issues with my skin itching everywhere, and it was making me crazy, but also because I wanted to see if I could begin backing off the pain medication.  While this solved the issue with the itching (I also began taking benadryl), my pain levels began to get the best of me as the day went on.  By the evening hours, I was in quite a bit of pain and had to go back to taking two at once.  The majority of the pain is in my abdomen.  
  • Sitting, Standing, Sleeping, & Walking:  I didn't even attempt to move from my hospital bed until the day after my surgery, and to be honest, the only reason I did then was because they took out the cath, and I had to begin moving to use the bathroom.  Getting out of bed was extremely painful, but once I got up, it wasn't too bad.  As difficult as it is to believe, moving around a little actually made me feel better once I was up.  Here I am on day 5, and it is still painful to get up, but it's manageable.  I'm most comfortable on the couch with a pillow roll beneath my knees and heat on my lower back.  Speaking of my lower back, it's on FIRE thanks to having to walk slightly bent over.  While I do move around slightly bent over, I'm told I'm in more of an upright position than most women.  At any rate, I feel like a 90 year old woman who should be walking around with a walker.  I try to get up and move around just a little each hour when I go to the restroom.  Just to keep things loosened up and from getting stiff.  
  • My Incisions:  My breast is looking good although the flap is yellow at the moment from bruising.  Overall, it appears to be healing very well.  The incision across my tummy is very tight.  I barely had enough skin and tissue to create a breast mound, so that didn't leave much to sew back together.  My abdomen is swollen and slightly distended at this time.  
  • Constipation:  While some may avoid talking about pooping, I'm going there because it's very important!  My stomach is already very tight from this surgery, and adding a swollen belly due to constipation to the mix is absolutely terrible.  Yesterday, I could tell I really needed to go, but I simply couldn't get "it" to happen.  I had issues with constipation while on AC, and a breast cancer sister told me to try a bottle of the Magnesium Citrate.  It worked miracles then, and I keep it on hand at all times now.  While preparing for this surgery, I had purchased a couple bottles and put them in the fridge (they are easier to chug if they are cold).  I chugged a full bottle yesterday before I found blessed relief.
  • Drains:  The worst part about these surgeries is the drains.  I absolutely HATE them with a passion.  They are so uncomfortable and cumbersome!  While in the hospital, they were pretty full each day of bright red blood.  It was pretty gross, and it looked like something you see in the  movies when a vampire is drinking "blood" from a cup.  I giggled in my hospital bed as my drug induced brain imagined some behind-the-scenes agreement between humans and vampires and the blood from the drains was to supply "responsible" vampires with blood.  Yeah, it's crazy, but that's what happens when I take pain medication!  Over the past two days, I've noticed the total ml per day reading is 10 for each side of my tummy, and my breast drain is no more than 5 ml for the entire day.  They were emptied this morning and were even less than that, and there still is very little to nothing in them.  I have checked them to make sure they are still working, and they are.  Hopefully, this just means they don't have to stay in too long.  
  • Overall Opinion:  For just a moment, I want to talk about the DIEP flap surgery.  This surgery is often avoided by many women because it is so invasive, and I can say this with confidence because I was one of those women.  I had my double mastectomy April 2014 with immediate reconstruction, which meant expanders were placed at the time of surgery.  After expanding weekly and enduring a lot of pain associated with the expanders, I finally had surgery in July 2014 to swap the expanders for implants.  Overall, I was happy with the results.  My left side (cancer side) constantly ached though.  I had developed scar tissue and cording that was very painful shortly after.  I had radiation from July - September, and not long after completing radiation, I began to notice the shape of my breast changing.  It was no longer soft and round, and it moving up my chest higher and higher.  I was unable to get an assistance with this to fix the issues even though I had photos that showed the progression of how things were changing.  It was then I found Dr. Tiwari.  He was very honest with me and told me I was grade 4 CC and that I needed a DIEP flap.  My skin was a mess from radiation, and there wasn't much left to work with.  I was scheduled for a DIEP July 2016, and I cancelled the appointment a week before my surgery.  I cancelled because I was afraid.  I had did my research, and I had watched women talk about all the things that could go wrong and issues they faced after the surgery.  The idea of being off work for such an extended period of time (again) made me want to scream.  In November 2016, I reached out to Dr. Tiwari again, and at my request, he agreed to try a capsulectomy.  He very clearly explained to me this would not be permanent, and I was simply buying myself time until I would have to do the DIEP and attempting to alleviate daily pain I was facing.  I can't even begin to explain the pain I had lived with for two years--only those who have had CC knows what I'm taking about.  On Dec. 27, Dr. Tiwari did a capuslectomy, and the scar tissue was even worse than he had expected.  I was in surgery longer than planned, and an area about the size of a quarter had been removed and stitched together because the skin was beyond repair.  This area is where the radiation was targeted, and it had suffered the most damage.  He was skeptical but hopeful the surgery would work for me. I ended up developing a fever three weeks after my surgery that landed me in the hospital for three days.  Since we weren't sure where the fever came from, the implant was left in place and a "wait and see" game began.  I had a drain for six weeks because it simply would not slow down with fluid output.  I could never get it below 40 ml a day.  So, between the surgery itself, recovery, landing in the hospital, I dedicated six weeks of my life to a surgery to "patch" things.  Two weeks ago, I was in San Antonio, TX for a work function, and while drying off after a shower, a spot on my breast caught my eye.  It was the size of the end of an ink pen, and it was black.  I couldn't tell for sure what it was, but since it was in the area where the skin was severely damaged and the area Dr. T was most worried, I had a feeling it wasn't "okay".  When I saw Dr. T on Saturday for my follow up, he confirmed my worst fears.  While there were no signs of infection, the dark spot was a hole (which was later confirmed that went all the way to the implant itself).  The skin was so thin it was literally ripping apart.  My chance to avoid the DIEP was gone, and I no longer had any other choice but the DIEP. 
Monday, I walked in to the hospital so afraid I could barely think straight.  I was an absolute wreck, and I was practically begging for medication so I could be put out of my misery.  I REALLY didn't want this surgery, but I knew I had no choice if I wanted to have a breast.  So, I put my big girl panties on, and pushed onward.  I don't even remember going into the OR.  Normally I'm wide awake until they put the mask on my face.  Whatever shot they gave me before leaving the prep room was, it worked.  When I woke up, I expected to be in excruciating pain.  Was I in pain?  Sure, but it really wasn't that bad.  They gave me medication in my IV, and I could press the button as often as ever 10 minutes if needed.  Once the pain pump was gone (the next day), it still wasn't that bad.  I personally feel like the double mastectomy was worse than this.  I wish I had known what I now know two years ago.  I wish I hadn't wasted time doing a surgery that wouldn't work just because I was so afraid of the unknown.  Although I'm still healing and have a ways to go, I'm not in daily pain anymore.  In fact, my breast doesn't hurt at all.  When I have pain, it's in my abdomen.  I invested six weeks for a surgery that did nothing for me really when I could have did the DIEP at that time and been well on my way toward phase 2.  So, while I cannot change my past and decisions, I would like to calm some nerves of those who are considering this and are letting fear drive them.  I completely understand your fears, but I'll be the first to tell you that fear often makes some very bad decisions.  This is a personal choice, but it's one that shouldn't be made out of fear alone.  I absolutely know when you look at photos of a DIEP, all you can think is "that looks horrible".  The end result looks great, but everything in between looks awful.  However, it looks much worse than it is.  If I could rewind the clock, I would have did this a long time ago.  I am on day five, and my butt is still firmly planted on the couch, but I feel great considering everything my body has endured.  It's only up from here!


Below are a few photos of how I currently look.  Please keep in mind this is a work in progress of me.  My right breast is simply an implant.  I did not have cancer on this side but I am BRCA1 positive, I did a double.  The left side as seen below is ALL my own skin and tissue.  There is currently no implant in there.  I'm not very big, so I will still need an implant once this is all healed up.  I just had to do the DIEP to get healthy skin.

*The two bandaids on my tummy are where I developed tape blisters.  This had nothing to do with surgery.









March 17, 2017

It's been 11 days since my surgery, so I thought I'd provide an update although there hasn't been a substantial change for me to write about.  I did get two of my drains out on Tuesday (March 14--eight days after surgery).  The two drains on my left side (one in my boob and one from my tummy) were removed, and it was a huge relief to see them go.  Of all the things I've dealt with through all of these surgeries, I hate the drains with a passion.  They are so cumbersome and somewhat painful.  I seem to always catch them and tug on the tube and it pulls the stitch in my skin.  Being down to one drain is great, but it will be even better on Monday when they remove this last drain.  I fully understand the need for them, but it doesn't make me like them anymore.

I'm able to get up and down without it being painful now.  Yes, my stomach is still tender and very tight, but it's manageable.  Of course, I don't leave my house or do anything besides sit on my couch and watch television, read, do homework, and talk to friends, but that's pretty much what I've been told to do at this stage.  I will admit I've been able to easily load and unload the dishwasher, make myself a cup of coffee or make a simple meal, and even put laundry in the washing machine or dryer and fold clothes.  I'm managing just fine, but I should point out I don't have small children at home.  My youngest daughter is here, but she's 19 and pretty independent.  So, for all the moms with little ones who are facing this surgery and wondering what you'll be able to do and at what point, I can't imagine trying to care for little ones at this stage.

My breast really doesn't hurt that much.  It's tender, and it actually feels hard and uncomfortable along the bottom of my breast.  I'm going to talk to my doctor about this on Monday, but I kind of feel like there is an expander inside (deflated), and there very well may be.  I briefly remember talking about expanders, but what I cannot remember is if he said it was placed during this surgery or it would be placed later?  Obviously, when looking at my photos, it's obvious my breasts aren't even.  That will come later in phase 2 when I get implants.  The purpose of this surgery was to remove the radiated skin with healthy skin and tissue so I had healthy skin over an implant rather than thin, radiated skin that had little to no blood flow left.  From what I can tell, everything is healing nicely (both tummy and boob), and I feel very good.  In fact, I feel better than I did after my surgery in December, which was supposed to be an easier surgery.  Of course, I admit I'm doing a better job at following the doctor's orders after this surgery though.  This surgery doesn't give you much of an option to do otherwise.

I'm posting photos below as I look at this stage of healing.  When comparing to photos taken right after surgery, you'll see I have some bloating and swelling in my abdomen.  My doctor warned me on Tuesday to expect this, so this doesn't surprise me.  This is part of the normal healing process.  My doctor also told me I was a very tight closure on my stomach and that they had to put my OR bed in a v position to close my stomach, so this explains the extreme tightness I feel in my stomach.  I'm able to stand up almost completely straight now although I cannot do it for long periods of time.  My lower back hurts something awful if I try to stand for too long.  I've also found I have to get up about once an hour for a few moments or I begin to tighten back up in my stomach, which leads to losing what ground I've gained in being able to stand up straight.





April 2, 2017

I am a bit behind updating my blog as I just realized I haven't updated this since before my last drain came out.  I got my last drain out on March 20, which was two weeks after my surgery.  Needless to say, I was very happy to get it out.  As you likely know by now, I absolutely hate drains.  It was barely putting any fluid out anyway, so it was not doing much of anything.  My appointment was very fast as he removed my drain, checked my incisions, and said he would see me again in a month.  I think I was in and out of the office in less than 15 minutes.

As you can see in the last photos I posted, I still had tape and glue on my incisions, which has slowly come off during the two weeks that's passed since then.  Most of it came off each time I showered plus I use a q-tip with a little alcohol after each shower to clean up residual glue.  As of today, I still have two small spots on my stomach incision that still have a scab, and there is one small area on my breast with a scab that hasn't fallen off yet.  I resist the urge to pick as I tend to want to do that, but I'm scared to death of causing healing issues for myself, so I don't do it.

It's been almost a month since my surgery, and I'm feeling very good.  I'm able to get up and down easily now, and standing up straight is no longer an issue.  It's not painful anymore, but it does still feel very tight.  I am finding I feel very swollen and bloated now, which is odd to me.  I feel more bloated and swollen now than I did right after surgery.  It seems like I would have been more swollen then than now, but from what I've read it's very normal for the swelling to kick in at this point.  Since the day my drain was removed, I've been using compression on my stomach incision, which is recommended to keep swelling down in the abdominal area.  I purchased spanx prior to surgery in anticipation of this, but I hate wearing them.  They are fine on my stomach, but they are extremely tight on my legs and butt, and to be quite honest, they drive me insane because they cause wedgies.  I have a bit of a big bootie (and it feels bigger than normal since I haven't been able to exercise and have spent more time on my butt than being active), and what helps with compression in my stomach is too tight for my butt.  Also, having to wiggle out of spanx each time I needed to pee is extremely annoying, so I used a wide ace bandage around my stomach.  I kept it wrapped tightly to ensure the same compression I would receive with spanx.  For me, this has worked great.

I'm still off work as I don't return util April 17, but I do feel very good.  Personally, I feel I could go back to work now, but my doctor is afraid I'll overdo it and cause a setback; however, I also know he's likely right.  While I feel great, I fear a 9 hour shift would cause me some pain.  I've ventured out here and there such as wedding dress shopping for my older daughter, getting my hair colored, and getting my nails done.  Last night, I event enjoyed some time with my youngest daughter at Ohio University for Mom's Weekend, but I'm also careful not to overdo it and let myself sit down as needed.  I try to stand up straighter each day and not get comfortable so I can get my flexibility back. I am a bit numb around my stomach incision (about 1/2 inch from incision on each side), which I've read gets better over time.  My other scars have faded with time to a thin white line, and I hope my stomach incision does the same.  For now, I've purchased a cute Michael Kors Tankini to wear and cove my stomaching incision.  I don't want to gross anyone out, and the incision is currently quite obvious.  At some point I have no doubt I'll be fine with it, but until it doesn't scare small children, I'll be covering it up.  Finally, I haven't taken any pain medication for over two weeks, so I feel I'm doing very well!  Below are some photos to catch you up on my healing process!

The following photos were taken about one and a half weeks ago:





The photos below were taken tonight.  As you can see, much of the scabs are gone.  The incision areas are still red and raised, but there has certainly been much improvement.  As you will notice, my hip area at the end of the incisions on my abdomen have resulted in some pretty serious muffin top that I didn't have before.  I now have a very flat stomach with a muffin top on the sides, which is frustrating, but I've been assured this will be corrected during the phase 2 surgery and is fairly common with this surgery.  I'll be glad when I don't look like a busted can of biscuits!




Finally, the photos below show me doing some dress shopping with my daughter three weeks after surgery, and then enjoying Mom's weekend with my daughter last night (one month after surgery).




May 4, 2017

Only after logging in did I realize it's been a month since I have updated this.  Time seems to slip away from me without realizing it when I'm not confined to a couch for healing.  I'll do my best to update everyone on what's been going on since my last update and how I'm doing.

Spring has arrived, and that means sunshine, warm weather, and one of my favorite activities--gardening!  Over the past few weeks, I've planted a garden with a few tomato and cucumber plants as well as work on my multiple flower beds.  I add to my flower beds each spring, and this year I created a flower bed around a tree in my front yard.  While I love the look of my flower beds, it's really about making it easier to mow around objects--the beauty is an added benefit.  I absolutely love digging in the dirt and planting flowers though.  There's something about it that just makes me feel like everything is perfect and right in the world.  Some may ask how I'm able to do all of this after such a large surgery.  I say with all honesty that it's really not that bad, and I feel like it's been very good for me.  Without overdoing it, the more active I am, the less stiff and sore I feel in my abdomen area.  I'm slowly beginning to feel like my normal self again.  I still wear a compression garment on my stomach each day.  I've tried to go without it a couple times, and after a couple hours, I can feel my stomach bloating up.  Until that goes away, I'll just continue to wear it.  My body will let me know when it doesn't need it anymore.

In previous photos, you'll notice a small area in my tummy incision line just below and to the right of my belly button that had a scab area.  This area held onto this scab longer than all the other areas even when everything else was healed and the scabs had fallen off.  Two weeks ago, I had my one month checkup, and Maggie scrapped the top layer of skin off the area, which was a little gooey (that sounds gross--sorry).  Once she scrapped the top layer off, she discovered I had some tunneling going on.  This means the skin healed on the surface over a hole, or "tunnel", that had not healed from the inside.  The hole was about 1/2 deep but not very wide.  She said it was normal and happens to many people and it wasn't necessarily anything I did.  I have been placing packing in the hole since my appointment per her instructions, which are to change it every morning and evening.  The purpose of the packing, which looks like seam tape (for the sewers out there), is to keep bodily fluid from sitting in the tunnel area and forcing the body to heal from the inside out.  When I remove the packing, it's always damp, and it's kind of cool how it pulls the fluid out.  To answer the questions in your mind, it doesn't hurt at all when I push the packing in.  The incision line across my stomach is numb, so I can't even feel it.  I can feel slight pressure when I push on it, but I don't feel anything else.  Since the tunnel is very narrow, it's not easy to get the packing in, but I have got it down to a science now.  I cut the packing strip at an angle so there's a point on the end.  I insert the point into the top of the tunnel, and I use a sterilized bobby pin that I've straightened out to push the packing into the tunnel.  I simply keep pushing it in until I can feel the resistance, which means it's reached the end of the tunnel.  Over the past two weeks, the tunnel is getting smaller, so I know it's healing.  I've included some photos below.

While at my appointment two weeks ago, I also discussed phase 2 of my surgery.  I confirmed my expectations and my ultimate goal/outcome, which is to have an implant placed on the left side and even out my breasts now that I have healthy tissue on the left side.  Also, I want the dog ears (or muffin top) that I have been left with from the surgery removed.  We were on the same page, and she said I would receive a phone call to schedule my surgery once my insurance had approved and preauthorized it.  I received the phone call yesterday, and my surgery is scheduled for June 1, which is exactly three months from my DIEP flap surgery.  Three months is the minimum time frame one must wait after having the DIEP before moving on to phase 2.  I feel very fortunate to have had no major issues or setbacks and I can look forward to moving on to the next phase.  I have another checkup tomorrow to see how my wound is healing in my tummy.  I'm not too concerned about it, but it will be good to receive confirmation that I'm healing well.

Below are some photos for those who like to watch the photo progress.  The top row of pictures was taken about two weeks ago and shows how the wound looked before my doctor scrapped off the gooey layer.  The bottom layer was taken this evening.  Obviously, tonight's photos show the packing sticking out of the tunnel.  Also, I would like to point out that I've begun running again, and it feels great.  If you can't tell, I've lost a little weight.  While I would like to lose a few more, I'm thrilled to be running again and to simply feel like myself again. So for those wondering if this surgery totally puts your life on hold, the answer is no.  In fact, I'm probably more active now than I was all summer last summer!



June 8, 2017--PHASE 2 SURGERY

Hello Everyone!  Here I am post phase 2 already, and I can hardly believe it.  When I began this journey, it felt like it would likely be forever before I was able to see results I was happy with in the mirror, but I have to be very honest, and the truth is this truly hasn't been that bad, and time has went by very quickly.  For those that may not know the details of how the DIEP flap surgery works, the results and surgeries are broken into phases.  The first phase is the main surgery, which I've explained above.  The sole purpose is to simply obtain healthy skin and tissue to build a healthy breast mound.  Cosmetic appearance isn't necessarily a priority of this phase while I believe my doctors certainly did their best to keep this in mind.  The second phase is what I just had done, and the purpose is to make adjustments from a cosmetic perspective for symmetry, appearance, and tweak any abdominal issues leftover from the incision obtained in phase 1.  Some people get implants at this point if needed, and others do not.  Some people do not need an implant as their donor tissue is enough to build a breast mound that's normal in appearance on its own.  I, however, didn't have enough donor tissue and skin for this option, so I required an implant.  They do not place the implant when they do phase 1 in order to ensure the blood supply isn't damaged and the transplanted skin and tissue heals.  Phase two typically isn't done until at least three months after phase one.  Some have to wait longer depending on any issues they may have faced after phase one.

I was fortunate enough to get to do phase two exactly three months after my phase one surgery, and I was absolutely thrilled.  Items that were addressed for my phase two surgery were:


  • Implant placement--left breast
    • 350 cc implant placed in left breast beneath mound created in phase 1.
  • Abdominal incision revision below belly button
    • Approximately a 2.5 inch area beneath my belly button of my abdominal incision had begun to show a "pooch".  My physician informed me this is done on purpose to ensure there isn't too much tension on the abdominal incision during healing, and they always correct it during phase two.  This correction flattened out the skin and incision on my abdomen.
  • Removal of dog ears on each side
    • The incision across my stomach goes from hip to hip.  The area where it ends at my hip left a very obvious bulge on each hip where all the skin and fat was removed from my abdomen but not on my sides.  These bulges are nicknamed "dog ears".  The manner in which is is corrected is by extending the incision on each side slightly and removing extra skin.  Additionally, the liposuction on that area is performed from this incision.  
  • Muffin top liposuction for fat grafting
    • Since so much fat was removed from the abdomen, this causes a very disproportionate look around the middle as there isn't a natural slope any longer.  The liposuction is used to make this slope more natural, but the most important factor is to remove fat that can be harvested for fat grafting, which is needed to fill in areas around the implant and beneath my arm that were damaged severely during the mastectomy.  
  • Fat grafting around left implant and beneath left arm
    • A mastectomy is an aggressive surgery where all breast tissue is removed.  For me, my doctor was extremely aggressive and left me with paper thin skin, and all my lymph nodes including the fat pockets it sat in were removed from beneath my left arm.  I had a very large cavern beneath my left arm and along my left chest wall where this tissue was removed and essentially scraped down to the bone.  This was quite painful as tissue and fat is more useful than one may think.  Fat grafting is useful to fill in areas such as this and put fat to good use where it's needed.  
Yes, that's quite a list, but it really wasn't too awful.  I will admit I woke up in a little more pain than I was expecting.  I suppose I was so excited to be getting my implant after three months that I truly didn't care or think about the pain.  While my left breast was definitely sore (especially beneath my breast and right in the center along my sternum), nothing was as painful as my sides, hips and flank area.  Liposuction is some real aggressive stuff, and you certainly feel it.  Imagine the most sore you've ever been from a hard workout--one of those times where simply getting out of bed or walking hurts.  It felt like that.  And I was bruised so badly on my hips.  I took one look at my hips and laughed saying "Well, take that muffin top--you didn't listen when I did those crunches and asked nicely".  


Headed back for surgery.  I've lost count at this point!

On the top right with the grey PINK panties, is a photo taken the night before phase 1 in April.  I didn't realize how much weight I had gained before this surgery (I had to fatten up as much as possible).  I must say as much as I dislike the scar on my stomach, I hate looking like that more!  There were a lot of cheeseburgers, ice cream cones, lattes, and other junk food items sacrificed to create that fat.  

On the bottom right in the green panties is me the night before phase two surgery.  So this is what I looked like without an implant on my left side.  I was about a small B cup on the left and a C cup on the right.  Was it annoying?  Sure!  But I managed!  This photo doesn't show the dog ears too well, but previous pictures on my blog show the bulges I had going on.  


This is the same two photos as shown in the collage above, but just two full body shots side by side for those who would like to compare.  The green panties was the night before my phase two surgery and the left photo was taken about a week after my surgery.  

Oh, the bruising after liposuction!  The top photos show my sides the day of my phase two surgery after liposuction, and the bottom two photos were taken today, which was exactly one week after surgery.  I'm not quite sure how the bruising disappeared so fact since it was so ridiculously bad, but these photos are not retouched, and there's not a bruise in site!

I had a check-up yesterday, and I saw Dr. K.  He said everything is healing fabulously, and I'm "amazing" (that's really what he said--I wouldn't say that about myself).  I did ask about symmetry as I was concerned that my left breast is now bigger than my right, but he assured me time would resolve that.  The fat grafting that was done around my implant causes the breast to appear larger, and they "over fill" the fat around the implant knowing my body will absorb some of the fat that was injected.  The idea is to over fill so what sticks leaves me looking symmetrical.  I go back in six weeks for a checkup unless I have an issue, which I don't foresee; and I was released to go back to work on Monday.  For those wondering, I was off work for one week for this surgery.  



Finally, here I am at my appointment not even one week from my surgery.  What can I say--I'm a pro at surgery at this point!

Much Love--Teresa

















Capsular Contracture

Hello To My Valued Readers!

I hope this finds each and every one of you doing well.  I look at the number of visitors my blog receives each day, and I'm shocked at the number of visitors my humble little blog receives.  However, I also get it.  I was once that patient facing a cancer diagnosis desperately searching the Internet for as much information as I could possibly find.  That in itself is why I continue to update this blog.  Although I don't update it as often as I did while I was going through treatments, I do make a real effort to update it as often as I can.  My intention is to keep my readers informed of my progress and to allow them to have a general idea of what to expect with various stages of treatment.  Notice I said treatment.  I'm well beyond the typical stages of treatment for breast cancer, but I would like to point out that once you've had cancer and complete treatments, it certainly doesn't completely go away.  There are regular checkups, follow-up surgeries, and many other things that can crop up along the way--therefore, I am still recovering from my cancer journey in many ways.  While it certainly doesn't affect my day-to-day life as it did while I was doing chemotherapy, it's still there just like a nagging doubt hangs out in the back of your mind and interrupts your sleep.

For those of you who have read each of my entries, you will remember that I've had issues with cording on my left side, which is my breast cancer side.  Cording is a fancy name for scar tissue that's attached itself to soft tissue beginning in my auxiliary area (armpit) and extending down the inside of my arm.  It's called cording because it feels like a thick cord.  The body's natural response to trauma is to heal itself, and that means creating scar tissue as a means of protecting an area that's been cut or traumatized.  I had surgery under my left arm to dissect my lymph nodes (determining if cancer had spread) then several months later, I had a bilateral mastectomy, and the remaining lymph nodes under my arm were removed, which meant more trauma.  This led to my body kicking into overdrive and creating quite a bit of scar tissue, and it has developed out of control. Not only has it extended down my arm and caused cording issues, it's developed a capsule around my left breast implant.

Because my left breast was also radiated, the entire area has been damaged as radiation causes cellular damage.  This coupled with the trauma of surgery has caused what's called capsular contracture.  This is a term used to describe the scar tissue that forms around a breast implant.  The result is a misshapen, distorted, hard, and painful breast.  It literally feels like someone put a softball under my skin because it's so hard.  The implant will migrate to the area of least resistance, which for me is up toward my collar bone and into my armpit (which is likely where the auxiliary area was dissected).

I've had this issue for well over a year, but it has become unbearable over the past six months.  As many of you may remember, I was going to do the DIEP flap this past July, but I changed my mind.  I decided against this surgery because it's so invasive and it can be quite risky.  While there are risks with this surgery since my skin has been radiated, I felt I should try this less invasive surgery before moving on to something bigger like the DIEP flap.  My Capsulectomy, which is the name of the surgery where the surgeon removes the implant as well as the scar capsule to release tissue then insert a new implant, is scheduled for December 27, which is this coming Tuesday.  I will leave the hospital with a much softer breast as well as two drains, and while the recovery itself isn't expected to be too bad, I cannot be active as activity increases fluid output, which can result in larger issues or even loss of the breast.  If you would like to see what a capsule looks like around an implant and what I'm referring to, I found a great You Tube video of a surgeon performing a capsulectomy. 

Therefore, I'll be spending the next few weeks Netflix binging and enjoying some time at home.  I will update my blog again to keep my readers up to date on how the surgery went, what it felt like, and what I experienced along the way.  Additionally, I will eventually be providing before and after photos as I know that's always a big request from readers who may be facing the same challenges.

I wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year to all of my readers!

March 5, 2017 Update:  

Hello Everyone!  I wanted to provide an update on how my surgery went on December 27.  I woke up after surgery in very little pain.  I remember immediately feeling my left breast and feeling soft skin, and all the pressure that was under my arm and across my chest was gone.  While I wouldn't say the surgery I had is painless, it alleviated so much daily pain that I actually woke up relieved.

Everything healed great, and I was very happy with my results.  I had a soft breast, and I actually had normal looking cleavage again.  Everything went well until I developed a sudden fever about two or three weeks after my surgery.  I ended up in the hospital for three nights to receive bag after bag of Vanko via IV.  There was never a determination regarding what actually caused my fever, but the night before I went to the hospital I had been awake most of the night freezing in my bed, and my breast was aching worse than it had right after my surgery.  A early infection was suspected, but it was caught early.  I went home grateful it had been caught early, and I felt I had narrowly escaped without a bigger complication.

My drain stayed in tact for six weeks, which was quite frustrating.  My fluid levels would not drop below 40 ml per day (total), and my doctor wanted it lower than 30 total per day.  After my scare with the fever, he was even more unwilling to remove the drain with my fluid output so high.  At six weeks, it finally came out although my output still remained around 40 ml per day.  Needless to say, I was quite happy to finally cut the cord.  I felt great, and I was ready to move forward with my life.  I had a conference in San Antonio for work I was schedule to attend the following week, and I was cord free none to soon.

While in San Antonio, I was drying off after showering, and I inspected my incisions as I did each day, and a dark spot caught my attention.  Since my surgery, random sutures had worked their way to the surface of my skin, so my immediate reaction was it was probably just a stitch beneath the skin.  However, this was a circular area, and it concerned me.  I took a picture of it so I could compare the size each day to see if it was changing.  I also put antibiotic ointment on it, and I covered it with a circular bandaid as I thought perhaps my bra was rubbing the incision--at least that was my hope.  I'm placing photos below of my before and afters as well as what the spot looked like.

I returned home on Thursday evening, and I had a checkup with my doctor on Saturday.  I was worried about the spot, but I was trying to remain positive as I drove to the doctor.  It hadn't changed much in size, but I could also tell it wasn't a stitch.  When my doctor looked at the spot, I could tell by the look on his face it wasn't just a stitch.  The area of concern was an additional incision he had to make above my mastectomy scar due to damaged/thin skin from radiation, and he was very concerned about this particular incision.  He consulted with another doctor, and they both agreed the black spot was where my skin was so thin and was essentially pulling apart or breaking down, and the shadow of the implant beneath was showing.

When I did this surgery, I knew there were risks associated with it, and I knew it may not work.  It was a risk I wanted to take to avoid the DIEP if possible though.  If I had to do the DIEP, I wanted to make sure I had tried everything else first.  Unfortunately, this new situation was not fixable, and I was not facing the DIEP as my only option.  Fear of the skin pulling further apart and infection meant surgery couldn't wait too long.  I was scheduled for the DIEP for March 6 (a little less than two weeks ago).  While I'm dreading this surgery because of the recovery process, I know the overall outcome will likely be much more favorable.  I'm dreading an incision across my stomach and the pain that's sure to come with it.  I'm just tired of being cut up and laying on OR tables.  I'm just tired of surgeries.  But, I also miss having a normal feeling breast and not having pain in my breast and arm every day of my life.  I need to feel whole again.  So, tomorrow morning, I will once again lay on the OR table, and I hope and pray this is my last surgery.  I'll be posting an entry called The DIEP Diaries that will be updated regularly from beginning to end of my DIEP journey.  Please check back regularly for updates!

Teresa




How I Rediscovered Myself Through Education

Hello Everyone!

Yes, it's been a while since I've posted in my blog, but as I've stated before, it's for good reason.  I've been so busy enjoying every moment of my life and simply living this beautiful life I've been blessed with that I don't leave a lot of time for myself to blog anymore.  In a sense, that's sad because I enjoy writing, and I know this blog has been and continues to be a blessing to others who are facing the breast cancer journey.  On another note, it's also a source of hope to those of you who are currently facing the journey as, to me, it's proof that your life does get back to normal and every waking second doesn't have to revolve around treatments, surgeries, and fighting for your life!  On that note, I'll take a moment to bring everyone up to speed on the journey my life has taken me since my last post April of 2016.

DIEP FLAP SURGERY
In my last post, I mentioned I had the DIEP flap surgery scheduled for July.  I did NOT follow through with this.  I struggled internally with the decision to go through with that surgery, and I finally made the decision to cancel the surgery.  My decision in no way reflects my opinion or trust of my physician as I am certain he would do a fabulous job.  My decision had more to do with the risks associated with the surgery.  I only weigh 115 lbs, and that doesn't leave much fat for them to take from my stomach area to use as a breast flap.  While I felt it would provide relief in my breast area, I felt I would be taking on a new set of risks associated with the incision from hip to hip across my stomach, and I didn't feel the results were worth that risk.  I have accepted the way in which my body now is, and I'm not willing to take on a large incision across my stomach just to have better breasts at this time.  While I may change my mind in the future, I feel the risk were greater than the rewards at this time.

CORDING
The cording is still there, but I've got it to a manageable level now.  I stretch every day, and I vigorously rub my underarm area and down my arm to keep the scar tissue stretched and from tightening back up.  I cannot stress enough how important stretching is for this.  It can be quite frustrating, but it's part of my every day routine now.

HAIR
Hair--the topic all of you are wondering about most (it's okay, and you're not vain for wondering).  I've had my hair trimmed several times, so it's difficult to say how long it would be if I hadn't trimmed it and such, but it's very healthy and I am so happy with how it looks.  It's long enough that it now tickles my shoulders and even the top part of my back.  The other night, I thought a bug was crawling on my shoulder, but it was just my hair! I'm posting a photo below so you can see the growth year by year.   Top left is October 2013 when I was in the middle of chemo, top right is October 2014, bottom left is October 2015, and bottom right was just taken last week.



JUST CALL ME MIMI
If you think your life won't get better after breast cancer, think again.  When I was diagnosed, I specifically remember saying "I used to say I never wanted to get old.  Now all I want to do is get old and know what it feels like to rock my grand babies".  Life has a funny way of giving you exactly what you ask for, and I couldn't feel more blessed!  In September 2015, my first grand baby entered this world.  At the time, my youngest child was 17 years old, and it had been a long time since I had held a baby.  It didn't take me more than five seconds to fall in love with him, and he's had me wrapped around his little, chubby finger since.  The joy he brings to me is something I can never describe, but I can tell you that I am so grateful for every second I'm blessed in this life and that I was given a second chance to be his Mimi!  I'm posting a photo of him right after his birth as well as his pictures we just took this past weekend celebrating his first birthday.





ONCOLOGIST CHECKUP
Yesterday, I made the two hour (one way) trip to Columbus for a checkup with my new Oncologist.  My former oncologist had left the breast center, and I was assigned a new one.  As I was driving to my appointment, it dawned on me that it was September 26--it was the three year anniversary date of the date in which I was told I had breast cancer.  I drove quietly remembering that day three years ago when I received that phone call and was told "you have breast cancer".  I could still hear my doctor's voice saying it in my mind, and I don't think I'll ever forget how I felt inside.  My doctor continued to talk about treatment plans, surgeries, chemo, radiation, and options, but I honestly didn't hear anything but a loud buzzing in my ears after I heard the word cancer.  His voice sounded a million miles away, and I sat there with a flood of tears running down my cheeks.

The word cancer immediately evoked a sense of dread and fear inside me, and it threatened to stop me in my tracks--all I could think of was death.  I lost all sense of logic and time, and I could feel myself sinking into an a well of fear.  It was like be swallowed up by a cloud of evil.  I cried off and on all day that day even though I received the news while sitting in a hotel room with my son and far from home.  I felt lost inside and completely and utterly helpless.  After a few moments in the car, I returned to the present time, and I smiled as a tear rolled down my cheek.  What a difference three years makes, and I knew in that moment regardless of how weak and hopeless I felt in that initial moment, I fought bravely, and I won.  Not because I beat cancer.  We are not promised tomorrow, and I'm always reluctant to use the phrase "I beat cancer".  I won because in spite of the fear and pain, I continued to move forward with my life.  I refused to allow cancer to control me or the choices I made, and I used the negativity cancer brought into my life and turned it into a powerful lesson for myself and everyone around me.  How did I do this?  Well, please feel free to continue to read on.

DEEP THOUGHTS
As I was driving home from work tonight, I thought about this blog and how I've been neglecting it.  I made the decision to post an update tonight, and I began thinking about what topic I would write about.  While going through treatments, some of my posts were quite deep (and if I may say so myself, insightful).  While I'm sure my followers enjoy the updates on breast-cancer related items, these generalized posts are missing the depth that some of my posts had when I really focused on writing as an outlet.  For me, writing is a way of expressing myself and what's deep inside me.  It isn't difficult for me to let my fingers fly on the keyboard, and everything I'm thinking just ends up on the screen.  Sometimes, things end up on the screen that I didn't even know I was thinking.

Rewind to this time last year (2015).  I was still working on finding myself and figuring out where I fit into this new world of post-breast cancer.  Cancer changes a person--it has to.  You cannot walk into a storm, fight like a warrior, and come out on the other side the same person as when you walked in.  That's why it's called "the other side".  Each evening, I would come home from work, and I would find myself looking for things to do at home.  One can only clean their house so many times--especially when there isn't really anyone in the house making a mess.  My son, who is my oldest, (and the father of Wyatt) is in the Marines, and he lives in California. My older daughter just graduated from college this past spring and lives on her own.  My youngest daughter is now a freshman in college and lives at the school.  Last year at this time, even when my youngest daughter was with me (divorce and shared parenting), she wasn't here that often.  She was a senior in high school and doing her own thing a lot.  For the first time in my life, I found myself with a lot of free time.  I decided I could find something productive to do with this free time, or I could squander it away.  I chose to be productive.  God did not give me a second chance at life to waste it!  I decided to return to college and finish my second degree I had begun in 1997.  With so many online classes and the fact that I work at Ohio University, I knew I could easily do it while continuing to work full time.  So, I applied, was accepted, and I became a college student again at the age of 42 during spring semester (January) 2016.  It was truly the best decision of my life--stay tuned, and I'll explain why.

Since I began during spring semester 2016, I have continued in classes.  I took classes during the summer, and I'm currently enrolled for fall.  I should graduate Fall semester of 2017 (I could graduate sooner, but working full time prevents me from taking a full-time load of classes).  I am not only a college student, but I'm also an Honors Student in the Mackenzie King Honors Program as well.  I have a 4.0 GPA, and I do not say this to brag.  I say this because I KNOW there are women out there reading this who are facing chemo brain and feeling as if they have truly lost brain cells thanks to chemo.  I'm hear to tell you that you can push past it!  Since I returned to school, I have rediscovered myself.  In some ways, I have learned new things about myself, and I'm a better person than ever before.  In other ways, I've found myself again.  Before cancer, I was very ambitious.  I enjoyed my career, and I worked hard at everything I did.  While I continued to work during treatments, my focus was beating cancer.  This caused me to lose my ambition and drive, and that's a very big part of who I am.  It took me a while to find that again, and I found myself struggling to find a foothold or my place.  In a sense, I had to figure out who the new me was before I could figure out where I even fit in anymore.  Returning to school helped me figure that out.  Not only have I expanded my education, but I've pushed through a fog that was lounging in my mind.  Anyone who says chemo brain isn't real is CRAZY, and I'm willing to debate that at any given time.  If you haven't lived it, you really shouldn't say it doesn't exist.  It certainly exists.  I found myself unable to remember certain words or how to spell them.  Occasionally, it still happens, but not to the degree it used to.  When I jumped back into my career after treatments were completed, I had to relearn a large portion of my job.  I couldn't remember how to do things I had personally developed prior to cancer.  I truly felt like I was walking through an unknown area that was shrouded in a dark, deep fog.  I was fumbling around trying to find my way with little light to guide me.  That's how chemo brain feels.

So, what's education got to do with this?  It has everything to do with this.  Let's talk about your butt for a moment.  A tight, BIG butt is all the rage right now.  The Kardashians made having a big butt popular again, and the gyms are full of women doing ridiculous amounts of squats to get a bigger butt.  Meanwhile, I'm wishing mine was smaller, but that's a different topic.  So, now you're thinking: this girl has lost her mind.  She's talking about butts all the sudden.  Stick with me--there's a point here, I promise.  To get that sought-after butt, women work hard, take photos in the mirror to compare progress and work out the glute muscles.  The only way to get the desired result is to work out the muscle.  Now, here comes the point.  The brain is like a muscle.  If you don't exercise it, it gets lazy.  Add some chemo to the mix, and it's not just lazy but it's also foggy.  What's the best way to clear out the fog and kick laziness to the curb?  Exercise!  Learning and education is the best exercise for your brain.  Not only does it help to kick chemo brain to the curb, it develops you as a person.  You grow and expand!  And finally, another notable side effect of education is that it provides you with a positive focus.  Rather than sit around worrying about IF your cancer will return, put your efforts into something positive for yourself such as learning and education.  Not only can it benefit you down the road, but it can redirect your thinking and rewire your brain.  Constant worry of a recurrence is a major concern of cancer survivors, and only YOU can take control of that.

On a closing note, I would like to say that returning to school saved my sanity and has made me a better person.  I am truly happy inside and out, and I am enjoying every moment of my life and the blessings I've been given each and every day.  For those wondering, my checkup went great yesterday at the Oncologist.  He told me to keep doing whatever it is I'm doing because it's working.  So, I'm sharing my secret with you.  It's exercising my brain.  It's growing as a person and simply being thankful for my life and those I'm blessed to call my family.  Finally, it's the fact that I no longer let fear control me.  I've stopped waiting for "when I can...." and just doing it.  Consider this:  I've always wanted to travel to Europe.  But the time was never right, I never had someone to go with me, and I began to feel like it wouldn't ever happen.  Then one day I realized "what am I waiting on--someone to go with me?  Go!".  So, I booked a solo trip to Greece.  I went to Athens, Greece for three days where I walked miles upon miles to view one historical site after another.  I stood in front of the Parthenon and soaked up the history that stood in front of me.  Then, I went to the Island of Crete for 7 days and experienced a culture that is like nothing I've experienced before.  I met people from all over the world and listened to their stories.  I walked on the walls on the Island of Santorini and stood next to the iconic blue domes.  I did it for me--nothing more and nothing less.  I stopped waiting to live my life and simply began living it, and I encourage each and every one of you to do the same.  Traveling alone was an amazing and liberating feeling.  One can truly only learn who they are when they are willing to spend time alone with themselves.  <3






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