Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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“Holding space for another person is incredibly profound. When you hold space for someone, you bring your entire presence to them. You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. You give your heart, let go of control, and offer unconditional support. And when you do both of you heal, grow, and transform.”


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Two weeks in…

I realize it’s been a while since I updated everyone. So first, let me apologize if texts or messages didn’t make sense in the last 2 weeks. I was on a lot of medication and slept through a lot of conversations. Also, if I gave you any advice, I don’t think you should follow it. I really don’t know what I was talking about it.

The surgery itself was “textbook” as the surgeon said. Everything went as planned. My incisions are healing well and I’m making progress. My doctor told me ahead of time that this was the most painful kind of reconstruction and she was definitely not exaggerating. I’ve had 2 natural childbirths and this pain was right up there with them… but no beautiful babies to snuggle with at the end.

I was supposed to be in the hospital for 4 days but ended up staying one more day until I could get some of the pain controlled. We had thanksgiving at Cleveland Clinic… always keeping things interesting with the Caldwells.

I had 6 drain tubes in my body- 3 on each side, which help drain the fluid out of of your body instead of it building up and swelling where it shouldn’t. After your body doesn’t drain as much, they can remove the tubes. As of Thursday, I had 5 of the 6 removed and they changed my meds a bit. So I’m a little more coherent and not in as much pain. Tomorrow I should get the last one out and that should feel a lot better.

It’s hard to get comfortable. I can’t lay back or it hurts the incisions that pretty much go across my entire back. To look at my incisions and surgery is really fascinating. I don’t have 2 big back muscles now. But I do have skin and my muscle from my back now where my new breasts will be. And it’s amazing to me that people can do this.

The plan will be for my last drain to come out tomorrow and let my incisions heal a little more. Then they’ll start adding the saline into the expanders that are in there.

I have to say a huge shout out to my family who came out to help so much the the girls and the house. And a a couple of very close friends who helped keep me showered and help with wound care. I’ve had several friends stop over for lunch and it’s such a pick-me-up. And thanks to everyone who has brought us dinner so far.

If you’re looking for something to do, ask Rob what he could use help with. He’s taking care of both of our kids and me. He gets my medicine ready everyday and sets my alarm so I don’t forget it. He checks in on me during lunch breaks. He’s putting up Christmas decorations. When you marry someone, you imagine buying a house together and having children. You imagine doing all the beautiful fun things in life. But you don’t imagine them counting out your pain pills and washing your hair because you can’t lift your hand above your head. I am lucky to be this loved. Thank you.


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The day before surgery is filled with feelings that are hard to describe. When people have been asking how I’m feeling, I usually say I’m feeling every emotion equally as strong as the next- excited, scared, nervous, relieved, anxious… all of those at the same intensity.

Because of a generous friend, Rob and I were able to spend last night and today at a resort in Amish country. Our trip included a massage for me yesterday (a suggestion by another woman who had this done and said that a back massage will never feel as good again). Co-workers, I know I was supposed to use your gift for parking and gas, etc at the hospital. But a massage sounded so much better… so I indulged.

And how about the Steelers- they pulled out a win for me yesterday, too.  🙂

Today we walked around Berlin, OH with an awesome find at an antique store that I’ll talk about another day. And thanks to my mom, the girls had a regular school day and are finishing up their evening routine now. We’re all doing our evening routine. But preparing for an unusual day tomorrow.

The surgeon called me this afternoon to see how I was feeling and answer any last-minute questions. She encouraged me again and reinforced that everything is going to be great tomorrow. My arrival time for tomorrow is 5:30 am. I’d typically think that was way too early, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be sleeping anyway. I don’t have an exact surgery time, but since I have to be there so early I’m guessing the surgery should start pretty early. It should take 8 hours. So by tomorrow evening/night I’ll try to have Rob post something on here so that everyone knows I’m doing well.  🙂

Prayer requests might seem obvious, but I’ll list them anyway. Pray that the girls are not too worried as they try to stay busy at school. Pray that Rob feels at peace during the long hours of waiting at the hospital. And, of course, that the surgery goes well without too much pain afterwards. I’m looking forward to posting on here again soon with all good news.

Love and hugs to you all.


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Answer to Prayer

Sometimes things can really jump out as being an answer to prayer. This past week, I had one of those moments and I really wanted to share with everyone.

Every single parent reading this knows that you always worry more about your kids than yourself. With my surgery scheduled for Tuesday, I was putting a lot of thought into what my girls would be doing that day. Last weekend, I realized that Olivia had been asking several times about details for tuesday and what time things would be happening. I paused for a moment and said, “Are you ok with everything, Olivia?” and she broke down. Not in an 11-yr old dramatic way. But in a soft, sweet, innocent way as she just said, “I’m scared.”

I hugged her and said “tell me what scares you about this?” and her response was “because of what happened with Mariah’s mom.” Remember that Mariah is her friend whose mom went in for mastectomy surgery and passed away 3 weeks later from an infection. So no matter what I could say to her, there’s no way to take that thought out of her little mind. I reassured her as much as I could and prayed with her.

Then, one night later, I had to break the news to her that her classmate passed away. Keith had been fighting a form of childhood cancer for several years and we knew that it would be happening soon. But man, seeing those giant tears roll down my baby’s face was heartbreaking. A while later, she said “I feel like I’m still sad about Mariah’s mom and now I’m sad about Keith on top of it. I wish the sadness wasn’t so close together.”

So here I am, worried about her for days, wondering if I should send her to school onTuesday to distract her (she didn’t want this at first because Mariah was in school when her mom died and got called to the office to leave.) Or maybe I should let her come to the hospital, though that’s a long stressful day even for adults to wait. I even thought maybe I’d have her grandma take her out for a fun day instead of school… but then Liana might feel left out.

So on Wednesday I came home from work and told Olivia that we should sit and talk about plans for Tuesday. Her response, given through bright eyes and a big smile, was “Oh yeah, I have to go to school that day! I’m really excited to go!!” She went on to explain that there was a famous author coming to her class and their class is going to read her upcoming book and help edit it! That the author wants feedback from children who are the age of the target audience. And in some way (at least what Olivia said), their class will be credited when the book is published. Side note- she keeps mentioning that the author’s husband is British and will be there too, and she’s so excited to hear his accent.

If you know me well, you know what my next step was- contact that author and let her know what this means to us. So I found her email online and sent a message to her and to Olivia’s teachers. It explained my upcoming surgery and let them know this wasn’t just another school activity, this was an answer to prayer.

The author’s name is Shelley Pearsall. She wrote back to me- that same day. She thanked me for the email and said that it meant a lot to her. You see- she’s a breast cancer survivor! She had a bilateral mastectomy last year! This is her first time back to work with students since her time off for treatment. So she understands this in a much deeper way than most. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Crazy, isn’t it?!

So, lift your jaw and catch your breath. Then go buy a book written by Shelley Pearsall, knowing she is a special woman and will be helping my daughter on a day full of anxiety. I’m so thankful i know my daughter will be taken care of that day in the most perfect way.


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Reconstruction

10 days from now will be the last big hurdle in this craziness… reconstruction is scheduled! Back in April, I was told this might not ever happen. But I healed well from that infection, I’ve stayed healthy and strong, and my oncologist and plastic surgeon are both confident that I will be able to handle reconstruction well.

So November 20th, 2018 will be another turning point. And November 20th, 2017 was my last day of treatment. I like it. It makes sense. One year to the day!

For those of you not interested in too many details, please pray that I don’t get any sickness in the next 10 days and that surgery goes well. Know that I’m extremely excited and nervous at the same time. It’ll be hard, but worth it in the end.

For those of you who do want more details, here goes….
The procedure I will have is called a bilateral latismuss dorsi flap reconstruction. Because of my treatments so far, tissue damaged from radiation, and body type, this is the only type of reconstruction I can do. I had 4 different opinions and they all said the same thing… which was reassuring.

The procedure is complicated but pretty fascinating. Basically, they take the entire latissmus dorsi muscles from my back (the large muscle below the shoulder blade) and tunnel them under my skin around to my front. Those muscles become the blood supply and some of the mass of the reconstructed breasts. Behind that, they will put expanders that are gradually filled over time so that my skin stretches slowly. The surgeon said that my other back muscles will compensate for the missing latissmus muscles and the only activities that may be difficult in the future are golfing, rowing, and using crutches… and since I don’t plan on doing much of those I should be fine.

I will be in the hospital for 4 days and require 8 weeks off of work. Recovery will be rough and I heard it’s really painful. But so many women who have had this done say that it’s totally worth it. And I’m hoping that in another year or so, I’ll be totally recovered and saying the same thing.

Let the countdown begin…


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“Me” Again!

I remember so many times last year that I would look in the mirror trying to find myself. I was bald and skinny and barely recognized myself some days. When I felt most like a stranger, I would get close to the mirror and find my eyes- staring into them and blocking out everything else. Because my eyes were always “me”.

Even now, with my weight back to normal, I just haven’t gotten used to the dark curls.
So on Wednesday I went for a new (“old”) look. I got my hair highlighted so it looks blonde again… and I straightened it. The layers are still choppy until they grow a little more. But I see “me” again! It’s so strange to not recognize yourself. And such a relief to find yourself again.

Liana said “you look like Aunt Trisha”! Thank you, Liana. What a compliment!

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Miles To Go…

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I could probably write a book just about my experience with the Akron Marathon from a couple of weeks ago. I could, but I won’t. I’ll instead try to summarize and hit the highlights in a post here.

Shortest possible summary: It was physically really hard, but emotionally amazing.

Best attempt at a real summary:
I’ve participated in 9 of these races- 7 relay teams and 2 half marathons. This was my worst (slowest) and my best (because I did it). It could’ve easily been just another race, if there weren’t sweet moments all through that day that made me smile:

1. It’s hard to sleep the night before a race… it always is. But guess what time I woke up and looked at the clock- 3:54 am. Guess what my grandma’s house number is- 354. Thanks, Grandma. 🙂

2. My tattoo on my foot says “Miles to go…” So our team name was “Miles together.” I ran the race of my life with the girls who have been my friends since middle school. Together, we can get through anything- like cancer and marathons.

Trisha ran the 4th leg of the race and I ran the 5th leg. Which means she handed off the slap bracelet to me. It’s not quite as seamless as a relay handoff in the Olympics. But when your twin sister is the one right before you, it requires a quick, tight hug in the middle of the road. An embrace I won’t forget- with my mom, our daughters, and my cousin, Terry, watching and holding the most encouraging signs ever.

My lucky number is 11. Guess what our team’s pace was- 11:11!

3. The shirt I wore during the race said “survivor” on the back. At one point in the race (shortly after “cardiac hill” for those who know the race route), an older man ran up beside me and smiled. He pointed to his own shirt that said “Living With Breast Cancer”. He simply said “what kind did you have?”… and that started a simple but inspiring conversation during the hardest part of my hardest race. He said that his wife has stage 4 cancer and he runs in support of her. As a reminder to LIVE with whatever we’re given. After a few minutes, my breath was getting heavier while his was not. I told him I needed to walk for a few minutes and he graciously thanked me for inspiring him to finish his marathon. This guy, nearing the end of a 26.2 mile race, was inspired by this girl walking partway through her 5 mile race. If I would ever see him again, I would tell him how much HE inspired ME. I am so grateful that he literally crossed my path during the race.

4. Those of you who knew my friend, Allie, know how much she took care of herself and her body. She ran a lot and completed the Akron Marathon when she was healthy. When she was fighting her own battle with cancer, I bought a headband that says “Livestrong Armstrong”- the headband I have had with me for every race since then. Even if I’m not the athlete she was, I still think of her all the time when I’m running.

There are thousands of people who participate in the marathon. And there are shuttles that take people to different relay legs. As I walked onto the shuttle to take me to the start of my leg, I immediately heard someone call my name. Sitting right across from me was Brittany Armstrong. Brit is my friend, a sister in Christ, and the mother to Allie’s daughters. Brit eventually married Allie’s husband, Adam, and somehow completely gracefully stepped into huge shoes. I cannot imagine the challenges that their family has experienced, but I know that the situation was prayed for by so many people- especially Allie. Seeing Brit that day inevitably made me think of Allie… a lot. I felt her presence in a way that’s hard to explain without sounding totally strange. I have a unique understanding of some of the thoughts that my friend surely had about her husband and daughters before she passed away. Which makes me also have a new appreciation for the beautiful, healthy runner who is raising those precious children and loving her husband the way that would make Allie smile.

And guess who I kept seeing during my actual run even after we said goodbye at the shuttle- Brit! We ran the same leg of the race. I would pass her, she would pass me… and that happened quite a few times over the miles we ran. I saw my friend, Brit, and I thought of my friend, Allie. And both things made me thankful.

5. The last best memory of the day- racing down the finish line. As I probably could’ve predicted if I thought much about it- my sister and teammates screamed loudly along the sidelines with high-pitch squeals of excitement and encouragement. But just before I got to them- there was Rob. Cheering for me during one of the most symbolic moments of my life. His strong voice rising above the hundreds of people along that finish line. I saw the smile on his face and wasn’t sure whose was bigger- his or mine.

You see, the race ends in the Akron baseball stadium with a champion finish line. All of the spectators fill the stadium seats. But runners are allowed to stay on the field and cheer on the finishers from the field. The week before the race, Rob decided to join a relay team. I didn’t realize until he mentioned that he did it so that he could be on the field to watch me finish. So sweet, right?! And I’ll be forever thankful that he chose to do that because his high-5 along that finish line was one of my favorite ever!!

Lots of details to cherish. Lots of joy to be felt. Lots of life to be lived.

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