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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Going Home!

I’m being discharged today.  😊 The antibiotics have worked well to treat the cellulitis. I haven’t had a fever since Tuesday. And the rib cage area is tender but not painful. Good enough to get home and take oral antibiotics to finish off the rest of this infection. I hear that’s it’s been warming up and today should be a good day to get home. Thank you for the continued prayers and messages and flowers (Mindy Brisbane Vickers, Carly Caruso, Megan Nagel). Thanks to Carrie King Donnell, Sarah King Cooey, Aubree Uhler, and Maria Hogan for visiting yesterday. And my favorite threesome came for dinner and to hang out last night. The nurse let Liana touch the buttons on my IV machine, which made her day!! (Thanks, nurse Julia.) Olivia did her homework in my bed.  😆
Much love to everyone. Appreciate what you have today.  ❤️


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Thirty-Eight

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38… I made it to 38!! And I imagine that every year I grow older will be just as exciting. After facing mortality at a young age, I can appreciate how special each birthday is… and I don’t think I’ll ever be ashamed to shout my age from the rooftops. I’m cancer free and happy to say goodbye to 37, which was not my favorite year. I did not expect to spend this day in the hospital… I was actually looking forward to having a birthday feeling normal again. Guess that will have to be postponed until next year.

Though last night was peaceful for me, it wasn’t restful. (And the giant bags under my eyes are proof of that.) I woke up to my birthday morning accurately feeling like a girl who laid in bed most of the night without much sleep. But as soon as I finished breakfast and got a shower, visitors started arriving and it was amazing. Michael Clay Donnell, Keely A Smith-Jividen, Alli Herren, Becky Lockhart Kearns, Aubree Uhler, Barb Kline, Dorothy M Caldwell, Tina Heiberg, Susan Carpenter, Cinnamon Leonard… thank you for taking time out of your day to visit. Spending time with friends, especially having conversations that made me smile and laugh, was exactly what I needed to make the time pass quickly and make me forget how tired I was. I feel so much better than yesterday. My side is still painful, but I don’t feel “sick” today with fever and nausea like I felt the last two days. I know the antibiotics are working. When my sister asked what I got for my birthday, I jokingly replied “cellulitis”. But you know what Amy O’Shea reminded me of- I actually got the gift of healing. God is healing this infection today… and that’s really the best thing I could ask for.

A special shout out to thank my brother for sending a cookie cake and to everyone who sent messages and phone calls to wish me a happy birthday. The research nurse here brought me a cake, too. And when the woman in charge of cafeteria orders heard it was my birthday she brought me a piece of cake with a candle in it (though we couldn’t light it). My coworkers sent a beautiful bouquet of flowers and I got cool plants from Alli Herren, Susan Carpenter and Rob Vaughn. I have a windowsill and a heart full of love tonight. Though this isn’t where I would choose to be on a birthday, it turned out to be kind of wonderful.

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Cellulitis

It’s so peaceful right now. 12:40 am in a strange place. I didn’t think I’d share this, but I feel compelled to write, so here goes…

I will be fine, but I was admitted to the hospital yesterday to treat cellulitis. It’s a soft tissue infection and I got it around my right rib cage, where I had radiation. It caused a high fever that wouldn’t stop spiking, and very tender skin. I need IV antibiotics to treat it, along with some nausea meds so I can keep food down and I will be here for about 3 days. I was so upset about it yesterday when my doctor told me and I realized I wasn’t driving out of that parking lot… I did not want to be here. How could I make it through all my treatments last year without needing to be hospitalized and now this?! This crazy infection that’s causing so many problems. Then Rob got here with everything I could need (his presence was the best) and he brought the girls up after they got home from school. They’ve never seen me in the hospital or with IVs or anything like this… and I think they were ok. They ran into some friends of ours in the cafeteria, so they came up to visit as well. I fell asleep a couple of hours ago and was just woken up to check my vitals. And that’s when I realized the amazing peace in this room. It’s dark, with the rhythmic sound of the IV pump in the background. The giant “Cleveland Clinic” sign is right outside my window and is as bright as can be. But the way the green and blue light creeps through the hospital blinds is kind of beautiful. And when I peeked out in the hallway, I didn’t see or hear anyone. (I’m in the “back hallway” of the oncology floor, which is good because it’s the same floor but not near the room where I remember Allie was.) Aside from the poor woman in the room next to me who has been hacking up something all night, it’s pretty quiet and cool around here. I’ll probably feel different tomorrow, but tonight- I’m ok where I am.


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Pink Sisters

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This weekend turned out to be pretty sweet! I was lucky enough to meet this woman, Sally Gary. She is a Christian and fellow breast cancer survivor. In fact, her treatment has been just about a month behind mine. Some women refer to us breast cancer survivors as “pink sisters”. It’s cutesy, and comforting to some. I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m not one to love labels anyway… and I do try to avoid defining myself by my breast cancer experience. But I suppose it’s a simple way to show comradery and connectedness during a challenging time.

Our church hosted Sally’s visit which included 2 nights of dinner and some excellent, loving discussions at church on Sunday. She’s an amazing woman and if you ever have an opportunity to meet her or hear her speak you should do it without hesitation. She’s an author, too, if you’re up for some meaningful reading in the future. Hearing her speak about sensitive topics within the church was something I have been craving as a Christian. I’m so thankful to be a part of a church family who welcomed the discussion. But even more striking to me was seeing how she has gracefully accepted her cancer experience and not let that overshadow other parts of her life. And she is one heck of a listener. Though she does not have young children herself, she seemed to understand how deeply my role as mother has affected my thoughts and actions through treatment. So I guess if we are choosing labels here, I do proudly call her a “pink sister”; lovingly call her “sister in Christ”; and humbly call her a “friend”.


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Within Normal limits

I never know these days what might trigger some random memories or negative feelings for me. On Tuesday, it was during a training at work where we had to review protocol including how to put on sterile gloves. And it immediately took me back to my chemo treatments when I would stare at the nurses while they put on their gloves (secretly making sure they stayed sterile and didn’t accidentally touch something they shouldn’t). I wanted to leave the room because it suddenly felt suffocating and uncomfortable. But I quickly reminded myself that I just needed to get through it and get out of there to get it done. Today, it was during a follow-up visit (which is at least a little more predictable). When I first got there, I had to fill out the SAME paper I fill out every time. It’s the paper that every woman getting a mammogram or ultrasound fills out. The problem is- it has a ton of questions about breasts! And I don’t like having to answer those after my mastectomy. I know, I’m probably just being overly sensitive. But I did put an asterisk by the upsetting questions with a paragraph explaining suggestions for how they could make the form more sensitive to women after mastectomies. I know… chill out, right? But the stress level is always a little elevated there and I guess today I was in the mood to share my sensitivities. The poor tech who took me back to prepare- she got an earful of my suggestions. Then we went into that same room with awful mustard-colored walls where I had my first ultrasound. (Sidenote: I wonder if it would be ok to contact a manager and suggest they change the paint color? I’m not kidding. That’s how much it bothers me.) Although this time, i immediately got a report back with great news and that’s when my feelings did a 180. My paper from the dr said “right axillary lymph node within normal limits”. There it is folks- “within normal limits”!! I didn’t know how much I loved those words until I heard them about my lymph node today. This was the reactive lymph node that they’ve monitored since surgery. And after today’s report, I don’t have to have any more follow-ups for it!

And then… (it gets better)…. I left to get a haircut!!!! Can you believe it?! My hair was long enough to need an actual cut! I guess technically it was a “trim” but at least now it has a shape. The girl who did it specializes in cutting curls- and shared a wealth of information about how to take care of this new head of hair. Who knew there was an entirely different world out there for maintenance of curly hair?!? So, turned out to be a good day. 🙂 I am having some pain in my right arm where scar banding has formed. It runs up under my armpit down to the inside of my elbow and makes it pretty sore. So I’m heading back to PT tomorrow to try to loosen it up and see what stretches I need to be doing again. Other than that, I can’t complain. Moving right along…

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Gray Area

I love the color gray! Almost all the walls in our house are gray, half of our furniture is gray, my favorite coat and shoes are gray. If I go shopping for clothes, there’s a 90% chance that I’ll come home with a new gray shirt. I just feel so comfortable in/around that color in my environment.
However, I’m learning that I do not feel so comfortable in the emotional gray space that is this “life after cancer.” Yes, I’m “cancer free”, but I’m not done with procedures. Yes, treatment is technically over, but I still go to so many follow up visits so it doesn’t feel over. Yes, I feel better than before, but still nothing like myself yet. Nothing is black and white and I miss that. I’m in the middle of my 6 month wait for reconstructive surgery… and it’s (again) something that I need to be patient with. I’m uncomfortable with this unrecognizable body… it looks and feels so different than what I know. I’ve been slowly working out more, but it’s hard to see how much my body has weakened. I caught a virus from the girls last week and it took me SO long to recover from. They did bloodwork and made sure I was fine… it’s just that my history and my current medication makes it hard for my body to recover. And, an especially weird, potentially depressing issue of bathing suit shopping consumed me last week. Please friends, do not ever complain to me about how hard it is to find a comfortable bathing suit. There is nothing that compares to shopping for one after a bilateral mastectomy. Good news though- I found one! And, in time these physical issues will continue to improve. The emotional things will too, I presume. In my attempt to be thorough and address some emotional things, I attended a survivorship support group last week. Yikes. I still don’t know how to put into words what I felt there. I know I cried the whole way home. Nobody was mean or insensitive… I think it’s just living in this reality of post-cancer life. And every time I think that or write that, I am reminded how grateful I am to be able to include the word “post”. But my heart is still sad that I’ve had to live through this… with the gripping fear of hearing the word recurrence. Although I didn’t love the group, I did hear a good take-away point that I’ll paraphrase: Don’t live in the past- it’s too depressing. Don’t live in the future- it’s too anxiety provoking. You can only live in the present. So that is currently my main goal to focus on. If you’re looking for words to encourage any survivor- I highly suggest those ones. And as I sit here and think about the present, I’m reminded of some beautiful things. Rob turned 40 on Saturday! I’m so thankful that he’s 40 and thankful that I’m here to see it happen. I’ve been lucky enough to be his partner for 23 years!! And, as always, right after his birthday is the day that Amy went to heaven. So that is what we remember today. It’s a day that anyone who knew her will never forget. It’s the day our hearts broke open in a way that could never be filled again. Oh how I miss her and miss having her guidance in life. She left this world when she was just 29. So her loss reminds me to be grateful to be here at 37; and makes me appreciate Rob’s milestone even more. If she was here I wonder if she’d tell me that instead of trying to be comfortable in this gray space, maybe I should change my perspective by changing the colors around me. I think next time I buy a shirt I’ll be thinking of her and I’ll pick one that’s as bright blue as her eyes and the sky… because that’s true beauty. And I’ll never forget how comfortable I felt in that space with her.

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Stretches And Racquetball

I’m not sure when it happened, but somehow our oldest daughter, Olivia, has grown up enough to start working out with me. She’s 10 and very active with dance classes, so I know she’s in decent shape. On Monday as I was leaving for the gym, she asked if she could come with me. It caught me off guard, but I realized it sounded like a great idea. So off we went- we walked/jogged the track together; we played racquetball together (Sorry, Ms. Jenkins for forgetting the rules you taught me in gym class); and we did stretches together. She was leading me in the stretches getting a kick out of watching her mom try to do a split. And she definitely has more range of motion in her arm for a solid racquetball swing. As she’s getting older, she’s not as playful at home like she was when she was younger. Her downtime is typically filled with cartwheels or DIY crafts (which she really does herself without our help). But on Sunday, I felt the joy of playing with her again… in new ways that I didn’t even know she was ready for… or I was ready for. I think she’s growing into a pretty cool kid. I’m so thankful for our time together, and hope to spend many more years keeping our bodies and minds healthy together.