“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.”
October 11th was my dad’s birthday, my hedgehog’s birthday, and my half-birthday. That means I have just under 6 months until I’m 40. So… I’m excited to say that I’m squeezing in a special “Under 40” experience just in time!
Marquina Iliev-Piselli is the author of the book I shared in my last post. She is also the reason I have this cool opportunity coming up soon. During our first interview for the book, she mentioned a camp that she was a part of- Camp Koru. After talking with her last year, then applying and not being able to go, I’m happy to say that this year I am able to participate in a Surfing Camp for Cancer Survivors…. in Maui!
The camp is designed to bring together survivors who were diagnosed under 40- to teach them a new skill as they learn to accept their “new normal”. So in a few weeks I’ll be trying to surf in Hawaii with several other young survivors!
If it’s anything like snowboarding or water skiing, I’ll be horribly- stiff, awkward, and falling all the time. But I’ll give it a try and see how it goes. It took quite a bit to get to this point. The timing had to work out around my other surgeries. I had to acquire enough PTO again at work. I had to apply and wait for a spot, then get my medical clearance to go. Finally, it’s all working out and I’ll be heading to Hawaii in a few weeks.
I’m extremely excited, but also very nervous because I’m doing this alone. They don’t have camps for “survivor spouses”- though they totally should since that takes just as much courage, strength, and grit to live through. I don’t know who will be there, what they will be like, or how we’ll connect. I’m sure it’ll be great, but this is so far out of my comfort zone I can’t even see it in the distance.
What an opportunity, though, right? Maui, I’ll see you soon.
It’s October, so get out your pink. I’ve been so hesitant to embrace the pink in the past- I think because I feel guilty that other people don’t get a whole month of recognizing their challenges in life. And I was so determined to not let my experience define me. But the further away I get from the shock and fear of what I went through, the more I can see the value in acknowledging the importance of the challenges and celebrating my cancer-free life.
Today was “wear pink” day at work. I almost didn’t wear my shirt because it said “Survivor” on my back. So I wore my work backpack for a lot of the morning to conceal it. Then at lunchtime, we gathered for a picture for all the employees who wore pink to work. And there, one of my closest survivor friends, Melissa Samulak greeted me with the best hug I’ve had in a while.
There are a lot of really crummy things about 2017. But there are at least as many, if not more, wonderful things. One of them was meeting this woman who would fight her own battle shortly after me. I still cannot clearly explain what it feels like to go through cancer treatment while working at a very public place. But the comradery and closeness of walking alongside someone whose experience is similar is something very special. After catching up with her and seeing her beautiful smile, I was reminded that being a survivor isn’t something that should be covered up by a backpack.
Thanks to everyone who wore pink today at work. And to everyone wearing pink at their own workplaces this month.
I’ve been a little absent from posting for a while. Trying to be online a lot less and not over-thinking everything in life. But I do have some good things to share, and I think this month is a good time to restart the blogging. Stay tuned…
28 days= surgery recovery.
Day 29= run a 7K. 🤦🏼♀️
Yes, that’s a face palm emoji because my legs are asking me right now WHY in the world I did this. The timing wasn’t my choice, obviously, but I couldn’t miss the coolest run of the year.
The Shawshank Hustle starts and ends at the Ohio State Reformatory, where “Shawshank Redemption” was filmed. This year, for year 5 of the race, they had THE coolest medals- a bible that actually opens up with a removable rock hammer inside! I couldn’t pass up the chance to earn that! Also, everyone was randomly assigned a race shirt that was either a guard or an inmate. 😆
Anyway, the race went well and was a lot of fun. We got to tour the reformatory afterwards, too. Melanie Williams, it’s always fun to hang on race days with you. Thanks to Lisa Gonidakis and Jessica Eckhart for helping with the girls so we could do our thing.
This race happened the day after I was “ok” to return to normal activities. In my mind, it commemorates moving forward from here on. I know I always read too much into everything. But important milestones should be marked with important events- like being chased by a warden out of a prison from one of the best movies ever! (I beat the warden, by the way! 😆
It’s been 2 weeks since surgery and I’m healing really well. It was more extensive than I had planned for, but everything seems to have turned out ok.
The plan was to take out the expanders and replace them with permanent implants. Then she would do fat grafting to take some fat from my belly and put it around the implants so that they looked natural and symmetrical.
She started with my right side, which turned out to be more difficult than expected because of the amount of scar tissue from radiation. Since the tissue was tight and scarred, she needed to add more fat around it. And then had to match that on the left side. So instead of just belly fat, she took a little bit from everywhere- my thighs, hips, belly, and even the side of my knees!
This means that I had 19 small incisions and stitches all over me and a ton of dark, ugly bruising. I had to wear a pretty awful/ridiculous compression garment inserted with silicone pads all over my legs and torso for a week to keep the bruising and swelling down. Rob had to help me get in and out of them- like I said- “ridiculous”.
After a week, I graduated on to wearing Spanx and a medical compression bra. I wear these 24/7 for 4 weeks. Not the most fun, but better than last week. My bruising is getting much better and I can move around pretty well if I take it slowly. All but 2 of my stitches are now out. I also started PT again, and will do this again for several weeks as I heal. I love my PT, so I’m happy to start working with her again.
I’ve had an unexpected emotional (or unemotional) response to this. I haven’t been as excited as I thought I’d be… maybe just because recovery wasn’t quite what I anticipated. I imagined a quicker recovery and quality time with the girls. I barely remember the beginning of the first week, and then it felt like the world suddenly moved on and it was time for me to be ok. But I wasn’t.
I was lazy just lying around watching a lot of tv, when I felt like I should be outside doing summertime things with the girls every day. But even sitting outside was too hot (especially with all of these compression garments under my clothes).
Then this past week, Olivia’s friend invited her to a 3-day “outdoor survival challenge”, where the girls have to set up a tent and stay outside in the backyard for 3 days with no electronics. It’s amazing. This is the second year she has done it and she loves it. (I do, too. Thanks, Sierra Hampl.)
Olivia’s time at her friend’s allowed Liana and I some solid, relaxed time together. So, we spent a few days designing and planning a new platform-ish bed for her. She’s been asking for it for years, wanting a bed like in the show “Good Luck Charlie.” It has morphed into her own version of it, but it’s coming along. Thanks to Rob Vaughn for all the heavy lifting of pallets and platforms. And Michael Clay Donnell for helping with materials from our church. I’ll share pics when we’re done if it turns out well.
I found that setting a goal with my daughter and feeling productive at the end of the day does a lot for my mental state. Although I can’t be out swimming, playing sports, and taking them to the park, at least I’m doing something for my kids… well, one of them. The other gets “goat yoga” next week.
A half marathon is 13.1 miles. I’ve run it two times in the past, and both times I thought mile 10 was the worst. By mile 10, my knees were screaming at me to stop. Not because I have an injury, but more like “can we please stop doing this same repetitive motion that we’ve been doing for two hours?! Enough already.” (Kudos to everyone who can do a full marathon, by the way. Especially to Rob, who is in the middle of training for one and so far- killing it. )
In the past, I’ve thought about why 10 was the worst. It was painful and hard (as expected) but for some reason miles 11-13 didn’t seem so bad. I think for those miles, I was close enough to the end that the pain didn’t matter. I was almost done.
Well, in this experience, I’m heading into mile 12 of this race I didn’t sign up for. 10 would have been November’s surgery because I was nearing the end but it was so painful. I’m going into 12 with one more surgery on Friday, then it’s just healing up to cross that finish line and be done with all of this.
Friday is my exchange surgery. They’ll take out the expanders and replace them with implants. The expanders are hard with metal in the back that is stitched inside my skin. Uncomfortable all the time, but I’ve gotten used to it. But now, after Friday, they should actually look and feel more normal. No more strange metal parts in my body. (Whoa- I just realized that’ll be the first time since this started I’ll be metal-free! I had my port placed, a copper IUD, then the expanders. The first two have already been removed… and these will be the last to go! Well, I do have about 50 permanent staples under my right arm from the original mastectomy, but I won’t count those right now because I’m excited.)
Anyway… it’s time for “squishy boobs” and I’m so excited. It will be an outpatient procedure on Friday so I’ll be home that evening. The doctor said I’ll be bruised and feel like I got beat up. But should feel good enough in 2 weeks to return to work and totally healed by 4 weeks.
Mile 12, people… here we go… so close….
I’m writing this from the hotel room in Salt Lake City- our last night of a 10-day vacation to Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons. With some amazing planning by Rob, this has been the trip of a lifetime for sure.
We saw every bit of wildlife imaginable including 9 moose yesterday, 10 bears, coyotes, elk, bison, eagles, fox, pronghorn, owls, and even a wolf eating a baby bison (which had died of natural causes). The scenery and unique geological features here are outstanding- leaving us in awe of the Creator behind such design.
Rob and I came here before we had children, but it was especially nice to see the wonder through the girls’ eyes this time. We knew we wanted to bring them here when they got old enough because it’s so gorgeous with so many unique things to see. They made me proud with their hiking skills (though not so much if you actually told them they were “hiking”) and with their excitement for wildlife. But 10 days without a break meant a lot of fighting in the car, too. Seriously though- you can only tell someone is looking at you if you are also looking at them. How is this still an argument!?!
All in all, it’s been an amazing week. I wonder what the girls will remember and tell their children about someday. The cold rafting trip down the snake river? “Moosefest 2019” (our nickname for when we saw all the moose in one evening)? The wagon ride to a mountain cookout?
Digging for fossils? Earning their Junior Ranger badges in the Tetons? Probably the free cookie at the hotel room tonight. Whatever the case, I hope the trip has sparked an interest in them that will never fade. I know it never will for me.
Lea is a sister in Christ. A mother, wife, and fellow breast cancer survivor. Though I knew her briefly many years ago, we reconnected in 2017 when she was diagnosed just after me. We’ve shared doctors and specialists, our radiation schedule was almost identical- so much that I would see her name on the list of patients in the radiology suite right after me. Most recently, we’ve seen each other with our families at Stewart’s Caring Place where we’ve gone for their family Halloween and Christmas parties.
Yesterday I heard that she is not doing well. Her cancer has metastasized and is in her bones. Her prognosis is about 5 months. 5 months, friends. I cannot imagine hearing that kind of news. My heart is broken.
Please pray for Lea. I heard that her spirits are up right now, but she is in pain and having trouble walking.
And, only after you’ve prayed for her and her family, I’m asking if you could pray for my heart to have peace with this. First Linsy Biege, then Jennifer Johnston, then Laura Ritter Allio… they are all young women who I’ve met since 2017 who are no longer here. I don’t want this to happen to another one. I can’t help but feel scared. This is the reality of living in the world of that terrible disease. I hate it.