Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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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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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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Lymphedema is no fun…

Lymphedema is no fun. I did everything I could to prevent this, but it happened.

You see, during my mastectomy I had 8 axillary lymph nodes removed (the lymph nodes near your armpit). When breast cancer spreads, it goes through the lymph system. So part of the mastectomy procedure was to remove the lymph nodes closest to the breast to make sure all of the cancer was gone.

But lymph nodes help to regulate the fluid in your body. Specifically, the axillary ones drain any fluid that builds up in your arm/hand. With part of this system removed, the risk of this kind of swelling in your arm increases.

To prevent it, I’ve been working with a physical therapist since right after surgery. I’ve followed all the rules- not carrying anything heavy on that arm, not restricting flow on that shoulder with bra straps or purse straps, avoiding hot baths and hot tubs, and making sure to wear my lymphedema sleeve during activities. I’ve also done lymphatic massage which is meant to manually stimulate the lymph system and encourage fluid to move adequately.

And yet… three weeks ago… I woke up with a balloon hand.

My arm has been fine, it’s just my hand that’s swollen. I thought it was a fluke and that it would go away in a few days. I’ve still been going to PT to help, but it’s just not getting much better. My surgeon even ordered an ultrasound last week to rule out a blood clot. Thankfully, it’s not a blood clot. But that means it’s definitely lymphedema.

The bad news is that once you have lymphedema it never “goes away”. So I know I’ll be dealing with this forever. But the good news is that it should lessen with continued therapy, a custom compression glove I will pick up this week, and special wrapping (7 layers of stuff) that I have to do at night time.

While it’s this swollen, I can’t close my hand enough to hold a pencil so it’s hard to write. I also have some trouble opening jars and grasping door handles. And it’s a good thing I have no reason to need to make a fist because that’s definitely not happening with these sausage fingers.

I’m praying that this improves in the near future and that I can stop looking at this as reminder of a damaged body. I want to see it as another opportunity to appreciate our miraculously designed bodies. We really are the products of a masterful artist. With firsthand experience of issues that happen during “breakdowns”, I can appreciate the amazing synchrony when all of our body systems work together the way they were designed to do. It really is amazing. But honestly, sometimes, I just don’t know if I need THIS MANY reminders of it.


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Miracle

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“When I see your face I see a miracle.”

Those are the beautiful words that a friend told me yesterday at church. It caught me off guard and brought me to tears.

I believe that God is powerful enough to make miracles happen. But I do not use the term “miracle” lightly. (Nor the word “blessed”… but that’s a story for another post.)

I was fortunate enough to witness two miracles when my babies grew within me and were born into this world. But I never thought of myself as a miracle.

My friend’s comment yesterday made me feel humbled and honored… and guilty. Humbled and honored that God could have chosen ME to be a testament to his power to heal. But guilty that I haven’t recognized that in myself yet.

Of course, the skeptical/oppositional side of my personality thinks of those who are not healed. Why wouldn’t God choose them to be a testament to His power? Why would He not grant that same miracle of healing to those who seem to have prayed even harder and longer, and honored Him in their lives more than I have?

It just doesn’t make sense. And for a logically-minded sensible girl, this is when my soul feels so conflicted. I’m usually always thinking of the flip side of comments. My response is often “but if… then what does that mean when the opposite happens?” But today- this wonderful, beautiful day- I’m not questioning anything.

Today I got “all clear” results from a CT scan! This is my first scan since treatment has been completed. I know that the doctors said my cancer was gone before, but today was the actual proof! And apparently I needed that proof for the incredible weight to be lifted.

I’ve heard people say that you don’t realize the weight you’re carrying until it’s gone. That is SO true. I was so scared that treatment really didn’t get rid of all of the cancer. I was so hesitant to praise the Lord who healed me. That’s hard to admit because I know I should be praising Him regardless of the outcome. But it’s true. I was so worried that there was still cancer somewhere in me and that I would be hearing bad news from this scan. I was finishing projects around the house, organizing the girls’ rooms, trying to get caught up on laundry- all preparing to hear bad news this week.

To those of you who know the white-knuckling anxiety that precedes a post cancer scan: I’m sorry if I didn’t recognize the immeasurable fear that builds up until you get the result. For those of you who haven’t been through it yourself: I’m thankful this has not been a part of your life.

Stressful doesn’t begin to describe it. But there is a perfect word to describe getting the results you’re hoping to hear- “freeing”. Free of the fear and anxiety, free of disease, free of the immediacy to cross things off your list. It feels amazing. If good things make you feel like you’re “on cloud 9” then I’m “on cloud 1,000”.

I have been reserved in my praise to the God who made me, who has made a way for me to get through this, who has placed each one of you in my life to pray for me. But today I wholeheartedly praise Him for my life. He did this. He healed me and I do have proof of that now. I am a curly-haired testament to His power. I hope you all see that as I confidently and proudly claim it now.

I’m alive and healed. And that’s the kind of news that warrants ice cream for dinner.  💗