Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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Get busy living, or get busy dying…

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! 😆


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Continued Healing

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.


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Mile 12

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….


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Vacation

Yellowstone Trip 2019

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.


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Spring Update

I think this has been the longest I’ve gone without posting an update. Sorry, everyone. That also means there are probably a lot of random things to talk about, but I’ll keep it as brief as possible.

Physically I’m doing really well. At the end of January, my surgeon stopped adding saline to my expanders because my skin won’t stretch anymore. So the size I am now is about the size I’ll be forever- a solid B! I’ll take it!

As planned, I have to stay at this point for 6 months then have one LAST surgery to replace the expanders with implants. So that surgery will be on July 19th. That’s just about 3 months away. I can hardly believe that I’m just 3 months away from the last step of this!

I’m gradually getting used to this body now. My chest and back are uncomfortable all of the time, but usually not painful. The hormone blocker that I have to take for at least 8 more years still causes joint pain, so I feel sore and stiff a lot. I’m trying to stay as active as possible to help with that.

In the last few weeks:

– I had a follow-up ultrasound to monitor the reactive lymph node under my armpit to reassure me (again for the 4th time) that it’s not malignant.

– My radiation oncologist officially discharged me from her care.

– My general surgeon said, “although you’re the highlight of my day, I don’t need to see you anymore”! (Since I have some attachment issues, I asked if I could come back in a year just so I can hear another person tell me I’m healthy.)

– The lymphedema on my right arm/hand is not too bad. The reconstructive surgery broke up some of the scar tissue that was impeding the lymph flow. So now it’s not nearly as swollen. Three of my fingers are large and my arm gets tight and uncomfortable sometimes, but nothing that a night of wearing my compression sleeve/glove can’t help.

Personally, life continues to be a constant mix of laughs, joy, frustration, peace and two pre-teen girls. Rob is busy training for the Akron marathon in September. The girls are busy with school, dance, and friends. We’re getting out to enjoy the nice weather. Work is going well but busier than I’m used to.

I’ve had a couple of sweet days with extended family that I’ll always remember (Toya Groves and Pat Smith- thanks to both of you for two special days.) I’ve also been spending some unexpected time with friends from home- time that is always cherished.

All in all- life is good. Some days the sun is shining and we feel the warmth on our skin. Some days it’s harder to feel it, but we know it’s there because we see the light. One of the greatest blessings we have is the light from the son.

Happy Spring.


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Majors and Minors

A few important things happened recently:

First, one that requires a moment of pause. My friend who I asked for prayers for a few weeks ago has passed away. She did not respond to the treatments for her cancer the way we were hoping. Laura Ritter Allio was laid to rest today as her husband, 2 yr old son, and hundreds of people said goodbye to her.

I’m learning that this is part of my life now. Being involved in this world has introduced me to so many people I would otherwise not know. Laura was one of them. I’m thankful for meeting people and making instant connections with fellow “pink sisters.” But it is hard to become friends with people who are called to heaven sooner than seems right.

Bookending my friend’s sad news is two good things on my part. I know Laura would not want her death to take any joy from my good news, so I’m allowing myself to feel excitement for the following things.

Friday was my last follow-up appointment with my radiation oncologist. She’s an extremely nice doctor who always made me feel good about the treatment, but I am happy that I no longer need to see her. As I was leaving her office, she gave me a hug and said, “Have a long, happy, healthy life.” (Yes, ma’am… I will.)

And today marked the last day of the drug trial for me. It’s been 54 weeks that I’ve taken the oral chemo. The study is to determine if taking it for one year after treatment helps to prevent recurrence. So another item on my treatment list can be crossed off. And I plan to be one of the study participants to really skew the results in the positive direction (you know, like it never returns and I live as long as my Grandma Caldwell.)

Today also happened to be the day that we had a special delivery from my Aunt Dolly- some surprise chocolate hedgehog treats that came in the mail. It was perfect timing (I’m noticing a pattern with me saying that…). I’m so thankful that I am able to keep moving forward and making progress with my health. These seemingly minor things are pretty major in my book. 🙂

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Two Years

The sting hurt a little less on Sunday. It was January 20th, which was the day two years ago that I first heard the word “cancer.” Last year, on the 1 yr anniversary (?) of the date, I was pensive and melancholy all day. This year, I knew the date was approaching but didn’t think about it until that night when I was getting ready for bed. And instead of the PTSD feeling, it was a feeling of joy and gratefulness. I’m here. The disease is gone. And I’m 2 years into my 5 year mark to be considered “cured.” And hey, I’ve got boobs this time around!

It has been an absolute blessing to be home this past week and preparing (mentally and physically) to return to work.
Yesterday I was home while the girls had off for the MLK holiday. We took them to the Science Center because it’s free on MLK day. Which also means its crowded full of everyone near Cleveland who can enjoy the science without the cost. Olivia is 11 now, and at first her interest seemed questionable. I was so surprised because she’s our science/space lover and she was wandering around like nothing was too interesting. But just before I started internally weeping because I thought my daughter had outgrown the facility, she was smiling and laughing and playing with her friend. Then I realized- it’s the 11 yr old phase where they’re too old to be kids but too young to be teens. So maybe she was resistant to the idea of playing with things that little kids like. And that feeling was probably heightened because she had a friend with her. But by the end of the day, the intrigue of science beat out any awkward feelings and they were laughing at their funny images in the mirror, playing sounds and music on a variety of different objects, and pulling each other’s arms to look at the next cool demonstration.

Today is my last day of medical leave… and it’s a snow day for the girls!!! Perfect, right? I get to be home with them on the snow day for the first time in forever! There’s not much harder than leaving for work on snow days when Rob and the girls are home. I get so jealous sometimes that he “gets” to be home. And sometimes in the dead of winter (after several snow days have been in the books) he gets jealous that I “get” to go to work.  🙂

We’re getting ready to brave the temps to go sled riding in this powdery fun. I can’t pull a sled up a hill, so I hope the girls are ready to help. And it hurts a lot to shiver, because those lat muscles that now come around my sides to the front are still tender and hurt when they tense up. But it will be worth it. Because I am here and healthy enough to make these memories with them. And with the anniversary (?) so fresh in my mind, I feel an extra sense of joy about it today.


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Improving

This past week was definitely better than the previous one. My aunt is home from the hospital and I’m feeling a little better every day. I had a whole post written about how if felt to have xrays at the ER the week before, but it’s too long and boring. Just remember that simple procedures for cancer survivors are always more scary and worrisome than they might let on. Every simple procedure requires a “prepare for the worst but hope for the best” kind of offense.

Moving on from that though… the bronchitis is improving, with just a slight lingering cough and wheeze. Last week I drove to the dr in Cleveland for another fill in my expanders, but the surgeon did not want to do it while I wasn’t feeling well and still on antibiotics for bronchitis. So she postponed that procedure one week. In turn, she also extended my return to work for one more week. Talk about a sigh of relief- I didn’t know how stressed I was about returning to work not feeling well, until she gave me that time to recover. What a gift that has helped me physically and emotionally. One more week of getting over this bronchitis and building up my endurance to get through a whole day.

Part of building up that endurance includes keeping a more regular schedule during the day- getting up early with the girls and staying awake (it sounds so easy, but…). I also need to get out of the house for various errands and appointments. Last week, I was sure to include some lunches with friends- and they were perfect. Thanks to Hannah Springer, Amber Pierce Norman, Tana Kura, and Barb Kline for the company and encouragement last week. You all have touched my life in very important ways, and I treasure the time we spend together.

I also read a great book- “The Life We Bury”. It’s a very quick read if you want to escape for a few days. Getting my brain off of my own medical issues and into some entertaining fiction was perfect. Thanks for the suggestion, Trisha Brunazzi.

So just a few additional things about surgery recovery:

I’m able to sleep a little better now, though nothing near what I used to. I don’t need so many pillows and I’m sometimes able to lay on my sides now (But if I do, I’m sore when I wake up).

I notice the absence of lat muscles most when I try to open dresser drawers. 🙂

Apparently, when I’m cold and shivering, my lat muscles tighten up a lot. And now that they are placed under my armpits through to my chest, I get really sore on my sides when I shiver. It’s actually pretty painful so I’m so thankful for my remote start in the van.

Most interesting to me is the feeling right after a fill. They add saline to the expanders so that the skin and tissue slowly stretch out a little each time I go. And right after they do it, my back aches a LOT. I realized it’s because my lat muscles are being stretched, but the nerves are still intact in my back. So it feels like I have sore back muscles even though the muscles aren’t there anymore. It’s crazy cool.

This week’s goal is to find the right balance of rest and activity so that I get rid of the cough for good and feel ready to work next week. Olivia had her own issues with strep throat and an ear infection over the weekend, so I’m thankful to have time to get this house disinfected and back to normal for us. Feeling much more optimistic about things now.  🙂


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Heavy Heart

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Here’s hoping this is the start of a better week than last week, which ended up being a mix of several different things weighing on my mind and heart.

The pastor from my church growing up passed away. He was always a guy to look up to, even though we didn’t go to church regularly. In discussions about him this week, two descriptions really stand out to me: “It always felt good to be around him.” and “His heart had room for so many people”. What a great legacy to leave on this side of heaven, isn’t it?

My aunt is sick and in the hospital with an infection. I’m hopeful she’ll be fine soon, but it’s another concern on my mind.

An acquaintance I’ve met who is still fighting her metastasized breast cancer has had a really rough few weeks. I feel for her so much. Please pray that the treatments she’s seeking out of state will be the perfect mix of what she needs to fight that awful disease.

I learned that my friend’s son-in-law had passed away right before Christmas after his own fight with cancer. We had been praying for him and I was SO hoping he would be around to see his small children grow at least a few more years.

It was also Allie’s birthday last week which always reminds me how much I miss her (and still feel some “survivor guilt”) when I think about her.

As for me, my surgery recovery is going well. I’m not on pain medicine and actually don’t feel much pain from the surgery anymore. But I do feel uncomfortable all of the time. The discomfort really affects my sleeping because I am constantly readjusting my position in the bed or recliner. I’ve had pillows situated in every position imaginable… and then some. 🙄 I take a muscle relaxer, ibuprofen, and melatonin before bed. Nothing seems to be the magic I need. And there is no remedy for post menopausal night sweats (though I have figured out the best combination for “conversion pjs” now. It’s a mix of all things adjustable and layered.)

Side bar- You know the song “Blessings” by Laura Story… “What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near?” I lay in bed and think- I know He’s near… I don’t need to reach a thousand. 😕

Anyway, in addition to surgery recovery, I’ve had a cough for a couple of weeks and was being patient to let it “run its course.” But on Wed and Thurs I started wheezing and Friday I was short of breath. My primary dr. couldn’t get me in until this Tuesday and I knew I needed something before then, so I went to Med Express. That dr said that I needed to go to the ER so they could do chest xrays. (Believe it or not, that was my first time to either of those places.)

In the end, I was diagnosed with bronchitis. Which is a source of frustration and the cough is another hit to my chances of getting a good night’s sleep. But I’ll take that diagnosis over my worst fear any day. Tomorrow I’ll share more on why that dr appt was so emotional because I think this post is probably already too long.

I didn’t even realize how heavy my heart was with the combination of all this stuff until later in the evening when Rob said a package came in the mail for me. A box from Shutterfly? I hadn’t ordered anything from Shutterfly. And addressed to Shelly Caldwell (my maiden name). How curious. I opened it to find a puzzle of a collage of family pictures, including a picture of my Grandma and quote from a song she always sang. I opened the gift, which in turn opened the flood gates.

It was sweet and perfectly timed- a reminder of good times from our summer family reunion in June. Of how lucky I am to have the supportive family that I do and to watch the next generation of cousins getting to know each other and make their own catalog of memories. Thanks, Jenn Javor-Hopwood❤️

As I was turning the box around all directions to figure out who sent the package, I caught a glimpse of the tattoo on my wrist. It did it’s job (as it frequently does) to remind me to “be still”. To stop worrying so much about the future. To be present in the “now” and thankful for all that is going right for me now. Thankful that it’s just bronchitis. Thankful that I have such supportive family members. Thankful that God’s timing is perfect for what I need. Thankful I knew that pastor who introduced me to God as a child and truly had “a heart for so many people.” And that God is who I need to trust when things feel so heavy.

This is my last week of medical leave from surgery. So please pray that the bronchitis goes away quickly so I can get some more normal sleep/rest before going back to work. And pray for my aunt and friend to be healed. And then maybe take a moment to see how God may have worked in your life this past week. It might be more subtle, but if you find it I bet it’s beautiful.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

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Four Weeks Later…

It’s been 4 weeks since surgery. To the rest of you, it probably feels like 4 weeks. For me, it feels like maybe one or two- mostly because those first couple weeks were such a fog.

Time is confusing. I often don’t know what day it is. I sleep- a LOT! I do it because I know I’m supposed to rest so my body can heal. But since I had surgery on all sides of my body there is no position that is comfortable and sleep is very restless.

A typical day has involved Rob getting the girls up and ready for school. I get out of bed just long enough to kiss Liana goodbye and wave to her through the window as her bus passes the house. After that I go back to bed for a while. The rest of the day consists of small tasks that now feel enormous, mixed with laying on the couch and dozing in and out of sleep.

Just appreciate your body when it works well. Next time you can bend over to pick up your kid’s dirty sock off the floor, be glad you can bend without pain. When you can lay on your back and fall asleep easily, be thankful that you feel comfortable enough to sleep. When you can pull the car door closed from the inside no matter how wide open it is… appreciate that reach because it is tough when you don’t have half of your back muscles.

Physically, everything continues to heal just as expected. My incisions are all healed well. I happened to have a follow-up with my oncologist today and she said she was very impressed with how good everything looks. I also started physical therapy again today. My PT was also very impressed. When I look in the mirror, I see a patchwork body like Frankenstein… so it feels good to have professionals (who have seen many surgeries) say that things look good.

Since I’m healing well, they’ve started to fill my expanders. They just add a small amount of saline into the expanders every week to slowly stretch out the skin. I’ll go again tomorrow for a little more. We’ll just continue doing that a little bit every week or two for a while… so that they slowly expand and aren’t painful.

The girls are now done with school for winter break so it’ll be nice to spend time with them. It’ll be low-key fun with puzzles and games, but that quality time is super sweet so I’m looking forward to it. Everyone enjoy getting ready for the holidays. No matter how busy things get, remember that there is always so much to be thankful for this season.