Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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“It’s all gone”

“It’s all gone.” Those exact words came out of the surgeon’s mouth today when I asked him if he can definitely say if there’s any cancer left. I know he hinted at it during the last appointment, and I knew that the pathology report was suggesting that, but he never actually said the words. And I was scared to even ask because every other person I know with cancer doesn’t/hasn’t gotten a direct response like that. But I asked, and he said “It’s all gone”, and for the first time I actually let the joy and relief that comes with those words enter my being and feel it from the inside. I don’t know how to explain it. Like I knew it intellectually at the last appointment, but today I FEEL it… I FEEL free of cancer and he confirmed that it is gone!!! I cried, the nurses cried, and they sent me home with cupcakes.   It’s also easier to react to such good news now that I’m further in my recovery from surgery.

Along those lines, I’m continuing to recover well. My incisions are healing incredibly well. The surgeon was impressed and said, “I’ll do surgery on you any day.” The infected drain site is finally starting to look better, though is still the most uncomfortable part of this.

I started physical therapy this week and was totally impressed. The PT talked about things we’ll do to prevent lymphedema (swelling in the arm that happens when lymph nodes are removed and worsens with radiation.) She’ll also help me work on increasing range of motion with my right arm. And will help with reducing scar tissue and increasing skin movement around the incision sites. She was extremely knowledgeable about post-mastectomy needs and I’m looking forward to working through this with her. It feels good to know I can now be a little more active in my recovery instead of passively enduring stuff that is done to me.

(I still have radiation that will start in a few weeks… and I’ll keep you all posted on that as it gets closer. The dr said that radiation helps reduce the long term chance of localized recurrence. As much as I wish this was totally done, I’m willing to do another step if it means preventing this in the future.)

It’s been a good week and an especially good Friday! Also, I’m writing this as I watch the girls play “Just Dance”… that’ll put anyone in an amazing mood!   Love, Love!


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Recovery

Yesterday was August 1st… mark that in your calendars as one of the best appointments so far!!! My prayers for healing have been heard and answered. First of all, I got my drains out which was a huge relief. And the surgeon said that’s the fastest he has ever taken them out of someone (just 6 days).

We knew during surgery that there were cancer cells found in one of the sentinel lymph nodes (which is why they removed a whole cluster of them after that). I still don’t know how many more were removed, but he said there were only “isolated tumor cells” in one of them, which is technically still considered negative. No other lymph nodes had any sign of cancer. He said it was because the chemo was so effective in killing the cancer in the lymph nodes. And the original tumor had shrunk to 1.2 cm. All margins are clear, which means there were no cancer cells near any of the edges of what was removed.

With the mastectomy and lymph node removal, they basically got all the cancer OUT of me!!!! It feels so good to know it’s gone!! I’m healing well, the incisions look good, and I have another follow up next week. I’m in a lot of pain today from where the drains came out… my tissue had already started adhering to the drains, so it ripped a little when he removed the drains. I’m taking pain meds to manage that pain for now and hopefully it will be better in a few days.

I will still do radiation as is protocol for treatment. That will happen in about 5 weeks when I’m healed from this. It’s the last big step for this time period (as reconstruction will happen next year).

My mom was here to help a ton last week. And we’ve had a lot of help with the girls and visitors to the hospital (thanks, Lisa GonidakisCindy Hastings WinterBrittany ArmstrongAmber Pierce NormanHannah SpringerKeely A Smith-JividenCinnamon Leonard, Becky Kearns, and Doug Gates.) I also had my own personal nurse today to help with changing my wound dressings (Kelly Dawn Hobbs) . It’s times like these I realize how wonderfully God has paved the way ahead of me… all the people He has placed in my life and ready to help when I need it. Thanks for all the prayers… please keep them coming for comfort as I continue to heal and pray that the pain subsides. Thanks everyone!


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Because He Lives…

Tomorrow is surgery day. We go in early and surgery is scheduled for 10:30. Should take about 4 hours. Please pray for this to go well and for my healing afterwards. I’ll be having a bilateral mastectomy (without reconstruction at this time- that will happen next year after I’m healed from radiation.) Also, pray for Rob as he takes care of me over these next few weeks. And, of course, for Olivia and Liana as they have to make another adjustment in their lives because of my health. They are with friends tonight (thanks, Amber Pierce Norman) and will go to a birthday party tomorrow afternoon, so they should be well preoccupied. Thanks to everyone who called or texted today as well. I’ve been very nervous.

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Moving Forward

Sorry it’s taken a while to update everyone. I do have some medical updates and the next steps of my treatment plan in place. First (the best news)- I got results from my MRI and it looks clear!! They cannot see any part of the original tumor and the lymph nodes look normal. So all of that horrible poison did its job!!

Moving forward- the date for surgery will be on July 26th. I have very mixed feelings about it, but confident that this is the best thing for me. About 6 weeks after surgery will be radiation, which will last 6 weeks. And then I’ll have phase two of surgery in 6-12 months, depending on how I’m healing from everything. It’s a longer, more complicated plan than I was hoping for. But it’s what needs to be done. All 3 of the doctors working with me (surgeon, plastic surgeon, and radiation oncologist) agree that this is the best plan to prevent recurrence, and I have a lot of years ahead of me to keep this away.

Physically, I’m feeling better each day without chemo. The mouth sores are gone and I’m able to eat most things. I have more energy than I’ve had in a while. My only complaints now would be that my fingertips (and a small part of my toes) are still numb and my fingernails are falling off. I’m also pretty sore every morning and my legs feel very tight. It feels like I worked out hard the night before, even though I haven’t. I’m guessing it’s just my body getting used to doing regular, everyday things. So if you’re looking for specific things to pray about, those would be good ones. All in all, nothing even close to how I was feeling the last few months, and that’s a wonderful thing!

I hope you’re all enjoying the warmth of the sun and the sound of the birds as much as I am. If you haven’t yet, take a moment tomorrow to soak it in… it’s a beautiful world out there!


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Mo More Chemo!

Thursday was a big day… my last chemo treatment! I still have surgery and radiation ahead of me, so there’s a lot more to go. But chemo is supposedly the hardest part, so marking the end of it feels good!! The nurses in these pictures are such special people. The one in the picture with the cupcake was there for my very first chemo, my first Taxol chemo, and my final treatment. She’s great… they all are.


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Suffering

I suppose it would be natural for anyone going through a really difficult trial to wonder why it’s happening and to think about others who have gone through similar situations. These thoughts bring me to part 2 of my post from last week- to try and put into words some ideas about faith and suffering. I just need to preface this by saying that it is very rudimentary, but it’s therapeutic for me to write it. Besides, questioning/wondering is healthy in developing your own sense of purpose… right.
So why. Why does cancer even exist? Why is this so hard? Why do humans go through tragedy and suffering. These are big questions with bigger answers that I’m not going to be able to answer. But I’ve had a glimpse into this in a way lately that I haven’t had before. In simplest form- after time spent in suffering (on any level), you gain a better appreciation for the good things in life. Your perspective shifts. What used to seem mundane or unremarkable now brings deep joy and appreciation. These aren’t new, huge events around you. They are things around that might have been there all along, but in our fast-paced, technology-filled day-to-day it’s so easy to overlook them. That’s how it’s been with my experience through cancer, and I’m guessing with many other hardships that people go through. I don’t know if it’s the reason we go through them, but it is a benefit of going through them. I’ve never been so appreciative of sunshine, and short walks outside, of sitting with my eyes closed listening to birds, the delicious smells of food (that I couldn’t eat), warm hoodies, energy to get up the steps, flowers, the sound of rainstorms, warm baths, fluffy clouds viewed through a skylight, sitting by loved ones without saying a word, children giggling, wind on my scalp, hugs… lots of great hugs. I am so appreciative of these things lately. And I pray that I don’t lose this perspective of the simple beauty around me even as I come out of (and hopefully far from) this difficult experience.

Here’s the best analogy I can think of: Your bathroom light. it’s an average light that functions fine when you flip the switch on. For the most part, you probably don’t think twice about it. But it’s a different story in the middle of the night. You wake in the middle of the night and need to use the bathroom. After extended time in the dark, you fumble down the hall and reach to turn that switch on (just like you did earlier that day). But now the sensory experience of the light can be overwhelming. It’s the same light and wattage that your eyes perceived during the day. But when you’ve been in the dark for so long, that same light seems so much brighter. We suddenly have a shift in perspective that makes the light seem brighter… the light doesn’t change, but we do. Our suffering is the time in the dark. And after experiencing it, even a small amount of light seems so bright to us. So I encourage everyone this week to “look for the overlooked”- find those things that have potential to be bright lights. They may seem dim now because you’re not in the dark… but hopefully you can appreciate them anyway.

One other thought about suffering: I remember a quote from a show that said “someday this pain will be useful to you”. I believe that my pain has already been useful because of how it’s changed my perspective. But also in that it will allow me to help the next person- the next friend in need or person to get a cancer diagnosis. The next person who I may become close with because we can relate to each other through similar suffering. Some of my greatest comfort since January has been words of encouragement from other survivors. I hope I can be a source of comfort to others moving forward. Because maybe now, that is part of my purpose. Unexpected and undesired- but if I can bless someone in a fraction of the way I’ve been blessed through this, as a person more refined by this fire, then I’m all in. (see that… I even tied in a little Cleveland Cavaliers humor for you all.)


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“Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm”

There was a night over the weekend that the girls both fell asleep in our bed. After they were both asleep, I was ready and shimmied in between them to take my spot for the night. No sooner could I let out the sigh that comes when you’ve settled under the sheets after a long day, the girls simultaneously rolled in toward me and each put their arm around me. It was a perfect moment, and I couldn’t help but immediately say a prayer thanking God for them in my life. I couldn’t have held back the prayer if I tried… it was such a natural response to feeling my babies on either side of me in their peaceful rest. The moment stood out to me so much because, honestly, it’s been hard to pray sometimes through this (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but don’t want to read through old posts to check). I can’t explain it, but I can say that I’ve shared it with some people in similar situations who say they’ve experienced the same thing. And I know I have so many people who have been praying for me and carrying that for me, that it’s ok when I don’t. I’ve tried to figure out why this is, along with a lot of things through this experience. Two things stand out- the first is the amount of love God has surrounded me with- probably in preparation to get me through this. I’ve heard the song “In the Eye of the Storm” many times, but the other day I had a realization. There’s a part in the chorus that says “You alone are the anchor when my sails are torn. Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm.” Every time I’ve heard this in the past, I’ve pictured God surrounding a worn, broken boat in the middle of the sea with some imagery of protection like a force field around the boat and God looking down making it happen (don’t laugh). You know what I pictured for the first time the other day- all of you! I actually pictured me sitting on that boat with the faces and bodies of all of you being the “love surrounding me”. Like hundreds of people I love around me, standing on the water (not sure how that would happen), with arms out like a giant group hug just waiting for me and keeping me safe! It was a beautiful picture that I wish I could paint or put on paper somehow. YOU all are the LOVE that God has talked about. You have been in my life in part because He knew His love would be shown to me through you… and He knew I would need it to get through this. A specific example of that is your willingness to lift me in prayer when I just can’t do it on my own. Someday when I’m healthy again, I hope to show you all that same love and surround you when you need it most.
And now that I read how long this became, I’m going say this is part 1 of 2. Part 2 to come tomorrow. Because it’s another long one and I don’t want to bore you too much.  But I’ll also add the link to that song just in case you haven’t heard it.