Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


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Not What I Expected

I was not expecting yesterday to go the way that it did. It was my first radiation treatment and I knew it would take longer than every subsequent one. I had no idea how long it would actually take and I was not prepared for how I would feel during it.

They were running behind schedule so I waited for quite a while before it even started. While waiting, I got a lovely video from our friend to make me laugh, so I’m very thankful for that. When they were finally ready, they took me back to the table and got ready to start. It was freezing in there so they gave me warm blankets to drape over as much as they could. But my chest was exposed (obviously) for a very. long. time. I laid with my arms above my head while 2 technicians and a doctor lined me up just right with lasers and machines. They marked my body up in several spots- making adjustments with a ruler down to the millimeter. Measuring, marking, taking a film, marking again, trying to decide if I should have a custom bolus (a plastic thing they lay on top of my chest that acts as an extra layer of skin). The women were as kind as could be. But the environment was cold and sterile with fluorescent lights that make any place less comfortable. My head had to be turned at a slight angle so I couldn’t move to make eye contact when they talked to me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like such a science project. Three women talking about my body, measurements, angles, lasers… while I laid there unable to move out of that position for an hour. I tried so hard to think of positive things- listening to the barely audible music, praying, meditating, praying more. The hardest part of it was that the machine had a reflective glass that was above my head. Without being able to turn my head from its position I couldn’t do anything but stare at the reflection… the still unfamiliar reflection of 12 inches of scars across my chest. Perfect 6 inch lines on each side. I couldn’t turn away. I couldn’t pretend they were normal. I was literally faced with my new body, with background noise of clinical jargon that didn’t make sense to me. I know I’ve said that chemo and hair loss made me feel like an alien. This was different. This made me feel inhuman. I hated it. I tried to keep a good attitude about it afterward, but it was still bothering me. Until, of course, I could have time to process it and talk about it with Rob. He made me feel better… as he always does.

I had a decent night’s sleep and felt much better today. And today’s appointment was totally fine. In and out within a half hour. Time on the table was just about 10 minutes. Short enough to keep my mind on other things and not stare at the reflection. I’m sure there’s a lesson in all of this. Maybe we all need to spend more time faced with the reflections of our least favorite part of ourselves (inside or out). Maybe it’s a reminder that this is my broken earthly body… not meant to be perfect. Or maybe it was just a really crappy evening that I should stop analyzing.  I wasn’t ready for how emotional that experience ended up being. But I’m sure ready to get these next six weeks over with.


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A few random things:

I’m still waiting to hear from the radiation oncologist to set up my radiation schedule. I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m also anxious to get it over with.

I’m back to work full time; and so thankful that I work with amazing people who have made the transition as good as it can be.

This picture shows how happy I am to have my port out!! My arm is still just a little swollen and tender, but it’ll feel so good once it’s back to normal.

It’s been really nice outside so I’ve been soaking in the beautiful weather, knowing it won’t last much longer. If you’re reading this and it’s nice where you are- you should really get outside and enjoy it. Even just a walk around the block will be worth it. If you’re healthy enough to go do something- do it! 


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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!