Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

The Day Before

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.


Leave a comment

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!