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Author Archives: Christy McMakin

About Christy McMakin

I am a daughter, sister, friend, mother, grandmother and breast cancer warrior. I am passionate, emotional, and animated. I love life, my children, my grandchildren, my family, my friends and my God. I am a leader, a follower, a life coach and a teacher. I am a Libra born in the cusp of Scorpio - therefore I am an emotional piece of balanced work (I am also a comedian! ;) ) I am addicted to chap stick, a warm cup of coffee, chocolate, hugs and kisses from my babies and grandbabies, and socks! I am an outdoor enthusiast and I love to hike, rock climb, explore, chase waterfalls, bushwhack, rock scramble and anything else that spells adventure! I write about anyone and anything that inspires me.

The Rebellious Boob Chronicles – One with the River

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a cancer recovery retreat in the Lake Logan North Carolina area hosted by Casting Carolinas. Casting Carolinas is a non-profit organization that offers one-day and three-day retreats for women surviving all types of cancers. They use their own unique F.L.O.W. program that combines fly fishing instruction with medical education and mindfulness, teaching survivors skills to help them deal more effectively with the emotional effects of cancer and survivorship. 

To say that I was extremely excited for the retreat is a gross understatement. I had originally been chosen to attend in October 2020, but due to unforeseen circumstances of a pandemic, the retreat had to be cancelled indefinitely. Sigh. I would remain on the waiting list to be contacted when things opened back up. When the email came through in June stating they were opening up registration again for an October 2021 retreat, I was so thrilled that I set an alarm to remind myself to sign up first thing! The anticipation over the next few months stirred in my soul as I felt this time away was going to bring many blessings. I am a nurturer at heart and I spend the majority of my time, at work and at home, taking care of others. This 3-day weekend, however, was going to be a time of focusing on me and for once in my life I didn’t feel selfish about that.

The day had finally arrived, the weather forecast for the weekend looked fabulous, I was packed and headed out. I had my windows down, some praise music on, the leaves were already wearing autumn attire and the two hour drive quickly passed. I caught myself smiling from ear to ear as I drove up the gravel road to the retreat center, pulled into a space, took a deep breath, and stepped out of the car to spend 3 days with complete strangers whom I shared a common bond with – survivorship. All of our lives had been uprooted by a cancer diagnosis, some more than once, yet we were all here, ready to embrace what was in store for us.

Laughter and peace permeated the atmosphere as I stepped up on the porch of the cabin. I was greeted by several volunteers that made me feel welcomed immediately and directed me inside to the registration table. All the ladies that hosted and served at the retreat were so full of life, joy and friendliness and made you feel at home immediately.  Once I checked in I was to come back outside and be fitted for my river waders and boots for the fishing trip on Sunday! Wait. A River. Moving water. Insert anxiety. Was I ready for this part?

My mind wandered back many years, to a moment in time that had forever seared itself into my brain. I was 6 or 7, at the lake with my family and my father was trying to teach me to swim. He stood at a distance, chest deep in water, swearing to me that it wasn’t over my head, and promising that if I started to go under, he would save me. Little did I know he was standing on a stump that lifted him up a good 3 feet.  I attempted to swim, face down in the water, arms stroking back and forth. I was making some progress but suddenly, I began to sink. The water overtook me, I was thrashing left and right, eyes wide open, surrounded by the murky water and bubbles created by the oxygen that was leaving my lungs. My feet desperately searched for the bottom and it was nowhere to be found. I screamed but no sound came out, only gulps of water rushing into my mouth. Where was my father? I needed him to save me! Whether this lasted 5 seconds or 5000 years, for me it felt like an eternity and  I just knew at that moment I was drowning. Finally, a hand reached down and pulled me out of what I thought was a near death experience, and as soon as my feet could touch ground, I ran out of the water, coughing, spewing out water, and terrified. I sat there on the shore crying, wanting a hug or reassurance that I was okay, yet what I got was belittling laughter. I was a worthless crybaby, a chicken, a coward, a sissy. My dad demanded that I get back in the water but all I wanted was to run away in fear and I didn’t care what kind of punishment I would get for refusing his demands. A whipping would be better than dying, right?

From that moment water became my enemy and at the age of 51, I still cannot swim. I can climb a 500-foot mountain, stand on death defying cliff edges, leap a tall building in a single bound – okay maybe not that extreme – but I can handle getting my feet wet in stream crossings. However, if the adventure involves any part of my body above my knees being immersed in water, you can guarantee that anxiety rushes in. There I stood on the front porch of the cabin, getting fit for boots and river waders and in two days, I would be standing in a mighty rushing river holding a fly-fishing rod. Oh Lord, what had I gotten myself in to?

The next couple of days were amazing! The heart of the retreat is a mindfulness program developed by the hosts of Casting Carolinas, called F.L.O.W. It focuses on taking a deep breath, calming your spirit and being aware of what is going on with your thoughts, emotions and reactions. We had several group sessions where we all came together and spent time connecting with ourselves and each other, learning, and growing. We shared lots of laughter, life experiences, and shed heartfelt tears. I felt incredibly honored to be in the midst of so many strong and powerful women. We also spent time learning about fly fishing! We learned about the river and the different aspects of it. What kind of insects the fish eat. How to put a fly-fishing rod and reel together, tie on the flies, and how to cast. We even got to make our own flies! Saturday evening, we were entertained with a time of live music, dancing and singing, oh and not to mention that we ate so much delicious food I thought I would bust.  My heart was overflowing with joy and gratefulness as I laid my head down on the pillow Saturday night, closing my eyes in anticipation of Sunday morning’s river adventure. All that we had learned about fly fishing would be put into action as each woman would have their own guide and get to spend almost four hours on the river fishing.

The sun rose quickly the next morning, and decked out in our boots and waders, we all gathered at the cabin for a closing ceremony. Whew, what an emotional hour! 🙂  We then made our way to the dining hall for breakfast and to meet our guides. My guide for the day would be Rick, an experienced fisherman who cut his teeth fishing in the Gunnison Valley of Colorado. We enjoyed small talk over bacon and eggs, got group pictures and then headed out to the Pigeon River to hopefully catch some fish! As we made our way down to the river and stepped in, I was entranced by the melody of the moving water. Rick took some time to educate me on a few things, observe my newly learned casting skills, find a nice spot to steady ourselves and then it was time to fish. I admit it was awkward at first feeling the difference between fishing with a spin cast and spinning reel versus the fly rod. I was used to having weights on my line and the fly-fishing line seemed weightless. After a bit of practice, I got the hang of it and I was casting, getting bites, losing fish, and yes, I finally caught some.

My catches included a brook trout, a rainbow trout and a brown trout, which earned me the badge of what fishermen call a “grand slam,” catching one of each type of trout.  Go Christy! It was so fun being played by the fish. The water was crystal clear, you could see them just hanging out underwater and watching as my fly would float downstream right in front of them. Then those little buggers would jump right out of the water in front of you just to show you who was the real boss! As we were walking upstream to fish in another spot, I noticed a brook trout hanging out in a little pocket of water to the left of the river. I said to my guide, “hey, there’s a fish right here!” He said, “see if you can catch it?” I said, “with my bare hands?” Yes! So, I took a deep breath, raised my hands in the air and breathed out, “I am one with the river.” I was being silly, but hey it worked! I knelt down, slowly put my hands in the water and very gently eased them under the belly of the fish and bingo! I raised him right up out of the water! My guide let out a huge belly laugh and I was proud to be his first student to catch a trout with their bare hands!

As fun as it was catching the fish, my favorite part of the day was reading the river. I loved observing how the different sections flowed at different speeds. I learned what lanes were and began to identify riffles, eddies and pockets. I discovered that you begin fishing the river in front of you and slowly progress across the stream so that you don’t spook the fish. At one point I even told my guide that he was more than welcome to fish while I just stood in the river being mesmerized. For the professional record…he did not fish! :). At one point I was standing in moving water that was almost chest deep and I could feel the weight of the current against me. Wait, I was standing in water ALMOST CHEST DEEP!  I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and realized that for the first time in my life I was surrounded by water and my mind was not consumed with anxiety.  In fact, all morning I had not given one thought to anything other than the delight I was feeling as the river had wooed me like a new suitor and captured my undivided attention. 

Twelve thirty rolled around quickly and it was time to head back to the dining hall for lunch, our graduation ceremony, to tell our fishing stories, say our heartfelt goodbyes and head back home. Some folks had caught tons of fish, others a few, one had caught waders full of water as she took a tumble, and me, yep I told the story of how I caught that brook trout with my bare hands! The weekend had written so many great stories yet I knew that the greatest story of all was that, on this wonderful Sunday morning in October, I was no longer a terrified little girl, a crybaby, worthless and a coward. I was also a strong, powerful woman, and in those few passing hours I had made a new friend and the river and I had truly become one.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2021 in breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Cancer and Cicadas

A few days ago as I was walking out to my car for work, and I walked around to the passenger side to put some things in the front seat. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something brown and green on my bus tire. When I took a closer look, I discovered that it was a cicada that was molting out of its shell. Now, in my neck of the woods, it is not uncommon to see the cicada shells stuck to just about anything, however to actually catch one in the process of molting, well that is just a rare occasion for me.

My Marlee Jayne is fascinated with science, flowers, bugs, snakes and nature and she loves collecting the cicada shells and leaving them all over my house for me to find!  I knew capturing this process on film would tickle her fancy so I took a few moments to sit down with my handy dandy phone camera and begin filming.  Wow! What an incredible process I was observing. Before I get into describing it, let me share a few facts that I’ve since learned about Cicadas.

Cicadas begin their life in the egg stage, laid in a groove of a tree limb. When its ready, it will crawl from the groove, bury itself in the ground and dig until it finds roots to feed on. Nearly all of them spend years of their lives underground as juveniles, from 2 to 17 years. They will emerge as nymphs and find a vertical surface and begin to shed their nymph exoskeleton. When they are free of the old skin, their wings can begin to inflate with fluid and their skin will harden. Then they are ready to begin their adult life and serve their purpose of reproduction. Cicadas are mostly known for the song they sing on warm summer evenings.

Now back to my story. The adult cicada was half way in and half way out of the shell. If you looked close enough you could see It gently trembling as it was making its way out of the skin that had enclosed it during its juvenile days. Its shiny green skin was such a contrast to the old brown casing it was coming out of. The detail in its new body was intricate, delicate and beautiful. The thing that amazed me the most was the size of the adult body emerging versus the old shell it was coming out of. I said out loud, “Lord, how did that big ole cicada fit into that little shell? Even if it wanted to, It could not have remained encased or fit back into that shell!” And that is when I heard that still, small, familiar, comforting voice say to me, “its not meant to fit back into its old shell, and neither are you.” So, what began as a science lesson on a warm summer morning ended in a life lesson that penetrated to the core of my soul.

Life is a beautiful gift; however, it can be troublesome at times. At some point we will all face challenges, circumstances and situations that, after we come through them, we are different. I have experienced great loss, heart aches, disappointments, job changes, relationship changes, lost friends, family challenges – goodness, at times I felt as if it was just one unfortunate event after another. With every event came new growth, stronger faith and wisdom gained. However, the greatest challenge I have faced so far in life is my battle with breast cancer. It wasn’t something going on around me, or something happening to someone I love (although I do love myself!), it hit me personally. I am a nurturer at heart and when someone I love struggles, I wrap my arms around them, comfort them and assure them that everything will be okay. When someone has a need, I go boldly to the throne room of grace to petition the God who provides all things on their behalf. I step up, show up and do whatever is necessary to see someone I love make it through their situation.

This time it was me that needed held, comforted and assured. It was me that needed prayer warriors to petition heaven on my behalf.  It was me that needed friends to step up and show up. It was my body that was being attacked by a disease, and in turn saturated with chemicals in the name of healing.  It was my hair, my eyelashes, my eyebrows that fell out, leaving a cancer patient to greet me each morning in the mirror. It was me that was struggling on the trail, being the last one to make it to the top. It was me that laid in the bed, too weak to do my normal routine. It was me that had my body altered and my femininity modified. It was me that would never be the same again. It was all me.

I shared my journey on my social media pages and my blog for many reasons. One reason, or course, was to have the comfort, encouragement and support that is necessary to make it through such a battle, we cannot face something like that alone! Another reason was to have a reference to look back and reflect on when my focus wasn’t just survival. I love the Facebook memories that remind me of all the struggles I overcame, however sometimes when the memory is something ‘BC – before cancer” I wallow in my vanity and lament a little. Goodness at the difference in my physical body! Two years later I am slowly gaining back my muscle tone but the strength just isn’t there yet. I remember a body that was fit as a fiddle, that didn’t ache when I rolled over or spasm when I stretch, and oh! one that didn’t struggle with hormonal weight gain! I grieve a mind that didn’t fear a reoccurrence every time there was a weird feeling or pain; the anxiety can be overwhelming at times, or a heart that didn’t pound a little faster with each check-up. The physical limitations that once weren’t there can be downright disheartening and piss you off all in the same moment.

Sometimes, for various reasons, I want the old me back! However, on a warm summer morning while staring at a bug on my bus tire, I am gently reminded that, like the cicada, I am designed to embrace change. I lived along time in my juvenile stage of “before cancer” and regardless of how good things may have been, enduring my battle has transformed me, strengthened me and better prepared me to fulfill the purpose I am created for. I had to dig deep in the dirt and find the roots that would sustain me until the appointed time had come for me to emerge from the darkness. The new me, although full of battle scars, is intricate, delicate and beautiful and will never fit back into the old mold, and I should not long to.  Just like that cicada, I have a song to sing – a song of hope when things seem hopeless, of perseverance when I may be weary, of a faith that doesn’t fail, of new mercies that come every morning, of a grace that is sufficient and strength that will get me through. I, like the cicada, may have trembled through the transformation, but I am confident that today, as I sit here on this side of the battle, I am much better now than I ever have been and for that I am truly thankful.   

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

The Christmas Doll

It was a rare occasion to find myself at home on a Friday evening. Usually I was either already on the road to Western North Carolina or gearing up to get on my way for an adventure-filled weekend. However, work schedule changes for my significant other created a shift in my normal plans, so here I was, sitting at home in a quiet house with time on my hands. I decided I would take advantage of my time and tackle some cleaning and household projects that had been on the back burner. I moved furniture, swept down dust bunnies, moved some pictures around on my wall and cleaned out a cabinet. Next thing I knew, I found myself up in my attic going through boxes and totes, not really looking for anything in particular, just sorting, organizing and purging items that no longer added any rhyme to my reason. I opened one tote that had several Boyd’s Bears in it I was saving for my grand-daughter, and there in the bottom of the tote, I found her – my Christmas doll. I picked her up, looked into her dreamy eyes, and for just a few moments, as a rush of emotions consumed me, I traveled back in time almost 40 years.

Growing up in our house was not always the most pleasant of occasions. My father was a troubled man who had come from a very poor and violent upbringing. In appearance, he was strong in stature, handsome, and if you met him on a normal day, you would say he was quite likable and funny. When I see pictures of him as a young man, dressed in his military attire, I can see why my momma fell in love with him. What a looker! However, my father was also an abusive alcoholic and when he drank, the portals of hell could not compare to the evil rage that came out of him. The demons he wrestled with wreaked havoc on any one in his path, and most of the time that was my momma and us children.

I am the third child of four children, and other than the fact that I look more like my momma than the rest of my siblings, I was just like any other ordinary child trying to grow up in a hostile world. In his drunken rages, my father made no bones about the feelings he had towards me. He despised me, detested me, abhorred me, loathed me – heck, he downright hated my stinking guts! I endured many beatings for simple things like looking at him the wrong way or laughing too much. I still recall the piercing sting of the steel rings of his thick white belt all over my back, sides, stomach and legs as he beat me for laughing at my sister while she was in the shower.  I was 5 years old. The physical beatings were painful, yet the things I recall that hurt the most were the words he would spew out of his cigarette and liquor ridden breath. I heard often how I was such an ugly child, so stupid, nothing but a cry baby and if I heard it once I heard it a thousand times how he wished I wasn’t his and how he didn’t even want me to call myself by his last name. He always called me by nicknames, which to him were amusing, but to me they were degrading and made me feel less than human. I was 33 years old before I ever heard my dad say ‘Christy’ and it shocked me so much that it took me a minute or two to respond to him.  As a young child, I did not have the ability to process that these things he would say weren’t true, I thought a father’s words was the gospel!  Nor did I have the wisdom I do as an adult to understand that these vicious demons belonged to him and had nothing to do with any shortcomings on my part. The aftermath of his destruction left me wounded, bleeding, literally and figuratively, broken, fearful and confused. I had no identity, no value in myself, I just knew that I was disgusting, unwanted, worthless and unlovable.

Needless to say, Christmases in our house were not the joyous occasion they were intended to be. I honestly only remember just 3 holidays that were significant for the first 13 years of my life. One was when I was in 5th grade and someone from the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program came to our house and met with my mother to get a wish-list,   clothes and shoe sizes for all of us children. I was ever so proud to wear a brand new outfit on our first day back to school from holiday break. I felt like a runway model as I sported those baby blue corduroy pants and a blue and brown plaid button up shirt. When my momma was finally able to break free from my father, get a restraining order and file for divorce, she was able to go to work at a local department store. That year we all had a brand new pair of house shoes under the Christmas tree! The third occasion I remember was the following year when we were picked to have a Christmas shopping spree at the department store where my momma worked and that is when I found her, the Christmas doll. The moment I laid eyes on this doll I knew that I had to have her. She was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen and she looked like someone straight off of my favorite TV show, Little House on the Prairie. I coveted Laura Ingalls Wilder, her simple life with a daddy who loved her and her family ferociously and worked hard to take care of and provide for them. There was a deep longing in my soul for this doll, and I chose her as my Christmas gift.

Fast forward almost 40 years, to a grown woman, sitting on the living room floor, holding this doll that I had kept for so many years. Through nine moves, two states, broken relationships, a wonderful marriage, a hateful divorce, unspeakable heartaches, terrible loss, shattered dreams and life-threatening disease. Through years of healing, helluva hours of counseling, renewed hopes, incredible transformations, perseverance, and self-discoveries. Through hard times, good times, joy, laughter and tears. Time and again  I had set her out on beds, put her back in boxes, set her back out in chairs as decor, only to put her back in boxes to safely store away and move again.

 When I saw her so many years ago sitting on the shelf in that old department store,  I had no understanding of the depth of why I not just wanted her, but needed her so badly or why I would keep her for so many years. Yet finally, on a rare friday evening that I found myself home alone, the answer flooded my soul like a dam break. This Christmas doll – she was beautiful, she was valued, she was wanted and she was loved. She was everything that I had yearned to be as a child and everything that I had fought to become as a woman.  I was her and she was me. 

Alone on the floor in that quiet house, I rejoiced because I am no longer that lost, broken child searching for love, significance, worth and acceptance. As an adult woman, I know that my wounds have healed, my scars, although still a part of me, have faded and I am fully aware that sometimes in life we are the victim of someone else’s battle. I can honestly say that I do not hate my father, I feel he has hated himself enough through the years for the mistakes he made and the devastation my tender heart suffered at his hands. I pray he has found the healing, peace and forgiveness in his own heart that I have embraced for myself and that we all desperately need. I breathed a slow, heavy sigh as I placed the doll back into the safety of her tote and laid my other keepsakes around her. One day, when I am long gone from this world, my children may find her and wonder why their momma kept such a simple, old doll stored up as a treasure. 

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles – Life After Active Treatment: The Quest for Normalcy

10 months ago I finished up active treatment for Breast Cancer. 17 months of my life spent dedicated to eradicating the terrorist that had invaded my body and threatened my well-being.

18 weeks of chemotherapy involving 2 chemotherapy drugs and 2 immunotherapy drugs.
17 immunotherapy infusions.
5 surgeries including a double mastectomy and reconstruction.
25 radiation treatments.
Completed. Done. Finished. Over with. Sigh. Hallelujah.

Being the hope filled, positive-attitude-kind-of-girl that I am, I had noble aspirations that finally life could go back to normal after everything was said and done, right? Yeah, I know, I love the way I crack my own self up sometimes but a girl can dream, right?!?

According to Webster’s dictionary normal is “the usual, average, or typical state or condition.” “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” I am sure that at some point in my educational plight ‘normal’ had been a spelling word that I had to look up the definition for. I was in fact the spelling bee champion for many years throughout my elementary and junior high years (hey, we all have to be good at something! I just so happened to thrive at memorization!) and I have always had a love for words, their meanings and the way you can scramble them together and write a beautiful story. Anyways…

I was ready to be ‘normal’ again. My healthy, active, adventurous happy world had been rocked by the diagnosis of breast cancer. I had sat week after week enduring treatments that, although the ultimate goal was healing, came in like a wrecking ball and transformed my fit, strong body into a caricature of weakness. I worked hard during the off-weeks of my treatments to keep myself built up, knowing that the next round would inevitably wreak a little more damage, bring a little more fatigue, a little more muscle atrophy, and a little more transformation to the woman I saw looking back at me in the mirror. I don’t despise the treatments that were successful and have given me more years to live my life, but I won’t pretend that I enjoyed those suckers one hairy bit! They were a dastardly yet necessary task and I would be just fine to never, ever, ever have to endure them again! I was ready to begin the process of rebuilding without the task of being tore down again.

I was ready to be normal again. To not have to undress in an open room and lay bare chested on a table while nurses chatted casually as if I wasn’t present. At times I didn’t even feel human as they lined up the fire-breathing dragon machine to zap any cancer cells that might be lingering in the shadows of my chest area formally known as my breasts but now a cavity with muscles separated from the chest wall and stuffed with concrete filled expanders.

I was ready to be normal again. To get up, get dressed, put on my face and not have to worry that throughout my day my painted-on eyebrows would get rubbed off and I would be walking around looking like Pinky after his horrifying eye-brow shaving bathroom scene. (referencing Pink Floyd’s ‘live action/adult animated surrealism musical The Wall Movie’ that was popular in the 80’s. The majority of you reading this blog may have no clue what I am talking about, and if you don’t, it’s okay, don’t watch it.  You will forever be traumatized any time you hear any of the songs from the soundtrack. Just googling the album cover is enough to scar you for life!)  

After 17 months of fighting a disease that was sent to take me out, I was ready to be normal again.

9 months later, I can say to you that normal is:

A setting on your dryer.
A temperature of 98.6.
An average statistic.
A blood pressure of 120/80.
A man not asking for directions.

However, normal has nothing to do with how you feel after active treatments are over.

Don’t get me wrong, physically, for the most part, I feel great!

My hair, my eyebrows, and my eyelashes have all grown back and I look pretty much like myself again (except for the natural hair color. No more Clairol! 😊)

On most days, my energy level is fantastic. I can now work again until I am done – not until my body says whoa…you have used up all of your energy cells today and I am shutting down…at 11 am.

I am starting to rebuild muscle tone – it’s a slow process but hey, it’s a process!

I can wear tank tops now without being self-conscious of a port bulging out of my chest like a third eye.

I am no longer referred to as a cancer patient – I am now a cancer survivor! whoop whoop!

There are SO many positives and for each and every one I am thankful.

But am I normal? Of course, some would debate that I was never normal to start with, right but zip it!

My point is I have discovered that going through cancer changes you. There is no such thing as going back to normal. It not only alters your physical body – noobies and nice new boobies are not the same! Trust me! My whole entire upper body has been restructured; I have shoulder aches, I have noobie muscle spasms (OUCH!), I am constantly aware of the discomforting tightness on my right side, blah blah blah – For more information you may read a previous blog about the new girls. 😉

There are some days, for absolutely no reason at all, that I am unusually tired and I have to have a zero evening.

My hair that was so nice and thick growing back is now thinning due to the medication I have to take daily.

I am depleted of estrogen as a preventative to keep new cancer cells from growing back. My body went from pre-menopause to post menopause, which is normally a several year transformation, in 8 seconds.

In spite of all of the physical changes I have experienced, I can honestly say that the thing I have found most challenging with surviving cancer is the way that it affects your mind set. Yes, I feel great, I take care of myself, I eat healthy, I exercise on the daily. I feed my body, soul, and mind daily with positive energy. I am religious with my check-up appointments and I even google my bloodwork to make sure things are, yeah you know, NORMAL! UGH!

However, any woman (or man!) who has had cancer knows that there is a constant nagging forethought of reoccurrence. Any odd feeling. Any abnormal pain. Any unexplained fatigue. Time for a check-up? Count on some anxiety. Time for yearly scans? They call that nervousness ‘scan-xiety.’ Even on the best of days, the thought of reoccurrence can creep up like an ex-boyfriend showing up at the same restaurant.  The timetable of your life is now forever associated with and referenced to “before cancer” and “after cancer.” Will this course of thinking change with time, perhaps, maybe, hopefully, please Lord!

So, is life after active treatment perfect? Nah? Am I back to normal, double-nah. It is a futile pursuit and I have given up the ridiculous notion that there is such a thing as me and normal in the same sentence. Nevertheless, I am certain of one thing as sure as my name is Christy. I endeavor to enjoy every single day of life after active treatment that I am blessed with and to live to the absolute fullest. I also know undoubtedly that I am much better now than I was when I began this journey many months ago, and for this I am forever thankful.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2021 in breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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Piano Man

I met this man the other day
Along my way.
His face was tired,
His shoulders slumped,
His countenance, shy.
He wouldn’t look me in the eye.

It was a business call. I was there to help.
Yet I made chatter
About small matters,
I noticed a keyboard in the hall.
“Do you play piano?” I asked.

His shoulders squared,
Hope rose in the air.
He turned his face,
His eyes met mine.
Oh! The shine!

“Yes, I do,” he replied.
A moment of silence.
I could see on his face
He went back to this place.
A young boy, at six of age,
Where he found his song,
He discovered his stage.
The chords,
The keys,
A sweet melody.
Harmony. Passion. Soul.
His heart was whole.

I met this man the other day
Along my way.
His shoulders steady,
His face was kind,
His countenance, aglow,
He looked me in the eye.

It was a business call. I was there to help.
We said our goodbyes,
“Thanks for your help, will I see you next time?”
I smiled, “Of course!”
I shut the door.
The tears, they came
As I walked away.
I wondered just who had helped who that day,
When I met this man
Along my way.

January 2021.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Why Not Me?

Life, it is a precious gift. It is also full of tragic moments.  Every minute of every day someone’s heart is ripped out of their chest with news that seems impossible to bear.  According to the American Cancer Society, in the United States alone, 4,950 folks are diagnosed with cancer every single day, and 1,650 of those will be a fatal diagnosis.  Heart disease, accidents, respiratory diseases, strokes and other numerous diseases and circumstance crushes the lives of hundreds of thousands per year.  Tomorrow is always hoped for but never promised.

My family has had its share of personal tragedies. My children lost their father to colon cancer in 2011. My son’s friend was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he was only 14, and is still fighting 7 years later. Friends have committed suicide and others have lost their lives in car and motorcycle accidents. Just this month I had a good friend go in for kidney stone surgery and never returned home due to sepsis, leaving behind a husband and three children. Moments like these make us question what good there is in this world! Early one March morning in 2018 my family was devastated with the news of a senseless act of violence that forever robbed us of a beloved friend. Our hearts were shattered to find out that someone very close to us, someone we loved dearly, a young man that had become ingrained in our family structure and more so in our hearts had been violently shot. It was as close as I could come to losing my own child. Not a day goes by that we don’t somehow feel the sting of his loss.

While attending his funeral, one of the speakers made a statement that resonated deep in my spirit. As she was talking about the enormous hurt and loss that we were all feeling, and how at moments like these we are moved to ask…why me? She stated that what we really needed to ask is…”why not me? What made any of us different than the hundreds of mother’s who lose their sons daily, or the grandmothers who lose their grandsons, or brothers that lose their brother, or friends that lose their friends?” The statement seemed downright cold and harsh, nevertheless it was true. Loss; tragedy; hurt; these are all common things that we as human beings will experience multiple times in our lifetime. The thing that we have to do in moments like these, as difficult as they are, is not ask “why me” but decide how are we going to face the devastation before us? How will we cope with the pain? How will we let it define us? These are hard questions to ask ourselves, but they are necessary for our survival.

Those powerful words of the speaker kept playing over in my mind when I was going through the process of determining whether or not I actually had breast cancer. As many times as I prayed for the diagnosis to be in my favor, as many times as I pleaded with God for my children to not have to walk through this diagnosis of cancer again, as many times as I laid out why it wasn’t a good time for me to fight cancer, during the moments I had to hear my doctor confirm it was indeed breast cancer, during the visits with the surgeon, the visits with the oncologist to get my treatment plan, even when I had to sit my children down and tell them the news, never once could I question why me? Research shows that one out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, 325,010 women per year, 890 women per day.   All of a sudden, my reality included me in those statistics. I am not a rarity, I mean I know I am unique, and awesome and fabulous :), but I wasn’t facing anything that so many other women hadn’t faced before me.  To be honest, I didn’t have time to ask why me, I had to focus on how my children and I were going to get through this journey together as gracefully as possible and come out victorious. I knew that it was going to take facing each day with a positive attitude, grit, determination, perseverance, lots of prayer, lots of support and above all else, the faith that could climb the mountain that wasn’t being moved for me. 

I had to focus on what was and not what could be. I was in the best physical, mental and spiritual shape I had ever been in in my life. Had this hit me 6, 7, 8 years prior, I would have been in a mess! I had a personal relationship with the God of heaven, the maker of all things, the ruler of the universes, the one who flung all the stars in their places and strategically placed the planets in position. Not just a God who I had read about in the bible, but THE God who has proven himself, his love, his faithfulness and his power to me over and over again in my life. My God who was not going to leave me hanging but would continue to walk each step with me through thick and thin! The God who promises in his word that he will “make all things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” (that’s me!!) (Romans 8:28). I don’t by any means want to make it sound like fighting cancer was a walk in the park. On the contrary…it freaking sucked raw eggs and maintaining a positive attitude didn’t mean that everything was okay all of the time!

There were times that I felt like crap on a stick. Times I had to laugh hysterically or cry profusely. Times my body rebelled against me. Times I was so tired that I didn’t think I’d make it eight steps to the bathroom without fainting.  Moments I missed with my children and grandchildren, family and friends, because I just wasn’t up to getting out and doing anything. Times I just couldn’t’ do the hike or climb. I lost my taste and smell. Times I couldn’t eat anything – I got soooo tired of smoothies! Times I got hangry (its a real thing!). Times I struggled with depression. Times I cried out to God for mercy and grace. Times I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I had lost my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes (well, one eyelash held on for dear life and we celebrated each other daily!). My nose hairs were even gone! My fingernails all turned black from the skin dying underneath them. I lost my dignity more than once. My muscle tone said see-ya-later.

The picture above was right after my double mastectomy. Staring in the mirror at the ace bandage covering the place where my boobs – a significant part of a woman’s femininity – lived carefree for years, were now gone forever.  My oncology nurse, whom had fought breast cancer herself, had told me at the beginning to take lots of pictures throughout my journey, even when I didn’t feel like it. This was one of those that I didn’t feel like taking, and one I thought I would never share.

However now, over a year later, I can look at this picture and see just how far I have come. I don’t just see a feeble cancer patient that had been robbed of so many parts of her. I see a woman, who despite the circumstances, chose to face the bull manure life was throwing at her and fight back with vengeance.  I see a woman who stood in faith, endured the pain, won the battle and is victorious and cancer free! Am I happy I had cancer, NO! Do I ever want to walk that journey again…HECK NO! But I am thankful that when I look in the mirror today I see a woman, who is much better now than she was before the journey began and I understand…why not me?

I close this blog saying that I don’t in any form or fashion want to make light of anyone’s struggles. Life hurts and sometimes the pain can be so overwhelming that it can feel as if we just can’t get through it. I do want to say that you do not have to get through it alone! If you are hurting today, regardless of the circumstance, please reach out those who love you and support you. I would have never made it through my journey without God’s strength and mercy and all of the love, support, prayers and encouragement I received from so many. If you don’t have anyone, please reach out to me. I will listen; I will pray for you, I will fight through the darkness with you. It won’t be easy, but we won’t give up until we overcome!

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Life With the Noobies

Some blogs are easier to write than others. There are times when the words rush out like a mighty river, times they flow gently like a summer breeze, and then there are times they stay dammed up in my soul like waters stored behind a secured fortress. I have learned over the years that until the words are ready to come out, it is senseless to sit down and try to force them onto paper. It just doesn’t happen. Writing about the ‘noobies’ has proven to be one of those stories that has stubbornly refused to release itself from the portals of my soul…until now.

If you have followed me over the past year, you are familiar with my recent journey through breast cancer. In January of 2019, at the age of 49, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. I had two tumors, one was Her2+ and one was Her2-, one at stage 1 and one at stage 2. Within a few short weeks of the diagnosis, my treatment plan began: 6 chemotherapy treatments over an 18 week time span, 1 year of immunotherapy, 25 radiation treatments and a double mastectomy with 2 reconstructive surgeries, and not to mention two port placement surgeries. It has been a rigorous 17 months, but well worth the promise of having many more months and years to spend living and enjoying this beautiful life that I am blessed with. I have been writing for years, it is a form of therapy for me that always brings healing and a deeper understanding of the seasons of life. When this phase of my life came into fruition, it was just natural to pen my thoughts, my experiences, my accomplishments, my victories and my struggles. After spending years in a ministry spotlight, I’ve learned that the ability to be transparent is both intimidating and freeing all in the same breath.  I am a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of girl, no one has to guess who I am or what my thoughts are, and I express myself in the same manner when I write. I wear my emotions on my countenance like a favorite outfit. I have been accused of being raw, painfully honest and too authentic, yet I embrace all of those accusations with boldness and confidence saying yes! That is exactly me and I have a beautiful peace with who I am.

During my treatments, I relished in sharing the blessings that came my way and I felt no shame in sharing the god-awful side effects of the chemotherapy on my body. Dignity became a by-word and conversations about uncontrollably crapping my pants became the norm. I freely shared about the fatigue, insecurities, weight loss, hangry-ness due to the mouth sores that prevented me from eating, the struggle with my emotions, my fingernails looking like I had went all gothic with the dead black skin underneath and  my feet swelling like elephant trunks just to mention a few. It took me a little time to be able to share the emotions over losing my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, simply because it was difficult looking in the mirror and seeing a cancer patient staring back at me. Now, here I sit, 7 months after my reconstructive surgery (wow! time has flown!!)   ready to share what life is like with the ‘noobies.’

Having reconstructive surgery is different than having breast augmentation, or what many just refer to as a ‘boob job.” When you have a breast augmentation, the implants are placed in your breasts to ‘enhance’ what is already there. The implants fit inside the natural breast pockets, and have breast tissue covering them, leaving the new breasts looking and feeling natural.  However, when you have a double mastectomy with reconstruction, all of the breast tissue is removed during the mastectomy, leaving only a thin layer of skin covering your chest muscle.  In order to make room for an implant, the pectoralis chest muscle must be separated from the chest wall and tissue expanders are placed under the muscle. Office visits follow to have the tissue expanders gradually inflated with sterile fluid to stretch the skin and muscle, creating a new pocket for the soon to be placed implant. Once the expander is fully inflated, and the skin and muscle are stretched to the cup size desired, another surgery is required to remove the expanders and place the implants. The process to stretch the chest wall is somewhat unpleasant. The expanders feel like concrete blocks stuck in your chest, they have no ‘give’ to them,  no matter what size they are, they’re constantly getting in the way and sleeping with expanders is a task! When you lay on your side you feel as if they are constantly pulling and are going to come right off your chest, but when you lay on your back, the weight of them can feel as if you are smothering. Lying on your stomach is not an option! It only took 8 weeks to stretch me out to a B cup (sorry folks, no Dolly’s here!) but I had to carry those babies around for 3 extra months due to having radiation treatments.  Needless to say when November 25th rolled around, I was more than ready for the surgery to have the expanders removed and the implants inserted. When I awoke after surgery, I immediately felt better – as if the weight of the world had been lifted off of my chest, no pun intended. The implants were squeezable (of course not too hard right after surgery!) and except for the numbness from having my nerves cut through again for the second time, I was hopeful that I was on my way to feeling natural and normal again.

7 months later I am still waiting, and I have this gnawing in my gut that feeling ‘normal and natural’ is not much of an option for a breast cancer survivor. I have adjusted to the fact that the structure of my ‘noobies’ will always feel a little different due to the fact that my implants are underneath my chest muscle. We don’t realize how many movements we actually make that flexes our chest muscle, until we can feel every. single. one! Rock climbing is an adjustment and push-ups are humorously challenging. My right side will always be higher and tighter than my left side due to the side effects of radiation. Insert making sure my shirts aren’t too clingy in photo ops! Double insert rolling my eyes at even worrying about it! My surgeon’s assistant informed me that the numbness never really goes away and since I chose to have 3-d nipple reconstruction (still waiting for tattoos – like, what woman wants to go indefinitely with half of her noobies finished??? thank you COVID 19!), I look like I’m cold all the time, if you catch my drift, so I am forever mindful of what I wear.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some ‘perks’ to having brand new, always standing in attention even after 4 kids, noobies at the age of 50 and I did have the best, top-rated surgeon in my area take good care of me. 🙂 I will eventually get used to all of the differences, which on most days are just distant after thoughts, and for the most part, I have peace about my new normal. During those fleeting moments of humanness, when I struggle with the insecurities, I get alone with myself, I cry a little and then I remind myself that every day I am extremely thankful to be alive, to be on this side of the journey, to be healthy and cancer free, to be able to do all the things that I do and I rest in the assurance that today I am much better than I was when I began this journey.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2020 in breast cancer

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: I Wish…I know…

Some mornings when I get out of bed and my feet first hit the floor, I wish I never knew what it was like to have cancer.
I steady myself as I feel the fiery sensations  on the soles of my feet
I slowly straighten up
I hear each joint whisper a sigh of discomfort
and I whisper back, I know, I’m sorry you ache
But we can do this!
I began to walk and I know that this day is a new day
With new mercies, sufficient grace and strength to make it through.

I know that my burning feet will carry me everywhere that I need and want to go
and on some days they will hike miles, scramble through creeks and over rocks
bushwhack through briars and thick rhododendron
and climb glorious mountains.

I know that my aching joints will sit down, rise up, make coffee, embrace my babies and grand babies, throw dog toys, cook dinner, do the laundry, take out the trash, do yoga, vacuum my house, mop my floors, mow my yard, drive my car and when the day is said and done, we will lay down together and silently weep accomplished tears.

Some days I look in the mirror and I wish that my body wasn’t altered, scarred, weak, different.
I miss my strength, my form, my endurance,
The definition in my arms and back from countless hours of climbing.
The firmness in my thighs from relentless, exhilarating adventures over the hills and through the valleys.
I gaze at the swelled areas of my chest,
I long for the day that I can stand in front of the mirror and look and feel like a woman again instead of a cancer patient.

Then I take a moment and a gaze a little deeper…
I run my fingers through my silvered hair,
I gently trace the scars where my breasts use to be
And I know that my body has been through hell and back
Fighting like a warrior
Enduring each poke, prod and knife against its delicate skin.
It armored up through chemical warfare, standing bold and courageous all the while suffering from the friendly fire coursing through its veins
destroying the terrorist that was attacking us.
I know that we are working in harmony for healing and victory,
We are stronger because of our battle
And I know deep inside that I am more of a woman than I have ever been.

Some days I struggle for the right words to say when my granddaughter asks why I shaved my head?
Or why can’t I jump on the trampoline with her?
Or what is cancer momsy?
My heart aches and I wish I never had to explain to her, or any of my babies or grandbabies, about this hateful disease.
I wish that they would had never had to see me tired, weak, sickly, bald.
I wish they would never have to experience hurt, fear, shame, or injustice in this broken world.

I pray and I know the right words will come.
I also know that actions speak louder than words!
Silently they are observing what grace and grit and determination look like.
Soon enough they will see with their own little perfect eyes and pure hearts that life isn’t always kind,
But we can be.
They will know that God is always on our side.
He is faithful and just and
He will never leave us or forsake us.
They will know what a firm foundation of faith looks like in certainty and uncertainty,
And they will know that  with the love, support and encouragement of family and friends
A person can make it through even the most difficult of times,
And even broken things have beauty to behold.

Some days I wish life was different
But I know that no matter the situation, the circumstance, the season or the struggle,
Life is a gift to be treasured
To be lived to the absolute fullest
Today and everyday.

March 27, 2020
Ramblings of a quarantined survivor, thriver and lover of life
#coronapandemic2020


 
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Posted by on March 27, 2020 in breast cancer

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: A Year Ago Today…

twin towers

(I dedicate this blog to my dear friend and soul sister Brooke West who took me to all of my doctor visits, who sat with me through every minute of chemotherapy, who endured me on steroids…whoa! who laughed, cried and prayed with me, and who sent me the most powerful text message early one late December morning that inspired these words.)

They say time flies when you are having fun. I say time has a way of creeping by and flying by all at the same time whether you are having fun or not. It is hard to believe that just one year ago today I was getting ready to embark on the most challenging personal journey I have ever faced in my life. I have definitely been through some rough times in my 49 years, heck my early childhood was enough to make anyone tremble a little (but that is another blog for another time). I have lost family, friends, a marriage, a spouse. I have had my heart broke by people who were supposed to be my friend. My family has experienced the tragedy of senseless violence, we have suffered the consequences of not-always-the-smartest choices (a nice way of saying I have done some stupid stuff in my life!), and we have had the proverbial rug pulled out from under us on many occasions. I could go on and on, but I think you catch my drift that life hasn’t always been a piece of cake. The hard times have shaped me and my faith has produced a stubborn resilience that refuses to let the hardships get the best of me! However, in January of 2019, life was getting ready to throw me a hefty kick to the gut, on the most personal level, which would require me to dig deep, trust wholeheartedly in my faith and endure with the strongest determination I could muster up.

On November 21st, 2018 I went for my yearly mammogram. After receiving a bad scare in 2015 and having to go have a diagnostic mammogram and ultra sound to determine density in my right breast, I had kept up my mammograms on a regular basis regardless of the fact that I didn’t have health insurance for years (kudos to the local health department for a grant that covered mammograms for uninsured women). On November 28th I went for a complete physical with my primary care physician. I hadn’t had one of those in years and felt it was a smart move since I now had health insurance that covered such things, and I hadn’t been feeling quite like myself here and there. The good news is that my physical results were fabulous! All of my blood work came back perfect and my doctor said I was one of the healthiest women she knew. The bad news is my mammogram came back showing some questionable areas in my right breast, and once again, a diagnostic mammogram and ultra sound was ordered. I would like to say that I was as calm as a cucumber, but I won’t even try to downplay the fear that ravishes a woman’s heart when she is told further tests need to be done. Not to mention that over the course of 2018 I had noticed a change in the pea size mass that was diagnosed as density in 2015. It was now about the size of a nickel but according to google it was nothing, (seriously, of course I googled it!!) but deep down inside, I was scared. On January 3rd 2019, I went in for my testing. It wasn’t anything I was unfamiliar with, but this time the atmosphere seemed a little more intense. The mammographer appeared a little more serious and the ultrasound tech took an extensive amount of time checking out my right side and under my right arm. Finally, she called in the radiologist so that she could sit down with me face to face, eye level to eye level, and tell me ever so gently that it was expedient that I go for a biopsy.

I left the office feeling overwhelmed and as I drove back to work, I cried a little and prayed a lot. My thoughts rushed to my children and I had no I idea how I would tell them that their mother may have breast cancer. I spent the next week praying profusely and diplomatically telling God why I DID NOT need to walk through breast cancer at this time in my life. No just NO! Of course I didn’t want to have to fight the battle, but my reasons weren’t selfish ones, first and foremost I did not want my children to have to suffer through another parent having cancer. Please Lord, not at this time in our lives. Give us a little more time to grow, to heal, to enjoy life. I am strong in my faith and firmly believe that the God I serve can work miracles and remove anything out of my body that He chooses. Yes Lord, work a miracle on my behalf, after all my God moves mountains, right?!?

A year ago today, on January 10th, 2019, I was dreadfully waiting for the sun to rise as I rose out of bed early to get ready to go to my scheduled biopsy. One of my most dear friends and soul sister’s was taking me so that I didn’t have to go alone. I made my coffee, read my devotion, prayed and again recited to God at what a testimony it would be and how I would so praise Him if He would just remove these freaking lumps in my breast (yep, ultra sound showed two!).  I opened my Facebook and the first thing I saw was a memory from my ‘Dear Christy from God’ letters on January 10, 2018 (exactly one year prior) that said:

“Dear Christy, when I choose not to move the mountain, then what?” ~God~.

I knew in that moment what the outcome of the biopsy would be before they ever pierced my skin. I knew in that moment that my life and my children’s lives were getting ready to change drastically. I honestly didn’t know what all it would involve, but I knew from this moment on that my life would be on a different time table – you know, like how we measure time as BC (before Christ) and AD (anno domini – the year of our Lord) – now for me it would be “before I got breast cancer” and “after I survived breast cancer.” I sighed deeply and read the memory again:

Dear Christy, when I choose not to move the mountain, then what? ~God~.
Dear God, well, I guess we climb the dang mountain, that’s what. ~Christy~

And that is exactly what we did.

It took eight viciously long days for the doctor to call and ask me to come in for my results. Tom Petty nailed it on the head when he said “the waiting is the hardest part!” My dear friend and soul sister went with me to hear the results and we all had to chuckle a little as my doctor recited again that I was one of the healthiest women she knew…but…the biopsy showed that I had breast cancer.  My first reaction was “well hell” and after listening to what the next few weeks of my life would be like with all the doctor visits they would line up for me, Brooke and I both agreed on one thing; My God, the one in whom I believe in and love wholeheartedly, the one who loves me more than I can imagine, the one who flung the starts into place and measured the depths of the seas in the palm of his hand, the One who is good all the time, He was not at all surprised by this diagnosis. The bargaining was over, the course had been set and if He wasn’t going to move the mountain, then in no uncertain terms He was going to have to show up and help me climb it. On this side of the battle I can say that not only did God show up, but He showed out!

I have spent the past year of my life climbing this mountain called breast cancer. I have gone through two port surgeries, 5 months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, 25 radiation treatments, and reconstructive surgery. I lost my hair, my dignity, my hot, muscular beast of a body I had worked so hard for (okay, maybe I wasn’t so hot to start with but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it! J). My battle isn’t quite over yet as I am still doing immunotherapy infusions every three weeks. I am getting ready to take a preventative pill for a year and then another preventative pill for five years. Hopefully I will only have one more surgery left to complete reconstruction. All in all, it is safe to say that it has been a wing-dinger of a year! I have felt strong and I have felt weak. I have felt empowered and I have felt helpless. I have been brave and I have been scared. I have been challenged physically, mentally and emotionally. I can say that being on this side of the battle feels much better than where I was one year ago and, despite all of the losses and struggles,  I have experienced some pretty awesome things through all of the madness. I have been surrounded by the most wonderful support system of family and friends, saturated in prayers and positive thoughts by a countless number of people and received more acts of kindness than I deserve. I have met some of the most precious folks along the way who had fought this same battle, strangers who became friends almost instantly because of the special bond we share. In the best of times and in the worst of times, I know without a doubt, that I have not been alone in this struggle for one single minute.

By the grace of my Almighty God, I was not only able to continue to work full time, I was also able to do my job with a passionate fervor and reach and exceed the goals that were set before me. I have traveled to more states this year than I have in all my life and I have watched the sun rise and set on the east coast and the west coast. I was able to experience a sweet beach vacation and a grandiose out west adventure, celebrating my 50th birthday watching the sun come up over the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, Utah. In the midst of fighting cancer, I logged 3,284,177 steps and I was on the trail 83 days, only missing  a handful of adventures due to treatments and side effects. The most difficult year of my life has also been the most glorious of adventures! And I give all praise, honor and glory to the God in whom I gave my heart to so many years ago. His joy IS my strength!

Some would argue that if He was such a good God, why didn’t He move the mountain like I had begged him too? Oh my, as I type this I shudder at the things I would have missed if He would have done things my way. Am I saying that I am thankful for cancer? NEGATIVE GHOSTRIDER! However,  had I not walked this journey, I would have missed the recognition of His mighty hand weaving the strands of my life and guiding my every step. In 2012 God sparked a desire in me for the outdoors, and after my first hike in June 2013, a passion for hiking and adventure was birthed in my soul. I can name 3 things that tried to divert my passion through the years, but God in His goodness would always just redirect my steps and lead me to another place til eventually I found my Tribe. From 2016 through 2018 I spent weekend after weekend on the trail and with each step God was with me, honing my heart for maximum strength, honing muscle and sinew to perfection, building up every aspect of my body, strengthening my mind. healing my soul, and preparing me for a battle that would inevitably attack it all. He knew that on January 18, 2019 when I received the news that I had breast cancer that I would need to be in the best physical, mental and spiritual shape that I had ever been in to endure and come out victorious. Insert that I worked for 13 years without health insurance, and in August 2018 I was hired at my new job that offers incredible benefits, my health insurance kicked in on October 1, just 3 short months before my diagnosis.

A year ago today breast cancer was my diagnosis but it was never my destiny! It is just a path to another purpose and I hold fast to the peace, joy and thanksgiving that fill my soul. Today, on January 10, 2020 I open my eyes to a new day, a new year, a new decade and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am better, much better than I was…a year ago today.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2020 in breast cancer

 

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The Rebellious Boob Chronicles: Radiation and Vacation

The Subway

A diagnosis of breast cancer is something that no woman ever wants to hear, however, on average, one woman out of 8 is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States every two minutes. On January 18, 2019, I experienced those “two minutes” and my doctor informed me that I had invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. Suddenly I became the “one in eight.” The good news was there are 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, the cancer had been discovered in early stages and I was the healthiest I had ever been in my life, which gave me a running start at what my body was getting ready to endure for the next several months. My treatment plan included 6 rounds of chemotherapy, once every twenty days, and then surgery to remove the affected breast tissue. The bad news was…I had freaking breast cancer and I was getting ready to embark on the most challenging year of my life.

After my diagnosis, things moved quickly. I had my first MRI on January 24th, first Echocardiogram on February 1st, had my port put in on February 4th, and my first chemotherapy treatment was February 11th. For the next several months I had more doctor visits than any one human should have and my body experienced many hardships and changes. I had my last treatment on June 3rd (hallelujah!) and went to my follow up MRI on June 17th to assess how effective the treatments had been. On June 19th around 11:45 am, I received the call with the results, “No evidence of residual malignancy in posterosuperior and upper inner quadrant areas of the right breast or elsewhere.” The tumors were GONE!  The chemotherapy had worked! The prayers had worked! All the support and encouragement had worked! All the moments of fighting against the terrorist that had invaded my body had worked! And last but not at all the least, my God had worked on my behalf and we had won! This stage of my battle was over and my next stage would be surgery scheduled for July 8th, 2019.

After careful consideration and consultation with my oncologist and surgeon, I chose to have a double mastectomy instead of just having the right rebellious boob removed. No cancer had been present in my left breast, yet I wasn’t willing to take the chance in having to fight this battle again if ole lefty decided to rebel against me in the future. Plus, the aging process is a reality in all of our lives and what woman really wants one boob that says “hello there!” and one that is saying “see ya later alligator” as she ages?? So, a double mastectomy with complete reconstruction beginning during the same process was scheduled. I am happy to say that surgery was a success and healing came swiftly. Perhaps it was the resilience that my body had already proven time and time again; the many prayers; my stubbornness; or all of the hiking I was able to enjoy while on medical leave. I was back on the trail 12 days after surgery and enjoyed 7 trail days, a beach trip between July 20th and August 4th and I was able to return to work August 5th.  My conclusion is that it was a combination of all the above! My surgeon had said that I could return to my normal activities after about a month so within one month and two days after surgery, I was back on the rock, climbing carefully, but nevertheless climbing! We even climbed one route completely blindfolded! Booyah!

Needless to say, despite all the hardships this year had brought so far, I was living and loving life! My follow up consultation with my surgeon brought unexpected news. She only had to remove 3 lymph nodes, which came back crystal clear, however one of the cancerous tumors had rested so close to my skin margin, and because she didn’t have a whole lot extra to work with (her kind words referring to my size B!) she recommended radiation to make sure there was nothing microscopic lingering around the tumor area. I would probably be okay without the radiation she said, but if I chose to have the radiation, she was confident that there would be no cancer left behind. So of course I chose to proceed with a radiation consultation and the next step in my journey would be 25 treatments, one a day for 5 weeks. We opted to allow the plastic surgeon to complete his process of stretching my muscle cavity to make pockets for my new implants before we started the treatments and this put us on a close time table. I had told my doctor during my consultation that I had to be done by October 17th because I flew out on October 18th to Utah for a much awaited out-west adventure that had been in the makings for almost a year. They weren’t that happy about the time restraint, nevertheless 2 days after my consultation my first treatment was scheduled.

Radiation began on September 12th and I had 26 days to complete 25 treatments! The first treatment was somewhat overwhelming as you walk into this huge room, a nurse stands behind you holding a hand towel to cover you up as you undress, you lay down on a table and they wheel you under this huge concoction of a machine that lines you up and shoots a radioactive beam straight to the targeted spot. After I got over the reluctance of taking my top off and standing naked in front of strangers, bearing my scarred chest that looked like it had two cement filled softballs crammed in it, the process itself was painless, a little dehumanizing, but painless. Each treatment lasted less than 15 minutes to show up, undress, lie down, get zapped, get dressed and leave. I began to get some minor skin irritation after 18 treatments, but I only had 7 to go and then I would be done and my body could enjoy a much needed 10 day vacation while healing.

On Wednesday October 16th, I completed my 25th treatment. Needless to say I was elated as I walked into the office to see the doctor and say goodbye. Treatments had gone well with minimal side effects and it was time to heal. The doctor looked at my skin, frowned a little at the irritation and then informed me that radiation side effects were about 10 days behind and I could expect more irritation. I would have to watch carefully and treat my skin with a special salve 4 times a day to avoid cracking and possible infection. When I explained to him I was going on vacation and would be hiking and camping, he explained to me that there was no way I needed to carry a backpack for at least two weeks. Yeah right, bahahaha! Inside I was screaming…what the heck! Why do you always have to rain on my parade! I am going out west and I do not have time for irritation and infection. Insert some major eye rolling and heavy sighing as I left feeling my stubbornness rising up from the pit of my stomach and as rebellious as the boob that had gotten me to this point in the first place.

Friday came and we were on a plan to Salt Lake City Utah. To make a long story somewhat shorter, we enjoyed 10 days of the absolute best adventuring a girl could have. The scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful! Mountains bigger than life! Incredible monoliths that didn’t even look real! Rocks, canyons, rivers, waterfalls! We put 1700 miles on a 15 passenger van, and almost 140,000 steps on my Fitbit. We visited Bridal Veil Falls in Provo, Utah; camped in the desert of Moab; visited Arches National Park and  Canyonlands;  watched the sunrise over the Mesa Arch as we rang in my 50th birthday; visited Mule Canyon and the House of Fire; drove through Natural Bridges National Monument and down the Moki Dugway (whoa what an adventure!); went through Mexican Hat, Monument Valley and Navajo Nation; stayed the night in Page, Arizona and visited Horseshoe Bend; drove to Bryce Canyon for a night of camping and exploring; and ended our trip with 3 days and nights camping in Zion National Park right behind The Watchmen. We hiked the Subway (thank the Lord and Jeremy for getting the permits!) and Angels Landing and finished up our last night at the Canyon Overlook trail. WOW!!! Needless to say the entire trip was beyond amazing. I have inserted pictures for your viewing pleasure :).

I somewhat followed the doctors’ orders and spent time treating my irritated radiation skin in a cold van in the desert of Moab and in campgrounds at the National Parks. I only had to wear a pack twice the whole time we were there (thanks to my David for carrying everything!). By the time we returned home, my skin was almost all the way healed and ready for the consultation with my plastic surgeon on November 12th. The next stage of my journey would be scheduled for November 26th – surgery #2, the removal of the concrete softballs on my chest I had been carrying around since July and the insertion of new implants. Goodbye softballs, hello noobies!

This year of my life was almost over and the hardest parts of my journey were coming to an end. As I reflect back I must say it sure has been a challenge. There were days I felt like a victorious warrior and days it took all I had within me to fight through. Through it all I’ve lived, I’ve learned, I’ve loved, I’ve collected priceless memories and have been surrounded by the most precious people. I’ve discovered I am stronger than I thought I was but yet I don’t have to be strong all the time. There is a time to persevere and push on and a time for rest and healing. I’ve learned that no matter what life throws at you, with a little faith and a lot of support, you absolutely can make it through anything. It may not always be pretty and you may not always like it, but you will prevail. I’ve learned that during the struggles, if you keep on keeping on, the day WILL come that you are better than you were during those moments.

Next step – say hello to the ‘noobies!’

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Delicate Arch

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Landscape Arch

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Sunrise at Mesa Arch

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Canyonlands

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The House of Fire

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View from Moki Dugway

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Looking back up Moki Dugway. We drove down that!

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Sunset in Monument Valley

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Horseshoe Bend

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Bryce Canyon

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Bryce Canyon

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Welcome to Bryce Canyon

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Welcome to Zion National Park

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Front view from Campground

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The Watchman

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along the Subway hike

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Hiking up to Angels Landing

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Canyon Overlook

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Going up the Wiggles

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Our total number of steps…Whoa!

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The crew at The Subway

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The Subway

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2019 in breast cancer, Uncategorized

 

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