Sunday, February 7, 2016

The One Where I Realize An Entire Year Has Passed

On February 5, 2015, I received the official news that I had cancer. I was at work when my doctor called me. There was no beating around the bush. She told me I had cancer and I should hang up the phone with her and call an oncologist immediately. I did not immediately call an oncologist, instead I called my husband. And then I walked across the hall and told my boss. And then I turned the corner and went to my friend's office and told her. I am pretty sure I smiled, laughed, and dropped the cancer bomb. I laughed because I didn't want to cry and didn't know what else to do. Because that's a totally normal thing.

February 5th is my baby brother's birthday. I remember feeling horrified that this was happening on his b-day. I contemplated putting off telling him by a day so it wouldn't ruin his birthday. Now, I know that is kind of presumptuous and a bit conceited to assume that this would ruin his birthday, but I just didn't want to risk it. I remember calling my dad and being more preoccupied with figuring out if I should say anything or wait, than actually telling my dad I had cancer. I guess we on fixate on weird stuff when we are stressed out. (In case you're wondering, I did tell my brother on his birthday. He doesn't seem traumatized and he still speaks to me, so I think we're okay. We even texted back and forth to make plans for a birthday dinner this year. Dessert and all.)

Here we are a while back at a Bulls vs. Mavericks pre-season game. Much fun was had by all. 
So, it's been one year since this who debacle started. Wow. I feel like everything has changed and nothing has changed. It's an odd combination of feeling like it took me forever to get here and that it all happened in the blink of an eye. A very odd feeling and even more odd that I struggle so hard to find the words to describe it. Be prepared for a meandering post as I try really hard to get to the point...

Fuck. I survived. I had two huge tumors and now I don't. I am still alive and hearty, healthy, and hale. Please understand, it's not that I feel guilty and I am not sitting here wondering "why did it all work out for me and not those other cancer patients". I am smart enough and rational enough to understand the nuances of modern medicine, science, and sickness.  It's just that there are days where the enormity of it all hits me, right in chest. My heart hurts a little, my breathing gets a bit accelerated, and I get a little light headed. When I fully absorb what happened, it sort of freaks me out. Which is kind of stupid considering it's all done. I am cancer free. I beat cancer. I survived. So why am I freaking out on a random Friday afternoon? I dunno. Maybe all of those days where I just put one foot in front of the other, focused on one small piece at a time, plowed ahead and refused to be anything but positive and optimistic and certain that it would all work out finally caught up to me? Maybe my subconscious is finally cracking open just the tiniest bit and letting me see all of the fears I buried way down deep?

It's been a whole entire year. How do I feel about that? Like I said, some days the enormity of it all grabs me by the throat and I panic all over again. But mostly, I feel good. Really good. I feel like I have a much better sense of what is worth arguing about, and what is worth letting go. I feel like I search even deeper for the positives. I am trying so much harder to tell people what they mean to me. I am freer with compliments and gratitude. I want to take advantage of every opportunity in front of me. I am trying really hard to make sure I'm not raining on anyone's parade. I feel really good and I want everyone around me to feel really good.

I feel good emotionally AND physically. I joined the YMCA so I can work out and get my strength and endurance back. I got a Fitbit (thanks, Mom!) to make sure I keep moving and don't get too sedentary (let me know if you wanna be Fitbit friends - or whatever the cool kids call it). I've cut waaaaaay back on my caffeine intake (decaf coffee, more hot tea, little to no soda). More fruits and less Little Debbie.
Check out my nifty compression sleeves. From the right distance it looks like I am super tough and have these bad-ass tattoos. FYI - these guys help keep me from getting lymphedema, in case you were wondering. And yes, I did punch  myself in the face while trying to put them on the first time. It's cool. I'm fine.

That contraption right there? I have no idea what it is called but when I use it - it makes muscles in my chest area flex that I didn't know I had. I have a love/hate relationship with it. 
Oh, and another thing. A friend of mind messaged me recently asking if I had any idea about what I wanted to do with my wig now that I'm no longer using it. I told her that I had planned on donating it to the local cancer center, but just hadn't done it yet. That wig really did help me get through a rough spot - I was surprised at how much more confident I felt with it on and I wanted someone else to have that same experience with no worries about the cost associated with purchasing a wig (they can be kind of pricey). Turns out my friend had a friend who needed a wig. While it broke my heart that there was a reason to pass it along, I was more than happy to do so. What surprised me most about this was the little touch of sadness I felt about letting the wig go. It really was like a security blanket and I had a brief 10 minutes where I was truly sad about saying goodbye to Samantha. (The style of wig was called "Bewitched". Of course I named the wig Samantha. Duh.) I mean, don't misunderstand, I was 95% happy to be helping someone out by giving them the wig to use, but there was absolutely that 5% of sadness. Very weird, but that's the truth.

Why yes. I did have a Raquel Welch wig. 

Me having my last moment with Samantha. 

In retrospect, letting go of the wig was kind of a nice way to sad goodbye to the cancer and all of the horseshit that came with it. A nice way to physically let go, you know? Symbolic in a way. Which is a good thing. I want to let go, but I refuse to forget. This process could have easily been overwhelming and could have sent me into a depressive downward spiral. But it wasn't and I didn't thanks to my wide and deep pool of friends and family. I am learning to let go of the lingering fear and anxiety, but I will not forget what I went through. I think I have accepted my physical scars, and am working through the emotional ones. (Gotta stop waiting for the metaphorical "other shoe" to drop.)

This process showed me that I wasn't the weenie I thought I was and that it's okay to depend on other people and ask for help every once in a while. This process made me open my eyes and see the value in things that I was absolutely taking for granted - - and it's made me see that despite how good I had it before, I was missing out on so much more.

Wow. Yes. It's been a whole year. I am still a little shocked that all of this happened, but I am so grateful and relieved and awed that everything worked out the way it did. Guys, I did it. I beat cancer. Holy crap. Now, I just need to figure out how to 1) use the grill properly and 2) not burn bacon...I can beat cancer, but apparently cooking certain meats is outside of my skill set.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The one about the last surgery (It's finally "ovar-y"!)

Okay, when we last chatted I had just finished radiation and I told you that the last step in my cancer treatment plan was to have my ovaries and fallopian tubes taken out. Well, on December 28th, I was able to check that off of the to-do list.

Of course there was a prediction of a terrible snow storm to hit that day. Because why not add a little extra stress. Sure. To do my part in thwarting the snow, I went grocery shopping the night before and had my husband get the snow shovel out and make sure the snow blower was working. (It's the same logic as washing your car to make sure it rains.) Boom. No snow storm.

If you've been following along you already know how much I hate needles and the worst part of surgery for me is getting the IV. I really dislike that portion of the show. But, when we parked in the hospital garage, I unbuckled my seat belt and saw this little graffiti gem:

"It'll Be Okay." Thanks, stranger. Much appreciated. 
I wish I could accurately express just how much this made me feel better. It's true, I believe in things like ghosts, fate, and signs - - and so this really did calm me down and make me believe it would be okay. 

Once again, each nurse I met during this surgery day was awesome. Friendly, smart, efficient, and caring. I am still not sure how I got so lucky, but I'm going to do everything I can to keep putting good vibes out to the world to compensate for my good fortune.

Anyway, they came and got me a little early for surgery because things were moving quicker than expected. So, off I went at about 10:45am. Getting your ovaries and tubes out can be done laparoscopically and takes about 30-45 minutes. I got three tiny little incisions: one in my belly button and two on each side. The one in my belly button seems a bit bigger, and the two others are no bigger than the nail on my pinky finger. 

Tiny little incisions. You can barely see 'em! 

This is an outpatient procedure so I was home and in my own bed by 2pm. Yes, I was a little sore and tender for a day or two, but not bad. The worst part of this whole procedure was the leftover gas in my body afterwards. The doctor inflates you with gas to move some of your other organs out of the way, and some of that gas hangs out in your body for a day or so until you burp it out or your body absorbs it naturally. I had these pains that felt like the stitch you get in your side after running, and a pain in my shoulder when I moved a certain way. It took about two days for that to go away. 

Surgery was done on Monday the 28th and on Thursday the 31st, I went to my cousins house to play cards for New Year's Eve. I took my kiddo shopping that Friday to spend her Christmas money. Went that Saturday to my baby brother's basketball game. Seriously, the recovery time was super short. 

Like I said at the beginning of this post - - this was the last item on my cancer treatment to-do list. No ovaries = no ovarian cancer. One less thing to worry about, right? Right. It feels good. So, if that was the last big thing I needed to do, what's next? Well, I'll have a few remaining sessions with my physical therapist (technically, she's an OTD, OTR/L, and CLT -- occupational therapist and certified lymphedema therapist, in case you were wondering), a follow-up with my oncologist in March, a follow-up with my radiation oncologist in March, and then just regular check ups thereafter. 

Guys, what am I gonna do with all of this reclaimed free time!?! I'll tell you what I'm gonna do - - I'm gonna enjoy it. I'm gonna laugh and smile and gleefully hop back into the driver's seat of my life again. 

Oh, and just as a reminder for you ladies...

It's January. Why don't you make sure you have your mammogram scheduled. Also, go ahead and schedule reminders for you monthly breast self exams while you're at it.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

The one with radiation, but no super powers

Well, the next-to-last piece of my cancer treatment puzzle was radiation. I did 33 sessions of this. Radiation took place every day, Monday through Friday. Despite getting zapped 33 times with fancy electrons, x-rays, gamma rays, and whatever -- no super powers.

I found this meme on the intertubes. The typos are kind of killing me on the inside, but you get the point. 

Really, radiation wasn't all that bad. Especially when I compare it to chemo and surgery. No nausea, no hair loss, no bone aches. The main thing I felt was tired. Not every single day, and not beginning with the first session. It took a little while to build up, but I'd say after the first week and a half I could feel myself starting to drag a little bit. Then about every three or four days, I would just be totally exhausted. So wiped out that I would fall asleep at 7pm and stay asleep until my alarm went off for work the next day. Because of this, I'm so glad that I scheduled my appointments in the afternoon at 3:45pm. If it was just radiation, I could be in and out in 30 mins. Once a week I had to do x-rays and that added another 15 minutes. Now, 30-45 minutes doesn't seem so long, but when you are laying perfectly still with your arms above your head it can seem like forever. And there was no clock in the room, so I would resort to counting the number of songs that played and estimated how much time had passed. What I appreciated more than anything was that the radiation therapists had good taste in music and changed it up each day. 

All things considered, when compared to chemo treatment days, it wasn't too bad of an experience that's for sure. So, let me try to describe how all of this worked, step-by-step. 

My very first appointment consisted of a full body scan, getting all of my planes marked, and tattoos (yes, I said tattoos). They sent me through a scanner (the tube kind) and they drew all over my chest with Sharpie. The radiation techs were making sure that they could set up my treatment plan to the exact specifications necessary (kind of like programming a CNC machine). After the scanning and the drawing, they gave me 5 or 6 little tattooed dots - - some right down the middle of my chest and one on each side. These little dots are black light sensitive ink injected just under my skin. That's right. I glow under black light. I am my own version of Iron Man with my tiny glowing arc reactor dots. These glowing dots allow the radiation techs to quickly line me up in the exact same spot each day. I learned that radiation is a pretty exact science. 

My first session of radiation was on October 15, 2015. Just a little over one month after my double-mastectomy and reconstruction. Here is what one of the two radiation rooms looked like: 

Here's the radiation room. That dome like ceiling actually has little blinking star lights that look like outer space. It has a purplish pink light and then the twinkle stars when it is turned on. Then I laid on that slab, my legs went over the pillow, and then they adjusted the table to the right height and position. Then that star ship Enterprise looking thing can rotate all of the way around the slab to do both x-rays and administer the radiation treatment.

Now, in my case, I had to take my top off and wear a hospital gown. This is probably because the radiation therapists had to regularly line me up to a very specific set of measurements and regularly draw on me with Sharpies. I got to leave everything on from the waist down. Kinda strange to be wearing your pants and boots paired with a hospital gown, but oh well.

Here's the little room where you change into your gown. There are little lockers outside to put all of your stuff. You can keep all of your jewelry on, and your glasses, and your shoes.

Seriously. I will not miss those gowns. I mean, I am no fashionista, but even I know how terrible they are.  

Now, I gotta tell you, I was definitely worried about the damage that radiation could do. My radiation oncologist told me that he wanted to see my skin turn a little reddish pink. That didn't seem so bad,  but there was a chance that I could get a sunburn of sorts. There was a chance that it could have been painful. That I might need a prescription for lotion with aloe and lidocaine. I was worried, so I was really diligent in following doctor's orders and applying a good, heavy lotion to my skin each morning. I also made sure that I was drinking plenty of water each day. I wanted to make sure my skin stayed hydrated and pliable. During this time I continued to see my physical therapist who is also a lymphedema specialist. She helped me address any issues I had with cording (Remember I mentioned cords last time? The hardened "strings" of lymphatic fluid that need to be broken up?). Each session of radiation was a fresh trauma to an already sensitive and damaged area. When I would see her, she would have me run through the exercises that I was also doing at home, then work on any cords, and try to monitor my incision areas to see if I was developing any noticeable scar tissue under the skin. It was important to make sure that I didn't get a build up of scar tissue that could glob up and push on my implants. Again, I count myself lucky that I really didn't have any terrible side effects. No burns, no sores. Just a few tan lines and some peeling skin that looked like reverse freckles, see:

This is my next-to-last day of treatment. You can see where some of my skin is starting to peel.

You can see here that I definitely got a funky tan from the radiation, but no burns and no open sores. Thanks Eucerin lotion!!

After 33 sessions of treatment. I was done. On my very last day, my friends and co-workers gave me quite the surprise. They threw me a "happy last day of radiation" party. There was cake and t-shirts and music and laughter and it was great. That group of folks have been wonderful. They have been so patient and understanding and caring. I really hit the jackpot there.

They understand my deep love of good puns. THIS IS THE BEST CAKE EVER!

Oh, and did I mention that they made t-shirts with my face on them and they all wore 'em to my party? (This is my husband, not a co-worker. I can plaster his picture all over the interwebs without permission. Didn't want to do that to my co-workers.)
I showed up to my appointment that afternoon with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart. I really didn't care that they were running late. I really didn't care that I sat in the waiting room for almost an hour. I was just so glad that it was my last day and I was eager to give the radiation therapists the thank you gift I put together for them. (5 mixed-tape CDs to add to their stash of music. As I mentioned earlier, it is really nice to have music playing while you're laying on that table. I can only imagine how many times those folks have heard the same songs over and over. Seemed like the very least I could do was to give them some new tunes.)

Another fun surprise that day was my radiation diploma. I graduated and this is my official certificate of completion. How great is this? So thoughtful and caring and it made me smile.
I even got a diploma for completing radiation. Those radiation therapists were fantastic.
Again, I am so grateful for my team of ridiculously awesome doctors and medical professionals. They did such a great job of giving me the treatment I needed to ensure that I kick the cancer's ass and keep away for a good long while, ideally, forever. They made sure I was well informed and well cared for. You really can't ask for more than that.

So, what's next? Well, I'll keep going to my physical therapist for a while so she can keep working on those dang cords that keep popping up and to massage away some small areas of scar tissue under the skin of my incision lines. Then just one more small, outpatient procedure. It is highly recommended (read: as close to a demand as you can get from your doctor) that I have my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. Because I tested positive for BRCA, I have an increased risk for ovarian cancer. No ovaries = no ovarian cancer. Since I've definitely hit my deductible for the year, there's no time like the present to get that done. More on that later, maybe. Otherwise, it's just a matter of staying healthy. My family joined the local YMCA so I can keep active and regain my strength, flexibility, and endurance (plus it'll be fun to go to the Y as a family and swim and play basketball and stuff), and then I'll meet with my oncologist on Christmas eve to kind of recap the year and figure out a plan going forward.

So close to being able to say "I'm done with all of my cancer treatments". I'm ready for that day. And I'm still so stupidly grateful for all of the wonderful doctors, family, and friends who have been there for me from the get go. I'm ready to start giving back and sharing the light and love I've been so lucky to receive.

SO. CLOSE. TO. BEING. DONE.  Ahhhhhhh!!!!

Again, thanks to the internet, we have jokes like this. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Yup. I did it again. Another art show.

That's right, my friends. I definitely put my poetry in another art show.

This is the third time I have entered my poetry on canvas into the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Staff Art Show. As you might imagine I was once again nervous about doing it, but did it anyway. Once again, I'm glad I did. I kind of like the pressure to perform, knowing that I am working on a deadline with a very public outcome. It certainly freaks me out and gives me more than a little anxiety - but I do kind of like it.

This year, the art show is being held in the University library - - Love Library. I mean, what is better than having your art/poetry hung in a library? It's fantastic!

Here's my two pieces. 

...and here is what they look like hanging with other pieces. 

You may or may not know that my husband is a bow hunter. So, I took one of the deer skulls from his harvest last year and painted the face black and then put some designs in silver on it. Next, I took it outside and snapped some photographs, some with that skull by itself, and some next to a doe skull. I took those photographs and manipulated them on my computer. Then I transferred the images I liked best onto canvas. Last, but not least, I added the poem. In case you can't read the microscopic text in the photos I posted above, here is the poem I wrote: 

These Bones

These bones
are the only permanent thing about me.

I can change my mind
but I can never change
my secrets
and smiles full of big teeth -
or is it big smiles full of teeth?

Every demon wants its pound of flesh.
But me,
I just want your pure white bones.

People tell me to walk away but
this need for you is bone deep and
my bones
well, they follow me everywhere.
Don’t they know a person can never outrun
the shadow inside their body?

I am the darkness and the skeleton in this closet
sitting close to your button down shirts that I used to adore.
The button down shirts that smell like
stale coffee and strong promises -
or is it strong coffee and stale promises?
Sometimes we confuse me.

It’s funny how everything changes.
Everything but these bones.  
These bones
are the only permanent thing about me.

These Bones, Jennifer Klein, 2015

These Bones, Jennifer Klein, 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The one with the surgery

So, it's been almost 2 months since I had surgery. This means I've had 2 months to heal physically and emotionally. Despite all of the trepidation, stress, and panic that came with surgery - I am relieved to have gotten rid of the boobs that quite literally tried to kill me. Not sad to see the tumor twins gone and a new set of much more docile and calm boobs in place.

Surgery is some scary shit. I don't care how "routine" the procedure or how long you are (or aren't) under the knife - it's scary. I can't lie to you, I was fairly terrified about my surgery. I had a port removal, double-mastectomy, sentinel node removal, and reconstructive surgery all in one procedure. That was roughly 3 and a half hours on the operating table. But, before I get ahead of myself...let's back up and I'll tell you how I got from point A to point 34C.

One of the very first things I did was make individual appointments to speak with a general surgeon, plastic surgeon, and a radiation oncologist before I made any official decisions. I was 99.9% sure that I would need to undergo radiation and I wanted to make sure that whatever surgical procedure(s) I chose would make the most sense for optimal radiation treatment and healing in both the short term and long term. After discussing quite a few possible options, I decided to go with a one-step reconstruction process. This is when the general surgeon comes in and performs the mastectomy, then when that procedure is finished, the plastic surgeon comes in and performs reconstruction. This means one time under anesthesia, one surgery, and one healing process. No need for tissue expanders, multiple visits to plastic surgeon to fill the expanders, and no second surgery to replace expanders with implants. My radiation oncologist said that he could radiate with the implants in place. The one real risk is that the radiation could cause some internal scarring and "globs" of scar tissue that might push on the implants. This would require some fixing from a plastic surgeon. But, there is a chance that everything will go along just fine and when I'm done with radiation, I'm just simply done. That's the hope. Every woman and every case is different and I would highly recommend that women are sure to talk with all medical professionals involved and determine the best plan for herself - - but I think it is most definitely worth it to see if one-step reconstruction is an option.

After I gathered all of this information and had some long and intense conversations with my husband, we went ahead and scheduled surgery. They gave me about three weeks to get my affairs in order. I had to make sure that everything was all squared away at work (I would need to miss about 4 weeks) and make sure that I had everything all situated at home, literally. (I would have limited range of motion - so I needed to make sure things that were up high in cabinets was down low where I could reach them.)

One day at work, I received a call from a nurse navigator with the hospital who suggested I come and take a breast surgery education class. I cannot stress to you how grateful I am that they do this for women. If you know anyone who is having a mastectomy and their hospital offers a class like this - - TELL THEM TO ATTEND!! I learned so much during that 90 minutes. I was of clear and sound mind, too, so this meant that I was able to retain the many details that would prove helpful when I went home after surgery. The nurse stepped me through every single thing that would happen from the moment I checked in to hospital on the day of surgery through the moment I checked out. She taught me everything I would need to know about managing my drain tubes, some simple exercises for stretching my banged up muscles, how to get in and out of chairs, how to sit up in bed, and so on. She also told me about lymphedema and the importance of finding a physical therapist who is also a lymphedema specialist before surgery. That way they can take measurements of your arms in order to track any possible swelling to be addressed post surgery. SO IMPORTANT. But I'll talk more about that later.

Okay. Surgery day. A few things.
1. They definitely put the I.V. in my foot. Terrible.
Because I was having lymph nodes removed on both sides of my body, they did not want to put an I.V. in my arm to reduce the risk of lymphedema. Considering my horrendous fear of needles, this was no small feat. (Oh, god. It was awful.)

2. They gave me pain balls. This means that the anesthesiologist laid me on my stomach, located pain receptors in my upper back that control my chest and side muscles, then they stuck wires down there that are attached to little tubes that are able to administer local anesthetic (kind of like mini-epidurals) over the course of 72 hours. This means that I did not have to take narcotic pain meds every few hours. (That meant no fuzzy head, no upset belly, and so on.) The down side is that I had to haul around two fanny packs containing plastic donuts full of "the good stuff".
This is just one of the pain balls. You can see the little tube inside there filled with "the good stuff".
Here you can see the wires that came out of my back, taped to my neck, that connected to the above pain ball. I had one of these on each side for about 3 days. 

3. Surgery went like clockwork and there were no hiccups. Thank goodness. I woke up knowing that they had removed my real breasts, but when I looked down, I still had my feminine form and felt like the Jenn I was about 4 hours prior. For me, that was important. This is not the case for every woman. Some ladies opt to not have reconstruction and some do. One is not better than the other. Like I said, for me, it was important to maintain a feminine form and come out of this looking like I did when I started. It was one less thing for me to stress out about and one less thing to mess with my mind and emotions. I came out of this major surgery and felt emotionally whole. This allowed me to focus on healing physically.

4. The nurses definitely had me up and walking the same day. It was rough, but I did it. (I only almost barfed. No actual barfing.)

5. I absolutely got up the next morning and showered. (That was a debacle and a half and thank God my husband has nerves of steel because I was a hot mess.) Showering while you try to manage two pain balls and those wires as well as two drain tubes is a lot to manage. It's do-able, but the first time was definitely a learning experience.

6. I was discharged from the hospital the next day. At first this seems absolutely crazy, right? I just had major surgery, I have these pain ball things and wires coming out of my neck, oh, and I have two drain tubes sticking out of my body. BUT, I can tell you that it was so much better being uncomfortable at home in my own chair and my own bed than at the hospital.
This is a Jackson Pratt drain tube. The top tube section is what is stuck in your body (it's like almost 10 inches of tube in there) and then the rest just dangles out. The tubes are sutured to your skin. It's pretty gross. You have these plastic grenade things dangling at the bottom and they need to be emptied multiple times a day. Then you have to measure the "output". Again, thank God for my husband. The guy was a rock. 

7. Both of my surgeons were wonderful. They came to see me the next morning and were full of smiles and jokes and well wishes.

8. The nurses who took care of me were the best. They were kind and helpful and just plain wonderful. They even sent a "hope you're feeling better" card after I went home. How great is that?

I feel like I was one of the lucky ones in that I was able to get both of my drain tubes removed at the same time, after just one week. It can sometimes take up to 2 or 3 weeks, and not every woman gets both out simultaneously. My plastic surgeon and his nurse tag teamed it - they each snipped the sutures around the tubes and then 1...2...3... PULLED. Out the tubes came. Was it the worst thing in the world? Probably not. Did it feel like it at the time? A little bit.

So, week one after surgery, I just hung out at home trying not to laugh, cough, sneeze, or jerk in any way. Holy shitballs. You don't realize just how often you use your chest muscles and side muscles up through your armpits (they removed lymph nodes from up in my arm pits - they went through the incisions they made for the mastectomy and up into the 'pits). If you know someone who is going to have a mastectomy, tell them that it is smart to invest in button up shirts to wear for the first week or so. Trying to get in and out of a t-shirt just isn't gonna happen for a while.

Week two I met with my physical therapist, who is also a lymphedema specialist. She was able to make sure that I got my range of motion back, strength back, and monitor me for signs of lymphedema. She was also able to take care of any little cords that developed. (Imagine those little glow stick bracelets and how you  have to crinkle them to get 'em to glow - - she massages the cords that develop until they crinkle and snap and go away. Those cords are made up of hardened lymph fluid.) Again, if you know of someone who is going to have breast surgery, you might mention to them that they should get squared away with a physical therapist who is a lymphedema specialist. IT'S SO VERY VERY IMPORTANT.

By week three I was cleared to drive and the pain was mostly gone and my PT sessions had been going really well. I was wearing tshirts again and doing laundry and going stir crazy (read: too much Pinterest and YouTube.)

Now, I am leaving out quite a few gory details, but to be honest - you don't really want to know about those things.

I had surgery on September 9, 2015. I was back at work, full time, by October 5, 2015. This is all due to my amazing and fantastic doctors, my superman of a husband, and the love and support of my family and friends. I was definitely scared about surgery. I was scared about losing parts of my body. I was scared of the pain. I was scared of the drain tubes. I was scared of the scarring. But you know what. It's all okay. The surgery went great and while yes, they did take parts of my body, they only took the bad stuff. The parts that made me sick. Those surgeons left the good things. They left all of the parts and pieces that make up me. I still have my heart, my humor, and my ability to love.

It was about one month after my surgery when my physical therapist encouraged me to join her Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk team. I was a bit tentative at first because I really didn't know anyone else on her team, but something about doing this walk felt right. In hindsight, raising money and awareness for breast cancer by participating in such an uplifting event was the perfect way to finish my fight (Thanks, Tracy!). It was pretty dang inspiring to thousands people the day of the walk supporting their survivors and hoping to make a difference. I gotta tell you, it felt really good to know that I was out there just one month after surgery, able to put on my own t-shirt, walking a full 5k, and laughing with my friends and family. It felt really good to know that I got through the scary and can call myself a survivor.