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Prevention February 2, 2015

Posted by Judy in Musings.
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***I’ve had this post ready to go since around Thanksgiving.  I’ve been waiting on some compression garments to arrive so I could share pics.  I think they must be getting brought over from Mongolia by yak, because 2 months later, they still aren’t here.  Hence, I’m posting senza pics!****

Way back in March, I was debating which surgery was going to be the best option for me.  You may recall that when a breast is removed, the standard of practice is to also remove all of the lymph nodes in the armpit.  Doing so greatly increases the chance of getting lymphedema.  (I’ll define lymphedma in a minute.)  You may also recall that I opted to not have any more nodes removed and to go with axillary radiation instead.  Now this is a case of me not being as informed as I should have been.  While I knew that radiation could also cause lymphedema, I didn’t think about the fact that radiation would also cause my muscles to become stiff, thus limiting my mobility.  My only thought was that radiation had a lower chance of causing lymphedema than surgery.  If I had to do it over again, I think I might have had all of the nodes removed.  Maybe.  It’s water under the bridge now.

Anyway, so during radiation, I had to do these stretching exercises 3 times a day to make sure that the muscles didn’t get too shortened.  I’m not exactly sure of the mechanism, but I believe the muscle fibers are effectively burned during radiation.  If you think about what happens to your skin when it’s burned, it gets tighter, right?  Same thing happens to any part of your body that gets radiation: the skin, the muscles and the lymphatic vessels.  So in order to keep the muscles from shortening, I stretched them out every single day during radiation.  For some reason, I thought I didn’t need to continue doing the stretches once the radiation ended.  As it turns out, the radiation continues to affect your body long after the actual doses have ended.  So now I have this one little muscle in my armpit that is very tight.  I didn’t realize this until I met with the physical therapist in the lymphedema clinic.  I guess this would be a good time to talk about lymphedema.

Lymphedema is a condition where your lymphatic system is unable to drain all of the excess fluid in the body due to a) the fact that many of the nodes have been removed or b) the fact that the lymphatic vessels have been damaged during radiation.  This excess fluid then gets backed up in a person’s arm and causes the arm to be swollen, in some cases, extremely swollen.  There is no cure for lymphedema.  Once you have it, you’ll always have it.  Fortunately, the condition can definitely be managed and you can get it under control.  Even better news is that one can take steps to make sure they don’t get lymphedema.  This is the reason I went to the lymphedema clinic, to learn preventative measures.

Her first step was to feel the area to see what was going on. When she was palpating the armpit area, I thought my skin was going to rip right open. Yikes!  So painful!  I was thinking that my skin was damaged from the radiation.  (Remember the charred armpit?)  Imagine my surprise when she said the pain came from a very tight muscle!  I’m now doing stretching exercises every day to whip that muscle back into shape.  It’s definitely better, but still not great! While she was palpating, she kept marveling at how great my skin looked.  I sort of thought she was nuts, because to me, my skin has all sorts of issues.  When she told me that many people come in after radiation with skin that looks reptilian and leather, I realized that it’s all about perspective.  I’ll take my scarred and tanned skin over the leather version any day!

After palpating, she took very detailed measurements of both arms and fingers.  She measured around each knuckle, both wrists, and then every few inches along my arm.  The idea was to have a baseline of measurements so that in the future, if there is a suspicion of swelling, we would have a point of comparison.

Step three was to teach me how to massage the lymphatic system.  This is not the same kind of massage that you get when your muscles are sore or to just feel good.  It’s a very gentle, circular motion, with the idea being that you are helping the fluid move through the system.  I do this massage 3ish times a week, or anytime I feel like I’ve worked my left arm too hard.

This leads me to step four, which was teaching me how to avoid getting lymphedema.  Because the lymph system on my left side is now compromised, I have to be very careful when doing anything with that arm.  So if I’m gardening, I for sure have to wear gloves to protect against nicks and cuts.  I also need to ensure I don’t end up with a hang nail.  Whenever you get a cut or any sort of breach, your lymph system has to work harder to filter out any of the germs that have entered in.  Making an already taxed system work harder isn’t really part of the anti-lymphedema plan.  If I’m going to be doing any motions that are repetitive (think exercising, raking, running, etc.) or strenuous (weight lifting, rowing, etc.), I have to wear a compression sleeve.  It’s fits quite snugly and is a bit of a trick to get it on.  When you do repetitive or strenuous motions, your body moves more blood volume through.  Now that you are getting to be a pro at how the lymphatic system works, you can guess that this extra blood volume is a challenge for a diminished lymph system.  This is where the sleeve comes in.  The extra compression provides pressure from the outside, which then helps the fluid to move through as there is extra force being applied.  Think of a balloon.  You blow it up, then let the air out.  Now, blow it up, but this time, squeeze the balloon as the air is going out.  The air goes out more quickly and with more force, right?  Same idea with the sleeve.

The biggest challenge for me has been sorting out what exercises I can and can’t do.  Pushups, pec flies, planks and bench presses all require extra care.  It’s hard to explain, but if you were inside my body, you’d definitely feel the difference between the left and right sides.  The right side could plank all the live long day.  Not so much with the left side …. it just feels weird.  So I spend a fair amount of time modifying exercises for the left arm.  I’m the crazy woman at the gym who has weight on one side of the bar but not the other.  Eh, you do what you gotta do, right?  Eventually, I hope to get the left side stronger so it can do more, but I have to build it up VERY slowly.  And, if I happen to take a break, even for 3 or 4 days, I have to start over from the beginning.  I guess that’s good motivation to keep on exercising!

So for the time being, I don’t have lymphedema, and I intend to keep it that way.  Don’t be surprised when you see me wearing my stylin’ sleeve or if you see me standing with my left arm in a weird position.  That’s just me stretching it out and doing my part to ward off the swelling!

Oh. my. goodness! January 15, 2015

Posted by Judy in Musings.
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I’m so speechless right now I don’t even know how to start this post!  I’m pretty strong in my resolve to not have reconstruction.  But if there was ever a moment of doubt, this video would be enough to push me over the edge.  It’s a video showing one of the reconstruction methods.  It’s a long video, about 45 minutes long, and it’s graphic.

I couldn’t tear myself away.

I was horrified and fascinated all at once.  Fascinated, because I never realized the crazy precision needed in surgery.  Horrified, because I fully realized why people are in so much pain after surgery.

Just in case you don’t feel up to watching the video, here a brief synopsis.  The reconstruction method is called DIEP flap reconstruction.  In this method, a chunk of fat, skin and vessels is removed from the patient’s abdomen and is used to create a fake breast.  I learned that if the surgeon finds the vasculature in the abdomen to be insufficient, they’ll switch the surgery to a TRAM flap, which means they would be taking a big chunk of the rectus abdominis muscle in addition to the skin, vessels and fat.  Before placing the flap, they have to connect the flap vessels to the mammary vessels, which is done using some parts from one of the ribs, which is “sacrificed.”  The final piece is the insertion of the flap.  The patient spends one day in ICU and then five more days in the hospital.

Nope.  That version of reconstruction is not happening here . . .. ever!

Here’s the vid, if you’re up for the challenge of watching!

ETA: Fast forward to minute 43, which is where the DIEP flap is inserted. Madness, total madness!

Hyperactivity January 13, 2015

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I had an appointment with a plastic surgeon last week, and she told me two things:  “You’re so cute!”  and “You’re my hero!”  I had to laugh because I see myself as neither cute nor heroic, but hey, I’ll take it!  Now some of you are still hung up on the words “plastic surgeon”, wondering why in the world I would need to have an appointment if reconstruction was off the table.  it’s still off the table . . . .the options haven’t changed and I still think they are all terrible.  Although, I CAN change my mind at any point in time:  today, 2 years from now or even 25 years from now, for the moment, still no reconstruction.  The purpose of the visit was to deal with my port scar, which is behaving badly.

The original scar, from when the port was placed, was a nice, thin line that didn’t really bother me.  The new scar, from when the port was removed is a whole other story.  About a month after the surgery, I noticed that the scar was painful, it looked quite pink and big, and I felt like there was something inside poking me.  Here’s what it looks like:


I went to see the breast surgeon and the verdict was that the scar was behaving badly, it had hypertrophied.  This means that for whatever reason, the collagen in that spot went bonkers and laid down waayyy too many fibers, which made the scar expand.  The location of the scar is tricky because it’s in a place (probably the only place) where I have zero body fat, so it’s easy for scars in that area to have issues.  His initial recommendation was to use a steroid cream, but after further thought, he decided that it would be better for me to see a plastic surgeon.

And so, 3 weeks later, I found myself sitting in the plastic surgeon’s office, peeling off my shirt to show her the scar. Her reaction was hilarious:  “Oh!  You didn’t do reconstruction?”

“Nope.  I think my chest is ugly, but not enough to do anything about it”

“Well if you think it’s ugly, let me make it beautiful.  You’ve come to the wrong place for no reconstruction.”

I thought to myself, “You’re barking up the wrong tree, lady.  No way, no how are you going to change my mind!”  But I humored her and we talked about why I didn’t do it (more surgeries = more fights for no intubation, potential complications, no good options that don’t affect singing).  She eventually said, “Okay, so you really DON’T care.”  Righto!

Lest you think she was an ogre trying to bully me, she wasn’t.  She made it very clear that she would respect my decision, and that she would be available at any time to discuss options if I ever changed my mind.  If I do, she’d be the surgeon I would use as I liked her as a person, and based on her explanations, she’s is equally as thorough and careful as the breast surgeon.  So I’ll just tuck that into my back pocket. (As a little side note, she is the third medical professional to tell me that the mastectomy scars and radiated skin look “really good.”  It’s a scar, so I think it’s unattractive, but since three people have told me otherwise

, maybe, in the grand scheme of mastectomy scar and radiated skin, mine is in good shape.  And for that, I am grateful.)

But, back to the scar.  She also recommended steroids, but she preferred injection rather than a topical application. I don’t fully understand the mechanism, but I can already see and feel a difference:  the scar is no longer pink, and I haven’t gotten the stabbing pains in a few days, so that is good.  I’ll have to do at least one more injection, possibly two.  if the scar doesn’t get it’s act together after that, then the next option is to have a revision surgery which would involve cutting out the old scar and sealing it up again.  “But what’s going to keep it from going all hypertrophic again?” you ask.  Good question!  She would inject steroids into the area immediately after the surgery to help keep the collagen at bay.  I’m hoping it won’t come to that, though.  To that end, I’m supposed to massage the scar 3 times a day for about 15 minutes.  I can tell you right now, that doesn’t happen.  It gets about 2-3 minutes in the shower, and a few quick massages here and there during the day, but it’s definitely not 45 minutes worth.  Besides, about 98% of the time, the scar is covered up with a silicone patch that is supposed to help the collagen fibers lay down nice and smoothly.  This is what is looks like:


See that price tag in the corner?  Yep, it’s ridiculously expensive!  Fortunately, it is reusable and my scar isn’t huge, so it should last me a long time.  Anyway, massaging with the silicone patch on is tricky, so I don’t do it.  I’m banking on the fact that having the patch on constantly will be more effective than massage.  We’ll see!

The fun never ends!  Keeps me on my toes, I guess =)

2014 in numbers January 2, 2015

Posted by Judy in Musings.
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By all accounts, 2014 was not a good year for me.  You can look at it any way you want:  backwards, upside down or through rose-colored glasses.  The final answer will always be:  not my best year.  There’s a long-standing joke amongst musicians that singers can’t count past four.  To prove that theory wrong, I’ve quantified the events of this year.  As you will see, most of the quantities add up to much more than four!

In 2014, I had:

  • 50 doctors appointments
  • 4 surgeries
  • 7 blood draws
  • 4 rounds of chemo
  • 8 medical procedures/tests (scans, heart tests, x-rays, etc.)
  • 4 shots of Neulasta
  • 33 doses of radiation
  • 1 giant hematoma
  • 1 medi-port
  • 1 bald head for 4 months
  • 2 surgical drains
  • 6 surgical scars
  • 1 violent reaction to morphine
  • 0 endotracheal tubes inserted (victory!)
  • 4 LMA’s used
  • 5 IV’s started (6 attempts)

I took:

  • TONS of medicine!
    • 7 different prescription medications
    • 9 over-the-counter medications
  • The most I ever took at once was 6 medications

See, I CAN count!  And it WAS a bad year.  But tucked in amongst the bad, there were quite a few good things, too.

I received:

  • 30 “Get Well”, “Thinking of you” cards in the mail
  • Over 200 emails from friends and family
  • 61 meals brought over a 4 month span by 28 people
  • 3 prayer blankets

I was blessed to have:

  • 40 friends attend my farewell party
  • 2 oncologists and 1 surgeon that were top-notch

Most importantly, I was lifted up in prayer hundreds and hundreds of times throughout the year.

Although I would have preferred to have not gone through this experience, I can say that the good in my year equalized the bad.  Thank you to everyone for the inumberable support.

2015 is bound to be better, right? :D

Supporting Research December 4, 2014

Posted by Judy in Musings.
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At the beginning of this year, I got an email from a guy name Kwen Griffeth. He told me had a friend who also was dealing with breast cancer, and he wanted to do something to raise money to help fund research to improve cancer treatment. He wrote an e-book called “The Ghost in the Mini Skirt” with the hope of selling it to raise funds for breast cancer research. I was given a copy of the book to review and then to promote. Well, that was back in February. This summer blew up on me (thank you chemo and radiation!) and I just didn’t get around to writing up the blog post. I figured since it’s now December, I’d better get a move on! If I recall correctly, his goal was to raise $200,000 this year. The book was a fun book, quick and easy read, what I’d call “beach reading”. If you are looking for something fun to read, I’d recommend getting the book. Not only is it fun, it also supports a good cause. You can find more more information about the author and his friend, Helen, here on his Facebook page. His book sells for $3.99 on Amazon and $1 from each sale will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Happy reading!

Reminders November 21, 2014

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Surprised that I’m still here, writing posts about breast cancer? I mean, I’m done with treatment now. Although no-one has officially said it, I’m most likely cancer free. So, this is the end, right? This chapter is over and I can move on, right? Well, not exactly. The truth is, cancer will all be there, greeting me at every corner. Everywhere I turn, there are reminders. Reminders of the past year. Reminders that my life, the lives of my family, will never be the same. Reminders that life is unpredictable.

It was one year ago today when I got the call from my BFF. “I have some news. Blah blah . . . . discomfort. Yadda yadda . . . pain . . . Etc. etc. . . .tiredness. I have breast cancer.” I stood in my living room, shivering on the inside because my BFF had just told me she had breast cancer. I stood in my living room, shivering on the inside because the intermittent pain in my left breast had chosen that precise moment to remind me of its existence. And now, every year, one week before Thanksgiving, I’ll be reminded.

Last week, a wonderful lady I know died because of breast cancer, and I’ve been riddled with survivor’s guilt ever since. There is no reason why I survived and she didn’t. It’s not that I did something she didn’t do. It’s just cancer, striking willy nilly, without any rhyme or reason. So every time someone I know dies from complications due to breast cancer, I’ll be reminded.

The biggest daily reminders, of course, are the three scars on my chest and the scar in my armpit. I’m not really bothered by them from a cosmetic standpoint. Sure, they are a bit unsightly, they are scars after all. But they’ll fade and eventually the skin will smooth back out. And let’s face it, that part of my chest was basically doomed thanks to four pregnancies. But, when the port scar is pokey and bothers me, I’m reminded. When my armpit scar makes my armpit feel weird and numb, I’m reminded.

My hair is growing in quite nicely. It’s long enough that I actually have to comb it every day. But I’m ready to just shave it all off and be permanently bald. You see, every time I look in the mirror, I see the little girl who had a really bad afro all through middle school. I see the woman whose breasts tried to kill her so now she looks like a boy in more ways than one. And so, I’m reminded.

Everywhere I look, the reminders are there. They are scars, which will gradually heal, but they will never go away. Cancer will always be there.

Later, port! November 19, 2014

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I should have written this post a month ago six weeks ago. But I’ve been stuck just standing here, so I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. At this point, it’s such old news, I debated whether or not I should even bother writing the post. Given that ALL of my other surgical experiences were marred by deplorable nursing care, I wanted to share this one as an example of a good surgical experience, just to prove that they do exist!

My last radiation treatment was on the 16th of September. (Major happy dance. Have I mentioned that radiation sucked?) On the 19th I saw the head of my oncology team, who said that I didn’t need my port any longer. (Another happy dance.) As much as I thought the port was amazing, it’s usefulness had long since ended, and it was now an annoyance.
• It was something that the toddler liked to play with and twiddle.
• It got in the way of using every single baby carrier I own (which is a lot!).
• It itched like crazy!
So, it should come as no surprise that I wanted that thing out post haste. I managed to snag an appointment with the surgeon a few days later, on the 24th, and his awesome scheduler got me scheduled for the port removal just a few days later on the 29th.

Normally, the port would be inserted and removed as an outpatient procedure, and it’s something that radiologists could do. Mine was inserted during the mastectomy surgery. The surgeon could have removed it outpatient, but he preferred to do it in the operating room just in case anything went bonkers and it would allow him to be more thorough. I’ve always appreciated his thoroughness, so I had no problems with going back to the OR.

Monday morning saw my friend and I heading to the hospital at 7am. This was a new experience for her, but old hat for me. I got checked in and was then whisked back to be prepared for surgery. They always ask you to leave a urine sample, but most of the techs don’t bother to tell you why. The tech I had that morning told me that she had to do a pregnancy test, which she proceeded to do right there in the room and she told me the results. (Win #1 for the hospital. I’m always a fan of patients being completely informed!) After that came the long list of questions, and then they had to start the IV. This turned out to be the only hiccup in the whole morning. The nurse found a nice vein on the top of my hand that was standing up and shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” As it turned out, that vein was just evil and wanted to play a cruel joke on us all. Every time she got close to the vein, it would roll or scoot out of the way. She poked around for a good 2-3 minutes. When I say “poked around”, I don’t mean that she was taking the needle out and reinserting it. The needle was in, but she wiggled it around trying to get it into the vein. If you think that sounds really unpleasant, you are correct. To make it worse, I didn’t have any anesthetic on my hand since I’m allergic to Lidocaine. Ah, what fun! She eventually went to get another nurse, leaving the needle in my hand while she went. Part of me thinks that was unwise/unsafe. The other part thinks she did it to avoid another needlestick. Anyway, the second nurse gave it one go and said, “Nope, this one isn’t going to work.” They, of course, had to use a new needle for the next attempt. And naturally, they only had the big needles left. But really, after all of the poking around, getting stuck with a giant needle was no big deal.

My friend and I visited for a little while before the anesthesiologist came in. I gave her my usual, no Versed, no morphine, no lidocaine spiel, and she told me I wouldn’t be totally knocked out, just in what they called a twilight sleep. This meant no tubes or anything else in my mouth. I was given two meds for nausea since the twilight sleep drugs can make you feel pukey. One was given by mouth, and the other was a patch that they placed right behind my ear.

Just a few minutes later, the nurse came to take me to the operating room. This being my fourth trip to said room, I was totally relaxed and was able to take in all of the sights, sounds and smells. I made it a point to look around and actually notice all of the different equipment and such in the room. I scooted over to the ridiculously narrow operating table and they got me all hooked up and ready. The anesthetist came over and introduced herself, and then said, “You look familiar. I think I was with you during another surgery.” She seemed familiar to me too. Not just the way she sounded, but also her way of being and her diction. I said, “Yes, I think you did. I requested the use of the LMA?” At this, recognition came into her eyes and she said, “Yes! You are a singer and didn’t want any tubes near your cords!” I guess I must be one of the very few people who have used an LMA. Either that, or I caused enough of a stink that my image was etched into their memories!

Anyway, we chit-chatted while she got me ready and she complimented me on my short haircut, saying that a pixie-cut was really great on me. This struck me as sort of funny, given the fact that she’d only ever seen me with a surgical cap (think shower cap) on. I’m not really sure how she could tell what my hair was like or how she even got the full effect, given the cap. But hey, it was a compliment . . . I’ll take it.

The twilight sleep inducing meds were delivered through the IV. I have to say, this was the absolute worst part of the entire morning. Holy cow! I’m not even sure that the word painful is adequate to describe the sensation! Hands down, WAAAYY worse than childbirth! Sometimes meds hurt because the amount being pushed through the vein is almost more than the vein can handle, other times it’s something in the drug that causes the pain and other times the medication is thick and has to bully it’s way in. I’m not sure which one it was in this case, but it. was. awful! It started out cold. Then it felt like my vein was going to explode. When my entire hand became engulfed with this insane pain, I had to grit my teeth, wiggle and squeeze my toes, take deep breaths and pray that the sedative would take effect very, VERY soon.

I woke up as they were wheeling me back to my room. Fortunately, I didn’t wake up thinking about the excruciating pain my hand enduring at the administration of the twilight sleep-inducing meds! Given that I was in twilight sleep mode, they skipped the recovery room. It’s been a few weeks now, so I don’t exactly remember the chain of events. That, and I’m mixing up surgeries in my mind. I do know that I was allowed to go home fairly soon after getting back to the room. I felt pretty good, just super tired, which meant that I went straight to my bed upon arriving home and slept for several hours.

All in all, this was a vastly superior surgical experience. I don’t know if I had a better set of people, or if the fact that I had my notebook out to take notes of names and meds and everything spurred people to do better. Regardless, I have no real complaints this time. That’s kinda huge, right? Seems like I should congratulate the hospital on their good work, as a contrast to the lambasting they received as a result of the suboptimal care during previous procedures. But let’s be honest: it’s taken me 6 weeks to get this post written and posted. Somehow, I don’t think that congratulating the hospital is very high on the totem pole! ;)

Life goes on October 22, 2014

Posted by Judy in Musings.

Every day, major life-changing events happen to people: birth, death, marriage, divorce, accidents, new jobs. For the people living through the event, life seems to stand still. Or perhaps, it speeds on past. In any case, life goes on for those on the periphery.

Dealing with cancer is a major life-changing event. The magnitude of the change is initially felt in ripples, gently lapping at your feet. Then one day, the enormity of the change, in the form of a monstrous wave, crashes over you, completely unannounced and thus, unexpected. Life continues to flow all around you while you thrash about, your feet frantically trying to find solid ground. At some point, your feet once again touch the bottom and you think, “What the !@#(!&@(# just happened to me?” You are left with the choice to move on, to run away, or to simply stand there.

I’m ready to move on and leave behind or erase so many things, chief among them:

The exhaustion.

The route to the cancer center.

The sporadically functional intestines.

The extra 15 pounds I picked up.

I’m ready to move on.

If you came to the conclusion, based on my blogging silence for the last three weeks, that I had moved on, you’d be partially correct, as a part of me has moved on. Moved on to a new, but familiar job, to a new and improved schedule, to a new season. But notice, I said part of me. It’s the part that can be seen, that is only skin deep. The other part – the part that drives you to do and be and love and live – that part can’t move on. The cruel reality is that I’m stuck. Every day I get up and go through the motions, but I’m really just watching the world go by around me, unable to fully give, yet unable to fully wallow in self-pity. It’s a special kind of limbo. Special, because only those who are there know that it exists. Special, because unlike regular limbo, there isn’t a “known” event that is holding up your progression to the next stage. Special, because when you are there, you have to pretend like you aren’t.

So I’m simply standing here. As I stand, I’m trying to redefine beauty and happiness. Every time I think I’ve found a new definition and I’m ready to get on with it, something snatches me back. Sometimes it’s a random pain on one of my scars. Sometimes it’s the tight muscle in my armpit that slightly limits my range of motion. Sometimes it’s the 2-year old who doesn’t really drink liquids and I think “If only we were still nursing, this wouldn’t be an issue.” Lately, it’s been Pinktober that has been snatching me back. Everywhere I look, pink is shouting at me “Be aware! Breast Cancer is here!” This leads me to think back to last Pinktober, which was when I first noticed the pain. It’s also when I misplaced my Breast Cancer awareness charm bracelet that I had been wearing every October for the previous 6 or 7 years. (I did end up finding it, after the malignant biopsy. And no, I haven’t worn it this year.) Thinking back makes me wistful and crabby. It also makes it hard to look forward.

And so I continue to simply stand here while life moves on for everyone else. I wish I knew how to move on. But I don’t how. I can’t.

Maybe though, this is all part of the healing process. Maybe this limbo is necessary for reflection and contemplation on the happenings of the past year. Goodness knows that it’s impossible to think clearly, let alone reflect while you are in the thick of it. Maybe one has to go through this fiery limbo in order to come out refined on the other side.

One can only hope.

Since I don’t know how to move on, I’ll simply stand here. But as I stand, I”m going to go hold firmly on to that hope.

The haves and have nots September 28, 2014

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This past year has seen me moving from the haves to the have nots. I started out in the “have breasts” group. I then got moved to “have breast cancer” group soon followed by the “have not breasts” group. Last week, I officially joined the “have not breast cancer” group. While I would rather have been in only the first and last groups, this particular order of events is the next best thing. And really, being counted amongst the “have nots” isn’t so bad. It’s good to know that breast cancer is now in my past and the active part of treatment is over. (I’ll have to take anti-estrogen pills for the next five years, but I haven’t started taking them, so more on that in a later post.)

As for the other “have not” group, well, not having breasts is no biggie and in some regards, life has been made easier by their departure. I’ll neither bore nor horrify you with the deets. I’ll just let you imagine how much easier it could be without “extra baggage”! :D Having said all of that, you may find it surprising that this week, a few new things came to live in my dresser: fake boobs and their holders. Some have asked “Why bother?” The completely vain answer: because I have some shirts and dresses that I REALLY like that I want to be able to wear. Yes, I could wear them senza boobs, but they just don’t look right, kinda like a child wearing their dad’s oversized sweatshirts: comfy, but not flattering.

So, yes, prosthetic boobs. I’m here to tell you that they are weird. There’s no other way to say it. W.E.I.R.D. I’m gonna guess that they are better now than they were 20-30 years ago, but they are still strange. They aren’t exactly jiggly like Jell-O, but they are squishy. They come in several different shapes, some that look NOTHING like actual breasts! They also come in different colors, you know, to match all of the different skin tones. You’d think there wouldn’t be much of a market for them, but you’d be wrong. There are probably five different companies that sell them and they all look just a bit different.

Going to get fitted was a really bizarre experience. For starters, most of the prosthetics slide into a pocket in the bra, so you are putting on a bra that is MUCH heavier than usual. Weird. Then you had the fitters helping to fasten the bra, as if I’d never done this before. Weird. Then came the real test, seeing what they looked like under clothing, and then hearing the fitters say, “Oh, those are great! Very natural!” Weird. I ultimately decided on a company that makes fake boobs with adhesive on the back so that they attach to the chest wall rather than sliding into a pocket. This gives the wearer some feedback so it feels more realistic. Due to the adhesive, they have to be cleaned with special cleaner and a brush after each wearing. Weird. It’s all weird, laughably weird!

Any curious what they look like? I know I would be. I’ll post a pic at the bottom of the post so those of you who are totally weirded out by the prospect of seeing prosthetic boobs can just skip that. ;)

So six months after leaving that group I guess I’m back in the world of the “have breasts” . . . sort of . . . not really . . . . let’s just pretend . . . . or not :D








Fake boobs, coming right up!
















Here. Weird, aren’t they!

Music . . . . . the air I breathe . . . .the remix September 20, 2014

Posted by Judy in Musings.
Tags: , , , ,

Six years ago, I started this blog with a post about music. Given the important role that music plays in my life, the lack of music-related posts would seem incongruous. In reality, it’s not. Music is constantly around me, running through me, inspiring me, challenging me. It’s like air. We all breathe it and do so without thought. It would be odd to be constantly talking about something that is second nature to us. Constantly blogging about music would be equally as odd for me given that music is completely interwoven into the fabric of my being.

Music was a constant in our home growing up. We listened to classical music during breakfast, and I marveled at my dad’s ability to identify so many of the pieces. We always sang at family worship time. There was always music playing in the car, complete with my dad conducting his imaginary orchestra. Music was everywhere. In middle school I played in band. When I went off to boarding school, being involved in band and choir was a given. I also discovered that I was able to do my math homework more efficiently when I was listening to music. College saw me pursuing a degree in music, which came as a surprise to no-one. My love affair with music continued into grad school and upon completeion, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment knowing that I was making a living teaching music. How lucky I felt to get to be surrounded by music every. single day. and to get paid to do it! The coming of parenthood caused me to greatly reduce the amount of time I spent getting paid to do music. But music was still within. I found myself marveling my children with my ability to identify classical pieces. We sang at family worship time. I would wave my arms and conduct my imaginary orchestra and I’d amaze and stupefy my little humans when I’d pretend to be on a musical theater stage. I discovered that one of my children is like me in her inherent love of music, exhibited by her constant singing and humming. Music was and always had been everywhere. Music gave me breath.

Lately, I haven’t been breathing. This statement is worsened by the fact that I didn’t even realize it until the breath suddenly, and forcefully rushed back into my lungs. Radiation has been the worst part of this entire process. Having to lay still for inordinate amounts of time. Having to do it every single day. Having my days turned upside down for 6 1/2 weeks. Being utterly exhausted. Feeling completely overwhelmed. Having lots of time (while having to lay still for inordinate amounts of time) to contemplate what has become my life, wishing that it wasn’t so, second guessing my decisions, and feeling deeply saddened by the changes. Every day was a struggle. The path grew more and more narrow, making it harder for supporters to hold my hand, which in turn left me feeling exposed and abandoned, moving forward only because it was required of me. The end of the radiation road couldn’t come fast enough and there was much rejoicing on Tuesday when that end was reached. The subsequent three days were spent slowly trying to regain my balance, find my purpose, reclaim my life.

As you can imagine, these are not things that can be found or regained overnight. I fully expect it to take several months, but this task will be much easier, now that I’m breathing again. My breath was given back to me in an unexpected manner today by a group of young men from Malawi, who sang with such purity. By one of my former students who sang with as much passion and conviction as she did when she was in high school. By the choir rehearsal that uplifted me, in spite of not being able to use my voice much. By my toddler, who mimicked the interpretive dance and sat enthralled by all of the music. By the praise team at church, who brought it song after song after song.

Today, I started breathing again.

Today, I was reminded that music is the air I breathe.


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