Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

Count your blessings,
Count them one by one.
Count your many blessings,
See what God has done!

I love these words so much! I have been cooking this morning, (a crumb-topped apple pie and two kinds of stuffing!) and as I've chopped, sauteed, stirred and peeled, I've been counting my blessings. Wanna hear some?

My children. I have been abundantly blessed through my children. As a kid, I always wanted to be a mommy. I began this motherhood journey 23 years ago, and it has been a deep source of joy for me. Though my kids are now older, that joy has not diminished. Molly, Megan and Thomas are evidence that God is good.

My family. I have amazing people with whom I share a family connection. These people have been a tremendous source of encouragement to me. My mom, my stepdads: thank you for loving me and my children!

My colleagues. Few people get to work with the caliber of people I work with. I am humbled that God would surround me with such dear sisters in Christ...friends who I love dearly and who reciprocate that love.

Friends. Whoa. People who will hold my hand through procedures. People who will drive me, make me dinner, help me to the bathroom. People who pray for me, send me cards, books, flowers and uplifting e-mails. They have encouraged me more than simple words can express. I am filled with thankfulness.

(You know what's cool? Most of the things I consider to be my biggest blessings have names and faces and beating hearts. Think about it!)

Finally, I am thankful for my health. I am one of many who has taken her health for granted. This year, I have seen my health as a tremendous blessing. I want to be a person who oozes gratitude. It's so easy to get cynical in this world. But a glance around is all it takes to see that we have so much to be thankful for. I'm hoping you find time today to glance around.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Range of Emotion

Part of bouncing back after major surgery is restoring the range of motion of the affected parts. This has been an interesting process. My exercises have included something called "wall walking." Do you picture me as Spider-Woman? Good. I like that. But truthfully, the only thing that's walking on the walls is my fingers. I stand about 10 inches from the wall and walk my fingers like little mountain climbers, up the wall. All that it takes to progress in this exercise is to make it further up the wall today than yesterday. I am also using a yardstick (SO high-tech!) to do some exercises recommended by the American Cancer Society for mastectomy patients. Getting in the pool has done wonders, and I actually swam REAL laps on Wednesday. It felt great. I am getting my range of motion back.

Then there's the range of emotion. This is, to be grammatically sloppy, a whole nother story. Healing from a mastectomy is a different kind of healing than say, from an appendectomy or gall-bladder surgery. In both of the above, a body part is lost, true. But few people grieve the loss of an appendix or a gall-bladder. (Do they? If you have, let me know---I'll take back what I said, I promise!) I AM grieving the loss of my breasts. They were, after all, an outward expression of my femininity. My range of emotion in any given week since surgery (4 weeks and 3 days already!) runs the gamut from "I am a cancer-free miracle!" to "I'm. So. Freaking. Ugly." At the end of the day, I gather up the fallen-leaves of emotion that have gathered and swirled and take a look. Thankfully, most days end with the positive messages winning. But it's a range, that's for sure.

I guess one of the strategies for a full-recovery that I'd recommend would be to give yourself a little more room. Just as I am having to make time in my day to work my way back up to a full range of physical motion, I need room in my day to work my way back up to expressing a full range of emotion. Life IS different, and to pretend otherwise is...well, pretending.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Phantom Pain

I've been thinking a lot about "phantom pain" lately. It intrigues me. The Mayo clinic defines it this way: "Phantom pain is pain that feels like it's coming from a body part that's no longer there. Doctors once believed this post-amputation phenomenon was a psychological problem, but experts now recognize that these sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain."

If you think about it, your brain has been wired since birth. It's the message-center. Imagine how many messages your brain sends to your body parts on any given day, without you even THINKING about it. Truly, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I have sensation two inches out from my chest. Two inches out, there is nothing. Zippo. Nada. Now, we all know that something does not have to be present to cause pain, but seriously, this is WEIRD!

My Dad died 13 years ago. Prostate cancer cut him from my life when he was only 65 and I was 38. And yet, there are days when I honestly think, "Oh, Dad will love to hear that story!" And I almost head to the phone to call him. It's phantom pain! I was so used to sharing joys and stories and laughter with was wired into me after 38 years of being his daughter.

My life has changed in big ways this year. That breast cancer and a mastectomy was a part of it all has given me much opportunity to consider symbolism. Cancer invaded me. It was found. It was dealt with. I am forever changed by it. Is that a bad thing? Believing as I do in a Good God, I am going to say NO. It is not a bad thing.

Phantom pain is a reminder. It reminds me of what was, and what is no longer. By God's grace, I will be a more compassionate, kinder person because of this reminder.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

True Confession

So, I have this "thing." When I put my mind to doing something, I want to do it WELL. Am I a perfectionist? Maybe. An over-achiever? Probably. Full of pride? Definitely.

When this whole cancer thing happened, right on the tails of some other big, challengy things, my first thought was "I want to ROCK cancer." I desperately wanted to be good at show the world how cancer should be done. Though I am an introvert, I actually wanted to be the Breast Cancer Poster Child.

Well, here's the thing. God had other plans. He is in the business of sanctification. This means He is constantly seeking to free me from the sin that so easily entangles. (Hebrews 12:1) Pride is a very tangly sin. It is easily excusable by the world's standards. (We SHOULD want to be good at all we do, right? Isn't that a good thing?)

I was left, in the stillness of recovery nights, asking myself, "Christie: WHY is it so important to you that you rock cancer?" There were many answers, believe me. I think the one shining in neon was: "I want to rock cancer so that people can see how STRONG I am." Now, if you know me, you know that I really DO want to glorify God. I love bringing Him glory, I really do. But in this cancer thing, I wanted some glory, too. True to His character, God had different plans than I. He threw in this side order of blood clots and a dollop of drain-issues as a tool to humble me, again, into dependence on Him.

I love that God is committed to sanctifying His people. I love being reminded that He is God and I am me. If you notice me vying for the Poster Child status, feel free to do that little cough-cough-pride-cough-cough thing. I'll get the hint. Hopefully.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

By My Side

Let me introduce you to three amigas. There have been LOTS of women who have stepped in and stepped up to make this craziness bearable.These three have gone above and beyond the call of duty. On the left is Gayleen. She spent that first night with me at the hospital. She also spent the first couple nights at home with me, getting up in the night for potty breaks and to administer meds. She has a heart of gold. And now she is teaching me how to get my range of motion back. I value her more than words can say.

In the middle is Posse Girl Dawn. She flew all the way from Minnesota to care for me. She was there on day 3 when I tanked. She sweated while helping me put on my compression tights (another prepared!). She cleaned my house and fed my cat. She showed great patience, actually all summer long. We have logged approximately 469 phone hours in the last three months. I love her.

On the right is LorieAnn. She has accompanied me to many doctor visits, waited many hours in waiting rooms. She was there for the ultrasound as well as the MRI-guided biopsy. She watched the drains getting pulled out of me and has beheld Dr. F in action, pulling excess fluid out of my side. We have laughed together in the worst of times. She is a good shot-giver and she reminds me to not forsake the emotional healing that needs to take place. Her friendship is priceless.

These three women represent a total of 35 years of relationship. We have poured into each other's lives in deep and meaningful ways. They have lifted me up from the depths, and I will always be grateful. I only hope I can be as good a friend as they have been should the opportunity arise. Thank you, Gayleen, Dawn and Lorie. Your selflessness humbles me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Before I had surgery, one of the big questions simmering in the back of my mind (and yours, too...admit it!) was "What's it like to look at yourself in the mirror for the first time after having a mastectomy?"

I chose not to do a lot of "googling" before my surgery, because I didn't want to get all crazy with anxiety. I felt it best for me to steer clear of input from the masses and just process what was about to happen to me on a very personal level. That's just me.

So, the day after surgery as I was being readied to go home, the nurse came in to change the dressing on my wound. I endured this without so much as a glance-down. When I got home, I changed into my comfy jammies, again, without looking. It wasn't until the next day that I took a look. And it wasn't a mirror-look, it was a glance-down look. I didn't cry. I didn't even gasp. I just marveled. Where once were breasts are now two nine-inch scars crossed with steri-strips. Just like that.

I'm sorry if this is too much information. It's just so WEIRD processing an amputation. I am blown away that modern medicine has made this whole thing possible, from detection to amputation. Three months ago I knew nothing. Now I am a cancer survivor. I am in awe of the fact that Dr. F did something SO invasive and today, 15 days later, I'm home, doing laundry, getting in the pool, driving my car. My body looks SO different to me when I look in the mirror. I don't love it. But then I never really LOVED my body. Clothes DO fit me differently. My bra-basket sits in my closet, dejected over being utterly ignored. My chest feels tight, like there's duct tape wrapped around me. I am flat as a pancake. My friend Judy and I joke that I need a 38-T bra..."T" standing for "trainer."

I am adjusting to the new way I look. I have my moments, believe me.

But mostly I just marvel.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pool Party!

I'm on day 14 of post-op fun-n-games. I decided it's time to get in the water! Dr. F okayed this. In fact, he said, "the sooner, the better." Getting my arms moving increases the flow of good fluids (like lymph) as well as bad fluids (like the stuff I've been getting drained out of me by Dr. F). So, before my next (and maybe last) visit to the doc on Friday, I'm gonna stimulate this stuff as best I can. Anyway, it was SO good to get in the water. One of my posse-girls, Gayleen, is actually a pool therapist, and she helped me tremendously in figuring out which muscles needed exercising and how best to do it. I found that there are stretches I can do in the water that are impossible on land. For instance, I cannot lay flat on my stomach at home, but I can do that in the water. If you are recovering from a mastectomy, I recommend you ask your doc about getting in the water.
P.S. Does this bathing suit make me look flat?