- Breast Reconstruction, Boy Momming and Believing God

KimHarms

A “Thank You for Reading My Words” Book Giveaway

A “Thank You for Reading My Words” Book Giveaway

Dee Dee Parker wrote a sweet children’s book when her daughter, Brooke, was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. All of the proceeds from the sale of Josie Jo’s Got to Know benefit Breast Cancer Research, Breast Cancer Awareness and Cancer Patient Expenses. Josie Jo’s Got to Know is available on Amazon, but Dee Dee kindly gave me a signed copy to give away here at Life Reconstructed. To thank you for reading my words, one of you will win this sweet, fun children’s book with fantastic illustrations.

Thank you for spending some of the precious minutes in your day reading what I have to say about breast reconstruction, boy momming and believing Jesus through it all.

Thank you for sending me messages of encouragement. Though I don’t write for praise, I’m not gonna tell you I dislike it when I learn that my words were meaningful to someone else.

Thank you for sharing this website with other people. Part of being a writer is promoting your own work (my least favorite part of my job:) )  So I greatly appreciate it when you share my posts or comment on my posts or encourage someone else to click my Facebook like box.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.Photo by Kim Harms

The following are three ways to get your name in the drawing.

1.     Leave a comment at the end of this post naming something you are thankful for.

2.     Like my page on Facebook if you haven’t done so already.

3.     Subscribe to receive my posts through your email.

The winner will be randomly selected on Wednesday, November 22.

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Heather Lau – Reconstruction after Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Heather Lau – Reconstruction after Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Photo Courtesy of Heather Lau

Dan and Heather Lau

This is the last in my Breast Reconstruction Thoughts series (at least for now). I continue to be thankful for the willingness of these women to share their stories. Heather Lau and I both graduated from West Hancock High School in Britt, Iowa. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 35 years old and made it through treatment and reconstruction while raising young kids. Here are some of her thoughts.

Name: Heather Lau

Family: Husband – Dan, Son – Camden (15), Daughter – Kenadie (14), Daughter – Macie (9)

Occupation: Office assistant at an insurance agency

Hobbies/Interests: Going to all my kids’ activities and spending time as a family.

Diagnosis: Triple Negative Breast Cancer – Stage 1

Age at Time of Diagnosis: 35

Type of Reconstruction: Implant Reconstruction

What was your initial response to your cancer diagnosis?

Complete shock! I didn’t think people my age got breast cancer. I was only 35 and my kids were young (4, 9 and 10.) I just kept thinking this happens to other people, but not me.

How much time passed from your mastectomy through the completion of reconstruction?

I had the mastectomy, then chemo, and then reconstruction. So from mastectomy to reconstruction completion it was about 11 months

What was something you found surprising or unexpected about the reconstruction process?

I was very surprised at how much better I felt about myself after I was done with the whole process. I kept telling everyone that I didn’t really care about having breasts again, but it turns out I did! It just made me feel normal again.

What was the hardest part of he process?

It was definitely physically hard for me. I got expanders put in two months after chemo, and my body was still recovering from that. I thought the drainage tubes were awful. I had to have them in for almost three weeks, and they were painful and made sleeping impossible. I would say the first month after getting the expanders in was the hardest for me

(Wonder what the expansion process is like? Breast Reconstruction – Expansion)

What is something you learned about yourself through your mastectomy/reconstruction experience?

There’s a saying, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” I always thought of myself as weak, but going through this I found out that I am strong.

Do you have a piece of advice for women who are just beginning this journey?

I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had reconstruction, and everyone had different experiences. It really helped me to talk to other women who went through it. Do what you are comfortable with. Stay positive, and lean on your friends for support.

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Free Mastectomy Pillows and Seatbelt Covers from The Bosom Buddies

Free Mastectomy Pillows and Seatbelt Covers from The Bosom Buddies
Photo by Jan Nelson

The Bosom Buddies: Connie, Jan, Becky and Judy

525. That’s the number of mastectomy pillows the Bosom Buddies have made since August 2016.

Women in 29 states have received their pillows. 4 cancer centers currently keep their pillows on hand to give to mastectomy patients. And new pillow requests come in through this website regularly.

Cancer is a taker.

Breast cancer sometimes takes one or both breasts. It often takes hair. It always has financial cost. And it always steals away sweet time. One woman who went through a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction, intensive chemo and radiation said to me, “My oncologist said, ‘give me two years of your time and I’ll give you your life back.’”

Two years. Cancer is costly.

The Bosom Buddies know this cost because they have all watched someone they love very much walk the cancer road.

Becky’s daughter, Rachel, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2016.

Judy’s daughter, Jodi, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

Jan’s daughter (ME 🙂 ) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

Connie’s mom, Janice, fought cancer for years before succumbing to the disease in 2016.

Because these women saw the hard things of cancer first-hand, they were compelled to do something. That something turned into digging into their pocketbooks and clearing days on their calendars to buy supplies and sew mastectomy pillows and seatbelt port protectors which they give away free of charge.

1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

A woman who received free mastectomy pillows.

Jan, Becky, Judy and Connie don’t just provide for the needs that they see, they go looking for people in need. (They’re really pretty amazing.) They bless women who are undergoing cancer treatment, but in turn, they said they are also blessed.

Becky said, “I think one of the most rewarding things is delivering the pillows to the cancer centers and hearing the medical staff talk about how appreciative all of the recipients are.”

Because of the Bosom Buddies’ giving attitudes and their servant hearts, women all over our country who are experiencing the cost of cancer, are also receiving a gift of comfort.

If you or someone you know could benefit from free mastectomy pillows or a seatbelt port protector, follow the link below to my online request form.

FREE MASTECTOMY PILLOWS and SEATBELT COVER PORT PROTECTORS

 

What is a Mastectomy Pillow?

It is a small pillow that fits nicely in the armpit to help ease the pain after a mastectomy and/or lymph node surgery. After having your breasts removed and having had a surgeon dig around in your armpit for lymph nodes, sitting like a “normal” person with your hands at your sides is quite painful. The pillow provides a buffer.

What is a Seatbelt Cover Port Protector?

Women undergoing chemo for breast cancer generally have a port placed in their chest area. This remains in place for the duration of treatment. They receive meds through this port. A seatbelt cover port protector provides a bit of a buffer between the chest port and the seatbelt in their car.

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Krystal Ruby – Bilateral Mastectomy with DEIP Flap Reconstruction

Krystal Ruby – Bilateral Mastectomy with DEIP Flap Reconstruction
Photo Courtesy of Krystal Ruby

Krystal and her husband Mike.

Krystal and I live in the same community and have mutual friends, but have only met in person once in passing at a school event. (Maybe someday we can find the time to grab a coffee and talk about our shared experience.) She has graciously taken the time to tell her story, and you will not regret taking a few minutes to read it.

Name: Krystal Ruby 

Family: Husband Mike, Three Children – Tanner -9, Sadie-7, Dayton-5

Occupation: Industrial Hygienist for the State of Iowa

Hobbies/Interests: My number one hobby is definitely spending as much time with my family as possible! I love volunteering when I can and love being that mom who is constantly running around, taking the kids to their weekly activities.  However, I also love kicking back at home on a Friday evening with family and watching the newest superhero movie while eating popcorn and M&Ms.  I also love spending time with my friends. From browsing through aisles at Target with a Starbucks in my hand, to catching up with a bite to eat. I love spending time with the people who make me the happiest! 

Diagnosis: Tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation in December 2015. My aunt had just been diagnosed with Breast Cancer a second time.  She made the decision to get tested for the gene and was found to be positive.  It had been 14 years since her first diagnosis.  Since she was positive, her daughter, and sisters (one being my mother) were able to get tested. Everyone was negative except for my mother. That led to my brothers and me getting tested. 

The test was quite simple, but nerve-racking altogether. We sat around this table and swished Scope Mouth wash in our mouths for 30 seconds and then spit into a tube. We did this three times and then had to wait for a few weeks. My brother got the first call. He was negative!

Age: 31

Type of Reconstruction: Bilateral Mastectomy/Expander/DEIP Flap Reconstruction

What was your initial reaction to diagnosis?

 I received the call at work around 3:30pm.  My mom had already warned me that the first thing the doctor would say whether we were negative or not was: “Is this a good time to talk?” Well I for sure wasn’t going to tell her No!  I said yes as I was walking out of work.  She says I have to tell you that you tested positive for the BRCA2+ gene. I still get choked up just thinking about that phone call. I was devastated. I remember telling her that I couldn’t comprehend anything she was saying and would have to call her back. I was shaking and crying and more importantly, I just wanted my Mom.

I called my Mom and let her know immediately. It was heartbreaking. I was sad, nervous, and scared. However, I straightened up and realized that I am so thankful I knew because I now was given the opportunity to prevent Breast/Ovarian Cancer. 

How much time passed from your bilateral mastectomy through the end of your reconstruction process?

The first surgery took place on November 2, 2016. In April 2017, a second surgery was necessary to replace an expander that popped.  The surgery I call the “BIG ONE” was May 17, 2017. That type of surgery can last up to 12 hours. There was an incision from hip to hip where the fat was removed from my stomach and transferred up to my chest (DEIP Flap Reconstruction).  This surgery was definitely the most difficult of the surgeries. I had incisions on my breasts and stomach.

On December 1, 2017, I will go back in for another phase of surgery. This will be for nipple reconstruction, scar revision, and to fill any areas that “fat necrosis” took place. Basically that means that the fat from my stomach that was used to create my new boobs does break down in your boobs, so fat grafting can be done to ensure boobs are at their full potential 🙂 .

After this, I plan to go see a tattoo artist name Vinnie who specializes in nipple and areola 3D tattoos.  He will be my final stage and the completion of my reconstruction. It may not be until 2018, but sooner than later my breasts will be complete.

What are some challenges you faced during the reconstruction process?

The expander process can I say..SUCKED!! I didn’t have a problem going every week to get filled. My fill days were never painful, but my chest was what my then 4-year-old said was “rock salad”  (solid) and he was right. I’m not a back sleeper, so sleeping on my back was super difficult to get used to, but I did! The neck pillow that I received from the hospital was a lifesaver in and out of the hospital. I had to sleep on the recliner too, which my husband and neighbor brought upstairs for me.

Unexpectedly on Sunday April 9, 2017, my right expander popped overnight. I was devastated. I was so close to my surgery date and was worried I was going to have to reschedule. Fortunately, I spoke to Dr. Carlisle that Sunday and on Tuesday they had me scheduled for surgery to replace both expanders. I was still good to go for surgery in May! YAY!

Did you find anything surprising or unexpected about the reconstruction process?

One thing that surprised me were the different options available for breast reconstruction. I went in there thinking I would get implants that needed to be replaced every 10 years. I was wrong. My doctor told me about DEIP Flap Reconstruction where they basically take the fat from your stomach and transfer it to your chest. These were more natural than implants and would allow my breasts to shrink and grow with my body.

A surprising thing for me was that after my DEIP Flap Reconstruction, my chest still had no feeling from the first surgery so I was not in much pain in my chest.   My stomach on the other hand was TIGHT. I was super happy with the outcome of my stomach. I no longer had the baby pouch which was awesome, but I was hunched over for a few weeks and couldn’t stretch very far either.  I was off work for 9 weeks compared to 5 weeks after the first surgery.

What was the hardest part for you?

The hardest part of the process was not being able to play the role of Mom, like I normally do. It was hard having people wait on me. My husband played the role of Mom and Dad. He did so amazing, but it was still hard to deal with. I wanted to hug and squeeze them, but instead they hugged my legs and that was tough.  I wanted to do stuff with them, but for those first 3-4 weeks, I couldn’t do much.

Another hard part was looking at my chest for the first time. I was scared of what I would see, and that fear in the not knowing made me feel sick. But I was actually pleasantly surprised when I looked. I still had boobs! They weren’t big, but I wasn’t completely flat either. I knew at this point things were going to be okay.

What have you learned from this experience?

I have learned from this experience that I have on amazing support system. My family, my friends, and my community stepped up and helped out when we were in need. I also learned that I am stronger than what I give myself credit for. I went through 3 surgeries and every one of them was painful, but I conquered.

The most important thing I learned from my experience is that God is GOOD, ALL THE TIME! He has a plan for all of us, and although we may not understand it during the hard times, he’s there beside us every single step of the way and his plan is truly the greatest. I am truly blessed by God’s grace.

Are you happy with your results?

I am so happy with my results. My boobs look real. My stomach is flat. And most importantly, my risk for breast cancer has gone down over 90 percent.

Do you have a piece of advice for someone just starting this journey?

One piece of advice I can give to women who are going through the same thing that I went through is that: You CAN do it! The process might be long, there might be bumps along the way, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to ask for help, but you CAN do it! You are stronger than you think and even if your body looks different after surgery and you have scars that are visible or even if they’re not visible, YOU are STILL BEAUTIFUL! Those scars tell a story. I love this quote “Never be ashamed of a scar.  It simply means  you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”

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Body Parts I Never Imagined Discussing with My Kids (and it has nothing to do with breast cancer)

Body Parts I Never Imagined Discussing with My Kids (and it has nothing to do with breast cancer)

I wrote the following little story several years ago as a guest blogger at Leanne Shirtliffe’s website. I recently started receiving spam comments with advertisements for Cial@s and Viag@a and realized this post was the culprit. I guess if you mention male anatomy multiple times in a post, crazy drug companies will find you eventually. (You’ll notice I added an @ symbol to certain words in the hopes of avoiding more comments from prescription drug companies) 🙂

Reading through the story again made me giggle. I’m reposting it today in the hopes of making you giggle too. My Lewis was five when this fun conversation took place. 

Body Parts I Never Imagined Discussing with My Kids

Bears on Wheels is a one of Lewis’ favorite bedtime story books. My youngest son loves it because it’s one of those books he can “read.” Mostly my little man just looks at the pictures and states the obvious, but he can almost quote the whole thing verbatim.

“Four bears on one wheel. One bear on two wheels…” You get the picture.

Well, one night not long ago as we were reading the Stan and Jan Berenstain classic, Lewis was a bit distracted by one of the body parts that is ever so popular at our house. His p@nis. A mom of all boys, I often feel like I’ve been dropped onto another planet as I listen to their conversations and the noises their bodies emit. Though my three handsome boys have (what they deem to be) hilarious nicknames for their various body parts, we do not shy away from using the proper medical terminology either. P@nis is just another word at the Harms home.

If you were raised in a home like me where privates were never mentioned, much less joked about, I dare you to say p@nis out loud a few times. I’ll wait…

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Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Amber Schoenauer – Single Mastectomy

Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Amber Schoenauer – Single Mastectomy
Welcome to Breast Reconstruction Thoughts where I feature women who have undergone a single or bilateral mastectomy. Most have also had breast reconstruction, but some have not. Some entered this world through cancer, others due to testing positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation which highly increases their chances of a future cancer diagnosis. I hope their words bring insight and encouragement.


Amber and I had a sleepover when I was in Chicago for a writer’s conference this summer. 🙂

Amber and I grew up together. She’s my cousin and lived just two blocks away from me in our tiny hometown of Britt, Iowa. We had more sleepovers than I can count. We wore a path to the Dime (not Dollar) Store after school to buy candy. And we drank tea with milk and lots of sugar at Grandma’s house every Saturday afternoon. I can only remember fighting with her one time, and that fight ended with my face in a snow drift, which I’m sure I didn’t deserve 😉

In 2016, just a couple months after my diagnosis, Amber was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Hers was more advanced than mine, and she underwent chemo and radiation in addition to her mastectomy and reconstruction. And she was (and still is) a rock star. Every time we spoke during that cancer year, she exuded positivity. She took what life gave her and she handled it with strength and grace.

I didn’t want cancer and neither did she, but I am sure thankful for a friendship that was rekindled through it. 

 

Name: Amber Schoenauer

Family: single

Occupation: Compliance

Hobbies/Interests: Exercise, sports, dogs

Diagnosis: ER2+, Stage IIIB

Age at Time of Diagnosis: 41

Type of Reconstruction: Tissue expansion with silicone implant (following unilateral mastectomy) *Amber’s mastectomy and reconstruction are just a small piece of her breast cancer story, but I’m thankful she took the time to share reconstruction her experience. She had a long road through treatment, but she kicked cancer’s butt.

 

What was your initial response to your cancer diagnosis?

Defeat.  My divorce was final one year prior to diagnosis, my beloved pet was recently paralyzed, I’d been denied a promotion at work, and one more negative thing (and a pretty major thing) just seemed like I had officially been defeated.

You decided to have a single (unilateral) mastectomy instead of a double (bilateral) mastectomy. How did you land on that decision?

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Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

by KimHarms 0 Comments
Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

Pink is everywhere this month. From the flags the refs throw at my 4th grader’s football games to the shoes NBA players wear to super cool basketball’s like the one Owen’s friends gave him after my diagnosis.

I am thankful for Nancy Brinker, who started the Susan G. Komen Foundation after her only sister died of breast cancer. It’s because of her that we see pink all over the place in October. Also because of her, a lot of money has made its way to breast cancer research. I have peace in knowing that 99% of women who find their cancer at the same stage as mine are healthy and cancer free 5 years after treatment. (And I know many who have lived decades post-cancer never to see it return.)

But there is something about breast cancer that I didn’t know prior to my diagnosis. There is no cure for Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage 4). Women with this diagnosis will be in treatment for the remainder of their lives to slow the growth. To halt the spread. But it will never go away. Cancer will always be fighting against the drugs to overtake their body. And that makes me sad.

After I was diagnosed, I found a woman online named Mandi who wrote a blog called Darn Good Lemonade. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 31, and died of the disease in April of this year. I read her blog and watched her youtube videos and felt a sense of loss when she died even though she had no idea who I was.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am sharing a link to a page on her blog that details several organizations that do research on Metastatic Breast Cancer treatments.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

If you are compelled by all the pink to donate some money to breast cancer research, check out these organizations. Mandi knew from experience that they were doing good work. And I trust her judgment.

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Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Valerie McClure – “Going Flat” after Mastectomy

Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Valerie McClure – “Going Flat” after Mastectomy
Welcome to Breast Reconstruction Thoughts where I feature women who have undergone a single or bilateral mastectomy. Most have also had breast reconstruction, but some have not. Some entered this world through cancer, others due to testing positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation which highly increases their chances of a future cancer diagnosis. I hope their words bring insight and encouragement.


Photo courtesy of Valerie McClure

I don’t know Valerie personally, but was introduced to her online through my dear friend, Rachel. When you have your breasts removed, it’s like joining a club you didn’t ask to be in. But you get connected with some pretty amazing people because of it. I am so thankful for Valerie’s willingness to share her story, and for her openness about her experience.

Name:  Valerie McClure

Family: Mike (husband), Ryan (son) – 16, Katelyn (daughter) – 14, Buddy (cat), Jovie (cat)

Occupation: Family Ministry staff at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church

Hobbies/Interests: family time, enjoying my kids’ activities (marching band, soccer, alpine ski, choir, jazz band, baseball), photography (especially creating our annual Shutterfly family photo albums)

Diagnosis:  Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma & DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) in right breast/Stage 1

Age at Time of Diagnosis: 39

What was your initial response to your diagnosis?

Generally speaking, the days, weeks, and months surrounding my cancer diagnosis are a bit of a blur.  I received my diagnosis and underwent a bilateral mastectomy within eleven days in November, 2008.

You chose not to undergo breast reconstruction. Was it a difficult decision for you? What things came into play in the decision making process?

Was it a difficult decision for me? No.  Here are a few reasons why:

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How A Bunch of Teenage Boys Unexpectedly Cured My Sadness

Photo by Kim Harms

 I seldom fear cancer will come back.

I’ve read the stats, and I know that because I found my tumor early, my chances of another bout with it are very slim. And aside from the fact that I tend to write about cancerish things a lot, it’s a rare day that cancer thoughts overwhelm me.

But every once in a while I’m caught completely off guard by deep despairing sadness or unrelenting unsubstantiated fear.

Monday was one of those days.  

I found myself baking (what? I don’t  bake) and dripping tears in the cookie dough while Tim McGraw sang sweet songs to me via Spotify. (Hello name is Kim Harms, and I’m a country music fan.)

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Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Tamara Becker – Breast Cancer at Age 30

Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Tamara Becker – Breast Cancer at Age 30
Welcome to Breast Reconstruction Thoughts where I feature women who have undergone a single or bilateral mastectomy. Most have also had breast reconstruction, but some have not. Some entered this world through cancer, others due to testing positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation which highly increases their chances of a future cancer diagnosis. I hope their words bring insight and encouragement.


Photo Courtesy of Tamara Becker

Tamara Becker

Tamara is my mom’s cousin. I grew up playing Cabbage Patch Dolls with her younger sister, Heather, out at their farmhouse. She is the first person I ever knew to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She is also one of the first people I called for wisdom after my diagnosis.

Name: Tamara Becker

Family: Collin – Age 22, Mallory – Age 20, Gavin – Age 17

Occupation: Legal Secretary/Legal Assistant

Hobbies/Interests: Boating and water-skiing, reading, sports – playing and watching, exercise/fitness

Diagnosis:  Stage II Breast Cancer with lymph node involvement – Bilateral Masectomy

Age at Time of Diagnosis: 30

Type of Reconstruction: Latissimus dorsi-fla

What was your initial response to your diagnosis?

How can I have breast cancer? – the only risk factor I had was being a woman and I need to live as I have a toddler and 3 month old baby to raise.

How much time passed from your mastectomy/bilateral mastectomy through completion of reconstruction?

I had a bilateral mastectomy in October of 1997. I started the Reconstruction process in August of 1998 and finished it in February of 1999.  A total of 1 year and 4 months.

What was something you found surprising or unexpected about the reconstruction process?

My reconstruction surgery was worse than the mastectomy surgery as far as pain and recovery.

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