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Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Kerry Brannan – Twice Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Kerry Brannan – Twice Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
Welcome to Breast Reconstruction Thoughts at Life Reconstructed. Each Tuesday this fall, I am featuring a woman who has 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 Kerry Brannen

I have not met Kerry in person, but once you’ve gone through breast reconstruction, you feel a certain connection to others who’ve experienced the same thing. I’m thankful she was willing to share from her experience, and I hope someday that I might have the opportunity to meet her face-to-face.

Name:  Kerry J Brannan                

Family:  Husband of 39 yrs, 3 adult daughters, all married, 9 grandchildren (6 girls, 3 boys)

Occupation: Homemaker

Hobbies/Interests:  Music (play piano), currently LOVING an acapella group called “Home Free”

Diagnosis: Multifocal DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) 20 yrs ago (L side).  Micro-invasive ductal carcinoma 3 yrs ago, R side. 

Age at Time of Diagnosis:  1st -39;  2nd– 58

Type of Reconstruction: 1st –  none, mastectomy only;  2nd – bilateral reconstruction with silicone implant

Profile Questions

What was your initial response to your cancer diagnosis?

Annoyance, determination to do research well, ask every possible question

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

Just over 9 months – I delayed some parts of it to fit my schedule (with doctor’s approval!)

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

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Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Rachel Akslen – BRCA2 Positive

Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Rachel Akslen – BRCA2 Positive
Welcome to Breast Reconstruction Thoughts at Life Reconstructed. Each Tuesday this fall, I am featuring a woman who has 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.

Rachel was one of my closest college friends, and we’ve stayed friends for 20+ years. When I met her, her mom was dying of breast cancer. She later found that she had a very high likelihood of getting cancer as well. I remember when she went through her bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. It seemed so foreign and scary to me. Little did I know then, that about 4 years later, she would be my mentor as I went through the same process. But God knew, and I’m so thankful for the gift she is in my life.

Name – Rachel Akslen

Family – Husband Eric & 4 kids – Clara – 14, Jairus – 11, Ellie & Kaylee – 9

Occupation – Busy mom & part-time accountant

Hobbies/Interests – watching movies, reading, baking, watching kids play soccer

DiagnosisBRCA2 positive, prophylactic bilateral mastectomy & oophorectomy

Age at Time of Diagnosis – 35

Type of Reconstruction – expanders & silicone implants

Profile Questions

  • What was your initial response to your cancer diagnosis or to finding out you had the brca1 or brca2 gene?

I actually felt a lot of relief to finally just know & to have the ability to do something about it instead of just feeling like ticking time bomb.  There were also a lot of tears mostly when thinking about my kids & knowing that there is a 50% chance I have passed this on to each of them.

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

About 5 months

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

I didn’t realize how much you use your chest muscles & that pretty much every movement would hurt.  I also didn’t expect to have so much trouble sleeping & for so long.

What was the hardest part of the process?

I think the hardest part for me was the sleep deprivation.  I have learned that I am a much different person when I’m so over tired.  I’m not very patient with the kids & am just crabby.  It also made it easier to feel sorry for myself & question my decision.

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

Find someone else who has been down a similar road to talk to & ask very frank questions to.

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Lasagna, Volleyball, Breast Cancer and Trusting Jesus

by KimHarms 2 Comments
Photo Courtesy of Raub Photography

Photo Courtesy of Raub Photography

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, food started landing on my doorstep. Lots of food. Sometimes there was a person at the other end of the casserole and sometimes the meals just magically appeared in the big blue cooler outside the front door. My family appreciated it all. (Even if some of it pushed the boundaries of our boring Harms tastebuds.)

One of the first meals we received came from a group of high school girls from our church. Just a week or so after my diagnosis, these lovely girls came to my door bearing lasagna and cookies and I’m-not-quite-sure-what-to-say-to-someone-with-cancer smiles.

I took the casserole and the cookies and thanked them. Then I said something deeply meaningful like,

“Hey, I’ve got cancer, but at least I don’t have to cook.”

I’m pretty sure that just served to increase the awkwardness of the already uncomfortable moment.

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When Cancer Pushed Me Out of the Boat and Into the Water

Photo By Kim Harms

I’m talking about cancer and water and sinking and faith strengthened by a stormy sea at inspireafire.com today. You can start reading here and follow the link at the bottom to the rest of the story.

 

When you pass through the waters I will be with you. Isaiah 43:2

The image of water was a big deal to me during my cancer year. The power. The tranquility. The danger. The beauty.

Cancer was my water. Fear-inspiring, yet fused with the beautiful. So hard, yet covered by a peace I cannot explain. The water was rough, but Jesus was constant.

One night long ago on the stormy Sea of Galilee, Peter jumped out of a boat and began walking to Jesus. He sees a man walking toward him on the water and says “Lord if it’s you, tell me to come to you.”

In her book, Crossing the Waters, Leslie Leyland Fields describes Peter’s walk like this.

“He walks atop the waves anyway for a few steps, but fear opens his eyes and ears too wide. He hears the wind; he feels the water at his ankles. He knows this is impossible-and he sinks.”

Whatever it is that got him out of that boat, he did it, and the most dynamic personality among the disciples took his first steps on water. But then his circumstances got the better of him.

When I think of Peter, I’m reminded of my rough waters turned serene.

I didn’t jump out of the boat into the storm like Peter.

I was pushed.

Follow this link to the rest of the story – When Cancer Pushed Me Out of the Boat and Into the Water

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I Found My Breast Cancer Story on Rise and Soar Above the Cancer Valley

by KimHarms 6 Comments

Photo by Kim Harms

Look what I found in the big wide world of the Internet while doing a little writing research – my story on author Shirley Corder’s website. I remember when she requested my cancer story for her Testimony page, but I don’t remember ever seeing it after if was published. What a fun little surprise.

Things like this make my heart happy. It’s a boost of encouragement from God through my computer screen. He’s like –

Hey Kim, I know that sometimes you think you’re losing your mind with this whole writing thing and that you should give up and  apply to make pizza at Caseys, but I have you right where I want you. Trust me. Besides, remember that time you got a job at Piccadilly Circus in high school and you messed up two pizza orders on your first day and then quit? You’re a great girl and all, but you’re not really cut out for food service. I created your brain for the keyboard, not the kitchen. Stick with the words. Love, God

 

 

 

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Life Reconstructed

We live a construction life over here at the Harms house.

I’ve been watching my man build amazing things for two decades. But I never imagined there would be a point in my life when a piece of me would have to be physically reconstructed. That at age 40 my chest would literally be taken apart and put back together.

During that process of physical breast reconstruction, non-physical parts of my life were reconstructed as well.

Pieces of my marriage were taken apart and reconstructed.

Pieces of my thought life were taken apart and reconstructed.

Pieces of my self-esteem were taken apart and reconstructed.

Pieces of my sense of womanhood were taken apart and reconstructed.

And pieces of my relationship with my Savior were taken apart and reconstructed too.

The funny thing is, when my physical body healed, the feeling was gone and I was left with permanent physical numbness.

But as the non-physical parts of me worked through the reconstruction process, the depth of my emotions intensified. I now feel more deeply than I ever have before. I love my husband more. I have more confidence as the woman God created me to be. I find more joy in adventurous things. And I cling to my Savior with a new intensity.

Sometimes I miss the before-cancer me.  I miss life without hot flashes. I miss knowing my husband was the only person who ever got to see me with my shirt off. And I miss the naivety of thinking I’d live my smooth-sailing-life to old age and die on a porch swing with my Corey by my side.

But I don’t miss those things of the past as much as I treasure my life in the now. Breast cancer and breast reconstruction were the means the infinitely wise God used to get me to this place, and I choose to be thankful. Thankful for the trial and thankful for my life reconstructed.

I’m also thankful you’ve come along for the ride 🙂

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Backpacking and Breast Cancer

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I posted the following statement on July 18, 2016.

We cancelled our plans for a family backpacking trip to Colorado this summer because a backpack and chest expanders are a bad combination. (Just wearing a seat belt across my chest right now about drives me batty.) Next summer the Harms family will be climbing some mountains.

On July 11, 2017 we climbed a mountain. Well, kind of. We climbed most of the way up a mountain in Byers Peak Wilderness in Colorado. We camped by Horseshoe Lake 11,200 IMG_6535feet above sea level where we were secluded from the world (except for one other family and their 4 alpacas 🙂 )

It was fantastic.

I love backpacking with my family. Something about all of us doing a challenging thing together brings me great joy. I love the taste of  Mountain Meals eaten out of a bag while sitting on the ground, and I love relaxing by the campfire together before retiring our sore bodies to our tiny little tents. I could do without the middle of the night trips to the outdoor loo, but I guess it wouldn’t be backpacking if I didn’t have to pee outside. IMG_6542

The Gift

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, our friends/tax guy/realtor Chris and Tami Hicks offered us a week of their timeshare. Not only did they offer it, they made sure we took them up on the offer by reminding us every month or two that they wanted to give us a vacation. So thank you Chris and Tami for the condo with a view of the Rockies, and for helping me accomplish a goal.

We had a fantastic week of swimming, rafting, hiking, eating lots of junk and relaxing in our own personal hot tub room.

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An Easy Section of the Hard Trail

My boys might say that rafting or cliff jumping was their favorite part of the trip, but for me it was definitely the backpacking.

Goal Achieved

Last year at this time I was recovering from reconstruction surgery #2, and dreaming about the day when I might be able to extend my arms over my head again. This year I strapped on a 20 lb. backpack and climbed a mountain.

Last year going for a half-mile walk with Corey was a grand accomplishment. This year I hiked for hours on what alltrails.com lists as a HARD trail.

Last year I had no feeling in my alien breasts. This year…still no feeling 😉 (A relatively small price to pay to rid my body of cancer.)

But that’s not really what this is about. This is about living the life God gave me to the fullest.

Last year that meant a lot of resting and letting other people take care of me. This year it means checking the goals off my Post Cancer To Do List and hopefully encouraging other women who are in the midst of hard things.

Backpacking is my last checkmark.

List complete.

I guess it’s time to write a new one.

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When I Was Scared by Lewis Harms

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I go through all the boys notebooks at the end of each school year and keep a sampling of what they’ve done. Lewis’ stories often inspire laughter. But this rare gem brought tears.

I was scared too, Mr. Lewis.  And what I wanted most in the world was to protect you from the fear I was feeling. I wanted to kick that fear and the cancer right out of our house. But I don’t have that kind of power, and the best I could do was to let you see me take my fear and put it in the hands of the one who can take fear away. I placed it on that alter every morning, and at least a hundred times each sleepless night. And I know that you saw God at work in me as I wavered and struggled to land on the side of trust.

In hindsight, I can see that it was a good thing that God had us all work through the fear instead of immediately and miraculously removing the source of it the first time we asked.  Because through it, we gained a true raw story of God’s faithfulness right here under our own roof. A story we can remind ourselves of the next time something scary walks through our door.

God is good. God is faithful. And perhaps he is closest when we are scared.

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Without the Hard Things

Given a choice between the hard things and the easy things, I’d pick easy. But sometimes God doesn’t let me choose.

One year ago today Corey and I faced a really hard thing. A 5-hour surgery to remove my cancer and my breasts.

I remember it with an ache in my heart. But right beside that ache there is joy. JOY. Because God is good and the giver of the good things. Even in the wake of bilateral mastectomies and reconstruction.

  • The good thing of experiencing  peace that passes all understanding deep down into my bones as I was poked, prodded, injected with blue radioactive dye and wheeled around the hospital before surgery. I have felt the peace of God many times in my life, but never have I experienced it like that.img_20160225_181228780
  • The good thing of Corey sitting beside my bed that first night in the hospital, holding my hand all night long, as I slipped in and out of sleep. (Seriously, the man pulled the recliner right up beside my bed and sat close enough to hold my hand for the entire night, only releasing his grasp to scratch the incessant itch that I could not reach at the end of my nose.)

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  • The good thing of my boys visiting me in the hospital because they needed to see for themselves that I was going to be okay. (My boys, and my mom who brought them to see me, are the best. Also, Carter and Owen have each grown like a foot and turned into man creatures since this photo was taken.)
  • The good thing of the hazy, nearly silent, but super-naturally peaceful hour with my bff, Marti, who came to sit with me while Corey met a friend for lunch, so I wouldn’t have to spend one minute of my hospital stay alone.
  • The good thing of the 20-something nurse who, at the end of her shift, said to Corey and me “You guys are so cute. I just had to say it.” (And we are cute, darn it. She was speaking truth.)
  • The good thing of the release nurse saying “You have a very nice husband; how he takes care of you. Not all husbands are like that.” (Truth again. He’s the real deal.)

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And look at us now. Because of what we endured together, this year’s family photos will probably always be my favorite. (Plus I think we would make a sweet Under Armour ad.)

I believe what it says in the book of James, that every good and perfect gift comes from above. From my father in heaven. I also believe that sometimes those good and perfect gifts can only be delivered through the hard things.

So I will endure the hard things. And I will find joy in the good things that saturate the hard things in light.

 

 

 

 

 

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Breast Cancer and Tree Houses

Breast Cancer and Tree Houses

One year ago today I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today Corey and I closed on our tree house. (Sometimes I name my houses 🙂 )

These two things don’t seem connected, but they bookend a chapter in the same story.

Building/Moving/Selling/Moving is woven into the fabric of our family life.

Many of our decisions are weighed on the moving scale. When we build, I choose finishes and fixtures more for resale than for my preference. We base furniture purchases on three things: style, comfort and weight. If it’s too heavy, it’s not worth moving no matter how beautiful it is. And that 2011 family vacation to Colorado? Postponed for a year because it collided with a closing date…

The Harms family moving plan going into 2016 was to list our pi house (314 Centennial) in June. Then I got cancer and all plans for every part of life were put on hold while Corey and I brushed up on our knowledge of useless facts by playing Trivia Crack in Medical Clinic waiting rooms.

By June I was feeling pretty good. The cancer was gone. I didn’t need chemo. And I was in between reconstruction surgeries.

And I just wanted to be normal again.

Normal to me included listing our house. So that’s what we did.  img_20160617_124656627

When we were preparing to put our house on the market, we decided that we were ready to get off this moving rollercoaster. We wanted to find a place or build a place that would be permanent (well maybe not permanent, but closer to permanent than we are accustomed to.)

So Corey was like, “What do you think about buying a duplex on main street and living in it for a couple years while we wait for something we like to present itself?”

I am not opposed to adventurous housing scenarios, but within two seconds of walking in the door of the duplex with our real estate agent, my response (internally) was a resounding “No Way. Uh-uh. Not Ever. My husband has lost his mind.”

When I got home, my prayers went something like this. “Please Lord, don’t make me move into the house with overflowing poop toilets and grease dripping down the walls.”

We all know how that turned out.

God has a sense of humor, and he moved me into the place with the overflowing poop toilets and the grease dripping down the walls. Thankfully, the poop and 95% of the grease img_20160708_195421724_topwas gone when we moved in. I eventually captured my hubby’s vision (I usually do. Sometimes it just takes me a while.) And together we spent a month gutting and remodeling the place before moving in.

The original plan was to live in our newly remodeled duplex for one to two years. For a variety of reasons, we decided not to build this time around, so Zillow became my friend. In the mornings I made my coffee, did my devotions and checked my Zillow for new listings. (You see, I got on board with moving into the duplex, but I just wasn’t convinced of the two year plan.)

One day this fall, Zillow was good to me.

Listed was an in town acreage with a house hidden back in the trees, smack in the middle of the neighborhood most of the boys’s friends live in. (Did I mention it comes with a tiny house by a ravine?) Be still my heart. img_20161215_141100758

We looked at the house that day and made an offer (that was accepted) that night. Corey really liked the place. I really LOVED it.  And the boys immediately started making plans for ziplines and trails through the woods.

But some issues that turned up on inspection made it very clear to both of us that we couldn’t go through with the purchase.

That was hard. I so very much wanted that place, but I knew that God was telling me no.

Fast forward two months. The price has gone down and some of our concerns have been resolved. We began negotiating with the seller again and came to a price we could agree upon.

It turns out God wasn’t saying no. He was saying wait. The waiting part was key, because without it we would have missed the sweetest part of the story.

Because we were totally flexible on the moving date, we left it up to our real estate agent and the sellers.

The date picked? January 20.

When we told the boys about the closing date at the supper table, Owen said, “God knew he was going to do that, didn’t he?”

Yes buddy. I have no doubt.

One year to the day after receiving the hardest news of our lives, Corey, Carter, Owen, Lewis and I are walking through the doors of our tree house.

God, in his lavish love was like, “See guys? I took care of you through the hard stuff and now I am giving you this gift.”

That’s who God is. He is healer. He is sustainer. He is a father who loves to give his children good gifts.

 

 

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