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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.


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.


Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Cathy VanMaanen

Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Cathy VanMaanen
Welcome to Breast Reconstruction Thoughts (a profile series) at Life Reconstructed. Each Tuesday this fall, I will feature a woman who has undergone a single or bilateral mastectomy. Most have also undergone breast reconstruction, but some have not. Some entered this world through cancer, others due to testing positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene which highly increases their chances of a future cancer diagnosis. 
Each woman will tell us a little bit about herself and her experience. I hope their words will serve to bring encouragement to those who need it, and enlightenment to those who haven’t walked this path.

My first guest is Cathy.

Photo courtesy of Cathy VanMaanen

Name: Cathy Van Maanen

Family: 3 adult children, Alex, Erica (& husband David, Kristyne & Jake), Anna

Occupation: Librarian & children’s theater director

Hobbies/Interests: books, walking, movies, my grandkids

Diagnosis: I had stage 1  Breast Cancer, originally diagnosed as Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.  After a lumpectomy it was determined I really needed a mastectomy. A tumor was discovered and removed during the lumpectomy, but the margins weren’t clear so we proceeded with the mastectomy a few weeks later.

Age at Time of Diagnosis: 40

Type of Reconstruction: TRAM (transverse rectal abdominal muscle, tunneled under the skin to form new breast)


Profile Questions

  • What was your initial response to your cancer diagnosis?

Fear for my kids. They were 9, 8, and 4 at the time of diagnosis.   I had been widowed at age 35, and at the time of diagnosis had recently remarried.  (Yes, the 4-year-old was born shortly after her father’s death.)  I will never forget my 4-year-old daughter’s comment while we were driving down the street.  “Sorry you got cancer Mommy, and I hope you don’t die, but at least I got to know you.”  Now that’s a wake-up call.


Breast Reconstruction – Thoughts From Women Who Have Been There (a profile series)

Breast Reconstruction – Thoughts From Women Who Have Been There (a profile series)

On Tuesdays, starting next week, I will begin featuring profiles of women who have undergone a single or bilateral mastectomy. Most of the women to be featured have been through reconstruction of some sort, and a few have opted to go flat as it’s called in the breast cancer world. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s a decision all of us in the “mastectomy club” have to make.

Breast Reconstruction Photo by Kim HarmsThese profiles are not meant to be exhaustive interviews. Instead they will highlight some key parts of the process, providing insight and encouragement to women who have unwittingly found themselves in the bizarre world of mastectomies and reconstruction. It’s a heart-breaking, weird, scary, challenging, and for me at least, faith-deepening experience. If you are a new member of our club, I hope the words these women say help you feel less alone.

My desire is that these profiles will also be educational for those of you who have not been on the receiving end of the statement “You have breast cancer.” I pray you never hear those words spoken to you, but I can almost guarantee that at some point in your life someone you love will.

If you or someone you know of would like to be a part of this series or would like more info, please contact me through the form below. (If you don’t hear from me within 2 days, email me at kimharms@rocketmail.com.)


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





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 🙂


Talking Breast Cancer and Marriage at Christianity Today Women

cropped marais

When I started writing my article that went live today at Christianity Today Women, my intentions weren’t to share the story with the world. I was writing for myself. Therapy on paper.

But in the midst of it, the call out came for marriage articles, and I knew (if Corey would give me his blessing) I needed to submit a query.

We are in this marriage thing together, Corey and I.

Last year we met in sickness head on. (Dang you breast cancer.)

As we walked with in sickness, we also met up with for worse.

We fought them both and won. But it wasn’t a cake walk. Thinking of it still makes my heart hurt. And probably always will. It is a hard hard thing to find yourself in a gridlock with the person you love most in the world. But God is good. And he not only got us through it, but made our marriage stronger for it.

I have been learning this year, and have mentioned before, that sometimes the good gifts come through the hard things.

I hope that’s what you see as you read my words at CT Women.

How Breast Cancer Marred My Picture Perfect Marriage


Sanctuary For My Soul – The Devotion I Wrote to Myself

Psalms DEVO_800x800

January 6th was my deadline for my contribution to the TCW devotional book, Sanctuary For My Soul.

January 9th I found a lump in my breast.

January 20th I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

My devotion quickly forgotten, (along with pretty much every other non-essential part of my life), I was shoved into a daily struggle to trust in God’s plan for me. I didn’t doubt God’s goodness or love for me on January 9 or January 20. But I didn’t like where he was taking me. (That’s an understatement by the way.)

Over the past few months I have felt sorry for myself on more than one occasion. And in those weeks when I didn’t know if the cancer had spread, I feared death. I didn’t fear where I would go in death. I am certain that my eternal destiny is with Jesus. I feared going now. The thought of leaving my family kept me awake at night. (Who will scratch the boys’ backs at bedtime? Will Corey be able to get the kids to all the places they need to go? What about cooking? Can he be mom and dad? How will Corey do life without me? How will I do heaven without him? Will I be here to see my kids graduate? Will Lewis even remember me?…)

I am still in the throws of this cancer thing; healing from major surgery (quite nicely I might add), looking to a second surgery sometime this summer and awaiting some test results and a comprehensive plan from my oncologist to take steps to lower the risk of the uninvited guest returning to my body. But I have made it through some very dark places, and I see a light up ahead.

Which brings me back to the devotion I wrote just before cancer.

I was assigned a chapter of scripture where David cries out to God in his distress and finds hope – (a pretty common theme for David 🙂 ) I wrote about what I considered to be the most difficult trial of my adult life. A miscarriage that occurred about a decade ago.

It was meant to help women find the hope in despairing circumstances. But as I read through the finished product that came in my inbox this week, I realized that God had me write those words for me.

This is how my devotion ends.

Each of us will go through seasons of great struggle and discouragement. It’s when we
find a way to hope in God and continue to praise him through our hardships that we experience a sweet communion with our Creator who “pours his unfailing love” upon us. 

And I can say from within a season of great struggle that it is most assuredly, a sweet, sweet communion.

Psalm 42:11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Whys so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

An ebook is available on Amazon.

10-pack hard copies are available at TCW.


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