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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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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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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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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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Checking Things Off the Post Cancer To-Do List

Just before my exchange surgery in July, I posted 6 things I planned to do with my post cancer-invasion self. So here I am to brag that I’ve accomplished all but one 🙂 (Backpacking requires some wilderness and a trail, both of which Central Iowa is a little short on, so that one’s gonna have to wait.)

SLEEP

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I am a lover of sleep. I’m neither a night owl, nor an early bird. I’ve always been the girl who could happily go to bed at 10 and sleep until 9 given the opportunity. But things changed in January when that darn tumor freaked my body out. Sleeplessness kicked my butt for months, and Netflix became my middle-of-the-night companion.

But, alas, my beloved sleep has returned to me. My body has healed, and I can finally lie on my side again. Most nights I even spend the whole night in my own bed. (That $600 IKEA futon is getting slept on more often by teenage boys than by me. And I’m fine with that.)

HOLD SULLY

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Holding this little man makes me so very happy. Do you see that sweet sweet face? Just looking at his photo is making you happy, isn’t it? You’re welcome.

RUN

img_20161022_125025I started running again in September, and our whole family loved enjoyed tolerated running the Pumpkin Relay at Center Grove Orchard this year. Sometimes you’ve just gotta make your kids do stuff they don’t want to do. It’s one of the most important rules of parenting. Suck it up Harms boys, this is good stuff.

HUG MY HUBBY

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If a picture is worth a thousand words then the first 3 for this one are obviously “We are dorks.” I leave the other 997 to you.  Regardless of our dork status though, that is a hug. And that’s a big deal.

LIFE

life

I am definitely doing life. I’m making writing plans for the coming year. I’m running again. I’m cooking again (though I don’t understand why that has to be part of life). I shot some guns. I played in a wave pool. I slid down a water slide. I beat Corey in mini-golf. I strapped into a harness and did a high ropes course. I watched my boys play football. And now I’m counting down the days to a family vacation on the beach. (It’s 16 by the way.)

Oh, and I moved. Because doing life in the Harms house includes moving. We moved into residence #10 (in 18 years) in August, and now we’re hanging out in a duplex on main street waiting for the next step in our crazy life of rotating houses to present itself.

I fear some of you may think I have a terribly mean husband for making me move so soon after the cancer.  To set the record straight, he is truly the most loving, caring, selfless guy I’ve met in my entire life. And if I’d requested it, we’d have stayed put for as long as I needed.

But here’s the deal. Sometimes sticking with your plan is what makes you feel normal. Before cancer we had planned to list our house this year. And by summer, I felt like was ready to handle it.  The purging. The cleaning. The packing. The moving. In some weird way, all of these things factor into me feeling normal.

Cancer knocked the wind out of me, but I’m breathing again.

And I am busy loving my life.

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When Breast Cancer Came to My House

(I was asked to write my breast cancer story for our local paper as a part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. The following is just a little piece of 2016 in the Harms house. It’s a bit longer than my typical blog posts, but I am publishing it as it was printed in the paper.)

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The hardest part is telling your kids.

Watching your child navigate heartache is painful. But when you are the one who causes the heartache, it is almost unbearable.

We sat in front of the fireplace, Corey and I. It was January 21. Two days after my biopsy.

Carter leaned against the living room wall. Owen against a couch. Lewis beside him.  Our two teenagers and the 9-year-old who will always be my baby.

There was a surreal, fear-tinged atmosphere surrounding that moment.

The boys knew about my biopsy.

They knew there was something not quite right with my body.

But they were as ill-prepared for the blow of the diagnosis as I was.

That diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast cancer. Corey and I had allowed ourselves 24 hours to process the news, and now it was time to bring the boys into this undesirable circle.

I don’t think I could have physically spoken my diagnosis to the boys. As I watched them quietly brace themselves for whatever news was coming, the pathway from my vocal cords to my lips grew tight and suddenly there was not enough air in the room to form words. So I just leaned on Corey hoping somehow that his strength would seep into me. And praying that his words would not get lost like mine.

“We got the biopsy results back, and your mom has breast cancer.”

Silence.

The world stopped for a minute while we watched our boys’ insulated lives bust wide open.

Tears don’t often flow freely at our house, but that night they did.

I saw the fear in my boys’ eyes and more than anything I wanted to take it away.

It’s going to be okay. Breast cancer is treatable. The doctors will fix this and then we’ll get right back to normal, is what I wanted to say. But the truth is I was drowning in fear myself.

Fear of the unknown. Because all I had at that point was a name for my tumor. I didn’t know if it had spread beyond the lump I could feel under the skin of my breast. I didn’t know what my future looked like. Chemo? Radiation? Surgery? Death? I just knew that something was growing inside of me that was not supposed to be growing inside of me, and I was helpless to stop it.

Overcoming Fear

Fear can do crazy things to your mind if you let it. It can take you down paths you don’t want to be on. And there were days that all of my energy was spent fighting ugly thoughts.

But even as those thoughts bombarded me, one scripture verse kept coming to the forefront of my mind.

“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” It was from Isaiah, and I had memorized it during high school to get me through the jitters I always felt before the gun went off at a track meet. Who knew at that time how much more I would need those words at 40 than I did at 15.

At first, I don’t know that I fully believed all the words of verse that played on repeat in my mind. But the more I took the fear and covered it with the fear not the more I trusted that God knows what he’s doing.

That he wasn’t looking down from heaven saying, “Oh shoot, I screwed that one up. Kim wasn’t supposed to get that tumor. Oh well. She’s got it now, I guess we’ll go with it.”

I think what he wanted was for me to learn to trust him in the hard stuff. And by watching me trust him, he wanted my kids to learn that they can trust him as well.

The Path Through the Treatment

The boys survived that night in the living room. They worked their way through the fear. And they helped me make it through a really tough season.

After my bilateral mastectomy, they (along with Corey) became my physical strength. They helped me out of my recliner. They opened my refrigerator door. They refilled my water bottle. The adjusted my footstool.

And they graciously kept being themselves as well. They still yelled at the Xbox when their games weren’t going right. They still ate their way through a million boxes of cereal. They still wrestled on the living room floor, and they still got passionately involved in viewing Cyclone basketball games on TV. Together, we found an “unnormal” normal. And we grew to have a deep appreciation of each other and our time together.

While the boys helped me out and worked through the cancer in their own way, Corey was doing the hard things too. He came home at lunchtime to help me shower. He blew my hair dry and helped me get dressed. He emptied my drains, and he told me I was beautiful when my scars told me I was ugly.

On the Other Side

We are on the other side of this cancer thing now. I spent a couple nervous weeks after surgery waiting to be informed whether or not I would need chemo. (I didn’t. Hallelujah!) And because of the type of surgery I chose, radiation wasn’t necessary either. I am now healed and released to a 10-year prescription of an estrogen inhibitor (my cancer likes estrogen) and bi-annual appointments with my oncologist.

I can look back and see clearly that even in a disease like breast cancer, beauty can be found. I have grown in ways that would not be possible without that significant bump in my road.

I saw God remain trustworthy when my circumstances were out of control.

I gained so much compassion for those with cancer. When I spot someone whose hair has been stolen by chemo, my heart is immediately drawn to them.

I witnessed my boys maturing right before my eyes. They made it through those broken hearts. And I am confident that the next time they are exposed to cancer (and I don’t doubt there will be a next time) they will have a compassion and understanding that would have been impossible to achieve without walking through it with me.

Cancer was the hardest thing our family has ever done together and most definitely not something we would ever choose. But in ways I have a hard time putting words to, it was also the most beautiful.

(First published in the Tri-County Times and Nevada Journal.)

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How to Spend More Than $600 on a $269 IKEA Futon

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It’s possible.

And here’s how to do it.

First, drive 3 hours to the Minneapolis IKEA with a friend. Realize when you get there that the futon you came for is out of stock. Enjoy your day anyway and come home with a few items of lesser importance.

Cost of Trip

Lunch – $12

Gas – FREE (Your friend won’t let you pay for gas because she’s pretty great.)

Then, four days later, drive 3 ½ hours with your hubby (who is awesome) to the Kansas City IKEA where the futon is in stock. Buy said futon. Eat way too much Mexican food and stay overnight in a hotel.

Kansas City IKEA

Kansas City IKEA

Cost of Trip

Gas – $30ish

Dinner out – $40

Hotel – $130

Arrive home and realize you bought the wrong mattress. Get very frustrated. Maybe even almost cry a little.

One week later, cram the wrong mattress into your vehicle and drive 3 hours with your husband (who is ever-growing in his awesomeness) to the Minneapolis IKEA to exchange it because the futons are back in stock there. Eat way too much Italian food and spend the night in a hotel again. This futon has already cost a ridiculous amount of time and money, so you might as well make it fun.

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Minneapolis IKEA

Cost of Trip

Gas $30ish

Dinner out – FREE thanks to a gift card.

Hotel $100

Arrive home and realize that though your futon is now complete, you left your new memory foam pillow in the hotel room.

Cost

Pillow $20

This whole IKEA fiasco will make you look like a super high-maintenance chick who spends money like water. But you’re pretty much the opposite of that, so this scenario will kind of kill you a little on the inside.

But you have a solid defense for your IKEA insanity. Ever since cancer, you’ve had trouble sleeping for a variety of reasons. Stress. Pain related to the cancer stuff. Discomfort from those annoying chest expanders. Neck pain which is related to the stress and to the fact that some of your muscles have been moved from their God-given place in your body. Your husband’s snoring (Oh wait, I guess that isn’t really related to cancer).

When sleep alludes you, you always head to the spare bedroom. But you just moved to a new home. And you downsized. Like, a lot. Which means no spare bedroom. No place for an extra bed.

Thus, your crazy futon adventure, though extremely pricey, is ultimately worthwhile.

And though you really, really like IKEA, you will have absolutely no desire to go back anytime in the foreseeable future.

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Free Mastectomy Pillows

Photo By Kim Harms

I used several breast cancer specific supplies as I recovered from my bilateral mastectomy earlier this year.

Some were useful- like the above mastectomy pillows.

Some were not- like the two post-mastectomy camis that someone convinced my husband I needed for $70 a piece. And they gave him their sales pitch when he was in the hospital waiting room during my surgery. Oh My Word! Leave the poor men alone while their wives are in having their breasts removed! I’m still a little perturbed by that.

My mom and two of her friends have started making mastectomy pillows to give away FREE to women who need them. The three women have each had daughters diagnosed with cancer this year (2 breast, 1 skin). And the three of them also love Jesus and when he gives them an idea for serve others, they follow through.

These pillows fit snuggly in your armpit, providing a cushion between your arm and your sore chest after surgery. I used mine for about three weeks post-mastectomy, and they really did relieve the pressure. Each pillow is made of fleece so they won’t slide around in your armpit. You can buy mastectomy pillows online for anywhere from $20-$50, but mom and her friends are providing them for free.

If you or someone you know could use a mastectomy pillow, contact me through the form below. (I’ve had some technical issue with the form, so if you don’t hear back from me within 48 hours, email me at kimharms@rocketmail.com.

 

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