- Breast Reconstruction, Boy Momming and Believing God

The Gift of Knowing Human Frailty

The Gift of Knowing Human Frailty

I was 40 and already had a head of prematurely gray hair (I hide it well) when Dr. Testroet called with the crappy cancer news, but the following words from Jen Wilkin’s 27-year-old experience ring true inside of me.

Once you hear a cancer diagnosis, you can’t unhear it. Even with successful treatment, it changes the way you number your days. I had been given an opportunity not many 27-year-olds could claim: the opportunity to count each of my days as precious. Any illusions I might have had that this life would last forever were effectively removed. I learned a perspective that many don’t grasp until the aging process begins its faithful instruction in universal human frailty. I didn’t have to wait for crow’s feet or hip replacement. My eternal Father taught me young to pursue the sacred calling to “live this day well.” Jen Wilkin, None Like Him

Nobody wants cancer.

I know cancer survivors who have made it through treatment and are really not even interested in talking about it again. Ever. It’s a piece of their lives they’d rather forget. Or at least think about only when absolutely necessary.

Sometimes I want to do that. I think to myself, “Kim, what the heck are you doing? Why do you continue to invite the heartache in?” My own personal heartache ebbs and flows (mostly it ebbs these days) but I allow myself to enter into the heartache of others and it weighs on my soul like a heavy blanket on a hot summer day.

But that weight. It has purpose.

The heavy

keeps me

dependent on Christ.

The heavy

keeps me from

Living a passive life.

The life I live is filled with life.

I see things with different eyes than I did a few years ago. Those eyes of pre-40 Kim weren’t bad. I could’ve lived another half century with them and gotten along just fine.

But these new eyes? These eyes that are fueled by the weight of truly knowing human frailty? I am in love with these eyes.

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8 Women Weigh in on the Hardest Part of Breast Reconstruction

8 Women Weigh in on the Hardest Part of Breast Reconstruction

When people are comfortable enough to ask me about breast reconstruction, one of the things they want to know is “What was the hardest part?” It’s a tough question to answer because there are so many hard things about it both physically and emotionally. The following eight women (who represent a variety of breast reconstruction procedures) attempt to answer that question today.

Heather Lau – Reconstruction with Tissue Expanders

Photo Courtesy of Heather LauIt 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

Learn more about Tissue Expander Reconstruction

Read more of Heather’s story.

 

Krystal Ruby – DIEP Flap Reconstruction

Photo Courtesy of Krystal RubyThe 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.

Learn more about DIEP Flap Reconstruction

Read more of Krystal’s story.

 

Amber Schoenauer – Single Mastectomy with Tissue Expander Reconstruction

Advocating for myself.  I felt my team of doctors didn’t always communicate among themselves, so making sure we all had the same goal was an added challenge.

Read more of Amber’s story.

 

 

 

Valerie McClure – Bilateral Mastectomy without Reconstruction (Going Flat)

Photo courtesy of Valerie McClureThe hardest part for me is the loss of the pleasure they provided in my intimate relationship with my husband. I know that he received pleasure from them as well, and it was challenging to have that taken away from us as a couple. However, my husband was and continues to be an incredible partner throughout my cancer journey and its aftermath. Ultimately, this experience has brought us even closer together, and we continue to have a very satisfying physical relationship. (And, it is worth noting, reconstruction wouldn’t have restored sensation.)

Another issue that has been somewhat difficult for me is shopping for clothes. I have always kind of hated it because I am short and nothing seems to fit quite right.  Now, I have the added challenge of needing to find outfits that don’t require natural cleavage to look flattering.  Even though I spend 95% of my time wearing t-shirts or sweatshirts anyway, on the rare occasions that I want to dress up or dress for really hot weather, my choices are limited.  V-necks and scoop necks are out because, when I lean forward, you can see the prostheses pull away from my chest.  Tank tops and bathing suits aren’t any better because they tend to expose the side of my bra with the prostheses showing through the pocket. While I am fully aware that this is only a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, I do sometimes allow myself a brief “pity-party” while clothes shopping!

Read more of Valerie’s story.

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A Cancer Book Worth Reading – Warrior In Pink by Vivian Mabuni

A Cancer Book Worth Reading – Warrior In Pink by Vivian Mabuni

 

Books are kind of my thing. I’m reading three of them right now. One is a gift I’m giving to a friend (I’m reading it first. Shhh…don’t tell), One is a spiritual growth kind of book and one is just a sitting on the deck reading for fun book. Over the past couple of years, I’ve added a few cancer books into my reading repertoire. Of those books, Warrior in Pink, grabbed me and took me right back to the beginning of my own cancer story.

Author Vivian Mabuni and I have much different experiences. Her breast cancer had progressed further, and she endured a lot more yucky stuff than I did. But the beginning was the same. The waiting, the wondering, the fear… And I found her words played a role in my healing process.

The following excerpt from Warrior in Pink is just a little glimpse into the depth of the content of this book that I almost finished reading in one sitting.

Each morning I woke up in the dark, wondering if all that had happened was a bad dream. Then reality would hit anew and my mind would race into overdrive. I crawled out of bed, morning after morning, while the whole house slept, and made my way up the stairs to my nook, where I poured out my disbelief and concerns to God in my journal and read from the Bible. I read verses that seemed written just for me:

Blessed is the man whose strength is in You;

Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.

As they pass through the Valley of Baca,

they make it a spring.

The rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;

Each one appears before God in Zion. (Psalm 84:5-7)

The Valley of Baca, also known as the Valley of Weeping, and the phrase “as they pass” reminded me that the valley of weeping is part of life’s journey. Sooner or later, everyone passes through their own valley like this.

These verses spoke hope that good could come from my valley, making it a place of refreshing springs. Again the picture came to me of journeying through fire and water toward a place of abundance. God could be trusted to provide rains of blessings, pools to drink. He would refresh me along the way, and I would venture from strength to strength. God would provide as he had so faithfully done in the past, the needed strength to walk through this new trial. I would not need to muster up my own strength; instead my strength would be in God and come from Him. The strength could not be collected or stored up, but would be enough for each day.

Warrior in Pink is heartbreaking at times, raw at times and beautiful throughout. Vivian Mabuni walks the reader through her breast cancer experience. She doesn’t spare the hard parts or try to wrap it up in a nice bow, and she adds a bit of humor here and there. Throughout the book’s entirety, the reader sees the way she clings to her Savior, but also her disappointment in the dark days she walked through.

When life throws hard things at me, it can become a battle in my heart to trust the One I know in my head to be absolutely trustworthy.  Mabuni goes to deep places and shows the  reader the struggles and the victories in doing this thing called breast cancer. Ultimately painting a picture of a God who never leaves us alone in the yucky stuff.

In many ways, this is not an easy book to read, but it’s oh so good.

 

Vivian Mabuni headshot

Vivian Mabuni

 

 

 

Purchase Warrior in Pink

Learn more about Vivian Mabuni and her ministry.

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I Have a Literary Agent But What Does That Mean?

I Have a Literary Agent But What Does That Mean?

A couple weeks ago I excitedly posted a photo of my contract with Credo Communications (and a photo of the steak I ate in celebration.)

Since then a lot of people have been asking me what having a literary agent means.

BOOK WRITING

Writing a book is a crazy long process.

In fact, I would say my book writing journey began in 2011 when my author friend Jolene Philo told me to “Fork over the money and go to a good writer’s conference” if I was serious about this writing thing. (Maybe she didn’t word it exactly like that.) So, I found some change in my couch cushions and drove to Chicago to the Write-to-Publish conference where I basically learned that even though I had a B.A. in English and several years of newspaper writing under my belt, I was a total newbie. So. Much. To. Learn.

Me and Cec

I soaked up all I could that year, and I’ve attended three more times since. – Once on a full scholarship from Cec Murphey which was super awesome. We’re pretty much buddies as you can see from the photo on the right 😉

I’ve also written and rewritten and queried and submitted a whole lot of stuff. And I’ve been rejected 3786 times (give or take). But I’ve also been published quite a lot. And I’ve built my freelancing career and made many writing connections in the past seven years.

A few years ago, I started praying for God to give me a clearer direction in my writing. I love writing about a variety of things, but I kind of felt like I was floundering. In fact, one of my repetitive prayer requests in my women’s Bible study group for the fall of 2015 was that God would give me direction.

Then I got breast cancer. (Not the direction I was going for.) Cancer Sucks. It’s Dumb. It’s Stupid. It’s Annoying. And all the other bad words you can think of.

But it was through cancer that God directed my writing path. I still write about a lot of stuff, and I will not always write on the theme of female anatomy, but right now, I’ve got a boob (or lack there of) focus.

LITERARY AGENTS

I worked for months and months and months on a book proposal, that as I am writing this, is in the final stages of tweaking. Soon it will be ready to be sent off to publishers.

Which brings me to my literary agent, Karen Neumair.

A literary agent bears some similarities to a real estate agent. Like a real estate agent, a literary agent knows the ins and outs of the business and it’s their job to work for their clients to negotiate the best possible contract. But landing a literary agent is not an easy task. I have one writer friend who approached 85 agents before one signed with her. I’ve spoken with several agents over the past year, but Karen was my favorite. I knew the minute we starting talking in the Billy Graham Center of Wheaton College last summer that that she was at the top of my list. She was just so likable. (But did she like me? And beyond that, did she think my book proposal was worthy of considering?)Photo Courtesy of morguefile.com

Well, I guess she did, because months later we have a signed contract, and I’m a little over the moon about it.

Karen is currently working with me to make my proposal the best it can be. (We’re so very close.) Then she will approach various publishing houses that she has ongoing relationships with and will work to negotiate a contract on my behalf.

PUBLISHERS

Some people have said “Wouldn’t it be easier to just self-publish?” In some ways yes, but I have always known that I wanted to go the traditional route. I really like the idea of being paid to write a book as opposed to paying someone to publish my book for me. 🙂 

Plus, traditional publishers and agents are financially vested in their authors. They aren’t going to make money on a bad book. So they will work very hard to make the book the absolute best it can be before sending it to the printer. I am excited to have so many eyes read my work, give me feedback and help me to use my words in the best way possible.

So that’s where I’m at. Signing a contract with Credo was a dream come true, but there is still a really big hurdle in front of us. Finding a publisher. What I’m so excited about though, is that I have this professional cheerleader of sorts who is saying to publishing houses, “Hey, this girl, Kim, she can write. You should take a look at her stuff.”  Feeling valued like that is pretty amazing. 

I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. And there are tons of unknowns still. But I’m just gonna keep writing and waiting and doing the next thing that’s placed in front of me.

And when a publisher decides to give this new author a shot, Corey’s taking me out for steak.

 

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Music and The Comforter of My Soul

Music and The Comforter of My Soul

I have no idea how it works. I’m a mediocre singer. I took piano lessons for five years and the only thing I can play is the first several measures of Could’ve Been by Tiffany.

But somehow, when God created music, He made a salve for the human soul.

My 10-year-old sings himself to sleep each night. His sweet sweet voice is a daily reminder of beauty from ashes. Of a miscarriage and many months of grieving and waiting followed by the gift of Lewis. My little man has no idea, but his voice is a soul-soothing touch from my Savior.

I’m a word person. I love shaping them through my fingertips and putting them together like a puzzle. But even with the amount of time I spend in the word world, I’m still amazed that just a few simple words appropriately placed along a musical scale can take an ache and turn it into worship.

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In the Dead of Night – A Mastectomy Story by Jane DeShaw

In the Dead of Night – A Mastectomy Story by Jane DeShaw

2:36 a.m.

The February night is moonless, black, as you turn your head to the left and gaze out the second-story window. The limbs and leafless branches of the huge maple tree just outside are like cold, barren, groping arms, sinister in the streetlamp’s dim glow. Lying flat on your back in bed, each arm is propped up on a large pillow. Except for your elevated arms, you are nestled like a caterpillar in a cocoon. You would think this should make you feel safe and secure. You would think. Where did they put your breasts? Were they tossed in with pieces of kidneys, livers, and gallbladders, like a giant Cobb salad, to finally co-mingle as a giant heap of ash at the bottom of a massive incinerator? Are pieces of them floating idly in a formaldehyde-filled jar on a pathologist’s laboratory shelf?  Seems all the doctors—and there have been many—have admonished you to keep your stress level down.  You wonder if at some point one of them implanted an anxiety barometer inside you, with an alarm to go off to alert you if the level goes astray. The alarm goes off in you now as little prickles, like inside-out goosebumps, start to invade your chest and arms, followed by an intense heat, beginning in your face and exploding throughout your body. You try to pray.

3:03 a.m.

What are the odds of recurrence? You try to remember the statistics, but you know those are just numbers. You did all you could so it won’t return. But will it? In a few years, you’ll have to make a choice whether to continue taking, for five more years, the medication that is already decreasing your bone density and elevating your cholesterol level. It lessens the chance of it returning, but should you say enough already because of the side effects?

3:40 a.m.

You bend your legs up and down, one at a time, sliding your feet along the soft cotton sheet, wondering how long it will be before you can curl up on your side again. Did some rogue cell make it into your bloodstream before the biopsy? You never seriously thought in the past that you wouldn’t participate in new chapters of your son’s life…marriage, fatherhood, grannyhood on your part. Will it return? You stare up at the ceiling, teeth clenched.

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I Have a Literary Agent (I Pinched Myself and I’m Not Dreaming)

I Have a Literary Agent (I Pinched Myself and I’m Not Dreaming)

So this happened.

Photo by Corey Harms

I signed a contract with a literary agent. Not just “a” literary agent, but the exact literary agent I was hoping for. As of this week, I am officially represented by Karen Neumair at Credo Communications. And according to my contract, I am hereinafter called the AUTHOR. Oh boy. That word connected to my name is just about more than my heart can take. It’s a big deal. It’s a jump into my hubby’s arms and go out for steak at Johnnie’s kind of big deal.

 Photo By Kim Harms

Thank you Jesus, for signed literary agreements (and for husbands and steak too.)

Here’s a link to my AUTHOR (I like that word so much) profile at Credo.

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Our Family Goes Backpacking, But My Friend Tori’s Family REALLY Goes Backpacking

Our Family Goes Backpacking, But My Friend Tori’s Family REALLY Goes Backpacking

Last summer my family went backpacking in Colorado. It was just an overnight trip, and within 24 hours we had returned to civilization and were eating the biggest hamburgers we’d ever seen in our lives. It was just a sweet little trip, but because it was the final check on my post-cancer to-do list, it was a pretty big deal.

My friend Tori backpacks with her family. Like seriously backpacks. She goes on monster trips – 7+ days with no potty and no shower kind of trips. My max so far is two nights, and I don’t know if I’ll ever work up to a week, but maybe someday.

I try to emulate Tori in a lot of ways. We periodically get together for coffee, and I soak up all the wisdom I can in those few moments. I love the way she  parents her children. I love the way she adores her husband. And I love the way she loves Jesus. I want to be the mom who does the challenging adventurous things with my hubby and kids for the sake of family time and memory making like she does. 

There are things I really don’t like about backpacking  like mosquitos, sore feet and waking up every hour during the night to switch positions because the hard ground and my hips don’t like each other very much. But I tell myself, if Tori can survive the wilderness with her man and her children, well then I can too.

She took one of those monster trips last summer (a 3 week trip on the Superior Hiking Trail), and she recently blessed the world by writing about it.

Grab a coffee or a tea, find a comfy chair and take the time to read Tori’s story at Conversations at the Clothesline.  It’s a total of 13 posts, and worth every minute you spend reading. You will love how real and funny and humble she is. I don’t know if her story will make you want to go backpacking, but it will probably make you want to ask her to be your friend. 🙂

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How American Idol Cracked Open the Cancer Wound

How American Idol Cracked Open the Cancer Wound

You never know when it’s gonna hit. I haven’t even given cancer much thought recently. I just live and write and buy groceries and do boy mom things and complain about the nine inches of mid-March snow that the weatherman did not forecast.  And it’s good. I like this life God has given me. I’m happy. I’m content. I’m blessed.

But this guy named Brandon Elder walked into our living room via the American Idol try-out stage the other night and he opened up wounds I wasn’t prepared to revisit. This sweet 22-year-old guy started talking about his mom while Corey, Lewis and I sat together watching and listening. He talked about how she was diagnosed breast cancer. How she survived breast cancer. How two or three years later the breast cancer came back. How she eventually lost her life.

I could feel Corey begin to shake. He turned away.  Presumably so Lewis wouldn’t see his tears.

I kept my face focused on the screen, my lungs focused on breathing in and out, and my eyes focused on not welling over.

“Mom, how long has it been since you got cancer?”

“Two years, buddy.” Focus, Kim. Don’t cry.

“But when you get to five years, you are all healed, right?”

“Kind of. Five years is a big deal in the cancer world.” Darn voice. Stop cracking. Just breathe and speak.

“Well I think you’re healthy, and I want you to live a long time.”

“I feel the same way.”

Together we continued to watch American Idol until it was bedtime for Lewis.

As I leaned over his bed and scratched his back I thought about those tears I tried so hard to keep inside.  I’m not exactly sure why neither Corey nor I wanted to cry that night in front of our little man. Maybe because we wanted him to see us as strong. Maybe because we weren’t prepared to think about cancer just then. Maybe because if we had given in to the tears we might not have been able to stop. Maybe because we didn’t want him to unnecessarily worry about things beyond his control.

Whatever it was, we went to bed with hearts that felt just a little too heavy in our chests. But it’s okay. Cancer is part of us. It doesn’t rule us. We don’t live in fear of it. Lots of days we don’t even think about it. But no matter where we go or what we do, it’s a weighty piece of who we are. Much like any other experience in our lives that reminds us that these bodies we live in are not immortal. But those heavy heart moments also remind us to lean into Jesus. The One who takes away our heavy and gives us His light. And anything that pushes me to lean into Jesus is a good thing, even if it doesn’t feel like a good thing.

I hope that though we don’t always want to show our unbridled emotions to Lewis, he is still deeply aware of our unbridled love for our Savior. And that though we are careful in the details we share with him, he is learning by watching us to lean into Jesus.

Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

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Always Adventure – A Spring Break 2018 Haiku

Always adventure

Mom life in a blink is gone

Breathe deep and jump in

 

 

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