Life Reconstructed - Living Life's Adventures After Breast Reconstruction

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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The Backpacking Story that was Years in the Making

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Four years after sending a query to Creation Illustrated hoping to write about my first backpacking trip, I received an invitation to write the story.

Four. Years. (I’ve had to wait quite a while for responses to queries in the past, but four years is crazytown. )

It was worth the wait, however, because that query turned into an 8-page spread in the magazine. I love writing for online publications, but there is something extra sweet about pulling a magazine out of the mailbox and finding your byline in print. The fact that it was backgrounded by a giant photo of Palisade Head on the North Shore of Lake Superior and the article was sprinkled throughout with photos of Corey and me made it even more awesome.

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I’m thankful I married a guy who pushes me out of my comfort zone. If it hadn’t been for his insistence, I never would have taken that first backpacking trip or the half-dozen more we’ve taken since.

I wouldn’t have stood on top of Mount Trudee. I wouldn’t have traversed the infamous “Crawler’s Ledge” on the Kalalau Trail in Kauai. I wouldn’t have showered in a waterfall or bathed in a river. I wouldn’t have eaten guava straight off the tree or had the sound of ocean waves lull me to sleep in my tiny little tent on a beach in Hawaii. I wouldn’t have watched my boys skip rocks across a lake high on a mountain in Colorado and I don’t think I would understand the draw of a trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (Corey’s next adventure).

I’m also thankful I get to be a writer. I don’t think I will ever tire of arranging words on a page. Even though sometimes it takes four years to get the go ahead to write 🙂

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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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The Things My Eyes Can’t See

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I sat on the deck overlooking the Rocky Mountains in the cool of the morning. Coffee in one hand, Kindle in the other.

I’d been reading through the New Testament, but for a change of pace I downloaded a little vacation devotional from Amazon for our week in Colorado.

On our first morning in Granby, I read this prayer.

Heavenly Father, Awaken my spiritual eyes to see you fully, in all your glory. Give me discernment to see beyond what my physical eyes will allow. Amen.

The prayer struck me as odd considering I was getting an eyeful of God’s creation every time I stepped outside. It seemed to me that that should be enough.

But those words stuck with me, and throughout the week I found myself praying my own version.

Dear God, Help me to see what my eyes can’t see.

My eyes saw some beautiful stuff. Adam’s Falls. Horseshoe Lake. Alpine Ridge. The Colorado River.  Had I seen only those physical things, I would have arrived back in Iowa with a greater appreciation for the enormity my creator.

But I would have missed something.

The thing my eyes could not see.

The Rafting Adventure

A week before our trip, I contacted a rafting company about scheduling a family rafting trip down the Colorado River. The woman I spoke to was kind and promised to email me some info before booking our non-refundable Monday, July 10 excursion. I didn’t receive the email. So I called the company back. No answer. I called and I called and I called. Finally I was able to leave a voice message asking them to send me the info that I needed. No one returned my call. No one sent me any information. I was so frustrated. And maybe a little angry.

I finally gave up and scheduled with a different company for a date later in the week.

Then Monday morning (which should have been non-refundable-rafting-excursion morning) came. Along with it came a puking teenager.  No way was my 15-year-old getting on a raft.

Had our original rafting adventure been scheduled for Monday as I had hoped, we would have had to cancel, and we likely would have been out $400.

Seeing the Unseen

We ended up having a blast rafting a few days later when we were all healthy. We even got to jump off a cliff into the Colorado River.

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While we bumped along in an old school bus on some rough backwoods roads following rafting, my prayer popped into my head.

Dear God, Help me to see what my eyes can’t see.

And I saw it. I saw the thing that eyes can’t see.

I had been soaking up the gorgeous mountain views with my physical eyes all week, but my spiritual eyes were awakened to something just as beautiful. Maybe more so.

I saw God loving me, not in an “I created these mountains for the your viewing pleasure” kind of way, but in an “I even care deeply about the little details of your life” kind of way.

God knew my plans before I made them. He knew my kid was gonna start puking at 6:00 on Monday morning. He knew how terribly sad this penny-pinching mama would have been about a $400 loss. He even knew which rafting company was going to let my adventure loving boys jump off a cliff.

I am so very thankful for my physical sight. This Midwestern girl could stare at those mountains for hours. But I am even more thankful for spiritual sight that allows me to see the things my eyes can’t see. (Even if it required me jumping off a big rock into a cold river.)

The devotional I mentioned is called Pauses for the Vacationing Soul, by Cathy Baker (a fellow Inspire a Fire writer.) It’s just a tiny little ebook that I bought on Amazon. Its focus is the beach, but I made it work in the mountains 🙂 Well worth the 99 cents.

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10 Things I Hope for My Boys as They Enter High School

by KimHarms 2 Comments
10 Things I Hope for My Boys as They Enter High School
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Photo courtesy of Rachel Vespestad

Every time I drive past the high school building looming by the cornfields on the outskirts of town, my palms start sweating. Maybe because my high school friends scarred me for life by making me watch Children of the Corn in the 90s.

More likely it’s because the sweet six pound baby, whose chest movement I observed closely on a nightly basis to be sure he was not dead, will soon be navigating the gauntlet of secondary education.

It freaks me out a little. And it’s gotten me thinking about the things I hope for all three of my boys as they traverse those formative four years between childhood and adulthood.

I hope they don’t unnecessarily stress out about grades.

Sure, they may get a bit more in college scholarships if they hang onto that 4.0 for 4 straight years, but I’ve seen what the stress of that can do to people, and I’m not sure it’s worth it. I want my boys to work hard of course, but I don’t want them to lose their minds striving for perfection.

In real life a 4.0 just doesn’t matter much. A fulfilling, successful career and a perfect GPA have very little to do with each other.

I hope they have a teacher like Professor Haws.

Professor Haws gave me the biggest boost of encouragement a professor could bestow upon an insecure 20-year-old. He could have easily let me slide through his journalism course at ISU, accept my grade and move on. But instead, he pulled me into his office, told me I was a good writer and suggested I change my journalism minor to a journalism major.

I didn’t take his advice, but his words are still with me. And those words gave me the courage to pursue my first reporting position after college. I moved on from newspaper writing to magazine writing, and now I’m working on my first book. A few words of encouragement from the right person can be immeasurably valuable.

I hope that each of my boys will have a high school teacher like my college professor who sees their potential and then takes the time to pull them aside and say, “I see a talent here, and I encourage you to pursue it.”

I hope they don’t focus so much on the now that they forget to plan for tomorrow.

High school kids are insanely busy. Some of them walk through the school doors before seven a.m. and return home in time to eat, sleep and start all over again. It’s not hard to understand how kids who live in such a harried atmosphere can get stuck in the now. When do they even have time to think about tomorrow if they are always charging full-speed ahead in today?

Though I know my boys will be busy in high school, my hope is that they don’t lose sight of planning for the future. That they will find the balance between being involved in what they love and being overcommitted.

I hope that they don’t focus so much on tomorrow that they forget to live in the now.

On the flip side, I hope my boys don’t get so concerned about growing up that they forget to have fun now. High school is the time to toilet paper friends’ houses in the middle of the night. It’s the time to drink cases of soda and have Lord of the Rings marathons. It’s the time to play basketball in the driveway, and football in the backyard. I hope they enjoy those four years and treasure the fun and friendships that will surely change after graduation.

I hope they learn to enjoy showering.

What a glorious day it will be when my kids happily hop in the shower to wash their sweaty boy smell down the drain. I hope for a day when hygiene is a welcome thing and not a dreaded task that takes precious time away from basketball and video games. (This hope came to fruition shortly after I wrote this. And it was in fact, a glorious day 🙂 )

I hope they appreciate their high rate of metabolism.

Seriously. My boys can drink two cans of Mountain Dew and eat a family-sized bag of Doritos and, as far as I can tell, all it does is make their feet grow. This will not always be the case. One day those washboard abs will decide they need proper nutrition to be maintained.

I hope they don’t outgrow a back scratch from their mama.

We aren’t all that touchy-feely at our house, but every night at bedtime I scratch those ever-growing boy backs. And the scratching motion seems to be directly connected to a mechanism that opens their mouths to give me a glimpse into their thought world. It’s one of those guaranteed moments of connection between me and my boys, and I will miss it dearly when it’s gone.

I hope each pair of crazy expensive sports shoes we purchase last a full season.

I believe their feet are the most expensive part of their bodies. So. Many. Shoes. Remember those unbreakable spray-on shoes Flint Lockwood invented in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? He had something going there. Seriously. Million dollar idea.

I hope they don’t have zits on picture day.

Oh wait. Photoshop. Forget this one. Zits only exist in real life.

I hope they take the Proverbs to heart.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-7 New Living Translation) So many people will be vying for their attention and allegiance through their teen years. My hope is that my boys keep their Savior at the top of the pile.

*This post was actually written a couple years ago when my two oldest were in middle school. I found it buried in my files of written-but-unpublished-stuff and decided it was worth sharing 🙂

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6 Things Every Dad Should Know About His Daughter @ Inspire a Fire

by KimHarms 0 Comments

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Dear Dads, I don’t have a daughter, but I am one. And this list of 6 Things Every Dad Should Know About His Daughter is inspired by my experience.

1. She is paying close attention to you.

By the time I was four, I’d seen my dad build and fix a lot of stuff, so I was utterly disappointed when after I had a serious mishap involving a trampoline and a metal tractor toy, he wasn’t able to put my broken arm back together. Sometime over the course of two surgeries, a week in the hospital and four months in a cast, I realized that though my dad wanted to solve my problems, he couldn’t fix everything. If you show your daughter you are making an effort, she will notice.

2. Your presence matters.

Like a lot of dads, my dad wasn’t big on showing affection when I was growing up, but he was always there. Always. Every activity I took part in, no matter how boring or how long the drive, he was there. And his presence not only made me feel important, it made me try harder. So when you are physically able, just be there. Even if it means slipping into the back of an auditorium with your work clothes on.

3. She sometimes chooses activities based on how she thinks you will respond. Take notice.

Sure I had a crush on a guy on the wrestling team, but the real reason I took stats throughout high school is so I’d have a common interest with my dad who wrestled at Mankato State. It gave us something to talk about. Dad even took me to the NCAA Wrestling Championships and let his friend, who happened to be the Athletic Director at the University of Iowa, sneak me mat side to meet my favorite Division I wrestlers. That was a big deal for a 17-year-old girl.

To read the other three pieces of advice, head over to Inspire a Fire.

 

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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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The Evolution of Motherhood @ Inspire a Fire

by KimHarms 0 Comments

May 17

My monthly post is up at Inspire a Fire.  Talking about motherhood today.

The Evolution of a Mother’s Role

“It was sorta okay.”

That may not sound like much of a sentence, but when as a mother you hear those four words exit the mouth of a child who has been in the midst of a struggle, they are good words. Good words indeed.

From a Tired Body to an Aching Heart

My boys used to be babies. You know, the kind that needed fed all the time and changed all the time. The kind that continually spit up on their clothes and in my hair. The kind that couldn’t verbalize what they wanted so they cried, or screamed or rocked back and forth with a vengeance (Rocking was the go-to stress reliever for a couple of my babies.)

That phase of life was physically exhausting. It kind of felt like I was living the movie Ground Hog Day sometimes. Every day a slight variation of the same thing. An unending cycle of the fatiguing madness of mothering babies and young children.

But those boys are not babies anymore. And mothering them is no longer physically exhausting. They can feed themselves. They can read. They remember to flush the toilet, and I don’t have to fight them to get into the shower. They can set the table, load the dishwasher, empty the garbage and mow the lawn. Two of them can even drive a car. Yikes!

Somewhere between the helpless baby stage and the responsible human stage, there was a definite shift in the type of exhaustion I experienced…

Follow this link to the rest of the story  Inspire a Fire

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This is What it’s Like When Home is Your Office

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When your house looks like this and you need to get some writing done, but you are too much of a hermit to pack up and find a different location from which to work, you move a chair in front of a window and pretend that because you can’t see the mess, it doesn’t exist.

This is my writing strategy for the day. 🙂

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Sometimes You’ve Gotta Take Care of Some Crap to Get to Where You Want to Be

by KimHarms 0 Comments
Sometimes You’ve Gotta Take Care of Some Crap to Get to Where You Want to Be

Sometimes our house smells like crap. Literally. (Not figuratively-literally. Literally-literally.)

And I love it. (Not the smell, the house.)

It’s been two months since we moved in, and I still have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude every IMG_20170330_103945088time I turn onto my cracked, narrow driveway.  God gave us this house. I mean, we bought it and everything, but there are some things in life that are clearly gifts from God. This house, with all of its quirks, is one of those things.

And it definitely has some quirks.

Like the crap.

Our basement seriously smells like a poop bomb on occasion. One night I plugged in my Scentsy warmer to mask the stink, and I thought I’d done a pretty good job.

 When Carter walked in the house from youth group, I asked him what he smelled.

“Sweet farts,” he said.

Yep. That’s about right. Sweet farts. Is that better than sour farts? I don’t even know…

When that unpleasant smell wafts up the stairs, my first thought is, “Oh gross, here we go again.” And my second thought is. “God gave us this place, so if he wants us to deal with crap, we’ll deal with crap.” (And we are by the way. The plumber is scheduled to come soon 🙂 )

I’ve lived in some nice new houses.

I’ve had granite countertops, hardwood floors, gorgeous 5-panel solid wood doors, cavernous tiled showers, huge mudrooms, stone fireplaces and even a theater room encased in concrete underneath our garage floor (known to us as the zombie apocalypse room.)

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Zombie Apocalypse Room

Those houses were beautiful.

But here’s the deal. Since we never intended to stay in those homes and chose some design elements for the purpose of making them more appealing to a buyer (stainless steel – oh how I strongly dislike you…), sometimes I felt like I was borrowing the house from a future owner. And because I grew up in a century old house in which my dad was always in the middle of a remodeling project, maybe I felt slightly out of place in the new. I think I’ve been longing for this different kind of housing adventure and didn’t even realize it.

So now I live in this 20-year-old house (which I realize is not very old) that needs some Harms TLC. And I love it. Even though – 

  •  Some crazy person painted all the grout. (Seriously. How many hours did that take? What in the world?)17125634_627051914170579_1753522107712536576_n  IMG_20170330_095855850
  • A flower garden exploded on the guest bath walls. (I could only stomache that for about 3 weeks before scraping it all off and painting.)
  • Light switches were installed on the wrong side of the doors.
  • Every single interior door has a keyed lock.
  • The laundry room is accessed through a bathroom. (Kudos to me for living here for two months without dropping a sock in the toilet.)
  • The mudroom is, oh wait, we don’t have one. 🙁
  • The kitchen has this crazy big oddly placed island.
  • And the master bath was designed by someone who has never had to pee in the middle of the night.

But this place is still a gift. It’s just a little rough around the edges.

I’m excited to reimagine all the awkward spaces with Corey. I love that I’m married to a guy who gets an idea and then just goes for it.

He can see beyond what is visible and it doesn’t bother him when people give him weird looks or when his brilliant ideas end up acting like second full-time jobs for a season.

He has the end goal in sight from the beginning, and he sacrifices to get to that place. He just does the thing that will get him to where he wants to be. And he doesn’t let the crap stop him. (Though sometimes he lovingly waits patiently while I take my sweet time warming up to his brilliance.)

And I fully expect to see some of that brilliance here at 804 Timberlane…

…after we take care of the crap.

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