- Breast Reconstruction, Boy Momming and Believing God

Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

by KimHarms 0 Comments
Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

Pink is everywhere this month. From the flags the refs throw at my 4th grader’s football games to the shoes NBA players wear to super cool basketball’s like the one Owen’s friends gave him after my diagnosis.

I am thankful for Nancy Brinker, who started the Susan G. Komen Foundation after her only sister died of breast cancer. It’s because of her that we see pink all over the place in October. Also because of her, a lot of money has made its way to breast cancer research. I have peace in knowing that 99% of women who find their cancer at the same stage as mine are healthy and cancer free 5 years after treatment. (And I know many who have lived decades post-cancer never to see it return.)

But there is something about breast cancer that I didn’t know prior to my diagnosis. There is no cure for Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage 4). Women with this diagnosis will be in treatment for the remainder of their lives to slow the growth. To halt the spread. But it will never go away. Cancer will always be fighting against the drugs to overtake their body. And that makes me sad.

After I was diagnosed, I found a woman online named Mandi who wrote a blog called Darn Good Lemonade. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 31, and died of the disease in April of this year. I read her blog and watched her youtube videos and felt a sense of loss when she died even though she had no idea who I was.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am sharing a link to a page on her blog that details several organizations that do research on Metastatic Breast Cancer treatments.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

If you are compelled by all the pink to donate some money to breast cancer research, check out these organizations. Mandi knew from experience that they were doing good work. And I trust her judgment.

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Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Valerie McClure – “Going Flat” after Mastectomy

Breast Reconstruction Thoughts – Valerie McClure – “Going Flat” after 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.


Photo courtesy of Valerie McClure

I don’t know Valerie personally, but was introduced to her online through my dear friend, Rachel. When you have your breasts removed, it’s like joining a club you didn’t ask to be in. But you get connected with some pretty amazing people because of it. I am so thankful for Valerie’s willingness to share her story, and for her openness about her experience.

Name:  Valerie McClure

Family: Mike (husband), Ryan (son) – 16, Katelyn (daughter) – 14, Buddy (cat), Jovie (cat)

Occupation: Family Ministry staff at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church

Hobbies/Interests: family time, enjoying my kids’ activities (marching band, soccer, alpine ski, choir, jazz band, baseball), photography (especially creating our annual Shutterfly family photo albums)

Diagnosis:  Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma & DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) in right breast/Stage 1

Age at Time of Diagnosis: 39

What was your initial response to your diagnosis?

Generally speaking, the days, weeks, and months surrounding my cancer diagnosis are a bit of a blur.  I received my diagnosis and underwent a bilateral mastectomy within eleven days in November, 2008.

You chose not to undergo breast reconstruction. Was it a difficult decision for you? What things came into play in the decision making process?

Was it a difficult decision for me? No.  Here are a few reasons why:

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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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A Flurry of Pink – A Breast Cancer Awareness Month Tribute to Brooke Walker

A Flurry of Pink – A Breast Cancer Awareness Month Tribute to Brooke Walker

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and guest blogger Dee Dee Parker graciously accepted my invitation to write a tribute to her daughter Brooke. Brooke touched many lives during her long breast cancer battle and Dee Dee tells her story beautifully.



Photo Courtesy of Dee Dee Parker

Brooke Walker

Along with the beautiful hued leaves of bright crimson, butterscotch, and chestnut, October brings on its crisp air, a flurry of pink. Magazines are full of heart-warming stories of cancer survivors. Shops along village and city streets are displaying merchandise adorned with the familiar pink ribbon.

It is breast cancer awareness month.

My introduction to breast cancer came while I sat rocking on my farmhouse porch enjoying a glass of sweet tea.

The phone rang—“Mom, I’m at the hospital and was just told I have breast cancer. I am having a biopsy in a few minutes.”

My world turned upside down as my thirty-four year old daughter, Brooke, went on to say that the technician said her films and scans showed an extremely large mass.

Brooke was alone. I was terrified.

A few days before, Brooke had discovered a lump in her breast while showering. She went to the doctor and was told it was nothing to be alarmed about, but would be sent for tests to put her worry at ease. She also had experienced leg pain and had been put into strenuous physical therapy. It was a true miracle that none of her weakened bones had broken.

After the biopsy, my husband and I, along with her husband, Trey, met at the oncologist’s office to get the results. It was the worst-case scenario—stage four with metastases throughout her body. Her full-body scan looked like a Christmas tree lit with strings of bright lights. The tumors were in most of her bones and some of the organs.

Brooke was given less than six months to live.

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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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Flip Shots – How YouTube is an Answer to a “Mom Prayer”

Flip Shots – How YouTube is an Answer to a “Mom Prayer”

It has long been a prayer of mine that God would make me aware my children’s gifts and talents. And that He would help me to be a dream cheerleader not a dream squasher. I used to watch my friend, Cinnamon, (yes that’s her real name) and think, “She’s got this mom thing figured out. I want to be like that.”

When my boys were just toddlers, I watched her let her 15-year-old daughter play in a band. She invited that band to practice (drums and all) in her house. And she supported them when they sought out coffee houses and other small venues at which to play. She knew her daughter’s gifts, and she encouraged her to use them. Today that grown up daughter is one of my favorite guitar playing vocalists on the planet.  (If you follow this link she might become one of your favorites too 🙂 – My Redeemer Lives)

You may watch my Owen’s two minute Flip Shots video above, and think, ‘Oh that’s cute or funny or whatever.’ But let me tell you what I see.

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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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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.

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