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Your Hurting Friend Might Need You to Clean Her Toilets But She Probably Won’t Ask

Your Hurting Friend Might Need You to Clean Her Toilets But She Probably Won’t Ask

I remember the day Carter started kindergarten. The eldest and most timid of my children, I can say with certainty his first day of school would still rank somewhere in the top 5 if he kept a Terrible-Horrible-No Good-Very Bad-Day list.

That was a long day followed by a long difficult year of adjustment. But he got through it.

I remember the day Owen realized he didn’t have super powers. It was a blow to his self-confidence when his dad broke the news that it was a remote control turning on the ceiling fan; not the super-spin motion created by Owen’s alter ego, Flash.

You can imagine his disappointment. But he got over it.

I remember the day Lewis’ buddy, William, moved away. My little guy was quite dejected. But he bounced back.

Maybe your life is kind of like that. No major life altering challenges, just little potholes in the road here and there. Aside from the occasional broken bone, bombed test or fender bender you’ve made your way through life relatively unscathed.

But what happens when someone you love receives the diagnosis they didn’t want? Or loses the job they loved? Or falls into periods of depression that leave them not wanting to get out of bed?

If you are like me, when those heartbreaking things happen to your friends, you don’t always know what to do.

When I don’t know what to do, I’m tempted do nothing.

When my friend’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer years ago, I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t do or say enough.

In hindsight I would have visited the hospital more than one measly time. I would have sent her more cards of encouragement. I would have bought her Tirimisu and told her how often my thoughts and prayers turned her way. I would have. . .

I know my friend holds nothing against me. In fact we are much closer now than we were before her family started their cancer journey. And I’m guessing thoughts of how much or how little I did to support her didn’t cross her mind as she was swimming deep in an ocean she didn’t want to be swimming in.

But regardless of her thoughts and feelings, I know my regrets.

What if it was my child? What if it was me?

Two years ago it became me.

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5 Breast Reconstruction Gifts

5 Breast Reconstruction Gifts

Every woman is different and there are a lot of varieties of reconstruction surgery, but the following are 5 things I greatly appreciated while walking down the road to reconstruction. If you have a friend who’s going through this bizarre and challenging life circumstance, she might appreciate something from this 5 Breast Reconstruction Gifts list.

A Sherpa Blanket

Sherpa blankets are super-soft, ultra warm blankets that you can just sorta hibernate in. My friend Marti gave me one, and I called it my magic blanket. I slept with it for months. Even when I finally went back to my bed after a couple months in the recliner, I slept on top of my bed covers and under my magic blanket. My children have since claimed this blanket for their own. 🙂

Food

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Best gift ever really. Bake her casseroles or give her gift cards to restaurants. Anything that takes away the stress of “what am I going to feed my family tonight?” Our deep freeze was so packed with meals that I didn’t have to cook for more than two months. Some of the meals we received tested the range of our bland Harms family taste buds, but all that food was an amazing gift.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries Delivered to Her Door

Some of my friends had chocolate covered strawberries delivered to my house. Why is this such a good gift you ask? Because it’s extravagant. It’s one of those things a girl like me would never do for herself. But it made me feel loved and valued. And eating chocolate covered strawberries for breakfast was pretty darn sweet.

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Body Image After Breast Reconstruction (Walk With Me Podcast)

Photo by Kim Harms

Sometimes it’s hard to look in the mirror.

I had the opportunity to talk with Tori Haverkamp several weeks ago about body image and learning to live with my altered form after a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

There are so many pieces that come into play when walking through breast reconstruction process, but body image is not something that I thought I would struggle with at all.  As it turns out though, losing a piece of me changed the way I looked at myself.  And it kind of broke my heart.

But God is good, and he continues to stay close to me and bring healing to each and every piece of me that needs his touch. If you want to hear my story follow the link below to the Cornerstone Church Walk with Me Podcast .

Body Image after Breast Reconstruction Podcast

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5 Most Meaningful Books Read in 2017

5 Most Meaningful Books Read in 2017

 

Warrior In Pink

Warrior in Pink, Author: Vivian Mabuni

Vivian’s cancer story is different than mine, but the beginning in much the same. As I read the first couple chapters of her book, I was right back in those first days, remembering the fear, the sadness, the helplessness, the desperate prayers. . . Her words, though hard to read, played a role in my emotional healing. That, along with her willingness to be open and raw in the telling of her cancer story and the God who brought her through it, put this book on my favorites list this year.

Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, Author: Michael Kelley

This this book played a role in giving me permission to grieve the loss of my breasts. Pretty weird, considering it’s a book about a father walking through Luekemia with his little boy, but this statement stopped me in my tracks.

“We often think about the grieving process exclusively in terms of people. You lose someone close to you, and you lament that loss in personal and profound ways. But the same process happens, I believe, to other areas of life, too…in the end, grieving is about loss and finding your way through life without the thing that’s not there anymore.” Michael Kelley, Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal

This book helped me grieve, but is about so much more than grieving. It’s about living with the things God allows in our lives. It’s about watching for the bigger things God’s doing when we think He might be letting us down. It’s about learning to live through the pain, when what you want most is for the pain to just go away. It’s about the battle to trust God, when what you want to go to your room, shut the door and never come out again.

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Reassurance of Normal

Reassurance of Normal

 

Corey is my best friend, but I had the opportunity to spend a morning with my girl BFF last week. She’s the one who shares my disinterest in girly things like shopping and jewelry. The one who has navigated boy mom world with me from day one.  The one I call when my kiddos do something amazing like backflip off a picnic table. And the one I call when this job of “momming” is knocking the wind out of me. She’s a gift.

I’ve even shown her my bare chest. I know that sounds so weird and wrong, but stick with me here. I live in post-breast cancer world, so my normal is no longer a normal person’s normal.  When you’ve had your breasts removed and rebuilt, and you’ve had a stranger tattoo on them to provide a sense of normalcy and scar coverage, you just want your best friend to see them and say “You don’t look weird.”  And then you laugh together over the fact that you seriously just flashed her. And then you pause in the somber reality that it was a malignant tumor that brought you to this strange place.

I’ve found that since this whole cancer thing happened, there are moments I just need reassurance that I am normal. I need assurance from Corey that I’m beautiful. And I need assurance from my friends that I’m not a weirdo.  Don’t we all need a cheerleading squad sometimes?

Enveloped in support of those who love me, I need to plant myself firmly in God’s word which tells me I am created in His image. And I need to trust that even with a slightly altered body, I am deeply cherished by the God of the universe. Click To Tweet. And I need to believe that He works good through the hard.

Maybe your life has been altered in some way by cancer, and maybe not. Regardless, we all walk through hard things. Don’t be afraid to lean on those who love you.(This likely will not require you to flash your BFF.)  And more importantly, don’t discount the God who brings beauty from ashes. (The One who can take your broken, unnormal self and make you whole.)

 

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:3

 

 

 

 

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A “Thank You for Reading My Words” Book Giveaway

A “Thank You for Reading My Words” Book Giveaway

Dee Dee Parker wrote a sweet children’s book when her daughter, Brooke, was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. All of the proceeds from the sale of Josie Jo’s Got to Know benefit Breast Cancer Research, Breast Cancer Awareness and Cancer Patient Expenses. Josie Jo’s Got to Know is available on Amazon, but Dee Dee kindly gave me a signed copy to give away here at Life Reconstructed. To thank you for reading my words, one of you will win this sweet, fun children’s book with fantastic illustrations.

Thank you for spending some of the precious minutes in your day reading what I have to say about breast reconstruction, boy momming and believing Jesus through it all.

Thank you for sending me messages of encouragement. Though I don’t write for praise, I’m not gonna tell you I dislike it when I learn that my words were meaningful to someone else.

Thank you for sharing this website with other people. Part of being a writer is promoting your own work (my least favorite part of my job:) )  So I greatly appreciate it when you share my posts or comment on my posts or encourage someone else to click my Facebook like box.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.Photo by Kim Harms

The following are three ways to get your name in the drawing.

1.     Leave a comment at the end of this post naming something you are thankful for.

2.     Like my page on Facebook if you haven’t done so already.

3.     Subscribe to receive my posts through your email.

The winner will be randomly selected on Wednesday, November 22.

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Heather Lau – Reconstruction after Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Heather Lau – Reconstruction after Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Photo Courtesy of Heather Lau

Dan and Heather Lau

This is the last in my Breast Reconstruction Thoughts series (at least for now). I continue to be thankful for the willingness of these women to share their stories. Heather Lau and I both graduated from West Hancock High School in Britt, Iowa. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 35 years old and made it through treatment and reconstruction while raising young kids. Here are some of her thoughts.

Name: Heather Lau

Family: Husband – Dan, Son – Camden (15), Daughter – Kenadie (14), Daughter – Macie (9)

Occupation: Office assistant at an insurance agency

Hobbies/Interests: Going to all my kids’ activities and spending time as a family.

Diagnosis: Triple Negative Breast Cancer – Stage 1

Age at Time of Diagnosis: 35

Type of Reconstruction: Implant Reconstruction

What was your initial response to your cancer diagnosis?

Complete shock! I didn’t think people my age got breast cancer. I was only 35 and my kids were young (4, 9 and 10.) I just kept thinking this happens to other people, but not me.

How much time passed from your mastectomy through the completion of reconstruction?

I had the mastectomy, then chemo, and then reconstruction. So from mastectomy to reconstruction completion it was about 11 months

What was something you found surprising or unexpected about the reconstruction process?

I was very surprised at how much better I felt about myself after I was done with the whole process. I kept telling everyone that I didn’t really care about having breasts again, but it turns out I did! It just made me feel normal again.

What was the hardest part of he process?

It 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

(Wonder what the expansion process is like? Breast Reconstruction – Expansion)

What is something you learned about yourself through your mastectomy/reconstruction experience?

There’s a saying, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” I always thought of myself as weak, but going through this I found out that I am strong.

Do you have a piece of advice for women who are just beginning this journey?

I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had reconstruction, and everyone had different experiences. It really helped me to talk to other women who went through it. Do what you are comfortable with. Stay positive, and lean on your friends for support.

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Free Mastectomy Pillows and Seatbelt Covers from The Bosom Buddies

Free Mastectomy Pillows and Seatbelt Covers from The Bosom Buddies
Photo by Jan Nelson

The Bosom Buddies: Connie, Jan, Becky and Judy

525. That’s the number of mastectomy pillows the Bosom Buddies have made since August 2016.

Women in 29 states have received their pillows. 4 cancer centers currently keep their pillows on hand to give to mastectomy patients. And new pillow requests come in through this website regularly.

Cancer is a taker.

Breast cancer sometimes takes one or both breasts. It often takes hair. It always has financial cost. And it always steals away sweet time. One woman who went through a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction, intensive chemo and radiation said to me, “My oncologist said, ‘give me two years of your time and I’ll give you your life back.’”

Two years. Cancer is costly.

The Bosom Buddies know this cost because they have all watched someone they love very much walk the cancer road.

Becky’s daughter, Rachel, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2016.

Judy’s daughter, Jodi, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

Jan’s daughter (ME 🙂 ) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

Connie’s mom, Janice, fought cancer for years before succumbing to the disease in 2016.

Because these women saw the hard things of cancer first-hand, they were compelled to do something. That something turned into digging into their pocketbooks and clearing days on their calendars to buy supplies and sew mastectomy pillows and seatbelt port protectors which they give away free of charge.

1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

A woman who received free mastectomy pillows.

Jan, Becky, Judy and Connie don’t just provide for the needs that they see, they go looking for people in need. (They’re really pretty amazing.) They bless women who are undergoing cancer treatment, but in turn, they said they are also blessed.

Becky said, “I think one of the most rewarding things is delivering the pillows to the cancer centers and hearing the medical staff talk about how appreciative all of the recipients are.”

Because of the Bosom Buddies’ giving attitudes and their servant hearts, women all over our country who are experiencing the cost of cancer, are also receiving a gift of comfort.

If you or someone you know could benefit from free mastectomy pillows or a seatbelt port protector, follow the link below to my online request form.

FREE MASTECTOMY PILLOWS and SEATBELT COVER PORT PROTECTORS

 

What is a Mastectomy Pillow?

It is a small pillow that fits nicely in the armpit to help ease the pain after a mastectomy and/or lymph node surgery. After having your breasts removed and having had a surgeon dig around in your armpit for lymph nodes, sitting like a “normal” person with your hands at your sides is quite painful. The pillow provides a buffer.

What is a Seatbelt Cover Port Protector?

Women undergoing chemo for breast cancer generally have a port placed in their chest area. This remains in place for the duration of treatment. They receive meds through this port. A seatbelt cover port protector provides a bit of a buffer between the chest port and the seatbelt in their car.

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Krystal Ruby – Bilateral Mastectomy with DEIP Flap Reconstruction

Krystal Ruby – Bilateral Mastectomy with DEIP Flap Reconstruction
Photo Courtesy of Krystal Ruby

Krystal and her husband Mike.

Krystal and I live in the same community and have mutual friends, but have only met in person once in passing at a school event. (Maybe someday we can find the time to grab a coffee and talk about our shared experience.) She has graciously taken the time to tell her story, and you will not regret taking a few minutes to read it.

Name: Krystal Ruby 

Family: Husband Mike, Three Children – Tanner -9, Sadie-7, Dayton-5

Occupation: Industrial Hygienist for the State of Iowa

Hobbies/Interests: My number one hobby is definitely spending as much time with my family as possible! I love volunteering when I can and love being that mom who is constantly running around, taking the kids to their weekly activities.  However, I also love kicking back at home on a Friday evening with family and watching the newest superhero movie while eating popcorn and M&Ms.  I also love spending time with my friends. From browsing through aisles at Target with a Starbucks in my hand, to catching up with a bite to eat. I love spending time with the people who make me the happiest! 

Diagnosis: Tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation in December 2015. My aunt had just been diagnosed with Breast Cancer a second time.  She made the decision to get tested for the gene and was found to be positive.  It had been 14 years since her first diagnosis.  Since she was positive, her daughter, and sisters (one being my mother) were able to get tested. Everyone was negative except for my mother. That led to my brothers and me getting tested. 

The test was quite simple, but nerve-racking altogether. We sat around this table and swished Scope Mouth wash in our mouths for 30 seconds and then spit into a tube. We did this three times and then had to wait for a few weeks. My brother got the first call. He was negative!

Age: 31

Type of Reconstruction: Bilateral Mastectomy/Expander/DEIP Flap Reconstruction

What was your initial reaction to diagnosis?

 I received the call at work around 3:30pm.  My mom had already warned me that the first thing the doctor would say whether we were negative or not was: “Is this a good time to talk?” Well I for sure wasn’t going to tell her No!  I said yes as I was walking out of work.  She says I have to tell you that you tested positive for the BRCA2+ gene. I still get choked up just thinking about that phone call. I was devastated. I remember telling her that I couldn’t comprehend anything she was saying and would have to call her back. I was shaking and crying and more importantly, I just wanted my Mom.

I called my Mom and let her know immediately. It was heartbreaking. I was sad, nervous, and scared. However, I straightened up and realized that I am so thankful I knew because I now was given the opportunity to prevent Breast/Ovarian Cancer. 

How much time passed from your bilateral mastectomy through the end of your reconstruction process?

The first surgery took place on November 2, 2016. In April 2017, a second surgery was necessary to replace an expander that popped.  The surgery I call the “BIG ONE” was May 17, 2017. That type of surgery can last up to 12 hours. There was an incision from hip to hip where the fat was removed from my stomach and transferred up to my chest (DEIP Flap Reconstruction).  This surgery was definitely the most difficult of the surgeries. I had incisions on my breasts and stomach.

On December 1, 2017, I will go back in for another phase of surgery. This will be for nipple reconstruction, scar revision, and to fill any areas that “fat necrosis” took place. Basically that means that the fat from my stomach that was used to create my new boobs does break down in your boobs, so fat grafting can be done to ensure boobs are at their full potential 🙂 .

After this, I plan to go see a tattoo artist name Vinnie who specializes in nipple and areola 3D tattoos.  He will be my final stage and the completion of my reconstruction. It may not be until 2018, but sooner than later my breasts will be complete.

What are some challenges you faced during the reconstruction process?

The expander process can I say..SUCKED!! I didn’t have a problem going every week to get filled. My fill days were never painful, but my chest was what my then 4-year-old said was “rock salad”  (solid) and he was right. I’m not a back sleeper, so sleeping on my back was super difficult to get used to, but I did! The neck pillow that I received from the hospital was a lifesaver in and out of the hospital. I had to sleep on the recliner too, which my husband and neighbor brought upstairs for me.

Unexpectedly on Sunday April 9, 2017, my right expander popped overnight. I was devastated. I was so close to my surgery date and was worried I was going to have to reschedule. Fortunately, I spoke to Dr. Carlisle that Sunday and on Tuesday they had me scheduled for surgery to replace both expanders. I was still good to go for surgery in May! YAY!

Did you find anything surprising or unexpected about the reconstruction process?

One thing that surprised me were the different options available for breast reconstruction. I went in there thinking I would get implants that needed to be replaced every 10 years. I was wrong. My doctor told me about DEIP Flap Reconstruction where they basically take the fat from your stomach and transfer it to your chest. These were more natural than implants and would allow my breasts to shrink and grow with my body.

A surprising thing for me was that after my DEIP Flap Reconstruction, my chest still had no feeling from the first surgery so I was not in much pain in my chest.   My stomach on the other hand was TIGHT. I was super happy with the outcome of my stomach. I no longer had the baby pouch which was awesome, but I was hunched over for a few weeks and couldn’t stretch very far either.  I was off work for 9 weeks compared to 5 weeks after the first surgery.

What was the hardest part for you?

The 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.

What have you learned from this experience?

I have learned from this experience that I have on amazing support system. My family, my friends, and my community stepped up and helped out when we were in need. I also learned that I am stronger than what I give myself credit for. I went through 3 surgeries and every one of them was painful, but I conquered.

The most important thing I learned from my experience is that God is GOOD, ALL THE TIME! He has a plan for all of us, and although we may not understand it during the hard times, he’s there beside us every single step of the way and his plan is truly the greatest. I am truly blessed by God’s grace.

Are you happy with your results?

I am so happy with my results. My boobs look real. My stomach is flat. And most importantly, my risk for breast cancer has gone down over 90 percent.

Do you have a piece of advice for someone just starting this journey?

One piece of advice I can give to women who are going through the same thing that I went through is that: You CAN do it! The process might be long, there might be bumps along the way, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to ask for help, but you CAN do it! You are stronger than you think and even if your body looks different after surgery and you have scars that are visible or even if they’re not visible, YOU are STILL BEAUTIFUL! Those scars tell a story. I love this quote “Never be ashamed of a scar.  It simply means  you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”

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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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