Life Reconstructed - Living Life's Adventures After Breast Reconstruction

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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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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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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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Breast Reconstruction – Thoughts From Women Who Have Been There (a profile series)

Breast Reconstruction – Thoughts From Women Who Have Been There (a profile series)

On Tuesdays, starting next week, I will begin featuring profiles of women who have undergone a single or bilateral mastectomy. Most of the women to be featured have been through reconstruction of some sort, and a few have opted to go flat as it’s called in the breast cancer world. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s a decision all of us in the “mastectomy club” have to make.

Breast Reconstruction Photo by Kim HarmsThese profiles are not meant to be exhaustive interviews. Instead they will highlight some key parts of the process, providing insight and encouragement to women who have unwittingly found themselves in the bizarre world of mastectomies and reconstruction. It’s a heart-breaking, weird, scary, challenging, and for me at least, faith-deepening experience. If you are a new member of our club, I hope the words these women say help you feel less alone.

My desire is that these profiles will also be educational for those of you who have not been on the receiving end of the statement “You have breast cancer.” I pray you never hear those words spoken to you, but I can almost guarantee that at some point in your life someone you love will.

If you or someone you know of would like to be a part of this series or would like more info, please contact me through the form below. (If you don’t hear from me within 2 days, email me at kimharms@rocketmail.com.)

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Life Reconstructed

We live a construction life over here at the Harms house.

I’ve been watching my man build amazing things for two decades. But I never imagined there would be a point in my life when a piece of me would have to be physically reconstructed. That at age 40 my chest would literally be taken apart and put back together.

During that process of physical breast reconstruction, non-physical parts of my life were reconstructed as well.

Pieces of my marriage were taken apart and reconstructed.

Pieces of my thought life were taken apart and reconstructed.

Pieces of my self-esteem were taken apart and reconstructed.

Pieces of my sense of womanhood were taken apart and reconstructed.

And pieces of my relationship with my Savior were taken apart and reconstructed too.

The funny thing is, when my physical body healed, the feeling was gone and I was left with permanent physical numbness.

But as the non-physical parts of me worked through the reconstruction process, the depth of my emotions intensified. I now feel more deeply than I ever have before. I love my husband more. I have more confidence as the woman God created me to be. I find more joy in adventurous things. And I cling to my Savior with a new intensity.

Sometimes I miss the before-cancer me.  I miss life without hot flashes. I miss knowing my husband was the only person who ever got to see me with my shirt off. And I miss the naivety of thinking I’d live my smooth-sailing-life to old age and die on a porch swing with my Corey by my side.

But I don’t miss those things of the past as much as I treasure my life in the now. Breast cancer and breast reconstruction were the means the infinitely wise God used to get me to this place, and I choose to be thankful. Thankful for the trial and thankful for my life reconstructed.

I’m also thankful you’ve come along for the ride 🙂

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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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6 Things I’m Gonna Do After My Exchange Surgery

sleep

Sleep. I have slept in a reclined position or on my back since February 25. That’s 145 uncomfortable nights, but who’s counting? Praise God for my super hero Dr. Testroet. Those little white pills she prescribed for me are the only reason I currently catch enough Zzzzzs to function like a human.

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  • Hold Sully. My dear friend Mara has the cutest little baby. I could stare at him for hours. But holding him at this point is so very uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure he thinks so too. As he squirms in my arms I just know he is thinking “Wow, this is awkward. Does anyone else realize that mommy’s friend is part robot?”

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  • Run. I’ve read a few blogs written by women who resumed running during the months between their two reconstruction surgeries, and I kind of want to punch them. I gave it a try (actually I gave it 4 tries) but Holy Cow. Those bloggers who write about running with these rocks under their chest muscles are either superwomen, crazy or speakers of untruth.IMG_5045 - Copy
  • Backpack. 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.13510995_10209939054173393_4990042946785893752_n
  • Hug my hubby. A Real Hug. None of this gentle-I-don’t-want-to-hurt-your-sensitive-chest crap. Of all the things I miss, this is what I miss the most.life
  • Life. I’m looking forward to life. Biopsies and cancer and pink paper open-to-the-front gowns and a psychotic plastic surgeon who made jokes about porn may have gotten a piece of me this year, but that’s all they got; just a small piece. And I’m ready for life on the other side.

 

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