Tag Archives: mastectomy

Anxiety is back – that old familiar feeling

Blogging is cathartic for me. So, I hope I get some of that good juju by taking a break today to put it all on the line. This one will be all over the place – because that’s where I am right now. But ohwell, another day in the life.

I have a ball of anxiety in my stomach curled up consuming me right now. I have always tended toward anxious – that is the type A personality after all, but occasionally, it comes back. It is like a ball of warmth that sits in my belly – reminding me every minute that I am not in control. Hi there ball I say – and it rustles and coils.

It seems to coincide with lack of sleep. And, here we have again, lack of sleep. (puppy – more on that in a minute)

It seems to coincide with multiple workstreams of powerlessness – a lack of a plan or control on a few different fronts.

So, here I am with multiple issues (none life threatening, none that are massive), but without a means to corrale my feelings, emotions, or plan a next step, I am paralyzed with my anxiety ball until I either get enough sleep, take enough meds, or come up with enough plans to make it all better.

After the initial euphoria that the dog’s cancer was operable, there are qualifications. The surgeons are suggesting multiple surgeries to remove it, multiple procedures that would be violently invasive – requiring drains and stitches and recuperation and recovery. He is fine right now, laying next to me on the bed. He even managed to play a bit with the puppy at her insistence this weekend. How can we put him through such pain and uncertainty when he has no visible distress right now? How much discomfort should we force on him just to have him with us another six months? I fight back tears even as I write this – how do you decide someone else’s well being? When they have no say … and yes, he’s a dog, but the echoes to my past two years (how can I expect him at 10 1/2 to recover what I am still reeling from in terms of invasive and corrective surgery? how can I not provide him the same support and therapy that he provided to me?)

I am having trouble with my hip – a consistent muscle ache that leaves me unable to sit or stand certain days. Is it the cancer back? I have appointments with physical therapists and masseuses and have started doing yoga and exercising – but what if that’s not enough?

And, the puppy. She is wonderful – sweet and loving and curious and soft and hilarious. But she is up in the night – how do we balance what we know is right (giving her access to the yard) with the needs of the family – SLEEP. I think we’re going to have to go against my humane judgement and crate her at night in the back room. Sanity and our health and happiness has to come first. I remind myself that some dogs live outside all the time. And then I start to second guess – was it too much to take on to make this addition now? Was I wrong?

Sleeplessness is a funny thing – it deprives you of your ability to compartmentalize, to fairly judge the severity of issues, and you forget how powerful an agent of destruction it can be.

OK, my anxiety ball is a little smaller now – I know it will grow the next time I think about end of life for Cameron and the decisions we must make, but I also must remember he is our dog and he is loved and happy right now.

I must remember that we are kind and loving den mates for our puppy – who is learning what she can do, and we are learning what we can do. As Davis mentioned to me last night – sometimes these last few months my desire is not met by my capability. I can not do the sleepless nights right now.

And, I think and hope and pray that this is just my muscles struggling to understand how to support and manage my new self, and not the cancer back. Enough is on the plate right now.

I heard a hilarious rant the other day from a lady who had lost her mother, her boyfriend, her apartment, and was diagnosed with cancer.

She said “Does God really give us only what we can handle? I picture him up there sometimes laughing – oh, she can take a little more. And the angels saying, God – what are you thinking?”


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The More Things Change

An exhilarating and exhausting October is behind me – the first since recovery, and therefore the first fundraiser (and success!) the first big speaking opportunity, the first month of remembrance for fallen sisters, the first real Halloween in a long time

I had my first girl’s night out with soccer Moms, drank too much at Halloween – sorry if I was a little bit loud fellow trick or treaters!), listened to my 8 year old son read an entire page of Chinese characters.

I am almost numb with gratitude. I realize that I was so lucky to have found it when I did. To have the support I do, To have my children the age they are. To have my husband. My family. Money.

There are days where cancer doesn’t even enter into my thoughts for hours. Where I live as though it was time before. But then I have a hurt back and I wonder – is that bone pain or muscle pain? Or I get a comment about Dubai – weren’t you going there? from a Duke interviewee. Or I look in the mirror and realize my bangs are longer than my hair used to be.

There are always shadows and some people it would forever alter in a bad way.

For me, I am altered and I haven’t sorted good and bad yet.

I went to a Pink Ribbon Cowgirls luncheon last week and it was hard – to go back to that raw place where even sneezing the wrong way can get you sick. It was humbling because my patient navigator addressed the fact that so many people had recurrences in October: statistically there is a massively higher rate of recurrence in the first 3-5 years after NED (no evidence of disease). We still don’t know why.

There’s a danger to being almost smug when you hear each individual story – one woman had it come back with a vengeance after a lumpectomy (I’m so smart I had a mastectomy on both sides I would crow!)one person had ovarian cancer come back and I think I’m so glad I had gene testing so I knew whether to do that or not.

It’s both a sense of empathy and a sense of relief. Profound relief.

At the end of the day – more than relief. Joy. Happy healthy kids. Happy healthy me. Biggest (real) worry is getting everyone to school on time, doing the best I can at my amazing job, helping my friends when they need me.

Biggest perceived worry, though … that will forever be different after cancer.

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I Don’t Know How She Does It

There have been a lot of comments about the similarities between the main character in the book and movie about the working Mom who does it all … and I have to admit I have been doing a lot. Between the hot pink hair dye party, speaking at a Komen event, hosting a party for 21 kids, making sure to please my children on their 6th birthday and prepping for Halloween, it’s been a busy two weeks.

But that’s not why I haven’t written.

I am scared to face a reality. My breast cancer could come back at any time. In any place.

Why on earth would I be worried about this in the middle of all this fun chaos? The lovely woman, Courtney, who wore my art bra last year (Hooter for those of you keeping track) to the event … who just got married … who is 33 and exercises like crazy and eats paleo and everything … found out her cancer is back last week.

And, for those of you who don’t know, when you have a bilateral mastectomy, breast cancer can come back – that’s why they don’t use the term remission – because it never really is ever totally gone. At five years they start breathing a sigh of relief – Courtney was a year 2.

And, when it comes back, it comes back in another part of your body – because, yes, you have no more breast tissue really so instead it comes back in your bones and liver and brain. Courtney now has breast cancer tumors in her liver.

And, when breast cancer comes back in another part of your body – because where else could it at this point, right? – it’s Stage 4. relative survival rate of 20% for 5-years. In and out of chemo, just trying to hold it off as long as possible.

Everyone thinks I’m brave, and yes, I had courage to fight something every day but I knew that it would work.

I am in pain right now – physically and emotionally for Courtney. I am scared for myself and my other survivor friends. I know I can’t dwell on it every day, but it is there in the shadows, and with Courtney’s diagnosis, I find myself thinking about it at least 5 times every day. at least.

When my mind wanders, it’s there. SO I don’t let my mind wander, I make pirate themed art bras for Davis to wear in front of total strangers. I host the soccer team end of year party with two hours notice, I pitch in to help with the Doss Chinese Immersion Advisory Council.

Even tomorrow, when I will fly to California to celebrate my Mom’s 70th birthday, I download three movies and two books because if there’s too much quiet time, I will slowly go mad. Or sad.

This last day of Pinktober, and Halloween, I don’t mean to scare you. I just mean to share – there are bigger things to fight. There are real things to be scared of, and there are also real heroes.


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The Boring Becomes Beautiful

I think this will be a relatively mundane note. After all, there is no chemo to recount, no medical issue to regale, no new side effect to lament. I did have stitches taken out of my new rack last week – so I am not allowed to swim for another week. And I have to wear an underwire bra all the time. I’m pretty happy with those constraints. Strike that – damn happy.

In another week, it will be like this almost never happened. I mean, I use a hairbrush regularly. I tore the pockets out of all the bras I bought from Nordstrom – a very cathartic exercise by the way.I don’t nap anymore. My side effects seem to have been tamed. We joined a swim and tennis club. Davis and I went on dates. We are contemplating our next family trip. I am looking for a part time job. The kids are in camps and playdates (one of which I’m “supervising” while I write this note – ha!)

There are some changes to be sure. I went and bought new swimsuits because my old ones were too small – in the chest! I am a lot more zen with the family … does it really matter if they have 5 sour patch kids or 8? Does 15 minutes later at bedtime matter in the scheme of life? Our mantra remains “Go with happy …”

I wonder how I will approach life differently. I know I approach my health differently – I am much more careful about food. I have become that green smoothie person – every day kale and bananas. And, every day the kids get their cup too.  I have no caffeine after 2pm, one light beer at night. I have switched to tea with only one soda a day. Veggies and balance for all – we have even eaten brussel sprouts twice in the last month!

I think in many ways after a life-changing event like this you “choose” from your old life. I didn’t like the stress that would build when Davis traveled, so I will seek help this time. I didn’t like that I had no time to exercise, so I will build that into our calendar. I will be more selective about jobs and projects because the tradeoffs matter. I love that we have a community of friends that supported us and want to continue girls nights and adult dates. And, I look at those friends and say, now, how can I help?

Along the same lines, as I embark on this job hunt, I find myself looking at jobs for their merit, for their flexibility, for their pay, for their intellect. Not for the fact that I need one to feel whole or justified in my awesomeness. You want to hear about my qualification? I beat cancer. Oh, and yes, I do have business development experience netting over $500K in paid and in kind partnerships from that one job. And yes, I want something part time only.

A special shout out to our lovely amazing talented and kind nanny : Miss Lauren has left to go to medical school, so we embark on a new journey – with help in a different form,

Because I am capable of managing life again. Even the crazy mixed up fabulously busy and fun life of Team Ward.



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To my kids – read when you are 18

Maybe you should wait to read this until you are a parent which hopefully won’t be at 18. Not that I’m prejuding your choices (yay if I’m a grandma already I guess!), I totally support you! But parenting is hard and I hope you don’t have to handle its delicate balance until you are at least 30.

So here it is – your Dad and I have perpetuated many untruths on you. You are 5 and 7 and so I somehow justify it by thinking it’s above your paygrade, and I hope that doesn’t scar you for life.

I’ll go with the low hanging fruit: Christmas. There is no Santa Claus. That was us. Filling up your stockings, wrapping the presents that you whispered into the stranger’s ear at Barton Creek after being coached. No magic reindeer either. So that food we put out? Swept away by Dad.

While we’re on the magic subject – the Elf that showed up at our house last year that you named Little Red? The idea was created by a brillant marketer. His mischievous acts? Dad and I after you go to bed. We found ideas on pinterest and in an effort to one up each other, parents all over the country participate in this ritual that some nights was relatively stressful since we had to pretend Santa Claus was coming and hide all the presents we would wrap each night. They are hidden in the guest room closet if you were wondering. Every year.

Dispelling myths? That means no Easter Bunny and no Tooth Fairy. Both us, too. We sat up until 10pm filling up a hundred eggs for you this year so that you could all have the same amount and fill up your baskets. The tooth fairy is a figment of someone’s imagination in the 50s to celebrate your move into big kiddo realm. Of course, we weren’t expecting sister to lose 5 teeth in two weeks and we had to make a special trip to the bank for the $1 coins. Ironically, you seem not to notice anything other than the “cash money” $1 bill. Did you know that each time the Tooth Fairy comes your Dad and I go through all of our foreign coins we accumulated on our travels to find two interesting ones for you? Maybe soem day you will care about that.

Um, and babies don’t always come out of bellies like you did, but you probably know that by now. Which means there is no deer doctor that runs around performing C sections.

And the part of the Daddy and part of the Mommy that get together? I’m still not prepared to answer how.

There were also some major tragedies this last year that we didn’t share. But you are kids, you don’t need to know those details. For you, things are safe and happy and it’s summer. SO, if you ask we say some people got hurt, some people maybe died, and the perpetrators made “bad decisions.” Even our tension with North Korea was answered that way … Henry, no more reading the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

So those are some of the big ones. I will admit that most of those were to keep up with the times – and to perpetuate our joy at your joy. We love the look on your faces when the magic happens. I wish we could keep that forever.

Now, the last year there have been some half truths as well – I didn’t, couldn’t tell you all about the cancer battle. Cancer bugs as well call them? Incredibly malignant cells that can proliferate all over your body. It was serious although I will be fine now. Although thechance will always be there that it will come back. I have done everything possible – the chemo medicine, the laserlight (radiation) and my surgery to get out the cancer bugs. But breast cancer does not have a remission it just has a “gone for now.”

I’m sorry we didn’t get to go to Dubai, and that I had a year where I lost my hair, was tired, and couldn’t play with you the way I wanted. I’m sorry that we glossed over the surgeries, but there was no way that I could tell you that I had drains coming out of my body, or that my breasts were gone. And now, as I enter into my last major surgery, I have told you that they are fixing some muscles. They are actually giving me my very own new set of boobs.

And I don’t have nipples so I kinda look like the barbies you played with yesterday in the pool.

I’m not ashamed of the half truths because they keep me going. I like to pretend that this is all no big deal too.

And, after you go to bed, your Dad and I watch super fun TV shows without you … and sometimes we go see movies and even go out with our friends and drink alcohol and eat breakfast tacos at 1 in the morning. But you can’t do that until you’re 21. Sorry.



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Friday Night Milestones

This has been a week of proving to myself – and to others around me – that I am back in some small measure. I planned a fantastic surprise birthday party for my amazing, busy, now 40-year old husband … and it was like old times. Except for the fact that everyone commented on my hair and how long it was (bangs) AND that I had to take a nap the day before because of all my excitement and I was up until midnight because I didn’t get my sleeping meds on board until late AND I got totally sunburned on my neck sunburned in the 30 minutes I was outside setting up.

But more than all that, it was a milestone for me to be normal again … and so on a Friday night when normal people are enjoying their date nights or big plans, I update my blog in front of America’s Home Funniest Videos as Emmy calls it. Eating leftover pizza and drinking leftover beer. And loving it.

The medical milestones are equally important – I have my last surgery next Thursday and we are all relatively unfazed. Anesthesia? Replacing my expanders with implants? Whatever. Did I get the kids lunches made?

Side note – not a good idea to do a belly flop when you have had recent chest surgery. I speak from experience. Don’t tell my doctor but it was woefully uncomfortable and I didn’t catch any of the minnows and I laughed until I cried.

We also had our first family dance recital – where I was told in no uncertain terms that I did not appropriately put makeup on my daughter who is 5. I put on too little. I went with the daytime look and needed NIGHTTIME.

Everyone wants to know how I am. I am better, I am altered, next week I will be out at the end of the week, but I am totally happy. I will admit that I look forward to conversations about my next job … being a full time Mom and running errands with three yahoos in tow or trying to have a moment’s sanity is a skill I may sadly lack.

And, as to my project with Duke? I am working with the Alumni Affairs office to establish the Blue Devils vs. Cancer organization as an umbrella organization. They have asked to launch Duke Today Alumni website using my story … and I am talking with the Duke Cancer Institute to develop individual fundraising websites.

What once was routine is now a pleasure – juggling the many lives of mommyhood, survivorhood, wifehood – (party planner, tooth fairy, backstage Mom, cheerleader, reading expert and coach – all in the last week)

I hope to be better about

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The Plus Side of a Mastectomy

This is going to be a very personal post. I will tell you right now it may also make you squeamish. It certainly has made me, but I figure the more that we can demystify this process and this disease, the better we will be at communicating and supporting each other.

I have been pretty flat since my mastectomy with my nice perky Nordstrom’s ladies strapped on each day. I skittered by the mirror with clothes clutched tight, no interest in seeing the giant lines that were my cancer bugs, that was my figure.

Last Monday I had plastic bubbles – for lack of a better  term – the scientific term is expanders – put under my skin and muscles and sewed into place. I had enough extra skin that they were filled over halfway with saline – in a usual procedure they are only filled a third of the way. Which meant that as soon as I was awake enough I had the chance to see a shape and a sight that I have not seen in six months. And that many of you ladies take for granted – cleavage.

I am small, but skin complains – stretched thin over the expanders it is shiny with the extra effort. It is more than I expected in terms of profile change. It is pretty uncomfortable as that skin moves against the plastic, against the stitches.

I am exhausted too because I am used to sleeping on my stomach – instead I now sleep on my back with a nightly advil run. This process will continue over the next few weeks. I will be pumped full of saline until we all decide I look like the right version of myself. Should I stay a medium? Move to a large? C? B?

But it’s such a weird conversation to have with anyone outside of this blog – friends and teachers asking me today how i was feeling said “I looked great” I know that means they looked at my chest. For so much of our lives that’s considered taboo. Is it still?

My male friends ask how I’m feeling – should I say that it feels like i have an extremely tight push up bra on all the time with some pain in the armpits. Instead I just say good, but tired. My body is exhausted after the last year and this is the last straw. But it’s also the first step up the end ladder. Toward the newest normal imaginable. At a size made to order.


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New Side Effects, New Sizes, New Fashion, New Season

Radiation is not fun. Now, on the spectrum of not fun things this year it’s probably not as bad as chemo, but in some ways it’s more insidious than the surgery. With surgery each day was an improvement, now I slide downhill. After surgery, the pain was moderate (when asked what my pain threshold was a friend answered for me – DUDE, she took tylenol a day after her double mastectomy). But, this is uncomfortable, painful, and daily.

I have never had that wonderful skin that bronzes beautifully and glows happily in the sun. I have been blessed with a fair complexion that freckles and burns and makes keloid scars for even a mole removal. Ironic that I thought skin cancer would be my bane. I like my skin in general, but all of a sudden, a curse – red as a lobster on impacted areas, tender from swelling on areas where I would LIKE to wear a support undergarment and rosacea of the face somedays. My doctor proscribed daily rinses – “so it won’t peel” – great, not even a chance of a sun tan after all this? I find myself daydreaming of times naked in one of Davis’ old shirts.

So much has changed – I find shopping therapeutic in ways it never was before. Part of it is I keep trying to find things that flatter my new strange-to-me-shape. I try to find things that work in pixie haircut land. Accentuate the positives, right? Just when I feel like I have a little wardrobe for summer it turns 50 here! I scramble – no pants! Which sweaters? What shirts? I have discovered the magic of tunic shirts and leggings.

I finally took everything out of my closet that I can’t wear right now. It was exhausting but so was the feeling of looking at it every day and wishing I could fit into it again. I’m realistic – there is likely a chance I will, but there’s also a chance I won’t – my five year dosing of tamoxifen may impact my body into fat hoarding.

Regardless I have to say I am thoroughly confused when I do shop – I can figure out what size to get for tops, but is it just me or are the sizes for bottoms crazy? I can’t find something that fits my waist – and my bootie – without falling off my thighs or being two inches too long. I am going to -ack- actually go shopping for jeans and try on different sizes and shapes and models. Does anyone like doing that?

Though I have won the battle against cancer, the war continues – and I want you to remember this. When we are cancer free, we are not always treatment free. When we are done with chemo the hard part is not always over. Hug your survivor friends, love them through and past the first battle because the hits keep on coming., You like your hair – sorry. You like your waist? Cancer will take that too … and forget about the silhouette. How about your metabolism? Mood? Skin sensitivity? Ability to get to sleep? Now I’m left with my sparkling wit and personality. Good thing I have a fantastically supportive husband. Along with adoring friends and family and three amazing children of course.

There it is, the thread back to happy.

And, the news that only 13 more treatments of radiation. 6 of those with the dreaded bolus. In radiation therapy, bolus is a material which has properties equivalent to tissue when irradiated. The bolus is laid on my skin to  increase the skin dose – yup that’s right, to make my skin MORE red. Run cancer baby cells. You cannot hide.


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The Definition of Courage: In Life and In Cancer

I spent a lot of time thinking of what to write on this blog. It’s October first and the beginning of breast cancer awareness month, but my focus on that will have to wait. We lost a member of our family this weekend – Davis’ grandfather, Robert Emerson Kircher. Emmy’s namesake. GrandBob as he was known to our family and friends was an amazing intellect and with wonderful curiosity – learning how a computer worked by peeling one apart piece by piece. He had a fantastic sense of humor – the first time I met him he hit on me, and it became a running joke. He was also a national her – a Silver Star recipient for WWII. He was a PT boat captain and went back under enemy fire to rescue over 20 sailors.

His passing had me thinking a lot about choices and courage. I have always thought people threw around the term hero lightly – to me, to my family. But everytime that comes up I think of people like GrandBob who knowingly put themselves in harms way and do something special and terrifying at the same time. I actually looked up the term courage today:


  1. The ability to do something that frightens one.
  2. Strength in the face of pain or grief.

Under this definition we are all courageous – in the decisions we make that challenge us. In the way we handle bad news. To me, courageous was Davis sharing with the children that we had lost GrandBob. He voice choked as he shared the news. The children were curious – where was his body? Where was his soul? Henry said “I know everything’s OK because he’s in heaven but I’m still sad.” And Davis said, tears shining, “it’s OK to be sad.”

GrandBob and the men and women involved in World War I, II and subsequent conflicts are heroes. We display courage daily – my Pink Ribbon Cowgirls friends, their families, my friends.

But, GrandBob, our friend, our family, will recieve a hero’s welcome to Arlington. Where, as the children said “we can go visit whenever we want.”

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Crispy on the Edges

I’m not going to lie. I know this is going to be another NOT fun month. I am trying to keep up with the fun stuff (the soccer, the kids, Halloween decorating) but the radiation has already started giving me the burn. And by the burn I mean a full on sun burn over the upper left quadrant of my body front and back.

Yes, I was warned. Yes, I have meds – aquafor, Nivea, specialized aloe, miderma. But I am purposely going each day to lay down and get sunburned. Each day. My days haven’t been as good because tummy sleeper that I am it has suddenly gotten complicated at night. Uncomfortable.

The radiation websites say to “wear loose clothing that doesn’t touch the areas impacted” and to “avoid contacts with binding materials.” UM HELLO. Are we not supposed to wear a bra during this six week thing? Stay at home in bed with an old T shirt on? I did that yesterday but I couldn’t today. And what about kids? I know they are trying to be helpful but there should be a guide for “how to cope with radiation when you HAVE to wear a bra because your boobs are in it and you have three young children you don’t want completely freak out” Now that would be helpful.

As it is, I nap just about every day now – and we are only entering week three – the little bump in energy I had from getting over the surgery is moving downhill. I’m sure if you polled my cells they would be growing increasingly disenchanted with the “state of my body” – probably foreign and domestic both.

And why do they weigh you in every time you go to the doctor? I am sure that I have changed body shape – I am back to a medium sized top consistently, but not my weight number … and I am not a medium on the bottom. It’s an uncomfortable feeling when you put on your 6 foot three inch husband’s shirts and they no longer swallow you up.

But, October 29th is in sight. The end of this part of this leg of this journey. Then a break from treatments and surgeries until at least 2013. Small victories after large ones. I went shopping and got some new jewelry and makeup and get constant comments on that. Along with my fabulous haircut. Gennifer Goodwin totally copied me.

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