Tag Archives: reconstruction

Prognosis Good, Surgery Curative

Cameron, the 10 year old lab mix dog that saw me through trials and tribulations of cancer and treatment is apparently cancer free as well after open chest surgery last week.

We went in on Tuesday to meet with a surgeon – to talk about options. He was the best in town, we were told – referred by our vet and other doggie parents – and Davis and I took off from work to attend.

We stood there with an anxious dog while Dr. Kerpsack reread some of the materials we had and then laid it out – Cameron either had a cyst (benign) or thymoma (cancer) based on all the imaging and all the studies and all his experience. If it was cancer, surgery was necessary and soon – if it was a cyst, it could get big enough to cause him trouble later but it wasn’t urgent. But, if we wait, guess what? It could get too big to operate at all. And, oh by the way, because our vet had conveyed a sense of urgency, he had scheduled time to take care of it today. What did we think?

I am still reeling with the intensity of these last few weeks – the recurrence of cancer in our lives, the pain of not knowing what to do, and then the difficult decision to put our helpless sweet animal through what would end up being open chest surgery. Now, remarkably, he is up walking around – we have to keep him from jumping on the bed – he doesn’t know his own limits it seems, only I know mine more acutely now than ever.

I think I am going through some version of PTSD – not that it was combat in the traditional sense, but certainly trauma. And for the entirety of the journey I feel I was able to keep moving – to not allow myself the moments of doom or anxiety that could have enveloped me.

The irony is I feel it now.

I feel such a sense of commitment to Cameron’s recovery that each decision – should he be allowed outside? Should he be forced to sleep in the guest room? When do I give him his pain meds? How do we separate him from the puppy energy? Each step has taken on a gravitas that is seeping into my bones.

All those feelings of loss and pain and loneliness are here again – retrograde.

The irony is that he’s doing great. The surgeon claimed that the prognosis was good and they removed the mass which it turned out was thymoma. It was 6cm by 10 cm. They also removed a giant lipoma (fat mass) that had developed under his chin – 30cm by 30cm. Now he is the dog formerly known as frog dog. And I can tell he’s loving it.

I just feel a little buffeted this time around. I have no additional bandwidth to process all the newness. The new normal again and again and again. It’s one thing to get a strategy for sleep with a new puppy. Quite another to layer on the adult dog recovering who wants to go upstairs but can’t with doctor’s orders and how do you keep them separate and happy with one adult available during the day over a three day weekend?

My husband has borne the brunt of the sleep disruption because I have no capability – no reservoir of strength any more for sleep disruption. I am so very thankful. Where would I be if I were truly sleep deprived instead of just sleep altered?

I also have no capability for additional responsibilities. I am ridiculously thankful we have the puppy – who else could we cuddle and coddle while going through this emotional rollercoaster? And she’s amazing and cute and funny and potty trained.

I went back and reread the notes and cards that you all sent throughout my most focused battle – with each day it gets better – you’ll look back on this and realize that it really did suck – and that every victory is worth noting.

It was a good reminder of the path I have taken – and now that I can help my dog take it too as best I can.

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The Two Part Post: Fundraising and the Last Step

Many of you already know, but for those of you only connected to me through my blog, I have been supported throughout this process by an amazing set of women at the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Texas. They run a support group for young women fighters/survivors called the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls and they have been AMAZING. My patient navigator, Runi … the effervescent and positive Robin, and of course my amazing supporters and friends in PRC.

I am fundraising for them this October. In an effort for people to think before the pink – BCRC founded #locallypink which is an opportunity for people to give in Austin to the organization that directly impacts people’s lives – my life was made better, stronger and certainly with more purpose because of these ladies and this organization.

They helped me create a fundly page: https://bcrc.fundly.com/team-ward-pink

All your donations go directly to people who need them. As you can see, I have already hit my 2nd stretch goal with the generosity of friends and family, but to quote Scrooged:

If you give, then it can happen…then the miracle can happen to you. It’s not just the poor and hungry, it’s everybody who’s got to have this miracle!! And if you like it and you want it you’ll get greedy for it…you’ll want it every day of your life, and it can happen to you. I believe in it now! I believe it’s gonna happen to me now, and I’m ready for it. It’s great!

So let’s keep on giving.

Now, the second and certainly lighter side of this post – next week I have my final reconstruction surgery. Nipples. Yup, I said it. I have no nipples and will next week. And is it weird that I’m so excited?

I feel like I have been hiding my body completely for over a year – not like I wander around naked or anything, but imagine being afraid that if your swimsuit falls down, you not only will embarrass yourself and the people around you with your wardrobe malfunction, you might permanently and irrevocably scar your children. I wear a bra all the time for fear there might be a non-nip slip. I just coined a new phrase.

I embrace my new figure and I try to encourage the same with the kids – Henry has an overbite, Emmy is tall, Carter is still missing his top teeth. I tell them everyone is different and special and some people have moles and some have freckles and some have innie belly buttons. BUT I just don’t want them to know that I don’t have nipples. Is that somehow wrong?

And last week I wondered, if I was on TV, would I be censored? I mean, I don’t have nipples and that seems to be the line that is drawn. Would there have been such an outcry if Janet Jackson looked like Barbie, nice and smooth?

By the way this is covered by insurance but we still have to pay out of pocket. I can’t wait to itemize next year. AND the next step – tattoos. More on that later!

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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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All The News That’s Fit to Print

When I was little I had many attempts at keeping a daily diary. It never worked. I would write furiously for days or even weeks, but then I would miss a couple of days. I would feel overwhelmed by all the news I had to impart on those missed days and put it off a few more. Then I would have multiple ideas on what to say and couldn’t decide so I would put it off further. A week or two would go by and I would be – literally – paralyzed by my own inaction. How could I possibly just start new?

Clearly, I haven’t left everything behind.

I have been wanting to write for a while now, but have been paralyzed by that same feeling – how much I have to write! how many thoughts! how much news! Today I decided – screw it. I’ll write what I can. The evolution continues.

I have recovered greatly from my surgery. I still can’t sleep on my stomach and have some weird sensations and twinges, but I feel pretty normal given the fact I have giant plastic balloons in my chest. I am still working on my stamina – I did get the clearance to start exercising again – and strangely, I was elated! I never much liked exercising for its own sake, but the inability to even go for a fast walk for so many months left me feeling like a shell of myself. Just being back on the soccer field to help with my son’s soccer tournament coaching was a joy. And, exhausting.

I have enjoyed the fact that as I improve, the ripples of that improvement spread across our entire family. My husband suddenly seems lighter – I am able to help shoulder the burden in a meaningful way. We are talking about the future – traveling, next year’s school year – and it is starting to feel almost normal.

And the children are elated that I am up, around, helping, playing.

Henry, the oldest at a mere 7, is processing. Always. We have had a myriad of conversation over the past weeks I didn’t expect – about the Boston bombings, the Cleveland rescues, Austin bond elections for schools. (No I didn’t bring these up – thanks school!) But the conversation seems to often come back to my health. On Friday night, he wanted to go out to dinner to celebrate Mommy feeling better again.

This weekend, Mother’s Day, I didn’t take naps, we went for a hike … it was blissfully normal. And yet, at the end of the day Henry would ask about my last surgery – when was it? what was it? did I have stitches?

I feel guilty that I am not sharing the details of this reconstruction with them only when I am evading questions in those conversations. I know that there is too much information for them to process, and that they just need to see me recover, and to them, I am there. They are especially excited that I have bangs 🙂

Much of what I have learned on my journey is with me – a sense of calm, understanding my health is important (yes I am still drinking the green smoothies daily and amazingly haven’t gotten sick since I started – three months!). And, I have more patience. It manifests itself in small ways – helping Emmy read, or walking with Carter to the kiddie pool and back for the fourth time. Or answering the question from Henry for the fourth night in a row – are you almost all better, Mama?

Mostly, yes.

Yay, he says and opens his arms wide for another hug

.hair

 

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American Heroes Day

At Camp Mabry in Austin, they hold a yearly event called American Heroes day which brings together first responders, our armed forces, and importantly, all of their gadgets and vehicles to central Austin. We have attended every year since Henry was born – at first he could barely crawl up the helicopter skids, now he is dashing in and out, asking questions about medics and war crimes and North Korea (who makes bad choices).

It has been in many ways a barometer of our family – I didn’t go when pregnant, I didn’t go when sick (last year) and this year I am not going. Is it because I have a physical excuse? Not really. It’s not because I’m fatigued and nauseous and miserable like last year. But I did make excuses – I’m going to get sunburned, my back hurts from standing at soccer, I need to rest. It’s true. But mostly it’s because I need space – quiet, a blank screen, the endless love of the dog and my thoughts.

I am cool and collected and completely and utterly falling apart inside. I believe it’s been that kind of week for a lot of people.

I was euphoric after my trip to Duke. I was sobered by my pre op appointments. I was thankful for my birthday and all the wishes. I was transfixed by the scenes in Boston. I was shocked at the magnitude in West. And in the middle of it all – reconstruction looming.

It’s an interesting word after this week: reconstruction. Boston will have to reconstruct what happened with the bombings and the physical and emotional space of the Marathon. West clearly will have to reconstruct its facilities, its community, and its livelihood. I am reconstructing myself physically – a long, arduous process that takes almost as long as chemo, so that I can be whole again. I am terrified that the pain will be too much. That I have just adjusted to this new normal and can not do the same again.

But I know that reconstruction, though hard, is the most critical piece to get right.

I have surgery on Monday and start it all again. Pain management, physical therapy, a step by step process towards a goal – not normalcy this time, but close.

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The Odd Space Between

What a strange trip it’s been. The last three weeks have been a  recovery of sorts – from the flu and what I am going to attribute as a general freak out due to unrealized angst over the last year compounded by an adverse reaction to tamiflu. In some ways I feel that the dark place I visited was worse than when I had cancer – it was the realization of all that had gone, and how it was going to continue to echo into the future.

We have gone on a belt tightening regime. Happily, our last payment to preschool was processed this week. Our children were accepted into a Mandarin Chinese Immersion program at their public school in what we hope will be an amazing academic and cultural opportunity to make their little brains spongy and their neurons fire and connect. It certainly helps that we see it as a private school education at public school prices. But, one of my biggest challenges in facing that path was the recognition that I would need to be well enough to (a) manage what will be an entirely new educational experience and system for our family (b) ask that the children be willing to spend some time every day academically and (c) commit to learning basic Mandarin so that my children don’t talk in secret circles in front of me.

I don’t know I even admitted it to myself until late last week but it was fear that was influencing my decision on behalf of the children. It was fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle it – that I didn’t know our path and fear of returning to the survival mode of the last year.

It is ironic, then, that I return to surgery in just two weeks. After addressing the fear, after realizing the repercussions of cancer will effect us physically, emotionally, and financially for years, I go back into that scary world of surgeries, hospitals and procedures.

As I am literally flat, I will have expanders put in that will be pumped up over a series of months to stretch my skin. Here my youth will come in handy I hope and make the pain less. Once we have achieved desired fullness, swap out, detailing, and off I go into the future.

This time, right now, I prepare for a trip to Duke to talk about my journey and their programs. I have been asked by the Breast Cancer Resource Center to be featured at the Art Bra event to help them raise money so I prepare that script. )I finished my owl bra entry to raise money – Hooter is below). I get ready to leave the family for my trip to Durham, I cook and clean and work and plan. But there is much I cannot do because of the looming changes.

I have continued on my healthy habits – green smoothie each day, exercising three times a week at least, lots of water, less caffeine. But I can’t ratchet things up (tennis anyone?) because of what will come. I can’t buy new clothes – with the spending freeze actually not a bad thing – because I have no idea what size I will be when this all sorts. I work par ttime for an extraordinary group but know that I will be out of pocket for a couple of weeks and then with questions on my return – how much? how soon?

Oh and I turn 37 in the middle of it all. As the children have pointed out with their glee at learning new math terms – I will go from being even to odd. I feel quite a bit odd already.

artbrahooter IMG_5004_copy

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