Stairs..

In this picture you may just see stairs. I see so much more.

When I was released from the hospital after the seven hour double mastectomy/reconstruction surgery I had to face stairs. It is funny to me that you could have such an intense surgery that basically is an amputation and they send you home the very next day. But that is not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the stairs.

We had two short flights of stairs to get to our apartment. My sister and husband were on each side of me. My son and his girlfriend were behind me. I was drugged, and tired and full of drainage tubes and bandages. Yet I had to get up those stairs to get to my home.

I remember my husband’s voice so clearly when we got to the top. He was so impressed and proud of me for taking the stairs like a champ. I guess I walked up them like a ‘normal’ person would. You know one foot on one step at a time. He was so proud of me.  It has been over a year and I can still hear him saying that in my head.

I like to make my husband proud of me. I catch myself doing things around the house hoping he will be impressed with what I got done. Like unpacking.

We recently moved from the cutest apartment in the world to a house. A house that will be our home. It has stairs leading to the master suite. This is a picture of those stairs. They creak on every step. They are steep. Yet none of that bothers me. Every time I walk up or down those stairs I think how far I have come from that day. How proud Keith is of me for walking up stairs. How thankful I am that I am capable and able to walk up and down stairs every day. That my knees and legs are strong enough. That I have balance and sure footedness. That I have strength and energy to go up and down these stairs several times a day.

My husband told me that when we get old we will have to convert the main floor into our living space because we won’t be able to make it up the stairs someday! I told him that if we keep going up and down the stairs our bodies will only get stronger and we won’t have to do that for a very long time. They are like a built-in treadmill/stairmaster.

These are my stairs. My victories. My motivations. My source of pride. One step at a time.

Love eliminates….

Love eliminates the distance…..

When I went public with the cancer on my Facebook page so many people expressed their condolences. I think that is how I want to refer to it. Cancer is immediately thought of as a death sentence. Prayers and good thoughts were posted on my page. Along with how I should have been eating right and exercising and I wouldn’t have gotten cancer in the first place comments too.  It really opens your eyes to who your real friends are. To who really gets the concept of the diagnosis. It also opens your eyes to the many people who care about you and you had no idea they did. I have been trying to highlight some of the people who have made a difference through all of this. Today it is Chrissy.

I met Chrissy through Zumba and a fellow friend/instructor. I went to a Zumbathon for ALS that she put together and my dear friend Marilee helped with too. I had so much fun. When Marilee introduced me to Chrissy as another instructor she said ‘next fundraiser you will be in with us’. When she organized the fundraiser for the Humane Society she actually remembered me and asked me to lead a song!! This was the best thing that had ever happened to me in the Zumba community. I offered to have the company I work for donate items for the auction. After we chatted for a bit I found out she lived on Fruitvale and that was across the street from where I work. It made it easy for her to pick up the donation items.

Shortly after that her husband was being transferred, to Germany! Argh, I felt we needed more time to friend. She asked for my mailing address and assured me we could still Facebook. She was so good about sending out Christmas cards to the States. I don’t think I would have been that diligent.

When Chrissy learned of my cancer she would message me often to check in on me. When I would post my Cancercize videos she would cheer me on. When I would have hard days she would simply state she missed me.

One day a large box showed up at my door. It was a care package from Germany! It had chocolates, teas, cookies and jam. It must have weight about 30 pounds. Chrissy had taken the time to put a gift together for when I was going through chemotherapy. The teas and cookies were ones for sick stomachs and nausea. Some for sleeping, some for waking up. She took the time to write in English which ones were herbal, which ones were not. She wrapped everything in bubble wrap with such care hoping it would arrive safe.

This gift. So thoughtful, so unexpected, such a surprise. I never thought I was worthy of such an expense. Chrissy thought I was worth every penny of comfort that she could send from a long distance.

I am so thankful that we have technology to keep in touch. Thankful that you can ship hugs in a box. Thankful that Chrissy is in my life if only for a moment. Grateful that she is  in it for a lifetime.

Love eliminates the distance

 

It’s my New Year’s Day…….

This is going to be a long one today….fair warning. But first I need another cup of coffee…

TODAY!! Happy New year to me today. I know it is January 15th. Let me explain….

Keep in mind today is my husband Keith’s birthday.

ONE YEAR AGO TODAY:  At this time one year ago today I was checked into the hospital for  my double mastectomy/reconstruction surgery. They also had to pull out a cluster of my lymph nodes since the cancer had spread there too. Eight and half hours later I was in the recovery room. Completely oblivious to my surroundings and forever physically and mentally scarred.

November 3rd 2015. That is when I got the phone call at work. My primary care doctor calling to tell me about the biopsy results. It was defiantly cancer. At first it was a stage 0, pretty much around the nipple area, a lumpectomy would easily take care of it. Many tests later and an MRI revealed that it was actually stage 2B and that I had the BRCA2 gene. I have now upgraded to a double mastectomy with reconstruction. The surgeon that I wanted and I spoke to for my initial consultation was now sick and could no longer follow through on my care. I was switched to a new surgeon I have never met, during Christmas holiday. This was challenging and scary. When I met her she told me that I had to have a sentinel lymph node surgery done at least a week before the mastectomy. Basically I was in the hospital for this surgery by the end of the week!! Yikes!  Caught us completely off guard.

The plastic surgeon I met way back in November but at that time I was only going to get a lumpectomy so I really didn’t pay much attention to what she told me about reconstruction. Suddenly I am having surgeries one week apart. I am having a double mastectomy and reconstruction and I find out the day before that I have to take shots for a week in my belly! Nope. I did not sign up for that. Neither did my husband. He had to give them to me because there was no way I was going to do it for myself. NEEDLES…a big fat NOPE.

Those first couple of weeks were a drugged blur. I remember Keith sleeping on a cot at the end of our bed, listening to my every move, making sure that I would not be in any pain and ready to help me up if I had to go to the bathroom. I remember how proud of me he was when I got home from the hospital and walked up the stairs normally. One foot , one step at a time. I remember him changing out my whiteboard with the dates so that when I was awake I would know what day it was and how much time had passed. I remember him making my coffee for me and bringing me oatmeal. He hated stripping my drains almost as much if not more than giving me the shots. He drove me to every appointment and even to have my hair washed at the beauty school. I don’t know how he did it but he did everything, all the time, just for me.

Six weeks passed and I had been released to go back to work. At this time people thought I was out on vacation and sick leave. I had only shared with a few family and friends. My inner circle, my support team and of course this blog. My breasts by now were the same size as they were before the surgery so outside of being tired no one knew what I had been through.

Then I found out that I should do chemotherapy to kill what ever rogue cells that may have escaped. Also to lower my chances of recurrence. Now I had to go public because the side effects of chemotherapy are hard to hide and I planned on working as much as possible through all of it. Chemotherapy started on my son’s birthday in March. Ironic. Hmm.

Had a consultation with the genetic counselor suggesting I have my ovaries removed. Had those removed in July, the same day that Keith was to fly out to AZ for his class reunion. He changed his plans. I don’t think I could have managed without him.

My final surgery, the exchange surgery ended up being in October. I missed out on my friends Halloween party. First time in four years. Keith missed work for a week and they were busy. He had to play catch up all year because of me.

As things are getting ‘back to normal’ ha! as if it will ever be normal again….I have learned this:

  • My husband loves me more than I ever thought he did, or could.
  • I love him more now than I ever had
  • our relationship is better, even better than when we first started
  • I had no idea it could get better or stronger or healthier
  • I have amazing friends and family in my life
  • I had no idea menopause was so terrible
  • I am not the same person I was before and I never will be again
  • I need people. I need Keith. I need my son Richard. I need my family. I need to focus on the future, on strength, on kindness to others, on love.

Keith and I decided that we want to be healthier together. Eat out less, exercise more, make better food and beverage choices. You know..blah blah blah. We also decided that we would start on New Year’s Day. Not January 1st but OUR New Year’s day. January 15th. That is our new year. Yes his birthday, but our first new year.

Okay, the watching what we eat will actually commence tomorrow because today we celebrate with a party!! My friend is hosting a ‘Renee Kicked cancer’s ass and we are celebrating one year cancer free’ party!! I know a mouthful. Just take a deep breath before you say it… Then breathe in again afterwards.

I don’t think this blog post came out in any way shape or form as I intended. It is what it is. Long. Heartfelt. Truth. Snippets. Healing.

PS: I have signed up for two runs this year so far and I am totally back in revenge mode!! So keep checking in on me… Take that cancer!!

ONE YEAR AGO!!!!!! 

 

 

 

It all started when I nicked my toe shaving……

I should have know that today was not going to be a good day. I didn’t realize it in the moment but I noticed it later. I nicked my big toe while shaving this morning. Yeah, I know TMI, yes I shave my big toes. Once you start you can’t stop, unless you are undergoing chemotherapy and loose all your toe hair.

Yesterday I did my Cancercize with Renee B workout https://youtu.be/JDLqZhLUKnA . It was ARMS. I attempted to do push ups and planks for the first time since the last surgery. I had horrible form and barely did five reps. I felt them all day yesterday. I feel them even more today. In fact my arms are pretty much useless at this moment.

I left for work and the roads were decent so I thought I would stop for gas before the weather was too cold and snowy. I pulled up to the pump and put my card in. It asked of my zip code. I entered it. The machine told me to go see the cashier. Nope. I don’t like human interactions with strangers. I try again. Same response. One more time. Negative. I grab my card and leave. Time is running out now to get to work on time. Why can’t I remember my zip code? #blerg

When I got to work everything that happened the first hour and half annoyed me. As soon as my supervisor came in I went and got coffee with her so I could get a hug. She asked if I was alright. I told her all I wanted to do was cry. That feeling pretty much stuck with me all day. I emailed my husband and told him how much I was struggling. His response was simply ‘keep smiling’ #men

As the day wore on I eventually had to put my hat on. My supervisor asked if I was cold. “No, my hair is driving me crazy” It is true, it felt like I had a big chunk of hair standing straight up and it would bounce when I walked. I couldn’t take it any more even if it wasn’t happening. So red shirt, green vest and purple hat day at work. #sexy

I left work and decided I would try to get gas again. I had looked up my zip code so I was prepared. I get to the pump, hop out of the car, my wallet hops out too. It spills out on the wet concrete. I put my card in and it just sits there. I take it out and try again. The pump would not read or register that I had put a card in. Ugh, I give up. I am tired and I ache all over, I am hungry and I just want to go home pour a glass of wine and eat something that I don’t have to make.

By the time I got home, after dropping my lunch box once and keys twice I was done. I walked in the door and throw all my stuff on the floor and extend my arms. Thankfully hubby responded correctly. #redeemed He got up and just held me. I cried a little but we did not speak. I needed that hug. I needed wine too. I don’t keep wine around anymore but I had a bottle of this wonderful lemon basil hard cider. Had to make dinner because neither of us wanted to leave the warm, dry house. And honestly I just can’t eat anymore pizza at this point.

After I had my first glass of cider, another hug and some food I finally feel like myself. Or close enough.

The picture of the wine glasses was from a New Year’s a few years ago. My glass was big enough to hold an entire bottle of wine. I named her Big Bertha. Sadly she broke about two years ago. At least I have pictures to remember her by.

Somedays are just struggle days. I don’t know why. Emotions, worries and physical hurts can really play tricks on you. I am very thankful this day is over. Or close enough to over.

 

 

A stress free Thanksgiving……

and other lies we tell ourselves.

I will officially have lived in the Inland Northwest nine years this coming January. Nine years after driving away from the only life I have ever known.

Since we have moved here we have never done the same thing twice for Thanksgiving. We have: gone to the casino, gone to a friends, had turducken, had soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, served at a soup kitchen, and have dinned somewhere nice.

This year I asked my son what he wanted to do for Thanksgiving. It was a time to actually give thanks. I am cancer free, done with surgery and treatments. We should celebrate everything. He asked for a ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving. So that means turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and lots of gravy.

Since I was working the day before and the day after I really didn’t want to make a big mess in the kitchen. So sticking with our tradition of doing something different each year I decided to order one of those pre-cooked dinners from the grocery store. I ordered the traditional turkey dinner. It came with mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, rolls, and cranberry sauce. I ordered a small side of green been casserole too since my son likes it. The advertisement says it is fully cooked. How difficult can it be? I ordered and set our pick up time as 9AM. The deli worker said I will need to warm the turkey up and it would take about an hour and half. That should work out great. I am baking a sugar creme pie that I have never even heard of until two weeks ago. It takes about an hour and half. That will free the oven up for turkey and time to reheat all the pre-cooked foods.

When Keith came home with the food it was not what I expected at all. There was a turkey that you can tell had just barely been defrosted in time. It said on the directions that it needed to be in the oven for 3 to 3 and 1/2 hours, yikes! All the side dishes were ones that you could just buy out of the deli in the prepackaged food ‘ready-to-go’ section. I thought it was going to be made at the deli. The turkey took forever to warm through. I put the stuffing in the oven for the last 30 minutes to heat it up. The gravy was simmering on the stove top and the mashed potatoes were in the microwave. Three minutes is what the directions said. Mashed potatoes, gravy and rolls are my favorite part of the holiday dinner. All the carbs on one plate. I was looking forward to the potatoes.

When they came out of the microwave and I stirred them it was like water. WATER! Noooooo! In my eyes dinner is ruined. The turkey was taking forever, the potatoes runny. Ugh. I asked where we may go since dinner sucked. They laughed and said the turkey will be fine and we still have gravy and rolls. I popped the potatoes back in the microwave for five more minutes. They finally stiffened up and actually tasted great. Disaster averted.

I bought a frozen apple pie and a chocolate creme pie. It is a good thing too, the sugar creme pie texture is different. And the taste is kind of bland. maybe that is how it supposed to taste?

Anyway dinner was fine. We ate too much. There was very little clean up, and I hung out with my family. All wonderful things in my book.

A side note: The day before Thanksgiving my doctor emailed me my blood work results. My cholesterol is up too high. She said I need to lay off the carbs. Lay off carbs, ugh. Also I went to a Turkey Burn Zumba class on Saturday. It was 90 minutes long. NINETY!!! It felt great.

The picture is a Thanksgiving that happened four years ago. A friend was celebrating living in her first home and wanted to make dinner. This is also me 25 pounds ago. I think I really do need to lay off the carbs…

 

Last night I slept without a bra on….

I know this may not seem like much to you. In fact I would venture to guess the majority of people sleep without bras on. I used to be one of those people.

When I had the double mastectomy with reconstruction I came home from the hospital wearing a velcro wrap. It was tight and uncomfortable. It was necessary to wear to keep the swelling down and to make sure my new foobs stayed in place and would look symmetrical. Eventually I was allowed to exchange the wrap for a sports bra. I had to wear the sports bra all the time, including at night.

As time went on and the expanders were filled to the capacity I wanted, I was able to wear my ‘pretty bras’ again during the day. At night the expanders were so uncomfortable and unmovable that I would wear the sports bra or the surgery bra to bed to be a buffer. Laying on my side was tricky and the support of a bra helped.

Because of chemotherapy the exchange surgery had to be postponed for months. MONTHS! I had to wear the hard and awkward expanders for ten months. That meant continuing to sleep in a bra or some sort of supportive garment.

Last night I felt confident enough to sleep without a bra on. I slept on my side, on my back and on the other side. It felt wonderful and honestly I almost felt normal. NORMAL!?!?!?!?! Is that such a thing? I can’t even recall feeling normal, except for those rare occasional moments that last for just a minute or two.

I have a followup appointment this coming week with the plastic surgeon. I think everything looks great, as great as it is can get considering. I am looking forward to her telling me that. And that I will be able to jog again. And that I can wear my pretty bras that I just bought from an online company that specializes in bras for mastectomy and reconstruction patients. They are expensive but very pretty. I want to be as normal as possible, I think the new bras will help. So will the jogging. So will the ‘all is clear and good’ from the doctor.

No bra at night, pretty bras during the day. Who knows, next I might wear jeans again.

 

November 3rd.

One year ago today.

It is a date I will likely never forget. I have forgotten my mother’s birthday, my phone, doctor appointments, how to do my job and underwear. I will never forget November 3rd.

Yesterday I celebrated. I celebrated being alive, a loving husband, lime mimosas, a day at the spa, the living of life happening all around me. Celebrating being a fighter.

One year ago today. That is when I got the call at work. The call that will forever be etched in my head. The call that started the change within me. The call that I indeed had cancer.

A day that changed me forever. I am no longer the same. I know I look different on the outside thanks to chemotherapy and all the surgeries. Yet the inside, oh the inside is so different now. I do not think the same as I used to. I love differntly. I live differently. I laugh differently.

There are days I feel guilty that my cancer was not as horrible as my friends. There are days I do not want to get out of bed. Days of feeling sorry for myself. Days full of energy and optimism. Days that make for restless nights. Days of courage, empathy, compassion, selfishness and hope. Three hundred and sixty-five days.

Cancer is hard. On you, your loved ones, co-workers, family and even brief interactions with strangers. Hard on your plans for revenge.

It has however brought out some wonderful things. Opened my eyes to what a loving and intelligent and thoughtful man my husband is. Pulled my inner fighter out. Gave me a new sense of what is important. Helped me to not sweat the small things.

So many changes in such a small amount of time.

One year ago today.

 

 

 

 

 

It was too soon to wear pants….

and other things I have learned this week….

Saturday I went to a work function just to pop in and give some hugs to friends. I put on a pair of jeans and felt pretty comfortable. I liked seeing everyone, did a little shopping and headed home. I did a little housework and rested on my very worn corner of the couch. After some time I realized that the jeans were pushing too much on my abdomen and off they went. It was too soon to wear pants.

Went in for my yearly check up with my primary care physician. I absolutely adore my doctor. She is a breast cancer survivor herself and she is very big into less prescription medicines and more supplements and nutrition for encouraging our bodies to take care of themselves. During our visit she realized she wanted to do more lab work. Oh no, that means her nurse is going to come in and draw blood. I like the nurse, I really do. It is hit or miss with her though. If she is having a good day she can draw blood like a pro, if it is a bad day she tortures you. Today was a bad day, she ran out of gas and had to be picked up so she was late for work. Sure enough she inserted the needle and it hurt, she spun it around because she missed the vein, no blood. So she takes it out and tries a different spot. Same thing, no blood. She switched to a smaller needle so it would be less painful. It was. Still no blood. I am now nearly in tears. She is now freaked out. The only other option is to try to find a vein in my hand. I didn’t want to do it. Neither did she. So I get to drop by tomorrow and try again. Bleh

I drove for the first time today since my surgery. Parking in the garage was tricky. I did alright. It would have been better if my right arm wasn’t feeling like a pin cushion.

This week I have on my schedule; dinner with a friend, painting with a virtual stranger, coffee drop off to say good-bye to a beloved co-worker, apparently more blood draws and my favorite thing, the mini-spa day. It will be  a great way to train my body into understanding it has to go back to work full-time next week.

Speaking of work, I ordered more yoga style leggings today. I will not make the mistake of wearing pants again.

 

 

 

One hour and 54 minutes…..

….not that I am counting.

Yesterday I had both drains removed. I HAD BOTH DRAINS REMOVED!!! WOOT! This is such a big deal. It really is. It means I no longer have to sleep with my ‘kangaroo pouch’ filled with octopi. My girdle has been removed too. Most importantly it means I get to shower today. I get to shower at 10AM today. I had to wait 24 hours after the drains were removed before I was allowed to shower. It is not that I don’t feel clean. I would wash my hair in the sink, sponge bathe and shave my legs often. But there is something about standing up in a shower with the warm water splashing all over. Being able to use soap on your whole body. Shower.

I am still on restrictions. I am still wrapped up with ace bandages and the surgical bra. I am not allowed to drive or lift over 2 pounds. Still have to sleep (ha! sleep is an elusive dream) on my back and not lift my arms above my shoulders for five more days.

There is a little bit of swelling on the top of my left foob so my bandage is wrapped high up on my chest and rubs on my armpits. It is what it is. If it doesn’t go where it is supposed to by Sunday I am to massage it for a few days to try to encourage it. Other wise I am stuck with it higher on one side than the other. I don’t really care. I don’t want to do anymore surgery. I can hide uneven breasts. Same way I can hide that I only have one nipple.

one hour and 37 minutes……

I think my friend Julie is coming over to collect me and take me to her place today. It will be nice to have a different change of view. I am sure it will still be me sitting on a couch watching t.v. but it will be with different company and a different couch. 

My husband posted the nicest thing about me on Facebook last night. He never posts things about me on Facebook. If he does it is rarely a ‘brag on my wife’ post. He does tell me face to face that he thinks I am awesomeSometimes a girl just needs to see him bragging about her publicly. Just like she sometimes needs to have flowers delivered to her at work for no reason.

“if there is one thing that Renee Breidenbach and I have learned over the past 12 months, it is how much the other one can endure.  #shecantakemore

See, it was nice and a moment where he bragged about me. It must be love.

I was going to post a picture of a clock counting down. Since I am so technology deficient I decided to go with a picture I already had on file. I am waiting for my storm to pass, yet I will be dancing in my shower soon.

I go back to work on November 7th. I am looking forward to it. Next week I have a doctor’s appointment on Monday but more importantly I have a mini spa day scheduled on Wednesday. I am having a spa facial, a posh pedicure and a haircut at my favorite Spa in town. It is expensive. I am worth it. It will be nice to be pampered for a day before I go back to the real world. Side note: my husband has taken great care of me and in a sense I have been pampered by him. He has done the dishes, gone grocery shopping, washed my hair, done laundry and etc. It will just be nice to be pampered in a different manner.

One hour and fifteen minutes….

 

 

 

When you leave the frozen gelato in the organic peanut butter aisle….

My son is coming over for breakfast tomorrow. I am planning on making a German pancake with bacon, apple sausage and cider Mimosas. I walked next door to the natural food market to get the bacon and sausage. The meat is organic and nitrate free and from local farms. I walked by the freezer and saw that they had the gelato my husband loves on sale, so I grabbed a pint. I also needed more raw almond butter for my protein shakes. I put every thing down so I can fill my cup up with the freshly ground almonds. Hop over to the register and head on home. A few hours later I am frantically looking for the gelato! I can’t remember if I put it in the fridge or the cabinet instead of the freezer. Turns out I left it on the shelf by the almond butter machine. Hope they found it before it melted all over the floor.

The hubby and I have decided that we need to get our eating back under control. I can’t lose weight, he wants to. So the plan is to eat cereal for dinner. Doing the dishes tonight I realized that we either have too many spoons and bowls or not enough.

Went to the gym twice this week! Got on the treadmill, or as Paula from Never A Dull Bling calls it the ‘dreadmill’ I actually enjoy the treadmill. I got on and started with a walking pace. Several times I bumped it up and jogged! That was huge for me. Tonight I went back to the gym with the same intention. Turned out much better than I thought. I actually ran for half the time on it. Feeling pretty good from that and since I was the ONLY one at the gym I also used the ‘machines’ for some arm and leg strength workout. I am sure I will be super sore on Monday but for a Saturday I am feeling pretty proud of myself.

My heart is hurting for some friends. My friend Paula lost her mother this week. My friend Janice is going to lose her mother shortly. I find that I struggle with dealing with other people’s struggles now. Not that I don’t care and worry and pray for them. I just find that I have a harder time remembering to. I don’t think that is quite right either. I have a hard time getting my brain to wake up and be a thoughtful person.

I messaged a fitness friend of mine that I met via Facebook. I guess friend is a strong word. I found her on YouTube doing Zumba dances that I would learn and use in my classes. then I started stalking her on Facebook, joined her workout group online. She always chats with me like she wants to be my friend. She is a Beach Body Coach so she is trying to get me to sell stuff for her but I think we have connected on a higher level than that. I messaged her about goal setting and new ideas and such. My message to her was just as convoluted as this paragraph trying to explain it.

My hair is another weird phase again. It is finally longer over my ears so I have less wing action going on but have more wild hairs. I am still unsure what I am going to do with it but I have heard that I have two more phases before it is really my hair. So I wait and close my eyes and wear hats often.

Home from my workout, dishes are done and now enjoying a classic movie ‘Woman  of the Year’ If only I could find that drive and passion with a little more compassion and sensitivity than Tess.