Scars in the Sunlight

With Shelly Vaughn

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December 30

Dec 30, 2016- This day last year, right around this time, is when I first felt the lump. Sharing the details of this is not meant to scare anyone out there who feels a mass- because 7/8 of you women will be fine. But this just may light a little fire under anyone who does feel something to get it checked early- because 1/8 will be dealing with something far more serious.

Just like with other pivotal moments in life, I remember exactly where I was standing, exactly what it felt like, and exactly the how far my stomach felt like it dropped in that moment. I was getting ready for bed and knew there was something that shouldn’t be there. I ran downstairs and told Rob, asking “what if…” about a zillion times. True to his nature, he was calm and reassuring- reminding me how young I was and how many women feel lumps and have concerns that are “nothing”. It was a Friday night last year, and we knew there was no doctor to call until the next week started anyway. So I did my best to not worry about it, with an obvious plan to call my doctor on Monday. I googled a lot that night, and everything I read indicated so strongly that it was likely a “fibroadenoma”- a benign mass that is common in young women (painless, firm, moveable, distinct borders, and common in women my age.) So there it was- the mass that I felt SO many times from that point on. It couldn’t be… I’m too young… but my family history… that would be awful… not me… I’m only 36… it’s just benign… don’t worry… enjoy New Years… try to sleep… stop touching it… stop panicking… it’s nothing… every woman goes through this… I’m too young… but what if… it just can’t be… go to sleep.

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This Time Last Year

Fair warning- today begins the “this time last year…” posts. I’m sure there will be several of them. And although they may get boring to hear about, I think it will help me move forward from this. Acknowledge the past events, reflect on them, and learn from them.

The thing about 12/29 was it was the last day of not knowing what was about to happen. I hadn’t felt the lump yet. I was unaware of the tornado that was developing in the distance. When I look at Thanksgiving and Christmas photos from last year, I try very hard to remind myself that I think it was probably good that this all started just after the holidays. Christmas “book ended” my experience, so I was able to enjoy it last year (unaware of what was happening) and this year (cancer-free). I try extremely hard not to, but when I look at time hop photos of all the events through the holidays last year, I can’t help but feel bitter about it. All I see is a host for this disease…. a body that was carrying around these cells that were rapidly growing and totally unaware of it. I talked to my friend about it a few weeks ago and she helped me recognize it as a feeling of betrayal- that something was wrong with my body and I had no idea. It was so sneaky… and spreading quickly…. and that makes me mad. I’m assuming there will be a point in life that my timeline will not just revolve around pre-diagnosis/post-diagnosis. But I’m not there yet. It makes me want to reiterate again… please do a self exam now. I know it feels like you just did one. Do it again. And then again every time it crosses your mind. Because I don’t want any of my friends to be unaware that it’s growing inside of them as well.

And because I don’t want to be a total “Debbie Downer”, I’ll finish the post with the good news. (I’m really in a good mood, but that’s definitely not coming through as I read what I wrote so far). We had an incredible Christmas. It was sweet and special and extremely memorable. I’m looking forward to sharing pics and telling some details about it, but that’s another long post that deserves it’s own space. I’ll also share the update on medical follow-ups that have happened in the last week. Not much new to report… everything is good. I just know some of you like the medical reports so I will elaborate on them sometime this weekend.

Stay warm, friends! Sending love and hoping you’ve had a wonderful week!

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“I Believe In Santa Claus”

“And I believe that everything in life is what it’s meant to be
I believe there is a God somewhere although he’s hard to see
I believe I am so therefore I should do all that I can
To be a better piece in the puzzle of God’s plan.”

– from “I Believe In Santa Claus”

I couldn’t say it any better than Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. 

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So much Better

When your regular full-time work week includes squeezing in 6 appointments, it sure makes that week fly by. Everything is GREAT! The most important ones were the ultrasound of the “reactive lymph node” that’s been swollen in my armpit area and the follow-up with the surgeon. That lymph node has been bothering me since August and the previous ultrasound said it was”probably benign”. That was good but still a little unnerving because it wasn’t definitive and I could still feel the lump. This follow-up showed that it’s definitely shrinking and still looks benign. In the back of my mind for the last 2 months, I have been so worried that it was malignant and we weren’t doing anything about it. So this appointment made me feel SOOOOO much better. A biopsy had not been an option during radiation because of the high risk of infection, but my surgeon said that if the relief wears off and I start to worry again he’ll write an order to have a biopsy done anytime I want. And I may do that at some point if I do start to worry again. But for now, I’m looking forward to just giving my body a break and letting it heal with no procedures.

Another appointment was with my plastic surgeon who will do the reconstruction. We have a pretty good plan of what we’ll do to reconstruct (it’s called latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction), but that has to wait at least 6 months from radiation, so we won’t do that until early summer. He suggested that I get a second opinion because, as he said, he is very confident in the procedure he is recommending, but he wants me to be just as confident as well. The fact that he wants me to be so sure of it makes me trust him even more.

On Monday I will meet with my oncologist. I haven’t seen her since my last chemo treatment in June. We will very likely be discussing if /when I’ll need to take hormone blockers. And I have a lot of questions about current research to make sure this never returns. (I have a lot to say about that which will come in a future post).

My hair is growing in slowly… and wavy! This is a new look for me and I’m not loving it. But at least I’m healthy. I did a very brief PR piece for Akron Children’s last month with Holly Strano (from WKYC) which aired last week. Though my hair was shorter then, it was also less curly so it looked a little neater. It was a nice confidence boost in the middle of this- I may not look like myself but I’m thankful that manager and supervisor, Barb Kline, still thought enough of me to ask me to represent our department.

Getting ready for this amazingly sweet Christmas season. Hope everyone is enjoying it!