Saturday, August 10, 2013

Breast feeding week is over

  And I'm happy about it.  Don't get me wrong. I'm all about breast feeding, but I'm just a little bummed out.  I wish that I could still breast feed because it was what I wanted to do.  I would've done anything I could if she didn't latch or if I had IGT or I had thrush or whatever the problem would have been, but it was breast cancer.
 My breasts, they had to go. As the tears well up in my eyes, I know that there was no choice.  It still hurts, though.  Especially when I see breast feeding meme's or questions, or practically anything on breast feeding, a little dagger stabs my heart.  I wanted to be one of those extended breast feeders where my daughter lifted my shirt and fed at will, but no.  There were other plans for me - a bilateral mastectomy, infection, many surgeries from problems with reconstruction, chemotherapy, and being the recipient of many thousands of ounces of liquid gold. 
 We are blessed.  I feel like I shouldn't be upset because so many people reached out to help.  Despite my ailment, my daughter was exclusively fed breast milk.  Countless moms out there wanted to feed my kid and they did.   I'm healthy now.  My baby is healthy too despite the loss of my breasts when she was 5 months. 
  Thank you to the many amazing milk donors.  To the women who selflessly pumped into bags for my daughter, who met me in parking lots to exchange something so personal to them.  Thank you to the moms who even brought it directly to me, packed in ice with their little ones in the cars sleeping.  Thank you to the couriers, the women who baked lactational cookies for other women who were pumping because they couldn't pump or weren't lactating.  We didn't have to formula feed, not once.  Words cannot fully express the gratitude I feel in my heart for all of you.
  Honestly many people just wanted to do so much for my whole family. They wanted to feed us all.  We were sent endless donations of grocery store gift cards and money to help with our bills because I was unable to work.  People brought us their home cooked food.  They helped me watch my kids, cleaned my house, sent me books cards, Reiki, did EFT with me, prayed and listened when I needed some comfort.  They brought my kids Christmas presents so we had some to put under the tree.  We didn't lose our apartment because of the help.  We made it through.

  I'm still amazed thinking about it the kind faces flashing through my mind as I reminisce of last year.   I was shown the hands of God through human kindness and compassion.  It truly kept me afloat.  I felt so loved.  I still do. 

  Tonight is the night.  We are giving her the last bottle of breast milk.  She almost made it to 20 months, about 4 days shy of it.  I could get more, but it's ok.  Joslyn is extremely healthy and tall for her age.  She had the milk almost as long as my son did when I had breasts to make it, and that's a miracle.  There are lots of other babies who need the milk out there more than my sweet little toddler does.  It's really an amazing story from my perspective.  Perhaps from yours it's quite intriguing as well.  It's a beautiful story that arose from a horrible tragedy, and it has a happy ending.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The new girls

The last surgery was on June 14. My surgeon swapped out the tissue expanders for Silcone Memory gel shaped implants. They're supposed to be more natural looking then other options.  They've been in the US for a year and Europe for about 10.  i chose those ones over the saline becayse they look way more natural.  It's not the same as just getting a normal boob job.  You have nearly zero tissue left there so all you see is the implant.  Saline are very rippled and so are some silicone ones.  Memory gel are better and this textured, memory gel silicone memory gel shaped ones are the best out now. I hope when I get them replaced in 10-15 years, they have even better ones.  My doctor went for an oval shape with medium projection.  They're not the real thing, but hey they're pretty awesome and way better than nothing.  I had one fake boob for awhile and nothing on the other side.  I've practically had it all- none, itty bitty, large, extra large...  Now I have a perfect set of Tatas with clothes on anyway.  

Healing went well. He used vertical incisions, which kind of threw me for a loop, especially since he cut into my tattoos. I was pretty keen on NOT cutting into them and saving what I had there to feel pretty since my nipples are gone. We briefly discussed some nipple reconstruction details, but I'd have to get more surgeries and tattoo removal since he said that nipple recon was sort of like "skin origami". So if I went that route, I'd have to get my chest tattoos lasered then covered up with something else. It sounds pretty expensive to me. Insurance has to cover the charge of breast and nipple reconstruction for breast cancer patients for life by law, but tattoo removal wouldn't be covered nor would the new tattooing. Decisions, decisions. Although the nipples are purely aesthetic, I yearn to have a normal looking chest again. 

That's all cosmetic stuff, which isn't too important to me. As long as the cancer doesn't come back, I'm good!  Heck even if it does come back, I'll fight like a warrior again.  But its not coming back!

 Despite the lingering effects of chemo, I continue on with my life.  Oh wait you didn't know that there were lingering effects?  Well the toxins can still be in my body for up to a year.  Chemo causes brain damage.   I have short term memory loss.  I screw up my schedule.  I can't remember words.  Instantly a thought will come, and it slips my mind.  My once straight and silky hair has come back as curly as a poodles.  I hope that it will come back as beautiful as it once was or I can learn to manage it.  It's also not coming in as fast in the front so I have a mullet starting to grow.  But hey.....  Those are little things, and the little things don't matter.....  Remember, it's all little.  

   Letting go of the past and things that we cannot change has been my mission. That's a difficult task for me especially since I had such a traumatic childhood. The memories haunt me as an adult. In fact,  scientists are linking the Triple Negative Breast Cancer to social stress and especially childhood trauma. I'm working on stopping negative cycles, thinking and anger. Let's see how it goes once I'm finally off of the antidepressant that also worked to stop hot flashes from amenopause from chemo. Cancer can be depressing!  I'll hopefully be done weaning at the end of the month.  Watch out world, here I come. 

Life is good. Things are more normal here.  They're a new normal.  Yet I try not to let anything bother me.  Even though it still does, but I'm working on that too.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

The new normal

It's odd how going through complete hell can shift ones perspective completely. I can't stress enough how important it is to care for yourself and reverse depression before disease manifests like it did in me. Fill your cup first before you fill the cups of others.
Negativity and stress are the worst things for a human beings health. I spent many years dwelling on the past and worrying about so called problems when I could've been enjoying life. After going through having cancer, diagnosis, and treatment, I can't stress how important it is to enjoy life while you have your health. Count your blessings on what really matters. It's not the house, the car, thw diamonds, the clothes, your pocketbook or bank account that will make you happy. It's the friendships, the love, the fun, and family around you.
After months of being underwater, I came up for air during my last chemo. I was put under water again just two days after the last infusion, but I've come back up on top and hoping that I'll stay here for awhile.
How trivial it might sound, but I posess a deeper appreciation of the simple, meaningful things in life. Worrying is a waste of time when there is so much that I can enjoy in the now. Love, caring, happiness, creating art, laughter, sharing and helping others is what matters to me. The veil is lifted, and I experience all of those things day to day. Don't get me wrong. I'm not living a perfect life, but the moments of despair are fleeting these days.
I've lived such a full life. I've traveled and met so many interesting people. I've pursued a career which has been my passion for the past 17 years. Next year around this time, will mark an anniversary of 18 years of tattooing. That will be half of my life. I'm hoping to tattoo at least another 18 years or more.
Being a mother has also changed my focus. My life revolves around my two little ones. I rarely go out without them, but it's worth it. Although sometimes I can't wait to go to work. I see it as a healthy break from them. Seeing them grow and learn has always caused me great joy. I hope that I can instill in their kinds how important it is to seek happiness and love themselves first and foremost.
Now almost a half of a year from my last chemo, my cancerversary is almost around the corner. My last reconstruction surgery for the final implants is June 14. I can wait to see my new chest. I see my oncologist in August for a check up. I think I'll see him every 6 months. Then every year. Then never again.
People tell you that there will be a new normal after cancer. There is. That new normal for me is a much happier and grateful place. Going through the trauma last year, I could still be grateful. It's just different now.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Triple negative

If you didn't know, 3/3/13 was Triple negative breast cancer day. That was the type of cancer in my right mammary. The bad ass kind. The kind they know nothing about, but they're doing more and more
research. Despite my effort not to think about it, it consumes my brain throughout the day regardless if the day commemorates it or not.

Let me tell you what I think about cancer throughout the day every single day. Mostly I think, "fuck you cancer!" Sometimes "why me?" I wonder how I got it in the first place- karma, the environment, smoking, alcohol, sweets, sexual behavior, negative thinking, aspartame, Splenda, salt, drugs, new car smell, vaccinations, BPA, not being breast fed, dairy, too much meat eating, MSG, carcinogens at work, getting tattooed, subpar drinking water, living in NJ, cell phone usage and on and on. I don't know why I keep revisiting those thoughts, but it's tough not to.

The reality is there isn't an answer for that except it isn't genetic. Tests proved that. I'm just the unlucky one that had the displeasure of joining a club that no one wants to join. The cancer club.

Perhaps when my hair grows back a bit more and I finish reconstruction, things will be different. I can't wait to have a new normal beyond chemo and reconstruction. I never thought much of cancer until 6/6/12 when the dr spoke those words on the phone to me. "Tegan... I have bad news. You have breast cancer. " The day that I don't think about cancer once, will be a joyous day. With that being said, it may never happen. Cancer touches everyone and will soon beat out heart disease as the number one killer in the United States.

Before the diagnosis, thoughts of mortality rarely traveled through my mind. I never thought that my own death bothered me, but now I was scared as hell since I have kids. The reality has set in. Wow... Some day I really will die.

Hence a different perspective has shifted. Music sounds better. The sky is more blue. The simple things are highly appreciated. I cherish moments even more with people I love. Happy is happier. The gratitude I feel for every blessing in life is bigger and comes from a greater depth in my heart. I've always been emotional and introspective, and now that's heightened.

As we get closer to my next surgery on Friday, March 8, the nervousness creeps in. The anxiety of anestethia for the fifth time in less than a year isn't extremely appealing. The impending discomfort is unnerving. Yet it's a step closer to putting closure on this chapter in my life.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Waiting sucks

Anxiety has been difficult to control since the past few days or so. It crept back up on me since I failed the last presurgical blood test for low white blood cell count last week. It was somewhat of a surprise, although I was getting over the stomach flu when I got it done. So I'm stressed out over it. I just want the reconstruction to be overwith. It's already been a long process, and this would be the final surgery if everything had gone as planned.

I keep hearing that recon can be a bitch. I know it first hand, but if it doesn't work this time I might go without it. I just want to live my life. I want to ski, snowboard, ride my bike, run, climb, do yoga and high impact exercise. I wan to throw my kids around. Because I have a temporary expander, I'm limited to what I can do. Movement has to be low impact, and I can barely use my chest muscles. There's also a heavy lifting restriction which I break often.

Yesterday I retook the test. If they're good, March 8 another expander will be put in. If not, we have to reschedule the surgery. The latter would suck, but I won't go too far ahead of myself. The phone call should be coming within a couple of hours.

(Yeah that's Joslyn wearing my wig.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Life after treatment

It's a month and a half out from my last chemo. I feel amazing. Hair is growing fast. My nails are getting stronger, and the black line in the middle of my thumb is beginning to grow out. My chemo brain is starting to go away, but there are still moments where I completely forget what I was going to do. I think people do this all of the time anyway.

The main focus of life without cancer is maintaining health. To help prevent the cancer it from coming back, I have to be a good girl. This means living stress free, exercising regularly, having a plant based diet, and no more than one drink a day.

And no... I can't save the drinks up like I'd hoped... More than one drink a day increases your risk of recurrence. Being alive is better than an alcoholic buzz.

I continue to see the Integrative Medicine doctor and take an arsenal of supplements. I'll be seeing my oncologist next week for a post chemo follow up. I'll also be getting presurgical testing next week in preparation for surgery on March 8.

I've been working out with a trainer. She wants tattoos, and I want to get into shape. It's a match made in barter heaven. There are limitations since I have an expander in. I can't do anything strenuous on the chest, and cardio is limited to low impact exercises. Despite that, it's still working. I can barely walk up and down the stairs today. She kicked my ass yesterday.

My diet has changed from the see-food diet to plant based again. I've been slowly switching over since treatment finished. I enjoy cooking so veganism is fun for me. It's a challenge when you want something in a pinch, though. My goal is 80%. If I do 100% then I exceed my expectations. So far so good, though.

People often ask me about when I get my scan to see if I'm clear. Well they don't do it. The drs are confident that they got it all with surgery. They think that the chemo would've shrunk any microscopic pieces that they didn't pick up from the initial scans. If they found something, which there are often benign things that come up from scans, there would be biopsies and lots of stress. Stress is bad. I'm embracing the art of living in the moment and letting go.

I try to think positive and have faith that it IS gone. I've been pretty happy. I love my job, kids, friends, hobbies, laughing, eating, and playing. I love living, and life is grand after going through a year of constant turmoil. The bar has certainly been lowered in a good way. I can appreciate the little things.

Friday, January 4, 2013

True colors

It's been way too long. I got an email that a friend of a friend who was concerned because I hadn't posted recently. I'm A ok despite some personal issues unrelated to my health. Back by popular demand, Tales of a Tattoo Mom continues.

The last chemo treatment was infused on Christmas Eve. It didn't matter to be there on a holiday. I just wanted it done. The nurse had no luck with my left arm and because it was my last chemo and I didn't have nodes removed, she put it in a vein in my right hand. The left arm is toasted from the injections. I looked like a junkie, all bruised with veins creeping away from the skin. They were done and so was I.

Santa really came to our house this year. The kids loved their presents. Thank you all. We really only had a few things from hard sales bought. You made it great! Bless you, Santa's!!

I was so excited New Years to start my new 'normal' life. Of course something happened right after Christmas that put an axe in my heart. I'm moving on from it, although I have some anger every now and then. I'm hurt. Why me? Blah blah blah. But I'm better than that crap, which I won't be airing so you'll never know. It's classic though. Real classy too.

I'm moving on because there is a lot of great things about my life. Despite having cancer, having to stop nursing my baby,
losing my breasts, getting an infection, losing an expander, losing my hair, and being sick and in pain from chemo all of the time, I love my life. My kids are fantastic. My friends and family members have been supportive. Strangers have stepped out of the wood work. Because of the village of helpers, here we are. We didn't lose everything even though I couldn't work. Wow, right?! I'm still in shock.

While there has been a huge outreach, more than I could ever imagine, there's a flip side to that. Where I thought I might have more support or even asked for support from specific people, there has been utter disappointment. Through the crisis, people have shown their true colors to me. A veil has lifted. With that being said, I'm sad about that. However life must go on.

My new 'normal' is happening now. I'm stoked that I'm working two days a week. That seems reasonable to me. I still need to heal and take care of myself and my kids. This aggressive chemo has wracked some havoc on my body. I'm continuing to take supplements and trying to get back on the healthful eating track. Now that I feel good, it's not foods job to do. It's my own. Exercise here we come. Balancing everything is my goal.

There are two more reconstruction surgeries left until I can feel completely "normal" again. The left expander must be put back in. I met with another surgeon who will be taking over the recon job. Then I'll be pumped up to desired size via saline injections to a size bigger, and then swapped out for permanent implants. Then I'm officially done. Until then, I'm counting my blessings..