I Don’t Hide My Scars….Anymore

I’ve lived my whole life with scars.  Well…..since I was almost a year old, but since I have no memory of that time, I say my whole life.  I’ve told this story more since I went through the cancer thing because it was the time I really started embracing my scars and not caring what people thought. 

I was about 11 months old…..I don’t remember the exact date, obviously, but I was young. I was doing the baby walking thing…..holding on to surfaces to keep myself up, probably grabbing things off of those surfaces and making a mess.  I have 3 kids, I know I was probably the same!  My parents had boiled water for some reason…..I don’t know the reason, just that they did.  I bet you know where this is going……and yes.  I pulled that boiling water all over myself.  I can only imagine the flurry of panic in my house at that moment.  I’ve been told that they were able to get some cold water to my face, which prevented any scarring…..but other parts of me were not so lucky. I had a long recovery time, and spent my life with visible scars. 

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As a young kid, I didn’t care much about them.  As I was in school…..that’s when the fun started.  Being called Freddy Krueger….made fun of…..teased…..it was always.  And the constant stares.  When someone is talking to you and their eyes dart from your eyes to your scar.  I mean, come on people!  You think we can’t see you when you do that???? 

I started from an early age covering my scars and never letting anyone see them.  Even close friends.  It was too hard, and sometimes too much of a conversation I just didn’t want to have. 

When I was diagnosed with cancer and went through all the surgery and treatment, I added to my collection of scars and body issues.  I even had my wedding dress altered to create some kind of sleeve to cover it. 

But something happened over the years…..I started to care less.  Maybe it came with age and maturity, but I started to go out with tank tops.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it?  BUT IT WAS!!!!!  My arms were free! LOL! I covered myself all the time, there was freedom in revealing to the world what I’ve been through.  I started a slow process of accepting my scars, and even embracing them! I started buying things knowing my scars would be seen.  I’ve gotten a little better at ignoring the eye darting during conversations.  I’ve become so much better at just answering people’s questions about what happened.  Life has become a little more freeing….and it’s so much better.

They say that your scars show you what you have been through that didn’t kill you.  They are evidence of a life lived to it’s fullest and you are still here….showing the world you can’t be stopped.  It’s sad that I came to this realization so much later in life…..but it’s my hope that I can teach my girls to embrace what they go through to help make them stronger and ready to conquer the world. 

Life has been so much fun since I stopped caring. There is freedom in accepting what life has thrown at you and using it to help yourself grow and move forward.  That doesn’t mean I still don’t have  bad days, but overall, I’m happy!  I’m actually considering tattooing the scar on my shoulder to represent all the things I love in my life.  Not sure yet…..but know…..it’s in no way so that I can cover them up and make life easier.  Life became easier once I accepted and embraced that this is me……and it’s all good.

Katie 🙂

Memories….

I was inspired to write this post because of my Facebook memories.  I really love the feature, seeing all the posts over the years without having to search and scroll through endless posts.  This particular one I’ve done several times on the 4th of July, change my profile pic.  It’s an old picture, and I do it more often than not, just because of the theme.  Obviously it’s the picture with my post, but there is a story behind it…..of course!

This picture is from my first Relay for Life as a cancer fighter.  I was going through treatment at the time, and I had joined my oncology office’s relay team….Soles for Souls.  I loved my oncology team, they felt like family.  But this wasn’t my first Relay….it was my 2nd.  My first time was the year before.  My boyfriend at the time, now my husband,  and I were part of our church team.

I made the decision to join the team after meeting a new client to me.  I worked for the state DHS office, and this family came in because they needed extra help.  The mom/wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and they were needing more help than their insurance and finances could offer.  For some reason I was very drawn to this family.  I had a heart for many of my clients, but this family really got to me.  I helped them find all the resources they could use and talked often with them about her treatment progress and prognosis.  This was a case I had during my first year on the job, and I had not yet been hardened by the job.  I felt a special connection to the cause that year…..so I took part in the Relay.  Later that year, when I received my own diagnosis……I had the chance to meet with that same family for a routine review.  When I broke the news to them….we all cried together.  It was surreal that I had such a connection to this woman, and then was faced with the same battle.

That next year when I decided to fully participate in Relay….this beloved client had lost her battle.  I was devastated, heartbroken, and terrified.  She was the only client I attended a funeral for……and eventually I lost touch with her family as their needs changed.  I have always had a special place in my heart for her, and I wonder about her family often.

Seeing that picture makes me remember that time and how some people are placed in your life for a reason.  I don’t know if knowing her made me more aware of myself when I discovered my tumor?  Maybe I was more willing to see a doctor for it rather than ignore it because I was too young.  I’m not sure…..but I do know the profound impact she had on me and I’m forever grateful for that.  She was a kind person with a compassionate heart.  She comforted me in the beginning of my journey as hers was coming to an end.

That first year I walked in Relay during the survivor lap…..I didn’t walk alone.  I walked in her memory….and promised myself that I would always support those going through this horrible disease.  It’s an incredible feeling to have walked with so many people that survived cancer….and be with people all remembering those we have lost.

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Rest in peace J.

Katie.

Let’s Talk About It….

There have been two very public people who recently lost their lives to suicide.  And yes…..I said lost their lives.  They have made public a very real issue in our world, one that is still so hard for people to talk about openly.  There are so many misconceptions about suicide and mental illness.

I used to be that person.  The one who thought you just had to snap out of it, and you would be fine.  That taking your life was just a coward’s way out.  I thought all of this even after I had my own time of crisis my first year in college.

I truly thought if I snapped out of it and everyone else should be able to do the same thing.  Then life hit again…..and it got bad again, and I couldn’t just snap out of it.  I found myself falling in to myself…..deeper and deeper.  Life was crazy around me and it helped me fall further…..until I actually had to get help.  Mental illness runs in my family.  Depression, anxiety, and I’m sure other undiagnosed things.  I truly believed that you only had to change your attitude and you could be fine.  I also had people all around me telling me…..just count your blessings…..you are better off than most…….you are stronger than this.  Those are people who just don’t know and have never experienced it.  Or they are like me, and don’t know yet just how bad it can be.

Going through cancer and living with my new normal life after gave me a new perspective on life.  Life is complicated, difficult, heartbreaking, and just so damn hard.  And sometimes you just can’t help the way your mind works against you.  When I was going through therapy a few years ago, I told her about something I heard that made it all click for me.  Your brain is another organ in your body…..and just like your heart, or liver, or any other part of your body…..it can get sick.  And when you get sick…..you treat it.  Sometimes your mind truly plays against you.  It doesn’t mean you as a person is bad…..but your brain is sick and makes you think some terrible things.  Some people never get over what their brain is telling them and it becomes overwhelming.  And your brain will tell you that you don’t need help.  Overcoming those thoughts to get help is one of the hardest things……and I will never again look at someone to dies by suicide as weak or as a coward.  Something is wrong and they never got the help they truly needed.  This is controversial!  There are people who strongly believe they are cowards and selfish.  I used to be that person, even in the midst of my own personal trials.

You know when a person you love isn’t well.  You can tell they are different, changing, or in a bad way.  Sometimes you have to be the person they need…..the person who steps in and helps them realize they aren’t alone and they need some help.  Getting help isn’t a sign of weakness.  And getting help can literally be life or death.

NO ONE IS ALONE!!!!!!  Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help, ask for a listening ear, lean on those that are willing to be there.  We have seen recently just how deep those feelings can go, no matter how successful you are,  loved by the world you are, rich you are, or strong you think you are…….this hits everyone.

My heart breaks for those who didn’t realize it didn’t have to be so hopeless……but I also have a better understanding for those thoughts that are hard to fight.  Honestly…..I struggle daily with thoughts that creep in and I know what I need to do if they become to overwhelming or strong.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you feel lost, alone, and hopeless.  I may not have the perfect words or solutions…..but I’m a willing listener and supporter.

Katie.

Every Spring….

Every fall I find myself feeling the same way I did when I started chemo.  That nauseous feeling….just that general uneasiness that came with putting poison in your body.  Without fail….every fall…..I’ll have that feeling for a bit.  The same thing happens in the spring….but for a very different reason.  Every May I would find out I’m pregnant…..and morning sickness would come with it.  I have 3 beautiful daughters….so looking back it wasn’t so bad, but my 3 miracle daughters didn’t come easily….and the journey was also filled with heartbreak.  And it’s crazy….that I can actually show the timeline of my pregnancy journey with pictures from when I would go to relay for life.

I was given the go ahead to try for a family after my 5 year mark.  I wasn’t sure how it would go, there were no guarantees…..but we would try!  I had gone in to menopause during treatment, but seemed to come back to normal when it was done.

The first time I found out I was pregnant…..I can’t even describe the excitement we felt!  Like all our dreams were coming true and cancer hadn’t done anything to me!  We were beyond thrilled and even put together special ways to announce it to our families.  We were making plans, going over names, dreaming of the future.  It was just perfect.  But I should have known…..life had already shown me what happens when you think everything is perfect and nothing can go wrong.

I was extremely happy to tell my oncologist’s office….this was their victory too.  This was a big deal, and they were also so happy!  When I attended the Relay for Life that year…not only did I get to celebrate with all those people from the office, but hear my oncologist speak! He’s a brilliant man and he even made a little comment about me….of course didn’t mention my name….but it meant a lot.  The pic below is the moment I realized he was talking about me.

 

Sadly……that day…..I miscarried.  It was ironic that it happened that day…..and it was beyond devastating.  I figured I’d done something wrong….no matter what the books said…..I was sure I did this.  Why would something like that happen after all we had gone through?  It was so extremely unfair and heartbreaking.  I don’t know what our families did with the items we gave them to announce our good news….but thankfully I’ve never seen them again.  We actually tried again really soon, got pregnant, and miscarried again that same year.  Then I took time off.  It was so hard to prepare my heart for the possibility of losing another baby.

So we waited.  Until the year our first child would have been born.  Like I said….we never had any trouble getting pregnant.  It was keeping the pregnancy.  We found out that my progesterone was not staying high enough during the first trimester.  So they put me on a supplement.  A magic pill that “kept me pregnant”.  That’s how it felt, and let me tell you…..that is the only pill I’ve ever taken regularly and not missed a day.  It was hard to stop when they told me I was safe…..and I took them until they ran out.

So my third pregnancy….I was so scared to go to Relay.  It’s funny how you associate things or circumstances with what you have gone through.  The irrational part of my brain was sure that Relay was causing me to miscarry…..I KNOW THAT IS CRAZY!  But….you know how it is.  So yes….I was terrified and actually went to the bathroom every five seconds (it felt like) to make sure all was well.  This is us that year……along with my amazing oncologist and his also amazing wife…..the medical team that saved me and cheered me on!

 

And in February 2008 we welcomed our miracle baby to the world.  It was a journey that was so difficult, heartbreaking, devastating, and overwhelming.  I know that we are extremely blessed to have the outcome we did….not everyone is as fortunate.  img_2035

Getting to bring her to Relay the year she was born felt like a huge victory! Like laughing in the face of evil cancer……like….here she is.  We did it.  You didn’t steal this from me.  That survivor lap was the happiest one I’d taken since my first.

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We were blessed with 2 more daughters along the way, and even though our last was never part of our Relay life, (as we stopped attending), it was special to be able to bring our girls to the event and celebrate the entire journey and the way life has turned out.  I didn’t know if I would survive cancer.  I didn’t know if we could have kids.  I didn’t know if we would be able to have our own kids.

Everything we have gone through has shown us just how precious life is.  How blessed we are.  Every single day with these dorky crazy mini versions of us is just pure happiness!  We just celebrated Mother’s Day…..and admittedly I had to stop and cry when I typed that.  I’m so extremely blessed to be a mom….my girls are the most amazing and beautiful thing that I’ve ever had a part in creating…..and even though my journey to becoming a mom as so hard…..I can look back and say it was so worth it.

 

Katie 🙂

No Words….Just Tears…and Remembering

This is a post I’ve been thinking about since I started this blog.  I’ve started it, deleted it, started it again….and nothing ever sounds right.  And that is because the subject of this blog isn’t right…or fair…..and honestly just so heartbreaking.

Today is the 2 year anniversary of the day I lost my friend, mentor, and pink sister.  She was one of my heroes.  And I had something amazing written…..finally……and lost it all due to a computer glitch.  Maybe that was better…..to keep my words and just share what I was hoping to add.

I’m going to post the video we created for all the pink events.  This was the day I met Denise….and started a relationship, friendship, and partnership that I’m so extremely grateful for.

So here are my good memories of Denise…..even though today I will be reflecting on mostly the sadness…..I always want to remember the happiness.  She would want it that way.

Katie

 

Lymphedema Sucks

Anyone who’s had lymph nodes removed knows there is a chance you will develop lymphedema sometime in the future.  Not everyone does…but many do. I had 18 lymph nodes removed ,and 13 of them were positive for cancer. I’m not sure exactly when I noticed any changes, but it did happen to me.  The worst I remember was when I was pregnant with my first child….I remember just how swollen my arm and hand were.  I lovingly referred to it as my Popeye arm….it was awful.  You can see here just how bad it was….I felt like a monster.  Thankfully with the help of therapy, it got back down to a “normal” swollen state that I could live with.

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Over the years I’ve lived with my permanently swelled arm.  I’ve stretched out clothes, can’t wear most button up shirts (tight sleeves), can’t wear watches, and sadly….I can no longer wear my actual wedding ring.  I’ve resorted to buying various wedding rings at any location I can find and I wear them until they turn my finger green or fall apart.  It’s sad, but this is my life.

I don’t have many flare ups…..I have to take precautions with exercise, I shouldn’t be in hot tubs, and I should be wearing a sleeve to help prevent additional swelling.  That last one…..I’m not so good at.  Really bad at.  Like a toddler…..bad.

When I went through therapy I had to wrap it with all sorts of gauze and bandages every night at day.  It was HORRIBLE!!!  I hate feeling constricted and uncomfortable.  The sleeves make me feel that way too.  They get in my way….hold me back….irritate me.  I also really hate how medical they make me feel.  My insurance at the time covered some of a sleeve, but it was brown.  Medical sleeve brown.  Or beige.  It  doesn’t matter….I hated it, hated it being on, and hated being seen in it.  So I didn’t wear it.

Now…..I recently had shingles for the millionth time.  This particular time was really bad.  It usually hits my left arm and torso area that was affected by radiation and surgery.  The whole cancer area.  It was a terrible experience.  I had rash, fever, overdosed on ibuprofen….just a bad time.  It passed quicker than it does for most, which I’m truly thankful for, but I’m guessing this caused my latest flare up.  My arm got sooooooo swollen.  So did my hand.  Popeye was back 😦

My really amazing breast friend Jamie let me know she was in touch with LympheDivas….a wonderful company that offers sleeves, gauntlets, and gloves that are truly amazing looking!  Colorful designs, cool patterns, and special themes.  I’ve always loved them, but could never get my insurance to cover anything.  And honestly as time went on, I just gave up.  She was talking to them about blogging about their products.  She doesn’t have lymphedema….but she knows she is at risk and she needed something for an upcoming trip.  She mentioned to them that I do have active lymphedema and also have a trip coming up.  They contacted me and said they would do the same!  I was so excited….felt like I was shopping for prom looking at all the options!  We couldn’t wait to receive our special products….and even found out that we picked the same styles 😉

When they finally got here we did a little video!  She is used to doing them, I am not 🙂

I wore mine immediately! Every day….and of course it ticked me off, but I kept wearing it.  I got so many compliments on it from strangers….I actually didn’t feel so medical when I was out in public.  That was a HUGE thing for me….as open as I am about what I’ve gone through, I don’t like attracting attention because of it.

Last weekend we flew to Utah, as you saw on my previous post!  I was all geared up for it and fully prepared!  I wore my sleeve there and back, and even while I was there.

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Now…..I’m a person who expects instant results and miracles.  They don’t usually happen, but I do expect them.  I can say that since I’ve worn my sleeve and glove I have noticed my arm size reducing.  That is exciting….even if not instant.  I’m happy to be able to wear this in public and feel ok about it, which helps me wear it more often.  The sleeve is so soft too…..but it still does it’s job.

Lymphedema sucks.  It really really sucks.  There is no way around it.  I know my case isn’t as severe as others…..but it’s really difficult and just another reminder of how much cancer has changed my life.  Look at this!  Even leaning on a counter for a bit shows how much fluid I have in my arm…..

It looks grotesque!!!!  And this is something I deal with daily.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to be treated and not ignore any signs of lymphedema.  No….I am not a doctor, but I am someone who regrets ignoring it all these years and just hoping nothing bad would happen.  I should have taken more precaution and been a whole lot more proactive with my condition.

And I really love LympheDivas!!!!  It was so hard to pick which design I got for my first set….and I know I will be getting more.  Here is a link to their site!  LympheDivas

Check them out…..and also make sure you check with your insurance to see about any kind of coverage.  And thank you LympheDivas!!!!  You made me feel ok about being in public with my stupid Popeye arm!

Katie 🙂

Update!!!  I want to share some information that was passed along to me to make it easier to get a sleeve!!!

First, on the topic of insurance. If you  are unsure about getting coverage for the garments, LympheDivas does work with two specialized DME boutiques that will check benefits/process insurance for our garments for anyone in the US.
Luna Medical: http://www.lunamedical.com/products/elastic/lymphedivas/

Second is that they have a budget option for our garments, they are called 2nds, and they are medically effective garments with slight aesthetic imperfections like misprints in the patterns. In the last month they have purchased a new printer and can now get more vibrant colors, so they took their entire inventory of existing garments and put them into 2nds, just because they have a slightly less vibrant color to what they currently offer. So, if there is any interest, this is a great time to look at those options because all the garments are 50% off retail price:  https://lymphedivas.com/discount-seconds-1/

You Can….and So Can I

Why do we have so many people telling us we can’t do something?  Why are there so many negative people out there who seem hell-bent on stealing another person’s joy, dreams, and goals?  Jealousy?  Hate in their hearts?  I don’t know….but I’m so tired of it.

When I was told by a friend when I was younger that her parents thought I was immature because I laughed too much…..I kept laughing.

When I was told by a parent that I’d never amount to anything without them….well here I am.

When I heard whispers that I may not make it through chemo….I fought harder.

When people said I wouldn’t be able to work full-time and go through chemo treatments….I worked harder and not only passed probation, I excelled.

When I was told I shouldn’t try to have kids….I did and I have 3 beautiful daughters.

When I got my dream job and a person I trusted was behind me telling others I wouldn’t ever be successful…..I was.

And now I see so many people being told they can’t.  And it makes me angry.  Don’t let another person dictate what you do in life.  Keep going for it, don’t give up, and pursue your dreams.  This is your life, not their life.  If you give up on what you want, you will never know if you could have done it or not.  And if you give up, you are giving those people what they wanted….to see you fail.

Just a rant for a change….surround yourself with people who love and support you….and leave the others behind.  You don’t need them.  And is this a plug for praise….no….I have those people around me too and need support and reminders that I don’t need it either.

Katie 🙂