Laughter….through the crazy

Breast cancer, any cancer or major illness, is a serious thing.  It’s life and death….literally.  But there are some things that you have to be able to laugh through.  It’s the only way I can get through life.  So I’ve put together some of the funnier things I’ve gone through….specifically with my boob.  Even more specifically….the really real prosthesis that fills out the left cup of my bra.  Oh…..how many things can happen with a boob you can remove?  Here are some….and I must warn you.  This involves boob issues…..so you know….just be aware!

I have caught my lovely children playing with my boob.  Hot potato? Yep! Keep away? Of course! Pillow? Why not? They have also worn it….which is just disturbing to see, but also hilarious!

What is the strangest reason you’ve called in sick to work?  Was it a burst boob?  So anyone who has a breast prosthesis knows that they don’t last forever.  And you also know that they can be expensive and insurance isn’t always so generous.  So you wear those things as long as you can! But….they can fall apart.  Or come apart…and that happened to me.  Of course I used duct tape to fix it! The seem was coming apart and I fixed it.  And that lasted me a while….but not long enough.  So this particular morning I was getting ready and noticed my bra was completely soaked.  Of course I was rational and assumed that my breast was leaking and my cancer was back.  I called in to the doctor’s emergency line and relayed my awful situation.  They promised they would contact the doctor on call and they would get back to me.  So I sat and waited for the call….patiently…..and started inspecting my clothing and bra.  It was then I discovered that my “boob” had come untaped and started oozing it’s goo.  I felt so embarrassed.  I had to call back and explain to the poor girl on the emergency line the real issue….we laughed together.  Then I had to call my supervisor and let her know I would be super late to work as I had to fix this issue.  I really did tell her my boob burst and I would be late.  Thankfully we are friends and this has become a running joke.  She will still tell anyone it’s the strangest and most unique reason she’s ever received for a call in!  I would like to say I learned to not be so paranoid and jump to the worst conclusion…..but you will learn that I never learn those lessons 🙂 

Another issue some of us deal with is the special bras you need to wear with your fake boobs.  They have pockets to hold it in, but some of us go through periods of time where we do not want to wear them.  When you are used to your cute bras, it’s hard to deal with that reality.  Especially for anyone who is younger.  I went through this as well, and would buy any cute bra that I could that was cute and would fit my rather large prosthesis.  This worked….ok.  Sometimes I’d have mishaps…..like when I tried to do a cartwheel in my front yard and it fell out.  Or any other time I did something crazy and it almost fell out or I had to tuck it back in.  But there are two specific times I recall that are even better.  One involved a certain street dance and maybe a little bit of grownup drinking.  And a dare.  Any time it comes up that I’ve had breast cancer and I also have my removable boob, it becomes an interesting topic.  Having a great time with great people, and this comes up…..I at one point get dared to not only whip it out…..but slap someone in the face with it.  It’s not a scenario many people find themselves in…..and feeling a bit brave that night, I actually did it.  The look on his face was priceless, and of course we all laughed about it forever!

The next second instance was during one of my times at Bonnaroo! If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s basically an outdoor music festival in Tennessee.  There are people of all kinds, music of all kinds, and events of all kinds.  During one afternoon I was so excited to see the amazing Brandi Carlile.  I ended up heading that way by myself, which was fine.  We had rented an RV for the trip, so I was walking past all the other RVs on my way.  Up ahead I could see a very active group at an RV parked along the side.  This isn’t unusual, so I didn’t think much until I heard the group.  A guy with a megaphone yelling to all the girls passing by to “show us your boobs!”  Uh oh.  Surely….they would ignore me….as I was not all that young looking…ahem….or someone who you would think that get’s asked that question.  As I got closer I saw more of the group.  Early 20’s, good-looking guys and girls, getting all kinds of responses.  They had beads to pass out too.  I was getting nervous.  I had a cute sundress and was not wearing a pocketed bra.  I just wanted to pass by and get to my show.  But you know that’s not where this story is going….so of course I get there and get the megaphone to my ear, “show us your boobs!”  I panicked.  I said, well, they aren’t real.  Partly true, right?  So the cute little thing passing out the beads said, don’t worry, mine aren’t either!!  And that was it.  I ripped it out of my bra and held it up.  The looks on their faces was so worth it.  The poor guy didn’t know what he was asking 😉 He said…you weren’t lying! I was laughing so hard!  And I laughed all the way to the concert wearing my beads 🙂

I’ve learned to laugh during my life.  It would be so easy to let everything get to me and give in to the darkness…..but I choose to see the humor, find something to laugh about.  I don’t always, and I don’t make jokes out of inappropriate times….but I also couldn’t get through everything I’ve been through without keeping my sense of humor.  I was told once by a friend that her parents thought I was immature because I laughed all the time.  I look back on that and find it sad.  I’m thankful that in some of the hardest times…..I’ve been able face it because I can still laugh. 

Do you have anything similar to share? Feel free to comment! 

Katie 🙂

27 Years

This won’t be about my breast cancer journey, but it’s still a significant part of my life, and it’s on my mind today.  So I’m sharing.

27 years ago today, my baby sister passed away.  She was a couple of weeks from her first birthday, I was in 5th grade.  It was awful.  I had dreamed of having a sister….dreamed of all the amazing things we would do together as sisters…..and it was all snatched away on one horrible day.

I remember the day vividly.  I remember that it was a half day, that my mom picked me up from school and broke the news, that we got to ride around in the pastor’s GTO, that we had to pick up my brother next, that I was fine until I went next door to tell my neighbors, that my mom still had to wait to tell my dad, that all my relatives started showing up, that my sister was gone.  Just like that…..just gone.

I grew up envious of all my friends that had sisters.  I watched their relationships, their friendships.  I was so envious.  It wasn’t fair……just so unfair.

And now here we are…..27 years later.  We didn’t have any of what I had dreamed.  I can barely remember what she looked like without the help of pictures.  I definitely don’t remember what she sounded like.  Her death affected me more than I knew.  I can’t wear lipstick without remembering how she looked at her funeral…so made up.  It bothers me.  I was so scared when each of my girls hit that age…..every little cough, sneeze, anything…..I was rushing them to the doctor.  I also take soooooo many pictures.  I remember my mom frantically looking through every picture we had to find any of her….and how few we had.  I may go overboard, but I know it’s because I’m so afraid I just won’t have enough.

But I was also so blessed!!!  I had a few short months of absolute bliss!  I remember how proud I was to have a sister.  How much I loved to show her off.  I remember when she started walking!  And I have a great appreciation for my girls…..and seeing them grow up together.  I was so happy to have a houseful of girls.  It’s almost like I’m getting some of what I lost.

Every year at this time I think deeply about her.  What could have been.  What happened that day.  What happened leading up to that day.  Obviously nothing can be changed, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about it.  It will happen again in a couple of weeks on what would have been her birthday.  It’s a hard time of year, as anyone knows, those anniversaries are just so hard.

I will share some of my favorite pictures of my sister.  I’m so grateful to have them….even if they are a few!

Miss you always Becky!

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Don’t Forget About Us

Don’t forget that life goes on after October for all women and men affected by breast cancer!

When I was in the 5th grade, my sister passed away.  It was a couple of months before her 1st birthday.  November 9.  I will always remember that day, and the days following.  Our home became a meeting place for all family and friends giving us support.  They brought meals, comfort, advice, anything they could to help us in our time of need.  The days after her death, and leading up to her funeral, we were surrounded by people.  All the time.  It was comforting and felt safe.  With all these people around, we had moments of distraction we so desperately needed.  There were moments of hope…..that life could be ok even though our hearts were broken.  The funeral happened, the church provided a space for lunch, and we had a community of people showing us love.  Then it was over.  Everyone went about their lives.  Their few days of grieving was over, and the moved back in to their normal lives.  But our lives were still completely changed and devastated….and now we were alone.  Those days, weeks, months, and even years after a loss like that can be filled with such horrible times….and most people know that once the initial shock has worn off, most everyone else will just move on.  It’s not like they don’t care, but their lives are not as deeply affected by your loss.  They still have their jobs, kids, obligations, and lives. They don’t mean to be distant…..but it’s not their loss.

Today is the last day of breast cancer awareness month. People wore their pink, had their events, and showed the world they cared about those going through breast cancer.  Breast cancer survivors and fighters felt the attention.  The constant support, daily reminders of how much everyone cared.  Why don’t more women get the tests they need? Why don’t more charities help pay for bills, transportation, or basic needs?  They raised their voices, got all excited about their cause, and then……November 1 hits and it’s all over.  They don’t mean to move on.  It’s not like they don’t care.  But the reality of breast cancer isn’t something they are personally affected by, and they have other causes to support.  Guess what?  Someone going through breast cancer doesn’t magically stop going through it at the end of October.  I was diagnosed in August and ended treatment the next June.  October was just one month during my treatment time…..and one month out of the year.  I deal daily with the effects of what breast cancer did to me.  It doesn’t go away tomorrow.

My point…..really, I have one…..is don’t forget about us.  Or all the people affected every day by any disease or situation.  Every month brings a new thing to be aware of…..but every person lives with those things every single day.  We still need help.  Funding for research.  Awareness.  It’s easy to be sucked in to the excitement of a cause…..but don’t forget those people dealing with it every day.  Offer to help someone.  Make a meal. Walk a dog.  Help clean or run errands.  Donate to research.  Be a listening ear.  Just don’t forget that we go on after October….

In Sickness and In Health….Before I Do

This is my story, the beginning.

I started sharing my story a while ago….and I still have the copies of what I had written.  I’m going to share these now….as it was only a couple years after I was diagnosed and went through treatment, so the feelings and memories are fresh.  I’ve told my story so many times….but it’s not the same as when so much time hadn’t passed. Which is GREAT….but you know 🙂

So here it goes…..

Just a little pre-story leading up to when this all started. Adam and I had been together about a year and half, and I’d landed quite the awesome job for the state of Michigan, with the Department of Human Services. Things were going great! The relationship was very serious, and I just knew it would lead to marriage. I was picking up my job pretty quickly, and loved going to work everyday. After being there a few months, I had started to gain weight from my loss of activity in retail, and from my “sittin on my bum all day” in an office setting. I didn’t like the new tummy I had, but for the first time, I had some bigger boobs…haha. It was nice going from almost flat to having a bit of cleavage!!

Well, it all started in August of 2003. My dear sweety went to Maine for the weekend with some friends for a great Phish concert, and I was left alone with our dog, Lincoln. He does make good company! He left sometime during the day, and I had to work, so I had the house to myself that night. I probably stayed up late watching tv, and finally decided to crash. I brought trusty Lincoln with me, defender of the house, and the one who always protects me from scary noises in the home when Adam is gone:) I’ll never be able to explain why I did what I did while lying in bed that night, but for some reason I had an itch. So I itched it. And there it was. A lump. Now of course I was rational about it, and calmly called Adam to tell him of my find. And if you know me at all, you know what a hypochondriac I am, and know that I called Adam already hysterical, and was SURE I was dying any minute!! This was no ordinary lump. I could already tell. A good woman knows how her breasts feel….haha:)

Adam calms me down, and suggests that I make an appointment. Not to go to the ER, but set up an appointment Monday morning. So I was alone all weekend with my fear of dying any minute. Monday at work, I of course told some of my co-workers my fears, and they all assured me that I was waaaayyy to young for something like this, and more than likely, it was a cyst or something that would go away on it’s own. Don’t worry. But go to the doctor. So I called, and got something set up.

Now, just to be truthful, I have copies of my medical records, I’m not really this smart with the dates. After suffering from chemo brain, my mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be….although I can still remember quite a bit:)

On 8/13/03, I went to my gyno’s office to have my little exam. A Dr. Jyung, (not my regular gyno) did the exam. After reassuring me that there was no way I could have breast cancer, and almost dismissing me, he finally referred me to surgeon to have the lump removed. Just to be safe. And that was it. So I set up that appointment. Dr. Hastings is a great man. Smart, and pretty up front. I saw him 8/19/03, and he decided to biopsy the lump before removing it. He wanted to make absolutely sure I was ok. I felt better about him. I still have issues with Dr. Jyung.

So then I had to wait for two days to get results. I left work, with all the encouragement and supportive friends there, telling me I’d be just fine. For some reason, I didn’t believe them. The entire time this was going on, I just had that feeling. It’s hard to explain, and I tried to remain positive for everyone else, but I never honestly believed that anything would be the same.

I saw Dr. Hastings again on 8/21/03, with Adam there. That’s when he told me. I was sitting on the exam table, and Adam was behind me in the corner, on my left. Dr. Hastings sits in front of us, and rather bluntly tells us it is cancer that we are dealing with. Talk about shock! An unusually quiet Katie sat there dumbfounded for a bit, while Dr. Hastings rambled on about something….probably different treatments. Not sure. I asked him for a tissue, cried for a second. Then I heard him talking about surgery and all the fun with that. Then I had my first comment about the whole thing. “You know, I never thought I’d really have a boob job in my life”

You could have pushed the good doc over with a feather. I thought it was funny.

I met Dr. Lester and his wife Audrey that day too. My oncologist and his head nurse. It was a brief meeting, just to meet and get things going.

I called a co-worker and let her know I was full of cancer and not coming back to work that day. She let my boss know. I don’t think I could have told him that myself. Then I called my mom. I was as blunt as Dr. Hastings, “I have cancer”. She laughed, thought I was joking, then when she realized I was serious, started crying. I tried to comfort her. Then Adam and I ate at Nickelsons. It was a great lunch. I was starved. By the way, it isn’t called Nickelsons anymore. Oh well.

So many things happened all at once! The next few days and weeks where such a blur…..there were tests, and more tests, and more tests. Lots of needles, and machines that made loud noises, and even more needles. I felt like a nude model because of how many times I’d enter a doctor’s office, and just throw off my top. My poor boobies never got so much action, haha:) At one point, there I was, lying on a table with my sick boob and my unsick boob all exposed, and there were 3, yes 3 male doctors in the room just looking and making comments. Not to mention that Adam was there, and the female nurse that was running the ultrasound machine. I should have charged for all the times I flashed those babies! Haha.

There was another major thing that happened in all of this craziness:) The Saturday after the diagnosis, and after we met with the oncologist for our first of many big meetings, we made it to Adam’s company picnic. He worked for a very stingy company, but these picnics were great for the drawings. There were a lot of little prizes, but 2 or 3 main huge prizes. We got there right before it started it, got our tickets in, and sat down. Adam was the 2nd one called up. And what did we win????????????? A free romantic weekend get away. I think that is just what the dr. ordered……well, that would have been a nice alternative to what the doctors were really ordering….but it was a great prize!

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So during all this stupid medical stuff, we found a time to go have a weekend to ourselves. The trip included a stay at the Park Inn, free dinner at the Pump House Grille, complimentary champagne, free in house movie, and a free breakfast at the Fireside.

We went the last weekend in August, the 31st actually. It was a nice room, and we sipped some champagne in paper cups, went swimming, and then got ready for our big night out. As I was getting ready, Adam interrupted me, and told me that my attire was not complete. I was ticked…..I was going as fast as I could to get ready. He said it again, and I finally looked at him…..he had that look in his eye. All I could think was…..oh no, oh no, oh no……I’d been waiting for this for EVER! And yes, he got down on one knee and proposed! It was great! I was almost speechless…..screaming doesn’t really count as talking! I of course said yes, and we enjoyed our dinner out as a newly engaged couple. The ring was so beautiful, and sparkly:) I actually knew our waitress…..from my days of hanging out with all the Andrews Univ. people. Timea is her name….I hope I spelled it right…, anyways, she was very excited, actually the first person to find out, and she snapped a great picture of us that night:)

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of course the next day, we got engagement pics done. Since I was going to be having surgery very soon, and I also was going to be cutting my hair to prepare for the chemo, this was very important to me.

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That Wednesday….September 3 I had my surgery. I was terrified. I’d never had surgery before, and never even been knocked out for the dentist. They got me all prepared, and then it was time. The had already given me the knock out combo….haha…the drugs, and I panicked. They hadn’t even asked me to start counting back from10. So I said something as they were wheeling me away…..and they told me, ok, start counting back from 10. That’s all I remember. I didn’t even get to do the stupid count down! Anyways…I guess everything went ok. They removed a lot of my poor left boob, a partial mastectomy. They removed I believe 3 tumors, the largest was 4 cm, and also 18 of my lymph nodes. Come to find out, 13 of those were cancerous. They also put in my double port….which is how they would be hooking me up for chemo, so my veins wouldn’t be ruined. I didn’t handle the anesthesia very well. I ended up having to stay the night.

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I was off work all that next week. It was nice being home, but recouping was horrible. I had this bag attached where my lymph nodes were, that would catch all the extra fluid that normally would have been taken care of. Adam had to document how much was in the bag. It was pretty nasty

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It was quite a few days before I felt brave enough to take a shower. When I finally did…..it was like heaven! Then I had to get back to work…..and wait for the go ahead for them to start the radiation and chemo.

And next up will be the adventures of chemo!  Yes!!

~That is where I stopped.  I never kept up the writing….so no adventures in chemo……but I will share what I know later 🙂

 

My New Normal

My New Normal

Click on this link to see one of my first speeches I did for a celebration of cancer survivors.  This was the start of a crazy journey for me, but an amazing one 🙂  I talked about life after cancer…..since life is forever changed by cancer.  Sometimes you don’t realize that you are not alone in that…..I had so many people talk to me after this speech about how grateful the were to know they were not the only ones 🙂

Katie 🙂

Pink Ribbon

I have a pink ribbon on my front door.  It’s been there for a long time, and I don’t think much of it.  I’ve had pink ribbon magnets on my car, pink ribbon stickers all over my house, pink ribbon tattoos on my body…..you get the picture.  I have 3 daughters who love all things pink and sparkly.  They have caught on to the pink ribbon craze, and will often point them out to me.  It was always so cute and made my heart swell a little….that they recognized it and the significance to me.  It was something small that they understood about my past and life I live now.  Then, one of them saw the ribbon on the door and proudly exclaimed….Look mom! Now everyone knows we have cancer!

I laughed…..and tried to explain as much as I could to her little kid brain what it was for….but it confused me as I told her.  I love my pink ribbons and I love what it can represent, but the pink ribbon isn’t cancer.  No ribbon is cancer, or mental illness, or diabetes, or domestic violence, or whatever else in this world they have ribbons representing.  I think people forget there are real people behind those ribbons. So when my daughter made that statement, I couldn’t help but feel like she got it….even though she really didn’t. 

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I am so much more than that pink ribbon.  I fought like hell to be here today. I have scars. I have to wear a fake boob.  I have mental issues.  I’m extremely proud that I’m here today, but I also have guilt that so many have lost their battle.  Friends and family are so proud as well.  They wear pink ribbons, buy you things with pink ribbons on them.  I wear them with pride.  I know I’m more than that, but sometimes it gets lost on other people.  I will always be thankful for the pink things I receive from people.  They are happy I’m here too…..and that means the world!

I will never make anyone feel bad for sporting those pink ribbons.  Or any color ribbon. I wear mine with pride. Sometimes it is the small things we can do to show support, show we care, show we remember.  Be careful not to lose site of the real reason the pink ribbon is out there….for those lost and those fighting for their lives.  My daughters will know that…..but for now….I appreciate they want to support me no matter what!

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Katie 🙂

Pink

It’s October again, and anyone who knows anything about breast cancer knows it’s Pinktober.  This comes with many emotions for different people.  Pride, anger, sadness…..it’s not the same for each person. For me though, it’s all of them.

I’m a girl who always hated pink. I wasn’t girly, hated sparkles, and was perfectly happy with my not pink stuff.  I had no pink.  When I was diagnosed, I thought….really?  The pink one? Sigh…..you will find as I share more just how crazy I am.  I really did think that. Of course I had no idea what was in store for me as I entered the whirlwind of cancer diagnosis, so my thought process was a little naive. I really had no idea about any of it. The tests I’d need done, the information they would be giving me, the choices I had. All I knew was I had the pink one and my boob was going to get cut off.  At 24, did I really need to know about any of it? Yes.  Yes I did. I should have known, but didn’t.  I should have known to start getting to know my body.  I should have known my risks.  I should have known my options. I didn’t know any of it. Not all of it was my fault. Who thinks a 24 year old would get breast cancer? Not my doctor, that’s for sure. He told me not to worry about any of it, but I was still worried.  Thankfully I was, as he referred me to a surgeon to check on to my issue….all the while assuring me I had nothing to worry about.   My surgeon diagnosed me. I introduced me to my oncologist the same day. I didn’t even know what an oncologist was. My life changed in that moment, and I was introduced to a world I didn’t ever want to be in.

As we are full swing in to breast cancer awareness month, I felt a need to talk about what that should mean. It used to mean actually making people talk about it, many years ago you just didn’t.  And women needed to.  They needed to go get tested, talk about their family history, and be aware of their own bodies. They weren’t doing any of that and it meant they were diagnosed late stage and it was too late.  Years and years later….most people know what it is. They have the pink out games, the pink shirts, pink coffee, pink everything….it’s everywhere.  If you haven’t heard the term “pink washing”, that’s what it means. Pink ribbons everywhere, and everyone selling something pink.  Most places will give a portion of what they are selling to some charity.  Often it’s not legit, just a way to get all the pink supporters in to their stores. So awareness…..what is should be….needs to change.  People do know it exists and they are willing to talk about it…..but many people still don’t know the basics…..family history, their own risks, and the testing they need. Awareness needs to be about education.  It’s not enough to wear a pink t-shirt and say I support the boobies.  Save the ta-tas! Save second base!  Usually when a women, or man, is diagnosed with breast cancer, they lose their breast.  So those are cute statements that get your attention….but to someone who has fought, or is fighting for their life…..it’s kind of a slap in the face.

Breast cancer is horrible. You are cut up, poked, tested, touched, talked about, filled with poison, radiated, sick, and so tired. Many times you want to give up. Many times you feel angry. Many times you feel alone.  It’s not fun, pretty, sparkly, or pink.  People are dying….nothing about that is fun.

All that said though….pink to me also means survivor. Friends and family showed their support with every pink thing they gave me, or wore in my honor.  I can’t help but feel like the color also represents my strength.  I’ve been with groups of breast cancer survivors all wearing pink and it feels powerful.  We are strong women who fought with everything we had.  Surviving cancer is no easy thing, and we all celebrate the life we still have.  And I also see pink as a way to honor those we lost.  There is a feeling of solidarity in the color pink amongst those who have been through bc.

My feelings are conflicted….and I think it’s that way for many of us.  There is nothing wrong with supporting and celebrating the person in your life affected by breast cancer. I think what we really want people to know, especially during the month of October, is that we are so much more than the flashy pink things you see.  We are real people who really went through hell.  We are angry that there isn’t a cure.  We live with what cancer did to us the rest of our lives. I can cover it with pink…..but underneath is reality.

My feelings are my own, and I welcome anyone to share their thoughts and experiences with me!  Also, forgive me if I’m rambly! I’m working on getting my brain working again!

Katie 🙂