How did you find your lump and where was it?
Grace: I felt mine in the shower. It was on my left breast nearest my armpit.
Faith: My doctor found mine during my annual ob-gyn appointment.
Hope: I didn’t have a lump. The first cancer was found during my annual mammogram. The second cancer was found a year after the initial diagnosis with the MRI. The mammogram was normal, but the MRI showed changes from the year before.
What did the lump feel like?
Grace: Like a little hard bb. It was as small as a pea. I actually could move it all around and could not stop touching it and trying to figure out what it was. Everyone told me because it moved around like it did, it most probably was not cancer.
Faith: The mass alternated between being rock hard in the middle and squishy all around the sides and was the size of a walnut. The hard part of the lump hurt when felt and the squishy areas ached. The skin even hurt after too much palpitation. I even had a friend who was in the medical field tell me it couldn’t be cancer because cancer didn’t hurt to touch it.
How did you tell your family and friends you had cancer?
Grace: Since I received the diagnosis call at work, my co-worker friends knew what was going on and called my husband while I was on the phone receiving the news. I could not pull myself together; I was crying uncontrollably. After he and I drove home and grieved and did some Internet research (which I found overwhelming and would not do that again until after I received my pathology report and opinion for treatment). My husband made the phone calls to explain what we knew so far to my mother-in-law and father and then I would get on the phone to talk with them. I called my brother myself.
When you ask, how you told your family, I have to say it was not easy, there is not a script that will help one deliver that type of news. It was a difficult conversation. My husband and I had to be strong for them and that was hard. They asked lots of questions that we still did not know ourselves so that was extremely hard also. The phone then subsequently rang off the hook for the next week. Each time I had to tell the story again I seemed to lose the fear of it. Although I did not like telling it over and over it actually helped me come to terms with it while explaining and comforting others about it. That is why Lump to Laughter seemed so important to me, I have always had a drive to inform and help others and my life’s purpose was being born through breast cancer.
Faith: My daughter actually went with me to get the results and that support was priceless. I can never thank her enough for all she did for me during that extremely difficult part of our lives, (Looking back, neither one of us thought it was cancer.)
My daughter and I gathered the plan to tell others outside the doctor’s office in the parking lot in the car. We started planning out phone “trees” (one call to someone who would call several others). She let me decide the plan. There were no tears at this point, only a plan to get the word out so people would start praying. I’m not sure how I arrived at who would call whom, but it seemed it depended on who could head up a phone “tree” so that with a few phone calls many people could be reached. I called my mom and dad and my brother myself. I only had energy for about 3 of my numerous close friends and my friends did the rest. That night within one hour after calls had been made 15 people showed up at my house for support. Grace was probably the first person to show up that I hadn’t called yet; I’m still not sure how she found out. She just came to my house. The phone probably didn’t stop ringing for a month. I wasn’t able to get my surgery scheduled until a month later because there were so many breast cancer surgeries. I realized after all the support, love and help I had it was because one of the gifts I have is to network. That’s what I want for Lump to Laughter to become the network connection of grace, faith and hope for the world.
Hope: When I was asked to come back for more views of my annual mammogram, and then a biopsy, I called my sisters, my dad, and my mother-in-law to ask them to pray for my guidance and strength. I sent an email to friends and family asking for the same thing. I was pretty open about it, even putting myself on our church’s prayer chain. Because I lost my mom to breast cancer my anxiety was pretty high when I got that postcard-after ten years of normal mammograms! I figured there was strength in numbers and I needed to be surrounded by prayers, even if it was nothing!
Two weeks of waiting between the post card and the diagnosis was difficult, but I think it would have been worse if I had kept it to myself and tried to pretend nothing was wrong.
When I was diagnosed I just emailed everyone to thank them for their prayers and tell them the outcome. I didn’t want to talk to anyone right away except for my husband and sisters. I think that night we (Gray, my husband) and I told our 3 sons during our family prayer time before bed. They were 16, 14, and 11 at the time.
The next year when the cancer recurred I waited until it was confirmed to tell everyone (except my sisters, my in-laws, my dad and my best friend). My husband was sailing for the week on a delayed trip and I didn’t want to tell him, but he kept calling and asking me how the MRI went, I finally told him over the phone (and ruined his trip). That night, I sat down with our sons and told them about the MRI, the doctors thought the cancer was back. I wasn’t as strong this time-I cried and they hugged me and told me “you beat it once, you can beat it again mom!”
How and why did you make the decision for your specific surgery treatment?
Grace: I had three opinions and did lots of research and I prayed. I had two young babies to think of so I wanted to do everything possible to keep the cancer from returning. I know there are no guarantees but at least I knew I had done everything possible and would have no regrets. I read a lot about recurrences and how common they were and I did not want to go through this a second time. The physician at Duke told me that the beginning is the only time you can be curative and that is what I wanted. Because my MRI indicated there were several suspicious spots in both breasts I ultimately chose a bilateral mastectomy and immediate reconstruction with saline implants. (After the surgery these spots were determined not to be cancer). After about two years I adopted these new breasts as my own and they became apart of me. I barely notice they are any different than before except bigger.
Faith: I came to the conclusion the best surgery approach for me would be a tram flap and unilateral mastectomy on my left breast and reduction of my right breast to match. I wanted both my breasts to match as much as humanly possible and I truly didn’t want to worry about anything malfunctioning with the one implant. I was only planning on doing this one time and didn’t want to have to do anything over. This came after prayer and an appointment with my general surgeon, as well as my plastic surgeon. My general surgeon informed me that only one breast would be removed, due to a lack of breast cancer in my family. My plastic surgeon educated me on the tram flap versus an implant. Ultimately I chose the tram flap because my breast would be made up of my own tissue, fat and muscle from my stomach. Essentially, I received a boob job and a tummy tuck. I now know how it feels to have an extreme makeover.
Hope: After getting 3 opinions, telling me the same thing I was comfortable with the advice to have a lumpectomy and radiation. The area of malignancy was so small that it made sense to take the least invasive route.
When my cancer reoccurred a year later in the lumpectomy bed there was no question about doing a mastectomy. I was advised that at some point the cancer might recur again in the other breast and I should consider a double mastectomy, but it was up to me. I chose to have a single and keep my other breast…for now. Because of the time of year (early December) it was difficult to co-ordinate with a plastic surgeon and I didn’t want to rush into reconstruction with a surgeon I wasn’t comfortable with. I also didn’t wan to wait to have the mastectomy, know the cancer was aggressive. So I chose to wait on the reconstruction until later.
I had my mastectomy on December 3, 2007 and found a wonderful plastic surgeon that did a tram-flap reconstruction in September, 2008. I decided on the tram-flap because I had a lot of stretch marks and saggy skin from my 3 pregnancies. Despite the long recovery, it was worth it! I’m very happy with it!
How do you pick your doctor? Did you get a second opinion?
Grace: My initial general surgeon who performed the biopsy did not make me feel comfortable. When she delivered the diagnosis and offered her opinion on treatment she also referred me for a second opinion. I realized the second surgeon was the best at what he did in the area and the best at sentinel node biopsy (yes this is an exact science). After praying for God’s guidance I felt we chose this surgeon together. I did not have peace with any other surgeon. I ultimately chose him instead of my third opinion at a large cancer institute for his ability and his focus not only on getting the cancer out, but maintaining my beauty in the process. The added bonus was he was a strong Christian and that he was local and I would not have to travel for treatment or surgery. For me peace was also in being close to my family and knowing their lives would be as normal as possible since mine was not going to be for awhile.
The plastic surgeon was an easy choice. I loved him and his staff from the start and he is now a corporate sponsor for our organization. He made me feel at ease and he answered my questions. I knew he would make me beautiful again and he did.
The oncologist decision was the hardest choice. The first oncologist was too technical and I had no rapport with her at all. The second one was a second opinion at a large hospital too far away. I ultimately chose my oncologist by personal referrals. I liked him immediately. He was real. He was laid back. I felt comfortable with him from the beginning. He spoke to me in terms I understood and didn’t talk to me like a physician, but as if he were a friend. You need your physician to be your friend during chemotherapy for sure.
Later I was surprised to know that Faith would also chose two of the same doctors and the third was in the same physicians office. I truly believe God placed us together to turn this horrible event into good for others.
Faith: I had received the general surgeon’s name from my OB-GYN physician several months prior , so needless to say I had lost it. Delight filled my heart when I remembered him from my Chaplaincy residency program as a surgeon “on-call” at night. After discovering his name and making an appointment, Grace and I were surprised to find each other at the same office. I don’t believe in happenstance, I believe in divine appointments.
My plastic surgeon was a referral by my general surgeon, which again turned out to be the same plastic surgeon Grace had. We both fell in love with him. He is a corporate sponsor for Lump to Laughter, so we are all still connected.
I was very disappointed with the bedside manner and care of the first oncologist I visited. It was very eye opening as well when I wasn’t allowed to even schedule my own appointment with another oncologist in the same office. I actually had to call back to my general surgeon and tell them who I wanted to see, again, (Grace’s doctor) and they had to refer me so I could get an appointment. The office wouldn’t see me otherwise. I was very upset over that policy. I already felt like oodles of control had been taken away from me and now I can’t even select my own oncologist, but I now understand it’s for my protection and the oncologists. This is such an intensely emotional time so make sure you have peace with all of your doctors. If you don’t get your questions answered or feel any pressure to do something you don’t have the peace to do, get another opinion and another. This is about you and your journey, not the doctors or the disease. You have options and don’t forget that.
Hope: The first time I got recommendations from my gynecologist, other breast cancer survivors, and friends that were pharmaceutical reps and knew the doctors in the area.
Yes, I actually got 3 opinions from surgeons. I interviewed the oncologist I have now, I liked him right away, so I cancelled the other 2 oncologists I had scheduled to interview. My radiation oncologist was recommended by my surgeon and oncologist and my friends, so I didn’t interview anyone else.
The second time, despite the recurrence I was happy with “my team” so I stayed with my surgeon and oncologist.
My plastic surgeon I found after interviews with several in the area. I wanted someone who could do the ‘tram-flap’ and who cared about they way it looked. I knew right away when I had found ‘the right’ surgeon for me-he had a good bedside manner, he had done several of these, he was very current in the field and involved in breast cancer organizations. He also had a similar personality to me…a bit of a perfectionist, so I knew he would make my breast look good!
What happens at pre-op?
Grace: Since I was having a bilateral mastectomy with implants my pre-op was pretty cut and dry. We are taking those off and inserting these! There was the typical blood work. When I went in to have my nipples made the doctor had to mark me for evenness, but all the other pre-op’s for me were just talking about what was going to happen, signing a living will, which was intense, and making sure everyone had the insurance information so they could all get paid.
Faith: Pre-op for me was very intense. For a tram I had to get pictures taken of my breasts and stomach, front and side. I also had to be marked up by the plastic surgeon to show the general surgeon exactly what he wanted to do. The rest was typical, chest x-ray and blood work, urine, etc. The advance directive, living will were something I had to talk over with my adult children and that was intense. No one really wanted to search through any of the “what if’s” but they had to be discussed.
Hope: The lumpectomy pre-op was much more involved than the mastectomy pre-op. They had to mark the area of the surgery and put guide wires in that area of my breast. This had to be done without anesthesia and was so painful that I fainted. The nurse was wonderful and when they had the first one in, I was allowed to lie down for the others. This helped some, I held onto the nurse’s hand and had a stress ball the other, when the doctor would insert a wire I would squeeze the nurse’s hand and the ball-this helped. The blood work and paper work were just like any that you would do before any surgery.
The mastectomy pre-op was simple-making sure they knew which breast.
The tram-flap pre-op was exciting, as I had been living with a bony chest wall for almost a year, along with a saggy, stretchy stomach. The plastic surgeon came in after all of the blood work and paperwork were done. He marked my stomach and left side of my chest, explaining again how all of this (my stomach) was moving up to here (my chest wall)!
What did your chest really look like after your initial breast surgery?
Grace: The surgeon made an incision across each breast, peeled back the skin and removed all the breast tissue. Instead of loosing that “pocket”, the plastic surgeon participated in the operation and inserted an expander into this “pocket” filled with just enough fluid so the “pocket” would be made into a small breast which is then expander over the next several months and becomes a larger breast. I left the hospital the same day with two drains attached to tubes that were surgically implanted under the skin for draining fluid and blood from the surgery sight. I also had to wear a tight fitting support bra, which holds everything in place. So when I finally mustered the courage to look, I was really shocked that my “breasts” were there only a little different shape and they had two scars across them that have since healed and are barely visible. The drains were overwhelming at first, but they are necessary so that fluid will not build up and cause an infection to occur. With the help of my husband we managed emptying the drain bulbs twice daily and I was sure glad when they were gone. You cannot get them wet or take off the fitted support “bra” so you can imagine how I smelled after a few days. Birdbaths just simply do not do the trick.
Faith: The general surgeon made an incision vertically from underneath my left breast to the areole; then cut a circle completely around my areole to keep that skin for the plastic surgeon as well as horizontally beneath the whole breast. After removing the breast tissue he also removed one lymph node under my left arm as well. The plastic surgeon then cut a line from hipbone to hipbone and removed all the fat, tissue and part of a muscle that moves horizontally across my stomach and rerouted it vertically up the center of my stomach and across the left breast where he connected the muscle for blood flow. I came home with 3 drains for draining fluid and blood from the surgery sight. Two were sewn into the incision across my stomach at both sides of my hips and one sewn into the incision located near the underside of my left arm. The right breast was then reduced for evenness and the incision was made vertically underneath my breast and horizontally up the middle to the areole. The new areole was smaller and they used my original nipple. By far the toughest part of this surgery was the incision that made from hipbone to hipbone. This incision caused me the most pain and took the longest to recuperate from. With all this said, you can imagine what my chest and stomach “looked” like after the surgery. This surgery is so extensive and does leave scars, but they are fading. With all that said, I am very please with the procedure I chose and if I had to do it all over again I would do it the same way.
Hope: After the lumpectomy, my breast had a little dimple or concave area between my nipple and my arm pit. I also had a diagonal scar under my armpit from the sentinel node biopsy.
After the mastectomy I had a diagonal scar that cut across the left side of my chest from my arm pit to the center of my body-lower cleavage (or what would have been, had I two breasts). It was actually very neat and tidy, but flat and bony-you could see all of my ribs and chest wall.
In your opinion, how would you explain the sentinel node biopsy you went through?
Grace: To understand this you must visualize a map. Your lymph nodes are like a road map and the beginning of a fork in the road is called a sentinel node. This sentinel node links with many lymph nodes like a fork will link to many roads on a map. The physician’s goal is to find the route your cancer would have taken if it would have spread to your lymph nodes and then he will remove only those lymph nodes to biopsy for cancer spread. To determine this, the physician has to perform a dye flow test. To perform a sentinel node biopsy the physician will first insert a dye into the site of where the breast cancer is and while you are lying under a machine that is similar to an x-ray machine the dye will flow is being watched and recorded by the machine. Where it goes determines to them the “road” or sentinel node your cancer would have drained into IF it had. Once they determine the path your cancer would have spread, the physician can then remove the sentinel node during the biopsy and several lymph nodes attached to it and they dissect and test these for cancer cells to determine if your cancer has spread into your lymph nodes. It is very accurate and saves you from having ALL of your lymph nodes removed to test for the spread of cancer. Other than the initial prick it did not hurt. The worst part was the need to stay in one awkward position while the dye flowed and for the machine to record and observe the dye flow, just uncomfortable.
Faith: On the day of surgery this is the first test you have after admission. They have you come around 4 hours earlier than your surgery. This procedure is done in the X-Ray Department of the hospital. The surgeon injects a dye into the base of the nipple and that’s where the dye is inserted. It was uncomfortable to me because of the reason I was there and having to lay unclothed on metal and it’s extremely cold in the rooms, however, the technicians and the doctor were wonderful, always making sure I was okay. The actual test takes about two hours to make sure they have gotten the results they want and to wait for the dye to flow. Other than that I won’t elaborate on anything else because Grace has done a wonderful job.
Hope: I agree with Faith, Grace did a good job explaining it, and my experience was similar to both Grace and Faith’s experience. I’m just thankful they can do this now, as women used to have all of their lymph nodes removed, then had to deal with lymphodema-arm swelling!
What did the drains look like?
Grace: They were like soft plastic bulbs attached to tubes that were inserted under the skin. The blood drains from the surgery site into them and then you empty the bulbs twice a day. They were alarming at first but then part of the “drill” of recovery. It was hard to get dressed and I mainly had to wear a robe all the time unless I ventured out to the doctors office. I had to have oversized tops and big jackets for those trips. And they had to zip up the front. Nothing goes over your head during the recovery days.
Faith: A tram is more extensive than a mastectomy. I only left the house for my plastic surgeons’ appointments which were once a week for one month. I lived in my pj’s and didn’t even get to take a real shower for 14 days. I really didn’t even go out of the house for any thing other than a doctor’s appointment for 3 weeks. However, it was I believe the 2nd follow up appointment (2 weeks) that the plastic surgeon took the drains out. The area surrounding the tubes was still numb so for me it was a quick and painless procedure. I was shocked at how long the tubes inside of me were. I was very fortunate and didn’t have any bruising what so ever. People had actually prayed specifically that I wouldn’t bruise and the pain and recovery process would be quick.
Hope: Again, my experience was similar to both Faith and Grace. I was amazed at how tiny the plastic tubing was and how much of it was in my body when they removed it. After the mastectomy I did have some fluid build up under my arm pit, which was very painful because we removed one of the tubes too early, but this was relieved by my surgeon when I went in for a check-up. He basically inserted a needle and removed the fluid. This wasn’t painful because the area was numb under my arm.
Did you choose chemotherapy?
Grace: Yes, I chose chemotherapy.
Faith: I decided to investigate all the information associated with every method of treatment available today. I am wired with a barometer ruled by peace, if no peace, I don’t do it. The only pathway of treatment that provided me peace was nutrition. I found my answers through Dr. Lorraine Day and with the Hallelujah Diet by George Malkmus. After going through this experience, I now believe you really are what you eat. The doctors are there to help you, but ultimately you have to decide what you can live with or without. I didn’t like the down side of chemotherapy. My dad is a farmer. Never did I ever see him put a “weed killer” on a crop that killed only the weeds. With that revelation, I knew that I needed more of a “win-win” scenario and chemotherapy and radiation just didn’t offer that for me.
Lorraine day is a doctor who had a “grapefruit size lump in her breast with cancer spread to the lymph nodes in her neck and down the lymph nodes in her arm. After her name was mentioned to me about three times I decided I needed to investigate. I ended up doing the treatment steps she used with a mixture of the Hallelujah diet by George Malkmus.
I have made this new diet my lifestyle. My oncologist was shocked at how well I looked and asked me what I was doing to be in the “peak of health.” I was shocked myself at how well I felt, I lost about 25 pounds and my skin was radiant. Even my friends and family have tried various parts of this diet and have are watching what they eat and reading the labels. I believe the “Maker’s Diet” by Jordan Rubin is another healthy way of eating.
I found that another common problem associated with cancer is the crashing of the adrenal system. Adrenal fatigue and stress are part of the arena of cancer. Practically every person on this journey will deal with this area even after they are done with their treatments. The adrenal system can be rebuilt. My friends in the medical field help lead me to a dietary supplement program for Adrenal Fatigue and Stress called Future Formulations, by Dr. James L. Wilson.
The other ingredients I have added to my daily supplements are vegan type vitamins, “whey” protein supplement daily, mangosteen (the queen of the fruits) and essiac. Essiac was discovered among the Ojibway Indians in 1922, Essiac tea is made with herbs. The primary herbs in the Essiac formula are Sheep Sorrel, Burdock Root, Slippery Elm Bark and Rhubarb Root. Four other herbs, kelp, red clover, blessed thistle and watercress, are added in small amounts.
Another interesting thing is Mangosteen. It is a fruit now prescribed by James E. Graham, JR. M.D. , an oncologist at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute. He has been giving his patients this fruit as part of their health and wellness program.
Last but not least, I also saw a pharmacist /herbalist to help assist me in my complete recovery. Again, this is not medical advice just the pathway I discovered for myself from lots of research. Any decision you make should be discussed with your attending physician.
Hope: The second diagnosis, yes. I had 6 rounds of 2 drugs given every 3 weeks, along with Hercepton infusions (which is a targeted drug therapy) given weekly for the first 4 months while going though chemotherapy, then only every 3 weeks after that for the next 8 months. I eventually had to get a port-a-cath installed near my collar bone to receive the infusions, as my veins in my arm were breaking down.
How did chemotherapy really make you feel?
Grace: I slept after the treatments on treatment day, the next two days I would feel fine, by the third day my skin would turn red and my mouth would feel slimy. I had to drink LOTS of water which helped flush out the chemicals. My taste buds were completely different, too. After the third day, I would become very sluggish like I was coming down with the flu. By the fifth day I would start feeling better and each day got better until the next treatment. I would tire easier than I normally did, so naps were a must when I could take them. I used this time to get closer to God. I prayed if I had no energy to read. I watched inspirational Christian programs that would uplift me. I read books about Christian peace. I wrote my thoughts out. Mostly I had an ongoing conversation with God. I gained enjoyment from Him and from time with my family and realized there are many people who have neither. That is why Lump to Laughter is so important. It is bringing a family of God to those who suffer from this disease. Without both of them, cancer would have stolen me away and I know I would have died.
Faith: No chemotherapy or radiation.
Hope: Chemo was a rollercoaster. After the first round I got used to the rhythm and tried to just ‘go with it’. The first round didn’t hit me until day 3. When I woke up, I had to lie back down. The anti-nausea drugs made me pretty tired, but kept me from throwing up. I was told I would only be on the couch for 2-3 days, so by the 4th day when I wasn’t feeling any better and completely incapacitated I was freaked out and depressed. It was my mother-in-law who helped me realize that each of us is unique and would handle the treatment differently. She also made me laugh when she told me the nurse who told me I would only be feeling badly for a few days had never been through chemo!
After that I knew a little better what to expect and I allowed myself my ‘lazy’ week after the infusion before I bounced back and was able to do a little more the following two weeks before the next chemo. I looked at it as a ‘mini-vacation’ allowing myself to lie on the couch, sleep and watch television. I did make sure NOT to stay in bed during the day, and would sleep on the couch! I also allowed myself to eat whatever appealed to me, therefore I didn’t eat very healthy and I gained a lot of wait, despite walking each day for the two weeks in between the infusions when I felt better.
What was the worst part of the entire journey?
Grace: The test and wait game. When you get sick, you go to the doctor they tell you what you have, how to treat it, you take medicine or whatever they recommend, problem solved. There is an immediate plan. Well, not with breast cancer. No two are exactly alike and each treatment plan is tailored to fit each individual depending on all the tests, type of breast cancer, survival rates, risk of recurrence, and personal choice. Yes you have a choice. It seemed as soon as I thought I had it figured out, another test would come in and the treatment plan would change. It was frustrating. I also felt the doctors did not want to scare me so they would withhold all the details and that was frustrating. I am a planner and I needed all the facts.
Faith: There were many valleys during this first year. I didn’t have a worst part as much as I had a “worst day”. The complete lack of energy was something that I wrestled with for the first year. If I went too far ahead of the game my thoughts would lead my emotions to spiral out of control in a hurry which is what happened on my very “worst day”. One afternoon about 3 weeks into my recovery, while I was resting on the sofa and watching Oprah I began to check my right breast (the one that had the breast reduction). Truly to this day I can’t tell you the reason I did that. I really hadn’t inspected any of the work they had done up to that point. Stitches were everywhere and it really was still very painful. They had made a new areola with the original nipple and I was looking at the size of my right breast. It was much smaller. Before the surgery, I had been a D-E cup and was now a B-C cup, which was a “big” difference. As I checked for any lumps on this side I suddenly stopped on top of my nipple and felt the biggest bump underneath my nipple. All these thoughts flew through my mind attacking me with - I couldn’t believe that all this work had been done and the doctors had ”missed” this lump. HOW HAD THEY MISSED THIS LUMP? YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!! You mean I have to start this whole process over and what if it’s cancer?
At what point the hurt and pain began causing anguish and stealing my peace, I can’t say. I only know that from an unfathomable place inside I sobbed hysterically. My whole body was shaking as I picked up the phone trying to make human contact praying someone would pull me out of the place of despair. I picked up the phone to call my friend BB and her husband answered my call. I was slipping into a breakdown and I literally couldn’t stop the avalanche of sobbing that was accompanied by groans and moans. BB was not there and I was trying to hide the fact I was having a meltdown. But, he heard something in my voice and kept asking me if I was “okay, what was wrong; are you crying?; how could he help me; please don’t cry; oh, what’s wrong; how can I help you; please let me help you. Over and over he asked, but I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t stop sobbing and answer him at the same time. I finally got out “it’s just a bad day.” Sweetly he wouldn’t let me off the phone and tried to redirect my focus. He pointed to the sunny day and asked me if I had been outside yet? He directed me to God and reminded me what He had made and the purposes of the flowers, and the beauty of the sky. He went on and I kept sobbing into my hands, but it worked. I was able to calm down enough to thank him and ask him to have BB call when she got home.
However, it didn’t stop there. The sobbing only picked up steam and I was quickly going over an invisible edge. Again, God used Grace. Why she called me that day I don’t remember but when she realized I was sobbing she quickly stepped in and told me to call the plastic surgeon. They would know what to do, to not wait until Monday. It was 5 till 5 on a Friday. She prayed with me and told me to call her back when I was done. I have found throughout this journey, doctors do the work, but the nurses carry the patients. The doctor was already gone for the day but when I explained what was going on, they immediately connected me with a nurse. She put me on hold while she consulted with another nurse in the office who had also had a breast reduction and they both agreed, it was the pinnacle underneath my own nipple that was used to put my nipple back in place, much like a button that was connected on both sides of a pillow. My appointment with the doctor on Monday confirmed they were correct. Everything was okay. God really did turn my mourning into dancing that day.
Hope: The mental aspect. I did a lot of praying to counteract my anxiety and negative feelings. Because my mom had been diagnosed about the same age I was when I was diagnosed, then suffered a recurrence a year later, but died four months after that I continually struggled with comparisons to what she went through.
What were some “hi-lights” of the journey?
Grace: The enjoyment of the still of the day. I never enjoyed the peace of each day until this journey and I now enjoy it with my family more than ever. There have been rekindled friendships along the way and a constant reminder of my faith and support angels that surround me. The love of Christ was the highlight for me. Learning it all over again. Falling in love with my husband all over again. God did not cause this disease, but He used it for good. He brought me back to Him. He brought me back to my family. He molded me into a witness for Him.
Faith: The manifested presence of the Lord was an incredible experience for me. From the day I found out I would be dealing with cancer I could feel the manifest presence of the Lord in, out and around me 24, 7 which stayed strong the whole month before I was able to have surgery. Another hi-light was that my parents, who are in their 70’s, were able to come and stay with me for two and a half weeks. Rest, I believe is the one main ingredient that is necessary to good health care recovery. My parents were bulldogs and they didn’t let anyone upset my rest. My children were incredible in their care, with my daughter truly took the lead. After my parents left she was my guard and God used her to slow me down and balance me.
Hope: Growing closer to God, realizing I wasn’t completely in control. I had to ‘let things go’; I had to ask for help, I had to pray that my children and husband would be alright while I laid on the couch everyday. There was a freedom in not being responsible for everyone and everything. I had a lot of realizations while I was going through treatments; life ‘stopped’ for me and it was the beginning of my ‘new’ life. A slower, less hectic life, one in which I had to think about what was most important. If this was it, was I happy with how I was spending my time?
Where did you find undergarments to wear during recovery?
Grace: I went to a prosthesis store where they are experts with breast surgeries and will fit you for bras and recovery wear. I bought a zip up robe and it was by far my favorite robe during the recoveries. I also bought two zip up sweaters to wear, which I lived in for weeks. After surgery I could not lift my arms up so forget pulling a shirt over my head and wiggling into it. I had to find zip up, comfortable clothing. I needed it for several weeks and used it after my implants were inserted also.
Faith: I actually went to the major department stores like J.C. Penny’s, Belk and Kohls. They were my favorite places to find the corset type of undergarments I needed. Again a tram requires that you wear a corset to protect your stomach muscles and give support for about 3 months or more. I wasn’t able to go without any type of garment supporting my stomach for about 6 months. Since I only had one mastectomy my other arm was very useful. It was my stomach and gut area that required all the attention.
Hope: My oncologist had information on stores in the area that carried prosthesis and post mastectomy wear like swim suits. The ladies that worked there were wonderful!
Did you need counseling?
Grace: Christian healing counseling yes. Friends to talk to you, yes. Support group, no. A support group did not work for me in the early stages as I wanted no part of cancer and a support group made it too real for me and I could not handle it. I was still in denial that cancer was really going to be part of my life. I also could not initially find a support group made up of Christian women. I did reach out to women who were willing to talk about their experiences overcoming breast cancer and that was by far a great comfort in the decision making stage. I wanted to know that women made it and how. I wish support groups were made up of women with common interests. Single moms, married young moms, women with grown children, Christians, etc. It would make it easier for one to know who they are being supported by before they enter a meeting. Lump to Laughter is made up of Christian women, many of whom are moms. Read our stories, we want to support you.
Faith: I believe everyone needs help to process, vent and just have someone “listen” and validate him or her at the place they are emotionally. Upon hearing the diagnosis there will be a grieving process and each of us will process it differently. Your thinking and attitude of heart is deeply challenged by this disease. Your emotional and mental capacity is also challenged along with the attitudes of your friends. Just like you they are not sure what to do and what to say at times.
The attitude associated with “cancer” is fear, death and dying. In order to not take that attitude on and let it define me I chose to listen to those who continued to support me in life. The doctors only know facts and figures and can give medical advice but this journey takes so much more than that to not just survive but also be that victorious “overcomer”.
Hope: Yes, I talked with my priest and I also went to a therapist once a week for the first year, then once a month during the second year. Now I don’t go at all.
Where did you go for support?
Grace: I went to my first cancer support group a few days after my first chemotherapy treatment and it was not “for me”. I decided to let God be my support and I leaned heavily on my friend, Faith. I later, much later, joined a support group of women who had overcome breast cancer. We call ourselves “The Girls” and we laugh a lot and only talk of breast cancer as an event that happened and it is mentioned only if we have a question for the others or in answering another members concern over something. We don’t let breast cancer define us. We also pray. A praying support group “worked” for me. That is why Lump to Laughter is so important to me, it is all about support and there is no other organization like it in our area. Ultimately I pray for Lump to Laughter to be in every city and support every woman walking through breast cancer.
Faith: My support line was and is my intimate and personal experience and relationship with Jesus Christ. Grace walked the path 6 weeks ahead of me and that was just enough time to personalize the way for me to depend on her. Lump to Laughter was born because of the relationship of life we formed against the death of cancer. We decided that no one facing breast cancer should have to face this disease alone and we wanted to extend our hands out to any and all.
My church rallied around me and continued to uplift me in prayer daily. My children and my family supported me not just with prayer but were there daily to love and help me. My friends were indispensable. I couldn’t have done it without their continued love, support and individual care of me. What I needed most was words of life, and I surrounded myself with people who believed in the words of the bible to truly touch, and come into agreement with me to recover. Negative words drain quickly from your physical, mental and emotional tanks. My energy level was precious and I had to pick and chose what I really wanted to do and who I could spend time with. I had to decide if they would “wear me out” or “build me up.” I only chose those who would build me up.
Hope: I did go to a local breast cancer support group who met for dinners, but it wasn’t for me. I mostly emailed and talked with other breast cancer survivors I knew. I also emailed a lot with my friends and family. I am involved in a weekly prayer group of 5-10 women who were really helpful when I was going through everything. I feel that I had a lot of support from my husband, sisters, dad, and in-laws-they were always available to talk if I needed them. I also made it to church every Sunday except for one and my church community was very supportive.
What kind of practical support do I need?
Grace: I needed family and friends to support me at appointments, after surgeries, treatments, etc. I had two babies, aged 3 and 1 at home so I had to have help with them when my husband worked and they were not in daycare. I could not lift them at all. Changing the youngest ones diapers was almost impossible since one year olds don’t hold still. They were also too young to understand the pain I was feeling and constantly wanted to play. I even needed help playing with them. I would sit on the floor and my family and friends would do the moving around. I had to have someone with me the first week of the mastectomy just to help me get out of bed. It is harder than I thought it would be and I am glad I had help. I figured if I didn’t need it, I could always send them home. I also surround myself with uplifting family and friends. I was too emotional to have anyone who would add to the stress. I chose my caregivers carefully.
I also took everyone’s offer for help. Cooked meals, errands ran, offers for my kids to come play, cleaning my house, encouraging visits and phone calls and especially the offers for prayer. That was the hardest thing for me to do but I had to learn early on in this process that I am not a burden, when friends and family offered to help it was because they cared not had pity. They truly WANT to do SOMETHING, so I let them.
Faith: I needed physical support before, during and after surgery. I didn’t have a lot of energy. Just getting through each day in the beginning was time consuming. The emotional energy is takes just to get up in the morning and do the “normal” of the day is unbelievable. Unless you have walked through cancer you won’t truly understand the stress put on your whole body. I had to carefully pace myself.
Practical help such as making my family dinner, making phone-calls for me, cleaning my house, picking up and bringing home my son from school, grocery shopping, a driver to take me places because I couldn’t drive for 6 weeks.
It was amazing just how much I took for granted that I couldn’t do after I had surgery. I tried walking up a flight of stairs 7 weeks into my recovery and it set me back for a week. The pain in my stomach was my barometer. It let me know when I had overdone it. I would get intense cramps when I had overdone it. After the stair incident, I had to grocery shop in a wheel chair with one of my friends pushing me throughout the store. That in itself was an adventure. You have no idea what looks you get and how it feels to be in a wheel chair in a grocery store. I have a lot more compassion for the handicapped now.
Don’t be afraid to let your family and friends know what you really need, nothing is off-limits if they ask you, don’t let your pride stand in the way of your need. Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself. I limited my activities as well. I wanted to go to church on Sunday so that meant I couldn’t do anything on Friday or Saturday nights for quiet a while. Little by little my energy returned and I got my life back.
I remember sitting one morning in quiet time with the Lord and asking him just how long this journey would take for me to “return to normal”. I was impressed with the thought ‘one year to the day’. Later that day I had a plastic surgeon appointment and those were his exact words. “Women tell me it takes them practically one year to the day to return to normal.” He was right.
Hope: If it is available, take it! I had so much help from getting out of bed, taking a shower, emptying my drains (all of this my husband did) to taking kids to school and after school sports. I had help with dinners, groceries, errands, animals. I was really fortunate because at the time we could afford a house cleaner and a lawn service (neither of which we have now!) but I couldn’t have done any of that! I learned to accept all help that was offered.
Did you take someone with you to doctor’s appointments every time?
Grace: At first, yes. Later, I got a little too confident and the first time I decided not to ask anyone to go along with me, I needed them the most. The first few months are so emotional that I needed support from a family member or friend at every doctor’s appointment, especially if it is for an opinion. Don’t try to be “tough” because the reports can steal your peace and you will need someone there to keep you grounded and offer support.
Faith: Absolutely. I never went alone. I had one horrible experience with my first oncologist and I made a decision at that point I would always bring along support just for me. Your friends and your family know you and they know just how much you can handle at any point in time. My daughter could just look at me and see I was fading. She would say, “That’s enough for today, everything else will have to wait. ”
This disease is powerful and it speaks to you at every opportunity. I needed another set of ears to filter out the doctors words also. Beth, my “nurse practitioner” friend and my daughter accompanied me to all pre-surgery appointments. There is no way I could take in everything at once. I learned early on to just let the doctors give me the facts. I would get back with them regarding my answer. I needed to talk over every decision with my family and pray first. The atmosphere in the doctor’s office is too “charged” to make a “snap” decision. We aren’t suppose to walk life alone and especially when looking at giants. The oppression and depression associated with this disease is overwhelming and powerful. There was no way I was going to let anyone rush me into anything I didn’t understand or have peace about.
Hope: Yes, my husband and one of my sisters or mother-in-law. My dad even came with me a few times when he was visiting from Michigan. I always had at least 2 sets of ears!
How long was your recovery from the surgeries?
Grace: Most people hardly talk about the biopsy. So I will start with that. The excisional biopsy I had hurt. It is a surgery. I was told I would be fine after a day or so and I only took off one day off from work, the day of the surgery. I had a client in my car the very next day showing them around the area and I thought I was going to burst from pain. It took a few days to not feel excruciating pain. I also could not lift my arm on the side of the biopsy for several days. My site was near my armpit so, ouch!
The mastectomy is a whole different ballgame from any surgery I had ever experienced. I had about three weeks of recovery time for that and even then it was months before I could resume working out and roughhousing with my babies. I could not lift my arms without pain, I could not hold my children without lots of pain and I could not sleep comfortably laying flat for weeks. The best solution for recovery for me personally was the “exercises” the doctor gave me. I did not want to do them but finally worked through the pain and each day got better and better. Where there is pain in the world there is always prayer as I called out “Oh God” many times during these exercises.
The implant portion is also a surgery. The expanders are taken out and the implants inserted. They have to cut you to do perform this switch so this is no picnic. Just as I thought I was starting to heal, the wounds were opened back up again. It was not at all as painful as the mastectomy but it did require several days off from work to recover.
Faith: I want to start at the biopsy as well as Grace. I want to talk about the emotional side of the biopsy. There is physical pain; they actually hit a place on my breast that the Novocain had not numbed. It was the fourth core sample that shot pain though my whole being and I believe brought on the avalanche of emotions and feelings, I was completely unprepared to experience.
Leaving the doctors office I could feel a tidal wave of emotions hitting me over and over. I was feeling very fragile. Driving the car I realized these emotions were only getting stronger and something deep inside me was coming to the surface; it suddenly dawned on me I felt like a victim. The whole experience left an unintentional after taste on my soul. The people involved were wonderful. The surgeon was amazing and was compassionate. Breasts are private and are truly feminine. I felt like my femininity had been violated. I thought that I would just go right back to work, but was overcome with the assault of the whole incident. I was aware of the need to protect myself and it really stunned me. I felt sick to my stomach, needed to release the emotions brewing and just wanted to lie down and curl up in a fetal position. I am a strong person and was completely surprised how this whole situation was challenging my sense of well being, I felt wounded.
Thank God the doctor's office, my work place and my son’s apartment were all within one block of each other. Fortunately my son was home and I could go lay down there because I truly didn’t think I could even drive across town to my own house. After a couple of Tylenol and family care I was able to go back to work. My feelings settled down to a manageable sensation and I was glad I didn’t have anything scheduled that night. I could just go home, relax and put myself back together. The next few days consisted of only the physical challenges which were very mild.
The tram was another matter completely. This surgery is very extensive and required the combined care of my whole family, which included my church family as well. I was off work and unable to drive 6 weeks with another 6 weeks working my way back to full-time. Complete bed rest was a number one key to a complete recovery without relapse. I slept a whole month.
This whole experience made me much more aware of my limitations. My energy and physical levels were very restricted. Walking was a challenge, whether too long or too fast, I couldn’t do a lot of either, and tried in small doses, taking baby steps. Even stairs were off-limits for the first 2 months. I pressed only as far as the pain in my body would allow me. Lots of itching, a good sign of healing, however, I couldn’t scratch though because it was inside.
Each person is different and you will know when you press too much because your emotional, physical, mental and spiritual tanks will tell on you. Listen to them all.
Hope: The lumpectomy was about a week. The mastectomy about a week or two. The tram-flap was much longer, six to eight weeks.
How honest were you with your family? Your friends? You co-workers?
Grace: With everyone, I was open and honest and revealing. I wanted their support not their stares or pity and to get that I kept everyone informed as to what was going on. I did not get into gruesome stories or too much detail but I informed them about surgeries and major events and of course I shared with them my cleavage, he he. I tried to share with them everything in a positive, funny way so as not to make everyone uncomfortable. For instance, I joked with close co-workers about how I would look with a blond wig and how my husband might re-act, yoo-hoo! I joked with them about what breast size “I” would decide on and we would all laugh. Believe it or not, people have no idea what to say or do. So I chose to tell them how “I” felt or what was going on so they would be able to offer support to me with just their listening or laughter. Their laughter got me through some rough times. Their prayers healed me. I sought prayers for every test, opinion, surgery, etc. All my friends would pray me through these events and ultimately prayed me to health. I also enjoyed cards and emails of encouragement and saved many of them and read them over and over when I was down.
Faith: It depends on each person how public and private you want to be about your business. I am very open and public with my life. If you want to receive you have to give. I needed my friends. I love them and wanted to include them in this journey for my life. I gave them all permission to tell anyone and everyone they knew who would pray, through their network the news was spread. My aunt who is an ordained minister put me on a prayer list with her connection even in Africa, that one avenue alone consisted of 1,000 people. I put Grace and then myself on one of my favorite Christian Internet sites that took prayer requests.
My co-workers got together and gave me a party. They gave their PDO’s (paid days off) to help me with time off. They gave me a gift card to purchase the pre-surgery items I needed. Lots of hugs and smiles. It was incredible.
I was very open and honest with my close friends. They are deeply involved in my life as they consist of counselors, nurse practitioners, business people, etc. They each played a part in whatever my need was and they played it well. I can’t thank them enough. I received cards daily, and some from people I didn’t even know. I kept receiving flowers from people who couldn’t come and visit. I received gifts from the people who did. I am a blessed woman and the glory of the Lord is covering me.
Hope: Very. Sometimes I would feel like I would get ‘pity’ looks, but for the most part I felt like I was very supported because I was so open.
What gave you peace? What kept you grounded and from completely loosing it or did you?
Grace: I gained strength from knowing that I would be healed and live. The only way I could that was through Christ. I knew that if I died I would live and if I lived I live. Either way was going to be okay. Christ prayed in the garden before His crucifixion that, “God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”. I know there is no sickness or disease in Heaven so I continually prayed for healing on earth as it is in Heaven. I truly believe God wants us to be healthy and healed but I had to accept that He was in control, not me. It is not mind over matter that healed me but Christ over all. After I gave control to God, I had total peace! There was a lot of miraculous events that could only be contributed to God’s Grace and Power in my story. There was no other way to explain the events that happened and the healing that resulted.
Faith: I received so much peace from my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I had asked Jesus into my heart to be my savior and take over my life as he saw fit 15 years ago. It was faith in his power, authority and walking it out according to the word of God that kept me anchored while this storm was raging. I knew I had not fulfilled my destiny and my purpose for life was not over. I didn’t let anything other than that which was life-giving take over my thoughts or control my mind. The first battlefield is your mind. If cancer can conquer your thoughts it will take your heart, steal your peace and start you believing exactly what it’s saying, which always speaks death.
I have never had a fear of dying nor was I anxious and fearful about what was going to happen to me from cancer. Even on my “worst day” my concern was really about having to start over and go through the process again from the beginning. This website is the answered prayer to believing the words are life. If you would like to know how to receive the promises and peace please link over to Need Help and click on Steps to Peace with Christ.
Hope: My faith, my family, and my friends. I did have pity parties at times throughout those years, but they didn’t last too long.
It was almost more difficult for me when I was done with treatments, everyone expects you to bounce back, be normal, to be who you were before cancer and I wasn’t. I was different and I had changed. I was 45, I hadn’t worked outside the home in years and I had just been through two years of intense physical, mental, and spiritual changes. I had to figure out what I was supposed to be doing with my life now that I was in good health.