Packing my surgery bag again

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It’s like a ready to deliver pregnancy bag, just without the prize at the end.
The past few weeks have been quite a roller coaster with this whole pneumothorax thing, but after a few trips to different specialists, several repeat CT scans and being sent to the ER a few times, the pain is only getting worse along with the other symptoms and the hole appears to be getting bigger rather then healing on it’s own, so I am having surgery this morning to place a tube in an attempt to try to get the trapped air out and allow my lung to re-inflate. Because of my size and the size and placement of the hole, my thoracic surgeon is having intervenes radiology place the line and then I will be placed in his care for the next few days. I was told to plan on staying 4 days in the hospital, but if things go extremely well I may be able to come home sooner.

Because of the location of the hole it’s a little more complicated and there is potential that another portion of my lung could be nicked in the process, so I will be watched pretty closely for the first few days. My husband and I joke that Spectrum should give some sort of punch card out for frequent visits to the OR but sadly I am becoming a pro at this surgery stuff. I am not worried about the surgery, in fact this should be my easiest one yet, however my nurses are warning me that this will be quite painful which is kind of bumming me out a bit. There are so many other details to all of this that I will share a bit later after I come out of the fog, but first I need to finish packing my bag and get in the shower. We have to be at Butterworth at 7 and my procedure should take place around 10. Here goes nothing…..

#yetanothersurgery #mypersonalpinktime

Lung Scan Results Are In

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 1.28.53 AMGood News….Lung Scan Results are in:
The results show that the nodule on my lung is stable and it looks to be benign which is the very best news! No more cancer. Big sigh of relief there!

On the bummer side, the test also reviled that I do have a small hole in my lung causing pneumothorax, which explains my shortness of breath. My oncologist wants me to go to the emergency room where they would either insert a chest tube or needle into the lung to help it re-inflate it, if it gets worse this weekend, or if I’m ok the way it is, she wants me to come in Monday for a chest x-Ray to see if it will eventually correct itself or if we need to fix it. A bummer of course, but it’s treatable, and it means that the shortness of breath is not a lasting or long-term side effect from the chemo. This I am very thankful for. 😀

#mypersonalpinktime

Taking the Bad with the Good

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Taking the Good With the Bad:
Last week was full of high moments for me as I experienced my first National Cancer Survivor Week. To start off my week, The Susan G. Komen Organization shared my story on their home page and with a survivor day campaign that they are running to bring hope and comfort to women enduring breast cancer treatment with notes of encouragement. On Tuesday, I saw my oncologist for my 3 month check up and she not only raved about my reconstruction progress, but also said that there was no sign of any cancer return in my breasts and later that day Spectrum Health Beat posted a story about my journey with breast cancer and the vital part that my medical team played in the last 15 months of treatments and surgeries. On Wednesday I wasn’t feeling great so I spent the better part of the day at infusion, but during that time, I was asked to do my first ever radio interview, which was a little intimidating at first. Following the interview and my infusions, I headed down stairs to check out the Spectrum Health Cancer Center’s Cancer Survivor day celebration at Lemmon Holton where I met some pretty special people. One being a very sweet young lady. I was sitting with a friend when she came up and said “Tammy?”. Her eyes instantly welled up with tears before she could get another word out. She said she has been following me for the past year and that she has followed many cancer stories over the years and none have touched her in the way that my story has, which was so touching to hear. She said I usually never do this, but I saw you and I had to come up and tell you how amazing you are and how much you have inspired me. I asked her if she had been personally touched by cancer and she struggled to hold back the tears as she said, “I lost my aunt to breast cancer when I was younger. She was everything to me and I am now living my life in a way that honors her.” I got goose bumps all over my body, but in a good way, as I too lost my aunt at a very young age to breast cancer, and I too made a promise to live my life in a way that honored her. Although we didn’t chat for too long, she left a little imprint on my day and on my heart. I ended my week by finally releasing a sneak peek video teaser of the Breast cancer awareness project that has been in the works since the day I was diagnosed,which was a release of emotion in itself. I still have a lot of work yet to do, but I am very excited to release the full project into the public very soon.

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All of this sounds really great, but there is one moment among all these happy and joyous moments that I haven’t shared. Before I left my 3 month oncology appointment with Dr. Melnik, she mentioned that my post treatment and surgery nausea may be because of some gall stones that have shown up on my scans, so she suggested I see a surgeon about potentially having my gall bladder removed, and then… She let me know that they had found a nodule on my lung in a previous scan. Right away, she said that it could be nothing, but she also said that they have to take anything in the lungs very seriously because it is not uncommon for breast cancer to move to the lungs, which is not what I wanted to hear. She said we have to do another scan to take a closer look and makes sure that this nodule is not more cancer. As usual my heart skipped a beat, but I have had many scares already in this journey so I am getting better at putting my fear aside and letting the positive guide me through. Although it is always scary to hear you have to be re-scanned for anything, I was able to kind of dismiss it and tell myself it was nothing. However seeing my husbands eyes well up with tears and his mind fill with fear again, as I shared this with him, reminded me how serious this situation is and always will be. Just seeing the fear on his face took me back to those scary first few days last year. The truth is, having even a small chance that there could be more cancer growing in my body and knowing that I could be faced with all of this again, has a way of sending your mind into panic mode.

I will be honest, I originally didn’t think this was something I was going to share because this key part of my post doesn’t exactly go with all the good that cancer survivor week had brought last week, but I am realizing that this key part has a bigger part in this whole message all together. To be completely honest I am not a huge fan of the word “survivor” or at least I wasn’t. I kind of felt that if my medical team could tell me that I will never have to deal with cancer again and that cancer was just a part of my past and will never be a part of my future, then I could refer to myself as a cancer survivor, however we don’t know if that is the case. I started my battle with cancer last year, I battled my way through treatment, I battled my way though surgeries, and now I am battling my way through post treatment care, and the lasting effects of breast cancer. My fight started last year and it will not end until the day I take my last breath (which will hopefully be many many years down the road), so I prefer to call myself a “Cancer Warrior”. I’m not sure if my battle will ever be won because from what I understand you don’t really ever fully win a battle with breast cancer… Although it has a high cure rate as they say, it also has the ability to lay dormant in other parts of the bod for years until it rears its ugly head again, so it will always be lurking in my mind, and I feel like I will always be fighting. In explaining this to my infusion nurse, she said, why is it that you don’t like to attach the word survivor to you? How does it make you feel? She does that sometimes… just puts you on the spot and makes you face and work through your reality but she did kind of see my point. However it must have been on her mind, because she returned to my little infusion cubicle a little later to tell me that she looked it up and the term “Survivor” is actually derived from the Latin term “la Vevere” which means “to live or living”. The dots immediately connected in my mind. Although Cancer will always be a part of me and I will constantly be reminded that my “cancer” could return, I don’t have to let it own me in the mean time. That’s when it clicked that I needed to share this part of my week with all of you because dealing with constant fearful moments like these and still getting up each morning and putting a smile on my face for the ones I love is what truly makes me a survivor. I do have some control here.. I can wake up every morning and choose to live and not let cancer control me in this very moment. Even with the scares that seem to keep coming at every pass, I can take the good with the bad, and I can choose to be a survivor. I can choose not to let cancer win and keep me down and that is a choice I am going to keep making. So I am a “cancer warrior” who will not give up, but at the same time I am also a survivor who chooses to live. In the mean time, I am going to hope and pray that this scare with my lung, is just that… a scare.

Although the fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis will never get easier, I am accepting that this is a part of my life now and I am choosing to remain optimistic. In talking to both my nurse and my OT today, there really is a greater chance that this scare is nothing to worry about, but none of us will be able to move forward until we know that for sure. For now an order has been placed for another scan to take a closer look at my lungs and I will be seeing a surgeon about my gall bladder in the coming weeks. As usual I will keep you all posted.

‪#‎cancersucks‬ ‪#‎mypersonalpinktime‬

Breast Cancer Campaign Teaser

Here’s the first official sneak peek of the breast cancer campaign that I have had in the works over the past few months. This is just a tease, but I promise you there is more to come. Next to my family, this project really has been my driving force over the past year because it has given me something positive to focus on when I needed the most. It may have started with an idea that was really born in my mind about 20 years ago, but it grew into something much bigger when I myself was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and although it started with me, it really has become a community effort in bringing this little vision of mine together. I could not be more excited to get it out there for all of you to see.
 
Everyone who has been involved with this project has donated their time, their talents, and their services to help me bring this idea to life. I would like to thank Kevin from Rhino Media for jumping in head first and offering his team to take this crazy project on without a second thought, but I would also like to very much thank Brooke and Dan who are the cinematographers from Rhino Media in Kalamazoo who been capturing footage of this project and of me for the past few months. Dan has brought a lot of talent and expertise to the table and Brooke has really been a very vital part of this whole process and really has been putting so much of her own heart and soul into this project as well…. Which I love! She has not only accepted my crazy type A-side side with a smile, but she also stuck with me, and has been tirelessly editing and putting this video and teaser video together for a few months now.
 
I would also like to thank, Amy, Ingrid, Casemiya, and Sara for graciously stepping out of their comfort zones and joining me in this effort to raise awareness in addition to thanking all the vendors:
Sam from Shutter Sam Photography, Cassie from White Dress Events, Adrienne and Megan from Pure Salon, Amber from I Do Signs, Skeeter from Wasserman’s Flowers, Jenn from Modern Day Floral and Events, Jenn from Sip Organic Juice Bar, Justin from Grand Rapids Finale, Margaret from Anything Goes Catering, Jason from The Cakabakery, and Nancy from Harboufront Grand Hall. All of these amazing people/companies jumped on board without a second thought, for a cause the is very near and dear to my heart. I cannot express how thankful I am to have had such an amazing team of vendors behind me. This project really wouldn’t have been possible without all of them.
 
This project is really in it’s infancy, but it will be evolving so much over the new few weeks, so stay tuned as we inch closer to an official launch.
 
#passionatedistractions #mypersonalpinktime #breastcancercampaign #ForgottenFighters

National Cancer Survivor’s Day

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15 months ago now I was initiated into a very elite group that I have never aspired to be a member of, but I proudly join all cancer survivors on this National Cancer Survivor’s Day, by honoring those who have lost their battle, by encouraging those who are still fighting, and by celebrating those who are wining their battles with the awful “C”.

I was honored to have Spectrum Health Beat write a story on my journey with breast cancer and the oncologist who has guided me through this cancer jungle.

A Shout-out to Co-Survivors

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I received an email from the Susan G. Komen Organization a few weeks ago. They had come a cross my story and expressed that they were in tears after diving deeper to my blog, which gave me chills all over, but in a good way. First I cannot express how honored I am that the Komen foundation was touched by my story, but I am also so honored to hear that my words are helping others. I really never thought that my posts would be reaching as many people as they are reaching and I never thought I would be getting the response that I am getting. But having such a key player in the Breast Cancer awareness, research and funding community share my story has taken that to a whole new level and again reminded me that stepping our of my comfort zone to document and share some of the hardest and scariest yet amazing moments of my life; was indeed what I was meant to do. To my surprise the Komen Organization asked if they could feature my “I love Mom” photo on social media, and said they would be honored to share my story as part of a campaign they have wrapped around National Survivor day, as well.

A few days ago, a photo of Jordan, Corryn, and I was added to the homepage feature on the official Susan G. Komen website, and this morning I received an email from my contact at the Komen Organization, with a social post featuring co-survivors and mentioning all that my sweet husband has done to help me through the hardest year of my life. My body went tingly all over. The post is touching and beautiful at the same time, and I too feel it is important to honor all of the co-survivors out there as National Survivor day nears. In most cases, it is these co-survivors or those closest to us during our war with cancer, who really give us the strength to keep going every single day and to most of all, to keep getting up everyday and fighting.

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Sharing and Teaching Round 2

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When my Occupational Therapist asked me to let her do a live demonstration or therapy session on my cording during a presentation on Post Mastectomy Cording and Lymphedema that she was giving the GVSU graduating OT students this past December, I really didn’t know what to expect…  or should I say; I didn’t make time to over-think what was about to happen as I often do. Instead, I kept my promise to allow this journey with breast cancer, to take me where I was meant to go and I accepted the invitation to share some of the real struggles that come from breast cancer with young students who will indeed be in the position to help women like me in the future. Although I walked into the lecture hall not knowing what to expect, I was completely in the moment and did exactly what felt right. I shared not only a bit of my story, and the struggles I am still facing post mastectomy/reconstructive surgeries, but I also bared all and showed my real lasting breast cancer battle scars and a glimpse into some of the drastic physical effects of breast cancer and how that impacts or  limits aspects of your everyday life after breast cancer. I know I have said this many times before, but before my diagnosis I would have never shared these details with even my closest friends let alone a group of students I have never meant, but this year has opened me up in ways that I cannot explain. My own personal insecurities now fall second to my passion to make a difference and turn my crazy year into some type of positive. So far, following my my gut impulse and most importantly following my heart in the moment, has not let me down this year and this day was no different. Every student in the room had compassion, was engaged, and most of all every student was there in the moment with me. I was at ease, and I felt safe, but most of all, I felt like in that exact moment, I had the ability to give each and every student a real look at what a young woman with breast cancer really face, even the things that nobody really ever talks about, and I had the ability to help my amazing occupational therapist Amy teach these students first hand, so that one day when a woman dealing with all the physical struggles that come from breast cancer is sitting in their office, they will be able to better help them with a better understanding of their struggles. Although both my husband and I were both shocked at how much I actually shared, there was no regret. I walked out of that classroom feeling grateful that Amy asked me to be a part of her presentation, but also feeling like being there that day, was in a way fulfilling one of the purposes that has been laid before me.

_DSC3485 copy_1140That purpose got a little greater, a month or so back. A few occupational therapy students from SVSU in Saginaw, MI happened to see Grand Valley’s post about the presentation that Amy and I give on Facebook and they contacted me right away to see if both Amy and I would be willing to do a very similar presentation for their class as well. Originally they wanted us to be a part of a conference that involved, professionals, students, faculty, patients, and caregivers, however the dates just didn’t align on our end so we ended up doing a presentation one a Friday afternoon after their classes had let out. This time around, I knew what to expect, I knew that I would be talking and sharing with these students and I knew that there was a pretty great potential that I would again open myself up and bare my scars…. So I took the time to over-think it and I was nervous, but talking with my occupational therapist on the 2 hour drive to Saginaw helped so much. To our surprise there was no professor or instructor present that Friday, and no one was requiring that these students  were present for our presentation. In fact, they  arranged this lecture on their own time, because they wanted to be there, they wanted to meet the two of us, and most importantly they wanted to learn from us.

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Realizing that, put my mind at ease right away. As I sat on the table and listened to Amy give her breast cancer background and her post mastectomy cording intro, I realized that again I was right where I was meant to be. My OT Amy, is quite amazing herself and also happens to be a young, two-time breast cancer survivor herself, so she comes with expertise from both a professional and a personal level. She explained what happens to a woman’s body during and after breast cancer, and breast surgery, and she talked about the struggles that we breast cancer warriors face every single day.  Each and every student was hanging on every single word. I found myself taking in all that she was saying and in a sense educating myself  “on the other side of my breast care”. That was until she got the the part where she explained that typically, post mastectomy cording takes about 4-6 weeks to break up, and that it usually gets better, but that I was her  special case, because my cording is very pesky and complicated in that it keeps returning with a vengeance thus proving that I am again that .01% that broke the mold. Oddly this surprised me. Amy then worked my cording in front of the class to show how she stretches, pulls, and even tries to break the cords that restrict the movement in my shoulder and arm. Let’s just say she didn’t hold back, so it was at times hard to hide the pain. OK it was quite obvious that it was painful….  but I did my best to smile through it. When it came time for me to share the real battle scares, the nerves had settled and it just felt right. Honestly if felt very much like an intimate conversation with a somewhat large group of people, if that is at all possible. The students were again, quite respectful, engaged, and almost captivated at what both Amy and I had to say, which meant we again walked out with no regrets. I feel so honored that I was able to be a part of Amy’s presentation and again I feel very honored that I was able give the students from SVSU a first hand look at what one of their future patients might be facing.
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#sharingandteaching #mypersonalpinktime #SVSUotprogram

Full surgical update

surgery_1140Surgery itself has never caused me any anxiety for some reason, however I was a little nervous going into this last surgery. Not nervous to be put under again or even to add more surgical trauma to my ever growing list, but I was nervous to wake up and have to go through the painful recovery that I knew I would be facing being because I had almost the exact surgery a few months back. I knew that I would struggle to even hold my own weight in the days immediately following my surgery, I knew it would take months to heal the painful bruising and incision sites and that I wouldn’t be able to hold or really play with Corryn, and most of all I knew that it would again set my body back in the overall cancer recovery department.
surgery2_1140Like usual, I didn’t sleep a wink the night before surgery because my mind had gone into busy nesting mom-mode and was very much preparing to be physically down for a awhile, but as usual meeting my amazing photographer/friend Sam at the hospital, very much distracted me and made those surgical prep hours fly by. In fact, there were a few moments where I had actually even forgotten why I was at the hospital all together which is pretty amazing. We also had my mom with us as well as our new friend Brooke, who was there capturing video for a project I have in the works, so I could even go as far as saying that this time, was “fun”. Before I knew it I was removing my healing and protection jade necklace, and they were connecting all the tubes and wires and wheeling me off to surgery. Before going into surgery, my amazing plastic surgeon had laid out her plan for me, which included cutting out some irritated scar tissue that had formed around my chemotherapy port site incision as well as injecting some steroids into the site to keep the irritation from returning, the removal of my left tissue expander, the placement of my left breast implant, phase one of my left nipple reconstruction, fat and tissue grafting from my thighs again and placement into both breasts, as well as  immediate stretching of my right breast skin, and placement of my right implant; if possible. But, we had  also talked about placing a tissue expander on the right side if all of this wasn’t possible once she got into surgery. The list was long and again meant a pretty big recover,  but I knew it would be great to make all of this progress in a big combined surgery.

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A day to honor Mom

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The day I became a mother was the very best day of my life. I had literally dreamed about becoming a mommy from the time I was in elementary school, maybe even before. This may sound weird, and I am not sure I have ever admitted this to anyone, but where most kids excitedly looked through the big JCPenny catalog picking out toys, I looked through the catalog picking out the children I would someday have…. And of course picking out all of the cute clothes I would someday dress them in. When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always replied with; “I want to be a mommy”. My love of children only grew through the years and I was quickly labeled as the one most likely to have a gaggle of kids by my peers. I started babysitting all of the neighborhood kids at when I was 10, and I loved every second of it. When I was in high school I took a job working in a daycare after school and later I worked as a nanny for two amazing baby girls that I still refer to as my first born. I fell in love with every child that I had the pleasure of caring for, and I often joked that I was a second mommy to many, however the love that fills your heart as your baby grows and develops inside of you, and the joy you feel in the moments you bring that baby into the world, are nothing short of awe-inspiring, life-defining, and indescribable for those who haven’t felt it for themselves.

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Happy Nurses Day

  
I just wanted to give a VERY BIG shout out to all of the amazing nurses out there who are selflessly dedicating their lives to helping others. 

Thank you for holding our hands when we face the unthinkable, for caring for us in ways that we never thought we needed, and for listening when no one else understands. Thank you for taking the time to teach and inspire when our worlds seem to be spinning out of control, for showing compassion when the fear and the sadness takes over, for motivating us to reach goals that seem unreachable, and for cheering us on when every step along the way. Thank you for taking the time to truly get to know us, and for knowing when to be tough, but also when to be human. Thank you for making us smile when the weight of the world is on our shoulders, for investing a little bit of yourselves in to each us, but most of all thank you for all that you are and all that you do! The world just wouldn’t be the same without you. 

To be real…. I don’t know where patients like me, would be, without amazing people like you caring for us during our hardest moments. From a slightly biased standpoint, I have to say that I have been blessed to have the VERY BEST nurses caring for me over the past year as I faced the awful “C”, but to be fair I have never met a nurse who wasn’t willing to go above and beyond for my care… and for that, I will be forever grateful. 

Happy Nurse’s Day to all of the amazing nurses out there!

-Tammy 

#Mypersonalpinktime