Plaster Princess

Friday, April 29, 2011

How many people get to celebrate three years in remission with a baby? At the end of today (exactly two weeks after my remission anniversary), we will have a little baby girl--our miracle and our princess.

I always do belly casts of my pregnancies ever since my BFF Lisa gave me a belly casting kit (I'm such an expert now, I just buy plaster). We are off to the hospital in an hour, but Anton and I spent some time this morning belly-casting Moxie. She's the only one that got to be casted right before she's born.

Here's a picture of Moxie's cast, on the left, next to Chloe's cast. The difference is remarkable. And while Moxie is being born at 36 weeks today, Chloe was born at 37 weeks (and I think Chloe's cast was done at 35 weeks). According to the sizing ultrasound we did two weeks ago, Moxie is even going to be as big as Chloe was, around 7.5 pounds. So imagine how squished she felt in there with the tram-flap mesh...and how things were mega difficult for me! But we will both get relief very soon!

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

"It really does give a different way to approach cancer...I like the acceptance of what is versus the "battle or fight of your life" thinking. I first saw the 45 minute video from the week-end retreat and was totally impressed with both Doctors. It gives understanding and compassion to the word doctors...the healers of not only the body but the mind and the spirit. It has made a believer out of me that the spirit can heal the body......and that is a wonderful focus.
Thank you all for making this happen for those of us who live over an hour away. It is awesome."

-Comment from someone who attended our first webcast

"In any event, in came the radiation oncologist.

But, hey, for the purposes of this blog, we could just call him Mr. Lovely. Or Mr. Perfect. Or Mr. Super Nice Guy. Or Mr. Special. At the time, however, I called him The Rocket. He was lean and fit and just like my naturopath, his skin glowed with great health and he didn’t miss a trick.

At this point, I really wasn’t thinking about what God may or may not have been lining up so I could reach my goal of ‘Shalom’ – a Hebrew word that means, ‘nothing missing, nothing broken’. I possessed no earthly contacts to advance my pleading case of mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, so I was pretty much biding my time, hanging on to this diseased body part as chemo continued to shrink the lump within.

The Rocket greeted me and I marveled at how well people in medical positions talk to you as though you look perfectly normal to them. He acted like I was not sitting in a washed-out shapeless Johnny shirt, devoid of eyelashes and eyebrows, wearing a wig I singed by opening the oven door with it on while baking. (Melt, baby, melt.)

He asked me something. I don’t recall what, but a greeting kind of question.

I answered him. I don’t recall what, but it seemed like a rather innocuous response.

“So,” he said, “You’re a spiritual person!”

I started to look at him again – more carefully – to see if he was sporting some kind of spiritual antennae that I had carelessly overlooked at first glance. I was completely caught off guard.

“Aaahhh. Ummm. Yes. I am.”

“What kind?”

“Ahhhh. Ummm.” Do I tell him? “Christian.”

“Great!” he said. “Then what would you like to tell me?” There was not one whiff of sarcasm or judgment or disdain in his voice.

What did I want to say, indeed. I was so excited to be the presence of a doctor who actually thought it was okay to bring my spirituality into the cancer equation. What did I want to say?

“I want to tell you that I have listened deep within myself and I’m not going anywhere.” Okay, here it comes. He’s gonna say something about how I can’t hope for that.

“Wonderful,” he said. “So, you need me to help you get, what, another 50 years or so?”

I am really bad at math, so that took a minute for me to compute … Oh, he’s saying he wants to help me live till I’m 95.

“Yes, that would be fine!”

There are many, many things I could tell you about The Rocket. And I probably will. He is a rare and exotic bird living in the forest of doctors.

And if I wasn’t paying attention to what God was doing in the details, that encounter that day with that man reminded me again that Someone with a much bigger view of my life knew I needed a spiritual boost – and a champion inside the system to help me reach my goal.

Unbeknownst to me, The Rocket would play what I would characterize as a divinely pivotal role nearly three months later when I was drowning in confusion and disappointment and anger about how it was all going down."


Listened In

As you said there is a real power in hearing from those living in the condition of their physical vulnerability. If only we could all have a little of that sense of vulnerability and weakness in our daily attitudes in a "go get em" society. The thought that came to me is that this acceptance Karen speaks of becomes a kind of strength we don't expect, as it knits us together into wholeness. She also spoke of hopefulness, which has a very powerful meaning when used as hope beyond desire. One of my favourite psalms is "You know my inmost being: you knew me before I was knit together in my inmost being." (Psalm 139:13). In listening to the question about demanding something ("demandez") of God it causes me to contemplate that God (creator, revealer, knower) is a knower of our hope and accepting of it. He/She radiates back love as an answer, saying like Paul (Col. 2:2) "I want hearts to be encouraged and united (also "knit together"/ "woven") in love." (I am inspired to do some word study/exegetical work on the words "knit", "woven" and "united" and their use and correlations in scripture ... by this discussion). People are making an authentic attempt here to get beyond Babel's blockades of meaning and reach one another's hearts, which is a very hopeful thing in of itself.

When a Christian friend of mine, who has a chronic illness, speaks about her illness on facebook it has a similar quality of acceptance when she openly reaches out to her friends for acceptance of the pain and anxiety she's feeling and through the sharing of the wholeness (holy) of spirit of others, she feels a sense of acceptance from the comments of love and encouragement she receives back. She has told me that for her the cross is the path that helps her understand her life, meaning that she feels God had a complete identification and acceptance of her pain as well, for he has experienced it and wishes for us to heal in the most profound of ways.

A royal birth

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 29th is a special day. And it's not because I give a crap about the royal wedding--cuz I don't. But it's the day our baby is scheduled to be born. As I mentioned previously, this month has been pretty heavy with meaning and thought, from reflection on the third anniversary of my mastectomy to the question of when to have this baby, given the literal confines of my reconstructed body. Lots of hoping for the best, but realistically, it also means fearing the worst. I can't help it. I'm not one of those people that can turn a blind eye of denial to my fears. One example is that in preparing the house and our lives for a new baby, I have also factored in the possibility of losing her. It has only been one year and one week since we lost our son, Veo, to birth defects. So when I began unpacking all the new baby stuff we got, I didn't take some of the stuff out of the original packaging, or if I did, I collapsed the boxes and kept them safely in a pile in case I'd need to return the stuff to the store. Luckily, a friend of ours also gave us a ton of baby stuff, so if we don't end up using it, we can return it to her or donate it. But I just can't give the stuff a place, or count on having to use anything, just yet. I'm too scared to be that confident.

On Tuesday, when we found out the date scheduled for surgery, we were also told that what everyone had been planning all these months might not happen. When we found out we were having a baby, we began having appointments with both the OB and the plastic surgeon who has been involved with my case for over three years. The two of them were eager and happy to team up for this delivery, especially since it has never been done before. My plastic surgeon said she was especially excited because more and more of her breast cancer patients are young woman, who still want to and are capable of having kids post-cancer, and she wanted to see this experience through so she could tell them what to expect if they wanted to carry a pregnancy even if they've had a Tram-flap reconstruction. So the two doctors watched me grow and documented how my body has responded to the pregnancy over the past 35 weeks.

The last week and a half has been a rush to schedule a mutual day when the two doctors could do the surgery asap because my body is in quick deterioration from the strain of the baby's weight on my abdomen. But of course, it's not just about their schedules. They also have to find a time when the operating room is available. Their receptionists have been talking to one another; the docs have been talking to one another. On Tuesday, at our appointment with our OB, she nonchalantly told us that our plastic surgeon might not be able to make it at all. We were in shock. And no alternative was discussed. So the past few days, we've been tortured by waiting and unknowing. It feels to me like those horrible days when I'd wait and wait to hear word about when I was going to start chemo, or when I'd wait after getting some sort of blood test or scan done to tell me if my cancer metastasized. I emailed the surgeon's coordinator to see if I could get info from her. But nothing. I emailed her again to follow up, but all she said is that she hasn't been able to talk to the doc about it, and she hopes I have a nice long weekend. Then I thought, fuck, it's a long weekend! Everyone is off til fucking Tuesday! Does she really think I'm gonna have a nice long weekend when I'm worried out of my goddamn mind? I see the OB on Tuesday anyway, and then it's just three more days til the surgery.

I'm starting the process of accepting that things aren't going to go as planned, or at least I'm trying to accept that. I have to hope for the best, but now, even more so, I'm fearing the worst.

However, my body has been through so much, and despite all that, I'm still able to walk and mostly function as if nothing ever happened. There is something to be said about that. So things don't always go my way, so what? It's silly of me to expect that they would go my way, after all that has happened.

What do I dream of? Having a healthy baby girl, and having the strength to make it through the surgery and recovery process. What am I grateful for? My two happy, healthy, beautiful endlessly loving, patient, handsome soulmate friends and family...and the fact that I can still laugh, even though I cry sometimes too. I guess my gratitude ends up trumping my fears. I don't regret how I've spent my time. And if I end up having more time to spend, I will cherish it all the more.

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Freaking. Out.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

So...I can't seem to escape April being my uber-high stress month. Three years ago, on April 15th, I had my bilateral mastectomy and Tram-flap reconstruction. Two years ago, my husband at the time said he wanted a divorce. Last year, I gave birth to our son Veo, and he died because of all his birth defects. This year, Anton and I are having a baby! This, of course, is a monumentally joyous occasion, unlike the last two years, but I'm still losing my mind, just a little.

With my mastectomy, I totally freaked out. I obsessed over my death for a few months before, working out and away all these morbid fantasies with an art therapist so I could calm my wild mind. I got depressed over the thought of my kids growing up without their mom, and all I could imagine was going under and never coming back again. But obviously, everything turned out fine, and not only did I come back, but I've been cancer free for almost three years (as of Friday).

Now, I'm starting to do the freaking out thing again, and I keep thinking about how at least with the mastectomy, the surgeons have done it so many times before and knew exactly what they were up against. With this c-section, they don't have an exact idea since it's never been done before. I try not to think about the scenario where they take out the baby, see the mesh and the damage, and say to themselves, "Now what?" or "That's worse than we thought." I think about how the worst would happen, and I'd be leaving my new husband with a new baby, and there would be three kids without a mom. I try not to think like that; I focus instead on the excitement of having a new baby--a baby who's a little pioneer on the landscape of having a baby after breast cancer.

But at night, when everyone is sleeping--that's the hardest time. I'm alone with my thoughts and my body full of pain. I look at Veo's tiny footprints on our shelf where I honor the people who have died--those who have made an impact but whom I have never really met, like my Vietnamese grandmother and Vietnamese half-brother.

I need to remember that with heartache and loss come motivation and inspiration to survive and to be grateful for what we have now. I have a husband who brings me laughter and love every single day we are together. I have two kids who impress me with their imaginations and wonder, and who make me feel good about being a mom. And I have a baby inside, fiercely kicking and living up to her name, Moxie. I like to think she's trying to tell me something along the lines of, "Don't worry, Mom. I'm a fighter, and you are too. And we'll all be together soon, safe and sound."

Growing Pains

Monday, April 11, 2011

Here is me with my eight-month-old baby belly! Eight months! Not that huge, thanks to my Tram-flap mesh.

This pregnancy has sure been a ride. The last trimester has been increasingly difficult and painful. I knew that no one, including the doctors, knew what would happen to me as the baby continued to grow. But what I didn't anticipate is that the doctors could not really understand what it feels like, and hence, were at odds about what to do with my pain.

First, I started having burning sensations in the lower part of my abdomen, which is where the sutures for the mesh are. It felt like my flesh was tearing, and in fact, that's exactly what has been happening. The pain comes and goes, but now when it comes, it's pretty intense, like somebody stabbing me from within.

Another issue is walking or sitting or moving from one position to another. I feel like my pelvis and joints are locking up, and I get stuck mid-air, afraid to move because I know how painful it will be when I complete the movement. But obviously, I can't stay like that, so I take a big deep breath, and just move (and scream).

So my family doctor prescribed me hydromorphone for the pain. I asked her about how it would affect the baby. She said that the baby would go through a little bit of withdrawal for a week during which she would be cranky, but it wouldn't be that big of a deal, since we had to weigh the circumstances of the intensity of my pain because me being in pain isn't good for the baby either.

For a few days, I took the pills, and it helped a little, but my OB wasn't happy about that. So I took Tylenol with codeine instead when I had pain at night, and that gave me a tiny bit of relief. Now, I've become used to being in pain and don't take medication that much.

Everything is compressed. There is no room. My OB noticed the appearance of my belly, which is like a muffin, with a band where the mesh is, and then a roundness at the top where the band is not. Breathing is always difficult in the last couple months of pregnancy, but it's even more so now. And my doc gave me Ativan because I've been feeling claustrophobic within my own body and having panic attacks.

Now, my plastic surgeon has ordered me to bed rest because the weight versus the constriction has become a bit worrisome. And my OB is considering moving the delivery date up at least a week early. I asked the OB if they will put me under general anesthesia after they deliver the baby via c-section in order to repair the mesh, and she said she doesn't know. The part where they don't know what they are going to see scares me a bit, but I trust that they are the best experts to do the job.

I have all the usual pregnant mom instincts like nesting and feeling restless, but I also have new fears, especially not knowing how the surgery and recovery are going to be. However, when I feel the baby move, whether in a small or big way, I am happy that she seems okay, if not a little concerned about how much space she has in there. We are in this together, she and I, and I can't wait til we have our own space.

Location:Vancouver, BC, Canada

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Published on April 7, 2011

Cancer education session, discussion Saturday at Glooscap Heritage Centre

Breast cancer survivor Margaret Ross, right, hugs her father Ron Ross at his home in Millbrook. The retired RN wants people to understand the benefits of breast screening and learn coping tools at an upcoming free education session

Glooscap Heritage Centre , Healing and Cancer Foundation , MILLBROOK
MILLBROOK – Margaret Ross will never forget the words she heard sitting with her physician, striking with such force it shook her to the core. "You've got cancer," she heard, as the rest of the conversation became a blur of words. She barely remembers being told referrals would be made as soon as possible to remove the lump growing in her left breast. "It's quite a shock to hear it," said Ross, nearly two-and-a-half years after her positive diagnosis and subsequent successful treatment of the disease. "I actually got lost walking home." Today she is feeling well and is volunteering with the Healing and Cancer Foundation, reinforcing the importance of breast screening and early detection, as well as helping others who share a similar life-changing experience. "The first evidence of problems was around 2002," Ross said. She said a small growth in another area of the breast was tested and considered a false alarm. After that episode, Ross underwent routine breast screening as a precaution. "It wasn't really until toward the end of 2008 there was definitely a tumor in the left breast." Within three months the less-than-two-centimeter growth was removed, followed by radiation treatments. Now at age 59, the former Millbrook resident, retired RN and cancer survivor wants to help others coping with the disease by sharing her story along with educating people about services offered by the foundation. Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. the foundation will host The Healing Circle, a free public talk and reading by radiation oncologist Dr. Rob Rutledge and psychotherapist Dr. Tim Walker. The Healing Circle is a compilation of stories of people who have been on the journey of recovery from cancer. "I see this as part of my own recovery," said Ross. "I know there are families here who have family members who have been diagnosed with cancer. "Family members don't always have a chance to talk about how they are freaking out, too and this is a chance for them to talk about how they are feeling." Ross said she is hoping people will come to the event to learn about tools, which can be learned to promote good health and maintain it. "Recovery has a lot to do with hope and attitude," she said. "One has to be a fighter to deal with this type of disease." She said the event would give people with a common issue a chance to network and learn from one another, while receiving expert advice from health professionals.