Dress For Success

Kailey Visiting with me during a Herceptin treatment.
Kailey visiting with me during a                 Herceptin treatment.

Dress For Success

No, I’m not talking about your career, I’m talking about the success of your health. I’m adding this addition to my blog, with a shout out to Kaitlyn, one of the wonderful nurses at the Space Coast Cancer Center that has helped me get through my treatments this past year. She has been a sweetheart that never fails to take the time to come say hello, ask how I am doing, and never fails to pay me a compliment on my appearance, no matter how busy she is with other patients.

It was during my treatment a few weeks ago, when I had Kailey with me to help teach me how to layout this blog better (since I’m clueless and haven’t exactly felt like figuring all of this out on my own), when Kaitlyn told me that I should make an entry on the blog about how I always care about my appearance when I go out. I had previously told her about The Bald and the Breastless. She laughed hysterically at the title, as all people have, which was my goal when I titled it! (So that was a success also!) She said that I am one of the few patients that always show up for treatment “looking so cute”. She said most people dress the way they feel, so they show up in whatever they grab to put on to walk out of the door because they don’t feel like making the effort to look nice, and she felt it might help others to hear how I’ve cared about my appearance, because she truly felt that it would help the patient mentally to “feel better” if they took the time to attempt to “look better”.

I told Kaitlyn, that even at home, on the days that I didn’t feel like even getting out of bed at all, I would make myself get up and get dressed, even if it was to just go sit in the recliner all day. Now did I put on a party dress, heels, and full makeup? I hardly think so! But I did put on clothes that I would normally put on every day for casual wear. I felt that I had to at least make that effort to make myself feel “normal”. Would I have preferred to have stayed in bed in my PJ’s all day? ABSOLUTELY! But I felt that for my mental health, I had to get up, get dressed, and pretend that every day was “normal”, even if I couldn’t do everything else that was normal. At least I was making an effort to do something! I honestly feel that had I stayed in bed, I probably would have fallen into a deep depression, and would have had a hard time getting back on that proverbial horse when the time came.

I don’t believe that I have mentioned this here yet, but our insurance company was willing to pay up to $12,000 for me to buy 2 wigs. Now I’m vain, in a “I’m not walking out of the house looking like I just slopped a hog” type of way, (not that there is anything wrong with slopping hogs, but I would like to think that I would shower and clean up before going out into public first!) because I do care about my appearance, but I’m not vain enough to spend that much of anyone’s money on a wig! I had already read about how hot and itchy they were anyway, and I’ve yet to see a wig on a cancer patient that looks completely realistic in my opinion, so it really wasn’t much of a decision for me. So, due to foregoing the wig, I just went out and spent a small fortune of our own money on a large variety of scarves and hats. Funny enough, the insurance won’t cover any of that, only the wigs. I didn’t wear any hats once all of my hair was gone (that’s another post that’s coming soon), because I didn’t like having the bald portion of my head stick out in the back, but I did find a couple of hats that covered my head well enough that I could wear those instead of a scarf. I would like to also throw in this here for the new head scarf wearer, allow several minutes extra to tie the scarf if you’re a newbie to tying them on your head as I was. You also have to allow extra time getting ready to go anywhere if you want to wear false eyelashes once yours fall out. (Again, I will cover that in another post.) I’m much quicker at it now, but it took me quite a while to perfect putting those little suckers on! (I guess I finally figured it out, because anytime I did mention to someone that I had false lashes on, they always claimed they had no idea, they just thought I was lucky and didn’t lose my lashes!)

When I go for treatments, Dr.’s appointments, or even just to the grocery store, as much as a pain as it is, I take that extra time to select my clothing, and then a matching scarf or hat. I have always taken the time to put on make up and look my very best. I don’t know if its people trying to make me feel better or not, but I have honestly had dozens of strangers that I’ve met, that once we start talking and they find out that I’m going through cancer treatment, (and no, it’s not as if I’m going up, tapping strangers on the shoulder, and start telling them my story, it’s people that I meet and we begin a conversation that eventually leads to my story) they have all said things like, “ well you look fantastic”, or “you look great”, or “you don’t look sick at all”. Part of me has felt that it was their way of trying to make me feel better, but when Kaitlyn pointed out that I always look so nice and well put together and suggested that I blog about my efforts, I started to think there might be something to taking the effort to look better than you feel.

Maybe my efforts do help to make me  not “look sick”, so, maybe that actually helps to make me feel better. And trust me, if those efforts, which at times, are just that, a full-blown effort, are making me feel better than I would have without them, them I am all for it and will continue making that effort!!

First attempt at typing the scarf!
First attempt at typing the scarf!
Treatment, here I come!
Treatment, here I come!
Dinner with my handsome hubby and son at the Mangrove Deck where Nick works.
Dinner out with Dad and Geri
Dinner out with Dad and Geri

Today was a very poignant and evocative day! Today is the one year anniversary from the 1st knife.

Exactly one year ago today, I began a journey that I couldn’t have imagined in my worst nightmare. It was right about this time ((10 am) that I was being wheeled into the operating room to have a bilateral mastectomy. It’s been one hell of a bumpy ride!! A ride that I would have fallen off of a very long time ago if it weren’t for my wonderful, sweet husband, lifting me up and carrying me through! A ride that neither one of us would have had to strength to do without the prayers, and unending love and support from those that are near and dear to us. Gina and Brian sat by his side as he waited while I was under the knife. Mr. ” I can carry the world on my shoulders without the slightest bit of assistance” really needed someone to sit with him and tell him everyone was going to be alright, even though he never would have asked for someone to do that, I don’t know if he’s ever told you two, but that meant the world to him, it meant the world to us! AJ & Shelley visited us in the hospital the next day, again, lifting us both up with their love and support.

Once home, we were inundated with an outpouring of calls, visits, food, flowers, gifts, cards and messages of support, gift cards, and endless prayers. Every single thing meant the world to us, and was a crucial part in giving us both the strength to get to where we are today.

The life lessons that I have learned throughout this journey are ongoing and I hope have made me a better person. We will celebrate today by venturing out into this beautiful scenery that surrounds us here in the Shenandoah Valley, while giving thanks to God for allowing me to still be here with my rock by my side, and providing us with such glorious views.

A brief update on my final reconstruction. I have more to add on Chemo Round 1, but this is happening now for me…so I wanted to share.

I’m going to do something that I’ve yet to do since I’ve started this blog. I’m going to make a quick post where everything is directly being put on the page as it reels off of my mind. I’m not going to write it and think on it for a bit before I post it. (Although you would never know I attempt to proof things by all of my typo’s!  My fingers can’t keep up with my brain!)

I can promise you that I have never posted anything that wasn’t absolutely true though, even after thinking about it!

I had what I hoped was my final reconstruction surgery last Monday. I’m not thrilled with the outcome. The left side (where the cancer was), ended up smaller than the right. That’s because so much more tissue was removed due to the cancer on that side. That’s also the side that didn’t heal after my first surgery, so my body has been through the wringer! (If I haven’t covered that yet, I will, I promise.)

I felt from the time I woke up in the recovery room and looked down at my dressing that things didn’t look even or even “out there” as I expected, but I wasn’t going to question anything at that point. I knew the Dr. had told me that I would end up a little smaller than the ex-panders had me filled too, and all I knew is that he had tried to enlarged me close to my original size, but frankly, the last fill hurt like hell!   So I cried Uncle and said this is enough, I’m big enough. Looking down with the expanders in, I felt like I was a full D, so I was thinking I would be a C when I finished.

The Dr. told me he was going to go with 700cc implants. I had read that 800 cc’s were the biggest that were allowed in the US, so I knew that 700’s would be the not over the top. I had also told the Dr. how important it was to me that I had some sort of protrusion in my breast, I didn’t want round, flat saucers as breasts.

As it turned out, he took 700’s and 750’s in the operating room. When he looked at the 750’s, they were bigger around, but much flatter, so he opted for the 700’s to give me more shape in the front. I was happy to hear about his decision.

I do have to say, at this point, I’m a little disappointed at the visual outcome, because my left breast is smaller than the left (due to the extra tissue that was removed). Unless a professional tells me that I’m completely wrong, I can’t blame my Dr. what so ever!

One of the nurses did make me feel a tad bit better yesterday by telling me that it can take a couple of months for things to settle, to see what the final results will be.

At this point, I would be ignorant to expect for my body to turn out perfect. (Hell, I don’t even think it was prefect at the age of 18.)

I don’t care if I have to stick an extra bit of padding in my bra to even things out.   I don’t care that I can’t go bra less as other breast cancer victims can.

This all comes down to priorities.  I have my life, my husband, our kids, my family and friends.  I’m here!  I thank God that the look of my breasts will never define the person that I am, and I thank God that I have a husband that has been my rock and a world of support to me!!!

Honestly, this is coming straight from the heart!  No editing!   I mean every word, and hope it helps someone else through what could be a devastation. If you have the right people in your lives, it doesn’t have to be!   Don’t ever forget that!

Much Love, Kim XOXOX

Chemo, Round 1

Let me start by making it clear that I am not sharing my experiences to scare anyone, or cause anyone more anxiety than they are already experiencing. I am hoping that by reading what someone else went through, that might help someone understand that some of these bizarre side effects that they MAY experience have also occurred to someone else. I will be talking about my side effects alone, and I will be brutally honest, I will not sugar coat anything.

Everyone is different. Some may have a lot of effects from the chemo cocktail, others may have very few, and then there are actually some lucky people who I’ve talked to that have had none. A lot depends on the particular “cocktail” someone is on. I wasn’t that lucky, but I also knew that it could have been worse, so I reminded myself that fact daily to help me cope with whatever came my way! Many years ago the side effects were much worse than today. Due to the developments so many new medications, they are greatly lessened now. My daily mantra became “one day at a time!”

I will breaking down my side effects, one treatment at a time. I would love to say that it was a fun adventure, but I would be lying! What really caught me by surprise was the fact that, for me, the side effects changed from treatment to treatment. This brought something new for me to deal with each time. I also need to add that, for me, not all side effects stayed throughout my treatment. In other words, everything that I experienced after my first treatment didn’t necessarily occur with every treatment. Some went away, others stayed. I just had to find what worked for me to deal with the effects. There are a gazillion recommendations on the internet about how to treat the various side effects. I will be the first to say, some worked for me, others worked about as well as my chances of finding a genie in the bottle on the beach that grants me three wishes!! I can dream, but it doesn’t mean they will come true!  My experience might be different than what others go through, but for anyone that experiences the same things, they will know that they aren’t alone!! Also, after just stating what I did, I realize that what worked for me may not work for anyone else, but if I can provide help to just one person, I’ve accomplished the purpose behind starting The Bald and the Breastless!

My chemo cocktail was Carboplatin, Docetaxel, and Herceptin. I had 6 treatments every 3 weeks.

Although the rest of my treatments have been on Wednesdays, the first one was on a Thursday since we had to work around my surgeon’s schedule for me to have the port put in, which happened to fall out on a Thursday. I arrived at the hospital at 6:00am and was released around 10:45am, then went to my appointment at the cancer center at 11:00am. I left the cancer center around 7:00pm that evening. Boy, this girl sure knows how to have a fun day!!

Friday morning, I woke up feeling great. I was expecting to have my head hanging over the throne or a garbage can as I had previously read and heard was to be expected with chemo for my entire life, but I’m grateful to say that wasn’t the case. I got out of bed the next morning and was amazed at how I felt. Now considering that I had my port surgery the morning before, I wasn’t exactly up to climbing Mount Everest or the like (as if that would ever happen in my lifetime!) But I did take advantage of feeling well and spent the entire day to working on my cookbook and catching up with the housework that I didn’t get accomplished before surgery and chemo.

Friday, I started feeling a little puny, but I could still function normally. Early that evening, I had the Neulasta shot, that is required 24 hours after for first chemo treatment for the cocktail I was on.

Saturday morning, I woke up at 4am freezing and couldn’t get warm. I took my temperature after shivering for several minutes and found that I had a low-grade temp. of 100.6. I immediately remembered in the education on the chemo drugs, the nurse preached over and over again if your temperature ever went over 100.5, you should call the cancer center immediately, 24 hours a day. Considering that it was 4am time on a Saturday, I held off calling as instructed because I didn’t want to bother the doctor on call. A few years prior, I had an infection of some sort, (the cause never was exactly determined , other than being diagnosed with a UTI a week or so later). It was the first time in my life that I ran close to a 105 fever. I was absolutely miserable! I probably should have woke Greg and had  him take me to the ER, but I fought through it. When I finally went to the doctor later in the week, after telling the nurse practitioner about waking up freezing and that I couldn’t get enough blankets on to warm up, she stressed that when you have a high fever, as much as you feel like you need to bury yourself under heavy clothes and blankets to get warm, that you need to cool down your body temperature by removing clothes, blankets, etc. and use cold compresses. This Saturday morning, since I didn’t want to wake Greg, I managed to make myself get out bed to take some Tylenol, then held a cold wet cloth on my head, moving it all over my body every couple of minutes, trying to get my body core temperature down, (everything short of getting into a cool shower). By 5am, I was freezing even more and hurt all over, so I took my temperature again. Instead of my temperature going down as I had prayed. it was up to 101..I got scared, not knowing why this happened after my first treatment, so I called the cancer centers answering service. When I explained the situation, she didn’t even tell me that someone would call me back, she put me in hold and had a Dr. on the phone within a minute of having me on hold.

The Dr. told me that considering it was my first chemo and Neulasta shot, that he was guessing that the Neulasta caused the fever because it was a very powerful drug. He gave me the okay to take Ibuprofen alternately with Tylenol and made me feel a bit more relaxed that the fever wasn’t uncommon. He told me to be sure to call if my temp didn’t go down. Thankfully, it slowly started dropping. The fever didn’t go away completely for a couple of days, but it did stay just below the 100.5 “warning temp”. The low grade fever is something that I ended up experiencing at least a couple of days after each treatment.

The worst problem came later Saturday afternoon after I finally made myself get out of bed. I had NO appetite. I mean NONE. Along with no appetite, I had no energy. NONE!! The thought of food appalled me. Over the next few days, not only did I end up spending hours in the bathroom due to severe diarrhea that hit me midday Saturday, (not really info I care to share, but I promised that I would be honest with everyone about what I went through). I had to force myself to choke down a mini Ensure. (That honestly took over an hour to get down, so no matter how long it takes, make yourself get some sort of nutrition!!) The thought of food completely disgusted me. I’m sorry to share this, but the disgust for food stuck with me for the most part throughout my entire chemo. Don’t get me wrong, I did have times when I would crave things, but it surely wasn’t anything that was good for me!

Before I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, I would have loved to have lost weight, but I ended up losing 9lbs in the first week after chemo due to my stomach issues. My appetite has somewhat found its way back occasionally, but mainly for sweets off and on throughout the treatment, which is highly unusual for me!  I knew that losing weight by starving wasn’t the way to go either. I was really afraid of losing so much weight that it would make me too weak, as I’ve heard happened to others going through it, so I followed my nurse’s advice when she gave me her lecture before I began chemotherapy. “When it comes to eating, there are times you aren’t going to feel like eating at all. If all you can make yourself eat are milkshakes, by all means, have a milkshake! We just want you to have nutrition and calories.” I can honestly say if she would have preached the importance of eating healthy only, I probably would have lost at least 25 more lbs or so, but my health could have been even more compromised  due to eating absolutely nothing!!!

For the most part, throughout all my treatments, the thought of most foods revolted me. The only thing that appealed to me for the most part was chocolate or something sweet. And let me tell you, when I had my mind set on something that actually sounded good to me for the minute, if I didn’t eat it within a few minutes of the thought, my taste buds would change minutes later and I couldn’t eat it what so ever. Thank God I have a very understanding husband!! He did everything in his power to go with my wacky hour to hour changes in what I could eat, and was more than willing to prepare anything I asked for, even if it meant going to the store, placing an order, absolutely anything he could thought he could do to get me to eat something.

I hope this helps you understand your wacky changes in appetite, because for me, it truly was bizarre.  I’ve loved to cook my entire life, and was actually working on writing a cookbook and starting a cooking blog when I found myself facing this journey, so to detest the taste of water, salad, bacon, (my list can go on and on), was just so crazy to me. An aunt warned me prior to nt chemok treatment that I should avoid eating anything that I considered a favorite food because the chemotherapy would ruin it for me.  She watched her husband go through that very thing.  And boy, that was SO true!! The smell of bacon still turns my stomach! How many people can say that?!

Another piece of advice is about something else that I’m sure that you will read about. Some people have a hard time using metal utensils when they eat. The chemo truly does give you a metallic taste in your mouth. I had that taste, but never found that the silverware made it worse. My mother, however, was different. We had to use plastic utensils for her. Just see how you feel, and if silverware makes it worse, switch to plastic. I think I mentioned earlier, even drinking water became difficult for me.  I used to drink 8 glasses a day and knew that I needed water. but it had a slimy taste, regardless of whether it was bottled, out of the faucet, spring, etc. Nothing helped. I tried everything that I knew to do to choke it down, adding lemon, mint, other fruits, etc., serving it at room temperature, cold, warm, but nothing made a difference for me.

I strongly suggest before you start chemo, have your refrigerator and pantry stocked with a variety of things, to have a selection of easy prepared items to chose from when nothing else appeals to you. I will say, soups were one thing that I could occasionally eat. Puddings, jello, sherbert, instant potatoes, mac and cheese, and any other blander foods that you can thing of would be good to have on hand. For me, texture was a big problem. After loving salads my entire life, it was everything I could do to choke down a couple of bites of salad. It’s truly different for everyone, but this was my experience. I hope anyone reading this doesn’t have the disgust for food as I did.

I’m sure more things will come to me and I will come back and add them as they do. Again, I need to express again, this is my experience only!! Everyone is different! But if any of you experience any or all of these issues, remember that you aren’t alone!

Please, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about anything that I went through!

Stage II Breast Reconstruction Today!!!

As the clock strikes midnight, and trying to finalize everything that I need to do before I leave in the morning, I’ve been feeling reflective. I’m sure it’s not uncommon at all for this stage in the journey. I’m going in tomorrow for my 6th surgery in less than a year (and what a year it’s been)! Doc will be replacing my tissue expander’s as well as removing the ports attached to each one! I CAN NOT WAIT to get these suckers out of my chest! They don’t belong in my body, are so uncomfortable, and frankly, they have hurt like hell near the end, but as screwy as it sounds, I’m so thankful for them! They are a vital part of getting to this part in my recovery and moving on with my life!!

I hope and pray to God that this is my second to last surgery in my lifetime! God willing, my last will be the surgery to have my chemo port removed, which should be minor. I’m promising myself that there will be NO MORE COMPLAINING. (Okay, I’m probably lying to myself, but I have to start somewhere!) I really want to have a more positive outlook which, God willing, that will remain for the rest of my life! The way I see it, when I finish up whipping cancer’s ass, I can do absolutely anything I set out to do!

This past year has been the worst year of my entire life, behind losing Mom to cancer in 2012. I greatly appreciate the prayers from my loved ones to help me put this past year behind me, and to find the energy that I have completely lost. I SO look forward to our future and am so excited for any and all opportunities that lie ahead!

It may sound minor to most, and this is definitely not creating miracles by any means, but being able to talk to the few women that I have had the pleasure of speaking with so far, sharing my trials and tribulations now that they are unfortunately faced with the same, has hopefully helped give them the information that I wish I had had before I began my journey. Being slapped in the face with such life changing news, and facing the complete unknown is absolutely terrifying. The loving support that you receive from those close to you is absolutely a necessary factor in getting through the journey, but I so appreciated the ladies that took the time to speak to me ahead of time. They were able to give me bits and pieces of information that inevitably made sense and helped me realize more of what to expect, so I just want to be able to do the same for others. This experience has been life changing, and there were so many things that I had to learn on my own. If I can spare others from having to do the research to find answers and possible solutions for the endless side effects and challenges that I have faced over the past year, then I feel that I’ve accomplished a good thing!

So many dear friends and some family members, even total strangers that I now consider friends that I’ve met on my journey have been a crucial part in providing me with the strength that I’ve managed to muster up throughout this nightmare! Thank you to all of you that have been by my side throughout this journey!! XOXOX

Here is to the future and moving on!!!

I am over the worst part of my treatment, so it’s time that I set out to do what my original intention was…..

And hopefully help other women as they go through this horribly rough time in their lives, as I wish I had during that part of my struggle as I was fighting this God awful disease.  I can never be more thankful for the most fantastic, supportive friends and family, old, and new, that have provided me with more support than I deserve!  I wish to  give as much support for all other women as I have had to get me through this!!

I’m going to share something from earlier that I posted on a website geared around sports, but one that has turned into (with the backing and support from the site owners) a fantastic, supportive, online family community that have been wonderful in helping those of us going through horrific times! (Mudlizard.com)  Yeah, I put it out there Mud!! 😉 xoxo

This is something that I feel compelled to do.  I remember how scared and foreign it all seemed to me.  I drove home from my biopsy after just losing my mother 5 months prior, to cancer, having every emotion in the world going through my mind in that short 2 mile drive home.  Thankfully I had to stop by the grocery store on my way home which caused me to get ahold of myself, regroup, and think of something different for a few minutes before I had to come home and face Nick, who was the only one home at that time.  I don’t have the grace or ability with words to explain the feelings that were running through my mind and body at that brief time but honestly it felt like time was standing still. If I can possibly help anyone else avoid such a terrified, lost feeling, I will do anything in the world that I can to help!!

Please feel free to contact me if I can help in any way!  Please!  I feel every needs a purpose in their life, and one of mine right now, is to help other cancer victims if I possibly can!

Shopping in Ulta with my husband…..

I have such a wonderful husband!  While running late to get out of here to get to my plastic surgeons office to get started on my reconstruction procedures (again!), I grabbed my makeup bag and decided to put my makeup on in the car on the way down.

I haven’t been out of the house in over a week, so I have made Greg suffer by looking at this alien looking face and haven’t put makeup on in the mean time.  So, it wasn’t until I was doing my eye makeup while driving down I-95 and looking in my X10 makeup mirror  (since I’m blinder than a bat!) that I realized that I’m honestly down to a pathetic 4 lashes per eye!! It was not heart warming!!   (On a side note, I had to laugh, when my Dr. asked about whether I had my hair coming back yet and I told him that I had peach fuzz at this point, I mentioned that I was using the Latisse to hopefully help get my lashes back sooner, when he commented, “what has come back is super long!”  I them him at that point that those are the few that haven’t fallen out so far!)

So to the point of this post, after leaving the Dr’s office and headed to the shopping area, I asked Greg to stop at Alta for me for a minute because I’ve bought false lashes and glue in prep for this point after my chemo, but because of the ridiculous tearing that resulted from the chemo, the glue doesn’t even stick long enough for me to get the lashes to stick!  So not only did he stop to wait for me to shop, he went in, waited patiently while I had the girls that were working searching to see what would work best for me.  He was the only male in Ulta, and stood there by my side waiting patiently for me to find the best option (which wasn’t an in and out stop and for this guy, shopping is NOT his favorite pastime!!)   Not only that, he also sat in the car for Lord knows how long for me to try to get those fake hairs attached to my eyelids.  I’ve never put on fake lashes in my life, so I had NO CLUE how to get those suckers on!!  I succeeded, although I probably looked like an 89 year old that put them on before Church, but considering I did it in almost in the dark in the car, and went into a dark restaurant afterward, I didn’t stress over it.

It’s the little things in life that can seem so precious at times!  I’m the first to admit that I’ve been shopping with Greg so many times in my life that I’ve heard the huffs and puffs from him being impatient, not to mention the eventual  “are you through?” comments, so I know how not fun that store stop was for him!  Like I said, it’s the little things!!