I am 4 days post-op, and I had so many blessings today: First shower and new PJs, food by friends (beef stew for lunch, lasagna & garlic bread for dinner), surprise deliveries (a Christmas cactus, a basket of honey foods and remedies, flowers, a candle, cards) and friends reaching out with phone calls and texts.
I treasure the little things and take nothing for granted. God is so good to me. And - I really like my new body 🙌. I can’t believe this much is behind me. No matter what you are going through, YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE.
I have to remind myself to walk and to rest. The pain I have had - until now - has all been associated with where the drains are coiled inside my body. But today’s pain has been sharp, shooting nerve pains up and down my spine. I’ve changed positions and continued my meds. Walking certainly helps. Still, the collective pain hasn’t been as bad as a c-section! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
At least it’s prime time for Hallmark, because what else do I have to do? 🤷♀️ He has kept me as His own, and I still am not shaken.♥️🙏
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I took this picture of Hannah Reece on September 7, 2019, one week after bringing her home as our new puppy. Little did I know, I’d be diagnosed with breast cancer one month later. This is the true story of how my dog saved my life.
Finding Hannah was healing and therapeutic for us after the sudden and traumatic loss of our 9-year-old Romeo (our first German Shorthaired Pointer). It took only one look from her eyes for me to know that I was hers and she was mine.
The morning that I took this picture, I had just been showering when I felt something suspicious in my right breast. It wasn’t a lump like we’re told to check for. It felt more like a thickened area of skin or a palpable muscle where I’d never felt one before.
When I saw the red streaks in the mirror, I knew I had mastitis. For anyone who doesn't know, mastitis is an infection of the tissue of the breast that occurs when milk ducts become restricted or blocked. Most often, this happens during breastfeeding.
I did breastfeed both of my children for two years each, but that was a long time ago! How could I have mastitis?
The next time Hannah cried for me to hold her, the sudden rush in my chest answered my own question. Any mother who has nursed a baby knows the sensation I’m referring to.
Hannah’s constant crying during the night had induced lactation!
I know that sounds strange. I didn’t even know if it was biologically possible – and I couldn’t find anything about it online. But when I asked my surgeon about it, she told me that it was basic mammal biology. However, she also admitted that it was a first for her to hear of in her practice.
During Hannah’s first week home, I slept on the couch beside her so I could take her out during the night. She hated her crate. I hated crating her. In fact, I held her more than I crated her.
She cried. She wailed. For those first few nights, her cry wasn’t a whine or a bark. Instead, it was a heart-wrenching little voice that sounded more like a human infant than a puppy, and she never tired of expressing it. Many times, I gave in and held her so we both could get some sleep.
Subconsciously, my body responded to her nighttime cries in the way it was trained to respond to my own babies when they cried.
To the men out there reading, you can relax. That’s the end of the graphic story.
So, how did she save my life?
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) is considered the “sneaky cancer” because it grows in vertical lines instead of forming a lump or sphere-shaped tumor. ILC grows between layers of tissue in the breast, going undetected for a long time. A couple of ducts in my right breast had cancer growing above and below them - - thus constricting and blocking the milk flow.
I did not feel a cancerous mass or tumor. I simply felt the hardening of the area where milk was blocked. That is a miracle!
Had my puppy’s crying not induced lactation, I would not have felt anything unusual for a long time. I did NOT have the symptoms we’re told to check for: a lump, dimpled skin, inverted nipple, breast pain, change in size, discharge that is NOT milk (such as blood).
Without a constricted duct, I would have had no thickening of my skin in that area. The only pain I had was the duct itself. The actual breast cancer does not hurt.
You cannot feel ILC in its early stages. My surgeon shared that most of the time when women present with ILC in her office, it might already be in both breasts or other organs.
The only reason I had been alarmed and scheduled for diagnostic imaging is because God allowed my body to lactate almost 12 years after I weaned my youngest child. The only reason that occurred is because I had a new puppy that sounded human when she cried.
Now, here’s the story clencher.
The only reason I brought Hannah Reece home as part of our family is because Romeo had just passed away.
Selah. Pause and think about that.
Her breeder already had named her Reece, meaning “joyful enthusiasm”. It matched her personality. I decided to keep it as her middle name and prayed about her first name.
I felt that God had led us to Hannah out of His grace and mercy in a time of absolute sorrow. We loved her instantly. I chose the name Hannah because it means “favored by God; bestowed grace upon by Him”.
Romeo’s death and Hannah Reece’s life suddenly had such a sweet and personal purpose for me. Together, they were a formula that God used so that my life would be spared. I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness!
I know the story might seem odd to most people reading this. Honestly, that’s the least of my concerns. It’s my truth and no one can take it from me.
God used a donkey to speak in the Bible, and for whatever reason – He chose to allow my body to do something miraculous to reveal something hidden. And He did it in a way that let me know He has not taken His hand off of me or mine this year.
He has a perfect plan and perfect timing for every detail.
My word for 2019 is “banner”, also referred to as “standard” or “flag” in some verses.
“When the enemy comes in like a flood the Lord Himself will lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19). God set a standard between me and Lobular Carcinoma when I did not know it existed. He does this for all of His children in ways we’ll never know this side of Heaven. It's a great word for 2019.
I will NOT be shaken!
Work has been a blessing. I love my job. I've been working from home because I am still adjusting to being around "normalcy" for more than an hour or two. I do okay until it hits me - mid-sentence in conversation with someone - that I have cancer and am facing a major surgery in 5 weeks. Then my mind starts running through the lists of things I need to do and things I still don't know.
So today I spent time troubleshooting why quiz answers didn't populate as expected for a handful of our employees who took an eLearning on Bloodborne Pathogens. And somehow I created and launched that training without once thinking about my surgery. I'm getting pretty talented at compartmentalizing. It just happens in brief spurts. I guess that's normal.
At night, I spend hours researching. I always do this - - the topic just varies depending on what interests me. I've learned so much about my own body and am just scraping the surface of the treatments available. I'm also asking God to help me weed through the content and hold on to what is good. I know that He can show me the path that leads to life and longevity. He knows how to speak to me, and I know how to hear Him. I'm still listening. I am asking and waiting for a word that I can stand on. A word that will carry me through - and honestly, nothing else matters when you have your promise.
I've wondered when this mass started growing. There's a myriad of culprits to blame for why we have cancer. It's biological, environmental, spiritual, emotional. It's in the foods we eat and the products we use. It's in the words and emotions we express and those we hold inside. It's in our obedience to God and the times we fall short. It's the synergy of it all and I don't believe there's one event you can pinpoint to explain why a faulty cell is triggered to multiply. Because of that, I believe a multi-faceted approach in therapy provides the best odds for outsmarting this disease that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with this year.
In the midst of all the data and research, I'm reminded that the woman with the issue of blood only had to touch the hem of His robe and virtue left His body. By faith she was healed. One touch.
I've gotten the names of a couple of breast cancer survivors from mutual friends. I can't wait to connect with them and hear what it's like from another voice on the other side.
They are brave souls, and they inspire me. I can't believe my mother did this with virtually no support in the 1980s. She was loved and surrounded by family - but there was no internet. No support group. No insurance coverage for reconstruction. No Etsy shop featuring cute post-mastectomy PJs. Just her and her scars, her faith, and extreme strength.
So thankful to know she and my sister leaned on the same Rock that I'm standing on. I will not be shaken.
- Received surgery date: December 6th, Northside Hospital Women's Center.
- Picked up paperwork for my leave of absence at work.
- Received hundreds (I'm exaggerating) of pages of surgical consent forms to sign and return.
- Decided on DIEP Flap reconstruction and selected my surgical team.
- Co-hosted a baby shower with a neighbor, for a neighbor. No one knew except the person I hosted the shower with. Now I can tell everyone.
I've told a few friends because I need them to be there for my children, and I wish I could tell everyone in person. It's been so hard imagining sharing this news on Facebook, or in texts, or in emails, and now I've done them all. It's no better in person. Honestly, it's more emotional and I'm sort of "cried out" right now.
I'm also taking naps when I need them. I never knew how much I needed sleep. And we dream when we sleep. He speaks to me; that's why I'm not shaken.
- Continued life as normal as possible. Hosted a Sweet 16 brunch for Eden and friends. Captured the sweetest pictures of Eden's homecoming dance. Simultaneously felt numb and celebratory.
- Consulted with various plastic surgeons and researched reconstruction options.
- Cried several times in the shower, realizing I'm losing part of my body that nourished my children. I'm dreading every second of what's ahead.
OUT OF THE MOUTH OF BABES
Eden has a knack for bringing logical, practical thinking into the midst of dramatic emotion. She gets that from the Williams gene pool.
We had a sleepover in her room for a few nights. The reality of cancer makes you treasure every second of every day and night. She held my hand in her bed and asked me why I was crying: "Are you scared?" I told her I wasn't afraid of dying; I was crying because I didn't want to lose part of my body. She said, "But you have to, Mama, so we can keep the rest of you." It was the most healing statement and it stopped my tears. I remind myself of that when I need to keep things in perspective.
Justice has always been protective of me - walks me out to my car, runs errands with me after dark, unloads my groceries, carries my bags in from work, takes out the trash, and now - takes primary responsibility for walking Miss Hannah Reece (our 16-week-old puppy) so that I don't over-exert myself or let her pull my arm when she's on her leash. I don't know what I'd do without Justice. He has a very witty sense of humor and a deep, spiritual side.
Both of my kids are my best friends. I don't know what I did to deserve them.
DECISIONS CHART YOUR DESTINY
I've always believed that the reason my mother survived breast cancer in the 1980s is because she made the drastic decision to elect a bilateral mastectomy. I think I always knew, in the back of my mind, that if ever faced with the same news, I'd make the hard choice she did. She didn't do it for herself; she did it for us. I'm not doing this for myself; I'm thinking of Eden and Justice with every decision I make.
Even though my cancer is in one breast, I'm electing a bilateral mastectomy because it offers the best odds. My breasts have served their primary purpose.
Still, I'm only 47. I have the second half of my life to live, and I really want the 2.0 version of my body to look authentic. After doing hours and hours of research, watching vlogs of women who had various types of reconstruction, meeting with plastic surgeons, and having numerous photo shoots of my pre-surgery body (for their records, not mine!), I made my decision.
I don't want implants. I'm considering having DIEP Flap reconstruction. If you like nerdy, medical research, feel free to look it up. They basically take my own abdominal skin, tissue, fat, and blood vessels and transplant them to replace the breast tissue that is removed during the mastectomy.
This micro-vascular surgery will allow me to end up with my own tissue and connected blood vessels and I'll have the greatest chance of sensation, feeling, and warmth like my body now.
Justice asked me - early in my diagnosis - "Will you be able to feel us when we hug you?" I hadn't thought of what that loss of feeling would be like, emotionally. If the surgery doesn't look like it will be a success and if at any point I look like I'm at risk, the surgeons will stop the procedure and I'll wake up with implants.
And let's keep all things in perspective. I just want to wake up from this 6- to 16-hour surgery. Whether it's my own tissue and vessels or implants - my goal is to live. And as a side perk, I get a tummy tuck out of the whole ordeal and that's the least I deserve! :-)
The hardest thing this week was the realization that I am the ultimate soul who gets to make this decision - and every decision - related to my survival and my recovery. My decisions impact my children, and I've only just begun. I still have to research systemic treatment options for after the surgery and the side effects and be prepared to fight the battles of traditional healthcare if I don't have peace about their suggestions.
I will not be shaken.
- Had diagnostic imaging, including a 3D mammogram, ultrasound, two biopsies, and an MRI (with and without contrast).
- Received pathology reports and shared the news with my immediate family and my team at work.
- Cried myself to sleep the first few nights with thoughts of leaving Eden and Justice here on Earth.
How ironic is it that I work for an imaging company whose images, tools, and diagnostic skills saved my life?!?! For the record, I don’t believe in irony.
One of our imaging centers is in Anderson, SC. I forever will be thankful to the team at Anderson Imaging for the excellent care and communication they provided…God knew exactly who I needed in every room, every time I visited. If you live in SC, call one of our centers to schedule diagnostic testing, immediately! Their website shows the centers we have in other states.
All of my tests were virtually painless. Every image gave us a different view of the areas of questionable tissue.
The pathology report says I have multifocal, invasive, lobular carcinoma. The tumor stage is 2A. The Hormone Receptor Test was positive to both Estrogen and Progesterone (and negative to HER2).
- Multifocal means that a mass exists in more than one quadrant of the breast. If you mark a cross on the breast with a Sharpie (my doctor drew a picture of this!), you can imagine the breast divided into 4 quadrants. I have a mass near the 1:00 position and two small masses in another area. Since these locations fall in different quadrants of the breast, it's referred to as multifocal and the standard protocol is a mastectomy (vs. a lumpectomy).
- Invasive means that it did not remain where it started. Instead, it traveled/spread to surrounding tissue (or beyond). Fortunately, mine appears to have spread only within the right breast. On MRI, chest wall and lymph nodes look clear.
- Lobular indicates that the cancer started within the lobules, which are located in the back of the breast and are also known as the milk glands.
This type of cancer is not common. Just for statistical fun, invasive lobular accounts for only 5% of breast cancers. The majority (80% or more) are ductal in situ (originating and remaining in the ducts).
It's also hard to discover. Instead of forming in the shape of a lump or sphere, it grows as one cell in front of the other. When this line of cells branches off, it appears like the veins of a leaf - still, one cell lines up in front of the other. It makes the tissue feel thick, but it does not form a lump like we are all told to check for.
MORE PATHOLOGY DETAILS
That was the bad news. From there on, every lab update that I received was encouraging, considering the potential:
- Stage 2A: Tumors are diagnosed with an estimated stage (from 0 to 4), based on several details. They’re also given a grade, indicating how likely they are to spread rapidly. Mine is not a high grade and it is a stage 2A, with a 95+ % chance of success.
- Hormone Receptor Status: When cancer cells are biopsied, they are tested to see which hormones they are receptive to. This helps determine what fuels their growth and which treatment options will be most effective after surgery. My tumor is positive for Estrogen and Progesterone, and negative for HER2. In short, this provides several treatment options after surgery and means, most importantly, that chemo is not likely.
- Benign, Left Side: The biopsy on my left breast was benign. This is important because it eliminates the need to test lymph nodes on the left side of my body during the mastectomy. It also means that my left arm is my new blood-pressure cuff arm, and the arm in which all future blood will be drawn and IVs inserted. It also confirms that we caught this fairly early, before it had a chance to travel across my body.
I’m not an expert. But I studied it enough to be able to wrap my mind around what I’m battling so that I can arm myself to survive and thrive.
I will not be shaken.
Within seconds of our hour-long call today, I instantly felt safe in our conversation. Cancer connects people like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
It’s interesting to see how God uses something so evil to bring out the sweetest gestures from people. MK shared the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of her journey - which is exactly what I wanted to hear. It was so encouraging to hear it first-hand and have the opportunity to ask questions. It was like my own, personal, live, training Webinar on breast cancer!
MK gave me something I didn’t realize I needed: tips for recovery! I’ve focused for so long (all 15 days since my diagnosis) on what happens between today and surgery day that I’ve barely given thought to what happens AFTER recovery.
After MK’s advice, I added 4 more things to my running list:
☑️ Buy tops that button to wear during recovery.
☑️ Use pool noodle when doing snow angels.
☑️ Find a physical therapist who focuses on mastectomy recovery with facia massage.
☑️ Don’t attempt to cut the grass when I’m bored a few weeks after surgery. 🤣
I have so much research to do and so many ugly cries ahead of me. But tonight, we are laughing and watching my daughter open 16 presents from me because I celebrate big. I’m swallowing sweet tears, realizing that I have no regrets for having loved them lavishly. To my children, I have given my body, the temporary pause of my career, my time, my treasures, and all my love.
I don’t even know the magnitude of what there is to fear yet because each breast cancer journey is unique. But no matter how difficult and painful the steps are - there is nothing they can tell me that will hurt worse than my imagining not being here for my children.
I am not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of not being there on Eden’s wedding day. I know my eternity is secure. I also want to have the security that I’ve approved of Justice’s bride - a girl whom God’s audible voice told me to pray for in 2001, five years before he was born.
I’m not ready to leave this earth. However long my journey is, my hope is that I walk it out with grace. God is good - even if my prognosis isn’t. Tomorrow, I’ll tell them. Tonight, we eat cake! 🎂
Site created on October 13, 2019
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