BREASTLESSNESS: Part 2 by Guest Blogger Christine Handy

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Christine Today.

OCTOBER 1

The call came in around 8:45 am. The diagnosis was stage 2 level 3 breast cancer, triple receptor positive. It was a Monday morning and I was home alone. I knew right when I picked up the phone that it was the doctor himself, no nurse to tell me everything was fine. As I was listening to the doctor, I sat down in my bedroom with the phone at my ear- trembling. I then asked one question, “was I going to die”?  I have no idea what the doctor said after that, other than he never answered the question. The rest of the day was a blur.

Things happened pretty quickly the days that followed and then weeks. I had a lumpectomy 6 days later in Phoenix, Arizona and shortly thereafter my parents, my husband and I flew back to Dallas to begin the immediate search for an oncologist. I begged every doctor I met not to have chemotherapy, but by doing so I raised my chances of survival. Finding an oncologist that I trusted was not easy. The trauma and disbelief over my arm overwhelmed me. I wasn’t sure I would ever find a responsible and honorable doctor again.
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 My older son was away at boarding school when I was diagnosed with cancer. He was 14 years old. I could not fly to tell him in person about my diagnosis. My husband would tell him the following weekend which happened to be his schools parent weekend. I did call him right before going into surgery to tell him I could not be there. This would be the second parent weekend I had to miss. The spring before, I was having the PICC line placed in my chest and arm to kill the infection that was destroying my wrist. Now this. I called him after we landed in Arizona and I had to tell him something before I went into surgery. I tried to calmly tell him I would not be at his parent weekend, but that his dad would be there. He didn’t even ask why. There was silence. I told my son that I wanted desperately to be there. And as my tears were streaming down my face, I told him that I had to have another surgery. He said, ” what’s new mom?” ” You always have to have surgery”. He was referencing my arm. I told him that I couldn’t talk about it, but that daddy would tell him when he got there . I’ll never forget what he said next. He said in a defensive and yet brave tone “Mom, it’s fine. At least you don’t have cancer.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. You see, in his 14 year mind I can only surmise that he felt that his mom was letting him down with her arm problems, but that she was going to be ok. Now that it was cancer, he would have to go through the agony of not knowing if I was going to be ok. I wanted to hold my son and reassure him, but I couldn’t. I wanted to scream and yell and run and hide. Forget the lumpectomy, I’ll just end my life and my sons won’t have to suffer through any more of my health problems. I was their mother and I wanted to protect – not cause pain. I wanted to love not put fear in their tender souls. I wanted to be a mom, not a woman needing constant care and help from others.
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My younger son was not in boarding school.  We told him the night I was diagnosed. He was 11 years old. He too had been suffering because of my arm. The previous year he never knew who was driving him home from school. Between my arm surgeries and physical rehab appointments and then the discovery of the infection, the ramifications that bled through our family were exponential . There was never dinner on the table, I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t drive, I was in bed constantly recouping and coping with pain. My presence as their mom was sporadic and limited. My son would call me after school and ask, ” Mom who’s picking me up today? ”  A couple of times I had forgotten to have someone there to get him.  I was failing as a mother, the only job I ever really wanted to have. The fear I felt was hideous to me, but the thought of what my children were feeling was paralyzing.

My oncologist was witty and informal which was a relief seeing as though we were there for such a serious reason. I walked in with my husband and the doctor immediately looked over at my casted arm and said in a lighthearted way, “what’s going on over there?” We were off to a good start. He asked me why I had my lumpectomy in Arizona. He said he would have preferred to have done chemo first to shrink the tumor and then surgery. The doctors in Arizona had said the same, but all of the doctors pointed out that the bone grafts on my arm would be destroyed by chemotherapy. Therefore, the decision was made to do the lumpectomy first and buy us some time to allow the grafts to graft.

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The lumpectomy would be the first time of many that I had no use of either arm. I was unable to move my right arm from the fusion. It was casted from my fingers to almost my arm pit. The bone grafts on my arm had to stay exactly where they were placed in order to be properly fused. Cancer was on my left breast. After the lumpectomy I had limited movement on my left arm. I couldn’t open a door, bathe, get dressed or feed myself . Putting in my contacts was daunting. I had lymph nodes removed from my arm pit as well so lifting my arm up was not possible. I couldn’t hold a glass to drink. My mom had to hold a straw up to my mouth. Sleeping was almost impossible . I remember laying in my bed at night on my back feeling petrified, exhausted, in pain and confused while desperately wanting to curl up into a fetal position to give myself comfort. The “I couldn’t do’s ” replaced the ” I could do’s”. I couldn’t even wash the hair I was about to lose to chemo. I had gone from being a 41 year old thriving wife and mother with an incredible passion and talent for yoga and other sports to a woman with a fused dominant arm and breast cancer. I had not had a day without pain in almost 3 years. I was the healthiest unhealthy woman I knew.

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From October 2012 to March 2013, I had 16 rounds of chemotherapy. I lost all my hair including facial hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. I am 5 feet 9 inches and my weight at the sickest part of my chemotherapy dropped to 98 pounds. In April 2013, I had a mastectomy and then in June that year my first reconstructive surgery. Just 2 months later I had another arm surgery where the metal and screws were removed from my wrist/ forearm . This part of my arm was now totally fused and the hardware was causing my frail arm a lot of additional pain. During these surgeries from April 2013 through December 2013, I continued to have treatments for breast cancer. Starting in April, one week after my mastectomy, I began 12 rounds of a drug called Herceptin that was administered every 3 weeks . I was scheduling chemotherapies around surgeries ! I couldn’t fully wrap my brain around the magnitude of what was going on. I was showing up physically to the surgeries, the appointments, the chemotherapies but emotionally I was dying inside. The days when I wanted to quit were too many. I felt desperate to live to raise my children, but the suffering was endless. My last arm surgery was in August 2013 which brought the grand total to 6. My last breast surgery was in January 2014 and I am not finished with the reconstruction. In total, 12 surgeries in 2 1/2 years and 28 chemotherapies.

My husband had his job and now he had to take over my role as mother, caretaker, carpooler, cook etc. It’s hard to describe the pressure it put on our whole family unit. We were all trying to stay afloat, but there were days where I wondered if people and households could just explode. The tension and pressure was so high. We were trying to function in this new environment and every single day was horribly hard. And as we at home were coping, my son at boarding school was suffering in ways we will never know. I often think about the ghosts of who I used to be and I loved that girl, I’m different now.

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My parents were my rocks, my sons out of fear pushed me away, my husband was busy and my friends saved my life.
To be continued………….

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MAKE UP YOUR MIND ALREADY {Sunday Affirmations}

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Happy Sunday Girlfriend!

I trust you are all having a beautiful weekend.  I’m playing catch up after spending most of the week in Dallas.  It was a wirlwind trip filled with playtime with the most precious toddlers, laughing over wine with dear girlfriends of 20+ years and of course, over-indulging in my fave food– TexMex!  Something that has been resonating with me since my return to LA is how inspired I am by the women in my life.  We seem to look for inspiration everywhere these days (I even base my blog + webseries on it) in the latest motivational book endorsed by Oprah, in movies, art, church or even on Pinterest.  Sometimes all we need to do is look at the lives of our nearest and dearest.  Inspiration is right under our nose and can so easily be overlooked and underappreciated.  There were several beautiful life lessons I learned on this trip, but the thing that made the most impact was how powerful it is when a woman MAKES UP HER MIND to do something.  Hold on to your hats boys… Hurricane Sally is coming through town!   When mama makes up her mind… shizzle gets done!  

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I had so many thought-provoking conversations on my trip with women from all walks of life, but there are a few scenarios that inspired me the most.  Remember a few weeks ago, I posted a blog about my friend Christine who recently went through 15-16 rounds of chemo.  Well, just two weeks ago Christine underwent a mastectomy.  On top of that, I was not aware that prior to her finding out about the cancer, she had torn a ligament in her wrist from yoga.  She had what was suppose to be a simple surgery that turned into a nightmare leaving her with a permanent metal rod from her hand halfway up her forearm.  She not only lost a breast in the past year she has lost the use of her hand and may never do yoga again.  When you are in Christine’s presence you sense nothing but gratitude, bravery and strength.  It overwhelmed me!  She doesn’t feel sorry for herself and doesn’t play the ‘woe is me’ sad song.  She put a smile on her face and made up her mind in the beginning of this journey that she would stay positive and get through it…SHE DID JUST THAT!  She even got dressed up complete with a fab wig and attended Heidi’s birthday party only a few weeks after surgery!  CAN WE SAY ROCKSTAR!?!

Another inspiring woman– a family friend, who has fluctuated with her weight for years, recently lost over 60 pounds and I barely recognized her.  Hello Supermodel!!  She not only looked amazing physically, but she was glowing and had a beautiful sparkle in her eye.  We had an intimate chat and she explained how she was looking forward to starting a family and wanted to be as healthy as possible during her pregnancy, plus be a healthy and strong mom for her kids as they grew. WOW!  SO INSPIRING!  She made up her mind and lost the weight.  Once and for all.  I am so sick of hearing myself complain about “that 5-10 lbs”.  Who’s with me?  If she can make up her mind to lose 60 then surely I can make up mind and get rid of that stubborn 5.  I have stepped it up with my workouts recently, but I am about to become hardcore BFF’s with the treadmill and achieve my goal already!

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One more inspiring story I want to share with you was hearing that one of my dearest friends is about to close on a home.  She has fulfilled most of her dreams throughout our friendship and then some, but one of her most important was to own a home.  After searching and searching she finally found the one!  Sometimes our dreams seem so far off in the distance or like they will never come to pass.  If you set your mind, never give up, keep believing, keep praying and keep working towards it– YOU WILL ACHIEVE!   Imagine yourself sitting in that dream kitchen.  Never lose sight. Then one day you will wake up and actually be sipping that first cup of coffee in your new home. 

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Are you wishy washy?  Do you battle with wavering, hemming + hawing and doubting yourself?  I admit I can think a thing to death because I can’t seem to make up my mind sometimes.  We play that mind game because we FEAR the outcome of making the wrong choice.  I read something recently to the effect of “we are free to choose, but we are not free of the consequences of our choice”…so like most issues, the root of indecision is that dreaded four lettered F word– FEAR.  Our minds are so powerful when we focus on the outcome we desire and make the decision that NOTHING will stop us from achieving it. 

THIS WEEK I WILL…..

  1. Stop the mind games.
  2. Quit the hemming and hawing.
  3. Connect with inspiring girlfriends + ignore the whiners!
  4. Release the fear.
  5. Choose love, joy and peace.
  6. Fake it till I make it if I have to.
  7. Focus on my dreams.
  8. Keep growing + stepping into my greatness.
  9. SMILE MORE.
  10. Trust in God’s destiny for me.
  11. Believe that I will achieve!

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I would love to hear your thoughts!

Please share, pin or tweet this with your friends.

Remember…your mind is a beautiful + very powerful thing!

Love, Tiff