Sunday, August 17, 2014

One Big Boob

Hey...guess what?  I have two boobs.  Seriously.  This isn't joke.  This is the real deal.  Rebecca Raymond finally has two boobs!

On August 6th, I went in to the hospital at 7:00am.  I drove myself, much to the dismay of my mother who said it just isn't right.  For me it is right.  I am stubborn and strong willed.  When I'm afraid or going through something difficult in my life, it's easier to keep it together if I'm alone.  When I'm alone, there is no one else around that I have to be vulnerable to.  Being vulnerable leaves me weak.  I must be strong...and my strength comes from deep within where I can be quiet and know that God is holding me steady and I can just breathe deeply.  The time before surgery starts is always easy as long as I'm taking those deep breaths.  It's the part where they wheel me into the cold sterile operating room...that's the part where I can feel my heart begin to race.  I feel alone.  The room is filled with people in masks.  There are no smiles.  There are no soft eyes looking into mine, reassuring me that everything is going to be okay.  I'm going into an 8 hour surgery with two surgeons.  They are going to cut into my stomach, dissect blood vessels from my abdominal muscles, remove skin and tissue, cut into my chest, reattach those blood vessels and create a breast.  EIGHT HOURS with TWO surgeons.  My entire adult life has been traumatic experience after another.  I was scared.  They wheeled me into that cold, sterile operating room.  They strapped my arms down to the table.  A nurse came up to the table, leaned against it so her hip was pressed against my side.  She laid her hand on my arm and rubbed my arm with her thumb.  She didn't say a word.  The warmth of her touch in that cold, sterile operating room is something I will never forget.

I met with the plastic surgeon 4 weeks before the surgery.  He told me that my homework was to do sit-ups every day.  He wanted me to send my abdominal muscles into a "state of shock".  Working them hard would get the blood flowing and open up the blood vessels.  This is important for this surgery because The fat, tissue and skin he was going to harvest from my stomach needs it's own blood supply so they take those blood vessels from the abdomen and then transplant them along with the tissue and skin to my breast.  They reattach the blood vessels and we pray that it all takes.  The normal number of blood vessels that are taken from the abdomen for this surgery is between 2 and 5.  My surgeon gave me homework and I did extra credit.  I was doing sit-ups, leg lifts, plank, and any other core exercises I could think of, trying to focus on my lower abs especially.  Dr. Watson is my new plastic surgeon.  He was proud of me and my work on my abs.  He only had to harvest one blood vessel.  The blood vessel was 4mm...which I guess is pretty impressive.

I woke up from surgery with a second boob and an incision from hip to hip across my stomach.  I was in the ICU for over two days.  This is because that new boob with that 4mm blood vessel supplying life to that newly transplanted tissue have to be monitored every hour.  The nurse would come in with a doppler and place it at the center of my new breast and every time I heard the woosh woosh of the blood was music to my ears.  It brought a smile to my face...success.

I was released after 4 days in the hospital.  I came home and all I wanted was my kids.  I had missed them so much.  I spoke to them a few times on the phone while I was in the hospital but phone calls just aren't enough.  My babies bring me joy.  They are the greatest blessing.  I have a marriage that has failed but I received the four greatest gifts from that marriage. big boob...the title.  I almost forgot.  When Dr. Watson (the most amazing breast reconstruction surgeon) met with me for my follow up appointment, he told me that he made the new breast bigger than the old (saggy from breast feeding 3 children) boob because not all the tissue will be soft and supple.  Some of it will be hard and he will remove that tissue when he makes me a new nipple in three months.  I looked in the mirror...I thought it was just swelling but that new boob is HUGE!!  I was thinking...maybe he should just leave it and make my old boob just as big.  Just a thought...

I've mentioned several times that cancer is not the hardest thing I've had to endure.  It remains true.  Before it was my marriage that presented a greater challenge.  Now it's divorce.  Life has become a battlefield.  I'm realizing that it's a lot like that cold, sterile operating room right now.  I feel alone.  I need to breathe deeply and allow God to heal my heart that keeps getting broken over and over again...and the littlest touch...the smallest amount of warmth can impact my life so deeply.  I'm working on my deep breaths and every once in a while big tears.  Tonight those tears are extra big... with deep sobs.  These past few days I have been in mourning.  With the conflict between John and's a lot.  Sometimes I just want to cry out...I want to search for that man who I thought loved me.  I want to say...don't you know how much I loved you?  Don't you know how much hope I had for our marriage?  Don't you know how much I saw the potential you had to be an amazing amazing amazing father...just because the marriage is doesn't mean that man needs to completely disappear.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Climbing a Mountain

Independence first time celebrating the 4th of July without my children.  John picked the kids up at 8am.  Every time John and I have any interaction there is quite a bit of conflict and tension so thick you could cut it with a knife.  Yesterday after he picked the kids up I felt myself brokenhearted.  I felt sick to my stomach that this is what all those years of work have turned into.  I needed to escape.  I needed to be on my clear my not just breathe.  I found myself longing to be out enjoying nature...alone.  I decided to head up to Ojai for a hike.  When I got home from the hike I was telling my aunt about my journey and the parallels with my life were just too here you have my journey: the analogy... I'll make the analogy in the beginning obvious and then you can figure out the rest on your own.

The hike began on a smoothly paved road...a simple walk on sloping hills where my footing was firm and stable.  The path was easy to follow.  It was laid out for me...clear as day.  This was much like my childhood.  Raised by amazing parents who always made me feel safe and secure, who I knew were guiding me in the right direction.  

The paved road led me to a dirt trail.  I stepped onto the dirt trail and found my way on level ground for a while.  But then the trail started to get rocky and the climb up the mountain began.  This trail was new to me.  I'd never experienced it before.  Sometimes the trail forked and I wasn't sure which direction to take.  I found myself choosing the path closest to the creek.  Even though it was more rocky and a harder made me feel safe knowing that I had the creek to follow.  Several times I had to do a balancing act...finding my way on slippery rocks across to the other side of the creek.  I fought my way up this mountain...pushing myself hard.  This wasn't a leisurely stroll to enjoy nature.  This was me fighting to prove something to myself.  It was 101 degrees out.  I was dripping with sweat.  I heard the rattle snakes in the brush just off of the trail.  A snake even slithered across the trail just as I was about to pass.  There were places where there was no shade and I pushed myself even harder when the sun was beating down on me until I could get to that next shady place where I could stop for just long enough to get a drink of water and push on up the trail.  At one point the trail got extremely rocky and I couldn't tell where the trail was going.  I got lost.  I was no longer on the trail.  I no longer knew where I was going.  I looked at my phone.  I was three hours into my hike and had no cell reception.  My face and my arms were bright red despite having applied sunscreen three times.  My legs were dark brown from the dirt sticking to my sweaty legs.  I was dehydrated and exhausted.  I looked around to try to find the trail again and I couldn't find it.  I looked up the mountain and realized that I didn't want to do it anymore.  I couldn't do it anymore.  I couldn't find the trail to take me to the top of the mountain.  I couldn't continue searching for it and trying to fight my way to the top of the mountain when I was already so exhausted and the trail had been misleading me all along.  I decided I was done.  It was so hard for me to make this decision because I had committed to this hike.  I wanted to finish it.  I felt ashamed of myself for turning back so soon.

Heading down the mountain I had to find my way back to the creek and follow it until I came across the trail again.  Once I found the trail, it was so easy to follow this time.  Going up the trail, I couldn't see where it was leading me...but on the way down I knew exactly where I was headed.  The trail was easy to follow because I could see it.  I could see the coming obstacles.  I made it down the mountain in about 1/3 of the time it took me to climb up it.  By the time I reached that paved road that was so easy to walk on the way up, my legs were exhausted and that paved road seemed to go on and on forever.  I finally reached my car I realized what a wise decision I had made not to continue up the mountain.  I had called it quits at just the right time...while I still had enough energy to find my way back to the safety of my air conditioned car.  

The other day I picked the kids up from John's house and my daughter announced, "Dad has a girlfriend and we got to meet her."  My response..."Oh."  On the drive home, Ephraim asked, "Are you and Dad still married?"  My answer, "Yes."  Daphne said, "You haven't signed the paper that makes you divorced."

The path down the mountain may be clear to me now but there are still many obstacles...many rocky places where my footing isn't always firm.  While I know I made the right choice to not keep fighting my way up the mountain...I am exhausted and path down isn't as easy as it looks.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pick and Choose Your Battles

A quick update on my lung... I had a follow up scan a couple weeks ago. The spot on my lung is the same or possibly a little smaller. It's possibly just scarring from radiation. We still don't know for sure. The good news is that the doctor isn't very concerned at all. I will have another follow up scan in 6 months. 

The real update on my life begins here....

After thirteen and a half years of marriage I have decided that it's time for it come to an end.  The battle I fought for my marriage was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in all my life. Fighting cancer was a breeze compared to the battle for my marriage. Several years ago I left my husband. We were back together after only a month of separation. This time it's much different. Last time I left because I wanted him to change. I was acting out of a place of control. I was insecure and desperate. This time....this time it's different. I am a different person. I have looked at my life and stared immortality in the face. I have spent my entire adult life fighting....for marriage...for my life. I now choose to fight a different battle.  This new battle is for a healthy life. I might be a little melodramatic....but I feel beaten down. I've been beaten down by an unhealthy life. I now choose to take control of what I can. I choose to only allow people into my life who will build me up.  I choose to only allow people into my life who are worthy of my trust...who choose to be trustworthy...who are honest...who are loyal.  I have never in all my life been so certain that I am doing the right thing. I am terrified of the unknown but I feel completely at peace. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Falling Apart

I've fallen apart...plain and simple.  I finally feel broken.  I realize that I've been broken all along.  I was just really good at faking it.  I had even convinced myself that I was holding it together...all the while just stuffing every uncomfortable emotion deep down inside.  It's how I survived.  If I had acknowledged all the emotions I felt I would have fallen apart and you can't fall apart when you're busy trying to fight cancer.

In January I went in for a lung biopsy.  A little spot had shown up on my lung and they didn't know what it was.  I honestly handled it really well.  I experience a little bit of anxiety at the thought of having a needle inserted into my lung but I was so eager to just get the biopsy done and find out what was going on that I couldn't grasp the depth of the situation.  I was informed I needed to have someone attend the biopsy with me because complications could include a collapsed lung.  The biopsy was done at the imaging center.  They placed me in the CT machine and took images to locate the spot on my lung.  The doctor came in and asked me how I was doing and asked if I needed any sedatives.  I kinda laughed at the idea.  I mean...I went through an open biopsy under just a local anesthesia.  I birthed three children without pain meds.  I can handle a simple needle biopsy.  What I forgot to take into consideration is that cancer has caused me to be claustrophobic.  It's not an actual fear of small confined spaces.  It's the anxiety that comes from knowing that your body is being scanned to see if there is death growing inside of you.  Well, I refused the meds and they went ahead with the procedure.  I laid down on my stomach in the CT machine.  They scanned me, the doctor numbed up my back right under my shoulder blade with a local.  He inserted the needle and scanned again to make sure he had it lined up in the right place.  They pulled me out and inserted the needle deeper into my lung, scanned again then pulled me out and took 5 samples of my lung.  Let me tell you it is the strangest feeling to have a needle inside your lung plucking away pieces.  They removed the needle and scanned me again to check for bleeding.  The bleeding was minimal and I was so happy to hear this because cancer has it's own blood supply.  Minimal bleeding...could I actually let myself hope for the best?  I had the biopsy on a Friday and had to wait until the following Tuesday for the results.  I was scheduled to go into the pulmonologist's office to receive the results.  I thought those 4 days waiting would be horrible.  I was able to function normally and not think about it at all.  I stuffed that fear deep down and ignored it.  Tuesday morning came around and I decided I would go to get the results by myself...another protection.  I can do this on my own.  If I allow someone to go with me then I will be vulnerable.  I can't be vulnerable and ask for help if I'm going to hold it together.  And I did hold it together...until it was time to leave for the appointment.  Panic...fear...a heavy heart.  My heart was racing.  I felt like I couldn't breathe.  I made the 30 minute drive and didn't remember any of it.  My phone rang and I missed the call.  It was the pulmonologist's office.  I called back immediately but their answering service picked up because they were still out to lunch.  The panic set in even worse.  Were they calling to tell me to bring someone with me because it was bad news?  The only thought going through my head was...I need to be sedated...I need those meds they offered me for the biopsy that I refused...I don't need to be sedated for fear of pain...I need to be sedated for the pain of fear.  I walked into the doctor's office.  The medical assistant took me back to get my vitals.  As we were walking to the exam room the doctor walked past me, paused, gave me a thumbs up and said, "good news".  The rest of the appointment flew by.  I don't remember much about it other than the fact that the spot on my lung isn't cancer.  I walked out of the office and couldn't get to my car quickly enough.  As soon as I slid onto my seat and closed the door I began to sob uncontrollably.  All of a sudden I was hit with every emotion I had been bottling up for months.  I didn't feel happy.  I didn't feel sad.  I felt broken.  I am broken.  I've fallen apart.

It's been two months since that appointment and I haven't recovered.  For over a year and a half I went through a continuous stream of chaos.  I held it together the only way I knew how.  Here I am trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces.  I haven't blogged.  I quit following Facebook.  I stopped answering my phone.  It took me sometimes days to respond to text messages.  Figuring out life after cancer has proven to be the biggest challenge for me so far.  I'm supposed to be happy right?  I'm cancer free after all.  I tell myself...just pick up the pieces and move on...get it together.  Apparently it's not that easy.  I've picked up the pieces but they're not fitting back together how they did before.

Last night I logged on to Facebook and saw that another one of my sweet friends who was diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy has found out the cancer is back.  Please pray for her.  Her name is Adrienne.  She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer which is the most aggressive kind.  I'm angry.  She's 30 years old, has a sweet husband and her baby who isn't even a year old yet.  They should be worrying about how to treat diaper rash...not having to figure out what treatment can save her life.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Over the past few months I've been withdrawn, escaping from reality any way I could.  I've done the bare minimum to get by.  I stopped reading email, letting them accumulate to thousands of unread messages.  I started my Christmas shopping about 5 days before Christmas.  I didn't send out Christmas cards.  I put lights on my Christmas tree but no ornaments because I just never got around to it.  I haven't sent out thank you cards from our party in October.  This is totally not like me.   If you came to my house, it might appear like I've been functioning like a normal stay at home mom of 4.  The dishes are done, floors are clean, homework completed, weeds pulled, clean laundry piled sky high waiting to be folded... The fact is that I'm worn out.  I'm only getting done what needs to be done to get by.  I've had a year and 8 months of doctors, surgery, medication, pain...  I'm not discounting the numerous blessings that have occurred during that time as well.  I'm just explaining why I've become withdrawn from the life going on around me.  Maybe it's a little PTSD.  I find an escape where ever I can...anything that will keep my mind off of cancer.  It has worked pretty well, I think.  I have learned how to disconnect from feeling fear.  I have learned how to resign myself to the things I can't control...and I'm completely aware that this is unhealthy for me.  I feel like it's just a part of the recovery process though.  It's just a phase in figuring out this life after cancer. 

Sitting here typing this out, I'm realizing when this whole disconnecting thing began.  I think it began when I got the results from the MRI showing the spot on my lung. Well, today I went for another CT scan followed by an appointment with the pulmonologist.  The spot on my lung has grown from 1.2 cm to 1.8 cm.  When the doctor came in the room to tell me, he said, "The spot has grown so this means we need to do a biopsy.  I'm sorry.  After everything you've already been through you shouldn't have to do this too."  My response... "Eh, whatever."  After I said it I felt like a jerk but I had nothing else to say.  I feel nothing.  I was a little surprised that the spot had grown.  I was expecting it to be the same, smaller or gone completely.  Other than that little bit of surprise, I felt nothing.

The good news is that the PET scan I had two months ago showed no cancer in this mysterious spot.  I asked my oncologist if there was any form of cancer that wouldn't look like cancer on the PET.  He said if I was really old there is one type of very slow growing cancer that doesn't "light up".  So, guess what?  I'm kinda happy that it has grown.  That means it's not this slow growing form that doesn't show up on PET scans.  The pulmonologist also says it doesn't look like cancer to him or the radiologist who examined the scans.  It could still just be infection.  No matter what they need a biopsy to figure it out.  I'm waiting for a call to get it scheduled.  The doc requested the next available appointment and results will come within 3 to 4 days.  Update to come.