Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What Do You Do With Gift Lemons?

There are some days that just don't end well. Today was one of those days. You see, I've been struggling since 2009 with the 'gifts' breast cancer gave me...

Initially, it was the cancer itself, diagnosed while I was pregnant. That was trouble in and of itself. However, with wonderful family, community, and prayerful support around the world, I overcame the scourge of BRCA1 breast cancer while pregnant through chemo during and after my successful pregnancy. It was difficult, but as the saying goes, "if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger." 

Fortuitously, the strength I gained from that battle helped me in my next battle - the battle in my work-place. I've tried not to mention the struggles I had there too much in public for my own protection, but suffice it to say that my superiors were not thrilled that one of the 'gifts' cancer gave me -- life-long nerve damage and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I received written commendations for outstanding work from both inside and outside my workplace. However, after my diagnosis, treatment, return to work, and subsequent search for relief of the 'gifts' from cancer my superiors began to complain of my sometimes sporadic attendance - even though it was covered by FMLA and/or doctor's notes. Technically, my work was on the same level as before. I know this because in that line of work, every report undergoes peer and administrative review prior to completion. There is also a Technical Leader, a person that ensures compliance with written protocols and proficiency testing. For about 3 years I did everything in my power to maintain my job and my integrity. Yet, when the time came, it didn't matter what *I* knew, but what my superiors wrote and believed. So I was terminated with black marks on an otherwise spotless record. 

During this struggle with work, I was also fighting on another front -- one of physical pain and frustration of not knowing what caused the pain. After I healed from my mastectomy, my chest wall, collar bones, neck, shoulders, and arms ached all the time. Those areas felt like I had lead weights pulling them down all the time. On worse days, I had shooting pain from my neck down my arms and into my chest. Sometimes the pain would get so bad I would be unable to move my head, neck, and arms or even take a deep breath. On those days, Andrew would have to help me dress and/or wash my hair. Days like that would bring me to tears and a defeated state of mind. I went from doctor to doctor trying to find relief. Different doctors had different diagnosises and treatments. Finally, on a trip back to Houston, in the Supportive Care Unit, one of the doctor's got me on the right track. However, even then, it wasn't a simple fix. In fact, I'm still struggling with the same root issues, nerve damage and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and issues that are aggravated by it today 4 years later. 

Back to today ending poorly... I've been going through old paperwork that dredged up all these memories. I found the mountains of paperwork about my diagnosis. There are the skyscrapers of paperwork that are even more depressing about my workplace struggle. I still feel the same mixture of fear, dread, betrayal, and humiliation from the way I was treated there. I'm sorting through all this paperwork for something that may or may not be beneficial. Yet, right now, all this walking down memory lane reminds me of the bad things I've lived through. 

In a way, though, it's also a reminder of the little miracles in life. Rachel is a healthy 6 year old getting ready to enter the 2nd grade in our homeschool! I just re-read the reports of the 1.7cm mass that was present in ultrasound immediately after Rachel's birth, but disappeared thanks to prayers around the world by the time I got a PET scan a week later! I'm still cancer-free as of my check up last week! Without my income, we still have our home and food in our bellies even though times are tough. Since I no longer have the added stress of work, some of my symptoms have gotten better. So, I guess, today hasn't ended that poorly after all. I just need to make lemonade instead of sucking on lemons. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Belated #FMF: Whole

What does it take to feel whole again? For every woman it's different. Heck, for some women the answer varies by the moment. However, a big part of the journey through cancer is beginning to feel whole again. If you're like I was, you chose to go whole 'hog' and remove as many of the body parts that were trying to kill you that you could possibly live without... For me that meant both breasts, both ovaries, both tubes, and my uterus. 

Is not obvious to anyone that I'm missing those internal organs that made me the life-giver in my relationship. However, I know they're missing and my doctor can surely tell you that they're missing too. The most noticeable ones are of course breasts. They're difficult to reconstruct on some women-me for instance-for reasons that are difficult to enumerate. However, are they really necessary to feel whole? Many women choose not to have their breast reconstructed. They'll you that they still feel very whole because it is more about the support you receive and how you feel about yourself. 


I'm a little late joining the party, but some bloggers around the blogosphere are participating in "Five-Minute Fridays" #FMF with an assigned topic and the titled 5-minute timeline. Since I can't ever do anything on time, I'm running behind, but I plan on trying to participate in this link-up party. FMF writers at Kate Motaung's blog. What a fun way to challenge your writing!

Monday, October 26, 2015

My Little Curly Breast Cancer Awareness

My oncologist was proud of me this month when I had my 6 year check-up. I'm all clear for the next 6 months! In celebration of that as well as to commemorate both this Breast Cancer Awareness month and my new endeavor of creating illustrations, I created this...
Over on my new blog, Benedict Catholic Creations, you can find more My Little Curly coloring pages. You can even contact me for requests. I intend to offer the almost 60 illustrations I have in this series as individual pages as well as in coloring book (ebook) format. They're available as JPEG files, but I will soon make them available as PDFs. For now I have a few available for free here, on my mommy blog, and on my Creations blog. 

In addition to the My Little Curly series created for Rachel, I've illustrated a Catholic First Holy Communion book with another woman named Erika, drawn many wheeled vehicles for my Simon, and just started a series of flowers. I use my creations as a focal point for some of the handwriting pages my children use in their schooling and also plan on authoring a book (or more) featuring the My Little Curly series. I plan on offering all of them on my Creation blog eventually. I'm hoping to use this to supplement our income since we're still financially strapped since my job loss in 2013. 

If you like this Curly, like the sound of my other creations, or would just like to contact me for something else, please do so! I love hearing from you!

My Chemo-Jane hair-style

My Chemo-Jane hair-style
I just had to have my mom buzz my hair because it was falling out so badly.

Pre-op wearing my hand-crocheted cap with my prayer shawl.

Pre-op wearing my hand-crocheted cap with my prayer shawl.
My loving husband is watching me distract myself with a game on his iPhone.

2 days after my BMX w/ 100ccs in the TEs

2 days after my BMX w/ 100ccs in the TEs
I even have a fashionable belt to hold up my drains.

3 weeks post-op w/ 400ccs in each TE

3 weeks post-op w/ 400ccs in each TE
The smile is fake because the TEs were irritating!