Monday, October 25, 2010

Depression makes me busy...

Well, I had Dr. B put me on Effexor for my hot-flashes. After 4 days (nights) of taking it, I started noticing that I felt like I had ants crawling under my skin. I decided that was a bad thing (allergic reaction), so I quit taking them. I also wasn't noticing any signs of the hot-flashes abating.

After I quit taking the Effexor, I took the time to re-assess myself. I was feeling pretty depressed, but I was sub-consciously keeping myself busy to not dwell on it. However, I found that when I was honest with myself I just didn't care about anything. I'm not sure if the depression was due to the Effexor or just to the overwhelming sense of disquietude in my life right now.

To those of you who haven't had any of this kind of thing done to you, it may sound like I'm being petty, vain, and/or sensitive. However, I've noticed that its bothering me more & more how my body looks. **I may get a little TMI here, so if that turns you off - click away from this page now.**

Let's put it this way. In July 2009, I was a 28 year old woman with 2 kids. I had a pretty realistic idea of how my body would look after 2 children. Before this cancer diagnosis I was coming to terms with my body as God made me. I had things I didn't like, but I was mostly comfortable with my body. I'm a typical girl in that I've always felt a bit insecure about certain aspects of my body, but in general I had the attitude that if you didn't like it - don't look. I also knew deep down that my body was probably better than average. I was large breasted and after nursing Simon, my breasts had begun their downward descent. However, they had a normal tear-drop shape and were delightfully sensitive (sometimes over-sensitive, but hey). I had a fairly flat stomach with just enough cushion to not look anorexic - even at 20 weeks pregnant. My waist tucked in nicely well above my bubble butt and bodacious hips. I was a *happy* 34DD-29-38!

Now, in October 2010, I'm a 29 year old woman with 2 kids. I have unnatural breasts that look like someone put coconuts under my skin. The tendons & muscles that connect my pectoral muscles to my shoulders/arms stand out in significant relief instead of smoothly being hidden by extra breast and/or fat tissue. For some reason this *REALLY* bothers me because it reminds me of how my Nana looked after she had her mastectomy (unilateral on her left). While the implants are there, they don't fill in the space properly AT ALL. They look totally foreign & feel even worse. They also are slowly, but surely, working their way under my arms. I have to wear some sort of bra at all times or else the movement of the implants rasps against my chest wall. The pain is significantly worse when they're pushed into my chest by holding Rachel or Simon or laying on my stomach.

Another issue is that I have absolutely no feeling in the skin on my breasts what-so-ever. I can feel the skin along my breast-bone. However, from my breast bone to under my arm - about the middle of my arm-pit - the only sensation I have is pressure on my chest wall. One of my nipples is permanently semi-raised, while the other one is missing (it died off after my mastectomy).

Then as I look further down, instead of the mostly flat tummy I once had, I have a misshapen ridge from my open laparotomy. For some reason, the internal stitches bunched up on my right side, so it makes a rather large (to me) lump. I'm also apparently still retaining fluid and/or swelling upon activity, so instead of being mostly flat or at most slightly convex, (to me) I have a quite convex profile. Not only that, I also can't feel (except for pins & needles and/or pain) the majority of my lower abdomen.

On top of all that I'm dealing with 20+ hot flashes a day. Since my mastectomy I've had either an altered sense of smell or my sweat glands under my arms put out a slightly different odor. So now I'm paranoid that I'm going to have BO as well as looking like a freak. Not to mention that I'm not 100% sure how this whole surgical menopause is going to effect me in the long run... Its still early yet, but I could become a stark raving b*tch at almost any time.

Basically, my gripe with my body is that it betrayed me & I am going to have to go the rest of my life this way. A 29 year old shouldn't (IMO) already have so much going against her. Now I've got fake boobs & a bulgy abdomen - neither of which have sensation. I could go stark raving crazy at any time and most likely if you're with me for an hour or so I'll have at least one hot flash, so I'll be sweating even if the ambient temperature is a chilly 60 degrees. I now have the semi-fake body of a 60 year old woman instead of an honestly God-given flawed body of an almost 30 year old.

I can't stand to see myself naked. I can't stand to think about what I look like. Its much worse than having lost my hair b/c I know that at least my breasts are NEVER going to look like they did or even natural. I can go for a LONG time without remembering chemo and losing my hair, but I can't go more than a few minutes before realizing that my breasts are artificial and have no sensation. I don't know what's going to happen to me if my lack of hormones causes me to be evil either. I can't go for more than an hour it seems (awake) without having a hot flash to remind me of what I've lost.

Of course, I keep trying to tell myself that I lost my breasts, ovaries, tubes, uterus, & sensation of all of the above in order to *keep* my life. Sometimes I know the trade-off is worth it, but other times it just seems like the cost is so high. I mean, quality of life vs quantity of life is important. How do you decide which is worth more? I really didn't have much choice on my breasts since I had cancer. I don't feel like I had much choice on the ovaries, tubes, & uterus either - especially once I talked to Dr. B about the various cysts I had in my ovaries. So if I look at it logically, I know I am where I am because I needed to get here. However, my mind isn't working logically. Emotionally, I'm exceptionally depressed about my situation. At this moment I can't see it getting much better. Again, logically I know it probably will. When you're deep in a pit its hard to see how to climb out. Logically you know the only way out is up, but finding the hand-holds & foot-holds is difficult. Even then once you get 1/2 way to the top at any time you can fall back to the lowest level. I'm praying that God will give me the strength to get out of this pit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Breast cancer awareness & Life alerts

Its that time of year again. The time when you can't go anywhere or do anything without running into pink this or that marked with a pink ribbon. While I appreciate the sentiment as a 5th generation breast cancer survivor, it really irks me that some of the most prominent organizations that support breast cancer research are hand-in-hand with the nation (world's?) leader in abortion services. In 2009, the Susan G Komen foundation gave $7.5 MILLION dollars to Planned Parenthood. However, in 2008 (another banner year of donations for SGK going to PP) breast cancer services (mammograms & other screenings) went down 4% while abortion rates INCREASED by 6%. That is NOT what most supporters of SGK intend, at least not among those I have befriended. As a matter of fact, I know some women who are very active in their local SGK & have said that their local SGK does *not* fund PP. However, there is a slippery slope there... The local SGK chapters send money to the national SGK. The *national* SGK is the one funding PP - not necessarily the local chapters. So in essence, any support of *any* SGK chapter is supporting PP. There is also growing evidence that even abortion supporters cannot deny that abortions INCREASE a woman's chance of breast cancer. So, riddle me this... Why is SGK giving money to the biggest provider of abortions (PP) - especially in light of the troubling statistics from 2008, the troubling research coming to light about the link between breast cancer & abortions, and in the face of PP receiving MILLIONS from the government?

As a 5th generation breast cancer survivor, a mother, a woman, and a pro-life Catholic (isn't it sad that I have to differentiate on that issue with other Catholics?), SGK's association with PP deeply troubles me. Through my research I've found that other seemingly innocent organizations supposedly trying to eliminate breast cancer (or any cancer) also donate tremendous amounts of money to PP. Some organizations are open about it (SGK is), but many others deny all claims. For instance, although the American Cancer Society claims to not donate money to or refer patients to PP, if you search their website and/or browse PP's financial records (records they don't release in a timely fashion), you'll see that women are subtly directed to PP from ACS. At the very least, ACS has not kept up with the current research since on their page about breast cancer during pregnancy, they further the idea that termination *may* increase survival. Actually, research has shown the opposite. Women who are pregnant during their chemotherapy have BETTER outcomes and fewer side-effects from chemotherapy than similarly staged women that are not pregnant. Perhaps this is because at the end of pregnancy you get the most wonderful gift of all - a new life to love, protect, and praise God about. Whatever the reason, ACS should keep abreast (haha a little breast cancer humor) of current research.

Now, if you're like me, what I said above troubles you and leaves you confused, angry, and disappointed. However, here's my solution... Look in your own community for a cancer patient needing funds raised, travel paid for, prayers said, support given, etc. Give someone in your community suffering from cancer (breast, ovarian, prostate, lung, whatever kind) your DIRECT support. Cut out the middle-man, that way you'll KNOW where your money is going and who it's helping.

If you don't want to single someone out in your community, try your local cancer center or a large cancer center. You may need to research your cancer center to be sure they aren't in bed with PP or a similar organization. I've vetted my cancer center - MD Anderson - and found that they have a no embryonic stem cell research policy. I also know from experience that they have been helping women like me have their babies & receive treatment for 20 years. While they aren't 100% pro-life (a fact I sadly found out 2nd hand while down there), they don't perform abortions on-site, nor to my knowledge do they support PP. I would be tremendously honored if people who read my blog or attend my FaceBook page would donate to MD Anderson in my honor.

In short, sadly supporting many of the mainstream breast cancer organizations equals supporting Planned Parenthood and/or the abortion industry (or embryonic stem cell research). To combat this, find someone in your community in need of support & give them your money. Another option is to support a cancer center you KNOW isn't supporting abortion (like MD Anderson). Make sure your money goes where YOU want it to go.

PS - I've included some links to articles as sources for some of my numbers & information. If you're of a mind, you can do some independent internet research to find other sites supporting my facts. I've chosen to use Life Site News because of parsimony.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The article about my Life Award

Banquet Organizers 'Excited' About Turnout, Involvement

08 Oct 2010 — Messenger-Inquirer

By Beth Wilberding, Messenger-Inquirer

Organizers say Right to Life of Owensboro's annual banquet attracted one of its largest crowds this year.

Nearly 700 residents made reservations for Thursday night's banquet at the Hines Center, said Laura Ebelhar, president of Right to Life of Owensboro's board of directors.

'It's amazing,' she said earlier on Thursday. 'We think it's incredible. So many people are making a point to step forward and show their support for us and our missions. We're very impressed with the community at large. We're very excited about it.'

The annual banquet is Right to Life of Owensboro's largest fundraiser of the year. Money raised goes towards the organization's educational campaigns, including the billboards it places around town and radio and newspaper advertisements.

'Our mission is to educate about life, so we use the money to create educational campaigns essentially,' Ebelhar said.

Right to Life's guest speaker was Heather Gemmen Wilson, author of 'Startling Beauty: My Journey from Rape to Restoration.' Gemmen was raped in her home and became pregnant as a result of the sexual assault.

She told the group that she had three options: Keep and raise the baby, which she initially ruled out; put the baby up for adoption; or have an abortion.

'I'm ashamed to say how tempting that was,' she said. 'I grew up in a family that was pro-life.'

Though Wilson and her then-husband initially asked a married couple they were friends with to adopt the child, the couple ultimately decided to keep her child, a daughter.

She described her daughter as being 'the one startling beauty that could come from something so painful.'

Wilson encouraged the group to 'trust God in whatever situation you're in.'

'I do know God can do powerful things through your situation if you trust Him,' she said.

Accepting the Life Award: pictured Rick Jones, Rachel Vandiver, Amanda Reffitt, and Erika Vandiver (l to r) Photo by Rowan Jones
An Owensboro resident was honored with the organization's Life Award. Erika Vandiver was 28 years old and 20 weeks pregnant when she learned she had breast cancer in 2009.

She is the fifth generation in her family to have breast cancer. She delivered a healthy baby girl, Rachel, last Thanksgiving Day.

Vandiver and her husband, Andrew, also have a son, Simon.

Erika Vandiver went through chemotherapy while she was pregnant and continued treatment after Rachel was born. Vandiver had surgery for a bilateral mastectomy, then later to have her fallopian tubes and ovaries removed because she had a high risk of ovarian cancer.

Vandiver didn't know she was receiving the award.

'Most people don't have a clue that you can have cancer, survive and have a baby. ... It's important to insure that message gets out,' she said.

Beth Wilberding, 691-7307,

To Learn More:

Donations to Right to Life of Owensboro can be mailed to the organization at 1115 Tamarack Road, Suite 200, Owensboro, KY 42301, or made at For more information about the organization, call 685-4922.

To learn more about Heather Gemmen Wilson, visit

Erika Vandiver's blog is

Version: 6End:

"Banquet organizers 'excited' about turnout, involvement" Messenger-Inquirer 08 Oct 2010: C1

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Humbled & honored...

Well, I was conspired against at the Right to life banquet... I was awarded the annual Life Award for my journey with Rachel & cancer. I'm again humbled & honored by my family, friends, & strangers who find me inspiring for doing all I know how to do - survive. Thank you & God bless!

Let's play catch - up!

Well, I think the last time I was on here I told the story of my CT scan & ultrasound showing a hematoma or cyst on my uterus. Well, that was Thursday, this is Thursday of the next week... Friday was an awfully painful day & I promised Andrew & mom that if I continued to hurt that badly I'd call Dr. B. Well, I continued to hurt that badly, so I called Dr. B. I actually ASKED to be put in the hospital it was hurting so badly. She pre-admitted me over the phone & told me to head over. We got there around 1 pm. By 3 pm I was in surgery. The surgery went well, but it showed that I definitely had a great reason to be in so much pain. Instead of a hematoma beside/on my uterus, I had an abscess in the wall of my uterus and a portion had died off the side. I also had severe adhesions between my uterus, bowel, and mesentary (the sac that holds your internal organs in a loose bundle in your abdomen). The adhesions on my mesentary were so severe that it looked like a piece of cloth that was pulled as tightly as possible. I spiked a fever after the surgery, so I wasn't released until Tuesday. I'm still on some strong medication & quite uncomfortable, but on the upswing I think.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Another complication...

At least now I know I had a really good reason to feel so miserable... I had to have emergency surgery Saturday Oct 2. The pain got to be so great that I couldn't handle it at home, so I called my doctor (who was luckily on call) and she did a direct admit on me. Around 3pm that afternoon, she had me in the OR. It turns out that my uterus had an abscess in its wall as well as adhesions attaching it to my bowel and mesentary (spelling). Some of the photos show how tightly everything was attached. Internal organs aren't supposed to be attached to one another tightly. They're supposed to kind of float around inside your abdomen. Mine apparently didn't read that book! The surgery was a success. She was able to use my most recent laproscopic incisions to remove my uterus & the adhesions. However, I spiked a fever after my surgery & so I'm still in the hospital for now. I'm hoping to get out tomorrow, but I haven't had much luck holding food down yet. I'm on IV antibiotics and fluids for now. I'm still in quite a bit of pain, but its slowly getting to the level it was when I was admitted Saturday.

In a way I got what I wanted initially, my uterus, tubes, & ovaries removed. I just had to take the long way, as usual. The worst part is that this is probably going to delay my reconstruction AGAIN. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever be finished with this cancer crap... :-/

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!