Monday, October 31, 2011


I have little recollection of Friday and Saturday. Sunday, I remember quite well, even though I'd rather forget it. My surgery Friday was successful from the surgeons viewpoint. I haven't had any signs of infection or flap loss. The jury is still out as to the success of this surgery of relieving my chronic pain. As of Monday I just started to get some of the numbness & tingling feeling in my left arm. However, my collar bones aren't hurting. Sunday was really bad. Apparently, my body objects to anesthesia very violently on the second post-op day. I was retching so violently that my nose bled. Bleh. However, Monday I was awake from 5 am till 12 pm & did 4 laps around the nursing station. I ate & did all those things the doctors require post-op. I had 4 drains -- one lower left abdomen, one lower right abdomen, one left foob, & one right foob. The drains have been switched out for smaller ones too. Tuesday one of my drains was removed & the wires on my transplanted arteries were disconnected (the wires let the doctors hear the blood-flow). According to my doctors everything is looking good. I was released to the hotel mid-afternoon on Tuesday. When my other drains produce less than 20mL if swelling fluid for 2 days they can be taken out. It's looking like I'll go in Friday for drain removal. I have 2 appointments Monday & then we'll start the long trip home. My hopes are still high that at least some of my pain will be relieved from this surgery, but only time will tell. Thank you for all the prayers & thoughts!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nervous Nelly thy Name is Erika

Well, tomorrow morning at 515 I will be checking in for my 8-10 hour surgery. I'm marked up like a side of beef. Mom took a photo, but my blog isn't rated for that kind of content. ;-) If you've ever had doctors make a road map on your body with a Sharpie, you know how humiliating & frightening it is. If you haven't experienced it, pray you don't. The humiliation is because at that time you are no longer a person, you are a canvas. The doctors (there were 3 drawing on me) spoke among themselves as if I wasn't conscious. When they acknowledged me, it was to issue orders for me to move a certain way or to try to re-assure me. The reassurances didn't really work. I think the inside of my lip will bear the permanent mark of my teeth. It was all I could do to not cry. The doctors were not cruel or rude in anyway, but being stripped of all clothing except some brief undies & verbally dissected was just kind of hard to take.

Suffice it to save that large portions of my anatomy will be transferred from one location to another & the implants will be canned. Hopefully, the pain from the surgery won't be too bad. Hopefully, the constant pain will leave me.

For the first 48 hours, the transplanted tissue will be checked for appropriate circulation every hour. If circulation is compromised by clots, I will be rushed back to surgery. This failure only happens about 1% of the time. About 50% of those failures are salvageable. Sometimes the flap of transplanted tissue must be removed. After 48 hours the risk of flap failure decreases dramatically. At that point, hematomas, seromas, infections, and poor healing become the threats. With the exception of a severe infection, none of these other concerns are life threatening.

For about 2 weeks I will have to walk slumped over to protect the sutures on my abdomen. The skin from my belly-button to the low-rise waist of my pants & all the fat & some (maybe) of the muscle will be removed. Depending on the amount of muscle taken, the pain, recovery, & permanent functionality of my abdominal muscle will be affected. If much of the muscle is needed my abdominal strength will forever be compromised. It shouldn't be too bad, but it will definitely be another adjustment.

Just the thought is making me sick to my stomach. "Our Father, who art in Heaven..."

If all goes well, by 6 weeks I should have a good idea of whether my constant pain has been alleviated by this surgery. I feel compelled to point out, again, that this constant pain is THE reason for this operation. This surgery is complicated and scary. This surgery is not something I chose lightly because I wasn't satisfied with my appearance or because I chose too large implants out of vanity. The implants chosen for me are the most comparable to my natural breasts. That is the point of reconstruction -- to get back as close to normal/natural as possible. I have just had the misfortune to have excruciating pain with my reconstruction. No one understands my pain, it's origin, or even it's effect on my life. This is basically my last-ditch effort to alleviate the pain. If not for the pain & it's profound effect on my life, I would NOT be having this surgery. However, the truth is that I find myself without real options. Living with the pain has gotten me nothing but grief.

These last 2 weeks of no medication as a precaution against excessive bleeding &/or uncontrollable pain have been hell. Until I quit taking any medication for it, I didn't realize how much my nightly dose helped. However, having constant pain that is already a 6 on a 1-10 (10 = worst) upon waking in the morning is awful. Depending on the activities & stress of the day, by early evening my pain level was often at an 8 or a 9. Trying to work, drive, play with the kids, cook supper, or even take care of myself was monumental. It is my fondest wish & most fervent prayer that this surgery cures my pain or at least minimizes it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Depression alert

Depression alert: the following is depressing, so if you're already depressed do not read. My cancer has ruined life as I knew it. I leave tomorrow for surgery #5. The pain is intense. The suck factor is major. Yet, I know I have blessings aplenty. It's just hard to see them through this cloud of tears. 

One thing I can tell you is that cancer really let's you sort the true friends from those who only pretend to care about you. Some 'friends' practically run screaming shortly after diagnosis. Some 'friends' are all sympathy & kindness while you're obviously ill & in treatment. The latter are the ones that cause the most pain. You come to rely on having these 'friends' in your corner, but heaven forbid your illness last longer than anticipated. Sadly I've found a few of these so-called 'friends' lately. It's even worse when these 'friends' kick you while you're down. These latter 'friends' are the ones who care when it's convenient for them or when it makes them look good. There are only two ways to keep these 'friends': have a text-book illness & recovery or die.

True friends are the opposite. They wait in the silence until you call on them. They give freely without thinking of the cost or what's in it for them. I've been blessed to have a good number of true friends. I am ashamed by my own lack of action towards some of these true friends. I hate to give excuses, but I have been so focused on my own recovery that I've let some of my true friends sit in the furthest corner of my mind. I think of these true friends when I get depleted of my will to fight. Just knowing there are true, wonderful people out there helps me cope. Thank you to my true friends. I'm sorry I've not been such a great friend back, but I promise that if/when I recover I will thank you to the best of mmy ability. For now you're in my prayers.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shaking & quaking...

Yesteday I had to drive to Frankfort for a work-related meeting. That's about 3 hours from my house. Of course, the weather chose to drizzle the entire way. Have I mentioned that driving hurts? Well, by the time I arrived at my destination, my hands were shaking with pain. My entire chest, arms, and neck were simply wrung out from the effort of controling the vehicle as I hurtled toward Frankfort. The meeting went well and before I was ready, it was time to make the return trip. Again, the weather was sigularly uncooperative -- drizzle interspersed with somewhat heavy rain. By the time I arrived home I had been gone for 12 hours and driven 400 miles. Andrew had to help me change clothes and cooked supper. He also had a nice fire in the fireplace for me! :-* I love that man!

I'm also still quite nervous about my upcoming surgery. My white blood counts aren't very good. I'm practically quaking with nerves about the possible out-come of this surgery. However, it still remains my best option. I think a combination of the drive yesterday and my pre-surgery nerves (combined with other anxiety inducing situations in my life right now) has produced a headache of tremendous portions. It feels as if my left eye is being clawed from my head and a stake has been driven through my forehead to exit out the back of my skull. Even with pain like this, my PET scan and MRI revealed no abnormalities. That is GREAT news, except it leaves me with debilitating headaches for no apparent reason. However, that is infinitely better than the alternative! ;-)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Anxiously waiting...

This weekend was great, but it was also awful. As I mentioned in my last post, I have begun the 2 week count-down and forced abstinence from almost all medications. Well, this weekend proved to be more than my poor arms, chest, and neck could stand. It's amazing to me that something so simple, like driving or hugging my children, can cause me so much pain. Not to mention that my amazingly healthy children weigh a ton (Simon is 45 lbs while Rachel is a dainty 30 lbs). Last night, I was hurting so badly that I finally broke down and took 1/2 of a muscle relaxer. The muscle relaxer isn't on the list of drugs to be avoided, but it is on a list of drugs that can lower immunity. My white blood cell levels from my oncology appointment on Oct 7 were low. Not low enough to bother Dr. M, but low enough to bother the surgeons at MD Anderson (I know this from my experience in July of 2010).

I've focused a lot on how I may look following this surgery, but looks are NOT the justification for this operation. Pain is the reason. I'm not talking about weekend-warrior-type pain. I'm talking about mind-numbing, excrutiating, debilitating pain. It's a bit difficult to describe, but I'll do my best. The first problem I reach is where to start??? Since I mentioned reaching, I'll start with my arms.

Bend your arms like you're going to do the chicken dance. Feel the area your thumb is pressing on? This area causes me a tremendous amount of pain that defies description. My 2.5cm (about an inch) diameter tumor was in that location on my left side. This area is where the pectoral muscle connects to the upper arm. These muscles, tendons, and ligaments are under a very thin layer of skin for me. There's no fatty tissue present to add a little cushion because my initial surgeon disected out the tumor with very little "margin" (under only spotty local anesthetic). However, the surgeon doing my mastectomy needed to ensure that all the cancerous cells were removed, so she took the "margins" on the left and a similar amount on the right. In other words, she took an extra inch or more of tissue surrounding my entire tumor area. This has left me with a visible "cave" -- the one on the left is deeper and more obvious, but the right is noticable to me as well. Due to my reconstruction surgeon's recommendations, I wear a brassiere 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As most women know, the cups extend into your under-arm area, including that area where your muscles, tendons, and ligaments must flex. The combination of no cushion on these tissues and pressure from my brassiere on these same tissues causes a peculiar sensation to creep down my arm. On one hand, I want to say its kind of numb and tingly. However, on the other hand, something that's numb should never generate so much sensation. This feeling extends from my under-arm to my elbow all the way down to my ring and pinkie fingers (although sometimes my whole hand is affected). The best way for me to describe it is as hitting your "funny bone". Sometimes this pain is only present when I stretch my arm a certain way. Other times, like now, the sensation is fairly constant. The only variable is how much it hurts and how much of my hand is affected.

From my arms to my collar-bones is a short journey. This pain is probably the easiest to describe, yet the hardest to understand. I constantly feel as if my collar-bones are being pulled upon. Sometimes I can almost envision a set of fingers wrapped around each collar-bone trying to pull them from my chest. The implants I'm carrying around as breasts weigh about 2 lbs each. Two pounds may sound insignificant, but day in and day out the constant weight of 2 lbs can add up to pain -- especially when you consider that the only support these 2 lbs get is from my bra (causation of my arm pain) and/or the skin covering the implants. Unlike natural breasts (or foobs created by using a person's own tissue), implants are not attached to my chest wall or any other support structure. They are suspended primarily by skin and a very thin, stretched-out muscle layer. This constant weight causes pain that goes from tolerable to impossible any time I must lift or carry anything over a couple of pounds. Above I mentioned that neither of my children are under 30 lbs, so even picking up my children has become something that causes me tremendous pain and sadness.

Next in this progression comes my chest. For as long as I can remember, I've always had chest pains. Not of a heart-attack variety, but of an asthmatic variety. Anxiety also causes my chest to get tight and eventually hurt. The pain in my chest is sometimes of this sort, that tight feeling that eventually wears down the muscle fibers until you feel like they're going to fray. That's the best type of chest pain I have. Other times, the tightness has gotten so bad combined with a particular motion (or even laughing) that sends a sharp stabbing pain through my chest. This pain I think is a combination of the implants irritating my chest wall, tension, anxiety, and asthma. Removal of the implants will hopefully remove at least one of these causes.

Pain in the neck comes next, and I don't mean the kids, husband, or work. I literally mean my neck hurts. This pain generally manifests itself after all the other pains have brought my defenses down. The tension from my chest creeps up my neck as the pain continues or worsens. I slump my shoulders, round my back, and tuck my chin to try to protect my painful areas. As my shoulders slump, my bra straps dig into the tender area between my shoulders and base of my neck. The neck pain again defies description. Sometimes it is an extension of my collar-bone pulling pain. Sometimes it is an extension of the "funny bone" pain from my arms. Sometimes it is an extension of the tightness of my chest. Always it is debilitating and exhausting. On a bad day, the pain engulfs not only my neck, but also my lower jaw. Turning my head, eating, or even swallowing become monumental efforts of excrutiating pain.

Again, the line of pain extends to include my head. My head will be much studied tomorrow. I have been having blinding headaches for the past several months. Headaches are nothing new to me, I think I began having them around age 6. Everything including allergies, sinus, migraines, tension, and stress have been given as causes for my past headaches. Sometimes an allergy/sinus pill removes the pain. Sometimes a migraine medicine relieves me. Sometimes 12+ hours of sleep is necessary before I feel human again. Lately, nothing has been working -- not even the narcotic pain relievers. The pain again varies but the worst is when it feels as if a railroad spike has pierced my head right above my eye (sometimes left, sometimes right, sometimes both simultaneously) and exited at the base of my skull. This development was noted by Dr. L in Houston with a small bit of concern. She recommended an MRI, "just to be sure" that I haven't experienced a metestasis to my brain. She reassured me that she seriously doubted anything would show up on the MRI. Dr M kind of snorted and said that he'd add a PET scan to the MRI, but that he was just scheduling these tests to set my mind at rest. He cavalierly said something about me being too young and healthy for something like a brain metestasis to occur. Of course, this kind of cavalier attitude has previously been disproved by my initial diagnosis. Tomorrow is the big day for my MRI and PET scan... 730 am my aching head will be visualized repeatedly.

My reasons for describing these various pains I suffer is not to generate sympathy. The purpose is actually two-fold. One, I want to document how I feel right now so I can somewhat objectively compare my current pain to my post-surgical pain. That will be the benchmark that measures a successful operation October 28. Two, I tend to gloss over the pain because I internalize so much of it. Instead of speaking (or writing) about the pain, I pick the fluffy aspects like what I'll look like, mostly to avoid any pity. Another aspect of avoiding the pain issue is that if I verbalize it (whether in writing or speech) I can no longer try to ignore it. Verbalization makes it real and unavoidable. Sometimes verbalization makes the pain the elephant in the room. So far, none of the doctors I've visited have ever experienced a patient quite like me. None of them have ever seen some one with pain issues like me. None of them have ever seen someone who deals with it (the pain, the diagnosis, life, ??) quite like me. What can I say I'm an individual individual! ;-) However, for all my quirks and medical oddities, there is no denying that my pain is real and has reached insurmmountable levels. This is what my current battle is about -- relieving the pain I'm living with constantly, that no one understands.

Friday, October 14, 2011

2 weeks...

I've got 2 weeks left until my next step on this journey. I'm hoping & praying that this will be my last medical step on this journey. The rest of the journey (hopefully) will be one of spirit and mind. :-) Today is the day that a L O N G list of medications becomes taboo, including, but not limited to: ibuprofen, topical pain relievers (IcyHot), narcotic pain relievers, and herbal remedies. I've tried some of everything it seems, but now I have to give them all up until after my surgery.

I've been keeping myself from completely freaking out by psyching myself out about the anticipated results of this surgery. The biggest result sounds pretty vain, but in reality it may be the root of this current problem: smaller foobs. This bonus (which doesn't sound like much of a bonus if you're not a member of the big boobie club) is actually starting to make me look forward to the surgery. Since I wear about a 34DD, my clothing is sometimes stretched beyond its tolerance and/or I must buy things bigger than my frame. Neither of which is flattering. As a matter of fact, the other night I tried on a dress and commented to myself that it'll fit much better once the 'girls' are smaller.

I'm not sure what my abdomen will look like -- its hard to imagine not having the excess skin from my 2 full-term pregnancies. I've accumulated a little bit of squish in a prime location for muffin-top. However, the difficulty I have imagining the front-center squish gone is complicated by the fact that it kind of just wraps around and includes my hips. ;-) To be perfectly honest, I'm pleased with my body shape. Even considering how painful my foobs are, aesthetically they are balanced for my frame. I'm afraid that the smaller (but more real) foobs I will have after surgery will make my body unbalanced. Afterall, 38" hips need a 38" bust to be proportionate in my mind. However, I will be happy if my new foobs produce proportionate pain as my hips.

All this talk about foobs and boobs has gotten me (and my mom) to thinking... Is boob and/or boobies a vulgar term? We're torn about it. I personally use the term foob or boob instead of breast for a couple of reasons. Number one of these is that it's not so stuffy as saying "breast" all the time. I know some people aren't comfortable with either term (breast or boob -- not to mention foob), but breasts (or boobs if you prefer) are a part of our God-given anatomy. I'm as comfortable using the term boob as I am using the term butt. They're kind of on-par with one another. They are both "unmentionable" areas. There are lots of names for both -- some more vulgar than others. As younger children, most people probably giggled excessively when either the formal terms or the slang terms were used. We have gradually become accustomed to using the terms, but still on occasion we giggle at what seems like inappropriate use of the terms (at least I do).

Some of the Breast Cancer Awareness groups have used Boobies to "sell" awareness to the masses. There's the "Feel your boobies" campaign, the "I love boobies" campaign, there's even a photo of a little girl with a slogan on her shirt referring to curing breast cancer before she grows "boobs" I think. If I'm hyper-critical I can see where these campaigns can seem vulgar. However, since my children's pediatrician used the term "boobie-baby" for Simon when he was breast-feeding, I'm much more comfortable with the term than I was previously. Having children, breast-feeding, and my breast cancer have brought me to a whole new level of body-parts. At this point in my life, perhaps I'm a little free with information on a personal level, but I think it's working for me. I probably wouldn't speak to the Pope about my foobs or boobs, but I don't think I'd be comfortable talking to him about breasts period! What do you think?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

23 days to go & I'm already a ball of nerves

This is my creation for a blog I
contribute to called Catholic Sistas
 for Respect Life/Breast Cancer awareness month
 If I wasn't afraid I'd lose my curls, I'd be pulling my hair out over my upcoming surgery. << That is my weak attempt at humor for this post.

For some reason this surgery is causing me more stress than ANY of my others (that I remember). I think at least a portion of the stress is caused by vanity. I have nightmares of waking up with gaping holes in my chest while the doctors just shake their heads and say, "It looks fine." Really though, I know that is the least of my concerns. I know this surgery is fundamentally more risky than my previous surgeries. Even the bilateral mastectomy was less of a risk simply because its pretty simple to amputate. The difficulty comes in trying to transplant to an area already fraught with inflammation and scar tissue. Part of the difficulty is rooted in the vanity side of the operation -- afterall the entire purpose of this type of surgery is to *look* normal. However, infection of both the donor site (my belly fat) or transplant site (the new foobs) is a significant possibility. Its also possible for the transplant to just not 'take'. I'm also paranoid that going this drastic is not going to affect my pain levels significantly. Well, I *KNOW* the surgery is going to immediately cause an increase in pain level. The chancy part is whether my chest, neck, shoulder, & arm pain will decrease, stay the same, or even possibly increase. The true purpose of this (final?!?!) surgery is to relieve my pain, but so far, no one is willing to give me odds on a positive outcome.

Another aspect of this surgery that I've hinted (ok, ok -- I outright asked/am asking for donations) is the financial considerations. In my previous post, I outlined that I am the *only* income for our household of 4. My husband & I figured it out last night: by the time you subtract the mortgage & my gas money to commute to work, we have approximately $250 per person for the entire month. That has to cover groceries, car insurance, diapers for two large kids (Simon's pretty good during the day, but nights are a whole 'nother story), toiletries, medical needs, incidentals, and the unexpected costs associated with life and having 2 worn out vehicles ('88 Ford Turbo Coupe & '95 Jeep Grand Cherokee). Even with coupons & savings cards, our grocery bills typically reach $200 twice a month. Then you have to factor in getting *to* the grocery store when driving aforementioned worn out vehicles. I didn't realize it as much when Simon was younger, but diaper boxes really do contain a whole lot less the larger the child. To be completely honest, things have gotten so bad that Andrew & I are taking steps toward bankruptcy. I wake up every morning for work and feel nothing but dread; not necessarily because I hate my job, but more because I know I'm stuck working to *barely* support my family. When I sleep my dreams are populated with the horrors of surgery (including my death) as well as financial ruin (my family being homeless). That makes for a bad attitude, panic attacks, and exhaustion (even though I know perfectly well that my extended family would never let us be homeless or go without necessities).

Going through this surgery requires me to put a LOT of faith in my doctors and our Merciful God. I'm not very good at turning the reins over to another. Hence the panic attacks, hot flashes, and overall flipping out I've been doing lately. I've always felt like I need to protect others from unpleasantness. I hold my emotions in so someone else can have me as their support and/or so someone else doesn't have to support me. I work really hard to try to reassure everyone that everything will be ok. My cheerful facade is just that -- a facade. It's no more real than the old-timey movie sets in our favorite movies.

Sometimes I can trick myself into believing my facade is my truth. Then something happens to reveal a crack. The crack slowly becomes larger & larger until I feel like I can no longer withstand the whirlwind of emotions coming toward me. I've been told to "let go and let God." Oh, how I wish it was that easy! I pray to God to lift the burden from me. I've been told, "Just like the footprints in the sand, God will carry you if you'll just let him. He already, is in fact." I turn around to look, but instead of footprints at all, all I see is the whirlwind obliterating all the progress I've made. I look at the image of Christ on the cross and I Faithfully know that my burdens and sins were nullified by His Act of Sacrifice. However, I can't help but also see the cross I'm carrying and nailed upon. Christ's was the Ultimate Sacrifice for me and you. However, when the winds overwhelms me (us?), it is so difficult to see how His Selfless Act could *really* take away my sufferings. Maybe I'm looking at it wrong. Afterall, Christ did tell us that we had to pick up our cross and follow Him. Maybe I have picked up my cross, but I'm not yet to the path in the road where Jesus takes my "yoke upon His shoulders". Maybe its because I'm willfully (even if subconsciously) turning from His path by pridefully creating my own.

Even as I type this, I know that without Christ's help I'd have already succumb to my life's troubles. So, even as I question myself and God, I Faithfully *KNOW* that He is watching over me. I'm in that odd state of acknowledging God's help but still requiring so much more. Neither the grief counseling books nor the cancer help books have accurately described this place I feel I'm in. I don't doubt God nor do I blame God. I don't ask Him "Why", but I also don't ask Him often enough for help. I'm not angry or belligerent. I know that somewhere inside this mess of my life is a message from Him to me and to everyone who has been touched by my life. I just can't see that message to me. I can see the message to others and that's another reason why I have such a cheerful facade. I want everyone to know that it *IS* possible to keep the Faith while going through trials. I want everyone to know that it *IS* possible to carry your child to term and receive treatment for cancer. I want everyone to see the positives of my situation -- not the negatives. However, behind the facade the negatives build.

This, my journal, is a release of these tumultuous emotions I have. Althought I'm speaking "to" an audience (you my readers), in reality I am speaking to myself. I am reassuring myself that if I can put my troubles in black & white (well, my draft is black & white) then there *must* be a way to resolve them. Plus, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit from your prayers is ALWAYS a welcome addition to problem solving!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

26 days and counting... Help needed

Today is the beginning of Respect Life & Breast Cancer Awareness month. October is *my* month, in my opinion, because I've blended the two so well. I respected life (both mine & my unborn baby's) as I fought breast cancer.
The problem is that as much as I wish my journey was complete and I was back to 'normal', that is not the case. In 26 days, I will be going under the knife again. This will make the fifth surgery I've had since my diagnosis. This will be the 2nd attempt to make my reconstruction pain-free. Most breast cancer journeys shown on TV show a woman who is diagnosed, seeks treatment, recovers, & goes on with life with little problem. That is a tremendous understatement of real-life scenarios. I know I'm not the only one who has continued to suffer from their diagnosis long after the rest of the world assumes healing is complete. Few people can understand the overwhelming disruption to life in general. Things that used to be stepping stones become milestones. Life does not simply begin again where it was prior to the diagnosis. I've not stepped into anyone else's shoes, but I know that my journey has been fraught with issues that have ultimately affected every aspect of my life.

With the continued problems (constant pain, numbness, and tingling in my chest, shoulders, neck, and arms) that I've had beyond the extended leave for big issues (chemo while pregnant, more chemo after delivering a healthy baby girl, bilateral mastectomy with immediate expander reconstruction, ovary removal with serious complications, emergency hysterectomy, and 2nd stage reconstruction with implants), I have used all the time I have accumulated myself by going to various doctors as attempts to solve my continued issues. I've been to 2 plastic surgeons, a pain management doctor, my regular doctor, my oncologist, and had various tests run as well as having the assorted illnesses that come with stresses on the body -- migraines, stress headaches, stomach bugs, flu-like symptoms, etc. This will be the fourth time I will be off work for an extended period of time. The people of the great state of Kentucky -- my co-workers and other state employees -- have previously dontated their own sick time to ensure that my family can continue to be supported. At this point, I hesitate to ask (beg) for more donated time since I have received so much. However, I must ensure my family's continued welfare. I am the bread-winner of the family -- all income and insurance comes from my pay-check. Andrew (my husband) has been incapacitated with a debilitating back condition. The doctors can't do much beyond giving him pain medication. He even had to close his shop. As anyone with children knows, they're expensive! ;-) So we have more outgoing funds than incoming.
This next surgery is going to be significantly more involved than my last surgery for reconstruction. We're driving down to Houston on October 25th since my pre-op appointments begin in the morning of the 26th. My surgery is on the 28th. The doctor's estimate is a full week in the hospital following surgery. Then we're planning on about 4-7 days further in Houston for a follow-up appointment before returning home. The drive home will likely take at least 2 days since I will be incredibly tender from the long surgery. Then there will be the recovery time -- 6-8 weeks total (including the week in the hospital). During that time I will be unable to work or do much of anything. I am terribly concerned and anxious about how we will be able to afford all the time off I need to heal properly verses the amount of money all this will take.

I hate asking for a hand-out from anyone in these hard economic times. I hesitate to ask the workers of the state of KY to donate any more of their time -- especially since we all "donated" furlough days to the state last year. I hesitate to ask anyone's help. However, if there's one lesson I've learned during my illness, it is to ask for help when you need it. I need it now. I'm adding a PayPal button* to this blog in the hopes of getting some financial help for this (hopefully) last leg of my journey to wellness. There is also still a local account (Owensboro, KY) at PNC Bank that is named Erika Vandiver's Medical Fund. Asking this of you, my online supporters, gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I know so many of you have your own struggles that you deal with daily. I also know that you have lifted me up with thoughts and prayers through this long journey. Your prayers and thoughts have been greatly appreciated and I hope to continue to receive them. However, there is little to be gained by not asking for help when it is needed. Help is needed.

*The PayPal account I'm using is Andrew's. I'm not very active with eBay or PayPal, so my account is quite limited and does not have a debit card for easy access on the road. His email address is -- that will probably be the header for the PayPal donation page. For bank statement purposes, the description for the transaction will appear as ERIKAS FUND. Again, thank you for your donation, prayers, and/or thoughts!

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!