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Scars

Scars

I used to think scars were something you could see…external…visible. I used to not have many scars. Then, four months ago, I had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, and suddenly all I could see were the scars.

Throughout the recovery and reconstruction that takes place after a mastectomy, not only did I stare at my visible scars everyday, but I started to see and feel scars that weren’t visible to the eye. The scars that were deep, but that I couldn’t see, began to come to the surface. My past, my pain, my mistakes, my shortcomings…they all seemed to be reflected back at me. It was as if I looked in the mirror at my new visible scars, and the old scars from the inside came seeping out.

I couldn’t run away from the pain anymore. I couldn’t pretend that I was enough, because I just wasn’t. Looking in the mirror was hard for a while. My body was physically different and my soul was healing, maybe for the 1st time ever.

I always said that I believed that God was who He said He was, and that I was worthy of His love, but now, it didn’t seem like it. It seemed like everything hurt. Everything was different.

Having surgery was the right decision for me and my family, but it didn’t make the pain and the healing any easier. It was a process. It was a process that I honestly wasn’t ready for. I thought I knew what to expect. I thought I knew how hard it would be.

But I never expected the Lord to use the months during my recovery to show me all my scars. I never expected this process to be so hard.

As I sit and write this post tonight, I am three weeks post exchange surgery, meaning the reconstruction process is finished and now we move on from this process onto the next adventure the Lord will place before us.

But the process of healing is ongoing. It’s a conversation I’m having with the Lord. I whisper my doubts to Him about what I see in the mirror, the pieces that are beautiful, but that aren’t me. And He whispers back to me a sweet reminder of who He says I am. Beautiful. Adored. The child of a King.

Scars or no scars. Visible or invisible. He loves me the same. He loves me the same today as he did before I ever had a visible scar. He loved me before I could see the pain and the process and the recovery journey.

There’s nothing I can do or say or think that will ever make Him love me less, so why would I look in the mirror and let the devil lie to me about my mistakes or my shortcomings or my pain? The devil wants me to look in the mirror and believe my sin is unforgivable.

But the Lord says, YOU ARE FORGIVEN.

The devil wants me to look in the mirror and think that I’m not enough.

But the Lord says, YOU ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH.

The devil wants me to look in the mirror and believe that I’m not beautiful.

But the Lord says, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. YOU ARE ADORED. YOU ARE MINE.

And maybe you’ve looked in the mirror and believed the same lies. Actually, I don’t even have to assume, I’m sure that you have believed the lies. You’ve heard it haven’t you? “You’re not enough. Your sin is too great. You’ll never be as beautiful as those other women. You’ll never be as good as them”

They’re lies. Lies from an enemy that would want you to believe that your scars can and will define you. Whether internal or external, we all have scars, but our God promises to use them. He promises to use our scars to bring glory to His kingdom. He promises to use our scars for good. The question is, are we willing? Are we willing to look in the mirror and deny the devil the right to continue to lie to us about what we see? Are we willing to look right back into our own reflections and tell ourselves WHOSE we are?

I started asking God how He sees me. I started asking Him who I am, and he started to whisper back. I kept asking because honestly I didn’t believe Him. “Surely you’re talking about someone else. You can’t be saying those things about me because I don’t feel those things.”

I was believing my scars would make me weak. I was believing the lies of the deceiver.

How little credit we give ourselves, friends! How little we value our worth when we stand in the mirror and see our scars reflected back at us.

Ask Him who are. Ask Him again and again. See what He says and then start to walk in it. Tell yourself every single day. Start to believe that you are who He says you are.

In Christ, you are:

without rival

made in the image of God

adored

fought for

won

beautiful

chosen

YOU. Yes, you, were chosen by God to do good work that only you can do. Do not for a second let the devil trick you into thinking your scars or your past or your sin or what you see in the mirror can stop you. YOU are a child of God.

You are fearless.

You are a light.

You are mine.

Those are the words he kept whispering to me, over and over again. Even when I told Him I wasn’t those things. I was scared and sad and lonely. He whispered them anyways. Over and over.

I am a fearless light…a daughter to the creator of the universe, and I will not believe the lies of the enemy. I will use my scars as fuel to fight the good fight and bring glory to my Heavenly Father.

This my friends, is how we FIGHT. Join me. Believe Him. Deny the devil the satisfaction of your doubt or fear, and let’s do the good work we were put here to do.

Our scars will not define us. They might actually begin to show us who we really are.

{I hardly ever write a post without at least one picture, but because of the subject, I just couldn’t find a picture that I felt did the subject justice, so there just aren’t any. Look in the mirror after you read this, and ask God how He sees you. That’s the picture I want you to see.}

your mastectomy questions answered

your mastectomy questions answered

I’ve had some sweet friends wonder about some things a lot of people may not know about a mastectomy so I thought I answer them here. So here goes…..

Q: What kind of mastectomy did you have?

A: So there are actually several types of mastectomies. I won’t go into detail about each one, but I had a “prophylactic, bilateral, skin sparing mastectomy with reconstruction.” Basically that translates into a “preventive, both sides, nipple sparing, breast tissue removal with reconstruction.”

Q: Why was the surgery 5 hours? That seems long.

A: It is long! The surgery consisted of 2 parts. During the first couple hours, my breast surgeon removed all the breast tissue. During the 2nd part of the surgery, my plastic surgeon sewed in a pouch near the bottom of each breast for the implant to eventually “sit” in since there isn’t any tissue for it to sit in. He also placed expanders under my muscle and filled them each with about the equivalent of a cup size of fluid.

Q: How many drains did you have, and what purpose did they serve?

A: I had 2 drains. We were expecting 4, but the plastic surgeon only had to place 2. The drains create suction inside the breast to drain blood from all the tissue that was removed. I had mine for 5 days.

The drains have to be emptied and the fluid measured twice a day. The average woman has her drains in for about 7 days after a mastectomy.

Q: Do you have any breasts at all now, or does that happen later?

A: I have expanders in right now, which are very similar to an implant (except harder, really uncomfortable, not as pretty, and customizable). 3 weeks post surgery after my incisions were healed and my swelling was gone, my plastic surgeon began adding fluid to stretch my skin until I get to a cup size that I’m comfortable with. They will actually overfill my expanders by 10% to make sure my skin lies nicely over my chosen implants.

5 days post surgery. On our way to have my drains removed. {I was still on heavy pain meds!}

Q: What are the expanders like?

A: As I mentioned above, their pretty uncomfortable. They are backed in plastic and sort of an odd shape (I call them the torpedo boobs). They are also as hard as rocks. The expander on my left side has caused a lot of discomfort and pain. Apparently they can lie on a nerve. Since the expander is plastic and foreign to my body, every time I move the wrong way or over extend my arm, I get shooting nerve pain down my side. My surgeon said that that pain can last as long as I have my expanders in or my brain could possibly eventually decide that it doesn’t actually hurt so that it would stop sending the signal to my nerves.
I can tell a huge improvement over the past few weeks in the pain decreasing so i’m hoping my brain is deciding that it doesn’t really hurt.

Q: How do they fill your expanders?

A: I was a little worried about this part, to be honest. My expanders have a port in them with a small metal disc. My surgeon locates the port with a small metal detector and marks it was a marker. He then inserts a 6 gauge needle through my nipple and fills the expander with saline. The expanders get filled every 2 weeks.

Q: When will you get your final implants? What is that surgery like?

A: My surgeon won’t perform my 2nd surgery until 3 months after my 1st surgery to ensure proper healing, blood flow and blood supply. He will use the same incision as my 1st surgery to take out the expanders, check on my little skin pouch, and place the permanent implants. It’s roughly a 2 hour surgery. I won’t have to stay overnight at the hospital like I did after the mastectomy and should only be on pain medication for a few days.

I can’t thank you all enough for your encouraging words, your prayers, the food, the cards, and all the flowers!

The decision to fight

The decision to fight

This post is kind of out of order. I have so much more story to tell about our BRCA journey, but it’s time to tell this part simply due to time.

I am a BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutation carrier. It’s a mutation that flows down through generations. It’s a mutation that drastically increases my risk for breast and ovarian cancer over my lifetime.

According to cancer.gov “About 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives. By contrast, according to the most recent estimates, 55 to 65 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and around 45 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70 years.”

There isn’t much research about the statistics of someone who is both BRCA 1 and 2 positive, simply because it’s incredibly rare to carry both mutations.

When we discovered my BRCA mutations, I was immediately placed on a high risk screening program for both breast and ovarian cancer. An MRI, mammogram, and/or ultrasound were ordered every 6 months. I’ve been on that program for the past 3 years and am so grateful for all the amazing people who aided in my screening and were overly thorough.

But there came a time once Lucy was weaned when I started to feel unsettled about all of it. I don’t know that I have the words to describe the way I felt. It was something close to restless. There was a stirring in my soul. It was time to make decisions about what the future would look like.

I was already beginning to get weary over the constant screenings. I was appreciative and grateful that they were looking, but it was getting old quick. It felt like we were always looking to find something. It seemed like it was just a “matter of time.”

I started praying about what that looked like or meant for me. Do I want to just keep looking? Or do I want to do something more aggressive? What if I decide to do something aggressive? Would that be acting out of fear or out of action?

For some reason, I felt like it was time to draw a line in the sand and stand on one side or the other. Do I keep doing high risk screening? Or do I have surgery to reduce my risk as much as possible? I was reading book after book about women who were faced with the same decision I was, and I was finding no solace at all. The way they felt, wasn’t the way I felt. It seemed like such an easy decision to them. It wasn’t an easy decision for me. I was wrestling with what was right for me and my family and my future.

I started seeking God on all these questions and more. I didn’t want to make a decision out of fear. I knew that no matter how this BRCA story ended, God would get the glory. Cancer, no cancer, live, die, ultimately, He would get the glory.

I also starting pressing Brian about it. What did he think? What were his opinions long term? How would he want us to fight these statistics.

We also sought Biblical council. I sat across the table from several Godly women who had battled breast cancer. I had coffee with women who had had mastectomies to reduce their risk. Brian and I sat in our pastor’s office and sought his wisdom and understanding.

Mostly, I was afraid I would make the wrong decision. I didn’t really care (and don’t care) what other people thought about my decision. At first I had the thought that maybe people would think I lacked faith if I decided to have surgery to reduce my risk. I quickly remembered that I am not concerned with what other people think. I’m only concerned with what Jesus thinks.

One of the women I sat across the table from asked me how much I had really sought the Lord on this decision. Initially I was really praying and seeking God about it a lot, but over time, I started reading book after book and asking everyone close to me what they thought. But I hadn’t really asked God what He thought.

So on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, Brian took the big kids out for a while so I could clean and the littles could nap. I swept the hardwood floors in our living room in silence. My heart was heavy and my soul felt tired. The weight felt like more than I could carry.

And much like the cry I let out to the Lord in the MRI machine when I decided it was time to surrender this to Him, I audibly spoke the words “Lord” in my empty living room with a mop in my hand and tears streaming down my face.

I didn’t know what else to say. I knew that He would follow me, love me, be with, no matter what I decided, but I needed His spirit to lead me. I needed for Him to whisper “stay” or “go.”

I wept that day while mopping those hardwood floors. I wasn’t sad, I was just overcome. Grateful. Heavy.

Grateful for the knowledge of my DNA….things my mom didn’t know about her body when she was my age. I was overcome with His love and heavy with the weight of what a BRCA mutation meant not only for me but for my babies.

I needed guidance.

And in the middle of me weeping over soapy hardwood floors, I heard the tender whisper of the a single word….

 

Fight.

 

Instantly a weight was lifted. It wasn’t because that was the answer I wanted. It was because the line was drawn. It was time to fight.

In Exodus 14:14-15, the Lord speaks to Moses while leading the Israelites out of Egypt. They were being pursued by the Egyptian and chariots. God told Moses,  “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

People often hang on this verse alone thinking it means that they should just be still and wait for God to move. But that’s not all God said to Moses. Immediately after He told Moses to be still, He said, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”

Immediately following these words from the Lord, Moses raised his staff and the Red Sea parted allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptians.

The word fight whispered to me while mopping those floors sounded just like “move” to my soul.

So we’re moving. We’ve been in the process of meeting with and choosing surgeons over the past couple months, and a week from today, I will undergo a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. I’ll be in surgery roughly 5 1/2 hours and will recover for 3-4 weeks after that.

Sometimes staying still is exactly what God asks us to do. But more often than not, he tells us to move. To fight. To not be afraid.

This is the beginning of the fight.

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BRCA….the beginning of the story

It’s been just a little over 2 years since my genetic test results showed that I did indeed carry the BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutation, just like my mom.

At the time, I was immediately placed on a high risk screening program for both breast and ovarian cancer, but other than my MRI, mammogram, ultrasound, blood test, etc every 6 months, I wasn’t thinking much about my BRCA mutations.

Over the past several months, the Lord has been prompting me to explore, ask hard questions, and even make decisions that I never really imagined I would be faced with.

This is just a short post to say that in the middle of all those decisions and questions and hard places, is a deep desire to flesh out everything we’ve walked through in the past few months with words.

Mostly I want to tell this story because I believe our stories are powerful. I believe that someone else one day may be comforted by my journey or my struggle or my questions. While trying to decide what our next step was in regard to BRCA 1 and 2, I read a lot of books and blogs and honestly had a hard time finding someone who was feeling the same things I was. So my hope is that by sharing all the parts of this next leg in our BRCA journey, someone else may have an easier road because of my honesty and vulnerability.

Thanks for following along. This is just the beginning of the story.

Surrender

Surrender

I took off my jewelry and slipped it into my purse. I checked my phone one last time before heading into the MRI room. The technician came in to ask me another round of questions.

Is there a history of cancer in your family?
Breast or ovarian?
Anyone tested positive for BRCA 1 or 2 in your family?

Yes, yes, and double yes.

She notes that I’m positive for BRCA 1 and 2 with no comment. What do you say to that?

After I sign my name at the bottom of several consent forms, she prepares to start my IV. She makes small talk. How old are my kids? What do I do for a living? I appreciate the distraction.

The high risk specialist comes in to take my blood for a research donation. Michelle and I become rather acquainted over the past couple years. My mom and I are the only two patients in her program with a positive mutation for both BRCA 1 and 2.

As she’s drawing my blood, she asks, “Is this your 1st MRI?”

“Yes.” I reply.

“Unfortunately it won’t be your last,” she reminds me.

Day to day, it’s easy to forget the burden of knowledge that being BRCA 1 and 2 positive carries, but every time I’m at the breast center, the reality is big and undeniable. I can’t forget. They keep reminding me.

Michele smiles and says she’ll call me with the MRI results and that she’ll see me again soon. Unfortunately it’s true. As a high risk patient, I have to have some form of imaging every 6 months.

The MRI tech returns to take me for my scan.

She introduces me to Kim who smiles sweetly at me. They help me get face down on the table and gear me up with ear plugs, headphones and a blanket. They remind me to stay still.

Over the hum of the MRI machine, the only thing I can hear are the voices in my head.

I walked into the breast center that morning thinking about how no matter how many people are in my life supporting me through this, I ultimately have to take every single step forward on my own. No one can go in the MRI machine with me. No one can go through surgery or recovery with me. No one else can battle the demons in my mind.

And for a moment, facedown on that table, I wanted to weep. The feeling of being alone was nearly overwhelming. I closed my eyes and lifted a one word prayer toward Heaven…”Lord…”

That was it. I didn’t know what else to say.

This was a race I didn’t sign up for, but found myself running anyways. I showed up at the starting line unwilling and felt as though I was the only one running it.

My mind tumbled back to Michele’s earlier comment, “It won’t be your last MRI.”

“We’re just trying to catch it,” I thought for the 1st time since my genetic results came back. “We’re just trying to catch it.”

No one really even knows my risk. The risk of a BRCA 1 or 2 carrier to develop breast or ovarian cancer is anywhere from  50-80% over their lifetime. There aren’t any real statistics for a BRCA 1 and 2 carriers. They believe it to be closer to an 85% chance overall.

So we’re just looking. Over and over again until we find something, basically.

The burden of knowledge. This race I didn’t want to run.

My mind is overwhelmed with the loneliness of this tube and this sound and the thoughts in my head running in their own directions.

And then, a realization.

Here I am, facedown on this table. Arms raised above my head. Unable to move or speak. Unable to even pray signinifcantly.

This is surrender.

This is my surrender.

No, I didn’t want to run this race. I wouldn’t have signed up for it willingly.

Am I grateful for the knowledge? Of course. Everyday. But it’s heavy and burdensome and unsteady.

And all I can muster up to pray is “Lord.”

But it’s all I needed to say. The mention of His name was enough to cover me. The feeling of loneliness fled, and the beautiful reminder that I am never truly alone covered me. I was under the cover of Christ.

It’s true that no person on this earth can walk every step with me, but Christ will never leave. In the MRI tube, through any surgery that may come, in the midst of recovery….He will be there. He fits in the tube, on the bed, in my head.

He is the beginning and the end, and I ultimately believe that this race is just one more that will draw me closer and closer to Him.

I know that none of this will be done alone. I know that in my soul and my heart. My mother is breast cancer survivor who lost her mom (my Grammy) to ovarian cancer. My mom carries the same gene mutations that I do. My sister will also walk this road (is already walking it, really), but later on, she’ll have to make the same decision I will soon about surgery and prevention. And my husband will make every decision, pray every prayer, and go every step that he physically can with me. I won’t be alone. Of course, that’s what the devil would have me believe.

But feeling alone in that MRI machine turned out to be a blessing. It allowed Christ to remind me that I’m not alone. That He is ever near, and that He will cover me when the people I love most on this Earth can’t go with me.

The aloneness forced the surrender that produced the overwhelming rush of love from Christ.

Surrender.

Being arms up and face to the floor gave me more courage than I ever could have mustered standing on my own.

And I doubt I’m the only one out there resisting surrender to the Lord. Maybe He’s really just waiting for all of us to put our hands in the air and truly give our lives to Him.

I think it’s time. It’s time for the freedom that comes from surrender. I know it is for me, and maybe it is for you too.

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