a vulnerability anniversary

Thank you to Facebook for the daily reminder of what I was doing on this day for the past eight years.  I am constantly reminded of how cute my kids were and how we used to post things like "I am.. currently grading papers.ugh!"  "..eating chips and guac and drinking margaritas!" ha. my how that landscape has changed!

 Last year, April 27, 2016, I wrote one of the most vulnerable pieces and shared it to the "world." Let's be honest.. Facebook and Instagram.  So maybe on a good day 800 people could have read it.  So I deem this a vulnerability anniversary.  

By Your Side was still in the infancy stages of designing and our website was only just a dream.  But having the desire to use my story for good, I spent a lot of my days remembering, reliving, and writing about my cancer battle.  

Those memories and emotions were shoved way down deep and hidden away in a box covered with twelve years of dust layers.  Once I started to unwrap that box, the emotions came flooding back.  All of my thoughts and even my dreams were consumed with my battle with breast cancer at twenty five.  My heart would race as I closed my eyes to write. I felt myself sitting back in these doctors offices and on our couch experiencing it all over again.

The memories were so tangible and the tears that I didn't cry back then flowed out of me. I had locked all of my feelings away as a coping mechanism and to protect my heart from breaking.  Through writing about my past, I experienced the gift of healing through purging my emotions onto a page.  

Writing has become a cathartic practice for me.  I write much more now from my current stage of life.  All of my writing is tucked away in documents on google drive and waiting for the right time to share.  If ever.  Because honestly, you don't want to read every one of my thoughts and rants. or maybe you do. And in that case come on over.  I will pour you a drink and hold my breath.  

When I do post or share, I always do so with the intention of connection.  That someone somewhere reads my words they say, "Oh my gosh yes. Me too!"  On this anniversary of vulnerability of sorts, I want to share this emotional and vulnerable piece of my life with you.  I hope you read it and connect in someway, because I truly believe that in each of our stories, lives a piece of all of us.

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 From my personal blog on April 22, 2016 - shared on April 27th. 

The decision to have a double mastectomy and implants did not come easily.  The six months of chemo that came between my diagnosis and my surgery time gave me the chance to wrap my mind about losing a part of me.  

I had to understand that I was going to be flat.  Would my clothes fit different?  Would I feel like a boy?  I was the least like myself that I had ever been.  Bald and, now, completely flat.  Would I look like this forever??

We spent months interviewing different plastic surgeons, and everyone of them had never had a breast cancer patient so young.  These surgeons offered traditional surgeries that worked for 50+  year old women.  Here are your choices: Cutting the stomach skin and fat to make two new boobs, or using your back (lat) muscles to create pockets for implants around in the front.  

Both sounded awful and I didn't want any part of the complete mutilation of my entire body.  I just wanted implants.  How hard was that to understand??? After interviewing five plastic surgeons, I finally found the one doctor who agreed that I didn’t need to have my body mutilated to re-create what I already had.  (Ten years later, this “innovative” surgery is a common option for most patients.)  

Dr. Morales being a plastic surgeon through and through, looked at my boobs and grabbed my bloated tummy fat and so wonderfully said “you don’t have enough here to make decent size boobs.”

I didn’t have the stomach fat to have the tummy to boob transplant!?!?!?!

Even after steroids and chemo for months???

Did he just say  "wow you are skinny???” I am pretty sure he did.  I smiled.

And immediately began to love this man. Smart men always know to tell a women she looks beautiful and thin even when she's not looking her best.

That spring, my body had puffed up like the Michelin man.  The side effects of my second round of chemo were harsh.  Neuropathy caused my hands and feet to tingle so badly, that every step caused pain to surge throughout my body.  In order to do the normal things, like walk, I was put on large doses of steroids.  Swelling and weight gain are common side effects and boy did I get them.  But, thankfully,  I was still "skinny enough" to not make two C-cup boobs.  I had to trust his hands to make the best boobs he could with my skin and an implant. And he did a pretty great job if I do say so myself.  

As hard as Dr. Morales did his magic on the outside, my insides were melting away. Nothing about this time was good.  In fact, I was in a very dark place.  It was a place that I had been sitting in for a while, but the surgery really brought it out of me. You can never be prepared for losing a part of you.  

The other day while searching for paper for the girls to use for painting, I found an old sketchpad from college that we have lying around.  It has actually lived in numerous storage bins and baskets over the years but made it's way back out on my desk a few months ago. I opened it thinking it would be perfect "fancy" paint paper.  (see earlier post of cute daughter making painting magic --- #excellentmotheraward.)  Instead of blank pages, I opened up to this drawing from May 2005.  

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(I wanted a butterfly tattoo with a pink ribbon for about two years. Monty was going to get a lion head on his shoulder.  I got pregnant with Reece and couldn't get inked. )

On the back of the drawing, I had written these words:

“I want this part of my life to be over.  I want to start fresh.  Either go back or forget that it happened- BUT I CAN’T!!!! Why can’t I just have a life full of innocence? White pure, clean, unharmed, hopeful, pristine – Now it’s gloomy, dark, black and never ending reminders – I will always have to have this be a part of me – I had my own boobs.  I would be normal.  I hate that I had to think about everyone else when I decided about my surgery – I wanted to keep my boobs. They were my favorite physical part of me & now they’re gone – poof- I said goodbye but I remember feeling my chest after surgery – GONE! they really took them…….”

The deep dark thoughts that really consumed me.  Hours and hours and days and days.  This piece of paper is the only “proof” other than my memories that this journey was harder than I could have ever imagined or that I probably ever let on.

There were days on end that I would sit on our striped chair in our living room in a robe and never move.  One day in particular, Monty left for work and I was snuggled up on our fiesta colored striped chair watching Good Morning America.  My perfect pink Barefoot Dreams robe doubled as my blanket.  I wrapped myself up and sat. I didn't move that day other than to pee.  When Monty came home and I was still in the striped chair, in my robe, and he stared at me, I seared his look in my brain.   A look that said "oh ok this is bad. but I better smile and make sure she's ok."  I wasn't.  Clearly.  I was a mess.  

The kind of mess that had a dark cloud with rain pouring down around her while she sat on a park bench while everyone else was running with unicorns and rainbows.  (I hope you are picturing the Zoloft commercial too.)  

It followed me wherever I went. The loneliness was beyond anything I knew.  I could no longer envision a future.  I had stopped dreaming.  I wanted out of this life.  I wanted to go to start fresh.  Where could I go that all of "this" would be forgotten?   

A few months after surgery, I called my best friend, Ashley.  

"Ash - I want to move way.  I want to divorce Monty and move to Colorado or Montana.  I need to start over and I think that this is the best way to do it.  Do you ever think about doing the same thing to J??"  

"Um no."

"Really.... you don't!??!!?" utterly in shock.  truly.

"No Jen.  Monty's your husband.  You can't just move away and start over.  Have you ever thought that you could be depressed?"

"Me?? No!!! I don't have a cloud over me.  I just want to move away and leave this all behind.....  But I guess I would have to explain this to a boyfriend at some point.  My boobs are not normal.  Damn.  I don't want to have to do this all over again."

I was sitting in our second bedroom at the apartment across from the American Airlines Center, at my tiny Target desk staring at the wall.  I called her hoping that she would give me the needed confirmation that I was not crazy and that these feelings were normal.  She was married the year before us and I JUST KNEW that she was probably my only friend that could feel the same way.  Right?  Nope.  

The sadness.

The emptiness.  

The loneliness.  

The emotional scars inside my heart and soul matched the external scars on my chest.  

The scars that I was left with as a reminder of a loss of innocence.

A death of my former self.

Just as my scars did not disappear, neither did these feelings.  They still creep back up and surface every now and then.  After each child's birth, I was right back in the trenches.  But each time I knew I could climb out of it, even if it took a little time.  

I don't think we can ever completely heal from tragedy or sadness in our life.  We gain perspective and understanding from each dip.  We know without a doubt that we can survive.  We will come out on the other side.  

Just like, one day, all of a sudden, your newborn sleeps through the night.  Or your last child stops wearing diapers.  You survived.  You have a few more wrinkles, bags under your eyes and maybe a ton of stretch marks or c-section scar.  

 

Don't be afraid of your scars.  Emotional or physical.  They tell your story.  These scars make you stronger.

Scars allow you to empathize.  

Scars show your life experiences.  

They cover you in grace and allow hope to shine through.

They give you depth.

Scars keep you honest and from attempting to appear perfect.  Because you're not.  And it's ok.  

They remind you of the hell you went through and how you came out on top.  You end up like the plastered walls of a 1920's home - full of dings and ruts - but beautifully imperfect.  And in my case, with perfectly perky boobs.