Where I’ve Been….

I’ve come a long way since my last post at the beginning of March.  Hello, it’s May now?!!!  Good, gracious.  Since then, I began and finished physical therapy (though I should definitely be doing more with stretching than what I am currently).  I have also started training for my next half marathon; I’m not going to lie, that’s been a challenge.  I’m not sure why returning to fitness after this last surgery has been so difficult.  I’m just finding my heart has not been in it as of late.  Given that I’ve registered for a race, though, I have no choice but to step it up.

I may not have been exercising in the traditional sense, but I’ve been active in general.  In fact, life has pretty much looked like this:

active March to May
A Snapshot of the Past Few Months

If two trips to Home Depot and landscaping with 20+ bags of mulch doesn’t count as exercise, I don’t know what does!

Home Sweet Home

In general, I’ve enjoyed my time at home this year.  Recovering isn’t fun, but the projects I’ve been able to accomplish have lent to a general sense of satisfaction.  In fact, my house has never looked so good, which is fortunate because we just listed it for sale!  Eek!  We are in the process of transferring back to Michigan.  My hubby chose to take job back in our hometown so we can be closer to family.  He has not been a fan of the Houston area commuter life and has said, many times, he feels like he lives on the freeway; I can’t say that I blame him.

Our house has been a labor of love.  This is our fourth home together.  On June first, we will be closing on our fifth.  When we purchased this house it was a rental in its past life.  It had old carpet, an old roof and A/C, a dated kitchen, etc.  I’ve learned how to remove old caulk and apply new, refinish kitchen cabinets, and perfected my mad painting skills inside and out.  I’ve invested a lot of love into this property. It’s here that I watched my kids grow from littles into big kids.  Now, it’s been staged to sell and I have my first showing in an hour!

office staging
Staged to Sell

 

Saying Goodbye is Never Fun

I had a going away girls’ night on Saturday.  My Texas friends have become my family.  These women have seen me at my best and worst.  They’ve seen me grow as a mom and person.  They’ve had my back when I had my surgeries, and they’ve become like aunts to my kids.  I know I can count on them to be there for me, and I am so sad to be leaving them.  In fact, I have been so stressed about going that I burst into tears in front of my realtor and home photographer yesterday.  I don’t cry much, but this process has made me very emotional.

friends dinner
Some of my Texas “Family”  (sorry for the crappy resolution)

I had these surgeries so quickly because I didn’t want to feel like a ticking time bomb, but also because I knew my time was limited to be so close to such a fantastically skilled medically community and with such fantastic friends as a support network.  My hometown is rather in the middle of nowhere, and you can’t beat the experts in Houston.  I can’t say enough for the staff at MD Anderson. They took excellent care of me, and I can leave Texas knowing I have my health under control.

To New Adventures

I’m not done posting about life as a previvor.  In fact, I have plans to become more involved in the previvor community.  I’ll be sure to post when those become official.  Let’s just say, that I feel I want to give back to my BRCA community, and I’ll looking into some volunteer work after I’m settled in my new home.

As always, if you have questions about my experiences as a previvor, comment away!

 

Recovery: Let’s Sleep On It

Sleeping during recovery is a mixed bag.  I’ve struggled with insomnia during my adult life.  My insomnia induces anxiety.  My anxiety creates more insomnia.  Repeat…

I decided to go off my anti-anxiety drugs back in November.  Even though I faced all the stress of surgery and recovery, I think this was a good choice for me.  I still experienced occasional bouts of insomnia even while on the meds, so the drawbacks of the medicine weren’t worth it.  I realize that medicine may be the correct choice for some individuals, but I am a firm believer that lifestyle choices are the better choice for me at this time.

Rest and Recovery in the Healing Process

When I’m just lazing around (typing this blog, for instance), I feel like I’m fully recovered.  I loathe the support garments and I feel like I should be able to go out for a run without a second thought.  This, however, is fiction.  I still need to rest during the day (take my endeavor into folding from yesterday) and I am still under physical restrictions.

Since I want to speed up my healing process, I know that rest is a quintessential part of my routine yet getting a good night’s sleep has proved tricky.  Sleeping in my recliner left me waking any time I needed to adjust position, which I had to do frequently because my butt cheek, and sometimes even an entire leg, would fall asleep.

With permission to finally side sleep from my doc last week, I moved to the bed with a great deal of enthusiasm only to find sleep allusive.  I decided to stop the sleepless nights and put into practice what I preach by establishing a good bedtime routine.

Sleeping During Recovery: Adults Need Routine, Too

I realize most of this is common sense.  You don’t need a degree in psychology to understand the importance of good habits.  As adults, we often skimp on sleep due to this or that activity that it seems we can get done only at the end of the day.  Throw in a physical condition that makes falling asleep uncomfortable, and you are opening up a whole new set of issues for catching some zzz’s.

After several weeks of stressing about surgery, restlessness of sleeping in a recliner, and trying to adjust to sleeping, once again, with a new set of boobs, larger and firmer than those I was born with strapped to my chest, and I found myself awake until 2am several nights last week. Something had to change.

Here are my suggestions for getting the rest you need.

  1.  Put down your phone, damnit.
    • Set your phone aside at least an hour before bed.  I realize your phone may have “night mode” or some nonsense, but staring at a light before bed while soaking up social media or news is not good for settling the mind.  Throw politics or work into that mix, and you have a perfect recipe for staying awake for hours.

      iPhone 6+
                                Put Down Your Phone
  2. Find an activity that relaxes you that does not involve technology.
    • I love a good cup of hot tea before bed.  I found a non-caffeinated herbal tea that is touted to help induce sleep.
    • Take a hot shower or a warm bath.
    • Listen to some relaxing music.
    • Put on your favorite pajamas.
    • Snuggle with a pet or loved one.

      herbal tea
                      Find What Relaxes You
  3. Pick up a good book or keep a journal.
    • I love to read before bed.  But, if you do this, make sure you are able to put that book down when it’s time for lights out.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is a relaxing environment.
    • Dim those lights, set your thermostat to a comfortably cool temperature, and prepare a clutter-free space well before bedtime.  Rushing around to clean a space that is supposed to relax you will not help at the end of the day.
    • Avoid watching tv in bed.
  5. Try melatonin or another sleep aid after discussing your options with your doctor.
    • I’ve been taking melatonin this week and it seems to be helping.  I can’t say whether the positive changes I’ve experienced are due to the melatonin, the deliberate changes to my bedtime routine, or a placebo effect, but I’ll take them. I haven’t felt this rested since my reconstruction surgery.

I hope you find these recommendations helpful in getting a good night’s sleep during recovery.  Take control over your routine like you have taken control of your health.  Your body will thank you.

Awaiting the Next Surgery

Happy New Year!  Yes, I know we are well into January, but I haven’t written a post in quite some time so wishing you a blessed New Year seems appropriate.  I’ve started this year with a focus on accomplishing a to-do list a mile long in preparation for my implant surgery.  First on this list: run my half marathon on Sunday!  I’ve been training for this race since my plastic surgeon gave me the “go” after my mastectomy/tissue expander surgery at the very end of October.  I’m ready.  I’m not going to be fast, but I’m going to do it! In fact, my friend Fern and I picked up our race packets today.  We are stoked!

Happy Home Life: Productivity at its finest

In addition to running and recovery, I have taken advantage of my time off work this year to make the most of family time.  The past few months have looked something like this: 

December and early January were full of cookie decorating, acting as party mom for my son’s holiday party, attempting to organize my son’s Lego collection (note the “attempt”…it’s still not done), and even endeavoring to paint furniture and finish painting my master bedroom.  Heck, I even did a little research on YouTube and learned how to caulk baseboards!  We also enjoyed a trip back home for Christmas (note the snow and the pic with my BFF in the bottom right–we had a great trip!) and took my daughter to the symphony for a Christmas present!

I’m really excited to have crossed off so many of my goals for this time.  Sometimes just sitting back and making the most of a less-than-ideal situation is the best you can do.  I’ve taken my recovery and used it to gain a happy home life.

mastectomy implant surgery: 11 days away

I’m nervous about my surgery.  I’m sure I’ll have great results, but I would be crazy not to feel some apprehension about going under the knife again.  I’m looking at an outpatient surgery followed by a minimum six week recovery.  For four of those six weeks I have to wear a post-surgical compression bra and a girdle!  The doc will be performing some liposuction to add a bit of cushion and a more natural feel to my implants.  The girdle is to help prevent water retention and support the loose skin.  I hope I can move.  Life will not be pleasant, but like this first round, I’ll get through it.

I’m a previvor and I see my glass half-full!

 

 

Mental Health Day

Today I took a mental health day as part of my vow to not only see life half full, but to live life as positively as possible.  Everyone has a different way of caring for their mental wellbeing.  I find my happiness in exercise, baking, camaraderie, and showing those around them I care through acts of kindness.  Today, I accomplished of those goals.

Remembering to Make lemonade

I didn’t sleep well last night; I was overly optimistic about the ability to sleep in my bed comfortably, as it turns out.  Last night was full of “ow” moments when I tried to roll and instead found myself with a stabbing pain down my sternum at the edge of my expanders.  My husband also received two phone calls from work in the middle of the night.  I crawled out of bed this morning in a foul, foul mood.

My morning was saved by the two c’s: coffee and camaraderie.  Two cups of coffee and a scheduled walking date helped me erase the dregs of last night’s awful sleep and put my best foot forward into the rest of the day.  Ashley and Brooke totally made my morning by being my walking buddies.  I spent an hour improving my body and my mindset.  For that, I can’t thank them enough.  They helped me make lemonade of a sour start to my day, and I’m so grateful because the helped my outlook shift for the rest of the day.

reboot

We all have days that start poorly, and when that happens you need a mental reboot.  Make a list of simple activities that helps you reimagine your day in another way, then be deliberate in spacing them throughout the day to keep the grumps at bay.

Yes, I’m not working right now, so planning activities I enjoy is a lot easier than for you folks who work. BUT, you can still make purposeful plans to make your day more enjoyable that don’t take too much time.  For example, take a small container of your favorite coffee creamer to work for a mid-morning coffee break.  If you’re an office supply junky, start the day with a newly sharpened pencil or a brand new pen.  Play your favorite “power songs” in the car on the way to work and sing at the top of your lungs even if you don’t feel like it.  Smile and say “good morning” to people you don’t know.  There are many ways that you can easily take a badly started day and make it better.  If you like lists, make one and pick three things that you will do on a bad day to make it better so when the moment strikes, you’re prepared with easy pick-me-ups.

Better through baking

pumpkin cookie flour
The beginning of a fall classic.

I know I’ve said this before, but I feel better through baking.  My father-in-law finished a project at  the house for us today.  He replaced the fence between our house and our detached garage; it looks beautiful.  He has a sweet tooth that rivals mine, so I decided to find my happy place and accomplish a tasty thank you all in one.

Since fall is officially here, that means pumpkin everything, and in my house that means pumpkin cookies.

pumpkin cookie batter
Pumpkin, butter, shortening, eggs, and sugars.

I tried a new recipe this year.  Before I cut gluten from my diet, I used a recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookie Cookbook.  Now that I am using gluten free flour, I decided to come up with my own delicious recipe.

The cookies are easy to make and turn out fabulously, if I do say so myself.  They taste delicious with our without cream cheese frosting.  This recipe makes approximately four dozen cookies.  So, these are the perfect cookies for a crowd or to stash in your freezer if you do not wish to eat them all at once.

Time for a sugar buzz–the best way to turn my frown upside down.

pumpkin cookie frosted
Frosted Guten Free Pumpkin Cookie

gluten free pumpkin cookies

ingredients
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. salted butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. shortening
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 c. Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine baking mix, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl, stirring gently with a fork to incorporate spices, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine sugars, butter, and shortening on medium speed until blended.  Add pumpkin puree and mix on low speed.  Add 2 eggs and mix until well blended (as pictured above).

Slowly add dry ingredients to the mixer. Mix on medium speed until incorporated.

pumpkin cookies
2″ dropped cookies

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and drop by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet about 2″ apart.

Bake for approximately 13min or until the cookies set in the middle.  Let cool and frost if desired.

I’m not including my cream cheese frosting recipe, but you can find a good one by JJ on Allrecipes.com by clicking here.

baked pumpkin cookies
Can you smell them?

Happy Homelife: Baking!

My kid start school tomorrow.  I know some parents are sad about their babies starting or returning to school.  I am not that parent.  My kids like school, and I like them going.  We have had enough of each other.  Have you seen the skit by the Holderness Family on Youtube?  No?  Well, you should; it defines exactly how I feel!  I mean, this has been going on half of the day today:

wrestling children
Wrestling children

Yep, my daughter captured my son and proceeded to tickle him until he screamed and tried to knock her one in the head.

And, as a sign that the crafts have taken over, I found this gem in my coffee this morning:

peeler bead in coffee
Yep, that’s a Perler Bead

But, I’m a Good Mom, So…

I’e been spending some time this afternoon making them Reese's and Nestle Cookiestreats for their lunches for the first week of school.  Yes, sometimes I am “that mom.”  Truth is, I like to bake; I find it therapeutic. I like the way baking makes the house smell.  I enjoy the calm I feel when I pull another fresh batch out of the oven; I have a sense of accomplishment that I don’t get doing other tasks at home.  Too bad this therapy also comes with the expansion of your waistline if you’re not careful and have no willpower (which I would totally know nothing about, or anything).  I suggest you keep only part of these and give the rest away!  You’ve been warned!

Don’t Feel Guilty About Doing Things You Enjoy

Let’s face it, if you’re going through this proactive process of dealing with your health, you have a lot on your mind and not a whole lot  you can do.  Each of us handles this stress differently. I do like to read.  I love curling up in bed at the end of the day with a cup of tea and a good book. I like to exercise (but other than walking, that’s off limits). I like getting out and being around friends.  And, I like to bake (I made a simple apple crisp the other day and it was seriously fantastic!).  Baking may not be good for your waistline, but if you’ve never really tried baking, it’s a good time to learn.  As long as your ingredients (and mixer!) aren’t too heavy, give it a shot.  You may come to like it!  And, it’s a good way to get you up and walking around.

Pamela's baking mixI’m baking today, and this particular batch of cookies smells oh-so-good.  Before I tell you how I make these cookies that you won’t stop eating, you have to know that I follow a gluten free diet.  You can use regular all-purpose flour instead, and the recipe will turn out even tastier. If you use all-purpose flour, cut out the baking powder that I use in this recipe to try to make a fluffier cookie (gluten free cookies tend to go flat).    Without further ado….

Gluten Free Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 cups Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • chocolate chips (to taste)
  • peanut butter chips (to taste)
  • parchment paper
cookie dough
Cookie Dough!

In large mixing bowl, on low speed, blend together sugars, butter, and shortening until creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine baking mix, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Slowly add this mixture to the other ingredients.  Blend on medium speed until well-combined.  Add your desired amount of baking chips and stir to combine.

Drop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto lined cookie sheet in rows of 4×3.  Bake for approximately 10min (keep an eye on them, they make take more or less time depending on the size of your cookies and your desired level of crispiness).  Remove cookies when they are golden brown.  Cool cookies on a baking rack.

Recipe makes approximately 3.5-4 dozen cookies.

baked cookies
Baked Chocolate Chip and PB Cookies

 

Hysterectomy: Little Helpers

I should have done this a long time ago.  Who knew my daughter was strong enough to carry a full laundry basket on her own?  Her brother insisted on “helping.”  I’m thinking of buying two small laundry baskets for their clean clothes and letting them do the sorting and folding from now on.  I feel like the blinders have been lifted.  Since my hysterectomy post-op instructions include lifting restrictions, I need the kids to help!

hysterectomy helpers
My Little Helpers
hysterectomy helpers
Carry that Laundry!

If you are reading this and have kids, take a harder look at them.  They can do a lot more than what you think they can do.  Children did a lot more work in the past than they do now in the U.S.  I think it’s high time my kids learned more about the value of hard work and helping out in the home.  After all, how else will they learn?

We utilize a chore chart during  the summer months and on weekends during the school year.  The kids are already expected to take care of their own dirty dishes, unload the dishwasher and put the dishes away, and keep their bathroom counters and rooms clean.  They also sort their dirty laundry into the color-coded dirty piles on laundry day and put away their own clothes once I have folded them.   Since I am a teacher, I also work on skills I’ll know they need for the upcoming school year during summer months.

School starts next week, so I’m thinking about modifying their chores.  Having this hysterectomy has taught me that they are growing up and can be contributing more to this family; I will make their chores reflect this.  When my mastectomy comes along next month, I want my helpers trained and at the ready!

If you would like to read more about age-appropriate chores, check out my friend’s blog over at Simply Kierste.  She has a great list of ways her children help out at home!

Recovery Help: Friends Are the Best

Friends Who Help
Company for the dog and me!

When I schedule my surgeries, the first thing I did was call my best friend, Chrissy.  I have known her for over ten years and been the best of friends for a solid nine.  Chrissy is my rock.  She is funny, wise, empathetic, and understanding.  She knows just what to say to make me feel better without minimizing how I feel.  These qualities, combined with her passionate beliefs, make her the best of company in any situation.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

You will need to ask for help.  Do yourself a favor and line up help ahead of your surgeries.  Asking for help does not mean that you are incapable but that you are responsible.  If you have a family with small children, or even big children who still need to be driven to events, start lining up assistance right away.  Don’t worry about paying people back for their assistance either.  Good friends will be there for you and expect nothing in return but your gratitude.

recovery helpers making breakfast
cooking breakfast

Before I could even ask Chrissy to come to my rescue, she volunteered.  Good friends will do that, you know.  Don’t discard their offers, but accept them with thanks.  People want to feel useful.  Let them!

This goes for your family, too.  One morning Chrissy and Matt cooked breakfast for me.  The omelettes and bacon were some of the best I’d tasted!

acCepting Help Even If You Don’t Want Company…

…that’s okay, too!  But, let people help in other ways.  If you have a sweet tooth, like me, consider asking for a delivery of your favorite treat.  A fantastic friend of mine, Rebecca, delivered my favorite cupcake without being asked!  Score!!!

You could always ask for groceries to replenish your fridge or have a friend set up a care calendar for meals.  Check out CareCalendar.org. The website allows friends to sign up to bring you meals on specific days at specific times.

Cupcakes for Healing Help
Cupcakes- My Fav!

You could even have a friend take care of your pets, which is especially important if you don’t have a family support network.  You will not be able to do what you normally do for quite some time.  This includes getting tugged around by fido or lifting heavy containers of kitty litter.  Don’t underestimate the importance of adhering to post-op instructions; you will only heal more slowly.

Remember, you don’t have to be Wonder Woman.  You are super just for healing.  Your job is to get better, not do everything.  Call up those friends and put them to work!