BRCA

Let's take a moment and all be thankful for BRCA

I want to take a moment during nap time today to catch you all up on my BRCA journey! So many of you have reached out to me letting me know how this story has impacted you. I have had so many encouraging notes and phone calls and prayers said on my behalf that I am thinking God used this to bless me in ways I never would have guessed. Not only did he spare me from the liklihood  of cancer, but he has blessed me with all kinds of love along the way. Love poured out to my family and I that I never would have experienced without the BRCA gene. So yes, I am THANKFUL for being BRCA positive. 

 

I am three months and 10 days past my preventative double mastectomy and I am very happy with the results and with my recovery. I feel like if we had to stop here, I would still be happy. I don't look like I did before and my breasts certainly don't feel like they did before, but after three months, it is getting to be pretty normal and I know that I could continue on with life like this if I had too. After all, as I have said from the beginning, my hope isn't in my boobs, it's in Christ Jesus, so let's press on. :)

However, tomorrow I have one final surgery, Lord willing, to finish up this process that started way back in February. I am going in for an outpatient surgery to remove my tissue expanders and replace them with my "permanent" silicone implants. (They are projected to last 10-20 years).

I am actually super excited about this surgery. The implants will not be hard and perfectly round like the tissue expanders. They will sit more naturally on my body and will be much softer to the touch. I think the worst thing about the expanders is how hard they are. They just feel unnatural and sometimes they are itchy and uncomfortable. Nothing unbearable, but I will be happy to trade them in! 

There were a couple of different options to consider for the implants and after talking extensively with my plastic surgeon about it (she is so patient and kind!) I decided to go with what they call the "gummy bear" implant. It is a tear drop shaped implant mad out of silicone, but if you were to cut it in half the silicone would stay in place, much like how the inside of a gummy bear would if you cut one of those in half... hence the nickname. I chose this one because I just happened to be expanded to the right size, and the doctor thinks it will fit my body shape well. It also has less of a rippling effect that normal silicone implants are known for. 

I will have to have an MRI one year after the implants are placed, and then once every three years after that to make sure that I haven't sprung a leak in one, in which case I will need to go in for another surgery similar to the one I am having tomorrow, to have it replaced. 

So there is your update! People have been asking how I am feeling about it all, and to be honest I haven't really thought about it much recently. A few months ago BRCA was on my mind a lot. But now, I have settled back into the natural rhythm of life around here and I seem to forget about it most days. Mostly, I feel thankful. Thankful for the experience, thankful for the grace, thankful for the outcome, thankful for the love poured out, thankful for the prayers lifted up and answered, thankful for the opportunity to speak grace to those in the situation and maybe offer a little peace and persecutive in the midst of a scary diagnosis. Thankful. 

 

A couple things for some of you who may be facing the decision to have a preventative mastectomy... 

I thought I would be uncomfortable for 3 months, I wasn't. Like I said, after about a month and a half I basically moved on and didn't think about it very much.

The hysterectomy and mastectomy went very well for me. I couldn't have asked for any better. Btu I know this is not everyone's story. Not everyone gets to keep their nipples, not everyone comes out without complications, not everyone recovers at the same pace. But there is grace for everyone, and enough for every distinct person and situation. What God is really after is our hearts, and so I want to encourage you to surrender to Jesus and place your life in his care. When we can see Jesus for who he is, God's son who laid down his life for us, and now make, intercessions for us before the Father; and when we see ourselves in light off all that he is, our temporary trials and afflictions fade... they really do. 


Again, THANK YOU for coming along side me during all of this. I will update in a few days on the outcome of this final BRCA surgery and the recovery! 

Blessings, 

Elizabeth Ann

two week post-op recap {my bra story}

Hey night owls! It is 11:30 pm here. I wish you could come over and have a snack with me and I could just tell you all of what I am about to type. One thing about me, I really like to talk. I will talk anyone's ear off who is kind enough to listen. I have had several sweet friends come by to chat, check in on me, and even fold my laundry mountain. And when they are here I literally talk non stop from when they step in the door until they leave. Maybe it is because I have a lot to say, not necessarily valuable things to say... but things nonetheless. But It is probably because I am spending the bulk of my days alone right now. Two weeks and 4 days ago we took the kidlets down to Texas to spend some time with their grandparents while Cameron and I talked my double mastectomy. I have written previous posts about why I needed this procedure and how everything has been going up until this point. You can find all the posts related to this topic in the tab "BRCA1- MY STORY" under my photo on the right. 

It's been pretty tough not having them around, I would say that maybe that has been the hardest part in this whole process. Not that I don't ever want to let them love on their grandmas for a couple days, but come on, three weeks is a little much. It has been SO quiet in the house. And Cameron and I had to admit to ourselves last night that without our kids, we are pretty boring. 

But, a big but, I needed them gone. To rest and to fully heal, physically and emotionally. I would not have been able to provide for them even their most basic needs the last two weeks. So we sent them to some people who love them to the moon and trust me, they weren't suffering. 

 

I have had a lot of recent questions about my progress, so I thought I would share some details. 

WARNING: THE EST OF THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC INFORMATION ABOUT MY SURGERY AND RECOVERY. IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH, OR MALE, OR BOTH YOU MAY CONSIDER EXITING NOW. 

 

Okay, sorry for that unexpected public service announcement. I would just hate for someone to be reading along and suddenly be very uncomfortable. lol. 

So, we left off last Monday before my post-op appointment and I left you all on pins and needles wondering if I would get my drains out. Well, to my surprise, I did! I hardly drained at all after three days, so I was pretty sure we had botched the whole operation. But my doctor said that due to my age and health, I just don't have much extra drainage and they were fully expecting this kind of healing. 

Getting the drains out was super strange. Keep in mind that I don't have much feeling. In fact I am still almost completely numb today. The nurse told me to take a deep breath in and hold it. Then while I was holding my breath she would pull out the tube. And when she had the tube out she would tell me so I could let my breath out. It felt like... well like someone was pulling a tube out of me. Which was really strange because that isn't a normal sensation. My left side is a little less numb, so that one hurt a little, but just at the surface, skin level. 

The minute the tubes were out I felt like a new woman! It was quite freeing. 

Successes from last week was still slow going, but I decided to start trying to put some clothes in the wash, which I was able to do. I could also put dishes away and load the dishwasher. I can pull normal shirts over my head now, as opposed to zip-up hoodies or button-upshirts. I can open the house and car doors. I am completely off of pain medication, Demerol and Advil. I am sleeping through the night, in my own bed laying on my back with two pillows! 

But some things are still difficult like twisting off the lids of jars, laying on anything but my back, and stretching a sports bra on over my head, and eating an entire pan of brownies. Notice I said difficult, not impossible. 

 

I did get some great news from my surgeon, the pathology from my breasts that was sent into the lab at time of surgery to biopsy for any latent, sneaky cancers can back clear! Praise Jesus, we beat it! That was the whole point of this so I am super happy! My friend told me that we have a name, people like me, we are called PRE-vivors. Because we survived the cancer before we got it. I like that. 

 

I am really doing very well, much better than I ever expected to be at this point. I truly believe that God has honored the prayers of all of my friends and family. So much scripture was prayed over me. It is stunningly remarkable, God's lovingkindness in both the big and small things in life. 

 

Today I had another couple appointments, one to check in with my beast surgeon to see how I am healing, and she said everything looks great! Then I met with the plastic surgeon for my first fill. Remember, I have tissue expanders in my chest right now. I describe them like deflated basketballs. They have a port in them, just like the air port on a basketball. The doctor uses a magnet to find the port so she knows where to place the needle. Then she places a needle and fills the expanders with saline, about 50-100ccs at a time. 

So this afternoon my friend took me to my appointment because something came up at work with Cameron. I was excited to have her along because she is a PA student, so I felt like she would be interested and not at all weirded out, and she is super sweet and just a lovely, kind person to have around! 

So the doc filled me up a little bit, I got 50ccs today, and she said I could expect to have a dull muscle ache for about 48 hours. And I do. I am actually pretty sore again and I'm not sure I will be able to lay down in bed tonight, it might be back to the faithful electric recliner. Right now my back is what aches the most. The muscles in my chest which are being stretched over the expanders are pulling my shoulders forward and I am trying hard to fight back so that I'm not a hunchback when this is all said and done. But I think that is contributing to the pain. I also was very active today compared to all the sitting, reading, and computer tinkering I have been doing. Today I went to Target, to my appointment, did a little shopping in Wichita with my friend, and helped Cameron stain the bunk beds he made for the boys. It's nice to be able to do some things again, but my energy level is super low.

 

Today after my appointment, the Dude and I had plans to leave straight and go to Dallas to see the kids and spend the Father's Day weekend with our dads, but because of the issue at work, we have to wait until the morning. I'm a little disappointed, but I am just so happy that we will get to see those sweet faces and hug them TOMORROW!! I know that I can now take care of at least their basic needs, and they will be greeted back home with a pile of outdoor toys to keep them happy at home for a few more days. 

 

I am working on a FAQ post concerning everything that's been going on lately concerning BRCA. If you have a question, leave it in the comments and I will try to answer it! 


Thanks for coming along and loving me through this process. I am thanking God for YOU!!


~Elizabeth








one week post op update

On any given Monday morning in June you can find me with my four kids running around town, maybe to the store, or on a walk to a park or nature center. We would be making plans for lunch with friends and a quiet afternoon rest followed by a water fight in the back yard.

But last Monday, the first day of June, looked a little different. At least for me. My kids were still owning their warm summer morning, but this time with their grandma as I was wheeled into my second surgery following my BRCA diagnosis in November. 

 

 

Last Monday, one week ago today I was in the operating room for my bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Thankfully, this event had been saturated in prayers from my church family, and my family and friends. I felt calm and assured, and Cameron kept the mood light. I was thankful to be headed into the operation with a clear handle on what life would look like afterward, I felt prepared. 

About four hours later I woke up in my room. I don't remember much, slipping in and out of thick anesthesia. But as the minutes ticked by I remember my first coherent thoughts. 

-I can't breath. 

I could breath, but I could not take a deep breath. I was laying flat on my back with what felt like concrete blocks sitting on my chest.

-I could not move

This was not an exaggeration. I felt paralyzed, I could not even lift my arm off of the bed. I had oxygen in my nose to assist my shallow breathing and my nose was itching, but I could not lift my arm to scratch it. Later, a nurse came in and told me to roll over. Roll over??? Was she nuts? No. I told her sternly. I am NOT rolling over. Thankfully she didn't make me.

-I wanted to cry

But I didn't, because I knew it would hurt. 

About an hour passed, maybe a couple of hours, and I finally woke up enough to realize that I would probably be more comfortable if I could scoot up in the bed so that I could elevate my head and wouldn't be lying flat on my back anymore. But I still felt paralyzed. So two nurses came in and grabbed the four corners of the sheet I was laying on. I remember pleading with them to go slow when they counted to 3 and quickly slid me up the bed. I heard myself make the strangest pain-induced groan. And then it was over and I was instantly 100 x more comfortable. I'm thankful they didn't go slow. 

 

The next morning was remarkably different. My pain was now under control and I had function back in my arms. I could scratch my own nose!! Cameron sent rapid updates to family and friends on my progress. 

-She can lift her arms!

-She is sitting on the side of the bed!

-She just stood up!

-She took a walk around the room!

-We are going home after lunch.

At about 3pm Tuesday, we were back home and I was sitting in a borrowed electric recliner surrounded by pillows. I have been in this recliner for about 23 1/2 hours of every day for the past week. I have been on constant round-the-clock pain meds, Demerol and Ibuprofen, which have kept the pain at bay. Mostly what I experience is a strange numbness and a tight feeling. It feels like I am wrapped tightly in bandages, but there is nothing there. The expanders are big and hard, It feels like they half of them are in my armpits. I can feel pressure, but otherwise there is no feeling yet. I also have two drainage tubes, one on each side (I was expecting four, so this was a pleasant surprise). These tubes are annoying and totally gross if I think about them too long. 

I have far more function than I thought I would. I can take a shower and wash my own hair, I can open the refrigerator and put on my own socks, all things I thought would be impossible in the first week. I still need help with lifting things, reaching for things, and twisting things open like jars or door knobs. 

I have a follow-up appointment with my plastic surgeon today in which I am hoping to get my drains removed and to come back with a good progress report. I am happy to report today that the pathology reports on my breast tissue came back cancer free! Praise the Lord for his lovingkindness!

I want to close up this report with some encouragement. When I first was faced with BRCA, I confided in my closest friends and family, but hesitated to open up to the church, let alone the public. I didn't want people looking at me and thinking about all of my personal issues, like new boobs and menopause... but as I walked this road I knew it would be nearly impossible to face without being open and honest with the community of believers that I do life with on a daily basis. 

The Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation. God designed it for fellowship. Fellowship with Him and fellowship with other believers. If I had kept quiet with my situation and foolishly, stubbornly, and pridefully tried to tackle this on my own, I would be far worse off. By opening myself up to the love and service of the church, I have experienced love and healing on a level I had not known before, in spirit, body, heart, and mind. 

Our church family has blessed us with meals, lawn care, essential oils, daily fun gifts to make me smile, and countless Bible verses to keep our eyes on Jesus. I can't imagine how this would have gone without them. 

So, if you are facing BRCA, or cancer, or any other challenge, open up to your church family. Live your life in community with other believers and be blessed. 


You can follow daily updates on Instagram @gracefullhome 

My deepest thanks to you for your prayers on my behalf and praise to God for his provision and lovingkindness. 



perfect peace

People keep asking me how I am doing. I am trying to be honest. I am good, I am still thankful, still hopeful, still confident in the path we have been brought down, still going through with it. But I am anxious. 

My proflatic bilateral mastectomy is in 5 days and it is looming over me a bit. I find myself thinking while I am driving or emptying the dishwasher, or folding laundry, or hugging my children squeezing them tight, "I won't be able to do this in a week."

If I let myself dwell there, I get a little scared, and overwhelmed. But I've been thinking about this verse for a while now.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you. Trust in the Lord forever.”
— Isaiah 26:3-4

It's that simple really. Trust in the Lord, keep my mind focused on him, and there will be peace. 

Some practical ways that I have been keeping my mind stayed on him:

-Start each day with the word of God. Not Instagram, not Facebook, not the weather. Just turn on the light and open the Word. John is my book right now with Psalms sprinkled in.

-Memorize key passages. I have been blessed by so many people with verses that have encouraged their hearts that they pass along to me. 

 

I have each of the verses that I am given written down in a spiral bound index card notebook. It fits in my purse or stands up on my counter or dryer. I like to work through verses while I am washing dishes or folding laundry. 

The Lord is my strength and my shield. I thrust Him with all my heart. He helps me and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in song of thanksgiving.
— Psalm 28:7
When doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me, and give me renewed hope and cheer.
— Psalm 94:17

- Open yourself up to encouragement from the body of Christ. I had a friend say to me yesterday, "i love how you are still here during all of this." What she meant is I am still available for playdates, coffee hour, and girls nights. I have not shut myself off from the rest of the world just because I am going through something. This accomplishes multiple goals. By opening myself up to people and being vulnerable, I am opening myself up to love and encouragement and genuine friendship. And it helps me to get my mind off of the looming event. When people offer to pray for you, say yes. When church members offer meals and friends offer babysitting say yes! Remember, these people are serving the Lord by serving you. Let him be glorified through the selfless act of the giver and the joyful heart of the recipient.

but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
— Isaiah 40:31

- Focus on a good thing that you can do for someone else. Sometimes it seems as though I am going through this alone and the whole world is in hyperdrive all around me. Which to some degree is true. I may be down for a few weeks, but the rest of the world keeps operating at break-neck speed. But instead of wallowing in lonely despair, I try to think of ways that I can use my situation right now to encourage someone else or to meet a need. It could be something as small as a hug and a prayer, it could be cutting some fresh roses from your garden and leaving them at a friend's office, or it could be making your husband's favorite dinner. It can really be anything, but it has to be for someone other than yourself. God never said "look out for #1 and make sure everyone else does the same!" He said, "Count others as more significant than yourselves." Act kindly and thoughtfully towards others and then pray that it is the love of Christ that is compelling you and shining through you. 

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:5b-7

 

Even after just recounting my list of ways to keep my mind stayed on Christ, the better I feel. I have more energy, a light-heartedness returns to me, and I am truly at peace. This list is not to make anyone feel like a failure, like they are not measuring up. Truly, this list is just how I abide in Christ. He has done all of the work to be accepted by God for you. He did is all You couldn't add anything or take anything away if you tried. So if you spin your wheels tonight trying to be better, trying to love him more, sadly you missed the point. Rest in the finished work of Christ. 

And I will lead the blind
in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
and I do not forsake them.
— Isaiah 42:16


If you are hurting tonight, if you are anxious, of you can't sleep, stay your mind on God. Trust Him an peace will be ours. Not an artificial peace, a fleeting peace that falsely promises health wealth and happiness, but a peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes from knowing that God is good, and that he loves his children, and that we may suffer all kinds of hardships in this life, but he will never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us to the end. 

When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
— Psalm 61:2
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at al times in every way.
— 2 Thessalonians 3:16


index card a day #icad

I love Instagram. 

 

There, glad I got that out in the open. 

 

I follow a community of artists that challenge and inspire me. 

Last week I came across a fun new project. {Artists like projects}.

Take an index card every day and decorate it. It is called ICAD {index card a day}.

 

 

Simple, right? 

Sure! {As long as you have use of your arms}

 

The trouble with this 30 day challenge is that it starts June 1. June 1 is known lovingly around here as BOOB Day. It is the day of my double mastectomy after which I will have very little function in my arms for about a week. I have heard it described as "the worst muscle pull/strain you have every had x1000." Sounds fun, huh? 

 

So I immediately dismissed he ICAD challenge and filed it away in the maybe next year file. 

 

I laughed at myself thinking of what it would look like for me to decorate an index card on Day 1 post-op. 

 

Then the thought came to me that this would be fun way to visualize my progress! Even if I just streak a big black line across the card on days 1-10, but then maybe add a little color on day 14, and some design elements on day 19, I think it will be a great way to focus on where I have come from and where I am headed. 

I have also heard that it is helpful during the recovery following this surgery to be hopeful and look to the next milestone. I think the cards with reflect the milestones. And now I have something to look forward to post-surgery come Monday!! 

And that is really good because the recovery is the hardest part and there is nothing really fun about it at all, especially the first few weeks, except the index cards. 

The index cards are fun. 

And I hope that looking back I will appreciate the mercies that each morning brings, whether in the form of challenges and pain or healing an strength, His mercies are new every morning. 

 

Check out some #icad feeds on Instagram come June 1st. I will tag mine #icad and #gracefullhomeicad and #brcaicad

 

 Official ICAD guidelines and FAQ 

Photos above are from the following IG feeds, give them a follow! 

Top left: @artsyville Top right: @hemlockandheather Bottom left: @laracasey Bottom right: @forgivenfruit

Big ICAD pic: @artsyville

Thanks for following along on this journey friends!