The days before it all fell down

This week…..

Fuck this week.
Fuck the ptsd.
Fuck the memories.
Fuck the physical way my body is holding onto this trauma.

I’m remembering. 
I’m breathing. 
I’m trying to just be. 

On Sunday I woke up with a blinding migraine. The pain so bad I could barely open my eyes. Telling myself not to vomit. Ice on my head. Repeating to myself “you’re ok” and “you’re safe” over and over. Pushing out the voices that creep in saying “maybe it’s cancer.” 
Through the pain I remembered what day it was….September 15th. 

On September 15, 2017 I woke up alone. No kids and no partner for the first time in years. I tried to work except the nagging in my head wouldn’t stop. “you have no excuses, go to the walk in clinic, go now.

The day before I had finally googled my symptoms. I was going to prove my partner wrong. I was going to put his worries at ease. The lump was breastfeeding related. The lump was nothing. 
Instead one red flag after another. Instead each new website giving the same information.  

Lump is painless- check
Lump is unmovable- check
Lump isn’t smooth- check

Check.

CHECK

CHECK.

It was a Friday morning and the walk in clinic was dead. Almost eerily quiet. I went back right away. The Dr seemed almost surprised how quickly and easily he felt the lump. He did not tell me I was too young for breast cancer and he didn’t put my mind at ease with “it’s probably nothing.” Instead he asked me if I still had an oncologist from my bone cancer.  Gave me a requisition for blood work and an order for a CT scan. 

I walked out of the clinic numb. I left a voicemail for my oncologist, got my blood work done and was surprised with how quickly she called back. Again no reassurances just “breast cancer is very treatable” 

It was then that without knowing I knew. 

I remember the sun. 
I remember my fresh pedicure.
I remember holding in the tears as I went for a spa treatment. 
I remember cancelling my plans for that night.
I remember sobbing to my best friend on the phone. 
I remember sobbing to another friend at her kitchen table.
I remember trying to get work done.
I remember telling myself I was overeacting.
I remember my love racing home from his work conference.
I remember another friend come to be with me with snacks. 

I spent the weekend in a haze of what ifs.

IMG_2513

_______________________________________________________________________
Monday September 18, 2017.

Another sunny day. 
Another day being mom, getting kids ready for school, going to the park, making small talk.
Being distant because I could feel my life was about to change. 
Wanting so badly to connect with the parents around me and yet feeling like I was drowning.
Wondering if they could see the worry on my face.
The call came, a ultrasound and biopsy in 2 days. 

Today looked so much like that Monday in so many ways, in too many ways to count. In so many ways that it was impossible to not remember. It was impossible for my body to not feel exactly the same way it did 2 years ago on the brink of my life changing.

As I get closer to my official diagnosis anniversary I’m trying. I’m trying to process and navigate. I’m trying to honour where I was then and where I am now. I’m trying to let myself feel how I feel without pushing the emotions away. I’m being honest both with myself and those around me. I’m reminding myself that 2 years isn’t that long to heal. I’m giving myself love and kindness.  

My Story….in pictures

When Kendal first reach out to me a year ago about her idea to start documenting I honestly didnt know why. I was very up front and told her that the story was mostly done. I had had my double mastectomy, chemo was done and while I was still mostly bald hair was definitely making a come back. While I still had a couple surgeries ahead I was already feeling the pressure to get back to normal. The rush to put cancer behind me. I really thought I had nothing to say and she wouldn’t have much to document. These last few months have very much proved otherwise. 16 months since I lost my breast  (has it really been that long?) Over a year since chemo and things are…different. They haven’t gone back to before. In some ways things are much better and in others I still struggle… a lot actually. Cancer will never be in my past but ingrained into the very fabric of who I am and I’m excited to share that and more. The more because I am so much more than cancer, so so much.

Check out the start of Kendals project here

My story through Kendal

 

My VBAC story

My pregnancy and birth with E was far and away a different experience than I had had with L. Overall I felt a lot better, my prosthetic leg fit the whole time, and after a lot of thought I decided to go for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean).

Choosing to go for a VBAC meant finding a provider that would support and encourage me. I found a great midwife who reassured me that my body was capable of birthing my baby. The best thing she did for me was to remind me that it was my body and that I had choices. A couple of weeks before Es guess date I hit the the same point that I had with L, I was done. I was uncomfortable, had lots of Braxton hicks, didn’t want to be around anyone and was scared. The biggest difference this time though, was support. I had people telling me that I could do it, encouraging me and bringing me up.

On a Monday afternoon when I was 39 weeks along I picked up L from daycare. As I was putting  him in the car seat I had an intense sensation that made me stop. I didn’t give it  much thought as it came and went so quickly. That night L and I hung out with some neighbours and had a relaxing night. It wasn’t until I put him to bed that I realized I had been having waves every 45 minutes. I decided to go to bed early and rest while I could just in case things picked up.  Sleep didn’t last long and at 1 in the morning I woke up to more waves. I spent a few hours pacing the apartment, taking a bath and trying hard to go back to sleep. At 5am L woke up for the day. By this point the waves were still sporadic but I needed to breathe to get through them. L was an amazing little doula, kissing my head making sure I was ok and even taking an early morning bath with me. It was after the bath that I decided to call someone to help look after L so I could try to nap. My best friend came over and I got some much-needed sleep. It wasn’t until I woke up a few hours later that I realized it had been awhile since I had had any more waves.I figured it had all just been false labour and decided to go about my day as planned.  I had an acupuncture appointment that afternoon and asked my brother to drive me just in case things started to pick up again. It’s a good thing I did. The moment I got into my appointment my birth really started. Waves were regular and timeable and yet somehow I made it through the entire hour-long appointment. The receptionist even came in and rubbed my belly as my waves came and oh my goodness did that feel good! Once I got home I told my brother to go and pack an overnight bag in anticipation of having him stay with L. Everything has picked up so fast I was having a hard time dealing, I had to stop what I was doing to focus and was making lots of low noises.

I got home and for some reason didn’t call anyone yet. I still wasn’t sure if this was really it, very quickly I knew this was indeed real and  called my midwife. She listened to me have a wave she asked how quickly I could get to the hospital. I called a couple other people, packed our bags and off we went, at exactly the speed limit. Once there I had to keep stopping and making boise while trying to get to maternity. I hated feeling like everyone was watching me. The second we got to my room my midwife was already there waiting for me . She checked me and found out I was 4cm dilated. I really wasn’t handling things well, swearing, screaming and didn’t want any one to touch me at some point during al this I threw my prosthetic leg off. I was being told that I was doing a good job and all I could think of was why were all these people lying to me. I asked for some gas to take the edge off, but I hated it. It made me feel loopy. Plus my instincts were telling me to make noise instead of breathing in which made the gas ineffective. I asked to be checked about an hour later and was at 8cm. At this point I asked for an epidural. The anesthesiologist must have been right out side my door because no sooner had I asked then she came in.  As soon as the epi was placed my midwife checked me again. I was at 10cm and my membranes broke in her hand. Unfortunately, because the epidural had just been placed I had to wait to push.

I really wanted to push on my own as I felt the urge to and about 45 minutes later when the epidural wore off that feeling came. I was in control of my body.  I was doing it. And I was starving. I hadn’t eaten in a day, in between pushes I kept telling anyone that would listen that I wanted a pizza. All I wanted was hot pizza. Soon her head was past my pubic bone. I got into a squatting position and forgot all about pizza I felt E crowning, the intense ring of fire and then got a small break.  Her little body came out soon after. I looked down at my beautiful baby girl and all I could say was “I did it, I did it”.  In that moment I knew I wasn’t a lemon. I knew I could give birth.

The only time she left my arms was to get cleaned up and have her newborn checks. Soon she was right back in my arms where she belonged. I got the birth that I had planned and hoped for for so long.

I never did get my pizza though.

 

 

Why I don’t hide.

I try to take my girls swimming once a week. 

I take them in the Womens change room when I could use the family one or even the disability rooms. 

I get changed with them in the middle of the room instead of behind the privacy curtains. 

 I’ll be honest though, this is hard. It’s one thing to take off my leg at cancer camp or when I am speaking to a room full of middle schoolers. It’s one thing to show my reconstructed breast to other women going through it or through a photographers lens. In a locker room where the people around me don’t know me or my story and have to come up with their own narrative is a lot more scary.

 I have no idea what they think when I take off my prosthetic to drain the water and change my wet stump sock into a dry one. Do they wonder if I was born like this? Do they think it’s gross or weird?

I have no idea if they look at my “breast” and wonder why I would get fake boobs. Or what thoughts they have about my “boob job”

It takes some deep breaths, some telling myself I am safe, some telling myself that what they wonder or think doesn’t matter. But I  go through this process each and every time I go to the pool, each and every time I get changed in a room of strangers. 

I know I am making a choice to do that. 

My choice in changing in a room full of strangers is intentional. 

It is intentional. 

Me dressing and undressing right in the open where other women can see me. I do it because I want to show my girls they don’t have to hide their bodies. I do it because I want them to grow up knowing what body positivity looks like. 

I am making that choice for me, to build my own confidence. To hope that one day I won’t wonder let alone care what others think about me. I hope to raise strong and powerful girls who can say “if my mom can love her body scars, amputations and all then so can I”

Today though the hard was harder than usual. Today a mom was nursing her baby. My girls are not shy and they engaged in a conversation with her. Soon it was talk about boobies. K made an observation “you have boobies.” The women looked at her and said “all mommies have boobies.” I could feel my heart in my throat. I wanted to cry because no, not all mommies have boobies. E piped up “my mom doesn’t, she had hers cut off” The women looked at me confused and half naked in a pool change room I told a small part of my story. Without preparation. Without wanting to. 

It will come up again. My children will make conversation and it will come up that mommy had cancer. It will come up that mommy had her boobies cut off. That mommy has a robot leg. They will hear their mom tell her story and one day they might now how hard that is sometimes and in knowing how hard it is I hope they see my strength. I hope they know I could have hidden but I chose not to. I hope it gives them the strength not to hide either. 

Breastfeeding to breast cancer.

I wrote these words only a few weeks before I knew. Before I knew that my intense nursing aversion was because of the cancer growing in my breast. Before I knew was that the same vessels that were nourishing her life were growing a tumour that wanted to take me.

I had so many thoughts and dreams of how our breastfeeding relationship was going to go. She was going to be my one child that would get to self-wean. She was going to set the time and pace that she was ready for. I was already struggling so hard with thoughts of weaning her, so conflicted. Having the choice made for me was just one more way I felt so out of control. I stopped nursing the second I found out. I put cabbage leaves in my bra, I drank cold medication all in attempt to dry my milk. My milk had to be gone in time for my double mastectomy. She cried a lot, if distracting her didn’t work with a gentle weaning process is definitely wasn’t going to work in a cold turkey weaning process. My surgeon told me when they cut my breast open milk poured out, they wondered if I had actually tried to dry up my milk at all. They had no idea the agony I has gone through. It’s a year later. She still talks about momma milk. She still mentions that it’s all gone. Until recently she even still put her mouth when my nipples used to be. Each time it breaks my heart.

 

Breathe in and out, breathe in and out, snuggle, kiss, grimace, distract myself, kisses, breath, relax, relax, get off, get off, get off.

These are my thoughts in my final days of breastfeeding my final baby. My day is a constant struggle of  holding onto this time. Of trying to push myself through just one more day, one more nursing session, and at the same time wanting so badly to be done.

As this chapter is coming to a close I’m having some very real reactions to it. I am processing, I am celebrating, I am grieving. When this last baby takes her last drink of milk there will be no one to take her place. This feeling has come as a surprise for me. I felt complete the moment I saw two pink lines with her. I’ve watched her go through milestones and have jokingly said that I don’t want her to grow up, while also happy to see what’s next. This milestone, this end has brought me to tears more than I expected. Maybe it’s because this is so far from how I imagined the end of my breastfeeding journey, so far sooner.

My goal was to nurse her until 2 and beyond, my goal was to let her self wean. It wasn’t even a goal so much as something that I was just going to do, I mean I have nursed two children before. I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that I won’t reach either goal. Her latch is terrible, she moves constantly as most toddlers do and accidentally bites me almost daily. She grabs at my top and screams in my face for “mine boobies”, she twiddles my nipples and demands, demands, demands  and I simply can’t do it anymore. I’ve tried to wean her as gently as possible, slowly reducing how often and how much, singing songs to signal the end. Giving more snuggles. Still she is having a hard time with this and it breaks my heart. Distracting her is hit and miss. Her screams are more intense, her grabbing more insistent and her biting intentional each time I tell her no, each time I say “all done boobies.”  It makes me wonder if I am making the right decision, and then she nurses and I feel anxious, I’m doing all I can not to push her off and I remember this has to work for me to. The truth is it’s not.

My body has been shared with another person for 90 months. For approximatly 2,750 days I have either been pregnant or breastfeeding with no breaks. I have had the joys of knowing my children from the inside, of feeling their kicks and tumbles, I have watched my belly jump in awe. My body has brought them earthside, where they have snuggled in and suckled at my breast. They have been nursed to sleep. They have been breastfeed through growth spurts, colds and scraped knees. My body has been a place where three children have been nourished and comforted. What will it be now? 

I’m  trying to find the silver lining to this end. To see my new beginning. Of not having to plan outfits around access to my breasts, of being able to go out of town and not pack my pump, of my first week long kid free vacation, of having some freedom. I’m moving into a new phase of motherhood and I’m embracing it as best as I know how, with some tears, apprehension and the possibility of what’s next.