Select Page
An Open Letter

An Open Letter

AN OPEN LETTER

“You Have Been Assigned This Mountain To Show Others It Can be Moved”

This INCREDIBLE letter was presented to me by my Step Mom, Dr. Tracey Butler Ross, right before my mastectomy last year. I recently read the letter again. It touched me so much that I felt lead to share it with you all because it remains relatable for any one facing a giant! Consider this, could what you’re facing be an opportunity to stand tall in ways you never thought possible?

Happy Reading!

“I’m praying for you this day and the days to come. Praying for your physical body, your strength (of mind and character), your courage in adversity and pain, your ability to endure and be empowered during the storms and trials in your life. You are the epitome of grace and elegance even when under fire.

We all applaud your steadfastness in doing what needs to be done, your bravery as you stand ready to fight, and your true grit as you dig down to the very fiber of your being as you face this “Goliath” in your midst. Your ever knowing  spirit that knows that you DO NOT walk alone.

I’ve watched you smile through many tests and tribulations. I’ve watched you evolve and grow, live and learn, withstand and endure, take hit after hit… and yet you keep standing. You still have been a wife, a daughter, a mother, and a friend and you haven’t missed a beat.

But I never want you to forget that you ARE a women and this particular crossroad that you are now facing is especially tough. I cannot imagine what you are feeling, but I want you to know that I see you and your heart. Every shake and anxious quake, every tear that you’ve kept within, every sob that was never given a sound, every scream that was muffled by a smile and. Always being strong even when you didn’t know how to be in this situation.

God sees you and HE is there with you every step of the way!

I wish that I could take this cross from you, but sadly, it is not within my power. You have every right to feel angry, sad, depressed, overwhelmed, scared, or whatever other human emotion that may be going on or that has gone through your mind over the past few months, especially right now. Your life as you have known it is not the same, and understandably, you also are not the same. Though your physical body may change, your character has not. You are still the “warrior princess” that God spoke into life and existence almost 32 years ago. Sure, you like all of us, might have some battle scares, but I declare there will come a day that you will look at those very scares and feel a surge of victory and accomplishment that you made it through!

This is a defining moment in your life and you get to write what that definition and story shall say. Perhaps it will be…. Over comer, champion, role model, activist, only God knows, but it will constantly change and adapt to fit the need for the moment at hand. Keep looking up when your head may want to lower, keep striving forward when your body feels exhausted, keep standing when your legs may want to buckle; keep reaching for Him when you feel that you don’t know how to keep going on. He will see you through. As He said to Elijah in the wilderness, “Eat and rest for the journey ahead is great.”

The life that you dream of, lives in the changes that you are experiencing, and your ability and willingness to change with them, and not just for you, but for you husband and children also. Why this particular path was given to you, we shall never know, but I know that God IS able and He never changes! He will carry you and never let you fall. Continue to trust Him and allow Him to guide you. I promise you that there is something on the other side of this beyond challenging battle. You just keep taking it one day at a time. Embrace every moment and chronicle it clearly, for this is your destiny and testimony. No one can, nor will they, tell and live it like you! There is NO win or lose in this fight…. Only WIN or LEARN!

Go forth and glean from every moment ahead, for the day that you shall declare the works of the Lord is soon to come.

I am SO proud of you and will continue to be there every step of the way! My heart bursts with the love I have for you and as I promised you…. THE BEST IS YET TO COME!”

Tracey

It’s almost been a year since I first received this letter and I hope it has blessed and encouraged you just as it has me! It represents my heart towards every breast cancer warrior! I am NOT thankful for cancer, but I am thankful for what cancer has taught me! Continue fighting because you are here for a reason!

Until next time….. Much Love and Light,

Ciao Bella

Mastectomy Memoirs- Why Two Surgeries

Mastectomy Memoirs- Why Two Surgeries

Hey loves!

It’s been such a long time since I’ve been able to write an update on my life. I have not blogged for AWHILE but trust me it was not intentional. When returned to work in the fall of 2017 everything changed because I had to completely immerse myself back into the frame of mind of working 5 days a week. On top of that, I honestly felt compelled to take a break. Chemo and surgery are extremely taxing on the body. I just needed time for myself and with my family. I wrote a blog about finding your new normal on my website so check that out if you are feeling anxious or stressed about easing your way back into things after going through treatment.

BUT with all that said I wanted to take time to talk about my surgeries. I’ve also been asked on multiple occasions, “Why did you need to have two surgeries?” Hopefully, this blog will answer that question! Here’s what you need to know…..

FIRST SURGERY
My first surgery was a double mastectomy.  A mastectomy is the removal of the breast tissue but the skin remains intact. There are different types of mastectomies and you may have a single or a double mastectomy. Here are some details about the surgery!

I HAD TO GO UNDER ANESTHESIA

When I arrived at the hospital I was placed in a pre-operative room. Some hospitals may allow you to have family members or loved ones with you. I had my parents, uncle, sister, and husband there. I’m so thankful for their presence. My husband was definitely my rock. Words cannot express how grateful I am for family! The surgeon marked me at this time and I was able to meet my anesthesiologist. My family and I were able to ask my doctors questions concerning the procedure. They made sure that I had not eaten since the night before. The doctors and anesthesiologist were very confident. My family and I said a prayer and thanked God for my victory. Then off to surgery I went!

The mastectomy was performed by my Breast Surgeon. I was told that it could take up to 3 hours. I chose to go forward with reconstructive surgery. This was performed by my plastic surgeon. This portion of surgery took an additional 1-2 hours. Along with the reconstruction I received expanders. Expanders were placed to help stretch the remaining skin in my chest area until I reached my desired size.

RECOVERY

Immediately after surgery I was moved to recovery. I was monitored and then relocated to a hospital room. You may stay at the hospital anywhere from 1-3 days depending on the surgical outcome. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask to stay longer if you need more time!

After you return home the recovery period is about 4-6 weeks. Restrictions, such as lifting, driving, and exercising, and working are put in place. Go at your own pace. Don’t put too much on yourself too fast!

DRAINS

Drains are inserted at the same time as the surgery. I had 4 drains (2 on each side). The drains consist of long tubes inserted into the area around your breast. They are there to help remove access blood and body fluids that may build up in the space where the tissue or tumor once were. The drains are held in place by stitches.

I had to empty the drains at least 3 times a day and keep a daily intake of the amount of fluid removed each time. Make sure to keep them clean, apply the proper ointments or antibiotics prescribed, and take your pain medication.

THE DRAINS ARE ANNOYING!!!! J Be patient. Yes they are frustrating but remember this is only temporary.

The drains were removed within a month or so, but once again this can depend on a person’s individual situation. It did hurt a little bit when they cut the stitches out to remove the drains but the actual removal of the tubes did not hurt.

Once they are removed I had small scars. I also had scars near the mastectomy sight. These scars took longer to heal since I did not have nipple sparing surgery.

It was very weird after the surgery because everything seemed very numb. This may take some getting used to.

SECOND SURGERY

Remember those expanders I spoke of earlier. They are basically like balloons. They were inserted to give me some shape when I first woke up from the mastectomy. Every couple of weeks or so, I had to return to the plastic surgeon’s office to have them filled with a silicone like solution. A needle was used to inject the solution into a port right above the expander. The “fills” typically did not take long and are measured in CC’s. They continued until I reached my desired size.

Once everything was clear, and I was happy with my size, I scheduled my second surgery. The second surgery occurred to have the expanders removed. The expanders were exchanged for actual silicone implants. There are many types of implants. They are just like the ones you would choose from if you were having cosmetic plastic surgery (except these are obviously for medical reason and no one would choose to go about it this way).

The second surgery was much easier than the first. The recovery time is still 1-2 weeks. Restrictions are still in place up to 6 weeks after the surgery but there are no drains (insert happy dance)!

Overall, I’d say the first surgery was very hard. It was difficult emotionally and I had a challenging recovery. My body is now changed forever! I’m thankful that I had a remarkable breast surgeon and plastic surgeon. They did an incredible job. To this day I am very happy with my results. Everything’s healing nicely and I’m glad this part is over!

Once again, I’m sorry this took so long to write but I hope this gives more depth and understanding through the process of a mastectomy. Feel free to share your stories below. You can also visit my YouTube Channel where I share tips on how to prepare for before and after a mastectomy!

As always, I love you guys keep fighting, and I’ll see you soon.

 

Ciao Bella

5 Ways to Find Your New Normal (After Having A Mastectomy)

5 Ways to Find Your New Normal (After Having A Mastectomy)

Hi Guys!!!!

I know it has been such a long time since I have been able to blog (so this may be longer than normal), but I am so excited be back!  Let me catch you all up on some things. I had a mastectomy with reconstruction at the very end of June. The cancer originated in my right breast only, but I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy.  For those who don’t know, a mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast.  Breast reconstruction surgery is used to rebuild the shape and look of the breast. There are various types of breast reconstruction. After the surgery I started having complications. Fluid started to build up in my left breast. Unfortunately, this made my recovery process even longer.

The good news is that the chemotherapy along with the surgery worked and I am now OFFICIALLY CANCER FREE!!! I still remember the day I found out.  My husband and I anxiously went to see the doctor and find out my results. My oncologist told us that I was in the 15th percentile. What does that mean? I am glad you asked! 85% of women with my type of cancer diagnosis still have residual cancer left in their breast tissue after completing their chemotherapy treatment. The remaining cancer is usually removed during the mastectomy.

When the breast surgeon went to perform my mastectomy I had NO RESIDUAL CANCER LEFT! This only occurs 15% of the time!!!  Let me just pause right there. Hearing that proves to me that my healing was nothing short of a miracle. This is also how I know God’s hand was involved in my complete healing. My oncologist literally said to us that this is very rare and that someone must have been praying for us! So thank you to all of you who have supported and prayed for us. All the prayers and positive vibes truly made a difference and I am beyond thankful! I just had to share that with you!

After taking the necessary time to recover, I recently returned to work full time. To be honest, it was very stressful.  For the past year I’d felt like I had been in this bubble. Life on the outside for everyone else still moved on.  Meanwhile, I had been stuck in this cycle of appointments, sickness, treatments, medications, and surgeries. I had to slowly become accustomed to the “real world” again. To be completely honest, I am still putting the pieces of my puzzle back together. I like to call it, “Finding My New Normal.”

Whenever you experience a major life changing event like a major illness, a death in the family, a divorce, maternity leave, a termination from a job or anything else substantial, allow yourself the time to figure things out. Eventually everything will fall into place! Until then here are a few ways to ease your way back into the swing of things:

 

1.) BE PATIENT

This was a hard one for me! When I received the good news that I was CANCER FREE I thought that it was my chance to jump back into my normal everyday routine. That’s not always the case. There were still a lot of things I needed to recover from besides the actual cancer. Figuring out insurance, medical leave, childcare, and familiarizing myself with the changes that had occurred once I returned to work, to name a few. Phone calls have to be made and returned. The appointments don’t magically stop. I really had to focus on not getting frustrated and channel that energy into making a plan to move forward. I had to divide tasks up and realize everything doesn’t have to be completed within a day. When I exercised patience I found myself in a more confident space!

 

2.) PACE YOURSELF

This can mean different things depending on the situation. In my case I had just overcome 16 rounds of chemo and a major surgery. On the outside I may have looked fine, but on the inside my body was working around the clock to repair itself at a cellular level. Chemotherapy does not only damage the cancer cells in your body, it damages the healthy cells too. I was told by my doctor it could take up to a year for my body to completely regenerate itself and for the fatigue to subside. Hearing this was overwhelming. Before all this, it would have been easy for me to walk 5 miles or to do an hour cardio workout class.  Now things have changed. I am now working on regaining my strength and that takes time. I have started with short walks around the neighborhood with my family. I know it’s not much, but it’s a start. My current goal is to walk 5 miles for a breast cancer fundraiser this October!  In due time, I know I will be at 100% capacity again and you will too!

 

3.) MAKE “TO-DO” LISTS/ USE A CALENDAR

This one’s a biggie! After I returned to work I realized I didn’t have as much down time as I used to at home. I felt flustered and I was having a hard time remembering things. I started to lock everything in my calendar. EVERYTHING…. Even goals! I set reminders on my phone to help me with my foggy “chemo brain.” lol It has made such a difference!  I also started making “To Do” Lists. I still have post – it notes everywhere! Lol Trust me, it helps. Keeping up with your own schedule, a work schedule, kids schedule, and a household schedule is a lot to pick back up all at once. You can use an app on your smartphone or simply buy a calendar you can write in and take with you. They come in a variety of styles and sizes. Utilize the lists and calendars to make things a little easier for you!

 

4.) ASK FOR HELP….. AGAIN

Just because the chemo and the surgery were in the rearview mirror, did not mean that I no longer needed support. Yes so many loved ones have been there for you throughout the process, but sometimes additional help is needed. For example, after my surgery my mom moved in with us to help around the house and with the kids. It was originally supposed to be for 2 weeks. After I started having complications, my mom ended up staying for nearly 2 months! I realized we needed the help because I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 15 lbs. for 6 weeks! That meant I could not even pick up my own children. Often times, I found it challenging to multitask. I also realized that I could not complete the typical work load that I was used to and our household had to go on a budget to be able to compensate for the incoming medical bills. It was a very difficult time.

When you return to work there’s this big misconception that “everything’s fine” or “the hardest part is over now.” Those assumptions are the furthest thing from the truth. Research shows 80% of women suffer from PTSD after a breast cancer diagnosis. Seeing this number literally blew my mind! Side Note: I definitely want to address this topic via blog in the near future, but these things take time. No one can just jump back in and pick up where they left off. Life changing circumstances can affect you in all areas. They key is that you don’t have to go through it alone.  Never feel like you are a burden and don’t be afraid to ask for help in the areas you need it most. This includes financial, physical, AND mental health.

 

5.) YOU ARE WORTHY

If you’re not careful during this time of restoration, major body changes, fear of the unknown, and uncertainty of the future, it’s easy to lose sight of yourself and even your identity. It’s crucial that you surround yourself with positivity in all areas. This includes people too! Show yourself some love. If you’ve had a mastectomy or will be facing one in the near future, embrace the changes that are coming. A mastectomy does NOT make you less feminine or less of a woman. If anything it shows what a woman is able to endure and still come out strong. You are gorgeous inside and out.  Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Even that pesky thing called “self-doubt” that tries to sneak in and sabotage our thoughts every now and again. Lol I know how hard it is. I know how much pain you’ve endured. I know how annoying the drains are after the surgery. I know the expanders feel like two huge rocks until you get your implant of choice, but you will get through it. Keep reminding yourself that this is all temporary. We are going to speak positive affirmations from this point forward. My prayer for you is that you will go forward feeling validated. Whether you’ve chosen reconstruction or not, I pray that you see your scars as the marks of a warrior. A beautiful person who is taking it one day at a time, doing the best she can, and staying fabulous in the process!

I love you all to life and I hope this encourages someone who is trying to bounce back! I am still in my process and I have one more surgery still to face, but every day I have continued hope that it will only get better and better!

 

Thanks for reading, until next time!

 

Ciao Bella

 

From Guilt To Grace: The Mom in you Gives the Love They Need

From Guilt To Grace: The Mom in you Gives the Love They Need

There is not a more beloved position in the world then the role of being a mother. As with any mom, from the moment you find out you’re pregnant you visualize this precious bundle of joy coming into the world and changing your life for the better. You can’t wait to watch your child grow because you know you will appreciate every precious moment. You want to be the best parent possible by teaching, guiding, loving them, and being a great example. However, with all those wonderful intentions, parenting is not for the faint of heart! It brings so much joy but just as many challenges. Adding a chronic illness or cancer into the mix makes it even harder!

Having a little one depend on you is a huge responsibility. It’s one that I don’t take lightly. This is why when I first found out that I had cancer my children immediately flashed across my mind. I decided to stand firm on my faith. I also vowed to go through any and all necessary appointments and procedures to ensure that I would be here for them. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months I started to realize just how much cancer has not only changed my life but there’s too!

Days when I was literally too sick to get out of bed, to cook, do the laundry, make bottles, change diapers, or help with homework brought a certain aspect of guilt. I didn’t look like the mom they were used to. My hair had fallen out and I didn’t want them to see me as “different.” It was a daily struggle filled with self-blame, anxiety, and remorse. I found myself missing all the things that used to annoy me, like being covered in spit up or tripping over toys! Lol

I’m used to being extremely active with my children. I found joy in planning the next big trip or adventure. We were always on the go. It all came to a halt once my health was on the line. Living with guilt was starting to tear me up inside. I would frequently ask my husband, “Am I still a good mom?” He would of course assure me that I was, but it didn’t always feel that way on the inside. Once I realized that feeling this way wasn’t going to help make things better, I decided to stop complaining and get creative! I’m going to share with you 5 reasons you should NEVER let guilt get the best of you!!!

1.) YOU ARE SHOWING YOUR CHILDREN THE TRUE DEFINITION OF STRENGTH! There’s something to be said about a woman who can get up every morning and fight while also holding down a family. They see bravery in YOU….. that’s right! It may not be the way you wanted, but trust me; you are showing them a great example of courage.

2.) YOU ARE TEACHING THEM EMPATHY. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone and that’s easy to do, but teaching them how to understand and share the feelings of someone else is a valuable life lesson. I will never forget, one day my two year old son randomly brought me a throw blanket when I was lying down on the couch. He could tell I wasn’t feeling good and said, “Mommy’s sick,” then he hugged me. I could see that this was his way of relating to me and trying to make me feel better. He’s actually become quite the little helper. It makes me proud that he’s able to pick up on certain things and how much he wants to make a difference.

3.) YOUR HEALTH IS A PRIORITY! The old saying goes, in order to be good for anyone else you have to be good to yourself first. This holds true especially in this situation. There will be days where you will be weak and tired. Sacrificing some of the things you used to do to get extra rest will slowly but surely help you become strong again. So listen to your body and don’t try to over do it!

4.) YOU’RE SHARING THE LOVE! Thankfully my husband and I have a huge support system. Grandparents, family members, and friends all want to help us out. This includes loving on the kids. It’s allowed me to see just how loved we are. It’s allowed the kids to see and spend more time with other loved ones….. and that’s a good thing!

5.) YOU’RE CREATING MEMORIES! So you can’t get out to the amusement park today. Maybe all you can muster up is a short walk around the neighborhood or a movie night at home. Believe me, it’s all the same to them. They will have just as much fun spending time on the floor building “Lego Castles” and making snowman out of play dough then going anywhere else. My kids are little, but you get the picture. We get real creative sometimes! Lol I also cannot express how much it’s meant to have the extra time bonding with my baby girl. I wouldn’t have this opportunity if it weren’t for me being at home more.

So, in a nutshell, YOU ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH!!!! Your worth as a mother is not determined by being able to complete EVERY single chore or making EVERY single event. It is already embedded in the heart of your child from the moment you laid eyes on them. This is just a season so don’t get discouraged. Show yourself a little mercy and grace. Try to find the positives in even the smallest things. Enjoy being there another day to kiss and hug your babies. You are valuable, you are loved, and you are irreplaceable just they way you are!

“Children are a gift from the Lord, they are a reward from Him.” Psalm 127:3

From one mom to another, I hope this helps!

Ciao Bella!

Micky