All original content © Copyright Nicole Bills, 2011-2013

Another One of Life’s Curveballs…RIP Baby Golomb

March 23rd, 2014 — 4:15pm

Where to even begin with this post? Since I shared mine and Andrew’s good news about the pregnancy two and a half weeks ago, life has been in a bit of a downward spiral. We’re very sad to share that on Wednesday, March 26th, we lost our baby….a little girl.

So much has happened since my last post, so it’s probably easiest to just write things in the order they occurred….

Sunday, March 16th I woke up around 4:30am because something didn’t feel right. I went to the bathroom and immediately noticed that I had started bleeding. Not a little spotting when you wipe type of bleeding, but sit on the toilet and the blood falls out of you type of bleeding. The kind that you definitely don’t want to see when you’re pregnant.

I assumed I was starting to have a miscarriage. Knowing there really wasn’t anything I could do to stop it, I cleaned myself up and went back to bed. I woke up a few hours later to much of the same situation. Lots of blood when I went to the bathroom, but no miscarriage yet. Not really knowing what to do, I called the emergency line at my OBGYN’s office. They told me that it was probably a good idea to head into the ER and get checked out by a doctor.

After multiple tests and a long day in the ER of waiting around for test results, we were finally told that the baby was fine. I had a subchorionic hematoma that had formed in my uterus and had ruptured on Sunday morning….causing all the bleeding that I was experiencing. Nothing to worry about moving forward, but pretty scary none-the-less.

I took it easy for the next couple of days. Went back into my OBGYN so he could check me over himself and was given the clearance that everything looked good.

Friday morning, March 21st. I had an early morning appointment to do my first trimester screening and genetic testing. My expectations of the appointment were to have an ultrasound checking on how the baby was developing, and then have blood drawn to look at the genetic make-up of the baby.

The first part of the ultrasound was the Nuchal Translucency scan. Nuchal translucency is a collection of fluid under the skin at the back of the baby’s neck and can be measured during an ultrasound. The technician began taking her measurements and immediately tells me that she needs to go get the doctor.

The doctor comes in and takes his own measurements. He proceeds to tell me that the fluid pocket is measuring much thicker on my baby then it should be. Ideally, it would measure below 2.5mm. Anything above 3mm causes concern for the doctors. Our baby measured 4.5mm…not very good.

He goes on to tell me that because the fluid pocket measured so thick, our baby has a very high chance (upwards of 50%) of having some sort of serious chromosomal abnormality or heart / birth defect. Because the ultrasound is only a screening test assessing whether or not you are at risk to have an issue, he recommended that I move forward with a diagnostic test to tell us for sure. Being that I was still only 11 1/2 weeks along in my pregnancy, CVS would be the diagnostic test available to me, not amniocentesis.

I was fortunate to be able to get in immediately for the test. The CVS is similar to a pap smear, just longer. Once the speculum is inserted, the doctor uses ultrasound to guide a catheter through the cervix into the placenta of the baby. He then uses a suction device of sorts to collect a tissue sample from the placenta….enabling them to determine the exact genetic make-up of the baby.

They told me they’d call me with initial test results at some point on Monday. The initial results will tell us whether or not the baby has one of the more common chromosomal defects….trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), trisomy 13 (Patau Syndrome), trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome), or a sex chromosome abnormality. More detailed results would be shared with us 2 weeks later.

Monday morning, March 24th. The genetic counselor called and gave us the devastating news. Our baby tested positive for an extra chromosome in all 4 categories that the initial test results reported on….a very rare condition called Triploid Syndrome. With Triploid, the baby has a full extra set of chromosomes. A normal baby has 46, our baby has 69 chromosomes. Triploid Syndrome unfortunately is not compatible with life. Most Triploid babies miscarry early on in the first trimester of pregnancy. A small percentage survive into the second trimester. And very few make it to the third trimester resulting in either a stillbirth, or a baby that survives between a few hours to a few days.

Wednesday, March 26th, we officially lost our baby. Because I was 12 weeks along at this point, I had to go in and have a D&C to ensure that all the contents of my uterus were fully removed. I was put to sleep for the procedure, I think more so because who would want to be awake and aware while that is happening. I spent a few hours in recovery and we were sent home later that afternoon.

Friday, March 28th. I took it pretty easy Wednesday night and Thursday, but unfortunately by Thursday night, I could tell something was feeling off. My abdomen was cramping, my body started aching, and I had chills I couldn’t shake. I went to bed hoping I would sleep it off. I was up most of the night with continued body pain and fever that spiked at 101.7. By Friday morning, I couldn’t stand up without feeling like I was going to pass out and like every bone in my body would break.

We called my OBGYN and he was able to squeeze us in for an emergency appointment later that morning. At the appointment, we learned that not only was my pregnancy a Triploid baby, but I also had something equally as rare called a Partial Molar Pregnancy. In some Partial Molar Pregnancies, a fetus never even develops….instead, an oversized placenta with grape-like growths develops in its place. In situations like mine, a fetus does develop as does the oversized placenta. A molar pregnancy always results in miscarriage as the placenta eventually takes over the baby (if a fetus existed to begin with). So unfortunately our baby didn’t really stand a chance from the very beginning.

Because we didn’t know about the molar pregnancy going into my procedure on Wednesday, my doctor didn’t really know to look for / expect extra tissue in my uterus. As a result, we also learned at my doctor’s appoint on Friday that I still had some remaining tissue from the pregnancy in my uterus that was causing an infection and resulting in the fever, chills, cramping, body pain that I was experiencing.

The tissue needed to be removed as soon as possible, so I was checked into the hospital Friday afternoon for a follow-up procedure that evening, and a night of monitoring and antibiotics to ensure the infection was under control.

I was released from the hospital late Saturday afternoon, and have been taking it as easy as possible since then. I have a follow-up appointment with my OBGYN tomorrow to make sure things are still healing as expected, and to talk a little more about what the Partial Molar Pregnancy means for our baby plans in the future. We’ve learned some things about molar pregnancies in the last few days, but should learn more tomorrow. This post is pretty long already, so I’ll talk more on that in my next post.

So that is that. It’s hard to believe that only two and a half weeks have passed. Because it’s been such an awful time, it feels more like two months than two weeks. To go from being so happy and excited about something, to so sad and devastated has been heartbreaking. I’m not going to speak for Andrew, but I definitely have felt sorry for myself multiple times over the last couple of weeks and wondered why me?

I know I joke a lot about having a lifetime “get out of jail free” card because I had cancer almost 4 years ago now, but I certainly don’t expect that to be the case. I just wasn’t expecting another of life’s unfortunate curveballs to be thrown my way so soon again. I’m trying my best to keep a positive attitude and find the good in the situation, but when it’s dealing with something that I’ve wanted and looked forward to for so long now, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a struggle.

As the saying goes….This Too Shall Pass. Thank you for the continued thoughts and prayers in this really difficult time.

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Golomb Party of 3!

March 13th, 2014 — 5:24pm

I haven’t posted in a while now because I’m not very good at keeping exciting secrets….and I have a really good one. Andrew and I are having a baby! As of today I’m 10 weeks pregnant (official due date is October 9th), so technically we’re a party of 2.25. And I know it’s still pretty early to tell people, but it’s too hard not to share anymore. Lord knows I share a lot on this blog already, so why not add this to the list?

One of my biggest concerns coming out of my cancer treatments was that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. Age was going to be a factor (I’ll be 36 in less than 2 months) and chemo is tough on the body…especially the ovaries. I took precautions during chemo by using Depo Lupron shots, but it’s still always been a nagging concern in the back of my mind. So to get pregnant as quickly as we did after the wedding was a pleasant surprise.

I’ve had two ultrasounds…one at 5.5 weeks and a second at 8.5 weeks. The technician said that so far things look normal…as much as you can tell from something that’s the approximate size of a blueberry. And we got to hear the heartbeat at the second ultrasound, which was pretty neat!

Not to harp on the age thing, but because I’m of “advanced maternal age”, I’m considered a high risk pregnancy. As such, I’ll be having additional testing done throughout the course of my pregnancy. The first test with be next Friday and will focus on the genetics of the baby. They’ll check for chromosomal abnormalities, such as down syndrome and trisomy 18, and open spine defects, such as spina bifida. They’ll also be able to determine gender of the baby with the test….so we will find out very soon if we’re having a girl or a boy!!

I’m actually pretty happy about the additional testing. I’ve always feared that my eggs have been severely damaged from the chemo. So not only has being able to get pregnant been a concern in my mind the last few years, so has being able to have a healthy baby. I’m so scared that my damaged eggs will result in a mutant baby with 3 arms and 4 legs…so having the genetic testing done in the next few weeks and hopefully being able to put my mind at ease is a very welcome thing.

How have I been feeling? Awful! I’ve had nausea pretty much since day one of finding out I was pregnant, and have been vomiting consistently every day for the last 4 weeks…making for a couple very interesting work trips. My doctor tells me it should hopefully go away in the next 2 weeks or so, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m way too familiar with the insides of our toilets right now to believe that in 2 weeks time I could be back to the land of eating without vomiting. In the meantime, I’ve been drinking as much water and Gatorade as I can keep down…..and eating whatever food sounds good to be on any given day. It’s hasn’t been the healthiest of choices lately, but it pretty much comes back up 30 minutes later so I don’t see the harm 

What does this mean for my reconstruction? That’s on hold indefinitely….at least until after the baby comes. I still have my expander in…and it’s still pretty much maxed out at 330 CCs of fluid. I have to go back for a checkup with Dr. Harper here in the next few weeks. I may talk to him about potentially removing some of the fluid in the expander because, as anyone who’s been pregnant before can attest to, my boobs are huge now! And if I thought the expander was uncomfortable before, it’s downright painful at times now. We shall see what he says!!

First photo of our baby….

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3 Years in the Making…

January 23rd, 2014 — 4:07pm

….and I’m finally back to where I started!! I was looking through old photos from my pre-cancer days and it dawned on me…my hair is officially back to the same length it was before I started chemo…pretty exciting right!

I put one of these videos together about 2 years ago, and this one was even more so exciting for me to watch. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in the last 3 years and it surprised me how hard it was to look back at some of those pictures.

NEW VIDEO CAN BE VIEWED HERE:  http://youtu.be/KxpNhtC8pcM

I was in a really dark and unhappy place in my life coming out of chemo, and I don’t think I noticed it before, but I can definitely see the sadness in my eyes now as I looked back through some of the earlier pictures. I continue to be so grateful for every day of my life since that period of time. Life is so short and precious…you really need to make the most of every day you have.

So for anyone out there that is going through something similar, just keep pushing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel…I’m so appreciative to be an example of that!!

And for all the ladies who’ve mourned the loss of their own long hair because of that crazy, evil beast we call cancer….your hair WILL grow back. It may take 3 years and a lot of awkward hair “phases” to get there, but it will happen! :)

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New Year, New Name, New Job….So Much To Be Thankful For

January 2nd, 2014 — 7:37pm

Happy New Year!!  It’s been sooooooooo long since my last update, but life has been an absolute whirlwind the last few months.

The biggest thing that’s happened is that Andrew and I are finally married!!! We tied the knot on October 26th and aside from one small snafu with my bouquet, the day was perfect!  The food, cake, location, décor, music, pictures, dress, hair, etc. were all amazing and made for an unforgettable day to spend with our close family and friends. 

Now comes the decision of determining my new name…Nicole Elizabeth Golomb, Nicole Bills Golomb, Nicole Elizabeth Bills-Golomb….or go the completely untraditional route and put the responsibility of name changing back on my new husband…Andrew Bills.  Ha, just kidding on that one.  I know Andrew would pretty much anything for me, but changing his name is where he’d draw the line J

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the wedding.  If you want to see a full run down of the day, you can check them out here:  http://oldsouthstudios.com/16549/

After the wedding, we headed to the French Polynesia for an unbelievable two weeks of rest and relaxation…and much needed after the last few months of wedding planning.  By no means was I a bridezilla, but I definitely was stressed out by the time the wedding arrived thanks to my love of being in control of things and my DIY mentality.

And because getting married wasn’t enough, I decided to accept a new position at work and started my new job my first day back after the wedding.  This new job involves travel to India and the Philippines four times a year and the first trip was in December.  So three weeks after we got home from the honeymoon, I set off half way around the world to spend two weeks in India.  I’m definitely racking up the airline miles!!

On the boob front, I’ve seen Dr. Harper a few times over the last few months.  Twice he’s put more fluid into my expander.  It’s got a whopping 330 cc’s of fluid in there now…which is about 120 cc’s more then I have in the implant on my left side.  I’m very lopsided again and feel like all the work he did back in September to make me look more proportional was a complete waste at this point…even though I know that they were necessary in the long run.

I see him again the middle of February and should know more about what the plan is there year in regards to my construction.  I know I’ve got at least one if not two fat grafting sessions where he’ll inject fat on top of my expander.  And then finally swapping out the expander for a new implant….all of course dependent on when babies potentially happen.

I’m excited to see all that 2014 will hold and continue to be amazed by the love and support I receive from my friends and family.

The photos below are from December…I’ve honestly lost track of the exact number of weeks at this point point but these are from approximately 3 years 1 month post chemo….

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Feeling good…looking even better!!

September 23rd, 2013 — 7:52pm

It’s been a full week since my surgery and I’m feeling pretty good again. For some reason this time around, I had some issues with either the anesthesia or the pain medicine they gave me in the recovery room. I woke up from surgery in a lot of pain, and the nurse gave me some pain meds. I’m not sure what the medicine was, because I was still coming out of my medical induced slumber, but whatever it was it was strong enough to take away the pain in a matter of seconds.

Life was great for the next 15 minutes, and then it went downhill pretty quickly. I started to get incredibly queasy and proceeded to vomit on and off for the next hour and a half. Every time I tried to get up out of my chair to head home, without fail the mouth juices would start flowing and I’d get sick. I haven’t had issues with throwing up in my previous surgeries, which is why I think it was more related to the pain meds. Eventually though I was able to get dressed and into my wheelchair to be wheeled out to the car with my to-go barf bag.

Aside from the initial vomiting issues, the surgery itself went really well! I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m VERY happy with the cosmetic changes Dr. Harper was able to make this time around. This was the first surgery where when I looked in the mirror at my results for the first time I was excited about what I saw!!

Like I said though, I don’t want to get too excited yet because the swelling still needs to subside enough to where I’ll be able to see exactly what I’m working with now :)

I go in tomorrow to get my stitches out…thank goodness because they are so itchy right now!! I’ll talk to Dr. Harper about what our next steps to finally put a nail the boob job coffin. I know I’ll definitely have one more surgery to swap out my expander for an implant. But there is the possibility of another additional surgery before the expander swap.

Dr. Harper continues to be very happy with how my skin and tissue are reacting to the expander. When I saw Dr. Harper on Tuesday for my post surgery check-up, he mentioned that he may was to do the fat grafting (aka lipo) and injection of fat on top of the expander before he puts the implant in. That obviously wouldn’t be before the wedding, but potentially before end of year.

All in all, I’m really happy with how I look right now. I’m much more proportional and symmetrical than I was before, and think I look pretty damn good. So way to go Dr. Harper!! You’ve pleased a really tough critic!!

Thanks so much for all of the kind words of support and encouragement….they mean the world to me!! xoxo

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Slight change of plans…Surgery tomorrow!

September 15th, 2013 — 7:42pm

I met with Dr. Harper about two weeks ago to discuss what the next steps were in my reconstruction process.  Initially, the plan was to have one final surgery…swap the expander with an implant, make some lingering cosmetic updates to both boobs, and my favorite…fat grafting to inject in my cancer boob.

At my appointment, Dr. Harper was again very happy with how my skin and boob were reacting to the expander, but unfortunately felt like it’s still too soon to remove it.  I obviously was pushing for soon rather than later due to the proximity of the wedding….6 weeks away at this point, crazy!!

Upon hearing the news that Dr. Harper wanted to wait on removing the expander, I once again found myself fighting to keep back tears on his office table.  I feel incredibly self-conscience right now because my right and left boobs are completely lopsided.  It may not be noticeable to others when I have clothes on, but it’s the one thing I hone in on when I look at myself naked in the mirror.

I finally tried my wedding dress on for my first fitting last weekend, and aside from feeling like a stuffed sausage in the dress (mama’s got some work to do in the fitness department), I was totally self-conscience that my boobs looked uneven.  Not really something I want to be worrying about on my wedding day.

I don’t know if he noticed that I was getting upset, but Dr. Harper went on to propose a compromise that I’m very happy with….he’ll make the cosmetic changes I want and match my left boob in symmetry to my right before the wedding if I agree to keep the expander in for a good while longer.  Done!!

The expander is slightly firmer than an implant would be, but the most important thing to me right now is that I look symmetrical.  So Dr. Harper agreeing to do that makes me so happy!!  And the best part, he was able to squeeze me into his schedule for the 16th, so that means I’ll be going back into the operating room tomorrow at 1pm!!  I’m so excited and have been praying things go smoothly tomorrow and that I come out looking like a million bucks!

Many of you know Andrew and I want to try to have kids immediately after the wedding.  With the expander being left in for at least a few more months, there is the chance that I could get pregnant before Dr. Harper is ready to swap it out.  Dr. Harper assured me that it wouldn’t be detrimental to my pregnancy and that after the baby was born, we could back and make the exchange for an implant.

All in all, good news on all fronts.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow and even more excited about seeing the results of the surgery.  If you’re feeling like you’re in a generous mood, I’ll take whatever positive thoughts and vibes you can send my way for a successful surgery!!  Thank you in advance :)

I don’t have any new hair progress pictures yet.  I do have some photos of my hair in it’s natural state now.  I blow dry and style my hair every day now that it’s longer….and get a lot of questions about whether or not all of the curl I had in the year following chemo has grown out…so I thought I would show you what my hair looks like now if I just let it air dry…pretty fugly if you ask me!!

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Two months…eek!!!!

August 26th, 2013 — 5:26pm

As of today, the wedding is officially 2 months away!!!  O…M…GEEEEEEE!!  This is really happening…and I have the photo to prove it.  All invitations are officially in the mail and awaiting the RSVPs of our close friends and family!!

Two months time is just crazy to think about!  2 months until I get to marry the man of my dreams :)  2 months until I no longer have to answer the question “how’s wedding planning going?”  And 2 months until Andrew and I are relaxing on the beach here….

Eeeeeeeeeek!  So freaking excited!!  I’m looking forward to having all of our friends and family in town for hopefully a fun filled weekend….but I’m REALLY excited about getting away for two weeks, relaxing on the beach, and having a lot of fruity cocktails that cost 5 times what they should!!

With the wedding being so close, time is really of the essence to finish my reconstruction.  I had an appointment with Dr. Harper two weeks ago where we caught up on my progress.  He’s very happy with how my skin is reacting to the expander.  And very happy with the results of the lymphedema therapy he sent me to for a  month (essentially a gentle massage of my boobs to prevent the excess fluid from hardening and becoming scar tissue).  So happy that he injected another 30-40 CCs of fluid into my expander at my last appointment.  I thought my boobs were lopsided 3 weeks ago, it’s like a freak show now!!

We (and when I say we, it really means he) still haven’t decided on when the next surgery will be.  I’m really pushing for 3-4 weeks from now.   That way I’ll have several weeks to recover prior to my bachelorette party, and then be fully healed by the wedding/honeymoon.

Dr. Harper may potentially want to wait until after the wedding to do the next surgery.  He’s looking at the bigger picture and what will be best for my reconstruction process long term, while I’m stuck looking at the immediate picture, and what will make me look the best in a swimsuit 2 months from now.

Slight disconnect…and as much as I hate to admit it, his vote is going to veto mine :(  My next appointment is in a week, and we should come up with our final plan at that point.  He did confirm in my last appointment that he’ll be doing the fat grafting procedure (aka liposuction) with this next surgery, which had me skipping out of the office like a school girl!! 

And I don’t think I’d ever admit this to him, but having the liposuction as part of the next go around makes me want to do it sooner rather than later even more!!  What woman wouldn’t want liposuction and a new set of boobs right before their wedding and honeymoon??  I doubt you could find me one that would turn it down.  That’s essentially a total body make-over….get your problem areas cleaned up just in time to relax on the beach for two weeks.  Dream come true!! 

No pressure on Dr. Harper, but the entire fate of how I will look on my wedding day is resting in his hands.  If everyone could send him mental vibes to “schedule Nicole’s surgery before the wedding” over the next week I’d really appreciate it!

These are about a week or so old now, but photos from 145 weeks post chemo are below…

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Feeling very full

July 11th, 2013 — 5:16pm

Today marks 6 weeks since my last surgery.  Overall, I’m feeling pretty good…very full….but good.  Originally I thought I was going to have injections into my expander every Friday for 1 – 2 months.  What actually happened was I only needed to have weekly injections for 3 weeks!

I’m deathly afraid of needles, so Dr. Harper was kind enough to be aggressive with my injections and make the most of each of the 3 that I had.  During surgery, he put 50 CCs of fluid in the expander.  Each of the subsequent injections he continued to put 50 CCs of fluid in so I achieved max capacity of 200 CCs in my expander much quicker then I was expecting.  One of the many reasons I’m so happy I went to Dr. Harper for my reconstruction process.  And with 200 CCs occupying the lower half of my boob, I’m feeling very full these days!

So what does the expansion injection process entail?  The whole thing really takes less than 5 minutes.  A big syringe is filled with what I assumed was saline.  The syringe is connected to a little tube that ultimately ended with what Dr. Harper called a paper thin needle.  This is one area where I will have to disagree with Dr. Harper.  What he called a paper thin needle looked like knitting needle to me….far from thin.  This difference of opinion may have more to do with my insane fear of needles then the actual size of the needle…but to save face, we’ll just move forward assuming it’s the biggest needle ever.

Once the syringe was ready to go, Dr. Harper used a little magnetic device to locate the area of my expander where the needle needed to be stuck through to inject the fluid.  After disinfecting the appropriate area, he stuck the needle in and injected all the fluid.  And that’s really it….short and sweet.

My injections always took a little bit longer, because I have a tendency to freak out anytime a needle comes close to me.  So there were always a few failed attempts before I actually let Dr. Harper stick me.  And fortunately because the tissue in my boob was still so numb from surgery, I didn’t really feel a thing in any of the 3 injections.  So I pretty much made a big deal out of nothing….typical Nicole style :)

Being aggressive with my injections meant that I did experience some discomfort over the last few weeks.  After my first one, I woke up Saturday morning feeling a lot of discomfort, with an incredibly swollen nipple, and some redness / feverish area on my boob.  I was really concerned about possibly having an infection, so Andrew called Dr. Harper to talk through my issues.  After texting over a few photos of my boob, Dr. Harper assured me that he thought everything looked normal and gave me a small prescription for an antibiotic just to be on the safe side.

Side note…I have to have the best fiancé in the world because he was willing to text essentially a half naked photo of me to another guy from his phone.  Granted, the other guy was a doctor, but still.  The things you do for love!

Fortunately, the redness and pain subsided by Monday morning.  Nothing really of significance came out of my second injection…I just felt very tight after.  My third injection was by far the worse.  With the third, my expander was filled to its intended capacity, 200 CCs.  Because everything is tightly packed into my boob at this point, the expander was sitting on my ribcage in a rather painful position.  For the first 3 days following the injection, I was unable to take a full breath.  Each time I tried, I would get a shooting pain in my ribs.  It really sucked and I ended up spending the better part of the weekend panting and feeling like I was constantly out of breath.

I thought I was going to have to go in and get some fluid removed, but my skin stretched enough over those first few days and the pressure on my ribs eased enough by Monday to feel comfortable again.

And now it’s just a waiting game.  I’m not really sure if the expander is doing what it should be doing at this point.  I’ll see Dr. Harper again tomorrow for the first time in 2 weeks to check in and see how I’m progressing.  I’m hoping we’ll get my next surgery on the calendar so I can have an end goal to look forward to.  I’m not 100% sure that my next surgery will be my last, but it definitely helps to have something to be working towards.

Photos from 140 weeks post chemo are below…

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Three year cancerversary!!

June 18th, 2013 — 6:01pm

I can’t remember who I’m stealing it from…and I’m actually a little disappointed I didn’t think of it myself…but today marks my three year cancerversary! THREE YEARS! That’s just crazy. When I was initially diagnosed, I was scared I wouldn’t live to see another three months. So to be three years out from that awful day now is pretty amazing!

For those of your who aren’t up on the cancer lingo, cancerversary is the day you received your cancer diagnosis….cancer + anniversary = cancerversary….celebrated much like you would celebrate any other anniversary. Some people may find it strange to celebrate the anniversary of such an awful day, but when you’re cancer free, everything is cause for celebration!

So many good things have happened in my life over the course of the last three years, and I’m so grateful for all of it. Cancer puts many things in life into perspective and means something different for everyone.

For me, cancer was freedom. Freedom from a life of pleasing others and freedom from a life of putting other people’s happiness before my own. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had worked myself into a rut of unhappiness. I had a hard time standing up for myself and was too busy worrying about other people to realize that life was passing me by.

And then I got my wake-up call. Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned to appreciate each and every day. Because each day cancer now is truly a blessing. My eyes have been opened to all of the beautiful things life has to offer…and I wake up each morning thankful for my life now and excited to see what the future holds.

To each and every person who’s supported me along this crazy journey…whether it was an email, phone call, text message, following this blog, etc….thank you! Thank you for being a constant source of encouragement and helping me through some pretty dark days.

I’m a lucky girl!! :) xoxo

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Feeling pretty much back to normal…

June 13th, 2013 — 6:04pm

It’s been two full weeks since my surgery, and life it pretty much back to normal! I’m driving again, sleeping in bed again, back in the office again, bathing regularly again :) ….essentially everything but working out again, which really sucks, but could be worse.

A few years ago I forced myself to become a morning workout person. It’s a great way to start the day, and leaves my evenings open to do whatever I want. As much as I may dread or complain about waking up at 5am, not being able to work out right now makes my days feel a little off and my body feel like a slug. But like I said, there are a lot worse things in life then not being able to work out for a few weeks.

My surgery was scheduled for 12pm, so Andrew and I headed to the hospital around 9am. Biggest con of having surgery in the hospital vs. the doctor’s office….having to be there 3 hours in advance. There’s much more paperwork and overhead involved with being admitted into the hospital as opposed to just checking in at the front desk of Charlotte Plastic Surgery.

The nurse took me back to for initial prep which involved taking all of my vital stats, confirming a non-prego status, changing into my surgery attire, and administering the iv. So a few things here…

First, the hospital gown they put me in was awesome!!! It came with my own personal heating and cooling system. There was a tube that attached to the gown that pumped in whatever temperature air I selected on the remote. And instead of the ugly brown socks I’ve gotten in most of my previous surgeries, I got a bright yellow pair this time…loved them!

Second, I know I have strange quirks sometimes, but I find it really exciting waiting for the nurse to deliver my pregnancy test results (for all of my surgeries). Despite the fact that I knew I wasn’t pregnant, I still felt a nervous excitement that she could come back and tell me that my test was positive. I guess that’s what happens when you have babies on the brain.

And third, thanks to my veins not cooperating, I ended up with an IV in what I consider to be one of the worst locations ever. The nurse had several failed attempts at putting the IV in the top part of my wrist / forearm, where 99.9% of IVs typically go, but my veins kept collapsing.

I had worked out the day before my surgery, and didn’t have any water past 10pm the night before, so I think was just dehydrated. And because the veins in my right arm can’t be used for anything anymore (in fear of lymphedema), my left can be overused at times. I of course got super light headed and broke out into a sweat with the failed IV attempts and ended up having to crank the AC up on my personal cooling gown. Very helpful!

It wasn’t until she called in the anesthesiologist to try to do it that I ended up with an IV on the underside of my wrist where the veins are literally 1mm in diameter….I’m still amazed she was able to get something in there.

Once I was finally settled in my pre-op area, Andrew was allowed to come back and hang out with me. Biggest pro of having surgery in the hospital :)

So how did the surgery go? Really well! Dr. Harper was able to remove all of the scar tissue that he set out to remove, he successfully took out my implant and replaced it with the expander, and most importantly to me, he repositioned my nipple to its appropriate location. I’m left with what I consider to be a nicely shaped, very perky, smallish boob. It’s not as small as I was expecting it to be, but it’s noticeably smaller than my left side.

In an effort to minimize the chances of scar tissue forming again, Dr. Harper inserted a drain during surgery like he told me he may do. The drain came out the side of my ribcage, a few inches below my armpit, and suctioned out the excess fluid into a container that looked like a grenade.

I was hoping to only have the drain in over the weekend and get it removed on Monday, but I was still producing enough fluid to warrant Dr. Harper suggesting it to remain in until Friday….a full 8 days with that bad boy!

The drain itself wasn’t painful; the long tube was just more of a nuisance. As I became more mobile and doing more for myself, I’d just tuck the grenade in the pocket of a sweatshirt or the sweat pants I was wearing. It was very easy to forget about, so if I wasn’t paying attention, I’d turn or walk around a corner and snag the tube on something….which would result in the tube tugging at the site where a tiny stitch held it in place. Fortunately, I never snagged it hard enough to pull it out of place, just enough to make it a little uncomfortable for a minute or two. The drain is removed now though, so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

My right boob it still primarily numb from surgery and pretty sore / very tender to touch. Dr. Harper has given me strict instructions to massage it with as much pressure as I can handle in an effort to prevent fluid buildup…so I’m sure that’s adding a little to my discomfort.

I go back tomorrow to get my stitches out and for my first round of injections into the expander. There’s 50 cc’s of fluid in there right now, and I think Dr. Harper will try to do another 50 cc’s with this first injection. Wish me luck!!

No hair photos until my next blog posting :(

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Surgery in the morning!!

May 29th, 2013 — 4:45pm

I had my final pre-op appointment with Dr. Harper yesterday to talk through everything that would happen during my surgery tomorrow. He confirmed that he won’t be touching my left boob this time around…and walked through again what he’ll be doing to the right side…it’s everything I was expecting with a few potential additions.

To recap, he’s taking out my right implant, removing / cleaning up all the scar tissue, and then putting in the tissue expander. All things I’ve known about since we discussed the change in direction for my reconstruction plans. So what’s new?

In addition to the 3 procedures listed above, Dr. Harper will also be using Alloderm in the hopes that my healthy, soft breast tissue will continue to remain that way after surgery. The way he described it, Alloderm is essentially cadaver tissue that “allows for a strong, intact repair in challenging hernia and breast reconstruction post mastectomy procedures by providing soft tissue reinforcement or replacement.” Essentially, it helps to control the shape of your boob…which is something I need help with. My lumpectomy scar has historically had a mind of its own and has left me looking a little freaky over the last 2 ½ years. So fingers crossed that the addition of Alloderm this time around will help do the trick!!

I also learned a little more about how the expander works. My expander will look like an implant essentially cut in half. It will be this shape because I only need the tissue on the underside of my boob to stretch. To make sure that the expander does its job and doesn’t get out of place, it will be attached to my chest wall ensuring that as my weekly injections into the expander progress, they are stretching the skin on the lower part of my boob. I found this all pretty educational as I’ve been wondering how it wouldn’t just be floating around in there like my implants are right now.

And finally, Dr. Harper said I may emerge from surgery with a drain this time….which would really suck. I don’t recall why I would need one this time around. I zoned out as soon as he said drain thinking about how awful it will be to something hanging from my body and didn’t really hear anything he said after that. As fearful as I am of needles, I’m equally fearful of having something hanging from my body that will need to be emptied, cleaned, touched multiple times a day. Yuck!

So here’s to hoping that it’s not necessary!! My surgery starts around noon tomorrow and will take between 2-3 hours. Because of insurance reasons, this surgery will be at the hospital instead of their offices like my first two…..which is good and bad. Bad because I have to be there almost 3 hours before my surgery time….and good because Andrew gets to come back in the prepping area and hang out with until I go into the operating room! For my surgeries in the office, I was back there sitting by myself…granted it was only for about 30 minutes, but still, it got pretty boring.

So that’s that. I’m praying every goes as Dr. Harper hopes tomorrow, and would definitely appreciate continued thoughts and prayers!!

Photos from 133 weeks post chemo are below….

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Boobs and Babies

May 20th, 2013 — 3:04pm

Thank you so much for all of the positive comments and thoughts sent my way after my last blog post.  It definitely wasn’t how I envisioned things to happen in my head, but I’ve had some time now to digest it all and have a much better outlook on the surgeries I’ll be having in the next 4-5 months and am ready to get the show on the road!  That’s the thing about life….just when you think things are settling down nicely, a crazy curveball is thrown your way juuuuuuuust to keep things interesting :)

I found out that my next surgery will be Thursday, May 30th.  As a recap, Dr. Harper will remove the implant on my right side, clean-up/remove all of the hard/scar tissue once again, put in an expander, and reposition my nipple.  I’m not sure what if anything he’ll be doing on my left side.

Following this surgery, I’ll have two months of weekly injections into the expander.  I’m not exactly sure how that works.  After the last 3 years, I’m still deathly afraid of needles…so I’m hoping the process isn’t what I’m envisioning in my head…Dr. Harper walks in with a syringe full of saline and essentially just sticks me in the boob to inject it into the expander.  I can’t really think of any other way to accomplish the task at hand, so I’m guessing this is my only option.  Maybe I’ll do a video blog of one of the weekly injections to share with you all how exactly it works.

If these next few procedures don’t make me look normal again, I’m not sure what the plan will be.  Worst case scenario, Dr. Harper mentioned that he’d probably need to take some skin and tissue from my back….to help form a new boob in the event of expansion failure.  I’m not on board with this plan at all….and really had to fight back tears when he started talking about that.  I don’t want a big scar on my back…despite it being under my bra line.  The scars I have right now are reminder enough of my cancer…I really don’t want to add to them.

I sometimes wish I would have just had the mastectomy 3 years ago and been done with it.  I wasn’t prepared to make that decision then, but looking back, if I had to do it all over again, I would’ve said cut them off and not have thought twice about it.  I’ve seen some pretty amazing post mastectomy reconstructions over the last two years…ones that look way better than mine and it just makes me wonder.  I realize the grass isn’t always greener…but the more time goes one, the more I wish I would have made a different decision back then.

In happier news, I had my big appointment with Dr. Frenette two weeks…and I’m so happy to report that the conversation went really well!!  The appointment was my standard 6 month check-up, but also to discuss the possibility of having children within the next year.

The plan I have laid out in my head….get married in October, get pregnant shortly thereafter J  I’ve been stressing about this conversation with Dr. Frenette pretty much since my last appointment 6 months ago.  I brought it up to him at that point to prep him that I wanted to have a serious conversation about it….which he said we could do at my next appointment (two weeks ago).

Fortunately, Dr. Frenette doesn’t see any compelling reasons why he wouldn’t be comfortable with me trying to get pregnant following the wedding.  He said that studies are finding now that being pregnancy doesn’t actually increase your risk of recurrence….his primary concern is just the amount of time I’m off of my tamoxifen.  So basically, he wants me to start taking my tamoxifen again immediately after a baby is born. 

He advises against breastfeeding, ultimately because it would prolong my tamoxifen-free time….but that’s a decision I need to make on my own.  Because of the radiation and all the surgeries removing tissue, it’s very unlikely that I would even produce milk on my right side….so this may not even be something I need to decide on…my body may decide it on its own.

He also mentioned that studies are finding that if you eat healthy and maintain a regular exercise schedule, which I do, your rate of recurrence is lowered by about the same percentage as taking tamoxifen.  Essentially, if I continue to eat healthy and exercise during pregnancy, which is the plan, I will see the same benefits as the tamoxifen alone.  I wonder if that also means that if I work out twice as much as the recommended 3-4 hours a week I could eliminate tamoxifen completely from my life.  Probably not, but a girl can dream!

All in all, it was a very positive conversation.  And as of this last appointment, I switch to yearly appointments instead of every 6 months.  So next time I see Dr. Frenette I’ll hopefully be with child.

I don’t have any of my regular pictures to post right now.  Andrew has been in Italy the last 8 days and my hair is too long in back to take the pictures myself anymore. What can I say….#longhairproblems

I do have some of our engagement pictures that I can share!!  We had them done about 3 weeks ago now…and we love them!  Julie Staley from Old South Studios did an awesome job!!!  Here are a few of my favorites, but you can see more on her blog at:  http://oldsouthstudios.com/engagement-session-at-the-vanlandingham-estatecharlotte-nc/

 

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Back to Square One :(

April 29th, 2013 — 4:26pm

I had my 4 month post op appointment with Dr. Harper last Friday and it really didn’t go the way I was hoping.  Instead of spending my time convincing Dr. Harper how we could get everything done with this next surgery and make it my last, he spent the appointment explaining to me why we needed reset the whole reconstruction process and start again from square one.  Hmph :(

I wrote previously about how the skin in my right boob (cancer boob) isn’t stretching the way it should with the implant in there and really causing things to look less than ideal again.  You never know how skin will react after radiation…and well, mine isn’t behaving very well.  We removed all of the hard, scarred tissue during my first surgery…but it’s unfortunately built up again over the course of the last 6 months.  I don’t know if it’s the firmness of the tissue that’s preventing the proper stretching from happening, if it’s a continued side effect from radiation, or if my boob is just plain stubborn, but here’s where “square one” comes into play.

Surgery 1 take 2 will involve Dr. Harper removing my implant, cleaning out / removing all of the hard tissue that I have, and repositioning my nipple.  Because there’s a good amount of tissue that will be removed and my skin has a proven history of not acting as it should…he’ll be putting an expander in my right side instead of a new implant.  For the following two months, I’ll have to make weekly trips to the doctor’s office to have more and more fluid added to the expander….and (fingers crossed) stretch the skin on the underside of my boob once and for all. 

Why is it so important for my skin to stretch?  Without the proper stretching, the implant will always sit higher and will more than likely always pull on my nipple and make me look like Frankboobenstine.

Once he’s happy with the amount of fluid that’s in the expander, I’ll have to wait another month before he goes back in and replaces both of my implants with a fairly new product called the Gummy Bear.  The Gummy Bear is supposed to be a good option for women undergoing reconstruction following breast cancer because the implant “contains more cross-linking in the silicone gel than earlier models which makes it more cohesive, which in turn makes the implants firmer”.  And which is exactly what I need…a firmer implant that will hold its shape under the pressure of my lumpectomy scar.

The potential 5th surgery, yes I said 5th, will involve the fat grafting (aka silver lining) I wrote about after my second surgery.  IF the site of my lumpectomy continues to remain flat with the new implant, Dr. Harper will “harvest” fat (hopefully from my thighs) to inject behind my lumpectomy scar.

It’s all very frustrating and not really what I wanted to be worrying about in the months leading up to the wedding, but it can always be worse right?  I’m hoping the implant / expander swap will happen in the next few weeks, so I can get my Gummy Bears the beginning of September.  I have no idea how the expander will look, or if I’ll be completely lopsided once it’s reached max capacity, but one bulging boob is not the look I was going for on my wedding day.

I’m trying really hard to keep things in perspective.  Friday’s appointment was the first of two big appointments within the week and if one has to not go the way I want, I definitely want it to be the boob one.  I have my other big appointment with my oncologist Dr. Frenette tomorrow.  It’s my standard 6 month check up, but I’m going to be talking to him about when realistically I can stop taking my tamoxifen and have babies.  I have a timeline in my head of how I want things to go, I just need to get him to agree with it….and him not agreeing with me on this topic is going to be a much bigger pill to swallow than Dr. Harper telling me I need 2 – 3 more surgeries. Stay tuned!

Photos from 126 post chemo are below…

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My Second Year as a “Model”

April 15th, 2013 — 5:07pm

I’m so excited to share that the creative geniuses behind the Ford Warriors in Pink Models of Courage program decided that just one year with the 11 “models” of courage they selected for 2012 wasn’t enough….and have asked us all back for a second year!  They notified us about two months ago, but we weren’t able to share until recently.

As I’ve previously written, Ford Motor Company has been active in the fight against breast cancer since 1993.  In its 19th year of raising awareness of breast cancer, Ford Warriors in Pink created the Models of Courage campaign to celebrate breast cancer survivors who have demonstrated strength and courage in their battle.  Ford uses broad outreach to help keep the topic of breast cancer a part of everyday conversation.  The goal is to encourage women and men to engage in self-exams and self-care, which could lead to earlier diagnoses and in turn could save lives.

Starting in 2006, Ford began creating a line of breast cancer themed clothing and gear that they sell at www.fordcares.com.  The clothes depict a warrior mentality, because let’s be honest, anyone who faces a fight against breast cancer is truly a warrior!!  The best part of the clothes…100% of the net proceeds are donated to the fight against breast cancer.

Last year I was introduce to an amazing group of people and was able to do some really incredible things through Warriors in Pink.  They flew us out to LA for a photo shoot, brought us to NY for the big launch event, I even had an opportunity to be on The Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda!!  All very fun and exciting things, but pale in comparison to the self-confidence and happiness the program has brought.

Having a group of 10 other survivors to talk to about the things I had / was going through, was priceless.  As a younger woman with breast cancer, there aren’t always a lot of people who can relate.  Being introduced to those 10 other people and them instantly understanding what I’ve been through was something new to me.  Initially I shied away support groups.  I didn’t think they would really help me at all, and honestly, I wasn’t really in a mood to share my thoughts and feelings.  (Who knew I’d grow into such an open book!!)  Having my own personal support group pretty much delivered on my front door was a dream come true…and getting another year with what seems like an instant family was totally unexpected!

So what does the Model of Courage program include this year?  Great question!!  A few weeks ago they flew us all out to Austin, TX for the 2013 “summit”.  We had a day of interview sessions.  Interviews were conducted a little differently this year.  I don’t want to get in trouble so I can’t share anything about them, but I think they have potential to be pretty neat!  And then a full day photo shoot “modeling” the new apparel for the year.  Oh how I love having my hair and make-up done by professionals!!

There’s a few really cute new pieces this year…so I encourage everyone to shop www.fordcares.com.  The new pieces won’t be able until summer, but there are still clothes from last year you can purchase, and you can read more information about the Models of Courage program as well.  We all asked repeatedly what they had in store for us throughout the remainder of the year….but the Warriors in Pink team remained tight lipped about the fun things they have in store.  I can’t speak for the other “models”, but I for one can’t wait!!

Nothing else too exciting to report really.  My boobs are healing pretty well and I have a follow-up appointment next week to talk about my next surgery.  I’ve spent a lot of time staring at my new boobs in the mirror the last four months and have some suggestions about what can maybe be done to get everything taken care of this time around and prevent a 4th surgery. I’m not a plastic surgeon though, so my ideas could very well be a pipe dream.  Who knows!

My hair is finally long enough to curl again.  I’m definitely a little rusty with the curling iron….I can’t seem to curl my hair without getting a burn of some sort.  Right now I’m walking around with what resembles a hickey on my neck….awesome.

I also have my 6 month check-up with my oncologist in the next few weeks.  This check-up could prove to be pretty interesting as I plan to approach the topic of children vs. staying on tamoxifen with him…stay tuned on that topic.

It’s earlier in the year this year, but the Jeans & Jewels Gala is already upon us again and taking place this Friday.  If you remember, this is the event I met my soon to be husband at  almost 2 years ago :)   We’re both walking in the charity fashion show for the third time.  I get to wear an awesome red dress….I’m pretty excited about it!!

And finally, Andrew and I are getting engagement photos taken on Sunday!  We hadn’t initially planned on doing them, but an opportunity presented itself so we’re going to take it :)

Photos from 124 weeks post chemo are below….

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Onto Round Three….

March 18th, 2013 — 3:30pm

Thank you so much for all of the sweet comments and messages I’ve received since posting my last blog about Andrew and I getting engaged.  I continue to be amazed and overwhelmed with the amount of love and support I’m continuously shown through this blog and life in general.

Since I last wrote about my reconstruction progress, I’ve had another follow-up appointment with Dr. Harper.  He did confirm that I need to go back for round 3 in what I’m calling the never ending boob job.  Timing isn’t immediate, but with a wedding quickly approaching, and a two week honeymoon booked in the south pacific (yay!!), I was really pushing for sooner rather than later.  We came to an agreement on July.  That will give my boobs 6 months to heal from the last surgery, and will give be about 4 months to heal before the wedding.

I had previously said that my third surgery would just be repositioning of my nipple and injection of fat under my lumpectomy scar.  Plans have changed slightly.  Dr. Harper will still reposition my nipple, but instead of the fat injection, he’s going to swap out the implant on my right side.

If you’ve never held an implant in your hand, which I’m guessing most of you haven’t, they feel like you’re holding a balloon made of industrial strength rubber full of smooth, jelly like substance…very smooth and very flexible and can be manipulated very easily.  If you press on one end of the implant, the inside contents shift very easily to the opposite end causing a bulge.  The elasticity of the implant allows for a more natural look once they’ve been inserted.  A good thing.

Unfortunately for me, because the implants can be manipulated and reshaped so easily, my lumpectomy scar and the firmness of my radiated skin are causing the implant to sit higher than the implant on my left side.  It’s not noticeable to the average person…you can really only notice it when I don’t have a bra on….or when I’m wearing a sports bra.  But it’s enough to bother me and want to get it fixed.

The new implant Dr. Harper wants to replace my existing one with holds its shape under pressure.  If you push on one end of the implant, the contents inside don’t displace very much at all…and my right boob should keep its intended shape better.

So that’s the new plan.  If my lumpectomy scar is still flat with the new implant, he’ll go back in at the end of the year and do the fat injection…and I’ll get my free lipo….but for now, let’s hope third time is the charm :)

Photos from 120 weeks phost chemo are below…

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Going to the Chapel

February 21st, 2013 — 4:17pm

I’m a week late but in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, this blog won’t be talking anything cancer or boobs related….the entire focus will be on my love life…and the exciting things to come this year!

A few months back I wrote about how I had exciting news to share….well I’m finally ready to share. Andrew and I are getting married!!!! :)

If you’re friends with me in real or social networking life, that will come as no surprise to you. And what I’m calling exciting news is more like a few month old news that I’m sharing….but I’m sharing it none the less. So let’s get the typical questions out of the way:

1) When did he do it: Andrew proposed on October 20th. So when I say this information is a few months old, it’s 4 months and 1 day old to be exact.

2) How did he do it: We took a day trip to the Blowing Rock area to do some “leaf peeping” as Andrew likes to call it. After we peeped the changing leaves along the Blue Ridge Mountains, we headed to Grandfather Mountain. Andrew had packed a picnic lunch for us to eat, so we found a little area on the side of the mountain to stop and enjoy the smorgasbord he had put together. I’m not going to get into the little details of what he said, what I said, etc. The important part is he asked me to marry him and I said yes J

3) How was he supposed to do it: I have it on pretty good authority that Andrew was planning to propose on a little Mexican getaway we had planned after the Chicago Marathon. I say we “planned” on going there because the trip never actually happened. After months of anticipation of sandy beaches, blue waters, and endless cocktails, Andrew discovered the night before our trip that his passport was expired. And because you’re now required to have a passport to pass to/from Mexico, we had to cancel our trip :(

Everyone assumed I would be really pissed off about the whole thing, and some were even surprised I still accepted his proposal a week later, but in the grand scheme of life, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. If cancer has taught me anything, it’s you can’t sweat the small stuff. I’m sure in the 50+ years of marriage we’ll hopefully have together, I’m bound to do something equally if not more ridiculous and I’d hate to set the precedence of blowing something small out of proportion. So to you Andrew, you’re welcome that I’m such a kind, understanding, and forgiving fiancé :)

We went back and forth for a few months about what we wanted to do for a wedding, when it should be, where it should be, etc…..and we’ve finally set a date….so I guess I do have exciting news to share!! We’ll be getting married on Saturday, October 26th here in Charlotte. The wedding will be at the church we belong to, St. Patrick Cathedral and the reception will be at the Mint Museum Uptown. We’ve paid deposits and I got my dress last weekend, so we’re locked and loaded….and as I tell Andrew, there’s no backing out now!!

The wedding will be pretty small, just close friends and family…so probably around 75-85 guests. We’re still working through a lot of the smaller details. I have a lot of ideas, I just need some help organizing and executing them. If there’s any good (and reasonably priced) wedding planners out there please shoot me an email. I very open to suggestions.

Please bare with me these next 8 months as there may be a bit of wedding talk on my blog. You can’t blame me though. If someone would have asked me 2 years ago if I thought I would ever get married, my answer would have been a definitive no. I felt like I had this huge black cloud of baggage that I carried coming out of my treatments because I’d had cancer. Throw in the fact that I was essentially bald and about 20 pounds over-weight…I assumed I’d be single forever. What guy would want to take that on?

Lucky for me, Andrew came into my life and changed all that. And now I’m living proof that not only is there a lot of hair to grow and life to live after cancer, there’s also love, marriage, and hopefully a few babies :)

Pictures below are from 115 weeks post chemo…

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Surgery Part Deux Update…an Introduction to the Girls

January 22nd, 2013 — 11:02am

It’s crazy how quickly time flies by. I had every intention of updating my blog pretty much every day the last three weeks, yet here we are…a month after my surgery and I’m just now getting around to it. I hear a new year’s resolution loud a clear….update blog more frequently!!

Like it said, it’s been a month since my second surgery.  I’m not really sure what I was expecting after surgery, but I feel like I should officially change my name to Tits McGee. My boobs are huge….at least I think so.   I wanted and picked out a very small size implant, smaller then they carry  regularly in the office as to avoid looking like Dolly Parton post op…but they still seems really large to me.  I’m definitely still adjusting to the new “girls”.  I can refer to them as a separte identity because they came with their own identification card.  Weird, I know.

I made the mistake of looking at them about 8 hours after my surgery and really wasn’t prepared for what I saw. What were supposed to be the perky, ever so slightly larger boobs of my dreams, in actuality were ginormous, shiny blobs pretty much resting on my chin. I don’t know if I was never told, or missed the part where I was informed that I’d have a lot of swelling….but needless to say, first glance at my new boobs was not good.

I cried and cried and cried. I literally freaked out and was inconsolable. I felt like I made a HUGE mistake by getting the implants. Had an exacto knife been readily accessible, I may have sliced open the incisions in my pain medication induced haze and removed the implants myself.

Thankfully I have quite a few friends who’ve gotten implants over the years. After a few desperate phone calls, they managed to calm me down. And just like they reassured me they would….the swelling in my boobs, and they boobs themselves, have gone down pretty significantly.

The recovery for my first reconstruction surgery back in October was pretty smooth and not very painful. I was hoping to have a similar experience this time around again but boy was I wrong!

My surgery was on a Thursday morning.  Andrew had me home from the doctor’s by noon fully drugged and resting nicely with frozen peas on my chest. Despite having just had surgery, I felt pretty good the remainder of the day and into Friday. So good on Friday that I managed to run a few errands with my brother. It all went downhill pretty quickly as Friday turned into Saturday.

I’m not sure if I did too much in the first 24 hours after my surgery or if it was just because the really good pain medication the doctors gave me during surgery was wearing off…but by Friday evening I was in a lot of pain. My chest and every muscle surrounding my chest were so tight and every movement I made hurt like hell. Just in time to hop in the car for a short 12 hour road trip up to MI for the holidays at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning.

Why I ever thought it would be a good idea to have surgery 2 days before my brother, Andrew, and I were driving up to MI is beside me. When I’m 100 years old and looking back at my life, that decision will probably continue to be in the list of my top 10 worst ideas ever.

To say the trip was long and painful would be the understatement of the century. I couldn’t get comfortable and my pain pills were barely taking the edge off. Every bump in the road we hit was like a blow to my chest. I slept on and off, as much the pain and my discomfort would allow, the entire trip. Thank you to Andrew for capturing a few moment in time, candid pictures of me in all my pain and glory. Notice my constant companion…Bailey. Best dog ever for cuddling and TLC. I don’t think he left my side the entire time I was feeling awful :)

It took a solid 5 days before I started to feel like a normal human being again…so by Tuesday, I had stopped taking my pain pills and was definitely moving around with more ease. Not taking the pain pills alone did wonders. I hate the feeling of being in a cloudy haze…and that’s how my pain pills made me feel. Throw in the way anesthesia and pain medication completely jack up my stomach…I was a disaster through xmas.

I had my first check up with the surgeon on the 4th. He said things were healing nicely and I was free to start massaging my new implants (to prevent scar tissue build up), but I’m unfortunately going to have to go back in for a third and (fingers really crossed this time) final surgery.

We were hoping the implant would fill and round out the bottom portion of my cancer boob that my lumpectomy surgeries had left flat / indented and fix the nipple issues I was having….but it’s not doing a very good job. It’s filling it out better than before my surgeries, but my nipple placement still sucks (thank you radiation!) so Dr. Harper thinks he can make it look better still. I need to wait 5-6 months this time around to allow the implants to fully settle before moving on to the third surgery… probably May-June timeframe

. In the third surgery, Dr, Harper wants to reposition my nipple again. The skin that’s been radiated isn’t stretching and reacting the way he anticipated, so it needs to be moved. He also wants to inject fat tissue behind my lumpectomy site in hopes of creating the roundness on the underside of my boob that I’m lacking.

And here’s the silver lining…in order to inject fat tissue, fat needs to be “harvested”. Which means I’m getting a dose of liposuction courtesy of the big C. Free boobs, free lipo…cancer just keeps paying it forward!!

(apologies if my jokes offend anyone….as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I try to / like to keep a light hearted attitude about things. Cancer just plain sucks…anyway you look at it…and I’m the type of person who always tries to find the positive in situations)

I go back for another check-up on the 8th, and hopefully will be given full clearance to run and work out normally again. The last month of minimal athletic activities has taken a toll. I feel like a blob :( I’ve been doing what I can but am looking forward to getting back into a normal routine at the gym again.

Photos from 111 weeks post chemo are below. These are from the first week after my surgery. The side picture shows just how big and perky my boobs were at first…yikes!

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Reconstruction Part Deux in the AM!

December 19th, 2012 — 5:47pm

Tomorrow is the big day! I’ve got a 7am appointment with my plastic surgeon to complete the last step of my reconstruction. By 10am, I’ll have a perfect (or at least as perfect as I can get) pair of boobs!!

I’ve healed very quickly and better then I was expecting to, so my doctor feels comfortable moving forward with putting the implants in now. I’m a little nervous, because you never really can tell what a particular size implant will do for you until it’s in there, but I feel confident that Dr. Harper knows what I want, and won’t take me above that size.

Because I’ve had radiation in my right boob, Dr. Harper said there is a small chance my tissue in that boob will reject the implant. If that happens, I would start to develop a lot of scar tissue surrounding the implant, and they would ultimately have to be removed. Please say an extra prayer for me tonight that my body cooperates and that removal isn’t necessary!!

I’m hopeful I’ll feel as good as I did in the days after my first surgery, but have heard that I may be much more restricted in my movements after the implants because they’ll be going under my muscle. My first surgery didn’t really touch anything muscle related…it was all removal of scar / dead tissue. This time around, the doctor will be cutting through my muscle to get the implant in…which I’m told results in quite a bit of discomfort for the first few weeks. Fortunately, it’s the holidays and all I really have to do is lay around, eat too much unhealthy food, and spend time with family.

In my last blog I said that I’d be sharing some exciting news in this next blog….but that unfortunately is going to have to wait for another week or two. Still working on ironing out a few of the fine details before I’m ready to share.

And finally, because the whole reason for this blog is hair…I wanted to share a collage I put together last week. I’ve said all along that taking regular pictures of my hair growing back would remind me that my hair is actually growing, despite my constant griping that it’s not growing fast enough. Well, these photos showed me exactly how far I’ve come in the last two years…

I’ve progressed from my “Gollum” phase, made a quick stop at “No Country For Old Men” (think Javier Bardem), and am finally starting to look like my old self again. It truly is amazing the difference two years can make.

I hope everyone has a blessed holiday season full of joy and happiness!!  No hair photo updates this time, hasn’t been long enough since the last ones :)

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Post Surgery Update

December 6th, 2012 — 9:55am

Huge slacker here. I’m just now getting around to giving a post surgery update. I had intentions of doing one weeks ago, but life’s been pretty busy.

It’s been 6 weeks since my reconstruction surgery and I feel pretty much 100% back to normal. The healing process was much less painful that I was anticipating. The most painful part was probably wearing this god-awful bra for a month….

I don’t know who was more excited about retiring that thing….me or Andrew :) Haha, kidding! I only have a little tenderness if I lay on my stomach or Andrew hugs me to tight, but aside from that things feel great. My scars are healing better than I thought they would and more importantly, I’m SOOOOO happy with Dr. Harper’s work.

My boobs looked a little funny at first, which Dr. Harper warned me about. They essentially “over correct” during surgery knowing your tissue will settle over time. For the first few weeks post surgery, my boobs looked a little ridiculous. It’s hard to explain, but they looked like an upside down version of the “tear drop” every woman wants to have. Fortunately, they’ve relaxed a lot in the last 6 weeks and look much better now!

I’ve got photos from before the surgery, a week after, and now but really don’t want to post them for the world to see.  My face isn’t in the pictures, so I’m willing to share them given the right circumstances…i.e. someone else who is going through reconstruction not just someone looking to get a free show.

So what exactly did I have done in the surgery? Well, Dr. Harper removed all of the scar tissue left behind from my two lumpectomy surgeries and all of the dead tissue left behind from radiation. Then (because my right nipple was slightly deformed from the previous surgeries) he gave me a slight lift to reposition my nipple to look normal again. And finally, he lifted and removed tissue from my left breast so it looks identical to my right. I’m now left with slightly smaller, very perky new boobs that look great!

Dr. Harper was going to try to put a small implant in during surgery, but was concerned that the site where he removed my lumpectomy scar would be too strained under the pressure of the implant and not heal correctly. So (fingers crossed) I’ll be going under the knife again within the next few weeks to get very small implants in to take me back to my original size. I’ve got an appointment with Dr. Harper tomorrow and based on how comfortable he is with how I’m healing, we’ll set the next surgery date!

 Like I said, life is back to normal now. I’ve back in the gym and running again…just in time to try and get back in shape before the holidays and my next surgery. Very short blog this time around….stay tuned though…I’ll have a very exciting (at least I think so) post coming in the next week :)

 Photos from 104 weeks post chemo are below….

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Reconstruction

October 24th, 2012 — 8:17pm

Tomorrow is a big day!! After a lot of thought and consideration (and a preview of my health care plan for next year), I’ve made a really big decision. I’m finally moving forward with getting my reconstruction surgery done. It’s time to make right what cancer made wrong!

Disclaimer: I’d stop reading now if you don’t want to know the intimate details of what I’m having done.

When most people think of reconstruction, I think they associate it with a result of having a mastectomy. That is true, but what some people may not know is that you may also require reconstruction following a lumpectomy….much like me.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m severely deformed from my two surgeries, but my right boob definitely doesn’t look right. Fortunately for me, my tumor was on the underside of my boob directly below my nipple, so unless you’re looking at me topless (which is only reserved for a select group of people :) ), you’d never know I had anything wrong with me. I can wear a bra, swimsuit, cleavage bearing top, you name it…and look completely normal.

All of the tissue that was removed during my lumpectomy surgeries was taken from the bottom of my boob. A normal women’s boob, much like my left one, is rounded at the bottom. Mine is not. It’s very flat and pulls in slightly, or significantly, depending on what I’m doing. My scar is about 2 inches long starting from where my nipple ends and goes all the way down to my chest wall. Because my scar tissue is tethered to my chest wall, it can hurt if my boob is pulled to far in one direction and it pulls my nipple downwards at certain times…which for me is the most annoying.

So tomorrow a few different things will be happening.

First, my plastic surgeon will be removing all of the dead scar tissue and any tissue damaged from radiation. Because my nipple pulls downward now, he’ll also be doing a breast lift…in order to make everything look back to normal.

Then, he’ll do the exact same thing to my left side, my good boob. So yes, I’ll be getting a reduction and lift on both sides. I’ll have super perky and potentially really small boobs at this point.

Finally, he’ll attempt to put a small implant in on my cancer side. If it looks like my lumpectomy scar isn’t too strained from the implant and will heal cleanly, he’ll leave the implant in and put one on my good side as well. If it looks like the scar won’t heal correctly with the implant in, he’ll leave them out and I’ll have to have a follow up surgery in a few months. So it’ll be a surprise what I wake up with tomorrow afternoon.

So, stay tuned! I’ll write a post-surgery recap in about a week and let you all know what actually happens tomorrow. Photos from 100 weeks post chemo are below………

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It’s Been A Busy Few Weeks Because I WAS ON THE TODAY SHOW!!

October 18th, 2012 — 4:33pm

WARNING: This post is going to be very lengthy and picture heavy!!

The last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind! A lot has happened, some exciting, some not so exciting….I’m struggling with where to start! Let’s just go chronologically…

In my last post, I talked about the upcoming Fox Rocks for Pink Event at Leroy Fox raising money for Race for the Cure. The event took place on September 29th and was a HUGE success!!! More people then I think anyone anticipated showed up and it appeared that everyone had a really good time. Over $20,000 in prizes were raffled off and more importantly, we raised over $5000 for Team Dolla Dolla Bills and Team London to donate to the Susan G. Komen foundation!!

This was the third year that we held a fundraising event for Team Dolla Dolla Bills and each year it keeps getting better and better. THANK YOU SO MUCH to Jessica Wilfong and Brandii McCoy for being the masterminds behind this awesome event, thank you to all of my other friends who volunteered their time and made donations, and thank you to everyone who came out to support a great cause! I’m so excited to see what next year’s event holds!! Here are some photos from the event:

The following Saturday kicked off an incredibly busy week and a half. I was actually able to participate in Race for the Cure this year along with great friends who graciously got up way too early for a Saturday morning to come and walk / run. It was a beautiful morning in Charlotte, and the race saw record numbers this year!! I decided to run the “competitive” race this year because it started a half hour earlier than the recreational walk/run that the majority of people do….and no, not because I think I’m some super star runner.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t actually run the full 3.1 miles. As we were walking to the start line, I heard the gun go off for the competitive race to start. I could see the start line about ¼ of a mile down the street….a street that just so happens to be an uphill slope. Call me crazy, but I wasn’t about to walk a ¼ of a mile downhill just to immediately turn around and run back up the same hill! So I just jumped in with all the runners right about where the street was leveling out to flat ground. Score one for Nicole!

The run itself was actually pretty nice. The weather was perfect, and considering I’d been fighting a sinus cold / respiratory infection for the previous 2 weeks, I didn’t feel too awful. Here are some photos from the morning of Race for the cure:

Immediately after finishing the race, I ran home to shower, finish packing, and hop a flight to Chicago for the Chicago Marathon. Initially, the idea to do both races back to back seemed like a pretty good one. I didn’t plan to get sick two weeks before the marathon, and certainly didn’t plan to only run once in the last two weeks leading up to the race. Unfortunately, allergy season and germs happen :( My lungs felt a little tight after the 5K, so I was definitely a little worried about how I was going to feel on Sunday morning, a mere 24 hours later.

However I’d hoped or imagined I would feel during the marathon wasn’t even close to reality. If I could describe this marathon experience in one word, it would be disappointing. You train so hard and commit 4+ months of your life to this one event, and to get there and only be able to put up a marginal effort was frustrating to say the least. I obviously didn’t plan to get sick, and in an ideal world I would have been healthy heading into the race, but that unfortunately wasn’t in the cards for me this time.

In my first marathon, I hit the proverbial wall around mile 21 / 22. This time around, I hit the wall somewhere between miles 6 and 8. My lungs held up fine the first 5 miles of the race, but went downhill drastically after that. As the next 20 miles progressed, my lungs got more and more tight, and breathing became really difficult. So much so that for a few minutes I thought I was going to have to drop out of the race at mile 14.

I was really struggling to breath at that point. Realizing I still had 12 miles to go in what I’ll fondly remember as the race from hell, I started to panic and freak myself out. I was hyperventilating and unable to regain normal breathing even with a few minutes of walking. It sunk in that my goal of breaking 4 hours was long gone, even finishing within 5 hours was going to be tough at the rate I was going. I was so pissed off about the race, that to top it all off, I started to cry. Thankfully I had my new running sunglasses with me, and no one could actually see that I was crying…because the only thing worse than crying during a race is having millions of people (because millions of people come out to watch the race) know that you’re crying.

Somehow, I managed to get my emotions in check and slowed my breathing down enough that I could start running again. The sooner I started the last 12 miles the sooner I’d be done right?! I really don’t know how I finished, but I slowly made my way to the finish line. The memory of those last 12 miles will forever haunt my memories!! Running (if you even want to call it that) for 2 tenths of a mile, and then walking….running 2 more tenths of a mile, and then walking again. It was incredibly long, and incredibly frustrating. My legs felt great and wanted to run faster…but my lungs screamed at me every time I tried to.

I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line in my life. I dragged myself across the finish line in just under 5 hours…but hey, I finished right. So much for this being the last marathon I’ll ever do. I certainly can’t let my performance at Chicago be what I walk away from marathon running with as my last memory. I still get angry, and a little embarrassed, with how poorly I performed at the race. The only way to get rid of that feeling is to run another unfortunately. I don’t know when I’m going to my next, and hopefully my last marathon. But I can tell you it won’t be for a long time!

Thank you so much to my family and Andrew’s family for coming to support all of us who were running the race….and for waiting 5 long hours for me to cross the finish line. Despite my lack luster performance at the race, it was a fun weekend visiting with family. Here are some photos from the weekend:

You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that October is breast cancer awareness month. In support of that, I was asked to be on the Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda last week along with Natalie, one of the other Models of Courage!!

I received an email the Friday before the marathon asking if I could be available for Monday. Thinking that I was about to embark on a sub 4 hour marathon resulting in my legs being pretty sore, I said Monday would be tough to make work. Fortunately, the Today Show was able to do the taping on Thursday instead.

Wednesday morning they flew me out to NYC. Andrew had to meet with a co-worker and was able to schedule a work trip the same two days and be there with me. Thursday morning we headed to Rockefeller center for hair and make-up. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something so relaxing about having someone else do your hair and make-up.

As I’m sitting in the chair, Kathie Lee walks by into her dressing room. Then James Denton (who was doing the interview with us) arrives. And finally, Marcia Cross, who also happened to be getting interviewed for the show walks in. I’d like to think that I was calm, cool, and collected and didn’t get star struck, but who knows, my face may have said otherwise.

You’re probably wondering why James Denton was doing the Today Show segment with us….so I’ll tell you :) The interview was set up through Ford Warriors in Pink. The last few years, WIP have worked with a different celebrity to create a special edition t-shirt to sell as part of their apparel line. Last year it was Jennifer Aniston. This year it was James Denton.

James donated his time and effort and designed the grey t-shirt he wears in the segment. Like all other items WIP sells, 100% of the net proceeds go towards fighting the battle against breast cancer.

Once hair and make-up were done, we got dressed and they ushered up to the set to meet Kathie Lee and Hoda, and (after a quick stop in the “green room”) tape our segment. I think the segment turned out really well! I was scared I was going to be nervous, and either fumble words or ramble on. Fortunately, they run the show like a well oiled machine, and there wasn’t time to get nervous. Within a minute or two of stepping onto the set, we were in the chairs and the interview was rolling.

If you weren’t able to catch the segment live, you can watch it here:  

http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/49376653#49376653

Kathie Lee, Hoda, and James were all so nice in person and were gracious enough to take a few photos (which you can see below) with us after the interview had concluded.

After our photo op with the “real stars”, it was off to the airport and back to reality. As quickly as my 15 seconds of fame started…they’re over now and I’m back to the world of cubicles, TPS reports, and 9 to 5! All in all, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and something I’ll remember forever. I’ve been able to do some pretty amazing things with Ford Warriors in Pink, and I’m so grateful and appreciative for all of them!

Well I think that’s all for the time being. Photos from 98 weeks post chemo are below! My curls have loosened so much over the course of this year, and I’m almost to the point where I have to put effort into styling my hair everyday now…so these may be some of the last curly picks you see….it might be straight hair from here on out!!

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Fox Rocks for Pink Event!

September 24th, 2012 — 4:26pm

Race for the Cure here in Charlotte is officially less than two weeks away.  Which also means the Chicago marathon is also less than two weeks away….yikes!  I’m so ready to be done with marathon training, but not sure I’m quite ready yet to run 26.2 miles…I guess I can always stop and walk right.  Lord knows I did enough of that in my first marathon!

My marathon training the last few months just hasn’t been as easy as it was for the Kiawah marathon.  My Saturday morning long runs were waaaaaaaay slower than before.  I was really hoping to break 4 hours this time around, but my confidence level for that actually happening is about 10%.  My gut feeling is telling me I’ll finish around the 4:30 mark….which will be really disappointing….but oh well.  Life will go on!!

Leading up to next Saturday’s Race for the Cure event, Team Dolla Dolla Bills is having a HUGE “Pink Carpet” fundraising event this Saturday, 9/29……”Fox Rocks for Pink” hosted by Leroy Fox.

There’s going to be drink specials, music, great company, and some awesome prizes!!  Some of the prizes include floor seats to a Bobcats game, Checkers Hockey tickets, photography packages, jewelry (including the gorgeous diamond earrings below from Diamonds Direct), and a new roof courtesy of Metropolitan Builders.  All you need to do to win any of these prizes is show up and buy some raffle tickets!!

There is a $10 cover charge donation required to join in the fun, but that $10 gets you your first raffle ticket.  You can buy as many additional raffle tickets as you’d like in order to increase your odds of winning any of the above prizes and more.  All proceeds from the cover charge donation and all other ticket sales will be going towards Team Dolla Dolla Bills’ fundraising efforts. 

So if you’re in town and looking for something to do on Saturday night, come join the fun and help raise money for a great cause!  And if you’re not in town and would still like a way to donate, you can do so at the link below.  Just click on “Donate to Nicole!”.

http://charlotte.info-komen.org/site/TR/RacefortheCure/CLT_CharlotteAffiliate?px=7864929&pg=personal&fr_id=2591

As a special treat, I have a few “straight” hair photos for today’s post.  I’ve been blowing my hair out straight occasionally as of the last few weeks to get a better gauge of how long it actually is.  As you can see below, it’s gotten pretty long!!  In some areas anyways :)  I’ve got A LOT of random layers and the back is growing much quicker than the front and top areas….but overall I’m pretty happy with how it looks.  I definitely need a shape up haircut to give it some style soon.  But I’m finally able to fit it into a pony tail when I run, so the haircut won’t be happening until after the marathon!!

Hope to see you this weekend!!

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Race for the Cure 2012…Now Accepting Donations!!

August 28th, 2012 — 4:32pm

It’s that time of year again….Race for the Cure in Charlotte is about a month away and Team Dolla Dolla Bills is back in action for the third year!!  I’m so excited that I actually get to participate this year.  It’ll be a tight weekend, but I’ll be there!  RFTC is Saturday, October 6th and the Chicago Marathon is Sunday, October 7th.  So, after the race Saturday morning, I’ll be hoping on a flight to get to Chicago to run the marathon Sunday morning.  I think I’ll get my fill of exercising that weekend!

If you’d like to donate to my team, you can do so here.  I’ll take donations of any size!!  $1, $10, $100…it’s all going to a great cause.  And even better, if you live in Charlotte, and would like to be a part of Team Dolla Dolla Bills, please sign up and join us!!

Leading up to the race, there will be another really fun fundraising event again this year!!  A Pink Carpet event will be held on Saturday, September 29th at Leroy Fox to help raise money for our team.  It should be a great evening, and if you live in Charlotte, you should definitely try to stop by!!  More details to come as they are finalized.

Thank you in advance to all of my amazing friends who are involved with planning both the team and fundraising events!  You guys are awesome and I love you!!!

Photos from 90 weeks post chemo are below!

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What’s new, pussycat?

August 1st, 2012 — 5:43pm

I refrained from any updates on my well-being in my last post because 1) the post was getting kind of lengthy and 2) I was getting kind of lazy :(  I don’t think I’ve ever been referred to by someone or referred to myself as a lazy person…maybe on a one off occasion, but typically I’m pretty active…so the laziness I’ve demonstrated in respect to my blog in the last 6 months has been pretty disappointing.  It’s tough work keeping with this thing!!

So what is new?  I feel like life has been absolutely crazy the last few months, so much so that I haven’t really stopped to think about, and celebrate, some of the milestones that have passed.

June 18th – my own personal D day….the day my world came crashing down.  Slightly dramatic?  Yes….I’ve been known to be a tad bit dramatic at times.  Two years ago on this day I received my cancer diagnosis.  It’s definitely a day I’ll never forget.  The fear, anxiety, and helplessness feelings I had that day are still very fresh in my mind.  It’s amazing how two years can go by, but I can still put myself back to that day and remember how numb I felt after I got “the phone call”. 

Fortunately, the day came and went this year without any recognition really.  I don’t think I would’ve even remembered had Andrew not said something to me.  Such a good man he is :)  As important of a day that this date will be for the rest of my life, I can’t say enough how great it is to be on the “other side” of the cancer fence…standing there giving cancer the middle finger.

Marathon training is in full force….again….and pretty much taking up every second of free time I have.  Again with the dramatization….sorry, I can’t help myself sometimes….just ask Andrew :)  Marathon training is a pretty big time suck…but I do still manage to have a little fun here and there.  I don’t know what possessed me to sign up for a second marathon within a 10 month period.  I’m going to blame it on the high that comes along with crossing the finish line and feeling like a bad ass.  Regardless of the reason, I’m registered for and running the Chicago Marathon on October 7th, a short two months away. 

The only thing that makes training tolerable this time around….because there’s nothing fun or appealing about running um-teen miles in 90+ degree heat…is that I have a training buddy.  I managed to talk Andrew, along with my brother and several other friends, into running the marathon as well.  What’s better than getting together with your close friends and 48,000 other crazy people on a Sunday morning to run 26 miles in the potential blazing heat!  Misery loves company right?! 

After a little coaxing by Andrew, I decided to convert to the same training program he’s using, a program that includes both hills and speed training…quite possibly two of my least favorite things to do…ever.  The only thing worse than running a hill, is having to sprint up it.  And I use the word “sprint” loosely.  By most people’s standards, sprinting involves at least the appearance of moving quickly.  However I, on the other hand, bear resemblance to something closer to running in quick sand. Not quick at all. 

Andrew and I run VERY different paces….but at least we can head out in the morning together for our runs and encourage each other when frustration and the overwhelming desire to stay in bed hits….because it does.  Getting up is 99% of the challenge on difficult days, so it definitely helps having someone to give you a swift quick out of bed to get you moving!

I’m only 3 weeks into this new training program and haven’t really noticed a difference in my running pace yet….but I’m guessing it probably takes a little longer than that to see results? We’ll see!  Since I failed to meet my goal of under 4 hours back in December at the Kiawah marathon, I’ve now got my eyes set on Chicago.  Fortunately the course is flat…so at least I have that going for me.

Probably the biggest milestone that’s passed in the last few months is that I’ve officially crossed the one year mark of taking tamoxifen!!  As of today, I’m actually at 14 months…only 1,399 pills left…but who’s counting!!

As much as I struggled with it at the beginning, I can honestly say it’s just become a part of my daily routine.  The hot flashes throughout the night can still be overbearing at times, but they’ve definitely subsided.  I think my body has actually gotten used to pills at this point….and the whole “taking tamoxifen” thing has become a non-event.  Never thought I’d say that!!

Words of encouragement for any newbie tamoxifen takers out there….I’m living proof that it actually gets better!!  I never thought I’d see the day where I didn’t dread taking my pills.  The day where my body adjusted to the effects of the pills messing with my hormone levels.  But I’m here to tell you that that day will come….and will probably shock the hell out of you as much as it did me!!

Lastly, I had my 18 month mammogram and MRI check-ups last month and I’m happy to report that everything still checks out as clean!  Remission is great place to be :)

Photos from 83 weeks post chemo are below…..

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Ford Warriors in Pink

July 9th, 2012 — 6:19pm

Two months….wow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post :(  Where do I even begin after such a long hiatus…

First and foremost, I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time because it’s such a great organization and I am incredibly honored to have been chosen, but somehow the weeks (and in this case months) have slipped away from me. 

Rewind waaaay back to January this year.  I received an email from my mom informing me of a contest she saw posted on the facebook page for Ford Warriors in Pink.  Ford Motor Company has been active in the fight against breast cancer since 1993.  In its 18th year of raising awareness of breast cancer, Ford Warriors in Pink created the Models of Courage campaign to celebrate breast cancer survivors who have demonstrated strength and courage in their battle.  Ford uses broad outreach to help keep the topic of breast cancer a part of everyday conversation.  The goal is to encourage women and men to engage in self-exams and self-care, which could lead to earlier diagnoses and in turn could save lives.

The contest:  tell your breast cancer story in 500 words or less.  After reviewing all entries, Ford was going to select winners to be part of their Models of Courage program.  The “models” were chosen to model the 2012 Warriors in Pink line of apparel and gear….which donates 100% of net proceeds from sales to support the organization of your choosing…Susan G. Komen™, Dr. Susan G. Love, The Pink Fund, or Young Survival Coalition. 

I initially just disregarded my mom’s email because I didn’t think there was a chance in hell they’d pick me.  Then on the 23rd, the final day for entries to be submitted, I typed up the little “diddy” below for submission and sent it off before heading home from work.

“Hi!  My name is Nicole Bills.  I am 33 years old and I’m coming up my one year mark of officially becoming a survivor!  I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 18th, 2010.  Being that I was only 32 at the time and had no family history of the disease, to say the news came as a shock was probably the understatement of the year!

I was fortunate enough to catch my cancer early and was diagnosed at Stage 1.  I had a lumpectomy on July 16th, 2010.  My tumor was slightly larger than my doctors had anticipated, so I didn’t receive clean margins and had to have a follow-up surgery on August 17th to ensure 100% of the tumor was removed.

Thankfully, my lymph nodes tested clean during surgery meaning there was no evidence my cancer had spread out of my breast.  I did, however, receive a medium-high Oncotype RX score so that coupled with my young age resulted in a recommendation for chemo.  My oncologist took the approach that we needed to take advantage of every treatment option that was available to ensure all cancer cells were killed.  I wasn’t exactly happy about knowing I was going to lose my hair, but being bald for a short period of time is a much better option than having my cancer return!!

I had my first round of chemo on September 9th, 2010 and finished my last round on November 11th, 2010.  Aside from a very scary allergic reaction to my chemo drugs during the first round, the rest was pretty uneventful!  I was given a little bit of time off from cancer over the holidays, and kicked off 2011 with 33 treatments of radiation.  Happy new years to me :)  Friday, February 25th marked my last day of radiation, and in my book, my first day cancer free!!

Cancer for me was truly a blessing in disguise.  I found my “voice” through cancer, and have learned so much about myself throughout the course of the last year and a half.  I learned that I’m a lot tougher then I originally perceived myself to be, that I have SO many people that love and support me unconditionally, and that my natural hair color is a lot darker than I thought :)

One of the hardest aspects of the whole cancer process was losing my hair.  I had long, (and in my opinion :) ) gorgeous hair for a good 10 years prior to my cancer diagnosis that became a security blanket to me of sorts, so the initial shock of knowing I was going to lose it all was pretty severe.  I started a blog (www.chiagal.com) as soon as I noticed my hair was starting to come back to track my progress.  The blog became a great way for me to talk about the things that were on my mind that I was having a hard time expressing…and probably a better way for you to see who I actually am.”

Maybe it was my charm.  Maybe it was my witty personality shining through.  Or maybe, given my late submission, I happened to be the last entry they received and was top of mind when selecting finalist.  Whatever the reason, I was somehow lucky enough to be picked as one of their 11 Models of Courage for 2012!! 

So what exactly does that mean?  Simply put, myself and the other Models of Courage will appear nationally as spokesmen for the program and “models” for the 2012 line of Warriors in Pink wear and gear.  And more importantly to me, as a result I was introduced to 10 other awesome and incredibly inspirational survivors.

Why was this so important to me?  Well from the very beginning of my cancer journey, I didn’t really have anyone to talk candidly with or relate to.  I personally didn’t know anyone who I felt comfortable enough to open up to, so I navigated the cancer road essentially blind.  Thanks to Warriors in Pink, I’ve now been introduced to 10 other women AND MEN (because yes, men can get breast cancer as well), who know exactly what I’ve been through.

After being selected as a Model of Courage, they flew all of us out to Los Angeles in March for the 2012 apparel photo shoot and interviews.  We arrived late afternoon on Thursday, and by the time dinner was finished, we were all great friends.  It’s amazing how something so terrible can bring a complete group of strangers together so quickly.  I personally enjoyed hearing about everyone else’s journey…and finding out what they’ve been doing now that they’re in remission. 

My fellow “models” are doing some pretty amazing things.  From Tina, who started her own full service wig boutique (www.imwiggedout.com) centered on providing an individualized fun and informative wig shopping experience.  To Bret, a 26 year old who started his own foundation, The Bret Miller 1T Foundation (www.checkthem.org), in the hopes of raising awareness that men can get breast cancer too.  And Carol, who’s fought the disease not once, but is a two time survivor.  The list of amazing things these 2, plus the other 8, have done go on and on.  I’m humbled to have been selected to be part of such a strong and influential group of people….people who go out of their way every day to help bring awareness to this awful disease.  And realize that I need to do more…I’m not quite sure what “more” means right now, but will be looking for ways and opportunities to do my part.

Getting back to the LA weekend, Friday was a day of pampering and interviews.  The folks at WIP were kind enough to set all of us up with a few spa appointments throughout the course of the day.  We also had in depth interviews with the team from Flow Non-Fiction (http://flownonfiction.com/index.php), the creative agency / turnkey production company that was tasked with taking an incredibly large amount of video footage (including a good hour of interviews from yours truly) from the weekend and turning it into amazing 2 – 3 minute clips.  These guys are absolutely amazing at what they do!!!

Group Video is here

My own personal interview video is here

A thank you message for when you purchase apparel is here

Saturday was the actual photo shoot day.  They had professional hair, make-up, and wardrobe stylists on site to make us all look like we were real models.  We each had one or two key pieces from the 2012 apparel line that we were photographed in.  I was in the sister-hoodie (found here) and the Outrageously Courageous Unisex Thermal (found here).  And then did a group photo at the end: 

We ended with a final group dinner on Saturday night, and then headed back to our respective homes on Sunday. This was my first time on a photo shoot set of this magnitude…and I have to say, I’d be more than happy to have someone do my hair and make-up and take pictures of me any day!  Such a fun time!!

Flash forward a few months….Ford brought us all together again the middle June for a Public Relations event for the National Launch.  We were flown out to NYC for a short, jam packed 2 day trip.  Again, another great event put on by the Warriors in Pink and Flow Non-Fiction teams.  The PR event was an all day event that provided an opportunity for publications across the country (i.e. people, fitness, women’s day, etc) to come and get a firsthand look at the new apparel….and get some free swag as well.  We (the “models”) were wearing all of the key pieces to showcase how the items actually look on.

Once the PR event was over, we all sadly headed back home again.  The PR event was the last time they’d bring all 11 of us together as a group…so the ending was a little bittersweet.  We are unfortunately spread out across the US, so a reunion will be a little difficult, BUT not entirely out of the question.  With as determined of a group of people as the 11 of us were, I’m confident we’ll make it happen!!

Here are a few additional photos from the NYC PR event.  The first is the total group, minus Darrell unfortunately, in the press room:

This is my larger than life sized photo highlighting my booty in the press room.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen my ass in such great detail!

This is one of the banners they had hanging at the event.  They had all of our faces included in the word Courage…

I was the letter E….

And finally, one of me and my love.  Andrew was fortunate enough to have a few  business meetings in NYC the same days I was there for WIP, so he was able to stop by the press event for a little while :)

This is turned into a much longer post then I originally intended, so I’m going to wait for my next post to give more updates on what’s happened in the last two months.  Nothing too eventful, but I have hit a few noteworthy milestones to talk about :)

Photos from 76 weeks post chemo are below…

And finally photos from 80 weeks post chemo…

  

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