Monday, November 18, 2013

The cost to have boobs--a reconstruction journey.

I am understanding that there is quite a cost attached to having boobies.   We, as women, are given the blessed, wonderful, milk-producing breasts which provide much needed nourishment for our children.   I think the breastfeeding experience is one of the most special things I have experienced.   That is the purpose of the breast, in my opinion.  My breasts did that.  But, my breasts do not make me "Heather".  I am so thankful that my husband has re-iterated to me so many times that he would actually rather have me with no breasts and full functionality than for me to endure many more surgeries (which could limit my abilities) because he loves ME.  Our love goes WAY beyond the breast.  

You may recall that I went through quite the ordeal to try to attain something that looks like breasts following my mastectomy.  I went through the trouble of having expanders placed during my mastectomy surgery, even though other women who had journeyed along the same road I was about to embark on had warned me of their specific complications.  I was told though that getting expanders may preserve my only opportunity to get reconstruction (I was told I wasn't a candidate for the DIEP surgery due to my lack of tissue).  After the expanders were placed, I spent several weeks going in for appointments to have them slowly "expanded" by injecting saline.  Then, I had to have my right breast expander "unexpanded" a bit so that the incision could heal properly (it was having difficulty healing due to the pressure from the expander).  After it healed and I was able to have it expanded, my radiation oncologist wanted it "unexpanded" again because otherwise, it would be getting in the way of the radiation field from being able to target my internal mammary lymph nodes.    So, finally, after all of that expansion process, I was able to begin radiation.  Had I not had the expanders placed, I could have begun radiation nearly a month sooner.

Then, following radiation, the plastic surgeon began expanding my right breast to get it to the same size as my left.   While he was at it, he also tried to expand my left side a little more.  A few weeks after this new expansion process, the incision in the middle of my left breast began to open up.  After weeks of it not getting any better, I contacted my plastic surgeon.  Apparently, it was a pretty big deal, as the expander was actually showing.  This put me at HUGE risk for a deathly infection.  Oops.  So, I was scheduled for surgery immediately.  During surgery, he removed both expanders, and replaced them with implants.  The idea was that the implants, which were smaller than the expanders, would allow the incision to heal better (putting less pressure on the incisions).  Unfortunately though, just a couple of weeks later I found myself back on the operating table, this time in a true emergency surgery situation, with high fever and an infection brewing.  My plastic surgeon removed the left breast implant.  All along, I thought the reason it wasn't healing was due to the significant radiation treatments I received on that left side.

Flash forward to last week.  I currently only have one breast-looking thing--an implant on my right side.  It has been scabbed over since my 8/7/13 surgery when the implant was placed.  The scab came off in the shower to reveal a hole.  I could actually see the implant.  Not good at all.  So, I have seen two other plastic surgeons over the past couple of weeks to decide what options I have for reconstruction.  I truly am a complicated case, and my best bet for reconstruction is going to involve two plastic surgeons.  I have decisions to make.  Also, is this all worth it?

But, first things first.  I am sort of in a dire situation again.  I have to have another surgery to remove the right implant and clean out the breast capsule.  (Apparently, I have some capsular contracture going on also.)  The new surgeon's only opening is Thursday of this week (a week before Thanksgiving).  I have great confidence in this surgeon, and he was completely honest with me about a lot of things.  First, he said that likely the reason I am having all of these complications is due to my original mastectomy breast surgeon being very aggressive with her surgery.  She removed a LOT of tissue from both breasts, leaving the plastic surgeon not much to work with but very thin skin.  He was also honest about being very limited with options for breast reconstruction.  But, he was very confident he could give me some nice looking breasts.    I just have to decide, at what cost  do I want these breasts.  Because, there would definitely be a price to pay for these new breasts--and I am not talking just a monetary cost (obvious), but more important is the physical price I would pay for these.  I would likely be forever limited physically in some of my abilities--some of the things that make me who I am.  But, that is for a separate blog post discussion.  Do I want these breasts?  Either way, this right implant needs to come out, the scar tissue removed and much healing needs to happen before I can embark on any new reconstruction journey.

So that is what we are up to this week.  You know the message I keep hearing from Jesus?   "Do not be afraid, just believe." (Mark 5:36).  I was so thankful that the story of Jairus' daughter was part of my BSF bible study this week.  My readings from this week were important reminders of how important our faith is in our healing (spiritually, emotionally and physically).  Although the journey certainly hasn't been easy, I feel confident that God continues to lead me on this journey, and there are great eternal reasons for each of these steps he is having me take.  My dad is going to fly down here on Wednesday to help out with the kids during my surgery.  Thank you, in advance, for prayers for his safe travel and that the surgery goes as well as possible.   Also, I would love to ask for prayers for wisdom in decision making as we decide when and whether to attempt any more reconstruction.

In the meantime, I truly am feeling so thankful for so much.  Like all of this, for example...

Seriously, although it may seem otherwise with all of these surgeries, breasts are not that important to me right now.  What is most important right now in God's eyes is that I am raising these kids to learn about Christ, to learn to love and serve others, and to spread His gospel.  I don't want my quest for breasts to keep me from these very important duties.  And, as I begin to peer into the future of my options for breast reconstruction, I can see how the multiple surgeries will put me back into a position of "being served" instead of me being able to serve.   I truly understand that our time on earth is limited and I don't want to waste it.  Please, Lord Jesus, keep reminding me of your will for my life on earth.  I pray that I don't waste it and that you use all of these circumstances so that through them I may be able to bring Glory to God.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Tis the season.....for footed jammies

Finally.....we had a cold front come through here in Central Texas.   Abbey's bedroom is one that is always the coolest when it is cold outside, and always the warmest when it is warm outdoors.  Luke's on the other hand, stays well insulated.  Also, Luke is pretty warm-natured, so he almost always wears t-shirts and shorts jammies to bed (even in the cooler months).  But, footed jammies just look so snuggly and I just knew he would look pretty cute in them.  Last Christmas, Mimi and Papa bought Luke a pair of cute footed Christmas jammies to wear during the cool months.  Our attempts to get Luke to wear those adorable jammies (even for a quick photo) failed--perhaps it was because it was not his idea and he was at a "testing his independence" stage.  The photo that Drew quickly snapped of Luke last year when we made him try them on is one that is still in his smart-phone's gallery.  It is one that I will not share, out of respect for Luke (imagine red face, screaming, on the ground--not good).

Things change though when you have a sibling who is excited about footed jammies.   With the cooler weather rolling in, we decided to put Abbey in some footed fleece jammies a couple of nights ago.  She doesn't sleep under a blanket yet, so we wanted to make sure she was warm and snuggly (don't want to give her any excuse to wake up early).  She normally dons two-piece pj's with socks.  The first pajamas we came across were her Christmas jammies from last year (which somehow still fit).

Checking out the footed fleece jammies.
  Abbey was excited about those jammies.  She was checking herself out in the mirror for quite a while, and even did a little happy dance in them.   THEN, all of a sudden, I heard something come from Luke's mouth that shocked me: "I want some footed jammies."  Of course, I obliged!  We all migrated upstairs and pulled out Luke's Christmas footed jammies from last year and had a little pajama party.  It was a moment that required pictures, because we weren't sure how long Luke would wear those jammies.  So, Drew snapped some photos.

It turns out....Luke LOVES footed jammies.  In fact, he didn't want to take those things off.  It was literally 2:30pm the following day before he took them off.  Since we had nowhere to be yesterday morning, I just let him be cozy and enjoy them.  When we are open to new things, we experience so much more joy in life than when we are closed minded and don't even try new adventures.  He missed out last year on a whole season of footed jammies.  I can guarantee he won't miss out this year!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Meat Monday: Baked Crunchy Tacos with grass-fed beef, spinach, and black beans

Contrary to today's post title, I am planning on actually doing "Meatless Monday" blog posts more regularly.  You see, over the past year our family has transitioned from a "meat on every dinner plate" to become "flexitarians."  The word, flexitarian, is a marriage of the words, "flexible"and "vegetarian."  Over time, we have added more food groups to our diet.  These include the “new meat” (beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, and eggs); fruits and veggies; whole grains; and spice.  By focusing our dinner plate to include a majority of fruits and vegetables, gradually meat just had less of a position.  But, we are flexible and still consume it--but WAY less frequently.  In fact, we believe there is even a specific purpose for it and it can actually be very good for your health--if you choose wisely.

Today's recipe that I am sharing does include meat:  baked crunchy tacos with grass-fed beef, spinach and black beans.  Tacos are something that anyone, with any cooking ability, can make.  But, to make a delicious and nutritious taco takes a little more intention.  So, I am not just going to share a recipe today.  I am also going to explain why I chose to include each of the specific ingredients.

Grass-fed beef:  One of the things I have learned over the past year is that grass-fed beef is actually very good for you!  I always knew grass-fed beef was better than conventional, but honestly, I never really understood just how much better it is for you.  I have found one principle (and quote from Michael Pollan--author and chef) to be true:  "You are what what you eat eats."  This means that the diet of the animal affects the nutritional value and quality of the meat, milk and eggs we consume.  Cows, for example, are intended to consume grass.  If they are fed too much grain and not enough grass, they get sick and need antibiotics.  Also, they are often given hormones to increase their growth or production.  The difference between grainfed and grassfed animal products is dramatic.  For most of our food animals, a diet of grass means much healthier fats (more omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA; fewer omega-6s and saturated fat) in their meat, milk and eggs, as well as appreciably higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. I could share a plethora of statistics with you, but instead, I will share a few and point you to an awesome article to read more (and be blown away!)  First, did you know that grassfed meat has about the same amount of fat as skinless chicken or wild deer or elk.  It also has extra omega 3's (which may reduce cancer risk).  One more awesome tidbit to share:  the meat and milk from grassfed ruminants are the richest known source of another type of good fat called "conjugated linoleic acid" or CLA.  To quote the linked article: "When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their milk and meat contain as much as five times more CLA than products from animals fed conventional diets. CLA may be one of our most potent defenses against cancer. In laboratory animals, a very small percentage of CLA --- a mere 0.1 percent of total calories ---greatly reduced tumor growth.In a recent Finnish study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet, had a 60 percent lower risk oI honestly could go on and on on the benefits of grass-fed meat products.  Click here to read more details about the benefits.  

grass fed beef health benefits
Vitamin E is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. This potent antioxidant may also have anti-aging properties. Most Americans are deficient in vitamin E.

So, without further ado, here is your "Meat Monday" recipe.  

Baked Crunchy Tacos With Grass-fed Beef, Spinach and Black Beans
12 Crunchy Taco Shells (non GMO, whole grain is best!)
1 1/2 C Black Beans Or One Can, Rinsed  (I actually used an organic black bean and corn salsa instead and it was delicious!)
1 lb. Grass-fed Beef
1-2 Tsp. Tumeric
1-2 Tsp. Cumin
1 Tbsp. Garlic Powder (or 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced)
1 Tsp. Black Pepper
1 Tsp. Salt
Organic Sharp Cheddar or Colby Jack Cheese, Sliced into small pieces.
Spinach and Arugula to top (about two cups). (or avocado)
Preheat Oven to 350˚
In a skillet brown the ground beef, and add in the beans (or some black bean/corn salsa) and spices on low heat.
Line the shells on a 13x9 baking pan. Fill the shells by the spoonful until you run out of filling.
Top with cheese
Bake until cheese is melted, about 8 minutes.
Top with Spinach & Arugula (and sliced avocados)

We always look for sales on grass-fed beef and then stock up.  See the dark, rich color of the meat?   It tastes SO MUCH better than grain-fed beef!  Our local farms also carry the grass-fed beef for $6.99/lb.

Always read ingredient labels so you know what you are putting into your body (and into the bodies of your children and family)!   Try to buy products with the fewest ingredients, or at least ingredients that you would keep in your kitchen and can pronounce.  Also, when buying corn products, try to choose organic corn products. That way, you can be guaranteed they are not genetically modified corn products.  

We usually make our soft tortillas from scratch with whole wheat flour, but sometimes you just crave a crunchy taco.  We bought these at our local "Natural Grocers" store and they were just as inexpensive as the popular brands at the regular grocers.  

When I was less discerning, I used to purchase products like this.  They trick you with the words "whole grain corn" on the front.  

But then, you read the ingredient label and find that they use TBHQ to preserve the product.  Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ as it is more commonly referred to as, is in fact a chemical preservative which is a form of butane.  Consuming high doses (between 1 and 4 grams) of TBHQ can cause nausea, delirium, collapse, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and vomiting. There are also suggestions that it may lead to hyperactivity in children as well as asthma, rhinitis and dermatitis. It may also further aggravate ADHD symptoms and cause restlessness. Long term, high doses of TBHQ in laboratory animals have shown a tendency for them to develop cancerous precursors in their stomachs, as well as cause DNA damage to them. It is also suggested that it may be responsible for affecting estrogen levels in women.  No thank you!

When you buy organic milk products, you can be assured you are getting a product from a cow that spent a majority of its time grazing in a pasture, free of pesticides and chemicals, and fed organic feed (free of GMOs).  Just as in the grass-fed beef, you also get to consume more Omega 3's and CLAs by buying organic (and especially by buying cheeses from grass-fed cows).

One of the things I learned in my cooking class was that herbs and spices have great health benefits.  But, many of those benefits are lost when consuming them long after they have been ground or harvested.  So, it's best to use spices shortly after they are ground for maximum health benefit and flavor.  Ideally, you should throw out anything older than one year (buying small amounts in the bulk section of the store is a great way to prevent waste).  Garlic is something I use almost every time I cook.  It has some great heart-health benefits.  By using fresh garlic over garlic powder, you can receive greater health benefits.  

By adding your own spices instead of using a store-bought taco seasoning packet (which likely has nasty preservatives, MSG or other things we would never keep in our kitchens at home), you can choose healthful spices, such as turmeric and cumin.  Turmeric is such a powerful healer due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.   Curcumin, which is the bright yellow compound found in turmeric, has been shown to inhibit the expression of a specific gene that’s believed to lead to the development and progression of breast cancer. Cumin also contains the heart-healthy antioxidant, curcumin, along with other compounds that provide health benefits. Cumin may support heart health, reduce your risk for anemia and help fight infections.   It helps control blood pressure, improves iron levels and kills bacteria. 

This recipe also includes black beans, because they are amazingly great for your health also.  They have significant digestive tract benefits, help regulate your blood sugar, are wonderful for cardiovascular health, help prevent cancer with their 8 different flavonoids and high content of phytochemicals, they're high in folate (great for your nervous system), and rich in the trace mineral molybdenum (serves the useful purpose of breaking down and detoxifying sulfites).
Our delicious finished meal, complete with a side salad of seasonal greens (arugula, kale, spinach and herbs, organic apples and freshly shredded organic carrots.)  Since this is apple season, organic apples have come down significantly in price.  So, we have been enjoying a lot of them lately!

Our family rated this meal an A+ and it is definitely in our meal rotation!

Our growing boy!
And our sweet little Abbey.
I choose meals now that I know will give great nourishment to my family.  (Of course, I think they're pretty tasty too.)  I honestly thought I was doing that in previous years, but there is so much information that is hidden in the food industry and I have learned a great deal this past year.  I love my family so much that their health and well being is extremely important to me.  I am so excited about all of the new things I have learned, and I am eager to share.  I figure that by sharing in this blog I can keep myself accountable, have a convenient place to keep my favorite recipes, and share helpful information with those who are interested in reading.  I hope you enjoy.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Our Happy Halloween

We did something completely different than we have in the past for Halloween this year.   We traveled to see my family in Oklahoma, which allowed all of the Oklahoma cousins to trick-or-treat together.

While we were there, we also had a combined birthday party for Luke, and his cousins Brody (7) and Traber (also 4).   Lastly, we topped off our trip with a super-fun Halloween Party at my aunt and uncle's house.

Cousins...before trick-or-treating together

They had a blast together--and, as you can see, practically ran from door to door.
It was pretty funny to see the difference in all of them trick-or-treating together, versus separately as in previous years.  All of my siblings and I discussed that in previous years, with our own individual families, the kids walked (or rode in a wagon) from house to house and somewhat leisurely migrated from house to house.  But, that was definitely not the case this year.  What I noticed was that at each house, the four first-born kids arrived first, competitively trying to see who would arrive first and get to ring the doorbell or knock on the door.  In fact, I heard from one of them, who was dragged down a bit by his costume, exclaim several times, "I want to ring the doorbell!"  The second-borns were definitely more laid back about all of that.  It's funny to see the differences already at these young ages.

Kaylee--dressed as the Little Mermaid, Ariel.
Kaylee's Big Brother, Brody.  Seen here as Si--from Duck Dynasty, complete with huge tea container to hold trick-or-treating candy.
Raiding a house...I mean, trick-or-treating.
Lilly--sunshine.  It was cute--at every house she told the person who gave her candy that she was giving them a sunburn.   Several weeks ago she told my sister, Holly, that she wanted to be a sunshine for Halloween.  So, my sister and her husband made her costume.  I thought it was cute.  You can see Traber in the back--he is a tornado, which my brother and his wife made also.
It was so much fun to watch Abbey go door to door (although much more slowly than the other cousins) to trick or treat.  Our little strawberry really enjoyed it.
We decided to go to the trunk-or-treat at my parents' church afterwards.   Luke loved it.  Abbey did too, but by this point she was a bit tired.

At this point, she was content to hold a wrapped piece of chocolate and sit in her stroller.
Luke enjoyed the pony rides.
On Friday and Saturday, we had the other two parties scheduled, but we also made sure just to enjoy some quality time together.  I really miss my family.  It is tough to be this far away, especially after the past year, but I am glad the we can take a few trips like this every year to visit.

Grandpa taught the kids about metal detectors.

The fall colors were gorgeous there and the weather was perfect.   Needless to say, we spent most of our time outdoors while we were there.

The Halloween party at my aunt and uncle's house was Saturday night.  We managed to take a self-timer group photo before we headed to those festivities.

From left to right: Bull-riding cowboy and his cowgirl, Duck Dynasty family, bumblebee, Pete the Cat and his girlfriend, white cat, strawberry, a couple of walkers (zombies), secret agent and white tiger.  Seated are a little cowgirl, little mermaid, sunshine, T-rex and an OU fan.

My dad stayed in character from the moment he put on his costume.  It was hilarious--he had ALL of us laughing.

My zombie parents.

So now we are back home and back into our new routines.  Now that things are beginning to become routine, I should be able to pick back up on blogging more frequently.  I thought about starting a couple of regular posts with recipes/nutrition information and one on what God is teaching me that week.  If nothing else, it will help me keep all of my favorite recipes in one place.  And, blogging about what God is teaching me will really help keep me accountable to discerning regularly what he is communicating to me through his word, in prayer, and in circumstances/experiences.