Redeeming Scars

Tattoo double mastectomy

News Article: Pink Ink – Tattoos transform mastectomy scars into beauty. Photo credit: Tina Bafaro

Cancer changes you. Physically. Emotionally. It leaves permanent scars. Every woman who faces breast cancer follows a unique path on how to heal from it. I am going to write about MY path. I am not judging anyone else’s choices…but explaining why this was the best route for ME. I also know it’s a bit unconventional and want to share my process. Maybe my words can help someone else make their own personal decision. I couldn’t find much information online for women like me. (P.Ink was the most helpful) Women who don’t want to do reconstruction but also don’t want to leave their scars the way they are. Women who are looking for something a bit different and to create something NEW.

Well…information or not…I am scheduled on Friday for my first tattoo…to use my scar as a canvas for a piece of art.

I am excited. I am nervous. I’ve cleared it with all my doctors. I am ready. Here’s how I got here:

First let me start with…why reconstruction wasn’t for me.

When cancer is discovered and a mastectomy is the recommended treatment most often that breast (or breasts) are fully removed. In Dutch it is called a “Borstamputatie”…literally translated a Breast Amputation. Harsh but true. Typically, a woman is left with a blank space and scar where the breast used to be…so when she begins to think about moving forward a new breast truly is RECONSTRUCTION. There is nothing there. It is not “enhancement”. They need to build a completely new breast and it often involves multiple surgeries with many months of pain.

There are various ways to go about reconstruction and I will just briefly describe the one recommended to me so you get an idea. They suggested a silicone form for the breast…but you can’t just go straight from nothing to silicone…first they need to create a space for it. And that involves Tissue Expanders. Imagine a tire jack slowly lifting a car to create space underneath to change the tire. Tissue expanders work in a similar way. They are periodically filled with a saline solution to increase the volume and create more space for the implant. Women I know have described this feeling as having a rock in their chest they can’t remove and it can be very painful. Since I had radiation, there is a good chance my skin/tissue is so damaged that I couldn’t keep the tissue expander in place and there would be complications. They solve this by taking a thin muscle from my back (Latissimus Dorsi) and wrap it around the front to increase the strength of the area. Then they fill the expander over the course of 6-8 months (or longer) until I’m ready for my exchange surgery where they remove the expander and place the implant. There is always a chance for complications…and the recovery can take some time.

Many women choose the reconstruction route. The trauma of losing something so tied to what it means to be a “woman” is overwhelming.  It can affect self-esteem and confidence. Reconstruction can be healing and a way to reclaim something cancer took. There are many many reasons to choose reconstruction. Again, there is no judgment from me…more power to ya. Go for it!

However for ME…reconstruction is completely unappealing. My journey with cancer was literal as well as metaphorical. I had cancer in my body. I had cancer in my spirit. I had cancer in my marriage. I had no idea. But once it was revealed I have spent the last 2 years carving it out…blasting it with chemo…burning it with radiation…removing it from my life. God has gone to work on my heart and soul and I am a completely different person than I was before I started. I never had the level of grief some women face after a mastectomy. I adjusted quite quickly…probably because with my body type I can hide it well. If you didn’t already know you can’t tell. My entire wardrobe is still available and in general I feel normal. This definitely makes it easier. I also considered the physical recovery and how much I enjoy running and being active. It would be difficult to scale back on those activities and to have a high risk of decreased movement/increased pain in my left arm. I thought through all these things but the biggest reason:

I don’t want to replace what has been removed with something fake…I want to replace it with something NEW…something beautiful.

I believe in a God who will create beauty from ashes…that is moving mountains…that continues to give me HOPE even when I can’t see the path or the end. A God that is writing a redemption story in my life much bigger than this tattoo. I don’t want to go backwards. I am moving into a new future. Pushing into uncharted territory. And for me that journey involves covering my scar with a tattoo.

I can’t see very far down the road but I can see Friday. And this Friday is a VERY big day. I started the design back in March and had a good idea of the direction I wanted to take it. It is a tree (of course) and I’ve attached a couple of my inspiration pieces. I knew I needed to find a very good artist to execute my vision and saw a piece in a magazine from Vicky at Original Sin in Antwerp.  Somehow I knew immediately that she was the right person. (Side Note: I love that this redemption tattoo is being done by a shop called “Original Sin” – I think God has a sense of humor :-)) So I booked the appointment for May 9th. I just looked back in my blogs to try and remember what I was doing on May 9th 2012…and I didn’t realize it when I scheduled it but on May 8th 2012 my life took a nose dive…and this day 2 years ago was very VERY dark. How AWESOME to have this appointment to not only redeem the scar but redeem the day.

So, wish me luck for Friday. Now that I’ve told you I can’t chicken out. It is quite a big piece (~5 hours) in a very sensitive area. I know it will hurt A LOT but I’m ready. I have approached this like everything else on this journey…with a deep breath (or 10) and straight in. This pain will be temporary and I will have a piece of art to last a lifetime. I might need to take it in a couple sessions but we will see how it goes. I’m not sure how brave I’ll be to post an after photo…I will decide when it’s done.

Eek…so excited.

Lynnea

If you are interested in more information on mastectomy tattoos check out the Personal Ink – P.Ink Pinterest page here.

Tree of life pen and ink – by Marcia Carole can be found here

Preparation and Expectation

A lesser known fact about me is that my dining table is (almost) always set whether I am planning a dinner party or not. I enjoy it. It is a rotating design feature in my home and keeps my table from collecting mail and other clutter I can’t be bothered to put away. My life, somehow, feels a bit more ordered when it is set.

This is a common dialogue for a first time visitor:

Them: “Are you having people over for dinner?”

Me: “Nope, I don’t have anything planned at the moment. I’m sure I will eventually.”

Confusion…Them: “Then why is your table set?”

Me: “Ummmm…I like it like that.”

Them: “Strange…that seems very American

Me: “Not sure…I think it’s just me.” :-)

Recently, I have been thinking about this a bit more deeply. “Why do I like it set so much?” I’m sure it’s partly due to the creative element. My rockstar mom has made almost all the napkins and table runners for me…so it’s partly feeling like my family is closer than they are.

But mostly it comes down to HOPE and EXPECTATION.

I don’t need to have a dinner party planned to know there will eventually be one. That sometime in the future friends will come over to laugh and share a meal together. I am preparing in advance with an expectation it will happen. And it always does. Sometimes it is my initiative and sometimes it is a spontaneous evening. I never know…but either way I am prepared.

This morning I was reading in Matthew 24 in anticipation of honoring Jesus’ death on Good Friday and celebrating his resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is one of His final sermons and He is talking to His disciples about the last days…how He will come again in judgement and establish His kingdom on this earth. You can feel the urgency in His words as He compels his disciples to stay alert…to be vigilant and prepared…because no one knows the hour or day He will return in glory…and they don’t want to be caught off guard. There will be trials…they will be persecuted…many people will turn away due to the rampant sin in the world…but those who endure will be saved.

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm til the end will be saved.”  Matthew 24:12-13 NIV

I confess that I don’t think about Jesus’ return enough. Most of the time I think about how thankful I am that God loved me enough to come to earth and cover my sins with His son’s life. I think about the resurrection and how I no longer need to fear an ultimate death. I think about grace and love…broken chains…redeemed lives. I mentally stop at Easter Sunday…get caught up in the present day and forget that Jesus WILL return. And when He does, will I be prepared? If I live with the EXPECTATION He will return, would my life look different? Would I stay selfish or surrender easier? Would I love more? Forgive more fully? Serve others? Live with more generosity? Build my life on hope even with significant trials?

This Sunday…look beyond the resurrection…will you be prepared?

I wish you all a very blessed holy week. Remember Christ has died…Christ has risen…Christ WILL come again.

Lynnea

 

Following the deep inner voice

You know the one…the one you hear in the stillness. When you turn off the TV or music. When you silence the distractions in your heart and your mind. It is an easy voice to push aside and ignore. It is quiet and sometimes extremely illogical.  It inspires to something

"The Voice" by Shel Silverstein

“The Voice” by Shel Silverstein

greater. Something bigger than myself. An exciting adventure that I can’t predict. But I am often too afraid to follow. Following means leaving my perceived security. My small little kingdom where I feel in control.

This inner voice is given many names. Intuition. Heart. Soul. For me, it is the Holy Spirit. It reveals the truth…and if I’m honest it can be a truth I don’t want to see. It can be a path I don’t want to take or a choice I don’t want to make. I will argue against it and justify another course. A more practical course. One that costs less and seems more secure. At a very deep level I know following the voice is best but it is in direct conflict with my pride and logic. How can I possibly do it?

Some lies of this world slowly contaminate my thoughts. I become less focused on heaven and more focused on myself and what I want. What I think I deserve. I have suffered. I have hoped. I have remained faithful. Where are you God? Why have you not responded the way I wanted you to when I wanted you to? I want to believe you will be faithful to your promises but it’s too hard…I want to be happy…I deserve to be happy…I deserve to be happy now…I don’t want to wait.

I am ashamed at my doubt because He has proven his faithfulness over and over but the deeper I go in faith the more insecure it becomes. I am risking more. How do I continue to trust He knows what I need? My fear of the unknown can shift my focus to the stormy water I am walking on rather than God’s promises. I lose hope. I lose courage because I don’t see a path forward and it feels impossible. It IS impossible……for me.

I close my ears because I don’t want to hear the gentle, deep inner voice. The one speaking love and calling me to true freedom…because it is a freedom that requires sacrifice. A sacrifice I don’t want to make but deep deep in my heart I hear these words:

“Happiness is temporary and insecure…you know that…but the joy you find in me is eternal. You think you know what you want but please believe that I know better. I am writing a story for my glory. I haven’t forgotten you. I created you for a very special purpose but trust me when that purpose and the path forward are hidden from you. When it feels like you are staring at an ocean with an army behind you. I am right here. I love you more than you can comprehend. Follow me.”

I want to follow. I know that it is best for me to follow. But it is hard and I can’t do it alone.

“I know. I’m not asking you to do it alone. I will help you…but you need to choose.”

Deep breath. How can I possibly choose? And the wrestling starts all over again…but somehow I feel closer to a choice. Each time through the cycle the choice is more and more clear. Will I have enough courage to make it?

Blessings,

Lynnea

Embracing the change

Well hello there…I didn’t realize how long it had been since my last blog post until I looked at the history. Yikes 4 months sure seemed to fly by. This has been a season where I have been doing more internal processing and didn’t have much I wanted to post to the blog. In the past several months I have been in a season of transition…of letting go…of accepting my new reality and (attempting to) embrace the changes that have forced their way into my life for the last 2 years. It is not easy. Today is the 2 year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I have a difficult time even remembering what life was like before that. Everything feels different.

The other day someone I just met said to me “Don’t you just love your pixie cut?”. Outwardly I smile and say “Yes, it’s fun and SUPER easy to style”. Inwardly I cringe “If you only knew I didn’t choose this…this is a recovery hairstyle…when I could choose I picked something completely different…How can I love this? It was forced upon me…it is the consequence of the hazmat chemicals which were pumped through my body in the name of treatment.” Self pity. I’m not necessarily proud of that reaction but it’s honest. Why is it so easy for me to go there? To have a little pity party because I am reminded of something I lost due to cancer? I didn’t choose it. It just happened. Why am I reluctant to let go and admit that honestly…

Photo3I DO LOVE MY PIXIE CUT.

It’s fun and flattering and truthfully very easy to style. But somehow admitting that I like it is difficult. It is hard to acknowledge the things I have gained through this traumatic experience because it feels like I am saying cancer was a good thing. It wasn’t. Not even a little bit. BUT the experience has brought some good things into my life and I am realizing how much courage it takes to embrace the changes and make them a part of me. It means taking responsibility and moving forward. To not be stuck wallowing in everything I have lost but attempt to focus on the the things I have gained…and having peace in the present moment. To not judge my scars (physical and emotional) but see them as part of my story.

I am not the same person I was at the beginning of 2012. I like to think I am a better version of myself. I like my life…I am curious what it will look like in the next 2 years. But for now I’m going to rock my pixie cut.

Blessings,

Lynnea

 

More than you can handle

In the past couple weeks I have been confronted with the phrase “God wont give you more than you can handle” from a few different sources. Friends on Facebook. Comments on blogs. Adrian Peterson’s response to the tragic loss of his son. The best was this article entitled:

Confronting the Lie: God wont give you more than you can handle by Nate Pyle (www.natepyle.com)

It is a common Christian response especially in the face of tragedy but as Nate points out in his article…this idea is Bullshit…and not even biblical. The bible does not say we will never be given more than we can handle. In fact it often says the exact opposite. Here is an excerpt:

 This particular statement, that “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” isn’t even in the Bible.  There is a statement that sounds like it.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”  But notice that verse is about temptation.  That’s it.  You won’t be tempted beyond what you can stand up against.  This text is not saying that you will not experience more than you can bear.  That idea just isn’t Biblical.  If anything the exact opposite is true.  Look at this text.

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8,9, emphasis mine).

Later, Paul will write it is when he is weak that the strength of Christ is seen.  In other words, when we can’t do it any longer.  When we are fed up.  When it has become too much.  When we have nothing left.  When we are empty.  When it is beyond our capability to deal with it.  Then, in that moment, the strength of the God of resurrection will be seen.  Until we get to that point, we rely on ourselves thinking we can handle it and take care of the problem.

Amen brother. And I can say from the past year and a half the process of being pushed out of my capacity into Christ’s is not pleasant and feels like I am being given more than I can handle…because I am…just not more than he can handle. This is where I need to quote Nate again because he describes how I’m currently feeling so well.

Don’t hear me saying I am rejoicing because of the last couple of weeks.  I am not.  Not once have I danced around our house shouting, “Yeah suffering!”  Instead, in the midst of pain and hurt, I am actively expecting God to do something.  I don’t know what.  I don’t know when.  But I am expecting the God of resurrection to heal us.  I am expecting God to restore us.  I am expecting him to redeem this situation.  I am expecting him to do this and so I will be actively looking and waiting for him to do something.  I believe expectant waiting can only happen when we exchange our feeble platitudes for an authentic faith that engages God with the full brunt of our emotion and pain.  Only then can salvation been seen.

Once again…amen. We can wait expectantly together because our God is faithful.

Blessings,

Lynnea

Why I’m NOT a Breast Cancer Survivor

lmw:

This is a post from last year but relevant today. I still don’t consider myself a Breast Cancer Survivor. I do, however, consider myself a knock down, drag out, bad ass survivor of life…who happened to get breast cancer :-) Let’s change the way we talk about this disease.

Originally posted on Burning Brightly:

…and I’m OK with it so everyone else should be too. :-) Even now that I have completed all the treatments and have been released into the maintenance (Tamoxifen) stage I still don’t consider myself a Breast Cancer survivor. I do, however, consider myself a survivor of life.

What is a survivor? According to dictionary.com a survivor is someone who:

  1. A person or thing that survives (Ummm, really?! thanks for that)
  2. A person or thing that continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks. (OK…that one is better)

The world is immersed in “Pinktober” right now and we are being blasted with pink ribbons and breast cancer from all sides. I don’t like pink…I’ve written about that. I don’t have a problem with the ribbon per se, but I do have a problem with the “Pink Ribbon Culture”. In order for all those companies to sell…

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One hill at a time

My head and heart are spinning. I have these moments where it feels like there is just too much to process. But I am going to start this post by saying God IS good…all the time…in everything.

I learned recently that a dear blogger friend was claimed by this beast of cancer. Jellebelle was a beacon of light and encouragement. Her writing was raw and authentic and we had a connection through the digital divide. She received my very first tree pendant and we even bridged the virtual gap over a bowl of Pho in Seattle. I’m glad I was able to give her a physical hug. Her spirit in this world will be missed.

I can’t put her passing away together with the PINK media onslaught that is October. My Facebook feed is filled with the most ridiculous awareness campaigns that are so disconnected from doing anything effective. Philips is lighting up monuments pink. The NFL has their “perfect catch” program. Corporations slap a pink ribbon on the products to sell more and then donate an extremely small percentage…even then:

60% of funds raised and donated in North America are being put back into awareness campaigns. Currently only 5% of funds raised and donated in North America are being used towards prevention research.
– Pink Ribbons Inc

Seriously, the dramatic need for AWARENESS is over. These numbers should be reversed with the bulk of the funds generated going to RESEARCH…and an actual cure rather than just better treatment. 40,000 women still die every year in America and that needs to change…but it wont the way things are currently working.

To top that off I just returned from 3 (good, intense) weeks traveling to New York, Croatia and Slovenia. It was a whirlwind of friends, food, wine, laughter, tears. It was also the first time I had seen my husband in 9 months. Emotional roller coaster is an understatement. No wonder I am feeling a bit exhausted at the moment.

In light of all this I go back to God is good. In the storm. In the emotions. In the unknown. In provision. It is hard for me to continue to let go and trust but the more I do the easier it is because I see His faithfulness.

Here is an image from Slovenia that centers me right now. There is a lot I wish I knew…but I do know my trajectory over the next hill and I have faith that I will be able to tackle whatever lies after. And I should look up and enjoy the scenery while I can. :-)

Blessings,

Lynnea

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