Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Becoming Me

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away; and behold, all things have become new.” ~II Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

The other day I turned on the television just in time to hear a talk show host announce the topic of her upcoming show: “Change your bra and change your life!” Maybe it’s just a sore subject for me, but up until I had my mastectomy, I never noticed what a breast-obsessed world we live in. Then again, as I look back on my years as a budding pre-teen, I recall doing “bust exercises” and chanting a cheer with one unnamed sister. “We must, we must, we must develop our busts! The bigger, the better, the tighter the sweater – we must develop our busts!” (Bring back memories, anyone?) And I still remember the year my mom gave me my first training bra for Valentine’s Day and how I locked myself in the bathroom so I could experiment with tissue enhancements. So I guess most girls are programmed from an early age to aspire to look like their Barbie dolls. It’s like the actresses who proudly parade down the red carpet, as if their breasts are their greatest asset. (Maybe in some cases, they are.) Again, I hope this doesn’t sound like sour grapes, but losing my breasts has definitely given me a new perspective on life. It just seems so superficial to place such great importance on a physical appendage. Change your life, by changing your bra? Give me a break. How about, “Change your heart and change your life!”

“Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life.”~Proverbs 4:23 (RSV)

Nevertheless, I must admit that adjusting to life without breasts has been very difficult. It is awkward being a breast-less woman in a breast-filled world. And I can’t help but notice the stares and double-takes I get when I go out in public without my prosthesis. (Apparently a flat chest sticks out more than you might think. Ironic, isn’t it?) But I am determined to find a way to become comfortable with the new shape of my body, because the thought of being ashamed of it is a notion that I simply cannot bear.

The other day I made a trip to Hair Secrets in Topeka, Kansas, to get fitted for my permanent prosthesis (the first one was more lightweight to give me some time to heal), and I must say that I was very pleased with the results. In fact, they look better than my real ones did. After nursing four babies, they weren’t going to win any blue ribbons at the fair, that’s for sure. (Maybe not even an honorable mention!) At any rate, I like having the freedom to choose between wearing the prosthesis or going without. It’s kind of like deciding whether or not to wear make-up. So when I want to dress up, I’ll just strap on my Sunday-go-to-meeting gear. It’s just important for me to be okay with myself either way.

You could also compare it to learning how to become comfortable with your own weight, even if you’re not a perfect size by the world’s standards. I had a friend once who refused to buy herself any new clothes until she lost some weight, and I told her that I thought it was important for her to see herself as “worthy” of a new outfit just the way she was. Then if she wanted to lose weight, fine. I eventually insisted on buying her a new pair of jeans and a pink oxford shirt – just to make my point. We still refer to it as “the pink shirt theory.” Love yourself, wherever you are in life; and accept yourself – regardless of your outward appearance. Don’t attach your worth to your weight! Just as I am not my breasts, none of us are our weight, either!

In Geralyn Lucas’ book, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, she expressed the following feelings about her pending surgery: “When I lose my breast I will be stripped of part of what I thought made me a woman, made me desirable. But, I think, I will still be me. Maybe I am like an antique table that is being stripped before being re-varnished. Layers will be peeled away to reveal something beautiful underneath . . . And when there is nothing left to strip, maybe there will be a revelation of a different beauty underneath, one that I never knew existed.”

But as I stated earlier, it has been a difficult adjustment indeed. There’s nothing easy about seeing two horizontal scars where my breasts used to be. A friend of mine who was paralyzed in an accident shared how she had to “mourn – grieve in all the stages,” the loss of the use of her legs. Although my situation seems insignificant by comparison, Keen and I have both had to grieve the loss of the old me – that is, the former shape of my physical body. But I am still the same person on the inside. In fact, if you consider the principle that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” you could even say that I’m a new and improved version. I do feel stronger after this experience, which makes me better prepared for the next trial I may have to face.

“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” ~James 1:2-4 (NLT)

I’m reminded of the time in the late 80’s when Keen and I opened our little restaurant in Alma called The Back Porch. We thought we had a great idea, but we were never able to turn a profit. In fact, it was costing us more money to keep the doors open, than to shut it down and continue making our monthly payment to the bank. Still, we fought hard to hang on. But we finally faced the harsh reality that the restaurant was slowly sinking our financial ship. Although it was difficult to forfeit our dream and suffer the public humiliation of a failed business, we had to let it go to save our life. The restaurant, like my breasts, had become a liability.

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
~Matthew 7:19 (NKJV)

Having a supportive spouse has been such a precious gift during this journey. Keen never seems to run out of encouraging words for me. Recently, when he put his hand on my chest he said, “Now I’m closer to your heart.” Another time he said: “Your scars reflect your beauty.” He often reassures me that he is still attracted to me – maybe even more so – and that our moments together are even more meaningful now because of all that we’ve been through.

I have also found that keeping a good sense of humor has helped me during the recovery process. As it says in Proverbs: “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” The Bible also says that the joy of the Lord is your strength, so I am working very hard at maintaining a merry heart and a joyful spirit.

Along these same lines, recently I saw a contestant on the television show, “Last Comic Standing” who seemed to adopt this same philosophy about her severe lisp. Rather than be depressed and embarrassed about her speech impediment, she decided to turn it into something positive. In her comedy routine, she talks about how she attended speech therapy classes as a young girl and they would tell her to repeat words like “wagon” or “tree.” She said: “I can say wagon; I can say tree! How about supercalafragalistic-expialadosish? I seem to be having a little trouble with that word!” So the use of humor can be a very effective tool in taking the sting out of emotional pain.

"More important than talent, strength, or knowledge is the ability to laugh at yourself and enjoy the pursuit of your dreams." ~Amy Grant, Christian singer

One night after my surgery our son Keener decided to play a practical joke on me by hiding behind a door and jumping out to scare me when I walked in the room. Well, it worked – a little too well – and I screamed at the top of my lungs. Keener felt just terrible, apologized and gave me a big hug. So I jokingly chastised him saying: “Be nice to your mom! Just because I have a flat chest doesn’t mean I’m one of the guys!”

Another time I was talking to Keen on the phone at his law office, and he mentioned that he and one of his colleagues dressed exactly alike that day. The colleague was standing right there and commented that the main difference between them was that he was having a bad hair day. (He’s completely bald.) So I told Keen to tell him not to feel bad because I was having a bad chest day. Keen’s colleague replied that hair and chests are two things that are highly overrated.

I’ve discovered that there is one small caveat to my use of humor, however. It seems that I can make jokes about my flat chest, but nobody else can. We learned this lesson the hard way when my sweet, supportive husband thought it was safe to come up with his own joke since he saw that I was able to joke about it. As our three-year-old grandson Gabe would say: “That’s not punny!” When I explained the rules to my brother Joe, he said: “I certainly respect your right to make all the jokes, but I reserve the right to repeat them!” I don’t have a problem with that – as long as the jokes originate from me!

Geralyn Lucas chose to have immediate reconstruction surgery after her mastectomy, and later she agreed to pose for a special breast cancer survivor’s edition of Self Magazine. In her book she described her experience this way: “I never existed as a beautiful woman until I saw myself that July day . . . In every photo in the past, I hated my nose, my cheeks, my smile. Now, when there is a huge defect, I was the most beautiful. I had set out to inspire other women that they could be beautiful after this surgery and I ended up convincing myself.”

As for me, I may or may not decide to have reconstruction surgery at some point in the future. But if I do, it will be after I have learned to accept myself and the new shape of my body – just the way it is.

So if you see me out and about sometime without my prosthesis, then you’ll know that you caught me on a day when I mustered up the courage to simply be “me.”

July 3, 2006 ~ My 48th Birthday

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Moment in Time

“And Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle before the sun [was up]....” ~ Judges 8:18 (KJV)

Rick Warren, author of the #1 Bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, recently shared his belief that life is like two rails on a railroad track, as opposed to a series of hills and valleys. “At all times,” he stated, “you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for. You can focus on your purpose, or you can focus on your problems.”

Our family has witnessed this philosophy being played out multiple times during the past year. No matter how many bad things life has thrown our way, we have always had plenty of good things to be thankful for. This week, I am happy to be able to share some good news, brought to us courtesy of our kindhearted daughter-in-law, Erin.

As you may recall, Erin gave birth to our first granddaughter, Emma Eileen, on May 22nd. Emma was born prematurely and had to stay in the hospital for about a week, but she is doing really well now, thank God. While I was trying to figure out when I might be able to meet little Emma, Erin called with a big surprise. She said that Jared was scheduled to return home from Iraq on July 7, and she offered to fly all of us down to Mississippi to surprise him when he got off the plane! Needless to say, we were immediately on board (pardon the pun), and humbly accepted her generous offer.

Keen, Keener, Kirk and I all flew down the day before Jared was scheduled to arrive. (Josh and Lisa couldn’t make it since their own one-month old daughter, Katelyn Seraphina, had just been released from Children’s Mercy Hospital. She is also doing well – in fact, she just rolled over by herself for the first time – several months before most babies do!) I was so excited about the trip that I couldn’t sleep a wink the night before, but I made up for it on the ride to the airport and while traveling in the airplane.

When we arrived at Erin’s home, Grandpa and Uncles Keen and Kirk immediately started rough housing and wrestling with Asher and Gabe. Sounds of laughter and excited screams filled the air, as the boys were jostled and held upside down by their feet. Of course, the adults ran out of gas long before the boys did!

"Put me down, Uncle Keen!"

Uncle Kirk with Asher and Gabe

Meeting Emma for the first time was a sheer delight. She is such a sweet and beautiful little baby. Jared commented that if they dressed her in blue no one could tell if she was a boy or a girl – but I totally disagree! Emma definitely looks like a girl!
I so enjoyed holding her and looking into that pretty little face. I even got to feed her a bottle. Erin said she’ll take a bottle from anyone except her. Emma may be young, but she knows her momma, and when Momma is holding her, she won’t settle for anything but the real deal. Babies are so much smarter than we give them credit for!

Gramma Eileen holding Emma Eileen

Erin was able to reserve us a room at the Navy Lodge located right on base and within walking distance of their apartment. After a great night’s sleep, Keen and I walked to their apartment the next morning to make pancakes for the boys. When we arrived, we expected to see a flurry of activity with everyone getting ready for Jared’s arrival, but no one was stirring – not even a mouse. Then my cell phone rang; it was Erin calling from upstairs. “Are you guys downstairs?” she asked. When I said yes, she replied, “I got some bad news last night; I’ll be right down.” My heart just sank. I immediately imagined the worst case scenario that Jared’s arrival was postponed and we would miss him altogether since we were scheduled to fly out early the following day.

As it turned out, Jared’s flight had been delayed in Germany, but thankfully they were still scheduled to arrive that day, just five hours later than they originally planned.

The hours seemed to drag on, especially for Erin and her friend Amy, who were both anxiously awaiting their husbands’ return. Finally it was time to depart, and we drove to the Stennis Space Station (where Jared normally works) to pick up his Jeep. We still had some time to spare, so we decided to drive by Jared and Erin’s old apartment in Bay St. Louis – the one that had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Surprisingly, it hadn’t been bulldozed over yet and we could still see their possessions through the broken windows. I even walked to the front door and took a few pictures of what used to be their kitchen and living room. It was quite shocking to see the devastation.

At any rate, we made it back to the air base in plenty of time, all decked out in our matching t-shirts that I had made up at a store in Manhattan called Thread. We had a picture of Jared holding his gun put on the front of the shirts with the words, “Welcome Home, Jared/Daddy.” But I couldn’t put that picture on little Emma’s, so her little t-shirt had a picture of her wearing an outfit that had “Daddy’s girl” on the front of it. Then it said, “Welcome Home Daddy! I love you!” Since it would be the first time Jared met Emma, we jokingly thought about several other slogans we could have put on her shirt, such as: “Who’s My Daddy?” and “Where Have You Been All My Life, Daddy?”

While we gathered at the air base for a family photo before Jared’s arrival, a group of officers were standing nearby smirking at the sight of eight individuals of various sizes and ages wearing t-shirts with Jared’s blown-up muscle man picture plastered on the front. I made the comment that Jared was probably going to be mortified and they all broke out laughing.
Then they asked if their photographer could take a picture for their command. So the photographer took a group shot, and then he asked if he could take a close-up of one of the shirts. Well, I was wearing my new prosthesis and I wasn’t too sure if I was “even”, so I directed him to Keen’s chest instead of mine. The photographer also took a close-up shot of little Emma in her “Welcome Home, Daddy” shirt.

Smile, Emma!

The excitement continued to mount as the wives and children of the servicemen waited with great anticipation for the plane’s arrival. “Here it comes!” someone shouted. So we all ran outside and watched the mammoth green plane descend from the evening sky, just as the orange sun was setting on the horizon. It gave me goose bumps and brought tears to nearly everyone’s eyes.

After a short time, they opened the gates wide so all the families could rush to hug their loved ones. Keen said he didn’t expect to feel so much emotion when Jared stepped off the plane, but he couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down his face. He said it was like watching Jared be born all over again. I, too, felt a rush of joy, relief and pride, while I busily snapped pictures and attempted to capture that magical moment in time.

The first person Jared saw was Erin walking towards him carrying his little six-week-old daughter, Emma.
She looked like such a little peanut in her daddy’s strong arms – and what a contrast between Jared in his military fatigues and Emma in her lily white outfit. Together at last!

Asher and Gabe followed right behind to hug their daddy’s legs and welcome him home.
One by one, the rest of us worked our way to Jared, much to his surprise. “Erin made it all possible,” I said as I hugged him and cried. Although he was happy to see us, he was more than a little embarrassed by the array of T-shirts bearing his image. He said he would never hear the end of it from the other guys in his unit. (And he was right.)

After arriving back home, Keen cooked some delicious rib eye steaks on the grill and we all enjoyed spending time together and hearing about Jared’s experiences overseas. He was definitely in the thick of things, so we are very grateful that he made it home safely.

But no one is more grateful than Jared’s wife, Erin,
Who delivered a baby while he was away,
And two little boys named Asher and Gabe,
Who missed their daddy more than words can say.

Welcome Home, Jared. We are so proud of you...and we love you!

“You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter....” ~ Deuteronomy 16:11a (NKJV)

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Shelter From the Storm

"For Thou hast been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat....” ~ Isaiah 25:4a (RSV)

This week I’d like to share something Keen’s sister wrote during a thunderstorm that took place the day before my surgery. ~ Eileen

Winds Swirl

By Kihm Umbehr Blount
June 20, 2006

Winds swirl.
Trees bend.
Flowerpots sway
Then are thrown back and forth.
Dark clouds mingle with blue sky.
Then dark overtakes the light.

The sound of the wind is more forceful now.
Is it the leaves or the sound of wind itself?
The trees and leaves look like the waves –
The ocean of the sea in a storm –
green rolling thunderous grass.

One knows not when it will lessen or crescendo.
We who are stationary are at the wind’s mercy.
Until we sway with a blast and are forced backwards
Bending our head into the winds in order to walk forward.

Deep rolling sound in the distance…
Threatening future awaits.
Light enough to write by
Dark enough for a brief shadow.
Will it continue?
Will it stop?
Will it lessen?
Will it crescendo?

Nothing physical yet broken,
No large item yet moved.

It is written – “Jesus slept.”
Slumber of the deepest kind.
My watchful eye raises every moment –
Anticipating the next forceful upsurge.
I am unaware of where the end will be.

At least the wind is cool
Could even say refreshing.
Yesterday the sun beat down,
Searing flesh when touched to the physical.
This…now… is a welcome reprieve.
A lull now…
What seemed so strong a little before
Now appears managed to me.
THIS wind is familiar
In the short time since it began.
Does my own fear lessen in this midst?
Unthinkable that I could slumber as He!

Fine mist now – the smell of rain
Do I wish for a downpour –
To joy in the sun’s rays at its end?
Doesn’t the wind always get strong
Before the rain comes?

All is touched and swirled by the wind.
Long standing trees sway.
Small grass slivers slide to and fro.
Dust is thrown in the direction of the wind.
A light wood door slams down
After being lifted by the wind.
Am I too light?
Will I be slammed down?

It’s not quiet yet,
But a little lessening.
Calmness returns.
Slight breeze.
Silence almost deafening now.

Long, long roll of thunder-
Closer now.
Is the worst approaching?
One last plunge
Before the deluge?
My questions push me
To the edge of the unknown.
Can I relinquish my fear to the One who made the wind?

“My help comes from the Lord.
Whom shall I fear?”
He’s the Maker of heaven and earth.
That is the wind!
Whom shall I be afraid?

Sunlight on the clouds
Brightening the horizon.
A visual reminder that
Maybe the end is near.

I see this with my eyes
And hear the thunder in the distance.
Do my senses point the way
Or lead me to fear?
I could trust them,
I thought.
Now, I believe they must
Be tamed and guided.

Flash of light.
Quicker than a second.
Are my eyes just more attuned
To watch for them?
Are my senses heightened?

Now – a triple play.
All three combined.
Wind, sound and light.
The sound of sure doom.

I walk to the edge
Of the physical ground.
I venture out slowly.
I had been motionless
Not gripping in fear
But surefooted
In the doorway.

I hear now the air conditioner.
Familiar and predictable.
Reminder of what
I know for certain.
Was it there
In the force of the wind?
I missed it, and was not
In tune with the known.

Other life moves across
The green ocean.
Eating as they go along.

We are returning
To the familiar.
If they go forward
With their life,
Can I use that
As an example
To go forward also?

Just one more question for me.
Movement is paramount.
Standing frozen
Stops all life,
And action.

I will move inside now.
Away from the breeze
That now blows.
I hear a bird sing
And bugs chatter
In the grass.
The worst has passed if
The creations of God

Inside the dwelling-
This physical example,
A correlation
To the spiritual emotions
I have just been through.
I am held
In the Palm of His Hand.
I am hid in the Shelter of His wing.
I believe this to be real
And can tell myself
To Trust.

The sound of the roll
May be loud outside,
But in here
Is barely audible.
My senses are corralled
Inside the Palm of His wing.

She missed it.
She missed it all.
She slumbered.
The day before
Her anticipated storm.
Her senses dulled.
Confident that she is in
The Palm of His Wing

The wind will blow.
His wing will protect.
Outside sounds, though loud,
The song of love
Focuses her
Far away.
The roll of possible threat
In her distance,
Not in the forefront
Of her mind.
She sees and feels
The cup of the
Palm of His hand.
She knows and
She believes
Tomorrow will
Also be shielded.

“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress; He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and He brought them to their desired haven.

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.”

~ Psalm 107:28-30 (RSV); Psalm 36:7 (NKJV)

Eileen and Kihm on day of Kihm's departure 10 days after my surgery

Kansas sky on country road near our home

Monday, July 03, 2006

Scars and All

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalms 125:1-2

As I sit down to write this column, it is 2:45 in the morning on Saturday, July 1, 2006. My surgery took place as scheduled ten days ago, and I am happy to report that everything went fine.

During the days leading up to my surgery, I had several emotional meltdowns. The fear and anxiety seemed insurmountable. One night I was crying and I told Keen that I didn’t want to lose my breasts. He replied, “You’re not losing your breasts, you’re gaining your life.”

“No matter what might be happening in your life right now, take a deep breath, relax and let your thoughts be still. Just as darkness gives way to dawn, so does despair create a new beginning. Never allow yourself to forget that it is from the darkest moment of the night that each new sunrise is born.”

Kate Nowak, Live More Abundantly Productions

One of the ways I believe the good Lord readied me for the big day was to send people across my path to offer just the right words of encouragement, such as several breast cancer survivors who visited with me before my surgery. When my sister-in-law Kihm heard me say that I felt like I was “doing this to myself” since I had other medical options, she reminded me that I wasn’t doing this to myself, I was doing it for myself. Our oldest son Jared called from Iraq to offer his support, and he emphasized how fortunate I was to be taking this step as a preventative measure. My sister Mary recounted something our mother said while sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office during her own battle with cancer. Mary said that Mom pointed out another patient and commented, “She’s lucky – she only has to get a mastectomy.” Although that statement may sound oxymoronic, it really isn’t, because my mom would have done anything to “only” have to get a mastectomy. After hearing that story, I thought to myself: “If Mom were here, she wouldn’t want me to feel sorry for myself because I was losing my breasts; she’d want me to be thankful that was all I was losing.”

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly." ~Richard Bach, American Author

Monarch and Milkweed ~ Photograph by Patricia Barrett

The night before surgery my sister Peggy called to let me know that she was thinking of me and praying for me. Before she hung up, she said, “Just remember that you have been the person you are for 47 years, and this surgery isn’t going to change that. You are going to be the same person that we love the day after the surgery as you were the day before your surgery.” For some reason, that was a real light bulb moment for me. It also tied in perfectly with something our son, Keen II, shared with me the morning of my surgery when he called to wish me well. He said that recently he’d been contemplating the concept of happiness and he came up with this quote: “Happiness is the ability to maintain a positive attitude despite circumstances that are beyond your control.” The combination of Peggy and Keener’s comments helped me realize that this surgery didn’t have to change me any more than I let it. If I choose to let it depress me, it will. And if I choose not to let it affect how I feel about myself, then it won’t.

“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he...” ~ Proverbs 23:7a (NKJV)

“Your mental attitude will lead you into the light or hold you in darkness. It will lead you to hope or despair, to a glorious success or a miserable failure, and it is entirely within your own power to choose which it shall be."
~ Orison Swett Marden, Early 20th Century Success Writer

With the help of God and all the many angels He sent my way, I finally felt prepared for surgery, and I realized that even the pre-surgery meltdowns were a necessary part of the grieving process.

On June 21st, Kihm drove me to St. Francis Hospital, with Keen and Kirk following right behind. After checking in, I underwent a pre-op procedure where they injected radioactive dye into my left breast in preparation for a sentinel node biopsy. That’s when they remove some lymph nodes from the affected breast in order to test for microscopic cancer cells. If the pathology report indicates lymph node involvement, then further treatment (in the form of chemotherapy and/or radiation) is required to combat the spread of the cancer.

Eventually the moment of truth arrived, and I was wheeled off to the operating room around 4:30 p.m. Although I was scared, I felt very peaceful and confident about my decision, and I was anxious to get the surgery over with.

When I woke up in the recovery room, I was pretty groggy and the room was spinning a little bit. I remember asking if I could talk with Dr. Berntsen. She came to my bedside to tell me that everything went fine and the lymph nodes did not appear to be cancerous. (A few days later the pathology report thankfully confirmed that the lymph nodes were clear and there was no invasive cancer found in any of the breast tissue.)

After they moved me to my room, Keen, Kihm, and Kirk were all waiting for me.
Keen and Kirk Van

The first thing I remember was Keen’s smiling face by my bedside. “I’m so proud of you,” he said. “You did this for us; for me, for our sons, and for our grandchildren. Thank you.”

I felt such a sense of relief after the surgery was over, that the loss of my breasts almost seemed like a non-issue. I was just so happy that I had come out on the other side, and I only needed minimal medication for the pain. After Keen and Kirk left for home, Kihm and I stayed up talking – or should I say, I stayed up talking, and Kihm listened! Bless her heart, I’m sure that she was exhausted and would have welcomed a good night’s sleep, but instead she sat by my bedside the whole night while I verbally processed all of my thoughts and feelings. Then when I was finally ready to wind down, Kihm read to me from a book I brought along.

Even though I only slept for two hours that night, when I woke up the next morning I still felt pretty good. Then Keen stopped by to see me, and we went for a stroll around the halls of the hospital. When Dr. Berntsen arrived, she said that everything looked fine, and since I was able to walk around then I could be released.

Going Home with flowers from friends Gary & Linda, and Mike & Julie

After returning home, Nurse Kihm did an amazing job of taking care of me. She kept track of my pain meds and basically waited on me hand and foot. Not only did she take care of me, but she took care of Kirk who had to have his wisdom teeth removed two days after my surgery. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without her.

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ~John 15:13 (RSV)

Eileen and Kihm after surgery

The next major milestone came when it was time for me to remove the surgical bandages and observe the scars on my chest for the very first time. I started out by taking little peeks, and worked my way up to the full view. I must admit that it was a sight for sore eyes as parts of my chest looked pretty disfigured. But I just thought, it is what it is, and I reminded myself of all the valid reasons I had for doing this. Besides, I didn’t go in for cosmetic surgery.

After returning home, my next challenge was to show the scars to Keen. When we went for a morning walk, I forewarned him that the scars were ugly. Right away he stopped me and said that I should never refer to them as ugly, because they represented the battle I fought and won. “Your scars are your badges of courage,” he said.

Later on when I hesitatingly revealed my chest to Keen, he looked at me with gentle eyes of admiration and smiled. “Your scars are not ugly,” he replied. “They’re beautiful . . . just beautiful.” Then, he put his hand over his heart and softly said, “It’s an honor to look at your scars.”

As the tears streamed down my face, my heart overflowed with gratitude to God for blessing me with a husband who, like Him, loved and accepted me . . . scars and all.

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” ~Proverbs 16:24 (NASB)