Got Milk?

Warning: This is a long entry, thank you in advance for sticking it out ’til the end. It’s worth it, I promise!……

According to Wikipedia:

A wet nurse is a woman who breast feeds and cares for another’s child. Wet nurses are employed when the mother is unable or chooses not to nurse the child herself. Wet-nursed children may be known as “milk-siblings”, and in some cultures the families are linked by a special relationship of milk kinship. 

In contemporary affluent Western societies particularly affected by the successful marketing of infant formula, the act of nursing a baby other than one’s own often provokes cultural squeamishness, notably in the United States. When a mother is unable to nurse her own infant, an acceptable mediated substitute is screened, pasteurized, expressed milk (or especially colostrum) donated to milk banks, analogous to blood banks, a sort of bureaucratic wet-nurse. 

I’ve done a lot of research on this topic for Baby S’s sake. Given my druthers, I would have tried to breast feed since I personally believe that there are helpful antibodies in that liquid gold.

I totally understand that it’s a hard thing to do and not every woman who desires to breast feed can successfully do it. Some have trouble getting their milk to come in, while others can’t produce enough milk, still others face the challenge of a baby who won’t latch or nipples that are inverted etc.  I also understand that women who have had work done on their breasts (reduction and/or enlargement) can also face difficulties. There are a million and one reasons why breast feeding may not work out.  I also understand that some women just aren’t that into it and have zero desire to even try.  To each her own, I say! My beliefs aren’t intended to make you feel badly about the choices you’ve made for your child. Quite frankly, it’s none of my business!

But again, for me personally, I would’ve liked to try and do it. Enter the modern day Milk Bank. As Wikipedia referenced above, the Milk Bank is now a viable option for people like me.  Most people tend to think that the milk in banks will go to babies in the NICU or to multiples whose mama can’t produce enough milk to feed all her little ones. But, someone like me can also avail themselves of the bank.  I got my OB-GYN to write me an RX so that we can feed Baby S a 50/50 split of breast milk and formula for the first month of her life.  If all goes well with that, our pediatrician can keep writing RX’s for us, until we’re ready to move her to formula 100%.

The way our local milk bank works is women who are super producers and who pumped and froze their extra milk, donate it.  The bank we will work with will only take milk that is expressed between birth and 6 months. They do this because they blend the milk together to make it a “universal” age. It would be way too expensive to keep every mother’s milk separated out.  The bank goes to the donating mother’s home to collect the milk and give the mother a blood test to be sure she’s healthy, the milk is pasteurized and blended and put into glass bottles. As you can imagine, all these steps come at a price.  Those expenses are passed along to the recipient mom — at a cost of $3.75 an ounce. Yup, you read that correctly, shit is spendy! But worth it to us.

By way of background, the average cost of powder formula is 11 cents an ounce and ready to drink liquid formula is anywhere from 28 to 50 cents an ounce. So, 240 ounces (at $3.75/oz) from our milk bank will cost us $960 (including shipping and handling) and will last us approximately 20 days if we’re doing a 50/50 split with formula.

Our pocketbook is going to take a hit, but fine, let’s do this! This is money well spent in our opinion. Liquid gold, here we come! (For those of you wondering, yes, I called my insurance — and no, sadly, there is zero coverage for women like me who are unable to breast feed due to breast cancer — something we should work on for the future….)

BUT WAIT, it gets even better.  Recently, Paul’s cousin Beth who lives on the east coast (and has two kids, her youngest is 8 months old) texted me and said:

You can tell me this is totally crazy but I really do think I was a wet nurse in a former life – I have donated 550 ounces of BM already and will have even more soon. Not donating it again but I am a totally qualified donor 🙂 The milk is good for up to 5 months – again this could be insane but do you guys want it? I will say it’s not lactose free or dairy free but it surely packs the pounds on Ben 🙂

Ummmmm, HOLY SHIT — YES! We’re not squeamish in the least about this.  I can’t wait for Baby S and her cousin Ben to be milk siblings! Beth is an incredible mom; and, as an added bonus, she’s family. How much better could this get?? She’s sending us slightly over 300 ounces of unadulterated milk! She is our very own wet nurse!

I ended up canceling our milk bank order for now. If we want, we can still get it after we use up Beth’s milk.

Side note, thank goodness Paul and I are both from Buffalo. Anyone from Buffalo will tell you that we all had a supplemental fridge or freezer in our garage or basement growing up. Well, even in our small San Francisco Edwardian home, we do indeed have a supplemental deep freeze in our storage room 🙂 HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Normally, it’s filled with Trader Joe’s goods — but we’ve made room for our cache of breast milk! YAY!

I wrote this blog entry as I waited the UPS delivery from Beth.  She had to buy a special cooler and dry ice to get the milk to us from the east coast.  Happy to say that I just received the shipment. The milk arrived 100% frozen and is now safe ‘n sound in our deep freeze. Below are some pics (I love to document everything).

See, I told you it was worth reading until the end. Paul and I genuinely can’t find the words to tell Beth how grateful we are to her.  What an incredible gift she’s giving our child.  I cry just thinking about it.

 

Breast v. Bottle

Guys! I can’t physically breastfeed so PLEASE, for the love of all things sacred, stop asking me about it!

Ever since I found out I’m pregnant — I joined a new club — the “mom-to-be” club. I’ve waited years to gain entrée into this one and am elated to finally be here! As I suspected, people crawl out of the woodwork to offer support, guidance and helpful tips. It’s incredible!

Most notably, however, is the ease with which people talk at you about breastfeeding. The conversation always starts from the assumption that you’ll be breastfeeding.  For the oodles of women out there who choose not to breastfeed for their own personal reasons, this is a terribly invasive and rude conversation.

For me, it’s just a kick in the gut.

Obviously perfect strangers that I meet now have no idea I had cancer.  All they know is that I have weird, short hair (what can I say? I’m in that awkward grow out stage right now!)

20140902-124635-45995478.jpg and I’m having a baby. Great! inevitably, the requisite baby small-talk commences: “OMG, congrats! Your bump is so cute! When are you due? Is it a boy or girl? How are you feeling?” Then comes the breastfeeding convo: “Are you going to breastfeed? It’s a total bitch – hands down, it’s the hardest thing about being a mom. Natural Resources, which is in your neighborhood, offers great classes on breastfeeding — they’re worth the money.”

Since they’re strangers, I politely explain to them that I can’t breastfeed because I had a bi-lateral mastectomy.  I give my 2 minute cancer bio and that usually quiets the conversation. Only the most special people like to return to the topic 5 minutes later. It’s usually in the form of “Well, since you’re not breastfeeding, your boobs are going to KILL after the milk comes in and you have to let them dry up.”  Ummmm, no they won’t. I’m not sure how many ways I can tell you this — but while my breasts are anatomically stunning (!) and easy on the eyes, they’re 100% silicone.

It’s shocking to me how many people who are fully aware that I had breast cancer and a bi-lateral mastectomy STILL mention nursing to me! OH EM GEE, for real? This includes family members and fellow BAYS (my breast cancer support group) friends.  As for my BAYS ladies, there are many paths to treatment for cancer. Some of my BAYS friends had lumpectomies, or single mastectomies and the possibility of breastfeeding still exists for them. Some breastfed their children before being diagnosed, so they don’t stop to think about having a baby post DX. But still, I expect more from this group of people.

Now that I’m showing, these conversations happen pretty frequently. I’ve heard a lot of silly things come out of people’s mouths. But this next one is by far my favorite: “There’s so much pressure to breastfeed, it’s like you’re a monster if you don’t want to do it — you’re so lucky, at least you don’t have to choose whether or not to do it — the decision’s been made for you — AND nobody can give you grief about it because you don’t have boobs” WTF? That one is up there with my favorite breast cancer insult “Well, at least you got the easy cancer.” Not comforting people, not comforting.

Here are my conclusions:

1. People are so damned excited about a brand new life entering the world, they get amnesia about any and all sickness you had in the past.  Essentially, babies are blinding! (This helps me explain away close friends and even family members who talk to me about breastfeeding.)

and

2. People don’t really understand what a bi-lateral mastectomy entails. Little refresher for you – all of your breast tissue is removed in surgery. You are left with skin, pectoral muscle, anatomically shaped implants and rib cage. In that order. I assure you, there’s no breast tissue. No milk ducts. Nope, no possibility of milk comin’ outta there.

In all, it just sort of sucks to be reminded so frequently that I had breast cancer because it makes me think about the limitations I’ll face after giving birth. It makes me sad that I don’t have a choice in whether or not I nurse our baby. I’m also really sad that my chest is still pretty numb, the skin on my chest is cool to the touch (silicone implants aren’t a great heat conductor) and my implants are pretty hard. I wish I could give our daughter a nice warm, squishy landing pad to snuggle up to (and that I’d be able to physically feel her laying on my chest). But I can’t, and that’s sad to me.

If there’s one lesson I want you to take away with you from this post, it’s this: the breast v bottle conversation is as taboo as asking someone who they’re going to vote for. It’s really not your business, so please don’t go there.

 

 

 

 

Comfortably Numb Indeed

One of the joys of my new post bi-lateral mastectomy body, is that I have very limited feeling/sensation in my chest.

What, exactly, does that mean, you might be wondering. Well, when I hug you, I can feel pressure on my chest, but I’m not sure how much is too much — so I just hug away, blissfully unaware that I’m making you uncomfortable.  I can feel a seat  belt pulled across my chest. But I can’t, for the most part, feel my clothes on top of my foobs.

That last one is the kicker.  I was out running errands earlier today and was wearing a silk blouse:

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Cute egh? Not so much. Unbeknownst to me, the top button of my blouse came undone — in the middle of Trader Joes — and I didn’t feel it — so it was unbuttoned for a LONG time.  Free show everybody.

When one of your senses is taken away, your others are heightened — or at least that’s what I’m told.  Here’s hoping my sense of reading other peoples faces and reactions to my half nude body in the produce section becomes finely tuned very soon….

The Real Test

Happy New Year everybody!

The new year has brought a lot of change to the Sieminski household.  The biggest one is that I am no longer working part-time at S&D and I’m back on disability.  I went back to work earlier than I originally planned — and that turned out to be a not-so-great idea for my body.  At my six month check up appointments, I was stressed out and in a lot of pain.  My chest, ribs and spine were seizing up.  So I decided to pull the plug on work and focus 100% on my recovery.

Also, as you know, Paul and I started a 6 week cleanse in the new year.  I promised I’d document our progress, so here goes.

We’re two weeks in and doing really well. Just to recap for you, we cannot have: alcohol, sugar, caffeine, dairy, gluten, the “white devil” (potatoes, rice, white bread etc), fatty proteins (beef, pork etc) or processed foods.  Which means, we are enjoying a ton of veggies, legumes, fruits, nuts and lean proteins.

In the beginning I slept A LOT (like 10-11 hours a night).  Not sure if my body was just trying to occupy itself so I didn’t have to be conscience while craving all the foods I couldn’t eat — or if I just needed the rest!  At this point, I’m past the sugar cravings and past the carb cravings. I’ve been having a lot of fun making up new recipes with me new best friend — kale. OH! and for those of you who know me — no, it’s not been that bad giving up wine. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how easy it’s been actually. Turns out my real Achilles heel is cheese.  Man, do I ever miss cheese!

You might be wondering if I’m feeling any better on the cleanse and if I’ve lost any weight. I have to admit, yes, I do feel a lot better and so far I’ve lost 4 pounds (not earth shattering, but I’ll take it).  I still have a ton of pain/tightness in my chest and ribs associated with my surgery, but I feel less inflamed in general and have slightly more energy.  In fact, I’ve been pretty good about going to the gym and getting into a routine. But don’t be fooled people — when I go the gym — it isn’t your typical gym experience.  My version of cardio these days is to walk for 60 minutes on the treadmill at a 4..5 incline and a speed of — wait for it — 3.2! Yup, 3.2 is as fast as I can go, and trust me, that’s plenty fast for me.  Turns out, fast walking at 3.2 puts my heart rate in the high 160’s low 170’s. That is DANG high.

I’m assuming it’s so high because I haven’t exercised in a long time AND my body is still fatigued from chemo.  I’m hoping that, over time, that number will come down.  In the meantime, I might go get an EKG or a stress test done to be sure I’m not causing more harm than good by pushing myself. After all, the Adriamycin did leak out of my vein and Adria is known to cause heart problems…… Better to be safe than sorry, right?

Overall, I’ve basically been a hermit the past two weeks — just gym’ing it, cooking for myself and Paul and generally avoiding any and all social situations where libations and black-listed foods flow freely. But this weekend, we’re flying up to Seattle because Paul bought us tickets to the Justin Timberlake concert for my Christmas present (great gift, awesome husband). And the added bonus is that it’s in Seattle so we get to spend the rest of the weekend visiting with all our friends up there. Additionally, the Seahawks play-off game is on Sunday — which means MAJOR libations and bar food will be flowing. OY.

So, this is the real test of our willpower and commitment to the cleanse! Wish us luck as we drink water and eat almonds at JT and throughout the weekend! lol

Hairy Situation

Last weekend we flew to LA to celebrate the beautiful nuptials of Christine and Sharam. The wedding was incredible, and their love palpable. Mazel to you both!

At the wedding, I ran into some former Fenwick colleagues who I hadn’t seen in years.  It was extremely uncomfortable when they looked at me, looked at me some more, tipped their head to the side, focused their eyes, and said, “oh yeah —- Andrea, I almost didn’t recognize you! You used to have really long hair right? ”

Ugh.

Oh, my other favorite reminder of cancer is in the security line at the airport. The ID checking TSA guy says to me “Girl, you cut your hair off!”

Double ugh.

Obviously this has been happening to me a lot over the past 6 months. But my hair is finally to the point where it actually looks like maybe I meant to have this haircut. So people genuinely think I just cut my hair off.

Initially I struggled with these types of comments and didn’t know how to reply without making the other person feel uncomfortable.

Now, I’m an expert.  I just politely nod, smile and say, “Yes. Yes, that’s right. I used to have long hair.” Then I steal a sideways glance at Paul, or squeeze his hand, or feel his hand on the small of my back supporting me. And we all move on. Just like that. Nothing too painful.

It’s just so surreal and weird to me. I don’t know if what I’m currently doing is the right way to handle the situation. But it feels right to me at the moment. So, I’m going with it.

I will tell you this, though. Every single time I hear “oh, you used to have long hair”, I have a 10 second flash back of the entire last year and all the crapola I went through.

Somebody at work recently said/asked me “I mean, you reach an end point with cancer at some point, right?” (leaving aside how obviously rude and misinformed the question is), the true answer is that, no, you do not ever reach an end point. There are constant reminders — like when you run into old friends or colleagues and they don’t recognize you at first. It’s tough. Really tough.

Well, no time to dwell on any of this. Got to go wrap a million Xmas gifts so we can get them in the mail on Monday.

xoxo,
A

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6 Month Check-Up

I had my 6 month post chemo check up with my oncologist earlier today. While I don’t have my tumor marker number back yet, all of my other blood work looks good!!!

During my physical exam, Garrett could tell that my body has started to tighten up a lot.  Everything on my upper body (and I mean *everything*) has been hurting me lately.  From my forearm muscles, to my shoulder muscles, armpits, chest, implants, ribs, sternum and spine — all of it’s sore and uncomfortable.  In general, my daily existence consists of constant, low grade, nagging pain.

G said I have a decent amount of scar tissue that’s developed and he can tell that my body just isn’t humming at the moment.  I wasn’t all too surprised to hear this — he just confirmed what I’ve been feeling.

Enter the game plan to turn all this pain around. Never in a million years did I think I’d be saying this. So, drum roll please…..

Thanks to Natalie’s (my nutritionist at Garrett’s office) urging, Paul and I have decided to go on a 6 week cleanse after the holidays. The tenets of the cleanse come from Dr. Mark Hyman and his ultrawellness philosophy. Natalie has been trying to get me to do this for 6 months. I was super resistant at first, but now that I’m as fat as I’ve ever been in my life — now that my body aches and I’m sluggish as all giddy up –I’m ready to give myself over to this.  I’m hoping it will change the way Paul and I eat forever, but we’ll see.

In the short-term, this is going to be very challenging for both of us. Announcing it on the blog will hold us accountable! I’ll chronicle our adventures for you once we start!

I’m looking forward to the day that we can look back and proudly proclaim that we pushed our bodies to do this cleanse. It’s really going to be a lot of mind over matter for me.  In a nutshell, here’s what you can’t consume for 6 weeks:

No sugar
No alcohol (gasp!)
No fried foods
No dairy (double gasp!)
No gluten
No caffeine
No peanuts or pistachios
No processed foods

So what CAN you eat? Well, lots of things — all the veggies and greens you can think of, tubers, lean (organic) protein, rice, quinoa, berries and nuts (besides the ones listed above).

We told Garrett that we plan to do the cleanse together in the new year. He was pretty psyched for us (though I think he felt a little sad that Paul has to do it with me in solidarity — at one point Garrett asked if bacon was allowed during the cleanse? lol. NOT HELPFUL FOR MY CAUSE G!).

Anyway — after my physical exam where he could tell I’m wound really tightly again, Garrett said that I really need to get serious about cardio. He encouraged me to start at 20 mins a day during the first 2 weeks on the cleanse, then increase to 30 for the second to weeks and 40 for the last 2 weeks. He’s hoping that I maintain the 40 from there on out.

In an effort to help me stay serious about all of this, he said he’d support me by paying for a weekly massage (through his foundation) with Lisa during the cleanse.  Mind you, this massage won’t be a “treat/special occasion” massage. It’ll be Lisa and I working to open up all my muscles and lymphatic system.

I mean — do I have the best oncologist in the world or what? Thank you Garrett, Natalie, Lisa and Paul. Here’s hoping 2014 will find me healthy, relaxed, pain-free and SKINNY 🙂

Meanwhile, Buffalo, NY look out. Paul and I are headed to you for Xmas and plan to eat the s**t out of you while we’re there. Becuase the cleanse starts after our trip 🙂 Pierogi city here we come! yay!

I’ve come a long way baby

One year ago today, I underwent my bi-lateral mastectomy (aka had my boobs chopped off).

365 days ago my husband, family and I drove to the Menlo Park Surgical Center in the dark hours of the morning. I checked in around 6:30am.  After filling out the requisite paperwork and meeting with my entire surgical team –we all buckled our seat belts for this crazy ride!

As I reflect back on this past year, I don’t really recall all of the pain and emotion (and trust me, there was LOTS of both — just ask my husband!).  Instead, I hear all of your voices and I see all of your emails and texts telling me how strong and courageous I am.  At the time, I thought to myself “What a silly thing to say. I’m no more strong or courageous than the next girl. Indeed, if the shoe were on the other foot, I guarantee you, you would also make the same choices as I without reservation. Because those are the choices you need to make in order to live.  It’s not really hard or courageous to decide to live. You just do what it takes — end of story.”

Now — I feel differently.  I no longer think it’s a silly thing to say to someone. Because gosh darn it — I AM GD STRONG.  I dealt with surgery and reconstruction. I endured 6 months of chemo. I lost all of my hair. I made it through chemo leaking into my body by mistake. I gritted my teeth for a mid-chemo port placement. I navigated that same port becoming infected and being removed a few weeks later. I logged lots of hours in ER’s and hospitals.  But in the end, I kicked cancer to the curb and I think I’m pretty frickin’ awesome for doing it!

So, thank you to each and every one of you who encouraged me along the way.  Especially Paul — I wouldn’t have made it without his endless love and support (I’m not always a peach to deal with — shocking, I know…).  I’m proud of us for making it through and I hope our story serves as a lighthouse in the storm for others who are newly embarking on their journey.