You Are Magical

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Don’t lose sight of yourself, even when life takes you down side roads. Let go enough to learn what you’re supposed to, and find value and beauty in the detours, but never let it take away your magic.

Detours are where we find some of our best life lessons. The key is to learn how to flow with these “distractions”, and know that they’re happening for a reason.

Perhaps we are supposed to learn how to handle ourselves differently in stressful situations, or we are supposed to completely change direction with our lives and find our purpose where we least expected it. No matter how small or large, there is something to be learned in the “tricky” happenings in life.

I look at my cancer journey as something that has not only helped me find my purpose, but has had a ripple effect for others. If that is what needed to happen to bring about change, I can find peace in that. I will not allow myself to be angry and live in that space. Instead, I have let myself open up and I’ve discovered my personal magic.

It’s not an easy place to be in, and of course I wish things were different, but I am learning to be at peace with what I can and cannot control in life. That also allows me to focus on my purpose and not fear stepping out and walking through doorways that open up for me. I was always playing small and didn’t take opportunities that came my way. I let fear affect my life choices, and letting that go feels so darn good.

If my journey helps you step out onto your path in some way, I’ve fulfilled my purpose. If I share something that makes you laugh or cry, or think, I’ve fulfilled my purpose.

Don’t let yourself become lost in the things that happen to you. Remember that you are not what others have done to you. You are not what they say you are when they try to tear you down. You are not your bank account, your pant size, your family, or your chronic illness. You are only you, and that is magical. 💜✨🦄

Thank you to Amber Iberreche for the image and inspiring words.

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Always Love You

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Today’s message. I looked down and this was there, telling me what to do.
Always love you.
Some days it’s difficult. Some days it’s easy. There have been days when it was impossible, and I couldn’t see past the pain, yet I am still here, with more hope and love in my heart than I’ve ever known. That’s because it was more painful to think about giving up. That’s it. I wasn’t willing to let go and managed to find that ray of light to hold on to.
We all have our personal trials and hardships. Some are visible, and some are not. Much of it is placed on us by others, but we need to find a way to rise above that.
We cannot change what we were born into, or what has happened to us at the hands of others. We need to find our value and want to do what we can to forgive those who have wronged us, so we can free ourselves. We can then move on to create change for ourselves, and those who are suffering, those whose struggles we know all too well.
If you can’t see past today, or can’t find a reason to love yourself, please hold on and know that you matter. You are not alone. If you need to, message me and know that you will be heard. Your words, your story, are safe with me.
We need to work together to create genuine connection, to create hope. It starts with seeing and listening to one another. From there, we can lift one another up with love and purpose.
What can you do today to take a step towards this? It can be as simple as getting out of bed and looking out the window. Feeding yourself something nourishing. Taking a walk outside. No one said it was easy, but it’s worth it. You are worth it. ❤️

Gratitude

Most people are celebrating Thanksgiving today. I’ve been reflecting on my Native ancestors and in honoring them, I decided to live today in a place of gratitude. I enjoyed the morning with some of my local community, hugged a number of people who mean a lot to me, gifted essential oils to a friend, had a conversation with my brother about our mom’s health, and now am watching movies and working on pottery. Along the way I also messaged a few people to tell them I love them and appreciate them, and shared a blend of oils I researched for emotional support with others in my life.

I use essential oils every day. I only use one brand, because as a cancer survivor, it’s very important that I know what I put on or in my body. I will not use synthetic products if I can avoid them (in shampoos, lotions, soaps, and yes, scents I wear). I’ve done my research about where different companies source their oils from, who has consistent medicinal value and quality, and which company is not only environmentally responsible (they don’t take more than the plants and land can come back from) and socially responsible (they work with local farmers and families in each region they harvest oils from and are investing in improving every one of these areas for the people who live there), These things matter.

If you’d like to learn more about them, please visit this site. I am also happy to share information and research I’ve discovered and studied. They are the only company that John’s Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Sutter Heath, and other medical and cancer research facilities will work with, because of their quality, consistency, and ethics. I will be sharing more about my journey with the oils and how I’ve improved my health journey, and how we created a miracle using western, eastern, homeopathic, and natural medicine together.

My gift to you all today is this diffuser blend I created last night. It is meant to create a space that will allow you to sit in gratitude for the things in your life – large and small.

What do you have to be thankful for today? What brings joy into your life or allows you to give that gift to others? From having a roof over our heads, to knowing where our next meal is coming from, to a pet that gives us unconditional love, to friends and family who enrich our lives, we all have something to be grateful for.

Gratitude for what we do have is the first step in receiving the things we want more of. Today, or any day you want to reflect on things in your life, and open your heart to gratitude, this blend is a great one to diffuse. 💚

Emotions associated with these oils –

Lime – The ultimate gratitude oil. It helps you begin to appreciate even the little things.

Wild Orange – Helps us taste the sweetness of life. Reminds us that there is much to live for and supports gratitude and abundance.

Frankincense – Helps you see your beauty and value to the world.

Douglas Fir – Teaches us to learn from and value others’ experiences, especially from our elders.

Arborvitae – Helps us find balance in our lives, to know what we should hold close or release. Encourages peaceful surrender, relaxed grace, and trust in the flow of life.

Patchouli – Brings you into the present moment and deepens appreciation for what you have.

If you’d like to connect about essential oils and how they can help support you physically and emotionally, please connect with me. I’m happy to share what I used through treatment, and beyond.

You Are and You Can

Are you familiar with Celeste Barber? I love following her work, as a comedian and social commentator. This delightful woman knows no fear when it comes to looking ridiculous and sharing it with the world.

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An example of Celeste’s work.

It’s time for women to stop worrying about looking silly, or not being polished and perfect. We burp and fart and eat and poop. We have pores and body hair. We are human. We have become so airbrushed and photoshopped in every representation we see that it’s impossible to achieve what society tells us to.

It’s time to be us, by embracing our wrinkles and muffin tops and scars and grey hair. That’s where true beauty lies. When we see women we admire, like perhaps Meryl Streep, or Kathy Bates, or Celeste, ask yourself why. I often hear, “I wish I could do that”, or “I wish I were brave enough to do that”. You are and you can.

You can take baby steps and start small or you can shave your head and stop shaving your legs. You are you and that is a beautiful thing. Embrace that.

•Dance without caring what you look like.

•Go out without makeup on.

•Take a day when you’d clean the house and stay in your bedroom with snacks and a journal.

•Take a nap, even if you have to cancel that non-vital meeting or appointment.

•Eat toast or cookies in bed without worrying about crumbs.

•Let your dog cuddle on the couch with you.

•Order the hamburger (or veggie burger) and eat it when you go out to a restaurant without worrying about people judging you. (I love salads, but too many women feel they have to appear to be eating tiny portions to “maintain their figure”. Just say no, unless you’re craving a salad.)

•Treat yourself to a desert when it sounds good.

•Don’t say, “but I couldn’t”, about anything you really do want to do/eat/achieve.

•Take time for yourself and things that feed your soul every day. Even five minutes will increase your joy.

Remember that you have one life and if you can’t find joy or peace in your existence, you need to step back and reevaluate. Simplify or step out of your box more. One thing I’ve learned is that once it’s over, there are no do-overs. When facing your mortality, please don’t find yourself saying you wished you’d done it all differently. Don’t wait. And definitely surround yourself with images of women like Celeste, who are doing it their way and succeeding. ❤️

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Another example of Celeste’s work. “Don’t Stop Believing” – perfection.

Where the Heck Have I Been?

I’m sitting in the chemo room at my oncology office. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I haven’t shared what’s happened with my last go around with cancer. I simply went quiet here. I have a private Facebook page for my friends and a public page under Fear is a 4-Letter Word, but I’ve neglected everything but my personal page for too long. It’s time to get back to writing and sharing with the world.

So, what happened to me? Well, I will try to summarize it for you. I completed full chemotherapy in June and waited for my doctor to order a PET scan to see what was going on in my body. We knew back in January/February that things looked grim. I was told to hope for a miracle.

It was the kind of news that is depressing, paralyzingly, horrifying, life-altering, and makes you want to scream and cry. Check to all of that. There’s much more attached to that news and how it affected my life, but I’ll write more about that later.

For now, let’s focus on that PET scan. I was expecting news that we had knocked back the cancer, but that it was still present. My wife did too. I’m not even sure what my doctor expected the results to be.

He called me on July 4th, while I was at a friend’s house. When I saw the name of the oncology office pop up on the screen, I thought it was just a reminder call about an appointment, so I didn’t answer. He left a voicemail asking me to return his call, that he had news for me. I was in the car on my way to see my wife when I listened to the voicemail. I started crying. I knew he wouldn’t call to give me bad news on a holiday. We were on speaker phone with him when he gave us the news, “You have no active cancer in your body”. We cried more and celebrated.

I have stayed on one chemo drug since June, as a preventative. Every three weeks my blood and urine are checked and I am given an IV with 30 minutes of the drug. My hair has grown back, although I’m now more comfortable with a shaved head. I don’t have nausea anymore, but I do have headaches. It’s tolerable and I’ve learned to manage/live with it.

I have returned to a somewhat normal life, although I have less energy and other physical issues that are taking a while to improve, mostly due to muscle weakness from so much inactivity. I have good and bad days. I was suffering from serious memory issues, but I’m regaining more ability in that department now. I am fortunate and am able to work around the remaining issues I have.

All of this has allowed me to focus on what I want to achieve with my life, and to lay the foundation for those things. I know what statistics show, but we achieved the miracle my doctor told me to hope for. I will not give up my life to worrying about this disease. If I expect it to return, what kind of life is that? I am staying positive and maintaining my natural health plan (more about that soon).

I am a survivor and am here to share my story and my journey. I have another chance and I’m going to use it.

❤️Love & Gratitude❤️ Kelly

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THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO GET A CLEAR SCAN.

Back in the Saddle Again

Today, I find myself writing this, after yet another whirlwind of appointments, upsets, and harsh realities. My cancer has spread. There’s no easy way to say that, so let’s just get to the point. It’s in the lymph nodes in my lungs and between my lungs. I’ve had a ct scan, a pet scan, a lung biopsy, and one MRI. We are doing MRIs of my lower lumbar and hip areas to determine if the original pain that is located in my SI/hip area is also cancerous. There are enlarged lymph nodes, but we don’t know if the bone is affected. No one wants to hear this news, certainly not someone who has already been through treatment and thought it was behind her.

We are wasting no time. On Monday I will get my port and on Thursday I will start chemo again. My oncologist has made it clear that this is serious. My wife and I sat across from him, hoping to hear better news, trying not to cry when it turned out to be worse. He went over everything and a game plan. Upon leaving the room, it was hard to see the staff looking back at me with what I call “cancer face”. It’s that sad face, where people can barely make eye contact, and feel sorry for you. I’ve experienced it before and will experience it again. It just happens, especially when people don’t know what to say.

We received our information for all of the upcoming appointments, walked out to the car, and then proceeded to sit there, crying and hugging each other. We certainly knew it was a possibility that it would come back. We knew it was aggressive and in my bloodstream and could resettle somewhere else. You know the facts, but you feel so good after finishing treatment that you move forward with your life and put it behind you. None of the typical symptoms occurred that would signal something is wrong. I had my checkups, and then something happened that made no sense until it lead to this new cancer diagnosis – pain in the SI/hip area. The pain has been going on for over 6 months now and I attributed it to a car accident I was involved in. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t getting better. The pain happens when I lay down and I have discomfort in the same area and down the left leg the rest of the time. Advil has made it livable, although sleeping has been rough for months now. It’s easy to mistake that for an injury from a car accident.

I’m sharing this because I want people to practice self-care. I want them to be aware of what’s going on with their bodies. Something you keep excusing as nothing, could be something. Now, I don’t want to encourage people to think every pain is cancer. If you have symptoms that are persistent, especially if it gets worse, you should insist on being checked out. I had a chance to have an MRI 6 months ago, but I had to pay upfront for it. I couldn’t do it. If I’d had one then, I would have known what was going on and gotten a 6 month jump on treatment. Hindsight is 20/20, but it does no good to think that way. “If only I hadn’t eaten sugar”, “If only if I’d changed my diet sooner”, “If only I’d said something sooner” – none of this kind of thinking will heal you. It’s self-destructive and I’m putting it behind me.

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Feeling reflective

Now is the time for throwing everything at this. I’m at a crossroad and have to decide if I want to do everything I can to stick around, or if I want to half-ass it and hope for the best. If you’ve followed my journey thus far, I’m pretty sure you know what I’ve decided to do. I am starting back with chemo. I tolerated it well last time and the hope is that it will knock the cancer cells back. We now know it didn’t kill them off entirely last time, so I’m also starting the keto diet now. It’s a big switch from being a vegetarian, but the research I’ve done says it is the way to go. A side benefit of that is that it will knock down my blood sugar, which is awesome for any diabetic. I will be starting back with acupuncture, hypnosis, reiki, and massage. I am already using a combination of essential oils and supplements that will support my body, much like last time, except I’m increasing quantities. I’m going to be using hash oil and edibles to help with my appetite. So many things. It seems overwhelming at times, but trying everything together will leave me with no regrets.

At this point, I am only thinking of knocking this back and staying around. I am thinking about my nieces and nephew and my desire to watch them become fully functioning adults. I am thinking about the good things to come and my desire to be a apart of it. I am thinking about the plans I have with my wife and what I want to create through our artist’s studio and doTERRA business. I am thinking about the plans I have with my friends and wanting to establish our shared dream, Green Mountain Collective. At the end of the day, this project is my legacy. It encompasses my dreams and ideals and also benefits good people and our local community. I am thinking about what I have left to see, build, and experience, and the moments that take my breath away and make me appreciate being alive. I’m ready to keep fighting and you’re welcome to join me on this new, yet familiar journey.

Embracing Full Nudity and the Art of Chelsea Rose

I should have posted sooner about the day we collaborated with our friend and artist, Chelsea Rose. I got so caught up in my radiation treatments and everything else and let it slip by. Today I want to re-visit it and share the experience with you. Chelsea is a painter and has been working on her “Goddess” series, which involves her painting on fully nude models and then photographing them, either in nature or in a studio setting. I had been tempted to volunteer to model for her for a while, but once again, let my fear of my body image get in the way. It’s been there for a lifetime and yes, I’m working on it, but these things take time.

Okay, I’m fat. I’ve always been chubby or plump or had baby fat or whatever else you want to call it. I’ve never been skinny. I’ve always had a belly and was always made to feel ashamed of it. When I look back at myself now, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Because I was made to feel bad about it, I hid and ate more and got bigger. I had a long-term relationship with someone where eating was how we bonded. That and watching tv. I ended up weighing over 300 pounds and felt horrible about myself. In my late 30’s I started realizing I had to change things. I stopped eating fast food, stopped drinking any kind of soda, and started doing more exercise. It was a start.

Because I had been on diets from childhood, I decided I would never again be “on a diet”. It was a lifestyle change and I was going to take things slowly. Weight did start to come off gradually. That was around 2006 and now my total weight loss is around 74 pounds. I did lose 13 pounds after my hysterectomy surgery and during chemo, but everything else came of gradually and I’ve easily kept it off. I know we are all looking for the quick fix, but it doesn’t work and doesn’t last unless you are willing to do the work on yourself and figure out why you are using food as a way of comforting yourself, instead of to feed your body. I was that person. I still am, but now I make sure I get enough nutrition to be as healthy as I can. I am in no way eating the way I wish I was, which would be lots of fresh veggies and plant-based protein. I feel amazing when I can eat that way, but I admit that I am lazy and the time it takes to prepare meals often gets in the way. I do my best and that is all we can ask of ourselves.

Moving on – I have spent a lot of time working on my body image issues. Meeting Sam was a big deal for me because she doesn’t have body issues and hangups like mine. Our relationship has been the key to me moving to the next level in facing my fears, getting out there to enjoy life, and learning to love myself more and more. She loves all of me. She passes no judgements and has never once made me feel awkward or like I “just need to do… and she will love me more.” It truly is an unconditional love. I know how rare that is and I am grateful for it every day. It has enabled me to do things I never would have done before and to face things from a more confident place of strength and happiness. I’m not “cured” and certainly am still self-conscious about my body, but, I am doing a better job of living my life and if I died tomorrow, my regrets would be few.

It is a BIG deal for me to place my trust in someone to 1. See me fully naked while they paint my body 2. Allow that person full control of the photographs that would be taken of my fully naked body and 3. Be okay with whatever she chooses to do with those images in the future. Once I was diagnosed with cancer and survived surgery, I decided it was time to ask Chelsea if she wanted a “bald, cancer lady” for a model. She immediately responded and our mutual excitement grew. Sam offered to be a part of the photo shoot, which was wonderful because Chelsea hadn’t worked with a couple yet. I was excited and nervous as we planned the weekend and location where we would spend the day doing this.

Chelsea often spends 3-4 hours painting just one person, in fine detail. You can see her work at www.chelsearosearts.com. We were dealing with two people and entering fall, so the sun was setting earlier. It was going to be a race against time. We picked Chelsea up and headed to the beach location we had decided on. She set up and we took off our clothes and she began painting – first Sam’s face and then mine and back and forth until we were both fully covered. It took around 4 hours to complete. Because of the time constraints, she used more bold lines and fewer details, but I think the emotion and feeling we wanted to capture is just as significant. We are a couple brought closer together through cancer and this was a great way to honor that. Chelsea did a great job with the photographs and having us relate to one another. Seeing the finished images blew my mind. She converts them to black and white and the effect is striking to say the least.

Yes, I am naked and I am learning to see these images in a way that helps me to look  past my shape and the fact that I am aging and sagging. I am trying to embrace the fact that I have earned every wrinkle, stretch mark, and imperfection and that I have survived everything that life has thrown at me, so far. I can now joke about the fact that I have lost most of my weight in the lower part of my body, leaving me with what I call an “old man butt”. My hips and butt have disappeared, yet my stomach has lost nothing. Having naturally large breasts means they will sag. I am who I am and this is the package that it comes in. Learning to accept that in a society that shames everything about everyone until we have little girls talking about diets and criticizing their bodies, is hard. I am so much further down that path than I ever was before and that is something to celebrate. I am also honoring myself as a survivor and this body that keeps on ticking. I’ve been told I am a warrior. I don’t know about that, but looking at myself covered in Chelsea’s paint sure makes that seem more real to me. Thank you again Chelsea, for celebrating us in this way. It is a day I will never forget. ❤

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Me, in the beginning.

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Sam, just getting started.

Sam, almost finished.

Sam, almost finished.

Me, almost finished.

Me, almost finished.

I took this image of Sam as Chelsea was finishing painting on me.

I took this image of Sam as Chelsea was finishing painting on me.

In the woods.

In the woods.

I can't wait to see this in black and white and to hang it on the wall at home.

I can’t wait to see this in black and white and to hang it on the wall at home.

My view of Sam during the log photo. <3

My view of Sam during the log photo. ❤

Relaxing together.

Relaxing together.

Finished black & white images, selected by Chelsea.

Finished black & white image, selected by Chelsea.

Another selection by Chelsea.

Another selection by Chelsea.

My favorite of the Chelsea selections. This sums us up pretty well.

My favorite of the Chelsea selections. This sums us up pretty well.

After we got home, Sam and I orchestrated this photograph in her chicken coop.

After we got home, Sam and I orchestrated this photograph in her chicken coop. An awesome collaboration.

All images copyright – Chelsea Rose Arts or Kelly Keigwin, 2014. These cannot be re-used for any reason without the written consent of the artists and models.

Kicking My Port to the Curb

One of the things I’ve looked forward to is having my port removed. It’s something that is necessary and I appreciated the ease it gave when getting chemo and such. For those who don’t know, a port is inserted into your chest and has tubing that runs up into a vein in your neck. Instead of getting an i.v. every week, they would simply access the port, which means they would puncture it with a needle with tubing attached, and I would be ready to go. I was told that it also meant the medication went directly into my heart, versus having to have it work it’s way through my bloodstream, which is a good thing.

The drawback is that you know it is there, especially in the beginning. I really noticed it in my neck and it creeped me out. The part in my chest just felt like a bruise most of the time because it was directly under the skin. I would definitely feel it when I woke up in the morning, after I had slept on that side. It wasn’t awful and like I said, I appreciated not having to have an i.v. each week. It also helps keep your veins in good shape from not being repeatedly punctured. That said, it is constantly there, reminding you that you have cancer and a foreign object in your body.

I started having neck pain issues, just after I completed radiation treatments. I had a conversation with my massage therapist and chiropractor and the theory came up that perhaps my port was causing the left side of my neck to pull out of whack because of the port on the right side. Because I had been taking steroids every week during chemo, it would have masked any pain I was having, but now the steroids had worn off. It made sense and I decided to try removing the port to see if it made a difference. I called my oncologist’s office to see if we could discuss it and ended up being called back by someone I didn’t know in the office. She started telling me that they can’t just put it back in and that with my stage 3c status my chances of re-occurrence (aka my cancer returning) are higher. It freaked me out. I am a realist and an optimist and am aware of the possibility of my cancer coming back. I had been feeling so good after radiation and didn’t expect to be met with that response from my doctor’s office. I just wanted to talk about my port and ended up spiraling into a depression.

Suddenly, I felt tied to my port, as a symbol that cancer was lurking in my body and waiting to come back to kill me. I know that is always a possibility, but I really wanted to think that I was going to enjoy a period of decent health and happiness, at least for a while. A few days later I received a call for an appointment to come in to have my port flushed. I was a bit surprised. Once a month a port has to be flushed with saline to keep it from getting backed up. I knew I either had to have my port removed or flushed because it had been just over a month since I finished treatment. I put the appointment on my calendar and figured I was not going to get to see my doctor and was just going to have a maintenance appointment. I kept hoping somehow I would get to see my doctor and maybe convince him to remove the port.

Today I went in and was told they were removing my port. I was excited and grossed out at the same time. Sam had come with me, just in case it went that way, so she could document it. They check you into the hospital when they install the port. When they remove it, they do it in office. My doctor came in and we hugged and smiled and spoke about everything. I was prepped and shot up with lidocaine to numb the spot. He made an incision over the previous one and loosened the port and popped it out.  It’s amazing that the vein will close itself off and not bleed after the tubing is removed. The human body is a crazy thing. He then sewed me up and we spent some more time chatting about my trip I want to take to the South (he is from Memphis).  I teased him and said I might get more chest tattoos just to make his job harder if he has to re-install the port. He laughed because he had told me avoiding tattooed areas sometimes makes him have to be more creative with placement in order to avoid cutting into them. There’s something you don’t think about every day – tattoos and surgery scars.

My doctor is a great guy and made me feel much better about everything. We spoke about the realities of my cancer being an aggressive variety and the possibility of it returning, or not at all. Chemo actually works better on aggressive cancer cells than on slow-growing ones, because they are rapidly mutating, which allows the drugs to get inside and kill them. There is a possibility that I will never need treatment again. There also is a possibility it might come back in 1-2 years.  I just wanted facts and he was great about that. He  reassured me that it wasn’t a big deal to put the port back in, if I should ever need it again. All of that stress and sadness for nothing. When they asked if I was wanting to keep my port, I said yes and he said, “Of course she does. If you asked me about any other patient, I’d say no, but you, I knew you’d want to keep it”. I said something about how on my first meeting with him I asked if I could keep my lady parts after my hysterectomy, which established where I was coming from. We laughed.

I’ll be going back for my check-up in January and in the meantime, I will focus on being healthy, doing yoga, hitting the gym, and hopefully, feeling better in every sense of the word. Cancer may come back in the next couple of years, or maybe never, but for now, I’m running the show and I refuse to keep feeding the depression spiral. Onward and upward.

Disclaimer – these are photographs from a minor surgical procedure. Be forewarned.

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The tray is prepped and ready to go.

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Getting my gown on.

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One last look at my port, before it comes out.

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Prepping the area with Betadine.

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Injecting the area with Lidocaine.

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Re-opening the original incision.

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Loosening the port.

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It starts to come out.

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Almost finished.

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Boom! It’s out. My doctor is awesome.

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A look at the tray as they irrigate the wound.

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Sewing it up.

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Almost done.

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Finished.

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After.

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Good stuff.

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A photo of us from the early days of treatment, displayed in the main office area. ❤

All images copyright – Sam MacKenzie, 2014. None of these images may be used or reproduced without written consent of the artist and subject.