Surgical tales, volume II

It has been a few days since my surgery, and I’m happy to report that I made it through. Thanks to those who have written to me. I’ve been a bit slow on responding but I appreciate your concern and warm wishes. Thanks to Katie S. for that sweet hospital gown, and Tiffany for the nice tea, and Maytal for the lasagnas and banana bread (which made the hubs very happy as well), and the Rock-it Promo team for all the fun products and DVDs, and everyone else who has sent cards and nice things. Thank you!

The surgery went well, from what I can tell. I didn’t get to actually speak to my surgeon after I woke up, but I assume if something had gone terribly wrong, I would have been informed. I don’t remember too much, because the anesthetic tends to do strange things to your memory, which is probably for the best. I do recall crying like a baby when a nurse started my IV through my wrist. I’m not sure why she chose my wrist, but she poked me several times and the pain was way more severe than I expected. I was in the middle of talking to a surgical fellow, when I realized I was in pain. So I did what any normal adult woman would do, and I pulled the blanket over my head and sobbed. Lately I have realized that my hospital crying sessions are about a 50/50 mix of emotional and physical pain. The instant my brain receives the signal that I am again in pain, however small or fleeting it may be, I am overcome with the realization of how much my body has been attacked and how much I have gone through since finding that lump, and the sheer absurdity of the entire thing. The tears come more from exhaustion than from anything else. I am tired of the pain, I am tired of feeling like some sort of botched science experiment. The tears are just inevitable at this point, and I let them flow freely, as they wish.

I also remember the mask being lowered onto my face, which I do not enjoy, as I am highly claustrophobic. Upon realizing this, the kind anesthesiologist did his drug magic and gave me something to knock me out before the real knock out. I made a comment about how ugly the ceiling was and how there should be something more pleasant to stare at while you wait to lose consciousness, and then that’s the last I remember. Lights out.

I was not in the hospital very long this time around. I wanted to go home that evening, and I believe I said to the nurse, “Get me the eff out of this place.” So she got the approval for me to be discharged and I didn’t have to sleep in the hospital and hear the chemo machines beep all night. A sound which now triggers a queasy feeling inside whenever I hear it.

I’ve been doing well at home. As people had told me, the recovery for this surgery is definitely much easier than the first, which I’m very happy about. I was only on the heavy drugs for a couple days, and now the pain is tolerable with no drugs, as long as I don’t move around too much. I have my stupid surgical drains, which I hope to get removed by my home care nurse in the next couple days. If you have no idea what drains are, consider yourself lucky. Don’t google it. It’s about as gross as it sounds.

The weather finally seems to be getting a bit nicer outside. I went for a walk today. And by a walk, I mean a few steps out my door and then back. But I got to feel the sun for a bit, which was nice. It’s days like these that it’s best for me to stay away from social media, where everyone is making grand proclamations about their love of springtime and all the fun things they’re doing today. It’s hard to relate to everyone else when you have tubes hanging out of your body. Right now, I am most looking forward to getting clearance to take a bath. You don’t realize how wonderful something like taking a simple shower or bath is, until that privilege is taken away from you. The little things.

I don’t have a current photo to post because I am not feeling particularly photo-friendly at the moment. But posts that are all text are a bit boring, so I’ll leave you with this old photo of me. At some department store, in Paris, laughing over something that probably wasn’t all that funny. I hope to be doing this again sometime in the future.

 

Surgical tales

As I mentioned in my vlog, I will be having surgery this coming Wednesday. Why am I having surgery? Well, to answer that question, we need to go back in time a bit. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?

On October 19th, I had a bilateral mastectomy. In non-cancer terms, this means that both of my breasts were removed. Which was about as much fun as it sounds. I realize I never wrote about my surgery, since it happened prior to starting this blog. But it was quite a large piece of the fighting cancer puzzle, as this was when my ugly effing tumor was removed.

The decision to have the mastectomy was ultimately mine to make. Many women opt for a “lumpectomy”, where the tumor is surgically removed but the surrounding breast and tissue remain. Every situation is very different, and often complicated. The period of time spent making this decision was not an easy time in my life. I had just been given this bombshell of a diagnosis, was secretly running back and forth between work and hospital appointments, and had to wrap my head around the idea of losing my breasts, a month after I had celebrated my 28th birthday. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Looking back, I’m not even sure how I slept, or how I got dressed, or how I got up each day, without completely losing my shit. Every time I would go to the restroom while at work, I would touch my chest and feel the tumor. Yep, still there. It was real. And I wanted it out, as soon as possible.

After some thoughtful deliberation and research, and a bit of soul-searching, I decided I wanted to remove the entire breast on the tumor side. And if I was giving up one, I would send the other one packing as well. Although it was upsetting, I didn’t feel any great attachment to my breasts at that point. They were trying to kill me, after all. And I don’t respond too kindly to anything that threatens my life. So, bye bye boobies it was.

I’m not going to get overly detailed about the intricacies of the actual surgery or the weeks that followed. Waking up from that surgery was not easy. Breasts gone. Giant scars in their place. Surgical drains protruding from my skin. Lots of pain. I spent several days in the hospital, completely loopy and nauseous from the constant flow of pain meds through my veins. I can remember how angry I was that first week. When I was lucid enough to feel any emotion, it was anger. Accepting that I had been diagnosed with cancer was still new to me. And now I had no breasts and couldn’t get to the bathroom without help and couldn’t raise my arms. Nothing about any of it felt alright.

When a young resident came to check on me and we mentioned that the drugs they were giving me did not seem to be helping enough with the pain, she remarked in a condescending tone that it was not normal to be in as much pain as I was in. You might guess that I did not respond well to this type of comment, and you would be correct. I did not appreciate this doctor making me feel guilty for the pain I was feeling. Let me cut your boobs off and see how you like it, I might have said if I’d had any strength to even open my mouth at that point. I wanted to tear her blonde ponytail right off. It has been six months, and I still feel anger towards this woman, this stranger. For making me feel inadequate and weak a day after I had lost part of my body. She was a doctor. And a woman. A bit of compassion would have gone a very long way. Luckily, however, there were many other people who helped me get through it all, such as my husband, who slept on the hospital floor next to me for three nights. Not exactly the getaway we had hoped for as we approached our first wedding anniversary, but at least we were together. Nothing says romance like having your wife high on morphine and hearing screams coming from the rooms down the hall all night.

The weeks after were difficult, with many challenges (oh the irony of not being able to shave or wash my hair while I still actually had hair) but things got much easier as the days went by, and I healed well. Eventually I was raising my arms and getting back my strength and feeling almost normal again. Just in time to start chemo. And we all know how much fun that was!

This week, I go under the knife again for my reconstruction surgery. In other words, I’m getting some new boobs. For the past six months, I have had “expanders”, that were placed under my chest muscles at the same time my breast tissue was removed. Over the months, they were slowly “expanded”, like a balloon, with saline from a giant syringe needle. This was to stretch the skin to make room for the permanent implant. Although I have adjusted to having these weird turtle shells sitting on my chest, they are uncomfortable and tight and push on my ribs, and I won’t be sad to see them go. The implants should be more natural and more comfortable, which would be a welcome relief. (And if you’re wondering if I viewed this as my opportunity to have huge boobs, the answer is… No. Sorry to disappoint.)

I’m not sure how I feel about this upcoming surgery. I don’t really feel scared. I have been through so much. I don’t like the idea of being put to sleep again, and being cut again, and waking up in pain again. I would prefer not to be having surgery again and to get to enjoy the week and just have a break from it all, for a bit. That is what I’d like right now. But these days, I am not calling the shots. So I’ll  get dressed in yet another hideous hospital gown, do what they tell me to do, and let them “reconstruct” me and put me back together. As much as they can, that is. No new breasts will ever be able to replace the ones I lost. All that I’ve lost. But it’s a start.

Today.
Today.