One week post surgery and I’m finally feeling a little less foggy and better able to update you on the last few days. If none of this makes sense, we’ll blame the Valium and other drugs I’m currently prescribed!
The morning of the surgery found me pretty exhausted from my inability to sleep the night before. Nevertheless, I left the house comforted that my dad would be seeing my two sleeping boys off to school and maintaining some kind of routine. We arrived at the hospital at 5:30am and began what would be a very long day.
The nurse who prepped me for surgery was warm, talkative and her presence very calming. My husband and mom were by my side until I was wheeled away for my lymph node radioactive dye injection. About 20 minutes later, I was back in the pre-surgical area where both my surgical oncologist and plastic surgeon reviewed the surgeries ahead. Listening to them work together as a team reassured me that I was in good hands. They drew on my skin with purple ink where the incision sites would be and conferred on their plan. I couldn’t help but feel like I was the blackboard in the locker room at halftime of a football game with coaches drawing out their plays.
Next, I gave my hugs to my loved ones and was wheeled off again to the operating room.
I prayed for God’s continued comfort, which had been with me all morning. I really wish I could properly articulate the amazing sense of peace that carried me each step but there are just no words to describe the transcendent love. I was going in with the knowledge that there would be immense pain and my body forever changed and yet, I had an unshakable brave feeling wash over me and I knew I would be ok.
The mastectomy and reconstruction took a little over six hours. I remember nothing until I woke in the recovery room. I was extremely groggy and felt like I was clenching all my muscles. They asked me some questions and my pain level and I have no memory of my response or until I woke again. This time they said I was able to move to another room and I would get to see my husband and mom. I was happy to see them and to hear that the surgeons were happy with the results. They were able to place the implants directly in without the need of a tissue expander and I was extremely grateful for the good news.
The next few hours proved to be a challenge. The surgeon had placed a pain pump at the surgical site to help with the pain and that would remain for at least five days. I’d love to say it all went perfectly but there seemed to be much confusion by the nursing staff later about this little pump.
I also got nauseated when I attempted to eat dinner and worried the pain of vomiting would be excruciating. Luckily, we got it under control. I experienced a great deal of pain throughout the evening and night and was beginning to feel defeated by early afternoon the next day. But, God is good. At just about the time I didn’t think I could bear another minute, two hospital chaplains happened to come in to tell us where the chapel was located should we want to go. In deep pain, I asked if they would pray with me. As they prayed, there was unexplainable comfort and renewed strength. I was crying because it was crazy that I could even fathom comfort in the middle of such despair. Still, I knew He was ever faithful and that there was a well of resilience deep within me. Shortly after, a nurse increased my pain pump and I was able to get out of the bed and walk around. I’m still connected to the pain pump and continue to wear it around in a very fashionable fanny pack (yeah, I’m not getting nominated for my style any time soon!) until it runs out.
After one week, I can say without hesitation it’s been a humbling experience. There’s been a lot to learn about accepting my own limitations. Walking this journey continues to open my eyes to the many little things I take for granted on a daily basis. In the hospital, I couldn’t lift my arms at all to hold a cup or a bowl so I had to have my family feed me. The simple act of brushing my teeth has been taxing. It took several days before I could wash my hands in the sink without assistance. Just pumping soap and turning on the faucet were strenuous. My 12 year old had to open my pill bottle so I could take my meds.
Yet every little improvement is a victory. For example, I celebrated just yesterday (6 days post surgery) that I could finally open the lid to my chapstick.
I also have two drains that help pump out the fluid from the incision site.
We have to empty and measure the drains every morning and every night. In addition to them just being rather annoying to lug around, I have to be careful where I walk that I don’t catch the tubes on a door handle or such. Sometimes they are tucked into pockets and sometimes I wear them in my Home Depot apron (borrowed from my eight year old). The stretchy tubes attached to the bulbs must be “stripped” to keep them clear and I wince each time I experience a burning sensation as the air backflows into the breast area. I will have these drains until the fluid amount decreases to less than 30 ml for the entire day. I’m not even close on my left side. This means no driving until I have the drains removed. In addition, a visiting nurse trained my mom on how to change the dressings where the tubes are stitched in since they must be changed daily. So, these are some of the daily things that are slightly painful but bearable. The visiting nurse comes every few days to check my drain sites and to ensure there’s no infection.
I’m a stubborn woman and so surrendering and accepting help feels like admitting weakness. Guess what? I’m not Wonder Woman. Why do I think I have to be so strong? I am actually physically weak and that’s ok. I forgot to be kind to myself. So, I’m working to say, “please help me” with more ease and grace.
Yesterday was a great day because I was up on my feet more and doing more for myself. I was working to cut back on my pain meds. Then, I got a call from Dr. Lewis, my amazing surgical oncologist, and she told me my pathology report was in and the cancer had not spread to my lymph nodes. I couldn’t praise God loud enough and I have felt such an immense sense of gratitude for a God who continually holds me, sustains me, and strengthens me.
Today I woke with more pain (on account of all that celebrating and thinking I was super healer with scaled back meds) and I’m working to give myself permission to slow down. My dear friend and prayer warrior, Adrianne reminded me early on to trust the process. Trust Him. So I make it through another day with a heart filled with love for a good, good Father. I stop and look around at the magnitude of support and people showing up. I stand in awe at how our lives have intertwined and can’t believe our friends (new and old) are willing to help us in such huge ways. Not only that, but total strangers too! There are so many good, kind, compassionate people in this world. Don’t let anyone ever tell you anything different. : )
So many of you have enriched and elevated my spirits with your prayers and encouragement. My network of fellow survivors has provided me with much needed wisdom and reassurance. Their bravery empowers me. My parents have kept our family rhythm both inside and outside the house. They check the kids’ homework, transport them all the necessary places, mow the grass, walk the crazy dog, water my flowers, pack lunches, cook dinners, and give me my meds. Really, the list goes on and on. Friends have taken my kiddos to practices, play dates, and sporting events and checked in to ask, “What can I do for you?” My husband has been my gentle cheerleader, reminding me that I am still beautiful despite feeling beat up, stinky, and unattractive (I mean, I’ve been wearing the same two shirts for a week and am sporting nasty drains). He had to wash my hair because I’m not allowed to lift my arms above my head. My dear mom had to blow-dry my hair for me and we giggled, as it’s been a long time since I’ve needed her in this way.
The blessings have poured in in so many ways. We feel God’s love and abundance through every one of you earthly angels. Your offerings of meals, cards, texts, videos, flowers, gift cards, and financial donations have been blessing us each day. My lifelong friend, Lisa, and my sister-in-law Nathalie, are each coming in for a few days to further help us out. Generosity and big-heartedness from family and friends move us profoundly. Thank you for loving us fiercely. We will lean in to your generous offers as I continue to heal over the next 4 to 6 weeks. The road may be long and valleys may still be ahead, but we have faith, hope and love on our side.