Today marks three weeks since my surgery. The recovery continues to be slow but I see small improvements every day. I try to focus on the mini milestones and give myself grace daily when I grow impatient. I have good days and bad days and both triumphs and challenges. The rhythm is familiar. I’m moving mostly forward with a few steps backward.
On Monday of last week, I had my right drain removed. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain on top of the significant amount of discomfort I was already experiencing. The idea of yanking and pulling a tube that was about an inch in diameter out of my body did not sound fun. The nurse told me she would snip the suture first that was holding the drain in place.
Next, she told me to take two deep breaths in and out. On the second exhalation, she sprang quickly into action wrangling the tube with finesse. The initial tug on the tube made me flinch and I braced myself for something horrible. As it turns out, it wasn’t necessarily painful as much as it was just strange and mildly uncomfortable. I’d liken it to having a speculum inserted during a gyno visit—it doesn’t hurt per se but the whole experience is certainly unpleasant. (Sorry, guys, I have no male comparison to help you gauge the pain levels). What was fascinating about the drain removal was learning that 12 inches of tubing was stretched inside me from my side to the surgical incision. It was grossly interesting. I’m not sure my husband who witnessed the entire production would agree and I’m actually impressed he didn’t pass out. Later that evening, I felt quite a bit of pain in the right breast and was told by the visiting nurse that the unpleasant sensations were due to disrupting the equilibrium within.
My left drain remained in place four more days, as the level of fluid was still too high earlier in the week. Again, it was a quick extraction and my friend who drove me was surprised by how quickly I was in and out of the office. I’m guessing it was completed in under ten minutes. Luckily, I stayed atop the pain with meds that evening, as I knew better what to expect this time. Once I was completely drain-free, everything was easier. No more pinning the drains to a shoelace that I would wear around my neck so I could take a shower. No more accidentally catching my tubes on a door handle. No more Home Depot apron to sport on walks to hide the drains. Most importantly, there was one less area of pain on my body and one less bandage to dress/redress. I’m still trying to scrub off the sticky residue from surgical tape three weeks later!
While the drain challenge has subsided, I’m still dealing with limited mobility. I’m restricted from bringing my arms up over my head as well as lifting more than two pounds. Consequently, I remain dependent on my family to do every day little things like take a gallon of milk out of the fridge. I also have to avoid pushing and pulling as these motions put too much strain on the surgical sites. Likewise, getting dressed involves feats of acrobatic talent just to get a shirt up over my head. I’ve had to switch my wardrobe from tanks and tees to all button-down shirts. Before the mastectomy, I had read clothing tips from other survivors and was well prepared with an arsenal of hoodies and flannel shirts. However, the unseasonably warm weather with temps in the 80s forced me to rethink my options and to shop for sleeveless items. My sister-in-law graciously took me shopping and helped me find lightweight shirts that would be more comfortable. Pickings were slim for summer items because the stores had already switched over to fall gear. Nevertheless, we prevailed over the limited stock but I was limited to blouses. Why don’t designers make casual clothing with buttons? I’ve never looked so ridiculously “done up” to walk around my neighborhood!
Last week, I also weaned off the stronger pain meds and switched over to ibuprofen. The good news is that the pain levels have decreased. I’m still sore and achy, but it’s manageable. I experience random jolts of pain as the nerve endings continue to repair and heal but that’s to be expected. The bad news is that sleeping is more difficult. The stronger meds pretty much knocked me out every night so I slept like a champ the first week and a half. Now, I wake up more frequently and find myself restlessly uncomfortable. I’m unable to sleep flat on my back yet and it’s too painful to lie on my side. Therefore, I’m sleeping upright in a recliner and my tailbone is bruised as a result. The lack of quality sleep seems to seep over into my day and I’m fatigued quite easily. I hit a wall every evening –everything hurts and I am just so over all of this.
While I find some of these adaptations to living a little annoying, I remind myself often that they are temporary. I try to focus on the positives. I’m so appreciative for my friends and family who call, visit, or text to check in with me. Oh, and you guys—the snail mail love has been amazing!! I love the notes of encouragement and reassurance of your prayers. I’m filled with gratitude that the cancer has not spread beyond the breast into my lymph nodes. My heart goes out to those survivors who have to endure chemo on top of a mastectomy. I tip my hat to their fierceness and warrior attitudes. I’m thankful for a husband who bears the extra weight of my normal contributions and keeps our family routine humming along. I feel blessed to have a community of neighbors and friends who have volunteered to make us meals well into November so I can fully place my energy into healing. I’m grateful for moments of peace that I spend in prayer when I feel too wiped out to go another step. I know I’m never alone and God always draws near. He continually nourishes my spirit, replenishes my resolve and brings me back to grace. No matter the circumstance, there is always grace.