Monday, August 3, 2015

Recovering at home..

Looking back, the best thing I did to prepare for surgery was to purchase a wedge pillow system. I went to a local 'Relax the Back' franchise and found their Contour Wedge System. ( It wasn't cheap (around $250), but it was more than worth every penny. (I used it for at least 2 months, and again after my second surgery) It was amazing. All four pieces of it. I quickly settled into my new pillow heaven in bed. I even celebrated my 35th birthday the next day in that pillow paradise.

My stepmom, Nina, was such a blessing. She is a former nurse, so she quickly reprised the role for me. She was there with my medications, cleaning my drains, monitoring my temperature, cleaning my incisions and taking care of my kiddos. She and my Dad made sure they did every single thing they could to help Jamie with the kiddos, with me, and with anything else that came up. My friends were such a huge support as well. From the day I came home through the entire month of Janurary, someone brought my family dinner each evening.

I was able to take a shower the day after I came home. I had a fabric headband in my hair, so I pulled it down around my neck, and safety pinned my drains to it. (I carried the drains around for three weeks like that, or pinned to the inside of a zip-up hoodie.) I wasn't really able to do anything more than stand in the shower, but it made me feel so much better. Washing and styling my hair was impossible the first couple of weeks. Forget shaving. I truly was at a loss as to how I was ever going to shave my underarms again.

At the insistence of my breast surgeon, I had a few lymph nodes removed. I was extremely hesitant about this, as I'd heard horror stories about what could go wrong. She believed it was the safest thing to do, so I complied. Should cancer come back in my pathology reports, doing the node removal and biopsy would pinpoint the location and if it had spread. Looking back, I'm almost embarrassed how much doing this worried me and consumed my thoughts. It was a non-issue, but I did do some exercises in the shower to help with the healing and to prevent lymphedema. I would face the wall and roll a tennis ball in each hand up and down the wall. (That first month, my range was just a few inches.)

That first week home was a bit blurry. I was certainly in a Percocet fog, but that helped me from being under a cloud of pain. I took all of my antibiotics but I really should have done without the prescribed Valium I was given. My plastic surgeon had me on Valium to help relax the chest and back muscles against the tissue expanders. Two weeks later I would learn just how much I dislike Valium.

Overall, I was feeling pretty great. I would attempt to get out somewhere once each day near the end of that first week. I even went to the Christmas party for my son's kindergarten class that Friday. I would tire out very easily and I was always happy to get back to my pillows in the afternoons.

I was anxiously awaiting my one-week follow up with my breast surgeon. Considering my mom's surprise, I really wanted to know I had the 'all clear' from my pathology report. Dr. Lawson gave it to me one week after surgery. We went in and she told me all looked great and that I had certainly saved my life by having the surgery. My breast tissue was very very dense and it would have been extremely hard to find cancer in the early stages. This visit was a milestone for me. I never doubted that I was doing the right thing, not once. Having the 'all clear' really instilled a sense of gratefulness in me that I hope to never lose.

Next stop was my follow up with the plastic surgeon. I wanted those drains out big time, but it just wasn't meant to be. My chest was bruised so badly and certainly would require the drains to stay. In fact, my chest looked worse this week than it did those first days following surgery. I was actually getting concerned that I was going require another surgery to remove skin that couldn't survive. Some patients experience low blood flow to certain areas, resulting in complete skin removal. If I could avoid that, I was willing to wear the drains as long as necessary. I was experiencing pain and pulling from the drains, and extreme discomfort around my chest, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. I left his office that day with more pain meds and the hope that maybe next week he would pull the drains.

We had a quiet Christmas and New Years. I would attempt my one outing and then I'd relax for most of the day. Driving was completely out of the question, so I had my family chauffeur me around. Once or twice my outing was to get my hair washed and styled. I even went shopping one day. My husband took me to the mall to find a top that would accommodate the drains for our anniversary dinner. (We wanted to get out of the apartment and I wanted to wear something other than a hoodie.) I assured him I would be fine, then I proceeded to get myself stuck inside of a blouse while I was alone in a dressing room. I couldn't lift my arms but for some reason I had to try on this top. Looking back, I almost wish there was a camera to capture the absurdity that I had turned myself into. All I could do was sit on the chair in the dressing room and alternate between laughter and crying. Nobody ever came to check on me and I had left my phone with Jamie. At least 20 minutes went by before I was able to find the perfect amount of yoga, finesse and frustration to free myself from the shirt. I zipped myself and my drains back into my hoodie and went home to my pillows.

My Dad and Nina stayed until the first part of January. My mom was still recovering from her surgery and she wasn't yet cleared to travel. Even though she couldn't travel, she was back to work within three weeks. Most people didn't even know she had the surgery. She had a minor complication, required another small surgery, and resumed her normal life.

I was having a minor setback of my own. My plastic surgeon finally removed my drains 3 weeks after surgery. My bruising was going down and all was looking good. I had taken my last pain pill a week before and was trying to navigate the feeling of my new normal. Without the pain meds, the expanders made me feel like cinder blocks were on my chest. It was extremely uncomfortable and it took a lot of getting used to. I'm not sure if removing the drains was traumatic for my body or if I developed the flu, but I was knocked down for another three weeks. I had a low-grade fever on and off and chills that wouldn't stop.

About that time, the hormonal aspect of the surgery kicked in and I entered a mini-depression. I had been warned that having a double mastectomy triggers a major hormonal imbalance. I was somewhat prepared for it, but I quickly became miserable. I was so uncomfortable and I was so depressed. These feelings were so unlike me..I'm an optimist, but my glass was certainly half-empty then. After a week of nonstop tears, I had a little talk with my doctor. Turns out Valium can be a depressant for many people. He quickly switched me to a different muscle relaxer, Robaxin, and I was feeling back to myself within a week.

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