Breast Cancer at 41 – The Recovery (from Surgery)
The 24 hours after breast cancer surgery I spent in and out of consciousness. The nurses woke me up every hour to give me my medication, test my vitals and make sure I wasn’t dead. My favorite part of the first 24 hours were the compression sleeves for my legs to prevent blood clots! Having run the day prior to surgery, I loved those and was very sad when the nurses switched to epinephrine shots.
At dinner time, I was given a tray of clear fluids to “eat.” I choose to have a sampling of things, but mostly ate the Jello. Bad choice. After “dinner” I called the nurse so I could have help getting to the bathroom. This is when I realized it was going to be harder to get around then I originally had thought. The nurse instructed me to “use the bed and my butt” to get up. The operation had taken away all my strength in my arms and chest. They were utterly useless.
Up I staggered to the bathroom with my nurse following close behind with my IV stand. I had to pee in a “hat” until I left the hospital. This little amount of walking turned my stomach and I threw up while on the toilet – ah, good times. Into the night the hours ticked away. Again, every forty-five minutes I was woken by a nurse. At some ungodly hour, deep in the night, my poor roommate began throwing up – I had to call the nurses’ station for her, poor soul.
I survived the night without another incident and around 6:30am I began to receive visitors. The surgical oncologist team showed up first: Left Boob Surgeon, the Right Boob Surgeon, other team members and then the residents. The doctors travel in packs all showered and laundered. My doctor checked the dressings and told me that my plastic surgeon actually filled my tissue expanders and I was now an “A” cup (originally a 32D). He also told me that they looked really good and to look down and check “them” out.
Girls – remember when you gave birth and looked down and saw the baby’s head coming out of your body – this experience reminded me of that. I had been dreading this because I already knew what I was going to see, having seen my grandmother, but he encouraged me and so I looked down at my new “frankenboobies.” Actually, it was much better than I was expecting. I saw two little mounds with stitches. Sigh of relief.
Then the plastic surgery team visited – they are a little more “shiny” and polished – very white teeth and cool haircuts. Again, they all introduced themselves and my doctor checked my dressing. The dressing was a super-sized ace bandage wrapped tightly around my torso. Then he checked my drains. The drains were tubes placed near my incisions (one on either side). The drains, which looked like hand grenades, helped prevent blood and lymphatic fluid buildup under my skin and encouraged healing and recovery. Once I left the hospital I would have to measure the fluid and keep the drains clean. He was happy with the surgery. He was happy, I was happy.
Next up, FOOD! For those who have haven’t eaten in 24 hours, hospital food is a culinary delight! When the breakfast tray was delivered with solid food I lost it! I downed the scramble eggs, fruit, juice, coffee, and the most amazing yellow sponge cake in a matter of minutes! It was the absolutely best breakfast I had ever eaten. Please note that I had the same breakfast the following day and I thought it disgusting and bland.
Visitors are not allowed until 12pm. I knew that my husband and my friends would be visiting today and I was looking forward to it! Again, I had no arm strength or ability to raise my arms. The TV was behind me and positioned far behind my bed. I wasn’t going to waste my energy trying to move it. My husband had also placed the phone behind me and out of my reach, but keep calling the number until he wised up and called my cell phone. I kept busy on my iPad (which now seemed to weigh a gazillion pounds) and napping.
My nurse also gave me permission to go on two short walks! That day I logged .56 miles according to my Fitbit. I shuffled around the hospital wing holding myself up against the wall. Those two walks took a lot of energy, but lifted my spirits immensely. I felt less helpless.
The day came and went. I received visitors and was exhausted by nightfall. I also got another roommate. We slept through the night (with our normal vital and med wake up calls) and soon it was morning. Because I was doing so well, I was going to be discharged before lunch! The nurse gave me my orders, scripts and I was allowed to walk out of the hospital on my own accord the morning of August 1st. I went straight to Panera for lunch.
Adjusting to Home:
I left the hospital on Friday and made it through the weekend although I have no recollection of any events. I left the hospital armed with a mountain of prescriptions and a breast cancer care tote full of pillows (more on that later). My prescriptions were: Gabapentin, Cephalexin, Diazepan (Vallium), Oxycodone and then I was to alternate between Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen. Trying to keep track of the drugs and dosages was so ridiculous I needed to create a spreadsheet! It was also suggested I take Colace and have the Visiting Nurse come and visit.
The first thing I missed at home was the hospital bed. My husband took every sham and pillow we owned and made a semi comfortable rest bed, however, trying to get in and out of bed proved difficult. Overall every tasked proved difficult. Getting dressed was difficult. Scratching my head was difficult. I was not allowed to lift anything over 5 pounds and I was not allowed to drive. I was at the mercy of others.
I was not a good patient. I was trying to move and carry on like I didn’t just have surgery. It was not until the my body gave out on me (after back to back 2.6 mile and 3 mile walks) that I realized I would have to rest in order to get better. And it really didn’t sink in until after I visited my Surgical Oncologist. He told me that I had 4 major surgeries, not 1 big surgery. He also told me that if I wasn’t going to rest then it would take my body longer to recuperate. If I didn’t rest, then there was no way I would be able to go to Disneyland at the end of the month.
Those were the words I needed to hear – no Disneyland. I devised “Operation: Get to Disneyland” – Multivitamins, protein, Shakeology and rest. I took morning and afternoon naps. I only walked a maximum of .5 miles at a time. I took it “easy.”
On Thursday, August 22nd, my plastic surgeon gave me the “all clear” to begin to run (and also drive, workout, whatever, I was allowed to run!!!). Honestly, if I had brought my sneakers to the appointment, I would have ran home! My instructions were to “take it slowly.” I negotiated (with my husband) a 2 mile run on Thursday, followed by a 3 mile on Friday and a 8 mile run on Saturday – August 2013 total mileage – 40.3 miles ( down from 93 in July).
Running with the frankenboobies:
My tissue expanders were only filled with 300CC of saline during surgery. This gave me a nice “A-cup” – a size I hadn’t been since high school. The tissue expander will be filled over a series of visits to the doctor until I got to my desired size. Now there was alot of extra room for saline sloshing about when moving around!
Running with my new frankenboobies was a new experience! Picture two water balloon sloshing around on your chest. Also, I swore that these new boobies were making me burn up while running and I was having difficulty breathing! Turns out that my hypothesis of the saline boiling due to my increased body core temperature was incorrect (I checked with the nurse) the blood supply to the scar tissue was the actual cause – who knew?!! And the difficulty breathing – 4 major surgeries! Ahhhhhh…
What I learned:
- Surgery is not a Joke: Rest and nutrition will help you recover faster, but REST is most important!
- Have a Goal: The goal of getting myself to the start line of the Disneyland Half Marathon weekend with my family was the reason I recovered faster. I really didn’t think I was going to get permission to run by my doctor, I really thought I was going to have to walk 22.4 miles and I was ready to do it!
- Live Your Life. Love Your Body: Life is precious. Your body is a temple. Make time with your family. Take care of your body.
I want to thank all my friends, family, neighbors and community for their support. I especially want to thank Mike & Sally. Without their love and support, I would be face down dead in a ditch!
Next up – Breast Caner at 41 – The Recovery – My Prognosis & Chemo “therapy”