Genes, Boobies and Other Accessories

Posts tagged ‘survivor’

I WORE A TSHIRT!

I finally came out of the fog of that horrific expansion two weeks ago. It took me about 4 days and then I was mobile and pretty much pain-free. The next week I got to do some things I haven’t done in months. Are you ready for this?! I WORE A TSHIRT! I know that sounds silly, but it was a big deal to me. I haven’t had that kind of mobility yet. I ended up wearing tshirts all weekend in fact…just because I could.

I know there’s a big lesson for me to learn regarding that horrible fill but I can only think of these three lessons right now. (I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how I survived that week.) First, I found that my threshold for pain is much greater than I ever knew…but I’m still not sure I would be into the things I learned about in Fifty Shades of Grey. Hell, who am I kidding. I would give it try now that I know my limit. – just kidding, mom ;)- I also learned that expanders tug at my arm fat and I don’t like it. Mostly I learned that expander boobs are still weird no matter who you are or how you try to cover them up.

I know many of you that are considering or preparing for surgery are nervous about the pain of this whole process. It’s scary. I get that. I was scared too. The scary part is that you don’t know how you will tolerate expansion until you experience it. Many people say that they just feel “tight” all through their chest but that it’s tolerable. For those of you gearing up for reconstruction with expanders, I pray this is the case for you.

I have a theory about why my pain has been so excruciating now that I’m past that huge fill. This week I got a 50cc fill. The pain was still present, but not as bad as with 100cc. Through this milder pain, I was able to identify where the pain was coming from. I realized that my arms hurt like they do if you have tennis elbow or carpal tunnel. At some point I went to scratch my shoulder and it turns out, it wasn’t my shoulder that was itchy but an area on my chest. Guess what that means?! Nerve pain. So my theory (based on my years of medical experience on the internet) is that because of the nerve confusion and disruption that my body experienced during the surgery (a la cutting through all the nerves), the pain I’m feeling isn’t totally muscular…it’s also nerve pain. Guess what THAT means?!

Not much I can do about it.

In graduate school I studied uncertainty reduction theory. It basically states that we find ways to reduce uncertainty in order to make sense of the world around us. If we can label something then it’s not as scary…or uncertain. Figuring out the source and/or cause of my pain is a way that I can reduce the uncertainty before each fill. Maybe now I can minimize or eliminate the paralyzing fear I experience prior to the fill. I feel like I reached another milestone in my mental battle with this process. There’s not a whole lot you can do about nerve pain. Now that I know that’s what it is…I’m more convinced to continue the smaller fills. At the very least, I feel like I’ve got a little more control over the beast that is – pain after a fill.

I have also finally been able to identify the length of time it takes for me to get over the impact of a fill. For severe pain it takes me 4 days. For tolerable and milder pain it takes me 2 days. All that said…I’m back behind the steering wheel and can manage my life around these “episodes.” I mean it’s mind over matter at this point, people. I just gotta power-thru.

My doctor told me Monday that I’m at the half-way point! I’m at 350cc and I just need to get to 700. Can I get a hell yeah?! This means I’m on track for my next surgery to be scheduled sometime around the middle of September. I have a goal in sight now. I’m digging in my heels and am determined to make it through the rest of these fills. I’m bound and determined to not get nervous about the next surgery because if I survive expansion the next bit should be more manageable (notice I didn’t say easier). And because in the words of my best friend, Jess, “Mandy should not be afraid of her surgeries…her surgeries should be afraid of her.”

I’ve been taking pictures of myself wearing the same tank top after each fill. In the end, I’ll share an entire series of pictures from start to finish so that you ladies that are gearing up for surgery can see the progress that’s made during expansion. I’ve had a few very heart-felt messages from some of you (both on the blog and privately) that are nervous about expansion because of the pain that you’ve read about in my posts. I don’t ever want to scare you, but I do want to make sure that I share my experience so that you go into this with as much information as you can. More importantly, I want you to know that even through the pain, I’m still progressing and happy with the decision I made. I think it’s at least somewhat helpful for you to see the difference that the 100cc fill made for me. Not only so you can visualize the size difference, but also so that you can see that from first glance, you probably wouldn’t know that I was going through reconstruction.

Here are two photos. (When I post final pictures, they’ll be edited better and not just straight from my phone.) I just really wanted to post something so that you’d have a good idea of what the difference in the two fills looks like…and you can see I’m slowly starting to get some sort of shape to them. I hope that they are taken for what they are – an encouragement to stay focused and know that we do, in fact, survive expansion.

Because we should not fear expansion…expansion should fear us.

Before 100cc fill (yes, that’s Happy being lazy on the couch)

After 100cc fill…ouch

Project New Mandy

This time of the year always makes me a little more introspective. With the upcoming anniversary of my brother’s death/birth (not sure how to write it since he died on his birthday), it’s hard to not think about what life would be like if he were still here – while examining my life’s current course. I’ve found myself thinking about whether or not I’m living my potential, if I’m truly happy, examining what I can do to be a better citizen/friend/daughter/mother. All of those life questions that at some point most of us face. They just seem to be staring me down right now.

This is not my first rodeo of self-discovery or renewal (said in my best Texas accent). I have said for the last 8 years that losing Jake was the biggest identity crisis I’d ever experienced. I knew how to be Jake Redwine’s big sister. I was good at it…even when I was torturing him when we were kids. I understood my role. Over the years when I questioned if I was a good person, or a good step mother, or a good friend, or a good student, or a good whatever – I never questioned my role as Jake’s big sister. And now, I’m facing another opportunity to refine and improve myself in spite of Jake’s absence. I knew that total rejuvenation was in store for me when I made the decision to take control of my future by removing the burden of cancer in a very “physical” way. I also knew that along with any changes my body would have to endure, I had to face the emotional and mental changes as well.  I say all of that just to say – this was all part of a conscious decision to update, renew and challenge “me.” I survived Jake’s death by facing it much like I have the mastectomy. I only hope that the person I am next year grows half as much as I did as a grieving sister.

Last week was rough. When I experience the painful side effects of breast reconstruction, I am very aware of the mind vs. body struggle that encompasses this process. It’s a constant struggle (and sometimes battle) to make sure that I don’t let the pain take over to the point that I slide into a deep depression. It’s so easy to do – no matter if you’re prone to depression or not. On the flip side, I woke up Friday feeling much better and by Saturday evening went out with some friends. It’s the first time in a few weeks that I got to feel “normal.” During the times without pain where I get to blend in with people and do things I would have normally done pre-op, the mind vs. body struggle is still present. I still have to be aware that I have physical limitations. I find myself at times frustrated over not being able to raise my arms, open heavy doors, not having the endurance that I had pre-op (no late nights out on the town), and the fact that my clothes still don’t fit like they used to. Breast reconstruction is in many ways more mental than physical.

Now, with all of that said, the mind vs. body struggle is also much more than those negative struggles I just mentioned. On the bad and painful days, I find myself also daydreaming of what life is going to be like when this is all over. Even in the midst of the most painful times, I’m overcoming the fatigue of pain by staying focused on the finish line. Sometimes the daydream is as simple as thinking about wearing dresses next summer and not having to wear a bra – thus eliminating the whole bra strap issue most of us face. Or the fact that I’m adding in a tummy tuck to my last surgery as a gift to myself. (yay!) During those times when I’m out in public with friends and feeling like I’ve got a little bit of “Mandy” back, I feel a new sense of self-worth and confidence because I’m sitting around people who may not know what I’m going through and aren’t treating me any differently. I’m able to laugh and look them in the eye and appear to be regular “Mandy.” Even though I have no nipples and my boobs are a weird shape and did I mention hard as rocks?! And I have incisions that are still healing and last week I was in bed for 4 days and miserable…  I think you get the point.  

I’m currently reading The Happiness Project. For those that haven’t read it, it’s about a woman’s quest to increase her happiness over a period of a year. In some ways I feel like from the time that I scheduled surgery to the end of my reconstruction next year, I’m going through a similar “project.” My hope has continued to be that I come out of this year a renewed person. I want this year to be more about the emotional and mental process than the physical. So I find myself separating out the two although while both are running parallel to each other, they are also dependent on each other.

I started this journey by referring to it (to myself) as “Project New Boobs.” I mean, that really sums up the physical piece. I’m getting a new rack. Plain and simple. I had a high risk of breast cancer and a suspicious mass. I have now eliminated all of that risk and worry. But I can’t deny that it’s much more than just a new rack. I’m evolving this year. I hope it continues to occur in a very organic, yet deliberate, way. And so, Tata Tatas is the storefront to my happiness project…the project that I’ll now call, “Project New Mandy.”

A to C in under 5 minutes

The last two weeks have been great. I had my step-daughter here with her best friend. We had so much fun. I had hardly any pain but was starting to get a cold. It only lasted a day or two so it didn’t really impact our time together too much. It was so wonderful to have her here. Not only did they help me with a few things that I still can’t do, but they kept me sane. We got to shop and lay out at the pool and laugh together. Best two weeks – ever. I can’t wait for them to come back and see me when I’m not so gimpy.

Unfortunately, this week has sucked. Since in my last fill I did well with 50cc and then another 50cc a few days later, we decided to try 100cc this week. For most people this doesn’t really mean much so let me break it down like this…I went from a full A cup to a C cup in less than 5 minutes. Not only is this stretching the skin and my incisions but it’s also stretching the muscle because the expander is under my pec muscles. OUCH!

I’ve been trying to take as much of a fill as I can each time. There are some women that get 100-125cc each time. (I’m starting to think this is just a lie that the internet told me.) I am struggling with being as flat-chested as I am and I have a wedding and a few other things summer that will require me to be in pictures…I just want my clothes to fit. I’ll never talk my doc into this size of a fill again. He asked me if I wanted 50 or more. I said, “Let’s try 100. I’m ready to go for it.” NEVER.AGAIN.

As the nurse was injecting the saline solution into my expanders, I made her talk to me continuously about her upcoming wedding just to keep me distracted. I knew the minute we finished the first one that I had messed up. I got dressed, walked to my car and sat in my car crying because I didn’t know if I could move my arms enough to drive myself back home. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have driven home. I got home, took some Tylenol and then proceeded to pace around my apartment for 2 hours – sobbing. I can’t even describe the pain. It was the first time in this whole process where I found myself crying and questioning “why me?!” I found myself angry (for a little while) about the fact that I had to do tissue expansion and not some other procedure. (Side note: Tissue expansion was my only option because of the fact that I have had gastric bypass and am much more likely to reject fat and muscle transfers.)

At some point, I decided to get in bed and try to rest. Every time I had to move to adjust the way I was sitting, I would cry. The pain throughout my chest, arms and back was like nothing I’d ever felt before. It’s worse than that first fill. So much worse. I got out of bed at some point to pee and as I moved myself out of bed I screamed in pain. It scared Happy and she hid in my closet for a few hours. I couldn’t get her to come to me. It was so sad.

Day 2 wasn’t much better. My dad called and his pep talk was exactly what I needed to hear. He said, “Mandy, don’t look at this as a set-back. This is part of the process. It will get better. Don’t let the pain get to you. Control your thoughts as much as you can.” He is right. It’s not a set-back. It is just part of the process. I just have to endure it. Pain can mess with your mind and I know that. I can’t let it beat me down. But, this really sucks.

Day 3 is a little better. I was able to wash my hair today without crying. I put dishes in my dishwasher without crying. I’m still so sore. Elena (Thank you!) brought me a heating pad. That’s helped my back a lot. The doctor called in some muscle relaxers for me yesterday and I think they are helping some (Thank you Renee for picking them up for me). I just have to change my expectations and relax. There’s nothing I can do but just be patient and take it easy. I hate that I can’t hide my pain better when people call to check on me. I know they can hear it in my voice. It’s part of this process I guess. I promised myself I’d be authentic and vulnerable when I started this and started blogging about it. I can’t pretend that everything is okay because my friends that are about to go through this need to know. Sugar-coating it doesn’t help anyone. I will get better and this will be over at some point. I know this. I just have to get through this week and never-ever-ever take as large of a fill as I did. It means I’ll get 50 cc every other week for at least 10 more weeks. Ughhhh 10 weeks sounds like an eternity, but I have no choice. It’ll be worth it in the end. On the flip side, I have larger noobs now. Even though they feel like concrete and are shaped funny, they stick out like real boobs. I wish they didn’t hurt so bad. This is one of the times where I’d sell my soul for my mom to be here.

Got my tires aired up

Okay, so I was a little nervous about this second fill and turns out, I shouldn’t have been. I told my doc about the horrible week I had after my first fill. I made sure to stress the fact that I wanted to die for four days afterwards. I’m not sure he appreciated my overly dramatic explanation for how bad that week was, but I’m pretty sure he got the message. He agreed that it was probably due to the fluid they removed around the expander and the size of the hematoma. The hematoma has improved considerably since the first fill but I was still nervous that it would be painful again. So what did he do?! Only gave me half of a fill. I appreciate the fact that he’s very conservative with his approach to fills, but I left discouraged. Each fill should be around 100-125cc. I got 50. Although, even the 50 made a significant difference.

I don’t know if this is public knowledge, but I’m pretty stubborn. I blame my parents. I mean, can’t everything be blamed on our parents?! A few hours after I left the doctor’s office, it was apparent that I wasn’t going to hurt like the first fill. I was really discouraged to not be on the schedule that I set for myself. I called back and asked if I could come in and get the other 50ccs. He said that I needed to wait a few days. I waited and went in yesterday. I am determined to get this expansion part done as quickly as possible. The sooner I get to the size I want to be, the sooner I can get my implants in…the sooner this will all be over.

After another 50 ccs, I now have about 225cc total. I’m hoping to work up to around 700cc but we’ll see. I’m still not sure that I want to be that large again. At least I’m still on track. I would love to have all of the fills complete by the middle of July, but we’ll see if he lets me be a little more aggressive in the coming weeks. I’m feeling much better about everything though.

This week I decided to start taking a picture after each fill wearing the same shirt so that I document my progress during expansion. When it’s all done, I’ll post the series of pictures. It’s weird seeing myself flat-chested, but I’ve already gotten used to it. I think I’m going to take advantage of it for a little while and do things that I have never really been able to do like jump rope and run.

Lean Cuisines and Beer

Mom left today. Sucks. Happy and I are looking around the place wondering what we’re supposed to do now. It was great having her here. Today marks my 30 days (yay!) and I thought I’d share a break-down of the my first 30 days to fill you in on all the pieces and parts that I haven’t written about yet.

Let’s start with what I did this month:

  • Slept
  • Basically been uncomfortable (in everyway) for the entire time
  • Took vitamins, antibiotics, and pain meds
  • Sat on the couch and watched mom cook breakfast, lunch, dinner
  • Supervised mom’s projects
  • Watched two seasons of Downton Abbey, two seasons of 24, tons of movies (some good some bad), and whatever else we could find
  • Slowly recovered enough to bathe myself, put on my own bra, get myself off the couch or out of bed
  • Learned how to finger-knit, arm-knit and started crossstitching
  • Read 3 books
  • Made mom a scarf out of tshirts
  • Painted my nails
  • Drove my car twice (just this week)
  • Lost 7 lbs (in addition to the 3.5lbs that my old boobs weighed)
  • Babysat Emmy (see pic below)
  • Went to the zoo this week!

Here’s Happy’s contribution to the last 30 days:

  • Slept
  • Ate
  • Followed KK around
  • Begged KK for food
  • Waited for KK to cook her breakfast (yes, I said cook)
  • Took walks
  • Laid on KK’s lap (see pic below)
  • Slept in KK’s bed (because she’s a traitor and bailed on me when she realized I couldn’t cuddle grrrr)
  • Slept

Here’s Mom’s (KK’s) last 30 days:

  • Played nurse
  • Stripped/monitored/measured surgical drains
  • Helped her 32 year old daughter dress/bathe/exist
  • Cooked  lots of her hippie foods
  • Did laundry
  • Cleaned
  • Watched two seasons of Downton Abbey, two seasons of 24, tons of movies (some good some bad), and whatever else we could find
  • Walked Happy
  • Fed Happy
  • Talked to Happy
  • Spoiled Happy
  • Weighed step-stools and ladders to see if they are under 10 lbs so that I can move them myself
  • Moved items around so I can reach them
  • Stocked my pantry
  • Made new pillow cases (see pic below)
  • Painted two accent walls (with Elena’s help – Thank you Elena!)
  • Hung my tv on the wall
  • Created and painted a frame for said tv (see pic below)
  • Organized my closet and put up my winter clothes
  • Went to the zoo
  • So much more than just what’s on this list
  • Spoiled Happy (and me)

So as you can see…it’s been GREAT having her here. Now, Happy and I are missing her and nervous about fill #2 next week. Tomorrow Jessica will get here! And then next week Johnna and her bff Elizabeth will be here. I cannot wait for Johnna to get here. It will be her first visit to Ohio. Yay! Two more weeks and I’m off restriction which means I can raise my arms over my head (e.g. put on a tshirt, wash my hair standing up, stretch my back, reach for things on shelves, open doors by myself, go to the gym….you get the picture). I keep reminding Happy that Mom will be back in a few months for my next two surgeries so she can ignore me again…and she’ll get spoiled again which means I will too. So for tonight, we don’t have our chef here and it’s back to lean cuisines and beer.

Here are some pics of our month with mom:

Happy

Emmy

New pillow case for couch

Avacado green accent wall and framed tv

First attempt at finger-knitting (yes that’s wine in the background)

Mom spoiling Happy

Me and Mom on a train at the zoo (that’s the scarf I made)

 

Making progress

This past week has been tough. Chronic pain is a horrible state to live in. I have an unnatural threshold for pain so I’m caught off-guard when I hurt this bad. I can’t imagine what this feels like to most people. I feel bad for even complaining about pain when I know that it’s nothing compared to the pain my brother experienced. (I really miss him right now by the way.) I also know it doesn’t compare to the neuropathy many of my fellow cancer warriors experience. I finally broke down and took pain meds this week because I couldn’t take it anymore…and I felt like a wimp for doing it. I had been off of them for quite some time. My nurses couldn’t believe I’d been functioning without them. I still feel like a wimp…and I know I’m being unreasonably hard on myself. Regardless, I’m thankful for the meds even though they barely scratched the surface of the pain. I’m scared that at least my next two fills are going to hurt like this.

With all of that said, I think I have gotten over the worst part of this past fill. Friday I felt significantly better. In fact, I knew I was feeling better when I got out of bed without crying. I put on makeup and real clothes versus my standard pj pants and zip up hoodie. Happy and I got to babysit my friend Elena’s new puppy, Emmy. Considering I can’t pick Happy up or walk her, I’d say we did really well for the few hours we were here alone. I even got into mom’s SUV without getting tears in my eyes. I have noticed that the bruise on my left side is significantly smaller than it has been and a lot of my swelling is going away. Yay! Independence here I come!

This weekend mom and I continued to veg. I was scared to overdo it since I’d only had one day of feeling good in the last five. Today we went shopping and grabbed some Mother’s Day dinner. It’s nice to feel like I’m returning to my old self while embracing my new self. I am sorta proud to see that I’ve gotten used to my new (transitional) body so quickly. It’s nice to be out in public and not feel self-conscious. I wondered prior to the surgery if I’d be self-conscious. I even found some comfort knowing that I’d leave the hospital with a fake pair of boobs that I could stuff in my bra if I wanted. I really thought I’d need them. I mean, I’ve been a D cup for most of my adult life (and a DD for all the years in-between). What I’ve found is that it just doesn’t feel right for me to wear them unless I have on a shirt that requires them for functional reasons. Right now, that’s not the case since I can’t wear anything that doesn’t button or zip up. I’ve also found that flat-chested Mandy feels more authentic. I’m just going to continue to wear my maxi-padded sports bra like a boss and enjoy the days that are pain-free. My goal this week is to man-up so that I’m more mentally prepared for my appointment on the 21st. Maybe then I can overcome the pain faster after fill #2.

Barbed-wire and Maxi Pads

This is such a weird process to go through. I don’t know that you can ever be completely prepared for it. I’m sooooo grateful for the women that have walked me through their experiences so that I could be somewhat prepared. I hope that I’m able to weather all of the weirdness by reminding myself that it just gets better from here and it’s temporary. I can do anything for a year, right?! What’s weird this week will be normal next week. The last two weeks I’ve encountered three things that make my new life weird: maxi pads, barbed-wire and fills.

It’s officially been 2.5 years since I last purchased any type of feminine product. Now, I find myself being a connoisseur of maxi pads. Why?! You might ask. It’s because I now have incisions that go from my sternum to under each armpit, and they need covering. I have to wear a compression surgical bra or sports bra 24 hours a day.

— Hold on, let that sink in. 24.hours.a.day.–

Underneath said bra, I have to have some type of gauze or protection from the fabric until the incisions are fully healed. Anyone ever tried to find gauze pads (at a retailer) that are at least 6 – 8 inches in length?! Yeah, it’s difficult and expensive. Regardless, the nurses told me that maxi pads are the cheapest and best way to accomplish this task. I’ve now made my way through most brands and located the thinnest and longest ones that I can find. So now, if you see me you’ll know that I’m wearing maxi pads under my bra. How weird is that?!

In addition to maxi pads in my bra, I’ve also had these horrible sutures poking me since the surgery. The suture they use in this surgery is the kind that your body absorbs. They leave about 3 inches of it sticking out on each side of the incisions for the first 2 or so weeks. The suture itself feels like barbed-wire. It gets caught on my bra and hurts terribly. For the last week my only source of discomfort was from the silly sutures. And it’s totally weird to see purple wire sticking out of your skin. I went in for my first fill Monday and the nurse cut the sutures down…immediate relief! It is nice to have them gone.

I thought most of my pain would go away once the barbed-wire was gone, but then I had my first fill. Fills are weird too. I’ve explained before that I have tissue expanders under my pecs now. The expanders are like balloons. Every few weeks my doctor will fill them with 75-125 ccs of saline until I get to the size I want to be. (Sidebar: My new size is still up for debate – my posture is better now than it’s ever been. I might go smaller than my old size now that I get to test it out before getting the implant.) They fill the expanders by injecting a needle into a port that’s located under my skin. This week, my doc only put 75ccs in because I still have a hematoma on the left side. In fact, my left side has been completely yellow and black since the surgery. They also removed 75ccs of fluid from around my expander which is making the bruising start going away…but makes it hurt now more than ever. I’m not sure that I could’ve handled much more than a 75cc fill though. I haven’t ever felt pain like I do now. In fact, Monday I had to remind myself to breathe most of the day. My left side still hurts so bad – it’s hard not to cry thinking about it. I’m sure it’s just because of the bruising that I already had. Regardless of the pain, here’s the weird part…when they injected the saline solution in my expander, it was like watching a compressor air up a mattress. I WATCHED MY BOOB GROW. It was freaky feeling too. I couldn’t feel the needle at all but I could feel the cool of the saline and feel my skin moving. WEIRD! And now I have this perfectly round area around my sternum…like the beginning of cleavage! EVEN WEIRDER!

And now I begin my life of maxi pads and fills. In a few weeks, this will just be the norm for me which is the weirdest part of all.

 

 

 

Part 2 to Goodbye dwainnnnz…Thank you drains

Today I came home excited to sleep tonight without those stupid drains. Today was also the second time that I have been out of the apartment since my surgery. It feels good to wander out a little bit more each day…but it totally wipes me out. I put on new pjs and turned on the TV (hehehe I’m still in pjs all day every day – don’t hate!). Oprah’s life-class series was on tonight. Yesterday, I noticed the series because I saw TD Jakes in the title of the show. Don’t laugh…yes I said Oprah’s life-class. Hang with me and you’ll see I haven’t totally become a phony, self-help workshop-zombie. There’s something to be learned from everyone.

Side note: TD Jakes, for those of you that don’t know, is a pastor that I believe contributed to saving my life 16 yrs ago (happy to share that story if you’re interested). Although I know many of you may be surprised that the one with the seemingly complicated spiritual and religious history (and the token Jew in many of your lives) learned something from a big-time TV preacher. I did. I will forever be grateful for the time that I picked up a book in Books-A-Million and read the first page while waiting on a caramel latte. I’m still so grateful for the lessons he taught me as a 17 yr old freshman in college.

So back to pjs, Oprah, and tonight…

I noticed another episode of her series was on and turned to it. This was her master class and apparently the series has focused on gratitude. After hearing a little bit, I realized that I’ve hated those drains the last 13 days…13 lonnnnng days. And although there’s really nothing inherently wrong with hating them or complaining about them occasionally, I’m in a very vulnerable position right now mentally and emotionally. I don’t know that I can afford to be negative too long or too often during this process. The more negative energy I create (and encourage), the more susceptible I will be to the negative and dark side of this process. I’m also less likely to learn all of the lessons that I need to learn if I allow myself to wallow in my own (temporary) misery. I need to grieve when I need to grieve and be unhappy when I need to be unhappy, but I don’t need to start a pattern of negativity that I can’t pull out of. I’m sure you can imagine – looking at my chest right now can be emotionally paralyzing if I let it. I just can’t let it. BUT I can’t ignore it either.

I know that TD Jakes taught me that I am not defined by my past but refined by it. I have to live in the present by facing my obstacles. As clichéd as it sounds, learning how to apply this to my life changed me completely all those years ago. I hadn’t stopped to think about how they might apply to my current situation until now.

So I decided that I have appropriately faced my first obstacles. I’ve started the grieving process over the change in my body. I’ve had time to complain about how uncomfortable those drains were. I’ve had time to freak out about the fact that my incisions are weird-looking right now and the skin is yellow from the bruising. I’ve had time to feel isolated and alone. I’ve also laughed about all of the above. I’ve enjoyed the time with mom. I’ve actually gotten more comfortable seeing myself flat-chested. I haven’t tried my fake/prosthetic boobies yet because I know I need to face this head-on. And now I need to be grateful. I know that having a grateful spirit is what brings peace, happiness, balance and abundance. I laugh at the fact that Oprah, TD Jakes and Tony Robbins (insert eye-roll) had to remind me…but they did.

Tonight I’m going to bed grateful for the drains because they helped me heal. I’m thankful for the incisions on my chest because they are a sign of freedom and courage. They are my silent reminder of the bond I have with a special community of women. I’m thankful for the 4 extra inches of stitching sticking out of the ends of the incisions because, although they feel like barbed-wire, they are a reminder that even when I think I can lift my arms, I still have wounds that are healing and I need to ask for help. I’m thankful for my mother. She seems to be totally unphased by stripping my drains, washing my hair, and waiting on me. (She’s super cool if you haven’t figured that out yet.) I’m thankful that my Daddy calls every day and asks how I’m doing and can so easily talk to me about all of the things that so many Daddy’s would be uncomfortable talking about. I’m thankful for friends that call or text me to ask how I’m doing and then talk to me about random and normal things so that I feel connected to the real world.

I recently saw something on Pinterest that said, “Strong people always have their life in order. Even with tears in their eyes, they still manage to say “I’m okay,” with a smile.” Guess I just needed to acknowledge to myself the tears are there. I felt the need to add this tonight because this blog is my attempt to help my friends and family feel connected to me during this process. I want to share some of the physical and medical aspects of this process. It’s also important for you guys to know that I’m struggling through it, learning from it, grateful for it and being refined by it. And most importantly, I’m okay.

Goodbye dwainzzzzzzzz

I got my drains removed today!!!!! If you’ve ever known anyone that’s gone through breast reconstruction, the drains are one sucky part of recovery. It takes some time to get used to the fact that you’ve got these tubes stitched into your armpit that drain out fluid (gross) that you have to measure each day! Ugh.

Let me explain why the drains are so annoying. Basically this is how it works in my most “Mandy” way of explaining it:

  • The breast doc cuts straight across your boob and removes a section of the skin including your nipple. Yes, I no longer have nipples…weird!!!
  • He then scoops out the breast tissue and removes it. I picture him actually using an ice cream scoop…I’m sure his ego is offended by my lame way of describing it.
  • The Plastic Surgeon (or as my breast doc likes to say – the bigger ego in the room) then begins reconstruction. He separates your pec from your chest wall, places a tissue expander under the muscle, sutures all around so that he begins to recreate a new “harness” for your implant, and then positions drains under the tissue before he sews you up and puts you in a compression bra and sends you to recovery with really good drugs….there’s much more to it, but that’s the Mandy-abbreviated version.
  • The drains are designed to remove fluid from your body so that it doesn’t collect and cause complications and seromas ala infection ala more surgeries ala longer time before you get your implants.
  • Here’s a picture of a drain. I had 2 drains (one on each side). Some patients that also have lymph nodes removed may have 4-6 drains.

  

  • The top portion is placed from the side of your chest under your armpit and a little bit under your incision: (This is not me – I’m actually bruised and yellow all over right now…I’m happy to share pics I’ve taken if you’re interested)

  

  • Every day after surgery, you have to strip your drains and measure the fluid. Stripping means you squeeze the tubes and get all of the fluid to go down into the bulb at the end. This creates a suction effect so that the drains are actually pulling fluid out of your body. When you’re under 20-30 ccs a day and the fluid is clear-ish, you can have them removed. This is usually 14 or so days post op. This isn’t my drain either, although it looks a lot like it the day after surgery.

 

So you can imagine how annoying and weird this is…and how badly you want them GONE. It is amazing how quickly you get over the weirdness of it. In fact, my mother and I were determined to get these suckers removed because I was soooo close to meeting the requirements to get them out. We started setting an alarm and stripping them every hour to try and get “lefty” to cooperate. It was a success! So to make a short story long, explaining all of this helps me get to the point of this post…

I GOT MY DRAINS OUT TODAY!!!

 (There’s a part two to this post…I’ll post it in a few minutes.)

On the 10th day of recovery…

I think I’m ready to join the land of the living now. It’s been a tough 10 days. Needless to say, I’ve spent these days sleeping, sleeping and sleeping. I’ve been keeping some notes during this time. So here’s a break-down of my first 10 days. In this post, I’m focusing specifically on the physical aspects of my recovery…everything else will be covered in future blog posts. Let’s catch up!

Day 1:  Pre-op was just as I anticipated. I checked in and went back to pre-op where I received my designer gown and matching socks. The nurses were great and my anesthesiologist was a rock star. I woke up in the recovery room to a fabulous nurse, Kevin. He was good to check on me and then check on mom and Jess as well. My docs gave them a great report. Surgery went well, blah blah. I am in and out of sleep in the recovery room. When I’m awake I try to talk to mom and Jess, although when I speak, I’m not real sure what I was trying to say but I’m certain that I either repeated the same thing over-and-over or said something crazy. They kept me in the recovery room longer than normal so that I could be placed in a private room. (YAY!) I went into surgery around 2pm, got into recovery around 4:30pm, and got into a room at 10:30pm. I basically slept this day away and don’t remember much of it. I was really dizzy from the anesthesia and in some pain, but not so much that I couldn’t sleep through it. Good way to start out, huh?!

Day 2: Ugh muscle spasms. In breast reconstruction they place tissue expanders under your pectoral muscles (pecs) to begin the reconstruction process. So where I once had pecs UNDER breast tissue, I’ll now have them OVER fake boobies. This is weird…really weird. My incisions don’t hurt or anything. I just kept having these painful muscle spasms. I could see the muscles contract and twitch. Needless to say, pain management was tough on the second day. The drugs weren’t helping much so I decided to stay one more night in the hospital until we got it under control. Mom and Jess took turns staying with me. Nurses came in to check my bandages. They said that my incisions looked great and my surgeon told us that I was able to keep more skin than most patients which meant my reconstruction was going to be faster and better. I have yet to see how it is faster or better…but I’ll take their word for it right now. I haven’t looked down at my chest yet.

Day 3: The spasms were still happening, but getting a little better. I started muscle relaxers. It was at this point that I decided that it wasn’t going to get much better and I just wanted to go home. The ride home was horrible. Every bump in the road made me cry. I’m pretty sure my mom and Jess were ready to start crying too. I think it was the longest ride of my life. When I got home…I think I just slept most of the day. I really don’t remember. In fact, I know that at some point during the first few days, I was so loopy I wasn’t communicating very well or much at all. At this point, I still haven’t looked down at my chest.

Day 4 – 5: Sleep. That’s about all that I can do. I get out of bed a little bit, but I’m primarily confined to the bed. The medicines make me so sleepy. My muscle spasms are still happening so that limits my movement. When the muscles contract, my arms sort of lock up and all I can do is keep them by my sides. I know that Jess was still here helping mom take care of me and waking me up every 4 hours for meds…but honestly…I don’t remember if we watched TV or what. I think we played cards at some point, but I’m not sure if I just dreamed it. She left on Day 4 to head back to AR. I’m sure mom was already missing her company. It’s at this point that I’m getting frustrated with my lack of mobility and the freaking drains are driving me nuts at this point. I have two drains, one in each noob (no boob). They are annoying and in the way.

Day 6: First doc visit. I weathered the ride to the plastic surgeon’s office pretty well. The muscle spasms were still killing me. Between the muscle spasms and the drains, I really don’t have much else to complain about. I’m doing pretty well at this point. My doc changes my dressings, tells me I can start cleaning the incisions each day with peroxide, tells me my drains can come out when I meet certain criteria, and tells me to keep up the muscle relaxers. I finally looked down at my chest. I’m not as shocked as I expected to be. In fact, it’s weird looking, but I apparently was more prepared than I thought. I’m yellow though. I guess all of the tissue is bruised. Knowing that I am close to having the drains removed, mom and I get more and more diligent about monitoring my drains. I can’t tell you how annoying they are.

By the time we get home, my other doctor calls to tell me that my pathology labs came back and all results were benign. So this was, indeed, a preventative surgery! Good news all around. I slept most of this day as well.

Day 7 – 9:  I’m still frustrated by the drains. I have a hard time not sounding grumpy when I talk to people. I don’t want to sound grumpy, so I work really hard these days to smile and monitor my tone. At this point, one drain is ready to come out, but the other isn’t. My mother has her friends praying for “lefty.” I’m now able to basically bathe myself. Nothing like being 32 and having your mom supervise your bath. I’m thankful she can handle all this, but it’s nice that I’m getting my independence back. She still has to wash my hair for me, but at least I can handle everything else with no supervision. We also started setting an alarm so that we ‘strip’ my drains every two hours hoping that we’re encouraging it to heal faster. It’s definitely getting better, but I’m still not ready to call the doc to have them removed. I might lose my mind over it too. It’s over these days that I’m much more comfortable with my incisions. I have no feeling from under my right arm pit all the way across my chest to my left arm pit. You know the way it feels when your mouth is numb from the dentist? Well that’s the way my whole chest feels. I’m not sure when or if I’ll get much of the feeling back. It’s kind of a bizarre feeling though.

Day 10: I’m going to attempt to only take Tylenol today. I’m hoping that the spasms are long gone, and maybe after Shabbat tonight I can get mom to take me somewhere…anywhere…out of this apartment. We’ve been watching movies and are now stripping my left drain every hour. I can tell it wants to get better, but alas it’s still not the color it needs to be. I’m determined to be in my doc’s office Monday so he can take them out. Seriously, life will be so much easier when I have these out. I’ll be able to take a shower, my clothes will fit better and I can stop wearing pjs every day, I’ll be more mobile, I might be able to sleep on my side…sigh…

So that’s the last 10 days! It’s been rough, but it could be so much worse. I’m not complaining about it at all considering that I’m healing faster than most people do. I’m trying to find things to do (within my limits) so I’ve taken up cross stitching. I’m working on something right now, but next week plan to tackle some of the kits that I ordered off of this site called Subversive Cross Stitch. As you can see, I’m feeling more like myself now. Still keepin’ it real, yo.

%d bloggers like this: