Mental Health Day

Today I took a mental health day as part of my vow to not only see life half full, but to live life as positively as possible.  Everyone has a different way of caring for their mental wellbeing.  I find my happiness in exercise, baking, camaraderie, and showing those around them I care through acts of kindness.  Today, I accomplished of those goals.

Remembering to Make lemonade

I didn’t sleep well last night; I was overly optimistic about the ability to sleep in my bed comfortably, as it turns out.  Last night was full of “ow” moments when I tried to roll and instead found myself with a stabbing pain down my sternum at the edge of my expanders.  My husband also received two phone calls from work in the middle of the night.  I crawled out of bed this morning in a foul, foul mood.

My morning was saved by the two c’s: coffee and camaraderie.  Two cups of coffee and a scheduled walking date helped me erase the dregs of last night’s awful sleep and put my best foot forward into the rest of the day.  Ashley and Brooke totally made my morning by being my walking buddies.  I spent an hour improving my body and my mindset.  For that, I can’t thank them enough.  They helped me make lemonade of a sour start to my day, and I’m so grateful because the helped my outlook shift for the rest of the day.

reboot

We all have days that start poorly, and when that happens you need a mental reboot.  Make a list of simple activities that helps you reimagine your day in another way, then be deliberate in spacing them throughout the day to keep the grumps at bay.

Yes, I’m not working right now, so planning activities I enjoy is a lot easier than for you folks who work. BUT, you can still make purposeful plans to make your day more enjoyable that don’t take too much time.  For example, take a small container of your favorite coffee creamer to work for a mid-morning coffee break.  If you’re an office supply junky, start the day with a newly sharpened pencil or a brand new pen.  Play your favorite “power songs” in the car on the way to work and sing at the top of your lungs even if you don’t feel like it.  Smile and say “good morning” to people you don’t know.  There are many ways that you can easily take a badly started day and make it better.  If you like lists, make one and pick three things that you will do on a bad day to make it better so when the moment strikes, you’re prepared with easy pick-me-ups.

Better through baking

pumpkin cookie flour
The beginning of a fall classic.

I know I’ve said this before, but I feel better through baking.  My father-in-law finished a project at  the house for us today.  He replaced the fence between our house and our detached garage; it looks beautiful.  He has a sweet tooth that rivals mine, so I decided to find my happy place and accomplish a tasty thank you all in one.

Since fall is officially here, that means pumpkin everything, and in my house that means pumpkin cookies.

pumpkin cookie batter
Pumpkin, butter, shortening, eggs, and sugars.

I tried a new recipe this year.  Before I cut gluten from my diet, I used a recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookie Cookbook.  Now that I am using gluten free flour, I decided to come up with my own delicious recipe.

The cookies are easy to make and turn out fabulously, if I do say so myself.  They taste delicious with our without cream cheese frosting.  This recipe makes approximately four dozen cookies.  So, these are the perfect cookies for a crowd or to stash in your freezer if you do not wish to eat them all at once.

Time for a sugar buzz–the best way to turn my frown upside down.

pumpkin cookie frosted
Frosted Guten Free Pumpkin Cookie

gluten free pumpkin cookies

ingredients
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. salted butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. shortening
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 c. Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine baking mix, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl, stirring gently with a fork to incorporate spices, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine sugars, butter, and shortening on medium speed until blended.  Add pumpkin puree and mix on low speed.  Add 2 eggs and mix until well blended (as pictured above).

Slowly add dry ingredients to the mixer. Mix on medium speed until incorporated.

pumpkin cookies
2″ dropped cookies

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and drop by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet about 2″ apart.

Bake for approximately 13min or until the cookies set in the middle.  Let cool and frost if desired.

I’m not including my cream cheese frosting recipe, but you can find a good one by JJ on Allrecipes.com by clicking here.

baked pumpkin cookies
Can you smell them?

Thankful Thursday

pinecone and fall leaf
Thankful “Fall” is Here!

Today I am thankful for the changes in our weather and my health.  I felt like crud yesterday after my expansion visit.  I had muscle spasms throughout the day.  But, last night, I was able to sleep in my bed comfortably for the first time in two and a half weeks.  AND, I feel soooooo much better today.  In fact, I took a walk this morning and I have plans to go again before I get the kids from school.

You see, I’m one of those people that loves sweets.  In fact, I have zero, yes, zero willpower.  And, I haven’t been watching what I eat.  I figured with surgeries I had an excuse to not care too much.  Well, all the not caring has indeed caught up with me.  My pants don’t fit.  In fact, they are so far from fitting that even my athletic wear is tight.  I’d like to cut myself some slack but the fact is, that I can’t.  Not anymore.  I am thankful for a body that heals quickly and you can bet that I will be doing whatever the doctors will allow to support my chocolate habit.

In fact, I was told to wait two more weeks and then maybe I can start running.  I’m supposed to be running a half marathon in January.  …let me amend that.  I AM running a half marathon in January.  I will start training as soon as the docs say “go.”

For now, I’ll maintain my thanks  for my walk today….and I think it’s time that I head out for another.

 

Puberty in your 30’s

Do you remember middle school?  I remember patches here and there but I think I blocked most of the pains of adolescence from my mind.  I remember thinking about bras back in 5th grade and hoping and praying I would need one soon.  Fast forward, and by 7th grade I became the chubby girl; I had a bigger chest than some but to call them breasts was rather laughable; it was more like “fat boobs” than actual breast tissue.

As I grew up, I got active.  I watched what I ate, often obsessively, and my scrawny self barely filled out an A on my best days.

Then, I got healthy, got married, had babies, and felt myself evolve into my pre-mastectomy state of “deflated” very small B, contrary to what Victoria’s Secret tried to tell me was a 32C.  Can we say vanity sizing?  Gee wiz.  The padded bra itself was a 32C but Lord knows, I wasn’t.

Today I went through puberty all over again

Can you imagine watching your chest grow before your very eyes?  I can tell you it felt like an out-of-body experience.  I watched as the doctor took a small needle attached to a very large plastic syringe and inserted it into the location of the marked port on my chest.  I watched, but I didn’t feel.  I could feel the pressure of the needle but that was all–no prick, nothing.

Okay, I lied.  I didn’t actually watch as they put the needle in; I couldn’t stomach it.  I didn’t break eye contact with the other people in the room.  The doctor kept asking if I could feel anything or if it hurt…and kept asking.  Honestly, it didn’t hurt at all.  The left side felt tight but the right side didn’t.  100cc’s per side later and I was done.  I’ll go in next week for another expansion.

Not all roses

orangutan in armpit
Muscle Twinges and Orangutans

I walked out of the office without pain.  In fact, I made it all the way to the parking garage before it hit–the monkeys.  No, I’m not on drugs.  Yes, this is the best analogy I could conjure.

If a baby orangutan hung from your muscle and decided to swing back and forth, you might know how I feel.  Every bump, every slight movement, sends a twinge through my armpit just in this way, as if my muscle is a willowy branch that is being yanked back and forth by an overly eager, overly playful primate.

Absurd?  Quite.  But, to have your armpit muscle stretched is a very strange feeling so it deserves an absurd image.  In fact, the whole process of reconstruction is quite absurd.  Take out the breast tissue, insert a balloon like apparatus that contains a valve, gradually inflate said balloon with saline using a needle through that valve and stretch the muscle and tissue as you do so.  Then, have surgery AGAIN to remove the balloon and put in fake tissue with the consistency of a gummy bear.  Yeah, pretty odd.

But I have cleavage

Did you know that? For the first time in my life, I have cleavage without Victoria’s Secret to thank.  Unfortunately, it will take some time before I regard my “breasts” as my own and stop feeling like  the bride of Frankenstein.  My chest is a lie, but it’s a lie that I will have earned with every swing of that orangutan.

Mastectomy: This is My Body?

Tissue Expanders: The waiting game

Christmas Cards
Homemade Christmas Card Crafting!

What have I been up to?  Well, if doing nothing was a career, I could be an executive.  I’ve had a few outings with friends (shopping, coffee) and been doing some crafts here and there.  Oh, and yeah, I’ve finished a couple of books.  I should have a more useful update tomorrow when I have my first expander fill!

My big news is that the weather finally shifted a bit and I was able to go outside for a walk this morning!!!  I thought walking felt odd after my hysterectomy due to all the abdominal swelling.  Walking after a mastectomy is even more odd.  I never realized how much I engage my upper body while walking.

Whose body is this?

out for a walk
Thumbs Up for Mild Exercise

There are certain times when I am very aware of the foreignness of my body.  Sleeping is one of those times, and, apparently, walking is another.  The presence of the expander under the pectoral muscles is a strange feeling when out exercising.  I feel a strange tug in my armpit area.  I’m assuming this is the pressure of the expander I’m feeling when I gently sway my arms while walking.  I also have a very odd “side boob” feeling where the expander is putting pressure on my skin.  I wouldn’t say that any of this is painful, just uncomfortable.  That I don’t have to wear a bra while out and about is an added oddity.  I can feel some shifting occurring as I move, but not in the traditional “braless” fashion.  To be honest, these are not feelings I can truly put into words, but if you go through the surgery, I imagine you’ll understand what I mean.  Nothing feels quite right.

Filling Up Tomorrow: expanding the expanders

filled tissue expander
Filled Tissue Expander

Tomorrow is the big day of my first real expander fill.  I have 50cc’s in each expander from surgery.  I’m not sure how much they’ll expand tomorrow, but I am not really looking forward to the procedure.  The reality is that tissue expansion means pressure on my muscles and skin.   No, the included image is not me but I may look something like this when my expansion is complete; I found the image to the right in a Powerpoint presentation available for download from MD Anderson’s website, and you can find it by clicking HERE.  You can see quite easily how tissue expansion is not comfortable.

The tissue expanders extend high into the upper chest region.  The lines of the cleavage are hard along the sternum.  The expander resembles a grapefruit more than an natural breast.     Melissa A. Crosby, M.D., Contributor and Content Expert for the Department of Plastic Surgery at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, writes in a  pamphlet published by MD Anderson, that, “Often the skin is stretched slightly more than needed to achieve the desired size because it naturally shrinks when the tissue expander is removed.”  So, if I want to be a small C- cup, I’m looking at an expander that will be filled to more than that volume–eek!

I am excited to have a chest that appears lovely in clothes, but I’m not excited about the journey.  Unfortunately, the old adage holds true: no pain, no gain.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!  This journey is far from over.

 

 

 

Mastectomy Lull

I’m once again finding myself in a lull.  I am grateful for my quick healing, my family helpers, and the general lack of drama in my life.  I am, however, an extrovert.  I need purpose.  And, I am bored!  I keep having dates with my father-in-law.  We go grocery shopping.  Today, just for kicks, we added on an additional outing to Home Depot.

Down the Drain with the Drains

I had my last two drains removed yesterday!  Hallelujah!  I have regained some of my mobility and with it, a whole bunch of impatience.  I still can’t sleep on my side, so I’m chronically tired.  There isn’t enough coffee in the world to get me through the next week, when I *should* be able to sleep on my side again, or so says the plastic surgeon.

On the other hand, as I indicated, I can’t seem to sit still.  Or, I should say that I don’t want to sit still.

Thank goodness for friends

gift bag
Bag of Entertainment!

I am so grateful that I have friends, and friends who come to the rescue with entertainment and treats!  I spent the afternoon coloring, making cards, and indulging in magazines.

Tomorrow, I am having my first friend outing in what seems like ages.  I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to getting out!  I feel like I’m under house arrest (in spite of the grocery outings).  I can’t exercise, I am not allowed to sweat, and I can’t lift anything heavy.  So, I’m basically limited to staying in air conditioning and sitting on my butt.  And while this may sound like heaven, I think I have reached my limit.

This girl needs to move and tomorrow, it’s going down!  Bring on the mall, bring on lunch, and I’m going to get my move and groove going.

 

Mastectomy: A Little Update

I had two of my four drains removed yesterday!  Yay!  The process was relatively painless, other than that one time I felt like a snake slithered out from under my muscle–eew!  I felt quite free when I walked out of the office with only two drains in tact.  I return to the office tomorrow for my post operative check-ups with all three of my doctors (GYN, plastic surgeon, and breast surgeon).  I should have the last two drains removed at that time.

The Pains about drains returns

I am happy I had two of my drains out yesterday and I did feel great–initially.  About two hours after the drains were removed I think my body realized that I had two holes in it.  The drains never hurt when they were put in, as I wrote before.  Only in their absence did I note that “hey, I now have two open cuts, one on each side of my body.”  They ached.  In fact, I ended up taking my Tylenol with codeine because I was so uncomfortable.  If I didn’t have the two remaining drains I think the area would not have hurt as much, but any time the remaining drains shifted as I moved, it put stress on the removal area.  Hence, the pain.  But, don’t despair.  I feel much better this morning.

Taking it easy

I really want those last two drains out tomorrow.  Activity can cause too much drainage, so what’s a girl to do? Oh, bring on the chick flick.  It’s been over a week since my surgery and this is the first day I’ve bothered to treat myself like this.  I have to say, it’s fantastic!  Today, I’m going to revel in laziness and be grateful.

Brooklyn, the movie
My Chick Flick of Choice

 

Mastectomy Recovery Day 4

I have settled in to an odd sort of recovery routine.  My favorite (and most humorous!) part has been enjoying the partnership of blowdrying hair.  I wish I had a photo of my husband’s face when he held the dryer in his hand and said “now what?”   You think he had never used one before (he has, but whoa, it’s been a long time).

Mastectomy recovery: stepping up

Shower Drain Belt
Home Depot “Drain Belt”

I think the best part of recovery is the way the people around me have really stepped up to help. My inlaws survived a 9/11 crazy air travel day to arrive here and step up exactly where needed.  My kids, who may have been stressed by mom being incapacitated, were so overjoyed by the presence of the grandparents that I didn’t have to worry about them in the slightest.

My fabulous husband, hairdryer incident aside, has been great.  He is a pro at stripping drains, helping me tackle the fun that is a decent shower, and being a fantastic support in every way.

On a side note, want to know how that showering stuff goes?  Well, luckily, I can shower.  Two days without bathing…whoa.  Very glad I live in a first world country and showering is not something I avoid regularly.  I get to shower with a very sexy tool belt turned drain belt.  At 97 cents, the price was right.  I get to be clean in spite of my extra appendages.  It works!

Recovering with the right attitude

sweater weather candle
The Best Gift is the Company I’ve Received

I wrote before how I thought I might be sad, depressed even, about my situation during recovery.  I can’t tell you how far from the truth that has been.   I am healing well, and that helps, but having a support network in place has made a monumental difference.  Friends have been checking on me via text and coming to visit, which has made my recovery fantastic!  Two of my best girlfriends stopped by yesterday morning and we just talked and I can’t say how great that felt. They brought me goodies (coffee and my favorite scented candle) and they made my day with their caring and conversation.  Let the people in your life help you.

Every day i feel a bit better

fashion drain belt
Wearing my “fashion” drain belt

Accept help and company graciously, and expect to be tired.  After my girlfriends’ visit yesterday and a trip with the in-laws for groceries in which I got to lead them around and point at stuff, I took a very long nap.  Don’t worry, I haven’t been overdoing it.  I’m taking quite good care not to reach too far or lift anything heavy.

Obvious restrictions aside, don’t just sit around all day.  I have set one thing for myself I want to accomplish each day.  Today, it was tackling the shrubbery growing on my legs.   I’ve developed strategic ways of shaving that involves simply sitting on the bathroom counter with my feet in the sink so I don’t have to over-extend my arms.  Yes, I know, I don’t have to bother shaving my legs but it’s hot and I want to wear shorts without scaring people (they already have to contend with my naturalist armpits) and working around the restrictions that I have due to the drains.  Gotta say, that although I wrote about anticipating the drains being a pain, they’re really not so bad.  Annoying yes, but that’s about it.  I honestly don’t notice them much.

“But aren’t you in a lot of pain?” honestly, not really.

I’m now taking ibuprofen for my mild pain, which is truly more stiffness from sleeping so oddly positioned than anything.  I’m not sure if I’m just tough or if I’m just lucky.  I truly haven’t felt anything hurt aside from my back and neck being so very stiff after surgery.  In fact, I am more comfortable after this surgery than after my hysterectomy because I’m not swollen and bloated.

I’ve gotten dressed in real clothes every day this week but one…and that one day was because I knew I wasn’t going anywhere and wanted to be lazy not because I didn’t feel up to the process.  I’ve managed to put on some makeup, and I’ve been able to dress myself with the exception of shrugging button-down shirts up over my shoulders.  I prefer tanks I can step into for the moment, as seen in my photo above.  You can see the outline of the incisions across my chest but, frankly, I don’t care since I’m wearing them as a proud marker of survival.   For the record, they don’t embarrass me and they will be less noticeable over time as the expanders fill and the wrinkles decrease.  It’s really quite a fascinating process.

I’m still me

I still look and feel like me.  Remember that, if you are considering this process.  You should never feel ashamed or less of a woman.  You should feel stronger, empowered, and courageous.  Own your health and take pride in maintaining it. And, if you get the chance, allow yourself to laugh along the way.  Hand a man in your life a blow dryer, and you’ll see what I mean…. Life is good.

Mastectomy through Recovery Day 2

Good afternoon!  Here I am back to the world of the living. I had my mastectomy on Monday.  I hardly slept the night before.  Honestly, I felt quite ill.  Just the idea of someone cutting around my nipples and pulling out my tissue had me wanting to spew.  I’m sure you can see how that image would lead to a rather sleepless night.  I felt like I was on the verge of a full-blown panic attack until I went back to the hospital intake room and then the oddest feeling of calm came over me.  All of a sudden I just knew I was doing the right thing and the nerves faded and my stomach settled; I found my resolve.

Mastectomy is a blur

I had a spinal block.  I was told that they would knock me out before the block so I wouldn’t feel all of the lovely needles in my back.  The anesthesiologist was great.  He was as good as his word and I remember talking while my nurse “holder” kept me from pitching forward off the bed.  I was talking and then I wasn’t.  The next thing I knew, I was in recovery.  The spinal block was wonderful.  I don’t even think it’s totally worn off yet, which is good.  The purpose of the block is to help minimize pain from any potential muscle spasms due to the expanders being placed under the muscle.

Wakey, wakey

hospital recovery
Recovering in the Hospital

I remember very little about my day in the hospital when I woke up from my surgery.  “Awake” is a very relative term.  I remember not wanting to wake up.  I recall getting up and being made to take the short walk to the bathroom.  Apparently my plastic surgeon was there and spoke to me. I told him that I would be sure to stand up tall and keep my shoulders back….and I don’t remember saying that at all!  I’m glad that’s all I said.

I remember my husband being there.  I ate a bit and slept, ate some more, and slept.  You get the idea.  What I remember most about the day is just being tired.  I remember my back hurting and my neck being stiff from having spent a good six hours laid out flat on a metal operating table.  In fact, what hurts the most now is still my shoulder blades!  Go figure.

Mastectomy: hospital overnight

jackson pratt drains
Jackson Pratt Drains

I slept much better during the day than I did all night in the hospital.  If you’ve ever had a hospital stay, you know how fun it is to be awakened for vitals checks every four hours.  Well, throw in a few extra visits by nurses stripping those lovely Jackson Pratt drains, and you have one restless night.

The doctors used 400cc Jackson Pratt bottles when I came out of the OR.  Those bottles were huge, and they did not make for the best of sleeping buddies.  I have long tubing (you can see it in the pic) coming from my ribs just below my armpit; the tubes allow the wounds to heal by emptying the fluids into the drainage bulbs .  Draining is good as it helps to avoid swelling and infection.  I can’t, however, say that they are comfortable.  If you’ve ever exercised with water bottles strapped to your waist, you get the idea how they can get in the way.

Jackson Pratt Drain
100cc Jackson Pratt Drain

Thankfully, the nurses switched me over to much smaller bottles for my time at home, making my girth much more manageable.  I will have these drains until the drainage reaches less than 30cc over a twenty-four hour period.  Dr.  Hassid is confident I should be able to have one set of drains removed next Monday and possibly be drain-free by next Wednesday.  In the meantime, my poor husband will continue to be my awesome nursemaid and remove and measure the fluids from each drain twice a day.  I’m so proud of him.  He has handled the responsibility like a true trooper.

Mastectomy: check-up

I already had a brief check-up with my plastic surgeon this morning.  He said everything is healing nicely.  He was able to give my expanders a whopping 50cc’s of filling at the time of surgery.  You can already see the very beginning of the cleavage he’ll be creating.  It looks nice and even.  The sutures across my breasts are ugly, mainly because they look like puckered flesh coated in a blue medical glue.  I have minimal bruising.  I can’t feel anything the breast area at all.  It’s really weird.

moving FORWARD

I’ve been taking my tylenol with codeine every 4hrs as prescribed and that seems to be keeping my pain under wraps.  I’m a bit groggy and feel like there isn’t enough coffee in the world to help me feel chipper.  I thought I would grieve for the loss of what I had, but I honestly think I got that out of my system in the weeks of stress before my surgery and can’t help but look at the bright side in this process now.  I’m recovering, and I’m proud of my courage and the proactive steps I’ve taken.

I will continue to update on how I’m feeling each day.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about the mastectomy process or how I’m doing, feel free to contact me via comments or on Facebook at the ProactivePrevivor!  🙂

Proactive Previvor
I’m the Proactive Previvor!

Mastectomy Bag

hospital bag
What’s Going In My Bag

My bag is all packed up for the hospital.  Yes, I am an “early packer.”  I like to make sure everything is all ready to go at least 24hrs ahead of departure…except last-minute things like a hairbrush and medicine.

I will be admitted to the hospital for one night.  I know I won’t be able to shower at the hospital, but I’m still bringing a Norwex washcloth so someone can at least wipe my face and neck off for me so I feel a little more human, some minimal toiletries (lotion, chapstick, toothpaste), and some extra comfy clothes for the ride home.

items in hospital bag
The Bare Necessities

Want to know what other items I have loaded up?  Check my handy list below!

Hospital bag Checklist

  • comfy clothes for going home (tank top I can step into, sweats, and underwear)
  • slippers
  • slipper socks
  • robe
  • drain belt (attached pockets to a race belt I had from running)
  • lanyard (just in case, to hold the drains)
  • Norwex washcloth
  • glasses case
  • a headband to keep my hair out of my face
  • toiletries: body lotion, chapstick, toothpaste
  • hairbrush
  • a kids’ battery-powered toothbrush in case I hurt too much to brush the manual way!
  • phone charger
  • earbuds (with my noise machine app installed to help me sleep)
  • fruit snacks (for my scratchy throat after the breathing tube is removed)
  • my recycled car pillow
  • a blanket

What would you take to the hospital?  Feel free to chime in through the comments section!