Recovery: In the Clear…Kind Of

Just a quick update today. I saw my doctor yesterday for my four-week postoperative appointment.  I’m clear to do my “normal activities,” but I was told not to sweat too much.  Hmm.  That’s hard for a runner. Power walking it is…

Cleaning My Way to Strength

Upper body strength has never been my forte.  I am easing my way back into normal activities.  What does this mean?  Well, the mop is now my intro to body building, lol.  This weekend I may even go crazy and try to vacuum.

Recovery Fun

I’ll keep you apprised of my recovery.  I have some fun with the family planned this weekend, and I can think of no better way to celebrate the clearance to resume being me.

Also, I’m plotting some projects around the house, including landscaping.  I see that as a great way to get the bod back in shape.

Until then, I’ll leave you with this fun little selfie (pardon the bad photography).  For the first time in my life, I’m ready for bathing suit season!!!  I’m digging my new cleavage.  This process has been a drain, but finding a suit that fits has been a welcome development!

swimsuit
                            Swim Season Ready

 

Happy Home Life: An Exercise in Folding, Pun Intended

Recovery means a lot of time at home.  I am able to drive now, so I spent the morning out roaming around with my friend, Alli, but I really didn’t have an excuse or inclination to spend all day away from home.

I’ve written about my new obsession with podcasts, my tv watching habits, and my obsession with maintaining a clean, uncluttered house.  Well, today I took all of those things and let inspiration take hold in the form of a linen closet redo.

Pinterest in Practice: Linen Closet Redo

I’m going to assume you have some knowledge of Pinterest and that you haven’t been living in a bunker somewhere pulling a Kimmy Schmidt (if you don’t know who Kimmy Schmidt is, check out the show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix–it’s full of good laughs).  Most of the time I use Pinterest for recipes and eye candy (stuff I would like to have in my home but can never afford).

This time, I actually took a Pinterest-recommended post and put it into practice.  I stumbled on this post by Leah over at Code Red Hat: Survival Skills for the Modern Mom.  Leah wrote a great tutorial on “How to Fold Towels To Fit Any Shelf” back in 2012.  Boy, I wish I had seen this post back then!  I fold my towels neatly, but not like this.  I know this sounds mundane, but if you open your closet and towels fall out any time you try to pull a clean one, the situation can probably be improved.

And, once I had all of my towels in a non-toppling position, I had to keep going and tackle the sheets.  A quick Pinterest search turned up this 2011 blog post by Kelly at The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking.  Kelly has a neat, effective way to corral sheet sets.  I highly recommend checking it out!

Happy Closet: The Reveal

I removed extra pillowcases for donation, one top sheet without a matching fitted sheet, one set of stretched out sheets, and one old beach towel.  I also relocated my daughter’s stuffed bears to her room.

Even with the few items removed, you an see that folding makes a HUGE difference. Here is a little side by side before and after:

Linen closet re-do
                          Left: Before, Right:After

Who Knew Folding Used Muscles?

Organizing complete, my chest muscles are now telling me that all that folding was hard work.  You forget how simple tasks like folding sheets and towels uses muscle, but there’s nothing like a recent surgery to remind you that even the easiest appearing of tasks can be taxing on a healing body.

So, if you undertake a linen closet makeover in your post-surgery boredom, consider using it as a workout.  I would suggest doing the folding in spurts over a couple of days and not in a single afternoon.  My ta-tas are TIRED.

Finding Inspiration in Essentialism

Given my mobility limitations, I’ve spent a good deal of time on the couch.  When I haven’t been watching junk tv, I’ve been reading.  I am addicted to a series by Darynda Jones.  I love the books because I find myself laughing out loud at the witticisms of the protagonist. Jones’ series, however, is little more than brain candy; it’s fun without a lot of substance.  I decided my brain needed a beefier workout than my usual paranormal romantic fluff.  I went to all of this effort to keep my body healthy, I shouldn’t let my brain slide.  I turned to a category of literature that interests me in a genre I usually avoid: nonfiction.

Essentialism
Essentialism by Greg McKeown

finding the essential in life

Free time means lots of self-reflection.  Let’s examine my situation.  I found out I had a life-threatening genetic condition May of 2016, and I faced this knowledge with the understanding of what could happen to me if I did nothing with it.  Having faced my mother’s cancer, I had the prior knowledge that doing nothing wasn’t an option.  I faced multiple surgeries this fall, any of which could have been disastrous.  I pushed through each one and its set of challenges.  Each of these experiences meant facing my mortality on a level in which no one should have to face before a ripe old age.  Facing mortality irrevocably leads to an examination of life’s priorities.

When I stumbled on a reference McKeown’s book, Essentialism (2014) in one of the blogs I read, I couldn’t help but check to see if it was in the possession for my local library.  I got lucky.  I picked up the book before this last surgery, knowing I would have enough time on my hands to comb through it.  What I didn’t realize, was that I would be enthralled by McKeown’s message.

try not to worry

I deal with anxiety but made the effort this year to stop taking medication and instead focus on other techniques for curbing my anxiousness: blogging, exercise, and meditation.  McKeown writes that, “every second spent worrying about a past or future moment distracts us from what is important in the here and now” (p. 217).  How many times this fall did I worry unnecessarily or let my worry control my daily experience?  I’ve lost so many hours deep in worry.  Instead, I need to remember to focus on the essential when nervousness takes  hold.

what is essential?

An essentialist maintains focus on a given priority and recognizes that we can’t do it all.  For the past several months, my priority has been my health.  McKeown indicates that at any given time we can focus on only one given priority (p 16).  Now that I’m nearing the end of my recovery, I have the opportunity to reflect on more than just getting better and to evaluate how my actions going forward will be indicative of my values.

McKeown coins the phrase “less but better” (p. 5).  So, the question we need to ask ourselves, moving forward, is in what is important? My list looks like this:

my essentials
Finding the Essential

Given that I can only focus on one priority at a time, I need to be kind to myself and realize there is no such thing as perfect; being an essentialist takes work.  But, I can come back to this list regularly and ask myself  whether I am still actively pursuing these goals through my daily actions.

If you have correctly identified what really matters, if you invest your time and energy in it, then it is difficult to regret the choices you make.  You become proud of the life you have chosen to live. (p 287)

inspired

I am inspired to invest time and energy into my list.  I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to take a long timeout and reflect on my goals and I suggest you use your recovery to do the same.  What do you want out of life going forward?  You’re in the unique position that you  must take the time to heal your body, so use this opportunity to care for your spirit.  If you focus on what you see as essential, you’ll find a life that really matters and that is worthy of all the work.


McKeown, Greg. (2014). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. New York: Crown Business.

Previvors In the Media

I stumbled past the “New Book” section at the library and came across this title:

Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction
by Patricia Anstett

After a quick scan of the table of contents, I realized there was a whole chapter entitled “Previvors.”  The previvor sector of the cancer populace lacks representation in literature, at least in terms of my investigations.  For example, if you go to Barnes and Noble, you’ll see a approximately two small shelves of books relating to cancer.  And of those books, you’ll be lucky to find one that deals with the uniqueness of the previvor situation.  So, imagine my surprise that Breast Cancer Surgery and Reconstruction by Patricia Anstett has an entire (though brief) chapter dedicated to previvors.

pREVIVoRS choosing the path to health

The chapter on previvors introduces one of the youngest American women to have a preventative double mastectomy at the age of 20.  Her name is Kelly Rothe.  Once I read Kelly’s story in Anstett’s book I decided to google her.  Of course, she has a blog: https://themutantdiaries.wordpress.com  I couldn’t stop reading her story.  She, too, lost a mother to cancer.  She made the decision to take charge of her health but at a much younger age while dealing with the desire to be married and have children one day, but she loved herself enough that she tackled her fears.

Anstett’s book references two other resources that benefit the previvor community: BRCA Sisterhood, a private Facebook group founded in 2010 by Karen Lazarovitz and a documentary called Pink and Blue released on 2015 which should be available for purchase on iTunes in December.  You can bet I’ll be watching it.

pREVIVoRS: You are not alone

If you are a previvor, you may feel like you’re alone, but you are not.  There are many more of us out there than you know.  We are both young and old, but we are survivors.  We will persevere.  And, if you have any questions, you can always ask!

 

Bras are the Devil

I haven’t worn a bra in months.  My tissue expanders stayed in place even while running so I gave up wearing a bra when my expansion process finished.  

My skin under the “breast” has been hypersensitive since the mastectomy. I think this sensitivity is due to the formation of a border between connected nerves and lack of nerves where they removed the breast tissue.  

The implant surgery included a slight lowering of the left implant for balance.  I’m not sure what all this process included (and I really don’t want to know) but I can tell I’m cut and sore inside under the bust near the cleavage area.  I can tell you that having a bra band touch that area is uncomfortable and having a bra band rub that area is awful.  

I took a 3mi walk today just like I took yesterday.  Today I’ve logged over 12,000 steps where yesterday I logged over 20,000.   Today, I hurt.  Per the advice of a friend with self-proclaimed “porn star boobs” (as I said, her words and not mine), I tucked my tank top into my bra band.  It helped!  But I have to say, I’m not a happy camper.  I’m feeling sore and tired from a general lack of sleep.  

I hereby resolve that tomorrow I will be a couch potato. I will be proactive in my healing process.  Sometimes, or okay, all the time, I think I can do it all.  I want to get out, be active, and carry on with life but my body has spoken and I clearly cannot do that.  

So, if you are going through this process, be proactive in healing and don’t rush yourself.  Even if you feel better, ease up.  As my nurse said,”be caution” [sic] and “careful.”  I hear you now, Nurse Elaine.  

Reconstruction- Shaping Up

I’m three days post-surgery.  I haven’t done a whole lot.  In fact, my view is pretty much as it was after my mastectomy.  The good news is that I am a lot more comfortable  this time around.  I don’t have drains to contend with, so I’m a happy girl.  I can’t sleep in my bed comfortably, but I’m not miserable either.  In fact, I only took Tylenol yesterday and today I haven’t had anything for pain.  Whoohoo!

reconstruction recovery: sitting…pretty?

Sure, this is all great, right?  Yes, I’m doing okay but if you see me I look a bit like I’ve been in a car accident.

girdle
Girdle Up!

I’m wearing a support garment to keep the fat around my middle springing back into the proper position.  I’m not so pretty underneath it.  I have my two stitched and bandaged incisions where my surgeon entered through the same scarring that occurred after my hysterectomy surgery, and I have some nasty bruising along my “flanks.”  I’m nicely bloated and bruised all at once.

Liposuction Bruising
Lipo Bruising- Keeping it Real

These bruises are on each hip and about 2.5-3in in length.  In other words, my kids are sad because they can’t hug me at all.  They’re rather silly in that they sit on the floor and hug my knees!

Breast Implants: the big top

purple bruising
Pretty in Purple

Since I’m swollen and bruised it’s hard to tell what I’m going to look like when I’ve healed around my midsection and on my chest.  Regarding my top section,  I can tell you that my body looks and feels very different from what it did when I had the tissue expanders.  My “breasts” feel more like breasts.   They don’t feel like I’ve shoved rocks under my chest wall any more.  They sit lower on my chest and have a natural slope instead of the half-a-grapefruit look.  This change is due to the teardrop shape of the implant.  I rather liked my porn star cleavage of the tissue expanders simply because I’d never had any real shape to me before surgery .  I have to adjust to what I look like again.  As long as the fat grafting takes around the top edge of my bust, my chest should maintain its natural look and you shouldn’t be able to see the edge of the implant.

post surgical bruising
Marked with Sharpie and Bruising

recovery look ahead

I am not one to dwell in my recovery limitations.  I asked, even before this surgery, when I’d be able to start running again.  Apparently my surgeon thinks I’m hilarious; it’s going to be a while.  In the meantime, I’m dreaming of family pictures in March.  We haven’t had professional pictures done in years and I think this is the perfect year to document how far we have come as a family.  I am in recovery, but I am so excited for each day of a healthy future!

 

Final Surgery

I had my last surgery yesterday…well, my last until I may need my implants replaced someday (they aren’t made to last forever).  As I previously wrote in “Pre-Surgery Nesting Part 2,” my nerves were not fun this time.  I have to say, my nerves were totally unfounded.  So far, this recovery isn’t bad at all.

Why the Nerves?

My mastectomy and tissue expander surgery was long and painful enough to include a spinal block.  You can read about that procedure here.  So I had a good reason to be fearful.  I dreaded recovery and what that would mean in terms of comfort during sleep and general pain.

warming blanket
Awesome Warming Blanket

When we arrived at the hospital yesterday, I was ushered back to the prep room in no time at all. My awesome plastic surgeon, Dr. Hassid, was already there when I walked into the room, so he took out his awesome surgical Sharpie and marked me up.  After that, the nurse came in to take my vitals and asked for a urine sample for a pregnancy test, which gave me a good laugh when I told her I’d had a hysterectomy so we could skip that step.  Then, they hooked me up  with a nice warming blanket.  This wasn’t just a warm blanket, but it was hooked up to a heater; it was the bomb diggity.

After a visit with the anesthesiologist I handed my glasses over to my husband and was led by the nurse into the OR.  I’ve never walked into the operating room.  For my hysterectomy, I was wheeled in and was out before I rounded the nurses’ station.  For my mastectomy, I had a spinal block and was out as the nurses held me in prep for that procedure.  This was the first time I had consciously walked into the OR, had to climb onto the table, and wait for anesthesia.  I have to say that I was shaking!  My head knew there was no reason to worry but my body had other ideas!  Luckily, it didn’t take long for the anesthesiologist to come in and get the happy juice growing.

out of surgery

I was in and out of surgery in what seemed like no time.   This was an outpatient procedure, after all.  I saw the clock in the OR at 7:25am. I was home (a half-hour drive later) by 11:45am.

Car Ride Home
Going Home

I came home wearing a granny bra of the utmost finery stuffed with gauze and wearing a girdle  help abdominal swelling from where I had liposuction along my flanks to round out the tops of my implants.  So, in short, I was back in my sexy post-surgical finery. Other than the tightness of the girdle and the bruise on my hand from the IV, I’m doing quite well.  I have to remind myself to take it easy.  I’m not in much pain at all.

stuffed bra
Stuffed Granny Bra

I’m headed to see the doc this afternoon for my post-surgery follow-up.  I’ll keep you posted on how that goes, but I’m expecting a good report!  As always, if you have any questions on what it’s like being a previvor, feel free to comment!

 

Pre-Surgery Nesting Part 2

I wrote how my efforts to control my environment stem from my perceived lack of control over my upcoming surgery, and while that’s true, it’s only a small sliver of the big picture.  You see, I’m a bit of a home decor junkie.  We don’t have cable, but the one thing I asked for at Christmas was a purchase of the current season of HGTV’s Fixer Upper from iTunes.  

I used to watch HGTV religiously.  I was addicted to the idea of having a stylish and perfect home.  In truth, I’m still like that. In my “maturtity,” I’ve realized, though, that the amount of things I once thought I needed I really didn’t need at all. I’ve become a fan of the minimalist movement. I have to say, there’s nothing like spending too much time at home (and preparing to spend more time at home and unable to drive even if I wanted to leave) to drive that point home even further. 

Having a decluttered home isn’t the ultimate goal here.  My goal is to have a decluttered life–the home is just a portion of that. I’m parting with things with the idea that fewer things in my life will open new doors and time for things that are more important like family, travel, and exercise.

I’m going through surgery and I’ll be suffering again in the short term so that I can live my life to the fullest.  I have big plans and none of those plans involve filling my house with crap.  I want to travel with my kids, enjoy good food, and be a stay at home mom.  If I’m going to make those dreams a reality, I need to stay focused and not get swallowed by my stuff.  

Interested in joining me?  The journey is a long one.  I started simplifying this fall and I’m still not done. The time is worth it.  That, I guarantee.  

I read part of this book today at Barnes and Noble after seeing her blog online yesterday. Interested in minimalism?  Check it out!  

Here Comes the Surgery…

My surgery is less than a week away.  I’ve had a mixture of emotions approaching this one.  I oscillate between excited (no more tissue expanders!!! Whoohoo!) and anxiety.  In my research for this blog I may have stumbled on some surgical pictures that definitely churn the average stomach; I find myself thinking of these pictures and fighting my nerves.  For all of my elation at being “done,” the reality is that this is still major surgery.  While I trust my surgeon wholeheartedly, something about being cut open again is not sitting well.  

So How Do I Handle The Surgery Worry?

Honestly, I am handling the nerves almost identically as I did last time.  I’m in full-on project mode.  I may feel like life around me is somehow out of my control, so I seek to control my environment in an attempt to soothe my fears. I paint, I clean, and I may or may not eat more chocolate than I possibly should (damn chocolate PB ice cream…).  

My project list is dwindling but I still have four more days of waiting.  The weekend will be full of distractions with the kids around, thank goodness.  I really just have tomorrow and Monday to deal with.  So, I’ll proceed to the weekend with paintbrush in one hand and dessert in the other.  

Falling Off the Grid

I haven’t posted in quite some time and the reasons for that are numerous.  My main excuse is that I’ve been feeling good!  My mastectomy/reconstruction was eleven weeks ago!  This fall has really flown by in spite of my lack of routine during recovery.  In general, I’ve been enjoying my good health, especially now that I’m able to sleep comfortably on my side (praise the Lord!).

Weekend Getaway
Weekend Getaway

To celebrate surviving the fall and my husband’s 36th birthday all in one, we took a weekend getaway.  We were able to sleep in and enjoy each other’s company; we even spent half a day hiking, which is something I never thought I’d be doing this soon after a mastectomy!  I loved every minute…well, except watching my alma matter lose a football game.  That did stink.

The travels didn’t stop with the weekend getaway.  My family spent the week leading up to Thanksgiving at Universal Studios and Walt Disney World, Orlando.  We had a blast.  I was able to do all the coasters without shoulder harnesses and didn’t experience any pain!  The kids were troopers, and we had a fantastic time spending the trip with our extended family (special thanks to my father-in-law, Dave, who spoils his grandkids by taking us!).  I’m only now recovering from these vacations, surrounded by multitudes of laundry, but it’s all good!

Universal Studios and Disney fun
Universal Studios and Disney fun

img_8169

img_8178I’m continuing my recovery process by resuming healthy eating habits (I made some kick butt, from scratch, chicken and rice soup) and getting back at my half-marathon training.  I want to go into my January surgery in the best of health, so I’m trying not to dig myself into an unhealthy hole.

In spite of the challenges I faced this fall, I can say that it has turned out to be one of my favorites on record.  I have so much for which to be thankful!

Thankful to Have Another Holiday with My Children
Thankful to Have Another Holiday with My Children