Post-Surgery Emotional and Physical Support

I’m nine days post implant surgery.  I’m healing up nicely in spite of the nagging pain under my left breast.  Due to this pain, I’ve returned to lazy mode and my laptop.  In my research,  I stumbled upon a Facebook group mentioned on someone else’s blog and have already fallen in love.

Post surgery: finding emotional support

You need emotional support during recovery.  While family and friends are important, they cannot empathize with you.  If you want empathy, turn to the Facebook group “My Destiny: Prophylactic Mastectomy.”  It’s a closed group, so you have to be approved to join; send a request.  From what I’ve seen, this is a great group of ladies.

I’ve already done some responding to others’ questions and asked some advice for myself.  For example, how weird is it that there is a spot I can touch on my sternum and then have phantom feeling in my arms?  Doesn’t work backwards, though.  I can’t touch my arms and feel it in my sternum.  It’s a one-way nerve circuit.  Weirdo foobs (fake boobs, for those of you not up on the slang).  Unless you have been through this process, you have no idea what I mean!  Don’t isolate yourself.  You aren’t alone.

Finding a sense of community has been fantastic given that I’m stuck at home and don’t want to pester my doctor with non-emergency questions.  Protect your mental health during your healing time just as you care for your body.

support under it all…post-surgery fashion

"Ice Cream Break," 1944
“Ice Cream Break,” 1944
Taken from: http://i-cherski.livejournal.com

Let’s talk about physical support in the literal sense.  Did you know I’m a 1940’s pinup girl wannabe?  Truly, if I changed out the fabric for polkadots and curled my hair, I could seriously play the part.  Everyone I see comments how good I look.  Well, yeah….I’m tucked in like a pig in a blanket.  Though, seriously, those bathing suit models had some serious guts to wear a bathing suit cut like that.  It’s not a look I would sport, especially given its lack of comfort.

compression garments
Mastectomy Pinup Girl?
Compression Finery

These Maidenform Control Hi-Waist Boyshorts aren’t the most comfortable bottoms nor are they particularly flattering to the thighs (I’ll spare you that image).  It’s hard to sit comfortably since they go almost all the way up to the foobs.  Then, I have to wear this lovely front-close post-surgical bra because it’s the only thing I’ve found with a wide enough band to be even tolerably comfortable given the under foob pain I’m experiencing.  This particular bra is made by YIANNA and retails on Amazon  for $18.99.

There are many types of post-surgical bras and compression bottoms out there, if you need them.  Your doctor should hook you up with a surgical bra and your insurance should cover it.  I wanted an extra so I turned to Amazon because I have a Prime membership and at that price, it couldn’t be beat.

What’s squishy, swollen, and yellow all over?

IV Bruising
IV Bruising

Yes, me.  You guessed right.  If you don’t look too closely, you couldn’t tell I ever had surgery.  I do look so much better than what I did just two days ago, but I still have some swelling (probably will for several weeks) and lovely bruising.  The bruises are fading, though.  I bruise really easily, so take my status with that thought in mind.  You may heal much faster!  Whenever I try to do too much, like I did on Monday and Tuesday of this week, I remind myself that I’m not healed by looking at the back of my right hand; on that hand lies the evidence of my IV.  If I can still look this nasty from a simple IV, what must my body look like inside?  Yes, that question is rhetorical. I don’t really want to know….

From the outside, my chest, hip, and liposuction scars are healing really well.  I only hurt if pressure is applied to any of those areas.  Just sitting around, I don’t have any pain.  Truly, it’s just the left under-foob pocket that hurts, and even that goes away when I take off the surgical bra.  If I could spend all of my time in the shower, I would, since it’s the only way I get to experience the relief of being braless.  I can’t wait for that burning pain to go away; it’s not pleasant.

Healing 9 Days Post Surgery
Healing 9 Days Post Surgery: Chest, Hip, and Liposuction Incision Site

Post-surgery reflection: I’m lucky

Since I joined that Facebook group for Prophylactic Mastectomy, I have a new appreciation for the simplicity of my experience.  Not all women have had these surgeries free of complication. These women spoke of infection, necrosis, multiple surgeries, etc.  I have been very blessed with my limited pain experience and my textbook healing.  My heart goes out to these women.  I hope they find strength in the community, just as I hope my voice helps my readers realize that they are also never alone.  There is always someone out there who understands.  You are never alone.

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!

 

Awaiting the Next Surgery

Happy New Year!  Yes, I know we are well into January, but I haven’t written a post in quite some time so wishing you a blessed New Year seems appropriate.  I’ve started this year with a focus on accomplishing a to-do list a mile long in preparation for my implant surgery.  First on this list: run my half marathon on Sunday!  I’ve been training for this race since my plastic surgeon gave me the “go” after my mastectomy/tissue expander surgery at the very end of October.  I’m ready.  I’m not going to be fast, but I’m going to do it! In fact, my friend Fern and I picked up our race packets today.  We are stoked!

Happy Home Life: Productivity at its finest

In addition to running and recovery, I have taken advantage of my time off work this year to make the most of family time.  The past few months have looked something like this: 

December and early January were full of cookie decorating, acting as party mom for my son’s holiday party, attempting to organize my son’s Lego collection (note the “attempt”…it’s still not done), and even endeavoring to paint furniture and finish painting my master bedroom.  Heck, I even did a little research on YouTube and learned how to caulk baseboards!  We also enjoyed a trip back home for Christmas (note the snow and the pic with my BFF in the bottom right–we had a great trip!) and took my daughter to the symphony for a Christmas present!

I’m really excited to have crossed off so many of my goals for this time.  Sometimes just sitting back and making the most of a less-than-ideal situation is the best you can do.  I’ve taken my recovery and used it to gain a happy home life.

mastectomy implant surgery: 11 days away

I’m nervous about my surgery.  I’m sure I’ll have great results, but I would be crazy not to feel some apprehension about going under the knife again.  I’m looking at an outpatient surgery followed by a minimum six week recovery.  For four of those six weeks I have to wear a post-surgical compression bra and a girdle!  The doc will be performing some liposuction to add a bit of cushion and a more natural feel to my implants.  The girdle is to help prevent water retention and support the loose skin.  I hope I can move.  Life will not be pleasant, but like this first round, I’ll get through it.

I’m a previvor and I see my glass half-full!

 

 

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

Happy Halloween: Avoiding that Candy Like a Plague

run done
Got My Run Going On!

I did it!  I went for a “run.”  I had to add quotes because that was one of the slower runs I have experienced.  In fact, I did a mix of jogging and walking and I only made it two miles before I felt like I was going to spew.  My legs were great! I could walk 500 miles, and I could walk 500 more… (had to throw in a 90’s music reference there).  My lungs, well, that’s another story. I have lost all aerobic capacity.  I’m going to get there.

On a good note, I did run!

I mean, check out those goods!  I strapped them in that new sports bra and took off.  As a reminder, here is where I was just a few weeks ago:

September 17th, 5 days After Surgery
September 17th, 5 days After Surgery

My chest was basically flat.  Actually, it wasn’t that far off from where I was before the mastectomy.  Here is a photo that is a couple of years old now, but this is how I used to look in a sports bra, back when I was in awesome shape and did the Tough Mudder with my awesome husband!

Tough Mudder Pre-mastectomy Shape
Tough Mudder Pre-mastectomy Shape

Notice a bit of a change?  Yeah, it’s quite cool…except for the out of shape part. I have faith that will change.  My pants will fit again…someday.  Note, I am never doing another Tough Mudder; mud is not my thing, especially when it’s mud in a cow pasture.  Enough said.

running…from the candy

I am staying away from the Halloween candy.  I promise.  Hear that, world?  No CANDY!!!!  I cannot exercise and then give in to the holiday binging.  Take that, sugar, I’m committed to a healthier me.

So, now the question is, are you?

 

Coasting: Mastectomy Recovery

I slept much better last night…and in my own bed!  Yahoo!  It’s the little things, people.

I’m in a lull until I meet with my plastic surgeon next Wednesday to determine when my next surgery will be, so I’m feeling better but still can’t lift or do a whole lot.  What does that mean?  Crafting and reading, of course.

BRCA RibbonYesterday night I had the lovely opportunity to get together with some of the teachers from my school and craft, combining two of the things I love best!  All of the other teachers painted wood turkeys to hang in their homes for the holiday, and I painted an awareness ribbon!  It was funny that this social event materialized, because I had asked my friend who owns her own business if I could buy a blank wood awareness ribbon last week and, and here I was, blessed with the opportunity to not only procure my ribbon but to paint it in good company!  If have to say, it looks fabulous on my front door (ignore the dirty door).

This morning, after a good night’s sleep (hallelujah!), I took a walk with my awesome hubby and our crazy dog.  I got in 4mi in some nice cool weather (“cold” front, yippee!!!).  About 2 miles in to the walk I found this lying in the street:img_6801

How funny is that?   It’s a pin, so, I’m sure someone lost it off a shirt or bag.  Of course, I had to keep it.

In other news, I started a healthy living/eating challenge on Facebook and was surprised when so many of my friends wanted to join.   I’ve created a simple Google Docs food diary and am tracking what I eat.  If I have to write down what I put in my mouth, I’m make much healthier choices.  I have a desperation to get back into my pre-surgery clothes, especially my jeans!  I’m really tired of always wearing athletic wear, no matter how comfy it may be.  I’m hoping for good results.  My goal is to lose 5lbs from around my middle as that’s what I put on since August.  I think I can do it!  I am the Proactive Previvor, after all.  If I can tackle these surgeries, I can tackle anything!!!!

 

A Day Off

I had the day off yesterday from my weekly fill visit.  Instead, I spent the day with one of my best friends.  We went shopping to look for an outfit for her family pictures (I picked out the winner!) and met a working friend for lunch at a fantastic restaurant in town.  I loved every minute.

This was the great part of my day.  The bad part of my day began, as it has the last two days, when I tried to actually get some sleep in my bed.  I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get comfortable and I couldn’t toss and turn with my poor husband trying to sleep next to me.  I can’t spend my life in the recliner, but I can’t give in to the sleep anxiety that I’ve dealt with for years simply because I’m trying to remember what “normal” feels like.

Insomnia isn’t any fun.  It’s horrible, in fact.  And, whenever I’m wide awake at bedtime one night, I start to obsess about sleeping and then I’m really awake.  That’s what my body does.  I’ll be fine all day and then freak out at bedtime.  I haven’t had any problems sleeping throughout this whole process other than being uncomfortable and waking up frequently.  This “can’t sleep” and wide awake feeling is one I dread.  And, worrying, of course, makes it worse. Yes, I’ve tried sleeping pills.  I take a daily anxiety drug.  And, I hate taking sleep aids.  I would rather work through it with meditation and good sleep habits.

So, an an effort to head off another episode tonight.  I spent two hours in my bed this morning trying to make it comfortable and attempting to nap.  I dozed off once (I know because I drooled…eeeeew) but didn’t stay asleep for long.  I think I have my pillows and blankets situated in a way that will work.  Now, all I have to do is get my head to cooperate.

I’m also cutting out coffee for today.  I realized I’d been steadily increasing my caffeine dose as I’ve been home and I’ve been tired due to interrupted recliner sleep.  I’m hoping this helps.

If you’ve read all of this, say a little prayer for me.  More than dealing with pain, a slack of sleep is a really scary problem for me.

 

 

Reconstruction: Jessica Rabbit

Anyone else remember the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”?  Well, Roger Rabbit’s cartoon girlfriend looked something like this:

Jessica Rabbit
from http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/File:Jessica_rabbit_art.jpg

This is what I felt like after my fill on Wednesday minus the sexy vibes.  I had muscle spasms galore.  I hurt so much that I took muscle relaxers during the day and called in a friend to bring me some lunch.  I would not have survived without one of my best friends bringing me my favorite fast food!  In truth, I didn’t stop feeling sore until yesterday (Saturday!).

Reconstruction through the week

Me Before You movie
Vegging at Its Finest

I spent Wednesday and Thursday glued to the couch.  Truly, I could’t do much else.  This has been a roller coaster ride.  One day I feel fine.  The next, I have a fill that hurts and have to spend two days recovering.  I’m taking one day at a time and learning to appreciate the time alone to indulge in chick flicks, rest, and heal.

Chilling with chili: a reconstruction meal go-to

I’ve needed to come up with some meals that are low-maintenance and lasting that the whole family for those days when I know I won’t feel up to traditional stovetop cooking.  Most importantly, these meals can’t require a lot of elbow grease in the prep department.

Recovering or not, I think meal time is a challenge for most people. When I need an easy meal for hurried dinner times, I turn to my crockpot.  I’m also into pretending it’s fall and fall means warm, hearty food.   So, here’s my recipe for my Chilling with Crockpot Chili!

crockpot chili
Chilling with Crockpot Chili
Chilling with Crokcpot Chili: Meal make-ahead
  • 4 (14.5oz) cans Diced, Roasted Tomatoes
  • 1 small (4oz) can tomato sauce
  • 14.5oz can of either red or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp chili powder (or more to taste if you like spicy)
  • salt to taste
  • Fritos or chip of choice for garnish
  • shredded cheese or sour cream for topping, if desired

Brown the meet in a large skillet along with diced onion and garlic.  Once browned and onion is softened, add to a large crockpot.  Add canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, and spices.  Stir ingredients and set crockpot temperature to low.  Let chili cook for several hours to blend flavors.

I like to make this in the morning and leave to cook all day.  We like to eat the chili topped with shredded cheese and serve it with Fritos Scoops.

 

 

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 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.