Friday, June 22, 2012

It's Like Sunburn...Only Worse.

I thought I might ramble on a bit about what "post-recovery" is like.

Since the tubes and drain came out on Tuesday, I've been living life "normally," whatever that means.

My range of motion in my right arm is interestingly limited. Interesting because it feels like if I stretch or reach too far, I'll rip something under my arm. My NP (nurse practitioner) told me that it will feel like that, but that I shouldn't worry about it; I won't rip or tear anything. So every day I reach both arms above my head, reach my left hand over and take my right hand and pull my arm over to the left. Wow, ow. Be grateful you can do that without pain. I hope I never take it for granted ever again.

I also do the wall crawl. I stand toes and nose to a wall and place my right hand as high as I can on the wall, which is about with my arm "to the square," (i.e., my arm at a 90 degree angle to my torso). Then, I crawl my fingers up the wall. Again, wow, ow.

Since I'm allowed to drive now that the drain has been removed, I've been out and about. The first thing I did Wednesday was go grocery shopping. And bought a 10 lb. watermelon. Got it into the cart okay, but getting it out was interesting, one arm and all.

Since I was going out, I decided to go ahead and wear my "falsie." It's just a shoulder pad-like form with batting in it. At first I took a bunch of the padding out because I thought it was waaaaay too big. Then I put more than half of it back. I used to be a B cup. I think I'm a C now. That's what 30 extra pounds have done for me! (The excised breast was definitely still a B, as radiated breasts tend not to grow.)

Anyway, so I wore the falsie Wednesday and Thursday, but at about 5:00 on both days, I was in excruciating pain. A pain so familiar, yet how could that be? Today, I finally realized what that pain reminded me of.

It's like having the worst sunburn ever. Times ten. No, times a hundred. That's the familiar part. Now imagine wearing a sandpaper bra on a sunburned boob (or for you guys, think of the most tender part of your body being sunburned and then wearing a sandpaper garment over it).

There you go! Now you know this pain of which I speak.

The NP had told me I wouldn't need the painkillers anymore but that 800 mg of ibuprofen would do the trick for whatever I felt. And she said to taper off down to 600 mg and then 400 mg until I didn't need it anymore. I'll tell ya', ibuprofen wasn't cutting it for this pain, so each day I took a painkiller in the early evening. And then a muscle relaxer before bed. Still sleeping nicely, thank you very much; not missing you, Mr. Insomnia.

Today I experimented with no falsie to see if it was pressure (ever so slight as it was) on the sutures or if it was really just the fabric against the sutures. Turns out, it's the fabric, though the pain wasn't quite as bad tonight. It did help that I bought and installed a bra extender so the pressure on the under-the-arm sutures wasn't so bad.

Tomorrow I shall swing freely (sans bra) with a large shirt to test the theory further.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I'm Like a Whole New Woman! (minus a breast)

Holy Moley! What a difference it is to have the drain and tubes OUT!

I had my  follow-up appointment with my surgeon this morning. I am doing so well that my drain and tubes came out and he took me off all the medication (except ibuprofen as needed). The only restriction now is that I can't lift more than a few pounds with my right arm. I'm going to start physical theraphy next week, but I'm supposed to start trying to increase my right arm's range of motion right away so that I don't get a frozen shoulder.

It feels incredibly tight (the right arm/shoulder) but the NP told me to keep pushing it past the comfort point, so I am. Ouch.

I think what will be hard from this point forward is BonnieBlue not getting to go to a different house every day to play. She really enjoyed that.

I hope you don't get tired of reading how grateful I am for all the prayers and positive thoughts. I know for sure it made a difference. Thanks!

Best news of all is that the final pathology report came back negative, so that means no chemotherapy. Hoorah!

Monday, June 18, 2012


It's been a week since surgery, and today is the first time that I've been able to go without pain meds for long enough to post since, well, that last post.

I wasn't really sure what to expect as far as pain and limitation of movement. A large portion of the surgical area has been numbed, though I'm not really sure how (nerve block maybe?). It's not totally numb, so there are some odd sensations, and I think the numbness is gradually wearing off so each day I'm feeling more and more prickly sensations.

The part that actually hurts is where two tubes have been stitched to my skin. The tubes are attached to a hemovac drain, which works by negative pressure and drains the lymphatic fluid from the breast and armpit. Here's the really weird part: I can feel and see one of the tubes under my skin just above where my breast used to be! And I thought the weirdest thing I'd be looking at was a boobless chest! Wrong.

Okay, perhaps I should have warned you that this post might gross you out.

Everyday the drain has to be emptied and the fluid measured. Once the fluid is below a certain amount for 24 hours, the drain can be taken out. I'm pretty sure that's going to hurt like the dickens. My follow-up appointment is tomorrow morning; I'm hoping the tubes and drain will be removed then because the fluid measurements have been pretty low for the past 2 days. I'm not allowed to drive or lift my arm above 90 degrees until the drain is removed; hence, the hope.

The tubes are like 3 feet long, so I've kept them looped up and binder clipped to my waist band. I'm using one of those honkin' big binder clips. I've been living in yoga pants and Rhett's old shirts, so I've been as comfortable as I can be, given that I have two tubes sutured to my side.

The pain has been pretty minimal today, but I've been pretty much popping the pain killers at 4 hour intervals for the past 4-5 days.

The suture site (where the tubes are) has a dressing that has to be changed everyday. How fortunate I am (and Rhett is) that I have nurse friends. Not that  nurse has to do it, but it's nice to get a professional assessment each time the dressing is changed. The worst part of this whole recovery ordeal is having the surgical tape removed from the the area that is partially numb. It's such a bizarre feeling it makes me nauseated and light-headed.

I'm still quite upbeat about it all. Though one thing I've noticed is that having a flat chest makes a round belly all that much more noticable. Gonna' have to do something about that for sure.

BonnieBlue seems to be doing okay. I hate it that she's watching so much TV this week, but there's not much else I can do. She has asked to see my chest, and I've shown her with my bra on (the bra covers the impressive scar). She was totally nonplussed. Kids are so much better at this stuff.

Rhett is doing well (I think), too, especially since nurses are taking care of the dressing changes. He took all of last week off but went back today. I tease him about it "being hard on him," but I'm sure it is. I think it's hard to watch a loved one go through something like this. I know I'd rather it be me than him or BB.

Thanks again to everyone for all the prayers and positive thoughts!

Friday, June 15, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life

*Disclaimer! I'm on prescription meds so please forgive any errors in this post.*

George Bailey ain't got nothin' on me.

Remember the end of the movie, when he opens a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that the angel Clarence left for him? The inscription reads, "no man is a failure who has friends." And remember how the whole town chipped in to save George from financial ruin? As a result of the town's generosity, George's brother, Harry, toasted him as "the richest man in town."

In fact, I am the richest gal in town. I have been utterly humbled by the generosity of people in my life: some I never met, some I barely know, and some I consider dear friends. After this week, those strangers and almost-strangers shall henceforth and always be counted among my dear, dear friends.

Here is a short list of how I have been blessed by the generosity of others these past several days:

1. Two women (one I've never met) who have undergone mastectomies relatively recently were willing, even eager, to answer my questions and tell me about their experiences.

2. My department colleagues sent me a pair of cozy soft pajamas to recuperate in.

3. Tens of people (I don't think I can even count the number) have prayed and are praying for me.

4. Aunt Piddy in Atlanta sent BonnieBlue a "surgery day" box. Inside was a bunch of candy, cookies, crayons, coloring and activity books, and mini-horses to keep her busy on the day of my mastectomy.

5. My dear friend, Melly, with whom I work, came to sit with me the night I was in the hospital and was absolutely willing to stay all night had I not kicked her out. Before she came to the hospital she dropped off not one, not two, but 3 freezer meals!

6. Greg from TellingDad blog (again, someone I have never met) dedicated a blog post to me and my breasts. You can read it here:
He ought to win an award for the title alone. While you're there, read some of his other posts. He's a funny guy.

7. Rhett's work colleagues sent me a fruit bouquet.

8. The administration of the university I work for sent me a gorgeous flower arrangement.

9. Mama Pea, quilter extraordinaire and unofficial mentor, made and sent me a table runner that reminds me of the beach, which is my happy place. See her pattern review and the finished product here: Summer Table Runner (I would have taken a picture, but I am currently experiencing the effects of a prescription pain killer and a muscle relaxer and the steps involved in taking the picture, uploading to my computer, resizing, etc. is more than I can handle right now).

10. One of my friends, a nurse, stopped by the evening I came home to check on my drains and chat. She brought me ice cream.

I'm pretty sure Graeters' Black Raspberry Chip can hasten the recovery of anything. But just in case, she brought me a pint of chocolate Haagen Daz, too.

11. Another nurse friend stopped by the day after I was discharged to clean and re-dress the "wound." (and she brought a yummy meal with her)

12. One of my sisters drove 1.5 hours to see me today to clean and dress my wound.

13. People have been dropping off meals everyday starting on the day I had surgery.

14. Four people have sent cards; one even sent me an gift card encouraging me to download a book to enjoy while recuperating.

15. Three different families have taken BonnieBlue home with them to play for a few hours each day so that I can rest.

16. Another dear friend tonight dropped off another pint of Graeter's Black Rasperry Chip because really, we here in Central Ohio absolutely do believe in the healing powers of that ice cream.

That isn't even all of it! I am simply in awe of the selfless service I have witnessed. What a great lesson for me to be a better giver of service once I am better and able to give of my time and talents.

I'm hoping that time will be soon.

The next time I post, I'll synopsize my surgery experience.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Melly is typing this for me.

Surgery went well. Lymph nodes came back negative for invasive/atypical cells (yay!). I'm supposed to be discharged between 10:00 and noon on Tuesday. I'm so grateful for everyone's prayers and kind wishes and for feeding my family.

That's enough for now. I'm tired; anti-nausea medication makes one drowsy.

Wiki-P, you are dead to me.

I am sorely disappointed in Wikipedia.

I hate to admit this, but I am a closet-Wikipedia fan. Frankly, it's often my go-to site for information I do not know. So, when I wanted to figure out the root word meaning of mastectomy, I went to Wiki-P (my pet name for the site).

Might I suggest to you that you NOT look up 'mastectomy' on Wiki-P. Right there is a picture of what I can only assume is a mastectomy, but frankly looks like a botched lumpectomy. This is not anything like the picture the NP showed me during the surgery consult. If I come out of surgery looking like that, I will not be happy.

Turns out, the root word 'maste' is from the Greek 'breast.' Okay, makes sense. Another word for mastectomy is mammectomy, though. That one makes more sense to me.

(I really hope you can see that screen shot; if not, this next bit isn't going to make much sense.)

Notice that box with the shield-like icon in the corner. I love the intent to education has here. But. There are so many aspects of this content I am troubled by, I'm just not sure where to start. How about with "Mastectomy is always a good word to know." Um, really?! Always? This is one word I'd rather no one ever had to know because it never had to be invented because there was no such thing as breast cancer. But hey, that's a pipe dream, sure, I'll give you that. Really, my question is this: Is any word always a good word to know?

And that second bullet point. Did someone really use 'dingus' as the wrong answer in this little word game (I looked it up just to be sure, but I guessed correctly due to my superior knowledge of root words)? And as far as I know, there is no such word as thingumbob. It's thingumabob. Who's with me?! Am I right?! Say yay!

Well, I went off track a bit. I was posting tonight to share with you the pre-surgery preparations. First, I finally read the little surgery handbook my NP gave me 4 weeks ago. I was relieved to read that if I am experiencing pain or nausea in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU), I am to ask my nurse for meds. Whew! Permission to exhibit drug-seeking behavior. Yahoo!

So, an interesting tidbit. I have to shower with an anti-microbial soap, CHG, brand name Scrub-Stat. Twice. Once tonight and again in the morning before I leave for the hospital. I've done it once now and am disappointed that I do not feel any cleaner than I do after a shower with Dove.

I am not to wear lotion, nail polish, make up, or jewelry. I am looking down at my naked toe nails as I type this. I anticipate a pedicure in my near future.

I was also supposed to be on a low-fat diet. Oops.

I knew that one of the great blessings I would have from this experience would be to see so much good in so many people, and it has started already. Aunt Piddy in Atlanta send BonnieBlue a "surgery-day" box. I hope she forgives me; we opened it today as it was a rough day. After she took out all the candy, cookies, crayons, horsey toys, and coloring books, she said, "I can't believe she loves me so much!" God bless Aunt Piddy.

Melly, bless her heart, is going to pick up another front-fastening sports bra for me. I have my special mastectomy one, but I'll need another in a day or two. I was going to get it this week, but changing the surgery date quashed that idea.

I saw family last night at my nephews graduation party. Lots of hugs (we are NOT a hugging family). That was nice. Lots of people at church today wishing me well and affirming their prayers. I know a lot of great folks. Me lucky.

I'll try to post from the hospital via dictation to Melly tomorrow night. I hope I wake up to do so!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Surgery Date

My surgeon had a cancellation so I'm going to have my surgery on June 11 instead of June 18. A week earlier may not seem like a big deal to some, but I view it as 7 fewer nights of insomnia as I worry.

A lot of people have asked about recovery and how long it will take. It depends on how long it takes for the lymphatic fluid to stop draining. Well, not totally stop, just not drain so much. I can't remember how many (few?) cubic centimeters but once my drain is collecting only a certain amount of ccs for 2 or 3 days in a row, then I'm allowed/encouraged to get my arm moving. Until then, I am not supposed to raise my arm above 90 degrees. No driving, no hair brushing...what else takes an arm raised above 90 degrees?

For some women, the drain comes out in 10 days. For others, 8 weeks. The average is four weeks, so I am shooting for 2 weeks.

I am assuming that I'll be feeling relatively okay after a few days in bed, so I'm guessing it'll be a pain in the patootie to have to restrict myself until the drain comes out. I've got a good book to read and my iPad for movies.

I'm starting to feel like I'm sinking a bit into a depressive state, but I think that's because I have to grade papers tonight and get graduating seniors' grades posted by noon tomorrow. I am having a difficult time focusing.

But by this time next week, surgery will be over, and I'll be home from the hospital!