“No surprises” is what I heard each from my general surgeon, plastic surgeon and GP as I lay in my recovery bed the day after surgery. Big sigh of relief. In the back of my mind I was a little worried that I’d wake up and they’d say that they found something unexpected and had to do a full mastectomy or weren’t able to get it all. I often don’t let myself acknowledge these things until the moment has passed so it’s a week post-op and I’m just now admitting that.
One of the best parts of recovering in the hospital was groggily seeing two friends’ masked face (one is an OR nurse, the other an ER doc). All I really remember is how happy it made me feel to see them and how aware I was that I wasn’t making a ton of sense. The nurses were fabulous and I seriously could have spent another day or two there having all of my needs tended to. The massagey thing that they put on your legs to prevent blood clots is SO AMAZING! I wish I had had these during my last four rounds of chemo to help deal with the muscle aches in my legs. I fell asleep to the meditative rhythm and sound of them while in the hospital and was quite sad when the physio took them off the next day.
I wasn’t sure that I’d post the picture below of me looking all cancer-patient-like, but it was a comment from a friend who told me “You do look cancer-patienty…. except for the GIANT smile that I can’t help but smile with when I see it.” A few entries back I wrote about how another blog said that the closer you get to the end the more you start looking like a cancer patient….this is so true for me right now but I’m finding that the more open I am with my peers, the easier this whole thing is. It is what it is right? I don’t stress (much) about going out in public or especially my return to SAR or patrolling since my community has been so open and accepting of me how I am. Big lesson learned from this process.
Pain management….. I totally get it how quickly one can become addicted to opioids. On day 5 post-op I decided to stop taking Tramadol; at that point I was taking six 37.5mg tablets per day, below the eight max, and hadn’t really been feeling any “pain” for a few days, just ‘discomfort’ in my left armpit which I can handle. Within six hours I was light-headed, sweaty, agitated and mildly nauseated. Am sticking to acetaminophen and ibuprofen from here on out.
I’ve learned that there are people I don’t know reading this blog. Yes I know that seems obvious but it wasn’t until someone left a comment on one entry that I REALLY knew it. Took me a few days to approve the comment, I kept looking at it and wondering if it was spam (there’s some of that too), then I reached out to them to ask how their chemo was going. She and I have been corresponding since then and it’s been so good. I asked her how she found my blog and she said “i came across your blog when i was looking for someone’s experience with ACT. i was getting tired of the copy and paste pages listing side effects. and i did find another blog site but it was yours that i stuck with because your attitude towards it sounded a lot like mine. i’m glad you listened to your friends about blogging because it has helped me and i’m sure it will help more!” She said that when she read the last chemo entry she got teary despite not knowing me. BAM! How powerful are those words?!?!
So in that vein of things that I wish someone had told me ahead of time…. one thing that I wasn’t prepared for was how odd it feels to have had plastic surgery done on my breasts. Maybe TMI but how weird is it that a surgeon can just cut your nipple off and sew it back on somewhere else?! It’s like it’s decoration, like a show-girl pastie. My breasts feel very “other” still. This is something I hadn’t seen in any of the material I was given or blogs I’d read so it came as quite a surprise. A friend who is a writer put it perfectly like this – Yes chemo is invasive, yes cancer is scary, that was in our spreadsheet… New boob adjustment time sounds surprising!
So here I am a week post-op and feeling like I’m on the upward trajectory. The past few days have been tough mostly because of the freaking drain making it awkward to sleep, not being able to or feeling like doing much then simultaneously feeling yucky for sitting on the couch watching dumb youtube videos all day. On top of that is how swollen and irritated the skin in my left armpit has been. Thankfully a home care nurse came yesterday to take the drain out and bandages off and I was able to take a shower. HALLELUJAH YES THANK YOU!
A few days ago my ah-ha moment came when I realized that I wasn’t healing up for the next battle just around the corner. This time I’ll likely have until mid-July to recover. I can already feel the restlessness and irritation creeping in and have told myself that this is the time to start slowly upping my rehab exercises, including the core and lower body strengthening ones, and getting outside. Looking forward to being able to take Rory out on leash (kicking myself for not having developed a more solid heel), getting back onto my bike and the paddle board, being able to drive (the poor Tacoma is looking pretty sad in the driveway all covered in bird shit) and especially contributing to my SAR teams however I can.
MAY 31 UPDATE:
So much good news today! Talked to my surgeon – He said the margins were all clear (eg no cancerous tissue left behind) and 5/13 lymph nodes removed were cancerous (which means that #6 through #13 in the sequence were not). He said that the minor swelling and tightness in my armpit is normal and to keep doing what I’m doing. I could hear him grinning when I asked if there was anything else I should/could be doing. He also said that if I want to return to ‘light duties’ at SAR that would be OK….so I reached out to the SARMs to say if you need a comms, medic, RIT or air ops person, keep me in mind.
Then I had a meeting with my radiation oncologist and she was also super happy with how the surgery went. She said there was a dramatic reduction in the size of the tumour during chemo (and perhaps with the mushroom powder combo….?) and the surgeon got “strong margins” (7mm instead of the minimum 2mm recommended.) We’re going ahead with a course of radiation to decrease the chance of reoccurrence. Starts with a CT scan in about a month and they’ll give me marker tattoos, they’ll take two weeks to plan, then sixteen days of radiation (M-F ) in Victoria. Should be wrapped up by early August.
Treatment. Recover. Reassess. Repeat. One tiny step at a time…..
I’M SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW!!!!