“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
The day before surgery (9/9), I got to work around 6:30am and worked until 2pm. My pre-op appointment with the plastic surgeon was at 2:45pm. All day I kept it together. I focused on getting things off my desk, letting HR know where I was at, and letting my boss know what follow-up stuff she’d need to do with customer’s, and whatnot. I was great all day and didn’t really have a chance to think about it…until 1:50pm came rolling around.
I went into HR’s office to give them the note they could read to my coworkers on Wednesday, Sept 10th explaining why I wasn’t in and wouldn’t be in for a while. I didn’t tell them about my surgery. I filled her in on a few things, and walked out of her office tearing up. I knew there was nothing I could throw myself into, not because I was in denial, but to keep my mind off of things. My 8-year-old niece came up to me, whispered into my ear, and said “I love you and am praying for you. I’ll see you tomorrow at the hospital.”
Yes, you will see me tomorrow. I was a mess. I quickly walked out the side door, got into my car, and lost it. Thank goodness my car has tinted windows and they couldn’t see the hot mess I was in. I cried and cried all the way to my appointment. I got there, parked, and got it together. I made it up to the 5th floor, and waltz into like a clown with too much blush on.
I sat and waited until the nurse came and got me. I distracted myself by reading Facebook, texting friends back, and whatever else I could. The nurse opened the door, called my name, and asked how I was doing. The tears started gushing down my face and I couldn’t even lie and say, “doing well, and you?” She gave me a big hug and walked me to the room. She closed the door, talked to me, reassured me that I was doing the right thing, and made sure I realized it was okay to be feeling the way I did. She seemed surprised I didn’t have anyone with me at the appointment, and I let her know I hadn’t really had anyone come with prior because it was my journey. I had to make the decisions. She talked to me some more and let me know it was okay to feel the way I did. Up until this point, I had never cried in an appointment or let out those kinds of emotions. I cried up until that point, but not a waterfall!
I let her know it was awesome getting texts from friend’s saying they were thinking of me or sending well-wishes. I didn’t know how to respond – I couldn’t respond. Before she left the room, she let me know it was okay to process things and “ignore” people for the rest of the day.
She left the room and I waited for the doctor. I sat there and cried and hoped he wouldn’t walk through the door. Was I really ready for this? At one point, I was really mad at myself for bawling like that and not keeping it together until I got home. I don’t normally cry in front of people. But, I reminded myself it’s okay to cry.
The doctor came in, marked up my chest, and told me he’d see me the next day. Yep. Yep, you will. I’ll be knocked out cold, lying lifeless on an operating table, waiting for you to put the lovely rocks in my chest. Yay, I cannot wait.
I left his office and finished my errands. I was in a dress and didn’t really think that one through. People probably thought I colored on myself with a Sharpie. Liz is a photographer and came over to take some pictures. I wanted pictures of myself in a nice top, with the markings showing, as well as some topless ones. Many women who did the surgery said the one thing they regretted was getting before boob pictures. I didn’t want to be on the other side of things and regret that. So, she got some pictures and even captured some of me in the moment of shedding a few tears. Someday I’ll take a look at what I once had and even the pictures of me crying. But, right now, I’m not ready for that. Eventually, I’ll get them from her.
The night was full of finishing up cleaning the house, packing for my hospital stay, and doing last minute things. I was going to pull an all-nighter, because I had to be up so early and I’d have plenty of time to sleep during surgery and post-surgery. Nice thought process, huh?! That didn’t actually happen and I got a few hours of sleep. I had to be up by 3am, take a shower with the pre-surgery wash, finish some laundry, and be out the door by 4:45am.
My parent’s picked me up and the share-a-ride program started. I arrived at the hospital around 5:20am, and of course registration didn’t open until 5:30am sharp. Those 10 minutes sitting outside the doors were agonizing. I just wanted to be putting on the hospital gown and wheeled down to the operating room in my carriage. Once through the registration process, I scooted off to the third floor and checked in.
They nurse came and got me and took me to my room. I changed out of my clothes, put on the sexy hospital gown, and waltzed into the bathroom for the “pee in a cup” dance. Once I was back in my room, they brought my parents and Liz back. This is where things started moving ahead full force.
Some chick came in to take my blood. Two pokes later, she ended up drawing blood from my hand. Another nurse came in to take my temperature and that led to a doctor coming in to check my vitals. My temperature was high. The room was extremely warm, which may have caused a higher temperature reading. I cried so much Tuesday afternoon/night that I woke up congested. I wasn’t sick at all. They were worried I was and the doctor had to clear me before moving forward with surgery. I was extremely nervous. If they called the surgery off, I would have been a wreck. I mentally prepared for the surgery for months and days. There was no way they were going to send me home!!
After getting the all clear from a doctor, they took me to x-ray for a chest x-ray. The reconstruction doctor ordered it. I’m not sure why…but down some hallways with a butt exposed and IV dangling, I arrived for an x-ray. Once I arrived back in my room, I decorated the dry-erase board with things like “Farewell Boobies”… (.) (.) … and other random things. It was hilarious and I had doctors and nurses coming into my room to see it. Things became a blur shortly after. I already had my IV in me and was given some anxiety medicine. I hate needles and IV’s. They wanted to make sure I would be loopy enough to not care I had one in me. People came into the room to introduce themselves and what their role in the surgery was. I couldn’t keep the names straight and already three sheets to the wind and cracking jokes…now that was entertaining!!!
Honestly, I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew I was in good hands and trusted my doctors/surgeons to do their jobs and to do them well. My dad prayed and my mom and sister were both bawling. Because of them, I started to cry. Dang it!
The doctor’s came in and asked me to say my goodbyes. I hugged them and told them I’d see them on the other side. They whisked me away. All I remember was hallucinating down the hallway while the team scooted alongside me. I vaguely remember the operating room doors opening, being escorted in, seeing all these random people moving about…Can you tell I’m a light-weight?!? I was basically knocked out before I even made it into the operating room.
The breast surgeon started first. Her job was to make the incision under my breast about 3-4”, carve my breast tissue out all the way down to the chest wall, and “shave” the tissue out under the nipple/areola . I choose to do a nipple-sparing prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. Basically what that means is I kept my nipple and areola and all the breast skin around it. In a traditional mastectomy, the nipple, areola and skin around it is removed. Because I didn’t have cancer I was a good candidate for keeping the nipple, so that’s the route I went. Nipple-sparing is completely safe, but with any procedure there are usual risks. I loved my breast surgeon. She’s a triathlete as well and understands my lifestyle. She’s also meticulous and methodical. She took about 3 ½ hours on one breast and 3 hours on the other.
Once she finished the first breast, she moved to the second breast and repeated what she did on the first, while the reconstruction surgeon started on the first breast. He came in, cut the pectoral muscle at the bottom, placed the expander (rocks) between the chest wall/pectoral muscle, hinged the top pec muscle over the expander, placed Alloderm at the bottom to support the bottom part of the expander, and sewed the Alloderm to the pectoral muscles, placed drains in me, and zippered me up.
71/2 hours later, surgery was a success. When it was all said and done, I had six incisions in me – 2 drain site incisions on each side and one under each breast.
After surgery was complete, they took me to recovery. I. Did. Not. Wake. Up. When I did wake up, I remember my chest being covered in a tight dressing (which was the post-mastectomy bra). I wasn’t awake for that long and I remember them quickly taking the oxygen away from me and being adamant about getting me to my room. I had a luxurious hospital suite awaiting my presence. I got out of surgery around 4pm, and was in my room by 5:15pm. I remember getting to my room and struggling to breathe. The nurses were freaking out and immediately gave me oxygen. I ended up being on oxygen for the next 24 hours.
I had a few friends visit shortly after I got to my room and don’t remember much…only that I locked myself out of my phone and I couldn’t get into my phone until I got home late Friday afternoon. I was embarrassed to puke in front of them and I was a little self-conscious. I really hadn’t taken the time or energy to really see myself under the gown. We took a picture, and they left. A while later my brother, his wife and 3 girls and another brother and his girlfriend came. Andrea kept telling me how excited Marissa was to come see me at the hospital, but when they got there she was scared to death of me. They didn’t stay long because I was really sick and worshipping the plastic puke bucket.
My pain was out of control. I was weak and my chest was throbbing. They gave me morphine every hour, but it wore off after 30-40 minutes. They had me on so many medications – antibiotics, various pain meds orally and through IV, muscle relaxors, etc. The pain was so bad and couldn’t be controlled. They eventually switched me to another pain medicine which seemed to help. Throughout the night, I couldn’t stay comfortable or asleep. My chest hurt – it was on fire!! I couldn’t cough, sneeze or move. I’d finally fall asleep only to be woken up. People were coming and going every 2 hours to check my vitals, give me pain medicine, or whatever else. I puked a bunch that night. When I had to go to the bathroom, it was horrible. You couldn’t pull on my arms!!
The next day I wasn’t doing that well. I remember waking up drenched in sweat. The nurse told me the room’s temperature was about 77, per Dr Judy’s orders. She requests the rooms to be warm and also makes sure all mastectomy patients have the largest rooms. So, when she came to check up on me, she was upset the room temperature wasn’t what it was supposed to be. Well, I asked the nurses to turn down the heat. I think they got in trouble. Oops, sorry Ladies! Dr. Judy didn’t feel comfortable releasing me to go home so I stayed another night. My mom was relieved because she knew if I went home, she’d be bringing me back in a matter of time. Dr. Judy was SO cool and ordered all the staff to leave me alone the second night and only come in when I needed my routine pain medicine.
After any surgery, they want you to get up and move. I eventually figured out a way to get out of my bed by myself, use the bathroom and that was it. I couldn’t get back into bed and had to have help. From there, I’d use my abs and scoot myself up. The nurses took me walking once and I was done. They wanted me to walk more, but I told them walking to the bathroom on my own was good enough!!
I was doing better on Friday, and was able to go home late afternoon. Imagine my excited to go home and finally be able to use my phone, check VM’s, texts, and everything else. Note to self: don’t try to get into your phone right after surgery. Your memory may be clouded; vision blurred; might not fully touch the correct numbers…or remember the passcode. I finally remembered it when I was more alert, but at that point it was too late; I was already out of tries. I’ll remember this for the next surgery!
I made it home and sat down in the recliner. My mom stayed with me and slept on the couch to make sure to be there for any of my needs or help me out of the chair. I woke up Saturday and didn’t feel right. The home nurse came that morning to visit, drain my drains, and take my vitals. By the early afternoon, I was puking everything up. I couldn’t keep water down. I ate broth and puked it up after. I drank Sprite, thinking it would calm my stomach down, and guess what? I puked that up too. Mom called the home nurse and they couldn’t do much for me. “Take an Ativan and see what happens…Oh did she puke that up…wait two hours and try again…” I took some tums thinking that would help my stomach but it only made it worse. At this point, my chest was hurting so badly from all the puking and dry-heaving. Mom got me to the car and drove me to the ER right away.
I could barely get out of the car due to the pain, and had to be wheeled into the ER. They found out I had just had a PBM and rushed me through the registration process. The on-call breast doctor came to see me and ordered no more Percocets. My stomach couldn’t handle the Percs and that was making me so sick. She ordered another night’s stay. This cute guy (of course) wheeled me up to the 4th floor where I stayed previously. I was super happy when my favorite nurse walked through the doors.
It was a rough night. IV’s, pain medication, no appetite, sick…on top of that no sleep again. Shift’s changed and I got a new nurse, one that was just a peach. She argued and tried to give me Percs, to which my mother was steaming hot and very vocal. Mom told her to go back through my records and read what the on-call doctor prescribed for the night. How could I take Percs when I had nothing in my stomach and those were what landed me in the ER/over-night stay?! It was funny watching it play out. She argued with my Mom and then had the audacity to look at me and say, “You’re the patient. What would you like?” My response was simple, “She’s my medical power of attorney and that’s on file. Listen to her.” She walked out of the room and came back with the other pain medication.
On top of having issues with the nurse, the next door lady fell in the bathroom. It seemed like the whole hospital and higher-ups were there, and within a few minutes were rushing her out of the room. I finally fell asleep again. I woke up a while later and was feeling a little better. I wasn’t allowed to be discharged until I ate two meals and kept them both down. I ate breakfast and walked around. Fell asleep for a while and woke up for lunch. The on-call breast doctor came in later in the afternoon and did her thing. I wanted to go home.
Before doing her check-up and releasing me, she asked me if anyone read my pathology report. She reassured me that I made the right decision and commended me for it. It was then that I learned that there were atypical cells found in both breasts as well as a small lump. I can’t even describe the emotions that went through my body. I wanted to jump up and down, but knew that would be painful. I wanted to scream out of sheer happiness, but didn’t want to wake others or disturb the people around me. All I could was smile and soak it in. I knew I was making the right decision all along.
For those of you wondering whether or not to move forward with a PBM, please do it for yourself, your family, those that love you. Everyone comes to terms with it on their own time. If you don’t feel you can make this decision right now, then be proactive with surveillance. Don’t wait until it’s too late or think you can beat the clock. There are no guarantees in life. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. It’s not an easy decision to come to. Trust me, I know. The healing process takes time and can be extremely frustrating, but it’s completely worth it in the end.
The perk of surgery? Losing 5 pounds instantly…2 ½ pounds per boob!! Just kidding!
Yes, my “boobs” may be very boxy now, smaller than they originally were, slightly distorted, and physically ugly to me. Quite frankly, I don’t like getting out of the shower and seeing myself in the mirror. I don’t like the stares I’ve gotten while at the gym when I’m changing. I haven’t come to terms with my scars or rocks, but deep down I know I will. It’s a process that takes time. These scars will be a daily reminder of how strong, brave, and courageous I was, and how I took control. The pain I was in right after surgery and how sick I got has nothing on whatever is thrown my way in the future. Ha! Ironman Wisconsin 2016 training pain will have nothing on this!! There, I committed. You have it in writing!
I cannot wait for my exchange surgery so I can have comfortable, “squishy” boobs again. I’m still dealing with the nagging pain on my right side and under the armpit that will hopefully get better with time. My physical therapist (PT) wasn’t very nice to me today and now my body is cursing her name. I don’t think it helped I fell asleep on my back last night, rolled to my side, and eventually rolled on my stomach. I woke up in so much pain and couldn’t use my arms to push up. I felt like a turtle that was stuck on its back! I think I need to buy a memory foam pillow, cut out two holes for my boobs, so when I do roll over on my stomach the boobs can rest in the…I still have a hard time falling asleep and sleeping comfortably.
All of this is so minute in the scope of things and completely worth it. I know I made the best decision for me, and no one can take that from me. I don’t have to worry about the 87% chance of getting breast cancer in my lifetime.