Beating Breast Cancer – Weekly Update #5

Beating Breast Cancer as a Thirty Something - Weekly Update #5

I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and have decided to blog about my journey.  If you need to catch up on my story, please check out this page for the chronological list of posts.

Monday morning I checked in at the hospital, took a pregnancy test (routine for all women who haven’t started menopause), and then went up to same day surgery.  They checked me in and took me to a room where I got changed into the surgery gear.  The nurse came in not long after that and got my IV started.  The surgeon came in about an hour later and gave me my sentinel node biopsy injection.  So I don’t know how I missed this conversation, but I totally didn’t realize that this injection of radioactive material was going to be yet ANOTHER injection into my nipple.  And it hurt.  Quite a bit.  And my nipple and the tumor were angry for a while afterwards.  After that, the real waiting began.  I arrived at the hospital at 7:00am and I finally got taken to surgery around 1:00pm.  Luckily, everyone involved in my case knew that this was going to happen, so I had been prepared for the wait.  I had the nurse hook me into the air circulation system for the uncomfortable paper gown, kicked up my feet, and dove into a good book.

Prior to walking to the OR, I was taken to a small waiting room.  The plastic surgeon came in and marked me up with purple marker (just like they do on Extreme Makeover and The Swan…remember that show?!).  He said that when I am laying down everything settles differently, so he wanted to make sure that he had everything marked symmetrically.  After that, the surgeon came in and marked the breast that was going to have the sentinel node biopsy.  Once I looked like a walking coloring book, it was time to head to the OR.

My only real experience with the OR is for C-Section, when I am completely awake but numb.  I have never been administered general anesthesia before, so this was a whole new experience.  All I remember is the anesthesiologist saying “Here we go” and then three people looking down at me.  Everything went wavy and I remember trying to say “This works fast!” but I doubt I got that all out.  The next thing I know, I am being told that I am in recovery and everything went well.  Since I live in a small town, I instantly recognized the wonderful recovery nurse as a friend from church.   At this point, I was overcome by the relief of seeing a familiar face, the emotion of the whole process, and the heavy medication I was on and I became a bit of a blubbery mess.

After recovery, I was wheeled to the acute care wing of the hospital, which was super busy (and full!) the day of my surgery, so I had a roommate.  Without giving too much detail, I will just say that this was not an ideal roommate situation.  My wireless headphones were a lifesaver for blocking out noise without having an extra wire getting tangled in all of the other tubes and what-not.

My awesome nurse came with my pain medication every four hours on the dot so that I could stay on top of the pain control situation. I wasn’t really sure how to answer the rate-your-pain question because I hadn’t really felt much, due to my awesome nurse and my plastic surgeon who injected a combo of local anesthetics during my surgery.  It was about 12 hours post-surgery when I really started feeling what the pain would be like.  I was expecting sharp pain, but it was more of a heavy, stretching pressure with occasional sharpness.  The best way I can describe it is that it feels like my breasts (that aren’t actually there) are letting down milk…while already engorged…with mastitis. Lovely, I know.

By the time I woke up and had breakfast, my pain meds were late getting to me.  The poor morning nurses were swamped with the morning tasks of the huge amount of patients on the wing.  I could tell that it would be a crazy day around there (and the roommate was definitely sticking around), so I told Mr. Blue Eyes that I wanted to go home ASAP so we could monitor my own medication in my own space.  So when the nurse brought me my pain meds, we let her know we wanted to get going and she took out my IV so that I could get dressed.  Within an hour I was discharged and back home.

The first few days post-surgery are a bit of a blur.  I was taking my pain medication and muscle relaxers around the clock with no concern for time of day, so I slept through most of the first few days at home.  I have seriously been a groggy mess, so I apologize to any of you awesome people who reached out via text, Facebook, or mail and got no response from me.  You are awesome and appreciated…I just couldn’t formulate coherent thoughts for much of the past week.  My home base has been what we have dubbed the “sick recliner” because it is where my dad slept and lived after his recent shoulder surgery.  I haven’t yet been brave enough to try sleeping propped up in my own bed.  I think I will wait until my drains are out.

Speaking of drains…I never saw anyone describe them very well online, so I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was pretty nervous about them.  The drains are basically like a little clear hand grenade or blood pressure bulb that are connected to tubing that is inserted into my chest from under my armpit.  I have one on each side.  They drain all sorts of fluids from the incision area to prevent painful buildup of fluid.  We have to regularly drain the bulbs and record how much drained from each side. The surgeon’s office calls for the amounts every twenty-four hours and, when the numbers are where they want them to be, I will go in and have the drains removed.  The reading material I received from the cancer center recommended “milking” the tubes (squeezing all of the liquid out of the tubing) when a clog is noticed, but my awesome surgeon told me to go ahead and milk the tubes at least twice a day to help prevent the clogs from forming.  So Mr. Blue Eyes has turned into a professional drain tube milker and I have been clog free (knock on wood)!  One of my drains has been uncomfortable where it comes out of my skin and it has been painful at times, so we have been keeping a close eye on that side.

(So apparently this is the quality of selfie I take when loopy from pain meds. Haha. I barely even remember taking this picture.)

THE BEST way to manage the drains is to bite the bullet and get one of the camisoles that are made for mastectomy recovery.  They are expensive, but worth every penny.  EVERY. SINGLE. PENNY.  I found one on Amazon (pictured above) that has a zipper front and inner pockets for the drains, so it is easy to take on and off, plus it keeps the drains out of the way.  I wear it under everything. For showering, I just slip a safety pin into the loop on the drain and then clip the safety pins to a lanyard.    Easy peasy. I also wear the drains like this when washing my awesome camisole.

Two days post-surgery, I was able to take off the bandages and shower.  Mr. Blue Eyes helped me with this part because I am a wimp when it comes to ripping off bandages, plus I knew it would be a pretty emotional process.  I was not surprised by how uncomfortable it was to remove the bandages (OUCH!), but I WAS surprised by how everything looked.  I thought I would be shocked by the lack of breast tissue and would be super emotional because of it.  In reality, there is so much Frankenstein-looking stuff going on with the steri-strips and remnants of purple marker (plus bruising and swelling), I don’t really notice the lack of breast tissue at this point.  I know I will have grief over the loss of my breasts at some point, but apparently my moment wasn’t in taking off the bandages.

I have taken a couple of quick walks outside (thank goodness for fresh air and sunshine!) and I was able to attend part of our church services today.  I am weaning off the pain meds and increasing my activity level.  Things are looking good so far and I am so grateful!

Overall, it has been a blur of a week.  I am relieved to have the tumor out of me.  This coming week will bring follow-up with my surgeon and oncologist, the results of my sentinel node biopsy, and a starting date for chemo.  I am ready to start chemo and get this stupid cancer killed for GOOD!

Keep Reading – – > Weekly Update #6 (February 20, 2017) {Post-Op Appointments and Pathology Results}

2 thoughts on “Beating Breast Cancer – Weekly Update #5”

  1. Stephanie, I’m so proud of the strength YOU’VE shown. You’re always in our thoughts and prayers. We love you!

  2. Stephanie, I am praying for you and thinking positive thoughts. I would love to help out if there is anything i can do . . .

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