The Return to Work!

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Well, it’s official. Life is truly returning back to normal, just three weeks after being discharged from the hospital. And I couldn’t be happier! “Normal” feels so good!!

I talked to my boss yesterday morning, hoping to return to work for half days today, and in a matter of minutes she had an appointment set up with occupational health for my “fit to return” exam! I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty curious what this could possibly involve. Thankfully at this point I have no shame where peep shows are involved, but no… Just a couple questions. They were more concerned I hadn’t had a fit test for a TB mask this year. Me: “but I don’t have direct patient contact anymore.” Them: “but you’re still a nurse. We could need you in a mass casualty situation.” Uh okay… You really don’t want me doing CPR right now (no life-saving gonna be happening here with these recovering pecs!) but if that’s what it takes to get me back, so be it! And that was that.

So I was quickly on my way over to the main hospital. My mission: get my new office key, since all the locks were changed when I was out. Thankfully they had it at the police department and it was not, in fact, a hint! But my mission was so much more than completed. I can’t begin to explain the outpouring of support… I was speechless. So much love. So many hugs… I promise they don’t hurt me! But they may hurt YOU with these boulder boobs!! Also I have to laugh – I’m totally not offended when everyone’s eyes first go to the foobs when they first see me – but it cracks me up, and I would totally do the same thing. It happened over and over, and I just laughed and laughed! Thankfully they look fantastic so I have no shame in showing them off! I reconnected with all my coworkers and word got out fast that I was back – I hadn’t told anyone in case there was a snafu with my return. But not even an hour passed before I finally made it to my office and this was welcoming me:

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So sweet. Oh and the dark chocolate and card. Can’t forget the chocolate!! After a couple hours I was beat (my endurance, while improving daily, is still lacking post surgery/recovery), so I headed home and took it easy for the rest of the night, feeling great about my return the following day. The big productive thing I did was put all of my “progress” pictures in a PowerPoint so they’re all in order for a newfound friend that’s going through this soon herself. And now it’s ready to send to other women that are up against this themselves. I was a little overwhelmed to see how quick the progress was, when every one of those 16 days with drains was a tad long! But seriously. It’s astounding.

Thankfully, everything went fantastically today as well for my first “official” day back. Felt so great to be back in my office, erasing my email away message, changing back my voicemail greeting. I don’t know that I actually got anything done, but did some epic calendar planning and I got my “GSD” (get shit stuff done) list complete to tackle in the days and weeks ahead. Thankfully I have some amazing help that stepped up while I was gone, so I didn’t return to a disaster!

I continued to be dumbfounded by everyone’s support, and it makes my heart so full to know how much I was missed. Can’t believe that with the conference, pre-op, and surgery itself it worked out to exactly a month, to the day, that I was gone. That time just FLEW!! It was so cathartic to erase the (Pinterest-inspired) dry erase board on my door today… And then the bottom message quickly appeared! :)

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I’m doing pretty well this afternoon. Could easily fall asleep right now, but know I would never be able to sleep tonight. Foobs are a bit uncomfortable, but certainly bearable. It’s really just the expanders and their inherent discomfort. Concern got the best of me yesterday when I saw the sliding left expander while laying down stretching, but my wonderful plastic surgeon assured me that while it bugs him too, it is common and easily correctable. It’s just that the expanders aren’t sutured in (so they can, you know, expand) and the left one simply didn’t adhere to the muscle as much as the right, so it moves laterally. Thankfully a tight sports bra helps immensely. Though that gets to you too after awhile! Oh well. I can wear it 24/7 for a few months. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m looking forward to scheduling the exchange so I can start counting down!! All in good time, I know!

So I’m back in the normal working world… And it feels so good! I’m truly grateful to work with such amazing people, who make returning to work something I looked forward to. My work family never ceases to amaze me! I’ve got plans to begin returning to my normal social life with friends this weekend, and I can’t wait! Though I’m sure I’ll be grateful for the rest day of Labor Day. Hoping to be “back back” at work next week. A successful day indeed – so exciting to be enjoying “the other side!” Just a few more months and this will all be a memory… Thankfully an overwhelmingly positive one, despite the situation!


Three Weeks Down!

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Hard to believe I was having surgery this time three weeks ago! Those weeks have FLOWN by! I’m so relieved to be doing as well as I am, and the first 24 hours back at my apartment have gone well! I still get tired more easily than I wish, but I’ve been pacing myself and have managed to get most things done that I’ve wanted to. Mainly unpacking and getting things back in order! This ended up being my biggest workout of the day:

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Who knew putting away (particularly hanging up – thankfully there wasn’t much of that) laundry would be harder than driving? I sure didn’t see that one coming!

Figured I’d just touch base on the things from 2 weeks out, more than anything to keep track myself!

Incisions: Looking great! Last of the scabs were off this morning, so that’s awesome – glad they’re all closed. Drain sites are healing well, and bruising is all gone except for one small spot close to my sternum. Still so pleased and impressed!

Phantom itching: Still happens occasionally, but I’ve gotten used to it already. Equally as weird is the concept of “foob freeze” – like “brain freeze” with cold liquids. I can often feel drinks move all the way down. SO strange!

Nerves: The regeneration pains are definitely improving. We finally put together what was causing the worst of it – I noticed there was one place on my left, close to my incision, that would cause searing pain in my back when I touched it. Come to find out my moving left expander was hitting a nerve. The tight sports bras are helping this, and the weird expander situation, entirely. It’s actually more comfortable to be one that not, so other than showering the girls are being squeezed 24/7.

Muscle spasms: Gone! What a huge relief! The drains were definitely triggering these, and now that they’re gone, I don’t have them anymore which ROCKS!

Size: They’re definitely bigger! It’s funny to look down, or walk into things (yeah… graceful I am), as I’m getting used to the new size. And then by the time it’s natural, they’ll be growing again. The other big fill (which is still a relative term) is next Thursday – promises to be interesting!

Sleep: Still a struggle, but improving. I actually slept the best that I have in the past 3 weeks back in my own bed last night. A throne of pillows helps immensely, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that this is just part of having the expanders. Thankfully, a temporary thing! I can’t wait to be able to sleep on my stomach again! Or to be able to turn on my side more than ONE exact way without having expander jabbing in my sternum! But yes, totally functional now, but I did have to laugh when my roommate asked me around 7:45 this morning why I was up… yeah, sleeping in would be nice. But not happening!

Stir crazy: Definitely gone! Now that I can get out a little bit, it’s been a big help. Even if it’s just to doctor’s appointments, like today. Just working on getting things back in order and back to real life!

Work: Hoping to return super soon! Just waiting on all the official logistical stuff. Will plan on taking it really easy the first few days, and slowly get back into things before the middle of next month when things really pick up.

So that’s the latest. Still processing that it’s over, and trying to mentally gear up for the next few months, especially the exchange surgery! Can’t wait to have a date to start counting down to… looking like I may get new boobs for Christmas this year! Or at least in the Christmas season. Can’t wait for that!!


Bittersweet

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Bittersweet. That’s the only word I can use to describe the past few days. I’ve done pretty well avoiding the “post-mastectomy emotional roller coaster” that everyone on the blogs and Facebook assures me is inevitable, but it’s definitely hitting me today. And I knew it would – it’s been building up over the past 72 hours, knowing that my return to “normal life” is imminent.

Yesterday was a long one. I began the arduous process of packing up all my things that I’ve had at my parents for the past three weeks, so I could move back to my apartment. When you still can’t lift a lot, it makes for a ton of trips! But my wonderful parents helped me get it all together so we could move it all back. But first, one last lunch with my parents and Aunt before she had to hop a plane back home. And so begins the bittersweet.

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Having my Aunt here for the past week has been so great – and it’s amazing to think back to the first day she got here and realize the progress I’ve made! She’s been such a help, my “personal nurse,” as she called herself, to both me and taking the burden off my parents (though they insist they don’t mind!) The joy of getting the final drains pulled wouldn’t have been the same without her presence – the presence of a survivor, of someone who has had breast cancer, who “get’s it.” But her wonderful visits always come to an end much too quickly, and it’s time to see “see you later” again. Thankfully, this time we know when that is for sure! Hopefully you’ve noticed that I was able to get all my “pages” at the top updated over the past few days, including the never-before-been-told back story to last October when I first started thinking about having this surgery. Well, last night we made our flights so we can recreate that horrible picture, and replace “Flat Diana” with “Fabulous Foobs Diana” at this year’s walk! Crazy the difference a year makes!

So with more wonderful memories made (many of just sitting around watching movies, playing cards, or sitting on the patio just enjoying being together, living intentionally), my Aunt was on her way. And my parents and I made our way back to my apartment with almost all of my stuff. Now hopefully you’ve gathered by now that my parents are pretty much the most incredible, generous, amazing people you will ever meet. They are a huge part of the bittersweet feelings today – as much as I know it’s time for me to get to back to life, and that living life is the whole reason I had this surgery in the first place, it’s hard to leave them when they make being home so great. The constant company, helping with everything possible, every-morning Starbucks, yummy vegan cooking, and, more than anything, just “being there” – I am so, eternally grateful for them, my best friends, there truly aren’t words. I hate that I had to have this surgery, but truly cherish the family time it brought us. As my Dad said last night, now we have “one less (big) thing to worry about!”

Not only did they haul all of my stuff back here, they then proceeded to clean my entire apartment, and take me grocery shopping, knowing it would have taken me a zillion trips. I’ve promised them I won’t overdo things these next few days, and all of their help and preparation has assured that! Because my breast surgeon post-op appointment was moved to this morning, I went back home with them last night. We were all tired so we called it an early night! But I am so grateful for my last night at home. Mom and Dad – I don’t know what I would do without you, and I wish there words to tell you how much I appreciate everything you do for me. Suffice to say, I love you dearly and “You’re the best!”

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So this morning Mom and I set off to see my beloved breast surgeon for my post-op appointment. Now this should just be sweet, right? Getting the final all-clear to move onto a new, risk-reduced life? Not so much. I was equally heartbroken and excited to learn (my plastic surgeon spilled the beans while I was in the hospital – mainly to get me on the “guilt train” wagon that I happily hopped on!) that my breast surgeon will be relocating halfway across the country to one of the most premiere medical centers in the world. It is an amazing place and he will do incredible things there. I am so fortunate to have had an internationally recognized BRCA expert perform my surgery, and needless to say the timing was perfect – he’s leaving next month, so I will be one of the last patient’s that get to experience my literal “dream team” breast surgeon/plastic surgeon duo. He told me when I was getting ready to leave the hospital and giving him the necessary guilt trip, “you don’t need me anymore!” Yes, it’s true, the big part is over. The breast tissue is gone. And it wouldn’t have been the same if anyone else had done it. But, selfishly, it still sucks. So that’s the bitter part – he’s leaving us. And women won’t be able to have my breast and plastic surgeon work together like they did for me. But the sweet part? He happens to be moving not far from where my Aunt (and the rest of my extended family) live. So instead of having to find a new doctor to follow up with (that’s the beauty of this surgery – no more MRIs/mammograms/ultrasounds, just a yearly physical exam!), we will fly up a day early for vacation and continue to see him. I could never find a more perfect doctor, so it’s worth it to me and my Dad (he sees him yearly as well for surveillance since he’s BRCA positive) to make the trip for his expertise. I mean seriously, how many doctors will have a list of clinical interests that include:

  • Breast cancer surgery
  • Nipple-preserving mastectomy
  • Cancer risk assessment
  • High-risk breast cancer patients
  • Cancer genetics
  • BRCA1, BRCA2, Lynch Syndrome, Cowden Syndrome and other genetic mutations
  • Lifestyle modification to prevent and manage breast cancer

Every single one of those apply to me, so seriously, just a perfect match. And I feel most comfortable continuing to see the person that did my surgery himself… even if it does involve a little bit of additional logistical planning! And the biggest “sweet” part of our visit: his report, that everything looks “beautiful!” Incisions, drain sites, reconstruction thus far, and of course, the clean pathology report. Sweet, sweet relief to have made it to this point.

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Here’s my official “I conquered prophylactic bilateral mastectomy” montage – you know, before and after, in the CAPE! Haha those things never cease to crack me up. The left was at pre-op on July 22, the right today, August 26 – you can barely see a difference, but wow what a difference 5 weeks makes! The better way I like to caption that is “on the left: 87% chance of breast cancer, on the right: less than 10%”

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So we ended the visit with mutual “thank you’s” and “we’ll see you next year’s”, a lovely survivor came in to explain post-mastectomy exercises, we had a rendezvous with my lovely nurse (I will certainly miss her!!), and we were off. With the “post-op visit” bookend over, the mastectomy part of this whole journey is complete! Only the reconstruction remains.

For such a crappy underlying situation, my entire surgery experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I was telling my mom last night that while the relief of being over the worst of it is almost overwhelming, how weird it was to have these bittersweet feelings as well, and she agreed – adding that it’s especially so because there was so much build-up over the last 6 months. It’s certainly not something I would ever want to repeat, but I have been astounded by the “good” in the people around us, and this experience has forever changed me as a person. I know that I am certainly a more empowered person by going through this, and believe those around me are as well. And I also know, through a perfectly timed email that I received right when I got back here today, that I’ve already helped at least one person going through this herself, and for that… it’s all worth it.

Not breaking tradition (and one of my most treasured one’s at that), Mom and I headed off to post-doctor-appointment lunch. And then it was time. Time to get in my car and drive back to my apartment. To the rest of my life that’s here waiting for me to live. Getting in the car was ridiculously reminiscent of college freshman move-in. You know that it’s “normal,” the right progression, and that incredible experiences await, but that doesn’t make it any easier to leave the warm comforts of home, both physically and emotionally. Thankfully the ugly cry (part 1 of ??) that followed waited until after I was off!

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All the emotions and excitement of the last few days since my drains were pulled have left me fairly worn out, so I’ll be taking it easy at my apartment over the next few days, as I slowly get back into things. Amazing how simple “Activities of Daily Living,” as we medical peeps like to call them, will wear you out when you’re still recovering – my range of motion is probably at 80-90%, but lifting is difficult and especially so is reaching for things, as the expanders remain cumbersome. But I’ve got support, I’ve done remarkable healing over the past 3 weeks, and I know in my heart I’m ready for the next steps – “baby steps to independence” as my Mom says!


Firsts

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Today was a day of “firsts” post mastectomy, and I wouldn’t do the day justice without documenting it so… Here goes!

Suffice to say, I drastically underestimated the “power of the drains.” While they really didn’t seem to be bothering me – they didn’t itch, pull, or nag me like I’ve heard from so many others – having them out the last 24+ hours has been the proverbial “corner” I’ve been waiting to turn. I feel So. Much. Better!!!

I think I can attribute it to the space the drains were taking up, but my level of discomfort is drastically reduced. And the feeling of freedom is like I could take over the world!

With a little bit of déjà vu from my 16th birthday, I was able to drive by myself today!! To a much-needed massage and then to Target (my happy place!) Actually I was on a desperate hunt to find a sports bra that would keep my wonky left expander in place. I was successful and WOW what a difference that makes! I think that expander sliding across my pec muscle is what was responsible for so much of the last week’s discomfort, combined with the drains. Driving will be much improved now! It wasn’t horrible, and was actually better than I anticipated, but I could feel every little bump. But again with the realization of how much we take our pec muscles for granted!!

And then another huge “first” post-op… Getting ready and putting on real clothes and makeup! We had so much to celebrate tonight – my amazing parent’s 37th anniversary, my aunt being in town, and my recovery! After a wonderful dinner at Capital Grille, my Mom said it best – “life is good!”

I got a call from my breast surgeon’s office today and they bumped up my post-op appointment to Monday, which is great. I’m hoping to return to work soon so that will be perfect… And I’m now planning on moving back to my apartment after that. It still takes me a minute, after all the planning of the last six months, to realize it’s over! Such a relief.

So all in all, a wonderful day! I don’t take my quick recovery for granted for a minute, and know I wouldn’t be here without you… My amazing family and friends! I’m forever indebted and so very grateful to be where I’m at, just 17 days after surgery.


PS Post-Op #2: Drains OUT, Saline IN!

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I was a little afraid my blog title today was going to be “Drains, Drains Go Away,” but thankfully my wonderful plastic surgeon (abbreviated “PS” in the BRCA/PBM world vernacular!) said “I’m tired of them and want them out!” I wholeheartedly agreed and out they came! No wonder they were causing more pain inside than I gave them credit for… Just a little bit of length in there!!

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Ah what a relief to have them out! After 16 days of having attachments I can only describe it as being FREE!!

But that wasn’t all… Then he says “want a fill?” Meaning, fill up the expanders?? Of course! Let’s do this! So I got 50 cc’s of saline injected into each side. Such a weird thing to watch needles going into your skin and yet not feeling so much as a poke. Not sure that will ever feel “normal.”

It’s a really fascinating process (there’s a video of today if you’re interested!) So he uses this fancy magnet device to find the port on the expander, then pushes down on it once it’s found to make a small mark on the skin. Cleans it, pokes the needle in, and voila! They aspirate back and fun-fact… the saline inside the expander is BLUE! That’s to make sure they’re in the right spot, but how fun is that?! Had I known I would have requested purple but… Just kidding!!

So yeah then he just fills it up! Actually they were double-teaming me and he passed off the syringe to his nurse so he could do the other side so they were both growing at the same time! It doesn’t hurt but its kind of a weird feeling having the saline slosh around in there. Even though this fill makes both sides bigger than I had to start (we’re at 550 cc’s each now), it doesn’t feel like it’s stretching an astronomical amount – there were ripples that have now evened out, but it doesn’t feel super stretched if that makes any sense. It actually feels better, believe it or not, now that there’s less moving around.

I absolutely love that my doctor is such a perfectionist about what he does. I was giving him a hard time (guilty!) about something silly and said “but you do this every day!” Even though he does, he was telling me how he still gets stressed every time he’s in the OR when he’s striving for perfection. Pretty amazing that he really does do this every day but still has that mindset.

Since the swelling has gone down over the last week, we had noticed a little bit of asymmetry. Turns out, based on the location of the port, that my left expander has rotated about twenty degrees clockwise, which makes sense why I was feeling it a little bit more in my armpit than the right side. This is easily fixed during the exchange surgery – he will reinforce the side as well. Since the expanders are somewhat lateral, he’s requested I wear a tight sports bra to pull them in and prevent any more movement. That’s an easy fix! It still fascinates me to watch the way he approaches things… His classical art background really comes out.

Other than the minor issue with the expander, we are both very pleased with the results. Incisions look great and nipples are healing well – he mentioned we may do a little bit of nipple tattooing, as you can lose pigment in the process. But that is a ways out – after the exchange surgery and all that is done. And that will be the final touch!

We are still planning on 640 cc Natrelle 410 (gummy bear tear drop) moderate height, full projection implants (I know that’s a mouthful, but for anyone going through this themselves each of those words has meaning!) So that means 2 more fills – the next one will be in 2 weeks and 50 cc each again, and then I will see him 2 weeks after that and we will fill anywhere between 30 and 50, depending how they look. At that point we can schedule the exchange surgery for about 2 months out. Hard to believe we’re already talking about that – but so freaking awesome!!! I can’t reiterate the importance of finding a plastic surgeon you love and trust – you really do see them a lot!

So that covers the first “D” to address… Drains. As for the others (Driving and Doing stuff) – I’m cleared to start driving, as well as slowly increasing activity!! Obviously my pec muscles are still sore and have been through a lot, so I’m not going to be crazy and think that miraculously I can do everything, but that’s a huge relief!! This time spent with my family has been absolutely wonderful, but the timing of this is perfect that after my Aunt heads back home on Sunday I will be able to move back to my apartment. I wouldn’t change a thing about how my recovery has been, and I am SO grateful for all the help, but now that I have Dr. T’s blessing I’m ready to regain my independence, slowly but surely!!

It’s so crazy that I’ve already reached this part in my journey. I met my plastic surgeon almost 6 months ago, to the day. And after 5 months of (purposeful) waiting, I’m here “on the other side.” So much planning and preparation, both mentally and physically. And it was all worth it. The timing was perfect. And everything went exactly as planned. I am so eternally grateful.

Yesterday I sat on the patio and watched some of my closest family and friends splash around in the pool together. My parents, my aunt, my roommate, and my god daughters and their parents. On a Wednesday. As much as it sucks that I even had to have this surgery, I’m so grateful for beautiful moments like those. I call them “colliding of the worlds” moments. Ones that would have most likely never happened if not for my surgery/recovery.

I’m sure I’ll have a whole sappy blog post about all this, but suffice to say, I am so blessed to have had such a wonderful experience, between my incredible doctors and the support of my family and friends. In this crazy, messed up world of ours it’s easy to focus on the bad. But these last few weeks have shown me the good. I have such a renewed faith in humanity, and in the beauty of the human spirit.