Thankful

Posted on

Well, I wrote this yesterday and am glad I did – today was not so much the low key day I’d hoped for (“turning the corner” from yesterday was apparently unintentionally presumptuous), but it was still a day surrounded by the people I love, so that’s what matters. Can’t let this day pass without posting it, so without further ado…

I suppose it’s a cliche to write what I’m thankful for on Thanksgiving, but after this past year, how could I possibly not? It’s been quite the year indeed, but time and time again I’ve been reminded how incredibly lucky and blessed I am. I truly couldn’t have made it through the past year without the never-ending support of everyone around me, and today seems like the perfect day to acknowledge the amazing people in my life. Because, as Meredith Grey so wisely said years ago, “people are what matter.”

My Parents

What can I possibly say? Mom and Dad have won “Parents of the Year” over and over again. They have graciously let me crash with them after both surgeries, and have anticipated my every need. They’ve been there for doctor appointments, waited through surgeries, and have been my biggest supporters long before this BRCA stuff began. I will never take their love and support for granted, and truly cannot put into words how grateful I am for them. Simply stated, they are truly the best.

20131128-194435.jpg

My Family

Even though we’re spread far across the country, I am so thankful for my entire family – they’ve been such huge supports throughout everything. My brother, cousins, uncles… They’re just awesome. And I’m especially grateful for my Aunt, who’s been my biggest inspiration throughout this entire BRCA journey. While ignorance could have been bliss, I’m so thankful she was tested for a BRCA mutation, and shared the knowledge so I could do something proactive about it. Having her here after my first surgery was such a blessing, and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices she, and everyone else, has made for me.

20131128-194307.jpg

My Friends

Goodness I don’t even know where to start on this one. I hear horror stories of people losing friends when they make big decisions such as having prophylactic surgery, but I am so incredibly grateful that my friendships grew stronger, and that I gained new friends throughout the process. The morning of my mastectomy the nurses kept saying “you’re popular!” because I had so much support. I don’t know about that, but I sure am lucky. I know I’m setting myself up for failure by starting to name names, but this wouldn’t be complete without a special shoutout to the planners (instigators?) of my “Boob Voyage” – you are all incredible and sure know how to make a girl feel loved and embraced (even in a boob scarf! *cough* Nicole) going into surgery. Another to my roommate, for always being there and having my back (and front… I suppose that is more accurate this year). To Hayley, despite being far away you’ve been there, as always, and same with the Fab 5, even after all these years. To my goddaughters and their family, and their way of innocence and always making me smile. And of course, to Ruthie – you’ve never missed a beat and I am so grateful you have been there from the moment I told you about this crazy surgery idea last October to waking up from my last surgery. I am beyond grateful to have you all in my life and treasure our friendships and memories more than you will ever know!  Just a sampling of the awesome, for the sake of InstaFrame…

20131128-194217.jpg

My Work Family

I realize how incredibly lucky I am to get up every morning and not only not dread going to work, but actually look forward to it. And that is simply because of the incredible people I get to work with, both on a daily basis and on a not-so-daily basis (shout out to my amazing ICU peeps!) All I asked for was understanding of why I would be out, and what I got back was support, tenfold. More than I could have ever imagined, they’ve embraced me, and my journey – my amazing bosses, my incredible coworkers, everyone. Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe that feeling, and the feeling of knowing you’re missed. I am so thankful for a job that I love and for the incredible relationships I’ve made as part of it – I can’t wait to be back.

My Medical Team (& Medical Technology)

This one’s tough – how do you possibly put into words how thankful you are for the people that have made it their job to be able to give you a new outlook on life? And that somehow have made the whole process of doing so an overwhelmingly positive experience? I am so grateful for my entire medical team – for my trifecta of amazing BRCA-related doctors, and those non-BRCA too (aka neurosurgeons involved in mastectomies!) For the nurses, genetic counselors, and everyone else that have been incredible every step of the way. I am so thankful for having a world-renowned medical center literally in my backyard, and truly couldn’t have asked for a better experience with all (and there have been many!) appointments, tests, and surgeries in the past year. I am beyond thankful that there is technology advanced enough so you can know your risk and options for people who are high-risk. And personally, for a swift recovery from two surgeries in four months, and insurance to cover them – Can’t believe I’m “on the other side,” but because of my amazing breast and plastic surgeons I am, and because of their incredible expertise and skill, you would never even know what this last year involved! Simply amazing.

The People Behind Facebook, “the Blogs,” and the Internet

It will probably never sound not-creepy to say “I was talking to this girl I met on Facebook…” but it really, really isn’t. The ability to connect with people across the world that are going through the same thing is really just amazing, and has been such a huge source of support. For the brave women who have shown me that this surgery is do-able, I am forever grateful. For the women that have gone before me and documented their journeys… I can’t begin to say what a help it was (and continues to be). I hope I’ve been able to “pay it forward” like Amy, Eryn, and so many others have done for me. And even though we’ve never met in person, to have “surgery sisters” on the same schedule as you are, is just freaking cool.

I’m simply grateful for technology, and its ability to connect people and organizations, such as Bright Pink. If you told me a year ago I would be traveling to Chicago with two girls I had never met before, I would have told you that’s crazy. And maybe it was, but it was a big highlight of the year. To be surrounded by people that “get it,” is just incredible. And I’m so grateful for the many new friends I’ve gained from our local chapter – never underestimate the unspoken bond of “BRCA Babes!”

20131128-194400.jpg

And last, but not least, I’m thankful for you. For reading and supporting, for being on this journey with me. I found these incredibly perfect cards on Etsy after my first surgery, and connected with the incredible seller (check her out here!) so since I couldn’t send cards to the entire world, here’s my virtual “thank you” to all…

20131128-194705.jpg


Corner Turned!

Posted on

So perhaps (PERHAPS she emphasizes), in the interest of total honesty I MAY have slightly underestimated the recovery from this surgery. Those first couple days I sugar coated the “hit by a bus” feeling just a tad, but I really think I’ve turned the corner today. It’s still so funny to me that I think I’m so coherent after anesthesia/pain meds, and yet things are a giant blur now looking back. Thankfully, despite my blurry recollection, I tend to be pretty with it for the most part even if I don’t remember it later, but it is entertaining to go back and read what I’ve texted people :)

The bruising/soreness definitely did peak at 48-72 hours and now is turning a nice shade of green. The gummy bear implants are settling nicely, and the fat grafting looks fantastic. I’m certainly glad we went with the size that we did – they are smaller than the super-unnatural expanders, and have an amazingly normal appearance, just a little fuller than where we started. I know I’m judging prematurely as there’s still much more settling and “fluffing” to come, but so far I couldn’t be more pleased.

It’s still quite surreal to realize I’m done – these last 5 days have FLOWN by. I’ve done an impressive amount of sleeping. I forget how worn out you get in the first couple weeks after surgery, so needless to say I’m so glad to have had this time to just chill with my parents. I got out for the first time yesterday with Mom, and made it about an hour before needing a nap. We made a second trip out yesterday afternoon, and did some more shopping this morning. While I can feel my endurance improving, I’m still pretty tired. But overall, doing well!

My range of motion is really impressive, and from a chest standpoint I’m having to remind myself not to overdo it! Such an improvement compared to the first surgery!! Still some soreness on my thighs/flank but totally manageable. Until I try to roll over… Not quite ready for that yet! Even though I wouldn’t want to repeat those first couple days, I’m so relieved to be at this point just 5 days after. Such a huge relief!! Also so nice to think about recovering without another impending breast surgery. It’s like the opportunities are endless!! :)

Nothing life-shattering, again, but just wanted to get an update out there. Not a total breeze because of the fat grafting, but overall this surgery has been a zillion times easier than the mastectomy! And those rough few days are already a giant blur. And expanders already seem like such a long time ago already… Time is such a funny thing. Alright more on that later I’m sure… Now it’s time for another nap! Looking forward to a low-key yet wonderful Thanksgiving and a few more days of taking it easy!


Hunkered Down

Posted on

Well, I certainly picked an excellent time to have this surgery… Strategically planned with Thanksgiving, and unintentionally with the first big temperature drop of the season! Thankfully the freezing precipitation has been less than forecasted – it was sounding ominous there for awhile! Regardless, I’m happily “hunkered down” inside recovering.

Saturday I was sore but able to rally without prescription pain medicine during the day. But that 24-48 hour peak of swelling and soreness was no joke, so I took it easy all day yesterday. I have my throne next to the fireplace and am happily snuggled up here watching Gilmore Girls with Mom. I obeyed the 72 hour no arm raising rule, but happily rallied this morning to get a shower and out of the leg/waist compression leggings for a bit. Some impressive bruising as expected, but everything looks really good! Now just letting the soreness subside and the bruising improve. I’m pretty puffy all over so looking forward to that going down and my stomach getting back to normal post anesthesia. I’m definitely on the upswing now – amazing how much a shower and clean clothes helps!

So I’m planning on chillaxing for the next couple days and taking it easy – wouldn’t be fun to go outside right now anyhow! Then hopefully I’ll be ready for Thanksgiving and some low-key plans the rest of the week, before going back to work the following week, of course with lifting limitations in place. Even with the soreness being different and more widespread, this recovery is still a thousand times better than the first surgery! Such a relief I can’t even begin to describe! Short and sweet update but all is well! Stay warm and safe out there!


The A-Team in OR 10

Posted on

Yell it from the rooftops: I’m DONEEEEE!!!!

Yesterday was the absolute smoothest, most perfect surgery experience I could have ever hoped for on all counts. Before it’s all a giant blur, here’s my recollection: I was blessed with the magical 10:30 am second slot… So no insane wake up time and a perfectly acceptable 8:30 am arrival time. I got checked in within minutes, and we headed up to the surgery waiting room where the amazing receptionist even remembered me and Mom. Impressive, given how many people she sees a day! We were a little early, and soon Mom’s loyal waiting partner, and my rock of a best friend that hasn’t missed a step of this entire process, Ruthie, got there. Of course the laughter started early, and we have a way of quickly getting people laughing with us!

Not long after they took me back to pre-op, and I was soon gowned up, got my IV started, and I met my fabulous anesthesiologist. Soon after, Dr. Teotia, my most awesome plastic/reconstructive surgeon, came in – right on cue as we had just started taking pictures!

20131123-081822.jpg

And then began the true artistry – he redefined “pre-surgical markings!” Literally from my thighs to above my expanders were covered in a strategic rainbow of colors – strategic because of a) my shunt and b) he is impressively cautious about not eliminating the option of flap surgery (years) down the line by messing with blood supply, etc, which I SO appreciate. I know I’ve raved about my plastic surgeon at length before, but he truly is amazing. Especially when he tells you you don’t have much fat to graft! I begged to differ :) But in all seriousness, he just has a complete sense of calmness, and his passion for his work and patients is unheard of.

So we went over the whole plan, and as he walked out he said “I have the A-team in room 10 – they’re all super cool!” And he was SO not exaggerating. My CRNA Tommy and nurse Courtney were the absolute bomb!! In a matter of minutes, Tommy hooked me up with IV margarita (while Ruthie video’d…) and off to the OR we went, not even just on time but early. I remember them getting monitors and things situated and the last thing I said was “hey Tommy what was THAT awesome stuff you just gave me?” And I was out. Sure that got a good laugh!

20131205-192054.jpg

I arrived in PACU at 1:50 and my nurse Elizabeth was also total A-team! I ended up hanging out there for awhile to get pain under control and also because they were super busy in day surgery – clearly I wasn’t the only one to strategically plan surgery around Thanksgiving! I was more than okay with this – we were making conversation like old friends, and she let ME call my mom to tell her we were heading out!

But yes, I did wake up in a pretty decent amount of pain. Dr. Teotia did everything planned… Took out the expanders, reinforced the left side (where the expander moved) with Strattice (pig skin) to keep the implant in place, put in 640 cc Natrelle 410 highly cohesive silicone (“gummy bear”), teardrop, moderate height, full projection implants, and did an incredible job with fat grafting (basically lipo but instead of trashing the fat you’re moving it elsewhere, in this case my chest). It’s the last part that’s causing the pain… But it’s SO worth it. I had a lot of breast tissue higher in my chest and under my arms, and my breast surgeon was so meticulous in getting every bit of that dangerous tissue out of there during my mastectomy that it left some noticeable crevices. You could feel wayyyy more ribs than desired. So that was a huge reason for the teardrop shaped implants, and the fat grafting just enhances that and fills in the gaps. But it also means I kind of feel like I got hit by a bus from my thighs to my armpits. My doctor told Mom I’d be really sore and he was, in fact, right. So in addition to the approximately 3 inch each incisions that were reopened on the sides of my breasts, I have 6 tiny incisions from the fat grafting: one in each armpit, one below each breast, and one (I think) on each thigh that was used to get fat from both the saddle bag and love handle areas (I mentioned my surgeon is awesome, yes??). I say “think” because in addition to the mastectomy bra fashion, I have on knees-to-boobs length zip-up compression leggings that put Spanx to shame. Oh and they’re black and crotchless (aka:pee hole!), complete with lace trim. Because if that’s not classy I just don’t know what is!! The Uggs completed the ensemble and I’m sure it will be hitting the runways soon! But in all seriousness, the compression is to help with the swelling and bruising, which I anticipate will be pretty impressive given my affinity to bruise and that it had already started before I left the hospital. I tried to sneak a peak of the thigh sites this morning, but as I can’t so much get them back on myself (did I mention the compression?!) I didn’t get too far before Mom had to help… In a “you just couldn’t leave it alone could you??” kind of way LOL. But anyway, that’s the theory behind the fat grafting – thanks to all that offered to “donate” additional fat!! Haha. Yes the donor site removal of fat is a silver lining, but I’m just so relieved to have a normal boob slope back!

So I was feeling really great in the PACU, and just when I thought I had dodged post-op nausea for the first time in my life, the ride back to day surgery caused a massive quease-fest. With the help of a patient nurse and some wonderful Phenergan, I felt better in an hour or so. I talked with Dr. Teotia for a bit and he explained everything, along with the warning I may feel pretty rough (an overnight stay may have been offered.. Needless to say I vehemently denied!) Mom and Ruthie came back, and after some ginger ale, juice, crackers, and fruit snacks, and the obligatory trip to the bathroom I turned a corner and felt well enough for some walking papers! We were finally out the door a little before 5:30, which was excellent timing before some crazy weather blew in! Made it home amidst the rush hour traffic and my wonderful Dad had food ready and the fireplace on when we walked in. I felt even better with real food on my stomach with a side of pain meds, and snuggled up in my pillow/blanket throne by the fire. Got some mostly decent sleep, just feel like a grandma trying to get up! Ha!

So how am I feeling now? Really pretty good for just the day after. If it wasn’t for the fat grafting I’d probably be 95% back to normal but alas… It’s already so worth it to see the girls looking and feeling so normal. I hesitate to use the word “pain” because it’s more like completely insane soreness for the most part. It’s entirely different from the post-mastectomy pain… Not comparable at all. It’s mostly movement related, yet it feels good to loosen things up in a “hurts so good” kind of way. But it is indeed covering a much larger area than just my chest… And of course it’s the 2 muscle groups (thighs and abdomen) I rely on not to abuse my healing pecs! Oh the irony. But it’s still a thousand times better than back in August – none of those hellacious muscle spasms, no drains, and no muscle stretching! I think it’s going to improve quickly, and I hope to be off of prescription pain medicine in the next 24 hours, but I am certainly glad I have the time off to recover that I do.

Oddly enough, lifting and movement restrictions were more emphasized yesterday than with the first surgery due to the importance of the implants settling in the correct spot, especially because of the teardrop shape (round ones can spin around all they want… Obviously not the case with teardrops). Dr. T particularly emphasized not raising my arms above my head for 72 hours so the implants are able to adhere, so I definitely feel more cautious than before (where I didn’t move for the most part because it hurt!) – I think mainly because with the first one I knew in the back of my head that it was just a “rough draft.” Now with this one I absolutely don’t want to mess up anything!! So yeah… No more than 10 lbs lifting till the New Year. Glad those Christmas trees are up already!! :)

Anyhow, I have truly felt enveloped in love and support throughout this whole experience and especially yesterday. It was a long time coming, and the true relief I feel is just amazing. I am so grateful for my incredible medical team, and for the never ending support of my friends and family. It has been quite the journey, but it is definitely the start of a new beginning!

It appears I picked a good time to “hunker down” with the parents for the week given the lovely (not!) weather. So that’s my plan… Take it easy, rest, and heal so I’m ready for the holiday festivities. Will update again soon, and thanks again for all the good thoughts sent my way!

 


Ready

Posted on

I’m ready. So ready. So very, very ready for tomorrow.

So ready, I think I’m scaring people with how okay I am with this surgery. I’ve had a lot of genuine “are you okay’s??” this week. But this? This my friends feels like the victory lap. This is just finishing what we started 108 days ago. But really, what started with a consultation 9 months ago. A decision made 13 months ago. And a positive blood test 61 months ago.

I’m not so crazy to call myself excited for tomorrow, because I’m certainly not excited about going through the anesthesia, the pain, the healing again. But I am really freaking excited for what comes AFTER tomorrow.

Sure, the high-risk breast tissue was all removed on August 6th. My risk has been dramatically decreased and the relief that brings is indescribable. But since then, I’ve been in this awkward limbo period. It was necessary, and I wouldn’t change my relatively easy experience for anything. But I’m ready to be done with this in-between period. These last few weeks have been a bit suffocating, both physically and emotionally. Physically, as I’m so tired of the uncomfortable foreign-ness of these expanders. But I’ve elaborated enough on that I won’t bore you again. Emotionally I’m ready to truly have this all behind me. I planned to write more about Pinktober, but honestly after I got home from the incredible walk, the rest of October I felt like I was suffocating in pink, everywhere I turned there it was. It was weird and unexpected, and it’s hard to explain. I realize it’s caused me to be unintentionally short and “on edge” these past couple weeks, so I’m even more grateful than usual to be surrounded my incredible, caring, understanding people that I’ve surrounded myself with to make it to this point. And for distraction. And the mantra of “this too shall pass.”

I’m ready to make plans that aren’t based around surgery dates. I’m ready to not think about this surgery every time I move wrong and get a whack of expander. I’m ready to be able to work out again. To wear clothes without worrying about the unevenness. To order my dress for the wedding I’m in in April that I haven’t been able to not knowing my final size. To not feeling like my life is on hold whole counting down the days to another surgery. To truly get to enjoy every minute of my new, risk-reduced life.

Suffice to say, I’m ready.

I’m truly feeling the love tonight from all of my families… My incredible blood-related family, my sisters I never had, my work family, my newfound yet brilliantly amazing Bright Pink family. This past year has truly shown me the beauty of people, and I am so very grateful. I’ve read stories about women who have lost friends because of the decisions they’ve made to take ownership of their health, and that leaves me heartbroken to think about. I will never take for granted the fact that not only did the people I already knew and loved rally around me like I couldn’t ever have imagined, but that I’ve had the true joy of meeting so many amazing people along the way. My journey would not be the same without each and every one of you… You know who you are!

So needless to say, I’m in such a good place going into tomorrow. I’ve had a lot of people try to not-awkwardly ask what exactly they’re doing, and I apologize I didn’t explain this before. It’s the “exchange” surgery, dubbed that because my plastic surgeon will literally exchange the rock hard expanders for the permanent implants, using the same incisions. Then there’s just some detail work to make sure everything is in the right position, which may involve some other materials in addition to the Alloderm I already have, or some fat grafting where the transfer some fat from somewhere else on your body to fill in gaps, etc. It’s expected to take about 2 hours or so and is under general anesthesia, but I thankfully get to come home after! No drains, no hospital stay, no more muscle stretching… All the women I’ve talked to that have had it say it’s a complete breeze compared to the first one, and that is such a huge relief! I strategically planned this with Thanksgiving so I can take all of next week off work without missing a whole lot of stuff going on. So I’ll crash with my parents again and hopefully get to enjoy some R&R and fabulous Thanksgiving time along with the recovering!

So that’s the plan! I’ve done my “nesting,” got ahead of everything at work, set up my pillow “throne”… Basically done everything I can think of to prepare. Even went against my usual no-decorating-before-Thanksgiving morals and put up my tree and lights at home and work since that kind of reaching is probably not the best idea next week and I don’t want to miss out on the magic of the season!

I have such peace and am so grateful the day is almost here. I’ll be sure to update soon, and once again want to thank you all for the good thoughts, prayers, and juju – I’m truly forever grateful. See you on “the other side” (for reals this time!)