Let’s get this cancer out!

The week prior to having a major surgery involves cleaning the house from top to bottom, running errands, getting the fridge stocked full for my family because for me, I want my family to have nothing to worry about while I’m under the weather. I want to make sure all is in tip top shape and the minimal things need to be taken care of from day to day..

Up until the day before my bi-lateral mastectomy I had been pretty calm, pretty collected, and even had laughter mixed into chats with my family and friends.. I tried to keep things as normal as possible for myself.

The morning of surgery, my husband and I took the girls to school, and then headed downtown for my husband to get his second Covid shot. Who would have ever thought the morning before I was having my breast removed from my body that we’d be getting my husband vaccinated for a virus that had put the entire planet into pandemic mode. Ha.

Shortly after, we headed to the hospital, got checked in, and sat down in the waiting room. We made small talk and tried to keep the nervous feelings in a relaxed state. I would glance around the room periodically and wonder why others were there. Were they having a minor procedure or a major one. How was their health, otherwise. And did they look at me and think the same. About a hour into waiting, my name was called and back to pre-op I went while my husband sat in the waiting room until I was prepped, then he’d come back.

The medical assistant weighed me, asked my height and then had me pee in a cup. It’s so hard peeing in a cup especially after you have given birth. The aim just isn’t the same anymore. When I went into the pre-op room that had been assigned to me for the short hour or so I’d be in there, I saw the hospital gown I’d be wearing and it took me back to when I was in the same hallway just seven months earlier. Seven months prior, when I had my port put in to receive chemotherapy. I couldn’t be more grateful that those days were behind me. This gown was a bit more happy. It was navy blue and had orange and yellow flowers on it with white lines. I liked it much better than the one from seven months before. I did get the yellow socks again in case you were wondering. Ha.

A bit later, my husband walked into the room. I had already met with the nurse, who gave me an IV and ran through my medical history, my general surgeon, who stopped in to say high and mark the side of my chest that I would later receive a blue dye in and then the anesthesiologist, whom of which just ran over my allergies with me. I was so glad for my husband to be in there with me. He has a way of making things less worrisome and less stressful. A few minutes later, the nuclear medicine doctor came in. He had this little metal case kind of like you would see people in the good ol’ days carry their lunch in but the case was like half that size. He explained to me that the blue dye he was about to inject in me would identify the lymph nodes that had tried filtering the cancer from my breast. Therefore, the blue dye would identify the cancerous lymph nodes. When he opened the little metal case there was one needle in there just for me. Almost like it was a sci-fi movie and I was being injected with some mysterious drug that would transform me into a robot or something. When he injected that into my chest, it hurt. And I mean, HURT. It hurt like you would think a nuclear medicine would.; HELL, but in a few minutes it was gone.

It wasn’t much longer and it was time for me to head back to surgery so I took a deep breath, kissed my husband and off I went. It’s funny how some things you don’t recall and maybe that’s because you block them out of your memory even if they were somewhat simple. I don’t recall the bed moving out of the pre-op room and I vaguely remember it rolling into the OR. I do however, remember a girl calling my name, MaryBeth and I immediately knew who it was. A friend from years past who I had actually meet through my best friend was in that very operating room that day. She came over to me and held my hand until I was officially under. I remember feeling a bit more relaxed knowing a friend would be in there watching over me.

When I came to about five hours later I had been out of the OR for a hour or so. I saw my husband and was happy surgery was over. I don’t recall a lot between that and making it home. I do remember feeling loopy, the chatty nurse, and asking for some pain medicine so it didn’t run out on the way home. I’m certain I was loaded with pain meds but just wanted a bit more to be sure. Ha. Once I made it into my husbands truck I immediately felt like I was going to be sick so I made him ride home with the AC on full blast as I took deep breaths. I guess after I had been lying down for so long and then had the anesthesia, my body just wasn’t happy when I sat up. And yes, if you’re asking, ‘Did she go home the same day she had a mastectomy?’, the answer is, yes. It was an out-patient procedure. I was a nervous lady prior to but honestly, I’m thankful I came home. I was in my own element and had my own people.

Our girls had gone to the lake house the day of my surgery with my in-laws and were staying for the weekend so they wouldn’t have to see me in the state of pain and being uncomfortable. I’m so grateful they weren’t home. I highly recommend that if you have kids, Send them away if at all possible. You will be in no form what so ever to deal with them and you’ll need a full-time nurse (husband, wife, mom, dad, best friend, etc.) by your side. For the next week, my mom and I would be keeping alarms set on our phones for either antibiotics, tube drainage, or pain medicine reminders. We’d also sleep side by side for ten days. It was a mom/daughter slumber party. đŸ™‚

When you have a procedure such as this done there are drainage tubes placed in the area where the surgery was performed. The tubes empty into something called a JP drain. At first, you have to drain the tubes every six hours to measure the drainage and then document it too later show the doctors the progress. The goal is for the drainage to be less than 30 ml in a 24 hour period. It takes a good 10-14 days for that to happen. And let me tell you, these drainage tubes get in the way of everything. Mind you, not only are you tender from having your breast removed but now you have tubes coming out of your sides and those incisions are even more tender. You have to be sure you don’t hit them on anything because it’ll jar them further upward. You have to make sure you don’t accidentally snag them with your hand because then it pulls on them. You have to make sure you don’t get them wet once you shower (typically five-seven days post-op). They are the worst. And if they happen to bleed, the dressings have to be changed. That a bit scary just because you’re trusting someone else that probably isn’t a medical professional, to do it.

The first three or four days are the toughest. I had to have help to sit up and lay down. When I needed to use the bathroom I couldn’t pull my pants down or up. I couldn’t pull the blankets up when I was cold and I certainly couldn’t change my own clothes. Eating was even difficult because of the arm motion. The lymph nodes and tumor were on my left side so that side has been extra tender. A wedge pillow loaned to me by a friend has been awesome. Highly recommended if you have this procedure done.

Did I mention that I wouldn’t get to see my girls once I was home. My husband was adamant about me staying away from the girls since I had the drainage tubes in. And given our girls age, it was a smart decision but certainly a hard one to stick to. About five days in, my oldest started coming to the basement before bedtime and spending some time with me which was so great. My youngest and I didn’t get to see one another for eight straight days. Tears certainly fell in those eight days. Not only was I tired of sitting around, (with some light movement a couple times a day) I was missing my girls. I could hear them upstairs playing and talking but I couldn’t see them, love on them or tend to them if they were upset. But finally, day eight rolled around and I was able to hug my youngest and it couldn’t have been a better moment. I’m not sure who was happier but I know we were both in heaven. We played, gently. We laughed, walked around and I tended to their minor needs. I had missed it all so much! Now only if earlier that day I had received good news verses not such good news.

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