Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Still Healing

I had another appointment with my plastic surgeon today.  He was horribly late today due to a guy who came in for a quick appointment and had a ton of difficulties that were not easy to fix. I don't mind waiting for this doc, though, so I played candy crush and waited.  This is the doctor that always spends so much time with me and with Kevin, so I'm extra patient with him.

He said I'm healing better than he had even hoped! There's hardly any fat necrosis at all (it is a very typical thing that is usually expected) and he said he's thrilled with the size he did.  It's slightly bigger than the other (reduced) side because the transferred muscle will atrophy, therefore getting smaller, and it will settle a bit (with gravity) and be a good match.

He wants to see me in 2 months, and in the mean time, I am to massage the scars with vitamin E cream. He and the nurse are both impressed with how I'm healing and getting around.  He wishes that his other patients could see how well I'm doing.  He's VERY impressed with the TRAM.  In fact, he said, "Wow. I did a really good job on you." 

That's right.  I got good news at a doctor's appointment today.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My New Year's Eve Post

This time last year, I was SO happy to put cancer behind me.  All that was left was to get my exchange surgery and let my hair grow back.  What could go wrong?  2013 would be MY year.

Or not.

I did grow hair.  I also had my exchange surgery.  I spent 10 weeks in a sling, trying to get the implant to stay in place.  It failed, though.  The surgeon put another one in, and it failed, too.  Radiation just proved to be too damaging to my tissue.  We gave up and waited a few months so I could heal.

Oh yeah!  I almost forgot!  I also got lymphedema.  Oh joy of joys.  Lots of physical therapy, a compression pump, and a sleeve and glove became a part of my life.  Permanently.  With the lymphedema came cellulitis infections in my arm, and even a couple of stays in the hospital.

I've now had the TRAM flap surgery.  It is healing marvelously.  I'll return to work, probably next week, and get started on 2014.  I'm not going to pin all of my dreams on this being some magical year of no problems.  Every year has problems.  I'm just going to put 2013 behind me, hold my head high, and move on.

Because I'm alive.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I'm Alive

I've mentioned before that I am in a Facebook group of gals who all went through diagnosis and treatment in 2012.  We were bound by a horrible similarity to a group that we wish we didn't need.  But we DID need each other.  Terribly.

It has been a wonderful blessing, straight from God himself, that I had someone to turn to when some horrible new side-effect of chemo entered my life.  Someone to commiserate with and point me toward a study or article to help cope.  We all brought different strengths and weaknesses and were all exactly the same and drastically different.

The problem with starting such a group is that you're dealing with cancer.  For some, breast cancer means increased scans and watch yourself closely going forward.  For others, breast cancer means that you are dying and should put your affairs in order.

Most of us, however, land somewhere between those two extremes.  We have surgeries, chemo, radiation, and fear.  We shop for hats, try on wigs, learn about prosthetic breasts, and we worry.  We make inappropriate jokes about cancer, baldness, poison, and death.  We don't do this to make others uncomfortable.  We do it to point out that we DO see the elephant in the room.  We do it to laugh, lest we cry.

So we all reaped (and continue to reap) the benefits of fitting into this group.  This group of ladies who, by now, are quite close.  Closer to each other (most of whom have never met in person) than with some of our own family members.  We text each other, "talk" on Facebook into the wee hours of the night, Skype, and Snapchat.  We ask for advice, lean on each other, and lift each other up, and laugh.

Yup.  It's an amazing thing.  Except that one thing.  Remember?  It's a group centered around cancer.  Women with cancer at all different stages.  With that comes the possibility of losing one of our sisters to that evil disease.  It happened this morning.

Dear sweet Michelle took a recent turn for the worse.  We all knew she was stage four, but it was only recently that she found out that the treatment had stopped working.  She decided to stop treatment and enjoy her last days with her husband and daughter.  We all tried to decide what the best course was.  Should we arrange for some meals or a housekeeping service or an uplifting floral arrangement?  We spent about a day trying to decide.

And then, this morning, her husband notified one in our group that she passed peacefully this morning.  Her sweet little girl will always associate Christmas with the season when she lost her mom.  Her husband probably has a gift or two for her, all wrapped and ready.  It's a horrible thing to process, and I'm not doing a very good job of it right now.

I've been pretty down about our financial situation.  If we had about two more weeks before Christmas, we'd be fine.  Kevin's checks have been short because of my surgery and hospitalizations.  My short-term disability has kicked in, but no check has been received yet.  I was starting to let myself slide toward a pity-party.

But I'm alive.  My kids will have their mom at Christmas.  My parents don't have to attend my funeral.  We will eat, drink, laugh, and love.  If my kids get gifts a week or two after Christmas, they won't be bothered in the least.  They told me, in fact, that they would happily forgo gifts altogether.  We have each other, and we're learning more every day about how much that means.

Rest in peace, Michelle.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drain Removal and New Belly Buttons

Warning!  Graphic images and video that may freak you out!

You've been warned.

I had a follow-up visit with my plastic surgeon this morning.  He is quite happy with how I am  healing.  In fact, it's better than he had anticipated.  That was SO good to hear.  I also got rid of two of my three drains today.  I'm hoping to see the other one go on Monday.  Fingers crossed!

During all of this process, I have taken some photos and had Kevin take a video.  It's stuff that fascinates me, and I thought some others may be as warped as I am, so I want to share.

First, the new breast is made out of muscle, fat, and skin from my tummy.  This means a few different things.  For instance, I have a few stretch marks on the bottom side, because I had a few stretch marks on my tummy.  Get it?

Another thing is that my belly button wound up on my upper chest, on the inside of the new breast.  He sewed it closed, and it's healing, but I've been having fun pulling down the neck of my shirt and telling people, "Look!  This was my belly button!"


This image, like all of these, have bruises, medical tape residue, and incisions.  I did warn you, remember?

Usually, after the shock of seeing this wears off, the next question is, "So, Rachel, do you have a NEW belly button?  What does it look like?"  This is where it gets even more fun.  My new belly button is a circle surrounded by stitches.  We've discussed how much it looks like the CBC Sunday Morning sun (example at the end of this blog entry):


There is also the talking point of my hip-to-hip incision.  I debated about showing this because it would be WAY too revealing, had the bandages not been there.  Oh well.  All of my modesty has left me in this past two years, so here ya go.  It still has the steri strips on at this point, but you can see the length of it:


Finally, with all of my history and experience with drains, I thought to ask Kevin to record the removal process.  It goes really fast, but it's interesting.  I added an image and a couple of captions to help explain things.  I also blurred out the new breast, even though it doesn't yet look like one.

video


So there you have it.  More of my body than anyone has ever wanted to see.  And if you weren't sure what I meant by the CBS Sunday Morning sun, here you go:



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Recovering

I finally had my surgery on Monday.  It seemed like the day would never get here, but when it did, I was scared to death.  I wasn't scared of being put under.  I wasn't scared of being operated on.  I wasn't even scared of the pain that I'd been warned would come after.  I was terrified that this, too, would fail.

My expander to implant surgery failed.  The replacement implant failed.  It's been a frustrating couple of years, and I just couldn't keep the optimism that I usually have.  I had a cloud of dread over my head about this and I pictured myself going through the entire, painful recovery just to have another failure.

I told Dr. Magnificent about this fear when we came to see me in the pre-op room.  He patted my arm and said, "Well, I won't jinx myself, but I don't want you to worry about it."  What seemed like a few minutes later, he was talking to me in post-op and asking me if I wanted to feel it.  He also told me that I wouldn't remember him asking...but I did.

He spent some time with Kevin (as always,) and eventually they brought Kevin back to see me and we headed to my room.  Everyone in recovery and in my room kept commenting on how well I was doing for someone who had just had that major of a surgery.  Everyone.  Thank you, pain pills, and thank you to a tough blood line.  My family is NOT made up of wussies.  :)

On Tuesday morning, I was told that it was time to get out of bed and sit in the chair for a while.  This was the biggest challenge yet, and the first time that I ever remember having a pain that would rate as a 10.  I was in tears and shaking by the time I made this 4' move.  That was the worst, though, and things are slowly becoming more tolerable.

On Wednesday, Dr. Magnificent came to see me, removed much of the dressings, and marveled at how well he and I did.  :)  He always finds a way to make me smile.  He even made me tear up when he told me about the fear he saw in my eyes before surgery.  Apparently, after he left the hospital, he called Kevin on his cell to talk to him about how everything was going and what to expect.  We've never met a doctor like him and we feel so thankful for him and his nurse.

I am now at home, where I'll have a steady stream of babysitters until I'm allowed to be home alone.  Aunt Rena will come today and Mom will sit with me tomorrow.  When the pain pills wear off, I still hit somewhere in the 8 range on the pain meter, but other than that, it hovers between 3 and 6, which I can handle.

I am SO happy that this hurdle has been cleared.  I'm ready for 2014 to be an amazing year.  I had such high hopes for 2013, but 2013 had other plans.  This is going to be my year.  Look out, future.  Here I come with a full head of steam!  Now pardon me while I hobble toward the shower.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Well-Timed Visit

In the midst of all of the pre-surgery anxiety that I've been experiencing, Thanksgiving weekend came along and offered a wonderful distraction.  The fears did not completely disappear, but they certainly got tucked away for hours at a time as I laughed and ate and played.

Thursday was a wonderful day of indulgence.  I indulged in food, drink, and family.  My brother and his family were in town for the first time since before I was diagnosed with cancer.  That seems like a lifetime ago.  A lifetime of chemo, radiation, baldness, and fatigue.

I've loved my brother for a long time (not forever..ask my mother) but I have always taken for granted that we'd both be around forever.  Having mortality stare you in the face will fix that nonsense in a hurry.  I enjoyed his company and appreciated it like I never have before.

Saturday, we spent more time at Mom and Dad's.  More laughter, more fun, and more food.  Although we all consumed way too many calories over the past few days, we made the most of a short visit.  Jim, Deb, and Lyndsay are on the way home now, and I am ready to face my last work week of the year.

When the worries creep in, I'm going to access the memories of the past few days and use them to keep my head where it needs to be.  Family.  What else matters?

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Countdown to Surgery

It's been a busy couple of days for me.  Yesterday was the sleeve and glove pick up day.  No more mummy wrapping!  The sleeve is going to take some getting used to, but it's already better and SO much easier than the seven layers of wrap.  I'm glad that is behind me.

Today started with a pre-op appointment at the plastic surgeon's office.  It's pretty scary to hear how much pain I'm going to be in and that I'll be walking bent over for a while, and to not force myself to stand up straight.  How I can't lift over five pounds for six weeks and how there is no way I'll be able to climb stairs and so on and so on.  I'll have a pain pump for the first couple of days.  I know I can handle it, but it's making both me and Kevin nervous.

One good thing that came out of the appointment was what might happen as a result of the surgery.  Because the radiated tissue will be replaced with non-radiated tissue (with healthy lymphatics,) there is a possibility that my lymphedema may get better.  Wouldn't THAT be amazing?  That lifted our spirits after getting scared by the warnings.

This afternoon, the guy came to set up  my compression pump and show me how to use it.  It's not bad at all.  For 50 minutes a night, I sit in the recliner while the pump does massage to move lymph fluid up and out of my arm.  This is my new routine:


So...two more weeks.  Next week is Thanksgiving and I'm going to get to see my Georgia brother.  The next week is a full week of work.  The Monday after that, we'll head to the hospital to check in and get ready for a noon surgery.  Yup.  The time is finally almost here.