July 1, 2018

bilateral mastectomy

I did it! Surgery is over. The cancer is out. I've been home from the hospital for about 10 days now.

The days before my mastectomy were filled to the brim with anxiety. Sometimes I was fine, and sometimes I was on the brink of a panic attack. I was worried if bilateral mastectomy was the right decision for me, how surgery would actually go, the pain, recovery, and caring for our children through it all. Now that surgery is over, I can pretty much say that, the two days of nausea aside, the anxiety before the surgery was pretty much worse than the surgery itself and recovery so far.

We tried to prepare for surgery as much as possible. I bought two cute robes (which I’ve lived in).

I accepted help from my sister and a friend to help me find some decent button up shirts. I made a schedule of help, meals, and kids activities for the next few weeks. 

I cleaned up my room, hung shelves, and decorated (we hadn’t really done anything to our room since we moved in). 

This includes a shelf I call a shrine to motherhood. 

My love wall...

We also bought a wedge pillow and special clips for my seatbelt in the car. And other miscellaneous items.

The day before surgery a few friends came over and brought me lunch and talked with me and even helped me fold laundry. I'm grateful for such good friends! That evening we took our kids to my sister's house. Before we left them there, I received a priesthood blessing. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace and that I would be ok during surgery and recovery would go well.

I gave each of my kids multiple kisses and hugs and then we said goodbye. The children were distracted and happy with cousins running around. (All of the Allen side cousins were together!)

Eric and I grabbed dinner and made a quick stop at Fry's for some last minute things, like spray deodorant (a friend told me that was helpful to her after her surgery). Then we headed home to pack our hospital bag and so I could take my first antibacterial shower before surgery.

I woke up Wednesday morning feeling surprisingly calm. I took my second antibacterial shower and then went to the hospital for a 5:30am check-in. I even stayed calm when I had to leave Eric and go back by myself to get prepped for surgery. I met with both of my surgeons and the anesthesiologist and then it was time. Another tender mercy was that my anesthesiologist that day happened to be the brother of one of my friend's. There was something comforting about that.

We were told surgery would be 4-5 hours long. I think it took them about 4 hours. Everything went well. There were no surprises. Bilateral mastectomy, they saved one nipple, left axillary dissection to scoop out the lymph nodes, reconstruction with implants. We were able to hear the pathology report a few days later. There is a good clean margin of no cancer now. They scooped out 21 lymph nodes and there was cancer in 3 of them. The right side was cancer free.

I just remember the weight on my chest when I woke up. It wasn't extremely painful, but it was heavy and tingly and tight and oh so strange. I was nauseas and miserable once they started moving me to my room. Using the bathroom with an IV and 4 drains was pretty miserable, too. I threw up 5 times that day. They switched me to a different nausea medicine at 10pm and then I was finally able to get some rest. I was nauseous the next day and I could not keep my eyes open. In the afternoon, I stopped taking the pain and the nausea medications that make you sleep and that seemed to help. By the afternoon they said I could go home if I walked with the PT around the hall. It took everything in me to get up and do that. But I knew Eric would kill me if we had to stay in that hospital one more night (haha) so I pushed myself to get going no matter how nauseas and groggy I felt so we could get home. I did it and so we were released from the hospital. The dr called in a different nausea medication which I took when I got home.

When I got home from the hospital Thursday night, I had this poster and these flowers waiting at my bed from Layla and Macie and Jacqui and the rest of them. It was so sweet and made me so happy to be home surrounded by love. 

Thankfully, I felt so much better the next day. I could move around much better than I thought I would. I was uncomfortable and sore, but my wild imagination had thought it would be much worse. When you imagine excruciating pain then sore and uncomfortable seems pretty grand.

My aunt Randi stayed with us for the first few days after surgery to help with baby and to help drive everyone around. She was wonderful! Since then I've had a slew of people helping--my sister Stefanie has a come a few days (and washed my hair!), my parents helped one morning, friends from the ward have taken the kids for playdates, meals brought in.

The drains are awful. I started out with four of them. I literally cover my eyes while Eric drains and measures them. They are disgusting. And by the end of the first week they were so uncomfortable I wanted to yank them out. At the week follow up with my plastic surgeon, she took two of the drains out. Which helped a little, but they are still uncomfortable and annoying. My friend gave me this apron to wear to hold my drains. I have to sleep on my back with a bunch of pillows to stay comfortable. Showering with them is difficult, too. I make Eric hold the drains while I shower. There will be a big celebration when I get the other two drains out and I know I will feel so much better.

Each day gets a little bit easier. I get more energy. My chest isn't as tight and prickly and swollen. I gain a little bit more motion in my arms (my left arm is still not good but the right arm is healing better). I'm still trying to take it easy and give myself time to heal. I overdid it one day and it brought me to tears.

I'm healing physically, but there is also an emotional healing that needs to take place. It took me over a week before I could look in the mirror at my chest. I can't hold my baby for a total of six weeks and that is extremely emotional and hard for me, too.

My kids have been sweet, compassionate, and understanding, but I'm certain it is hard for them. The older boys have had to pitch in more with laundry and bottle washing duties etc on top of their regular chores. Eric is amazing and has worked hard all week to manage our family, care for me, and work for his job. There were a few extremely stressful days for our family this week, but we talked some things through and worked it out.

We took our kids to go see "The Incredibles 2" at the movie theater yesterday. While we were watching the movie, during an intense scene with the villain, Perry reached over and grabbed my hand. He tried to cover my eyes and in his not so quiet voice he said, "I will protect you, mama. Because you are sooo sick. I will protect you from the bad guys." Perry has been so sweet and gentle and understanding. But really, each of the children has helped me feel protected and taken care of in different ways since surgery. I am so proud and grateful for each one of them.

I meet with the oncologist tomorrow to talk about next steps with chemo. Then I have a follow up appointment with my breast surgeon a few days later. I'm grateful to have this big surgery out of the way, but there is so much more ahead of me. One day at a time.