Tissue expander placement surgery update

Well, it’s official: I am back on track with my breast reconstruction! My left tissue expander was placed this morning.

I spent all day yesterday chugging water; I must have consumed two gallons! I hate not being able to eat or drink after midnight the night before surgery. Since I was scheduled to receive a PICC line, I knew that drinking all of that water would make no difference for my veins. It’s just a mental thing.

But sure enough, as soon as I woke up this morning, I was thirsty. My mouth felt like the freakin’ Sahara today! Just knowing I can’t drink water makes my body trick me. Argh!

I arrived at UCLA around 7:30 am and had my PICC line placed at the radiology area of Ronald Reagan Hospital. The nurse who put in the PICC, Jessica, was very sweet and approachable. We talked the whole time she was working on my left arm, making it go by quickly. The pain was minimal, just a bit of a pinch from shots of numbing medication.

After she placed the PICC line, Jessica walked me back to the check-in area and told me what I couldn’t do with the PICC line in. The best “no-no” was scuba diving…she actually told me I couldn’t scuba dive. I laughed it off, but she said that she once had a patient go scuba diving with a PICC and it got infected. I mean, really? Come on! How thick can you get?

Needless to say, I have NO plans to scuba dive.

Mom and I walked from Ronald Reagan Hospital to the 200 building and headed up to the Outpatient Surgery Center around 8:50 am. I’m quite familiar with that area since Mom had her oopherectomy and implant-exchange surgery there in February. I checked in and was brought back to the pre-op area almost immediately.

I spent the next hour sitting in bed with my attractive blue hospital gown and hair net as nurses and doctors bombarded me with questions. “Do you have any allergies?” Sulfa. “When was your last surgery?” April 30. “Did you get a PICC line?” Yes, notice the strange tube coming out of my arm.

Finally, my best friend, the man of the hour, the genius himself Dr. Festekjian came to see me. He marked up my chest like a ninth-grader graphing in Geometry class. Symmetry is good, so he wanted to give himself the best markers for placing the tissue expander! Hey, it works for me. He’s the artist and I trust his judgment!

Next I was given some calming medication through the PICC line, and then I was wheeled back into the operating room. Things get blurry from there, but I do remember thinking that the OR was very cluttered and bright. Doctors and nurses were all around me, covering me in blankets and poking me with monitors…

And then I woke up!

That’s one happy camper! Notice my stylish bra.

I think I was out for about an hour and a half. Since my procedure was outpatient, they did not give me a pain pump. BADDDDD idea. Of my now three surgeries (initial mastectomy, tissue expander removal, and today’s tissue expander placement) this was by far the most painful! My entire left side felt very heavy and there was a lot pressure. The nurses kept giving me pain meds through the PICC line, but I was not having it.

Finally, Mom took action. “How long does she have to be a 10 out of 10 on the pain scale before she can get an order for a pain pump?” You go, Mom! As soon as she asked that, Dr. Festekjian was paged and a pain pump was installed.

Once I got the pain pump I felt infinitely better.

Dr. Festekjian has me on IV antibiotics for precautionary measures, so I’m staying overnight. My room is very small and has a stunning view of a parking lot. Unfortunately there is no bathroom in my room (unlike the rooms in the actual hospital) so I have to walk into the hall to use the bathroom, but that’s okay because I want to be as mobile as possible. Lying in bed all day can get very boring and even a bit painful.

I’ll be discharged early tomorrow morning (by 7 am) and Dr. Festekjian will send me home on oral antibiotics. If all goes smoothly, he’ll start my tissue expander fills in two weeks. I think he filled me up to 200 ccs when he placed the expander, but I have to wear my lovely ace bandage bra for a while so I can’t really tell.

Trisha came to visit me around 6:30 pm. It was so nice to see her! She brought me beautiful purple flowers. Purple is my favorite color. We chatted for about half an hour and then my parents showed up with dinner for me, so we all sat around talking for a while.

Aren’t they beautiful? Thanks, Trisha!

Talking to Trisha was great because she understands what I’m going through. Her prophylactic mastectomy is scheduled for August 15, so it’s been on her mind a lot. I must brainstorm what I can give her for a pre-surgery care package!

I look like a giant compared to Trisha, she is so petite!

Trisha and my parents left about 45 minutes ago. I’m going to try to get some sleep now since I haven’t slept much today.

Thank you all for all of your support. I really appreciate the suggestions you left on my last post for evening out my tissue expanders–I’m definitely going to try some of them out!

P.S: Guess what I don’t have…DRAINS!!!! Oh, happy day!

 

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Back to spin classes

The interview with Trisha Frick is coming along shortly, I promise! I didn’t really account for how long it would take me to transcribe it…we talked for over 25 minutes! But I swear I’m working on it.

I just wanted to let you all know that I finally returned to my beloved spin classes. Last Thursday I went for the first time to YAS in downtown LA. I always go to the same instructor, Elizabeth. I explained to her before class started that I was a few months out of a major surgery and that it was my first class back. She gave me some tips for pacing myself. The great thing about spinning is you are always in control of the workout, because you can adjust your resistance and speed. Plus, Elizabeth is a motivational instructor who always pushes you to do YOUR personal best–I know, that’s cheesy, but it works and it feels awesome.

I was really shocked at how well I did during that first class. I lasted the entire 45 minutes and only took a few breaks. And I felt no soreness during the days after!

This morning I woke up bright and early to make Elizabeth’s 6:15 am class. I felt great after, and I’m so glad I went. Finally, my spinning days are back!

I think it is important to note, however, that I’m glad I waited a long time before returning to spin classes. Yes, I resumed exercise only five days after my mastectomy, but walking and hula hooping (two of my other favorites) are more low-impact and less strenuous. They’re easy on the mind and the body. If I had tried to get back into spinning after only a month or so, I would have suffered a lot. My body was just not ready for it.

For other women who are recovering from surgery or considering a mastectomy, make sure you have conversations with your doctor about when it’s safe for you to resume exercise. I was annoyed with Dr. Festekjian because he kept telling me to hold off on spin classes, but I’m glad I listened to him.

And now I have some big exciting news I want to share with you all: I GOT A JOB! A REAL JOB! Okay yes, I had a job before, but I was a contractor. As of Monday I will officially be a permanent employee of Demand Media, working as an Associate Editor. To get an idea of what sort of work I do, check out this slideshow I wrote a few weeks ago for eHow.com, a property owned by Demand Media: Preparing for a Mastectomy.

I’m ecstatic about this opportunity for two reasons: First, I enjoy working at Demand Media (I started as an intern there in May 2010) and look forward to learning more about web publishing; second, I GET HEALTH INSURANCE.

My health insurance coverage will start at the beginning of July, meaning there will be no gap in coverage for me (my current insurance ends on June 30–will elaborate more in a future post). This is perfectly timed for my upcoming tissue expander replacement surgery.

Health insurance companies and their policies are a headache and I’ve definitely learned a ton about them recently. My mom is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to dealing with health insurance companies, and I’m definitely going to pick her brain for a post about BRCA, mastectomies, and health insurance.

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone! I’ll be in San Diego with some girlfriends, (hopefully) enjoying the sun.

Shopping for the Post-Mastectomy Patient

Let me start this post with a warning: Dad, you might not want to read this. It’s about me…shopping…for clothes. (“But why do you need more clothes?!” I can hear the groans from miles away.)

We’re more than halfway through April and I live in Los Angeles. Temperatures are steadily rising, and twenty-somethings are shedding their winter coats. It’s officially sundress season. And let me tell you, I need a new sundress—desperately. My current collection is becoming old, worn, and ill-fitting. I want a dress that is long enough to wear to the office, but that isn’t overly formal.

I received a few gift cards for my birthday, so on my lunch break yesterday I ventured to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica to hit up the haven of cheaply priced colorful goodness known as Forever 21. I love Forever 21. Every time I go in there it looks different. There is so much selection and it is so inexpensive. It’s the perfect place for getting out of your fashion comfort zone.

After twenty minutes of rack-searching, I headed to the fitting room with six sundress options. The results? UGH.

Shopping after a mastectomy sucks!!!!

Dresses that would normally work for me, such as an empire-waisted frock, look awkward now. I can’t fill out the top of those dresses, so I have to try a smaller size; but when I go smaller, my hips and tummy don’t fit!

Trying out a style with less support around the bust doesn’t work, either: having smaller breasts makes everything else appear bigger, so although I may fit into a dress, I feel fat in it.

These are three of the Forever 21 dresses I tried on yesterday. I liked the one on the right the most but still didn’t buy it.

There were two dress options that were EH. They didn’t look bad on me, but I wasn’t in love with them. In the end I left dress-less (though I did buy a really cool soft bra!). I didn’t like the dresses that much and Forever 21 clothes tend to shrink, quickly taking them out of the office-appropriate zone.

But I still really want a sundress! So now I have a dilemma: do I go to a nicer store such as J.Crew and buy a more expensive dress now, or just wait a few months? The problem with buying any dress or top now is that it might not fit me in two or three months when I get my silicone implants. At the moment, my tissue expander breasts are probably around a small B cup. Tomorrow I get my second saline fill; they will probably become a large B cup. Next week they could be a small C…and you get the picture. I’m probably going to end up with something that looks like a D cup (about my size before surgery).

It’s frustrating. I like to shop, but I need to be fiscally responsible. It doesn’t make sense to blow money now on items that might not work in a few months. But…meh! I want a sundress!

I think the key to shopping successfully after a mastectomy but before the final reconstruction surgery is to look for more loose and relaxed styles that one can “grow into.” For me, tight items will look awkward now and will definitely not fit in a few months. I want to avoid dresses that are too shapeless, such as large smock or sheath styles, because then I might feel frumpy and look like I have something to hide. I think that an A-line style with a belted drop-waist could be my best solution.

What do you think? Any suggestions?

 

Well, it’s been over four weeks since my mastectomy!

I apologize for not writing for some time. Life has been busy! But busy in an oddly normal way. Aside from the slight difference in my appearance, most everything seems to have returned to the way things were before my surgery. I went back to work last Tuesday, I’ve been going to class, and I’ve been out and about with my friends and family. The only thing is that I’m feeling fatigued and I want to know WHY! (More mention of that towards the end of the post.)

On Wednesday the 4th my sister Wendy visited us from Boston with my niece and nephew (ages 13 and 15, respectively). It was awesome seeing them. I have six nieces and nephews (and I love ’em all!) but have always regarded Matthew and Nicole as my younger siblings. I lived in Boston when they were born and I grew up with them.

Thursday the 5th was my 22nd birthday. I had work and class, so instead of rushing out to Redondo Beach after class at 8 pm to try to get dinner with my family, I decided to go out in nearby downtown Los Angeles with my friends. It was really great: not only did I enjoy everyone’s company, I also felt so normal! Danielle let me borrow a really cute crop top and I paired it with a black high-waisted skirt. No one could tell that I had recently had surgery.

Here’s a pic of B Boy and me on my birthday. We started the night at the rooftop bar at the Standard. Please note Marissa photobombing in the background.

During that awful weekend before my drains were removed I was concerned that my drain site was infected. Maria from Dr. Festekjian’s office said she might put me on antibiotics, but I cautioned her that my birthday was later that week and that I would prefer not to be on medication. Luckily I didn’t have an infection, so I was OK to drink on my birthday! My friends bought me some pretty delicious drinks (birthday cake shots and mojitos, anyone?) All in all it was a very successful night.

On Friday evening my parents, sister, niece, nephew, Bryce and I all went to the Melting Pot in Torrance to have a birthday/pre-graduation celebration. My birthday was on April 5th; Bryce’s 23rd birthday was on April 10th; and my nephew Matthew’s 16th birthday is on April 14th. We’ve got an abundance of Aries! Dinner was delicious but very filling.

Last night (April 10th) we went out to dinner for Bryce’s 23rd birthday.

The next day we met up with the Berkeley Cuzzins who had driven down the night before to spend time with fam. The cousins are: Marc, Naura and their two kids, Julia (16) and Charles (14). All of the kids (Matthew, Nicole, Julia and Charles) descended on USC on Saturday morning so I could show them around the campus. They’re starting to think about college, so it’s important that I brainwash them and make them want to go to my alma mater.

They really liked USC, especially the tour of the Frat Row…why am I not surprised? After USC we visited Venice Beach, a place I affectionately like to call the Berkeley of the Sea. Venice Beach is amazing. I love to see the reactions that people have to it. The boys LOVED it–they thought it was hilarious. The girls, on the other hand, were slightly weirded out by it.

After Venice Beach I was exhausted. Really, really, REALLY tired. I’m not sure if it was because it was hot outside (about 85 degrees) and we were walking around all day, or because I’m not as recovered from surgery as I thought I was, or both. The next day (Easter) I was still pretty tired too. I went to Bryce’s house for a late lunch and by 7 pm I had passed out upstairs.

So that leads me to the point of this post: when will everything be back to normal? Not to toot my own horn, but I look great after surgery. I feel chipper and if you ran into me on the street, you might never know what had happened. But there are times when I just feel exhausted! And I don’t know why. Are the activities I’m doing really that tiring, or is my body still in recovery mode?

I am itching to get back to my spin classes. I almost went to a class yesterday afternoon at YAS in downtown LA. At the last minute, I decided to email Jeani at Dr. Festekjian’s office to ask her opinion. She talked to Dr. Festekjian and told me to hold off on spinning until I see Dr. Festekjian again and can get his blessing in person.

I was disappointed…I really need the cardio workout! I feel like such a slug. But at the same time, I don’t want to rush it. What if my fatigue really does have to do with my surgery? Spinning might make me feel great for a few hours, but I would feel awful if something happened to jeopardize my tissue expanders and I knew it was because I had pushed myself too hard, too early.

Tomorrow morning at 10 am I have an appointment with Dr. Festekjian to get my first tissue expander fill. Hopefully he’ll give me the OK to go back to spinning. I think I’ll also post some “before and after” pics from my fill (rated G, I promise!)

I’m looking forward to getting the show on the road, but I hope the fill doesn’t hurt. Does anyone have any advice for making it as comfortable as possible?

Check out these ADORABLE cake pops that my friend Kate sent me last week! So yummy and so cute.

 

Oh hey…

…so…happy!!!!!!!!!!!

I went out to dinner with Bryce, my good friend Alyssa and Alyssa’s father Bruce, and now I’m exhausted after two delicious drinks so I will just leave you with that beautiful GIF animation. Please note the awesome look I’m donning: a white compression bra under two ace bandages! Gotta flatten to stop any other fluid from forming!

Sometimes all I need is a little TLC,

and I want to recognize the people who give that to me.

Let me preface this by saying that I have been a mess these past few days. On Thursday I finally felt brave enough to show my face in the classroom. Things went well there (nothing happened with my drains) so I decided to attend a close friend’s birthday dinner. Well, my drains started acting up. They popped out at least five times. Embarrassing, but since I was sitting down it wasn’t that noticable.

The next morning I couldn’t go anywhere because the drain wouldn’t stop popping out. Every time I moved, it moved, too. POP. Fluid. Gross. I called Maria, one of the nurses working in Dr. Festekjian’s office. I basically just sobbed to her on the phone about how my drains were embarrassing me and making me miserable. I told her that they NEED to come out. She said she would consult with Dr. Festekjian and let me know.

Well, of course the answer was no. And I understand it, I really do. If the drains are taken out too early, fluid can build up into a hematoma (or something else but I can’t remember the name), and removing that fluid with a needle could cause infection. An infection, in turn, would jeopardize my tissue expanders and might mean I would have to start the entire process over again. That sounds awful. No way I want that.

She told me that I should stop doing so much upper body movement. Well, okay, really? I’m not lifting weights. I haven’t gone kayaking. I haven’t even tried spinning (even though I reallllly want to get back into it asap!) What was I supposed to do? Dr. Festekjian encouraged me to exercise, so I’ve been walking! With my legs. Not on my hands.

So Maria said I should consider just “hunkering down” for the weekend. Ugh. GREAT. That’s just what I want to do…stay inside and do nothing. But you know what, why not try it? If hanging out at home in bed being a lazy bum for an entire weekend means that my drains might come out sooner, I might as well try it.

It’s still making me pretty emotional, however. I hate being still and I hate being bored. Just a few minutes ago I was crying because my drain site hurt so much. It’s kind of swollen and the drain tube jabs at me every time I move. My dear boyfriend Bryce applied Neosporin onto my drain site, covered it with gauze and taped it up. After he did that I excused myself to the bathroom (where I’m typing this now!) because I needed to write this for him. What he did for me, as gross as it was, made me realize that there are people in my life who have made it all so much easier. I want to recognize the people who have helped me throughout this entire journey, and Bryce deserves to be recognized first.

Here we are last March, singing karaoke…he was so scared to get up on stage, but he did it for me and he did GREAT!

My boyfriend Bryce has been incredible throughout our entire relationship. When we first started dating last January, my dad was going through some serious heart problems. He was in the hospital at UCSF for quite a long time, and we had a few serious scares. Bryce supported me through that, letting me talk if I wanted to talk, cry if I wanted to cry, and yell if I wanted to yell.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer again in September, I didn’t want to talk about it with Bryce…at all. But he wouldn’t stand for that because he doesn’t like to be isolated–he wants to help me. So he made me talk to him about it, and slowly but surely, I did.

When I found out about my BRCA test results, he was there beside me. He didn’t know what to say–no one knows what to say when someone gets that kind of news–but he let me know he was there for me. Later that week, he went with me to a presentation by Lindsay Avner, the founder of Bright Pink. He was the only man there, but he did great, and he learned a lot about what the BRCA gene meant and what my options were.

After we went to the presentation by Lindsay Avner, we went out in Hollywood for Halloween! Can you guess who we are?

In the weeks leading up to my mastectomy, I was very moody, and Bryce was so tolerant of it. Really, I was a bitch to him a lot of the time, but he never said anything to make me upset. After my surgery on March 13th he was waiting for me in the recovery room. He’d been waiting at the hospital since about 10 am, and when I woke up it was 2 pm. He hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Bryce, mind you, is 6’6 and eats everything in sight: the fact that he had skipped lunch just so I wouldn’t be alone when I woke up is a HUGE deal. Seriously.

Since then, he’s continued to be amazing. He drove out to Redondo Beach almost every night (which is an hour drive) to see me. He brought me movies so I wouldn’t be bored. When the flowers he brought me at the hospital died, he bought me another beautiful bouquet to replace them.

He lets me cry to him. He’s not afraid of my scars. He helped me take pictures of my questionable nipple to send to my plastic surgeon to review. Last night he changed the sheets on my bed so I wouldn’t have to sleep on dirty shirts.

When I tell him I just want to be alone and I don’t want to see anyone, he doesn’t listen. He’s persistent and he annoys me and continues to call me and then he eventually just shows up at my house…with more movies and snacks sometimes, too. And then he’s there and although I’m still sad and my drains still hurt and I look really ugly because I’m wearing a poncho and boxers and no makeup, I feel better.

April 10th is his 23rd birthday. Sometimes, when he’s playing dumb games on his phone or when he’s freaking out about a basketball game, I think he’s an eleven year old boy. But then there are times like these, when he’s just changed the icky dressing on my wound, that I realize he has a very mature side. He is a great caregiver and I’m so thankful to have him in my life. I don’t want to imagine how I’d feel now if I didn’t have him sitting on the futon (which he converted into a fluffy bed of awesomeness so we can watch movies on the big screen in the living room), about to put on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I’m so lucky to have him!

 

The Jackson Pratt drain saga continues

The drains are STILL here. STILL. It’s been sixteen days and they’re still here, attached to my body like freaking tentacles or something.

I feel like I’m subhuman. At first I joked about that–about being some kind of mutant–but that was okay, then, because I wasn’t going outside of the house that often. It didn’t bother me when people passed me as I went on my daily walk.

This is how I feel, except my hair doesn’t look that good and I’m not smiling.

But now I feel fine physically and I can pretty much do anything, so of course I’m out and about at the mall, restaurants, the library, the grocery store. And I am SO self-conscious about these drains. The problem is two-fold:

  • They look weird–I’ll be the first to admit it. Especially now that the one on the right is extra long, they are hard to conceal. Every time I walk by a little kid I imagine that kid going “ohmigawd Mommy what is WRONG with that lady?”
  • I can’t wear what I want. I’m pretty much limited to shirts that are either short/cropped or have buttons or a zipper. I can also wear sweatshirts and baggy shirts, but those just make me feel even worse. Not only am I a mutant with tubes, my only option is to look fat and frumpy with the tubes.

And now, on top of all these vain problems I’m having, my drain on the left keeps popping out of place! I was avoiding going to work and school because of these damn drains. Last week I was supposed to take a midterm on Thursday, but my gracious professor said I could reschedule it.

Well there’s NO reason for me not to go to class to take it today…I’ve studied for the midterm, I feel good, I’m ready to participate. But my stupid drain is popping out. That’s going to look really awesome to all of my peers when we’re in class and my drain pops out and gross bloody fluid drips all over the floor. Yes, I’m going to be super cool after that. “Awkward Drain Girl.” That’s what they’ll call me.

My 22nd birthday is in exactly one week and all I want is to get these drains out. Last week I was pushing for Monday–haha, funny joke! On Monday, when Dr. Festekjian said to give it a few more days, I was pushing for Thursday. NOPE. Now I’m not even going to think about getting them out this weekend because that would surely make it not happen.

On Monday they were outputting about 35 ccs per day–SO CLOSE. Now they’re playing a cruel, cruel trick on me by creeping up there again, to about 40-45 ccs per day. WHAT THE HELL. That’s all I can say. I am so angry about it.

Drains, what’s your problem? I just had my entire chest removed. My breasts are gone. I’m 21 years old and I look like a fat nine-year-old boy. My nipple is “iffy” and I have to worry about it dying. All I ask is that I can cover all of this up with a cute shirt and cardigan or a nice dress and pretend for a few hours at a time that I’m normal. Why, drains, is that so freakin’ hard for you to accept?

 

Ugh, my Jackson Pratt drain broke!

I was really, really hoping I would get my drains out by Friday, since I had plans to see a lot of people on Saturday. Well, no such luck for me: they were still producing about 50 ccs of fluid each on Friday. The assistant at my Dr. Festekjian’s office, Jeani, did tell me to keep in contact with her via email over the weekend to see if they would be ready to pull on Monday.

Well I walked in the door at my parents’ house today around 5 pm, took my shoes off, dropped my bag, and looked down to see that my drain tube was dangling by my side. I’ve gotten relatively used to this unpleasant site; my drain tubes have come detached at a few random times. Only this was different: the drain bulb broke! The area where the bulb attaches to the tube just broke off completely. So basically…the drain won’t work.

I got in contact with the plastic surgery resident on-call at UCLA Medical Center. I explained to him what happened, but also made sure to note that my drains were very low (30-35 ccs, yay!) and that I had already planned on going to see Dr. Festekjian on Monday morning to get the drains removed. He told me to wrap the drain tube in a zip lock bag and to tape the bag and tube together.

Pop quiz: which drain is messed up?! It's really hard to tell, I know.

Once I taped everything together, I emailed Jeani at Dr. Festekjian’s office. Fingers crossed I get the drains pulled tomorrow!!!!

In other news, I still feel great! I’ve stopped taking pain meds completely; the only time I feel any kind of pain is when I twist in an awkward way or bend down really far. I’ve been going on long walks (2-3 miles) every day, which is great–I love getting out of the house. I’ve also been driving for the past couple of days–I started on Thursday the 22nd.

On Saturday my roommate Danielle and I had a dinner party at our house near USC. I have been so bored and lonely at home (no offense, Mom and Dad) so I was really looking forward to the dinner. We decided to do Mexican food. Bryce (my boyfriend) made enchiladas, and Danielle bought taco meat, tortillas and a bunch of the necessary sides (sour cream, salsa, etc). We set up stations and made margaritas (yes, I’m off of my antibiotics!)

This dress, from H&M, is very similar to the one I wore last night--you couldn't even see my drains!

It was sooooo delicious and so much fun to see my friends. We had about 12 guests over. Danielle let me borrow a simple black dress with a drop waist. I attached my drains to a belt, and you couldn’t even notice them underneath. A few of my friends said that they actually forgot I had had any surgery because I looked so good! That definitely was nice to hear.

The only thing I missed out on last night was the pinata. In honor of Danielle’s 22nd birthday, I bought a Justin Bieber pinata and stuffed it with candy and random goodies (temporary tattoos, cheap sunglasses, Mardi Gras beads). I wasn’t going to attempt to whack that thing. I dislike Justin Bieber, but I don’t hate him enough to screw up my upper body after my mastectomy!!!

Molly takes a swing at the Justin Bieber pinata as Bryce holds it. Yes, Bryce held the pinata. He is a trooper.

Around 10 pm, after most of our guests had gone home, Bryce and a few other friends and I went to another friend’s St. Patrick’s Day party (yes, one week after the fact.) We were so cultured last night: Mexican food and Irish drinks (though I don’t particularly like Guiness.) Again, it was really nice hanging out with people, and no one could even tell I was recovering from surgery. We stayed until about 1 am and then headed home for the night.

Danielle poses with the Justin Bieber pinata after its defeat. Happy birthday, D!

Honestly, if you had told me before my mastectomy that I would be hosting dinners and going out to parties less than two weeks after the surgery, I would NOT have believed you. I’m just so amazed by how great I feel. I’m going to go back to work tomorrow, too.

If any young women are reading this who are considering doing a preventative surgery, I think it’s important to remember that younger bodies heal faster. I watched my mom recover from her mastectomy in November, and I talked to and read responses from other women who had gone through a mastectomy. In all of their cases, it was a long recovery. They weren’t up and moving a lot for at least two weeks; they weren’t going back to work for at least a month.

I really did prepare myself to be out of commission (in bed, sleeping, not driving, not working even from home) for at least two weeks, with the possibility of a third. Totally NOT the case for me. Yes, everyone is different, and everyone going through a mastectomy needs to take the proper measures to allow their body to recover. You do need to take work off. You do need to stay with someone who can take care of you. You do need to lay low for a while. But if you’re young, you probably won’t need to do that for too long. Take everything you read about mastectomies with a grain of salt, because most accounts are not coming from woman in their 20s. Consider how your experience as a young, healthy woman will be a bit different.

Well that’s all for now, folks. Fingers crossed the drains are pulled tomorrow!

 

One week out from my mastectomy: my notes

So around this time last week (March 13th) I was waking up from my prophylactic double mastectomy in the recovery room at Ronald Reagan Hospital at UCLA. Later posts will describe that day and the next few days, but for now I thought I’d take the time to reflect on how I’m feeling one week after the procedure.

My pain level is doable.

I really, really thought I would be in excruciating, I-can-barely-take-it-anymore-just-kill-me-now kind of pain. Reading other people’s accounts online and having witnessed my mom’s own recovery from her mastectomy made me think that pain would be a big part of my life for the next month or so. In reality, this isn’t the case. Yes, it hurts. But it’s more of an uncomfortable feeling. Right now I am sitting in bed with a wedge pillow behind me, laptop on my lap (as it should be!) and I don’t feel any pain.

In the morning I usually feel the most pain when waking up, but I just take some pain meds (in the beginning it was oxycodone; now I’ve weaned myself onto Tylenol). The pain I have is best described as a heavy tightness. Sometimes moving in a certain direction triggers this “tightness” because it seems to put a strain on my chest muscles. I feel pain more, interestingly, when I have tighter clothes on; sometimes I can’t deal with the tightness of the mastectomy bra and have to switch into something loose.

The drains are much more than I bargained for.

If you read my post from earlier this morning, you’ll know that I am not on good terms with my drains. They’ve done nothing particularly rude to me: I have no infections and they don’t hurt. But they are just annoying and tedious to deal with, factors I did not bank on before I went in for the surgery.

I never considered how limiting they would be for my wardrobe. Yes, I knew I would have to stock up on button-up or zip-up tops, but it doesn’t stop there. I need to consider my drains, these two oafish looking things hanging from my body. Tonight, for example, my parents, boyfriend and I are going to a nice restaurant, a possible venue for my grad party. No one wants to see my drains while they eat. And I also want to look nice (for once). Boy, it’s going to be fun to dress for that!

I’m not stuck in bed.

I was pretty sure this would be the case, but I didn’t want to take any chances so I stocked up on movies and reading material in case I was too weak to get out of bed. While I was mostly in my bed for the two days at the hospital, by the time I got home, my pain level had subsided enough that I could move myself out of bed without much help. The key was to almost rock my body upwards, using my abs. You gain enough momentum and suddenly you’re standing!

I putz around the house often and I’m self-sufficient. Sure, if I am in bed and I’ve dropped something on the ground and a parent happens to walk by, I’m not above asking him/her to pick the item up. But I’ve done pretty much everything on my own. Today, for example, I watched my hair by myself.

That being said, however, I am getting really restless.

While I’m by no means an athletic person, I am normally very active. I love to walk for exercise, and lately I’ve been going to spin classes at a few local studios. Not exercising–or being active at all–is driving me crazy. Yesterday I actually went on a 2-mile walk with my mom. I am going to go on another one after I finish up this post. My drain output hasn’t changed because I’ve been more active, and I’m not using my upper body, so what harm is there in it?

I’m surprisingly OK with not showering.

Normally I shower once a day. In the last few months, I’ve taken to trying to wash my hair less, so sometimes I don’t shower every day. In the last week, I haven’t showered once. And I’m not feeling too awful about it.

The Monday night before my surgery I took a really long shower. My mom braided my hair after. Definitely a wise choice, as it kept my hair cleaner and made it easier to deal with when I was in the hospital.

On Friday afternoon I went to a salon and had my hair washed and put into two french braids.

This morning I finally decided I’d wash my hair on my own. Aside from the fact that I looked like the MGM lion after I brushed it out before washing, it was relatively clean.

My lion mane after brushing out the french braids.

To keep my body fresh and clean, I’ve been using disposable pre-soaped wash clothes. Super easy and mess-free.

I’ve accepted how I look right now.

I really thought I’d be depressed by my appearance at this time. But I’m not…which is great. I think I’m still a bit surprised by the fact that I’m not completely flat. During surgery, my plastic surgeon filled my tissue expanders up to 300 ccs each so I’m about a large A-cup right now. That’s still a big difference from the C I was before, but I don’t mind it terribly. It’s kind of fun, the idea that I can “try out” different body shapes. Right now I am truly a bottom curvy, pear-shaped girl.

Perhaps part of my anxiety about my appearance that I experienced before the surgery was associated with the waiting. But once it was done…well, it was done! Things can only get–and more importantly, can only look–better from here.

 

Dear Jackson-Pratt drains,

I hate you.

It’s been one week exactly since my surgery, and I can say with complete confidence right now that I hate these stupid drains.

But hey–if that’s the biggest complaint I have, maybe things aren’t so bad.

What bugs about these drains is that they’re just so…limiting. For those who aren’t familiar with the nuanced terms of mastectomy, Jackson-Pratt drains are used to remove excess fluid buildup from the surgical site. On each side of my chest, about halfway in between my armpits and my hips, I have a plastic tube sewn into me. The tube attaches at the bottom to a plastic bulb that uses suction to “swallow” liquid. This is the drain.

JP drain diagram from drugs.com
This is not exactly where mine are located, but it’s a decent illustration.

Every twelve hours, I empty each drain and measure how much fluid is expelled. Once I am below 30 ccs of fluid per 24 hour period, I will be able to have the drains removed. Right now I’m at about 80 ccs per 24 hour period…so I’ve got a while to go . =(

I thought that emptying the drains would be a tedious, disgusting task. The fluid is pretty gnarly: it’s a translucent red/orange and I can see when blood clots pass through. But no, emptying them is really easy and I don’t get grossed out.

They are just annoying to live with! You can’t hide them. I have two mastectomy bras, soft bras that use hook-and-eyes to snap closed in front. Each bra has areas for attachable drain pockets, little white pockets with velcro where I put the drains. At home I usually walk around wearing just the mastectomy bra and drain pockets, or I wear a zip-up or button-up jacket with pockets and stick the drains in the pockets.

It’s going out that’s difficult. Yesterday I decided I wanted to go for a walk–but what do I wear? Do I wear a jacket and just deal with the fact that fellow walkers and bikers will think I’m some kind of mutant with bloody tubes running out of my body? Do I stuff the mastectomy bra and drains into a zip-up jacket and risk looking like a pregnant teenager? Do I wear an oversized flannel shirt and look like a hobo who hasn’t showered in a week? (Oh wait…that last part about showering is true.)

Yesterday, before my walk. I opted for the mutant alien look. P.S. look at how flat-chested I am LOL boobs.

That’s another downside. I can’t shower with these things in. Water is not supposed to get near the drain site to avoid infection. MEH. I’ve had my hair washed and I’ve been using nifty little pre-soaped disposable wash clothes to keep clean. (FYI, the Horn residence is pretty much its own pharmacy. Between me, my mom, my dad, and my diabetic dog, we’ve got every drug, gauze pad and bandage, and medical instrument you could ever need.)

I’m also scared I am going to pull them out in my sleep. For some reason, the drain on the right is different than the one on the left: the tube is not attached to the bulb with anything other than pressure from the suctioning. On the left, there is a nifty little device that keeps the two attached. Already once the tube on the right has become disconnected from its bulb. Nothing big happened–I realized it immediately and put it back together. But I’m scared that it’ll come out in my sleep and leak all over my nice clean sheets.

Leaving you with that nice image and my fears, I am going to attempt to go back to sleep. In a few hours I’ll post a really informative, well-rounded “One week out” post and we can all forget about my hatred for drains.