Chemotherapy and Mastectomy
It was surreal to use those words when talking about something that I had to do. In the beginning I was still in the mindset that cancer happened to other people. But as I faced each challenge head on, I began to realize that this was really my life and I began to search for tricks that would lessen the discomfort or at least made it somewhat bearable. The plain fact of the matter is...breast cancer treatments (any cancer treatments actually) just suck, for lack of a better word. However, I was very grateful for advice from other survivors when they shared things that helped them. I thought, "Even if their tricks don't help me, what have I got to lose?"
So that is what I would like to do for today's post...share some tricks and tips that helped me before, during, and after my bi-lateral mastectomy (in layman's terms, I said goodbye to both of the ladies who had tried to kill me.)
Before Surgery Day
It's all butterflies and anxiety in the days and weeks leading up to your surgery. So many unknowns about the process and the pain that will follow. It's tough to keep your mind out of "worst case scenario land." But the thing that helped me the most was to just keep busy. Which is also easier said than done considering that you have probably just spent the last 4-6 months being hammered by chemotherapy.
In my case, I had four kids and a husband to take care of so I did not have a lack of things to do. Add to that my job of teaching preschool and really, keeping busy was not too much of a problem. The real challenge came often at night when I was left alone with my thoughts.
"Will they be able to get the remaining cancer?"
"How painful is this really going to be?"
"What if they find more cancer?"
"How painful is this really going to be?" (I was terrified of the recovery process)
You will have those nights where you just cannot control the anxiety and it will take over. My best advice is to just ride that wave and know that it will pass.
Keep praying to whatever higher power you feel helps you.
Keep looking for ways to ease other's pain.
Keep breathing...one simple breath at a time.
The day has finally arrived. It's time to say goodbye to "the girls." Everyone experiences their own emotions when thinking about this separation. I went through all the emotions...the relief that I would no longer have breast tissue in which to grow cancer, the anger that the cancer had descended upon me in the first place, and the sadness of losing an important part of me.
The emotional roller coaster is tough. There were two things that got me through the ride. God and my family. I hope that you have a spiritual connection on your journey. I know that there is a God out there who loves you and who knows the pain that you are going through. However you choose to reach out to Him, just do it.
Now for some of the small details that help...
*Get a good amount of sleep the night before your surgery. Take a sleeping pill if you need to.
*You will want to have a comfortable shirt to come home in. My mom made me two shirts that were lifesavers. It was a simple t-shirt that had been cut down the middle. She then put strips of velcro down the cut sides so that the shirt could be closed again. The best part of the shirt were the inside pockets that held my drains. If you are interested in having a shirt like this (and I HIGHLY recommend you have at least one) please contact me. I will hook you up, free of charge.
*Make sure you have people lined up to bring in meals for at least 3-4 days after your surgery. A week would be even better. Do not think that you will be able to handle it or just have your husband go pick up food. Ask for help. You and your husband will have plenty to keep you tired and busy as you both try to focus on making yourself as comfortable as possible.
*Head out the door and on to the hospital with a smile on your face...even if there are tears running down it as well.
Obviously the time immediately following your surgery will be a big blur. I remember people coming in and out of my room and talking to my kids via Skype, but that's about it.
I stayed only one night in the hospital. Depending on the type of reconstruction surgery you are having, you may have to stay more than one night.
Once you arrive home, please, stay on top of your pain meds. Don't try to be the martyr here. Take them as instructed, even if you are not in a huge amount of pain. The pain will last for at least 3-4 days. After that you will probably be able to just get away with taking Ibuprofen or Tylenol. Listen to your body.
Hopefully you followed my advice and contacted me about the miracle recovery shirt. You will live in it for the first few days. Lifting your arms over your head will be impossible and the drains will be obnoxious. I do not recommend purchasing a tank top with drain pockets. The pockets are not big enough and the tank top has to go over your head. Just know that you are not in any beauty competition. You are going strictly for comfort here.
Speaking of drains...I highly recommend having a lanyard to wear in the shower. You can hook the drains to the lanyard and then your hands will be free. Letting the drains just hang freely...I do not recommend that. It hurts. Go with the lanyard. (Which I will also give you free of charge when you ask me about the shirt. :)
Use this time to just take care of you. Hopefully you have family members, friends, church members, etc who can come and help you take care of children, housework and all of those other small details. Let them help. If you don't have anyone, reach out to your support group, your doctor, the hospital. There are people out there who want to help you. I hope you don't have to look too far.
If you know of anyone who is facing a mastectomy, please share this post with them. Give them my email address (which is firstname.lastname@example.org) It breaks my heart when I hear of people who are alone in this process and I will do anything within my power to help them or find someone to help them with their needs.