When I was younger and someone said “Count your blessings”, I never thought much about the meaning. I was probably mad because it’s usually an expression said in response to someone being ungrateful. When you’re in the thick of a difficult time, it seems almost impossible to see everything you have instead of everything you’re losing.
In the days leading up to my surgery last week, I often thought “I don’t really have to go through with this, it’s not like I have cancer yet.” Of course, I did go through with it and indeed, my doctor just called me to say my pathology report was perfect – no signs of cancer at all. Thank God!
Tragedy happens every day. We lose loved ones, we lose money, we lose body parts. Most often, it feels, we lose our minds. Getting caught up in the sorrow and mourning these losses is normal and absolutely part of the process. But when we are ready to look from the other side, it feels amazing to recognize everything we have.
The tremendous amount of support I’ve received has been overwhelming. An abundance of delectable goodies, flower deliveries, gifts for me and my girls; I’m blessed with friends and family who have shown how much they care. More than any material thing I could ever have, I am blessed with true friends and a wonderful family. Now with the report from my doctor, I am blessed with good health. I may have lost my breasts, but what I’ve gained is so much better! More blessings than I can even count!!
Phew! So far my homecoming has been smooth and easy. My plastic surgeon told me before I left the hospital to ignore all of the residents and nurses that would tell me I couldn’t shower when I got home. Thank God, because my first post-op shower felt like I was bathing under a waterfall in Shangri-La. So luxuriously warm, cleansing and refreshing. My husband helped me wash my hair but I was pleasantly surprised that my arms had good enough range of motion to wash some of it myself. I put some comfy clothes on and a hideous, but warm Hello Kitty robe and sat in my recliner waiting for the girls to come home (thought it was best for me to get settled before they were here. And please note, I hate Hello Kitty on adults but my Mom thought the cartoon cat and its pink bows would be fun for my big girl to see on me, she was right.). When my older daughter came up to see me she was so excited that I was home and so gentle and protective. She was thrilled to see I had kitties on me and her favorite color: pink (good job, Mom!). This experience has only solidified the fact that three year olds are incredibly resilient and that mine is a sweet and thoughtful little doll. She asked where my “boos boos” were and I vaguely gestured to either side of my chest. Then she asked if she could fix them. I wasn’t sure what that meant so I asked her to start by fixing my feet and telling her that gentle high fives, getting lots of rest, and watching her sing and dance are the best medicine. I have enjoyed many performances in the past 24 hours. I’ve been instructed by my little Doogie Howzer, MD that when she covers me with a blankie, I get better but I should not take it off because then I will get sick. As you can imagine, I’m constantly being “cozied”. And thanks to the tremendous support from our family, I’ve gotten better rest here than I did at the hospital where nurses came to check my vitals and administer antibiotics when I didn’t want them or take an extra half hour when I did want them. Did I mention how happy I am to be home?
For once in my life, I don’t feel over anxious about the little things that seem odd to me. For instance, my left breast has a hollow feeling to it and when I touch in certain spots it almost seems to ripple. And one or two of the drains leak a little bit causing my special tank top to have a small stain. Fortunately, my plastic surgeon called to check in on me tonight and he said everything I’m experiencing sounds totally normal. He described the tissue expander like a beach ball. They have a capacity to hold 600 mLs of fluid, but have only been filled with 275 mL so far. So it’s to be expected that this rippling, hollow effect is occurring. I’m not sure what it would be like with a different surgeon, but my doctors have been so wonderfully caring. It makes a big difference. Even before I was officially his patient, he gave me his cell phone number and again, told me before I left the hospital that I can always call him. I know he has a family of his own, including a young son. I’m sure he’s got other things to do on his Sunday evening, but he never sounds rushed and he made the effort to call me! I can’t reiterate enough that picking a surgical team that you feel comfortable with is of the utmost importance. I trust them implicitly and don’t feel the need to second guess anything they tell me. It’s very reassuring.
It’s been harder for me with my younger daughter, trying to find a way to reassure her when I really can’t hug her or get that close to the little wiggle worm. She sat on my lap for a minute today and my husband and my mom lean her down so I can kiss her but that lack of physical connection weighs heavily on me. While I was so concerned with how my big girl would fare, I overlooked my own emotions with the little one somewhat. Fortunately, she’s at an age where she won’t remember this experience and is quite easily distracted. I can hear her giggle and walk around downstairs and I know she’s having fun. That’s really all I could ask for. Being physically present and chatting with my big girl has proved very important for her. She keeps asking me “you’re not going anywhere, right?” every time she leaves my room. I love that I am staying in one place at home where she can rely on me. In a few days, I will go back to the doctor for follow up appointments, but I hope this time she will know for sure that I always come back. Home is certainly where my heart is.
I have mentioned before that my general attitude when facing a challenge is that I hope for the best, but expect the worst. My hopes and the good vibes and wonderful thoughts from friends and family certainly paid off. As my doctor said, “it was a perfect surgery”.
The anticipation during pre-op had gotten the best of me and I was a bit of a weepy mess. But as soon as I saw my team, I felt totally at ease. My plastic surgeon took purple marker and drew all over the old boobs. He was marking the natural curvatures so he could perfectly place the tissue expanders that are now inserted under my pectoral muscles. Then the anesthesia team came in and introduced themselves. I made sure to tell them that I get very nauseous, so they gave me “the works” in my drip to prevent that and put a patch behind my ear. Finally my breast surgeon came in and said it’s go time.
She walked me down the hall to the small corridor outside of the OR where my plastic surgeon was waiting to escort me the rest of the way. The room, with all of its big lights and serious looking machines was intimidating. However, both surgeons stayed right by my side laying warm hands on my arms as I stretched out in a T pose (legs straight, arms out). They calmed me by asking distracting questions and joking about being ready for cocktail hour at 8am. The anesthesiologist gave me the good stuff and then all I remember is waking up as they wheeled me to the recovery room.
At this point, I looked like a trout with my mouth wide open, because I forgot to tell everyone that I get lock jaw. So I freaked them all out because once they took the tube out of my throat, my jaw wouldn’t close. Apparently that’s not a great sign. I tried to close it myself but couldn’t, so an oral surgeon came in and popped it back into place. After a few blow job jokes, I went back to sleep.
I’m not sure how much longer it was until I woke up and saw my husband standing next to my bed. Once I saw him, I was happy and knew everything was all good. As the anesthesia wore off, we chatted and I was not in any pain at all. Over the last forty eight hours the pain has increased, but its much better than I thought it would be. The high tech pain management system they had me on allowed me to press a button every 8 minutes to add more happy juice to my IV. As I tapered off of that I’ve been on Percocet and Tylenol.
Recovery, so far, has been more uncomfortable than painful. It feels like an elephant sat on my chest or someone took a sledge hammer to my ribs, more sore than pain. And while I thought I’d be flat as a 12 year old boy, I have a pretty solid B cup already. Although there’s a straight line covered with bandages across both breasts, the lack of nipple isn’t freakish. I may sing a different tune once the dressing is off. I can keep it on and shower with it until my first follow up appointment next week.
First I have to go home. My surgeon gave me three criteria for my release: getting up to pee, eating solid foods and getting off of the IV. Hooray, I’m there! Now part of me is thinking, “cool, get me the f outta here”. And the other part of me is a little scared to go home. I’m acting totally like myself so I know that that part won’t freak the girls out, but it’s still difficult for me to move around without wincing at the discomfort and I don’t want the girls to see that.
Overall, I think they’ve been doing really well at home, but my husband and my mother tell me that the big girl is asking for me a lot. I hope that just my presence at home will be good enough for her. I won’t be able to hug them or pick them up and I’m going to be resting a lot. But like everything else has been, I’m hoping it will be better than expected.
My big girl loves a book called Don’t Worry, Bear. It’s about a bear who is friends with a caterpillar. When the caterpillar goes into his cocoon, the bear gets very worried. All the while, the caterpillar is talking to him from inside reassuring him not to worry. Eventually the caterpillar emerges as a butterfly and the bear realizes he never had to worry in the first place.
I have planned for tomorrow for almost a year. It has been an emotional journey thus far and tomorrow we add the physical component. I have been so focused on how the girls will fare in my absence, I haven’t thought about how others might worry about me. I’m a mother, so I can only imagine what this has been like for my parents and what it will be like waiting for me to come out of surgery, watching me recovery. I want to say to them, “Don’t worry, Bear”. Luckily, my husband isn’t typically a worrier (a good balance in our marriage and parenting), but I know he will be sitting out in the waiting room while they operate and he will worry. I want to tell him, “Don’t worry, Bear”. I’m sure my girls will be concerned when they see me after I’ve lost my breasts and wonder if I’m really ok. To them I will say, “Don’t worry, Bear”. Of course, I’m also worried for myself, but I’m thinking about all of the things I never have to worry about again. Waiting for mammogram results, “Don’t worry, Bear”. Feeling a lump, “Don’t worry, Bear”. Getting breast cancer, “Don’t worry, Bear”.
Today I am a caterpillar. Tomorrow I will be a butterfly.
I haven’t even left yet and already I’m homesick. I went to several different summer camps when I was younger. Most of them were dance camps that were only a few weeks long. Yet still, even though I loved what I was doing, I had the worst separation anxiety. That feeling of homesickness is so real and so gut wrenching for me that it’s my body’s go-to reaction when I’m leaving anyone I love.
I finally told my older daughter yesterday that I’m going away. We were playing outside and the timing just seemed right. She was happy and laughing with me, telling me that she wanted to go back to the farm where we do apple picking. So I said, “that would be so much fun. Ya know, I’m going to go to the doctor for a few days, but maybe Daddy can take you there.” And she said something like, “just me, Daddy, Dovey (her nickname for her little sister), Nanny, PopPop, and Gammy?” I told her yes and then we went back to playing. It kind of felt like a weight had been lifted because I’d laid the initial groundwork. But moments later, she gave me a huge hug and kiss and didn’t want to let go. It wasn’t in a sad way. I think for her it was in a very happy way, but it took everything I had not to start balling. Homesickness rears its ugly head again. The same emotion crept up as I put the baby to bed. Cuddled in to me chest to chest, I felt it rise up again threatening to break the dam I’ve worked hard to build up.
My strength and the countdown dwindle together as if they’re one. Part of me wishes I could stop the clock, the other is ready to just get it over with. I think I’ve done everything I can to prepare myself and my kids. It almost feels like I’m about to go to camp.