On Tuesday, February 23 I checked into the hospital to remove the small cancer tumor remnant that caused my world to turn upside down. This was A BIG DAY. It will result in the much anticipated pathology result that will tell us if I’m NED: No Evidence of Disease.
I had three weeks to recover and build my immune system back up after my last chemo dose. There’s a weird comfort that chemo gives because you know the cancer is being attacked; not being in active treatment becomes irrationally worrisome as the days go by.
The first week off I came down with a cold. The second week we had a wonderful time at the beach with family for a long weekend. Then I caught another cold the week before surgery. Not good. The docs want you to report any illness prior to surgery but there was no way I was going to reschedule. I rolled the dice that I would get better.
In my hospital pre-op room I was a little nervous when the nurse asked me if I had a recently been sick. “Just getting over a little cold, that’s all.” Later the anesthesiologist repeated the question (every question seems to be asked multiple times) and I proceeded to have a coughing attack. Dang it! Jason and I looked at each other like we’d been caught. Luckily the doctor gave me the thumbs up. And not to worry anyone, I DID feel better.
The worst part of pre-op was the IV. Nurse 1 spent what felt like an eternity looking for a vein and after inserting the needle, couldn’t get it to work. After wrapping my arm in hot towels, Nurse 2 took a stab at it. Bad pun intended. She inserted the needle into my hand and then spent another eternity jiggling and adding layers of tape to it, trying to get the IV fluid to drip. “Just hold your hand like this and don’t move. The OR can always re-do this if needed.” The IV successfully dripped but failed at giving me peace of mind going into major surgery.
The funniest part of pre-op was when the nurse asked me to roll onto my side so she could apply a heart-shaped sticker just above my butt. Since my surgery would be almost six hours, this would help prevent sores. While my butt cheeks are hanging out for all to see, she said “Sorry this is taking so long. I’m trying to work out the wrinkles.” I replied, “On my butt or the sticker?”
Pre-op was almost two hours of a lot of questions and a lot of waiting but luckily Jason was with me. After Dr. C, my breast surgeon, checked in with us, it was time to get the show rolling. Jason told me he loved me as I was wheeled down the hall into the OR. The last thing I remember was a swarm of masked faces surrounding me.
Dr. C performed a bilateral nipple sparing mastectomy. Around 1 pm he came into the waiting room to tell Jason he had removed the tissue in one breast and the surgery was going well. About 3 pm he had finished the other breast and removed the port on the right side of my chest.
Then Dr. M, my plastic surgeon, reconstructed my breasts by placing tissue expanders inside using a material called AlloDerm for tissue coverage and support. What’s creepy is that AlloDerm is skin derived from human cadavers. Originally it was created as grafts for burn patients and is now used for a variety of reconstruction needs like mine.
I woke up in the recovery room after almost six hours of surgery. Groggy from anesthesia and pain meds, all I remember is Jason and Dr. C telling me it went great.
After I was settled into my hospital room, the haze wore off. My chest felt incredibly tight and it hurt to move. I had a tube sticking out of both sides of my chest with a drain on each end to collect fluid. The drains are called “grenades” because of their shape. Ironic since I felt like I had been hit by a grenade. The mastectomy was not the worst pain I’ve experienced but it’s bad. I was given 1 or 2 Percocets every 4 hours along with muscle relaxants.
Every 4 hours the nurse came in to "milk" (also called "stripping") the tubes on each side of my chest; using her fingers she basically squeezes the fluid into the drains. Once milked, the drains are emptied and the amount recorded. When the amount is down to 30 to 25 mL in 24 hours, the tubes can be removed. The drains and what looks like almost 2 feet of tubing are pinned to my shirt- super attractive!
The best part of my hospital stay was that my mom-in-law, Lois, spent the night in the room to keep me company. She’s so sweet. Hopefully I didn’t scare her too much when I mooned her as the nurse helped me out of bed to use the bathroom. They filled me with a lot of fluid during surgery so there was a lot of mooning.
Dr. C and Dr. M came by to visit with me the next morning. My room felt like a revolving door of people checking out my boobs. Both doctors said I looked good so it was time to go home.
The nurse walked us through the list of do's and don'ts. Milk and record the drains every 4 hours. Take pain meds as needed and start on an antibiotic. No showering or getting my chest wet. No lifting my arms or lifting of anything. After being discharged, I didn't think this would be a problem. A little foreshadowing for my next installment: I was wrong.