Well that was a trip. And hold tight, because this post is a novel.
Luckily for me the last 11 days have been a bit of a blur and have gone by relatively fast. But I can categorically say that the first half of the recovery time was not much fun.
Did the surgery go well? Yes. Were the first 4 days of being home incredibly brutal? Absolutely. Have I been in a lot of pain? No. Did they get all of the cancer? We think so… after all of this, they better have!
So there have been some goods and some not so goods from this whole surgery experience. The surgery itself went excellent according to my plastic surgeon who I adoringly will call Dr. VanAwesome. It went "exactly as planned" said my general surgery who is equally as awesome but to distinguish them both she will be known as Dr. McGreatness for her amazing thoroughness. Both of them are wonderful ladies and I am incredibly lucky to have snagged such skilled surgeons.
Hospital stay was interesting for me since it was the first time I have ever had to lay in a hospital bed… the one unpleasantness that I experienced there was the initial wake up in the recovery room where I experienced a bit of dry heaving... they IV'd me up with some Gravol after that and I was good to go. Oh and the transfer from the recovery room gurney to my bed... that was not very fun. My nurse insisted that I transfer myself... even though the porter had been given instructions to have me lifted up and carried over (I paid attention to details in the recovery room! However messed up I was - they weren't pullin' any fast ones on me!). But my nurse demanded and instructed that I transfer myself on my own. Don't get me wrong, she was a very sweet filipino lady...she was attentive and always helpful but man was she tough! I was so drugged up on morphine, couldn't use my left arm, was weak and groggy and she was making me scootch myself over from one bed to another, on my own. After surgery. The lady was nuts! But I did it! Not without whining though. And out of all of my stay at the hospital, that was the only time I was in a lot of pain.
Both surgeons visited me that afternoon and the next day also to say that I was recovering well. No sign of lymphedema in my left arm, no swelling really and no bruising. Mind you, I did have a massive amount of dressing around my chest so it was hard to tell what was going on under those bandages. Dr. McGreatness said that she was pleased and is pretty confident that they got it all outta me. Hooray for that! Pathology report on that should be back by the 21st and that will actually confirm the size of the f&$#ers. We want to hear that all margins were clear and that they don't think I need to worry about any stray cancer cells. Because the surgeons were so optimistic, I am thinking that it will only be good news. It will be interesting to see how many nodes they took and how many of them were positive for the bad shit. I think that will give my oncologist an idea of how many rounds of radiation I will need too.
As I mentioned, home recovery was not fun times!! After a scary fainting episode on the first night I later ended up allergic to the codeine in my T3s and couldn't keep anything down. Next up: Gravol and Tylenol suppositories. Throw my dignity out the window and just get me feeling like a fricking human being again! I did not care that I needed something put up my you-know-what to make me better. I was so nauseous and dizzy and scared. I kept wishing that this period of nausea was just going to be like being super wasted and sleeping it off would make me feel better... but every time I closed my eyes my head would spin, my face and body would go numb and I would lose my breath. Even meditative deep breathing wasn't helping me. My mind was ticking and I feared having to be driven to the hospital. The idea of being in a car was terrifying me and I went into a state of total anxiety. We were lucky to get some over the phone care from Dr. VanAwesome (who is like an angel to me at this point). She confirmed that my weakness in my legs, face going pale, sweats, numbing in my face and body were all symptoms that some of her patients will go through after surgery. She gave my fainting like symptoms the fancy name of Vasovagol (read about it here. scary feeling for someone who has never experienced this) and then she was able to address that it was the T3s that were making me throw up over and over. A few pills up the wazzoo, an Ativan and I was in a total drugged up haze for a few days. Having the Ativan on hand was like having a little itty bitty saviour in pill form. It chilled the crap out of me and I was able to sleep and calm my nerves. After I was weaned off of that and the Gravol I began to feel more coherent and was able to sit up and actually want to eat food again. Yay for feeling more normal!
It was not without a huge amount of endless care from Mike and my Mum that I was able to get through this recovery stretch. It was horrible times for me… but Mike and my Mum were like pros and totally took on the nurse and caretaker roles, making the whole ordeal a lot less yucky. Mike is absolutely AMAZING. I cannot even express the amount of gratitude and love I have for him. And my Mum was a total Nurse Mama… it was like being five years old all over again when she spoon fed me soup and would take my temperature. A very comforting feeling. Who knew that at age 28 my mother would be at my bedside tucking me in for naps at 1pm in the afternoon after having helped me dress into pyjamas? For this, I am so thankful. Without her and Mike both pulling together to get me back down to earth I would have drowned in a complete spiral of fear and sadness. Fear because at the time that I was feeling so rough I wondered at one point if I was actually dying… and sadness because I just felt so flippin' pathetic. I needed help to do everything. The total lack of control was a new concept to me. I obviously had no choice… but man, was I happy to have those two around to tend to me. I even had a bell! (Courtesy of Mike's Mum) hehe...
By my February 15th follow up with Dr. VanAwesome I was much more alive! I was still weak and exhausted but was finally back to normal meals and able to hold longer conversations with people without forgetting what I was saying mid sentence. The bandages and drain were removed that day and Dr. VanAwesome said everything was looking beautiful. Funny how that is possible when I still have stitches, steri-strip tape and dried blood all over my chest… but hey, I will take that kind of encouragement.
The bandages coming off hurt like a mother--- Dr. VanAwesome literally gave me no warning and began ripping them off of me even as I semi-yelped in pain… and being the sensitive skinned girl that I am, I reacted very badly to the tape. Blood blistered, cut, rash. Major ouch. She then warned me that the drain was going to really hurt. Ha! Barely compared to the feeling of large chunks of tape and gauze being pried from my already aching skin. Yowza! It was awful but it went fast and soon the surgeon (who is still AWESOME even though I wanted to hurt her mid-debandaging) sent us on our way. I see her again on the 22nd for the removal of the strips and stitches. F-ing heck I am hoping it isn't as bad as the last removal. It will be nice when that is over.
I had been really afraid of the bandage removal appointment. The idea of looking down and seeing the state of everything scared me a bit… I realize it is unfinished and not yet healed but I just couldn't stand the idea of looking down. So I didn't. And haven't. It's called healthy denial. And I am working through it. I have covered up every mirror in the house for now… mainly because my first reaction was "Holy shit where the hell are by boobs?" I know she said I was gonna be smaller… but I did not expect what I saw when I looked at myself in the mirror. With my short little hair cut, a mild hunch over from surgery and my now super baggy shirt hanging off my front I honestly felt like a nine year old boy. I will totally get over this… I think it was just the initial surprise of "Wow, nothing I own is going to fit me." …Goodbye garments that I loved… Hello future second hand clothing drop. But there are some major bonuses here… I will say: having these little babies is going to really allow me to wear so many items I couldn't pull off before. Like strapless dresses… and (dare I say) no need to bother with a bra. There will be some super good 'perks' (quite literally) ;) with these new things. The idea I am just adjusting to though is the fact that I no longer look like me… it is like I am a new person when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Right now it bums me out a smidgeon but soon I know I will be pretty content and love the freedom. And hell yes to getting to buy new bikini tops for the Summer! Hurrah!
As for the other bits that are missing from my body… Having no axillary lymph nodes in my left arm is a weird sensation. Some nerves were cut and therefore I have a numbness that goes from under the arm all the way down to my elbow (this added to the already complete numb feeling I will forever have in my new reconstructed boobie). My arm tingles and often feels irritated when something touches it. I am told from others who have experienced it that some feeling may never return but the physio I do every day will definitely increase my mobility and may help bring back some of the sensation. I am also hoping that things tighten up a bit in my arm… because when I checked it out in the mirror it is blatantly visible that shit was taken out and I am missing some key forming stuff on that one side. I have Gumby arm. It's like when you get freezing at the dentist and you come out feeling like you have droopy lip for a few hours. I have that feeling all the time in my arm now only it looks that way too. I can only do physio and hope that I will one day have similar looking and equally flexible arms once again…
Alrighty… we are up to speed. Now for the fun stuff to come:
Embryo freezing process begins this week! It all depends on a few girly factors that must occur beforehand but the beginning of the future embryo baby stuff is around the corner. The whole procedure is very cool and we have learned a lot but I am super not stoked on getting three injections into my tummy daily for 10 days straight. I just wish I could have a breather right now… some time to relax, heal and have zero running around to do in the city. Pretty soon I will be in and out of PCRM (the fertility clinic) every other day for a week+ to monitor how the egg stimulation is going. It's crazy stuff triggering a large amount of eggs… I did not know that women usually only produce one good egg each cycle… I just imagined there were a bunch that would make it. But I guess that makes sense, otherwise there very well could be an abnormal amount of octo-mommys out there in the world. But for in vitro, they need many eggs… and quick and fast in my case… so the timeline is tricky and everything depends on everything else. Kinda like when I was first diagnosed and every appointment meant something new for every other test I needed… so strange to think that that time in this whole mess is now done and passed. I am so relieved for that.
Anyways, back to the baby making… once they think they have enough eggs to use for future freezing they give me another shot to stop me from ovulating… I feel like I am in high school science class with all of these injection teachings. Watching both Mike and my Mum learn to mix medication with syringes and seeing them shuv these needles into a fruit stress-ball makes me a bit nervous. But then I smack myself up side the head and remind myself "Ashley! You just had one of your boobs removed! You can handle a few little needles for a few days" After all, it is our possible future children we are saving up here. A Plan B so-to-speak. And over breakfast this morning Mike and I came upon the realization that while I will be 34 and he 38 when we use these embryos, the little guys are actually going to be from our younger selves. How cool is that? I like to think that they will be super intelligent and advanced kids too… because technically, they are already going to be 5 year old little eggies when they are transferred… haha - C R A Z Y.
Ok… so back on track… once PCRM has a pile of our guys preserved, I will then be free to start the dreaded treatment… arrrrggghhh….chemo. I say this with the largest amount of loathing and distaste. I really really really really really really just wish I did not have to go through with chemotherapy. At all. But because the cancer made its way into the lymp nodes (bastard!) I am now high risk for reoccurrence. And even though I technically am now cancer-free they want to make sure that there are no stray cells hanging out that they missed… no stole-away jerk-faced carcinoma shit-for-brains hiding out waiting to strike at a later date… and so they want to do this chemo business. Same goes for radiation. They are both precautionary double-checkers. Dot your "i"s and your lower-cased "j"s… I just wish it didn't have to be such a long haul. And seriously, chemo? It is not a picnic. I am not going to have much energy level, I hopefully will not be one of the 5% that reacts really badly and ends up barfing constantly, and I will totally be going into a pseudo-menopause. Plus losing every hair follicle on my body. Things are gonna suckkkk… there is no doubt about it. But thankfully, there are movies. And books. And sleep. Lots of glorious glorious sleep.
Yes, chemo may bite the big one, but I will work through it. I have a ton of kick ass support out there helping through it and will one day have all of this crap behind me.
For now, I dream of Summer and wait for the day that I am completely recovered from the unpleasantness and shittiness that is cancer. There is just no other way to put it… getting cancer is the shits… but just think of the whoppin' story I will tell to others going through it for the first time once it is all in the past. This is is some heavy stuff to go through… at any age. But it was not even a worry in my mind being in my late twenties… who knew I would be dealing with this?… But it will build character for sure and I know I am going to come out of this so strong…
My best friend that I have had since kindergarten told me the the day before surgery that I am one tough cookie… and you know, I never thought I was tough before. But I do now :)