3 Weeks Post-Op

Today marks 3 weeks since my exchange surgery. It’s super exciting because I was able to finally lift my arms above my shoulders, switch from a surgical bra to a sports bra, and drive on the highway! My mom met me at the mall to help me shop for sports bras, which was really helpful. Some of them I couldn’t even pull over my own shoulders so it was really nice having her there to help me out. We ended up finding winners at Lorna Jane, and the staff was super helpful, even bringing out a yoga mat so I could make sure the sports bra would be comfortable while I’m sleeping on my back. It’s also awesome to be able to lift my arms above my shoulders (or as Beyoncé says, “Flexin’ while my hands up My hands up, my hands up I stand up with my hands up.”

Yesterday, I had orientation for this quarter of nursing school, which is the immersion/preceptorship portion of the degree. I won’t have class next quarter, but will be in a maternity unit for 300 clinical hours and 60 project hours. I am super excited because I looooove clinicals and working directly with patients. Then one last quarter and I’m done! The other exciting part of orientation was learning all about graduation in June, taking the board exams, applying for jobs, and getting my RN license.

I’m really excited to move on from recovery mode into feeling more like myself. I start physical therapy tomorrow and only 3 more weeks until I can sleep without a bra, wear a normal bra, and sleep on my side!!!!

Tony the Tiger

I had a bunch of tape all over my chest from surgery and it was coming loose in a lot of spots, so I got the okay from my nurse to remove the tape. Luckily my friend (who also happens to be a nursing student) was coming over today, so she was able to help me remove it all and did an awesome job. I’m sensitive to tape, so I have crazy looking blood blisters all over that almost look like tiger stripes – but other than that everything looks great! I had the same blood blisters after my mastectomy too and last time they went away in a few weeks and they should this time too. It feels so nice to have all the tape off! Now I just have a bit of tape over the incisions to help with scarring.

One more week until I can lift my arms above my shoulders and switch to a sports bra instead of my surgical bra, woo-hoo!

tony9n-3-web

Good Day

I had my follow-up appointment with my surgeon today. My appointment on Monday where I got my drain and stitches out was with the nurse (heck yes to nursing skillz), so today was the first time I’ve seen my surgeon since my surgery 10 days ago. She was very happy with how everything looked and told me she was 80% sure going into the OR that I would have to keep the expander on the left side, so thanks for everyone’s good vibes, thoughts, and prayers – they definitely helped! Things are still healing but look pretty good for only 10 days out. I got the okay to go on 2 hour excursions today so Adam and I went to lunch to celebrate after my appointment. I also learned how to do these “displacement” exercises on the implants to get them to move more down and to the middle since my expanders were higher and more to the side. The exercises are a little uncomfortable, but I’m happy to do what I can to make them look better than they already do. I am really happy with how they feel, they feel way more like my natural breasts that I had ever imagined. I am so happy to have those expanders out. The hole that was sutured up is healing nicely and I’ll be able to switch to a sports bra instead of a surgical bra 3 weeks from surgery. Then, 6 weeks from surgery, I can FINALLY sleep on my side (haven’t been able to since August) and can wear a normal non-underwire bra. I’m cutting way down on pain meds and should be off them really soon, so I’m feeling more and more like myself. So, very happy with how today went!

Post-op update & wife brag

Hi all – Just wanted to give you a quick update on how Rachel’s doing. We’re almost a week out from the exchange and things are going steadily better day-by-day!  This morning Rachel had her post-op appointment and was able to get the drain out 🙂  Overall, everything’s looking super healthy and barely looks operated on.  Which is pretty amazing considering what Rachel went through six days ago.

With the drain out, pain culprit #1 is out of the way.  In a couple of days Rachel’s strict schedule of pain meds will taper off – and if today’s any indication, her energy will probably rebound quickly too.  Tonight she was able to shower for the first time since the surgery (I swear she wasn’t stinky one bit, she had me check a few times so I can confirm that fact).

Over the past week, we’ve had a steady stream of nursing school homies stop by to hang out.  This has been awesome for both Rachel and me. Having these amazing friends over at the house has allowed me to run errands, get some needed sleep and gives Rachel an enthusiastic buddy to watch trashy reality TV with. They’ve also been able to change the occasional drain and help Rachel get from the couch to the baño and back.  The UCLA nursing student community is incredible and we appreciate you so much!

But being a little loopy and having acute pain hasn’t stopped Rachel from being the badass that she normally is. She’s continued to be an amazingly supportive to all those she loves during this past week. In between naps, she’s been on her phone staying on top of everything from school, appointments, bills and keeping family up-to-date on how she’s doing.

Through this entire journey I’ve been completely blown away by the strength of my wife.  No matter the challenge Rachel just steps up like a boss.  (Gonna brag for a moment.)

Most ridiculously challenging academic quarter ever (I know you’re feeling me MCEN’s) six weeks after mastectomy?  No problem: she passed all her courses handedly and served awesomely as president of her graduate nursing association.

Three physically challenging clinical rotations while recovering from mastectomy?  Not an issue: Rachel helped women give birth just days after starting physical therapy and came home from every exhausting shift more excited for her future as a nurse, being able serve patients everyday.

Keeping focused after receiving news she had gnarly mystery tissue damage and then a resulting literal hole in the boob – and receiving the latter news a week before finals and going into surgery?  Ain’t no thang: Rachel made it through all this by slugging it out every single day with an amazing attitude that got more positive even as the intensity mounted.

And not to mention that she absolutely loves chatting with and hopefully helping anyone that hits her up about mastectomies/cancer prevention/cancer treatments.

So I’m pretty sure I’m married to superwoman.  I’m cool with that not only because I get a superwoman nurse as my bestie and life partner.  (But also because I’m expecting all of our children to be super athletes who’ll surely hook us up with their signing bonus money).  Not sure how Rachel does it and over the past few days I’ve been able step back a bit and just observe this woman’s greatness.

Exchange completed!

Hey all!  Husband Adam here.  Rachel had a 4.5 hour surgery yesterday and it was a big success!  She got home last night and has been resting well since.

The really great news is that she got two implants (as opposed to having to keep one of the tissue expanders in).  Also, the recent tissue damage that popped up in October healed well!  The surgeon tested the skin from the inside and was able to verify that everything grew back healthily.  The Dr. used allograft on the inside of that breast and is very happy with the results of the procedure 🙂  Another big plus is that Rachel only needs one drain.  These mofos were the cause of much of her pain during the mastectomy – so when the doctor said she just had one drain AND she got the implants, I was like ‘hallelujah! & Happy Chanukah!’

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Last night Rachel was even able to sleep in bed for over five hours!  It took two weeks for us to get to this point post-mastectomy – so another thing we’re both very thankful for.  The biggest priority over the next week is lots of rest to heal and prep for the post-op appointment next Monday.

Thank you so much for all of your support and love during this journey!  Either Rachel or I will post updates soon and I hope you have a great week and Happy holidays!

Cry Sesh

I’ve been pretty much doing nothing but studying for finals and schoolwork, plus wondering about what will end up happening with my surgery next week. I was totally exhausted late Tuesday night and got a message from my surgeon about the daily pics I send her of my stitches, and she said there was an area she was concerned about. So I ended up crying on the couch. I usually stay pretty calm, cool, and collected – but it was actually a great release to get it all out. It’s rough enough studying so much, so I guess adding uncertainty about my surgery was the final puzzle piece to make me have my cry sesh. Oh, and drains. I now know 100% I’ll have drains at least on the left side because of the skin repair they have to do. Drains are definitely not fun. Adam helped me get through my crying by comforting me, and of course using humor, which is the best medicine. We were joking about how if I only have one drain we can treat it like fashion – it can be my statement drain. I also watched Vanderpump Rules which made me feel better about my life and then we watched The Little Couple, which always makes me happy.

I told myself (out loud in the car – anyone driving next to me probably thought I was crazy) that I can do this, I can handle this. I passed my two lab finals and knocked out another final, NCLEX prep exam, presentation, and a group paper today. Two more presentations tomorrow, an NCLEX prep exam and two more finals on Monday, and I’m all done with school for this quarter! All the school stuff is actually a welcome distraction from thinking about my surgery.

The good news is that today, my surgeon said the latest pic I sent looked good and things are looking sturdy. I’ve made peace with whatever the outcome is during surgery. If I need to have one more surgery at a later point so things can heal on the left side, I am okay with it and completely trust my surgeon’s judgement. Hopefully Tuesday’s surgery will be the last one, and if not – yes, I’ll be bummed. But all of this is still wayyyyyy better than having breast cancer. 2015 will be the first year since 2009 that I haven’t had to get a mammogram and breast MRI, which I’m really happy about. Especially when I have the mammograms where they call me back in to do an ultrasound to take a closer look at something. So, I still have no regrets and am thinking positive about the surgery!

ps – for those of you who haven’t seen The Little Couple, here’s one example of why it makes me so happy

It’s Just Emotion Taking me Over

A woman recently posed a question on one of my BRCA online communities about experiencing intense emotions after her prophylactic mastectomy. She is only 2 days post-op and was asking if anyone else had become easily upset after their surgery and if anyone had regretted it. I answered her because I definitely experienced some crazy emotions after my surgery. I’m not sure if it was my hormones readjusting, the trauma of major surgery, the pain, or the loss of my breast tissue (or maybe all of the above) – but I was definitely crying after my surgery, especially during week 2 post-op. I’m not someone who cries easily, with the exception of TV and movies (ie I cry every time I see the Sex and the City ep where Harry proposes to Charlotte). But, after my mastectomy, I found myself crying at the smallest things. I remember being at the Relax the Back store and finding a nice pillow to help me sleep – and breaking into tears in the store. Or thinking about how much my family and friends were helping me, and crying tears of gratitude.

I think it is really normal to have these types of feelings/emotions after a prophylactic mastectomy and it’s important to acknowledge the feelings. I also had a small feeling of regret right after the surgery. I wondered – why did I do this to myself? Is the pain worth it? The good news is that for me, the crying stopped after week 2. And the small feeling of regret I had right after my surgery disappeared after a few days, once I got my pathology results that everything was clear. It was a reassurance that I had done the right thing and I didn’t have to worry about my breast cancer risk like I had before. No more mammograms and breast MRIs every 6 months. No more getting a call that I needed to go back to see the radiologist for an ultrasound after my mammo and worrying about what they had found.

And now that my final surgery is in less than 3 weeks, the only emotion I feel is excitement. It’s really weird to look forward to having surgery, especially being in the healthcare field and understanding all the risks/complications associated with surgery. Still, I can’t wait to have this all behind me and not have a heavy pair of tupperware-like expanders in my body. Anyway, just wanted to share that post-mastectomy emotions are totally normal and I feel it’s very important to voice them and let it all out. Below, please enjoy the Destiny’s Child jam that this post is named after.