It’s been almost two weeks since my left mastectomy and the beginning of my left breast reconstruction, and I’m happy to report that recovery is going better than expected. This is likely nearly entirely due to the fact that I was expecting a double mastectomy, but now have been able to rely on one fully functioning arm after all. As I said before, a blessing in disguise indeed.
Days 1-2 were the worst. That is when I was in the hospital, groggy from anesthesia, experiencing a sore throat and dry mouth from the breathing tube and oxygen mask, and not fully understanding how to control my pain. Fortunately, I was having no trouble drinking or eating though. While in the OR recovery room immediately after surgery (which turned out to be for ~9 hours), nobody seemed to be managing my medication levels for me. It was only when I called attention to my discomfort that additional pain killers were provided. I had a lot of trouble sleeping that night in the hospital because I’d awake from muscle spasms. After mentioning this to the nurse the next morning, I was offered additional Norco (a narcotic mixed with Tylenol) or the choice to move up to the stronger medicine Percocet. I recalled from my c-sections that Norco was a painkiller largely meant for incision pain, but what I was experiencing was more muscular. I mentioned to the nurse that Dr. W had referred to Valium as being a muscle relaxer, and the nurse then realized that Valium was already in my prescription orders after all. She gave me Valium instead of Percocet and that did the trick. Hmm…would have been nice to have been offered Valium from the get-go. The morning of my discharge day, the nurse’s assistant was being called in to help me up from my bed to go to the bathroom while the nurse was talking about discharge timing. So, basically, I can’t walk nor go to the bathroom by myself, but I’m supposedly in a condition to go home?
Days 3-7 were mostly spent in bed. I alternated from sleeping due to a Valium-induced slumber to watching back-to-back episodes of The Good Wife (side note: highly recommended TV series). I was able to walk around, and encouraged to, but was pretty slow and gingerly about it since it still felt uncomfortable. Not in pain, like in a sharp pain sort of way, but just uncomfortable and awkward. You don’t realize how much of a full-body effort walking is until some major part is not carrying its weight. I still needed help getting up and going to the bathroom, etc. in the early days (thanks Ash and Mom!), but managed to do all that on my own by mid week. Ash’s brother and sister-in-law also helped out by taking Diya off our hands a few times so she could play with her cousins and we could have the peace that comes in a pre-schooler-free home (thanks Par & Nish!). Day 7 is when Dr. W called with the great news about the pathology results – whoo hoo!
Day 8 was my follow-up appointment with my breast surgeon. Dr. W was pleased with how the incision site was healing and that the breast skin (particularly the spared nipple) seemed to be surviving well. Evidently, in some cases, the nipple dies after a nipple-sparing mastectomy and further surgery is then required to remove the areola and nipple. Other than rejoicing the pathology results discussed the previous day, the best part of the appointment was the removal of my drain. Since surgery, I had a tube with a bulb-shaped container at the end coming out of my body near the incision site to collect a variety of fluids that were emptying from my body post-surgery. I only had one drain since I only had surgery on one side and only needed to have three lymph nodes removed, but more drains may have been needed had I had the double mastectomy or more nodes removed. It’s not painful, in fact I barely felt it, but it can be annoying to have this thing hanging off of you. Fortunately, I had this super helpful jacket with velcro sleeves and pockets for the drain that made it quite convenient to deal with it all (thanks Kathy!). We had been told that the drain could be removed once the fluid output became less than 25mL per 24 hours for multiple days in a row, and I had achieved that. Ash had the unfortunate task of emptying my drain on a daily basis, so we were both quite happy for that to be out. Dr. W noticed that I was still walking quite slowly, so she adjusted my medicine schedule to include Tylenol (for the pain) and Ibuprofen (for the inflammation) as I was prefering to taper off the narcotics. (Thanks Richa for the below PJs that I wore to this appointment!)
Day 9 I took my first post-surgery shower. This was definitely a record for me. Ok, I know the doctor’s recommendation was only to wait 3-5 days, but I was really paranoid about the drain site. Showering with the drain in requires a lot of pampering of the drain site afterwards that seemed unnecessarily risky. Plus, I was mostly just lying around all day long, so it’s not like I was ever working up a sweat. Ash had been wiping me down with antibacterial sheets as well, so that helped minimize any potentially offensive smells. Then again, maybe I just got desensitized 😛 Anyhoo, the hot water shower felt great, but I still needed help with the towel wipe down and all given restricted arm movement.
Day 10 I had my first fun outing post-surgery. With Halloween soon approaching, we took a family outing to a local event where kids could trick-or-treat at the various stores up and down the main street. We only stayed out a short bit so I wouldn’t get too tired, but we all got dressed up (and by “all” I guess Ash was dressed up as a Giants fan) and had a great time. Ash’s brother and sister-in-law also hosted us all for a great Diwali puja at their place that evening, and it was nice to catch up with friends there. I felt energized while chatting with everyone, but quite happy to crawl into bed when I finally got home.
Day 11 was my follow-up appointment with my oncologist. That was my first time seeing, or even talking, to Dr. T since the pathology results became available, so we shared in our excitement about the tumor disappearing. She reminded me that of all TNBC patients, only ~1/3 achieve pCR. Of all patients that achieve pCR (across TNBC and other sub-types), ~95% go on to have excellent long-term survival. Those are percentages to be excited about. She confirmed that no further chemotherapy and no radiation would be recommended at this point given their risks/side effects outweigh their potential benefit. <insert victory dance>. There’s a possibility I take the hormonal therapy drug Tamoxifen for a few years on a daily basis going forward, but we agreed to discuss and decide on that after all the surgery recovery is done. Will keep you posted.
Day 12 I had an unexpected freak-out. I had felt fine the first half of yesterday, but in the midst of writing this blog post, passed out at the laptop. I awoke at some point, pushed the computer away, and kept sleeping. This wasn’t “oh-I’ve-watched-a-lot-of-TV-so-I-should-nap” sleep, this was like the type of hit-by-a-truck fatigue I felt during chemo weeks. When Ash came home from work that evening, I felt like something was wrong. I could barely keep my eyes open or move. Not in pain, just oh-so tired. A bit later, I sat up to drink water and stay awake, and literally out of nowhere, I started crying. Like uncontrollable crying. Again, I was not in any pain and had no explanation for my crying. The family, naturally, was very concerned and Ash and my Dad rushed to Costco to get a blood pressure monitor. Turns out my blood pressure was lower than usual, so we’re keeping an eye on that now. There’s still no explanation for the intense crying – WebMD indicates depression or anxiety – but I really wasn’t feeling any of that.
It was just a few days ago that I was telling Ash how it was odd that I never cried after hearing the news that I was now “cancer-free”. Perhaps it was because my mind had not only expected that all along, but there was also gradual build-up to those results from the clinical results to the clean MRI. That said, perhaps my soul was only now catching up to the news. Perhaps my “being” was only now absorbing the magnitude of what it has been through and what it means to have overcome it. Perhaps crying was the only way it knew how to express itself.
Today was a closer return to normalcy. By normalcy I mean a very newly defined version of normalcy. I still don’t have anywhere close to full range of motion of my left arm, and I still live in fear of Diya pouncing on that area at any point, but I’m more comfortable putting it to use. My blood pressure was relatively higher than yesterday, and I felt more energized, wanting to be productive around the house today. The discomfort remains – specifically, I think it’s the pain of the tissue expanders pushing against my muscle and skin – but that might just be my new normal for a few months. My follow-up with my plastic surgeon got pushed to next week, so I’ll get more clarity on those concerns and beginning physical therapy at that time.
The saga continues, but I promise to continue to take you along 🙂