After I had my mastectomy in July and started to feel “normal” again, the thought still lingered in the back of my mind, “you’re not finished yet.” I knew that even though life felt back to normal again, I would disrupt it a third time. So the relief I felt, although nice for a time, was fleeting because of the hysterectomy looming over me.
But now I can proudly say that I am finished on this journey and can now call myself a Previvor, as I have done every preventative surgery possible to ensure I will never be touched by breast, ovarian, uterine or cervical cancer! Six days ago my husband and I ventured down to UMiami Hospital to remove the organs that grew and housed both of my babies for nine months so that I could be sure I would be around for those same babies, now seven and almost five, as they graduate, get married and have babies of their own.
My husband and I arrived at 5:30am, as the city still slept. We were one of the first to check in and watched as the day shift nurses arrived to relieve the tired night shift. Unlike Jupiter Medical Center, UMiami is not big on visitors in the pre-op area. I went back alone and went through the standard procedure of getting IV lines started, heart monitors secured and I answered the same set of questions 50 times between the nurses, doctors and anesthesia team that rotated through. Finally, there was some calm and they let my husband come back to sit with me. There really wasn’t much to talk about. Mostly we just sat in anxious and nervous silence as I squeezed his hand. Finally, a team of nurses came in and said those four little words, “It’s time to go.” and I lost it. This surgery has been such a point of anxiety for me because there is SO much unknown to think about after the surgery is over and done with. Finally the flood gates opened and as I was openly sobbing in front of everyone, they thought it would be a great time to give me a shot of Versed to calm my nerves. It helped immensely because just as I was forced to let go of my husband’s hand as I was wheeled through the double doors, it kicked in and I went into blessed incoherence as they put me to sleep for the procedure.
Now, when I had my mastectomy, my husband’s face was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Remember Miami’s no visitor policy? It was the same in post-op. I woke up alone with one nurse by my bedside. Anyone who has been put under general anesthesia knows how loopy you are when you come to, and it would’ve been nice to see a friendly face there. When I could finally talk, I asked for him and I just kept being told the same thing, “He’ll be back soon. He’ll be back soon.” After an hour of “He’ll be back soon.” I finally got pissed off and TOLD them to call him back. Five minutes later, he strolled through the doors. Five minutes after that, they told him he had to leave again. A note for the UMiami Hospital: Having your family with you does more good than any medicine you can give.
When it became apparent that I would be sitting there alone all day, listening to my neighbor dry heaving every two minutes from the anesthesia, I asked the nurses what I had to do to get out of here. Some women stay over night after this procedure, but I wanted it to be scheduled as outpatient. They said I would have to stand up and sit in a chair, keep fluids down, keep bland food down, walk to the bathroom and go pee, all while maintaining strong vitals through out. So I said let’s do it. One by one I checked all of the items off the list and my team of nurses told me that it didn’t even seem like I had surgery. I really think it was just sheer will that made me get moving so fast, because as someone who is excited to work in a hospital, I hate being a patient there. So at 1:00PM, I was getting dressed and being discharged so I could go home.
As I rested, I was very relieved to note that I still felt like “me”. My biggest fear was that I would somehow become this raging lunatic because of the change in hormone levels, but truthfully I felt exactly the same. There were no hot flashes either and I am happy to say that I never felt one because I was able to start my Estrogen patch the next morning. After two days, I felt well enough to get up and moving and was even able to attend a school function at the local mall with my Dad so we could get my Mom a birthday present. The recovery from this surgery has been a night and day difference from my mastectomy. Aside from some incisions on my stomach, I feel totally back to normal. So, if you are waiting to have this surgery, let me tell you that I was SO scared too but it really isn’t as scary as I thought. I feel like myself and I am confident you will too. So don’t worry.
Tomorrow will be one week since the surgery and I am so relieved that I am finished. Of course I will still monitor my health closely (unfortunately, pancreatic cancer and melanoma are still risks and as of right now, there are no preventative measures) but I no longer have to worry about the extremely high risk of breast or ovarian cancers. I can picture a future in which I see my children grow up, not one that has me going through chemo in the hopes that I’ll survive. Because that has been my “Why” through all of this; making sure my children never had to say, “I wish my mom was here.” through any momentous occasion in their lives.
As we approach Thanksgiving, all I feel is gratitude. It is so easy to think of everything this mutation has taken from me, but I don’t see it that way. I saw a quote and it really stuck with me: “Some women are lost in the fire. Some are built from it.” This process really made me realize how strong I was. I definitely wasn’t fearless, but I chose to stare fear in the face and push through it anyway. I am thankful that this process lead me to finding my biological mother, something I have been wanting for years. I am thankful that this process showed me what I wanted to do with my life to help from here forward. Most of all, I am thankful that this year showed me how “there” for me my friends and family were. It is easy to be there for the fun times, but much harder to commit to the hard ones. So to all of you, thank you. Thank you to my amazing husband who has been my rock that I leaned on when things got really difficult. Thank you to my parents who have been there for anything I needed at all, whether it was a fun place for the kids to go while I was hurting or a late night run to Olive Garden for Minestrone soup and breadsticks. No matter how tough the surgeries were, I can look back on this year and feel extremely blessed. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.