I am nearly two weeks out from having my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and I am finally getting to sit down and write about my experience. Needless to say, it has been quite a ride. Let me start at the day before surgery. If you are waiting for your surgery, the day before is going to go fast and slow at the same time and you will have a lot of anxiety. I was lucky that my dad kept me busy by taking me golfing. I loved getting to be outside and it was nice thinking about how badly I was playing rather than the hell I was about to endure the next day. I highly recommend doing things you enjoy to stay busy. I will say that I asked my doctor to prescribe me two Xanax, one for the day before and one for the morning of. I recommend doing the same thing because it helped me immensely in staying calm. This was my first major surgery, so I was very nervous.
When the day was finally here, it started like any other except for the fact that I couldn’t eat or drink anything. If you can, schedule your surgery first thing in the morning so you don’t go in starving and VERY thirsty. I woke up and got my kids ready for camp. My husband and I drove them together and we explained what was going to happen. I thought saying goodbye to them as they walked in was going to be extremely hard, but I actually held it together because I didn’t want them to worry. We went home, grabbed our bags and headed to Jupiter Medical Center. When you get there, they will register you and then send you to the pre-op area where they will let you change and do all of your routine tests to make sure you are good to go. You will talk to anesthesia and they will explain how they will put you to sleep and keep you that way for the next six hours. When that is finally finished, your family is allowed to come back and let me tell you, we packed the pre-op area with my husband, parents and in-laws. I think we actually started taking chairs from other rooms. By this time, I had about an hour to go before they took me back and it was very quiet. I had HGTV on, but I wasn’t watching and had my family there with me, not knowing what to say because they knew that I was stressed out. When we had about a half hour to go the nurses came in to give me my Versed and thank God for that stuff because I might have had a panic attack when it was time to go. It hit me instantly and everyone laughed when I said “Whoa!!” and got very relaxed. At exactly 1 pm, the time had come and my family had to leave so they could take me in. I was still relaxed as the nurses wheeled me through the maze of the hospital, but no dose of Versed can prepare you for the chaos of the OR. I remember about five or six people over me, strapping me onto the table and getting me all prepped. The last thing I remember is someone putting a mask over my mouth and telling me to breathe. Anesthesia is a funny thing. To my family, they had to wait a long six hours for me to finish, but to me, it felt like a second between going to sleep and waking up in recovery with my husband standing over me. The first thing I remember hearing was “Everything went perfectly, you went straight to implant and you got to keep your nipples.” I remember being extremely relieved, even under heavy sedation.
I do not remember being wheeled to my room and I barely remember my family coming in before passing out from exhaustion and a heavy dose of Morphine. I do know that I pushed the pain pump button through out the night and the nurse had to put a heart monitor on me because my heart rate got down to 39 BPM. Apparently because I am athletic, they didn’t seem worried but whenever I closed my eyes to sleep, the machine went crazy and it made it very hard to sleep. On Wednesday morning, I still couldn’t eat or drink anything because of the nausea and I remember being extremely pissed off because I insisted that I was nauseous BECAUSE I didn’t have any food or water. Around 8 am, I got a new nurse and I FINALLY got to eat. Hospital French toast had never tasted so good. After breakfast, I was more “with it” and went about the business of getting the hell out of the hospital. I showed my nurse that I could stand and walk and I asked to be taken off the Morphine drip and opted for Percocet instead. Getting off the Morphine is a game changer and I recommend getting off that stuff as soon as possible. With the removal of the PCA, also meant the removal of the heart monitor, catheter and IV fluid. I finally felt like myself again and after I got the all clear from all of my doctors and nurses, we were getting dressed and going home.
For this surgery, they recommend staying in the hospital for two nights. I stayed for one and if you can, try and get home as soon as possible. Sleeping in your own house without beeping and vital checks every hour does wonders for your recovery. If you can, sleep in a recliner because it will hurt to lie flat. The first few days were the hardest. I was on a steady dose of Vicodin for the pain. The only hiccup I encountered was two panic attacks that left me dizzy and breathless. I was so concerned about post op pneumonia that I was breathing TOO deep and depleted my body of all CO2. Breathe normally and when you can, get up and walk around. That will keep your lungs working just fine. Fast forward almost two weeks and I am off the pain meds completely, instead relying on Advil every so often (Ask your doctor before you take Ibuprofen as it can make you bleed more.) and I have already had a set of drain bulbs removed. There is no sugar coating it, having the drains SUCKS but it is better than dealing with seroma. Both of my doctors said I am healing perfectly and I pray that I continue to do so. If you believe in homeopathic methods of healing, eat a lot of Pineapple, drink protein shakes every day and take your Vitamin C. One thing I want to mention, also, is have a solid support system. I am not kidding when I tell you that you will not be able to reach a glass on the table next to you without help. My husband and my mom have been rock stars in taking care of absolutely everything while I get better. I knew I married a good guy, but this time in our lives has shown me just how lucky I am.
To get through this process, everyone talks about the physical pain and healing, but you need to be mentally tough as well. Lying in a recliner while binge watching Grey’s Anatomy is fun for exactly one day. Then cabin fever starts to set in, but you are in too much pain to go anywhere and you have four grenade-shaped balloons hanging around your waist. There isn’t a shirt in the world that can hide them. When you can, go outside and do not stay in bed/recliner all day. The sun does wonders for your mood. The last thing that has been particularly hard to deal with is the numbness and loss of feeling in your chest area. It is one thing to hear your doctor mention this side effect, it is another thing entirely to hug your husband and not realize that your chest is touching his. The first time I was able to hug my children nearly broke me because I couldn’t feel a thing besides my arms around them.
I am not telling you all of this to frighten you or make anyone feel bad for me. Instead, I want my experience to help all of the ladies who have yet to go through this by bringing awareness of what to expect. The point is, this is not a cake walk but it isn’t impossible. Every day gets easier and easier and while I can’t feel my kids hug me right now, I am assured that some feeling does come back and, most importantly, they can feel me. Thanks to this surgery, my 87% chance of breast cancer just got reduced to 1%. So, they will get to feel me hug them for years to come.