“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” is what the sign reads above the entrance to Hell in Dante’s Inferno and it was a phrase that kept going through my head as I left my plastic surgeon’s office just 12 short days ago. I felt like I had entered Mastectomy Hell because just days after getting an “all clear” and even returning back to CrossFit (and to all those who will criticize me, saying I should have waited, it was HEAVILY modified with no weight at all.) I was being told that the redness that appeared on the left breast was an infection on the inside and we would have to see how it would react to stronger antibiotics. That Sunday, when the incision burst open, I was told I would be going back into the OR to irrigate the area and replace the implant. If this did not work, I would lose the implant all together for 6 weeks or more.
I was not mentally prepared to even write this post until now, nine days post op, because I just felt hopeless. The surgery itself was quick and painless and I went home right after it was over. I’m pretty tough and after having two babies without drugs, physically this surgery was no sweat. I needed no more than a couple Tylenol for the pain. But mentally and emotionally, I was a mess. It amazed and horrified me to see that the tides of recovery could turn on a dime, putting you back into an OR the day after you had just gone shopping for new clothes and gone out to dinner to celebrate your full recovery with your husband. I was assured the infection wasn’t due to anything I had done and it just happens… rarely, but it still happens. Now, as I was nearing the coveted six week point after a double mastectomy, I would be starting over on one side, complete with the dreaded JP drain hanging down my stomach.
After surgery, I was definitely thrown, but I was happy to see that I looked pretty much the same as when I went in and I didn’t wake up with the feeling of a 747 sitting on my chest like I did with my mastectomy. For all intents and purposes, I looked normal save for a fresh incision where the old one had been. I went in for several follow ups so my doctor could keep a close eye on my progress and I seemed to be healing nicely. I even got my drain pulled out earlier than I had anticipated (which, anyone who has had a mastectomy knows is a HUGE day!) But mentally, I just couldn’t get rid of the dark cloud over my head because I kept telling myself that looking and feeling good means nothing. It can change in an instant. If it doesn’t get better, I will be flat on one side for several weeks. This attitude went on for several days until, much like Virgil helping Dante through literal Hell, my husband and kids yanked me out of my own personal Hell. My girls just wanted me to be happy and playful and my husband remained understanding and supportive through his second shift of being a caregiver. Through absolute silliness only seen in the innocence of children, I started to laugh again. From hugs and kisses at every opportunity, I realized the absolute greatness that was my husband and I started to like my body again, even if it had failed me at this particular moment. The incision will heal and the scar will fade, and as he kept reminding me, “This sucks, but you want it done right.”
Now, today, I have just returned from my last follow up appointment for the next two weeks and it was a positive one. My five day culture came back negative for any sign of bacterial growth and the incision looks good, with no sign of infection or seroma after the drain was pulled on Monday. My plastic surgeon says that going off antibiotics without issue will be the true test to see if this worked or not, but he finally has given me reason to be cautiously optimistic. As I was driving home, I finally felt good again and I realized that what I have been depressed about is small potatoes compared to what women with actual breast cancer have to deal with. I was afraid I’d lose an implant. These women live in a constant state of fear that they’ll lose their life. So I put on my aviators, rolled the windows down (it dropped below 90 here!) with the radio up and smiled on my way home. I had come out the other side of this and look forward to being in the Paradiso part of my journey: Complete recovery.