wide-eyed at 4am


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Thanks Giving – Really

And giving thanks is exactly what I’m doing this year even more than years before. Even more than last year, I think.

I fought it, my mom insisted on doing most of the cooking and work for Thanksgiving this year. Actually everything except dessert…I made my 3-layer dark chocolate cake.

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We had a good visit – although sometimes frustrating – as it is every time the fam gets together.

Dennis and I got there early to help if it was needed. And it was.

I helped with the gravy, getting the dressing in the pan, setting the table and carving the turkey. Thankfully, mom had done several things ahead so the last minute things weren’t overwhelming.

I tried to help minimize the clean-up by washing and putting away dishes, pots and utensils as we went along, but there was still lots of clean up once we were finished. We stayed afterwards to help in that department too. I know they could’ve gotten it done, but I know that my mom was tired and needed to relax the excitement died down. Stress is  not her friend with heart failure…

We’re actually treating ourselves to a deep fried turkey that we purchased from Wild Wings. I’m making apple-sausage stuffing and giblet gravy, brussels sprouts with figs and pancetta, and walnut cranberry sauce.

We wrestled enough chocolate cake from my dad to have for our dessert….

At least I feel like cooking. That wasn’t the case last year: I chopped a few nuts but mostly watched as our 2 daughters combined efforts on an impressive Thanksgiving feast in Tampa.

Thinking back, it’s hard to imagine that just two years ago I had no idea that this journey lay ahead of me.

Now that I’ve had my “final” surgery, we can move on, right?

Lots of people are congratulating me and that’s great. But (unless they’ve experienced “the journey”) it just isn’t clear to them that the journey is one for a lifetime.

The fear looms that a check-up will reveal that “it’s back.”

I’ve learned that and I’ve had very few procedures (only 2) or “check-ups” since completing treatment. But procedures, scans, samples and tests are lining up already so that I will understand the constant anxiety that my sisters in the journey have told me will accompany each appointment.

Regardless of how beautifully I recover and how amazingly my plastic surgeon rebuilds me, the journey will never be over. Marked for life as a prime candidate for re-occurrence, each milestone will be a check-off to add another month and eventually year to the cancer-free time tally.

So as I reach this point, I’m thankful for it. But I’m more thankful for the people who support me, the people who are also on the journey and understand, the doctors who “keep the watch” and the nurses who encourage me every time I see them, for the medications that help me check off those milestones and for my body’s amazing ability to revitalize itself from the barrage of surgeries and treatments.

I’ve never hidden the evidence of the journey. Not when I had hardly any hair or when my port scar showed.  I think I’ve frightened a few people in the athletic club locker room. No one says anything but I can see that they stare. And even when these scars have diminished, they will never totally disappear – just like the journey. Hopefully those who gawk realize what they can do to keep themselves out of the same predicament.

I’m actually thankful for the experience because of the realignment of priorities and perspective it has caused. I’ve let go of some things and continue to be able to let go of things that I once thought I couldn’t part with. I’m passionate but about some different things. I’m still OCD and driven but understand more clearly what I do and don’t have control over. I’ve met some amazing people: doctors, nurses, specialists, other patients. I’ve seen amazing advances in medicine put to work for me and learned some amazing things about how my body and many other organisms, foods and nutrients work together.

So this weekend I realize that I’m a lot more than grateful. I’ve experienced enlightenment, renewal….and thankfulness.

 


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The Corset Collection

By definition a corset is a garment worn to hold and train the torso into a desired shape for aesthetic or medical purposes.

I now have quite a collection. The pink ones (and one lavender one) that I have now from my surgeries are apparently the pretty ladies’ versions. I would imagine CMC has a less frilly style available for men who need to wear one of these. This makes a total of 5 corsets. I have 1 more than my number of surgeries because my surgeons didn’t want me to go home with only a corset with bloodstains on it. They thought I needed a fresh one – so I came home with 2 on that 1st visit.

They even give you straps to hold the sucker up.

It’s not bad for a couple of days but after my first surgery, I had to wear one of these for about 2-3 weeks. I was pretty sick of it by then. Especially since it was July!

I also have a couple of pink sleeves….these were actually the idea of a patient. She – like me – thought there should be something that let doctors and nurses know immediately that you have missing lymph nodes….that one of your arms should never be used for IVs, shots or to check blood pressure. She came up with the sleeve and – from what I remember from the story the nurse was telling me Wednesday had a supply of these created for use on appropriate patients. I now have 2.

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I believe that part of the lymph node-ectomy (or whatever they call it) should include a tattoo on the patient’s wrist that says no bp/iv or some symbol that indicates this message as a permanent marker. After all I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone that my arm is not “useable” if I were unconscious. There needs to be a way for this to be immediately determinable before a harmful medical procedure is unknowingly done.

Anyway – this corset collection just shows that you never know what kind of collections you’re going to end up with as you travel through this journey!

 


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Git’er Done

Back home after surgery…

All points of detailing are done – except the tattoo which will have to come after 3-D nipple has healed. I don’t know what that time frame is but it doesn’t involve surgery so I’m happy.

I have no idea how anything looks (except my port scar) because I’m still all bundled up in my pink corset. But my plastic surgeon is one of the most detail-oriented, respected and adored (and handsome) perfectionists around (as nurses have told me)… so I’m sure it will be as amazing as it can possibly be.

I’m not really concerned about that. It’s quite amazing how this entire experience has changed my perspective on looks. I care how I look but I’m not as convinced that I have to be as close to perfect as possible anymore. I’m just glad to be here and have hair, eyelashes and eyebrows!

My 4th surgery experience….

I continue to be pleased with the way CMC does things and treats patients – even as large as the facility and organization is.

There are plenty of people to greet you at CMC’s One Day Surgery Center. They’re very helpful and engaging. I’ve never felt as though they didn’t want to be there or didn’t live what they do. They have one person who does nothing but put folders together for the people who accompany patients and let them know how they can track the patient’s progress. They also have a liaison person who sits down with you before the patient goes into prep to explain the folder, everything available to the person accompanying and what will take place for the patient. They let the accompanying person know all of the food and drink resources closeby and what to do with their parking pass. This is new. We didn’t have this liaison person on any of our previous visits. It’s great – even for us veterans – because we may not know everything that is around or available to those who have to spend so much time waiting. They really are focused on the experience of the patient and those who are the there with them. It’s quite a comfort.

Everyone is helpful. Everyone engaging. I had quite a team working on me. A prep nurse, a vein specialist, a surgical nurse, an anesthesiology nurse and anesthesiologist and my surgeon. I must say that the vein specialist that put in my IV lived up to her nickname – The Vein Whisperer. I didn’t even feel it. I know they use numbing solution, but I’ve still had interesting experiences even with the solution. That is a special skill and The Vein Whisperer has it!

And I just can’t say enough about my doc. Awesome.

Whatever they gave me….as a precursor to anesthesia knocked me out. I don’t remember anything after we made the corner getting out of my prep room. (By the way, I had the luxury suite! Maybe you have to have punched your ticket 4 times to earn it, but I had the corner room that was huge! It was very spacious with plenty of room for 3 or 4 people to be in at the same time. I think two nurses, my anesthesiologist and Dennis were all there at once at one point.

So I have no description of this operating “theatre” or anything that went on in that room. My anesthesiologist had said I should be awake enough to move onto the operating table. If I was able to do that, I have no idea…. I’m thinking that they had to help!

My surgery took a little longer than expected but he did a little more than first planned….adding some filling in to match fullness of my implanted side and the reduced side.  ….and he filled in the “gulley” created under my arm because of the lymph node removal plus the implant. So my armpit should be prettier. (something I’ve haven’t really worried about!

It took me a while to wake up. Maybe 2 hours in phase 1 recovery and then about 1.5 hours in phase 2 recovery. I think I should have stayed a little longer in phase 2. The ride home was pretty far from pleasant. By the time we sat in rush hour traffic and made it home, I wasn’t feeling good at all. I slept from 5:30-7:30 didn’t feel like eating and slept more in 2-3 hour spurts until 4:30 am when I decided to eat something and take pain meds. That allowed me to sleep until 7:30am.

That is when I noticed the biggest difference in my awareness and mobility. If it weren’t for the pain, I would be pretty good!

But – as planned – we got’ir done!

 

 

 

 


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Getting Detailed

Pretty funny, my friend who immediately compared my surgery tomorrow to a car getting detailed. Doing a little body work to smooth out some dents and bumps, repairing a scratch and adjusting the headlights. Cracks me up – only a guy would compare the tweaking surgery after mastectomy reconstruction to something related to a car!

So tomorrow should finish me up. Well almost. I suppose I still have a little tattoo work coming after the skin heals. Amazing what they can do. I will have a 3-D nipple where there is none now and then the colors tattoed to match the other side…

This entire topic brings out some interesting reactions from people. Some men get tremendously embarrassed. Some men are tremendously curious as are some women. Some people shut down the conversation and others want more details. It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round, doesn’t it?

I will be sure to arrive at Same Day Surgery at CMC Main prior to 8:30 am. I’m sure I’ll get antsy before they call my name to “come back” to the prep area….you know, that tiny room that barely fits the bed they’ll soon wheel me to the OR on plus the little cabinet that holds nothing. I will have dry mouth and a growling stomach and be slightly self-conscious about the way I look because I can’t put on any make-up. I will feel like I need to apply antiperspirant but I can’t. I don’t really  need it anyway since I have yet to grow any hair back in my armpits to speak of and haven’t been able to detect any body odor. I always wear it for fear that the day that I don’t, I will suddenly develop BO again.

But soon enough, I will go back and adorn my lovely wardrobe of a hard-to-tie gown made of slightly scratchy fabric in a rather tasteless pattern with grippy socks (probably the same nasty looking brownish color that I was given the last time I was there). I deposit my clothing in the plastic bag with my name written in Sharpie and take my position on the bed. It’s cold in the room and my feet are soon icecubes. I always need a warmed blanket wrapped around them. (BTW, those warm hospital blankets are the BEST.) Next comes the fun of getting my IV port so the anesthesiologist can easily drug me up. Used to this by now. It’s sort of a guessing game when I meet my prep nurse as to whether she is good at the needles. It seems like they all would be. After all, they get oodles of practice.

At this point, I may or may not remember the ride around to the OR. This is one thing that has not been the same for each of my surgeries. I have felt really clear-headed all the way into the OR. Clearly remembering the amazingly huge screen they see everything on and the meat-locker cold temperature in there. Wondering how the surgeon’s fingers aren’t frozen stiff…. I even talked to the nurses – telling them that I bet they wanted me to be quiet. Other times I’ve conked out before I make it around the corner.

Regardless of how it begins, it will seem like only 15 minutes have passed when I awaken. Usually I’m not even very groggy, although the time it takes me to come out from under the anesthesia differs. Hoping nothing changes in my reaction to anesthesia.

The one who gets the *@*! end of the stick is Dennis. He will have a looooonnnnggg day. Starting at 8:30am, he’ll be in that waiting room, waiting through the 3 hours that it’s predicted surgery will take. He’ll watch my number move across the progress panels and eventually see that I’ve been moved to recovery. My plastic surgeon will report results to him and eventually he’ll get to come to my recovery partition and wait for me to gain enough focus to be kicked out.

I’m guessing we won’t be headed back down Providence Road until at least 3pm. I’m imagining that I will be hungry and thirsty and want to lie down soon. Not sure if I’ll have pain at this point. But I will probably be sore. I try to avoid pain meds. Not just because of their digestive impact but because the ones that work make me goofy as goofy can be.

Maybe I will be up to telling you more tomorrow night while it’s fresh in my mind….or I’ll be resting in goofy land.

The thing is….my partner in crime will be there the entire time. He won’t even leave to get lunch…. or maybe just a quick walk to the cafeteria to grab a snack. He will take me in and bring me home. He will get my pillow and put a blanket over me on the couch so I can doze in front of the TV and then – even though he will want to watch some far-off golf tournament or soccer game or another game of the World Series – he will ask me what I want to watch….knowing that I will soon be asleep and never know the difference.

I don’t know what I would do without him. I can’t imagine any day since April 15, 2015 (when I got my needle biopsy results) without him. He’s a loving husband, a generous soul, s funny spirit and a real trouper. He’s made the journey with me and it’s coming to some sort of finality.

For this part anyway.

For sure I know that any test or procedure I have from here on out will be tempered with the thought that it could resurface somewhere else. I know because I had a colonoscopy a few weeks ago and I suddenly thought as I was prepping for the procedure (and what fun THAT is) that this procedure could show colon cancer. Aek! I suppose I will feel the same way when I have a gynecological exam just after Thanksgiving and a mammogram in February. It will never end – the lurking fear. Never end.