Sunday, May 29, 2011

It is the Best of Times, It is the Worst of Times

It's been two days since my visit to the plastic surgeon on Friday.  They were a good two days and it was a good appointment.  He was amazed that the breast looked as good as it did and if all looks the same on next Tuesday, then I am "home-free" from needing the skin graft!  It was a happy moment and I could feel the doctor breathing a sigh of relief also.  To celebrate, my husband and I went to lunch nearby and a store to get some needed items for home.  It's funny how being in a different place (rather than a doctor's office or home) makes you feel a little "fuzzy-headed" when it is your first time after surgery.  I was glad to be trying to maneuver around a place that was familiar, yet busy and noisy.  It felt like one step closer to getting back to the world again.

Then, the next day we were invited to a BBQ at a friend's house just down the street.  We debated about going, but then realized I would be sitting there just as I was sitting at home and we could leave as soon as I was tired.  It was so great to see our friends once again and they were all so caring and concerned and asking "how I felt."  Someone said to me, "You must hate answering that question over and over."  But I did not hate it at all.  I was too overcome by gratitude to have so many people take the time to see how I was doing.  These were the same people who had supported me and carried me through this very difficult year.  It was a chance for me to thank all of them.

We left after a couple hours and I did find myself exhausted.  It was probably because my husband and I also had done some walking that morning.  Maybe too much in one day?  I was so exhausted that I found it hard to sleep last night, so I am paying for all I did yesterday today.  I've got to learn to take it slow.  But it was a great two days.

It has been a difficult year.  I still can't quite get my head around all that I have been through.  The terror of the "red devil"; feeling sick and tired (literally); the pains in legs, head and now breast; losing hair all over my body; the numbness in my fingers and toes; the scares of heart problems; the difficulties of decisions that would impact me forever; dealing with "normal life" at the same time as these serious issues; and now recovering from the breast surgery and awaiting all the changes that reconstruction will bring;   I have been told by the plastic surgeon that this also will be a slow process.  I know that I am a strong person; but if it weren't for a strong faith, I would have given in to despair a long time ago.  That does not mean there have not been times of many tears and feeling sorry for myself.  It does not mean that I have not been angry that this happened to me.  But it does mean that I could deflect these feelings knowing that God was taking the next step with me and wanted me to come out on the other side whole and new.

So it was indeed "the best of times and the worst of times".  Finding out more about myself and my own inner strength and what is really important to me at the same time as the daily struggle and the daily renewal.  A see-saw of emotions accompanying an unfolding journey that will impact my life forever.  And somehow, I do think it is making me a better person.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Cutting Edge

I went back to the plastic surgeon today for another post-op check.  As he stared at my one breast, he said, "I don't like the looks of this."  Not exactly what I wanted to hear.  It seems he "hasn't really like the look of that breast since the first time I saw him in his office.  He "had a feeling" some of the skin was just not going to "come alive".  And in fact, today he was right and today he decided to do something about it.  And today was the day my husband didn't come with me (a friend drove me), so I didn't have his hand to squeeze during the next part of the visit.

You see, some of my skin was no longer "alive.  Instead it had died and needed to be removed.  He went into his cabinets and started taking out all sorts of stuff and putting on gloves and draping the area around my right breast.  He asked if I indeed was as numb as he thought I should be and then he started.  The first thing he did was take out some liquid from the expander so "he had more skin to work with".  Then, he cut the dead skin away and then sutured it all up.  All within 45 minutes.  I did not feel a thing, however the sounds of what he was doing will be enough to make me squirm for the next day or two.  I go back to him on Friday to find out the verdict:  if indeed it will work or not.  He told me the chances are 80%-20%, so please send your prayers this way that it will take.  If not, I will have to endure (as he calls it) "Plan B" which is to take skin from my back and graft it to my breast.  I am so hoping that this will not have to be done.

This past weekend was not a pleasant one.  I was feeling "not too bad" with all the pain killers and meds, but as I was slowly taken off of the them, the real discomfort began.  It was hard to find a comfortable place in which to sleep and I would be gratified for a couple hours together of sleep whenever I could get them.  Waking up in the mornings, it would feel like there was a square all around my chest that was pressing into me.  As I would move, I could stand it more and more and get through the day.  By night time, the muscle spasms started and I just couldn't seem to find a way to be comfortable whether I was sitting or laying down.  Standing and walking around however, was strangely the most comfortable.

I'm still finding it hard to be patient in the waiting and the healing.  And today certainly is not helping.  I feel like I am taking one step forward, then one step back.  I am certainly hoping that I will not have to have the skin graft and believe me, if the cutting he did today does not work, then I have found the answer to the question, "Could it get any worse?"  Clearly, that is a rhetorical question. 

Least you think that I am depressed, however, I am not.  I was warned that this "could" happen, so it was not a total shock.  I was just hoping it was not something I would have to worry about.  I keep thinking to myself just to get through one thing at a time.  So right now, I am looking to just get through until Friday when I will find out the answer and know what the next step will look like.  I will let you know.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...

I walked past the mirror the other day and realized that I am a cancer patient (survivor).

I had just never thought of it that way a visual way, I mean.  Of course physically I knew this only too well, but struggling through the physical part lately, I kinda forgot about the visual part.  Staring back at me was suddenly this woman who could have been on one of those  TV commercials for breast cancer.  And I stopped and stared for a few minutes and wondered how this all happened.

Cancer not only robs you of self-assurance and health for a while, this cancer also takes away your pride in your appearance and whatever physical beauty you think you may have.  The treatments leave you feeling sicker than when you began; and to add to the indignity, your hair falls off your head, your eyebrows and eyelashes follow, and if you wear no make-up, you look pale and colorless.  And to add to this, I now have no "profile" of femininity to see (my breasts). cancer is "showing".

When I go into a store, I see people taking peaks at me out of the corner of their eye.  When I look up, some will smile and some will just continue staring.  I hear children say to their mothers, "Mom, that lady has no hair!"  And now, I find I am very sensitive if anyone looks at my chest first before looking at my face.

I object because I am more than those things!  I am a person trying to keep her head above water and her sense of humor intact.  I am a person who looks at things more in a positive light than a negative one.  I am someone who is appreciative of each day and the people around me.  I am usually happy and good-tempered, and love my life...even during this fight with cancer.  But seeing these changes in me reflected in the mirror, I was pulled back into realizing that I am indeed a cancer patient (survivor).

I went back to my plastic surgeon today.  He took out the other two drains and started putting in fluid already!  My first big "pump-up".  It kinda felt like being a balloon and feeling like someone was blowing that air inside you.  Last night, as the pain was stabbing me on my sides and where the cutting was done, I thought, "I have to ask him to wait....I can't take more pain!"  But this morning, like every morning, the pain is not as bad and he did it so quickly ("It's because I am so good at this", he said...and he is!) that it was over before I could object.  I have to admit, I felt a little like I was gaining back some of my "profile" and some of myself as he was injecting the fluid.  One step closer to reclaiming my femininity.

I went back to the mirror and then could see a proud woman who is also a strong fighter.  Someone who has plenty of stories to tell and a hint of laughter in her eyes.  I could finally say, "Mirror, Mirror on the wall...who's the fairest of us all?"  And the answer?  Well, (LOL) it's not me!  But I am a close second.  I am a cancer survivor and I am ME!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Learning to Be Still

There is always a lesson in everything.  If we look deep enough or if we are quiet enough, it is there.  We are learning every day of our lives.

I am learning to "be still".  My body right now will not allow me to do much else.  Believe me, I try and push myself, but my body pulls me back down to the pillows.  In Psalm 46, there is a reminder of who is in charge of all around us...and that we need to let go of our hold onto all we think is "important" to really know just what IS important.  I am learning to "be still" and learning just who is in charge here.

I am so glad to be on the other side of the surgery.  I am glad to be at home to begin the healing.  I am glad to know good things are now in front of me, although it will be a slow process.  I am not good at slow...but I am learning to "be still".  My chest feels like someone is pulling it in all directions and/or like there is an elephant who has decided my chest is good seating.  The antibiotic I need to take makes me very nauseous unless I remember to eat enough before I take it.  I tend to think I will not be able to sleep and then wake up three hours later. And I have limitations through a body that can't do what I want it to do.  Through it all, I am learning to "be still".

On Saturday, my breast surgeon called with the results of the lab work.  I held my breath (I remembered last time when unexpected words were delivered) but this time the results were good.  The tissue in the left breast (that one that had the cancer) showed no residual or otherwise cancerous tissue.  The tissue in the right breast showed some calcifications and a few abnormal (but she said not yet cancerous) cells.  This only made me feel better about my decision to have both breasts removed.  So, I let out my breath and felt all your prayers rush in and bring peace.

Today, I went to the plastic surgeon and he looked at my chest and pronounced it "healing well".  He had explained to me before surgery that sometimes tissue will die and need to be replaced with a type of skin that is from cadeavors (yea, gross!).  But mine seems to be doing well so far.  He reminded me that I am still in the early stages of recovery and that I need to "be still".  My husband told him (tattle-tale!) how I keep trying to get up and "do things".  The surgeon told me to STOP trying; to just give my body time to heal.  (Have I mentioned that I am learning to "be still"?)  He changed the dressing and I did sneak a peek.  I look like someone who was beat up rather well, but it wasn't as scary awful as I thought (thank you, my friend, once again for that peek at your breasts so I would know what will come in time).  He also took out two of the drains.  I go see him again on Friday and he will change the dressing again, and take out the other two drains.  And he MIGHT even begin adding fluid to the expander.  Small, slow steps of healing.

After the appointment, my husband took me to the diner for breakfast to "celebrate"!.  Once the food came, though, I could only take a few bites before I was feeling like I would fall asleep in my plate.  So, my husband finished quickly and we left.  So much for that breakfast date!

I am learning to take this time to rest and to heal and especially to give thanks for my doctors, nurses (I loved them at the hospital!  We should all stand up and give three cheers for Nurses!), my family, my friends, and for God's lesson on "being still".  And in the meantime I will get better, my hair will grow, and I will hear the "still, small voice" of healing in the quiet.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Home Sweet Home

This will be a shorter post as I am just home from the hospital.  Got home last night after dinnertime.  Doc said I am doing well and with the help of a pain meds and muscle relaxer, I am able to get around a little bit.

This time the pre-op wait was a little better.  No cat scan to do before the surgery and no wires needed to guide the surgeons.  It was "winner take all" and the bilateral mastectomy was done.  My breast surgeon and my plastic surgeon are wonderful people and I trust them implicitly.  They are both very caring people and willing to share information and feelings.  The surgery was without surprises since they had both prepped me pretty good.  The first day I was very sore and needed the pain meds (morphine) to be able to move at all.  By nighttime, I needed to go the bathroom so bad, but could not use the bedpan (gross, I know, but incentive to get up out of bed).  So, after a few tries, they let me get up and use the bathroom.  What a relief!  The first time up was the worst, but it got better after that.

The nurses at the hospital could not have been nicer.  It was a wonderful stay and I was impressed with the hospital.  Every time I called, they were always prompt to answer and my pain meds given always before the pain got too bad.  By yesterday, I was able to walk up and down the hallway and I was given the news that I could go home by night time (since that would be 48 hours).

It is a little freaky to look down and see the flatness of my chest, but I am glad that the reconstruction will be done right away.  The extenders are in now and I go back to the plastic surgeon on Monday morning for him to look at everything and go over the next steps.

Thank you everyone for all your concern, cards, e-mails, and support.  I am tired so will end now.  But I will write more as I feel stronger.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Blind Trust

The countdown to mastectomy surgery is set at:   five days to go.  

It seems so long ago that I was told this would be a part of my particular journey and spring was always the season when I knew it would be happening.  And now, here it is just a mere five days away.  I am feeling somewhat anxious, but that is no surprise.  I spent this past week visiting all the doctors/surgeons so I have all the information I need beforehand.  I know it is not going to be pleasant, and that I can expect pain and uncomfortableness.  But I can also expect that my life will be longer because of this surgery.  It is scheduled for the early afternoon of May 11th.  I will probably stay in the hospital until the following Saturday morning.  As soon as I can manage the drains and pain medication, I can be released.  Then someone needs to be home with me for at least the first week.

That someone was always going to be my husband.  Then, last night he once again seemed to be coming down with some type of bronchitis or pneumonia (he is prone to this since his heart surgery two years ago).  He shivered so much last night that I had to get up out of the bed and sleep elsewhere.  Last time he got this sick he was in the hospital for five days.  I thought if this happens now...what are we going to do?  Most of my friends work, most relatives who don't work have their own health issues or live far away; so I needed to start thinking of who could "fill in".  Right now, thankfully, my husband is home and on a strong antibiotic which the doctor is hoping will get him through my surgery time.  He will still need some additional testing to see what's going on after I have recouped, but we are hoping the meds will at least get us through til then.  It's going to be a close race, but we are hoping for that.

Doesn't it seem like everything always happens at once?  You barely get through one emergency or difficulty before another rears its ugly head.  This past Thursday, our church had a National Day of Prayer Healing Service.  I went gladly and was gratified that for me, this was a timely service.  One of the readings was Psalm 91 which describes the safety we have if we trust in God.  It seems like such a simple thing, but as humans we often find it hard to trust in anything.  Certainly the world around us is full of falsehood and lies, so it is hard for us to lean back anywhere and think there will be strength to hold us against doubt.  But it IS possible with God on our side.  Blindly trusting, and in spite of any doubts, I am determined to give all of this up to the only person that will actually hold us both at this time.  It's all I know to do with what is now our life and all I have done before time and time again.  And while things do not always turn out the way I thought; God was there in the midst of it and I knew it.

Pastor asked us during the service if we envisioned God as "refuge" being a fortress or a bird's nest.  I kinda think of God being like that bird's nest.  After a long, difficult winter, before the green leaves start to show, you can see plenty of nests swaying in the breeze.  Nests that made it through snow storms, bitter winter winds, cold pounding rain, and all the worst winter has to offer.  I don't think God always has to do things large or powerful like a commanding fortress...altho, it is His choice!   I do, though, believe He often combines His power and grace with the fragility of our life on earth to help us sway in the treetops so we don't break and crumble.   I am not intending to crumble...even though I am scared and swaying from side to side right this very minute.  I will keep reminding myself that God has been holding me in that swaying nest and has no intention of letting go.

It is almost like the surgery itself.  I am trusting that God will be holding the surgeon's hands so they are steady and sure; and that their decisions will be ones that benefit and prolong my life.  In the end, that's all we have.  Just a "Blind Trust" that all will be well.  It will be enough.  It has to.