Today’s firsts

When my husband and I bought our house years ago, I was super excited for each holiday in it. Since it was our first home purchase, I wanted every holiday to be celebrated within our walls. We hosted each event and took pictures of every detail to create a scrapbook of our first year. When our son was born, this first year of excitement was amplified. Every holiday we decorated, did arts & crafts and celebrated that it was the first of many to come. Each milestone brought pictures and smiles (and books!) and traditions that we were determined to create for our little man. All of the firsts were filled with pure joy and lots of passion. Each day felt as though it brought new excitement.

Though it’s still early in the day, today has been a great day so far! After surgery, I wasn’t able to do much. Each day showed improvement but in general, the everyday tasks were not possible. Thankfully, I have an incredible husband and support system that has continued to help throughout this journey.

Today though…today was a day of firsts for me.

  • I woke up in my very own bed. I have spent the last 2 weeks sleeping in the recliner in our living room. My sweet husband has spent every night next to me on our couch, often with little man snuggled in next to him. But not last night! I am still sleeping at an angle and mostly upright but just being in our bed was wonderful. I was surrounded by a sea of pillows, my warm comforter and my husband by my side. I was even able to get up into it and out of it all on my own!
  • Morning snuggles. Little man woke up in the middle of the night and Joe brought him into bed with us. After waking up this morning, Jacob cuddled up next to me and snuggled into the nook under my right arm. I haven’t had those sweet morning snuggles in two weeks. My goodness, how I missed them.
  • I unloaded the dishwasher. Though this is a relatively mundane task and often something I dread when coming home from work or waking up in the morning, I did this with a smile today. It is the little things in life that bring the purest joy and today’s joy had to do with being able to handle my own dishes.
  • I made breakfast – not just for me but for Joe too! Despite growing up with Chef Dad, I am not an excellent cook. Sadly the knack doesn’t reside in me, save for a few recipes that I have mastered over time. Today though, I made breakfast that consisted of roasted potatoes, bacon and eggs. Simple? Yes. Easy? Usually. The first I’ve made food for myself since surgery and therefore super exciting? Yes!

These firsts may not be things that I ever expected to get excited about but today, they made me smile ear to ear. I am tired despite the early hour and will probably go nap soon but I will enjoy this moment of progress for just a little while.

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Drains, drains, go away!

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For today’s update, I’m going to describe the drains a bit. This is your warning ahead of time, for anyone that may not be interested in hearing about that side of the recovery process (it’s slightly graphic).  :mrgreen:

After surgery, aside from the tissue expanders, I had 3 drains attached to me. One was on my right and 2 were on my left (one for the mastectomy and one for the lymph node removal).  These drains are attached to tubes that are inside of my body.  These tubes carry fluid and tissue out of my body and into the drains.  For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been carrying around these drains attached to my little tool belt. It may look like a fashion statement but it’s purposeful….you know, to carry my cell phone.  😉

Twice a day (3 times initially), Joe takes an alcoholic wipe and strips the tubes. He breaks up any tissue that is stuck in the tubes and moves along any fluid that is stuck in them.  Then he empties the drains into little measuring cups and writes down the amount of fluid in each cup and disposes of it.  Once the fluid is less than 30 cc for 24 hours, the drains can be removed. Every day I feel like a kid, anxious to see my output in the hopes of getting below that magic number.

It’s not that the drains are painful, they’re just awkward and a little itchy. I have to be careful everytime I move to be sure I don’t accidentally tug on one and pull it out or make it start to bleed.  There is 1 stitch holding each tube in place at my side and then a large piece of tape covering the opening. My skin is still recovering from chemo treatment so it is easily irritated by the tape.

So as you can imagine, I was very excited today to have not just 1 but 2 of the 3 drains removed! Yay!  The other one should be out by Friday.

It’s just another moment on this journey that I feel progress being made in my recovery and I can’t help but smile at that!  Plus, the surgical tape covering my incisions was removed today so I was able to see the full effect of the incisions from surgery. I am pleasantly surprised and have to agree with my breast care surgeon when she says the plastic surgeon does beautiful work!

Happy Monday friends!

One week of recovery!

Has it really been a week since surgery?!  I know there is a long road to full recovery but each day I feel a little better than the previous day.  Being cancer free…knowing that this was all worth it, everything that we’ve been through since August, helps tremendously in my mental recovery.

A lot has changed over the last week but I’m becoming more used to the changes:

  • Pain
    • The post-surgery pain was intense but thankfully they sent me home with medicine to help with that. After a while, the pain changed as my body adjusted and it has turned into a tightness in my chest mostly.  I still get twinges of pain periodically in different areas that last anywhere from a few minutes to longer.
  • Numbness
    • The numbness in my chest has improved over the last week. Initially I couldn’t feel the area around my collar bone or upper abdomen but that has gone away.  I still can’t feel most of my chest, my left arm pit or the back of my left arm but I don’t anticipate getting much feeling back in those areas.
  • Expanders
    • The tightness that I feel is slowly getting better but it’s not exactly comfortable. It feels like I’m wearing a sports bra that is about 2, maybe 3, sizes too small all the time.  I’m still swollen, mostly on my sides, so I’m hoping the tightness will feel a little better when the swelling is gone.  I can feel them inside of me, which is an odd sensation.
  • Drains
    • I still have all 3 drains. Joe empties them twice a day and measures the amount of fluid output and the color.  I’m hoping to have at least one removed tomorrow but that is probably a bit optimistic.
    • The first few days of the drains were awkward, especially trying to wear a shirt. Through a random conversation, I learned that painter’s aprons work great for drains so Joe grabbed some for me (only $1.50 at WalMart!).  They have been great!  It allows me to store the drains in the pockets and it hangs across my waist like a belt.  When I go out in public, you can see the apron but not the drains or tubes.  I use it even to sleep now, such a great help and significantly less bulky.
  • Showers
    • Still no showers until after my drains are removed. Our shower has a seat in it, which has been perfect for sponge baths.  I’m grateful for the seat too because I don’t think I’d be able to get up out of the bathtub.
  • Movement
    • My range of motion is getting better but is still quite limited. I can’t lift either arm fully and it hurts to reach for things.  I’m hoping tomorrow that I’ll be able to start exercises to improve mobility.

Overall, I’m still feeling pretty good.  I see the breast care surgeon tomorrow to look at how well I’m healing.  I don’t foresee her having any concerns but I’m glad to be having a checkup tomorrow to ensure my healing is on track.  I’ve seen a lot of progress over the last week and I’m grateful for each day that I feel better.  I will be glad when I’m fully recovered!

 

The best day of my life…

Two months ago I woke up and wrote about having a song in my heart. Today, I feel a song in my heart once again. This one not only says that “it’s a great day to be alive” but also this is “the best day of my life” (by American Authors). I have had a handful of best days so far in my young life and today has now been added to that list.

As of last Tuesday, I am officially cancer free.

My anxiety was up a little today when I went to the oncologist for my pathology report. I have been praying hard but fear of the unknown is a scary fear. I mostly worried that the report wouldn’t be finalized yet and I wouldn’t have any answers.

One of the things that I love most about my oncologist is that he genuinely cares about me and my family. When he walked in today, he immediately asked me how I was doing and if this was my first trip out of the house. He was surprised to hear that I made it to the beach on Saturday and commented on how well I’m moving about post-surgery. Then, with a big smile on his face, he looked me in the eyes and said those magical words: You are cancer free.

Cancer free.

Say it with me – cancer free.

One more time now…I am cancer free!

The tears started immediately (and haven’t stopped!), as a huge smile spread across my face (also hasn’t stopped!). I don’t know that I have ever felt such a massive weight be removed before. Joe & I hugged and thanked him. He reminded me to rest up for a while and to not push myself too hard.

We discussed the pathology report in detail. The tumors in my breast (1 large and 4 smaller tumors) were still cancerous and rather large (even larger than the MRI suggested). The chemo treatment did not impact it as much as it typically does for my type of cancer and we aren’t sure why. There were a total of 22 lymph nodes removed and 3 of those were cancerous. BUT! They removed it all.

How do we know it’s all gone? My oncologist explained it like this: When the tumor is removed, a margin of the surrounding tissue (presumably cancer free / healthy tissue) is also removed. Think of the cancer like a tomato, with the surrounding tissue being the skin of the tomato. They want to ensure that the skin of the tomato is not broken. If it isn’t, meaning the margin is clear, then they successfully removed all of the cancer.

And they did. They successfully removed all of my cancer. It’s gone.

So today is an incredible day. The path forward is the same as it was, Herceptin for a year total, radiation begins next month and reconstruction 6 months after radiation ends.

Ya know why else today was awesome? I was able to hug my husband AND Jacob today to celebrate my cancer free news!

I’ll post an update on my recovery tomorrow (hint, I’m still feeling pretty good!) but for now I wanted to share this incredible news with all of you. Your love, support and prayers continues to give me strength and I couldn’t wait to share this excitement with all of you!

Here is our best “CANCER FREE!” face!  (Little man’s molar might be stealing some of the excitement.)

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Recovery

Waking up from surgery is an odd experience. My body is fighting off sleep and yet trying to stay snoozing at the same time. This leaves my mind in a dream-like state that is heavy with fog. I don’t move much, other than my eyes to determine my surroundings. I feel the cuff inflate to take my blood pressure and I hear the continued beeping from the machine at the top of my head. There is a nurse to my right. She sees me wake slightly and walks over to introduce herself; her smile is warm and her eyes are kind.

I ask her how the surgery went, in my mumbled words. She says it went well and that my husband can give me the details once I move to the final recovery room. I feel the wet warmth on my cheeks before I realized I had started crying. The tears fall quickly and I can’t quite seem to find my hands, so the nurse wipes them from my face. I mumble out an apology but she quiets me and tells me there is no need to be sorry. She tells me it’s all ok and my husband will be here soon. My eyes get heavy and I drift back to sleep.

I didn’t expect to cry when I awoke from surgery. The reality and relief of the day was more than I could keep inside. Surgery is over and this horrible disease has left my body.

The surgery went well; both my breast care surgeon and plastic surgeon were pleased with it. I will know the details of pathology on Monday but for now I will rest with the thought that I am cancer free.

I went home after surgery as planned. Joe has been taking excellent care of me and I’m still not sure how I ever become so lucky to call him my husband. Jacob slept at Grandma & Grandpa’s again last night but came to visit us in the afternoon yesterday. He was his typical energetic self but still found a moment to stop and give his momma some kisses.

I feel pretty good. I’m sore, tight and in a little pain but not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. The pain medicine helps and for that I am grateful. They also make me quite tired, as I’m sure the anesthesia leaving my body also does, so I spend most of the day sleeping. A summary of how I feel:

  • My left arm is still numb at the top, so there is no pain around where my lymph nodes were. I haven’t been pain-free in this area for months.
  • My chest feels a bit tight and I have to remind myself to take deep breaths. This is painful but it is encouraged so I keep breathing properly. The chest pain is interesting because it’s muscle pain. The expanders were placed under the muscles in my chest to allow the skin to stretch and for radiation to occur. This is not a pain I have felt before so it isn’t something I could anticipate.
  • My entire body is actually quite sore. My elbows hurt terribly Tuesday night into Wednesday morning and my back is still sore. It’s getting better each day though. I’m sure laying on a surgery bed for 4+ hours would give anyone back pain!
  • I can’t lift my arms very far and lifting anything over a few pounds is impossible but I can already see improvement since just yesterday!
  • The drains are a little bulkier than I anticipated. I have 2 on my left side and 1 on my right side as planned. I expected them to be a little more snug to my body than they actually are. It’s easy to tell something is hanging around under my shirt and I have a fear of pulling on one accidentally.
  • Getting up and down is challenging. It’s amazing how much our muscles intertwine throughout our body. It takes a few minutes for me to get up but I attribute a lot of that to be stiff from sitting for too long.
  • I’m spending my days – and nights – in the recliner, which I am incredibly grateful for. It is powered so it moves up and down easily and I can adjust to different positions. Combined with a ton of pillows and I am relatively comfortable.
  • Both of my expanders were filled with 150 cc, which is great news to start. Because of where my cancer was, it wasn’t certain that there would be enough tissue to fill my left expander initially.

All things considered, I feel pretty good. I already feel better than I did just yesterday so I’m excited for the relief I will feel tomorrow and the next day.

The prayers, love and support that we have received this week has been incredible. We are surrounded by love and are so grateful for the incredible support system that we are blessed with having. Thank you all for your kindness!

Finding Nemo

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The first week of December 2003, I woke up with a weird pain in my abdomen. It didn’t feel like anything I had felt before and when I asked my Mom about it, she told me it was probably heartburn and to take some antacids. I did just that and headed to my retail job.

Around noon, my Dad came to check on me. The antacids and ibuprofen I took weren’t helping and he wanted to take me to the doctor. I declined and he left. About 10 minutes later, when he was about halfway home, I called my Dad and asked him to come back and take me. The pain had started to get worse and I didn’t know what was wrong. I closed up shop and headed with him to the hospital.

After a round of tests, it was determined that my appendix was about to rupture. I was taken into surgery that night. I had never experienced anesthesia or pain medicine before and was feeling rather odd when I was being taken into surgery. While rolling away, my parents wished me well and I told them that I was going to find Nemo.

My parents have always enjoyed telling this story of my loopiness and I even woke from surgery to a Nemo stuffed animal from a family friend.  That same stuffed animal now sleeps with Jacob every night. He likes to grab his eye and pull it close.  Nemo provides him comfort the way it gave me comfort all those years ago. Today, as we packed little man’s suitcase for Grandma’s, we made sure Nemo was tucked inside.

I won’t pretend that I’m not nervous. I am not looking forward to the recovery after this surgery. But I am ready.

I am ready to put this portion of my life behind me. I am ready to be cancer free. And I am ready to rise again after today, reborn a new and better version of me.

Thank you all for your kindness, your prayers and your continued support.  I am feeling the love and it warms my heart. Joe will be updating the blog later to keep everyone updated on surgery. Love you all!

#teamredphoenix 💚