I graduated!

I’ve attended a few graduations in my years. My big sister’s helped prepare me for what to expect a year later at my high school graduation. When I graduated with my two year degree, I was excited and surprised to receive an award for excellence. For my four year degree, I had initially decided not to walk the stage but later decided to walk – with my family cheering me on from the crowd.

Today’s graduation was a bit different. It wasn’t a two or four year event in the making but it had been a long process for the past four months. Initially focusing on one area and then moving to the next, the progress could be seen but the emotional and physical stresses could not. A few weeks ago I decided to slow down my expansion process by adding on one more so that the pain and discomfort would ease over the weekend following each expansion. This has greatly improved my comfort level and I still finished when I wanted.

So today, I received my last saline expansion for a total of 620 cc on the right and 670 on the left. Though the expanders are positioned oddly (to me), I feel a new sense of comfort and relief…a new normal. I have graduated from the weekly visits to the plastic surgeon and although I will miss the laughter and jokes, I am glad I won’t be returning for 3 months.  There isn’t a stage to walk across in celebration of today but there is a massive smile on my face that basically sums up my thoughts. Hooray!

Another phase complete on this journey.

Right side expansion day 1!

Today 120 cc were added to my right side expander for a total of 270 cc on that side (left had over 600 cc total).  It’s tight but not nearly as uncomfortable as I remember the left side being. That may change over the coming weeks but I’ll take the little discomfort as a good sign for now!

The expansion doesn’t have to be as rushed this time so instead of twice a week, I’ll be going once a week – yay! In a few weeks time, I’ll be expanded and on a break for a bit.  Wahoo!

It was nice to be greeted with the kindness of the plastic surgeon and his staff, as they are always so sweet. We joked about the radiation damage and the time that passed.  We discussed the reconstruction process and he is hopeful that depending on how my skin heals, I should be able to have a relatively “simple” swap out and have it in just 5 months time versus 6 months!

Time will tell but it’s a good day, my friends!

What a weekend!

I learned from my wig purchases that in order to have certain cancer related purchases covered by insurance, I would need to purchase them through an in-network provider. There are only a handful of providers that are in-network for post-mastectomy supplies, with the closest one being 2 hours away. Saturday morning, we rose early and headed to the other side of Florida to go to one of these stores.

It was an interesting experience and only took about an hour. I was fitted for new bras and a silicone insert to even myself out. I was pleasantly surprised by the overall outcome, though the bras themselves aren’t anything exciting. It’s a little disappointing that the bras available for post-mastectomy surgery aren’t a closer match to what I would find in a department store, though they are quite comfortable. It may be a little challenging when dressing because of the bra styles but I’ll figure it out.

Though the visit ended up costing me some money out of pocket (apparently insurance only covers a certain amount of the bra cost and the consumer pays the difference), I am glad that I went and was able to get fitted properly. I also purchase a post-mastectomy bathing suit that can hold the implant. Now that it’s warming up in Florida, I hope to get good use from this purchase!

Yesterday we spent time celebrating my sweet friend from childhood at her bridal shower! It is always so nice to catch up and spend time with friends.

And today was my last left side expansion – YAY! Though we originally planned on an additional 60 cc, my plastic surgeon wanted to do 80 cc to ensure the skin is stretched enough that we can hopefully perform the less invasive surgery at the end of this year. This gives me a total of 670 cc in my left.

I’m more uncomfortable than the last expansion but it isn’t as painful as the last time that I did 90 cc. I can feel the muscles spasms and the increased pressure in my chest but thankfully that will get better each day until it is barely noticeable again. I’m glad we did the extra in the hopes that I don’t need the more extensive reconstruction surgery. I don’t have to see the plastic surgeon again for about 7 weeks – wahoo! It’ll be a nice break from the every-few-days appointments. Of course, they’ll be replaced with the every-single-day appointments of radiation soon but hopefully that’ll go quickly.

And last but certainly not least – I can lift again!!! I picked Jacob up the moment that he walked through the door. We spent the evening playing outside and reading books while I picked him up & snuggled him constantly in between. I’m extra sore from it but it was totally worth every single moment that I was able to hold him.

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope your weekend – and your day – was filled with happiness.

My reason for fighting

She awoke suddenly, the pain in her chest causing her to tighten her upper body to help alleviate the sharp pain. A few seconds tick by slowly and the feeling begins to subside. She waits another moment before loosening the grip her muscles have on her chest. Laying there for a moment as if frozen in time, she debates whether or not she should attempt to move her body in an effort to alleviate the pressure she feels across her ribs. Glancing at her water cup through the corner of her right eye, she decides on a short walk to stretch her body slightly and grab some water, hoping the extra hydration may aid in calming her muscles.

Ever so slowly, she moves her legs first, one at a time. As she shifts her body in preparation to sit up, the muscles across her left side tighten again and she stops moving to allow the pain to dissipate. She awaits a few seconds and slowly pushes up with her right arm, while keeping her left side as still as possible. Sliding off the side of the bed, her feet touch the floor and remain there for another moment to allow her body to adjust to sitting up. She reaches for the cup with her right hand, careful not to move her left arm, but the act of reaching causes her chest muscle to spasm again. This time she fights through the pain and grabs her cup and stands in one fluid motion, hoping to prevent another spasm as her muscles calm again.

She shuffles slowly to the kitchen, trying to keep her back as straight as possible as she walks. Reaching the kitchen without incident, she fills her cup and begins the walk back to her bedroom. The house is completely dark with night and she is careful not to bump into the toys that scatter the floor.

Entering her bedroom, she shifts to the left and stops suddenly as another spasm pulses through. The pain shoots quickly across the left side of her chest and down her arm. She clenches her teeth and waits for the muscles to calm again, trying to control her breathing. When she begins walking again, she uses the light from the window to guide her towards the bed. Setting the water down, she moves her body so it is facing away from the bed and sits on the edge. Taking a deep breath, she slowly shifts backwards while using her right hand to guide her towards her pillow. As she turns slightly, another shot of pain courses through her chest. She once again pauses and waits for the muscles to calm before moving. Her pillows are leaning against the wall, allowing her to scoot backwards a little more before leaning against the pillow. Her muscles begin to relax, allowing the pillows to support her.

She leans her head back and is grateful to only feel the pressure in her chest now and not the pain of her muscles stretching. Reaching slowly with her right arm, she grabs the cup and drinks down half of the water she poured. Setting it back down, she breathes in; careful not to pull too much air into her lungs so she doesn’t cause another spasm.

I don’t know how much more I can take. She thinks to herself, fighting back the tears that sting her eyes. She is wide awake now and knows that sleep will not come easily. What if this pain doesn’t stop? She questions, wondering if it will ease over the coming days like the pressure in her chest typically does. Stop thinking like that! She yells in her head. You have to do this! You have to push through the pain! She breathes in again and exhales slowly, wiping at her eyes.

Moving her head slightly to the left, she glances at the figures that lay beside her. Her little man is snuggled against her husband, his tiny hands laying against his chest as it rises and falls to the rhythm of a deep sleep. The starlight from the window cascades across the bedroom, allowing her to see their faces as they lay dreaming beside her. She studies them both, imaging what they are dreaming about.

My boys. She smiles to herself. My reason for fighting.

Reaching slowly to her right again, this time she picks up a book and attaches a nighttime reading lamp to the back cover. Clicking it on, she adjusts the light and begins to read. She loses herself in the story, while distracting herself from the pain.

Expansion day…again

I officially dislike expansion day. I’ll continue with my previous analogy, though I’m not sure how there is room to fill any other space in the post-turkey day belly.

After filling up on Thanksgiving dinner and then the sweet decadence of chocolate pecan pie, the stomach is at capacity and can’t take on anything else. But you’re thirsty. So thirsty. And you need to wash down all that goodness with something, right? Imagine downing a large glass of ice cold milk, letting it fill in every last nook and cranny of your stomach. Now you go to sit down and feel more like you are going to burst than you ever have. Not the best feeling in the world, though you know it was worth the calories and deliciousness.

The expansions are not comfortable. The pressure is intense, pushing hard on my rib cage and outward as well. My range of motion is throw off a bit each time since the expander is quite hard. Today’s fill, which was 90 cc, is the worst yet, since the feeling in my chest is continuously coming back. I can’t feel my skin but I can feel the muscle underneath and around the expander a bit now. And right now those muscles are doing a bit of yelling. They are pulling and stretching, with each of those activities causing a pang or ping of pain. I couldn’t feel this type of pain on the previous fills so this is a new experience. Moving is a little more challenging now that I can feel the pull of the muscles as well so today I am learning to be even more careful getting around. The muscle pain ebbs and flows pretty consistently, even when sitting still. It’s similar to contractions in the way it comes and goes, though not as intense as labor pains. I can feel the pull in my back as well, I assume because of the pressure from the expander on my chest wall.

On a plus side, based on the previous expansions, I should feel better by Wednesday night / Thursday morning. My plastic surgeon said everything is healing nicely and we may do a little less saline at the next fill. I wouldn’t mind that too much. Part of me likes moving this along quickly so I have less fills but as the feeling within my muscles comes back, I am liking the idea of less saline at a time.

So, now I rest. Have a wonderful Monday everyone. Enjoy this extra day and do something you love!

Nuts, anyone?

I grew up disliking any form of nuts. I’m not entirely sure why, and at one point in my early years I totally loved them, but one day I woke up around the age of 5 and decided that I didn’t like nuts. So I stopped eating them entirely. No peanut butter, no cinnamon roasted almonds, no sundaes with chopped nuts on top. Yuck.

Despite my distaste for nuts, every year at Thanksgiving I helped my Dad make chocolate pecan pie for dessert. It’s a family recipe and people raved about it. They looked forward to it every year and even after I moved to Florida I kept up the tradition. Whenever people would complement the pie, I would smile and politely say thank you…but the truth is, I had never tried it. It was chockful of nuts and therefore not something that I was interested in eating. This amazed my husband for years.

When I was pregnant with little man, all of this changed. I woke up one day and ate a peanut butter granola bar. I stared at the wrapper as I chomped down on the bar, surprised that the salty sweet combination tasted so good. Then I ate another. On the third one, I decided that maybe I do like nuts after all. That Thanksgiving, I decided to try the infamous chocolate pecan pie for myself. I started by taking a bite off of Joe’s plate. Wow, I finally understood what the hype was all about – that pie was good! By the third bite, Joe decided it was best to hand me his plate and go grab his own.

The other day I compared my first post-surgery expansion to an overfull stomach on Thanksgiving. Now imagine that you finished this incredibly wonderful feast and then saw the decadent chocolate pecan pie sitting on the table. You see people grabbing a piece and savoring each bite. Before you know it, the pie is half gone and you can’t even think about eating a piece. But, then you think to yourself, what if there is none left for me?! The panic sets in and you immediately cut yourself a slice. You can’t help but begin eating it right away, deciding that your stomach will just have to find the room. It does, of course, but you are uncomfortable and you can’t decide if it’s better to sit, stand or lay down to relieve the pressure. None of these options help but dang it, that was some good pie.

I had my second post-surgery expansion today. Another 90 cc of saline was added to my left expander. The pressure from the previous expansion has been relatively normal since Sunday night / Monday morning so the pressure from today wasn’t compounded. Although I’m still mostly numb, some of the feeling is coming back. I couldn’t feel the stick of the needle, however I could feel the needle inside of my chest. I could also feel the pressure from the saline as soon as they started to inject it into the expander. I can now feel some slight pain near my skin, towards the center of my chest, which is new this time around. It is a bit more uncomfortable than before but I am glad that I am beginning to get some feeling back, even if it’s only a little.

I go back again on Monday for another expansion. Right now, my left is filled with a total of 380 cc, with 220 cc left to go for a total of 600 cc in time for radiation. The plus side of filling so much each visit is that I should only have to go once next week instead of the twice that was originally thought – yay!

The expander itself is quite hard, similar to a mango that is about to ripen. It has some give since it is fluid filled but not a whole lot. I often find myself reaching with my left arm and having to move my entire body because it’s uncomfortable due to the expander. I mostly notice it when getting dressed or folding laundry. One of my new normal that I am getting used to.

I’m able to do some stretches to help my range of motion but still no lifting above 10 pounds. I can use 2 – 3 pound hand weights to get the strength back in my arms though. That’ll help me prepare for when I can pick little man up again!

That’s all for now…I think I need to go eat something sweet.

Drain free

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One of the best things about Thanksgiving is eating way more than your stomach would typically allow. We often do this despite knowing how uncomfortable we will be afterwards. Actually, some of us may do it with that intent in mind; thus feeling that discomfort like it’s a reward. I’m sure you know the feeling I’m referring to…your stomach so full that you think it might burst, pants unbuttoned or leggings stretched to the max.

This is the closest thing that I can think of to compare the tissue expansion to. I woke up from surgery filled with 150 cc of saline in each tissue expander (the equivalent of a small “A” cup) and today, my left side was expanded with an additional 140 cc. Surprisingly, although it is almost double in size to my right, it doesn’t appear significantly larger. I assume that’s because of the way the expander fills out.

The tissue expander has a metal piece on it, so the doctor uses a magnet to locate the piece of metal. That area is then cleaned and a needle is inserted into it to inject the saline.

The needle that is used to add the saline didn’t hurt since I am mostly numb still but I could feel the pressure from the additional saline in the expander almost immediately. I wanted to take as much as possible today though in the hopes of completing the overall expansion quickly (and hopefully feeling more comfortable sooner). I’ll go back once next week and twice the following week for additional saline. At that point, we’ll reassess where I’m at and whether or not additional expansion is necessary.

This is happening so quickly because I start radiation 4 weeks from today and need to be fully expanded in time for that. Since radiation will shrink the expander and the tissue surrounding it, I need to be over-expanded. It’s not painful, just uncomfortable from the additional pressure and a little awkward when moving my left arm. This is yet another step closer to being done – which makes this process exciting! The plastic surgeon also commented on how nicely my incisions are healing – yay!

OH!! And guess what else?!

I’m officially drain free!!! (Insert happy dance here.)

The last drain, connected to where my lymph nodes were on my left side, is officially gone. I’d like to say it’s a bittersweet departure but frankly, I am ecstatic! No more stripping the tubes, empting the drains, charting the output, sleeping sitting up, wearing an apron around – all done! Plus – I can now take a shower (well, this weekend I can). No more sponge baths for this lady!

And! See that picture of me up top? See that dark shadow around my head? Yup, that’s right – I have hair! And lots of it! I mean, I’m not going to go get it cut into a cute style or add any product just yet but it’s growing faster than I anticipated. The short buzzed style makes it appear as if I’m simply a trendsetter now. 😉 Happy Friday to that!!!

So tell me friends, why are you too blessed to complain today?