Reconstruction: Not for the Faint of Heart

Written April 3, 2014

It was 13 days ago that I underwent surgery again, a left prophylactic mastectomy and the beginning of bi-lateral reconstruction surgery. It has been a very long two weeks filled with pain, discomfort, and a lot of focused breathing and stillness.

The day before my surgery I felt like the old me, running around getting last minute errands done. Trying to organize the house and my work in a way that would ensure order without my involvement over the coming weeks. You know – doing those jobs you never want to do, filing the mail, cleaning out the crisper, organizing the house clutter – thankless jobs.

On top of the Cinderella chores I had an appointment at Juravinski with my oncologist. This appointment was my three-month check in on my response to Tamoxifen. When my Dad and I walked into Juravinski that morning I didn’t feel like a patient anymore. I felt different.  What I did feel though was dread deep in the pit of my belly. I knew the following day I was going back into patient mode. My strength and health that I had fought so hard to get back was well on the way, and now I was taking a major detour with major construction ahead.  I would be going back on hold again, life slowing to a crawl, to a hour-by-hour approach. A schedule dictated by needed pain pills every four hours, coupled with lack of mobility and needing help to go to the bathroom to brush my teeth, to get out of bed and to sip water from a cup. Ground Zero, again.

When I saw the plastic surgeon on the day he needed to mark me up with a black sharpie prior to surgery. As he was drawing on my chest he asked me how I had slept. I responded, “forget how I slept it is more important that you had a great nights sleep”. He smiled and said he had indeed. I met both surgeons that morning briefly, one to do the mastectomy the other to do the reconstruction. There was a flurry of activity in the operating room as everyone prepared for their first surgery of the day, which happened to be me. Three nurses two surgeons the anesthetist and a patient trying to be brave and not fall apart as the anesthetist poked around looking for a vein, this due to the fact that the nurse had already failed in the pre-op area. I knew if I even for a nanosecond gave into my fear I would fall apart and start sobbing. I fought back the tears and focused on breathing.

Pain is the first memory I have when I began the slow crawl back to consciousness. The nurse got the morphine kicking in and I began to zone in and out on what my body felt like. I felt pressure on my chest and some sort of wrapping around my chest and back. I didn’t want to move. I pictured my body when I was a girl before I had developed when I was literally flat-chested. This is how I now felt but with pressure layered on top.

It was only a few hours later I was discharged and on my way home. I could sense the apprehension of my husband, my designated caregiver for the weekend, as he looked at his drugged up wife back in full helpless mode. Groggy and sore I tried to brace myself for every bump we encountered on the short drive home. This trip home felt 100% different than the first mastectomy in June. Then I was euphoric and literally thankful and happy that the cancerous tumor has been removed from my body. My life saved. Ignorance was bliss. This time I just felt pain and dread at the journey still ahead.

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