Recovery from Mastectomy and Reconstruction
DCIS diagnosis. Mastectomy and Reconstruction. To tell or not to tell. When do we share important information. And how do we know with whom to share? I know of someone in my social circle who openly revealed on Facebook her week by week experiences of chemotherapy. BTW, she is doing great. I asked my hubby, “Why would you do that?” A perfectly natural question coming from someone who does not readily solicit support from others. He answered, “To get support!”
I’m thinking of my uncle, childhood piano teacher, high school classmates, and acquaintances from our kids sports teams as my people on FB. Would I want them all to know of my diagnosis? I’m not that type, I decided. My diagnosis of DCIS is to me like having a concerning mole on your upper arm. The dermatologist says, “I don’t like the look of that. I’m going to recommend removing it and sending the tissue to the lab for analysis. Let’s get you in sooner rather than later.”
My oncology surgeon said to me, “Let’s take care of this over the summer.” Shortly after the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of DCIS in early June, I explored treatment options. I decided on a single mastectomy. My surgeon said, “Just a bump in the road this summer.” The surgeon’s assistant coordinated with the plastic surgeon for immediate reconstruction. She handed me a card: July 1st.
Now to the root of the issue. It’s interesting how little information is easily accessible on the web regarding post-mastectomy recovery. I wanted answers to my questions; I surfed the web, searching. Weeks later I came across this amazing personal story/website:
As part of my recovery, I feel the need to share my experience:
I checked into the hospital at 8:30A for an 11:30 scheduled surgery time. I went through a few procedures before surgery. I woke up in the afternoon in the recovery area. I was transferred to a private room by late afternoon. I had a soda, then juice, then soup and crackers over the course of 10 hours. I was starving the next morning, I could not wait to order a full blown breakfast meal.
In the hospital the RN staff took my vitals and assisted me in using the bathroom. In the hospital I phoned in my meal orders. In the hospital I pushed buttons to move my bed and to change the channels of the tv. The nurse discussed the drains and caring for them. A physical therapist showed me arm exercises to do ASAP to condition and encourage range of movement. My surgeon visited me and prescribed medications. The plastic surgeon warned me to avoid the raised arms touchdown motion. Yea, no problem the Steelers are not on tv at this time. I felt comfortable having everything and everyone within reach. I asked if I could stay for lunch. Yes, you can order the hospital lunch and then it’s time to leave. I was a little nervous about returning home. The medical staff was so helpful with assisting, demonstrating, and then asking: Is that clear? The recovery process I was about to experience in my home stretched out ahead – a murky fog.
I spent the following day in bed at home. The next morning it was time to get up. Day three was here already. Somehow, in my mind, I had this vision of recuperating in bed and on the recliner in the living room. I imagined watching a lot of tv. I secretly desired to have household members fawn over me. Why not? It’s my turn! But no, I was informed by medical staff to return home and start moving around. You don’t want to risk a blood clot! You don’t want to lose range of movement! You want to increase blood circulation!
For women who are candidates for immediate reconstruction, I recommend it. I took a deep breath sitting alone in my hospital gown with tubes coming out of me. And then I peeked down. Kind of what I expected for a body part to look like after traumatizing surgery. It was somewhat comforting to see I had a breast. For me, I would not have been ready for a flattened chest on one side. In the days that followed, I needed reassurance that I was on track with a healthy recovery. Despite all the information I received while in the hospital, noone gave me an idea of what proper healing versus problematic healing looked like, or felt like.
WHAT SHOULD IT LOOK LIKE ON DAY 5, ON DAY 8, ON DAY 15, AND SO FORTH? I NEED A WEBSITE WITH GRAPHIC MATERIAL SO THAT I CAN COMPARE MY BODY TO OTHERS!
Here is a day by day recovery from a single mastectomy with immediate implant reconstruction:
Prior to surgery I lined up the following services: delivery of groceries from chain supermarket, housekeeping services, doggy daycare or walker, and dinners from friends. I stocked up on pet food. I made batches of meat sauce, chili, and blueberry scones. I figured it would be nice for the family to have some familiar meals.
Day 1 I spent the day and night in a hospital. I assessed the site: bruised, incision line raised and covered with tape. Two drains out of my shoulder blade.
Days 2 I spent this time in bed, taking pain medication every four hours, dozing off, eating snack size meals. I took medications to address constipation and muscle spasms, and antibiotics.
Day 3 I washed my hair in the sink and did a sponge bath with my healthy side arm. I walked up and down stairs. I spent time with the family in the living and dining rooms.
Day 4-8 I continued taking all my medications as prescribed, dozing off, going on 15 minute walks around the neighborhood at a snail’s pace. I napped every four hours, soon after taking the pain medication. Bruising around surgical site turned yellow, then faded. I still had on surgical tape across the incision. I had follow up appointments with the surgeon and plastic surgeon; one drain was removed. I was now waking up with the others, eating meals with the others, hanging out with the others.
Day 5 I panicked over my surgical site. What should it look like? My drain sites were uncomfortable. I worried over infection. I called to see one of my physicians. Everything was fine.
Day 10 I decided I was done with narcotic pain medications. For me, I could tolerate the physical discomfort. I did not want to feel groggy, foggy, and constipated which were the side effects of the pain meds.
I began taking oxycodone only at bedtime, just one dose. I also took a muscle relaxant only at bedtime. First thing in the morning, I took two Advil tablets. I started drinking alcohol again — 1 drink per night, 3-4x week.
Day 12 I had my second drain removed. This is necessary to have done before driving a car.
Day 13 I resumed activities of driving and cooking for the family. Again, I used my healthy side arm for most activities: driving, opening the car door and fridge doors, pulling out clothes from the washer, and shampooing my hair.
Days 12-14 my sleep cycle returned to nearly normal. I was still taking meds at bedtime, but sleeping throughout the night. My reconstructed breast still looked swollen/engorged; it looked distorted compared to my healthy breast.
Days 1-20 I slept on my back with pillows around me. I felt a soreness across my pec muscles whenever I exerted with my healing side arm — e.g. opening the fridge door, arranging pillows in bed.
Days 14-20 seemed more of the same with regard to activity level and physical details.
Day 22 I returned to the gym. I started changing sleep positions from back to side sleeping during the night, with a lot of pillows. My reconstructed breast looked firm and round.
Day 22 Three week follow up with my plastic surgeon. The drain wounds are still reddish, but closed. The incision line is healing, still sensitive to the touch. My plastic surgeon warmed me — No waving arms overhead, no pec exertion. So much for mastering the plank. He encouraged me to walk and use the elliptical trainer. “Go for it, just remember to keep wearing a sports bra. Every day!”
This brings me to the topic of clothing. Following surgery, my skin around the mastectomy/ reconstructed breast site has been very sensitive. Cotton clothing feels like lace. Direct contact with soft clothing feels like velcro rubbing against my skin. I am constantly adjusting my sports bra, because in my mind something is aggravating my arm pit. I know I am touching my skin. However the nerves have been severed and with the implant, there is a numb feeling around most of my reconstructed breast.
Day 24 I did some light garden work. I pulled out weeds, cut back dead branches/dead headed flowering plants. I tried sweeping the front porch, no go. Too much for the chest muscles.
Today is Day 27. Tonight I am going out with a friend. A friend I haven’t told, yet. She and her family took off traveling a day after school let out. I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer. As in, “Oh, you’re going to visit relatives in North Carolina, neat! Me? Oh, I’m having a mastectomy early July.” She is another friend that I’ve decided to disclose to. Why not? It’s something that I am going through. It’s something that I would like others to know if they need support on the issue. I wish I had known someone who went through this already. And yet, writing those words makes me uneasy. I wouldn’t wish any type of breast cancer on anyone.
DCIS. It is just a bump in the road. Like an unusual mole on your arm. Something that needs to be removed, soon. Nothing to post about, but something for me to share with someone to get support. And when needed to give support.
Now, if only I could find a more comfortable bra.