Category: Surgery - The Funny Thing About Cancer
 
Seriously.  I feel like I'm currently smuggling baseballs in my bra.

Well... I haven't worn a bra in 3 weeks, so I guess that statement isn't quite right, but you know what I mean.

If you don't, let me say it like this:  Tissue Expanders are not soft.  They don't feel anything like real boobs.  In fact, they feel like baseballs under your skin.  Thus, I feel like I'm smuggling baseballs.

On the upside, my boobs haven't been this perky in... actually I don't think they've ever been this perky.

I'm not complaining.  It's just a very odd sensation.  Since they stick straight out, I have boob in places I've never had boob before.  Normally when doing things like typing, my inner arm would press against my boob a little bit... and my boob would compress/move with my arm.  And now, my boob presses back against my arm. 

It's like my arm and my boob are having a full out wrestling match and my boob is winning.

Totally wierd.

I also had my first "fill" yesterday.  This is where the doctor sticks a needle into my tissue expander and pumps in more saline to fill up the expander.  This was a very interesting experience.

First, the doctor sticks a needle in THROUGH my muscle (because the hole in the expander is at the top of my boob), and that's just a very ODD sensation.  Not painful, just really wierd.

THEN, the thing that they use to pump saline in... is a caulk gun. 

I shit you not.

They load a huge syringe into a caulk gun and then the nurse sits there and squeezes the handle repeatedly until the appropriate amount of saline has been added to your boob.  AND the caulk gun looks really old.  The paint was chipping off and it just looked like they had bought it from a plumber that had used it for 40+ years.

I hope that wasn't the case, but that's what it looked like.  Maybe next time I will sneak a photo of it before the doctor comes in so you can see what I mean.

So that is my current state of affairs.  I'm a rock hard, caulk gun filled, perky boobed girl.  And feeling awesome!

PS  In really great news, I'm also now drain free!  I had my last drain removed yesterday!!!!  YIPPEEEE!
 
So the second part of suckiness that comes after surgery is the limitation on how much you can lift. 

Doctors orders:  do not lift more than 5 lbs.

So basically I can lift a can of soda (if I drank soda anymore).  Or maybe a sandwich.  And I can definitely lift a candy bar.  Which might be why I've gained about 5 lbs since surgery :)

But I definitely cannot lift a 30 lb 2 year old boy named Caleb.

Luckily for me, Grandma and Papa Ericson agreed to take Caleb for us for about 9 days.  I WOULD say that he was sad about it, but he wasn't.  He got to drive a boat, a lawnmower, a 4 wheeler, a gator, and basically anything he could convince his Papa into letting him drive.  He had a blast.

But then he came home.  And realized he missed his mama.  And THEN realized that I wouldn't pick him up. 

Let's just say it's been a bit of a transition for us.  It's gone more smoothly than expected, but still not much fun.

And I'm supposed to not lift anything more than 5 lbs for SIX WEEKS!!!!

I've been doing my best to live by this, but it's been difficult.  When Caleb is about to fall over, I just can't help myself from reaching to stop him.  And he's a boy, so he falls like once every five minutes. 

But I knew this was coming, so we tried to prepare as much as possible.  I taught Caleb the following things:

1. How to both crawl INTO and OUT OF his high chair.  The "into" portion he mastered many moons ago, but the "out of" part of it is a very new development.  And makes life a whole lot easier for me as a mom who can't lift anything.

2. We're potty training, so there aren't many diapers, but we do diaper him for naps and bedtime.  So, Caleb now knows how to lift up his own little hiney when I need to slide a diaper under it.  It's both cute and "post op" friendly :)

3. We did get into the habit of reading stories in his bed.  He'd lay down in his toddler bed, I'd lay next to him (which is a funny sight, I'm sure) and I'd read him his bedtime stories.  I think we need to upgrade to a twin bed soon...

Even despite all my heroic efforts at teaching him to not need to be lifted, it's still hard.  REALLY, REALLY HARD!  When he falls and skins his knee or hits his head or just wants to be held, I have to sit on the ground with him and give him hugs.  He's even learned a new phrase out of all of this.  Before when he wanted to be carried, he'd just say "HUG!"  Now that "HUG" doesn't work (he literally just gets a hug from me now) he says "CARRY YOU!"  I think that comes from me saying "Mama can't carry you". 

Isn't that just sad?

OK, so enough with my little pity party.  Like I said, this is the hardest part of the whole surgery thing.

If you are a mom of a toddler that's about to go through surgery, definitely find someone to help out.  It's hard.  But if you do happen to "overlook" the rules and lift too much, your body will continue to produce lymphatic fluid at your drain sites... and the drains are equally if not MORE annoying that not picking up your child.  Plus, it's just bad stuff to have tubes hanging out of your body (healthwise).  Just remember, this is a sucky time but your child will not be emotionally scarred forever if you can't pick them up for 4-6 weeks. 

At least that's what I keep telling myself.
 
I can honestly say that the above sentence isn't one that I thought I'd say to my husband... ever.

It never even entered my mind that I would utter those words to anyone. 

But, about a week and a half ago, those words entered into my marriage.  It turns out when you have had surgery, and have drains and other tubes hanging out of your body (which end in bulbs/balls) AND you want to shower/clean up/change clothes... those words WILL come out of your mouth.  Chris was wonderful and didn't even cringe when I said it... but I chuckled quite heartily at my little unintended pun.

So what balls might I be referring to?  Well I had 2 different types, drains and something called an On-Q pump.

First, the drains.  Having had a mastectomy, they put in drains to help drain fluid away from the surgery site.  So I have one drain on each side.  Here is what a drain looks like.  First where it comes out of your body (it's bandaged so I don't think the picture is particularly gross).
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The tube you see coming out of my side ends in a bulb.  To keep the drain going, you squeeze it flat after emptying it and the fluid drains into it over the course of the day.  At first, I had to empty it twice a day, but now I'm down to once.  I had a drain on each side, but I've already had my left side drain removed.  Here is what the bulb looks like.
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If you're curious as to how I carry the balls around, this can be achieved in a variety of ways.  I think I've tried them all.  First, they make camisoles that have pouches for the drains.  I tried this, but the strip where the drains velcroed was right on top of where the tubes came out of my skin, and that was uncomfortable, so I didn't use my camisole more than twice.  Another option is pinning the bulbs to your clothing.  I did this for awhile, but it puts those bulbs right at eye level for curious 2 year olds.  So I used a little nylon bag to put my bulbs in.  I wear it like a messenger bag and I just tuck my drains into it.  I can wear it low enough that it's even with the bottom of my shirt so there is little tugging or pulling and little to no tubing showing.  This has been the most comfortable option for me.

This is a picture of what I look like on a regular day.  I've been wearing camisoles that have no bra top in them (so nothing squeezing my drain sites).  My little black nylon bulb bag peeks out from below my jacket or hoodie.  It might be the middle of summer, but the hoodie keeps the bag close to the body and no one really notices it.
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Those were two of my balls.

I had a third ball too.  And it was my favorite ball.

This ball was filled with a local anesthetic and it was connected to two little tubes that went into my body (like 1mm in size apiece, so teensy tiny).  These little tubes were kind of like the seeper hoses you'd use in a garden, only instead of letting water seep out, they distribute this local anesthetic along your incision lines.  Can I get a "THAT'S FREAKING GENIUS!!!"?

I mean seriously, why didn't anyone think this up sooner?  My pain was very limited/non-existent.  I attribute this largely to this On-Q pump (what the device is called).  So over the course of 5 days, this system pumped out 4ml of local anesthetic per hour.  I used Tylenol with codine for about 3 days, then transitioned to regular tylenol for about 2 days and I was off painkillers completely.  I don't like lots of painkillers, so I'm excited that I managed my pain so easily.

I don't have a picture of this ball because I wasn't smart enough to document it, but here is a picture from their website.
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So this is what post op looks like from my perspective.  Lots of balls hanging out of my body.  I will feel much more like me when I can get the last drain removed, which I hope is next Tuesday at the latest.  And THEN, I just have to get back to a point when I can lift up objects that weigh more than 5 pounds and I will be a happy, happy person, but that's a topic for a whole 'nother blog.

In summary, if you ever get a mastectomy, be prepared to juggle some balls :)
 
Tomorrow is my surgery.

EEEEEK!

I think I'm ready for it... maybe?

OK, I'm not really ready.  I feel like I'm finally getting back to "normal" from chemo and now I'm about to plunge into feeling like poo for a few more weeks. 

*sigh*

BUT for today, I will just keep telling myself that this is one BIG step towards being done with cancer treatment.  This is the last big hurdle.  There will be other smaller ones later, but this is the last big one.

I can do this.  I have to do this.  For future peace of mind, I HAVE to do this.  And when it is all over and done with, I know I will be happy I did it.

But for now... I'm just a little nervous.

So if you're the praying type, send some good thoughts and prayers my way.  Pray for my peace of mind.  Pray for the Lord to guide the hands of my surgeons and their team.  Pray for a speedy recovery.  And pray for pretty boobies :)

Since I probably won't be around for a week or two, I thought I should share a few photos of my fuzz with you.  My hair is growing back thicker... but I still look like a balding 35 year old guy that buzzes his head (so no one will know he's balding?).

And for the record, I really hate the stage my hair is at right now.  I kind of like extremes.  Bald or lots of hair.  The in between just looks wierd.  But I'm not willing to shave it again, so GROW HAIR, GROW!  GROW!!!
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I just want it to thicken up a bit... OK alot.
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Grow hair! Grow!!!!
 
So the other night I couldn't sleep.  It may or may not have been due to hot flashes.

As I laid in bed, sweating, just staring at the ceiling, I was thinking about my beautiful little boy and how much I love him.  And as often happens when those thoughts go through my head, I say a little prayer.  Here is about how that prayer went:

Dear God,

Thank you so much for my little boy.  Thank you for another day with him, watching him grow and learn.  Please let me have many more days like today. 

OK... maybe not exactly like today.  Today was a little rough.  How about lots of days like today minus the tantrums and Mr. Grumpy Pants attitude Caleb was sporting.  Let's just say when you created Caleb, you created an excellent lesson in patience for me.  Every day.  And sometimes every second of every day. 

But you know what I mean.  Please allow me to have many days and years with my little boy so I can be there for him as he grows into a man.  Please grant me the blessing of one day becoming a Grandma to his children.

NOT that I'm in any rush to become a Grandma.  Seriously.  I have no desire for Caleb to be on Teen Mom Season #523.  He better not knock up some 15 year old, dimwitted floozy like I see on that show because you know I'll have to kill either him or her if that's the case, depending on who is dumber. 

(and then I remember I'm praying and probably shouldn't use words like floozy or threaten to kill anyone)

God, please help those single young teen mothers all around the world and help guide them to provide good lives for their children.  It's not an easy life.

(then my mind turns towards my upcoming surgery)

And God, please help give me the bravery I need going into this surgery.  Please be with my surgeons and guide their hands and make this surgery successful so the cancer can't come back.  And Lord, I know this might sound vain, but please be with that plastic surgeon and help him do a great job. 

Because I really want nice boobs.  Please do not let me end up looking like Franken-tits.  I just want boobs that are pretty and make Chris want to spend alot of time practicing making babies.  *wink wink*

(and yes I even say "wink wink" in my head.  God doesn't care because I'm married and married people are allowed to do things that go along with the "wink wink", so there!)

Which leads me to my last request.  God please let my fertility come back.  Please bless me with the opportunity to become a parent to another child.  Just kick start my ovaries soon.  Not just for the sake of future children, but also because these hot flashes have GOT TO GO!  Seriously!  I just can't take it anymore!

(and then I kick off the covers and start fanning myself because I'm literally sweating from yet another hot flash)

Lord, thank you for all of your blessings and your mercy.

In Jesus' name we pray.  AMEN!

After I said my prayer, I thought about all that I had prayed for and started laughing.  In part because I obviously had ADD/chemobrain while praying (hence all the random side bars). 

But also in part because not only did I pray for a long life and many years with my family, I also prayed for pretty boobies. 

I think the age that God usually gets prayers for "pretty boobies" would be when a girl is like 11 and about to hit puberty.  And it struck me as HILARIOUS that I'd be praying for the same thing as an 11 year old girl.

But I have a feeling that many breast cancer patient's prayers go something along these lines.  You pray very sincerely for the "deep" stuff like a long, long life.  But you also pray for those things that represent a "normal" life after cancer, like pretty boobies and the ability to have more children. 

Because isn't that what we all want?  A long, normal life?  As a cancer survivor, normal just looks a little different :)
 
Blog readers, I warn you, there will probably be no rhyme or reason to my blog topics. 

This blog will be thoroughly dependant upon my moods and the things I find funny.

And today, what I find funny is the state of my boobs.  Apologies to family members that find picturing my breasts wierd.  But as this whole blog IS about breast cancer, so you better get used to it!

Anywho, back when I was at the tender age of 23 and working my first job after college, my boss introduced me to a phrase that I had never heard before. 

"Crazy Cones"

In case you weren't aware, my first job after college was at Marshall Field's (now part of Macy's).  I worked in the buying office for the junior's department of a large department store.  This translates to working with almost all women with a sprinkling of gay men.  Let's just say that when you get that many women together, lunchtime conversations revolve around things that most heterosexual men would be horrified to know their wives discuss in public.

This particular lunchtime conversation was shortly after my boss had announced she was pregnant.  I think we were discussing breast feeding versus formula.  She said she was hoping to breast feed, but that her biggest fear was ending up with "crazy cones.  You know, kind of like a lazy eye..." and she then used her fingers to indicate nipples that were pointed in totally different directions.

As a vain 23 year old that had absolutely no comprehension of pregnancy/motherhood, I was all "that really happens?!?!?!?!  I'm SOOOO not breastfeeding!"

What?!?  I was young, dumb and probably pretty obnoxious.

Fast forward to present day.  Post pregnancy but pre-surgery, my boobs weren't exactly what they used to be.  I mean had a ROCKIN rack when I was younger (and yes, I'm darn proud of it.  But no, I will not post photos).  Motherhood definitely changed that, not quite as perky as they used to be, but nothing to be ashamed of.

However, a lumpectomy has done for me what motherhood and breastfeeding combined failed to do, I now have the infamous crazy cones.

Seriously.

Here's how that realization went:  I finished surgery, finally got home after a 1.5 hour drive, went to the bathroom (because man, having an IV makes you have to pee ALL THE TIME), and was washing my hands when I looked into the mirror. 

I wasn't wearing a bra so there was nothing to hide the complete unevenness of my breasts.  One nipple was pointing forward (the one I had surgery on) and the other was like an inch lower and pointing to the left.

I laughed at the shock of it.  Not sure what I expected them to look like... I guess I just hadn't even thought much about it.

And then I laughed some more. 

My mom was like "what the heck are you laughing about?"  I walked out and pointed out that I wasn't exactly even and we chuckled some more. 

I now refer to one boob as "the perky one", which is the one that I had surgery on.  Seriously the surgeon must be a magician because if you took away the scar, my boob looks GREAT!  This breast probably comes in at a full B or a small C.

The other boob is "the not so perky one".  I think it weighs in at a full C or a small D cup and doesn't exactly point forward anymore.

Let's just say this makes shopping for bras difficult.

To be totally honest, this really doesn't bother me in the least.  Maybe it's because a mere year ago, my boobs were simply feeders for my child.  Or maybe it's because I now view my breasts as traitors (they're aiding and abetting CANCER!).  Or maybe it's because I know in a few months, I'll be getting a whole new rock star set. 

Now all I can do is think back to my old boss and her reference to "crazy cones" and chuckle.

I've also come up with some rather awful jokes that center around my boobs:

    I could be like the old sign posts you see in movies.  Just put me on a corner, write "Baton Rouge 500 miles" on one breast and "Philadelphia 200 miles" on the other and I'd probably be pretty accurate (although this might result in some car accidents).

    If I were a stripper, I'd really confuse my customers.  It's like a lazy eye, they wouldn't know which one to look at.  

OK... bad jokes I know, but they do make me laugh and laugher is the best medicine (or so they say).  If you come up with any other good ones, shoot them my way and I'll add it to the repitoire for all the doctors I have to show my boobies to in the upcoming months :)
 
On December 30th, my 4 year wedding anniversary, I got surgery for my cancer.

Let's just say this was NOT on my wishlist this year... but then again sooner is better than later with this whole cancer thing, so I was actually OK with it.

This was surgery #1 for me.  I got a lumpectomy, sentinal node biopsy and a porticath placed.  Surgery #2 will happen after baby comes and I'll get a full bilateral mastectomy (sound fun?).

Translations:
    Lumpectomy - removal of the lump (aka the cancer).
    Sentinal Node Biopsy - they inject a little radiation into the breast and the first node that radiation goes to is 
        called the "sentinal node".  They remove this and check it for cancer.
    Porticath placement - They put a port in place to use during chemo.  A port is a temporary link into a vein.  It's 
        a piece of equipment they stick under the skin that you can put a needle into for injections.  This links to a 
        vein.  The goal is to not have to use my "regular" veins during chemo.
    Bilateral Mastectomy - they remove both boobs and then give me rock star, hollywood type fake boobies.

How do I feel today?  Like I attempted to bench press a semi-truck.  And maybe that semi was carrying weight lifting equipment.  Or maybe bricks.  Point is that my chest is achy.  Not terribly painful, just achy.

What could be funny about all of this?  Well my mother and I found many things to laugh about as we were waiting for surgery.  Surgery was supposed to be at 11 (didn't get in until almost 12 or 12:15) and we were told to be there at 9 am to get all checked in and prepped.

Let's just say my mom and I had a lot of time to sit around the prep area and laugh. 

Funny Event #1:  During the check in process, before my mom was brought back to the prep area, the nurse asked "Do you have any piercings in?"  I had taken off all my jewelry so I replied "No."  She goes, "OK, so we're not going to be surprised by any during surgery in other places?"  I laughed heartily and said "No."  She chuckled and said "Well I had to ask because sometimes we girls don't want our mothers to know everything."  

Funny Event #2: my surgeon's chief resident came in to introduce himself as he would be assisting during the surgery.  He was this twenty something tall skinny indian man and neither my mother or I can remember his name.  He introduced himself, my mother instantly began interrogating him (she was a bit nervous) and he handled it beautifully and answered all of her 5 bajillion questions very adeptly. 

Then he asked if he could initial my breast. 

I burst out laughing.  I can't say I've been one of those people that has ever asked a rock star to sign her boobs... but this is the first thing that came to mind.  I obligingly pulled my gown down a few inches so he could nicely initial my breast.  My mother's mind went right into the gutter with mine (what can I say, great minds think alike) and she started teasing him that he must get to sign more boobs than a rock star.  I think we might've embarassed him a bit as he started to stutter and turned a little pink.  Maybe no one has teased him about this before?  Poor guy dealing with us to crazy ladies.

Then later the surgeon, Dr. Tuttle, came in and greeted us.  My mother's first comment was "you look so much YOUNGER than I expected".  Then proceeded to tell him he was very cute.  He also got a little flustered at that comment and my mother's reasoning was "I'm an old lady, I can say these things". 

Needless to say, after he left, we continued to giggle that these men just didn't know what to do with the likes of us.

About an hour after all of this, I finally got wheeled into the operating room.

An operating table is not unlike a lift for a car in an auto shop, it can be adjusted up and down and there are lots of people working on the "equipment" (aka me).  Seriously, I kind of felt like some type of NASCAR vehicle being moved up and down, nurses strapping equipment to me and all talking at once. 

Then they told me that they were ready to put me under and I said, "oh ok".  The anesthesiologist injected something into my IV and I felt my hand burn a bit, which she assured me was totally normal and that I would be feeling very tired soon. 

My last words before I sank into drug induced oblivion?  "Oh wow!"  Seriously... that stuff feels the same as what I imagine 10 shots of 100 proof grain alcohol taken in 5 minutes would feel like.  You go from all normal to "holy crap I think I'm gonna pass out" in about 2.5 seconds.

About 2 hours later, I groggily awoke to the feeling of being lifted onto another bed and being wheeled from the OR.  They pushed me into the recovery area and there was a nice male nurse there to care for me.  He asked me a few questions, "what day is it?  Do you remember what your procedure was?"  I told him all the details pretty coherently, if I do say so myself.  But I still just felt groggy and like I had chugged a gallon of acid.  They intubate you during surgery, which means they stick a tube down your throat, which blows and means a very sore throat.  After about 10 minutes (I was watching the clock), I started to feel OK. 

The highlight of my hour in the recovery area?  Eating ice chips and burping up this awful, plasticky, mediciney taste.  Then I got to go have tape ripped off my skin (holding the IV in place) and drive an hour and a half back to Mankato. 

My poor mother didn't have a terribly sweet patient.  I didn't want to eat (even though I hadn't eaten all day) and I just sucked on popcicles until she convinced me I should have some soup.  She was right, the soup did make me feel loads better. 

It's now 5 days later and I'm feeling pretty normal and totally off painkillers.  The porticath is the thing that bugs me the most.  It aches the most and it's like having a thick nickel stuck under your skin and makes for a not so pretty bump.  Granted it's about a centimeter below a pretty sizeable scar (like 1.5-2 inches), so I don't think my "rack" is "show worthy" quite yet.  Guess I'll have to avoid the low cut shirts for a few months ;)

In summary, surgery is NOT something I enjoy, but I did get some good laughs out of it.  My mom is pretty much a saint.  And I totally suck at being sick. 

Happy New Year!