Double Mastectomy: 2 Weeks Post-Op

Week 1 was a physical struggle

Week 2 was definitely more mental and emotional, with some slow physical progress.  About day eleven post-op, I started trying to make some efforts toward feeling more normal. I put on (stretchy, soft) jeans instead of sweats. I wore dangly earrings. I spent more of the day downstairs than in my bed or in the recliner in our bedroom.  I rode in the car with Ben to pick Paxton up from school at the edge of our neighborhood (which was the first time I even left the house!)  I even put on a TINY bit of makeup--which is how I realized my eyebrows and eyelashes have thinned again. 

That seems to be the pattern about 4-6 weeks after chemo ends, but since I didn't lose my hair during Taxol, I wasn't expecting to lose my eyebrows and eyelashes again.  I took that kind of hard. They'll grow back quickly and plenty thick on their own, but let's be clear, I did NOT need another reason to be frustrated with my reflection -- or to see 1,000 ads for lash boosting serums, magic mascara, magnetic eyelashes, etc. which honestly just makes me feel worse about them -- BACK THE FRICK OFF Facebook!  

Otherwise, I continued to take it very easy.  Lots of rest.  My biggest activity in each day was taking a shower and getting dressed, and then changing clothes again that night for bed.  That's it.  That was the only physical goal--and it was plenty, considering how slow and methodical I had to be to do those tasks.

I started to notice my arm and shoulder mobility improving.  While I still am not able to move quickly or hold/push/pull anything heavier than a couple of pounds, I have a little better range of motion before it starts to pull on my incisions or become uncomfortable.  So, that's encouraging.  I also found that I can wear normal shirts (not just button-downs) as long as they are stretchy enough, which makes me glad I didn't buy a bunch of special clothes for post-surgery.  But I am still sporting a fanny pack or an apron to hold my drains, which are extremely annoying. 

When I found out I didn't have to wear that awful compression bra after week 1, I tried a couple of days with no bra at all, thinking that would be great, and found that it was just as awkward and uncomfortable.  Although I wasn't wearing a bra, the under-my-skin tissue expanders and the surgical tape all still made me feel like I was wearing an iron bra that was too tight, without anything on at all, which was very disorienting.  I found that wearing a soft cotton bra was much more "normal" feeling.  At least then that wearing-a-bra feeling made sense.

In the meantime, I continued to monitor the output on those drains in the hopes that I could have them both removed at my 2 week post-op appointment.  One seemed to be slowing down and changing colors as it should.  The other stayed stubbornly about the same, but slightly less each day.  The goal is less than 30ml per 24 hours.  

Today, was my 2 week post-op appointment with my plastic surgeon (well, technically with his nurse).  I was instructed to take the tape off of all the incisions this morning in the shower, which was a fairly nerve-wrecking exercise.  You certainly don't want to "rip the bandaid off" in this moment.  I took my time, but without a mirror, and without knowing what I'd find underneath the gauze, each pull of tape felt like tiny scary torture.  It both hurt (any tape that stays put for two weeks through daily showers is pretty strong) and was terrifying to wonder what was beneath the tape.  I did it though, and the incision scars (aka battle scars) aren't too terrible or Frankenstein-y.  I think (hope) they'll fade over time.   At the moment, it doesn't really matter what they do (as long as they heal), because they'll cut them back open again when I have my exchange surgery in a few months.

I had a LOT of anxiety going into this appointment. I had no idea if I would get my drains out, if everything looked like it should, if I had been healing properly, if I had been moving enough and making enough physical progress, if I'd get a "fill" or saline replacement of the air pumped inside those expanders, if any of it would hurt, if I'd be given permission to start walking or exercising, etc. etc.  Also, I hadn't left the house in two weeks (well, neighborhood, technically, since I did take that one little joy-ride to the edge of the neighborhood on day 11).  Isolation does something nasty to a person's mental state--it's fear and anxiety inducing, especially in the middle of a pandemic.  Ben drove me to my appointment and did his best to calm me down without dismissing my anxiety.  I'm not sure I really calmed down until hours afterward though.

The appointment was quick.  The nurse checked out my incisions, looked at my drain log, decided to remove one drain, told me I could definitely start walking (and that it might help progress the other drain along), and sent me on my way with a new appointment for Friday to (fingers crossed) take out that other drain.  Taking the drain out was not a big deal and did not hurt.  That doesn't mean I wasn't extremely nervous about it.  Next time, I'll be much more calm.  Essentially, she cut the suture, which was slightly uncomfortable, but not painful, and told me to take a deep breath.  While I was breathing out, she pulled all of the drain tubing out and I didn't feel anything remarkable.  It was over fast.  I did NOT look, and in fact, I told Ben to move to another chair so I could look at him and not be able to see myself or the nurse in the mirror next to him.  He said (with a grimace and a shudder) that it looked like a very long tapeworm that she pulled and pulled and pulled out.  I think I'm glad I didn't watch.

So that's it. Now I'm home and gearing up to walk a lap or two up at the park behind our house. I know the "ok" to walk and get a little exercise and fresh air will help my mood, and probably restore some energy and life back into me.  

We'll try again on Friday to see if my other drain is ready to come out.  If it is, I'll be able to start the switch over from air-filled to saline as early as next Monday.  If it's not...we just keep waiting.  While most don't, some people have their drains for up to 6-8 weeks!  I'm hopeful that won't be me, but trying not to set any expectations.  In the meantime, I'm going to start trying to add back some regular activities to my day to relieve Ben--like making coffee and washing dishes, paying a little better attention to what the kids are (or aren't) doing, and hopefully driving (at least in the neighborhood). 

This is a slowwwww process to get back to "normal".  I'm trying to stay patient and positive and be accepting of a much much slower pace and output than I am accustomed to.  The doctors say around 4 weeks most people feel like they turn a corner.  Some who have gone through it say it takes 6-8 weeks.  Some say their energy levels don't come back for months.  I'll keep you posted...

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