Post-Exchange Surgery Milestones (as agreed with my surgeon)

goals

It’s two weeks out from my exchange surgery that swapped my rock hard expanders to squishy boobies so I thought it was a good time to let you know how I was getting on, as well as share with you the mini-milestones I am working towards in my recovery.

Healing wise I am pretty good. My wounds look good and I’m massaging the stiches and boobs with a good deal of cocoa butter. I have some nerve pain in my left arm and my left side feels more delicate than the right. Apart from that I feel fine and am mobile as a go cart. I’ve been walking every day and am now back on the cross trainer (minus the arms). Apparently I can drive when I feel comfortable, but I’ve tried twice and I don’t feel ready yet – I need two hands to move the gear stick in and out of reverse and parking is a bitch.

As well as this, I am eagerly working towards a few more milestones. Obviously if you are reading this at a similar stage in your pbm journey, here is the disclaimer….. I am not a medical expert (although my Dad is a Dr, apparently that doesn’t qualify me). This is the advice from my surgeon based on my circumstances. Please consult your surgeon on when you can do, what you want to do, following your surgery.

Right, back to me:

2 weeks post-surgery:

–          Walking

–          Cross trainer – MINUS ARMS

3 weeks post-surgery:

–          Running

–          Spin class

5 weeks post-surgery

–          Ride my bike – yey! (I did ask my surgeon why I could go to spin class at 3 weeks and not ride my bike until 5 weeks. He explained that I could fall off my bike. I didn’t tell him that in the week before surgery I’d fallen off my bike twice… and I’d only been drunk on one of those occasions).

–          Yoga

6 weeks post-surgery

–          Hoping to take off this massive, asexual surgical bra that I’m spending every waking and sleeping moment in since the op. I’m so excited I’ve already ordered this beautiful brassier from M&S, which may or may not be the right size http://www.marksandspencer.com/Rosie-Autograph-Padded-French-Designed/dp/B003ZKVKGU?_encoding=UTF8&mnSBrand=core

I do have a few more than this – like when can I ever do a press up again, or can I do a body pump class and get my muscles back – but they can wait.

How exciting!

xxxxxxx

The Good the Bad and the Ugly: 6 Weeks on in no man’s land

Purpose

Hello. Firstly I am so sorry it has been so damn long since I have written. I promise I will try to explain.

The good

I am doing alright. I have healed well and my arm movement is good. A bit stiff but good. My strengths is coming back and for all intents and purposes, I’m great.

I’m back at spin classes, had my first run this week and can do yoga if I so please.

I’m very much back at work and it’s honestly like I never left.

My boobs are slowly growing. I’m currently at 200CC each side and have another fill this week. My nipples are looking perky and healthy and whilst one side sticks out more than the other, all is good in the hood.

The bad

For all that is well I can’t say that mentally I’m in a great head space. Bear with me.

I’ve written before that the run up to the PBM was one of my happiest times of recent years. I was focussed and efficient to superwoman proportions. I easily knew what was important, didn’t sweat the small stuff and I of course, had an enormous sense of optimism.

Right now, I’m feeling like, “Oh. What now?” Or maybe that is the wrong way to put it. I just don’t know how I feel, and herein lies the problem.

Life is so back to normal that it really does feel as though I was making such a fuss of everything before. Because I’m visibly well, everyone else has seemingly forgotten about it too. Or at least has no reason to treat me otherwise. (or should they have to)

My social calendar is ridiculously full, both with obligatory work and personal commitments, and as there is nothing wrong with me it’s impossible for me not to go. But the thought of having to attend some of these things of makes me so anxious that I then withdraw at all other times.  I have said no to so many non obligatory invitations for coffee or drinks that I sound like a broken record and feel rotten every time I do.

The ugly

It was my birthday this week. Hurrah! 34.

Mr F asked me what I wanted. I said a ring (as in engagement) or a blender… I got a blender. I also got an amazing photo book of all my nudie photos and got spoilt rotten with flowers and a posh meal in a beautiful restaurant.

Despite having a wonderful birthday, I woke up on Thursday incredibly sad. You reach certain milestones in life and it’s OK that you haven’t done what you thought you’d do by a certain age. But this year it wasn’t. I have a good job and am accomplished in my career (with no desire to run my own PR agency thank you very much). I moved to the other side of the world and live in the most amazing country, in a fabulous house with lovely friends and an incredible boyfriend. And apart from getting my boobs chopped off, I am otherwise very fit and healthy.

But in my current state, residing in no man’s land, I felt I’d be in a different world by the age of 34 and would have a couple of sprogs and a ring or two on my finger. I do know that even if I’d done all this, life doesn’t work that simply. I am just struggling to stop asking myself the question, what next?

I’m a little ashamed I feel like this. Especially considering what an alternative life with cancer could look like, which is why I’ve struggled to metaphorically put pen to paper in the last few weeks.

Anyway, my commitment is to stop moaning, maybe look into taking out some therapy, and finding a new hobby.

p.s. It’s good to speak to you again.

Establishing Routine In Recovery

Routine

Those who know me, and those of you who don’t will probably have guessed, I’m not a person who finds it easy to sit still.

Before I left London I had a pretty full on job, with a decent commute, a busy social life, I taught seven fitness classes a week and trained for a marathon. I left the country to try to chill-out, which relatively, I think I’ve achieved. Even so, I still have a decent social life, I exercise 5-6 times a week and I have a pretty full-on job, in PR.

For those of you who are not familiar with PR, it is a job that has no completion. Your to do list will never be done, many outcomes you desire are out of your control and it was recently voted one of the most stressful jobs in the world.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2256652/Want-easy-life-Dont-firefighter-PR-exec-enlist-military-reveals-new-ranking-stressful-jobs.html

I do urge some caution as this story was probably developed by people who work in PR. However, with this reputation it successfully attracts stress junkies like me, who may moan about being busy, but don’t know what to do if they’re not.

It is in this context I present myself to you as a patient in recovery. It’s probably obvious that I don’t like to sit still and left to my own devices and my mind will run riot. This is why, now I’m home, it’s important for me to set some sort of loose routine. Each day I have committed to do 3 things to help focus my mind, give my day some sort of purpose, and to help track my progress; Meditate, walk, and stretch / exercise.

Meditate

meditate

I talk about meditation a lot on here, but I’m not a person who finds it easy – and generally I will cry it off if I can. I know lots of people say ‘I physically can’t meditate’. This is essentially bollocks. I find it difficult, but I taught myself how to do it and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

I first started mediating during my testing  for the cancer gene: BRCA. Combined with being made redundant, looking for a new job, moving house and temporarily breaking up with the love of my life, I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. I swear meditation saved me from this and I emerged from this period stronger and more cantered than I think I’d ever been.

So now, it’s more about keeping me balanced. I have a lot of time to think, so softening that for a bit helps me keep focus. And by that I mean, not looking at my boobs and imagining loads of stuff is going wrong with them, or convincing myself that my nipple is still going to fall off, or that a sneeze = infection.

I am using these meditations from Oprah and Deepak at the moment – because for a short time they are free, but they are pretty good, and not too long!

Walk

Walk

As a self-confessed exercise junkie, I have been surprisingly OK with not going to the gym. Being perpetually tired and stuck in hospital helps. However, since I have been home I have committed to going for a walk each day. There’s a park round the corner and if I go first thing I can reward my return with a cup of coffee.

The commitment helps my day have some kind of purpose, and going just a little further every couple of days gives me the feeling of progress.

What’s more, early autumn in Sydney is my FAVOURITE time of the year. It’s sunny but not too hot and, touch wood, it doesn’t rain as much as it does in Jan and Feb.

Stretching / Exercise

I call this stretching  / exercise as it’s really not exercise, but ‘exercises’ to help me get the strength and range of movement back in my arms.

My prophylactic, nipple sparing mastectomy with expanders involved the surgeon inserting the expanders underneath my pectoral or chest muscle, which protects the expanders, and in turn, will need to stretch as they expand, ready for the implants.

If you can imagine, the pain feels as though you have done 100,000 press ups, morning and night. This then means you use your arms less and so your range of movement invariably becomes a little more limited.

So doing the exercises each day is important. Again, it provides purpose, but they also stretch out my very bruised and tight Foobs and as the exercises become a little easier each day, I have another way of measuring my progress. The hospital gave me some exercises while I was there as well as a DVD called‘Strengthen Your Recovery: Pilates program following breast cancer surgery’. It’s really very good. And whilst I can’t wait to get back to the spin studio, it is a great resource for aiding my recovery.

 

Day One: Surgery Day

blogger

Mr F has told me that I’m only allowed to write a very short blog due to the fact that since I have come out of recovery, I have not stopped and have been bouncing off the walls.  So as he’s been amazing and I need him to do quite a lot for me, I am going to listen to him and limit this blog post to the highlights of today:

  • 5:50am: Alarm call – read messages on Facebook, cried
  • 6:45am: Got to hospital, paid $270 to get a room on my own – it’s more expensive than a posh Travelodge (p.s. I don’t actually have my own room at the moment despite this – but can’t be bothered to write about it)
  • Get changed into my gowns, me and Mr F debate whether I should wear pants for surgery or not. He wins, I put my pants back on
  • Go down to theatre and sit on a bed. About 3 mins later it’s time for Mr F to leave. This is much sooner than we thought. We say our goodbyes, he looks more worried than me. I am wheeled off
  • Starting to get hooked up when my plastic surgeon comes down to tell them he hasn’t marked me up yet.  I walk to a little room, protecting my modesty at my derriere, conscious that I wore terrible pants today. He marks me up with those really toxic pens that people in Merthyr Tydfil use on the weekend… The drugs begin
  • 8am: I’m back and a very charismatic, Maltese anesthetist comes to pump me up. He’s shouting at people to get all number of drugs and, before I know it, unknown substances are pouring into my body, via my hand
  • 08:10am: In the theatre, it’s freezing! It is now that I have a little ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME’ moment. I have been the most positive patient in Randwick all morning so this is a contrast.  Have a pep talk with myself, which is aided by the anesthetic.  We debate whether I’m going to Miami or Cardiff… I choose Miami … OUT COLD
  • 12ishpm: Wake up in recovery and want to see Mr F. They won’t let me leave until my heart rate goes up – it’s at a worrying low level – I inform them that I am incredibly fit and so my resting heart rate is amazing, and low. After a while they buy this and move me to the ward
  • 3pm: Mr F is waiting for me, he expects me to be woozy, I’m high as a kite and so excited to see him.  Have my first glass of water in 17 hours. The water goes through the gas tubes in my nose
  • I have a support bandage on my chest – looks like one of the boob tubes I was fond of wearing to Astoria when I was 17. Two drains coming out my armpits. A morphine button to my left – ACE
  • Mr F sets me up for any eventuality – WI Fi hot spot, iPad, Heat magazine, mobile phone, laptop

  • 5pm: I get a little Hangry. It’s been 20 hours since I’ve eaten anything. I also start telling Mr F that for breakfast tomorrow I’d like a skimmed latte with fruit and yoghurt for breakfast. He sighs – this is going to be the cue for when I push it.  Note to self, don’t piss off the carer
  • 5:45pm: FOOD! Chicken soup (reminds me of uni), small cheese sandwich, vanilla slice and a cup of tea. Mr F has a sandwich and half the vanilla slice
  • I crash for a second. Food had made me realise pain.  I cry for 2 seconds, press the switch of pain relief love, am happy again
  • 6:30ishpm: I decide to write a blog post. Mr F is not that impressed. My breast surgeon comes to see me. He is impressed, for him, this is a positive thing. He’s going to check on me over the next few days to see if my nipples look like they’re going to survive… Good luck nipples!
  • 6:45pm: I tell Mr F to leave as a) I want to write my blog post and b) I feel bad, he’s been here a while and has done at least 48 patient duties – which he has excelled at I might add
  • Mr F goes to leave and I start crying. Oh

And here I am. Nearly 12 hours with no boobs and everything is OK. I feel like I’ve done one million push ups and my range of movement is really limited, but my head is good and at this moment in time, there’s no regrets.

Back tomorrow. (p.s. this blog aint short, sorry)

Questions for the Dr

Questions

On Thursday, three weeks away from the operation, me and Mr F are going to see my breast surgeon, Dr John Thomson at Randwick.  This is our chance to get more prepared for what’s about to come.

This is the first time Mr F has come to one of my appointments.  Not that he wouldn’t have if I’d asked, but to be honest, I’ve not wanted to waste his time with A LOT of appointments. So I went and updated him afterwards. But as this next next chapter effects us both hugely, hopefully, going to the remaining appointments together will ensure we’re on the same page and that we’re doing this as a team (for which, I thank my lucky stars, every day).

Now the hard questions have already been asked and answered along the way;  Do I think this is a good idea? Do I need to remove fat from my belly or back as part of the reconstruction? Do I want one operation or two? And do I want to keep my nipples?  Just a couple of small considerations… But with those out the way,  we need to ask the seemingly, simple questions.

Me and Mr F are pretty different people and we have incredibly different ways of thinking about things, so we’ve each both pulled together our checklist of questions to ensure we have as few surprises as possible in about 4 weeks time. Some are a bit frank, for which I apologise in advance.They also are pretty reflective of our personalities. I realise that some of mine may seem a bit futile in the grand scheme of things, but those who know me will understand I’ll be keen to be up and running ASAP.  I’ll report back in a couple of days to let you know the answers.

My Questions

  • What do I need to stop doing before the surgery?
  • How long will it be before I can exercise?
  • When can I walk? And then when can I ride a bike?
  • If I can’t use my upper body, could I do squats / use resistance bands?
  • What can I do early on to get movement back in my arm?
  • What do you suggest I do if I get my period in the first two weeks following surgery?
  • Am I able to go to the toilet alone?

Mr F’s Questions

  • What levels of bruising should we expect and what is too much?
  • What are the potential injuries that might happen during healing process i.e. minor tears or over stretching?
  • How best to stop any post op infections?
  • What things will she realistically be able to do and what won’t she?
  • What things will I have to help with?
  • What’s a realistic distance to travel and how soon after?