This post is an update to my last post, read it here Recovery- Part One.
From August 13th-16th, 2016~
I woke up in my hospital room the next morning to a team of about a dozen plastic surgeon residents. Neither Jeff or I were expecting them at 6am, or that so many people could cram into one hospital room.
They surrounded me and without telling me what they were there for, quickly took down my gown and bandages. Next, they started to change my dressings (as I came to learn). Since I had previously been asleep and still processing the past 12 hours, I was in a bit of shock as to what was happening.
And oh boy, I made a big mistake… and looked down at what they were doing. I will spare you the gory details, but will say that what I saw was not me.
That could not be my body.
That was not where my breasts once stood proudly to honor both my femininity and ability to nourish my children.
I again went into a full panic-attack and could barely breath. Even writing this nearly a month and a half later, I tear up about that experience.
They finished as quickly as they started and left without saying much. Thankfully, my nurse came quickly to check on me and between her and Jeff’s attempts to distract and soothe me, I eventually calmed down. I was just in disbelief and felt totally numb. My nurse sweetly apologized for what had just happened, but I was too horrified to even acknowledge it.
The problem with my self-image wasn’t just that my breasts and expanders were absent, it’s that I was not whole. There were parts of me that were not put back together yet. Due to the advanced infection, my doctor had to walk a fine line between leaving enough skin and tissue to allow for future reconstruction and taking enough away to turn a corner on the infection. It was touch and go for a few days with the potential of going back under the knife to remove anymore tissue or skin.
To say I was a nervous wreck that first day in the hospital, is an understatement. I was so down and throwing myself a big ol’ pity party…but that’s not really my style. I even promised myself earlier in the summer that I would only focus on the positive. So, late in the day I started thinking; if I tried being positive instead of sad & negative, if I just put a smile on my face and eventually start laughing again, if I surround myself with love and fill my heart with joy, that I could will those fevers away.
And you know what, that positive mindset helped.
I still had fevers and signs of the infection. Yet, each day I felt stronger and stronger. I will never forget the triumphant wail that I gave when my temperature was “normal” for the first time in nearly two weeks. Then the second and the third “normal” reading came with high fives. There was a chance, an actual chance, that I was getting better! I felt the tides changing and I just wanted to keep swimming forward.
Clearly, a positive mindset isn’t the only thing that helped me get better- modern medicine and intelligent & caring people did their part. At the time, I just kept thinking about how thankful I was for my doctor, his staff, my wonderful nurses, friends that checked on me, extended family that visited me, my kids and parents (thank God for my parents-they just took our kids in and carried on life for them without any hesitation), and my Jeff.
Jeff stayed there by my side and only left the room to grab food, a coffee, or to visit my grandma-also in the same hospital just a few floors above me. We weren’t prepared for a four night/five day hospital stay. The poor guy had the same clothes on for those long days. He didn’t want to miss an update or even a vitals reading. He stayed and never wavered in his belief that I would get better and that we would make it through this together. Oh, how I love him more now than I ever thought I even could.
With my husband by my side and without a fever for 24 hours, I was released and went home on the 16th. After paying a very expensive parking fee, we made it home and got settled into a new, new normal. My home health care nurses started coming once a day, my doctor’s office, what felt like my whole community, and all my cheerleaders were there every step of the way.
Some people called me brave. Some said I was amazing. Someone even called me an inspiration. However, I didn’t feel any of those things. In fact, I felt like a fake, a coward.
Those are words I associate with strong women like my Mom, her mom-Doreen, my Dad’s mom-Jane, and all my friends that have battled breast cancer. Cancer fighters deserve those words, I was just trying to avoid it. These women are amazingly brave inspirations to many, but especially to me.
I say thank you when people say those things to me today and I find a tiny sliver of myself in those words now. But at the time, I just wanted to move forward.
So, I borrowed a phrase from one of my kids favorite movies and that has become my recovery motto- Just keep swimming.
I say it everyday. I say it when I get discouraged. I say it when people ask me how I am doing. I say it to my nurses. I hum it when I have to look down and change my bandages or apply my medicine to my wounds. That simple phrase keeps my positive mindset going. Humming it has become my personal soundtrack. I know it’s juvenile, but it works for me. It keeps me focusing on the future- the next step- and not the past.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments that I get totally discouraged and wonder why this happened. I know that it is a combination of many things. But I also know that I can’t do anything about what happened except move forward, learn from it, inform others, and reach out to those around me to pay their kindness forward.
My story is not over, there are more chapters to write. As of today, I am scheduled to go back under on October 24th. My doctor and his team will attempt breast reconstruction surgery using expander implants. They also hope to revise my scars so that I look more like me when this is all over. The whole process is a minimum of three months, and then there could be more after that. I am not afraid of the risks. My hope is greater than any fear.
Today, hug your loved ones tighter. Thank your God or lucky stars that you are ALIVE. Don’t get stuck in your past or in your story. Just keep swimming FORWARD. Hum your soundtrack or shout it out when you need to really hear it. Stay POSITIVE and when you can’t, surround yourself with cheerleaders that won’t let you get down. HOPE for the best, PREPARE for the worst, but have NO FEAR.
Love, joy, and light to you all.
There are no happy accidents~
**I am not a doctor and my decision to proceed with major surgery took years to decide. Please don’t take my story as recommendations for yourself. If you are a BRCA Carrier please reach out to your physician today to make a plan. I share my story to help you think about your choices and ask questions about your options.
If you think you could be a BRCA Carrier, talk with your doctor. For more information, check out the non-profit organization- Bright Pink.**