Prophylactic mastectomy: two weeks after the surgery and some advice

Time and experience always verify everything that we “knew” before and this is what happened in this case too. I thought I’d get stuck on an armchair for first two weeks and turned out I spent one day on it only. I wanted to tell you more about what’s happening and I hope that it’ll help at least one woman who is or will be in a similar situation.

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Honestly, it’s much better than I thought it’d be and I’m very happy about it. Like I told you in my week 1 update, I stopped taking pain killers pretty fast and I didn’t have any need to go back to them. Some of my muscles are still tight and they’re pulling when I do something but nothing hurts anymore so it’s great. I want to add one of the most important things here too, I received my biopsy results of six of my lymph nodes (there are around 40 around breasts in total) and everything is clear, there was no cancer cells :). And today (Wednesday) I’m having my first expanders fill and I’m a little stressed.

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For several days now I’ve been able to take showers and wash my hair by myself! Let me tell you, one of the worst things in this whole situation was taking a shower because it was very tiring. And even worse than that was my first trip to the bathroom while in a hospital right after the surgery because I almost fainted. I felt so bad that I cried, it was horrible. I can’t even imagine what would happen if I wanted to take a shower, I’d probably die. Anyways, it’s really a great comfort that I can do it by myself and I don’t have to ask Nathan for help.

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My first longer walk on Jan 30 which means literally on the fifth day after my surgery. I could push the stroller with no problem, no pain and without tensing my muscles too much (besides the way they always work) but I didn’t want to go up the hill with it so Nathan did it for me.

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My doctor told me to wait around 10-14 days before I start trying to raise my arms above my head so the first time I tried was 10 days after and two first times were pretty difficult, once I had so lightheaded that I almost fainted, it was pretty weird. I stopped then. Later each try was easier and easier and effects better. The third time when I put my hands on the wall and walked them up I managed to straighten them which I wasn’t able to do not using the wall or door frame. Now I can raise them without walking on the wall at all but I still feel muscle stretching so it usually takes some time before I manage to straighten them all the way. When I lay on my back and raise my arms I’m not able to put them on the floor behind my head but I’m very close. I can make a salad by myself, cut tomatoes or something else, open cans and bottles, fold the laundry and put a sheet on our bed, feed and dress April and keep her away from me so that she won’t hurt my chest. I can dress myself and if a top is stretchy I can put it through my head. I don’t have to wear any bandages, special bras or anything else. Some things take longer to do than normal but I never try to push myself too much and if I feel that my muscles are too tired or that I’m simply not able to do something I ask Nathan for help and I don’t try to prove that I can do everything. I can’t open a dishwasher, hand wash dishes (because I can’t do the pushing motion), close the blender or vacuum (and this is what Nate does anyway). I still can’t lift heavier things either. Nathan went back to work on Monday and I’m not able to take care of April they way I need to so she’s with her babysitter. And when I’m home alone I don’t clean or anything, I just rest.

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I need to talk about drains here too! By clicking here you’ll see an awesome picture that shows the way drains were in my body exactly. These white lines are still drains but bigger than the part that’s outside and a precise photo of a drain is here. I had to measure how much liquids drains will have within 24 hours to know when they can take them out. When they had 30 cc (cubic centimeter) or less I could call the office and they’d take them out because this is how much a body can absorb so there’s no need to draining them outside. When I went there a week ago for my first post op appointment my doctor said that it’s pretty common to take them out after a week but he seemed surprised about the very low amount of liquid that I had there. In general I had drains longer than I could have but it wasn’t a problem at that point. And now imagine that you have this drain put around your breast inside that you can feel one end of it under your skin by your sternum (really) and they take it out with no pain killer or anything. A nurse just grabs it and then takes it out with one fast move. Let me tell you, this was the weirdest feeling ever and both of the drains on the right side hurt and one of them hurt so much that I cried. On the left side there was no pain at all, it just felt strange. Now I have two little dots on each side with scabs and when it’s healed they won’t be noticeable.

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I’m sometimes more tired than usual and I take naps because my body is still trying to regenerate and get back to normal on its own pace. I saw my plastic surgeon and my breast surgeon and both of them said that everything looks beautiful. You know, to me it doesn’t look beautiful but I believe they know what they’re talking about. And about naps, I asked my plastic surgeon how much more I’d have to sleep elevated and he said that it was good to do so for like two first nights! And I was like oh great, I slept like this almost whole week. But that night, the 6th night after the surgery, I slept flat on my back and one night later on my left side. My doctor said that I can sleep however I want besides on my stomach if I’m comfortable. It’s fine on my back and left side but when I try on the right side it hurts so I’ll wait some more. But it’s such a relief! I can even cuddle to Nathan and I thought I’d never be able to do so for six weeks of recovery.

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So it’s pretty good physically. How about mentally? It’s more complicated. At the beginning I was fine and didn’t really have problems. When they took off the dressings from my chest in the hospital to check if everything was fine and I saw all that I didn’t cry or anything because I knew what to expect and I knew that in a few months everything will be better. After I got home I had a harder time because it’s not easy when you can’t move too much so I cried to Nathan a lot. My self confidence and all that stuff didn’t change, I even felt very brave and strong. But several days later everything suddenly changed and I stopped feeling pretty, I started thinking that I’m gross. I’m talking about my chest here. I started hiding from Nathan and repeated to him that I didn’t want him to see me like this. Once when he wanted to take off my top while, you know, an intimate moment, I panicked and cried like crazy. When I go out to people I try hiding my chest somehow with scarves or I raise my hands up pretending that this is how I hold my phone and my wallet because I’m simply embarrassed that I’m flat. Because it’s a big change, I always had small breasts (I mean, not during pregnancy but it’s a different thing) but there was always something and now there’s only some muscle and skin. Now it’s a little better but I’m not back to normal yet. However, I don’t have any thoughts about being less of a woman or anything like this, no. And I need to add here that Nathan’s attitude is priceless and he’s the reason why I don’t cry anymore while being in a risk of him seeing me naked when I go under the shower for example. Thanks to him I feel much better than two days ago but still not comfortable enough.

Incisions are below my breasts so when the reconstruction is done nobody will notice any scars. As you can see, the incision on my armpit that was done to remove lymph nodes isn’t visible either.

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If someone asked me if I have any advice based on my experience for those who will have a mastectomy (either prophylactic or because of cancer) I’d say yeeeees, I do! Here they are!

  1. It’s not really a good idea to take what people say on the Internet for granted. I, for example, was prepared to be stuck sleeping on my chair for at least four weeks and if on the bed then still elevated. Because this is what most do and some even advice to rent a hospital bed! And turned out that I could sleep flat from night three after the surgery and I never got any recommendation to do otherwise. So instead of sleeping in a sitting position for a few weeks I’m in my favorite position on my left side normally on the bed. It’s worth it to talk about this with your doctor because each situation is different and you might have some specific recommendation. Also, check with yourself to and see what you’re able to do and what position you’re comfortable in. The fact that a hundred people aren’t able to sleep flat because they feel too much pressure on their chest doesn’t mean that a 101st won’t be able either.
  2. Anesthesia and pain killers very often cause constipation and doctors usually prescribe laxatives. I think that the amount of drugs you get during this whole time is enough and there’s no need to put more and more inside of you. In my opinion it’s better to start cleaning your body for a while before the surgery, eat things that are easy to digest, getting rid of dairy and meat, eat a lot of fresh fruits. These are recommendations in a lot of places and this is what I got too and when I told a nurse what I eat she responded: “ohh that’s great, so you won’t need any laxatives!”
  3. For a hospital stay take your phone and a charger, sometimes it’s good to have an extension cord because if outlets are far away from your bed you won’t be able to move around. On the other hand, maybe it’s better this way because anesthesia sometimes make people do weird things ;). It’s good to have a lip balm, your own food and drinks in case you don’t want the one that they’ll give you and someone who you trust like a husband, sister or best friend because there’s so many emotions sometimes that it might be hard to handle them by yourself.  It might be surprising for you that I’m not saying anything about any clothes, shower gel, hair brush or tooth brush but to be honest after I woke up after the surgery there was no way I’d do anything! Brushing my teeth was something extreme at that point and believe me or not but it was very comfortable for me to lay there in my underwear and that hospital gown I had. Remember though that I spent two days (one night) in the hospital only so it’d be different if I had to stay for example a week.
  4. I don’t know if it’s possible to prepare mentally (I thought I was but after several days some of the hidden emotions came out) but it’s good to remember that the way you look right after your mastectomy has nothing to do with what you’ll look like after your second surgery! (I’m talking about the USA here where reconstructions are performed by plastic surgeons who are experienced with this specific surgery.) At the beginning everything might be swollen, there are bruises sometimes, a shape of breasts is just ridiculous… And it’ll be like this for several more months until your plastic surgeon puts implants in and your boobs will be beautiful again.
  5. Talking, talking and one more time – talking! If you feel gross, helpless, less of a woman, very tired and you’re just over it, it’s very good to talk it through. You can talk to someone, write a diary, blog, make videos… Anything that works for you but it’s important not to keep things inside all the time.
  6. The last and one of the important things is in my opinion to listen to your body and respond to its needs. If you want to make a sandwich but you feel that you’re not able to put any butter on it, ask someone for help. If you feel tired and sleepy go and take a nap even in the middle of the day because your body needs time and energy to regenerate itself and the more things you do the more energy it’ll use for them and less for getting back to normal. What’s more, if your doctor recommends for example three narcotics fro you it doesn’t mean that you need all three. They recommended more for me too but I didn’t need that many. It’s worth it to check how you feel and what you need because it’s possible that on the third day what you’ll need will be muscle relaxers instead of the full dose of pain killers that have some side effects too so it’s good to avoid them if possible.

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Remember that nobody has to listen to my advice. I’m saying all that just in case :).

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If you have any questions feel free to ask!

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Talk to you next time,

Aga

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glosowanie

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