The Morning of Surgery came quick since I really didn’t get any sleep. We had to be at Butterworth at 7:30 so we met my friend and Photographer Sam in the lobby at 7:15. After 5 minutes of talking in the Surgery waiting room with this amazingly funny woman I actually forgot what I was there for. My best friend Sarah met us as we were led into the pre-op room. They didn’t run as many tests before this surgery so we actually had some time to just hang out and catch up. Putting my husband, my sister wife Sarah, and Sam in a room is always a recipe for belly laughs so the time before my surgery was actually kind of fun.
Oddly every nurse that talked to me and my anesthesiologist seemed very surprised that I was having so many different Surgeries done in one day, but I’m still very happy that I was able to check so many things off my list before the New Year. However the mood seemed a bit different with the medical staff this time around. More serious for some reason or maybe it just seemed that way because we were having so much for in the pre-op room before they came in to get me ready.
My OB-GYN Surgeon Dr. Tanner stopped in before the surgery to greet me with a smile and a huge hug. She has been there from day one of this journey so having this reassurance from her did put my mind at ease and take my mind off from what I was about to lose in her part of the surgery. Plus I just love seeing her beautiful smiling face. Her optimism truly is contagious. It again took a lot to put me under so I have pretty vivid memories of being wheeled in the OR and being placed on to the operating room table. Dr. Tanner’s smiling face was the last thing I saw before they put the mask over my face and fully put me out, which was quite comforting.
I was told that the combined surgeries took close to 4 hours and I spent a few hours in recovery. Although I am still waiting on the results from pathology on my tubes and ovaries Dr. Tanner did say that her part of the surgery went very well. Actually in her exact words, “everything looked textbook, and she didn’t see any sign of cancer. I guess it went so smoothly that they decided not to do a frozen section during surgery to send to pathology. They instead took their samples and sent them for a full analysis. This process is far more accurate but takes a lot longer to get results. She did contact me the other day to let me know that she had been calling on my results are not yet in. She assured me that they are just being very thorough which she likes and dissecting very small slices of my ovaries and tubes at a time because of my history with BC. She sounded pretty confident that everything will come back clear. As long as all comes back good, she plans to watch things from here and said that she would take my uterus in another surgery if needed.
We were also told that things went pretty well on Dr. Timek’s end of my surgery. However we were a bit confused on what reconstruction steps she was taking. From what I understand most of her surgical time was spent removing the scar tissue and separating the tissue that had attached to my chest wall on the right side that I lost my expander due to infection, grafting fatty tissue from my legs to place between my skin and chest wall and help with stretching, and the removal of my chemo port and scar tissue that had formed around it. Like my first surgery I woke up to the faces of my sweet hubby, my family, Sam and my best friend Sarah, however this time I woke up in a compression garment that went from my chest to my knees. I had to wear this for 7 days and after removing it, my husband and I were quite surprised at how bruised I was/am. I really do look like I was hit by a bus. (As you can see from the photos.)
Like previous surgeries I spent a long 4 days in the hospital because of minor complications. I was pretty out of it from in the first few days and I didn’t move around much at all, but they did have me up and out of my bed by day 3. While walking through the halls with my nurses, I was quite surprised to learn that my room was located on the maternity floor at Butterworth. Although I’m assuming this floor is used for all female surgeries and it is quite nice and very newly renovated, it was a little hard to see new parents taking their babies home after I had just lost the female parts that gave me the ability to bare another child.
Unfortunately like my previous surgeries I did end up with an infection that sent me to the ER twice (only my body would reject it’s own tissue right?) I do feel fortunate that I have the surgeon that I have as well as former physicians that have become friends. After sending a photo to a previous doctor, she talked with my surgeon and the hospital so the process moved very quickly and although Dr. Timek was out of town when I was brought into the ER the first time she acted very quickly and aggressively treated my infection with some heavy hitting IV antibiotics. I am fortunate that this infection was not as severe as my first infection that required four days in the hospital for IV antibiotics, and an emergency surgery to remove my right tissue expander.
Physically this surgery seemed far more painful then my mastectomy but maybe that is because they did such an amazing job of controlling my pain during and after my surgery. My chest and stomach area were pretty sore from multiple incisions, however my upper thighs are by far the biggest source of my pain. I’m not sure if this is the norm, or if I am again that .1 percent, but from what I understand fat grafting is done like traditional liposuction. For the first few days I didn’t even have enough strength in my legs to go from a sitting to a standing position on my own and I was in tears just getting into bed the first week and a half. I’m still struggling with getting up and down and with stairs, but I am able to walk around a lot more after standing for a few minutes and I am feeling much better.
Now that I have checked a few more boxes off my list, I cannot help but look back on this past year. One phrase stands out to me from very early on in my breast cancer journey. Nearly everyone that talked with me about what I was facing made reference to the fact that although this year was going to be very hard on me, I would at the very least walk away with a “great rack”. Although I really long to feel whole again and I really look forward to the day that I actually have two breasts, I think I speak for every female who has ever faced this in saying that I would gladly trade a year of painful surgeries, treatments and hospital stays for an “old and saggy rack”. Although I am very confident that Dr. Timek will deliver beautiful results, I have now excepted that it will in no way be the vision of an elective or cosmetic “boob Job”. However what surprises me the most is that this doesn’t really bother me. In fact the scars that adorn my body really do not bother me because I no longer have an attachment to my breasts at all. I just told my husband yesterday that showing the remnants of my former chest is no different then showing an elbow or a knew. If you know me from pre-cancer you know how crazy this is for me. I have opened up in so many ways because of this past year. For me, each scar represents an obstacle that I have overcome and serves as a reminder of how strong and determined I really am. I plan to wear these scars proudly like a tiger that has earned his stripes.
As an update I have been to all of my post-opt appointments and I am doing pretty well considering. I saw my plastic surgeon today. The infection is still present but she does feel that it is improving. She did remove some of the fluid in my left tissue expander to relieve some of the pressure and sharp pain and hopefully speed up the clearing of this infection. She also had to extract some blood from a hematoma that had formed on my right side. From here… she says we wait… and hope that the grafts take. If all goes well I will have my next surgery in around 10 weeks.
I did also have to have an ultrasound of my liver/stomach today because a blood test that was done while I was in the ER reveled that my liver enzymes are somewhat elevated. Although the ER doc seemed a bit concerned my radiologist friend Tammy who was with me at the time said that surgery can also cause this spike. Thankfully I already got a call with some of the results tonight, but I’m not really sure how to feel about them. My oncologist Dr. Melnik was in surgery today so she has not seen the scans herself however her PA called me right away. Apparently I have some gallstones, which explains my stomach pain after eating and the painful burning in my esophagus. I hadn’t mentioned those symptoms to my docs because in the grand scheme of things it’s falls very low on my list. If it gets worse there is a chance that I will have to have them removed but as long as it’s tolerable no immediate surgery is needed. I was also told that they did find a liaison on my liver that was apparently documented in a previous scan (that I didn’t know about) so they are hoping that means it is a beguine hemangioma. Jordan is of course worried, but I am ok and remaining optimistic. I am just longing for some certainty in all this and most of all I’m longing to hear the words… “This year of surgeries and treatment has all been worth it…. You are cancer free”. However my friend Tammy put my mind at ease a bit by saying that they are not telling me that I am in remission because it is their hope that I have actually been cured.
I really have come full circle emotionally over the past 10 months. I went from being almost unaffected and very determined to kick some cancer butt in the beginning, to being constantly worried and fearful of a recurrence mid-treatment, and I am happy to say that I am now back to my optimistic and positive self. Although the 5 year waiting and worrying game has begun, I still plan to kick some serious cancer butt. In the words of Tim, my former bridal client’s dad… “I had cancer. Cancer never had me”.
Special Thanks to my amazing friend Sam from Shutter Sam Photography who has been beautifully documenting my journey in raw, emotional and real photos since the beginning. Although I barely knew you a year ago, I cannot picture my life without you in it now. I will never be able to properly thank you for all you have done, but you have to know that I will be eternally grateful to have visual documentation of these moments. Thank you so much for sharing your talents and your gifts with all of us.