SAN ANTONIO - It's been just over two weeks since I underwent a double mastectomy and immediate DIEP flap reconstruction. I have kept a voice record daily of the recovery to offer a true portrayal of what it's like. I am a little apprehensive to share it though, because I don't want to scare anyone away from the procedure. The truth is, it's the hardest thing I've ever done, and very, very painful. It's worst than childbirth! That said, it is also the best decision I have ever made about my health, and my life! There were many times during my recovery, I wondered, "is this normal?" and wished I had a booklet or diary to look through to find out.
I hope my experience can offer that to other women embarking on this incredible journey to remove potential cancer tissue and replace it with their stomach. Read on if you wish, but remember all the pain has been absolutely worth it, and once you make it past the first 10 to 14 days, it's smooth sailing. I am breaking the diary down into daily entries. As I listen to the voice recorder - I'll type a new entry. It won't all happen in one day, so be patient and stay tuned!
5 a.m. March 5 - Day of surgery:
The alarm went off bright and early, and I had no trouble jumping right out of bed. I needed to be at the hospital at 6:30 a.m. for an 8:30 a.m. surgery. I knew it would be a while before I could take a long, hot shower again, so I wanted to take advantage of this morning. I purchased, per doctor's orders, Dial anti-bacterial hand soap (the orange pump bottle) - and scrubbed my body clean. I also washed my hair, shaved and looked at my body that would be so different tomorrow. I had that little tingle in the center of my belly, that nervous twitch of uncertainty. "What will I look like tomorrow?" I wondered. "What will I feel like tonight?" After the shower, I blow-dried my hair, but no lotion or deodorant or perfume (also per doctor's orders). I checked my suitcase. I don't know what I was thinking! I packed as if I was going on a relaxing vacation. I packed four sets of jammies, fresh underwear, socks, a robe, slippers, toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush, blow dryer, shampoo and cream rinse, facial creams and a little makeup. Here's lesson number one - you won't need much in the hospital - you will live in the gown they give you! All I used was the toothbrush and toothpaste and slippers and a robe for walking the halls. I wore home the same jammies I wore to the hospital and wasn't allowed to shower until the day I went home - and they have shampoo there!
When we arrived at Methodist Hospital in the Medical Center, check-in was a breeze. I had pre-registered and didn't wait long before they took me to my holding room. A nurse gave me a gown and started taking all my vital signs. The gown had all big air holes in it, attached to a big blower. They could pump cold or warm air into my gown depending on how I felt. The nurse also put these very fashionable white stockings on my legs. They went all the way up my thighs. They were compression garments. On top of those, was another contraption that would fill up with air and squeeze my legs every few seconds. She explained that I would be wearing that the entire time I was in the hospital - just to help with blood flow and ensure no blood clots. Then came the attempt to start an IV. The woman tried several times, in several locations, but couldn't get an IV started. I had bruises and pain, but no IV. She finally gave up and said they would have to do it in the next holding room before surgery.
I was wheeled into the pre-op room - which was packed with people. Who knew so many surgeries would be scheduled for first thing Monday morning? There, I met my surgical support team. The nurse had no trouble starting my IV (thank goodness) - and my anesthesiologist explained exactly what would happen to make sure I didn't feel a thing. She explained that this day is lost to me. The surgery would take all day, and I would sleep through it all. That's fine by me - I thought. I told her I have a very sensitive stomach, and was afraid the anesthesia would make me sick. She put a little patch behind my left ear to help with nausea, and assured me I would have a constant drip of two different anti-nausea medications during surgery. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up and throw up, after my stomach had just been sliced open from one side to the other! A few minutes later, Dr. Rosenthal, the doctor who would remove my breasts, came into the room to check on me. He is a wonderful man and great doctor. He's tall, over 6 feet I would say, thin, has blond hair and blue eyes. He was calming and reassuring, and told me he would remove both breasts if and only if, my plastic surgery team determined I had enough tissue to rebuild both breasts. On my chart, it said, "left mastectomy with possible right mastectomy". It all was dependent on what they found when they opened up my belly. Shortly after Dr. Rosenthal left, my plastic surgeon, Dr. Ledoux, came into the room. Dr. Ledoux is adorable. I call him my own Dr. McDreamy. He looks like him. He is thin, about 5'8 tall and has dark hair and blazing blue eyes. It's hard to imagine these doctors cutting me open, removing some parts of my body, and actually moving other parts around. "I'll be out cold," I kept telling myself, "I won't even know what's happening". Dr. Ledoux was upbeat and smiling. He joined hands with my husband, Tony, and me, and led us in prayer before surgery. I could feel the Lord's presence in the room and a sense of calm came over me. Dr. Ledoux said goodbye, he was going to "scrub in" and the anesthesiologist gave me a "margarita cocktail", which is really an IV drug to make me relax. It worked. And that's the last thing I remember before surgery.
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