Recovery Report

January 17, 2012

Day of Surgery:

After a fairly sleepless night, AA, SKA and I headed to the Breast Imaging Center at 7:45am.  I sang my heart out to some Avetts on the way there.  (They always seem to help. With everything.)  HB, KL and FG met us there.  After checking in, we all sat in the waiting room, cracking jokes and making way too much noise.  We received some dirty looks from an older gentleman who was reading the morning paper.  (I still can’t figure out why he was there so early in the morning, as he didn’t seem to be waiting for anyone.)

The woman called me back for my injections.

Surprise, surprise… the 1 injection per breast I had been informed about was in reality 4 injections per breast, strategically placed at the North/South/East/West poles of each nipple.  (Reminder: I hate needles.)  But I had my boobie-stress-ball with me (thanks JT).  Squeezed the shit out of that thing and chanted my meditative ‘ow-ow-ow-ow-ow.’  But, really… the injections just felt like little bee stings.  Not nearly as bad as I thought they were going to be.

On over to the hospital surrounded by my fleet.


Of course I encounter problems with my insurance company on the scariest day of my life.  SKA and FG were ready to bolt into action, catapulted forward by wonderfully over-protective levels of testosterone.  (I love you guys so much.) But the lady behind the counter worked hard to figure things out, finished the paperwork and put a hospital band around my arm while dryly mumbling, “Here’s the designer bracelet you just paid thousands of dollars for.”

Lots of waiting.

They call my name.

I go back.  Put all of my belongings in a plastic bag provided by the hospital.  Change into a beautiful purple paper gown. The nurse comes in to take blood samples, start IVs, get me ready for the anesthesiologist.  Panic is quickly rising in my chest.  I tell her about my great fear of needles and that I don’t think I can breathe through it today cause I am effing terrified of what is about to happen to my body.  She calls me honey, sweetie, baby.  And she promises me that she will do everything she needs to do with one needle.

One prick.  That is the only pain I will feel at all before I fall asleep for 6 hours.

And she keeps good on her promise.  One prick is the only pain I feel.  And it lasted for 3 seconds.

She answers the rest of my ridicously fearful questions after the needle is in my arm.  And then she brings my entourage back to stay with me until I go to the operating room.  AA, SKA, FG, HB and KL are all there with me.  We hang out for about an hour and a half before the surgeons come to talk to me and they feed the sleepy drugs into my arm.

And we laugh.  And laugh.  And laugh.

I don’t even remember all of the hilarious things we talked about.  But there were so many jokes being made. Ridiculous stories being told.  And I laughed so hard and loud that there was no longer room for fear.  And I was so grateful to be surrounded by some of the people who love me the most. And we kept laughing until the sleepy meds were given.  I have no recollection of  being wheeled away, but HB told me later that I was waving and smiling big as I sent well wishes to everyone.

And then I wake up about 5 hours later.

I expected waking up to be some horrible experience filled with pain and remorse.  But it’s not at all.

I open my eyes.  I’m cold, but way too groggy to feel anything.  They wrap me in blankets and call for AA to come back and see me.  Apparently, even more people have gathered at the hospital while I was out.  All of the nurses keep talking about how they have never seen so many people waiting for one person to wake up.  Awesome.

The people in my life are awesome.

AA appears and tells me that JH has been telling all of the hospital staff that he is my husband so that they will allow him to come back and see me.  AA told them the truth.  And I’m glad she did, because the nurse starts to rip the pretty purple paper gown off in order to put my real clothes on and my newly cut upon chest is completely exposed.  I am greatly unaware of anything that is happening and the next thing I know…

I am at home.  AJ is giving me a scalp massage.  People are holding my hand.  I feel warm.  And the only pain I felt in the entire day were little bee stings in the morning and 3 seconds worth of a needle prick.

The fear of the unknown leading up to the day of surgery was so much worse than anything that happened the day of. Thanks be to the sweet baby Jesus.

Stuff is happening around me.  People are eating.  The TV is on.  My dog is there.  People are loving me.

And I sleep and sleep and sleep.

Day 1 Post Surgery:

I wake up with a lot of tightness in my chest.  So much tightness that it is hard to breathe.

There are drain tubes coming out of my chest.  And a pouch full of pain medicine hooked into my stomach by some more tubes.  No one thought we needed to feed me pain medication throughout the night, because the pain pouch/pump/ball is feeding Lidocaine into my system continuously.  But we were wrong.

SKA filled the prescription for me the night before and is quick to rush a couple of Percocets over to the recliner for me.

After a couple of hours, the tightness goes away.  I am sore all over and really sleepy.  But, overall… I am not in pain. Which I did not expect.

In my mind… life was going to be excruciating for weeks. And I was going to be miserably unhappy because I didn’t recognize my own body.  But I really feel okay.  And I look like me.

The plastic surgeon put expandable implants in my chest yesterday after the mastectomy and partially filled them with fluid to start the reconstruction.  That, coupled with the bandaging, even gives the impression that I still have boobs.  And my skin still looks the same all the way down to my ‘cleavage’-line.

There is no regret over my decision to remove both.  And the tightness I felt when I first woke up continues to be the only real pain that I have felt.

Take that, Cancer.

Already… I have won.

Day 2 Post Surgery:

Really feeling good.  Pain is utterly minimal.

I need help sitting and standing, just because I can’t use my arms at all to steady myself.  And I can’t lift anything more than my water glass.

The pain meds seem to have no affect on my coherence. They just make me a little sleepy.  Of course, I can’t sleep in the bed at all… lying flat pulls at the muscles in my chest, making me uncomfortable.  And I can’t lay on my side cause of the drains, nor on my stomach… for obvious reasons.  So I spend a lot of time dosing in the recliner.  Which is nice.

Dad came into town today.  I think he was relieved to see that I’m coherent and virtually pain free.  My spirits are up and everyone is taking great care of me.  I’m eating.  I’m walking.  And I’m laughing.  A lot.  Life is still good.  Even without tits.

Day 3 Post Surgery:

Today I got to remove the bandages around my chest and take a shower.  Hallelujah.  AA took pictures of my torso with the bandages on and again once the bandages came off.  I have not been brave enough to look at them yet, or even to look down at myself naked.  I kind of let my eyes blur out of focus when I got in the shower so I wouldn’t see anything. (Which… really… a shower never felt so good.  Thank you, God, for the modern miracles of indoor plumbing and hot water heaters.)  AA says everything looks great.  And I’ve even got little bitty boobies from where the surgeon has begun to fill up the expanders.  I’m just not ready to look.

Photo after first post-op shower with chest drains and pain pump.

Day 4 Post Surgery:

MG arrived today to join in The Cancer Games.

Amazingly awesome.

Also, they removed the pain pump from my tummy today. All the Lidocaine has been fed into my system, so the pump was just hanging empty from my body.  Actually, they said we could remove it ourselves.  “Yeah.  Just pull it out and throw it away.”  Neither AA nor I felt good about this scenario.  So we went to Dr. A’s office to let him handle the situation.

I’m laying on the table and his nurse starts to remove the first tube.

“Oh, my god, oh, my god, oh, my god,”  AA is saying.  “It looks like a reeeeeally long piece of angel hair pasta.”  And it’s starting to make me feel queasy.

“Here.  Squeeze my finger,” Dr. A says in his bright Bolivian accent.  “It will help.”

Yes.  I squeeze his finger.  And it does help.  A little.

The nurse starts to pull out the second one… and this one hurts a little.

“Look, look!”  Dr. A heckles.  “You pull the string and it makes her eyebrows go up.”

Afterwards, they put silver sparkly band-aids on my tummy to cover the pump’s exit wounds and Dr. A gives me a piece of chocolate.

Done and done.

I was ready to go back to rehearsal today.  Badass.

But most importantly:

After much focused effort and many failed attempts… today… Praise be to the Heavens above… I pooped.

I have never before been acquainted with constipation.  My body functions like a well-oiled machine.  But these pain meds have kept me out of business for the past 4… count ’em 4… uncomfortable days.  It has been hellacious.  But today, I had a moment of premonition.  I closed the bathroom door, announcing to the household, “I think this is it!”  And it was.  Sweet relief.  And after, when I opened the bathroom door… AA and SKA met me with congratulatory applause.  I have not experienced praise like this for making a poo since I was two years old.  But I soaked it up.  And everything about it felt good.

Day 5 Post Surgery:

Today was the first day that I cried.

So… I have these drains coming out of my chest… one tube from each side where a breast used to be running down to these little clear grenade looking guys where fluid collects. (See picture above.)  This is supposed to help prevent infection in my chest.  The tubes are being held to my body by a couple of stitches on each side and the grenade looking guys get tacked onto my clothes (or when I take a shower onto this elastic thing I hang around my neck) with safety pins so they don’t flop around, supposedly preventing any pulling on my skin.

Now… somewhere along the line, the thousands of dollars I am forking over to pay for medical procedures doesn’t cover the cost of safety pins, cause these effers are flimsy.  So today, as I’m getting out of the shower, one of the pins pops open.

And the drain drain drain came down down down.

Falling from up by my neck all the way to the floor.  And the pulling on my skin I mentioned earlier?  Totally happened.

Excruciating pain exploded through my left side.  ‘Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow.’  Only this time, the meditation was screamed at the top of my lungs.  I hear AA reply with, “I’m on my way!”  She bursts into the bathroom.  I am gripping onto a towel rack for dear life, writhing in pain, convinced that the whole tube has been ripped from my flesh and that blood must be spurting everywhere.

It isn’t.  Everything’s fine.  But the tears start to fall.  And they keep coming.  Until they turn into laughter, cause AA is shooshing me and patting me like she would a 4 year old after a small fumble on the playground.  “Well, something had to go wrong,” I say.  And by now the pain is gone.

And… I got to poop again today.  So, really… You win some, you lose some.

End cancer chapter 4.


8 Responses to “Recovery Report”

  1. Maxey Says:

    I have been thinking about you constantly and I am SO glad to hear you are doing so well! I know you would kick this things ass! I hope you know how much you are doing for other women by sharing this experience with us, Gwen. I know that you have taken away so much of my own fear about the unknown of this and I am so glad you have such wonderful friends like AA to take care of you! She is one of the best! I’m still praying for you and sending so much love your way!

  2. Pablo Says:

    You are amazing.

  3. Jason Says:

    The little tubes with the little clear grenade-looking guys have initials too — they’re called “JP drains.” I have no idea why I felt the need to say that. I’m grateful for all of the people with initials that you have around you. Please don’t forget there are a lot of other people with initials who love you too. For example, JM misses you and loves you a lot. A whole lot.

    (P.S.: Any doctor who gives people chocolate is okay by me. Tell him he gets two thumbs up from your pediatrician friend.)

  4. Rick & Cathy Says:

    Gwen …
    Wow! Talk about Superwoman! Cathy had a dream the night before last that you had miraculously shrunk yourself into a little person (like Thumbelina!) and then she made a little nest for you in her purse and was carrying you around. So even though you are thousands of miles away … you have psychic protection coming from everywhere in the Universe! We send our love!

  5. Evalyn Baron Says:

    You are a miraculous woman, Gwen….and a fine writer, reporting directly “from the front” as you seem to be able to do so vividly….i can think of many women who will benefit from your funny, specific, observant, wry, honest brave writing…i was on the edge of my seat every word….please keep it coming…Peter and I send love….xxev

  6. Ben G. Says:

    I am addicted to your writing, and only want another post. It helps that the report is positive, but your narrative is smooth and economical. I hear your voice when I read, and that makes me smile. Good Job, you!

    In other news, I wish that I could be there with you; mostly because it would be fun applauding you when you poop, but also because you are surrounded with some of the best people I can think of, and I’m jealous that you get to be with them. You deserve every ounce of love that they give – and more!

    Keep on the mend, friend. You are a rock star, and I can’t wait to see you again. Are there plans to travel NYC way any time soon? If you’re hunkering down in Albuquerque for a while, maybe I can make a summer trip? I promise there is another dinner in it for you – I’ll even get a boob cake 🙂

  7. CWhitney Says:

    Every time I read your blog I am amazed by your positive attitude and your honesty. I think about you often and hope that you keep up the good vibes.

  8. czar Says:

    We love you and, as a friend of mine says, are sending healing white light your way.

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