Here I am at Day Nine post surgery. And now planning on going home tomorrow- yeah! When the doctors told me there would be a 12 week recovery period post surgery, I thought they were being a bit ridiculous, but now that I’ve been through it, I think I will be taking every minute of that time to just lie around, pamper myself like never before and let myself heal, heal, heal!
My husband gave you a great running commentary of those post surgery days from the “outside looking in”. So I thought I’d now share how I felt through it all too. I know that reading other women’s experiences of their surgery & recovery really helped me to prepare for what to expect, so I’m going to pay it forward and do the same. Be warned, the beginning is quite horrendous, but it DOES get better!
PREPARATION/ DAY OF SURGERY – Wed Aug 28
The day of my surgery was the day I was absolutely dreading the most of all in the lead up. I couldn’t think of it without crying. I was just so afraid of how scared I thought I was going to be once I actually got on to that hospital trolley. But you know what? It was the best day. Because I was so worried about it, I kind of went into training for it. I just wanted to be calm. I knew I wouldn’t be thrilled about it, but to be calm was the aim.
So in the weeks beforehand, I focused every single day on doing the things that make me feel relaxed. Anything that made me feel like I was in a warm soothing bath, and that I could do on my own, without relying on anyone else. Because it’s easy to lean on friends and family for a chat and a laugh – and I did plenty of that too! – but they all have their own lives and needs, so I have been so pleased to create my own “self soothing” regime that will keep me in good stead for life! My “warm bath” list included: journaling, morning walks, painting, meditating, early nights, long sleeps and, yes, warm evening baths.
In addition, I had regular acupuncture sessions with my lovely friend Kaye, went to a nutritionist to make sure I ate healthily and kept weight ON for the transplant, had training sessions at the gym to improve core strength, saw a psychologist and a psychiatrist to help me mentally prepare (as well as deal with the deaths of dear Martha and Lou) and just generally focused on going gently every day to make sure I was avoiding any kind of noise and stress like the plague! Practicing deep breathing was also a great help (and that has come in VERY handy this past 10 days, I can tell you!). I am soothed by music in my ears from the iphone too. Rescue Remedy drops are also a v handy thing to have on standby for those stressy blood tests and before significant doctor’s appointments. (Oh yes, in amongst all of that, there were many, many appointments to be had with breast surgeons, plastic surgeons, breast physicians, the GP, etc etc). All in all it has pretty much been a full time job of preparation in the months beforehand.
So on the morning of surgery, I knew how to get into my “zen bubble”, breathe and float through that whole admission process, telling myself all the while “I am strong, I am brave, I am safe” to stop that panicky part of my brain from taking over. And knowing Martha and Lou are alongside me all the way has been such a great comfort too (let alone my lovely husband, who I think was just so relieved that I was not having some kind of meltdown!!)
And of course for the actual surgery, you are just oblivious, so that is the very easiest bit! On waking up, everything was really weird. I can remember being distressed and so thirsty, but you are not allowed to drink (because you will just bring it back up) so all I could suck on were tiny ice chips and watered sponges. Having my husband there was the best and seeing my lovely sister Anna appear by my bedside was such a surprise and reassuring comfort. Anna is a nurse here at St Vincent’s so she has been a very welcome daily visitor!!
DAY ONE – Thursday
This day was spent in ICU where you are monitored every 15 mins for the first 24 hours to make sure the transplant is doing what it should in those crucial early hours. Really I was just in a daze and so drugged up nothing seemed to matter. At the end of the day I was transferred to my private room. It was all just a blur.
DAYS TWO/THREE/FOUR – Fri/Sat/Sun
These days were nightmarish for me. My brain just could not take in that I had actually chosen (and paid!) to do anything so horrendous to my body. I don’t know if my body just does not respond well to surgery (I’ve not had surgery as an adult), but I could not keep my eyes open for longer than a few moments, even though I was awake for much of each day. So it was great to have the constant flow of close and loyal visitors to hold my hand in those early days: my husband, dear friend Louise, daughter Holly, son Tom and sister Anna.
I could not do ANYTHING for myself. I couldn’t feed myself (bit hard with my eyes closed!) and just getting out of bed to go to the bathroom was such a rigmarole, involving nurses every time to remove the layers of pillows, oxygen tubes and saline drips. There were bags to hold the drainage tubes from the wounds (four of those), as well as bruises all over from the multitudes of injections and tubes throughout the operation. On a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the maximum pain/discomfort/ general horribleness, I would rate these days around 2457!! I think having the loss of Martha and Lou in the background too, let alone six months of anticipation, very little rejuvenating sleep post op, constant daily prods and pricks AND the underlying fear of the pathology results yet to come just resulted in “Sarah’s worst nightmare”! I’m hating writing this for anyone else contemplating this surgery, but I want to be honest, so that anyone else feeling the same way after their surgery can at least know that the worst DOES pass. And hopefully it passes quicker for everyone else than it did for me!
DAYS FIVE/SIX/ SEVEN – Mon/Tues/ Wed
These were the days where at last I felt I had turned the corner. I think having the drains, oxygen and drip removed on Sunday / Monday helped me to know that my body was heading in the right healing direction (because my mind was having a very hard time coming to terms with it all!). And, while still moving at the pace of a 100 year old woman, finally I was not dependent on the nurses for every little thing.
The best thing of all was having my surgeon tell me that everything was all clear with the pathology on Tuesday morning. Because I had walked alongside my sister Martha for her decade long breast cancer journey, I know I have a grossly heightened fear of breast cancer treatment. It’s not the dying part that worries me, it’s those years of tests and chemo and radiation treatment and surgeries, terrifying waiting for results, having new tumors appear just when you thought it had all settled down … Martha was so, so brave and positive throughout, but her cancer was very aggressive, so I know that not every breast cancer story goes like Martha’s did, but it really does terrify the life out of me to have to even contemplate ANY of that treatment. Hence the “easy” decision for me to go ahead with my mastectomies. And even though the experience was WAY more hellish than I’d anticipated, yes, I would DEFINITELY do it all again, to avoid having to go down that path. I will forever be in awe of Martha and her courage, wisdom, good humor and grace throughout her breast cancer challenges. I take my hat off to ALL those who have to deal with breast cancer treatment, no matter what the extent or scale of it.
DAYS EIGHT/ NINE – Thursday/ Friday
The last couple of days I have really felt so much more energy return. Until yesterday morning my voice was barely above a soft whisper. I could physically move around at snail’s pace, but everything was such an effort up until then. But yesterday and today I have been downstairs and sat outside in the beautiful Sydney sunshine with my husband and then my friend, Louise. So lovely to be out in the fresh air, and to be able to walk almost upright, now that my stomach wounds have started to heal up. I must say I haven’t looked much at any of the scars yet (that can wait!) but the lovely breast care nurse here tells me that my surgeons have done an exceptional job (and she would know since this is her world every day!) so that is very encouraging too.
This morning I had my first solo shower and I can not tell you how good that was to stand under a warm stream of water, wash my hair and get into clean everything (including the new mastectomy bra – not as bad as it sounds! V comfy too)
Then TA DA!! Tomorrow morning I will be going home. I’m told the tiredness wave will hit all over again, but not as heavily as post surgery. I know it will be a big adjustment but I will have a trusty drug regime in place for pain and sleep and the hospital stay has given me a good idea of how to make myself comfortable. Mum and my youngest sister Bec are flying up from Melbourne on Sunday for a few days so I am very much looking forward to seeing them for some (gentle!) hugs too.
That’s my story so far. REALLY hard, but really worth it. I will keep you posted on progress.
With love and so much gratitude for all of the loving thoughts, messages, gifts, flowers and good vibes that have been sent my way this past ten days. It really does make a difference!