Tag Archive | recovery

Stitches Are Out!

Yesterday, I was back at Dr. Kang’s office to get my stitches out. He started by taking out every other stitch, and then said he’d take out the remaining stitches if everything looked good. Considering it’s healed completely, all the stitches came out. It was not the most pleasant of operations. Not as bad as getting a drain pulled out of you, but I could feel the stitches as he pulled them far enough away from my body that he could snip it off. I will admit to not watching. I can watch this kind of stuff in other people, but if I watch certain procedures on myself, I get a little woozy.

I asked Dr. Kang what was next. He said I have three possible options. Option #1 – I do nothing, and just leave the site as is. I would feel like I wasted all that effort with the expander, but it’s really nice not having an expander in place right now, and I’m not in a hurry to change things. If I decide I want to do something, I’ll have to wait four to six months and then, Option #2 – he’s able to put an implant in place. It’ll probably be smaller than originally planned for, but it would be something. If the skin isn’t stretchy enough, I may have to go with Option #3 if I want reconstruction – the placement of a new expander.

I already know that Option #3 is out. There’s no way I’m doing another expander. The question just becomes, do I want the implant, or do I say screw it and stick with what I have now. I’m not going to make that decision now. In fact, I can wait years if I want to and then finish reconstruction. I’ll wait until the pain and annoyance of the expander has faded significantly, and see what it’s like living lopsided before I make that decision.

I do have pictures. Not everyone will want to see them, so I’ll bury them under a bunch of whitespace. Scroll down if you’re interested in before and after the stitches come out. Close it out here if you’re not interested. You’ve been warned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the stitches still in. There's a lot of dry skin around the whole area, and you can see my drain incision site.

With the stitches still in. There’s a lot of dry skin around the whole area, and you can see my drain incision site.

Stitches out. You can see how the whole thing looks kind of like a crater, and the skin doesn't slide along the incision site.

Stitches out. You can see how the whole thing looks kind of like a crater, and the skin doesn’t slide along the incision site.

I must be feeling better

I can tell I’m getting used to the expander because my port has been irritating me lately. It doesn’t hurt, but I can still feel it under my clothes on a regular basis, even though it’s been in for over six months. I won’t be sorry to see that removed. I know it makes getting chemo infinitely easier, but I certainly don’t appreciate it outside of the Cancer Center.

I’m still waiting to get back to the point where I don’t notice the armpit area on my right arm.  It’s hard to tell if the problem is in my arm, my torso, or it’s all just imaginary as my brain gets used to the sensations coming from the nerve messed up by surgery. Part of it is a bit of fluid retention, though – I think. To help with fluid in my torso, I got a Swell Spot.

photo(13)

This gets tucked into a sports bra at bedtime, with the wing curving around and under my arm. While I feel really silly wearing it (between the expander and the padding, my right breast is HUGE wearing this. In fact, I went out a bought a larger sports bra so it would fit better), it works amazingly well. The quilting on the device promotes the flow of lymph out of the area, and the area feels less full in the morning. Apparently, I had some swelling around the expander as well, that this has taken care of. I can tell it’s less swollen now because I can see the access port to the expander through my skin. Now I’m matching – access ports on both sides of my chest. Lovely!

Breast surgeon check-up

I met with Dr. Engel’s nurse today, just for a check-up. The incision is healing nicely, but my arm is still sore. It hurts under my armpit, although I can’t tell if it’s because of damage to the nerve that serves that part of my arm, or if it’s just still healing. The other part that is still sore is the muscles in my chest. Everything hurts worst first thing in the morning, but as long as I keep moving it’s not too bad. I can probably stop wearing the Ace bandage, but my other choice is a sports bra. Sadly, I can’t wear one because the straps go over my port. I’m still trying to figure out what to wear instead.

We also discussed future visits. I’ll need to see the surgeon every six months for the next three years, with a mammogram on the still existing breast every year. After three years, assuming nothing changes, it goes down to yearly visits. My favorite – doctor’s visits.

Sleeping isn’t easy

I was surprised when I came home from surgery that sleeping was more painful that I expected. In most things, you wake up and feel best in the morning, but I found that I am very achy and stiff in the morning. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I have only one sleeping position for the whole night. Good thing I’ve always been a back sleeper. Once I’m up and about, the stiffness and pain in my chest goes away quickly.

The first night back from the hospital, I found out I couldn’t sleep flat on my back. I didn’t realize this fact until I tried it since I’d been in a hospital bed, propped up at least a little since the surgery. I laid down to go to sleep and discovered it hurt to breathe. OK, fine, I thought. I’ll just sleep on the recliner in another room. However, getting up off my back was a difficult and painful process. Both rolling over and sitting up require the use of chest muscles, which were painful from the surgery. I eventually managed, but it did not improve my mood that night. After that first night, I slept with one of those long, triangle-shaped pillows under my regular pillow in bed.

My sleeping boost - just enough so I could breathe without pain.

My sleeping boost – just enough so I could breathe without pain.

As for a current update, I’m feeling quite good and ready to do stuff. My only complaint is the drain. I swear I can feel it moving under my skin in my armpit. That’s the only part of my body that hurts, and it hurts more the more I do. I think I need to make today a quiet, sitting day since my armpit is sore already this morning. I also think the drain is irritating my body, which is making more fluid around it so the drain amount isn’t decreasing the way it should. I have a meeting with Dr. Kang tomorrow morning and I WILL be getting this thing out of me then.

To end on a positive note – check out the hair! My family came down yesterday and I didn’t even wear a hat when they were here.

It almost looks like a hair-do again. Now I just wear hats to keep warm.

It almost looks like a hair-do again. Now I just wear hats to keep warm.

Christmas presents from my surgeons

I had an appointment with Dr. Kang this afternoon. I was hoping he’d take out a drain today, although I was worried that neither of the drains was extremely low (one producing 40ccs in 24 hours, the other producing 30ccs). Even so, he was satisfied I didn’t need both drains in and took one of them out. Now I only have one of my special baby egg sacs I need to carry around with me. (I feel like they are egg sacs from parasitizing wasps that I’ve been tricked into caring for – it’s the biologist in me, what can I say).

Luckily, I had read somewhere that it’s a good idea to take your pains meds an hour or so before the doctor’s visit where he’s going to take out the drains. I probably would have done it just for the car ride into the doctor’s office, since the bumps aren’t very pleasant to my sore muscles. Getting the drain out was not at all pleasant. First, he snipped the stitches holding the tube in my body, which I could totally feel and leaned toward the pain side of feeling. Then, he pulled the drain out, which didn’t hurt but felt completely disgusting as I felt the tubing move through the incision. Finally, he put a big band-aid over the incision site (after mopping up a few drips of the fluid the drain had been collecting). It’ll take a day or so for the incision to close up.

Couple of things I learned from the plastic surgeon. I need to be careful with moving my arm over my head while the drains are in place. I should be wearing my Ace bandage tighter, so it squishes the fluid out of my body. (Bonus, it won’t slip when it’s tighter.) Finally, the drain that is left may increase in the volume it collects as it is now doing the work of both drains, so not to be alarmed about the increase.

Since Dr. Kang’s visit didn’t take very long, and I had genetics paperwork to take to my breast surgeon’s office, we walked over to Dr. Engel’s office. I hand delivered the paperwork to Dr. Engel’s scheduler this time. Last time, I just gave them to the nurses at the front desk, and they got lost. This is about 10 pages of paperwork on family history that requires I call my mother to fill out properly, so I didn’t want to have to do it a third time. Since we were there, we asked if the pathology report had come through yet. Dr. Engel called us back to his office and gave us the down and dirty results – NO CANCER seen in the breast tissue OR the lymph nodes!!!!! Needless to say, we’re a bit excited! I still need to do radiation, just to be on the safe side, but only about 10% of the time does chemo remove cancer to the point they can’t even find microscopic evidence. Glad to be special in the good way for a change!!!

So, all in all, two great presents from my surgeons. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Drains are annoying

Body parts are continuing to heal, although not as fast as I’d like. At this point, I’m not too achy or itchy, but the drains are really annoying. I managed to go outside today to get the mail, for the first time in a while, but I have no desire to go outside of the house anytime soon. The drains just don’t fit comfortably under my shirt, let alone under the coat, and it’s not something I’d want to explain if I went out in public.

The drains are set up to remove the buildup of fluid from under my skin. I have to empty them three times a day and record the amount of fluid in each. Once a drain has been emptied, I have to squeeze it before I recap the drain to provide the suction. It’s not anything I notice or can specifically feel or even see happening, but there’s always fluid in the tubes.

Drain #1 just emptied

Drain #2 just emptied

What I can feel is where the tubes come out of my body. It’s high under my armpit, so the Ace bandage tends to slip and not cover the site well. Also, as things are healing, I’m getting more sensation come back under my arm which means I can feel the extra stuff under my arm more. Don’t worry, I won’t show a picture of the tubes coming out of my skin. That’s definitely the grossest part of the surgery. StatsGuy has to help me put a new piece of gauze under the tubes and he would much prefer to do the task with his eyes closed, if I let him.

The actual incision site from the mastectomy, on the other hand, looks much better than I expected. I am also completely surprised I don’t have a bandage on the site. I just lay a piece of gauze over the incision so it doesn’t rub on the Ace bandage. I have to check the incision site several times a day to watch for infection, but it seems to be healing quite nicely. No more burning pain with deep breaths, at least. I’m just waiting for the drains to come out so I don’t have to worry about a specific arm movement causing problems with the tubes. If you’re interested, I’m putting a picture of the incision at the bottom of the post. Click on it to make it bigger, or just don’t scroll all the way down if you’d rather not see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My incision site, with leftover Sharpie still defining the inframammary fold

My incision site, with leftover Sharpie still defining the inframammary fold

The day after surgery

I only had to stay in the hospital overnight, so the day after my surgery I was headed home. Dr. Engel ordered me two post-surgical camisoles that could hold my drains and protect the incision site.

The surgical camisole

The surgical camisole

Sadly, it did not work for me at all. I was able to take off the Ace bandage 24 hours after surgery which I was grateful for since it was starting to itch underneath. I put the cami on instead. The nice part is it zips down the middle and it has pockets that velcro to the inner part of the cami to hold my two drains.

Notice the velcro pouch on the right and the strip of cloth under the zipper.

Notice the velcro pouch on the right and the strip of cloth under the zipper.

Unfortunately, that’s the only good thing I could say about it. I was given a size up so it wouldn’t put too much pressure on the incision site. That meant the bottom of the cami wouldn’t lay flat to my body when I sat because of the strip of cloth under the zipper, so I seriously looked pregnant. The center piece under the zipper totally itched and the strap went right over my port, pushing on it and making that hurt. Needless to say I was not at all comfortable. I took the cami off and went back to the Ace bandage. The trick is wrapping it tight enough so it won’t quickly slip off my chest, but not so tight that it itches or hurts any of the incision sites. I did keep the velcro pockets for the drains, sticking them directly to my button-down sweater during the day or the Ace bandage itself when I go to bed.

Good thing the sweater buttons, so I can leave the bottom ones for the drains.

Good thing the sweater buttons, so I can leave the bottom ones undone for the drains.

You can see how the drains stick to the sweater, as well as the Ace bandage wrapped around my chest - tight enough to stay up, but loose enough not to itch.

You can see how the drains stick to the sweater, as well as the Ace bandage wrapped around my chest.

 

The drive home from the hospital was also a bit painful. I didn’t need a pillow to go under the seatbelt, as others had indicated was helpful. The problem I found was every bump we went over jarred my body and made it ache even more. I’ve also found that shivering is one of the more painful activities that I can do. Overall, though, the pain is lessening every day. So far, I feel better in the evening that I do in the morning so I know everything is healing.

My biggest annoyance is probably the itchiness. I’m not allowed to shower until the drains come out (and that won’t be until Monday at the earliest). At least I don’t have much hair right now, but the stuff they used to clean my skin before surgery made me a lovely shade of orange and everything itches. I’ve had to ask StatsGuy to scrub my back with a washcloth, since I can’t easily reach. I have noticed, when I’m gently scratching on my right side, that my armpit and underside of my upper arm are quite numb. Dr. Engel did mention there are two nerves he had to watch out for during the surgery – a motor nerve, which he was able to keep clear of, and a sensory nerve, that got a little roughed up in the surgery. We’ll see if sensation comes back to that area any time soon.