Today is one week post my double mastectomy! Here is my story of this life changing event on April 11,2016.
The day had finally arrived, my last day of work until after my “booby break”. This day actually ended up being on Saturday so I was able to take off on Thursday for Izzys first chemo… blog post to come. After work, I rushed home to get the final prep stuff accomplished. Knowing i’d sort of be out of commision for a while, I made sure that my house was near spotless, clothes were adapted, and bags were packed, just in case I’d have to stay a few extra days in the hospital for any reason.
I received the call from the hospital that Friday evening and was instructed to be at the hospital at 5:30 am on Monday, the day of surgery. What in the world! Side note: How do these doctors have a life if they’re preparing surgeries so early in the morning! I mean, there is a lot of waiting around and prep work that goes into it, but still… really 5:30 am! Oh well, I guess having the earlier time is better than a later time when you have all day to be anxious and your stomach doing tumble-saults because of the stress of the unknown. They explained that this would be a one stay stay after surgery and to plan accordingly. This was mind blowing to me! Basically, they are amputating my tits off of my chest and about 12 hours later, see ya… don’t let the door kick you in the ass? How am I ever going to be ready in 1 day to go home!
Anxiety aside…In hopes of keeping my spirits high, I decided to only go about this life changing event in Meghan fashion… of course why would’t I have a “Ta ta to the Tata’s” party! My sister made a sparkly banner, I made a bunch of party foods, bought pink and black balloons and decor… oh yeah and made booby desserts obvi…it was a wonderful day! Although I really truly missed having many of my friends there to celebrate, with distance and time I understand that people can’t simply stop their lives for me… but I had a wonderful group of friends and family able to celebrate my new boobies and ultimately the end being finally in reach of this cancer chapter.
The next morning, alarms began going off at 4:15 am. My entourage included my mom, dad, little sister Jill, John, Cindy my cousin, and John’s mom, as they all planned to spend the day in the hospital as I got my boobs lopped off! Okay, I’ll be a little bit more sensitive… “as I had my bilateral mastectomies with exploration of lymph nodes and reconstruction involving placement of expanders”. Truthfully, I was not nervous hardly at all! I was more excited to get bigger boobies out of the deal! I was instructed that the surgery would take from 6 to 8 hours, so of course being under anesthesia for that long makes anyone nervous. I mean, I really hope I have a cooler death than something going wrong in surgery for breast cancer, GAWD that would be really anti-climatic!
They called my name, and the nurse walked me back rather quickly to start all the pre-op tasks, I hardly sat with my family at all! First I was weighed, and yes I cursed at the scale because I have in deed gained weight through this whole ordeal which I’m frankly pissed off at…ugh but thats life right now. Then the nurse gave me a cup with a locked lid that I was instructed to pee in for a pregnancy test. This makes me chuckle overtime because it is close to impossible for me to get pregnant during chem–from having an IUD placed, having my eggs removed during fertility treatments, being placed on a medication that “protects my ovaries” and tricks my body into a “temporary menopause”, OH YA, and having the libido of a slug… I am pretty sure unless I am the Mother Mary I am not pregnant. After awkwardly carrying my pee cup into the hallway and handing it to the nurse, I was instructed to remove all my jewelry and clothes and place a hospital gown and slipper socks on as I waited for the next instructions.
The older nurse returned and started the slew of questions as she slowly and painfully inputted my info into their new EPIC system. Im pretty sure I chose the absolute WORST time to get diagnosed with cancer because it was in perfect timing with them learning this new system, and truthfully it is completely obnoxious. I guess it is better than being cavemen and handwriting documentation though, welcome to the modern times AGH! Anyways back to the story… so the nurse got to my allergy section and I requested the anesthesiologist be paged and my information from my last surgery be pulled to help in finding a pain medication for post-op that I will be able to use without having an allergic reaction, YEAH wishful thinking.
She attempted to get my IV placed and instead of using my nice plump vein in my forearm… to the hand she decides to stab! And YES!!! stabbing is exactly what she decided to do. Oh that and moving the needle every which way to try to get the tiniest vein that obviously didn’t want a damn needle puncturing through it. You guessed it, “You’re a bad stick”— Gawd I hate when nurses say that! I always want to look at them and say, “well, your a bad nurse!” I bit my tongue though and waited for the anesthesiologist to place my IV.
She sent back my whole family, which I was so thankful because normally they only allow two people in the pre-op waiting rooms. The anthesiologist and her assistant came into the room as they began questioning me about my prior surgeries and pain medicines I could tolerate as well as allergic reactions. We ended up agreeing that a paraspinal epidural would be the safest route so that I would have some sort of relief post op.
In brief, I am allergic to all Opiate based pain medications. My last leg surgery about a year ago, I had an anaphylactic allergic reaction to Fentanyl. In the past I’ve also had reactions to Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and Morphine. The anesthesiologist decided that while I would be intubated during the surgery they would trial my reaction to Dilaudid even though it is an opiate based pain medication. In her explanation, this would be safest because basically there isn’t any other way to know if i’m allergic other than trial and error. At least if i’m already intubated, that would be best case scenario if I were to present with symptoms of difficulty breathing .
As they had me sign a ton of papers and releases, then came the talk… Basically, the risks of anesthesia are scratchy throat, heart attack, confusion, stroke, waking during the procedure, death… lets add growing a tail and perhaps a third eye for heaven sake! So after scaring you half to death because they have to legally… ready ready, they follow up with my favorite phase, “but you should have nothing to worry about”. Thank you Mr. Doctor… So, I may die or become a T-Rex… oh or come out just fine– breath in, breath out… okay I’m ready for you to cut me open!
But seriously, after I literally signed aware my life, it was truly the first time I started to get those belly butterflies. I looked up at my dad and he was sucking on his upper lip on the verge of crying, my moms rosey red cheeks and blotchy chest was beginning to form, and then the anesthesiologist says, “Okay were going to take you then for your epidural placement, you can say your goodbyes”. GOODBYES!!!! In that moment it hit me! I am about to be put to sleep for 6+ hours, they are placing an epidural which can paralyze me, they are resecting axillary lymph nodes which may give me lymphedema, and removing my beloved titty tats that make me a woman! Wahhhhhh
So, I began to cry. Then everyone else began to cry. They all lined up and after taking farewell selfies with everyone, I gave kisses and hugs, exchanges “I love you’s”, and was off being wheeled down the hall through multiple rooms and freezing cold temperatures to the OR.
I took a few deep breaths and pulled myself together. I met a few more anesthesiologists, residents, and nurses as they placed my IV, stuck oxygen up my nose and connected me to the heart and oxygen monitors. I have definitely mentioned this before, but when I was first diagnosed it was a little bit awkward to take off my shirt or have the doctors touch my boobies on command. When the (rather attractive) resident asked to mark by breast, you would think I was at Marti Gras… except I did;t get any beads:( Truly, it is nothing for me to show my boobs, however being polite, he marked it quickly then gave me a blanket to drape across me to remain a little bit decent. It hit me, that would be the very last time I ever flash my own titty ta ta’s!
It was time to place the epidural. I was asked to sit on the edge of the bed and relax my arms and drop my shoulders down. The main anesthesiologist came over to my right arm and I remember her telling me that she would be giving me a medication to calm my nerves. I recall her pushing the medication through my IV… then off to dreamland I went I guess…
Literally the next thing I remember is waking up with a nurse at my side and wondering if they performed my surgery yet. As my eyes were still a little blurry and my head was waking up out of a fog, I found myself scanning the room for some sort of sign. I focused in on the clock as it read 2:30. It took me a little while, but I managed to do the math in my head… my surgery was scheduled for 7:30, 1,2,3,4… 7 hours, my surgery had to be done!
The nurse noticed I was waking up and came over to introduce herself. In that moment I realized my throat and mouth were so dry I sort of resembled the zombie man from Hocus Pocus. I got the words out, “may I have an ice chip” as she laughed and said she would be right back with one. My lips were so abnormally dry, and my body was so heavy. A part of me wanted to fall back to sleep, but I was too intrigued to find out if I actually survived my surgery!
The nurse came back and I slurped down my single ice chip that I was allowed. They don’t typically give you liquids right away because anesthesia sometimes provokes nausea or vomitting. They explained to me that they were going to give me a medication called Tramadol to keep my pain at a minimum. The nurse pushed it through my IV and a few minutes later I felt an itch. A few more seconds when by, and my skin got hot. I looked down and started noticing the little red blotches climbing up my arms.
The nurse got my anesthesiologist and my chest began to tighten. Literally it was like a replay of my leg surgery last April. They called the respiratory therapist, got me an EPI treatment and talked me through deep breathing techniques. As they placed a face mask for oxygen on my face and tears rolled down my face, I began to panic. I started yelling to my nurse that my ear was bleeding because I felt a cold wetness pouring out of my head! Thats it, I was dying… I knew I was hemorrhaging and about to see the golden gates! Just kidding, the nurse reached out for my ear and responded “honey its only your tears, you are going to be just fine, now breath”. I closed my eyes and tried to go to my happy place in order to let the medicine reverse the drug reaction. The eery question remained in the back of my mind, what in the world are they going to do for my pain?!
My little reaction after surgery pushed me back about an hour from being taken to my room, seeing my family, as well as investigating my new scars. They rolled me through the hospital which to me felt like a labyrinth and all I could focus on was the fact that I had to pee! They got me to my room and I immediately spotted my dad in the hallway! Once our eyes met I could feel his sort of instant relief that I survived this awful surgery as I shouted “DAD”!
They manipulated the stretcher into the room and with help, they sat me up on the edge of the bed. It was in that moment that my Occupational Therapist brain turned on and I said to myself, “sit up for a second or two, and take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth just in case my blood pressure drops”. With the nurses help, she stood me up and my legs were literally like jello. With my IV, nurse and dad all following me, they guided me into the tiny bathroom and of course the lowest toilet known to man— Duh why would’t they put those in a hospital! In about a millisecond, ahhhhh…I think you can use your imagination about how absolutely amazing it felt to empty my bladder!
I finished up and realized just how difficult this whole recovery is going to be. Although the nurse reached for the toilet paper, my occupational therapist self and Miss Independent grabbed the toilet paper and attempted my own peri hygiene. Wow, this is going to suck I said as all the muscles in my shoulder and across my chest pulled. I stood from the toilet, looked back into the “hat” or container measuring my urine, and OMG… “my pee is BLUE”! Of course my next statement was “I’m turning into a Smurf!” This was the ongoing joke, each time after I peed I would look at the color… basically the dye they injected into me for my lymph node mapping changed my urine color temporarily… but YES, I took a pic because it was AMAZING to me:)
They walked me back to the bed inside the room as I gained a tiny bit of my balance but still remained far from my functional baseline with ambulation (see, I told you I am a therapist) ;). The nurse explained that despite my minor rash observed while I was under anesthesia to the Diludid, the team has decided to set up my PCA pump (patient-controlled analgesia pump) aka little button for pain medicine that any normal person would love and push every second that little light flashes green. However in my case, I was healthy afraid that I would have another allergic reaction!
As my lines were organized and I was coming back to the real world from outer space or “land of anesthesia”, my family started trickling in. Minutes turned into hours and after my nurse, a student nurse, and a nurse who was orienting to the oncology floor all did their own assessments, I began to feel more myself. My first question, “why do I only have two drains when typically they place four”? Turns out my doctor told John that due to my smaller stature, two drains were more appropriate. “Why don’t I see ace bandages or blood all over my chest”? Okay this wasn’t Dawn of the Dead, the surgeon told John “my surgery went very well”. “Im really hungry can I eat?” The nurse said you are on clear liquids would you like jello? My response HELLA NO… and a couple minutes later I ordered a chicken gyro;) and finally…”Are they really gone?” I looked down my shirt… and yup, they were gone.
It was a very almost awkward sort of feeling. I didn’t know if my family be offended if I started checking things out under my shirt. My little sister and dad had already stepped out of the room because they “didn’t want to see me in pain”, but when is it time to take a peak? Would I start crying or be fearful of my new chest? Is there a way for me to look without my family seeing my initial reaction?
Turns out my drain was leaking and my gown was covered in bloody fluid-like soiledness, oh ya the nurse noticed immediately so she has to change my gown! She began to unsnap the sleeves and in that moment it hit me, would these cuts now define who I am?
All theatrics aside, It was not scary at all. My family saw my chest the same time I did and i’m not sure if they were significantly shocked, but my boobs weren’t just chopped off by Edward Scissorhands. I wasn’t a freaky octopus woman with drain-like tenticles hanging out of my sides. I was still me! Okay, my breast were smaller but the expanders sort of gave me slight bump like boobs and the scars were so minimal they simply looked like Nelly came off the cover of Nellyville and ever so carefully placed two band aids where my nipples used to be. It was in that first look that I knew, I am going to be just fine.
In typical Franz Girl Fashion, obviously I had to take a selfie. My mom handed me my phone and as the nurses cleaned my gown and bedding I asked my cousin Cindy to take a picture of me. After she took the photo, the weirdest feeling overcame me that it was almost normal to be shirtless. I mean, it is breasts and nipples that society makes out to be sexual for a woman to show. Guys don’t wear shirts and its okay for them to walk around in public, to me… I have nothing anymore so why would it be weird to not have a gown on in front of my family?It was so natural and sort of invigorating to be topless!
Later in the night I decided to post the picture of me smiling my normal smile, shining from my inner sparkle, and broadcasting to the world my new scars that Cancer again had left behind. After almost a 6 month battle, it may look like Cancer took my hair, took my beauty, made me lose then gain weight, made my dark circles resemble a raccoon, and now result in losing my breasts… however deep down inside, I am still 26 year old ME!
I’m not sure that I actually thought about society’s reaction versus the feelings friends and family may feel after seeing the “new”, post mastectomy “me”. When you first google “mastectomies” horror photos of Frankenstein like surgeries show up… but I’m just me smiling in a hospital bed. I AM STILL ME! Never did I think it would be “liked” and “shared” thousands of times and the eyes of people all over the world! Gosh social media is amazing!
I ended up staying in the hospital for 2 nights and on Wednesday morning I sort of forced my discharge home. I was never alone throughout my stay my amazing husband John never left my side. My sister Jill and cousin Cindy were the best little nurses aides from emptying my drains to “cupping” my booty for a controlled decent onto the extremely low toilet they truly were the biggest help!
My dad was there to give me hugs and comfort me after my surgery but tends to get a little overwhelmed in the hospital setting so was more often found “roaming” the halls than at my bedside. After I was comfortable and in my bed, he left the hospital and then returned to say goodbye the following morning before driving back to work for a lecture. He would NEVER leave empty handed… and of course we received a VERY generous edible arrangement at my bedside later that day!
My mom, my rock was there to ask questions, update social media, and come up with all sorts of creative details that I still wonder if they actually happened haha! She brought a smile to my face when she opened up the blanket I brought to the hospital because she was cold and found two of my eyelashes attached! She shared her amount of tears however always remained strong in front of me and that was so so so much appreciated!
My in laws and brother, Davey were there every minute they could be. No belly went hungry as they were so generous to make sure we all were full on yummy food aka NOT hospital food or questionable fried rat aka “chicken parm” but thats for another story. Finally, BFF Greg! I don;t have too many friends here in Pittsburgh but one of Johns best friends Greg came back into his life over a year ago now and we all actually have become inseparable. That night, BFF Greg showed up with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and even came the next day after work to simply hang out, laugh, and make the time in the hospital a little bit brighter.
I also have to give one more shout out to my best friend Dustin. Even being across the country in Seattle, he made his presence known by secretly having pizza’s delivered late at night for us all to enjoy which truly was so thoughtful and absolutely perfect after the long draining days of being in the hospital. Im totally stealing this idea the next time someone I know is in the hospital… it was TOTALLY the perfect surprise!
AND…Reiki Bob. I met Bob as he volunteers for AGH as a reiki master emitting positive healing energies onto willing patients. Bob provided me two amazing healing sessions while in the hospital and I cannot even describe how thankful I am to have him as a mentor! So thank you for supporting me and loving me along this journey, I literally would NOT have been able to come out smiling as much as I do without you!
Finally, the LOVE of my life and husband John. This picture literally describes our relationship perfectly. From the first day I met you, you have kept your promise to always take care of me. Throughout this journey, you have 100% been by my side and ever since we left that alter, you have loved me and cherished me in sickness and in health… i don’t know what I would do without you! ❤
ANYWAYS… This is a Meghan involved event here, so of course it wasn’t going to go flawlessly without some sort of drama. After the first night on the PCA pump… itching became my new hobby. Cindy had a new job to literally wipe my whole body from head to toe down with a cool wet wash cloth just to eliminate some of the discomfort. My night nurse was amazing! She attended to my medication schedule and used problem solving to come up with a “pill cocktail” that would work for me! Finally I requested the same mixture of Benadryl, Ultram and Flexural be used being that it provided me relief last year with my leg surgery. The next morning, the doctors trailed the concoction and it appeared to be working. Only problem, I had to have my epidural removed before going home.
Literally Tuesday morning came around and my new “older” nurse came on and immediately I knew we were not going to get along. I am pretty good at “reading” people and sort of get funky feelings when people are “funky” individuals. Well, this un-named nurse didn’t even flash a smirk the entire shift— definitely a South Pole Elf for all you “Elf” fans. After waiting almost 8 hours to see the so called “pain team” and to receive a Benedryl alternative to relieve my itching… MEGHAN came out!
Now, those of you that know me personally… you know that there is sweet and innocent Meghan who would give the shirt off her back to anyone in need… she farts roses and shits glitter because she truly believes she is a princess at heart, and then there is the “don’t FUCK with me because I will slit your throat” Meghan who doesn’t give a damn and if you piss her off she will make your life a living HELL. Well, Jill and Cindy left to go home and take a shower Tuesday afternoon and I talked over my EXTREME anger regarding this “nurse” not getting me the appropriate medication from 7 am it now being past 3pm. In the next second, I was out of bed, gown wide open advertising my new boyish looking chopped up chest, and darting to the center nurses station DEMANDING proper care!
Now I won’t go into details but I will say I made my point known and the “un-named nurse” is very lucky she “left her shift” before I was able to ream her a new one! Lets just say I was then introduced to the director of the hospital and all steps were taken to ensure that I was appropriately taken care of. As for nurse no-name, your should be FIRED, “Bye Felicia”.
Okay so back to the story here. So, after many allergic reactions to Dilaudid ( yes, I do have a true allergy to this medication and will not be able to receive it any longer), after waiting numerous hours for the “pain team” to come up with an alternative plan that never actually was devised, and finally giving up and realizing that literally there are no pain medications that I am going to be able to take without having an allergic reaction, my family and I decided I would be more comfortable being in pain at my own house versus the loud, irritating, hospital. By lunchtime Wednesday afternoon, I was on my way home!
All in all, the procedure itself was not “that bad” in fact, I feel that my leg surgery was MUCH more painful. Although I did have an epidural during this surgery and the whole front of my chest was numb, all in all I felt that the pain was tolerable. Yes, there was pain and I do have limited mobility of my arms temporarily, but with Tylenol and a muscle relaxer it is manageable. I describe the pain as more of a chest tightness or muscle soreness in my axilla or armpit region. Praise JESUS for the “axillapilla’s” my dad bought me with my BFFL bag (found on Amazon) all my positioning needs have been met!
Psychosocially, it is all quite shocking. I do feel less feminine but I keep saying to myself… this too is only temporary. My surgeon said my “breasts came off easily” because I don’t have too much fat on my chest and depending on my biopsies.. I shall have a great outcome! Truthfully I cant wait until my plastic surgeon removes my drains and begins my booby plumping process.. DD’s here we come!
To me, this surgery is bringing me one step closer to the end of this exhausting journey. I keep visualizing in a couple months my hair will be long like Rapunzel, my boobs will be plump like Jessica Rabbit, my bubble butt will return to its normal plump state, and I will return to being an upgraded blonde haired, sexy, ME! Mark my word that one day, really soon… I will look into the mirror and finally recognize the girl staring back at me… Soon enough, I will see a new and improved, much stronger and defined, cancer-free…ME!