Breast Assured

Oh hey its me.

I have a lot to say as I’m sure everyone knows. But right now, sitting in my computer chair – I have to say I am extremely uncomfortable. So we will see how far I can go with this.

Its now been exactly two weeks since major surgery. Right now, I am doing alright but I must say, the past couple of weeks have been pretty traumatic.

I went into hospital on the afternoon of Wednesday the 5th of January to be prepared to fast, be informed of the next 7-10 days ahead of me and have my body marked up for surgery first thing the next morning.

Last night of snuggles before surgery

I had the best nurses I have ever experienced which made my stay very pleasant. Not to mention the most unreal surgeon who mentally prepared me for everything, told me everything as bluntly as possible to honestly guide me through each and every step, even now – he has just been the most wonderful man.

FRONT - Slightly sunburnt
BACK - Slightly sunburnt again

The blue marker indicates all the incisions which were made to create my new breasts. You can see there is a 27 and a 22 on the front – this shows that the skin on left side (first mastectomy) shrunk by 5cms from having radiotherapy. Therefore, they had to cut out (see back image) the big eclipse shape of skin on the left of my back to add to the skin on my left breast to accomodate the implant. Same goes for the right. I had the right breast removed including the nipple, so on the right of my back – this smaller eclipse shape of skin on the right of the back outline has been placed on my right breast where my nipple used to be. So each breast has a piece of skin from my back stitched on. Weird? The big outlines on my back are traced around my latissimus dorsi muscles which have been split from my back and now wrapped around to the front, under my armpit to hold each implant in place. This is what has and still is, causing the majority of my pain.

I don’t recall being in recovery, I don’t recall coming back into my room… I don’t recall much from the first four days after surgery but I do remember there was an emergency situation where I can remember eight nurses being in my room at once – also with Adams parents and my dad. No detail needed but lets just say people do not listen to you when you say ‘don’t interfere with my diabetes or I will end up never waking up’. They went against my rules with my medication and emergency action was taken. Moving on…. here is an image of my breasts straight out of surgery. I could not believe my eyes when I saw them. I didn’t really think I would have two breast-looking objects on my skin so soon!? I was absolutely stoked. Also the fact that my IV port was FINALLY removed!

Straight out of surgery

As you may know, with most major surgeries they attach drains to your wound sites. They are tubes that go into the wounds and drain the excess blood and plasma into big bottles. I had six which stayed in for the eight days I was in hospital for. 2 drains in each breast and two in each wound in my back. You can imagine how uncomfortable I was with not just big wounds in my front and back, but constantly lying on four thick painful tubes that went 10-15cms deep into my back.

3/6 drains

I had a PCA machine, which is an electronically controlled infusion pump that delivers an amount of intravenous analgesic (usually an opioid) that is set by the patient. PCA can be used for both acute and chronic pain patients. It is commonly used for post-operative pain management, and for end-stage cancer patients. This was great, As I mentioned before – I actually cannot recall the first few days after surgery because I was so out of it from pressing my morphine button so much. I was sponge bathed by nurses and had a catheda attached so really, I did not/could not get out of bed at all for those first few days. Either day three or four, I was forced to sit up and shuffle to the edge of the bed with my feet hanging over the bed. This was really, really REALLY hard. It took me about 15 minutes because I was not allowed to use my arms to push on to move. I had to use my abs to crunch forward from laying position then shuffle my bum literally 1 cm at a time to the edge (whilst moving all six drain bottles with me) and hooking my leg/foot on the edge of the bed to try swivel myself around – very, very slowly.

PCA Control
All good baby

Day four – Sunday, they took the PCA machine off me. I was hallucinating and extremely itchy. I was having to get people to come in and scratch my shins and hair line so hard. As the day went on my mood also dropped and I became negative, cranky and emotional. Withdrawal effects from these drugs are obviously pretty normal but it was really hard for me because I felt like such an invalid and couldn’t even get out of bed by myself or just walk across to the balcony off my room for some fresh air.

Day five – Monday, this was the worst day in hospital. Again, the side effects from coming off the PCA machine and switching to Oxycodone were not good. I was told I had to have my catheda out which was really not pleasant and meant I had to get up and start going to the bathroom myself, I was also told I had to start getting up to shower – with supervision, also a physio came in to see me and gave me some exercises to start. It was all too much to take on with how I was feeling. I spent a lot of monday in tears, missing home and just in general living normality. I had to hold it together so I kept telling myself ‘tomorrow will be better’.

The doctors and nurses had realised how sensitive I was mentally and physically and from about day three, they had limited all hospital visits to only immediate family. My surgeon even wrote a note and stuck it on my door saying ‘IMMEDIATE FAMILY VISITS – 10 MINUTES ONLY’ pretty extreme, but when Adam or mum etc came in, they could really stay longer – but it was my call because I needed to rest as much as I could.

Day five was definitely better, thank god. The surgeon was happy to see me feeling better that day and also had some more news. They had taken some blood from me a couple of days prior to test everything, and my Thyroid function had dropped. I am always battling up and down with this medication! We had to increase my dose and would be due to re-test it in a few weeks again. Also, after the right mastectomy they sent off all of the breast tissue to be checked for any cancerous cells.. I was pretty scared about this because what if they found something in my other breast?! Would this mean chemo again?! Thankfully, I was in the clear. My right breast was cancer-free. Oh what a huge relief! (I received this letter below in the mail once I returned home)

Within the next few days I was starting to feel a tiny bit better each day with my positive mind back in action. I was getting up and showering by myself, walking to the communal kitchen to make my own cups of tea, walking laps around the ward to help with the accumulative fluids that had decided to live in my body – causing me to look like I had gained about 10 kilos and I even bumped into a gorgeous older lady who had the same surgery as me, the day before I did! We had great chats as we walked around the ward together (both with all six drains and bottles still attached) laughed about similar situations we were in, the horrible swelling and weight gain-look from the fluid retention and so much more. It became a very regular thing! We would knock on each others door for our next walks and chats or just a sit down and chat when we got bored or felt sad. Its so lovely because we also had the same surgeon and even now, I have seen her outside of hospital at the surgeons room for check ups.

I was discharged from the hospital on Thursday 12th January. Before leaving I had the horrible experience (for me anyway) of the drain removal. I had two drains to my left arm for my first mastectomy in 2010 (one for breast removal and one for the axillary lymph nodes) and I didn’t have a pleasant experience with it. This time, 3-6 of the drains caused me a lot of pain and tears. It is a terribly traumatic situation for me!

Mum picked me up and I left the hospital looking pretty battered up with bruises which has been slightly embarrassing for when I have been in public, as the bruises are still not 100% gone. Even after using special creams 3 x a day to break them down! I was having eight injections a day in hospital, both my Insulin and Heprin (which prevents blood clotting). sometimes more. So I suppose I had to expect that.

Some of my bruises

On day seven, Adam went down south with some friends for a couple of nights. I insisted he went and took some time off and that I would be fine in hospital etc by myself. I wanted him to have a little get away and time to himself with friends before I came home. I’m really glad he went and I think it would of given him some time to clear his head and have some fun!

Its now been 20 days since surgery. I am still taking a lot of Oxycodone for pain every four hours and cannot sit in a chair or lay in bed very well. My arms are extremely swollen near my armpits where my back muscle has been split and twisted around to each breast on each side. I cannot lift anything heavier than 4kgs or raise my hands above my head.

I see my surgeon every tuesday now for check ups and the last two times, he has drained the wounds in my back with a massive syringe. This is because I still have excess fluids accumulating in my back which is very visible! When I lay down in bed (I can only lay on my back) it feels like a water bed is attached to my back and I can feel it all sloshing around. My fluid retention has come down a lot and I am looking more like myself as in my normal weight.

I have to wear a surgical bra 24/7 – very unattractive – for 6 weeks after surgery. For anyone that has had a breast enhancement or knows someone who has, its the same kind of bra as that. Its not nice to wear in the heat because its so thick and heavy that I sweat the whole bra out every day and have to wash it every night so I can alternate between the two I bought. Here is a photo I took wearing a slim fit tank top – without the bra on.. Pretty good so far!!

As expected, the left side is not sitting as well as the right side. This is because it was the side that had the ‘delayed’ reconstruction after mastectomy. My surgeon says he will get this perfect within time, though in the meanwhile, its going to go through some odd looking stages. But hey, I am glad to just have two breasts in general.

Here is a view a week out of hospital. This shows both front and side. This is also before the bruising kicked in.

Side - one drain wound exposed
Front - top scar on my right breast is where IV port was removed

Here again, is more breast images from yesterday when the nurse removed my bandages to re-apply new ones. The scars you see around the skin flaps are not actually scars, its the scabbing from the wounds. The scars themself up close are actually amazingly thin! As thin as a sharp pencil line.

As you can also see, one of my shoulders is sitting higher than the other. This is something I am working on with physio. Its really hard having my back muscles moved as its affecting every movement and my posture. I have to think 10 times harder about the way I now move and sit/stand.

Soggy bandages removed for first time.
Back - RHS, after syringe drainage

I think I am going quite well and proud of myself for what I have been through. I am doing everything I’ve been told to do and not pushed myself too hard. Pushing myself too hard is something I am known for by my family. So I am really trying to do everything perfect so I can have the best recovery possible. I have also started to see a lovely councellor from Breast Care WA. She comes to see me at home and I am able to chat to her about so many things I haven’t really been able to say before. This is going to help me a lot over the next few months as I feel that now I am coming closer to what everyone seems to think is the ‘end’ of my journey.. its really just the beginning of a whole new process to go through. I don’t expect anyone to understand and not many people probably will.

To all the people who have taken the time to send me texts/emails/tried to call me, thank you. I appreciate it – though if I have not responded I am sorry. If anything I am trying to just get on with what is happening now and save any updating or explaining for my blog for everyone to see for themselves. I hope to return to working as as soon as possible from home and try get back into routine life. xo

Breast Assured

4 thoughts on “Breast Assured

  1. Lynne says:

    I’m so pleased and relieved you’ve come through, such major surgery, that I’ve been a bit emotional reading your post this evening. From a stranger on the other side of the world (UK) I just wanted to send you my very best wishes. “All good baby” [thumbs up] Lynne x

  2. carly.mellor says:

    Rach, you are nothing short of bloody amazing. Wishing you all the best for this year & your recovery from surgery. You are an inspiration. X Carly (Scott & Danny’s sis)

  3. http://mensengagementrings.ca says:

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  4. Atlantis says:

    Hi Rachel. I have just finished reading your entire blog. What a wonderful writer you are and an exceptional young woman! I was drawn to your blog by googling bilateral lat flap reconstruction. I have also had a left side mastectomy and have been finished with rads for about a month now. I plan to have the right breast taken at the time of recon, as you had done. I am curious about how you are healing up and if you have regained your strength. Have you had the change out to the permanent implants yet? As you can see I just have some questions. I am looking for your wisdom through experience to help me make some decisions. Thanks! Good health to you and yours.

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